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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

White House Press Conference

Aired February 24, 2003 - 12:19   ET

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

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Let's go over to the White House, where the Press Secretary Ari Fleischer is answering reporters' questions.
ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECY.: Then the president met with the National Governors Association, Republicans and Democrats alike, where he talked about the economy and budget, health care, welfare, the faith-based initiative, as well as education and homeland security. And the president, of course, announced that later today a resolution will offered up in New York City at the United Nations concerning Iraq.

Later this afternoon, the president will meet with NCAA fall sports champions.

That is the president's schedule for today.

One other item that I referred to you earlier this morning, and that is the importance of the briefing later today about the humanitarian relief effort for Iraq. The president views this as a very important initiative aimed directly at the people of Iraq, who have been oppressed by the government of Iraq. And so American officials will be providing a briefing about the steps the United States has planned to take in the event of hostilities to provide humanitarian relief, food relief and medical supplies to the people of Iraq. And so I want to bring that to your attention.

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

QUESTION: Ari, on that point, about this humanitarian relief, if the administration is interested in going through the steps of what relief will be offered, why isn't the president giving the American people more information about what an American-led occupation of Iraq would look like, would entail, the sort of sacrifice, the potential danger?

QUESTION: Don't we have, as a society, the right to have that conversation before military action begins, if it begins?

FLEISCHER: Well, I think there is no question that you will in the case president decides that the use of force is necessary. And if the president makes the decision that the use of force is necessary, you can anticipate a series of additional conversation with the president about this matter.

These are important questions that you raise. The humanitarian issue is an important question. And they all are important questions. And I anticipate that you will hear from the president on these.

QUESTION: Let me follow on one point about this resolution. It's been very clear -- I mean, the president initially was not very enthusiastic about pursuing a second resolution. He said he welcomed it, but didn't feel he needs it. That hasn't changed, yet now the United States is actually tabling this resolution.

Why does the president now believe this is more than welcomed, but necessary?

FLEISCHER: Well, the president and our allies will be tabling this resolution. And it's precisely for the very reasons that the president gave when he went to New York on September 12th.

The fact of the matter is there would be no inspectors and there would be no United Nations role if the president did not go to New York and put in process this plan that put the United Nations front and center in this issue. And so this is now the final moments to see, having put the United Nations front and center, what the United Nations will do.

So to answer your question directly, this is the logical follow- up to what the president began last September.

QUESTION: But it's not, because he said that he didn't need it and that it would be welcomed, but he clearly wasn't that enthusiastic about it. And now he appears to have changed his view to the point where he and the U.K. are actually putting forward the resolution.

QUESTION: What changed?

FLEISCHER: Nothing has changed. I think it's perfectly consistent. The president made clear that it is not necessary, but it is desirable. And therefore the president and our allies are presenting it to the United Nations, and now it's up to the United Nations, and we'll see what path they take.

But it is not necessary from a legal point of view for the United States, but the president views it as important and helpful. And therefore he is proceeding.

QUESTION: Your reaction to two stories if I could. One has just occurred, so if you haven't heard about it I understand: the arrest of three Kuwaitis for plotting a terrorist attack on U.S. forces in...

FLEISCHER: I just saw the top line on the wire immediately prior to coming out here, so I have no substantive details.

QUESTION: Secondly, your reaction to Turkey approving -- the cabinet anyhow -- approving deployment of U.S. forces.

FLEISCHER: We continue to make good progress in the talks with Turkey. We're pleased with the actions taken by the Turkish government to date. There are still some additional "t"s to be crossed, and "i"s to be dotted. But nevertheless this is a very serious matter, and the democratic country of Turkey has taken it seriously. It has responded seriously. It has listened carefully, and we are working together.

And that's where it stands for now. And we will, of course, look forward to a vote with the Turkish parliament as well.

QUESTION: The British foreign minister, Mr. Straw, has said that they're going to be allowing a period of up to two weeks, maybe a little more, before asking for a decision on the resolution which the U.S. and the U.K. are introducing today. We've never heard a time line from you. Does that sound right?

FLEISCHER: The time line for the president is having said that the resolution will be introduced today in New York at the United Nations. The president expects it to be voted on in a short order.

And I think it's impossible to specify an exact date. I think it's important to be respectful to the United Nations process, to allow the members of the Security Council who have not yet seen the document to see the document, to see the resolution, and then to give diplomacy its chance. I can't predict precisely how many days that will be, but it won't be many.

QUESTION: Do you stand by your answer from this morning?

FLEISCHER: No changes, but I'm not going to be more precise than that.

QUESTION: Let me follow if I may. France today..

FLEISCHER: There was a flexibility to it.

QUESTION: France today is introducing a memo which would suggest specific deadlines and timeframes. It seems to be in direct competition with the U.S.-U.K. resolution.

FLEISCHER: Well, I think the most notable thing in the memo is a discussion of increasing the number of inspectors, which underscores the point that Saddam Hussein is not cooperating, that Saddam Hussein is not disarming. If Saddam Hussein was disarming, you could actually have fewer inspectors in Iraq. The fact that some people think that you need to have more inspectors there underscores the America position that Saddam Hussein is not complying and not cooperating.

You will have, later today, the text of the resolution the United States is offering. You'll be able to make all apt (ph) comparisons.

QUESTION: The French don't seem to be attempting to underscore the U.S. position, one must observe.

FLEISCHER: This is why there are 15 members on the Security Council. And the president looks forward to talking with all of them.

QUESTION: Ari, why is the president pushing the world into war when millions of people all over the world are against this war? The Turks are 95 percent against it even though their leaders are being bought. FLEISCHER: I think this goes right back in the category of subjects that we will not agree on, you and me or you and the president, and you and most Americans, frankly. The fact of the matter is that...

QUESTION: It doesn't matter whether all the world is against this?

FLEISCHER: If your reporting indicates to you that all the world is against this, I don't think you've went too much reporting to it.

The president has made clear that the reason we are on the verge of war is because Saddam Hussein has failed to disarm. The United Nations, speaking for the world, called on Saddam Hussein to disarm immediately, finally, final chance.

So I think the questions are best addressed to Saddam Hussein. Why has he brought the world to the verge of war?

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... countries in defiance of U.N. resolutions to disarm? FLEISCHER: The United Nations Security Council will shortly have a resolution before it which spells out what actions the United States and our allies think are appropriate to enforce Resolution 1441. We'll see what the Security Council says.

QUESTION: Why is he paying off our allies? I mean, if they really are for it, wouldn't they just go all out for us?

FLEISCHER: I think that's a woeful mischaracterization of the situation on the ground in Turkey, which, after all, is a neighboring state to Iraq, is not a voting member of the United Nations Security Council, but is a country on the front line that, as 1991 proved, would suffer economic damage of a result of any hostilities.

QUESTION: But the people are against it.

FLEISCHER: I think the relations between the government of Turkey and the government of the United States, our democracy and the Turkish democracy, will have its chance for Turkish laws to speak. We'll hear what Turkey says.

QUESTION: The U.N. weapon inspectors have determined that Iraq has this missile which exceeds limits that it agreed to or were imposed on it by the U.N. Hans Blix has said it should be destroyed. If Iraq destroys those missiles, why isn't that concrete progress toward disarming?

FLEISCHER: Well, number one, we expect that Saddam Hussein will destroy those missiles. The United Nations Security Council has called on him to do so, and unless he engages in further defiance, we expect that he will.

But, number two, as the president said over the weekend, that would just be the tip of the iceberg. And the reason for that is if a criminal holds a gun to your head and takes one bullet out of the chamber, you still have to worry about all the rest of the bullets in the chamber because they can kill you, too. And the fact is with Saddam Hussein, he still is not showing the world that he has disarmed from the VX, the nerve agents, the botulin, the anthrax; all of which the United Nations found that he had in his possession in the late 1990s which he has yet to account for. That's the fear about what's in the rest of the gun -- in the other chamber -- in the chamber in the gun.

QUESTION: So there's no way that Iraq can do anything, really, to avoid war. Because if they begin to dismantle their weapons, the president still believes that they've got other bullets in the chamber and is...

FLEISCHER: Under Security Council Resolution 1441, which was passed in November last year, Iraq had an obligation to immediately and fully disarm from all the weapons that were prohibited. And I just cited several of them.

So if Iraq were to take one missile out of the chamber, but they left in the chamber VX, sarin, botulin, anthrax, the world still has a lot to worry about.

QUESTION: And you won't wait to see whether a French proposal or any other proposal could get them to take those bullets out of the chamber.

QUESTION: You aren't willing to take yes for an answer here on the missiles and anything else.

FLEISCHER: Given the fact that the resolution passed in November called for full and immediate compliance, "yes" has not been a word that anybody has heard out of Iraq.

QUESTION: And then can I ask one question on Turkey? Has the United States agreed to the Turkish request to send, in the event of war, tens of thousands of Turkish troops to occupy Kurdish areas in the north of Iraq?

FLEISCHER: The position of the United States is unequivocal, that the territorial integrity of Iraq should be honored.

QUESTION: That's not what I asked.

FLEISCHER: The territorial integrity...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... Turkish troops in northern Iraq?

FLEISCHER: As for the complete agreement in terms of the loans, et cetera, and the financial compensation to assist Turkey because of the economic consequences of hostilities, I think you can anticipate that all information will be shared once an agreement is finalized.

QUESTION: So is that a yes or a no that we have or have not agreed to Turkish troops in northern Iraq?

FLEISCHER: You will hear once the agreement is finalized in its entirety.

QUESTION: What is the status of U.S. forces in Colombia? Are they preparing to go to war against the FARC? And is that an extension of the war on terrorism?

FLEISCHER: The situation in Colombia has been a situation of a vexing nature as a result of FARC's involvement in narcotics. And per authorization from the United States Congress, the United States is engaged in a counter-narcotic and counter-terrorist effort in Colombia. And that is the purpose of having American military in Colombia, to assist the government of Colombia and President Uribe's new government in its efforts to fight the FARC, which has inflicted huge damage on the people of Colombia. And that's why this is a congressionally authorized action, and we are pleased to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the people of Colombia in this regard.

QUESTION: So they'll now be engaged in combat missions against the FARC?

FLEISCHER: No, I didn't say that. I said the United States is down there in a position of providing assistance...

BLITZER: Ari Fleischer, the White House press secretary speaking, about the situation in Columbia earlier, answering reporters' questions about several issues, involving the showdown with Iraq, confirming of course that the president has agreed that there will be a new U.S./British draft resolution introduced today at the U.N. Security Council, a resolution that will be considered for about two weeks according to the British Foreign Secretary, before coming up for a final vote. During this period, the U.S. and Britain will try to win support among the 13 other members of the U.N. Security Council.

Ari Fleischer also confirming that a deal between the United States and Turkey is very close at hand. t's are being crossed, i's are being dotted. He said that will enable some 40,000 U.S. ground forces to be staged in Turkey, to move into northern Iraq, in the event of a war, refusing to get into any details on that specific point.

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