Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer - September 19
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 19, 2002
Press Briefing by Ari
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:15 P.M. EDT
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. I want to update you on the President's day, and then I have a statement I'd like to make in reaction to the speech that was given at the United Nations by the Iraqi Foreign Minister.
The President began his day today by calling the Prime Minister of Japan. He spoke with Prime Minister Koizumi early this morning. The Prime Minister briefed the President on his visit to North Korea, and the President expressed his support for the Prime Minister's visit. The two leaders also discussed Iraq and Prime Minister Koizumi's support for U.S. efforts to establish the necessary resolutions in the United Nations Security Council.
The President also today called President Arroyo of the Philippines. They spoke early this morning. The President thanked her for her government's strong support for the United States approach on Iraq. In addition, the two discussed counterterrorism efforts around the world, including in Southeast Asia.
The President also today called President Kwasniewski of Poland. They talked about the upcoming NATO summit, as well as Iraq. And the President thanked the President of Poland for their government's support on Iraq.
The President had his usual intelligence briefings and FBI briefings. Then he met with members of Congress, particularly a bipartisan group from the House of Representatives that is going to work as a team to help the administration with the resolution that has been sent up to the Hill concerning Iraq. And this group will help the administration to secure the votes and to work closely with us, in addition to the leadership of the House of Representatives in both parties, so that the administration's proposal can be well received and moved forward to a vote.
Later this afternoon, the President will visit with employees of the Department of Homeland Security, where the President is going to try to make progress to help the Senate break the logjam that the Senate finds itself in, to bring action to homeland security so that the matter can be voted on.
And this evening, the President will make remarks to the Republican Governors Association Fall Reception.
Finally, in regard to the speech at the United Nations by the Iraqi Foreign Minister, in the speech, Iraq failed to accept the truth and engaged in additional deceptions, and showed no willingness to change attitude or behavior. Sadly, the speech presented nothing new and was more of the same.
It was a disappointing failure in every respect. The speech is an attempt to lure the world down the same dead-end road that the world has traveled before, and in that it represents a disappointing failure by Iraq.
Q Ari, what specifically was deceptive in the White House view about what the Foreign Minister said?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, number one, Iraq said in the speech that they have not rejected the resolutions of the United Nations. If that was true then why did the United Nations pass 16 of them? The reason is because Iraq has not complied.
Iraq said in the speech they are clear of all nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. As we know from the arms inspectors who have been to Iraq, that is categorically a lie.
Iraq also accused President Bush of engaging in lies and falsehoods. And finally, they are already putting up conditions for the weapons inspectors that they said only two days ago they would accept unconditionally. When Iraq talks about sovereignty and independence, history has shown that those are code words for thwarting the inspectors.
Q Do you get the sense, or are you concerned that this diplomatic offensive from Saddam Hussein might convince members of the Security Council, other world leaders, to say, well, preferable to war, give him one more chance?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think the United Nations has no desire to travel down the same dead-end road again. They have spent 10 years traveling down that dead-end road. And as the President said this morning, and the speech doesn't change anything for the President, that he has confidence that the members of the Security Council will face up to their obligations. He thinks it's terribly important that they do so.
Q Is there any way to avoid war, and if so, how?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President, in his speech to the United Nations, laid out the important decisions that Iraq has to make, in terms of destroying its weapons of mass destruction, stopping its repression of minorities, returning prisoners, renouncing involvement with terrorism and ceasing its violations to the oil-for-food program. The President believes what has to happen next is for the United Nations to act in a strong and meaningful way. The President thinks it's important for Congress to act, and that the world's voice be heard by the Iraqi people and by the leaders of Iraq.
Q The President was very explicit about what he is asking for from Congress, authorization to use force to bring about regime change. Is that the same thing he's looking for from the U.N.?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't think you can assume that what we are asking of the Congress is the same that we are asking from the United Nations. They are separate organizations, of course. In terms of what's being asked of the Congress, late this morning, early this afternoon, a resolution to authorize the use of force was sent up to Capitol Hill for its consideration. This is a draft, and the President looks forward to working with members of both parties on this resolution. He thinks it's very important for the Congress and the White House to work together, without regard to party. That way the nation sees the Congress and the President can work together on something as important as this. There will be meetings on Capitol Hill about this, and the President believes and expects that the Congress will vote on this before they leave.
Q Why the difference then? Why not ask the U.N. for the same thing? You can't get it -- I mean, is there a feeling that you can't possibly convince the world that regime change --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the world is not the Congress. The world has other concerns and other issues. For example, the work that the Secretary is doing, along with other members of the Permanent Five and other members of the Security Council will keep going on. Obviously, there are still consultations and negotiations underway with the members of the Security Council. And we will see exactly what the U.N. does, and we'll see what the language is at the appropriate time.
Q Ari, can I deviate just for a second, Ari, to the 9/11 hearings on the Hill. Why has the White House sought to not declassify information that the President received about intelligence prior to 9/11?
MR. FLEISCHER: If you're referring to -- I think there's been some confusion on that point. The final report recognizes that the principle of information that is provided to the President per the advisory capacity of his staff is not subject to revelation in terms of the President was briefed on this, the President was briefed on that. That's a well-known and accepted principle that the Congress has recognized in this report.
But the substance of the information is in the report. Nothing was withheld in the final document about the substance of the information that was received. But the question of what -- did this go to the President or to anybody else, et cetera, that's a long-regarded principle in the advisory capacity of the President and the staff.
Q Ari, are U.S.-German relations being threatened by the tone of the Iraq debate in the political campaign there? That's including the Justice Minister's equating President Bush's tactics with Hitler, and Chancellor Schroeder's ruling out German involvement in any Iraq war.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, let me say I've noted the report out of Berlin where the German Justice Minister likened President Bush's actions to those of Adolf Hitler. And the United States and Germany have had a very long and valuable relationship, and the relations between the people of the United States and the people of Germany are very important to the American people. But this statement by the Justice Minister is outrageous and is inexplicable.
Q And if I could go back to Iraq for a minute, the resolution sent to Congress doesn't specifically mention regime change in the operative portion of the resolution. But it does mention regional stability --
MR. FLEISCHER: How do you know that? It hasn't been released yet.
Q Well, it got released somewhere. But are we to interpret the --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you could not have read the entire resolution. Let me just say --
Q I said the operative portion -- after all the "whereas"-es.
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me just say that the resolution will be provided, but, of course, first we want to make sure the members of Congress have it. The press will have it in its entirety, but first things first. We want members of Congress to be able to have this, to be able to take a look at this. And that is underway as we speak. And then you will be able to see the resolution in its entirety.
And I think it's safe to say that given the fact that in 1998, four years ago, when Congress spoke and expressed its support for regime change, the only thing that's happened since 1998 is that the situation has grown worse, because Iraq has continued to develop its weapons and the inspectors are no longer there. And so you should expect that this resolution will build on the 1998 resolution, which includes regime change.
Q You mentioned the phone call to Prime Minister Koizumi. I was just wondering if you -- you didn't talk about any economic programs. Was there any discussion of that, including the Japanese government's decision to purchase up equities -- an unusual move?
MR. FLEISCHER: No.
Q No discussion of any economic matters?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. The phone call was on the two issues I described to you.
Q Ari, I just want to clarify. Is the President asking the Congress for the authority to use military force to bring about regime change in Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: The resolution makes clear that regime change needs to be the objective. And this is a resolution in draft form that would authorize the use of force to achieve the objectives of the resolution. And when you look at all the "whereas" clauses, there can be no mistaking that the purpose of the authorization to use military force will be to protect the peace by changing the regime.
Q If I can follow, because also, according to the draft resolution that some of us have, it also talks about authorizing the use of force to restore international peace and security in the region. So does this authority solely cover Iraq, or could it cover other regional threats -- Lebanon, Syria, Iran? Should any country pose a threat to the international peace and security, the President would have authority?
MR. FLEISCHER: You need to see this in the context of the conversations the President is having about Iraq.
Q Solely about Iraq.
MR. FLEISCHER: Those are all the conversations that are being had.
Q Ari, as you know, the inspectors are going to try and finalize arrangements to get back into Iraq late next week. But you and others in the administration have made it clear there's a degree of skepticism over the offer in general from Saddam. Can you share with us any indication that the United States has received that Saddam will have some conditions regarding certain sites?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, when you hear what the Iraqi Foreign Minister said today, how can you not come to the conclusion that there's anything but a repeat of conditions? The word "sovereignty" have a meaning in one part of the world that are totally different when it comes to Iraq. Iraq uses the word "sovereignty" in an effort to thwart the inspectors. Iraq uses the word "sovereignty" in an effort to get around the very resolutions that they have been called on by the world to comply with. That is a code word for deception, for deceit and for thwarting the inspectors.
And this is why the President thinks it's so important for the world to speak clearly and strongly, so that Iraq again cannot dishonor its obligations to the world. And again, the bottom line has to be disarmament.
Q Should Iraq have specific concerns about inspections at what they're referring to as presidential sites, what would the administration's position be on that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, on the question of presidential sites, number one, there is no negotiating with Iraq. Iraq has to comply with the terms of the world to disarm, and that is not a matter that is subject to negotiations. On the question of so-called presidential residences, Iraq, by various reports, has some -- I've seen some accounts of 17 presidential palaces, some 30 presidential palaces. I don't know very many people who need that many places to live. I don't think he spends much time at all of those places. Something is going on there other than Saddam Hussein sleeping there. And yet, he does not want the world to even visit those sites. There's probably a reason why.
Q Ari, you have asked the Congress for this resolution expecting to have it passes as soon as possible. Do you have a calendar for getting the U.N. to approve something that you would be comfortable --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, there's no hard and fast calendar, other than to say what the President has said, which is this can be a matter of days and weeks, and not months. It's important for the United Nations to move quickly on this. And the United Nations is a deliberative body, and we will continue to work closely and cooperatively with the United Nations as they proceed sooner.
Q And a follow-up. The Foreign Minister of Iraq and Tariq Aziz use always the word "oil," saying that the U.S. is trying to get any excuse possible to get its hands or control Iraqi oil. Is that a valid point?
MR. FLEISCHER: The United States is working to protect the peace in the region and to stop Saddam Hussein from endangering the peace in the region, as he has shown in his willingness to use the weapons that he's developed for the purpose of attacking others. That's what this is about.
Q A couple of questions. First of all, in using the word "sovereignty," and in other remarks that he made, it's suggesting that Iraq is looking to put some conditions on inspectors, or to bar off some areas. Doesn't that work to the U.S. advantage as you all try to persuade the U.N. to take more aggressive stands? Are they -- will that, in fact, give you all an argument to take to some wavering allies?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I don't think it's uncommon for Iraq to see things in a way that nobody else in the world sees things. And that's the problem. And that's why Iraq has been in such defiance of the Security Council resolutions. I think it's important for the world to listen carefully to what Iraq's Foreign Minister said. The more the world listens to the Iraqi Foreign Minister, the more the world will be convinced of the dangers that Iraq poses through their attempts to deceive and to distort.
Q Now, also, on the domestic resolution, two quick questions. First of all, are you all going at this from -- like, do you view this as a bit of a negotiating session? Because you have indicated that Congress is going to want to put its stamp on it. So is that how you approach it, that you know there will be some give and take on this language? And then secondly, what do you expect from these members that met with the President? Was there a real strategic plan for what you want them to do to help build the vote?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, on the first point, what we want to do is work together with the Congress to get agreement on the language. And that means the importance of consultation and discussion, to listen to any ideas Congress may have, and to be receptive, and Congress to be receptive to the President's ideas. I don't think anybody is talking about any fundamental changes in the core of what the President is asking for. I think you're starting to hear a rather large coming together of members of Congress in both parties behind the essence of what the President has proposed.
In terms of the meeting with the members today, in the past, in 1991, for example, there was a similar working group that was set up in a bipartisan way. That way they could help the administration to work with members of Congress to address any questions that they have, to take up any concerns that members of Congress have, so that when the day comes for a vote, the vote can be as large as possible.
Not everybody will support this. Certainly people in good principle will vote against this. But we want to work cooperatively with everybody, and that's why this has been put together.
Q Will you be meeting regularly with this group?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think as events warrant, Jean, as events warrant.
Q The Russian Foreign and Defense Ministers are in town today, and the Foreign Minister is coming here tomorrow. The stated purpose is to discuss the implementation of the Treaty of Moscow.
MR. FLEISCHER: Right.
Q Will Iraq also be on the agenda?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, I said that yesterday. The purpose is to discuss the Treaty of Moscow, and that certainly will be a topic. But it would not surprise me if the topic of Iraq came up, as well.
Q And will the situation in the Pankisi Gorge in Georgia also be part of --
MR. FLEISCHER: Ken, I can't predict everything that's going to happen in a meeting that will take place 24 hours from now. But I'll try to give you a report after the meeting.
Q President Putin, I believe it was last week, attempted to equate the situation in the Pankisi Gorge and the Russian attempts to drive out terrorists from that area with the United States effort in Afghanistan and other places. What's your assessment of that argument?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President does not equate the two. There -- it's important to fight terrorism and to respect the sovereignty of the Republic of Georgia. Unlike what's happening with the United Nations; the United Nations has expressed itself 16 times in its resolutions that Iraq has violated. The United Nations has called on Iraq to disarm. Iraq has failed to do so. While there are other hot spots in the world, none -- none -- are like Iraq, and none present the danger to the region and to the world that Iraq presents.
Q Another bomb in Israel, another bomb in Kashmir, innocent people have been killed every day by the same people linked with al Qaeda. And now there's a new book -- from Dheli, linking Saddam Hussein also for these al Qaeda links, and Jihad and the conflict between Islam and Christianity -- and the book is calling that there is no democracy anywhere in the Islamic world, and Pakistan is the only Islamic country with nuclear weapons, and they may spread in other part of the Islamic world. The question is that why we are not pressing for democracy in --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there is democracy in the Islamic world. Turkey is an example of it, and there are others, as well.
Q But the war on terrorism comes from the Muslim countries, Islamic countries. And in order to have a peace or end of terrorism, I think democracy in those countries may be the answer.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, if you ask the President, the President believes that democracy is always the answer, everywhere. And democracy is not something that the United States uniquely possesses or imposes. Democracy is God-given. All you need to do is read our Declaration of Independence, and you see that inalienable rights come from the Creator. And that applies to everybody, everywhere around the world, regardless of the color of their skin, their ethnic background, or their national circumstances. It's the rights of man, and people are entitled to it everywhere.
Q Is Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: Absolutely, Iraq.
Q Just to follow, Ari, when the President meets world leaders, Islamic leaders, the Prime Ministers and Presidents here at the White House, does this question come between the two leaders?
MR. FLEISCHER: The question of democracy does come up. It is something the President speaks about, and he speaks about it exactly as I just talked to you about. It's something the President says -- this does not come from any American invention, this comes from the inalienable rights that apply to people around the world. And he continues to see a world in which democracy is on the march. More and more nations are becoming democratic.
Q Given what the President has heard from Iraq so far, how optimistic is he that Iraq will eventually respond in a way that can avert war?
MR. FLEISCHER: Keith, I think where the President is really focused is on what he would like to hear from the United States Congress and from the United Nations. I don't think it surprises anyone that Iraq would respond in a way that one day they say unconditional inspections, and then two days later they take it back; that they respond with more deceptions about what it is they complied with when they haven't. That's what the world has come to expect of Iraq, unfortunately, and hence the problem.
What's important now is for the United Nations to make sure that it does play a productive role to keep the peace, and is relevant, and for Congress to continue its good efforts with the administration.
Q Again on that topic, given that the President today is going to endorse the Miller-Gramm bill to create a department of homeland security, a largely partisan bill, does that mean he has ended efforts to sort of broker a deal with Democrats, and he's just going to try to push this bill through?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, clearly, in the Senate it takes 50 votes in order for something to have majority support. And the President will hope to get the biggest possible majority support, but it's important in the Senate that, frankly, has failed to even be able to vote, to put something on the floor so 50 votes can be arrived at.
What's important is to protect the country and to pass homeland security. And the President will welcome support from as many Democrats as possible. And in one of the key test votes on this issue, there was a sizable block of Democrats who joined with Republicans on a test vote, to make certain that the White House Office of Homeland Security would not be Senate-confirmable. That's what the President asked for, and a bipartisan block developed, supported the President. And we'll see what happens in the final outcome on this when they take it to the floor.
Q -- compared to the bill. I mean, what I hear you saying is that basically he's going to push for this bill, and this is where we're at now. Correct?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President today is going to announce his support for a bipartisan compromise, the Miller-Gramm compromise.
Q Are you going to meet with members of the Senate on getting support in the Senate for the resolution? And why weren't they here today?
MR. FLEISCHER: He will have meetings with the Senate as well.
Q Just not --
MR. FLEISCHER: Just not scheduled today. We'll fill you in when it is.
Q And given the Iraq statement that the United States is working to protect the Zionist entity -- you didn't have any reaction to that.
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes. Obviously, Iraq is seeking to distract attention from the issues that the world is confronted with, which is Iraq's behavior.
Q Yes, former arms inspector Richard Butler described the Iraqi letter as "snaky." And you clearly characterized their statement so far in somewhat the same way. We have not been able to get a clear answer from the Iraqis on the question of unfettered access. I mean, it seems clear that they're fuzzing things up. But wouldn't it be useful, and isn't it possible, for someone, somewhere, to ask Iraq if their offer includes unfettered access for inspectors to go anywhere, any time?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, this is not a matter for Iraq to negotiate. Iraq has proven, by its past behavior for a decade, and by its very change of approach in two days in the speech to the United Nations today, that what they say really doesn't matter, does it? Their actions speak louder, and their actions are to thwart the inspectors at every turn they can, because they do not support the core, which is disarmament.
Q Well, the real question is whether or not it's clear that they thwart them before the inspectors go in, or after the inspectors go in. What I'm asking you is, is there some way to smoke them out, if you will, and determine for sure that they do not intend to cooperate with the inspectors, before we go through this whole rigmarole of sending them in there and going through all the motions for two, four, six months?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think what's important next, in the President's opinion, is for the United Nations to act, not for Iraq to once again be given a platform for them to engage in such deceptions.
Their speech undercut the offer to unconditionally accept inspectors. There was no mention in the speech of complete cooperation or full, free, unfettered access by anybody, any time, anywhere. The speech placed the Iraqi leadership in direct opposition to the United Nations, the United Nations Security Council, the message of the President of the United States -- all of whom have been clear that the Iraqi government is in fundamental violation of international obligations.
Q One more small thing, if I may. How did you choose the group that came up here today?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that group was developed as a result of the congressional office here at the White House talking to the leadership about the very best group that could be put together to help people in both parties get answers to their questions, and then to, as the vote gets closer, to help convince members of Congress to work closely with the White House so that this vote can proceed.
Q Thank you. I mean this with the utmost respect, but to help the American people and the world better understand, can you make a clear, explicit link between terrorist attacks against the United States and the regime of Saddam Hussein?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, obviously, the President is very worried about -- and he says this in every speech -- the worst thing he thinks could happen would be for the world's worst dictators, as he puts it, including Saddam Hussein -- principally Saddam Hussein -- to join up with a group like al Qaeda and to provide any weapons that then the terrorist groups would use against the United States. It is a clear worry that we have.
Q But do we know that they've done it in the past? I think Condoleezza Rice --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we clearly do know that Iraq has supported terrorism in the Middle East, yes.
Q Thank you. The United States could have trouble with Colombia and Mexico getting a strong resolution through the Security Council. Is the President getting the support of his friend, Vicente Fox? And is he asking Fox to help with the support of Colombia?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President and Secretary Powell think it's very important to have the support of all members of the United Nations, particularly those on the United Nations Security Council. Obviously, if people on the Security Council don't support a resolution, the resolution won't pass. The President is confident that that will not be the case, and that's why the consultations are underway with all nations on the Security Council.
Q Ari, at the U.N., the President said the goal is to disarm Iraq. Here, in Washington, he said the goal is regime change. Are you setting the bar, and is the White House setting the bar, at two different points? And if that's the case, why is that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the position that has been taken in the United Nations up to this point is disarmament. The point the President made in his speech to the U.N. is, here, U.N., is what you called for. It did not happen. Saddam Hussein has violated what you, yourselves, called for. You need to demonstrate that you are relevant. The question of regime change is not a question that the United Nations had previously dealt with. That's why the President didn't raise that at the United Nations. The United States Congress, of course, in 1998, did speak differently from the United Nations when it passed regime change.
Q Would you seek U.N. agreement or support for regime change?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you just have to allow the Secretary to continue his consultations, and we'll see ultimately what the U.N. does.
Q Following on Bob's question, in the President's thinking, is there then any realistic way to achieve the objective of regime change without military action?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President has said repeatedly that military options, military action is his last choice. But given what Saddam Hussein has done, and given the threat that he presents, the President thinks it's very important for the world to face up to its obligations to protect the peace.
Q It's certainly not the administration's intent -- I'm just curious -- is there anything in the wording of the proposed resolution that's going up to the Hill today that could be construed as flashing some kind of a green light in other hot spots, contested parts of the world -- India, Pakistan, China, Taiwan?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. I addressed that earlier. Everything that I've heard about this is related solely to the question of Iraq. And as I indicated earlier, while there are hot spots around the world, none of them, none of them, none of them are like Iraq.
Q On the Koizumi phone call, Prime Minister Koizumi said after the meeting in North Korea that Kim Jung-Il asked him to convey a message to
President Bush about resuming dialogue. Can you say whether that message was conveyed, and was there any reaction to it? Secondly, there have been some reports that the United States is a bit dissatisfied with the way the discussions went in North Korea, because not enough concern was given to shared U.S.-Japan concerns toward North Korea -- i.e., human rights, conventional weapons. Is the United States satisfied with the way the discussion went?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, as I indicated to you, the President told the Prime Minister that he supported his efforts vis-a-vis North Korea. The President thinks it is important to have that dialogue. And if you recall, in July of this year, the United States was prepared to enter into dialogue with North Korea. We had said, any time, anywhere, anyplace. North Korea responded by seeking a South Korean submarine. And that led to difficulties in setting up any type of dialogue.
Secretary Powell met with the North Korean Foreign Minister during one of the Secretary's recent trips abroad, and the American position remains clear that we are prepared to talk to North Korea. And what we want to talk to them about is to focus on peace on the Peninsula, to urge North Korea to reduce its conventional weapons that are focused on South Korea, to stop proliferating of missiles, to stop starving its people. There's a lot to talk to North Korea about.
Q Was there a message conveyed this morning in the phone call from Kim Jung-Il?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't remember if there was a formal message or even an informal one passed. I think we -- but I've addressed to you what the United States position is.
Q On homeland security, the Gramm-Miller bill, does it contain a provision in it that would give the President authority to exclude all department workers from union representation for national security reasons?
MR. FLEISCHER: This bipartisan proposal will provide the President with the same authority that Presidents have in current law with other departments. It certainly would not provide a President in time of war with less ability to deal with threats than the President currently has with other departments.
Q And also, yesterday the Office of Management and Budget Director Mitch Daniels, when he was asked about stock market incentives and what the status of the review was with the administration, indicated that as of yet the President has not seen any measure or any package that meets this criteria for approval. Is that correct?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President continues to take a look at his options and to hold them open, and will continue to do so. And clearly, and Mitch is reflecting on this, the time is running out for the Congress to act, particularly before this fiscal year is over. But the President retains his options.
Russell. Welcome, welcome back.
Q You said earlier that democracy is God-given. Didn't Thomas Jefferson have something to do with it?
MR. FLEISCHER: I cited the Declaration of Independence as the author of our inalienable rights, written by --
Q He's the author of --
MR. FLEISCHER: That's why I said it. Thomas Jefferson.
Q I thought you said democracy is God-given.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independent Rights that we hold our truths -- the self-evident truths that these rights and liberties are created by -- given by the Creator. That's what our Declaration of Independence says.
Q Has the Bush administration estimated how many American soldiers and Iraqi civilians will be killed in the event of an invasion?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the question that the President worries about, and much of the world worries about, is how many people will be killed if Saddam Hussein is allowed to develop nuclear weapons, which he has a history of showing that once he has his hands on a weapon, he uses it.
Q But that's a fair question. -- how many American soldiers and Iraqi civilians will be killed if we invade?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not aware of anything like that, Russell. I don't know; I'm not aware.
Q Last Monday at a Pentagon briefing, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld mentioned for the first time that North Korea has nuclear weapons. Does the United States think that North Korea is now one of -- with the nuclear power?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has labeled North Korea as part of the axis of evil because of their efforts to develop weapons and also their proliferation efforts. That is a clear worry and a clear concern.
Q A question on the timing. You sort of addressed this at the gaggle -- I think you said you were going to try to get more information on inspectors. If they are going ahead with this and they set up a meeting in Vienna, and let's say it's three weeks before they'd be on the ground, does the President want to have the resolution done before they are on the ground?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, on the terms of the time of the U.N., what I indicated just a few minutes ago was that the U.N. is a deliberative body and I would be hard-pressed to pinpoint the exact date that the U.N. would vote. The President hopes that they will move sooner --
Q You would want it before the inspectors --
MR. FLEISCHER: I've heard no discussion one way or another vis-a-vis before or after any events like that.
Q I mean, is that -- you keep saying the inspectors are basically useless unless you have this tough new resolution to back them up. So what's the point of sending them --
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is really looking at the United Nations. He thinks that's where the action is. The Security Council's vote is very important. And his focus is on getting the Security Council to honor its obligations, to express in a very clear and strong way the importance of Iraq living up to the resolutions they have agreed to, and doing so very quickly, soon.
Q Since you condemned the suicide attacks in Israel this morning, Israeli tanks have moved on Arafat's compound. Do you condemn the Israeli action, or admonish it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Ron, that information -- I'm aware of the reports, I've seen the media accounts immediately before I came out here. I do not have anything at this moment for you on that. We'll continue to monitor the situation and let you know if we do.
Q Can I follow on that? Are you calling on the Israelis, though, to exercise any restraint in responding to --
MR. FLEISCHER: Kelly, again, this all happened immediately prior to my coming out here. I was focused on the speech at the United Nations. So, again, if there's anything that further develops on that, I'll try to let you know.
Q Can you post a reaction to it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, if there's anything to announce, I will, Ron.
Q Has the administration also seen anything in these back-to-back bombings, any evidence that there could be Palestinian terrorists who are trying to derail the administration's plans for Iraq by inciting violence --
MR. FLEISCHER: Nobody has brought anything like that to my attention. I think that the violence in the Middle East and the terrorist attacks on Israel have a history of standing strongly on their own -- even though they are aided by Saddam Hussein in many ways.
Q Ari, Interior Secretary Norton said yesterday she'd recommend a veto of any energy bill that did not have ANWR in it. Is that the White House position also? And, secondly, a comment on OPEC's decision to keep -- to not act to lower oil prices?
MR. FLEISCHER: One, the President is continuing to work with the conference in the Congress that is meeting on this. The President thinks it's even more important now than ever for the Congress to pass legislation that maximizes America's energy independence.
And, along those lines, there was a party-line vote that was cast just this morning on the energy conference that is a disappointment, and that is a reversal of a position the Senate had taken. The Senate, by an overwhelming vote previously, had voted to allow the Department of Transportation to require that they take safety into account as the Department of Transportation sets new standards to increase energy efficiency with vehicles. And the vote in the conference, along party lines, denied the administration request to have the Department of Transportation consider safety in establishing higher fuel standards.
And the President supports increasing fuel efficiency, and doing it in a way that protects lives and jobs. And we do not think the message from the Congress should be that safety doesn't count. Safety always counts. So that was a disappointment in their vote earlier today on that.
On OPEC -- I've been asked this now, this is the third day in a row -- I do not talk specifically about any one OPEC action. But again, the very fact that people wonder what the impact of OPEC will be on America underscores the need for America to develop more of its own resources and energy, to do more conservation. And that way America can have better protection for its energy independence.
Q Ari, at what point in the President's thinking did Iraq become a greater threat to the world than, say, the Middle East conflict, the Koreas, tensions in the Koreas, India-Pakistan? Was it September 11th? Did that change it?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think there's no question September 11th changed a lot of people's points of view about how vulnerable the United States is, and how determined people are, particularly terrorists and others like Saddam Hussein, to kill American people. And so there's no question that that was an event that, as the President said, we were going to focus first on the people who carried out this act -- the Taliban, al Qaeda -- but then to make sure that we continue to take every action possible to protect the country. And that's also married up with the realization that Saddam Hussein's means, his seeking ways of acquiring new weapons, and his determination to use them.
Q Ari, now that you've formally -- now that the White House has formally sent up the language for what it envisions, what it would like to see a resolution say, what is the position regarding two resolutions from Capitol Hill -- one that says support the U.N., and then having to go back later for military action?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's the first I've heard of any two resolutions coming from the Congress. So --
Q There are no fears, then, that that's something that --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think when you listen to the members of the Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike, there is really a gathering consensus that what the President has asked for needs to be provided. We want to talk about the exact language, but I think you're seeing a gathering momentum in both parties behind what the President has asked for.
Q Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.
END 1:54 P.M. EDT