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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
June 5, 2003
Press Gaggle to Travel Pool
aboard Air Force One
En Route Washington, D.C.
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me do this as quickly as we can because we got people waiting on the ground. They haven't -- that's why I'm telling you. I knew what their schedule was. I'm trying to accommodate them.
Q Yes, we need to get this there.
Q Yes, well, you're holding us up.
MR. FLEISCHER: Pardon me? I'm done then. (Laughter.) You don't want me to answer the questions you gave me, I'm done.
The President was sitting on a bench next to Secretary Powell, Dr. Rice, and Andy Card on the left side of the airplane, just outside the senior staff cabin, looking out of the window as we flew over Baghdad. He had previously been in a meeting in the conference room. And he showed a real familiarity with the sights of Baghdad, the topography of Baghdad.
Q The President?
MR. FLEISCHER: A real familiarity with the landmarks of Baghdad. He pointed out the farms, where, of course, the war began. He said that's the farms right there around the bend in the river.
Q When you say the farms, you mean that's where the first bombing was?
MR. FLEISCHER: Correct, where the leadership target was hit, the first night, Wednesday night. He pointed out the airports formerly known as SaddamAirport, now BaghdadAirport; the other military airport on the eastern side of the river. He pointed out SaddamCity. You could see that. He pointed it out. And that's what he was saying, that's where the farms are. That's SaddamCity. Just as we flew, he pointed things out.
But he did know in advance. The decision was made by the operational people, the Air Force people, and the White House operational people --
Q The file --
MR. FLEISCHER: That's why I'm trying to hurry it. Yes, the file, they're still there. They'll be there for another 20 minutes. So Andy Card was told on the flight over here that he could avoid the refuel in England, and therefore, get home sooner if we were to fly over Iraq. Air Force personnel made that determination, talked about it with the White House operational staff. Andy then informed the President. The President said, that sounds great.
Q Is that a quote?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's a paraphrase. It was as simple as that. And the decision was made, therefore, to fly over Iraq. The President didn't make the decision. He doesn't make the decisions on the route the airplane takes.
Q Question, did you receive clearance for Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: He was very happy to, one, get home quicker, avoid the refuel. And two, of course, he was very interested in seeing Iraq. It is in many ways a remarkable flight, given the fact that just a short time ago, when our nation was at war, the only way to fly over Iraq was in a fighter jet or a military aircraft that was on an actual military mission. And hopefully, this is a harbinger of other flights to come as the future of Iraqbrightens. And in the wake of this flight, perhaps one day soon can come commercial aircraft bringing visitors to Iraq, reuniting families, and also making Iraqa wonderful tourist center around the world, given its glorious history.
Q Ari, did the President at any point consider visiting Iraqon this trip?
MR. FLEISCHER: No.
Q Doing what Blair just did?
MR. FLEISCHER: No.
Q Did he talk to Blair about Blair's own visit?
MR. FLEISCHER: I wasn't in the meeting, so I couldn't tell you.
Q Ari, a wonderful tourist site to visit --
MR. FLEISCHER: And let me do this for the record, we arrived over Iraq--
Q So we're not on the record?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, no, no, my comments are on the record. The previous brief was on background, but I want to get this on the transcript for all to use. Air Force One entered Iraqi airspace at 24 past the hour and left Iraqi airspace at 30 past the hour. So it was over Iraqi airspace for one hour and six minutes.
Q 5:24 a.m.Eastern time to 6:30 a.m.?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have the minutes. I didn't write down the hours or which time zone we were in.
Q I got it.
MR. FLEISCHER: But I know it was one hour, six minutes. I believe, Wendell, you have the right hour.
Q We're a half an hour away from there. I have a request. Can we make two calls? Can I make a pool call? Can I call the television pool?
MR. FLEISCHER: What's the other request? No, you said you have two requests. (Laughter.) The answer is yes.
Q Say, yes -- say, yes.
MR. FLEISCHER: And you can come back with another one and I'll say yes to whatever the hell that is, too. (Laughter.)
Q Thank you very much.
Q Can we talk to the President?
Q And he said he'd say yes.
MR. FLEISCHER: Oh. (Laughter.)
Q That's my second one. Thank you, Pam.
Q Okay. We wouldn't want that --
END 1:57 p.m.(L)