Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer - March 7, 2003
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
March 7, 2003
Press Briefing by Ari
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
2:20 P.M. EST
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. Let me give you some updates today, then I'm happy to take your questions.
The President this morning spoke to Singapore Prime Minister Goh. The President and the Prime Minister discussed the war on terror and developments in Iraq. The President appreciated Singapore's friendship and steadfast leadership in the war on terror. The two leaders agreed to strengthen our already excellent cooperation in the war on terror and on the need to maintain resolve in disrupting and eliminating terrorist networks worldwide.
The two leaders emphasized that Saddam Hussein is a threat to peace and must be disarmed. They agreed to continue consultations as developments unfold.
Following that phone call, the President spoke to Peruvian President Toledo. There was a substantive discussion with a close friend and ally. They both expressed concerns about threats to democracy in the Andean region, and the need to continue close cooperation in the fight against narco-terrorism.
They both stressed the need to support Organization of American States Secretary General Gaviria in finding constitutional, democratic, peaceful and electoral solutions to the crisis in Venezuela. And they agreed on the importance that Saddam Hussein disarm immediately.
Two other items I want to bring to your attention on the domestic front. The President expresses his gratitude to the United States Senate for the unanimous confirmation of the Treaty of Moscow, which ratifies the agreement that was negotiated with Russia to reduce the number of offensive weapons the United States and Russia have in their nuclear arsenals.
And, finally, today it was reported by the Department of Labor that the unemployment rate has increased by one-tenth of one percent and that the number of payroll jobs has decreased by 308,000. The President views today's unemployment report as an important message to the Congress to keep busy and focus on the domestic agenda, particularly the package of the President's economic stimulus plan and job creation plan. The President views this as an important matter for Congress to take up, no matter what the international situation may be.
And with that, I'm happy to take your questions.
Q Are we closer than we were a week ago to capturing Osama bin Laden, and is there anything to the report that his kids might have been captured?
MR. FLEISCHER: On the report about his children, we have no information to substantiate that report. On Osama bin Laden, of course, and all members of al Qaeda, it's only a matter of time. The President has made clear from the beginning that they will never be able to hide forever; there is no cave deep enough to hide them. I make no predictions about how much time that will be, but they are on the run, and the President has said that we've had successes in the war on terror. You saw one of the most notable with the capture of Khalid Sheik Mohammed. But, no, I would not suggest that you can make any conclusions about anything with any type of specific time frame.
Q Ari, under Resolution 1441, with or without a second resolution, clearly, this administration believes you have the legal authority to take military action against Saddam Hussein. You've also said that if we do take military action, that that means Saddam is gone. It amounts to regime change. Do you believe that under 1441 you have the legal authority to occupy Iraq, to rebuild, to help establish a new government?
MR. FLEISCHER: Fourteen forty-one is also predicated on the United Nations Security Council Resolution 678, which stated that member states were authorized of all means necessary, all necessary means. And then subsequent resolutions were passed to restore international peace and security in the area. And so the President does believe that under United Nations resolutions, as well as congressional resolutions, as well as the role that the Constitution provides for the United States Commander-in-Chief, that he has legal authority, yes.
Q But you wouldn't consider going back to the U.N., perhaps, if you don't get this second resolution for another resolution after any military action asking for international support or support from that body for staying there, occupying Iraq, rebuilding the country?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the legal basis is exactly as I just identified. And I think you can see that in varying degrees, even though if there was an operation to completely disarm Saddam Hussein and to change the regime, it will certainly be much, much bigger than what you have seen throughout the 1990s.
But there was military action taken against Iraq throughout the 1990s, if you recall. The United States relied on Iraq's material breach of the United Nations Security Council resolution, the terms under 687, as part of the legal basis for the coalition air strikes against Iraq in 1998, which were known as Operation Desert Fox. So there was a precedent under these actions for military action. Any action that would be taken would be, indeed, legally grounded in international and domestic law.
Q Ari, the British have now amended the resolution that they're putting before the Security Council with the United States and Spain. What happens next? What comes next?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, what will happen next -- as you saw the debate take place at the Security Council today -- the consultative process continues. Secretary Powell is up in New York. He will have, this afternoon, conversations with our allies. And just like you saw last fall, the nations who are members states of the Security Council will meet, they will discuss, they will see if there is consensus. And then at some point next week, a vote will be called. At that time, nations will raise their hand at the ambassador level, at whatever appropriate level. I do not anticipate the President going up there. Nations will raise their hand and take a stand.
Q And do you have a sense as to what day that would be?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's too soon to say right now.
Q And then the President said last night that he would offer a window of time --
MR. FLEISCHER: Correct.
Q -- for weapons inspectors, NGOs, journalists to get out of Iraq. How much time?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's too soon to say with precision. It will not be a great amount of time, but it will be sufficient time for people to be able to leave the country because of the concerns the President raised, his desire to make certain that innocents are certainly permitted to have time to leave the country.
Q Two or three days, maybe?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to be able to guess an amount of time. That would be something the President would say.
Q Do you have anything for us from this morning on this report by the peacekeepers along the Iraq-Kuwait border that they've seen fence cutting?
MR. FLEISCHER: I do not. No updates from what I indicated earlier today.
Q What was your reaction to the Hans Blix report this morning, Ari? Did it help or hurt your case?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, frankly, it was much of the same that we have heard before, which means that Iraq has not disarmed. "Much of the same" means immediate has not taken place. Much of the same means immediate has not taken place. "Much of the same" means disarmament has not taken place. "Much of the same" means what 1441 called for has not taken place. And that's the problem with what we heard in the United Nations this morning.
One thing -- there were a couple items that were discussed there. No notice inspections, for example, that Dr. Blix pointed to. It is very well true that the inspectors who are working as diligently as they can in an environment made very difficult for them by Iraqi actions, may not be giving notice -- but that does not mean Iraq is not receiving notice as a result of their electronic means and other means to know what the inspectors are doing. Which puts the inspectors in a very hard position.
And so there are many things that were discussed this morning. But probably the most troublesome of all is as Dr. Blix reported, that there are a series of question marks on which they are not yet clear. The problem is that these questions marks -- is these question marks involve VX, sarin, nerve gas, botulin, anthrax. These are question marks that can kill the American people. That's the problem with these question marks. There should be no room for question marks. There should have been immediate, full disarmament, and that way, 1441 would have been honored.
One other point that was made, and this was a discussion regarding the Al Samoud II missiles, which were referred to as not being toothpicks. Indeed and of course, they are not toothpicks. They are missiles, missiles made of metal, armed with a warhead, a warhead that can kill. That's the heart of the problem.
Q Ari, what do you think about what the French said, what some of the other countries said: give the inspectors more time? Is that fairly predictable now, their response?
MR. FLEISCHER: More time for what? More time to be run-around by a regime that has not complied, that has concealed its weapons, and that has grown throughout the years -- particularly the four years when no one was in the country -- extraordinarily good at hiding what they have and deceiving those who are there to do their level best. And, indeed, they are trying hard.
Q Don't you think that the argument over this new resolution with a time extension to March 17th becomes a little bit abstract if you don't vote fairly soon? If you don't vote early in the week, what's the point of having a March 17th vote?
MR. FLEISCHER: I indicated the vote will be next week. Secretary Powell said the vote would be next week.
Q Yes, but, if it's next Friday, what good does it have --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, just allow diplomacy to take its hold up in New York.
Q What does diplomacy have to do with this? It's just --
MR. FLEISCHER: That's why the Secretary is there talking with the allies right now. I can assure you one of the topics they're talking about is precisely what date the vote should be. And that's a matter of discussion in New York as we speak. It's impossible at this hour, at 2:30 p.m. or so on Friday, to presume what the outcome of that will be.
Q And the U.S. is still committed to a vote?
MR. FLEISCHER: You could not have heard it any clearer from the President last night. Indeed, the moment will come where all the Security Council nations will have to assume their responsibilities, the burden and the seriousness of it, to express their judgment on whether or not Saddam Hussein has complied and has disarmed.
Q And if this resolution with a time table is voted down next week before the date actually rolls around, is that it?
MR. FLEISCHER: As the President has said, if the United Nations will not disarm Saddam Hussein, there will be another international organization. It will be a coalition of the willing that will be made up of numerous nations that will disarm Saddam Hussein. It will just be the United Nations will not have been the source of international action. Another group will be the source of international action. It will multilateral, it will be international, it just won't be the United Nations.
And that's happened before. You've seen other actions where the United Nations was unable to reach an agreement -- Kosovo is the most recent case in mind. That was action deemed appropriate to take from a moral point of view, from a legal point of view, from a worldwide point of view to prevent ethnic cleansing, and to take Slobodan Milosevic out of power, to regime change in Serbia.
That's what happened before when the United Nations could not get it's act together, and in that case was prepared to vote no as a result of a veto. We hope that won't be the case this time. The President is working hard to make sure that's not the case. But there is recent precedent, from a moral point of view and from a legal point of view, for military action to be taken. And the world is now safer, and how many people are alive today as a result of that?
Q If that worked so well, then why do you want the United Nations to take action? Why not just go ahead and do it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because the President hopes that the United Nations will be the group that can face this.
MR. FLEISCHER: Because the President would like them to be relevant. He does think it's important as we look ahead at future proliferation issues.
Q Yes, Ari, two questions, please. Yesterday's, or last night's press conference was the eighth formal press conference President Bush has held in almost 26 months in office, and the first one in about four months, plus. Are we going to start seeing the President more often in formal press conferences?
MR. FLEISCHER: Jacobo, where have you been? We'll have to get you in more pool sprays. You're correct. It was the eighth formal news conference the President has taken -- as the definition of some of what "formal" means. On the other hand, it was the 216th time in his presidency that he has taken questions from the White House press corps. That does not include some 90 print and TV interviews that the President has sat down for at great length.
So I think there's no question, the regular White House press corps has regular, frequent access to the President. In fact, if you take the total number of questions he's been asked, it's now approximately some 1,200 questions since he became President, which means some 10 a week. So I think there's plenty of opportunity in different ways.
And you know, I think everybody has to reflect on the fact that in the modern era, the classical formulation of the old, formal news conference means something different. This President is accessible on a regular basis. The American people see him taking questions. Indeed, they're covered live, when he does, by the cable networks. So it's just a different way to answer questions, but he's plenty accessible.
Q Okay. The second question has to do with Miguel Estrada. After the vote yesterday and the statement put out by the President, what is the next step? How long before something moves in either direction?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President viewed the action by the Senate to delay even giving Miguel Estrada an up or down vote as a disgrace. The President thinks that it was wrong, particularly given the fact that some of the leading opponents of giving Miguel Estrada an up or down vote vowed they would never filibuster a nominee because they thought it was wrong to do, yet nevertheless they turned right around and have done it. That's not right.
The President will continue to work with a bipartisan majority of the Senate. Clearly, the votes are there. There's a bipartisan majority that is there to confirm him. There is an obstructionist minority made up of liberals who oppose him. But he'll continue to work with the Senate to try to find a way to break the impasse. We hope that this will not be the last word. It's hard to imagine Senate procedures being more wrong than to allow this to be the last word, and the President will stay at it.
Q One point of clarification. Did you say not to expect the President to go up to New York to cast the vote next week?
MR. FLEISCHER: Correct. That's correct.
Q Why is it that, given, apparently, a majority of the members of the Security Council still are not in favor of going to war in Iraq, why is that a sign of the Security Council of the U.N.'s irrelevancy?
MR. FLEISCHER: The question really gets back to what did the United Nations mean when they passed Resolution 1441, knowing in the atmosphere of November 2002, after September 11th took place in the United States, what they were voting for when they said: full compliance, immediate compliance, no restrictions, no conditions; if they don't comply, there will be serious consequences.
Was that window dressing? Was that an easy vote that had no meaning? The words "serious consequences" have meaning in U.N.-speak. It is known, it was known at the time that those words could lead to the authorization of force. It was a debatable point. It's been debated. Now the time has come to vote.
But, certainly, if the votes are not there, then that would indicate that the nations that passed 1441, when they called for full, immediate and final opportunity binding on Iraq, that they did not quite mean everything they said in 1441 and that there is no will to disarm Saddam Hussein.
Q But in the world of diplomacy, as you well know, words have many meanings; things are not specific often in U.N. Security Council resolutions to be able to obtain the agreement of a disparate group of people.
MR. FLEISCHER: Right.
Q You got the agreement on 1441. There now appears to be a majority of members of the Security Council who believe it is not yet time to go to war. Why then does that make the U.N. irrelevant, instead of simply differing with the United States?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because here's what does have meaning, and the President continues to hope the resolutions of the U.N. calling on Saddam to disarm will have meaning. What has meaning is the fact that Iraq has biological weapons and Iraq has chemical weapons. And I want to take a second and walk you through a little bit of history about why the President feels as strongly on this as he does. It's not as if he's operating from a blank slate that started on January 20, 2001. He's had a history of Saddam Hussein, armed with weapons, to observe as Saddam Hussein has very cleverly dealt with an inspection process for some 10 years.
"Iraq has not and never had a production capability for biological weapons." That was a statement made by the head of the Iraqi National Monitoring Directorate to United Nations inspectors on August 2, 1991. That's what they said at the time. Of course, they say something similar to that now.
In April of 1991, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 687, calling on Iraq to disarm. I note that nations abstained in the passage of that. There were two abstentions; one nation voted against it. Iraq declared that they had no biological weapons. In May of 1992, Iraq submitted its first, full, final and complete -- first final complete disclosure on its biological weapons program. They admitted they had, "a defensive biological weapons program." This after they said they had none.
Three years later, March of 1995, they provided a second full, final and complete disclosure of its biological weapons program. In July of 1995, as a result of inspections and evidence, Iraq admitted for the first time the existence of an offensive biological weapon program. This after they said they had none, then they amended it, said that we have a defensive program. Now they've said they had an offensive program, but they denied that they had weaponized the program.
Q Can I --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I'm going to complete --
Q Can I hold you up there? I mean --
MR. FLEISCHER: Wendell, let me -- let me --
Q I don't want to dispute that Iraq --
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me finish this, because this gets to the core of what is at stake with the inspection process today and Iraq's ability to deceive the inspectors; and the reason that Saddam Hussein thinks he can get away with it again, because he got away with it throughout the 1990s.
The problem is Iraq filed five full, complete disclosures. If they were full, there shouldn't have been a second one. If they were complete, there shouldn't have been a second one. Let alone a third, fourth, or fifth one. They constantly deceive the inspectors because they are good at it -- not because the inspectors weren't doing their job, but because Iraq knows how to lie and how to hide their weapons. That's the heart of the problem here, in March of 2003.
Q Ari, the President said that the administration would go forward with or without a second U.N. resolution, and then yesterday he said that there'd be a vote to have those members be put on record. Aside from the record-keeping function, what is the point of a second resolution?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because the President would like to believe that the United Nations can keep the peace by enforcing its resolutions to disarm Saddam Hussein. If not, when the United Nations passes a resolution saying that Iraq should disarm, should anybody care? The President would like to think that the world can care and should care because the words have meaning. Otherwise, it's a debating society, not a society that can enforce peace by making certain that the next Saddam Hussein does not defy the world.
Q The President has said, Secretary Powell has said, you have said many times from that podium that more time for Saddam Hussein really doesn't make a difference. Why do you think a week is going to make a difference? What purpose does a week have tacked on to the resolution?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because what you're seeing here is the importance that the President attaches to working with our allies. When the President says he will consult, he means it. He consults, he listens.
Q Does he have any confidence that Saddam Hussein would bring forward these weapons in a week's time? You haven't expressed any confidence in him before, for months.
MR. FLEISCHER: We can only hope. Chances are slim, based on Saddam Hussein's behavior, but we can only hope.
Q Ari, two questions. One, a war for peace is the headline for my editorial. And I agree what President said last night, as far as Saddam Hussein is a concerned and he has, indeed, run of time.
My question is that we have given him so much time, 12 years, and still we are giving him time every day, every day. And we are looking more today, tomorrow, this week, next week. Why so much time and why the, as Wendall said, then why does at least major four powers are not with the United States --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there's not a lot of time left. The President has said on January 30th it was weeks, not months. The President has gone the extra mile. The President has worked with our allies to go an additional point beyond that. There's not a lot of time left.
Q Can I follow with another one?
MR. FLEISCHER: We've got to keep moving now. Lester.
Q Last night, after the fifth time has looked down at an apparent list of reporters, he smiled and he said, this is scripted.
MR. FLEISCHER: Are you going to complain he didn't call on you?
Q No, no, no. No, no. Which surely suggests that he did not write that script which gave two questions to one network, two questions to one wire service, and one to other vague and wealthy media -- but left all the rest, including Helen Thomas, ruled out in advance of any chance to ask, and left to serve only as window dressing.
And my question is, since you are always fair, Ari, in recognizing all of us, who was it that wrote that script that the President confessed to? Was it Karl Rove or Karen or who?
MR. FLEISCHER: It was me who gave the President a suggestion on the reporters to call. And the President called on all reporters, the President did not call on any columnists.
Q Wait a minute --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, Lester, we're going to go to the -- Lester, we're moving on.
Q Can I come back to the March 17th date. The British table it today; we're endorsing it; we're asking the U.N. Security Council to endorse it. Whether or not the Council goes along with it, is that now America's deadline to Saddam Hussein?
MR. FLEISCHER: You should not necessarily equate that. This speaks for itself as a United Nations amendment that is pending before the Security Council. If there is any deadline to be given by the President of the United States, that would be something the President himself would make clear.
Q When you said, in terms of making that clear that we're -- we can expect, as the President approaches a decision point, to hear more from him?
MR. FLEISCHER: Correct.
Q Is last night an example of a, sort of, a stepped-up program, if you will, of communicating with the American people?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think if you ask the President, what he would tell you is he viewed a prime-time news conference -- which is a departure for him to hold prime-time news conferences, and can certainly use the East Room for the formal setting of it -- as a continuation of his effort to discuss the issues of war and peace involving Iraq with the American people.
There can be no more solemn responsibility of a President than, if he makes the decision to go to war, to take questions about why, to let the public hear what he hears, to see how he thinks, to explain what conclusions he would have reached as Commander-in-Chief before he puts our men and women in a position where they could lose their lives.
And this is how the President approaches it. It's very serious to him. It is heartfelt to him. He understands the nature of it. And so what you saw last night is the President wants to take whatever questions were on the minds of the White House Press Corps about it. It's hard to imagine a more serious event than last night, in terms of the questions asked and the answers provided, and it would not be the end of it. Certainly, if the President reaches any additional conclusions, he will have more to say to the American people.
Q Let me be specific, if I may. Is there going to be a speech next week?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's too soon to say, Mark.
Q Ari, as you know, Iraq has the second largest oil reserves outside of Saudi Arabia. In order to counter critics who say that the U.S. and the UK just want to control that oil, Tony Blair put forward a proposal to create an Iraqi oil trust fund, and said, "We don't touch it, and the U.S. doesn't touch it." What does the President think about the proposal?
MR. FLEISCHER: The fact of the matter is, Iraq has many resources. Iraq is a nation of very abled people, educated people, where there's an infrastructure involving electricity and food delivery throughout the country. It is a rather modernized society. It's just run by a brutal dictator. Any resource that Iraq has will be for the Iraqi people.
The only reason that the United States would use force, if the President makes that judgment, is to disarm Saddam Hussein. And then the United States will be there for as long as is necessary, and not a day longer, to help make certain that the security operations are intact, and then to work with Iraqis inside and outside the country to administer the country.
Q Does he support the specific proposal which says, "The U.S. will not touch Iraq's oil"?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's the principle that I've outlined for you, and whatever the specific mechanisms of it would be, would be something that gets explored throughout the process. But the resources of Iraq would belong to the Iraqi people to be used for the betterment of the Iraqi people to feed, to house and to provide medical supplies for the Iraqi people.
Q This might seem self-evident, but what happens to these various deadlines if Iraq provokes or strikes first?
MR. FLEISCHER: Were Iraq to strike first, the United States and our allies are -- have been, and are plenty prepared.
Q And what about Turkey? Has the U.S. given up on Turkey --
MR. FLEISCHER: Nothing new to report on the Turkish account. The President knows full well that whatever options he takes, from a military point of view, no matter what happens or does not happen in Turkey, they will be militarily successful.
Q Two quick questions. First of all, without regard to who the President called on last night, what's the reason for working from a prepared list, as opposed to doing it in a more spontaneous --
MR. FLEISCHER: Because, as you know, from many of the people who have covered the President's pool sprays, this is nothing new to you. The President just thinks it is actually a more orderly news conference, rather than to have the usual cacophony of everybody screaming, where the person who gets called on is the person who has the loudest voice. I thought it was actually a very -- it was a long news conference, it was a solid news conference. Reporters were called from all over the place.
Many people rushed out and bought new --
Q Nobody from --
Q No, Ari.
MR. FLEISCHER: Many different outlets. The President noted many people went out and bought new shoes. The President was pleased to have done it.
Q Is that what I did wrong? (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: That's a personal question, Ken.
Q Second question. today you've been asked to justify with precedence the idea of going to war without U.N. approval. You cited two precedents: one, the Kosovo situation and the other, the second is Desert Fox. Both of those were actions taken under the Clinton administration. The President, going back to the campaign, was very critical and even disdainful of the foreign policy of that administration. Is that not somewhat ironic and even a little hypocritical that you're citing --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think you're making a rather sweeping statement and applying it to narrow instances. Certainly, the President was not critical of former President Clinton's efforts when it came to the action taken that I just described in Desert Fox. And the President was on record speaking out, as you know, in favor of the action in Kosovo.
So I described it exactly as the President did. But there's a principle involved here, and that is the principle of if the United Nations does not act, there is still a legal basis and moral basis and legitimacy to the United States and other nations acting.
Q This is on the economy. Yesterday, Republican Congressman Jeff Flake announced that he would introduce a recision bill to eliminate the
pork from the recent omnibus spending bill so that funds could be used for war, if necessary, for homeland security. So far, $20 billion of pork has been targeted. Would the President support that kind of legislation?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President, as you know, spoke out about the earmarks that were in the congressional legislation. I think the President is very -- well, I can tell you the President is hopeful that this year the appropriations process will lead to a different way of spending the money for the priorities. The President would wish luck to anybody who can fight pork; he hopes they get a lot of co-sponsors and a lot of support. And that's not a statement specific about that one bill, because I haven't examined his precise bill; but as a general approach, that's the President's.
Q Ari, after 9/11, the President gave the world a stark choice: you are either with us or you're with the terrorists. Is this how you approach the Afghani vote in the Security Council? And, more importantly, some American officials have started talking about the cost of a veto. What would that mean to a country like Russia?
MR. FLEISCHER: One, there is no question that nations like France or Germany or Russia are with the United States in the war on terror. There is no question about it. And as the President has said, different nations will approach this in different ways and make different contributions. And that statement is not limited to those three. It includes many around the world. But because a nation does not necessarily see it the same way the President does about this being the appropriate time to use military force, certainly is not an indication they are with anybody other than the United States. And for nations that oppose and do so, they will vote their conscience, as they do.
I think the real question they'll have to answer one day is the question that will, perhaps, one day come from the free Iraqi people, is where were you when we needed you the most? To whom do we say thank you for our freedom? And they will know because hands will be raised. And that, too, is a moral issue.
Q But what if something terrible happens? Then the Iraqi people and the people around the world may ask a different question. Will you accept responsibility then?
MR. FLEISCHER: You know, I think the President made clear last night that when he thinks about what the worst-case scenario could be, the worst-case scenario would be another attack on the United States or any of our friends as a result of Saddam Hussein using the weapons of mass destruction that he has. That would, indeed, be something terrible. And that's what the President seeks to prevent.
Q Let me say, first of all, I support the loud-voice system of recognizing people in press conferences. But more to the point, the President last night on at least two occasions attempted to link -- or successfully maybe linked Iraq with al Qaeda, and said -- and indicated once again that Iraq and al Qaeda have ties. The public record on that is pretty tenuous. Can you fill in the blanks on that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it's precisely what Secretary Powell outlined up in New York and what the President said last night about known members of al Qaeda. He cited one by name, who was involved in the assassination of USAID worker Foley in Aman, Jordan, and a couple dozen al Qaeda that we know to be operating in Baghdad.
Q So there is a direct -- as far as the administration is concerned, there is a direct link between al Qaeda and Iraq, are they working under Iraq's direction, or what?
MR. FLEISCHER: You have heard this on the record many times before.
Q Two court related questions, if I may. First back on the Estrada nomination. You said earlier this week, Ari, that a few liberal Democrats are flexing their muscles and pushing for this filibuster. In the White House view, why are they so intent on blocking this particular nominee? Is he a stealth nominee, as the critics are charging?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think it's because of the Democrats, in some instances, have learned the wrong lessons of the last election. While the American people want Democrats and Republicans to work together in Washington, there is no question, there is public school of thought on this from the Democrats themselves, that instead of cooperating and working with President Bush, they believe their political best interest is to fight him at every turn. And that is particularly a point of view espoused by the wing of the Democratic Party which is in its ascendancy.
Q And then on a separate issue, given the President's state of opposition to the 9th Circuit Court's ruling on the Pledge of Allegiance, does the Bush administration have any plans on filing an appeal to go along with --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, you know what the President has thought about this. He viewed it as a ridiculous ruling. These issues are matters, though, that get adjudicated by the Department of Justice. The appeals court ruling has been stayed, and anything beyond that would have to be referred to the Department of Justice.
Q Has the President met yet with the Columbia disaster families, and if so, could you give us a read out? If not, what message will --
MR. FLEISCHER: He has not yet met. The meeting will take place this afternoon. This is a follow-up to when the President traveled to Houston, and he met with the families immediately after the memorial service. And he met with everybody individually in a room where they all assembled.
And the President urged everybody that -- to come to the White House, to come see him here. So I think he's going to want to hear how people are doing in the amount of time that has passed. I think he's going to again express America's love and appreciation for their lost ones, and welcome them to the White House and comfort them as best he can.
Q Will he be communicating anything about the status of the investigation to them?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll try to see if there's any report I have on it. I don't think so. I think they're being kept regularly informed by NASA and by other officials. Really, the President is not the purveyor of that. The President is here really to greet them and to comfort them.
Q Ari, on Mexico and then bin Laden. Today in the United Nations, Foreign Secretary -- from Mexico asked the Security Council to exercise much more pressure for Saddam Hussein to disarm. That is my first question, and I'd like to know what is your -- if you have any comments on that.
And my second question is in regards to bin Laden. The United States government is working very hard, has been working very hard to find this man. And according to some U.S. reports, the Pentagon had him -- he's been found somewhere. So is this true? Are you -- is the United States --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I was asked earlier about bin Laden's sons, and I already dismissed that.
Q Is the U.S. close to finding this man?
MR. FLEISCHER: There's no such thing as close, there's only whether he's found or he's not.
On your first question about Mexico and disarmament, one of the other things that took place up in New York today involves something that is called a cluster report. This is something that Jack Straw alluded to. This is an almost 200-page report by the inspectors on outstanding issues concerning Iraq's proscribed weapons programs -- some 200 pages; 200 deadly pages; 200 shocking, detailed pages.
And what this cluster report shows -- and this is why I think nation's like Mexico look at this and say, Iraq has not disarmed -- is the United Nations inspectors have found evidence that on at least 29 occasions Iraq refused, despite repeated requests from the international community, to provide credible evidence to substantiate its claims that they do not possess arms, or have disarmed fully and completely.
They go on and they say in this report that only in 1995 did Iraq declare that its offensive biological program, after publicly denying its existence for four years; only in 1997 did Iraq -- did inspectors discover evidence that the production completed prohibited missiles; only in 1997, did Iraq declare an additional 187 pieces of specialty equipment used to produce deadly chemical agents; only in 2003, did Iraq turn over the so-called Iraqi Air Force document that contradicted Iraq's chemical weapons declaration by disclosing an additional 6,500 bombs with 1,000 tons of blistering mustard gas. So turned over in New York today is a 200-page document that is a very detailed walk-through of why the world has reasons to fear that Saddam Hussein has not disarmed.
Two other points that are in this report I want to lay out for you. It says that, after lying for four years, Iraq admitted in 1995 to producing nearly 8,500 liters of anthrax. An additional 10,000 liters of anthrax were not destroyed and may still exist, according to this report. It said that Iraq provided false and misleading declarations in order to retain production equipment specifically modified to produce VX. It has direct physical -- and the direct physical evidence contradicts Iraq's claim that it never weaponized VX.
Separately, we know -- as Secretary Powell has said -- that while Iraq on the one hand has said that it is destroying its Al Samoud II missiles, just as recently as days ago, they continue to produce more.
Q What about the second question?
MR. FLEISCHER: On bin Laden? I answered it first.
Q There's a report out today -- there's a report out today that France has been providing Iraq with military parts. Can you comment on that? And then broadly on whether you think that France's financial interests in Iraq are playing some kind of role in their position?
MR. FLEISCHER: Of course, there are sanctions that would limit and restrict any nation's ability to do that. I have not seen such a report. And from the President's point of view, the nations that he is working with are acting in principle. And that's how he treats it.
Q Ari, North Korea announced that they will pull out of the armistice agreement if the United States imposes any military or economic sanctions on North Korea. Can you comment on that?
MR. FLEISCHER: North Korea has made similar inflammatory statements throughout the 1990s. And the President, again, views this -- just as he said last night -- as a regional matter, as a multilateral matter, not as a unilateral matter; and on an issue in which we'll continue to work with our allies to show North Korea the importance of dismantling its nuclear programs.
Q Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.
END 3:00 P.M. EST