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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
June 12, 2002

Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer

The 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 I have a phone call to read to you and then an announcement I want to make about an initiative the President is going to launch next week concerning physical fitness in our country.

The President had his usual round of briefings --

Q Press fitness -- (laughter.)

MR. FLEISCHER: Oh, believe me, there's a press section of it. (Laughter.)

Q How about you?

MR. FLEISCHER: Me? You guys run me around enough. (Laughter.)

The President had his usual round of intelligence briefings, followed by an FBI briefing this morning. Then he signed into law legislation called the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Response Act, to help protect America by increasing access and resources for public health services across the country, and first responders, in the event of a bioterrorist threat to our nation. This is bipartisan legislation the President was pleased to sign.

Then he attended a meeting of the Homeland Security Advisory Council. And later this afternoon, the President will present National Medals of Science and National Medals of Technology to award winners who are coming to the White House.

And, finally, the President will meet with members of Congress, ranking members and chairs of the relevant committees with jurisdiction over homeland security, to continue to talk to the members of Congress about the importance of passing legislation to provide for a Department of Homeland Security.

This morning, President Bush spoke with Prime Minister Aznar of Spain, and they discussed several issues. They talked about agricultural and trade issues. Both leaders expressed the hope that remaining issues concerning the resumption of imports of Spanish clementines to the United States will be resolved promptly.

And on the Middle East, both leaders discussed the urgent need to stop terrorist attacks and to develop a way forward toward development of a peace process.

Finally, a heads-up for you about several events next week which I think actually are somewhat notable. Nearly half of American adults report that they do not exercise at all. And seven out of 10 do so infrequently. Each year, approximately 300,000 deaths occur related to obesity. In addition, five chronic diseases associated with obesity -- heart disease, cancer, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and diabetes -- claim more than 1.7 million American lives each year and account for more than two-thirds of all U.S. deaths.

Next week, the President will unveil a comprehensive fitness agenda to help our nation become stronger and healthier.

As part of the agenda -- and I want to explain several of the items in it to you -- the President is pleased to announce today that the Department of Interior will host a Healthier U.S. Fee-Free Weekend in our national parks the weekend of June 22nd to June 23rd, to encourage Americans to hike, walk or just visit our national treasures.

As part of what's called the Healthier U.S. Initiative, the President on Thursday, June 30th, next week, will host a fitness expo on the South Lawn of the White House. At the fitness expo the President will introduce new members of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, and will discuss more details of his fitness initiative. There'll be screening booths available for people on the South Lawn here at the White House who are invited.

On Friday, June 21st, the President will travel to Orlando, Florida, where he will visit with seniors at a local senior center to discuss his fitness initiative and the value of age-appropriate physical activity to promote healthy aging.

On Saturday, June 22nd, an event that the President is very much looking forward to, the President and the First Lady will host the President's Fitness Challenge at Fort McNair, for White House staff and Cabinet. At the Fitness Challenge, the President will lead runners in a three-mile run, and the First Lady will lead walkers in a 1.5 mile walk. To participate in the race, participants must commit to donate hours of service or resources to the community or faith organization of their choice -- that's in lieu of a typical registration fee that's collected usually at fun runs and runs of this nature.

And finally, on Sunday, June 23rd, the South Berkeley Little League Braves of Inwood, West Virginia, will play the Washington, D.C., Cal Ripken League Cardinals in the second game of this year's White House T-ball season.

So I just wanted to share all that with you as events for next week on physical fitness.

Q -- did you say the 30th or the 20th?

MR. FLEISCHER: Twentieth. So it's Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday of next week.

Q Where's the press --

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we're trying to figure out if the press wants to run or chase or cover. (Laughter.) We will give you any number of options and see which categories you'd like to be in. Which of those is it, Jean?

Q I dig.

MR. FLEISCHER: You dig? Oh, you dig. Yes, you do. (Laughter.) Let the digging begin. Campbell.

Q Ari, you've addressed this before, but I'm hoping you can elaborate a little bit more on why Padilla was in custody for more than a month before the administration announced his arrest, especially given the degree to which Ashcroft underscored the threat, the sort of ominous warning that came from him the morning the announcement was made?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the Justice Department can walk you through the particulars. But, as I understand them, the reasons are the following: he was detained on May 8th as a result of the information the government had about him prior to arrival. And then, subsequent to his detention, the government built up additional information about him.

There's also a judgment that the law enforcement community makes at times like this about how long do they want to go for people not to know -- people who have sent him to this country, not to know that he has been detained. There can be an advantage in not allowing the people who have sent him here to have the information that he has been detained, to see if we can't find anything else out about whatever it is they may be planning.

There also, in this case, was a legal deadline of 30 days after the date of detention, by which the Department of Justice had to make some decisions that entered into when this was going to become public as a matter of course in any event, when he was transferred to DOD in connection with a habeas corpus hearing.

Q So how do you now respond to critics who are trying to draw a link, fair or unfair, between the announcement of that arrest and the President unveiling his homeland security plan to the intelligence --

MR. FLEISCHER: Look, these very few people who want to make such an outlandish political accusation represent the most cynical among the most partisan. And they're not to be taken seriously. The fact of the matter is our nation has a lot to be proud of by the fact that our law enforcement community worked well and worked together to protect this homeland from somebody who came here to do harm to our homeland.

Q Can I ask you a question about the nature of the threat Mr. Padilla posed? On Monday, in this extraordinary urgent broadcast from Moscow, the Attorney General said, that the "investigators had disrupted an unfolding terrorist plot to attack the United States by exploding a radioactive dirty bomb."

Yesterday, Deputy Secretary of Defense Wolfowitz said, "I don't think there was actually a plot, beyond some fairly loose talk."

What is it?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's also fairer to the Attorney General to quote everything he said from his remarks from Moscow. And he went on to say "From information available to the United States government we know that Abdullah Al Muhajir is an al Qaeda operative and was exploring a plan to build and explode a radioactive dirty bomb." So I think you have to quote him in his entirety.

Q But he also said it was an "unfolding terrorist plot."

MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, here's what we know, and that is that Mr. Padilla received training by the al Qaeda in the art of radiological material, in the art of detonation of bombs. He came to the United States to do harm to the United States in some form or other. He is trained in exactly what Attorney General Ashcroft described. And the actions that our government took are actions that I think most people realize are just what the government is looked to to do, to protect us from people who come here to do us harm.

So you're fair to interpret what they said, but I think you have to be fair to what they said in a complete context, as well as the statements that Deputy Thompson and Deputy Wolfowitz made the same day as the Attorney General, where they talked about the initial planning stages.

Q Fair enough. Here's why I'm raising the question, though --


Q This contraction in statements raises a question. Given how much the American people are going to hang on every word about this kind of threat from the administration, isn't it incumbent on officials to get the story straight and not to exaggerate?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think it's incumbent on people who cover people also to hang on every word, and that's why I walked you back through everything the Attorney General said. The Attorney General talked about he was exploring these plans, which is exactly what we have said.

But, you know, very often in the war on terrorism, we are not going to have exact down-to-the-detail, precise information. We're going to have somewhat generalized information about people who have plans, intentions to bring harm to our country. In this case, because of his training and because of the evidence we had that was brought forth by sources and methods which I'm not going to discuss, we have strong reason to fear the worst. And you heard that articulated.

Q Is the White House satisfied with the way Attorney General Ashcroft described the threat, as seriously and as ominously as he did?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think that what you have heard from all the officials of the government is a fair description of what our government could have faced, what the American people could have faced. And, again, I think this is one of these cases where the nation can breathe a sigh of relief that our law enforcement people were vigilant outside our borders, to apprehend people when they entered our country.


Q Ari, was there any thought that he might have been a bit too dramatic, though, Ari, the Attorney General in his announcement? Is there any second-guessing here about that?

MR. FLEISCHER: Listen, I think -- again, I think it's fair to read the entirety of the Attorney General's statement and the entirety of the remarks made by all the officials who did their best to share information with the public, and did so in an accurate and forthright fashion.

The fact of the matter, again, is a very dangerous man has been taken off of the streets of the United States, where he will no longer be in a position to do harm to our citizenry.

Q Ari, can I just follow that? Also, not just what the Attorney General said, but where he said it and how he said it. Is there any, sort of, looking back that this could have been handled better? Not having the Attorney General in sort of a studio in Moscow, as opposed to just having the two deputies of Justice and Defense coming out and bringing the story out at that point in time? Any looking back and saying it could have been handled better?

MR. FLEISCHER: You know, Kelly, I'm not in the second-guessing business. I'm in the business of explaining to you what the administration did, why we did it. And, again, I think the administration looks at this as an issue where the country was protected, and that's what we're focused on.


Q Ari, coming back to the point you made about our obligation to get this right, within that realm, can you help us understand where exactly this al Qaeda operative sort of, you know, was ranked, if you will, in that organization? Are we talking about a Mohammed Atta-type figure here? Or are we perhaps talking about something much, much less than even the shoe-bomber? Is there a way to categorize what kind of a threat he posed and where he stood in the organization?

MR. FLEISCHER: I have not heard any discussions about it in that sense. Mohammed Atta has been described as a chief operating officer, one of the most senior planners. Richard Reid I've heard been described as somebody who was really a foot soldier.

The point is all of these people, whether they are the orchestrators, the planners or the foot soldiers, have one goal in mind and that is to bring the war to our soil and to kill Americans once more. But I have not heard anything about him being an operational or organizational top of a structure. It's much more that he came here in another capacity.


Q Does the President endorse --

MR. FLEISCHER: By the way, welcome to the White House briefing room. You've been here a few days. This is your first question.

Q Thanks. Does Secretary Powell -- does President Bush endorse the remarks made by Secretary Powell today to El Hayat -- in particular, that the administration is working to set up a provisional Palestinian state and, in fact, calling the Palestinian Authority a government, and categorically saying that Arafat should be worked with and not ignored?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President has been receiving advice from any number of people and many of these people give him multiple pieces of advice about the Middle East. And the President is, frankly, very gratified by the fact that people are now focused on the next steps, involving political solutions and are offering a variety of ideas about what the next step toward a political solution is. This is a dramatic improvement, when events in the Middle East were defined by whether tanks were pulling out and suicide bombings or homicide bombings were diminishing.

So the President is still in the process of listening to a variety of people who have some thoughts to share. He has another important meeting tomorrow with the Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister, and then the President may -- may, if he chooses, to have something further to say.

Q What about those remarks, though, from Powell? They are quite different than what has been coming out of the White House in recent days.

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I think it's reflective of a variety of pieces of advice that people in the government are paid to listen to from whatever source they may originally derive.

Q So he agrees with them, or does not?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, he's listening to a variety of the pieces of advice he gets from many, many sources. And these sources -- it depends on the people that the President met with. I illustrated one example of advice that the President welcomes that's 180 degrees apart, that he received in a 24-hour period. And that was the advice that he got from President Mubarak about the importance of the '67 borders, and the advice he got from Prime Minister Sharon about the impact of the '67 borders would have on the future viability of security.

So welcome to the Middle East. This is the situation where people get a variety of information, a variety of advice. And if the President has anything further to indicate, he will.

Q Ari, is the White House satisfied that the tension between India and Pakistan seems to be lessening?

MR. FLEISCHER: The White House -- the President is pleased with recent developments in South Asia. Deputy Secretary of State Armitage has returned from a successful visit to the region. Secretary Rumsfeld is there now. And the President welcomes indications that the tensions are being reduced between India and Pakistan. But make no mistake, there still is tension between India and Pakistan. So there has been positive developments. The President is fully engaged in making certain that the trend continues in the right direction, because, unfortunately, the history of the region is sometimes these trends get interrupted and return again to a wrong direction. Hence, Secretary Rumsfeld's presence in the region as we speak.

Q In getting back to the Middle East, are you still expecting -- I think you said yesterday that the international conference would take place at the ministerial level. Do you all have more or less a date in mind? Will it be this summer, come rain or come shine?

MR. FLEISCHER: It is still the date the State Department originally announced, which is this summer. They're still working through some of the preliminary issues that are typically required to make a large gathering of people from many countries successful, so that it turns into a conference that is productive. Sometimes conferences, if they're not -- if the groundwork isn't laid carefully for these type of international conferences, particularly dealing with the Middle East, sometimes the conferences can have a harmful effect, because it brings people together to fight, not to agree. And so there's a lot of groundwork that needs to be laid. But the timetable remains just as advertised, which is this summer.


Q Ari, back on the Al Hayat issue. Does the President appreciate his counselor sharing their advice with Al Hayat?

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I think the Secretary -- if you asked the Secretary, he would say to you that he is reflecting on some of the things that we've heard from different people from around the world. And it's no surprise to you, people from around the world come here to share what they think should be done with the President or the Secretary of State.

Q If I could just follow that. His comments didn't seem to be reflecting what was going on. It seemed to be, this is what we're thinking about doing.

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, the President receives advice all the time, that's part of our process. And, as you know, if the President has something to say, you all in this room will be among the first to hear it.

Q Going back to Indian subcontinent. The President also said yesterday that the risk of war is still there, maybe tensions defused. So what I'm asking is how he's going to control that there is no war in the future and like Kargil, three years ago, 1999, same situation, comes back every year or two years. And, number two, when he meets with the Israeli Prime Minister here, does he talk about Indian and Pakistan conflict because both are similarity in many ways because same bombing, same type of people are bombing in Israel and India.

MR. FLEISCHER: On number two, no, the topic of India and Pakistan did not come up in the President's meetings with the Prime Minister.

On the first point about the ongoing or continued volatility in the region, that is exactly why the President has dispatched the Secretary of Defense to the region. It's going to require continual effort, continual work. But I think that many nations can take pride in the fact that their diplomacy has led to a trend that is moving in the right direction, and not the wrong direction. And the world needs to keep its wheel -- its shoulder to the wheel to make certain that it keeps turning in the right direction.

Q If I can follow --

MR. FLEISCHER: You only get two. We have many people in the back rows who are telling me they don't get enough questions.

Q And the side.

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we know about the side. (Laughter.)

Q Ari, can you shed some light about the possible of deployment of American troops on the Line of Control?

MR. FLEISCHER: I have nothing new to indicate on that. Keith.

Q What message does the President intend to deliver to the committee chairmen who are coming here today on homeland security? And would he be supportive of a kind of super-committee that might streamline their purview over the issue?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President's message is that this is for the nation, and we need to do this together. The President is going to thank the members of Congress for their initially good reaction to the President's proposal. And I think he will also recognize that this is a difficult issue for Congress to wrestle with.

There are 88 committees and subcommittees of the Congress, which are set up under the existing system, all of which have pieces of jurisdiction over homeland security. And many members of Congress have worked a long number of years and have built up expertise in issues. And they want to be able to continue to lend their expertise to issues involving homeland security.

Nevertheless, in the President's opinion there needs to be a way found so that the nation knows that we can have a Department of Homeland Security that's created, that puts the nation first, recognizing the jurisdictional issues that members of Congress do legitimately focus on.

So the President is going to issue a call to put the nation first, to work together, to get the job done.

Q I wonder if you'd be more specific. Is he --

MR. FLEISCHER: On the congressional committee?

Q Yes. Is he going to have some suggestions about how the do this?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President -- it's not the habit of the President to tell the Congress how it needs to structure itself; one, in terms of how to receive this proposal, or two, whether the Congress itself needs to change its committee jurisdictions in appropriation or other committees and subcommittee jurisdictions, if and when this department is created. That's a matter for the legislative branch to deal with.

In 1947, when there was a restructuring on the federal level to react to the Cold War, Congress I believe at that time did change its committee structure. But those are calls that the legislative branch makes, not the executive.


Q This morning, the President said that we -- collectively, the allies and the U.S. -- need to do more at constraining finances of terrorists. He hasn't mentioned that in a while. Was there something in the Padilla case or some recent development that prompted him to raise that issue?

MR. FLEISCHER: Nothing in Padilla that comes to my mind. I can tell you that, in terms of the war on terrorism, the President has always talked about the multiple fronts in the war and the financial front remains a very important front. But what you're seeing around the world when it comes to the arrests that are being made, the terrorist warnings that are being issued, is a world that faces the same issues that we do. Fortunately for the rest of the world, they have not suffered the same attack that our nation took.

But you're seeing around the world a tremendous cooperation. It varies from nation to nation. But, for the most part, the President can say he's very satisfied with the actions that people have taken.

Q Yes, and typically that is what he has said, is that he's very satisfied. And so today was a little bit different. So was there any reason for --

MR. FLEISCHER: No, there's nothing that's crossed my radar that would lead him to have any type of specific information about something that would make him say that. I think you're just seeing him return to something that he talked about frequently at the beginning of the war, particularly about multiple fronts.

And, Jean, if there's anything further, I'll see. But I don't -- there's nothing that I was aware of before he said it.


Q On hate crimes legislation, is the White House -- what's the President's position on it? And also is there anything the White House is going to do to get it back on track?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President believes that all violent crimes are crimes of hate that should be prosecuted vigorously, and that criminals who commit them should be punished to the full extent of the law. The President's deeply concerned and troubled by any crime that's motivated by prejudice or contempt against any group of citizens or individual citizens in our country.

The Senate has taken the action that it's taken. There are a number of issues that the Senate and the House are still focused on. It's not easy to get 60 votes in the Congress; there's an important vote coming up on death taxes in the Senate, for example, that may or may not be able to reach 60 votes.

Along the lines of progress, however, I can report that tomorrow the Senate Finance Committee is going to be taking up legislation on one of the President's key initiatives, which is the CARE act, or the faith-based initiative, that at long last looks like it will move in the Senate, in the Finance Committee. And so the President is pleased to see action on that part of his domestic agenda.


Q Ari, on the comments you made a few minutes ago about Secretary Powell and the Middle East, it almost sounded as though you were making the distinction that he was speaking for himself, as opposed to the administration.

MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think actually, if you ask Secretary Powell -- and I have a strong sense that reporters have asked the Secretary today on his airplane about the very same things you're asking me -- what the Secretary indicated to them is that he was sharing with the magazine or the newspaper that asked him this question about some of the advice that he is receiving from other leaders.

Q But, Ari, who has recommended a transitional --

MR. FLEISCHER: Larry, go ahead.

Q No, no, but I mean, on that, I mean, it -- because you were talking before about how the President's receiving all these competing views. I mean, it almost sounds like you're distancing yourself from what Powell is saying.

MR. FLEISCHER: No, I'm -- that's why I just walked you through what the Secretary, himself, is saying about where he is receiving his information from as well. Because he receives information and advice from foreign leaders who have different thoughts about what they would like the President to say. And so the Secretary from time to time will reflect on the advice that he gets, and do so publicly. Which is his prerogative, of course.

Q Ari, what can you tell us about these reports of Americans, people claiming American citizenship detained on the Pakistani-Afghan border?

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, I was asked that this morning. I've been looking into it ever since then, and I have not been able to come up with anything that would substantiate the statement about Americans, people of American origin, being returned here. I'm digging into it, and I haven't found anything to confirm it.

Q Not necessarily returned to, but detained there.

MR. FLEISCHER: Even so. People of American origin or Americans -- I followed up from this morning's question, and I have not been able to obtain any information that would lead me to confirm it.

Q On another subject, give us a sense of what the advisory council the President convened today will be responsible for. How broad is their portfolio? Are they focused just on the department itself? Are they going to make recommendations across the breadth of government in matters affecting domestic security?

MR. FLEISCHER: Under the executive order that set up the Homeland Security Council, it contained a call for an advisory panel to be established for just what its name would imply, advisory purposes. It assembles some of the sharpest minds in the country who have expertise in areas involving homeland security. And in this case, the President asked them to help out in talking to members of the Hill and lending their expertise so that Congress can fashion legislation to create the department the President requested.

Q So is their function more to lobby members of Congress than to advise the President?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, it's both. I mean, in this case the President has asked them for their help in getting this passed. But it's also to provide advice, and Tom Ridge receives advice from them on a regular basis.

Q Some civil rights groups are arguing that holding Jose Padilla incommunicado is a violation of his constitutional rights. Will he be allowed to have a lawyer, and when?

MR. FLEISCHER: The actions that were taken, of course were taken as a result of the advice that the President received from the Attorney General, from the Department of Defense, from the White House Counsel. All the legal issues were, of course, looked into and the President concurred in the recommendation he received.

But in this instance, where somebody has been declared an enemy combatant, I want to draw your attention -- and enemy belligerent -- I want to draw your attention to the underlying Supreme Court case which took place in 1942 involving U.S. citizens who were Nazi saboteurs, which is the precedent for the action that was taken. And in that court case, the majority ruled in '42, in a ruling that is still binding today, "Citizens who associate themselves with the military arm of the enemy government and with its aid, guidance and direction enter this country bent on hostile acts, are enemy belligerents within the meaning of the Hague Convention and the law of war."

And that is the legal underpinning for the actions that were taken. And the President's view on this is as a result of these legal underpinnings. The United States is now safer because somebody who came here to do us harm is off the streets.

Q But in that case -- can I just follow up on that -- in that

case, that American citizen was tried and convicted and executed under the established military commission. Does the President believe and his advisors believe that the Constitution allows for an American citizen to be declared an enemy combatant and then held indefinitely without charge and without any access to --

MR. FLEISCHER: According to the lawyers, under the statute, this can last for the duration of the war. That's correct, Terry. That's the word from the attorneys. Correct.

Q You said a while back that many nations could take pride in the diplomatic efforts that walked India and Pakistan apparently back from this brink. Perhaps you've addressed this in other briefings and I just missed it, but could you fit into that diplomatic mosaic where China would fit in and -- did China play any kind of a role? Was Beijing asked to --

MR. FLEISCHER: Let me ask that specific question, because I have not been briefed on any information particular to China. I was referring specifically to Britain and the efforts through Jack Straw. The European Union has been involved. And President Putin, of course, and Russia played an important role.

Q Given China's historic role in the region, and its long-standing alliance with India, it would be interesting to know what our strategic thinking might be on the kind of role that China could play.

MR. FLEISCHER: We'll follow up. We'll get that. I'll see.

Q Ari, there's talk on Capitol Hill that Senator Brownback will now push for a two year moratorium on human cloning, instead of an outright ban, because there's discussion that there's not enough votes to pass the outright ban. Would the President welcome that moratorium period?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President thinks it's high time the Senate passed what the House passed with an overwhelming bipartisan vote. The President thinks that the issues that are presented involving human cloning are very important, and this is the time for us to draw an important ethical line which should not be crossed, so that the developments of science can proceed, but that human cloning is, as it should be, banned.

Q Given that as the President's position, would he welcome a two-year moratorium as an alternative, if they can't muster up the other votes?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President supports the Senate doing what the House easily did in a bipartisan way.


Q Ari, who recommends a transitional Palestinian state? The Palestinians have always been suspect of that; they want a state and they view anything short of that as a half-measure. And Prime Minister Sharon said he doesn't even want to consider the issue of statehood until there's no violence and no Arafat. If the Secretary is recycling advice, where does it come from?

MR. FLEISCHER: John, as you know, it's my longtime habit to speak for the President, and if receives advice from other people in closed sessions, it's not my position to share with others what other people's advice is.

Q -- recycling advice --

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, you're asking me to indicate to you who was sharing advice in private consultations with the administration. The purpose of them coming here is to consult and to give us their thoughts, and I have to respect their privacy.

Q On the faith-based initiative, last week it really looked as though it was bottled up in committee, and there were calls for the President to contact some of the members of Finance to try to make an appeal to them. Did he do that? Did he lobby them?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'll have to take a look and see if he made any phone calls. I know he's had so many meetings with so many different members of Congress, and at these meetings it's not unusual for the President to raise other issues while the members are there. Very often he'll kind of walk around the room as he says hello to everybody and he'll talk to them about something specific. So it's entirely possible that it happened out of my ear-shot.

Connie, and then Deb.

Q Thank you. With all these new terrorist threats, will the White House move to implement immediately the inspection of cargo and luggage that's checked on planes? Why is there this delay of several months before that's implemented?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, under the transportation security law that was passed last year to improve security, there are a series of deadlines built into the law. And, as you know, the Department of Transportation said that they are moving to fulfill those right on time and right on schedule. And so this requires the purchasing of tremendous amounts of equipment, the deployment of this equipment to airports around the country, and we're in the middle of that, so that all baggage can be checked aboard aircraft.

Q Can something be done before then? This is a very clear and present danger.

MR. FLEISCHER: It's moving as rapidly as it can, Connie. This is a large nation with a lot of travelers and it requires physical infrastructure, physical equipment which has to be purchased and therefore brought on line, and we are moving through it rather quickly, directly in accordance with the law.

Deb and then Paula. And then Les. You've all been warned. (Laughter.)

Q Ari, I wanted to go back to Secretary Powell's statement. What he said was that he was referring to the President's vision of two states. And he said, the President has not set one foot back from that vision, and he knows that to get to that vision, it may be necessary to have a provisional state, an interim step. Is that an accurate reflection of the President's thinking?

MR. FLEISCHER: That's an accurate statement about what some people have advised the President that he should do, and he is aware of the advice that he's gotten.


Q On the Senate vote today on estate taxes, as a compromise, Democrats might offer an amendment to exempt estates up to $4 million. Their argument is, if you do that, that would exclude farmers and small businesses from that tax. Why would the administration be opposed to that amendment?

MR. FLEISCHER: You know, if it's wrong to tax people because they died, it's wrong to tax people because they died, at whatever amount of income they have. And it's an artificial distinction to say that people who are $1 on one side of the line should suffer the burden of an unfair tax that is imposed simply by virtue of the fact that someone is dead. As opposed to saying, if you're $1 on the other side of the line, you'll have to suffer the tax.

So the President believes that it is wrong, that it should be abolished. Congress has passed legislation to abolish the death tax. It will indeed be abolished in 2010. But as a result of a quirk in the tax laws, actually a quirk in the budget procedures in the Senate, the repeal will become undone in 2011. And that's why the President is calling on the Senate to act. There is a clear majority for it. Whether or not there are 60 votes for it is another matter. But this will be an interesting vote and we hope that -- the President hopes that senators will vote to abolish something that is also one of the greatest complications in the tax code.

One of the reasons that a lot of lawyers and a lot of accountants are involved in helping people to pay less taxes is because they figure out ways around the death tax. And it's probably a law that is so complicated, takes up so much space in the Internal Revenue Code, that this is one of the greatest simplification steps that can possibly be taken.

Paula, you get a follow-up.

Q And then?

MR. FLEISCHER: And then, as promised, Les.

Q It's also considered --

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm hoping we can still discuss the Internal Revenue Code. (Laughter.)

Q It's also considered the most expensive provision, and --

MR. FLEISCHER: To administer.

Q If the estate tax is no longer available, that's revenue that's lost, that the government otherwise would have. And another argument being made is that with Social Security and Medicare coming up in terms of baby boomers retiring, the country can't afford this provision.

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, Congress has already spoken to repeal the death tax. So there obviously was a majority of the Congress that repealed it, saw fit to repeal it. What's happening now is much more a parliamentary maneuver to keep it from being repealed as a result of the 60-vote requirement in the Senate. So there is a majority will to repeal it, because people think it's wrong.


Q The President is not only a national role model, but a father. And he's taken numerous stands on behalf of good morality. Now, the Baltimore's Cardinal Archbishop, William Keeler, has taken a strong stance supporting zero tolerance of pedophile priests. And my question: as a devout Christian and father, the President agrees with the Cardinal on this, doesn't he, Ari?

MR. FLEISCHER: Lester, you've heard the President speak about this himself, where he -- where the President --

Q So he does agree --

MR. FLEISCHER: -- where the President, as he talked to the Pope about as well, expressed his faith that the Church is going to be able to move forward to address what's been a very sensitive and important issue.

Q The Wall Street Journal, in an extensive article yesterday asked, in Peru, President Bush raised the case of Lori Berenson. If an American woman convicted of aiding guerrillas is worthy of the President's expressed concern, shouldn't he be able to say something about the two daughters of Pat Roush of Illinois, who, after she was given custody of these daughters when divorcing her Saudi Arabian husband, he kidnapped these two daughters and took them to Saudi Arabia. My question is, surely the President won't ignore this, will he, Ari?

MR. FLEISCHER: Lester, as happens in nine times out of 10 on your questions, that's the first I've heard of this. If I have any information --

Q It's a huge article, Ari.

MR. FLEISCHER: If I have any information, I'll try to share it.

Q Will you take the question and come back with this?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'll let you know if I take the question.

Q Ari, I have a question on the Middle East.


Q There's a report in the Israeli press today that Prime Minister Sharon has left a couple of top officials behind, to make sure that the President keeps his word about some things that the two of them discussed. I have two -- actually, and one of those -- one of the points they make --

MR. FLEISCHER: What paper reported this?

Q Ha'aretz, believe it or not. And that's not an editorial comment. (Laughter.)

MR. FLEISCHER: I could tell. (Laughter.)

Q One of the points they make is that Prime Minister Sharon indicated he can no longer guarantee Arafat's safety. And the article implies that the President went along with that. I have two questions. Number one, what would the President say, if he had heard -- if he heard that the Israelis were leaving someone behind to lean on him, to make sure he keeps his word? And, secondly, is that in fact true, that he does not think that --

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, number one, I have no idea about the itinerary of any Israelis who did not return with the Prime Minister. Whether that's accurate or not accurate, I have no idea what the itinerary of Israelis who did not return with the Prime Minister, or whether that's accurate or not accurate. I have no idea. I do know about the President's schedule and I haven't seen any meetings like that on the President's schedule.

But in terms of harm to Arafat, the President has made perfectly plain that he does not think that would be a constructive step. And he is satisfied that Israel understands that.

Q Ari, one more on the Middle East. Is it fair to say that the President is considering supporting a transitional or temporary Palestinian state, or has he ruled that out?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's fair to say that if the President has any thoughts about the Middle East, he will share them.

Q Under consideration? Is it fair to say he's considering that?

MR. FLEISCHER: It's always important for you to show up to work to find out what the President may do on any given time or day.

Q Thank you.

MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.

END 1:02 P.M. EDT

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