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

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
April 12, 2002

Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer

12:30 P.M. EDT

MR. FLEISCHER: Good morning. I want to give you a report on the President's day, and then I have a statement from the President about the recent events in the Middle East.

The President began this morning with early morning phone calls to Russian President Vladimir Putin and to Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi. The President said that -- he informed both of them that he supports the idea of a NATO-Russia summit in Italy at the end of this May. A NATO-Russia summit, in the President's opinion, would highlight the new relationship that has been developed between Russia and the West, between Russia and NATO, as well as the United States, of course. And the President informed both of it. They both welcomed the idea. We'll have additional details as they develop.

The President also in his discussions with President Putin noted the recent trade dispute involving American poultry products and the President expressed his hope that all those issues could be resolved quickly.

From there, the President had his intelligence briefings with the CIA and then the FBI. He convened a meeting of the National Security Council. At which point, in the middle of the meeting, the President was informed about this morning's homicide bombing in Jerusalem.

The President also met today with Edmund Stoiber, a candidate for Chancellor of Germany. And he met with Sarah Hughes, the Olympic women's figure skating gold medalist in the Oval Office earlier today.

The President also met with United States Trade Representative Bob Zoellick to go over various trade issues. And he will depart from the White House later this afternoon.

The President condemns this morning's homicide bombing in Jerusalem. There are clearly people in the region who want to disrupt Secretary Powell's peace mission. And the President will not be deterred from seeking peace. There are people who don't want peace. The President wants peace, and that's why he condemns in the strongest terms possible this morning's homicide attack.

I'd be happy to take your questions.

Q The Mayor of Jerusalem, Mr. Olmert, has a different take on the suicide bombing. He says that it's not to try to undo the peace process; that it's to show that Powell will meet with Arafat in spite of such a bombing. Any reaction to that?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, the Secretary has gone to the region at a time of great difficulty. And the Secretary has gone with maximum flexibility from the President to use his discretion to do what can be done to achieve peace. The President is very troubled by what happened this morning and the President expects Yasser Arafat to denounce this morning's attack, to step up and show leadership.

Q Let me just follow that. If he doesn't denounce it, will that -- will that mean that there's no meeting between him and the Secretary?

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, as of this morning, the meeting was planned. As I said, the President has given flexibility to this mission. It was flexible all along.

But the President is very troubled by what happened and the President believes that if Yasser Arafat meant what he committed in the Oslo accords to denounce terrorism, that today would be a particularly apt day for Yasser Arafat to publicly express himself in denunciation of this terrorist attack and to show leadership.

Q At the same time that conservative Republicans are sharply criticizing this President for his Mideast policy, which they describe as being too tough on Israel, you, the President, others in this White House have adopted a term called homicide bombings instead of suicide bombings. Is that a coincidence, or is this an attempt to pacify his political base that's criticizing him?

MR. FLEISCHER: David, I don't think pacification comes from lexicon. I think people support the President --

Q Then why change the term, why adopt this --

MR. FLEISCHER: I think people support the President because of the principles that he has so strongly stood for in the war against terrorism and in his actions here in the Middle East.

But the reason I started to use that term is because it's a more accurate description. These are not suicide bombings. These are not people who just kill themselves. These are people who deliberately go to murder others, with no regard to the values of their own life. These are murderers. The President has said that in the Rose Garden. And I think that is just a more accurate description of what these people are doing. It's not suicide, it's murder.

Q Can I follow up on one point? Given that on the one hand you have conservatives criticizing the administration's Mideast policy, and on the other hand -- as being too tough on Israel. On the other hand, in the Arab world, you have governments criticizing the Mideast policy as being too light on Israel, too pro-Israel. As a result, some have said that the administration's policy is somehow trapped in the middle and is fraught with incoherence and inconsistencies, and therefore going nowhere. How do you respond to that?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think that nobody expects to be able to take action without being criticized from various corners. And the President doesn't pay much attention to the critics. The President pays attention to what he thinks is necessary to secure a political process that leads to peace. And in that, as the President called for in the Rose Garden, he called clearly on three parties to honor their obligations to step up, to create an environment for peace. Those are the principles the President adhered to. Each of the three parties has responsibilities. And the President will continue to press each of the three parties to meet them.

Q The President asked Israel to withdraw from Palestinian cities without delay. Israeli officials are saying, in the wake of today's action, this operation must continue, from their perspective. Has the President changed his demand to Israel at all?

MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, the President still believes that the best way to achieve a political settlement is for all three parties to do exactly as he said in the Rose Garden. Given what's happened today, the President, as I indicated earlier, believes that Yasser Arafat needs to publicly come out and condemn today's attack, that this is terrorism, this is murder, and Yasser Arafat needs to renounce it and renounce it soon, if not today.

Q And does the President also expect of Israel to withdraw without delay, as he said?

MR. FLEISCHER: There's no change in the President's positions from the Rose Garden.

Q On the third channel, if you will, of the President's diplomacy that he launched last Thursday. He asked Arab leaders to step up and stop inciting violence in their state-sponsored media and denounce terrorism. Has he seen any shred of progress from Arab leaders?

MR. FLEISCHER: Secretary Powell was asked that question as he toured the region, and I can read you from what the Secretary said: "I've been pleased by the reactions I've gotten from the governments I've spoken to so far. In this case, it was three governments. They are ready to engage more fully once we get the violence stopped and the cease-fire in place."

So the Secretary has reported progress, and remains -- that remains the mission of the Secretary. The President will measure results. The President will measure results once the murder-bombings like today stop, when the environment for peace can be created, and when all the parties that he has sought action from take the actions he has expressed.

Q Does the President also equally condemn the killing of hundreds of Palestinians and the destruction of the West Bank with American-made weapons?

MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, again, the President has made his point clear --

Q Equally condemn.

MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, the President has made his point clear. People who strap explosives around them, civilians who go into civilian areas for the purpose --

Q Well, aren't the Palestinians civilians?

MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, I think we know you have a different opinion, but let me answer your question.

Q I want to know, are they civilians or not?

MR. FLEISCHER: Let me answer your question. The President believes that people who strap explosives around their waist as civilians who go board buses, who go to hotels on the eve of Passover, who go where you can find civilians for the purpose of murdering civilians, are terrorists. The President --

Q Well, what do ground ships do when they go through Jenin and Ramallah?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President has always said that Israel has a right to defend itself. Israel exercised the right to defend herself, and then the President made his call that you know about in the Rose Garden.

Q Ari, can I follow up on Bill's question? Because, you know, in light of the bombing today and the al Aqsa group which is linked to Arafat's organization claiming responsibility, many believe that Arafat doesn't deserve a meeting with Secretary Powell. What do you say to that?

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, the President, as I indicated, is very troubled by this. And today would be a very good day for Yasser Arafat to explain to the world what he said when he committed himself to Oslo, that he denounces these very types of attacks.

Q You've been saying that for weeks. What if he doesn't do it? What if he doesn't do it, Ari?

Q Exactly. That's my question. He hasn't said it. So you put out there, is that a condition now, if he does not renounce terrorism on this date, his meeting with Secretary Powell is up in the air?

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, the President -- from the beginning, the President always said that there was flexibility in this trip, flexibility to exercise maximum judgment and maximum influence.

Q How many times can you say "don't do it or else," and not act? What will he do if Arafat doesn't do it?

MR. FLEISCHER: David, I think you've had four or five already.


Q What if he doesn't? Why won't you answer that question, Ari?


Q You're not answering that question.

Q I would like to just call a pause to the Middle East for a second. A very important event has happened in Venezuela. We have had the renunciation or forced -- of President Chavez. Now, a new government has taken place. Venezuela is a very important country to the stability of the hemisphere; a democracy, and also the third largest oil supplier to the United States. What does the White House think of the change of government in Venezuela?

MR. FLEISCHER: Let me share with you the administration's thoughts about what's taking place in Venezuela. It remains a somewhat fluid situation. But yesterday's events in Venezuela resulted in a change in the government and the assumption of a transitional authority until new elections can be held.

The details still are unclear. We know that the action encouraged by the Chavez government provoked this crisis. According to the best information available, the Chavez government suppressed peaceful demonstrations. Government supporters, on orders from the Chavez government, fired on unarmed, peaceful protestors, resulting in 10 killed and 100 wounded. The Venezuelan military and the police refused to fire on the peaceful demonstrators and refused to support the government's role in such human rights violations. The government also tried to prevent independent news media from reporting on these events.

The results of these events are now that President Chavez has resigned the presidency. Before resigning, he dismissed the vice president and the cabinet, and a transitional civilian government has been installed. This government has promised early elections.

The United States will continue to monitor events. That is what took place, and the Venezuelan people expressed their right to peaceful protest. It was a very large protest that turned out. And the protest was met with violence.

Q The situation in Venezuela is very dire. During the Chavez years, the economy -- situation. Will the United States government back a civilian government, although it's an interim one, to help Venezuela get back on its feet?

MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated, the events remain fluid. Events are under way still, as we speak. We are consulting with our OAS allies and reviewing the events on the ground. I think you'll have more developments and we'll share with you as they warrant. So it's an ongoing story.

Q Going back to the Middle East, is there anybody here in the White House who has any reason for optimism that this situation can be resolved, or do you expect it to be worse? And, also, what is your take on the release of documents allegedly signed by Yasser Arafat?

MR. FLEISCHER: On the second point, on the release of documents, those documents have been received by the appropriate government agencies and they will be reviewed. I don't have any information to share on that yet.

On the question of optimism, this President is always an optimist, an optimistic man. This President has a vision that, at the end of the day, a creation of a Palestinian state living side by side with an Israeli state that lives in security. And that is why the President is so determined to pursue what can be done to bring the parties together to focus on the political process that still has to take place in order for peace to begin.

Today's homicide bombing represents a real challenge to all those in the region who care about peace, particularly Palestinian people. The Palestinian people need a leadership that can help them to achieve their just political goals. And that is why it's so important for Chairman Arafat to speak out and denounce today's homicide attack.

Q Is this the last chance for Arafat? Is this a last chance for Arafat, Ari?

Q If I may combine two questions, please? One, if President Bush approves another five-year term for General Musharraf, who has been asking that his military rule should be extended?

And, two, what Indian government or Indians were asking when their parliament was attacked in Delhi, the same thing now Israelis are asking, that why there is double standard, why the United States, one side, they are having their own campaign in Afghanistan against terrorism, and they're asking us to withdraw when we're fighting our own terrorism?

MR. FLEISCHER: Restoration of democratic civilian rule is a central goal of the United States and is critical to Pakistan's political and economic development. It is important that Pakistan follow constitutional procedures as it pursues this process, with the legality of particular actions such as a referendum on the continuation of President Musharraf's term in office to be decided by the courts, as required.

It's our understanding that Pakistan's constitution allows for referenda. But we believe the constitutionality of this particular referendum should be open to review by the country's courts.

Q And the second one on the Middle East?

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't have anything further to add beyond what I've said.

Q Ari, I understand there was a concern of the U.S. in regards to the policy of Mr. Hugo Chavez towards Iraq and Cuba. Is there any relief maybe because finally he's out of power and the Venezuelan people is electing a new democratic president?

MR. FLEISCHER: At all times, these are issues that are the rights of the people of Venezuela to decide who will represent them. As I mentioned, this was a peaceful protest and the peaceful protestors were attacked and many of them were killed or injured as a result of the actions of the Chavez government, which also sought to repress coverage of the issue. The United States is, at all times, committed to democracy around the world and particularly, of course, in our hemisphere. That's why the President traveled to El Salvador and Peru just last month to highlight to the importance of democracy.

It's, all times, the position of the government to promote democracy and tranquility, and as I indicated, events are fluid in the region and this is an issue for the Venezuelan people to determine.

Q -- mentioned before the concerns of the administration in regards to the policy of Mr. Chavez towards Cuba and Iraq?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think events took place on the ground there as they did. I think that played out for all to see, and it happened in a very quick fashion as a result of the message of the Venezuelan people.

Q Ari, on the Saudi telethon, the President asked Arab states to stop inciting the violence on state-owned media. This telethon certainly looked like incitement to violence. It was on state-owned media. And so I have two questions. One, is that telethon in accord with what the President asked of Arab states? And, two, do we believe the Saudis when they say none of this money will be going to suicide or homicide --

MR. FLEISCHER: According to the information that we have about the telethon, and the assurances that we have received from the Saudi government, the money is raised to help with the broader humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people. Something the United States is committed to. The United States provides assistance, financial assistance for the Palestinian people.

So the simple granting of money to the Palestinian people cannot, on its face, be said to be support of terrorism. The Saudi telethon, as they have told it to us, is to provide assistance to the Palestinian people, and that no money is going to go to provide the homicide bombers with any assistance from the Saudi government. That is the word we have from the Saudi government, and I pass that along.

Q But, Ari, what about the nature of the telethon itself, which clearly looked like something that was inciting rather than --

MR. FLEISCHER: Listen, the President has been unwavering in his message about stopping state incitement to violence. I cannot say that the telethon fit that category. I didn't see enough to give you that judgment. But there have been, for example, the blood liable that has been published previously. That was a subject of deep personal concern to the President. The President was horrified when he heard about that type of message being conveyed in state-owned press.

And to the credit of the Saudi government, the editor of the newspaper that had published the blood liable retracted it. That was a topic that was discussed at the highest levels of the American government with the Saudi government. And the President noted that.

Q Ari, is the White House monitoring negotiations for the release of American hostages in the Philippines? And could you give us a bit more detail about the President's -- the notice that the President got of this attack in Israel this morning. You said he was handed a note. Who gave it to him? What was his initial reaction?

MR. FLEISCHER: On the first question, there have been numerous reports in the Philippines, and elsewhere, concerning the Burnhams. Our overriding concern is to see that the Burnhams are reunited with their families as soon as possible and in good health. And out of concern for the safety and the well being of the Burnhams, I'm just not going to comment on any other reports.

Q You can't confirm that negotiations are underway?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to comment on any of these reports.

Q And the Mideast, how the President got the --

MR. FLEISCHER: The President was in his regularly scheduled meeting of the National Security Council this morning. I don't know the precise time, but an official in the Situation Room who received word of what took place in Jerusalem wrote a note down and handed it to the President, informing him of the attack.

I talked to the President immediately after he came out of the NSC meeting, and that's when the President expressed to me his thoughts about the attack, which you've heard in my opening statement about the President condemning what took place.

Q Did he seemed alarmed by it? Was he actually getting an update from Secretary Powell at the time?

MR. FLEISCHER: As I said, the President is very troubled by this attack.

Q I'd like to ask you about the issue of Presidential prestige and credibility, as it relates to what's happening in the Middle East right now. Obviously, the longer this goes on, the more of an issue that becomes. And my question for you is, is that just sort of a lump the President has to take, or is it

-- does it actually -- can it have real policy implications about his ability to actively conduct and effectively conduct policy?

MR. FLEISCHER: This is about persistence. This is about pursuing peace. This is not about prestige. The President believes that foreign policy has got to guided by a sense of moral clarity and consistency. And the President doesn't look over his shoulder or look side to side, worrying or wondering about what one party or another party domestically is saying on a day to day or hour to hour basis. That type of approach leads to a foreign policy that is devoid of principle, and therefore devoid of hope.

This President's foreign policy will continue to be guided, over time, not measured day to day, but over time, by that persistence. The President understands there are going to be daily setbacks in any nation's foreign policies. Those setbacks will not deter him from trying to find a way to bring the parties together to create a political environment for peace to take place.

Q Ari, what is the concern, if any, of the White House about the fact that Sharon did not give a date for the withdrawal? And you're saying that you want a withdrawal without a delay. And also, what are you measuring these results of the President that you say he's -- the President will measure the results. What are you measuring these results against?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we will, number one, continue to talk to Israel, continue to talk to Prime Minister Sharon about the President's expectations and the President's message. I think you can anticipate additional conversations that will go back and forth in a very friendly fashion, in a direct fashion. The President has a message and the Secretary is conveying it -- conveying it not only to Prime Minister Sharon, but to all parties in the region.

The second part of your question was?

Q Well, actually, the first part of the question about the fact that Sharon has said that he will withdraw, but he has not given a date, and --

MR. FLEISCHER: That was my answer to that part.

Q Can you give a little bit more? (Laughter.)

MR. FLEISCHER: The exchanges will continue to go back and forth.

Q Okay, the second part -- what are you measuring results against, for as far as what's happening in the Middle East? What kind --

MR. FLEISCHER: The President's measuring results against the principles and the specifics that he laid out in his Rose Garden speech in which he called on the Israelis, the Palestinians and the Arab nations to step up their efforts at statesmanship, to denounce the violence, to create an atmosphere in which the political talks can begin. That's what the President's measuring it against. He's measuring all three.

Q You've said repeatedly today that Secretary Powell's mission has great flexibility. Will the President ask him not to meet with Chairman Arafat if Chairman Arafat does not denounce today's bombing and the others that have preceded it? And has Secretary Powell indicated to the President or anyone else that he intends to call off the meeting if those denunciations do not take place?

MR. FLEISCHER: Dick, I can only repeat what I said earlier, that the President is very troubled by this morning's attack, particularly coming on the eve of Secretary Powell's visit with Chairman Arafat. And it's very important for people in the Palestinian Authority, particularly Chairman Arafat, to demonstrate in word and then in deed their commitment to what they promised in Oslo, which is the denunciation of terrorism as a means of carrying out their political goals.

Q Obviously at this point, the President must be very frustrated by the continual warnings, the continued calling on Arafat to say and do things, that to this point he hasn't shown any indication that he will say or do. When does he run out of time?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think that the President, as I indicated, is going to continue to be persistent and determined in the mission that he has set out and that Secretary Powell is in the middle of. So I think you just have to watch events unfold and, if there's more to share, it will be shared. But this is where the President is as of this moment.

Q Yes, exactly my colleague's question. Today, the Secretary of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, said that the situation in the Middle East is so bad and is so serious that sending an international force into Palestinian territories cannot be put off anymore. Does the White House agree with this? And what kind of force could be -- would be sent if that happens? An international force, a peace force? I don't know, is there any reaction from the White House?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President has always indicated, going back to last summer, that if the two parties agree for monitors to be placed in the region to help provide an environment for peace, that's something the United States will support. Secretary Powell is in the region exactly now, trying to work with leaders to approach various ideas that can help get things back to a cease-fire, less violence, a resumption of the political talks.

Q That was my question, but I have another.

MR. FLEISCHER: The three of you must have passed notes. (Laughter.)

Q Does the change in government in Venezuela mean we will be getting more Venezuelan oil and that gasoline prices will go down?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the price of gasoline, of course, is determined by the market. And I can refer you, of course, to what's taken place on the ground in the wake of the actions there. You can see that for yourself. Having said that, Venezuela has been a reliable and steady energy partner of the United States, and we will continue to monitor events carefully.

Q Congresswoman McKinney is suggesting that President Bush and other government officials had advance knowledge of the September 11th attacks. That's a pretty serious charge. How is that news received here?

MR. FLEISCHER: All I can tell you is the congresswoman must be running for the hall of fame of the Grassy Knoll Society. I really don't have anything to say that would lend any credibility to what she said.

Q Ari, I want to go back to the Saudi telethon because it apparently opened up with images of housing areas being shelled. And the TV presenter during the telethon said this shows Saudi Arabia's commitment and solidarity with the intifada.

Given that, do you think this telethon was a constructive and helpful step for the Saudis to take in the current atmosphere in the Middle East, in the current events?

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I have not seen everything about the telethon. I have given you the statement I have based on what I have seen.

Q But is it constructive to do this sort of thing, given current events?

MR. FLEISCHER: I just cannot -- until I see more of it, I'm uncomfortable taking the premise of a description of something that I haven't seen.

Q Ari, what can you tell us about the President's reaction to news reports of the past couple of days about the heavy civilian toll on Palestinians that's been taken by this Israeli offensive?

MR. FLEISCHER: Listen, the President has, from the beginning, expressed his concern about all the events in the Middle East and what they are doing to the future of the Israeli people and the future of the Palestinian people.

I think the President couldn't have put it any plainer when he described how the future itself is dying when an 18-year-old girl takes the life of a 17-year-old girl. And that's why the President is working so hard to, at the end of the day, find a way to begin political talks to reduce the violence and bring political talks.

He has said that the killings are terrible, the killings represent a region that is suffering. And that's why the stakes are so high and that's why the pursuit of peace is so important, no matter how difficult it is, no matter how many setbacks there are. And that, unfortunately, is the longstanding history of the region, and it's unfortunately the recent -- most recent history of the region.

Q The reason I ask is because, as you know, all morning long a number of Palestinian officials have been coming out to say that while the White House is condemning this suicide bombing and Palestinian officials themselves are condemning it, they've heard very little in recent days from the President about the specific toll that's been taken on civilians within the Palestinian communities. What do you say to those people?

MR. FLEISCHER: It's exactly what the President said as he began his Rose Garden address. It was -- the heart of his message was about the future of the Palestinian people and the future of the Israeli people and the need for all parties to heed what he said in the Rose Garden so that the process can take root and that political talks can begin.

At his core, the President's actions are driven by a concern for the Palestinian people and the Israeli people, but not the terrorists.

Q Ari, so many of the questions about the Middle East today and in recent days have the premise that the United States and this President is losing his ability to influence events in the Middle East. To what extent can there be -- how much time can go by before some results are shown that this becomes a very serious problem for this White House?

MR. FLEISCHER: There's no question this is a serious problem for the world. It's an even more serious problem for the people who are losing their lives. And that's why the President has done what he's done and that's why the Secretary is in the region. It's also a reflection of what happens when the United States, the European Union, Russia, the United Nations, all lend their message and their strength and their heart to the cause of achieving peace in the Middle East. That's a reminder of what the President said in the first days of his administration. The United States can and will act as a facilitator for peace. But peace, ultimately -- with all the good work of those parties I mentioned, peace ultimately still depends on the parties themselves working to achieve peace. And the President will continue to put the United States in a strong role to help the parties achieve that peace.

Q Ari, the President does not believe, himself, that his credibility is on the line?

MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated, the President is focused on helping

the parties to help themselves. And the President doesn't look over his shoulder, he doesn't look left, he doesn't look right, he doesn't worry on a day by day basis about what people are saying. His focus is on how to bring the parties together to achieve peace. That's what he is focused on. There's no other way to make foreign policy. If you try to make foreign policy based on the advice you're going to get from everybody and every corner and every circle, you will never have a principle that you adhere to that guides you throughout the ups and downs.

And that's why this President announced what he announced in the Rose Garden, with the specific calls on the three parties to take the actions he has. That's the core of his policy.

Q Can you elaborate a little bit on the meeting with Zoellick? Did they discuss trade promotion authority? Are there any new --

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't have a report from that meeting. I'll see if I can get one.

Q I want to follow on this telethon, because this is over 24 hours old. There's been plenty of time to gather information on what this was and what it wasn't. So when the presenters said that they were raising money for Palestinian martyrs, who do we think they were referring to, other than Palestinian suicide bombers and others who are suicide bombers?

MR. FLEISCHER: As I said, we have received assurances from the Saudi Arabian government that the money is going to be the Palestinian people, and not to support terrorism. That is an assurance we have received from Palestinian -- from the Saudi government. I remind you, and you all are aware of this, the United States provides financial assistance to the Palestinian people. We continue to do so, because exactly of the question you raised earlier, about the President's concern about the plight of the Palestinian people.

Q But can I just follow, because when the President in the Rose Garden said that martyrs -- that these bombers are not martyrs, they're murderers. He understood the context of martyrs to be suicide bombers and, yet, here you're assured that it's not.

MR. FLEISCHER: I can pass on to you what the Saudi government has told us. And as you know, from the President, he opposes any funding from anywhere, that would support the terrorists. Now I think the best place to pursue this line is with the Saudi government, if you're not satisfied with my response. I can convey to you the messages we have gotten --

Q He does not condemn the Saudis for this telethon?

MR. FLEISCHER: I've addressed the telethon.

Q Why did the German opposition leader? Would you like to see him elected?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think from time to time different leaders come to the United States who are involved in campaigns. And it's a long standing part of the American Presidency to meet with all sides. So it's a part of policy.

Q How long was the meeting, do you know?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'll have to take a look. I know what it was scheduled for. I don't know the exact duration as it took place.

Q You said here today that the administration's friendly and direct exchanges with Israel will continue to press the President's demand that Israel withdraw. And Sharon has made clear he's not going to. You've said that Yasser Arafat has to step up and live up to his obligations under the Oslo accords, but you've ruled out, or you haven't said that Secretary Powell will not go meet with him -- the Secretary of the State of the United States will not meet with him, even if he doesn't do that.

And while the Arab leaders have not stood up and denounced terrorism and the incitement of violence -- so basically you're pleased with what they've done. What is the administration going to do to achieve any of the objectives the President said? What are your carrots, what are your sticks? Is it just more words?

MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, as I have indicated earlier, in dealing particularly with a democracy and a democratically elected President, that you make your arguments based on principle and you make your arguments based on respect, and you are persistent and determined. And that's what this President is, and that's why the Secretary is in Israel and has had the meetings he's had with the Prime Minister, and will continue to have with other Arabs.

Q That's not an answer to the question.

Q On the Arafat meeting, yes or no, is the administration considering, considering canceling tomorrow's meeting with Arafat?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think I have addressed that question as fully as I can.

Q You haven't answered, though, yes or no? You leaving it open?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think I've addressed that question as fully as I can. The President, from the beginning has entrusted to the Secretary the flexibility necessary to achieve his mission, in accordance with the principles the President has outlined. And I said the President is very troubled by this morning's attack. Today would be a very good day for Yasser Arafat to publicly denounce terrorism, and to show some statesmanship.

Q And if he doesn't?

Q What's the question, if he doesn't, then --

MR. FLEISCHER: That's the answer to your question.

Q I want to get back to Mr. Chavez one last time. You said today from the podium that basically the actions that occurred yesterday were provoked by the Chavez people or people working for Chavez. Do you believe that the armed forces of Venezuela played a constructive role at the end? Because during the whole crisis, they were pretty much aloof and did not get involved. There was some criticism of certain members. But the armed forces seemed to have acted only at the last moment, after the bloodshed. Do you believe that they played a constructive role?

MR. FLEISCHER: Here are the facts that we do know from yesterday's events. And that is that the Venezuelan military and police refused to fire on peaceful demonstrators and they refused to support the government's role in such human rights violations. That's the role that the military played. They refused to fire.

Q Ari, did the President talk about the Mideast at all in his conversations with Putin and Berlusconi? And did those calls happen before or after he got word of the bombing?

MR. FLEISCHER: They happened before word of the bombing. They happened very early this morning. As you know, the President gets into the Oval around 7:00 a.m. They happened first thing this morning, shortly after the President got in, before the bombing. And, no, the Mideast was not a topic of their discussions; it was NATO-Russia.

Q Ari, what's the status of --

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm sorry?

Q What's the status of the President's taxes?

MR. FLEISCHER: Tax day is April 15th. They will be filed. You'll get your information prior to April 15th. I'm not clear whether it's going to be this afternoon or at some point prior to the 15th. But we'll have that for you. At any rate, we'll be able to answer that question a little later today. It could be today, but it will be before the 15th.

Q One other on that. A year ago, just about this time, the President gave a speech in which he said that he felt the tax code was unfair. Does he still believe that?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President continues to believe that taxes are too high, that taxes are too complicated, and that's going to be a topic the President will look forward to talking to the American people about in Saturday's riveting radio address, as well as Monday's visit to Iowa.

On Monday's visit to Iowa, the President will travel to Cedar Rapids, where he will participate in a roundtable and make remarks on taxes and the economy. That afternoon, he will attend a Ganske dinner -- a Ganske fundraising dinner before returning to the White House.

On Tuesday, the President will meet with the President of Finland in the Oval Office, and then meet with the leadership of the Fiscal Responsibility Coalition in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.

Wednesday afternoon, the President will meet with the Prime Minister of Lebanon in the Oval Office. And on Thursday morning, the President will meet with the President of Colombia in the Oval Office.

That morning, he will also make remarks at the 2002 Presidential Environmental Youth Awards ceremony in the Rose Garden. We'll have additional information about other events, particularly Friday, next week.

Thank you.

END 1:10 P.M. EDT

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