The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
April 19, 2001

Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
Listen to the Briefing


  1. Personnel/travel announcements
  2. President of Taiwan/visit to the United States
  3. Energy Committee/international embargoes
  4. Environmental policy/public perception
  5. Middle East
  6. U.S.-China discussions
  7. Taiwan arms sales
  8. On-the-record briefings
  9. Fundraising/President's involvement
  10. President Assad conversation


2:06 P.M. EDT


          MR. FLEISCHER:  Let us commence.  The President intends to nominate Richard Hauser to be General Counsel to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.  The President intends to nominate Jenna Dorn to be Federal Transit Administrator within the Department of Transportation.  And the President intends to nominate Allen Frederick Johnson to be Chief Agricultural Negotiator for the Office of the United States Trade Representative with a rank of ambassador.

          I want to give you a little bit of travel information for next week to help you get started on your plans for next week.  The President will travel to Jacksonville, Florida; New Orleans, Louisiana; Little Rock, Arkansas; and Crawford, Texas next Wednesday, April 25th.  The President and the First Lady travel to Houston, Texas for the Celebration of Reading on Thursday, April 26th.  The Celebration of Reading is an annual event highlighting the importance of reading.  It's sponsored by former First Lady Barbara Bush.

          And on Friday next week, the President and the First Lady attend the opening and the dedication of the Bob Bullock Texas History Museum in Austin, Texas.  The President and the First Lady will return to Washington on Saturday, April 28th to attend the White House Correspondents Association Annual Dinner.  I highly recommend it.

          And the final announcement is, considering the President's travel plans abroad in June, President Bush will visit Spain during his June trip to Europe.  And with that --

          Q    Do you have a hard date on when the June travel starts?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Not quite yet.

          Q    What will he be doing in Spain, Ari?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Additional details on who he'll be meeting with will be forthcoming.  I just want to give everybody the country information.  So that means for this trip, we have announced to date the President will travel to -- in June, he will travel to Spain, he will travel to Brussels, he will travel to Goteburg, and he will travel to Poland.

          Q    In that order?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  I'm sorry -- in that order?  I think so.  That's right.

          Q    Spain, Brussels, Sweden and Poland?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Sweden.  That's correct.

          Q    The President of Taiwan has expressed an interest in possibly traveling to the United States late May, early June.  Does President Bush plan on approving his transit plans through the United States?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  As you know, previous presidents of Taiwan have transited through the United States.  It's not unusual.  That's something that is handled at the consular level.  The State Department handles that and will be handling it again this year.

          Q    -- last time it happened.

          MR. FLEISCHER:  That's the procedure and that's how it's worked in the past, and that's how it will work this year.

          Q    Will he be invited to the White House?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  As you know, we will always advise you about any plans.

          Q    Do you have any views on the proposal of the committee looking into energy resources that the United States ease up on the embargoes in Libya, Iraq, in order to import more oil?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  There are a variety of issues that the task force is taking a look at.  I think it's just a tad forward-leaning to call that quite a proposal at this time.  There are a variety of drafts of ideas that have been circulated.  No decisions have been made on that.  And there's no indication yet on that particular one, whether that would be included in the final document or not.  So no decisions are made at this time.

          Q    If I can follow up, doesn't this have all the appearances of a traditional Washington trial balloon to see what the reaction would be to this idea?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  You're asking me how something appeared in print. I can't give you that answer.  As you know, this is not a very trial-balloony administration.

          Q    Maybe some people didn't get the message yet.

          MR. FLEISCHER:  That's always possible.

          Q    The administration's done something green every day this week, and it seems to get more and more trumpeted with each step of the way, with this morning's event in the Rose Garden.  How much of that is because of concern that some of the early actions by the administration dealing with what Clinton administration did gave the President an image as an anti-environmentalist?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  I want to just remind you of what the President did, during the course of the campaign, for example, when he announced some of the major funding increases, the land- water conservation fund, he heralded it in an announcement very much like today.  He went to Tahoe, in Nevada, and announced that initiative.

          So the President has a pattern of having significant announcements made in events where he brings attention to his environmental initiatives.  And this is part of a continuing pattern.  You have seen a variety of different manners and different styles of making announcements this week.  I think the one consistent theme in all the variety of announcements this week is the President is going to pursue a balanced approach to environmental initiatives that's based on science.

          And it's an approach that he believes is going to sometimes find appeal to the business community and the environmental community, sometimes it will find opposition.  In all cases, the President is going to do what he believes is the right balanced approach to protecting the environment.

          Q    If I can just follow up, there are polls, including ours and others, which show that the public regards him on the environment, that's his worst issue, and that they see him as more serving the interests of business than the interests of the environment.  Is that fair, and why not?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Just before I came out here, I was doing a little reading, and I happened to be reading the wire.  And the wire is reporting there is a Gallup poll out that shows just the opposite.  It shows that the public perceives the President very favorably -- favorably, on the environment, I think.  The number, if I recall was, one month ago 51 percent of the public thought the President was doing a good job on the environment.  Now, the number after a month of coverage is the same.  It's 49 percent; virtually unchanged.  And that's a plurality of Americans think the President is doing a good job on the environment.

          But I want to stress, the President is going to take the actions he's taking not because of polls, but because of what he thinks is the right thing to do.  And you can -- you're going to continue to see that type of balanced approach throughout this administration.

          Let me repeat something I said yesterday, in the case of many of these regulations.  Many of these regulations were put in place two days before the outgoing administration left office -- three days before they left office.  So there is a review process that's underway, and in many cases, this administration will go beyond what the previous administration did in protecting the environment.

          Q    Is he a green President, then?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  He's a balanced President.  He's a President that will continue to bring --

          Q    It's not easy being green.  (Laughter.)

          Q    Ari, I think the question was more to what we've seen in the last four days than as to the question about the President's policies or commitment.  There seems to be -- there is, if you talk to people at very high levels of the administration, an acknowledgment that perhaps in those early days, not disputing what you did, but how it was done, allowed critics to have an open shot at the President, to make that case that it was not -- that those decisions were not made and then released and marketed in a way that left you in a favorable political situation.  Is that not fair?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, John, I'll leave it to the press to be the judge of the process. I can only speak to the substance of what the President has proposed.  And it's not my place, frankly, to tell the press the appropriate level of volume of coverage.

          I would remind you that at the beginning of the administration, the President and the EPA Administrator Whitman took a series of actions on the environment, whether it was the rule requiring diesel trucks and buses to reduce their pollutants, rules involving the use of pesticides to limit pesticides.  There were early actions taken by the administration that set a tone right from the very beginning that the President, when he thought it was appropriate, was going to take steps that protected the environment in a manner that business did not like, the President was going to take those steps.  Those notices, those actions, got scant coverage.  It doesn't stop the President from viewing his job as to proceed in a balanced way, regardless of what the coverage decisions are.

          Q    Do you think the Clinton administration set you guys up for this criticism by implementing a bunch of rules at their administration, forcing you to make --

          MR. FLEISCHER:  I don't think it was a question of set up, but I think it brings the appropriate focus to some of these regulations.  The fact of the matter is, the state of the economy was just -- the environment was just as it is now, under President Bush.  Three days before President Clinton left office, several of these regulations were put into effect. There's nothing that the President is reversing that wasn't in place.  It is as if these rules have been in place for eight years of the Clinton administration, which was not the case.  Many of them did not go into effect, or won't even proposed until the final two, three, four days of the previous administration.

          Q    Do you think they put them in place so you guys would have to squirm like you are now?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  I'm not going to characterize the reasons they did.  The President said at the time that it's the prerogative of then President Clinton to act -- enact whatever regulations he saw fit.

          Q    Ari, can I follow on John's question?  Given your belief that the perceptions at least were inaccurate of some of the President's early environmental actions, and with Earth Day approaching and the potential for some civil disobedience in Quebec, is it fair to say the administration would like to show a more environmentally-friendly side, perhaps by focusing more attention on actions he'd already planned to take this week, in advance of Earth Day in Quebec?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  In all the discussions I've had with the President on this topic, the President's message to staff has been very straight and consistent.  And that is, take actions based on science, not based on public relations.  That is the President's directions to the staff.  That was a topic the President discussed with Administrator Whitman, for example, this week.

          So I can only announce for you these environmental initiatives the President has taken.  You can watch them with your own eyes and come to your own conclusions about them.  But the President has taken these actions because he believes on the merits, they're the right ones to take.  They're based on science, and they're based on substance.

          Q    One other question.  On the meetings the President will have with other world leaders in Quebec, it has been reported, at least, that he can expect to hear some expressions of concern about U.S. environmental actions, most particularly the Kyoto decision.  Does he anticipate this? Does he expect it?  Will he be surprised if it occurs?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, again, on Kyoto of course, the United States' position has been very clear.  The President made it crystal clear during the course of the campaign.  I would remind you that only one nation in the world has ratified the Kyoto agreement, and that's Romania.  No other nation has followed suit.  So the President has said where he stood on that issue and has made a promise and has honored his promise.

          I think the President will look forward to the Summit of the Americas as an opportunity to talk about the values of trade and increasing trade as a way to protect the environment.  And as you know, the President has directed Bob Zoellick, the United States Trade Representative, to talk with several of the non-governmental organizations, several of the people who will be present in Quebec who have a strong point of view on the environment.  It's part of the President being inclusive, reaching out, listening to groups that don't agree with his message on trade.  But the President wants to make sure that they have an ear in this administration, and Ambassador Zoellick will be doing that.  And he will also be available to you on Saturday to talk to you about the ongoing discussions at the summit and, likely, his conversations with some of these groups.

          Q    Just to button this up, Ari, today, an environmental initiative a day approach this week was not designed with any public relations value in mind?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  I can only repeat to you what the President said, and that was these decisions should be made on the basis of the merits and science, and not public relations.  That's what's driving the President. Now, as you know, David --

          Q    What's driving some of the top communications --

          MR. FLEISCHER:  As you know, David, there's also -- as you know, the first week in office the President focused with a very coherent message on education.  The second week the President focused extensively on faith-based solutions.  The third week the President focused on taxes. There is a sense that one way to make sure the American people have an opportunity to fully understand the President's policies is to have several policies that are similar in nature take place in a similar period of time. And there you have it.  That's where we are.

          Q    You said yesterday the President spoke with Sharon.  Has that accomplished anything that you've seen, and are there any plans for the President to speak with Yasser Arafat?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  We'll advise you, again, on any phone calls the President makes.  We will let you know if that takes place.  When you say, has accomplished anything, the ongoing discussions, the President hopes, will help to accomplish an environment in which the parties in the Middle East sit down and reach their own agreements through the helping hand of the United States.  The President has said the goal of the United States should be to -- not to force peace, but to be a third party who can help bring peace about.  And that's going to be the continued focus of the President.

          The situation in the Middle East remains volatile, and the President in his conversation with President Assad of Syria this morning urged all sides to exercise restraint.  That is still the message of the President.

          Q    Ari, on the talks in Beijing between the Chinese and the U.S. teams, what's the status of that?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  There was a 90-minute meeting last night between the United States negotiators and Chinese authorities to discuss a series of items.  The meeting was business-like and they made their way through the complete agenda that had been laid out previously in the letter that was sent from Ambassador Prueher to Chinese officials.  There will be a series of ongoing discussions with Chinese officials at the diplomatic level.  Our negotiators will be coming home tomorrow, and any further conversations take place at the diplomatic level.

          Q    With the President embarking on his most extensive foreign trip to date tomorrow, interacting with more world leaders than ever before, is there any sense of relief that he has resolved this first big international challenges, going into it?  In other words, does it strengthen his hand going in there to have this behind him, or are they just completely unrelated?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  I think the President was pleased that the matter was resolved, regardless of what next meeting he happened to have, whether it was an international meeting in Quebec, or whether it was a domestic meeting.  The President was pleased that he was able, through diplomacy, to bring the matter of our servicemen and women held against their will to an end.  And that way those people could get back with their families where they belong.

          As for the meeting in Quebec, the President is looking forward to going there.  This will be the largest multilateral meeting of his young presidency.  I point out that in just the days leading up to it, since he became President on January 20th, he will have met with seven Presidents of Central or South or Latin American countries.  As he heads up there, he has a meeting this afternoon, as you know, with the President of Argentina. And the President said during the campaign that he wanted to have a foreign policy that begins with our friends and our neighbors, and that's exactly what he is doing as he prepares to head up to Quebec.

          Q    You just used the term, "resolved," about the standoff with China.  Can the situation be resolved as long as that plane sits there?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, as the President has indicated on many occasions, there are going to be areas with China where we disagree.  And there are going to be other areas where we can agree and cooperate.  And the President will pursue both tracks, wherever they take us.  So, to the degree that we can still make progress and advance on issues of mutual interest -- trade, and other areas like that -- the President will find those open and pursue them.  To the degree that there are obstacles in the relationship, the President is going to deal with them realistically. Human rights violations, religious persecution, the matter of the airplane, all of those will continue to be pursued, and hopefully, progress will be made on those fronts.

          Q    Ari, they have not assured us that they are going to give the plane back at any point yet, isn't that right?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  That's correct.

          Q    If that is the case, is this to be cost-free, or has the President at this point decided that we're just going to put it in the past and forget about it, no sanctions, no nothing?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, there are a series of ongoing decisions that will be made, vis-a-vis the United States relationship with China. And as the President makes those determinations, we will -- he will announce them.  And there are a variety of factors that go into what the President's determinations will be, and I think it's safe to say there will be a number of issues that formed the President's opinions on those matters.

          Q    So as we discuss this with the Chinese, you want them to keep in mind that there are actions he can take that will render a cost to them?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Obviously, any relationship between two nations is dependent on the two actions taken by those two nations across the board.

          Q    During the detention of the American crew, Ari, the President said that -- and other administration officials said that U.S.-Chinese relations -- I'm paraphrasing now -- depended upon a resolution of this.  Do they also depend upon a return of the airplane?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Wendell, what the President said was that the longer our men and women are detained, the more harm that will be done to the United States-Chinese relations.  The President, as you know, after the matter was resolved, said in the Rose Garden that the future of the relations now also depends on the determined choices that both nations make.  As I just indicated, the decisions that the President will make will depend on a whole variety of circumstances, a whole variety of the decisions made by China as they make their determined choices about the nature of our relationship.

          Q    Is it safe to say then, the longer they hold the plane, the more chance that our relationship will be harmed?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  I've indicated that the decisions that the President will make about all actions vis-a-vis China will depend on a host of issues.


          MR. FLEISCHER:  On the matter of sales to Taiwan, the timing of that will likely be sometime early next week.  That is coinciding with annual notification to the Congress.  And on the question of, I think you put it, fighter escorts, the White House is not going to discuss operational details of any military missions.

          Q    Back on the environment, Ari.  In the statement that was put out yesterday on arsenic, it talked about going back to the National Academy of Sciences for another review of the literature, but it also said the answer that the administration has to get from the National Academy of Sciences has to be between 3 and 20 parts per billion as far as the level of arsenic that's acceptable.  How is it consistent with science to tell the scientists in advance what answer is acceptable?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  I think what the Administrator's notice actually said was that they have asked the National Academy of Sciences to assess what would be required to bring it to a level of between 3 and 20.  It's not unusual for a range to be set that is then scientifically analyzed to see what steps need to be taken to determine what areas within that range are most scientifically attainable.

          Q    So what are the -- it's not up to the Academy to decide whether 3 or 20 is the best number, or that's what they're being asked to decide?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  I think you need to go back and take a look at the precise language that Administrator Whitman used, but she has asked the Academy to render its judgment about the scientific merits of a range between 3 and 20.

          Q    Ari, have you decided if the 4:00 p.m. briefing is going to be on camera, or not?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  We put out a notice about that earlier today, and the notice stands.

          Q    What's the thinking about doing it on the record, but not on camera?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  It's similar to the way it's been done in previous administrations prior to international visits.  The desire is to keep it on the record, off camera, just keeping the -- the approach to the Summit of the Americas is a straightforward approach, on the record, but off camera.

          Q    But why?  I mean, what's wrong with cameras?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Just keep it as a low-key briefing to help the press to answer their questions to fill your stories -- a factual basis of what's going to happen in Canada and an opportunity to ask questions as you see fit for the summit.

          Q    Will you allow the briefers to be on camera during the summit itself?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  There will be different briefings; some on the record, some on background.

          Q    This is on the record, but not on camera, so basically, you're making it effectively, on the record for some, but not others.

          MR. FLEISCHER:  It's always a decision and a variety of different briefings take place in a variety of different ways.  For example, Saturday, the briefing by Ambassador Zoellick will be on the record and on camera.

          Q    Ari, how much fundraising do you expect the President to be doing in the next few months, and what kinds of activities does he have planned?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  The President, of course, is going to be taking part in fundraising activities that help elect people who will support his agenda to improve education and cut taxes, for example.  And those decisions will be made on an ongoing basis.  There are two large party-building events, party events taking place that the President will participate in.  There is a fundraiser, of course, for Senator Hutchinson coming up in Arkansas next week, and we'll keep you advised about the fundraisers.

          Q    A follow-up on that.  Does he have a policy, or will he have a policy as President in terms of media access to fundraisers that he's conducting?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  During the campaign, the President was very open about press attendance; not in all cases, but in most cases.  We're working that through right now, what the policy will be.  And as soon as some final decisions are made, I'll let you know.

          Q    Is there any reason why this policy --

          Q    Is the President concerned with the appearances of the Tommy Thompson event at HHS where he hosted a bunch of Republican fundraisers who had been making phone calls all day, and an invitation to these fundraisers, saying that if they wanted to raise money for the day, they could have a photo op with the Secretary?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  John, no such concern has been expressed; it's all been cleared by counsel, and it's in accordance with all the fundraising rules.

          Q    Any reason why that policy from the campaign would change, and are there any other fundraising schedules --

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Frankly, this is our first fundraiser, so this is the first time we've really had to focus on it in the President's new capacity as President.  So it's a coverage decision that we make, just like all other coverage decisions; as the event comes up, we focus on it.

          Q    Will the event in Little Rock be open?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  That's what we're working on right now.

          Q    Will there be other fundraisers next week?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Next week?  No.

          Q    About a week and a half ago, the President said he was sensitive to some of the problems that have lead to the disturbances in Cincinnati.  Has the White House taken any action to address that?  Does it plan to?  Is there any consideration of taking action?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Certainly.  The President did take action on that.  As you know, he directed the Attorney General to get involved in the situation in Cincinnati.  And as you know, the Attorney General sent a team of people onto the scene. I would urge you to talk to the Attorney General's office for any further announcements they may have that are particular to Cincinnati.  The President is also proud that the Department of Energy has announced his action to fight racial profiling, put an end to it, within its jurisdiction.   And the Attorney General's review of racial profiling nationally is continuing the direction from the President, through the Attorney General, was to put an end to racial profiling.

          Q    Can I just follow up on that?  We didn't hear anything from the President himself on that, though.  And wasn't the eruption of a race riot in a major United States city the kind of moment that calls for presidential leadership, an abiding issue that every president faces?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  You did hear from the President directly yourself, in the President's speech to the Congress, about ending racial profiling.

          Q    I'm talking about Cincinnati, about the frustration and rage that citizens there felt.  And they heard nothing from the President on it.

          MR. FLEISCHER:  The President issued a statement.  The statement was issued in the President's name about the situation in Cincinnati.  And the President believed that was the appropriate way to address it.

          Q    Is there a reason he didn't speak out?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Terry, I think across the board, you're going to see an approach by this President that when there are the most sensitive and emotional moments in people's lives, the President is not going to always insert himself deep into the thick of them.  The President has a much more deliberative and thoughtful approach, a less publicity seeking approach.

          And that will be the manner in which he continues to conduct himself in office.  He believes that's the manner that best leads to solutions.  Sometimes when the President inserts himself, it raises so much attention that it makes it harder to bring people together to find solutions.  And the President's focus at all times is going to be on finding solutions, particularly for some of these difficult and emotional issues, where there are two sides who have very powerful clashing views.           And sometimes when Presidents insert themselves between those two sides, it makes it harder to bring the two sides together.  And the President's focus, again, is going to be on the bottom line, how best can we solve people's problems, not how can he best get publicity for himself.

          Q    Ari, last night Dennis Ross said in an interview that one of the lessons of the past year in the Middle East is that Yasser Arafat cannot, for whatever reasons, deliver a final peace agreement.  Does this White House believe that Yasser Arafat is capable of signing on to any final peace agreement, and if not, why do we have the rhetoric that first we wanted the violence to end, and then we want to move towards some sort of peace negotiation or agreement?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, as you know, the President has called on all parties in the Middle East, particularly the Palestinians and the Israelis, to get together.  The United States will be a constructive force in trying to help get them together.  But that fundamentally it does come down to a matter of the two parties entering into agreements.  And I think only time will tell what the answer to that is.  The President will --

          Q    -- Arafat being able to deliver on a peace agreement?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Clearly, there is no peace agreement now.  There are a variety of reasons for that.  And the President will continue to work constructively with all parties in the hope that we can get a peace agreement between the two parties.

          Q    Could you discuss a little further the conversation with Syria's President this morning?  Did Bush make the phone call?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  The President initiated the phone call.  He called to discuss the situation in the region, particularly the violence

that's been taking place in the Middle East.  They discussed the situation in Lebanon, of course.  Both presidents agreed on the urgent need to restore calm to the area.  And the President again urged maximum restraint from all parties.

          Thank you everybody.

                           END      2:34 P.M. EDT

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