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

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
March 26, 2002

Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer

The James S. Brady Briefing Room

12:35 P.M. EST

MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. Let me give you a report on the President's day, and I'll be happy to take your questions. The President this morning had his intelligence briefings on the war and on the homeland front from the CIA and the FBI. Early this afternoon the President will make an announcement about his nominees to the United States Senate for the positions of Director of the National Institute of Health and Surgeon General of the United States.

And later this afternoon, the President will meet with the Prime Minister of New Zealand. I anticipate that in that meeting the President will offer thanks for the support in the war against terror that New Zealand has provided, as well as discussing areas of cooperation on counterterrorism, regional issues, as well as some trade issues.

And with that, I'm more than happy to take your questions.

Q Ari, a wire just crossed that said Sharon has said on television that conditions are not ripe for Arafat to attend the Arab summit in the Middle East. Have you spoken to him --

MR. FLEISCHER: I cannot confirm that, and any information, as you know, that would develop during the course of my briefing I'll go back and take a look at. But I cannot confirm that. I inquired shortly before I came here --

Q Has the President spoken with Sharon, and since we heard from you this morning, has there been anything?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, the communications were conducted at the level that I've indicated -- the Secretary of State and others, the normal diplomatic channels made the position clear. The President has said it, I believe publicly, about what our position is, and so our position is clear.

Q Does the President think that Israel has the right to decide who makes a move in Ramallah? Is it under military occupation? Has it been annexed? What right does Sharon have to tell Arafat where he can go?

MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, the President's position is simple and clear; the President thinks that --

Q Well, obviously he has no power with the man.

MR. FLEISCHER: The President's position is simple and clear, and we're dealing a sovereign government and governments have the right to make determinations. The American position is clear. The American position is that Israel should seriously consider allowing Chairman Arafat to attend.

Q Ari, have you had a chance to work up a response to Mubarak announcing that he isn't going either?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, I'm not entirely clear on that. I think that's something for Egypt to decide about a meeting that it wants to attend or not attend involving the Arab League. I don't know that that's an issue for the United States to enter into.

Q What concern, if Mubarak doesn't go, if Arafat doesn't go, how concerned is the administration that the Saudi Arabian peace plan will just fall apart?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President hopes that the meeting in Beirut will focus on ways to find peace, as opposed to take attendance. The President believes that no matter who goes, the ideas that were advanced by Crown Prince Abdullah can be very helpful in creating a consensus among Arab nations that there needs to be a path to peace in the Middle East.

That path to peace has got to begin with a recognition of Israel's right to exist in security. And the President has always said that the Palestinians have a right to a state. And the President believes that this summit in Beirut can help accomplish that goal of the Crown Prince's ideas.

Q There's another problem, which is that Crown Prince Abdullah's original proposal spoke or normalization of relations with Israel. That doesn't seem to be in the text of the resolution that's going to be offered in Beirut and, in fact, other nations have said they have no intentions of normalizing relations. What's the President's reaction to this watering down of the original proposal?

MR. FLEISCHER: Let me tell you what the President thinks, and why the President, the day that it was announced about the Crown Prince's ideas, welcomed them the way he did. The Mideast has been marred by violence, and in so many occasions, by a lack of hope. The Crown Prince's ideas broke with that, and represented a gleam of light, a ray of hope, in a Mideast that has too much violence and not enough of a focus by people on how to stop the violence.

So what the President was encouraged by was a leading Arab nation coming out, as Jordan has, as Egypt has, suggesting that there was a way to achieve peace in the Middle East through the recognition of Israel's right to exist. And in the midst of all the setbacks and the violence, along came this notion. The President wants to create an environment where the Crown Prince's ideas can be developed further.

So whatever the exact language -- and it will be important to see what exact language will be -- the President wants to move the process forward. And that doesn't mean it all has to be done in one fell swoop, but it does mean advance a good idea when a good idea is offered. And that's what the President hopes will happen in Beirut.

Q If I may follow up, doesn't it seem as if the process is in retreat, though, from the original proposal which was bold, a normalization of relations, now stepping back and farther back, and more conditions being added. Doesn't it look as if this is not going anywhere?

MR. FLEISCHER: The breakthrough in the Saudi idea was the recognition of Israel's right to exist, whether that's in the form of full normalization or in any other form. It's a recognition of Israel's right to exist. And that is a centerpiece of the international effort. And that's the area that the President referred to.

What the President hopes will happen in Beirut is that all the nations that are there, regardless of who is there, will put their shoulder to the wheel to try to achieve an environment for peace in the Middle East that involves a recognition of Israel's right to exist.

Q But isn't the administration concerned that if Arafat isn't there, that becomes more of the focus, and criticism of Israel more likely because Arafat is not allowed to attend that summit?

MR. FLEISCHER: Clearly, the President thinks that the best course is to focus on peace, and that can easier be accomplished if Chairman Arafat is there.

Q There is a concern, no question, that if he's not there that it will be harder for the countries to focus on moving forward, and maybe more focus on criticism --

MR. FLEISCHER: I can just reiterate the President's position. I think you're familiar with it.

Q Ari, has Secretary of State Powell talked to Sharon?

MR. FLEISCHER: You'd have to address that to the State Department. I don't know.

Q Wouldn't the White House know if there's conversations at a higher level --

MR. FLEISCHER: Believe it or not, the White House does not keep track of every Cabinet Secretary's call. The State Department will be briefing later, and they'll be able to answer that.

Q This is a major issue, and --

MR. FLEISCHER: I understand, Jacobo.

Q -- Kelly and everybody else has said here --

MR. FLEISCHER: You'll have your chance to ask the State Department in just over an hour, or under an hour.

Q Let me ask you this question -- again on attendance, you have said, the people from this podium, that this is a very important meeting, that you hope the Beirut Arab League meeting focuses on peace. But everybody seems to be aware that they're going to be focusing on who is there and who isn't there if Arafat doesn't go.

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, the President believes that no matter what decisions are made vis a vis attendance, this should not be a lost opportunity for those who are there, because they should still focus on how to create peace in the Middle East, regardless of anything involving attendance. That still remains the core purpose of the summit, in the President's opinion. And so, again, regardless of what happens involving any attendance of any officials, the President still hopes that the leaders who do gather will focus on how to create an environment for peace in the Middle East.

Q The Northern Virginia Muslim community is complaining about the raids on their businesses and homes, especially the Pakistanis and Saudis. At the same time, according to the reports, 15 of the 19 terrorists were from Saudi Arabia, and also money may be flowing from Saudi Arabia. So how are you dealing with these raids with the Muslim communities? And also, what message are you going to send or dealing with Saudi Arabia, since all these reports are going on, what they support for the al Qaeda?

MR. FLEISCHER: Goyle, your question deals with law enforcement. And when it comes to that, the President knows that justice is blind, that justice will go wherever they have evidence and reason to believe that they can protect this country. And I would refer you to the Department of Justice for any specifics of law enforcement actions they have taken. But that's an important part of protecting our country, and to do so in a way that focuses on evidence, while protecting the rights of all American citizens.

Q Earlier I'd asked about Sharon's comments. He was quoted as saying he regrets promising President Bush that he would not harm or expel Arafat. Are those statements helpful?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President continues to believe that the peace process that's in place in the Middle East began with the Oslo Accords, to which Chairman Arafat is a signatory. And the President, through General Zinni, is working very hard to bring the parties together, and that includes the Palestinian Authority and Chairman Arafat with Israel and Israel's leaders in an effort to create peace. Those talks are ongoing. The security talks have begun, and that's the process that the President believes in.

Q Does the White House have any words to Sharon about such comments as that?

MR. FLEISCHER: The White House will continue to focus on the process that I just outlined, which is with Chairman Arafat and the Palestinian Authority, through General Zinni.

Q Ari, part of the interest in that statement is that Sharon is saying that a promise was extracted from him in his talks with President Bush that he would not harm Arafat. Did the President ask Sharon to make a pledge not to harm Arafat in his talks with him?

MR. FLEISCHER: Jim, again, the President believes that as a result of the process that is been set in place through Oslo, as well as through the Mitchell path to peace, that discussions should be carried out with the Palestinian Authority, and that includes Chairman Arafat. I will not get into any of the private discussions the President may have had in the Oval Office. But that's what the President believes, and that's been made clear.

Q What is the White House's next course of action? What happens the rest of the day? Is the President going to talk to Sharon? What is your plan?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'll keep you updated if there are any phone calls from the President.

Q There will be some action, you can't just let this sit there.

MR. FLEISCHER: I will keep you updated if there's any action from the President.

Q Three follow-ups. (Laughter.)

MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you for cutting back one.

Q Does the United States want to pressure Israel to return to the pre-1967 borders? Is the Arab proposal -- the Saudi proposal up for negotiations? And the Arab foreign ministers are asking for $55 million a month to support the Palestinian Authority. Will the U.S. help with that kind of money? Does it support that?

MR. FLEISCHER: On the question of the borders, that's the exact reason that General Zinni is there, is to begin the process so that the types of political questions that involve boundaries and borders and settlements can begin in earnest; so that the Palestinians and the Israelis can have talks over just those issues, to bring a lasting peace to the Middle East. That's exactly what the Mitchell Accords are all about, without making any judgments about what those borders should be. That's something that the parties need to decide, and needs to be decided in a way that Israel can live in peace and security, while the rights of the Palestinian people are recognized. And that's exactly what the President has called for.

But to get to that point, it all begins with a reduction of the violence. And that's part of the reason that General Zinni has been working so hard with the Palestinians and the Israelis to allow the political talks over such issues that are important as boundaries, et cetera, to begin. But that is a long process and it begins with a cessation of the violence or a reduction of the violence. So that's where that matter stands.

Q The money, $55 million a month?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not familiar with that.

Q That's the figure that the Arab foreign ministers have proposed today in their draft.

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, I'm going to let the meeting take place and we'll see what finally emerges from the meeting.

You had a third; that's two.

Q Do you know if the Saudis are willing to negotiate their proposals?

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, the summit will begin; they'll -- as all these type of national gatherings do, there are drafts that circulate, and then we'll see what the ultimate document is.

Q Ari, Sharon is now quoted as saying that the U.S. must guarantee Israel's right to refuse Arafat to return from the Beirut summit as a condition for letting him go there in the first place. What is --

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, Peter, I think we said earlier, if there are any statements that have been made as this briefing began, I'm going to have to go back and evaluate anything that just broke because, obviously, I haven't heard it; I'm standing here, I'm not familiar with that specific statement.

Q Let me ask you another question on the same topic then. Do you feel that perhaps too much faith is being put in this Saudi proposal? Is there another vehicle that the administration is counting on now? So much of the emphasis seems to be on it, and as was pointed out in a couple other questions, the interpretation of it or the wording of it seems to have changed from its introduction to getting to the table in Beirut.

MR. FLEISCHER: Here's what the President thinks needs to happen next. And this is why he thinks the Saudi proposal, the Saudi ideas were so helpful. He believes that all nations in the area, including the Arab nations that are going to gather in Beirut, need to seize this moment and find a new path to peace. There can be no alternative to peace in the Middle East. And that is why he believed that the Crown Prince's statements were so helpful.

As I said earlier, the Middle East has been beset with violence for decades. The situation has gotten to a very, very violent point in the last little more than a year. And that is why the President thought the Saudi statement was so helpful. For an Arab nation that has not yet recognized Israel to say for the first time that they'd be willing to recognize Israel's right to exist and live in security, the President thought was a very helpful statement.

The President would like to see other Arab nations make similar statements. He understands that there's going to be discussions, that it's going to take time to iron out all the terms of this. But that was not a statement that had been made before and it was a statement that the President welcomed.

The President thinks that the Beirut summit offers an opportunity for other nations to do the same, and that's the best way to start the process in earnest to achieve peace in the region.

Q New documents show that the Secretary of Energy Abraham met almost exclusively with industry representatives in coming up with his recommendations on the energy task force. Doesn't this seem to support environmental groups who say they were cut out of the process?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, not at all, because, as the Energy report showed, it had 105 recommendations in total, and 42 specific recommendations are aimed at conservation and the environment. And in formulating those, there were a great number of people who met with a variety of stakeholders, including conservation groups, including environmental groups. So people are focusing on one person, as opposed to all the people who were part of the energy plan.

The Environmental Protection Agency, for example, Governor Whitman held a meeting with a number of environmentalists. As you all know from watching the White House -- that's what I said, she held a meeting with a number of environmentalists. As you know from watching the White House, the Vice President had a meeting with a group of environmental leaders who gathered right here at the microphones and on the TV cameras following their meeting here at the White House with the Vice President.

So there have been a series of meetings. But what it comes down to is what did the administration do and what did the administration recommend. And in there, there were 42 recommendations specifically at environmental issues.

Q But is there any way that you can release the list of all the people that were met by administration officials on this energy task force?

MR. FLEISCHER: Much of that information is coming out now in the process of these FOIA requests.

Q Another name that pops up on Secretary Abraham's meeting list is Karl Rove. Can you explain why the President's chief political guy was involved in the development of energy policy?

MR. FLEISCHER: Ron, Karl is a senior advisor to the President and provides his guidance and counsel on a number of issues. Karl has a very broad port folio that includes, as you know, the Office of Public Liaison, which is a group in the White House that has outreach and talks to a variety of different groups. That falls under Karl's rubric. So Karl is a senior advisor to the President; the President values his advice.

Q Ari, I would like to know, on the same subject, what was the criteria for the omissions and blackouts in the paperwork that was released yesterday?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, that is a part of --

Q Who was the principal censor in this undertaking?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it should go without saying, I don't accept the premise of that question or that specific word. This is a well-known body of law dealing with FOIA requests, and the whole purpose of the FOIA program, the Freedom of Information Act program, is for the public and the press to have access to information from the government. It's set out in a law written by the Congress, passed bipartisan, and reinforced by Supreme Court rulings.

In the law, and according to the Supreme Court, the government, while it provides this information, also has to protect the rights of the government to have deliberative meetings and to be able to fully serve the public by having the best guidance provided to officials.

So let me read to you, actually, from a Supreme Court case upholding the FOIA law, as was cited. Terry, this is the Department of Interior and Bureau of Indian Affairs versus claimant Water Users Protective Association, decided March 5, 2001. And this is a reference in there, and this deals with precisely the question you asked, about the information that's redacted under the Freedom of Information Act law:

"The deliberative process privilege rests on the obvious realization that officials cannot communicate candidly among themselves if each remark is a potential item of discovery and front-page news, and its object is to enhance the quality of agency decisions by protecting open and frank discussion among those who make them within the government."

Now, there's a big group in Washington, D.C. that is expert in obtaining information from the government through FOIA -- many researchers, many academicians, many journalists. And there is a series of guides for what can and cannot be obtained under FOIA. The ACLU has issued its own statement about what can be obtained. It makes clear in the ACLU's papers that materials involving advice or recommendations or opinions which are part of the process of government decision-making are exempt from FOIA under this law, as upheld by the courts.

The Society for Professional Journalists, in their instructions to journalists on how to apply for FOIA information, also makes clear the exemptions under the law which were covered today in the material -- or last night -- in the material that was released.

So this is in accordance with the law, designed to get the public and the press information, while allowing the government to have a process that serves the public by providing for good deliberation in the decision-making process.

Q Can I follow on that?

MR. FLEISCHER: Kelly, we'll come back forward later. David.

Q I have an arms control question. What's the condition in the President's arm? Is his control any better than it was a year ago at this time? (Laughter.) And can we expect to see him at some opening day or some early season game throwing out the first pitch?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I would like to report for the record that the Yankees will be in Baltimore next Monday. The briefing will probably be early that day, as the Yankees prepare to win on opening day. I also regret to inform you that I'm not aware of any opening day plans for the President to participate. It may await T-ball on the South Lawn.

Q To go back to the previous question about the blackouts, are you saying that it's the Justice Department under those laws that actually physically does that, or is it in consultation with the White House Counsel --

MR. FLEISCHER: It's each agency, and they work with the Justice Department. Each agency has counsel, so they work with the Justice Department. The Justice Department helped each agency to make certain that the law applied uniformly throughout each agency.

Q And what's the White House Counsel's Office's role in all that?

MR. FLEISCHER: The White House Counsel's Office played a general role in just being generally aware of what the court case was, of course, where the agencies were obligated under a judge's order to release the information last night that set out the timetable for the release of the information. But the decisions about what information gets released, et cetera, the decisions about the application of the law are made at the agency level by their attorneys, as well as with the Department of Justice.

Q Ari, during the Hispanic roundtable last Thursday, House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt said that the Democrats in the House are reviewing the democratic principles that they presented last summer, and that hopefully the will have legislation when they come back from the break on immigration reform. Where is the White House standing right now when it comes to immigration reform?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there are a series of initiatives involving immigration reform, some of which have been passed by the House that are awaiting action in the Senate -- (245(i) is the principal one, but there are other issues that deal more broadly with the topic. But the President hopes that the whole issue of guest worker program will be something that can be a focus of the government -- 245(i) is the beginning of that process. The President would welcome any ideas that Congressman Gephardt has. He thinks it's a very important issue for our country. And that's where it stands.

Q Two questions for Latin America. Besides what President Bush and President Fox says about Cuba, the government of that island insists that Fidel Castro was only a day and a half in Monterrey because it was a direct request from the U.S. government to the Mexican government, and says Washington is lying about it.

And the second question is, Democrats on the Hill said that President Bush went to Latin America with an empty hand and are returning with empty hands in terms of trade and other issues. What is the response of the White House?

MR. FLEISCHER: Number one, on your first question, that question was asked to the President directly, and he answered it. And I think that the world knows that any time they have a choice between what Fidel Castro says and what anybody else says, you can believe anybody else.

On the second question about trade, it was interesting, because one of the criticisms that was made of President Bush early on in 2001 was from the Senate, and many Democrats in the Senate, who called him unilateral. Well, if you take a look at the Senate dragging its feet on the passage of trade promotion authority, which has been passed in the House, 245(i) which has been passed in the House, there are a series of very important steps that are concrete that can help the developing world, that can help Latin America and Central America, South America in trade and promoting their democracy and promoting economic strength. And the Senate is sitting on these issues.

The President will continue to work with the Senate and hope that the Senate is able to take up trade promotion authority and pass it. The House could, the Senate should. The House passed 245(i), including its border protections, the Senate can do the same thing -- unfortunately, they have not.

Another issue which came up was the Andean Trade Preferences Act. The Senate has taken no action on that, which is a very important way of developing the Andean economy. And when people talk about how to help people who are in poverty, trade has been one of the key promoters of growth in Central and South America. And there was a lot of frustration on behalf of the Andean leaders as they discussed it with the President and Peru, about the lack of passage of Andean Trade Preferences Act. I think one of the Presidents said that the Senate is, his words, managing this to death. And it would be very helpful if the Senate would pass that legislation.

Q Ari, on Governor Ridge --

MR. FLEISCHER: We'll come back for it. You know our routine.

Q A Latin America question --

MR. FLEISCHER: Elizabeth, you've had one.

Q Well, but I want another. That's the topic.

Q Ari, a non-profit group that wants to preserve English as the only official U.S. language has filed suit against the administration.

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm sorry, say it again. I couldn't hear you.

Q A non-profit group that would like to preserve English as the only official U.S. language has filed suit against the administration over the President's executive order regarding the English language. Do you have anything on that, or how the administration might respond to it?

MR. FLEISCHER: First I've heard about it, so let me take a look.

Q One other subject, if I could. Do the health appointees being announced today by the President, do they share the President's ethical concerns on a range of issues, including human cloning and stem-cell research? And how important are the views of these appointees, given advances in science?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President will be making an announcement shortly, and he'll be sharing a lot of that information with you. But suffice it to say that these are administration appointees. They serve the President, they serve his policies. And I don't think you would expect the President to appoint people who held wildly different views that he does.

Q Ari, when the President urged Prime Minister Sharon to allow Mr. Arafat to go to Beirut, did he have in mind a one-way ticket out of Ramallah?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think there's -- we're going to take this in turn, and again I'm not going to comment on anything that is breaking while I'm in this briefing. But let's see what the events are on the ground in the Middle East before I give a direct answer to that question. If and when he goes, I'll be happy to give the answer to that. But again, I don't deal in hypotheticals. But let's see what the facts are on the ground first.

Okay, James has patiently waited.

Q And Les Kinsolving is patiently waiting.

MR. FLEISCHER: I understand. Well, let's not use the word patiently, but -- James. (Laughter.)

Q Thank you, Ari. Director Ridge has made a -- what is being termed a compromise offer to meet with lawmakers and answer their questions about the budget. Already there are indications from Senate Democrats, including Senator Byrd, that his compromise offer is less than what they are looking for. Could you explain the administration's rational behind the so-called compromise that he offered, and what do you make of the criticism of the compromise?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, this is just one more example of how Governor Ridge and this administration have provided and will continue to provide a free flow of information to the Congress, to answer any and all questions they have about homeland security.

Q Why not do it through the committee structure then?

MR. FLEISCHER: That's an old issue that the President has dealt with directly. And the request by the Congress, even though they're already receiving the answers to their questions, to change the traditions which have worked very well between the Congress and the executive, on testimony by assistants to the President, is a request that cannot and will not be honored. The President has made that clear.

I think what's so unusual here is that Congress is receiving all this information. Governor Ridge has made another effort to provide information to the Congress. But the President hopes that the Congress' message back will not be, my way or the highway, we'll only do it our way. And this administration will continue to work closely with the Congress, to work with the leadership, to work with Senator Byrd, to work with Senator Stevens, and we're hopeful that a good accommodation can be reached.

Q Do you think that the Senate Democrats then are playing politics with the Homeland Security budget, and information relating thereto?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, I don't think so. I think this is really a classic executive legislative issue involving longstanding issues in our federal system between the branches of the government. But that's, again, another reason why the President thinks it's so important not to change something that has worked very well, involving who the Congress has the right to call down for testimony. That has not extended previously to advisors to the President. It applies to the operational officers of the government. It applies to the Cabinet Secretaries.

But the only instances, in modern times, of senior advisors to the President testifying are in either cases where there's been allegations of some type of official or personal wrongdoing. That's not the case here, or anything close to that. And so this is a dramatic break from the way Congress usually does its business. And the President is resisting that, and will continue to, for good reason.

Q What's the current offer?

MR. FLEISCHER: Governor Ridge has been talking with Senator Byrd and others, and has sent a letter up to the Hill, where he has made clear that he would be available to meet with any number of congressional leaders, congressional members, House and Senator, whatever numbers they decide, all of them, if that's what they sought, in a public forum. And so the questions could be -- the American people could watch and see it and hear it.

Q A single appearance with all 535 members of the Congress, or is this for a number of appearances --

MR. FLEISCHER: I'll get you a copy of the letter, Jim. I think it was made available yesterday.

Q Just to clarify two points. The President has welcomed the Saudi plan, but has not endorsed the terms, correct?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President has welcomed the ideas, that's correct.

Q Also, the Israelis have complained about the fact that in Saudi Arabia you still have a number of texts being taught in schools, suggesting for example that Jews use blood as ritual sacrifice. Does the administration -- does the President think that the Saudis have done enough to control this type of propaganda?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President thinks that the information that is provided to people in the region is a very important issue. And the President thinks that one of the reasons there is such hatred in the region is because -- the information has got to be factual, it's got to honest, otherwise old hatreds will endure.

And in regard to the specific question you raised, about an article that appeared in the Saudi press, Dr. Condoleezza Rice, the President's National Security Advisor, brought that up directly in a meeting with the Saudi Ambassador. And the President was very concerned about that. And the President was pleased to see the article was retracted by the editor of that Saudi newspaper.

Q How does the administration view the overnight decline in the value of the Argentine peso? And does the administration have any contingency plans at hand if the situation continues to deteriorate?

MR. FLEISCHER: There's no change in our position there. And that is the importance of Argentina continuing to work on its internal economic reforms, to come up with a sound economic plan, and to continue to work with the Department of Treasury and with the IMF.

Q At any point during the Latin America trip was this issue discussed either with leaders of other countries, or with Argentinean representatives who might have been available in Monterrey?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not sure if it was discussed at a ministerial level or some other level, but to the best of my knowledge -- and I sat in on most of the meetings the President had -- I don't recall that topic being brought up by any of the leaders there. The focus really was on trade issues, counterterrorism, on drugs and things of that nature. Could it have come up in something that I'm not aware of? I suppose it could have, but I don't recall that topic being raised.

Q Ari, regarding the President's trip tomorrow. A question to you yesterday claimed that the Confederate flag was raised on top of the South Carolina capitol, in defiance of civil rights. I checked with AP in Columbia, and they report that was wrong. It was raised in 1962, observing the Civil War centennial, when the Governor was Fritz Hollings, Democrat. My question, is the President aware of this? And is he aware of the number of black Confederate combat soldiers as he breaks the NAACP boycott tomorrow?

MR. FLEISCHER: Lester, the President is aware of all sides of this issue. And as the President said, a compromise -- or as I indicated yesterday, a compromise was entered into by Democrats and Republicans, reflecting the views of a variety of the communities in South Carolina. I think it's been a compromise that has met with widespread support. And the President has said that this is an issue about which the people of South Carolina can and should decide.

Q AP in Columbia also said that the average number of boycotters at the South Carolina borders is a dozen NAACP, plus a dozen Euros -- that's a white civil rights group -- both of whom have been sued by South Carolina's Attorney General. And my question is, has the President ever been at all embarrassed by the fact that some of the very bravest Confederate troops were lead by the Lone Star flag of Texas?

MR. FLEISCHER: Les, the President is looking forward to his visit to South Carolina, as he always does. And as I indicated on the issue with the flag --

Q He isn't ashamed of the fact that the Lone Star flag led some of the bravest Confederate troops, is he, Ari? Is he, Ari?

MR. FLEISCHER: Les, I'm not really sure what your question is asking.

Q Just to follow up on the health nominees. It has taken the President 15 months to nominate an NH director, and he did reject advice from some of his top aides, including the Secretary of Health and Human Services, reportedly. And your answer before inferred, perhaps, that there was a litmus test on some issues, saying that they wouldn't differ markedly from the President's position. And there's certainly been a lot of talks about views on stem cell, abortion and so forth. It is appropriate to have the top health appointees given a litmus test, if that's going to happen?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, your word, not mine. Litmus test, I don't share that. But what I have said is that the -- it's not unusual for anybody to think that the people the President's going to appoint in his administration are going to broadly support his ideas. But I can cite you people in this administration who differed with the President on some of the issues that you just made. They've been appointed to jobs, clearly showing that there is no specific litmus test, as you put it.

But you should expect people who are going to be in these positions to support the ideas that the President has; otherwise they might not want to -- be comfortable serving an administration. I think it would be odd for somebody to be in an administration, or have a law and duty in a certain area that's an area in which they differ with the President, and then expect to serve at the pleasure of the President.

Q Did the President first meet with Zerhouni and go over these views together to make sure that they were in sync?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'm not indicating who the President is going to announce. The President will be announcing that himself in just a little while. I don't want to get ahead of the President.

Q Did the President discuss those views with the individual to make sure that they were in sync?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not clear on any of the meetings the President himself had with any of his potential appointees in these matters.

Q Another Latin American question. Did the President ask for clemency for Laurie Berenson in Peru --

MR. FLEISCHER: He did not.

Q The wires were this morning quoting the Vice President of Peru saying he did.

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, I know. I was in the meeting; he did not.

Q Well, where did --

MR. FLEISCHER: Are you asking me to explain all the accuracies and inaccuracies of the press?

Q It was very different from what Secretary Powell briefed on the plane. So what is the President's position on Laurie Berenson?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President, as you were told in Peru, raised the issue of Laurie Berenson, noted that due process was afforded in her second trial, and there's currently an international commission that is reviewing the matter. And the President, as you were told, is awaiting the report of the international commission. That's what the President discussed with President Toledo.

Q The Vice President of Peru was wrong?

MR. FLEISCHER: I can only tell you what the President of the United States has said.

Q Going back to the energy document, you say that it's a balanced report, but how is it balanced in terms of seeking input if you have the Secretary of Energy having eight meetings with a slew of energy officials, and you have one meeting with the EPA Administrator with environmental groups? How is that balanced?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think the best way to answer that is, frankly, this is the report and people can read it for themselves. In fact, it's available on And I hope people will read it and they'll see that of the recommendations that are in here, there are many in here that were supported by the environmental community.

I can walk you through some of the specifics on that if you're interested. But the report is balanced. It provides information both on how to develop energy supplies for a nation that has rising costs of gasoline right now. Surely the thing our nation needs is an increased supply of energy; that way costs can go down -- as well as enhanced conservation. That's what the report does.

There were many things that were requested by people that they didn't get on all sides of the issue, as well as things that people thought were good policy. In terms of some of these environmental provisions, I'll just tell you that the fiscal centerpiece was a $3-billion provision to provide for hybrid fuel-cell vehicles. That is the biggest financial aspect in this plan, and it's a very conservation-minded proposal, aimed at individuals to help them buy more fuel-efficient vehicles.

Q Well, when Secretary Abraham is meeting with corporations and apparently all but a few of them were large contributors to the Republican Party, how does it not appear that in exchange for a contribution, you're getting access to meeting with the Secretary of Energy, where environmental and labor groups and consumer groups are getting one meeting with the EPA Administrator?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, I think many of those environmental groups sought the very provision that I just said -- the hybrid fuel vehicle proposal. That was something many environmental groups thought was good policy. The issues that arose and the policy recommendations that were made in this report were based on the merits. This report is designed for a nation that has an energy problem, and still has an energy problem. And that is why I think the President's proposal received as much bipartisan support as it did when it passed the House of Representatives.

If this plan was so written in the manner that you describe, why did so many Democrats in the House of Representatives vote for it? And many of the proposals that are being considered in the Senate, similarly, some of the groups that you were referring to, some of their proposals were so out of the mainstream that even the Democrat-controlled Senate did not agree to them.

Q When the District Court judge ruled the release of these documents, he specifically cautioned the administration against heavy redactions and withholding -- a liberal use of the rule to withhold, or interpretation of the rules to withhold information. And the organizations now are talking about second lawsuits, there are other hearings scheduled to debate the decisions that are being made here. Why did the administration choose to pick a second fight, in effect? This now will probably all end up back in court. Why continue to drag this thing out instead of just releasing in more generous fashion the information that people are seeking?

MR. FLEISCHER: The law under which the suit was brought provides for a way to protect the government's ability to serve the country by having a deliberative process for information --

Q Right, but -- in a conservative fashion, and you all have obviously -- there's a memo from Attorney General Ashcroft instructing you to err on the side of withholding information as opposed to the reverse. So just generally here, for the sake of us getting a clear understanding of the administration's policy on this, why choose to go that route, thus risk further lawsuits?

MR. FLEISCHER: The approach that the government took was in accordance with the law. And all the information was honored -- their information requests were honored in full accordance with the terms of the law. And that's what you should expect from the agencies and Justice.

Q But you're not worried about the political fallout from it in terms of continuing the controversy?

MR. FLEISCHER: Jean, what the President thinks is important is for a process to be in place that allows for the country to receive and energy proposal, all of which is public, which has been voted on in bipartisan fashion by the House of Representatives, that speaks for itself. The process that led up to that document is an important process and involves deliberations that allow for careful decisions to be made. Those decisions, once made, are fully shared with the country. And that's why this plan has moved forward and received the votes of the House the way it did. The President hopes that the Senate will do the same.

Q Ari, one more Latin American question. It has to do with something that came up yesterday, expressing Carter's trip to Havana, if he's approved by the Treasury Department. Yesterday you said that if he does go, you expect him to bring messages to Fidel Castro on freedom, jailing of prisoners, human rights. My question is, if he's approved by the Treasury Department, would he go with the tacit approval of the U.S. government?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as I indicated yesterday, there are specific laws that govern who travels, who can travel to Cuba for humanitarian missions. And the law is the law. And just as in any case, if the law speaks on this issue, the law is obeyed. And nothing changes from what I said yesterday about that.

Q Ari, in the litmus test question you said you could identify members of the administration who disagree with the President on policy. Would you please?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, Administrator Whitman, for example, is pro-choice.


Q Is the United States concerned that this decision -- apparent decision not to let Arafat out of Palestine, go to Beirut, that America will be aligned with that, that it will increase the feeling against America in the Middle East?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President thinks that it was important because the President thought that would be a way to have a summit that could focus on peace. The President hasn't done it as a result of perceptions or politics; the President has done it because he thinks that's the way to promote something that everybody in the Middle East --

Q Have we no point of persuasion with Sharon?

MR. FLEISCHER: Israel is a sovereign nation, and the United States makes its points clear.

Q We also supply them and arm it to the teeth, Israel. So we certainly have some clout.

MR. FLEISCHER: The administration has made its point clear.

Thank you.

END 1:16 P.M. EST

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