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Daily Press Briefing

Aired September 18, 2002 - 12:43   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Now to Ari Fleischer at the White House for the daily briefing.

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: During that meeting, the president discussed with President Havel what the president said is, quote -- President Bush said this to President Havel: "It's important to speak with moral clarity and when you see wrong to speak about the wrong you see." They spoke about the situation vis-a-vis Iraq. They spoke about NATO expansion.

The president also this morning participated in an event to promote awareness of preventive cancer screenings with Lance Armstrong. And later today he will meet with historically black college and university presidential board. And then the president will have meetings with Democratic senators on the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, an issue that remains hung up in the Senate.

And this evening, the president looks forward to having dinner with the president of the Czech Republic.

QUESTION: How much of a delay do you think this entreaty to the United Nations that Iraq has made will put into this process that the president has started at the Security Council? And do you foresee a situation under which inspectors could go back into Iraq without the backing of a tough U.N. resolution?

FLEISCHER: I don't know that there will be a delay. The United Nations Security Council has not previously set a vote -- the timing for a vote. And based on the consultations that Secretary Powell has had and the fact that most of the people he's consulted with have now returned to their capitals for consultations, the process is ongoing. And we'll see exactly the timing of the United Nations Security Council action. But I don't think you can interpret any recent events to suggest there'll be a delay.

I think the U.N. is moving at the pace that it was going to.

QUESTION: And the second part of that, can you foresee a situation under which the inspectors UNMOVIC would go back into Iraq without the backing of this new resolution that the president is seeking?

FLEISCHER: Well, the point the president made to the United Nations is that something has to be different this time, that the world needs to learn the lessons that when Saddam Hussein deliberately sought to mislead, to evade, and to play games with the arms inspectors whose purpose was to enforce the U.N. resolutions.

And that's why the president wants this to be different this time. He wants something meaningful and something significant out of the United Nations. And he's hopeful that that will happen. That remains to be seen. That will be part of the results that we are waiting for to seek from the United Nations.

QUESTION: And I'm sorry, does he have a basic problem -- problem with the basic structure on UNMOVIC? You're talking about it not being like the last time. UNMOVIC isn't what UNSCOM was.

FLEISCHER: The president has a basic problem with the structure of Saddam Hussein's Iraq. It is Saddam Hussein's Iraq that has frustrated the good works of the inspectors. The inspectors have worked diligently and tried their best to get information about what is happening in Iraq.

And that's why I think I can say to you, some of the statements that have been made, for example, by the former Chief U.N. Arms Inspector Richard Butler, who his reaction to what Saddam Hussein said in the letter that was sent to the United Nations is, quote, "What we really needed to hear is that you can inspect without conditions, that you can go anywhere, anytime." "The letter," he continues, "did not say that. That is a black hole. That is a significant omission," Butler said. "It is a very snaky letter."

And then Butler added that if inspectors did not have unfettered access to Iraqi facilities, they did not have, quote, "a snowball's chance in hell" of establishing whether Iraq had nuclear, chemical or germ weapons. Quote, "Iraq's basic position is to say that it has no weapons of mass destruction. That is a black lie." That's what the former head of the U.N. inspectors have said about the most recent developments from Saddam Hussein.

QUESTION: (inaudible) congressional resolution, how close is the White House to finalizing the wording of exactly what you're going to ask for from Congress?

FLEISCHER: Well, we're now in the process of talking to the Congress. Nothing has been sent up to the Hill at this time. Nothing has been exchanged. We're in the process of talking with the Congress about it, and we'll continue to do that. But I think you can expect something being send to the Congress shortly. And that this morning's meeting is any indication, there is a seriousness in the Congress about dealing with this in a real fashion, and a fashion that has credibility and serves the purpose of hopefully promoting peace.

QUESTION: (inaudible) do that today, by the end of this week?

FLEISCHER: We'll try to keep you posted on it.

QUESTION: Is regime change still the policy of this administration?

QUESTION: And if so...

FLEISCHER: Of course it is.

QUESTION: What incentive then does Saddam Hussein have to disarm?

FLEISCHER: One, this was decided on in 1998 and one of the most bipartisan acts that the Congress took and that was signed by President Clinton. To suggest in any way that because Saddam Hussein is not showing a willingness to abide by the very terms that he agreed to with the United Nations shouldn't mean that the United States should change its policy of regime change, makes no sense.

Regime change was the policy because, as President Clinton said at the time, Saddam Hussein has violated all the agreements that he entered into. And the only way to get the policies implemented to protect the peace, in President Clinton's judgment at that time, was through a regime change.

What's happened in the four years since the inspectors have gone away and Saddam Hussein has continued his efforts to have weapons of mass destruction.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) change, though, part of the goal of what you're trying to accomplish through the U.N.

FLEISCHER: The goal of what we're trying to accomplish through the U.N. is exactly what the president laid out last week, which begins with disarmament and Iraq's honoring the resolutions to destroy all their weapons of mass destruction, to cease the repression of minorities, the return of prisoners that were taken in the '91 war, to renounce Iraq's involvement with terrorism and to permit no terrorist organizations to operate in Iraq, and to cease its violation of the oil-for-food programs. Those are the issues the president brought to the attention of the United Nations.

QUESTION: Ari, if I could follow up on Sandra's (ph) question? Now that the president has secured a bipartisan agreement in the leadership of Congress to pass a resolution authorizing him to use force is he prepared to share with the American people, to level with the American people about what the use of force actually, practically means? For instance, is the administration now, that this debate is under way and will take place the next couple days, prepared to say how long will American soldiers be in Iraq should the president use this authority he is seeking?

FLEISCHER: Make no doubt if this gets to the point where the president decides that force is the route to go in order to preserve the greatest chance for world peace and for regional peace, the president will, of course, speak to the American people. The president is in the middle of a process where he began at the United Nations talking to the world about the importance of the Untied Nations showing its relevance.

And the president has started this process as a result of the consultations not only with the Congress and the United Nations, but, of course, the American people have a right to hear what the president thinks. If it comes to that point, the president will do that at the appropriate time.

QUESTION: But the Congress is now at the sticking point, at the point at which members and senators have to decide, based on what their constituents view is in part, to give the president the authority to use this force. They now have to make the decision, and don't they need the answer to the question: If we give you this force, this authority to use force, how long will American soldiers be...

FLEISCHER: The president will continue to talk about this publicly and in various forms and in various ways. And at the appropriate time, in his judgment, he will talk to the American people more directly about it.

QUESTION: One more question: He expects Congress to vote to authorize him to use force before he answers the question, how long American soldiers will be expected to be in Iraq and what government the United States would support post-Saddam?

FLEISCHER: I think that Congress is asking the appropriate questions in the hearings that it has so that Congress can make the appropriate decisions as they approach a vote on a resolution. And I think Congress is satisfied with what they are hearing from the president and are hearing from the administration witnesses that are going up there this week, today, tomorrow and the next day.

Anything beyond that, I don't want to speculate about the timing of it. But the president understands, of course, the importance of talking to the country about it. It's a vital part of the job of the president.

QUESTION: What would the president say to Foreign Minister Ivanov on Friday to try to get the Russians on board?

FLEISCHER: Well, first of all, the meeting with the foreign minister and the defense minister are focused on implementation of the Treaty of Moscow, which is the reduction of offensive weapons down to a range of between 1,700 and 2,200 offensive weapons. That's the focus of the meeting. And I think depending on what the president hears as a result of the consultations that Secretary Powell has had with the Russians, he may have some other thoughts closer to the meeting.

I don't want to speculate this far out. If anything comes up on the topic of Iraq -- and it very well might -- prior to Friday, I'll try to help you out closer to the meeting.

QUESTION: How are you going to convince Russia to join with you?

FLEISCHER: Well, this is the essence of diplomacy. And I think that as you've seen before, very often diplomacy moves in ways that aren't immediately apparent, at least through public statements. And the United States will continue to work very closely with our friends and allies at various levels of the government, and we're confident that, at the time that the vote takes place, that the world will agree. What choice does the world have other than to show that it is not willing to put any meaning in the resolutions it passes, and that's not something I think the United Nations Security Council wants to countenance.

QUESTION: Two points on the U.N. debate: First, Secretary Powell said in the hours after the president's speech that things were going well, that he's having good consultations and that he hoped to have at least discussions with Security Council key members to discuss about the language of a resolution by the end of this week. Now you have two permanent members saying they don't even see the need for a resolution.

Is it at least fair to say that at this point the time table for United Nations action, if there is to be action, is not what the administration had hoped for?

FLEISCHER: No, that was basically John's (ph) question about the timing of it, and I see nothing to suggest that the timing has changed for what the United Nations Security Council's considering.


QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) what the language would be?

FLEISCHER: No, I think what you're seeing is the essence of diplomacy, and in diplomacy, there is no such thing as a slam dunk. Diplomacy is a careful and considered art. It involves important discussions between sovereigns, and they may have different views of the same issue. But those views often are not as far apart as people would think. And so, the efforts of the secretary will continue in his discussions with these groups -- with these nations. This is the middle of the week, and there are more conversations that are going on.

QUESTION: The second point. The president and the administration have said consistently there cannot be and should not be any negotiations with Iraq, whether the issue is weapons inspectors or anything else...



QUESTION: ... the head of the inspection part, and the U.N. has had meetings with the Iraqis.


QUESTION: He's suppose to have more meetings with the Iraqis. There's talk about another meeting in Vienna two weeks from now. Is that not negotiating with the Iraqis...

FLEISCHER: No, what you're seeing...

(CROSSTALK) QUESTION: ... arrangements?

FLEISCHER: What you're seeing, there is actually some of the more technical conversations that would be expected. These are not negotiations with the Iraqis about the terms of inspection. Obviously, there are some rather mundane things that go into having inspectors depart one country and arrive into another country. That's not the same, though, as the terms of the inspections.

QUESTION: There are no discussions about, say, as the previous regime of inspections, giving notices when...

FLEISCHER: Well, the president's position is that -- Iraq lost a war, and as a result of the war, they negotiated and accepted the terms of the armistice. That is not up to negotiation. That is the word that Iraq gave as a condition for ending the war that they lost, and that will not be renegotiated. These technical conversations are the difference.

QUESTION: I have two quick questions. One, General Musharraf (OFF-MIKE) at the United Nations that during his meeting with President Bush the question of (OFF-MIKE) terrorism and invitations never came up. But, and then -- and I heard some officials in New York also said that they did. One, who is telling the truth? And two, General Musharraf also said that, "This is not my job to stop the (inaudible) for the terrorism, but the 700,000 Indian (inaudible) If they cannot do them, how can I do it?"

FLEISCHER: In both the meetings with Prime Minister Vajpayee and President Musharraf, they talked about the importance of bringing peace to the subcontinent, and this is always an important issue. As you know, almost twice in this past year, it resulted in escalations almost to the point of hostilities. So this is a very important issue but they discussed a number of issues in their meetings.

QUESTION: The second question is there were a number of demonstrators at the United Nations and also they want to meet with President Bush, but they're calling on the administration and President Bush that there is religious prosecution and minorities are being prosecuted, murdered, killed and raped in Bangladesh right after the new government of Prime Minister Khaleda Zia.

QUESTION: And nobody's doing anything about that. And that question was also raised in New York at the United Nations.

FLEISCHER: Well, human rights is an issue that is important in all nations around the world, and that's something that is always stressed in the president's meetings, and it's something that the State Department always focuses on in its conversations with foreign nations.

QUESTION: On the prisoners issue, do we have any idea how many prisoners there are, how many of them may be of United States origin? And if we don't know, have our allies been negotiating or discussing at all with Saddam Hussein?

FLEISCHER: There is one unaccounted for American still remaining as a result of the war in 1991.


FLEISCHER: And there are many from other nations, including many Arab nations and many other nations that were part of the coalition. I'd have to take a look to see what the hard number estimate is. There is an estimate for it. I don't have a copy of that with me. Let me see if we can't provide that to you. But, yes, there is.

QUESTION: Ari, getting back to John's question, I recognize that the Blix conversations...

PHILLIPS: Ari Fleischer talking about the essence of diplomacy as the Bush administration continues to garner and pursue international support for this showdown on Iraq.


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