|Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings|
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
April 2, 2003
Press Briefing with Ari Fleischer
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
3:30 P.M. EST
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me give you a report on the President's day. The President began with an intelligence briefing, followed by FBI briefing; convened a meeting of the National Security Council. He has spoken today with the Emir of Qatar, with the Foreign Minister of Kuwait and the President of Spain. This afternoon, the President just concluded a meeting that went much longer than scheduled -- so my apologies for coming out here late -- with a group of economists from Wall Street to talk about the state of the economy and the President's jobs and growth package that is pending on Capitol Hill.
And then I have one announcement, and I'm happy to take your questions.
The President will meet with President Jorge Batlle of Uruguay, at the White House on April 23, 2003. This visit provides the opportunity to deepen United States cooperation with Uruguay, a strong ally in the war on terrorism and promoting democracy and economic growth in the hemisphere.
With that, I'm happy to take your questions. Ron.
Q Do we know from either forensic evidence or any statements by Private Lynch the identity or whether or not any of those bodies were coalition troops?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have no information on that. Anything about that would come from the Pentagon.
Q And can you tell us when the President found out that there would be a mission to try to rescue her?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, let me try to walk you through a little bit about this. Yesterday, the President was informed about the successful rescue in a conversation he had with Secretary Rumsfeld, shortly before 5:00 p.m. in the afternoon. Secretary Rumsfeld informed the President of the successful rescue and the President's reaction was, "That's great."
The President had a hint of it earlier in the day, but the tactical decisions were made by General Franks and his commanders on the ground about exactly what to do and when to do it. And that's what took place.
Q -- add to that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think the President had some generalized information, but, again, the tactical information was -- the decision about what to do and when to do it, was made by commanders on the ground. The President had some general awareness that something might be happening, but not the details.
Q Could he have told General Franks not to do it? And was the plan signed off on by him?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's not a question of whether this is signed off on or not signed off on by the President. These are the exact types of things that Commanders-in-Chief entrust to their people in the field to do. That's the way the military structure works best. That's the way the President works it. So this --
Q We know there's a history of Commanders-in-Chief signing off on authorizing just this kind of mission, literally?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has made it clear that he wants the commanders in the field to have the flexibility, the ability, and knowing that they'll have the backup from the White House for them to make these types of calls and these types of decisions in a way that maximizes the mission.
Q So whose call was it to do it, Franks --
MR. FLEISCHER: You have to ask DOD specifically which military official, but --
Q But it wasn't the President's, you're saying?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
Let me say this, though: The President does express to the Armed Forces, to all those involved, especially to the daring servicemen who carried out -- the servicemen and women who helped make this happen -- the President expresses to them the pride of our nation for the successful rescue. And, of course, he expresses the joy of our nation for the Lynch family upon her being rescued.
And, I do want to say, it is tempered somewhat by also the fact, of course, that the President knows that we have others who are missing in action, we have others who are POW, we have others who have died. And that, of course, is always on the President's mind. But there's no question this is a good day, a good moment, and the President is very proud of what took place.
Q How is the President reacting to the stress of the war? There's an article that suggests in quotes from his friends that he feels he's being tested, that he feels burdened by this. How would you --
MR. FLEISCHER: You know, I can only say that I think the people who are talking are not people who have spent much time with the President. Because my read of having seen the President is the following -- and I see him often -- I think it's fair to say that the hardest part was the lead-up to the decision to use force. I think for any Commander-in-Chief, for the President, for this President -- that, to him, represented the most difficult time of deciding whether or not force must be used, knowing that it would put American men and women in harm's way.
Once the decision was made, this is a President who is very comfortable, who is very steady with the decision made. And that's what I see in him. These are serious times. We are a nation at war. And the President is always cognizant of that. Tomorrow, when the President goes to Camp Lejeune, he's going to meet with some families whose servicemen or women have lost their lives in Iraq. And that is something the President thinks about. But he also keeps in mind the purpose of the mission, the nature of the mission, the importance of the mission. And that's what I see in him.
Q Do you feel that he feels burdened and that he feels that he is being tested?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I really can't say that. I think -- when you say burdened, I don't know how to define what the word burdened means. I think any time a President of the United States authorizes the use of force, when this President has authorized the use of force, he understands the serious nature of that. But when he does so because he feels so strongly and so deeply, and has he has shared with the public the important reasons why force has to be used, the President is somebody who has set his sights on a mission and is proud of the men and women who are carrying out the mission, and he is resolved to see it through.
He is comfortable with the decisions that are made. And I think that you'll see tomorrow at Camp Lejeune that it's going to be a private meeting with the families. As you know, the President does think carefully about these decisions to put people in harm's way. And he cares deeply about that.
Q Ari, has the U.S. any contact with the Iraqis, or any third-party intervention to end the war?
MR. FLEISCHER: Not that I know.
Q Ari, can I follow up on Ron's question? You said he had a hint of it earlier in the day and he knew something was going on. Did he know that there was a rescue mission underway to try to get one of the POWs?
MR. FLEISCHER: I really am not going to go into any more depth than that, than what I said. Just, without being specific, there was some generalized information, obviously of a highly classified nature. And -- but as far as the timing, the tactical aspects, he did not.
Q I'm not asking about any of that. I'm asking -- and I know it's classified, but now everyone knows that DOD received intelligence that Jessica Lynch might be alive and that they were going to launch this special operation mission to get her.
MR. FLEISCHER: Campbell, I'm just not at liberty to get into any more specifics about what it was that the President got hinted.
Q I'm trying to get a sense for how much the President is tuned in to the daily developments on the ground. I mean, this is a big deal, obviously.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, obviously, when I say he's tuned in, he's tuned in. He's tuned in; the Secretary informed him about it at ten of 5:00 p.m. That was part of the regular briefing that the President receives on all events, particularly something like this. But on many of the different events in the theater, the President is told about it. Earlier in the day he received some generalized information about some possibilities -- or this possibility, and I just leave it at that.
Q Possibilities of what?
MR. FLEISCHER: This possibility, that what transpired later in the day may happen.
Q What transpired later in the day?
MR. FLEISCHER: The rescue. And that was singular.
Q Ari, on a different subject, appropriation committees in both the House and Senate have now rejected a White House request relating to the supplemental for the $2.5 billion that would go toward reconstruction and humanitarian aid -- rejected your request that that money be controlled by the Pentagon. And instead, they're designating that it be controlled by State Department and other agencies.
MR. FLEISCHER: Correct.
Q Does this mean the State Department is now going to run the reconstruction effort?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, it's part of a $74-billion appropriation bill that Congress is considering. They granted the President's request in this area for the dollar amount, but there is a difference in their committee work about exactly who should get to expend the dollar amount. So the President is pleased with the focus on the correct dollar amount in this case. We disagree with the committees about whether it should be the State Department or the Defense Department that should be authorized to expend the funds. And that is an issue that we'll take up with the House and the Senate when it comes to the floor.
Q But given that both committees -- and this is not just a partisan issue; Republicans agree that the money should go to the State Department, too -- how do you readjust? Is Jay Gardner, retired General Gardner, who is supposed to be running the operation, does he work for the State Department now?
MR. FLEISCHER: Just by working -- by working the issue when it comes to the full House and the full Senate. It was a committee that did it in the House, a committee that did it in the Senate. And, of course, the way the process works, it's the beginning stages of it. And we'll continue to work it.
Q So just to clarify, the President still believes that the Pentagon should be in control of the rebuilding and the humanitarian relief effort under this supplemental.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President made the proposal to do it in that manner because, given the fact that the Pentagon has the security force as the Armed Forces on the ground, he believes that's the most effective way to deliver the help to the Iraqi people that will be necessary for the reconstruction of Iraq. So that's why he made the proposal the way he did. He stands by it. We'll see ultimately what happens when it gets to the floor.
Q Iraq has a debt, an external debt of about $100 billion. It's a huge burden, obviously, even with its oil reserves -- run up by Saddam Hussein, unelected dictator, building palaces and weapons. And there is --
MR. FLEISCHER: Actually, he was elected. He had 100 percent he said.
Q I stand corrected. There is a proposal out there that once Saddam Hussein and his regime are gone, that the people of Iraq should not be burdened with this debt, that it should be forgiven, partly to liberate them from this conduct of Saddam Hussein, and also to teach banks and corporations and countries who lent such a tyrant that kind of money a lesson not to do it in the future. Does the President have a feeling on what should be done with Iraq's debt?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that all of these issues are going to be the issues that are going to be part of the reconstruction effort. And these decisions will get made with the international community. Obviously, there are a number of nations who have money that is owed to them -- owed by the state. The state will continue to exist. And so, therefore, it is still an important issue. The people of Iraq will have a role in this, as well. So I don't think anybody can tell you what the outcome will be.
The one thing that is certain is Iraq is a wealthy nation. Iraq has vast resources. Iraq will have -- unlike Afghanistan, for example -- Iraq will have a huge financial base from within upon which to draw. And that's because of their oil wealth. And that should serve benevolent purposes in the future, should serve peaceful purposes, should serve trade purposes in the future. It has a future, also, where the trade sanctions will get lifted one day.
Q So you aren't ruling in or out debt forgiveness for Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, I'm just saying I think it's too soon for anybody to give any assurances on one way or another. As I said, state-to-state relations continue, even if a regime is changed.
Q Can I ask a more specific question? Does the United States know now that forces are within 15 miles, perhaps closer to Baghdad, the day after this regime falls -- literally, the day after -- who runs the financial system in Iraq? Who runs its diplomacy? Who runs its oil fields?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, this will be part of the whole reconstruction effort.
Q But we don't know that yet?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think when the day the Taliban fell, did we know the name of the new President of Afghanistan? No. The point is, the best way to ensure the future stability of a country is to take care first of the security matters, which is first, to make certain that the regime is disarmed, to make certain that Saddam Hussein and those around him are not in power. And things will evolve, and I think things will evolve in different parts of the country at a different pace. Already you're seeing some talk by the British of empowering Iraqi officials to run certain affairs in some of the areas that they have now controlled.
And so, again, I think you're going to see different things, different regions of the country. But broadly, the effort is designed to make certain that security is enhanced. They'll be additional handovers of roles to the Iraqi people from both within and without.
Q You mentioned this morning that the airline aid package on the Hill is excessive. Do you think the airlines are trying to take advantage of the government to cover up some structural problems they have?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that the airline industry, even prior to the war in Iraq, was beset by economic difficulties, obviously unrelated to anything happening in the war in Iraq. The taxpayers responded generously once, right after September 11th, in the form of loans that were available to the airlines, some of which have just this week accepted substantial loans from the taxpayers.
So the airline industry has to be looked at in terms of, is there something specific that was caused as a result of this war that merits additional help from the taxpayers? Or were there other conditions that existed in the marketplace that need to be considered, separate and apart from the war.
Some of the issues that the airline industry brought to the attention of policymakers were their fear that a war would lead to a spike-up in the price of fuel oil, which is a large component of the cost that airlines incur. Jet fuel costs have actually fallen, not risen, as was predicted. Fuel costs have fallen from $1.20 a gallon in February, to just 80 cents last week. Also, in terms of passenger ridership, the airlines anticipated a 15-percent decline in ridership. There has, indeed, been a decline of 10 percent, not the anticipated 15 percent. And that's also a factor that needs to be considered. The level at which the ridership now is very similar to the level of just one year ago.
Therefore, when the administration takes a look at the congressional committee's action to add some $3 billion to the appropriations for the airlines, the White House believes that that is excessive.
Q What is an appropriate amount?
MR. FLEISCHER: Something less than that. (Laughter.) The administration does not oppose assistance for the airlines. But, clearly, given the factors that have affected the airlines, such as fuel oil and the limited impact the war has had, the administration believes that the amount that the Congress is considering now is excessive.
Q Ari, there's a lot of stories out there saying the White House is signaling it wants to compromise on the tax cut. What is your reaction to that? And is $550 billion acceptable to you?
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you for bringing that up. Obviously, the House has passed a figure at the level the President sought; the Senate has passed a different figure. And we believe that -- the President believes very strongly that the higher the number, the more jobs will be created for the American people. And, therefore, the President continues to think it's very important that the $726 billion figure that the President sought is the figure that is arrived at. He will continue to push for that figure.
We understand that there will be a give-and-take process in the Congress between the House and the Senate, but the President is going to continue to push for that figure.
Q That isn't exactly a resounding, no, we're not going to compromise.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, we understand that the President proposes, Congress disposes -- but the President is continuing to push for the figure that he proposed.
Q Ari, I think the point people are trying to get at when it comes to the rescue operation is you say, the President had a hint of it. Without getting into any of the classified information or operational details, that seems to suggest that the President was told in the morning at one of his earlier meetings with his national security team that there was some intelligence and the possibility of a rescue operation being launched, was he also given the option to say no?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't think people view the President as looking at it in that way, when the President reviews his briefings in the morning about here are the different possibilities of things that may take place down the road. And then later in the afternoon, down the road is traveled, and the President gets an update on the things that he talked about earlier in the day.
The President has made it very clear to the commanders, and to Tommy Franks, that Tommy Franks makes the calls about the tactics and the timing of the operations. That is how the President thinks wars are won. The President has said repeatedly, the White House will not micromanage the war. That is exactly why you have generals and admirals and experts to guide the war and run the war in the way that they believe is the best to run it. He'll stay deeply involved. He monitors it. He asks questions about what is happening to enforce accountability, to make certain that people are doing the things that they said they were going to do. But when it comes to running the war, the President believes that it's best left in the hands of the people who are expert at running the war.
Q I have a question now on the financial issues. In the supplemental, there are a number of Republicans who are saying there is a majority support for striking out the money for Turkey because of anger on the Hill about how -- the Turkey situation. What is the administration doing to try to keep that money in there?
And to follow on Elizabeth's question, not as the White House Press Secretary, but as the former spokesman for the Senate Budget Committee Chairman and the former spokesman for the House Ways and Means Committee Chairman, how likely is it that the President will get his $700 billion? (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: Are you asking me as an AP writer? (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: (Laughter.) The land of the formers. (Laughter.)
Q What a checkered past -- (laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: As a former spokesman for those two entities, I think it's appropriate to buck that question to the White House Press Secretary. And he answered already. So thank you for the opportunity. (Laughter.) No, I can tell you, there is a process that's underway on the Hill. We have seen this before. And the President made a proposal because he thought it was the best proposal to do the most good for the economy. And therefore, he is going to continue to push the Congress to pass the proposal that he made. We will work with the Congress in that endeavor. Congress, of course, has the final word. But it will be a final word where the President's voice is heard.
MR. FLEISCHER: And on Turkey, as you know, Secretary Powell has been in Turkey meeting with Turkish officials about the ongoing bilateral relations and interests. And we will see exactly what happens on the floor of the House or the floor of the Senate. We're aware that members of Congress have some strong opinions on this. But the President does think, given Turkey's economic circumstances, it is appropriate, it is the right policy for the $1 billion to be approved.
Q There seems to be a new big push going on towards Baghdad at the moment, and the Pentagon said today that the toughest fighting may be ahead of us still. One of the criticisms of this administration is that the rationale for the war has seemed to change over time. So, for the record, at this point, would you say what -- how would this administration define a victory?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President has been unequivocal. He said it in his speech in Philadelphia, he's been saying it on all his remarks, and I think this is something you've heard repeatedly out of the Pentagon: this mission in Iraq is about the disarmament of the Iraqi regime. It is also about making certain that Saddam Hussein and those around him are no longer in power so they can do this again to the Iraqi people or to the world. Those are the two missions.
Q It has to be both things in order to be a victory? One or the other doesn't --
MR. FLEISCHER: It always has been. And that is the purpose of the military effort.
Q Can you tell us what the threshold is for Defense officials coming to the President and asking for some sort of fresh authorization, aside from any classified matters? Are there circumstances under which they must come to him for a fresh authorization?
MR. FLEISCHER: You know there is really nothing that's been brought to my attention like that. What happened is, here, the President develops a war plan with the experts, with the National Security Council, with the DOD, with the generals, with the CINC, with the Secretary of Defense. The plan is approved. And Tommy Franks' job is to carry out the plan. And that is what is happening.
I can't, off the top of my head, Jim, give you an example of something that only the President can authorize. But, again, I think it's important to understand the President's approach to how wars are won -- the President's approach to how important it is for the Commander-in-Chief to make certain that there is accountability by asking questions about the mission so that people in charge of the mission can answer to the President about how the mission is being conducted and carried out.
But the President wants to make certain that the commanders in the field know that they are comfortable making the calls and making decisions. That's part of the whole military approach, too. When you talk to top military officials, they'll tell you they don't micromanage the actual levels on the battlefield. There are decisions that are made by lieutenants. There are decisions that are made by captains. There are decisions that are made by majors, et cetera. And that's how the President thinks wars are best won.
Q Okay, one thing on the airline assistance package, even though it was clear that the White House didn't want any money for this, or at least they didn't put any in the supplemental, it is equally clear that both Democrats and Republicans on the Hill are determined to push this through. In spite of White House objections, they've put around $3 billion in there. Does the White House intend to threaten a veto? What do you intend to do, at this point, to tell people that --
MR. FLEISCHER: Jim, Jim, Jim, Jim, this is the beginning of the process. The committees have spoken, but it hasn't even made it to the House floor yet, or to the Senate floor. So allow the process to take place.
You are correct, this is not a partisan issue. I think that you will find people in both parties on different sides of this. There are -- of course, anytime you're dealing with a situation involving the airlines, there are parochial concerns, there are regional concerns. Different members of Congress from both parties represent important constituencies that are involved in this. And so, I don't think this is an issue that's going to lend itself simply to different party breakdown. And that's true for those who support the $3 billion or more that the Congress is proposing, and those who believe that that is excessive. I think you'll find people on both sides of that issue.
Q It makes it much more difficult for the White House to deal with if you have prominent Republicans, including leadership, pushing something.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we shall see. But, again, I think it's important to look at the substance and the facts. And this is predicated on the fact that the airline industry suffered particularly as a result of the actions in Iraq, and therefore, it needed taxpayer dollars. And again, think about what I described to you as one of the largest drivers of cost, which is fuel oil, and the fact that it has actually come down, not gone up, and come down rather substantially, too. That's a 33 percent drop in the price of fuel oil in just a few short months.
The other important thing to take a look at is the airlines are on their way to solving many of their internal issues, as well. We've already seen certain airlines as they deal with labor costs, and as they reach agreement to lower costs so they can avoid going into Chapter 11. This is already taking place in the marketplace without the taxpayers being asked to pony up and pay more. So the President does have a concern about the airlines. We want to make sure we are working with the airlines, but we believe that the amount Congress is looking at now is excessive.
Q Ari, I just want to follow quickly on that point. There seems to be some -- a bit of confusion, or something out of this morning's gaggle. And so, just to absolutely clarify, you never intended, today, to suggest that a veto threat is hanging over the supplemental because of the airlines?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, and I never did suggest it. Somebody asked me that, and I gave an answer similar with a few less gems in it -- (laughter) -- when I said it's much too soon in the process.
Q Okay, I just want to make sure that's absolutely crystal-clear. On the tax cuts, is the President going to make phone calls and personally lobby members of the Hill to get his package through?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I don't rule that out, of course. And as you know, Senator Grassley was down here yesterday talking to the President. So there are important conversations that are underway and will continue. Other members of Congress have been down here to talk to the President -- some quietly, some coming down here that you know about.
The meeting today, for example, with the economists -- there was a -- the meeting was focused on the growth package. And many of these economists agreed with the President about the need to get this passed and they want to do their part, in terms of convincing the Hill to pass it.
So we're still at the beginning process of this. Congress deserves to be complimented for moving the budget process on time. There will be votes in the conference committee coming up on the budget that will set the dollar amount for what the tax cut will be. And then only after that will you actually get into the hard work of actually writing the tax cut, itself. That's the next part in the process; it has not yet begun.
Q But what about the moderate senators, because that's -- that's the real key here.
MR. FLEISCHER: There are a number of senators that are important in both parties and they'll, of course, be talked to. They're talked to on a regular basis and the President will do his part.
Q So he will call people?
MR. FLEISCHER: I said never rule out the President calling people; he's already focused on it and working on it. We'll see exactly what is necessary.
Q Once more on the rescue mission. Is one of the reasons why there was no decision to go or not go at the President's level because it was simply presumed all along that this was a desirable thing to do and that if the opportunity presented itself it would be attempted, come what may, and so --
MR. FLEISCHER: The reason it's not decided at the President's level is because this is exactly why the taxpayers have put the military there in the first place. They are the best. They are the expert. They know how to get it done.
And as important as this was, because this is the rescue of a POW, there are many other similar missions that take place in a routine manner involving search, rescue efforts, a pilot is down, the military responds and rescues a pilot. None of that has to rise to the President's level. It's exactly what the military is so good at. And this is why the President expresses gratitude to the members of the Armed Forces who carried out this rescue raid. Rescuing a POW is the heart and soul of America's military. That shows how much they care about all of those who serve our country, to make certain that no one is left behind. That's what they do. And it need not rise to a presidential level.
Q Where does the line get drawn in President Bush's view? Where does the line get drawn between things that do rise to his level and do need his sign-off, and things --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, let me do it this way. If I'm aware of something that comes up that only can be decided at the presidential level, I'll do my best to share it with you, if and when that happens. But I think it is important for the country to know how this President believes his job as Commander-in-Chief is best carried out, and that's why I described it to you -- about the accountability, the level of meetings that the President has, the frequency of the meetings that he has. But the decisions, the timing, the tactics lie in the field.
Q Ari, two things. First, is the President planning on attending any of the funerals of those who died in the conflict on the U.S. side at all?
MR. FLEISCHER: We always keep you informed about the President's schedule, and we will always do our best to do that. Obviously, tomorrow, when the President goes to Camp Lejeune, he will have an opportunity to meet with some people in a private meeting. And I think in the President's remarks you'll also here some sentiment from the President about those who serve and those who have lost their lives.
Q Has he already talked to some of the family members who have lost loved ones there?
MR. FLEISCHER: April, at the President's request, whatever communication the President has with those who serve our country -- and this is not the first time, this goes back to the Afghanistan theater, as well -- he's asked me to keep private.
Q And the second subject. There are some critics who are concerned that there is not a push by the federal government for the International Red Cross to go in to see the POWs. What is that saying to the American public?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'm not certain that's the case.
Q I'm talking about the POWs that are in Iraqi captivity.
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, you're saying there's not a push for the United States to get the Red Cross in there?
Q -- saying there's not a push --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not certain that's the case. Of course, we'd like to have the Red Cross be able to do its job and visit anybody who is captive in Iraq -- of course.
Q Ari, following up on John's question. After Foreign Minister Gul of Turkey and Secretary of State Powell met today, Turkish officials did say, however, we reserve the right to go into Turkey if we see a need. What's the White House position on that stand? And what does that do to negotiations with Hill types in order to get them the billion dollars?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, that's nothing new. Turkey has been saying that for weeks. And the important thing is that Turkey has not taken any action, they have not crossed the border, and they continue to not cross the border.
Q And what about -- does it make it more difficult to get the billion dollars off the Hill with that kind of rhetoric still out there?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I can't speak for the Hill, I can only speak for the President's proposal. And there was a previous package that's been withdrawn as a result of Turkey's not cooperating fully. But the President does believe this is a meritorious proposal and it's based on Turkey's economic circumstances, and that it should be granted by members of Congress.
Q May I have just one more on this topic?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let's try to come back, Ken, because we've got a few people with their hands up behind you.
Q The British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, has called for a postwar conference sponsored by the U.N. of Iraq's various -- leadership of Iraq's various ethnic groups, with the hopes that one of them would emerge as the next leader. Is the U.S. endorsing this plan? And, if not, why?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we'll continue to work with all parties about the leadership of Iraq. But I think that, again, as the President has made clear, the leadership of Iraq will come from the Iraqi people. There are those who have lived and suffered under Saddam Hussein's regime that the President thinks should have very important role in the governance of their own country. There are people who fled, have lived abroad who also should have an important say and role in the future of their country. And we will continue to work with these groups on the exact formulation of the best structure, the best form of government.
Q So this particular forum, you believe, sponsored by the U.N. is not the best structure?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there are numerous forums. We're going to take a broad look.
Q Ari, briefly on the Lejeune visit tomorrow and the remarks the President is going to make in public, the Pentagon today was just reporting the destruction of two divisions, U.S. forces within two dozen miles of Baghdad. Is it safe to assume the President's going to again underscore how much of the fight still remains ahead?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President will talk about the progress being made in the war. And he continues to be pleased with the progress that is being made. But as was pointed out, the Pentagon today, difficult days, difficult times very well may lie ahead. And so I think as much progress is being made, people have to be tempered, calibrated to the reality of the situation on the ground and not go too far in one direction or another. Events are as they are, and progress is being made.
Q Ari, for the fourth time, Senate Republicans have been unable to break the filibuster on Miguel Estrada. In the President's view, what else can be done at this point to break the stalemate?
MR. FLEISCHER: Stand on principle and do the right thing, continue to stand by a good man, Miguel Estrada, for a job that he deserves. That's the President's approach. The President thinks it is a very bad mistake for senators, particularly, at a time when the judicial branch lacks judges, to make the matter -- compound the matter and make it worse by failing to confirm qualified judges. And so the President very much regrets the politically driven tactics of those who are filibustering the nomination of somebody who clearly has the bipartisan support to have a strong majority on the Senate floor. He has 55 votes. That is a sufficient majority to pass. And the President regrets that there is a partisan minority standing in the way of bipartisan progress.
Q In addition to standing on principle, is he actively doing anything to make headway, making phone calls?
MR. FLEISCHER: Sure. We continue to work the issue on the Hill. The President has talked to a number of people. And I think it's just a question of whether or not the Democrats want to keep up their obstructionist tactics for as long as it is necessary, because the President continues to stand by Miguel Estrada and will continue to stand by Miguel Estrada.
Q Ari, who in the White House has been tasked to supervise or oversee the efforts on the part of the U.S. government to let out contracts for business for reconstruction in Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: Typically, those would come out of USAID.
Q Is there anyone in the White House who's monitoring the concerns about conflicts of interest or special favors, in order to somehow guard the President's best interests here?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think, from the President's point of view, he's very satisfied that the longstanding contracting provisions that allow USAID to carry about their business are being carried out the way they should be carried out. Of course, we always have people at the White House who work with all the different agencies. So, literally, I can't give you an answer to what person here is working directly on any one issue -- if that is an issue that has reached here or not. I don't know if it has.
Q And last thing, there's been a lot of discussion in the British press about the annoyance that the Brits have that they are not allowed to be in on the business. What is the President's response to Mr. Blair, or anyone in that government, about whether the Brits can compete for that business?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, the President does not decide who gets contracts. These are issues that are to be decided by the USAID, as part of their contracting authorities and their decisions.
Q As far as the President is concerned, the British would qualify if they can do the work?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President wants to make certain that all the rules are followed. He believe they're being followed, and USAID makes these calls.
Q And that would be the same for the French?
MR. FLEISCHER: USAID makes these calls.
Q Back on the airline industry. You seemed to indicate you oppose some of these funds because they weren't directly related to the war in Iraq. Are there some funds that you would support, for instance, in this increased security measures at airports or at airlines?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, of course, keep in mind the airline industry has already received from the taxpayers multiple billions of dollars as a result of what took place on 9/11. These are loans that -- one major airline just took a $1-billion loan; it was announced this week -- it has been ratified or announced by a board and then the formal notice came this week about that.
So there are existing costs. There is a willingness by the administration to provide some additional assistance at this time in the appropriations bill for the airlines. But, clearly, given the fact that the worst fears of the war did not materialize for the airlines, and fuel oil prices have actually come down substantially, the President believes that the $3 billion request is excessive.
Q Realistically, though, because both chambers and their committees are at similar levels, is there any way that they can be reduced?
MR. FLEISCHER: Sure.
Q I understand with floor amendments or something like that.
MR. FLEISCHER: Exactly. Sure. What happens in committee can be repeated on the floor of the Congress. It can be increased, it can be maintained at the same level, it can come down. And, of course, it can go also to the conference committee -- which is why we are, in fairness, at the early stage of the process.
Q Ari, if the tax cut does get trimmed back -- and I don't think there's anybody that believes that it won't get cut back at least somewhat -- is the President prepared to insist that the dividend portion of the proposal remain intact --
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes.
Q -- while other portions -- he is? So he would rather have that, rather than it get cut across the board?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. The President believes that the best plan is the plan that he proposed. I'm not prepared to enter into any discussions about what contingencies plan could be if the number is not what the President proposed. The President thinks the numbers should be the $726 billion figure he proposed, and that the plan should have a 100-percent exclusion for dividends, and should have the acceleration of the child tax credit and the other provisions that he proposed.
Q Ari, why has the President limited public appearances since the war began only to military audiences? Why not go out among the civilian population?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President has had -- I have to go back and take a look at every appearance that he's had -- of course, with Prime Minister Blair, that public appearance was with you. So he has had it with other audiences beyond military. But clearly, we are a nation at war. While the President is also doing work behind the scenes on domestic issues, as you know from his meeting today with these economists, much of the President's focus is on the war. Much of the public's focus is on the war. And, I think -- I'm not ruling out that there won't be any other events that will be public, but clearly, that is an immediate focus of the President.
Q It sounds like tomorrow the President is going to speak more expansively about the human loss of war, certainly more than he did in Philadelphia, where he didn't talk about it. Has there been some reluctance to dwell on casualties so as to not to send a message to Saddam that there's a low threshold of pain in this country and that we'll flinch if there are too much loss of life?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you've heard it from the President directly. He talks about the sacrifice. He talks about the risks of war. And so, I just -- I'm not sure -- I don't share the premise of your question because it is something the President has talked about. Tomorrow, as I indicated, the President is going to meet with some of the family members of servicemen who have lost their lives in Iraq. And you've seen this from the President before. I remind you, he went to Walter Reed Medical Center to meet with those who were wounded in Afghanistan. You were there. You talked to the President afterwards. So this is part of his job, and he knows that.
Q Thank you. Back on Turkey for a second, the reason the Turkish government is so concerned and leaving the threat out there apparently is they have not been convinced that the Kurds will not try to have an independent state. Have the Kurdish rebels who are fighting on our side assured us -- or what assurances have they given us that that won't be the case?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think this is something that has been expressed directly to the Kurdish authorities, as well as to the Turkish authorities. And that's one of the reasons you're seeing such relative calm on the border there. We are pleased with the reactions of both. The President has said all along that it's important to maintain the territorial integrity of Iraq, and he means that.
Q This morning, you called our attention to the $31 million that was in the supplemental for a Middle East communications network. Does that -- does the administration feel that a provision like that is commensurate with the problem that we're facing, as described by people like President Mubarak of Egypt, who said that the turmoil there could wind up creating 100 Osama bin Ladens?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the reason -- first of all, there was preexisting funding that already had started to move. This is in the supplemental for additional funding to bring this program online. And the President has always placed a focus on getting out America's message around the world. It's something that the President asks about.
When the United States is the leading nation around the world in the provision of food supplies, of medicine, of combating AIDS, and then you hear people say some of the critical or negative things they say about our country, the President wants to make certain that the truth and the facts about what the United States does around the world are shared around the world. Particularly in areas where there is less free media, it's not as always easy for the facts to get out. The President believes that it's important for the truth to be discussed, the facts to get out, and that's one of the reasons that money was in the supplemental.
Q Two real quick things. One, I think we forgot to ask you who it was that gave the President this heads-up with this hint this morning.
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, I don't discuss that.
Q Was it at the morning NSC meeting?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm just not going to get into further details.
Q Since we can't get the week ahead anymore, can you give us the 48-hour ahead? What's on his schedule for Friday?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll do Friday tomorrow.
Q Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.
END 4:12 P.M. EST