Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer - March 12, 2003
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
March 12, 2003
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
1:20 P.M. EST
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. This has been a busy day of telephone diplomacy for the President. Let me fill you in. The President spoke with the President of the United Arab Emirates this morning, Sheikh Zayed. The President thanked him for his strong support and noted his courage in raising at the recent Arab League summit the topic of Saddam Hussein stepping down and leaving Iraq. The President and the Sheikh agreed that action should be taken for the benefit of peace and to help the people of Iraq.
The President this morning also spoke with Philippine President Arroyo. The two Presidents consulted about the situation in Iraq. President Bush appreciated President Arroyo's strong, consistent moral leadership in demanding immediate and complete disarmament by Iraq. The two leaders said they look forward to President Arroyo's state visit later this spring. The President looks forward to celebrating our excellent bilateral relationships with the Republic of the Philippines on that occasion.
The two Presidents also discussed the security situation in the Philippines. President Bush expressed strong support for President Arroyo's efforts to defeat terror and bring prosperity to the Philippines and to the south of the Philippines. The two leaders agreed to continue to consult closely on how the United States can support the Philippines further in the war against terror.
The President this morning also spoke with the President of Pakistan to discuss, among other things, Iraq. And the President also spoke with President Putin about the situation in Iraq. He will have additional phone calls to make later this afternoon. And just like we've done throughout the week, we will give you a read later in the afternoon.
One other statement, and then I'll be happy to take your questions. You will receive a written document from the President later on this, but the President expresses his condolences to the people of Serbia on the assassination of Zoran Djindjic. Prime Minister Djindjic will be remembered for his role in bringing democracy to Serbia, and for his role in bringing Slobodan Milosevic to justice. The President expresses his prayers and condolences to the people of Serbia.
And with that, I'm happy to take your questions.
Q Ari, what can you say at this point about whether the United States has the necessary nine votes to achieve that majority even in the face of veto?
MR. FLEISCHER: I respond on that the way I have throughout the process, and that is, we've always maintained that the time the ultimate vote outcome will be clear will be the day of the vote. Just a small clarification, of course, a majority is eight. In the United Nations you need a super majority, which is nine. And I don't think it's -- we're not publicly announcing where member states are. That's up to them to make that announcement public.
Q Does the President feel good about what he's trying to accomplish, going on a third day?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President has approached this from the position of not to make predictions about what other nations will do. The President views this as an important matter. The President views this as something that is especially important to our friends and our allies who we've been consulting with about this process. And it will be important to know what nations think and to see them take stands.
Q One final one on this, if the President -- we know because he said it -- that he believes that Iraq poses a direct threat to the United States and that allowing danger to gather only enhances, or only intensifies that danger. If you believe that France will veto and that a resolution won't be passed, then why not follow the advice of I'm sure some in this administration who are telling him, just walk away, and let's get on with it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President thinks that, number one, this is a process that began in September when the President went to the Security Council. This is a test of the Security Council, no matter what the outcome. The President has made plain to the American people that from an American point of view, it is not necessary to have a second resolution. But the President has been very direct, very overt, in saying that on the advice and counsel of our friends and our allies, because the importance of this to our friends and allies, we are pursuing this; because, in substantial part, because of their thoughts and their recommendations. That's important. That's part of the diplomacy.
Q The U.S. Ambassador to Russia today said there will be some short-term damage to U.S.-Russia relations, should Russia not support the U.S. on the resolution. Is that the administration of this White House? Did that come up at all in the Putin-Bush phone call, and did Putin offer any assurances of not vetoing in the phone call?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to -- as I have for all the pone calls, I'm not going to get any more specific into the details of those who say they're with us, those who say they may not be with us, those who say they're in between. I've deliberately not given that type of statement. That's up to the individual nations to discuss.
The President has said in many of the phone calls that if nations are not with us, he will be disappointed. That's stating the facts. And, indeed, he would be. It is important. And this is, in many ways, an important measure of these nations' commitment to the immediate disarmament of Saddam Hussein, these nations' commitment to the United Nations Security Council, and, two, backing up Security Council resolutions to determine whether United Nations Security Council will have a role as a relevant and effective body.
Q How much of it is a test of their commitment to good relations with the U.S.? The President is telling people he's disappointed --
MR. FLEISCHER: Right.
Q -- the ambassador is saying it will hurt relations.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there's no question that the President would be disappointed in those nations that vote otherwise. There's no question about it.
Q How does that -- itself out, though? How does that disappointment affect relations?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't think I can say it with any precision. I think that the American people reach their own conclusions. The American people think about these things. Their representatives in Congress think about these things. In all cases, the President knows that we will continue to focus on issues where we have united values. There will be other issues on which we will work closely. But I can't predict every eventuality.
Q Does the President still intend to call for vote on this resolution, even if it appears that it will either not gather the necessary nine votes, or that it will be vetoed?
MR. FLEISCHER: Nothing has happened that has changed what I've said to you before.
Q What about Britain's six points, which they have made public, which they would like to see in a new amendment? We know what they are, I trust.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President very much appreciates the United Kingdom's benchmarks and their approach to this. We are working very closely with the United Kingdom, as well as other nations on the Security Council, discussing the United Kingdom's and other nation's various ideas. This is all part of these final stages in diplomacy. And I'm not going to comment on any of the specific benchmarks offered by any one nation or another nation. But the President is very appreciative of the efforts the United Kingdom is making, and we are continuing to pursue it here through the diplomatic course.
Q But you're not ruling anything out, out of hand?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I'm just not negotiating in public. There's always in these instances a case of working diligently, working privately, because the best diplomacy often results from the ability to have private discussions, and because one nation has a suggestion, a different nation has a twist or a change to one nation's suggestion. And that's how the diplomacy gets worked. That's why you're seeing so many phone calls being made by the President and being made by the Secretary of State and other Presidents around the world. This is a multi-party process. And the President's judgment is, the best way to handle this from an effective diplomatic point of view is to maintain the privacy of the specific discussions and to see what the outcome is.
Q Does the President worry that if he attacks a sovereign nation without provocation, that other nations will feel free to emulate this and attack their own designated enemy, and that we will lose our moral authority in the world?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the President views this is a matter of Iraq has provoked this action as a result of Iraq's failure to comply with the many Security Council resolutions that called for unilateral Iraqi action on disarmament -- disarmament defined as immediately, unconditionally and without restriction.
Q So he doesn't think that other nations will follow suit in any way, taking our lead?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the situation in Iraq, as the President explained in his speech to the United Nations -- where all the world heard and clearly understood the President's intent in seeking a resolution and what the outcome might be when the President talked about serious consequences -- the President viewed Iraq, as he said in September, as a unique situation, a unique gathering threat.
Q Why is it unique?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because I think when you take a look at how the --
Q There are other nations that have nuclear weapons pointed at each other.
MR. FLEISCHER: And the issue is Iraq's history of defying the United Nations Security Council's specific and unilateral call on Iraq to disarm and to do so immediately and do so in a way that was binding. And then --
Q So then the U.N. is very important --
MR. FLEISCHER: -- then the assessment -- and then the assessment that has been made by the United States, by many nations around the world, as well as the overwhelming amount of American people who define Iraq as a threat to the safety of the United States. The American people overwhelmingly feel Iraq is a threat.
Q These British benchmark tests, they're very specific, very strict, not much wiggle room in them. We kind of know if Saddam Hussein has complied or not, unlike these kind of inspections which have mixed-bag results. The British want to give it -- place it before Iraq, place it before the U.N. and give it some time, 10 days, a week. And we're hearing that the President doesn't want to give it that much time. Is that true?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, you're very artfully trying to get me to do the President's negotiating in public. The President, as I indicated, he appreciates the efforts the United Kingdom is making. Let me put it to you this way; the President is going the last mile for diplomacy. We shall see if the other nations on the Security Council are willing to entertain that last mile. We shall see.
Q Is the last mile 10 days long?
MR. FLEISCHER: Not going -- (laughter) -- I'm not going to define either the duration of the last mile or the length of the last mile.
Q So you aren't ruling that out?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think you appreciate why; it is never in the interest of somebody who seeks a positive outcome to do the negotiating in public. These are serious times; these are serious diplomatic endeavors underway. They literally are happening. They'll be on the phone this afternoon again. And it would not be my place, it would not be proper, it would not be productive for any nation to discuss what it is, the nature and the specifics, the moveable diplomacy is.
Q You mentioned you're doing this for the allies. Are you concerned, is the President concerned that Tony Blair might not survive a defeat at the United Nations, and that Secretary Rumsfeld raised the possibility yesterday, the United States might have to go to war in Iraq without the United Kingdom?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President feels very deeply that especially in a democracy the right thing to do from the point of view of winning the support of the public is to act in the name of peace. And the President views the actions to disarm Saddam Hussein as serving the cause of peace. And that's why he feels so strongly about it. And so, too, does Tony Blair.
Q Was Secretary Rumsfeld speaking out of turn when he said these things yesterday?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that he issued a clarification as an amendment to his briefing that explained it all.
Q Did you ask him to give that clarification? Did the White House?
MR. FLEISCHER: You'd have to talk to DOD about anything that affected their statements. I don't know that.
Q Ari, this morning you mentioned there was a diplomatic deadline and a military deadline. How are those two deadlines different?
MR. FLEISCHER: The amendment to the resolution that is pending up in the United Nations set a deadline for when the diplomatic window will be closed. They gave Saddam Hussein a sufficient amount of time as of this date, March 17th, to come into accord; final chance defined. At that point, the diplomatic window would be closed. The President has not set what course of action will take place beyond that. If the President were to make the decision to authorize the use of force, that would be something the President would then discuss in -- with the American people. And that would be the form of an announcement, if there is one, about something that may pend from a military point of view, the use of force.
Q So there's -- but there's two deadlines, you're saying.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there's only one diplomatic date that has been provided at the United Nations. The President, himself, has not set a deadline. I don't rule that out, but the President has not done that.
Q But there's a separate military track, it sounds like.
MR. FLEISCHER: Correct.
Q The time is running out on the military --
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
Q And when does that time run out?
MR. FLEISCHER: If and when the President announces it.
Q Putting aside what you expect or hope, has there been any contingency planning or discussion of the possibility of disarming Saddam Hussein without the military participation of Great Britain?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, anything operational you need to talk to DOD about. But as I indicated this morning, the President is confident that the United Kingdom will be with the United States in this endeavor to disarm Saddam Hussein, from a military point of view.
Q But putting aside operational issues, is there any discussion you know of in this building about that eventuality?
MR. FLEISCHER: Anything operational you need to talk to DOD about, but as I, -- again, to say, from the President's point of view, he's confident the United Kingdom will be one of the nations that is participating in this.
Q May I ask a quick follow-up? Is it still your position that the President has not made a decision about whether or not to use force?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
Q Ari, kind of following on that question, there was the meeting this morning of the President, Secretary Powell, Secretary Rumsfeld, General Myers. They must have discussed some kind of a plan B if the British are not able to play a role in an attack on Iraq. And secondly, it seems as though you're preparing us for possibly not getting those votes on the Security Council, saying, eight is a majority, nine is a super majority. It's been six months to the day since President Bush went to the Security Council. What has he -- what does he feel he has accomplished since then?
MR. FLEISCHER: Okay, one, let me take a step back on certain scheduling issues and meetings that you often see here at the White House. Because of the position of your cameras, you see everything at the White House. The President, as I announce every morning, has regular National Security Council meetings, and you named several of the cast of characters who attend those meetings. The President has these on a frequent basis, sometimes three times a week, sometimes four, sometimes five. So you'll continue to see these meetings. And in keeping with our longstanding tradition, I do not discuss things that are discussed at a National Security Council meeting.
In addition, I was asked yesterday if Secretary Rumsfeld was over here, and I think it's fair to say you will see Secretary Rumsfeld over here, even beyond the course of those meetings. This is the planning, this is the discussions that go into any, obviously, preparations that would be made in consideration of the use of force. So you will continue to see these things. I will be circumscribe in terms of what I can say to you about any of the topics that are discussed here.
Your second question dealt with on the eight or the nine -- no, I'm not giving you any indications or predictions about that. As I said, it will be up to the different nations to report and to reveal.
Q What does the President feel he has accomplished in the six months since he -- to the day that he went to the U.N.?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President, clearly, views what has been accomplished is the United Nations has, at least in part, woken up to the urgent need to disarm Saddam Hussein. Whether they wake up to the point of actually acting and enforcing the resolutions remains to be seen. But prior to September 12th, the United Nations has spent the last four years basically asleep when it came to disarming Saddam Hussein. The President hopes they will awaken to the gathering threat, and the Security Council will take action to disarm Saddam Hussein.
Q Ari, since nine is the number that counts, why even mention the eight?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, literally, because the question raised the issue of majority. Majority equals eight, but I've always said this, I continue to say, under United Nations rules, to pass a resolution it takes nine without a veto. There's no argument about that.
Q The President is making so many phone calls on this. It would appear that he is personally negotiating whatever package is likely to go forward and be presented at the U.N. Is that a fair characterization?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's probably a little bit of an overstatement. I think the crafting of the language is in the hands of the diplomats. They are the ones who actively work through, change this word, move that sentence. The President has given them, basically, parameters within which to work, and then they work it. And that's the President's style. There's a bigger question, a bigger picture that the President focuses on, such as, I hope you will join us in support of the second resolution. And then they may say, well, we need to talk about some changes. He says, work with the State Department, work with Secretary Powell. So it's a teamwork approach.
Q But on a conceptual level, he's clearly saying to people, look, if we did this, or if we did that, and what are you -- what's your concern, and what's your bottom line on these things. I mean, he is involved in discussions with other leaders about what they are likely or willing to do.
MR. FLEISCHER: Other leaders may suggest to the President a thought or a change or something along those lines, and the President will give them their thoughts. For example, if somebody said a 30-day deadline extension, the President would have made crystal clear to them the answer is no on that because that would not lead to the disarmament of Saddam Hussein.
Q Now, has the U.S. signed off on the British benchmarks? Or is it reserving judgment at this point?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's a very clever way to ask the same question, but again, I just am not going to negotiate in public. The talks are ongoing. So nothing is final because the talks are ongoing.
Q So you can't say that the U.S. has accepted the British benchmarks as presented this morning?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the talks are ongoing so that's -- and, again, the reason the talks keep going is because other nations then get talked to. So you talk to one nation, you say I think that's a good idea, that might move the ball forward, let's talk to this third nation, let's talk to this fourth nation. And then you get back together and talk again and see where the status of negotiations is.
Q Stepping back from the details in the British proposal, does the President view it as a basis for a possible compromise that would break the deadlock at the U.N.?
MR. FLEISCHER: That will be a judgment that is made by other nations. The President is working to bring people together. But in the end it will come up to some of these undecided nations to determine whether or not a deadlock is broken.
Q And is he willing to consider -- if it's a means of gaining a consensus, or the chance for a consensus, is he willing to consider pushing back the vote from Friday?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, as I indicated earlier, nothing has happened that changes anything that we've said before on the timing.
Q But if you're actively involved in the negotiation, the President is still making calls --
MR. FLEISCHER: The time -- the President has made it abundantly clear that time is running out here.
Q Ari, this morning the Council On Foreign Relations issued a task report entitled, "Iraq The Day After," meaning after the United States establishes control. And it indicated that it felt -- the task force felt it would require a commitment of $20 billion annually to maintain stability in Iraq. Is that a figure that the President, the White House is willing to live with, which, of course, would substantially dwarf any aid to any other country?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I have not seen any individual estimates on reconstruction so I'm not in a position to evaluate what that would be. And, of course, in terms of the reconstruction of Iraq, the Iraqi people and the Iraqi nation has many resources of their own that would contribute toward the rebuilding of Iraq. As would be expected, the Iraqi people have much at stake in their own future and they'll be able to contribute greatly to it.
Q But is that a figure that makes sense?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not in a position to evaluate a figure like that.
Q Ari, in the President's discussions with President Putin, is it safe to assume that he would discuss with him the down side of casting a veto vote in the Security Council and its effect on the relationship between the United States and Russia? And, second, are there any plans for President Bush to discuss this with President Chirac of France?
MR. FLEISCHER: As we've been doing, we'll keep you informed on the phone calls. But to state the obvious, President Chirac is working the phones in the opposite direction. And so I think you can infer from it yourself whether or not that would be productive. But in all cases, the President and President Chirac beyond this will have things to talk about because we are allied nations no matter how this comes out, despite any difficulties that come up.
And on the topic of the conversation with President Putin, I've been very general in all my conversations with you about these conversations that the President is having with the foreign leaders. And I'm going to leave it at that. That's the case with all the calls the President has made to the leaders of Africa, to the leaders that I mentioned today. I think, given where the diplomacy is, that's the best course to take.
Q Ari, several diplomats here in town are now saying when they are presented with new potential language for a resolution, it does move them a little closer, quite frankly, to the U.S. or British position. Can you tell us, or can you give us an idea whether or not this is something that the White House, or specifically the President, in some of his conversations, is also picking up -- that these scenarios, when presented to some of the so-called fence-sitting nations, it really does move them a little closer?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, I do not want to offer any guesses about the final outcome. I think, again, individual nations will state their positions and do so publicly when they want to. And, again, this is -- I can only sum it up by the way I said it earlier: We are, indeed, in the final stages of diplomacy. And in these final stages, the President is going the extra mile. That extra mile will come to an end. And the time for diplomacy will come to an end. The only question that will remain is, has Saddam Hussein disarmed? That's what this is all about now.
Q And just to follow up for the sake of clarification, is it a done deal, is it a guarantee that the U.S. and Britain will put forward another text or resolution on this?
MR. FLEISCHER: I keep getting asked that question in different formulations. And as I said, nothing has happened that changes what you've heard.
Q Coming back one more time to the cost of the war and its aftermath, the same report referenced a minute ago, by the Council on Foreign Relations, comprised of a bipartisan group of former presidential advisors, faulted the President and the administration for not coming forward with any cost figures. Now, you have said repeatedly from the podium that there are too many various scenarios to calculate to give anybody any kind of reasonable estimate.
That said, in 1999, when the administration was trying to persuade Congress to -- on the merits of a peacekeeping mission in Kosovo, the President -- then President Clinton would have groups of lawmakers down here to the White House for extended give-and-take sessions. Participants in those meetings say they routinely asked for and routinely were given cost estimates. That, too, was a potentially open-ended engagement in which people had real questions about whether we should be there, how much it was going to cost and what the fiscal impact would be. If President Clinton and his people could give lawmakers on both sides of the aisle cost estimates, why can't you do the same thing?
MR. FLEISCHER: Dick, this goes back to the question that was put to the President on Thursday night about costs, and I cannot go beyond what the President said. The President indicated that there are conversations about the costs and at the appropriate time a supplemental will be sent up to the Congress. I can't go beyond that.
Q Well, back then, as now, before anything had been decided, people on Capitol Hill were looking for information; they were able to get it.
MR. FLEISCHER: Dick, if you're asking me to go beyond what the President says, I cannot do that.
Q Ari, can I ask two quick ones on Iraq? First, about the British principles. I understand you're not going to negotiate in public on them. But in the past, when the British have presented a text, it has been with -- not just consultation with us, but in lock step with us. Have we come to a parting of the ways here that they're acting on their own?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, it's exactly as I described. There's a series of international negotiations and discussions going on about it. They have not offered anything yet at the United Nations. Nothing has been formally tabled because it continues to be talked with the third nation, with the fourth nation, et cetera. So I've given you a general approach to it. But I cannot get into the specifics of one area versus another area versus another area. Other nations, too, have ideas. It's not just the United Kingdom that is working together with us, providing thoughts, ideas. There are other nations, too. And I -- because I'm not negotiating in public, I'm not going to go through, here's a suggestion from this nation, here's a specific suggestion from that nation.
Q There's no parting of the ways here, they're not acting on their own?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the United States and the United Kingdom stand shoulder to shoulder.
Q They're out there in public --
MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, we'll come back.
Q I wanted to ask about the President's, basically, disappearing from public site, if you will, since the news conference. Is it merely that he just needs all this time -- all the time for phone calls, or is there a calculation here that it's wise to stay out of the public eye?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, it is also a sense of -- as many hours as the calls take, that is not the issue here, that calls take -- that's what's on the President's schedule. What's at issue here is, again, the President wants to conduct this diplomacy in a way that he thinks is the most effective, and the way to do it most effectively, in his judgment, is through the serious and private consultation. And for the President to get drawn into a public discussion of this provision, that provision, this much time, that much time, would put him in a position of either just not answering any of your questions about it, because he won't negotiate in public, or pursuing it the way he has.
I understand the request reporters always have to have an opportunity to talk to the President, and I hear those requests. Believe me. But that's the answer from the President's point of view.
Q We need to take some pictures.
MR. FLEISCHER: Stills at the top of the medical liability meeting this afternoon.
Q Ari, a couple items on Africa. There are reports now that the three African nations have moved into President Bush's camp as far as disarming Saddam Hussein. Is that true?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, my policy is the same for all nations. I will not take it upon me to speak for other nations. They will be able to speak for themselves.
Q Well, let me ask you this, then. What is it that the President is offering these three nations, as in the last month, on two occasions, these three nations voted on the resolution saying they did not want war: Cameroon, Angola, and also Guinea. What is he offering them?
MR. FLEISCHER: One, I think that your interpretation of the document that was offered -- I presume you're talking about an agreement, a statement that was made in Paris, a very general statement in Paris --
Q At the African meeting a month ago.
MR. FLEISCHER: Right, and if it's the Parisian one, it's the one that the President of Rwanda said, nobody ran it by him. They just seemed to pass it.
Q He's not in question.
MR. FLEISCHER: I understand. I think the issue here is, what is it that these nations are asking themselves about Saddam Hussein? And these nations have asked themselves, will Saddam Hussein disarm? And if a nation is to support the United States in the United Nations, the answer would be that they've come to the conclusion that Saddam Hussein will not disarm and the resolution should be enforced.
Q But also, let me ask you this. The White House is using South Africa as one of it's shining examples of disarmament. South African officials contend, yes, they've disarmed, but even the back-and-forth to disarm for total disarmament took two years.
MR. FLEISCHER: Correct.
Q I mean, you're giving weeks.
MR. FLEISCHER: No. The difference is that in South Africa, it was instantly clear that South Africa was going to disarm. They cooperated, they supplied information, they provided documentation, they let inspectors in everywhere to see everything. The process took years, but the commitment, the strategic decision to disarm, was quick.
That is totally the opposite with Iraq. In Iraq, they have not done what South Africa did. They have not provided accurate and complete documentation. They provided faulty documentation that does not list all the weapons that they possess. They constantly try to amend their documentation. They constantly find things that they didn't declare. They had Saddam Hussein go on TV to say that he didn't even have missiles that violated 1441. So the issue is totally the opposite.
Q Ari, in regard to your diagnosis of Congressman Moran's statements on Jews as "shocking, wrong, inappropriate, and should not have been said," six local rabbis have called on him to resign. While Senator Daschle and Minority Leader Pelosi criticized Moran, they did not call on him to resign, and neither has the Democratic National Committee. And my question is, in your careful and widespread watching of the media, have you detected any of that big media avalanche of demands that Trent Lott resign now matched with demands that Moran resign?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have not.
Q Ari, the Los Angeles District Attorney's office has announced that if movie director Roman Polanski comes to the United States, even to receive an Academy Award, he will be arrested as a fugitive, after his 1978 conviction for giving champagne and narcotics to a 13-year-old girl, and then raping her. And my question -- does the President believe that the L.A. District Attorney's office is right, and that the federal government should move to get the extradition of this dope-pushing child molester?
MR. FLEISCHER: Lester, by now I would have hoped you'd have picked up the pattern that there are questions you need to address to other people, not the White House.
Q No, how does the President feel? Doesn't he --
MR. FLEISCHER: The President feels that you should have picked up the pattern of addressing questions to other people.
Q And who should I address it to, that he wants to duck it?
MR. FLEISCHER: I really don't know, and I'm not sure I care.
Q Senator Daschle today, I believe, sent a letter to the President asking him for estimates on potential war costs so they can start a -- budget for next year. Does the administration intend to ignore that request?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, of course, following the tradition of the Congress, any time there is a need for a supplemental, it is put together outside the process of the budget resolution. That's a process that Senator Daschle is very familiar with.
Q But there will be ongoing costs for the next fiscal year, presumably, and that will have to be built into the 2004 budget, won't it? And don't they need that information now in order to plan for the 2004 budget?
MR. FLEISCHER: This would be a portion of the supplemental. And that's something we've discussed earlier that the President said last Thursday would be sent to the Hill.
Q Ari, in between the diplomatic deadline and the military deadline, what happens, what goes into that space?
MR. FLEISCHER: Too soon to say. This would be the type of thing that the President will have to determine, and then share at the appropriate time, per his judgment.
Q And in what way does that differ from giving Iraq a little additional time to comply?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, I think -- the question has been asked many times, and I think you all have an understanding of what the March 17th deadline is; that is a diplomatic deadline. That is what it is. This is through the United Nations Security Council and the art of diplomacy. That's what that is. So the question of taking military action has not been addressed by the President.
Q What does it -- I'm just trying to understand what it gets you to close a diplomatic window before you're prepared to open a military window. Does that sort of --
MR. FLEISCHER: Because the President, as I said, is going the extra mile to let diplomacy run its course. The course of diplomacy will either lead to the United Nations Security Council taking action to disarm Saddam Hussein, or the course of diplomacy will lead to an international coalition of the willing taking action to disarm Saddam Hussein. The choice is the Security Council's.
Q And can I just make sure -- as a diplomatic deadline, you mean, we must -- there must be a Security Council vote by the 17th.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, clearly, if there is a deadline of the 17th, if the action is to come through the Security Council, it would have to predate that date if the Security Council was to have a role.
Sarah. Not Connie, Sarah. I noticed the two of you were sitting front-back today, for confusion's sake.
Q I'll take a backseat to my friend any time.
Q Ari, another cloture is scheduled in the Senate tomorrow and it is not expected to pass. Meanwhile the Democrat filibuster on Miguel Estrada continues with no end in sight. What else can the President do to get an up or down vote on this nominee?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think as an example of how this filibuster is not grounded in any principled approach other than a liberal political opposition to anybody that the President would name, like Miguel Estrada. Examine the facts. The Majority Leader filed cloture after an extraordinary offer was made of a second hearing for Miguel Estrada before the Judiciary Committee. The Democrat leadership refused this unprecedented offer of goodwill. So the Republican leadership will continue to show that the Democrats in this case are obstructing a nominee.
The President is committed to Miguel Estrada. He will continue to fight for Miguel Estrada. Several prominent judges have overcome failed cloture votes and gone on to distinguished careers as jurists. William Rehnquist is one, and 4th Circuit Appeals judge Harvey Wilkinson is another.
Q Back to the benchmarks. When you say that the talks are ongoing on the benchmarks, does that include talks between the United States and Britain?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes.
Q What's left to talk about? They've put it out on the table.
MR. FLEISCHER: There's a whole variety of things to talk about: what's the reaction, what did you hear from this country, what did you hear from that country, what did you hear on timetables. Remember, it's not just the United States and the United Kingdom who vote, it's all 15 who vote.
Q Are there talks to -- by the President to try to effect a change in what they put out?
MR. FLEISCHER: This is -- again, you're trying now to get me into the specifics of one benchmark or another. And it's just not what I'm going to do. And again, keep in mind, too, it's just the United Kingdom has a specific idea. Other nations, too, are floating things here.
Q Can I ask you one other -- a story that sort of cuts across both foreign policy and homeland security policy. Senator Lugar and former Senator Nunn put out a report today. Are you familiar with the report that they out?
MR. FLEISCHER: No.
Q In effect saying that not enough is being done to safeguard the nuclear holdings of Russia and the former Soviet Union, former Soviet countries.
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, former Senator Nunn and Senator Lugar are the authors of Nunn-Lugar, which was a piece of legislation that provided funding for the dismantlement and the safeguarding of the former Soviet Union's nuclear material. The President is a strong supporter of Nunn-Lugar. I have not seen this latest report, Peter. Let me see if there's anything I can have, and either I'll try to get it to you today, or see what I can find on it.
Q Ari, on the conversation that -- President Bush with President Fox, did they discuss the issue of the medical procedure the President of Mexico is having today? And what is the feeling about the Mexican support for the U.S. right now on the issue?
MR. FLEISCHER: That is for Mexico to announce, not for the United States. They spoke yesterday afternoon, and I really just don't recall if that topic came up.
Q If France and other nations sit on the sidelines during the disarmament of Iraq, will they also be shut out of the process for rebuilding Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that's a topic for the Iraqi people to focus on. I think it's impossible to make any judgments with precision about everything that will happen in a future Iraq. But this is why I said, from a moral point of view, that there's no question that Iraqi people who live under a brutal dictatorship now, and once they're liberated, if it comes to the use of force, they will know who to say thank you for their freedom and for their liberation.
Q Ari, two questions; the first one you might have to take. Is there any information about the three cargo ships that were shadowed a few weeks that were either taking illegal material into or out of Iraq? Do you remember that situation?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't have anything on that.
Q And how is the President holding up under all this pressure?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President -- and I think you've seen this in numerous people's reporting -- the President is very confident in his actions. And he is focused on the mission, and the mission is the disarmament of Saddam Hussein. He went to the United Nations for a reason. And the United Nations is reaching its final moments of deliberation on this.
Q Ari, the President has said that he will give warning so that journalists, et cetera, can get out of Baghdad in time. The people of Baghdad can't get out of Baghdad. What kind of advice does the President have for, say, a mother in Baghdad who may want to be liberated, but would like to survive the war and have her children survive the war?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's message is that if he decides to use force, freedom is coming. That's the President's message. The President also knows that the military takes great care to minimize any potential harm or damage to civilians. The President will regret any action that is taken that does lead to loss of innocent life. And, of course, in any military action, there is never a guarantee; innocent life will be lost. But that the President's message.
Q Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.
END 1:59 P.M. EST