For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
April 30, 2001
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
Listen to the Briefing
2:04 P.M. EDT
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. We have one personnel announcement today. President George W. Bush today announced his intention to nominate Clark Randt Jr. to be Ambassador to the People's Republic of China.
One other note for you. The President made a series of five phone calls to international leaders today, in advance of his speech tomorrow on missile defense. The President spoke with Chancellor Schroeder of Germany; with President Chirac of France; with Prime Minister Chretien of Canada; with Prime Minister Blair of England; and with NATO Secretary General Robertson; to begin the consultation process, as he promised he would do in conjunction with the President's desire to think in a new direction about how to protect the United States from rogue and accidental missile launch in the post Cold War era.
He had conversations with each of these leaders. As you know, our consultation teams will depart next week for Europe and the President will have more on this topic in his speech tomorrow.
And with that, I'm pleased to take your questions.
Q How long did he speak to each one, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: It varied. Some of the calls were -- several were about 10 minutes, some a little bit less, some a little bit more.
Q Does he intend to call President Putin?
MR. FLEISCHER: We'll advise you on all the phone calls he makes, Terry.
Q So there are more phone calls to come?
MR. FLEISCHER: Always is possible.
Q What will be his message to Russia?
MR. FLEISCHER: His message to Russia is that the development of a missile defense system, so we can think beyond the confines of the Cold War era is the best way to preserve the peace.
Q And why come out with this tomorrow? What's the significance of the timing?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because as the President said during the campaign, it's very important as he moves forward with this new thinking about how to protect the American people and our allies from missile threats, consultation is key. And the President reached out today to talk to allied leaders and to talk to American people tomorrow; as our teams will soon depart the United States to meet with their European counterparts, to engage in those consultations.
The consultations are an important and promised part of what the President said he would do in the development of a missile defense system.
Q Is this driven by the need to have consultations in advance of the President's meetings with European leaders in June?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it's driven by the need that the President believes we have important relationships with our allies and that in the development of such an important phase of planning for protecting the United States and protecting our allies, consultation is vital.
Of course, it is going to be a part of our future discussions when the President travels abroad in June and July, so this is the right moment to begin the consultations in the President's opinion.
Q Ari, what sort of feedback is he getting from talking to these leaders?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as you know, I won't speak for the foreign leaders. The President tomorrow in his remarks will have a little bit on that, but he is pleased to proceed.
Q Your proposed budget for next year doesn't include any money for this. But there has been held out the possibility either for a missile defense or after Secretary Rumsfeld's review, that the administration would come back and ask for more money.
Is the speech tomorrow, the timing of that, an indication that you are now prepared to move aggressively on this and does that include a request for money in the short-term?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I would not read anything into the timing of a possible SOP as a result of the speech tomorrow. That will be something that will be determined down the road.
Q Ari, did the President ask for any advice or suggestions from the leaders, or just tell them what the United States' proposal is?
MR. FLEISCHER: He is listening to their ideas. And as you know, the President, when he met with Prime Minister Blair and when he met with Chancellor Schroeder, their joint communiques, talked for the first time about the need to develop defensive systems to protect our allies and protect our nations. So the President has been encouraged by the progress to date.
And if you recall in the news conference the President held with Prime Minister Blair after their meeting at Camp David, when the President was asked about the Russian statement, about willingness to work with Europe on a missile defense, the President was encouraged by the statements made by President Putin.
So the President is doing exactly what he promised and said he would do on the campaign, and he is moving forward with the development of the missile defense system that he'll outline tomorrow. They have a consultation process that must begin with our allies to have things go well and to have things go right.
Q Is the President going to abrogate the ABM treaty, and if he intends to do so, why does he think that after all this time it's appropriate?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I would refer you to his speech tomorrow. I think after you hear the speech tomorrow, you'll have a good understanding about what the President is doing and why. But I would urge you not to rush to any conclusions like that.
Q What should we make of the speech to the Danish parliament, which sure seemed to indicate that he's ready to --
MR. FLEISCHER: I would urge you to listen to the President's words himself tomorrow, and I think you'll have a very fine understanding of what he's doing, what action he's taken specifically, and why he's taking it.
Q Speaking of defending the United States, is the President getting involved at all in the current dispute between the Navy and Puerto Rico over Vieques?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President wants to make certain that our troops are able to carry out their mission, which is to protect the peace, by being ready and able to carry out their missions. He's directed DOD to engage in the operations that they deem necessary to do so. And DOD is -- I would refer you to DOD for anything further on that.
Q May I do a follow-up? There is an agreement in place, as you know, between the last administration and the former governor of Puerto Rico. Does the President feel that agreement is the way he wants to go and -- and he will abide by it?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's concern is making sure that American troops are able to carry out their missions. And the line of responsibility for making certain that our troops are able to carry out their missions falls to the DOD.
Q Ari, what's the latest with the plane in China, please?
MR. FLEISCHER: As you know, a team of Americans will be heading to Hainan Island to inspect the airplane, an assessment team, to determine how best the plane can be brought back to the United States. That was part and parcel of the process that we discussed several weeks ago, when the crew was -- it was announced that the crew would be able to return home.
The actions by the Chinese officials are viewed by the President as constructive. And the crew will be there -- I would refer you to the exact time of when the crew is going to be there. This, too, is a DOD operational matter. They'll be able to give you the best play-by-play on where the assessment team is, and when they'll be landing. But the President views this as a constructive step by China.
Q Ari, if I could take you back on missile defense for just a second. When the President spoke with all of the foreign leaders, is it his view that these leaders have an active role in the decision making, or is it his view that these leaders will just be consulted and informed ahead of time about what the U.S. position will be?
MR. FLEISCHER: From the President's point of view, he views it as a question of leadership. He believes that if the United States leads and that we consult wisely, our allies and friends will find good reason to follow and to join with us.
And that's why, as I indicated earlier, when he met with Schroeder and when he met with Blair, this topic, of course, came up and in the joint communiques afterwards there was some encouraging language in there about the need to develop defensive weapons.
So that's the President's mind set as he discusses this with these leaders.
Q As far as missile defense is concerned, do you have any comments on the Washington Post article that now U.S. is shifting its aim from Russia to China, that means there is a threat from China in the future?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think the point the President makes repeatedly about the need to develop a missile defense is that the Cold War is over and the United States needs to protect itself and our allies and our troops that are stationed abroad from a different nature of threat. And the paradigm that existed in the Cold War is no longer the most imperative paradigm that should guide America's defense structures.
That's why Secretary Rumsfeld is conducting a four structure review, as well, to assess our needs in this post Cold War era. And that's the reason the President wants to proceed.
And where is your tie today? No tie? (Laughter.)
Q So how would you frame what the President is going to do tomorrow? Is he going the make the same case he's made to the foreign leaders to the American people? Is he going to try to explain why we need this?
MR. FLEISCHER: In his remarks tomorrow the President will present this as his view of the best way to preserve the peace in the post Cold War era; and how to work with our allies and work with other nations in the development of a missile defense system that can not only protect the United States from rogue or accidental missile launch, but to protect our allies, as well, and our troops stationed abroad.
The President views this as a new way of thinking in the protection of our nation. And that's what you'll hear tomorrow.
Q What do you mean by "new way of thinking"?
MR. FLEISCHER: A new way of thinking reflecting that the fact that the Cold War is over and that the threat to peace comes mostly from rogue nation missile launches or accidental missile launches -- which is very different from what the threat was in the 1980s, when conversation about a missile defense was about a much broader defense that could protect the United States from a launch of multiple warheads, for example.
This is much more focused on protecting the United States and our allies from accidental or principally rogue missile launches.
Q Ari, the President said that drilling should be allowed in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge because he's convinced it can be done in an "environmentally friendly fashion." But the Wall Street Journal on April 13th ran a lengthy front-page article, and it reported that days before Gail Norton's trip to Prudhoe Bay, state inspectors found that almost a third of the safety shut off valves tested at one drilling platform failed to close.
Now, the President is close friends with Bob Malone, who is the VP/executive in charge, apparently, Malone helped him pick out the ranch in Texas. The question is, did the President see this article which said that a hundred workers say because the oil fields are operating in a slipshod manner, it could be a jeopardy to the environment? Did he see the article? And what are the chances that his decision was unduly influenced by Bob Malone, his friend?
MR. FLEISCHER: I haven't asked the President about his particular reading habits with regard to that article. But, as you know, Vice President Cheney is giving a speech right now about the importance of developing a way to secure America's energy needs and America's energy supplies.
In regard to the specific question of ANWR, of course, the Vice President will get into this today. ANWR is 19 million acres, and the amount of area that the President is proposing to open up for exploration is 2,000 acres. Another way to put it is ANWR is the size of South Carolina. The area that the President is proposing to use new technology to develop the resources is the size of Dulles Airport, 2,000 acres. It's a very small part of the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge that could develop a lot of resources.
Q Ari, if I could follow up, they're not saying -- it's not a question of size. What these hundred workers in the Wall Street Journal were saying is these shutoff valves which would prevent disaster, oil spills in ANWR, are inherently flawed, there are design flaws. And they're saying it's not a question if it's as big as Dulles or National. It's a question that BP, which is operating Prudhoe, will be operating ANWR and you've got the same kind of slipshod manner.
MR. FLEISCHER: If you're asking me a question about shutoff valves, I would refer you to the agency that handles shutoff valves; it's not the White House press platform.
Q What is the current thinking on when the task force will release its recommendation?
MR. FLEISCHER: When the President announced the task force, he indicated that the time would be this spring. As the Vice President will announce in his remarks today, it will be in the next couple weeks.
Q Ari, there are a couple of versions of legislation in the Senate to close the gun show loopholes. Does the White House have a position on that?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President in the course of the campaign -- Scott, refresh my memory on that, but in the course of the campaign --
MR. MCCLELLAN: He's always supported closing the gun show loophole. And as far as the specific legislation, we haven't seen that specific legislation.
Q I didn't hear that.
MR. FLEISCHER: In the course of the campaign, the President said he would support closing the gun show loopholes. As always, he would reserve the right to view any specific legislation. And that's where that stands.
Q Ari, if I could go back to Vieques. It seems to me, in response to the last question, you left open the possibility that the agreement between the last administration and the former governor might not hold up and that, in fact, there might not be a terminal point to testing. Is that what you meant to do?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. What I indicated is that you need to talk to the Department of Defense for the operational matter at hand in Vieques. They are out conducting this operation. The President's priority is to make certain that our troops receive the training they need. And DOD is handling it.
Q But, Ari, it would be the President who decided whether this -- whether he continues to support the idea that there should be an end to testing on Vieques. Are you saying he will rely on the advice of --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, obviously, there is testing going on in Vieques this weekend. So that would not be an end to it.
Q No, no. There's an end point in that agreement that at a certain point next fall it stops. And the question is, is he still committed to that, or might that end point no longer exist?
MR. FLEISCHER: He's continuing to work with DOD and Puerto Rico.
Q A page one story in yesterday's Washington Post quotes Senator Kerrey and five of his SEAL squad men as saying "one of the men in our squad remembers that we rounded up women and children and shot them at point-blank range. That simply is not true." And my question -- I have one follow-up -- does the President believe these six veterans are telling the truth, or does he believe what is reported by the New York Times Magazine and CBS?
MR. FLEISCHER: Les, that's not a topic that I've gotten into with the President and talked about.
Q It was page one, Ari.
MR. FLEISCHER: It's just something I have not talked with the President about. His focus this week has been on passage of his agenda in the Congress and that's where he's focused.
Q This past October 29th, the Associated Press quoted candidate Bush as saying, I support the current don't-ask-don't- tell policy crafted by General Colin Powell regarding homosexuals in the military. Has the President in any way changed from that campaign policy promise and does he expect that all Pentagon civilian appointees will support this policy?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President continues to believe the don't-ask-don't-tell policy is the best policy.
Q And that applies -- those people appointed as civilians in the Pentagon are expected to support that policy, correct?
MR. FLEISCHER: Of course, it's the position of everybody in all the agencies that when the President has taken a position, that should be the administration's position.
Q Ari, two clarifications on the consultations. Did you -- you said that he is going to be listening to and at the same time showing leadership on the issue. Is there anything that our allies can say to the President that would persuade him not to move forward with missile defense?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think, frankly, that's not where the focus has been. I think you've already seen since President Bush got elected that there has been a change in tone, as far as the development of a missile defense system. You've seen our allies listen carefully to the arguments that President Bush is making. And the President has been encouraged by their response and continues to be so.
Q Secondly, is he shedding any light in these conversations on his proposals to draw down the U.S. nuclear defense capability -- I mean, offensive capability?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I would suggest you wait until he gives his speech tomorrow and you'll have more specifics.
Q Ari, can we get a price tag tomorrow or a time frame on the missile defense system?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, wait until the speech tomorrow and you'll get more information. Don't take that to be a yes or a no, but it's just within 24 hours of a speech and it will be up to the President to make the news.
Q On today's luncheon, were there any members of the Congressional Black Caucus attending today's luncheon?
MR. FLEISCHER: I would have to take a look at the list. I know at the President's table, Senator Breaux was at the President's table, Congressman Condit. I would have to go back and take a look.
Q Do you think that the number of no-shows is sending the President a message?
MR. FLEISCHER: Absolutely not. The number of shows is sending the nation a message and that message is that the President is serious about governing in a bipartisan way, in a way that brings a little more civility to Washington. And the President is very encouraged by the gracious showing of 200 members of Congress who came back early from recess to be with him. There are no votes in the House of Representatives or the Senate tonight, for example.
Yet, members of Congress came back early, which is unusual, to be here and to accept an invitation for really a first event of its nature in the White House. So that's the President's approach. He's very encouraged by the number of people he was able to spend time with today.
Q Ari, Congressman Armey said that the President -- he was a little exorcised about the number of Democrats who did not show up. He said the President must be getting courtship fatigue.
MR. FLEISCHER: I assure you, this President will have no fatigue from courtship. He will continue it. It's what he did in Texas and, frankly, if it's a question of should Washington act more like Texas and be bipartisan or should state capitals around the nation be more partisan like Washington, the President will choose the path of bipartisanship every time.
Q Particularly in the Senate, in the Senate, especially, does he think the right Democrats at least showed up today?
MR. FLEISCHER: He thinks all Democrats are the right Democrats.
Q Is 200 a precise number, and are you going to release the list of people who came?
MR. FLEISCHER: The number that we had as of this morning was 193. And there's always the possibility, of course, of people who are on the list just actually didn't make it, for various reasons. There's always a possibility that people who weren't on the list were able to get here, and showed up. So those are the best numbers we have. We didn't take attendance at the meeting.
Q Are you going to release a list?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me talk to Congressional Affairs, and see if that's something we can do. I know we put out the head table list. We have that. You should already have that. We'll have to talk to Congressional Affairs.
Q Did the President believe there were any actual tangible results from the lunch?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President believes that every day that takes some of the partisanship and the poison out of Washington is a tangible event, a tangible result. He understands that this is going to be a slow process.
He also understands that there will be people in both parties who are going to engage in excessive partisanship. And when they do, he will urge all parties to remember that we are all here as elected officials -- all elected officials are here to do the people's business and to work together, rather than just point fingers.
So that's how he governed in Texas. And if you recall, just last Friday, he was at the dedication of the Bob Bullock museum in Texas. And much of his success there as a governor was thanks to his ability to work with Democrats, and the willingness of Democrats to work with the President. So that is his approach, and that will continue to be his approach.
He also recognizes there are going to be some issues that attract more support from Democrats, other issues that attract less. For example, he's very encouraged in the Senate that they passed his education plan by a vote of 19-0 in the Senate Education Committee. There will be times when the votes are narrower.
But one of the most interesting things that's changed in Washington since he got here a hundred days ago is you can hear the sound of gridlock breaking. And not only is Washington becoming slowly less partisan, but I think you're going to see a lot more legislative results and signing ceremonies than was the case for the years of division that took place here.
Q Is this a one-time hundred days event, or will there be future lunches, annual, more than that? I mean, anything --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think in a variety of ways, the President is always going to look for ways to do the same thing. I don't know that he'll always be able to have an invitation extended to all 535 members of Congress. That's rather unusual. But, Mimi, very often, the President hosts dinner in the residence for members of Congress, that don't get announced. And very often those are Democrats who come to visit and spend a lot of time with him, or often they bring their wives. In a lot of ways, he reaches out and finds way to do this.
One last point on this, then I'll end my filibuster. I've heard the President reflect that in Texas, when he was governor, the Office of the Governor and the Office of the Legislators was housed in the same building, so he could very easily just pick up and quietly go and visit with members. I think he misses that. He misses the opportunity just to quietly drop in on people and see people. He views that as an effective way to help bring consensus about issues.
In its place, what he does is he invites members up to the White House, to the residence, to have dinner with him and Laura, and do so in a quiet, gracious way.
Q Ari, what is the sound of gridlock breaking? (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: It kind of sounds like a rolled up newspaper going "swat." (Laughter.)
Q Ari, regarding missile defense, aside from the opposition by many of our allies and Russia, aside from the very expensive cost of this system, up to now the basic problem is that it doesn't work. Is the President going to say tomorrow that he knows something we don't know, that there is now a missile defense system that will work?
MR. FLEISCHER: Clearly, the operational details of the missile defense system are crucial, and that's why Secretary Rumsfeld has been at work on this project and the United States is going to continue to proceed with the research efforts that have been underway for a number of years to make certain that's a workable system.
But the President believes that it is his fundamental duty to protect the citizens of this country and our allies abroad from war, or from harm, from missile launch. And, therefore, he is determined to proceed with an effort that he views as a way of securing the peace.
Q But does he feel that, or has the -- has the Secretary of Defense told him so that he's happy and comfortable with the fact that the United States can build a missile defense system that will work?
MR. FLEISCHER: Ivan, you only have 24 hours to wait, and you will be able to hear from the President.
Q I'm sorry, on the ABM Treaty. As you know, there is a school of thought that says the Soviet Union doesn't exist anymore, so the treaty doesn't exist anymore. Has the President expressed a view on that point?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I'm going to let the President express this in his own words tomorrow, and you will be able to make those interpretations yourself after hearing his reasons for proceeding with the missile defense system.
Q Ari, on the partisanship front, have you discussed with the President the Democrats' ad where the child says, "More arsenic in my water, more salmonella in my cheeseburger, please"?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President understands that both parties, from time to time, are probably going to engage in excessive partisanship. But the President is going to continue to rise above that and to do his best to bring people together to get things done on behalf of the American people.
Q Did you discuss with him that Senator Daschle and 17 other Democrats had voted to extend the arsenic deadline until this June, and whether that represents a problem for the Democrats?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not sure I understand your question.
Q In terms of the perception of a double standard, that they were willing to wait until June for a new arsenic standard if the President wasn't a Republican?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm sorry, I don't -- what's your question?
Q Basically, whether you and the President have discussed this issue and this advertisement, and whether he would be decrying this excessive partisanship.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is aware of the advertisements, and he shrugs his shoulders and moves forward on the business that the people elected him to do. And he understands that there will be people who just have not gotten the message that the voters have sent about the importance of changing the tone of working together.
He believes that's a message that people in both parties need to hear loud and clear; and for those who don't, they're exercising their prerogatives. But the President is going to continue to do what he thinks the American people expect him to do, and he hopes that others will get that same message.
Q What was for lunch today?
MR. FLEISCHER: It tasted like filet mignon.
Q Was there chicken, too? Was it a buffet? Tell us.
MR. FLEISCHER: It was a buffet. There was rice, there was filet, there was salad, bread.
Q Was there chicken, too?
MR. FLEISCHER: If there was chicken, I didn't see it.
Q What was dessert?
MR. FLEISCHER: Dessert was something chocolate with something ice cream inside it. (Laughter.)
Q What wines?
MR. FLEISCHER: This must be the classic definition of a slow news day. (Laughter.) I'm new here, but --
Q Ari, first of all, I have a question --
MR. FLEISCHER: You still don't have a tie on. (Laughter.)
Q Yes. The reason I don't have a tie is because I have an Indian outfit on. The question is, that the IMF and World Bank just concluding their meetings this afternoon. Now, they're considering the forgiveness of debt, billions of dollars for 22 nations. One, this administration, what is the view? And, two, the U.S. has not yet paid their U.N. dues. And this debt forgiveness for these nations, most of the debt, many people believe that it goes in corruptions and goes to corrupt politicians in those countries. So how can you control that?
MR. FLEISCHER: I want to take your question on the debt agreements and get back to you on that this afternoon. As far as the payments to the United Nations, as you know, an agreement was reached involving the Congress and the United Nations earlier this year that settled a longstanding dispute on the funding and the President supported that agreement.
Q Ari, when President of Argentina was here a few days ago, one of the things he stressed is he did not come here asking for money from the U.S. government. But the President, I believe, expressed interest in having a healthy economy in Argentina with the help of international lending institutions. Argentina and the IMF seem to have reached a deal. It just has a few details just to finish.
Has the President been briefed on what this agreement is about?
MR. FLEISCHER: He has and he strongly supports the IMF agreement with Argentina. You will note in there, that it does not include bilateral United States assistance to Argentina. It is an IMF agreement with them.
Q Ari, on the energy task force, there is a fairly recent precedent of a task force in the White House working largely in secret on a big issue and didn't do very much work, lay out public support. Is there some concern that that hasn't been done here in this case in terms of consultation with the public and laying public grounds for public support?
MR. FLEISCHER: I would refer you to the Vice President's speech today and the reason the Vice President is giving the speech today, which will be the first of a series of events that the Vice President will be undertaking, as well as others in the administration, is to discuss with
the American people the seriousness of the problem that people are facing in terms of energy.
I was reminded by a congressman at the lunch today how low income Americans are particularly hit by the rising price of energy, the rising price of gasoline to pump in their car, the rising price of home heating fuel for their homes. Natural gas prices that go up hit low income Americans the hardest. And across the country, particularly in California, people are worried about rolling blackouts. And certainly if your lights go off, there's no need to be prepared, no groundwork needs to be laid. That's plenty.
And nobody wants their lights to go off, but it's an increasing problem for California and that's why the President is determined to focus on long-term solutions, so that it won't happen to the rest of America down the road.
END 2:30 P.M. EDT