For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
March 11, 2003
Correction: Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer, Corrected Index
March 11, 2003
PRESS BRIEFING BY
President's schedule, phone calls........................1
Iraq/U.S. target possibilities...........................2
Resolution/continued diplomacy...............3-4, 9, 18-19
Economy/impact from war................................4-6 Russia/vote
on resolution................................6 Financial inducements
for a vote..........................6 Effect of vote on
U.S....................................7 Vote/credibility on
between North Korea and Iraq.........8-9, 15-16 U-2
flights.......................................9-10, 12 Great
Britain/resolve on Iraq...........................10 Congressional
Hispanic Caucus....................10-11, 14 Cost of a
war....................................12-13, 18 American
people/frustration with the U.N.........13-14, 17 Congressman Moran's
remarks..........................15-16 Miguel Estrada
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
Immediate Release March 11, 2003
PRESS BRIEFING BY
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:38 P.M. EST
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. The President is engaged again
today in a very busy day of telephone diplomacy with heads of state.
He began his day with a phone call to the President of Angola dos
Santos. The two consulted about the situation in Iraq. The President
appreciated the opportunity to talk to President dos Santos about
this. Their consultations are good, and I anticipate that the
President will continue his consultations with other leaders in many
phone calls that you will get this afternoon.
The President has not at this time made additional phone calls, so
I will have a report for you later in the afternoon about the other
phone calls the President is making, which will include other members
of the Security Council and other nations, as well.
With that, I'm happy to take your questions.
Q Did the President today meet with Secretary Rumsfeld or
MR. FLEISCHER: He did.
Q What was that -- and Wolfowitz?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has had for a considerable amount of
time weekly briefings with several members of the Cabinet, where
individuals in the Cabinet come in to talk to him about whatever is on
their agenda. I have no report for you on the meeting. It was a
private meeting. Presumably, the topic of Iraq would have come up.
But that's part of the meeting.
Q Who all was in the meeting besides the three I mentioned?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't have a complete list of who all was in the
Q And you're saying it's routine for those three officials to
meet with the President once a week?
MR. FLEISCHER: The Secretary of Defense will come here on a
periodic basis -- actually, a regular basis, about once a week, to
meet with the President. And the Secretary often brings different
people with him.
Q Can you substantiate the credibility of the President's
statement that Iraq is capable of, or direct an imminent attack on the
United States? And I have a follow-up.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President does believe that Iraq is a direct
threat to the United States as a result of Iraq having weapons of mass
destruction, particularly biological and chemical weapons.
Q Aimed at the U.S.?
MR. FLEISCHER: Certainly, the fact that we have a presence in the
region means American military men and women, American allies are
targets. And even without a buildup, we have American forces in the
region that could be targets of such attack.
Q They haven't done anything in 12 years. Do you mean our
people, the 250,000 troops we've put there now?
MR. FLEISCHER: In addition to the troops that are there now, there
are the American forces that were in place prior to the buildup. There
are our friends and our allies who are there. And the question is,
does Saddam Hussein, in violation of Resolution 1441, have weapons of
mass destruction? The answer is, yes.
Q My follow-up is, do you think there is any world leader who
thinks that Iraq is going to attack the United States?
MR. FLEISCHER: There are many world leaders who agree that Iraq
must disarm, that Iraq is a threat, not only to the United States, but
to other nations in their neighborhood. And that's why --
Q But the neighbors aren't even complaining, they're not even
thinking of that.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think, as you noticed, there have been
reporting about several of the neighbors supporting United States
efforts rather strongly. And so, I think the facts are just the
opposite of what you suggested, Helen.
Q On the diplomacy, several of the undecided nations have
proposed, informally, a 45-day extension of the March 17th deadline.
What's your read on that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President thinks that there is a little
room for a little more diplomacy, but not much time. Any suggestion of
30 days, 45 days is a non-starter.
Q All right, so it's not 30 to 45 days, but there's a little
more room, somewhere in between?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's not much time. It's not much time, and I
would not say it's in between. The President -- we are still in an
important diplomatic phase in New York. The consultations with our
allies are ongoing, and they are important. The resolution, as
amended, is not set in stone, and the conversations are productive.
The President has encouraged this diplomacy to take place. But what
the President has said is that there is room for a little more
diplomacy, but not a lot of time to do it. The vote will take place
Q And as part of that diplomacy, is the President willing to
accept this notion of benchmarks, specific tests for Iraqi compliance
being built into this resolution?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think it's fair to say that the ultimate
outcome of the diplomacy is unknown at this moment, in terms of what
the exact language will be of the amendment that is put forward for a
vote. That's the topic of the diplomacy that's underway now.
Q And one more. The French President has now said, whatever
happens, France will vote no. What is the impact of that attitude and
potentially that action on French-U.S. relations, and more broadly on
the prospect of this President or other Presidents going back to the
Security Council on a matter that could affect U.S. national security,
with France potentially playing this game?
MR. FLEISCHER: When it comes to the disarmament of Saddam Hussein,
it is too risky to have a laissez-faire attitude about Iraq having
weapons of mass destruction. This is a real problem, because the
resolutions at the United Nations called for immediate and full
disarmament. If the U.N. does not enforce the resolution, the message
to Iraq will be one of laissez-faire, that it is okay to have the
weapons you have because whatever happens, there will be no veto.
That's a problematic formulation.
Q Does it have long-term impacts on France-U.S. relations?
MR. FLEISCHER: Bill.
Q There's now a widespread perception that the only way you're
going to get this is by getting nine votes, but getting vetoed. Is the
U.S. intent on getting nine votes to prove that you could do it if only
the French or Russia -- Russians wouldn't veto it? Does this
demonstrate some morally superior position?
MR. FLEISCHER: This remains an important matter for the United
Nations Security Council and its 15 members, to take a stand on whether
resolutions at the U.N. are to have meaning. I do think it matters
whether or not the other members of the Security Council support
immediate disarmament, and they will have their opportunity to do so in
the form of a vote.
So this remains an important test of the United Nations Security
Council, and a chance for these nations to show that, while they serve
as rotating members of the Security Council, they stand for giving
resolutions meaning and impact.
Q Do you really think that that gives you the same authority
that a vote without a veto would?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President has said that one way or
another Saddam Hussein will be disarmed. His preference is to do it
through the United Nations Security Council. This gives these nations
an opportunity to say that, despite a veto, the United Nations Security
Q Ari, while this is going on, the economy is in shambles.
Does the President believe that this would be a short war, and that
investor confidence, let's say, in the markets would return in short
order, after conflict? Because, otherwise, what is he prepared to do
about the fact that his tax cut is stalled and getting little attention
in Congress, and the fact that there's a looming deficit and tremendous
potential liabilities for the U.S. to be engaged overseas in Iraq and
other places after this conflict?
MR. FLEISCHER: Despite the drama of the question, one, the economy
is not in shambles --
Q Well, I think that a lot of Americans think that the economy
is in pretty dramatic shape.
MR. FLEISCHER: The economy, I think you described it as in
shambles. Of course, the economy grew by just under 3 percent in 2002,
which was an increase from the recession of 2001. In fact, the latest
data showed that while the economy remains growing slowly, that growth
for the 4th quarter actually was twice the amount it was previously
estimated to be.
The President is indeed very concerned, though, about the strength
of the recovery and wants to make certain that the recovery continues.
The best way to approach this is through Congress taking action. And
again, I don't think it's accurate to say that it is stalled. In fact,
just this week the markups are scheduled to begin in the House and then
into the Senate on the President's budget, as the House Budget
Committee takes up and marks up its budget resolution. That is
scheduled to happen just this very week. The Ways and Means Committee
has already held hearings on it. And so, actually, last year the
Senate, under different leadership, failed to even pass a budget.
Already this year, Congress is moving, smartly and on time, to pass
budgets. So I think progress is being made, and the President is
encouraged by what he's seeing.
Q So you're saying -- let's get you on the record on this --
that his vision for stimulus is the tax cut; you think that that's
really moving through Congress at a pace that will deliver the kind of
stimulus to the economy that is necessary?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct. Certainly, when you compare it to
the past, there's no question about it, when you take a look under the
way Congress always moves, at the speed at which Congress moves They
have until April 15th to pass a budget resolution; they're moving
already here, early March, on the committee structure to pass a
budget. The contrasts dramatically with last year in the Senate, a
failure to even do the basic blocking and tackling of passing a budget,
or even passing the appropriation bills.
So there is a different situation in the Congress this year under
new leadership. The agenda is moving forward. And in 2001, for
example, the tax cut was passed and enacted into law at one of the
earliest dates ever, which was Memorial Day 2001. That, of course, is
some three months from now, two months from now.
Q Can you just address the first point, which is, does the
President expect that any conflict would be short, and therefore, there
would be a run-up in investor confidence? Is that what he is counting
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has not made any predictions in the
event that he authorizes force about what the length would be. Of
course, plans are made and you hope for the best, you plan for the
worst. But I have not heard the President make any prediction. But
there's no question that the potential of war has created uncertainty
in the market. It has frozen investments. And the President is
cognizant of that. Any decision he makes will be made on the basis of
national security. But there's no argument about that.
Q Ari, there are some reports that President Putin or the
Russian Foreign Minister are going to come and see Bush. Do you have
anything on that? And I have a follow-up.
MR. FLEISCHER: I do not. That's the first I've heard of that.
Q Would a Russian veto in any way jeopardize Bush's support for
lifting Jackson-Vanik for Russia?
MR. FLEISCHER: I've not heard any ties the President has made
about any issues facing Russia, what he might do on a vote. Forgive
the cell phone violation.
Q Ari, are there any inducements, financial or otherwise, being
offered, sought or discussed with the nations whose votes the President
is seeking on the Security Council?
MR. FLEISCHER: As I've repeatedly said, every conversation the
President has had with anybody on this topic, the entire focus is on
diplomacy, logic, the need to disarm Saddam Hussein. And that's in
both directions. Those are the types of conversations that are had
with the President, as well.
Q But outside of the specific discussions that he's having with
the other leaders, are these nations, through other channels, asking
for or being offered anything --
MR. FLEISCHER: There's nothing that anybody has brought to my
attention, that I'm aware of, Dick.
Q Putting aside the effect on the United Nations, what would
the effect on the United States be if this resolution doesn't get nine
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think it's already plain to see that the
American people are growing increasingly impatient with the United
Nations on this issue. And it's important for world bodies to be
effective. It's important for the United Nations to have the support
and the goodwill of the American people, based on merit and based on
action. I think that when you take a look at recent history, you'll
see that when it came to saving lives in Rwanda, when you see the issue
of saving lives in Kosovo, the United Nations Security Council sat on
the sidelines. And so, I can't predict what the American people will
think and feel in all instances. I think that's an accurate summary of
what the American people think now.
Q So, putting aside the impatience of the American people, is
there any effect or impact or result for the United States, or for the
administration, if the result -- if the resolution didn't get nine
MR. FLEISCHER: Just as the President said that it's important for
the United Nations Security Council and the United Nations to be
relevant, to be effective, I think the American people ask themselves
the same questions. I can't predict what their answer will be. I
think it will be different for different people, but I think there is a
large sense in the country that the United Nations Security Council is
not the first institution to be looked to to maintain peace, given the
way that they did not do it in Rwanda, did not do it Kosovo, and we'll
see if they're able to enforce the resolutions here with Iraq and
Q Ari, much has been made about credibility -- Iraq's
credibility, the U.S. credibility, the U.N. credibility. In the last
couple of days, senior administration officials, including Secretary
Powell and Dr. Rice, have said March 17th is the final deadline for
Saddam Hussein to comply. Now you're saying there might be an
extension, even if it's just a little bit of room.
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I don't think that's quite fair to the
statements that I -- I know that many people in this room -- I'm
not sure if you were there at some of the briefings -- have said when
they were asked about the March 17th date, is there any flexibility on
the date? And the answer is always the same, and that was the
importance of diplomacy, continued conversations. I've indicated today,
a little time. I haven't said anything specifically on it. And that's
a sign that the diplomacy is continuing, and we want it to be
successful. But -- so there's no statements about -- and I've
repeatedly said they're not set in stone. So I'm not sure that's a
fair characterization of those officials.
Q Some senior administration officials have said March 17th is
the final chance for Saddam Hussein to disarm. Is there any concern
that Iraq would perceive this as an erosion of U.S. credibility at this
MR. FLEISCHER: I would strongly encourage Iraq not to come to any
conclusions about American credibility and America's intent to disarm
Saddam Hussein, along with a coalition of the willing, as a result of
any of the ongoing diplomacy. That would be a grave mistake for Iraq
Q And what is the state of play in Turkey?
MR. FLEISCHER: The situation in Turkey remains pending. We
continue to wait to hear from Turkish officials about any actions they
may be able to take.
Q There are no indications that they might reopen the issue to
Parliament about troops on Turkish soil?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, it remains a matter for Turkish officials to
settle on, decide, and to move forward with.
Q Ari, to get back to your answer to Helen's question about
Iraq posing a threat to Americans and American interest. Why isn't
that even more the case with North Korea, which we know possesses
nuclear weapons? And have we heard back from them on our protest
yesterday about the air intercept?
MR. FLEISCHER: They were demarched yesterday up in New York, as a
result of the intercept. And the demarche speaks for itself.
Typically, after a demarche, you don't hear back. The protest is
delivered. That has been the practice, particular with the North
But the issue is they present threats to peace as a result of their
development of nuclear weapons. The question is, what is the best
response to it; what is the most effective means to stop their
production of nuclear weapons, their desire to obtain nuclear weapons
in North Korea. There, there's a difference between how the President
thinks Iraq should be treated, versus North Korea, because he thinks it
will be more effective to pursue diplomacy with North Korea because of
the interest of the regional states that can help bring pressure on
In Iraq, diplomacy was tried; it didn't work. Containment was
tried; it didn't work. Sanctions were tried; it didn't work. Smart
sanctions were tried; it didn't work. Limited military strikes were
tried; they didn't work. That's the difference between North Korea and
Q On the question of the deadline, could you straighten out
something for me? I mean, initially when we introduced it on the 7th,
we said the deadline was 10 days. That would have been the 17th. But
the resolution has not yet been put to a vote. Is it a 10-day deadline
from the time it is passed, or from the day you first started talking
MR. FLEISCHER: The amendment to the U.N. resolution called for a
March 17th date, which was based on 10 days from the day it was first
proposed. So that is based on that 10-day formulation. As I
indicated, there is diplomacy underway. There is not a lot of time and
a lot of movement available, but there is diplomacy underway. That's
the state of play.
Q But if it were passed, say on Thursday or Friday, whenever it
was passed, from that --
MR. FLEISCHER: There would not be a new 10-day clock, no.
Q So the clock is already running. So if it's passed on
Friday, the deadline would be Monday, and that's it, so it would be a
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I'm not in a position to give you every
detail of a possible outcome that is at this moment not yet known. As
I say, there is diplomacy underway. I cannot predict what the exact
outcome of the diplomacy would be.
Q On the U-2 issue today. How do you regard what happened this
morning with two U.S. U-2 flights going up? What does the U.S. make of
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm looking into it. I saw the AP report about
it. And it talked, of course, about this is Defense Department, so
anything dealing with operations or anything military you need to talk
to DOD about.
Q What about the Iraqi expression of surprise and concern that
two U-2 flights were going off at the same time? Does that concern
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, of course, under resolution 1441, Iraq is
required to unconditionally and in an unrestricted manner accept all
the terms of UNMOVIC.
Q Does the President or the White House have any concern that
the U.S. is -- that the British resolve has begun to weaken some on
MR. FLEISCHER: The President views Britain as being a stalwart
ally and partner in trying to resolve this peacefully. And the more
pressure that can be brought on Iraq, the greater chances that this
could be resolved peacefully. And that has certainly been the case
under the leadership of Tony Blair.
Q Is it your sense, though, that the escalating conflict --
the debate over what to do within the U.N. has weakened Tony Blair?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. I think the moment will come when nations at
the Security Council will raise their hands, and there will be allies
with the United Nations and England in this endeavor. If the moment
comes and a coalition of the willing is assembled because the Security
Council was met with a veto, then I think there will be a broad
coalition of many nations that speak many languages, all working
shoulder to shoulder to disarm Sadam Hussein. And that's a reflection
of the will of the international community, which England plays its
part, and does so in a way that demonstrates leadership.
Q There is a letter sent to the President yesterday by the
Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and I quote, says, "We wish to express
our concern and deep disappointment with the tactics your
administration has employed to pressure the Mexican government to
support the U.S. position on Iraq in the United Nations Security
Council. And it continues, saying, "Such tactics are particularly
offensive to many Hispanic Americans and constitute a poor foreign
policy that only serves to alienate our Latin American allies and
undermine U.S. credibility around the world." Your reaction.
MR. FLEISCHER: One, the letter -- unless you don't have it there
-- there is no mention of what the specific charge is, what the
Q It says, veiled threats, such as suggesting that Americans
could boycott Mexican goods and services.
MR. FLEISCHER: It's nonsense. No one said it. And this is a
letter -- by the way, is the letter signed by any Republicans, or is
it one party only?
Q It's signed by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chair and
MR. FLEISCHER: Is it a bipartisan letter, or is it one party
Q It's one party only.
MR. FLEISCHER: Obviously it's not representative of any bipartisan
thinking on this matter, and does not provide any support or evidence
for the claim they make about such a threat. There have been no such
discussion in the administration. So I think before somebody puts pen
to paper to suggest that there is any type of statement made, they
should have facts at their disposal and not engage in such inventions.
Q There is no pressure, then, from the U.S. government to any
-- Chile or Mexico, for example?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, this is, as I indicated, a matter that all
nations, as they talk to each other -- when we receive new comments
from other nations and as the President talks to other nations, it's
about diplomacy, it's about disarmament. I have not seen any
suggestion from any members of the Security Council back to the
President that would support such statements, or in the other
direction, from the President to such nations.
Q Ari, over the last weekend, we saw the French Foreign
Minister go out and engage in some personal diplomacy with heads of
state in Africa, members of the Security Council. Does the President
feel as though his telephone diplomacy is effective enough, and he
doesn't need any -- you don't need any real personal diplomacy by
Secretary of State Powell or anybody else to go out and do something?
MR. FLEISCHER: You know, I think different nations have different
tactics. I don't think this is going to be settled as a result of who
has the most frequent flyer miles. I think this is going to be settled
on the basis of how member states decide for themselves, after numerous
forms of consultation, how to vote up in New York. That's what this
will come down to.
Q Ari, going back to what Jim was asking before, do you regard
the interception of these U-2 flights as another example of Iraqi
MR. FLEISCHER: Certainly under 1441, there are no questions Iraq
is compelled, is bound to comply fully and immediately. And there are
many concerns that we have about whether Iraq is doing that, and I
think you saw much of that in the cluster report, as well as any other
actions that you may be citing here.
Q Do you think this is a particular example?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I think that on the particular facts --
I saw the wire story, and I'm not prepared to go beyond that yet.
Q Ari, before you were talking about you expected the vote by
the end of the week. Could you define what end of the week is? Is
that Friday, or is that Sunday?
MR. FLEISCHER: Friday.
Q Getting back to the cost of the war and any cost in the
aftermath, you've said repeatedly that there are too many variables,
too many scenarios, to give a cost figure, and that it's more
complicated than domestic policy proposals. But last week, the
President unveiled a prescription drug coverage plan as part of his
effort to revamp and modernize Medicare, and made clear that the
funding for that hadn't been determined, hadn't been defined, but would
come from the $400-billion figure that he listed in his budget
proposal. So there is, at least, a framework. People on the Hill are
working off of that framework. There's a clear understanding about
what the cost parameters would be, at least for the opening of the
debate. That's a fairly major policy initiative, obviously. The
President's made clear he thinks that it is. Obviously, Iraq is a
fairly major initiative, too. Why, then, can't you provide the same
sort of parameters for the cost of the war and after-care in the event
that hostilities take place and come to an end?
MR. FLEISCHER: There's some very clear statistical and
demographical differences, as well as other differences between the
potential for war, and a known program such as Medicare, where you have
a defined population that demographers can tell you what number of
people are going to turn 65 and be on Medicare. You can, of course,
working off of longevity tables, know how long life expectancy is for
senior citizens, and know what size the universe is who would get a
prescription drug benefit, and make an estimate off of that. What the
President did on the issue of Medicare, is attach what he believes is
the price to it, that his proposal supports, and he will work with
Congress beyond that.
On the question of war with Iraq, if anybody were to suggest that
the President, or anybody on the Hill should be able to provide a cap,
or a ceiling on the price of defending liberty and freedom, we don't
know it. And the rest of the equation is not knowable because it is
not like the demographics of a known universe like Medicare. It will
depend on the duration of the fight.
Q I raised that example for a couple of reasons: One, it's a
high priority for the President, just as the Iraqi crisis is. Two, by
your own statements and his statements and the fact sheets distributed
at the time, it's an elective and voluntary, participatory thing. So,
you can't, in fact, know how many people will participate. So you have
various scenarios going forward if certain numbers of people take
advantage of what the cost would be in this range --
MR. FLEISCHER: There's a crucial estimating difference, and that
is there is a long track record for private sector and government
estimators to take up what an assumption rate would be, what percentage
of people would participate in a government program. For example, we
know that under current Medicare plus choice, the amount of people
participating is I think roughly 12 percent or so. So these are
knowable amounts of information.
On the question of war, this will very quickly be decided by the
amount of resistance that is met at the beginning of the war. If --
Q Well, then, should the Congressional Budget Office not have
put forward the figures they put forward, with various scenarios,
number of troops involved, length of duration of stay? Should they
have not done that?
MR. FLEISCHER: This is why the Congressional Budget Office is in a
different position. They're in an advisory position. They don't make
law, they don't make proposals. Only the President does that when it
comes time to submit a supplemental, and he will.
Q Can I ask you about your assertion, Ari, that the American
people are increasingly frustrated by the United Nations over the Iraq
crisis? Have you been doing polling on this?
MR. FLEISCHER: I read today's papers.
Q So you haven't been doing any polling on it?
MR. FLEISCHER: There's a bevy of polls in today's papers that I
read. That's the basis for that statement.
Q That does not reflect your increasing frustration of how the
United Nations is dealing or not dealing with it?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's an accurate statement of what was read
on the news last night, on the TV networks, and was said in the
newspapers this morning. I don't think anybody is disputing the
accuracy of my interpretation of what we all read today.
Q Ari, going back to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus as it
relates to the Congressional Black Caucus, both groups want a meeting
with President Bush, mainly to express their similar views, to exhaust
diplomacy through the United Nations. Many of those persons, the
members of those two groups feel that it's important the President meet
with them because 50 57 percent of the infantry are black and brown, if
war were to happen. And they feel that their request is falling on
deaf ears. What are your thoughts?
MR. FLEISCHER: The use of force the President looks as an issue
that affects all Americans. And that's why the President has been
meeting with and talks to the congressional leadership in closed
session, where he fills in the top leadership on what the latest
developments are, including
classified information. The President looks at this as a part of
the leadership of all Americans. He does not divide on this issue into
different groups of Americans.
Q But isn't it saying something, a large contingency, the
people they represent, the Congressional Black Caucus and the
Congressional Hispanic Caucus, are going to be fighting in the
infantry, the front line, 50 to 57 percent, and the President will not
meet with them? I mean, that's -- they're saying, that's --
MR. FLEISCHER: The President regularly meets with members of
Congress for a variety of reasons, with people from all kinds of
backgrounds. And he is open to hearing messages, and he's heard many
Q Two questions. Will the United States provide any evacuation
for foreigners or U.N. inspectors to get out of Iraq if they can't do
so any other way?
MR. FLEISCHER: Anything operational like that would need to be
addressed to the Pentagon or to the appropriate agency, if State were
to be involved. I don't know.
Q Do you care to repeat the remarks you made earlier about
Congressman Moran's statements?
MR. FLEISCHER: I was asked this morning about a statement that
Congressman Moran made. The statement was something along the lines,
the Congressman said that the reason or a reason this administration is
pushing for war in Iraq is because of the influence of the Jewish
community. I think that is an accurate summary of the statement the
Congressman made. Those remarks are shocking. Those remarks are
wrong. Those remarks are inappropriate. And those are remarks that
should not have been said.
Q Ari, getting back to the economy for a minute. You took
issue with the characterization that it's in shambles. But if you read
the papers this morning like you said, you also know that an increasing
number of Americans think it's heading in the wrong direction. If
things aren't as bad as you pointed out earlier, why are people
starting to feel this way?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, this is exactly why the President thinks it's
important for Congress to pass a stimulus plan, and that's why the
President proposed one, because the economy is growing, the economy is
recovering, but not as fast as the President would like.
Q The President, in his press conference the other night, cited
as a positive development the fact that the North Korea situation is
headed to the U.N. Why is that, given the track record of the U.N. on
Iraq? And where does that all stand if Iraq doesn't do what the
President wants to do --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think in good part what North Korea thinks about
anything that may be headed for the U.N. will be determined by what the
United Nations does with Iraq. I think that if the United Nations
shows North Korea that it passes resolutions it has no meaning to
enforce and there is no strength behind, then North Korea will say it
does not matter what the United Nations does. So that's why the
President would like to see a successful vote in the Security Council
on the situation with Iraq.
But the point the President was making is because he does believe
that this is a regional issue and a multilateral issue, the United
Nations can be and appropriate forum for this to be discussed.
Q Will he continue to pursue that, though, if the United
Nations lets him down on Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have not heard anything to the contrary.
Q This is a follow-up to Connie's question. Would you comment
on the Democratic leadership silence about the statements of Jim Moran
and Nancy Kaptur?
MR. FLEISCHER: One, I have not heard if they've said anything. I
would be very surprised if they were silent. I think if they were
silent on an issue like this, they would be missing an opportunity to
speak out for something that deserves to be spoken out on. I cannot
imagine they are silent, in actuality.
Q No statements have been issued by the Democratic leadership.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that would be a real surprise if the
Democrat leaders stay silent on something fundamental like this.
Q Ari, just back to the issue of deadlines at the U.N. again.
Is the issue of a deadline something which is still up for discussion,
or is the matter closed as far as America is concerned?
MR. FLEISCHER: You mean the March 17th deadline?
MR. FLEISCHER: As I've repeatedly indicated, that there is still
diplomacy going on -- I'm not going to define specifically what the
diplomacy includes, but I have left a little room here, as I say, that
there is diplomacy underway.
Q Yes, two questions. First, a follow-up to my colleague's
question on Mexico and Chile. First of all, does the United States
expect to count those two votes when the resolution is put to a vote?
Only two Latin American countries on there.
And, second, if any one of them or both of them should vote
against, would the U.S. government take any reprisal?
MR. FLEISCHER: One is, those nations will speak for themselves,
and if they choose to announce their position prior to the vote, that's
there prerogative. Otherwise, of course, we'll all find out when the
vote takes place. The President has, himself, said that if nations
vote against him, he will, of course, be disappointed. But this is a
matter of principle and this is a matter of diplomacy.
Q And I had a second question. This has to do with Miguel
Estrada. I just saw that the President wrote a letter today to the
head -- to Senator Frist and the Democratic Minority Leader, Senator
Daschle, asking for -- again mentioning the Estrada case and asking
for a new approach to judicial nominations. Is there anything that the
White House can do to get this nomination moving again, or will it just
be impasse, nobody is going to move?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, of course, today, in a sign of how seriously
the administration takes the importance of making progress on judicial
nominations and ending the obstruction of Miguel Estrada's nomination.
The Vice President went up to a session of the Senate and, in an
unusual move, chaired the Senate. A letter was released from the
President on this topic. The President very much thinks it's in
American interest to move beyond the cycle of both parties on
recrimination and blame on judicial nominees.
Of course, this is precedent-setting, and there's never before been
a successful circuit court filibuster. This would represent a real
change in how the Senate perceives its constitutional responsibilities
on advice and consent. This is an important and serious issue; the
President hopes that the court -- that the Senate will confirm him to
Q In your reading of the polls today and other -- is there
any reason to dispute the contention that Americans are just as
frustrated with the way the U.N. is handling Iraq as they are with the
way the President is handling the economy? Weren't the numbers pretty
MR. FLEISCHER: I do not remember any of the numbers on the
economy, Ron, so I -- most of what I saw in those stories in the
paper this morning were about Iraq. If it was deeper into the story
I'd have to tell you I read just toward the top of the story.
Q It's in there. (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, then, why didn't you ask me about it, bill?
Q A couple of quick follow-ups to Jim. Did you say that the
U.S. is ruling out starting a new 10-day clock from the passage of a
new resolution, if, in fact, that happens, that that would be too
MR. FLEISCHER: I interpreted the question as formulaic, is it
saying that once the resolution is taken up, that starts a 10-day
clock. And the answer to that is, no. I have not indicated to you,
within the area of diplomacy, whether the March 17th date could move to
some other potential date. But I took it as --
Q -- passed as is.
MR. FLEISCHER: The current resolution speaks for itself. The
current resolution said March 17th, which happened to be 10 days from
the day of introduction when it was discussed. That was the 10-day
Q And just another quick follow-up to Dick's question. Are you
saying that the President is not getting any estimates as
Commander-in-Chief from the Pentagon or from the other departments in
his administration as to how much this is going to cost?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, there have been a series of discussions the
President has had, and you're well aware of that. But what the
President has said is that if conflict begins, if hostilities begin, we
will -- because then we will have more knowable information -- send
a supplemental up to the Hill at that time.
Q So he's got the information, the estimate, but he's just
choosing to keep the American people in the dark about that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Right now there are still discussions underway
about exactly what the cost could be.
MR. FLEISCHER: Connie. (Laughter.) I'm sorry, Sarah. Sarah.
Sorry about that. Connie, you get a follow-up because I got a name
MR. FLEISCHER: Sarah.
Q Thank you. Ari, today the Air Force is testing a huge new
bomb in Florida. This 21,000-pound bomb is designed to be used to
destroy big bunkers and against troops in the field. Is the President
willing to use such a devastating weapon if he orders war against
MR. FLEISCHER: Sarah, any such questions need to be addressed to
the Pentagon. The President is not the person who makes these
judgments, the Pentagon reviews this.
Q Ari, you mentioned earlier that there would be no new 10-day
clock if the resolution is passed, meaning that the March 17th deadline
is pretty hard, given whatever results from the diplomacy.
MR. FLEISCHER: What I indicated -- and this is where Terry's
follow-up I think was constructive -- what I was indicating is I took
Jim's question to be a formulaic one about is it an automatic 10-day
period from the date it is put before the United Nations. My answer to
that was, no.
On the date, what I've indicated is we're continuing to talk,
there's continuing diplomacy. I cannot give you what a date may or may
not be. What the President has said is there's not a lot of time.
Q But if the U.N. Security Council adopts a resolution that
sets a new date, the United States can live with that new date?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, this is part of the diplomacy that's
underway, and we'll see what the date is, if there is a different
date. That's part of the diplomacy that's underway.
Q Ari, there are a bunch of airline executives in town, and
they're talking about the problems they're having in their industry,
and they're talking bankruptcy, and they're -- and some of them are
even talking about a possible nationalization of the airline industry,
and they're seeking help from the federal government. First of all, do
you think the airline industry is in that bad of shape? And secondly,
are you all prepared to help with tax breaks and things like that?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President looks at this issue in terms
of the entire economy. The President is very concerned about the
economy, the various sectors in the economy. But the President thinks
the worst thing that could happen to the airline industry is what
happened after September 11th. And that's why the President approaches
this as how best to protect and defend the country. We will, of
course, continue to talk to the airlines about various issues, but
that's the President's approach -- is, the best way to protect the
country and safeguard against any such costs is to stop an attack on
our country, which would be the most devastating of all.
Q Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.
END 1:16 P.M. EST