01 April 2003
White House Daily Briefing Transcript
(Status of Saddam Hussein, post-war Iraq/General Garner/aid for Iraqi
people/UN role, France, progress of war/war plan, anti-U.S. opinion,
homeland security, risk of terrorism in the U.S., Camp LeJeune trip,
Powell trip to Turkey, Amicus brief, Arab-Israeli conflict) (5160)
White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer briefed reporters April 1 in
the press briefing room.
Following is the White House transcript:
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
April 1, 2003
PRESS BRIEFING INDEX
-- Status of Saddam Hussein
-- Post-war Iraq
- General Garner
- aid for Iraqi people
- UN role
-- Progress of war
- war plan
-- Anti-U.S. opinion
-- Homeland security
-- Risk of terrorism in the U.S.
-- Camp LeJeune trip
-- Powell trip to Turkey
-- Amicus brief
-- Arab-Israeli conflict
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
April 1, 2003
PRESS BRIEFING BY ARI FLEISCHER
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
2:30 P.M. EST
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. I have no opening statement. I do need
to be in the Oval at 3:00 p.m., so I'd like to move as quickly as we
can today. Let's start.
QUESTION: Ari, a week ago, President Bush was saying that Saddam was
losing his grip on power. In a way, this seemed to indicate he
believed Saddam was alive. Now the message from the administration is
one of doubt that Saddam is alive. Has something happened in the last
week, or are you just -- are you trying to sow doubt among the Iraqi
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that, as the President has always said, and
members of the administration have said when asked, is Saddam alive,
we say we don't know, because we do not know. The fact that he failed
to show up for his scheduled appearance today raises additional
questions. But I think it's also fair to say, given the fact that we
don't know if he's alive or not, when the President refers or other
people in the administration refer to Saddam Hussein this or Saddam
Hussein that, it's almost now a generalized term for the Iraqi regime,
because we don't know if he's alive or dead.
Q: How was General Garner picked to be the -- to head the post-war
MR. FLEISCHER: My understanding is he was picked by Secretary Rumsfeld
as part of the team that the Secretary has assembled that is working
in coordination with other offices in the United States government,
including AID and State, on the reconstruction of Iraq.
Q: Does he have any qualifications? I understand he may be an arms
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know anything about that, Helen. Given the fact
that the appointment is Secretary Rumsfeld's, you might want to talk
to the Secretary. That's a DOD question.
Q: What is the President doing right now to try to resolve disputes
within the administration, specifically Pentagon and State, over
administering aid for the Iraqi people? It appears that some of it is
being held up now at the port in Umm Qasar.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, one, there is an existing plan and structure for
the administration of aid for Iraq. And this is something that was
planned going in. This is part -- a follow-up to Helen's question.
General Garner is, of course, working on that from the Defense
Department, and as well as officials from State, from AID. They all
will have a role.
The role really begins with the security of Iraq, and that's why it
begins at DOD, because this is going to become an outgrowth of the
military operation, to liberate Iraq, to disarm Iraq; and from a
security point of view, to allow for the greatest administration, as
quickly as possible by the Iraqi people. That will include a role for
others, including the United Nations, as I mentioned. So it's all part
and parcel of the original plan. And it's just a part of the
discussions that are routine around here, that involve the various
Q: What does the President view as the United Nations role? Will it be
restricted to humanitarian aid, or does he see a role for them in
terms of administrating?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the statement that the President made in the
Azores talked about a U.N. role in two part, one part being
humanitarian and the other part being in the reconstruction.
Q: As an administrative overseer of the interim authority?
MR. FLEISCHER: In some role. I think the exact role remains to be
seen. Obviously, the United States being on the ground, providing the
security is going to have a substantial role to play, and we want to
make certain and welcome the role that others can play as well. The
exact nature of those roles is yet to be determined.
Q: I heard your answer to Randy, that we don't know whether Saddam is
alive or dead. No one is implying that you have definitive proof. But
do you have any more intelligence that leans you one way or the other?
Has there been more intelligence now than there was last week?
MR. FLEISCHER: There is still nothing hard or concrete to report. I
think when I got asked about this on the day after the military
strike, I said we don't know how Saddam is feeling today. We don't
know how he's been feeling for a couple weeks.
Q: Do we know anything more than we did two weeks ago?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think, again, we don't have anything hard, concrete
to report. I think if we did we would want to share that. Or if Iraq
had something --
Q: What do we have that is soft and interesting? (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: Switch it around, though. If you're in Iraq, if you're
part of the Iraqi regime, if you're part of the leadership structure,
especially, if you had something hard or concrete to report, such as
that Saddam was alive, the question is why aren't they showing it? And
particularly today, after they advertised, Al Jazeera did report it,
that Saddam Hussein would, himself, address the Iraqi people and he
failed to show up, it does raise interesting questions.
But the bottom line is we don't know. We don't know, and therefore
we're going to be guarded in what we say, because we don't know. He
could show up, but he hasn't yet.
Q: Can you answer his last question?
Q: What do we believe?
MR. FLEISCHER: We believe that we don't know.
Q: Following-up on Campbell's question, have you said anything lately
about the French preference to have U.N. administration over all of
postwar Iraq, versus any kind of U.S. control?
MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated, the United Nations will have a role.
Q: But they want to have the controlling role.
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not certain that that's an accurate statement for
what the U.N. wants. I think it remains to be seen exactly. The U.N.
is a -- members of the Security Council. But there are some serious
facts on the ground involving the United States and the United Kingdom
and others who are there working with the Iraqi people. But the
fundamental issue is not whether it's the United Nations or the United
States that will administer Iraq, the Iraqi people will administer
Iraq. Iraq can be and should be and will be, in the President's
judgment, administered by the Iraqi people from both inside and
Q: Has the President taken any role in calling anybody, talking to
anybody about the dispute that is simmering between some active-duty
and off-duty military over the plan of the war?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I don't know if you saw what General Myers said,
but I think General Myers has addressed that issue.
Q: I did, but that isn't the question I asked you.
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't think the President is bothering on that level.
I think when you see --
Q: Really? It doesn't trouble him at all?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think when you see how General Myers expressed it and
Secretary Rumsfeld expressed it as so many layers down, I don't think
anybody could put it more authoritatively, more clearly, or more
concisely than General Myers did.
Q: So the President is --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not aware that he's bothering --
Q: -- he believes that the war is progressing on plan?
MR. FLEISCHER: There's no question you know where the President stands
on how well the war is progressing, correct.
Q: I've got a couple of questions on the periphery of things. There's
a poll out in Le Monde, one of the leading French newspapers, that a
quarter of the French people hope Iraq wins this war. That's combined
with, obviously, overwhelming opposition to the war; the government's
efforts to obstruct U.S. diplomatic and, in some ways, military
efforts. Can the President still consider a country like that an ally?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I haven't seen it and so I'm not going to comment
on anything involving the percentage of French who would think that. I
don't know that to be the case or not to be the case. Obviously, the
foreign minister of France spoke, and then very quickly updated what
he said in regard to his sentiments about it. We have relations with
the government. The government of France has spoken.
Q: Another peripheral issue. Franklin Graham, the preacher who spoke
at the President's inauguration, has said and who has also been quoted
as calling Islam a very wicked and violent religion, has said that he
is in contact with United States officials in Jordan for his charity,
Samaritan's Purse, to work inside Iraq as coalition forces stabilize
the south. Is the United States government encouraging Samaritan's
Purse and other explicitly evangelical charities to go to work in
MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, any questions about that would have to be
addressed to State Department or Jordanians or any other authorities.
It's not a White House matter, so I really don't have anything on it.
Q: Ari, this morning you said that Saddam Hussein bears some of the
responsibility or the responsibility for civilian deaths in Iraq,
including the deaths of seven women and children at the checkpoint
yesterday. At a minimum --
MR. FLEISCHER: Actually, I didn't apply it directly to the checkpoint;
I made that as a general statement.
Q: Is there concern here that, at minimum, incidents like this hold
the risk of inflaming opinion, anti-U.S. opinion in the Arab world and
around the world in general? And does -- do incidents like this in
turn put the U.S. military in an untenable position of having to
choose between self-protection and worrying about all these political
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President's point of view is it's not
untenable that this is part of the difficulty that our military faces,
and the President believes that the military is facing it well. The
fact that Saddam Hussein would use suicide bombers if the regime would
engage in the most despicable tactics that they have does suggest the
very nature of this regime.
And you saw it, it was reported by many of the embeds in Iraq about
putting innocent women on a bridge in between the United States and
Iraqi forces. Now, who would do something like that? What kind of
depravity is that, to take an innocent Iraqi woman and put her in
between a fire-fight? That's the nature of the regime that we deal
with here. So, no, from a military point of view, it's something that
the President knows and the military will be able to deal with and
move forward on.
I can just tell you, just before I came out here, there was a report
on one of the cables that showed an Iraqi citizen saying on camera,
"Saddam no, America" -- and he gave a thumbs-up, like that. So we're
starting to see some of the more visible signals now from the public
of Iraq as the operation of Iraqi Liberation goes forward and people
feel more free to speak out and I think you'll see more of that.
Q: On a related issue, you've always said that the occupation of Iraq
would not last a day longer than necessary. Given the nature of the
resistance that we've seen on the ground there, including suicide
bombings, forces mingling themselves with civilian populations, is
there some concern here that -- and is it fair to assume that the
occupation is going to be longer, more dangerous, more expensive than
it might otherwise have been?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think it's impossible to make any judgments about
that at this early period of time. I've seen other reports now about
the improving situation in and around Basra. So I think it's
impossible to make any predictions about longer term. The statement
still applies; we'll stay as long as necessary and not a day longer,
as the President has put it.
Q: Before the President approved the war plan, did anyone indicate to
the President that the plan might include too few troops to do the job
as safely as possible?
MR. FLEISCHER: Mike, you heard General Myers on that today, and I
don't think he could have addressed it any more authoritatively. From
all the conversations the President has had with the planners, this
was the plan that was agreed upon, it was discussed robustly,
everybody understood what it called for, and was checked off on.
Q: And what is your assessment of the progress so far of the hearts
and mind element of the campaign?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as I indicated, you're already starting to see
increasingly visible signs of Iraqis speaking out for freedom and
helping the United States and the United Kingdom and Australia. Some
of the information that you've been getting from Iraqis has led to
direct actions on the ground, as the military briefers have shared
from CENTCOM. And so the only reason that Iraqis would be providing
that is if they, themselves, are taking sides. And obviously they're
taking sides with the United States and against the oppressive Iraqi
Q: Ari, the Democrats saying that they're hearing from governors of
both parties that there just isn't enough money to pay for the
homeland security laws and the things that they have to do locally.
They proposed doubling the amount of money that the President proposed
in the supplemental. Is that something -- have you talked to them? Is
that something at all that the President would go for, or would it be
something that he would potentially veto if --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as you know, the House Appropriations Committee
is today scheduled to pass the President's proposal for a supplemental
that includes $4.2 billion of increased funding for homeland security.
Here are the facts on previous spending. For 2003, government-wide
homeland security funding was doubled the level provided prior to
September 11th attacks. Prior to September 11th, the funding was at
about $20.6 billion for 2003. The funding almost doubled to $37.9
billion. So it has almost doubled already, government-wide.
The President has proposed another increase in the supplemental. And
the President made the proposals he's made, in addition to the
increase proposed in the '04 upcoming budget, above and beyond the
supplemental, because those are the amounts that we have judged to be
the proper and the full amounts necessary to protect the homeland. So
we'll take a look, see what the Congress does with it. But I think
you'll see that a majority will speak out shortly. And the President
looks forward to actually taking his proposal.
Q: If he gets a bill that comes from Congress that has more money,
what would he do?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, let's wait and see. We're going to have a vote
today and you'll see whether or not members of Congress on a majority
basis agree with the President's proposal. They'll shortly have their
chance to vote. And we'll see what they say. The President has
proposed rather large increases for homeland security, deservedly so.
Q: Ari, just to follow-up quickly on Saddam's fate. If he were dead,
that clearly would be welcomed by this White House. But wouldn't that
also be not so great in the sense that that implies even though the
top of that government is gone, that the rest of it is still very much
determined to fight?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I guess the question is, do people know it? I
think that once -- if that is the fact, and word gets out around Iraq,
that can have implications. I think, obviously, those who have made
their living at Saddam's side don't want information about his health
to be revealed. They have a stake in keeping him as alive as can be.
And, again, we don't know if he is or is not.
Q: And yesterday when the President -- in his remarks in Philadelphia,
was he saying that because of the war that we started in Iraq, the
chances are greater that we may be attacked in this country again?
MR. FLEISCHER: Okay. I just want to correct one thing. You said, "the
war that we started in Iraq." That's not the President's approach.
Iraq failed to disarm, per the resolutions passed by the United
Nations. And we are acting to make certain that the regime is disarmed
and that Saddam and the regime is changed by the use of force.
What the President reiterated in Philadelphia yesterday was a reminder
that he has issued previously about the risk that we face as a country
given the world of terrorism. This is something that we saw on
September 11th. It remains with us. We have been making tremendous
efforts to make certain that no more terrorist attacks take place. But
it's a reminder, a timely reminder from the President. Certainly, the
fact that we are engaged in conflict with Iraq and that Iraq would
like to strike us in any way they can adds to the situation, but it's
a combination of factors.
Q: I don't want to get in a debate with you, but I think there would
be some people who would say that we actually did start the war.
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm aware there are some people who would say that.
Q: On Saddam Hussein again, would you just review the evidence for a
moment, that on the one hand he is alive and well, and on the other,
that he is either seriously wounded or dead? What are the pieces of
evidence for you to look at?
MR. FLEISCHER: It just comes down to, we don't know. We don't know if
he is alive or if he is dead. The ways that you would know is if you
would see him in a live broadcast. If he was alive, if he showed
something contemporaneous, if he would speak about an event that just
took place that day, or the night before, then you might have
information that he is alive and said something contemporaneous. We
have not seen that, but we don't know. Proof that he would be dead
would be if you saw a body. We don't -- we haven't -- we don't know.
Q: Ari, it's no secret that the President really doesn't like to see
shows of disunity amongst his leadership, at least public shows of
that. You had a war plan, everybody signed off on it. We now have had
days in which people inside the military and outside the military have
raised questions about troop levels, et cetera. Does the President
find that counterproductive, and has he asked anybody to cut it out?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I think that General Myers expressed it, and I
think very articulately today, and I really don't have anything to add
beyond that. I can't explain anything that any unnamed colonel says to
a newspaper. There are many, many, many, many colonels out there. One
unnamed one happened to say something. Is that indicative of a wider
school of thought? I think General Myers expressed that view.
Q: But did the -- but does the President find it irritating? I mean,
everybody signed off on this, you're in the middle of a war, and
whether they're named or not named, the chatter is out there.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President does his work with the military leaders
and the military planners, the people who are hard at work on winning
the war. And that's where his focus is, and that's who he talks to,
and that's why he's as satisfied as he is.
Q: Did the President ask General Myers to make the kind of definitive
remarks that he made today?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have no idea.
Q: Ari, is the White House getting any complaints or concerns being
expressed about -- from the Republicans on the Hill, that the way the
war is going so far might be impacting them politically?
MR. FLEISCHER: Nothing that I've heard of, and I've been in many of
the meetings with members of the Congress. And I have not heard any of
Q: Nothing at all?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have not.
Q: Ari, the Camp LeJeune trip has now been formally announced. I was
wondering if you could maybe help explain how this trip is a little
different than, for instance, going down to CENTCOM, or going up to a
Coast Guard installation at the Port of Philadelphia?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the point the President is making is he is
visiting many of the places that are involved in Operation Iraqi
Liberation. And this is why the President thinks it's so important to
go and express the country's support for, not only the servicemen and
women who are fighting for us, but also their families, who are making
tremendous sacrifices with their loved ones being away. And the
President thinks it's very important for him, as both President and
Commander-in-Chief, to spend time with the military and with their
families and to speak to the nation. They are the ones fighting this
Q: Will there be a specific time set aside for families, in addition
to the address?
MR. FLEISCHER: We'll give you scheduled updates, yes.
Q: Do you anticipate that that's something that may be in the works?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, we'll have more for you closer to the trip.
Q: Ari, one of the problems that the administration has had in selling
this war, particularly overseas, is doubts about our motives regarding
Iraqi oil. And the President has said repeatedly that it is a resource
that belongs to the Iraqi people, that they'll derive the benefits
from it once this is over. But Prime Minister Blair has put together a
proposal to have the U.N. administer, essentially, an Iraqi oil trust.
Is that something that you can talk to us about?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the U.N. does administer an Iraqi oil trust right
Q: No, I mean in the post-war set-up, a very controlled circumstance
to make sure that the Iraqi people --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the U.N. just passed something like that. The
U.N. passed something that the oil money that Iraq does receive
currently and will still receive today and tomorrow is controlled by
the United Nations under the Oil For Food program. That remains an
United Nations program. The President was gratified that the United
Nations passed it once again. But certainly, down the road, the
President sees a day when sanctions will be lifted and the Iraqi
people will be free to have all their resources at their own disposal.
Q: Ari, can I ask you about something that Secretary Rumsfeld alluded
to, rumors of negotiations between someone in the coalition and the
Iraqi regime? Where are these rumors coming from?
MR. FLEISCHER: You know, I don't know the exact rumor that he was
citing, but this is a town of many of rumor. Perhaps, one of the DOD
reporters is asking that follow-up to Secretary Rumsfeld in his
briefing now. But I don't know which rumor exactly he cited, but I
think the answer is what's most instructive.
Q: Two questions. One, what does the President expect Powell to get
out of the Turkey trip?
MR. FLEISCHER: The visit to Turkey is meant to discuss with a NATO
ally United States-Turkish relations. We are pleased with the fact
that Turkey has honored what it told us it would do. It said it would
not cross the border; it has not. Despite many a rumor that said they
had or they would, they have not. And the Secretary of State is going
to talk to Turkey about the importance of that continuing to be the
practice, which, indeed, Turkey has done. And we enjoy important
bilateral relations with Turkey. They remain a NATO ally.
Q: Also you pointed out that Saddam was a no-show today, talked about
you don't know how he's feeling. Torrie Clarke said that we've seen
neither hide nor hair of him. Is the administration essentially daring
the regime to prove Saddam is alive?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, Bill, I just think it's appropriate today, given
the fact that -- certainly my phones lit up and there was a lot of
interest around the White House and here in terms of what I received
from the press corps, about what everybody saw on the bottom of their
screen, "Saddam to appear live at noon." Well, he didn't.
Q: Are you taking some measure of satisfaction that it has not been
able to produce him?
MR. FLEISCHER: It is what it is. Either he's alive or he's dead.
Either which way, his regime will be disarmed and his regime won't
Q: There have been reports in the Canadian press that the President
might be reconsidering his May 5 visit. Does he still plan to go?
MR. FLEISCHER: It remains a scheduled item, and if there are any
updates, we'll keep you updated. But it's on the schedule and I
haven't heard otherwise.
Q: Ari, on the issue of the Supreme Court today, many are protesting
primarily some of what the President is talking about in his amicus
brief filing. What are your thoughts as to some of the protesters who
say many in the military, 50 to 57 percent of the military that are
fighting in Iraq are minorities and, when they come back, indeed,
affirmative action could be changed, they wouldn't be able to go to
the University of Michigan, and the fact that they're laying down
their lives possibly for this country?
MR. FLEISCHER: There's not a connection. We are a nation of laws, and
that's why we have a Supreme Court. And the Supreme Court makes its
judgments on the basis of law and the two sides that have presented to
it, and that is the process that the Supreme Court is in the middle of
now. They don't make their judgments about any segment of the
population involving one important endeavor or another important
endeavor; they make their decisions based on the laws presented in a
Q: If I can follow up on that. It's no -- it's no surprise if the
administration got 9 percent of the African American vote in the last
election, and you're looking for a larger percentage of the black vote
come the next election. But could you tell me this: do you think that
it's a slap in the face to African Americans that this amicus brief
came out the way it did, and especially on Dr. King's birthday? Many
are still upset about that.
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think that the timing of it, of course, was
dictated by the timing that the Court gave for amicus briefs to be
filed and for the Justice Department to weigh-in. And they did. The
President made the speech, very public speech on January 15th and
expressed his thoughts about this matter, and now it's in the hands of
Q: Ari, besides the fact that Saddam didn't show up for the speech
today, what did you make of the rhetoric? What did you make of the
message that the Information Ministry delivered?
MR. FLEISCHER: Nothing new, nothing original. More rhetoric of a
regime that is losing its grip on power.
Q: The call for a jihad, the call to fight them to the death, that
sort of thing?
MR. FLEISCHER: More rhetoric by a regime that's losing its grip on
Q: On the Arab-Israeli conflict, there was a major co-Israeli
conference that just ended. And the majority opinion there was that
this road map is a non-starter, that it's just a sop to appease
certain parties. Is there any realistic hope for passage of a road map
MR. FLEISCHER: Absolutely. And it's something that was stressed to the
delegates at that conference, it's something that was very important
to the President. The President has said that the road map is a very
important document that will be presented to the Israelis and the
Palestinians in a formal sense shortly, upon the confirmation of Abu
Mazen. And it remains a very important way forward for the two sides
to start to see a way forward in terms of real, practical,
on-the-ground actions on the political side and on the security side.
Q: I think it's fair to say that the last few trips that the President
has made have been with a military security bubble. Are there any
plans for him to venture out more directly, into a public space where
people who have strong feelings one way or the other would be able to
attend and see him --
MR. FLEISCHER: I assure you -- and those who travel the motorcade
route, you're familiar with this -- it doesn't matter where he's
going; people are free to come out on the roads and give him the
thumbs-up or the thumbs-down, and they do. Presidents are always
greeted by protesters -- and that doesn't matter whether he's going to
a military facility. Or Philadelphia, yesterday, of course, he drove
through Philadelphia's main streets to get to the place he was going.
There was a smattering of protesters there, some for him, some against
Q: Ari, in any of the various TV appearances of Saddam Hussein on
Iraqi TV, has the White House seen any evidence whatsoever that he has
mentioned anything that has occurred since the war began?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, there is nothing that I could point to. There are
some generalized statements, of course, that were made that were
rather vague enough to be anticipated statements. But nothing more
concrete that anybody could report.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.
END 3:00 P.M. EST
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