Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer - March 13, 2003
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
March 13, 2003
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
12:40 P.M. EST
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. It's been another day of phone diplomacy at the White House, as well as action on the domestic agenda on Capitol Hill. Let me give you a report.
The President began his day in a conversation with President Roh of South Korea. President Roh said South Korea will vigorously support United States' efforts on Iraq based on the spirit of the U.S.-South Korean alliance. The President thanked him for his strong support and said the U.S. alliance with South Korea is a vital cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy. The two leaders exchanged views on the North Korea nuclear issue and reaffirmed their intention to continue working closely with other countries i the region for a peaceful solution through diplomacy.
The President also spoke with Bulgarian Prime Minister Saxe-Coburg Gotha. They discussed the diplomatic efforts at the United Nations. The President expressed his appreciation for Bulgaria's friendship and support, including on the critical issue of Iraq. The two leaders agreed to stay in touch.
Following that, the President had his intelligence briefing, the FBI briefing, then he met with the Prime Minister of Ireland. The President just completed a phone call with Prime Minister Blair as part of their ongoing discussions about events. And the President will make additional phone calls this afternoon that we'll bring to your attention later in the day.
Two items on the domestic front that are important and I want to note them. One, in a rather notably large bipartisan vote in the United States Senate, the Senate passed the ban on partial-birth abortion. There is a statement from the President. I would like to read it to you:
"Partial birth abortion is an abhorrent procedure that offends human dignity. And I commend the Senate for passing legislation to ban it. Today's action is an important step toward building a culture of life in America. I look forward to the House passing legislation and working with the Senate to resolve any differences so that I can sign legislation banning partial-birth abortion into law."
The vote on this was 65 senators, overwhelmingly bipartisan. The President was pleased to see that action.
In addition, I want to note on the domestic front -- and it is notable that even at this very busy and important time involving national security and foreign policy, Congress is working and working hard. The House is scheduled today to pass legislation dealing with medical liability. The President believes that the medical liability system is badly broken, that frivolous and abusive lawsuits are driving up costs for patients, threatening access to quality health care, and forcing good doctors to shut down clinics in communities across the nation. The President urges the House to pass legislation to fix this problem today.
And it's also notable the House Budget Committee has also passed the President's budget. So action is beginning on many fronts on Capitol Hill on the domestic agenda.
With that, I'm happy to take your questions.
Q Ari, the President was very clear last week, he wanted a vote in the Security Council: it's time for countries to show their cards. And now today, Secretary Powell says, among the options is to go for a vote, or not to go for a vote. What's going on here?
MR. FLEISCHER: Okay, let me try to share or inform you about where things stand in the fluid situation with the diplomacy.
The end is coming into sight, and there are numerous routes to reach that end through the diplomacy the President is pursuing. And the President has said that he seeks a vote, and we seek a vote. There are options, as the Secretary has said. I discussed with you this morning the possibility of the vote coming to a conclusion tomorrow, or it could continue into next week. There are numerous options to achieve in the end the President seeks, which is a diplomatic solution. I cannot predict for you every shape and turn of the road on the way to that end, but this end is coming into sight, and that's why you're seeing some levels of flexibility and discussion of options as it comes into sight.
Q Does that level of flexibility reflect a sense that things are starting to break the President's way, and break the way -- you know, in the direction of Tony Blair, as well?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President and others are working this hard, but I made no predictions. I have not cited how any nation has indicated that it will vote. That's a matter for individual nations to address. And I make no predictions. I would reiterate what I've said all along, because I think this is how these things work, that people will know how the vote will come out on the day of the vote. That is the best day to get an indication from the various nations.
Q One more on this. Given France's comments today, are you -- is the President still convinced that France will veto? Or is there now some flexibility to the consensus?
MR. FLEISCHER: France has made many interesting comments of late. France has said they reject the logic of ultimatums. This is what their foreign minister said. France also looked at the British proposal and they rejected it before Iraq rejected it. If that's not an unreasonable veto, what is? So we looked at what France is doing, and we wish they were doing otherwise.
Q Speaking of fluidity, can you explain why the President took the rare step to cancel an event at the last minute? He was supposed to go up to the Hill. And why plans for him to visit Tony Blair somewhere outside of London -- why that planning didn't proceed?
MR. FLEISCHER: Number one, on your first question, it's because of just what I indicated, the President is working on the situation vis-a-vis Iraq and the diplomacy, and he wanted to make the phone call that I just reported to you.
Two, as I told you this morning, there are no plans to travel. I asked that question to the Chief of Staff, he said there are no plans to travel. And so I don't have any information for you beyond that.
Q Had there been tentative plans to visit Tony Blair?
MR. FLEISCHER: There's no information about something that there are no plans to do.
Q Ari, the President was categorical a week ago, saying that no matter what the whip count, he wanted a vote. Now the Secretary of State raises the possibility that there may not be a vote. Is this thing going completely south?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's interesting. One question is, is it going north; another question is, is it south. It's ongoing. And I don't think it should surprise anybody that as it gets down to the very last stages of diplomacy, there are different ideas that can be discussed, there are different ends to reach, different routes to reach that end.
And that's what you're seeing. You're seeing that on the question of the substance of the resolution, on the deadline. But one thing is not in doubt, no matter what the end is through diplomacy. What is not in doubt, in President Bush's mind, is that Saddam Hussein will be disarmed.
Q Jack Straw said this morning that the second resolution is less likely than at any time before. Why should we not think this is failing? And since when is it up -- when is it likely that this President changes his mind? He hardly ever does. And, yet, he appears to have backed away from what he said at that press conference, about demanding a vote.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has always said that the United States does not need a second resolution and we are going to work very hard with our friends and allies on this.
Q That's not what I'm talking about.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has always valued the counsel and the advice he gets from our foreign friends and leaders on this, particularly our European allies who are working on this issue with us, as well as allies from around the world. So the President will continue to work this and consult with our friends and allies about the best course to take to achieve the ultimate diplomatic outcome. If a diplomatic outcome cannot be achieved, there should never be any question and a doubt of anybody about the President's intent to disarm Saddam Hussein. I don't think there is any doubt.
Q That wasn't my question. I want to know why he changed his mind. Apparently he is not going to insist on a vote under some circumstances.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think, again, what you're seeing is the President going the last mile on behalf of diplomacy. There is an end to that road. And the end is coming into sight. Until it is final and the road is traveled, this President is determined to pursue a variety of diplomatic options, and that --
Q You've evaded the question three different times. I want to know why the President -- who categorically said that he would demand a vote no matter what the whip count, because he wanted to see how all of these other nations stood -- is now apparently willing to back off and not have a vote?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because your premise is suggesting that in the conducting of diplomacy there can be no room for flexibility. And as the President travels the last bit of this road, he is going to work to consult with our allies and friends.
Q Did we read you right this morning when you -- you suggested that the diplomatic -- the coalition you're trying to put together would actually make -- set a deadline for Iraq and have a diplomatic ultimatum, rather than the U.N.? I mean, would it be --
MR. FLEISCHER: There are two issues in play here. One is, through the United Nations Security Council, the resolution that is pending before them right now has a date for bringing the diplomacy to an end of March 17th. That is the resolution pending before the Security Council now. That is the only date pending in the resolution before the Security Council.
If there is a military date by which the President would say that force will be used, the President has not spoken out on that matter. So you have two separate tracks.
Q My point is, why is the President going through this charade of diplomacy when he obviously plans to go to war?
MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, this is a very serious word, the diplomacy. And the President is carrying it out because he believes in the value of consultations.
Q But he obviously is not going to follow, no matter what happens.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that, frankly --
Q How can you do that, really?
MR. FLEISCHER: -- when you use the word "charade" -- which, if I'm not mistaken, has French roots -- (laughter) -- you may want to address your question to those who say they will veto any resolution.
Q Aren't you glad you --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm glad I minored in French. (Laughter.)
Q You did?
MR. FLEISCHER: Mais, oui.
Q It's come to this. (Laughter.)
Ari, what is the administration's formal legal position and assessment from the State Department legal advisor, from the White House counsel about the lawfulness of taking military action if this resolution were to be voted down in the teeth of the opposition of the Security Council, either by a majority or by a veto?
MR. FLEISCHER: You want me to read you a legal sentence?
Q Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: The United Nations Security Council Resolution 678 authorized use of all necessary means to uphold United Nations Security Council Resolution 660, and subsequent resolutions and to restore international peace and security in the area. That was the basis for the use of force against Iraq during the Gulf War.
Thereafter, United Nations Security Council Resolution 687 declared a cease-fire, but imposed several conditions, including extensive WMD related conditions. Those conditions provided the conditions essential to the restoration of peace and security in the area. A material breech of those conditions removes the basis for the cease-fire and provides a legal grounds for the use of force.
Q Thank you. So it's our assessment that we can go to war even if the Security Council votes down this second resolution, should there be a vote.?
MR. FLEISCHER: There is no question, based on both international law and domestic law that the President has that authority.
Q Thank you. (Laughter.) Is that assessment shared by Great Britain, Spain and other members of the coalition of the willing? Or is some of the reason for this talk that maybe we won't have a vote that their international lawyers come to a different conclusion, that this war would be illegal over a U.N. veto?
MR. FLEISCHER: You need to talk to them about their interpretations of laws. I don't speak for them.
Q Ari, did you mean to say earlier that you saw no daylight in the French foreign minister's statement today that -- maintaining unity on the Security Council is important and France was open to all opportunities in that regard?
MR. FLEISCHER: I didn't address issue. What I said --
Q You said you talked about their statements being --
MR. FLEISCHER: I cited the foreign minister's statement that France rejects the logic of ultimatums. Well, if you reject the logic of ultimatums, you're telling Iraq you have forever to disarm, which is contradicted by 1441, which said you must immediately disarm, which raises questions about France's commitment to 1441.
Q But his most recent statement, can you comment on that, that they're looking for opportunities to maintain Security Council unity. Do you see any daylight in that?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think France has recognized that it's statement that it would veto anything that is put before the Security Council has created problems in France from which they're trying to retreat.
Q And does that create a diplomatic opportunity for the United States?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as I indicated, the President is pursuing the diplomacy still at this late date. But it will not be pursued all that much longer. It is coming to an end.
Q Yesterday you indicated that it would be pointless for the President to call President Chirac. Is that still the case?
MR. FLEISCHER: If a call is made, as you know, we keep you informed.
Q One on Iraq, one on North Korea, Ari. On Iraq, when the Secretary of State said in public today that we have several options here, going for a vote or not, was he speaking for himself? Or was he basically speaking a position that the President, himself, has now taken on? This is just to understand whether the President has, in fact, reversed from last week.
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think that I expressed it all from the point of view of both the President and the Secretary.
Q He was speaking for the President; is that a fair assumption?
MR. FLEISCHER: Certainly what I just described is not inconsistent with anything either the President or the Secretary has said.
Q Well, that's not true, because it is inconsistent with what the President said last week.
MR. FLEISCHER: No, as I indicated, in regard to Bill's question, as we pursue the diplomacy, there is flexibility.
Q But there wasn't last week.
MR. FLEISCHER: David.
Q On North Korea, when the President spoke today to President Roh, obviously the South Korean position has been that our position of trying to isolate North Korea or engage in multilateral talks is flawed, they want to continue with the Sunshine Policy. He said it many times publicly. Did they discuss this, and did they simply agree to disagree?
MR. FLEISCHER: The two agreed about the importance of working on this issue in a multilateral fashion. And as you know, the President is very public and on the record as supporting the Sunshine Policy. He said it when he visited South Korea last year, he said it on numerous occasions.
Q Even under these circumstances?
MR. FLEISCHER: There's no change. There's no change. But the President's approach to the issue of making certain that North Korea understands it must dismantle its nuclear programs is a multilateral approach. There's a separate issue from the Sunshine Policy, which is a policy that deals with bilateral relations between North and South Korea on all issues, not only nuclear issue.
Ellen, bienvenue, welcome back. I know you've been traveling.
Q Thank you. With the President possibly putting the date past the 17th as a date for a vote that might happen at the United Nations. What consideration is being taken into the -- just the sort of health of the troops? It's getting very hot over there, huge sandstorms, et cetera.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as I indicated, when the resolution was first offered, the resolution was not set in stone. And we were talking with our allies and consulting about it. And I think it's been clear from the very beginning that in terms of discussing the date, there may be a discussion of the date, but there would not be a whole lot of flexibility on the movement of the date. There may be some levels of it, but not much.
Q Ari, the White House has said pretty regularly that the lack of unity or inconsistency at the U.N. sends a wrong signal to Saddam Hussein. How is the idea of clearly blowing out the March 17th deadline that the U.S. put forward and possibly not having a vote at the U.N., even though the President said he wanted one, how is that not sending the wrong signal to Saddam Hussein from the White House?
MR. FLEISCHER: First of all, you're saying, blowing out the deadline.
Q Potentially. Well, if you have negotiations through Monday --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think, again, what you are seeing is the President of the United States pursue diplomacy to its fullest. This President would very much like to have this matter settled through peace and diplomacy. And he is taking every step that he can think is helpful and wise to doing that, in consultation with our allies. But the worst mistake Saddam Hussein could ever make would be to underestimate the seriousness of this issue for this President and for the free world.
Q One more. The British are still sort of smarting over remarks that Secretary Rumsfeld made a couple days ago, talking about the fact that they might be -- not be with the United States militarily. There is kind of talk that -- there and other places -- that he's just become a loose cannon. Is there concern about that talk or about the idea that the Secretary might be a loose cannon at the White House?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think that's -- the Secretary dealt with that issue in its entirety through the course of his briefing and in the statement he issued following the briefing.
Q Ari, given all the machinations at the U.N. and statements from this podium and elsewhere around town, can Saddam Hussein draw any other conclusion but that he's playing a winning hand at the moment?
MR. FLEISCHER: That would be a very mistaken conclusion for Saddam Hussein to draw. I think the conclusion of people around the world that they can draw is that the United States and America's allies are working on the final stages of diplomacy, hoping for the Security Council to take strong action. And if it does not, the United States and a coalition of the willing will proceed to disarm Saddam Hussein.
Q Ari, on the timing, obviously the original deadline was the 17th. Now we may not even have a vote on a second resolution, if there is one by the 17th. So how -- what does the time line look like here? I know you say we're coming to the end of the road, but obviously it is sliding a bit. Are we likely to go past the end of the month before this is resolved one way or the other?
MR. FLEISCHER: I made no predictions about what the timing could be. I think if there are anything that is to said conclusively about the timing on a military front, of course, you'll hear that from the President. But beyond that, I make no predictions.
Q Well, on the flexibility front, since we've shown flexibility in the diplomacy, does that also suggest some flexibility on the weeks, not months?
MR. FLEISCHER: Nothing has changed that.
Q That remains as it was?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
Q Now on the --
MR. FLEISCHER: The timing and the flexibility that you have seen on the diplomacy is, of course, within the context of what the President said on weeks, not months.
Q So the end point hasn't moved, only the middle points?
MR. FLEISCHER: The diplomacy. I think you're watching diplomacy in action.
Q Now, the U.S. still has not embraced the British benchmarks, the tests for Saddam Hussein. That did create some confusion in the Security Council last night, because some of the undecided six wanted to know if the U.S. would, in fact, support these tests, if they were willing to vote for them. Could you clarify what the U.S. would do if others were willing to support this?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as was discussed at the Security Council last night, and it was well known by the various nations that met in closed session at the Security Council last night, the position of the United States was that it was in the context of Resolution 1441, that we thought that the benchmarks deserved serious consideration. Obviously, before it could even be very much discussed, the French rejected it out of hand. And as I noted, the French rejected it before the Iraqis did.
Q One more thing, if you would. You say that one of the concerns here is that we value the counsel of allies. I gather the flexibility the President is now showing in diplomacy is in deference to the concerns of our allies?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President from the very beginning, when he went up to New York on September 12th, made this a matter of consultation with the world. The President has begun this effort, now some six months ago, with an eye toward the United Nations Security Council facing up to its fundamental responsibilities to deal with how to disarm Saddam Hussein. This process has been a consultative one, and will continue to be.
Q Sure, but the President was quite firm in the news conference on what he wanted to happen and when he wanted it to happen. And he is obviously now showing some flexibility. Should we interpret that as a sign that he is just waiting to see if something else happens, or that he's responding to the concerns of allies who suggested if he waited, there would be a better outcome?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President is, as I indicated earlier, pursuing the last bits of diplomacy here, to see where they can lead to. And I make no predictions about what that outcome can be.
Q Ari, what would you expect the course of the next few days to take? If we reach the point where there will be no vote, the decision is made to reach no vote, does the President at that point go right to the next decision about whether or not to force a war? Or are there other things that he must confront before that decision?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I just -- I'm not going to get ahead of where the diplomacy is. They continue to talk, and we'll see what the outcome is and work forward from there.
Q And why would it be a positive option for the U.S. to have no vote? What would be the logic behind that?
MR. FLEISCHER: I've always indicated -- number one, the President is moving forward with this. Now, we obviously are saying that there are options. The President will continue to consult with his friends and allies about the route that they think is the best route to take.
Q But what is the benefit of having no vote?
MR. FLEISCHER: If it gets to that point, maybe we'll have something to say at that time. It may not get to that point.
Q They don't want a vote? The allies don't want a vote?
MR. FLEISCHER: Bill.
Q You were saying that there's no plans for the President to travel. Are there any plans for the Secretary or the Vice President to travel overseas, to sell this resolution?
MR. FLEISCHER: You need, at all times, to address that to their offices. I don't have information on their schedules.
Q Ari, the French foreign minister today made very conciliatory statements, saying, one, that the need to find consensus on the Security Council and to preserve the unity of the Security Council. Is the White House's newfound flexibility in response to some of that kind of talk, or is there hope that maybe --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you have to understand the context in which that statement was made, of course, and that is in the aftermath of the statement by French leaders that they will veto any resolution at the Security Council, no matter what these amendments or ultimatums are. And so I think you have to look at this as a matter of France trying to figure out how to recover from that statement.
Q Do you get the sense that they're getting any heat internally?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it shows, and the statement itself says that -- this is why I said to you, if that's not an unreasonable veto, what is; the statement, we will veto any resolution -- any amendment to the resolution that is pending, the statement that rejects to logic of ultimatums -- which is what was said by their foreign minister -- if you reject the logic of ultimatum, then how do you support the immediate clause of Resolution 1441? How do you support the finality clause of Resolution 1441? There is an inconsistency here. If you reject the logic of an ultimatum, you're saying Iraq has forever to disarm. And that is not a position that will lead to the disarmament of Saddam Hussein. That will be a position that allows him to continue to arm up.
Q Can I just finish --
MR. FLEISCHER: We're going to keep moving. We've got a lot of hands up in the back.
Q Ari, actually, if I can follow on that. The French Foreign Minister in these most recent comments has gone so far to say that France sees sort of merit, potentially, in benchmarks. And I'm just wondering whether or not some of your words today are a rejection or whether you have less faith that that's an honest statement?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, the diplomacy continues. And if anybody has something that is productive, that will be reflected in the diplomacy that's ongoing. But they, of course, did reject the benchmarks that were on the table.
Q Ari, you very often have set an example from that podium as using diplomatic language, intentionally not attacking France, while others in other parts of government and elsewhere have. Today, you've discussed how the French rejected the proposal even before Iraq did. You brought up the etymology of the word "charade." And also you discussed how the French were actually retreating. Are you signalling a change in attitude here?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, first, you'll note that I did indicate that I've studied the matter carefully. (Laughter.)
Q There's no question about that. (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: I think I'm letting the facts speak for themselves. I'm quoting the statements made by French officials.
Q In the Bush-Blair phone calls today and yesterday, was there any mention of the Rumsfeld comments?
MR. FLEISCHER: In which calls?
Q The Bush-Blair calls today and yesterday?
MR. FLEISCHER: Not to my knowledge.
Q So they didn't discuss Rumsfeld's comments --
MR. FLEISCHER: I said not to my knowledge. But the call -- today's call literally took place just as I was coming out here, a little prior to it.
Q What about yesterday's call?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, not to my knowledge. But I don't have every detail of the phone call.
Q Ari, to what extent does the flexibility here reflect Tony Blair's dire political situation at home?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that Prime Minister Blair, from the very beginning, has acted on the basis of principle and acted on the basis of the internationally recognized need to disarm Saddam Hussein and the desire to do it peacefully. I don't talk about other nation's political circumstances. But that is clearly the President's view of how Tony Blair has approached this.
Q When you say flexibility, presumably it is others like Tony Blair who are asking for this flexibility. And I guess I'm wondering is the President trying to get --
MR. FLEISCHER: It's not for me to divine people's politics or motives. I can describe to you the public stances that they have taken in this case, and the President's approach. And the President's approach is one of multilateralism. It is to listen to America's allies and to consult.
Q You're not denying the President's trying to help Tony Blair out here?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has always said that he wants to listen and work very closely and carefully with our friends and allies. The President finds that an important part of diplomacy, an important part of good relations. Of course, the President seeks to help out our allies.
Q Ari, on Tuesday I spent part of the day at the United Nations, going through all the resolutions and talking to people on staff, to U.N. staff and the diplomats. Now, all the resolutions and diplomats all agreed that Saddam Hussein must disarm fully, according to 1441.
But also, the President when he went to address the United Nations last year -- which I'm sure he's planning this year also -- he also said the same thing. But also he promised the U.N. world body that he supports and the U.S. will continue to support the United Nations and their activities. The question all the diplomats and the staff was asking, what is really -- what is the future of the United Nations if the U.S. goes to war without U.N. resolution? That means end of the U.N.?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the future of the United Nations if the United States and a coalition of the willing go to war without the United Nations Security Council can be judged by looking at the past. It happened when the United Nations Security Council failed to take action in Kosovo. It happened when the United Nations Security Council failed to take action in Rwanda.
So if the United Nations Security Council fails to take action here, it will not be a first. It will be a repeat of a pattern.
Q Ari, back on the coalition of the willing, what role do they have at this point in setting either the diplomatic deadline or the military deadline for Iraqi disarmament?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as you noticed, the President is making a series of phone calls, not only to members of the Security Council, but to other nations around the world. This is part of the very process you're watching unfold before your eyes of President Bush, in as multilateral way as you can think, consulting with our friends and allies. And the conversations talk about many different topics. And the President, as I indicated yesterday, gets ideas about various diplomatic proposals, various amendments, various benchmarks, from a number of nations that he consults with. All of that gets, then, talked about again with the various nations -- with England and with Spain -- and that gets reflected in what the final outcome may or may not be.
Q But if you don't get a vote from the U.N., or you don't get an approval from the U.N., will you then fall back on more of a formal approach with the coalition where they would take a general view on this?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the coalition will take a general view as expressed through the military support and the military action. That'll be a rather specific general view.
Q Rather than a diplomatic step in the first place?
MR. FLEISCHER: The diplomacy would be expressed by their military support.
Q Thank you. Ari, there is a basic action in economics that you can't have guns and butter at the same time. If United States goes to war with Iraq, a war that would cost at least several billions of dollars, how can the President uphold the war and his tax cut?
MR. FLEISCHER: I repeatedly get this question. I'm always puzzled by why people don't say, if there's a war in Iraq, why does the President still think that senior citizens deserve prescription drugs? The question always seems to be, if there is a war in Iraq, why is the President pushing for tax cuts? Nobody ever talks about the other side of the ledger.
Q So we can have it all?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, my point is, the very same reason, if there is a war with Iraq, that doesn't change the equation that the economy needs to grow, and the people deserve jobs. With our without a war in Iraq, the President believes the economy needs to grow, people deserve jobs, and that's why he's pushing an economic growth stimulus package. The President also thinks the seniors deserve prescription drugs, and that will continue.
Q Ari, you have said on repeated occasions from this podium that the President would be disappointed with any nation in the Security Council that doesn't vote for the proposal the U.N., Great Britain and Spain have advanced. The President has been on the phone for three solid days, and I imagine Secretary of State Powell, too, and you still are -- I won't use the word sliding back the date -- but the date is moving for a resolution.
Does the President still feel he can get the countries that are on the borderline? Because it's the word out there that a lot of countries are still undecided.
MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated earlier, I'm making no predictions about the outcome. The diplomacy is earnest and it continues.
Q You know from your time on the Hill, you don't need to be flexible if you're winning; and you don't postpone votes, if you've got the votes. Are we wrong to conclude from these developments, at least, that things aren't going well right now?
MR. FLEISCHER: The third question I got here earlier. The answer is the same. The question has been framed to me from different points of view. Is this an indication you have the votes? Is this an indication you don't have the votes? It's an indication that we're working with the United Nations. And the United Nations process is a process of diplomacy that takes a little bit of time. Again, we'll see what the outcome is. But one outcome that is not going to be in any doubt is if the United Nations Security Council doesn't act, Saddam Hussein will still be disarmed.
Q Can you point to a single positive development in recent days, other than that they're taking the President's calls?
MR. FLEISCHER: I appreciate the opportunity you're affording me to speak for other nations. But it's just something, as you know, by policy, I'm not going to do.
Q You used the words inflexible and unreasonable to describe the French. Are you writing them off now entirely?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, clearly France has said they're going to veto the resolution no matter what it says. So France is -- I think France is doing its own writing.
Q In a broader sense, though, are you writing them off as a long-time ally?
MR. FLEISCHER: Absolutely not. No, I've talked about this before. On this issue, when it comes to whether the military should be used to disarm Saddam Hussein, whether force is required, or whether Saddam Hussein will disarm on his own -- France seems to think that Saddam Hussein will disarm on his own. The United States and many other nations do not agree. We hope that he will, but we haven't seen any evidence at this point.
But, no matter what, the United States and France have an important strategic relationship. We have common values, and the relationship can be strained. It's obvious for everybody to see. What you have to do is watch your TV and see the natural reaction of the American people. They're reacting.
But France has been helpful, and still is helpful, in the war against terrorism. The President has said different nations will help in different ways. France will help in a way that it proceeds and perceives. That won't stop the United States from reflecting, accurately, on the very statements that the French have made. The United States is responsible for the statements it makes. France must be responsible for the statements that they, too, make.
Q So what's the lasting impact?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not in a position to predict that. I have said that, in terms of government to government, and President Bush to President Chirac, they understand that they have other strategic interests, we have other partnerships, we have common values. I think there's no question, though, that when you watch the American people's reaction, it is not good.
Q So is there no worry, though, that this rift with the French will bleed over into other areas, and other --
MR. FLEISCHER: As I mentioned, France has been a stalwart ally in the war on terror. Germany, as well. The information sharing, the working with the police agencies, and working together around the world to fight terrorism, is strong with those nations. So the issue should not be confused or broadened into something that it is not. We remain important nations and allies. We have differences. You are seeing those differences today.
Q Ari, Richard Perle is the Chairman of the Defense Policy Board and the lead public advocate for war on Iraq. In the New Yorker Magazine this week, Seymour Hirsch reports that Perle is also managing partner of a venture capital company, Trireme Partners, and is positioned to profit from a war in Iraq. The Federal Code of Conduct, which governs Perle in this matter, prohibits conflict of interest. Henry Kissinger resigned from the 9/11 Commission because of similar business conflicts. When asked on Sunday by Wolf Blitzer about the New Yorker article, Perle called Hirsch "the closest thing American journalism has to a terrorist."
Two questions. Given Perle's conflict of interest, and given the widespread public belief that this war is being driven by corporate interests -- war for oil, and war for defense contracts, war for construction companies -- does the President believe --
MR. FLEISCHER: Who's informed judgment is that?
Q Widespread public belief.
MR. FLEISCHER: Widespread? Or just that chair?
Q No, widespread. Does the President believe that Richard Perle should resign from the Defense Policy Board? And second question, do you agree with Richard Perle that Hirsch is the closest thing American journalism has to a terrorist?
MR. FLEISCHER: Russell, there's absolutely no basis to your own individual and personal statement about what may lead to war. If anything leads to war, it's the fact that Saddam Hussein has refused to disarm. And I think you do an injustice to people -- no matter what their background -- if you believe that people believe that Saddam Hussein should be disarmed for any reason that suggests personal profit.
Q Okay, what about the question, Ari? Should he resign and is he a terrorist?
MR. FLEISCHER: Russell, you've had your -- you've made your speech.
Q You didn't answer the question.
MR. FLEISCHER: You've made your speech.
Q In regard to France's behavior right now, do we believe that on this particular issue France is acting honorably? And does the White House -- you were referring to the American people's reaction -- does the White House have any objection to the calls for boycotts of French products?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has said repeatedly he believes that President Chirac is acting on principle. And it's a principle on which we disagree. Nations have disagreements. We have a disagreement with France. We certainly have a disagreement with a statement made that France rejects the logic of ultimatums, and that no matter what is offered, the resolution will be vetoed. No matter what changes, the resolution will be vetoed. Well, of course, we object to those statements.
Q What about the question of whether the White House has any feeling about the growing calls for boycotts of French products to protest France --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you are seeing the American people speak spontaneously. And that is their right. It is the right of people in Europe to demonstrate. It is the right of people in Europe to speak their mind. So, too, is it the right of the American people to speak theirs.
Q Since you have said that the President largely went for this second resolution to help the allies, primarily Tony Blair, would he only pull the resolution at the request of Tony Blair? And does he think that it would be more harmful for Blair to have a losing -- to have no vote at all or to have a vote that loses?
MR. FLEISCHER: I just can't speculate about the ultimate outcome. We are proceeding, and we will see what the United Nations Security Council does.
Q Ari, Tony Blair has effectively been asked to fall on his sword, and he's having a difficult time doing it. If he's replaced as the party leader, or if he makes a decision that he ultimately can't go with the United States under the conditions that are finally decided upon, and the United States decides to go it alone, doesn't that create the impression in the eyes of the world that the U.S. is kind of acting like something of an imperial bully to revamp the map of the Gulf in line with certain agenda that certain people have in the administration? That's already widespread. But wouldn't that really kind of encourage that view?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think I reject the premise of the question. I think that when you take a look at the actions of nations in the region, when you take a look at the coalition of the willing, that you can see that this is actually many nations who share the United States' approach. And that will be reflected if the decision is made to use force, and you will see that.
You said fall on his sword. I think what Tony Blair is doing is trying to act so Saddam Hussein is not armed with a sword that he can swing against others.
Q Isn't the broad disarray at the Security Council level an ominous sign in terms of the hopes for assembling sort of a broad institutional international coalition in support the rebuilding, reconstruction and democratization of Iraq after the war is over?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think that there's no question that the United Nations will play a role in the rebuilding and reconstruction of Iraq. And I think that's a role the United Nations will play. I do think it is a worrisome sign about what the message to the next proliferators are. The next proliferators are going to look at the actions of the Security Council. And if no action is taken, they will celebrate because they'll recognize the Security Council may not be an effective place to take action. The President hopes that is not the case. The President will continue to push the Security Council -- even after Iraq -- to be relevant. But this does raise questions about how relevant they ultimately can be. We hope they will be relevant now and into the future, as well.
Q Today's Senate vote to ban partial-birth abortions was welcome news to the majority of Americans who oppose unrestricted abortion. In his statement of support, the President called the Senate's action an important step toward building a culture of life in America. Is he looking for additional pro-life legislation?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is very pleased with the action that has been passed today. And the President will continue to work with the Congress on steps that can be taken to welcome a culture of life, including increasing support for adoption and a number of items.
Q On North Korea, at what point -- (inaudible) -- another missile test -- (inaudible) -- particular point the President decide, okay, no more diplomacy in North Korea?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has said that he believes this is a matter that can be settled through diplomacy, particularly multilateral diplomacy, and that remains his position.
Q Ari, did the President write a letter to the new Prime Minister of Turkey, Mr. Erdogan, seeking access to Turkish air space, and other air rights in the event of a war?
MR. FLEISCHER: As a matter of long-standing policy, as you know, I often come here and I inform you about phone calls the President makes. The letter writing process has always been treated differently by the White House, and the President will often engage in private communications with leaders around the world. So I'm not saying "yes," I'm not saying "no," but I will always respect the privacy of any written Presidential communications.
Q Is he looking for a quick decision from Turkey on this issue?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we remain waiting to hear what the final answer is from Turkey, and we shall see.
Q Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.
END 1:19 P.M. EST