The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 23, 2003

Press Gaggle with Ari Fleischer at Crawford Elementary School
Crawford Elementary School
Crawford, Texas

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12:53 P.M. CDT

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm going to begin with a couple of announcements about upcoming events for the President. Then I'll be happy to take your questions. We will have a senior administration official who was involved in all the meetings with the Japanese Prime Minister coming here after the lunch. There's a lunch that begins -- that began 20 minutes ago. So I anticipate he'll get here close to 2:00 p.m., and he'll be able to provide you additional background information on the meetings. I'll do my best with some of it, so I may refer you to him on many of the questions, if you have them.

I'm going to begin with the week-ahead. We'll have a little bit of news in the week-ahead, so I want to share some things with you. I'm going to go beyond this week. On Sunday, the President will return to Washington, D.C.

On Monday, the President and Mrs. Bush will participate in a wreath-laying ceremony at 10:45 a.m. in the morning at Arlington National Cemetery. The President will also make remarks, of course, on Memorial Day.

On Tuesday, the President will welcome to the White House the 2002 World Champion --bla-bla-bla -- (laughter.)

Q I want to see that in the transcript. (Laughter.)

MR. FLEISCHER: That is spelled *&@!

That afternoon, the President -- Tuesday afternoon, the President will also sign into law what's called the U.S. Leadership Against HIV-AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria Act of 2003, which is, of course, the President's initiative which he asked in the State of the Union to have emergency relief to fight AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean. We'll have a significant ceremony on Tuesday to mark the signing of that important legislation.

Currently there are no plans, public events on Wednesday or Thursday. We'll update you on that. Friday the President will depart for Europe. I do anticipate that the jobs and growth bill will be signed before the President leaves for Europe.

A couple other items: On Tuesday at 4:00 p.m., Dr. Joseph O'Neill, the Director of the Office of National AIDS Policy, will be the guest on Ask The White House, our web page chat. That will be Tuesday at 4:00 p.m.

Now I want to give you some other news. I'm pleased to announce that Matt Schlapp has been named to replace Ken Mehlman as Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of Political Affairs. Matt previously served as a Special Assistant to the President and Deputy Director of Political Affairs. Before his appointment, Matt worked on the Bush-Cheney 2000 campaign where he served as the regional political director. In 1994, he helped elect Kansas Representative Todd Tiahrt to the House of Representatives, and he served also as chief of staff.

Along the same lines, in 2000, the President's compassionate conservative message and record of leadership attracted broad support across the country. We are hopeful that the President's strong leadership and bold vision for the future will again attract support in the coming months. Next month the President will attend the following fundraisers on behalf of Bush-Cheney 2004:

On June 17th, the President will attend a fundraiser in Washington, D.C. On June 20th, the President will travel to Greensboro, Georgia; on June 23rd, to New York City; on June 27th, to San Francisco and Los Angeles; and on June 30th, Miami and Tampa.

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

Q A couple of questions. You said the President will sign the tax cut before leaving. Did you mean to say he will sign it that day, Friday, or just sometime before he leaves for Europe?

MR. FLEISCHER: Sometime prior to his departure.

Q Could I ask you to just explain to the best of your ability what is meant by "tougher measures," or at least what the options are? Both Koizumi and the President talked about that in the context of North Korea.

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think, as you see from the strong unity of the United States and Japan, and the comments you've heard from others in the area, and China's active participation, and South Korea's stated concerns, that North Korea has met a united neighborhood that will not be blackmailed. And that is a message that the President hopes will increasingly sink in with North Korea's leaders as they think forward what they will do.

North Korea has to face important decisions about do they continue a belligerent path or a path that may lead out of their isolation. And as they consider their options, they're seeing a united neighborhood, as the President and Prime Minister Koizumi stressed today.

Q Is a blockade an option? Are sanctions a option? What are options for tougher measures?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we -- the President has always said that we leave all options on the table. But the President and the Prime Minister, in their discussions, talked about how the diplomatic route is the route they will pursue.

Q Ari, a couple things. On the road map, does the structure of this now -- by implementing the road map while Israel still has reservations -- are you going down the Oslo kind of route where you're leaving the tougher questions for later?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the road map speaks for itself. It's a public document. The road map outlines a series of steps and actions that the Israelis need to take, that the Palestinians need to take, and that they need to take together. The President is very pleased by the most recent developments. Once again, this may represent a bright moment in the Middle East. Now, bright moments in the Middle East often become cloudy. But for the time-being, this is a very positive development, and that's what the President is focused on.

When the President announced the road map, he said, we will welcome contributions from the parties. That is what we are now hearing, and we are welcoming their contributions. And we will address their concerns, as we implement the road map.

Q On the tax bill, can we assume that the President will be back to seek -- to make permanent all the temporary items that are now in the bill?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'm not going to get ahead of the story. The President is looking forward to signing it. The President thinks it will give a boost to the economy. I can give you some statistics about it: 91 million taxpayers will receive on average a tax cut of $1,126 under this agreement; 68 million women will see their taxes decline on average by $1,338; 45 million married couples will receive average tax cuts of $1,786; 34 million families with children will benefit from an average tax cut of $1,549; 6 million single women with children will receive an average tax cut of $558; 12 million elderly taxpayers will receive an average tax cut of $1,401; 23 million small business owners will receive tax cuts averaging $2,209 -- one more -- 3 million individuals and families will have their income tax liability completely eliminated by the act.

Q Well, when you add all those up, you still get what Bush defined as an "itty-bitty" tax cut. So does he have to come back to make these permanent to get what he has wanted?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to predict every step down the road. The President continues to think that the best way to help the economy and the right thing to do for the taxpayers is to let people keep the money they earn. But I'm not going to predict future events.

Let me just ask, even though Ellen is wearing sneakers, to just enough pause so she can coming running over to you with her microphone. (Laughter.)

Q Can you give us a little bit of a readout on what was said between the President and the Finance Minister of the Palestinian Authority? What did they talk about? What did they achieve?

MR. FLEISCHER: On Wednesday, shortly after the President's return from New London, the President met with the Palestinian Finance Minister in the Oval Office for 20 minutes. The President's National Security Advisor, Dr. Rice, had previously met with him. And the President stressed his commitment to a two-state solution, to Israel and a Palestine living side-by-side in peace, with security for Israel.

The President told the Finance Minister, one, that he viewed the Finance Minister as a real reformer. He is. He's a man who has really worked hard for honesty and transparency, and fought corruption in the Palestinian Authority. And the President stressed his strong views that Prime Minister Mazen is also a reformer. He finds in each of them qualities that the United States can work with because they're good leaders.

So that was the tenor of the conversation. That is the first meeting the President has had with an official of the Palestinian Authority since his presidency.

Q Did he ask for anything specific from him in terms of actions in the Palestinian Authority, as opposed to asking the Prime Minister?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President stressed the need for security, to fight terrorism. He stressed that it will be much harder to achieve peace if the violence continues, and reminded him of the important need for the Palestinian Authority to fight terror.

Q Did Prime Minister Sharon ask for the statement that was issued this morning?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the statement was the result of considerable diplomacy that was carried out by the President; by Secretary Powell, who played a very helpful role; by Dr. Rice; and there were many conversations with many officials in the region -- Arab leaders, as well as the Israelis and the Palestinians -- and it represents a way forward.

Q But was it -- did Sharon make it a prerequisite that the U.S. go on the record acknowledging Israel's serious concerns about some provisions in the road map?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, I put it the way I did -- it's part -- this is reflective of the ongoing successes of the diplomatic efforts. This often is what it requires. You have Israel and the Palestinian Authority who look to the United States to help provide leadership, and this President has said that he will help provide it. That involves listening carefully to the concerns of both parties and helping find ways to bring both parties together.

Q Do you have anything on Uday Hussein looking to give himself up?

MR. FLEISCHER: I've looked into those reports and I have nothing to indicate, nothing to confirm or discuss. I don't find anything more to it.

Q Back on the road map. Was the meeting with the Finance Minister not publicized as part of this diplomacy, as part of bringing Sharon on board? And secondly, were the Palestinians told ahead of time that this White House statement would come out today?

MR. FLEISCHER: In terms of the meeting with the Palestinian Finance Minister, of course, I told you about it yesterday.

Q But not the day before when it happened, when you would usually tell us when something like that happened.

MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct. I think the President believes sometimes the best diplomacy is a mixture of public and private, and he uses his judgment about what will be the most helpful to making progress diplomatically. Sometimes the best diplomacy is allowing quiet meetings to take place, allowing the leaders to report back to their officials. And that's part of the mix of diplomacy.

Q Can you say why in this case that seemed to be the best way to go about it?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'll just say that I think the proof is in the pudding. This has been a week of real progress in the Middle East in helping unite the Israelis and the Palestinians behind the road map.

Q Can you comment on advance notice for the Palestinians of the statement that came out today?

MR. FLEISCHER: I leave it just as I did in the statement about the ongoing diplomacy.

Q What will help the President make his decision as to whether he should push for this meeting between Abu Mazen and Ariel Sharon?

MR. FLEISCHER: The question is what will help the President make his decision about whether to push for a meeting with Abu Mazen and Ariel Sharon. But the parties still have responsibilities. It remains important for the Israelis and the Palestinians to take actions in accordance with the preliminary steps of the road map that follow on the spirit of the good news announcements today. And so the President is always exploring ways of playing a useful role at the appropriate time, and I think he will look for the parties to continue carrying out their responsibilities and make a judgment.

Q Ari, you said the road map won't be rewritten and that the changes will come as you implement it down the road. Does this mean that the deadlines that are already set out in the road map will change? I mean, one is coming up at the end of May, which seems a little obvious we won't get to that one, will we?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, what's important now is to move to the implementation phase of the road map. And that's where the President is focused. And the actions are important; the President looks to them to carry out the actions. We want to listen to the concerns of both sides -- if both sides have anything they want to talk about as we implement the road map. And I want to -- I'm going to leave it that way.

Q You seem to be saying that the deadlines are going to slip, or can slip. Is that -- would that be correct?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President is committed to carrying out what the road map says. It begins with this implantation phase, and that's what he would like to see begin in earnest.

Q On the meeting with Koizumi, both leaders said for North Korea that they're looking for a peaceful solution to the issue. But both agreed that if North Korea continued to further escalate the situation, that tougher measures would be necessary. Did the leaders discuss at all what the tougher measures might be and did they come to any agreement? And, if they did, can you elaborate?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I was asked that earlier and I talked about how there is a united front in the neighborhood, which sends a very powerful signal. Indeed, the very fact that the Prime Minister of Japan and the President of United States meeting today, standing shoulder-to-shoulder, sending the same message to the North Koreans in and of itself is a helpful and useful message to the North Koreans.

Q Just to follow up on Heidi's question a little bit. What needs to happen specifically with responsibilities of the parties in order for a summit to come together, a three-way summit?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, those responsibilities are laid out in the road map. Those responsibilities involve the continued fight against terror by the Palestinian Authority, actions by the Israelis to help improve the human conditions of the Palestinian people, a willingness and a commitment by both parties to continue to make progress.

Q Ari, several Presidents have invested a lot of time and a lot of political capital in trying to bring the Israelis and Palestinians together. What is different this time? Why is the President running the risk of squandering political capital?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think as longtime observers of the Middle East will tell you, nothing is easy. This road map represents a way forward, but it can also be a bumpy road. That's the history of the peace process in the Middle East. Often there are unforeseen detours. And that's why the President's focus is on helping the Israelis and the Palestinians to stay on the road. That's why he made the phone calls to Prime Minister Sharon and Abu Mazen this week.

And bear in mind one fact as you look at what has taken place today with the statement out of Israel saying what they will do with the road map. This comes on the heels of a bad week of violence in the Middle East. Yet, the parties are not deterred. And that is hopeful. And that's why the President has worked it so hard this week. That's why he made the phone calls; that's why he had a meetings; that's why Secretary Powell has been so deeply involved, and Dr. Rice, as well.

So at a time where previous violence could have knocked things off course, the President is pleased that events are moving on course. But it's a difficult course, but it's a hopeful moment. We'll see how long it can last. The President is committed to making it last and traveling down the road that the road map lays out.

Q Ari, at this point would the President consider meeting Prime Minister Sharon without meeting Prime Minister Abbas? Or are they now intertwined?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, the President has always said that he would look forward to a meeting with Prime Minister Mazen. He was previously scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Sharon. That is a meeting that will, indeed, be made up at a later time per the calendar and schedule both of the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of Israel. And now laid in on top of that is the possibility of a three-way meeting. So you can expect any combination of the above to continue happening.

Q On North Korea again, the President said Japan agreed to participate in talks. But isn't the question, are China and North Korea open to that participation? Is there any sign that they would accept Japan and South Korea as partners?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we think it would be productive of North Korea to be open to this. After all, it is their neighborhood, these are their neighbors. And a sign from North Korea about its desire to be welcomed into the neighborhood would be to welcome the talks to the parties that live closest to the area. After all, why would North Korea exclude the Japanese or exclude the South Koreans if they want to pursue a good neighborhood policy and be a responsible nation?

Q And China's position on that?

MR. FLEISCHER: I can't speak for China's position. China, however, has been playing a productive role, as you know, in a very helpful way, and we see that as ongoing.

Q What kind of discussion on Japanese economy was there? And was there any discussion on the exchange rate of --

MR. FLEISCHER: I think what I'll do is on those questions specifically about any discussions on the economic matters between the United States and Japan, I'll wait for the background official to get here -- I think he can do it more justice.

Anything else?

Q Is there not a mixed message going out from the administration that you're handling this tax cut bill that's being enacted even as the Congress is working to lift the ceiling on the national debt by nearly a trillion dollars?

MR. FLEISCHER: Absolutely not. If the Congress hadn't even taken up the tax bill, the Congress would have to lift the ceiling on the national debt today in all cases. So the two are not connected.

Q Why is it so important to start fundraising so early?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President has a very busy schedule of official events he has a limited window in which he can participate in his own direct political affairs as he prepares for an election -- a reelection. And so the process does begin. This is, in fact, beginning later than for a few Presidents; earlier than for a few other Presidents. Basically, it's beginning right about in the same season that it historically has. So that's why.

Q Can I ask you --

MR. FLEISCHER: You're playing ping-pong with poor Ellen. She's traveled over there --

Q It's good exercise.

Q I was going to ask why all the fundraisers are jammed into one week, but I think you answered that by saying he had -- do you know how much he's going to raise in that week?

MR. FLEISCHER: No. What we'll do is, as we standardly do with all our events, on the day before the event I'm sure you'll remember that question and you'll ask me how much does he raise at each event. And as it gets close to the event, when we actually have the best estimates at hand, we will give it out.

Q Did you misspeak when you said Greensboro, Georgia? You meant North Carolina, didn't you?

MR. FLEISCHER: I did not misspeak. It is, indeed, Greensboro, Georgia. That was my first question -- is did my piece of paper misspeak, Reed Dickens -- and he assures me the piece of paper did not misspeak, it says, Greensboro, Georgia because it is Greensboro, Georgia. Greensboro, Georgia is located in Greensboro, Georgia. (Laughter.)

Q And they've got Republican money.

Q Any public events for the President tomorrow or Sunday?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, Sunday, of course, he will depart. But, no, tomorrow I anticipate a quiet day at the ranch.

Q And you briefing -- will you brief tomorrow or Sunday?

MR. FLEISCHER: The "cherubic one" will be here Saturday and Sunday, so I would refer to more cherubic officials.

Q Subject of the radio address?

MR. FLEISCHER: Subject of the radio address? It will be riveting. (Laughter.) Okay, if nothing else --

Q He's going to talk about riveting? (Laughter.)

MR. FLEISCHER: If nothing else, I hope everybody has a very happy and relaxing Memorial Day Weekend. Thanks.


1:14 P.M. CDT

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