|The White House
President George W. Bush
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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 cooperation.
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 France.
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 closed meeting.
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 questions.
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 President yesterday.
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 now?
MR. 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.
Q Specifically, 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 unite.
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 condemning this.
Q Does he want anything concrete?
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 be spared.
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 that?
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 yet, Major.
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 direction?
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 to wait?
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 important facilities.
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 Virginia.
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 the cameras?
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 take questions.
MR. FLEISCHER: I have not seen his remarks for tonight with Chirac yet, so --
Q But, 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 proceed.
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.
Q Tag 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 this crisis?
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.
MR. 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 level.
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 gain information.
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 flying?
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 point.
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 the attack.
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 strength.
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 United States.
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 question?
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 Tuesday?
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 vulnerabilities.
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 little bit.
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 on?
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 guys.
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 General.
Thank you. Thank you.
END 2:53 P.M. EDT