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04 April 2003

White House Daily Briefing Transcript

(President's schedule, Bush/Northern Ireland trip April 7, post-war
Iraq, Saddam Hussein/status, President's meeting with free Iraqis, war
plan, Iraqi refugees, weapons of mass destruction, Middle East/road
map, military/age and experience, Syria, non-coalition countries, SARS
virus) (7780)

White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer briefed.

Following is the White House transcript:

(begin transcript)

THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
April 4, 2003

PRESS BRIEFING INDEX

TOPIC
-- President's daily schedule
-- Trip to Northern Ireland and meeting w/PM Blair
-- Post-war Iraq
-- Status of Saddam Hussein
-- President's meeting with free Iraqis
-- War plan
-- Iraqi refugees
-- Weapons of mass destruction
-- Middle East road map
-- Military: age and experience
-- Syria
-- Non-coalition countries
-- SARS virus

THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
April 4, 2003

PRESS BRIEFING BY ARI FLEISCHER

The James S. Brady Briefing Room

12:20 P.M. EST


MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. Let me give you a report on the
President's day and then I have a couple announcements to make.

The President spoke to South Korean President Roh early this morning.
He called President Roh to thank him for the support from South Korea
on Iraq, and the decision to dispatch medical engineering units for
humanitarian operations in Iraq. The two leaders reiterated their
intention to resolve the North Korea nuclear issue peacefully, and
pledged to continue their close consultation.

After the phone call, the President had an intelligence briefing, FBI
briefing, convened a meeting of the National Security Council. He met
with the Secretary of Defense, he also met with the Secretary of
State. He's having lunch with the Vice President.

And the President later today will meet with a group of Iraqi
Americans and free Iraqis who live in this country. The President will
welcome to the White House people who have stories to tell from their
own personal experience, having lived in Iraq -- as recently as just
several years ago, in some instances. These Iraqi Americans will talk
to the President about the torture and the brutality they saw while
they lived there. And it's a telling reminder of what we are starting
to hear from Iraqis on the ground today in Iraq, as the yoke of
repression is lifted from them.

The President will depart for Camp David this afternoon, where he will
remain for the weekend.

A couple of other announcements for you. President Bush will welcome
President Rudolf Schuster of the Slovak Republic to the White House on
April 9th. Slovakia has been a close and supportive friend of the
United States, as well as a staunch member of the coalition to bring
freedom to Iraq.

The President will also welcome to the White House a group of Central
American leaders. The President will welcome President Abel Pacheco of
Costa Rica; President Francisco Flores of El Salvador; President
Alfonso Portillo of Guatemala; President Ricardo Maduro of Honduras;
and President Enrique Bolanos of Nicaragua to the White House for a
meeting on April the 10th. The President considers Central America to
be a region of peace and democracy, where regional integration offers
the promise of promise of growing prosperity. He looks forward to
that.

And finally, the President, after Camp David this weekend, will depart
for Northern Ireland, where he will consult with Prime Minister Blair.
The President will depart on Monday, April 7th, and return to the
United States on Tuesday, April 8th. With that, I'm happy to take your
questions.

QUESTION: On that trip, what are they going to discuss? I understand
it's also the Middle East and Northern Ireland. And on the Middle
East, is it possible that this could be the trip that the road map is
released, or because of the complications with the confirmation of a
Palestinian that won't be happening?

MR. FLEISCHER: The trip will focus on the operations in Iraq. They
will talk about the status of the ongoing military operation, they
will talk about the humanitarian relief efforts, they'll talk about
reconstruction and they'll talk about the role of the United Nations.
They will also talk about the peace process in Northern Ireland. And I
think the subject of the Middle East could come up, as well. I don't
have anything further for you about any specifics on Middle East about
the road map. I don't know if that's the case.

Q:  Safe to say not to expect that, or --

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't like to predict every outcome of every meeting,
but there's nothing that I've heard or seen that would lead me to
believe that to be the case.

Q: This morning you said that the President believes the U.N. will
have a role in post --

MR. FLEISCHER:  Right.

Q:  Can you spell it out a little more?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the focus of the future in Iraq -- which I want
to caution everybody, is not yet here. We still are in the middle of a
battle, we still are at war. There are many dangers that can still lie
ahead. And so while, yes, there is a look ahead, I want to make
certain that everybody has this in the proper perspective, as
America's military is still in the middle of armed conflict.

But as people look ahead and they focus on the future of Iraq, what
the President sees is an Iraq that is free, that is democratic, where
the people govern themselves. The people of Iraq are well educated.
The infrastructure of Iraq is actually spread throughout the entire
country of Iraq. And the Iraqi people are very capable people.

Through the military operation, as you can tell by the precise nature
of the military campaign, much of the infrastructure of Iraq is being
maintained, so the Iraqi people will be able to quickly govern
themselves. The United Nations, in the President's judgment, should
and will have a role. The role will be involved in humanitarian
efforts. The role will be involved in help on the reconstruction
efforts.

But, principally, the future of Iraq is for the Iraqis to decide. The
United States, of course, is on the ground providing security, and
that's an important part of this. But there will be a role for the
U.N. The exact nature of it, I think, is still a little early to talk
about, or to know about. I think there will be some conversations
about it. That's where it lies.

Q: While I have you, could I just ask one non-related question? Is
there any possibility that the President and Blair will discuss any
kind of peace proposal? Is there anything coming through the cracks?

MR. FLEISCHER:  Vis-a-vis Iraq?

Q:  Yes.

MR. FLEISCHER: No, the mission is the mission. The mission will be
completed with the disarmament of Saddam Hussein's regime and with the
regime being changed.

Q:  So there's no peace proposal that's in the works or anything?

MR. FLEISCHER:  No, you should not look for that.

Q: Can I follow up on that? What you're talking about in terms of the
Iraqis taking over their government is more long term. We haven't --

MR. FLEISCHER:  Not necessarily.

Q: Well, who have you identified there who is in a position to move in
and --

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, when it comes to the infrastructure and, of
course, the vital services, the municipal services, the running of the
food programs, water delivery, things of that nature -- of course the
civilian infrastructure can take over, we hope, as quickly as possible
as events on the ground dictate.

Now, when it comes to the over-arching larger political questions of
who will run Iraq, in terms of the broader political sense, it's
impossible at this date to give names. What the President has said is
that this should be a matter for Iraqis from both inside and outside
Iraq to govern their country, and that the territorial integrity of
Iraq must be maintained. That's our approach.

Q: But back to the U.N. role, I mean, you said the U.N. will help in
the reconstruction effort. But others in the administration are on the
record -- Secretary Rumsfeld, Secretary Powell have talked about
having U.S. officials moving in and taking over various
administrations or, you know, departments that still exist --

MR. FLEISCHER:  Correct.

Q: -- and not having the U.N. move in immediately and do that, versus
what Prime Minister Blair has said.

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't think they said anything about not having the
U.N. move in. As you know, the President made a statement in the
Azores, which everybody -- that's the American position, and that is
that there will be a role for the United Nations, exactly as I said,
exactly as Secretary Rumsfeld and Secretary Powell have said,
involving humanitarian aspects and reconstruction aspects.

Don't think for a second that means the United States will not
continue to have the role that we are playing and the mission that we
are moving forward on to help continue to provide for the Iraqi people
as the security situation goes forward, as well as some type of
civilian administration that reports to General Franks.

Q: Finally, representatives from France, Russia and Germany today to
talk about this very issue. Have there been any discussions between
our government and theirs to -- about the U.N. role? Or are you
strictly dealing with Blair?

MR. FLEISCHER: Secretary Powell met in Brussels with leaders of 23
nations -- I believe it was 23 -- from the European Union. And, of
course, he met with his counterparts from several of those nations
that you just mentioned, if not all. And the talks were described as
very positive and productive. It's part of the international process.

But the central point remains that the future of Iraq, in the
President's judgment, will be governed by the Iraqi people. Iraq can
govern itself. The United States will have its presence there, because
we will stay for as long as is necessary to provide the security and
for the infrastructure to be protected and to be administered, until
the point where the Iraqis can take it over entirely.

Q: But that'll be the United States staying there, and not the U.N.,
until the Iraqis can take it over --

MR. FLEISCHER: No, but the U.N. -- exactly as I said, the U.N. will
have a role. Sometimes we do things side-by-side.

Q: But at what point will the Iraqis take over their government?
Because there are some of them who seem to --

MR. FLEISCHER:  It's too soon to say.

Q: Well, some of them seem to expect, in public statements that
they've made, to do it right away. But isn't the U.S. military going
to effectively govern for at least an interim period?

MR. FLEISCHER: The U.S. military will effectively continue to fight a
war that we're in the middle of. I still want to remind everybody that
is the status of events on the ground.

Q:  Yes, but I'm talking about after hostilities or --

MR. FLEISCHER: That's why I say it's too soon to say. I think it all
depends on how long hostilities last, and we don't know how long
hostilities will last. But the situation -- the design is set up so
that once the security situation is taken care of, then Iraqis from
both within and without Iraq will be working as part of the interim
Iraqi authority to govern Iraq.

Q:  But you're not saying how long a time period --

MR. FLEISCHER: -- it's not knowable. How can anybody say how long it
will be with accuracy?

Q: Ari, you and Pentagon officials have emphasized that the President
is not micro-managing this war, that he approved the overall war plan
and has left the execution to the commanders. But now we're
approaching the battle of Baghdad, with the prospect of not only heavy
casualties -- heavier casualties for coalition forces, for American
troops, but also for Iraqi civilians.

At this point, will the President get more closely involved with the
day-to-day decisions?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President is closely involved with the day-to-day,
but to state the obvious, when the plan was written, it was
anticipated that the plan would involve fighting in Baghdad. That's
part of the plan. It was anticipated. And the plan is being
implemented. And so General Franks will continue to make the tactical
decisions, the timing decisions about the best way to conduct that
plan, to implement that plan, which I assure you, includes how to deal
with Baghdad.

Q: So basically nothing has changed in regards to the planning for the
battle of Baghdad since before the war?

MR. FLEISCHER: The structure remains exactly in place, where the
President begins each day with the briefings from the field, through
the National Security Council about the plan, how it is being
implemented. He ends his day with updates on the plan, and then
continually in between as necessary.

So that's how the President approaches it. These decisions remain
decisions made by the field commanders because that's the most
effective way to win a war.

Q: Ari, there's a new Saddam tape out in which he mentions the downing
of a U.S. helicopter on March 24th. Does this prove that he's alive?
Have you made any sort of determination?

MR. FLEISCHER: The tape does not give us any firm conclusions one way
or another. As has happened in the past, the tape will go through the
typical analysis, the technical analysis to determine whether the
voice is, indeed, Saddam Hussein's, et cetera. That will be done. At
this stage, all I can tell you is we don't know. I can also tell you
in the bigger scheme of things, it really doesn't matter. Because
whether it is him, or whether it isn't him, the regime's days are
numbered and are coming to an end.

I do note that there was one reference in the tape -- Saddam Hussein
saying that coalition forces, or United States' forces went around the
defenses of Baghdad. Which, of course, is not the facts. The facts, if
anybody was there to witness the facts, are we attacked the forces
defending Baghdad. We hardly went around them. So I'd note that.

Q: Ari, what was the thinking behind choosing Northern Ireland for
this meeting of Prime Minister Blair and the President?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as was indicated in the question, it also is an
opportunity to talk about the peace process in Northern Ireland.
That's something that the President has focused on previously and will
talk about, as well.

Q: That's it? So how much will be Northern Ireland and how much will
be Middle East?

MR. FLEISCHER: We'll give you a report after the meeting. I think most
of the meeting is going to be about Iraq.

Q: Can I just ask you about the Iraqis the President is meeting with?
What does he hope to gain from this meeting today with these Iraqis?
What is his --

MR. FLEISCHER: The meeting with the free Iraqis and the Iraqi
Americans today is a reminder to people about how much people care
about freedom and liberty, and how the voices of those who are
fortunate enough to have left Iraq and who can speak freely without
being tortured or killed, that these voices here in America represent
the voices of the people living inside Iraq today. And that's why the
President wants to meet with them, to hear what they have to say, to
gain their insights into what people inside Iraq are thinking today --
many of them have family. And he wants to hear from them.

Q:  Are they going to go back to Iraq?  Do they have a role in an --

MR. FLEISCHER: I think that's a question -- many of them will be
available to you afterwards. You can ask them that. I don't know in
each instance what their individual plans are.

Q: Was there any consideration given to holding this meeting in the
Middle East?

MR. FLEISCHER:  No.

Q: Do you anticipate a trip by the President to the Middle East in the
coming months?

MR. FLEISCHER: If there's anything to report, we'll report it, as
always, with his travel.

Q: Follow-up on Elizabeth's question. What role do you anticipate for
-- does the administration anticipate for exiles in the post-war
government?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there is already a role being played by exiles in
the current mission in Iraq. As you know, the nation of Hungary, to
whom we are most grateful, provided training for a group of exiles.
They went to Hungary and then have gone into the theater with the
military. And they served very helpful roles there as translators and
guides and performing other services for the military.

And one of the interesting things was that we saw as a sign of success
in Afghanistan -- that I think we will see as a sign of success in
Iraq -- is a willingness of people to return to their country. These
people, in some instances, are Americans, but they want to return to
where they were from because they taste for the first time that Iraq
may be free. And we anticipate that many people who fled tyranny and
torture will want to return to Iraq from around the world, not just in
the United States, as freedom grows on the ground in Iraq.

Q: So to be more specific, do you agree with a report in the Wall
Street Journal today that the President rejected advice from aides to
the Vice President and the Defense Secretary to give elevated posts in
the Iraqi-post war government to exiles?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we don't know exactly who is going to have what
role in a post-government yet, so I think it's impossible to speculate
about that. The exact makeup of the post-government leadership is not
yet defined.

Q: So the President wouldn't be opposed, then, to roles for exiles as
opposed to consensus from the Iraqi people?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I've always said that the future government of
Iraq will be comprised of people from both within and outside Iraq.
Always it's been both.

Q: Just to follow-up on that. There are reports that say that some in
the administration want to have the government led mostly by exiles in
the short-term -- right now, maybe in southern Iraq, maybe in and
around the airport to sort of get things up running. Is that something
that the White House is projecting at this point? Or are you --

MR. FLEISCHER: No, I should think for the structure of the
government-to-be it is soon to say. And this is why I keep wanting to
remind everybody -- just days ago people were saying we were bogged
down; and now they're saying, describe for us and give us the names of
the government that's going to be running Iraq in the future. We're
still in the middle of war. So these things still are early. They're
still unknowable. We are thinking about them. But we don't have
answers yet. And we couldn't be expected to have precise answers at
this stage.

Q: Just to clarify, the idea of the role for the exiles in any
government, as far as the White House is concerned? You're saying that
you don't want them to necessarily take the lead while the Iraqis are
on the ground?

MR. FLEISCHER: Let me say it again. The President has always said that
the future of Iraq will be governed by Iraqis from both inside and
outside Iraq. If they are from outside Iraq, they are exiles.

Q: Following-up on that, are you referring to a permanent eventual
Iraqi government or an interim authority? The question seems to be
over the makeup of an interim authority. Previously, the
administration has said that a group of Iraqis from inside and outside
Iraq would meet to choose the composition of an interim authority,
which would lead the way to a permanent government. So are you talking
about the interim --

MR. FLEISCHER: I think even the membership on the interim authority is
just not knowable with precision. But as I just reported, there
already are people from outside Iraq who are now inside Iraq, who are
trained to go there to be a helpful part of the mission. And we will
continue to work with the Iraqi people from both inside and outside
Iraq on the makeup of the interim authorities, as well as the more
permanent government.

Q: So are you saying that several news reports today that the Pentagon
has already chosen the composition of an interim-type authority to
help govern Iraq during the process, that those reports are
inaccurate?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, this still is in the development stage and not
every point of it is yet set in stone. We're still fighting a war.

Q: But that would require a presidential decision, would it not? The
President would be the one who would decide whether or not we try to
establish an interim government and who would be participating?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think the President has already said that we
will work through an interim Iraqi authority. That's what he has said.
There were calls for a provisional government to be announced now --
and we do not support those calls, we support a interim Iraqi
authority, the exact makeup of it is too soon to say.

Q: And what is the difference between a provisional government and an
interim Iraqi authority?

MR. FLEISCHER: A provisional government, there are some who called for
the naming today of the Iraqi leader -- who will not necessarily be
inside Iraq. That's a provisional government and history has seen its
share of provisional governments. The approach the President has taken
is an interim Iraqi authority.

Q: But is he having any -- it would be his decision, not the Defense
Department's, right? If, in fact, he decides to name an interim Iraqi
authority?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, these are decisions that the President makes and
he works together with his team of national security advisors to make
those decisions.

Q: I just wanted to make sure it was a presidential decision, and not
-- yes, right.

Now, is there -- has a decision been taken, what is the White House
view on whether or not an interim Iraqi authority should be declared
at this point or in the next few days?

MR. FLEISCHER:  Too soon to say.

Q:  After the hostilities are over or --

MR. FLEISCHER:  We're still fighting hostilities; it's too soon.

Q:  So you wouldn't do it until after hostilities end?

MR. FLEISCHER:  I just said it's too soon to say today.

Q:  Whether or not you would do it before or after?

Q: Ari, last week, the military plan that has been set in motion for a
war in Iraq was very much criticized, including by many ex-generals
and colonels and some in active duty in Iraq.

MR. FLEISCHER:  I noticed.

Q: Does the President feel that the quick taking of the airport and
the closing in on the troops in Baghdad vindicates the plan?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President has always felt that what is important,
particularly in war, is to be steady at the helm and to lead and to do
what he thought was right, and to implement the plan that he always
felt was on progress. He understood that there were going to be some
criticisms.

And I think it's worth pointing out there was a rather remarkable
correction printed in one of the nation's leading newspapers
pertaining to what General Wallace was alleged to have said. Because
he did not say, as was reported, that the enemy that we are up against
is not the enemy we war-gamed.

He said -- and I'm paraphrasing now -- but as the correction reported,
he said -- I think the actual quote attributed to him that was on the
front page of some newspapers was that, this is a different enemy from
the one we war-planned against, or war-gamed against. And what he
actually said is, the enemy is a bit different from the one we
war-gamed against. Which is an important measure, qualitative measure
of how similar or different it is. That's not as stark as it had been
made to -- people have been made to believe.

Now, that's a correction. I can't tell you how many stories are
written off of the incorrect quote. I don't yet know how many stories
will be written off of the corrected quote.

Q: You have said -- you were quoting President Bush -- believes
General Franks should run military aspects of the war from the site.
Now that they're so close to Baghdad, is there the possibility a
decision will be made instead of troops going in to take Baghdad,
maybe surrounding or isolating Baghdad?

MR. FLEISCHER: You need to talk to DOD about anything operational like
that.

Q:  What would a decision like that involve for the President?

MR. FLEISCHER: That was John's question, and there's a plan for
Baghdad. The plan is being implemented.

Q: Ari, I have two questions. Could you clarify -- since the Iraqi
people are so fearful of Saddam Hussein, why would the government be
suggesting that it might be irrelevant where he is, or his health, to
the beginning of a new Iraqi governing authority or -- wouldn't it be
important to know where he is and that he's apprehended or dead?

MR. FLEISCHER: What I said was, in the bigger scheme of things -- in
the bigger scheme of things, it does not -- today's tape does not
matter, because the regime's days are numbered, in any case. But,
clearly, the leadership of Iraq matters. And we don't know if Saddam
Hussein is alive or dead. We don't yet know what this tape shows or
doesn't show or whether or not the information was pre-recorded or
even was pre-recorded with accuracy to be released. We don't know.
That's why I noted the point about the -- going around the defenses of
Baghdad. That's not an accurate statement to make, as if someone were
observing events today.

But it is an important issue about the leadership of Iraq because,
clearly, as Iraqi people start to feel comfortable with the fact that
the regime is gone -- we have seen it in the south, we're continuing
to see it in areas where people see the security of the United States
or the coalition forces -- they feel more free. They're coming out,
they're waving more, they're giving the thumbs-up to coalition forces.
Journalists who are embedded are seeing and feeling that, themselves.

Q: My second question is, for the record, Michael Kelly was the first
American journalist who was embedded and was killed overnight. I was
wondering if the White House has any reaction.

MR. FLEISCHER: The President expresses his sorrow and his condolences
to the Kelly family. And the President, of course, expresses his
sorrow and condolences to all of those military, civilian and
journalist who have died in this combat.

Q: Ari, is the President proceeding with plans to try and create a
home-grown police force, particularly in the south? There are now
reports that there are discussions about getting members of the Shiite
majority to actually act as their own police force, the advantages
being obvious.

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I think it's a little too early to get into that
type of discussion in the middle of a shooting war. But suffice it to
say that the Iraqi people are a capable people. There is a difference
between the Iraqi people and the top layers of the regime. And the
President sees a bright future for the people of Iraq, led by the
people of Iraq.

Q: If I could just follow-up on Steve's question earlier, about the
tape. Did you -- and I apologize if I missed this. Did you, in fact,
confirm that this at least shows that he survived the initial attack?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, we don't know. Typically what happens now and what
is happening now is the tape will be analyzed by the experts to do a
voice match, to see if it is his voice. That still, though, remains
one piece of the puzzle. You don't know if it was pre-canned. Clearly,
there is some information on there that some people might think could
have some indications of something that might sound contemporaneous.
Although, one reference is to something that took place almost two
weeks ago. And the other reference that you could look at in a
contemporaneous way is something that really is off-base. It's not an
accurate thing to say for anybody who is on the ground observing
events today. So the bottom line is we don't know, still, if Saddam
Hussein is alive or dead -- despite today's tape.

Q: Great. But actually what I was asking was whether it at least shows
that he survived the initial attack? Are you --

MR. FLEISCHER:  No, we don't know.

Q:  Are you willing to go that far?

MR. FLEISCHER:  We don't know.

Q:  Even despite the reference to the farmer and the Apache?

MR. FLEISCHER:  Don't know.

Q: Ari, there's a tape running now -- it may want to -- it may affect
what you just said.

MR. FLEISCHER:  Now, as we speak?

Q:  As we speak, yes.

MR. FLEISCHER: How do you know? You're sitting here. (Laughter.) You
don't have one of those little --

Q:  Because I've got the same communication devices you do.

Q:  He's emplanted.  (Laughter.)

Q:  It's in his teeth.  (Laughter.)

Q: -- that shows Saddam actually touring bombed-out parts of Baghdad.
Was the White House aware of that in advance? I mean, ave you seen any
of that?

MR. FLEISCHER: Jim, I have a longstanding policy if it comes up during
the briefing I can't discuss it because I'm here -- I'm embedded with
you.

Q: I just wanted to know whether you had seen it before we came out?

MR. FLEISCHER:  No, I had not seen that before we came out here.

Q: Two questions, starting with the issue of the tape and perhaps a
tape that's running now. On a broader, philosophical level, can this
war be considered a success if he is not either captured or killed?
What's the administration's thinking on that?

MR. FLEISCHER:  The President --

Q: And the second question on the U.N., some of our typical --
traditional allies in Europe have said that a prominent U.N. role for
an interim Iraqi government would go a long way towards not only
repairing breaches in our relations with some of our traditional
European allies, but also would help U.S. relations in the Middle East
where many, many --

MR. FLEISCHER:  Okay, I got it.

Q:  -- newspapers, governments, see this as a --

MR. FLEISCHER:  Got it --

Q:   -- U.S.-led invasion?

MR. FLEISCHER: One, on your first question, the purpose of the mission
is to disarm the regime and change the leadership. And that includes
the top layers of the leadership. So clearly, the future or the fate
of Saddam Hussein is a factor. But as I indicated, whether he is or is
not alive or dead, the mission is moving forward. And the regime's
days are numbered.

On the role of the United Nations, again, there will be a role for the
United Nations. And the President is focused on doing what is most
effective to help the Iraqi people to govern their own country. That's
where the President's focus will be. There will be a role for the U.N.
in that process.

Q: For the first time, we're getting reports from the field today of
large numbers of Iraqis fleeing Baghdad. Is the administration -- are
U.S. forces in the region prepared to deal with that? Does that
complicate our planning?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, you'd have to talk to DOD about complications
from any planning. But, of course, the Iraqi Information Minister said
the other day that Americans were nowhere near Baghdad and we haven't
even crossed the Tigres. And of course this is another reason why it's
important to have embedded reporters there, so the truth can be seen
from reporters eyes, in addition to be briefed by American officials
there.

But anything beyond that, DOD will tell you about the plans.

Q: We had had -- there were reports early on, even before the war
broke out, that we talked with neighboring countries about possibly
receiving refugees. Is there any larger plan for dealing with that?

MR. FLEISCHER: It's a DOD issue, and I think you have to have a very
precise understanding of how many people are actually moving.

Q: Well, there are reports now that there have been some chemicals
found, et cetera. Is there any plans by the White House to ask Hans
Blix or the United Nations to verify the possibility that these are
actually chemical weapons?

MR. FLEISCHER: One, we have expert teams on the ground who would be
able to make those decisions and judgments, themselves. As for the
future, we have never ruled out that the United Nations inspectors
might have some type of role to play. But in terms of the immediate
verification, that's something that the military is taking care of.

Q: Okay. And, secondly, in terms of the fighting resistance that
they're getting at some of the -- south, that they may calm down and
may pop up again, is there any plans to use coalition forces to sort
of stay back -- I mean, other than the British and the Americans, some
of the larger forces to stay back and deal with some of those pockets
of resistance?

MR. FLEISCHER: That's something that the DOD officials can tell you
about.

Q: Ari, some of the President's allies on Capital Hill -- including
Tom DeLay -- are voicing some concerns about the Middle East road map.
They're concerned that the U.S. will undercut support for Israel. Do
they have any foundation for this concern?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President thinks it's very important for all
parties to know that he is sincere about implementing his June 24th
speech in the Rose Garden, and he is going to follow through on it.
And the road map is part and parcel of the June 24th speech, which was
received well by all parties in the Middle East.

And so the President believes that there are important
responsibilities on the Palestinians to reform; on the Arab nations to
help the reforms take place; and on Israel, as well, to open up the
doors toward more cooperation with a reformed Palestinian Authority
and to see settlement activity as the security situation improves.

And so those are the President's stated messages and that's part of
the road map and it's something the President is deeply committed to.

Q: So given the compromises both sides need to make, the President is
anticipating some resistance?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President is anticipating contributions to
the road map from the parties to the road map, exactly as he called
for in his speech in March.

Q: Ari, to this point -- and I know it's early and events may change,
just like she said -- but to this point, at least, they have not found
any weapons of mass destruction. Like I said, I know it's early, but
does the administration believe that it was justified in taking the
action it has taken in Iraq, even if --

MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, of course --

Q:  -- no weapons of mass destruction are found?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I don't think that's going to happen. I thought
you were asking about justified in taking the action. But you've heard
it repeatedly said from the DOD briefers that Iraq has weapons of mass
destruction, biological and chemical. And we are confident that they
will be found and discovered and seen.

Q: And even if they're not -- the feeling is that the action was
justified?

MR. FLEISCHER: You're asking about a hypothetical that I just told you
I don't think is going to happen.

Q: Ari, on two things. First, your critics are already coming out in
reference to this regime change and name change situation. They're
talking about -- they're linking regime change and the name changing
of the airport. On a serious note, is that a part of the regime
change? Anything "Saddam" will be changed --

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, of course. I think there's nothing the Iraqi
people want more than to throw off the yoke of oppression that Saddam
has imposed of them. I think that the Iraqis don't want to have Saddam
Hussein statues left behind, they don't want Saddam Hussein's torture
left behind, they don't want his brutality left behind, and that's a
message I think the President is going to hear today from people who
fled Iraq.

Q: Okay, and then a second question real quick. About five blocks away
from the funeral of Kendall Waters-Bey the gentlemen -- one of the
gentlemen who died in the helicopter crash in the war, there are a
couple of students at a school called Morgan State University that are
reservists, and they have been called to active duty. And some are
actually going to Iraq. Do you think kids actually understand -- 17,
18, 19 year old kids understand when they're formulating the plan, a
lot of these children who don't have the wherewithal to go to college,
that this indeed could be the end result, giving up your life for a
college education?

MR. FLEISCHER: You bet they do. And that's why the President, when he
meets with the men and women of our military, are so proud of them.
And you wouldn't believe how capable and how smart these teenagers are
and these young 20s are who serve in our military. And they are
entrusted with life and death decisions that effect not only
themselves, but their buddies, their colleagues, their fellow Marines,
their fellow servicemen -- because they have that ability, that have
that sharps and they have that professionalism.

And the President sees it when he goes to see our military facilities
and our military bases. The military has been a wonderful way of life
for generation upon generation of Americans. And that includes the
youngest, who wait until the day of their eligible birthday to sign
up, because they look forward to that military style of life. And all
the American people are grateful to them for the sacrifices that they
know they are making when they do that, the way it can advance their
lives at every stage of their life, because that's what the military
represents.

Q: If the President has a workable plan for the Middle East, why
didn't he just put it out now?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as the President said, that the road map will be
offered upon the confirmation of Abu Mazen. And that has not yet taken
place, as he is still appointing his cabinet.

Q: But considerable progress has been made. I mean, aren't you just
kind of waiting now for a formality?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President is doing exactly what he said. Progress
is being made. We're pleased with the reform. Abu Mazen is a reformer.
But the President is doing precisely what he said he was going to do.
I don't know why you would expect him to do anything other than that.
He said he would put the road map forward and welcome the
contributions on it once the appointment is confirmed, and that
entails the cabinet appointments.

Q: What is your current assessment of what Syria is doing to help
Iraq? And what -- beyond words -- does the administration plan to do
to stop it?

MR. FLEISCHER: It's exactly as Secretary Rumsfeld and Secretary Powell
outlined, with the providing of some of the equipment to Iraq that
raises concerns. And Secretary Powell, Secretary Rumsfeld said it all.
I have nothing to add beyond what they said.

Q: So in other words, there's no plan to stop it? Just let it flow.

MR. FLEISCHER: Syria has received the message that it received from
the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense. And it's an
important message. We hope they receive it.

Q: Apparently, it did no good because the briefer this morning --
military briefer over in the battle area said that it's moving.

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, the message has been sent. It's important that
Syria receive it. And, again, we don't judge everything day-by-day.
It's important they receive that message, however.

Q: Yesterday, the U.S. Ambassador to Canada, Paul Cellucci, said that
President Bush may have to postpone his state visit to Canada because
of his war itinerary. Do you have any more details on that?

MR. FLEISCHER: At this moment, I have nothing to report. As always, if
we have something to report, we'll share it.

Q: Also yesterday, Richard Perle said Canadians could well come to
regret the decision to stay out of the war against Iraq. Should
non-coalition countries expect punitive action from the United States?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, people should not expect punitive action. But the
President does think it was a regrettable decision by nations not to
join in the coalition. He understands their thoughts, but he is acting
for the right reasons. And he's pleased to see how large the coalition
is.

Q: Two questions. I wonder whose idea it was to have the meeting,
whether it was Blair or the President? Second question, what, if
anything, does the timing of this meeting say about how the two men
view the conflict? I mean, is it, for example, a sign that they think
that it's coming to an end quite shortly? Are there any differences or
decisions that need to be taken about post-war Iraq, the role of the
U.N., need to be taken pretty quickly?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, given the fact that they met at Camp David just a
week ago, I don't know that people said that's a sign it's coming to
an end. In fact, at the time they were meeting in Camp David,
everybody was saying, isn't it going terribly; it's off plan.

So they meet as often as they think is necessary. They think they can
accomplish quite a bit in-person. It makes it easier to meet in-person
than over the repeated phone calls that they have. But they're
coalition allies, they're coalition partners, and the President values
the judgment and the advice he receives from Prime Minister Blair.

Q:  Whose idea was it?

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know whose idea it was. Very often, these are
kind of mutual ideas that the staff talks through, or the President
and the Prime Minister talk through. And then they just agree to meet.
I don't know if any one or the other had the idea before the other. I
just don't know.

Q: Was there a symbolic value of picking Northern Ireland -- somewhere
in the mideast, a long history of ethnic strife, where peace plans
have been moderately successful in recent years as a model? Is that
way it's picked? Northern Ireland really connotates a lot of things to
people around the world. And so a meeting there will --

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, certainly, there has been a successful peace
process in Northern Ireland. It's an ongoing process. And we want to
talk to them about that process. That's an interesting observation.

Q: Ari, the people who are meeting in the White House this afternoon,
how were they picked specifically? Are all of them in agreement with
the administration's position and action? And who's paying for their
trip?

MR. FLEISCHER: These meetings -- any time groups come to the White
House like this -- which is rather frequent for citizens to come and
meet the President -- there's an Office of Public Liaison that works
with various constituencies or communities to talk about who is coming
and to work with those constituencies. I don't have any more specific
information than that. I think we'll find out at the meeting if
they're all in agreement. I suspect they all are. I don't think any of
them in there are Saddam Hussein's defenders after what they lived
through.

Q: Ari, does the President plan to set up a new government in Iraq
even before the regime of Saddam Hussein is captured and removed?

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, it's just not knowable about the exact timing of
when the regime, the interim authority would be set up. Just same
answer as before.

Q:  I have another --

MR. FLEISCHER:  We're going to -- we'll go back to the front.

Q: Does the meeting today with the Iraqi Americans reflect a concern
on the part of the administration that it needs to do a better job of
countering the negative public relations backlash that's evident now
across the Middle East and much of the Muslim world?

MR. FLEISCHER: The answer is unequivocally no. But, certainly, the
President hopes that people everywhere in the world will listen to the
message of these Arab Americans and these Iraqis who saw firsthand
what a brutal dictatorship Saddam Hussein has led, the torture that he
has used to stay in power. And I think you're going to hear a very
welcoming message about why it's so important for the United States
and the coalition to be successful at ousting Saddam Hussein. I think
it's a powerful message, and it's a message the President hopes will
be heard.

Q:  Where in Northern Ireland will the two leaders meet?

MR. FLEISCHER:  Dublin.

Q:  No, no.

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I said, "Dublin." I had written
down Belfast and I said "Dublin." Belfast.

Q:  A historic development, Ari.  (Laughter.)

MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you for the -- I was not a geography major.
(Laughter.)

Q: Ari, has the President been briefed on the SARS virus, and is he
worried about it developing into a plague?

MR. FLEISCHER:  On which?

Q:  The SARS virus.

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, the President has been monitoring events involving
that. He's received reports about it. He continues to be concerned
with it. Secretary of Health Tommy Thompson has been leading a group
involving the Centers for Disease Control that has been working with
the World Health Organization and other groups on the medical
protection necessary to combat the disease, as well as working with
Chinese authorities, authorities in Hong Kong and elsewhere.

Q:  Thank you.

MR. FLEISCHER:  Thank you.

END   12:59 P.M. EST

(end transcript)

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