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White House Press Briefing

Aired March 4, 2003 - 12:46   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Let's listen in to the press briefing.
ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECY.: The president congratulated President Mubarak on the recent conference; wished him well at the upcoming conference. They talked about their shared view that it's important for Saddam Hussein to comply with Resolution 1441 and to disarm.

QUESTION: On peace process, did they talk more specifically on what the road map or what the time frame is?

FLEISCHER: They did not. It was a general discussion about the importance of focusing on this issue, as the president pointed out from his recent speech. He wanted to be sure to bring it to the attention personally of President Mubarak.

QUESTION: Will the enhanced Medicare plan have traditional fee- for-services prescription drug coverage?

FLEISCHER: Under the proposal the president made today, seniors will have more choices and better benefits. The choices available to seniors are whatever seniors want, including traditional fee-for- service, including preferred provider organizations if they so desire, including managed care if they so desire. It will have what seniors want. It'll give seniors the same options that members of Congress have in the private plan available to members of Congress.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) include prescription drug coverage?

FLEISCHER: And under all those plans, seniors will be eligible for prescription drug coverage.

What's notable about the plan is by providing to seniors the exact coverage that members of Congress have, it means that this plan will be available in all 50 states, it'll be available in the most rural areas across America, because members of Congress and their staffs receive the same coverage. That includes, under fee-for- service, prescription drugs.

FLEISCHER: It includes, under a variety of programs, prescription drug coverage, including fee-for-service, which is defined as when you need medical attention, you visit the doctor or the hospital of your choice.

QUESTION: In the call with Mubarak, did the president mention anything about the need for democratic reforms in Egypt?

FLEISCHER: I've given you all the info I've got on the call.

QUESTION: So after the big speech last week where he talked about the importance of democracy, here he's talking to the leader of a very repressive regime in the Arab world and he mentions not a word about the need for democracy?

FLEISCHER: I've given you the information on the call. The president of course makes that point of all his focus. And I think when you take a look through actions of Egypt, what you see is Egypt is a regime that is being very helpful to the United States and being very helpful to Israel and being helpful to the Palestinians. They, after all, are a moderate Arab country that has entered into a peace treaty with Israel, and the president...

QUESTION: So if it serve our interest, democracy for Egyptians doesn't matter?

FLEISCHER: I think that Egypt is a nation that is working its way forward with reforms to the greatest degree that they can. This is something the president has supported. And it is also a state that has entered into a peace treaty with Israel, which serves the world's needs, not America's needs.

QUESTION: All right. Just quickly on timing, does the administration intend to call for a vote at the United Nations, whether or not it looks as if the U.S. has lined up the necessary votes. Will there be a vote on the resolution that the U.S. and the U.K. have tabled...

FLEISCHER: Well, what the president has said is that he believes that a vote was desirable, it is not mandatory. The president has said that we want to move forward, to listen to the Blix report, and then give members the opportunity to say what they think and to act. And so, from the president's point of view, we are consulting with nations around the world, as you know, talking to them about the second vote. The timing of it cannot yet be predicted with certainty. But that's the president's view.


QUESTION: You're backing off.

QUESTION: Yes, that's different from what you said this morning.

FLEISCHER: No, the president has -- I've reiterated what the president has always said. I've reiterated what the president has always said, which is that the vote is desirable. It is not mandatory. We seek a vote. When the president...


You know, I have said to you that the resolution is desirable, not mandatory. The president has on multiple occasions (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and in photo ops that you all have been there, the president has said that it is desirable that we are doing it -- to work with our friends on this issue, that we seek the support on a second vote, and that speaks for itself.

QUESTION: The president said the resolution is desirable, not mandatory. You, from that podium both this morning and last week, said there will be a vote regardless of what the outcome is going to be. Now, if you're going to back off, that's fine, but (UNINTELLIGIBLE) let us know why.

FLEISCHER: Do not interpret this as any change in position. The president has always said, and I reiterated today...


FLEISCHER: No, no, no. Let's work through this. What I am saying to you, as the president has made clear, that the outcome, whether the United Nations votes or does not vote, that we will disarm Saddam Hussein with a coalition of the willing, that depends on the actions that the United Nations takes. We are proceeding with all the plans for the vote. And so I don't see any difference here. We'll continue to consult with our allies and friends, listen to the Blix report, and then members will have their opportunity to be heard.

QUESTION: Last week you said there will be a vote; this morning you said there will be a vote regardless of whether or not -- how it turns out. Do you stand behind those words or are you changing your...

FLEISCHER: My words exactly this morning were that shortly after the Blix report members will have the opportunity to be heard at the Security Council, members will have the opportunity to vote. That's what I said.

QUESTION: You were specifically knocking down a story that if there were not nine votes, the U.S. would not ask for a vote.

FLEISCHER: And I continue to say that story has no basis.

QUESTION: But you can't guarantee there will be a vote at the U.N. You're leaving the option open that if we can't get the support, we'll pull the resolution and go to war.

FLEISCHER: I've said exactly what I've continued to say, the way I've said it, which is...


FLEISCHER: This morning, if you take a look at the transcript of what I said this morning, with certainty, what I said was that shortly after the Blix report members will be given the opportunity to vote.

QUESTION: The U.S. won't do anything to impede a vote even if it appears that there are not the necessary nine votes to pass the resolution?

FLEISCHER: We are proceeding. Now, if you're asking me if all of a sudden support around the world crumbles and there is absolutely no one for it, I can't predict with metaphysical certitude every eventuality, but I'm telling you what the president is doing and how he's focused on it and what the plan is.

QUESTION: Are you willing to offer Turkey a more generous package? And how much time do they have?

FLEISCHER: Well, we continue to talk to Turkey. Turkey is a NATO ally. The particular package that we've been talking to them about was predicated on assistance and cooperation in any plan for the use of force against Iraq. Obviously, it is predicated on that assistance and cooperation. We'll continue to talk to them as we move forward.

QUESTION: Are you willing to increase the amount of the package? Or is that package pretty much the final offer?

FLEISCHER: As I indicated, the particular package that we have talked to them about was predicated on their assistance and cooperation.

QUESTION: One last try on the vote. I asked you this morning will there be a vote without question, and you said yes. And now, you're...

FLEISCHER: You need to read exactly what I said on the transcript. What I said on the transcript, I'll repeat again right now. What I said is that the plan is that shortly after the Blix report members will be given their opportunity to vote.

QUESTION: Well, do we have the transcript?

FLEISCHER: Sure you can have the transcript.

QUESTION: Last week -- I'll check his transcription as well -- but didn't you last week say there will be a vote?

FLEISCHER: You can check the transcript on it, but I've indicated all along that what the president has said is we are continuing to talk to our allies in advance of the second vote, and I see nothing that has changed the president's confidence in the ultimate outcome of the second vote, which is the 18th vote.

QUESTION: Would you consider what the president said yesterday about North Korea in the interview that he, for the first time, mentioned military action explicitly. Is that a ratcheting up of the pressure on North Korea?

FLEISCHER: The president has always said that we leave our options on the tape and that he continues to believe this can be settled diplomatically, but we leave all our options on the table.

That's what the president's always said.

BLITZER: There he, is Ari Fleischer, hearing a convoluted question. We're going to get back to that if there's more news warranted. Ari Fleischer dancing around a sensitive issue whether the Bush administration would go forward and withdraw the U.S./British/Spanish resolution if it didn't have the required nine affirmative votes with a guarantee of no veto by the four other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council. Some confusion precisely what the Bush administration's position would be.

I assume the White House reporters are going to go back and check the transcript to see what precisely Ari Fleischer said this morning, what he said last week, what the president's position would be last week. The Bush administration's position has been they don't think there's a requirement for a second U.N. Security Council Resolution, but they're doing largely to benefit Tony Blair, the British prime minister, who's always wanted such a second resolution.


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