For Immediate Release
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
Office of the Press Secretary
April 2, 2003
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
MR. FLEISCHER: Correct.
Q Does this mean the State Department is now going to run the
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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