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White House Briefing

Aired September 19, 2002 - 13:16   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Now we are going to take you live to the White House where Ari Fleischer is addressing reporters in his daily briefing. Let's listen in.
ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: ... establish the necessary resolutions in the United Nations Security Council.

The president also today called President Arroyo of the Philippines. They spoke early this morning. And the president thanked her for her government's strong support for the United States approach on Iraq. In addition, the two discussed counterterrorism efforts around the world, including in southeast Asia.

Now, the president also today called President Kwasniewski of Poland.

They talked about the upcoming NATO summit, as well as Iraq. And the president thanked the president of Poland for their government support on Iraq.

The president had his usual intelligence briefings and FBI briefings, and then he met with members of Congress, particularly a bipartisan group from the House of Representatives that is going to work as a team to help the administration with a resolution that has been sent up to the Hill concerning Iraq, and this group will help the administration to secure the votes, and to work closely with us, in addition to the leadership of the House of Representatives in both parties so that the administration's proposal can be well received and move forward to a vote.

Later this afternoon, the president will visit with employees of the Department of Homeland Security, where the president is going to try to make progress to help the Senate break the log jam that the Senate finds itself in, to bring action to homeland security so that the matter can be voted on. And this evening, the president will make remarks at the Republican Governors Association's fall reception.

Finally, in regard to the speech at the United Nations by the Iraqi foreign minister, in this speech Iraq failed to accept the truth and engaged in additional deceptions and showed no willingness to change attitude or behavior. Sadly, this speech presented nothing new and was more of the same.

It was a disappointing failure in every respect. The speech is an attempt to lure the world down the same dead-end road that the world has traveled before. And in that, it represents a disappointing failure by Iraq. QUESTION: What specifically was deceptive, in the White House's view, about what the foreign minister said?

FLEISCHER: Well, number one, Iraq said in the speech that they have not rejected the resolutions of the United Nations. If that was true then why did the United Nations pass 16 of them? The reason is because Iraq has not complied.

Iraq said in the speech they are clear of all nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. As we know from the arms inspectors who have been to Iraq, that is categorically a lie.

Iraq also accused President Bush of engaging in lies and falsehoods.

And finally, they're already putting up conditions for the weapons inspectors that they said only two days ago they would accept unconditionally. When Iraq talks about sovereignty and independence, history has shown that those are codewords for thwarting the inspectors.

QUESTION: Do you get the sense or are you concerned that this diplomatic offensive from Saddam Hussein might convince members of the Security Council or other world leaders to say, "Well, preferable to war, give them one more chance"?

FLEISCHER: No. I think the United nations has no desire to travel down the same dead-end road again. They've spent 10 years traveling down that dead-end road.

And as the president said this morning, ad the speech doesn't change anything for the president, that he has confidence that the members of the Security Council will face up to their obligations. He thinks it's terribly important that they do so.

QUESTION: Is there any way to avoid war? And if so, how?

FLEISCHER: The president, in his speech to the United Nations, laid out the important decisions that Iraq has to make in terms of destroying its weapons of mass destruction, stopping its repression of minorities, returning prisoners, renouncing involvement with terrorism and ceasing its violations of the oil-for-food program.

The president believes what has to happen next is for the United Nations to act in a strong and meaningful way. The president thinks it's important for Congress to act and that the world's voice be heard by the Iraqi people and by the leaders of Iraq.

QUESTION: Ari, the president was very explicit about what he was asking for from Congress -- authorization to use force to bring about regime change. Is that the same thing he's looking for from the U.N.?

FLEISCHER: I don't think you can assume that what we are asking of the Congress is the same that we are asking from the United Nations. They are separate organizations, of course. In terms of what's being asked of the Congress, late this morning, early this afternoon a resolution to authorize the use of force was sent up to Capitol Hill for its consideration. This is a draft. And the president looks forward to working with members of both parties on this resolution. He thinks it's very important for the Congress and the White House to work together without regard to party. That way the nation sees the Congress and the president can work together on something as important as this.

There will be meetings on Capitol Hill about this.

And the president believes and expects that the Congress will vote on this before they leave.

QUESTION: Why the difference then? Why not ask the U.N. for the same? You can't get it. I mean, is there a feeling that you can't possibly convince the world that regime change is...

FLEISCHER: Well, the world is not the Congress. The world has other concerns and other issues. For example, the work that the secretary is doing along with other members of the Permanent 5 and the other members of the Security Council will keep going on. Obviously there are still consultations and negotiations under way with members of the Security Council. And we will see exactly what the U.N. does. And you'll see what the language is at the appropriate time.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) just for a second, Ari, to the 9/11 hearings on the Hill. Why has the White House sought to not declassify information that the president received about intelligence prior to 9/11?

FLEISCHER: If you're referring to -- I think there's been some confusion on that point. The final report recognizes the principle of information that is provided to the president per the advisory capacity of his staff is not subject to revelation in terms of the president was briefed on this, the president was briefed on that. That's a well known and accepted principle that the Congress has recognized in this report.

But the substance of the information is in the report. Nothing was withheld in the final document about the substance of the information that was received. But the question of, did this go to the president, to anybody else, et cetera, that's a long regarded principle in the advisory capacity of the president and the staff.

QUESTION: Ari, are U.S.-German relations being threatened by the tone of the Iraq debate in the political campaign there?

That's including the justice minister's equating President Bush's tactics with Hitler and that Chancellor Schroeder's ruling out German involvement in any Iraq war.

FLEISCHER: Well, let me say that I've noted the report out of Berlin where the German justice minister likened President Bush's actions to those of Adolf Hitler. And the United States and Germany have had a very long and valuable relationship, and the relations between the people of the United States and the people of Germany are very important to the American people. But this statement by the justice minister is outrageous and is inexplicable.

QUESTION: And if I could go back to Iraq for a minute. The resolution sent to Congress doesn't specifically mention regime change in the operative portion of the resolution, but it does mention regional stability...

FLEISCHER: How do you know that? It hasn't been released yet.

QUESTION: Well, it got released somewhere. But are we to interpret that...

FLEISCHER: Well, I think you could not have read the entire resolution. Let me just say...


QUESTION: ... the operative portion, after all the "whereases."

FLEISCHER: Let me just say that the resolution will be provided, but, of course, first, we want to make sure that members of Congress have it. The press will have it in its entirety. But first things first, we want members of Congress to be able to have this, to be able to take a look at this, and that is under way as we speak. And then you'll be able to see the resolution in its entirety.

And I think it's safe to say that given the fact that in 1998, four years ago, when Congress spoke and expressed its support for regime change, the only thing that's happened since 1998 is that the situation has grown worse, because Iraq has continued to develop its weapons and the inspectors are no longer there. And so, you should expect that this resolution will build on the 1998 resolution that includes regime change.

QUESTION: You mentioned the phone call to Prime Minister Koizumi. I'm just wondering if you didn't talk about any economic programs. Was there any discussion of that, including the Japanese government's decision to purchase of equities. unusual move?


QUESTION: No discussion of any economic matters?

FLEISCHER: No. The phone call was on the two issues I described to you.

QUESTION: I just want to clarify. Is the president asking the Congress for the authority to use military force to bring about regime change in Iraq?

FLEISCHER: The resolution makes clear that regime change needs to be the objective, and this is a resolution in draft form that would authorize the use of force to achieve the objectives of the resolution. And when you look at all the whereas clauses, there can be no mistake in that the purpose of the authorization to use military force would be to protect the peace by changing the regime.

QUESTION: OK, and if I can follow up because also, according to the draft resolution that some of us have, it also talks about authorizing the use of force to restore international peace and security in the region.

So does this authority solely cover Iraq, or could it cover other regional threats: Lebanon, Syria, Iran? Should any country pose a threat to the international peace and security the president would have authority?

FLEISCHER: No, I think you have to see this in the context of the conversations the president is having about Iraq.

QUESTION: So only about Iraq?

FLEISCHER: Those are all the conversations that are being had.

QUESTION: As you know, the inspectors are going to try to finalize arrangements to get back into Iraq late next week. But you and others in the administration have made it clear that there is a degree of skepticism over the offer in general from Saddam.

Can you share with us any indications the United States has received that Saddam will have some conditions regarding certain sites?

FLEISCHER: Well, when you hear what the Iraqi foreign minister said today, how can you not come to the conclusion that this is anything but a repeat of conditions?

The word sovereignty have a meaning in one part of the world that are totally different when it comes to Iraq. Iraq uses the word sovereignty in an effort to thwart the inspectors. Iraq uses the word sovereignty in a effort to get around the very resolutions that they have been called on by the world to comply with. That is a codeword for deception, for deceit and for thwarting the inspectors.

And this is why the president thinks it's so important for the world to speak clearly and strongly so that Iraq again cannot dishonor its obligations to the world. And again the bottom line has to be disarmament.

QUESTION: Should Iraq have specific concerns about inspections at what they're referring to as presidential sites, what would the administration's position be on that?

FLEISCHER: Well, you know, on the question of presidential sites, number one, there is no negotiating with Iraq. Iraq has to comply with the terms of the world to disarm, and that is not a matter that is subject to negotiations.

On the question of so-called presidential residences Iraq, by various reports, has some -- I've seen some accounts of 17 presidential palaces, some 30 presidential palaces. I don't know very many people who need that many places to live. I don't think he spends much time at all of those places. Something is going on there other than Saddam Hussein sleeping there. And yet he does not want the world to even visit those sites. There's probably a reason why.

QUESTION: You have asked the Congress (UNINTELLIGIBLE) resolution, expect them to have it passed as soon as possible. Do you have a calendar for getting the U.N. to approve something that you would be comfortable?

FLEISCHER: No, there's no hard and fast calendar, other than to say what the president has said, which is this can be a matter of days and weeks, and not months. It's important for the United Nations to move quickly on this. And the United Nations is a deliberative body. And we will continue to work closely and cooperatively with the United Nations as they proceed sooner.

QUESTION: The foreign minister of Iraq and we heard Tariq Aziz use only the word oil, saying that the U.S. is trying to get any excuse possible to get its hands on and control Iraqi oil. That's a valid point.

FLEISCHER: The United States is working to protect the peace in the region and to stop Saddam Hussein from endangering the peace in the region, as he has shown in his willingness to use the weapons that he's developed for the purpose of attacking others. That's what this is about.

QUESTION: A couple of questions. First of all, in using the word sovereignty and other remarks that he had made, it's suggesting that Iraq is looking to put some conditions on the inspectors, or to bar off some areas. Doesn't that work to the U.S. advantage as you all try to persuade the U.N. to take more aggressive stands? Will that, in fact, give you all an argument to take to some wavering allies?

FLEISCHER: Well, I don't think it's uncommon for Iraq to see things that nobody else in the world sees things, and that's the problem. And that's why Iraq has been in such defiance of the Security Council resolutions.

I think it's important for the world to listen carefully to what Iraq's foreign minister said. The more the world listens to the Iraqi foreign minister, the more the world will be convinced of the dangers that Iraq poses through their attempts to deceive and to distort.

QUESTION: Now, also on the domestic resolution, two quick questions. First of all, are you all going at this from -- do you view this as a bit of a negotiating session? Because you've indicated that Congress is going to want to put its stamp on it. I mean, is that how you approach it that, you know, there will be some give and take on this language?

And then secondly, what do you expect from these members that met with the president? Was there are a real strategic plan for what you want them to do to help build the vote?

FLEISCHER: Well, on the first point, what we want to do is work together with the Congress to get agreement on the language. And that means the importance of consultation and discussion to listen to any ideas Congress may have, and to be receptive and Congress to be receptive to the president's ideas.

I don't think anybody is talking about any fundamental changes in the core of what the president is asking for. I think you're starting to hear a rather large coming together of members of Congress in both parties behind the essence of what the president has proposed.

In terms of the meeting with the members today, you know, in the past, in 1991, for example, there was a similar working group that was set up in a bipartisan way. That way they could help the administration to work with members of Congress to address any questions that they have to take up any concerns that members of Congress have, so that when the day comes for a vote the vote can be as large as possible.

Not everybody will support this. Certainly people in good principle will vote against this. But we want to work cooperatively with everybody, and that's why this has been put together.

QUESTION: Will you be meeting regularly with this group?

FLEISCHER: I think as events warrant. As events warrant.

QUESTION: The Russian foreign and defense ministers are in town today and the foreign minister is coming here tomorrow. The stated purpose is to discuss the implementation of the Treaty of Moscow. Will Iraq also be on the agenda?

FLEISCHER: Yes, I said that yesterday. The purpose is to discuss the Treaty of Moscow, and that certainly be a topic. But it would not surprise if the topic of Iraq came up as well.

QUESTION: Will the situation in the Pankisi Gorge of Georgia also be part of...

FLEISCHER: I can't predict everything that's going to happen in a meeting that will take place 24 hours from now, but try to give you a report after the meeting.

QUESTION: President Putin, I believe it was last week, attempted to equate the situation in the Pankisi Gorge and the Russian attempts to drive out terrorists from that area with the United States effort in Afghanistan and other places.

What's your assessment of that, Ari?

FLEISCHER: The president does not equate the two; that it is important to fight terrorism and to respect the sovereignty of the Republic of Georgia. Unlike what's happened with the United Nations, the United Nations has expressed itself 16 times in its resolutions that Iraq has violated. The United Nations has called on Iraq to disarm. Iraq has failed to do so.

While there are other hotspots in the world, none -- none are like Iraq and none present the danger to the region and to the world that Iraq presents.

QUESTION: Another bomb in Israel, another bomb in Kashmir, innocent people have been killed every day by the same people who have links with Al Qaida. And now, there is a new book by Mr. Amiza (ph) from Delhi, linking Saddam Hussein also for these Al Qaida links and jihad and the conflict between Islam and Christianity, (UNINTELLIGIBLE). The book is calling that there is no democracy anywhere in the Islamic world and Pakistan is the only Islamic country with nuclear weapons and they may spread in other part of Islam world.

The question is that, why you are not pressing for democracy in other Islamic countries?

FLEISCHER: Well, there is democracy in the Islamic world. Turkey is an example of it, and there are others as well.

QUESTION: Most of the terrorism comes from the Muslim countries, Islamic countries, and in order to have peace or end of terrorism I think democracy in those countries may be the answer.

FLEISCHER: Well, if you ask the president, the president believes that democracy is always the answer everywhere and democracy is not something that the United States uniquely possesses or imposes: democracy is God-given. All you need to do is read our Declaration of Independence and you see that our inalienable rights come from the creator. And that applies to everybody, everywhere around the world regardless of the color of their skin, their ethnic background or their national circumstances. It's the rights of man and people are entitled to it everywhere.


FLEISCHER: Absolutely Iraq.

QUESTION: Just to follow, when the president meets world leaders -- Islamic leaders, the prime ministers and presidents here at the White House, does this question come up between the leaders?

FLEISCHER: The question of democracy does come up. It is something the president speaks about, and he speaks about it exactly as I just talked to you about. It's something the president says. This does not come from any American invention. This comes from the inalienable rights...

PHILLIPS: White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer leading today's daily briefing, talking about President Bush and the fact that he is asking Congress for maximum flexibility on Iraq as it decides and debates what will take place when it comes to a resolution authorizing the president to use force against Iraq to help keep the peace, as the president says.


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