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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 29, 2002
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:35 P.M. EST
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. I do not have any opening prepared, so I'll be happy to begin with questions. David.
Q Ari, on the federal charges in the sniper case, given the Republican belief in state control in so many matters and that all wisdom doesn't reside in Washington, why, with no obvious federal interest, has the federal government decided to file charges and potentially take the case away from the local jurisdictions?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's appropriate for anything involving law enforcement decisions, that the appropriate authorities be the Department of Justice to explain any actions they may be taking in this matter. I think they'll be more than happy to answer any questions about it. But anything about this would come from the Department of Justice.
Q But can't the President defend his decision taken by his Justice Department?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have not personally talked to the President about this, but decisions about jurisdictions in court cases are typically things that are decided by prosecutors and professionals, and not decided by the White House. And so this is a matter for the Department of Justice to enter into their professional judgment about how justice can best be served.
Q But the facts are that the President was made aware, blow by blow, what was happening in the investigation; he spoke about this publicly. But now he's not prepared to talk about why the federal government has to step in and take a case away potentially from the jurisdiction in which the crime was committed?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think it's an obvious separation for the President to be kept informed about what is happening as the sniper is on the loose, and to make certain that the federal government is doing everything it can to catch them. But once they're caught, the President understands that it should be delegated as far as the decision-making about professional Justice Department decisions on how to prosecute a case.
Q One more. Does politics play any role in the decision made to have a Republican U.S. attorney and a Republican Justice Department take it away from local Democratic officials?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, given the fact that you've got so many jurisdictions involved with Democrat and Republican officials alike, I think you can obviously see --
Q The biggest jurisdiction is a Democrat.
MR. FLEISCHER: Obviously, this is being done on the basis of what the law enforcement professionals think is the appropriate way to proceed.
Q Ari, the President's U.N. resolution spells out clear deadlines for Saddam Hussein, and a clear timetable for inspections that could lead to war. The President at every campaign stop across America talks in a hypothetical fashion about what should happen if that U.N. resolution would fail, that he'll lead a coalition to disarm Saddam. What are the deadlines and timetables for the backup plan?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has not indicated there are hard deadlines as such. I think that it's clear from listening to the President speak that the end is coming near. The United Nations is still hard at work on this matter. They have made some progress, and it's still unclear what the ultimate outcome will be in New York.
Q Perhaps I wasn't clear. My question was, what are the deadlines and timetables for his backup plan? That is, acting with either congressional authorization or existing U.N. authorization.
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, the President has not established any hard deadlines. And again, let's see what the United Nations does before I'm prepared to discuss anything that could be an alternative.
Q Would they be similar to the U.N. deadlines which is seven days to comply, 30 days for a full list of weapons of mass destruction, 45 days for inspectors, and 60 days for --
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is still working through the United Nations. Let's see if the United Nations is able to get the job done or not.
MR. FLEISCHER: We still do not have any information yet about the exact nature of the gas that was used. Embassy Moscow is working to ascertain that information. As for the President and his thinking about all of this, the President feels very strongly that responsibility for this rests with the terrorists who took these people hostage and put them in harm's way in the first place. That's where the President believes the fault lies.
Q He thinks then, therefore, it was okay to use gas -- I mean at any cost?
MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, the President abhors the loss of all life in this instance. And the President makes no mistake about who is to blame for this -- the people who put people in harm's way, or the terrorists who took the lives --
Q I'm not asking who's to blame. Does he think it was right to use gas, or does he think there were any possible alternatives?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President understands that in this circumstance -- you had terrorists who had proven that they were going to kill, who had already killed, who were deadly serious about killing more, who had 700 hostages, who had the theater booby-trapped and were prepared to take mass quantities of life. The President views this entire matter as a tragic one, but it's a tragedy that was brought on as a result of the terrorists who put people in the way.
Q The answer is yes?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm addressing it as the President approaches it.
Q May I follow up on that? A couple questions on that. When America was struck on the 11th, the first call I think we got from a foreign leader was President Putin. Why hasn't President Bush called President Putin immediately after a significant terrorist event in his country?
MR. FLEISCHER: He did, Ron. President Bush called President Putin immediately upon the taking of the hostages and offered America's support, and said that we'll stand with you during this period. So he indeed did.
Q Okay, sorry about that. Did the President or have any of his people asked the Russian government what type of gas was used in the siege that has affected three or four Americans?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's what I indicated earlier; that's being worked through Embassy Moscow.
Q And again, have you gotten any further reading on what the U.S. reaction is to the fact that the Russians won't tell us what type of gas was used that may have hurt or killed Americans?
MR. FLEISCHER: We're continuing to work that through, through the State Department and through embassy officials.
Q You don't find it surprising or frustrating that Russia just doesn't say, here's the answer? Why are they dragging their feet?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have not heard it be characterized by the President, so I would hesitate to do so myself.
Q This morning you told us that the United States was consulted by Russian security services in advance of the raid. About what? What was the nature of those consultations?
MR. FLEISCHER: I looked into the question that I got earlier, and to the best that I've been able to determine, there have been -- there was no advance notice to the Americans about the raid, no advance discussions to Americans about the nature of the raid, what it would entail, the type -- the gas. Obviously we still don't know what the gas was, so there was no -- nothing that I've been able to discern that would lead anybody to that conclusion.
Q But there were advance consultations about the situation?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, there were. There was discussions as soon as the hostages were taken, which I think you expect any time there is any type of incident around the world, there's a tendency to information-share about anything that could be helpful. But nothing at all that I've been able to glean along the lines that I was asked this morning.
Q And then do you know what extent -- what the extent of U.S. programs involving this kind of weapon, this kind of gas that was used in --
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know specifically, Terry. What I can tell you is that the Department of Defense does have a variety of programs involving non-lethal systems, in a host of areas. I think many of these have been public before. I know there has been interesting stories in the press, for example, about foams, non-lethal foams that can be used to immobilize people, weapons that shoot nets to trap people, things of that nature that can be used in different types of military situations.
Q And gasses?
MR. FLEISCHER: You'd have to talk to the Department of Defense about any of the specific, individual programs that they have. I'm not familiar with each and every one of them.
Q And just one on Iraq, quickly. The President, in the stump speech that John referenced, also says if the United Nations won't act, if Saddam Hussein does not disarm, the U.S. will lead a coalition to disarm him. Who -- what nation, aside from the United Kingdom, has publicly committed to join such a coalition?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I was asked this question about two or three weeks ago when the President first started talking about this. And, one, make no mistake, that if the United Nations fails, international action will still follow. The only issue at that time will be the fact that the United Nations wrote itself out of any international action.
I think, Terry, what is appropriate now, in the President's judgment, is for the U.N. to proceed. Let us see if the U.N. is able to do the job or not. If they are not, then I think you will have no questions about who will proceed with the coalition the United States and others will form. I think at that time it will be appropriate for those nations to be named. But at this point, the President is still content to work through the United Nations. We'll see where ultimately that goes.
Q Right now no public commitments aside from the -- even the United Kingdom, I guess, has said that unless --
MR. FLEISCHER: You can rest assured that what the President said is based on the information he has gotten as he talks to other nations. But again, because the President went to the United Nations September 12th and said that he wanted to work with the United Nations for days and weeks, not months -- while time is running out in New York, they still have some time left to get the job done.
Q Why is time running out?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm sorry, Helen?
Q Why is the time running out?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because I think that everybody at the United Nations -- the people who strongly support the President's position, people who are still trying to figure out where they are, and those who may oppose -- for example, like Syria -- they all recognize that it's getting time to bring this to a conclusion.
Q Why has time run out for North Korea?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's a totally different circumstance. It's being handled differently.
Q No, it's not.
Q What international -- what other international action are you referring to? Would it be military force? You said there would still be international action if the U.N. fails.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has said repeatedly on his speeches that if the United Nations fails to take action, the United States will assemble a coalition that will force Saddam Hussein to disarm.
Q But don't Americans have a right to know if they're going to send their sons and daughters into battle, who else in the world is going to make a similar commitment? Why do we have to wait until the U.N. either strikes out or succeeds?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President, as he indicated, wants to work through the United Nations. And people will know, but I --
Q But the President is the one raising this issue, saying if they fail, then we and a coalition of nations are going to go get him. So, okay, why can't we know who else that is?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let's see first if the United Nations is capable of getting it done.
Q But the President puts a wall between those two.
Q Ari, are you waiting for the midterm elections to be over before you bring this U.N. resolution to a vote?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the timing is ultimately going to be decided by the diplomats who are involved in it. And this will either take place this week or next week, depending on what the status of the talks is.
Q So domestic politics are not at all a concern?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. I thought -- reporters have raised that question with me before, and frankly, this is a matter, I think, that if somebody wants to say, why are you voting on it the week before the election, if the vote is the week before the election -- they're going to ask that question. If they want to say, why are you voting on it the week after the election, if it's voted on the week after the election, they're going to ask that question. I fail to see how anybody can make the case that voting on it before or after benefits one party or another. The vote will be decided by the diplomats in accordance with the progress of the talks. It just so happens there is an election at the same time.
Q You don't think forcing a vote on a U.N. resolution before an election might scare off some voters, make voters nervous?
MR. FLEISCHER: Elizabeth, it's not the United States that's dragging its feet. The United States went up to the United Nations on September 12th. If this could have been resolved weeks ago, I think the President would have been very satisfied.
Q Ari, you and the President have emphatically described Islam as "a religion of peace" -- emphatically. And in connection with that, have you heard of any public protest by any peaceful Islamic organization of what President Putin described as international Islamic terrorists in Moscow, and more of them in Bali and Israel, New York, the Pentagon, and by a Nation of Islam member, in Maryland, D.C. and Virginia?
MR. FLEISCHER: You lost me, Lester.
Q No, have you heard any protest from the peaceful Muslims that you refer to, as a religion of peace? Have you heard any protest of these atrocities?
MR. FLEISCHER: Protest in which atrocities, Lester?
Q All of these atrocities -- in Moscow, Bali, and elsewhere -- have you heard any protests?
MR. FLEISCHER: Lester, I am not a protest tracker except for when I travel with the President. Then I look out the window.
Q Why is the use of our military to protect the skies above the District of Columbia justified when the use of U.S. troops to seal all of our borders is not being done, and an illegal immigrant from Jamaica named Malvo who was arrested by the U.S. Border Patrol was released by the INS?
MR. FLEISCHER: Lester, one of the eternal issues that makes our country great is our openness to people from other countries. And since September 11th what we've realized is that we need to make certain that people who are not supposed to come to America, that we redouble our efforts to make certain people who don't belong here cannot get in here. By the same token, one of the things that makes us a free country and a strong country and a great country is the fact that we welcome people from other nations to this country.
And along those lines, I was remiss, I should have noted this at the beginning. The President this morning spoke with President Mubarak of Egypt by telephone. The President consulted with President Mubarak on efforts to promote resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including the recent trip of Assistant Secretary Burns to the region to follow up on the President's message about the importance of achieving a road map to peace in the Middle East. They talked about the issue of Iraq. The President reiterated his desire to settle this in a peaceful way, but make no mistake, that the important goal was the disarmament of Iraq.
President Mubarak was on a trip to Morocco as the two spoke and the President also sent his regards to King Mohammed.
Q Ari, Putin said, in dealing with the Chechens, that this was a part of the global war on terrorism. And earlier today you were asked whether or not the administration agreed with that position. You said, to the extent that al Qaeda is in Chechnya and the rest of the world. Considering that Russia has given assistance to our war on terrorism, would the White House, would the administration consider offering intelligence or personnel or training regarding going after al Qaeda, say in Chechnya?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we already do provide the information sharing. That is a two-way street, and very productively so. It's one of the interesting things about the end of the Cold War, and the growing relationship between the United States and Russia. We do share information with Russia in our mutual effort to fight terrorism. In addition, I'd remind you that in support of putting an end to terrorist activities in and around Chechnya, the United States is providing military training and equipment programs for Georgia, particularly in the Pankisi Gorge, a neighbor of Russia that's involved -- the hostilities have been coming from areas that are particularly centered around the Pankisi Gorge.
Q Considering what the President has said about the use of poison gas recently, are there some circumstances in which it is okay to use it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, I think that it's important to find out first what exactly was the gas that Russia used. And it's impossible to characterize it beyond that unless we know.
Q On the U.N., Hans Blix and Mohammed El-Baradei briefed the Security Council yesterday. What was the significance of their testimony? What is your view of what they told the Security Council about the regime for inspections?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the briefing that was done by two of the leaders of the inspection regime was very notable. It was notable for what it said about the importance, in their judgments, about having -- these are my words -- but a tough and effective resolution so they can go about and do their jobs. They did both express a concern about going back into the country in the absence of a clear, strong resolution.
In addition, when they were asked about whether or not the resolution needed to have the words "material breech" in it, they did indicate -- and I want to find the verbatim on this to be precise -- but a reporter asked Dr. Blix, will it help you if "material breech" will be defined in the resolution? And his answer was, "I think it helps us if Iraq is conscience that non-cooperation will entail reactions by the Council."
They both were diplomatic in stating that it is up to the United Nations Security Council to settle the exact words and make any determinations from that point forward. But that's a very notable statement about the inspectors themselves believing they think it helps if Iraq is conscience that non-cooperation will entail reactions by the Council. I think the last thing the inspectors want to do is go in there and be led around again in more cat-and-mouse games. They want to do their job, they want to disarm Saddam Hussein.
Q -- Russians had objected to the inspections regime in the U.S. and British resolution, saying that they were unrealistic and unimplementable. Does the U.S. now believe that any of the Russian concerns have faded away, or at least been softened by the Blix and El-Baradei --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, what keeps striking me about this whole process at the United Nations is the swirl of words, some of which are repeated privately, some of which are not; some of which are said publicly for no other intention or purpose than to be said publicly. And that's the nature of diplomacy. That doesn't apply to only one nation, that simply is how these things sometimes go. So the real action will remain action behind closed doors and the Security Council, and we'll see where that leads. No one has a clear picture of it yet, but ultimately it will go.
Q One last detail on the timing. What -- it's not the elections, it's not other things, what is it? What does determine the timing of the vote?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it would be determined by a conclusion by the diplomats that all other options have been exhausted, that there is no more room for discussions, that all discussions have led to the most fruitful point that is allowable, and that it's time for people to put up their hands and vote.
Q In Asia, Japanese officials have now opened a dialogue with North Korea about that country's nuclear weapons program. I wonder if you could give us an update about efforts to bring diplomatic pressure on North Korea on that issue, and when will the U.S. begin to talk directly with North Korea about the concerns Mr. Bush had?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is, one, gratified about the support that he has received from President Jiang Zemin of China, as well as President Koizumi -- Prime Minister Koizumi, and President Kim of South Korea over the weekend. The President thought the remarks at the -- by the leaders, particularly their call publicly for North Korea to immediately dismantle its weapons program, was constructive.
Now what will happen is this is going to shift to the ministerial level. And you will see continued talks among the United States, South Korea and Japan, as well as China and Russia, about how to proceed. And we will ultimately find out what North Korea's intentions are, whether or not they see their way forward in the world in a world of cooperation or in a world of isolation. The President hopes it will be in a world of cooperation.
Q Is there a role for the U.S., though, in the near-term? You mentioned the regional --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we'll see. We'll see exactly what the -- what type of talks, if any, will ensue. But the United States thinks it's appropriate for Japanese officials and South Korean officials to be in touch with their counterparts in North Korea. They will do so, appropriately so. But the United States will remain firm in calling on North Korea to make certain that it dismantles its weapons programs.
Q I want to make sure I understand your answer about the question on the Moscow raid. You said that there were advance consultations on the hostages. Did any of those consultations between American and Russian officials regarding the hostages get into the area of what the Russians might or might not be about to do to free those hostages?
MR. FLEISCHER: To the best that I've been able to learn in the inquiries that I have made, I have no information that would support that the United States had any advance knowledge of the tactics that would be used or the nature of the raid.
Q To your knowledge, there was no American input of any kind into --
MR. FLEISCHER: How it transpired?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I have not been able to determine that from anybody I've talked to.
Q One more on Chechnya, if I may. I understand your answer that the President believes that the main responsibility for the violence rests with the Chechen terrorists. Does the President believe that the Russian armed forces bear any responsibility for driving the Chechnens to terrorism, given the tactic that Russian armed forces has used since 1994 in Chechnya?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President's position toward the conflict, itself, in Chechnya has been loud and clear, and that is, the best solution and the ultimate solution to the dispute in Chechnya is a political one. And the President has made that point repeatedly, publicly and privately with Russian officials.
Q I understand that, but the question is, there is a history to this thing. Chechen terrorism didn't begin, didn't, sort of spring full grown from someone's brow. Does the Russian armed forces, does the Russian government bear any responsibility for driving some number of Chechens into terrorist actions out of desperation, given the kind of tactics that the Russians have used?
MR. FLEISCHER: Ken, I can tell you something as powerfully, as unequivocally as I possibly can from the President of the United States: There is no excuse for terrorism in any part of the world by anybody for any reason, no matter how worthy they believe their political goals. No matter how much any individual or group thinks that their political goals are more important than anybody else's -- there is no excuse to engage in terrorism innocent civilians and taking people hostage as the means of trying to achieve their political goals.
Q And in the President's view there's no connection between the tactics that the Russian armed forces have used --
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, your question supposes that the Russians are to blame for the terrorists taking Russian citizens hostage. And the President does not share that. The President knows that the people responsible, the people who shoulder the burden and the blame are the terrorists. And there is no excuse -- around the world, in any region -- for people resorting to terror against innocent civilians to achieve their civilian goals.
Q Does that include the past, Ari?
Q Ari, does the administration take comfort in the strong words that President Putin said about now really waging a war on terrorism? And as part of that, I mean, does it ease their opposition to what we're trying to do with Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: Larry, I don't know that I can say that the President takes comfort in hearing these strong words. I think, frankly, the President's first reaction is sorrow that other nations around the world are being victimized by terrorists, whether it's President Megawati in Indonesia and the people of Indonesia and the people of Australia, or whether it's the Russians now and President Putin. I don't think the President welcomes the fact that other nations are facing up to some of the same issues that we faced up to after September 11th, because they are now victims of people who are killers and murderers.
I think the President does recognize that the world does see how global this terrorist threat can be, how important it is for us to work together with our allies and friends on a common approach to terrorism.
That's one of the positive outcomes of the APEC summit that the President just left in Mexico, where the nations of the Pacific are talking about how to work together to protect against terrorist threats. It's one of the reasons there was an initiative there to -- just like in Canada, at the recent G-8 summit -- to bind our nations together, where United States Customs officials will go to ports abroad to work collaboratively with our friends in those ports to prevent terrorists from using foreign soil to reach American soil.
So in some ways, the world is joining as one in the fight against terrorism. But no matter what has caused a nation to step up to its fight of terrorism, the President expresses sorrow that innocent lives are taken as the world steps up.
Q And do you see it as having any kind of implications for the situation with Iraq and Russian cooperation?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have not heard anybody make that case, so I can't say it.
Q If I can change the subject for a moment. Earlier, it was announced that the President will be traveling to Florida this weekend to do some campaigning. I was wondering if the President's brother, the Governor, has assured the President that there will not be any voter irregularities, or that the voter irregularities that popped up in the primaries about two months and, of course, in the 2000 elections, have been remedied. Has that conversation taken place?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not privy to every discussion the President has with his brother. But I can assure you that in all 50 states I think every governor hopes that, regardless of party, that any type of election problems are kept to as absolute a minimum as humanly practical. Clearly, there are many lessons to be learned from 2000, and the state of Florida reacted to them and has provided tremendous amount of funding and resources to the various counties throughout Florida as a result of that. I think other states, as well, have done their best individually to respond to what happened there.
This race is, of course, the number one target for the Democratic National Committee, as said by the Chairman of the Democratic National Committee. They said this is their number one target, their number one goal is to defeat Governor Jeb Bush. And we'll see ultimately what the outcome of that race is.
Q An unrelated follow, if I may -- and I apologize if this was asked of you yesterday, while you were on the road. The Justice Department has released its uniform crime statistics. It shows an increase in crime, the first in 10 years. I was wondering if the President has been made aware of that and what the White House feels may have caused this spike upward?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me -- I'll have to take a look and see if the President has. I saw briefly a report on those statistics this morning, but I have not seen an evaluation of the causes for it. Let me see if I have any evaluation I can offer, and I'll post it.
Q Yes, Ari, two questions. The first one has to do, a week from today we're going to have elections in this country. And one of the states that is very tight, as pollsters tell us, is Minnesota. Today, a special service is being held for Senator Paul Wellstone. Is the President going to visit Minnesota after today, to help the Republican nominee?
MR. FLEISCHER: We've announced our schedule through Saturday. We'll
have additional announcements over the next day or two, and we'll keep you filled in about anywhere the President may go.
Q Is that an option?
MR. FLEISCHER: All 50 states are options. And, as you know, we have a regular practice of fully informing you as the decisions are finalized and as it gets closer to the events.
Q Another question. When President Bush, according to you, called President-elect of Brazil da Silva, and told him he looks forward to working with him, especially with regard to advancing democracy, good governance and free trade in the hemisphere. It's been the practice here, many times the President-elect visits Washington and meets with the President before he takes office. Being that Brazil is such an important component of the economic situation of our hemisphere, especially South America, is President Bush going to meet with President da Silva before he takes over?
MR. FLEISCHER: During the conversation, the President extended an invitation to President da Silva to come and visit the United States. And of course, clearly, it still is the term of President Cardoso in Brazil, so at the appropriate time he will review his schedule in Brazil and I'm certain that the two will meet somewhere.
Incidentally, I said all 50 states are options. I should back up, it may not be fully the whole gamut of all 50 being options, but many are.
Q Hawaii. (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: Hawaii? Do I hear Hawaii, John Roberts?
Q And Alaska.
MR. FLEISCHER: And Alaska.
Q Just on that very point, I just want to ask, could you explain, what is the sensitivity to talking about campaigning in Minnesota? I mean, obviously, it's something -- I don't want to give you the answer, but -- (laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: The service is tonight for Senator Wellstone. And there will be a time for politics and there will be a time again as the people of Minnesota focus on the fact that there is still an election day scheduled. Today is not the day. Today is a day to remember Senator Wellstone.
Q Ari, can I follow up on what you said earlier about words that are being said at the United Nations that are being said for the purpose of being said? I'm wondering if you're telling us that those diplomats are sending a signal of disunity that really is playing into Saddam Hussein's hands. Those diplomats -- you were talking the debate and some of the public statements --
MR. FLEISCHER: Is what playing into Saddam Hussein's hands?
Q Some of the public statements at the United Nations Security Council, which you suggested didn't mirror what was happening in private --
MR. FLEISCHER: Right.
Q -- are sending a signal of disunity on the Council that's playing into Saddam Hussein's hands.
MR. FLEISCHER: No, what I'm saying on that is that is obvious in any type of negotiation, particularly negotiation involving diplomats, there are various levels of discourse. Not all of the levels of discourse that are public are shared privately. And so there's always an attempt to trying to push the envelope farther out so that an ultimate compromise is closer to what somebody really wanted. That's the nature of negotiations. That's what I'm alluding to.
I think the ultimate test about whether or not there is any signal sent to Saddam Hussein will come in its final form -- whether the United Nations has an agreement or doesn't have an agreement. That will be, indeed, a signal to Saddam Hussein. And that's why the President called on the United Nations to be the United Nations and not the League of Nations.
Q In light of Quest restating their earnings and consumer confidence a question at this point, what -- other than tax cuts, what does the President plan, or does he have any plans to think about stimulating consumer confidence in the economy?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, clearly, Congress has still left unfinished the business of terrorism insurance with the hundreds of thousands of jobs that that can create. And the President hopes that when Congress comes back for the lame duck session, they'll be able to finish the work on that. It got close, it didn't get finished.
The President hopes that Congress will fully fund the budget priorities the President has sent up to the Hill, which are pending, particularly in the area of homeland security, which has money for bioterrorism defenses and for first responders' needs. There are many issues pending up there that Congress has to address. And once they're finished with these important priorities, the President hopes that they will hold the line on spending, because the President worries about the effect of deficit spending and overspending can have on fiscal discipline.
The energy bill that is pending up in the Congress is also good for America. It represents energy independence. It also represents conservation. But the President still views the economy as the fundamentals remain strong; that the economy is not as strong as he would like it to be, but particularly, another area that can be effective is the acceleration and the making permanent of the tax relief.
Q Ari, the former head of the Mosad, Israel's intelligence agency, says "World War III has started." Considering 9/11 and the fact that the U.S. is now engaged in a worldwide war against terror, is he right?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I don't want to get into a semantic issue. The President has said, of course, that we are at war. The President described the action following September 11th, against the Taliban and al Qaeda as phase one of the war. If you remember in, I think it was March of 2002, the President talked about the expansion to make certain that al Qaeda has minimized in its ability to reconfigure itself in places like Yemen and the Philippines and elsewhere. And the President clearly is concerned about global terrorism and people who would use terrorist means to harm our citizens either here or abroad.
Q This relates to my friend, Sarah's question. In the wake of the murder of the U.S. diplomat in Jordan, will the United States draw down Americans in nations where they are at risk? And will you assist in their protection? I know that you used the phrase "take precautions," but that really doesn't help when the whole country is dangerous.
MR. FLEISCHER: Connie, unfortunately, the State Department has a vast experience in dealing with how to protect Americans abroad. Fortunately, Jordan is not the first country in which Americans who valiantly serve our country -- either in the State Department, the Foreign Service, AID or any of the other number of agencies -- where people and their families move abroad to serve America are threatened. So these issues all get evaluated by the State Department, by their security personnel on the ground. I'm not in a position to give you any further updates from State. State will have that, based on their information.
Q What about warning Americans, private Americans, in a lot of these dangerous countries?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, travel advisories, again, that is all done by the State Department.
Q Ari, security issues are a major part of the President's standard stump speech. Does the President believe the country will be safer if both Houses of Congress were in Republican hands?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President believes that the agenda that he believes in will have much more of a chance of passing if there were members of the Congress in both the House and the Senate who shared his view. And, clearly, when you take a look at what has not gotten done on the Hill this year, you can see a great many issues which would have gotten done if the House and the Senate had been in Republican hands. And so the President looks at this from a very broad picture and thinks that it would better for the country if many of the items on his agenda had enough support to get passed into law. So he is talking about, when he campaigns, the need to have a Republican Senate and a Republican House.
Q That he believes the country would be more secure if both Houses were in Republican hands?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think there's no question that if the Senate had been in Republican hands, the homeland security bill would have passed already.
Q Let's be clear about this, so we don't get calls back later on our leads. Were you answering the question yes or no? It sounds like you were saying yes.
MR. FLEISCHER: I was answering the question that the President believes a broad agenda, including the creation of the department of homeland defense, would have more of a chance of being passed into law if the House and Senate had more people who supported the President's agenda. I'm not going to -- I think members of both parties have a desire to make America safe. I don't think anybody has questioned that. But when it comes to the purpose of campaigning, the President wants to elect people from both parties who support his agenda.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we'll see, ultimately, again, what happens as this thing heads down to zero hour. It's not there yet. It's approaching, but it's not there yet. And we'll see. I have not really heard if people have come to the final conclusions that if there is not enough support whether it should or should not go to a vote. I don't think people are looking at it that way yet, Ron. I think people are still trying to look at how we can put this together if we can.
Q So right now you're not committed to having an up or down vote
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I'm just saying I haven't heard any conversations about that level of tactical planning. The focus right now is still working with France and Russia and everybody else to get to the point where there is sufficient support for it to pass.
Q But if you've already acknowledged the possibility of defeat, wouldn't you also say what are we going to do if it looks like we're losing?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think things are defeated because, one, either they're vetoed, two, they're not voted on, or three, they're defeated. And any one of those could be the possibility, or it could pass. And I don't think anybody is going to know which of those various possibilities will take place until probably shortly before the vote. In some ways, it's not unlike the Congress; when there's a vote, sometimes you don't know how it's going to go until the vote is called.
Q Ari, on the economy, you mentioned a few moments ago measures are pending in Congress that could help stimulate growth. There are other measures out there that are being talked about -- extending unemployment insurance, rebates, et cetera. However, there is a column in the Wall Street Journal today by Allen Murray which says that the best way to reinvigorate the economy is not by changing monetary or fiscal policy in any of these ways, but to end the business and investment uncertainty that now exists because of our Iraq policy. If I may quote, he says that, "The best tonic for the U.S. economy would be a successful war or a bloodless end of the Saddam Hussein regime." What is the administration's response?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the administration's response is that in the event that there is any military action in Iraq, it's not going to be driven by economic considerations, it's going to be driven by the need to protect the American people from the real-life threat involving Saddam Hussein in his pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. That would be the factors that the President considers.
Q Do you believe, though, that in terms of business uncertainty, that a factor that contributes to it right now is this uncertainty as to whether or not the United States is going to war?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that a variety of economists have looked at a variety of factors in the economy and tried to determine what has created the economy that we presently have. And there's no unanimity among the economists -- and I'm not an economist, so I wouldn't want to venture into what the exact causes are.
Q Ari, getting back to the question on a U.N. vote, in his speech in September, the President -- and you've quoted this many times -- said it would be a matter of days and weeks, not months. And that takes us roughly to November 12th. Do you think that's an adequate time frame to work in? Can we expect to see a resolution --
MR. FLEISCHER: That's why I was indicating earlier that the President would have been satisfied if the United Nations was able to address this issue and come to a conclusion earlier than they have. We are approaching the point where it's months, and the President said that he did not want it to go months. And so I think that --
Q Was that then just a figure of speech for him, or does he view that as a literal marker that the U.N. should abide by?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have not heard the President give a hard date. But I think everybody sees that the United Nations is approaching decision time. And that, I think, is something that you hear from not only the United States, but from France and from other nations that serve on the United Nations Security Council. It's been a good debate; it's been a long debate; the time will soon come for the debate to end.
END 1:15 P.M. EST