The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
April 10, 2002

Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer

The James S. Brady Briefing Room

12:40 P.M. EDT

MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. Let me give you a report on the President's day. I'll be happy to take your questions.

The President this morning had his briefings from the Central Intelligence agency and the FBI. And then he convened a National Security Council meeting.

Late this morning the President met with a group of Republican House and Senate leaders to discuss the upcoming agenda. He specifically talked about an update on the war in Afghanistan, events in the Middle East, as well as important domestic issues -- specifically, the need for the Congress and the Senate to pass an energy plan. The House has already passed one. He talked about the need to have trade agreements put in place, terrorism insurance, a budget, a supplemental appropriation bill. And I'll return in a moment to one of the topics that was discussed at this meeting.

Early this afternoon, the President will make remarks in the East Room, where he will push for a comprehensive ban on human cloning. The President is going to talk about the importance of medical science, the importance of advances in health care to solve and to cure people from some of the diseases that we have in our society, while at the same time doing so in a way that is always ethical, that bans the cloning of humans or the taking of life through human cloning.

Later this afternoon, the President will meet with a group of Republican House members to talk about the importance of welfare reform. And tomorrow the President will welcome the bipartisan leadership of the House and Senate to the White House for continued discussions about our shared agenda.

One foreign policy announcement, then I'm going to return to something at the meeting this morning. The President will welcome President Andres Pastrana of Colombia to the White House on April 18th.

Finally, from the meeting this morning, one topic that came up that is currently under consideration in the United States Senate is the energy plan, the first comprehensive energy plan that our nation has had debated in considerable amount of time. As the American consumers know, they are increasingly paying for more -- paying more money at the gas pump to fill up their car. And Saddam Hussein has just said that he will cut off oil to the United States.

The President thinks it is vital that the Senate pass comprehensive energy legislation to help the American consumer and to protect America's energy independence. One issue that is pending in the United States Senate is the question of whether or not exploration should be allowed in the ANWR region of Alaska.

And the President knows that ANWR represents 46 years' worth of imports of oil from Saddam Hussein's Iraq. And the President thinks that Saddam Hussein's threat, promise to cut off oil, is another reason why our nation needs a comprehensive energy plan that is independent of such threats. And the President hopes the Senate will agree, he hopes that the bill will go to conference, and that, ultimately, what comes out of a House-Senate conference, the House has already acted, but hopes the Senate will as well.

And with that, I'm more than happy to take your questions.

Q Will the President consider cutting off any form of aid to Israel as the Sharon government continues to defy his request to withdraw from the Palestinian territories without delay?

MR. FLEISCHER: Secretary Powell made crystal-clear before his trip that the answer to that is no.

Q What, then, are the consequences, the real-world consequences, for Sharon and for the Israeli government in their defiance of the President's request?

MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, democracies talk to each other on the basis of respect and on the basis of principle. And the United States presents its reasons to Israel about what the United States believes is the best course to pursue in order to create an environment for peace in the Middle East. We do so on the basis of friendship, on the basis of respect.

The President reiterates that all parties in the region need to step up to their responsibilities in order to create that environment.

Q Aside from that reiteration, there's really nothing more the President can do. And doesn't that put his own credibility at risk?

MR. FLEISCHER: The Secretary of State is looking forward to meeting with Prime Minister Sharon. There have been a series of contacts, have been for quite some time and will continue to be, with the government of Israel, as well as with the Arab allies and other nations in the region.

So conversations will continue, the point will continue to be stressed, and the President will remain persistent.

Q One more. Does the President believe that Israeli use of American-made weapons in these operations is consistent with the obligations that Israel has in use of those weapons for defensive purposes in accordance with understandings with the United States?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President has made abundantly clear that he believes in Israel's right to defend herself. The President has also indicated regardless of type of weaponry, that the time has come, that Israel should pull back.

Q Does he also believe that the Israelis have a right to lay siege on the West Bank and Gaza? Will Powell see Arafat on Sunday? Does America have any peace plan, any plan to try to bring about a cease-fire and to get this friendly nation to cooperate a little?

MR. FLEISCHER: Secretary Powell has already announced that he will be meeting with Chairman Arafat and the President has made clear what he thinks needs to be done in order to create peace.

The President has a long-term goal, that is an Israel that can live in security, and the creation of a Palestinian state, living side by side with Israel. To get to that goal, that is the essence of the diplomatic mission that Secretary Powell is involved in right now. It is a challenge, it is difficult. That is nothing new in America's foreign policy, but that is the commitment of the United States.

Q What is the short-term terms?

MR. FLEISCHER: The short term is represented by Secretary Powell's mission, which is to get the parties to agree to a cease-fire, as well as a focus on the political talks that need to begin, so that all parties in the region can have hope. And that's the purpose of the Secretary's visit. That's why he began meeting with the Arab nations that can have good influence on the Palestinian Authority, to demonstrate their commitment to peace. And he will meet with Israel and he will meet with Chairman Arafat.

Q To follow up, is the President aware that there is the widespread perception that he has given a green light to Sharon to keep on the siege until he finally can -- will agree to a cease-fire, that the killing will go on?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think everybody has heard the President talk directly, himself, and they know that's not the case.

Q But if this is the way democracies talk to one another, it seems that the other democracy isn't listening. The President has made repeated demands -- not requests, but demands that Sharon pull back or begin to withdraw. It's gone completely unheeded.

MR. FLEISCHER: Welcome to the Middle East. This is the situation in the Middle East that has been an ongoing issue for decades. And because it's so important, because so much is at stake, because it's so crucial, the President is committed. And that is why he has directed his Secretary of State to go to the region, despite the difficulties that are present not from one side, but from all sides.

Israel remains America's friend. America remains a trusted ally and partner of Israel, a democracy. And in that process the President will continue to make clear to all parties what he believes the obligations are in order to achieve peace. The difficulty, Bill, is the violence has gotten to the point now where both parties are so engaged in the ongoing struggle for the Middle East that the President wants to find a way to help the parties to help themselves.

It will be difficult, it will be a challenge, but the President remains committed to it.

Q Why do you have any reason to believe that both parties want to help themselves?

MR. FLEISCHER: What alternative do the parties have? The future for the Middle East cannot be endless violence. The future for the region has got to be where statesmen step up, where people can be found on all sides who are willing to commit themselves to the process of peace. And that is the purpose of Secretary Powell's visit, is to work with those elements, to give those elements political hope, to give those elements more reason to work with each other so that peace can again take root.

Q I guess what I'm getting at is it's been almost a week since the President asked Israel to pull back and asked the Palestinians to stop the suicide bombings. Neither side has paid heed. What glimmer of hope have you seen in the last six days that there is going to be a breakthrough in the problems?

MR. FLEISCHER: Ron, no matter how difficult this is, this President will not give up. The United States has no choice but to help, and help we will. Under President Bush's direction, the Secretary is in the region, and that's the challenge of his mission. But I don't think it surprises the American people that this is a challenge, that this is difficult, and that people in the region don't simply stop, salute the United States and say yes, sir. That is not how diplomacy works. But it will not stop this President from doing everything in his power to find ways to bring the parties together.

Q The meeting between Powell and Arafat -- Sharon today called it a tragic mistake, Powell's decision to meet with Arafat. What's your reaction to that? And has Sharon given you any assurances that he will even give Powell access to Arafat, that he'll allow the meeting to take place?

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't think -- the Secretary always said he would meet with Arafat if the circumstances permit, and we have every indication that the circumstances will permit, in terms of his being able to have access to Chairman Arafat.

Q So you have gotten assurances from Sharon that he would allow them to meet?

MR. FLEISCHER: We anticipate that the meeting will take place. Having said that, no one can predict what the results will be. There have been a series of events in the Middle East that depended in good part on Chairman Arafat, and the results were not favorable. And so the President is looking at this as a chance to see what Yasser Arafat can or cannot do. The President is looking at this as an opportunity to see what Chairman Arafat wants to do or doesn't want to do. And that will be a very important measure of Chairman Arafat's future intentions in the region.

There are many other people the Secretary of State is meeting with, that he will continue to meet with. There are many people that he's met with already this week who have demonstrated a desire for peace.

Q What's your reaction to Sharon calling the meeting a tragic mistake?

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't comment on -- the policy of the United States is that the Secretary of State will work with whoever he can work with to try to bring peace to the region, and he'll spend more time with the people who can be most productive.

Q Former Prime Minister Netanyahu is going around saying that Israel is held to a different standard than the U.S. and other countries in the war against terrorism. Is it? And whom does the U.S. consider to be the terrorists in this, Israel or the Palestinians?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, here is the standard that the President has set for the war against terrorism. If you recall, the President has made very clear that in America's war against terrorism, we are fighting on a multi-front level. It's a multi-front war. And one of those fronts is cooperation, is diplomacy, is working with other nations around the world to build the coalition against terrorism. And that's why the Secretary's first visit was to Morocco. That's why the President met with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia -- the Secretary of State, I'm sorry -- went to Egypt and met with President Mubarak.

That's part of the way to fight terrorism, is to build a coalition that's dedicated to stopping terrorism. That's why the President has called on the Arab states to speak out against terrorism, to stop financing terrorism, to stop the hatred in the press against Israel or against Jews. Those are all the statements that the President has made that needs to be done from the Arab perspective.

From the Israeli perspective, as you know, the President has said enough is enough, Israel needs to pull back. Enough is enough applies to the Palestinians as well, and to the Arab neighbors as well. That's the difference in the approach.

The President also believes that events in the Middle East have gotten to the point where Israel exercised its right to self-defense, Israel acted against what can only be viewed as terrorist attacks against Israel.

The suicide bombings are murder bombings. They are acts of terrorism. And Israel acted to defend herself. But the President was increasingly worried that once Israel had acted that the situation was going beyond where it could contribute to peace that it would start to contribute to increased violence in the region that could impact the United States' goals and Israel's goals of working with others to achieve peace.

Q Are the Palestinians terrorists or freedom fighters?

MR. FLEISCHER: Clearly, in the President's view, and he has said this many times, anybody who engages in a suicide attack is an act of murder. They're not just suicide attackers, they're murder attackers.

Q Ari, many of the European allies have been critical of the way the United States is handling itself in the Middle East. How important is it to the White House the fact that Colin Powell has met today with the European leaders from Spain and the Foreign Minister of Russia? Do they feel they need the support of Europe or do they feel that Washington should go at it alone if they don't agree with Washington's policies?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, let me assure you that the President will always consult and work closely with our European allies. And the United States will always be Israel's best friend. The President will receive advice, will receive guidance, the President understands America's vital role in helping Israel and being Israel's friend. And the President will not waver from that.

The President feels that it is a crucial part of America's involvement in that region. So the Secretary of State is listening, is consulting and is aware there are a number of voices on these issues and it's important to listen to them. But the President will remain committed to the state of Israel.

Q Two quick questions on the Middle East. Is the administration receiving any assurances privately from Israel that it will pull out more troops from the Palestinian areas before Secretary Powell gets on the ground in Jerusalem?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think by the very definition of your question, without indicating whether the answer is yes or no, if you ask me if something is happening privately, how can I answer that question?

Q Well, but are you getting any signals? Because obviously there's a concern that Secretary Powell's mission, the success of it, could really hinge on if there's more pull-outs.

MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's fair to say that Israel has heard the message that the President has sent and the President is a man of results and we will wait and see what actions are taken.

Q You're not getting any signal one way or the other that --

MR. FLEISCHER: I think the signals that the President is looking for are actual results from all parties.

Q One other thing. Is the administration absolutely against having any armed monitors or armed peacekeepers in the Middle East to try to keep the peace between Israel and the Palestinians when and if there's any settlement?

MR. FLEISCHER: Going back to the summer of 2001, the President made clear -- and said so publicly at the time -- that the United States would support monitors in the Middle East if that's what the parties, themselves, agreed to and requested.

Q Would they be armed?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think the modalities of all that would be something that would be reviewed and arranged. You should not view this as an interpositional force. This would be monitors to help the parties to adhere to a cease-fire.

Q Ari, can I take you for a moment to your statement on the energy issues? You said that Saddam Hussein's announcement was another reason that the Senate should act. Are you suggesting from that that the oil that we get from Iraq -- a fairly small amount as a total of our imports -- that that will make a difference on price or supply? Or is that oil likely just to go to other countries and we would end up buying elsewhere --

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, markets ultimately determine the answer to your question. And observation of the market for the last 48 hours showed that prices immediately spiked up and now the prices have very quickly come right back down again in the futures market in reaction to what Saddam Hussein declared. So it's unclear.

But the point that the President is making is why should the United States' energy security rest, in part, on the actions of Saddam Hussein? Why should the United States take any chances? Why shouldn't the United States have an energy policy that is more independent? This is an issue that the United States faces year after year after year. And the President believes that instead of lurching, herky-jerky, from one crisis to the next, year after year, that it's about time we had a comprehensive, long-term strategy so we don't, every spring going into summer, ask ourselves the same question: why is the price of gas going up? Whether it's a result of seasonal concerns, or whether it's a result of instability in the Mideast.

Q If I could just follow up on that, the fact that the futures have come back down tells you that the market's view is that in the end, this is supply-neutral, that Saddam's oil will go someplace else, and that we will obtain our oil from someplace else. In that particular case, why is the cutoff just to the United States any more of an argument for an energy bill than you had before he made the announcement?

MR. FLEISCHER: Because the United States should not risk being vulnerable to the actions of Saddam Hussein or any other nation when it comes to creating energy independence and energy security for our own people here at home. The United States has, within its own disposal and its own borders, the answers to many of our energy problems. Those answers rely on conservation, greater efficiency and increased exploration -- all of the above.

What the President is saying to the Senate is we need conservation, we need more efficiency, but don't turn your back on making America more energy-independent because you're not willing to explore within our own lands. And we'll see exactly what the markets do. They will be monitored. But this is not an issue that goes away; this is an issue the American people have seen rise up before, and the President doesn't think good policy is to move from crisis to crisis. The President thinks now is the time and the Senate should vote to make sure we have a long-term plan in place to avert potential crises.

Q Just to follow, on the economy at home. In the last few days I have been visiting a number of businesses in Maryland, Silver Spring and Georgetown and the Old Town area -- and also in Virginia. What they are saying is really they are still suffering. Some airlines are recalling their fired workers back, but many businesses in different fields are firing their employees in thousands. And business across this area, they are suffering in every field.

So now they are fearing that from this crisis in the Middle East, especially the oil embargo and -- they will hurt more. So what message President do you think has for them?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President remains concerned about the strength of the economy. There's no question about it, there are increasingly good signs on the economic horizon about the statistics in the economy and the President is heartened to see that. It very well may be that when economists look back, the tax cut that was such a controversial tax cut in the minds of some, that passed with such overwhelming bipartisan support, may have just been the right medicine at the right time to help get the economy going back again, last fall when the economy could have been even worse impacted as a result of September 11th.

So the President is going to continually monitor the trends in our society to make sure that people are getting their jobs back. But he looks at a series of things that are pending in the Congress now that, when you add them up, help restore the economy. Trade is one of them. Trade promotion authority, so jobs can be created at home through exports. Energy policy, so America doesn't have as a long-term basis the vicissitudes in the market where the prices jump up and down, where we have more energy independence. Education, of course, is something the President views as a long-term issue that helps strengthen the economy as more of our workers are better educated.

A series of those are the items the President is looking at. So, again, there are encouraging signs on the economy. We'll see where it all ends up.

Q Ari, there seems to be a fundamental difference of opinion on the proper approach to terrorism and the Israeli-Palestinian context between the U.S. and Israeli leaders. Judging from what Mr. Netanyahu said on Capitol Hill today and what Mr. Sharon has said, the Israelis seem to be arguing that a military response is the only one that makes sense against terrorism, and that by meeting with Arafat, by talking to Arafat, the U.S. is, in a sense, rewarding terrorism. What is the administration's argument?

MR. FLEISCHER: Jim, this President will reward those who help create peace. That's the President's focus. That's where his time will be spent.

The President has met on many occasions with Prime Minister Sharon, as you know. Yasser Arafat had his chance to meet with the Vice President. He did not live up to the conditions the Vice President established for a meeting.

The Secretary of State has met with Yasser Arafat before. It is part of his portfolio that the President has invested in him, to have the broadest, most flexible mandate. That if the Secretary of State thinks it's worthwhile having a meeting with Yasser Arafat, he can do so. But the people who will contribute the most to peace are the people who put their shoulder to the wheel, the people who help create a cease-fire, and the people who even after all the violence express a willingness to work with each other.

And that's why the President has given the message he has to all parties, that he is concerned that, as a result of what's taking place on the ground now in the Middle East, it will be harder to bring the two parties together. But a way must be found, and the President has committed himself to finding that way and to working with whoever can get that done.

Q Well, that is the problem, and you know there is obviously a lot of conservative criticism here at home as well, in addition to the Israelis, saying that the U.S. has characterized Arafat as a terrorist. Yet, we're willing to sit down and talk with him about peace, and a lot of people find some difficulty in reconciling.

MR. FLEISCHER: I think everybody knows what the President has said on the topic of Yasser Arafat and whether he has earned the President's trust. He has not. Nevertheless, the President wants the Secretary of State to have the broadest mandate possible with the most flexibility, so he can have the most influence on bringing peace to the region.

Q Ari, there have been many anti-Israel and anti-American demonstrations in some of the Arab countries -- one of them, the Queen of Jordan apparently was participating in; there have been other ones. But the states have -- these countries have at least, if not sanctioned them, certainly allowed them to go on and perhaps encourage them.

What's your reaction, what's the White House's reaction to that?

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, the President's message to the Arab nations is that they need to do their part to create peace. They need to stop the incitement and the hatred that can be found in the government press, they need to speak out strongly, urging an end to all terrorist actions, and an end to all financing.

The President's message is one of moral clarity to all. And he won't pull his punches from that. He thinks that is a vital part of the future of the region, that it's time for statesmanship in the region, that nations need to step up and express that desire.

Q If U.S. aid to Israel is secure, are there any consequences at all for the U.S. side for Sharon's refusal to heed the President's wishes?

MR. FLEISCHER: Listen, a lot of people have said -- asked the President or asked me, what is the President's reaction, how does the President feel about this. I can only tell you, just having talked to the President in the Oval Office shortly before I came out here, the only way I can describe him is persistent. The President understands that since 1948, when Israel was born, there have been numerous wars fought, that this has been a region that has been racked by violence for far, far too long.

And the President understands that no American President can simply wave a magic wand to make it all go away overnight. But what an American President can do is commit to working to solve the problem, and that is what this President is dedicated to do, and that's why the Secretary of State is in the middle of a very important diplomatic mission. And the President has faith that at the end of the day, these parties have no choice but to make peace with each other.

The job of the United States is to help the parties to help themselves to find a way to realizing that day. And he understands it may take time. That won't stop him from pushing forward.

Q But doesn't he have feeling, though, that he's put his personal prestige on the line here, with these very public calls, and then the personal phone call, and particularly in a part of the world where personal prestige counts for a lot and he's getting dissed?

MR. FLEISCHER: Ron, to the President, this is not a matter of personal prestige or anything else personal. It's the right thing to do at the right time to do it. And that's why he gave the speech he gave last Thursday, and that's why he continues to press the parties to agree to the path the United States has laid out.

Again, the President is going to continue to be persistent to help the region to achieve that day.

Q Ari, I'd like to ask you about something the President said in another speech in Knoxville, Tennessee earlier this week. Referring to the threat to U.S. homeland security, he said: the best way to fight them -- meaning terrorists -- is to unleash the military. It again raises the question: is there a different set of ground rules for the U.S. response to terrorism than other countries, especially after yet another bus suicide bombing?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, Peter, because I think in that same speech and many speeches, you've heard the President talk about the coalition that he's put together that is fighting terrorism on multiple fronts, involving the military, involving diplomacy, involving financial transactions and drying up terrorists' money. All of that is done through an international coalition that he has built to fight terrorism.

The military can play a role. The President recognizes Israel's right to self-defense. But the President also understands that you still have to create an environment where, at the end of the day, when military use has done all it can, that the parties can still agree to peaceful resolutions of their disputes.

Q So you're saying it's okay to do it with the coalition but not to go it alone?

MR. FLEISCHER: I would refer you back to what the President said on Thursday in his statement, about recognizing Israel's right to self-defense, calling on the Palestinian Authority to finally stop the terrorism and the role that other Arab nations can play.

Q Can you comment a little bit on the evolution of the President's thought on the road map to a final resolution? You know, a few weeks ago and even last week, he was talking about sequentially the cease-fire and then Tenet and then Mitchell. And yesterday, obviously, the Secretary of State said the sequencing doesn't work and we have to move the security and immediately to political talks. So, obviously, the President would support -- I mean, one hopes that Powell is not off by himself saying this.

So could you tell us how the President's thought has evolved from that sequential approach to this broader approach?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President believes that the easiest way to get into the political talks is as a result of the cessation of the violence. The President looks at the situation in the Middle East and you have two parties, the Israelis and the Palestinians. And he believes it's just harder for them to sit down at the table and agree to the political process, so long as there's so much shooting on both sides.

So I think it's a very good understanding of human relations, human interaction, that it's going to be hard for two people to sit across a table and talk about political boundaries if they're shooting at each other from the opposite sides of the room. That's the President's belief. But the President understands, as well, that it's intertwined, that it's not just a clear cut, you proceed with one, and only after you proceed with one can you get to the other. If progress can be made on the political front, to measure it with a reduction of the violence, the President will be for that. And that's why the Secretary is in the region.

So it's never been as if there was a clear, simple delineation between going from cease-fire to political. But it's just common sense that it will be easier to get into political if there's a cease-fire.

Q So is there a change in policy here or not?

MR. FLEISCHER: As I said, it's always been intertwined. But it's just common sense that it will be harder for those parties to agree to a reduction of -- to enter into political boundaries discussions if they're still shooting at each other over the existing boundaries.

Q Two questions. The coal -- just to change the subject for a second -- the coal industry, for a number of years, has been engaged in a practice called mountain top removal, where they'll blow off the tops of the mountains and dump the waste into the valleys and streams in West

Virginia and Kentucky.

In this weekend's Washington Post, Robert Kennedy, Jr., and Joe Lovett, who are two environmental attorneys, reported that the Bush administration is going to change rules under the Clean Water Act to make this practice legal. It has been up until now illegal but unenforced. And I'm wondering why the administration is going to do that?

MR. FLEISCHER: Russell, you have a very good habit of asking questions that the agencies know a lot more about. I have not heard about any of this, so again I refer you to one of the agencies that has jurisdiction over these type of regulations.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.

END 1:10 P.M. EDT

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