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Deputy White House Press Secretary Gives Press Conference

Aired November 13, 2002 - 12:34   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The Assistant Press Secretary Scott McClellan, the deputy press secretary speaking. Let's listen in.
SCOTT MCCLELLAN DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: ... immediate access for weapons inspectors anywhere, any time to anyone.

MCCLELLAN: And Iraq must also allow witnesses to weapons of mass destruction programs to be interviewed outside of the country, and to bring their families with them. And Iraq must also stop firing on the U.S. and British aircraft patrolling the no-fly zones.

QUESTION: But this assertion that Iraq possesses no weapons of mass destruction, does that seem plausible to you?

MCCLELLAN: Well, again, I haven't seen the specifics of the letter. But the resolution clearly spells out for the regime in Iraq that any false information or omissions are considered a violation of the resolution and would be considered a further material breach. That's all spelled out in the resolution.

But again, I would reiterate that the latest reports that the regime in Iraq has agreed to cooperate and comply, that we have heard this before. And now it's time to see it by their actions.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) firing on coalition planes in the no-fly zone. Is that a material breach?

MCCLELLAN: I just indicated to you that part of the resolution calls for the regime in Iraq to stop firing on aircrafts patrolling the no-fly zones. You're trying to get into if's and hypotheticals. And as I said yesterday, I'm not going to get into every if and hypothetical. It makes clear in the resolution that if there are violations, that the countries or the inspectors are to report that to the U.N. Security Council where there will be further discussion about what consequences may follow.

But just because there are discussions at the Security Council, I will remind you that that does not prohibit the president from using his authority to act with like-minded nations if need be.

QUESTION: You noted that Iraq has 30 days until December 8 to provide a complete accounting of its weapons of mass destruction.

QUESTION: It has. They don't have any.

MCCLELLAN: Well, again, this letter apparently, I understand, has been delivered to the United Nations. We have not seen -- maybe we are reviewing this letter as I speak - but I have not seen the contents of the letter. We'll look at the letter and we'll go from there.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) United States prepared to provide evidence to counter Iraq's assertion that it has weapons of mass destruction?

MCCLELLAN: Well, again, they have a 30-day deadline to list and disclose all their information. I haven't seen the contents of the letter, so I don't want to jump into what I haven't seen at this point.

But it's been made clear, if there is false information or omissions, then that would be considered a violation.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) saying that they had no weapons of mass destruction would be false information, according to the United States?

MCCLELLAN: Well, again, I haven't seen the contents of the letter. They have a 30-day time line to report all that information.

QUESTION: I asked you this morning. Benjamin Netanyahu, running for leadership in Likud Party, has said, "If elected, he will expel Yasser Arafat." What is the U.S. position on the expulsion of Yasser Arafat by...

MCCLELLAN: As I mentioned earlier, we recognize that there are elections upcoming in Israel. And the United States has a long policy of not getting involved in those internal, domestic discussions that are going on within Israel.

But the president's views are very clear. They were laid out in his June speech when he outlined a road map to our goal of achieving two states living side-by-side in peace. And we're working with all parties in the region to implement that road map.

But I'm not going to go and venture into internal discussions that are going on within Iraq. So I...


MCCLELLAN: I think the president's views were clearly spelled out in his June 24 remarks. And I'd refer you back to those. But you're asking me to jump into internal debates or discussions that are going on in an upcoming election in Israel, and I'm not going to do that.

I'm not going to do that.

BLITZER: Scott McClellan, he's the deputy White House press secretary filling in Ari Fleischer this week, answering reporters' questions, giving some initial White House reaction to the Iraqi decision today to accept the United Nations Security Council resolution.

I'm joined once again by General Wesley Clark, the retired U.S. Army general, former NATO supreme allied commander.

Very interesting what he said, Scott McClellan, because he said that the Iraqis are not allowed to fire on U.S./British planes patrolling the no-fly zone in the southern or northern part of Iraq, but that's been going on for 10 years, they've been firing, and that has not been seen as worthy of a much robust, let say, U.S. military response.

CLARK: That's exactly right. It is the clearest evidence if it's in the resolution, and it calls for them to stop; if they don't stop, it's the clearest evidence that they're not complying. On the other hand, is it worthy of a war, and does it really address the facts of weapons of mass destruction? It would appear not.

It's indicative of the dilemma that the administration is going to face in moving this operation forward. They've got to balance the military buildup and the diplomatic pressure. What's been achieved thus far has been achieved diplomacy backed by force. Got to keep the threat of force alive, got to grind the diplomacy in there and make the inspections either run every rabbit down a rabbit hole, or find the trigger point.

BLITZER: More or less, they've been listening to your advice in the administration. I don't if they're paying that much attention, but they're following your recommendations that we've all been following.

General Clark, thanks so much for joining us. We'll continue to analyze what's going on. I want to go to Moscow right now.

CNN's Moscow bureau chief Jill Dougherty is standing by. What's the reaction from the Russian government, Jill?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN MOSCOW BUREAU CHIEF: Well, they're happy to hear the decision from Iraq definitely, Wolf. In fact, the deputy foreign minister saying that Russia hails that decision and they want the international inspectors back in Iraq as soon as possible.

It's something that Russia both in front of the cameras and behind the scenes had been urging the Iraqi to do. After all, Russia has probably the best contacts with the Iraqis as anyone, and they have been saying, look, we know it's difficult for your public opinion, and also for the leadership of the country, but it is your last best chance to avoid war.

That's the message, and whether it was heard or not, they're glad to hear the Iraqis have made that decision.

Now, when the inspectors do go back in, there could be some Russians among them. Russians are known to be well prepared for this. They are definitely on the roster, a number of them are on the roster for inspectors. They are engineers, we're told, by the foreign ministry, specialists in weapons, et cetera, and could be quite prepared to take on that task.

So the question, Wolf, that will become complicated, of course, is when those inspectors go in, what happens? What happens if -- and we've been asking the Russian foreign ministry, what if, what if Russia -- if Iraq deliberately obfuscates or says that the inspectors cannot see something? The Russians aren't prepared to go into hypotheticals on that, but they want Russia to comply.

Ultimately, what they would love to see is a smooth path where Iraq comes clean and ultimately, in Russian's view, the sanctions on Iraq could be lifted, and things would go back to normal. They realize, of course, that that's pretty far away at this point, but they are content at this point to hear that the Iraqis have said yes, and the inspectors hopefully will go back very quickly -- Wolf,

BLITZER: Jill Dougherty in Moscow. Thanks, Jill, for that report. Thanks very much,


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