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 Home > News & Policies > April 2002

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
April 3, 2002

Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer

The James S. Brady Briefing Room

12:55 P.M. EST

MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. I have no opening statement, so I'll be happy to take your questions.

Q Does the administration still believe that in the Middle East a cease-fire must take hold first, in accordance with the Tenet war plan, before any political discussions concerning borders, refugees, settlements to take place?

MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, the President has repeatedly made clear that he thinks it would be very hard to achieve a peace in the Middle East until a cease-fire takes hold. He thinks the violence makes it harder to achieve a political solution. The President remains committed to both a political solution and to a diminution of the violence. The two do go together. But the President thinks it's much harder to have -- and it's just logical, so long as there is violence, it's very hard for both parties to engage in meaningful political talks.

Q So first there must be a cease-fire?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President believes it makes it much easier for both parties, logically thinking, to achieve political progress once a cease-fire takes hold.

But as the President indicated in Philadelphia last night, he remains committed to a political vision as he works for a cease-fire.

Q So what's the administration's response to the argument raised in this country, and certainly in the Arab world, that there has to be some promise, some hope, some prospect of political progress for the Palestinians to buy into a cease-fire?

MR. FLEISCHER: Which is exactly why the President, when he went to the United Nations, became the first President to give a speech to the United Nations calling for the creation of a state called Palestine, along side an Israel that can live in secure borders.

The President understands the political element to this, and that's why he is committed to helping bring the parties together. But realistically speaking, if you live on the ground in the Middle East today and there is so much violence, it makes it much harder to enter into meaningful political talks, until the violence can be diminished, eliminated, or brought under control.

Q But to separate the philosophical from the actual, at the moment, General Zinni and this administration is only engaged in discussions to secure a cease-fire, which is to say only negotiations among security officials. Or is there anyone at any level of the administration actually pursuing a dialogue about a political outcome for a Palestinian state today, now?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, clearly, the two are intertwined, Tenet and Mitchell, as we've been saying repeatedly. There's the Tenet plan which focuses on creating an environment in which the peace talks can be more fruitful. There remains in place the Mitchell accords, which are the more political areas that can be discussed.

I think it goes without saying that it's going to be easier to make progress on the political front if the violence is reduced. And so it makes sense that both are important, but the focus has got to be, in the President's opinion, on reducing the violence, to make the political talks more fruitful. But there should be no question, the United States is committed to progress on both.

Q That's their direct answer, though, to the question --

MR. FLEISCHER: The President has always said, make a 100 percent effort.

Q I'm sorry, can I just follow up?

MR. FLEISCHER: Go ahead, David.

Q Is there a direct answer, though, to the question of what's happening now? Is there any political discussion going on at any level of the administration? Because what we know is that General Zinni is engaged in conversations with security officials to work out the arrangements of a cease-fire.


Q Is anything happening at any other level of the administration that has to do with the political settlement?

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I refer you to what the President said last night, and that's a message that's conveyed on a regular basis to the leaders in the region. The President had a series of phone calls over the weekend, as well, to Mideast leaders. And the President, in those conversations, did articulate again his political vision of a Palestinian state. So, yes, there are talks that go on. But as the President has indicated many times, it's very hard to get to that in a meaningful way so long as there's so much violence.

Q Ari, many people are saying this goes beyond politics, with all the intensity of last week. It's more of a heart issue, especially when you have these suicide bombings, and the White House is calling on Yasser Arafat to speak to his people in Arabic. But will that make a difference? And is it realistic to think that politics plays a role right now when, as I said, it's an issue for many of these people, an issue of the heart?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President believes that anybody who puts on explosives to kill themselves, and in the process to take the lives of innocents along with them, is a terrorist, regardless of what action or alleged motive they act out of; it's terrorism. And that is what makes it such a difficult problem in the region. It's what led to the violence again and to the actions that Israel took.

The President is dedicated to trying to find a way to bring the parties together. General Zinni remains in the region, and the President is always exploring for constructive ways. But, again, the United States will continue to put a shoulder to the wheel to bring the parties together. Chairman Arafat has committed himself previously to a peace process; the President still believes that Chairman Arafat can and should live up to the commitments made. And that's, along with Israel, making clear, making certain that its actions -- keep in mind that peace has got to be the goal at the end of the day -- that's the way the President still sees to bring the parties together, and he'll continue to push.

Q Who in the administration has made the last contact with Yasser Arafat?

MR. FLEISCHER: Check with the State Department. General Zinni is on the ground there, as well.

Q But, Ari, with the intensity of everything going on, you would think that the administration -- you could tell us, you know, who has had the last contact and when with Yasser Arafat.

MR. FLEISCHER: I just indicated General Zinni is on the ground there as well, having contacts with Palestinian officials.

Q But I'm talking Yasser Arafat.

MR. FLEISCHER: April, I'm answering the question, and I speak for the President directly. I can talk to you about the President's contacts; you need to talk to the authorities directly involved at the State Department.

Q Is the President putting any pressure on Israel to pull back from Bethlehem? The Christian churches, so forth, had asked for sort of some relief from this pressure -- tanks and so forth? Is he aware -- is the President aware of all this?

MR. FLEISCHER: You've heard the President's statements on this.

Q Ari, I have two questions for you. The President of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, a valued ally of the United States and the Middle East, has restricted diplomatic contacts with the government of Israel. Do you think this is a useful step in what the U.S. is trying to achieve in the Middle East?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think this underscores why the President feels as strongly as he does and the importance of finding ways to bring the parties together to achieve a peaceful settlement to the violence in the Middle East. We anticipate that Egypt will maintain its commitment to the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, which remains a foundation for regional stability. It's an example of nations that were once intractable foes, how they were able to come together as a result of the vision and the leadership of President Sadat and President Mubarak. And it's that type of leadership that the President hopes will take broadening in the region. So that's where we are.

Q Can I follow up? I wanted to ask you about the price of oil. It has been rising rapidly in the past few days, it's now at the highest level in the past six months. With the situation exploding, basically, in the Middle East, what steps has the United States taken in case there is a problem with oil deliveries to the United States, which would affect economic recovery which supposedly is already starting to take hold?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President has noted, of course, the rising price of gasoline, which affects Americans of all walks of life, throughout our country. There are several factors that contribute to it, including the tensions in the Middle East, that is a contributory factor to it.

The other -- the economy, which is in the early stages of a recovery from all statistics, is another factor in it. There appears to be a now repeating seasonal event that's been happening for the last several springs, going into summer, in a row. I think you can count more than three.

And the President views this as an issue, specifically when it comes to our over-reliance on foreign oil, as a wake-up call, a warning, especially to the United States Senate, about the need for the United States to reduce our reliance on foreign supplies of energy. The Senate has an energy plan that passed by the House of Representatives that they are considering now, and the President urges the Senate to move with dispatch when they return from recess to pass the energy plan, which provides a long-term, comprehensive structure to reduce prices.

This is an issue that Americans confront seemingly every spring after spring after spring, from a variety of circumstances, both international and domestic. It's time to stop focusing on it as a short-term problem and enact a long-term solution so this won't become a repetitive short-term issue.

Q Getting back to his first question, is the action by Egypt today useful or un-useful in the effort to bring peace in the Middle East?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's a reflection of how complicated the situation is on the ground, Ron. That's again why the President is so dedicated to trying to achieve peace in the region. And, again, I can reiterate that we anticipate that the commitment to the Egyptian/Israeli Peace Treaty, which remains in effect, will endure, and that's important.

Q Ari, two quick questions. Isn't this a serious blow, especially after last week, the administration praising the leaders of the Arab summit, recognizing that Israel has a right to exist? And now you have Egypt making a move, suspending most government contacts? I mean, isn't this a concern that this could really spread into a wider regional conflict with Israel?

MR. FLEISCHER: again, I indicated at the top that's another sign of why the President thinks it's so important to try to find ways to bring the parties together.

Q If I can follow, President Mubarak certainly has been very vocal, saying the administration needs to do more, that what you all are doing is not enough, that you need to get more deeply engaged, maybe send Secretary Powell to the region, link the cease-fire with political talks. What do you say to those calls that the status quo is not working?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President has always said he'll take whatever actions he deems to be most constructive to bring peace to the region. And that remains the United States' policy.

But, again, the United States will remain committed to finding a way to bring the parties together to achieve peace. As a result of the President's efforts, as a result of the President's message about the creation of a Palestinian state, his sensitivity to the plight of the Palestinian people, his desire to find a way through political process to open up the borders so the Palestinian people can have access to employment, can have access to improving their economic way of life; as a result of sending General Zinni to the region; as a result of Secretary Powell's speech that he gave in Kentucky -- progress had been made.

What ground it to a halt was the suicide bombings. The President believes that progress can again be made, and he will remain committed to finding a path to get that done. The violence has derailed it. The violence will not derail it forever. The President will remain committed.

Q Just to follow on the same theme, the deterioration is even more widespread. You have anti-U.S. demonstrations going on from Egypt to Bahrain; it's throughout the Arab world. Now, how much concern does the administration have about the destabilizing factor in all of this for the region as a whole and what, if anything, is the administration doing? This comes on the heels of the U.S. trying to improve its image in the region and, in fact, now we have more violent protests than we've had in a long time.

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President is focused on the core issues that give rise to this. And those core issues are the dispute between the Israeli's and the Palestinians. And the settlement of that has got to be through what the President has discussed before: reducing the level of violence, bringing the parties together around the political progress that can be made as set out in the Mitchell plan. That's the core issue that creates these events.

Q Right. So there's no diplomatic activity at other, kind of, bilateral places like -- you know, with Bahrain, specifically, or with Egypt, independent of Zinni's actions?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, there are other areas. If you recall, the President over the weekend spoke to President Aznar. Spain holds the presidency of the European Union. The President yesterday, when he talked to President Putin, the two of them discussed this issue. You can be assured that there are a variety of people, all who share the President's concern about how to bring the parties together, who have communications in the area.

But, again, the situation is, I think the American people recognize and understand, is deeply, deeply complicated and has been an issue that many American presidents have dealt with, and that President Bush will continue to deal with it.

Q Ari, can I come back to the oil embargo, the threats? Does America have anything specifically to say to those who are already calling for an embargo to place pressure on America and Israel? And is there anything specifically we would like to say to our friends in the Arab world about the possibility of an oil embargo? Because they're in sympathy with the goals --

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, if you will note, the two states that have said something about this topic are Iran and Iraq. But the President's point is that in any environment, whether it's at a time of peace or a time of violence in the Middle East, it is in America's interests in all times to be more energy-independent. And that now rests in the hands of the United States Senate.

Q You're saying to the Senate. Are we saying anything to our friends in the Arab world about, look, let's not get started down this road?

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, the only nations that I'm aware of that have even suggested this was the road they want to travel are Iran and Iraq, and they have not been met with much agreement anywhere in the Arab world.

Q And you're not concerned about that possibility, that others might be interested and see this as a legitimate way of putting pressure --

MR. FLEISCHER: As I think you've heard as well, Iran and Iraq are the only two nations that seem to be going down -- if they, indeed, travel this road, they're the only ones who are talking about this road.

Q Ari, in light of the arc of the events in the Middle East, in the President's view, is Yasser Arafat running out of time to demonstrate 100 percent effort?

MR. FLEISCHER: I have not heard the President discuss a timetable of that nature, Ed.

Q Ari, do you expect that the Middle East will be the primary focus of the discussions between the President and Prime Minister Blair this weekend in Crawford? And any reaction to that call launched by the EU for an international conference?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think with Prime Minister Blair's visit, the focus will be, if the past is any guide, a very broad-based series of discussions. I can tell you specifically this weekend at the President's ranch, Prime Minister Blair and President Bush will talk about the war against terrorism, they will talk about events in the Middle East. I think they will talk about NATO, NATO enlargement, which is coming up as an issue to be settled or decided upon this fall. And typically they talk about many other issues around the world.

The United States and Great Britain enjoy a very special relationship, a very warm and friendly relationship. And the two leaders enjoy spending time together and talking about these various topics. So I think you're going to see a very wide ranging series of discussions.

Q Have you gotten any more information about the documents found by Israel linking Arafat to the suicide bombings? Has anyone in the administration viewed them, or do they plan to?

MR. FLEISCHER: I have no information yet that anybody has reviewed them. This is something that we will want to discuss. We have not, at this moment, seen those documents. But under the obligations that the Palestinian Authority agreed to under the Oslo accords where they agreed to renounce terrorism, this would not be consistent with that. But, again, we have not seen those documents yet.

Q Do you have any more information about what was apparently an offer by North Korea to start talking a little bit more about its nuclear program?

MR. FLEISCHER: I do. I've looked into those press reports, and from what we can glean, we believe this is a reference to the North's decision to resume talks of what's called KEDO, which is related to the reactor project. This is the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization, or KEDO.

We continue to await a response from North Korea to our longstanding proposal to meet with them on broader issues of concern.

Q Ari, you've said that the collapse of the Middle East peace process really was a result of the most recent wave of suicide bombings. There was progress toward implementing the Zinni agreement a week or so ago, and then this wave of particularly devastating bombings destroyed it. And, yet, this administration has been under some criticism from its earliest days to get more involved in the Middle East peace process, though you have never said that you were uninvolved.

Do you see no complicity on America's part in the not being involved enough, early enough, to prevent things from getting to this state and, perhaps, weakening our hand with our Arab allies?

MR. FLEISCHER: Wendell, the President has been deeply involved from day one in the events in the Middle East and he remains deeply involved. That applies to the President, himself, personally; that applies to the Vice President, who just returned from a visit to the region at the President's direction; that applies to the Secretary of State; it applies to the United States government.

And, frankly, I think that's something the American people recognize and agree with. I think the American people understand how difficult the situation is in the Middle East, how it's been an issue that has been around for decades. It did not begin on January 20, 2001. And I think the American people support what the President is doing in terms of the level of engagement, the level of involvement and the message that the President is providing.

Q Let me follow, if I can. The President has clearly stepped-up his involvement. General Zinni remains in the region now; this past fall and winter he was recalled. There have, as I said, been constant, fairly constant calls for the U.S. to do more. Mr. Bush is doing more now. Do you not see that having done more earlier might have strengthened the U.S. hand?

MR. FLEISCHER: Wendell, I just answered that question. This is nothing new; the history of the Middle East have been a series of calls on the United States, at varying levels, to do what the United States can do. And there is no question the United States can do a lot. We are in the position to do the most to bring peace to the region.

To bring peace to the region it also takes a lot of work from the two parties, themselves, to try to move the process forward. In that part, the United States will always be there to help the two parties to get the job done. The violence last week is what set it back, and nobody should make any mistake about that.

But the President does not accept, not for one day, the notion that the violence will forever derail the prospects for peace in the Middle East because he, himself, personally remains committed to finding a way to achieve peace in the Middle East, no matter what the time table.

Q Ari, one follow up. Does the United States believe that the Palestinians or the Israelis are responsible for the desecration of the Christian holy sites?

And, one other question. Would the U.S. accept a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state at this time?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President believes that the decision about the creation of the Palestinian state, as he said when he announced his support for a state named Palestine at the United Nations, will be as a result of a security agreement, a political process that's agreed to by the two parties. And that way, it can be a state that endures by respecting Israel's right to exist in security. That is the President's vision, at the end of the day.

What's so difficult at the Middle East is how to arrive at the end of the day. But that's why the violence in any area, no matter how holy -- the entire region is holy -- is something that the President cares deeply about, and that's why he is going to stay at this and commit himself to achieving peace.

Q What's the White House's reaction to President Mubarak's letter calling for the United States to take immediate action to end what he called the violent military campaign by Israel to occupy a Palestinian area?

MR. FLEISCHER: I haven't seen the letter, so I'm not familiar with it.

Q How does the President deal with the kind of pressure he's under on this issue? I guess what I'm asking is, does he factor these various voices into his thinking? Or does he take an approach that says, you know, I need to shut out the noise and focus with my advisors what I think is the best course?

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, the President approaches this issue in several ways. One, by having a clear sense of mission and purpose. That clear sense of mission and purpose is a political settlement to this dispute which, at the end of the day, results in the creation of a Palestinian state and an Israel that has a right to live in security. To achieve that, the President has set into motion a series of mechanisms to help make that happen. That's the President's process.

As part of it, as you know over the weekend, when the President called the leaders in the region -- and spoke to the King of Jordan and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, the President of Egypt, the Presidency of the European Union, the Secretary General of the United Nations -- the many people the President called over the weekend, the President called them to talk to them, to listen to their thoughts, to hear their concerns, to work the phones, and to think about or reflect on the different messages he's hearing from the region. That's how you bring people together. And it's a lengthy process in the Middle East.

And so the President approaches it by having a clear sense of mission and vision, and then by listening and working with the leaders on the ground.

Q But what about domestically? There are lots of interest groups in this country that have opinions about the course he should take. Is he going to listen to them and factor that in, or does he take the approach this is a foreign policy matter?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as I kind of indicated in Wendell's question, I think the President believes in the merits of what he's doing, no matter how difficult it is. But I think the President believes that the American people understand how difficult this region is, they understand that setbacks can result from violence and I think the President believes that the American people support what he is doing and how he's doing it.

Q What it sounds like is he's decided, this is the course I'm going to follow and I'm going to stay the course despite pressures from all sides for me to do something --

MR. FLEISCHER: The President will always look for constructive ways to accomplish bringing peace to the Middle East. And I think that's what all presidents try to do. This has not been an easy issue for any American president. But all presidents have tried, and tried to do their best. President Bush is deeply in the middle of this. The situation, as a result of what happened from last week forward, has gotten to a very difficult point.

In President Bush's opinion, because it's difficult today, it does not mean it will forever be impossible to make progress. And he, again, is guided in his mind by how much progress is made, right up to the point where the Passover massacre took place. He would like to create an environment where that progress can begin again. And that is the goal that he's dedicated himself to.

But he believes that it will happen, Ron; I can just tell you that in talking to him. And he understands that it won't be easy, it's going to be difficult and it's going to require a lot of give and take in bringing people together, and he's dedicated to that and Secretary Powell is, and that's the purpose of having an administration.

Q Can I just follow-up?

MR. FLEISCHER: We've got a lot of people who haven't had any yet, and then we'll come to the top. We're still going in order here.

Q I wanted to follow a little bit on Jean and Kelly's question, which is essentially to see where we are with our Arab allies in the wake of 9/11. We put in a lot of work to try to bring people to our side, to counter some of the negative images, and we see that deteriorating in the moment.

On a diplomatic level, do we have diplomats -- the President this weekend said he wanted to see within Arab nations leaders take efforts not just to speak in one way publicly, but to speak to their own people in a certain way. Are diplomats saying to Arab leaders, you need to say something in your own country to counteract that? Or a press office, much as the way we saw set up in London, something to try to counter this, so in six months when there's a new U.S. goal that we want to pursue but we've got a really negative situation, something done to counteract that today?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President's message around the world is consistent about the need to speak out and to counter terrorism in all its forms, and that's something world leaders understand. They've heard it from the President directly. They've heard it from the Vice President when he traveled through the region. They hear it from the State Department every day. And so it is a consistent approach. And different leaders have different actions that they take in response to that call.

Q Just to follow up on that, I mean, a lot of the criticism that the United States is getting is from nations who we are relying on for the broader war on terrorism. What kind of concerns do you have that the position that the United States is taking in the Middle East is going to undercut those broader efforts? Because, as you know, in the Middle East, people have different views of what's terrorism and what isn't terrorism.

MR. FLEISCHER: The President is confident that, as a result of principled and consistent leadership in the fight against terrorism, that's the best way to bring support and earn support around the world. And the President will continue to engage in the personal diplomacy. Secretary Powell will continue to engage in diplomacy, to continue to build that case around the world.

So the President's approach will remain consistent, dedicated to the fight against terrorism. There will be other issues that can come up. The President will deal with those issues as they come up. But, again, the President's belief is that by being consistent in the fight against terrorism, and by working hard to solve the problem in the Middle East, we can make progress on both fronts.

Q Ari, yesterday, Mark Regev, the spokesperson for the Israeli Embassy here, said that there may be an Israeli pullout in a matter of days, that Israel is definitely going to be pulling out and it may happen in a matter of days. Has the White House been informed of anything such as that?

MR. FLEISCHER: I have no information that would confirm that. I can tell you what, of course, Secretary Powell yesterday said, that he does not expect the Israeli action to be of a permanent duration. But I cannot speak to the exact timing of what Israel is doing.

Q Ari, you were saying before that if these documents that the Israelis put out yesterday are correct, it would be a violation of the Oslo accords on Arafat's part. What would be the implication of a violation of the Oslo accords?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm just not going to go beyond what I said about those documents until we have seen them.

Q But I'm sort of curious why you haven't seen them? Everybody in the world has seen them; they're up on the Web.

MR. FLEISCHER: That's not quite right.

Q Well, it is right.

MR. FLEISCHER: There's a difference between seeing something on TV and seeing them.

Q Ari, there is a message for President Bush from the Indian parliamentarians who were here in Washington studying the U.S. security concerns and security problems. And they were impressed, because they might take some message from here back home, because their House was attacked and they escaped.

What they're saying is that really that the suicide bombings are also happening in India, in Kashmir, and same suicide bombings from the Middle East. There may be attacks now for the rest of the world, it might move from the Middle East, because it appears it is a test and some countries are even financing -- for these young suicide bombers.

Now, I have not seen any single Muslim or Arab country publicly condemning these suicide bombers or supporters. So what these parliamentarians are saying, that President Bush is doing great job and India is with the United States for fighting against terrorism, but the President should look beyond really. It means fighting terrorism against India, because we are in the same, similar situation like the Middle East.

So what would you say to these people that what they said, that India lost two Prime Ministers due to the terrorist bombings?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think that's why the legislative branch welcomed these Indian leaders here. There was a group of, I think, four

representatives from India's lower house who went up to Capitol Hill to have a discussion about the security procedures that were put in place in our legislative branch that could be helpful to India's legislative branch.

They did not meet with the White House. It was focused exclusively Parliament to Congress, and we welcome such visits. It's a helpful way for the United States to share information with other leaders of the world who are concerned about terrorism at home.

Q Ari, the other day when you were asked --

MR. FLEISCHER: I thought I saw you on TV last night. Did I see you in the audience for a TV show?

Q I don't know.

MR. FLEISCHER: I thought I saw you in the front row, watching a show. It was a news show. (Laughter.)

Q Was it a CNN program?

MR. FLEISCHER: I believe it was. (Laughter.)

Q The other day when you were asked why you don't condemn Israeli killing of innocent Palestinians you said, well -- as terrorism, why the President doesn't condemn it as terrorism, you said, well, when a Palestinian blows himself up in the cafeteria, he's intending to kill innocents, but as for Israel there are times when in military operations innocent lives are lost.

A number of human rights groups, including Beit Shalom, have documented how Israel targets Palestinian civilians. Most recently, a 21-year-old Palestinian American, Suraida Saleh, on Friday was shot down in Ramallah. She was, by the way, born a couple blocks from here at GW Hospital. She was a passenger in a car; her husband was driving, her husband is a journalist. And a group of Israeli undercover agents dressed as Arabs -- they're called Mustaarabeem -- were at the intersection and just opened fire on the car.

Now, if that fact pattern is correct, why doesn't the President condemn that as terrorism?

Q The President has repeatedly stated his concern about the impact of violence on all people in the region; he's repeatedly stated his concern about the plight of the Palestinian people. It's one of the reasons why he is so dedicated to finding a way to reduce the violence, if not be able to stop it altogether. There's violence on all sides. There is Palestinian against Palestinian violence. There is taking of lives. There's loss of lives by innocents. This is why a cease-fire and then progress on the political front is so essential, in the President's opinion.

Q Ari, does the President regard the military actions Israel is taking in Ramallah, in Bethlehem and elsewhere in the territories as constituting self-defense?

MR. FLEISCHER: I have nothing to add beyond what the President, himself, said about this topic on Saturday.

Q So is the answer "yes"?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President has addressed that Saturday.

Q Can you say in what way the activities have made Israel more secure?

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, the President understands that after a nation suffers a suicide bombing that took place, that a nation has a right to defend itself. In the calling on that, the President has also urged Israel to remember that the goal has got to be peace at the end of the day.

Q I'm sorry, can I follow, Ari? Does the President still believe, after all that's gone on, that Sharon and Arafat can implement the terms of Tenet on their own, or does he believe that U.S. monitors or observers will be necessary for that implementation?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, he believes that it has to have the participation and the cooperation of the United States to have Sharon and Arafat come together and the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority come together in order to have a meaningful cease-fire take place. That's why he sent General Zinni to the region and that's why General Zinni is there.

The exact modalities of that, in terms of monitors or any other of the other type events that would accompany that on the ground would be determined by the negotiation with the Israelis, the Palestinians and the United States. These were the tripartite talks that are taking place under General Zinni's eye, that have been making so much progress toward the middle of last week. And that clearly does involve a role for the United States.

Q The Europeans are on the brink of imposing a whole range of tariff hikes, specifically aimed at American products that are linked to, as part of a steel decision. Does the White House feel that the United States is now involved in a trade war?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think that as the President made clear when he announced the action that was taken as a result of the finding by the International Trade Commission concerning steel, that any actions any other nations would take would have to be determined and considered by the World Trade Organization. And that is the proper place for any disputes to be settled, and if there are disputes, they will be settled by the WTO in accordance with the laws that govern all the nations that join the WTO.

Q Not the process, but is the result of what the Europeans are doing --

MR. FLEISCHER: But the result cannot go into effect until the WTO acts. So we understand that there are various nations that are expressing themselves. But in terms of concrete action, it all has to go as a result of the WTO rules, and be WTO legal and compliant.

Q Are these irritants in some way standing in the way of American diplomacy and the larger issues that we've been discussing here this morning?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think everybody has recognized that since the Industrial Revolution, even before that, trade is a nation -- an issue among nations that is always present in international relations, and our relations with other nations are built on a series of items, including trade, including many other issues that are bilateral that lead to enduring strengths. And these trade issues always seem to come, they get worked out, some of them rise up. It all seems to fit into the international good relations business.

Q The AP reports that in New York, the Committee to Protect Journalists issued a protest letter to Prime Minister Sharon, saying that Israel had an obligation to allow journalists to work freely in the West Bank, after Israel revoked credentials of two Abu Dhabbi journalists, and threatened legal action against CNN, NBC for ignoring military orders and broadcasting from Rammalah. And my question is, does the President believe that his father's field commander in Desert Storm, General Schwarzkopf, allowed media to go wherever they wanted in that campaign?

MR. FLEISCHER: Les, for a moment, I thought you had a half-serious question. (Laughter.)

Q Do you think that's not serious?

MR. FLEISCHER: Let me take the first half of your question.

Q The Committee to Protect Journalists thinks it's very serious, Ari, and I'm sure are appalled that you would make a joke out of this. But go ahead.

MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you, Lester. The first half of your question is a serious one. And that is an issue that the State Department will look into with Israel, about treatment of journalists.

Q Are you saying that Schwarzkopf did allow media to --

MR. FLEISCHER: Les, I would never accept all the characterizations from what took place years before the President got here.

Q What do you mean by "look into," and is that a sign that U.S. is --

MR. FLEISCHER: Treatment of journalists is always an important issue, around the world. This is something that the State Department will look into with Israeli authorities.

Q Has Secretary Powell mentioned it --

Q The lack of access?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's going to be done at State Department levels that are appropriate dealing with this issue.

Q Is it -- a lack of access?

MR. FLEISCHER: Lack of access?

Q A lack of access to covering the war, or --

MR. FLEISCHER: No, I can't speak to the exact -- no, no, no. This is involving the specific case of journalists operating in the area. And that's an issue that will the State Department will take up with Israel -- we'll look into with Israel.

Q But is the President aware that IDF forces have shot at journalists operating, working in the West Bank in Ramallah?

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I know this is an issue that has been looked into by State and will be looked into with Israeli authorities and the President.

Q But it's not something that the Secretary of State wants to bring up with the Prime Minister, at that level?

MR. FLEISCHER: I couldn't tell you exactly at what level this is going to come up. Unfortunately, the treatment of journalists around the world is an issue that comes up from time to time in places, particularly where there is violence. Unfortunately, it is not a new issue to journalism, and --

Q Is the U.S. protesting this?

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I've told you what the State Department is going to do with this.

Q Ari, my follow-up?

MR. FLEISCHER: You don't have a follow-up. We have lots of other hands --

Q Will the President --

MR. FLEISCHER: Right here, over Les's shoulder.

Q Chairman Arafat has been blamed for the suicide bombs. But according to the Arab American Association, the council here, these won't stop until the Jews and the Palestinian people have some better expectations. What do you think the Israeli government can do to create better expectations and allow them to think that everything is going to be better than just --

MR. FLEISCHER: The President believes that, one, there needs to be a reduction of the violence, that it makes it much harder to get into any of the political issues, the peace-related issues, until the violence has diminished.

But the President's spoken out repeatedly about the plight of the Palestinians, about the need to try to find a way to open the borders so the Palestinians can have meaningful employment, can have job opportunities, a chance for economic success and advancement.

So long as there's violence, though, it's hard for the borders to be open. And that gets right to the core of the issues, and that is why the President has General Zinni there and the President is going to continue to work so hard to bring people together. It is a legitimate issue. It is why the President spoke out about the need to create a state called Palestine.

Q Thank you.

MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.

END 1:30 P.M. EST