For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
June 13, 2002
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:25 P.M. EDT
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. Let me give you a report on the President's day, and then I'm happy to answer your questions. The President this morning began with his CIA briefing, followed by FBI briefing. He had a meeting of the National Security Council. He also, this morning, met with the Saudi Foreign Minister, Prince Faud -- Saud, to discuss the process for bringing peace to the Middle East. It was a very warm meeting, and encouraging meeting.
Following that, the President had a meeting with a group of corporate leaders from America's business community who gather to discuss how to promote volunteerism and how, as the President has said, their mission and their job should not only be about creating value, but creating values.
After that, the President, this afternoon, will meet with the Prime Minister of Australia, where he will discuss ongoing United States-Australia cooperation in the war against terrorism, and other regional issues, including trade issues. This afternoon the President will make remarks to the 21st Century High-Tech Forum. And finally, the President will meet with the crew of the Space Shuttle Atlantis this afternoon in the Oval Office.
Q Did the President tear up the ABM Treaty today, and was a similar thing done in Moscow?
MR. FLEISCHER: Not quite your characterization of it, Helen, but today --
Q What are you doing then? What happens to it?
MR. FLEISCHER: -- officially does mark the day that the ABM Treaty -- the United States' withdrawal goes forward from the ABM Treaty. As the events of September 11th made clear, the United States no longer -- and the world and the United States and Russia no longer live in a Cold War world in which the ABM Treaty was designed. The President is committed to deploying a missile defense system as soon as possible to protect the American people and our deployed forces from the growing risks of terrorist nations or terrorists possessing weapons of mass destruction that could harm the American people or America's forces. And today does mark the official time, the official date the United States is withdrawing from the ABM Treaty.
Q I have a follow-up. Did the President sign off on the fact that we would no longer know whether a missile test in space was successful or not? I mean, we used to be given reports on that, and I understand now you're going to black out the whole scene.
MR. FLEISCHER: If you're referring to -- I think what you're referring to, some of the media reports. No, the United States Defense Department continues to provide a large amount of information to the Congress about missile defense, and to the public about missile defense. Congress has a vital role in the oversight of the missile defense program, and the Pentagon respects that. The Defense Department provided over 400 pages of background material explaining and justifying the missile defense proposals that we have made as part of the budget. And this information will continue to be shared.
Q So the reports are wrong about the future tests?
MR. FLEISCHER: If you're talking now -- if you're talking about some of the detailed operations that can involve classified programs or classification of some of the ongoing tests of missile defense, I don't think anybody is surprised by the fact that military programs have classifications to it. But I've read in the papers just as recently as last week information about ongoing missile defense tests, and whether they were successful or not.
Q Not to belabor it, is this new, or is that -- that's always been the case? I mean, are the stories wrong?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's always been the case in the early stages of development, more information is available. And as military programs are developed, amounts of information do become classified. That was the case, for example, with the testing of some of the complex military systems involving the B-2. As these programs are developed, where they become less test and more actual, of course, these programs are going to receive classifications to prevent the information from going to people who would want to use that information against us.
Q I thought it was an initial testing period.
MR. FLEISCHER: Campbell?
Q Ari, the Saudi Foreign Minister said today that he was "very pleased" with what he had heard from President Bush and that he planned to carry that back to the Crown Prince. Would that suggest that the President today gave the Saudis assurances as to what his plans are with regard to the Mideast?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the President discussed with the Foreign Minister broadly about Middle East peace and about efforts to bring peace to the Middle East. They discussed how the United States and the Saudi Crown Prince have a very similar approach to bringing peace to the Middle East. And the President praised the Crown Prince's efforts to work with the Palestinians and the Palestinian Authority to focus on ways to bring the Palestinian Authority around to their responsibilities, and the Palestinians around to their responsibilities, to enhance the prospects for peace. And that was the nature, the level of the discussion that was had.
Q So the President didn't make any commitments as to what his plans were?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the Saudis understand that the President is taking a look at a variety of things, and that when he has something to say he'll say it.
Q Let me ask a question, though. Did he tell the Saudi Prince what his plans are?
MR. FLEISCHER: In a generalized fashion.
Q Did he talk about a provisional state?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, the meeting discussed a wide variety of issues, and it's a private meeting. I'm not going to get into each issue that's discussed.
Q Did it include a provisional -- among the issues discussed is a plan to do a provisional state --
MR. FLEISCHER: Ron, I'll just leave it -- please don't take this to indicate that the answer to that is, yes, but the meeting encompassed a number of issues, as these meetings typically do, where they discuss a variety and exchange a variety of ideas. And just out of respect for the privacy of meetings between two leaders, I don't discuss each and every detail.
Q Is it overstating it to say that he briefed the Prince on his plans for the Mideast?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's overstating it -- well, in a generalized fashion, the two discussed peace in the Middle East in a generalized fashion. But they did not get into bullet by bullet, specific by specific point. It was general approach about how to make progress and move forward.
Q Does the Prince now know more than the public does about his plans for the Mideast?
MR. FLEISCHER: You know, Ron, again, it's a private meeting. I understand you want to discuss everything that's shared with world leaders, but the whole purpose of having people come to the White House for consultation is for them to have an exchange of views. And when the President does something, he'll indicate he'll do it.
Q But just to clarify, the Foreign Minister was very clear that he seemed to like very much what he heard from the President today --
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
Q Are we wrong in interpreting that as the President today moved closer to the Saudi position, or at least showed greater openness than --
MR. FLEISCHER: And what specifically when you say, the Saudi position, do you refer to?
Q Well, a timetable for a Palestinian state?
MR. FLEISCHER: Okay. Again I just leave it at, the two of them had an exchange of views about the best way to bring peace to the Middle East. And what's so constructive here is that the United States and Saudi Arabia are approaching the problem of bringing peace to the Middle East in rather similar ways. And that is a very helpful change in events in the Middle East, involving the United States and Saudi partnership, as well as, of course, the work the United States is doing with Egypt and Jordan and other nations, as well as Israel.
And it was a productive meeting. And I described it this morning as a warm meeting. That was the tenor, that was the mood in the room as the President and the Foreign Minister spoke. But again, the whole purpose of all these meetings is for the President, in private, to receive the consultation and the advice of these leaders. They expect the United States to listen, they want the United States to listen. I don't think they expect the United States to do 100 percent of everything they ask the United States to do, but they want to know that the process the President is following to bring peace to the Mideast is an inclusive one, is a multilateral one, is one where their thoughts have a way of being expressed in private directly with the President of the United States, so that when he announces something or has something more to say, it will incorporate elements of what he's heard.
Q Both the President and you in recent discussions about the Middle East peace process have used the word "Palestine." What do you mean by that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Palestine is a likely name for a future state. And the President thinks it is very important to send signals to the Palestinian people that they are worthy and deserving of a state. He thinks that is a crucial part of the Middle East policy for the United States. And, frankly, it is at least publicly a stated departure from previous policies going back many a President. And this is why the Palestinian people have an opportunity to seize this moment. And it's not only the United States that's watching; many of the Arab nations are watching to see whether the Palestinian people will form organizations, will form structures and infrastructures that represent the worthy dreams of a people to get a state.
Q And does the President believe that the Palestinian people are worthy and deserving of a state in the same way, say, the Costa Rican people or the Cambodian people -- in other words, all the attributes of sovereignty, control of borders --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm really not sure what you mean about the comparison. But the President does --
Q Like a state like any other state.
MR. FLEISCHER: That's the whole purpose of it. When the President went to the United Nations and talked about two states living side by side in peace and security and he named them, and he said Israel and Palestine, that applies the full rights of statehood, the full rights of a nation, an independent nation that assumes its place among the rest of the nations on the Earth.
Now, to do this, of course, there has to be a lot of work within the region to have agreement about this. And there also has to be a faith that the Palestinian government that would be established would be a government that, like other governments, is focused on peace, is focused on security, is focused on the infrastructure and serving the needs of its people in terms of economic development, health care, education, et cetera.
Q So it's a kind of provisional statehood? (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: Mr. John King.
Q In the theoretical discussions about this provisional state -- and people like the Saudis emerge from these meetings saying the President has put it forward as an idea -- has not locked in, but as one way of potentially bridging the great divide between the Israelis and the Palestinians -- if there is a provisional state, and there was a suicide attack against Israel, would the United States consider it an appropriate response to terrorism or an act of war against a hostile nation, if Israeli tanks rolled into Ramallah?
MR. FLEISCHER: I -- that's a hypothetical, John, that I cannot get into. It always is, of course, the law under the United Nations Charter for nations to have the right to self-defense. But the whole purpose of this exercise of consultation, of listening, and then working very hard with a variety of people in the region, is to enhance the prospects of a state that can be born that will commit itself in deed to routing out terror.
Q But even a provisional state would have, perhaps, temporary but recognized borders, if the United States recognized a provisional state.
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I don't think -- that's a hypothetical, and I'm not going to get into that.
Q Ari, how exactly are you folks cutting the Palestinians into the negotiating process right now? How does Yasser Arafat hear, for instance, what you discussed earlier this week with the Prime Minister of Israel? How does he hear, for instance, your discussions today, the President's discussions today with the Saudi --
MR. FLEISCHER: He hears them from a variety of sources, including the United States government, as well as the nations that the President meets with. It's an interesting part of diplomacy that when the President meets with a leader from one nation, he's aware that messages get passed along to various other nations. And often when leaders come to Washington, they have messages from other nations that they like to share with the President.
So it's an ongoing, longstanding part of diplomacy where nations talk to each other and pass messages along, or leaders talk to each other and pass messages along. And directly to the point you asked, Assistant Secretary of State Bill Burns, of course, did meet with Chairman Arafat during his recent visit there.
Q People in this building, Ari, have said that the President's never been more committed to peace than he is right now. He's working very hard on this. What -- how does Chairman Arafat's opinion get back to the President? Does he have any say in the process, or is he strictly playing a listening role?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, at this point the President is playing a listening role, having set out very strongly a structure for action in his April 4th speech in the Rose Garden, where he talked about the responsibilities on the Arab nations, on Israel, and on the Palestinian Authority.
And I think it's fair to say that since that speech there has been progress in the Middle East. There's been progress in the sense that while there's still too much violence, there is less violence. There has been progress in the fact that the Israeli military response now has pulled back from their most forward positions. There is progress in the sense that for the first time we are hearing sounds of reform coming from Palestinian territories that are enhanced by the important and constructive messages of the Saudi Arabian government, the Egyptian government, and the Jordanian government, playing a useful and helpful role in furthering diplomacy and furthering the prospects for peace.
Q Ari, exactly a week ago, President Bush spoke to the nation about his vision of creating a new Cabinet post, the Department of Homeland Security, in which he said a major number of agencies would be transferred to the new Cabinet membership, but basically the CIA and the FBI would only share information. Now that the movement on Capitol Hill, they are trying -- some legislators are trying to bring some of the functions of the CIA and FBI into the new Department, would the President be amenable to that?
MR. FLEISCHER: We discussed this yesterday, and there's no change in the answer yesterday. Many of the issues that the members of Congress are asking right now about the FBI and the CIA, and whether or not they should, either in total or in part, be transferred into the Department of Homeland Security, were looked at and analyzed by the administration in putting together the proposal the President made last week. And their conclusion was reached that these entities should not be transferred into the Department of Homeland Security, for a variety of reasons, which I'll go through.
But the President does believe that when Congress does its due diligence and takes a look at the very same issues presented to the administration as a result of moving those entities into the Department of Homeland Security, they too will come to the same conclusion the administration did and that the President did, and not transfer them into the Department of Homeland Security.
If you want me to, I'll go through some of the reasons they were not transferred under the administration's proposal. But this is Congress' right. They should take a look at these issues. That's why Congress has -- is structured as they are, to analyze a President's proposal. But the President views this as a matter that's important, and the Congress will likely come to the same conclusion he did.
Q But if they don't, would the President be willing to deal with them on the issue, because they have to approve --
MR. FLEISCHER: This process is just beginning. The President does have strong thoughts about it. But I'm not going to prejudge what Congress is going to do. They're getting started on a good note. Governor Ridge, for example, is going to be going up to testify on Thursday next week before the Senate Government Relations Committee, which will formally start the process in the testifying sense up on the Hill. So we're moving forward with the Congress moving forward, bipartisan moving forward, constructive, and that's what the President is looking for.
Q While in India yesterday, Secretary Rumsfeld said that he's convinced and believes that there are outsiders who are operating in Kashmir and it's terrorism, and he said that maybe al Qaeda is. And he said that he believes India deserves some kind of help from the United States to fight these terrorism in Kashmir. Now, one, is the President aware of that? Or, if he stays in touch with the Secretary, what kind of help the U.S. can provide to India? And, two, former Prime Minister of Pakistan, Benezir Bhutto, she said that as long as Musharraf stays in power, there will be a war between the two, India and Pakistan. And finally, your counterpart in Delhi said that Musharraf is not doing enough and U.S. must go hand in hand with --
MR. FLEISCHER: As you know, the Secretary of Defense is wrapping up his two-day trip to the region. And the President continues to be encouraged by what he hears. In terms of the de-escalation, the President urges all parties to continue the steps they have taken to de-escalate the crisis in the region -- (phone rings) -- (laughter.) Tell them I'm busy. (Laughter.)
So the President is pleased with the steps that have been taken so far. But, as I indicated yesterday, this is going to remain a region that is going to occupy this administration, that it remains tense and there are still longstanding disputes that have not gone away.
Q If I could just follow up on that. The administration has been very clear in the past that it would feel free to intervene in any area where they thought a weak state could be a place that was harboring al Qaeda. When you have Secretary Rumsfeld making the declaration he made that al Qaeda may be present in Kashmir, could that mean that at any point the United States would be within its right, under the "with us or against us" doctrine, to have either a presence there or a special forces or whatever else you need to assure that al Qaeda does not --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I wouldn't want to be the one who would ever misquote the Secretary of Defense. (Laughter.) I think you have to look at literally, exactly what he said this morning. I don't think it was a declaration of anything. I think what he said was that -- no hard evidence that they're there, they may be there, we can't rule it out, but he said he doesn't have any actionable information, any intelligence information of a hard type. And he talked about scraps of information. So the Secretary spoke in a rather generalized and vague sense about what we may or may not know about the presence there.
So, again, I think you have to be careful, and that's what the Secretary said.
Q To follow up on the Middle East again. As Secretary Powell has talked about a provisional state, it starts with the '67 boundaries, is that the position of the White House when the President discusses that position?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's starting point is that the political process is the only one to be relied on to make the decision about where boundaries should be drawn. And that political process has got to involve Israel, it's got to involve the Palestinian people, and the neighbors in the region. And that's the President's starting point. The President welcomes the fact, however, that he is receiving advice from a variety of nations about how to begin, and make that political process actually work. And the President believes that there is flexibility in the region about where boundaries ultimately need to be drawn, and that's the whole difficult point of the diplomacy that is certain to follow.
Q But with a provisional state, you have to start with some sort of boundaries. And the discussion has been the '67 boundaries as a starting place. Is that the position of the President?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, in the context of a provisional state, you know there's nothing I can add to or lend to that subject.
Q You said a couple of times today that the Saudis and the United States have similar approaches to the Middle East peace process. Can you specify what the similarities are in those two approaches, and also point out any differences that may exist?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think as a result and substantial part of the meeting that the President had personally with the Crown Prince in Crawford, Texas, Saudi Arabia is working very constructively with the United States to use its good influence with the Palestinian people and with various individuals throughout the Palestinian government, or Palestinian Authority, to take steps that convince Israel and convince the neighborhood and convince the United States that there are people in the Palestinian Authority who are dedicated to the creation of a state based on security, based on stopping terrorism, based on fighting radicalism, based on building the permanent infrastructures that you would expect a nation to have as people become part of an established nation.
And that's where Saudi Arabia is playing a very constructive role. And Saudi Arabia is a leader in the region. Many Arabs in the region look to Saudi Arabia and they will follow the Saudi lead. And if Saudi Arabia is working with Palestinians to fight radicalism, to fight terrorism, to convince them that that's not the way to secure a state, other Arabs follow. The same thing with Egypt; the same thing with Jordan. And that's what the President and Crown Prince have worked on together.
Q Are there any differences? Are there any differences, any points of difference?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think it's fair to say that the whole issue of borders is something that can -- where there would be a variety of opinions about the precise drawing of borders. But there's also a willingness to focus on getting together to solve these issues. So, the President's approach and the one he reflected with the Crown Prince on the phone this week, and then with the Saudi Foreign Minister today, was one of a unified approach.
Q Ari, can you preview the President's volunteerism speech tomorrow? And how is this going to differ from your traditional commencement speech of urging the graduates to go out and do good works?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, of course, the President gave the remarks to West Point, which is a military institution. But this will be in terms of a non-military institution -- the President's first speech to a graduating college class since the war began. And America's college graduates today face choices like few of their colleagues before them, because they're graduating in wartime. And even though it's not a traditional war like World War II or other wars of that nature, it still is a war that our country is engaged in. And that's on the minds of students. They're aware of that, they know that, and they have choices to make about how to serve our country.
And young people go on and serve our country in a variety of ways -- through careers that make money, careers that go to Wall Street, careers that support our business community, careers that go into volunteerism, careers that lead to becoming doctors or health providers. And the President is going to remind the students at Ohio State about serving something bigger than yourself, about the importance of volunteerism, about USA Freedom Corps, about the Peace Corps -- about a host of entities that belong -- that have been really focused on, since September 11th, about a way to see something that's bigger than just yourself.
Q Ari, both the House and the Senate are starting to put out their procedures for considering the new Department of Homeland Security. I wonder if the White House has any concerns with anything that you've heard so far about how they're doing it? And also, given that it seems that they're both trying to get this done by the end of July, and your proposal won't be out for a couple of weeks, isn't that maybe a little bit quick to establish a whole new Cabinet agency, the third-largest in the government?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, in terms of the structure that the Congress setting up, the President views that as Congress' business, that Congress has to make the difficult decisions -- and they are difficult -- about whether or not to change jurisdictions, whether or not to create a special committee, or whether to work with the existing committees and have sequential referrals. That's, in the President's opinion, Congress' judgment to make.
But in terms of the timing of it, the President was heartened to hear Congressman Gephardt's statement about making as much progress as possible, perhaps having some type of legislative action prior to September 11th. The President thinks that's a goal that Democrats and Republicans should work together to achieve.
But the timing has got to be done right. And there is always a classic sense, in the legislative system, about the need to have speed on the one hand, so the department can be up and running, and to have deliberation on the other hand. And the President has confidence that Congress will meet that task.
Q When you say it has to be done right, the President believes it can be done right by September 11th?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President thinks they can make substantial progress and pass actual legislative milestones within that time frame. He does believe that.
Again, this is -- Congress will ultimately drive the pace and the process and the timing. The President's specific call when he addressed the nation was for Congress to do it by the end of the year. Subsequent to the President's call, voices were heard in the Congress saying maybe they can do certain aspects of this even earlier. And by "certain", I mean House passage or maybe Senate passage; who knows about conference agreement. There are a variety of steps in the process. And it's not exactly defined about what by September 11th, but the point is they want to make progress by September 11th.
Q In the meeting this morning, did the President mention this testimony up on Capitol Hill about Saudi children who are being kidnapped and taken back to Saudi Arabia -- allegedly kidnapped and taken back to Saudi Arabia -- did he mention that? Does the President have an opinion on that kind of thing?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, I was asked that at the gaggle this morning. That was a topic that was raised by Secretary Burns in his meeting directly with the Foreign Minister. And what I indicated this morning is this is an issue that, unfortunately, presents itself not only with Saudi Arabia, but with many a sovereign government that have their own laws that are not carbon copies of America's laws -- after all, they're sovereign nations -- about custody. And in each of these cases, it's a heartbreaking, difficult, difficult issue that the State Department works very hard on in a very individual way to do what's best for the interests of a child.
And it's just as complicated and just as sad as any domestic case here where you have parents who are fighting for the custody of a child, and it's compounded and made more difficult by the fact that it involves laws of a sovereign nation that the United States cannot control, whether it's Saudi Arabia or any other nation.
And so, unfortunately, there's long casework at the State Department. They have a bureau that's focused just on these type of issues. And each one of these cases presents a real heartbreaking incident that the State Department works very hard to solve, case by case by case around the world.
Q If I may follow up, I would imagine there are some women's groups out there who would want some kind of forceful statement from the President on this matter.
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I explained exactly how this matter is handled, and it involves some of the most difficult issues. And you can make the same case about things domestically. There are terrible, heartbreaking cases that pit man against woman, husband against wife, former husband, former wife, here in our country when it comes to custody. And each one of them is complicated, each one of them is difficult. And the focus at all times, in the President's opinion, should be on what's best for the child.
Q Ari, does that mean the United States --
MR. FLEISCHER: We'll get there. Wendell.
MR. FLEISCHER: Ari, Pakistani officials confirm they have detained a couple of American citizens, people of American citizenship who may also be Pakistani, may have been born there, for illegally crossing the border into Afghanistan. Do you know any more about this than yesterday when we --
MR. FLEISCHER: No. I keep looking into this. I looked into it again
this morning after I gaggled, and I said this morning that I looked into it yesterday afternoon. And there is nothing that has crossed my radar screen that would verify any of these reports I'm hearing.
Q Is there going to be a formal statement on ABM? Are there --
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, there will be a statement by the President on it.
Q Thank you. Going back to this concept of a provisional Palestinian state, who gives the statehood and how would it be taken back if there is a provisional state? What kind of authority is there that --
MR. FLEISCHER: I am not going to get into anything under the context of provisional state. But let me just -- suffice it to say that it's not new for states to be created, for nations to be born. Look at the '90s. Look at how many new nations were brought forth in the '90s. The President is going to go visit one this November, and that's the Czech Republic. That used to be Czechoslovakia. Now it's the Czech Republic and there's another nation called Slovakia.
This is nothing new. It happens. It happens as a result of agreements that are reached between the parties that are directly involved, as well as the world community. In this case in the Middle East, it's particularly the Israelis, the Arabs, the Palestinians who are involved, along with the help of the United States.
Q But once they're created, they usually remain as a state; they don't dissolve. A state becomes a state.
MR. FLEISCHER: That's why -- you keep asking me to get into this context and definition of a word that I haven't used about provisional.
Q On the Saudi custody case, does that mean that the United States government is not going to bat for this woman here?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, it's being handled through the State Department on a case-by-case matter. State has an entire bureau set up to deal with these issues, not only with Saudi Arabia, but around the world, as the United States works custody issues reflective of the laws of each sovereign nation -- wherever there is a case where a man lives in the United States or a woman lives in the United States and their spouse or former spouse lives in a foreign nation.
Q But is the conclusion in this case that those kids should come back to this country?
MR. FLEISCHER: The conclusion in this case is that the State Department is handling it as the appropriate agency.
Q Following on Ron's question, I mean, we're talking about kids who were kidnaped 16 years ago. This isn't like a recent development. These are kids who were kidnaped from the United States with a lawful United States custody order in place. And I'm actually going to go back and repeat the question Les asked yesterday. When the President raised the issue of Lori Berenson with the President of Peru, why did he not raise the issue of Pat Roush with the Saudi Foreign Minister?
MR. FLEISCHER: The issue was raised by Secretary Burns and the State Department can help you on that.
Q Going back to Middle East again for a moment, Secretary Powell has been pretty clear in some of his statements to media in the region in the last few days that he expects a time line for a Palestinian state fairly soon after the meeting that just concluded here at the White House. There's also been reports about creation of a provisional or temporary Palestinian state. Did the President say anything to the Foreign Minister today that would back off or contradict those statements by the Secretary of State?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, to go back to what I discussed at the beginning of the briefing, the President and the Foreign Minister have discussed a variety of ideas about how to bring peace to the region. And we're at the stage where if the President has anything he wants to indicate, he will do so.
Q Does Saudi Arabia want the U.S. to leave the big Prince Sultan Air Base? If so, when? If not, can the U.S. use the base for offensive actions in the region?
MR. FLEISCHER: The Department of Defense takes a look at all our bases around the world to make determinations of what bases we operate out of, what size footprint to leave at each base. And you might want to address that to the Department of Defense.
Q Two unrelated topics. Since the briefing began, Karzai was overwhelmingly elected the head of that new country -- if you could comment on that. And separately, why is the EPA proposing to lessen air pollution standards?
MR. FLEISCHER: On the question about Karzai, I think we may have something for you about that a little bit later; I'm not going to base anything on the wire report. We've all --
Q What could be more reliable than that? (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: We've all learned lessons about making statements on elections based on news accounts. I suspect that your statement will be accurate, but may have something for you shortly.
On the topic of what you just raised, it's called new source review. And Administrator Whitman has made an announcement about that this morning. And the President is dedicated and has proposed policies that will lead to a 70-percent reduction in air pollution as a result of his Clear Skies Initiative.
While the President works toward lessening pollution in the air, the President also wants to make certain that we can reduce pollution while reducing the energy America relies on to live the lives that we live. Toward that point, on new source review, there is a complicated environmental regulation that deals with impositions on energy producers when they engage in what's called "routine maintenance, repair, and replacement." And as a result of this very complicated provision, there is a regulatory matter that often serves as a disincentive to companies that prevents them from reducing pollution, prevents them from cleaning the air because of the way that provision is interpreted.
And let me give you an example of why I say that. This provision, dealing with routine maintenance repair and replacement, requires energy producers that they engage in routine maintenance repair or replacement to apply for permits, to do a whole series of other actions to change the way their plant is structured. The analogy I give to you on this is, if an individual wants to make his home more energy-efficient by making a change in the light bulbs and buy the new, modern light bulbs that last longer and use less electricity -- the way the EPA in the past has interpreted that provision about routine maintenance repair and replacement, an individual who would want to replace their light bulb would have to repair all their wiring in their home, or put in brand new wiring in their home, because the EPA has interpreted that routine replacement or that routine repair as a cause to do additional action, such as rewiring a home.
And as a result, many of these people who were affected have chosen to leave in place old equipment, which pollutes more, rather than replace it or modernize it, which pollutes less.
Q What you're dismissing as a regulatory matter a lot of critics say is the shield against further pollution, and they would carry your analogy farther, in saying, with that new wire, you're protecting against burning a house down. What's your response to that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, what often happens in these federal regulations, while they may have a sound that seems to be very well-intended, the actual impact on the country is just the opposite. And that's what's happened here, with the way these rules are enforced. And the President believes that as a result of the actions announced today, it will lead -- just as his Clear Skies Initiative does -- to less pollution in the air.
Q On a totally different subject, on Monday and Tuesday of this week, the federal government purchased 350,000 potassium iodide pills from a North Carolina company called nukepills.com; bought it off the website, apparently. Is this in response to Attorney General Ashcroft's announcement on Monday that the government had uncovered an unfolding plot to explode a radiological bomb?
MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, I saw that wire -- I saw the news report about that, and I don't have any additional information on it. So let me try to get that and post it.
Campbell, and then we'll go to Lester.
Q If we could just go back to the new source review. Why if -- the President rolling back this rule that was instituted and signed by the Clinton administration -- is that right? Why, if his rollback is such a good thing for the environment, are all the environmentalists so up in arms about it, and opposed to the change?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I don't think it's anything new in Washington, that people use a label of one topic, while they are not willing to be accepting of new ideas, different ideas for how to achieve the same goals that we share, when it comes to protecting the environment.
Q So all the environmentalists are wrong?
Q Well, how does the White House know? I mean, are you basing -- how do you know it will ultimately lead to less pollution? Is there a National Academy of Science study --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it makes common sense that if a plant wants to modernize, if they want to put in more modern equipment to replace old equipment, if the price of that modernization is so high because it's not viewed as routine repair or routine replacement, they won't engage in that routine or that routine replacement. And that leaves old equipment in place, which is why the analogy I've used about an individual who will have to leave in the old light bulb that uses more electricity if he's required to change all his wiring leads to less efficient use of electricity. And that's often the case with regulations.
Q It's common sense, but there's no data.
MR. FLEISCHER: Jean? Jean.
Q Can I clarify on the Middle East? You said you won't use the word "provisional." Are we to interpret that at all to mean that this proposal for a provisional state isn't viable at the White House anymore? Is the President using the word "provisional" in his conversations?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. It's just to mean that if there is anything additional to be said on the topic of any proposals of a specific nature, the President will make them, not the staff.
Q But does the White House still view that as one option that's on the table, that's under discussion?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, that is something that is an idea that has been discussed by a variety of people, and is one of the many things that the President is looking at.
Q Ari, let me press you on the new source review, if I may.
MR. FLEISCHER: Lester. Lester.
Q Shall I yield to --
Q Yes. (Laughter.)
Q The premise of the new source review --
MR. FLEISCHER: If you yield, Lester, you don't get it back.
Q I'll yield if you'll come back to me after --
MR. FLEISCHER: Lester yields. Wendell. You've yielded, Lester.
Q The purpose of the new source review is precisely to prevent power plants from boosting their output without making the modernizations that the EPA wants. Aren't you misrepresenting this regulation?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I've described it exactly as is. When an agency of the government interprets the words "routine maintenance repair and replacement" to be so onerous that routine repair and replacement is not undertaken, that leads to situations in which power plants actually pollute more, rather than less.
Q Just to quickly follow on the Saudi issue, does the President view this as a case of just conflicting custody laws between two countries? Or does he view it as a broader human rights issue? These women, many of them who were married to Saudis, would have absolutely no rights in Saudi Arabia: they cannot petition the government, they cannot drive, and if they go there they have their passports taken away. Is it just a custody dispute?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President views this as among the most heartbreaking and difficult of issues involving custody, where two parents are fighting over the custody of a child. It's further complicated as a result of the fact that it's not only under America's laws and under America's jurisdiction.
And it's not unique to Saudi Arabia. We have similar issues with other nations who have laws dealing with custody that we have to work through and work with those other nations, just as other nations who have custody disputes with a child who's in the United States have to work through America's laws and through America's procedures.
Q In his speech the other day, he started by focusing on the Taliban. But he used the word "nations", plural, in speaking with scorn about nations that mistreat women. Has the President -- never mind the specifics of this one case, or the testimony before Congress -- does the President generically, when he meets with people from these countries that have differing views, raise this issue of women's rights?
MR. FLEISCHER: These issues are raised on a regular basis as a result of discussions with the State Department and others. I indicated today the meeting with the Foreign Minister was about a 20-minute meeting, and they discussed the Middle East peace process.
Q Ari, yesterday, when I asked about Pat Roush of Illinois, whose two daughters, you know, were kidnapped by her Saudi ex-husband and taken to Saudi Arabia where they're being held, you said you had no information "as happens in nine times out of ten on your questions." And my question today --
MR. FLEISCHER: Whose questions? (Laughter.)
Q -- are you now grateful to the Wall Street Journal yesterday and today, and to ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, Fox, and MSNBC last night, for providing you information in this case? And I have a follow-up. (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: Lester, I begin each day grateful to all those organizations for everything they do for me. (Laughter.)
Q Ari, Ari, since the Saudi Foreign Minister is also aware of this case, and yesterday you said, "If I have any information, I'll try to share it", could you now tell us that the President is concerned enough to take up this kidnapping of two young American citizens who are being held in Saudi Arabia?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's exactly as I described. The President had a 20-minute meeting which focused on peace in the Mideast --
Q But he didn't discuss this, though, did he?
MR. FLEISCHER: Secretary Burns did.
Q Burns did?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
Q Okay, thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.
END 1:08 P.M. EDT