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

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 14, 2002

Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer

12:43 P.M. EDT

MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. I'd like to give you a walk-through of the President's day, and then I will have a statement to make about the vote in the United Nations this afternoon on Iraq sanctions.

The President began with his CIA briefing, followed by an FBI briefing. Then the President signed into law the Hematological Cancer Research Investment and Education Act, which helps provide research into blood cancers. The President will, later this afternoon, meet with the Sunshine Kids. This is a group of 20 children between the ages of 11 and 19, all of whom have cancer, who are here in Washington and will be visiting the White House and visiting with the President.

And then, in the afternoon, the President will sign into law the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act as part of our protecting America on the homeland front. It's to provide more smart and secure borders while also allowing for the free flow of commerce and law-abiding citizens.

Following that, the President will meet with the Prime Minister of Malaysia in the Oval Office. And then this evening the President will attend the 2002 Republican National Committee Presidential Gala.

As I mentioned earlier, there was an important vote in the United Nations just a little bit -- time ago. And the President welcomes the United Nations Security Council Resolution number 1409. Today's action is a step forward for the Iraqi people. The President believes that firm, focused controls must remain on the government of Iraq until it complies fully with its U.N. obligations.

The Security Council's new sanction system is designed to meet the needs of the Iraqi people. Yet, for this new system to be effective in bringing help to the people of Iraq, there must be a real commitment by the government of Iraq to the same goal. Now Iraq's government has an opportunity to prove that it seeks the same benefits for all its citizens. The focus controls on military relevant goods and simplified procedures for civilian goods eliminates excuses for inaction or evasion of U.N. sanctions on Iraq.

With that, I'm happy to take your questions.

Q Ari, on these pictures, the DNC says that it's grotesque -- their word -- that congressional Republicans would use a photograph of the President on Air Force One in the hours after the September 11th attacks as part of a fundraising appeal, accompanied by a letter from the Vice President. Does the President think it's appropriate for that photo to be used, and did he sign off on it? And does the White House know about this?

MR. FLEISCHER: David, there are three photos that I understand are a part of the Republican National Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee's fundraising efforts. One is the President's State of the Union; one is an inaugural address; and the third is a September 11th, the President aboard Air Force One. And each of the pictures is a representation of the President of the United States doing his job for the American people. And it's an event for the party committees to decide if they want to make those pictures available to their contributors, they have that right to do so. These pictures represent the President at work for the country.

Q Doesn't it smack, however, of using September 11th and the war on terrorism for political gain?

MR. FLEISCHER: David, I think that the party committees are free, if they decide to use pictures of the President doing his job for the American people.

Q They may be free to do so, but do you think it's proper, morally correct to use these photos to raise money for a political party? To use 9/11 to raise money?

MR. FLEISCHER: The White House was generally aware of the fact that they wanted to use pictures for fundraising purposes, and no objections were raised.

Q Are there any objections now to the fact that they're selling these pictures?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, as I indicated, these three pictures, the President's inaugural, the President's State of the Union, and the President on September 11th, are part of the President's job, serving all the people of this country.

Q Were there any federal employees involved in taking the pictures, producing the pictures, distributing the pictures?

MR. FLEISCHER: I've looked into the question of who took the pictures, and here is the following information. The State of the Union picture was a picture taken by the White House press pool, a photographer who works here, in this room, for the media. And then it was released by the Reuters wire. The inaugural picture is a Reuters picture. And the September 11th picture was a White House photographer's picture, which is a standard practice, was then released to the press pool. The press pool, in this case, Reuters, put it out on the wire. And all three pictures were then provided by the media, themselves, as part of a transaction -- commercial transaction to a commercial photo vendor. So the media provided these pictures to a commercial photo vendor. And then --

Q Do you know who the vendor was?

MR. FLEISCHER: And then the party committee has made payment to the commercial vendor.

Q It was the work of a federal employee who took the picture of the President on Air Force One?

MR. FLEISCHER: The picture taken on Air Force One was taken by the White House photographer, and then, as standardly done, was released free of charge, as always, to the media. What the media does with these pictures after they are released by the White House is the media's business, between the media and a commercial vendor, not the White House's business.

Q But, Ari, back to what congressional Republicans are doing with it, the President has no problem with what the Democrats are portraying as blood money here?

MR. FLEISCHER: Blood money? And how is that blood money?

Q That's how they're portraying it, using the tragedy of September 11th as a fundraising tool.

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think that -- I'm hard-pressed to see how that characterization can be anything even closely resembling anything accurate or fair.

Q But the President has no problem with using the events of September 11th as a fundraiser?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as I indicated, these are three pictures of the President doing his job for the American people. And these pictures have appeared in numerous forms and numerous ways. And the pictures represent the President --

Q But it's the first time they've appeared as a fundraising tool. So, to be straight here, he doesn't have a problem with it?

MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated, the pictures represent the President at work for the American people.

Q Ari, did the White House know which pictures were going to be --

MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, Helen.

Q That's all right, she had a follow-up. I'll go after.

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm sorry?

Q I was going to follow up. Does the White House know which pictures the Republican Campaign Committees were going to use?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, the specific pictures were not run past the White House first.

Q No one was signed off from the White House on using the specific picture of the President on Air Force One?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, specific pictures were not run by the White House first.

Q So you and the White House were just made aware that the campaign committees wanted to use pictures in terms of a fundraising tool, to raise money for the GOP?

MR. FLEISCHER: A couple different staffers, I'm not -- a couple different staffers.

Q Is it something that Karl signs off on?

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know if Karl, himself, knew ahead of time, or not.

Q Can you find out?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'll try to find out.

Q Ari, can you tell me about -- is Carter off beat to say that he was not informed about the bioterrorism? And why did you drop the story while he was in Cuba? Was it to plant some seeds of -- whatever?

MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, as I know you know from watching testimony in the United States Senate, this first mention of the United States' concern about Cuba and bio-weapons was made back in -- actually, March 19th, in testimony before the United States Senate by the Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research, Carl Ford. That's when these statements were first made. And Secretary Bolton reiterated Secretary Ford's statement, almost verbatim, in his speech to the Heritage Foundation earlier this month. So this is a concern that goes back several months.

Q Are you saying that President Carter should have known about this, or just --

MR. FLEISCHER: No, I'm answering your question, when you said, why did you drop it?

Q He should have followed the testimony?

MR. FLEISCHER: You asked me, why was this dropped in the middle of President Carter's speech.

Q Yes, why, while he's on that trip?

MR. FLEISCHER: And I'm just pointing out to you that this was made public in March.

Q Yes, but the reiteration while he's there, and you didn't inform him of what your concerns were or the threats that you thought existed.

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, going back to March, months before President Carter's trip, the United States made clear --

Q That doesn't answer the question, Ari.

MR. FLEISCHER: -- the United States made clear that we have concerns about Cuba's development of bio-weaponry.

Q Why didn't you tell Carter?

MR. FLEISCHER: In any of the meetings that I'm familiar with, with President Carter --

Q Not you, per se, but --

MR. FLEISCHER: -- he did not raise those issues.

Q -- Condoleezza Rice, or whoever briefed him.

MR. FLEISCHER: Dr. Rice talked with President Carter for just a few minutes prior to his trip. And the issues were very general and broad about the trip.

Q But this was a major concern in connection with Cuba.

MR. FLEISCHER: Here's how President Bush looks at President Carter's trip to Cuba. The President believes that President Carter is a crusader for human rights; that President Carter has an opportunity during this trip to do good things for the people of Cuba. The President's concern in Cuba is the tyranny of the Castro regime.

Fidel Castro is one of the world's last great tyrants, and the President hopes that as a result of this trip, as a result of other policies, that Fidel Castro will change his tune and focus on bringing freedom and rights to his people, and stop political oppression, stop political imprisonment, stop inhibiting people's right to free speech, free worship, free press.

Q So there was no attempt to sabotage Carter's trip, this announcement?

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, given the fact that this statement was made in March --

Q No, I'm sorry. When it's reiterated while the man is on the trip, it doesn't --

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, actually, the statement was made prior to the trip, Helen, as you know that, as well.

Q What about the issue of bio-weapons? I mean, you say that --

MR. FLEISCHER: Kelly. Kelly.

Q -- the President got it wrong, that President Carter got it wrong, didn't you?

MR. FLEISCHER: You will forfeit your turn, Kelly, we go in order here. You will forfeit -- Kelly.

Q No, I'm not forfeiting. Let me ask. Since the gaggle, were you able to talk to any of your colleagues at the State Department to find out more of what was discussed during those briefings between President Carter and the State Department officials?

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes -- I'd refer you to the agencies, they'll have to explain their meetings.

Q But on the bio-weapons, specifically --

Q On trade, Evans says that he -- if Craig's amendment passes, that he'll recommend the President veto it. Is the President inclined to veto the bill?

MR. FLEISCHER: We have a number of concerns about an amendment that is on the floor of the United States Senate, potentially to come to the floor of the United States Senate by the Senator, and he has a cosponsor on that, as well. And there is a veto threat out because it would seriously undermine the cause and the purpose of free trade. So that's a very sincere message to the Senate, to help protect free trade and to defeat that amendment.

Q So the President would veto it if Craig's amendment passes?

MR. FLEISCHER: He has a recommendation from his advisors to veto. I have not heard it from the President, himself, directly, but the President understands the concerns made by his Cabinet members. It's a serious concern and that's why they have recommended a veto to the President. It is a serious problem.

Q Ari, one of the things Mr. Carter has said in Cuba was one of the purposes of his asking for the briefings with high government officials, including White House officials, was to share with him any concerns the U.S. government could have had about possible terrorist activities that were supported by Cuba. And he said, there were absolutely no such allegations made or questions raised. In other words, no one asked any questions about anything they were worried about --

MR. FLEISCHER: I cannot in all possibilities anticipate any question that former President Carter raised or brought up himself in the course of briefings. I can't answer for you who it was who President Carter asked to be briefed by and whether they had knowledge of every program and every concern the government has. Many of these types of briefings depend on who the people are, who President Carter asked to be briefed by. There's an abundance of information. Whether each and every topic of information that was known was discussed in the course of a briefing is impossible for me to say. I can tell you about the meeting that he had -- the conversation that he had with Dr. Rice.

Q And Dr. Rice --

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, Dr. Rice talked to former President Carter, as she does, and people throughout the government do when former Presidents undertake visits to foreign countries. It's not uncommon for them to talk to Dr. Rice or other officials. That conversation was a very brief conversation on May 9th, on the morning of May 9th, if I recall. And they talked generally about Cuba. This question of bio-weaponry was not raised by President Carter or brought up by Dr. Rice.

Q You just said what President Bush would like ex-President Carter to do in Cuba. So far he has met with two of the most distinguished or known dissidents on the island. I think he's speaking today -- I don't know if he's spoken yet -- to the Cuban people on live television -- to Havana. Does the President consider that so far what Mr. Carter has done in Cuba fits what he would like him to do?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, that's why I indicated, the President believes that President Carter has been a champion of human rights around the world. And President Carter will be in Cuba for a number of days. And the President wishes President Carter every bit of success in helping convince President Castro to change his regime, to change his tyrannical system, to bring freedom and to end the repression of the Cuban people.

Q Ari, back to the photos for a minute. Is the President aware that these pictures are being sold? And is the President aware that there's some criticism floating out there about the sale of these photos?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President is aware of it.

Q Of both?

MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.

Q What was his reaction?


Q Can I follow up --

MR. FLEISCHER: I've shared it with you, Ron.

Q No, we've heard your reaction; what's the President's?

MR. FLEISCHER: I've shared it with you. I speak for the President.


Q Can you repeat for me what the President's reaction is to the idea --

MR. FLEISCHER: The President's reaction is that the party committees have made these three photos of him doing his job for the American people available.

Q And you and he have had an opportunity to object, and you're obviously not objecting to this --

MR. FLEISCHER: That's what I indicated. The party committees made their decision and the White House did not object.


Q His reaction to Democratic criticism?


Q Ari, different topic. Saudi Crown Prince Abdallah said in the Saudi press he was very impressed with his time with President Bush. However, he was concerned that he felt that the President was not very informed about the situation in the Middle East, particularly relating to the Palestinians. Do you buy those remarks, and is that something that the Crown Prince --

MR. FLEISCHER: The President had a very productive meeting with the Crown Prince, and they each shared a lot of information with each other. And I think as a result of the meeting, they both feel better informed about the views of each other.

Q What about specifically the charge that he felt the President showed up for that session uninformed about many issues?

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


Q Is the photo -- the White House photo of the President on Air Force One, was that taken by Eric Draper? Was he the photographer?

MR. FLEISCHER: I couldn't tell you exactly which White House photographer it was. I think it may have been Mr. Draper.

Q That was the only one you released that day of that actually scene, of the President talking to Cheney.

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know how many photos the White House released on September 11th. I'd be surprised if it was only one, but --

Q There's one of Bush talking to Cheney on Air Force One that you released to the general press. The Times ran it. Is that the one you're talking about?

MR. FLEISCHER: I haven't seen the picture myself, so I couldn't tell you. I just know that the photo was released to the press, and I can't speak to how or why the press then provides it to commercial vendors, and whether the press is paid by the commercial vendor for their release of the picture. But then it was purchased by the -- from the commercial vendor, by the party committees.

Q Can I ask another question? So if you guys said you gave approval in general to these pictures, the congressional committees using these pictures for fundraising, if you had known that one of them was going to be the Air Force One picture, would you have given your approval?

MR. FLEISCHER: That's a hypothetical. I can't answer a question about an event that didn't take place.

Q Sure you can answer that question. I mean, it's causing a lot of trouble. If the President had known, if Karl Rove had known, do you think he would have said, yes?

MR. FLEISCHER: I can't answer a question about an event that didn't take place.


Q Can I try one more on this? You say that these are pictures of the President doing his job for the American people. On 9/11, that job was one of those moments where he's acting not as a Republican or the leader of his party, but as the Commander-in-Chief, at a moment when he's the focus of the hopes and fears in the country. Why isn't he concerned that now selling this photograph to raise money for Republicans could undermine something that he frequently says, which is that the war and its prosecution and the commitment to it should be above and beyond partisan politics. Why isn't he concerned that deploying this photograph for partisan politics undermines that?

MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, every day that the President does his job for the American people is a day that the President tries to bring the nation together. That doesn't stop, in the President's opinion, the rights of the American people, if they so choose, to participate in our democracy through the party committees. The same question could be asked of a State of the Union. The same question could be asked of any picture ever taken by the President of the United States in the course of doing his duties.

What the Democrats are really saying is, once somebody is elected President, they should never be allowed to have any pictures taken of them for any purpose at any time in the course of their administration for the purposes of helping to build a Republican Party, or in the case of the Democrats, a Democratic Party. Every day the President --

Q But 9/11 --

Q What Democrats --

MR. FLEISCHER: -- every day the President -- every day the President is doing his job for the American people in a variety of settings, in a variety of ways. And it's the right of people to participate in our democratic system through their political parties, as they see fit, to support the President.

Q Isn't the war a special case, though, as he himself reminds the country, very frequently?

MR. FLEISCHER: The fact of the matter is, Terry, any picture taken of the President in that context is a reminder of how this President has brought the nation together, Democrats and Republicans alike.

Q But so -- just to be clear -- hold on, Ari, let me follow up on that.

MR. FLEISCHER: David, you're going to keep going like we are.

Q You skip over the ones you don't want to take.

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm taking all the ones I don't want to take. (Laughter.) Go ahead, Peter. You just want to ask them all.

Q Row by row?

MR. FLEISCHER: Go ahead. We'll come back.

Q For the record, does the President, as the ultimate head of his party, have the power to reject or approve the use of his name or image in this kind of a pitch?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the party committees, as you know, have the right to engage in what manner of fundraising they see fit for themselves. And as I indicated, the White House was made generally aware by the party committees of their desire to use pictures. And the White House did not object. But these decisions ultimately do belong to the party committees, unless the White House objects.

Q But for the record, doesn't the President, by tradition, as head of the party, have the power to approve or disapprove of the efforts of his party?

MR. FLEISCHER: As I just said, these decisions are made by the party committees, unless the White House objects. And as I indicated earlier, I've discussed this matter with the President. These decisions were made by the party committees; the White House did not object, for the reasons that I gave, about the President doing his job every day for the country and for the people of both parties.

Q Do you feel that the Democrats, or some of the watchdog groups, including one who described this as a cheaper version of the Lincoln Bedroom, are out of line in questioning the propriety?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think the Democrats are having a very difficult time coming to grips with the fact that this is a very popular President. And I think that what they do is they take some of the items that lend themselves to the President's popularity, and they try to lash out without any solid basis about it. And that's Washington. And that's just not the way the President does his business.


Q Going back to the Cuba issue for a moment. If this issue was important enough for Under Secretary Ford to raise on March 19th in congressional testimony, why wasn't it important enough for Dr. Rice to raise in a briefing with former President Carter a month or so after that testimony?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as you can imagine, there are many officials who testify about any number of items on Capitol Hill, or talk to any number of groups and speeches about our policy toward Cuba. If you add up every single instance about anything they ever talk about on Cuba, it's probably too much for any one phone call, unless the phone call lasts hours.

So again, I can't speak for what issues President Carter himself raised, why he may have asked or may not have asked specific questions about these programs. But I can just tell you, again, the issue about Cuba engaging in biological warfare research and development is an issue of concern to the United States.

Q But if it was enough of a concern to raise in congressional testimony, if it was enough of a concern for Assistant Secretary Bolton to raise it after the fact, why didn't Dr. Rice raise it with a former President who is about to go to Cuba?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's also to remember the context of former President Carter's trip to Cuba is something, as I indicated, the President recognizing the former President's leadership on human rights. The conversation Dr. Rice had was in the context of the purpose of his trip, which was the focus on human rights. He is going as a private citizen. We have many official capacities here -- you saw the Secretary's testimony on the Hill -- to share any concerns the United States has.

Q One more please, on this one. You went through this morning the areas of concern to the administration on this issue. And you focused on the possibility of duel-use biotechnology that might be provided by Cuba to other countries. Isn't that an area in which -- I mean, duel-use biotechnology, that could include -- any piece of equipment used to make vaccines could be characterized as duel use in biotechnology.

MR. FLEISCHER: Which is exactly what makes it such a difficult issue, when you're dealing with bio-weaponry. One of the issues about bio-weaponry is it's hard to find. And therefore, if somebody says that there's no hard evidence, that's the very nature of bio-weaponry, itself. It is hard to find, it is hard to find evidence. Nevertheless, based on what is well-known and has been publicly stated, going back to March, by this administration, we have concerns about Cuba's -- about Cuba's limited offensive biological warfare research and development.

Q Can I try one more on that?


Q Thank you. Just to change topics, any reaction today, any fresh reaction to the Likud vote on a Palestinian state, and any reaction to Sharon's statement today?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, in reaction to the Likud vote, this is a matter of internal Israeli politics, and I don't comment on internal domestic political issues in foreign nations. But suffice it to say that President Bush continues to believe that the best way to bring a long-lasting peace to the region is through the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, that can live in security, side by side.


Q On Iraq, the only issue is that the sanctions is also inspection. What is the administration's current position on inspections? And do you have a timetable for when they might resume or when there might be a move in the U.N. to push their resumption?

MR. FLEISCHER: That continues to be discussed at the United Nations. And the American position is just as clear as ever, that inspections are a means to an end, and the end is to make certain that Saddam Hussein does exactly what he said he would do when he signed the armistice ending the Persian Gulf War, which is a pledge not to develop weapons of mass destruction.

Q As you know, a number of officials, including the Secretary of Defense, has suggested that inspections are not that helpful, that most of what we have learned has come from defectors, rather than inspections. How much faith does the administration have in inspections inside Iraq?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, that's why I've described them as a means to an end, and the focus is on the end, more importantly, than the means. The focus is on making certain that he does not have weapons of mass destruction, not that he is able to have some people into his country and then evade their ability to find out whether or not he, indeed, has weapons of mass destruction. That's the bottom line and that's the threat to the world: does he or does he not have weapons of mass destruction. And that's the purpose of the United States' efforts.

Q If I could, one other thing. There was a report that 25 Islamic extremists had come into the United States as stowaways, prompting one senator to say that the United States is "defenseless." Any comment on that?

MR. FLEISCHER: You know, I've been looking into that since those allegations were first made this week, and the best that I've been able to glean at this point, that uncorroborated information, that's not information that I can confirm.

Q Ari, back on the Cuba matter for a moment. Is it enough of an issue that in his speeches next week the President is going to bring up this "maybe they do/maybe they don't" matter?

MR. FLEISCHER: In terms of bio-weaponry?

Q Bio-weaponry, yes.

MR. FLEISCHER: Number one, I have not seen a draft of his speech yet for next week, and so -- I don't think you're in a position to know, either, whether he will or will not raise that issue. I would invite you to attend Monday's speech.

Q But will he take the plunge?

MR. FLEISCHER: Will the President take the plunge?

Q The plunge, yes.

MR. FLEISCHER: You mean will he say that?

Q Something like --

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, if I tell you now you might not show up for Monday's speech. You need to be there.

Q Under the terms of the new treaty with Russia, nuclear warheads will not be destroyed, only stored. Doesn't this increase the risk of warheads winding up in the hands of terrorists or rogue states?

MR. FLEISCHER: The fact of the matter is this breakthrough in arms reductions with Russia is, in terms of the issue of storage and in terms of the issue of destruction, is being handled in the identical manner of the previous arms control reductions, arms reduction agreements. And some weapons will be destroyed, some weapons will be dismantled, some weapons will be put into storage. Those are the facts of this arms control agreement.

And we will continue to work with Russia, through the Nunn-Lugar program and other programs that we have, to ensure that the safekeeping of Russian weaponry is maintained no matter what the status of the warhead.

Q Thank you.

END 1:04 P.M. EDT


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