Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
1:52 P.M. EST
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. I want to give you a report on the President's day, then I'm happy to take your questions. Obviously, there were some important developments up in New York, I'd like to discuss those with you.
The President began his day this morning with a phone call to Estonian Prime Minister Kallas. He thanked the Prime Minister for Estonia's friendship and support, in particular as we face the challenged pose by Iraq. The President made the point that Estonia's history of overcoming dictatorship gives it moral standing as a voice for freedom around the world.
The President also spoke with President Musharraf this morning. The President expressed his appreciation for Pakistan's important contribution to the global war on terror, and also stressed the importance of seeking peace and stability in South Asia. The President and President Musharraf discussed Iraq and agreed on the need for Saddam Hussein to comply completely with all United Nations Security Council resolutions.
President Bush stressed the need for the Security Council to act decisively and on as unified a front as is possible. The President and President Musharraf agreed to remain in close touch.
Following that, the President had an intelligence briefing, then he had his FBI briefing, he convened a meeting of the National Security Council. He met with the Foreign Minister of Turkey and the Minister of State for Economy of Turkey.
And he will shortly leave for the FBI, where he will discuss a new initiative to better protect the American people through a combination of CIA and FBI intelligence threat assessments, so we can have the greatest resources possible to share the greatest information possible to protect the American people.
And the President will return to the White House, and I am happy to take your questions.
Q: Ari, despite the Secretary of State's presentation, it seems rather clear that this administration ran into a brick wall of opposition today at the United Nations. What does the President make of that and what's the next step?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that's a rather over-dramatic interpretation of what you've heard from New York today. Number one, let's start with some of the statements that you've heard. I think there is universal agreement that force is a last resort. That is absolutely valid for the United States. And the President remains hopeful that Iraq will, indeed, disarm and therefore avert the need for force to be used to disarm him.
But in the end, the process set forward by the United Nations and all 15 members of the Security Council unanimously is aimed at the disarmament of Saddam Hussein. Nowhere did the world receive any comfort today in New York that Saddam Hussein has shown the inspectors that he has disarmed. Quite the contrary.
Q: Okay. What's the evidence that it's an over-dramatization? I mean, you heard from the allies, including those who have the ability to veto a second resolution, that they don't support the timetable put forth by the United States and this administration, that they want to see inspections continue. The administration disagrees with that. So does the President not sense that there is a groundswell of opposition against the diplomacy that we're engaged in. And if so, what's he going to do about it?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you heard the same thing from the same leaders that you've been hearing in terms of timetable. But what remains important is the fundamental facing of the fact -- and considering especially the two new pieces of evidence that Hans Blix brought forward this morning about whether or not Saddam Hussein has disarmed.
Q: Just one more on this. Did Hans Blix disappoint the President with his presentation? Did he think that Dr. Blix, perhaps, understated the lack of Iraqi noncompliance in the President's view?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think the report from Hans Blix this morning was very diplomatic with its bottom line being that the world has no confidence that Saddam Hussein has disarmed. And that's what this is about. As Secretary Powell just indicated, this is not about whether U-2s fly. This is not about whether Mirages fly. This is about whether Saddam Hussein's claim that he has disarmed is itself a mirage.
Q: Ari, what does the President want the Security Council to do now? Does he want another resolution specifically authorizing force? Or is he willing to settle for something watered down that everybody can agree on?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President wants the world to study carefully what Mr. Blix said. There are important things that Mr. Blix revealed to the world this morning, that the United Nations Security Council has to consider, the members of the Security Council have to consider. And I think it's likely that they will.
Q: Is he not going to -- or is Secretary Powell not going to come forward at some point with a resolution asking for specific authority to use force?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the President has made it clear the United States will welcome a second resolution from the Security Council.
Q: Authorizing force?
MR. FLEISCHER: The exact words I think will be discussed. But already the United Nations Security Council has said that if Iraq fails to comply with Security Council Resolution 1441, which ordered Iraq to fully and immediately disarm, there would be serious consequences.
Q: Can I just ask one more? The specific reply to something the French Foreign Minister said, no one can assert today the path of war will be shorter than the path of inspections. Are you persuaded that the path of war would lead to quicker disarmament of Iraq than further inspections?
MR. FLEISCHER: Given the fact that it's taken more than 12 years for Saddam Hussein to disarm, there's no question that if force is used, it will achieve the objective of preserving the peace far faster than the current path that we're on.
Q: When would you expect the U.S. to submit a resolution to the U.N. for action for authorizing the use of military force? Does Blix's statement today change the timing in the U.S. view?
MR. FLEISCHER: As for Mr. Blix's statement today, I think it's worth analyzing exactly what he said, which is what the fundamental issue comes down to again. If you accept the premise that it's not about the process matters, whether the U-2 flies or anything else, it's about whether Saddam Hussein disarms -- examine carefully Mr. Blix's own words. Mr. Blix reported to the world today that the issues of anthrax, nerve agent, VX, and long-range missiles deserve to be taken seriously by Iraq, rather than brushed aside.
Those are Mr. Blix's words about weapons that kill. Then he added in a crucial sentence: it is not the task of the inspectors to find it; it is the task of Iraq to provide it.
Mr. Blix continued -- and these are his words when he said, it is not the task of the inspectors to find it -- which is a telling statement. He continues, for the first time saying this publicly: the two declared variants of the Al Samud II missile were capable of exceeding 150 kilometers in range, the missile is therefore proscribed.
He continues: Iraq has declared that it has reconstituted the chambers necessary to build these missiles. These experts have confirmed that the reconstituted casting chambers could still be used to produce motors for missiles capable of ranges significantly greater than 150 kilometers. Accordingly, these chambers remain proscribed.
The third item that he said is proscribed are 380 -- 380 -- SA II missile engines, which also are proscribed. If they're proscribed, you can ask what comes next. Under United Nations Security Council Resolution 687, which ended the Persian Gulf War, it's clear what comes next -- I'm reading from 687.
"Iraq shall unconditionally accept the destruction, removal, or rendering harmless of all ballistic missiles with a range of greater than 150 kilometers and all related major parts and repair and production facilities."
So when you listened to Mr. Blix this morning describe the very fact that the weapons that kill are, one, proven to be in the hands of Iraq in a proscribed manner, and the weapons of mass destruction that kill even more -- the anthrax, the nerve agent, the VX -- are unaccounted for. The world still has great cause for concern about Saddam Hussein possessing weapons. That's what came out of New York today.
Q: And what's the timing on submitting a resolution, days?
MR. FLEISCHER: The timing will be something the United States, in concert with our allies, will determine. I think it's too soon to say at this point. I think it typically happens after presentations of this importance are made to the Security Council as the member states take time to study them, to absorb them, to think about what it means that now we have three categories of missiles that are proscribed; that Iraq has not accounted for the VX, the nerve agents; and this new sentence -- it is not the task of the inspectors to find it.
Q: Can you shed any light on the new evidence that the Secretary made reference to in his remarks, new evidence that he'll be presenting to the U.N. about Iraqi noncompliance?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, Iraqi noncompliance remains an ongoing matter. And I think Mr. Blix alluded to it. I don't think it is a small statement for the head of inspectors to say, it is not the inspectors task to find the weapons -- which brings you right back to the central problem that the world has faced for 12 years. And that is that Saddam Hussein has built up a massive, massive apparatus to hide the weapons he has.
Q: The inspectors, however, had identified and located these proscribed missiles. Is the United States -- is the administration now demanding the destruction of these missiles? And will that be a substantive step forward?
MR. FLEISCHER: What is important, Terry, is the world is watching the United Nations. The United Nations is charged with enforcing Resolution 1441 that's called for the full and immediate compliance by Iraq of disarmament, and it said there would be serious consequences if there is not. And Resolution 687, which ended the Gulf War on April 3, 1991, set out the path for a proscribed material.
Q: So the missiles are proscribed -- should they be destroyed?
MR. FLEISCHER: All you need to do is read Resolution 687, which the United States voted for, which lays out the path of what comes next.
Q: So that's a "yes"?
MR. FLEISCHER: Resolution 687 which the United States voted for states that: these missiles shall be destroyed, removed or rendered harmless.
Q: So if Iraq --
MR. FLEISCHER: This remains a next important test.
Q: The next important test. So if Iraq meets this test, that would be a substantive step forward in actual, factual disarmament on the ground that they destroyed 380 missiles?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me raise another issue that is related to this, because the threat to the world doesn't only come from these missiles, which Hans Blix cited this morning in his remarks. The threat to the world comes from what Hans Blix said the world has no confidence that Saddam Hussein has destroyed, which is what UNSCOM found in the late 1990s in regard to the VX, in regard to the botulin, in regard to the chemical munitions warheads.
This morning, if you can believe it, Iraq has said, in an act that sounds like a democracy, that they would pass a law banning possession of weapons of mass destruction. This comes 12 years late and 26,000 liters of anthrax short; 12 years late and 38,000 liters of botulin short; 12 years late and 30,000 unfilled chemical munitions short. It's not just about one weapon system that Iraq possesses to wreak havoc and to kill people in the neighborhood, including Americans, including our allies and including risks that could be transferred to terrorists. It's not just one system, Terry.
Q: Fair enough. The argument that will be put, however, based on today's conclusion by Dr. Blix, is that this is the way inspections work, one system, one program, one threat at a time, perhaps, and here the inspectors have identified and declared a proscribed system. Six eighty-seven, as you point out, calls for its destruction. Should that happen, you know that allies will say, bingo, it's working.
MR. FLEISCHER: That's not the way inspections work. The way inspections work is as Hans Blix said, it's not the job of the inspectors to find it, it's the job of Iraq to show it and to destroy it. And it's also the job of Iraq to comply with something that was full and immediate. This is three months. It's neither full nor immediate.
Q: The President spoke to President Musharraf this morning, can you count on Pakistan's support for any new resolution?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it would not be my place to predict votes of sovereign nations. But, again, the President has expressed his belief that in the end, even with statements that we have heard today from our allies, in the end the President is confident that the United Nations will be a relevant organization dedicated to fighting proliferation and not an organization that fights proliferation on paper only while tyrants develop weapons that they can use.
Q: Are you reaching out to other undecided countries, like Mexico? Are you at the point of counting votes at this point?
MR. FLEISCHER: Sure, I think as you know the President has been making many phone calls around to members of the United Nations Security Council, and that will continue.
Q: Ari, for the last couple of days the Democrats on Capitol Hill have been reiterating their argument that the administration has been unwilling to provide enough money for domestic security. Yesterday you characterized their comments as partisan sniping. Is the President prepared to reassure the American people that local, state and federal government agencies are getting every dollar they need to protect them? And is it partisan sniping to raise concerns about this, given the fear that everybody in the country has right now?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I would put it to you this way, the funding levels that Congress has passed are doing more and are providing additional resources, but not enough and not the right way. And if you take a look at the legislation that was passed very late in result of the appropriation process that broke down last fall, that now was concluded yesterday, you'll see that the President's request for $3.5 billion in aid for homeland security has been reduced to $1.3 billion in aid for homeland security -- with the remaining money basically earmarked for individual projects in various states that funds important programs, such as drug courts, but are not part of the war on terrorism.
And so the President will continue to work with Congress on providing the right amount of funding that can be used by states and municipalities in the right way, to help provide everybody in state and local governments the tools they need to do their jobs. This has been a very lengthy process. It's been a broken process, in terms of the last year's appropriation bill so late in the process that it's an imperfect bill. Nevertheless, given the time period that we're in, it will be signed by the President, but the President would like Congress to do more to help provide funding to fight homeland security, or protect homeland security and fight terrorism. And that's contained in his 2004 budget, as well.
Q: Are you saying, then, that he would support more money, particularly if there were --
MR. FLEISCHER: His 2004 budget provides an increase in money.
Q: Osama bin Laden has basically called on other Muslims, or Muslims within Arab countries to take up arms against the governments that support the United States if we go into a war with Iraq. Are we -- what are we doing to assure the Arab League that we are going to support them and to alleviate some of their concerns?
MR. FLEISCHER: Correct. And in the audiotape that was released apparently by Osama bin Laden, he did call for the overthrow of governments in Yemen and Saudi Arabia and a variety of places. Interesting, he left Iraq off that list, despite him calling them a secular regime.
But, nevertheless, the United States has been working long and hard in close concert with our allies around the world in the war on terrorism, through intelligence sharing, through cooperation, through the number of arrests that you have seen. There have been attacks that have been averted as a result of this intelligence sharing.
But it remains a reminder of the worldwide threat people around the world face from terrorism.
Q: But any specific outreach to the Arab League nations?
MR. FLEISCHER: Oh, absolutely, sure. We work very closely with Saudi Arabia, we work closely with Yemen, we work closely with a number of the nations that have been targeted by terrorists.
Q: Ari, Hans Blix said today that if the goal is disarmament, Resolution 1441, that it would not take a lot of time. But if the goal is monitoring, that it could require more time. Does the administration believe there's any merit or any legitimacy in the goal of monitoring Saddam Hussein for the sake of peace, for the sake of preventing American's loss of life or innocent Iraqi's loss of life?
MR. FLEISCHER: Fourteen forty-one, which guides the actions of the United Nations, including the United States, was crystal clear. The result was disarmament. And as Senator McCain pointed out yesterday, containment with somebody like Saddam Hussein is not an option, it does not work. And that's why 1441 spoke as strongly as it did on what the end goal is, and that is disarmament.
And what you referred to is notable, and the very last thing that Mr. Blix reported in New York today, he indicated that if Iraq had provided cooperation in 1991, disarmament would have taken place in the previous decade. But he has not provided that cooperation and, therefore, as he put it earlier in his testimony today, it's not the job of the inspectors to find it -- it remains the job of Saddam Hussein to show that he has either destroyed it or to turn it over so it can be destroyed. And the world has found no comfort that those steps have been taken.
Q: And the President has been making the case that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction, he has the means to use them, links with terrorists, including al Qaeda. Lately, he's been talking about invoking images of September 11th. And there are some people -- and I'm talking about regular, everyday Americans -- who are saying, this is confusing at the very least. At the worst, perhaps it's even misleading to make that link, to invoke images of September 11th in making the case for war against Saddam Hussein. How does the administration respond?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, of course the image of September 11th that the President is reminding people of is that everything changed for the United States on September 11th. And I don't think there's any argument that that's an accurate statement. September 11th reminded the American people that threats that we previously thought that existed for perhaps our embassies abroad or for other nations to deal with, they're actually threats that exist on our very own soil. And what government would not shift after September 11th to recognize that additional steps need to be taken to protect the homeland, because of September 11th?
Q: But, did --
MR. FLEISCHER: Jim. We're going to run out of questions --
Q: There's no link between September 11th and Saddam Hussein and Iraq -- that's still the administration's position?
MR. FLEISCHER: Sure, the President has said that.
Q: Did the President watch the Blix statement?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, he was meeting with Turkish officials at the time, or for a portion of when they spoke. He was briefed on it, however.
MR. FLEISCHER: By -- I think Dr. Rice talked to him about it. I think there may well have been a few other people who talked to him about it, too.
Q: What we hear see today, it seems likely that in the permanent clash up at the Security Council that you have Britain and the United States on one side, and China, Russia, and France on the other. And it does seem likely that unless any second resolution is a vapid one, there will be a veto. Is the President still rolling along with the willing members of the coalition to go it alone if the Security Council does not act?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, it just -- we've seen this before, where people try to guess what nations are going to do at the United Nations. Typically, it's American reporters trying to guess what foreign nations will do with a vote, which is something that is very important to them. And I would urge you to be very cautious and judicious in your predictions on how other nations will vote. The President has been engaged in consultations and will continue. And, as you've seen in the past, these typically have led to very fruitful results in terms of the world supporting the United States position, or at least not objecting to it.
Q: But is he still holding back the -- the willing coalition if the Security Council does not act?
MR. FLEISCHER: There's no question at all that the President has said either the United Nations will disarm Saddam Hussein or a coalition of the willing -- which I think you've seen how substantial and sizeable it is, and is growing to even increasingly be -- will take that action.
Q: Ari, the French Foreign Minister suggested today that there would be another report from the arms inspectors on March 14th. What is the U.S. view of that?
MR. FLEISCHER: As the President said several weeks ago, this is a matter of weeks, not months. And I would hesitate to make any guesses about specific days or dates. But the President has said weeks, not months.
Q: Does the U.S. contemplate any further reports from the arms inspectors before the issue is joined over whether or not the inspections should go forward at all?
MR. FLEISCHER: I wouldn't want to speculate about that.
Q: Let me ask one little broader question, if I may. Clearly, the U.S. has argued that the U.N. Security Council risks being irrelevant if it doesn't confront this issue, the same matter is before NATO. It seems that we're in pretty treacherous waters here with the future of two international organizations, through which we have often worked, hanging in the balance. What is the administration's view of what is at stake here, and how tricky a balance this is?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President approaches this that there are two things at stake here: one is the immediate security and peace of the world given the threat that Iraq possessed. The second is the strength of our alliances, which have been in some ways tested as a result of the actions of Germany, France, and in the case of NATO, Belgium.
In the end, the President has no doubt whatsoever in his mind that the alliance will remain strong. It's strong because democracies are entitled to differ. And when they do, they will differ, the world will be protected as a result of the disarmament of Iraq. And then because we share values and we are democracies, we will reunite.
And given the fact that most of Europe, so many nations in Europe have spoken out in support of the United States' position, I think that it's also fair to say that Belgium and Germany and France have their own interest in making certain that whatever the end result is vis-a-vis Iraq, that they do their own work to repair any damage that was done. We all have an interest in working together and making sure the alliance stays strong -- even if there are some issues where a minority of nations disagree.
Q: You continually caution us not to make predictions about what other nations may do -- can you point us to anything specific that gives reason to believe that the nations who have spoken against the American can --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I can answer the question by what does the President think. The President, as you know, engages in quite a bit of consultation and diplomacy. And the President does believe in the end, and continues to hope the United Nations will, when it comes down to time to vote, be a relevant organization. Because the consequences of failure would mean that international organizations are no longer capable of enforcing nonproliferation regimes around the world.
Take a look at NATO, for example. There's been much discussion that NATO would not come to the aid of Turkey. I think it's important to give NATO a chance now. Let's see if, ultimately, the efforts of individual and minority nations within a larger block of NATO do prevail -- or does the majority prevail. Give it time. And this is another example where people said that the United States position vis-a-vis helping Turkey would never be agreed to by NATO. NATO is blocking -- as a result of three countries -- what the majority want to do. How can the United States get it done? How can you help Turkey? Give NATO a chance. I think you'll see that NATO will, indeed, come to Turkey's aid.
Q: Is the President's hope based on something he's heard in private consultations with a leader or leaders?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's based on any number of factors.
Q: Yes, two questions, Ari. The first one -- following Ivan's line of questions. The President didn't watch Hans Blix. Did he watch Colin Powell? What was the reaction?
MR. FLEISCHER: He was having lunch with the Vice President as Secretary Powell was speaking. So I don't know.
Q: The second question -- again, going back to the fight between Democrats and Republicans over the Miguel Estrada nomination. It seems to be an absolute deadlock. Democrats seem to have the vote, but keep filibustering. Republicans don't have the votes for cloture. But they do have the votes in after it gets to the floor. Is this going to be an unending or is the President going to --
MR. FLEISCHER: Clearly, the President hopes not. I think it would be a very sad day for the Senate if this tactic of filibustering became the tactic of how circuit court nominees are considered, particularly given the fact that Senator Leahy, himself, more than three years ago said, it is wrong and should not be done to filibuster a circuit court nominee. And now he, himself, is one of the leaders of a filibuster, despite the very fact that he, himself, said this is not the way judicial candidates should be treated. That's what he said.
So the President hopes that reason will prevail, that after the initial flurry, people will recognize the great danger they may do to the judiciary by adopting this radical tactic. And it has never been successfully done. And there is a judicial emergency that continues to exist. There are not sufficient judges in place in the court systems. People are waiting too long for justice to be done. The filibuster only makes people wait longer.
Q: But the President wouldn't budge on this issue, he will stand firm on it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Absolutely.
Q: Has he called Miguel Estrada?
Q: Switch to another topic. Are we expecting any statement or comment from the President in next few days about Dr. Charles Li kidnapped by Chinese gunmen just three weeks ago? There is a big rally going on in Los Angeles, Sunday. And today there was an international press --
MR. FLEISCHER: We'll keep you -- we'll keep you informed if there are any presidential statements. There's nothing I --
Q: Going back to Greenspan's testimony this week, how does the specific comment, that the dividend tax cut should be revenue-neutral, offsetting the budget -- how does that specific comment complicate the administration's efforts to sell the economic package?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think it's going to make it much harder for Democrats to say that dividend taxes -- double-taxation of dividends should not be eliminated because Mr. Greenspan has said that he's in favor of it. The rules of the Senate will remain in force. And, of course, that's up to the United States senators to determine what they pay for and pay-go rules are. Given the current situation, the President will continue to adhere to the budget procedures laid out which deal with pay-go.
Q: Do you think, though, that it makes it harder to get any kind of support from the Democrats? They are focusing on the deficit --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think, as you hard from the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee this week, and as other Republicans who joined the President here at the White House, they have high cause to be optimistic that in the end the President is going to get what he sought or not -- much of what he sought, if not all of what he sought.
Q: Ari, going back to the President's call to General Musharraf of Pakistan, if there was any discussion or the President asked him that Pakistan is gearing up for terrorists and he's -- terrorists, and they might be --
MR. FLEISCHER: The President, of course, is concerned about any situation involving terrorism there. President Musharraf has been a great ally in fighting terrorism in Pakistan.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you. The President is speaking now.
END 1:22 P.M. EST
George W. Bush, Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/271754