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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 1, 2001

Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Briefing Room

     listenListen to the Briefing

  1. President's schedule
  2. Travel
  3. Vaccinations
  4. Threats of additional terrorist attacks
  5. Reagan National Airport
  6. Anti-terrorism legislation
  7. Domestic agenda
  8. Personal income and spending
  9. Draft
  10. Americans held in Afghanistan
  11. Funding of rebel groups in Afghanistan
  12. Government of Afghanistan
  13. Harboring terrorists
  14. India
  15. U. N. Conference on Terrorism
  16. Transcript discrepancy
  17. Middle East
  18. President's visit to mosque
  19. Aid to Afghanistan
  20. Federal funds rates

12:05 P.M. EDT

MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. The President began his morning with a phone call to Czech President Havel. The President was pleased to hear that President Havel's health is improving after his recent hospitalization, and he warmly thanked the Czech President and the people of the Czech Republic for their strong support in recent weeks since the terrorist attack on our country.

President Havel reiterated the Czech Republic's desire to help in the war on terrorism in any possible way. And the President told President Havel that he looked forward to NATO's summit in Prague in November of 2002. And President Havel noted that he and his countrymen would do all they can to make that an important and successful meeting.

The President also spoke this morning to Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir. The President thanked the Prime Minister for his condolences on behalf of the people of Malaysia in the wake of the terrorist attack. And the President emphasized that the struggle was against evil, and not Islam.

The Two leaders agree that the unprecedented nature of the terrorist threat requires new types of tactics and international -- new forms of international cooperation. And they discussed the economic repercussions of the attack. They look forward to exchanging views in more depth at the APEC leaders meeting, which the President will participate in, in Shanghai in a couple of weeks.

The President convened a meeting of his National Security Council earlier this morning. And he will depart from the White House in the early afternoon to the Federal Emergency Management Administration to talk to employees of FEMA and to discuss actions against the -- in the war on terrorism.

One other note. The President will travel to New York City on Wednesday this week to visit a local elementary school and to talk to the children and to the teachers, and also to discuss how to help New Yorkers and New York City rebound and recover from the attack. We'll have additional information on more specifics of the visit closer to it.

Q Did you say what day that trip is?

MR. FLEISCHER: Wednesday, this week.

Q Day trip?

MR. FLEISCHER: Day trip.

Q What about the U.N., will he speak to U.N. people?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, that's not --

Q Is the elementary school the focus on the attacks or reading or education or --

MR. FLEISCHER: I think it will be a message to help New Yorkers recover and rebound from the attacks, and to talk to children about what they're thinking, what they're going through; it has been very difficult on children and the President is very concerned about that.

Q Will the First Lady go with him?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'll have more information to you shortly; I don't have that yet.

Q Has the President updated his small pox vaccination? Has he had an anthrax inoculation? And have gas masks been issued in the White House?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'll have to ask on the vaccinations -- I don't know the answer to it. And I'm not aware of any distribution of gas masks to staff in the White House.

Q Have you updated your vaccination?

MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you for your interest, Helen. (Laughter.) I have not.

Q On the broader question, Ari, do you think it would be wise for Americans to consider doing such a thing, considering what some administration officials have said about the possible -- possible -- threat of biological or chemical attacks in this country?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think Secretary Thompson of Health and Human Services addressed that last night, when he indicated that in the wake of the attack on New York City, the federal government moved supplies into the region that turned out to be unnecessary, but the government is as prepared as possible to do as much as can be done. I'm not aware of anybody advising the American people to do that. That's a question more for health professionals. But I have not heard any such advisement.

Q In spite of the continued warnings of the possibility of further terrorist attacks, stories over the weekend indicated that administration officials said that there was no new intelligence, that this was based on the situation as it had developed and on proper concern. And out of concern I guess also to get the anti-terrorism package passed -- comport with what you understand?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think what you heard over the weekend, as you've heard since September 11th, has been reminders that the United States still faces threats. And those threats are of a general nature. Obviously, we did not have any specific information about the attacks on September 11th, yet attacks still took place.

So what the President is working very hard to do is find that balance, to let Americans know that threats do remain. The government is taking all steps necessary to counter those threats, including planning domestically at home. But the most important action the government can take is going after the terrorists who did it, so they don't have any abilities to do it again.

But that's the tenor of it, that's separate and apart from the important need to pass legislation on the Hill that can give the government the tools it needs to fight terrorism.

Q What Attorney General Ashcroft specifically said is there is a very serious threat of additional problems now, and he went on to say, we've not been able to rule out plans for hijacking additional aircraft. The President has also been out there saying, get back to work, America; get up in the skies. What is it?

MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, we've discussed this here repeatedly, and it's both. And that's the reality of life in America today. And events changed life on September 11th, and I think that's plain for all to see. And the American people are responding. Air travel has been increasing on a regular basis, particularly in the last week, and that's a healthy sign across the country. But it's also important the government has been forthright about it, that threats remain. And that's why the President announced the airline safety package last week that he is intent on moving forward to provide greater security in the cockpits, more federal marshals, greater training, federalization of background checks and screening.

So a series of actions have been taken and will continue to be taken to do everything possible to make America as safe as can be. But the one issue will always remain in our country, so long as we are free and so long as we are open, threats from terrorism remain. And that's why the President is as determined as he is to treat this as a war, in reality, and to take it to the enemy so that the cause of terrorism can be rooted out, so Americans can again find that balance between liberty and fear, and so liberty can win.

Q Just to follow up on this, are administration officials unnecessarily alarming people, though, with these very strong warnings of serious threats of additional terrorist activity?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think if you look at the reactions from the American people, the American people are appreciative of the forthrightness of the government. I think the government has an obligation to be forthright, and that's why you're hearing these measured statements from government leaders.

Q The Attorney General also said yesterday that it was his estimation that the threat of a terrorist attack could increase in this country based on the retaliation, military retaliation, of the U.S. government. Does the President, number one, agree with that? And, number two, does that in any way inhibit the choices he may make?

MR. FLEISCHER: Major, I think the point that the Attorney General and others are making is that threats do remain. But in no case will those threats deter the President from carrying out this mission and winning this war. And the President will take whatever actions are necessary to take this war to the terrorists who have already attacked our country and to those who continue to harbor the terrorists.

Q Ari, getting back to Reagan National, will the President make a decision this week? It's supposed to be soon.

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't have a hard schedule for you on when the President will make a decision about that matter, but the President is going to have additional conversations with his staff this week about that. And as soon as there is something more definitive to say, it will be shared with you.

Q Well, there's a version out there he's leaning in the direction of opening it. Is that true?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President is very, very aware of the implications of leaving National Airport closed for the people who work in Northern Virginia, for the thousands of employees and their families and the impact that leaving National closed would have on them.

He's also aware of the implications of leaving National closed would have on US Airways and its ability to operate. He's very sensitive on those points.

There are obviously security considerations because of the unique location of National Airport, which literally puts the airplanes on the flight path to and from National seconds away from many major federal facilities.

So the President is listening to his top transportation and security experts on that issue, but I think the President is very hopeful that he can find a solution that allows all those concerns to be addressed.

Q On the issue of National Airport, Ashcroft was out this weekend talking about the continued threats. When is the fine line crossed between security and the economy? I mean, we know National Airport, you know -- that airport has a lot of employees that live in this area. But when do you cross the line of trying to keep the nation safe and fears of anthrax and fears of another airport -- airline running into another building? What do you do?

MR. FLEISCHER: You have faith in the American people. The American people want to know what the facts are. And the American people will react accordingly, and they'll react well. And that's the strength of our country, and it always has been. So there always is that issue of how a government official can find the appropriate balance between letting the country know the facts and taking all appropriate action to deal with those facts. And I think that's a line that the government officials you've heard talk have tried to find. I think they've found it.

Q Wait a minute, just to follow up. But if National is reopened this week, the economy outweighed security on this matter?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think that a balance would have been found. I'm not sure I would say that any one outweighed the other. And I think you have to wait and hear what the resolution is and the manner in which it's resolved, too. The specifics will be very important. But it will be a question of finding the appropriate balance.

Look, I think throughout the country people are re-jiggering what they took for granted, what all of us took for granted before September 11th. You listen to the American people go to airports now, and statements that people are making now are statements they never would have made before September 11th. People saying, I'm happy to wait in line an hour. I mean, people are saying that they understand the need for more security at this time. I don't think it's anything that anybody wants, but they understand it, and they're accepting of it. And that's why I say, you have faith in the country.

Q On the anti-terrorism legislation, Ari. Does the President feel, as Attorney General Ashcroft, that immigrants suspected of terrorist actions or being involved in terrorist actions should remain in jail until their cases are adjudicated? Or does he believe there should be a time limit, the seven days being considered --

MR. FLEISCHER: The President supports the package that the Attorney General has proposed to the Congress.

Q You do not see a concern there in cases that perhaps drag on, and people being held during that period of time?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President supports the package the Attorney General has sent to the Congress.

Q Ari, there is a whole bunch of legislation now on the Hill dealing with this attack and the fallout from it. There's the anti-terrorism -- or counter-terrorism package that he was talking about, there's the economic stimulus package, there's a package about germ warfare, there's one on infrastructure security and probably others I don't even know about. Are there priorities here that the White House would like to set for Congress?

MR. FLEISCHER: On the counter-terrorism?

Q On the whole --

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, clearly it begins with the package that the Attorney General has proposed, which is the subject of discussion on the Hill as we speak. It's a potential that there will be action in the House Judiciary Committee on it this week. The administration has been working very closely with members of the House, as well as with Chairman Leahy and others in the Senate who have just jurisdictione over this. So, as always, it's very important to listen to Congress and to work the deliberative process the Congress puts in place. And those efforts are underway now.

Q What about these other things that I mentioned?

MR. FLEISCHER: Give me some specifics again.

Q Germ warfare, infrastructure security, economic stimulus, airline workers.

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, each one of those is a different topic. On the question of stimulus, for example, and an aid to people who have lost their jobs as a result of the attacks, the President is going to have a meeting tomorrow morning with the congressional leadership. This is now part of what I would refer to you as his weekly consultative meetings with the leaders.

I don't think there are going to be any decisions made, necessarily, at tomorrow morning's meeting. After these meetings take place, typically what happens is each leader has to go back and talk to their rank and file. In the case of the House, that means each leader has to talk to a couple hundred people. In the case of the Senate, that means each leader has to go back and talk to scores of people.

But the point is, the President wants to put together a very bipartisan mechanism with the leaders so that he can share their ideas in private at these meetings and talk about how they can get agreements together, and then let the deliberative process take over from there.

Q So are you saying that after the counter-terrorism bill, there really isn't an established set of priorities at this point?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think they're all important. And you can add to that list the domestic agenda, action on education, because that will always be important to this country in times of war and peace, having improved public schools. And that's something the President is focused on; the faith-based agenda, to help people who are in poverty; the energy package remains important; the patients' bill of rights. I mean, you can go down the list.

Those all are important issues -- you know, in times of war and in times of peace; but, previously, Congress still was able to take action on the domestic agenda and all those items can be considered.

Q Ari, this morning, the Commerce Department released statistics on personal income and spending. And spending was up slightly less than expected, at 0.2 percent. But more significantly, the savings rate for August was 4.1 percent, the highest it has been in more than two years, suggesting that people weren't spending the tax rebates as much as the administration had hoped. Does that put any increased pressure on you to get a deal tomorrow or earlier this week as the Republican leadership has called for?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, again, I think the process is going to be a deliberative one, where the President will work with the Congress on this and, as Chairman Greenspan has advised, not rush to make any hasty judgments, but to analyze and absorb and study the data. And, of course, as you've cited, the savings rate is up and there are two sides to every statistic when it comes to economics -- some people will tell you having the savings rate up is a good thing, other people will say failure to spend it is a bad thing. We'll see when the economists reach conclusions.

Q On the stimulus package, you've said the administration is looking at the supply side options, as well as Keynesian, increased spending. Has the administration weighed in at all on this idea of a major infrastructure package, where there would be a lot of public works projects, light rail, where it would also be considered a job stimulus package as well as something --

MR. FLEISCHER: I think you just have to wait and see if that comes up at the leadership level tomorrow. There are 535 members of Congress, and I can't comment on every individual one of theirs different ideas. I don't know if that's an idea that the leadership on the Hill is sponsoring. I'll try to give you some type of information after tomorrow morning's meeting.

Q And, also, an unrelated follow up. You had said earlier that when the administration has been indicating there is a serious threat and we have to be prudent and vigilant about possible exposure to chemical or biological agents, it still doesn't seem clear to me whether you're saying the American people should take preventative steps. Should they take preventative steps and make sure their small pox vaccinations are updated? Should they be doing things like that?

MR. FLEISCHER: Helen asked that question earlier, and I said that I'm not aware of any --

Q She asked about --

MR. FLEISCHER: She broadened her question. And I'm not aware of any statements made by government officials that people need to do that. But what the President is saying is he's being forthright with the public, which is exactly what the public is entitled to, in saying that threats to remain. And I think the American people understand that.

But you know, when the President says those things I think it's also very helpful to local police and state police and others who are not directly under federal jurisdiction about the importance of the role that they play throughout the country in being the eyes and ears of the law enforcement community at the grass-roots level.

Q If it's true that there is an increased risk of bioterrorism -- people talking about it over the weekend -- why shouldn't Americans take more preventative actions? Why shouldn't they be looking for different types of inoculations or gas masks, or whatever, particularly in potentially affected cities like Washington, D.C.?

MR. FLEISCHER: Those statements would come from the appropriate law enforcement officials based on any information they have. And as I indicated, I'm not aware of anybody in government who has recommended such a step.

Q Two more on Afghanistan. Does the White House envision a time when the draft would be reactivated? And also, I know you don't negotiate with the Taliban, but do you have any words of warning to them about the foreign aid, Christian aid workers who are under arrest?

MR. FLEISCHER: On the question of the draft, as I've indicated twice earlier in briefings over the last couple of weeks, I've checked with DOD and they have told me that there is no discussion of that.

Q But Rumsfeld seemed to open the door a little bit yesterday.

MR. FLEISCHER: What did he say?

Q He seemed to -- I got the impression that it was not totally ruled out on the future, although --

MR. FLEISCHER: I did not get that impression from listening to him. And on the question of the workers in Afghanistan, if you recall, in the President's address to the Congress and to the nation two Thursday nights ago, the President did say that one of the demands is the unconditional release of the Americans who are being held by the Taliban for preaching Christianity.

Q Is the President concerned that funding some of the rebel groups in Afghanistan could, in the end, create a version of the Taliban as, or more, radical than the one that exists there now?

MR. FLEISCHER: That fighting the Taliban could result in that?

Q Funding other groups perhaps that could end up replacing the Taliban could end up creating just a replica version of something as extreme.

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the United States is not going to get in the business of choosing who rules Afghanistan. But the United States will assist those who are seeking a peaceful and economically developed Afghanistan that does not engage in terrorism.

Q How will it do that, Ari?

Q Is there a long-term plan being looked at by the White House for consistent aid over a period of years? Or is it just being looked at in the short-term?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, of course, it is always important to separate the people of Afghanistan, who simply want to live their lives, from the Taliban, which has repressed the people of Afghanistan, has now resorted to such measures as taking away the international food that has been provided to the people of Afghanistan. So there really is a difference between the regime that so-called represents the people of Afghanistan and the desires of the people. And the United States is the world's largest donor of food to the people of Afghanistan, and the President remains committed even going forward to providing food to the people of Afghanistan.

Q One of the people that the administration has been talking to through our embassy in Rome and congressional delegation is the exiled King. He has said that he would be willing, and has indications that there would be willingness on the part of the Taliban, to enter into some kind of unity government which would include the Taliban. Would that be acceptable to the administration?

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, as I said, the United States will not -- is not in the business of approving or creating a new government for Afghanistan. But the United States message to the Taliban could not be more clear.

Q If there is a coalition government centered around this exiled King, which would include the Taliban, as long as they're for a peaceful and economically engaged Afghanistan that doesn't support terrorism, that's fine with the administration?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, the United States is not going to choose who rules Afghanistan. But that's a hypothetical, and of course, I can't comment on anything that is a hypothetical.

Q It's a live more than --

MR. FLEISCHER: Often, hypotheticals have some degree of being live.

Q Do you stand by your statement earlier today, that the purpose of the mission is to eliminate those who harbor terrorists so that they can't practice terrorism again against the U.S.? And can you clarify that?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President made clear that the United States will treat those who continue to harbor terrorists the same as it treats terrorists. And the President has made it very clear that he is prepared to take action in a host of areas against those who engage in terrorism and against those who continue to harbor terrorists.

Q Well, we know now the Taliban has acknowledged that they know where bin Laden is. Would you call that harboring, and what does that mean to them?

MR. FLEISCHER: We didn't need to hear that statement from the Taliban to know that they harbor terrorists.

Q Okay, so what's next?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to tell you what's next, Helen.


Q You said that the United States government will assist those who seek to create a peaceful, economically-developed Afghanistan, free of terrorism. Secretary Rumsfeld said the same thing; Andrew Card said the same thing. How is the U.S. government going to go about doing that?

MR. FLEISCHER: Through a variety of ways which can involve political, diplomatic, military, financial -- all of the above.

Q When you say military, political, diplomatic -- direct U.S. assistance to those who seek to overthrow the Taliban ?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to go beyond that statement, but that's a reiteration of something you've heard for a long time. And it should not come as any surprise that when the President says that we will treat those who continue to harbor terrorists the same as we treat terrorists, the President has said he's going to take action to protect our country from terrorist attacks. This should not be a subject of a lot of guessing.

Q According to an article in India Globe, the U.N. is -- conference on international terrorism going on right now at the United Nations. What role the U.S. is playing? And, number two, Indian Foreign Minister is in the building meeting somebody here. Whether, one, he's meeting with the President, and also, if there's any policy change towards India, between U.S. and India, what relation --

MR. FLEISCHER: That meeting is with Dr. Rice. And if there are any other developments in the meeting or anybody else drops by, I'll try to give you a read if that happens. But that's a meeting with Dr. Rice.

Q Any change in the U.S. policy towards India?

MR. FLEISCHER: There's nothing that I'm aware of. Again, if there's any readout on the meeting, we'll try to provide it. But it's with the National Security Advisor.

Q And the U.N. conference on terrorism going on, what role is the U.S. playing?

MR. FLEISCHER: Let me check with the State Department to see exactly who may be up there. And I know State is briefing at 12:30 p.m., so that's a question you can address there, too.

Q Ari, you might have already answered this, but last week when you were asked about Bill Maher, you said, in the context of that answer, you said that Americans need to watch what they say and watch what they do. That line for some reason wasn't in the official White House transcript. Do you know why?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think we addressed that last week, Ron. And the first I heard of it was when I came back from my trip to New York that day, that it wasn't there. And if you take a look at transcripts, unfortunately, every now and then there is a mistake in it. And that's what I think happened. It was a mistake.

Q Thank you.


Q Ari, the New Yorker reports that only four months ago the U.S. government gave $40 million to the Taliban, and the Washington Times reports that since the Oslo Accords the U.S. has given $900 million to the PLO, which produces suicide bombers and thousands who cheered at the September 11th mass murder. And my question is, why does the President allow such federal government expenditures?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President -- if your question is about the Middle East, the President does believe it's very important to work with the various sides in the Middle East to help bring about peace.

Q Nine-hundred-million dollars?

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't have the precise figure in front of me, Les. I can't indicate that that's an accurate number or not. But the President has said that it's important to work with the parties to help bring them together, to create peace in the Middle East.

Q Was the President made aware before he visited the mosque that three of the organizations that met with him -- the Council on American Islamic Relations, the Muslim Public Affairs Council and the American Muslim Reliance -- have, reports the Weekly Standard, sponsored a speaker who announced that Jews are descended from apes, the Holocaust is denied, and a comparison of Palestinian suicide bombers to American Minutemen. Who arranged this mosque meeting, Ari, and why wasn't the President warned about that?

MR. FLEISCHER: A similar question came up at Friday's briefing as well, about some statements that reportedly were made by some of the people the President met with. And my reaction then is the exact same as my reaction now. You should never assume that when the President meets with a group for important reasons of meeting with a group that he would ever agree with anything anybody in that group has said. There are often times that the President can meet with people and not share their opinions.

Q He knew about this, Ari, these people, and what they've said, and met with them?

MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated already, I'll say it again, when the President meets with groups, it's not an indication, of course, that he agrees with everything anybody may have said in that group.

Q What is the administration's understanding of the prospect of a humanitarian catastrophe inside Afghanistan this winter? What steps would we take beyond the food aid contributions that we've already made to try and prevent it? And would we, given the Taliban has now seized international food contributions, would that be a reason for military action against the Taliban?

MR. FLEISCHER: Wendell, given the fact that the United States is the world's largest donor of food aid to the people of Afghanistan, the United States and President Bush are very concerned about the actions the Taliban regime has taken to seize the food of the people who need the food the most, and that's the people of Afghanistan.

It is a concern, particularly as winter approaches, and the President remains very concerned about it. And as I indicated going forward, that will remain an objective of the President, is to do everything possible to help the people of Afghanistan. They should not be punished because of the actions of the regime that represses them.

Q And our assessment of the threat they face? Our assessment of the threat they face?

MR. FLEISCHER: It's a serious humanitarian problem, given the fact that the Taliban regime continues to repress the people of Afghanistan, as evidenced by the fact that they're seizing the food of the people of Afghanistan.

Q Despite a series of short-term -- of cuts in the short-term federal funds rate, long-term rates have remained quite high, and more short-term cuts are probably in the offing. My question is, how concerned is the administration, and -- policy makers with that twist between low short-term rates and high long rates? And how do you propose to address the problem?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, that's often one of those issues where economists differ about the meaning of it. So there are some people who say that's a sign of anticipated strength in the economy, which is why long-term rates don't come down even further, and others who say that the spread between short-term and long-term is a policy issue.

So that's one of the many factors that are being addressed as the President talks to Congress about a possible economic package.

Q Ari, I just wanted to follow on that. Is there disagreement within the administration on the proposition that long rates are a deterrent to investment and to growth?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, there's none that I've heard. It's just one of scores of pieces of economic data that's often analyzed.

Q Just to follow up on Wendell's question, where do you stand now on this thought about having direct food drops in Afghanistan by the Air Force or by other military forces?

MR. FLEISCHER: And anything dealing with operational elements I'm just not going do discuss, even on the humanitarian nature like that when you talk about the military drop in food.

Thank you, everybody.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 12:34 P.M. EDT