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White House Press Briefing

Aired January 24, 2003 - 10:39   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: There's Ari Fleischer. He is heading now to the podium.

HARRIS: And we'll listen in to this morning's briefing. We should be hearing some more words about Iraq, as well as, hopefully, we will get some more information about some of the momentum that the White House is trying to build with some of these nations that have been a bit recalcitrant in joining the U.S. effort to force the U.N. Security Council on Iraq, so let's listen in.


ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: ... foreign policy- related announcements to make, including one on some of the most recent developments in Iraq.

The president began his day today with an intelligence briefing, followed by a briefing from the FBI. He convened a meeting of the National Security Council.

Later this morning, the president will do a drop-by with the United States Conference of Mayors, who are in town, to talk to them about important municipal issues that they face. And then, in the afternoon, the president will make brief remarks at the swearing-in ceremony for the new secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge. Today is officially the first day of the new Cabinet department designed to provide greater protections to the American people as we move forward into a different type of 21st century threat.

And then laster this afternoon the president will also work privately some more on his State of the Union address. He'll do his first teleprompter rehearsal today on the State of the Union.

On the domestic front, President Bush today has directed the secretary of health and human services to release an additional $200 million in low-income housing -- home energy assistance, otherwise known as LIHEAP, emergency funds to help low-income individuals respond to the rising cost of home heating oil, particularly during this cold snap.

With today's $200 million release of emergency funds, the administration has released $1.5 billion in LIHEAP funds for this heating season, which will prove to be especially helpful this year, given that the Energy Information Administration estimates that residential heating oil prices will be more than 20 percent higher than the average of the last five years.

LIHEAP helps eligible families pay the costs of heating and insulating their homes in the winter and cooling their homes in the summer. Approximately 4.6 million low-income Americans will receive assistance this year.

That funding is covered under the president the president submitted to the Congress.

As a result of the Senate passage last night of the fiscal year 2003 appropriation bills, the president is, one, thankful to the Senate. This will now move forward. It's been a very late process. And the president looks forward to working with Congress to resolve last year's funding issues so quickly under the Senate. This is a real mark of leadership by Senator Frist, Leader Frist and the entire Senate in getting this done so quickly.

One important point when you look back at the process that has now ended in the Senate, as a result of all the votes that took place, the taxpayers have been saved, by conservative estimate, $380 billion over 10 years as a result of the votes in the Senate. The cost of all the amendments to increase spending on a wide variety of federal programs added up over 10 years to $380 billion in increased spending.

And when the president says that it's important to have fiscal discipline, this is a prime example of it.

All the individual components added up, a conservative estimate, would have meant $380 billion over 10 years in higher spending. And thanks to the votes in the United States Senate, the taxpayers have been protected.

Two foreign policy announcements. President Bush will welcome Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller to Washington February 5, 2003. Poland is a close friend and ally of the United States. In addition to discussing key global and security issues, the president and prime minister will discuss ways to improve commercial and trade relations between the United States and Poland.

And finally, there have been increasing numbers of reports out of Iraq, as expressed by the Chief Inspector Hans Blix, about Iraq's refusal to comply with allowing their scientists to be privately interviewed, as is their obligation per the United Nations Security Council resolution.

President Bush believes that Iraq's refusal to allow Iraqi scientists to submit to private interviews with U.N. inspectors is unacceptable.

Under U.N. Resolution 1441, Iraq has an obligation to comply. This is not a matter of negotiation. This is not a matter for debate. Saddam Hussein has no choice.

His refusal is further evidence that Iraq has something to hide.

To protect the peace, Iraq must allow and encourage its scientists to participate in private interviews, and it must do so without delay and without debate.

I'm happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: Does the president therefore believe that that refusal constitutes a material breach of the U.N. resolution 1441?

FLEISCHER: No, the president does not look at this as a lawyerly matter of the word. The president looks at this as a practical matter of whether or not Saddam Hussein has any intention of disarming. And Saddam Hussein is engaging in a constant pattern now, and an increasing pattern of defying the inspectors, refusing to cooperate, showing the inspectors facilities in which he knows that nothing will be found, but all the while thwarting the good will and the good intentions of the inspectors to carry out their mission by stopping them from engaging in the practices that history has shown are the most successes practices in discovering what weapons he has.

QUESTION: What you dismiss as a lawyerly matter is the very framework that the president's committed to by having that sort of language inserted into the resolution. So the question is, does he consider this the end of the line or has the administration made a determination that, despite the views of what the inspectors are there to do, that it is willing to allow the inspections regime to go on a little bit longer than maybe the president would like in an effort to shore up support internationally and even...


FLEISCHER: The real issue is Saddam Hussein making the end of the line come even closer by his unacceptable behavior.

Bill? Bill?

QUESTION: Can you answer that last part of the question, Ari?

FLEISCHER: What was your last part, David?

QUESTION: Is the administration, despite its views about what the inspectors are supposed to be doing, what Saddam should be doing, is the administration prepared to allow inspectors to have more time in an attempt to shore up support internationally for a potential conflict?

FLEISCHER: The president has not put a definitive timetable on it. They clearly are still carrying out their mission to the best of their ability. They are working on the time they have, but time is running out.

QUESTION: The inspectors, as you know, regard the appearance before the United Nations Security Council on Monday as just another interim report, not the sort of wrap-up report which was envisioned by the U.S. when this process began. Do you expect the president to address that on Tuesday, since the process at the U.N. won't be over until Wednesday?

FLEISCHER: The United States has consistently called it an important date. I don't know that anybody has said it is a wrap-up date or a final date or a deadline. No, I'm not aware of anybody saying that.

It's an important date. We want to hear what they have to say. And I think that when you look at what the inspectors are reporting, while they are saying that they have gotten what they call some cooperation from Saddam Hussein, they are also the first to say, the inspectors themselves, that they are not getting the cooperation they need when it comes to interviewing the scientists and they are not getting the cooperation they need and demand about being able to fly U-2 surveillance aircraft over sites in Iraq. They are not getting what Iraq had committed to do.

And again, under the U.N. resolution, it is not a question of negotiation, it is an obligation.

QUESTION: Would you address the perception that the U.S. wants this over with sooner rather than later?

FLEISCHER: There is no question the United States wants Saddam Hussein to disarm sooner rather than later.

QUESTION: Back to the scientists, the Iraqis say that they've asked these scientists to cooperate with the inspectors and the scientists don't want to be interviewed in private, they want the minders there.

FLEISCHER: Yes, I think what they said is, "We did our best to push the scientists," Lieutenant General Hossam Mohamed Amin (ph), the chief Iraqi liaison officer to the U.N. inspectors said, "but they refused to make such interviews without the presence of Iraqi officials."

In a totalitarian police state like Iraq, that's laughable. There is no credibility to that.

Saddam Hussein has called the inspectors spies. In Iraq, if the president of Iraq who does not exactly have a history of being a peaceful man towards those who have any dissent toward his opinions, calls the inspectors spies, he is sending a very powerful message to his scientists: "Don't meet with them because if you meet with spies, you know the history of what's happened to people who defy my will."

And the environment that's been created by Saddam Hussein is an environment that is hostile to whether or not the world will see whether he has weapons of mass destruction because he wants to hide what he has from the world.

QUESTION: Are you aware of specific instances of intimidation?

FLEISCHER: Well, let me share with you two things that have taken place, and these are very indicative. These are events that took place in the past that are indicative of the future.

You're very familiar with the case of Hussein Kamal and Saddam Kamal, Saddam Hussein's son-in-laws who were killed in 1996 by Saddam Hussein. They were lured back into Iraq after they left the country. They were promised that all had been forgiven when they left the country, brought back in under different pretenses and instantly executed at the order of Saddam Hussein.

There is a scientist named Muayad Hassan Al Janabi (ph). He was killed in Amman, Jordan, in 1992. He attempted to defect. He wanted to leave. He was tracked down by Iraqi security agents and executed. And as you all know from your reporting, this is a common practice of Saddam Hussein.

QUESTION: Are you aware of specific instances of the inspectors that we have -- that the U.N. mission has tried to talk to this time around who have been intimidated?

FLEISCHER: Well, I think given the fact that Saddam Hussein calls the inspectors spies, what more intimidation do you need for him to encourage people not to meet with people he calls spies?

Imagine that you are an Iraqi scientist: You have information you would like to impart. And you don't want Iraqi monitors sitting there to impart the information. And you heard your president say these inspectors are spies.

That is an atmosphere of intimidation environment designed to stop them from doing what the United Nations has called on Iraq to do, which is to make them fully and immediately available, which is why the statement from the Iraqi general is a laughable statement.

QUESTION: Who in this country besides the president and his couriers want to go to war with Iraq?

FLEISCHER: I'm not aware of anybody here who wants to go to war with Iraq. But the president very much wants to protect the peace by making sure that Saddam Hussein cannot engage in war against us.

QUESTION: Is he not aware that there is wide-spread opposition to war in this country?

FLEISCHER: Do you think the majority of Americans are opposed to war with Iraq?

QUESTION: Yes, I think so. What do you think?

FLEISCHER: Well, I think if you take a look at all the public surveys on this issue, there is a lot of Americans who believe that Saddam Hussein does indeed pose a threat. And they believe...


FLEISCHER: And they believe that if the president and what he knows makes the determination that the best way to protect the American people from the risks that we have seen, our nation is vulnerable to, is to disarm Saddam Hussein from having weapons of mass destruction. The president will make a case if he makes that decision.

QUESTION: But eight other countries have them.

FLEISCHER: And how many resolutions has the United Nations passed urging us to not have the weapons that we have successfully kept the peace for 50 years?

QUESTION: How many other nations have defied U.N. resolutions and gotten away with it?

FLEISCHER: None like Saddam Hussein on a measure that is this unequivocal when the world has called on him.


QUESTION: ... otherwise.

FLEISCHER: I'm aware that you try to.

QUESTION: Does the president feel that relations with Western Europe, particularly with Germany where we have so many troops based and France demands more of his role now in terms of contacting either of those leaders, especially in advance of his State of the Union address.

FLEISCHER: Well, the president will continue to contact world leaders and to reach out and talk to different people. As you know, he talked to President Putin yesterday. He looks forward to the visit of Prime Minister Blair. Then, we will continue to inform you of the phones calls and conversations the president makes.

Up and down the government, Secretary Powell will continue to consult with very closely with world leaders. And the president will continue to work with them.

QUESTION: He's not concerned that the angry words back and forth over the last few days are hurting his cause as opposed to helping the promise -- any kind of promise of diplomacy?

FLEISCHER: You know, there's a very identifiable history of United States relations with Europe, where European nations, European people were split and divided. The United States, working very closely with European nations and with European governments, saw a policy that it thought was in the interest of peace, developed it, worked it with our allies, advocated it, pushed it through successfully, so.

In the early 1980s, for example, after the Soviet Union deployed SS-20 intermediate-range missiles into Europe there were massive street protests throughout Germany and throughout Europe against the counterdeployment of Persian missiles by the United States along with European governments -- massive street protests.

We worked together with the European leaders and the European government. We counterdeployed, put the Persian missiles into Western Europe, and it was one of the ways that through peace through strength, the world became a much safer, better place with tens of millions in Eastern Europe now living free. Similarly in 1991, in the events that led up to the Persian Gulf war, there was tremendous opposition. There were many people who said: "Let sanctions take place. Do not engage yet in military force. Let it take its time."

The argument of let sanctions take place is similar to the arguments that people are making now about, "let the inspectors continue their work." Of course, back in 1991 if the argument, "let sanctions take place," had taken hold, Saddam Hussein would still be sitting in Kuwait and would most likely be occupying other nations, as well.

And so the president looks at this as a matter of the importance of consultation, respecting those who differ with him on this issue and building a wide coalition -- and it will be wide -- of those who see it his way and agree. And make no mistake: He will listen. He will consult. But he will lead.

QUESTION: Is there any discussion of a possible compromise under which the inspectors will be given, say, a month more in exchange for allies' reassurances that they won't drag it on any longer?

FLEISCHER: Well, number one, the president has -- because of the president's actions that the inspectors are there, and helpfully so, the inspectors are doing their best in that environment where Saddam Hussein is doing his worst. The president has not put a timetable on how long the inspectors should be there.

They were there yesterday. They are there today and working. They will be there tomorrow and working. We wish them every success, and are providing them with every means possible to help them to be successful.

The problem the world will have to confront one day is, if Saddam Hussein continues in his efforts to defy them, to stop them, to not live up to the very obligations that Saddam Hussein committed to when the United Nations passed this resolutions, what then will the world do? Will the world choose to do nothing, or will the world choose to recognize that Saddam Hussein is not cooperating?

These decisions have not yet been made.

QUESTION: You said that the president said that Saddam Hussein, to protect the peace, must allow these scientists to be interviewed. Does he consider this a cause for war?

FLEISCHER: If the president reaches the point where these accumulation of events lead up to the conclusion that war is the only way to protect the peace, the president will say that. He has not reached that point yet.

But clearly, when you look at the behavior of Saddam Hussein and when you look at the statements that have come from the inspectors themselves, it is impossible to reach the conclusion that Saddam Hussein is cooperating. He is not. And he is not cooperating because he is hiding, hiding his weapons of mass destruction. QUESTION: Ari, John Bolton, in Japan, made clear that the United States has some evidence that they're going to give over to the world very shortly. Can you elaborate on that? What kind of evidence is he talking about and what form?

FLEISCHER: This is nothing new. This is something that you've heard many people say. And Secretary Powell said it recently about the United States will make its case. And in the course of events, as I've indicated, the president, others in the administration will have information to say as developments warrant.

You've seen this week, in the speeches given by Secretary Armitage and Secretary Wolfowitz, the continuation of the importance of dialogue and reasoning, and that will continue. The administration will continue to share with the world and share with the country why we have such a cause for concern.

QUESTION: We've seen speeches, but not really any new, hard evidence about what the U.S. thinks that Saddam Hussein actually has, hard evidence in terms of the weapons. Is this something that the president's going to talk about in the State of the Union? Do you actually believe that there is hard evidence that exists that will bring these countries around and bring the American people around?

FLEISCHER: The president is confident that if it gets to the point where he does reach the conclusion and he goes to the country, he is confident that the country and much of the world will understand the seriousness and the weight of what he is presenting. And that is why, if our democracy does go to war, which is a step the president still hopes can be averted, we will go to war knowing that we have the support of much of the world.

QUESTION: Is that yes to her question?

FLEISCHER: Jim (ph)?

QUESTION: How does the president feel about launching a war if France and Germany flat out say they won't support it and that he should not do it?

FLEISCHER: Well, I think that in the event, it does become a matter that the president believes that we have reached the point of last resort and that force is the only way to get Saddam Hussein to disarm from the weapons that he has, the president's preference would be to have all the world with the United States and with this large coalition. That may not be possible. That may not be achievable.

But will that stop the president and the coalition from doing what it believes is necessary to protect the world? No, it will not. We, of course, want to have the support of as many as possible if it reaches this point.

QUESTION: First of all, thank you for commenting on Jim's (ph) hypothetical. We can expect that precedent to (OFF-MIKE) as well.

FLEISCHER: Do you have a hypothetical? QUESTION: No, I don't. I have two questions about Iraq.

FLEISCHER: You're missing an opportunity to roll off of one.


QUESTION: First of all, the president in his speech in St. Louis, the other day, made reference to, quote, "the so-called inspectors." What did he mean by interposing those words, so-called in front of the word inspectors?

FLEISCHER: The exact same thing I said yesterday on that when I was asked. The president was referring to something very similar to what Secretary Rumsfeld said over the weekend on one of the Sunday shows, that the mission of the inspectors is not literally to go and to inspect as much as it, as Secretary Wolfowitz walked through yesterday, to verify that actual disarmament has taken place.

The inspectors are not armed with magnifying glasses to go out and look for clues. They are armed with scientific knowledge of how nations that disarm...

HARRIS: As we keep an eye on what's happening at the White House, we're also watching what is happening elsewhere around Washington. There you see Secretary of State Colin Powell. He is welcoming one of the leaders, world leaders, that you heard Ari Fleischer mention moments ago. This is the president of Djibouti. And as you heard Ari Fleischer say, President Bush is also in -- communication, rather, with world leaders and Secretary Powell is also conferring with world leaders there to continue to go ahead and try to generate more support for the administration's push to force the U.N. Security Council to be more aggressive on Iraq. We'll keep our eye on what is happening there. Secretary Powell is going to be having a number of meetings there, and we will have reports on that for you later on.


FLEISCHER: ... cause of it not working is. And the inspections and the inspectors have a history of engaging acts around the world that do, indeed, work. That was proved by their efforts in South Africa.

What's not working in Iraq is Saddam Hussein's compliance with Iraq -- Saddam Hussein's compliance with the inspectors. That's the cause of the inspectors having such a difficult time doing their job.

The solution is that Saddam Hussein has to change his ways and disarm, or President Bush, as he has said, will lead a coalition to disarm him.

QUESTION: My question was about timing, though. My question was, how much longer would this president who prides himself on holding accountability dear lend his administration's support to a program which his own secretary of state has said is not working?

FLEISCHER: The president has said time is running out. He hasn't been more specific than that

QUESTION: Before the decision to go to war, are there interim things that can be done to fix the process from the U.S. side or the U.N. side?

FLEISCHER: As I said, in the president's judgment, Saddam Hussein's refusal and his intimidation of his scientists is unacceptable. It must cease. This is an act of willful defiance by Iraq toward the United Nations and toward the United Nations' inspectors. Saddam Hussein's defiance of the United Nations about refusing to allow the U-2s to fly per Security Council Resolution 1441 is not acceptable.

So these decisions are in Saddam Hussein's hands.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) a more robust force with the inspectors, for instance, to try to make the situation...


FLEISCHER: I think the president made it very plain repeatedly last fall that this is Saddam Hussein and Iraq's last chance. They were given that last chance as a result of this vote of the United Nations Security Council resolution. And this will not be another 10 years of defiance of Saddam Hussein.

QUESTION: There was heavy INS action in San Diego yesterday. Civil liberty organizations are up in arms about it. Is the White House aware of this activity? And two, how do you respond to civil liberty organizations that say that this is a further example of the erosion of civil liberties...


FLEISCHER: I'll have to take a look at it and get you more information about it. I'm not familiar with the specific action.

QUESTION: Medicare: The president, I assume, on Tuesday night and later on next week is going to talk about Medicare reform proposal that would move elderly people into HMOs, into managed care types of care...


QUESTION: So all of the reports we're hearing about this and the president's speech in July was wrong? He doesn't want them in managed care.

FLEISCHER: When you isolate the issue about managed care, let me try to bring justice to the president's position on this matter.

The president, as he has said repeatedly when he campaigned for the presidency, believes that seniors deserve more choices and more options in their health care plans. And the president believes that one of the most important choices that seniors want, that they do not currently receive, is prescription drug coverage. And the president will, as the Congress reconvenes, make it a top priority to create a modernized Medicare that includes prescription drug coverage for seniors and that will have a variety of options, a variety of choices.

QUESTION: Let me just -- the experience so far with Medicare+Choice, which was begun in 1997 as part of the Balanced Budget Act, everyone agrees, everyone from Wall Street to elderly people on the street believe is a failure. Wall Street downgrades the stock of insurance providers who are in the Medicare market because they can't make money on it; 1.3 million elderly people have had their plans disappear.

So I'm wondering if, given the experience since 1997 with a program very similar to what the president is about to propose, why does he think it will work now if it hasn't worked in the past?

FLEISCHER: Therein the key question: similar to what was proposed in the past. There are many lessons to be learned about what took place in 1997 in which some of the designs of a bipartisan Medicare proposal, signed into law by President Clinton, did not come to fruition the way the planners exactly had hoped. Many of the reasons for that are the cutbacks that were made to providers in the days and the years since that '97 program was passed.

Any plan that the president proposes will be new on Medicare and will learn from the lessons of what took place in 1997. It will not be a photocopy of what took place in 1997, it will be better than what took place in 1997, that learns the lessons of what took place in 1997, so that seniors do, indeed, have more options and more choices as part of a government-provided plan.

QUESTION: Ari, you've said January 27 is an important date. Does that mean it's a critical milepost in deciding whether we should go to war with Iraq? And if it's not, can you be more specific about what happens next and why it's important?

FLEISCHER: Well, it's an important date, and I can't be more specific until the date comes and we know what the inspectors say. It's important to hear what the inspectors have to report.

QUESTION: Is it considered a milepost in deciding whether we go to war?

FLEISCHER: It's considered an important date. All the actions of the inspectors are part of what the president will evaluate, because that's how the world will know whether Saddam Hussein is cooperating.

QUESTION: Is the White House looking at it as a trigger point?

FLEISCHER: Important date.

QUESTION: Ari, the Episcopal Church's presiding bishop, Frank Griswold (ph), says, and this is a quote, "The United States is rightly hated and loathed for its reprehensible rhetoric and blind eye towards poverty and suffering. I'd like to be able to go somewhere in the world and not have to apologize for being from the United States," end of quote.

My question is, does the president take this at all seriously or does he categorize it with Senator Patty Murray, who's now becoming known as Osama Mama?

FLEISCHER: I think the president has repeatedly said that -- and you will hear this in the State of the Union from the president -- that he believes that it is important for a nation that we know ourselves to be, as caring and compassionate people as we are, that that caring and compassionate record of the American people and of our United States government is shown and shared to the world. Some will see it that way; others may not. The president will continue to focus on what he knows the United States represents, which is a wonderful beacon of caring and compassion around the world.

QUESTION: In view of recent wire service reports of an increase -- a startling increase in cases of AIDS, HIV and syphilis in New York and California, as well as this morning's Washington Times page one story, does the president believe there are no such things as, quote, "bug chasers"?

FLEISCHER: I'm not aware of what you're talking about.

QUESTION: It was page one. These are people in the homosexual community that feel its erotic to contract AIDS.

And this is what is reported...

FLEISCHER: I have no idea what you're talking about.

QUESTION: You have no idea. You don't read the Washington Times?

FLEISCHER: Of course, I do.

QUESTION: You do, well, then what about it?


FLEISCHER: ... I expressed yesterday the president's thought about AIDS and people who have AIDS. And the president's thoughts are that, people who have AIDS deserve to be treated with care and with compassion...


FLEISCHER: ... that people need to be treated with care and compassion. He's very proud of the fact that his budget has unparalleled amounts of money, both foreign and domestic, to help people with AIDS.

QUESTION: Yes, but what about the ones that don't...

FLEISCHER: You only get two, and you sure have had them. QUESTION: Ari, Senator Daschle put his alternative economic proposal up. And I was wondering what the White House thinks about the $300 tax rebate (OFF-MIKE) specifically, and the one-year increase of 50 percent bonus depreciation?

And secondly, can you give us a bit of a walk-through on how John Snow's revelations about his child support disputes were related to the president, what his reaction was initially, his gut reaction if there was any discussion about it? Or he just said, you know, "Don't worry about it."

FLEISCHER: OK. On the first question, there are many Democrat plans on taxes. There is no unified Democrat position. There is, I think, a growing movement on the Hill in support of what the president has proposed, and that will be tested over time. If the bill is taken up in the Ways and Means Committee, there will likely be amendments to it. But the president is confident that the core of it will move forward rather nicely.

I think it's impossible to tell what Democrat alternative or alternatives will emerge because there are so many of them. There's a lot of divisions from the Democrats.



FLEISCHER: The president has made his proposal, as you know. And he's going to fight for his proposal. That's what he believes the Senate and the House ought...


QUESTION: ... doesn't want $300 for...

FLEISCHER: No, he wants the Congress to pass what he proposed. And that's why he proposed it. He thought it was the best solution.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) willing to add it to his proposal?

FLEISCHER: I think he's going to ask Congress to pass what he proposed.

On the second part of it, the information was made known to the White House during the vetting process as the nominee moved forward. It was shared with the Senate, as you know. And the president believes that Mr. Snow is the exact right man for the post as Treasury secretary.

He does not think this has any bearing on it. This was a matter that was settled. And if you've seen the statements from Mr. Snow's former wife, it's all amicable.

And the president thinks this should move forward. He actually is confident, and indeed will.

QUESTION: Can you sketch out some of the things and points he will touch on in the State of the Union?

FLEISCHER: The State of the Union, the president -- let me take a step back. The president views States of the Unions as a moment to talk about the big challenges, the major challenges our nation faces at home and abroad. He sees it as an opportunity for this generation and for people who are in office today to face up to these challenges and to deal with the, not to pass them on to future generations.

And I think there will be four major issue areas that the president discusses in his State of the Union. There will be the economy, creating jobs for the American people. He'll be making America more caring, compassionate place. It will be the importance of providing health care for the American people. And there will also be a focus on security, security both on the home front and homeland and national security. Those will be the four areas that the president spends quite a bit of time discussing in the State of the Union.

QUESTION: Ari, the area of corporate accountability, what is the White House view in the SEC decision a few days ago to allow auditors to also be tax consultants to the firms that they audit?

FLEISCHER: The administration views these matters as developed by the career staff of the Securities and Exchange Commission and then voted on by all the commissioners, including the commissioners who were recommended by Senator Daschle and other Democrats. This was a unanimous vote by the Securities and Exchange Commission, having looked at the substance of what their career staff proposed.

They're an independent agency. And that's how the White House looks at it.

QUESTION: Ari, on Monday when we listen to Mr. Blix, if he is supposed to be the chief verifier, should we listen with confidence that they have received all of the U.S. intelligence that we have available for them to verify and make an interim report?

FLEISCHER: I believe that Mr. Blix and Dr. ElBaradei have both said in the past week to 10 days that they have received actionable intelligence from the United States. They are satisfied with the intelligence they are sharing. I can't speak for them, but I know that's what they've already said.

QUESTION: Well, in response to Dana's (ph) question, you seem to suggest that perhaps if the president were to declare a war and want the American people and the world to know why, he would have more dispositive information at that time to make a persuasive case. That would suggest that there's something that's not been made available to the inspectors. Is that correct?

FLEISCHER: No, not necessarily.


FLEISCHER: I would urge you to take a look back at what Secretary Wolfowitz said yesterday. Secretary Wolfowitz referred to Iraq's very able capabilities to hide things and to move things, to have mobile laboratories for the purpose of hiding and moving. That's information that does not allow you to have 100 percent certainty of the coordinates of where something may happen to be at any given second or moment. That would be what an inspector might call actionable.

If it were that simple, that we could say the mobile laboratory is at this longitude and this latitude at this exact moment, things would be much easier. Iraq is more clever than that. And they are aware of our capabilities in some ways.

And so, this is what Secretary Wolfowitz talked about yesterday. So when you take a look at what can inspectors act upon versus what do we know Iraq has, Secretary Wolfowitz addressed that.

And therein lies one of the key issues that Saddam Hussein exploits, knowing that he has a massive infrastructure headed by his son, designed to deceive the inspectors. And so, there are differences in terms of what inspectors can do.

QUESTION: Let me ask you, as audiences listen to Mr. Blix's report on Monday, what does the president think that we should all be listening for? What are the key ingredients of this update that we should all be paying attention...

FLEISCHER: The key ingredient the president thinks that the world should look for is whether Iraq is complying. Absent Iraq's full compliance the way South Africa did, the world can have no confidence Saddam Hussein has got rid of the VX gas, the sarin gas, the botulin, the anthrax, the mustard gas that the United Nations reported that he had in his possession at the end of the 1990s.

Absent cooperation, absent proof that he has destroyed them, the world can only make one conclusion, and that is that Saddam Hussein is hiding these very weapons.

QUESTION: Ari, the L.A. Times cites U.S. and British officials saying Secretaries Powell and Straw yesterday seriously considered giving inspectors several more weeks in exchange for allies' assurance that they will not let inspections go on indefinitely and that this would help sway the skeptical allies. Are you discounting that report and saying again there is no timetable...

FLEISCHER: Yes, I have no information to verify that report. You might want to address that to the State Department. But I have no information given to me to verify it.

QUESTION: Ari, there are reports that Saddam Hussein may be seeking to take stockpiles of chemical weapons, park them outside Iraq and hide them there. That, as far as I'm aware, is not an element of his deception that the administration has cited. Is this something the administration is aware of? Has it passed on this information to U.N. inspectors? And would it like the inspections team to be looking at the possibility that he is squirreling away his weapons of mass destruction outside the country?

FLEISCHER: I'm aware of the reports. And there is nothing I can indicate one way or another about those reports.

QUESTION: A question about the European allies, sir. How would the president characterize the critical mood among major European allies?

And secondly...

FLEISCHER: How would you characterize the what of major?

QUESTION: The critical mood among European allies like Germany and France, for example?

And secondly, does the president expect them eventually to come aboard and be convinced by his arguments about Iraq (inaudible) et cetera, or is it more like Secretary Rumsfeld suggested earlier on, it's the old Europe and we better look for the new Eastern European countries...


FLEISCHER: I think there's no question that European governments are divided, with most European governments being in favor of the administration's position that in the event it becomes necessary, because Saddam Hussein won't disarm himself, a coalition should be assembled to disarm him.

There are important friends and allies that we have who, in the case of Germany, have expressed their unalterable opposition to the use of the military to disarm Saddam Hussein, and there are other nations, such as France, who it's unclear what position France will finally take in the end, and the president respects those nations.

But the president also sees a great many other nations that do see things differently, that are working in a different manner to help protect the peace.

And the one thing about this debate that I think can't be focused on enough is Europe is not a monolith. European governments represent many different points of view. The one point of view that keeps seemed to be shared is the point of view of those who would oppose the president. The president is confident, as I said yesterday, that if the call is made, that Europe will answer the call.

QUESTION: And Europe also being Germany and France, for example?

FLEISCHER: No. I said yesterday that -- I just said Germany is unalterably opposed, and in the case of France it's possible that when Europe answers the call France won't be on the line. That's the French prerogative. That's their right.

QUESTION: You don't expect a veto in case of a Security Council resolution?

FLEISCHER: It's not clear what the next course will be at the United Nations.

Thank you.

HARRIS: With that, Ari has wrapped up this morning's press briefing. Many of the words that we heard this morning, and words that we have heard quite a bit. Some news was made at the top of this, though, when he announced that $200 million has been released -- or is going to be released to go to families who need some help keeping their homes warm in the middle of this chilling winter here.

He also said that again, time is running out, and he also -- when he was asked whether or not there has been any proof that scientists are being kept from talking to the inspectors, he just basically said that Iraq is not cooperating and continues to manipulate the process.

Also, when he was pressed with a question about whether or not there was any concrete proof that the White House has that Saddam Hussein is harboring any weapons of mass destruction programs or is misleading the inspectors, and whether or not there's any proof that could be produced by the White House to convince the world and the country that war is going to be a good -- or a necessary option here, Ari Fleischer says that President Bush is confident that the information, once it is released, will convince the country, and the world of the president's case.


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