|The White House
President George W. Bush
|Print this document|
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 2, 2001
Press Briefing by
By Ari Fleischer
Briefings From Other Agencies...............................1
Statement on NATO Reaffirmation of Article V................2 Proof Of
Bin Laden Involvement/Who Has Seen It......2, 7
Taliban Demand to See Proof...............3, 6-8, 12, 13
When Action Begin/Other Steps to be Taken...............3, 13
Palestinian State/U.s. Support.............3-5, 14, 15-16, 19
Prime Minister Blair Statement on Taliban....5-6, 9-11, 18-19
U.S. Coordination on Remarks....................6, 18-19
Secretary Rumsfeld/Visit to Middle East.................11-12
Economic Stimulus Package.......................12, 15, 20-21
Other Fanatical Violence/India......................13-14, 15
Muslim Leaders/Visit with the President/Remarks............14
Airline Safety/Federal Handling of Passenger Screening..17-18
1:20 P.M. EDT
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. I want to give you an update on the President's day and share some scheduling information. Then I have a brief statement I'd like to read, and I'll be happy to take some questions.
The President, as many of you know, had breakfast at 7:00 a.m. this morning with the four leaders of Congress, a bipartisan, bicameral breakfast, where he discussed with the leaders the importance of passing the stimulus package to help the economy, the importance of taking action to help dislocated workers who have lost their jobs in this economy as a result of the attacks, as well as the importance of getting a bipartisan agreement on the budget and appropriation matters that are coming up.
Following that, he had an intelligence briefing from the CIA. He had an FBI briefing about latest developments, and then he convened a meeting of the National Security Council at 9:30 a.m. this morning. Following that, as many of you know again, the President went to Ronald Reagan Airport to announce the limited opening of Reagan Airport, starting on this Thursday.
Other events that you can anticipate this afternoon -- at the Department of Defense, Tory Clark will brief at 1:30 p.m. this afternoon. Secretary Powell will participate in a joint stakeout with the Indian Minister of External Affairs, Jaswant Singh at 2:00 p.m. At 3:15 p.m., General Ashcroft will have a media availability with the Canadian Solicitor General Lawrence MacAulay. And finally, at 4:30 p.m., Secretary Powell again will have a joint stakeout with the Foreign Minister of Greece George Papandreou.
For tomorrow, on the trip to New York City, departure will be early in the morning, first thing. Upon arrival in New York, the President will meet with approximately 30 national business leaders at Federal Hall to get their assessment and their projections of the impact of the September 11th attacks on their important sectors of the U.S. economy. The President is very concerned about the effects of the economy in New York -- not only in New York, throughout the country. He will also visit PS 130 and later have lunch with the Mayor.
Finally, I want to just read to you briefly from a statement about an important action that has been taken by NATO. NATO has reaffirmed its Article V declaration that an attack on any one member of NATO is an attack on all members of NATO. And the President welcomes NATO's determination that the September 11th attacks against the United States were directed from abroad, thereby reaffirming NATO's September 12th decision that the attacks should be considered an attack against all NATO allies.
NATO Secretary General Robertson stated that there were "clear and compelling evidence" that the attack came from abroad, and he continued -- and his words speak for themselves -- "It is clear that all roads lead to al Qaeda and pinpoint Osama bin Laden as having been involved in it."
With that, I'm more than happy to take your questions.
Q Can you speak to us about the timing, Ari? Are you fully invoking Article V?
MR. FLEISCHER: The timing?
Q Does that suggest that action may be imminent?
MR. FLEISCHER: You know I'm not going to discuss anything involving the timing of when action may or may not be imminent.
Q Well, can you speak to the timing then of the actual invoking of Article V?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, this was just a follow-on announcement by NATO that is just important to note. And I also note what Lord Robertson said on the question of the evidence that he has seen, all roads lead to al Qaeda and pinpoint Osama bin Laden.
Q When are we going to see it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, I think we've discussed that at great length. And what the process has been, is the United States has been meeting privately with allies from around the world, talking about different information and sharing that information.
Q Why can't the American people see it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it's the same answer that I've given before. If there was a way to share that information with the American people and with the press in this room without it being conveyed outside to the terrorist organizations that would benefit from knowledge of how we acquire the information we have, we'd like to find a way to do that. But that's not immediately possible.
Q The public has heard very clearly from the President and from the Taliban. The President has said, turn over bin Laden, destroy al Qaeda, meet all of our demands. The Taliban has said no on all counts. The President very clear today, Tony Blair very clear today, the window is closed, no more negotiation. In the President's mind, what else has to be done diplomatically, financially, you name it, before action can begin?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I don't think you should lead to -- jump to the conclusion that anything else has to be done before action can begin. Several things are going to happen, all at various stages and times. And I'm not going to be able to tell you what will happen when, of course. So the President has made very clear that the United States has been attacked and he will take whatever steps are necessary to protect this country.
Q Is it fair to say then that there is nothing standing in the way of a military response at any time, whenever the President makes that decision?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President has made himself abundantly clear.
Q Were you -- can you confirm the reports that the administration was ready to announce that it favored a Palestinian state before the bombing?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as the President said this morning, that, of course, at the end of the vision that it's always been contemplated for the Middle East that a Palestinian state is part of that vision, and that it's important at the same time to respect Israel's right to exist in security.
But, clearly, in the context of a negotiated settlement between the parties in the Middle East, the United States believes that the Palestinian people should live peacefully and securely in their own state, just as the Israelis should be able to live peacefully and securely in their state.
Q Has the President stated so flatly as it was in The New York Times and the Post today?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think I'll leave those judgments to you about what's been stated previously.
Q It does seem sort of new.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I can't comment on the timing of when the newspapers publish their stories.
Q Has the President ever come out and said that he supports the establishment of a Palestinian state since his inauguration?
MR. FLEISCHER: I would have to go back and take a look at the records, Terry, but I don't believe so. I believe that -- what I just indicated and what the President said this morning is a reflection of what the President believes, and you've heard it from him.
Q How come we've never heard it before, in all this -- nine months?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think the focus, of course, is on the immediate steps, and the immediate steps are in the Mitchell agreement. The question in the Middle East now is how to secure a peace agreement that can allow political solutions that end in the vision that the President described this morning to take place. That has to come first.
Q Is it also to win over the Arab states?
MR. FLEISCHER: Until that comes first, everything else was a follow-on issue. So you've heard it from the President, but clearly, the focus in the Middle East remains the Mitchell Accord and getting the parties to begin the political process.
Q Yes, but, Ari, to follow on that, all the public declarations from this podium and from others in the administration has put the onus directly on the Palestinians and on Chairman Arafat to stop the violence before anything else happens. And now, there is this openness to the idea of a Palestinian state when the administration, the President was not able -- wasn't willing to approach that idea before now.
MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated, this is all in the context of a negotiated settlement. And as the President said this morning, peace in the Middle East is measured in centimeters, and the first step has got to be an end to the violence, a cease-fire, the following of the Mitchell Committee recommendations on security, which lead to political talks. And at the end of the political talks, the vision does include a Palestinian state. So it's not surprising; first things first.
Q Tony Blair today said that the "Taliban must surrender the terrorists or surrender power" -- flatly, "or surrender power." Does the President agree with that sentiment?
MR. FLEISCHER: Ron, the United States has been working very closely with the British government on a common approach to combatting terrorism and responding to the attacks. And the President welcomes the Prime Minister's comments and his firm commitment to combatting terrorism in the wake of the attack.
The President has said repeatedly that the United States will act decisively to protect the United States and our friends from all terrorist attacks, that are affiliated with or responsible for, and those nations that harbor terrorists.
Q That's not quite the same thing, isn't it?
Q Blair -- hey, let me follow up. Blair went further than saying we have to act decisively or, as the President said today, there will be consequences. He said plainly, surrender the terrorists, or surrender power. Can you be as plainspoken as that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me just put it in the President's words, because that's who I speak for. And as the President has said, been very clear on what the Taliban must do to avoid any type of military action. They must hand over Osama bin Laden and other terrorists, destroy the terrorist camps, ensure that the territory of Afghanistan will no longer serve as a base for terrorist operations, and allow the United States access to those terrorist camps to make certain that they've been destroyed.
Q Will they surrender power if they don't meet those demands?
MR. FLEISCHER: I can only speak for the President, and I can only put it in his words. But the speech by the Prime Minister of Britain is welcome.
Q Why do we leave it to the British to send that strong signal? Why didn't the President send that strong signal himself?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President has spoken out very strongly on his own.
Q Not like that, he hasn't.
MR. FLEISCHER: It's the right of everybody to speak out as they see fit, and the United States welcomes those comments.
Q But, Ari, it has the appearance of a coordinated effort, with Britain delivering the ultimatum.
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not the spokesman for the Prime Minister. The United States welcomes the comments.
Q Did he see the speech, the President?
Q What kind of coordination was there between the United States and Great Britain about the Prime Minister's remarks? Because there were reports yesterday that he was going to go so far as saying time has run out on the Taliban, and that they now will face military strikes.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the Prime Minister's remarks speak for themselves, and the Prime Minister speaks for himself and for his nation. His remarks are welcome.
Q -- agree with those remarks?
Q Was there consultation --
MR. FLEISCHER: What's that?
Q Was there any coordination between the U.S.? Did the U.S. have an advanced indication of exactly what the Prime Minister was going to say?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'd have to check with British authorities to determine if there was any, to what degree. I don't know the precise answer to that question.
Q The Taliban Ambassador to Pakistan went on TV, said they condemn terrorism, they still want proof. Are there any circumstances in which you would offer them some proof?
MR. FLEISCHER: Steve, we'll continue to meet with officials and to share information. I noticed President Putin today said that he has seen all the proof that he needs. You have Lord Robertson's statement. So we'll continue to meet with allies and consult, and share information.
Q Can I follow on that? It's not just a matter of governments to government sharing proof, because there is widespread feeling within the Muslim world that people haven't seen enough proof. Is there going to be any public presenting of the proof of any form to convince not governments, but the people?
MR. FLEISCHER: This is a rehash of an issue that we've been talking about here for a week. Helen asked it earlier, just a few minutes ago, and I've answered it.
Q Not the American people, but people around the world?
MR. FLEISCHER: I've answered the question about what happens to the public sharing of proof.
Q So you're really saying, no, we can't at this point because it might jeopardize --
MR. FLEISCHER: Clearly, any time information is shared publicly that involves matters of proof, much of that relies on how did the United States government get that information, how do you know enough to say that that is proof. And the manner --
Q You never tell us how we get information.
MR. FLEISCHER: -- in which that information is brought in, includes sources and methods of how the United States gets that information. So it's a quandary of how to share that information with the public, with the press, yet not let it be available to terrorists who would benefit from that knowledge.
Q So the administration believes that it's enough to convince governments --
MR. FLEISCHER: -- but again, the United States is very satisfied that the conversations it's been having around the world with our allies and with friends in the Middle East and others, is leading to sufficient action that these nations are joining with us. And I think that speaks volumes for itself.
Q Can I just go back to the Taliban Ambassador to Pakistan's comments today, saying that they'd be open to negotiations, but want to see evidence first? Does the administration see this as a delaying tactic, or as a sign that the Taliban is feeling the heat of the international community?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think Secretary Rumsfeld has said it very well. The Taliban have made so many different statements that are all over the map, that what counts is the United States' declared statements, the President's statements about what he intends to do.
Q I just want to follow. Do you see, is the administration seeing any sense of sort of disunity in the Taliban, and has there been any contact between U.S. officials and any Taliban dissidents?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, Secretary Rumsfeld referred to -- you call it disunity -- earlier today, and clearly, any time a nation has so many of its people fleeing is an indication that those people don't support that regime that is in place. And clearly, the Taliban seizing food from the Afghani people, depriving the people of Afghanistan from the means to survive, the repressive nature of the Taliban regime is all a reflection of a regime that lacks strong support.
Q Any contacts, though, between U.S. officials and Taliban dissidents?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to get into any type of contacts of that nature.
Q To follow on that, the Ambassador's plea or, he complained that the U.S. is sharing evidence with other nations, but not with them, and that by sharing information and beginning negotiations, that would open the door, holding out some notion that they might hand over bin Laden. Can you officially respond to that from the White House perspective?
MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated just a minute ago, the United States will continue to share information with Pakistan and with other nations, and we're very pleased with the cooperation of Pakistan.
Q But the Taliban was complaining. The Taliban's Ambassador to Pakistan --
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't address Taliban complaints.
Q Ari, there have been contradictory statements made by different authorities in Saudi Arabia, including a contradictory statement between the Minister of Defense with the father of the Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. that have had contradictory statements. Are you getting the full support and respect from Saudi Arabia? And I want to ask you about the military --
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is very satisfied with the Saudi support, and he has stated so publicly on a number of occasions.
Q Fine-tuning this if I may -- the British press, at least two newspapers, are implying today that Tony Blair says that war against the Afghani Taliban is imminent. Without getting into op-sec, is that a statement you're willing to buy?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'm not going to discuss with you the timing of any military actions.
Q Not timing, but just imminent as a kind of a --
MR. FLEISCHER: The last I look up "imminent," it had something to do with a sense of time. (Laughter.)
Q Does the President agree with what Prime Minister Blair said today, that the Taliban must choose between surrendering bin Laden or surrendering power -- do you agree with that --
MR. FLEISCHER: You know, I think I've addressed the topic. I've addressed the topic.
Q You said his statement was welcomed. Does that imply that you agree --
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't think anybody should expect two leaders to give speeches that are carbon copies in every iota and every sentence and every word. But the two have said virtually the exact same message. We are united, we stand strong together. Britain has been a wonderful, valuable ally and friend, and continues to be.
Q When did the President see the speech --
Q So you're saying that you see no difference between what the President and the Prime Minister --
MR. FLEISCHER: We are together, and the President welcomes their statement.
Q Let me ask it this way, Ari --
MR. FLEISCHER: Britain is a good ally, and the President appreciates Prime Minister Blair's efforts.
Q Ari, does the President think it's possible for the Taliban regime to survive if the United States intends to fulfil the mission that the President has laid out?
MR. FLEISCHER: You know, it's not a question of survival or not survival, David, it's a question of honoring the demands that the President has made, so we can protect this country. That's what this is about. And I understand your questions about this, but it's always important to remember the fundamentals here, that our nation has been attacked, and the President will lead an effort to defend our nation. And in doing so, he has made crystal-clear that he will take action against those who carried out the attack and those who harbor -- continue to harbor terrorists.
Q Ari, if I could follow that, Prime Minister Blair also said today to the Afghani people that if the Taliban is replaced, Britain is prepared to work with the Afghani people in building a broadly-based government. Does this White House share that sentiment?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as I said yesterday, the United States is not going to choose who rules Afghanistan. But the United States will assist those who seek to create a peaceful, economically-developing Afghanistan that's free from terrorism.
Q So you're on the same page with Blair on that issue?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's the statement I made.
Q On that point, Blair also suggested that this time Western powers would not walk away, they would go back and mount some sort of effort to help lift the Afghani people out of poverty if the Taliban were gone. Does that statement also comport with White House thinking?
MR. FLEISCHER: There's no question that the United States is very concerned about the humanitarian plight in Afghanistan. As I've said repeatedly, the United States is the world's largest donor of food to the people of Afghanistan. And the President will continue his efforts to make certain that we can do everything possible, working through relief organizations and others, to get food to the people of Afghanistan in the future.
Q The other question was about Rumsfeld. Apparently the Pentagon has announced that he is headed to the Middle East. Can you tell us why, and what the President has asked him to do?
MR. FLEISCHER: DOD is briefing as we speak, so you're free to leave here and listen to the DOD briefing. He's going to several nations in the Middle East, and they'll be able to give you the precise nations.
Q Why him, not Powell?
Q Has the President asked him to do something in particular, or is this solely related to his own duties within the Defense Department?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, he's going over there for information-sharing and for consultation with friends.
Q To share information along the lines of evidence --
MR. FLEISCHER: It's the Secretary's trip and I think he can best explain it.
Q Ari, why is the Defense Secretary going and not the Secretary of State? What message are you trying to send by sending Rumsfeld?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because it's perfectly appropriate for the Secretary of Defense to go.
Q I'm not saying it's inappropriate, but you make a decision on what message you want to send in part by who you send.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you may just want to talk to the Secretary, and he'll be filling that information in.
Q I'm asking the White House, why does President Bush want the Secretary of Defense to carry out this mission? What is the mission, and why not send the Secretary of State?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because he's the appropriate person to go.
Q And why is that?
Q Ari, would you go so far as to say that no matter what the Taliban might say at this point, it may not make any difference? Are you ignoring whatever they may say?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President could not have made it any clearer two weeks ago when he said that there will be no discussions and no negotiations. So what they say is not as important as what they do. And it's time for them to act. It's been time for them to act.
Q Are you ignoring their statements, though?
Q Why not say -- has time run out?
Q Ari, on the economic stimulus package, the President said he wants Congress to move quickly, but also they need to agree on a size first. I'm wondering if he's laying down any kind of deadlines or timetables. I know you guys are unwilling to do that on the terrorism legislation.
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the President has not done that. The President was very encouraged by the talks this morning, and I think what has to happen next is each of the members of Congress -- each of the leaders of Congress has to go back now and talk to their rank and file, to their membership. These are the elected leaders, but it's very important for them and for the White House to listen to the rank and file. They play a very important role throughout all of these bipartisan discussions that are going on. So that's the next action you should look to.
Q Do you expect movement on this in a matter of days, a matter of weeks? What kind of --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to guess the time frame. I think that there are a series of important initiatives that are moving in Congress that are not limited to just the items that were discussed this morning. Education, for example, is another one that the President would like to see action on.
So, again, there is a deliberative process that the framers of our government put in place that guides us, even during war. And that process remains.
Q Ari, but as far as the timing, is the size or the components of this package, as well as when you announce it dependent at all on when the United States takes military action and the reaction to that military action?
MR. FLEISCHER: No.
Q Ari, sorry to belabor a point, but would you categorically rule out any kind of contact with the Taliban?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President could not have said it plainer. I just repeat what the President said -- no discussions, no negotiations, action.
Q Have you had any contact, direct or indirect, with the Taliban in the last few days?
MR. FLEISCHER: There's nothing that I'm aware of.
Q Can I just clarify something? Earlier I asked you if, in the President's mind, anything had to be done, diplomatically, information-sharing-wise, anything had to be done before military action could begin. And you seemed to suggest that, no, nothing had to be done. And now Secretary Rumsfeld is going overseas to consult and provide information. And so I just want to clarify that point. Does the President believe that there's any diplomacy left to be done, or anything at all that has to be done before military action can begin?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, obviously from September 11th forward, the United States, at all levels -- the President, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense -- have been talking with our friends and allies. Under Secretaries have been visibly and publicly going to visit areas. So this shouldn't come as a surprise to anybody that the Secretary can go.
Q But what I'm asking is, at what point have we crossed the threshold where the coalition is set, and we're ready to go, when the President makes the decision? I'm not asking you a timing question. I'm asking you in his mind, is military action ready to begin, or does more diplomacy have to go forward, does more information have to be shared with other countries?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, that's a question about timing, and I'm just not going to go down that road.
Q Could you say if more needs to be done?
Q Ari, there's been an upsurge of fanatical violence in some other parts of the world. Do you see any correlation? Do you think extremist groups are taking advantage of the lack of attention paid to them to conduct their violence?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not sure how to characterize what you say is upsurge.
Q -- and killings and massacres.
Q Unfortunately, there are parts of the world where these things took place before September 11th, and take place since. But I really don't know how to characterize that as an upsurge. The United States has a mission ahead of it, to protect our country in the wake of the fact that we've been attacked. And the President is focused on that. He will, of course, continue with the State Department, to work throughout the world to promote peace in any regions of the world where there is instability. But the President has a mission ahead.
Q Ari, we've learned additional comments by some of those people who attended the meeting with the President, particularly Ramsi Yusef. Does the White House now have any second thoughts at all about the people who were invited to that meeting?
MR. FLEISCHER: Jim, I think I've addressed that question repeatedly in the last several days. There's no answer -- no different answer.
Q Were you aware of all the things that those people had said before you came, or was that a surprise to the White House?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, we were aware that there very well could have been statements made that the President didn't agree with. The President will have meetings with groups that he does not agree with everything they say. But it's also important to remind Americans that even for those who have differing views, that the rights of Arab Americans and Muslim Americans must be respected.
Q Ari, the President said this morning on the Israel-Palestinian peace process that he's committed to working with both sides to bring the level of terror down to an acceptable level for both. What is an acceptable level? Is there an amount of violence which he sees as acceptable, given the --
MR. FLEISCHER: You've heard the President say repeatedly, publicly, that what's important is that both sides make 100-percent effort. And that's in distinction to 100-percent results. And the President has called on all parties in the region to make 100-percent effort.
Q Some people believe that we have given a lot of time to Afghanistan, sending one mission after another mission, and Osama bin Laden may not be in Afghanistan at this time, he may have already cross the border; number one. Number two, Indian Minister said yesterday that they are the same terrorists, but they are under different names throughout the world, including in India. There was a car bomb yesterday, 35 people died. And also, if you can give some detail of yesterday's meeting with the President and --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that that was addressed yesterday in terms of the meeting. A readout was provided yesterday about that. And as for the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden, I have no comment about that. It's further proof of the multiple contradictory statements that have been made by the Taliban.
Q Ari, on the economic stimulus package, what is the trade promotion authority -- on it, and when do you expect the President to take some action about it in Congress?
MR. FLEISCHER: That remains another one of the important pieces of domestic legislation that is pending on the Hill. The President continues to adhere to his very principled belief that free trade benefits all people, can help create jobs throughout the economy, higher-paying jobs than is typical of most jobs. And so the President is going to continue to push the Congress to make progress on trade promotion authority while working closely with Democrats and Republicans. It's clearly an issue that you must have Democrat support for it in order to get it done.
Q Ari, going back to the Palestinian state, could you address the comments coming from some quarters that the reason that we're doing this now is because we need to do something to reach out to Arab countries for this coalition? And could you also address the question of whether the President still feels, as he has said in the past, that Yasser Arafat needs to do more to control violence?
MR. FLEISCHER: On the second point, the President does feel that, yes. And that's why the President is calling all parties to make 100 percent effort, so that we can begin the process that leads to the implementation of the Mitchell Accords, which can have a conclusion at the end of a negotiated dialogue, which is something, frankly, that Prime Minister Sharon said as recently as September 24th, that -- let me put it in Prime Minister Sharon's words -- quote, "Israel wants to give the Palestinians what no one else has given them, the possibility of establishing a state." So I think it should come as no surprise. It's long been the vision of a negotiated settlement.
Q The first part of the question, though -- Ari, no, you didn't address the first part of the question, the linkage --
MR. FLEISCHER: What was the first part?
Q The linkage between these developments on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Is it part of a conclusion on the part of the administration that one way to make this that it's not a campaign against Islam, and to solidify the support of Arab nations is to make progress on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and to indicate support of a Palestinian state?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, if you believe what you read this morning, all those stories pointed out that this was in place prior to September 11th. So I think that deals with the question of linkage.
Q CNN is reporting that, according to my State Departments colleagues, that the Secretary of State is planning another, potentially a speech reiterating that same point, and a series of high-profile steps to make this case, in part to solidify support of the international community, in particular Arab nations.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that if you're hearing things about what the Secretary would do, I think you need to ask the Secretary.
Q Ari, the Washington Post reports this morning that the Bush administration has dropped a Clinton administration action that charged the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority with alleged civil rights violations, because 93 percent of all female applicants failed in its aerobics test, which test the Clinton people charged was overly rigorous. My question -- given this commendable Bush administration decision, Ari, am I entirely wrong to presume that what you said, the President regards the best armed forces in the world means that he will not succumb to the extremist-feminist demands for females in ground combat units, will he, Ari?i, (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: Les, I've got to confess that I really haven't been keeping up with aerobics since September 11th.
Q Well, it is the Washington Post. You read that paper.
MR. FLEISCHER: I have nothing to offer you on that topic.
Q Okay. Maryland's Republican leader, Dick Bennett, who was appointed U.S. Attorney for Maryland by the older President Bush, recalls vividly that when the Clinton administration moved in, there was what he termed the "Reno Railroad," in which every U.S. attorney in the country was fired. Now, given this, why did this President Bush, through his Attorney General, give to the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York full authority to investigate the presidential misbehavior of the same President who appointed her, and who nearly 10 months after the apparencies of the "pardongate" outrage still has neither any report, not any indictment?
MR. FLEISCHER: Separate and apart from the specifics of your question, the administration, of course, left in place several U.S. attorneys, and they have been being replaced on a regular basis. But to promote continuity in government, continuity in prosecutions, and continuity in justice, several U.S. attorneys were left in place.
Q It wasn't the Reno Railroad, then -- there was no Reno Railroad in the Bush administration, was there?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not familiar with what that term might mean.
Q Up in Congress, the Senate Commerce Committee, on a bipartisan basis, sent a very strong signal that they want passenger screeners at airports to be federal workers. Is the President prepared to sign on to that?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President proposed his aviation package, as you know, that include the federalization of standards for the workers, of background training. The President has some concerns about the implications of putting all these new tens of thousands of people on the federal payroll because he believes that there can be effective safety at airports without taking that step. But he's aware that there are many members of Congress who see it differently and he's going to work with them.
Q Also, on the airline safety, the package announced this morning, the direct-in flight path to Reagan -- which I understand won't be exactly a straight line, it will have a turn in it coming down the Potomac -- what are the implications for any aircraft that strays off that line?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm just not going to discuss things about hypotheticals, but I think you --
Q It's not a hypothetical.
MR. FLEISCHER: You just said, if an airplane strays off that line.
Q No, I said, what are the provisions for an aircraft that strays off --
MR. FLEISCHER: You need to get back to Webster's.
Q What are the provisions for an aircraft that strays off that line?
MR. FLEISCHER: John, I think these questions need to be addressed to the FAA, particularly on the flight path. I think you need -- based on the premise of your --
Q The President has ultimate authority over that.
MR. FLEISCHER: Based on the premise of your question, you need to talk to the FAA about flight routes coming into National, because it's going to differ from what you just stipulated.
Q On homeland security, with this new agency being created, will the Defense Department still have the primary responsibility for homeland defense in its purest sense, or might it have to --
MR. FLEISCHER: That's kind of akin to asking, given the fact that the government has a National Security Council, would the Department of Defense still have primary responsibility for the defense of our country. The purpose of the Homeland Office, just like the National Security Council, is to tie together and better coordinate the activities of, in this case, the 46 federal agencies, including some at DOD, that have a responsibility in protecting our nation's homeland defenses. So it's a coordinating post, it's a policy post. But clearly, various agencies continue to have their vital functions, which are much more operational and mission oriented.
Q Has the President spoken to Tony Blair since he gave his speech?
MR. FLEISCHER: He has not.
Q Does he intend to talk to him today?
MR. FLEISCHER: As always, I try to do my best to give you readouts on phone calls. If there's anything --
Q Did he talk to him before he gave his speech?
MR. FLEISCHER: If he's moved to pick up the phone, I'll advise you.
Q Did he talk to him before Blair gave his speech?
MR. FLEISCHER: Define before. He's talked to Tony Blair several times in the last several weeks.
Q In the last 12 hours?
MR. FLEISCHER: No.
Q Why is there no --
MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, and then Keith.
Q One more on the Middle East. Does the President's recognition of the ultimate goal of the Palestinian state come as a reflection of the administration's sense that part of the campaign against terrorism has got to be to take the fuel out of the anger that some of these people have, and that a Palestinian state and the U.S. working toward it would do that?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, Terry, the President said it because it's the logical conclusion of the vision, that the President talked about this morning, at the end of a negotiated peace process. And that's why I also read to you what Prime Minister Sharon said very recently. That was just a week ago. Prime Minister Sharon's words are similar in that effect. And I think you should see it in that context.
Q But is there a new urgency to it at all?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's a consistent policy.
Q I've just got a specific question I've got to ask.
MR. FLEISCHER: Triple follow-up.
Q The al-Shamal Bank in the Sudan was found by the State Department in 1996 to have been established with $50 million of Osama bin Laden's personal fortune. In the embassy bombing trial there were also links between that bank and bin Laden. Why isn't that bank on the Treasury's list?
MR. FLEISCHER: As was indicated when the President announced it in the Rose Garden, that's the first tranche. And I'm not going to be able to give you a prediction ahead of time about any follow-on groups that are listed as terrorist organizations. The Department of Treasury is reviewing that as we speak, and there can be additional announcements at any time.
Q Ari, why is there no timetable for the stimulus package, given its importance to the economy?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because, one, it's always important, when dealing with the economy, to take a look in a measured way, to do the right thing, not the rushed thing. And that is the process of the Congress. It's a deliberative process, it's a thoughtful process.
But I also want to make the point, and this is something the President alluded to in his remarks, about how important it is to send a signal to the nation that the leaders and the members of Congress are working together. This is the essence of bipartisan. And the President wants to make certain that the country sees the men and women of the Congress, Democrat and Republican, working shoulder to shoulder on these issues.
Will there be some disputes down the road? No one can ever rule it out. But the President thinks it's terribly important that the nation see the leaders of Congress and the rank-and-file members of Congress working together. This is how you do it. And that means Congress needs the time and deserves the time to go back and vet some of these ideas with its membership, Democrat and Republican alike.
Q If I could have a triple follow-up, too. So it's correct to assume that there were no deals made at this meeting this morning?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think there was --
Q On any aspect of the stimulus package?
MR. FLEISCHER: It was a series of discussions about what people believe are the right steps to take, both on the economic stimulus, on a package of relief for dislocated workers, on the budget with the appropriation bills that are now overdue, that are pending action, probably this month.
So it was a collection of ideas from the leadership, an attempt to arrive at principles then that those leaders can take back to the Hill so that the various members of the Hill can weigh in now and move it along.
Q -- going to meet again this week?
MR. FLEISCHER: This is four follow-ups.
Q Who's counting? (Laughter.) Are they going to meet again this week?
MR. FLEISCHER: There's nothing on the schedule at this time.
Q Ari, it's been a little more than a week since the President turned out his request for freezing of assets around the world. When the Treasury provided us with a list yesterday of the countries that have acted on that request, there were only 19. Missing from it were three countries where there has been a lot of banking activity in the past for those groups -- Malaysia -- and the President spoke to Prime Minister Mahathir yesterday --the Philippines, Indonesia, which said it would not join the list. What is the President doing to lean on individual leaders of those countries at this point, a week later, to get them on the list?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as the Treasury Department has indicated, these actions have to be done in concert with the laws of those nations. Not all nations around the world have the same laws that allow them to take as vigorous action as others have done. And so there will be continued focus through diplomatic channels, through the Treasury Department, to work with those nations to get them to do as much as they possibly can do. It's a recognition of the fact that some nations have better laws to get the job done than others.
Q Did the President raise this issue with Prime Minister Mahathir?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'd have to find out specifically, Dave.
Q On the economic stimulus, one gets the impression that the President does not want to announce anything that does not already have broad support in the Congress from both Democrats and Republicans. Is that the case? And, if so, to what extent does that limit what the White House would like to do in an economic stimulus package?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I just think you're seeing, as I indicated, the essence of bipartisanship. And that's a process that lends itself to a lot of conversations and a lot of venting after those conversations. That is the President's intention here, because he thinks that's how the nation is best served.
Q In other words, he's not going to introduce a package for which there is broad Democratic opposition?
MR. FLEISCHER: That would not be the essence of bipartisanship.
Q Just three quick questions on homeland defense. Is Governor Ridge expected to start next week in his new job? How will that office be staffed? And what's the White House view of making it a Cabinet post, a Cabinet-ranked post?
MR. FLEISCHER: The post will have Cabinet rank.
Q What about legislation, assuming Congress would want to have a Cabinet post?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President announced it in the manner he did because he thought that was the most propitious fashion to get this office up and running and to have the office well-administered. So Governor Ridge will begin next week, and we'll have further announcements for you next week about staffing and space and various White House issues so you can be in touch.
Q Is the President open to a discussion on the Hill to make it a Cabinet post through legislation?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the President will continue to work with Congress, but he's made clear that this the manner in which he thinks is best.
END 1:58 P.M. EDT