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 Home > News & Policies > September 2002

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

Press Gaggle by Ari Fleischer
Press Secretary's Office

11:58 A.M. EDT

MR. FLEISCHER: All right. Let's start. Thank you for joining me for the gaggle. What I wanted to do, especially just because of the logistics of the day, is we're doing it now, so this is akin to the gaggle that would have been done on Air Force One, with the very same people and the very same pool. The reason it's being done now is because otherwise we wouldn't have had enough time to distribute anything that was said until -- the President land into Crawford until 8:00 p.m., at night, and nothing could have been distributed until way late -- even Texas time. So I wanted to just move it for now.

I'll go through the schedule and then take questions.

The President began his day with the regular intelligence briefings. Then he had a meeting with the Newspaper Association of America board of directors -- he met with many of your bosses, the owners of a lot of papers, large and small, across the country. He talked about the war on Iraq -- at war.

Q Is that on the record, something we might see in print?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, it was off the record.

Q Do you have a list of who he met with?

MR. FLEISCHER: Let me see if I can release it. He talked about the prospects for war in Iraq and a number of other issues, including domestic. He also met with members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans in the House, to talk about the situation and to build support, vis a vis a resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq.

And then the President made remarks about corporate fraud at a conference the Department of Justice was having. The President very much hopes that Congress has not forgotten about the domestic agenda, and he urges the Congress to take action, particularly on pension reforms and terrorism insurance and the other legislative matters that deal with the domestic economy that he's focused on, and he hopes Congress hasn't lost its focus on those matters.

Later, the President will tape the radio address, which will also be about Iraq. And then the President will swear-in the chairman of the National Council on Disability.

He'll depart the White House at 2:30 p.m., and then make remarks at the John Cornyn For Senate Reception this evening in Houston. That is expected to raise $1 million for both Attorney General Cornyn and the Texas Victory Fund.

Q I'm sorry -- could you repeat --

MR. FLEISCHER: For both, combined. It's a combination of $1 million for John Cornyn and the Texas --

Q You don't know how it's divided up?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, the information just has --

Q The Texas Republican Party?


Q How much has he raised so far, in total?

MR. FLEISCHER: For the year? According to the -- I just have no -- I don't know, I don't keep track.

Q It's almost $120 million, isn't it?

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes. Mark Knoller is the White House spokesman -- (laughter.)

Q Knoller's on his way to Andrews. (Laughter.)

Q So have you got language for a resolution on Iraq at the United Nations level? If we understand that something is being circulated.

MR. FLEISCHER: It still is being discussed. Conversations are ongoing involving the United States and Britain, as well as our other allies on the Security Council. And so conversations continue and we'll see what the exact timing is, but it's still on going.

Q Schweid was saying that we and Britain have reached agreement on language, and it's being circulated -- Powell talked to Villepin yesterday, he talked with Straw, Ivanov and Jiaxuan from --

MR. FLEISCHER: I can tell you the President is pleased with the progress on substance and on the timing, but I have not heard any such report.

Q What about the timing? When does he hope to get it introduced.

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we'll see. The U.N. pace is a very deliberative one and the President said days and weeks, not months. We're still in that timetable. So, obviously, some time soon.

Q He doesn't really have any hope that --

MR. FLEISCHER: I can't be more specific than that, though.

Q He really doesn't have any hope of getting it in by the 30th, before Blix's meeting in Vienna, does he?

MR. FLEISCHER: That's not necessarily -- it's not necessarily needed. Either before or after will suffice.

Q So he doesn't feel that Blix is going to make a hard and fast deal in those meetings?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think the meeting that UNSCOM is going to have with Iraq needs to --


MR. FLEISCHER: I'm sorry, UNMOVIC. Thank you -- he's going to have with Iraq is done in the -- it needs to be seen in the context of the existing old resolutions. There have been meetings previously between these players, based on the old resolutions. And the meeting Monday is part of the old resolutions. The President obviously is calling for something new.

Q Still getting a lot of resistance from France on a single resolution that would trip the use of force?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to characterize what any other nations are saying. The President is confident that the process is going to result in a strong vote for the essence of what he asked for when he went to the United Nations.

Q So you're still confident that he'll get what he wants?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President is confident he'll get what he wants.

Let me mention -- I did see a report about something that President Putin said today. And there was a headline on a story that says "Putin opposes the resolution." I don't know if that headline has been corrected or not yet, but that's not what President Putin said. So I just want to bring your attention to that.

Q So what did he say?

MR. FLEISCHER: He said that "Russia-Iraqi relations have a long history, we advocate the quickest resolution of the questions surrounding this country using political-diplomatic means on the basis of existing U.N. Security Council resolutions, in strict accordance with the principles and norms of international law. The decision to renew the work of the U.N. inspectors in Iraq opens up real possibilities for us to quickly move to implement this decision and practice will allow us to get answers to the questions of concern to the international community."

Q That's exact --

Q You don't --

MR. FLEISCHER: Nowhere in there did it say that he opposes new resolutions.

Q But it's not exactly support for a Chapter 7 resolution, either.

MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's exactly what we described it when the Ivanovs left the White House to go back to talk with President Putin, that they advocate the quickest resolution to the questions surrounding this issue. The basis of the existing U.N. Security Council resolution, those are the very same resolutions that the President discussed when he went to the United Nations.

My point is that the story with the headline, the headline said "Putin opposes," that's not supported by what Putin said.

Q Ari, would you consider what the President said this morning any kind of an apology or a -- to Daschle or to the Senate democrats? How would you characterize it?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President is continuing to build bipartisan support, as he has always done. And the President was pleased and honored to have many leading Democrats come down here and express their support for the manner and the substance in which the President is approaching the topic of Iraq.

Q On the congressional resolution, has the White House agreed to drop the last few words of the proposed resolution that talks about the region as a whole?

MR. FLEISCHER: Still talking. And I'm not going to characterize anything on any individual level about what is being discussed.

But what's notable is that, as the President said, progress is being made on the language of the resolution with the congressional leadership. And it shows that the congressional leadership, at the highest levels, on a bipartisan basis, understands the importance of this resolution to our national security. And they are still working diligently on the language.

And the talks have been collegial, interestingly enough.

Q What are the chances of getting an agreement this week?

MR. FLEISCHER: This week? You know, I never rule anything out, Ron. We'll just have to see. The conversations have been productive, progress is being made. We'll just have to see what the timing is.

Q Has the President talked to Tom Daschle --

MR. FLEISCHER: And I don't -- when I say I don't rule it out, I'm not saying it's going to happen, don't rule it in. But we'll just see. The conversations will keep going.

It does appear that the House is going to vote on it next week. And as you know in the Congress, once they have a deadline where they intend to take action, it does help accelerate the pace, so then they can get to the Rules Committee and therefore to the floor, working backwards.

So, it doesn't have to be this week, but it looks like it's moving nicely.

Q Has the President talked to Tom Daschle at all, privately?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, they haven't talked today.

Q So, Ari, what's all this talk --

Q Are there any plans for them to?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'll try to let you know if they do.

Q What about all this talk last night that Condi engaged in on PBS about connections between Iraq and al Qaeda? That's new. I mean, she went further than you folks have ever gone before. Can you clarify some of what she was saying? I mean, how do we know this? Why do we suspect this?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we know it because some of the information we have comes from detainees, and in particular some very high-ranking detainees. And --

Q Zubaydah?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'm not going to indicate exactly who. Since --

Q It doesn't matter; they're in custody.

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm sorry?

Q What does it matter? They're in custody.

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, you might go visit them.

Q Don't think so. It's hard to get to Diego Garcia from here.

MS. BUCHAN: We can arrange it. (Laughter.)

Q Yes, but that would be exile.

Q It'll be a one-way trip.

Q "Eager [sic.] was I ere I saw Elba."

MR. FLEISCHER: Here's what we know, and here's -- let me try to elaborate on what Condi said, or help you understand what Condi said.

Since Operation Enduring Freedom, we have solid evidence of the presence in Iraq of al Qaeda members, including some members who have been in Baghdad. And the relationship between Iraqi officials to those al Qaeda members remains unclear, but we know it's there. We have solid reporting of senior-level contacts between al Qaeda and Iraqi officials going back a decade, and, as Condi said, of chemical and biological agent training.

Reports of such cooperation have increased since 1998. We know that al Qaeda have found refuge in Iraq. There is credible reporting that al Qaeda leaders sought contacts in Iraq to acquire chemical and other weapons of mass destruction capabilities.

Q But today, the President stopped just short of saying that they were linked. Is there a reason he did that? I mean, are they linked, in his mind? I mean, are they -- there are --

MR. FLEISCHER: I'd have to take a look at the verbatim of how the President said it. But we're all saying the same thing: al Qaeda and Iraq are too close for comfort, in terms of some of these activities that we've talked about.

But I want to underscore, the case the President is making about the need for regime change is not directly tied to anything involving al Qaeda. It's tied to Saddam Hussein's history of developing weapons on his own. The President continues to have fears about what Iraq's activities with al Qaeda could lead to. But his case is much broader than that.

Q Well, what are these links that go back a decade? I mean, who are we talking about?

MR. FLEISCHER: These are links between al Qaeda and Baghdad.

Q But what are the links? I mean --

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, Condi --

Q -- has Baghdad supplied al Qaeda with training, munitions, supplies, whatever, that has allowed them to carry out attacks against the United States?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as Condi said last night -- I cite her words -- "Iraq has provided some training to al Qaeda in chemical weapons development."

Q But do we know that that expertise has ever been used in a terrorist attack against -- not only the U.S., but anybody?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the point is to make certain that it's not. Why is Iraq providing training to terrorists that could put anybody at risk?

Q Hey, Ari, is the President going to say again that the Senate is not interested in the security of the American people in relation to homeland security legislation? Is he going to say that again?

MR. FLEISCHER: Cover his events. Keep covering them, and see what he says.

Q Does he think that was a mistake?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President addressed it the way he wants to address it, and said what he thought.

Q Does the President still think that the Senate is not interested in the security of the American people?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think he's made himself clear. I think he's made himself clear.

Q Actually, he hasn't addressed it at all.

MR. FLEISCHER: He spoke last night about it again. And the point remains that failure to pass homeland security would be a setback for the security interests of our country.

Q But he left the phrase out last night. So from that, do we conclude that he wishes he hadn't said it in the first place?

MR. FLEISCHER: No. I think that it's not uncommon for leaders not to put their speeches in Xerox machines and give the same speech all over again.

Q So he still stands behind his remarks on Monday?

MR. FLEISCHER: No changes.

Q Ari, is the President open to meeting with Gerhard Schroeder sometime soon? Does he think it would be a good idea?

MR. FLEISCHER: You know --

Q Is it time to kiss and make up, Ari?

MR. FLEISCHER: The United States recognizes and respects the decisions that democracies make. The German people have spoken, and have elected Gerhard Schroeder. And the United States will continue to work well with Germany. And we'll work through any strains.

Q Schroeder wants to come here, apparently he's considering it.

MR. FLEISCHER: Everybody wants to come here. People always want to come to meet with the President. And as always, we will keep you informed of any --

Q Well, how long do we give them the cold shoulder before they've been punished enough?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we're both big governments. (Laughter.)

Q Let me come back to the al Qaeda --

MR. FLEISCHER: Anything else?

Q Yes, let me come back to the al Qaeda connection. So, Condi is saying that these contacts go back more than a decade; that they are continual, they are ongoing; they're involved in Baghdad, they're involved in chemical and biological weapons training. But still no evidence of a connection between Iraq and 9/11?

MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.

Q Thank you. Have a good weekend.

MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you. Hope you have a safe flight.

END 12:11 P.M. EDT