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White House Press Briefing

Aired February 6, 2003 - 12:23   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I want to go to the White House to listen to Ari Fleischer. He's responding to this dramatic development. The Turkish parliament today, going ahead and supporting rebuilding some of the Turkish bases and ports to allow the U.S. potentially to use them in case of a war.
Let's listen to Ari Fleischer.

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: ... the president also notes and appreciates the unanimous vote of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to provide their advice and consent to the ratification of the weapons-reducing treaty of Moscow. The president entered office dedicated to improving relations with Russia and to reducing the levels of nuclear weapons required to maintain the peace.

The president thanks the senators on the committee for the unanimous bipartisan vote in support of the treaty. And he urges the full Senate to act soon.

With that, I'm happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: Ari, can I ask you to follow up something that you said this morning. Do you have reason to believe that Saddam Hussein is going to suddenly fain cooperation by agreeing to some things he hadn't agreed to before?

FLEISCHER: Well, judging by Saddam Hussein's efforts in the past to conceal and to deny and to cheat and retreat, it would not surprise anybody if all of a sudden Saddam Hussein showed a little bit of the tip of his iceberg. I don't think it would surprise anybody if all a sudden Saddam Hussein, for example, allowed you two flights to fly, or all of a sudden showed up with some weapons which he's previously denied ever having. So, it would not surprise anybody in the United States government if all of a sudden Saddam Hussein showed up with a little tip of his iceberg.

QUESTION: Well, if he is to cooperate, how much of the iceberg does he have to show?

FLEISCHER: All; complete disarmament just as promised to the United Nations when the United Nations Security Council passed its resolutions.

QUESTION: Since you speak for the president, we have no access to him, can you categorically deny that the United States will take over the oil fields when this war which is apparently obvious, and you're on your way, and I don't think you doubt your victory? Oil. Is it about oil?

FLEISCHER: As I've told you many times, if this had anything to oil, the position of the United States would be to lift the sanctions so the oil could flow. This is not about that, this is about saving lives by protecting the American people.

QUESTION: You will not take over the oil fields; are you saying that?

FLEISCHER: The oil fields belong to the people of Iraq, the government of Iraq -- all of Iraq.


FLEISCHER: All the resources of Iraq need to be administered by the Iraqi government.

And any action that is taken in Iraq is going to be taken with an eye toward the future of Iraq, and that involves the protecting of infrastructure, providing humanitarian aid, and that needs to be done by the Iraqi people.

QUESTION: There are reports that we divided up the oil already, divvied it up with the Russians and French and so forth. Isn't that true?

FLEISCHER: What's the source of these reports that you say?

QUESTION: They're all over the place.

FLEISCHER: Can you be more specific?

QUESTION: That we have this -- we will take the oil fields and then we will...

FLEISCHER: But you cited some reports I'm just curious about and if you can be more specific about the source of these reports that you're citing here today.

QUESTION: Have you been reading the newspapers?

FLEISCHER: Can you be more specific? Anywhere particular?

QUESTION: Senator Lugar said it.

FLEISCHER: No there's no truth to that, that we would divide up the oil fields. As I...

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) people have said something, but, I'm sorry, I can't pinpoint.

FLEISCHER: As I indicated, the infrastructure of Iraq belongs to the people of Iraq, and that is going to be respected.

QUESTION: Well, why should we decide what is their infrastructure or their government? FLEISCHER: Obviously, if the regime changes, there will be a new government and the government will represent the people of Iraq.

QUESTION: A couple of questions, Ari. They're unrelated, so let me take them one at a time, if I could.

If Saddam Hussein starts to melt this iceberg and dribble out these weapons, doesn't that complicate things for you in terms of building world opinion to take military action to say that he is not cooperating, that he is not in compliance with 1441?

FLEISCHER: No. I think it makes the exact case that Hans Blix made when he went before the United Nations and said that Iraq has showed the tip of a submerged iceberg -- we don't know is how he put it. We don't know if the weapon launchers with chemical warheads that were discovered by the inspectors represent the tip of a submerged iceberg is how Hans Blix put it.

But if, all of a sudden, something were to show up after Saddam Hussein denied vehemently -- vehemently, repeatedly, including yesterday that he doesn't have any weapons of mass destruction, it would underscore the fact that Saddam Hussein is again lying to the world.

QUESTION: Well, you know what the arguments will be. The arguments will be, "Well, the process does seem to be working. He's disgorging this information. He is revealing his weapons. Let's let that process continue." And then, before you know it, you're into June.

FLEISCHER: There's only one thing that counts, and that is the complete and total disarmament of Iraq, so that way the threat that Colin Powell discussed before the world yesterday can be removed from people around the world so we don't have to worry about Saddam Hussein using the weapons that remain below water.

QUESTION: The other question was that the forces that have been put on alert for possible deployment to the western Pacific -- and I know that you don't talk about deployments, so I'm going to ask you the political question here -- is this an indication that the president is willing to consider as an option something other than diplomacy, which he has said is the only option in the past? Or do you...

FLEISCHER: No, it's exactly as I indicated, I think, two or three days ago to the same question. And that was that the president believes that diplomacy is the way to handle the situation vis-a-vis North Korea, that continues to be pursued with our allies in the region; notably, China, Russia, South Korea and Japan, all of whom have a very important stake in a peaceful outcome of this, all of whom view North Korea's actions as a set back to peaceful dialogue in the region, why they want to pursue peaceful dialogue.

But the United States, of course, has contingency plans and the United States makes certain the contingencies are viable.

QUESTION: So is this another example of diplomacy backed up by the credible threat of force?

FLEISCHER: No, this is an example of the United States pursuing this through a diplomatic means and making certain that we have contingencies that are viable.

QUESTION: Ari, why doesn't Powell share or the U.S. government share the information that Powell presented yesterday with the inspectors?

FLEISCHER: They did.

QUESTION: All of that detail was shared with...

FLEISCHER: That's correct. Yes, Dr. Rice talked about that last night on her interviews.

QUESTION: Is there any plan to take whatever information may not have made it into the presentation and give them access to that in the weeks ahead?

FLEISCHER: Well, clearly, as Secretary Powell said, there's information that we always keep an eye vis-a-vis sources and methods. And I'm not indicating if there is information that was provided to the inspectors beyond what was provided publicly, because we still have an abiding interest in helping the inspectors to do their job.

And so, we work this together as we work with the inspectors. And I think that's one of the reasons that you saw Dr. ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Association say in London this morning that what's next is that there has to be, in Dr. ElBaradei's words, a drastic change in Iraq's behavior.

QUESTION: Can we just go in another direction, though? There was a lot of praise on Capitol Hill yesterday for Powell's presentation, but one of the criticisms that a couple of people talked about was the aftermath. In the event of war, what happens in Iraq afterwards in terms of rebuilding, how we pay for it, who participates in that kind of thing.

The president talked a lot during the campaign about he never wanted to use U.S. troops for, in his words, "nation building." We have troops now in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Bosnia, presumably we would have them in Iraq afterwards. Has the president changed his position about nation building?

FLEISCHER: No, the president continues to believe that the purpose of using the military should be to fight and to win wars.

Our government, broadly speaking, has a variety, however, of agencies that are well-situated, whose mission is to help protect the peace after a war is fought. And by that I mean in the event that there is a war with Iraq, the president has made it very plain in numerous conversations to foreign leaders that immediately upon military action, if it comes to military action, plans are in place to provide humanitarian aid and relief for the people of Iraq. It is a fundamentally important part of having the United States and democracies around the world do their business as liberators, not conquerors.

And what the president refers to is, specifically, the number of food distribution points that are in Iraq that the oil-for-food program has already identified as a means of getting food to the Iraqi people, getting supplies to the Iraqi people, making sure that medical care is provided for the Iraqi people. And I think again this is one reason that the interesting reality of events around the world is often the United States is viewed as the liberator.

QUESTION: So under your plan, how long would U.S. troops be in Iraq if there was war?

FLEISCHER: The president has said for as long as...


FLEISCHER: ... the president has not put a time table on it. The president has made clear that we are committed to the future of a stable Iraq, a unified Iraq, and that would remain if we go to war, the American commitment.

QUESTION: Under your plans for a post-war Iraq, who would administer the food? And who would be the governing authority?

FLEISCHER: The plan would be for a government to emerge both from inside and outside Iraq, and this would be something that we continue to work with groups both inside and outside to develop.

The future of Iraq must be up to the Iraqi people.

QUESTION: That takes a lot. To stand up a government takes...

FLEISCHER: Which is exactly why I indicated that if there is a decision to use military force, the military will remain in place to help provide for a secure military environment, a peaceful environment, so that the civilian apparatus can reemerge.

QUESTION: So while the civilian apparatus remerges, the military administers things. And to follow Helen's very interesting line of questioning, would that include the oil fields?

FLEISCHER: The military would be there to provide for the physical security for as long as that was required to create that atmosphere throughout Iraq so that peace could emerge. And we would work with the civilian authorities both inside and outside during a period of what would be obvious overlap.

QUESTION: So right now the civilian authorities who administered the oil fields for the Iraqi people, which you say you're interested in, is the U.N. oil-for-food organization. It has modalities of contracts and accounts, things like that. Is the administration pledging that the oil fields will continue to be run under that system for the benefit of the Iraqi people as it is now?

FLEISCHER: The future will be administered, as I mentioned, by a number of agencies including international. There are a variety of international relief organizations whose mission is aimed at providing help to people in all kinds of contingencies around the world.

QUESTION: And the U.S. military will have a role?

FLEISCHER: The U.S. military, if there is a war, would be there for the purpose, just like in Afghanistan, of providing the umbrella of security so that any operation would not be followed by any type of fighting, that a secure environment that exists, and it's unclear how long that would be. But the point the president is made is that it will be an abiding American commitment to the unity and the security of Iraq.

QUESTION: President Putin and Chirac agreed today that a diplomatic solution should be found to Iraq. How do you interpret these machinations?

FLEISCHER: Well, I think the president would hope that a diplomatic solution can be found. The question is if Saddam Hussein is not willing to be a partner to a diplomatic solution, does the world sit by and do nothing as Saddam Hussein continues to arm up and develop weapons, which, as we saw from the secretary's presentation yesterday, involves some of the most horrible chemical and biological weapons that mankind could ever imagine.

QUESTION: And is he still undecided about a second resolution?

FLEISCHER: The president is continuing through the secretary of state and through his own efforts to consult with friends and allies around the world about what course should come next, and the consultation process continues.

QUESTION: Ari, you have a week, almost a week now before Hans Blix comes back to the Security Council. Can you tell us more specifically what the White House is going to do in that week to press his case, specifically?

FLEISCHER: Well, I think what comes next is ongoing diplomacy. The president is serious when he talks about the importance of listening to and leading around the world. The opinions of neighbors around the world, as I noted, with the 10 European nations that came out with their powerful statement of support yesterday are important. There are many nations that the president will continue to talk to.

One thing is for certain -- and this is a trend around the world that you saw starting several weeks ago and I think it's a trend that is accelerating with Secretary Powell's presentation -- the world is increasingly seeing this from the United States' point of view, that Saddam Hussein must disarm. If he does not disarm, a coalition will be assembled to disarm him. That is increasingly the point of view of leaders throughout the world. There may be some corners, some minority opinion that do not believe that. But that is why diplomacy remains important and will continue to be pursued.

QUESTION: And what are the ongoing diplomacies? Is the president calling leaders and what is he...

FLEISCHER: Yes. QUESTION: What are you doing in this country, you know, to convince Americans that this is the right course?

FLEISCHER: Obviously, the president addressed many of these issues head on in his State of the Union Address, where the president talked about the risks of letting Saddam Hussein continue to be armed.

Secretary Powell, in his presentation yesterday at the United Nations, was viewed by, obviously, tens of millions of Americans. And the president will continue to speak out. Members of his administration, as Secretary Powell is testifying before the Congress today, will continue to speak out in public about the facts that have been presented.

QUESTION: According to the press reports and the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) officials that credible threats are still there from (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and also in Afghanistan because al Qaedas are coming back from Pakistan to Afghanistan there. Now, as far as this credible threat is concerned, is that in connection in anything to do with Saddam Hussein's connection with al Qaedas or due to this tension between the U.S. and Iraq?

FLEISCHER: Well, even without the situation in Iraq, we have been since September 11, of course, prior to September 11 it's clear that al Qaeda is an organization that is dedicated to striking and hitting the United States anywhere and everywhere it can. And this is one of the reasons we have the new Department of Homeland Security, as you know. And September 11, indeed, brought that home to the American people about how vulnerable we, indeed, are.

And so, the Department of Homeland Security, as well as other agencies of the government continue to monitor the threat environment to determine whether or not the reporting that we get around the world leads to any conclusions or other analysis.

That's why the threat level remains elevated at yellow. It continues to be a concern that people around the world, regardless of what's happening in Iraq -- including what's happening in Iraq, have a desire to strike. That's something Secretary Powell talked about yesterday.

QUESTION: On Sunday the Muslim holiday starts and millions of Muslims (OFF-MIKE). Any message for the Muslims on how we should take this because of the holiday, there might be some more stress.

FLEISCHER: Well, I think it's important to recognize that the Haj, which is a month-long period, is a time when Muslims throughout the world make a pilgrimage to Mecca and to Medina, and it's one of the pillars of the Islamic faith, is to go on this pilgrimage at least once in life. This is a pilgrimage of peace. The Islamic religion is a religion of peace. There are others, however, who represent a minority of a minority of a minority within the Islamic world who subvert Islam's message peace and instead use the name of God as a way to inspire fear and to try to bring attacks to our country and to other countries. This is a time of peace for most Muslims -- for almost all Muslims. Unfortunately, the world has seen that there are some who subvert that message.

QUESTION: How crucial is the report that Hans Blix is going to give to the U.N. going to be on February 14 for deciding how everything unfolds (OFF-MIKE)

FLEISCHER: Well, the importance of Hans Blix's next testimony will be determined by Saddam Hussein. If Saddam Hussein continues to deceive and to deny and to have arms, then it takes on more importance, and that's why this is all about the actions that Saddam Hussein needs to take to come into compliance, as we heard yesterday with the audio tapes that were released. Instead of coming into compliance, Saddam Hussein is doing just the opposite. He is engaging in every bit and level of deception and denial that he can possibly, possibly get away with.

QUESTION: Is there a hope by the White House that Hans Blix will be as candid as possible about the fact that you don't think that Saddam Hussein is complying with the weapons inspection? I mean, how important is what he says to getting the French and others on board?

FLEISCHER: Dr. ElBaradei and Han Blix's jobs are to describe the facts as they find them. That is why they have been sent to Iraq. And the facts as they find them are determined by the actions taken by Saddam Hussein's regime.

BLITZER: Ari Fleischer, the White House press secretary, answering reporters' questions on the showdown with Iraq, making the case that diplomacy is in the immediate future, the next several days, as Dr. Hans Blix and Dr. Mohamed Elbaradei continue their mission to Baghdad. They'll be there this weekend, thereafter on February 14th. Next week, they'll be reporting back to the U.N. Security Council.


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