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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

White House Press Conference

Aired February 19, 2003 - 12:21   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Before answering reporters' questions Ari Fleischer making some preliminary announcements, including word about the meeting later today between the NATO secretary-general Lord Robertson and the president at the White House.
Let's listen in.

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECY.: ... President Bush will host Spanish President Aznar at the ranch in Crawford, February 21-22. They will have an informal dinner on Friday evening and working sessions on Saturday morning.

Spain has been a staunch ally in the war on terrorism and a valuable member of NATO. President Aznar has personally demonstrated great courage and leadership within Europe and the United Nations Security Council in pressing Iraq to disarm peacefully.

And with that, I'm happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: Ari, will the administration consider it a victory if it gets a simple majority vote without (inaudible) veto and so forth, on a second resolution?

FLEISCHER: In the United Nations Security Council?

QUESTION: On a second resolution to.

FLEISCHER: The standard by which resolutions pass the Security Council at the United Nations is nine votes in favor with no abstentions. That, of course, is the standard by which a resolution passes.

QUESTION: The Turkish parliament has now put off a vote on whether to allow the U.S. to use the bases there. How much more time is left to negotiate this package?

BOUCHER: One, we have not received any official notification from Turkey about whether they will or will not vote it this week. And so, this remains an issue that is, at this minute, an open matter, that is not resolved, and we'll see, ultimately, what the Turkish decision is. I'm aware of a television interview in which it was explained that nothing is scheduled. It did not say that nothing would happen. So this remains an open issue. We will see, ultimately, what the outcome is. It's open.

QUESTION: The president, as he repeated yesterday, says that the U.S. feels it does not need a second U.N. resolution to take military action. But you suggested this morning that he does intend to go through with offering a second resolution. Is that correct?

FLEISCHER: That's correct.

QUESTION: Would you repeat that?

FLEISCHER: You said this morning that the president...

(LAUGHTER)

The position that the president has taken is that he believes it remains very important for the United Nations Security Council to be an effective organization, and the president has said to our allies that we intend to work through the United Nations, and we will.

FLEISCHER: The president intends to work with our friends and allies to offer a resolution either this week or next at the United Nations Security Council. And the president has made repeatedly clear that the preferable outcome is for the United Nations to act. If the United Nations Security Council fails to act, the president, along with a coalition of the willing, will enforce Resolution 1441 by disarming Saddam Hussein.

QUESTION: But why does he keep saying that he doesn't need one?

FLEISCHER: For exactly the reasons that I just outlined.

QUESTION: Can you comment on the op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal by the head of the Iraqi National Congress saying that U.S. policies and plans for a post-Saddam Iraq were, in his words, "unworkable and unwise"?

FLEISCHER: The United States has made it abundantly clear, and I reiterate it today, that in a post-Saddam Iraq, it is important that people from both the inside and the outside have a role in the future government of Iraq; not any one group over another group, no preference of one person over another person, but for an Iraq to evolve and to move so it's led by people from both within and without.

QUESTION: But he's saying here that the plans would, you know, keep Saddam's existing -- this is reading from his op-ed -- "keep Saddam's existing structures of government, administration and security in place, albeit under American officers," and you saying this is leaving out the Iraqi people from determining their own future.

FLEISCHER: That's a misunderstanding of what the plans would be, because the future of Iraq will, of course, be decided by the Iraqi people. In the event there is military action, you can expect, of course, for every effort to be made to maintain the various infrastructures that are part of Iraq.

Iraq is a developed society. Iraq has electricity in all of its towns and villages. Iraq has taken its tremendous oil wealth and, except for the fact that much of it has been used for military purposes, they actually have built some levels of infrastructure that get food, that get medicine, that get supplies to people inside Iraq. And it is, of course, the intention of the United States government to make certain that the people of Iraq are not the victims in a war that would have been started by their leader. And so, we will continue to work with Iraqis, both inside Iraq and outside Iraq, to provide for the best administration of Iraq as possible.

QUESTION: Are you downplaying the role that the Iraqi National Congress would play?

FLEISCHER: Well, as I indicated, there is no preference for any one group over another or any one individual over another. And that can sometimes lead to some criticism from some corners who, of course, would like to be the preference.

QUESTION: Has the administration or U.S. officials had conversations with other governments and countries sort of surrounding Iraq, talking specifically about Syria and Iran, about what their involvement would be, even in terms of just sealing off borders or what you may need from them? Have there been any talks?

FLEISCHER: You may want to check with the State Department on that. There's nothing that I have that comes to my specific attention on that matter.

I can tell you that we made an announcement several weeks ago about humanitarian aid in the event of refugee situations. And we always work through international organizations to make certain that if there is a refugee situation that we are able to handle it as best as possible, again, through international means.

QUESTION: So as far as you know no one from the U.S. government has talked to Syria specifically or Iran specifically about...

FLEISCHER: You may want to check with State on that.

QUESTION: Ari, on the U.N. resolution, a second U.N. resolution. One of the forces that's at work, it seems, is increasing rancor and nastiness within the Western alliance. You've got newspapers here showing France and Germany as weasels at the Security Council, people calling France surrender monkeys, and then you've got a lot of anti- Americanism on the streets over in France.

FLEISCHER: Are you asking me if I can be responsible for the American press?

QUESTION: No. But I am asking if you can speak for the responsibility of top officials of the Bush administration -- Secretary Rumsfeld, who has dismissively referred to France and Germany as old Europe, and today Secretary Powell, who warned not to be afraid of its responsibilities. Is that the rhetoric of a great power? And is that really the most effective way of building alliances?

FLEISCHER: I think that there's no question that when you look at the decades-long alliance between the United States and Europe there are moments in that alliance that are the reflections of democratic disagreements between nations that virtually always see things the same way, but occasionally they don't. And during that time, I think that it's part and parcel of democracies to speak frankly. And that has happened in numerous cases. It's happened between France and other nations.

And as the president has said, in the end this is an alliance of shared values, and in the end, no matter what happens vis-a-vis Iraq, we will remain a close alliance.

QUESTION: But is it possible that the attitude which emanates, not from the press, but from the administration, of, "You're with us or you're against us," kind of, dismissive superiority to some of the oldest American allies, is contributing to the problems in forging a common front against Iraq?

FLEISCHER: No, I think you have some stark differences, and you're seeing the differences discussed openly. And what's wrong with that? That's one of the strengths of our alliance, one of the strengths of our democracies, that we can differ.

And, again, when you take a look at this, the differences are really with Germany and France and Belgium, and that has now been settled vis-a-vis NATO, and those are differences that are reflective of a minority of countries. There is agreement between the United States and most of the nations of Europe. The European governments stand very strong with the United States.

There are differences with France, and I don't think what you're hearing about somebody saying, "afraid of responsibilities," is a very powerful or strong message that people could object to. I think these are the types of differences that, if they emerge, are the differences that come time to time between great democracies and do not put any particular deep strain on the alliance. That's how -- I think the French would approach it the same way.

QUESTION: Ari, on the second resolution, has the administration gotten any indication that France would not veto a second resolution?

FLEISCHER: It would not be my place to speak for France on what they would do or wouldn't do. And certainly that's their right, to see the text of it, and at that point to make whatever judgments they want to make.

But the president, again, believes that in the end the United Nations will want to play a constructive role and will be an organization that is relevant. He hopes that will be the case still.

QUESTION: Does the administration have a timetable in terms of when U.N. Security Council members would have to act on a second resolution? Would that be within weeks?

FLEISCHER: Well, as I indicated, the consultations are ongoing, and therefore it could be -- the resolution could be tabled this week, it could be tabled next week. And then the president would not expect a very lengthy debate at all. QUESTION: Apparently Turkey is asking for an additional $6 billion, bringing the total aid package to $32 billion. One, what does the White House feel about that? And secondly, can they enforce the resolutions -- i.e., go to war -- without Turkey?

FLEISCHER: Well, one, I'm not going to indicate what the specific level would be. This is a matter of some diplomacy and conversation.

But it is fair to say that Turkey has heard authoritatively what the position of the United States government is, and now Turkey has a decision to make, and we look forward to hearing that decision.

FLEISCHER: Turkey, of course, is desirable, from a strategic point of view, for any military staging, but the military of the United States is sufficiently flexible that whatever decision is made, the United States will still be successful in carrying out any military operations whatever decision is made.

QUESTION: Last night Ambassador Negroponte, at the U.N., came out quite late and said that no decision had even been made about whether or not to press for a second resolution. You seem to be saying this morning a definitive decision has been made to go forward come what may. Was a decision made yesterday, last night that, in fact, you would go forward with a decision?

FLEISCHER: I think as you have known and has been made very clear, and I think if you take a look at the whole context of the various remarks, you'll see that the president has always said and met it that we intend to go through the United Nations and to offer resolutions to the United Nations at the appropriate moment and the appropriate timing, and nothing has changed that.

QUESTION: So there was no shift in opinion, no firm decision yesterday about what to do or what not to do.

FLEISCHER: It's been a consistent statement that we've been making.

QUESTION: On the content question, is there any change in view about the need for any benchmarks in the language in a second resolution? Or is it simply, "They're still in material breach and they knew they'd face serious consequences"?

FLEISCHER: It remains much as I've been describing to you now for about a week that it'd be a rather straightforward, simple resolution that enforces Resolution 1441 and that 1441 stated Iraq had its final chance, and that if they did not comply with the final chance and disarmed, there would be serious consequences. They've had their final chance.

QUESTION: And we intend to go forward even if the French or some other permanent member is threatening veto?

FLEISCHER: That's correct. The president has said that we will proceed and either this week or next week we'll offer a resolution. QUESTION: I don't think the president has actually said it. He says, "We can take one, but we don't need one." But you are saying definitively that the U.S. is determined to go forward, will introduce one, even if there's a risk of a veto?

FLEISCHER: There's always a risk of veto of anything in the United Nations. There was a risk of a veto of Resolution 1441. The president believes that the United Nations, in the end, would like to be an instrument for peace around the world, and the United Nations Security Council, particularly after what took place in Kosovo, would like to be an organization that is taken seriously in world leaders' calculations about what steps to take to secure peace.

QUESTION: Is there any regret on the part of the president's top adviser's for having chosen the strategy that's been adopted, pushing through the U.N.?

FLEISCHER: No. No.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

FLEISCHER: The president understood. Why would there be regret? The president understood when he set in motion the path that we are on now to go to the Security Council last fall.

FLEISCHER: This was a decision President Bush himself made when he decided to go up to the United Nations and give a speech on September 12th about Iraq and place this matter front and center for the United Nations Security Council to deal with.

The president has an abiding belief in the importance of international organizations being the world's tool to enforce proliferation treaties. If it is not, if this regime breaks down, then the world is going to have to ask itself some serious questions about how can you enforce anti-proliferation matters around the world.

If the United Nations Security Council does not choose to do anything other than have prolonged inspections after it's been demonstrably proven that Iraq is in possession of prohibited weapons, then you have to ask yourself, "What is the purpose of having the United Nations Security Council pass resolution after resolution prohibiting the possession of such weapons?"

We know that Iraq is in possession of prohibited weapons. The question is, will they disarm?

QUESTION: If the U.N. fails to endorse what the president wants, doesn't that hurt the president's credibility?

FLEISCHER: If the U.N. fails to endorse action to disarm Saddam Hussein, there's a bigger question, and that is, what good does the United Nations Security do if it passes a resolution saying you cannot have prohibited weapons and it looks the other way when you have them?

And as we know, Iraq has not accounted for its VX. It has not accounted for its sarin. It has not accounted for its anthrax or its botulin. And as we heard last week, Iraq has also moved two missiles, which are in violation of Security Council resolutions. They continue to have these missiles that are in violation of Security Council Resolutions. They continue to have the motors for these missiles. And they continue to have the castings which made the missiles. All in violation. What will the U.N. do about it?

QUESTION: At what point does the president decide that the U.N. Security Council has lost its relevance and that the U.S. dues may be reduced?

And is there anything new on the situation in North Korea? Any new presidential decision on redeploying American troops, moving them to a safer area? FLEISCHER: No, there is nothing to report on any issue involving the troops. This is a strategic focus, a longer- term look that DOD is undertaking about America's basings around the world. And there's nothing new to indicate on that.

Secretary Powell will be heading to the region over the weekend. And you can expect ongoing consultations by the secretary in this regard.

You had a third question in there? Oh, U.N. dues. And on the U.N. dues, no, there is no discussion that I have heard regarding changing the dues.

This is a serious matter of principle and a serious matter of responsibility for the United Nations to face up to. We'll see what the United Nations decides.

QUESTION: But if the U.N. Security Council rejects the resolutions, then does the Bush administration consider they are irrelevant at that point?

FLEISCHER: Well, I think at that point the president will consider how best to keep the peace. And then you can anticipate at that point, much like Kosovo, where the United States led a coalition to disarm, in this case Saddam Hussein.

QUESTION: Ari, the emir of Qatar still holds out hope that the situation with Iraq can be resolved peacefully. During the president's conversation today did that come up?

QUESTION: And is the president doing anything to try and ease the emir's concerns that a decision...

FLEISCHER: Well, the president himself said that. President Bush, in his conversation, said that he still hoped that this can be resolved peacefully.

QUESTION: Related but separate: In Berlin today, Egyptian leader Mubarak brought up with Chancellor Schroeder the idea that, yes, inspections should be allowed to continue on, however, there has to be an end point at some point to Saddam's (inaudible).

Were there discussions between the United States and the Egyptian leader before he went over for these meetings? And also, is there a concerted effort to try and get Arab allies onboard to urge some of the other countries that still have not made a commitment?

FLEISCHER: Well, of course, there's conversations -- numerous conversations with Arab allies about this. They have a real interest in this matter, and their positions are very important and their positions are very constructive. They too see Saddam Hussein for the threat that he is.

But no, there's not an immediate conversation with the president, President Mubarak, before President Mubarak's visit to Germany. I think the president spoke with President Mubarak a couple of weeks ago, if I recall, that his remarks were constructive. Indeed, there must one day come a time when the world recognizes that inspections forever is not the solution. If the inspections last forever, it means Saddam Hussein is getting away with having weapons of mass destruction that he is able to hide from the inspectors.

As Hans Blix himself said himself in New York last week, the inspectors are not detectives. Their mission is not to find the weapons.

QUESTION: There's been a lot of talk that the U.S. was waiting for the Israeli elections to be over before pressing the road map to peace. Can we expect to see a greater focus on the conflict between (INAUDIBLE) White House or how do you see this playing out?

FLEISCHER: This remains a vital issue for the United States and for the region, indeed the world. And this is something the president has spoken about in his meetings with foreign leaders.

It's interesting, because even with all these conversations where the focus is on Iraq, the president always brings up the Middle East and the importance to continue to make progress toward peace in the Middle East.

And much of what has been set in motion prior to the Israeli election remains relevant, which is the help of the Arab nations in the region in pushing the Palestinian Authority to reform. And that remains, in the president's opinion, one of the keys to having a state of Palestine that can live side-by-side with Israel in peace and security, the ongoing reforms within the Palestinian Authority.

And we continue to push for that. And we hope that these reforms will continue to be successful.

BLITZER: Ari Fleischer, the White House press secretary, answering reporters' qustions, promising the president will be more involved in the Isreali-Palestinian peace process now that the elections are over with. Also making news, saying that yes, the Bush administration will push for a second U.N. Security Council resolution in the coming days, a Securiyt Council resolution that would the use of force, if necessary, to go against Iraq and disarm Saddam Hussein.

He misspoke at the beginning, saying that nine affirmative votes were necessary without any abstenstions. What he might to say, without any vetos.

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