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 Home > News & Policies > April 2002

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
April 23, 2002

Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer

The James S. Brady Briefing Room

1:55 P.M. EDT

MR. FLEISCHER: I have a short report on the President's day, and then I'll be happy to take your questions. The President this morning had his usual round of intelligence briefings. And then the President met in the Oval Office with the King of Morocco, and that was followed by a luncheon back in the mansion with the King. This afternoon the President will have a photo opportunity and make remarks on the South Lawn to the 2002 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic teams who are visiting in Washington. And then he will meet with the Prime Minister of Bulgaria, where they will talk about bilateral relations between the United States and Bulgaria, and I suspect the topic of NATO expansion might come up, as well.

And that is it for public events. And if there's any questions you have, I'll be happy to answer. Ron.

Q -- things on the Middle East. Can you give us deeper readout on the King of Morocco meeting and if the President made any headway on enlisting that country or any other Arab nations to pressure Arafat?

MR. FLEISCHER: Ron, they talked about a variety of issues, actually, including, of course, the Middle East. I'll come back to that in a second. But they discussed the importance of a trade agreement with Morocco that the President raised in the Oval Office. They discussed the situation in the Western Sahara, and the President expressed his hope that any issues involving, disputes involving the Western Sahara would be settled peacefully. And they spent some time talking about, of course, events in the Middle East.

I think the King noted Secretary Powell's visit and his appreciation for the Secretary's trip to the region. And they did discuss various ideas about how to bring peace to the Middle East. I think one I can just share with you is there was a general level of discussion about something the Secretary raised during his trip, about a possible ministerial conference. That continues to be an interesting idea in the ideas of the President, and that's really where that idea remains.

Q Can I just follow? So the King -- you're talking about Powell's trip -- this is a King who, in a photo opportunity, turned to the Secretary of State and said, shouldn't you be in Jerusalem first? Did the President make any headway in convincing this or any other Arab leader that they need to press Arafat to be part of this peace process?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think the King can express for himself any messages that he sends. Suffice it to say Morocco has a longstanding history of looking Westward, of being a good ally of the United States. And that was the mood and the spirit of the meeting. It actually was a very good session with the King. He's a -- the President believes he's a very bright leader. And the President had previously been to Morocco; they spent some time talking about the President's previous visit.

But, Ron, as you know, the President has said that there are Arab nations that can play a very constructive role in bringing peace to the region. The President believes Morocco is one of them. The President believes Morocco is working very hard to bring about a peaceful resolution.

Q Does he believe they're doing enough?

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, absolutely. Morocco, as I mentioned, is a nation that has historically looked Westward and has historically been a good ally, strong ally of the United States. And that remains.


Q Ari, can you clarify -- because it's not just the King of Morocco, it's the Saudi Crown Prince, and they're not making any secret about the fact that they don't think the U.S., the President, is doing enough or putting enough pressure on Arafat. So it looks like you're at standstill here with you --

MR. FLEISCHER: You're saying -- they don't believe the United States is putting enough pressure on Arafat?

Q I'm sorry, on Sharon, rather. Thank you. But putting enough pressure on the Israelis, especially with regard to the Church of the Nativity and Ramallah. So are you making any headway beyond that, or is it just a back-and-forth with the U.S. saying, you should do more, and them saying, no, we want to see more --

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, actually, I think, Campbell, that from the President's point of view -- and this is something that he talks about with these leaders, and as you know, the President has now had a series of meetings and is continuing them with a number of the Arab nations in the Middle East. He met with the President of Lebanon last week, the King of Morocco today. Of course, the Crown Prince is coming. The President has had a series and will continue to have a series of meetings. He spoke with King Abdullah of Jordan.

And you know from the President's point of view that he believes Secretary Powell made progress in the Middle East. And the one overriding factor about events in the Middle East that is guiding this President is, as he put it, the Middle East is an area where there has been hatred that is centuries old and there has been violence that is decades old. And up against that background, that environment, the President does understand that the key to bringing peace in the Middle East is a process. And the process from the President began early in his administration and then it continued on to the events of April 4th, when the President gave the specific responsibilities he believes need to be accepted by the three parties in the Middle East in order to continue progress. And that's where he is.

Q Can I just follow up? Is the President specifically doing anything to reassure these countries, these leaders that he's talking to, who have their own concerns about the instability it's causing for them at home to have the perception be that the President is siding with Israel on this?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think they understand the President's views. And one thing they also understand living in the region is they understand that there is no overnight solution to events in the Middle East and they don't come to Washington asking for one. They know that's not the way it works. And so they, I think, have -- I won't speak for other nations; you will obviously talk to these leaders and get their points of view directly -- but the President is -- understands that he has outlined the course that he believes needs to be taken by the three parties in the Middle East in order to continue to make progress, and that's the cause that he remains committed to.

Q Might there be another key to the peace process that the White House doesn't talk much about? Would it be easier for Arab leaders to take the risks for peace that the President is talking about if they were democratically legitimate, if they were elected?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I don't know how to answer that, Terry. The President works with the leaders of the region. And the President, as you know, does believe in the power of democracy throughout the world. But the President is working with the situation as he found it when he came into office on January 20th, 2001, and will continue to work productively with all those leaders, and will look forward to the visit of the Crown Prince this week, for example.

Q Let me just follow up. The President believes in the power of democracy. Is the administration doing anything to further the cause of democracy in these countries which don't have elections, which are so crucial to the peace in the Middle East. One of the reasons it's often said that these leaders can't get out in front in the peace process is because they're afraid of the reaction of their own people, partly because they don't have legitimate authority.

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, Terry, that's a very complicated question you ask. And it could be asked about any number of nations around the world. And the President will work with the elected leaders, the chosen leaders of the nations around the world, and will work with them as productively as he can to bring peace, particularly to the Middle East. I really don't know how to go beyond that, as you know.

Q Did the President urge the King to pressure other Arab leaders to do more to reduce the violence?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President told the King what he has said publicly, which is that he believes that the best way to achieve peace in the Middle East is for Israel to continue to do its withdrawal, just as the President called on them to do, for Chairman Arafat to act in deed, and not only in word, to fight terrorism, and for the Arab nations to use their good influences to reach out and talk to Chairman Arafat about the need for him to put into action, not just word, his commitment to fight terrorism. That's the President's message in private. I can assure you -- in public. I can assure you that's the President's message in private, as well.

Q Ari, the major obstacle at this point from the Arab world standpoint is the continued presence of Israeli troops around the Church of the Nativity and around the Palestinian compound in Ramallah. Reports from the region on the status of those negotiations are quite pessimistic. Do you have anything contrary to that, any reports from Ambassador Burns or others about any progress? And as you answer, in the last couple of hours, there have also been reports of new explosions in the Arafat compound. Any indication as to the --

MR. FLEISCHER: John, I'm aware that in the talks concerning Bethlehem, there was a Palestinian legislator this morning who was quoted as saying they were constructive. But I think -- it's best to keep a focus on the longer-term process for how to help the parties to help themselves in the Middle East, than relentless focus on the tick-tock of this morning, this afternoon, this evening. Because I think as one thing everybody knows about the Middle East, is events change and change rapidly.

The President is focused, despite any incremental moves forward or backwards, to keep the pressure on the three parties to focus on what needs to be done in order to achieve peace, which are those three issues I just outlined before. And frankly, what alternative do the Palestinians, the Israelis and the Arab nations have, other than to heed the President's helpful call from that Rose Garden speech? The alternative is continued violence, and that's not an alternative that this President wants to countenance. And that's why he is going to continue so steadfastly to work with the three parties to help them to achieve those goals.

Q Ari, the explosion?

MR. FLEISCHER: The reports just came in minutes before I came out here for the briefing. I've started looking into them; I don't have anything conclusive to share at this time.

Q So in terms of the continued siege of Arafat's compound in Ramallah and the Church of the Nativity, do the President's calls for Israeli withdrawal fall into a longer-term picture or an hour-by-hour picture --

MR. FLEISCHER: No, the President has made his case about what Israel needs to do, what the Palestinian Authority needs to do, as well as what other Arab nations need to do. And that remains unchanged. The President believes that all three parties need to listen to what he said in the Rose Garden, and that includes Israel.

Q How do you deal with the criticism from the region where the President said again today, Israel should continue its withdrawal, but his Chief of Staff goes to a pro-Israel group and says, we might have disagreements from time to time, from day to day, but we are steadfast. That is read by the Arab world as essentially the wink-nod, that we're saying withdraw, but even if we disagree, we're still with you.

MR. FLEISCHER: John, I don't think it's any secret, going back any number of administrations and including this administration, that Israel is an ally, Israel is a democracy. The United States and Israel do share much, have much in common, and that's a well-known position.

Q First of all, congratulations. When the bells are ringing? (Laughter.)

MR. FLEISCHER: Oh, that was a question? (Laughter.)

Q No, I was just commenting on it.

MR. FLEISCHER: What's the question?

Q When is the wedding date?

Q Monsoon wedding?

MR. FLEISCHER: I can fall back into presidential spokesman speak and say we're working on modalities, working on the timing.

Q When we have something to announce --

MR. FLEISCHER: When we have something to announce, we'll announce it. (Laughter.) All I say is it will be -- I'll let you know when it will be. I think it will be --

Q Will we be invited?

MR. FLEISCHER: Les? Do you really want that answer? (Laughter.)

Q Congratulations, Ari.

MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.

Q My question is, two weeks ago -- section of India Globe ran the same story today Washington Times is running, and every week I have been asking Secretaries of Defense, State, and also here at the White House that -- hundreds of Afghanis and Pakistanis also told me that Osama bin Laden is hiding in Pakistan. Now the story is there --

MR. FLEISCHER: I think that almost any day now you can find some type of guesswork on the Internet, on any number of newspapers, anywhere. The fact of the matter is that our United States government does not know whether Osama bin Laden is dead or alive. The war against terrorism, no matter whether he is dead or alive, continues to go on. And one of the reminders the American people have to keep in the forefront of their minds, in the President's opinion -- and you saw some examples of this over the weekend, with the warnings to the banks in the Northeast, with some of the reporting that has come out about other risks of potential dangers that America faces, the question of whether or not they have acquired a dirty bomb, which is something that we have previously identified as something we know they wanted to do -- the United States remains a nation that is at war.

On the one hand, we have been very fortunate that there has been a real lull, that there have been no incidents taking place in the United States. And that's, in good part, thanks to many of the security enhancements that have been undertaken as a result of congressional legislation that gave the administration enhanced abilities. But no one should be under any illusions. We have an enemy that is trying to hit us and strike us, and it is still an issue that the American people have got to be concerned with, in terms of America's safety and the vigilance required.

Now, we haven't had to talk about this for a period of months and that's a good thing. But the danger signs still remain, and that's something the President, who still reads a threat matrix every day, is keenly concerned with.

Q Ari, backtracking a little bit on Goyal's question, the word family decisions and family-friendly White House have been bantered about all day today so far. And yesterday President Bush embraced your upcoming nuptials by kissing you. And he -- (laughter) --

MR. FLEISCHER: Let's keep that off the record. (Laughter.)

Q And he's embracing this decision by Karen Hughes to go back to Texas, primarily for her son and the fact that she's homesick. What should corporate America take from this -- this family-friendly White House -- to deal with these kinds of situations -- pregnancy, leaving for issues of children? What should corporate America take from that?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think that the fact of the matter is whether it's corporate America, whether it's nonprofit America, whether it's labor unions, academicians, college campuses, the truth is, about leadership, that every organization takes its role from the person at the top. That's true for every congressional office I ever worked in, that the character of the person at the top really does have its way of spreading throughout rank and file. And that's true for anything. I think it's a function of human nature.

And one of the reasons I think Karen shared with you -- she shared with you is because it really does start with our man at the top, our employer and boss, the President of the United States. That is his approach. And it's an approach that endears all of us to him in a very real way, that makes us, I think, better workers, harder workers, because we work for a very caring man. And that's certainly the case with Karen, in the care that he has shown toward her and his understanding of her priorities, which I think are marvelous priorities.

So I think it's a good lesson for everybody who employs anybody, no matter what their position in life, is take good care of your workers and they'll take good care of you.

Q Ari, I'd like to ask you something about Cuba and Mexico and the United States. When the U.N. had an economic development conference in Monterrey, Mexico, President Bush was there, and Fidel Castro had left abruptly. A lot of controversy ensued. Cuban officials said that Castro left Mexico because the U.S. had pressured Mexico to ensure that Castro and Bush did not pass at events. President Fox put out a tape, I think yesterday if I'm not mistaken, of a conversation --

MR. FLEISCHER: You said who put out a tape?

Q President Castro put out a tape of a conversation he had taped before when President Fox told him through Havana before coming to the conference, asking him not to attack the United States, not to attack President Bush. Although the tape does not accuse Washington of any involvement in his departure, the impression is there that the U.S. played a role. What is the position of the White House?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as you know, the United States has very good and friendly relations with Mexico. Mexico is a sovereign nation; Mexico undertakes its own judgments. And we had a very successful conference in Monterrey, Mexico, where the world came together to focus on how to get aid to the developing nations around the world. The President announced additional aid for such nations at that conference.

So, again, the President addressed this question when he was asked it down at Monterrey. The President said basically that Fidel Castro can do what he wants to do. And I think that America's position about how Castro is an oppressor, somebody who has trampled on human rights is well-known and oft expressed by the United States but, as I indicated, Mexico is a sovereign nation and Mexico makes its own judgments. I can't comment on any phone call that's reported to be between two leaders.

Q A follow-up, please. After Monterrey, Mexico, for the first time in history voted in favor of a U.N. resolution asking Cuba to participate -- to better its human rights record. Mr. Castro yesterday said that this was a plan hatched by Washington and Jorge Castaneda, the Foreign Minister of Mexico.

MR. FLEISCHER: I think it would be better for the people of Cuba if Mr. Castro focused on what that vote represented. It is a reminder about the eternal need to have human rights around the world, but particularly in Cuba, where the Cuban people have been oppressed and don't have liberty, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of press. So I think Mr. Castro would do well to look within before he casts his gaze without -- about.

Elizabeth, did you have one before?

Q No, I didn't.

MR. FLEISCHER: I thought you did. We'll come back to you some other time -- (laughter.) Martha. John Roberts might take yours. (Laughter.)

Q He's always ahead of the curve. (Laughter.) How do you think the White House will change on a day-to-day basis with Karen leaving?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think -- let me just say, Karen is the person who approached me and recruited me to move to Texas to work for Governor Bush. And she really made me feel welcome and at home when I made the move, and brought me in to the Texas operation of the Texas team and to Governor Bush's approach. That was back in the fall of 1999. And I'm going to miss her. I think everybody in this White House is going to miss her and miss her a lot. She is very, very good at what she does. And so I think we're all going to have to work a little harder and try to make up for Karen going home, because she's hard to replace.

In many ways, on one level, I think none of us, no matter how hard we work, will ever be able to replace Karen. On the other hand, we all work for the President. We have a duty to work for the President and to do the job the President expects of us, and I think that will happen, as well.

So it's a hard question to answer, Martha, especially today. Karen is a wonderful, trusted advisor to the President, gives him, I think, superb advice. She's been a great person for me to work for. I think one of the little secrets of Karen is she is actually a big delegator. I think that people who know Karen understand that and know that about her, and understand that she just really plays a great role in helping the President and, therefore, helping the country.

But as the President said, she may not be in Washington, D.C., but she'll always be in his inner circle. And I know that's true and I'm going to help make that stay true because I think that's great for all of us.

I see you have a question, Elizabeth.

Q Did this surprise you, this move of hers? Were you guys --

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, yes and no. I understand the importance of Karen's family and Texas roots. As a New Yorker who moved to Texas -- and so many of my best friends all happened to be from Texas before I even went to work for Governor Bush, because I worked for the Ways and Means Committee, Bill Archer of Houston. And I've seen this before in a lot of people, interestingly, from Texas; they love Texas in a special way. Returning home means a lot to them. And raising children in Texas means a lot to them.

I have one family friend from Beaumont, Texas, and they had a daughter who was born in Washington, D.C., and the grandmother brought up soil from Beaumont and put underneath the hospital mattress, April, so that way she could say that her granddaughter was born on Texas soil. (Laughter.) So I think it's something special about that. April, you might want to try that, as well. We'll get you some Baltimore soil. (Laughter.) But I think -- let me say this about Karen --

Q You did not expect it?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm sorry?

Q You did not expect it?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, I can't say I was expecting this. I was not. When Karen told me, it came as a surprise to me. But then when I started thinking about how, some of the things I'm privy to, the things I know about Karen and the closeness of her family and the importance of her family in Texas, it wasn't a surprise for long.

But one of the things -- I've been in Washington 20 years, I've spent a lot of time on the Hill. Karen has not spent a lot of time in Washington or on the Hill. And I think that one of the great strengths that Karen brings to the President, to all of us in this business, is a reminder that there's a whole bigger world out there other than the way Washington does its business. That people in Washington sometimes spend too much time every day taking a look at the internal of who's up, who's down, who's in, who's out, who said X, who said Y, and there are plenty of people in Washington who are happy to play X versus Y. Karen has never, ever been one of those people. Neither is President Bush, and neither is really the staff that he has surrounded himself by. And I think that's a real tribute. I used to call it the Austin way of doing business. And I think, frankly, it's a great change in Washington.

One of the great strengths about Karen also, and I think one of the reasons she's going home, is because she's always, as she's worked in this White House and been in Washington, kept that Texas part of her, that family part of her, that not-getting-caught-in-the-Washington-way part of her. And I think that's one of the reasons she's so good at what she does, because she keeps that more broad, outside-the-Beltway perspective about the events that really are important to the American people. And she's still here, so I can't miss her yet, but I know I will.

Q Ari, you spoke earlier on the Middle East about the need to keep the focus on what you called the longer-term process, presumably the peace process, or the need to get there. In a call to AIPAC today, Prime Minister Sharon laid out a three-step process -- an immediate cease-fire, a kind of intermediate-range armistice, if you will, and then eventual determination of borders for Israel and the Palestinian people. I want to know how you feel this gibes with what the administration's stated belief that it's important to give the Palestinians a political process to look toward now as a part of reducing the violence, and Secretary Powell's comment about perhaps integrating the political process with ending the violence there.

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, one, I think the President welcomes ideas that focus on peace, whether they're from Prime Minister Sharon, whether they're from the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, perhaps Chairman Arafat. The President will welcome people's ideas on how to bring everybody to the peace table, as opposed to how to continue violence.

I think it's fair to say that the President continues to believe that it's harder to get to the political process so long as there is violence. But the President would like to see a way of showing there is hope at the end of a cease-fire process for people's realizations and dreams to be reality. And that's the political process.

So I don't think it's fair to say that the President is set in any one stone about "you must have an end to violence before you have political talks." The Secretary has been talking about that repeatedly. And so I think you're going to see, you are seeing, some willingness from the administration to figure out how to bring the parties together on those two measures.

Q Two questions. First of all, after 9/11, the President and -- well, not the President, but several administration officials got on Al-Jazeera and talked about the administration's policies. Do you have any plans to do that, in light of the King of Morocco, the Crown Prince coming? And the second question is, Burns and Zinni are both in Palestinian area and in Israel. How are they working together? How is that --

MR. FLEISCHER: You may want to check with State Department about exactly where people are. I know that General Zinni had a wedding, and so he was in the United States. I'm not certain if he is actually back in the region, so you may want to check that with State.

But we work as one team. General Zinni is in the region to help find ways to bring the parties together. He's particularly focused on the security aspects of issues. Secretary Burns is in the region, and has been since Secretary Powell's trip. And we will continue to have a presence in the region, whether it's direct and in person -- I anticipate there may be some days where there won't be anybody in person there, but there will be a lot of working the phones. There will be days, of course, where there's more than one person in the region. So it continues at various levels.

I'll keep you informed if there are any additional interviews with Al-Jazeera. I know that's something that people here do from time to time, not only with Al-Jazeera but with other media.

Q First of all, again, congratulations. We're happy for you, your fiancee, and the family. On the Middle East, for months there was no public emphasis at all on the Israeli or the Palestinian situation. Now it dominates almost everything. Is there any concern that other crucial areas of the world are being neglected?

Q Well, you know, I think there's always a difference between what is asked about and what is the top news of the day, versus what is the ongoing activities of the United States government. I can assure you that the ongoing activities of the United States government are around the world, and we are busily engaged in them -- whether it's continuing to work toward peace involving Kashmir and issues involving India and Pakistan, which has been a nice bit of success, it continues to be an important region of the world; whether it's, of course, the President's conversations with President Putin and Prime Minister Berlusconi of Italy about what I think is going to be a very significant change in the world, about Russia a part of NATO, NATO plus 20.

There are a lot of other issues around the world that continue to be priorities for this administration. Just because they don't come up in the time we have for this briefing doesn't mean they don't come up in a variety of ways throughout the government.

Q Ari, I'm curious, what's the motivation for your reminder twice today that, in your words in this briefing, that "danger signs remain." Is there some concern here that the nation's becoming complacent, that people are letting their guard down? Why all of a sudden are you --

MR. FLEISCHER: Peter, I just, I think it was important to highlight, given some of the recent pieces of information that have been released by the Department of Justice that have made people, again, for the first time in months, focus again on the fact that we are a nation at war. I think it was important to say; that's why I said it.

It doesn't go beyond anything you have publicly heard, but we -- like I said, on the one hand we're very fortunate that we have moved away from the atmosphere of last fall, where there were a series of events, including the anthrax attacks and other warnings about potential attacks on the country. Fortunately, into the winter and the spring, we evolved away from having reminders of those types. But it's important to just say. We still are a nation at war. We still have enemies who want to hit us.

Q But is the President concerned, is there concern perhaps elsewhere in the administration, that the country is letting its guard down?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, I can't say I've heard that, Peter. No. I just think it was an appropriate thing to say publicly, and that's why I said it.

Q Ari, has the President expressed any reaction to polls which show his ratings slipping?

MR. FLEISCHER: You're kidding, aren't you? Well, you know, I took a look at -- for example, the latest one I saw was the Washington Post today which -- I don't know if you saw it, but way down, buried in the middle of the Washington Post article about the Mideast was the President's most recent polling ratings. I think they had him at a 78 percent overall job approval, unchanged for the last month. His handling of foreign policy, if I remember, was at 70 percent.

So, I mean, frankly, I kind of get a kick out of some of these things I've seen about critics of Bush this, and critics of Bush that. I'm often struck by the fact that while the country believes so strongly the President is doing a good job, there just are a couple isolated individuals who -- it's like breathing oxygen -- have to get on cable television and say something critical. There's always going to be that in a democracy; that's part of the process.

But the American people, as shown by all the data, powerfully, continually support the President at record-breaking levels for a record-breaking amount of time. Now, I know that, after a while, becomes old news, people don't want to tell it anymore, it kind of gets buried in those stories. But I think that's the fairer, more accurate snapshot of where the public is.

Q One of those critics is Gary Bauer, who -- it seems that you can't pick up a newspaper without him criticizing the President for something. What does the President think of Gary Bauer?

MR. FLEISCHER: He thinks it's a democracy, and Mr. Bauer is entitled to his opinion. It makes for good cable, I guess.

Q But they don't talk? Do they ever communicate?

MR. FLEISCHER: Mr. Bauer communicates through cable. (Laughter.)

Q Ari, as you know, there are revelations out of Jenin in recent days that have exacerbated the Arab antipathy toward Israel and toward the United States. And as you know, on Friday -- or Thursday, the Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia likened them to war crimes. I'm wondering how the President has reacted in recent days to the reports coming out of Jenin, and how he might have expressed any feelings about this to the King of Morocco today?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President reacts by saying that he wants facts, he wants information. The President understands that in war-like situation -- and Israel said this was a war, I think the Palestinians have said something similar -- that truth is often one of the first casualties, and that it's important for the facts to be determined. And the United Nations is working toward that goal. And the President will await a review of the facts, to make any determinations.

Q Ari, I'm sorry, did he address in any way with the King today the antagonism that the Arabs have expressed --

MR. FLEISCHER: I think they had a very broad discussion about, as I indicated at the top of the briefing -- the needs for all of the parties to do what the responsibilities the President discussed in the Rose Garden.

Q I add to the warmest congratulations.

MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you, Lester.

Q Half a page of Sunday's New York Times reports that some of Idi Amin's 48 children are hoping he can return to Uganda from Saudi Arabia. And my question is, does the President think that this would be a good thing, or does he think Amin should be extradited to stand trial for murdering at least one quarter of a million blacks? And will he be willing to suggest this extradition to his guest in Crawford on behalf of all of these murdered blacks families?

MR. FLEISCHER: Les, I have no information on Idi Amin. That's the first I've heard about this. Let me see if there's anything I can develop along those lines.

Q That would be great. The President's fellow Republican Congressman Bob Barr, in commenting on the GAO report of extensive vandalism when the Clinton staffers had to leave the White House, said, "it should not matter whether the damage was $14 or $40,000. No one should get away with deliberately vandalizing one of our country's most sacred public monuments, the White House." And my question is, does the President believe that Congressman Barr is wrong, and that those Clinton people should get away with it, Ari?

MR. FLEISCHER: Les, I think the President from the very first moments of this White House said he was looking forward and not backward. And that's always been the tenor --

Q You mean they should get away with it then?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think, Les, a lot of things have happened that are now part of closed chapters. And the President is looking forward.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.

END 2:26 P.M. EDT