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White House Press Briefing

Aired March 5, 2003 - 12:24   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Let's go over to the White House now where Ari Fleischer is answering reporters' questions.

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: ... they asked the president a similar question, although they phrased it a little differently than you did.

They asked the president why does he feel so strongly about the need to use force, if it comes to that, to disarm Saddam Hussein, and the answer from the president was that given the fact that the world changed on September 11, the threat to the American people was brought immediately to our home, to our shores and to our families, the president thinks it is in the interest of peace to make certain that Saddam Hussein does not have weapons of mass destruction, which he can use against us either by transferring to terrorists or using them himself.

QUESTION: It's not an imminent threat.

FLEISCHER: If you were president, you might do things differently. But you have your judgment...

QUESTION: Well, why doesn't he prove it?

FLEISCHER: ... and the president has others.

QUESTION: ... why don't you lay it out? When have they threatened in the last 12 years?

FLEISCHER: They have attacked their neighbors. They have gassed their own people. They have launched attacks.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) with our support.

FLEISCHER: And September 11 showed that the United States is vulnerable to those who would attack us, and one of the best ways to protect the homeland is to go after the threats abroad.

QUESTION: You haven't linked terrorism to Saddam Hussein in terms of 9/11.

FLEISCHER: The threat is what took place on 9/11. You don't have to make a direct linkage between Saddam Hussein and 9/11 to know that others who are planning can try to do it again, Saddam Hussein included. QUESTION: It sounds is if you're saying about Russia, France and Germany that when they said, we will not allow the passage of a planned resolution which would authorize the use of force, they're lying.

FLEISCHER: No. I'm saying exactly what I said, I urge you not to leap to any conclusions about what the final outcome of the vote will be.

QUESTION: What is the conclusion to be drawn about the meaning of the words -- the plain meaning of the words that they uttered today -- that they don't mean them?

FLEISCHER: Well, if you think the story is written and done, then I can't change your interpretation of it, but I'm suggesting to you that you might want to think twice before you leap to final conclusions. There's a lot of diplomacy going on involving many different people and many different countries, and you have not heard the final word from any nation.

QUESTION: The meeting with General Franks this morning, can you tell us a little bit about that?

What was that aimed at?

FLEISCHER: This was a meeting of the National Security Council to discuss a variety of military matters that are pending, and I really can't go into it anywhere beyond that.

QUESTION: Senator Daschle said that the president, in their meeting this morning, discussed timetables on Iraq. Can you tell us what the president has for a timetable or whether he has a date certain for making a decision, you know, what other components might be part of that?

FLEISCHER: Well, the timetable is; one, to listen to what Mr. Blix reports; two, to make a determination about the timing to proceed with the United Nations Security Council on when the vote will take place. And beyond that, it would just be speculation about any other timetables that would come into play. The one timetable that the president identified that remains operative is when on January 30 he said weeks not months.

QUESTION: The timetable issue; I'm asking you to give us the timetable, but is this something that he is discussing with leading members of Congress to prepare them for whatever the plan may be?

FLEISCHER: I don't believe the president got into any specific level.

QUESTION: Going back to the veto question. If they're saying they would not support or allow a resolution to come to a vote that authorized force, would it be an option that you are looking at to parse the wording of the resolution in a way that left open a sort of more vague...

FLEISCHER: I think that's a very interesting question to put to the ministers.

The language of the resolution that has been offered by the United States at the Security Council reads: "... decides that Iraq has failed to take the final opportunity afforded to it in Resolution 1441." Resolution 1441 warned that Iraq had to fully and immediately comply without conditions and without restrictions. It was its final opportunity to comply and if it did not comply -- and this is binding on Iraq -- that Iraq would have to face serious consequences as a result of continued violations. That's 1441.

And then, the language before the U.N. now says: "... decides that Iraq has failed to take the final opportunity afforded to it in Resolution 1441." That's the language. It's hard to imagine an objection to that language. I don't speak for those other nations, but I reiterate, the president is confident in the ultimate outcome of this. Secretary Powell, just as recently as yesterday, said he's increasingly optimistic about the outcome of this. And there you have it.

QUESTION: But does the administration believe that that language authorizes the use of force?

FLEISCHER: It enforces Resolution 1441 which says there will be serious consequences if Iraq fails to disarm.

QUESTION: Who at the White House has been in touch with the French, the Germans, the Russians this morning? You made a reference to a lot of diplomacy going on, and you're implying that there is something going on behind the scenes that's not apparent from this...

FLEISCHER: I think you can be assured that every day, through a variety of means, people are talking to different nations around the world, whether it's at the United Nations, on the ambassadorial level at the United Nations, at the State Department, through the embassies around the world, including in these countries, or whether it's occasional phone calls from people higher up in government. All of the above can be happening on any given day.

QUESTION: But you can't tell us specifically this morning or today..

FLEISCHER: I report to you on the president's conversations. You know as well as I do that there are spokespeople for the other agencies who keep track of all their various people. I don't. I don't keep track of every individual at the State Department.

QUESTION: And one last question. Do you see this as an attempt at a compromise from these nations, to try and forge a compromise to accept the...

FLEISCHER: I think this is part and parcel of ongoing diplomacy. And I don't think that should come as a surprise to people. Last fall, when you covered the debate leading up to 1441, many reported that there are threats of veto from France, from Russia and from China, little signs of movement in the French position. In the statement that some interpreted as a veto threat President Chirac said that he would push for a resolution in line with the interests of the region as we see them. If it did not succeed, President Chirac continued, quote, "France is a member of the Security Council and as a permanent member will assume its responsibilities."

So what you see is part and parcel of ongoing diplomacy.

Now, one other point about what you've seen in the past on resolutions which clearly indicate that the United States and some of the other nations of the Security Council don't always see eye-to-eye, but it doesn't always lead to a veto.

We are where we are today with the role of the inspectors in Iraq and the fact that UNMOVIC was created to inspect Iraq and has been sent in for the purposes of inspecting Iraq's compliance, the U.N. resolution that created UNMOVIC was 1284, which was adopted on December 17, 1999. It was adopted with only 11 votes in favor of it, four countries abstained; two of those countries are France and Russia. They abstained on even the creation of UNMOVIC. They did not support the creation of UNMOVIC.

Resolution 1134, which passed on October 23, 1997, found that Iraq was in flagrant violation of previous resolutions and condemned their cooperation with the special commission the United Nations had set up, and it demanded immediate, unconditional and unrestricted access to any and all areas, facilities, equipment, records and means of transportation within the mandate of the special commission. That passed with 10 votes in favor, and France and Russia abstained. They did not support the condemnation of Iraq, nor did they support demanding immediate, unconditional, unrestricted access to any and all facilities.

There is a history of France and Russia not seeing this eye-to- eye with the United States. You are seeing that continue to varying degrees. I urge you not to leap to the conclusion that this is a determinative matter that a veto will follow. This is part and parcel of diplomacy, this is based on previous actions that led to abstentions by France and Russia in the past, where, as I indicated, it's notable, France and Russia abstained on the creation of the inspectors themselves.

QUESTION: Do you expect abstentions?

FLEISCHER: I don't predict what other nations will do. I simply say the president remains confident in the outcome.

QUESTION: Ari, as far as war is concerned, the president is under pressure from many people not to go to war because millions will be homeless, millions will be jobless and thousands may die.

Last year, if you remember, India and Pakistan were on the brink of war, a million troops were ready to attack each other, but the president was the one who persuaded them not to go to war, which they did not. So how is the president taking this one, advice from around the globe?

FLEISCHER: How is the president pursuing this one, meaning? QUESTION: Not to go to war. And is he taking any advice...

FLEISCHER: You're comparing the situation in Iraq to the situation between India and Pakistan?

QUESTION: No, but this is the president who persuaded those nations not to go to war, which they listened to him. But now, as the world is telling him not to go to war...

FLEISCHER: Vis-a-vis Iraq.


QUESTION: ... not to go to war?

FLEISCHER: Of course. The difference is Resolution 1441. The difference is that the nations around the world joined together after the president went to New York, and they called on Iraq.

And again, when you talk about the vote that is coming up at the United Nations, it's important to go to the substance of what they are voting on. What they are voting on is enforcing 1441. I can only keep saying it: 1441 called on Iraq to fully and immediately comply. It did not say partially comply and it did not say slowly comply. It said fully and immediately, without conditions, without restrictions.

As we've seen, there are umpteen conditions that Iraq keeps inventing and putting on the inspectors, umpteen restrictions, including bugging the inspectors, they keep imposing.

It said it's the final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligation, final opportunity. It didn't say penultimate. It didn't say third last chance. It said final. It said it's binding on Iraq. It didn't say it's for discussion or negotiation. It said binding. And finally, it said Iraq would face serious consequences as a result of continued violations. As we all know, they have continued to violate.

And so the resolution pending before it is very simple and straightforward and simply states 1441 shall be enforced and Iraq had its last chance to comply. That's different from the situation with Pakistan and India.

QUESTION: We understand there was a meeting today in the Situation Room between the president and Secretary Rumsfeld, General Franks. Can you tell us what the upshot of that was; was there discussion of an ultimatum? And secondly, in view of the attack in Israel today, is there not a rising concern that there could be more such militant attacks as we edge toward war?

FLEISCHER: Number one, the question was previously about the meeting, and I've answered as best I can. We don't discuss National Security Council meetings and what happened. I indicated General Franks was there and they discussed military plans.

On the second point... QUESTION: Ultimatum?

FLEISCHER: I don't discuss what takes place at National Security Council meetings. And don't take that to mean that it was or was not discussed, it's just a policy, we don't discuss it.

On the situation in Israel, even prior to any discussions of anything happening vis-a-vis Iraq, there were suicide bombings, and the president condemned those. Fact of the matter is, this is the first suicide bombing in some two months, and in the last two months you've seen a steady buildup toward the potential for the use of force in Iraq. So I think there is no basis to make any connection between events.

QUESTION: Ari, on the ongoing diplomacy ...

BLITZER: Ari Fleischer answering reporters' questions. An extremely busy day at the White House for the president, starting off with the leadership -- the bipartisan leadership of the U.S. Congress for breakfast. The president then going into an important meeting with his national security advisers, including General Tommy Franks, he's in Washington presumably reviewing final war plans with Iraq.

Later today, the president will be receiving a special envoy from the Vatican, the papal envoy, Pio Laghi, who will be meeting with the president, urging the president, presumably not -- not to go to war with Iraq. The press secretary insisting that despite the strong statement coming today, the joint statement from the leaders of France, Germany, and Russia, the foreign ministers of all of those three countries opposing yet another U.N. Security Council resolution, calling for more time to let the inspectors get their job done in Iraq, Ari Fleischer saying I urge you not to leap to any conclusions. The president remains confident in the outcome, referring to a resolution that's been put forward at the Security Council by the U.S., Britain, and Spain.

We're going to continue to monitor what Ari Fleischer is saying. If he says more important things, we will, of course, bring that to you, to our viewers.


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