Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
2:30 P.M. EST
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. I have a number of statements I'd like to make, so let me begin with those.
President Bush will host British Prime Minister Tony Blair at Camp David on March 26th and March 27th -- that's Wednesday and Thursday this week. The United Kingdom is a close ally and the largest coalition military partner with us in Iraq. The President and the Prime Minister will discuss the progress of the conflict in Iraq, urgent issues of humanitarian relief, reconstruction, and helping the Iraqi people build democratic institutions.
One question that the White House often receives from the American people as the developments on the war unfolds is, what can individuals do to help, particularly to help our troops who are serving abroad. And today I'd like to bring to people's attention that the USA Freedom Corps has launched a new resource for people seeking to support our troops, their families, and their communities, and this is called On The Homefront. By logging on to usafreedomcorps.gov, people can get information on sending letters and care packages to our troops stationed away from home, and they'll be able to find other sites on that web page to link on -- such things as Operation Dear Abby, which sends email messages to deployed troops of any service from people's home state. Defend America is an on-line thank-you for the troops. And Operation USA Care Package provides a way to send purchases of items requested by troops, such as sunscreen, disposable cameras, prepaid calling cards, and other items for the troops.
Finally, one other item on the humanitarian relief picture. The United States is currently providing $105 million to international aid agencies to help the Iraqi people, including $60 million to the World Food Program, $21 million to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, $10 million to the International Committee of the Red Cross, and $8 million to the International Organization for Migration.
We're also providing 610,000 metric tons of food, worth $300 million. We have deployed approximately 3 million humanitarian daily rations in Kuwait and other locations, to meet emergency food needs. This is the largest number of HDRs -- humanitarian daily rations -- ever forward-deployed for contingency use.
To assess the needs and coordinate the efforts, we are deploying a 62-person civilian disaster response team, the largest of its kind ever. To provide this relief, coalition forces have seized the southern port of Umm Qasr. The coalition is working to get this port up and running. It will be a gateway for food and other relief items. Coalition forces are currently sweeping the port for mines, a necessary prelude to allow incoming humanitarian traffic. Two Iraqi tugboats carrying mines have already been interdicted.
This is a major step in providing humanitarian aid and resuming ration distributions to the Iraqi people. The President mentioned this in his remarks this morning at the Pentagon. It remains a very important priority and we will continue to pursue it.
With that, I'm happy to take your questions.
Q: There's some doubt about whether aid is actually flowing. And there's an aid crisis, there's a water and food crisis in Basra, we understand, and there's no indication that we're aware of that any help is reaching these people. When will it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Number one, there is assistance that has been reaching people. As the troops move through, they have been providing relief to the people that they encounter as often as they can --
Q: -- that's sort of a case-by-case basis.
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct. And as I mentioned, there's a massive stockpiling that stands by and ready. And what is at stake here is the mining of the harbor that was done by the Iraqis, which only serves, once again, as a reminder of how Iraq is willing to starve its own people to accomplish its military aims.
Q: -- immediate crisis on your hands.
MR. FLEISCHER: And the only way to deal with that crisis is by removing the mines that were laid by the Iraqis in order to get the ships through.
Q: So nobody gets fed until the mines get removed?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the ships will sink if you don't remove the mines, and nobody will get fed and the situation become even worse, if the ships back up as a result of them sinking. The British ship, Sir Galahad, is equipped with 700 -- 76,000 days* of supply of food and approximately 1,500 tons of water. It's ready to go. The Australians have two shiploads of wheat, each carrying 50,000 tons, awaiting off-loading. So the mine operation is continuing. It is a priority. And as was noted in the briefing in the Gulf this morning, 40 percent of the water for Basra has already been turned back on.
Q: The President said Sunday that this humanitarian aid would begin flowing in 36 hours. Was he -- did he misspeak, or is this an example of where the coalition plans haven't gone as quickly as you would hope?
MR. FLEISCHER: As the President said, massive amounts of humanitarian aid should begin moving within the next 36 hours. They are moving. We desire to get them to their end object. And as I mentioned, there is one impediment to aiding the long-suffering people of Iraq, and that is the removal of these mines.
This is a real sign of what the Iraqi regime will do. They are willing to block their own ports, starve their own people, stop humanitarian aid from getting through. All the efforts that we are making in the middle of a shooting war to feed the Iraqi people are a reflection on how the United States and our allies fight wars.
Q: -- point, but I just want to make it clear -- is this -- is the aid proceeding to the Iraqi people on a timetable set out, or has the coalition been delayed, because of the fighting on the ground, in getting the aid to the Iraqis?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, it's a question of the mines. It's not the fighting on the ground, it's a question of the mines.
Q: But isn't it more than the mines? Obviously, the Iraqi regime has mined this harbor, and that is a wicked thing to do. But the coalition battle plan was to bypass Basra and leave the more than half-million citizens there essentially to fend for themselves until we could get this aid flowing. It's not that we can't only get ships into Umm Qasr; it's that we didn't take Basra, which is now a scene of utter chaos and total unpredictability, and there's no telling when aid will flow there. Does the administration take any responsibility for the plight of the people in Basra?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the administration is the one, working with our allies, that is working to get the food and the water to the people of Iraq. The people of Iraq have been put in harm's way as a result of the actions of the Iraqi military, of the Fedayeen, and the brutal regime under which they've lived that doesn't care about the people of Iraq. And that's why the United States and our allies are the ones put in this position, working through, as I mentioned, a series of groups, providing money and transport. We stand ready, willing, and able. The mines need to be moved and the mines will be moved. The people will be fed.
Q: But it does seem, based on, as Ron points out, the President on Sunday saying, within 36 hours massive amounts of aid should begin to move -- and perhaps the prediction that we heard quite a bit, that the people of the south, and particularly Basra, will rise up -- that you didn't expect this. That you did not expect there to be this --
MR. FLEISCHER: We didn't expect the Irani -- the Iraqis to cease caring about their own people, to cease feeding their own people, to put up impediments to this humanitarian relief supplies? That's the nature of the Iraqi regime. They've been doing it for years.
So, no, Terry. I think what you see here is, once again, in the classic sense, of the United States working with our allies as being someone who cares and provides for the humanitarian needs of people worldwide. You have an Iraqi regime that has laid mines in an effort to block shipments of humanitarian supplies -- as well as other reasons that they laid the mines, for military purposes -- the consequence of which is that the humanitarian relief, which the United States is dedicated to providing, will get there as soon as the operations can be cleared, to get the mines removed.
Q: Ari, not until the President ordered war to begin and he addressed the American people last Wednesday did he prepare the public for what would be, in his words, a longer and more difficult military fight than many have predicted. Why didn't he do it sooner? And what does he believe the level of patience is of the American public? At what cost is the public prepared to pay for achieving this end?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, number one, I think the American people have fully understood all the way along that there is risk, that there is sacrifice, as the nation prepared for war. And the President was very overt with the country about -- that this could result in the use of force.
I want to cite for you three specific instances in which the President laid it out rather explicitly, going back in time. One was a week ago last night, a week ago Monday, March 17th, when the President said, and I quote, "Americans understand the costs of conflict because we have paid them in the past. War has no certainty except the certainty of sacrifice. If Saddam Hussein attempts to cling to power, he will remain a deadly foe until the end."
And then on Wednesday last week, March 19th, the President said, on a campaign on the harsh -- "A campaign on the harsh terrain of a nation as large as California could be longer and more difficult than some predict. And helping Iraqis achieve a united, stable and free country will require a sustained commitment." And then again, Saturday, in the President's radio address, he had a very similar message.
So I dispute the premise. The President has said this consistently, and I think the American people have been prepared for this and they understand the sacrifices that must be made in order to disarm the Iraqi regime.
Q: Let me follow up on that, because given -- given your precise preparation for a question like that, it seems to me --
MR. FLEISCHER: You're easy to read, David. (Laughter.)
Q: I guess so. Well maybe that -- then maybe that means that there's some level of defensiveness, that perhaps the President is worried that the American public may be less patient than he advised them to be. Is that the case?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I just anticipate your questions well.
Q: Wait a second, Ari. This is wartime. That's a dodge of the question.
MR. FLEISCHER: You're asking me why am I prepared to answer your questions?
Q: No, that's not what I asked you. I asked you, does he feel that the public did not adequately bring up its expectation for what we are facing.
MR. FLEISCHER: No, and as I answered your question at the very beginning, I said that the American people, in the President's judgment, have been well-prepared for this. And the American people understood -- as the President repeatedly, going back to September 12th at the United Nations, talked about the possibility of the use of force.
The American people understand it when the President talks about the use of force, they understand that means that lives can be lost. The President made that perfectly plain in those remarks that I quoted to you.
Q: Ari, this just in -- the Senate has voted to cut the proposed tax cuts by about half, to $350 billion, after getting the request for more funds for the war.
MR. FLEISCHER: There are a series of events that are underway, and votes that are underway in the Senate right now. We'll see what the ultimate outcome is. If that vote is the final vote, they have many more to come. The manner in which the Senate on this particular vote did this, the money will be available for more spending. While those who back that amendment say that it will provide money in a reserve fund for Social Security, the history of such reserve funds is that they serve as a piggy bank for more spending.
And so the President believes that the most important thing to do is to provide growth for the economy. The number that the President proposed that looks like -- that passed in the House is the number the President thinks is the right number and the best number to support growth. So we'll see what ultimately comes out of the Senate. They have a lot more voting to do.
Q: Ari, why are you offering money for Turkey in the supplemental since they wouldn't let the U.S. troops there?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President's supplemental contains a request for a provision for assistance to Turkey. The request consists of a fixed grant of $1 billion that can be used to back a larger loan facility to Turkey. Turkey has made impressive progress over two years in stabilizing and reforming its economy. The Turkish government is nearing agreement with the IMF on an economic program that will further strengthen the economy, and which we fully support.
There was a previous package of a much, much larger magnitude that was withdrawn. This is something far different.
Q: Is there some recognition that their economy is in dire straits and they desperately need this money?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, all along, we have always said that there was a particular package that was on the table dealing with Turkey, involving their particular cooperation. We did not see all the results of the cooperation we saw in the instance of that particular package. But we've always said that Turkey, being a state in the area, had other economic costs that were -- something we saw in 1991. And so there is a request pending before the Congress.
Q: Ari, if I could just take you back to your comment before about how you didn't expect the Iraqis to interfere with the humanitarian aid.
MR. FLEISCHER: I didn't say that.
Q: You said, we didn't expect the Iraqis to step in and help starve their own people and so forth --
MR. FLEISCHER: I didn't say we didn't expect; I said this is something that we've seen throughout Iraqi history, where they have starved their own people. It's a sign of how the Iraqi regime has treated its own people. I think that's what I said.
Go ahead. I hear there is a question coming.
Q: The essence of the question here is, you said that the humanitarian aid is delayed because of the demining operation. But, clearly, Basra, which is where the biggest need is right now and the second largest city, does not appear to be in a condition where you could deliver aid without fear of military action against the aid-givers. In retrospect, did the plan that you folks had call for an ability to get that aid into Basra, assuming that you got past the mining issues, by this time? Or did you expect that it would take weeks or months to be able to deliver that aid?
MR. FLEISCHER: You'd have to talk to the Pentagon planners for any more precision on exactly what their plans called for. I can assure you from the President's point of view that the focus on humanitarian aid remains a paramount issue. And as was mentioned in the briefing in the Gulf this morning, 40 percent of the water for Basra has already been turned back on again. And it remains unclear on who turned the water off for Basra, how it got turned off and who turned it off.
Q: I'm sorry, Ari, if I could just follow up on that.
MR. FLEISCHER: Go ahead, David.
Q: The second issue is, yesterday we were hearing from both Secretary Powell and then others at the Pentagon that there was concern about a red line around Baghdad that would -- once we crossed, there could be a use of chemical or biological weapons. Is this based, to your understanding, on any new intelligence? Or is this basically a recycling of a fear that we've heard many times before, which was the Iraqis could use chemical and biological, which they do not appear to have done yet?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you need to address that to the Pentagon. That's something they've talked about repeatedly.
Dana. Lester, we're going to save you for last.
Q: For last?
MR. FLEISCHER: For last. Or close to it; maybe penultimate. Dana.
Q: The Kremlin is contradicting the account of the conversation the President had with President Putin yesterday, saying that Putin is the one who brought up the allegations and denied them, and said -- the spokesman for the Kremlin is saying the President of Russia also notes the discussion concerned unproved public declarations that can damage relations between the two countries. Why are -- is this -- why are these two at odds here?
MR. FLEISCHER: One, I don't think it's a contradiction. I think if you look at exactly what I said yesterday, I said the two nations -- the two Presidents --
Q: -- you said --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I said the two Presidents spoke about. It's not my habit --
Q: -- it's not the first time the United States has raised this concern.
MR. FLEISCHER: And it's not. The United States has raised that concern over the last year. And then I said -- at the beginning of the briefing, I said, the two Presidents discussed. And I don't think it really matters who brought what issue up first. The fact of the matter is, as I said yesterday, the two Presidents discussed an issue that the United States has brought up over the last year.
I saw also there was some question about who placed the phone call. And yesterday I said the two Presidents spoke. I did not say who placed a phone call; I said, the two Presidents spoke. And so the conversation was much -- just as I described it. Of course, it is always the prerogative of every nation to fill in additional information about what their leader spoke about. I don't report every word that a foreign leader speaks.
Q: Two questions. One, can you describe the most important issue when the President meets the Prime Minister? Is it that the troops have advanced to a point close to Baghdad where you have to make key decisions about where to go forward? And also, Dr. Rice was up at the United Nations today. Can you discuss at all her conversations and the disagreement between the United States and the United Nations -- and with the United Kingdom to a degree -- about how long the United States would have an interim authority, led by General Franks and down through, before it ceded any power to any U.N. --
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, the discussions at the United Nations were about the humanitarian situation in Iraq. That's what the focus of it was. We reiterated our concern about the humanitarian situation. We also discussed the status of the oil- for-food program, which is pending at the United Nations, which is a matter of some discussion among the various members of the United Nations.
There was discussion of the post-conflict Iraq and our desire to secure sovereignty for the Iraqi people just as soon as possible. We also talked about -- Dr. Rice talked about the protection of human rights in Iraq. These remain issues that are important, that we will continue to talk with the United Nations about.
Q: No details about who would be securing Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't have every detail of a private conversation. But I -- you many want to take a look back at the statement that was made at the Azores, where we very publicly discussed the importance of the United Nations playing some type of role in the humanitarian reconstruction efforts.
Q: And your sense of point A, for Bush-Blair?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm sorry? It's just as I indicated. There are a variety of topics that will be on the agenda, and I think you'll be able to find out additional information after the meeting is over.
Q: Yes, on the question of humanitarian aid, the U.N. oil- for-food program, even if it gets cranked back up, you don't really anticipate any of that aid getting on the ground and to Iraqis until the end of hostilities, do you?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there are two components here. One is, the United Nations has for a long time, since the sanctions were imposed on Iraq, had an oil-for-food program, which Saddam Hussein broke and used the money -- diverted the money for food for the purpose of use for his military. The United States has committed, as we discussed earlier, to the immediate humanitarian relief of the Iraqi people by providing food on the ground as quickly as is possible and doable on the ground.
Beyond that, there's a longer-term commitment, and that is, that the oil-for-food program, which is a United Nations- administered program -- so you have two aspects going on at the same time. The immediate need is to provide the food on the ground through the means available as a result of the war and efforts underway, having troops on the grounds. The other is longer-term.
Q: So the U.S. and British would be the first phase while hostilities continue. The U.N. humanitarian aid wouldn't really come in until hostilities had ceased, but during this interim period?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'm not sure I can say hostilities have ceased. I don't think that there's a firm timetable on it. The point is, there is a program at the United Nations for a longer-term approach, and it remains always important to provide that food for the Iraqi people, and the discussions at the United Nations run the longer-term approach to it. In the interim, the meanwhile, we are doing everything possible on the ground to provide that humanitarian relief.
Q: Could you clarify for us exactly what role you expect or want the U.N. to play in the reconstruction and administration of Iraq in a post-Saddam era?
MR. FLEISCHER: I refer you back to the statement made in the Azores that described the anticipated role. It will be a matter of some discussion, I think is fair to say.
Q: Ari, can you -- you mention the mines in the harbor. Can you outline your understanding of how extensive the mining is? How much -- how many have been removed, and what their understanding is on the timetable for clearing the port?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, that's something that DOD would have to get into. I can describe for you, as a general manner, what the situation is, but DOD would have that specifics. I don't have them.
Q: You don't have an expectation on when -- so is there --
MR. FLEISCHER: As soon as is doable, and it just depends on what they find as they're underwater and how many they find.
Q: And is there then -- while that work is going on, is there an effort to open up a land route that will begin the flow? I mean, is that -- can you describe how that is working?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, from the President's point of view, every effort is being made to provide this assistance. When you want to get into the specifics of how is that being accomplished on the ground, that remains a DOD issue.
Q: The money that you mentioned, the $105 million -- is that new money, money transferred this week? How old is -- can you give some context to that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Which money are you referring to, the overall aid?
Q: You started out by describing the --
MR. FLEISCHER: The international aid money?
Q: The humanitarian relief money that the U.S. has provided, $105 million -- when you detailed the list --
MR. FLEISCHER: This is the existing funds, and, of course, in the supplemental appropriation bill that was sent up to the Congress today, there is a request for additional funding, which would be provided for in this current fiscal year, so it could flow immediately. And that includes additional humanitarian relief for the people of Iraq. So it's two parts.
Q: Is there -- two questions. One is, is there concern by the White House that this guidance weapons jamming system that Russia supposedly has supplied to Iraq is still being used? And second, why are the President and Prime Minister Blair meeting at Camp David this week rather than at the White House?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think they're meeting at Camp David just because it's a very good place to kind of sit down in a more informal atmosphere and to have discussions. If you recall, Prime Minister Blair came here before for a visit that was supposed to take place at Camp David and it ultimately got canceled because of the weather, and it was held here in its entirety. So there is a little bit of makeup for that.
So it will be a meeting at Camp David. There will be a public component to it, so you will all be receiving shortly your invitations to Camp David. And so they'll be up there on Thursday. I look forward to seeing you all there.
Q: What about the Russians supplying the jamming system?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that was addressed rather smartly this morning in the Gulf in their briefing about what they found with the jamming equipment. It is a matter of some diplomatic concern that remains a disturbing item. And we continue to have the talks with Russian officials about it.
Q: Ari, the Saudis allegedly have a peace proposal on the table. Is this something that's helpful at this point? Is it realistic, and does the White House take it seriously?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there's no formal peace proposal that has been made. I'm aware of the recent comments that have been made by the Saudi Foreign Minister. I'm also aware of comments that have been made by Arab leaders urging -- that previously urged for change in the current regime for the benefit of the Iraqi people.
Peace proposals that leave current Iraqi leaders intact to once again threaten the international community, its neighbors and its own people, would not be workable. This is an international mission that is underway for the purpose of disarming Saddam Hussein and making certain that no one in this regime who has been at the leadership level will again put the world in a position where Iraq will come into possession of weapons of mass destruction.
Q: Two questions. First of all, did you get any more information on whether the President knows anyone personally on the battlefield?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have not had a chance to get any update on that directly. You may want to ask that to the President if you have an opportunity this week.
Q: On the expectations issue, I just wanted to read back to you a quote from the Vice President from March 16th on Meet the Press. He said that he thought the regular Iraqi army would not try to put up a fight. "My guess is, even significant elements of the Republican Guard are likely, as well, to want to avoid conflict with U.S. forces and are likely to step aside."
So can you really say that the American people were accurately prepared for the battle that we're now facing, based on comments like these, and based on the fact that the President really didn't talk about it until we were, you know, days away from the conflict?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, I think the President started talking about this in September when he talked about the use of force. And the American people understand when the President talks about the use of force, it entails the potential for loss of life. I think it's rather plain, and the American people have understood that. And the American people have understood the case that the President made and the rallying call he made to leaders around the world to make certain that we did not put our people in a position where Saddam Hussein could use weapons of mass destruction against us later.
When you take a look at the fighting tactics employed by the Fedayeen, when you see how he is willing to have civilians surrender, armed then with weapons -- because they're not civilians -- feigned civilians who pretend to surrender and then attack, it tells you that we're really dealing here with elements of terrorism inside Iraq that are being employed now against our troops. It's a reminder about the nature of this regime and what they will do, and what they are capable of doing, and their desire to do it if they can link up with other terrorists and reach our shores.
As for the Vice President's statements, as Secretary Rumsfeld pointed out in his briefing today, we are only in the opening days of this war. So I don't know how you can reach any conclusions about the accuracy of these statements until you allow sufficient time to pass. I think if you're making judgments within the immediate commencement of the hostilities, you're making judgments too soon about their likely outcome. So I think the Vice President said what he said because he had reason, good reason to say it.
Q: So you think that his prediction could still pan out that the Iraqis wouldn't fight?
MR. FLEISCHER: I assure you, the Vice President does not say things lightly. So when the Vice President says something like that, he has good reason to say it and to think it and, therefore, to say it.
Q: A couple of quick ones, Ari. First, can I follow up on Ken's question about the Saudi peace plan? So is that your understanding of it, that it would leave Saddam intact, which is what you're rejecting?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, as I said, we're not aware of any formal peace proposal from the Saudis. We've heard some talk out there. I'm making a general statement about the purpose of this mission, and the purpose of
this mission is to remove Saddam Hussein from power.
Q: Informally, they haven't even suggested something like that?
MR. FLEISCHER: As a matter of government-to-government communications, we don't respond to statements made through the media. If there's a formal proposal, we will, of course, study it. I've laid out to you what our position is and the reasons that the President is pursuing the use of force.
Q: The other thing I was going to ask about is, can you describe what the President is going to be doing at CENTCOM tomorrow?
MR. FLEISCHER: Tomorrow at CENTCOM, the President will receive a briefing from top commanders at CENTCOM. After all, this is a CENTCOM operation. The President will also look forward to meeting with a large number of coalition allies who are at CENTCOM. There are coalition allies there from around the world, not only for this operation, but also for the current operation that is underway in Afghanistan. And the President will give remarks about the war.
Q: The briefing that he's going to get, is that like his daily briefing? Today he had a daily briefing at the Pentagon; tomorrow he's going to have it at CENTCOM --
MR. FLEISCHER: Are you asking if you'll be able to cover his daily briefing?
Q: I would be delighted to do so, on whatever basis he would agree to it.
MR. FLEISCHER: It will be a classified military briefing.
Q: And is it going to be different in some fashion from some of these other ones, because of where it is?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, certainly it will be in person. And any time the Commander-in-Chief is able to spend time directly with the war planners in person, I think you'll see a Commander-in-Chief who is sending a real signal of support for the men and women in the military, the pride that he has in the men and women in the military, and his desire to spend time with them, as well as with the troops who are actively involved in this effort. There will be remarks to a large number of the troops, that will be remarks for the American people and around the world.
Q: Ari, yesterday the U.S. decided to grant one of Haliburton's subsidiaries the contract to put out the oil well fires. And I'm wondering, given that you've known that for months and months in advance that there could be the possibility of oil well fires, why was there not a bid put out to bid on contracts, and was this given without any bidding?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you need to address any questions about contracts and bids to the agencies that award the contracts and bids.
Q: Is the White House at all worried about the perception, at least even if there is no conflict of interest, but the perception of a conflict of interest, given the Vice President --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the question that people want answered is, do we have a plan in place to put out the oil fires, and is it a good plan to put out the oil fires.
Q: So just awarding it to one company, without --
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I'm not familiar with the exact contracting and grants. And so I think -- I don't know if the premise of your question is accurate. You need to talk to the granting authorities, not the White House.
Q: Retired General Leonid Ivashov has indicated the United States has based nuclear munitions in Kuwait for possible use in this war on Iraq. Does General Ivashov know something that the American people --
MR. FLEISCHER: I have no idea if that's true, not true, and if I knew, I wouldn't say. So I think that's a question you need to again talk to DOD, and see if they talk about it. Not the kind of thing we talk about.
Q: And secondly, Ari, certain congressional offices have expressed an interest in Richard Perle's business dealings. And I know you've been asked this before and have kind of avoided the question, but given the fact that Perle does have his office next to the Secretary of Defense, he has the ear of the Secretary, has been a strong proponent of this war, now it seems as if, with his connections to Global Crossing and to Trireme, he and his friends are going to be making money off the rebuilding of Iraq after it's been destroyed by U.S. bombs, isn't this unseemly, isn't this -- cast a pall of corruption over the administration?
MR. FLEISCHER: One, I want to correct something you just said, that Iraq will be destroyed by U.S. bombs. The fact of the matter is, Iraq will be liberated as a result of the sacrifice our servicemen and women are making to disarm Saddam Hussein's regime. And I think no one should lose sight of that fact.
On your question about Mr. Perle, the President is confident that all laws will be followed by all people who are on all commissions. And there are literally thousands, or tens of thousands of people -- thousands of people who have served the government in a variety of different capacities on advisory commissions. They're all obligated to follow the law, and the President is confident the law will be followed.
Q: Ari, six days after the hostilities began, there's still speculation about the fate of Saddam Hussein. Is there anything concrete about that, or is all that just being spread to quite further destabilize the Iraqi regime in the first place?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, nothing new to report on that.
Q: Ari, you said a few minutes ago, we're seeing elements of terrorism inside Iraq, citing the Feyadeen surrenders and the donning of civilian attire by fighters. Is it the administration's view that through these activities, these groups have put themselves in the same category as terrorist groups proscribed by the administration, and perhaps even al Qaeda itself?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there is no question that there is a body of law that even governs the conduct of war. And as President Bush stated, in the conflict with Iraq war crimes will be prosecuted, war criminals will be punished. And we're seeing a growing pattern of war crimes, war crime violations committed by the Iraqi regime, with the use of human shields; mistreatment of prisoners of war and various acts of perfidy, feigning injury or surrender, the improper use of the flag of truce, and fighting in civilian clothes. This is another reminder to those smaller number of Iraqi officials who would follow orders or who would engage in this behavior, do not do it, because you will be tried as a war criminal.
Q: Ari, paraphrasing the President earlier today, he said that the war would be long, and he also said that we know the outcome -- we will win. Does that win, is that win allowing for negotiations? And also, if not, does that win deal with military issues were Saddam Hussein and his sons be killed?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has stated two reasons for this. One is the disarmament of Iraq, the complete disarmament of their weapons of mass destruction. And the second is to change the regime so that the Iraqi people in the world don't have to deal with this again. And those are the objectives of the military campaign. Then the President says, the objectives will be achieved, the end is clear, the outcome is certain. Those are the two facts that he is referring to.
Q: But can you remove Saddam Hussein without death and negotiation?
MR. FLEISCHER: We will find out.
Q: And disarm, I mean --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to get into negotiation. I think the President has made it abundantly clear what the purpose of the mission is.
Q: How would the administration view tacking on aid to the airlines to the war supplemental?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President has made his proposal. It's been sent up to the Hill. The President has asked the Hill to consider the proposal and not add extraneous items to it. Of course, there have been a number of conversations the administration has had with the airlines. And if Congress had independent ideas on this matter, that's always a prerogative of the Congress. And we will work with the Congress to see what their ideas are and explore them. I can't make any predictions, but we will, of course, be interested in hearing how the package is received on the Hill.
Q: So you're not ruling that out?
MR. FLEISCHER: We're interested in hearing their reaction to the whole package.
Q: Every time the airline question comes up, you say, there have been conversations with the airlines. But I don't think we've heard the White House assessment of the state of the airline industry, an industry that plays such a central role in commerce and is moving people and mail and everything else around this country. What is the assessment here of the state of the airlines?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the assessment of the economic team that has reviewed the data dealing with the airlines is that even prior to September 11th, the airline industry was going through a series of economic changes, much of it as a result of factors in the economy, separate and apart from events of September 11th. And, of course, after September 11th took place, many of these problems were exasperated. And the Congress passed a package of relief for the airlines that President Bush signed into law.
Since then, as the economy has recovered, the economic situation of the airlines continues to be somewhat mixed. In the estimates of the economic team, obviously, there are some airlines that are thriving; there are other airlines that are faced with exceptional cost issues. And so it's a complicated picture. It's something that we are working, talking with the airlines about, and we'll see where it goes from here if Congress has any thoughts.
Q: Ari, Condi is headed up to the U.N. Blair is coming in to consult with the President before going up to the U.N. Are you all concerned that the folks at the U.N. might take it out on the U.S. in post-Saddam Iraq, might try to take some sort of revenge for what they see as ill treatment at the hands of the President, and maybe block your efforts, your desires for setting up a post-Saddam government?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that -- well, one, the answer is, no, we are not concerned about, I think what you -- revenge. The purpose of the United Nations is to foster the ability of the international community, in this case to deal with humanitarian crises. That's a serious responsibility. And the President has called on the United Nations to honor that responsibility.
Clearly, when it came to the security side, through the United Nations Security Council, the United Nations failed to act, failed to speak. But I think it's a sign of the President's commitment to international procedures that we continue to work with the United Nations while we also do our own work on the ground to take care of the humanitarian situation in Iraq.
Q: Ari, speaking of public expectations and preparation, a Pew poll released today found on Friday and Saturday, 71 percent of the public thought the war was going well. By Monday, that had dropped to 38 percent. If the public was so well-prepared for this, why would a weekend of, by historical context, relatively minor casualties so shake their confidence in how well the war was going?
MR. FLEISCHER: I can't speak for every poll out there. There have been a number of other public polls that indicated different results. And I think that if your question is, can one day's events move the public, then your answer is, the public obviously has temporary positions that will move around somewhat. But that won't deter the President, whether those numbers are lock, stock at record levels in behalf of support of the President, from carrying out this mission. That's the purpose of the President's endeavors here, is to continue the disarmament of Saddam Hussein. And as the President said this morning, we are making steady progress, steady advancement toward that goal.
Q: The question is, if they had been better prepared, would there be such swings in public -- you know, in their confidence. You know, if they had --
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, if there are swings up, there are swings down. And there are other polls that show no swings at all.
Q: First of all, by the way, we would love to Camp David if you can get us all up there by bus. Can you look to the future relations with Russia, France, Germany and Turkey -- how do you see this administration repairing them --
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I think that, number one, the mission is underway in Iraq, and that is very important. There is a mission to be accomplished involving the disarmament of Saddam Hussein from the weapons of mass destruction that we have expressed so many concerns about. And I think as the mission is successful, different nations will take a look at this and think about the positions that they took, and then examine their own relations with the United States.
Of course, the United States will continue to work with other nations. We have other interests, we have values that we share. And we'll be interested in hearing other nations' reactions, as well.
Q: Thank you. Ari, France says it is allowing U.S. and British warplanes to overfly France on their way to bomb Iraq. Is that an olive branch from the French?
MR. FLEISCHER: Is that what from the French?
Q: An olive branch from the French.
MR. FLEISCHER: You know, I will let the French government speak for itself about the actions it takes.
Q: Can you talk about how many times we can expect to see the President talk about the war in public, how he plans to use the bully pulpit to maintain support for it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think he's going to be talking about it often. This is very serious and important business. This is something that is front and center right now for our country, for our troops, for our people and for the families at home. And this is something the American people should expect to hear the President talk about and talk about frequently, and they will.
Q: Every day? Every other day? Or is there a specific plan --
MR. FLEISCHER: There's no magic number, Bob. But the President is going to be talking about it often, as he did today, he will tomorrow, he will Thursday. So you're going to have a lot of listening to do from the President.
Q: Beyond the statement in the Azores, how does the administration -- does the administration plan to prepare the American taxpayer for the burden that he or she will have to bear probably well into the future for reconstructing and stabilizing Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's a very interesting question, and one of the issues that the President focuses on when he makes this determination to use force to disarm Saddam Hussein is the cost of not acting. If the United States failed to act and Saddam Hussein continued to possess weapons of mass destruction that he could then use at a time and a moment and a place of his own choosing, what would be the cost to our country? What was the cost of September 11th?
The Office of Management and Budget has estimates that the cost to our country were in the hundreds of billions of dollars as a result of September 11th, both in terms of the economic costs, in terms of the direct government-incurred costs, and also, of course, no one can measure the costs of human life that were taken on that day. And that's also how it's important to focus on this issue.
So, yes, there is a price tag attached;,the President sent it up to the Hill today, for the direct action we are taking to disarm Saddam Hussein. But the President is guided by preventing the other costs from being incurred.
Q: -- precisely to September 30th, and beyond that stretches possibly years of costs for rebuilding and stabilizing.
MR. FLEISCHER: Certainly. And there will be costs beyond this year, and the President has said that we are committed to providing security for Iraq and to stay as long as is necessary, but not a day longer. Throughout this process, the supplemental appropriation that was sent up today will fund costs through September 30th -- it is for this current fiscal year. In good order and in short order, the Congress, in regular order, will take up next year's budget and they will examine the costs to be incurred then.
But simply because there are long-term costs does not in any way to this President suggest that those costs should not be paid. That's like saying at the beginning of the '50s, because we had a totalitarian communist state that we had to concern ourselves with to protect the American people, that there were costs of the Cold War that should not have been incurred because those costs would last for a considerable period of time, as well. That's the approach the President takes. There's no way to put an exact time limit on how much it will cost.
And one other issue on the cost, too, that's important to consider when you talk about the burden on the American taxpayer: Iraq is a wealthy nation, Iraq has resources. Those resources have been diverted from feeding Iraqi people to building a military. It is foreseeable, it is certain, that the Iraqi government, a future Iraqi government will use those resources to feed themselves, to take care of themselves, to reconstruct their own country with their own resources that are generated from within Iraq, and not to mention the billions of dollars that are frozen Iraqi assets around the world that are available also. The President just announced that action last week on that matter.
Q: Ari, one of the U.S. POWs in Iraq is Shoshana Johnson of Texas, while The New York Times this morning reports that PFC Jessica Lynch of West Virginia is missing or captured. And during Desert Storm Major Rhonda Cornum was captured and gang-raped, while the other U.S. female prisoner of war would neither confirm or deny that she, too, was gang-raped. And my question, does the President think that the Iraqi army has somehow changed to avoid raping of female prisoners?
MR. FLEISCHER: Lester --
Q: Or does he believe that it would be wise --
MR. FLEISCHER: Lester --
Q: -- to keep the women out of combat areas?
MR. FLEISCHER: The history of our military is that men and women have served this nation honorably and with distinction. The treatment of prisoners by Saddam Hussein is the only point worth mentioning here. It's a given that men and women serve our country with dignity, that Saddam Hussein's regime had better not harm our prisoners. The President has made that clear.
Q: Both General Myers -- wait a minute -- I had --
Q: Just real quickly for the record --
MR. FLEISCHER: Lester, no follow-up.
Q: Quickly for the record -- you may have answered it, but if you didn't, can you answer Dana's question for the record whether or not President Bush or President Putin first raised the issue of jamming?
MR. FLEISCHER: The call was placed by President Putin to President Bush. And I would have to go back and take a look at exactly who brought it up first.
Q: Because those of us who took the words literally, "this is not the first time we've raised it," will need to correct it if it was --
MR. FLEISCHER: I see what you're saying.
Q: -- President Putin who raised it.
Q: Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.
END 3:15 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/271835