For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 16, 2002
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:23 P.M. EDT
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. I have no opening, so I'll be happy to begin with questions.
Q You're saying the President is confident that he'll get a U.N. resolution through. Is he still -- does he really think that's going to happen? Or is some of the language we heard today kind of a challenge to the U.N. that they better do it or he'll make his own coalition?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I don't view the President's remarks today as a challenge to the United Nations. The President has consistently stated that he wants to work through the United Nations and it's important for the United Nations to act. After all, if they don't, why did they pass all those resolutions in the '90s? What's the purpose of passing resolutions if there's no intention of having those resolutions have value or meaning or be enforced? So the President continues to hope that the U.N. will act. The discussions continue at the U.N., and the President remains hopeful.
Q If they don't?
MR. FLEISCHER: If they don't, the President has made it perfectly plain that the United States will assemble a coalition of the willing who are going to enforce the U.N. resolutions.
Q In the U.N. debate that's begun, a number of representatives of the Arab states have raised an argument. They say that there -- while the President is emphasizing the enforcement of U.N. resolutions concerning Iraq, there are a lot of outstanding U.N. resolutions concerning the West Bank and Palestinians, and their argument is that those resolutions are being ignored by the United States. What's the response?
MR. FLEISCHER: Two points. One, there is a qualitative difference between the resolutions that were passed dealing with Iraq and the resolutions that were passed dealing with a more comprehensive focus on how to bring peace to the Middle East between the Israelis, Palestinians and the Arab nations.
Specifically on the existing resolutions dealing with peace in the Mideast, Resolutions 242 and 338 at their core urge the parties to enter into a political agreement, call for a political settlement. Always a difficult issue, meaning dialogue, meaning political discussion. Very different tenor from the resolutions of the 1990s dealing with Iraq, which explicitly call for Iraq to take an action, not to have political dialogue, but to disarm. Resolutions dealing with Iraq that create sanctions that are imposed on Iraq as a result of their not complying with disarmament. It's a qualitatively different step.
And there will be a series of arguments made by various nations now, as part of the United Nations General Assembly, or an open meeting of the Security Council. Don't confuse it with the actions of the Security Council on a resolution. As far as the procedures of the United Nations are concerned, it's a different debate with a different meaning than a debatable resolution of the Security Council.
Q Can I just follow? A lot of the resolutions concerning Israel explicitly state that Israel is occupying territory. Does the President believe that, that Israel is occupying --
MR. FLEISCHER: That's a word the President has used. The President has said that, and that's one of the reasons why the President wants to find a -- has been working so hard and looks forward to meeting with Prime Minister Sharon today, to find a way to address the very -- the many legitimate issues that have separated the Israelis from the Palestinians, have made it difficult for peace to be deeply embedded between the parties in the Middle East. So it's an issue that involves Resolutions 242 and 338, once again.
Q Finally, in those occupied territories, according to a lot of intelligence aid workers, a humanitarian crisis. What's the President going to tell Prime Minister Sharon about that?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is meeting with Prime Minister Sharon, is going to going to talk about the path to peace in the Middle East, and part of that path to peace involves humanitarian treatment of the Palestinian people. And the President thinks that there are two things that can be done to help promote the humanitarian cause of the Palestinian people. One is additional steps by Israel to help take actions that can lead to a better humanitarian way of life for the Palestinian people, more humane treatment along the borders and entry areas into Israel, as well as a focus on some of the financing issues that are involved in giving money to the Palestinian Authority as a result of the Israel tax programs involving the Palestinian people.
The second way to help the Palestinians from a humanitarian point of view is by having reform of the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinian Authority has utterly failed to take care of their own people. They have not been a government that has put the concerns and the needs and the education and the health care of their people first. They've been an authority that has lined themselves and their pockets with money first. And that's a real blow to the Palestinian people.
Q Ari, the President said he was, quote, fully -- he wanted -- his goal was to fully and finally remove a real threat. Was he talking about weapons of mass destruction or Saddam Hussein? Or both?
MR. FLEISCHER: He's talking about both. The policy of the United States is both. We talk in the United Nations about the enforcement of the resolutions which focus on disarmament; end of hostility towards the neighbors; end of repression of minorities, which the President also spoke about. And of course, the policy of the United States is regime change. And today, given the signature by the President on the bipartisan authorization to use force it is the position of the United States now in 2002 that force is authorized in the event that Saddam Hussein does not comply.
Q Ari, on the issue of ballistic fingerprinting, there seems to be some confusion about this. Does the President want this issue explored? What is the White House position on this?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's exactly as I said yesterday; the President wants this issue explored. And to that end, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms has been meeting, and met yesterday afternoon with the White House staff to start to discuss the various issues, the technical issues, there are feasibility issues, the pros and cons about how this could possibly could be effective, whether it could work, or maybe whether it would not be able to work. And those are the issues they're going explore.
Q Ari, if I could just follow up quickly on that. Any idea how long that review will take place?
MR. FLEISCHER: That will be up to ATF. They're going to take a look at it from a lot of technical points of view, as well, to see what technological breakthroughs can result in whether or not this can be done, or whether it will not be able to get done. And so that pace will get determined by them.
Q The President said at the U.N. on September 12th that it would be days not -- weeks not months for a new U.N. resolution. It's been now more than a month. What kind of time line does this administration have for --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, you described it exactly right. It's just as the President --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, you described it exactly right, it's just as the President announced. It will be, as he said, days and weeks, not months. And we are not yet at month-plurals.
Q We're at more than a month, though.
MR. FLEISCHER: We are at more than a month, but we're not at months. Not to put too fine a line on it, but the President's words speak for themselves. We are still at the time where it's weeks. I think that the President would get concerned, indeed, if it became a matter of months. And it has not reached a matter of months yet, it is still less than two -- it's more than one. It's taking its time. And the President understood when he went up to the United Nations that they're -- the United Nations is a deliberative body. They meet, they talk, the drafting of resolutions is a fine art that is practiced at the United Nations. And the President has said that that is the course he wanted to pursue, and he's pursuing it. So we'll see exactly how long it takes them. They don't have forever. And the President is mindful of that.
Q May I ask one more on Israel?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, you may.
Q Is the President going to ask Prime Minister Sharon not to speak at all about any possible retaliation against Iraq? And what's the administration's position of Israel saying that it would retaliate this time around if Iraq did launch any attack on Israel?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, one, I think the very premise of your questions underscores how dangerous Iraq is. The very fact that people ask a question, a serious one about Iraq attacking its neighbors once again shows how threatening the Iraqi regime is.
But we are worried and concerned about the risk of Iraq attacking its neighbors. We share the concern of all the countries in the region about the aggressive, invading Iraqi regime. I want to remind you that over the last 20 years, Iraq has invaded its Muslim neighbors -- it's invaded Iran, it's invaded Kuwait; it's launched missiles at Saudi Arabia, at Iran. It's also launched missiles at Israel, of course.
We're going to closely consult with our friends and allies in the region about this threat and ways to reduce the risk from this threat. And again, the President has not made any determination about whether he would or would not engage in military action. But no matter what decisions are made, we will consult closely with all our friends in the region, including Israel.
Q Regarding the resolution signing ceremony today, were Congressman Gephardt and Senator Daschle invited and, if so, did they express any reasons for why they chose not to show up today?
MR. FLEISCHER: All members of Congress who voted for the resolution were invited. So they were invited and they apparently had scheduling issues or some other issue that --
Q Did they indicate to you there were --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll have to find out what the exact reason was. I don't know if they were traveling or out of town, had a scheduling conflict. But the President was very pleased to welcome many Democrats and Republicans alike who came down for the ceremony.
Q If I can get back to the ballistics fingerprinting issue. Who exactly asked for that in the meeting yesterday and at what level was the staff here in the White House involved? I assume, based on the fact you used "staff," the President was not there, for instance. And what was the sort of genesis behind having that meeting at that time, especially since earlier in the day it seemed that the White House was not really moving in that direction?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the genesis is, the issue came up in a different staff meeting and a decision was made we need to take a look at this. The President wanted it explored, and typically what happens in the White House is when the President wants something to be looked into, the staff responds. And the typical response for staff is to convene a meeting. And you convene a meeting with the experts, in this case ATF, and that meeting took place yesterday in mid to late afternoon.
Q When did he ask for that meeting? When did he ask for the staff to look into it?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President said yesterday morning that he wanted it explored and the meeting took place yesterday afternoon.
Q Didn't ATF already explore this? Didn't they do a huge study, which came to the conclusion five months ago that this is a reliable and accurate technique which would help law enforcement?
MR. FLEISCHER: Just as we talked about yesterday, there are reasons that people think that it could possibly move forward and other reasons that people think it may not be able to move forward. And so that's why it's going to be explored. I don't think anybody has said they know all the answers yet.
Q First, on Iraq, yesterday from this podium you said that the meeting today between President Bush and Prime Minister Sharon would be mostly devoted to seeking peace in the Middle East. But isn't Iraq going to occupy almost the same time?
MR. FLEISCHER: Absolutely. I can't predict the times -- after the meeting is over, we'll try to let you know if there was a time breakdown to it. But I anticipate both topics are going to come up. But I want to remind you that the President -- the question of consultation I think will come up, there's no doubt about it, vis-a-vis Iraq.
But also don't forget the importance of pursuing peace in the Middle East. This still is something the President is dedicated to working on and there has been some behind the scenes success of late in terms of reforms in the Palestinian Authority, and the President wants to continue to remind all parties -- including Israel, including the Palestinians and including the Arab neighbors -- that they still have ongoing responsibilities to help create an environment where Israel and a future Palestine can live side by side in peace and security.
Q The second question, Ari, has to do with the word "restraint." Has the President -- Secretary of State Colin Powell in negotiations with the members of the Security Council and members of the Permanent Council? Is the President going to ask Prime Minister Sharon to show restraint in case there are any terrorist activities --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, Jacobo, I'm not in a position to predict every eventuality. The United States' position has been pretty clear, that Israel has a right to defend itself and that, as Israel defends itself it's important they remember the consequence of any actions they take so that the road to peace can remain open.
Q If it is true, as your administration claims, that Islam is a religion of peace, how can such a claim continue to be made in light of the Koran's promotion of violence and killing in Surat 4, 5 and 9? And in light of their historic subjecting of defeated unbelievers to paying tribute to Islam --
MR. FLEISCHER: Lester, the President emphatically rejects your constant line of questioning. The President believes --
Q He did?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President believes and knows that Islam is a religion of peace. And I don't think anybody anywhere in the world should blame the innocents, should blame a religion for the acts of a depraved few. And that's why it's important that the United States is engaged to bring justice to those depraved few, while honoring and respecting our Muslim American neighbors and Muslims around the world.
Q Ari, on another subject, if thousands of illegal aliens walked across the Crawford ranch property every month, trashing the land, smuggling drugs, and threatening to rape and injure and kill the residents, would the President do something about it? This, of course, is happening on our borders, as you know.
MR. FLEISCHER: Is there a question here, Les?
MR. FLEISCHER: Of a serious nature?
Q What is the President planning to do about millions of the illegals coming across the border? Is he going to do anything about this?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, of course, through the various agencies of the federal government, we have a series of protections in place in a country that is opening and welcome, and has a border that in some places is not as -- that can be porous. And this is a longstanding issue for our country, about how to enforce and protect our borders.
And, interestingly, in the aftermath of September 11th, with the additional steps and protections that have been taking place on the border, we have gotten better controls of our border, but it remains an important and vexing issue about how to be an open society and enforce our law.
Q But President Fox --
MR. FLEISCHER: Mr. Sanger.
Q -- President Fox thinks that it should be an open border. The President doesn't agree with President Fox --
MR. FLEISCHER: You only get two, Les. Mr. Sanger.
Q All right, well, thank you for the two.
MR. FLEISCHER: I treat you like I treat everybody else.
Q Thank you very much.
Q That's not saying much. (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: I treat you like I treat Les. (Laughter.)
Q Ari, when the President said that those countries were living in denial now may live in fear later on, he had spoken just a few phrases before about Europe. Did he have France in mind? And did he have Russia in mind?
MR. FLEISCHER: You know, the President didn't name those countries, but it's a valid statement. And this is why the President has said that, talking about the United Nations, the importance of putting calcium in the United Nations' spine.
The point is, until President Bush went to New York on September 12th, the United Nations and many nations of the world were happy to look the other way at Saddam Hussein's flagrant violations of the U.N. resolutions. What, after all, were they doing about it until President Bush went to New York?
There is a tendency in the world to allow the current path to continue even with the risks that that can take for war and peace, rather than confront the evil that is menacing and growing. And that is why the President went to New York, to remind the world about the importance of standing strong and standing up to those nations, because sometimes nations can allow the current path to continue and, therefore, live in fear as a result.
You know, one of the examples, David, that the President is constantly talking about when he has visitors coming to see him that are in the Oval Office or in foreign countries or when members of Congress come to town, is -- if you remember the President came back from the ranch on September 3rd and immediately had a meeting with members of Congress. He came back, I think, September 2nd. On September 3rd, he had a meeting with members of Congress where, for the first time, the President spoke on Iraq and Congress came back and he said that if he was going to take action, he would ask for the Congress to vote, which they just did.
That same afternoon, the President met with the President of Estonia in the Oval Office, and the President started to talk to the President of Estonia about his views of the situation in Iraq. And the President of Estonia interrupted the President and he said, you don't need to talk to me about Iraq. And the President was a little bit surprised. People kind of like to hear what his thinking is on Iraq. And he said, you don't have to explain to us the great democracies in mid- to late 1930s did nothing as a storm gathered and, as a result, we lived in tyranny and oppression for 50 years. And we understand what it's like to yearn to be free and how it's important to take action in the face of a growing storm so that people can be free.
And that's a lesson that the President has kept with him. And that's why the President speaks in the language he does, because he sees a gathering and growing menace to the world and he is trying to bring the world to action against it.
Q One of those great democracies was, in fact, France, and saw the results of that. What I'm trying to correlate is --
MR. FLEISCHER: It's not a country-specific message, David.
Q I understand that. But, obviously, now your diplomacy at the U.N. is focused on France, Russia -- to some degree, China. Is -- was the President's wording today an indication of any kind of a toughening line that he is taking with those three countries -- the leaders of whom he'll be seeing, with the exception of the French --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I really think what's happening now at the United Nations is going to be resolved one way or another through diplomatic means. I'm not certain that we're at the point at this stage where any one speech given by any one President is going to change the votes in the United Nations, or the approach -- the language in the United Nations. I really think it is at the diplomatic level. So what the President was saying was not country-specific. But it is a very valid point about what can happen to nations that do not act.
Q Can I ask about tomorrow's travel, especially the trip to Florida? Is the President worried that his brother is, according to the polls, in need of his help?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think the President is -- looks forward, of course, to helping people across the country, whether they're running for governor, or for the House, or for the Senate, who believe in an agenda that he believes in. And, of course, the Republican Governor of Florida, his brother, believes in the similar agenda. So the President looks forward to go to campaign for him. It will be up to the voters of Florida to decide, but, ultimately, the President is confident in the outcome of the election there.
Q Ari, if there is a war in Iraq, can the American public and the world expect any incontrovertible proof that this menace is growing?
MR. FLEISCHER: Incontrovertible -- I think there is only one way to have to incontrovertible proof and that's when it's too late. If you're asking about a menace growing, the risk -- and this is why Presidents make very difficult decisions about war and peace -- the risk is how long do you wait for Saddam Hussein to grow stronger, to develop those weapons and acquire nuclear weapons before it's too late? Do you only act after he has used them? Or if we had known that 9/11, for example, was coming, would we have acted to stop it? Of course, we would have. Now with Saddam Hussein the President has to ask similar tough questions.
Can we know with certainty what Saddam Hussein is going to do? Only Saddam Hussein knows with certainty what he's going to do with all the weapons that he's growing and acquiring. And the risk of inaction is it means we have to trust Saddam Hussein to use wise judgment and discretion, something he has never shown an ability to do. Instead he's done just the opposite; he's used his weapons to invade his neighbors. And that's how the President approaches this.
Q Ari, this afternoon, at the Organization of American States, there's a hearing of the Human Rights Commission on the United States and this administration failing to basically comply with their request to have hearings on the status of the Guantanamo detainees. Why isn't United States complying with the OAS request?
MR. FLEISCHER: First I've heard of it. Let me take a look, and if we have something, we'll post.
Q Ari, can I follow on the question of Israeli retaliation? In his meeting today, will there be any discussions of perhaps new conditions that Israel might retaliate if struck, compared to the '91 Gulf War, where the United States really put a lot of pressure on Israel? There's some pressure within Jerusalem to respond this time if there is a Scud attack or some other --
MR. FLEISCHER: The meeting will take place in a little while, and I can't guess everything that's going to be discussed at every level of detail. I've given you the American approach to this issue. Allow the meeting to take place and let's see.
Q If I may just follow, the entire U.S. national defense doctrine now is based on preemption. Given that, how can the President even -- or the U.S. put any pressure on Israel to not retaliate or not respond if there is an attack?
MR. FLEISCHER: Ryan, again, let the meeting take place and we'll see. I said that the United States would consult.
Q House Republicans this morning appear to be in the process of changing one of the tax bills that was up for a floor vote dealing with military tax relief. They've changed the name of it to Economic Growth and Pension Security, or something to that effect. Would the White House approve using a military tax relief bill as a vehicle to add on much broader tax measures, such as pension reform, corporate inversion moratorium, stock incentives?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the White House doesn't weigh in on the procedural machinations of the House to that degree. And the Rules Committee has the authority it does, and it's really not the role of the White House to dive into that level of the House procedural matters.
The House Ways and Means Committee has passed legislation dealing with pension protections for people and allowing elderly Americans, particularly, to withdraw money from their IRAs at a later date. The Ways and Means Committee also passed legislation that would increase the amount of money that you can deduct as a capital loss from its existing level of $3,000 up to, I think it's $8,250. And if those were given to the President, the President would sign those measures. It remains to be seen exactly what's going to make it onto the House floor. This is still something that's under discussion within the House and they haven't settled on it yet.
Q And with respect to the ATF report, you said that they will be proceeding at their own pace. I'm just wondering why if this issue rose to the level of presidential concern, why he didn't direct a report be made and set a deadline or a time line, like he often does on issues of concern to him.
MR. FLEISCHER: Because this needs to be decided by the experts so they can have a review as they deem complete, and so they can talk to the people they think they need to talk to and explore whatever evidence they deem in their judgment needs to be explored. It shouldn't have an arbitrary date from the President.
Q I'm interested in following an earlier question. Officials here acknowledge that Israel faces a unique threat from Iraq. And dealing with that threat is, I understand, one of the purposes of today's talks between the President and the Prime Minister. Given that, how could the United States not support a doctrine of preemption on the part of Israel, vis-a-vis Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, one is, you heard from when I began my answer to that question, the threat is not so unique. Muslim nations have been attacked by Saddam Hussein. They've been the victims of Saddam Hussein's missile attacks. They have to ask themselves questions about if they, too, were attacked, what would they do. And that's why I said that the United States will consult with all our friends in the region, including Israel. So it's a threat that the region faces, because of Saddam Hussein's history. And we will consult.
Q I'm not sure that addresses the question. Are you suggesting, then, that it is the region that might embrace a doctrine of preemption?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I'm just changing your premise. When you said that Israel faces a unique threat -- the threat that Israel -- 1991 example of Israel being attacked with Scud missiles was also a fate that been imposed on Saudi Arabia in 1991 and on Iran earlier in the Iran-Iraqi war. And so the region faces a threat from the militaristic nature of Saddam Hussein. We're consulting with everybody in the region about that, including Israel.
Q But it's a demonstrated threat. And given that, I'm wondering whether it's that only the U.S. can have a doctrine of preemption, or could this not be a -- how could you argue against the Israelis embracing a doctrine of preemption?
MR. FLEISCHER: I didn't say we were arguing one way or another. I said that we'll consult with Israel.
Q Ari, according to a study in today's Washington Post, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld is riding roughshod over his senior military leaders. Is the President aware of this criticism? Does he have any reaction? And does he still have faith in Rumsfeld?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has tremendous faith in Secretary Rumsfeld. Secretary Rumsfeld, in the President's judgment, is doing a superb job for both the Pentagon and for the nation. And the President knows Secretary Rumsfeld will continue to do that job in the excellent manner that he has.
Q Ari, getting back to fingerprinting for a moment, the ATF did this study in May of this year that addressed all -- just about all the technical questions that are out there. It dealt with some of the criticisms that have been raised in this building and also raised by the NRA that this amounts to some sort of de facto gun registration policy, and essentially debunked those criticisms in a fairly complete and exhaustive way. But the question is, have the folks here who called this meeting read that report? And if they have, what more do they expect the ATF --
MR. FLEISCHER: You're referring to the NBIN program, which is not quite the same program as expanding to a national system that would involve gun manufacturing testing. That is more a program that is focused on tracing bullets, which is how we know that the sniper, for example -- the bullet that killed the first person was fired by the same weapon as the bullet that killed the second and third person. So it's a slightly different -- it is, indeed, a different program, and it raises different issues when people talk about going to a national fingerprinting program, not just the NBIN program.
Q It addresses both. It addresses bullets, it addresses shell casings, marks left by guns --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, and it makes clear that there are differences between those two programs and there remain issues that need to be looked into, and that's exactly why we're looking into them.
Q The question is, given that it covers expansively both issues in this 26-page report, what more needs to be done?
MR. FLEISCHER: It does not cover everything that needs to be looked into, and that's why the report itself acknowledged that no tool is perfect or would be effective in every situation. Now, there is a discussion about whether or not the existing program that was looked into needs to be expanded in a very new and different direction, and that's going to be explored because it should be explored, in the President's judgment
Q Ari, to follow up, you said that the President said yesterday morning that he wanted this studied. If that's the case, then why didn't
you mention this yesterday during --
MR. FLEISCHER: I did. I said, it's going to be explored. It was the first thing I said.
Q The Israeli sources are saying that they will get from the White House or the administration a 72-hour notice before an attack on Iraq. Is that true? And is it necessary? And are you giving other notices to other countries in the region?
MR. FLEISCHER: I cannot confirm that. I did indicate that United States will consult with our friends, including Israel, including other neighbors, and I will just have to leave it at that.
Q Ari, the President has been saying that the threat from Iraq is imminent, that we have to act now to disarm the country of its weapons of mass destruction, and that it has to allow the U.N. inspectors in, unfettered, no conditions, so forth.
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes.
Q The chief U.N. inspector, however, is saying that, even under those conditions, it would be as much as a year before he could actually make a definitive report to the U.N. that Iraq is complying with the resolutions and allowing the inspections to take place. Isn't there a kind of a dichotomy? Can we wait a year, if it's so imminent we have to act now?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, that's why the President has gone to the United Nations to make certain that the conditions by which the inspectors would go back would be very different from the current terms that inspectors have been traveling around Iraq in as they've been thwarted in their attempt to find out what weapons Saddam Hussein has. But it's also important to hold Saddam Hussein accountable to make certain he no longer violates the will of the United Nations.
Q Yes, Ari, just a quick follow-up on the sniper story around the Washington area. I believe Governor Ridge, for one, has not ruled out that this could be some type of terrorism. Is terrorism still a possibility in this scenario?
MR. FLEISCHER: We just don't know. And don't take that to mean one way or another; we just don't know. And, of course, until the person responsible for this is arrested and then we have access to more information about exactly who this is -- are they isolated, are they a lone person, do they have connections -- until we know who's behind it, it's impossible to adequately or to accurately answer that question. So just out of an abundance of caution, we cannot rule anything out because we don't know. Hopefully we'll all be in a position to know soon, as soon as this person can be arrested.
Q On another terrorist front, there's a report that U.S. officials have determined that the attack in Bali was financed by a Saudi citizen --
MR. FLEISCHER: First I've heard on that report. Let me see if I can't get anything on it. First I heard.
END 12:54 P.M. EDT