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

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 8, 2001

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

  1. President's schedule
  2. UN letter
  3. Afghanistan government
  4. Al Jazeera
  5. Osama bin Laden taped statement
  6. War on terrorism
  7. Operational details
  8. Anthrax
  9. Middle East
  10. Office of Homeland Security
  11. Aid to Afghanistan
  12. bin Laden reward
  13. Message campaign in Afghanistan
  14. Vice President
  15. President's mood

12:40 P.M. EDT

MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. The President this morning spoke to New Zealand Prime Minister Clark, Korean President Kim and Chinese President Jiang. The President discussed the military operations in Afghanistan, as well as other fronts in the war against terrorism.

The leaders reiterated their support and discussed with the President ways to cooperate. And they all said they were looking forward to seeing each other at the upcoming APEC meeting in Shanghai.

The President also convened a meeting of his National Security Council earlier this morning. He attended the swearing-in of the new Director of the Office of Homeland Security, Governor Tom Ridge. And later this afternoon he will participate in the signing ceremony of a proclamation in honor of Christopher Columbus.

Before I take your questions, one note on upcoming briefings. At 1:00 p.m., Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and General Myers will brief at the Pentagon. At 1:30 p.m., Attorney General Ashcroft will brief. And then there is a background briefing I referred to earlier, at 1:45 p.m., later today.

Q Ari, the United Nations has been informed that this is going to be a broader campaign than just Afghanistan. Where else is the United States prepared to attack?

MR. FLEISCHER: What you're referring to is a letter that was sent to the President of the United Nations in accordance with a -- United Nations Security Council, in accordance with Article 51, the charter that always give the nations a right to self-defense. That's a communication required at the time of a nation like the United States acted in its self-defense.

The letter states what the President has been saying very publicly all along, that the United States reserves the right to defend itself wherever it is necessary. That's what that letter is a reference to.

Q That's a pro forma communication and does not indicate plans to broaden the attack beyond Afghanistan?

MR. FLEISCHER: It's a required communication in accordance with invoking United Nations rights that all members have. That's what that is.

Q And so we are putting the United Nations and Secretary General on notice that this campaign could, down the line, as the President has said, include other states which harbor terrorists?

MR. FLEISCHER: The letter from Ambassador Negroponte made the same points that the President has made in multiple speeches about the United States reserves the right to take any action as it sees fit in our self-defense.

And the first paragraph of the letter cites explicitly Article 51, which is the self-defense part of the charter that all nations have as part of the United Nations. That's what that letter is.

Q Does it also reserve the right to present evidence before it attacks another country?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'll have to read the letter in its entirety, Helen, to see if there is any reference to that.

Q Ari, what sort of end game does the President have in mind for the government of Afghanistan? The United States has been reluctant to engage in nation-building. But what do you do after the Taliban is gone? And, secondly, can the Taliban bring the attacks to a halt if they still hand over bin Laden and meet those demands?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think that judging from the statements made by the Taliban, it's very hard to tell what they want, what they're going to do, or what they say, because they contradict themselves so often. But suffice it to say, the United States will work with those who want to create a peaceful Afghanistan, an economically developing Afghanistan, and an Afghanistan that is free from terrorism.

Q But do you have a plan to reconstitute the government of Afghanistan after this is over?

MR. FLEISCHER: It's not the job of the United States to engage in nation-building of that manner.

Q So do you just walk away, or what?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, that's not what I said. I just indicated to you, and this has been something that has been handed out to you previously, in the declaratory policy, which you have a copy of. Let me read from it:

"We do not want to choose who rules Afghanistan, though we will assist those who seek a peaceful, economically developing Afghanistan, free of terrorism."

Q Ari, if I could just come back to the Negroponte letter for a second, what other nations has the White House identified as sponsors of state terrorism that would be included under the Negroponte letter?

MR. FLEISCHER: The Negroponte letter speaks for itself when it talks about the right of the United States to take other actions in accordance with our self defense. And if you're asking me to provide a list of any nations that it may or may or not apply to, I decline to do so.

Q On that point, this letter is in reference to the Security Council resolution passed the day after the attack. So I want to make sure I understand this correctly. The United States is notifying the Security Council it may seek other targets if they are thought to have been involved in the September 11th attacks, not a part of this larger campaign against global terrorism, is that correct?

MR. FLEISCHER: The letter is a reference to our collective self defense, following armed attacks that were carried out against the United States on September 11th.

Q Can I follow up?

MR. FLEISCHER: Please. Could I stop you if I tried? (Laughter.)

Q It would be an interesting contest to see -- (laughter.) There apparently is some concern being expressed in some quarters of the administration that Al Jazeera is rebroadcasting on a rather regular basis the Osama bin Laden tape. The President, as you mentioned earlier this morning, saw it. A, does he have any concern about this being rebroadcast to a particular audience in that part of the world? And, coupled with that, is there any concern that there has not been any strong or even modest support given from other Arab nations about what the joint coalition has undertaken?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President has been gratified by the support he is receiving around the world, including nations in the Middle East. And that continues to be the case. That is the message that the President and the Vice President and the Secretary of State have been hearing in the phone calls that they have been making.

Q They've been hearing that privately?

MR. FLEISCHER: They have been receiving that message, yes.

Q That has not been expressed publicly?

MR. FLEISCHER: There is no concern about that.

Q How about the repeating of the Osama bin Laden --

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm sorry?

Q How about the continuous playing of the Osama bin Laden tape? It is a rather inflammatory tape. It makes some very direct references to people in the Muslim world. Is there any concern that the President has about that message getting out repeatedly?

MR. FLEISCHER: No. There is nothing I have heard the President express about that. You know, the President saw the tape yesterday and his reaction to it is mostly that this is really not about Osama bin Laden; this is much broader than that. If Osama bin Laden was gone tomorrow, the war would continue beyond tomorrow.

So that one person, that one tape, is not what this is about. This is an entire network of terrorists that has global reach and those who continue to harbor those terrorists who have carried out an attack on our country. And any statements made by one person, Osama bin Laden or otherwise, are not what the President is focused on. He's focusing on a multiple front effort that involves a series of actions to win this war on terrorism.

Q You're not concerned at all about the protests, the kind of things that are erupting on the streets, when maybe you are hearing from the leaders privately, but you aren't concerned about the control they may be maintaining in their own country?

MR. FLEISCHER: Campbell, there were protests prior to the action the United States took. There have been protests before and I anticipate there will be protests in the future. That's the reality. The United States will continue to work with our ally nations in a way that promotes stability and security and cognizant of the different needs that different coalition partners or different governments have.

Q How are you working with them, specifically, in the countries where --

MR. FLEISCHER: On diplomatic fronts, on political fronts, on a host of fronts.

Q This morning you said that the President believes bin Laden "virtually" took responsibility for the attacks in his speech which was aired yesterday. Why, if he believes that, are you all of a sudden down playing Osama bin Laden's role in this and saying it's about much more?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm repeating what the President has said from the very beginning, that this is not just about one man. And I don't think that surprises anybody. This is about an entire network that has people in place in some 60 countries that presents a threat to the United States, that presents a threat to other nations around the world.

You've heard it said from the Vice President, from many people. And I said it just moments ago and I'll say it again: if Osama bin Laden is gone today, this effort will continue tomorrow. It's much bigger than any one person.

Q And can you elaborate on why the President thinks Osama bin Laden virtually took responsibility for it in his speech yesterday?

MR. FLEISCHER: I did not bring my translated copy of his statement here to the podium with me, but it's clear in the statements that Osama bin Laden made.

Q Ari, the President has said a number of times I believe that this campaign is about justice, not revenge. What is the difference?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think the American people know what that difference is, and it's one of the reasons the United States has been such a beacon of liberty around the world throughout our history. Our nation was attacked, innocent civilians were killed. It is the right, under international law, under the United Nations charter and under everything that makes us a good country, to take actions to defend our people, and to do so because we were attacked and because others are at risk.

And as the President has said repeatedly, through his tears, he sees an opportunity to do something for the next generation so they will not have to endure what our generation has gone through -- not only in what took place in New York on September 11th, but in a previous bombing in the World Trade Center, around the world in other terrorist acts.

And that's justice, to put an end to that so others can live in a more peaceful world. And that's the goals of the President.

Q With the explosions and anti-aircraft artillery going off again right now in Kabul, can you confirm a second wave of attacks in underway now?

MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated at the top of my briefing, Secretary Rumsfeld is going to brief at 1:00 p.m. And such announcements, or anything to say about things military will be made by the Secretary.

Q But you were the one who yesterday announced that the President had a statement. Can you not just confirm that a second --

MR. FLEISCHER: Ann, it's a discipline that I'm going to begin to exercise and I think many of you have heard me say this privately. All operational details describing events will come from the Pentagon, not the White House.

Q Ari, last week, Secretary Thompson from that podium said that the case of anthrax in Palm Beach County, Florida, was an isolated case. It turns out that that is not the situation. What more can you tell us about further cases and the investigatory avenues?

MR. FLEISCHER: What the Secretary said on Thursday last week was it did not appear be -- he said it appeared to be an isolated case, based on all the information that was available when he made his statement on Thursday last week.

The Center for Disease Control and the FBI are investigating the situation in Florida, and are working very closely with local Florida officials in the health department about the status of any potential anthrax episodes in the building where the first person worked, who the Secretary referenced last week.

So the FBI is investigating now.

Q It is a cause of great concern that anthrax, either bacteria or spores have shown up inside a building?

MR. FLEISCHER: It is a source of concern and that's why the FBI is investigating, along with the CDC.

Q Is it now a criminal investigation as opposed to a health matter?

MR. FLEISCHER: You'd have to address that to the FBI to see if they've given it that definition; I can't tell you that. I don't know the answer to that.

Q Going back to your repeated comment that the war is more about Osama bin Laden, is he still, is the President
still --

MR. FLEISCHER: Not about

Q Not about Osama bin Laden, I'm sorry. Is he still, as the President put it, only recently on a wanted dead or alive list?

MR. FLEISCHER: There has been no change in how the President thinks about that matter.

Q So he still feels that he is wanted dead or alive?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President believes that on multiple fronts it is imperative for the United States and other nations around the world to take action, not only against one person, but against the entire network of terrorists. And that way we can help protect the world so these type of attacks don't happen again.

Q But, previously, he went out of his way to single this guy out.

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm shared with you the President's thinking.

Q Ari, in regard to the protests, apparently the Palestinian Authority to keep the protests under control actually opened fire today. Do you have any response?

MR. FLEISCHER: I have no immediate response to that. I think, again, it's a reflection of the volatility in that region of the world that still has ties to the overall peace efforts in the Middle East, and another reminder, even in this new fashion, of the importance of developing political peace talks, security peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, even though in this case it did not appear to be directly related to any events in Israel.

Q Ari, going back to the same question, it seems like the White House is taking the onus off of Osama bin Laden by saying this is not really about one person. How can you say that when he is the head of this network, and how can you say that when this man has been on television saying what he will do if there is not peace in his country, there will not be peace here?

MR. FLEISCHER: Because, April, if it wasn't this one man who was on television, he will be followed by another one man and another one man who is on television. It's just not about any one person.

Q But it also leaves some people to wonder, and some critics are saying, well, if you're not looking at Osama bin Laden, it's okay not to get him, but to get everybody else. Is he still -- yes, because it's taking -- first it was Osama bin Laden was the prime suspect. Now it's pulled back.

MR. FLEISCHER: The statements have been consistent from day one. Osama bin Laden is the prime suspect in the al Qaeda organization. That's always been said.

Q Is it clear that you want to have Osama bin Laden in custody, as well?

MR. FLEISCHER: Nothing has changed since I answered the question two minutes ago.

Q Ari, you have a National Security Advisor, you have a National Security Council. Now you have an Office of Homeland Security and a Homeland Security Advisor. Is there any overlap?

MR. FLEISCHER: There is overlap by definition and by design. Just as the National Security Council, which has successfully operated since 1947, has obvious overlap with the Department of Defense, with the Central Intelligence Agency, with the National Security Agency and others.

It is done to overlap on purpose. That way it can fulfill its coordinating function. The President announced Governor Ridge today to a post of Director of Homeland Security for the purpose of coordinating the some 46 agencies that have jurisdiction over what is called homeland defense.

Q The impression is that national security deals more with foreign issues and this will deal more with national issues. Is that the basic assumption?

MR. FLEISCHER: There can be other overlapping interests, because there will be other components to both jobs that can overlap domestically or internationally. But I will refer you to the handout which you have describing the functions and the executive order defining the mission of the Office of Homeland Security.

Q Basically, Condoleezza Rice practically has unlimited access to the President. Will Tom Ridge have the same type of --

MR. FLEISCHER: I think anybody who knows the President's relationship with Governor Ridge knows how much access he will have. He will play a very central and important role in protecting the United States from terrorist attacks.

Q A follow-up on Randy's question. The bombing in Afghanistan is causing great fear and chaos there quite naturally among the civilian population. There have been reports of revolts in towns along the Iranian border; warlords returning, claiming their piece of the Afghani pie. Doesn't the United States have an obligation to prepare for the restoration of civil order to protect the innocent civilians?

MR. FLEISCHER: The United States is working as we speak to protect the innocent civilians. And that is why, as part of this effort, the United States has been getting food into the Afghani people.

Q I am talking about the restoration of some form of civil order, as this chaos descends on that country.

MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, I can read it to you again. But you heard many times what the position is, that we will work with those who seek to create an Afghanistan that is peaceful, that does not sponsor terrorism, and that is developing, economically developing.

Q And I guess I'm asking, what does that mean?

MR. FLEISCHER: It means just that, we are going to continue to work with those groups.

Q Ari, I am going to follow up on Terry and ask another one. Do you see a need for an interim sort of international administration of a post-attack Afghanistan?

MR. FLEISCHER: My answer stands. No change in the answer.

Q Secondly, in bin Laden's statement yesterday, there was language urging his supporters to act swiftly and so forth. Did you view that as a general statement, or did you see any kind of cues for specific actions that he was trying to broadcast?

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, he has made and the Taliban have made so many different statements, that -- separate and apart from anything they do or say -- it remains important for Americans to remember that this is a time of war, and that people need to keep that in mind. And that is why security has been beefed up across the country and all government agencies are on a heightened state of alert.

Q Ari, in the past, Presidents have tried to kind of smooth the way between the FBI and the CIA, to make them work closely together, to overcome all the turf battles that exist there. And I don't know a President who, I would say, was successful at that. What makes this President think that by handing -- by giving his imprimatur that Tom Ridge can succeed in doing what no one has ever succeeded in doing before?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, let me offer you two reasons. One is, our nation is at war. And wartime has the ability to bring people together in different agencies and in different parts of the government in a way that peacetime does not allow itself to.

And at times everybody understands in their different missions, at their different agencies, that this is the time to work together and to put the national interests first. As was said earlier in the East Room today -- I think Governor Ridge said it -- the only turf is the turf you stand on, and that turf is America's soil. And that's why he was reminding everybody that their mission is to serve the nation.

Secondly -- and I do think this is fair to say -- the President has a strong track record of bringing people together to build strong teams that work well together. And I think you see that every day in this administration. And that will be the spirit that is brought to the effort that Governor Ridge is leading.

Q You've talked a lot about how different this war is. One of the most unusual things about it, it seems, is that we're dropping bombs and food on the same nation. Can you share with us some of the thinking that went into that, other than the obvious point that we're striking into terrorists and not trying to strike the Afghan people?

MR. FLEISCHER: It's a very interesting notion because this does illustrate what a different war this is, not only in the conventional military side, but on so many other sides. But there's no question about it -- the United States is demonstrating to the people of Afghanistan, as we have even before today, because of all the food aid the United States has provided to the Afghani people, that our commitment to them remains a humanitarian one. This war is not against the Afghani people, this war is against the oppressive Taliban regime and those who practice terrorism.

But it goes so much beyond that. And I cannot stress to you how important this is, as you cover this war and you focus on it, to think about this war in a different way than you viewed World War II or previous wars our nation has fought, even more recent ones. In so many ways, a person sitting at a computer terminal wearing a suit, who was able to shut down and dry up terrorist money plays just as valuable a role on the financial front as people do on the military front. And that is the President's focus. That's how the President approaches this. And that's why it's perfectly understandable that in the wake of yesterday's action, there's a focus on things military.

But the President is focused far beyond that. And that's why these other actions, helping people to have food, helping people -- the work being done by the Treasury Department, to dry up money, to take it away from the terrorists so it can't be used to finance their actions, efforts around the world to arrest terrorists through domestic systems of justice, all of those are the multiple fronts on which this war will be fought, unlike previous wars. And I can't stress to you how important it is to have that mind set as you approach this.

Q We're also dropping leaflets over there, that I believe say -- offer to protect and reward people who help us. Is that meant literally, in the case of the people who lead us to bin Laden? Is there any type of reward being offered?

MR. FLEISCHER: I believe there already has been a reward offered on that case, on that matter. The FBI has had a standing $5 million reward for quite a period of time.

Q Ari, following up on the multiple fronts, could you talk a little bit about the message campaign in Afghanistan and other Muslim countries, that this is not an attack on Muslims? Can you tell us, if you can, what are the messages going out through the commando solo plane that's above Afghanistan? Give us a little fill on how you're doing that and who else is involved.

MR. FLEISCHER: Let me give you what I can from the White House. A lot of this deals with the State Department and others involving the Voice of America. But the United States is going to use all channels available, including the Voice of America, to reach audiences in Afghanistan and beyond. We do have broadcasting capabilities to get messages to the people of Afghanistan.

And as you can see from the reactions of the people of Afghanistan, there is a serious question about how much support the Taliban has from the people it purports to represent. And the United States will continue to work to get information to those, so they can have full knowledge about what is happening in Afghanistan from a source other than a repressive Taliban regime that has not shared all the information with the people that it seeks to represent.

Q Ari, the declaratory policy, as you said, suggests that the United States would support anyone who will build a peaceful and economically viable government to replace the Taliban. What if no one capable of doing that steps forward after the --

MR. FLEISCHER: You know, again, I just think you're getting way ahead of where events are. The actions are going to continue. They began with the financial actions the President took in the Rose Garden. And you can keep asking the question any number of ways, but the answer remains the same.

Q -- the declaratory policy of the United States is confident in that?

Q You just mentioned the front on the financial end of this. Are there new accounts that have been frozen? Is there any Treasury Department activity that you can tell us that is updated from the announcement the President made in the Rose Garden? There has been some hints from Treasury that more accounts have been found, more things have been frozen. Can you update us on that?

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't have any updates for you today from this podium, but there very well could be. But that's going to mostly come from Treasury, unless --

Q Is this going to be an ongoing and daily effort, and you're not going to necessarily notify us every day about that?

MR. FLEISCHER: Absolutely. Well, I -- on the notification, we'll notify as often as is possible. But that is the action being taken by the Department of Treasury. I don't have any updates for you today.

Q Can you tell us concretely what Governor Ridge is doing today, give us some idea of why this is not just a new layer of bureaucracy?

MR. FLEISCHER: Sure, the Governor began his day -- he met with the senior staff. He met with the President. He's a part of the senior staff. He participated in the President's FBI briefing. He will be part of the National Security Council briefings as required, when his issues come before them. He will -- I think I indicated he met with the President earlier. And today is his first day. We'll have information for you at the appropriate time, when the first meeting of the Homeland Security Council will take place, which is going to be chaired by the President.

But his job is going to be akin to the NSC job, focused on terrorism, as the NSC has a broader mandate to focus much more broadly on all matters of security.

Q He does not have a permanent seat on the National Security Council or in the intelligence briefings that the President gets?

MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.

Q Ari, just to follow up on that, you made a reference to the $5 million reward. I believe when that was posted, it was for information leading to the arrest and conviction of bin Laden. Do you know, have those restrictions changed?

MR. FLEISCHER: Let me see if I can't get you any additional information on that. I saw that when I was over at the FBI last week. And that could be something you might want to take up at 1:30 when General Ashcroft briefs.

Q You say you are not interested in nation building in Afghanistan, or anywhere else for that matter. You say that you are willing to work with all those elements in Afghanistan that are interested in security. What is the functional difference between that and nation-building?

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, you've tried multiple ways to get me to give you a different answer, but I am going to refer you right back to the Afghanistan declaratory statement. That is the answer.

Q What are the boundaries here? What will you not do because you are not interested in nation-building?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think I have answered the question as well as it can be answered.

Q The President has said repeatedly that this is obviously going to take a very long time. Is he, in a sense, trying to prepare people for turning on their television sets even months from now and seeing bombing campaigns still going on in Afghanistan or even other places?

MR. FLEISCHER: He is trying to prepare the American people and, frankly, I think the American people are prepared, I think they do understand it, that this can last months if not years. But you refer again back to the bombing campaign. It will be on so many other fronts than that. It can include that, it may be beyond that, it may be other things that the American people don't see that are military.

But on a host of fronts, the war against terrorism is going to last a long time. And I think the American people have come to understand that. In fact, I think they understood it rather quickly. The President has been very up front about saying that, yes, this can last months if not years.

Q What do you do when, in a sense, it becomes routine, that we get so used to seeing all this, how do you maintain the level of support that the President is enjoying now?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think because the American people have a very firm understanding about what's happened to us. This was not any ordinary terrorist incident. This was a willful and deliberate, well-planned and well-coordinated attack on the World Trade Center and on the Pentagon by people who have abilities throughout the world to inflict further harm on the United States and on our friends and on our allies. And they understand that we're talking about people who, as the President has put it, live in the shadows, who live in caves. And this a matter that is going to take some considerable time to address.

But from all indications, the American people understand that. And I think this will be a case where the United States, based on the plans the President has made, has reacted in a measured fashion, will continue to react in a fashion that targets action where action needs to be targeted, and was done in a methodical, well-planned fashion, and I think that is how you always keep the support of the American people.

Q Ari, how much longer does the White House plan on taking these extra steps to preserve the line of succession by keeping the Vice President away from the White House?

MR. FLEISCHER: We'll keep you informed. If there are changes to that, you will know.

Q Ari, on his first full day as a wartime President, at least in the military sense, can you share with us a little bit about his temperament? I mean, we see him in public, you see him in private. What's his mood? Is he doing something different in his routine? Can you share a little behind-the-scenes color?

MR. FLEISCHER: You know, I was asked this yesterday, how the President, what mood the President was when I talked to him in the Oval Office prior to the action beginning. And I can only tell you that from everything I see, he is resolute and he is determined.

I think he is steeled by the fact that he has such a clear understanding about what this is about. He's described it as the first war of the 21st century, and a very different type of war. I think he's understood that from the beginning, that the war on terrorism is totally different than the previous conventional wars our nation has fought. And I think when you see him meet with the victims and the families of people, the families of the victims in New York or Pennsylvania who came down to the White House, he takes a lot of strength through that.

And as I indicated, through his tears, he sees an opportunity. And I can only tell you, that's what I see in private. I see somebody who is --

Q But since last night when the bombs first started falling, any change at all, anything noteworthy?

MR. FLEISCHER: I can't report that there is. It's the same resolution, it's the same determination that I think has carried him forward since September 11th.

Q What is he doing this afternoon -- I mean, aside from his public events, but behind the scenes this afternoon, is he have any special meetings or any sense of what he's --

MR. FLEISCHER: He's always receiving briefings and information and updates, could be making phone calls or other meetings.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END                        1:10 P.M. EDT

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