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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
April 11, 2002
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:35 P.M. EDT
MR. FLEISCHER: Good morning. Let me give you a --
Q Good afternoon.
Q Good afternoon.
MR. FLEISCHER: Within one minute of my briefing I already stand corrected by Helen. Good afternoon. Let me give you a report on the President's day and take your questions.
The President this morning had his regular breakfast with the Speaker of the House, the Majority Leader of the Senate, Minority Leader of the House, Minority Leader of the Senate to consult about events abroad, as well as domestic issues. They talked extensively about the war against terrorism, events in the Middle East. The President raised several issues on the domestic agenda, including the importance of passage of energy legislation to make us more energy independent, faith-based legislation, confirmation of judges, his hopes that the Senate will still be able to pass a budget resolution, as well as supplemental appropriations that are pending in the Congress.
From there, the President had his usual intelligence briefings with the CIA and the FBI. And then the President spoke with King Hamad of Bahrain this morning. The two expressed mutual concern over the continuing tension in the Middle East. The President reiterated his commitment to bring about conditions for an end to the current violence, and a return to negotiations. He outlined the need for Israel, the Palestinians and the Arab states to do more to achieve that objective. The King of Bahrain also expressed his support for the approach that the President outlined in his April 3rd statement, issued from the Rose Garden here at the White House.
And, finally, the President also expressed his deep appreciation for the strong relationship between the United States and Bahrain, and for Bahrain's support for efforts to achieve peace in the Middle East.
The President, as we speak, is having his regular lunch with the Vice President. And then this afternoon, the President will conduct an event and give a speech to call on the Congress to pass legislation to help improve the lives of those who are living in poverty or near poverty, through what's called the charity aid recovery and empowerment act, or the CARE act.
Finally, one other notice, the President will meet with Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri at the White House on April the 17th. And with that, I'm happy to take your questions.
Q In the last week, since that Rose Garden speech you were talking about, have the Israelis, the Palestinians or Arab leaders done anything to address his pleas? And if so, be specific as to what they've done to meet any of the conditions he laid out a week ago.
MR. FLEISCHER: In the President's remarks last week, the President called on the Israelis, the Palestinian Authority and the Arab nations in the region to take specific actions to help bring about peace in the region. He urged the Palestinian Authority to declare a cease-fire, to agree to implement the Zinni plan and the Tenet accords. He urged the Palestinian Authority to issue orders to security forces to exert maximum effort against terrorist activities. He also urged Chairman Arafat to make public statements denouncing suicide bombings, and to renounce violence as a political instrument.
The President called on the Arab states to do everything possible to stop terrorist activities, to disrupt terrorist financing and stop incitement of violence in state-owned media. He also urged them to denounce publicly suicide bombings, and to use their influence with the Palestinian Authority and other groups to stop the violence.
And, finally, he called on Israel to halt its incursions into the Palestinian areas, and begin withdrawing from Palestinian cities recently occupied, including Ramallah, to acknowledge publicly that the occupation of Palestinian territories must end through a withdrawal, and to secure recognized borders consistent with U.N. Security Council resolutions 242 and 338.
Now to answer your question -- I go through that for a reason, that's the record. That's what the President publicly called for. Here's where we are. Israel has continued the withdrawal that began, that the President called for, in some areas. There are additional incursions in other areas.
The President reiterates his call to all three parties that they need to do the very specific things I just walked through. They have not been done yet. The President calls on all the parties to keep working to get them done.
I think it's also fair to say, Ron, that when the President said what he said in the Rose Garden, he did not expect all three parties that night to salute, to say yes. That's not how the Mideast works. And if you note that since the President gave that speech in the Rose Garden, where in very direct language he called on all the parties to do what they need to do to create peace, the United Nations Security Council has spoken out, what's called the Quartet -- which represents the European Union, Russia, the United States and the United Nations -- have also spoken out.
There's no shortage of people who are following the President's lead and speaking out around the world. What still remains to happen is the three parties on the ground to take the actions he's called for.
Q Will you go on the public record and stand by a statement you made earlier this morning, which was that Sharon is a man of peace? Which some Israelis might not even agree with. Do you stand by that, that he's a man of peace, considering his record?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President believes that Ariel Sharon is a man of peace.
Q What does the President hope that the Secretary of State is able to accomplish in his meetings over the next 10 days? Are you looking for a cease-fire specifically?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President hopes that the Secretary in his visits with Arab nations, Israel and the Palestinian Authority will be able to create an environment that reduces the violence, that hopefully leads to a cease-fire, that hopefully leads to a beginning of the political process once again in the Middle East. It's a very difficult mission. There's no guarantee of success. The President has given the Secretary of State maximum flexibility so he'll have maximum influence in the region and also an open itinerary toward the end of the trip so the Secretary can make determinations on where to go, how best to implement that mission.
Q Is it possible that he would stay on in the area until there is a cease-fire?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the Secretary of State will determine his agenda. The President has given him the flexibility. But the trip is really just beginning. I mean, he's finished meeting with several of the Arab nations. He's had several meetings with them. He's in Jordan right now. He'll get to Israel late tonight and he will meet with Israel tomorrow. He'll meet with Chairman Arafat the following day.
So I think it's also fair to say, give the Secretary time and let's see how events unfold.
Q The President has made very clear his goal of defeating terrorism around the world. Ariel Sharon says he is fighting a war on terrorism against Palestinians and other groups like Hezbollah and Hamas. Does the President have an opinion as to whether the Israeli offensive to date has been successful, as to reaching that stated goal?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's opinion is that Israel needs to withdraw. Israel needs to withdraw, as he said in the Rose Garden, and that to fight terrorism, the Arab nations need to step up to their responsibilities to take on terrorists, to stop funding terrorists, to condemn terrorists. And the Palestinian Authority needs to renounce terrorism because, despite what Chairman Arafat said at Oslo, the Palestinian Authority has not done so.
Q But the question is, Ariel Sharon says they're making progress, that they have to complete a job that is a successful job to root out terrorism and terrorists in their midst. The question is, does the President believe that this is a successful and worthy operation that the Israelis are embarked upon?
MR. FLEISCHER: Here's how I put it from the President's point of view. I think what he would say to that, David, is one, he recognizes Israel's right to defend herself. Israel, of course, had been attacked in a series of suicide bombings which are really homicide bombings. I think the name "suicide bombings" is not an apt description of what Israel faced from these attacks across the border.
But having done so, the President, as you know, in the Rose Garden reached the point where he said to all parties, enough is enough. Because his concern now is that the issue has moved away from how to create a political environment where the parties can at long last sit down and talk with each other to one where it's spiralling out of control.
Q To follow-up on his statement that the President believes Ariel Sharon is a peacemaker, given that Sharon has long been on record saying that he is against the Oslo accords; that as Minister of Housing in several governments, he is on the record saying that one of the purposes of building settlements in the West Bank is to render impossible the establishment of a Palestinian state there. And given that he's twice, in his career, been reprimanded by Israeli authorities for atrocities committed by forces under his de facto control against Palestinians, on what evidence does the President believe that Ariel Sharon is a man of peace?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, on several. Number one, Ariel Sharon is the democratically-elected Prime Minister of the free state of Israel. And the state of Israel is committed to peace, and they elected a leader who would help them achieve security on the path to peace.
The President knows, because he's discussed it directly with the Prime Minister, that the Prime Minister is committed to the Tenet accords and to the Mitchell plan, that he supports both of those.
And what's happened in the Middle East is as a result of the suicide attacks or the homicide attacks, the progress that had been made through General Zinni's cooperative efforts with Israel and the Palestinian Authority was derailed.
The point the President is stressing now is his deliberate perseverance to emerge from the chaos and the violence with a plan that gets the parties back to peace. That's where his focus is now.
Q Has Prime Minister Sharon's refusal to accede to President Bush's demands stated clearly and unequivocally that Israel withdraw, has that damaged the President's confidence or trust in Prime Minister Sharon at all?
MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, all the entities I've cited have a responsibility to bear in creating peace in the Middle East in the President's opinion. The burden, the responsibility, does not fall on only one. All three need to step up their responsibilities to achieve peace.
As I noted, the withdrawals the President called for are continuing. The Arab nations, as well as the Palestinian Authority, were called on specifically to do certain things by this President and the President is waiting to see results from them, as well.
Q Ari, the Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres, said that the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the West Bank will probably require another two weeks. Do you consider this as an acceptable time frame?
MR. FLEISCHER: I reiterate what the President said about urging the Israelis to withdraw, urging the Palestinian Authority to denounce violence, and urging the Arab allies to do their part to influence the Palestinian Authority so the violence can be stopped.
Q Aides to Congressman Gephardt said that during the breakfast this morning, while he thanked the President for these consultations and these breakfast meetings, he felt that Democrats and Republicans need to have more regular meetings with this White House to find out what's going on in terms of the war on terrorism and the Middle East. That it's sort of like pulling teeth to get some briefings.
So, A, how do you respond to Democrats who say that they're simply not getting enough information from the White House about what's going on?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, this President and this administration, in the midst of a war against terrorism, in the midst of a terrible situation in the Middle East, have carved out of their schedules considerable time to keep the Capitol informed. It is Congress' right and prerogative to be informed and they are being informed on an ongoing, regular basis. Sometimes, you just have to recognize that in Washington no amount of consultation is ever enough for the Hill. And I think that extends well before this administration, that sometimes is the way the Hill works.
But I also want to add that, from the President's point of view, as much as he's consulting, he's also interested in actions and results from all the consultations that he has given to the Hill. For example, the President wants to make sure that the Congress passes the defense appropriation bill first. They understand the seriousness of the war. They've been consulted. The President is looking for results and action. He wants to make sure Congress doesn't pass defense last. The President wants to make sure they pass an energy policy that helps make us more independent.
There are a host of issues that the President, in these meetings, has called on the leadership, particularly in the Senate, to do. They've gotten the consultation, they've gotten the message. The question is, what are the results.
Q Just to follow up, Congressman Gephardt sent a letter to the President just at the time of your briefing, so you can't obviously comment on the letter. But he is calling for more formal -- a more formal procedure, having key members of the House and the Senate, the chairs of respective committees, meeting with the administration or the President on a weekly or biweekly basis, saying this was done during Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, why shouldn't it be done now?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think the administration is always going to be willing to work with ways to find -- to help members of Congress get access to information. I can assure you that if any of these meetings are set up, we hope that members of Congress will show up. There's often an issue where people go up to the Hill to brief and very few members of Congress even show up.
Now Dr. Condoleezza Rice, the President's National Security Advisor, will be meeting with the Democrat leadership to consult. They were just down here to consult. There is plenty of consultation going on. The question is, are there results from the consultations?
Q So the White House doesn't see any need to have more formal consultations with law makers?
MR. FLEISCHER: We'll always be interested in ways to productively consult with the Congress. Like I say, I hope people will show up to the meeting. Sometimes they seek these things and then fail to show up.
Q Ari, when Saddam Hussein of Iraq announced that he would be suspending oil exports for 30 days, there was a fear on the world markets that this could create all kinds of disruption. I think Saudi Arabia stepped in and decided -- said they would make up any difference. Does the United States feel there is a danger that the oil in the Middle East could be disrupted as we speak now?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the United States -- the Department of Energy is monitoring very carefully oil markets and the price. And it does not look like there was any adverse reaction, market wide, on any long-term basis, at least so far, as a result of what Saddam Hussein has done.
The situation, though, is an ongoing problem for the United States and for consumers and for people who want to be able to fill their car up with gas, and not have to worry every spring, heading into the summer driving season, about empowering other nations to exercise domination over the United States when it comes to the price of energy.
And that's why the President feels so strongly in the need for the Senate to do what the House did, which is to pass a comprehensive energy plan that focuses on conservation, on greater efficiency, and on greater exploration here at home, so America can rely on America for our energy needs, and not be vulnerable to the actions that others take.
I think it's fair to say that as of today, the confluence of events in Venezuela, the decision by Iraq to shut off its oil supplies, has not created an impact in the markets, as of today. But the point is, why take the risk? Why should the United States be vulnerable to these other nations? Why can't the United States do more at home? The House has taken action to help America do more at home. The President hopes the Senate will, as well.
Q I'd like to follow-up on the Venezuela thing that you mentioned. The situation with PDVSA, which is the state petrol company in Venezuela, they're having a face off with President Chavez, and this may create all kinds of problems. But also President Chavez is being accused of violating freedom of the press and trying to use the media -- control the media on that particular strike, saying that the strike is actually an attempt to overthrow the government. Does the White House share that view?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have not heard any updates, Jacobo, from the events in Venezuela, other than there's a strike in Venezuela. This appears to be an internal Venezuelan issue. The United States will monitor it. But I don't have anything for you beyond that.
Q Ari, I know that the President has been sharply critical of Arafat's behavior recently, but does he also consider Yasser Arafat, ultimately, to be a man of peace?
MR. FLEISCHER: As the President, himself, has said in the Rose Garden, Yasser Arafat has yet to earn the President's trust.
Q Can we get a more specific answer to Terry's second question?
MR. FLEISCHER: Remind me of what it was, it was nine or 10 questions ago.
Q The question was, is Sharon losing support in this White House, because of his slow withdrawal?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the President has, will be, and does -- the President has, does, and will continue to work directly with Ariel Sharon, to achieve peace in the region.
Q So that's a no, that story this morning is incorrect?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes. I just -- you know, the other thing, too, you cannot separate, in a democracy, the leader of a democracy from the nation. Ariel Sharon is the democratically elected Prime Minister of Israel, representing the people of Israel. They elected him. The United States' relations with Israel go through their democratically elected leader.
Q So the story about frustration within the White House about the Israeli leader's actions, it's not accurate?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I again go back to what I said at the beginning. The President gave a speech in the Rose Garden where he called on three entities, Israel, the Arab neighbors, and the Palestinian Authority to step up and exercise statesmanship to bring peace to the region. And the President is determined and persistent to try to accomplish that goal. And that's why the Secretary is in the region.
Now, the President will keep at it and will remain committed to helping get it done.
Obviously, the parties themselves have not made much progress, and that's why the United States can and should and will play a vital role.
Jim, did you have a follow-up?
Q So, when Keith asked it, you said that the story was incorrect and then sort of hedged when Kelly just asked the question. I mean, is there more frustration now than there was, say, three days ago with Sharon and his cooperation with --
MR. FLEISCHER: And I urge you -- there are three key parties here. Your questions continue to focus on one party, and that is not the President's approach. The President recognizes that all contribute to what's happening in the Middle East, and he called on all to take certain steps. The focus here, and the focus repeatedly, has just been on one nation. That is not the President's focus. No one nation bears the burden of the responsibility of what's happening in the Middle East today. And that's why the President called on all to do their part. And that's an important difference.
And so when the President -- the reason I hesitated on Kelly's question -- I want to bring the focus back to the President's message to all three -- not one, all three. All three.
Q The other day, this was not --
Q I thought the President had said the other day that this was not the --
MR. FLEISCHER: Goyal? Your name is not Goyal. You had your question earlier, Philippe. Goyal.
Q Thank you. Yesterday, a House panel on immigration recommended that INS should be dismantled. So yesterday it seemed to me that INS was again in hot water and had no friends on the Hill. They said that they are not going to wait for President Bush do to this, but we are going to do this. Now, what I'm asking you is, by dismantling the INS, what would be the status of the --
Q always has -- slaughterer.
Q -- and also pending applications and new applications? Are they going to be affected by, in any way by this --
MR. FLEISCHER: Is who going to be affected? I couldn't hear you. Helen was --
Q The new application, pending applications or I245?
MR. FLEISCHER: First of all, what's moving now in the House is just a beginning, and so it's a separate question from what will impact anything, because you don't know the timing and what the House ultimately will do, or the Senate has to take it up, et cetera. I'm not sure dismantling is the right word for it.
The President had made a proposal and we're working with the Congress. It involves both an administrative step forward as well as working legislatively on reforming the INS, breaking it in two, one agency responsible for enforcement, one agency responsible for the immigration services that are provided. So that is just beginning in the House. But this is consistent with what the Attorney General announced with the reorganization last -- I believe it was last fall, I think in November, the Attorney General announced the administration's intention of splitting the agencies in two.
Q Ari, much as I'm reluctant to belabor this issue, the President did say to a key American ally, withdraw without delay. And the Israelis, although they have withdrawn from some areas, have redeployed in others. My question to you is, is withdrawal, the word you have used, is that an accurate description of the sum total of what Israel's doing if they're still in major cities and towns?
MR. FLEISCHER: Israel is continuing its withdrawal, as the President asked. The Palestinian Authority has responsibilities they have not yet taken. Arab nations in the region have responsibilities that the President has called for which he is still looking for results.
So again, I remind you, it is not only one nation; it is all of them and that's the President's focus.
Q But you said that the Israelis are heeding what the President called for. He said, withdraw without delay -- and you're satisfied that's what they're doing?
MR. FLEISCHER: I simply said that the withdrawal the President called for is continuing. I did not put a value on it one way or another beyond that. I think it's an accurate statement.
Q How can you call it a withdrawal? How can you call it a withdrawal? They've pulled out of a few small towns and they haven't pulled all the way out of any town. How the hell is it a withdrawal?
MR. FLEISCHER: With all due respect for your editorial, how can you not? It is a withdrawal from those towns.
Q Do you see an erosion, Ari, between the U.S. relationship with Jordan, Egypt, and some of those other key Arab allies? And also there is a report that Saudi Arabia might be funneling some funds to the suicide or homicide bombers. Do you have anything on that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, this is one of the reasons why the President feels so strongly about the importance of what is happening in the Middle East, and his determination to try to bring the parties together. The President does have concerns about the impact of the violence on our friends in the region, and that is an important part of what is going on.
And that's why the Secretary had meetings with President Mubarak of Egypt, with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, with the King of Morocco. He's in Jordan right now. So, again, there's a mission, and a very important one, that is in the middle. And the President has faith in Secretary Powell's abilities to work through a very difficult challenge.
MR. FLEISCHER: Les, we'll come to you on the side. You know the procedure. Patience.
Q The story about Saudi Arabia perhaps funneling money to the bombers? Have you heard anything about that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, the President in his message -- the President called on all parties to stop any actions that would incite violence. And if there is any evidence that any nations are providing money, that is something the President would condemn and call on them to stop.
Q Ari, when you responded to the first question by saying what Israel has and hasn't done in response to the President's speech, what has the Palestinian side done or what has the Palestinian side done yet in response to the President's speech?
MR. FLEISCHER: Not enough.
Q Have they done anything?
MR. FLEISCHER: There are statements from the Palestinian Authority that ostensibly commit themselves to implementation of the Zinni mission, as well as the Mitchell accords. But, again, even before the suicide bombing took place on Passover, there was some signs that we were making progress, but the Palestinian Authority did not make sufficient progress for General Zinni to actually have acceptance of what he called the bridging agreements.
So there are some good sounds that come out, but the President is still looking for results on the ground. The President is still looking for Chairman Arafat to denounce, in Arabic, suicide bombings and terrorism. That has not happened. The President is still waiting for that to happen.
Q Has Arafat, himself, done anything to respond to the President --
MR. FLEISCHER: Not enough. And he has not earned the President's trust. As I indicated, there were some soundings about the Zinni plan and the Mitchell accords which sounded right, but when it came to the actual implementation, they fell short.
Q What effect, if any, do you think some of the brewing congressional proposals, such as there is a bipartisan proposal to call the -- officially label the PLO a terrorist organization, deny visas to leaders. What effect do you think proposals like that are having on the diplomacy that you're attempting in the region?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think that it's unclear exactly what, if anything, is going to emerge from the Hill. There are a variety of different resolutions or different potential statutes that are all being kicked around. Nothing has even been marked up. I'm not even sure that any of them have, in the formal sense, been introduced. So I think it's premature to get into that. I don't think it's surprising that 535 different individuals have an opinion.
Q Is the administration still lobbying against that specific proposal on the PLO? I know the State Department had spoken out against it in the past.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, I think it's a little premature to hear -- to know precisely what the Hill intends to do. There are 535 people with 535 good ideas in varying shapes and forms and, again, I think until something develops, I can't get into it much deeper than that.
Q Ari, on both the responsibilities of the Arabs and the Israelis have, one, aside from the fact that they haven't done anything yet, what kind of assurances are you getting? What are they saying to Secretary Powell and the President when he talks to Arab leaders about what they are willing to do in this regard, about what they're willing to say to the Palestinians? And then I want to ask about Sharon.
MR. FLEISCHER: Jim, the message the Secretary has been hearing on his travels, from Morocco, from Egypt, and of course in the EU, is that the other nations have indicated that they want to be helpful, and they will be helpful. That is a summary of what he is hearing. And as I said, he is still in the middle of a mission. He has many other places to go and people to see. And events play off of each other. People are looking to each other for you go first, no you go first, no you go first. But that's the purpose of diplomacy. That's the mission of diplomacy, and that's why the Secretary is on the ground.
Q But he does have some sense that they will, in fact, step up, as the President says?
MR. FLEISCHER: The message that the Secretary has been hearing is that the nations he has visited with are committed to peace.
Q Now I was going to ask about Sharon. You're denying that there is any sort of animus toward Sharon. But, clearly, there has to be some frustration here. You have both Prime Minister Sharon and Mr. Netanyahu saying there can be no political process with Yasser Arafat. Clearly, the administration has a fundamental difference of opinion with Israelis on that point.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think it's fair to say that the region is represented by fundamental differences of opinion, and that's the whole purpose of a peace process, is to bridge those differences. And that's why the President's Secretary of State is in the region.
But, listen, the President gave a speech in the Rose Garden on April 3rd. No one should expect, and I think very few people do expect all of a sudden here on April 11th for the world to snap, salute and listen to what the United States said just a short eight days ago; also given the fact that the United Nations Security Council has weighed-in and given its thoughts, the EU, the Quartet, Russia, many nations, many regions and many bilateral organizations or multi-lateral organizations around the world are all playing productive roles.
But this is the complexity of the Middle East. And I think it's just unreasonable for anybody to think that a mere eight days after a very important Presidential speech that these parties, who have been divided for decades, would all of a sudden snap to, salute, and say it's over, we're done, we agree. That's not the way the Middle East works.
Q But you're not denying that there's any frustration with the fact that the Israeli government seems to be dismissing the whole idea of the Powell mission, which is to get peace talks between Arafat and Sharon.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, I remind you, this is not only about Israel. This is about the burdens and the responsibilities that the President believes the Arab nations and the Palestinian Authority shoulder. It focuses on them, as well.
Q I want to ask you, also, what will happen if Sharon do not want to negotiate with Arafat? What is the plan B in case he refuse to negotiate? And on the other hand, you have mentioned that Sharon has been elected democratically. What do you think about the election of Yasser Arafat? Do you think he's democratically elected in a democratic election?
MR. FLEISCHER: First of all, keep in mind that the reason that Secretary Powell will be able to meet with Chairman Arafat is because the circumstances have permitted for that to happen. And that's in recognition of the Secretary's decision that he wanted to meet with Chairman Arafat, he'll be able to meet with Chairman Arafat. So I think it's a little more nuanced than just you say.
But the bottom line is, what will Chairman Arafat do, in the President's opinion? It's one thing to have a meeting -- there have been many meetings. It's one thing to have promises or statements -- there have been promises before. The President is interested in the bottom line from Chairman Arafat, and that's results and results only.
Q What about the election, Ari? Do you believe, does the U.S. believe that Yasser Arafat has been elected democratically?
MR. FLEISCHER: You know, I personally am just not expert enough to be able to answer that question. I don't remember the history of the region at the time. That was before I came to this White House, so I'm not in a position to give you an authoritative answer on that, yes or no.
Q Ari? Ari?
It's not Les time yet. It will come Les time, but it's not Les time yet.
Q I'd like to sharpen up a previous question revisited. Today, Saudi Arabia is organizing an 11-hour telethon to raise millions of dollars for Palestinian martyrs. The first three big contributors were King Fahd for $2.7 million, Crown Prince Abdullah for $1.35 million, and Defense Minister Sultan for $800,000. Doesn't this kind of violate the President's call to stop funding the terrorism? And how do you react when the leadership of Saudi Arabia is putting their personal stamp of approval on raising money for martyrs?
MR. FLEISCHER: Okay, that's the first I've heard of such a telethon, so let me look into that.
Q Ari, a question on the domestic agenda. After the President's speech on human cloning yesterday, Senator Daschle said that he disagreed with the President's position. I'm wondering, first of all, of the topics discussed this morning at the breakfast, was human cloning one of them? And does the White House believe that that bill is in jeopardy because of Daschle's position?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President spoke out about it and I think the message and all the consultations were delivered yesterday. It was not a topic that came up this morning. But I think Senator Daschle has received the message. Now let's schedule a vote and see what the opinion of the Senators is.
Obviously, the President's message is a very bipartisan one. There are millions of Americans, tens of millions of Americans, who want to have scientific progress and medical progress, but done in an ethical manner. And that's why when this same issue was put to the House for a vote, it passed overwhelmingly with bipartisan support in favor of the President's position.
The Senate, we'll see what happens in the Senate. There are others who disagree. Put it to a vote, and let's proceed. That's another issue where, despite all the consultations and all the meetings, the Senate simply hasn't acted.
Q Is the White House more optimistic on the faith-based prospects of passage, over the human cloning?
MR. FLEISCHER: I can't get linear about what we're more or less optimistic on any one unscheduled vote or another unscheduled vote, when neither has been slated for a schedule yet.
I do note that there is just some -- I think we're down to 95 legislative days left in the United States Senate and the Senate has an extraordinarily busy agenda, and they need to make time and make room for all items that the House has passed: energy legislation, the faith-based legislation, trade promotion authority, a ban on human cloning, terrorism insurance; these are all issues that the House was able to get to that the Senate has not yet even finished.
And there are other issues that still are pending in the Congress that the President wants to make sure they get to, such as the patient bill of rights, which is in the conference committee, the farm bill which is in the conference committee. And then, of course, there's the normal budget issues, where there's some question this year about whether the Senate will even be able to pass a budget resolution.
And the President hopes that the Democratic leadership of the Senate will be able to pass a budget resolution. Without a budget resolution in the Senate, it will be much harder to have fiscal discipline. The House has been able to pass it, so it will be a test for the Senate to see if they can. The President hopes the Senate will. It has never not been done in the Senate. Since the Budget Act was created in, I think, 1974 the Senate has always passed a budget resolution. It's a difficult challenge.
They were able to do it last year. We'll see if it can be done this year.
Q On the domestic issue of the economy, the President has made it clear that he doesn't think we're out of the woods yet, and there are dangers that could still come. And he's talked about trade promotion authority and the energy plan, not just in security terms but also in economic terms.
What can the President do in terms of the tax area to ensure that this will not be a jobless recovery?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, one of the things the President would have liked to have seen in the tax area would have been acceleration of the marginal income tax rates, the across-the-board income tax rates that went into effect with a nice bipartisan vote. That was stopped as a result of action in the Senate. The President thought it would have been helpful to do that.
Having said that, what the Senate and the House did ultimately agree to, involving expensing and involving depreciation for businesses, actually is a very helpful measure in making sure it's not a jobless recovery. Because one of the issues that economists are looking at in the recovery is business job creation. And it very well may be that the taxes that were targeted in the bill that just passed and was signed into law were the exact right tax reductions at the exact right time.
So the tax agenda is very well in place for those. There are some other issues that the President will talk about today, for example, in terms of helping people in poverty, helping people who are low income, through allowing individual Americans additional tax deductions for charitable giving. That's something the President strongly supports that's pending on the Hill.
Q And Monday's message on taxes, is that related to this?
MR. FLEISCHER: Monday's message on taxes I'll get into a little closer to Monday. Today is just Thursday.
Q Can you find about tax returns -- release his?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, I'm looking into that now. The question was tax returns, I got that this morning. I'm looking into that now, and as soon as I have something I'll share it.
Q The former Israeli prime minster yesterday, Netanyahu, said that they will continue on with their military operation with or without world and U.S. support. Don't you feel -- and Sharon said the same thing yesterday when he visited a refugee camp outside of Jenin.
Don't you think that the Palestinians also have a right to defend themselves? I mean, the Israelis are going into areas that were given to -- an area which was given to them as territory for the Palestinians and under Palestinian control?
MR. FLEISCHER: I just simply reiterate what I said earlier at the top of the briefing, that given the homicide bombings, the President believed that Israel had a right to defend herself, and the President, as he said in the Rose Garden, believes that enough is enough and he's called on all three -- the Palestinian Authority, the Arab nations and Israel -- to now carry out the specific actions he's called for.
Q Does the President still want the House and the Senate to raise the debt ceiling and, if so --
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes.
Q -- is it still by $750 billion?
MR. FLEISCHER: Is it what?
Q Would it still be by $750 billion, or would you scale that back?
MR. FLEISCHER: That was the request that was sent up to the Hill. That's correct.
Q Even with an influx in revenues after April 15? Would that still be the amount?
MR. FLEISCHER: By all projections, this is an issue that has not and will not go away. There are seasonal fluctuations as the revenues are received, particularly in the month of April, that mean that the damage that is done as a result of not passing a debt ceiling increase is temporary. But it means it doesn't go away, it will return again later this year. It's a very serious issue that, if action is not taken by the Congress, can impair the reliability of the nation's debt.
Q -- indicate that they're going to --
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know if that was a topic that came up this morning. It wasn't in what was briefed to me.
So, Les. This better be good.
Q I'll try to. (Laughter.) In The Washington Post, Saudi Arabia's Ambassador wrote, "it makes no sense to ask President Arafat, who was elected by the Palestinian people and is currently under siege inside two rooms, to stop the violence in the occupied territories." And my question, can you recall, Ari, just when all Palestinians were ever allowed to vote, or that any other ambassador has contended that the Bush request makes no sense. And I have a follow-up.
MR. FLEISCHER: I indicated earlier in response to something similar that I am not expert enough to know the history of some of these specific regions in Arab countries, or in this case, Authority, to determine whether or not it's accurate to say someone is elected.
Q Both The Washington Post and The New York Times reported at length that a schizophrenic woman, still under medications, claims that she may have been molested 32 years ago by Father Roger Mahoney, who is now the Cardinal Archbishop of Los Angeles, but, she added, she's not clear on the details.
And in the event that schizophrenic women in New York and Washington claim that they think they may have been molested by Punch Sulzberger and Donny Graham, can you imagine, Ari, that this would ever be reported by the New York Times or the Washington Post?
MR. FLEISCHER: Does anybody have a question over here?
Q Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.
END 1:15 P.M. EDT