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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

White House Press Briefing

Aired April 25, 2003 - 12:42   ET

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

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I want to immediately go over to the White House, Ari Fleischer, the press secretary there, answering questions about another hot issue, North Korea.
ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUISE PRESS SECY.: ... that will include the Shi'a groups.

I think General Garner talked yesterday about the timing for the creation of it. And we indeed remain confident that it will be created just along the lines that we always said: broadly representative of all the Iraqi people, including the Shi'a community. There may be some in the Shi'a community who have other thoughts about, and that's the way democracies operate.

QUESTION: Some are questioning the wrong regime was attacked, there were hostilities against the wrong regime. And you have North Korea who has nuclear capability that can come here, nuclear capability that is sold to rogue states and possibly terrorist organizations. Many want to know what's worse, nuclear weapons or WMD.

FLEISCHER: Well, I think the real issue here is how do you deal with threats. And because you deal with a threat through military action in one region of the world does not automatically mean you must deal with it the same way in a different part of the world.

FLEISCHER: The outcome is what is desirable, and that's where the president focuses on, is removing the threat.

The president came to the judgment, after 12 years of watching Iraq defy the world, that military was the only option to remove the threat in Iraq. In North Korea, he believes that diplomacy is the best option to remove the threat of North Korea having these weapons, and that's why we've pursued diplomacy for their dismantlement.

QUESTION: But isn't North Korea more of a direct threat to the United States versus Iraq?

FLEISCHER: I don't know how to differentiate between threats of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of people, in the case of Iraq, who might use them versus in the hands of North Koreans who we are pursuing through diplomacy, and also, I remind you, through the development of missile defense. For the critics of missile defense, this announcement by North Korea is an important reminder of why missile defense is an important part of our strategy to defend our country. QUESTION: And the second question, piggybacking off of what Terry was asking, President Bush denounced what Trent Lott said. Why not denounce what Santorum has said?

FLEISCHER: Well, because I think the president views this, exactly as I've indicated all week, that there is a legal matter pending before the Supreme Court and that different individuals are going to offer legal theories about this matter, and that puts it in a different category.

QUESTION: But, Ari, on January 15th, Dr. King's birthday, the president delivered an amicus brief for the University of Michigan saying he was against their points policy for admission. Why not get involved in this situation?

FLEISCHER: Actually, because the matters are not analogous. One involved federal programs, admissions, that the federal government is directly involved in. This is a matter clearly applying to a state law.

QUESTION: Does he denounce Santorum's comments, though?

FLEISCHER: The president views it exactly as I've indicated. This is a question of a legal matter before the courts, and different people have different legal theories. QUESTION: Ari, can I ask you about next week's travel Monday? First, the speech Monday and a roundtable with Arab Americans, and also the trip to California, what does the president want to say in those places, first to Arab Americans, then to returning Navy personnel?

FLEISCHER: On Monday the president will travel to Dearborn, Michigan, where he will meet with a group of Arab Americans, including Iraqi-Americans, to talk about his vision, which is an optimistic vision of a liberated Iraq, and how Iraq can live in peace with its neighbors and become representative of an Islamic democracy.

Later in the week, the president is going to travel to San Diego, California, and he will depart from San Diego to board an aircraft carrier that is returning from combat missions in the Gulf to welcome home America's sailors who served and Marines who served our country.

The president looks forward to the visit. He knows that the families will be waiting closely behind, and the president looks forward to being at sea to welcome these brave Americans home, and he looks forward then to them pulling into port so they can be reunited with their families.

QUESTION: The remarks that he's going to make there, is that a place where we're likely to get a declaration of victory and the end of the war?

FLEISCHER: Well, I'm not going to speculate this far in advance about what the president's remarks will be. We'll try to have more information. He has several speeches next week.

FLEISCHER: He will be making remarks aboard the Lincoln when he is there next week. We'll fill you in a little closer to it about what they'll be.

QUESTION: Could you just say -- I know we've gone over this to a certain extent before, but remind us the conditions under which the president would be prepared to make such a declaration that the war is over?

FLEISCHER: The president has said that he will be guided by the reports that he receives from his commanders, principally General Franks. He has not received that final report from General Franks yet. And at the appropriate time when the president is ready, the president will have more thoughts to share with the nation about the mission, what was accomplished in the mission, that the combat phase of the operation has come to a conclusion and that a new phase of reconstruction and freedom is beginning.

QUESTION: Ari, you said you're not going to go person-by-person through which Iraqi officials know what about Iraq's WMD. But is it fair to say that we now have in custody enough high-ranking Iraqi officials to get the information that we need on the whereabouts of these weapons?

FLEISCHER: Well, I think the president said it best in his interview with Tom Brokaw when the president said that, as a result of the people we're talking to, the information we have, we are continuing to find out more and it will ultimately lead to the discovery of Iraq's WMD. So it's...

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

FLEISCHER: It continues to be a process, and we will continue to work through the process.

QUESTION: Can you also say -- why you can't you tell us about this evidence that weapons were destroyed? I mean, the regime's no longer there, so you can't really say it's a security threat.

FLEISCHER: Well, it's exactly as the president said, that they could have destroyed, they could have dispersed. They're are continuing tests that are under way to evaluate all the information to have in its entirety. And that's why the president said it.

QUESTION: You said there was evidence for it. FLEISCHER: Because there are tests that are still under way. Those tests are being evaluated. And we are still going to wait for final and firm conclusions about all of it.

But much of this, as I said, you have embedded reporters who are present who are also giving you very similar reporting.

QUESTION: So it's definite, it's speculation?

FLEISCHER: Quote the president's words. The president said, "They could have destroyed. They could have dispersed." That's how the president said it.

QUESTION: At this point, what help will the president ask Iraqi- Americans for regarding to reconstruction in Iraq?

FLEISCHER: Well, I think one of the most encouraging signs you see about Iraq -- the future of Iraq is the fact that the Iraqi community and the United States and the many other countries want to contribute to the future of the country from which they fled or in which they were born. And that's a hopeful sign.

If there is a situation on the ground where Iraq had been liberated but Iraqis around the world want to have played no role in the future of that government, that would be a very troublesome sign because it would be a lack of confidence in events on the ground.

I think the president is going to express his thanks to these people for being brave, for standing up to Saddam Hussein here in the United States, for speaking out on behalf of freedom and liberty. And he will encourage them to do everything they can to make the future of Iraq a strong and free and prosperous and democratic future.

QUESTION: One of the biggest criticisms that you hear from elements in the Shi'a community was the Pentagon's decision to airlift Mr. Chalabi and his forces into the country. At this point, does the White House feel that perhaps an unnecessary advantage was given by that move?

FLEISCHER: No. I think, you know, there are four leaders that are recognized that we've been working with for a considerable period of time, a number of years actually, and if you look at legislation passed by Congress, signed by a Democratic president, it actually provided the statutory support for the Iraqi National Congress.

So this is a matter of American policy, signed by a Democratic president, and we've been working with these groups of people and other groups of people who want to contribute to a new and free Iraq. And we're pleased to have people like Mr. Chalabi and many others who have returned to Iraq to help their homeland.

BLITZER: We're going to break away from Ari Fleischer's briefing. We'll continue to monitor it.

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