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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
December 16, 2002
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:25 P.M. EST
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. The President began his day this morning with an intelligence briefing, followed by an FBI briefing.
Then he met for half an hour in the Oval Office with the Sultan of Brunei. The two leaders recommitted themselves to the global war on terrorism and to strengthening America's relationship with Brunei as we work together. The two leaders also recognized the importance of promoting tolerance and understanding among the diverse culture of society and religions around the world. And President Bush expressed appreciation for Brunei's contribution toward humanitarian relief efforts and reconstruction of Afghanistan.
Later today, the President will deliver remarks to federal workers and employees, to thank them for their government service and for their efforts to put the nation first in their business as they join the federal work force.
And, finally, I have one announcement from the President. This is a statement by the President, it will distributed to you shortly:
"I am pleased to announce that Thomas Kean, former Governor of New Jersey and President of Drew University in New Jersey will serve as Chairman of the national commission to investigate the terror attacks on September 11, 2001, and the events that led up to it.
"Tom Kean is a leader respected for integrity, fairness and good judgment. I am confident he will work to make the commission's investigation thorough. It is important that we uncover every detail and learn every lesson of September 11th.
"Governor Kean served on the advisory board to the President's initiative race from 1997 to 1998. He served as vice-chairman of the U.S. delegation to the 4th U.N. World Conference on Women in 1995; and led the U.S. delegation to the World Conference on Education for All in Thailand in 1990."
That's a statement by the President. And with that, I'm happy to take questions. Helen.
Q Were you able to follow-up on the New York Times story that you have a new disinformation campaign going on, or being planned against the allies?
MR. FLEISCHER: I've looked into this, and let me say to you there is widespread recognition throughout the administration that the United States has an important role in the world in better communicating America's message of hope and opportunity. It is important that it is a message that is shared throughout the world, in friendly nations and other places, as well. The President has an expectation that any program that is created in his administration be based on facts, and that's what he would expect to be carried out in any program that is created in any entity of the government.
Q So it's true?
MR. FLEISCHER: Beyond that, in terms of the specifics of that story, I'm not in a position to evaluate those.
Q Well, how come the White House didn't know anything about this, if this is a major plan to hit all the allies and friends?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, Helen, I think you need to address your questions to the Pentagon, and I'm not sure you should presume that this is anything that has moved even very far forward. Very often these things get discussed at levels that never reach the top levels. And these are issues and ideas that are being discussed, but I would caution you about any of the specifics that you may have read as to what exactly they entail. Many of the details you may want to talk to the Pentagon about, but you know the President's expectations.
Q You don't think our story is getting across, that the truth is getting across and up to the world?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think it will forever be a matter for democracies to communicate their message around the world, particularly in the face of closed governments --
Q But nobody's stopping you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, that's not true. The message of democracy is often stopped as a result of nations that don't have a free press or an open press, nations that don't welcome ideas. And that's always a challenge for democracy; it's always a challenge for the message of the world to be received by people around the world. Not everybody is as tolerant, as open as the United States.
Q So you're going to penetrate their communications systems?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I don't think that's anticipated, Helen.
Q Ari, what's the President's reaction to former Vice President Gore announcing that he's not going to run?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, this is an internal matter for the Democratic Party, and somebody will emerge from the Democratic field who will ultimately seek to raise taxes on the American people, but that's a decision that the Democrats will make as they select a nominee.
Q He didn't have a personal reaction at all, I mean, when he heard yesterday? What did he say?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think the President is rather busy, focused on the job that he was elected to do by the American people.
Q How about internal matters in the Republican Party? (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm sorry?
Q Well, you said he didn't want to comment on internal matters of the Democratic Party, how about internal matters in the Republican Party?
MR. FLEISCHER: Oh, I thought you were making a reference to somebody running for President. I thought you knew something I didn't.
Anything else, Campbell?
Q I just -- given that Gore won the popular vote by some 500,000 votes the first time around, the President wouldn't -- is not a little bit disappointed that he won't have rematch?
MR. FLEISCHER: Campbell, I think the President is looking forward. And the President is focused on the job that he is doing right now for the American people. And the President is very respectful of the democratic process, including the Democratic primary process. I think there will be no shortage of candidates.
Q Yes or no, can you say whether the President wants Senator Lott to remain as Majority Leader?
MR. FLEISCHER: I go right back to everything that I said last week about the topic and the President's focus on improving race relations throughout America.
Q Why do you not want to repeat what you said last week, about the White House thinking that he should remain?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President does not think he needs to resign. I repeat what I said last week, what I've said every day.
Q So the President can focus on improving race relations with Trent Lott as Majority Leader of the United States Senate?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is going to do just what he did last week. And the President is going to continue to elevate the country, and to speak out about the bigger picture of the importance of improving race relations for all Americans. That's the -- one of the jobs of the Presidency is to lift up the debate and to focus on where the country is, vis a vis race, where we have to go and how we can possibly get there. And that's why the President thought it was so important to speak out and speak in public as he did.
Q And can Trent Lott as Majority Leader help him do that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, the President has made his statement about it. And the President looks forward to working with everybody to help America reach that day.
Q The last time I looked, the President was the leader of his party, as well as Commander-in-Chief and a number of other hats. Why wouldn't he seek to give direction to his party in a time like this, about the person he would like to see as Majority Leader?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the direction the President has given the nation and the party is about improving race relations. And that's where the President is focused.
Q So it doesn't matter whether Trent Lott is a Leader or not, as long as race relations are improved?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, the President made clear that he found the remarks to be offensive and repugnant and he spoke out clearly about them. He thought that was very important to do.
Q So I guess it's important that he get somebody other than Trent Lott, if I'm reading you correctly.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you've heard everything I've said. Goyle.
Q Ari, two quick questions. One, now North Korea is seeking nuclear help from China after Pakistan has stopped help. So how much does your President think or is U.S. worried about China's and North Korea's military build-up that might one day --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, if you recall when President Jiang Zemin visited the President in Texas, just two or three months ago, President Jiang said publicly that China opposes any nuclearization on the Korean peninsula. So I think the premise of your question is not quite right. China is working with the United States to make certain that we can resolve the situation with North Korea peacefully and diplomatically. And that is being done in concert with South Korea and Japan and Russia, as well.
Q Second question. What is the future of now I-245 the President last year promised to sign it and get it out of the Senate?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is still hoping that it can done in the new Congress. The President thinks that's an important immigration initiative to help give people opportunities to come to the United States where willing employers want and have positions for immigrants. And it was passed by one body and not the other last year. The President would like to see action taken on that this year.
Q One quick attempt again on Lott. And then a question about Governor Kean. How is it consistent for the White House, for the President, say, to actively recruit former Mayor Riordan to run for governor of California, for Karl Rove and Dick Cheney to call potential candidates in Minnesota and say, clear the field for Norm Coleman; calls that were made for the good of the Republican Party -- how is it then consistent to say the President will not comment on whether he thinks, as some senators have said, there should be a new leadership election in the Senate, for the good of the party?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President makes judgments all the time about what he believes is the approach procedures to take. And the steps that he has taken here were focused on improving race relations, and that's why the President's focus is on that bigger picture. That's what the President worries about, spends his time focusing on. We think that's where the country needs to move and advance.
Q In the selection of Governor Kean I assume there have been contacts with him about business dealings or any complications, as came up with Senator Mitchell and Mr. Kissinger. And does this experience in having the problems with Mr. Kissinger and Senator Mitchell convince the White House at all that once the commission is up and running that perhaps looking ahead there should be some conversation in Washington about disclosure rules and how we handle all these things?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, on the first part of your question, of course the same rules will apply to all the commissioners. That means they have to follow the ethics provisions and that will all be looked in to and it's in the process of being looked in to for all the commissioners.
On the broader question, I'll have to see if there is any serious discussion inside the White House about that. But I think that it's important for the government to welcome people back into public service who can contribute to public service. And I think that people want to be careful of that. We must follow all ethics provisions; but we also want to make certain that people don't have a disincentive to ever serve their country again. And the commission has lost the services of two good and able people -- Senator Mitchell and Secretary Kissinger.
Nevertheless, the President is moving forward now with these appointments because his interest in getting the commission up and running and Governor Kean I know will be reaching out and speaking to congressional leaders today. I would anticipate he'll be speaking to Lee Hamilton, as well. The President thinks it's important to get the commission moving.
Q Does the President feel that Senator Lott's appearance on Black Entertainment Television tonight is observing race relations?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is going to focus on his job and what it takes to improve race relations across the country. The President, broadly speaking, thinks it's helpful and appropriate for all individuals who are in the position of leadership to speak out and educate the country and keep the mission of making progress on race relations moving in the forward direction.
Q So he thinks that Senator Lott's appearance is helpful?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, I've answered in a much broader context.
Q Ari, along that line, Bob Johnson of BET is one of the persons that Trent Lott is supposed to be talking with to help make amends to the African American community. Did the President have anything to do with Bob Johnson, himself, because Bob Johnson is a part of the Bush administration's Social Security Commission and he and President Bush, I understand, have a pleasant and --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not sure I understand you. Does the President have anything to do with Bob Johnson?
Q Yes -- no, did he talk to Trent Lott, saying, you know, Bob Johnson would be a good person for you to talk to, he has a --
MR. FLEISCHER: I have no idea.
Q What are the President's thoughts about Bob Johnson? Because they apparently have a nice, cordial relationship according to --
MR. FLEISCHER: The President thought he was a very able commissioner on the Social Security Commission and welcomed his support in working on ways to help younger workers have opportunities in Social Security in the future.
Q But I'm talking about Bob Johnson as a black man who I guess would be --
MR. FLEISCHER: April, the President renders his judgment on people based on who they are and what they do and their service to the country. And that's the context in which the President registered his thoughts about Mr. Johnson.
Q Well, civil rights leaders -- on another subject, on the same subject, though -- civil rights leaders this weekend are very upset with the fact that the White House continues to say that they are concerned about race relations, and you have not yet talked to Kweisi Mfume, the Congressional Black Caucus, the Urban League, about this matter or any other matter.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I dismiss that. The President has indeed met with the Congressional Black Caucus, as you know, and there are very many congressional caucuses of all kinds of interests and issues that seek meetings with the President and not all of them have had a meeting with the President. Yet, the President has met with the Congressional Black Caucus. He's met with a host of leaders of the African American and civil rights community during the term his Presidency. So I just dismiss the premise of the question.
Q First of Lott, then on Iraq. It appears that the White House is doing nothing to discourage a new vote on leadership and doing nothing to try to rescue Senator Lott, if you would. Is that an accurate impression?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's focus is on improving race relations. And that's where the President has discussed this issue. And I've addressed the issue. And you can ask different questions in a variety of combinations, but I'm going to give you the focus of where the President is.
Q So the White House is taking no role at all in this, not attempting to exercise any influence over whether or not --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you're all very well aware what the President's position is, I just expressed it emphatically.
Q On Iraq, how would you characterize where they are at the moment? And would you clarify what responsibility we believe the Iraqis have, not just to disclose what they have, but to prove what happened to the stuff they used to have?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the administration is continuing to take a look at the declaration that Iraq has provided. And I think other nations will also be weighing in on their views of what Iraq has provided. Hans Blix will be talking about what Iraq has provided. And this is all appropriately so, under the terms of the resolution 1441, which sent the inspectors back into Iraq.
The declaration Iraq prepared was for the use of the members of the United Nations Security Council, and they will all be making their thoughts known shortly. The United States is continuing to review it. And as I indicated this morning, at the appropriate time, if we have something to say you'll be advised of when that would be.
The President views this as a very important matter for Iraq to show the world that it was serious this time -- Helen, can I help you?
Q Oops. (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: The President thinks it's very important at this time for Iraq to show the world that it is serious about peace, and that at this time they take their determination from the United Nations Security Council clearly, and that they do, indeed, produce a document that is full, complete and accurate.
Q But isn't there a greater responsibility than just saying, here's what we've got or what we don't have. Don't they also have to prove to the inspectors what happened to the things that they once had that were declared and to make sure that everyone knows how it is that they eliminated the WMD -- if, in fact, they did -- the WMD capability that they had?
MR. FLEISCHER: This is one of the issues that the declaration will shed light upon. It will be part of the review of the declaration to see what is not in it, and to match it up against previous declarations, particularly the United Nations -- the UNSCOM report in 1999, which right before they were thrown out or right after they were thrown out they did the final reporting on what they knew at the time that they were thrown out of Iraq. And it will be important and it will shed some light on whether Iraq is telling the truth or not, to see what Iraq has said in this declaration and compare it to their past promises for what they have indeed destroyed.
Q -- Hans Blix may be in New York this week to brief on the status of the inspections. Do you anticipate that he will also brief the U.S. separately, or he'll come and talk to the President about how things are going?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, he has repeatedly talked to many of the nations on the Security Council, especially the P-5. If there is something, we'll obviously report it to you. But I'm not aware of any meeting at this point.
Q And after he briefs the Council this week -- I guess he said mid-week -- is there some anticipation that moving through the next stage in the process of some sort of diplomatic consultations after that, or what happens after that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I don't want to make any guesses or predictions yet. We're still, as the United States, in the process of still looking at the document. And so I think we want to come to our assessments about what is in it and what is not in it before we can anticipate what the next step would possibly be.
Q A number of people have proposed Warren Rudman as a chairman for the 9/11 Commission job. The President, obviously, decided to go in a different direction today. What was the objection to Mr. Rudman? Why --
MR. FLEISCHER: Ken, as always, when it comes to personnel announcements, I don't speculate about people who may or may not have been considered. I am here to discuss with you the people, or the person in this case that the President did choose and select. Any of the announcements that the President makes on personnel I would never get into other people who may or may not have been considered for any reason.
Q Was there a specific objection or problem with Senator Rudman as a potential chairman?
MR. FLEISCHER: I just shared with you the reasons that the President selected Governor Kean.
Q Ari, if the challenge were to emerge in the Republican Senate to Trent Lott's leadership would the President stay neutral? Would he take sides? Would he keep hands off?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, that's the same question coming a different way. No, again, the President's focus is going to be on improving race relations in the United States. The President does not -- the President does not believe that Trent Lott needs to resign. The President thinks that what Trent Lott said was wrong. And the President found those remarks offensive. And the President said that Trent Lott was right to apologize. And the President is going to continue to do the job the American people elected him to do, which is to focus on how to -- the big picture for this country and to improve race relations by bringing people together. And that's going to be the focus of the President.
Q Ari, Senator Nickles has said that he gave the White House a head's-up on Saturday that on Sunday he was going to say that Trent Lott should go. Did anybody at the White House try to dissuade Senator Nickles from making those remarks? Or does the White House regard this as an internal Senate matter?
MR. FLEISCHER: The call was described to me as a notification call and nothing more.
Q But did anybody try to -- I mean, when you call the White House to give a notification call, you also --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, it was --
Q -- leave open the options.
MR. FLEISCHER: It was left at it was a notification call.
Q Also it has been reported that Senator Lott asked Dr. Rice and Secretary of State Powell for statements of support and was told he would not be getting them. Can you tell us, one, is that true? And, two, what conclusions should we draw from that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, actually on that, I do not know. I have not talked to either Dr. Rice or Secretary Powell about it.
Q To follow up on Terry, Bill, just about everybody here -- (laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: You have a question about North Korea. (Laughter.)
Q Now, Super Bowl playoff picks.
MR. FLEISCHER: Miami. (Laughter.)
Q Of course. You've said the President doesn't believe that Trent Lott needs to resign. But is he, again, in favor of or opposed to any potential challenge from within the Republican leadership in the Senate to Senator Lott's position as Majority Leader?
MR. FLEISCHER: I would refer you to the answer I gave on Friday's briefing, when somebody asked that question for about the tenth time.
Q What was that answer?
MR. FLEISCHER: The same as I gave earlier today. (Laughter.) Mark.
Q Iraq. What's taking so long, Ari? I mean, I don't understand. We, presumably, have at least given some initial reaction to the U.N. authorities as to what we've seen. What's taking so long for, A, an official White House reaction, and B, for the President to speak on the subject?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, one, the President did not put any type of artificial deadline on the amount of time it would take to do this thoughtfully and deliberatively. The President's approach and the President's instructions were to do this in a way that would be deliberative, that would be full, that would be thoughtful.
This is very important. This declaration that Iraq has filed can be the difference between war and peace. And the President thinks that it is vital to take a look at it in its entirety and to do so thoughtfully and deliberatively. And once the review is complete, then to share the United States' thoughts with the other nations in the world, to share it with the Security Council, to listen respectfully to the opinions of our friends and our allies and others on the Security Council about this matter, and then to proceed in due course from there. And that's the approach that the President has taken.
So I'm not aware that there was any indication that there had to be a date any earlier than today, or today or tomorrow. That's not how the President has approached it.
Q When is the President's own -- I mean, you said to us last week that you expected the President would speak publicly to us, to the American people on this subject. Where does that fall in the order that you just outlined?
MR. FLEISCHER: You mean in terms of the timing of when the President --
Q Before you go to Security Council, after?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to guess on the timing of it. And I think this is something where the President will make a judgment about and then he, or the appropriate person, whoever, will have something to say at the appropriate time.
Q Ari, this is not the same question a different way, but it might sound like that at first. (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: You're disputing the characterization that Miami will be in the playoffs? (Laughter.)
Q A lot of analysts are saying that this controversy surrounding Senator Lott will make it harder for the Bush team to push the stimulus through the Congress. And whether he stays or whether he goes, without asking you what he thinks about whether he should go or not, what do you think about this argument that the controversy surrounding it will mean that the White House will have to at least push for more targeted to lower income things in the stimulus, or the jobs and growth package?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President, as always, will propose plans to the Congress that he thinks are the best for the country. And that's exactly what the President is going to do. And the President thinks that one of the best ways to help the country to get moving is to focus on economic policies that will help one and all in this nation.
As you know, on Saturday, the President announced that he wants Congress' very first action of business to be the extension of unemployment insurance when Congress comes back. So, again, the President will continue to do just as he's done for two years, which is to announce policies that he thinks are in the interest of all Americans.
Q So it won't change any of the plans at all?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the President is going to continue to do his job for all Americans.
Q Ari, Turkey. There are reports out of Turkey today that the U.S. will soon be sending around 90,000 troops to Turkey in preparation for a possible war with Iraq. Is this true? And what does the U.S. have to give Turkey in return?
MR. FLEISCHER: As you know the longstanding policy of the White House is on anything dealing with operations or troop deployments, those are questions that need to be discussed with the Pentagon. The White House does not comment on those.
Q Ari, the Senate has been in Democratic hands for the past 18 months. That's going to change in a couple of weeks. And apart from the personnel matter of who the Senate Majority Leader is, how important is it to the President that he'll be working with a Republican Majority Leader? How important is that in shepherding his agenda through the Senate and in setting the kind of tone the President wants to see in the Senate?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, if you take a look back at the last two years in which the President was elected in one of the closest -- the closest race of modern times. And then you had a House and the Senate, which were virtually 50-50 in their division. The last two years have interestingly been two years of great accomplishments. Many things of significant nature got done -- even with these great divisions.
As much as things got done -- such as education reform, tax relief, environmental clean-up through the brownfields program, trade promotion authority getting passed into law, the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, for example -- as helpful as all of these items have been, the President wants to do more. And there are many things that were left undone by the last Congress. And the President is hoping that the change in the Senate and the goodwill of working together of the Democrats and Republicans will keep progress moving so more can be done.
And some of the things that do not get done that the President would like to see more action on are more economic stimulus, more help to people so they can find jobs in our economy. The President would like to see legislation passed that makes America more energy independent. The President would like, particularly, to see legislation passed to help lower income Americans -- people who have been left behind from every walk of life -- so they have a better shot at the economic pie of America through the faith-based proposals that the President has made that often do make a major difference in bringing hope and help to people who have fallen through the cracks in our social services programs.
Those are just a small list of the things that the President would like to get focused on next year. Broadly speaking, when the Congress comes back next year, the President's focus is going to be on economic security for all Americans and on national security, homeland security, given the international threats we face.
Q And in advancing that agenda, how important is it that he'll be working with a Republican Senate Majority Leader, whoever it is?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think -- it's important, as the President has said, for all people to work together with him. And given how much has gotten done in the last two years, the President hopes that the results of the election will send a signal to everybody that it's important to continue that progress and do even more. Certainly, the change in the Senate, the President thinks will be helpful in getting more done.
Q On a separate -- could I just ask you?
MR. FLEISCHER: Go ahead, Bob.
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, I confirmed that the President has received the resignation of Joe Allbaugh. Joe has been -- I think he's worked for, going back to Governor Bush and then to President Bush, for nine years. Joe is one of the President's staunchest supporters and good friends. He's performed a myriad of roles on behalf of the President. The President is going to miss him a great deal. We're all -- on the staff level -- going to miss Joe a great deal. He's a great guy, a real kind man, a
gentle giant. And we're going to miss him.
Q Can you tell us when discussions were first initiated with Governor Kean? And what qualifications -- on homeland security, international relations, especially when you compare his experience with Lee Hamilton or Henry Kissinger -- what experience do you think he brings?
MR. FLEISCHER: Governor Kean's name was first floated approximately six weeks ago, in a conversation on the South Lawn. This was the same conversation which several names were floated to President Bush -- Henry Kissinger's name was included at that time; Governor Kean's name was mentioned at that --
Q Conversations with whom?
MR. FLEISCHER: With the President. This was a conversation between Andy Card and the President on the South Lawn. This was about six weeks ago -- six or seven weeks ago. And the President heard several names come up and thought about each of the different names, and that's when it was first discussed. The strengths that Governor Kean brings to this commission, in the President's judgment, are, one, his ability over time, his history of bringing people together on particularly difficult issues.
Governor Kean also, of course, served on the board of directors of a company that lost 80 employees in the attack on the World Trade Center. He has a very close relationship with the 9/11 families, they know this is a matter that is close and near to his heart. He is also a man of unparalleled integrity and judgment. And the President thinks he is the ideal man for this job of bringing people together so that the commission can move forward. And, of course, as a former governor, he has great management experience in tackling difficult issues and making certain that the focus is on the bottom line and results for not only the American people, but for the families particularly.
Q Ari, is the United States receiving any cooperation from the government of Iran regarding Saddam Hussein? And also, what are your thoughts on the Iraqi dissidents meeting in London? They haven't exactly been unified in their --
MR. FLEISCHER: On the Iraqi dissidents meeting in London, as you know, the legislation passed by the Congress several years ago for regime change did call for the United States to work very closely with the Iraqi groups that are dedicated to a different type of leadership in Iraq. The conference took place this weekend, and the United States has sent a very clear message to people in this conference, as well as to people around the world, and that is that we support a democratically oriented Iraq, an Iraq that is whole, that's borders and integrity remains intact
-- the integrity of the borders remain intact. And we look forward to working with Iraqis both inside and outside the government to make this reality.
Q What is a democratically oriented country?
MR. FLEISCHER: Democratically inclined, is what I said, and that means we understand that the way to make progress in the world is by representing the will of the people, and not through dictatorships, not people who are autocratic and dictatorial. So when I say that, democratically inclined, it means a leadership that is respectful of the will of the people.
Q But not necessarily democratically elected?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, obviously, that is always the ideal around the world. Ultimately, the President believes that every nation in the world should be democratically elected. That is the best measure of serving the will of the people. But there's also a reality to the world, and we recognize that. But our goals and our vision, of course, remain the same about the President's ideals.
Q Also about Iran -- is Iran helping at all?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'd have to ask specifically on that topic. That's a very broad question, so let me ask specifically on that topic for you.
Q Is the White House still confident that Iraqi scientists will be interviewed outside of the country? And is Hans Blix cooperating in that effort?
MR. FLEISCHER: We continue to have fruitful conversations with -- we continue to have fruitful conversations with the United Nations about the full implementation of Resolution 1441. That is an important part of Resolution 1441, as passed unanimously by all members of the Security Council. The reason the United States feels so strongly about this is because this often is the best way to find out what Iraq is really up to.
There are people inside Iraq who are dedicated to peace, who would like to talk, have knowledge that they would like to share, and it's in the interests of the world to hear their facts.
Q Are you confident that that's going to happen?
MR. FLEISCHER: We expect that the resolution will be implemented in full.
Q A question on the Mideast. Prime Minister Blair said today that he would invite Palestinian leaders to London to discuss steps forward, and I wonder whether this was something that was being done in coordination with the U.S.? And, secondly, why is it that the President -- we've been given to understand the President has abandoned plans to publish the road map at the end of the week and push that back to the end of January?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, one, on the question of -- on Palestinians, I think you need to talk to the State Department about that. I'm not aware of any contacts; there may be, I just don't know. That's something that State could address probably better than I could tell you.
On the road map, the United States is continuing to follow up directly with members of -- people in the region -- Israel, Palestinians, as well as, of course, the nations in the region that have been very constructive and helpful in trying to bring peace to the Middle East, as well as the Quartet, on how to make progress from the President's June 24th speech in the Rose Garden. The President looks forward to meeting with the members of the Quartet in Washington this week, where he'll continue to look for ways to make progress.
Of course there is an election underway in Israel. Israel will choose -- have the right to choose a new leader. And so we will also be very interested in letting the democratic process move forward in Israel as we work with the region to make progress toward peace.
Q So should we make a connection between the election and the fact that the road map is not going to be published?
MR. FLEISCHER: We will always look for the most opportune time to help the parties to make progress toward peace.
Q How long will the extension on unemployment benefits is the President going to seek? And why was he so quiet about pushing for the extended benefits in the weeks heading up to the last congressional session?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, if you recall, I always said that the President had not ruled out action on unemployment insurance. And the President wanted to work with the Congress at that time on an economic package. There were many different economic ideas that were being considered by the Congress, and in the end, the House and the Senate were not able to agree on a common package. And the President was very public when he said repeatedly, he said he was disappointed nothing could be done.
Q What package is he looking for now in January?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we're going to continue to work closely with the House and the Senate on it. The President wants to see a package that allows people who have been unemployed to continue to receive the benefits they need and to make certain that it's retroactive.
The President thinks given the fact that the date which many people will lose their unemployment insurance is the last week of December, and that Congress is not coming back in until January, makes it imperative for any unemployment insurance extension to be retroactive. And that will be a key provision that we talk to the leaders about.
Q A question on Venezuela, Ari. Your call for early elections on Friday was rejected by the President of Venezuela, saying that this kind of interventionism by the United States in a democratic way of Venezuela.
And also, how sure are you that your experts on Constitution of Venezuela are very accurate, that calling for early election is -- it's under Constitution of Venezuela? Some experts in Venezuela say there is no way for call for early elections in a constitutional way.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think you need to take a look at the entire statement and I think you'll find your answer there. If you noticed, the statement right away in the second paragraph, even before it talks about elections, it says, "the United States calls on all sides to reject violence and intimidation, to act responsibly. We urge a peaceful, democratic, constitutional and politically viable electoral solution to Venezuela's crisis."
So right at the beginning, in an umbrella statement, the administration said the solution must be within the Constitution of Venezuela, and then the call later on for early elections. And there are many different ways in Venezuela for the will of the people to be manifest, for political dialogue to be the ultimate way to resolve the disputes in Venezuela.
But rest assured, the most important way the President believes that peace could come to the people of Venezuela is through the Venezuelan people. The United States stands ready to play a constructive role through the Organization of American States and with the OAS in helping to achieve that.
Q Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.
END 1:00 P.M. EST