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 Home > News & Policies > May 2002

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 15, 2002

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

1:22 P.M. EDT

MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. Let me give you a report on the President's day, then I have two announcements. One, the President began this morning at 7:00 a.m. with a breakfast with the congressional leaders, Democrats and Republicans, to discuss the congressional agenda. They spent particular time on trade, and also they discussed the budget and the need to make progress on the budget.

The President then, later in the morning, met with members of the United Jewish Communities who gather here at the White House. This is a group that focuses mainly on domestic issues in terms of helping the poor and the needy. And the President talked to them about the importance of Congress passing the CARE Act, or the faith-based act. Many of them are in town for the purpose of going up to discuss the importance of passing this legislation with members on the Hill. They also talked about events in the Middle East.

Then the President went up to the United States Capitol where he concluded a meeting with the House Republican Conference. He spoke to members of the House, gave them a war update, talked to them about the importance of funding our nation's defenses. He also talked about the importance of corporate responsibility and making sure that corporate leaders were good citizens in our community. He talked about passage of Medicare reform that includes a prescription drug benefit for seniors. He talked about welfare reform and education.

Then the President is just finishing his remarks, or has just finished his remarks at the Annual Peace Officers Association Memorial Service to pay tribute to those killed in the line of duty. And then he will return to the White House. Later this afternoon, the President will sign the No Fear Act. This is a piece of civil rights legislation that increases government accountability by requiring federal agencies to pay from their own budget for settlements or judgments resulting from discrimination cases. It also requires employees to be notified of their rights under all discrimination laws, and it enforces the agencies to report to the Congress information pertaining to civil rights abuses. The President will be pleased to sign that.

Two last items: The President, also this morning, called Prime Minister Vajpayee of India to express condolences for the 33 people killed in the May 14th terrorist attack in Jammu and Kashmir, and to offer sympathy to the families -- the victims' families. The President condemned the terrorist activity and said he was working very hard to end terrorism and to find a peaceful solution to the bilateral tensions between India and Pakistan.

Finally, also on foreign policy, President Bush, since the very beginning of this administration, has worked hard to initiate a new era in relations between the United States and Russia. The President sees this as a new era, goes beyond, obviously, the Cold War, and ushers in a new way with Russia, a way where Russia works with the West. In both Washington, D.C. and Crawford, President Bush and President Putin agreed to build a new constructive NATO relationship in conjunction with other members of NATO.

Yesterday, the President saw the wonderful results of this effort. The President was pleased that NATO took a major step yesterday in Reykjavik toward integrating Russia with the European Atlantic Community of nations with the establishment of the NATO-Russia Council. This council's agenda will include counterterrorist cooperation, crisis management, nonproliferation, search and rescue at sea, military-to-military cooperation, and civil emergency situation response and management. The council allows for joint discussion, joint decision, and joint action, while protecting NATO's prerogatives at 19.

As a member of NATO, the United States looks forward to building on this initial agenda as the council develops a track record of cooperation.

And just more broadly on that, I think one of the more notable developments over the 14, 15 months of President Bush's term in office has been the strengthening of U.S.-Russia ties; the cordial, cooperative relationship that is really flourishing between the United States and Russia; Russia's movement toward the West.

These are important sea changes that could go down as sea changes in history. These changes begin, it's important that they grow; time will tell, but the beginning has been marked by great success between the United States and Russia, particularly if you remember how relations began with Russia in the wake of a spy issue of a very serious nature. Since Slovenia and the President's meeting with President Putin, there has been a lot to herald in terms of strong and tangible results in U.S.-Russia relations, in reductions of offensive weapons, and of course, this event, with -- who could have believed it as we were children growing up, at least -- Russia now as a partial member of NATO -- NATO at 20.


Q Ari, why doesn't it get full membership? And, short of that, does the President ever contemplate the time when Russia will become a member of NATO? And why not? I mean a full-fledged.

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, this is the beginning. And as I indicated, that we look forward to building on the initial agenda, as they develop a track record of cooperation. And we welcome Russia into this new arrangement with NATO. It is an historic break. This is a rather remarkable event for people who grew up in the Cold War, and even watching what took place in the '90s, as Russia's communism died in Russia -- what is emerging is a new Russia that's looking westward, that is strong and is proud, is independent, and Russia finding a friend in the United States, a friend in NATO.

Q Does he foresee a full membership?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think, Helen, at this point, it's notable and remarkable that Russia has this role in NATO. And over time, other assessments will be made -- that's going to depend on cooperation, it's going to depend on events. And this is a garden that will be watered and that will grow. And that's very cooperative.

Q Ari, the Senate Majority Leader this morning on Cuba said, we can democratize Cuba with greater trade and greater outreach, as we have attempted to do with other countries in the world. How does that statement sit with where this administration --

MR. FLEISCHER: Who did you say said that?

Q Senate Majority Leader Daschle. Where does that statement sit with where this administration is going with its Cuba policy?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President very strongly believes that the trade embargo with Cuba is a very important ongoing part of America's policy, because trade with Cuba only benefits the repressive government of Cuba; it does not get into the hands of the people. That's been the experience of the nations that have traded with Cuba. And trade with Cuba, unlike trade with any other nation in the world -- almost any other nation in the world -- does not help the people of Cuba. And that's the heart of the problem with the trade issue with Cuba.

Q So if I could just follow that, in terms of the embargo and the Cuba review, I take it it's safe to say that we're not looking at loosening anything up.

MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think -- I've indicated already on the record, the President will, of course, continue to enforce the embargo against Cuba because he believes it does not help the people of Cuba to trade with Cuba, it only gives money to the government that the government then uses as part of its repression of its people.

Q Are you even going to tighten up on Cuba even more?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President will give a speech on Monday where he will talk about the importance of freedom and democracy in Cuba, and the President will address that himself.


Q Not everybody in the administration, though, is on board. I mean, there are a lot of people who don't believe these sanctions are working. Vice President Cheney, on Meet The Press, said, "Sanctions, frankly, haven't worked very well in Cuba." Why then is the President so unwilling to try something new?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think what the Vice President was saying in that entire interview was that the problem in Cuba is you have a repressive dictator who it doesn't matter what efforts are made by outsiders; his only interest is to continue the repression, to continue to keep himself in power, to continue to deny his people the same civil liberties that have broken out across the hemisphere.

Cuba is the last tyrant left on Earth -- let me re-phrase that -- Cuba is one of the last great tyrants left on Earth. And that's the problem with these typical devices that do help improve relations with other nations, that wouldn't work with a nation like Cuba because of the repressive nature of the regime.

Q Can I follow up? How much of this has to do with politics in Florida? We all know what happened in Florida, and there are adamant positions held there that we should never even consider.

MR. FLEISCHER: Given the fact that this has been the President's position and it's been the position of many people in the United States prior to the 2000 election, I think it shows it has to do with merits, not politics.


Q Can you reiterate -- this issue has received a lot of attention, obviously, because of President Carter's trip and the President's planned speech -- President Bush's planned speech on Monday. Can you reiterate then to the American people the distinction? If you read the State Department's human rights report, a lot more ink given to China and what the State Department would say is a repressive regime that denies its people the right to vote, the right to speak freely -- than Cuba, a similar government, from the State Department's view. Why then the distinction of a President saying, engagement is a good idea with China?

MR. FLEISCHER: Absolutely. The President has been asked that numerous times, and so you can roll your tape and get it directly from the President. But what the President believes is that trade with China means trade with a totally different system, with different economic values, than Cuba. And trade with China has been dispersed widely throughout the people of China. Trade with China has led to a broader group of citizenry who have benefited and, therefore, are pushing China for democratic reforms. And interestingly, China has been moving in the area of democratic reforms, particularly in the country.

Q Why would the State Department --

MR. FLEISCHER: Cuba is not doing that. Cuba has traded with other nations. It's not just the United States -- the United States has an embargo, but other nations don't. And trade with Cuba has not gotten to the people of Cuba. The money that Cuba has gotten has remained firmly in the hands of the repressive government.

Q And it has nothing to do with the size of the Chinese market, which is what a lot of critics say?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, that's a factor, too, but even with the size of the market, if a government insists on keeping the money bottled up at the top and not getting it to its population, no matter whether the population is small or large, the people won't benefit.


Q What was the President's reaction to Jimmy Carter's speech last night?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President's reaction to President Carter's speech last night was twofold: One, as the President indicated in the Oval Office yesterday, the President thinks that President Carter talking on human rights is important and helpful. Two, we've already discussed it, the President disagrees when it comes to the importance of the trade embargo.

Q Well, one of the things that President Carter did was link them. And it is clear that one of the reasons he was able to say those remarkable things to the Cuban people is because he was also willing to say that the embargo wasn't working. And so my question is, has the embargo advanced the cause of human rights anywhere near as much as Jimmy Carter did last night, by calling for its end and demanding freedom for the Cuban people?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think the only way to tell whether the people of Cuba get freedom and human rights is in time. And that will be watched and measured. But the President does believe --

Q How does the embargo help that?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President believes that trade with Cuba ends up giving the government more resources to repress its people. Because history has shown that when Cuba receives the benefits of trade from other nations, those benefits are not passed on to the Cuban people, unlike China, where the trade benefits are indeed passed on to the people of China. And that's a very important economic distinction that's a result of a different type of political leadership at the top.

Yes, the United States has human rights problems with China, particularly in the area of religion. And the United States has expressed that. But that's what makes the trade issue with China a different issue with Cuba.

Q One more on this.


Q Is there no way that the President could agree essentially with what Jimmy Carter was proposing, which is, the embargo would only be lifted, the door would only be opened, as far as human rights were achieved, as far as freedom was achieved, and that maybe that could force change there?

MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, I've described to you accurately the President's position.

Q Ari, how could you say that it has not been passed down to the people? I mean, they have a repressive society, so does China. But you have people with a high literacy rate, better health care, health care available to other people. I mean, I think that's a pretty broad statement. How do you say that?

MR. FLEISCHER: Because the fact of the matter is that -- the question was why China, why not Cuba? China does have a very interesting mix of a quasi-capitalist system, where they involve trade, where they involve some elements of open market economics. That's a big --

Q Now they have a reason

MR. FLEISCHER: Absolutely. But there's no inclination by the Cuban government to engage in the same liberalizations.

Q Does the President want Carter to report to him when he comes back from Cuba?

MR. FLEISCHER: I imagine that when President Carter comes back, he'll talk to the appropriate people at the Department of State or the National Security Council.

Q How about the President himself? He makes these foreign policy decisions.

MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, typically, when it comes to these trips by former Presidents, they talk to the administration prior to going, just as President Carter did, and when he returns, he'll talk probably to the same people he talked to.

Q Why can't he talk to the President?

MR. FLEISCHER: I've never ruled anything out, but I'm just telling you that's typically how trips work. And I think you know that.

Q If in 43 years the U.S. embargo against Cuba has not brought about a change in regime and freedom and democracy, what else does the President think needs to be done to bring -- to put pressure on Castro to bring about that change?

MR. FLEISCHER: You will be at his speech Monday. I'm sure you will hear carefully.

Q Ari, I have two questions. One has to do with fast track. The amendment yesterday offered in the Senate is going to -- far more difficult to achieve the purposes the President wants with fast track authority. I understand it's been approved, and it's going to be voted upon. How do you expect in the conference between the House and the Senate bills that you can be able to eliminate this or dilute it?

MR. FLEISCHER: That was an issue that came up at the meeting this morning with the President and the congressional leaders. And I think that the congressional leaders have a very good understanding that that's a provision that needs to be removed at conference in order to get this agreed to. The President views that provision as a real show stopper, an anti-trade provision that can harm the cause of free trade, not help the cause of free trade. The President urges all members of Congress to resist the siren call of protectionism.

And that is always the risk on trade legislation. That's why trade legislation has been, typically, hard to get passed, and is often controversial. But the United States now does stand on the verge of getting, for the first time since 1994, trade promotion authority enacted that will allow the United States to enter into more trade agreements around the world, creating jobs for the American people, as well as helping bolster the economy of a lot of developing countries. So it's a hard job, and that's why nobody has come as close as President Bush has had this year since '94. And the President will continue at it, and that's his message to the conferees.

Q My second question, Ari, has to do with the Middle East. Chairman Arafat has announced that he wants reforms in government. A few days ago he spoke in Arabic, and asked for an end to the violence. Does this mean that the administration is seeing a new Arafat, or at least a new venue in what the United States has been asking -- including Israel has been asking for the Palestinian to do?

MR. FLEISCHER: Yasser Arafat's words in his speech were positive. But what's most important to President Bush is to see action more than words. And so the President will wait to see whether or not Yasser Arafat and other in the Palestinian Authority actually take action that lead to a better life for the Palestinian people and actions that lead to a region that can live in more stability and security.


Q Ari, more and more American business people are saying that not only are they losing money by not being able to get into the Cuban market -- growers, tourism, as a couple of examples -- but they're also beginning to make the case that if you want to move toward human rights, by letting us in there we can provide jobs to people and that will be a step in that right direction. To get to the question, they say that the President is not hearing this message. What's your response to that?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think I've addressed it all. You keep asking the same question about why does the President believe in the trade embargo, and he believes in it for exactly the reasons I mentioned several times previously.

Q Let me try it this way, then. They say that they don't have the same access right now that the Cuban American community does on the other side to the White House on this whole message. What's your response to that claim?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President makes these decisions based on the merits. He understands people's points of view and he believes in this issue and believes in it strongly.

Q Has he met with business people who want to get into that market?

MR. FLEISCHER: I imagine that's a message people around here have heard. People here keep their ears open.


Q Ari, we asked you this morning about the briefings that Republican donors received from administration officials. What were you able to find out on that?

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes. The Washington Post, for example, this morning reported Mary Matalin, Vice President Cheney, Secretary Evans, Secretary Paige, Administrator Whitman, Karl Rove, Ken Mehlman, they all participated in briefings for several of the Republicans who were here in conjunction with yesterday's events.

Q So where were these briefings held?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think at various hotels around town. Some of these were different meetings or receptions that they attended. I'm not sure every one was a briefing; people attended different meetings that were being held, or receptions.

Q Well, what were the -- what kind of access did they get to information at these meetings or briefings, however you care to --

MR. FLEISCHER: Very much the same things you're hearing right here. The President thinks it's important to pass trade promotion authority; the President thinks it's important to pass welfare reform. They conveyed the message of the President.

And just to be clear, the reason that people in the White House meet with people who support the President's agenda is because the White House and people broadly in our American democrat political system -- democratic political system -- believe that it's appropriate and right to work with the parties so the parties can elect people who support the agendas of the leaders of the parties -- in this case, President Bush, for the Republicans. And I don't think that's a surprise to anybody. It's part of our democratic process which relies on individual private participation. And that's done to help elect people who believe in the same agenda that the President does.

Q One more. What does a donor have to pay for this kind of access?

MR. FLEISCHER: You'd have to talk to the RNC about all the fundraising structures of it; I don't know.

Q And didn't the Republicans call that purchasing access? I mean, you just gave a very eloquent civics defense of why party building and the President and the White House as the leader of the party is important. Why during the Clinton administration did the President and many other Republicans -- many of whom now serve in the administration -- call that purchasing access?

MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, I don't believe the President ever said that.


Q Ari, we now know that at least one FBI agent raised concerns in a memo about Middle Eastern people enrolling in flight schools prior to the 9/11 attacks. FBI Director Mueller said that even -- and also raised in this memo Osama bin Laden's name. Director Mueller said that that information might not necessarily have prompted action that would have prevented 9/11. My question is, do you agree with that? Should someone be held responsible here for what looks more and more like a failure of intelligence?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think -- to be fair, I think you have to, before you reach any conclusions, Director Mueller has said, and the President agrees, that that information in that memo, in and of itself, would not have led to the prevention of the September 11th attacks.

What took place in America was a sneak attack, an attack on our country while we were at a moment of peace. And now we are a nation that is firming up our defenses to prevent future attacks. The fact of the matter is, prior to September 11th the FBI was doing the job it had been doing for decades, which was working very hard and diligently to catch criminals, mostly domestically, who committed crimes in the United States or abroad. And then the FBI gathered evidence to build cases that could then be prosecuted in a court of law. The FBI also worked very hard on breaking up spy organizations that may have operated in the United States.

September 11th changed all that. As a result of September 11th, the FBI has reoriented itself, and the FBI is working now diligently to be a preventive agency, to try to look over the horizon, to look through intelligence, to work in a more analytical fashion to be able to, with other agencies, prevent attacks. And the fact of the matter is we were a different nation prior to September 11th, and what we thought could possibly happen to our country.

So, but be careful as you describe what is in that memo, because the Director has stated -- and you stated it yourself, Wendell -- the Director has stated clearly that -- and he said this in open testimony to the Congress -- the information in that memo, had we known about it, given what we know since September 11th, would not have enabled us to prevent the attacks of September 11th.

Q So no one should be held responsible, there was no failure of intelligence?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there's a review up on the Hill to determine what events took place prior to September 11th. As you know, that's being conducted by the Intelligence Committees. The administration is working closely with the Hill on that, and we will continue to do that. It's important to look into these issues.

Les, I know your hand is up. We will eventually get to you.


Q Last week Chairman Thomas scolded a group of corporate executives for not working hard enough on fast track, on trade promotion authority. Does the President share the Chairman's disappointment with the corporate effort behind that bill?

MR. FLEISCHER: I have not heard the President talk about that. I do know that this is an issue that has been brought to the Congress before and was unsuccessful. And as I indicated, it now has its best prospects for passage since 1994, in large part thanks to Chairman Thomas's hard work in the House of Representatives. It passed by a one-vote margin, if you recall, in the House of Representatives. Previously, despite President Clinton's very valiant efforts on this issue, it failed by scores of votes.

And so progress has been made, but it's not done yet. And the President hopes that all people, whether they are from the business community or from other sectors of our society that care about creating jobs for American workers, will help to get an agreement so that the Senate can pass it and so that it can be agreed to in a conference committee.

Q Why do you think the bill has become so Christmas tree?

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know that I can guess why. I think that trade is an issue that, historically, going back to the 1920s, has been a very difficult issue for politicians. Trade, on the one hand, opens up great opportunities to create jobs at home and to help other nations abroad; while, on the other hand, it lends itself, by definition, to protectionism. And that's been the yin and the yang of American trade policy for decades.

What is helpful here is the President, working with an overwhelming number of Republicans and many Democrats, has been working to put a coalition together that recognizes the benefits of trade. The President took on his own party in the Republican primaries, if you recall. There were a group of Republicans who strongly opposed trade, particularly with China, if you remember that. The President fought against that. So that's the history of trade. It's the way that issue has always been.

Q Ari, on that one vote margin --

Q Ari, what is reaction here to CBS' showing part of a videotape of Daniel Pearl's murder?

MR. FLEISCHER: The State Department spoke with CBS about that matter and expressed concerns about that being shown. I know that Mrs. Pearl has very strong feelings about the damage that can be done as a result of showing that video. And the administration has great sympathies for what Mrs. Pearl has said.

Q Does that mean the White House does not think that it shouldn't be shown?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, as I indicated, the State Department made a phone call to express our opinions.

Q Can I follow up on the --

Q Does the President have any reaction to this?

MR. FLEISCHER: I've expressed the administration's position on it.

Q It was reported in Athens that President Bush sent a letter to the U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan on Cyprus. Any comment?

MR. FLEISCHER: I never discuss any private communications the President has with foreign leaders in the form of letters.

Q It was reported extensively in Athens that a White House senior official, on condition of anonymity, would like to see the replacement of the Greek Prime Minister Simitis, by the Greek Foreign Minister Papandreau. Any comment on this unusual involvement?

MR. FLEISCHER: I have nothing to offer on that.

You only get two. Dick. You only get two. There are many people with their hand up, and we have Les who is patiently waiting. I said patiently, Les.

Q Getting back to China and Cuba for a moment. There have been and continue to be great concerns about human rights issues in China, just like in Cuba. You said a few moments ago that because of China's quasi-capitalist society, it's advantageous for us to do business there. Is capitalism and the presence of it more important than human rights issues when it comes to doing business with a foreign country?

MR. FLEISCHER: They both are important, and that's why the President, in his meetings with China, has raised both issues on a regular basis, as you know.

Q Ellen Weintraub is the Democrats' recommendation to be on the FEC. And Senator McCain said today he thought that out of fairness, the President should move that as a recess appointment, just like he did Michael Tonor for the FEC. Is the President open to doing that?

MR. FLEISCHER: As you know, when it comes to personnel, I don't speculate about who the President may or may not name.

Q Can I just ask about terrorism insurance, and if it came up at the breakfast this morning, and if the President is concerned about Senate Republicans holding that back?

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know if that came up. That was not part of the brief that I got from the President on it. But I just don't know.

Yes, and then Les. Yes.

Q Ari, this morning, several members of the House introduced a constitutional amendment which would prohibit same-sex marriage. I was wondering if the President has any position on that constitutional amendment?

MR. FLEISCHER: All I know is, that's already law of the land, signed by President Clinton. And the President supports the law of the land in this case.

Q Ari, first, in former President Carter's calling last night on the United States to take the first step by lifting the embargo on Cuba, can President Bush find anything at all about Fidel Castro to indicate that if he -- if we took this first step, Castro would take the second by, among other things, allowing the first free national elections in almost half a century?

MR. FLEISCHER: Les, I think we've exhausted this topic. I have addressed it already in my earlier statement after statement after statement.

Q You don't believe that if we do the first, he's going to do the second, do you?

MR. FLEISCHER: Les, I think I've addressed it.

Q In Hyde Park, New York, yesterday afternoon, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library archivist said that on July 20, 1944, President Roosevelt accepted his nomination for reelection by broadcasting to the Democratic political convention in Chicago from the U.S. naval base in San Diego. And on August 12th of that year, he began campaigning with another speech from the deck of the destroyer USS Cummings. But the archivist said he knew of no Republican criticism of these widely photographed uses of the U.S. Navy for a political purpose. And my question is this, Ari, do you believe that Gore, McAuliffe and all those furious, furious critics of the use of the Air Force One photograph of President Bush were just unaware of this

Roosevelt political use of the Navy? Or do you think they believe in a double standard? (Laughter.)

Q Here's the wind-up. (Laughter.)

Q Thirty-six questions yesterday about blood money and so forth, and I just wondered, do you think they believe in a double standard or --

MR. FLEISCHER: Les, let me just say that the I think the President believes that at all times Franklin Delano Roosevelt did his job in defending and protecting our country and was reelected. And this President is focused, too, on doing his job to defend and protect our country, and working hard for all the citizens.

Q So there's a good comparison about pictures of Roosevelt on the deck of the destroyer campaigning, and George Bush on Air Force One? There's a great comparison, isn't there, Ari? Wouldn't you say?

MR. FLEISCHER: Are you done? (Laughter.)

Q That's a good comparison.

MR. FLEISCHER: I do think it's fair to point out there were a couple, at least, newspapers this morning that did point out just what you said.

Q Ari, on the trade legislation, you mentioned a one-vote margin last time. And as you know, some of the conservative Republicans have since backed off of the trade bill because, as you said, the conservatives are not -- these conservatives are not usually for trade. But what I fail to understand is how you expect to pick up any votes when --

MR. FLEISCHER: The legislative process is never easy. The legislative process, when it comes to trade, is seldom easy. And the democratic process, when the legislative -- when it comes to trade involving a 50-50 Senate and 50-50 House is harder still. Nevertheless, because of the importance of the issue, this President is going to put his shoulder to the wheel and hope to get a bill out of conference that can be signed. He thinks it's important.

Q Thank you.

MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.

END 1:51 P.M. EDT