Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer January 27, 2003
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
January 27, 2003
Press Briefing by Ari
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
President's daily schedule
Blix report to U.N.
State of the Union speech
United States weapons of mass destruction
President's tax cut proposal
12:08 P.M. EST
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. I'll update you on the President's schedule and then I'm happy to take your questions.
The President began this morning with an intelligence briefing, followed by an FBI briefing. He also this morning called President Aznar, of Spain. The two had a warm and substantive conversation between two good friends. Spain is a close ally and a very strong partner in the fight against terrorism. The President congratulated President Aznar on the arrests of al Qaeda members in Barcelona recently; and they consulted on the situation in Iraq, as well current discussions at the United Nations.
The President sought President Aznar's advice on how to address the issue in the coming weeks, as the President continues his consultations with leaders around the world.
The President then convened a meeting of the National Security Council. And then he is spending a considerable portion of today working on his State of the Union address which, of course, will be delivered at 9:00 p.m. tomorrow night.
And with that, I'm happy to take your questions.
Q The chief nuclear inspector said just now that his team needs a few more months to complete their work. Is the President willing to wait a few more months?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President, number one, is very pleased that the inspectors are there and on the ground and there in a position now, having been there for two months, to make the assessments that they did this morning up in New York. The process is continuing, but the process is running out of time.
Q A few more months?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have not heard the President put a time period on it, so I would hesitate to do that myself.
Q Ari, if you've concluded the Iraqis aren't complying with the inspectors, why not call a halt now, why not -- you know, to get on with it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because as the President said, it's important to continue to consult, to work with world leaders about how to address the growing problem of Saddam Hussein's failure to comply with the inspectors; the problem of Saddam Hussein continuing to have in his possession biological weapons and chemical weapons which he has not accounted for. And we will continue to consult per the President's promise.
Q Do you see any decisions being made this week or an attempt to reach an international consensus this week on what to do next?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I don't want to put a timetable on it. I wouldn't want to guess, but I think that events will develop and they will be driven to the point of conclusion as a result of Saddam Hussein's failure to comply, and the fact that he remains the very threat that we feared to begin with.
Q What grounds, though? How do you decide when he's run out of time?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, that will be the judgment the President has to make, and in this regard the President --
Q And will he make it --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm sorry?
Q And will he make it after consulting with the United Nations?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me try to describe to you, I think, the thoughts that are in the President's mind as he approaches this. He approaches this, number one, believing that the most solemn duty of the President is to protect the country and to protect our people, whether they are Americans abroad or people here at home, particularly after what we saw on September 11th. And I think in the State of the Union tomorrow you are going to hear from the President that very healthy discussion about the economy, a lot of discussion about improving health care for Americans; and the President will also talk about security for the American people, both in terms of homeland security and national security.
On that final point, when it comes to national security, I think the President will continue to consult with our allies, continue to have discussions, as he did this morning with President Aznar of Spain and others. He will continue to evaluate the information that he has about the threat that Saddam Hussein presents. And if the President reaches the conclusion that we have, indeed, reached the end of the line where Saddam Hussein will not, indeed, disarm and the only way to disarm him is through the use of force, then the President will, at that moment, share his thinking with the American people at greater length.
Q What about the United Nations? That was the question.
MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated, he will continue to consult with members of the United Nations, yes.
Q Is the President willing to take more time because he realistically believes that Iraq is going to disarm, or because he needs more international support and is trying to get it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think the President is hopeful that Saddam Hussein will disarm, but he has not seen any signs that Saddam Hussein will disarm. Clearly, if you listened to what Dr. Blix said at the United Nations this morning, in his report, now based on two months' worth of being in Iraq, he has indicated that there are still, in his words, unaccounted for weapons; that he is still concerned about Iraq's possession of VX from previous inspections, that they continue to not know its whereabouts. He said that Iraq has rockets which could be the tip of a submerged iceberg. He talked about the possibility of Iraq's continued possession of anthrax and missiles in excess of 150 kilometers.
The President is worried because the United Nations has shown the world that there are many good reasons to worry about Iraq being in possession of weapons that are very deadly for millions.
Q So this additional time, then, is really aimed -- since he's very pessimistic about any change of heart in Baghdad -- is really aimed at bringing the French around and is really aimed at trying to get more international support that just isn't there right now?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President will continue, as I said, to consult and to talk to our allies. But I think it's important for the world to know what the President has said, that time is running out.
Q Beyond the process, if the President asked for the country to go to war, they're ultimately going to ask what it is the President is protecting the American people from in Iraq. What is he protecting us from?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the biggest fear and the biggest concern is that Saddam Hussein does, indeed, possess weapons of mass destruction in the form of biological and chemical weapons. And I think it's important just to take one step back. And often we talk weapons of mass destruction, as if those are just vocabulary words. Weapons of mass destruction will inflict untold horrors on the civilized world. They can take the lives of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, as well as be a weapon of terror that can dramatically change the life that the American people have come to live and expect.
That is the fear, that Saddam Hussein will indeed unleash these weapons, if he is able to, or link up with terrorists who will do it for him. It is not an idle fear; it is a real fear, particularly since we went through what we've gone through as a country since September 11th. That is the core of it, David. If Saddam Hussein did not have these weapons, the President would not have this cause for concern. He has these weapons, he's used them before -- that is the heart of the President's concern.
Q Can I just follow on this apparent link to al Qaeda that is being presented in still rather vague form? If the President believes that there is a real danger that Saddam Hussein would task, sell, somehow give his weapons of mass destruction to groups like al Qaeda, why hasn't it happened since 1991, when we know during that period of time that Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda were busy plotting and carrying out attacks against the United States?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, what we do know is that there clearly have been in the past, and there have been contacts between senior members of -- senior Iraqi officials and members of the al Qaeda organization, going back for quite a long time. We know, too, that several of the detainees, particularly some of the high-level detainees, have said that Iraq provided some training to al Qaeda in chemical weapons development.
There are contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda. We know that Saddam Hussein has a long history of terrorism, in general. And, again, if you're waiting for the smoking gun, the problem is when you see the smoke coming out of the gun it's too late, the damage has been done.
Q I understand that. But we're talking about a period of well over 10 years, at a time when al Qaeda was at full strength, you know, tearing it up, attacking U.S. embassies. If they wanted this kind of thing, as the President said they do, why didn't they get it through those contacts and through that training?
MR. FLEISCHER: One factor I think you also have to consider is, given the fact that Afghanistan provided a very large training ground and operational ground to al Qaeda, many of their needs were taken care of in Afghanistan until September 11th, and then their activities in Afghanistan have been widely disrupted. And this is an unfolding story, and I think you'll hear more of it.
MR. FLEISCHER: Elizabeth.
Q What is the President's overall reaction to Hans Blix's report right now? Is he satisfied with it? And did he have any advance warning of it? Did he know what was coming, say, last night?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's fair to say that we have briefings which we receive generalized information. I don't know that we had all the prepared text ahead of time. I'm not aware that we did. Perhaps somebody had it; I'm not aware that that is the case. But we had a generalized sense of what he was going to say.
And I think it's fair to say that Hans Blix gave a report that is a frightening reminder of the fact that UNSCOM found chemical and biological weapons in the late 1990s, and according to the United Nations this morning, no one knows where they are, and the fear is, as Hans Blix said, this is a submerged tip of the iceberg, in terms of the little that has been found already.
And let me address this issue about what has been found. The United Nations reported at the end of the 1990s that Iraq possessed 30,000 chemical warheads and chemical munitions. The inspectors, in the eight weeks that they have been in Iraq have found 16 chemical warheads. At the pace that Iraq is cooperating with the inspectors, it will take the inspectors another almost 300 years to find the remaining weapons the United Nations says Saddam Hussein possesses. And this is why the inspectors are doing their best job, but the more time they get, the more they're getting the runaround from Saddam Hussein.
Q You said this morning -- and I quote you -- Iraq must "comply in all regards -- not in some regards, not in half regards, not in some areas but not" in other areas. In other words, you're saying that they're not complying. What will you gain by waiting? Do you think they'll switch totally and start complying totally? You say, not any partial --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, clearly, the President does believe the more pressure on Iraq, the more the chances of resolving this peacefully. And the President still hopes that this can be resolved peacefully. Nobody, but nobody, is more reluctant to go to war than President Bush. Nobody understands what this entails like the Commander-in-Chief, whose duty and mission it is to meet with the families, to look them in the eye and to be with them at a time prior to the going off to war, and hopefully to greet all when they return from war.
He has seen it in Afghanistan, about the suffering this has caused American families, families of servicemen and women who are asked to carry out the ultimate sacrifice. He does not want to lead the nation to war. He hopes it can be averted. But he is also clear about the fact that one way to save American lives is to present -- prevent Saddam Hussein from engaging in something that could be far, far worse than the price that we've already seen on September 11th.
Q So you want basically a complete change of strategy from Iraq, helping the inspectors instead of trying to hide things from them?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President wants to see Iraq do what Iraq has pledged to do -- which is exactly what South Africa did, that Kazakhstan did and that the Ukraine did -- which is prove a commitment to disarmament. There's no reason it has to take this long. Saddam Hussein, if he wanted to disarm, could have shown the inspectors where his arms were and proved that he was a leader intent on peace, not war. Obviously, he has made a decision not to do that, and that's why Hans Blix this morning walked through all the weapons that the United Nations knows Iraq has that remain unaccounted for.
Q You said that you're not going to put a timetable on this, but given what Hans Blix said and what Mohammed ElBaradei said about needing a few more months, will you at least concede that a few weeks is probably going to be needed here in order to get at least some of the allies on board?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President hasn't put a timetable on it, so I'm not going to put a timetable on it. The inspections are continuing. The inspectors were at work yesterday, the inspectors are at work today, and they will be at work tomorrow. But the President has made it clear, and he is trying to rally the world, that time is running out.
Now, the President will continue to rally the world. And one day, one way, sooner or later, Saddam Hussein will either disarm so peace can be preserved, or a coalition will be assembled to do the job and to protect the peace.
Q So a few more weeks is not out of the question?
MR. FLEISCHER: I can't talk about specific weeks or months.
Q Ari, polls have shown that a lot of people in this country, and maybe around the world, also people on Capitol Hill, feel the President has not quite made the case to go to war. Is the President sitting on any information that could significantly change public opinion that he has not released -- whether to protect intelligence sources or simply his, due to his penchant to play it close to the vest?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, number one, the President is not going to be guided by a decision about whether or not to go to war based on polls. The President will be guided by what he views as Commander-in-Chief as necessary to do to protect the American people.
Having said that, I think it is also clear that in the event the President does make the determination that it will be necessary to go to war, he will of course make more of a case. I think when you take a look at where the public is, it's interesting because it's even more so than in 1991, the public understands the threat that Saddam Hussein presents. I think the public is supportive of the use of force if, in the judgment of the President, it becomes necessary.
But, clearly, the President will continue to educate the public and make his case. He has not made an entire case yet. If he decides that more is necessary he will of course -- of course -- engage deeper with the American people.
Q Why hasn't he made the entire case yet?
Q In view of the -- over the near-term, is there any effort contemplated to halt the inspections?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, as I indicated, the inspectors are continuing their work and the President has not put a timetable on it.
Q The Pentagon or some Defense officials indicated on Friday that they won't be fully ready for a military action in Iraq until early March. Is that the White House view, as well?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to discuss operational details of when the Pentagon will or won't be ready. All I know is if you read every account of when they will or won't be ready, you can pick any week beginning, basically, I guess, next week until March, because I've seen every week identified as when they'll be ready. So I think your guess is as good as -- well, it's your guesses. I'm not aware of any one account from the Pentagon.
Q ElBaradei said that, also pointed to an example the administration has pointed to, South Africa, as an indication of what real disarmament would look like. But he noted today, as did the South African representative to the U.N., that even with their full cooperation, it took two years for the disarmament to unfold.
MR. FLEISCHER: But I think there was no question about South Africa was cooperating with disarmament. South Africa was providing access to the sites that showed the disarmament, and then the procedures and the protocols were all put in place and all accepted.
If we had that confidence that Saddam Hussein was, indeed, cooperating and disarming, then the very message the President has given about Saddam Hussein needs to disarm could go forward. But we have not seen any of that evidence.
Q Ari, Blix's report today seemed more negative than positive. Does the White House feel as though it -- the Blix report will help the President rally support or cracking down harder or military action, whatever the President decides? Is this an important step in terms of his diplomatic, his international diplomatic efforts?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think from the President's point of view what's important is that the facts be established. And now that the inspectors have been there for two months, and we always indicated this would be an important reporting date. It's clear from today's important reporting date that Iraq has failed to comply, that Iraq continues to have weapons of mass destruction that they have not accounted for, and that Iraq's failure to comply has led to a situation where the inspectors are getting the runaround. That's what today's important reporting date has shown.
Q Ari, when we ask you to substantiate your allegation about a link between Iraq and al Qaeda, your usual response is to say that to provide any specific intelligence to support that assertion would compromise sources and methods. Today you've alluded twice to information gained from interviews with detainees that you said proves that link. It's hard to understand how disclosure of an interview with a detainee could compromise either sources or methods, because in this case both the source and the method are --
MR. FLEISCHER: That's why I said it.
Q Okay. Would you then consider releasing, for example, a transcript of the interview with the detainee that establishes that link so that we can judge more fully the information?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have no idea about that. I don't even know if transcripts are taken in that sense. I don't know that there's a White House stenographer sitting there in that sense. I'd be happy to take your question up with other people here. But I give you the information because that's where we have it.
Q Well, again -- talking about a specific transcript, but typically in any kind of interview situation, some sort of report, I presume, is made. Why wouldn't you disclose that, why wouldn't that help your case --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think I just did disclose to you the germane part of it.
Q But you haven't disclosed the details of it, and that would certainly seem --
MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated, this is an ongoing situation. And I think that there may be more to be said at the appropriate time.
Q So will you do that? Will you do that, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated, I think there may be more to be said at the appropriate time.
Q Ari, last summer Secretary Rumsfeld, and then again later in early fall the President, himself, both of those gentlemen alluded to a potential link between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. Can you at least tell us whether or not Secretary Powell's remarks yesterday were based on any new information since those two remarks were made, in other words, since last fall and last summer?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, of course, we're always reviewing information and getting more information. And as a result of the successful prosecution of the war on terror, we continue to be able to talk to people around the world who have been captured, who give us information. And then it's all put together and conclusions try to be reached. So this is an ongoing gathering of information that leads to ongoing formations of conclusions.
Q Are you saying then that, yes, there is some new information that led to Secretary Powell making those remarks yesterday at Davos?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's fair to say there is always developing information based on our successes so far in the war against terror.
Q Over the weekend there were reports that the United States is prepared or is considering using a nuclear bunker cluster bomb. Given that this situation with Iraq is about Iraq disarming its weapons of mass destruction, would it be more appropriate -- or is it inappropriate for the United States to be talking about or considering using weapons of mass destruction on its own, and would the United States be prepared to do so on a preemptive basis?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's well known that the United States' long standing policy about use of nuclear weapons is that we don't rule anything in and we don't rule anything out. And that remains or policy.
Q But with all due respect, why is that appropriate for the United States? If we're trying to get Iraq to disarm, in the interest of nonproliferation, why would the United States be even openly considering that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, our policy is, we don't rule anything in and we don't rule anything out.
Q So it's not only in response to a potential Iraqi attack?
MR. FLEISCHER: Mark.
Q Ari, his State of the Union speech, how much of it is going to be devoted to Iraq, and what should Americans expect to hear about Iraq and not to hear about Iraq? And one other question, if I may. In view of all the attention that is inevitably going to be focused on Iraq, is the President worried that his -- what you have said would be an ambitious domestic agenda is just going to get lost tomorrow night?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'm sure the questions at this briefing will not be reflective of the questions at Wednesday's briefing. I think --
Q You're having a briefing --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm sorry?
Q You're having a briefing Wednesday?
MR. FLEISCHER: On the road Wednesday, I know that you'll have a chance to ask your questions.
Most of the State of the Union will not be about Iraq. Most of the State of the Union will be about improving America's economy and providing greater access to health care for millions of American people, including senior citizens. That will be the bulk of the State of the Union.
There will be a section dealing with security, of course, and I think many of these topics we're talking about today will come up in some form. But most of the State of the Union will be about other topics, not about Iraq.
Q Is there a danger that it's just going to get lost in all of what people are --
MR. FLEISCHER: I couldn't possibly predict how the speech will get covered. But I think it's always interesting to gauge how the American people, sitting at home on their couches and watching the speech, number usually in the tens of millions, notice certain things about the speech that sometimes don't go noticed in the coverage of the speech. Obviously, everything today is focused on Iraq. I'm not certain that that's going to be the take of the American people. I think the American people have domestic concerns as a number one priority, and they're going to hear an awful, awful lot about that.
Q Can you tell us what people at home should expect to hear and not hear about Iraq? Are they going to hear a deadline? Are they going to hear a declaration of war? Are they going to hear --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, they won't hear a deadline, they won't hear a declaration of war.
Q Two questions, please, just to try to clarify one more time. Will the President present America's own proof that Iraq is linked with terrorists and has transferred weapons of mass destruction? And on the U.N., does the Bush administration still believe the U.N. is effective and worthy of America's full support?
MR. FLEISCHER: The second question was about the United Nations? Well, of course, yes. But it remains a test of how relevant the United Nations is. It still remains an issue for the United Nations to prove that the resolution they passed was not just one more in a string of resolutions to be followed by additional resolutions, none of which have value, none of which have meaning, none of which are enforced. And that still remains an open test of the United Nations.
And on the first question, this will be one speech that the President gives, there will be other speeches after this, not only by the President, but by other members of his administration. And this speech will be about the state of the union.
Q Ari, the Associated Press reports that in reaction to what they termed your stern rebuke of Jerry Thacker, a group called Human Rights Campaign said that while this was a positive development, the Bush administration's "obsessive focus on abstinence as the solitary mechanism to prevent the transmission of HIV is not based on sound science."
And my question is, what is the Bush administration's response to this charge that you are obsessive and unscientific?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think from the President's point of view he has long made the case that abstinence is more than sound science, it's a sound practice, that abstinence has a proven track record of working. Now, this is part of an approach that includes, under the budget the President has submitted, other approaches as well, not just one approach or another approach.
But the President has indicated that he thinks that we need to have more of a focus in our school system on abstinence as an option for young people.
Q The AP also reports that after you gave Thacker the stern rebuke, he withdrew his name from a presidential advisory commission. And my question is, do you include this -- in this rebuke the many, many millions who voted for Bush who agree with Mr. Thacker as well as the medical profession, who originally called AIDS "GRID," or Gay Related Immunodeficiency?
MR. FLEISCHER: Lester, I'm in no position to make any judgments about other people's connections to a statement made by Mr. Thacker. I can only give you the President's judgment about what Mr. Thacker said, and I shared that with you last week.
Q Ari, in recent statements over the last week or so, the President has, in answering questions to reporters, expressed frustration towards Saddam Hussein, talking about being sick and tired about games being played and the like. Can we expect that tone tomorrow night in his speech when he does talk about Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think you'll be able to judge for yourself the President's tone tomorrow. I think the President is going to give an address that is very principled, very lofty in its defenses of freedom, that points out the risks that the United States and our friends around the world face from a leader who has been on a relentless pursuit of weapons that will inflict millions and hundreds of thousands of casualties, in addition to inflicting terror throughout civilized society, if he is able to have his way. I think you will hear a rather lofty speech by the President.
Q Senator Daschle, over the weekend, said that the President's dividend tax cut proposal is dead on arrival. What is the White House response to this, and what is your prognosis of this -- having a Minority Leader so critical of it?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that events will soon show that the President's proposal to revive the economy and to provide tax relief is alive and kicking. I think it's a shame if anybody would say that a plan to double the child credit from $500 to $1,000 is dead on arrival; if anybody is indicating a plan to accelerate the reduction in the marriage penalty is dead on arrival. I think it's unfortunate at a time when we need to help families so they have more money in their pockets, to help stimulate the economy, that such help could be called something that would be dead. The President thinks it needs to be considered and he's confident it will be.
Q Ari, if Saddam Hussein indeed does have chemical and biological weapons, isn't it the case that we helped get him -- helped him get these weapons with the policies we had in supporting Saddam Hussein against Iran?
MR. FLEISCHER: I would differ with that; no. I think unless you have a specific allegation or a specific company that you'd like to bring to my attention, the answer is no. If you have a specific, I'd like to evaluate it.
Q Well, there was indeed a policy in which we supporting, militarily, Saddam Hussein. Assumedly, also there was a certain transfer of technologies to Saddam to fight the Iranians, and in that process, chemical and biological weapons, or the ability to produce them, could well have been gotten --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you need to back up from the rather generic charge and provide specifics when it comes to chemical and biological. I think if you have that, offer that, I'll do my best to get an evaluation of that. But I don't think you're going to be able to do that in the case of Americans.
Q The road map -- the Israeli elections are going to be held. The Bush administration has postponed action on the road map until after the elections. Do you have any plans for hitting the ground running as the results come in this week?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President continues to believe in the importance of proposing the road map and in working together with the Palestinians and the Arab nations, as well as Israel, and moving forward to implement the road map.
Clearly, the election campaign has meant that consideration of the road map had to be delayed. But nevertheless, the process will continue; a new government will be elected. And then the President will again remind the parties of the importance of working together and moving forward.
Q Two things. Actually, a follow-up to the Iraq-U.S. alliance. The San Francisco Chronicle reported yesterday that a number of major American corporations -- including Hewlett-Packard and Bechtel -- helped Saddam Hussein beef up its military in the '80s. And also the Washington Post last month in a front-page article by Michael Dobbs said the United States during the '80s supplied Iraq with cluster bombs, intelligence and chemical and biological agents.
In that same article they reported that Donald Rumsfeld, now Secretary of Defense, went to Baghdad in December '83 and met with Saddam Hussein, and this was at a time when Iraq was using chemical weapons almost on a daily basis in defiance of international conventions.
So there are some specifics, and the question is, if Iraq is part of the axis of evil, why isn't the United States and these American corporations part of the axis of evil for helping him out during his time of need?
MR. FLEISCHER: Russell, as I indicated, I think that you have to make a distinction between chemical and biological. And, clearly, in a previous era, following the fall of the Sha of Iran, when there was a focus on the risks that were underway in the region as a result of the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Iran, different administrations, beginning with President Carter, reached different conclusions about the level of military cooperation vis-a-vis Iraq.
Obviously, Saddam Hussein since that time has used whatever material he had for the purpose therefore of attacking Kuwait, attacking Saudia Arabia, attacking Israel. And, obviously, as circumstances warrant, we have an approach that requires now the world to focus on the threat that Saddam Hussein presents and that he presents this threat because of his desire to continue to acquire weapons and his willingness to use those weapons against others.
Q So was it a mistake for the U.S. to support Saddam?
MR. FLEISCHER: Russell. Russell.
Q If I could follow-up on it. You and the President have repeatedly said one of the reasons Saddam is part of the axis of evil is because he's gassed his own people. Well, he gassed his own people with our help. You saw the Washington Post article, didn't you, by Michael Dobbs?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that statement is not borne out by the facts. I think that he gassed his own people as a result of his decisions to use his weapons to gas his own people. And I think the suggestion that you blame America for Iraq's actions is way beyond the pale.
Q Who gave him the weapons?
MR. FLEISCHER: David. David.
Q Ari, from your comments this morning and Andy Card's comments about the potential of a holocaust if Saddam used these weapons -- a word I notice you didn't repeat this morning -- I'm wondering whether you are now beginning to discuss Saddam's threat as something that is far more imminent than you have before, and that if we had to take military action, it would be of a preemptive nature, rather than a preventative nature. Is it your assessment, or the President's assessment of the evidence now that, in fact, the threat is quite imminent?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is continuing the very policies that he asked for in September when he asked the inspectors to go into Iraq, and that is to verify that Iraq has destroyed the weapons of mass destruction that they possess. That policy continues. The inspectors remain there. And if there's anything further beyond that, that would be information that the President would share.
Q The question, though, is it the President's view right now that the threat from Saddam is a very imminent one, that he could strike out at any moment and has intention to?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think, from the President's point of view, it remains a very grave threat.
Q Under what circumstances U.S. can use, as you have mentioned, nuclear weapons against Iraq, and how to avoid -- like journalists covering the conflict inside Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I think that any questions about any type of munitions that would be used or wouldn't be used, beyond the broad policy that I've already given you today about not putting anything on the table or taking it off; any questions about operations need to be addressed to the Pentagon, not to the White House.
Q Do you have any concern that maybe these weapons that Hussein can have can be used against American troops, and maybe even American journalists?
MR. FLEISCHER: Do we have concerns about the weapons that Saddam -- we have, indeed, concerns about the weapons that Saddam Hussein has can be used against a large number of people, including Americans. And Americans include reporters and reporters from around the world. This is why he is a risk and a threat, not only to our military forces in the region, our friends and allies in the region, but all in the region. Weapons don't make distinctions about who they kill; they kill anybody who is in the area in which they hit.
Q Ari, this morning you said the administration was looking for a simple yes or no answer from the weapons report: is Iraq complying, or not. A few minutes ago you said it's clear that so far Iraq is not complying. It led to the situation and is showing -- is giving the inspectors the runaround. So did this report answer your question, yes or no?
MR. FLEISCHER: The report that was provided by Hans Blix this morning answered an important question the administration has had, and that is, is Iraq complying? The report released in New York this morning shows, clearly, Iraq is not complying.
Q You've said on numerous occasions that the President would not allow public opinion polls to guide his decision about whether or not to go to war. But surely, the polls that we're looking at are a barometer of public support which I would think the administration would find a matter of some concern as it approaches this moment of decision. Do you acknowledge that those polls do sketch out a problem that has to be confronted?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, the President will make this decision based on what he deems is right for national security and to protect the American people -- regardless of what the polls show. But if you asked to talk about the polls, I think that all you need to do is look back at the situation in 1991 and compare it to the situation in 2003.
And many of the questions -- let me back up. The support now for the use of force to disarm Saddam Hussein has been very, very level since August of 2002. There has been very little change. In some polls, the amount of support for use of force has gone up -- such as a Pew poll. In others it's gone down several points. But by and large, for most of the polls, the support for use of force is strong, in the upper 50s to low 60s, and is consistent and steady.
When you start talking about some of the secondary questions, about, give the inspectors more time, that's very much like the question in 1991 about, give sanctions more time. And one thing is for sure, if the argument to give sanctions more time had been listened to, Saddam Hussein would still be sitting in Kuwait and likely in Saudi Arabia, as well. And as soon as the United States took the decision -- which was a very narrow vote in the United States Senate, if you recall -- to use force in 1991, the American public agreed strongly with the decision that former President Bush made. And so I think when you talk about public opinion, you've got a very strong recent example of how if the underlying support is there for military action, many of these important secondary issues are very addressable.
Q Mohamed ElBaradei said this morning that he felt he could give credible assurance within a few months that Iraq did not have a nuclear weapons program. Now as recently as last week, the administration was saying they continue to have concerns about Iraq's program. Are you in disagreement with ElBaradei on that issue?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think there's no telling how long it will take because nobody knows whether Saddam Hussein will ever cooperate or not. By all experience, he has not cooperated. I remind you that our concern all along --
Q He did say --
MR. FLEISCHER: I remind you our concern all along has been, as we've said it unequivocally, Saddam Hussein has chemical weapons. Saddam Hussein has biological weapons. We have not made such a flat statement about nuclear weapons. We have been concerned about his pursuit to try to develop nuclear weapons. But we have never said that he has them. The biological and chemical can kill millions enough on their own.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.
END 12:45 P.M. EST