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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
March 24, 2003
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:00 P.M. EST
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. Let me give you a report on the President's day. The President this morning has spoken with three foreign leaders. He began with Prime Minister Blair, where the two discussed the ongoing aspects of Operation Iraqi liberation. The President also spoke with President Putin to discuss the situation involving Iraq. They discussed cooperation on humanitarian issues. They both reiterated their strong support for the U.S.-Russia partnership, and agreed to continue, despite the differences that the two have over Iraq. And the two also discussed the United States' concerns, which President Bush discussed, involving prohibited hardware that has been transferred from Russian companies to Iraq. Following the call, the President also spoke with Prime Minister Aznar of Spain.
The President also today had his intelligence briefing, FBI briefing, called a meeting of the National Security Council. Following the meeting with the NSC, the President met with the Secretary of Defense. He has just completed a lunch with the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Residence. And later today, the President will also meet in the Oval Office with the Chairman of the Federal Reserve and the Secretary of the Treasury. This is immediately prior to the meeting the President is having with the National Economic Council, where the President will talk about the state of the economy.
Later this afternoon, the President will welcome to the White House a bipartisan group of House and Senate leaders to talk about the supplemental appropriation bill that the President intends to send to the Congress to fund the war costs.
And that's my report on the President's day. I'm happy to take your questions. Ron.
Q Did the President tell President Putin that he was just concerned, or angry about turning over hardware that's being used against U.S. troops? And how recently was this hardware turned over, before or after the war broke out?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we are very concerned that there are reports of ongoing cooperation and support to Iraqi military forces being provided by a Russian company that produces GPS jamming equipment. This is what was discussed in the phone call. There are other causes of concern, as well, involving night-vision goggles and anti-tank guided missiles. So we do have concerns that some aspects of this may be ongoing. Those concerns were raised in the phone call today. President Putin assured President Bush that he would look into it, and President Bush said he looked forward to hearing the results.
Q Just to be clear, by saying ongoing -- there are reports, U.S. intelligence reports, or media reports, that the jamming equipment has been delivered since the war began?
MR. FLEISCHER: I assure you the President does not make comments to foreign leaders based only on media reports. We have concerns; those concerns have been expressed at the highest levels, and these are concerns that have been expressed repeatedly over the last quite some little while. This is not the first instance in which these concerns have been raised with officials. Senior U.S. government officials have repeatedly raised this issue with their Russian counterparts over the past year, in the hopes that the Russian government will move aggressively to cut the cooperation from this company, or the companies involved.
Q That's my point, this is not the first time the United States has raised this concern --
MR. FLEISCHER: Correct.
Q -- aren't we looking for more than just that we're concerned here?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, I'm not going to give you the verbatims on a presidential phone call, but I've expressed to you the concerns that we have in the United States about this. And as I said this morning, we find these actions to be disturbing.
Q Have they been going on since the war began?
MR. FLEISCHER: I said these concerns have been raised going back now almost a year.
Q Ari, a question about the economy --
MR. FLEISCHER: Over the past year, is how I would put it.
Q A question about the economy. Why shouldn't Americans expect that at a time when the administration is asking Congress for a lot of money for the war and its aftermath, on the order of, I guess, between $70 billion and $90 billion, that that shouldn't have some impact on the President's domestic economic plan, particularly his tax cut?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me cite to you some of the reasons that guide the President when he seeks to make sure that the economy can grow and that jobs can be created, so that when our men and women in the military return home, they'll have jobs to come home to. This is not the first time the United States has gotten into a military conflict of some type of prolonged nature in the past, where a President pushed the Congress to enact tax cuts.
Quote -- "We shall, therefore, neither postpone our tax cut plans, nor cut into essential national security programs. This administration is determined to protect America's security and survival. We are also determined to step up its economic growth. I think we must do both." That statement was made by President John F. Kennedy on December 14th, 1962, at a time when the United States government spent three times, as a percentage of the GDP, what we spend today on military and defense-related matters.
Q Why is that analogous to the current state of the economy in 2003? That's a Democrat, that's terrific. But, I mean, was the -- what was the size of the deficit at that point?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's not that it's a Democrat. The point being that it's important to push for economic growth and to keep the country strong. The two go hand in hand.
Q You're quoting -- you're quoting old quotes. But what about the question of, can Americans expect an impact?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because it still is valid. The stronger the economy, the stronger we are as a country. The stronger we are as a country, the stronger our military.
Q Hold on, wait a second.
MR. FLEISCHER: Bill.
Q Why should the American public expect that you can accomplish that at the same time that you want to fund an extremely costly prescription drug benefit? I mean, isn't the administration giving the public a false sense of being able to do it all?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, this will be a matter that the Congress will decide. And this is why the President is very pleased with the progress that's been made in the Congress on passing of his budget. If you take a look at what both the House and the Senate have done, you see the budget is moving along and moving along rather nicely.
Q Has the President made any comment to you about the showing of POW pictures on television? Has he said anything to you about how the war is going, given the expectation on the part of some that it would have gone faster, that it would have proceeded more efficiently than it seems to have?
MR. FLEISCHER: Sure. What he said to me is just what you heard yesterday. The President was asked the very same questions yesterday, and the President answered them. And the President knows that we are making good progress in the war to disarm Saddam Hussein, as has been reported regularly from CENTCOM. There have been setbacks, there have been casualties. Yesterday was a tough day. But when you take a look at the overall plan, as the President has made repeatedly clear, we are indeed making progress.
Q What about the POW pictures? Has he asked to see them?
MR. FLEISCHER: Nothing to report since the President shared that with you yesterday.
Q In terms of the pictures, the administration is upset because it is a violation of the Geneva Accords, you say --
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
Q Are we following the Geneva Accords --
MR. FLEISCHER: Of course.
Q -- in Iraq and Guantanamo?
MR. FLEISCHER: There are two different situations. You have the war against terrorism, and then you have this conflict, which is much more of a traditional conflict. And we have always treated people humanely, consistent with international agreements. In the case of the fight in Iraq, there's no question that it's being done in accordance with the Geneva Conventions.
Q How about the detainees in Guantanamo? They have no rights under the Geneva Accords?
MR. FLEISCHER: As I just indicated, we always treat them humanely, consistent with.
Q The Russian Foreign Minister, Mr. Ivanov, has just said Russia has observed all U.N. sanctions, not supplied military equipment to Iraq. He said the U.S. has had several inquiries. He said, our experts have checked these inquiries meticulously, including a recent one, and did not find any proof. He's lying?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, those statements were made prior to the statements that were made this morning by the White House. And I'm certain now with the phone call that was made to the President, Russia will take a look at what their Russian companies are doing. That's exactly what the Foreign Minister's boss told the President of the United States he would do.
Q Does the President consider that anyone who is arming our enemy is our enemy?
MR. FLEISCHER: I expressed to you that the relations between the United States and Russia are important relations that the two Presidents are dedicated to keeping. There are problems. This clearly is a problem that needs to be resolved. And this is why it came up in the phone call. This is why it's disturbing. And this is why the two have talked about it, for the purpose of resolving it.
Q And one more on the humanitarian situation. In Basra, the Red Cross and others are saying 40 percent of that large city's population now cannot get access to water, to drinkable water. It is a humanitarian emergency. The President said about 24 hours ago that within 36 hours massive humanitarian assistance would flow into Southern Iraq. Does he still expect that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, the President's statement was that massive humanitarian relief would begin to flow in 36 hours, and everything is being done possible to get that humanitarian relief to the people.
One of the central focuses of all the military planning was to make certain that humanitarian supplies were able to reach the people of Iraq as quickly as possible. You may want to talk to CENTCOM and others involved in it to see what the Iraqis have left behind that would hinder the flow of humanitarian relief. But, nevertheless, that is part of the planning.
Q Ari, this will be the second time today that Chairman Greenspan has been at the White House. Can you say a little -- give a little bit more on what kinds of advice you're seeking from him at this time? And, secondly, can you give a little more information on the National Economic Council meeting, what kinds of topics it will address?
MR. FLEISCHER: Sure. One, in terms of Chairman Greenspan, he is an occasional visitor to the White House where he speaks and meets privately with either the President or other senior administration officials to talk about the economy. That's no surprise. It's nothing new to this administration. The President will meet with him for one of those periodic meetings today and then go into the meeting of the National Economic Council.
The purpose of the meeting is to bring the economic team together -- they met several weeks ago -- but to discuss again the status of the economy, growth signs in the economy, trends in the economy, and to talk broadly about where the economy is going. The trends in the economy remain mixed. The economy is indeed growing, and different pockets have different growth rates. Clearly, the economy has emerged from the recession it was in, but it's an issue that the President is still focused on and concerned about, because we want to make sure that people can work.
Q Do you expect some discussion of the war's impact to date on the economy?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll try to give you a read after the meeting.
Q And have you reached a decision on airline aid?
MR. FLEISCHER: If there is anything to report, we will report it at the appropriate time.
Q You mentioned that the President is going to discuss with the congressional leadership today the cost of the war and the initial occupation and rebuilding, so forth. What efforts, if any, are being made at this point to seek contributions from the coalition of the willing or any other nations out there, either to the direct military costs or to whatever comes after?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as I mentioned, interestingly, with the phone call with President Putin, talking about the importance of humanitarian relief, there is a commitment from nations to help in humanitarian aspects of helping the Iraqi people with the reconstruction costs that will be incurred. So there will be some effort. But clearly, this is going to be something the United States is taking the lead in and we will continue to talk to our friends and allies about.
Q Is it your assumption at this point that United States is going to bear the overwhelming majority of the costs, both for the military and for the postwar?
MR. FLEISCHER: Dick, I think you'd have to wait and see what other nations decide to do in the end here, what costs they will participate in. And, as well, it remains to be seen what costs are incurred. Of course, with the precision capabilities of the military, there are going to be costs, but it's impossible to say what those costs will be.
Q Ari, are you surprised that there have not been more chemical and biological weapons found so far? And why has there not been more of an effort up front to try to seize and control these weapons so they're not used against American troops?
MR. FLEISCHER: I can just report to you what the President said yesterday; he's thankful that it has not been used. And anything dealing with seizing or anything of that nature, you have to talk to the Pentagon about.
Q Well, right. But you speak every day about weapons of mass destruction. Is that -- is this should be any indication that this is less important than territorial gain or seizing oil wells that we have not done this sort of thing?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think if you're asking about plans that would result in the seizure of WMD, things of that nature, that's something that General Franks is briefed on in the Gulf, and I would refer you to his words.
Q The surprise element -- you're not surprised that they haven't been found?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think there can be a variety of factors behind it. But as we have said repeatedly, we have information that Iraq has possessed biological, and possesses biological and chemical weapons.
Q Ari, two questions: First, on the issue of the conversation with President Putin about the Russian technology. Is it the United States government's concern solely that Russia or a Russian company transferred to Iraq this GPS-jamming equipment? Or did the President discuss concerns that perhaps there are Russian advisors inside Iraq now helping the Iraqis use this equipment?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the issue that was raised in the phone call was the transfer from Russian companies to Iraqi authorities of this technology.
Q And this is probably isolated, but there have been grumblings today, both from a Marine unit -- members of a Marine unit and members of an Army unit, that one of their concerns in these firefights is that they're not being allowed to use enough force. Is there any concern here that because of the admirable goals of trying to protect Iraqi civilians and Iraqi infrastructure that Americans are being put at risk in some of these skirmishes because they're not allowed, in the cases of Iraqis shooting at them from residential areas where there are civilians, to use overwhelming force to go after them?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is very satisfied that the rules of engagement are rules of engagement that are to be set by the experts who fight and win wars. And that's the Pentagon. The Pentagon makes the determinations about the exact tactical operations that are to be pursued to disarm Saddam Hussein and to engaged in whatever conflicts or firefights our men and women are involved in. The President is satisfied with that. And those are questions, again, to DOD.
Q Ari, another question on the Russian equipment. Do you have any evidence that the GPS-jamming devices or the night-vision goggles or anything else is being used right now by Iraqi forces against American troops?
MR. FLEISCHER: We have credible evidence that Russian companies provided the assistance and the prohibited hardware to the Iraqi regime. That's why we have found these actions to be disturbing. Beyond that -- I'm not prepared to say with any level of specificity beyond that. But we have concerns they were provided. They were not provided for the purpose of sitting on shelves.
Q So you don't know for sure that they're being used right now, but you are concerned that they might be?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I think I've expressed it.
Q The President's schedule has been quite curtailed for the last couple of weeks, with almost no public events. That seems to have changed, starting last night, today, the rest of the week. He plans a trip on Wednesday. Has the President made a decision that it's time for him to be much more visible to the American people at this point in the conflict?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, but I think that in the initial 24, 48 hours in the military conflict beginning, the President, of course, addressed the nation to explain that it was going to begin, and why. And then the President thought that the best spokespeople for detailed understanding for the country of what is being pursued on the ground should come from Secretary Rumsfeld, General Myers and the DOD briefers.
Of course, the President will continue to be very up front and visible and talk to the American people about what is happening, why it's happening. And that's planned for the events that we've already reported to you this week, for example, the President's trip tomorrow, the President's trip Wednesday. You have that information already.
Q Particularly as the news gets worse and American casualties mount, does the President feel that it's important to be able to communicate with the American people about why this is -- these are necessary losses?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President, regardless of what happens with casualties or the pace of casualties, the President knows it is always important and part of his job to communicate with the American people, and that's why he will continue to do it.
Q Let me pick up on that point. Is there a concern that the American public might have, at least for the first few days, gotten the sense that this was going to be easier than, in fact, it is proving to be?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I can't speak for the public's understanding, of course. But I can say that the President has always said that this would be long and the risk being hard. If you recall, the President taped his radio address on Friday, and he taped it Friday morning, as I reported to you on Friday. And in the radio address, the President said Friday morning that this could be longer and harder than some people have thought. So this has always been part of the war planning. This has been built into the work that has been done by our leaders and the Pentagon, has been reflected as part of the President's overall approach.
Q Can you bring us up to date on the thinking about Saddam Hussein, any comments you have on the most recent tape that was broadcast, and what the current thinking is about his status?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, a review of the latest tape gives no reason for anybody to think that this is anything fresh. No one has any indication on whether it is canned or whether it is fresh. And that's the nature of the tape, that's the nature of the comments that he's made. Reviewing the tape does not lead anybody to a conclusion that this is something fresh.
Q Is there anything -- any particular part of his comments that give you some suggestion about when it might have been recorded, or the extent to which it was recorded on this particular day?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll just leave it at that.
Q If I could ask one other thing about the Russian thing. Do you have any indication that the materials we're talking about -- the GPS jammers and so forth -- were sent into Iraq on humanitarian aid flights?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't have that level of information.
Q Yesterday the President told us that he had extended his -- he was grieving with the families of those who had been killed in Iraq. Do you know, has he personally extended his condolences to those families?
MR. FLEISCHER: Greg, any communication that the President would or would not have would be private. And I would treat it that way. So there really is no light I'm going to shed on that. Anything would be private, if there is.
Q On the war supplemental, how important is it for the President to have broadened or expanded flexibility on the use of the funds in order to meet needs as they arise on the war front? Is he seeking any special --
MR. FLEISCHER: You're referring to homeland security funding, or the overall?
Q The overall, on both -- there's a homeland security piece and a military piece, right?
MR. FLEISCHER: Right.
Q So is he seeking some expanded flexibility in terms of the use of those funds?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, clearly, there will be some areas that have been delineated because of the costs incurred. And that's why the proposal is going up to have supplemental go to pay for those costs that have already been incurred or are immediately anticipated. But, broadly speaking, the President's approach that is that this needs to be -- the money in the supplemental needs to be appropriate for the ongoing operational mission, as well as for the costs that have been incurred to date to lead up to this mission.
Q Back on the Russian equipment. First of all, in your answer to Terry's question, did you mean to imply that President Putin retracted the denials that Foreign Secretary Ivanov had made earlier?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I just said that he would look into it.
Q Did he repeat those denials?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm going to leave all details of the conversation beyond this between the two Presidents. But he said he would look into it.
Q Do you know for certain that Ivanov spoke before you spoke this morning on this issue?
MR. FLEISCHER: I do. I saw it on the wire before I spoke this morning. In fact, the wire said, speaking before the White House spokesman spoke, the Russian Foreign Minister spoke. (Laughter.)
Q Second question. Your answer -- you said that you couldn't go beyond that -- is that because you don't know if this equipment has been brought to bare yet, or you know and you won't say?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm just going to leave it where I left it.
Q Ari, you said that this concern about this Russian equipment goes back at least a year. Has the President ever had a personal conversation about it with President Putin before? And is this equipment that would be banned under the terms of the surrender back in 1991?
MR. FLEISCHER: I couldn't tell you about under the surrender. But, of course, under the surrender does apply to the United Nations sanctions, and this type of material is prohibited to be transferred to Iraq. Iraq is not allowed to purchase this type of material under United Nations resolutions.
Q How about the conversation? Has the President ever had a personal conversation with President Putin about this before?
MR. FLEISCHER: These issues have been raised repeatedly at various levels of the government, and now they have reached the highest levels today.
Q So they haven't had a conversation about it before this?
MR. FLEISCHER: Not to my knowledge. It has been raised repeatedly at other levels of the government.
Q Following up, the Director General of the Russian company that produces the GPS jamming devices suggests that any transfer that may have taken place would have come from potentially a third party, another country. Have you written that off?
And, as a follow-up, he also suggested that the Iraqis at this point may very well be able to produce this technology themselves, just through an old-fashioned knock-off program, technology knock-off program. Can you also address that?
MR. FLEISCHER: The issue is just as I described it. The President raised with President Putin our ongoing concerns about support would be provided for Iraqi military forces by Russian companies that produced the equipment.
Q In a related follow-up, several sources have suggested that there was an uptick in activity by third party -- third parties, other nations that may be sympathetic to the Iraqis. Are we confident that there hasn't been other kinds of technology or weaponry that were transferred to the Iraqis in the closing days before the attack?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's fair to say that one of the issues the President has repeatedly talked about was, as he put it in the year 2000, that the sanctions which prohibited the Iraqis from receiving weapons like this were made of Swiss cheese. There were so many holes in the sanctions that Iraq was able to get ahold of equipment of a variety of natures that it was prohibited from having. Iraq also had oil wealth. It was diverting the oil-for-food program in an effort to acquire more information or more material that they were prohibited from having.
And this is one of the reasons that the President, when he reached the decision to authorize force, had watched the diplomacy fail, the sanctions fail, the smart sanctions fail, the use of pinpoint military operations fail. Iraq continued to defy the world, and it had help from several quarters in doing so.
Q Ari, you said that any communications with family members of soldiers would be private. And that's fine, we can respect that. But can you just confirm whether, in fact, he's had any contact with those family members?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I'm just going to leave it where I left it. If he did or did not, it would be a private matter between the President and those families.
Q Does the President feel any personal connection? Does he have anybody that he knows personally, any of the soldiers who are over there fighting right now?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have not put that question to the President. But let me answer more broadly because I think this is what counts the most. It wouldn't matter to the President. What matters most the President are the names of those he's never met, because those are the families who make the sacrifice to answer the call of the country. That's how the President approaches this issue -- that everybody there, who he may have never met, whose family he may never meet, is someone who is very close to his heart because they are serving our country. They volunteered for service, and now they are in service in wartime. And that's how the President approaches it, and he thinks about it, and it's a part of his heart.
I think you all have been with him when you've seen him on recent travels where he has met with families of those who serve our country in the military, and how touched he is by their service. And that's how the President approaches it.
Q Would you find out from him, Ari, if he has anybody that he knows?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll see if he wants to say anything of that or not. I don't know if he will.
Q Ari, given what we've been told about Saddam Hussein's regime, I think a lot of Americans are surprised that we haven't seen scenes of widespread jubilation, at least in some of the areas under coalition control. Why do you think that is? We saw in Afghanistan in areas that had been removed from Taliban control. Why not Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, let me remind you what you saw in Afghanistan also didn't happen on the 5th or 6th day. I mean, there is a certain amount of time here. The mission has only just begun. Saddam Hussein still has rather lethal pockets of resistance that have been left behind in different places. And the presence of those forces has still created some fear in the Iraqi people, which is justifiable given the way Saddam Hussein's military forces and security forces have treated people who spoke out or showed their desire to be free from Saddam's oppression. So we already have seen, indeed, in some areas -- and I've seen in many of your newspapers and magazines pictures of jubilant Iraqis. Of course, there was a picture of an Iraqi attacking a picture of Saddam Hussein with a shoe that was widely disseminated around the world. People saw that.
So I think you have seen it. I suspect that as the security situation becomes more stable in many of these areas, you'll see more of it.
Q Does that also apply in terms of the military forces that -- again, in Afghanistan there were forces that actually switched sides. Although we've seen some surrenders, we haven't seen any side switches. Is that the same explanation, that you think the reign of fear --
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't think you can compare the two in that sense. Afghanistan has had a history of tribal fights in which people would often change sides. That's not quite the case here. We do not expect Iraqis to change sides and become American soldiers.
Q Ari, just for clarity sake, you said the GPS jammers are part of ongoing concerns. But does that mean that the night-vision goggles and the anti-tank -- that that transfer has ceased?
And, secondly, you also said that Chairman Greenspan has been an occasional visitor and he has visited occasionally. But he's been here three times in the last two days. Why is he here so often?
MR. FLEISCHER: You say three times in the last two days. I think he was here meeting with staff last week. He met with staff this morning. He'll meet with the President. As I indicated, he meets with staff. It's just not my habit to read out every staff member's meeting with everybody in Washington, D.C. If I did that, we'd never take any questions; it would all be about what staffers met with whom. So I can't speak to every staff meeting that somebody has.
Q It's clearly an increased presence here at the White House.
MR. FLEISCHER: How do you know that? If I haven't read out the staff meetings before, I don't think you have really much of a basis to compare whether he's here on an increased or the same level as always. The Chairman of the Federal Reserve, as part of his duties in this administration and in all administrations, meets with the most senior staff to discuss economic matters and meets with the President periodically.
Q On that basis --
MR. FLEISCHER: On a periodic basis.
Q But a periodic -- three times in two days? He's here that often?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know what you're making of that. But whatever the facts are, he meets with staff from time to time.
Q On the GPS -- you didn't answer the first question on the GPS --
MR. FLEISCHER: I do not have any type of breakdown specifically on night vision versus GPS versus anti-tank guided missiles. We have concerns about all of them.
Q Ari, on Friday, the door still seemed to be a little bit open to exile. Over the weekend, there were some setbacks -- the President had comments on it yesterday -- there were apparent war crimes, executing American GIs in Iraq. Is the door now effectively closed to any arrangement for exile of Saddam and the leadership of Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, you heard the President say yesterday he gave Saddam the 48 hours to leave the country to avoid military conflict and he did not take him up on that. But I think if you look realistically now, there -- it's a hard thing to imagine that Saddam would now take advantage of it. We still are hoping for every opportunity that results in settling this as peacefully as possible. But I think you have to be realistic about what Saddam plans to do.
Q Last week Northwest Airlines laid off several thousand employees, blaming the war. Why hasn't the administration taken a position on an airline relief package? And would it oppose congressional efforts to add such a package to the war supplemental?
MR. FLEISCHER: We continue to consult with the airlines. Meetings have been held here between administration economic advisors and the airlines. The airlines, of course, even prior to September 11th, were not in as strong a financial condition as they would have liked. September 11th made it harder, and a large package was passed to help the airlines with that. Of course, conditions now, prior to the war, also had an economic impact on the airlines, separate and apart from anything that's happened in Iraq. So we will continue to work with them and to listen to them, and I'm not going to prejudge all outcomes.
Q Senator Lott and Senator McCain sent a letter last week which has not been answered yet. When -- is the administration going to take a position in time to consider it as part of the war supplemental?
MR. FLEISCHER: As I mentioned, we'll continue to work with the Congress on this and listen to various advice we have. I can't predict all outcomes.
Q Ari, yesterday the President said -- someone asked him if he thought that the POWs would be coming back, and he said, of course. Well, the first -- the first response that we understand the White House or the military should be making is with the Red Cross to see how the POWs are. Has the White House gotten any information as to when the Red Cross will be going in to see them?
MR. FLEISCHER: That information would be handled by the Department of Defense through our officials in the Gulf. That would not be the Red Cross conveying that to the White House. So again, I understand the sensitivity on this issue, but this still remains an operational matter involving our prisoners and our forces, and you'd have to address it to DOD.
Q For the President Bush to make that statement, does he feel comfortable --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think, April, you might want to take a look at the exact question he was asked. I think the question was, are there things that can be done to make sure they come home, and the President said, of course. I don't think it was a guarantee.
Q But for him to make that, "of course," it kind of leaves the impression, at least with me, that the Red Cross is involved, and once they get in -- that's a sign, once they get in and look, that is a clear signal that they could be coming home, if things could be working.
MR. FLEISCHER: Let us hope that is the case.
Q Anything new on the Turkish front, and what is the President doing to make sure Turkish troops stay out of Northern Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: The position vis a vis Turkey is well-known. We said it repeatedly. And we have American officials who are in contact with Turkish officials on a regular basis to make certain they understand our position, and that continues.
Q Have we gotten any assurances that they will stay out?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think that there are ongoing conversations about this. And our position is unchanged, it's been made very clear. And we continue to talk to Turkish officials about it. There were many reports previously that Turkish forces had crossed the border, and none of those had materialized. But it does remain a matter of ongoing discussion and concern.
Q You said that Presidents Bush and Putin discussed cooperation on humanitarian issues.
MR. FLEISCHER: Correct.
Q But the Russians say that Putin urged the President to avoid, "a humanitarian catastrophe." Was this conversation perhaps a bit more contentious than you've indicated?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, but I think it's fair to say that President Bush and President Putin have a good personal relationship, and it's also marked by being a good, frank relationship. The two of them are comfortable saying directly to each other what they think. That's the mark of a strong relationship.
What I've noticed in diplomacy is oftentimes when people don't speak directly to each other about what they think, it's the mark of relations that are not as strong as they otherwise could be. So the two leaders do speak directly to each other, they speak frankly to each other. They hold each other in high personal regard. Nevertheless, there are some differences in our views about situations in Iraq. I've walked you through several of them today.
Q So what's your frank appraisal of the Russians' concern about the U.S. provoking a humanitarian catastrophe?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think the differences there are well-known and obvious. Russia did not think that military force should be used to disarm Saddam Hussein. Russia did not see the threat of Saddam Hussein the same way the United States, in the post 9/11 world, saw the threat from Saddam Hussein. So that's not surprising. But what is important is that, especially when it comes to humanitarian issues, that we are able to work together. That remains important.
Q Can you preview the Pentagon event tomorrow? And on the supplemental, is this designed to cover the entire cost of the war, or this just a big down payment?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President will travel to the Pentagon tomorrow to announce the amount of money that he is seeking from Congress to fund the war. The funding the President will seek will cover not only the operational and ongoing costs incurred to fight the war, but will also include funding for vital homeland security programs at home and some other programs, too.
Q And do you expect this to be enough?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct. That's why the President is making the request he's making.
MR. FLEISCHER: Has the White House done an analysis or projection of how they expect this war to affect the U.S. economy? And if so, can you share with us what that is? Do we expect it to get worse before it gets better?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think, frankly, if you talk to economists, none of whom would be able to agree what a war of an undetermined duration would do to the economy, the big issue is the uncertainty that the pre-war period had created in the economy. I think you saw that in a variety of areas. I think economists would continue to tell you that for the duration of the war, people may still hold off on some of their major capital expenditure decisions in the private sector. That remains an issue. And the President has always said that if force is used, the purpose of using force is to disarm Saddam Hussein. He's aware of the implications the use of force can have on the economy. But what is driving him is the military necessity of protecting the American people first.
Q Have you all done a formal analysis then --
MR. FLEISCHER: Not that I'm aware of, Bob. I don't know how anybody could do a formal analysis when there are as many variables as there are. But I'm not aware of one, if there is.
Q If America cannot win the war in a short time, such as two or three weeks, or if Iraq has already used the chemical weapons, will you think that the President will decide to use much more powerful weapons, such as nuclear weapons?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, number one, I'm not going to make any predictions about the length of the war. I don't think that anybody is in position to be able to do that. I would just remind you what the President said and has said repeatedly, about that this is going to be longer and harder than people have thought.
American policy, in terms of weapons, is well-known and has existed for decades, and that we do not discuss the type of weapons that we may use. We never have and we do not speculate about that.
Q Just to be clear, you're saying, certainly the President has not watched any of the footage of the prisoners of war or of the dead Americans. He has not seen any of that himself?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, of course, the American media made a decision not to show that footage. I understand even Al Jazeera, after initially showing it, decided not to show it any longer. And so the President was not able to see that. There have been some freeze-frames of it, of course, and I'm not in a position to tell you whether he did or did not see that. As I walked you through last week, the President will from time to time watch some TV. But I do not play TV Guide with the President and ask him everything he watches.
Q The White House doesn't have an internal feed of any of the stuff Al Jazeera was broadcasting previously?
MR. FLEISCHER: We do. But, as I indicated, Al Jazeera took it off the air themselves.
Q And also, can you preview the trip on --
MR. FLEISCHER: And, of course, tapes exist. It went out, so tapes exist.
Q I imagine if the President wanted to see it, you could make it available?
MR. FLEISCHER: The answer is, the President had not seen the video, and I can only leave it at that. But the point being that the President is, of course, very, very familiar with what Al Jazeera filmed -- I'm sorry, I should back that up. The President is very familiar with what Iraqi state TV filmed and then disseminated to others.
Q But he has expressed no curiosity about wanting to see it firsthand?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President understands what it shows.
Q Can you preview the trip on Wednesday and what he wants to achieve by going to visit the troops?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President on Wednesday is going to take a trip down to Tampa to CENTCOM to our military facility there to visit with the leaders, to get a briefing on events in the war, and also to meet with the troops and families of the troops, in an effort to tell them and to show them how much he respects them and how much America loves them.
Q Ari, now according to the reports now, U.S. military have found some chemical weapons in Iraq. You think President is mad at the U.N. weapons inspectors who were in Iraq and they couldn't find it? And also if he has -- and if he's going to address the General Assembly in September?
MR. FLEISCHER: Goyal, on the issue of chemical weapons, that's again an issue you need to talk to DOD about what it is they find when they go through the battlefield. Obviously, there were a number of issues involving the inspectors which raised questions about Saddam Hussein's successful ability to hide the weapons he had from the inspectors. And I have nothing for you this far in advance on any September trips.
Q The Democrats have been after the tax cut because of the projected budget deficits, and now we have this supplemental coming on top of that. Just as a political matter, isn't this supplemental going to make it that much harder for the President to achieve his tax cutting goals?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, no, I think that the Congress has known all along that a supplemental was coming. There have been any number of discussions in the open media about what the range of it would be. And it still has been a budget proposed by President Bush that is passing. The Senate tried to pass several amendments last week to reduce the amount of economic growth that the economy would receive by reducing the tax cut. Those efforts were, by and large, turned back by the very senators who understood a large supplemental was coming. So I think, frankly, if you take a look at the actual votes of the House and votes of the Senate, you find no basis for what you said.
Q Do you feel like you're getting the whole package or just some of it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President thinks the best thing for the economy would be for the entire package to pass, but it's important to continue to work with Congress. Not everybody sees it the President's way. The President is going to continue to work to help them to see it his way, but Congress has a role to play here, and they're playing their role.
Q Just to follow up on Kemper's question, you said that the economy had been suffering before -- earlier this year, from the overhang of uncertainty that was depressing capital investment. Does that mean that you expect that the end of the war will provide a stimulative jolt to the economy?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, but I think that what economists would tell you is that the uncertainty created a freeze, particularly in capital expenditures, particularly large capital expenditures and the manufacturing in the private sector. Once the war is over, there will be a sense of certainty that returns to the economy. There may still be some underlying economic factors that need to be addressed. One of the best ways, in the President's judgment, to address them is by Congress passing an economic stimulus that helps grow the economy and create jobs.
Q You've got no sense of how much the economy -- the growth path of the economy might be affected by the end of the war?
MR. FLEISCHER: There's nothing that I can point to. I think different people might have different conclusions about it, which is common for economists. But it also depends on just what the outcome is and the duration is. So I think it's very hard to take a guess right now.
Q Ari, has the President received any briefing in regard to the magnitude of the civilian casualties of the war on the Iraqi side? And how many countries do you think will be participating in the humanitarian aid delivery in the next hours?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I don't have a count on the number of countries that are participating. Obviously this is something the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, other coalition allies, have been working on as a part of the military planning. We are relying on many of the military vehicles to help to deliver the food, deliver the water, deliver the medicine. It's all part of the plan.
In the President's briefings, the President is briefed on the objectives of the mission, the status of the mission. That's all that we know on his briefings. That's all I can tell you about.
Q How are the President's relations with Prime Minister Blair and Prime Minister Howard holding up? His closest allies were under quite a bit of stress from the people on their streets.
MR. FLEISCHER: Oh, it's very strong. I think that these leaders and a number of other leaders share a point of view that military force became necessary because Saddam Hussein refused to disarm. And they are all watching the same events unfold. And it is the men and women of all their militaries, as well as other nations that are participating in this. And I think it's fair to say that these leaders generally see events eye-to-eye.
Q Ari? Thank you. Ari, now that France has announced it will not help in the reconstruction of Iraq, does the President still plan to attend the G-8 conference in Paris? If so, will he snub French President Chirac? (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: The event is on and it's scheduled. He looks forward to the meetings.
Q Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.
END 1:44 P.M. EST
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