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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
April 4, 2001
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
1:17 P.M. EDT
President Bush today announced his intention to nominate Anthony Gioia to be Ambassador Extraordinaire and Potentiary of the United States to the Republic of Malta. President Bush today announced his intention to nominate Sue Cobb to be Ambassador Extraordinaire and Potentiary to Jamaica.
Other personnel, the President intends to nominate Robert McCallum, Jr. to be Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division. The President intends to nominate Col. Paul Kelly to be Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs. The President intends to nominate Erik Patrick Christian to be Associate Judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. And the President intends to nominate Maurice Ross to be Associate Judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.
I want to give you a readout on a couple phone calls the President made this morning. The President spoke with Tunisian President Ben Ali and Yemeni President Salih today. The call to the President of Tunisia was introductory. They discussed the regional situation and agreed on the need to find ways to restore common stability in the region, and both reaffirmed their commitment to a strong bilateral relationship.
And the call with the President of Yemen was also an introductory call in which the President reaffirmed his commitment to a strong bilateral relationship with Yemen, and they agreed to cooperate closely on the investigation of the USS Cole.
Final item on the schedule: The President will be meeting today at 3:00 p.m. in the Oval Office with Secretary of Agriculture Veneman to talk about foot and mouth disease. The President has been monitoring that very closely, has been on the phone with her on several occasions. He asked her to come into today to give him the latest update. And we will have still photographers at the top of that meeting.
Q Not a pool event?
MR. FLEISCHER: Still photographers at the top.
Q Moments ago, Ari, the Secretary of State expressed regret for the loss of life on the part of the Chinese airman; also said that there is a dialogue between the two governments now to set up a more formal dialogue where, in his words, explanations for this incident can be exchanged. Was that first comment designed to be an olive branch by the administration?
MR. FLEISCHER: David, our government has been in contact with the Chinese government over a period of days, as you know, pertaining to the matter of the servicemen and women. And those conversations will continue. For example, there will be a meeting at the State Department this afternoon between the Chinese Ambassador and the Deputy Secretary of State. So the conversations will continue. And, as the President said yesterday, the purpose of this is so our men and women can come home.
Q Does that statement by the Secretary of State represent a new step in this process?
MR. FLEISCHER: That is the position of the government of the United States that was expressed earlier this morning in the meeting in Beijing between the American Ambassador and the Chinese Foreign Minister. And the United States is concerned about the missing Chinese servicemen, and we have expressed our concern and our regrets about that incident.
Q Ari, is it your understanding that that's not good enough for the Chinese right now; that they have demanded an apology, that, obviously, that happened at the meeting in Beijing, and their Ambassador to the United States just repeated that a short time ago in an interview, saying he wants the United States to accept responsibility and apologize?
MR. FLEISCHER: John, I'm not in a position to say what is good enough for a foreign government. That is, of course, a question only a foreign government can answer. We have talked about this previously and you know the United States position on the apology.
Q Is this an effort, however, to meet the Chinese demand for an apology? Is this as close as we can get to apologizing?
MR. FLEISCHER: This has been made clear to the Chinese prior to today. It was reiterated today that any time there is an apparent loss of a serviceman, the United States government's position is clear about that. And we have said that previously in regard to this accident.
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think Condoleezza Rice has said that previously.
Q When did she say it?
MR. FLEISCHER: She said that in a group of reporters.
Q On the record?
Q On the record?
Q Ari, is the President willing to pick up the ball and talk to the President of China about this? He seems to be polarized now. It may come down to that, many people feel.
MR. FLEISCHER: Ivan, I'm not prepared to say at this time what actions, beyond what the President has already done, that he may or may not do in the future. We continue to have conversations with Chinese officials and the United States will continue to do so. The President will act as he deems most appropriate to make certain that our men and women are able to come home.
Q But you're not ruling it out?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not ruling anything out; I'm not ruling anything in.
Q And you aren't spelling it out. If you aren't spelling it out, then what's the plan?
MR. FLEISCHER: What's the plan?
MR. FLEISCHER: As the President made very plain yesterday, the time has come for our servicemen and women to come home. And the President believes that is the appropriate step now for the Chinese government to take.
Q How do we make that happen?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, on that point, Terry, let me stress that this is a very sensitive time in our conversations with the Chinese. The President's goal is to make certain that our servicemen and women are allowed to come home and be with their families and be reunited and reenter the shores of the United States. Because it is a sensitive time, there are moments in diplomacy, there are times in international relations where the less said is the most productive. And that is the President's focus here -- is being productive and working with the Chinese and making certain that our servicemen and women return to our shores.
Q But the Secretary of State is saying that "we're now exploring an avenue to get a dialogue going so both sides can present explanations." You said that there has been a dialogue going throughout, but this suggests that there's, perhaps at a different level, perhaps a different kind of bilateral exchange.
MR. FLEISCHER: There are going to be a series of contacts, as you know. There already have been. There have been meetings with the servicemen and women. We seek to continue to have meetings with the servicemen and women, right up to the point where they are, indeed, brought home. We will continue to have diplomatic conversations, both in Washington and Beijing. So there will be a series of conversations and we will continue to -- the United States government will continue to pursue them.
Q Do you expect the President to have anything further to say today?
MR. FLEISCHER: No word for you yet on whether the President will have anything further to say today.
Q But it's possible?
MR. FLEISCHER: Anything is possible; but, again, there is no word at this time.
Q This morning, you said the United States sees no reason for an apology. Does that mean you're ruling one out?
MR. FLEISCHER: The accident took place over an international airspace, over international waters, and we do not understand any reason to apologize; the United States did not do anything wrong.
Q Are you ruling one out?
MR. FLEISCHER: I've just answered your question.
Q Two points the Ambassador made in the interview; he said that the Chinese government felt it had every right to keep the crew during its investigation, and he flatly rejected the U.S. claims to any sovereignty over the aircraft, saying that once it landed in Chinese -- at a Chinese military facility, that you have no sovereign rights over it anymore, the United States government. How do you respond to those two points?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President has made it clear that he believes the plane should be returned to the United States, and that is the United States government position.
Q Just to get the diplomacy straight on this, could you summarize what exact language did Secretary Powell and Condoleezza Rice use?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think I'm going to have to refer you, of course, to Secretary Powell if you want to know his exact language. There will be a State Department briefing shortly after this. What language did Condoleezza Rice use in describing --
Q Was it regret or I'm sorry that the Chinese pilot -- the word "regret" or "sorry"?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me go back and take a look at a transcript if you're looking for a verbatim.
Q Is the President in touch with any third government or anybody else seeking help in this connection?
MR. FLEISCHER: Any other types of diplomatic conversations that may be going on back and forth are diplomatic and, therefore, are private in nature, and I would not be at liberty to get into them.
Q What has the President done on this subject today? Is he meeting with senior officials?
MR. FLEISCHER: I literally just got off the phone with the President, prior to the briefing. The President discussed this at length this morning in several different briefings that he had. He has been on the phone with Condoleezza Rice throughout the morning and into the early afternoon. And he will meet with Secretary Rumsfeld today at 2:00 p.m., and the President is keeping a very close -- staying in very close touch with the situation. And as I indicated yesterday, he spoke late last night with Secretary Powell at length.
Q At the Rumsfeld meeting, Ari, will they discuss Chinese there as well?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's the Secretary's routine weekly visit to the White House, and I do anticipate this will be one of several topics that comes up.
Q This is his first major foreign policy test. Is the President preoccupied by this?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think given the other things the President has done today, I'll let the President's actions speak for themselves. The President has had a series of other events today. As I mentioned earlier, Ann Veneman is coming into see him. There is a singular event taking place in the House of Representatives today that the President is paying close attention to, which is the passage of his plan -- or a plan to repeal death taxes, and the President is very pleased to see the House of Representatives taking action on the domestic agenda, which includes a tax cut which is moving through. It's a singular event that the House of Representatives today will pass a bill to abolish death taxes.
The President is keeping very close tabs on the Senate where the budget resolution is before the Senate. As you can anticipate, we are looking at a close vote in the Senate and the President is staying on top of the budget resolution there. So there's an agriculture issue today; there's the House action today; the Senate budget action today; the Chinese situation today; the phone calls that the President made to the leaders of Tunisia and Yemen. It's a busy day at the White House, as usual.
Q But you're suggesting that much of the morning and into the afternoon has been spent on this issue as he's consulted numerous people, including his National Security Advisor.
MR. FLEISCHER: Sure, the President is spending time on it.
Q The bottom line is that we're three or four days into this; they haven't released our people; President Bush has made several calls for them to release our people. What does he say to the hawks in town that feel that we're not taking a strong enough or forceful enough stance. We're now more than half a week into this.
MR. FLEISCHER: Frankly, I think the message the President has received has been very supportive from people that we have heard from on this issue. And I'm not aware -- if there's anything particular, please bring it to my attention. But I think people understand that this is a sensitive time as these diplomatic events unfold. And people are pleased with the way the President has proceeded. The President has expressed his priorities very clearly here, which are to get our servicemen and women home and have the plane returned. Those continue to be his priorities, and those are what his endeavors are focused on.
Q You were reluctant to go into this this morning, but the President, of course, has a tremendous resource in his father, the former President, Ambassador to China, head of the CIA, would be able to talk about the issues raised by surveillance as opposed to espionage. Would he consider consultations with his father? Has he done so?
MR. FLEISCHER: Wendell, I talked to the President about that yesterday, and the President has asked me to keep any conversations he has with his father privileged, private. And I think that also when Presidents talk to former Presidents, whether they're father-son, or whether a President is talking to a predecessor of no relation, there is a tradition in some areas, it's not always, but a tradition in many times, for those conversations to be private. Former Presidents appreciate that. That is the case here with the father-son, and that's what the President has asked me to do.
Q Ari, there are differences on Capitol Hill, even among Republicans, about views toward China; some are pro-business, some more hard-lined. Is this, in any way, affecting the decision-making here?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. The President's focus, as I indicated earlier, is on the most productive way to get our men and women home. And he is determined to get that done and that is his focus. Obviously -- again, if there's something that you are aware of, please bring it to my attention. But there's nothing that I'm aware of, that I have heard -- I've heard nothing but support for the President's actions, and the President is pleased to proceed.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President believes that the crewmembers should come home and that the plane should be returned.
Q The President said, time and time again, during his campaign that he was going to have a different kind of foreign policy, and the watchword was humility. So far, what we've seen is pretty traditional. Wouldn't an apology be consistent with his idea of humility in foreign policy?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, the accident took place in international airspace, and the United States did nothing wrong.
Q Did China do anything wrong?
Q The question is, the President, as part of his campaign promises, said that he was going to increase and help the National Health Service Corps. There is now talking about that there is nothing increased in there, and in terms of funding for training, and also, on child abuse -- 18 percent reported reduction in child abuse funds, which is about $15.7 million. How is that being a compassionate conservative?
MR. FLEISCHER: The budget that the President will propose to the Congress next week includes major increases in the multi-billions of dollars for health care programs for the uninsured. And the President is very proud to make those proposals.
They include such items as a $71 billion increase in health insurance tax credits to get health insurance for the first time into the hands of people whose employers do not provide it, people who are uninsured. It provides $18.6 billion over 10 years for community health centers. That represents an increase of $5.4 billion, which would double the number of people who are typically uninsured who are served by community health centers. A community access program will also be a part of the President's budget.
Q Child abuse?
MR. FLEISCHER: And on the child programs, there are increases under the HHS budget for the child programs, as well, in addition to a doubling of the child credit. So there are a host of programs in the President's budget that make it easier for parents to get insurance for their children; insurance for themselves, if they're uninsured; as well as programs to help them raise their children.
Q Ari, there is a report today that the President's decision on carbon dioxide emissions was routed through the Legislative Affairs Director, Nicholas Calio. And Calio, in '97, was -- his firm was paid $440,000 to lobby on this issue by Teneco Automotive, which is the largest auto exhaust systems company in the country. And I'm wondering if the President's concern about a perception of corporate lobbyists coming into the White House and making decisions on things they were paid for just a couple years ago?
MR. FLEISCHER: Who is the author if this report?
Q -- for Public Integrity --
MR. FLEISCHER: That decision was made by the President; that decision was made by the policy staff. Nick Calio is our liaison to the Congress. Nick conveys to the Congress the decisions that are made, and that was the case here.
Q But is he concerned at all about this perception, this growing perception that corporate lobbyists that work on exactly the same issues as paid lobbyists come in and make the public policy decisions?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President makes his decisions on the merits; he makes his decisions on what he believes is in the national interest. For example, there are many people who are seeking business tax credits, or business tax breaks on the tax bill. Nick, the President, others, of course, on staff, made it very clear to everybody in town that that was not going to be the case this year.
If you recall, Larry Lindsey had a meeting with a group of K Street lobbyists, who expected to have business provisions added to the tax bill, but that would not be the case. As the President put it, this tax bill should take care of people first, not business. And so there are going to be issues in which the President takes actions, because he believes that it's in the national interest. And sometimes, that will include business and other times it will not.
Q Ari, on the tax issue, related to that, Tom DeLay has been raising money from businessmen for a pro-tax cut ad campaign, in return promising access to top Bush administration officials. I mean, have you been working with DeLay and NRCC, or do you think this is appropriate or ethical?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have not had a chance. I saw that report. I have not had a chance to follow up and talk to any other administration officials about that. So if you'll allow me to do so, I will, and I'll get back on that one.
MR. FLEISCHER: David, that's exactly the type of issue where I was referring earlier to, where, in order to be the most productive, sometimes the less said is the best. This is a sensitive moment, this is a sensitive time, in making certain that our servicemen and women return. And there are going to be ongoing conversations, not all of which I will be at liberty to discuss with you in their entirety, and I have to treat it as that, and I'm sure you will respect that.
Q Would you say, given the sensitive time, is there any thought in the administration, because of the newness of this administration, of going outside normal diplomatic channels and maybe naming a special envoy, somebody who has a relationship, somebody who already has an existing relationship with senior officials in the Chinese government?
MR. FLEISCHER: They're going to continue the conversations in the modes that we have been. And if there are any other channels, sometimes we're not at liberty to discuss those. But we continue to have conversations with the Chinese government. And I think they understand the message.
Q Has there been a request to meet with the crewmembers, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes.
Q And has it been granted? Are there any indications when --
MR. FLEISCHER: The United States government has asked to, again, meet with the crewmembers, and we have not received word.
Q Has there been any thought to establishing a joint commission involving both governments to explore the circumstances of the accident and try to come up with --
MR. FLEISCHER: One of the most useful steps in exploring the circumstances of the accident would be to, again, have access to the crew so we can talk to the crew and hear what took place. It's hard to determine the cause of the accident if we don't talk to the crew.
Q Well, is this a possible avenue of ending this particular incident, the setting up of a joint commission?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to speculate on possible avenues to end it. That's part of the ongoing diplomatic process.
Q Is it under active consideration?
MR. FLEISCHER: The first thing would be to meet with the crew; in order to determine the cause of an accident, it's imperative to talk to the people involved.
Q I have a follow-up on that. You said that the United States did nothing wrong. Is there any evidence that China did anything wrong that led to this accident?
MR. FLEISCHER: Ron, the United States government has said that this was an accident, and again, in order to ascertain the exact reasons why an accident took place, the first step needs to be to talk to the crew. Without that information, it's hard to come to final determinations.
Q Have you heard developments on whether there will be further meetings with the crew? Has that happened? Will that happen? What about the crew being able to call home?
MR. FLEISCHER: The United States government has requested an additional meeting with the crew and we have not received and word back yet.
Q And what about the ability to phone home? Any progress there?
MR. FLEISCHER: No word on that.
Q Are they meeting, Ari, without the presence of Chinese officials? Is that the request?
MR. FLEISCHER: That is one of the requests. In the first case, the Chinese officials were involved in the meeting that took place yesterday morning.
Q And you would like it to be without them present?
MR. FLEISCHER: We have asked for another meeting with the crew and we believe that is the preferable way to do it.
Q After four or five days of this, I was wondering, could you tell us what the feeling of the President is? Is he angry; is he upset? One of the words I keep seeing on the wires is "dismay." And then, secondly, at what point do we start referring to these people as hostages?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is focused; the President is determined; the President, in a course of a normally very busy day, is pursuing the diplomatic channels that I spoke about previously. He's also attending the other important business of the government, and he will continue to do so.
But as I indicated, the President spoke the last two days and talked with the American people about the importance of having our men and women come home. The President will continue to act in the manner that he deems most productive to securing that result.
Q At what point do we start referring to the servicemen and women as hostages?
MR. FLEISCHER: I can tell you the only thing I've heard the President say is he refers to them as our servicemen and our servicewomen.
Q Are they now detainees or prisoners, or what? I mean, they're being held and we want them and we can't get them out, so what are they?
MR. FLEISCHER: I can only report to you the words that I've heard the President say, and the words the President uses, and that's he refers to them as our servicemen and women.
Q Ari, have U.S.-Chinese relations been damaged at this point?
MR. FLEISCHER: Keith, the President made it clear yesterday that he hopes that this accident will not turn into an international incident, and in his meeting with the Deputy Premier of China, they discussed the fruitful aspects of our relationship with China and our hopes to grow those aspects. The President said yesterday that if the event that our servicemen and women are not returned, that it could damage U.S.-China relations. And that is another reason why it's important for our servicemen and women to be allowed to come home.
Q So it could damage U.S.-China relations; it has not so far?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, what's important is the return of our servicemen and women. That's where the President's focus is.
Q Okay, but they've held these servicemen and women, I assume against their will, and they want to come home for three days now. That has not damaged U.S.-Chinese relations?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I think we are still at that sensitive point in this accident, where the President repeats his call, it's time for our men and women to come home.
Q Ari, what's the President's reaction --
Q You've said several times that the accident took place in international airspace. Is it the U.S.'s position that we will continue to exercise our right to fly in that particular airspace? And my second question is also on a separate subject. Do you have a reaction to the fighting in the Middle East, which has hit kind of a very high point at this level?
MR. FLEISCHER: Okay. International law is clear, and it's obeyed throughout the world, that international airspace is international airspace, and all nations of the world have the right to fly within that space.
On the situation in the Middle East, the President continues to be troubled by the violence in the Middle East. He reiterates his call for the violence to end, and for the two parties to begin talking -- continue talking, so that they can forge a peace agreement. He believes the best role the United States can play is to help facilitate the peace, and that's what he will focus his endeavors on.
Q -- that the Israelis used the helicopters essentially in an assassination of a PLO leader. In the past, the U.S. has spoken out against this targeted killing. Are you dismayed to see the resumption of this policy by Israel?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think I've just addressed the question.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has thought that the case was closed for months. He thought the case was closed last year. The American people spoke and George W. Bush was elected the President. And he thinks that the American people have moved way beyond this; he certainly has.
Q Ari, does the President agree with Randall Robinson and others, who are demanding black reparations? Or does he agree with David Horowitz, whose written opposition to black reparations was censored by so many college newspapers? And I have one follow-up.
MR. FLEISCHER: You know, Les, that's not a topic I've talked to him about, so I can't weigh in on that.
Q Can you take the question?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me see if I have anything further on that.
Q And since the Washington Post reported this morning that CBS newsman, Dan Rather, spoke at a Democratic fundraiser, does the President believe Mr. Rather should demonstrate news objectivity by addressing a Republican fundraiser -- (laughter) -- or would the President oppose that? I ask you as his specialist on communications.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think, frankly, that's an issue that the media needs to grapple with. The White House is not going to comment on that. But I do think that that's an issue that the media needs to grapple with.
Q You would just dismiss it with a "no comment," right?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not commenting on that. Like I say, I think it's an issue that the media needs to grapple with.
Q The Chinese have now formally charged the Chinese American scholar with espionage after holding her for about a month. What is the White House's reaction to that decision, and will it further exacerbate relations between Washington and Beijing?
MR. FLEISCHER: The United States is disturbed about this and we continue to urge that she be released on humanitarian grounds, so she can be reunited with her family in the United States.
Q Will this have any impact on the broader patterns of relations between us?
MR. FLEISCHER: No.
Q Any spillover into the situation regarding --
MR. FLEISCHER: Separate issues.
Q Ari, the government of Mexico today presented formally the proposal for amnesty for illegal Mexican workers in the United States, and also to increase the visas for workers. What is the position of the President about this reform in immigration to stop illegal immigration on the border with Mexico?
MR. FLEISCHER: Who took this action, you're saying?
Q The government of Mexico presented a proposal today to the Secretary of State and to the Attorney General, John Ashcroft, this morning.
MR. FLEISCHER: I'd have to see that proposal before I could comment on it. And you may want to address that question to State or to Attorney General.
Q In the past, the President has been in favor of the temporary worker visas for Mexicans. Any change from his position? Does he still support --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, that is the President's position. But given the specifics of this letter, I want to see the letter before I comment on it.
MR. FLEISCHER: I would differ with the words "dribble out." The appointments are proceeding in an increasing pace. And the President is very pleased with the progress and the process of the appointments, given the fact, especially, that we had half the transition that a President is normally afforded. The President is making up for lost time now. And he's very pleased with the pace and the process. As you notice every day, it's an increasing number of names that are nominated by the President.
MR. FLEISCHER: The estate tax which is passing in the House is a slower phase-in than the one proposed by the President, but the President is cheered by the fact that the House of Representatives, in what he hopes will be a bipartisan vote, is agreeing with him that the estate tax, the death tax, is wrong and it should be abolished.
That's a singular and a signature event, because this year it has the possibility of becoming real. In the past -- the last Congress, the Congress voted to do it and, of course, it was vetoed. President Bush has indicated he will sign a bill to repeal the death tax. That's something he ran on and proposed, so he's heartened by today's events.
Q So he would sign that bill?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, he would sign a repeal of the death tax, is what I said. Of course, we're going to wait and see how the entire package comes together, but the President is heartened by what he's seen.
Q Is he going to work to try to make the package more generous?
MR. FLEISCHER: We're going to wait and see all the pieces as they come together.
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I've answered the question.
Q Was there any indication during the visit of Premier Qian that there might be a -- coming from the Chinese in the case of accidents and things like that? I mean, underneath the talk of cooperation, was there any indication from their side that there might be a tougher mind to --
MR. FLEISCHER: No. During the visit the President and Deputy Premier Qian focused on the cooperative and positive aspects of our relationship, and that was the focus of the meeting.
MR. FLEISCHER: Ivan, the President has not made any decision yet about the arms sales to Taiwan. And the ultimate decision he makes will be based on his review of the defense needs of Taiwan and that will be the criteria he uses to make that decision.
Q Not based in any way of spanking China, so to speak, for not returning our airmen?
MR. FLEISCHER: His decision will be based on the defense needs for Taiwan.
END 1:46 P.M. EDT