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 Home > News & Policies > August 2002

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
August 19, 2002

Press Gaggle by Ari Fleischer
Crawford Elementary School
Crawford, Texas

12:43 P.M. CDT

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, good morning. I would like to welcome everybody back to Crawford, for those of you who are rotating in. For those of you who are the wiley Crawford veterans, welcome home where you belong.

Nagourney, haven't decided which category you fit into yet. You're a wiley veteran who is now rotating in.

I also want to just this morning greet and welcome our guests who are here to watch interaction between government and the press. Welcome to the Press Filing Center.

Okay, I just have a very brief opening, just give you a little update on what the President did this morning. It's been a quiet day at the ranch. The President went for a run earlier this morning, then he proceeded to have his regular briefings and then he has just gotten in from working the land, and he'll stay at the ranch for the remainder of the day.

And, with that, if I have any questions I can answer, I'll be happy to try to help you.

Q Ari, yesterday on the TV shows, Bartlett said Bush may decide, quote, that we need to take action to minimize the threat that Saddam now poses. Is that implying that the administration is looking at something less than neutralizing Saddam, maybe just air strikes, rather than actually looking to remove him?

MR. FLEISCHER: Were you able to hear the question? I know Scott McClellan was reluctant to repeat each question. In an effort at outreach, I will be happy to repeat each question. (Laughter.) Scott's on vacation. I have no fear he'll read the gaggle.

The question was that on a show yesterday that Dan said that the United States -- and I think Adam's word was minimize, describing Dan, minimize the threat from Hussein. Is that an indication that the administration wants to minimize instead of I think you said the word neutralize.

The answer is one in the same. I'm not going to speculate about any potential next steps. However, the President has been very clear that Saddam Hussein continues to pose a threat to peace and it's a threat that the President intends to continue to consult with leaders about, continue to talk to the Congress about, as he makes up his mind about what is the best way to deal with the threat posed by Saddam Hussein.

Q Can you frame for us the meeting on Wednesday with all those participants, and should we take this as a planning council for action on Iraq?

MR. FLEISCHER: The question was, can I frame the meeting the President is going to have on Wednesday. On Wednesday, the President is going to have a meeting with Secretary Rumsfeld. The Vice President will be here, a few others. And the purpose of the meeting is to talk about transformation of the Defense Department.

If you remember, before September 11th, this was a major priority, something the President established as a top priority as a candidate. And then there was a lot of work under way throughout 2001 focused on transformation. In fact, if you remember back to last August, the same meeting took place in August of 2001 here in Texas. You can roll your tapes and you will find many of the same characters who are coming this week were here last year for a similar meeting.

This is part of the policy planning process, particularly heading into the budget cycle which will begin in earnest in the fall, heading into the winter months. And so the Department of Defense will come down here with an eye toward the big issue of transformation, the big picture point of view.

I think the topics that will be likely discussed will be missile defense and its ongoing role as part of protecting America. Clearly, in the current context, unlike last August, the United States has now withdrawn from the ABM treaty. The United States is free to proceed in a more vigorous fashion, a more robust fashion, to develop a missile defense to protect the country. We also anticipate discussion at Wednesday's meeting about budgets for the Pentagon, looking into the future. And so that's the type of the meeting that it will be.

Q You do not expect Iraq to be discussed at all, Ari?


Q Not even in the context of budgets and planning? I mean --

MR. FLEISCHER: No, I mean, the meeting really is just like last year. The purpose is to talk big picture, big policy about the Defense Department, particularly the transformation. This is an over-the-horizon, big picture look at the needs of the Defense Department. You know, General Franks is not going to be here, and General Franks' theater of operation includes that region. So the short answer to your question, Mark, is, no.

Now, can I guarantee you that that word will never come up? No, of course not. But the purpose of the meeting, the focus of the meeting, is much bigger than that.

Q Any press coverage of that? Can we get some sort of readout from Dr. Rice --

MR. FLEISCHER: I'll let you know. I'm working on that now, talking to the President about that. So there will be some element, yes. Exactly what it will be is unclear today.

Q It would damp down some of the breathless speculation about what might be going on.

MR. FLEISCHER: That question -- that wasn't a question, that was a statement, referring to rampant speculation, as the savvy reporter put it savvy reporter's words.

Q Ari, do you know whether the President has spoken to Brent Scowcroft or any of his critics on the Iraqi situation?

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know if the President has spoken to him or not. But I tell you, the President doesn't look at the many voices that he's hearing about Iraq as critics; he looks at them as thoughtful people who have a lot of experience, who also recognize the menace that's posed by Saddam Hussein, the threat that is posed. And he views this as a constructive part of a process where the country benefits from a variety of thoughts and opinions, much of which are much closer to what the President is thinking than I think some of the reports have been.


Q Ari, on that point, does he or the Secretary of Defense or anyone worry about the possibility of sending mixed signals about U.S. resolve, if you're Saddam Hussein sitting there, seeing this debate?

MR. FLEISCHER: No. The President is sending one signal, and it's a clear signal that, as the President has put it in many of his speeches, time is not on our side. Saddam Hussein left unchecked has shown a willingness in the past to use weapons, including weapons of mass destruction, and that regime change is the stated bipartisan policy of our country and he's committed to it.

And the President views the hearing that Senator Biden held, the debate that is percolating across the country, as a very important part of our democracy. It's part of what keeps the American people informed and it keeps the American people in support of the policies that the President has articulated. The American people support regime change because they recognize the threat that Saddam Hussein poses.

I think the American people also recognize that they've elected a President and the President has surrounded himself with a security team that is wise, that is deliberative, and that is strong. And it's a team that will act to protect our country.

Q Ari, shifting gears a little bit, the President keeps calling for his energy plan. Oil prices are reaching $30 a gallon. Is the President giving any thought to releasing the strategic oil reserves?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President is giving a lot of thought to the importance of Congress finishing what is unfinished to date, and that is development of a comprehensive energy plan for the country. The President thinks that when Congress comes back, in the few short weeks that they have remaining, that Congress has got to finish the President's agenda, and that includes action on energy. The President would be very disappointed if Congress momentarily reacted to the calm that has been part of the energy markets for the last year, and did nothing. That would be a big disappointment.

The problem with energy is that our nation overreacts to price spikes, up and down, and then Congress does nothing in between. We are at an in between period right now in the energy -- with energy prices and for the country. It's not a period of calm for the Congress to do nothing. It's a warning that there could be risks ahead in the markets, and that Congress needs to act to protect the American people from energy prices. And that's why a comprehensive energy policy is necessary.

Q So I take that as no, he doesn't support opening up the reserves?

MR. FLEISCHER: No. The reserves are meant for times of emergency.


Q Has the President decided on a new economic package to present Congress, you know, when they get back in session?

MR. FLEISCHER: And by the way, because this is the tradition of the gaggle, and I have not gaggled since the happy news, I'd like to congratulate you on gaggle record.

No, the President has not made any decisions. The President continues to review the economic data. The President continues to review the information he received at the economic forum here in Waco, and the President continues to review some of the policy options that are under review, to make a determination about when or if he will advance anything specific on economics.

Q Have those summary reports already made it to his desk, or are they still being compiled and sorted?

MR. FLEISCHER: In the printed sense, I don't know the answer, whether it's presented to him formally. But in the sense of been an active conversation, that is an active piece of conversation that his advisors continue to have with him.

Q You said his goal is to have something before the end of the session? Some new stimulus package, is that a goal of the administration?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President has not made a decision.

Q It's possible we won't have one.

MR. FLEISCHER: He hasn't made a decision.

Q Who is representing the United States at the earth summit in Johannesburg?

MR. FLEISCHER: We will have an announcement at some point, possibly today -- so you do not have a lid yet -- about exactly who will be representing the United States at the meeting.

Q At what conference?

MR. FLEISCHER: At the conference in South Africa.


Q Ari, what was the thinking last week on the release of the list of names of guests who have stayed the night at the White House? I remember early in the administration you said the President felt that these were private guests and you would not release them.

MR. FLEISCHER: No, we released it last year as well. We released it in request -- we had a number of requests from media organizations, and so it was released I think a month or two months earlier than it was at the corresponding point of this year. And again, we've had ongoing media questions about it, and so we compiled a list and put it out.

Q What about Camp David? Are you going to release the list from Camp David?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'll have to take a look at that. I don't know the answer to that question.

Q Ari, there are reports that Abu Nidal has been found dead. Can you guys confirm those reports, and do you have a reaction?

MR. FLEISCHER: I've noticed the reports, and I cannot confirm anything at this time.

Q On what?


Anything else?

Q Do you guys have any comment on --

MR. FLEISCHER: Jennifer, welcome on your maiden -- is this your maiden voyage?

Q It is. I'm glad to be here.


Q Does the White House have any comment on the security agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians?

MR. FLEISCHER: As you know, one of the most important focuses of the President's efforts in the Middle East has been on security. We welcome this step, we welcome this announcement. This is a constructive part, along what has been a difficult process. And the ongoing talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians, the American effort to help buttress security arrangements, as well as constructive efforts from others in the region are welcome. And we hope this is a sign of more welcome developments to come.

Q Along those lines, another pair of parties, over the weekend, Russia forged an economic cooperation agreement with Iraq. Is that a concern to us in our new relationship with Russia?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, keep in mind under the United Nations sanctions, which were amended in the spring, early summer, with the help of Russia, trade with Iraq is permitted, so long as it complies with the United Nations sanctions. The category of goods which are able to be traded legally with Iraq was expanded. And that was done with the United States and Russia working shoulder to shoulder in the United Nations, to change what the President called the Swiss cheese sanction regime. We fully expect that Russia will live up to its obligations to the United Nations and to the international community.

Q Has he spoken to President Putin about this?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, I don't believe he has.

Is there anything else?

Q Sorry, one more. Does the President support efforts to revive legislation to limit damages on asbestos suits that are facing some 200,000 related asbestos suits?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not familiar with that, so I'll have to look into that.

Q What was the question?

MR. FLEISCHER: Does the President support efforts to provide -- limit liability dealing with asbestos.

All right, thank you, everybody. It was good to see you again.

END 12:58 P.M. CDT