Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:04 P.M. EST
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. I want to give you a report. It's been a busy day on both the domestic and diplomacy fronts, so I have several reports to give you. Let me start with the President's schedule.
The President had his intelligence briefing this morning; then the FBI briefing. The President then left the White House en route to travel to the Boys & Girls Club here in Washington to announce the new domestic initiative to promote mentoring across America, and to announce a new group on the one-year anniversary of USA Freedom Corps that is designed to usher in more volunteerism across America and more mentors across America.
This group will represent the new Council, and it includes a list that has been provided to you earlier, that includes people such as Sean Aston, who, of course, was Frodo's friend, Sam, in the Lord of the Rings; former Senators Bob Dole and John Glenn; Cal Ripken, formally with the Baltimore Orioles; Darrell Green, formally of the Washington Redskins, and many others, all designed to follow through on the President's State of the Union about the importance of increasing volunteerism and mentoring throughout America.
The President then returned to the White House where he had a meeting in the Oval Office with the Prime Minister of Italy, Prime Minister Berlusconi. He had lunch with Prime Minister Berlusconi. I'll get to that in a minute. He is currently meeting with the Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia. And this evening he will welcome to the White House the combatant commanders for their semi-annual visit to Washington.
Let me share with you several pieces of information. On the domestic front, the Senate has begun the year with signs of progress. In the Senate Finance Committee, the Finance Committee today passed out unanimously, voted unanimously to support the President's nominee for the Secretary of Treasury, John Snow. The President is grateful for this action. He thinks it's very important that he be allowed to have his full economic team in place.
He would like to thank Chairman Grassley and Democratic Leader Baucus for their bipartisan efforts. Senator Baucus noted it's important for this vote to be taken up on the floor of the Senate today. The President agrees. For the good of the economy, it's important for the Senate to move quickly in a bipartisan way to confirm the Secretary of the Treasury.
In a slightly more partisan way, the Senate Judiciary Committee today, on a party-line vote, reported out Miguel Estrada for the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The President is pleased that this is the first of the nominees that he had named early last year whose appointments had been blocked by the previous Senate, and now action is beginning so the judiciary emergency vacancy can be filled. The President is very grateful to Chairman Hatch of the Senate Judiciary Committee for the action, and he looks forward to passage on the floor.
On the foreign policy front, number one, the President would like to thank the leaders of eight European nations who signed the op/ed that ran in the European versions of many newspapers today. The President is very grateful to these eight European leaders, and to others who are supportive of his efforts to make certain that Saddam Hussein is disarmed.
The President had a very successful meeting with Prime Minister Berlusconi. The two agreed about the importance of disarming Saddam Hussein. The President emphasized once again that he hopes to do this peacefully, and the two agreed about the importance of continued consultation and cooperation, as we will keep in touch with our good friends, the Italians.
The President also made a series of phone calls this morning. I mentioned yesterday that we are now entering in this final stage a diplomatic window, and the President is very busy talking to leaders throughout Europe and throughout the world about the situation in Iraq and how this can be resolved so Saddam Hussein does disarm.
He spoke this morning with Portuguese Prime Minister Barossa. The President thanked the Prime Minister for his public support on Iraq and asked the Prime Minister to pass along his thanks to the Portuguese people for their longstanding friendship that they have shown for the United States. The President listened carefully to the Prime Minister's views on the next steps in addressing Iraq's continued refusal to disarm itself from weapons of mass destruction. Both agreed on the importance of consulting with other members of the international community regarding Iraq. The two leaders agreed to stay in close touch and continue consultations.
The President this morning also called Swedish Prime Minister Person. They had a very friendly discussion and they agreed that Saddam Hussein must disarm, and they need to work together to accomplish that goal. The President said he would continue to seek common ground with leaders, and he noted that time was running out. The President will, again, look forward to continuing this consultation with the Swedish Prime Minister.
And then, finally, President Bush, of course, tomorrow will be pleased to welcome British Prime Minister Blair to Camp David. The Prime Minister was President Bush's first guest at Camp David two years ago, and tomorrow's meeting is another in a continuous series of consultations on a variety of important issues, including Iraq. I expect the two leaders will talk about a range of issues, including Iraq, the Middle East, the war on terror, and ways that we can, together in concert with friends and allies, fight the spread of weapons of mass destruction. The President values Prime Minister Blair's leadership and will listen carefully to what the Prime Minister has to say.
With that, I'm happy to take your questions. David.
Q: On the question of exile for Saddam Hussein, is the administration prepared to propose something in a specific and detailed way to back such a move? Or will it simply be satisfied to say publicly, as the President did today, that that would be a good thing if that were to emerge out of the region, if the Saudis push that or if others pushed that and Saddam were to agree? And a second piece to that, any indications? Is the world getting any indication that Saddam would agree to such a thing?
MR. FLEISCHER: Number one, it would be a very desirable event if Saddam Hussein were to leave Iraq. That would be one way for peace to be preserved. And the President hopes that can happen. Whether it will happen or not, I don't think anybody can guess or count on. The only person who know whether that will happen is Saddam Hussein. And the most likely way to make it happen is through continued growing pressure on Saddam Hussein. The less pressure, the less likely it is. The more pressure, the more the likelihood. But it's very hard to assess how likely it will be. And it's very hard to understand what Saddam Hussein has done, let alone to predict what he will do.
As for the question about how that would be treated, this will be an international matter. This is not a matter for the Americans to decide. It would be something that would be discussed in concert with friends and allies. And I couldn't possibly guess or speculate what any outcomes may or may not be.
Q: But the pressure is being brought to bear primarily by the United States. We're the ones who have the troops there in the largest numbers. So if we're really committed to putting that on the table, is this administration prepared to put together a concrete proposal to suggest to Saddam that he might take?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I think the first thing that would be important is for Saddam Hussein to leave. And again, as I indicated to you -- you are accurate in pointing out that much of the military presence is America. But any such matter -- whether it would or would not come up -- would be an international matter, not a uniquely American one.
Q: Are you saying he has leave first?
Q: Ari, on your weeks and months formulation, is this a rejection of calls for more times for the weapons inspectors? And is it a deadline?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, number one, the reason the President said weeks not months is because he does not want to repeat the mistakes of the '90s, where Saddam Hussein once again games the world, strings things out and continues to hide his weapons. There does come a point at which the world can judge whether or not Saddam Hussein is complying and is disarming. It doesn't take a long time to know if Saddam Hussein is disarming or not. And the President has expressed that as weeks not months.
Q: Does that mean that the President would not agree to an extension of the mandate of the weapons inspectors?
MR. FLEISCHER: The extension -- there is no time period for the inspectors. The inspectors have a mission until their mission is deemed by the United Nations Security Council to have run its fruitful course.
Q: So by saying weeks not months, has he effectively set a deadline?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, the President has said that he has not made a decision about military action, if that's what you mean. But the President is clearly sending a message to Saddam Hussein and to our friends and allies that there is no point in repeating the mistakes that have been made before which allowed Saddam Hussein to bob and weave, to hide and to dodge, to cheat and retreat. We will not repeat and return to that era. (Laughter.)
Q: I don't know whether I can follow that poetry. (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: What do you have? (Laughter.)
Q: Not even going to go there.
Q: Cheat and retreat.
Q: In terms of this idea of weeks not months, if the President is as certain --
MR. FLEISCHER: That was inadvertent, by the way. (Laughter.)
Q: When you got it, you got it. (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: I wouldn't even know how I said it if you didn't laugh.
Q: If the President is as certain as he was in the State of the Union address on Tuesday night that Saddam Hussein is not disarming and is playing, as you say, cheat and retreat with weapons inspectors, why does he feel the need to wait at all? And in terms of making the decision, what more evidence does he need? Because as you have been quick to point out, you already have all the authorization you need to go to war, if necessary.
MR. FLEISCHER: In the phone calls the President is making to world leaders, and in his meeting with Prime Minister Berlusconi, the President is emphasizing how important it is to let diplomacy run its course to the greatest degree that it can solve this problem. The President is serious about consultation. The President is serious about diplomacy. He hopes it will work, and he wants to give it time to work. But diplomacy never works if it's diplomacy forever in the face of a threat like Saddam Hussein. And that's a lesson the world has seen over the last 10 years, unlimited diplomacy leads to unlimited running around by Saddam Hussein to continue to develop his weapons.
Q: Sure. But you also said zero tolerance last fall. The President has said that he's in material breach. He's said he's not cooperating with weapons inspectors.
MR. FLEISCHER: Correct.
Q: And he is not disarming. He's said that he is in violation of Resolution 1441. Zero tolerance? Where's the zero tolerance?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President will let you know when it reaches the point where it is down to zero. The President has said that it is the final phase. He does have zero tolerance. If you're asking why isn't there military action today, the answer is because the President is serious about consulting with our friends and allies, as he promised he would do.
Q: We do know something that -- you said, the President wants to let diplomacy run its course, but we know that course won't extend more than eight weeks from today.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President said weeks not months.
Q: So we will be either at war, or Saddam will have disarmed within eight weeks?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President said weeks not months. I think Saddam Hussein needs to figure out what that means. And hopefully, it will help to disarm. If it doesn't, the President has made clear, he will lead a coalition to disarm him.
Q: And it is important for the American people to know, as well, that it's a matter of weeks then.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President did say it for a reason.
Q: And could you just clear up one thing that's caused some, perhaps misunderstanding and anxiety, and that's, what specifically is the administration's doctrine for the use of nuclear weapons in any war with Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's exactly as I said last week and as Secretary Rumsfeld has said, that America's policy involving nuclear weapons is to not rule anything in, not rule anything out. We do not comment about potential use of nuclear weapons.
Q: Is there any greater likelihood that nuclear weapons would be used by the United States in this war than in any previous conflict?
MR. FLEISCHER: It is a deliberately ambiguous statement.
Q: Senator Kennedy had a speech yesterday. Are you going to be able to provide the undeniable proof to silence the critics?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I think people will judge the information that they already have had. I think that most Americans, even before the State of the Union, agreed that Saddam Hussein was a threat and that they would support the judgment if the President were to make it to use force to remove the threat from Saddam Hussein using weapons of mass destruction that we all know, the United Nations knows and others know that he has. And we'll just leave it at that.
Q: How do you respond to some of this Democratic criticism?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President respects those who disagree. After all, there were a number -- not a lot, but there were a small number of Democrats who voted against the resolution for the use of force. There was a much larger number of Democrats who voted against the resolution for the use of force in 1991. It is their prerogative, and the President respects it.
The President will continue to do what he thinks is right for the country, and in doing what he thinks is right for the country, this President is confident that his leadership will be followed and will be supported.
Q: Back to the question of exile. Would the administration support an effort by the Saudis or by the international community, generally, that would specifically include amnesty from war crimes or any other charges?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let's be more specific on David's previous question. And again, the President thinks it would be in the interest of peace if Saddam Hussein were somehow to be convinced to leave the country. But beyond that, I'm not prepared to speculate about what may or may not happen. Again, that's a matter for not just the United States to have an opinion about, but the international community, and I'm not speculating.
Q: But without going into details, though, have there been discussions between administration officials and other nations about what some sort of exile package might look like?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I'm not going to speculate about it. I think there are some things that the less said, the better, so that Saddam Hussein leaves the country. Now, don't take that to mean one way or another, but I'm just not going to speculate on the topic. The hope for peace is that Saddam Hussein leaves.
I think it's not only the hope for peace, but the hope for the future of the Iraqi people. The Iraqi people deserve a government where they're the people of Iraq. It is the Iraqi people who have to suffer under a totalitarian state and a brutal regime. It's not just American servicemen and women and people around the world and people in the region who would be spared from harm's way if Saddam Hussein were to leave. That, itself, is important. But what about the people of Iraq? They would be the biggest winners if Saddam Hussein were to leave.
Q: Ari, you said that the President welcomes criticism. But how does the President feel about the fact that Edward Kennedy wants Congress to approve any military action, or Robert Byrd saying the matter should be approved by the United Nations? Does he feel that is hampering his efforts to pressure Saddam?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. I think, again, this is a democracy and people are welcome to their opinions. I think many of the opinions that you're hearing are distinct minority opinions that don't have much support on the Hill. In fact, I'm not sure, I suspect there may be some discomfort within some Democratic quarters for ideas like this because I don't think the Democrats want to have to take votes on some of these matters, necessarily.
But the President respects it; these are their opinions. And no matter what, at the end of the day, we all work together in this country of ours, and they have that right. That is the strength of our system.
Q: Ari, a second question having to do with Miguel Estrada. You said today he was approved by a partisan vote in the Judiciary Committee. That will go to the floor of the Senate. There, I imagine some Democrats will also try to block his approval. Is the President working on that nomination? I think it's the first one to be passed this year, if I'm not mistaken, by the Judiciary Committee.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, according to the information I have, it has never happened in the history of the Senate for a circuit court nominee being passed out of committee to be blocked on the floor through a filibuster. So the committee has spoken. Progress is being made. The logjam in the Senate is now breaking. And the President looks at the vote on John Snow in the Finance Committee today, and the vote on Miguel Estrada in the Judiciary Committee today as signs of progress, based on the last election where the American people said, work together and get things done. And that's why the President welcomed the action today, and he hopes that both votes will move to the floor. The American people are entitled to have an Executive Branch and a Judiciary Branch filled in, not left blank and vacant.
Q: Ari, the President mentioned something that was mentioned earlier, the aluminum tubes as part of the list of evidence that the U.S. thinks that Saddam Hussein has got weapons of mass destruction. But the IAEA and other world officials -- Mohammed ElBaradei, actually, specifically said that it's just not there, that is not what that it's intended to be used for in Iraq, that it's really just conventional. Isn't there a concern that when the President and the White House make statements like that it's going to undermine your overall argument of this Mt. Everest of evidence that you say exists?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. And I'll give you three reasons why, in the President's judgment. Number one, Mohammed ElBaradei and the IAEA said that the importations of these tubes is illegal and violates the policies that Iraq committed itself to, regardless of what the IAEA has so far judged them to be. They said Iraq's actions in importing them are, in and of themselves, a violation. That should be a cause for concern, number one, about whether Iraq is disarming.
Number two, on the tubes, the IAEA has said that their investigation remains open. They have not reached final conclusions about this. On that point, therefore, to point three, there are continuing discussions with the IAEA in which information is being shared about this information. The preponderance of evidence is that Iraq attempted to procure high-strength aluminum tubes for uranium enrichment. We stand by that statement.
Our technical analysis at the extremely tight manufacturing tolerances and high-strength materials indicates the tubes far exceed any specifications required for non-nuclear capabilities. Iraq attempted to procure the tubes covertly. The cost of the tubes is far greater than what one would pay for if the tubes were just to be used for artillery. Iraq has devoted substantial efforts to concealing its nuclear program in the past. It's not surprising that it would attempt to mislead the inspectors on this issue and the inspectors have left it open because they want to continue to hear from us and to work on this before final conclusions are reached. The President stands by every word he said.
Q: Is this intelligence that's already been shared with him?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's an ongoing process.
Q: Will Secretary Powell outline some of that? Because it's an interesting statement --
MR. FLEISCHER: I know you will be there on Wednesday next week, so you'll find out Wednesday.
Q: Ari, Prime Minister Blair is on record saying that he would like a second Security Council vote on use of force in Iraq. What's the administration's thinking at the moment about whether a second resolution would be desirable or possible?
MR. FLEISCHER: And, just as I've indicated, we will continue to consult with our friends and allies about the next course. The President does think that the United Nations is important. He hopes that they will prove to be important by taking meaningful action that results in the disarmament of Saddam Hussein so this can be resolved peacefully. But the -- as you know, the President has also said that if Saddam Hussein does not disarm, he will lead a coalition to disarm him.
Q: But, you've already demonstrated that you think -- the United States -- this is important by sending Secretary Powell up there next week. On the second resolution, has there been a decision made on whether we will seek a second resolution?
MR. FLEISCHER: The decision is we will continue to consult.
Q: You talked about diplomacy running its course. Could you just give us some idea what to expect, beginning with Secretary Powell's comments and running at least through the next report from the arms inspectors, which will be on the 14th of February? What do you foresee happening? What does the U.S. want to happen during that critical period?
MR. FLEISCHER: There is one thing the United States wants to see happen and that is for Saddam Hussein to disarm. That's what this is all about. Everyone of these actions, everyone of these steps, every shipment of troops is all aimed at one thing; that's the disarmament of Saddam Hussein so the threat to the world and to the region can go away.
Toward that end, what you are seeing now is a very active window of diplomacy involving the President's personal time making a series of phone calls -- which will continue -- a series of personal meetings -- which will continue -- meetings and phone calls by the Secretary of State, by others in the government. You're seeing a very active diplomacy of a kind that you saw, frankly, around the September-October period, as well. That will continue. It won't continue forever. It will continue for a finite period of time as the President has said.
Following that, I think this is then where the President will have to make a judgement about whether Saddam Hussein will indeed disarm on his own, or whether he will have to make the decision to use military force to disarm Saddam Hussein.
Q: In that context, how important then is the next report from the arms inspectors on the 14th of February?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to speculate about a report that hasn't been made yet.
Q: But it's obviously part of this sequencing and the last one was quite important. This is the next benchmark, if you will, about whether or not the Iraqis are actually coming clean. One would think it would weigh fairly heavily.
MR. FLEISCHER: Today is January 30th and I can't speculate about a report that is two weeks out in terms of gauging it's importance. We already know from the last report that Iraq is not compliant.
Q: Let me ask you one quick question about Medicare, if I will. Does the administration intend to write its own legislation, and when will we learn the details of the President's proposal?
MR. FLEISCHER: In the immediate aftermath of the State of the Union, the President is going to continue to travel the country and to make the case for the initiatives that he announced in the State of the Union. He did that today on the mentoring program. He will have more to say about the AIDS initiative to help people in Africa and the Caribbean. So you can anticipate a series of events including follow-on statements. No date is picked at this moment and we'll let you know when there is a date picked.
Q: To submit legislation you mean?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, to make another speech with additional details. If you're asking about actual legislative language, I don't know if the administration is going to have a legislative language or not. That's something that typically Congress writes through legislative councils offices. But the points and the specifics will be well-known whether or not it includes legislative language or not.
Q: Ari, when the President made his remarks today, when he was talking about the issue of exile, he was careful to make the point the goal here is not just to remove Saddam Hussein, but to disarm. And so, whoever comes -- if Saddam Hussein leaves, it's not an automatic that this conflict is over depending on who comes in. So can you flesh out what the administration's concerns are in that area in terms of obtaining the goal of disarmament?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, certainly. If Saddam Hussein were to leave and the son stayed behind and the son had weapons of mass destruction, the world would be just as much at risk. The President views this as how to promote peace, and the way to promote peace is to make sure that there are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, just as they promised and pledged that they would not have them, and to change the regime.
Q: Now, how deep in the regime does this -- would this have to go?
MR. FLEISCHER: I couldn't speculate a guess. It has to go to the point of peace. It has to go to the point where Iraq will join its proper place around the world as a peace-loving nation. And it has a peace-loving people, and so perhaps there will be a leadership in Iraq one day with a peace-loving leadership.
Q: But clearly when the White House aims at the goal of disarmament and the leadership in Iraq that is also committed to that, are you all not talking about Saddam Hussein and all his top advisors are all going to be --
MR. FLEISCHER: I can't speculate -- as I indicated, I can't speculate and I don't know names.
Q: This is really a follow-up to Jean. The President's words were, speaking of Saddam Hussein and the possibility of his exile, "and should he choose to leave the country along with a lot of the other henchmen who have tortured the Iraqi people, we would welcome that." That -- if you take his words literally, that appears to set a pretty precise condition that it's not enough for Saddam to leave, it has to be --
MR. FLEISCHER: That's why it's called regime change. Certainly, nobody would want to leave in place an infrastructure where they could just come back and do it again. So the point the President is making I think is a fairly obvious one, that the regime leadership has to leave, so, therefore, a new leadership can emerge that is focused on peace. I think, otherwise, you would just continue to see turmoil and strife and an Iraq that was to remilitarize. And the President does not think the world wants to repeat this position. This is a chance for the world to deal with this in a fundamental way.
Q: How widespread does that have to be? How many people are we talking about --
MR. FLEISCHER: I can't make those judgments.
Q: Can you set some minimum benchmarks --
MR. FLEISCHER: I can set you the principles, and the principles are, deep enough so that the leadership that emerges is a leadership dedicated to peace, not war.
Q: You mentioned his son. Would his son and the other family members who are part of the regime, at a minimum, have to go?
MR. FLEISCHER: Ken, I didn't bring the family tree with me.
Q: Ari, two things. Yesterday in South Africa, former President Nelson Mandela said, "All President Bush wants is Iraqi oil because Iraq produces 64 percent of the oil and he wants to get a hold of it." He also said that America is "so arrogant" that they dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and killed innocent people. President Bush, on the other hand, yesterday said, "either you're with us or you're with the enemy." In saying this, does the President believe that Nelson Mandela, France and Germany are with the enemy?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, on the last point. And on the first point, if this was a war for oil, the United States would be the ones saying lift the sanctions. That way Iraq could pump oil. This is about peace, and this is about protecting people in the region and the American people from Saddam Hussein who has weapons that kill millions.
Q: Can I have a second one?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, you can't, not today. We're running late.
Q: On January the 27th, during his receiving an award from Ambassador Negroponte in Stamford, Connecticut, the President's father strongly denounced the Episcopal Church's presiding bishop, Frank Griswold for "highly offensive rhetoric," and Griswold saying that he has to apologize for being from the United States which is loathed and hated for indifference to human suffering -- to which the former President said, "This was uncalled for and hurt this proud father very much. I know this President better than the Bishop, and unlike the Bishop, I will never feel the need to apologize for this great country." And my question: Even though this was reported only by Fox Network, Hannedy and Colms and WorldNet Daily --
MR. FLEISCHER: And now, Lester Kensolving.
Q: -- surely the President must have heard about what his father said, and so what was the President's reaction to his father's statement, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: Number one, Lester, I do not know what the President has heard about what his father has said, and so --
Q: He doesn't know?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know. But even if I did, I don't talk about what the President and his father would talk about, even if they talked to each other through the media.
Q: All right. I'm all but sick that you don't want to convey in that answer that you and the President don't know or care about what his father said. So could you check with Fox News and the President and have another answer at your next briefing, Ari, would you?
MR. FLEISCHER: I will.
Q: You will?
MR. FLEISCHER: I will.
Q: Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'm kind of shaking my head ruefully. That wasn't quite a vertical shake, as much as a horizontal.
Q: Do you want to leave the impression you don't care what the father said, Ari?
Q: Lester has a fifth question which I'll be glad to carry for him. (Laughter.) The last time Prime Minister Blair was here, there was a lot of talk about evidence linking Iraq with continued pursuit of chemical, biological, nuclear weapons, and they referenced an IAEA report up at Camp David. It turns out this was a report that actually had been out a couple years before. Next week, Secretary of State Powell goes to the U.N. Once again we have assurances that the case convincingly can be made that Iraq has continued down this path. Will he be able to present to members of the Security Council new -- and by that I mean evidence gathered in the last three to six months, by whatever means our intelligence, intelligence from allied nations -- that will close the loop on this evidentiary-wise, and prove that this is an ongoing and current concern?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me make a point on this issue of so-called new evidence versus existing known evidence. It doesn't matter if it's new or old if it can still kill you. So whether there is information that is one day old, or one year old that Saddam Hussein has biological and chemical weapons, the impact is not whether the information is new or old; the impact is whether he has them or not. That's what's at stake here. So whether Colin Powell has new information or old information, the point is, is the information accurate describing that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction. That's what's at stake here.
Q: Some of those who have been reluctant to go along with us have, in essence, asked the question, what's the urgency, what is a sign that this is an imminent, like, immediate threat?
MR. FLEISCHER: And in that point what the President would tell you is that, one, Saddam Hussein has committed to giving up the weapons of mass destruction, and if the United Nations is to have a meaningful place in our world, the United Nations resolutions vis-a-vis Iraq to give up the weapons of mass destruction must be enforced. Otherwise, the world can never rest easy because he'll continue to have them.
Two, September 11th changed everything for the United States and, indeed, for this President. While the notion of containment may previously have made some sense prior to September 11th, September 11th changed everything because it shows that we are indeed a vulnerable country, that threats to us cannot be contained. As the President said in his State of the Union speech, imagine if any of the hijackers on September 11th had not only driven their planes into buildings, but were armed with a vial, a canister, a crate of a biological or a chemical weapon. The damage done to our country would have been massive. The risk remains and the risk is nowhere greater than under Saddam Hussein.
Q: Ari, it seems that the White House is highlighting South Africa as one of the countries that disarmed. And yet, one of the former leaders of South Africa is highly critical of President Bush and his efforts to possibly go to war with Saddam Hussein. Nelson Mandela is on record as saying that --
MR. FLEISCHER: This was just asked.
Q: No, not what I'm asking. He's on record of saying that President Bush has no foresight and he doesn't think properly and he's ready to throw the world into a holocaust. How can you say that you respect the people who disagree -- and he's clearly disagreeing -- but yet still highlight South Africa for disarmament? How does that mesh?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think they mesh perfectly. Number one, South Africa proved to the world that when a nation wants to disarm, it knows how to disarm. And whether a former leader of South Africa has different opinions about politics and diplomacy, that doesn't change the empirical facts of the process that South Africa used, inviting inspectors in to visibly observe disarmament take place.
And as for the statement, Nelson Mandela was a great leader, he remains a great man. But on this, the President and Nelson Mandela do not see eye to eye.
Q: Has he ever taken any of Nelson Mandela's calls on this issue?
MR. FLEISCHER: As you know, they've met. I don't know if they've talked recently. I don't think they've had any phone calls recently.
Q: Ari, two quick questions. Just came back from a conference in New Delhi, and Indian Americans were meeting on terrorism. They have passed a resolution and sided with President Bush for war against terrorism. Also, they are calling the President that the U.S. can do more as across the border terrorism into India. Also I'm thankful to the U.S. Ambassador to India, Ambassador Blackwell, who hosted the reception and he was very generous. Do you have any comments on how much more the President can do on cross-border terrorism in India?
MR. FLEISCHER: As you know, Secretary Powell met yesterday with the Pakistani Foreign Minister and this conversation came up. And the Secretary recommitted the United States to working with India and Pakistan to continue the reduction of tensions.
Q: Ari, you said that the President has not made a decision on military action. Hasn't he made a decision, though, that if Saddam doesn't disarm within these weeks -- however many weeks we're talking about -- that at the end of those weeks that he's made a decision that he will have to resort to military action? I mean, he's made some sort of decision here in the last couple of days.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that it's been well-known for months when the President says that if Saddam Hussein does not disarm he will lead a coalition to disarm him. So the question is, how could disarmament best be achieved. The President continues to hope it can be achieved peacefully through growing pressure. And certainly the op-ed that ran today from eight European nations, and additional letters that have now, interestingly, started to come in from a couple other European countries, makes the case that pressure will grow.
Q: Could you maybe describe what decision, if any, he has made in recent days? His thinking seems to have shifted somehow. You're talking about weeks, not months; you're talking about -- you pointed out this intense diplomacy and you likened it to the September-October period last time, which was right before we waged war. So what has changed in his thinking? Has he reached a final straw now?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I likened it to September-October when people said that nobody would follow the United States, and the United Nations passed a resolution which unanimously people followed the United States.
Q: Ari, during the lead up to the Gulf War, Saddam Hussein was given a deadline for getting out of Kuwait. Obviously -- or presumably, such discussions of a deadline are part of the ongoing diplomacy. Could you share with us in general what some of the President's thinking on the value of a deadline or --
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, what the President has said is this is the time for diplomacy, and he meant it. In the event he makes the judgment that diplomacy is insufficient to protect the peace, at that point, and on the timing of the President's determination, the President would then come to the country and discuss this at far greater length. And I'm not going to go beyond that.
Q: I'd like to go back to the aluminum tubes. Are you saying that the administration knows more than the inspectors do? Or are you saying that you're looking at the same evidence and reaching different conclusions? Because while you're right, the inspectors say it's an open case, they clearly say the evidence to date tends to back the Iraqi view of this, as opposed to the United States view.
MR. FLEISCHER: And it's a matter of some technical provision, technical matters, and technical people are talking about this.
Q: But do you know more than they do?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know I can say that, yes or no. I think both the IAEA and the United States are in a position to know quite a bit, and we work together on these things -- that's the point.
Q: Ari, going back to the statement you made earlier, you referred to mistakes of the '90s. Who made those mistakes?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think that mistakes were made collectively that allowed Saddam Hussein to think that he could once again defy the world and keep his weapons of mass destruction. I think that's one of the issues that was very prominent last November, when the Security Council voted unanimously for a much tougher resolution than the resolutions that guided the collective will of the Security Council throughout the '90s.
Q: Well, there were two administrations, obviously, in the '90s. Are you assigning blame to one of them?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, it's just as I indicated. It was the collective judgments of the '90s that had weaker resolutions in place that Saddam Hussein was able to defy.
Q: Who is to blame for that?
MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated, the collective will that led to the tougher resolutions.
Q: Ari, my question is related to Bob's question, just a little bit different. Will the President and British Prime Minister Blair set a deadline for Saddam Hussein to disarm; a deadline for war if he does not?
MR. FLEISCHER: The purpose of this meeting is to consult, to listen carefully to Prime Minister Blair's idea. And then Secretary Powell will, of course, be up in New York. So, no, you will not see that this weekend at Camp David, no.
Q: Senator Daschle and Congresswoman Pelosi, among others in Washington, and senior members of Tony Blair's own Labor Party in London have urged the Prime Minister to act as a restraining influence on President Bush. Is that a realistic assessment of Mr. Blair's potential influence, and how would you characterize that influence?
MR. FLEISCHER: The United States and the people of Great Britain have a very powerful bond, and that is shared by the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of Great Britain. The two don't see everything eye-to-eye; the two differ on issues sometimes. And that is a sign of a great and healthy relationship between two strong democracies. And I anticipate that the Prime Minister will share his judgments and his wisdom with the President. The President looks forward to hearing it and the two will work as they always have, together, to secure peace.
Q: On the issue, though, of Iraq, is it at all fair or accurate to describe Mr. Blair's influence as being in any way that of restraint?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that you have to ask the questions appropriately to British officials, who can make the judgments about any of the Prime Minister's thoughts. But I think that this is a question of to restrain Saddam Hussein, not to restrain anybody else.
Q: Following on from my colleague's question, would you still agree, as if often said in London, that there is a special relationship between Britain and the United States?
MR. FLEISCHER: I just indicated that in different words, but of course there is. And it's a relationship that is special because of the relationship between the people of the United States and the people of Great Britain.
Q: So how much influence will Mr. Blair have on the President, when the final decision, or if a decision is taken to go to war with Iraq -- how much influence --
MR. FLEISCHER: The President very much values Prime Minister Blair's advice and consultation.
Q: Does the United States still have plans in place for an American or international caretaker to, in effect, take over and help the Iraqi people after Saddam Hussein?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has made clear that if there is a decision to use military force, the United States will be committed to preserving security for the people of Iraq; that we will work closely with iraqis inside and outside the country to protect the territorial integrity of Iraq and the unity of Iraq.
Q: You know, there's resentment among moderate Democrats, particularly in the Senate, over the Republican tactics that were used against Senators Cleland and Landrieu, and there's a feeling that it may be more difficult to get those moderate votes for administration positions in the future. Does the White House regret the tone or the tenor of that campaign, or those campaigns in those two states?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't think I've ever seen an election where either party looked at the other party after the election and said, you ran a campaign that I didn't like. Democrats say it about Republicans, Republicans say it about Democrats. It's the history of our republic.
But the fact of the matter is, when it comes to the good of the nation, all parties work together, as Senator Baucus proved on the Senate Finance Committee today with a unanimous vote to confirm Mr. Snow to Treasury.
Q: Ari, if the President is serious about diplomacy and believes there's a narrow window left for peaceful disarmament, why is the President only reaching out to those countries that have come out in support of U.S. policy and a possible war? Why not arrange meetings with the leaders of France and Germany and other --
MR. FLEISCHER: First of all, there aren't very many nations to talk to in that regard. It is not a large number. And as we all know, Germany has said they are unalterably opposed to support. The President understands that. I've never said there won't be any other conversation with any other nations.
But to set the record straight, the President is spending more time talking to people who support his position because most European governments do.
Q: Ari, when you referred to additional letters just now, what were you referring to?
MR. FLEISCHER: Additional letters?
Q: You were talking about -- you said the eight who have signed the editorial --
MR. FLEISCHER: I saw one report on the wire that Albania has sent a letter very similar to the message that was received earlier. And I also saw a report that one of the Baltic nations has publicly announced that they, too, stand with the United States. So I think you're seeing a developing story.
Q: Ari, once again, Germany and France have maneuvered and kept NATO from discussing providing aid to the United States in case of military conflict. You have said before that the President accepts that some people will stand on the sidelines, but how does he feel about what is amounting to actual instruction?
MR. FLEISCHER: Number one, the President appreciates the overwhelming majority of NATO nations who want to work in support of the American position. NATO works by consensus and the President is confident that in the end, consensus will be achieved.
Q: -- a military caretaker in Iraq, does that plan still hold under the scenario that Saddam takes his top lieutenants and goes into exile?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, what holds is that the United States is committed to the preservation of freedom and security in Iraq. The United States, if it gets to the issue of military force, will not walk away. The United States will do what is necessary to help preserve the peace -- into the future.
And as the President said today, that in the event there is military action, it will be immediately accompanied and followed by humanitarian action, food action, medical supplies action for the people of Iraq.
Q: Understood. Should Saddam choose exile, will that plan for military caretaker still be in effect?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, let Saddam choose exile first.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.
END 2:47 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/272173