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White House Briefing

Aired November 12, 2003 - 13:18   ET


MILES O'BRIEN: Let's go live to the White House right now. Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman, taking some questions on the subject of Iraq. Let's listen in.
SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECY.: ... foreign fighters in the country that seek to spread fear and chaos. They seek to intimidate America. They seek to intimidate the coalition and they seek to spread fear and chaos among the Iraqi people.

They will not prevail. We will stay the course. We will prevail. This is a very important cause. The stakes are very high. Everybody realizes that, including those that are the enemies of the Iraqi people and that do not want to see a brighter future for the Iraqi people, a free and peaceful and democratic future.

QUESTION: But do you acknowledge that the Iraqis from time to time may get frustrated or disillusioned with the occupation?

MCCLELLAN: Well, you know, obviously, you can understand some of the concerns of the Iraqi people that they expressed, but the Iraqi people see a better day coming and appreciate, I think, the efforts that are being made to help them achieve a free, peaceful and sovereign future, as quickly as possible.

But it's important, as we move forward quickly, to make sure that it's done right. And that's why we continue to have serious consultations, not only within the administration, but on a daily basis with the governing council and leaders in Iraq.

QUESTION: Scott, today the president not only acknowledged but went out of his way to talk about the deaths of those Italians in the bombing this morning in Iraq. And he offered his condolences, he offered some words of support to Mr. Berlusconi. Why does he go out of his way to do that when it's Italians who died, and last week there was no mention specifically by the president of the two helicopters that went down killing Americans?

MCCLELLAN: I disagree with the whole premise of the way you phrase that question.

The president talks on a regular basis about how we mourn the loss of every one of our men and women in the military who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the defense of freedom and the defense of making America more secure for generations to come. They're involved in a very important cause and we are forever grateful for the service and sacrifice of every one of our men and women in the military who are serving in Iraq. We also mourn the loss of life when members of the coalition forces pay the ultimate sacrifice. And the president talks often about that.

But the cause is important and what we are trying to achieve is not only a safer world but a better world and a more secure America. Our men and women in the military understand their mission and understand the stakes involved here and they're carrying it out in an exemplary way and they will succeed in their objectives.

QUESTION: Why would he not have referenced the two helicopters that went down in such a specific way as he did today...

MCCLELLAN: Yes, I think we were in California -- I guess it's California -- I've lost track with all the travel. But the president actually did talk about those who lost their life in that helicopter downing.

QUESTION: Some members of the governing council are talking about establishing a provisional government. Is that an attractive possibility to you?

MCCLELLAN: Well, again, this is, kind of, getting into a discussion of options. That's why Ambassador Bremer is now -- I mean, he's been having discussions with the governing council.

MCCLELLAN: Now, as you heard him say, at the direction of the president, he will be going back to Iraq and continuing to have some serious conversations with the governing council about how -- what is the best way to move forward on the political front and what is the best way to achieve our shared goal of a free, peaceful and democratic Iraq.

QUESTION: Will the president today make a decision on the best way to move forward?

MCCLELLAN: Again, I'm not going to get into speculating about any timing or any decisions.

I think that Ambassador Bremer will go back and talk with the governing council about some of the discussions that were out here in Washington. He brought here to Washington some of the views from the governing council and the Iraqi people themselves. So, now he can go back and talk with the governing council -- that's the best way to approach this because we're working hand-in-hand with the Iraqi people to achieve our shared goal.

QUESTION: Why can't we know if you made a decision?

MCCLELLAN: I'll come back to you later.

MCCLELLAN: Scott, you keep talking about the governing council -- going back to them -- as if this is entirely their decision.

We are the occupying authority under international law. So separate and apart from whatever would be the right course, if the president determined that we're on the wrong course and the governing council's on the wrong course, is it your understanding that, as a matter of law, he would have the right -- or through Ambassador Bremer -- the right to impose a different way, a different method of doing elections, a different way of appointing an executive?

I'm not asking you about what the options are, I'm asking you what your understanding is of the legal authority vested in the occupying...

MCCLELLAN: First of all, we believe we are on the right course, and that what we are working to achieve in Iraq will bring about a safer and better world, and a more secure America. So, we are on the right course.

There are difficulties anytime you're trying to transition to democracy. Our own country faced those difficulties and went through a period of years to transition to a democracy.

MCCLELLAN: And so, we will continue working with the governing council and leaders in Iraq as we move forward. That's what we are doing. That's what we have been doing.

You're asking me to speculate beyond some of those discussions that I have yet to occur.

O'BRIEN: All right, let's put the brief in briefing here. We're going to step away from Scott McClellan. We'll monitor it. If anything else newsworthy comes out of it, we'll bring it to you.


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