Remarks Following a Meeting With Congressional Leaders and an Exchange With Reporters
The President. Thank you all for coming. It's been my honor to welcome the leadership of the United States Congress here, to welcome them back from the August recess. We talked about a variety of issues—talked about the defense appropriations bill and terrorism insurance and an energy bill, spent most of our time talking about a serious threat to the United States, a serious threat to the world, and that's Saddam Hussein.
One of the things I made very clear to the Members here is that doing nothing about that serious threat is not an option for the United States. I also made it very clear that we look forward to a open dialog with Congress and the American people about the threat and that not only will we consult with the United States Congress— "we" being the administration—but that my administration will fully participate in any hearings that the Congress wishes to have on this subject, on the subject about how to make America a more secure country, how to best protect the American families in our country. At the appropriate time, this administration will go to the Congress to seek approval for—necessary to deal with the threat.
At the same time, I will work with our friends in the world. I've invited Prime Minister Blair to come to Camp David on Saturday, and he'll—he's coming. I've looked forward to talking with him about our mutual concerns about how to make the world more secure and safe. I will see Jean Chretien on Monday, as we—we'll talk about how to make our borders work better, but at the same time, I'll talk to him about this subject. I'll be on the phone to leaders of the—China and Russia and France, and then I'll be giving the speech at the United Nations.
Saddam Hussein is a serious threat. He is a significant problem. And it's something that this country must deal with. And today the process starts about how to have an open dialog with the elected officials and, therefore, the American people about our future and how best to deal with it.
Let me answer a couple of questions. Steve Holland [Reuters], Fournier [Ron Fournier, Associated Press], and then Gregory [David Gregory, NBC News], and that's it.
President Saddam Hussein of Iraq
Q. Mr. President, what's your opinion on putting U.N. weapons inspectors back in Iraq? Will you ask the U.N. to do that? Is that a viable option?
The President. First of all, I'll be giving a speech on Tuesday—or the 12th—and you can come and listen to it. But let me say to you that the issue is not inspectors; the issue is disarmament. This is a man who said he would not arm up. This is a man who told the world that he would not harbor weapons of mass destruction. That's the primary issue, and I'll be discussing ways to make sure that that is the case.
Q. So you will be—you will be discussing ways to make sure that he disarms? Are you talking about having inspectors back in?
The President. I will first remind the United Nations that for 11 long years, Saddam Hussein has sidestepped, crawfished, wheedled out of any agreement he had made not to harbor—not to develop weapons of mass destruction, agreements he's made to treat the people within his country with respect. And so I'm going to call upon the world to recognize that he is stiffing the world. And I will lay out and I will talk about ways to make sure that he fulfills his obligations.
Q. Let me just follow up on your opening statement. When you say you're going to seek congressional approval, does that mean, in effect, Congress will have veto authority over your plan to oust Saddam Hussein?
The President. I'm confident we will be able to—I'll be able to work with Congress to deal with this threat to the American people. And that's what I meant.
Q. Mr. President, you talked about Saddam Hussein stiffing the world. In your mind, has the time come to issue the Iraqi leader an ultimatum similar to that that you issued to the Taliban?
The President. I am going to state clearly to the United Nations what I think. And I think that he has not fulfilled any of the obligations that he made to the world. And I believe it's important for the world to deal with this man. And I believe it's really important for the United States Congress to have an open dialog about how to deal with this threat.
We are in a new era. The first battle of the—the first war of the 21st century took place in Afghanistan. The United States is under threats. We are—we spent a lot of time, people around this table, good-hearted people who care deeply about America spent a lot of time thinking about how best to secure our homeland even further. And this is a debate the American people must hear, must understand. And the world must understand as well that its credibility is at stake.
Thank you all for coming.
Q. Are you suggesting an ultimatum is coming? Is a deadline coming, sir?
The President. That's a fine-looking child, fine-looking child. [Laughter] Little Gregory. Little Stretch. [Laughter]
Thank you all.
NOTE: The President spoke at 10:42 a.m. in the Cabinet Room at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Prime Minister Tony Blair of the United Kingdom; and Prime Minister Jean Chretien of Canada.
George W. Bush, Remarks Following a Meeting With Congressional Leaders and an Exchange With Reporters Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/215362