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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
April 28, 2003

Press Gaggle by Ari Fleischer Aboard Air Force One En Route Dearborn, Michigan

11:08 A.M. EDT

MR. FLEISCHER: The President before he left had his intelligence briefing, FBI briefings, policy briefings. And will arrive at the Dearborn Ford Community Performing Arts Center, where he will have a roundtable with Iraqi Americans, and will make remarks on Operation Iraqi Freedom, where the focus of his remarks will be an update on the progress of reconstruction as the President sees a hopeful, democratic Iraq to emerge from war.

And then prior to the departure the President will meet with the three heads of the auto industry in the area. That will be the Chairman of the board and CEO of Ford Motor Company, the President and CEO of General Motors and the President and CEO of Daimler/Chrysler. The purpose of the meeting is to talk to them about his jobs and growth program, and also to get their sense on how the economy is doing because, clearly, the automotive sales is an important part of durable sales and job creation and consumer confidence.

With that, I'm happy to take your Qs.

Q Any access to that meeting, or will there be a readout afterwards?

MR. FLEISCHER: The auto meeting?

Q Yes.

MR. FLEISCHER: Closed meeting. I'll be there, so I'll let you know afterwards. I believe that the three of them may have their own plans to talk to local media afterwards.

Q Coverage on the meeting with the Iraqi exiles is closed. Will we get any readout, or why no coverage for us?

MR. FLEISCHER: It is closed. I should advise you that there are many reporters from Arab media outlets who are on this trip, who flew out on the press charter. There are some eight who don't typically travel with the White House press corps, who asked to go. They were accommodated. And we are going to accommodate a couple of them into the meeting. So they will be there for their own reporting purposes.

Q Are there going to be American reporters there?


Q Why not allow --

MR. FLEISCHER: Because we cannot open up the whole thing up.

Q Are they pooling for us?

MR. FLEISCHER: They're given an exclusive.

Q We have to object to that, we just have to object to that. You're going to allow Arab reporters in because you want to get that message out, but you're afraid of American reporters?

MR. FLEISCHER: The reason I put it on the record here and told you is so you could go to them and talk to them about it afterwards.

Q That's not good enough. That's not good enough.

Q We can't rely on people that we don't know or that are not part of the regular White House pool to report to the American media on something this sensitive.

MR. FLEISCHER: Let me see if I can expand it into one more. Let me see if I can.

Q Please. Thanks. Some of the Iraqi -- or at least one Iraqi group has served notice that it wants to issue a communique to the President to say that they want to control their own destiny. What is the administration's reaction to that sort of sentiment?

MR. FLEISCHER: We want the Iraqi people to control their own destiny. There's no difference in that. That's one of the reasons that the second meeting took place today with all the various Iraqi groups to talk about the structure of the IIA. And we understand there are going to be different people have different thoughts about the pace of how quickly Iraqis will be able to take over. But there are many others who want the United States to continue to lend a hand, particularly on security and organizational efforts. And as the President said, and he'll talk about this in his remarks, but we are here for the purpose of helping the Iraqi people to arrive at that point. But then we want to leave.

Q Ari, are there just Iraqis, or are there other Arabs, as well?

MR. FLEISCHER: Other Arabs, as well. The roundtable -- we're distributing the list of people who are going to participate in the roundtable, you'll have that. I don't remember if the roundtable is exclusively Iraqi, but then the speech will be Arab Americans, Iraqi Americans.

Q Will the President discuss the Middle East road map or prospects for the Middle East?

MR. FLEISCHER: The speech is about the future of Iraq.

Q On tax cuts, the Chairman of the Finance Committee said yesterday he might be able to get it up to $425 billion or $450 billion, but that that would require offsets or spending cuts. Would the President back offsets which amount to tax increases by another name in order to get it up to that kind of range?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, first of all, we're pleased to see a willingness from the various parties on the Hill to come together so that the economy can grow and jobs get created. We will continue to work with the Congress on the exact details of it.

You know, the President's budget, for example, had some $11 million over 10 years in areas that raised revenues. So I think it really comes down to the nature of the specific proposal. And we'll work with Congress to see what they come up with.

Q Would he support including in any tax package the expanded business depreciation proposal that's being talked about if it came at the cost of scaling back, in particular, the dividend tax exclusion?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President continues to support, and will fight for, a 100 percent dividend exclusion, not scaled back.

Q Ari, when are we going to be able to ask the President questions again? It's been more than a week.

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm working on it.

Q I mean, last time was Fort Hood.

MR. FLEISCHER: But in fairness, I understand, that's absolutely accurate for the White House Press Corps. But of course the President has done numerous press interviews. I take the point.

Q -- as much time --

MR. FLEISCHER: Fair point, I take it, I'm working on it. But I do want to say, the President has been accessible, not to the White House Press Corps immediately, but he has been visible taking questions from -- whether it was Tom Brokaw or whether it was a media forum Tuesday with a group of business and economic writers from the press.

Q Is there going to be some give and take with the Iraqi roundtable, or is he speaking -- is it just a one-way thing?

MR. FLEISCHER: Every roundtable takes on its own personality. So typically there's some level of give-and-take. What the President usually likes to do is go around the room and listen to everybody and hear everybody's perspective.

Q Some of the participants have told some of the Detroit newspapers -- they're quoted in the Detroit newspapers today as saying they want to ask the President why oil wells were protected but hospitals and buildings, museums and so forth, were not, that sort of thing. Is he going to be ready to respond to those kinds of pointed questions?

MR. FLEISCHER: That does happen at the roundtables. I think the press has been in some of the roundtables where people flat-out disagreed with the President's position on taxes, for example. That's kind of how the roundtables go, sometimes. Sometimes they mix it up, sometimes there's opposition, sometimes people agree. We'll see what happens at this one.

Q So does he feel like he has to kind of mend fences here, to kind of woo some of the people back? You know, do you think --

MR. FLEISCHER: Mend fences? I think everybody here is going to be very appreciative of the fact that thanks to this President, Iraq is now free. And these people, I think, see a very hopeful and bright future for Iraq.

Within that, sure, issues are going to come up. That's why the President seeks these roundtables. He finds these roundtables, particularly where people will say something to him that pushes the debate, as very helpful. It's his way, as he puts it, to break out of the bubble and to hear from real people and to hear the real thoughts that are on their minds. So that's why I said, sometimes these roundtables just depend on the particular roundtable for the texture of what's discussed. Sure, sometimes people disagree and they tell him.

Q And why were oil fields protected, if they're correct

-- are they correct in asserting that oil fields were protected but other civilian buildings and so forth were not?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, of course it gets into the plan that CENTCOM had. And I think CENTCOM would tell you is day one, it was from a military point of view physically easier to land hundreds and hundreds of miles away from downtown Baghdad, for defensive purposes, than it was to arrive at a building, for example, in downtown Baghdad, on day one.

So some things flowed directly from a war plan and the physical arrangements to protect our forces as they secured assets throughout Iraq.

Q Can I ask you about -- what's the administration's position on whether Islamic Sharia law should be part of the new Iraq? There are a lot of people in Iraq calling for the adoption of the Sharia legal code, which is very strict and very traditional.

MR. FLEISCHER: These are the issues for the Iraqi people to figure out, to settle on themselves. But the administration believes what should guide any of these discussions is transparency, rule of law, tolerance.

Q So you're open to it?

MR. FLEISCHER: Transparency, rule of law, tolerance. We've always said that there can be an Islamic democracy -- not an Islamic theocracy like Iran, but an Islamic democracy.

If nothing else --

Q Thanks.

* * * * *

Q Do you have any guidance for us on when the road map might be unveiled?

MR. FLEISCHER: There's an important vote tomorrow in the Palestinian parliament, which is one of the final steps, if not the final step, in the ratification of Abu Mazen's cabinet. It's important to let that event go forward, and then if all is ratified, then you will see the administration move forward very shortly thereafter with the release of the road map.

Q Within hours, or days?

MR. FLEISCHER: I can't predict hours or that type of thing, but it will be very shortly thereafter. At that point there's no purpose in waiting. We want to move forward to help the parties to find a way to peace.

Q How are you guys going to do that? Are you going to have a speech? Is he going to have a --

MR. FLEISCHER: It will be principally a State Department-led effort.

Q One other thing in the -- I'm sorry, go ahead.

Q Powell is going to do it?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, what do you mean when you say, "do it?" I think there could be different layers to it, you know, in terms of --

Q What is Bush's role going to be on this?

MR. FLEISCHER: We'll keep you posted.

Q So it could be as early as tomorrow, maybe?

MR. FLEISCHER: I want to, the reason I'm hesitating to be more specific is, allow the events on the ground to conclude.

Q Any further guidance for us on what he's -- the tone of what he's going to say when he goes out to the Abraham Lincoln, in terms of -- is he going to say, peace, victory in our time, or what is he going to say?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think he's going to sum up where we are. He will talk about that the combat phase has come to a -- let me do this. Let me do this. We'll have more to say about what the remarks on the Lincoln will be, as it gets closer to it. We're still waiting -- we're still waiting to hear from Tommy Franks. The speech on the Lincoln could be the speech where he gives the summary on that. If that becomes the case, I'll have more to say about it closer to it. Today is Monday, I'm just not prepared to go that far yet.

Q Would it be jumping at this point? Jumping too --

MR. FLEISCHER: You almost had me.

Q Would it be jumping too far to say, is he going to use the word "victory"?

MR. FLEISCHER: Whenever he gives the remarks -- and it could be Thursday -- he does not look at it as declaring victory. He looks at it as describing where we are, and the fact that we are now turning into a new and important phase in the war on terror, and in Iraq. There still are missions to be accomplished in Iraq. So he won't look at it as simply declaring victory. He'll look -- he will use different words to describe where we are.

Q Thanks.

Q I've got to clarify. I need to ask, the President still wants to see the full dividend exclusion. That's what you said?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President continues to support and will fight for a 100 percent dividend exclusion.

Q Thank you, sir.


END 11:23