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White House Press Conference

Aired February 14, 2003 - 12:53   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to go to the White House. Ari Fleischer is answering reporters questions. We'll get some White House reaction to what's unfolding at the Security Council.
ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: ... But in the end, the process set forward by the United Nations and all 15 members of the Security Council, unanimously, is aimed at the disarmament of Saddam Hussein. No where did the world receive any comfort today in New York that Saddam Hussein has shown the inspectors that he is disarmed. Quite the contrary.

QUESTION: OK. What's the evidence that's an over-dramatization? I mean, you heard from the allies, including those who have the ability to veto a second resolution, that they don't support a timetable put forth by the United States and this administration that they want to see inspections continue. The administration disagrees with that. I mean, does the president not sense that there is a groundswell of opposition against the diplomacy that we're engaged in? And if so, what's he going to do about it?

FLEISCHER: I think you heard the same thing from the same leaders that you've been hearing in terms of timetable. But what remains important is the fundamental facing of the fact and considering especially the two new pieces of evidence that Hans Blix brought forward this morning, about whether or not Saddam Hussein has disarmed.

QUESTION: Just one more on this. Did Hans Blix disappoint the president in his presentation? Did he think that Dr. Blix, perhaps, understated the lack of Iraqi noncompliance, in the president's view?

FLEISCHER: No, I think the report from Hans Blix this morning was, you know, very diplomatic with its bottom line being that the world has no confidence that Saddam Hussein has disarmed, and that's what this is about. As Secretary Powell just indicated, this is not about whether U-2s fly, this is not about whether Mirages fly. This is about whether Saddam Hussein's claim that he's disarmed is itself a mirage.

QUESTION: Ari, what does the president want the Security Council to do now? Does he want another resolution specifically authorizing force or is he willing to settle for something watered down that everybody can agree on?

FLEISCHER: Well, the president wants the world to study carefully what Mr. Blix said. There are important things that Mr. Blix revealed to the world this morning, that the United Nations Security Council has to consider, the members of the Security Council have to consider.

And I think it's likely that they will.

QUESTION: Is he not -- or is Secretary Powell not going to come forward at some point with a resolution asking for specific authority to use force?

FLEISCHER: No, the president has made it clear that the United States would welcome a second resolution from the Security Council.

QUESTION: Authorizing force?

FLEISCHER: Well, the exact words, I think, will be discussed. But already, the United Nations Security Council has said that if Iraq fails to comply with Security Council Resolution 1441 which ordered Iraq to fully and immediately disarm, there would be serious consequences.

QUESTION: Can I just ask one more -- specific reply to something the French foreign minister said, "No one can assert today the path of war will be shorter than the path of inspections." Are you persuaded that the path of war would lead to quicker disarmament of Iraq than further inspections?

FLEISCHER: Given the fact that it's taken more than 12 years for Saddam Hussein to disarm, there's no question that if forced is used it will achieve the objective of preserving the peace far faster than the current path that we're on.

QUESTION: When will you expect the U.S. to submit a resolution to the U.N. for action for authorizing the use of military force? Does Blix's statement today change the timing in the U.S. view?

FLEISCHER: As for Mr. Blix's statement today, I think it's worth analyzing exactly what he said, which is what the fundamental issue comes down to again. If you accept the premise that it's not about the process matters or whether the U-2 flies or anything else. It's about whether Saddam Hussein disarms.

Examine carefully Mr. Blix's own words. Mr. Blix reported to the world today that the issues of anthrax, nerve agent, VX and long-range missiles deserve to be taken seriously by Iraq rather than brushed aside. Those are Mr. Blix's words about weapons that kill. Then he added in a crucial sentence, "It is not the task of the inspectors to find it." It is the task of Iraq to provide it.

Mr. Blix continued -- and this is his words when he said it is not the task of the inspectors to find it, which is a telling statement -- he continues, for the first time saying this publicly, "The two declared variants of the Al-Samud II missile were capable of exceeding 150 kilometers in range, the missile is therefore proscribed." He continues, "Iraq has declared that it has reconstituted the chambers necessary to build these missiles. These experts have confirmed that the reconstituted casting chambers could still be used to produce motors for missiles capable of ranges significantly greater than 150 kilometers, accordingly these chambers remain proscribed."

The third item that he said is proscribed are 380 -- 380 -- SA-2 missiles engines, which also are proscribed.

FLEISCHER: If they're proscribed, you can ask what comes next. Under United Nations Security Council Resolution 687, which ended the Persian Gulf War, it's clear what comes next. I'm reading from 687. "Iraq shall unconditionally accept the destruction, removal or rendering harmless of all ballistic missiles with a range of greater than 150 kilometers and all related major parts and repair and production facilities."

So when you listen to Mr. Blix this morning describe the very fact that the weapons that kill are one proven to be in the hands of Iraq in a proscribed manner, and the weapons of mass destruction that kill even more -- the anthrax, the nerve agent, the VX -- are unaccounted for. The world still has great cause for concern about Saddam Hussein possessing weapons. That's what came out of New York today.

QUESTION: Then what's the timing on submitting a resolution, days?

FLEISCHER: The timing will be something the United States in concert with our allies will determine. I think it's too soon to say at this point. I think what typically happens after presentations of this importance are made to the Security Council is, the member-states take time to study them, to absorb them, to think about what it means that now we have three categories of missiles that are proscribed, that Iraq has not accounted for the VX, the nerve agents and this new sentence: It is not the task of the inspectors to find it.

QUESTION: Can you shed any light on the new evidence that the secretary made reference to in his remarks, new evidence that he'll be presenting to the U.N. about Iraqi noncompliance?

FLEISCHER: Well, Iraqi noncompliance remains an ongoing matter. And I think Mr. Blix alluded to it.

I don't think it is a small statement for the head of inspections to say it is not the inspectors task to find the weapons. Which brings you right back to the central problem the world has faced for 12 years, and that is, Saddam Hussein has built up a massive -- massive -- apparatus to hide the weapons he has.

QUESTION: The inspectors, however, have identified and located these proscribed missiles. Is the United States, is the administration now demanding the destruction of these missiles, and will that be a substantive step forward?

FLEISCHER: What is important is, the world is watching the United Nations. The United Nations is charged with enforcing Resolution 1441, which called for the full and immediate compliance by Iraq of disarmament, and said there would be serious consequences if there is not. And Resolution 687, which ended the Gulf War on April 3, 1991, set out the path for proscribed material.

QUESTION: So the missiles are proscribed, should they be destroyed?

FLEISCHER: All you need to do is read Resolution 687, which the United States voted for, which lays out the path of what comes next.

QUESTION: So that's a yes.

FLEISCHER: Resolution 687, which the United States voted for, states that these missiles shall be destroyed, removed or rendered harmless. This remains a next important test.

QUESTION: The next important test. So if Iraq meets this test that would be a substantive step forward in actual, factual disarmament on the ground if they destroyed 380 missiles.

FLEISCHER: Let me raise another issue that is related to this because the threat to the world doesn't only come from these missiles, which Hans Blix cited this morning in his remarks, the threat to the world comes from what Hans Blix said the world has no confidence that Saddam Hussein has destroyed, which is what UNSCOM found in the late 1990s in regard to the VX, regard to the botulin, in regard to the chemical munition warheads.

This morning, if you can believe it, Iraq has said in act that sounds like a democracy that they will pass a law banning possession of weapons of mass destruction. This comes 12 years late and 26,000 liters of anthrax short, 12 years late and 38,000 liters of botulin short, 12 years late and 30,000 unfailed chemical munitions short. It's not just about one weapons system that Iraq posses to wreak havoc and to kill the people in the neighborhood, including Americans, including our allies and including risks (ph) that could be transferred to terrorists.

FLEISCHER: It's not just one system.

QUESTION: The argument that will be put, however, based on today's conclusion by Dr. Blix is that this is the way inspections work -- one system, one program, one threat at a time, perhaps, and here the inspectors have identified and declared a proscribed system; 687, as you point out, calls for its destruction. Should that happen, you know that allies will say, "Bingo, it's working."

FLEISCHER: It's not the way inspections work. The way inspections work, is as Hans Blix said, it's not the job of the inspectors to find it, it's the job of Iraq to show it and to destroy it. And it's also the job of Iraq to comply with something that was full and immediate. This is three months. It's neither full nor immediate.

QUESTION: The president spoke with President Musharraf this morning. Can you count on Pakistan's support for any new resolution?

FLEISCHER: Well, it would not be my place to predict votes of sovereign nations. But, again, the president has expressed his belief that in the end, even with statements that we have heard today from our allies, in the end, the president is confident that the United Nations will be a relevant organization dedicated to fighting proliferation and not an organization that fights proliferation on paper only while tyrants develop weapons that they can use.

QUESTION: Are you reaching out to other undecided countries like Mexico? And are you at the point of counting votes...

FLEISCHER: Well, sure, I think, as you know, the president has been making many phone calls around to members of the United Nations Security Council, and that will continue.

QUESTION: For the last couple of days, the Democrats on Capitol Hill have been reiterating their argument that the administration has been unwilling to provide enough money for domestic security.

Yesterday, you characterized their comments as partisan sniping. Is the president prepared to reassure the American people that local, state, federal government agencies are getting every dollar they need to protect them? And is it partisan sniping to raise concerns about this, given the fear that everybody in the country has right now?

FLEISCHER: Well, I would put it to you this way. The funding levels that Congress has passed are doing more and are providing additional resources, but not enough and not the right way.

And if you take a look at the legislation that was passed very late and the result of the appropriation process that broke down last fall, that now was concluded yesterday, you'll see that the president's request for $3.5 billion in aid for homeland security has been reduced to $1.3 billion in aid for homeland security, with the remaining money basically earmarked for individual projects in various states that funds important programs such as drug courts, but are not part of the war on terrorism.

And so, the president will continue to work with Congress on providing the right amount of funding that can be used by states and municipalities in the right way to help provide everybody in state and local governments the tools they need to do their jobs.

This has been a very lengthy process. It's been a broken process in terms of the last year's appropriation bill. It's so late in the process that it's an imperfect bill. Nevertheless, given the time period that we're in, it will be signed by the president, but the president would like Congress to do more to help provide funding to fight homeland security, or protect homeland security, and to fight terrorism, and that's contained in his 2004 budget as well.

QUESTION: Are you saying then that he would support more money including...

FLEISCHER: His 2004 budget provides increased money. QUESTION: Osama bin Laden has basically called on other Muslims, or Muslims within Arab countries to take up arms against the governments that support the United States, if we go into a war with Iraq.

QUESTION: What are we doing to assure the Arab League that we are going to support them and to alleviate some of their concerns?

FLEISCHER: Correct. In the audio tape that was released apparently by Osama bin Laden, he did call for the overthrow of governments in Yemen and Saudi Arabia, a variety of places. Interesting, he left Iraq off that list, despite him calling them a secular regime.

But nevertheless, the United States has been working long and hard in close concert with our allies around the world in the war on terrorism through intelligence-sharing, through cooperation, through the number of arrests that you have seen. There have been attacks that have been averted as a result of this intelligence-sharing. But it remains a reminder of the worldwide threat that people around the world face from terrorism.

QUESTION: But any specific outreach to the Arab League nations?

FLEISCHER: Oh, absolutely. Sure. We work very closely with Saudi Arabia. We work closely with Yemen. Work closely with a number of the nations that have been targeted by terrorists.

QUESTION: Ari, Hans Blix said today that if the goal is disarmament, Resolution 1441, that it would not take a lot of time, but if the goal is monitoring, that it could require more time. Does the administration believe there's any merit or any legitimacy in the goal of monitoring Saddam Hussein for the sake of peace, for the sake of preventing Americans' loss of life or innocent Iraqis' loss of life?

FLEISCHER: 1441, which guides the actions of the United Nations, including the United States, was crystal clear. The result was disarmament.

And as Senator McCain pointed out yesterday, containment with somebody like Saddam Hussein is not an option. It does not work. And that's why 1441 spoke as strongly as it did on what the end goal is, and that is disarmament.

And what you referred to is notable. And the very last thing that Mr. Blix reported in New York today, he indicated that if Iraq had provided cooperation in 1991, disarmament would have taken place in the previous decade. But he has not provided that cooperation, and therefore, as he put it earlier in his testimony today, it's not the job of the inspectors to find it. It remains the job of Saddam Hussein to show that he has either destroyed it or to turn it over so it can be destroyed. And the world has found no comfort that those steps have been taken.


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