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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
December 14, 2001

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

      Listen to the Briefing

  1. The President's Schedule for Today
  2. Statement on the Senate/Presidential Nominations
  3. Israeli Newspaper Stories
  4. The Middle East Conflict
  5. Reaction to bin Laden Tapes
  6. The Economy
  7. Former Iran Hostages
  8. United Airlines/Possible Strike
  9. President's Meeting with Textile State Members
  10. Racial Issue
  11. Whereabouts of Osama bin Laden
  12. U.S.-Russia Missle Defense
  13. Approval Rate of Attorney General Ashcroft
  14. FDA/Blood Supply
  15. The Week Ahead

12:35 P.M. EST

MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. Happy Friday, to a half-empty Press Briefing Room.

Q Half full.

MR. FLEISCHER: Half full. Thank you very much.

Q And that's the senior Bush lesson -- the glass is never half empty.

MR. FLEISCHER: I oublie'd. All right, good morning. The President this morning had his usual round of intelligence briefings with the CIA, with the FBI and then he convened a meeting of the National Security Council. Mid-morning, the President met with a group of members of Congress from some of the textile states to talk to them about the importance of textiles and the importance of the jobs that textile workers do in our country.

Following that, the President met with the Prime Minister of Thailand to talk about the strength of our bilateral relationship with Thailand and our cooperation in the war on terrorism. And the President will depart from the White House a little later this afternoon, where he will sign the Drug-Free Communities Act reauthorization program, which provides additional assistance to communities, local communities, organizations that are fighting the war on drug abuse throughout the country.

Before I take questions, I want to make a statement. As another week comes to a close and we draw closer to the end of the year, I'd like to remind the Senate once again the important work that remains to be done when it comes to confirming presidential appointments.

The Senate has failed to act upon 157 nominees that President Bush has made. These include Eugene Scalia, the President's nominee to be solicitor at the Department of Labor. Mr. Scalia is an eminently qualified labor attorney who has demonstrated in his committee hearing that he would be a dedicated advocate of the policies of the Department of Labor.

And while a majority of the Senate has announced that they would support his vote, he has waited over 200 days to be confirmed, and that's not right.

In addition, the President has nominated individuals to serve as federal judges at a record pace this year. And yet, there are more vacancies in the Federal Judiciary now than when President Bush came into office. The reason is because the Senate has failed to act. And the Senate has failed to act on 37 of the President's nominees to the Bench.

The failure to confirm qualified individuals in the Judiciary hurts the American people. It's time for the Senate to act on the President's nominees and assure that the important work of America's government can be done, and that justice can be carried out.

Finally, in terms of confirmations, on March 22nd, 2001, the President announced his intention to nominate Otto Reich as Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere. March, 22nd, 2001; and the Senate has failed to even have a hearing on Mr. Reich. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee refuses even a simple request to give the man his day in court or a fair hearing.

It's not right for the President to be denied his entire -- his right to have an entire foreign policy team in place. And Otto Reich needs to be put in place. His position is critical to our relationships with our partners in the Western Hemisphere, at a time when nations in Central and Latin America are looking for leadership from the United States to help them with difficult internal issues. This is especially true as we assemble a world-wide coalition to fight the war against terrorism.

Also, Mr. Reich has a bipartisan majority of the votes in his committee, and the votes to confirm by the full Senate as well. And that is why one committee is blocking him from having a fair hearing. The President has asked for a hearing, Secretary Powell has repeatedly asked for a hearing, three former Secretaries of State have asked for a hearing for Mr. Reich, and yet they will not proceed. He has been confirmed by the Senate twice before. He is qualified, he has dedicated his career to public service. And particularly when you consider some of the previous promises made by Democratic members of the Senate, it's hard to understand why they won't give him a hearing.

"We will confirm the President's nominations to enable him to run the government he is elected to administer." That was Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle on June 6th. "Everyone will get a fair hearing." Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle on June 17th. "We're going to move as quickly as we can. I think that every administration deserves to have its people in place." Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Christopher Dodd, back in June, and he still has not moved.

So I think it's very important for the Senate to take action on the judicial nominations, as well as the other nominations that are pending in the Senate. I'm pleased to take your questions.

Q Ari, we're getting dribs and drabs from the President's conversations with the Jewish leaders at the Hanukkah. And the Israeli press says that the President said that the State Department was irrelevant, and he was going to get rid of what he called the Arabists in that department, along with a lot of other stuff. Are you confirming all these things that have been coming out?

MR. FLEISCHER: That report, which appeared somewhere in the Middle Eastern press, is garbage. The President did not make those statements, as reported in that Israeli outlet. And no truth to it.

Q Well, did he also say that he would do exactly what Sharon is doing?


Q Really? You're quoted here as -- you didn't dispute the characterizations of the --

MR. FLEISCHER: You're mixing up two stories, Helen. They are two separate stories. There was one, a story that came out of an Israeli newspaper two days ago, that was reported to be on a meeting that the President had. There's a separate story in today's New York Times which relates a different message from the President. Two totally different stories.

Your question pertained to the Israeli media accounts, and there were several other pieces of garbage in that account, none of which were true. This is a totally separate issue and a totally separate story, with obviously different sources.

Q Ari, I wonder if you could address in this context the larger perception that this government, when asked about Israel, says nothing and turns all of its attention toward the Palestinians and Mr. Arafat. And it is contributing to a perception in the region that by its very silence, the United States is tacitly endorsing every step the Israeli government is taking, including cutting off all contacts with Mr. Arafat. Could you address that growing perception in the region, and if you have any comments as to what the Israeli government is doing, would you share them with us now?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President has made it plain that in order to bring peace to the region, the people who believe in peace have to stand up strongly against the people who are using violence as a means to stop the peace. And the President has said repeatedly, and I say it again this afternoon, this is a test of Yasser Arafat, to determine on which side he will stand.

This is not only a test for Yasser Arafat to show that he is dedicated to bringing justice to the people who are trying to stop peace in the Middle East, but to demonstrate that he has the ability to lead the Palestinian people. Because these attacks on Israel are also an attack on the authority of Chairman Arafat, and this is a real test to see which side he stands on, and whether he is the leader that the world is looking for in the Middle East, because the Middle East needs leaders on all sides if peace is going to be found.

Q In that regard, some Palestinians have said that continued attacks from Israel make it difficult for the Chairman to take decisive moves, and appealed to the international community and the United States to bring in some outside observers to make the conditions more favorable for Mr. Arafat to take these aggressive actions. What's the U.S. position on that?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President is confident that Yasser Arafat has the ability to take action if he so desires. And he is looking for concrete signs from Chairman Arafat that he will take such action.

Q Or what, Ari? Or what? The President has said this now for weeks, even months. You have said he has put no deadline on it. Are there consequences for the continuing failure to contain the --

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the consequences are for all the good people of the Middle East, including Palestinians. You know, it was President Bush who was the first American President to go to the United Nations, in a speech before the world say that in his dream for the future of the Middle East, that dream includes here and now a Palestinian state and a secure Israel, which can be achieved at the end of the negotiating process set out by the Mitchell Accords. And so, the President has made perfectly plain what is at stake, and peace is at stake.

But the only way to achieve peace in the Middle East is for the parties themselves to dedicate themselves to peace. And no one from outside can impose that on the parties. It's also important for the parties to continue to remember the consequence of their actions today can have impact tomorrow. And the President reiterates that message to all concerned.

Q There is now open talk among members of the Israeli government that it's time for them not only not to deal with Yasser Arafat, but somehow to get rid of him as the freely chosen leader of the Palestinian people. Does the President support that?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President has made it plain directly to Prime Minister Sharon and others that no action should be taken against Chairman Arafat. The President has said that Chairman Arafat needs to lead. This is a test of his leadership. He remains hopeful that Chairman Arafat will rise to that challenge, will demonstrate his authority, and will dedicate himself to show the world that he is a man of peace and action, as well as word.

Q Obviously, the remarks were sort of aimed at not only the Democratic Senate, but Senator Daschle. Senator Daschle meets with the President weekly. Has that come up? Has the President expressed his frustration?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President has spoken about the need to move forward on personnel.

Q Ari, has the hold-up on Scalia, is there any concern in the White House that might be some sort of a payback for the Bush vs. Gore Supreme Court decision?

MR. FLEISCHER: It doesn't matter what the motive is; it's wrong to do. People deserve a vote. People deserve their fair day at a hearing. Particularly when they have been promised hearings. If they never intended to give the President's nominees hearings, they should have said so. They should have said, we will not allow fair hearings, we will not proceed quickly, we will not let you get your team in place. But they have committed to doing that, and it's important if they gave their word to keep it.

Q So there's no concern that the son may be being punished for the perceived sins of the father?

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, it's not the White House's position to guess what the motives are of the Democrats. What the President is interested is results and action. He understands there may be people who oppose these people for a variety of reasons. Bring it to a vote. Let every senator have their say for whatever their motives. But it's wrong not to act and wrong not to vote. It's especially wrong to never have a hearing.

Q How about the statements that Scalia has made?

Q Is this Zinni mission coming to an end?

MR. FLEISCHER: You need to talk to the State Department again for his exact travel and schedules. But he is in the region right now. I believe he is going to be visiting with other nations in the region. His mission was to talk to the Palestinians, to the Israelis, but to other states in the region that would seek to find a way to bring peace.

I don't believe anybody said he would remain in the region forever. But he is there now, and we'll just see what events are, and whether he returns for a variety of reasons. But no matter what, the United States, as Secretary Powell said yesterday, will remain engaged in the region through a variety of forums.

The Secretary spoke with Chairman Arafat again just recently, and there will be continued conversations at the diplomatic level, at General Zinni's level, at various levels, in multiple forums.

Q Some people expressed -- concern, some people in the Middle East are calling, or in Arab countries, the tape a fake, and they don't believe the tape now. What I'm asking is that many countries were asking proof in the past before the tape was released, and even Pakistan was asking proof, and -- until Pakistan got $1 billion from the United States, and now they are not asking any more proof. (Laughter.) So where do we stand today?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think that's not quite a fair characterization. I think many nations around the world joined with the United States because they heard and saw everything they needed to in order to know who was behind this. It was not unknown that Osama bin Laden was behind this; that was developed almost immediately in the aftermath of the attack. And now the world has been able to watch it with their own eyes and come to the same conclusion.

The President addressed that this morning when he said that everybody around the world can see and judge how evil he is from this tape. And I think he called it a feeble excuse for people who follow an evil man, for anybody to think otherwise.

Q On the economy, realistically speaking, does the President think he can bring enough pressure to bear to actually force a compromise with Democrats by his deadline of Christmas?

MR. FLEISCHER: You know, you hope that when it comes to the economy of the country and to the plight of the unemployed, that it doesn't come down to pressure to bear. This should be something the Senate does because the Senate also wants to help the unemployed in America.

I can't make any predictions about ultimately what the Senate is going to do. The Senate has a lot of work ahead of itself. The House has been able to act, so it's hard to understand why the Senate has not been able to act. But the President has not given up hope, and he is working hard to get it done.

Just yesterday, the President made a series of phone calls to Democratic Senators on the Hill. He spoke again with Senator Breaux. So the President is working very hard to assemble the coalition; it's there. The coalition and the votes are there; the only question is will the Senate act.

But here are the numbers. The House of Representatives passed the stimulus 52 days ago; the Senate has not acted. The House of Representatives passed legislation to make America more energy independent 136 days ago; the Senate has not acted. The House of Representatives passed legislation to help the poor and the needy through faith-based initiatives 153 days ago. It's time for the Senate to act.

Q Can I just follow up on one point? There are economists who say that the economy is going to right itself on its own, and that this -- that a stimulus package, while it might be helpful, and it may help the economic recovery be more robust, whatever form it takes, but it's not crucial. Is that a fair -- does the President agree with that?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President understands that there's a major difference, in terms of the lives of the unemployed, between slow growth and medium growth or high growth. And the best way to achieve an environment in which high growth can take place is for the Senate and the Congress and the President to get a stimulus in place for the American people. Failure to pass it can lead to a situation in which the growth of the economy will rebound, in all likelihood, but at a slower rate.

And what excuse does anybody in Washington have to give an unemployed worker that you were the last one rehired, because we took our time at passing the stimulus. The stimulus will help create more jobs and to create more growth in the economy, and to get more people hired, faster. And that's why the President thinks it's so important for Congress to get together. And he's doing his part to help that happen.

Q Can I follow on that?

MR. FLEISCHER: Keith, we'll come back to you.

Q Back to Chairman Arafat. What specifically does President Bush want him to do to demonstrate that he's leading? Is it simply arrests and detentions, or are there other things that are required of him beyond that?

MR. FLEISCHER: Let me put it this way. I think that if you live in a region where you have to worry about getting on a bus and making it off alive, if you live in a region where it's hard to go shopping without worrying about a bomb that will take your life, the action you expect is for somebody to go after the people who would engage in those terrorist activities that lead to such taking of life in such massive numbers in such a small country.

And the President has called on Chairman Arafat to demonstrate that he stands on the sides of those who are dedicated to peace. Because there are clearly people in Hamas and Hezbollah whose only intention is to stop peace, and pursue a life of violence. And they're willing to kill to achieve that objective. And that's where the President is looking at Yasser Arafat, to demonstrate the leadership to show that he will take meaningful action to stop the violence. He believes the Chairman can do it.

Q To follow up on that, when you say "go after," are you talking about arresting and detaining people solely? That's it, nothing more than that?

MR. FLEISCHER: Arresting and detaining people who are responsible for the actions.

Q Has the President talked to any of the world leaders after the videotape has been made public? And has he -- what is his opinion about the reaction around the world? I know what his opinion is about the reaction here, but how about around the world?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President talked to the leaders yesterday, but in the context of the missile defense treaty announcement that the President made. I can share with you several of the reactions that I've seen around the Arab world today as the tape was watched. "The tape displays the cruel and inhumane face of a murderous criminal who has no respect for the sanctity of human life or the principles of his faith." That was said by the Saudi Ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar.

"There is no doubt in my mind that bin Laden was behind these operations. The tape confirms that in a way that leaves no room for doubt." That was said by United Arab Emirates Information Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

And finally, an Egyptian political analyst who is widely respected in the region, Emad Gad, said, "People who just don't want to believe he did it will talk about the tape quality and unclear voices. But objectively speaking, I think there is no room for doubt that bin Laden did it."

So the President understands and is appreciative for the reactions around the world, but I think the President also, recognized that -- who is responsible for this early on. So, too, is much of the world.

The tape is proof-perfect about bin Laden's responsibility.

Q Ari, on the stimulus, the Democrats would say that one of the problems is that the White House won't consider their counterproposals on tax cuts, such as a payroll tax holiday or a little bit less in income tax -- further income tax cuts than you want. Why won't you take a look at those, or are you taking a look at those?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President this week made a major effort to break the logjam. And as a result, there clearly are a majority of Democrat and Republican senators ready, willing and able to vote for a stimulus package. It's just a question of whether the Senate leadership will allow that to take place.

The coalition is there and it's bipartisan, around the proposal that the President made this week. And that proposal allows for unemployment checks to be sent on a 13-week additional basis, not just to the states mostly impacted, but to all 50 states. It provided additional funding to help people with their health care benefits, while also creating an economic stimulus by lowering income tax rates from 27 percent to 25 percent.

What the President thinks the economy needs is not only an unemployment check, which is important, but a paycheck. Because workers deserve the right to have jobs, and that's what the stimulus does.

Q So you still won't consider those tax proposals, lowering it to 26 percent instead of 25 percent or something?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the talks are ongoing. They're continuing to talk up on the Hill. I'm not going to negotiate in public, of course. But the conversations are underway on the Hill. The President, as I indicated, is seeking to bring people together by making phone calls. In the previous tax cut, there were 12 Democratic Senators who voted for it. And so, obviously, the majority is there to do it; it's just a question of whether there is a minority in a position to block the majority from helping the unemployed.

Q Who else did he call yesterday in addition to Breaux?

MR. FLEISCHER: He called a number of the Democratic senators, the more moderate Democratic senators who previously had voted for tax relief.

Q As I understand that in your answer to Helen, that you dismissed everything that was written in Yedioth Aharonot, the Israeli paper Wednesday as garbage, including his comment about King Fahd and about the Palestinians and about the -- Syria being no better than Taliban -- all this is garbage. But what about what's written today in The New York Times that was attributed to him saying that he contacted the Arab government to control the media in the Middle East, and that Al Jazeera is a big one?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, have you ever heard an elected leader who didn't complain about the press somewhere?

Q What about the freedom of the press?

MR. FLEISCHER: Absolutely. They have the freedom to publish exactly as they see fit.

Q But did the President ask for them to be controlled?

Q Did he ask them to control them?

MR. FLEISCHER: Not that I've ever heard. I mean, he's expressed frustration with the media. We've all heard that.

Q But is he trying to control the media and the press, through the government in the Middle East?

MR. FLEISCHER: He does not have that power. Not even here, of course.

Q We know he doesn't have the power.

Q Would you ask him that?

MR. FLEISCHER: No. He -- he has complaints. But that doesn't mean that he has the power to do anything about it. I don't think it's unexpected for a politician to complain about the press.

Q Ari, given the President's concern about the unemployed, does he still stand by a position he stated in the letter last week, that if the -- regardless of whether you enact any other part of the stimulus package, he would urge Congress to go forward separately on worker relief?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President is committed to the worker relief provisions. You have heard that, and the trade adjustment assistance and in other areas -- and that is why he is working so hard with the senators right now to get an agreement on a stimulus package.

There is time in the Congress to get it done, and the President is putting his shoulder to the wheel and working the Congress to help make that happen.

Q But I mean specifically on unemployment and health assistance, health care assistance --

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'm not going to speculate about any final outcomes. But the President is doing his part to make it happen.

Q But does he stand by that position?

MR. FLEISCHER: His letter speaks for itself, if that's what you're asking. Of course.

Q On the former Iranian hostages, has President Bush given any thought to overturning the prohibition regarding lawsuits by the former hostages? Apparently Iran does not oppose -- to that change.

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as you know, any actions by the government dealing with the former hostage crisis in Iran are governed by the Algiers Accords of, I think it was 1981. And that makes it plain about what type of treatment has to be provided involving anything with the hostages. And we will continue to meet our obligations under the Algiers accords.

Q Any thought of administration to overturning the Algiers Accords?

MR. FLEISCHER: As I just indicated, we will maintain, of course, our obligations under the Algiers Accords.

Q Ari, on the economy, it looks like the United Airlines mechanics are getting closer to striking. Is the President disposed to intervene to prevent a strike there?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President has made it clear that given the fragility of the airline industry, the importance for the American people of enjoying their right to travel, that he would look very unkindly on any action that would interfere with those rights. And so the President is prepared, when required or necessary, to name a mediation board. We will inform you, if and when that happens.

Q Textiles last week was a magic word. Is there any thought or second-guessing on the part of the administration -- second thoughts on the part of the administration they may have given too much ground on its free trade principles, and winning that fast track vote last week?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, in fact the President, in his meeting with a group of members today, noted to them that they did the right thing, for the right policy reasons, to promote American trade, which helps all workers. And he wants to listen very carefully to any of the thoughts that members have about textile workers. And he intends to do just that.

I remind you that as a result of the passage last week, what now happens, the Senate still has to act. This is another issue -- in fairness to the Senate, it was just passed by the House. The Senate has not acted on free trade. But as a result, if the Senate does act, and the President is given the authority to negotiate free trade agreements around the world, there are a series of consultations built in that will allow for further input from members before anything is submitted to the Congress.

Q Was that meeting with the textile -- these were members of the Textile Caucus?

MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.

Q Was that in any way a reward for their votes last week?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, this was after the vote was cast. The President thought it would be a good idea to have people down just to talk about some of the issues that were on their mind. He does that often with members, as you know.

Q Ari, the former Office of One America is now going into the private sector. It's opening up privately. What are your thoughts about that? That's the office that -- President Clinton's former office that dealt with race. What are your thoughts about that? And what is the Bush administration doing about dealing with racial issues in America right now, with your office that's in the Public Liaison's office?

MR. FLEISCHER: April, I have no information on the first part of your question. And on the second, there has been a group in the White House that has been working on matters pertaining to race. It is an issue that is at the fabric of our country. Several of the initiatives the President has advanced that frankly have found widespread support in the African-American community in particular are the faith-based initiative.

The President believes very strongly that there is a lot of churches, mosques, synagogues around the country that do a world of good to help alleviate poverty, but they are not allowed under the law to receive any federal funding. And the President believes deeply that that is a way to help in ways that play a very valuable role, and have met with the support of people who don't typically support ideas that Republicans have. And it's part of the initiative that he's bringing to alleviate poverty.

Q Ari, a follow-up. Poverty is different from racism, in many respects.


Q What specifically has the administration done since January 21 through this office to help alleviate the racism problem that still exists in America?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think much of that is also set in the tone and the manner in which the President acts. If you recall, immediately after the attack at the World Trade Center, on the Monday afterwards -- the attack took place on a Tuesday -- on the Monday afterwards, the President visited a mosque to remind Americans that the importance of treating all individual Americans with respect, with dignity, and to honor their rights. In meetings the President had with members of Congress, he urged all of them to set that same tone as we fight a war. And that's something you have heard repeatedly from the President, and you will continue to hear.

Q What about the ban on racial profiling, though? What about the ban on racial profiling?

MR. FLEISCHER: The Department of Justice is still working on the President's initiative, as announced in the State of the Union, to end racial profiling.

Q At the Oval Office event, the President said he did not know if we, the United States, would get bin Laden tomorrow or sometime in the future. To the ears of some Americans, the reference to tomorrow might prove very tantalizing, indeed. I know you're not going to get into operational details, but what can you tell us about all of the briefings the President has received recently about how close forces are to getting bin Laden? And what expectations should Americans have about actually getting this done sooner rather than later?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President has used that same phraseology previously about how long the war might last, et cetera. So the President says that to remind the American people that there is no telling how long the war will last, there's no telling how long any one operation bringing bin Laden to justice will last. But I really would refer you to the Department of Defense.

I think the Secretary addressed this yesterday, and he said we still don't have exact knowledge about where Osama bin Laden is. He was asked about different reports that he could be in the country, that he could be out of Afghanistan, and he said, you know, there is no telling for certain. We do continue to believe that he is in Afghanistan.

Q You said this morning you very strongly believe he's in Afghanistan. You said that to us this morning, that the latest information is --

MR. FLEISCHER: All of the information continues to point in that direction. That's correct.

Q About Thailand, what specifically does the President want Thailand to do as far as cooperation on terrorism? Even the fact that Thailand earlier announced that it would take unusual stands and follow the U.N. lead?

MR. FLEISCHER: Thailand has been very helpful in the effort in the war on terrorism. The President expressed his appreciation to the Prime Minister for their efforts. And I think I would refer you to the government of Thailand if they wanted to define exactly what role they're playing. It's not for the American government to do.

But the President expressed his appreciation in the meeting.

Q A follow-up. There was a report, two reports in the Thai press. One was about two hijackers who spent time in Thailand before entering the U.S. And another report was about the Thailand Prime Minister considering sending Muslim contingents to join the U.N. peacekeeping in Afghanistan. What does the President think about this, too?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not familiar with either report, and it did not come up in the meeting.

Q Ari, in practical terms, is there any downside to Russia's refusal to join us in withdrawing from ABM? Or is it mainly sort of just a public display of unity that we're losing?

MR. FLEISCHER: You know, when you look around the world, Russia included, about the reaction to the President's decision yesterday to move forward with developing a missile defense system outside the ABM Treaty, what a difference a year makes. Earlier this year, people said that the President took this step, it would lead to a resumption of the Cold War, an immediate buildup of nuclear arms. And it's not doing that at all.

In fact, the relationship with Russia has been so much to the point this year that the United States and Russia are talking about a new strategic framework, new cooperation in the war on terrorism, a new economic role for Russia that leans toward the West. And that is the strength of this relationship that's been built between the United States and Russia.

All the naysayers, all the doomsayers have been -- every indication is that they are wrong and have been proved wrong. And as a result of the President's leadership, in the President's opinion, this is going to lead to a more peaceful world.

Q If there has been no downside, why did he try so hard to convince the Russians to do this?

MR. FLEISCHER: Because the President believes in the power of diplomacy and the power of reaching agreements. But he also, in the course of all those conversations with Russia, was able to bring the relationship to the point where a new strategic framework is underway.

And also I think, as I indicated in yesterday's briefing, it became very clear that any attempt to try to amend the treaty would lead to the permanent employment act for negotiators and lawyers. It would have been so complicated and so mind-boggling to determine whether any one test fulfilled the terms of the treaty.

I was reminded by one of the arms control experts yesterday that it took some four years for the Clinton administration to negotiate with the Russian arms control authorities a possible test up in Alaska. Four years for what was just one small test in an overall system, where the President is seeking a robust testing. It would have just led to more conflict with Russia, not less.

Q Ari, is the President aware of, and pleased by, the Gallup Poll report that national approval of his Attorney General is now in the 70s?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think that's another indication that many of the naysayers and the critics at the beginning of this administration were wrong. The President knows that General Ashcroft is doing a superb job in protecting our country from terrorism and honoring the rights of individual citizens.

Q Speaking of -- a follow-up -- speaking of naysayers, is the President aware of General Ashcroft's leading opponent, Chairman Leahy, having during the Reagan administration resigned from the Senate Intelligence Committee for twice leaking classified information to the media?

MR. FLEISCHER: I have no information on that, Les.

Q Is he aware of it? You're aware of it, aren't you, Ari?

Q Back on the bin Laden tape. That quote that you read from Egypt sounded like it was from a political analyst. Have you heard anything more definitive from the government? And isn't that important to do so, given that there was a lot of skepticism --

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I was reading -- there are a couple different types of quotes. There are different quotes from government, different quotes from experts. I would have to check with the State Department or other sources to see if that's readily available.

Q Ari, I know the question has been asked, but the FDA is taking steps against the American Red Cross for the way they have been handling the blood supply. Does the President have any feeling or any opinions on this matter?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, the President wants to make certain that all steps are taken to make certain that the blood supply is safe. And this is being monitored; I would refer you to the Department of Health and Human Services if you want to get the more fact-based assessment of the situation involving the blood supply.

Q Can we get the week ahead, please?

MR. FLEISCHER: Week ahead? The week ahead. As of this moment on Friday, not much.

Q That's good.

Q Thank you. (Laughter.)

MR. FLEISCHER: At this moment there are no public events at the White House on Monday. The President will make remarks in honor of Eid al Fitr in the East Room on Tuesday, which is the end of Ramadan. On Wednesday and Thursday, there are no public events at this moment at the White House. And on Friday, the President will meet with the President of Kazakhstan in the Oval Office. And we will provide updates to the schedule as needed, and clearly it is needed.

Thank you, everybody. Have a great weekend.

END 1:08 P.M. EST

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