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White House Press Briefing

Aired September 3, 2002 - 12:50   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Now to the White House where White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer is talking about Iraq. Let's listen in.

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: ... committed himself to. And that's what the president believes.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) say it would take any lives to carry out his mission?

FLEISCHER: Well, when you say "his mission" I'm not sure what you refer to.

QUESTION: His goal is to depose Saddam.

FLEISCHER: Regime change is the bipartisan policy of the United States government, enacted by...


FLEISCHER: ... enacted by a previous president, enacted as a result of a Democrat president and a Republican Congress agreeing that the world would be safer, the region would be safer if Saddam Hussein was not in control.

QUESTION: No matter how many Americans or Iraqis are killed?

FLEISCHER: Again, you're presuming that the president would engage in military operations to carry out regime change.

FLEISCHER: The president has said he's made no such decision on that topic.

QUESTION: But he has said that he believes he has -- he's asserted he has full authority to go ahead, if necessary, with military action on a scale sufficient to topple Saddam. What other president has ever engaged in that level of war without...

FLEISCHER: I'm not aware that the president has said that. The president is aware that his legal counsel, from strictly a legal point of view, has judged that the president, in his role as commander in chief under the Constitution and under two other matters -- one dealing with the terms of ending the Gulf War in 1991 and the other in terms of the 2001 authorization to use force vis-a-vis the war on terror -- that from strictly a legal point of view, that the president would have the authority to act.

But that's a very different cry from what the president may ultimately do if he decides to take any military action because the president also understands that there are many other important circumstances that would need to be considered prior to taking military action involving Congress and Congress' role, diplomacy, historical precedents vis-a-vis the Congress.

So the legal issue is a different issue from the practical issue.

QUESTION: Yes, but I'm interested in the assertion of executive power that the legal counsel is making, that the president needs no further authorization to make war on a sovereign nation and change its government with a substantial number of U.S. troops involved.

What other president has ever claimed that? Would that be LBJ in the Vietnam War?

FLEISCHER: Let me just again -- I want to assert to you that the president understands that when it comes to protecting the American people and people around the world from threats to peace, including Saddam Hussein's threat to peace, the president knows full well the importance of public opinion in a democracy, the importance of having a country's support in any such endeavor. He understands the importance of congressional opinion. He understands the importance of world opinion.

All these are vital factors to the functioning of democracies. The president fundamentally understands that.

QUESTION: If the president understands that, when does he plan to begin to make the case?

FLEISCHER: Well, you're assuming, again, a decision is made in which a case needs to be made. As the president indicated, he has not made any decisions yet.

But I assure you -- knowing this president as well as I do, I assure you that if the president were to make the judgment that a case needed to be made, the president would make it visibly, publicly, collegially, with the Congress, with our allies.

The president understands that that is how democracies function and the job of the president is to lead a nation in making such a case. That would come from the president if it gets to that point.

QUESTION: There is a widespread public impression, based upon the statements that the president and others in the administration have already made, that he seeks a military solution, whether it's correct or incorrect.

Don't you run the risk of backing yourselves into a corner where no other solution is possible, unless he speaks out too?

FLEISCHER: I think the -- this issue raises one of the most fundamental matters of a democracy, of a presidency, leadership, Congress's role as well.

And these are the very difficult judgments that presidents of the United States are called upon to make, where they have to ascertain at what point is the price of inaction greater than the price of action; at what point do the dangers presented outweigh the risks of doing nothing?

FLEISCHER: And these are why nations have elections, why they elect leaders, why these leaders have authority to use, why these leaders use this authority in conjunction with the Congress. But, again, it presupposes a decision made; no decisions such made. But the president understands the vital importance of all the various issues that you're raising. These are the right issues to raise. The president is aware of them all.

QUESTION: Ari, will he mention Iraq in the prime-time speech he's going to make on September 11th?

FLEISCHER: Oh, it's too soon to say.


FLEISCHER: His remarks on the 11th are going to be, I think, a very dignified and respectful, solemn tribute to those who lost their lives on the attack on our country on September 11th. It will be words of thanks and love to the families of those whose relatives were taken from us on September 11th. And I think it will be a reminder of the importance of liberty, and how our United States stands strong throughout the world in promoting liberty. It will be a solemn day of remembrance.

QUESTION: Is the president going to veto the homeland security bill if the version -- the Senate version as it stands now passes without the flexibility for hiring and firing workers?

FLEISCHER: The president has made it very clear directly to the Congress, and he will do so continuing today in meetings that he's going to have with leaders who are coming down here throughout the week, that he will refuse to accept a bill that limits the flexibility necessary to run the Department of Homeland Security in a way that protects the homeland.

Right now, under national security rules, the Department of Housing and Urban Development has greater protections than the Department of Homeland Security, and that doesn't make any sense.

The president is asking for the same flexibility that other agencies have, the same management flexibility, the same abilities to hire and fire as necessary, to have an agency that is a front-line agency, able to carry out...

PHILLIPS: White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer there, briefing reporters. Of course, many questions with regard to Iraq and will an attack take place? Ari Fleischer saying the president knows full and well that the country, Congress and international allies all need to be informed and consulted if, indeed, a decision is made to attack Iraq.




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