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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 3, 2001
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
Listen to the Briefing
12:36 P.M. EDT
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. President Bush today announced his intention to nominate Edmund James Hull to be Ambassador of the United States to the Republic of Yemen. And with that, I'm pleased to take your questions.
Q Ari, can you give us a sense of the meeting with Shimon Peres? The Foreign Minister came out, seemed to indicate that the President may be willing to play a facilitator role in the Middle East peace process?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has always indicated that he believes the role of the United States to be that of a facilitator. The President does not think the role of the United States should be to force the peace between Israel and the Palestinians, but to facilitate any of the talks or negotiations, to be a facilitator in the role of peace.
But they met this morning, they had a good exchange, reflecting our strong relationship with Israel and our long association with Foreign Minister Peres, who has been a tireless advocate for peace in the Middle East.
The President and the Foreign Minister discussed the situation in the region, they focused on efforts that are underway to under the violence, to rebuild trust and confidence and to return to a dialogue in the region.
In this regard, both the President and the Foreign Minister agreed on the need to work very closely with Egypt and with Jordan, Israel's neighbors and partners in peace. The President noted the constructive role that both Jordan and Egypt continue to play in the region, and he emphasized to Foreign Minister Peres the importance he places on strengthening relations between Israel and those countries.
For the President's part, he also stated that the violence must be reduced immediately, and that the parties should continue their security discussions. And the President finally pledged that he will continue his active efforts to assist the parties in their efforts to move forward.
Q A follow-up, Ari? There has just been a report from South Africa that Yasser Arafat's wife gave an interview and said that she absolutely hates Israel and hates all Israelis. When you have this kind of stratification, what can you do?
MR. FLEISCHER: Connie, the President will, of course, continue to work with the leaders in the region, and that means the elected officials, other leaders in the region. So I offer you nothing on that.
Q Ari, is the President willing to play a facilitator role between the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense? (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: Is this in reference to some sort of flag football game?
MR. FLEISCHER: As far as the military contacts with China is concerned, the National Security team and the President discussed that matter, and the decision was, as announced by Secretary Rumsfeld, that military-to-military contacts with China will be reviewed on a case by case basis. And that was the decision that was made. That was what was discussed with the President.
Q Isn't this a pretty big issue to be sending conflicting signals on?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think yesterday, the Defense Department fully addressed the issue, after a memo went out suggesting one item that was not under the Secretary's understanding. That was not consistent with the guidance that the Secretary gave. DOD very quickly last night explained what the Secretary's position was.
Q Have you figured out how they got it wrong?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's a question you need to address to DOD.
Q Ari, does the President -- what does he feel in general about the value of these military-to-military contacts? Does he feel under different circumstances these are helpful, or --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, generally around the world, military-to military contacts are an effective way of building bridges, of maintaining dialogue. And that's why military-to-military contacts have been a part of American diplomacy, American military operations for a very long period of time.
Q With China, with respect to China, how does the President feel generally about that?
MR. FLEISCHER: He believes that the military-to-military contacts with China should be reviewed and decided on a case by case basis.
Q Was he angered by the Chinese reluctance to be very cooperative with the Americans without checking out the plane?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think the President remains hopeful that all items will be addressed, so that our assessment team will be able to complete their work on Hainan Island, so that the plane can be returned home. There continues to be discussions with the Chinese about the assessment team, and until that's resolved, I'm not going to go any further than that.
Q He's not disappointed at what's happened so far?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's ongoing.
Q Was there some concern that the memo might send the wrong signal, and that it could interfere with negotiations over the return of the plane?
MR. FLEISCHER: There was only one intention, and that was to make clear that the military-to-military contacts will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. And that was the only signal the President believes should have been sent and that's the signal that's been sent.
Q When did the President decide that position? Before or after the memo came out?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, before.
Q I couldn't tell you the exact date, Ron, but well before.
Q And how did he pass that message on?
MR. FLEISCHER: As I just said, it was part of the discussions the President had with his national security team.
Q What was his response to the memo, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: When it came out yesterday? He said, it's wrong. I mean, he understood what the policy was and it was addressed by Secretary Rumsfeld.
Q Was there urgent concern on his part to clarify the statement and get it right?
MR. FLEISCHER: He understood that a statement came out that was not in keeping with the guidance of the Secretary. His only concern was that the record be set straight, and it was.
Q When was the last time he talked to Rumsfeld about this policy?
MR. FLEISCHER: I couldn't tell you directly when the last time he and the Secretary spoke directly about that policy.
Q Well, there have been a couple of situations where the administration has had to correct a Cabinet official. Why is this happening?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, not to be too flip about it, but this morning, I happened to flip through some newspapers and I noticed there was a major newspaper in Washington that had six corrections and one clarification in it today. There was another major newspaper in New York that had nine corrections in it.
I think what's important is that, when something is done that is not in keeping with the guidance of the Secretary, that it's immediately set straight so the public has a clear understanding of what the administration's policy is.
And if it happens from time to time, what's important is that it's immediately corrected.
Q Ari, can you shed any light --
Q Do you think you have a particular issue that you all need to deal with here is to prevent these kinds of miscommunications or --
MR. FLEISCHER: It's always important to minimize miscommunications and minimize errors. And that's always an effort of this administration.
Q And, Ari, you're quite confident that this was a misinterpretation and not the Secretary of Defense wandering off the reservation?
MR. FLEISCHER: The Secretary of Defense couldn't have made it any plainer yesterday when he said it was a misinterpretation of his guidance.
Q How would you characterize -- is the --
Q Senator Warner also had the same misunderstanding that was a result of a conversation between --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'm not sure that we've all seen the full text of what Senator Warner said, and I think you may want to talk to DOD or Senator Warner more directly about that.
Q Does the President -- I mean, there were a number of complaints from Defense Department officials about the nature of military contacts, that we have been far more open than they have, and that our people are sometimes left cooling their heels in a reception area and not given the same access that we give to Chinese military officials, for instance. Does the President share what seems to be a skeptical view of the value of these contacts with the Chinese?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have expressed the President's position on the military-to-military contact program, and I have nothing further to report on it.
Q Ari, yesterday the State Department said that Richard Armitage is going to give China a miss on his NMD -- tour, that --
MR. FLEISCHER: He's going to give him a what?
Q He's going to skip China on his tour. You had the decision on the berets, you had this downgrading of military contacts. I'm wondering whether the President has sent the message that there won't be a continuation of business as usual with China so long as the plane remains on Hainan Island.
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the President has made it abundantly clear that there are going to be a number of areas on which we can cooperate with China. And we will continue as a government to do so. That involves trade, for example. There will be other areas, such as religious freedom, where there are problems with China, and the President's not going to hesitate to speak out.
But there is going to be an official from the State Department who will travel to China to meet with Chinese to talk about missile defense, so the contacts will remain and the information will be conveyed as far as missile defense is concerned.
Q Has the plane become a sort of dam in the waters of this relationship at this point?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has a broad view of relations with China. And he's expressed it himself on many occasions where he has said we will cooperate in areas where we can cooperate and areas where we disagree. Will have a frank airing of those disagreements in an effort to ameliorate the situation.
Q Ari, on energy, a question for you. The President obviously is going to come out later and announce steps for California to take federal buildings to conserve energy? If the President is thinking this is such a good idea, California has been faced with such an extreme situation for a while, why not do it sooner? How do you respond to critics who say the White House is just responding to criticism that it's not doing enough for California?
MR. FLEISCHER: Since the very first day of this administration, the President has responded to requests from the governor of California for assistance. On the day after he was sworn in, he directed Secretary of Energy Abraham to get in touch with Governor Davis to see how the federal government could work with California.
If you recall, the President immediately extended the marketing orders to sell gas and oil to California to help them meet their energy needs. And there have been a series of steps such as expedited permitting that the Environmental Protection Agency has taken to help California.
The announcement the President will make today about having federal facilities in California conserve energy in an effort to reduce demand in California is one more example of how the administration has been working with California officials to be helpful. At the same time, the President will emphasize that California does continue to suffer from a bigger energy problem California needs to fully address. The federal government will work shoulder to shoulder to do its fair part to help California in that effort.
Q Why not sooner, though? I mean, is it because this has all been discussed --
MR. FLEISCHER: I am not sure how anything could be sooner than the first day after the President was sworn in.
Q This regarding federal buildings, in terms of getting federal buildings to do their fair share.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, this is timed to coincide with the increasing use and peak demand as summer approaches in California as the weather gets warmer.
Q How warm will the White House Press Office be this summer?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's entirely up to you.
Q Seriously, will any of these measures extend to places outside of California, buildings outside of California?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's directive will apply to all agencies to ask them to review their energy usage. The priorities will be in California and other places where there are potential energy shortages. That's where the most action you can anticipate will be taken.
Q The White House or any other buildings here, do you think?
MR. FLEISCHER: Every agency will have 30 days to examine their energy usage and then to report back.
Q What about the White House itself? Do you know --
MR. FLEISCHER: The White House will have 30 days to examine its energy usage and report back.
Q California will have some -- the federal agencies in California will have specific instructions, unlike other areas; is that right?
MR. FLEISCHER: And any other area of the country that suffers from electricity shortages will have -- will take an even more careful look at its energy usage. There will be some specific items announced for California shortly. Those announcements of course will be made by the President.
Q Ari, it was the policy of the last administration to engage China, to try to facilitate some sort of forum from within. Is it the policy -- is it the belief of this administration that that policy didn't work, and that the United States needs to take a much firmer stance towards China than it did in the past?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President said throughout the campaign that his approach to China would be based on a belief that China is a strategic competitor. That is the basis for the actions that the President will take in regard to his relations with China.
Q There's been a month of pretty good tweaking of the Chinese. And I'm wondering at what point do you cut off your nose to spite your face, to quote the Secretary of State?
MR. FLEISCHER: This is the President's policies. He announced them during the course of the campaign, because he believed these would be the best policies to secure the peace in the region, to promote trade with China. But also there are serious issues that involve religious freedom, for example -- that is the responsibility, in the President's opinion, of the United States to speak out. So he will.
MR. FLEISCHER: Am I expecting what from the Fox meeting?
Q Anything significant out of today's meeting? And does the President have any hope that there's anything Mexico or Canada can do, for that matter, to help California this year?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, that has been a topic that has been discussed with President Fox, how to help California with the energy problems. And the President will be -- will look forward to hearing President Fox's views on that matter as he moves forward. They'll be discussing a series of items, and there will be -- I think we have a background briefer coming out after the Mexico meeting, so you'll be able to get a read. The meeting hasn't taken place yet.
MR. FLEISCHER: We'll keep you advised in case there are any invitations extended.
Q Did the Israeli Foreign Minister suggest to him that at this point he should not invite Yasser Arafat to the White House?
MR. FLEISCHER: As always, if there are any invitations or announcements to be made, I will share them with you. There's nothing to report at this time.
Q Ari, former President Clinton next week is expected to give a speech in Hong Kong. Given relations right now with the PRC, is it appropriate for him to travel there? And also, it's up in the air whether or not he's going to meet with Chinese officials. Would that be appropriate, given --
MR. FLEISCHER: That's the first I've heard of this, so I'm not going to venture into something that I'm not familiar with, the former President's travels.
Q Let me follow on that. Can we assume then that he is not bringing any kind of message to the Chinese on behalf of this --
MR. FLEISCHER: That's the first I've heard of it, so let me look around and see if there's anything to that.
Q Can you get back to us then?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes.
Q It's been reported that you met yesterday with Chris Williams to retract the memo in its initial first version. Can you confirm that?
MR. FLEISCHER: To do what?
Q To help him write the retraction of the memo that was attributed to Don Rumsfeld. Can you confirm that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Major, every day, this White House has conversations with people in the various agencies. We have frequent conference calls. I have a conference call every day with DOD. So I'm in frequent contact. Many people in this White House are in frequent contact with people in the agencies. I'm not going to tick-tock to any of those conversations. But you can assume that every day, people in this White House are in daily, multiple contact with people in the agencies.
Q Would you deny you were personally involved in retracting that very sensitive memorandum?
MR. FLEISCHER: I just see no need to tick-tock individual conversations in this White House with the agencies. We do that all the time here. We're always in frequent back and forth contact.
Q As a follow up, it's also being reported that other agencies, Commerce, USTR, were also contemplating or putting into place efforts to punish China for the surveillance plane standoff, and this activity at the Pentagon more or less jumped the gun on those intended procedures. What can you say about that?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you need to talk to those relevant agencies.
Q According to India Globe newspaper, Indian government have endorsed President Bush's speech the other day on the National Missile Defense system. And the President -- question of sending a high level State Department official to India, including India. Now at the same time, there are sanctions there on India, and yesterday, the USTR put India on the watch list to the Super 301 watch list. So what can you make out of this, and also same paper said that President Bush may meet Indian Prime Minister in New York in September.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, of course, Super 301 is a totally separate issue from NMD. So there's no tie between the two.
Q Is he going to meet with the Prime Minister?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, if there are announcements, we'll share them with you at the appropriate time.
Q Ari, does the President want Congress to renew normal trade relations with China? And two, does the President have any position on Chinese bid to host the Olympics?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President does support permanent normal trade relations with China, as well as China's ascension into the WTO. That's an example of where the President finds areas where the United States and China can work cooperatively, the President will pursue those areas. I have not discussed with the President anything about the Olympics.
Q Have you received a readout on the meeting between the Vice President today and the Foreign Minister of Qatar?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have not. I'd refer you to the Vice President's office.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has always made it very clear that he will support steps taken by the Israelis and the Palestinians to resolve their conflicts.
Q Including one-on-one meetings?
MR. FLEISCHER: If that's what the Israelis and the Palestinians think is in the best interest of securing the peace, the President would, of course, be supportive.
Q Ari, can you confirm that the President, as well as his national security team, have received Senator Mitchell's report that's due to be delivered to the U.S. government about the origins of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and methods of dealing with it?
MR. FLEISCHER: The United States government has, indeed, received the report. And, of course, under the Sharm el-Sheikh agreements, that will now be shared with the Secretary General of the United Nations, per review. And until it is reviewed by the Secretary General and has come back to the United States government, we'll have no further comment.
Q You said, the U.S. government -- you're not saying, the President, so has it been received here at the White House, do you know?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, it has.
Q I'm sorry, Peres. Mr. Sharon in Israel put out statements later sort of countering those statements. Are you getting a sense that you're getting mixed signals from the Israelis?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is very satisfied to continue to work with the Israeli government and the Sharon government and all its appointees to help secure the peace in the Middle East.
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes. That's a conversation that I believe the North Koreans are holding right now with the EU delegation that is visiting. We have not received official word back from the EU on the status of their discussions. So until we receive official word from the EU, I'm going to hesitate to comment.
Q Ari, with the approaching -- there's heightened interest in the death penalty with the approaching execution of Tim McVeigh. The administration made arrangements to have this telecast by closed-circuit to relatives and survivors. Is the President hoping that this will bring closure to this tragedy?
MR. FLEISCHER: The Attorney General made the decision after consulting with many of the families of those who were killed or injured in the bomb blast in Oklahoma City, and the President supported the decision that the Attorney General made. The President does hope that this will bring closure. This has been a terribly difficult moment for hundreds and thousands of people in Oklahoma and, of course, all Americans. And he does hope that for those who lost their loved ones in that bombing, this will bring closure.
Q In the broader question of public viewing of state-sanctioned executions, does the President have an opinion?
MR. FLEISCHER: Those are issues that are determined by the Attorney General in accordance with the laws, and that is a question best addressed to the Attorney General. The President has tasked the Attorney General with making those determinations. As I just indicated, in this one instance in which specifics are available, the President supported the actions the Attorney General took.
Q But he has no general opinion on whether the public has the right --
MR. FLEISCHER: This is the first instance of a federal death penalty case and so this is the only instance to point to.
MR. FLEISCHER: I am not familiar with the conservation efforts the previous administration took, put in place. I don't know all the details or the specifics of theirs.
But the President believes that conservation is, indeed, one of many responses to the nation's impending energy crisis. He thinks it's important for people to conserve energy. He also thinks it's important that the United States develop its energy resources, so that we can make sure that people's lifestyles are not disrupted.
So it is part of a balanced approach that the President is taking that also is going to involve new technologies, for example, so that we can develop our energy in ways that are much more environmentally friendly. Conservation and the development of renewables, for example, are key items in that.
Q Is the White House going to take any specific steps whatsoever to conserve energy here?
MR. FLEISCHER: When the President makes the announcement today, the White House, as all agencies, will have 30 days to review its energy usage. And the White House will take a look at its energy usage during those 30 days.
Q What is the purpose of the review?
MR. FLEISCHER: To determine whether or not the federal agencies can conserve energy, particularly in California and particularly in other states that are -- that may have electricity shortages this summer.
I think that in areas where there are no electricity shortages anticipated, you will see little or no action. In other areas where there may be energy shortages, electricity shortages, the agencies are likely to take more action.
Q How much will be saved by the proposals for California?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think let's allow the President to make his announcement and then I think Secretary of Energy Abraham will be available to talk afterwards.
Q Ari, you don't have a figure for what we think the possible savings are?
MR. FLEISCHER: I didn't bring anything here with me, Joe.
Q The President talked particularly about the Northeast also possibly faces energy shortages. Is that the area that you're primarily talking about, other than California?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the directive the President will issue this afternoon will make it clear to agencies anywhere where there is a potential of energy shortage.
Q When you say "agencies," do you include FBI, CIA, NSA, all of those agencies?
MR. FLEISCHER: The directive says "agencies," and I would ask you to talk to the Department of Energy to see if there is any more definition or clarification. But it says "agencies."
Q Ari, yesterday I asked you about Koch Industries, which pled guilty to a felony environmental crime. And the question was whether the campaign -- the campaign took money from the company and from employees. And you said it couldn't have taken money from the company, because it's illegal to take money from a company, which is true.
But I went and checked and, in fact, Koch Industries' political action committee gave $5,000 to the campaign. And the political action committee is controlled by the company. So back to the original question --
MR. FLEISCHER: That's not accurate. A political action committee comprises of voluntary contributions from employees of a company.
Q But the company decides how to spend it. So the question is can --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the political action committee decides how to spend it, which is --
Q The company controls the political action committee.
MR. FLEISCHER: No, no. Political action committees are not corporate. Political action committees are voluntary, as you know. Is there a question here?
Q Yes, there is a question. The question is, which I think you dodged yesterday, was, given that this money was coming from now a convicted corporate felon, does the President have a policy on accepting money from convicted felons and should they give it back, at least to the PAC, which is controlled by the company?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, you're making a tie between individuals and corporations, and that's not the case. Corporations cannot give contributions; and the campaign did not receive corporate contributions.
Q I checked -- excuse me, can I follow up?
Q Can you clarify that in the past, President Bush was against illegal immigration but now, according to The Washington Post, he has sent a letter to the congressional leaders to extend the deadline for the -- April 30th deadline, which passed -- to be extended for six months or one year?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President said during the campaign, and made a pledge, that he would help families who have been separated, or who would be forced to leave the United States in order to legally apply for the right to remain in the United States.
The President made it clear that he wanted to make certain those families were not separated while they exercised their legal rights to remain in the United States. That's the action that the President announced this week, when he sent a letter to Capitol Hill making clear that he supported an extension so that families of immigrants would not be broken up.
Q One year or six months?
MR. FLEISCHER: The letter did not specify. Q There are persistent calls, Ari, from Republicans and Democrats in the California congressional delegation for some type of temporary relief in California. They know the White House is sensitive to price caps, but some sort of regulatory time-out so they can get a price relief while they deal with the situation on the ground -- by building more plants, bringing them on line.
What can you tell us about the discussions within the administration re-looking at that? Or is there still an adamant opposition to any type of price intervention as it relates to California power supply and price?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, if the question is how to bring relief to a state such as California, that's experiencing an energy crisis, the last thing that anybody would want to do is create price controls; that will bring more trouble and less relief. That will create shortages, it won't alleviate shortages. So the President remains opposed to price caps.
Q Thank you.
END 1:04 P.M. EDT