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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

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

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

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12:05 P.M. EDT

 

 

MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. Where is everybody? (Laughter.) Looks like we need to have a two-for-one sale on reporters. Wait a minute. Here's one. We can now begin.

Q What is the two-fer?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm getting to that. The President began his day with an intelligence briefing, followed by the FBI briefing, and participated in a meeting of the National Security Council.

Later this afternoon the President will have a brief meeting with the Aga Khan, who is a leading Shia, a imam of the Shia faith from Asia. The President looks forward to talking with the Aga Khan about expanding opportunities and democracies in Muslim nations.

 

And then at 2:15 p.m. in the East Room, the President looks forward to signing into law the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Act of 2003. This comes at a particularly timely moment, particularly given this morning's economic data indicating that consumer confidence is again rising, but durable good orders are down, even though shipments are up. We continue to see mixed signs in the economy. And this tax cut comes at a very propitious moment in terms of being able to create opportunities for jobs and growth in the economy. It's a well-timed tax cut package.

One announcement for you: President Bush will visit Egypt, Jordan and Qatar from June 2nd through June 5th. The President will add these visits to previously announced stops that he will make in Poland, Russia and France.

 

The President will depart the G8 meeting in Evian, France, and then travel to Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt for a June 3rd meeting with Arab leaders. From Egypt, he will travel to Aqaba, Jordan for a June 4th meeting with King Abdullah of Jordan and for meetings -- conditions permitting -- with Israeli Prime Minister Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister Abbas. On June 5th, the President will go to CENTCOM to visit with members of the coalition Armed Forces in Doha.

And one final announcement for you, just to highlight it, I want to bring your attention to the fact that the United States and Chile have signed the free trade agreement -- or will sign a free trade agreement -- agreement has been reached with Chile -- on June 6th. That will be signed by the United States Trade Representative and the Chilean Foreign Minister. It's an important accomplishment and another advance for free trade around the world.

 

And with that, I'm happy to take questions.

Q What do you mean conditions permitting, Ari? Is that a security matter, or what exactly?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think it's a generalized statement indicating that the President is looking forward to the meeting. All the parties have responsibilities leading up to the meeting, and we anticipate that all the parties will honor those responsibilities, and therefore, the President looks forward to the meeting. But is a placeholder suggesting that conditions must continue to be met.

Q And what will be the purpose of this trilateral summit there in Jordan?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the purpose is to follow up on what's been described as a hopeful moment in the Middle East to now bring the parties together. They've been meeting on their own; I anticipate they will continue to meet on their own. But the United States and President Bush will play a helpful role in moving the peace process forward, to helping the Israelis to work with Palestinians, to help the Palestinians to work with the Israelis. It's part of the confidence-building; it's part of the overall approach to making progress down the road map.

Q What Arab leaders is he going to meet with in Egypt?

MR. FLEISCHER: We'll have more to announce on that specifically. I think we're still in contact with several of the Arab nations before anything is formal and final. So I'm somewhat constrained in what I can announce at this moment, right now. We'll have that forthcoming.

 

That's a very important event, as well, because one of the lessons of working toward peace in the Middle East is to actively engage and listen to the concerns of the neighborhood. And there are many Arab nations in the region who want to play a constructive role, who have been playing a constructive role, and their participation in this process also is important.

Q Well, does it include nations he hasn't met with before?

MR. FLEISCHER: Nations he has not -- well, I'm not sure what you mean by that. If you're suggesting Muammar Qadhafi, no. But there are leaders of the Arab world who the President has met with before, who are playing a constructive role. And the President will continue to work with them.

Q The Arab League people?

MR. FLEISCHER: Certainly, there would be members of the Arab League.

Q And where will this Chilean free trade -- where will that be signed? Here?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, that's going to be signed in Florida, Helen. That will signed in Miami on June 6th.

Q Ari, on the conditions permitting this summit, you say all parties have responsibilities leading up to the meeting. Is that meaning that the President expects there to be a crackdown on terrorists, or an easing of controls of Palestinian movement prior to this summit? Is he expecting the parties to do something, to achieve something before they sit down together?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, the meeting has been announced. I just announced it. It is with that placeholder of saying that conditions permitting -- don't make more of it than it is, but it is a statement from the United States saying that the parties have responsibilities, they must continue to pursue those responsibilities, and the President looks forward to the meeting.

Q So it sounds as if a terrorist attack could be derail this thing.

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't even want to speculate or hypothetically go down that road. The President is looking forward to working closely with the parties, working directly with the parties, as the President committed to, putting his time, his energy, his dedication into the peace process. And that's what this represents. So it's a positive development.

 

Q Yasser Arafat has indicated that he, not Abbas, has a lead role in the negotiation with the Israelis. And for the second time, a meeting between Sharon and Abbas has been put off. Abbas has deferred to him. What role do you think Yasser Arafat has in this, and is he trying to derail a process? And do you think he's pulling the strings behind the scenes?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, obviously, the President thinks highly of Abu Mazen and looks forward to the meeting as has been announced. The President has spoken with him on the phone. The President has had meetings with other Palestinian -- with another Palestinian leader, namely the Finance Minister, as part of the whole effort to work with the reform-minded Palestinians so that the cause of peace can be advanced. There was a different way of doing business before which did not lead to the advancement of peace.

The President's focus is on results. The President's focus is on the bottom line and working with people who can achieve results. And that's why the President looks forward to this meeting.

Q You said the difference was that Arafat was not a factor this time, and yet he seems to be injecting himself into the process. What happens if he says he wants to go to this summit in Jordan?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'm not going to deal with hypotheticals. But the meeting is as announced.

Q Do you think he's put himself back into the process, or trying to?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think that the Palestinians have their own internal issues that they must work out. Israel, of course, a democracy, has its own internal issues that it has to work out, of a different nature. But the President has been unequivocal about who he is working with because his focus is with on working with people who are dedicated to peace.

Q Is it the President's hope and desire that the provisions of the tax bill he's signing today which sunset will be extended?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I want to reserve judgment on that. Today is the day to sign the tax bill. Today is the day to make the progress that has been made on the jobs and growth plan. In the future, the President will, of course, provide new budgets that may have ideas in them. Generally speaking, as an overall matter, the President believes that the more permanency in the tax code, the better. But the President wants to welcome today as a day of real progress in the code.

And when you look at some of these changes that have been made, they really are substantial chances. For example, the widening of the 10 percent bracket now will apply to more and more people, which helps everybody in society. That applies to single people, married people. The 10 percent lowest bracket, not only was it made retroactive in the previous tax bill, lowered from 15 percent to 10 percent in a previous tax bill, but now more people will be covered by it. That helps everybody.

Similarly, the rate reductions, lowering all marginal income tax rates, which has long been an economic theory of how to create growth in the economy, will be made retroactive and will be in effect for the future. There are other provisions, as you point out, such as the child credit, that is only of a temporary nature, at least the increase from $500 to $1,000 is a temporary nature. And that will be addressed in due course.

Q Well, everything except the dealing with the alternative minimum tax is sunsetted, either sooner or later. And there are many people in Congress on the Republican side who have said that they hope that it will be impossible not to continue those breaks when the sunset period rolls around, and that that's what they fully intend to do -- which is why I asked what the President's view is.

MR. FLEISCHER: And that's why I'm indicating, there will be future budgets, future budgets will address those. I can't make predictions with certainty today about what will be contained in a future budget, but you understand the President's overall direction.

Q Can I go back to the Mideast? You keep talking about the importance of support from Arab leaders in the region. Did the White House ever ask any of the Arab leaders the President will meet with in Sharm el-Sheik to take part in the broader summit in Jordan with Abbas and Sharon?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, from the beginning of all the conversations that I've been aware of in the planning for these series of meetings, it's always been focused on these two.

Q On separate meeting.

MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.

Q And does the President think it would send a powerful message if these Arab leaders were to have a photo op with Sharon, make a trip to visit him, meet with him separately to give some credibility to the negotiations?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, keep in mind the order of the road map. The road map does begin with the implementation phases based on better treatment of the Palestinians, between the Israelis and the Palestinians. At the end stages, in stage three of the road map it does envisage a more comprehensive peace; it does involve other nations in the region, other ideas. But that is toward the end of the road map stage.

 

So, in the Middle East, where progress is often difficult, it's important to make the progress that can be made today, and not attempt to make too much of an attempt for progress, when that may be beyond reach immediately. But it is important at the end of the day for the Arab world to recognize Israel and to welcome Israel and to allow Israel to live in security. And Israel needs to have good relations with its Arab neighbors.

 

Q A couple of specifics. Who is organizing the meeting in Egypt? And is it a by-invitation-only kind of meeting?

 

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, the exact list -- I think there's still some conversations about it. Dr. Rice is going to be here later this afternoon; we'll see if it's come to a point where she'll be able to get into more details with you when she briefs later today. I just have to leave it at that for this hour.

 

Q I guess what I'm wondering is whether the White House is sort of inviting people, or whether this is something --

 

MR. FLEISCHER: It's the White House, but it's also being done jointly with our friends in the area. There has been no shortage of conversations here at the White House with Arab leaders. And this arises out of many of those conversations. As you can always imagine, anytime before a meeting that involves the President, there's a tremendous amount of leg work that goes in behind the scenes. It's been a very busy White House, working at the President's direction, to help set up these meetings, and to push for every opportunity to bring people together on behalf of the Mideast peace process.

 

Q Is a condition that you speak of, these responsibilities that the parties have -- is one of those that the initial meeting take place between Sharon and Abbas before the President --

 

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, clearly, they've already had one meeting, and I anticipate there will be a second meeting.

 

Q Do you want that second meeting to take place? Is that part of the conditions, that them meet again before he joins the conversation?

 

MR. FLEISCHER: I can't put it that specifically, no. I think it's kind of a mix of factors that go into that statement. But it's full-speed ahead unless something takes it off-rail.

 

Q And then, finally, what is the message the President wants to bring into that meeting?

 

MR. FLEISCHER: The message the President wants to bring to the meeting --

 

Q What is he going to tell them?

 

MR. FLEISCHER: The message the President will bring to the meeting in the Middle East is the importance of the Israelis and the Palestinians working together to make progress on the road map so that Israel and a new Palestinian state can live side by side in peace and security, so the Israelis can have security in their daily lives, the Palestinians can have a nation that represents them, and that they, too, can live as neighbors. Everything leading up to that point is part of this process now of improving the security arrangements on the ground, so that Israelis can live in freedom and security; improving the lives of the Palestinian people by Israel continuing to do what it started to do, which is involving the transfer of monies that are Palestinian monies to non-corrupt Palestinian leaders.

 

The more humane treatment of Palestinians in terms of crossing the border, access to work -- these are the beginning phases anticipated in the road map, and this is what the President will work with them on.

 

Q The President is working on a lot of meetings here at the end of this trip. How much is he going to have to cut short his stay in Evian?

 

MR. FLEISCHER: The President will depart Evian after participating in a series of meetings there, including the luncheon, the dinner the night before, events on the day he leaves he will also participate. The French were notified yesterday about the duration at which the President will be there. Obviously, he has a lot of priorities on this trip and the Middle East is clearly one of them.

 

Q Is he leaving early? Is that what --

 

MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.

 

Q So how much will he miss then?

 

MR. FLEISCHER: I think there may be a dinner that night that he will not attend. I'll have to take a look at the total itinerary, but he'll be there for all the main events -- not all events, but all the main events. He'll have plenty of opportunities to focus on the events at Evian, which he very much wants to participate in and focus on, because, after all, the purpose of Evian and the G8 is to talk about how to improve, by working together, the economies of the world at a time when the United States' economy is growing faster than most of the European economies. There's a lot we can talk about, particularly also helping the developing world by the United States and Europe working together.

 

Q But the President is also meeting with President Chirac, I gather. How would you characterize that meeting?

 

MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's a meeting that the President is looking forward to. The fact of the matter is our relationship has undergone some strain, but there is much important business for the United States and France to attend to. And I think you'll see two leaders talk to each other in the spirit of alliance.

 

Q This is a substantive bilateral, or is this just a courtesy call?

 

MR. FLEISCHER: We'll work with you on the details on it. We're still putting together all the details on the trip.

 

Q Will he be there for the final communiques to be announced?

 

MR. FLEISCHER: No, the President will be departing before the final moments.

 

Q Ari, it sounds like it's been a while since the President talked, at least in public, about the reconstruction efforts in Iraq. Is he going to talk about it on this trip, and what will his message be to the allies?

 

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think that if you take a look at the world unity, as expressed by the recent United Nations resolution authorizing the coalition forces to take the role they are taking in Iraq -- that passed 14-0 at the United Nations, with the support of the European nations who previously had opposed the United States' efforts -- I think the conversation you will see about Iraq in these international forums will be reflective of this new world spirit of cooperation. Even for those who opposed the war, they recognize the need to help the Iraqi people, and that's certainly where the President is focused.

 

Q When he considers the cooperation of countries like France or Germany, will he take into consideration their opposition to the Iraq war?

 

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think they've already spoken for themselves in their votes at the United Nations, and now we have much to do together to work on the reconstruction of Iraq, as the United States, the United Kingdom and others lead the effort.

 

Q Ari, you talked about the message the President is going to bring to the three-way summit. But what is his expectation, what is your expectation for the actual -- what's going to come out of it? Do you hope that there's going to be some concrete promises to move forward with phase one, or do you think this is sort of a --

 

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, given the history of the Middle East, I'm not prepared to make any predictions. What you are going to see is a President who is hard at work at finding a way for concrete results to follow in terms of the implementation of the road map, where the initial phase focuses on security and improved treatment of Palestinians. That's where it begins. That's where the President's focus will be.

 

And then this will be, indeed, one of those important meetings. Let the meeting take place; let's see what the spirit of cooperation is between the Israelis and the Palestinians. But it clearly does begin at a hopeful moment, but the problem -- cannot be shy about saying this -- the problem in the Middle East is hopeful moments can get derailed. This is a President who is determined to find these hopeful moments and make the most out of them.

 

Q How much of this trip and this meeting is about propping up Mahmoud Abbas, about showing the world that he's the guy, after two-and-a-half years of not meeting with a Palestinian leader at all?

 

MR. FLEISCHER: The Palestinian people have made him the Prime Minister. He is their representative. And the Palestinians have their own structure of government, their own ways of arriving at these leadership decisions. And he is the representative of the Palestinian people at this meeting.

Q As for the bombing in Saudi Arabia is concerned, if I am correct, this was the first time the Saudis have acknowledged that there is a terrorism and terrorists kill innocent people because this is the first time that maybe they were hit at home. And I hope the President will carry a message with him on his trip to the Middle East that the Saudis will stop harboring the terrorists like they did before 9/11 and after 9/11. And also, at the same time, they will stop funding the families of the suicide bombers. And question, what is the President is going to talk about --

MR. FLEISCHER: I thought you -- describing your hope. (Laughter.) I think that you know the President's views on Saudi Arabia -- they're very well-known. Saudi Arabia has been a reliable partner in the war against terrorism. Saudi Arabia is now the victim of terrorism, along with many Westerners. And Saudi Arabia is facing the fact that they have terrorists in their own borders; they are taking actions. And that's important. And the President will continue to talk to Saudi Arabia about that.

Q -- that he's going to meet like -- terrorism and 9/11?

MR. FLEISCHER: Certainly, I think when you talk about peace in the Middle East, stopping terror is a key part of it because so much of it does ride on security. And it's very important in all of this, and the President will stress this, the United States is committed to Israel's security.

Q If I could go back to the tax cut for a moment. You made the point last week that the bill that came out of conference delivers more of an immediate boost to the economy than the versions than had been on the table beforehand.

MR. FLEISCHER: Correct.

Q Does that mean that you are now prepared to say that this bill will create more jobs than the million that the President was talking about up until that point?

MR. FLEISCHER: I haven't seen the final numbers from the Council for Economic Advisors, but I don't see anything substantially changing their previous projections around that area.

Q He will stand by that --

MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.

Q Similarly, the final bill makes temporary both the dividend and the capital gains exclusions. A lot of administration officials have talked about how those things helped stock prices in a measurable way. Again, do you stand by that, given the temporary nature of this? Or are we less likely to see any impact on stock prices and everything that flows from that because of the latest tax cut --

MR. FLEISCHER: I think as an overall statement, the belief is that these provisions -- lowering capital gains rates to a 15.5 level, simplifying the capital gains structure, and also, importantly, lowering the dividend rate which is lower now, substantially, from a previous high of approximately 38 percent, down to now, also, a 15 percent level -- will restore more confidence in markets.

 

The dividend exclusion in its entirety would have been a preferable outcome. Nevertheless, it still is a solid, strong, good outcome. Markets will respond on their own. But -- and I don't discuss daily fluctuations in the market, but there is an overall sense -- and I think if you talk to economists, there are many economists that you can find quotes from who will tell you that from their private sector purchase.

Q An overall sense that what?

MR. FLEISCHER: That these actions on dividends and on capital gains can help provide confidence in markets. Not as much as a dividend exclusion, as I just indicated, but they can still do the trick.

Q I have two questions, if I may. On the upcoming trip, will the President visit the troops in Iraq while he's in the Middle East?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President will be visiting Doha with our troops, not Iraq.

Q And my -- part of my question you just answered, because he's not going to stay for dinner in Evian.

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, he will be there the night before. He will not be there for two nights. He'll be there for the one night.

Q My question is, when the President goes to the G8 in Evian, will he drink that famous bottled water, or will he bring his own? (Laughter.)

MR. FLEISCHER: You got me stumped. We will try to have a pool event so you can watch his water drinking habits and report for yourself. (Laughter.)

Q Also, will he substitute --

MR. FLEISCHER: Sarah, you're up to three. You said you had two.

Q -- California wine for French wine, or will he enjoy his Texas tequila? (Laughter.)

MR. FLEISCHER: I think he will partake in none of the above.

Q Yes, Ari, let me come back to Yasser Arafat. You just said a minute ago that Abu Mazen is the representative of the Palestinian people. But he was appointed by Yasser Arafat who was elected. Is Yasser Arafat completely, totally out of the picture? Are we done talking with Yasser Arafat?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as I said, the Palestinians have their own way of picking their own representatives, which is a decision made by the Palestinian people. In this case, it's a decision that the President welcomed. The President's views on Yasser Arafat are well-known and clear. I don't see any need to reiterate them. The President looks forward to the meeting with somebody who he believes is dedicated to peace.

Q But Yasser Arafat is reiterating what he believes to be his powers, which are to maintain control of peace talks with Israel, and that Abu Mazen's authority derives from his, Arafat's.

MR. FLEISCHER: Let me remind you that Ariel Sharon has already had meetings with Abu Mazen. The two have met and spoken leader-to-leader. Other leaders from around the world have met with Abu Mazen. And the President looks forward to meeting with Abu Mazen.

Q And Arafat has no further role in this process?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think you understand the President's opinions.

Q Ari, what is the President's message at G8 on the economies? You mentioned that briefly. Is he going -- are you talking about currencies? Are you talking about the weaker dollar against the Euro? What?

MR. FLEISCHER: At the G8, the President will emphasize the importance of the United States and Europe working together, as well as Japan and all members of the G8, working together to improve the lives of people around the world, particularly in the -- through economic development, through trade, through aid -- development aid to the developing regions of the world.

 

The G7-G8, remember, is an economic summit. That has always been the purpose of it. Clearly, the fact is the United States' economy is growing at a rate that is too slow is growing faster than European economies. The trade ministers -- I mean, the finance ministers meet regularly to talk about G7-G8-related issues. All of that is aimed at talking about increasing growth and trade.

Q But is he offering anything new, proposing anything new?

MR. FLEISCHER: I just think, again, we're a little bit from the meeting. Allow the meeting to take place. But typically these meetings, as you know, involve a lot of different parties getting together for their important conversations. I anticipate there will be lots of joint statements that will cover a range of topics around the world. Security will also be something I think that will be talked about given the current threat environment with terrorism and its possibilities of affecting development and growth.

Q Ari, you mentioned a couple of the steps. The White House is not the only site in town today that is talking about steps ahead of the meeting. Some of the diplomats at the Arab embassies are also putting that message out today. You mentioned on the part of the Israelis, transfer of money, as examples --

MR. FLEISCHER: Right.

Q -- better treatment. Can you go through a couple of firm steps that you'd like to see from the Palestinians --

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the most important is the crackdown on terror. Clearly, in an atmosphere of violence and killing, it is much harder to reach peace agreements when people are dying on a regular basis as a result of homicide bombers. And the homicide bombers represent a direct threat to the Palestinian people, as well. These are extremists who do not have the cause of the Palestinian people at heart. And that is always a central issue with this President, to make sure that Israel has the protections it needs so Israeli people can live a life in freedom and security without having to worry about being killed simply because they're sitting in a cafe or riding on a bus. And that is a crucial issue that is very important for the Palestinian leaders to focus on. And the President believes they will.

Q How about the Palestinian people's protection?

Q Are you talking -- as you know, the word crackdown is used quite a bit. Are you talking specifically arrests, detentions, things along those lines?

MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.

Q So it is something visible that will be seen, not just necessarily words?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it's doing what I think you would understand would be very clear and self-evident, that if word is received of an impending terrorist attack, that every bit of authority be used to prevent the attack from taking place so that Israel can live in security. That's a very important way of fighting terror.

And the development of a police force that is capable of doing that is important. We want to work with the Palestinians on that, as we have in the past. And these are some of the tangible things that we are looking to the Palestinians to do. And Israel, too, has its responsibilities.

Q Ari, can I make sure I don't have a misunderstanding, though?

MR. FLEISCHER: Go ahead, Jeanne.

Q Because Ken's question was framed as though these were preconditions to the meeting. Is that what you meant?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, I'm sorry -- no, no, no. Thank you.

Q The buildup to the meeting -- right.

Q I thought you meant that these would be issues to discuss --

MR. FLEISCHER: No, I didn't catch that if you were saying preconditions --

 

Q A series of steps leading up to the meeting.

MR. FLEISCHER: The meeting is announced. The meeting is scheduled.

Q These are the issues he wants discussed at the meeting.

MR. FLEISCHER: These are the overall issues when we talked about -- Ken's question, as I took it, was the tangible actions that the Palestinian people, Palestinian Authority must take as part of the peace process. Because the earlier question about the money transfers applied to actions Israelis are taking and need to continue to take to improve the lives of the Palestinian people. All as part of the overall process -- not as the preconditions.

Q So there are not a series of steps leading up to the meeting?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, the meeting is scheduled, then it has that caveat attached to it.

Q And when you were answering my question, it sounded like these are some of the issues he wants to discuss at that meeting.

MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.

Q Now that the President is about to put the tax cut bill behind him, what pieces of legislation would he like to see the Congress get to him by the time they make their summer recess in August?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, interestingly, when the Congress returns for a four-week work period, they do have a lot of important endeavors in front of them. Probably the single most important one is helping senior citizens to get prescription drugs. The Senate is scheduled to take that up in June. The House is also scheduled to take that up. And there very well may be a real opportunity this year to finally do something good for our seniors who need prescription drugs.

Similarly, the Senate is taking a look at energy legislation to help make America more energy independent. The House has already acted on that. The appropriation bills are beginning to move on an early basis in the Congress. So it looks like, hopefully, it will be an orderly process, as opposed to last year's mess, when the Congress takes up appropriation items. Those are a few of the matters that are pending. I can give you a longer list, but --

Q Welfare reform extension?

MR. FLEISCHER: Welfare reform is also an issue that's pending on the Hill that the President's hopeful they'll take action on. I'd have to take a look and see if that fits the Congress' four-week schedule. I think the Medicare bill is going to be heavy lifting. It's likely to take up substantial time. And it's time that the President looks forward to because it's a top priority for him.

Q I have two questions for you, Ari. It has to do with Amnesty International had a press conference today in Washington. And it's accusing the United States of many things specifically. It says, while the overthrow of Saddam Hussein has brought greater freedom for the Iraqi people, the politics and destruction within Iraq have unintended negative consequences for millions of people worldwide. Regardless of how much greater liberty Iraqis may eventually realize, the Bush's administration war in Iraq has contributed to diminishing human rights for millions of others worldwide. While billions were spent to dethrone Saddam Hussein, dictators and rebels elsewhere wreaked havoc on millions of people across the globe, with little attention and even less condemnation from the U.S. government or the international community. That's a charge --

MR. FLEISCHER: I think that as the world increasingly sees the brutality, the horrors that Saddam Hussein carried out against his own people, the unearthing of mass graves, that Amnesty International can invest considerable portions of its time and its reputation to discussing Saddam Hussein's tortures and what he has done to the Iraqi people. And I think the world is rejoicing in the fact that thanks to the efforts of the coalition, millions of people who were previously imprisoned are now free.

Q And the second charge. It says that the United States continued to breach fundamental human rights of more than 600 detainees held in the U.S. navy base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. It also speaks of the continuing legal limbo in which all Guantanamo detainees have been held, who have neither been recognized by the U.S. as prisoners of war, nor allowed any means of challenging the legality of their detention before a court.

MR. FLEISCHER: I just dismiss that as without merit. The prisoners in Guantanamo are being treated humanely. They're receiving medical care, they're receiving food. They're receiving far better treatment than they received in the life that they were living previously. And it's a reminder, also, that these people are terrorists who still want to wreak harm and havoc on the United States and our people. They are very dangerous people.

Q Can you tell us whether or not President Bush also plans to meet with Chinese President Hu in this visit? Because both leaders will be in Russia and France about the same time.

MR. FLEISCHER: Correct. We're still working out some of this. Dr. Rice may have additional details at the 4:00 p.m. Whatever details there are here I haven't brought with me. Dr. Rice is going to be giving as big a walk-through today as she can.

Q Including the format and the agenda?

MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.

Q Prime Minister Chretien is expressing concerns that deficits created by President Bush's tax cuts could hurt the global economy, and he plans to raise that issue at the G8 summit. Do you think the Prime Minister's concerns are justified?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think it's important to understand what created the deficits. And what created the deficits, of course, are the same factors that Canada has lived through, also, which is the economic slowdown. The recession, of course, which hit the United States has been the single greatest cause of what led to a drop in revenues. And it's no surprise there's a philosophical difference between a tax cutter like President Bush and Prime Minister Chretien.

Q At the same time, Prime Minister Chretien is pointing out the fact that Canada is operating in a surplus mode at this time, whereas the U.S. is not.

MR. FLEISCHER: And one of the reasons for that is the United States was attacked on September 11th; Canada was not. The United States helped lead a war to give freedom to the people of Iraq.

Q Senate Majority Leader Frist over the weekend indicated that he has every indication of -- every intention of pursuing additional tax cut legislation that would extend all the expiring provisions and make permanent the tax cuts that are in this bill today. This would, in effect, raise the price tag $850 billion. Does the administration feel it has room for both an $850 billion tax cut package and the $400 billion you also intend to pursue --

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, first, the President's budget that he submitted for fiscal 2004 did call for the permanent extension of all the tax cuts that were enacted in 2001. And so that's a common position. I'm not certain what the timing was on what Senator Frist said, if he indicated that would be a goal for this year or not. As I indicated earlier, the President will have additional budgets to submit to Congress down the road.

Q And also, the administration has often said it supports measures to simplify the tax code. Is the White House at all concerned with the extent to which this bill complicates the tax code by having so many phase-in and phase-out effective dates?

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, the President's preference and what he submitted to the Congress would have made permanent many of these provisions. And recognizing the reality of the budget resolution that was passed up on the Hill, this makes substantial progress toward the President's goals.

But don't sell this short for the simplification that it represents, particularly on the capital gains side and on the dividend side. The dividend structure previously was you were taxed at dividends at the rate of income and so, therefore, you had five different rate structures for dividends. Now that's been simplified down to two.

 

Similarly, with capital gains, you had a very complicated rate structure of either 20 percent or 18 percent, depending on your tax bracket and whether you held for five years or less on your capital gains, on your stock holdings. Similarly, there was a 10-and-8 structure. This has all been dramatically simplified now. So as you look through here, while, yes, there are sunsets, there are many provisions that do indeed simplify the code, particularly on those dividends and capital gains structures.

Q But the capital gains and dividends are also temporary.

MR. FLEISCHER: Correct.

Q Doesn't that, in effect, complicate it if those are not extended?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's only complicated if they don't get extended.

Q Two questions. For the benefit of us hardworking journalists, have you now anointed the Palestinian Prime Minister Abu Mazan? Is that the official name we should use?

MR. FLEISCHER: He always has two. I just consistently use that name, and so I'm sticking with it, because I started with it.

Q -- official White House policy that he's Abu Mazan.

MR. FLEISCHER: Let's see if Dr. Rice says something different this afternoon, because she sets official policy.

Q One more on the peace. As you know, the peace between Israel and Jordan and Israel and Egypt is a rather cold peace. As part of the mandate, will there be -- are you asking for a genuine peace between Israel and the Arab countries?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, this begins again with the road map. And the road map has three phases to it. And what's important now is to help the Israelis and to help the Palestinians to begin implementing the first phase of the road map so they can advance to the second and third phases of the road map, which, after all, are results-oriented. The ability to pass from one phase to the next is highly contingent on results in the implementation of the earlier phases of the road map. So it does begin at the beginning, and hopefully it will end on a far more sunny and optimistic note.

Q Ari, WorldNet Daily has reported the State Department's approval of a request from our U.N. Ambassador John Negroponte for $600,000 to remodel and expand the kitchen in his Waldorf-Astoria hotel residence in New York. And since foreign policy is run by the President who is commendably, strongly opposed to government waste, my question is, could you tell us what the President thinks of this $600,000 kitchen remodeling, and why Negroponte has a private residence in the Waldorf? Rather than suggesting that the President doesn't care by your just bucking this question to Foggy Bottom. (Laughter.) I have one follow-up.

MR. FLEISCHER: Why don't you ask the follow-up first?

Q Well, will you get back to this?

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know. (Laughter.) No, Lester, I have no idea about the facts of what you just cited, whether that's true or not true, what circumstances may or may not got into this, so I'm not going to comment on something that I haven't heard about.

Q The Gallup Poll has just reported that on the question why -- who do you regard as the greatest United States President, Bill Clinton is tied with President Bush for third, at 11 percent, receiving more votes than three of the four Presidents on Mount Rushmore, and more votes than President Reagan. And my question: Does the President, as the nation's chief law enforcer, still believe it was wise and just to tolerate the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York not even giving a report on the three-year-old criminal investigation of President Clinton's pardongate?

MR. FLEISCHER: Lester, that is one of the most bizarre bank shots I have ever heard. (Laughter.)

Q Has there been any report? He was charged, it's a criminal investigation, pardongate.

MR. FLEISCHER: The President is looking forwards, not backwards, and I would highly recommend that to you, as well.

Q He's just going to just drop it? It's just been dropped, right?

MR. FLEISCHER: If you're asking judicial questions, you know the appropriate people to ask.

Q How much of the President's upcoming meeting in St. Petersburg with President Putin and Hu will deal with North Korea, and what does he hope to achieve?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, I think Dr. Rice will be in a better position to walk you through some of these specific meetings. And let me just leave it at that, and let's see what the exact meetings are.

Q Also in regards to Russia, Russia has been putting us off in terms of our pressure on them to stop supporting Iran in the building of a nuclear reactor. Will the President pressure Putin on this to try to get him to back down on that? And also, secondly, will the President push for debt relief for Iraq?

MR. FLEISCHER: On your first question, we have repeatedly raised with Russian officials at the highest levels, including President Bush with President Putin, our desire to see Russia end all nuclear cooperation with Iran. Russia agrees that Iran must abide by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty obligations. Russia also joins us in supporting the International Atomic Energy Agency's ongoing expectations of Iran's nuclear program. And Russia, too, looks forward to the full report from the IAEA Director General, which is due out in June.

There is a recent statement from the Russian authorities, which I bring to your attention. And this is something that just took place yesterday, where an official statement released by the Russian foreign ministry said that Russia, "expressed concern over the existence of serious unclarified issues in connection with nuclear research in Iran, and pointed to the need for an exhaustive discussion of that problem by the IAEA board of governors in June, and early signing of additional protocol to the agreement on IAEA safeguards."

So this has been a manner that we have talked with the Russians about. They are looking at this and have made some new statements about this, which are welcome. And I anticipate this is something that may be talked about.

Q And debt relief?

MR. FLEISCHER: On debt relief, we shall see. I can't predict everything that may be on a busy agenda. We shall see.

Thank you.

END 12:44 P.M. EDT