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White House Press Briefing

Aired December 9, 2002 - 12:46   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Let's go over to the White House right now, the White House press secretary, Ari Fleischer, is answering reporters' questions about Iraq.

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: ... it also is not a guarantee.

I think when you take a look at the realm of what is possible inside Iraq with the inspectors, there's a clear recognition by the president and vice president that we want the inspectors to be there so they can do their level best to determine whether Saddam Hussein disarmed. But the presence of inspectors in and of itself is not a guarantee of disarmament.

QUESTION: Does the United States now have in its possession the declaration made by the Iraqis, and do you have an estimate now on how long it will take to analyze that?

FLEISCHER: I have not seen any reliable estimate of how long it will take to analyze, other then it's going to take whatever time is right and appropriate. The analysis of this document is going to be done in a very thoughtful, thorough, and complete way.

We want to be very deliberative as we move through and look at this document to determine, with the international community, what this indicates about Saddam Hussein and his disarmament.

In terms of the document, we are in the process. The United States is assisting the president of the Security Council with copying, distribution of the declaration.

QUESTION: I think the IAEA, an official there was saying it could take the inspections as long as a year to verify compliance on that front.

Is that a realistic estimate?

FLEISCHER: I'm not in a position to judge how long it'll take the inspectors to do their job. That really depends on Iraqi cooperation. The Iraqis cooperate, their job is made much easier; if the Iraqis don't, their job is made much harder.

QUESTION: Will you be sharing more information now, more intelligence information with the inspectors now that the documents have been handed over? FLEISCHER: Yes, we're going to continue to cooperate with the inspectors, of course.

QUESTION: Ari, back to the treasury secretary for a moment. How should we expect John Snow to be different stylistically, if not substantively, from Paul O'Neill?

FLEISCHER: Well, I don't think it's my business to compare one person to the next. You heard what the president said about Mr. Snow. The president looks forward to the Senate hopefully confirming him.

I can tell you, this morning he's already made more than 20 phone calls to Capitol Hill, to members of both parties. The initial reaction has been very positive.

In addition, a number of leading groups throughout the nation have issued statements on his behalf that cite his experience, that cite his track record of success, that cite his work involving ethics in corporations. So the president is heartened by the initial reaction.

QUESTION: Does the president expect him to tow the line more than O'Neill did?

FLEISCHER: Well, the president expects all his advisers to feel free to speak freely, to give him their unvarnished opinions, and then to represent the administration as one team.



QUESTION: Can you just clarify that?

FLEISCHER: Yes. I'm sorry. John Snow is making courtesy calls to Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill.

QUESTION: How many?

FLEISCHER: He's made more than 20 so far. He's continuing his calls.

QUESTION: Ari, based on the Iraqis' declaration so far, I know the analysis is going on, but their public declarations, are they lying? Is this a material breach of the resolution when they say that they have no weapons of mass destruction? And is the government prepared to prove such a lie?

FLEISCHER: Well, the history of Iraq certainly is that they lie. They lie to the United States, they lie to the inspectors.


FLEISCHER: I'm getting there.

(CROSSTALK) FLEISCHER: I'm getting there.

The history of Iraq is unquestionably that they lie. They have lied to the United States, they have lied to the United Nations and they've lied to the inspectors.

The question now is, What is contained in this voluminous declaration that they have submitted?

The answer to that is, we don't yet know. And that's why I indicated earlier that what we will do with this declaration is look at it very thoughtfully, very carefully and very thoroughly to determine what is in there and also what is not in there. But I can't judge beyond that at this point.

QUESTION: Then why not? I mean, the president has been so unequivocal in this...

FLEISCHER: Because we haven't read it yet.

QUESTION: The president has been so unequivocal in his laying out of his policy, the Iraqi government is coming up and saying, "We have no banned weapons of mass destruction."

FLEISCHER: You're asking why we don't have a conclusion based on the declaration yet?

QUESTION: I mean, does the government has the proof that, in fact, they do?

FLEISCHER: Well, as I indicated earlier, the president has said on numerous times, and so have other leaders and so have other previous administrations interestingly, they've made flat out declarations that Iraq does possess biological...


QUESTION: Then why do you have to go through the careful and methodical analysis?

BLITZER: The White House press secretary, Ari Fleischer, insisting that the Iraqis do indeed have weapons of mass destruction capabilities, irrespective of their latest declaration in those nearly 12,000 pages of documents handed over to U.N. Weapons Inspectors. Right now, the U.S. is in the process of making copies of those documents for the four other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council. According to Ari Fleischer, the Russians, the Chinese, the French, and the British at the request of the United Nations.


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