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White House Press Briefing

Aired February 27, 2003 - 12:38   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Let's get back to the White House now, where the White House press secretary, Ari Fleischer, is answering reporters' questions. .
ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECY.: ... which a lot of people thought that this would be the turning point?

One, I can't comment on a report that has not yet been issued.

I've seen some wire discussions of it which strongly suggest that there's been a real lack of disarmament by Iraq. We'll see exactly what the report says and have a statement following the reports being released by Hans Blix.

QUESTION: Would you agree with the premise of the question though that this next report will be a turning point in this crisis?

FLEISCHER: Well, I think that Mr. Blix's remarks before the United Nations on the March 7th will be important. The United States will see what he has to say as this comes down to the wire.

QUESTION: The United States is preparing to end the Iraqi regime, and now the president is talking about rebuilding it. And all he is telling the American people about this is that it could be terrific for Iraq and the rest of the Middle East. But when it comes to our commitment financially, the cost of human lives, the level of sacrifice, he says, "Well, it won't be easy." Don't the American people deserve a little bit more meat on the bones than that?

FLEISCHER: Well, I can read you yesterday's briefing if you'd like, but on the question of...

QUESTION: Well, I read it, and I watched the speech. And it lead me to that question.

FLEISCHER: And the question of costs, exactly as I indicated yesterday, at the appropriate time, as the issues are knowable and the costs are more discernible, that will be sent up to Congress for their purview and review.

On the question of lives, I think it is impossible to say, if force is used, the question...


QUESTION: ... the issue here is, the president is talking -- he extols the virtues of rebuilding Germany and Japan. He talks about how ending the Iraqi regime could lead to peace in the Middle East, but he doesn't talk about sacrifice.

When is he going to do that?

FLEISCHER: Well, in the event the president decides to use force, the president will have more to say.

QUESTION: But it's OK that we just all wait around to have that discussion?

FLEISCHER: These are judgments the American people will make, and the president will have further remarks if he deems it necessary and if he decides to use force.

QUESTION: Could I just follow up on the last question I had? I'm sorry, I tried to get some out there.

FLEISCHER: Did you forget your own follow up?




QUESTION: Do you believe this will be the last Blix report to the U.N. Security Council before this issue is resolved one way or another?

FLEISCHER: The president has made abundantly plain that this is a matter of weeks not months. He made that statement several weeks ago, and that is what the president has indicated on timing.

QUESTION: Do you accept the premise of his question that you are selling a war?

FLEISCHER: No, I do not.


FLEISCHER: Thank you for affording me the opportunity to correct the premise of a question I otherwise previously would have and should have corrected.

QUESTION: Last night, the president talked about resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Last June, he said, quote, "Israeli should immediately halt all settlement activities in the occupied territories."

Last night, he said, as progress is made toward peace, settlement activity must end. Why did he retreat on that?

FLEISCHER: I want to take a look at the full context of his June remarks and see precisely the order in which the president said it and the context that surrounds what he has said.

FLEISCHER: But the position...


QUESTION: ... language speaks for itself: Immediately halt all...

FLEISCHER: Because if I recall, the president also, in those remarks, talked about the Mitchell accords and the Mitchell process also agreed, too, that as progress is made on peace.

And I want to make certain that if the president referenced Mitchell in those remarks, that would set up the context in which you asked that question, and therefore there is no shift.

QUESTION: There's no shift at all?

FLEISCHER: Again, I think you have to look at the speech in its entirety.

QUESTION: On a different matter; what role will the Turkish troops in Northern Iraq play?

FLEISCHER: We continue to discuss with Turkey the terms -- the discussions that are under way dealing with how to compensate Turkey, in the event that there is a war, because of the economic costs that Turkey had previously incurred in 1990 and '91. And the question of military is part of that. I think it's been made very clear that Turkish officials, as part of this, it's important for us, just like with all allies in a coalition to coordinate all efforts for us to work together. That's been made plain.

QUESTION: Will there be Turkish troops in Northern Iraq? Why? What's their role? And what do you say to the Kurds who very much fear that that is essentially an attack by a historic enemy?

FLEISCHER: Again, this is still being discussed. There still remain an I or two to be dotted and a T or two to be crossed. And so until it is all agreed to, as the saying goes, nothing is agreed to. So I cannot yet report to you conclusively what the finality of this agreement will be.

But I can assure you that it has been expressed very plainly to Turkish officials and to all that as an alliance, we coordinate, we work together. And the United States has expressed very publicly, directly that, if force is used, is to make certain and to protect the territorial integrity of Iraq.

QUESTION: Karzai said he needed some help. Are you prepared to offer any new assistance beyond what's already in the pipeline?

FLEISCHER: Much of the discussion they had in the Oval Office focused on reconstruction. They talked about such issues as water, supplies in Afghanistan, farming in Afghanistan, electricity in Afghanistan. The president asked for and received an update on the road that the United States, Japan and Saudi Arabia have contributed money to, the construction of and the progress of the road being built. That was something, if you recall, came out of the discussions up in New York following a visit to the United Nations last fall.

The United States is providing assistance to Afghanistan. We will continue to do so. Private sector assistance can grow and there are other forms of assistance from nongovernmental organizations that are available, too.

So it's part of our ongoing approach to help Afghanistan. There was no specific discussion of any one area of increase.

QUESTION: Today, besides the call with Putin, what is the U.S. doing to, you know, round up votes on the Security Council?

QUESTION: And can you tell me anything specific? I mean, there must be many phone calls back and forth.

FLEISCHER: Here's what I think you can expect, broadly speaking. And I've informed you of the president's phone call this morning. There will of course be meetings and phone calls that the secretary of state will be involved in and secretary of state -- State Department will be available to you to read any of those out or give you indications of the secretary's meetings. I think the secretary has some meetings today and I would anticipate that these things will come up.

The secretary of state, of course, was here for the meeting with President Karzai, and there very well be other people, throughout various areas in the State Department, and Dr. Rice, of course, who can be making calls.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) the vice president...

FLEISCHER: Always possible. But I track the president's phone calls. I don't have that information about the secretary of state's phone calls, for example. But I know it's available to you.

QUESTION: According to the reports and also lawmakers in the Capitol Hill, Afghanistan today, after one year, is back on the same, what it was before as far as terrorism and the economic situations are concerned (OFF-MIKE). Now economic situations are so bad that many Afghans have been forced to sell even their daughters because they cannot afford to keep them at home.

Now, after one year, where do we go from here today, because Mr. President Karzai also saying that terrorism is also -- terrorists are also regrouping in Afghanistan?

FLEISCHER: Here's, I think, when you take a look at what has happened in Afghanistan that has suffered 25 awful, awful years under the hands of the Soviets and then under the hands of the Taliban.

The progress that has been made in Afghanistan in a little over one year since the United States militarily intervened as a result of the September 11 attack has been something that all the world, particularly people of the United States, should take great pride in.

Two million refugees have returned to Afghanistan after the fighting began. And then the fighting, 2 million refugees have returned to Afghanistan, which is probably the world's best signal about whether Afghanistan is a place that has a hopeful future or a dire one.

We've seen this before in the world, where people will flee if it's an area that they do not have hope for the future. That's human reaction. Two million have returned.

FLEISCHER: Large areas of Afghanistan that were previously occupied by the Taliban or the Al Qaida are now free from Taliban and Al Qaida. While there remain pockets of Taliban and Al Qaida, large areas are indeed free. Afghanistan has a new national currency. There's been improvement in agriculture to recovering Afghanistan. And that was much of the conversation in the Oval Office, about agricultural issues involving Afghanistan.

So I think you have to be fair in your judgment about Afghanistan. Of course, there are going to be setbacks. But given the history of Afghanistan, everybody should take great pride in the steps Afghanistan has moved forward.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) two questions. First, on the threat level being dialed back a notch, can you just tell us the single biggest factor or one or two biggest factors in that decision and the president's involvement in it?

FLEISCHER: OK, in terms of the process, this has been reviewed for a period of days now. The threat level, as you're aware, which would be on a daily basis, this had been something that people in the intelligence community and homeland security and the attorney general's office have been looking at for a period of days to determine whether or not the level could come down. This morning, they reached a recommendation that it should come down. That was presented to the president. The president concurred in the recommendation this morning.

The reasons for it are varied and are many. The reasons for the alert going up and the reasons for the alert going down are based on intelligence analysts' review of a broad amount of information. They take a look at it and examine it in its totality then and make the judgment. So it's based on several different pieces of news. If there is any one area that I could point to -- while there are many, but one area certainly is the passage of time given the Hajj.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) the candidate, then Governor Bush, promised a humble U.S. foreign policy and voiced his disdain for nation- building. You have President Karzai here today who is in power because of the United States military removed the Taliban from power. And you had a speech last night in which the president talked about using American military power to remove Saddam Hussein, and then to stay in place for quite some time while a new Iraq is built up.

QUESTION: Is it fair to say that his experience as president has changed his views from his experience as a candidate?

FLEISCHER: In the hopeful spirit of Helen's suggestion that I correct premises of questions, during the campaign the president did not express, as you put it, disdain for nation-building. What the president has said is, the military should be used for the purpose of fighting and winning wars, exactly as we did in Afghanistan. And then, there are other areas of the government that actively are involved, should be involved and will be involved in nation-building to help nations have a recovery either from war or in the case of Afghanistan, 25 years of occupation.

In Iraq, if force is used, I can assure you the purpose of the military will be to fight and to win a war. And then, just as in Afghanistan, to maintain the physical security for as long as is necessary so that wars do not break out anew. And that is the purpose of using the military.

One of the areas that the president has focused on, he talked about it last night, is the massive humanitarian effort that will accompany a military mission if it comes to be in Iraq, and that's coordinated in part by DOD, but also has many aspects involving USAID, which is a civilian organization. So I think it's important -- it's a crucial distinction about using the military for the purpose of nation-building. The military is there for the purpose of providing security, but we do maintain a longer-term relationship to provide stability, and therefore watch, as we have seen in Germany and Japan and other places around the world, growth and democracy take place.

BLITZER: Ari Fleischer answering reporters' questions, dancing around the sensitive issue of whether or not the president supports using military troops for nation building, a position he opposed during the campaign in 2000.

Now, the president in Afghanistan and Iraq seemingly having some different views. We're going to continue to follow what Ari Fleischer is saying in the course of answering reporters' questions.


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