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Daily White House Briefing

Aired October 2, 2002 - 14:01   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Let's go to the White House, Ari Fleischer stepping up to the mic for the daily briefing.

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: ... ferry boat last week. The president applauded President Wade's leadership during the tragedy. And he also commended President Wade for his leadership in responding to the crisis in the Ivory Coast. The president praised President Wade's stand and support of democracy in the Ivory Coast, a position the president adheres to and agrees.

With that, I'm happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: Ari, what is the goal in Iraq, disarmament or regime change? It seems like both messages were sent.

FLEISCHER: The president believes that both are important and they are both statements of American policy. The president thinks that it is important to enforce the resolutions that have been passed by the United Nations for the last decade, which mostly aim on the issue of disarmament. And the president, of course, supports the laws of the United States, and the law includes regime change.

QUESTION: So the purpose of using military force, if it comes to that, will be regime change.

FLEISCHER: I think it would be both disarmament and regime change if it comes to that.

QUESTION: In the president's remarks he said, the United States will work with other nations to help the Iraqi people form a just government in a unified country. Can you expand on that?

FLEISCHER: The president is saying that, in the event that this does come to the use of military power, it is important to work with other nations in the region as well as the United Nations to make sure that Iraq, from a territorial point is -- the integrity of Iraq, the unitorial (sic) integrity of Iraq is respected as events would move forward. And that's an important part of what would be considered a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq.

QUESTION: And if the United States would work to form a just government, what would that look like?

FLEISCHER: Well, I think it would look very different from the government that's in place today. It would be a government that, number one, respects the United Nations; a government, two, that ceases to engage in hostility with its neighbors, or threatens its neighbors, suppresses minorities; a government that abides by the agreement that Iraq entered into in 1991 to cease its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction...

QUESTION: And a final question on the Saudis...

FLEISCHER: ... and to disarm.

QUESTION: ... is this a pledge that America would guarantee a democratic election, as he provides it in Iraq post Saddam?

FLEISCHER: I think that as a broad statement, if you look at what the president said in his State of the Union, the president does share a vision around the world that applies everywhere that the future of mankind is to be free, and the best way to ensure freedom is through democracy. But I think it's an over-read to say that the president of the United States, or any nation can impose democracy or create democracy.

But certainly the mission, the direction of a post- Iraq government should be in the direction of most liberty and freedom for its people, which democracy represents. And that has been -- if you take a look a look at Afghanistan, for example, the history of Afghanistan is not, certainly under the Taliban or under the Soviet Union, one of democracy, but under the loya jirgah and the helping hand of the United States and others are providing in the rebuilding of Afghanistan is certainly more free and more democratic than before.

QUESTION: Ari, can you just be clear about this? If it comes to military action, are you saying that the goal of military action would be to depose Saddam first and then disarmament would follow?

FLEISCHER: I think it's impossible to say what a precise sequence will be.

QUESTION: I would assume that when the military goes in there, they're not going to start hunting around for all of the chemical and biological weapons factories first. They're going to go for the head, correct?

FLEISCHER: I'm not in a position to give you any indication of what a potential military tactic may or may not be. I don't think you can reach any conclusions.

QUESTION: I'm not asking about tactics, I'm asking about policy.

FLEISCHER: I don't know what the difference is when you say you assume that the military would go in and do one before the other. I don't know that you can reach any conclusions that'd necessarily have to be sequential. They are both the policy of the president.

QUESTION: Why is a family grudge included in the official paper that states that our position on war and peace?

FLEISCHER: If you're referring to an attempt to assassinate a former United States president, which Iraq tried to do when former President Bush went to Kuwait...

QUESTION: Does that justify killing thousands of people in Iraq?

FLEISCHER: I think it's also why former President Clinton responded to that assassination attempt with four days of cruise missile strikes against Iraq. Because an attempt to assassinate a former United States president...

QUESTION: So that's justification to try again, for that reason?

FLEISCHER: I think the president cited multiple reasons why Saddam Hussein is a menace and a threat.

QUESTION: But you people are acting like this is a conversion to democracy by the sword. How can you -- I mean, are you going to kill all these people to get democracy?

FLEISCHER: I think that when you heard the powerful statements that were made by Democrats and Republicans alike, some of the most thoughtful and reflective members of the Congress, what you are about to see is going to be a very healthy and important congressional debate that underscores how reluctant democracies are to go to war, but how determined we are as a people and a united Congress to protect the American people from the threats that Saddam Hussein presents.

QUESTION: The chief weapons inspector is going to brief the U.N. Security Council about his meetings with the Iraqis tomorrow. You've already made your position clear that the White House wants a new resolution before the inspectors go back, but if the other members of the Security Council want to proceed while these debates over a new resolution continue what are the U.S. options? Can you, kind of, explain?

QUESTION: Is it something that you can prevent or...

FLEISCHER: I think that was the whole purpose in the president going to the United Nations, to talk to the existing members of the Security Council about the circumstances which would be most constructive in having Saddam Hussein live up to the commitments he made.

The whole purpose is so that if and when inspectors return to Iraq, they do so so that their efforts are constructive from day one, not a game of cat and mouse from day one. And the fear now is that, under the existing regime, this is a return to the cat and mouse game of the '90s, and that's not acceptable because the president thinks, and as Secretary Powell said last night, that maximum pressure put on Iraq is the best way for the world to go.

QUESTION: So is there something you can do to prevent that, though? I mean, it seems like it's proceeding on, sort of, two separate tracks right now. Say, Blix gets his team and moves ahead. I mean, is there -- do you intend to try to veto that in the Security Council or how can you proceed -- I mean, other than voicing your opposition. FLEISCHER: Well, as Secretary Powell made it plain last night, he said that our position is that UNMOVIC can not simply go back under the former terms of reference; that they need a new direction and new mission from the United Nations Security Council. And that's what the current discussion is all about.

QUESTION: Just one more question, too, that's unrelated. Why didn't Trent Lott speak at the event?

FLEISCHER: It was his designation he wanted to have the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee speak.

Let me make sure I don't have my committees mixed up, but it was the senator's designation, the minority leader's designation about who he wanted to speak in his stead. That was his decision.

QUESTION: Ari, two questions. First of all, as the U.N. Security Council debates a new resolution to send in the inspectors, will the U.S. veto it if it does not include the kind of instructions that the president seeks? And then I have one other question.

FLEISCHER: OK. Well, again, I would repeat what Secretary Powell made plain last night. And he said that we do not -- and he added that we do not believe that the inspectors should go back in on the old set of resolutions and under the old inspection regime. Therefore we do not believe they should go in until they have new instructions.

And the reason for that -- let me try to elaborate on this. The reason for that is so that when they return, they return in a way that is constructive and leads to confidence that Iraq will -- is being disarmed, not so they can go back there and repeat what risks being a multi-year stretch-out once again as Iraq drags its feet. The fear here is that Iraq's goal is to engage in a ploy so that they can drag this out before the world as they continue to build up their arms.

And let me review a little bit of history about how these inspections actually work in practice under the existing rules and why it's so important in the United States opinion that the inspectors not return to Iraq without new instructions.

QUESTION: OK, but if you promise when you'll close, you'll deal with the veto part of my question.

FLEISCHER: Well I can only say it as plain as Secretary Powell has, but you talk about veto as if there's a resolution to be vetoed.

But you have to keep in mind, to answer your question, is that the meeting that took place in Vienna is under the terms of the existing resolutions and then Hans Blix will report back to the Security Council tomorrow, for whom he works, and the United States is a member of the Security Council, to discuss what is next.


FLEISCHER; I think -- well, it's premature to discuss whether there even is a form for something to be vetoed or approved because you're presupposing there's a resolution that will get passed that is a repeat of the existing resolutions.

As you know, the debate in the Security Council right now is about a new resolution with new and different authority. I'm not aware of anybody saying that there should be a resolution that's a carbon copy of the ones that failed before.

QUESTION: Can I do a follow-up on this before you get ...

FLEISCHER: I want to get into a little bit of the history here because I think it is crucial for people to understand why the administration feels so strongly about not repeating the mistakes of the past. And people in 2002 may just assume that things worked easily for these inspectors in the '90s; that they were able to get access, they were able to determine whether or not there was something there that indicated Saddam Hussein was building up weapons.

And here's just a short version of the chronology of it. In September 1991, inspectors found large amounts of documentation relating to Iraq's efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. The Iraqi officials confiscated the documents from the inspectors. The inspectors refused to yield a second set of the documents. That resulted in a four-day stand-off in which the team remained in a parking lot, basically held hostage by the Iraqis, unable to carry out their mission. Only after the Security Council threatened enforcement actions did Saddam Hussein relent.

In January of 1993, as a further harassment of the inspectors making their job very hard to do, Iraq refused to allow UNSCOM the use of UNSCOM's own aircraft to fly into Iraq.

In June of 1997, Iraq interfered with UNSCOM's helicopter operations, threatening the safety of the aircraft and their crews.

In September 1997, while seeking access to a site for inspection declared by Iraq to be sensitive -- in other words, a condition that they again slap on inspectors -- UNSCOM's inspectors witnessed and videotaped the movement of files, the burning of documents and the dumping of ash filled from waste cans into a nearby river.

Finally, in 1998, and the events that lead up to the decision by the U.N. that Iraq had effectively made it impossible for the inspectors to do their jobs, Iraq tried to limit the scope and veracity of UNSCOM's biological warfare monitors by preventing their access to sites that were previously designated as having biological weapons, claiming that their ownership had been transferred to other government owners, and therefore the inspectors no longer were allowed in.

These are the cat-and-mouse games that Iraq has played to a masterpiece. They have played the world like a fiddle before, and the president thinks for the safety of the world, we cannot let these mistakes be repeated again.

QUESTION: Finally, I'm just wondering how far is the U.S. going to go to try to make sure that other resolution that you seek is written to ensure what you all believe could happen again.

FLEISCHER: Well, again, the president is focused on making certain that the purpose of the inspectors is to know that Saddam Hussein has disarmed and the best way to obtain that result is for Saddam Hussein to know that there is a price to be paid if he repeats the same harassment, the same intimidation tactics that he employed so effectively throughout the '90s that effectively stopping inspectors from knowing what Saddam Hussein had.

QUESTION: Since the Bush administration is following the Iraq policy on two tracks, the United Nations and Congress, how soon would the president like to have resolutions from both houses of Congress (OFF-MIKE) not wait before the U.N. makes its own resolutions?

FLEISCHER: Well, the timing, of course, will be up to the Congress to decide. The House International Relations Committee will begin its markup of the resolution that was introduced today by the speaker and the minority leader. I expect they may complete work on that as early as tomorrow.

And, of course, both the House and Senate have indicated that they will leave on October 11. Nobody really knows if they will meet that target date or not, but obviously they don't have a lot of time left.

But the president is very pleased. Obviously today's event was a powerful event that sends an unmistakable message to Saddam Hussein, that the Democrats and the Republicans in the Congress are coming together as one nation representing one people. And Saddam Hussein needs to understand that this is the will of the president and the will of the Congress, and we are working together on behalf of this goal.

QUESTION: A second question, Ari, on internal politics: Since Mr. Torricelli has resigned and Democrats seem to be choosing Frank Lautenberg to replace him, after (UNINTELLIGIBLE) does the president believe the position that the Republicans are saying that the cut-off date should have been as the law says in New Jersey 51 days before and Torricelli resigned 36 days before?

FLEISCHER: The laws are issues that the lawyers working for the state parties and for national parties will deal with.

The president, as you know, was a strong supporter of Doug Forrester and thinks he would make a very good senator; that he has a positive agenda for New Jersey. And he will support Doug Forrester no matter what happens or what the courts say or don't say.

QUESTION: Has he called him ever since Torricelli resigned?

FLEISCHER: Nobody's reported to me a phone call, so I couldn't tell you.

QUESTION: Ari, when you say Secretary of State Powell's opinion on the previous resolutions and his position that he'd prefer to wait for another resolution to pass, is that strictly his opinion or does he have some authority to potentially block...

FLEISCHER: Well, of course, Hans Blix has to report back to the United Nations Security Council, and the United States is a member of the Security Council.

QUESTION: My question, I guess, is, if these are existing resolutions and the U.N. Security Council decides, "Well, these are still in force," I mean, can you go back and veto something that's already been approved?

FLEISCHER: Well, that was my point to Jean (ph). You have to have something to veto. And it's not clear that it's proceeding in the manner in which they would just put the old, failed resolutions in a photocopy machine and say, "They're back, go do it again, fail some more."

QUESTION: It would appear that Mr. Blix is preparing to try and do some kind of inspections. If he, in fact, does go back to Iraq, will there be a United States representative with him?

FLEISCHER: Again, it's impossible to speculate about what exact format this will take place in the absence of a new United Nations Security Council resolution.

But again, to underscore why the president and many others think it's so important to have a new resolution, rewind your tapes. Go back to what happened in the 1990s. Go back to how difficult it was for the inspectors to do their job.

Go back to the testimony of the inspectors who returned to the United States and said that they were shot at, Iraqi fired bullets over their heads. Their hotel rooms were bugged, that way Iraq could have notice and attempt to defeat their inspection regime.

Go back and study just how hollow the inspection regime actually came because Saddam Hussein sought to thwart it.

QUESTION: Is it the administration's position that if Saddam does not comply to other U.N. resolutions aside from dismantling weapons of mass destruction that that would be cause for military action?

FLEISCHER: I think if you want to know the categorical position of the United States read the resolution that was introduced today in the House and the Senate by Democrats and Republicans. That lays out the clauses that the administration thinks are important to a fair debate of this issue and to a proper understanding of the administration's feelings on it.

That resolution speaks plainly and says it all.

QUESTION: But does the administration believe that the resolution that the House agrees with the White House now actually approves and gives it the authority to act militarily if Saddam Hussein does not comply to the other U.N. resolutions, aside from dismantling weapons of mass destruction? The president mentioned torture, he mentioned rape, return of prisoners.

FLEISCHER: Let me read to you from the resolution that the administration supports that will shortly be voted on by the Congress and that was discussed today by the many members of Congress in the Rose Garden.

Reading from Section 3, "Authorization for use of the United States armed forces: The president is authorized to use the armed forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to, one, defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq; and, two, and enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq."

I think that says it all.

QUESTION: You said that the purpose of military force was both disarmament and regime change. Is it your belief that, even though it doesn't explicitly refer to regime change, except to refer back to the 1998 resolution, that the president would have explicit authority from Congress to use U.S. military force for regime change in Iraq?

FLEISCHER: I think that if anybody is thinking or expecting that in the event that the United States uses military force one result might be that Saddam Hussein remains the leader of Iraq, that's a rather unrealistic notion.

QUESTION: You've said that it would be unlikely that they would Xerox the old resolution and redistribute it, but as long as the Security Council is unable to agree on a new resolution, the previous resolution from 1999 remains in existence. How would you prevent or what would be the manner in which you would prevent the inspectors from action?

FLEISCHER: Well, the manner is through diplomacy and through logic and through discussions with other members of the Security Council about the needs to avoid exactly those real-life incidents that were the norm of the '90s from repeating themselves in 2002. Why would the United Nations want to make the same mistake again and travel down the same dead-end road?

QUESTION: So in other words, you would just ask the Security Council while this matter is still pending not to begin the inspections? That wouldn't actually require a resolution.

FLEISCHER: Again, Secretary Powell made that plain last night.

QUESTION: Two quick questions. One, this week I'm making a short trip to South Asia, including India, Pakistan and Nepal, to cover elections (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Let's say if the people of India or the government of India is asking President Bush today what message would be as far as India and U.S. relations are concerned? Because what they are saying really, earlier this week president promised another $1 billion to the new ambassador of Pakistan, and also U.S. is opening the doors for the arm sales to Pakistan, including F-16s. So what message do you think U.S. is giving to India, President Bush, when he calls, "We are good friends and have to work fighting terrorism and all that"?

FLEISCHER: Well, one, I'm not aware of any discussions about providing F-16s, and so I'd want to look into that before anybody accepts that.

But, two, the president's message, as you know, is to remain focused on the existing problems between India and Pakistan, which is a focus that this administration has repeatedly made and will continue to make because it's a priority.

QUESTION: Just one last try on this other question: If the U.N. inspectors go in under the old resolution, what will the United States do?

FLEISCHER: Again, I think you're asking about a hypothetical, and I can only quote to you what Secretary Powell made clear last night. He said that -- and I'll just read it to you again -- "Our position is that UNMOVIC can not simply go back in under the former terms of reference."

Again you're asking a hypothetical, an event that is going to be discussed before the United Nations Security Council and very well may not happen under the failed old regime.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) cause the United States to act alone as the president has promised?

FLEISCHER: Again you're chasing a hypothetical trail, which I'm not going to travel.

QUESTION: Two quickies: Do you want to elaborate or modify your statements yesterday that Saddam's possibly early demise?

FLEISCHER: Yes, I covered all of that early this morning.

QUESTION: For the cameras?

FLEISCHER: It's been covered.

QUESTION: OK, on this amendment, I thought I heard Dennis Hastert say the bipartisan agreement does not require the president to get U.N.'s approval, so he said. So at what point would the president just say, all right, he's going to disregard all of the U.N. resolutions?

FLEISCHER: Well, again, the president is, number one, as you heard from his remarks in the Oval Office, very grateful to the leaders of the Congress of the House and the Senate, Democrat, Republican alike. And it's not only the leaders; I think you can see from the event today this reaches deep into the rank and file for their powerful support and nonpartisan support of this resolution.

And the Congress will work its will. And this will be an important issue for members of Congress on all sides to speak their mind. And the president will respect all sides who speak out on this issue. And on the timing at the U.N., the timing will be as the U.N. determines. These debates at the U.N. often are marked by a lack of speed. And the president is content to continue the diplomacy.

PHILLIPS: White House press secretary Ari Fleischer talking about President Bush making a good deal of headway today toward resolving the matter of a congressional resolution to authorize a war on Iraq.


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