The White House
President George W. Bush
Print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 21, 2001

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

     Listen to the Briefing

  1. President's schedule today
  2. Chretien and Koizumi upcoming visits
  3. President's meeting with insurance companies
  4. Emergency assistance for New York
  5. Taliban
  6. Military operation
  7. Sky marshal program
  8. Support from other countries/coalition
  9. Boston
  10. Iran
  11. Homeland Security Office
  12. Radar trace of American Airlines flight
  13. Surplus funds
  14. Airlines
  15. Week ahead

1:51 P.M. EDT

MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. I want to give you some information about the President's day, then, if you will remind me I have as much detail as I can provide on a week ahead, which I'll do at the conclusion.

The President this morning spoke with Turkish President Sezer. The President and President Sezer affirmed their solidarity in the fight against terrorism and all those who support and harbor them. The President expressed his thanks to Turkey, a Muslim country, and NATO, that has long suffered from terrorism, for its strong support. The Presidents agree that Turkey and the United States will work together in the long struggle ahead.

The President also spoke with Nigerian President Obasanjo this morning. The President thanked President Obasanjo for his support and letters and calls of condolence. He described his new policy to fight terrorism and those who provide terrorists with sanctuary.

President Obasanjo offered Nigeria's unconditional support to fight against terrorism, stating that, "If we fail in the task, the world is unsafe for all of us." President Bush thanked President Obasanjo for his leadership role in Africa and noted his current efforts to promote peace in the Sudan. And the President offered condolences to the Nigerian people for the loss of life in the recent Muslim-Christian violence in central Nigeria.

The President also spoke with Omani Sultan Qaboos this morning. The Sultan conveyed his condolences to the United States over the attack, and pledged Oman's support for the international fight against terrorism.

The President thanked the Sultan for his expression of sympathy and stressed the high value that the United States places on the friendly relationship with the Sultanate of Oman. And the President also made clear in the course of that conversation that the United States did not attribute the criminal actions of the terrorists with the peaceful religion of Islam, which rejects terrorism.

Two upcoming visits I want to report. President Bush has invited Prime Minister Chretien of Canada to come to Washington for a working visit on Monday, September 24th. The Prime Minister has accepted, and he will be in the Oval Office followed by a lunch, private lunch, for a meeting with the President.

In addition, President Bush looks forward to welcoming Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi to Washington for a working visit on September 25th, next week.

In a little while, this afternoon the President will meet with leaders of the insurance companies from across America. And the message the President expects to hear from these leaders is that the insurance industry is very well capitalized and is prepared financially to respond fully to all concerns raised in the wake of this disaster, which is good news for all Americans.

And, finally, the President will depart for Camp David this afternoon. And I'll get a little bit into the week ahead, including weekend activities, at the end.

One other item -- two other items, just an update on a couple areas involving the Cabinet. Attorney General Ashcroft and Director of the FBI Robert Mueller are in New York City today. General Ashcroft has announced $10 million in emergency assistance from the COPS program to assist the city of New York with its law enforcement needs.

And Education Secretary Paige is in New Jersey, where he has announced a $1.5 million grant to assist the New Jersey Department of Education, and also to provide $250,000 in assistance to the Maryland Department of Education, to assist students and teachers impacted by terrorist attacks.

Q Ari, the Taliban's response to the President's speech last night was, show us compelling evidence that bin Laden is guilty and then let's talk. What's the President's message for the Taliban today?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President's message to the Taliban today is the same message that he gave last night, that there will be no negotiations and no discussions; he expects the Taliban to honor the demands that he made in his speech last night, to cease their efforts to support and harbor terrorists and to turn terrorists over to the United States or other authorities and to allow the United States access to the terrorists' camps where the training took place, to make certain that they are no longer training terrorists who can bring harm to people around the free world.

Q So he rejects their response?

MR. FLEISCHER: That's a fair characterization.

Q And he also said that if they do not comply, that they will share the fate of the terrorists. So is it now the policy of the administration that if the Taliban regime does not comply they will be removed from power?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President has made it very clear that the United States is preparing for action on a wide range of fronts, that include military, financial, diplomatic and will be aimed at those who harbor and support or engage in terrorism. And I think your question answers itself.

Q But shouldn't the American people know that one of our war aims is to remove from power the government of Afghanistan?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President has said that he will take action to protect our citizens and people from around the world, and that those who engage in terrorism will meet with, as he put it a few days ago, that those who attack the United States engage in an act of self-destruction -- whether it's a removal of power or whatever form it takes. And I'm not going to go into what specific form it's going to take.

Q Let me follow, then. During the campaign, the President said -- now, obviously, things have changed -- that one of his conditions for committing military force was having a clear exit strategy. In Afghanistan, what would that look like?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'm not going to presume to tell you what the operational details may be, but the goal is very clear. And the definition of victory is when freedom defeats fear. And that is what is one the line, as the President said last night. The terrorist attacks have created a situation of fear in the United States and around the world. And this war against terrorism is aimed at making certain that freedom conquers fear and that the world can be safe from terrorism, Terry.

Q Is the President ruling out any kind of discussions with the Taliban that could ultimately lead to his goal along the lines that the United States has had with Pakistan?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President has made very clear that he is looking for action, not words. And he has given in his speech last night a very clear list of actions that need to be taken.

Q But does meaningful consultation or negotiation not constitute action?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President addressed it last night, himself.

Q Does he believe that the Taliban wants to negotiate, or is he convinced that the response to the speech was essentially the Taliban thumbing its nose at the United States?

MR. FLEISCHER: One, we have received no official word from the Taliban. What you have heard has been conveyed through the press. But the President could not have made it any plainer last night that this is not the time for negotiations or discussions, this is the time for action.

Q Do we have concrete proof, other than they hate freedom and that -- this is very nebulous, simplistic stuff, because you really don't know. That doesn't really give enough of meat on the plate here. Do you have concrete proof that this man was guilty, and if you have it, why don't you present it?

MR. FLEISCHER: Let me remind you what I've been saying for the last three days.

Q I know he's been indicted and so forth, but that
isn't --

MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct. Osama bin Laden and the al Qaeda organization have been indicted in connection with the bombings of United States facilities in Kenya and Tanzania. That indictment stands on the books today.

There are also indications that the al Qaeda organization was involved in the bombing of the Cole. Let me try to help you on your specific question, Helen. You're asking for us, today, publicly, to provide you, the press, with evidence, when Secretary Powell has said that all evidence --

Q Provide the American people.

MR. FLEISCHER: -- fair enough -- that Secretary Powell said all roads point to the al Queda organization. You've heard other people, Vice President Cheney, talk about the President -- the President talking about the prime suspect is Osama bin Laden, the al Queda organization.

The challenge that the government always faces when you ask a question like that, provide the proof, is the means of providing the proof provides valuable information to those who are the objects of any potential action. They would like nothing better than to be able to hide where they are hiding, and have the United States reveal what we know and how we know it, which will make it easier for them to hide, and will make it easier for them to carry out further actions if we report our sources and our methods for how we obtain information. We're just not going to do that.

Q You are saying it's not incumbent on this government to explain?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think the American people have heard plenty of explanations from the President and from the government assembled. And the American people support those actions.

Q The President and others in this administration keep asking for not only hunkering down for the long-term, but patience. And yet polls show that the American public is angry and wants some sort of immediate military retaliation. Without getting into operational details, can you tell us if that military strike or retaliation, or whatever, is coming within hours, days, weeks or months? Can you give us some kind of time frame?

MR. FLEISCHER: Of course not. (Laughter.)

Q Ari, can we ask this question then? Does this administration believe, based on the Taliban's response, that military action is inevitable?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President has made it abundantly clear that this nation is preparing for war, because war has been declared against the United States. And the United States will respond. The United States will respond to protect lives in the future. The United States will respond because justice demands it.

Q The President also went through a list of what he says are the evil to the Taliban's own governance of Afghanistan. Is this, in effect, a war of liberation of Afghanistan?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, it's a war to protect people around the world, so they can enjoy their freedom, and so freedom can defeat fear. I think what the purpose of the President doing that was, he wanted to share with the American people who it is who would engage in such an attack on the United States. The President has previously referred to al Queda organization and terrorists generally as they operate in the shadows. It's hard for Americans to relate to who they are and what they seek. So I think the purpose of the President saying that last night was to give the American public a broader explanation about who these people are who would do this.

Q Is the administration then supporting this exiled King, the northern insurgency or some kind of U.N. administration of that country if the Taliban, now removed by military or other ways?

MR. FLEISCHER: The objective, again, is to protect the American people and people from around the world from terrorism and from harm, so they can live without fear. That's the objective of the campaign and the President has made it very clear.

As plans are put in place through the variety of means which I've identified before -- diplomatic, political, otherwise -- the United States, of course, will always keep an eye on issues involving stability. And that will all be taken into account involving the planning.

Q Let me do just one more. Shouldn't the American people be involved, informed in that debate, as to what their government is committing to in the governance of Afghanistan? In other words, if we're supporting some King, shouldn't we know that? If we're supporting --

MR. FLEISCHER: That's not the case, Terry. What we're doing is preparing for action on a host of fronts with our allies. And as the United States leads, that helps to protect people around the world from terrorism. You're right away jumping to hypotheticals about, well, what happens next after a hypothetical action is taken, what happens to a hypothetical government that would be in a hypothetical place. And I can't go there.

Q Ari, one of the ways to achieve that objective domestically, at least, Secretary O'Neill has said, is to federalize the U.S. Marshal program for the skies for the aviation. Does the White House economic team, Josh Bolten, Larry Lindsey --

MR. FLEISCHER: The U.S. Marshal program, of course, is federal.

Q I mean the sky marshals.

MR. FLEISCHER: They are federal.

Q And the security -- increase the number of sky marshals and the security screeners at the airports?


Q Does the White House economic team, Josh Bolten and Larry Lindsey have a different view of that?

MR. FLEISCHER: Actually, I think what he was referring to, what the Secretary of Treasury was referring to was the agreement that's being negotiated and was completed last night on the Hill. There are still additional talks going on today, and I think it will still get voted on today.

Q -- going much further than that agreement?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, what he was referring to was not a question of putting people on a payroll, he was referring to making them federal employees. He was talking about the federal assistance to upgrade security and to have better training of the people that are at those gates who the Americans see every day when they travel through airports, who look through the X-ray machines, et cetera.

Q But federalizing those workers, the security screeners, is off the table?

MR. FLEISCHER: Mark, that's not part of what they're talking about on the Hill right now, so --

Q I realize it might not be in the initial package, but are you rejecting it out of hand forever, or just for the immediate future?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think it's not in the cards right now, and we'll see -- when you say, is it off the table, the administration is going to continue to listen and work with the Congress on it. There are some people who have some thoughts about it, so we'll listen. But I think the agreement that's being worked out on the Hill is all but final. They're going to vote on it shortly. So just watch the events on the Hill.

Q Ari, going back to the exit strategy question, when will we know, how will we know, if freedom is defeated here, the war is over, and our troops can come home?

MR. FLEISCHER: First of all, I need to again remind everybody that this is going to be a different type of war. And so you're asking in the traditional sense of troops come home.

Q That's what I'm asking, how do you define the end of this?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there are going to be things, Ron, such as undermining financial networks that the President has talked about, that you may not know. There will be victories the President has talked about that are going to be unseen.

But I think it will be clear to the American people that when they're again able to say that they can travel without fear throughout the country, that the risks have been so reduced because of the actions that were taken in the form of financial, in the form of military, that the world will be able to breathe a sigh of relief and say that the events have changed, the war on terrorism has been won.

Q But when he decides to put troops in battle to do this military operation you're building up for, will he be able to tell the American people at that time when they're coming out?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to deal with hypotheticals, Ron. He has made no such commitment yet about putting troops in battle. So I think you're way ahead of things. But I will just remind you, the President has said that the definition of victory is when freedom conquers fear and the world is safe.

Q But you can see that's a hard thing to define -- when freedom has defeated fear, when a war is over.

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, but I think also the American people will recognize that over the course of this struggle, there are going to be many victories, many of which they will know and will be plain to see; many of which will be new -- things in the financial realm, that they will come to understand. And it will be a different type of war. But I think in the end, the American people will have a good grasp of what victory means.

Q Ari, the President, the Secretary of State, others in the administration made clear that priority one is taking out al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. If that is successfully done, will the American people, should the American people feel that the level of security has been restored? Is that the important marker?

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I'm not going to get into hypotheticals about any potential action against any group right now. I think that you have to let this develop over
time --

Q But that's not a hypothetical, it was a defined goal. And if the President has said, has pledged that that goal will be achieved. So when and if that's done, what should Americans conclude from that?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think there is no question that when it is done, that the al Qaeda organization has been eliminated and they no longer have the global reach and the ability to carry out terrorism the way they have, there will be no doubt that it will be a marked improvement, that the American people will call a victory.

Q To follow on one other point. As we sit here now, does the President believe that the window of opportunity has closed in terms of the Taliban responding to his demands?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think he's put them on notice, and he is preparing to do what must inevitably come next.

Q But the clock is ticking. How long will the clock tick?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to define clocks.

Q So he does not consider the public response from the Taliban today, through the media, to be an official rejection of his demands?

MR. FLEISCHER: Suffice it to say, the reason the President met with his National Security Council this morning and that he will do so again tomorrow, is because the planning is active and underway.

Q Will you answer that point, about what he's concluded, or has he reached a conclusion about whether they have rejected --

MR. FLEISCHER: Given the fact that war preparations continue, I think it's fair to say that nothing has changed. The Taliban have not agreed to the demands the President laid out, and therefore the President will continue to take every action necessary to protect this country.

Q How solid do we feel we have the support in South Asia, the surrounding countries, so forth, for any action we take?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think -- now this is some 10, 11 days after the attack took place, and all indications are strong. The meetings with the foreign ministers --

Q Pakistan, India, Iran, China?

MR. FLEISCHER: The meeting with the Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia was a very, very positive, productive meeting. Pakistan, of course, has been supportive. As the President said, from the very beginning, this will be a time for Pakistan to determine in actions what course it seeks to take. And the President has been very encouraged by the results and the actions of Pakistan, of India, of the neighboring countries.

You know, the President is aware of what goes into coalition building. And that's why I always remind you that different countries are going to do different things. And I wouldn't be surprised if over time different countries change the things that they do. That's to be expected, as well. This is going to be a coalition that's going to be changing, in terms of what it does, given different events. And that's also to be expected in the course of anything long.

Q Ari, the President has said that the country should be prepared to take casualties in this fight. Is he talking about civilian casualties beyond the 6,000 or 7,000 at the World Trade Center? Is he indicating that as we press the fight against terrorism, there are likely to be more terrorist incidents in this country?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President has made it very plain to the American people that we still have to be vigilant here at home, domestically. And that is because there are still threats that remain, and will always remain, so long as there are terrorists who operate, and so long as our society is free. And so the President has warned, domestically, that people have to be prepared.

And the President has also warned that as the planning is made for what comes next militarily, that it will be a different type of war from some of the wars that -- if you can say, fortunate enough to have experienced in the past, where casualties were kept at such a great minimum, or none at all.

Q We're talking civilian casualties, we're talking the potential -- it's still more terrorist incidents within our borders.

MR. FLEISCHER: I think you can only look again to what the President has said. How can he make a prediction. What the President has said, that everybody has to remain in a state of alert and warning because we still are a free country and that people have to be prepared to take actions. And that's why the military and the domestic agencies remain on alert within these borders.

Q John Ashcroft apparently has warned the Mayor of Boston and the Governor of Massachusetts that for some reason, tomorrow is a significant day, according to their investigation. Can you share with us any of his security concerns, or what is Attorney General Ashcroft trying to convey?

MR. FLEISCHER: I would refer you to Justice on anything specific that the Attorney General has said.

Q A separate question. Is the United States sending a message to Iran? Have they done that in the last few days?

MR. FLEISCHER: The United States maintains contacts with Iran through the Swiss in Teheran, and the government of Iran sent the United States a message of condolences. The United States sent back to Iran a message of thanks for the expression of condolences.

Q Were there any other messages, besides just thanks?

MR. FLEISCHER: To the best of my knowledge, that's the extent of it.

Q When the President meets the Chinese Foreign Minister, is he going to tell about Pakistan -- through China?

MR. FLEISCHER: We'll try to get you some type of readout for the meeting.

Q Is there coverage on that, Ari?

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, I don't believe we're going to have an open meeting for that.

Q When you said a moment ago that the defeat of bin Laden and his network would be viewed as a victory, you didn't mean it would be viewed as the victory, correct? That's not the end of the war, if his organization and he were destroyed?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as the President has said, this is going to be a long struggle, and there are going to be many components to it. But, again, you have to take a look at these things through things that will be financial victories, as bank accounts are drained, as assets are frozen. There will be military moments, some that will be visible to the American people, some that won't be, and probably will never be known.

So there will be a series of actions, and each one will represent a step on the way to victory.

Q So that's a "no"? The goal of this is not just the defeat of bin Laden and his network, it's broader, and that action, defeating bin Laden, would not be the end of this, correct?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as I've been indicating on a regular basis, the President has said that the goals are broad, and that is to fight terrorism where terrorism continues, where terrorism persists, and where terrorism represents a threat to free people in the United States and everywhere. And, again, I just remind you that the al Queda organization is present in some 60 countries. And those who harbor and support terrorists are the targets of the President's action to protect our country. And there are nebulous lines about where some of these organizations begin and some end.

Q Ari, going back to what Helen had to say, yes, the Taliban wants to know specific answers as to why the United States is targeting Osama bin Laden. But there are some people, even though the United States as a whole, the American people, seem to be looking for retaliation, there are still some people here who want to know -- to remove some of the shadow of what you have, to precisely pinpoint Osama bin Laden as the person who has perpetrated this.

MR. FLEISCHER: April, I can only ask you, and this has been a consistent question from Helen and from other people here who are seeking information on behalf of the people of this country. I can only remind you that there are some questions that, to find the answer to, reveal very valuable information about how the United States would get that information. And to reveal that, we would provide information to the al Queda organization, to Osama bin Laden, to any other enemies of this country, that they would love to have. And I will not do that.

I just want to say this with the greatest respect possible. You have the right to ask those questions. I have the responsibility not to answer them.

Q Ari, a follow up to that. But what do you say to the people here in this country, who, as we talk about security, that we have to be mindful of what's going on in our borders, and there still seems to be a cloak of secrecy and people are still uncertain after what happened on 9/11. So what do you tell those people? Just trust the Bush administration, this is it? I mean, is it supposed to be full trust?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think if there is any uncertainty, it doesn't derive from the fact that the United States government is properly keeping details and operations and methods and sources secret; I think the American people, frankly, are pleased to hear that the government does that.

I think, if anything, there is still throughout the country a shock that has been felt as a result of the fact that our country was attacked and lives have been lost, and that is natural. Our nation is still going through a period of mourning. People have lost loved ones. People are missing. And so I think that is more the cause of the anxiety. Fortunately, for our nation, this is a new occurrence. But it has happened. Our borders have been attacked, within our borders. And I think that's the source of the anxiety.

I think, frankly, the American people take encouragement from the fact that this government will not have loose lips.

Q To what extent will Governor Ridge be taking over as the face of the response to September 11th? I mean, since this was an act of domestic terrorism, will he be helping to coordinate military responses going after Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda? Would he have an equal footing with the Attorney General, in terms of the Justice Department investigation? Will he be handling the reconstruction in New York City?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, he will have Cabinet rank and, therefore, he will be part of a team that always has worked very closely together. And if you notice, there's always areas of overlap between various government agencies and between different Cabinet departments. The key here when it comes to homeland defense is to have one very effective person at the pinnacle of it who can help coordinate it.

Now, there will be other clearly defined missions, of course: DOD, Defense, Attorney General, with Justice and the investigation, the gathering of evidence. But all of that still has implications for how you combine the various interagency groups that are working on homeland defense and ongoing protection from terrorism. So that will be his charge, and he'll work as a member of a team.

Q Let's follow up on that. Still this is not very well defined, what he's going to be doing. Will he, for example, have any role in overseeing the investigation of terror attacks? Will he have any oversight authority in retribution for terror attacks? Or is his job only to protect the country in the event of a terrorist attack?

MR. FLEISCHER: The investigation part will continue to be in the hands of the Department of Justice. But of course, as they develop their information, there's going to be things that can help in preparing to protect our country. As Justice Department uncovers leads, for example, that would indicate the types of action that were taken against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, those could be valuable clues that somebody like Governor Ridge will want to know about, so he can say, these are the types of patterns we saw, these are the types of things we need to know so we can protect America from anything in the future.

Q But Justice still takes the lead on the investigation?

MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct. The mission of the Governor, of Governor Ridge and this homeland office, homeland security, is to develop a coordinated, integrated and comprehensive national strategy to combat domestic terrorism, strengthening our homeland preparedness and security at all levels of government. And there are a lot of different agencies. His job will be to coordinate them in preparing for the homeland defense. It is not to replace the existing agencies that are doing their work in investigation. It is not to replace the Department of Defense, where it has taken the lead, of course, on things military.

Q One more question. Are you -- do you have any idea how many people are going to be in the office? And I take it from this morning, you are leaving open the possibility that the White House would ask for additional money to pay for this office?

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, those matters are still being considered. I think the best analogy, I gave you one this morning on something administrative, but I think the best way for you all, people very familiar with the White House, to think of this, too, is the National Security Council provides a real coordinating capacity involving State, involving Defense, involving CIA, and does so in the position of security.

This will do something similar in the direction of homeland defense. And there are subtle differences, but that's your best guide.

Q Will it be like some of the agencies, there will be people on loan from Justice and other departments working the White House rather than hiring a new staff here? Is that
how --

MR. FLEISCHER: It could be any combination of the above. It's early, and we'll keep you fully informed as that develops, but it's early.

Q What was the question?

MR. FLEISCHER: Will it be new hires, will it be people on loan from Justice or other agencies.

John, you had one?

Q Ari, can you tell us more about this other radar track that you were mentioning this morning, that gave clearer evidence that American flight 77 was headed for the White House initially?

MR. FLEISCHER: The Secret Service is going to handle all the inquiries concerning any tracks involving the White House and the security of the White House, and they'll give you a full explanation. In fact, I think they may already have, in the case of CBS.

Q In Israel, the newspaper, Haaretz, reports that every political party in the Knesset denounced the manifestations of Palestinian joy following last week's terror attacks on the United States, except the Israel-Arab parties, who also refused to sign the Knesset's letter of sympathy to the American people. And my question, surely after last night's unforgettable and specific, very specific Presidential address, the White House is not going to evade comment on these Israeli-Arabs, are you Ari?

MR. FLEISCHER: I took that question when you asked me a question two days ago about anyone around the world, including the Palestinians, who would rejoice at the loss of American life. And I said at the time, that the United States condemns it.

Q Given the fact that during Desert Storm, 100 percent of our female POWs, two of them, were both raped, the Commander-in-Chief does not intend to send any women into what appears to be coming combat, does he, Ari?

MR. FLEISCHER: Les, the President has the highest regard for the military, believes it is fully prepared for this mission. And the military, as currently constituted, is the best in the world. And the President supports their structure.

Q But there are no females in those special forces --

MR. FLEISCHER: I stand by what I said --

Q He won't send women into this, will he, Ari?

MR. FLEISCHER: I stand by what I said about the President knows that we have the best military in the world.

Q On which day did the President approach Governor Ridge with the job offer? And was he the President's first choice for the job?

MR. FLEISCHER: Actually, I have no information on the second part. I have not talked to the President about that. According to the information I have, it was Wednesday night, and then again Thursday morning.

Q In order to respond fully to the terrorist attack, is the administration willing to exhaust all surplus funds and, if necessary, even resort to deficit spending or consider rescinding part of the $1.35-trillion tax cut?

MR. FLEISCHER: Actually, Paula, I've taken a look at the financial condition of our country at times of previous wars. And as much as the President has indicated because of things operational that this is a different kind of war, it is also important to note that this will be the first war that will have begun when the United States government was in a position of surplus.

All previous wars in which the United States engaged, our nation was in deficit. The surplus is the second-largest in history, and that does provide an important and helpful cushion. But the President's focus will always be in times of war and peace to keep an eye on taxpayer dollars because in no case, war or peace, will taxpayer dollars be wasted. But the President is prepared to wage this war, and to do what is necessary to keep the country free.

But right now, I'll just follow the projections, but we do have a very large surplus, which puts us in a stronger position to begin this effort.

Q -- projections were based on mid-session review prior to September 11th. If it does look like your surplus is exhausted, are you willing to reconsider rescinding the tax cut or resorting to deficit spending?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to deal with hypotheticals. Obviously, the President is talking with Congress about an economic stimulus package that actually would have additional tax cuts in it. So I don't think what you've suggested on a tax cut is in the cards at all.

Q Have we gone into a war with this level of accumulated debt?

MR. FLEISCHER: In the percentage of the GDP, I would have to take a look; I couldn't tell you.

Q Wouldn't that be important, though? Because the surplus is sort of a momentary thing, comes and goes, it seems like. Isn't the more important figure whether or not, you know, what level of debt we're in?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think economists could differ on that question, but I think the important question is debt as a percentage of GDP, and I don't have that off of the top of my head.

Q Will this coalition have a restrictive effect on the President? Will it tie America's hands, as did the coalition, to some extent, in the Persian --

MR. FLEISCHER: No. And that's one of the reasons I indicated earlier that this will be a coalition where people contribute differently, and it will change over time. There will be moments where people contribute more, and then they'll contribute less. There will be moments where they contribute fully throughout. It will be a coalition with changing needs, with changing requirements. And the President will continue to work with all nations of the world to accept their contributions to helping defeat terrorism as those nations see fit.

We have to get to the week ahead, I just want to remind people.

Q You said the other day that the airline companies have a legitimate claim on the U.S. government for having their planes put down on the ground and some of the ensuing problems that have flowed from that. What about the airline workers? Do you feel that they, many of whom, tens of thousands of whom have lost their jobs in the last week or two, do they have a legitimate claim on the U.S. government?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, certainly the action that was ordered affected the airline companies. They were told to put the planes down on the ground. And that's all being considered as part of the package to help the airline industry. As I mentioned, there are other factors that are being taken into consideration to help the economy, to help unemployed workers, and those will be addressed, as well.

Q One question before you go to the week ahead?

MR. FLEISCHER: John, go ahead.

Q About my former homeland. The President did not mention Canada last night in his address, and it's being taken north of the border as a snub because Prime Minister Chretien has not stepped up to the plate to support this effort.

MR. FLEISCHER: Oh, no. Oh, no. No, the President would hope nobody would take it in that manner. In fact, Prime Minister Chretien was among the first people that the President called on Wednesday, September 12th, to thank Canada for the role that they played in helping the United States. And he'll be coming here next week, as you know, which is a sign of the high esteem that the President holds Canada in, and that all Americans do. I just think American support for Canada is so strong it speaks for itself.

Q So why didn't he mention it last night?

MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated, I think that American support for Canada is so strong that it speaks for itself. And the President is looking forward to visiting with Prime Minister Chretien next week. Canada has been stalwart, and always is.

Q One quick question. Just a quickie. Going back quickly to proof and culpability, can you say definitively from the rostrum, without divulging sources of intelligence or anything else, that Osama bin Laden and his organization are responsible for the attack of last week?

MR. FLEISCHER: I will refer you right back to the statements that have been made by the President, where he called him a prime suspect; the Secretary of State, who said, all roads lead to the al Qaeda organization. Their remarks speak for themselves.

Q That's not really definitive. That's not quite definitive.

MR. FLEISCHER: Their remarks speak for themselves. Let me give you the week ahead.

Q What are we doing next week?

MR. FLEISCHER: Let me give you the week ahead.

Q -- there is a -- every terrorist group of global reach. And this has been interpreted by some in one country who say that unless the administration has a global reach, they are free to carry on terrorist attacks on neighboring countries. So can you clarify, the President -- terrorism, period, whether it is global, local or cross-border?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President's message to terrorists is clear: that those who carry out acts of terror that threaten freedom will find a very strong foe in the United States and in the coalition.

Tomorrow, the President will chair a meeting of the National Security Council from Camp David via teleconference, and then --

Q What time will that be, Ari?

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't have the exact time, Ron, and there will be no read from that. It will be, obviously, a private conversation the President will have.

Q Will it be multed in? (Laughter.)

Q Video conference you said, right?

MR. FLEISCHER: It's a teleconference, correct.

On Sunday morning, in accordance with the proclamation that the President issued on Tuesday, September 11th, to lower flags across America to half-staff, the flags will be resumed at their full staff on Sunday morning. The President will take part in a brief ceremony up at Camp David, along with members of the United States Marine Corps, to proudly return the American Flag to full staff on Sunday morning. And I would anticipate you will see similar events across the country as the flags are brought to full staff.

Q What time and remarks?

Q Do you expect he'll make remarks?

MR. FLEISCHER: We'll get the time out to you as it becomes clear for Sunday.

Q How about remarks?

MR. FLEISCHER: We'll get the times out to you and any other description of the event, Ron. It will be a pool event.

Q Will that be before or after the fire fighters' memorial in New York City?

MR. FLEISCHER: We'll get the time out to you as soon as it's immediately clear.

The radio address, which is being done in collaboration with the office of House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt -- the President's speech writers have been talking with Congressman Gephardt's speech writers. Both the Minority Leader and the President will talk about the economy and how we're going to work together to take actions to help strengthen the American economy.

The President and Mrs. Bush will return to the White House on Sunday. On Monday, the President, as I indicated, will meet with the Prime Minister of Canada; on Tuesday with the Prime Minister of Japan. The President will continue next week with meetings with his National Security Council, as well as with his domestic consequence group, as he prepares to focus on the fight against terrorism, and to get the American economy back on track.

The President will turn his attention next week to also some domestic matters, including education. And the Senate, for example next week, it looks like it will pass the Jordan free trade agreement. So there will also be other domestic issues that start to take place next week as well.

Thank you, everybody.

END 2:28 P.M. EDT

Return to this article at:

Print this document