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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
December 13, 2002
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:20 P.M. EST
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. A special hello to "Honeymoon North." Welcome back.
The President this morning spoke with President Kim Dae-jung of South Korea. They spoke about United States-Korean relations and developments with North Korea. The President conveyed his deep, personal sadness and regret over the deaths of two South Korean girls who were accidentally killed during a training exercise by a United States military vehicle, and he pledged to closely with South Korean government officials to prevent such accidents in the future.
President Kim said that the South Korean people appreciate the important role played by the United States service personnel in maintaining the peace and security on the Korean Peninsula. And he reiterated that the current circumstances make the U.S.-Korean alliance more important than ever.
President Kim emphasized that North Korea statements on unfreezing its nuclear program are unacceptable. The two leaders agreed to continue seeking a peaceful resolution, while not allowing business as usual to continue with North Korea.
Then the President proceeded to have an intelligence briefing, followed by an FBI briefing. And later this afternoon, the President will make an announcement about how to protect the American people in the event of any potential small pox attack on American citizens. And that will be an event followed by lengthy briefings by administration officials, including leading health care physicians, to give the American people as much information as is possible on this very important subject.
And then the President will depart for Camp David for the weekend.
One final announcement, then I'm happy to take your questions. President Bush will travel to Africa on January 10th to the 17th, to continue to build America's partnership with the continent. This visit highlights the Bush administration's commitment toward working toward a free and prosperous Africa. The President also looks forward to opening the second U.S. Sub-Saharan African Trade and Economic Cooperation forum in Mauritius.
And with that, I am happy to take your questions.
Q Where in Africa?
MR. FLEISCHER: We will announce a little bit down the road the additional countries that the President will be going to.
Q Senator Lott this afternoon will hold a very public press conference in which he will repudiate racism and apologize for the remarks that he made at Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday party last week. Does the President believe that that will be enough to heal the wounds that those remarks have caused in America?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President spoke out very forcefully yesterday on something that the President believes is very important, and the President wanted to speak to our country about the importance of civil rights and race relations in America. The President addressed this and I think that the President's remarks yesterday speak very loud and clear about what America should think about the advancement our society has made and needs to continue to make in terms of improving race relations.
Q Does the President support Senator Lott coming out very publicly, as he is today, to apologize and to repudiate racism?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that the President does not tell members of Congress how to conduct their affairs, in terms of whether they desire or want to do news conferences, et cetera. I think you will see those are judgments that are made by the individual members of Congress. And Senator Lott, of course, will, just as you indicated, have something to say this afternoon.
Q Does the President believe it is a good idea?
MR. FLEISCHER: Those are judgments that others make. The President does not sit in judgment of whether or not people need to have news conferences or not. The President believes it's important to speak to the country about the issues of race relations and improving race relations and the important advancements that our country has made in civil rights. That's what the President focuses on.
Q Two questions. Why did the President wait four days after the Senator's first apology, almost a week after the remarks, to voice his opinion? And now that the administration has turned over its preliminary assessment of the Iraq declaration to the U.N., can you share with the public what the preliminary assessment is?
MR. FLEISCHER: On your first question, the President thought it would be highly appropriate, given the context of yesterday's address about how to help Americans come together as one community when he went to Philadelphia and spoke about his faith-based initiative -- the President thought that was the appropriate place to share with the nation his thoughts about improving racial relations in the United States. He was very proud to have done so.
On your second question, on the declaration. The President is continuing to review the declaration and he looks forward to have something to indicate about our summary of the declaration as a government in totality, as that is developed. He will have something to say on it, but I think it's -- he will await when he has more information, I think he will have something to say in its totality. But that time has not yet come.
Q U.N. officials, diplomats who have gone over the declaration, again a preliminary assessment, are saying that there are some pretty glaring omissions. Do you view this as more game playing, more deception by Iraq? And if so, how long does the administration intend to let it go on?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we've always said that we want to carefully review the document in terms of reviewing not only what is in it, but what is not in it. That review is still going on, and I think that, given the President's desire to have this in totality and to address this in a more comprehensive way and in a very thoughtful and deliberative way, I don't think it would be appropriate for me to comment on these preliminary reports that you're hearing from others, including the United Nations.
Q If I can firm up the Iraq -- whether -- you know, the situation at least appears to be in a semi-holding pattern as you, as you said, take the time necessary to go through the declaration in its totality. Whereas, North Korea -- and I know you've said before these are different situations, but here you have what appears to be a crisis that may be accelerating. So why then is the administration not taking a more aggressive approach toward dealing with that crisis?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the United States is taking a very firm approach in dealing with the situation on the Korean Peninsula. And just like we did in the United Nations, vis-a-vis Iraq, we are doing so in concert with our allies in the international community involving Korea -- or North Korea, specifically.
We are working very diligently and effectively diplomatically with Russia, with China, with South Korea and with Japan as we focus multi-laterally on the problems of North Korea pursuing a unilateralist course, that is a course that gives us concern. We believe that North Korea's recent actions in requesting that the International Atomic Administration Energy Administration remove the cameras and seals that have been put in place by the international community to keep an eye on some of North Korea's programs are a serious matter. And we hope that North Korea will reconsider their request to the international community to remove this equipment.
But I want to reiterate that we will continue to work with the international community to seek a peaceful resolution to the situation in North Korea. And this is a situation that North Korea has created by pursuing a nuclear weapons program.
Q But is the administration's only view -- I mean, you have not only that, but you have them wanting to restart nuclear power plants, the announcement that they were pursuing a nuclear program not that long ago. And all the administration is saying is this is a serious problem. How does it not compare to what's going on in Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because the situation in Iraq involves somebody who has used force in the past to attack and invade his neighbors. That is not the history of North Korea for the last 50 years. And so it's not -- it is exactly analogous. The world is not -- can not just be treated as a photocopy machine where policies in one part of the world need to be identically copied for another. It's a much more complicated endeavor than that.
So the President will continue to work in concert with our allies. And the fact of the matter is diplomacy -- often the best diplomacy takes time. And that is something the President will continue to pursue.
Q I have two questions, one a follow. Given that the world does seem to be speaking out, saying there are holes in this report, you say you need to complete your own review. But is this speeding up the time frame, do you think, in which the U.S. will respond, rather than taking as long to perhaps act now while others are saying there's a lot of holes here in this document?
And, second of all, Senator Lott said in his comments today that he spoke to the President yesterday. What can you tell us about that conversation?
MR. FLEISCHER: On your first question, because this is such a serious matter and because the content of what Iraq says in this declaration and what they don't say in this declaration has important implications for war and peace, the United States will take as much time as necessary to do it right, and we will continue to be deliberative and to be thoughtful as we review this document.
And the President will, as I indicated, at the appropriate time in his judgment, share with the United States and people of the world what he thinks about Iraq's declaration. But because of the importance of this, the President will await. And while others are free to speak out as they see fit, and to give preliminary judgments, the President looks forward to, at the appropriate time, giving a more comprehensive judgment based on all the information, not just the preliminary information.
Q But isn't time of the essence here? Like the quicker you can get moving in a winter time frame if, indeed, the U.S. decides to act, isn't it better to get going rather than taking --
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is going to be guided by a time line that allows for the greatest deliberation and the greatest thought. That's the guideline that will direct the President.
Q How concerned is --
Q I'm sorry, there was a second question.
MR. FLEISCHER: Go ahead, second question?
Q Senator Lott's -- the phone call between the President and Senator Lott.
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, Senator Lott called President Bush yesterday when the President returned to Washington, and said to the President basically the message that Senator Lott released publicly, that he agreed with the statements that the President made in Philadelphia yesterday.
Q How concerned is the President that a drawn-out controversy over Senator Lott's comments is going to hurt the Republican Party politically and distract attention from the President's agenda?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as the President looks at this issue as an issue that involves the importance of speaking to the country about race and the improvements that America has made when it comes to race relations. And as the President said yesterday, any suggestion that segregation in the past was acceptable or positive is offensive. And he said that Senator Lott has rightfully apologized for that.
So the President thinks it's important in his job as the President to lift up the country and focus America's eyes on the great challenges we face as a country in dealing with race; and to speak clearly and call the remarks that were made offensive, because that's what the President in his heart judges them to be; and then to call our nation up, to remind ourselves of the ideals that we were founded under. That's the President's focus on this, Dick.
The President is going to continue, and I think you will see Republicans everywhere -- and I hope both parties -- continue their efforts to solve America's problems on all issues, not only race, but on the economy and on creating jobs and helping the American people, on foreign policy and all those matters. And the President, obviously, is full-speed-ahead. He's making an announcement today, for example, on another important issue.
Goyle, then we'll try to come back. Goyle.
Q Two questions. One, I've been covering a week-long trial in Alexandria, the U.S. District Court. One of the largest indication of fraud in the U.S. history. This man, lawyer from Arlington, was found guilty on all 57 counts. But the question is, he has left men, women and children, thousands of them nowhere, in the street and they have no future. So what President is going to do something to help these aliens, that they have not been at court and what is the future of --
MR. FLEISCHER: And which instance in this? Which aliens?
Q This is Kooritzky -- Arlington, that -- on conspiracy and fraud and labor certification and INS --
MR. FLEISCHER: That has not crossed my radar screen here at the White House. If it's something dealing with specific matters pending before the INS, you may want to check with them about it.
Q And my second question, follow. Now as far as North Korea and Pakistan deal is concerned, it's now known to the world, and before they both denied that they had been pursuing with this nuclear weapons and all this deal, including General Musharraf made a statement and promised to the U.S. and the world and to Secretary Powell that his country had not helped, or not in any connection with the nuclear program in North Korea. So who will be punished in this deal? Because there's a U.S. law that if a country helps another country to pursue with nuclear weapons, there would be economic and military sanctions.
MR. FLEISCHER: If your question was about Pakistan, this is an issue you and I have talked about many times before and the answer remains the same: Secretary Powell has spoken out about this matter and has received word that there will be no future acceptance of programs, missiles of this nature. So you've heard this from the Secretary before.
Q Ari, the third country that the President would put in the axis of evil is also in the news again when it comes to its nuclear program; there are newly publicly available satellite photos showing facilities in two cities -- Arak and Natanz -- if I have their pronunciations right. What is the administration's assessment of those facilities, and what specifically they are being used for? Are they peaceful energy facilities, as Iran says, or does the United States believe they are part of a nuclear weapons program? And more broadly, any sense of "told you so" here at the White House to those who scorned the President's use of that term, "axis of evil"?
MR. FLEISCHER: We have serious concerns about this. The United States has longed stressed our serious concern with Iran's nuclear weapons program and with its across-the-board pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and missile capabilities. The recent disclosure about secure nuclear facilities in Iran reinforces the concerns that the President has had all along.
The suspect uranium enrichment plan could be used to produce highly enriched uranium for weapons. A heavy water plant could support a reactor for producing weapons-grade plutonium. Such facilities are simply not justified by the needs that Iran has for their civilian nuclear program. Our assessment when we look at Iran is that there is no economic gain for a country rich in oil and gas like Iran to build costly indigenous nuclear fuel cycle facilities. Iran flares off more gas every year than the equivalent power it hopes to produce with these reactors.
So it is an issue that we have highlighted, that the President has brought world attention to before. And we do continue to have great concerns about it. It's another reason why it's important to be vigilant in our efforts to fight proliferation of this nature.
Q And on the broader question of those who mocked the President when he used the term "axis of evil"?
MR. FLEISCHER: The reason the President in his State of the Union in his references to Iraq, to Iran and North Korea cited them for being what he has accurately called the axis of evil is because of their pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, that the President believes the world would be better off if these three nations did not possess.
Q One more question on Dick's point. You said the President doesn't like to tell individual members of Congress whether to hold individual press conferences or not. But Senator Lott is the leader of the President's party in the Senate, in line to be the Majority Leader and the chief shepherd of the President's agenda in the United States Senate in the two years run-up to the President's own reelection. Does he believe the Senator needs to pass some test today in his public comments to be an appropriate spokesman for the Party, not just an individual member of Congress, but a spokesman for the Party and the President's point man in the United States Senate?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President passed down his judgment yesterday when the President made his remarks and made them as emphatically as he did. April.
Q Two things on Senator Lott. You say that the President looks at the race issue as a great challenge. Why not listen to some of the black leaders on this issue? The NAACP is calling for Senator Lott to step down as Leader in the Senate. The CBC is calling for censure. And the Urban League, Hugh Price has said Republicans must realize that tolerating a leader who is careless about expressions that serve to inflame tarnishes the image of their Party.
What are your thoughts when you hear from the African American leaders about what Trent Lott has said that is causing a division in this country?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that the President didn't need to ask for anybody's particular thoughts or how they would approach it when the President yesterday, from his heart, told America what he thought. He didn't need to have a conversation with anybody to say what was in his heart yesterday, and the President expressed those thoughts to the country, I thought, very strongly.
Q Also on the same subject, how can a man who's supposed to be representing the people -- black, white, Jew, gentile, protestant, Catholic -- talk of segregationism from 1948, when he is -- in loving the old South, plantations, slaves, things of that nature, and talking of that and supposed to be for the people? And he is in a district that is highly concentrated with African Americans.
MR. FLEISCHER: That's again why the President said what he said yesterday about those remarks being offensive and wrong. That's what the President said. Now, of course, as you know, Senator Lott is going to have a news conference later today. Your question was to Senator Lott. I can't answer that question.
Q Okay. The President is the leader of his Party, and why not do more than just say, "you're wrong"? Back it up with more than words and actions, saying you need to sit down, because you are for the people and you're not for the people?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President spoke out very strongly yesterday and sent the nation the message our nation looks for in its leaders about issues dealing with race.
And I just -- let me remind you also there was a time not so long ago when people in the Party the President represents had a very different approach to the issue of immigration, and the President spoke out strongly and reminded people that we are an opening country, that we need to welcome immigrants and do so legally. And in this case, the President heard something that he thought was, as you put it, offensive and wrong, and the President once again spoke out and said what he thinks our nation believes in, the fundamental ideals. And his job as a leader is to always lift America up and remind people about those ideals, no matter what the source of a statement that might suggest otherwise concerning those ideals. And that's what the President proudly did yesterday.
Q Ari, the statement you put out on Venezuela earlier today called for a constitutional solution to the crisis there. It then went on to call for early elections. Those two statements would appear to be at war with each other. There's nothing in the Venezuelan constitution that countenances early elections. Could you speak to that conflict?
MR. FLEISCHER: I do not believe that -- the statement would have been crafted by experts who are versed in this field. This was a statement by the staff expressed through me representing the President's opinions, if it was not constitutional. So I think we have a difference about the Venezuelan constitution.
Q By endorsing early elections, you've effectively endorsed the main demand of the Venezuelan opposition, the opposition to President Chavez. Why should we not conclude that the administration has, in effect, come down on the side of opposition, against Chavez?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President, as he said in the statement, is concerned about the deteriorating situation in Venezuela, and the President wants this to be resolved the way democracies resolve issues, which is through the peaceful exercise of the ballot box. And it sounds like you're giving on the issue of it is within the Constitution. Basically, if one party in Venezuela is calling for it, unless you're saying that the party is calling for something extraconstitutional, the statement reflects the view that democracy is the best way to settle any of these serious problems that are in Venezuela.
Q The Constitution calls for elections on a certain schedule. The opposition is calling to advance that schedule.
MR. FLEISCHER: Unless you're suggesting that the Venezuelan constitution prohibits it, I would think you'd have no objection to democracy being pursued.
Q The new constitution filed by the Chavez government allows a referendum called by the people whenever they feel that the President is not doing a proper job, or the people want a referendum on it. So that is what the opposition is based on.
But I also would like to ask you the following question. It seems there's been a change of policy in Washington concerning Venezuela. You, yourself, from this podium a few days ago said that the United States is backing the mediation efforts of the Secretary General of the OAS, Cesar Gavaria. Today you are coming out publicly, the White House, have written statements saying you want early elections, which in a way is what not only the opposition, but a lot of people in Venezuela have been calling for. Is this a change of policy of the U.S. government?
MR. FLEISCHER: If you have the statement in front of you, if you'll see two paragraphs above the part you just cited, you see exactly what you just cited about the Secretary General. In the statement it says, "We call on all sides to reject violence and intimidation and to act responsibly. We urge a peaceful, democratic, constitutional and politically viable electoral solution to Venezuela's crisis. We reaffirm our support for the Organization of American States Secretary General Cesar Gaviria's efforts in Caracas to facilitate such an outcome." So both are the points.
Q But coming down on the phrase, "early elections," you are having a change of policy. You're asking for something inclusively that you had not asked for before. You are backing the efforts of Gaviria, but you're now asking --
MR. FLEISCHER: If you're saying we're building on the previous statement, the answer is, yes. The United States believes that this is the best course to preserve peace in Venezuela as a society that has been racked on an increasingly, daily basis with violence. And the President believes that the solution to issues that could potentially involve violence is to defuse the violence and focus on democracy. And that's what I think everybody needs to focus on when it comes to how to solve Venezuela's problems, is democratic solutions.
Q I want to follow-up on a couple of questions. Did you mean in your answer to Ron to indicate that the President would have spoken out sooner on this issue if he had not had this speech on his schedule?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, of course, when you asked me about this I indicated to you on Tuesday of this week that the President disagreed with the statements, and I shared with you the President's thinking on it. And then the President had his occasion to speak out on it yesterday.
Q You're not answering the question. Would he, himself, you know, given that you've indicated he indicated it had some emotional resonance for him, would he have spoken out sooner if this particular event was not on the schedule?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that if the event was on the schedule earlier in the week, the chances are the President would have spoken out earlier in the week.
Q And also on April's question, you said that the President -- speaking of the President, that Trent Lott should not resign. Therefore, the President does believe that he should remain where he is. Why does the President, himself, believe that someone who appears to have expressed a longing for segregation should be the Leader of the United States Senate?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has said that what he said was wrong, he called it "offensive." The President said that he rightfully apologized, and that is I think a full expression of what the President thinks on this matter.
Q So does he not think that Lott truly believes what he said? I mean, what you're saying still indicates that the President is willing to live with someone who is running the Senate who apparently has a longing for segregation.
MR. FLEISCHER: Keith, I think the President has said it as emphatically as can be said yesterday. And I think that what the President said yesterday was very important. I think the American people welcomed what the President said because it is exactly the type of thing that the American look to a leader like the President for when it comes to a matter like this. And the President was proud to have said it.
Q Yesterday, Ari, you also said that the President believes that Lott shouldn't step down as Majority Leader. So the President is expressing his opinion about what action should or shouldn't be taken. In terms of the Congressional Black Caucus, they're pushing for the censure, so wouldn't that be a good compromise? And why can't you tell us what the President thinks about the?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because I think that's a question that the President wanted to answer about whether or not he should step down and I answered it. I think that, again, the President has addressed this issue and addressed it very forthrightly and in the way the President thought the nation needed to discuss this issue. And that's what he's done.
Now, of course, if there are any other issues that are going to be pursued by the Congress -- just like any other issue, the President does not comment on every legislation that is introduced, every idea that comes off of Capitol Hill. That is not the job of the President to comment on every single issue that comes up before the United States Congress, even on matters that can on occasion be sensitive.
Now, the President has spoken out on a very sensitive matter and he spoke out very forcefully because that was what was in his heart, and he wanted to elevate this nation and focus on the issues that involve race, a sensitivity to race. And I think the President in doing so has said something the nation wants to know about what America thinks and what the President thinks about how to move forward on these issues.
Q -- no opinion on censure?
Q On this question, assessment of the decision made of the use of --
MR. FLEISCHER: On the question of Turkey -- and I think it's important to understand very carefully exactly what was decided in the Copenhagen Summit. What has been decided there is that accession negotiations with Turkey will begin in December of 2004 if at that point it is determined that Turkey has fulfilled the so-called Copenhagen criteria on political reform. The administration's reaction is that we welcomed the E.U.'s decision to begin accession talks with Turkey in December 2004 on deciding that Turkey has fulfilled this criteria. This is a visionary decision by the European leaders to build a truly inclusive European Union.
Turkey's continued evolution toward Europe demonstrates for the continent and for the world that Islam and democracy are fully compatible. The President strongly supports Turkey's continuing commitment to political and economic reform.
Q Ari, there have been reports that Iraq has been able to obtain several million doses of atropine over the last several months through the U.N. Oil for Food Program, as it's properly known. Is the White House concerned about this? Are you checking into how it happened and who's responsible?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think the reason it happened is there's a goods review list and the goods review list is being continually reviewed itself to make certain that it's as tight as can be, recognizing the dual use nature of many of the products that do get bought for legitimate purposes. And if something is not covered on the dual use list, the reason is because the world, through the United Nations, which imposes the sanctions on Iraq, has made the decision or the determination that it should not be a prohibited product. That's how it was able to be purchased.
We do have concerns about this, and this is something we continue to talk to the United Nations about as the periodic reviews of the goods review list come up.
Q Can I continue just one little second? Given what atropine is used for, as a counter to chemical weapons, what does -- does this have any message, you think? Or does this underline our concerns that Iraq does, indeed, have --
MR. FLEISCHER: It does. Its purchase gives us reason to be concerned about Iraq's development of chemical weapons or biological weapons. And that's why we have concerns about this.
Q Senator Cochran said yesterday he believes that President Bush will re-nominate -- that President Bush will re-nominate Judge Charles Pickering of Mississippi to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. Does the President intend to renominate Judge Pickering, and how can he hope for success if Senator Lott is his major champion in the Senate?
MR. FLEISCHER: As you know, I do not speculate about potential personnel announcements.
Q He's already nominated. Is he saying you make no decisions on renominating these judges?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's a statement you have heard for two years now, that I do not speculate on personnel. Almost literally two years ago today we started to be in the position where I was able to speculate about personnel and chose not to do so.
Q What is the President's reaction to the resignation of Cardinal Law? And does he think that law enforcement officials, either at the state or federal level, should continue to prosecute some of those within the Catholic Church?
MR. FLEISCHER: Ann, I have not had an opportunity to discuss that issue with the President, so I'm not in a position to say --
Q How well does he know Cardinal Law, he has voiced --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'd have to talk to the President and ask him. I don't know off the top of my head.
Q -- reaction to the EU decision vis-a-vis to Cypress besides Turkey?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me see if there's anything specific to Cypress. Of course, the European Union has made a decision about the ascension of several other nations in Europe into the European Union, and I'll take a look at them to see if there's something more formal that we're going to be offering later on in the day.
Q I have two questions, Ari, one on Venezuela and another one on Mexico. On Venezuela, you're saying that the goal is to follow the steps of the constitution of Venezuela, and the United States is worried about the economy of Venezuela, and consequences on the hemisphere. Is the United States really concerned that the situation in Venezuela will be affecting the gasoline prices in the United States?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we have many concerns about the deteriorating situation in Venezuela. We have concerns about the people of Venezuela. We have concerns about the violence in Venezuela. We have concerns about the economy of Venezuela. And given the fact that the United States is, of course, a trading partner with Venezuela, all of this together gives cause for concern. And so this is why the United States is working with the Organization of American States to try to bring a peaceful resolution to this growing problem.
Q But the call for early elections is not a constitutional thing in Venezuela. Why the United States is doing this?
MR. FLEISCHER: We had an earlier discussion about the constitutional issues involving Venezuela. I'm not sure if you were here for it. I'd be happy to review these constitutional issues, but of course, it's consistent with -- it wouldn't be said, I think, if it wasn't consistent.
Q All right. On Mexico, the Secretary of Transportation called yesterday to close the Mexican border to all American trucks. Do you have any reaction to this?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have not heard that, and so you may want to talk with Transportation about that.
Q Ari, you said earlier this morning that the President has concluded it won't be business as usual with North Korea. How would you describe or characterize business as usual with North Korea, and how will that now change?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think North Korea would like to have an expectation of the world that the more North Korea violates agreements, the more the world will double over backwards to placate North Korea and the President will not do that. The President will not engage in allowing North Korea to violate its agreements, and then have the world come rushing to North Korea to say, how can we help you.
The President wants to work with the international community and our allies in a peaceful way and through diplomacy to help the North Koreans to recognize that their best future and the best way they have to feed their own people and to advance, as one of the world's most backward economies -- in other words, the people of North Korea have suffered mightily -- is to join the international and the world community so they can have a way forward.
Q In anticipation of the small pox event, what has the White House arrangement to make sure the President, the Vice President, the senior officials, the Cabinet are vaccinated? And do you think the President would like to make an example, since there's a lot of fear and concern publicly.
MR. FLEISCHER: That issue will be addressed at 2:15 p.m. And, incidentally, the earlier announcement said that this would be at 2:00 p.m., the event is a 2:15 p.m. event, and so just to bring that to your attention. That will be addressed shortly.
Q You don't want to say now whether the President wants to set an example?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President will be speaking shortly and, as always, when the President is going to speak I don't think it's the staff's job to speak before the President. So I think you'll have answers to your questions.
Q Ari, going back to Iran. If the two facilities are found to be facilities that produce nuclear weapons, and given the President's newly announced policy and possible pre-emptive strikes, even using nuclear weapons if necessary, would this come under that category and would the President consider a pre-emptive strike against them?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think you have to be very careful interpreting the document that went out. That was in response to an attack against the United States or the United States interests. The document discussed that.
But we understand that the International Atomic Energy Administration is seeking access to these facilities and we look forward to a report from the director, General ElBaradei, at the appropriate time as Iran takes a look at this, as the IAEA takes a look at what's inside Iraq.
Q A follow-up, if I may. I know that you don't like to deal in conjecture, but supposing that it seems that they are there to produce weapons of mass destruction and if the IAEA comes back with a positive report to that effect, what will the United States do?
MR. FLEISCHER: We will agree with the premise of your question and not deal in conjecture.
Q The administration has listed several areas of unfinished business that it would like Congress to address as soon as it gets back, the new Congress starts in January. Why hasn't the President made one of his priorities the extension of unemployment benefits, particularly given they run out three days after Christmas?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President was very disappointed that Congress was not able to, in the final days of the Congress, pass an extension of unemployment benefits. The President has great concern about people who may lose their benefits and the President would like to see action taken on this. And I think that you may hear more from the President.
Q Administration officials -- Dr. Rice, Ambassador Negroponte -- have been talking with Hans Blix in recent days about using the provision of the Security Council resolution that allows interviews out of Iraq of Iraqi scientists. Are you confident you have convinced him to utilize that provision of the resolution? And have you dealt with his concerns, all of his concerns about doing so?
MR. FLEISCHER: We will continue to work productively with the inspectors and with Hans Blix and General ElBaradei. It's very important that the United States and the international community work together to address the problems inside Iraq. And history has shown that one of the most effective ways to judge what Iraq is up to is by talking to the people who are involved in the weapons development programs.
And history has also shown that there are Iraqis who want to talk. And that's why the resolution passed by the United Nations includes a provision that facilities the ability of Iraqis to leave the country with their families to talk to the United Nations so that peace can be kept. And this provision was put in there because experience has shown that the Iraqi regime does not want people to talk and that, when they find people who talk, they kill them. And that is why the provision was put in, to allow people and their families to leave Iraq. And that is often one of the best ways to obtain information from people who want to provide information so that we can keep the peace. So it's an important provision.
Q Dr. Blix has substantial concerns about it. Are you confident that these interviews will take place?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, I have never since the inspectors went back into Iraq tried to analyze every day's activities. The United States has focused on this in a very fundamental way to make certain that the entire regime is effective and working. And we are confident that, in working with the United Nations, and working through the international community, the resolution will be enforced.
Q I'm still confused about the timing of this Lott thing and when the President found out about it. We do know that a week ago, Lott made some remarks that the President tells us yesterday that he found objectionable and abhorrent. I don't know if the President found out about it then, but he had to know Monday when the Senator apologized. Certainly by Tuesday he knew about the remarks that he told us yesterday he found objectionable, because the Senator apologized again.
In an era when the President can come in here any time, make a statement, can build a crowd anywhere he wants, or he can create a venue, I'm wondering if the venue was really the problem, or if the White House -- at least some factions of the White House were just kind of hoping this would go away and the President would not have to address it.
MR. FLEISCHER: If you remember, and if you go to what I said when you asked me about it Tuesday, and having spoken with the President I came in here --
Q It wasn't nearly as strong as what the President said, as you know. So I'm wondering why --
MR. FLEISCHER: Of course, I don't think it's the staff's job to speak as strong as the President.
Q That's why I'm not asking why -- I'm not asking about the timing of what you knew and what you said. I'm asking about when the President found out about the Senator's remarks, and why the President didn't speak earlier. Could it be that the White House was hoping it would go away?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think it was because of the exact reasons that I gave. The President thought that the appropriate place and the appropriate time to make those statements was yesterday, just as he delivered.
Q When did he realize -- when did he find out what Lott said, and when did he say, okay, I'm going to wait until Thursday to make those remarks? And these remarks are so repugnant, that they can wait four days, four hours for me to give them.
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I would remind you what I said where I made it clear from the President's point of view that he disagreed with the statements that Majority Leader Lott made on Tuesday, when I said it. I remind you that many of your organizations didn't really even cover the issue until then. People said he spoke about it a week ago, I don't remember reading in many of your papers on Saturday, in fairness, and the President --
Q But in fairness I'm asking when the President found out about it.
MR. FLEISCHER: And as I indicated, based on what the President told me, I shared with you very directly the President's disagreement with what he said. And then the President decided to speak out yesterday.
Q How long has the President known that Senator Lott made these remarks?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think we first talked to the President about it early in the week.
Q Ari, I'm looking for a clarification here. In saying that what President -- that what Senator Lott said was wrong and didn't reflect the spirit of the country, but that he shouldn't resign, the President has made a judgment call here. Now, the clarification that I'm looking for is, what is the judgment call that he made? Was the judgment call that Senator Lott has changed his attitudes and he has apologized and that's good enough, or is he comfortable having somebody who holds those attitudes representing his agenda in the United States Senate?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's judgment call is that what Senator Lott said was offensive and that was wrong, that Senator Lott has, rightly, apologized for it. And that's what the President shared yesterday. And I think these are some of the issues that will come up later today.
Q And that's good enough for him to put the issue to bed?
MR. FLEISCHER: This is what the President has said.
Q Ari, on that one, the Democrats in the Senate have never denied chairmanships to a one-time Klan member who just recently used the N-word on TV, or they have not denied it to the Senator from Chapaquiddick; and they still honor President Clinton, who in October, strongly praised his mentor, Senator Fullbright, one of the Senate's strongest segregationists. And my question, isn't this double standard one of the reasons that the President did not ask Senator Lott to step down?
MR. FLEISCHER: Lester, my answer to you is identical to my answers here. The President addressed this yesterday and I've answered that question.
Q Okay. In his dedication to law and order, as the nation's leading law enforcement officer, you would never deny that the President was grateful that the resignation of Cardinal Law was accepted by Pope John Paul, would you, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: Just as I indicated earlier to Ann, it's just not a topic -- I haven't had the chance to talk to the President about it, so I don't think I can weigh in on it.
Q You said that it's not your job, not the staff's job to speak as strongly as the President. You're the press secretary. Are we not supposed to take your words as the President's words when we can't speak to him. Or are we to assume that the President feels more strongly about everything than you say from the podium? You are the President's voice in this room, and you say it's not -- yet it's not your job to speak as strongly as the President?
MR. FLEISCHER: John, you have obviously misinterpreted what I said, just as, for example, when I was asked a question about the President and small pox, it's not my place to speak right before the President and indicate to you with every word that the President may indicate. That's the President's role to do.
Q This is two days before the President spoke, is the comment Ron was asking you about. You said you delivered the President's initial reaction, and he said it wasn't as strong as the President's.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President's words speak for themselves, and I think you all heard them, loud and clear.
Q Does the President accept Trent Lott's apology? I guess that's John Roberts' question. The President spoke to him yesterday afterwards, but he must assume that Trent Lott is genuinely contrite.
MR. FLEISCHER: In the President's words, "The recent comments by Senator Lott do not reflect the spirit of our country. He has apologized, and rightly so." And as you indicate, I speak for the President. That's what the President has said.
Q Ari, on that point, a clarification, because this whole conversation has been about the comments that came out within the last week, what did the President know, how has he responded. In the last couple of days there have been a number of stories that sort of lay out a pattern, a history. We're not talking about one comment, we're talking about a number of comments and a number of venues. What is the extent of the President's knowledge about what Senator Lott has said? And in that light, is he satisfied with this apology?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President addressed it yesterday, and I think you'll all have your opportunity to ask additional questions this afternoon.
Q -- not the body, that we're talking about a pretty extensive history.
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm aware, and the President addressed it yesterday and spoke from the heart, and I think spoke very forthrightly. And I think many of these issues were issues that are questions that will be addressed to Senator Lott this afternoon.
Q Look at the President's transcript. He spoke to -- specifically to the 100th birthday comment for Strom Thurmond. He was not speaking of the pattern, he was not talking about things that happened when he was in college with a fraternity incident. He wasn't talking about the things that happened with Dr. King. He wasn't talking about all the other things. What does the President feel about this pattern, regardless of what happened this last incident? What about the pattern that has evidenced itself?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's reflected in the statements that I just made.
Q Ari, that was speaking to this recent issue. There is a pattern with this man, it's undeniable.
MR. FLEISCHER: And, April, I think this will be something that may come up in Senator Lott's news conference this afternoon.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.
END 1:00 P.M. EST
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