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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 25, 2001
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:50 P.M. EDT
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. Let me give you an update on the
President's day-to-day, and then share some other information with you.
The President, as many of you know, began his day with a meeting of the bipartisan congressional leadership. He met with Majority Leader Daschle, Speaker Hastert, Minority Leader Lott, Minority Leader Gephardt, to discuss the military planning, as well as to discuss domestic consequences.
He had his intelligence briefing and a briefing with the FBI this morning, and then he convened a meeting of the National Security Council. He has just concluded a meeting with the Prime Minister of Japan, where they discussed ways the United States and Japan will cooperate in fighting against terrorism, and he will depart shortly for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, where he will thank the workers there for the role that they have been playing in the war on terrorism. And he will also receive a briefing on several aspects of the investigation.
The President will also travel to Chicago on Thursday to meet with airline workers at O'Hare Airport. He will thank the workers for their contributions in combatting terrorism by working every day and getting our airline system and our economy back on track to help keep our economy moving and to help to keep the American public moving.
The President will also talk about the importance of the government and the airlines working together to address important issues of airline and airport safety. He'll address airline workers' concerns about these difficult times and the impact it's having on airline workers and their families.
Following his meeting with the airline workers, the President will also have lunch with Mayor Daley. That's on Thursday.
I want to share with you some new information, also, out of the Department of Education about assistance, and the Department of Treasury. From Education, Secretary Paige announced today that the U.S. Department of Education will provide $5 million in immediate assistance from his Rehabilitative Services Administration to New York State to help those who have suffered disabling and mental and physical injuries as a result of the terrorist attacks.
The Secretary also announced a $1.7-million grant to New York from the Department's Project Serve to meet the needs of New York's school districts whose students and teachers were directly affected by the attacks. That grant is in addition to the $4-million grant that had previously been announced.
And the Secretary announced that the Department is sending a team of mental health experts specializing in trauma and disaster response to meet with key staff of the New York City Board of Education to create a plan to help the city's students and teachers in the aftermath of the attacks.
And now, over to Treasury. These are follow-on announcements to yesterday's announcement by the President in the Rose Garden. Secretary O'Neill participated today in a conference call with G7 finance ministers during which they discussed the economic and financial situation in the G7 countries and their common cause in strengthening the international fight against the financing of terrorism.
And the Secretary and the finance ministers have issued a joint statement just moments ago in which they agreed to integrate action plans developed since the attacks, and pursue a comprehensive strategy to disrupt terrorist funding around the world. They also agreed to meet in the United States in early October to review the economic developments, which is a very encouraging sign that, again, the world is joining the United States, shoulder to shoulder, to fight this war against terrorism on multiple fronts, including the financial one.
With that, I'm more than happy to take questions. Campbell.
Q Ari, the President said this morning that we're "not into nation-building," but at the same time he's made it abundantly clear the Taliban is a target. So what is the administration's plan with regard to the power vacuum that's likely to result if we take out the Taliban?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, the President said that we have respect for the Afghani people. I remind you that the Taliban regime is not comprised entirely -- it's comprised substantially of non-Afghanis who came into Afghanistan for the purpose of sponsoring terror and bringing it to the rest of the world. So the President's message is that we will take actions designed to protect the people of the United States and protect the people around the world from terrorism, and that we will take action, including military action, against those who harbor terrorists.
It is not designed to replace one regime with another regime. Part of the process also will be being mindful of stability in the region throughout the process. But it is not nation-building, but that's not to say that the Taliban will be given a free pass because they can encourage terrorism, harbor terrorism, and then because we have to worry about issues involving instability, won't take action. The President has made clear we will.
Q But if he says we're not into nation-building, ultimately you're going to have a situation when this is over that you have to deal with. Or is it your view that it's someone else's problem, other countries in the region should deal with it? Or is there -- Northern Alliance --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think you're presuming in your question that whatever action the United States takes, and the world takes, that the situation in Afghanistan will be worse. And that's not a presumption that I think you can make.
Q Maybe because of the deliberate ambiguity of the President's comments, but I took it another way, which is that he was saying today that the government, our government is not after the removal of the Taliban as a precondition of achieving its objectives, that in fact, he'd work with any of the citizens of Afghanistan, he said, who would be willing not to support terrorism. Does it represent a less aggressive posture toward the regime in Afghanistan than he articulated in his list of demands last Thursday?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you need to look at it exactly as the President described it, which is that anybody who harbors terrorism will be the target of our operations and the target of our actions. And within the Taliban, they have to decide what to do. And clearly, they are, at least from what we're hearing, making their choice that they will continue to harbor terrorists. But we will take whatever action is necessary, with an eye always on stability, to protect people from terrorism that is sponsored by the Taliban.
Q But if there are officials within the Taliban, dissident officials, in Kabul as opposed to Kandahar, for example, who are willing to meet our demands, that's okay? We aren't looking, as you point out, to replace one regime with another, we just want to --
MR. FLEISCHER: The issue is not to what regime do you belong, but what actions have you taken in sponsoring or harboring terrorism. If you are sponsoring or harboring terrorism, you will be a target for American action and for world action.
Q Don't you think that the United States ought to have an answer at the end of the road? If they do come along with us, this will happen, and so forth. You were saying, we're assuming it will be worse. We're not assuming anything. We want to know where you're headed.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, that's why I answered Campbell's question by saying that stability is always an objective.
Q And this is -- you know, during World War II many promises were made, Atlantic Charter and so forth, to people who would help us, allies and so forth, North Africa, that they would find freedom at the end of the road, and so forth. And we are offering nothing, publicly.
MR. FLEISCHER: What we are not doing is turning a blind eye to anybody who would sponsor or harbor terrorism.
Q All we're offering is destruction.
MR. FLEISCHER: We're offering protection.
Q Ari, can I just follow? Isn't it fair to say the President said that the Taliban is an -- I think he used the word incredibly repressive regime. Does he believe that the Afghanistan population would be better off without it?
MR. FLEISCHER: You know, again, there's no question the Taliban is a repressive regime. Women have no rights. It's just by all definitions of the free world and other world a repressive regime. But again, the fundamental mission that the President is focused on is going after, through a variety of means, those people who sponsor or harbor terrorists. The stability of the region is also an important issue, which is going to, of course, be a part of all the planning that goes into what is done.
But it will not stop the United States or any other nations from taking action against those who have carried out this attack on the United States.
Q Where is the carrot?
Q Isn't it fair, though, to say that there has to be discussions going on within the administration and with allies about possible steps, whether it be a UN protectorate or something set up in the case of removal of the Taliban? I mean, isn't it fair to say there has to be some discussion of that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, you're assuming the objective here is to remove a regime. The objective here is to target those who have sponsored or have gone after or harbored the terrorists. And that will take a variety of forms.
Q Ari, if our support for the Northern Alliance is not to overthrow the Taliban, is it then to try to occupy more areas of Afghanistan and remove the effective amount of territory that bin Laden can operate in?
MR. FLEISCHER: The United States is going to work with a variety of people, including Pakistan and, of course, as you know, Russia and others, involving putting the coalition together.
Your question on the Northern Alliance specifically is --
Q If our support of the Northern Alliance is not to remove the Taliban from power, is it then to encourage the Northern Alliance and help them occupy more areas of Afghanistan to remove the effective areas that bin Laden can operate out of?
MR. FLEISCHER: The United States welcomes the efforts of the Northern Alliance and anybody else to put an end to those who sponsor terrorism to fight those who sponsor terrorism.
Q But have we stated to the Alliance that we want their help in fighting terrorism, but don't go -- don't march on Kabul?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to be more explicit than that. We're not, as you know, indicating exactly what actions we're asking of different people or nations around the world.
Q Ari, can I put aside the issue of what we or our allies might do, but was I wrong when I heard that the President say that the Afghan people have this repressive regime, many would like to be rid of it -- but was I wrong in hearing him really calling for the overthrow of the Taliban?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has made it clear, and Condoleezza Rice said on one of the Sunday shows that the people of Afghanistan would clearly be better off with a different regime. But the whole purpose of this exercise is that the Taliban should not be given an excuse because there could be other issues that follow after their support for terrorism is diminished or put an end to.
There should be no question around the world that our actions are going to be aimed at protecting citizens around the world from the Taliban's actions to sponsor terrorism.
Q Even if our explicit goal is not regime change or nation-building, the President would be delighted if the Afghan people did that job for us?
MR. FLEISCHER: The Afghani people are not synonymous with the Taliban. They are different. And the Taliban, to a significant degree has come in from the outside, from other nations, from different regions of the world, and they've taken advantage of the turmoil that has existed in Afghanistan and the lack of a powerful central government in Afghanistan to make Afghanistan the breeding ground for their international terrorism.
So there is a difference between the Afghani people and the Taliban.
Q If I just heard the statement you said, we would support any elements within Afghanistan who are willing to put -- that anybody --
MR. FLEISCHER: End terrorism in Afghanistan. We'll work with them.
Q Ari, President Putin last night, when he spoke on Russian TV, made it clear that the degree of Russian participation in the campaign against terrorism would depend on what he called greater understanding for what the Russians are trying to do in Chechnya. Is he going to get that greater understanding from the United States?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the position of the United States is enshrined as an important principle in fighting for human rights everywhere around the world. And it will continue to be America's position. Russia, too, has terrorist threats that it is addressing. And the United States at all times will remind all nations around the world, as they deal with any threats, that human rights must always be a policy objective.
Q Could you state for the record what this government's current view is of the war in Chechnya?
MR. FLEISCHER: The United States government's view about the war in Chechnya is one that we are reminding the Russians about the need to adhere to important human rights, to respect the various nationalist movements, and to do so in a way that is consistent with the UN charter and human rights.
Q So, Ari, are you saying that with Russia and other nations who might be offering money or assistance to us, you'll not give up on this desire to have human rights be at the top of the agenda? You won't let that kind of slide for a little while in order to get their support?
MR. FLEISCHER: You know, I think if you take a look around the world, at all the actions that over time our American military and our nation has been called on, human rights has always been at the forefront of it. It's true in the manner in which the United States military conducts its operation and the manner in which any type of harm to civilians has always tried to be kept to the absolute, absolute minimum. And that message is an internal American message to all nations around the world.
Q On the economic front, you mentioned earlier today that the administration is looking at both industry-specific problems and the big picture. Is it possible that we'll see another bailout similar to what you've done for the airline industry, for some other industry?
MR. FLEISCHER: Ron, I think it's too soon to say. The focus remains on having taken action to help the one industry that was principally adversely affected as a result of an order by the United States government to put all its planes on the ground, and therefore, deny itself the ability to carry out its business for a period of several days, the United States moved quickly to help the airline industry.
No such immediate action was taken that had a direct impact on any other industry. The President is working with members of Congress very closely on any potential next package that would help the economy in general. There could be different elements of that package that bring different amounts of help to different people, depending on their circumstances. But that's under review right now and there's no specific indications that I can give you about what it will look like.
Q To ask about the Taliban here, at what point did the President's strategists or advisors differentiate between the Afghan people and the Taliban? And are you saying that the United States is content to let the Taliban fall in upon itself and not make any sort of value judgment about who will replace that leadership?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the distinction has always been made, and the best example I can give you is the United States provides approximately $140 million a year in assistance, humanitarian assistance, to help feed the people of Afghanistan, while at the same time the United States has never recognized the Taliban regime as a legitimate government. So that's the existing policy and it's a wise one.
So all the actions that the President and his staff have been undertaking since September 11th have kept that distinction in mind.
Q Ari, and the second part of that question?
MR. FLEISCHER: Give it to me again.
Q Is the United States content to let the Taliban fall down upon itself to create pressure that will cause it to fall apart on its own, without making a value judgment about who replaces that leadership?
MR. FLEISCHER: The United States has made it clear about the conditions for actions that must be taken on the ground in Afghanistan, involving turning over Osama bin Laden, his top lieutenants to the proper authorities, shutting down and closing all the terrorist facilities, allowing United States access to make certain that they're shut down. Those are the conditions and they need to be met.
Q On the Hill, Ari, you've had Greenspan and Rubin meeting yesterday on the House side, today on the Senate side, talking about economic stimulus. To what extent is the White House involved in this, and what does the White House view on the need for any stimulus in general, and on the efficacy of any particular actions that might be taken?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's why I indicated the administration is working very closely with members of Congress about what type of economic action could be taken to help as far as a stimulus for the economy.
One of the interesting developments out of some of these meetings on the Hill involving Chairman Greenspan was the Chairman's statement that it's very important for Congress to pass trade promotion authority. He believes that in the wake of the attack on the United States it's now more important than ever for the United States to have that authority. That's been reported by a senator up on the Hill this morning; it's the senator's attribution of what Mr. Greenspan said.
And the President shares that view. The President does believe it's important for Congress to take action on trade promotion authority and do so this fall as another way to help the economic and to help protect, to create jobs in America.
Q Has the administration reached a view that it is necessary, in fact, to have another stimulus program, a package of things to stimulate the economy, beyond what is already in place?
MR. FLEISCHER: It remains under review.
Q Ari, isn't the President concerned that an issue like that, if it comes up for a vote in the House, will be divisive and harm this unity that he's fostered on the Hill?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think the President wants to do it in a way that reaches out. Clearly, trade promotion authority cannot be agreed to unless it is bipartisan. You have a Republican House and a Democratic Senate, so by definition, anything that moves in the Congress will move with bipartisan support.
Q A recent Bloomberg news poll shows that while a majority of Americans support war, they don't support using the Social Security Trust Fund to pay for it. What is the administration's position on this? Isn't it kind of clear that you would need to dip into this money?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me make a couple of points. One is, I read that story; it surely seemed to me, at least by the person who was quoted in the story, is that he was under the impression that the choice was lose his Social Security check or pay for a war, which clearly is not the case. The existence of the Social Security surplus has nothing to do with the ability of the government to pay all benefits to retirees now and for the long-term future. So I think there was a wording issue in that poll.
But even having said that, the President is not going to be governed by whatever the polls show. And I think the President recognizes that -- he's appreciative of the very strong support he has from the American people. I don't think anybody believes a 90-percent rating is going to last forever. But the President is going to continue to do what he thinks is right for the country and protect the country and to take whatever actions are necessary in accordance with his previous statements about Social Security should not be used unless in times of war or recession. And clearly, we are in a time of war.
Q Is the President, when he meets with the airline workers on Thursday, going to have anything to offer beyond what he's already done for that industry, and the possibility that there might be additional stimulus?
MR. FLEISCHER: We'll keep you posted if there are any policy developments to accompany that trip. Nothing I can report now.
Q But he's going to meet them. Is he simply going to feel their pain, or is he going to try and help them in some other way?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's exactly what I indicated in my announcement of the trip. And if there are any other add-ons to it we'll let you know, we'll keep you posted.
Q Ari, do you know if the President has spoken directly with the exiled King of Afghanistan?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have no information that says he has.
Q Ari, forgive me if this is answered by the Pentagon. In the letter the President sent yesterday about the deployment of combat-equipped troops to foreign nations in Central and Pacific Command, do we know what nations and what the criteria is, or are we not allowed to know?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll have to look into that. I don't know that specifically.
Q On airline security, the President said that Transportation Secretary Mineta, coming over this afternoon. So he's going to present options. Are we expecting the President to sign off on recommendations today?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think it depends on what the options are and what the discussion is. The President has asked his advisors to take a look at various issues affecting airline security and other matters like that. He's having a series of meetings; he'll likely have more. So I'll be in that meeting and if there's anything to report, I'll try to keep you posted.
Q As I understand, you know, Mineta has the task force. Is he presenting to the President the findings of the task force?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let the meeting take place, and I'll try to fill you in.
Q Can I just ask one other question? Sorry, John. In terms of one view of the President, does he support having federal workers, federal employees be the ones to screen baggage and luggage at airports?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's under review. I think it's part of the whole package. The President wants to see the recommendations in their totality. John?
Q I was just going to ask that.
MR. FLEISCHER: Okay.
Q The President this morning said that Labor Secretary Chao is developing recommendations to address displaced workers, but no consensus has been reached yet. Can you elaborate on what the differences are? Is this dealing with what sectors should be assisted, or how to assist displaced workers?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, of course here you get into the differences in the government about who has direct authority over which programs. Secretary of Labor, of course, has jurisdiction over unemployment programs. And clearly, there are concerns as tens of thousands of Americans have been laid off and are being laid off about what actions the government can take to make sure that the safety net is working for them. And so that's what he's referring to.
Let me broaden this for a second, because a lot of the questions are on what are we going to do on aviation security, on the economy stimulus, on help for uninsured workers. And I just want to reiterate something I mentioned last week. Throughout this process, still, the normal, deliberative, thoughtful fashion of the government has got to go on. There is going to planning on the military front. There is of course a rush to action to help people in New York and at the Pentagon respond to the immediacies of the disasters.
But when it comes to what domestic action needs to be taken, one of the strengths of our country, and one of the factors of a Congress is that it needs to be carefully thought through, developed, worked with the Congress, hearings held. And that in itself is a process that takes time. And the administration recognizes that. So that's one of the reasons you're hearing on a lot of these issues, it's under review, et cetera. There won't be a rush to action; there is going to be action taken at the appropriate time.
Q With respect to that, Secretary O'Neill has indicated that if there is to be any stimulus package, you need probably at least another week to asses the impact of September 11th. Would you agree with that time frame?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'm not going to comment on any particular timetable. But as I indicated, it's a process that will take an amount of time to make certain that's a deliberative and thoughtful process. I'm not going to put a hard day on it. It very well may turn out to be exactly that. It may turn out to be somewhat closer or different from that.
Q Just a follow-up on Keith's question. The President's not worried at all that wrapping up TPA into the economic stimulus package is going to kill any chance of getting a stimulus package through, if in --
MR. FLEISCHER: One, I never said anything about wrapping it up into a stimulus package. I talked about it, as others have, on its own merit, and its own intrinsic worth. But no determination is made about whether that will be part of an existing stimulus or not. But no, that remains an important issue for many Democrats and Republicans, and something the President feels strongly about.
Q On the stimulus package, does the administration share the concern of some economists that there's a danger here of replicating policy mistakes of the late '60s, building in too much stimulus that would then have the effect of laying the groundwork for an inflation problem down the road?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, without addressing specifically that one concern, there are a variety of reasons that the thoughtful process that our framers left to us that has gotten this nation through times of war and times of peace is a process that needs to be followed. And that is why, as I indicate, it's going to be deliberative, it's going to be thoughtful. It won't be a rush to come out with an economic stimulus because the nation was attacked; it has to be done right.
And that's why the President met with the leaders today, to discuss it with them, to talk it through with them, to listen and to hear their ideas to share his thoughts. And that's how the process will go. And then, of course, it's going to go through the regular order of the Congress, which is a process that takes weeks.
Q Is it possible to offer some indication of the extent to which, in the debate within the administration, the prospect or the problems of potential inflation in the future are being factored into this deliberative process?
MR. FLEISCHER: In the meetings that I've been in, I have not heard that explicitly said. There are lots of economists in this building though, so I wouldn't rule out that some economist somewhere said something.
Q The administration has said war or recession justifies spending the Social Security surplus. But do they believe the same things justify going into deficit spending, or is there a bottom line on how much they would spend?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's priority is to take the necessary steps to protect this nation in the wake of this attack, and to assemble the coalition and give it the means required so that we can be victorious in this was throughout whatever period of time it's going to take.
The budget implications of that remain to be precisely determined, and those will also substantially be driven by the strength of the economy and how quickly the economy comes back. So we'll all have at our disposal the latest estimates, as time goes by, about the shape of the economy.
But make no mistake about the President's priority is to give the resources necessary to fight and win a war. He will always be mindful that whatever actions are taken still involve taxpayer dollars. And that's when it comes to the domestic consequences, when it comes to any industries that are asking for assistance, or whether it comes to the means necessary to fight the war.
Q But you would not rule out deficit spending, if that's what it takes to fight the war?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, right now the government continues to have a very large surplus. I think the other day I explained that this was the first time in the nation's history that the government has had a surplus as it began a major military effort like this. Previously, it's always had deficits, which puts the country, economically speaking, in a stronger position to begin this effort. But those are the President's priorities.
Q On coalition-building, can you -- the significance of the Saudi move, cutting off from the Taliban?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's a very significant step for the Saudi government to take. And the President, as he indicated, is appreciate of the actions that they have taken in this regard.
Q Ari, are you confident you can pass trade promotion authority this fall, and avoid a difficult fight --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think you have to let it develop on the Hill. And to continue -- the President will continue to work it in a bipartisan fashion. He'll continue to listen and to have outreach. Clearly, even in this wonderfully new mood of cooperation that has taken place on the Hill, nobody expects votes to be 535-0. But we still have a system, and it's a system that has worked well throughout times of war and times of peace. And the President is going to continue to do everything he can to work cooperatively with as many people as possible. Hence this morning's meetings with the Democrats and the Republicans.
Q This morning, Representative Gephardt said that on the education bill, he needed to talk to more of his members, this was going to take more time, that there was a lot more work to be done. Is the administration disappointed in that? Does the President want to get this done? Is this an indication, even quietly, of the return of some of the partisan differences over that issue in particular?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't think it's a return to partisan differences, Terry. I think it's the right of members of Congress to weigh in. And there are 535 people who have a right to weigh in. And there are going to be a variety of viewpoints expressed. The important thing is to keep the sense of comity and working together strong. And that's why the President met this morning with the Speaker, the Minority Leader, the Majority Leader. And he'll continue to do that.
Will there be voices from the Hill that disagree with the administration on issues? Of course. But, together, a lot can still be accomplished on the issues like education, on patients' bill of rights, on trade promotion authority, on an energy package. Senator Lieberman has indicated interest in continuing to move the faith-based package. So there continues to be signs of good progress on the Hill.
Q Even on education? It doesn't look like that's going anywhere for the moment.
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think clearly it's going. It's heading into the Conference Committee. Nobody expected it to be passed today. We have to wrap this in just a minute, because we've got to all get to the FBI.
Q Ari, are there plans to have meetings like the one with the congressional leaders once a week, like a regular meeting with congressional leadership every week?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's not a regularly scheduled once a week, but it just seems to be working out that way, at least at this point. And a lot of phone conversations as well.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.
END 1:18 P.M. EDT