From a January 6 exchange between White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer and Helen Thomas, a columnist for Hearst Newspapers. Thomas, who is eighty-two years old, has been covering the White House for forty-two years.
ari fleischer: Good afternoon and Happy New Year to everybody. The president began his day with an intelligence briefing, followed by an FBI briefing. Then he had a series of policy briefings. And this afternoon, the president will look forward to a Cabinet meeting where the president will discuss with members of his Cabinet his agenda for the year. The president is going to focus on economic growth, making America a more compassionate country, and providing for the security of our nation abroad and on the home front.
And with that, I’m more than happy to take your questions. Helen.
helen thomas: At the earlier briefing, Ari, you said that the president deplored the taking of innocent lives. Does that apply to all innocent lives in the world? And I have a follow-up.
fleischer: I refer specifically to a horrible terrorist attack on Tel Aviv that killed scores and wounded hundreds. And the president, as he said in his statement yesterday, deplores in the strongest terms the taking of those lives and the wounding of those people, innocents in Israel.
thomas: My follow-up is, why does he want to drop bombs on innocent Iraqis?
fleischer: Helen, the question is how to protect Americans, and our allies and friends—
thomas: They’re not attacking you.
fleischer: —from a country—
thomas: Have they laid a glove on you or on the United States, the Iraqis, in eleven years?
fleischer: I guess you have forgotten about the Americans who were killed in the first Gulf War as a result of Saddam Hussein’s aggression then.
thomas: Is this revenge, eleven years of revenge?
fleischer: Helen, I think you know very well that the president’s position is that he wants to avert war, and that the president has asked the United Nations to go into Iraq to help with the purpose of averting war.
thomas: Would the president attack innocent Iraqis?
fleischer: The president wants to make certain that he can defend our country, defend our interests, defend the region, and make certain that American lives are not lost.
thomas: And he thinks they are a threat to us?
fleischer: There is no question that the president thinks that Iraq is a threat to the United States.
thomas: The Iraqi people?
fleischer: The Iraqi people are represented by their government. If there was regime change, the Iraqi—
thomas: So they will be vulnerable?
fleischer: Actually, the president has made it very clear that he has no dispute with the people of Iraq. That’s why the American policy remains a policy of regime change. There is no question the people of Iraq—
thomas: That’s a decision for them to make, isn’t it? It’s their country.
fleischer: Helen, if you think that the people of Iraq are in a position to dictate who their dictator is, I don’t think that has been what history has shown.
thomas: I think many countries don’t have people don’t have the decision—including us.