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White House Briefing

Aired October 1, 2002 - 12:29   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Let's go over to the White House briefing room. The White House press secretary, Ari Fleischer is briefing reporters right now.

QUESTION: ...the 1998 resolution didn't.

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Sure, and on that point, the president is grateful for the fact that still the fundamental issue that Congress is focused on is the authorization of force. And as Congress debates the various "whereas" clauses, we're going to continue to listen to the Congress and work with the Congress. Dr. Rice met earlier today with Senator Lugar. And so, we're going to continue the process. It's been a healthy one.

QUESTION: Is this resolution gaining any traction on Capitol Hill, Ari?

FLEISCHER: I don't think I'm in a position to handicap...

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) unacceptable.

FLEISCHER: The president earlier today said it ties his hands and that it's too narrowly focused. And so, we'll continue to work with Congress.

I think what you're seeing in Congress, frankly, has been a real strong, bipartisan effort to support what the president has asked for, and the president has shown a real willingness to work with Congress.

This has been a healthy process so far. I think it's winding down, coming to a conclusion. And the president, tomorrow morning, will meet with the four leaders of the Congress, bipartisan meeting, House and Senate leaders. And I think that the Congress itself wants to be able to soon resolve this and speak with one voice.

QUESTION: Senator Lugar was up here this morning. Can you tell us who he was meeting with and what the White House...

FLEISCHER: I just did. He met with Dr. Condi Rice this morning here. And the two of them talked about this. And Condi shared with him really very much what I just shared with you all. And that's why I began by praising Senator Lugar for his thoughts.

You know, this is a process where the whereas clauses are going to receive their fair amount of contemplation and debate, properly so. The declarative paragraph is what is the most important paragraph; after all that's the one that authorizes the use of force with the bipartisan support of the United States Congress.

And in this process you saw earlier, there were drafts that were sent up to the Hill that referenced international peace and threats to international peace and security, which was boilerplate language taken out of previous United Nations resolutions. And we worked with Congress on that. We'll continue to work with Congress on this and listen to helpful suggestions.

But ultimately, I think it's becoming increasingly clear that there's overwhelming, bipartisan support for the essence of what the president is proposing.

And until the drafting is conclusive and final and done, there are going to be continuing conversations.

QUESTION: One of the whereas clauses that the Biden-Lugar proposal does not include is a reference to the attempted assassination of the president's father. Does the president still believe it is essential that the congressional resolution mention the fact that, as he put it, Saddam Hussein is the man who tried to kill his dad.

FLEISCHER: Take a look at the draft that was publicly released after the initial discussions with the Congress about what was sent up there and you'll see if that was in there or not. I just don't recall if it was or wasn't. Certainly, that has been a factor that led to previous military action by the Clinton administration against the Iraqi regime. So it has previously led to military use of force. Not an unserious matter to try to assassinate a former president, but there are many reasons that the president has cited, all of which point to Saddam Hussein's willingness to bring harm to the American people.

QUESTION: Is the president's message to lawmakers today, and again tomorrow morning, "Don't send me or don't write a resolution that looks like Lugar-Biden"?

FLEISCHER: Well, you heard the president himself. The president said that he does not want a resolution that ties his hands, that will result in the United Nations (sic) passing anything that's a pullback from what the United Nations has said. After all, why would the Congress speak in a softer voice than the United Nations when the issue is how to send an effective, clear, unmistakable message to Saddam Hussein so he knows at this time the world means business.

And that's why the president feels strong.

QUESTION: Can we take it that one step further with the lawmakers and say, "Don't write a resolution that looks like this, this will be unacceptable"?

FLEISCHER: Well, you heard what the president said. I can't go beyond what the president has said. We will continue to work closely with the Congress on it, and we'll see where the ultimate outcome is. QUESTION: If, as you say, what's most important is the authorizing paragraph, then this debate about the various whereas clauses, are they really deal breakers, or is that just part of negotiation? I mean, how much -- if you really care about authorization and you're getting what you want there, why are the whereas clauses -- how important are the whereas clauses?

FLEISCHER: Well, I think the entire resolution is important, and it conveys a message. And the question is, what will Saddam Hussein do once he hears this message? Will he say, "This is watered down from what they previously said, that I detect a backtracking from the United States, I detect a backtracking from the United Nations"? If that's the message Saddam Hussein hears, that's problematic. And that's why the president thinks it's important that nothing be passed that ties his hands, that sends that clear and effective signal in the authorization of the use of force.

QUESTION: But if the authorization of use of force either explicitly or in some other way nods to a regime change and he gets that message, I mean, why is that less important or less frightening or less intimidating...

FLEISCHER: Well, let me give you -- OK.


QUESTION: ... stop oppressing your people.

I mean, if you can go in and, you know, change the regime, then you kind of solve the other problems in Iraq.

FLEISCHER: Let me give you an example of something that is not in this draft that has been in previous statements by both the Congress and the United Nations, and that deals with the United Nations Security Council Resolution 949, and this deals with Iraq and ceasing any threats to its neighbors which, after all, was what led to the war in 1991 when Saddam Hussein attacked Kuwait in August of 1990. That's nowhere found in this resolution by Senator Biden and Senator Lugar.

So in the event Saddam Hussein were to, again, threaten a neighbor, attack a neighbor, invade Kuwait under this too narrow a resolution being discussed right now, the United States would not have the authorization to use force because Saddam Hussein invaded a neighbor.

That's why the president thinks don't tie my hands, don't do anything that's too narrow. And that would be the case that's cited in U.N. Security Council Resolution 949 which we need to enforce. We need to make certain that Saddam Hussein doesn't miss any signals and attack any of his neighbors. But that's nowhere found in what Senator Lugar is working on.

But again, the point I want to emphasize is that we're listening, we're meeting. Condi had a good meeting with Senator Lugar this morning, and she welcomes and the president welcomes the input from members of Congress. It's leading to a process that is heading toward finality, and that process is going to be inclusive because the president wants to have a big bipartisan vote. But at the same token, the president does not want his hands tied in a way that would confuse the world and weaken the resolutions that we seek to put in place.

QUESTION: If I could just have one more. So by having these whereas sections, would that enable the White House to have the kind of flexibility you're talking about? If there was, say, another inspections process that got approved and somehow starts to happen, we'd have these other triggers that could be cited as a reason for taking action.

FLEISCHER: Well, again, the inspections is not the issue. The issue is disarmament. Inspections doesn't negate what the United States and the United Nations are working on.

QUESTION: But Congress is trying to keep this focused on the weapons of mass destruction and not involve...

FLEISCHER: Well, I think you have to carefully analyze how many people are lining up behind the various proposals on the Hill when you say Congress wants to keep the focus on WMD.

I think that what the president has submitted to the Hill has a very powerful, large bipartisan majority as right now. The question is, different people continue to have ideas, and we're going to continue to work with them all.

QUESTION: I have two questions for you. The first one has to do with the U.N. Russia-China-France continue to publicly say to Saudi officials that they don't want military action, they want diplomatic steps to be taken. What happens -- and I hope this not a hypothetical -- but if the U.N. does not give the president the resolution he and Tony Blair are asking for, does the president feel that resolutions already existing are enough for the United States to take unilateral military action?

FLEISCHER: Well, the president feels that the resolutions that currently exist have been ignored and that if the United Nations were to pass just a warmed-up version of the existing resolution, then the United Nations is going to be proven to not take Saddam Hussein seriously and that the United Nations is at risk of being considered the League of Nations. They've tried it for 10 years, and it hasn't worked.

And the president believes deeply that it is time for the United Nations to speak differently, to speak effectively and not repeat the mistakes that have been made for a decade that have only seen Saddam Hussein continue to build up his weapons.

And so that's where the president's focus is.

Now, as to where matters stand with China and France and Russia, the dialogue is continuing. There are still conversations taking place at various diplomatic levels. And I think you're going to see those conversations continue for the time being. QUESTION: Can I ask you a question on internal politics. President Bush is the head of the Republican Party. He has expended a lot of time and effort in raising funds for different candidates. Very close race in the Senate and House. Has the president expressed to you any opinion on the fact that Senator Robert Torricelli announced yesterday he will not run for reelection?

FLEISCHER: No. I think the president has really focused on what he believes is the importance of electing a good man who has a positive agenda for New Jersey in Doug Forrester. And that's really where the president's focus has been. President Bush believes that Doug Forrester is a strong leader. He is somebody who's focused on pro-growth policies for New Jersey, pro-education policies, and he has a positive agenda.

QUESTION: Ari, is there concern here at the White House that the meetings taking place in Vienna between the weapons inspectors and the representatives of the Iraqi government are undermining the president's efforts to get a single resolution out of the U.N.?

FLEISCHER: No, I have not heard that. I think there are some people who have had different thoughts about whether it should be one or two resolutions, people in other countries, with or without what's happening with Hans Blix and the meetings in Vienna. And those conversations will continue.

But the president again thinks it's very important for the United Nations to act differently and not just repeat the mistakes that have been made for 10 years that have allowed Saddam Hussein to think that he could act with impunity as he builds up his arms.

And so, the United States' position remains that the best resolution and what we are seeking is one resolution.

QUESTION: There apparently is some support building for the two- resolution method. What exactly is the White House's position on two resolutions if it comes down to that?

FLEISCHER: I just gave it to you.

QUESTION: Is there a middle ground that...

FLEISCHER: I just gave you our position.

QUESTION: ... said though, isn't it true the State Department is crafting, behind the scenes, a compromise that would have a two-stage resolution with a trigger, the second resolution with military force would kick in if Iraq doesn't comply with the first one?

FLEISCHER: The president has said clearly that he wants to see a one-resolution solution. He does not think that we need to send any signs of weakness to Saddam Hussein, that Saddam Hussein will exploit any opportunity he sees that gives him a signal that the world is not united, that the world is not speaking as one, and that the world is willing to give Saddam Hussein more time. Because more time for Saddam Hussein means more development and more weapons. QUESTION: But just to follow, you're saying this administration is absolutely 100-percent ruling out any support of any two-stage resolutions such as the French?

FLEISCHER: I can only say it to you as plain as I have, this is what the president believes.

QUESTION: If I could do one more on a (UNINTELLIGIBLE)


QUESTION: But just going back to the subject of a congressional resolution, the president and you all talked about the focus as disarming Saddam Hussein, disarming Iraq. Why then shouldn't the president solely have military force used for that focus, to disarm Saddam Hussein?

FLEISCHER: If you're saying why should the United States retreat from the previous positions taken by the United Nations and the United States Congress, it's because retreating in the face of Saddam Hussein's threat is not an option.

QUESTION: But it's unfair to really compare it because the previous resolutions didn't authorize the use of force. You're talking about authorizing the use of military force. And my question is...

FLEISCHER: You know, that supposes that the people who passed regime change didn't mean it or they thought that Saddam Hussein would term limit himself.

And when they passed regime change in 1998, you have to assume that they meant it, and they cited all those reasons in there about the Iraqi violations of the oil-for-food program, which, by the way, he uses to build up his arms, so therefore it's important to mention it, not to leave it unsaid. That's how he's getting his money for arms. They cited his support for terror, his repression of people, his hostility toward his neighbors. All of these were cited in 1998 by the Congress as why regime change is necessary.

QUESTION: But they didn't authorize the use of force to bring about regime change.

FLEISCHER: That's why I said, unless they didn't mean what they voted in 1998 -- and I don't think Congress indicated that -- or unless they thought Saddam Hussein was into term limits, they remain important criteria today.

BLITZER: Ari Fleisher answering questions from reporters in the White House briefing room, including our own Kelly Wallace on two sensitive issues, one issue being a new congressional resolution that is being drafted. The president trying to find a formula with Democrats and a few Republicans that would be acceptable. Earlier today, he was expressing concern that a pending draft that was being floated by the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Joe Biden, and a very important Republican member, Richard Lugar of Indiana, was not acceptable as far as the president is concerned. It would tie his hands, "too narrowly focused" in the words of Ari Fleisher.

At the same time, a U.N. Security Council resolution. There apparently are some officials over at the State Department, according to our State Department correspondent, Andrea Koppel, who say they might be willing to go for two resolutions that would be linked.

One would outline the case against Iraq, demanding that the Iraqis comply, but only at a later stage would a second resolution be approved warning of severe consequences if, in fact, the Iraqis did not comply. We heard directly from the White House press secretary, Ari Fleischer, right now saying that is not acceptable to the president. He wants one resolution to emerge from the U.N. Security Council, a resolution that would send a powerful signal to Baghdad that there's no dissension, that they must go ahead and allow these weapons inspectors back in and get the job done.


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