White House Daily Briefing, July 9, 2003

 

Thursday  July 9, 2003
(President's schedule, Liberia, Israel/Palestinians, Iraq/uranium from
Africa, Bush/State of the Union speech, AIDS) (2090)

White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer briefed the media July 9 in
Pretoria as they accompanied President Bush on the second day of a
five-country African tour.

Following is the White House transcript:

(begin transcript)

THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
(Pretoria, South Africa)
July 9, 2003

PRESS GAGGLE WITH ARI FLEISCHER TO THE TRAVEL POOL

Union House
Pretoria, South Africa

QUESTION: So what's happening this morning?

MR. FLEISCHER: So far, all quiet on the Western front. The President
will do the avail. Is this the same pool that is going to be at the
avail?

Q: Yes.

MR. FLEISCHER: Looks like it's two and two.

Q: Will we get a readout of the bilat?

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes. What we're going to do is ask Jendayi to come to
the filing center I think between 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. for the
entire press contingent. I think that's the plan right now. I'm not
sure Jendayi can do it, but that's what we intended on the schedule.

Q: Anything new on Liberia?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, it's like I said yesterday, it's going to take some
time for the assessments to come in, and they've got some thorough
work ahead of them.

Q: The assessment team has run into difficulties in getting access to
what they would need, is that a problem?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'll let DOD go through that. I think it turned
out to be less than met the eye and they dealt with it. But DOD can
tell you.

Q: Any discussions on the Middle East, Abbas and Sharon? Has there
been any --

MR. FLEISCHER: (Inaudible) -- I think I just want to see if there's an
update I can get you from either Powell or Condi on it. The President
has not made any calls in the last day or two on it. No, it's just --
the Palestinian Authority still has some responsibilities and Abbas is
working hard to meet those responsibilities -- internal issues with
the Palestinian Authority that he's diligently working his way
through.

Q: The fact that Abbas is talking about resigning, is that a cause for
concern at this point?

MR. FLEISCHER: Internal policy and politics is complicated for the
Palestinians, let alone for outside observers. The President is
confident in his leadership and looks forward to continuing to work
with him.

Q: So we don't think this is serious, or whether there's a serious
possibility --

* * * * *

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me say this on background. It is
not an atypical way of internal Palestinian machinations.

Q: Kind of like the White House? (Laughter.) Are you always
threatening to quit?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: -- with the President. (Laughter.) The
President tells Harriet -- I don't think that's -- (laughter.) It is
-- it's just sometimes their way of doing business.

* * * * *

Q: What's the final language, Ari, your final position on the State of
the Union speech and the uranium -- I know they were working on stuff
last night, but I never got a chance to read it.

Q: Is this on the record?

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, we're back on the record. After the speech,
information was learned about the forged documents. With the advantage
of hindsight, it's known now what was not known by the White House
prior to the speech. This information should not have risen to the
level of a presidential speech. There was reporting, although it
wasn't very specific, about Iraq's seeking to obtain uranium from
Africa. It's a classic issue of how hindsight is 20-20. The process
was followed that led to the information going into the State of the
Union; information about the yellow cake was only brought to the White
House's attention later.

But there's a bigger picture here, and this is what's fundamental --
the case for war against Iraq was based on the threat that Saddam
Hussein posed because of his possession of weapons of mass
destruction, chemical and biological, and his efforts to reconstitute
a nuclear program. In 1991, everybody in the world underestimated how
close he was to getting a nuclear weapon. The case for going to war
against Saddam is as just today as it was the day the President gave
that speech.

Q: Ambassador Wilson said he made a case months before that there was
no basis to the belief --

MR. FLEISCHER: No, he reported that Niger denied the allegation.
That's what Ambassador Wilson reported.

Q: Was that report weighed against other --

MR. FLEISCHER: And of course they would deny the allegation. That
doesn't make it untrue. It was only later -- you can ask Ambassador
Wilson if he reported that the yellow cake documents were forged. He
did not. His report did not address whether the documents were forged
or not. His report stated that Niger denied the accusation. He spent
eight days in Niger and concluded that Niger denied the allegation.
Well, typically, nations don't admit to going around nuclear
nonproliferation.

Q: But he said there was a basis to believe their denials.

MR. FLEISCHER: That's different from what he reported. The issue here
is whether the documents on yellow cake were forged. He didn't address
that issue. That's the information that subsequently came to light,
not prior to the speech.

Q: Walk us through how much, if any of this --

MR. FLEISCHER: It was based on the national intelligence estimate; it
was based on contemporaneous reporting leading up to the speech, which
with the advantage of hindsight we now know that the yellow cake ties
to Niger were not accurate. But again, in 1991, the world
underestimated how close Iraq was to obtaining nuclear weapons. There
is a bigger picture here that is just as valid today as it was the day
of the speech.

Q: Are we going the other way now in overestimating their ability to
reconstitute --

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, obviously the regime is gone, they're not
reconstituting anything anymore.

Q: But that really wasn't the question. Did we overestimate his
capacity for doing this before the regime was --

MR. FLEISCHER: It remains clear from the United Nations and others
that Saddam had biological weapons, chemical weapons that he had not
accounted for. Those are weapons of mass destruction. We continue to
learn about the Iraqi nuclear program, information such as the
scientist who had buried material in his garden for the purpose of
bringing it out after the sanctions were imposed. The concerns are
valid. The yellow cake report may have turned out to be inaccurate,
but the broader concerns remain valid.

So it's important to get this in context. It's important to understand
whether one specific sentence based on yellow cake was wrong, that
does not change the fundamental case from being right.

Q: Does this increase the onus or the need to come up with significant
discoveries of WMD that so far haven't been found?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think the American people continue to express their
support for ridding the world of Saddam Hussein based on just cause,
knowing that Saddam Hussein had biological and chemical weapons that
were unaccounted for that we're still confident we'll find. I think
the burden is on those people who think he didn't have weapons of mass
destruction to tell the world where they are. We know he had them in
the '90s, he used them. So just because they haven't yet been found
doesn't mean they didn't exist. The burden is on the critics to
explain where the weapons of mass destruction are. If they think they
were destroyed, the burden is on them to explain when he destroyed
them and where he destroyed them.

Q: What's the estimate on how long it will take, and what more access,
if any, they need --

MR. FLEISCHER: It will take as long as it takes until they're
discovered. The world is safer.

Q: Ari, back on the State of the Union, is there anything that the
White House, that the administration is going to do differently to
prevent something like that from happening, like how a piece of
information that does not rise to the level that should be included in
a speech, that ends up being inaccurate --

MR. FLEISCHER: There's always a thorough vetting process. We'll
continue to follow the vetting process. But it is the nature of events
that information can later be discovered after a speech -- and when
that happens, as is in this case, it's important to be forthright,
which is what this administration has done -- to discuss it openly,
and that's what this administration has done.

Q: When you talked about the contemporaneous reporting right before
the speech, what exactly do you mean?

MR. FLEISCHER: There was the national intelligence estimate,
intelligence community.

Q: So you had other reports about Niger and about the yellow cake from
Niger.

MR. FLEISCHER: -- part of the intelligence community's reporting
leading up to the speech --

Q: There wasn't a lot --

Q: Some British --

MR. FLEISCHER: -- which subsequently -- no, the President in the State
of the Union cited the British report. But there had been an
independent American report which in the instance of yellow cake,
subsequently turned out not to be valid. But keep in mind, again,
we've said that about the yellow cake for an extended period of time.
This administration has been forthright.

* * * * *

MR. FLEISCHER: Glad you guys made it in there. I was worried sick
about you for awhile.

Q: Ari, Prime Minister Blair is coming next week, is that correct?

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't think that's correct.

Q: I've heard -- I thought I heard from somebody at the White House --

MR. FLEISCHER: -- saying I'm paying a little less attention to events
after Monday than I used to, but I don't --

Q: I heard he's giving a joint address to Congress --

MR. FLEISCHER: I'll have to look. I don't know. I know there's another
head of state visit that you guys know about.

Q: Right, to the ranch.

MR. FLEISCHER: But I'll have to ask.

Q: If you are able to get something on that I'd like to know.

MR. FLEISCHER: Okay.

Q: Is there anything else to link Saddam Hussein's attempt to acquire
weapons to Africa, now that this yellow case -- Niger thing has been
discussed?

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, there was other reporting. But as I said, it
didn't rise to the level of sufficient specificity. But there was
other reports, yes.

Q: Is the President still concerned about Africa being a source --
potential source for these weapons?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, because the regime is gone. The regime is gone. You
know, just because something didn't make it to the level where it
should have been included in a presidential speech, in hindsight,
doesn't mean the information was necessarily inaccurate. It means it
should not have risen to his level.

This is the nature of some intelligence information. But, again, this
is why I go right back to the bigger point, why did we go to war. We
went to war because of chemical weapons, biological weapons. And as
you know, in the case of nuclear, there are other issues that go into
nuclear, not just yellow cake. So, again, that's why I urge you all to
just keep this in perspective about what this one sentence means. And
we have been honest about discussing the one sentence -- and I think
that it's a case to be fair to the administration.

Q: Apparently, the Iraqi intelligence agent who had met with Atta in
Prague, has there been help -- been apprehended, any information on
that?

MR. FLEISCHER: I saw a report on it in the media. I don't have
anything beyond that.

Q: Can I ask you one thing about AIDS? You know, here is the largest
percentage of AIDS in the world, and yet it's not really on the agenda
in southern Africa. I know you will be dealing with it in Uganda --

MR. FLEISCHER: It's on the President's agenda.

Q: Well, tell me about it. What is he going to be doing?

MR. FLEISCHER: He's in the meetings now, so we'll have a background
briefing later today, and then you'll find out what the President
said.

Q: So that's going to be at 3:00 p.m. at the filing center?

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know what time. Somewhere between 1:00 p.m. and
3:00 p.m.

END

(end transcript)

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