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 Home > News & Policies > March 2003

Operation Iraqi Freedom

Excerpts from the Press Gaggle by Ari Fleischer, March 26, 2003 (Full Transcript)

QUESTION: Ari, when you say progress is ahead of schedule -- what are you basing that on? Or when the President says that.

MR. FLEISCHER: Based on the progress that is being made on the military battlefield, the advance toward Baghdad, and the success that we are having engaging enemy units.

QUESTION: Is the President concerned that the stiff resistance that Iraq -- certain Iraqi units are putting up will undermine some of the support among some of the countries in the region that are helping us now?

MR. FLEISCHER: Absolutely not. What we're seeing is a coalition carrying the mission to the enemy, and the President, in his remarks today, will express America's appreciation for our allies who are helping out in this effort.

QUESTION: Hasn't the Arab League kind of stiffened some of its rhetoric in denouncing the military -- U.S. attack on Iraq?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President remains confident in the solid support of our allies and friends, even those who aren't publicly saying what they are doing or thinking.

QUESTION: Ari, will the administration have to boost the troop strength?

MR. FLEISCHER: That's a question you need to address to DOD. They handle planning like that.

QUESTION: Isn't it now apparent that there are not going to be widespread surrenders like some, including the Vice President, suggested might be expected?

MR. FLEISCHER: No. I don't know what basis anybody might have for that. We're still in the very earliest stages of the fighting, and I think a lot more events to be seen and witnessed on the ground by embedded journalists and others as events unfold.

QUESTION: Didn't we expect those widespread surrenders even in the initial phases of the war?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, I think you have seen already widespread surrenders. You've seen just under, as of yesterday, 4,000 enemy POWs taken. You've seen the disbanding of a large number of the regular Iraqi army military units. And so I think you already are seeing evidence of that, and in days ahead, I think you will likely see more.

QUESTION: In the President's warnings, though, of the sacrifices that lie ahead, is this not an acknowledgement that those sacrifices may well be greater than certainly the administration planned for and Americans planned for?

MR. FLEISCHER: With all due respect, how many did America plan for? I mean, you're comparing it to something that was not previously stated, so I don't know how to answer a question about that, when you say "more than planned for." There was no -- the President always said sacrifices would need to be made. It's an unknowable figure what that is.

QUESTION: Are you adjusting the war message -- the Post has an article saying you're adjusting your message to prepare for higher casualties.

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know anything about that. As many reporters knew from over the weekend, we laid out all these public series of events kind of -- into this week about where the President was going, what he was going to do. So there's no basis to that.


QUESTION: -- all that mending relations with France and Germany and some of the other countries --

MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's always important to continue to have good relations, and relations with Spain -- I'm sorry, relations with Germany and France are indeed strained over events in Iraq. And I think that Germany and France have an interest in mending relations with the United States; the United States has an interest in working with those countries. So those are always endeavors that will be pursued.

QUESTION: Given the U.N.'s failure to be able to kind of act on Iraq in the second resolution phase, is the President doubtful about their efficacy in a post-Saddam Iraq as well at this point?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as I said yesterday, you have to approach the United Nations' role in two broad areas. One is on a security area, maintaining the peace by disarming Saddam Hussein's regime and enforcing U.N. resolutions. And on that, the United Nations Security Council failed to act. On the other side of the United Nations' endeavors is the humanitarian relief efforts, reconstruction efforts. And the President's focus is, as indicated at the Azores, that the United Nations should play a role.

The President is focused on what is the most effective way to provide humanitarian relief, the most effective way to have reconstruction of Iraq.

And certainly as you witness the military tactics and the precision manner in which the war is being conducted, that has implications for the extent of reconstruction necessary. There are other issues, of course, involving political leadership, et cetera, separate and apart from the precise military campaign. But the United Nations should have a role, in the President's judgment. The exact role is something we'll talk about.

QUESTION: The reports in the paper today suggested that Blair interpreted the discussion at the Azores to be a commitment from the President for a large role for the U.N. in not just delivering of humanitarian aid through oil-for-food, or something like that, but in governing of Iraq. Is that a fair --

MR. FLEISCHER: I keep saying the President believes the United Nations should have a role, and we're discussing what the role should be. And the statement at the Azores speaks for itself. The President stands by it; that's why he said it.

QUESTION: -- what do you know about the reports of massacres of American citizens in Nasiriya, the Army mechanics that were coming through that were supposedly --

MR. FLEISCHER: You need to talk to DOD on something like that.


QUESTION: Ari, did the President personally review this reported shift in strategy to actually go into some of these southern cities?

MR. FLEISCHER: Talk to DOD about whether that report is accurate or inaccurate. I think that probably came up in General Franks' briefing this morning. And just as a matter of policy, I can't get into what the President is briefed on or not briefed on in these classified briefings.

QUESTION: Does the President have a view on the reported rebellion in Basra? Does he think that's a good thing, or does he think it's possibly problematic?

MR. FLEISCHER: You need to talk to DOD about the facts on events on the ground.

QUESTION: Would he, in general, like to see the people in Iraq rebel against the government, or does that present a problem for our forces?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President is focused on our mission, and the mission is to disarm the Iraqi regime and liberate the Iraqi people.

QUESTION: Ari, you were talking about making progress or being possibly ahead, but we were never given benchmarks about where we expected to be. I mean, where did you expect to be on day seven of the war?

MR. FLEISCHER: All I can advise you is listen to the President's speech and when the President is saying what he's saying it's because he has reason to say it. And you hear that same message from the military planners.

QUESTION: Did Blair ask for this meeting?

MR. FLEISCHER: Steve, so often on these meetings, it's -- and I answer this often in this way -- it's mutual. There's talk at various levels; typically it starts at the staff level, and then it's raised to the principals in their different capitals, and suggestion is made, get together. And this is -- specifically, I couldn't tell you. Typically these things have some type of mutuality to it.

QUESTION: And at what point do you see the U.N. getting involved in the reconstruction effort?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, exactly as was said in the Azores statement, that there's a role anticipated for the United Nations both on the humanitarian relief side and the reconstruction side. Certainly, in the United Nations, as the keeper of the oil-for-food program; that's an important program. And so they indeed have a role.

And again, the President's focus is on what is effective, what will do the most good to help the most people on the ground in Iraq, and who can best get it done. How can we feed people the fastest and the most effectively? How can we rebuild the country the fastest and the most effectively? That's the President's focus. He wants the United Nations to have a role in that.

QUESTION: Does the President have any reaction, though, that France and Germany are still the same kind of -- the same people who are now trying to hold up this oil-for-food program happening? I mean, they were the ones who sort of killed -- at least France the administration has fingered as killing the second resolution.

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, this is -- this still is part and parcel of the United Nations process. And the United Nations process is a process that involves talks. And member states on the United Nations Security Council and in the United Nations have a right to talk. So -- Dr. Rice went up to New York yesterday to talk to Kofi Annan, and we'll continue to work through the process as it exists.

QUESTION: Are the reports that she didn't make any progress are true?

MR. FLEISCHER: I wouldn't say that. I think that this is part of the talks at the United Nations. I think if we've learned anything from the United Nations recently, it's they don't move very quickly.

QUESTION: Will there be any -- at the briefing today at MacDill, will there be a teleconference with Franks, like there was yesterday at the Pentagon?

MR. FLEISCHER: Don't remember off the top of my head. Let me -- I'll take a look and see if there is or isn't. I don't know.

QUESTION: Do you know yet who is coming to dinner tonight?

MR. FLEISCHER: It's very small. It's, I think, three and three, if I recall. So it's the President, Dr. Rice, one other American, and three British. Very small dinner tonight.

QUESTION: And Mrs. Bush?

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't remember. I'll see if we can't update that


QUESTION: Just to be clear, the briefings today, are they -- they're different than his regular kind of daily updates that he gets, or his briefings that he has with General Franks? Is this like a special thing set up because he's going to CENTCOM?

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, this is -- this involves -- well, of course, you have Operation Enduring Freedom is one of the briefings here, as I mentioned. That's about Afghanistan. And particularly at the National Security Council meeting, those are the meetings with the principals. This involves more of the generals based at CENTCOM who are in charge of various operations.