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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
November 19, 2002

Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Prague, Czech Republic

12:09 P.M. EST

MR. FLEISCHER: Let the gaggle begin. The Senate just shortly voted for -- against an amendment for the President's position on the homeland security bill, which means now -- barring some unforeseen event -- the homeland security measure that President Bush looks forward to signing will proceed on the Senate floor in the manner that the President asked the Senate to consider it.

The attempt to defeat the President's position was defeated by a vote of 47 to 52. The President is very pleased that it looks as if the homeland security bill that the President believes is necessary to protect America will now move forward to a final vote in the Senate.

The President praises the Senate for this vote, for this action. He hopes it will, indeed, pave the way to final action so he can sign this bill into law. It appears that the lame duck Congress is accomplishing substantial good for the American people. The lame duck Congress will shortly turn -- if all goes according to plan -- to the terrorism insurance bill, which means that this Congress will have taken action on homeland security, on terrorism insurance, on 9/11 commission, as well as a port security measure.

So the president is pleased with this vote on the amendment. It literally took place within the hour. And we'll ultimately see and we'll try to keep you updated back here about what the next step in the Senate is. But by all indications, it looks like the Senate will take up the final bill and pass it today. That could get derailed, we'll see, but progress has been made.

Q Any senators that the President reached out to by phone by the vote? And/or is the Vice President doing that back home?

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know. The President did not make any phone calls from Air Force One today. Others, of course, made phone calls and the President may have made calls prior to today; I don't have the list.

Q So the sequence is they're going to do homeland today and terrorism tomorrow?

MR. FLEISCHER: The sequence is now that this amendment is defeated, the next step -- unless there's a filibuster or other use of parliamentary time -- the homeland security measure will be voted on, up or down vote, similar to the House, the bill is passed. Then the ySenate would proceed to terrorism insurance.

Q An up or down vote could be today --

MR. BARTLETT: Senator Byrd did a point of order, the very next move after that, the amendment was defeated. So there will be a lot of procedural votes to take place. So it may take some time. But they're projecting to sometime today.

Q Moving on to the summit, what do you hope to see on Iraq out of this summit, Ari?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, one, the President hopes to see out of the summit an expansion of NATO. That's the purpose of the summit, in that sense. This really is an historical summit. The fact that expansion, which of course will get announced Thursday, could include a number of new nations, it's a very exciting time and a very exciting moment for NATO.

The President will likely discuss Iraq with NATO leaders and we'll see what, if anything, comes out of the summit vis--vis Iraq, see what those conversations lead to.

Q There's talk of a formal statement of some sort, admittedly general. Is there going to be that statement, or is that in some doubt?

MR. FLEISCHER: There very well could be.

Q But you're not going to handicap it?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, I mean, you go into these summits, there's always lots of paper that gets talked about, and I think usually there is paper -- usually there's lots of paper and we will, of course, distribute all that paper. So I think --

Q People often get married and they get so cautious all of a sudden; what is this? (Laughter.)

Q Ari, you said the President is going to talk to world leaders about Iraq. What does he hope to accomplish from that? What is he looking for from world leaders?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, this is something that the United Nations has already voted on and discussed and these nations, some of them are on the Security Council, of course they all belong to the United Nations. And so the President, as he leads and builds a coalition, he always wants to make certain that the world has a chance to discuss the threat that Saddam Hussein presents.

Q Will he be discussing current issues, the exchange of fire in ythe no-fly zones, that sort of thing?

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know at what level of detail they're going to talk about it. Again, the purpose of the summit is to focus on expansion and transformation within NATO. And that is the purpose of the summit. And from my experience at these summits now, I can tell you that the purpose of the summit does dominate the summit, that is most of their time.

Now, I think it's likely there will be conversations about Iraq, and I'll do my best to give you a read as events warrant.

Q How are you treating right now the Iraqi firing on the U.S. planes in the no-fly zones?

MR. FLEISCHER: That's always a serious incident, any time anybody fires on American planes. It's a material breach of the United Nations resolutions. It can endanger the lives of Americans and British who patrol to enforce the no-fly zone to protect people on the ground. So these are serious violations.

Q And as such? As a material breach, what's your response, your next step?

MR. FLEISCHER: Our response is what you see played out before you, the pilots respond as events warrant. We always reserve the right to discuss this further with the Security Council.

Q No immediate plans to do so?

MR. FLEISCHER: We always reserve that right. No immediate plans.

Q How will he address -- you were talking about the transformation of NATO -- the fact that many of these seven incoming countries, let's be honest, if there was a need for military action, couldn't exactly hold up their end. How do you nudge people along in that way and say, this has to change to be worth our while?

MR. FLEISCHER: One of the interesting facts about NATO transformation and NATO enlargement is many of the individual countries have particular strengths, niche abilities to perform combat-ready missions. And each of these individual nations, therefore, contributes in a concrete and discernable way to NATO's overall success. And you will continue to see that developed as NATO expands.

Q What are you expecting on Saturday, do you think we'll see any sort of joint press conference or statement or anything out of Putin? I mean, maybe it's Friday -- Putin and the President?

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't recall if we're going to have paper out of Putin and the President. We will?

MS. PEREZ: Yes. There's a couple of fact sheets on the Russia-U.S. energy, so you'll see a couple of things.

Q But will we see them appear together and take any questions?

MR. DICKENS: Yes. They'll have their meeting and then they'll step out and take questions.

Q Looking at the schedule, the only meeting, the bilat where there is coverage, can we look at opening up the other ones for pool sprays?

MR. FLEISCHER: Do we have anything else open?

MR. DICKENS: We do in the next stops. That day, in that series of bilats, that is the only bilat that is open.

Q But in Prague, it's just Havel, it's not the Turkish Prime Minister, it's not Chirac. Can we get those opened?

MR. FLEISCHER: As you know, that is our standard practice. There's usually one press avail a day. We don't open up every one, otherwise there wouldn't be time for the President to have any meetings.

MR. DICKENS: We're sticking to the procedure, this has been the formula we've used on almost every foreign trip.

MR. FLEISCHER: I would like to just note that we have broken a record, this is now a four-person, on the record gaggle. We have four administration spokespeople at your disposal. The reason for that, it takes four of us to equal one McQuillan -- I mean McClellan. McClellan. (Laughter.) That was not a McQuillan, that was a McClellan. (Laughter.)

Q Is North Korea going to come up in any of the discussions at NATO or during Russia?

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, you never rule anything out as far as coming up. The agenda for NATO is, as I earlier indicated, about enlargement. And of course South Korea and Japan are not NATO members; Russia is not a NATO member. Those are the nations that we need most immediately focus with, but you can never rule it out.

Q In terms of dealing with weapons of mass destruction, that being one of the new drives for NATO, is it likely to come up?

MR. FLEISCHER: It's not an agenda item, but you never know what comes up any time such a large number of leaders gather. And particularly during the evening sessions, it's designed for some informality where the President can talk more freely, in a tug-on-a-sleeve basis with leaders.

Q Ari, some of these new members have talked about possibly actually participating militarily in Iraq military action, should it come to that. Is that something that the President expects to talk about with them, informally or otherwise?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President has made no secret of the fact that if it is necessary to go to war with Iraq that the United States will assemble a coalition of the willing. And I'm not going to be able to predict with certainty what the exact composition of that coalition of the willing may or may not be, but certainly there are many nations who see things as the President does, that Iraq possesses a serious threat to the United States, to the western world, to the region, and the world spoke powerfully through the United Nations.

Q And will he be speaking to some of the NATO allies, especially the new ones, about that here?

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, as I indicated earlier, we'll see what those individual conversations are. I would suspect the topic will come up.

Q Ari, even though there's no formal bilat between Bush and Schroeder, is the President going to try to make some time, at least to have a one-on-one conversation with him at the summit?

MR. FLEISCHER: It would not surprise me. There are many leaders here who the President, as I just indicated, has the ability to chat with informally. So you never know at these large gatherings.

Q Any particular message he'd convey in a session like that?

MR. FLEISCHER: It just depends on who he's talking to. For example, the Italian President, many different leaders --

Q -- Schroeder?

MR. FLEISCHER: It could be any number of issues.

Anything else?

Q Yes. Can you look ahead to the speech tomorrow, what is his message there? Will we get to see excerpts or anything in advance?

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know about excerpts because I think the timing is going to work out very well for your deadlines, in terms of --

Q -- the overnight cycle.

MR. FLEISCHER: I can do this for the overnights now. The speech will welcome the enlargement of NATO. It will signify the advancement for liberty and freedom that NATO's enlargement represents. And it will also be a very appropriate follow-up to the President's speech in Warsaw last year, about the importance of a Europe free, at peace, and at whole.

Q I didn't hear --

MR. FLEISCHER: A follow-up to the President's remarks in Warsaw last year about a Europe that's a whole, at peace and is free. This is a real historical marker in Prague. The fact that NATO is expanding, nations that once may have fought us are now joining with us. People in these nations who were once oppressed, they now see their freedom, as best expressed by an alliance with the west and with NATO, is a very powerful curtain raiser under a peaceful 21st century.

That stands in contrast to a divided Europe in the 20th century. A Europe in the 21st century now is at peace and is whole, in contrast to a Europe that so many people grew up with in the 20th century that was sharply divided down the middle between those who sought peace and those who engaged in totalitarianism and communism. And it's a stirring tribute to people's desire to be free.

Q But what's his message? I mean, other than, this is historic? I mean, does he pledge the United States to do something?

MR. FLEISCHER: His message is, this is the future of the world, this is the future of Europe, as being at peace and whole and free. And what a stirring tribute it is to human liberty that this is the path that these nations are taking -- when the 20th century showed a path that was so different.

Okay. Thanks, everybody.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 12:21 P.M. EST