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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
December 19, 2002
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:30 P.M. EST
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. The President this morning began his day with a conversation with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. President Bush reiterated his commitment to the principles that he announced in his June 24th speech on the Middle East, including the vision of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. President Bush said that, although consultations on the road map are not yet complete, we are committed to moving forward at the appropriate time on the road map to help the parties find a path to peace in the Middle East.
Then he received an intelligence briefing from the CIA, met with the FBI and then convened a meeting with the National Security Council. Then he departed the White House, where he went to the Capital Area Food Bank to thank the volunteers who are doing their best at this holiday season to help provide food to the needy in the Washington, D.C., area.
And then the President later today will sign into law H.R. 4664, the National Science Foundation Authorization Act of 2002.
And finally I have one statement. President Bush formally congratulates President Roh Moo-Hyun on his victory in South Korea's December 19th presidential election. The people of South Korea have once again demonstrated the enduring vitality and dynamism of democracy in their country. South Korea is a close friend and ally of the United States and the President looks forward to working closely with President-elect Roh as the United States and the Republic of Korea address the many challenges and opportunities that we face together.
And with that, I'm happy to take your questions.
Q Ari, in the Mubarak phone call, did the President tell him that the Middle East road map will have to wait until after the Israeli elections?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has said it is not yet ready. The President looks forward to meeting with the Quartet tomorrow, the Quartet being Russia, the E.U., the United Nations and the United States, to work together on making progress toward peace in the Middle East. The United States has many ideas that we look forward to sharing about how to keep progress moving forward, and the Quartet has been very constructive in that process. That was the tenor of the President's conversation.
Q When might it be ready, do you think?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has indicated at the appropriate time. I would hesitate to put a finite date on it. But the President would like to move forward with it at the as-soon-as-possible moment.
Q Has the President ever taken a position on the Augusta National Country Club issue, of taking women in?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's not a comment that the President has discussed. You know that conversations about appointments -- the President has said he doesn't think it's a disqualifying matter for appointments to his administration.
Q It has nothing to do with appointments. Does he take a position on whether women should --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, that's the only context in which I've discussed it with the President. So that's the answer I can share with you.
Q Appointments for what?
MR. FLEISCHER: Administration positions. That's the context in which it came up about two weeks ago.
Q Well, do you know what his position is?
MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated, it's not a topic I've discussed with the President --
Q Would you --
MR. FLEISCHER: -- beyond that.
Q Would you do that?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll see if there's anything I can get for you. Anything else in the front row?
Q Ari, do you have any sense yet of the tenor of Hans Blix's briefing to the Security Council? And is the administration satisfied with the content of his briefing?
MR. FLEISCHER: The Security Council meeting continues at -- in New York. And once the portion of the meeting is concluded, Mr. Blix, I am advised, will go out and discuss with the press that which he said in the private meeting. So I think I have to yield and allow Mr. Blix to speak. Then the United States Ambassador to the United Nations Negroponte and then Secretary Powell will speak.
Q But certainly, you've got some sense of what he's going to say. Is the administration convinced that he -- that he shares the administration position on the declaration?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me put it this way to be as helpful as I can while being respectful of the fact that Mr. Blix deserves the right to make his remarks known, I think that it will become increasingly clear that the world community -- including the United Nations -- sees omissions in the Iraqi document. At a time when the United Nations Security Council and the United States and all member states of the Security Council were looking to Iraq to provide a full complete and accurate description of their weapons programs. There is a wide recognition that Iraq has not done that. There are omissions and there are problems.
Q One more on this. Do you feel, does the administration feel like the weapons inspectors do have a larger role to play when it comes to disproving this declaration? Or, is the burden not on them at all? Is their primary function, in the President's mind, to recruit Saddam's weapons scientists at this point?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President feels very strongly that the burden is on Saddam Hussein. Saddam Hussein must cooperate with the inspectors. The President believes, as the inspectors themselves have often said, that they have a very difficult task, particularly if Iraq does not cooperate, particularly if Iraq does not declare full information, and if Iraq hides the information they have, or if Iraq omits information from the declaration.
The President thinks the mission of the inspectors includes both inspections to find whatever can be found, given Iraq's attempts to deceive and to hide, as well as to interview scientists and people involved in the weapons program. Those are both part of their mission, in the President's judgment.
Q Just on "the other topic." Does the President believe putting aside questions about whether or not Senator Lott should resign, does the President believe that the ongoing controversy related to the Lott -- these daily questions, so forth, that it is harming his ability to enact his agenda this year?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that, one, the President has had great success in enacting his agenda in the last two years, and given the change in the Congress, the President anticipates that the prospects will be good for continued success in enacting his agenda.
So the President looks forward to the policy discussions beginning next year with Democrats and Republicans on the Hill, and he thinks that he will be able to make great progress.
Q Okay, but you're not answering the question at all. I mean, has the controversy itself that's been going on now for a couple of weeks, with a meeting with Republicans January 6th, promises to swirl for another couple weeks, is this harming the President's ability to enact his 2003 agenda?
MR. FLEISCHER: First of all, it's not 2003. Congress is not back. And the President is optimistic that his agenda in 2003 will move forward nicely in the Congress because the President thinks it's important for all people in all parties to focus -- in addition -- to any of the leadership issues that Congress will decide upon itself, if it comes to any type of decision, that the President knows it is also the job of all members of Congress to focus on the rest of the agenda, which includes, of course, improving education, making America energy independent, growing the economy and dealing with our foreign policy needs and considerations.
Q Yes, can I ask you about the unanswered questions -- to the extent you can talk about that -- about what Iraq used to have and their claims now that they no longer have it? There are unanswered questions about anthrax, about mustard gas, artillery shells, about a number of things. Can you talk about the unanswered questions that we have yet to see answered in the declaration?
MR. FLEISCHER: Given the omissions in the Iraq declaration, there are a number of problems that are presented that involve specific weapons programs that United Nations monitors found in Iraq in the late 1990s that remain unaccounted for in the current declaration that Iraq has produced. Secretary Powell this afternoon in his remarks will be entering into this in some further degree. And so I think the world will be able to hear in greater degree from the Secretary on it. I can give you that in broad brush. I'm happy to do it that way.
Q Let me ask you a couple more specific things. One, there's been some confusion over whether or not you believe that Iraq is in material breach. There are officials quoted this morning, one now quoted on the wires, saying that Iraq is in -- we believe that Iraq now is in material breach. Is that in fact, the case?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, this will be something that comes out from the proper channels that you will be hearing from later today, from others.
Q We just heard this from a U.S. envoy.
MR. FLEISCHER: And I think the people who will be speaking on this will be Ambassador Negroponte and Secretary Powell.
Q One other thing, if I could, and that is the next time for Blix to report, if we look forward a bit, will be at the end of January. What is the significance of that date? And what is the -- what importance does the administration place on that juncture in this entire process?
MR. FLEISCHER: When the President when to the United Nations on September 12th and he asked the United Nations to vote to return the inspectors to Iraq, the President began a process to give Iraq one last chance to comply with the world community and to prove, in fact and in deed, that they disarmed. Almost two months later, the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously to send the inspectors back. This is a process that is working it's way through internationally and in consultation with the United Nations that the President wants to see continue. The President wants to see the inspectors have all the tools they need so they can do their job. And he anticipates that there will be additional inspections beyond anything that is decided today. That's important.
The continuation of the inspections in Iraq will continue to yield helpful information so we can determine whether or not Saddam Hussein will actually disarm. Those procedures involve additional meetings and additional consultations with the United Nations Security Council, and also with our friends and allies. And so this process has begun. The point of the process is to test finally whether Saddam Hussein will in fact disarm. And there will be a series of events as this process unfolds.
Q But there is a report today and there are some suggestions from officials that that point at the end of January is the point at which the U.S. believes it will have enough information to make a definitive judgment about whether or not Iraq is cooperating or not. Do you in fact look at that date in late January as that --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm just not prepared today on December 19th to speculate about what any one date in late January means in finality. What I can assure you is that there is a process under way and it's a process designed to keep the peace by testing whether or not Saddam Hussein will indeed disarm. As this process moves forward, we will have additional information about whether Saddam Hussein is or is not serious and, as the President has said, this is Saddam Hussein's last chance.
Q Ari, do you share the view that Iraq is now in material breach? And, if it is, how swiftly do you feel the world needs to react? Are you willing to let the U.N. set the time table for that?
MR. FLEISCHER: As I've indicated, the answer to that question will be coming from the diplomats, who the President has assigned to work with the United Nations. This is as a sign of our determination to consult with our allies to work through the process the President has outlined when he went to the United Nations on September 12th.
The consultative process is a very important process. The diplomacy of working with our allies is important. Make no mistake, the President is determined if Saddam Hussein does not disarm, the United States will lead a coalition to disarm him. And in the process, we want to continue to work very closely with our allies, in consultation with our allies, and that's why the diplomats are engaged in the meetings they are. It is not my position right here from this podium now to presume what an outcome will be of something that is right now, as we literally speak, in diplomatic circles.
Q So then, a decision on a reaction to a declaration of material breach will come only out of the United Nations?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I'm saying a decision about whether or not this is a material breach, in the opinion of the United States government or in the judgment of the United States government, will come from other officials, not from me.
Q Ari, how much does it concern the White House that Syria is boycotting the Security Council meeting?
MR. FLEISCHER: Actually, they showed up. Syria showed up. (Laughter.)
Q Ari, first of all, I must thank the President and First Lady for opening their house last night. They were so gracious, and we were treated like state guests.
MR. FLEISCHER: Very kind of you.
Q My question is from yesterday when I said that there are 700 bad guys -- in the U.S. Actually, there are 70,000 reported in The India Globe, because that is from Congressman Porter Goss during a congressional hearing on Capitol Hill, which I think it went unnoticed elsewhere in the press. I don't know why.
Now, as Governor Tom Ridge is doing his best, so is Attorney General Ashcroft, to protect the homeland, but where are these guys? How can we find them?
MR. FLEISCHER: The headline that you just showed me says 70,000 may be targeting the United States. Yesterday, your question was 70,000 are in the United States. It's a very different mention -- that's right, you said 700 are in the United States. There very well may be large numbers of people who are targeting the United States. That's the point of the President's concern.
Q One moment. I'm sorry to interrupt you also because Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, last night on Larry King, he also agreed that there are cells around the globe and in the U.S., and we are still -- it's a danger of fear, and we are still living in fear of terrorism.
MR. FLEISCHER: Whether the number of 70,000 or the number is somewhat lower than that, there is a very valid point that is being made here, and this is why the President continually tells the American people we are a nation at war.
There are many around the world, organized in great part by al Qaeda, who desire to bring harm to the United States. And when you look at this in totality, what began with the attack on the World Trade Center or the bombing on the World Trade Center in the early to mid-'90s, with the attack on the Cole, the other attacks around the world, the bombing in Bali, with the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11th, the attack on the French freighter, there are enemies around the world who are treating this as a slow war. It is a war nonetheless. It does not have the speed and the pace of wars that Americans were used to, for example in World War II or in Vietnam where you could pick up the paper every day and see about a battle.
That doesn't change the fact that we remain a nation at war because of the ability of these people who are organized to continue to inflict damage, even though it is not damage that gets measured every day.
Q On Senator Lott again, has he had any conversation with White House officials today? And has the President talked to his brother? I know you said he hadn't yesterday, but has he talked to his brother about Senator Lott and about his remarks about Senator Lott today or --
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know the answer on either question.
Q Can I ask you one more then, sort of similar to one other question. How does the White House think it will be able to work with Senator Lott specifically if he stays in the job?
MR. FLEISCHER: As always, the decisions that members of Congress make about their leaders, whether they are Democrat or Republican, are decisions that the White House honors and respects. And we will -- and we will work with anyone that Congress elects, whether it's in the Democratic party or in the Republican party. That is the purview and the responsibility and the prerogatives of the members of Congress and the White House to work with whoever it is that members of Congress deem appropriate to represent themselves.
Q How well -- how easy do you think it will be to work with Senator Lott after all this has happened?
MR. FLEISCHER: Whoever is chosen, if there is an election, the President will work with whoever that is, including Senator Lott, to advance the agenda that the American people have elected everyone in Washington to work on, which is to improve the economy and protect the nation.
Q You see no problems whatsoever in working with Senator Lott after what the President said, after what the Republicans have said --
MR. FLEISCHER: Whoever it is, including Senator Lott, we will work with whoever it is to advance the agenda that the American people have elected everybody in Washington to carry out.
Q Ari, two Americans have been arrested in Pakistan for trying to smuggle arms to the al Qaeda. Will they be turned over to the U.S., and will they be brought back here to face trial? Will they be charged with treason?
MR. FLEISCHER: Sarah, I'm looking into that report. We have seen it on the wires, and I don't have any additional information -- I have no information on it yet -- to confirm it or to discuss what the implications of it may be.
I was asked about it this morning; even before that I started looking into it, and I do not have anything yet from the people I'm talking to about it.
Q Ari, back to Iraq and the process that you've spoken about. You seem to be giving a fairly substantial role to the inspectors in trying to have them interview Iraqi scientists. A, what is that? And, B, is there any indication -- are you having to press the inspectors to do this, or are they resisting you in some fashion?
MR. FLEISCHER: Two points. One, the reason that the United States thinks it's important for scientists and people involved in the weapons program of Iraq to be interviewed is because this is about making sure that peace can be protected by Saddam Hussein disarming.
One of the best ways to know if he is disarming is to talk to the people who are involved in making the arms in the first place. If he hasn't included his arms in the declaration, obviously he's got something he's hiding. One of the best ways to know what he's hiding is to talk to the people who are more deeply involved in it than the people who have produced their declarations.
So the purpose of talking with them is to preserve the peace by knowing what Saddam Hussein is developing and hopefully to ascertain as much information as possible about where it may be and what the extent of it is. History has shown that that often is the best and most effective way to catch Saddam Hussein in his lies and to determine the truth about what Saddam Hussein is doing.
I think if you take a look at some of the statements that have come from the inspectors, they, too, believe that that is part of their mission. It is part of their charge under Resolution 1441 and the U.N. resolution, and we anticipate that they will use all the tools at their disposal to carry out their mission.
Q Soon? Immediately?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the exact modalities of it are to be determined by the inspectors on the ground. But we do anticipate that they will do so. It is part of their charge, given to them by the 15 members of the Security Council.
Q So if an admission is not an material breach, is that the next level then that we're going to, in order to catch Iraq in material breach, is to have these scientists give us the information? Or have the inspectors somehow --
MR. FLEISCHER: Whether it is or is not a material breach, it is important for the inspectors to use every tool at their disposal, including the interview of scientists and people involved in the weapons program. That's per the U.N. resolution.
Q Yes. It's actually a process question, would that constitute a material breach then? Seeing as the information that's out there now seems to suggest that an omission from the report would not be a material breach we're looking for. So what's the next level of material -- what would constitute a material breach?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know that this is a matter of gradations and levels. This is a matter of whether Saddam Hussein is going to disarm and whether the inspectors have the tools they need to do their jobs. And clearly, talking to scientists is one of the tools.
Mr. Fournier, you didn't -- well, you did have a question in the first round.
Q I didn't hear anything.
Q You don't want me to repeat that question, do you?
MR. FLEISCHER: He asked -- he asked if we were disappointed about something. (Laughter.)
Q The President has been saying all along he has zero tolerance for Iraq, and what I want to know -- since you're not going to be able to come back to us later, if material breach is declared that is -- that can be used as justification for war under U.N. resolution, why don't we just go in now? Why wait another six weeks and try to get support?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, this will be something that Secretary Powell and Ambassador Negroponte will get into a little bit later. But what is important here is ascertaining whether or not Iraq has made the strategic decision to disarm. And we want to make certain that he is not engaged in further acts of defiance.
If you want to know how the President approaches this process, I recommend go back and take a look at exactly what the President said in Prague on this question. And let me read this to you. The President said, "Should he again deny that his arsenal exists, he will have entered his final stage with a lie." And the President looks at this as a stage. The President looks at this as a process. And the President will look at this in a very deliberative fashion and in a fashion in consultation with our allies.
Make no mistake, the President has said if that happens, Saddam Hussein is entering his final stage with a lie. The exact time period of this final stage will be determined by Saddam Hussein, because Saddam Hussein must disarm.
Q Are we in the final stage?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President will be the one to make that determination and we will see exactly what Saddam Hussein does. But clearly the President has said --
Q There are omissions and problems. Based on that quote, we're in the final stage with a lie.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think once you are advised of whether or not the United States has come to the conclusion that Saddam Hussein is in material breach, that would mean that the final stage is beginning with a lie.
Q Are we going to hear from the President, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: We'll always let you know. At this point, there is nothing scheduled. And in the event there is -- you won't hear from him today on this topic. Secretary Powell is going to be talking today.
Ken. Forgive me for getting out of order --
Q No, not at all. Very good questions, very important. (Laughter.)
If I can go back to Senator Lott for a moment, many people, Democrats and Republicans alike, are preaching forgiveness. And I was wondering if this is something that the White House is actively encouraging? And also to follow up on Keith and Elizabeth's questions, and with respect to your effort to put the onus on the Senate Republicans, with your answer do you mean to suggest, is it your intent to suggest that when one of the leaders in the Republican -- one of the elected leaders in the Republican party goes through an episode like this, that it has no effect on the things the President wants to accomplish in the near future -- in the distant future, for that matter -- that it has no effect whatsoever on his agenda?
MR. FLEISCHER: The answer is that the President believes that it is the job of all members of Congress to work to advance an agenda that serves the country. And the President's agenda to serve the country involves getting the economy growing again. As you know, the President has said one of the first acts of Congress when they come back should be the extension of unemployment insurance.
Surely, I don't think anybody would suggest that unemployment insurance should no longer be extended. The President wants to insurance extended. So there is an agenda that is pending before the Congress when they come back, and the President will work with all in the Congress to help them to carry out their responsibilities to the economy growing even faster than it's currently growing, so more jobs can be created and to protect the homeland. These remain America's priorities.
Q So if Senator Lott remains majority leader in the Senate, then the President will just proceed with his agenda and take it from there?
MR. FLEISCHER: Indeed.
Q In other words, it will have no effect?
MR. FLEISCHER: Indeed. The President will continue to pursue the agenda that he believes that all people in Washington were elected to pursue.
Q Does the President think that this continuing controversy with Senator Lott is damaging his own image and standing with African American citizens?
MR. FLEISCHER: You know, the President is just focused on doing what he thinks is right for the country, and he doesn't engage in making these daily speculations and standings. The President believes his job is to elevate the country to focus on the important, big picture issues, just like he was describing to Ken, about improving the economy, protecting the homeland, improving our nation when it comes to the position of race relations. That's where his focus is. And any speculation he leave to others.
Q But it would seem, you know, with this continuing controversy and debate going on about the administration's record on civil rights, its record on minority affairs, and the President's professed statements about wanting to attract those kinds of voters with support from the Republican party, obviously aren't there discussions in the White House about what effect this might be having on all that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the discussions in the White House are focused on the upcoming policy agenda of the Congress. And all I can tell you is, as you know, the White House pays no attention to polls. But I will cite a couple of polls that the White House just saw. And those, of course, are media polls that show that the President's job approval remains at extraordinarily high levels from all Americans.
Q A question about --
MR. FLEISCHER: I indicated we do not pay attention to the information I just cited. (Laughter.)
Q Thank you for explaining the modalities. (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: Don't forget the lacunae.
Q Always remember the lacuna.
Q Isn't that a coat?
Q Question about the South Korean elections. President-elect Roh campaigned on a platform of continuing to seek engagement with North Korea despite North Korea's restart of its nuclear program. There would appear to be at least some daylight between that position and the administration's position, no?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. As you know, the President has said publicly on many occasions, including when he visited South Korea and subsequent to that, that the United States continues to support South Korea's policies of having discussions with North Korea. We have always maintained that that is an appropriate course for South Korea to take.
Q So the President has no problem with the approach that President-elect Roh campaigned on? He embraces it?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the United States has always said that we believe that South Korea and Japan should engage in these conversations that they are having with North Korea.
Q Does he believe that President-elect Roh can be effective in trying to carry the message that the administration would like to be carried on North Korea?
MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated in my opening statement, the President looks forward to working with President-elect Roh, and that the United States continues to have very strong and good relations with the people and the government of South Korea. We're friends and we're allies. And elections take place on a regular basis around the world. And it is the role of America's great democracy to honor and respect the elections of every nation in the world and work with those leaders.
Q I understand that. But, clearly, the administration would like whoever is the President of South Korea, just as the leader of Japan and China, to exert pressure on Pyongyang to give up its nuclear program. Given the approach that President-elect Roh campaigned on, do you believe he can do that, in lieu of that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, as you know we've worked very directly with North Korea, with South Korea, and Japan and Russia and China as the universal point of view that continued consultations -- and look how closely we are doing this -- is what's necessary to help convince North Korea to give up their nuclear program.
Q Does the President want to extend unemployment benefits across the board? Or does he think a distinction should be made between those who are in high unemployment states, those who are not, and those who have exhausted regular benefits, and those who have exhausted extended benefits?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President wants to work with the Congress to find a way to get it done this time. Unfortunately, in the past the House and the Senate had competing versions. And they were unable to compromise and enter into an agreement. The President wants to find a way for the House
and the Senate and White House to work together to get it done. And if that means working with both bodies to it, that's how the President will approach it.
The President does not want to draw lines that divide. The President wants to find ways to unite so the unemployed can get what they need.
Q Ari, former President Clinton appeared to be coming to Trent Lott's support yesterday. He said he didn't know why the Republicans were beating up on him when all he had done was to say in Washington what many of these Republicans had practiced as a strategy in the South for years. Did the President agree with that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as I indicated, the President is not going to make any comments about any of the statements that are being made by other senators in this matter or go beyond what the President or I have already said. That would apply to others, as well, who are chiming in.
Q Ari, I know you have an aversion to speculating. But it's Christmas season and we're wondering if there is any -- is the President anticipating any pardons or commutations for the holiday, which is something that's been done in the past?
MR. FLEISCHER: To answer that question I would be engaging in speculating. As always, if there are, we will announce anything.
Q Has he pardoned or commuted anything thus far in his administration?
MR. FLEISCHER: He has not -- other than two turkeys.
Q And one more. (Laughter.) Okay, well -- and what's their name?
MR. FLEISCHER: One of them named Katie.
Q One more thing, can you give us a quick background on what the President's holiday plans are?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm sorry, it's hard to hear you.
Q I'm sorry. Can you give us an idea of background on what the President's holiday plans are?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is going to spend the holiday at Camp David. He will depart from the White House I believe it's Saturday for Camp David and will remain at Camp David through the day after Christmas. And on the 26th, the President looks forward to traveling to Crawford and he will be at his ranch through early January.
Q Any guests at Camp David or thereafter?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm sure there will be.
MR. FLEISCHER: Lester.
Q Good morning.
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon.
Q Good afternoon. The New York Times this morning quotes Linda Chavez, the President of the Center for Equal Opportunity, as saying Senator Lott has made it difficult for us on the right side of the civil rights issue to go out and oppose racial preferences. And my first question, does the White House believe this statement from Linda Chavez is incorrect?
MR. FLEISCHER: Lester, as I indicated, I am not going to enter into and comment on every development along these lines. I've spoken repeatedly for the last two days about the President's positions on affirmative access.
Q Well, she's not a senator. But my second question I'm sure you can answer. Your explanation of how the President when he was governor advocated affirmative access was interesting and I think well informed, and shows that you're well acquainted with this issue. So you can assure us the President never hired players for his baseball team by affirmative access rather than ability alone, can't you Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: At the risk of getting myself in great trouble with the President of the United States, when you take a look at the record of the Texas Rangers during this period of time -- (laughter) -- Lester --
Q On ability alone --
MR. FLEISCHER: Lester, I have no idea what you're talking about. (Laughter.)
Q Wait a minute. You know exactly what I'm talking about, because you know damn well he did not hire anybody except -- excuse me. You know darn well that he never hired any of those Texas Rangers on the basis of their skin. It was just their ability, wasn't it, Ari? I mean, tell us. Be frank.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President believes in the policies of affirmative access and he believes that people need to be judged on their merits.
Q But not for the Texas Rangers, did he, Ari?
Q Ari, President Bush travels to Africa next month, and it's coming at a time in the midst of all of this racial upheaval in the nation stemming from Senator Lott. Many African Americans years ago were concerned about an apology for slavery when William Jefferson Clinton toured Africa. Could President Bush go to Senegal, go to the Slave House and possibly give an apology for slavery from this tour to Africa?
MR. FLEISCHER: The purpose of the President's travel into Africa is to focus on ways to help people of Africa develop, have more opportunities, more economic chances and a better way of life, particularly when it comes to fighting HIV/AIDS.
So when the President is in Africa, he's going to focus on the success of democracies in Africa and encourage further democratization of Africa. He will focus on the need to build trade capacity so the people of Africa can have more opportunities, thanks in part to the legislation President Bush signed for the African Growth and Opportunity Act. And the President will focus on the agricultural abilities of Africa, and he will also focus on counter-terrorism in regard to Africa. That will be the focus of the President's visit.
Q But, Ari, to follow up. I know this trip was planned for a long time, but it just so happens to fall around the same time as this verbal snafu from Senator Lott. What do you say to African Americans who are hurting because of this and wondering about the Republican Party and how they feel about African Americans in the midst of going to Africa and not apologizing for slavery.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President views those concerns as justifiable, and that's precisely why the President said what he said last Thursday in Philadelphia, about those remarks not being in the spirit of the American ideals, where segregation is wrong and people are treated equal. That's exactly what the President thinks, that's exactly what he said. And that's why he was quick to say it, and say it in that audience in Philadelphia.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.
END 1:05 P.M. EST
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