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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
January 13, 2003

Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:20 P.M. EST

MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. Let me give you a report on the President's day. Then I have three personnel announcements I'd like to make.

Number one, the President began his day with his usual intelligence briefing, followed by a briefing with the FBI. He had a private lunch with the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, today. And that is the highlights of the President's schedule for the day.

And personnel -- the President intends to nominate Mark Everson to be Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service. He's currently the Deputy Director of Management for the Office of Management and Budget. Mr. Everson was twice before confirmed by the Senate, first as Comptroller of the Office of Federal Financial Management, and then again in his current post. He has worked on government-wide financial management and technology issues and is well qualified to take over management of the Internal Revenue Service to replace the term of Charles Rossotti whose term expired late last year.

The President intends to nominate Clay Johnson to replace Mr. Everson as Deputy Director for the Office of Management at the Office of Management and Budget. Mr. Johnson is a trusted advisor and friend of the President. As Director of Presidential Personnel, his current post, he's advised the President on the placement of senior leadership officials in the federal government. He was executive director of the transition team, and he served as a chief of staff and appointment director to then Governor Bush in Texas. He has more than 20 years of private sector experience and private-public and nonprofit sector experience that he'll bring to this job.

I think it's also important the note that in this position he will be responsible for streamlining and better managing the way the federal government operates, and to oversee technology integration. Often in the Office of Management and Budget, much of the focus is on the "b" in the budget. This is a real return to a focus on the "m" as in management. I think it's a real sign of how seriously the President takes the importance of managing the federal work force well and efficiently for the taxpayers, as somebody who is this close to the President and this trusted by the President would move into a spot like this.

And finally, the President intends to appoint Dina Habib Powell to replace Clay Johnson as Assistant to the President for Presidential Personnel. Ms. Powell is currently Special Assistant to the President for Presidential Personnel.

With that I'm happy to take your questions.

Q How do you spell Everson, Ari? Sorry.

MR. FLEISCHER: Everson's name is spelled -- E-v-e-r-s-o-n. Terry -- I'm sorry -- Bill.

Q Given the fact that many people in this administration -- at least on background -- describe what North Korea seems to be trying to do as a shakedown, what do you make of that in light of the fact that the United States is now offering the possibility of fuel aid and other kinds of economic aid if North Korea will simply drop its nuclear program? Why is this somehow different from a so-called shakedown?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, what we've always said is that North Korea needs to come back into compliance with international obligations. If they do not come back into compliance with international obligations, they'll continue to isolate themselves. And that begins with North Korea's dismantlement of its programs for the development of nuclear weapons. And as Mr. Kelly made clear in his statement, he said in his words, once we get beyond nuclear weapons. So the ball remains in North Korea's court. They know what they need to do and they need to take that action.

Q Why is that not a quid pro quo?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think that it's clear that North Korea first knows what it needs to do. And we've always said that if North Korea comes into its international obligations, then they will stop isolating themselves.

Q Ari, on Iraq, as this build-up continues, the military build-up continues, Americans can only draw one conclusion, and that is, though it's the last resort, this country is very much readying itself for war. So why isn't it time to clarify for the American people why exactly we would take such action, what evidence the administration possesses to link Saddam Hussein with an imminent threat against the country?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President has made it very clear that the role of the inspectors is a very important part of this process. The inspectors need to be in Iraq to do the job that the world has asked them to do. And they're in the middle of their work. The President understands, and is the first one to understand, that in the event he reaches this conclusion that Saddam Hussein has refused to disarm, Saddam Hussein continues to defy the inspectors and to hide his weapons, and that if the only way to achieve disarmament is through military action, the President is the first to understand the need to communicate that message to the American people. And indeed, he is prepared to do so, if it gets to that point.

It has not reached that point at this time. And so I think your question is a good one; it's just not at the time that the President has decided it is that time. This is the course of the inspections.

Q But why hold out? I mean, what we're seeing every day in our newspapers and on television are troops being deployed to the region and very pointed language towards Saddam Hussein. And yet, we can't know the real payoff here, which is why exactly we are readying ourselves to go to war -- what we know, what the government knows, that the public doesn't.

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, because the President is the one who has to make the ultimate decision about whether or not Saddam Hussein has brought the world to the point where the world has no choice but to take military action. The President has not reached any conclusions. And so, it's not a question of why isn't the President saying anything today. At the appropriate time and in the President's judgment, he, of course, will. It's a solemn obligation on the President and he knows that.

Q Back on North Korea, just a couple of very simple questions. Is the United States prepared to sit down and speak directly to a representative of North Korea?

MR. FLEISCHER: The United States, as was indicated in the TCOG statement, is prepared to talk to North Korea. And the message is simple, that North Korea needs to take action to disarm.

Q So what those conversations would be about would be completely limited to North Korea's nuclear weapons program --

MR. FLEISCHER: There is a perfect consistency here. Mr. Kelly said that once we get beyond their nuclear weapons than there may be opportunities in the front in the area of energy. But as I made clear before, I said the United States is willing to talk, not negotiate. We are willing to talk about North Korea dismantling its facilities and coming back into international compliance with their obligations. Having done that, once they do that, then, at that point, North Korea can resume its place as a sovereign nation that is respected and treated by other nations in a manner consistent with their resuming those international obligations.

Q So the United States --

MR. FLEISCHER: -- not until that point.

Q So the United States would be prepared to sit down with North Koreans. And if the first thing that came out of the North Koreans was, we'll dismantle our nuclear weapons, the thing that could come out of the United States is, and we'll provide you aid, how is that not --

MR. FLEISCHER: They need to dismantle. They need to dismantle.

Q You need to see the action.

MR. FLEISCHER: It needs to be verifiable and it needs to be dismantling. It's needs to be irreversible. And that's the position that we approach this with. Let me put it to you this way -- North Korea wants to take the world through its blackmail play book, and we won't play. It's up to North Korea to come back into international compliance with their obligations. If and when they do that, then the world, of course, would make clear to North Korea that they now, in honoring of those agreements, because they're no longer putting themselves on the path to isolation -- just as we always indicated that we were pursuing a bold approach to North Korea prior to finding out about their violating of their agreements, the world was prepared to engage.

Q There will be no fuel oil flowing? There will be no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow until there is verifiable dismantling of their nuclear weapons?

MR. FLEISCHER: And let me remind you, on the question of the oil deliveries, this was a decision made internationally. This was a multilateral decision made by the partners in the region, South Korea, Japan, and the United States.

Q How much concern is there, Ari, that North Korea could sell nuclear weapons on the open market just like they did with the Scuds?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there's always concern about any nation with proliferation. That's why proliferation agreements are very important. It's another reason why there was serious concern and condemnation around the world about North Korea stepping out of the proliferation treaty. And it would be seen as a very serious development.

Q When will they be in a position to manufacture many nuclear weapons?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not expert enough, in a position to be able to give you an answer to the question that at its core is really a scientific one.

Q I want to follow up on Steve's interesting question there. There is a point at which the North Koreans would be able to move into production, when they start up their reprocessing facility, which they've threatened to do, but apparently so far have not yet done. Are we sending any message to the North Koreans, either publicly or privately that makes it clear that starting up that production facility would be a certain red line that could move this away from diplomacy and toward a more urgent problem, since that would enable them to produce weapons within a few months?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think we've continued to send a consistent series of messages to North Korea that North Korea has chosen to ignore. And I think these are messages that have been sent by the world. And this is the essence of the problem, as you have North Korea that has turned its back on the messages of the world, on the obligations that North Korea has before the world, and in the process, they've only isolated themselves.

Q Ari, I'm sorry -- if I can just follow that up. The messages we've sent have been a general one that you're moving in the wrong direction. What I'm trying to get at is, have we sent a specific one to them to the point that Steve was raising?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, the messages that I'm aware of are the ones just as I described, a generalized series of messages about North Korea coming back into the commitments it made with the nations around the world.

Q Two things. One, going back to Iraq, do you think that your message is out about potential war with Iraq and why? And do you think that the American public gets it now, that this could be a different war, hand-to-hand combat, not in the desert and fighting with tanks and things of that nature? Do you think the American public gets that for this potential war?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think the American public is very keenly interested in things that are happening vis-a-vis Iraq. I think they have tremendous faith and trust in the President and his judgment. They understand the President has information available to him that helps guide the President's actions. And I think that they understand the President has been very patient and has worked through the international community as a way to address the problem in Iraq.

I think that's a fair description of where the American public is. As I indicated to Mr. Gregory, the President, more than anybody, understands the obligation on his shoulders to explain to the American people his thinking in the event it moves beyond current events. And he will do that if it becomes necessary. He understands that.

The American people are the least willing people in the world to go to war. The American people are also people who understand the need to protect ourselves from an enemy that has weapons that may seek to use them again, particularly after what we went through on September 11th. And this is what the President has to weigh, is when it reaches a tipping point in his judgment that the price of inaction is greater than the price of action; the risks of doing nothing will lead to another attack on the United States. These are the difficult judgments the President of the United States has to make. He has not yet made them.

Q All right, and the second question -- we've seen then Governor Bush's record on death penalty cases in Texas. What is his stand on what Governor Ryan has done?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President believes that these are matters that states review under the state laws. He has made no specific comment about what Illinois has done in this case. The President believes in, just as he said when he was governor of Texas, he didn't think it was the purview of the federal government to dictate to the states how they should have their own laws be administered. The President does believe that the death penalty does serve as a deterrent to crime. He believes that for violent and heinous crimes that the death penalty ultimately saves lives. He believes the death penalty is that type of deterrent when it is administered fairly, swiftly and effectively.

Q What's the evidence for that?

Q But under this most recent situation, there's a lot of controversy with it. Does he at least believe there needs to be some kind of study before other states take this kind of action that Governor Ryan has taken?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President does not tell states how to conduct their business. These are individual judgments that the elected officials in these sovereign 50 states are paid to make on the basis of information on how their state systems are run. It is not the federal system, these are 50 different state systems.

Q Can you tell us what the latest thinking of the President is on the University of Michigan case, the affirmative action case, which way he's leaning, if he's leaning any way so far?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, I'm not prepared to say if he's leaning one way or another because it remains under review. The deadline for any decision by the federal government to enter into an amicus brief in this matter is Thursday. This is Monday, and so the matter remains under review.

Q Can you shine some light, though, on kind of part of his thinking, part of the White House thinking of how or why they would come down one way or another on --

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, let me at least inform you about the process, and I don't think, again, there's anything I can say about any ultimate outcome for a mater that is not yet decided. But the President views matters of race as some of the most important, sensitive matters in our country. He is very sensitive to issues involving race and giving opportunities to people from a variety of backgrounds, while also giving opportunities in a manner for one and for all in our country. And so the President, having been governor of a state that was so ethnically diverse as Texas, I think is well-versed in many of the sensitivities, the ups and the downs and the ins and the outs to these issues. They are all inherently very complicated parts of our social formula and our social fabric in the United States.

So, with that said, the President and his staff have been meeting with officials of the Department of Justice talking about the case, listening to both sides of the case. And as I said, the President is sensitive to all issues involving matters pertaining to opportunity and race, and I think there's nothing I can offer beyond that about what ultimate decision will be made. And it can be one of any number of decisions, or no decision.

Q Is that off the table? Is it a possibility that you wouldn't file a brief at all at this point?

MR. FLEISCHER: We'll know by Thursday, or around Thursday.

Q Ari, given that Illinois is not the only state that has had some questionable executions or cases on death row, has the President expressed any curiosity about any of the cases of execution that occurred under his watch in Texas?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, the President repeatedly has said throughout the process in Texas that he believes that people in Texas received justice on a fair basis; it was administered fairly and served as an effective deterrent.

Q Ari, on North Korea, are you saying it is now okay for American officials to talk about what North Korea could expect from good behavior after it comes back into compliance?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it's nothing new. American officials have said that since Jim Kelly went to Korea and met with Korean officials and said we are prepared to offer a bold package for North Korea, until it was clear that you had violated the existing agreements that you made.

What's important here is that North Korea, once it gives its word, honors its word. What good is a new agreement if the old one doesn't stand up? So what's important is North Korea has got to comply with its given word. If they comply with their given word, then it's a different basis for moving forward. But until that point, North Korea has the obligation and the burden on itself to come back into compliance.

Q Last week there were a number of people who suggested that that, indeed, was what needed to happen, that we needed to talk about what was on the other side of this whole mountain for North Korea, if in fact they agreed to stop their nuclear program. And my sense last week was that we were unwilling to do that, to talk about what might happen after they came back into compliance. We were mistaken about that?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think, again, if you take a look at the statements the administration officials made on January 7th, for example, before this so-called light at the tunnel story came out, you can see from the statements made in the joint declaration of the United States, Japan and South Korea the following statement: The three delegations stress that elimination of nuclear weapon programs by North Korea would provide an opportunity to return to a better path, leading toward improved relations with the international community; thereby securing peace, prosperity and security for all countries of Northeast Asia. That was a statement made on January 7th, almost a week ago.

So I think you're hearing just a different formulation of the exact same sentiment that was put in writing on January 7th. I don't think you have anything new here. I think you just have an expression that was specific to energy, as opposed to the more generalized statement about returning to a path of -- a better path leading to improved relations. But they both begin with the most important provision, exactly as Secretary Kelly made clear, once we can get beyond nuclear weapons.

Q Now, let me just do one more clarification. So they sit down in the talks and we say, you need to come back into compliance, that's the first thing that has to happen. Are we willing, in those same discussions, to talk about the things you just mentioned, this better path?

MR. FLEISCHER: It's clear what North Korea needs to do. And there can't even be talks to convey in person between the United States and North Korea, North Korea's need to come back into agreement if North Korea doesn't agree to the talks. The American offer to talk still stands. No official response has been received.

Q Can you tell us anything about the Greenspan meeting, either what the President wanted to do their or any kind of readout on what happened?

MR. FLEISCHER: It's part of the regular or periodic meetings that the President has had with Chairman Greenspan since the beginning of his presidency. I didn't bring a count with me, but my best guess, just going off the top of my head, is this probably about a half a dozen times that the President and Chairman Greenspan have met for lunch. It's part of what they do.

No, in the traditions of the White House, that's a private luncheon. I think that's the best way for both individuals to have the luncheon and to exchange ideas frankly about the state of the economy and any different ideas each person may have.

Q We can assume that they talked about tax policy and economic stimulus, can't we? They have in the past.

MR. FLEISCHER: I said the state of the economy. I wasn't in the lunch, and so I --

Q -- what ideas each may have? We know what ideas one has.

MR. FLEISCHER: Surely you wouldn't ask me to presume or assume what is discussed in something that I wouldn't know. I know that nobody would speculate about something they didn't have definitive information on.

Q Oh, no. (Laughter.)

Q Ari, how long was the lunch --

MR. FLEISCHER: It was scheduled for an hour. It was held in the President's private dining room.

Q Iraq. The weapons inspectors seem to be saying now that the whole process could take up to a year, if they want to go through the whole process, if they're going to go through the whole process. Is the President that patient?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President has not put any type of artificial timetable on how long he believes is necessary for Saddam Hussein to prove to the world that he's going to comply.

Q But is he willing to wait a year, willing to allow the forces that are in place now and going there -- stay there?

MR. FLEISCHER: I just answered the question. The President has not put a timetable on it.

Q Ari, going back to the University of Michigan case, why is that a presidential decision? Wouldn't that be something that normally would be done at Justice?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, typically matters dealing with whether or not an amicus curiae, or a friend of the court brief would be filed are typically handled in most cases by Justice Department officials. For something that has this level of importance, it has risen to the President's attention. The President, as I indicated, as governor of Texas, is very sensitive and very aware of the pros and the cons of issues involving race. This case is a particularly important case because it will -- as the Supreme Court has accepted it, it could potentially lead to a definition across the nation about what standards are allowable in terms of society dealing with questions about admissions and race. These are issues that are terribly important to all people in the United States, black and white and every -- all Americans. So it's a question that the President views as an important one, and that's why he is involved.

Q So in this particular case, I mean, does Justice present its recommendation, and then the President decides whether or not to overturn it?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think -- allow Thursday to take place and then we'll try to share with you as much information as possible.

Q This is a process question, not what the decision is.

MR. FLEISCHER: The process remains underway. And so people -- as I said, no decision has been made by the President at this time. The President welcomes a diversity of opinions. He likes to get a variety of ideas. And I'm not indicating to you that all the ideas are the same or all the ideas are different, but the President wants to have a process that allows for as much thought to enter the debate as possible.

And that's what's required on issues like this -- a lot of quiet deliberation and thought. Because very often in the past, issues that are attached to race and admissions policies are accompanied by a lot of shouting and yelling. And the President would prefer to approach this matter in as thoughtful a way as is possible, recognizing how important these issues are.

Q Ari, yesterday Secretary Evans said that despite some criticism coming out of the Senate, that he has not yet had an opportunity to sell the stimulus plan. How soon do you expect that he'll actually be on the Hill in a more public sort of fashion doing that? And who else from the White House might be a part of that?

MR. FLEISCHER: This week Secretary Evans and Secretary Chao are traveling around the country talking to the public about the package. And, of course, when you talk to the public, you're talking to members of Congress. And you can anticipate that the President will do that, as well. Vis-a-vis the Hill, it remains very, very early on the Hill, as you know. The House, where tax legislation must pass in the House before it can even get to the Senate -- the House came in for a couple days, and as it the January tradition of the House of Representatives, they are now in recess. They'll come back towards the end of the month for the State of the Union. And then the matter will move from there forward. Typically, it's a process that takes many months.

Q Ari, as you know there have been some questions from so-called moderate Republicans, but also centrist Democrats have signaled that they have some concerns. Is it the White House's intention to reach out on both sides of the aisle on this issue?

MR. FLEISCHER: Absolutely.

Q Ari, getting back to the Iraq question for a minute, if and when the time comes where the President has to explain his case to the public, will it be a sort of furry, fuzzy reiteration of past reports, past --

MR. FLEISCHER: Did you say fuzzy?

Q Fuzzy -- furry -- (Laughter.)

Q Furry.

Q Furry and fuzzy.

MR. FLEISCHER: Furry -- furry.

Q Not feel good, just furry and fuzzy -- reliance on past reports? Or will it be new evidence gathered recently that will close the loop in the minds of Americans who are saying, what is the compelling urgency, what is the new evidence that makes this a risk that's --

MR. FLEISCHER: Dick, I'm not going to speculate about events that are not yet taking place.

Q Let me come back to the timing issue on Iraq, too, if I may. Again, with inspectors talking of up to a year to complete this work, and you're saying the President has not put a timetable on it, does that mean that the troops that he is sending overseas, he's willing to have them sit in their tents and on their -- on their planes and ships and stuff for that length of time? He's not ruling out leaving them in the field for up to a year?

MR. FLEISCHER: It means just as I said, the President has not put a timetable on it. And if the President hasn't put a timetable on it, I certainly won't.

Q But there are practical limitations for how long you can deploy troops and then just leave them.

MR. FLEISCHER: The President has not put a timetable on it. So, I understand you want me to do it for him; I choose not to.

Q What's the U.S. reaction to OPEC's decision to increase production, and how much the oil strike in Venezuela is impacting the U.S. economy right now?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President views OPEC's action to increase production, particularly given the protracted dispute in Venezuela, as a welcome step. It will increase global energy supplies and support global economic growth. The President views this as a welcome step.

I'm sorry, the second part of your question?

Q How much the oil strike in Venezuela is impacting the U.S. economy right now?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think that's a question that I -- you can talk to any number of economists and get any number of different answers about it, particularly given the fact that OPEC is going to take this action that is, as I indicated, a welcome step that does address the situation in Venezuela.

Q On Iraq again, are you concerned about an erosion of support for any military move both here in and in Great Britain? And also, could you give the public a better idea of what the President has been doing since his public schedule has been so light, Friday, over the weekend?

MR. FLEISCHER: Typically -- and I think you know this very well -- on any given day the President has a whole series of policy briefings on any number of different topics. A good portion of the President's day is spent with his advisors, getting the latest information on any number of issues that are pending in the Congress or pending around the world. And so that's typically how the President spends his time that you wouldn't, of course, see. That's how he approaches it.

On the question of Iraq, again, the President -- I really answered that question earlier -- the President believes that the American people follow events closely, and the President, at the appropriate time, if it reaches that point, will address these matters.

Q Ari, the Human Rights Watch has its '03 report coming out. This year the theme is that the United States has taken a step back from advocation of human rights and, in fact, is engaged in quite a number of human rights violations itself around the world through its prosecution of the antiterror campaign. I wonder if you have a general response to that and to the allegation that this is actually undermining support for the antiterror campaign around the world?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think that when you take a look, particularly at what's happened in Afghanistan as a result of the United States military operation, in concert with our allies, many people who were oppressed are now free. Many people who had their basic liberties taken away by an

oppressive Taliban regime now, for the first time in the lives of many of these people, have an opportunity for a better life, an opportunity for health care, an opportunity for education. So this administration strongly differs with any such findings.

Q And is it the position that that counterweighs, outweighs support for regimes such as Pakistan, Egypt and others that are engaging in human rights violations?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think the fact of the matter is that wherever America goes, we always make it a practice to pursue policies that help advance human rights everywhere around the world. And as a result of increased contact with the United States in these cases, there are better prospects for that happening.

Q If I could come back to a time line, could you tell us what's different now from the period when you were emphatically telling us that the administration wanted a new U.N. resolution in a matter of days and weeks, not months and years? Why isn't -- what's different now? Why isn't there a similar kind of an emphasis being put on the inspections process or this stage of dealing with Iraq?

MR. FLEISCHER: Because it's exactly what the President asked for is being done. The President asked in a matter of days or weeks for a resolution to be passed. That was on September 12th when he went to New York and asked for inspectors to return. Within two months of the President calling for that, the U.N. voted to send the inspectors back to Iraq under a tough, new enforcement regime. And this process is underway. That process included a series of dates that the inspectors would report back. We're not even through those dates yet. An important one is coming up January 27th. So, I think, frankly, other than it's a slow news day, nothing really has changed about the timing in Iraq. (Laughter.)

Q My question is related to Connie's. Is British Prime Minister Tony Blair going to be able to convince the President to wait until the fall for any action against Iraq?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think -- I got that question last week. I think you're referring to an erroneous news report that took place in the Telegraph in London, and I'm not aware of any such accurate statement that Mr. Blair, Prime Minister Blair made any reference to the fall.

Q Does the Commander-in-Chief intend to visit the troops in the Persian Gulf region between now and the middle of February?

MR. FLEISCHER: As always, any type of scheduling announcements we'll make. And I encourage you, don't read that one way or another. That's our standard policy.

Q On the IRS nomination, is there any issue in particular that you would like the new commissioner to address first?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, one of the issues that's always important at the IRS -- and it's interesting because the position of IRS Commissioner is not a tax policy position, it really is a management position. And information technology is one of the matters that's very important to the accuracy of the work that the IRS does. That's always important about this position. And Mr. Everson has significant experience in financial management and technology issues, making him, in the President's judgment, very qualified to be the commissioner at the IRS.

Q Also, on the timing on the affirmative action amicus brief, the fact that you said, let Thursday take place, are you, in fact, confirming that you will not make your decision until Thursday?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, I'm just pointing out Thursday is the deadline. I'm not indicating what day, Thursday is the deadline.

Q Two questions. A group of Republican businessmen took out a full-page ad in today's Wall Street Journal, and they charged that President Bush had betrayed them by first promising a more humble nation in our dealings with the world, and then turning around and preparing for preemptive wars.

They say in the ad, "to President Bush, you cannot keep proclaiming peace while preparing for war. You're waltzing blindfolded into what may well be a catastrophe. Show the humility and compassion that led us to elect you." In what sense is this doctrine of preemptive war -- in what sense does that reflect the more humble nation --

MR. FLEISCHER: I think precisely in the same way that President Kennedy meant it when President Kennedy used preemption as a possible American response to the Cuban missile crisis. Preemption is actually a time honored part of America's tool of diplomatic and foreign policy devices that are used, hopefully, to defuse crises and prevent war from ever taking place. And the President approaches it in the same manner.

And September 11th certainly has brought it home to the American people. If we had known that an attack was going to take place against the United States on September 11th that we could have taken military action to preempt, if President Bush had that type of actionable information, I think it's fair to say the American people would have said, preempt this attack. So I think it's part of America's time-honored tradition of keeping the peace through preemption.

Q Second question. Both the federal government and almost all the state governments are projecting deficits as far as the eye can see. Given the immediate needs of the American people, why is the President supporting a one-time reported $15 billion appropriation that's $5 billion in military aid and $10 billion in loan guarantees for Israel -- and that's on top of the regular $3 billion a year -- at a time when Ariel Sharon is enmeshed in a corruption scandal and is killing innocent Palestinians?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President has always viewed our aid package for many of the nations in the Middle East as an effective part of America's diplomacy. There has been a longstanding bipartisan consensus behind providing aid for the nations in the Middle East, especially and including Israel. And so this is a part of America's foreign policy that continues, and the President is proud to continue it.

Q Ari, there's a syndicated column out today that says that some Republicans on the Hill are increasingly frustrated about what they perceive to be a lack of access to information from the Pentagon, military-related matters. How cooperative is the Bush administration in providing the appropriate military information to the appropriate lawmakers?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, from my understanding from everything I have seen here, the administration has been very cooperative in providing as much information as possible to people up on Capitol Hill, and will continue to do so.

Administration officials brief on a regular basis up on the Hill. Obviously, there are going to be some areas that cannot be discussed -- not all. In the history of relations between the executive and the legislature, there's always been a portion of information that was the executive's purview. And as much as is possible, it is shared with the Congress. This is, I think, part of a 225-year role of relationships between the Congress and the executive branch.

I grant you there will not always be agreement on what is, in some people's opinion, the full or proper amount to be shared. And that, too, is part of the traditions and the history of our country, or the relations between the executive and the legislature. The President does think it is very important to make certain that we work closely with the legislature in all cases.

Q You said President Bush believes diplomacy is the best option for North Korea and to give them time to honor their obligations. But North Korea has already violated the terms of the 1968 treaty, as well the 1994 agreement, so how many more chances is the President willing to give North Korea?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President has said -- and nothing has changed this -- that he believes that this is a matter that can be settled by diplomacy. And diplomacy, especially, when its principled, when it's steely, and when it's consistent, can take time. And the President is working with our allies on this. Diplomacy is not a light switch, diplomacy is much more like a dial. And the President is going to continue to apply diplomacy to the situation.

Q Ari, I have two questions. Just a follow-up on the OPEC decision. Is that enough? What they're doing is enough to fulfill the needs of the American people and U.S. market? And if the U.S. government had asked the Mexican government to sell the U.S. more oil in any event and -- well, in any event?

And my second question is in regard to a Mexican national. This is an article that was published in The New York Post, January the 4th. It's in regards to Salvador Martinez Gonzalez, who used to work at the White House as a supervisor of attendance information for social events. And he came to work to the White House with a fake U.S. passport. And I don't understand how this happened knowing how effective is the Secret Service when it comes to screening.

MR. FLEISCHER: Okay, on your first question about Venezuela, as I said, the President views this as a welcome step that OPEC has taken. It's a significant increase in production. Ultimately, the markets will be the determinant of whether or not it's sufficient or not. But obviously, the President views this as a welcome matter.

On the second issue, I have not had an opportunity yet to take a look into that. I'll try to do so and see if there's any additional information.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.

END 1:58 P.M. EST