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Excerpts from the Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer, March 3, 2003 (Full Transcript)

MR. FLEISCHER: good Afternoon. two Announcements for You Today. the President Began His Day with a Phone Call to Colombian President Uribe. They had very substantive conversations. The President views President Uribe as a close friend and ally. They both expressed concern about the United States citizens who have been taken hostage by FARC and the need for continued close cooperation to get them released. They both stressed the need to work together to fight terror. They also agreed on the importance of the disarmament of Saddam Hussein.

QUESTION: Iraq says it will submit a new report on VX and anthrax, and it is scrapping more missiles. Is this helpful?

MR. FLEISCHER: There is one thing that is helpful, and that is complete, total, immediate -- immediate -- disarmament, per Resolution 1441. That was what Resolution 1441 called for in November. We have not seen complete disarmament. We have not seen total disarmament. We have not seen immediate disarmament. We have seen nothing that the United Nations Security Council called for except for -- under pressure -- Saddam Hussein finding things that he said he never had and apparently destroying small numbers of the things that he says he never possessed.

QUESTION: Are you concerned that that's going to slow down the timetable, the fact that they're destroying these missiles?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President has said the timetable is weeks, not months. He said that just over a month ago. And nothing has changed that timetable.

QUESTION: So it doesn't matter that they're destroying the missiles. In that case, why should they continue?

MR. FLEISCHER: Iraq needs to disarm because that's what the world has called on Iraq to do. They should disarm because that is their promise made to the United Nations Security Council, and that still remains the best way to secure peace. But it must be nothing less, nothing less, nothing less than complete, total, immediate. And it has not been any one of those three.

QUESTION: Ari, can I try to get clarification on something that came up on Friday? It's the policy of the administration that Saddam has to totally and completely disarm. But regime change is also the policy. So if he were to fully disarm, in the administration's view would that amount to regime change? Or is the policy now full disarmament plus exile, meaning Saddam has

to --

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, what we've always said is that if the regime were to have completely have done what the United Nations called on them to do in Resolution 1441 last November, it would, indeed, be a different type of regime. And then people have said does that mean Saddam Hussein could still be the head of it? The point that I have made is, in the event that the President makes a decision that force is used to disarm Saddam Hussein to accomplish disarmament, nobody should think -- not even for a second -- that military action could be possibly taken to disarm Saddam Hussein that would leave Saddam Hussein at the helm for him to rearm up later. No, that's not an option.

QUESTION: But if the decision is not made to take force, if by some chance he just says, yes, I'm fully disarming, I'm meeting all the requirements of 1441, and he stays in power -- in your view, that would be a regime change?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, let's first see him completely, totally and immediately disarm, and see if that takes place.

QUESTION: Ari, the destruction of these Al Samoud missiles now represents about 10 percent or more of their entire medium-range missile capability. That's a piece of real substantive disarmament under international supervision, but it's not total disarmament. But you aren't denying that that's real disarmament?

MR. FLEISCHER: We are -- it is not real disarmament. There's only one standard of disarmament: full, complete and immediate. The United Nations resolutions did not call for a little piece of disarmament. It didn't say, 10 percent disarmament four months after we call on you to do it immediately. None of that was in 1441. And the only reason this is even happening today in the small degree that it has indeed happened is because he is under great pressure from President Bush, the United States and the coalition of the willing.

QUESTION: But it is substantive. It's not just process, this is substance. This is real destruction of weapons.

MR. FLEISCHER: It is insufficient. It is not complete. It is not total.

QUESTION: So it's the administration's view that making war in Iraq now is preferable to any further piecemeal substantive disarmament?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President has not made a decision about whether or not this ultimately will be done through the use of force. If he makes that decision I think you can infer from that action, and the President would agree with your premise in that case. But until he does, of course, and if he does, the process remains underway, and it's a process by which Iraq is defying the United Nations. They pretended to comply in small and limited ways. But nothing less than full, complete and immediate is called for, because that's what the United Nations has sought.

QUESTION: May I also ask you about a report in The Observer newspaper in London, of a memo purported to be from the NSA -- an email message from a man who actually works at the NSA they established -- in which he describes a surge in surveillance of U.N. Security Council members to see what these nations are thinking about an Iraq vote. What's your response?

MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, as a matter of long-standing policy, the administration never comments on anything involving any people involved in intelligence. For example, if somebody were to say to me, is Libya an object of American intelligence -- I would never answer that question yes or no. The administration does not answer questions of that nature. We don't answer who does or does not work in the intelligence community. Once you start that, you start getting into process of elimination and we do not do that about any question, about any report, as a blanket matter of policy.

QUESTION: But, then, if you're a Cameroonian diplomat or a French diplomat at the United Nations, because of what you just said, you're going to have to operate on the assumption that the United States is bugging you.

MR. FLEISCHER: No, it's a blanket matter of policy that we do not answer questions of that nature, whether it's true or not true, and I'm not indicating to you whether it is true or not true. It's a blanket matter of approach and policy that predates this administration.


QUESTION: Ari, the past couple of weeks you've said a number of times that we know what disarmament looks like, and you've cited the examples of South Africa and other nations that have disarmed.

If the Iraqis continue -- that's a big "if" -- but if they continued on a daily basis getting rid of missiles or buried bombs that they suddenly happened to discover, would that -- if this is a sustained issue, would that begin to look like the disarmament you have in mind? And why have you given us no matrix by which to measure what this disarmament would look like?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, here's the Catch-22 that Saddam Hussein has put himself in: he denied he had these weapons, and then he destroys things he says he never had. If he lies about never having them, how can you trust him when he says he has destroyed them? How do you know he's not lying, he doesn't have tons more buried under the sand somewhere else? How do you know this is not the mother of all distractions, diversions, so the world looks in one place while he buries them in another?

And this is the point to which Saddam Hussein has brought himself as a result of defying the U.N., having created an environment where the inspectors were removed in the late 1990s. And on their way out, in their final conclusive report, they indicated that Iraq had up to 26,000 liters of anthrax, 38,000 liters of botulin, 1.5 tons of nerve agent VX, 6,500 aerial chemical bombs. We don't know where those are. We have yet to see any accounting for all of these. And so the fact that he may have destroyed some 16 missiles has nothing -- nothing to do with the anthrax, the botulin and the VX.

It also contradicts the fact that he said he doesn't have any weapons in violation of the United Nations resolutions. He's put himself in an awfully bad Catch-22, and this is from his own doing.

QUESTION: Ari, as part of the rest of Pakistan is concerned, India Globe has been saying for months that all these terrorists are hiding in Pakistan, and this one now was arrested at the house of chief of the movement's organization, Jamaat-e-Islamic.

Why we are getting one by one -- I hope President Bush asks General Musharraf to give us all the terrorists at one time, so we don't go through terrorizing every day another life here in America and around the globe. And also, Indian Ambassador Mr. Lalit Mansingh said that Pakistan is a dangerous place as far as terrorism is concerned today. And my question again is that even Osama bin Laden may be hiding, who knows, in one of the homes of the ministers or even General Musharraf's house.

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not sure on what basis you might say that. The President complimented President Musharraf and the government of Pakistan for their actions. Clearly, al Qaeda fled Afghanistan as a result of the military operation the United States and our allies launched against al Qaeda in Afghanistan. They fled across a difficult-to-patrol border into Pakistan, into cities that are in the tens of millions, large cities where they believed they could hide. What this shows is the strong cooperation that we have from the government of Pakistan, and for that the President is grateful to President Musharraf and the people of Pakistan. They deserve the world's congratulations for helping in this effort and leading this effort.

QUESTION: You said this morning that you were, that the Bush administration was surprised by the vote in the Turkish Parliament. What is the U.S. doing, if anything, now to try to reverse that, diplomatically or otherwise? Or do you feel that the best thing to do is not to do a lot because some Turkish officials have even said that public pressure from the U.S. might have forced the vote to happen the way it did?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, one, Turkey is reviewing its options, and the United States is doing the same. As a result of this vote, Turkey has gone back to look at it; we are doing this; and it's unclear, as well, what the ultimate outcome will be. But no matter what the ultimate outcome is, one thing is for certain, and that is if the President of the United States makes the determination that force must be used to disarm Saddam Hussein, whatever route is taken, the ultimate military mission will remain successful. We don't know what the outcome will be. This is still a matter of study.

QUESTION: It will be successful, but it would harder?

MR. FLEISCHER: There's no question that the Turkish approach would have been a preferable approach, but other approaches are available. There are other options from a military point of view. And the President has every confidence that those other options will, indeed, be militarily successful if he so exercises them.

QUESTION: On the aid package, is the aid package still viable at this point?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, as I said, Turkey is reviewing its options; the United States is reviewing its options; and I think it's impossible to make any judgments beyond that at this time.

QUESTION: On the disarmament process, Iraq clearly has started to destroy some of its weapons -- perhaps not as quickly as the administration would like. Clearly, it can't all be done in one instant, some big bang theory. So doesn't this speak to the President's well-known impatience, that his patience is running out, he's not willing to give this process more time?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think the question is, why didn't Iraq destroy these missiles in November when they were told to? Doesn't it surprise anybody that the only reason they're doing them now is because they're under mass pressure as troops gather on their border? And doesn't that suggest that their motives have nothing to do with disarmament, their motives have to do with trying to stretch this out to avoid pressure from the world, and to see if, by announcing the destruction of a small amount of their known tip of the iceberg, while they continue to hide what is below the water, that they're just trying to buy time and relieve pressure, all the while keeping their weapons of mass destruction -- including their anthrax, their botulin and their VX -- to themselves? That's the cause of concern.

QUESTION: So the President doesn't believe that this process is working or in any way positive?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President doesn't believe that Iraq has disarmed.

QUESTION: Ari, going back to your answer to David's question, if I understand you correctly, there is no way that Saddam Hussein can ever truly satisfy this administration because no matter how much or how little he disgorges in the way of illicit weapons, you will always say, well, how do we know there isn't more buried somewhere, how do we know he doesn't have some here or some there?

If that's the case, if that's the administration's attitude, that he's simply so untrustworthy that we can never know, no matter how much he gives up, how can he possibly satisfy you?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, that's why I put it the way I did. That Saddam Hussein has put himself in a Catch-22, where he says, I do not have any weapons that violate the United Nations resolutions -- but I just found a few that I'm about to destroy. Why does he keep finding things that he says he never, ever had? Which gives rise to the question, what does he have that he is continuing to hide when we know, as a starting point, that the United Nations found the anthrax, found the botulin, found the VX?

If Saddam Hussein would all of the sudden come out with the 26,000 liters of anthrax, the 38,000 liters of botulin, the area chemicals that 30,000 empty chemical warheads -- which, of course, I think at last count some 12 had been found, leading to the question, where's the other 29,900? These are the issues that decide whether Saddam Hussein has disarmed completely, totally or not. And these are the issues that Saddam Hussein still will not answer.

QUESTION: But your answer -- if I take your answer to David's question right, what you're saying is that no matter how much he produces, no matter how much evidence he were to produce, you still won't believe him because you'll still believe that there might be something else out there that nobody knew about that might be there?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think the burden is on Saddam Hussein to show where these weapons are, particularly when -- if you recall Secretary Powell's presentation -- we know because we heard it that there are coded communications where they refer to the nerve agents that they have. There are conversations that they're having about these very weapons that we worry the most about.

QUESTION: Ari, is the President -- to what degree is the President concerned that the longer this whole process drags on, the greater will be the erosion of his political support here at home?

MR. FLEISCHER: None. It's just not part of the equation. If the President makes a decision to go to war, the President will do so on the basis of national security and national security alone.

QUESTION: Ari, if I can get back to Campbell's point about regime change. What was the White House reaction to the overwhelming opposition by the Arab League this weekend to a proposal calling for Saddam to be exiled?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, number one, I think as people who have watched the Arab world closely know, even the suggestion by several nations that Saddam Hussein be exiled is an extraordinary development. So I think, frankly, the focus is just the opposite. I think that Saddam Hussein has few to no friends left in the leadership of the Arab world because of the type of regime that he has run, how despotic he is, and he does not exactly have a great number of allies left in the world.

QUESTION: Any disappointment that there was no -- that among the countries that did support the measure, you didn't have Egypt, you didn't have Syria, you didn't have Jordan, you didn't have Saudi Arabia? Any concern that some of the larger economic, if not military powers, are not yet on board among Arab League members?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think the President -- if you were to put the question to the President, the President would tell you that he is, indeed, satisfied with the cooperation he is getting from much of the Arab world.

QUESTION: Ari, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. was saying that the second resolution could come for a vote shortly after Friday, after Hans Blix presents his report. How close are you to getting the nine votes that you need?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as I've been saying for weeks, I think we will not know what the actual vote count will be until the vote takes place. That typically is the pattern of the United Nations. And so the vote would likely take place sometime shortly after Mr. Blix's report, and we won't know what the outcome is probably until very close to that vote.

QUESTION: Is there any possibility that you won't bring it for a vote? This is definitely going for a vote?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President has always said that he is confident that in the end the United Nations will vote to approve the resolution. But think about the resolution that's been discussed. Think about what it means to vote against that resolution. What it means to vote against it simply means that basically it's a backing away from the terms of 1441. The President doesn't think that anybody would want to do that. But, nevertheless, we'll find out. There have been many issues that have been voted on before at the United Nations that moved forward where there was not clarity until closer to the vote, and we shall see.

QUESTION: Ari, back to Turkey, if I may. You've said there is a Plan B, it's going to work, we'll be successful either way. Is there a point -- are we at the point where we have to go for Plan B?

MR. FLEISCHER: Obviously, if we go to Plan B you will know about it. But at this point, it still is a matter that is being studied.

QUESTION: Ari, the lead editorial in this morning's Washington Times is headlined, "A War Decision." And it contends, the very act of further delay would tend to undercut the perceived need for urgent action. While this morning's lead editorial in The New York Times is headlined, "The Rush to War." My question to you as the President's media analyst, do you suspect that the New York Times would get --

MR. FLEISCHER: Is that a promotion or a demotion? I'm going to work with this. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Well, I think you do pretty well. As the President's media analyst, do you suspect that the New York Times would get behind our war effort if only Iraq were to open a males-only golf club, like Augusta, Georgia?

MR. FLEISCHER: This is why I believe in exchange programs among newspaper editorial page editors. (Laughter.) Let them share time with each other.

QUESTION: Ari, I have two questions for you. Following up on Terry's question about the article in The Observer, you say you never do comment on intelligence matters. But the article also specifies that six of the countries the U.S. is trying to get to vote in favor of the second resolution are being monitored. If they were to ask the U.S. government about that, would they also get an answer, we don't comment on intelligence matters?

MR. FLEISCHER: My answer is the same in all cases, and that's the long-standing answer and policy, as you're all very familiar with here.

QUESTION: Thank you. Two questions, please. A few months ago, I asked if the President would lift the executive order about assassinations, publicly declare Saddam Hussein a terrorist and put out an award for his capture. Now that apparently happened this weekend in Pakistan. Why won't the President seriously consider this option now?

MR. FLEISCHER: The ban remains in place, and it just speaks for itself. That action speaks for itself. There's nothing really further I can add about it.

QUESTION: But why does it remain in place? Why?

MR. FLEISCHER: Because the President has not made any determination to lift it.

QUESTION: Ari, you talked on Turkey a lot about the democratic process there. And apparently, according to what Turkish diplomats tell us, about 95 percent of Turks are opposed to the direction that the U.S. is taking with respect to Iraq. What is the case, why should a Turkish parliamentarian support the deployment of U.S. troops, given that 95 percent of the Turks are opposed to it?

MR. FLEISCHER: Because the President thinks that the issue of how to disarm Saddam Hussein remains a front and center issue for all in Turkey and around the world; that this is a threat that if Turkey and others don't deal with today will only grow bigger, will grow worse and will have to be dealt with some other day because Saddam Hussein is not disarming. He continues to have weapons of mass destruction, and it's only a matter of time -- as history has shown with Saddam Hussein -- between now and when he actually uses them.

What the United States has seen, since September 11th, is we are the target -- often are target for these type of attacks. Other nations around the world, or American interests around the world have often been attacked. And we do have fears that Saddam Hussein could be the next attacker, or that Saddam Hussein could pass his weapons of mass destruction on to terrorists to try to get away with a stealth attack, an attack that doesn't have his fingerprints attached to it. And these are the fears that drive the President.

QUESTION: So the idea is that the Turkish parliament is kicking this threat down the road, not facing up to it, not dealing with it?

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, we were -- the vote is a disappointment because the President thinks that it's very important for the world to join together to disarm Saddam Hussein. Turkey remains a NATO ally. But, nevertheless, if the President makes the decision to use force, whatever the route militarily chosen, it will lead to military success.

QUESTION: I want to try Plan B on the plan B question. How long will the United States wait to see if Turkey is going to reconsider this? And it's --

MR. FLEISCHER: John and Mark, the reason I cannot answer this question for you right now -- when would you see a plan B -- because as I said at the top, this is something that's being studied. And I can't get ahead of when decisions are made and actually may be taken. So if action is taken, you will be notified. It will be reported. It will be visible. And so I can't guess how long that process will be.

QUESTION: I have a second question on Turkey. Can you just assess for us what the risks are with pursuing Plan A, in two sentences? One, is there any concern the President has in sending troops to Turkey, given the overwhelming public hostility to the deployment of troops on Turkish soil? And, secondly, given the support the President has shown to this Islamic secular government, is there any concern that the push for deployment of U.S. troops is destablizing that government?

MR. FLEISCHER: Turkey has proven that it is, indeed, a democracy. And it is important to follow the will of a democracy as expressed by its elected officials. And so, as I say, Turkey is reviewing this, themselves. And this has just happened; we'll see what the ultimate outcome is.

QUESTION: Have you any concern about safety for American troops?

MR. FLEISCHER: Turkey is a NATO ally, and Turkey is a democracy. And as such, we are friends.

QUESTION: Ari, on the aid package to Turkey, if the troops don't go to Turkey, then the aid package vanishes?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, all matters are being reviewed, and again, it is too soon to say what would happen with that. Turkey is reviewing it, we're reviewing it. We'll find out.

QUESTION: -- possibility that we could give part of the aid package to Turkey even if troops are not allowed to --

MR. FLEISCHER: It means that this surprise and disappointment is still being looked into from both Turkey and the United States' point of view, to see exactly what the next steps will be. At this point, as of Monday at noon, it is unclear, it is still being looked into. We shall see.

QUESTION: Ari, is there -- going back to the British newspaper, The Observer, is there really a need to spy on the non-permanent members of the Security Council, to wiretap their phones? Is it true what the newspaper is --

MR. FLEISCHER: I just go right back to my answer to Terry on that question. And, again, I hope you can appreciate, the reason that these questions never get answered -- and not to infer that that means a yes or a no, because it's impossible for you to make those judgments, because we are not -- I'm not indicating to you yes or no.

But I gave an example at the beginning. If I said, yes, we are, you would know something about what we do with our intelligence. If I say, no, we're not, you start asking that question around the world to try to use the process of elimination to find out what the United States does, from an intelligence point of view.

And that is not a position that I think the American people would want the government to go down the line and start to describe every specific item of intelligence. So I'm not saying yes and I'm not saying no, I'm stating the long-standing policy of the government on questions exactly like this, which do come up from time to time.

QUESTION: Going back to the previous question, what is the U.S. policy about discussing intelligence information against other countries from the podium?

MR. FLEISCHER: The policy is the same about any country; we do not talk about intelligence.

QUESTION: I'm trying to square that with earlier in a briefing when you reminded us that Colin Powell spoke about wiretaps of Iraqi officials.

MR. FLEISCHER: Sure, and as you know, that was after a very lengthy declassification process involving the situation uniquely in Iraq.

QUESTION: Well, all we're asking you here to do is if you can, in effect, declassify -- (laughter.) What is the difference? You declassify stuff that helps make your case on Iraq. We're asking you if you're bugging our allies. It seems to be --

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, first of all, I'm not making any presumption that it is classified. I'm not saying whether there is or is not anything of the kind that you are asking.

QUESTION: Well, if there's not of a kind, that's why I don't understand why you can't say it's not of the kind.

MR. FLEISCHER: Because then you're playing process of elimination around the world, which is a process we do not --

QUESTION: Well, we've already eliminated one, Iraq. (Laughter.) How about a couple more, the two that are mentioned in this memo, that very clearly --

MR. FLEISCHER: This is something that those of you who have covered the White House for many years know exists -- pre-exists prior to this administration, and it is a standard response on any such questions about intelligence.

QUESTION: But you do know there have been times when officials have knocked down that intelligence, and you're certainly not doing that today.

QUESTION: Ari, you've described the Catch-22 of Saddam Hussein in such a way I think most reasonable people would conclude that the war is inevitable. Why shouldn't people then further conclude that the President has been less than candid about his decision to go to war?

MR. FLEISCHER: Because the President has not made any final decision. What the President has done is put in place a military buildup that puts increased pressure on Saddam Hussein so, hopefully, this can be done through diplomacy. The President has said that what remains important, as you heard him say last week in the Cabinet Room, is complete disarmament -- complete, total and immediate disarmament -- which is nothing less than what the United Nations called on Saddam Hussein to do.

So, for anybody to suggest that it is somehow not in the ordinary for the President of the United States to say the standards of the United Nations must be met, then what you're suggesting is United Nations standards need not be met. And that's not a standard that the President holds.

Thank you.

END 1:00 P.M. EST

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