Ari & I: January 27, 2003
White House Press Briefing with Ari Fleischer
Mokhiber: The San Francisco Chronicle reported yesterday that a number of major American corporations -- including Hewlett-Packard and Bechtel -- helped Saddam Hussein beef up its military in the 1980s. And also the Washington Post last month in a front-page article by Michael Dobbs said the United States during the '80s supplied Iraq with cluster bombs, intelligence and chemical and biological agents. In that same article, they reported that Donald Rumsfeld, now Secretary of Defense, went to Baghdad in December 1983 and met with Saddam Hussein, and this was at a time when Iraq was using chemical weapons almost on a daily basis in defiance of international conventions. So there are some specifics, and the question is -- if Iraq is part of the axis of evil, why aren't the United States and these American corporations part of the axis of evil for helping him out during his time of need?
Ari Fleischer: Russell, as I indicated, I think that you have to make a distinction between chemical and biological. And, clearly, in a previous era, following the fall of the Shah of Iran, when there was a focus on the risks that were underway in the region as a result of the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Iran, different administrations, beginning with President Carter, reached different conclusions about the level of military cooperation vis-a-vis Iraq.
Obviously, Saddam Hussein since that time has used whatever material he had for the purpose therefore of attacking Kuwait, attacking Saudia Arabia, attacking Israel. And, obviously, as circumstances warrant, we have an approach that requires now the world to focus on the threat that Saddam Hussein presents and that he presents this threat because of his desire to continue to acquire weapons and his willingness to use those weapons against others.
Mokhiber: If I could follow up on that --
Ari Fleischer: Russell. Russell.
Mokhiber: If I could follow-up on it. You and the President have repeatedly said one of the reasons Saddam is part of the axis of evil is because he's gassed his own people. Well, he gassed his own people with our help. You saw the Washington Post article, didn't you, by Michael Dobbs?
Ari Fleischer: I think that statement is not borne out by the facts.
Mokhiber: Did you see the Post article by Dobbs?
Ari Fleischer: I think that he gassed his own people as a result of his decisions to use his weapons to gas his own people.
Mokhiber: But who gave him the weapons?
Ari Fleischer: And I think the suggestion that you blame America for Iraq's actions is way beyond the pale.
Mokhiber: Who gave him the weapons?
(Ari moves on.)