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Excerpts from the Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer, May 20, 2003 (Full Transcript)

QUESTION: Now, the Democrats recently have been attacking the President on this issue of the focus on the war in Iraq, took his focus off, or took his eye off the ball when it came to al Qaeda, and that in pursuing the war in Iraq, it allowed al Qaeda to reconstitute itself while the U.S. focus was turned elsewhere. Was that a fair statement?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think the President understands that there are a group of officials who are vying to become the Commander-in-Chief, who will say things that bear no bearing on reality on the international situation, on the security situation. He's focused more on his ongoing mission of providing national security to this country, in a very dangerous world, a world that he clearly understands.

And I don't think you have to be a student of international affairs to know prior to the war in Iraq, we had an enemy who hit us. We have an enemy who hit -- tried to hit us during the war; we have an enemy that wants to hit us after the war. That's what the President is focused on. That's why the meetings are underway. And that's why the President will continue to remind the American people that this is, indeed, a long war against terror, a war that carries risks not only to Americans abroad, but to Americans at home.

QUESTION: But when he said on board the USS Lincoln that the tide was turning in the war on terror --


QUESTION: -- was that premature?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think there's no question that the tide is turning, and as the President said, al Qaeda is diminished, but is not destroyed. Tides that turn also have a way of trying to return so they can continue to spread whatever waves they can. And that is why there is an ebb and flow to wars. There is a battle rhythm to wars. And in this long battle against terrorism, the United States has been very successful in rounding up and arresting such prominent leaders of the al Qaeda organization as Khalid Sheik Mohammed, many of the other top operators around the world. The fact of the matter is, the situation has been made much more dire, much more difficult for the terrorists, but it is not impossible for the terrorists.

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