An exchange…

…between Helen Thomas and Ari Fleischer:

Q 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.

MR. 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.

Q My follow-up is, why does he want to drop bombs on innocent Iraqis?

MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, the question is how to protect Americans, and our allies and friends —

Q They’re not attacking you.

MR. FLEISCHER: — from a country —

Q Have they laid the glove on you or on the United States, the Iraqis, in 11 years?

MR. 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.

Q Is this revenge, 11 years of revenge?

MR. 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.

Q Would the President attack innocent Iraqi lives?

MR. 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.

Q And he thinks they are a threat to us?

MR. FLEISCHER: There is no question that the President thinks that Iraq is a threat to the United States.

Q The Iraqi people?

MR. FLEISCHER: The Iraqi people are represented by their government. If there was regime change, the Iraqi —

Q So they will be vulnerable?

MR. FLEISCHER: Actually, the President has made it very clear that he has not 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 —

Q That’s a decision for them to make, isn’t it? It’s their country.

MR. 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.

Q I think many countries don’t have — people don’t have the decision — including us.

In the same briefing, Russell Mohbiker asks:

Q Ari, other than Elliott Abrams, how many convicted criminals are on the White House staff?

MR. FLEISCHER: (Laughter.) You tell me, Russell. You seem to keep count.

Q Can you give me a list of convicted criminals on the White House staff, other than Elliott Abrams?

MR. FLEISCHER: I’ll go right to the convicted criminals division and ask them to turn — (Laughter.)

Q No, seriously — why isn’t being convicted of a criminal a disqualifier for being on the White House staff?

MR. FLEISCHER: Russell, this is an issue that you like to repeat every briefing. I refer you to the —

Q But you don’t answer —

MR. FLEISCHER: — repeat I gave you the third time you asked it, which matched the second, which corresponded to the first.