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White House Briefing

Aired January 10, 2003 - 12:35   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I want to go to the White House press briefing room. The Press Secretary Ari Fleischer answering reporters' questions right now.
ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECY.: And North Korea continues to take steps in the wrong direction, steps that only hurt their own cause of the North Korean people.

QUESTION: But why, given this escalation then, does the administration not think it may be time to change tactics...

FLEISCHER: Well, the real news came when North Korea admitted that it was violating the treaty. The news that it will no longer belong to a tray that it's violated is secondary to the more important fact and news when North Korea informed the world that in violation of all its agreement it made with the world it was not in compliance with the very treaty that which it had signed.

QUESTION: Ari, North Korea also, sort of, indicated it might be willing to talk about this. Do you see mixed messages coming from North Korea, and do you think there is any possibility of negotiations?

FLEISCHER: I think it's always hard to read North Korea's messages. I think that's been true throughout the history of North Korea.

FLEISCHER: The United States' message is clear, and it's a message that has echoed around the world: that North Korea needs to comply with its international obligations. And that is something that we have said we will talk to North Korea. That's a message that they need to understand and they need to act upon.

QUESTION: The North Koreans seem nonetheless determined to, sort of, stick their fingers in the administration's eye. They're talked to a Democrat very deliberately. The ambassador today made a number of undiplomatic statements in a public news conference. And yet you still maintain you can talk to them.

FLEISCHER: I think it's fair to say that North Korea has decided that it wants to stick its finger in the eye of the world. This is not an action North Korea has taken vis-a-vis the United States, this is an action that North Korea has taken vis-a-vis the world.

The world stands united; North Korea stands isolated. And hence the problem for the people of North Korea -- the people of North Korea are the ones who suffer the most when the North Korean government acts in a manner that is so contrary to international agreements and international expectations. It's the people of North Korea who pay the price when the government of North Korea takes these actions. They bring upon themselves a path of further isolation.

QUESTION: The North Koreans don't seem to be blaming the rest of the world. They seem to focus their anger entirely on the United States.

FLEISCHER: That's why I said when you see the fact that North Korea woke up this morning to news that their actions have been condemned by virtually the entire world, this is an issue that North Korea has brought upon itself in its dealings with the world. North Korea may want to isolate it as a matter with the United States, but that's far from reality.

QUESTION: You speak of the condemnation of North Korea in strong terms, but the word "disappointing" is pretty mild in the language that's come from this podium and so forth. Is it because North Korea is so strong that we wouldn't dare take her on and so you're using the diplomatic route in that case?

FLEISCHER: Actually, I used several adjectives.

FLEISCHER: I said it was disappointing, it's serious concern, it's brought upon...


FLEISCHER: I said disappointing, serious concern, and has brought upon...


FLEISCHER: Only if you ignore the rest of my words. I can repeat them. The administration has said it's a matter of serious concern and it's brought on the condemnation of the world toward North Korea.

QUESTION: Helen's got a point, though. The U.N. ambassador from North Korea said today that any action by the Security Council to impose sanctions would be seen as an act of war. Is that why the United States -- the administration has not gone to the Security Council? And does North Korea hold the cards here, essentially? Do they...

FLEISCHER: Nobody...

QUESTION: Because of their armed forces on the border of South Korea and their potential small nuclear arsenal, are they forestalling tougher action from the administration?

FLEISCHER: No, I think it's fair to say that when you look at the history of North Korea and its dealings with multiple nations around the world, their approach is the worse they act, the more they get. And that's an approach that this administration will not be a party to. And so, I think what you do see in the case of North Korea here is a nation that has had a pattern of acting out of line with international agreements and then seeking to be rewarded by the rest of the world. And the president's approach to this matter will remain a diplomatic approach, a matter of steady and steely diplomacy.

QUESTION: The president has said on several occasions, and you reiterated to President Jiang this morning, that he has no hostile intentions, no intention to invade North Korea. Will he put that in writing?

FLEISCHER: It's not a question of that. It's a question of North Korea coming into compliance with its obligations around the world. It's not a question of North Korea receiving anything in return for its bad behavior. The president has said what he said. It's a statement of American policy, and I think it's the statement that the nations understand.


QUESTION: ... "We won't invade." What's the difference between saying it and writing it?

FLEISCHER: Well, again, put yourself in the position of anybody who's working with a nation that we previously entered into an agreement with. We entered into agreement. There was a quid pro quo: If they did certain things such as not produce nuclear weapons, the United States would provide them certain things.

We provided them those things. We held up our end of the bargain. They walked out on their end of the bargain.

The suggestion that when they walked out on their end of the bargain we should do additional things doesn't seem to make any sense. That's just a formula to reward bad behavior, and that's not a good diplomatic policy.

QUESTION: Is China doing enough to exert its influence over North Korea?

FLEISCHER: The president is pleased with his cooperation that he's received from China on this topic. This remains an issue that we work regularly with the Chinese on. The president and President Jiang Zemin had a very good discussion about it this morning.

QUESTION: Can they do more?

FLEISCHER: I think it's fair to say that we will continue to work with all nations around the world to just see what more can be done. And that is exactly the reason that we're in consultations.

QUESTION: Has the administration had a direct report yet from Governor Richardson on his discussions? And if so, have the North Koreans been saying anything different in private than they've been saying? FLEISCHER: No, my last report, we have not received anything yet. And I think they were having that news -- there's a two-hour time lag between here and New Mexico, but I have not heard anything new since I looked into it earlier this morning.

I think the communication will come from Governor Richardson to the State Department.

QUESTION: This morning, after a meeting with Mohamed ElBaradei and Senator Lugar, Mohamed ElBaradei said and Senator Lugar seemed to confer that what the U.S. needs to do is not just have talks but make it clear that there's a light at the end of the tunnel for North Korea in those talks; that there's a reason that they should come to the table. What do you say to that?

FLEISCHER: There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and that begins with North Korea's immediately dismantling its nuclear weapons programs and coming into compliance with its obligations around the world. The ball is in North Korea's court. And it's important, when the ball is in your court, not to move backward with it.

And so we hope that North Korea will move forward and take the actions to dismantle its weapons programs and come into compliance.

QUESTION: One thing that Mr. ElBaradei said on Iraq which is that the U.S. is still not giving enough actionable intelligence information to them to help them with their search (ph) in Iraq.

FLEISCHER: Well, Secretary Powell has made clear, the United States will and is providing information to the inspectors to help them to do their job, will continue to be in communication with the inspectors about the exact nature of it. But they are receiving a tremendous amount of information now that we think is going to be very helping to them in doing their job.

QUESTION: Is there any limit to the president's tolerance for North Korea's bad behavior? In other words, what does it take to trigger a stronger response from the White House?

FLEISCHER: Well, I think the response from the world has been strong, but the president has made the decision to pursue this matter in a diplomatic fashion.

And one of the essences of good diplomacy is to recognize the fact that good diplomacy occasionally takes time. It takes time to work in concert with our allies. It takes time to develop positions and to convince North Koreans of the merits of those positions.

FLEISCHER: Obviously, North Korea has set itself on a path, a path that we urge them to reverse.

But the president has made the decision that this is a diplomatic matter. And that, as I indicated, is a matter the president will pursue in a very steady and steely manner.

QUESTION: Ari, ElBaradei has made a couple of points, and he largely agrees with the U.S. He has said that North Korea must take the first step and that they cannot interpret anything as rewarding bad behavior. On the other hand, he does say that it would be appropriate for an international community to articulate what the North Koreans could expect from good behavior.

FLEISCHER: Well, let me put it this way. Before the North Koreans announced that they had violated the treaties they belong to and began the production of nuclear weapons, a violation of the agreements they made with the United States and the rest of the world, the United States had been prepared to offer a bold approach to North Korea.

North Korea has been and is on a path of continuing to isolate itself from the rest of the world. And when you take a look at the fantastic differences between the life of the people of South Korea and North Korea, who, after all, began at the exact same starting point after the Korean war, look at the success and the progress and the education that's available, the health care that's available, the food that's available to their neighbors in the South that is denied to the people in the North because of the government of the North, and so this is an issue where North Korea has chosen a path that has hurt its own people.

FLEISCHER: And the president very much would like to see a North Korea that is able to put itself on a different path, a path that would result in the world doing more to help North Korea.

But the ball is in North Korea's court, and North Korea has to act as a responsible sovereign among the nations of the world.

QUESTION: I understand what you're saying, but does the U.S. view a discussion of what the North Koreans could expect from good behavior, what would happen after they come into full compliance -- do you view any such discussion as negotiations or is that just part of a discussion about what the future might look like?

FLEISCHER: It's very plain that North Korea must comply with international obligations and cease its production of nuclear weapons and dismantle the facilities and honor its obligations.

But from the point of view of North Korea, look what they lost that they may have been on the way to gaining with a nation like Japan. Japan was in the midst of discussions with North Korea about advancements in the relationship between Japan and North Korea that would have been historic in nature, given the histories of Japan and North Korea. And North Korea forfeited it for itself as a result.

These are not hard decisions for a nation to make if it's a nation that seeks to advance itself, to be welcomed by the international community and to take care of its own people.

So North Korea, I think, has to come to a reckoning about the path that it is putting itself on if it seeks a bright future for itself and for its people around the world.

QUESTION: One other thing, if I may. The January 27th report, the update from the inspectors on Iraq, what does the U.S. regard as the significance of that report?

FLEISCHER: We view this as an important reporting date.

BLITZER: All right, so the White House press briefing is going to continue, Ari Fleischer answering reporters questions about North Korea, about Iraq. We're going to continue to monitor that briefing, see if there's additional news that is made. Of course, we'll bring those developments to you as they come forward. Ari Fleischer, though, saying that it's clear that the ball is North Korea's court right now. It's up to the North Koreans to step. Only then will the U.S. respond.


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