White House Briefing by Ari Fleischer October 10
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 10, 2002
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:53 P.M. EDT
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. I'd like to begin with two announcements. One, the President appreciates the strong showing of support in the House and the Senate that is shaping up for what appears to be the final votes on the resolution to authorize the use of force against Iraq. The President hopes that this vote will send a strong message to Iraq and to the world that if Iraq does not comply with the United Nations resolutions, the United States and her allies are prepared to use force to make certain that Iraq does comply, so that the peace can be kept.
In addition, as Congress gets ready to adjourn, the President has repeatedly urged the Senate to complete its work on the department of homeland security. We continue to work hard to make that happen. In the event it does not, the homeland security legislation currently carries the legislation required to create a commission to look into what took place on September 11th. The President thinks it is so important that Congress create this commission, that if they are not able to work on homeland security, the President hopes they will find another way to pass the commission and send it to him before they leave.
We have been working very closely with Senator Lieberman and McCain and other members on the commission. Great progress has been made and we are very close to reaching an agreement on it. We look forward to hearing back from the Senate about the offer that has been sent up to the Senate on this important matter. The President thinks it would be a great disappointment to the families and to the nation if the Congress left without creating the commission on September 11th.
Q If the President gets the same kind of a vote from the Senate, does he feel that he can immediately or at any point have a free hand to go to war?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, under the Constitution, Helen, the President, of course, does have the authority --
Q -- or even with or without allies.
MR. FLEISCHER: Under the Constitution, the President does have the authority as Commander-in-Chief to make those determinations. The President has asked -- said he would ask the Congress to weigh in on this matter, and the Congress is doing so and doing it today. And the President thinks that will be very helpful in keeping the peace. The President has made no decisions about what the next step will be. Clearly, we will continue to talk to the United Nations about the inspection process, and that's where the matter currently stands.
Q But he would never go back to Congress again for another go-ahead? I mean, he considers this the green light?
MR. FLEISCHER: The Congress is speaking today about authorization of the use of force. Today's vote by the Congress is an important vote.
Q Ari, on that commission you just mentioned, is the President supportive of the idea that the intelligence agencies, intelligence community would also fall under the review of that commission?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, the commission would have a broad range of issues to look into and intelligence would be included, of course. They would build upon what was already done, but it would include intelligence, just as the President said when he wrote to the Congress about this matter a couple of weeks ago. Beyond intelligence, it would also include issues dealing with aviation matters, border matters, things of that nature.
Q So you're not putting anything off-limits to this commission.
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the scope would be broad-range.
Q On Iraq, the Iraqi government is taking reporters around to al Furat manufacturing facility and the Nassr engineering facility. These were mentioned obliquely by the President Monday night, the White House released satellite photographs of them, and the Iraqis I guess are taking reporters around to show that everything is hunky-dory there. You got any reaction to that?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that reporters are seeing the same cat and mouse games get played with themselves, and they walk away scratching their heads, wondering what it is they just saw and what was concealed. I think Iraq has shown a 10-year-long history of being able to take guests into Iraq, having moved facilities around, having mobile facilities available, hiding information, allowing things to be seen that only they want to be seen. And so it's very hard, I think, for anybody, unless they are a real independent expert with the proper equipment, to walk into a facility and have a clear understanding of what it is that is either taking place there, used to take there, or may be taking place on another side of a wall through which they cannot see.
Q Ari, it's clear from the satellite photos that the White House provided to us on Monday that there has been new construction at those two facilities. But do you have any way of legitimately knowing what's inside those buildings?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the best way to know what is inside those buildings is either through intelligence, which I will not discuss, or through the return of inspectors, who have the authority to go into those buildings any time, anyplace, anywhere, with any equipment and get their job done.
But your assessment is accurate. The photos that were released showed the rebuilding of a building. People can make their own interpretations about what's going on inside those buildings, but the point is that facilities that were associated with these weapons of mass destruction that we knew were used for the purpose of creation of weapons of mass destruction have been destroyed and then these same facilities rebuilt. The best way to know what's going on is through the other two means I said.
Q But to your point that Iraq is paying a cat and mouse game with reporters, you really don't have any legitimate idea what's in that building, so you can't really say that they're playing a cat and mouse game, can you?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think if you want to take Saddam Hussein's word for it, people are free to do that. And his word hasn't proven very good.
Q Ari, the President in Cincinnati said that if he makes a decision to go to war, that he would, in the aftermath, support a unified Iraq, which is a significant statement. So what evidence can the administration point to now that there is a viable alternative to Saddam Hussein, an opposition that is capable of leading in his absence? Especially given the fact that Americans have a lot of information to chew on about the Northern Alliance as a viable alternative to the Taliban prior to that --
MR. FLEISCHER: It's a very interesting question, and I think the easiest way to express it, David, is the President has a universal faith in mankind that mankind does not want to be governed by despots, that people are capable of self-government around the world. That's particularly true in an educated, relatively advanced nation like Iraq. No people choose to have a leader who engages in the type of dictatorial, despotic, tyrannical types of actions that Saddam Hussein has taken.
Another way to say it is when Saddam Hussein has been such a brutal dictator, he has no shortage of people who would like to see him gone, and who could do a much better job governing once he is gone. More specifically then, we will continue, the United States government will continue to work with people both inside and outside Iraq who have an interest in advancing the cause of government that is representative of the people. I don't think anybody thinks that Saddam Hussein is representative of the Iraqi people.
Q But -- okay, well, tell us about that. What are we doing? Don't the American people have the right to chew over what the alternatives are here, and know what the government is doing to pave the way toward dealing with the aftermath of invasion, should it come to that?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't think -- it's impossible to predict with certainty what type of government would replace Saddam Hussein. It's fair to say that whatever it is, it will be an improvement. Whatever it is, it will also represent what the President has said about a government that represents the people. And that's why there are various groups, both inside and outside Iraq, who are dedicated to that.
Q Well, what right do you have to say --
Q What are we doing? What are we doing to work with these groups to support them?
MR. FLEISCHER: Through the -- okay, through the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act funds were made available to work with Iraqi opposition groups. They've been having gatherings to discuss types of government that could possibly replace Saddam Hussein. There's not unanimity within those groups about how to proceed, but --
Q But you still don't have any evidence to present to the public that there is a viable alternative as we stand here today?
MR. FLEISCHER: If you're suggesting that because there is no known immediate successor to Saddam Hussein, that until one can be known, Saddam Hussein is a risk that should be left in place, the President does not agree with that approach.
Q Obviously, I didn't say that. But what I'm asking you is, do you have anything beyond faith in mankind to tell people that the government is preparing to pave the way toward an alternative leadership?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's the issues I mentioned. And also, I think that it's fair to say if you look at Afghanistan as a model -- and this is where the -- faith in mankind, don't misinterpret what I'm saying here, this is something that we hold dearly as Americans, the universal value that be believe is God-given for people to be free, for people to have a government that represents themselves, not a government that controls, not a government that is dominant over them. That is a powerful force throughout the world. That is a force for freedom and that is a force for good government.
Saddam Hussein has used his powers in a ruthless manner to oppress the people of Iraq. And as I said, the President will continue to work through, and the United States will continue to work through these groups. And Afghanistan has shown that when despots are thrown out, there are a great many good people who would like to take their place and who can make for a better day for the people of that country. That is the case with President Karzai of Afghanistan and many other people who participate in the loya jirga there.
Q Can I just ask --
MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, go ahead.
Q -- on the record here, are you then putting the administration behind a commitment that should regime change happen in Iraq, the United States will commit to a democracy in Iraq? Not support a strong man, not support some kind of interim general, but that the United States will commit to trying to establish a democracy in Iraq.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think if you look at the history of the United States, and President Bush is dedicated to this, the fact of the matter is that after a military operation, the United States has been a marvelous, wonderful force for democracy around the world. That is the case with Japan, that is the case with Germany, that was the case with Afghanistan. And while not everything can immediately and fully move to democracies around the world, and we understand that, the United States has been a wonderful, powerful force pushing toward democracy around the world. Central and Latin America are the most recent, now 10-year-long examples of that trend around the world, with the help of the United States.
Q After a many-decade history where we were not supporting democracy in that part --
MR. FLEISCHER: You can take that up with many decades ago. But the point remains the same, and what I said is a government that represents the people, and the President will continue to push for the direction of a government that represents the people.
Q Ari, would you expect the votes today in the House will serve to provide some momentum in any way to the developments within the U.N. and the efforts to get a resolution there?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President hopes so. The President thinks that there is a good possibility that Congress, having spoken and spoken strongly, the American people coming together, and our nation speaking in one voice, will send a signal to the United Nations and United Nations Security Council that President Bush and our people are united in the belief that a strong resolution is the most effective way to keep the peace, and that the United States and her allies are prepared to take action if the United Nations will not.
Q And today, what is he doing today, specifically on Iraq? He spoke with Chirac yesterday. Is he going to reach out to any other --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, he's been watching -- he's monitoring the vote and keeping informed about the vote, and we look forward to the conclusions of the vote. And I'll keep you filled in if there will be any additions to the President's schedule later on. We're looking at the timing of what's happening in both the House and the Senate. It remains unclear I think even to the people who will do the voting, particularly in the Senate, about what time their vote may take place.
Q Ari, now that the President is sure to get what could be called a mandate from both Houses on the Iraq situation, does he have a timetable for the U.N. to issue a new resolution? Or is he just willing to wait until they come around? Or does he have a time frame?
MR. FLEISCHER: The timetable is exactly as the President said on September 12th in his speech to the United Nations. The President said -- he urged the United Nations to act in a matter of days and weeks, not months. Clearly, now, it's been a matter of some weeks. It is not yet a matter of months. So it still was in the timetable that the President originally established.
Q And a second question, Ari. You keep referring to the United States and its allies --
MR. FLEISCHER: Correct.
Q -- will use force. Well, as far as we hear, allies -- I guess the United Kingdom is one ally, but do you mean, by "allies" and "force", do you mean permission for overflights, refueling, use of bases, or storing weapons? What do you mean -- military help?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it can be all of the above. The President has said in many of his public events that the United States and a coalition of allies will act if the United Nations does not act.
And this is why I've made the point before that this notion of somehow the United States would do something unilateral is just as wrong as wrong can be. The only question is will the multilateral action come thanks to the United Nations, or will the multilateral action come as a result of a large coalition that the United States will assemble because the United Nations failed to act? The President hopes that will not be the case, but he is prepared if that is the case.
Q Ari, how did the President react to Senator Daschle's statement of support on the floor of the Senate this morning?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President appreciates Senator Daschle's decision to vote with the President on this matter.
Q Have they spoken today, or since Senator Daschle's previous --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll have to go back and ask the President. I don't know if they've spoken today or not.
Q On the audio tape of Ayman Zawahiri, how concerned is the administration? Do they see the threats as being credible when he says that there will be future attacks against the United States? And is so, is it cause for perhaps raising the threat level? Has it come to that point?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the FBI last night did issue a notice to law enforcement communities around the country that as a result of that audio tape and other information that it was important for local jurisdictions and authorities to review their plans, to make certain that all precautions have been taken. The possibility is still, unfortunately, with us, that there are terrorists -- al Qaeda terrorists -- who, seeking to regroup, still want to bring harm to the United States and to our interests abroad. So it is a source of concern. And that's why the FBI acted.
The alert level remains at its current elevated level. No changes have been made to it. We continue to review that every day, but within the current alert status, notices went out to people to say, we have this information, we do take it seriously, and you need to review your plans.
Q And on Pakistan's elections, Musharraf calling it a historical juncture today, but Human Rights Watch out of Asia calling it a consolidation of military power, not really a move towards democracy. Also, an independent human rights commission out of Pakistan saying that this was engineered to show the results basically favoring Musharraf. How confident is the administration in the credibility of that process?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we're going to continue to watch the process very closely. We are committed to remaining engaged with Pakistan throughout this transition to democracy. In New York, when President Bush met with President Musharraf, he stressed the importance of adhering to democracy in Pakistan. It is important and the United States takes it seriously and will monitor it closely. We welcome the holding of the multi-party national and provincial elections in Pakistan today. This is an important milestone in Pakistan's ongoing transition to democracy. And we welcome President Musharraf's assurance to the people of Pakistan today that he intends to hand over executive powers to the new Prime Minister by early next month.
Q Ari, if I can just go back to your statement just a moment ago that the President would act not unilaterally, but with a coalition; the only question is, does the coalition have U.N. endorsement or not. If that's the President's position, does the exact wording of that U.N. endorsement become less important? In other words, do you necessarily need "all necessary means" or something, if he's committed that he can -- he's going to act to enforce it, basically no matter what the U.N. -- final U.N. resolution says?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President went to the United Nations because the President thinks it's important for the United Nations to have a role in keeping peace around the world. That's why he went. He didn't have to go. He made the judgment and the decision that it was important for the U.N. that an American President go there and remind the U.N. about the resolutions that it passed, and the fact that Saddam Hussein has violated them with impunity, and raised the question to the U.N., what do you intend to do about it. And he hopes that the U.N. will not leave that question unanswered.
That's why he chose to go. But the President is also saying that if he decides to take any further action, it's clear now that it would not be unilateral, it will be with a coalition. And the only question is, does the U.N. play a role on that coalition.
Now, on the language that is currently being discussed at the United Nations, what's important, David -- and the President has stressed this in his conversations with world leaders, and this is what our diplomats are focusing on in their negotiations -- the resolution must describe that there will be consequences if Iraq fails to act. It must be, the resolution must include that. And the reason for the President saying that and thinking it's so important is because if it's not in there, then Saddam Hussein is free to play his games once again. And the President thinks the best way to keep the peace is for Saddam Hussein to understand that the world this time is serious.
Within that, there is room for diplomacy about how to exactly phrase what those consequences are, and that's what the diplomats are currently working on, the exact phraseology of it. I'm not -- to get specifically now to your very question, I'm not going to negotiate that in public, what the exact words could or could not be. Don't take that as a reading that something may be in or out; obviously, that's something the diplomats will do and do in private.
Q I'm sorry, if you say that it must describe there will be consequences, is it sufficient to say there will be consequences? Or in the President's mind, does the resolution have to describe exactly what those consequences would be?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President thinks the more clearly the consequences are stated, and the more -- and the stronger they are, the better the chance of keeping the peace, because Saddam Hussein will know that this time the world is serious.
Q Ari, can you talk to us about the President's plans over the next few weeks to campaign for Republicans, and how this reflects his priorities over that period?
MR. FLEISCHER: Sure. Between now and the election, the President will have several items on his travel agenda. This will include traveling around the country to support candidates who support his agenda. Obviously, with the Congress as closely divided as it is -- a Congress that has failed to act on a great many priorities for the American people, including helping the economy to recover and grow by creating jobs, passage of homeland security -- every vote in the Congress counts. And so he will spend some time on the road working to build support for candidates who share his vision.
He also has, of course, a summit with the President of China coming up at his ranch in Crawford. He will travel to Mexico, where he'll take part in the APEC Summit of leaders from the Pacific Ocean countries, including leaders from Japan and China, again, and Russia, as well as Mexico and Canada and other nations. So the President will have quite a bit of business to conduct between now and the election. He'll conduct much of it on the road.
Q But you're not minimizing the fact that he's going to be pretty much solidly campaigning for his party's candidates for the last couple weeks running up to the election?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think I just described to you what the President's agenda is. It consists of travel on behalf of candidates across the country, a summit meeting with the President of China, an international meeting outside the country in Mexico and, of course, other business.
Q Is that the proper thing for him to be doing when he's trying to prepare the nation for war?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think, particularly -- let me put it to you this way. In all times, whether our nation is at war or our nation is at peace, what makes us strong is our democratic process. And everybody, in both parties, should proudly stand up and participate in our democratic process.
Q So when's he having a news conference?
Q The FISA court chastised the FBI for misrepresenting a lot of what they're doing with wiretaps, et cetera. There were 75 occurrences. Now there is a memo that has been -- is in Congress. And the question is, the President meets with the FBI pretty much every day; has he decided to take an active interest in this, or is he going to take an active interest in some of the over-reaches of the FBI?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has made it clear, and he believes the FBI is doing this, about the importance of doing two things and doing the well. One is protecting the American people from the risks that we face from terrorists who would use our open system to come here and bring harm to people, and, secondly, to do it within the Constitution, because it is the Constitution, after all, that fundamentally gives us our greatest protections. And that is the challenge that law enforcement faces at all times. And the President is confident the FBI is doing it well.
Q Somewhat off of Suzanne's question, as America is preparing for war overseas, how does the White House propose to keep peace and a prevention of war here as there are threats from Saddam Hussein, if there is an invasion there? Can we wage war here? Are we going through homeland security, first responders, local law enforcement? Are we going through military and first responders? What -- and what should America do to prepare for this?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, there is, unfortunately, some recent history to this issue. And if you go back to 1991 and then go back to 2001 when there has been military conflict that the United States has been involved in, there were talk about potential consequences at home and, fortunately, nothing materialized. That's as a result of the strong military actions that we took, helped negate any possibility of any operations to harm the American people here and abroad, our buttoning up of embassies that takes place, other acts of protection that we engage in.
The office -- the Department of Homeland Security has been working very closely with local governments and first responders to continue to harden up America's infrastructure, particularly the critical infrastructure. And those efforts are continuing.
But it is another remind to Congress, Iraq separate and apart, that Congress must pass legislation to create a department of homeland security so we can take every step possible to protect the country. The various agencies are doing a good job of doing it where they are, but the President thinks it can be done better. And that's why he wants the department.
Q But, Ari -- but after 9/11 we've had -- the 9/11 attacks we've had anthrax, the shooter outside of Washington. You've got a lot of things going on. How can the average American, let's hit and bring it home, protect themselves if something were to happen? How would they go against situations that could happen? I mean, what are we talking about?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you're speaking very hypothetically about protect. And the point I was making is through the first responders and through the communities that we have, whose whole job it is to be paid to protect the population, they are working through the first responders -- local police, local firemen. They have plans that they work on as a matter of increasing routine to train and prepare for any eventualities.
But again, I just want to remind you to keep this in perspective. We have heard previously about if the United States engages in military action, the likelihood would increase about threats to people here in the United States. That did not turn out to be the case in either 1991 or 2001. But we are concerned. The risks remain. And, for example, just last night the FBI put out the notice to law enforcement. But the message is, really, the American people have hired the law enforcement community to worry about these issues. And the law enforcement community is working very hard on those matters.
Q On the subject of the 9/11 commission, Senator Lieberman and some others on the Hill say that talks with the White House on that issue have broken down completely as a result of an ultimatum that the White House issued regarding several points of contention in the legislation. In particular, the White House demand that the commission sunset after one year; also a dispute over how many members of the commission the White House would be able to appoint. Could you respond to that?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the talks have been going very well. We have an offer up to the Hill now. We're waiting to hear back from the Hill and we hope that this matter can be brought to fruition. There's no reason that it can't. This issue, the President thinks, is too important for Congress not to get it done. And we're working hard to work with the Congress on it. And we expect that we -- there's no reason that it should be not be successful.
Q Is the White House demanding that the commission sunset after one year, go out of business?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I'm not going to get into any of the public provisions and negotiate those publicly. I specifically am not aware of every detail that is being reviewed in it. But it's not surprising that at the end of a negotiation things like the membership on the commission, things of that nature -- one of the -- always, every time I've been involved in any commission legislation in the Congress, one of the most difficult issues is always the composition and membership of commissions. You have a lot of people who want to be on commissions. You have a lot of people who want to make the appointments to commissions. You have important balancing, to make sure the commission is representative and doesn't tilt toward any one party or another. These typically do become last-minute, difficult issues to be worked through on commissions. The point is none of this should stop the commission from coming into being.
Q Is it true that the White House issued a take-it-or-leave-it ultimatum to the senators to --
MR. FLEISCHER: No. This is a two-way street, and we continue to travel it, and it's important to travel it together.
Q So you didn't issue an ultimatum saying agree to this by this afternoon or it's over?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I have not heard anything about that, Ken, so I can't say that we have. I haven't heard that, I don't believe that's the case.
Q Although it appears the President plans to be campaigning on the idea that homeland security has not been addressed, Senator Daschle has indicated he wants to stay in town until that and defense appropriations and other matters are passed. In addition today, he announced a four-point plan on the economy, which includes extending unemployment insurance, providing assistance to states, in addition, holding an economic summit that has a variety of opinions, not just those that are in support of the President's agenda. And lastly, his fourth point was to get rid of the White House economic team and clean house. And I just wondered if you have a response to that.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think the final point makes clear that this is
not a substantive proposal by Senator Daschle. This is just more political posturing at a time when the American people don't want anybody pointing fingers; they want help to get the economy going.
But you know, it does seem odd to make all these proposals as Congress is walking out the door. Why didn't these things get done earlier in the year? Where was -- the economic packages passed earlier? This is a Senate that hasn't even passed a budget. So it seems a little late to start talking about economic issues that the Senate wants to do, when they fail to act on the ones they have before them right now, and have had for a year.
Q And also, in light of the assault -- the high-powered rifle assaults that are occurring in the Washington area right now, does the White House have any position on establishing a national ballistic fingerprint system that would require gun manufacturers to provide authorities with spent shell casings that could track or trace the original gun owner?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me take a look at that. I'm just not aware at that level of specificity.
Q You mentioned the summit with the Chinese leader. Can you comment at all on what the President's expecting out of that meeting?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll have more for you a little closer to it. The meeting is some two weeks away. But the President looks forward to talking about the status of U.S.-China relations, trade between the United States and China, as a very important matter that has been very helpful to the American economy. Depending on the international situation, we'll see what is discussed vis a vis Iraq. I think there could be a great many matters that are discussed at that meeting. The President often, when he talks to leaders of China, too, talks about the importance of religious freedom. That's also a topic that could possibly come up. We'll see.
Q Thank you. On another topic, tomorrow there's going to be a very large Christian Coalition pro-Israeli rally. Does the White House plan to participate or send any message to them?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's the first I've heard about it, so I don't know. I'll take a look into it.
Q If you can come back --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll be sure to look out the window.
Q A moment ago you praised Senator Daschle's speech on the floor, but just after he came off the floor he told reporters that he was not confident that the administration would not view the Iraq resolution as an absolute green light. Now, if there can be degrees of a green light, is there anything you could say to him to suggest that his concerns are unfounded?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not sure what that means, about shades of green lights. The fact of the matter is, the United States Congress will have spoken rather emphatically today to authorize the use of force against Iraq if the Commander-in-Chief decides that that is a step that needs to be taken to protect the country and to preserve the peace. So Congress is expressing its opinions today, and the President appreciated the Senator's vote.
Q Would you consider it an absolute green light?
MR. FLEISCHER: As I said earlier, in a question earlier, the President, under the Constitution, has the authority, as Commander-in-Chief, to exercise military options if he deems it's necessary. Today the Congress, on behalf of the people, will also speak and will send a very powerful message around the world that the Congress agrees with the President and is passing a resolution to authorize the use of force.
Q Ari, several of the Democrats who supported this resolution have stressed that they're not comfortable with it because there are a number of outstanding questions. Gephardt said last week, we're all looking through a glass darkly. Daschle today listed five questions that he has outstanding. I'm wondering, how does the President assess the quality of the debate that's been on the Hill this week? And does he think the White House bears any responsibility for unanswered questions at this point, or does he think that's sort of the nature of the subject matter?
MR. FLEISCHER: It clearly is the nature of the subject matter. It's impossible for everybody to know every answer. I think before World War II people could have made the same case, how can we know the answer to every question being asked. What the President thinks it's very, very healthy for the nation is that people are asking these questions. It's the right thing to do, they ask the questions. But at the end of the day, the questions are answered to the greatest degree possible based on all information available, and then the voting begins, and the people's representatives speak. And that's what's happening today.
And the President thinks this is part of a great democracy that has served our country very well for 225 years, because the executive and the legislature address each other and work together, especially at times like this. Listen, not a lot is happening in this Congress, not a lot is getting passed. But today the Congress is speaking with one voice in support of the President. And the President thinks that sends a powerful message around the world.
Q Can I follow and ask you on trade promotion authority, a very important vote for the President. He worked the phones very hard. Several of his senior aides worked the phones. I'm wondering, A, whether that's happened I this case, and B, whether the President is planning some sort of ceremony where he brings in supporters to mark the passage of these resolutions.
MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated earlier, we're observing the timing of the votes in both the House and the Senate. And if we have any additions to the schedule, we will keep you apprised.
This vote is not like the trade promotion authority vote. There -- early on, as you know, the President brought many members of the Congress down to meet with him here at the White House, and I think that the President's message, the President's leadership, and the President's strength have helped create an environment where members of Congress agreed with the arguments the President was making, and that's showing up in the votes they are casting. And the President appreciates that.
Typically where Presidents work the phones and get involved in the last-minute lobbying is when a vote like trade promotion authority would be a razor-thin margin. That's not the case here. But the President has repeatedly -- and you've seen the meetings -- talked to the leaders of the Congress about this, held his weekly breakfasts with Congressman Gephardt and Senator Daschle, Senator Lott and Congressman Hastert. And these meetings -- I said "weekly", these are sometimes once every two or three weeks -- that's been helpful in the process.
But I think that what fundamentally has happened here is the President's speech to the United Nations, the arguments that the President made, and the determinations of members of Congress to protect the American people from the gathering threat that Saddam Hussein poses led to today's vote.
Q Ari, you said that the consequences for failure to comply must be included in any U.N. resolution. Does that suggest that the U.S. has decided that it will only accept one resolution, and that the only question is what the language may be within it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Jim, nothing has changed. Our position remains one resolution. We are urging them to act on one resolution in which the consequences are made clear should Saddam Hussein fail to comply.
Q But you're not suggesting there's any change in position that you would not accept two? You're not ruling out that, you're not saying that the U.S. is now saying that it could not accept anything other than its own position?
MR. FLEISCHER: I can only tell you what we are advocating, and that is one resolution that has that clause in it.
Q And in the U.S. view -- the U.S. view is that it should be included, not that it must be included.
MR. FLEISCHER: The consequence clause? No, the consequence clause must be in it. The President has made that clear.
A resolution that was passed that failed to say that there were any consequences is another excuse for Saddam Hussein to play games with the world. That's why the President thinks it's so important for consequences to be in there. After all, if the U.N. again says to Saddam Hussein, you are in violation, we call on you to come into compliance, and there's nothing else we have to say -- Saddam Hussein would say, again, they're giving me more time to build up my weapons; thank you. The President thinks the best way to make sure Saddam Hussein understands the world is serious is for the world to be serious. And to be serious, there must be an expression of consequences.
Q Iraq threw out today some notion of inviting the U.S., some U.S. delegation to come over and take a look at things. What do you make of that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Say this again?
Q Iraq threw out some offer today to have a U.S. delegation come over and do inspections.
MR. FLEISCHER: Oh. Well, again, this matter is not up to Iraq. Iraq had its say in 1991, when it signed an agreement to end the war and pledged the conditions for the war's end. And those pledge conditions included the destruction of its weapons of mass destruction. And this is why, after 10 years of defiance by Saddam Hussein, it is not up to Iraq to decide. It is, hopefully, up to the United Nations to decide, so that the world can know that Saddam Hussein has disarmed.
Q One last thing if I may. Homeland security doesn't look like it's going to -- as you indicated. What can you do -- since this was a fairly high priority for the administration -- what can you do in the absence of new legislation creating the department to work on homeland security in a way that not having a department wouldn't allow you to do? I mean, where do you go from here?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it will be a setback if Congress doesn't pass legislation to create the department of homeland security. It will make it harder to protect the country. As I indicated, there are a great many people in the existing agencies in their existing roles, who are doing all they can to protect the country. What will be missing is the ability to bring them all together under one roof, so they can work off of each other to make us stronger. And that's what would be lost.
Unfortunately, there is nothing that can be done to bring these agencies together in a legal sense without congressional action. You can always have intergovernmental working groups, which we currently have. Those are effective, but they can be made stronger. So it would be a setback if Congress failed to act.
Q Ari, according to a published report, 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers were issued visas that should have been denied under the current U.S. law. Is this true, and is the President furious about it? And what is he planning to do about it?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'd have to take a look at that report. If I recall, of the hijackers that came into the country, most were able to arrive into the country legally because we are an open system.
Q The Europeans have offered a deal on International Criminal Court that would exempt U.S. military personnel and diplomats. Why is that not enough?
MR. FLEISCHER: The United States continues to feel very strongly that the International Criminal Court is not in the interests of the United States, that as we learned in the aftermath of the Serbian attacks on -- into Kosovo and to Bosnia, that there are existing mechanisms that can be set up to make certain that people who engage in criminal wrongdoing can be brought to justice. But under the ICC's charter, people can be brought before a court even if they do not subscribe to the International Criminal Court treaty. And the President thinks that is a way that Americans will ultimately be targeted, often for political reasons. And we will not and we do not support that.
Q But the President's objections were that soldiers or diplomats could be dragged before this court. If they are covered, who else -- what other Americans do you want covered under the -- exempted, rather?
MR. FLEISCHER: There should be no American who would be subject to an arbitrary court that could act for capricious reasons.
Q No Americans whatsoever?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
Q Can I just ask a question about coalition building? There was a sense a few weeks ago that the U.S. was willing to act against Iraq. Then in the last few days we've seen that there would be no way that the U.S. would act unilaterally because it had an ally in the U.K. And now today you say that it would have a large coalition. Who else is there that's going to be part of this large coalition if it doesn't go the U.N. route?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think that I'll let various nations speak for themselves. There was a description earlier of the types of things that people are hearing that other nations around the world may engage in as part of a military coalition. But I think it's fair to say that it would not be small, a coalition, that -- a coalition of the willing to protect freedom. And the United States, the United Kingdom and others have been working to talk to other nations about this. Again, we hope that this will be done because the United Nations will act. But there's no assurance. And so to assure the peace, the President has said that if the U.N. fails to act, we will work with our coalition.
Q You can't give us any more sense of who these others are?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's only proper to let other nations speak for themselves. It's not the role of the American spokesman to do that for other countries.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.
END 1:32 P.M. EDT