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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
March 22, 2001

Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Briefing Room

  1. Personnel announcements
  2. Margaret Tutwiler/qualifications
  3. Travel to Maine
  4. Expulsion of Russian diplomats
  5. Faith-based initiative/black ministers
  6. Economic situation/White House working group
  7. Campaign finance reform
  8. Patients' bill of rights
  9. China/meeting with Vice Premier Qian Qichen/topics
  10. Stand on airline strikes
  11. Republican budget/ANWR drilling
  12. Chinese missile deployment
  13. Energy situation/Mexico
  14. Middle East/CIA role
  15. Week ahead
  16. Kofi Annan second term


12:09 P.M. EST


          MR. FLEISCHER:  Good afternoon.  I have many announcements this morning.  President Bush will welcome President Ricardo Lagos of Chile to Washington for a working visit on April 16th.

          Personnel -- several announcements this morning.  The President intends to nominate to be Ambassador Extraordinare and Plenipotentiary of the United States to Morocco, Margaret Tutwiler.  The President intends to nominate Eric M. Bost to be Under Secretary of Agriculture of Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services.  The President intends to nominate Bruce Marshall Carnes to be Chief Financial Officer of the Department of Energy. The President intends to nominate Thomas C. Dorr to be Under Secretary of Agriculture for Rural Development.  The President intends to nominate J.B. Penn to be Under Secretary of Agriculture for Farm and Foreign Agriculture. The President intends to nominate Otto Reich to be Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs.  The President intends to nominate Ms. Jessie Hill Roberson to be Assistant Secretary of Energy for Environmental Management.  The President intends to nominate Tom Scully to be Administrator of the Health Care Financing Administration.

          And finally, the President intends to nominate Angela Styles to be Administrator of the Federal Procurement Policy at the Office of Management and Budget.  She's currently a Special Assistant to the Commissioner for Public Buildings at the General Services Administration and was previously Counsel to the Government Contracts group at Miller and Chevalier in Washington.  She's a graduate of the University of Virginia and received her law degree from the University of Texas Law School.

          Following the briefing today, I'm going to give an update on travel next week.  So if you would remind us, since we're traveling tomorrow, I'll give next week's schedule at the end of today, whenever you want to bring it to a conclusion.

          Q    Will somebody be replacing Ms. Tutwiler here?  And can you give us a little update on tomorrow's trip?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Tomorrow, the President will depart for Portland, Maine at, I believe departure from the White House is 9:15 a.m., and the topic will be budget and taxes.

          Q    Will there be any new proposals?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  We'll alert you if there is anything.

          Q    And Margaret Tutwiler -- anybody replacing her in that?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  We'll have announcements as they are announced, but there's nothing to report at this time.

          Q    What qualifies her to be an ambassador?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, Margaret, of course, is a former spokeswoman for the Department of State, is well-versed in foreign policy, foreign affairs; is well-known and respected by diplomats throughout the world; and obviously she has the full faith, support, confidence of the President, which is why he's made this announcement today.

          Q    The expulsion of the Russian diplomats is a Cold War-scale action, only paralleled by President Reagan's order in '86.  So we must assume only a Cold War-scale espionage operation could warrant such an action.  Is that truly what the President thinks, that the Russians went back to Cold War espionage activity, and that would be the reason for the action against them?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  The action reflects the President's approach to foreign policy, and to relations with Russia, which is an approach that is going to be based on mutual cooperation, finding areas of agreement and broadening them, but also based on realism.  And that's why the President authorized the State Department to take the step that it took last night. The President believes it's the right thing to do, and that's why he took that step in this post-Cold War era.

          Q    How does the President see Russia now?  Is Russia becoming a threat to the U.S. again?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  The President believes that there are many areas where we could cooperate with Russia.  And he has spoken with President Putin about such areas and will continue to do so.  But there are areas where there are disagreements.  Clearly, this is one of them.  And the President took the appropriate action.

          Q    Ari, when was the President notified about the matter?  When did he authorize the State Department to take this action?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Kelly, almost immediately upon the arrest of Agent Hanssen, the President discussed with his national security team at that time what possible remedies and consequences could be.  So at that moment, the President was already thinking about what the appropriate step to take was.  He continued to have conversations with his national security team about the matter following the arrest.

          And then last week his national security team made a recommendation to him.  The President gave the go-ahead last week. Secretary Powell met with Russian officials last night, as you know, and that's when the action was informed -- that's when the Russians became informed of the action.  The President authorized it last week.

          Q    Do you expect retaliatory action by the Russians?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  I think you have to ask the Russians that.

          Q    But you have no intimation of that now, no U.S. diplomats have been asked to leave as of now?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  That's a question you would have to ask the Russians.  The United States has not been notified of any such action.

          Q    How much of this was aimed at people who were directly involved with Hanssen, and how much of it is a broader move?  And can you explain what the broader move -- the significance of the broader move would be?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  The State Department addressed that earlier this morning in their announcement.  They noted that the action and the expulsion of four Russian intelligence officers who have been declared persona non grata.  It followed the arrest on February 18th, 2001, of FBI Special Agent Robert Hanssen on charges of espionage on behalf of the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation.

          Q    You're saying those four were directly involved in espionage with Hanssen?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  That's correct.

          Q    What about the rest of the Russian diplomats who are being asked to leave?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, as you know, the United States government for many years has expressed its concern to the Russians about the level and the number of Russian intelligence officers operating in the United States, and we have addressed those concerns to the Russians.

          Q    When was the last time the President spoke with Putin, and what kind of contacts have they held in the past few months?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  He spoke on the phone with President Putin a number of weeks ago, and of course, we are always in diplomatic touch with the Russians.

          Q    Don't you think that a situation like this would merit another contact?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Clearly, the President did not think that was necessary.  The President took the action he thought appropriate.

          Q    What's the overall benefit of something like this?  We know that they spy on us; they know that we spy on them.  When you make a dramatic move like asking more than 40 diplomats/intelligence agents to leave, it's a diplomatic move meant to send a message that will affect Russian-U.S. relations.  What's the purpose?  What's the goal?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  The action is a reflection of the President's approach to foreign policy and to dealing with Russia, which is we are going to find areas of cooperation -- the President is going to continue to pursue areas of cooperation; he sees many.  But the President also is going to be a realist in the conduct of his foreign policy.  And in the wake of what happened with Agent Hanssen and the Russian involvement, the President made the determination that it is in the United States' interest to declare the four Russian intelligence officers persona non grata.

          Q    Why was it in our best interest, and what is the message you're sending by doing it?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  The message the President is sending is that his foreign policy is going to be based on reality.  He's going to have a realistic approach to foreign policy.

          Q    Isn't espionage real -- a reality we face in the early 21st century?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  And the reaction from the President is realistic, based on conducting foreign affairs in a realistic -- and you have heard the President say this many times before -- realistic and direct way.  He's a plainspoken man.

          Q    Ari, just to get it from your mouth, please -- could you please give us a summary of how many were expelled altogether, how many have left -- and what's the deadline for the others?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  As announced earlier this morning by the State Department, four Russians were declared persona non grata, and other concerns have been expressed about the level of intelligence officers in this country.

          Q    But we're not giving the number -- 51, 56 -- it keeps getting batted around.

          MR. FLEISCHER:  I've just answered the question.

          Q    What are the concerns about potential retaliation, since we apparently have fewer people on the ground in Russia than they had here?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Again, that's asking me to speculate about a future event, and I'm not going to do that.  We don't know if that will or will not take place, and I won't speculate.

          Q    Can you give us a little tick-tock?  When did the President become informed of the recommendation?  Who made the recommendation to him? And who was it that told the Russians that these folks were no longer invited into our country?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  The conversations were held with the President and his national security team, and I believe -- you might want to talk to the State Department about it -- my understanding was in a meeting last night with Secretary Powell.

          Q    That was the answer to the last question, Powell talked to the Russians?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  To the Russians.

          Q    Who all -- was there one meeting at which x-number of aides made the recommendation to the President?  When was his meeting?  Who was in on it?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Let me try to find out additional details if I can, Ron.

          Q    He did sign off on it personally?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Last week.  He authorized it last week.

          Q    If you could find out details on that meeting, I'd appreciate it.

          Q    Can you confirm how many have actually left?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  I would refer you to the State Department for those types of details.

          Q    On Monday, the black ministers met with the President.  Over the weekend, before the meeting, one of these black ministers suggested that the reason that conservative evangelicals weren't as supportive of the plan was because they didn't want the money to go to poor black and brown people.  Did the President have any discussion with Reverend Rivers about creating a new Washington, and how is that going to put together a team here to support the faith-based initiative on the left and the right?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, I think the way the President is going about creating a faith-based initiative that's supported on the left and the right is exactly what you've seen him do -- he's meeting with the left and he's meeting with the right, and he's building bridges between the two. And that bridge, in the President's mind, arrives at a faith-based initiative that, for the first time, can get the government involved in helping people who have some intractable problems in our society, where government programs can be helpful but don't go far enough.

          And the President does view some of the faith-based caretakers in our country as a way to help people who are suffering from debilitating problems, such as alcoholism, drug abuse, crime.  He sees particularly for young people faith-based initiatives as a way to see a role model in the communities and neighborhoods in which they live.  And that's why he's meeting with people from all ends of the political spectrum.  He understands that there are going to be people who oppose it on the left and on the right.  He's full-speed ahead, because he is building the center and pushing it on the left and pushing it on the right.

          Q    But does it build bridges when the people who come to meet with the President are running down the people on the other side of the spectrum, and basically suggesting that they're racists?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  I think, as you heard following the meeting, there was nothing but praise for the President.  Many of the black ministers went out and addressed you all on the driveway to the White House and expressed their support for the President's initiative.  The President is pleased to have received it.

          Q    Can I go back to the spying, the expulsions.  You said that we've made representations to the Russians for a long time about the level of espionage, the level of people engaged in these activities.

          MR. FLEISCHER:  That's correct.

          Q    Are you saying today that the Bush administration is not going to tolerate the level that was tolerated in the prior administration?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  I'm making clear that the President has made clear that we have concerns about the level of Russian intelligence officers in this country.

          Q    And that is because they are a friendly nation, they shouldn't -- the Cold War is long over?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Because in the wake of the arrest of agent Hanssen and the evidence that has developed in that case, the President took the appropriate action based on his concerns about the number of Russian intelligence officials in this country.

          Q    Ari, the President's decision last week to approve this, was that more of a general decision agreeing to the expulsion recommendation, or did he get down into, this number of people should go?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  No, there was some specific back-and-forth conversations between the President's national security team and the President, and as with any decision the President makes, whether it's domestic or foreign policy, he enjoys a back-and-forth conversation with his advisors and he reaches a conclusion and announces it.

          Q    Is there a financial working group or economic response team in place that the President can turn to in time of economic distress, like we're seeing in the stock market these days?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  The President works with his normal team, the Secretary of Treasury, Larry Lindsey, Economic Policy Advisor, and several others.  And that's the present system.

          Q         Have they met recently regarding what's going on with the economy and with the stock market?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  The President meets and confers with them all the time.  I think there's another meeting with Larry this afternoon on a number of economic issues.

          Q    Is there an assumption that every Russian diplomat is a spy?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  No.

          Q    I'm just trying to put together the pieces of the reality that you are talking about, the administration's perception of Russia. Russia is being called an active proliferator.  The President's budget is cutting back on the financial aid to Russia.  Russia was mentioned in the President's interview to the New York Times, a bad environment for investments.  And now we have the expulsion of 50 or so diplomats.  So that's what the Russians called a Cold War mentality, or most analysts here would say, a hard-line approach to Russia.

          MR. FLEISCHER:  I think you're going to see the President's approach to Russia be exactly as I indicated earlier.  The President sees avenues of cooperation with Russia.  The President sees opportunities for trade with Russia, for increasing help with democratization inside Russia. The President also sees disagreements, and the President will have a foreign policy with Russia that is realistic and takes those disagreements into account, as well as the areas of agreement.

          Q    Ari, there's a Russian official quoted today in the Russian press as saying that Russian retaliation for this expulsion would involve hundreds -- plural -- hundreds of American diplomats.  And this official noted that there are many more American diplomats in Moscow than there are Russian diplomats in Washington.  In light of that threat, and in light of those numbers, is there some concern in the administration that this may be counterproductive in the end; if we get into a game of tit-for-tat in expulsions, that the United States may be the loser?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Again, I'm not going to speculate about any events that have not taken place.  But I want to reiterate, the President took this action because he thought it was in the national interest in the wake of a very serious espionage matter involving matters of American national security.  It was the right thing to do, and that is why he did it.

          Q    Well, is it true that we have hundreds more?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  That's a question you need to ask the State Department.  I don't keep track of the number of our diplomats around the world.

          Q    You're not going to leave a statement out like that, are you?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  I don't keep track of the number of our diplomats around the world.

          Q    There's an amendment added to the campaign finance bill that would assist candidates facing very wealthy opponents.  Does the White House support that?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Let me do this.  Are there any more on Russia? We'll finish that and then come back to that.  Be happy to.

          Jim and then Kelly.

          Q    You say that the President's policy towards Russia is one of realism.

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Correct.

          Q    You seem to be suggesting that this is a shift from the previous administration policy.

          MR. FLEISCHER:  The President is not interested in making comparisons.  He's interested in looking forward and designing a realistic foreign policy around the world that represents America's best interests. And that's why he has taken this action.  I'll leave it to others the matter of comparisons.

          Q    The U.S. has complained for some time about the fact that there were a larger number of Russian intelligence agents here than they preferred.  Has it gotten worse, or did the President -- what prompted the President to ask so many other Russian diplomats to leave?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, again, the President has expressed, the State Department has expressed concern about the level of Russian intelligence officers in this country.  But it's just a reminder that even in the post-Cold War era, situations like this arise, and the President will treat them seriously and deal with them realistically.

          Q    But the State Department had complained a year or two ago. There have been officials complaining quietly for at least two or three years about this.  I'm trying to figure out why the President decided this was the time not just to respond to the Hanssen case, but to also ask some 40 other diplomats to leave.

          MR. FLEISCHER:  I can only address the announcement that the President and the State Department made this morning about the decision to expel four Russians as persona non grata.

          Q    So this is really a two-part action then.  One is to get people out who were actually dealing with Hanssen.  The other is to send the Russians a message that we're not going to allow that many intelligence agents to operate inside the U.S.

          MR. FLEISCHER:  I think I've already addressed it.

          Q    Just following that, can you shed any more light on what the recommendation from the President's national security team was, in fact? Was it to expel only those related to Hanssen, or was it broader?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Kelly, it's my policy only to discuss the items that the President has acted on.  And any conversations that were internal I'm going to leave internal.  And don't take that to mean that there was anything else suggested or recommended.  The President took the action that he took, and that's what I'm discussing.

          Q    Ari, how much damage do you think you've done to their intelligence apparatus with this move?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  That's not an assessment for me to make.

          Q    But your response to several questions here has been to imply that the      previous administration has allowed in too many intelligence agents?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  No, I'm just pointing out the historical accuracy of the fact that expressions of concern about the level of Russian intelligence officers in the United States is not new.  I think many people in this room know that; many people who have covered the State Department know that.  It's not meant to compare.  It's just an accurate reflection of a fact that this government has been grappling with for considerable time.

          Q    Can I ask about China?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Let's go to Keith if we're done.

          Q    The amendment that passed the Senate providing more money to candidates who have wealthy opponents -- does the White House support that amendment?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  As you know, you saw the President's principles on campaign finance reform, and the President is not going to comment amendment by amendment.  He looks forward to taking a look at the campaign finance reform package as it passes the Senate and then as it passes the House, develops in conference.  He's looking forward to build bridges so he can sign a good bill into law this year.

          Q    And the amendments -- you won't comment on the amendments that failed yesterday, which were part of the President's principles, related to paycheck protection and --

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Because also, from the President's point of view, it's the beginning of the process.  There are going to be several more actions taken, many more votes to come in the Senate.  And the President is closely monitoring campaign finance reform because he wants to get something done this year.  And he believes that with a little effort, with a little good work, a little compromise, that campaign finance reform can be signed into law this year.

          Q    Even with the failure of those amendments that he supports, he still thinks that we can get --

          MR. FLEISCHER:  It's the beginning of the process.

          Q    Will he sign a bill if it doesn't have paycheck protection?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  The President is looking forward to working together to bring people together so he can sign a bill.

          Q    Why would he take that approach on campaign finance, and then talk on the patients' bill of rights about bills that he would veto when the bills haven't been introduced yet?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  For the exact same -- well, several of the bills have been introduced on patients' bill of rights, which is why the President said what he said yesterday.  But for the exact same reason -- it's perfectly consistent, because his desire is to get things moving in Washington so legislation can be signed into law.

          In the case of the patients' bill of rights, he obviously is pushing toward the middle.  He wants people to come together on patients' bill of rights and get out of the rut that they've been in last year where nothing got done.  So he sent a very clear signal about a patients' bill of rights that has strong patient protections and that does not turn patients' rights over to trial lawyers.  That way, we can get something signed.

          And I note this morning that Congressman Charlie Norwood, one of the lead advocates of patients' bill of rights in the Congress, issued a statement saying that the President today -- yesterday -- solidly aligned himself with the bipartisan House and Senate coalition that has pushed so hard to have new standards apply to every health plan in the country.

          So the President is looking to build on both campaign finance reform and patients' bill of rights, bipartisan coalitions so he can sign bills into law.  And that contrasts with both campaign finance reform and patients' bill of rights in the last Congress.  There was so much of an effort --

          Q    It was Republican-dominated, and they wouldn't pass anything.  So don't give us that stuff.

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Helen, the point is --

          Q    It didn't pass because the Republicans were not going to allow it to.  Either one.

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Would you care to come up here?  The point is, it didn't get done in the last Congress because nobody pushed for a bipartisan, centrist solution.  You had too many pitted camps, both on patients' bill of rights and campaign finance.

          Q    Too many compromises would have been demanded, so why do it?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  And the President is trying to build that middle ground on both issues.  And he's pleased with what he's done and he thinks it's going to help lead to a year in which he can sign both patients' bill of rights and campaign finance reform.

          Q    On China.  Will the President raise human rights, religious persecution, and also the issue of the American Chinese professor in prison?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  The President does anticipate raising the issue of human rights in his meeting with Deputy Premier Qian Qichen.

          Q    And does human rights encompass religious persecution, specifically?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  I'll wait for the meeting to see exactly the manner in which the President expresses concern, but human rights will be a topic of the President's.

          Q    How are we going to handle that, Ari?  Will we have a senior administration official?

          MS. COUNTRYMAN:  We're going to try to have a senior administration official directly after the meeting come to the briefing room.  So we know about everybody's deadlines.  We'll try to do that as quickly as we can.

          Q    You said that the President is meeting with Larry Lindsey today.  I wonder, for the past couple of weeks you've entertained questions here, you've talked about how, despite reduced economic growth lower than projections, you're still confident that the tax cut and all the other or the President's priorities can be funded because of excess revenues that are exceeding projections.  You've probably seen in the paper in the last few days a number of private economists are now downsizing their estimates for surpluses, showing that, in fact, economic growth is related to the surpluses at some point.  Does this mean, and will the President's economic advisor bring him the bad news, that slow growth might mean lower surpluses, and therefore, changes in his plan?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  The President's estimates are right down on target and in line with the private sector's estimates.  There are a number of private sector organizations that have looked at anticipated revenues in this year, even with the slowdown of growth, and they concur with the President's estimates.  I'll be happy to bring you that list.  The President's estimates have been reinforced by most private sector analysts. There's been one notable exception to that, and I think that's the one to which you refer, and that's a distinct minority.  The President's estimates have been borne out by most private sector observers.

          Q    Ari, can you clarify the President's stance on the possibility of airline strikes this year?  When he announced the action on Northwest, he said that he would "take the necessary steps to prevent airline strikes."  There's a suggestion in the paper today that you may be playing down that position.  Is it still his position that he will do whatever he can, whether it's appointing presidential emergency boards, or calling on Congress where he can't do that, to forestall such strikes, and therefore, avoid disruptions to the economy?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  I hope we're not circling territory we've covered before, but if you recall, I said last week in this room that in any airline strike, or any impasse that the President has authority to appoint a presidential emergency board, it first is contingent on a recommendation from the National Mediation Board, which is what I indicated publicly here last week when I was asked a similar question.  The President does not have the authority to appoint a PEB unless the NMB recommends it.

          So what the President said in South Dakota in regard to Northwest he said because it was authorized by the National Mediation Board.  He has sent a clear signal that he would like to protect the economy and the traveling public from any additional airline strikes.  His ability to appoint a presidential emergency board is directly contingent upon a recommendation from the National Mediation Board.

          Q    The emergency board, does that automatically stop the striker, or can you just have a board that's just there, kind of watching everything?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  The appointment -- there are two parts to the process.  Once the National Mediation Board concludes that two parties to a negotiation have reached an impasse, the NMB then can order a 30-day review on which they say at the end of the 30 days, they will recommend to the President the appointment of the presidential emergency board.  That, therefore, is a 30-day cooling-off period.

          Once they make the recommendation, and if the President accepts it, as he did at Northwest, the only action the President can take when he appoints a presidential emergency board is a 60-day cooling-off period. That's where we are.  So you have two cooling-off periods, one of 30 days, and then the other is 60 days maximum.  And that's the authority the President has granted.  So it's a 60-day cooling-off period.

          Q    Just to clarify, forgive me, but by saying that he'd take

the action necessary to prevent airline strikes, was he suggesting that when the NMB recommends that he appoint an emergency board, he will do so, or is he preserving wiggle room not to do so?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  He's sending a very clear signal that the if the National Mediation Board recommends a presidential emergency board, his inclination will be to protect the traveling public and the fragile economy.

          Imagine if all these airlines go on strike all at the same time, it's going to be a real shutdown for the American people.  It's going to hurt commerce, it's going to hurt the economy, it's going to hurt consumers, it's going to hurt travelers when they want to take their vacations.

          Q    The Republican budget assumes no revenues from the opening of ANWR in Alaska.  And I'm wondering if you think that means that Republicans are not very confident that that proposal is going to pass.

          MR. FLEISCHER:  No, I think there are several other legislative routes which can be pursued to secure the opening of a small portion of ANWR to protect America's economy and to secure domestic resources.  And we're interested in talking with Congress about some of those other options.

          Q    But if it's not paid for, wouldn't you have to do it, just tack it on as a rider under a spending bill, or how would you do that?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  There are other authorization vehicles.           Q    What about the general question -- aren't you -- these are your own allies on the Hill, and they're not -- they're assuming you're not going to be able to open up ANWR.

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Because the President understands the beginning of a process, and he's going to continue to build support for his energy plans.  And, of course, we will in the spring, the President will this spring be coming out with his comprehensive energy plan and build support for it.

          Q    So you still hold out the hope that ANWR can be opened up?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  The President believes it's important and necessary; that's correct.

          Q    Ari, on China, does the administration see Chinese missile deployments as a threat to Taiwan?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  As you know, the United States, under the Taiwan Relations Act, is committed to the defense of Taiwan and has a responsibility to provide defensive weapons to Taiwan.  And we are concerned about any military threat that could violate our obligations on the Taiwan Relations Act.

          Q    Do you believe one now exists because of Chinese missiles?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  The United States has previously expressed its concerns about missile build-up.

          Q    Ari, how does the President reconcile the bear market with the concept of personal retirement accounts within the context of Social Security?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, of course, there have been many bears and many bulls in the history of the stock market.  And if you go back to a period of time beginning, or just before the Great Depression, and you note that there was a world war, there were, I believe 11 recessions, one Great Depression -- investments in the stock market still out-perform the rate of return that people get on their Social Security money that's invested in the government.  So even with a long history in this country of bulls and bears, of ups and downs in the markets, over time, over long periods of time, investments in markets out-perform investments in government bonds, therefore, giving people more money to retire.

          Q    Should there be a hold-harmless of some sort to set a floor below which a person's losses would be stopped?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  When the President announced his Social Security plan in June of 2000, he did not indicate any support for such a provision. And, of course, when the President announces his commission, that will be an item that they're free to look at.  But that is not an item that the President has previously supported.

          Q    Ari, on energy, the President of Mexico last night in California offered support to the state for dissolution of the electricity crisis.  But, at the same time, he said that the United States doesn't have any right to advise the Mexicans to let the foreign capital to explore the natural gas and other resources, and as President Bush said a few weeks ago.  So what is the reaction of the White House?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  As the President discussed with President Fox during his visit to Mexico, he understands that the Mexican constitution, there are internal Mexican rules, requirements and that any actions that Mexico takes to help the United States would be in accordance with the Mexican constitution.  The President is very respectful of that.

          Let me give you an update for next week.

          Q    Can I follow up on one question?  On the statement on the defense of Taiwan, does that mean the President has made up his mind on the destroyers, the radar and all the new things the Taiwanese are asking for?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  No, the President has not made up his mind.  That is a decision that will be made in April.

          Q    Ari, one more question on the Middle East.  Can you tell us, has the President instructed the CIA to end its role in increasing security cooperation between the Israelis and the Palestinians?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  I don't have anything on that.  Maybe you want to check with Mary Ellen on that.  I noted that in the papers this morning.  I don't have anything.

          Let me get into next week's schedule.  The President will travel to Kansas City, Missouri; Billings, Montana; and Kalamazoo, Michigan to talk about his budget, tax relief and the economy on Monday and Tuesday of next week.

          On Wednesday, at the White House, the President will meet with a group of high-tech leaders, as well as with the King of Spain.

          On Thursday, the President will meet with the Chancellor of Germany for a working visit.  And he will address the 57th Annual Dinner of the Radio and Television Correspondents Association.  He will do so, joyfully.

          And Friday, the President will have lunch with baseball Hall of Famers and meet with the President of Brazil, before departing for Camp David.

          And one longer-term announcement for you.  The President will throw out the first pitch on April 6th at the Milwaukee Brewers-Cincinnati Reds baseball game, in Milwaukee.  That will be a return -- it's the opening of a new stadium in Milwaukee, and it's also a return to the city where the President was able to watch Robin Yount get his 3,000th hit and Nolan Ryan his 300th victory.  The President attended both of those games. So he's looking forward to going back to Milwaukee.

          Q    Having lunch with the Hall of Famers -- are these the new, newly elected members?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  No, it's a group of Hall of Famers from -- it's going to be a very exciting group, going back many years.  We'll bring some real celebrities to the White House.

          Q    Ari, does the President support a second term period of Kofi Annan as Secretary General of the United Nations?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  I noted that the Secretary General just announced that he would run, and I have not had a chance to talk with the President about that yet.

          Q    Have we taken a position on his --

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Kofi Annan?  No.  He just announced that, that he would run again.

          Okay, thank you, everybody.

                               END                                    12:42 P.M. EST