For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
August 20, 2002
Press Gaggle by Ari Fleischer
12:46 P.M. CDT
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. Let me give you a report on the President's day and a little bit about Mrs. Bush this week, then I'll be happy to take your questions. The President this morning had his usual intelligence briefings, spent some time doing a little work around the ranch and is having lunch.
Mrs. Bush this week is going to be traveling to Leander, Texas, which is located approximately 30 minutes north of Austin. This is going to be on Thursday, where she will take part in a back-to-school event at a new school that's first day of classes is today. The school board in Leander voted earlier this year to name its elementary school the Laura W. Bush Elementary School, and so she will be visiting this new school to meet the students, to meet the educational professionals and the teachers, and to accept the honor of having a school named after her.
And she will also be honored by Weekly Reader Newspaper, which is a newspaper that was founded in 1902 that is all about public school education, where she will be presented with a 100th anniversary Charles P. Davis educational achievement award that is given to her in recognition of her dedication to education and her commitment to achieving literacy for all children. So Mrs. Bush will travel to that school on Thursday.
And that is it for opening statements. If I can answer any questions, I'll be happy to.
Q Ari, any reaction to the takeover of the Iraqi embassy in Germany? Do we know who those folks are?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me make a couple points. Actions like this takeover are unacceptable. They undermine legitimate efforts by Iraqis both inside and outside Iraq to bring regime change to Iraq.
As for the particular group involved, we had no prior knowledge of this group and have had no contacts with them.
Q Ari, the Defense Secretary in his briefing just said that you didn't want to get into the details but that there are al Qaeda in Iraq in a number of places. If that is known to the United States government, the President is on the record saying he will go anywhere in the world in pursuit of these people, why are they still there? Why have they not been dealt with?
MR. FLEISCHER: The Secretary has made that statement previously, not only about Iraq but in other places. We have said that al Qaeda operates cells in some 60 countries around the world, if you recall, and the President has said that this is a long war against terrorism, and the war on terrorism is going to have multiple stages to it.
And so I'm not going to delineate each and every specific future potential stage in the war against terrorism, but it does remain a concern about the presence of al Qaeda either in Iraq or in other places.
Q He said some of them fled directly from Afghanistan. The President has said that they will be pursued wherever they go. Why are they still there?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that is perfectly consistent with the ongoing war against terrorism, a war that has many stages to it and many different levels to it, some being military, some being political, some being economic. And what continues to underscore the heart of the war against terrorism is that these terrorists are trying to regroup, trying to get back to other places, and we will use whatever means the President deems appropriate to prevent them from being able to regroup. And we will work in concert with people around the world, as we have done in other places, where you've seen them trying to bunch up and get back together.
Q -- denounced this group in Berlin. Do you think they may be encouraged by the talk from the White House denouncing Saddam and meeting with dissident groups? I mean, is that likely?
MR. FLEISCHER: I couldn't begin to guess the motives for anybody to do something like this. But it is the American position unequivocally that this is an unacceptable action.
Q Yesterday, you had no comment about the death of Abu Nidal, clearly one of the most sought-after terrorists that this country has ever wanted to try to get. Does the White House have any reaction today?
MR. FLEISCHER: Abu Nidal was one of the most craven and despicable terrorists in the world. He was responsible for killing at least 900 people in 20 different countries. The fact that only Iraq would give safe haven to Abu Nidal demonstrates the Iraqi regime's complicity with global terror. He will not be missed.
Q Ari, you say that the actions of these Iraqis undermined other efforts. Why aren't these just freedom fighters resisting a gangsterish and tyrannical regime and trying to liberate their country?
MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, at all times, the American position is to support the rule of law. The rule of international law, the rule of freedom and the rights of people to have a government that is protective of the rights of its neighbors, governments that don't declare war on other nations, governments that don't use chemical weapons against their own people. But in pursuit of America's policy within international law of regime change, it is not acceptable to have takeovers of other nations' embassies. That is not consistent with the rule of law. And that is why we have an unequivocal position that this action is unacceptable. Even against a regime that is as evil as Iraq's.
Q Ari, I know you talked yesterday about the words of caution on Iraq that have been raised by some Republicans. But I'm wondering, do these words represent a split in the party that could delay an attack, if that's what the President decides to do?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think what you're seeing is a healthy debate throughout the United States about the best way of achieving regime change. Some people would like to talk about the speed with which regime change should be carried out, the manner in which it's most effective to carry it out. But you could continue to see for many, many people, you could continue to see from many people who have expressed their opinions on this, that the world would be safer off without Saddam Hussein in power.
Q But if there are words of caution coming from the President's own party, does that concern him that maybe there is a need to go a little slower on this issue?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, you're implying that the President is going at a certain speed, and you have no reason to make that speculation. The President has made no decisions, as you know. So I don't think it's fair to make any judgments about what speed the President is traveling at.
Okay, last question and then we're going to go to the rest of the briefing.
Q Ari, are you concerned about all this talk about regime change and increased rhetoric, that the President is sort of boxing himself in and that the public perception now is that he will eventually attack Iraq and that it's just a question of time? Are you concerned that you're sort of boxing yourselves in to that expectation?
MR. FLEISCHER: No.
Okay. For the rest of the briefing. Could somebody cut those lights there so I could see who's in this room? Oh, that's who's here. (Laugther.)
Q You said we have had no contact with this group who took over the embassy. Are we certain, because someone was described as ex-military folks who participated in that London meeting. Are we sure we haven't had contact with individuals who are involved here?
MR. FLEISCHER: This is on the basis of all the checking that the National Security Council has been able to do this morning, I can report to you that we had no prior knowledge of the group and have no contacts with them. That's on the information that we checked into this morning, upon hearing who has claimed responsibility for this.
I do notice the group of people that we have been working with toward freedom in Iraq has condemned this attack as well.
Q About the California trip on Friday. I was wondering if you could let us know whether the President is going to be making an appearance with Mr. Smith at any of the three campaign events in California?
MR. FLEISCHER: Mr. Smith?
Q Mr. Simon -- I'm sorry. Mr. Simon. I was wondering if there was any, you know, concern about being associated with a man whose company has been -- had a fraud judgment against it in this time of --
MR. FLEISCHER: First of all, on logistics, tomorrow I'm going to try to give you a little bit more information about the trip to Oregon as well as the trip to California.
The answer to your question is, no, the President is going to campaign for Mr. Simon.
The other issue, just logistically, too, in terms of the meeting at the ranch tomorrow, I'm still trying to work out coverage issues for what if any access there will be. We'll have an announcement on that first thing tomorrow morning for everybody. That's not yet nailed down. I'm trying to work something out, though.
Q What is the time of that meeting?
MR. FLEISCHER: Time of the meeting is -- it's a couple hours. So it's a morning meeting, I think, that begins right around nine-ish. And then they'll go, and they may have lunch. I'm not sure about that.
Q On tomorrow, can I ask you to talk a little bit about what the President hopes to get out of that meeting, whether it's sort of a brainstorming session or whether it's more of an intent to actually hammer out policy or hammer out a budget outline? What exactly are they trying to produce?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's part of a conversation to try to put some -- to first kick around, to listen to some of the thinking that's been done on transformation and then try to put some framework around budget proposals that are -- may be start to be made for the 2004 budget year -- yes, 2004 budget year. As you know, the budget that's being voted on in Congress this year is for fiscal year '03. And when we come back, interestingly, the budget planners will have to start their work on the administration's budget proposals for the next fiscal year, '04. That really kicks in in the fall.
So this is an early window to start looking at the framework for some of those bigger decisions that have yet to be made.
Q To follow up, obviously the President wants to listen to the folks from the Pentagon come in and talk about their priorities, what they need. He, I imagine, has some ideas himself of what priorities he wants to deliver to them, and kind of give them guidance. How might those budget decisions and budget issues have changed, as they obviously have, over the past year?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, one of the interesting lessons of what's happening in Afghanistan is the role that technology plays in helping America be more lighter and more lethal. And the President has repeatedly talked about the need to skip generations, to move ahead to the next generation, to have new thinking about how war should be fought in the 21st century -- wars against a shadowy enemy, for example, require a whole different type of approach, a different type of lethality, a different type of speed, a different type of footprint than your more traditional wars of the 20th century, which involve massive movements of troops and vehicles and involve flotillas of ships that would attack the United States.
That's 20th century thinking, and the President wants to really push ahead to develop a Pentagon of the future. And that's always been part of what he has focused on. Obviously some of the debate -- since the events of September 11th, the Pentagon's focus shifted immediately to protecting the United States, less to this bigger picture thinking ahead. This is an attempt now to make certain that we're doing both.
Q A follow up on the budget question, on the defense budget. As they look to 2004, will they be getting as specific as looking at the amount of increases they should be requesting, what they'll need money for next year, how much they should request?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's why I described it as a framework. No, they're not at that point yet. The President's budget for '04 gets submitted in January or February, and the Defense Department makes its own internal decisions about what to request in the fall of 2002, heading into January and February of 2003. But the President, just as he did in August -- I think it was August 22nd or August 24th, 2001, uses this meeting as a way to have big picture thinking, to set that framework so that the more specific line items, when they get filled in, are filled in around a structure or a framework that is the strongest and best framework to provide for America's defensive needs in the future.
Q Do you expect the meeting tomorrow to be a decisionmaking meeting on some of these issues?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think this is -- again, this is a focus more on the big picture. I never rule out that decisions get made, just because of the nature of this group; it's a pretty decisive group. But it still is early. So again, we'll try to get you more of a report tomorrow, in one way or form, either me, or trying to have some other people provided to help you.
Q Aside from Cheney and Rumsfeld, who else is going to be in the --
MR. FLEISCHER: We'll get the list out tomorrow. Cheney, Rumsfeld, Dick Meyers, General -- I'm going to mispronounce his last name -- Kadish. That's the Hebrew translation. He's in charge of missile defense. Condi of course, Andy Card is coming down for it. There are probably going to be other people from either the NSC or the Department of Defense whose names I don't have. We'll see -- I'll have to poke around and see if that's information I can give out in its entirety. If I can, I surely will.
Q What building is the meeting going to be in?
MR. FLEISCHER: What building?
Q On the ranch, it's the old -- the Governor's House, is that what it's called?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think they're going to meet in the President's house. I think that's where they're going to do it. If that changes, Mark, I'll let you know.
Q You can just invite me.
MR. FLEISCHER: Excuse me?
Q Just invite me along.
MR. FLEISCHER: They'll have the radio on. They can listen to you.
Anything else? Jennifer.
Q I'll do one more. Except I just forgot it. I'll ask you later.
Q When you said dissident groups that you guys are working with legitimately on overthrowing Saddam condemned, are you talking about the Iraqi National Congress?
MR. FLEISCHER: They put out a statement today about it.
Q And that's who you're talking about, the Iraqi National Congress?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, they put out a statement, I believe, from London, approximately an hour ago.
All right. Thank you everybody.
END 1:01 P.M. CDT