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White House Briefing

Aired October 3, 2002 - 12:40   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The White House press secretary, Ari Fleischer, is briefing reporters right now. Let's listen in.

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, in regard to the first part, I notice there was a report on the news last night that didn't cite anybody that made that case, that the White House is impatient or the White House -- I would just cite what Secretary Powell said this morning. Secretary Powell said that he's optimistic that we'll be able to get an agreement from the United Nations Security Council. And the president believes that it is vital for the Security Council to act and speak differently than it has over the last 10 years and that he believes, as a result of the diplomatic efforts that are under way that, indeed, will be the result.

The president just could not imagine that the United Nations Security Council would become irrelevant by letting the status quo remain.

And so the diplomatic conversations are going to continue with our allies, with China, with Russia, with France and other members of the Security Council. And I think what you're seeing is diplomacy unfold. And in the end, the president remains optimistic the outcome will be solid.

QUESTION: The art of diplomacy suggests that everyone has to move a little bit. The president has shown no sign of that so far. Is he willing to ...

FLEISCHER: How do you know that? How do you know the president has not moved?

QUESTION: Because he hasn't signed on to France's idea of a two- step resolution.

FLEISCHER: I submit to you that much of these negotiations are, as you would expect, diplomatic conversations that take place in private. And as you know, the president has a resolution that he's been working on with the British. And of course, we're amenable to working with other nations on the exact wording in the resolution. But the point the president made in his speech to the United Nations is that it is imperative for the United Nations to act so that Saddam Hussein knows that he needs to disarm.

QUESTION: Ari, did the president say today that he knows war in one of the speeches or he's been a part of a war? FLEISCHER: What the president has said, the only time I could think of that you may have picked up is the president in his meetings with congressional members and others has said with a lot of sadness that he is the one as commander in chief and as president who in the course of the war in Afghanistan has hugged the widows of those whose lives were lost in Afghanistan.

And it's a role that he does not relish. It's one of the deepest burdens of the job.

QUESTION: But he didn't say he was involved in any war.

FLEISCHER: I've never heard him say that. But he has talked about for those who lost their lives in the war and what it's like for the president to meet with the survivors, the families of the people who have been killed in combat and how difficult it is, how emotional it is, and that he doesn't look forward to ever having to do it again. But he also then states...

QUESTION: But why (inaudible) a war with Iraq if he doesn't want to do it again?

FLEISCHER: Then he states how resolute he is to protect American lives.

QUESTION: Does he have any idea of how many people would die in this war?

FLEISCHER: I don't know that anybody can tell you. Perhaps everything can be averted if...


QUESTION: ... does he know how many died in Afghanistan? There's no casualty figures.

FLEISCHER: I think what the president is worried about is how many Americans will die if Saddam Hussein is successful in acquiring the nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction that he seeks because he has a history of using the ones he gets.

QUESTION: Ari, why isn't the president impatience at the pace of progress? It's been three weeks since he gave the speech...

FLEISCHER: I think the president understands how the U.N. works. And when the president went up there he said that this would be a matter of days and weeks, not months. And it is not a matter of months.

And so the president understands that diplomacy is a painstaking task and an important one. It's a serious task. And that's what you see going on up at the United Nations now.

QUESTION: Senator Majority Whip Harry Reid asked the White House recently in a letter for an accounting of how taxpayers are going to be billed for these fund-raising trips. Are you planning to provide him with that information?

FLEISCHER: This is an old issue. I think the letter is actually an old letter. It was sent about a week ago. And this has been discussed many times. There is a funding formula that is decades old that all White Houses adhere to for the allocation of expenses between political and governmental, and that is always being followed.

QUESTION: So are you all providing him with that information?

FLEISCHER: Well, that's the formula. And it's in place. And anything else, I'd refer you to the Office of Management and Budget where the letter was sent. But everybody is well aware of the formula, and it is, of course, followed.

QUESTION: Back on Iraq. You said the president is committed to working in the United Nations and quiet diplomacy will continue. Is there another line of diplomacy that's going on? Bulgaria today announced that it would allow United States forces to use its air space and its resources in any eventual action against Iraq; Romania has done the same. Is the administration lining up a potential non- U.N. coalition?

FLEISCHER: I want to remind you, the issue, as the president said in New York, is disarmament. That is the purpose of protecting the American people. And the American position, as expressed by the Congress, is regime change. And the president wants to make certain that the United States, the people of the United States, our military, our people in the region and our neighbors in the region are protected from the threats that Saddam Hussein poses.

The president went to New York and asked the United Nations to become relevant again, to make certain that they pass the resolutions that make it clear to Saddam Hussein that he is out of compliance with U.N. resolutions, that he needs to come into compliance with the resolutions and that there will be consequences if he fails to come into compliance.

And the president has also said that if the United Nations does not act, and he believes they will, that if the United Nations does not act, the president knows that the United States will be joined by many nations around the world who share our concerns about the threat that Saddam Hussein poses.

QUESTION: So it's fair to see these other nations making these statements as part of an administration effort to line up another coalition?

FLEISCHER: Let me put it to you this way. I think the days of anybody saying the United States would do anything unilateral are over. I think it's very clear to everybody what the United States is doing it's doing with the support of many nations around the world. The only question that remains is what role would the United Nations Security Council play. Will they be a part of this? The president hopes so. Or will they become irrelevant? The president hopes not.

QUESTION: Do you have a sense, though, of how many countries are lined up behind the president now? When the president talks about a vast coalition, how many countries he has behind him?

FLEISCHER: I just would refer to the way the president has said it, and the president has said he'll be joined by many.


QUESTION: I just have two other follow-ups, sorry.

At the U.N., give us any sense of how close you all are to getting an agreement.

FLEISCHER: Let me try to give you a report about the U.N. Of course there is a meeting under way of the United Nations Security Council, as we speak, and Hans Blix is reporting to the United Nations Security Council. Hans Blix will also be in Washington tomorrow at the State Department. And we welcome his visit to the State Department. The conversations with him are important.

At the Security Council, I think it's fair to say that there are a lot of loose ends that are being discussed. Secretary Annan said earlier today the council is discussing whether or not the regime should not be -- the inspection regime -- should not be tightened and strengthened -- should or should not be tightened or strengthened to ensure that we don't repeat the weaknesses of the past. Those are Kofi Annan's words this morning.

There is widespread recognition in the Security Council that the existing regime failed to do the job; it failed to disarm Saddam Hussein and it has left a threat in place. They are meeting now with Hans Blix to discuss what to do about these weaknesses in the past, as Kofi Annan called them, and we welcome this discussion. It's an important one.

Tomorrow the discussion will continue when Hans Blix comes to the State Department, and the United States thinks it's vital that if the inspectors are to return, they have the means and the ability and the will of the world to do their job.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) have to ask. The Iraqi vice president has said a way to resolve this would be a duel between President Bush and Saddam Hussein.

FLEISCHER: There can be no serious response to an irresponsible statement like that.

I just want to point out that in the past when Iraq had disputes, it invaded its neighbors. There were no duels; there were invasions. There was use of weapons of mass destruction and military. That's how Iraq settles its disputes.

BLITZER: Ari Fleischer, the White House press secretary rejecting a proposal, apparently made seriously, earlier today by the Iraqi vice president, Taha Yassin Ramadan suggesting that there be a duel, a duel between President Bush and President Saddam Hussein, a proposal that Taha Yassin Ramadan suggested would alleviate a lot of pain and suffering, if these two leaders simply had a duel. Ari Fleischer saying that's not going to happen, no surprise there.


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