For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 18, 2001
Press Briefing by
By Ari Fleischer
President's Telephone Calls............................1
President's Meeting with National Security Council.....2
Charitable Giving Web Site.............................2
Additional Briefings Today.............................2
Airline Industry Assistance....................3-4;12-14
State of the Economy...................................4
Status of Tax Relief...................................4
President's Meeting with President Chirac of France....5
American Public/Antiterrorism Efforts................5-6
Terrorism Around the World.............................6
Reagan National Airport................................8
2:12 P.M. EDT
MR. FLEISCHER: The President
made three phone calls today I want to fill you in on, and then I'll
give you a walk-through on the President's schedule. He
spoke with United Nations -- Kofi Annan, the Secretary General of the
United Nations, Kofi Annan, this morning. The Secretary
General condemned the terrorist attacks of September 11th
unequivocally, expressed his condolences to the American people.
The President and the Secretary General
agreed that the attacks were against all freedom-loving people and that
all nations should join in the fight against terrorism. The
Secretary General also expressed appreciation to the President for his
message of tolerance which the President conveyed yesterday at
Washington's Islamic Cultural Center.
The President also spoke with President
Cardoso of Brazil this morning. President Cardoso expressed
his condolences and solidarity and said that this has been an attack
against Western civilization, against all of humanity.
The President thanked President Cardoso
for his statements on behalf of the American people, and he said that
we are facing a different kind of war that will require patience and
And, finally, the President spoke again
today with Prime Minister Chretien of Canada. The President
expressed heartfelt appreciation for Canada's solidarity with the
United States and for everything that Canada has done to assist.
Let me just recap the President's day and
fill you in a little bit about what he's going to do this
afternoon. In addition to the phone calls to world leaders,
the President convened a meeting of his National Security Council to
continue the planning.
The President met earlier today, as you
know, with a group of charitable organizations that are doing
everything they can to make it easier for the American people's
outpouring of generosity to be easily met. They have set up a special
web site, LIBERTYUNITES.ORG, and the President urges all Americans who
want to help to give to the charity of their choice, or to log
on. It will contain information where they can go to
volunteer, to help, as well as to give financially, if any individual
Americans seek to do so.
On the personnel front, the President has
a meeting today with his personnel team. These are part of
the regular routine meetings of the White House. The
President will have another one today as he continues to focus on the
personnel appointments to the government.
He will have a meeting later this
afternoon with his economic team to discuss other types of action that
may or may not be required to help the economy. And then
this evening he will meet with and have dinner with President Chirac of
One update on the
schedule: General Ashcroft -- Attorney General Ashcroft will
brief at 2:30 p.m. The head of FEMA will brief at 3:00 p.m.
And Treasury Secretary O'Neill will brief at 4:00 p.m., as we continue
to fill the American people in on all events that are going on.
I'm sorry? That will be a
Let me give you an update, too, on some of
the activities around the administration, and then I'll be happy to
take questions. Secretary Paige will be holding an
interactive satellite town meeting from the Newseum to discuss talking
with children about last week's disasters, as well as parental
involvement in their children's education.
At the Environmental Protection Agency,
Administrator Whitman announced today that results from the Agency's
air and drinking water monitored near the World Trade Center and the
Pentagon disaster sites indicate that vital resources are
safe. The Administrator also announced that EPA has been
given up to $83 million from FEMA to support EPA's involvement in the
clean-up activities and ongoing monitoring of environmental conditions
in New York City and the Washington, D.C. areas.
At the Small Business Administration, the
Administrator is in New York City today to talk about SBA's plans to
assist those in need through its disaster loan program. The
SBA offers low-interest long-term financial assistance to help victims
with their disaster-related losses.
Two more agencies, and then I'll be
pleased for questions. At Treasury the IRS released new
information to help the people use charitable organizations and
announced it will speed processing of requests for tax-exempt status
from the new charities formed to assist the victims of the
attacks. And the IRS is also compiling a publication called,
"Disaster Relief: Providing Assistance Through Charitable
Organizations," which will explain how to make contributions through
existing charitable organizations and how new organizations can apply
for tax-exempt status.
And finally, as you know, the Secretary of
Transportation met with airline executives to discuss the safety, the
security and the stabilization of the American airline industry.
And with that, I'm happy to take your
Q Ari, on the
airline industry, is the administration moving toward the $24 billion
figure that the airline is talking about? And on another
point, are you confident that the current financial woes of the airline
industry are wholly owing to last week's attacks? They've
been having a bad year up until now. I'm just wondering if
there's any concern by the administration that you may be picking up
the tab for what had been a bad year up until last Tuesday?
MR. FLEISCHER: The Secretary of
Transportation, as well as senior White House officials, met with
executives of the airline industry today. This was after their meeting
with the President -- after the staff and the Secretary met with the
His charge to them was to come up with the
specifics of a plan to help the airlines deal with the consequences of
the attack on the United States and its implications for the
airlines. That was the President's charge. And the plan
that Secretary Mineta alluded to earlier that he is working on and will
consult with the Congress on deals with helping the airlines so they
can be secure, so they can be safe and they can be stable in the wake
of this attack.
Q But Ari, on the
two questions about the $24 billion, and are you confident that you're
not picking up the tab for the first nine months of this year as well
as what's happened since --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I thought
I addressed that second question when I said the President's charge was
to do so in the wake of the attack. On the first question,
it's premature to know what the exact dollar amount will
be. Clearly, the airlines have a dollar amount in mind, and
that will be something that the government -- the administration,
working with the Congress, considers.
Q Ari, on the
economy, the President and Congress are now discussing, we understand,
seven or eight different options, some of which I gather include
another tax cut to stimulate the economy. And I know the
President is interested in having the administration consult with
Congress and it's sort of in that today. But where is his
head, at this time, about what would best stimulate the economy
now? He certainly knows about this, he's thought about it,
he's thought about his first tax cut. So where's his head
now? Capital gains? Is that a good idea?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is
actually -- I've heard him say, these are no ordinary
times. And he said, this is an economy that's going to get a
dose of both supply side and Keynesian economics, meaning the
advantages of tax cuts that stimulate the economy, and of course
Congress just approved $40 billion in spending as an immediate -- which
has an immediate impact as the money is spent. That's not
$40 billion over a long period of time, that's $40 billion over a
relatively short time, but also which is to address some of the human
suffering that has taken place.
So the President recognizes that this is
not an era of normal economics, normal responses, and he is going to
continue to be very open-minded as he works with the Congress and with
Democrats and Republicans about what comes next. But it's
premature to know exactly what comes next.
Yesterday's meeting that the President led
about the economy and the airlines is the first of many meetings he's
going to hold. I just indicated there is another one this
afternoon. And so this is the beginning of a process where
the President is going to consider what exact actions.
Q But is he more
than open-minded, is he actually committed to further tax
relief? Does he believe that's what the economy needs right
FLEISCHER: Premature. It's premature to
say. He'll have another meeting this afternoon and he'll
listen to various thoughts from various advisers. But he has
not come to any determinations yet.
Q What's first on
the agenda tonight for Chirac? Discussions?
MR. FLEISCHER: I haven't seen
the agenda specifically for the meeting, but I anticipate it's going to
be about, obviously, the reaction to the terrorist attack on the United
States, ways of cooperating to combat terrorism. I don't
rule out other important bilateral issues will be discussed; anytime
two heads of state are together, that can happen. So that's
a summary of the agenda.
what did the President want from Chirac?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, I
think it gets back into the same list of specificity that I'm not going
to go into if you're asking in the context of the attack, but it's
going to be ways to combat terrorism and ways the Western world can
Q Ari, Britain has
said that it, too, wants to aid its airline industry which is
suffering, and said other countries may want to help their national
carriers. Is this opening the door to a lot of economically
distorting government subsidies for the industry, and could it be
harmful in the long run if we provide this aid?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, clearly,
if it's harmful in the long run, the President won't opt for
it. But what the President does recognize is that this
attack has had consequences, not only on the lives lost, people missing
and on the psyche of our country, but on American commerce, on American
industry, on Americans' ability to travel, one of the most specific
examples. And he is not going to adhere to any one rigid
ideology in the wake of this. He's going to explore what the
government needs to do with an open mind to deal with this.
These are not ordinary
times. Now, having said that, he's also cognizant of the
fact -- and John Roberts pointed up -- that there are existing economic
conditions that predated this attack on the United
States. And he's tasked his policy makers to consider those
factors in determining what the best next steps should be.
Q Following that
idea of the disruption of ordinary life and so forth, what does the
President expect of the American public as he conducts this war against
terrorism? What kind of sacrifices, efforts, work does he
want nonmilitary Americans to do?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think,
number one, the President is very heartened by the resolve of the
American people. This patriotic rally is in the finest
traditions of our nation. And it's one reason that, as the
President said, any act -- anytime anybody attacks America, it's an act
of self-destruction, and that's because of the strength of our people.
Two, he's asked for
patience. Three, he's asked the American people to go back
to work. The President thinks it's very important that
people resume their lives. Every time somebody shows back up
at their office, every time somebody is able to enjoy entertainment
once more, every time people travel, it strengthens our economy, it
strengthens our country and makes it easier for the government to do
what needs to be done to fight terrorism.
So those are -- it's a short list of what
the President is asking for.
Q You mentioned the
Secretary General had expressed appreciation for the President's
comments yesterday at the Islamic Center. Have you been able
to gauge any other impact that that appearance and those words might
have had across the world?
MR. FLEISCHER: The only way to
gauge it is just to hope that acts of violence don't
exist. And the President continues to remind leaders of
their job around this country in calling out to people and urging that
no acts of violence exist.
Q I'm talking about
internationally. Has he heard from any Arab country or
Muslim country leaders about this?
MR. FLEISCHER: You may want to
check with State. I've got the read on the three calls the
President made today, but I would not be surprised, but State would
have a better read.
Q On the scope of
this response to these attacks, while the immediate focus is on these
perpetrators, all administration officials have said is it's to
eliminate the scourge of terrorism around the world. There's terrorism
in Ireland, Colombia, the Philippines, Russia. Is that what
the administration is after?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President
has made it clear that this will be broad and this will be sweeping,
and that anybody who is part of the worldwide network that exists to
foster terrorism anywhere will be included in this. Make no
mistake: That is the charge that the President has set.
Q Does he believe
it's all linked to one network?
MR. FLEISCHER: Wherever it
is. That will be the actions the President takes.
Q Ari, did he ask
Kofi Annan to do anything? Have you heard from the
Taliban? Have you heard from Pakistan?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, first of
all, the United Nations has already done something. The
United Nations Security Council passed a resolution on September 12th
Q Does he want
MR. FLEISCHER: Beyond that,
there's nothing to report today. If there is any additional
with the United Nations, I'll keep you informed. There's nothing
beyond that from today with the U.N.
Q How about
Pakistan and the Taliban? What do you hear?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as you
know, we are not indicating with specificity what actions we have asked
Pakistan to take. Nevertheless, the status of our reaction
to what Pakistan has done remains unchanged. In other words,
the President continues to be very satisfied with the steps that
Pakistan has taken to help the United States at this time.
Q Ari, in light of
what's happened --
Q And what do you
hear from Afghanistan?
MR. FLEISCHER: Afghanistan, at
least the ruling Taliban, have been all over the
lot. They've been giving a series of messages to the United
States government, one seemingly contradictory from the
other. So the message to Afghanistan remains loud and
remains clear: Those nations who harbor terrorists will not
Q Ari, a couple
things. Yesterday I asked if the President had specifically
decided whether or not to seek U.N. Security Council endorsement for
any military act that would fall under the umbrella of this crusade
against -- war against terrorism. Do you have an answer to
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there's no
specificity yet on whether or not anything else will be asked of the
United Nations. But, of course, in accordance with the
United Nations Charter, all nations have the right to act in
self-defense. But whether or not there will be any
additional requests made to the U.N., I can't give you an indication
Q Okay. Back on the airline
legislation, the industry has been giving the Hill for several days now
a very specific list of things it would like to see
done. You have now talked, and the Transportation Secretary
talked about coming up with your own plan. Does that suggest
that what the air industry has put before Congress does not meet with
entire administration approval, and you want to go in a different
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think what
it suggests is that even at this time, the administration, the Congress
are going to exercise their discretion and their
judgment. They will of course work with affected
constituencies. But in all times, war and peace,
constituencies come to the United States government with requests, and
those requests get considered. That doesn't mean they get
considered and everyone of them approved just exactly as
proposed. That's how our government works, in all times.
Q Ari, National
Airport -- Reagan National Airport is a vital transportation
center. It is also the main airport of the capital of the
United States. It's a symbol. The President wants
the United States to get back to normality as quickly as
possible. I know there are security problems, and they're
trying to be addressed. Does the President have any sense or
any feeling that he would like Reagan National open, or is he willing
MR. FLEISCHER: That will be a
decision that's made by the appropriate security authorities and by the
Department of Transportation. That's not going to be a
decision made by the President. The President is of course
aware of the inconvenience that this has caused to people in the
Washington D.C. area. He wishes there were no inconveniences
to travelers or to residents anywhere in the United
States. But it's a recognition of what happens when you have
an airport so extraordinarily close to so many major governmental and
Q Not just
inconvenience to travelers, it happens to be one of the most vital
industries of the capital and the metropolitan area, the state of
MR. FLEISCHER: Sure, it
is. And again, many economies, many industries have been
affected by this. But as the government reacts to all of
this, security will always be an important concern. And I
think that people recognize that.
Q Ari, what about
the Middle East and the President's reaction to talk of a cease-fire,
and will he address this, do you think, in his meeting with Chirac for
MR. FLEISCHER: I think there is
an open event with Chirac -- is it a pool event? Pool at the
top on Chirac.
Q I just wondered
if he had a specific intention to address it -- I mean, I know he'll
MR. FLEISCHER: I have not seen
his remarks for tonight with Chirac yet, so --
nevertheless, his reaction -- can you tell us his reaction?
MR. FLEISCHER: His reaction to
Q To talk of
cease-fire now in the Middle East?
MR. FLEISCHER: Oh,
yes. Thank you. The President welcomes the
positive statements by Chairman Arafat, including a call for a complete
cease-fire for the exercise of maximum self-restraint and for a
resumption of direct contacts between the parties.
The President hopes to see these steps
implemented immediately on the ground. The President also
welcomes the Israeli government statement that it has called a halt to
its offensive military operations.
The President has called on all parties,
and he reiterates it today, to seize this moment and do everything
possible in the wake of this attack on the United States, to move
forward with the peace process in the Middle East. So, the
President welcomes today's remarks.
David, go ahead.
Q Let me just --
Q There's a guy in
the back that has had his hand up for 20 minutes.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, Mr.
Kinsolving, when you're the press secretary, you will be able to call
on anybody in any order.
Q No, no, I'm just
suggesting, because he's had his hand up for 20 minutes, Ari.
MR. FLEISCHER: As far as I can
tell, everybody in this room has had their hand up since I got here.
Q Does the
President have some indication now whether Israel will be a willing
partner or a hindrance to this coalition that's being assembled?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the
President hopes that all nations around the world will help to resolve
this matter. And he's going to have continued conversations
with Israel and with the government of Israel. But it's also
important for Israel and for the Palestinian Authority to do all they
can to seize this opportunity to move forward on peace in the Middle
East which will, in and of itself, be a major contribution to reducing
terrorism and violence around the world.
Q Ari, I just want
to make it clear when we asked before about the President's statements
about eradicating terrorism around the world, how -- and not being
specific to Osama bin Laden and his organization -- how do we then work
with Iran, which there's been talk of doing in spite of the fact that
they harbor terrorists and fund Hezbollah? I mean, do we
make their cooperation contingent upon serving Hezbollah to us?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's
going to be a very complicated matter. With different states it's
going to be more complicated. And I think the basic approach
that we can look at is -- as I indicated yesterday, some nations are
going to be able to do more, some nations are going to be able to do an
awful lot. Other nations may be only able to do a
little. But if that little is constructive, that little will
The approach of the government will
involve both a carrot and a stick. And in different nations, the
carrot may be bigger, in other nations the stick may be bigger.
Q Ari, isn't it
likely that in order to get Iran's cooperation, we would have to
essentially give them implicit, if not explicit, promise that we're not
going to go after their own operations?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it all
depends on what the definition of cooperation is by various nations
around the world. And that's why I indicated it's a
complicated measure. There will be different actions taken
with different governments. And I'm not going to say
specifically what it would be with Iran, but --
Q I don't think
it's been over 19 minutes, actually. (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: Very effective
way to get a question to the back.
team. Given the events of the last week and given the
direction that we were headed before last Tuesday, how confident is the
President that we can avoid a recession?
MR. FLEISCHER: That will be a
simple matter of judging the economics as the data comes
out. The second quarter, as you know, grew at a rate of 0.2
percent, and the third quarter's preliminary data will be
released, I believe, on September 24th. So that's next
week. And we'll know at that time how close to recession the
country is or is not. And of course although that data will
-- substantially, if not all, preceded the attack on the country.
But the President understands that the
fundamental underpinnings of the economy are strong -- that even with
the attack, the combined effect of the Federal Reserve rate cuts and
the stimulative affect of the tax cut will have an impact on the
economy. We'll see precisely, in the wake of the attack,
what level of impact they will have. And the President will
gauge all that as he meets with his economic team to decide whether or
not anything else needs to be done.
Q Ari, you said
that the United States has received mixed and conflicting messages from
the Taliban. How are those messages being
communicated? Is the Taliban communicating with this
government through an intermediary?
MR. FLEISCHER: You might want
to ask the State Department for the exact ways of the
conversations. I know that in Islamabad, for example, there
can be contacts between our embassy and Taliban officials in
Pakistan. There are also press accounts of what the Taliban
are saying. So there are various ways.
Q Are you trying to
open a channel to that government that hasn't existed before because of
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you may
want to check with the State Department on that. This is a
real legal, diplomatic matter of exactly what form of communication
there is with that government. And State could explain it to
you better than I can.
Q Ari, now the
Indian-American community, especially with turbans and beards are under
attack in this area, in Virginia. And this morning the
members held a press conference at the National Press Club, and they're
calling on the administration, President Bush, they wrote letters, and
also that he should take steps and call on the Attorney General to take
immediate steps today. And same -- from the Indian
Ambassador, in which also he said that they are with the U.S., but at
the same time, our community who are citizens of this country should be
protected as any other citizens; they are the same.
FLEISCHER: Absolutely. The head of the FBI
yesterday made that message clear, and this government will not
tolerate any such intolerance. And the President is committed to doing
everything he can. You know, 99.999 percent of the American
people would never even think or do anything like this. To
the degree there is a teeny minority, this government will get
them. That is wrong, and the laws must be enforced, and they
will be. And that's a commitment from the President at the highest
Q At the stakeout
here, Mineta seemed to say that though it's premature to talk about the
specific details in the airline bailout, that the airlines should be
made whole from the losses they suffered while they were forced out of
the skies last week. That would suggest there is a floor on
what the administration is considering for the airlines.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think
what he's indicating is that we have to help the airlines to become
safe, secure and stable. There's no question that when the
order from the FAA went out, ordering all the airlines to put their
planes down wherever was the closest location where the FAA could land
them, as opposed to their destinations, that has a cost to the
airlines, of course. It also was what enabled the United
States to know exactly how many flights could be hijacked that were up
in the air. That's how the United States was able to quickly
So this is all part of what the President
has tasked his advisors and the Secretary of Transportation to look at,
as they consider what steps to take.
Q Mineta indicated,
though, that at a minimum, the airlines should be made whole for the
losses they suffered, which he described as $250 to $300 million a day
for those days when they weren't allowed to fly. So it makes
it sound as if there is a minimum that the administration has already
agreed to, and it's just thinking about the rest of the --
MR. FLEISCHER: I was in
synagogue this morning, and so I did not participate in the meeting
with the airline people, and in yesterday's meeting, there was no
discussion with the President about minimums. There was a
discussion of taking those steps to help the airlines to deal with the
consequences of the attack.
Q Ari, the AP
reports that they have filed a protest to Yasser Arafat's Palestinian
Authority about threats to a cameraman who filmed crowds of
Palestinians celebrating the attacks on the United
States. And the Palestinian Authority ordered material not
to be aired, and there were threats to the lives of
cameramen. And this was also protested by the Foreign Press
Association in Jerusalem.
And my two-part question. The
first is, the President surely supports the AP and the Foreign Press
Association in this protest, doesn't he, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President
always supports the right of a free press to operate around the world.
Q Good. Now, since it was --
(laughter) -- since it was so many thousands of Arafat's Palestinians
who, in Nablus, Ramallah, East Jerusalem and Gaza publicly celebrated
the mass murder of nearly 6,000 of our fellow Americans and I
understand 60 other countries -- and they also carried photos of bin
Laden. Why does the President want anything to do with the
leader of these creatures?
MR. FLEISCHER: When I indicated
earlier, Les, that the President welcomed the steps or the
announcements that were taken in the Middle East, it's because through
this tragedy, the President hopes that others in the Middle East would
seize an opportunity to finally get serious about the peace process and
implementation of the Mitchell talks. Anyone, anywhere in
the world who reacted with any level of joy to the tragedy in New York
needs to be denounced.
But there still is a fundamental issue in
the Middle East about how to achieve peace with Israel and her
neighbors, and this President will remain committed to that process.
Let me go to the back.
Q On the airline
bailout, I think $24 billion may sound like a large sum to a lot of
people, and you said earlier that many industries are
hurting. Is there any thought being given to helping other
industries, and can you explain more about why the airline industry
should be bailed out? Does the President feel it's a matter of
national security to keep all the airlines that currently exist
MR. FLEISCHER: Number one, when
I said the President is confident in the fundamentals of the economy,
it's always important to keep in mind that our nation has gone through
war before. And the American people, the American commerce,
American industry adjusts. It does figure out how to get
back on its footing. And that's part of the reason our
nation is so resilient and strong for more than 200 years.
In the case of the airline industry, they
have been particularly harmed by what has taken place in the wake of
the attack up in New York. And so the President has directed his staff
to take a look at any potential proposals that can come together to
help the airline industry. I indicated the President is
going to have other meetings today on the overall status of the
economy, and to the degree that the President authorizes any actions to
help the economy, it helps all those who, of course, participate in the
economy. Beyond that, I have nothing else to offer on it.
Q Is there any
concern that one industry after another might, as
this effort goes on, especially if we go to a full-scale war
situation, come to the White House with a hand out, saying we need some
bailout for us -- and the money has to come from somewhere at some
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't think
the President looks at this as a bailout. This is a reasoned
reaction to what has taken place to the airline industry in the wake of
Q As the
administration puts together all the various pieces of the economic
puzzle, with the data coming in next week, how much weight, how much
significance, how concerned is the administration about one particular
part of that picture, which would be consumer confidence, which,
arguably, has taken a big hit from what's happened here beyond what was
already -- the trend that was already evident?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the answer
to that really is contained in what I talked about before, that America
has gone through war before, and our people and our industries, our
commerce has proven its resiliency and strength. And an
amazing thing is happening right now, if you take a look at consumer
confidence, if you take a look at people who think the country is on
the right track. There has been in many circles a patriotic
rally where the American people have expressed their confidence and
their belief that the United States is on the right track, that the
United States economy will be strong.
And it's that American spirit that has
always kept us free, and has enabled us to deal with any adversaries
that have ever crossed our paths before. So there's that
spirit of the country that will get matched by the real policies of
this President that will lead to the growth and the continuation of our
Q Ari, can I ask
about the President's view of his own role over the next few days, or
however long it takes to come up with the first of likely military
reaction? Is he going to be holding daily events to rally
the American people and highlight various aspects of what he believes
to be this sort of comprehensive war on terror that he has in mind?
MR. FLEISCHER: There's no
rule. This is new for -- fortunately, this is new for all of
us. I think the President will continue to speak out as he
sees fit. He will continue to say and answer things as he
feels is right for the country. And that's really what
you've been seeing.
Q The reason I ask
is because, obviously, to the extent that the American people are angry
and are looking for action, there are sort of two graphs going -- one
is going down as their attention span may begin to
slip. Does he feel the need to sort of keep up a certain
level of concentration on this issue?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think
the President -- I know the President believes his first need is to put
together a war plan that will work, over whatever period of time it
requires. That is his first priority. And he has
asked the American people for patience, as you've heard him say, as
Secretary Rumsfeld has said, as the Vice President has said, as that
process continues. He's aware that the American people are
very focused on this right now, but it doesn't matter the degree of
focus, the President will do what he believes is the right
option. He will not rush it, he will not delay it, he will
act as he has said, at a time and a moment and a way of America's
choosing. That's his first thought.
Beyond that, the President does understand
that he has an important role to play in speaking for the
nation. The American people want to know what he is doing,
what he is thinking and why he is thinking it, so people continue to
speak out and answer those questions.
Q Thank you,
Ari. On the international terrorism, I understand the
President wants to change international tolerance for terrorism, but
you listed a disparate group of terrorists in Northern Ireland,
everyplace else. Does the President have any proof that
these different terrorist groups are linked together in any way?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the al
Qaeda organization is present in, as you've heard from the President,
more than 60 countries, and its links are -- its links are amorphous,
and that's one of the ways that terrorism has so successfully operated
around the world. It's hard to tell where one group begins
and another group ends often. But the President is making
clear that as he approaches this, he's approaching it from a very broad
and total sense. I think it's his judgment and the judgment of the
planners that is the way to be most effective.
Q Are you leaving
the impression that this campaign against terrorism will be against the
IRA as well as all of these -- I mean, it's going to be that
massive? This is what you're telling us.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President
has indicated he will go after terrorism wherever terrorism threatens
the United States. And --
Q Oh, threatens the
Q I'll yield the
floor to Ron.
Q Actually, I
wanted to follow up on that and then ask you something
else. Have you just now declared war on the IRA?
MR. FLEISCHER: I said that the
links for one group begins and the other group ends are often
amorphous, and the President has said we will go after terrorism in a
way that is most effective.
Q But we only go to
war against terrorist groups that threaten the United
States? Was that a distinction you intended to make?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
Q Let me follow up
with something more nebulous. Small point. But
have the Bushes had a chance to make a donation to the rescue groups,
any of these charities, themselves?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll ask.
Q We carried word
of an intelligence report believed to be credible that Mohammed Atta,
who was taken to be the ringleader of the 19 that were involved in the
last Tuesday's attack, was seen meeting with the head of Iraqi
intelligence in Europe earlier this year. Do you have any
knowledge of that report? Do you have any knowledge of a
connection to Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll have to
take a look at that.
Q The other
question was, the President used the word crusade last Sunday, which
has caused some consternation in a lot of Muslim countries. Can you
explain his usage of that word, given the connotation to Muslims?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think what the
President was saying was -- had no intended consequences for anybody,
Muslim or otherwise, other than to say that this is a broad cause that
he is calling on America and the nations around the world to
join. That was the point -- purpose of what he said.
Q Does he regret
having used that word, Ari, and will he not use it again in the context
of talking about this effort?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think to the
degree that that word has any connotations that would upset any of our
partners, or anybody else in the world, the President would regret if
anything like that was conveyed. But the purpose of his
conveying it is in the traditional English sense of the
word. It's a broad cause.
Q You mentioned the
President's pleasure with the developments in the Middle
East. What role did the administration play in all of its
ongoing diplomatic conversations the past week to achieve what appears
to be the beginnings of a breakthrough in the Middle East on the peace
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it's been
a constant process. It's something that the President spoke
with Prime Minister Sharon about when they spoke on the phone
earlier. And it's been something that the Secretary of State
has been very involved in in his conversations. And it's
also based on good sense that from this there is an opportunity.
Q Carry on with
that. An opportunity because it's necessary for the United
States as it builds a coalition to make sure this -- there is also
progress shown in that part of the world?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because I think
it's a reminder to the parties in the Middle East that they can choose
a path that leads to further violence, or they can choose a path that
leads to peace. And it wasn't so long ago that the two were
making progress on the path that led to peace. And the
President hopes that in the wake of witnessing such an act of
terrifying violence that it will send a wakeup to the Palestinian
authority and to Israel and to all in the Middle East, don't let this
path of violence be the path that guides you. Choose another
path, and that is the past that you committed yourselves to, to engage
in dialogue, to engage in confidence-building steps, to engage in
security talks, so that you can have a lasting cease-fire, which allows
you to address the broader political problems in the Middle East.
Q There are reports
that an aviation official contacted Senator Kerrey and warned that
Boston Logan airport was vulnerable to a hijacking, that the plane
could be then used to crash into a building. There are also
reports that FBI agents were at one of these flights schools.
Looking back and looking forward to
securing the safety of the American people, is the President concerned
about the information flow -- one hand knowing what the other hand is
doing, the head knowing nothing within the federal
government? That, one of the -- what went wrong last
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think
that any time you have a nation as open as ours, where you have so many
hundreds of millions of people who come to visit this country, and you
have so many crossings into this nation, we have a security system that
is set up that is really among the best, if not the best in the
world. I think in the wake of this, obviously, changes are
being made to tighten up. But there was no credible -- there
was no specific evidence that this attack was coming. And we
remain an open nation, which has been one of our greatest strengths and
assets, and will always be. But it does expose us to
Q Does the
President want to get a better system in place where information can be
processed quickly to the people who are securing the country's safety?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you may
want to direct that directly at the operational side. If you
want to talk to the FAA, if you want to talk to the Department of
Justice, if you want to talk to the Pentagon --
Q Isn't that a
White House priority?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the
President's priority is to take all steps necessary to secure the
safety of the American people. And he'll continue to do so.
Q In limiting this
battle against terrorism to groups which threaten the United States,
what incentive is there for the international coalition the President
is trying to assemble to join in? And in particular, with
Britain, which has its own issues with fighting the IRA?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, when I say
that, the President has made it clear to his allies on the phone that
these attacks were aimed at Western civilization; they were aimed at
those who cherish liberty. And that does include nations
outside the United States. And when I indicate -- the
question about the IRA, for example, you should not interpret that to
mean that the IRA is or is not a part of this.
What I've said -- because I'm not going to
be specific about any one organization -- what I have said is when the
President commits this nation and others to fight terrorism, it's hard
to tell where the bounds of one group begins and one groups ends, and
in that, it goes beyond the United States; all nations have a reason to
protect themselves. And as this coalition is formed, nations
will have those reasons to protect themselves as part of this.
So that broadens my earlier answer a
Q A follow-up to
this one. You're asking for different contributions from
different countries. Are you going to ask any European
countries for any military contribution? And what do you
make out of countries which are neutral, like Austria?
MR. FLEISCHER: This is going to
be the longstanding policy of this White House in this
matter: Until the President chooses to announce what
concrete actions and steps are being taken, I won't get into the
specificity of what we are asking.
The requests fall into a broad series of
categories, involving things that could be military, political,
financial, economic, diplomatic. And as I explained
yesterday, the reason that I'm not going to get into those specifics
is, to say from this podium what we're asking somebody to do to help us
would give information to those who want to hurt us -- they could
change their habits, they could change their behavior, they could
change the way they do things if they knew what we were specifically
going after. So, of course, I can't answer that in specificity.
Q You're including
military needs, you're including military, political, financial and so
MR. FLEISCHER: I just answered
that in the affirmative.
Q What is the White
House position on the Justice Department's proposal to the Hill on
counterterrorism and changing the laws? And I understand
people on the Hill are waiting to get word from the White House on
whether or not they support it, and are just waiting to hear from you
MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated
yesterday, the President supports Attorney General Ashcroft's efforts
in this matter. He's briefing, as a matter of fact, as we
speak, and so you'll be able to get additional information from the
Thank you. Thank you.
2:53 P.M. EDT