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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 23, 2001
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
Listen to the Briefing
12:38 P.M. EDT
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. Let me give you an update on the President's
day and I'll be pleased to take questions.
The President this morning met for breakfast with Speaker Hastert, Leader Daschle, Minority Leader Gephardt, and Minority Leader Lott. They discussed the war in Afghanistan, the anthrax situation in the nation, as well as the upcoming congressional agenda. On the congressional agenda, they focused on getting the counterterrorism legislation passed through the Congress as quickly as possible; aviation security legislation; a stimulus package.
They discussed the energy bill pending on the Hill, as well as the importance of confirming judges before the session is out.
The President also convened a meeting of his National Security Council earlier this morning. Later this afternoon, the President will attend -- will drop by a meeting that Dr. Condoleezza Rice, the National Security Advisor, is having with Israeli Foreign Minister Peres. I anticipate that at that meeting, the President will convey his condolences over the assassination of Minister Zeevi, as well as urge Israel to withdraw from Palestinian areas.
Following that, the President, in the mid-afternoon will have a meeting with members of Congress to discuss the results of his trip to Asia, where he just returned from Shanghai the other night.
Let me give you an update on one other item involving the Postal Service and the anthrax issue, then I'll be happy to take questions.
The Postal Service is taking a number of preventative measures to protect our nation's postal workers, as well as the public. As Postmaster General Potter said yesterday, the United States Postal Service is engaged in simultaneous efforts on three fronts to combat the threat, and those fronts are: education, investigation and intervention.
The United States Postal Service is continually updating its employees through a series of talks and through informational visits by medical experts who are meeting with employees of the Postal Service.
A postcard with information about what to look for in suspicious letters and packages is on its way to every home and business in America, and the Postal Service is also looking into what type of gloves will best protect postal employees who work in back room handling and sorting mail.
The post office also will now vacuum their scanning machines to make sure that all the dust is collected. Previously, the Postal Service used a technique that was referred to as a blowing technique, where they would blow out the machines using an air gun to blow out the dust. That procedure will now be changed.
And finally, the Postal Service is moving as quickly as possible to identify, acquire and deploy new technology, new technologically advanced equipment to sanitize the mail. There's equipment already available that used irradiation or ultraviolet techniques to kill bacteria. So the Postal Service is moving on multiple fronts as far as the investigation and protection is concerned.
With that, I'm happy to take questions. Helen.
Q In that respect, is there any plan to vaccinate all of the postal workers in the country against anthrax?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, there is no such plan.
Q Why not?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as was stressed yesterday by one of the medical professionals from here, the procedure that, in the estimation of the Centers for Disease Control, the scientists and the medical community, that works best is in cases where there is belief that anthrax may have occurred, to move in quickly and provide antibiotics.
For people who have no contact with anything involving anthrax, providing antibiotics can actually have a harmful effect. It can lead to a buildup of an immune system that can be counterproductive in case people do later contract an illness. Providing people with antibiotics for problems which have not occurred can lead to more problems than solutions. And that's why the medical community generally does not prescribe medicine for people who have not been impacted by any type of illness.
Q So there is no real preventive, per se.
MR. FLEISCHER: But that's the problem, according to the medical community. It's not simply a preventive step in that nature.
Q But, Ari, does the President now believe that given that these two Washington, D.C. postal workers have now confirmed -- that have died of anthrax, that these treatment protocols are too conservative, that not enough was done to test and treat postal workers in Washington, D.C., and that, going forward, they need to be more aggressive?
MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, the President believes that the cause of death was not the treatment made by the federal government or the local officials, or anybody else, that the cause of deaths was the attack that was made on our nation as a result of people mailing anthrax through the mail.
And that's why the President, working through the FBI, is determined to find out, as quickly as possible, who was behind these attacks. It's another reason the Postal Service, for example, has offered a $1 million reward for anybody who can provide information to the federal government who may be behind these attacks.
Q It was a terrible lesson learned, essentially, that the treatment protocols, limiting testing and treatment to those right close to the hot spot, that was too conservative, and that people died as a result.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, in New Jersey, as you see, there's been announced earlier today, there's a confirmed case of inhalation anthrax, where somebody had previously been treated, and his prognosis is sound. So there is existing protocol, existing evidence, based on how people were treated in New Jersey and in Florida that was the best response.
Clearly in the case of Washington, the procedure that was in place was after the mail was received in Senator Daschle's office, to trace backwards all the points at which the mail was received. And they moved as quickly as they possibly could on that. And I think that hopefully there will not be any future incidents like this; but if there are, I think that from each incident, the government learns as best as it can from every previous incident, and takes every action based on what they've learned.
Q Ari, there have been criticisms of the government for a long time now that it was ill prepared to deal with a bio-terror attack. The fact that these postal workers have become infected, does that not represent a real sort of break in the chain here, that the Centers for Disease Control had not sought through -- not thought through completely the methods of transmission?
And again, to the question of the difference in response between what happened on Capitol Hill and what happened at Brentwood, a lot of postal workers are saying, you shut down the government, but you told us to keep working.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, the procedures that were put in place were put in place the same way they were done in Florida, successfully, the same way they were done in New York City, where media outlets received anthrax in the mail.
As soon as the anthrax was received, they took all the same actions in Senator Daschle's office they did at NBC, for example, or that they did at AMI in Boca Raton, for example. So you can make it an analogous situation between the way government workers and Senator Daschle's office were treated and the media was treated.
Then, they walked backwards to determine where the letter could have come from. And as a result of what they learned, they started treating in Trenton, for example -- the postal workers there were given the antibiotics as they identified the hot spots in the facilities there.
Q Well, why --
Q So you're denying any implication that there might have been a discrimination in the way a certain group was treated versus the other?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, I don't see any evidence to support that, Helen.
Q Even as recently as Thursday, though, even as recently as Thursday, there were postal workers in Trenton who were discovered with possibly having skin anthrax, and there wasn't any action on the part of Washington, D.C., federal or state or local officials to treat postal workers here. If there are some handlers in Trenton that may have skin anthrax, there was really nothing in terms of testing antibiotics, even any advisory to the postal workers here. Why?
MR. FLEISCHER: It all depends on tracing back the source of the letters. And in the case of Trenton, of course, based on the postmarks, people knew where the letters had come from. In the case of the mail that Senator Daschle's office, it took an amount of time to trace back where the letters had come through, which post offices it came through.
They traced it back from Senator Daschle's office to the P Street postal station, to the Brentwood facility, and that took some time.
Q But they always know, all mail, they know that all mail goes from that central mail facility at Brentwood to Capitol Hill. So any mail that would end up in Senator Daschle's desk, they would know right from the outset that mail starts in Brentwood.
MR. FLEISCHER: And they traced it back as quickly as they could, and took the steps that they did, based on what took place in Florida and in New York City.
Q Even after what happened at this Brentwood facility, you're saying that the government will not change its protocols in terms of where and when the testing occurs?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I indicated that with each case, the government takes a look at every step that was taken to try to be as helpful as possible to move as quickly as possible.
Q So the protocol will be changed?
MR. FLEISCHER: As I said, as with each case, the government analyzes what took place, and tries to learn from one incident to the next incident; hopefully, there won't be.
Q But you're not speaking definitively here. Why can't you say specifically?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because these are determinations that are going to be made on the ground depending on considered judgment from the Centers For Disease Control, the Department of Health and Human Services, the law enforcement officials on the ground, to try to determine what steps need to be done to trace it where.
For example, there can be cases where mail arrives via courier, mail arrives via sources other than the Postal Service. And so, it's always important for the people on the ground and the incident affected, to analyze what the possible links could be and to go backward and explore those links quickly.
Q Isn't it reasonable for people watching you now to say we've lost two people because of anthrax in these postal centers; why haven't these protocols been changed already? What more do they need?
MR. FLEISCHER: For just the reason I gave. And as I indicated, with each incident, the government is always going to take a careful look about what was done and try to move as rapidly as possible to move backwards in any chain, wherever the chain may be established, to get antibiotics to people who have been affected.
Q At this point, nothing is going to be done differently?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I didn't indicate that. I said with each incident, the government is going to take a look to determine --
Q So the protocols have been changed, or they haven't, as we sit here now?
MR. FLEISCHER: The protocols are going to depend on the evaluations made on the ground by the relevant officials. And every incident will have its own set of protocols, but the guiding rule is going to be to get help to the people who need help as quickly as possible, wherever they may be.
Q Ari, you didn't answer the first part of the question that I asked you, if I could just come back to that for a second. Does this not represent, the infection at Brentwood, a lack of understanding by the Centers for Disease Control of the route of transmission of anthrax; that they missed this idea that it could have gotten puffed out of an envelope as it went through a sorting machine?
Is that really an indication that they don't fully know what they're dealing with?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think they're also reviewing exactly what the cause is at the Brentwood facility. As you know, there's speculation about whether this is the letter received by Senator Daschle, or whether there could be other mail that is received at the facility, and so all these are the matters that they are looking at.
Obviously, nobody wants to see any loss of life, whether it's a loss of life in the first case of Mr. Stevens at AMI in Boca Raton, or any of the people who have lost their life now in Washington, D.C. at the postal facility, where a letter went through on its way to Senator Daschle's office. And the fact of the matter is, with each one of these cases, the government is going to continue to review all its protocols and to make all available adjustments as necessary. And the decisions will continue to be made by all the people on the ground.
But let me broaden this for one step, because you asked, I think, a very fair question about the CDC and what took place at post offices, et cetera. The fact of the matter is, we were a nation at peace. Some 200 billion pieces of mail are sent every year, and until last month not a single time ever had anthrax been mailed.
So what's happened now is, frankly, just as you're seeing in the military a mobilization in Afghanistan, you're also seeing a nation at home mobilized. The fact of the matter is we've been a very fortunate nation where this has never happened before. We had plans that were put in place, contingencies that were put in place. But no contingency and no plan can ever be 100 percent effective and anticipate all possible attacks on a nation. And the fact of the matter is, our nation is under attack as a result of these mailings and these cases.
We have a war going on overseas and we have a need to defend at home, as well, as Governor Ridge said yesterday. And as part of defending at home, we have a mobilization that is underway, and that's why I referred to some of the actions that the Postal Service is taking. That's why you see Governor Ridge acting in the manner that he is acting, to bring the federal agencies together on a homeland defense. We have not had to deal with these issues before; we are rapidly adjusting to deal with all of them.
Q Part of homeland defense, though, is let the American people know if we have been defended appropriately and as well as we can be every time there's been a casualty in this war. Last week, when a letter went to Senator Daschle's office, it has to be clear to people that it had to come through the Brentwood -- at least in hindsight now, it's very clear it had to come through that -- all the mail going there comes through the Brentwood site. Why was there not immediately tests done on Brentwood and people given antibiotics? Looking back, were those people as well protected as they should have been?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because based on the two previous incidents, in Boca Raton and in New York City, the same things that took place in Brentwood did not develop in Boca Raton and in Trenton, New Jersey, the way they did here in Washington.
And as a result of the experiences in Boca Raton and the experiences in New York City, people walked back, looked at the post office, and there was not evidence to suggest that what took place in Brentwood, what took place did take place based on the scientific information that was available. And as I indicated, with each incident, the government will continue to analyze fully what took place, and if another incident develops, to move rapidly, based on what has been ascertained.
Q Can you tell people, since we're in this war now, and we're all trying to figure out how to defend ourselves, will we move quicker the next time a letter comes to a post office?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think I have indicated that, that the government will move quicker -- the government will move as quickly as possible. But those decisions will continue to be made by the people on the ground who are -- who have the most relevant facts available, which is going to be a combination, a collaboration, of state and federal officials from the health side and the law enforcement side.
Q Ari, when Representative Gephardt came out of the breakfast meeting today, he said that we all believe, he said, that the anthrax was linked to September 11th. But he did not say what led him to believe that. Over the course of this meeting, or other meetings you're aware of, has there been a new linkage developed? He said there wasn't any hard evidence, but I'm wondering whether there is a developing line of intelligence? He did make reference to the milled nature of the anthrax.
MR. FLEISCHER: No, it remains the same suspicions that you've heard articulated from several people in the White House for several weeks now. There is a suspicion that this connected to international terrorists. Having said that, the investigators also do not rule out that it could be something domestic, that it could be a lone person operating, doing this, or it could be terrorism. The suspicion is that it's terrorism, but there is no hard evidence yet at this point to lead anybody who is investigating these matters to reach a conclusion on any of those sources.
Q Given that you're now dealing with new issues that you didn't anticipate even a couple of weeks ago, does the government think it may need more than the $40 billion that Congress has already set aside in dealing with the immediate aftermath of September 11th? Is it going to need more funding to deal with these kinds of threats, new postal machines, et cetera, et cetera?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, Director Daniels stated last week that the $40 billion, in his estimation, will be adequate to deal with a variety of the responses, including the rebuilding of New York, including the victims' funds, including money for the Pentagon to wage the war, as well as for the increase in funding for bioterrorism at home, and for additional stockpiling of the national pharmaceutical stockpile. So there is nothing else anticipated for this session of Congress, for the first session.
Q Trying to anticipate -- you say every day we learn something new. We've seen the Postmaster General, we've seen all the problems with the U.S. Post Office. How about the private mail carrier? Is anything being done in advance, before we get a case, to them? Are there contacts between the office of Tom Ridge or the White House, or whichever, with the private mail carriers? There's a whole bunch of mail being carried by them also.
MR. FLEISCHER: I believe the answer to that is yes. I haven't asked that directly to the Governor. I have heard some conversations about that, and I can tell you that one of the things that the U.S. Postal Service is doing -- and I brought it with me -- is that the postcard that they're mailing to every business and every individual will address things that are as relevant to the Postal Service as it is to private carriers.
For example, this says -- and this will be the card -- "What should make a piece of mail suspect?" Let me take a moment to read from this, because I think this will be constructive for people who are paying attention to this. If a package is unexpected or from someone you do not know; if it's addressed to someone no longer at your address; if it's handwritten, has no return address or bears one that you cannot confirm is a legitimate return address; if the package you receive is lopsided or lumpy in its appearance, is sealed with excessive amounts of tape; if it's marked with restrictive endorsements, such as "personal," or "confidential," or if it has excessive postage -- all of those should lead a recipient to believe that this could be a suspicious package or envelope.
If that is the case, the citizen should take the following actions: Do not handle the letter or package that you suspect is contaminated. Put it down immediately. Do not shake it, bump it, or sniff it. Put the mail piece in a plastic bag, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water, and notify local law enforcement officials.
Those are the actions that are being advised to all citizens in this postcard, and that would apply to all mail, whether it's publicly or privately delivered.
Q Yesterday, Governor Ridge said he had no reason or information to go back on what he said Friday about the letter -- the anthrax coming to Washington being indistinguishable, the same.
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
Q Does the government still have no reason to believe that it was mailed any differently or that it was manipulated in any way differently than what had gone to Florida and New York?
MR. FLEISCHER: The Governor's statement still stands about it being indistinguishable.
Q Ari, two questions about White House mail. Can you tell us whether or not the White House mail is irradiated for bacteria? And the letters that American kids are sending in with dollars for Afghan children, is that being treated in any special way so that doesn't become a vehicle for --
MR. FLEISCHER: Martha, as with the case of all security at the White House, that would apply to the mail, as well; that's just a matter that we do not discuss. We don't reveal what type of security measures are in place. And the reason for that is, is people who might want to do harm to the White House, which obviously is always a target of people, as information is revealed about what security measures are in place, clever people will try to find a way to get around those procedures. So we, as a rule, do not discuss those procedures.
Q -- the details, can you say if there have been any special precautions in the case of the letters being sent for -- the dollars for the Afghan children? Even without revealing what the precautions are, is there anything special being done with them?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me check on that and I'll post that for you.
Q Let me follow on that? Has there been any mail received in the West Wing, OEOB, or the off-site mail facility that has tested positive for anthrax?
MR. FLEISCHER: Having said what I said about the security procedures, let me also advise you that in the event that there would be something that was a health issue, where something was tested positive, the White House would share that information.
MR. FLEISCHER: Would. Yes, of course, we would. And that there is nothing to report. There's nothing to share.
Q Ari, you mentioned that aviation security was a topic in the meeting this morning. One way or the other, either by executive order or legislation, what do you think the prospects are for passage of that or enactment of it by the Thanksgiving travel period?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, based on the meeting this morning, on the antiterrorism legislation, I think it's fair to say that there's a real strong sense of moving together quickly. The Senate and the House have passed slightly different versions. They're really very similar on the antiterrorism legislation. That's the legislation to give the law enforcement community more tools to prevent future attacks on the country. I think the prognosis for that is strong.
On the aviation bill, I think it's a little more complicated. The President made very clear in the meeting this morning that he hopes that the House will be able to take up legislation on aviation security. The Senate has done it; he hopes the House will be able to do it, as well. Because the President does think it's important for Congress to get the business of the nation done when it comes to protecting the traveling public.
He does have --
Q Did he put down any markers about the Thanksgiving holiday, which is the next busy travel period?
MR. FLEISCHER: He did not lay down a specific marker like that. He just urged them to move as quickly as possible.
Q Have they gotten any closer to compromise, or any movement at all on this issue of federalizing the baggage --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that remains one of the largest outstanding issues, and that's an issue of some contention in the House. And the President has urged the House to get together with him, try to reach an accommodation, try to figure out how to reach a solution on that issue; work together with the Senate, and that way legislation can be sent to the President that he can sign.
Q Ari, it's not just a contention in the House. He opposes that himself, right? I mean, he hasn't changed, has he?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has a lot of concerns about whether or not federalizing all baggage screeners is the most effective way to provide security at the airports. The President does believe strongly in protecting the cockpit doors and increasing the number of air marshals on the flights. He's already taken actions with his own authority as a result of the emergency appropriation bill to fund those initiatives. They are up there, going there, underway.
The President does believe that we need to federalize the background checks and some of the security procedures at those gates. The question of whether or not putting everybody who is currently at those gates on the federal payroll, whether that is an effective way to increase safety, as opposed to increasing standards, which is where the President is focused, is an open issue. But the President is going to work with Congress on that.
Q You mentioned irradiation technology. Has the administration now made a decision to deploy irradiation technology in all major post offices, or at least in sorting centers? And how long will that take? And do you have any sense of how much it will cost?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. As I indicated, the Postal Service is reviewing that right now as one of their options. They're taking a look at its effectiveness, the number of facilities that it would be available to. So that's a matter that is under review as we speak.
Q And if I could just follow up on that, what -- obviously, you can't do that overnight, you just can't bring in the equipment. Is there a sense that this would take some time, that it would take months, weeks?
MR. FLEISCHER: There's no question it would take some time, and again, it just depends on the type of machines, their availability, and how widespread they make the judgment that it would need to be if they go down that road.
Q Ari, since were in a time of war and terrorism, and there's been Hill testimony this morning about more smallpox vaccines, does the President favor resuming smallpox vaccinations for all young children?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, that also -- that's a very complicated question; and that, too, it really comes down to medicine and what doctors' judgments are about the best use of medicine. The smallpox vaccine has a lot of unanticipated effects, also. There are people who are allergic to the vaccine. There are a host of issues that can arise by providing that vaccine to people that can also do more harm than good. And so all of that is being analyzed, it's being weighed. And those are very complicated judgments. The President has not arrived at any conclusion about that.
Q Ari, the Bush budget cut Nunn-Lugar funds to safeguard nuclear weapons.
MR. FLEISCHER: Which ones?
Q Nunn-Lugar funds.
MR. FLEISCHER: Oh, Nunn-Lugar funds. Right.
Q Are you thinking particularly of rethinking that, and especially in regards to perhaps safeguarding chemical or other kinds of weapons, and biological weapons?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me do this, Ellen, let me take that and get back to you on it. I don't have the budget in front of me, with the funding levels, because I believe there were substantial plus-ups in the funding to work with Russia on decommissioning its nuclear programs. So you've mentioned one particular aspect of it. There actually are several programs under Nunn-Lugar. And if I recall, some received big increases. Let me look at it in its entirety.
Q Ari, Attorney General Ashcroft said there's new information today regarding the possible link between the anthrax and September 11th attacks. Can you at all characterize that information as scientific or part of the law enforcement investigation? And also, is that new information the reason why we're hearing from the White House and Congressman Gephardt today that there is this suspicion that there is a connection?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me see exactly what General Ashcroft said, because when I talked to him this morning, that's why I indicated there's no new hard evidence. Every day, of course, the investigators who work with raw data receive new evidence. There's not a day that goes by that they don't have new things to look at. But the question of any hard evidence that is conclusive, that would lead anybody to determine that this is tied to September 11th, is not there. So I think that would be the difference. That's what the General is referring to -- Attorney General is referring to.
Q Ari, what's the President's position on U.S. bombing during Ramadan?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's an operational matter, and frankly was addressed by Secretary Rumsfeld the other day.
Q Is the President talking -- rather, is he leaving that decision up to military leaders, or is he weighing in on that matter?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think as you heard from the Secretary, that issue's already been addressed. But I'm not, as a matter of routine, going to comment on operational details.
Q When the subject of the aviation security legislation come up today and the President suggested he might have to use an executive order to achieve the same, what reaction was there from the congressional --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President's message was that it's important for Congress to take action on aviation security. That's what he said directly to the House leaders. He urged them to move quickly to pass legislation, because he said directly, that is preferable than exacting an executive order.
Q -- can strike a deal to avoid that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, they indicated that they're going to do their best, and try. And there's several weeks remaining in the session. Who knows how much longer there remains in the session. So I think we'll have to see.
Q The Taliban continues to put its own construction on events in the region. Other than making U.S. officials available for interviews into the Middle East, does the White House have any institutional plans to deal with this public diplomacy problem that's been pretty well ventilated by now?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'm not sure that Taliban statements present anybody with a public diplomacy problem. I think the credibility of the Taliban does not run very high in anywhere outside of Taliban circles. And so I don't think it's really an issue that the government worries about, or that the President worries about very much.
Q You don't think there's a need -- in view of over the last few years, that whole capability in the State Department has been diminished -- you don't see a need to rebuild that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Okay, separately from reaction to anything the Taliban is doing, no, the President does think that there is a need for an increased role by the Voice of America to make sure people understand the message the United States government is saying; that people not only in Afghanistan, the people of Afghanistan, to receive that message, but people in the Arab world to hear the message about who the United States is and what the United States represents. The President does think that's an important part of public diplomacy. And he's had several conversations about how public diplomacy can play that role.
For example, in Afghanistan, as you know, leaflets are being dropped. Voice of America is broadcasting in there. But generally speaking, the very best way to deal with anybody around the world who suggest the United States is doing things in these statements they make are often lies, is for public officials to take to the podium, to take the microphones, as Secretary Rumsfeld has been doing, and speak forthrightly, to answer people's questions and to reveal what it is the government is doing. There are, of course, as Secretary Rumsfeld said yesterday, times when he's not going to be in a position to reveal what we're doing. It is a war and he's not going to pass on information that could be used by those who would do the United States harm.
But, by and large, the best antidote to any types of lie campaigns against the United States are for government officials to speak forthrightly.
Q Ari, you said the President is going to ask Shimon Peres today to convey to Sharon to withdraw from the West Bank areas. The President, of course, has urged restraint in the past. I'm wondering, is this somehow different? Is this new six-day offensive causing new stresses on the coalition, particularly in the Arab and Islamic world?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, let me do this. What I want to do -- the meeting is going to take place in about a couple hours, I think, so let me see if there is any report following that meeting -- I think I'm going to go to it. And so if I have anything I can shed light on after the meeting, I will. I've given you what the President's intentions are going into that meeting.
Q So there is no reaction -- just as a quick follow-up, there is no reaction to Israel's flat rejection of U.S. urging for withdrawal from the Palestinian --
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me reiterate, Terry, that the President, at this meeting with Foreign Minister Peres is going to urge Israel to withdraw from Palestinian areas.
Q How are you going to brief us on this? What's the --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll try to get a readout. Either I'll do it or somebody else from the meeting will do it. Allow the meeting to take place and then we'll figure out the next step.
Q Two things real quick. First of all, the situation that Helen was talking about, going back to the discrimination issue, the Brentwood thing, there is a little bit of concern in the public about that because these people were not on Capitol Hill, did not have the prestigious jobs, what have you, that their situation was somewhat sloughed to the side and let go for a couple of a days. Could you expound upon that?
And, also, the fact that you said that Brentwood was different; was it different because of the potency of the anthrax in that letter going to Daschle's office?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, back on the premise of the question, what was done for employees in Senator Daschle's office was the same thing done for employees at NBC News, the same thing that was done for The Globe and for The National Enquirer and the employees at AMI. The treatment protocol was the same in all cases.
The places where the letter is received, the workers who work closest to the letter received nasal swabs to test whether they were positive or negative. And those who worked closest to the receipt of that mail were given Cipro as an antibiotic treatment in case that they did come down with any illnesses.
But, again, as a result of what happened at the post offices in Boca Raton and in New York, there was not an anticipated need to take additional action upstream, the way the -- how it was developed at Brentwood. The cause of what is happening at that facility is still under review. It's being investigated as we speak by law enforcement personnel, and so I don't have an answer for you on that yet.
Q Okay, a follow-up again. Many of those people -- what do you say to the workers there who said when the situation was going on Capitol Hill, in Daschle's office, when they closed it down and investigated and took the swabs and tested people, they were told to stay and keep working, to stay. And that mail actually came through that Brentwood facility.
What do you say to those workers who are upset about the fact that they were told to stay and continue to work and a week or so later, now they're being tested?
MR. FLEISCHER: April, the President's message to them is the same as the President's message has been to everybody who has been affected by this. It's a real cause for concern that anybody would be mailing anthrax to people in the United States; that it could do harm to people at the Postal Service; that it can do harm to people who receive the mail; that it can do harm to the security personnel who rush to the scene to help people who have received the mail.
That is the source of the President's concern. And what he is doing is putting all the resources of the federal government to work collaboratively with the local officials to prevent anybody from getting anthrax, to immediately respond wherever the anthrax is received.
What happened in Washington was different from what happened in Boca Raton, different from what happened in New York City. But that's the reason that the treatment, or the speed at which the treatment was done in Brentwood followed the course that it did -- because of the precedence that were established in Florida and New York.
And as I indicated at the very beginning of the briefing, the government is going to continue to take a look each time something like this comes up and adjust to do whatever is necessary to as quickly as possible get help to anybody who needs it.
So for the people at the Postal Service, the President is, of course, deeply concerned about what's happened at the postal facilities here in Washington, D.C., and the fact that two people have died, two others have been diagnosed with inhalation anthrax and that others may be exposed.
So, of course, he's concerned about it, and he is responding to it.
Q -- you're writing your own script, still? You're writing your own script of this, but you're getting guidelines with the CDC? I mean, in response?
MR. FLEISCHER: The CDC will play a prominent role in this, of course.
Q The Washington Post reports, and this is a quote, Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority rejected an ultimatum by Israel to hand over the assassins of an Israeli Cabinet minister, and they also quoted Sharon's promise, if not, we'll go to war against him. And my question, the first of two: Since we are at war with the terrorists in Afghanistan, how can we, with any fairness, oppose Israel's war on the terrorists in the West Bank?
MR. FLEISCHER: Lester, the two situations really are not the same.
Q No terrorists in the West Bank?
MR. FLEISCHER: In the case of what's happening between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, both parties have committed to a peace process. Both parties have signed onto the Mitchell Agreement. And the Mitchell Agreement provides a political solution, not a military solution, to the problems in the Middle East. Both parties have endorsed that.
So the President believes what's important is to hold both parties accountable for the promises they made to follow a political process toward peace; that is not at all the case in what's happened in Afghanistan.
Q The New York Times reports Mr. Arafat has repeatedly promised to jail Palestinian militants, and he has repeatedly failed to do so. How could any Palestinian state possibly be expected to respect Israel's peace and national security if Arafat heads it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President has made it very clear to the Palestinian Authority, and Secretary Powell has done so as well, about the need for the Palestinian Authority to immediately arrest those who are responsible for the assassination of Israeli Cabinet member Zeevi, and also he has called on the Palestinian Authority to act more decisively against all of those who are planning or conducting acts of terrorism and violence. That's the President's message to both parties.
Q Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: David, did you have one?
Q I wanted to follow up to Ron's question, whether there has been any testing of suspicious packages here that have later turned out to be negative for anthrax. But you said there was no health issue. Have there been suspicious substances that have presented themselves?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I'm not going to discuss what steps are in place at the White House. But if anything were to come about that would be a positive result, a positive test, we will fully inform the public. And there is nothing to report.
Q I just want to follow on a related point, which is, in all of the cases that you've mentioned prior to now where there have been anthrax letters, there has been this sort of tangible evidence, there's been this powdery substance.
And now, we have at the Brentwood facility, the real horrible circumstance where it is invisible and it's airborne and it's lethal. As a result of that, wouldn't it make sense, and is it currently under review, to do precautionary environmental testing at postal centers around the country, lest you act too late?
MR. FLEISCHER: That has not been ruled out. There are a series of steps that are under review, and as those steps are determined, that information will be provided.
Q Ari, last week, there was a lot of fear and confusion generated when there were conflicting statements on the Hill about the potency of the letter that went up there.
Now, we have Gephardt coming out this morning and talking about that same issue; and yet, the White House maintaining that it's still indistinguishable. Are you telling us today that Gephardt was wrong this morning and that there is nothing at all different, whether it's the strain or the way it was milled, or anything? That he was wrong and there was nothing --
MR. FLEISCHER: Actually, if you take a look at Leader Gephardt's statements in their entirety, I saw at the end of his statements out on the driveway, he said something that was a little bit different from what he said at the beginning, where he said that he doesn't mean to draw attention to any one specific word, the meaning of any one word, or to parse any word in a literal sense.
He added, just as I did this morning, that the issue here is whatever is being mailed is being mailed as a weapon. Obviously, it's been mailed in a way that has led to fatalities in Florida and now in Washington, D.C. So however it's scientifically characterized, which is an open question, it is being used as a weapon and that's why Congressman Gephardt said what he said.
Q But -- question about the character and nature of this stuff, that's an open question, it's not --
MR. FLEISCHER: That's a scientific matter. And this is where the Governor's statement, as I indicated a little while ago, stands, that it's indistinguishable.
Q -- the tests prove it's indistinguishable, which doesn't lead us to believe it's an open question, that leads us to believe it's a closed question.
MR. FLEISCHER: It's indistinguishable.
Q Ari, the death of at least one of these postal workers, does it not represent a hole in the public health system? This gentleman went to the emergency room, to a hospital, at 2:00 a.m. in the morning Sunday, was told to go home with a diagnosis of the flu. He did not offer up the information that he was a postal worker, but he wasn't asked, either.
MR. FLEISCHER: Right. Well, as has been explained by D.C. medical personnel, when somebody goes into a hospital, to an emergency room, they're asked treatment questions about what it is that they have that is an ailment, whether they have allergies, if they're aware of where they may have gotten this from, and then they prescribe remedies. It is not a standard question to ask somebody, where do you work.
Q Should it not be in a case like this?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that may be something that evolves. I think that's going to be a decision, again, though, that is going to be made by the appropriate medical authorities. That's not going to be a decision that the White House, for example, makes. But that's something that medical authorities -- the Centers for Disease Control and others -- will review and make determinations about. But people go into emergency rooms hundreds, thousands of times across the United States every day. Whether that's a question that needs to be asked everywhere will be a medical determination.
Q Security Council Thompson was testifying this morning, and he said if any postal facility is found with an anthrax-tainted letter coming through, that facility will be immediately checked, workers there will be immediately tested and treated. It sounded like a new policy in light of lessons learned over the past couple of days. Is that a new administration policy?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, as I indicated at the top of this, there's no change from what I said just a little while ago -- those determinations will be made collaboratively by the various officials involved. And Secretary Thompson, through the Centers for Disease Control, is certainly one of them. So there will be a series of officials -- local law enforcement, health officials -- who will make the determinations about where the tests need to be done as quickly as possible.
For example, again, there can be cases where a letter is couriered in, a letter is brought in individually by somebody, it doesn't go through the Postal Service. So, clearly, if that's the case, then there would not be a need to test at a postal facility. Those determinations are being driven by the facts on the ground.
Q Are we to expect Governor Ridge to come out today and brief us again?
MR. FLEISCHER: There's no plans at this moment for Governor Ridge to come out today. He'll be coming out regularly; it may not be daily, though.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:19 P.M. EDT
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