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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 9, 2002
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
President's schedule for the day...........................1 Statement on Civil Rights Commission...................2, 14 Judicial nominees...................................2, 17-18 President's position on gun ownership....................2-3 Anthrax/Federal Reserve Building.........................3-4 Middle East................................4-8, 12-13, 15-16
Hamas.............................................7, 17 Supplemental/aid to Israel..........................8, 16-17 Reparations/slavery......................................8-9 Crusader missile........................................9-10 Treasury Secretary's comments on taxes.................10-11 Iraq/sanctions............................................14 Student pilot arrest......................................14 Airline safety fee.....................................16-17
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary ______________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release May 9, 2002
PRESS BRIEFING BY
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:23 P.M. EDT
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. Let me give you a report on the President's day, and then I have a brief statement I want to make about a U.S. Court of Appeals ruling that just took place this morning.
First of all, the President spoke to President Mbeki of South Africa first thing this morning. The President thanked President Mbeki for his leadership in hosting talks among the Congolese in Sun City, South Africa. The President expressed his support for President Mbeki's continued efforts in Capetown this week to help the Congolese reach an agreement on the composition of a transitional government. He noted South Africa can build on the progress made in Sun City between the Congo government and many of the other parties, and reaffirmed the need for an inclusive agreement. The President also discussed the situation in the Middle East with President Mbeki.
Following the phone call, the President had his usual round of intelligence briefings, followed by an FBI briefing. And then he paid tribute to the upcoming 90th birthday of Dr. Milton Friedman, whose work in terms of free markets has been very important, the President believes, in economic growth.
Then, in the early afternoon, the President will welcome to the White House Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he will talk about the vacancy crisis that exists in the United States court system, particularly on the circuit court level. And later this evening, the President will host a fundraising reception here in Washington for Senator Ted Stevens.
One statement, and then I do want to talk a little bit more about judges, and then I'll be happy to take your questions. There was a unanimous decision earlier today in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in which they unanimously affirmed the administration's position that Peter Kirsanow is a member of the United States Civil Rights Commission. The Bush administration is firmly committed to protecting civil rights for all Americans, and the Court of Appeals ruling will now allow the Civil Rights Commission to move beyond the question of membership to get to the important business before it.
Peter Kirsanow was appointed to the Civil Rights Commission on December 6, 2001, to the expired seat of Victoria Wilson. The President is pleased with this ruling.
And finally, on the topic of rulings by courts, when the President greets the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee today, he will make note of the fact that today marks the one-year anniversary of his sending up to the Senate for confirmation the first round of judicial nominations to the Circuit Court. Of the 11 nominees that the President made exactly one year ago today, the Senate has failed to take any action whatsoever on eight of the 11. They have not even been given the courtesy of a hearing.
There is a vacancy crisis in the federal judiciary, particularly on the circuit court level, where nearly 20 percent of the courtrooms have no judges. There is a nearly 20-percent vacancy rate in the circuit court. And the President believes that it is high time now for the United States Senate to set partisanship aside, to rise above the practice that both parties have engaged in over the last 10 to 15, 20 years, and make progress and hold hearings and hold votes on the President's nominees to the judiciary.
This process has broken down and has not served Democrats or Republicans. It's been marked by delays, it's been marked by strife, and the President thinks the time has come for the Senate to move, and move quickly. The pace of this Senate is far beyond the paces of previous Senates, and the President regrets that and will urge action in his meeting.
With that, I'm happy to take your questions. Helen.
Q Is the President happy that the Justice Department now has affirmed the NRA position on gun control, everyone has the right to have a gun?
MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, the President has always been a believer in the rights of individual law-abiding Americans to own weapons. There are reasonable restrictions that are placed on those rights. The President has spoken out in the past in support of those restrictions. But make no mistake, the President does believe, and has said so, that law-abiding individual citizens have a right to bear arms.
Q Does he support the Brady Bill, Brady law, in fact, that they should register and be investigated, every gun purchaser?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is on record of supporting a mandatory check, enforce by instant -- as fast as possible background checks. The President is a supporter of vigorous enforcement of the gun laws that we have.
Q Why as fast as possible?
Q Can we just get you to address a couple of points -- one, is there any more you can tell us from your vantage point about traces of anthrax found within the Federal Reserve Building? Can you do that first, and then I have a question on the Middle East.
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me share some information with you from the Federal Reserve. Routine preliminary tests at the Federal Reserve which were administered late Tuesday and Wednesday have detected anthrax spores in small batches of mail. The affected mail was routine, commercial and business mail, and did not have any of the characteristics identified by the FBI as suspicious. So, as a result, as has happened previously from time to time, unfortunately, swabs were sent for additional testing. As I note, these are preliminary; this has happened before.
The source of this possible contamination is not known. Subsequent tests of the mailroom surfaces and mail distribution points within the Board's buildings have all been negative.
Q So nothing to suggest that there could be potentially another anthrax outbreak?
MR. FLEISCHER: Kelly, this is new information. This is based on this preliminary report from the Federal Reserve, and so I think the lesson that everyone has learned from the anthrax episodes of last fall is preliminary information is often incorrect information. Nevertheless, the government has always engaged in disclosure of any preliminary information. But we will see; sometimes these tests take a week for the final results to be known. We've seen preliminary positives before that did not turn out to be positive. But again, this is the information we have and it's being evaluated.
Q If this is the case, though, it would seem to suggest that there's postal processing machinery somewhere which is still contaminating the mail.
MR. FLEISCHER: Or that the testing and the measurements that are done are so precise at such a small level that they, in a preliminary way, are able to detect such trace amounts that they can show up in a preliminary way that later turns up to be false. But, Bill, the answer is --
Q This is the first in a long time that this has happened.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, no, there have been other instances of preliminary positives, preliminary falses over the last couple of months. They've been sporadic. The fact is this information is brand-new, and we put it out, it's being evaluated. But again, I do note what the Federal Reserve said, and that is the affected mail did not have any of the characteristics identified by the FBI as suspicious. It's not as if they have an envelope over there, which is what took place last fall.
But, nevertheless, this is information that will be followed up in a routine -- the preliminary tests that have begun will be evaluated fully. These are preliminary.
Q Can I just ask my follow-up on the Middle East? It's appears now that Israel is preparing a strike in Gaza against those elements responsible for the suicide bombing earlier in the week. The President has said that he wants Israel to consider the consequences of action, which is very vague language. Can't you be more direct in saying what the U.S. government's position is about this? Does it support the Israeli action, if it happens, or is this viewed as torpedoing essentially the still very fragile peace process?
MR. FLEISCHER: I can't speculate on something that hasn't happened in terms of what a position is. As the President said when he was asked a similar question yesterday, Israel is a sovereign nation, but at all times America's message is to Israel is we are all in this together, and Israel has to be very mindful of its responsibilities to protect peace in the region and work toward a vision of peace. And that's the President's message to Israel.
Q It's certainly not a red light.
MR. FLEISCHER: Israel does not ask the United States for lights of any shade or color, and the United States does not give Israel any lights.
Q An Afghan warlord managed to escape a missile attack in Kabul. Why is the United States targeting this man with missiles? Is this now U.S. policy to go after people like him just because we don't like him, maybe, or because we're acting on evidence that he was Taliban or al Qaeda?
MR. FLEISCHER: One, as you know, I don't talk about operational matters in the theater. But having said that, without being specific to any one person or any one case, it is the United States' policy that if we have any information or any evidence that there are people who could pose a threat to United States or allied forces operating in Afghanistan, we will engage in action as deemed necessary by the appropriate officials on the ground and in the region.
Q So this is the first known attempt of going after someone like this. Is this now U.S. policy to pursue with missiles?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think I've answered the question.
Q Yesterday Mr. Arafat pronounced a speech in Arabic in which the President considered very good. And today we hear a news report, he has arrested members of Hamas, the police authority. It this a trend that the United States expects to see, or is this Mr. Arafat's way of trying to hold up this Israeli attack?
MR. FLEISCHER: Only time will tell. But the President believes that the statement that Yasser Arafat made was a positive statement. He was pleased to hear it. He was pleased to hear it in Arabic. But time is what is important. A dogged determination to crack down in a meaningful and an enduring way, against people who would engage in terrorism is what is necessary in the region. This is one of the responsibilities on the Palestinian Authority that the President spoke about in his Rose Garden address on April 4th. And so the President viewed the Chairman's statements as positive. The President will continue to watch.
Q The President has spoken now at length about the need for reform in the Palestinian Authority, a new constitution, et cetera. Is there any sign that Yasser Arafat is on board for this effort?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think that's something only Yasser Arafat can address. That's something that can be put to him --
Q Not personal. (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, is there any chance you're going to get the answer to Terry's question from Yasser Arafat? (Laughter.) You may have an interview we don't know about.
Q More guns. (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: But this is something that is a key test of the Palestinian Authority and its leaders -- more than one leader -- of all the Palestinian Authority's leaders. The President believes very strongly that the Palestinian people deserve a state, they deserve a country. At the end of the vision, the Palestinian people deserve a right to live side by side with Israel. In order to make that vision a reality, in order to do so faster, the President is looking to the Palestinian people and officials in the Palestinian Authority to take the actions that are worthy of a potential country.
And those actions are dedication to rule of law, transparency, a fight against corruption -- the very simple and reasonable things that all reasonable-minded people around the world look to from potential countries or potential leaders to create stability in violent regions.
Q And the United States is prepared to assist that by sending George Tenet to the region to help construct a security force, by funding these institutions, by providing perhaps other assistance. Sounds like nation-building.
MR. FLEISCHER: The United States is prepared to assist. And the United States believes that it would be productive for, at the end of this vision and in accordance with the reforms that the President has outlined, for progress to be made.
And not only the United States, Terry, but one of the key events in the Middle East to keep your eyes on are the actions taken, and productively so, by the Arab nations in the region. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, all have been very helpful. This is a topic that the President and the King of Jordan discussed.
Q Any idea when Tenet is going?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't. Don't have that yet.
Q Isn't this nation building? Isn't the President now committing the United States to assist in the construction of an entirely new Palestinian government and civil society?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President at the United Nations called for the creation of a Palestinian state as part of this process, as part of this vision. The United States is prepared to help. It has to be done in a way that, as the President said, brings peace and stability to the region. But again, every time I hear the words nation building, I remember the President's statement was not to use America's military for nation building, but the President does believe in helping to promote stability around the world.
Q Do you have any more information on the Hamas members arrested? There seems to be conflicting reports.
MR. FLEISCHER: I do not.
Q Okay. And then a question on Arafat. You said in the recent past that the Palestinians deserve better leadership. Do you mean that in terms of personalities, or in terms of practice, or both?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, the President is focused on bottom line, on results. And that means he believes that the Palestinian people deserve leadership that will focus on the education of the Palestinian people and building the economic structure of the Palestinian people, on helping agriculture for the Palestinian people -- all the building blocks that lead to a people who have a way of life that is marked by economic hope, economic opportunity, educational hope, and by freedom. And that's done through the rule of law. That's done by a leadership that takes action that is reflective of the needs of its people. And a clear sign of that is a crackdown on corruption. Corruption has often been an impediment to helping the cause of the Palestinian people.
Q Can Arafat provide that leadership in the U.S. opinion?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's not the United States' job to pick who leads the Palestinian people. I think, as the President has said himself, Yasser Arafat has not earned the President's trust, and all these are issues where that plays into the President's definition of how to earn his trust. That does fit the President's vision of what the Palestinian leadership needs to do to help its own people. But again, it's not the President's job to pick the Palestinian leadership.
Q Does he agree with Prime Minister Sharon that Arafat should be sidelined in the peace process?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, just as I indicated, it's not the President's job to pick the Palestinian leaders.
Q But to follow on that, when you say it's not the President's job to pick the Palestinian leadership, all the talk of this push for reform within the Palestinian Authority, isn't there a hope of this administration that those reforms would lead to new leaders, more moderate leaders, maybe leaders who this administration believes would be more willing to make the decisions for peace?
MR. FLEISCHER: Kelly, the President's focus on it is all this push for reform and all this talk of reform will lead to a better day for the Palestinian people. And he leaves it to the Palestinian people to decide who their leaders will be.
Q An unrelated -- somewhat unrelated follow-up. The House Appropriations Committee today marked or is expected to pass the supplemental bill. And apparently a Republican is expected to offer an amendment to include $200 million in aid to Israel. Would the administration support that additional money to Israel now?
MR. FLEISCHER: We're taking a look at that now. Clearly the President has supported and does support aid for Israel. That is part of the President's budget for fiscal year '03. We're taking a look at the exact emergency nature of this proposal, given the fact that this particular piece of legislation is emergency legislation.
Q Is there any concern, though, that aid to Israel could sort of upset the balance in terms of dealing with the --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, as I indicated, we're taking a look at that now.
Q Ari, a couple of days ago a former Clinton administration official said that there should have been discussions on the issue of reparations because it's been such a major issue of late. And they started dealing with it around the time of the One America initiative. And you've said from this podium that President Bush has looked at it as a tangled and complex issue-- because some African leaders, back then at that time, participated in that. But why not at least hold discussions now, and talk to some of the African American leaders of this day, and just discuss why, to help untangle the situation that President Bush has about --
MR. FLEISCHER: April, the President's focus has been to look forward. And the President believes that one of the most important ways to help all Americans, and particularly Americans -- as the President traveled to the Midwest this week -- through educational opportunities, to have more chances of a better life in America. And that's where the President has been focused on.
And so I just have to leave it at that. There's no changes, and -- the former administration had many thoughts about many issues, and the former administration took whatever actions -- or in this case, they did not take any action on that question of reparations. So, different administrations have different approaches. The President's approach is to look forward and to focus on education.
Q So he doesn't look at the issue of having, just even holding discussions with some of these African American leaders? Because they're really finding that this is a serious issue, more so than what was thought in the past, about the fact that slaves did -- the United States government did sanction slavery.
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes. As I indicated, April, the President is looking forward, and I've addressed the question directly on reparations before.
Q Ari, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld says he is not at war with the Legislative Branch, with the Congress, over the Crusader missile system, and that he terminated it. And yet there are Washington watchers who say that there will be a battle royal that is now shaping up between the Congress and the Pentagon over this issue. And they also feel that if Rumsfeld should lose this and be overruled by the Congress, that it would be impossible for him to go ahead with his transformation. Is the President going to weigh in on this issue?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as you know, the President has weighed in. This is something the President spoke about in his Citadel speech in 2000. And the Department of Defense has conducted a very careful and thorough review on the merits of the Crusader program. And they have come to the determination that it should not proceed, it should not be funded in the Congress. And they have identified other ways of transforming the military.
And I think this will be a very interesting test case about whether Congress can cut funding for programs that are not supported by the administration. Sometimes there is a tendency in the Congress to fund military programs that the military is not asking for. And this will be an important test case to see whether Congress spends the money in any case, or whether they agree with the experts and follow the recommendation of the Pentagon.
The President is very pleased with the good work that Secretary Rumsfeld has done in thoroughly reviewing the Crusader on the merits, from the military point of view. The President agrees with the findings that have been made by the Secretary of Defense and the Department of Defense, and the President urges the Congress to adhere to Secretary Rumsfeld's well thought-out recommendation.
Q Ari, the Treasury Secretary said in an interview in the Wall Street Journal this morning -- essentially said that he can't find too many Americans who believe that they are overtaxed. Does the President share that sentiment?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, he does.
Q That he cannot find too many people who believe that they pay too much in taxes?
MR. FLEISCHER: Oh, that they --
Q That he cannot find too many people -- that by and large, most people feel that they are not --
MR. FLEISCHER: The President thinks -- oh, I'm sorry. I thought your question was -- I hadn't heard that Secretary O'Neill said that.
Q He said, you can't find many people who say, 'By God, you've taken too much of my money. Give me some of my money back.'" (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: Keith, as you know, I have a longstanding habit in this briefing room, when a reporter describes to me the statements that are made by government officials, I always like to see those statements myself with my own eyes before I comment.
Q Perhaps he could provide you with the record, Ari. Maybe he has a transcript.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, that's a newspaper story. I have to take a look at the actual story itself.
Q He also in the interview said that tax reform, if it occurs next year, should be revenue-neutral. Just as a general proposition -- forget what the Treasury Secretary said -- does the President believe that? (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: Listen, tax reform is a very important issue. The President believes that the tax code is much too complicated. The President believes that there is a way to simplify the code and to do so in a way that is fair to all Americans. And this is something that our economic team is taking a look at. There is no timetable for when any recommendations may come forward. It's something the President did talk about from time to time during the campaign.
The President's first priority has been to lower tax rates on the American people, because he believed that it's important to help get the economy jump-started again. And that's the President's focus.
Q But just, again -- and again, regardless of what the Treasury Secretary said, I assume that the President, who has probably thought about this a lot, believes that there are more than a few people who believe that they are overtaxed?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, given the context in which you've asked the question, it's impossible for me to answer that outside of the context you raised it. So let me take a careful look at the actual transcript of what the Secretary said.
Q Will you post it?
Q Ari --
MR. FLEISCHER: Mark?
Q -- could I just follow --
MR. FLEISCHER: Mark? (Laughter.) The front row has gone.
Q Very good.
Q I'm trying to follow on that question while we're on the subject.
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm moving backwards -- I'm sure there will be time at the end to come back up.
Q There's never is.
MR. FLEISCHER: Mark.
Q Can I come back to what you were saying or not saying to the Israelis? I know you're saying that they should be very mindful of the peace process. Is that a call for restraint? Or is it purposely not a call for restraint?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's precisely what I said. As the President said, Israel is a sovereign nation. And the President has said that Israel needs to be mindful of any actions that they take, to be aware of the broader needs to create peace in the region.
Q So what you're saying is we're not giving a green light or a red light. Does that mean you're also not calling for restraint?
MR. FLEISCHER: It means -- I'll just leave it as I left it. That's how the President has said it. My job is to explain what the President has said. I've done that fully.
Q Ari, you said a minute ago that only Mr. Arafat can answer the question as to whether he is on board for reforming the Palestinian Authority. But clearly the administration supports that. In supporting that, and in believing that's the way to go, has the administration been able to gauge Arafat's reaction to that? As the leader of the Palestinian Authority, it might be difficult to reform that without Mr. Arafat on board. Has Colin Powell asked him about that? Has General Zinni asked him about that -- what his willingness is to be a part of that reform, inside the Palestinian Authority?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that's going to be a very interesting issue. And it is something only Yasser Arafat can answer. And there are many other people in the Palestinian Authority, I think, who have opinions about that matter who are worth listening to. And the Palestinian people certainly want to know what the answer to that question is.
Q But he is not giving the administration any answer on that.
MR. FLEISCHER: There is nothing that I'm aware of that we've heard from him directly on that score.
Q Ari, I still don't understand the means by which you think these reforms would happen among Palestinians. Are the Arab nations telling you that there is some sequence here, that they're calling for a constitutional convention, that they're calling for elections? How would these things actually happen?
MR. FLEISCHER: There is really two answers to it. And the first is, one, it should happen naturally. It should happen as a result of an eternal principle, that is, people deserve a government that represents the people. And people everywhere in the world want to have freedom. People everywhere in the world want to have opportunity. And it's that notion of self-government. And self-government is designed with the people in mind. Government was created by the people to represent their needs. So that's why I say, in seriousness, one, it should happen naturally.
Two, because of the complexities in the region, it can use help. And that help can often also be given by the Arab nations. And this is where I think one of the things that you have seen repeatedly from this President is his heavy level engagement with the Arab nations, and the good works that they are doing, to try to help create that environment. They, too, have an interest in stability in the region. They, too, have an interest in seeing a successful Palestinian state be created that takes care of the needs of its own people, that does represent a way to have educational opportunity for people, economic opportunity. So it's a combination of the two.
Q Yes, but none of them have self-government. How are they going to help?
Q So you're saying the administration doesn't quite have a clear vision of how this is going to take place, but the Arab nations are working on it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it's not for the United States to write the constitution for another people. It's for those people to do it for themselves. And to be meaningful, it has to come from the Palestinian people. It's not something the United States can impose. But it certainly is something the United States looks to happen, because that's the best way to bring stability to the region.
Q The vote, I gather, is back on in the U.N. today on Iraqi sanctions. Would you comment on that?
MR. FLEISCHER: My last word is it won't take place until next week.
Q Let me ask you one point about that. There is a concern -- is there a concern that Saddam sees this, sees accepting inspectors, a new sanctions regime and all of that as a way of delaying the President's goal of regime change?
MR. FLEISCHER: I can't speak for what Saddam Hussein would interpret.
Q Is there a concern on your part that that is what is likely to happen?
MR. FLEISCHER: Clearly, there is a reason that the President has pushed for this change to be made at the United Nations, because he believes that, one, it's a way to help the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people, and, two, it's a way of more effectively stopping the flow of material that Saddam Hussein could use to further the military abilities of the Iraqi regime.
Q Ari, the last time that the President tried to see his appointment to the Civil Rights Commission, the chairwoman said that he better send federal marshals, and he ended up sitting in the audience at that meeting. Will he now assert his place at the table, or o Mary Barry at the next meeting? I mean, is the President willing to force --
MR. FLEISCHER: The administration has always considered him commissioner. And as an unfortunate result of the obstacles that were thrown in his path by a member of that board, the means of settling dispute, which are always the means in America, were the court system. The court system has ruled, and the commission, I'm sure, will follow.
Q What does the White House make of this report from Norfolk that an arrested student pilot had specific documents which may have foreshadowed the 9/11 attacks, especially against the World Trade Center? Did law enforcement authorities drop the ball, in your estimation?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have not seen that report. You may want to address that to the Justice Department, but I have not seen that report.
Q If you would come out with a statement later, I'd be grateful.
Q Ari, I've got a question about the Arab countries as players in
this situation between the Israelis and the Palestinians. How and why does the administration expect that countries that, by and large, are not democracies can have an influence on democratic changes and/or reforms among the Palestinians?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, first of all, if you take a look at some of the actions that have been taken, all the changes that the President is talking about, the reforms he's talking about are designed to promote stability and peace in the region. And the actions that were taken by Saudi Arabia most recently, of course, in helping to settle the situation in Ramallah, were productive and were helpful.
And I do remind you that the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia has sought to enact reforms in Saudi Arabia. The educational system of Saudi Arabia is changing. Changes are taking place. They are changes that different people can debate the timing of them. But often these issues are done quietly, are done diplomatically, are done subtly, but they are being done. The President committed to that in his State of the Union address. So I assure you, that is a part of America's ongoing diplomacy in the Middle East, directly with the Arab nations.
But the Arab nations, it is important to note, have played a constructive role -- several of the Arab nations have played a constructive role in trying to change the environment in the Middle East so peace can be brought. And King Abdullah, who the President met with yesterday, is a leader among leaders in trying to create an environment for peace and stability in the region.
Q But they're not democracies, right? You do agree with that?
MR. FLEISCHER: I understand that they are monarchies. But monarchies, too, can be known for their reformist ways and for their ways of representing the people in a fashion that is egalitarian.
Q Ari, the shareholders of Stanley Works, the tool company, today voted in favor of a proposition to reincorporate in Bermuda to avoid high U.S. corporate taxes. And I'm wondering if the White House has any reaction to their decision to relocate corporate headquarters to Bermuda?
MR. FLEISCHER: I can't comment on any one individual corporate action. But the President does feel very strongly that one of the reasons that we need to have trade laws enacted is so Americans will have incentives to create jobs here at home and to create trade opportunities for Americans here at home.
Q That was a tax issue, Ari.
Q Ari, I just want to clarify, does the President want the Palestinian people to get the message that he is saying that U.S. aid and assistance to them will be contingent on reforms that their leadership must make?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, Americans already do, the United States government already provides aid for the Palestinian people, administered through nongovernmental organizations. It is not direct aid to the Palestinian Authority. There is aid that gets into the hands of the people as a result of going through nongovernmental organizations that are very closely scrutinized by the United States government in return for the funds. It was $80 million a year, and it is now up to $110 million a year, as a result of an agreement reached in Oslo, Norway, just some, I think, three or four weeks ago, to increase the funding. So when the President says, as he has said before, about his concern for the plight of the Palestinian people, he's putting it into action.
But what's important now is the best way to help the Palestinian people is to have a Palestinian Authority that is concerned about the people and takes action for the people.
Q Does the President support the plan in the supplemental to double the security fee for airline safety? Is that something that -- ran past him on the first of May?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, one, I'm not sure that that's going to be in the supplemental. But, you know, it's kind of an interesting issue, though, if you take a look at it, because the reason that Congress even considered the possibility of putting that in was I think Congress was starting to realize there may have been some unintended consequences to the exact manner in which they passed the Aviation Security Act. I think there was some surprise on the Hill when they found out the number of federal workers that would be required to implement the very act that they wrote.
They wrote that act -- and the President signed it -- but they wrote that act in a very specific manner that directly micromanaged much of how the federal government was to implement safety measures. And I think one of the reasons that you see this discussion is Congress realized that as a result of the law, the administration had very little choice as to how many people to hire, for example. And so they're looking for ways to fully fund that which they've written.
Q On the loan guarantee program, the appropriators are looking to bring that to an end sooner than Congress was planning, and that might hurt USAir, which was indicating --
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't have anything specific on that.
Q Ari, Hamas quickly claimed responsibility for Tuesday's suicide bombings. And I'm wondering how the President has read that in the two days since, the fact that it happened right when he was meeting with Prime Minister Sharon. Did he regard this as an attempt to impede on the peace process, to embarrass Arafat? Or does he feel that Arafat has some culpability somehow in that?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't think the President can know what Yasser Arafat did or did not do in any one instance. But I do think it's fair to say, from the President's point of view, there clearly are people who are out to undermine any prospect for peace in the Middle East. And the President understands that, and the President will not be deterred. And that is one of the reasons that I've warned throughout this process that this process is going to be lengthy, it will require patience from the American people. It will also be a process where some days progress will be made. Other days, there will be setbacks. Clearly, this homicide bombing was a setback.
Q Do you have any evidence that Arafat was involved?
MR. FLEISCHER: Dick?
Q You have no evidence that Arafat was involved?
MR. FLEISCHER: There's nothing that's crossed my radar on that.
Q Two unrelated questions. The first on judges. Do Republicans in the Senate bear some responsibility for the lack of action, since they controlled the chamber for a portion of the year, as referenced earlier? And, secondly, on the Palestinian question, there has been a clear shift in rhetoric here in the last week, talking not just about Arafat but "other Palestinian leaders." Is the administration sending a clear signal to Chairman Arafat that if he can't do this, we are prepared to, in fact, deal with other Palestinian leaders --
MR. FLEISCHER: In the order in which you asked the questions, considering the chronology of events, the President nominated his first round of judicial selections on May 9, 2001. The Senate changed hands in June 2001. And so, under no recent measure has a Senate ever acted that quickly on judicial nominations. And particularly, given the fact that the cause of the switch, Senator Jeffords' decision to change parties, took place even earlier than the actual switch of the Senate, clearly the Senate at that point knew the Senate was going to change hands. So I do not think it's fair to say that the Senate Republicans had much opportunity to confirm any of the President's nominees.
The fact of the matter is that the judicial nominees made by the President have been considered under the Democrats' watch, and therefore that it's the Democrat leadership that the President is looking to, to take action to fill the vacancy crisis and stop it from becoming worse.
Q No, second part of his question?
Q The second part of that --
MR. FLEISCHER: Oh, I'm sorry. On the Palestinian question, there's no question that the President believes that these are the reform steps that have to be taken in order to promote stability in the region and give the Palestinian people a better way of life. And as I indicated, it's not for the President to choose the Palestinian leadership who can get it done. But the President is interested in seeing that there are Palestinian leaders, whoever they are, who will choose to get it done
Q Ari, for several months, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York has been conducting a criminal investigation of Pardongate. So the President's sending Mr. Clinton to East Timor means that this investigation is over, because the President would never insult a new nation by sending anyone who's being criminally investigated, would he, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: Lester, we have not made any official announcements about the delegation to East Timor.
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Q Okay. You'll take the question and come back to us when it is made, right?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm sure you will remember to ask it. (Laughter.)
Q He would never send a criminally investigated man to Timor, would he?
Q Not to Timor. (Laughter.)
Q Ari, since the President --
MR. FLEISCHER: This is your last one.
Q I know, I know. Since the President is sending CIA Director George Tenet to the Middle East to help create a new Palestinian security force, could you tell us how the President expects Director Tenet to do this without including any members or supporters of Hamas, Fatah, al-Aqsa, Islamic Jihad, or other terrorist organizations who have murdered so many Palestinians that disagree with them, as well as Israelis?
Q That's a good question.
Q How is he going to do that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Director Tenet has a strong history of going to the region and talking to the key players involved who have demonstrated an interest and an ability to create some type of stability in the region. And that is what he will do during this trip.
Q You want to be on that?
MR. FLEISCHER: And again, there are other parties that are also doing their part in the Arab world to help send the message that if you're in the line of terrorism, get out of that line of business, because that is not the way that brings peace to the region.
END 1:00 P.M. EDT
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