CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
White House Press Briefing
Aired January 9, 2003 - 13:09 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: All right. To the White House now, Ari Fleischer addressing reporters. Let's listen in.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: ... problems in what Iraq has been doing.
QUESTION: But it wouldn't be disappointing, would it, if there were no weapons there?
FLEISCHER: We know for a fact that there are weapons there.
QUESTION: We do?
FLEISCHER: And so, the inspectors went on...
QUESTION: So what's the search all about if you know it so factually?
FLEISCHER: Well, let me cite to you what the inspectors have said at the United Nations. And this is from their reports.
"In order to create confidence that it has no more weapons of mass destruction or proscribed activities related to such weapons, Iraq must present credible evidence. It cannot just maintain that it must be deemed to be without proscribed items so long as there is no evidence to the contrary."
Now, continuing in the words of the inspectors: "A person accused of illegal possession of weapons may indeed be acquitted for lack of evidence. But if a state which has used such weapons is to create confidence it no longer has any prohibited weapons, it will need to present solid evidence or present remaining items for elimination under supervision."
And they continue: "If evidence is not presented which gives us a high degree of assurance, there is no way the inspectors can close a file by simply invoking a precept that Iraq cannot prove the negative. In such cases, regrettably, they must conclude, as they have done in the past, that the absence of a particular item is not assured."
So while they have said that there is no smoking gun, they said the absence of it is not assured. And that's the heart of the problem. The heart of the problem is Iraq is very good at hiding things.
QUESTION: ... a lack of confidence in anybody speaking the truth there. Isn't that...
FLEISCHER: Are you accusing the inspectors of not speaking the truth, when they say that it's not assured?
QUESTION: No, I think they're speaking the truth and the country won't accept it.
FLEISCHER: So when they said the absence of the particular item is not assured, you accept that as the truth. You agree with the president.
QUESTION: No, I mean, the president -- wouldn't you be happy if there were no weapons there?
FLEISCHER: There would be nothing that would make the president happier than there to be no weapons in Iraq, and the best way to make certain that there are no weapons in Iraq is for Saddam Hussein to disarm himself of the weapons he has.
QUESTION: The inspectors have also said that there's no deadline to their inspections. They need time. Prime Minister Blair has said that they need time and space, that the January 27 report that they'll deliver should not be seen as any kind of deadline, and Secretary Powell said that as well. Is this an indication that the president is willing to let the inspectors go at this for a good long while?
FLEISCHER: I've never heard the president put a time line on it, but the president wants the inspectors to continue to do exactly what they are doing, which is to do their level best to carry out the search given the fact that Iraq is throwing up hurdles and isn't complying in all aspects, continuing with what the inspectors have reported in New York. They cited a number of issues that are real causes for concern by the United States government, and among the things that the inspectors themselves have said are discrepancies and inconsistencies.
These deal with special munitions, illegal imports on a relatively large number of missile engines, contradictions involving the chemical agent VX, inadequate response by Iraq to provide the names of all personnel who've been involved in weapons of mass destruction programs. Indeed, the inspectors found that the list that Iraq provided of who has been involved in weapons of mass destruction programs left out no names of people who get involved in weapons of mass destruction programs.
The inspectors themselves have concluded that Iraq failed to make a serious effort to respond to this information that the world has required. Inspections that the IAEA conducted, which the IAEA, per their rights under the U.N. resolution, asked to be conducted in private without any Iraqi minders were rejected. The inspections could only take place if Iraqi minders were in the room -- hardly a welcoming environment if anybody has information that they wanted to share. And so, there were a number of things that were said that still give cause for concern in this report.
QUESTION: Is the president willing to give the inspectors the time and the space that they say they need, the months that they say they'll need in order to determine the...
FLEISCHER: Well, again, I've not heard the president put a time line on it. The president has said that he wants the inspectors to...
FLEISCHER: The president has said that he wants the inspectors to be able to do their jobs, to continue their efforts and that's what we support.
QUESTION: Ari, the head of the IAEA said today that the suspected aluminum tubes Iraq has obtained were not used for -- or not suitable for enriching uranium. Do you still maintain that Iraq has an active nuclear weapons program?
FLEISCHER: Well, let's be clear on what he said. What Mr. ElBaradei has said is -- the matter is still under investigation and further verification is foreseen, so it's not a closed matter.
The IAEA's analysis data indicates that the specifications of the aluminum tubes sought by Iraq in 2001-2002 appear to be consistent with the reverse engineering of rockets. While it would be possible to modify such tubes for the manufacturer of centrifuges, they are not directly suitable for it. It should be noted, however, that the attempted acquisition of such tubes is prohibited under the United Nations resolutions in any case.
So it remains a cause for concern that they are pursuing acquisition of elements that are banned to them that have purposes, that still can be used for military purposes, and we do have concerns about their potential of developing nuclear programs. As you know, we have always been explicit on this topic.
We have always said that we know that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction of a biological nature. We know that they have weapons of mass destruction of a chemical nature. We have not said that conclusively about nuclear. We have concerns that they are seeking to acquire and develop them, of course.
QUESTION: Do the Blix statement, this -- the ElBaradei statement -- do they make it harder for you to persuade world opinion that Iraq is a threat?
FLEISCHER: No, I think when you hear the list of concerns that Hans Blix and Dr. ElBaradei have delineated about the failure of Iraq to comply fully with all their obligations, it gives ongoing cause for concern to the world. They have said that they have not gotten everything they have sought, they have not gotten everything that they need, that the inspections need to continue. And they also walked the United Nations through how they are now getting more material and more resources themselves so they can better do their jobs, which we're very pleased to hear.
QUESTION: Going back to a timetable. You said you never heard the president lay out a timetable, but he said and you said that January 27 is a very significant date. Is it a deadline?
FLEISCHER: No, the president has not said it's a deadline. The president has said it's...
QUESTION: What do you plan to determine by January 27?
FLEISCHER: We will hear from the inspectors. So we want to hear what the inspectors are able to find about their abilities in Iraq to find and pursue whether or not Iraq has weapons of mass destruction and to ascertain what type of compliance Iraq has been providing to the inspectors.
QUESTION: So your expectation is that they will be able to give you that information in just the next couple of weeks?
FLEISCHER: It's an important reporting date, and we will see what the inspectors have to say in this three-week period.
QUESTION: And if they say, we need months more to go do our jobs?
FLEISCHER: I can't speculate. Let's see what they say.
QUESTION: Well, presumably, we're not sending thousands of troops to the regions, spending millions of dollars deploying them now if the administration is willing to let them sit there and twiddle their thumbs for six months while the inspectors do their jobs.
FLEISCHER: I think the fact is that the president said the military has effective influence on diplomacy and making sure that Saddam Hussein understands that he needs to comply. Because if he doesn't, the United States has the means and the ability to make him comply.
QUESTION: So that's why the troops are there now...
PHILLIPS: We'll continue to monitor what Ari Fleischer, White House spokesperson, has to say to reporters there.
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