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 Home > News & Policies > March 2003

Denial and Deception

Excerpts from the Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer, March 4, 2003 (Full Transcript)

QUESTION: All right. Just quickly on timing. Does the administration intend to call for a vote at the United Nations, whether or not it looks as if the U.S. has lined up the necessary votes? Will there be a vote on the resolution that the U.S. and the U.K. have tabled --

MR. FLEISCHER: What the President has said is that he believes that a vote is desirable, it is not mandatory. The President has said that we want to move forward to listen to the Blix report, and then give members the opportunity to say what they think and to act. And so, from the President's point of view, we are consulting with nations around the world, as you know, talking to them about the second vote. The timing of it cannot yet be predicted with certainty. But that's the President's view.

QUESTION: So it's possible --

QUESTION: But there will be vote?

QUESTION: You're backing off it?

QUESTION: You're backing off.

QUESTION: That's different from what you said this morning.

MR. FLEISCHER: No, the President has -- I've reiterated what the President has always said -- I've reiterated what the President has always said, which is that the vote is desirable, it is not mandatory. We seek --

QUESTION: -- you said this morning.

QUESTION: Where did he say that \?

MR. FLEISCHER: We seek a vote --

QUESTION: Where did he say that?

MR. FLEISCHER: You know I have said to you that the resolution is desirable, not mandatory. The President has on multiple occasions -- in Cross Hall and in photo ops, that you all have been there -- the President has said that it is desirable, that we are doing it to work with our friends on this issue, that we seek the support on a second vote, and that's speaks for itself.

Go ahead, Ron.

QUESTION: The President said a resolution is desirable, not mandatory. You, from that podium both this morning and last week, said there will be a vote, regardless of what the outcome is going to be. Now, if you're going to back off, that's fine. But just -- concede it to us and let us know why.

MR. FLEISCHER: Do not interpret this as any change in position. The President has always said, and I reiterate it today --

QUESTION: You're changing the position.

MR. FLEISCHER: No, no, no, let me -- let's work through this. What I am saying to you is the President has made clear that the outcome, whether the United Nations votes or does not vote, that we will disarm Saddam Hussein with a coalition of the willing. That depends on the actions that the United Nations takes. We are proceeding with all the plans for the vote. And so I don't see any difference here. We'll continue to consult with our allies and friends, listen to the Blix report and then the members will have their opportunity to be heard --

QUESTION: Last week you said there will be a vote. This morning you said there will be a vote regardless of whether or not -- how it turns out. Do you stand behind those words? Or are you changing your --

MR. FLEISCHER: My words exactly this morning were that, shortly after the Blix report members will have the opportunity to be heard at the Security Council, members will have the opportunity to vote. That's what I said.

QUESTION: You were specifically knocking down a story that --

QUESTION: That's when you said there would be a vote.

QUESTION: -- if there were not nine votes, the U.S. would not ask for a vote.

MR. FLEISCHER: And I continue to say that story has no basis.

QUESTION: But you can't guarantee there will be a vote at the U.N. You're leaving the option open that if we can't get the support, we'll pull the resolution and go to war anyway.

MR. FLEISCHER: I've said exactly what I've continued to say the way I've said it --

QUESTION: Try it one more time.

MR. FLEISCHER: -- which is, this morning -- take a look at the transcript of what I said this morning -- with certainty, what I said was that shortly after the Blix report, members will be given the opportunity to vote.

QUESTION: The U.S. won't do anything to impede a vote, even if it appears that there are not the necessary nine votes to pass the resolution?

MR. FLEISCHER: We are proceeding. Now, if you're asking me if all of a sudden support around the world crumbles and there is absolutely no one for it, I can't predict with metaphysical certitude every eventuality. But I'm telling you what the President is doing and how he's focused on it and what the plan is.

QUESTION: Ari, one last try.

MR. FLEISCHER: We'll get there, Elizabeth.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ari. Are you willing to offer Turkey a more generous package, and how much time do they have?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we continue to talk to Turkey. Turkey is a NATO ally. The particular package that we've been talking to them about was predicated on assistance and cooperation in any plan for the use of force against Iraq. Obviously, it is predicated on that assistance and cooperation. We'll continue to talk to them as we move forward.

QUESTION: Are you willing to increase the amount in the package, or is that package pretty much the final offer?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, as I indicated, the particular package that we have talked to them about was predicated on their assistance and cooperation.

QUESTION: Ari, one last try on the vote. I asked you this morning, will there be a vote, without question, and you said, yes. And now you're --

MR. FLEISCHER: You need to read exactly what I said on the transcript. What I said on the transcript I'll repeat again right now. What I said is, that the plan is that shortly after the Blix report, members will be given their opportunity to vote.

QUESTION: I just -- do we have the transcript?

MR. FLEISCHER: Sure you have the transcript.

QUESTION: Last week -- we'll check his transcript, as well, but didn't you last week say there will be a vote, period?

MR. FLEISCHER: You can check the transcript on it, Ron, but I've indicated all along that what the President has said is we are continuing to talk to our allies in advance of the second vote. And I see nothing that has changed the President's confidence in the ultimate outcome of the second vote, which is the 18th vote. break

QUESTION: Ari, as part of the phone conversation between the President and the Prime Minister of India, does that have anything to do with what Prime Minister Vajpayee said yesterday in Parliament that India is very much frustrated with -- in Washington because they both failed to caught Pakistan terrorism into India. And also he said that now we don't know who to believe because President Bush pledged including General Musharraf that within a year it will be all stopped, but it has not, and he was saying that as far as Iraq is concerned, India is with the United States, just like on Afghanistan.

MR. FLEISCHER: As you know, the President and Prime Minister Vajpayee talk from time to time. It's not predicated on any one event or another; it's part of what allies do. And the situation involving Kashmir and the Line of Control has long been a contentious issue and an issue that involves tension on both sides. And so this is a matter of ongoing diplomacy by the United States. That was the tenor of the conversation that they talked about.

QUESTION: Ari, one on Iraq and one on Medicare. If the President makes a decision to send in the troops, go to combat, would he first, in one last effort to avoid war, issue some sort of ultimatum to Saddam Hussein, say, you have 24, 48, 72 hours to leave the country?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's too soon to say. The President continues to hope, one, that this can be settled peacefully; but two, let's see what the outcome is up in New York. Let's see what happens in the Blix report. Let's see what happens after the second vote takes place -- or the 18th vote takes place. And I cannot predict the future more than that. break

QUESTION: If I could refine the question about the vote. The U.S., obviously, has the power to call for a vote. The sponsors have the power to call for a vote. So how about if we just ask simply, does the U.S. intend to call for a vote, come what may, on a second resolution?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, obviously, when I keep referring to the fact that after the second vote takes place -- after the 18th vote takes place -- you're hearing very clearly our plan how to proceed. I'm saying we will continue to keep our ear to the ground, but all plans, all intentions are indeed to proceed. And that's why I'm having a hard time understanding how there can be seen as any type of shift or change here. We'll listen to the Blix report, and then, I cannot predict to you the timing, but the President has always said that he is confident in the outcome of this.

QUESTION: Yes, I mean, the question we all have, I think, is fairly simple, which is, if the situation did not change from where it is today, and there were five votes, and the whole purpose of this was to find an expression of support for our allies, and voting on a second resolution wasn't going to do that, would the U.S. decide not to call for a vote?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as you know, I've often told you, too, that this vote is one of these votes where it's kind of hard to tell exactly how many votes you're going to have, often until the day the vote is called, isn't it? And so, I think this means that a lot of the guessing about how many votes will there be, this far out from a vote that hasn't even been called yet, are just that, guesses. And this is why I went through the exercise of reading to you, in 1990 similar statements made, threatening vetoes by China, by France, by Russia, in terms of the resolution.

And so we've seen this pattern before where people believe that it's impossible, or that it's a very uphill fight for the President to achieve a United Nations outcome. And we saw that that speculation was wrong in 1990. We saw it was wrong in the fall of 2002. And I believe you'll see again that it's wrong in 2003. And that's why the President has expressed his confidence in the ultimate outcome of a vote. break

QUESTION: Ari, two questions, please. Today, on the occasion of the Muslim New Year, Iraqi television read a speech of President Saddam Hussein in which he had extremely harsh words for President Bush. And I think -- I may be paraphrasing, but I think he accused him of trying to enslave the people of Iraq.

MR. FLEISCHER: That's just further nonsense. And when you talk about the conditions of the people of Iraq, Saddam Hussein is the one who has created a brutal, totalitarian dictatorship in which people cannot speak, people are not free to exercise their rights. Saddam Hussein has created one of the worst totalitarian, most violent states -- after all, he has gassed his own people -- imaginable on this Earth. I think that it's a fair thing to say that if Saddam Hussein is removed from power, the people of Iraq will, for the first time in a generation, be free. break

QUESTION: Ari, the man that President Bush has appointed to be the civilian head of Iraq after military operations, retired General Jay Garner, is one of about --

MR. FLEISCHER: The President has not appointed anybody to be the civilian head of Iraq.

QUESTION: -- the man who was appointed, maybe it was Elliott Abrams or somebody else who appointed him -- at any rate, General Jay Garner is going to be the one heading the civilian administration. Now, General Garner, with an impressive military career nevertheless, is one of about a couple dozen generals who are closely associated with JINSA and have worked very closely with the Israeli military, among other things, I believe on the Arrow missile program. Is it really appropriate, with these kind of credentials, to place him as the face of American democracy in Iraq? And wouldn't that create the wrong impression?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President has not made any appointments about the face of American democracy in Iraq. I just dispute the premise of your question. If there are any people who are going to be involved in any ways about this, you can talk to DOD about some of the various people who are going to be involved in DOD's operation.

QUESTION: Is this not true, then, that General Garner will be the head of the civilian side of Iraq in a post, in an occupation --

MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated, the President has made no appointments about a "civilian head of Iraq." break

QUESTION: This is about Iraq. On Saturday, I interviewed Aziz al-Taee, Chairman of the Iraqi-American Council. He detailed a compelling body of evidence about the holocaust being waged against the Iraqi people. Why hasn't the administration focused on this aspect of Saddam's regime to justify intervention without U.N. approval? After all, it was the Clinton administration that used ethnic cleansing as a pretext to bomb and send troops into Kosovo.

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the administration has frequently pointed that out. And Secretary Powell, in his presentation up in New York, described at some length the crimes committed by Saddam Hussein against his own people. And this is something the President remarks about from time to time. What about the cries on the basis of human rights for the people of Iraq who are suffering under the hand of Saddam Hussein? That is an important issue for the world to face, as well, as the consequences of allowing Saddam to have weapons of mass destruction.


QUESTION: What about going in order?

QUESTION: During the first Gulf War, the anti-war activists were out across the street banging a drum around the clock. Now, the "code pink" ladies, mostly, have indicated that -- I mean, they've kept sort of regular hours. But they've indicated now they're going to be more aggressive, more noisy, as things progress. First off, I'm just wondering, is the President, do you know, has he noticed them out there every single day?

MR. FLEISCHER: He has never said anything to me about it, so -- I've not heard him talk about that. The President has talked generally about protesters, of course. The large protests that took place in Europe, or in other places, the President, of course, has noticed and seen those. And one of the things that the President has seen also is, of course, is the President listens to those who differ with him. He has seen hundreds of thousands take to the streets all around the world to protest free trade, but he remains a free trader because he thinks it's right. So he respects the opinion of those who protest and to exercise their democratic rights, but he will still act as he sees fit to protect our country.

QUESTION: Thank you. Just to go back to the protest issue, is the President aware of the global email movement currently happening to send the Pope to Baghdad, and how might he respond?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well again, the President respects the opinions of those who differ with him on this. He has heard them, he listens to them, and he takes all opinions into account for any decision that he may make. Just as I indicated, I think the free trade protests are a very good example of people who are well-known, who have strong opinions, who share those opinions, who exercise their rights to protest. But nevertheless, the President still makes the judgments that he makes to represent all Americans.

QUESTION: If the Pope was to be in Baghdad as a human shield, how might that affect the President's decision?

MR. FLEISCHER: He has no basis on that, whatsoever.