Spokesperson Dana Perino was asked about the transcript published this week by the Spanish newspaper El Pais. It purports to be from a meeting just before the U.S. invasion of Iraq between President Bush and the prime minister of Spain. In it, President Bush is clearly set on a path for war, although he denied so publicly at the time.
Perino was mostly non-responsive to the questions, but notably the White House did not dispute the authenticity of the transcript:
Here is the relevant portion of transcript from the briefing:
Q If I can change topics, there’s a — about the history of the Iraq war here. There’s a transcript in the Spanish newspaper, El Pa s, that was said to be from a meeting between the President and the Spanish Prime Minister back in February 2003, in which, according to the tapes of this transcript of the conversations, Saddam Hussein offered to step down and go into exile one month before the invasion, and the President seemed to think that that was a realistic possibility at that time. Do you believe that this is an accurate transcript?
MS. PERINO: Well, without commenting on the details or talking about a private conversation between two world leaders and whether or not that happened, if you think back to that time, there were a lot of rumors. There were a lot of people floating ideas around about what may or may not happen. Unfortunately, Saddam Hussein decided to defy the international community. All diplomatic measures ran their course. And what we are focused on now is making sure that Iraq can be a government that can sustain and defend itself and make sure it’s an ally in the war on terror for that region.
Q And one more thing on this. The President is quoted in this transcript saying, “No matter what happens, we’ll be in Baghdad by the end of March.” Three days after that meeting, Ari Fleischer was at a podium in this room, saying, “The President has not come to the conclusion that the inspections have reached a dead end.” I’m wondering if you can —
MS. PERINO: I wasn’t there for the private meeting that the President had with President Aznar. I don’t know what Ari said. I do know where we are now, which is in a position of trying to make sure that the Iraqis have what they need in order to be a democratic force in the Middle East region.