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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
November 22, 2002

Press Gaggle by Ari Fleischer
Aboard Air Force One
En route St. Petersburg, Russia

3:10 P.M. (L)

MR. FLEISCHER: The President looks forward to arriving into Russia for a meeting with President Putin. It's interesting how this meeting came to be. During the course of the phone calls the President was making to the P-5 nations concerning the resolution on Iraq, President Putin several weeks ago spontaneously suggested to President Bush that he visit Russia as part of this tour of the NATO expansion in Prague, and President Bush instantly accepted.

This did not go up through the normal staffing process. This was as a result of President Putin saying, it would be a good idea for you to come to Russia. And the President instinctively and immediately making the judgment that, given the news about the expansion of NATO this is very important, in the President's judgment, to come to Russia to send a signal to Russia that stability and democracy in Russia are enhanced by stability and democracy on Russia's borders.

So the President looks forward to this opportunity to speak directly to President Putin and, therefore, the Russian people about how close our friendship between the United States and Russia has become. But that's an interesting context for our visit to Russia in the wake of expansion of NATO.

I think on the list of items the President may discuss with President Putin you will see the continued development of the strategic relationship and friendship between the United States and Russia. Iraq will likely be a target -- a topic. And also North Korea will also likely be a topic of conversation.

Then the President will depart from Russia and arrive into Vilnius tonight. And then tomorrow the President will have two speeches, one in Lithuania, the new NATO nation, and in Romania, where he will likely see the largest crowds of his Presidency, where he will give a speech welcoming these new NATO nations to the alliance of the free. And the President views this as a real exciting moment in history and he expects to see a very charged-up crowd of people who relish freedom and are very pleased by the fact that they are now members of NATO. And the President, I think, will feel the energy of these crowds; as he put it in his speech in Warsaw and in Prague, that this helps invigorate NATO and invigorate the soul of NATO.

Let me get into the week ahead, I want to give you that now and then I'll be happy to take questions.

It's interesting what's going to happen next week, because this week has been a real week, concluding several weeks, of accomplishment and diplomacy of international relations, given the bipartisan -- I mean the unanimous vote in the United Nations Security Council on Iraq, the NATO statement on Iraq, the historic expansion of NATO. It's been a week of international accomplishment.

Next week will be a real week of domestic accomplishment. The President will on three days next week sign four pieces of legislation into law. So Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, each will be an important bill signing day that concludes a week of accomplishment, that concludes two years' worth of accomplishment in what was a very divided United States Congress. The Congress has passed many major measures that help the American people.

On Monday next week, the President will sign into law the homeland security act in the East Room. He will also sign an important security measure into law that same day. Tuesday, the President will sign the terrorism insurance act into law. And that afternoon he will also, by the way, participate in the annual pardoning of the turkey in the Rose Garden. And on Wednesday, the President will sign the intelligence authorization act into law, which of course includes the 9/11 commission legislation.

Q I'm sorry, which one on Wednesday?

MR. FLEISCHER: Wednesday will be the intelligence authorization act, which includes the 9/11 commission. And then he will depart for Crawford on Wednesday, where he will spend Thanksgiving weekend.

So an exciting week next week of domestic accomplishment.

Q Why do you say Romania will have the biggest crowds? Because you've got a --

MR. FLEISCHER: I said Lithuania and Romania will be the two largest crowds of his Presidency, in all likelihood.

Q Estimates?

MR. FLEISCHER: The initial estimates are between 50,000 and 100,000.

Q In each place?


MR. DICKENS: (Inaudible.)

MR. FLEISCHER: I stand corrected: 25,000 to 50,000 in Lithuania and 50,000 to 100,000 in Romania.

Q He's meeting the Baltic leaders tomorrow, too. What's his message there?

MR. FLEISCHER: The message there is these nations which recently suffered from tyranny, Nazi occupation and, in the case of Romania, Soviet domination are now leading members of the alliance of the free and NATO. And what an historic moment it is for nations that created liberty to now find it in such stability that comes with NATO membership.

Q In the Euro-Atlantic Council meeting this morning, Bush was heard to tell the aspiring NATO members they needed to participate in a war on terrorism. Is that a new standard for NATO members --

MR. FLEISCHER: The President's message to the world is that the world needs to participate in the war on terrorism, that no nation anywhere is safe from terrorists. Al Qaeda is organized in some 60 nations around the world and this is a worldwide effort to combat terrorism and, as the President made clear in his remarks in Prague, the mission of NATO has to focus on the new threats. And the new threats involve terrorism.

Q What more can you tell us about the terrorist whose name we now know, who was captured?

MR. FLEISCHER: There's nothing I can say on the record about that topic.

Q At all?

MR. FLEISCHER: There's nothing I can say on the record about that topic specifically. I will say that the war on terrorism continues to have successes. The President has made clear that we intend to pursue this diligently around the world, bringing individuals to justice who are terrorists, and we continue to have accomplishments in that war.

Q Ari, Iraq will likely come up. What specifically would the President want to see from Russia as he moves forward in his effort against Iraq?

MR. FLEISCHER: Of course, Russia voted with the Security Council for a statement about the importance of Iraq disarming. And I think the President and President Putin will discuss how to protect the peace by keeping the pressure on, so Saddam Hussein does indeed disarm.

Q Has the United States asked --

Q What can Russia do in that regard, at this point?

MR. FLEISCHER: Let's wait and have the meeting take place and then you'll have --

Q Has the United States contacted Russia, as it has this other 50 countries, asking for --

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to delineate which countries have been contacted. Nevertheless, the planning does proceed.

Q Ari, Al Gore says that the President has so fixated on getting Osama -- or Saddam Hussein that he can't get Osama bin Laden. Can you respond to the substance of that charge? And, secondly, to the fact that he's criticizing the President's foreign policy while the President is on foreign soil?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think the American people are very pleased that this administration has focused on the war on terrorism, has taken strong action in the war on terrorism. I think the American people are very pleased that this administration has created an environment for the inspectors to return to Iraq who, after all, were thrown out in 1998.

Q Under the previous administration. What about the idea of criticizing him while he's on foreign soil? The President objected to that last time, when he was in South America.

MR. FLEISCHER: It is an unusual departure from the norms of how loyal opposition parties treat a President while a President travels. I hope someone buys his book.

Q Ari, how much does the President know about Mr. Poindexter's total information awareness program, and does he fully support it?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think that the President supports his efforts to prevent terrorists from engaging in any attacks against the United States, while making certain that the constitutional rights and liberties of the American people are protected. That's what the President is going to make certain what is done.

Q Specifically on that program, that's been a bit controversial, much like TIPS became controversial, has he waited at all on --

MR. FLEISCHER: You'd really have to talk to Department of Defense to get a clear understanding of what that program is. I think there's been some misrepresentations of what it is. The President knows the importance of working carefully and respectfully to honor the rights of individual Americans while at the same time remain concerned that terrorists are stopped from attacking us again.

Q Ari, Senator Daschle and Leader Gephardt have sent the President a letter yesterday rather pointedly asking him to take a moment or two out of his international schedule and focus on the unemployed back home and encourage Republicans to support an extension of the unemployment benefits. Will the President write back? And what's his response?

MR. FLEISCHER: We're going to continue to work with the Congress to hopefully get that done. The Senate and the House continue to have disagreements about how best to get it done, as recently as last week. And while the House and Senate members may be gone, there are still people we can talk to, and we will continue to make efforts with the Congress to help get things done.

Q What's the White House position, though? Do you support an extension? For how long? With what kind of conditions?

MR. FLEISCHER: We're going to continue to work with the Congress on economic growth for the American people, and consider a wide variety of possibilities.

Q Does the President support an extension of unemployment benefits?

MR. FLEISCHER: We continue to work with the Congress on it.

Q So that's a yes, but can you tell me what kind of extension?

MR. FLEISCHER: I said we're going to continue to work with the Congress on it.

Q That sounds like he doesn't have a position at all, because you asked -- she asked of you does he have a position, and you said --

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, the House and the Senate have to work together. The House and the Senate have to get something done in order for the President to have something to sign. And we've sent every clear signal that we wanted the House and the Senate to get together and work together well.

Q But on other pieces of legislation, on homeland security for instance, the President took a very strong position and said, this is where I want you to go with it. Why on this bill doesn't the President just say, this is the extension I want, I need you to deliver it, I need something on my desk to sign, people are out of work, they need money.

MR. FLEISCHER: The President believes that there are a number of things that can be done to help people. He was pleased that the Congress passed the terrorism insurance bill which creates jobs. The most important priority is to have economic growth that creates jobs. But, nevertheless, the Congress still has tools at its disposal and we're going to continue to work with Congress.

Q Any clear guidance to all those unemployed Americans on whether or not their --

MR. FLEISCHER: You can ask the question a million different ways, the answer's going to be the same.

Anything else? All righty. We'll see everybody in snowy St. Petersburg.

END 3:20 P.M. (L)