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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
November 6, 2001
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
Listen to the Briefing
2:35 P.M. EST
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. A brief update on the President's day
and I'll have no further announcements. I'll be happy to dive right into your
The President this morning addressed by teleconference the gathering of 17 nations in Poland that were meeting to discuss the war on terrorism. He also had a breakfast this morning with Speaker Hastert, Leader Daschle, Minority Leader Gephardt and Minority Leader Lott, to discuss the remaining items on the congressional agenda, particularly aviation security, in which the President urged the House and the Senate to work with each other to get a compromise agreement reached so he would be able to sign an aviation security package into law this fall.
The President also discussed the status of the appropriation bills that remain in the Congress, and he discussed the very important need for Congress to take action this year, this month, on an economic stimulus bill to help protect jobs for American workers.
The President also met with the President of France in the Oval Office, and that was followed by a lunch with the President of France in the Residence. During the course of that, they discussed cooperation in the war on terrorism, in all its forms. They discussed the military aspects of the campaign, they discussed the political aspects of broad-based government in Afghanistan after the Taliban, and they also discussed the humanitarian needs of the Afghani people and the importance of getting food to the people of Afghanistan. They spent a considerable bit of time also talking about the situation in the Middle East.
The President, this afternoon, will welcome to the White House a group of Democratic and Republican members of the Appropriations Committee, where the President will follow up his message from this morning with the congressional leaders about the need to bring to a conclusion in a manner that is responsible the end of the appropriations process for this year.
And with that, I'm more than happy to take your questions.
Q Ari, what is this administration's policy regarding response to a nuclear attack by a terrorist group and/or a state that sponsors them?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think what you're raising is the issue that the President, himself, brought up this morning in his speech to Poland, in which the President said and what has been said many times by other officials throughout our government going back many years, and that is there are terrorist organizations who seek to acquire chemical, biological, and even nuclear material or nuclear weapons. And the President said that in specific reference to those who carried out an attack of terrorism against this country, the al Qaeda organization.
And the response is something you heard from the President, himself, in his remarks with the President of France. And that is it's the policy of the United States to take every action necessary to prevent and disrupt any organization throughout the world, terrorists from acquiring such weapons or using them.
Q That wasn't my question. The United States policy regarding a response to a nuclear attack by Russia, let's say, is well-known. What is the response policy of this administration to a nuclear attack carried out by a terrorist group?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'm not going to get into hypotheticals about --
Q It's not a hypothetical.
MR. FLEISCHER: -- it's a hypothetical when you say response to a nuclear attack on the United States.
Q A Russian nuclear attack would be a hypothetical, but you have a definite policy on it.
MR. FLEISCHER: Suffice it to say, the President has made it clear that the United States will defend itself.
Q With nuclear weapons?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's the policy of the government, as you know, to not discuss the type of weaponry that would be used.
Q Ari, the President -- why did he address this today, though? This is the first time we've really heard him address this threat in particular. And this morning, you gave us testimony from George Tenet from a while ago. The President said it was because bin Laden said that it was something he was trying to do. But is there some evidence that you believe these terrorists are closer to acquiring nuclear weapons than you were before?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President said it because he thought it was important that the American people and people around the world know that these are the types of people we are dealing with when we're dealing with al Qaeda and with Osama bin Laden; that having witnessed what they did in an attack on the World Trade Center, hijacking four airplanes and attacking the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the President believes there is no lengths to which these people will go if they can get their hands on any type of weapons, whether they've biological, chemical, nuclear.
And so the President thought it was important to discuss that with the nations of East Europe, which were gathered in a rather unusual fashion, nations that used to oppose us are now joining us -- many of the nations that used to oppose us as part of the Eastern Bloc have now joined with the United States in the war on terrorism. They know firsthand what tyranny is, and the President wanted to give them that message, and he knew it was a message that would be shared here domestically.
Q Then why didn't he say it yesterday, or the -- I mean, you know, we've been in this war now for three weeks. I mean, what is -- are we just now thinking about nuclear weapons?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not sure how to answer a question about why did the President say something today that he didn't say yesterday, that he might say tomorrow. I mean, the President shares information on a regular --
Q Well, it would be an indication that there is new evidence, or that the administration has discovered something new that would indicate they might be closer to getting them.
MR. FLEISCHER: No, it's not a result of a discovery of anything new. It's the fact that the President thought it was an important message to share.
Q Ari, is it perhaps that ratcheting up the threat to the level of nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists is more persuasive to people overseas than the horror of the September 11th attacks, which were visited solely on the United States? Was it the audience, in other words?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, no, because when it comes to the audience, of course, it is information that has been talked about domestically previously. I cited earlier this morning some statements that were made by the Director of Central Intelligence, and let me repeat these.
This was made by Director of the CIA George Tenet last year, when Mr. Tenet of course worked in the Clinton administration. And referring to Osama bin Laden, he said -- the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency said bin Laden "has also shown an active interest in chemical weapons. In fact, he has called the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction 'a religious duty.' Last December, bin Laden declared that every American taxpayer is a target."
Earlier this year -- under President -- I'm sorry, this was also last year -- in testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Director Tenet said, referring to terrorists, "Among them is bin Laden, who has shown a strong interest in chemical weapons. His operatives have trained to conduct attacks with toxic chemicals or biological toxins."
So it has been a point of concern for policy makers in open testimony in Congress. Democrat and Republican Senators alike, and members of the House, have heard this type of testimony. It's not a secret, and it's something the President thought was appropriate to get into today.
Q If I could just follow up, the President also said today that a coalition partner must do more than just express sympathy, that a coalition partner must perform, and that nations will be held accountable. Combined with this statement to the central European nations about nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists, does the President feel that the international coalition needs some bucking-up here?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. From the very beginning, one of the principles that the President has been guided by is the need to speak forthrightly, to share information with the country and also, of course, with the world about what the United States is doing, why it is doing it, and to have the President fully share those reflections.
So what you heard there is a statement that the President made initially in his remarks to the Congress when he addressed a joint session in the week after the September 11th attack, in which he said that either you will stand with the United States in the coalition that fights terrorism, or you stand on the other side; there is no neutrality.
The President has also said that this is going to move in phases, that it will take time. Some other people have said that it's important to give people time, if they're in the terrorism business, to get out of the terrorism business. And I think that has had a very positive effect in making different nations pause.
I think the President said it again today because time is passing. And as time passes, the President does want to send a signal -- and as he indicated in his public remarks today, he will be up at the United Nations. It will be a very important forum where you will have the nations of the world listening. And the President will say to the United Nations what he said today: that there is no neutrality, that you need to stand either with the United States and those who fight terrorism, or you are not.
It's too soon to draw any consequences from that, Terry, but the President wanted to send that message.
Q Ari, in many of the Pentagon briefings, we've been told in the last couple of weeks that the campaign is going well, that al Qaeda is on the run, that members of the Taliban are not even able to effectively govern Afghanistan anymore. So isn't it fair to conclude from those briefings that the possibility of al Qaeda or Osama bin Laden obtaining a weapon of mass destruction now is less than it was four weeks ago? And that on that score, the threat is even less than it was before the military campaign began? And viewed in that context, why would the President bring it up?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because the President wants to make clear that the United States and its allies are going to continue to take every action possible to make certain that they do not acquire any such weapons. And that is one of the reasons that the President has said this campaign must be pursued from a military point of view, to make certain that they never get themselves into a position, as a result of any lack of military action, where they could all of a sudden acquire such weapons.
But you know, what's interesting or what's different about terrorism, as opposed to nation-states, terrorists are able to operate in the shadows. They do things that nation-states, when they do, are more visible, more able to be detected, more easily caught.
Can anybody in the government give you any guarantees that al Qaeda or any other terrorist nation around the world has not acquired any of the weapons that the President spoke about? There can be no such guarantees. But the United States is going to commit itself to making certain that this mission is complete, from a military point of view, from a diplomatic point of view, working with our allies to receive the intelligence that we are receiving, from nations in the region, from around the world. That is a very helpful way to take every step to make certain that no harm can come to the United States or any other nations.
Q Ari, you oftentimes disagree with the premise if you think it's in some ways faulty. You don't disagree with the premise of my question that, with the military campaign, it is less likely than more likely, under the current circumstances, that al Qaeda could obtain any type of weapons of mass destruction right now?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, certainly, the more pressure that is brought to bear on al Qaeda and on the Taliban, the more difficult it becomes for them to engage in any type of military operation. But it doesn't negate the ability for them to engage in operations. That's why terrorism does things that nation-states don't do. It's not as if -- and we've talked about this many times -- it's not as if there was a fleet of ships that they had launched across an ocean that we knew was arriving in America's coastal waters; this is totally different.
The ability for people to carry out individual acts of terrorism may or may not be diminished as a result of an ongoing military campaign. And that's why it's important to continue to put the pressure on, so that any individual's actions can, indeed, be mitigated as a result of a combined effort in Afghanistan that eliminates al Qaeda.
Q Is the President going to meet with Arafat when he goes to the U.N.? I understand the Israeli lobby is asking him not to; and lots of pressure.
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, the President's -- there are no plans for any such meeting.
Q Why? Why not?
MR. FLEISCHER: There are just no plans for it. The President meets with people at any -- at different times for different reasons. There's no plan --
Q Well, isn't he trying to solve the Middle East problem?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has made it very clear that whenever he thinks the time is right for any meetings with anybody, that would be most helpful to seizing any particular moments or any openings, if there are any openings, that the President would be prepared to do so.
Q So he doesn't think it would be helpful?
MR. FLEISCHER: But the President will continue to actively engage in the Middle East, Secretary Powell has continued to have his discussions with Chairman Arafat, the President has spoken with him, but there are no plans for any meetings.
Q The President's message today in a U.N. speech -- that expressions of sympathy are not enough, suggest that there are some nations that the U.S. believes are giving nothing more than sympathy. Is that the case?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there are different nations that are doing different things, as the President has said. And as I mentioned earlier, with the passage of time, the time that the President has said we will allow nations to reconsider whether or not they want to be in the terrorism line of business or not begins to expire. The President does not put any date on that, but the President certainly sent a signal today, and he will continue in that vein at the United Nations on Saturday.
Q What prompted that signal? Why say that now, unless you perceive a problem?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because when the President addresses the United Nations on Saturday, he will have the nations of the world assembled before him. What better forum would there be on Saturday to send a signal to the world than when the world is gathered, that in the war on terrorism, you either stand with the freedom-loving people who oppose terrorism, or you oppose us. There is no neutrality in the President's words. What better forum could there be than the United Nations, and the President thought it was appropriate in his remarks to 17 nations gathered in Eastern Europe and Central Europe to give a preliminary view of his Saturday message.
Q Ari, is he beginning to draw conclusions on which side some of these nations are on?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think when he does, he will share that. There's nothing I can go beyond what the President said today.
Q Ari, yesterday when I asked you about the results of the Nicaraguan election, you said that the results were not official. Well, now they're official, and Daniel Ortega has lost, Bolanos has won. What's the position of the White House, and what does President Bush think about it?
MR. FLEISCHER: And you got this yesterday from the State Department after the results were certified. But the President offers his congratulations to the winner of the election, and the President also views this as a healthy sign of democracy in Nicaragua. And the United States will continue to work with the democratically elected government there.
Q Any phone calls, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the President has not made any calls to foreign leaders today. He had the meetings, of course, with President Chirac.
Q He didn't call Bolanos, did he?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, no phone calls made by the President.
Q Nicaragua is going through very difficult times. And this last storm, Michelle, caused enormous damage. Is the Bush administration willing to help Nicaragua, now that Bolanos has won?
MR. FLEISCHER: You may want to check with specifically at the State Department on any levels of cooperation directly with Nicaragua. But the President has, of course, said repeatedly that his interested in working well in our hemisphere, the importance of strong relations between the United States and nations -- and ally nations in Latin America, Central America, South America.
Q Why doesn't the President put specific proposals on the table as far as compromises on aviation security and economic signals --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President, in his meeting with the members of Congress this morning did discuss the aviation security at length, as I indicated at the top of the briefing.
Q He didn't offer a specific --
MR. FLEISCHER: That meeting was not a negotiating session. The real negotiating will be done, as always, in the conference as the House and the Senate meets. The administration will be there. The administration is going to be playing a very helpful role in urging the House to move toward the Senate position and urging the Senate to move toward the House position.
Our congressional team has already been on the Hill and has been meeting with various members of Congress who are very active on this issue and will continue to do so. But if you're asking me to do any negotiating in the press on behalf of the President, I choose not to do that.
Q I would like to, but I'm not asking you to. (Laughter.) But, seriously -- if you want to get these done quickly, why wouldn't he just want to negotiate --
MR. FLEISCHER: Why not negotiate publicly in the press?
Q No, why wouldn't he just interject himself into this process now and say, this is where we should go on aviation security, this is where we could go on economic stimulus, and then you could it done quickly; whereas, we're just letting the parties sort of -- it's been festering --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the Conference Committees are nothing new to the Congress. They very often do result in agreement. And that's why the President viewed this morning's meeting as a very welcome meeting. He thought it was very helpful in bringing people together.
And the President believes the goodwill is there. The President believes that the Congress will send him an aviation security measure, because it's too important for the Congress not to. And so the President is confident that at the end of the day, it will get done before Congress goes home this fall.
Q Ari, is the President in his afternoon meeting today trying to put the clamp down on special requests from Congress for spending related to the terrorist attacks? And to follow up on John's earlier question, are you trying to amend U.S. policy on nuclear attack to include some sort of threat from a terrorist?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the policy remains the same. But what I'm not going to do is discuss -- the United States has never commented on what type of weapons it will use. And so this is perfectly consistent with our existing policy.
Q On the first part of that question?
MR. FLEISCHER: Oh, on appropriations. On the appropriations, this review is taking place. Three weeks after the attack at the World Trade Center, congressional leaders came to the President, and they actually asked him to sign a letter committing that we have an agreement that no more than $686 billion is necessary to address all the consequences of the attack on the World Trade Center, including our nation's defense needs, including the need to rebuild New York and the Pentagon, and to address the implications of the attack.
That was an agreement made by the appropriations committee leaders with President Bush. The President signed the letter, sent it up to the Hill, and Hill leaders were, I think, very pleased to receive that letter from the President. It was an agreement. And the President believes that agreement represents the amount of funding that is necessary to do the job, and to protect American security interests and domestic needs as we move forward in the wake of the attack.
There has also been, per the agreement with Congress, $40 billion of emergency appropriations money spent, or authorized and agreed to, as well as another $15 billion to help the aviation industry. The combination of the $686 billion with the $55 billion on top, in the President's opinion, is sufficient money to address all the nation's needs -- particularly at this time, this fall, with just a few weeks to go before Congress recesses.
The President will make it clear in the meeting this afternoon that if people think that additional money is necessary above and beyond what they have already promised and agreed to in writing, that the time to address that is in a more orderly way, as part of next year's budget process, as the budget is put together and then sent up to the Congress. And that will be the message that the President shares this afternoon.
Q Does that mean that the President will veto anything that goes over that amount?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, nothing is moving on the Hill that exceeds these levels, and so that's the President's opinion.
Q It won't exceed it until you get to the last one that goes over the top. So --
MR. FLEISCHER; Well, you know, I think you have to let the President have the meeting this afternoon with the appropriators. He will make his case. But I'm not going to speculate about hypothetical legislation that doesn't exist at this time.
Q Well, I mean, they committed to $686 billion with the letter they requested from the President. They're clearly going beyond the $686 billion. So if they don't listen to reason this afternoon, then what recourse does the President have?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, all in due course. Let's see if they do listen to reason, because the President believes that there is sufficient funding.
And let me give you an example of why the President believes that so strongly -- that in the agreement that was reached with the Congress to provide an additional $40 billion of emergency supplemental spending to deal with the consequences -- including bioterrorism, including the rebuilding of the infrastructure in New York and at the Pentagon, including additional money for the Department of Defense -- there is an agreement signed into law, $40 billion is available. Only $3.9 billion of that has been either contractually obligated or spent. In fact, the amount of money that's gone out the door is less than $3 billion. And so, from the President's point of view, they can't even spend it fast enough; so why ask for more at this time.
The most orderly way to provide more resources if they prove necessary is as part of the budget process. It's an orderly process that begins next year.
Q About a week and a half ago, Andy Card said on Meet The Press that the whole federalization of the airline workers' issue would not stop the President from signing a bill. So, why has the White House spent the last week and a half still pushing very hard to make sure that those workers aren't federalized? Or, have you changed your position?
MR. FLEISCHER: There's not change from the position that Andy said. But there are two bills on the Congress, and the President wants to sign the bill that he thinks is best. He clearly believes that the provision passed by the House of Representatives is a very good way to protect aviation security, to protect our American people who fly. He thinks the United States should learn from the experience of Europe and Israel, which used to have a system much more like the Senate bill; an entirely federal government system where all screeners were on the public payroll.
The President believes that the best system is a mix of public and private screeners, so long as the federal government plays a very vigorous role in enforcing standards and setting much higher standards. The President wants to put an end to a system that we saw in Chicago, as Secretary Mineta pointed out, led to security breaches.
He wants to create a new system in which airline companies no longer bid out to the lowest contractor at the lowest price, by putting in place vigorous standards, very tough standards, that will create a new type of security screener at the counter, a new type of company that is a much more vigorous company, and people -- people see that. They see the differences in private sector security if they walk into a bank and they see the type of people who are hired there, versus the type of people who are -- may be hired at the lowest price. People are aware there are differences in security in the private sector.
And the President's system that he supports is one that makes sure that we have a vigorous set of standards to have higher standards in the people who work in security.
Q I understand the President's position, Ari. But I guess my question more is, it just seems diametrically opposed. At one point, the White House saying we won't let this get in the way, and on the other point, you know, allowing it to keep getting it in the way.
MR. FLEISCHER: It's not in the way. This is the way our system works. Congress does not have unicameral legislature. There is the House and the Senate, and that argument will be made about the stimulus, about the aviation security. It is entirely the prerogative of the House and the Senate to vote as they see fit. And the way our system works is, they should meet in a conference. And the President, in the case of aviation security, believes the House needs to move toward the Senate, and the Senate needs to move toward the House.
The President sees a compromise that can be reached. The only question is, will Congress do it. The President is calling on the Congress to get it done.
Q What's your position on the legislation by McCain and Bayh to expand AmeriCorps and create a civil defense sort of corps that would help the Office of Homeland Security?
MR. FLEISCHER: On the question of AmeriCorps, let me come back to that in just a second and I'll give you an answer on that.
Q On the aviation security, then, are you saying the President does see room for the House to move toward the Senate on the issue of federalizing screeners? Is there a compromise on that particular issue?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President understands that the only way for an agreement to be reached is for each party to move toward one another. The President believes it's very important for both parties, the House and the Senate, to compromise. The President has indicated that he will sign aviation security into law. He cannot sign it into law if Congress won't get together in conference. And that's why the President feels so strongly -- as Congressman Gephardt said this morning, this should not be about ideology; this should be about people being willing to work together to pass an aviation bill that the President can sign into law.
Q You spoke of a mix of public and private screeners. Do you see room for maybe increasing the number of federal supervisors, or -- you know, to have a real mix in the actual, you know, at the mags or whatever, so there are both public and private employees at that bay --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, under the President's proposal, in all cases -- and this is what the House passed -- there would be a federal presence at all screening locations. There would be federally trained supervisors there to make certain that the private sector companies are carrying out their duties in the way that is demanded by these tough new federal standards.
And on the question of AmeriCorps, the President sees positive aspects of that proposal. The President has been a supporter of ideas that include increasing volunteerism. And so there are several positive aspects to that proposal.
We'll go to Lester, and then we'll come back around again.
Q Yesterday, The L.A. Times reported, since a man placed a bomb in his mother's suitcase in 1955 and blew up a United Airlines flight over Colorado, more than two dozen fatal explosions have been recorded on aircraft around the world. But only a small percentage of passenger luggage on domestic flights is screened for explosives, and Ramzi Ahmed Youssef, when arrested, had a laptop computer with plans to blow up 12 flights. And my question: Was the L.A. Times wrong to report this, or does the President feel that all passenger-checked luggage should be examined for explosives?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President believes that all passenger-checked luggage should be examined for explosives. That's in the House legislation. That issue addresses -- that's another reason why the President thinks it's so important for Congress to complete its work and send him a bill. The House legislation -- and I'm not sure if the Senate does or doesn't -- I know the House legislation includes a provision that the President supports, that would mandate over time mandatory checks of all luggage in the hold.
Q Okay. Since a number of U.S. media reporters accepted an invitation for a guided tour by the Taliban, this does not mean that if the Taliban can recruit more U.S. reporters, that they can ward off U.S. air strikes, does it, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to comment on any of the operational sides of the campaign.
Q Do you think it was wise for them to take this -- Taliban, do you think it was wise for them to go on this Taliban-guided tour?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that's a judgment reporters will make. I think reporters are wrestling with how to cover what the Taliban does and says. I think, clearly if, reporters had a domestic source who lied as often as the Taliban does, reporters would start to really question whether they should be quoting that source anymore.
But these are judgments reporters are paid to make.
Q Ari, this is --
MR. FLEISCHER: Mr. Sanger, you're in the back row there.
Q Ari, this is unprecedented.
MR. FLEISCHER: Oh, I'll come back up.
Q Can I follow on his first question?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's not unprecedented. Others have gone there. Mr. Sanger, you're hiding in the back.
Q Ari, just back on --
MR. FLEISCHER: Is there a reason you're doing this?
Q Someone was in my seat. (Laughter.) Back on your comments about Director Tenet and his statements, both of those that you quoted seem to refer to chemical weapons. Are you aware of any public or private conclusions within the United States government that the al Qaeda was seeking or had already had obtained any radiological material or nuclear weapons?
MR. FLEISCHER: Actually, the statements referred also to nuclear weapons as well. So -- I read quotes that deal with biological and chemical in the case of the training, but the quotes certainly do include nuclear. In fact, one of the quotes: "Although terrorists we have pre-empted still appear to be relying on conventional weapons, we know that a number of these groups are seeking chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear agents." That's what Director Tenet said to the Senate.
Q So before we get too far away from it, so the President supports the X-raying of bags for explosives. Does he also support the matching of bags to passengers on domestic flights?
MR. FLEISCHER: The matching of bags?
Q The matching of checked baggage to passengers on domestic flights?
MR. FLEISCHER: I've heard the President address the issue that Lester raised in a meeting with members of Congress on the subject of aviation security. And so that's why I was able to answer that. But I can't tell you that the President is going to micromanage all the security -- but the President also thinks it's important that the agency of the government that be in charge of these new standards be the Department of Transportation. They have the most expertise in this.
Q Can you check to see if --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll see if I can get anything.
Q -- on domestic flights.
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll see if I have anything for you on that.
Q As the President sets out this week to lay out the second phase of the war on terrorism and the consequences for nations that are not cooperating, who decides who is a terrorist, and how is that decision made for the worldwide coalition?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, certainly the President, in his conversations with foreign leaders, discusses these things. This is something that there is no one clear authority, if that's what you're asking for. Is there one person in the world who gets to decide who is and who is not a terrorist. The State Department, of course, has a list of terrorist nations, terrorist states, entities that belong, like the Real IRA, to terrorist nations. So the State Department, if that's what you're looking for, probably comes the closest to deciding about a listing of terrorists.
But as the President considers what actions are necessary to fight and win the war on terrorism, the President will of course be taking a look at the actions of various states, and seeing what they do and what they choose to do, what they choose no longer to do.
Q If I could just follow up on that, one of the groups that the State Department has listed is Hezbollah -- they added that on Friday -- which in Lebanon is a parliamentary party in the government of Lebanon, and some other governments have flat rejected the United States identification of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. What happens then?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, obviously that it was listed for a reason. And that is because of the terrorist practices Hezbollah has carried out. And it was important for the State Department to take that action. But as I indicated, and you heard the President say in the Rose Garden today, nations have been put on notice that you cannot be neutral in this fight against terrorism. The President has not laid out a timetable for what that means, if you fall on one side or other of neutrality. But there should be no mistaking the President's words.
Q To follow a little bit on Terry's question, and some the other themes we've discussed here today, are we getting closer to some sort of an action against some of the states or organizations that are on that list? And --
MR. FLEISCHER: I would urge you not to jump to any conclusions based on what the President said, one way or another. The President thought it was important to say that.
Q Well, it's been no secret, from the very beginning, he said we'll track down terrorism wherever it is, and those who sponsor it. And that obviously leads further down the road to some of these groups that have been on the State Department list for years, and obviously doing so would make holding a coalition a little bit -- holding the coalition together a little bit tougher. Is he beginning to lay the groundwork for putting people on notice that they're going to have to make some of those tough decisions?
MR. FLEISCHER: I just refer you to what he said. His words speak for themselves, and you can draw what conclusions you see fit.
Q But some of the President's words though, referring to the war on global terrorism, talk about terrorist organizations with global reach. Isn't that the standard?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's what the President has said.
Q Right. But the Real IRA --
MR. FLEISCHER: But the President has also said --
Q -- and others who appear on the State Department just don't fall necessarily into that category, they're of very narrow national reach.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has also said in the war on terrorism, you can't choose to be for some terrorists and against other terrorists, and that this is phase one of the campaign against terrorism.
Q Let me follow up. Can I follow up, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: You can't.
Q You took a question from me yesterday -- I know, but you took a question from me yesterday on Pakistani --
MR. FLEISCHER: Ken hasn't even had a question yet. You've had three. Let Ken get his first, and then we'll come back to you for your fourth.
Q Ari, on politics, there are a couple of interesting elections around the country today. Does the President plan on making some time this evening to watch returns? And can you tell us whether or not he did any eleventh hour telephone calling or any other kind of get out the vote help for any candidates, specifically the GOP mayoral candidate in New York City?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has taped get out the vote messages for candidates for Governor in New Jersey and in Virginia, as well as for Mr. Bloomberg in New York City.
Q And what about this evening? Is he going to take some time to sit by the TV and watch returns?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I can't predict whether he's going to watch it on television, or whether he will be informed by some other means. But one way or another, I assure you, the President will stay on close top of the results.
Q Is he going to follow the network projections real closely? (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: We do know how reliable network projections always are at this time of year.
Q Quickly, really.
MR. FLEISCHER: Major, you get your fourth, and then we're going to go to Ken who hasn't had one, and Paula hasn't had one, you haven't had one. So we're going to move around.
Q Actually, this goes in yesterday's column, so it's still only three today. (Laughter.) A question about Pakistani --
MR. FLEISCHER: I will take your retroactive question.
Q -- yes, a retroactive question applied to the -- the Pakistani textile issue, and tariffs on that. There is -- it's before the United States government, there is very great desire among Pakistan to have those textiles reduced. There is desire in some quarters of the United States not to have them reduced, thinking they would be subsidized or cheaper imports. Where does the administration stand on that? When are we going to see a decision?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you were provided the answer to that question after the briefing. It was supposed to be posted. But in all cases, the answer is that as we work with Pakistan to promote stability in the region, issues involving trade are important components. It's too soon to say with any certainty what elements of a trade assistance arrangement could be in the offering. But trade with Pakistan is an important way to promote stability with Pakistan.
Q It's so much better when you do it from the podium, than post it on the board. (Laughter.)
Q Ari, you said in response to John's question that the United States doesn't discuss what types of weapons it would use in retaliation for certain kinds of attack. There has been one important exception to that rule, and that was the warning that the first Bush administration made publicly to the government in Iraq, during the Persian Gulf War, that, as a matter of policy, we would respond to any chemical or biological attack on U.S. troops or U.S. allies with nuclear weapons. Does that policy still stand?
MR. FLEISCHER: I answered this question two weeks ago, and the policy is that the United States will take all means necessary to protect itself.
Q Does that mean --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to comment on any specific type of weapons.
Q Ari, Indian Prime Minister will be arriving tomorrow in Washington and Friday, here at the White House and meeting. Is President is trying his best for two leaders to meet in New York -- General Musharraf and Prime Minister of India? Because they are not meeting at this point, they have refused to meet each other.
And, number two, when President meets with General Musharraf in New York, whether he's going to discuss about the safeguards of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, because this has been written in the press that Osama bin Laden may get his hands, if Musharraf --
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is looking forward to his meetings Friday with the President of India and, of course, on Saturday with President Musharraf up in New York. And there will be a readout of the meeting following the meeting with President Musharraf. So I think that's a question that would be more appropriate after the meeting takes place.
Q Not counting countries that may need time to get out of the terrorism business, does the President feel that any nation that has announced that it is part of the anti-terrorism coalition is not currently pulling its weight?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the President has said that different nations will help in different ways, and the President is appreciative of that. He understands that there are going to be some nations that will not be able to send military supplies, military forces, for example, into the region.
But as I answered earlier on the question about the abilities of al Qaeda to acquire chemical, biological or nuclear weapons, one of the most useful things that coalition allies are doing is providing the United States with intelligence information. There are many nations that are in the region or closer to the region that have good information. And they're working very closely with the Central Intelligence Agency, with the intelligence-gathering services of the United States to share information. And the sharing of information, in the President's opinion, is one of the most valuable things that can be done to win this war.
Q On the issue of mental health parity, there is a bill that passed the House that would basically renew current law. But in the Senate, Senators Wellstone and Domenici proposed expanding coverage, so the diseases of the brain are treated equally as other chronic illnesses. And I wondered what the administration's position is on mental health care --
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct, you've accurately framed it. As a result of legislation that was passed in 1996 that provided for mental health parity in insurance coverage -- that was, I think, an amendment to health care portability legislation that year. That legislation expired on September 30th of this year, and the President has said that he wants to work with the Congress to make certain that we can get protections to people who have needs as far as mental health coverage, while making certain that we don't do so in any way that is so inflationary that it drives other people out of getting insurance in the first place. So he is going to want to work with the Congress to bring a resolution on this.
Q The CBO has done an estimate on expanding the Wellstone-Domenici plan, and they estimate that health care expenses would be increased by one percent. Does the administration consider that too inflationary?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as you know, with every percentage of increase, there are a large number of Americans who do lose their health insurance. So I think it all depends on -- if you're the person who loses their health insurance as a result of this, it would go too far. But if you're somebody who has a mental illness and you deserve equity in your insurance coverage, of course this is a very important matter, and the President understands that.
So what the President intends to do is work with the House and the Senate to see if we can't reach some type of agreement on this.
Q The Saudi -- I wondered if you could clarify this matter for me -- the Saudi press has been reporting that the Saudis say that President Bush apologized to them for some of the coverage of Saudi Arabia here. That's not exactly what you said last week, which was it was simply incorrect.
Did the President say something that the Saudis interpreted as an apology?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President called Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia on October 25th. And at that time, the President called to thank the Kingdom for its support in the international fight against terrorism. And the President noted in that call that he was very pleased with the cooperation the United States has received from Saudi Arabia.
He also said that press articles citing differences between the United States and Saudi Arabia were incorrect, and the President reaffirmed in that call his view that Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance, and that the struggle against terror is not a struggle with Islam. That's what the President said in that phone call.
Q That's the sum total of what he said? And you're saying there's nothing he said that should have been interpreted as an apology?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's -- I have shared with you the President's phone call. Of course, people are always free to interpret the President's words.
Q But you seemed to indicate this morning -- well, just this morning in the gaggle, you seemed to indicate that the phone call was made because the President was concerned about press reports saying that the relationship was tense. Is that not the case?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, there's no question that it came up in the call. I just said to you --
Q Was that the reason he made the phone call, or --
MR. FLEISCHER: The President called for a number of reasons, but that was definitely one of the reasons. No, there's no question that's one of the reasons the President called.
Q Since you won't answer the question directly, let me get you to engage in a little strategic ambiguity here, sort of in the spirit of the Taiwan Relations Act here. What's your assessment of how this administration would view a nuclear attack perpetrated by terrorists on America?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have given you everything I'm going to give you on that topic, John.
Q Would it be a matter of grave concern that would be met with the most --
Q Ari, following up on Ken's question as to the elections of Virginia, New Jersey, and New York, the President did not participate directly in any of these elections -- he did not go out with the candidates, he didn't, as we say, take his message. Was this a deliberate effort by the White House to keep the President out of politics while the war goes on in Afghanistan and the war on anti-terrorism goes on?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President will make the decisions about when he thinks it is appropriate for him to go out and hit the campaign trail. As I indicated, the President did a variety of things to help the candidates, the Republican candidates in those states. In addition to the get-out-the-vote messages that are playing to voters now in New York City and other places, the President did mail pieces on behalf of the candidates that I know have been used. So the President participated in a variety of ways. And we will see what the ultimate outcome of those elections are later today.
Q Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.
3:17 P.M. EST
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