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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 20, 2002

Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Briefing Room

  • President's daily schedule
  • World leader phone calls
  • Proposed U.N. resolution
  • Pakistani sentenced in CIA killings
  • Weapons inspections
  • Washington Times story re: Sudanese pilot
  • Homeland security
  • Tax cuts
  • National Security Strategy
  • Germany
  • Domestic priorities
  • Rationale for regime change
  • Lackawanna suspects
  • Economic stagnation in Latin America
  • Japan

    12:39 P.M. EDT

    MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. The President began his day this morning with a phone call to Prime Minister Balkenende of the Netherlands. The two spoke for approximately 15 minutes. They discussed the situation in Iraq. The President thanked President Balkenende for the Netherlands' strong support as expressed in a recent speech that was given to the United Nations by Netherlands.

    The President also this morning called President Putin, of Russia. The two spoke for approximately 30 minutes. They discussed the situation in Iraq. The President talked about the need to make certain that the United Nations pass resolutions that are firm, that accomplish the goals of disarmament and don't let Iraq avoid responsibility.

    Following the meeting, the President met with a group of Republican governors who are in town visiting Washington. And then the President had a meeting with the Russian Foreign Minister and Defense Minister in the Oval Office. During that meeting, the two discussed -- or the three discussed the ABM treaty, the situation in Georgia, as well as the situation in Iraq.

    And then the President had a meeting with Senator Phil Gramm and Senator Zell Miller, a bipartisan group that is working to get passed homeland security in the Senate.

    The President will later depart for Camp David, where he will spend the weekend.

    With that, if I can take your questions. Ron.

    Q Is Russia still opposed to the President's proposed U.N.resolution?

    MR. FLEISCHER: Ron, I think you need to address any questions about Russian policy to Russians. I can share with you a little bit more what the President said during this meeting.

    The President was encouraged by the meeting. The President made clear on his phone call with President Putin his desire to work with President Putin. He said that President Putin is a world leader and that he wants to make certain that the United States and Russia work together, so that whatever comes out of the United Nations is different from the resolutions of the past. And that was the emphasis of the conversation from the President.

    Q Did the President hear anything that would indicate he's closed the gap between the two nations?

    MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as I said, the President is encouraged and I think you're going to continue to see ongoing diplomacy between now and whenever the vote takes place in the United Nations -- not only with Russia, but with other nations. It's entirely appropriate for nations to think carefully about the votes that they will take, and the exact language that will be offered.

    And this is precisely what the President said he was going to do when he said he would go to the United Nations. This is the consultative process. This is how United Nations votes take place. And the President is part of the diplomatic efforts that are underway to talk to Russia and other nations.

    Q -- one more shot at it. Do you know why he was encouraged? Specifically what gave him reason for encouragement?

    MR. FLEISCHER: Well, you know, the President is confident that the ultimate outcome of what the action that will be taken in the United Nations. The President just cannot imagine the United Nations making the same mistake twice. The President cannot imagine the United Nations again allowing an inspection regime that will not allow the world to know that Saddam Hussein is disarmed.

    The President thinks that would be a grave mistake, and that's something the President does not think the world would do.

    Q Well, let's try one more time. Did the President find any change, however subtle, in the Russian position as publicly expressed?

    MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I can only, again, describe to you what the President said in the course of these meetings. In the meetings with the Foreign Minister and Defense Minister of Russia, the President talked about how the status quo was not acceptable; that what the objective was is to make sure that Saddam Hussein has destroyed the weapons that he has.

    I can also tell you that in the course of the meeting, the President cited what took place on September 11th, and the President reminded the Russian Foreign and Defense Ministers that the oceans that used to divide the United States from the world no longer protect our country the way they used to. He said that it's come home to America, and he cited his responsibility to make certain that he protects the American people, and people around the world, so, as President Bush said, we can make the world a more peaceful place. That's what the President said in his meeting with the ministers.

    You heard Igor -- the Foreign Minister, when he left the White House, Igor Ivanov walk out to the driveway, and he said that the Russians have agreed to exchange views on how to make the inspectors more effective. So you heard that yourselves.

    Q Yes, but this isn't about inspections, I understand. I hear it's about disarmament.

    MR. FLEISCHER: The point being how to make inspectors more effective, so that we know that disarmament has taken place.

    Q You didn't say that.

    Q And you mentioned that the President wants a firm resolution, one that doesn't let Iraq avoid responsibility. Does that mean that the President is seeking, in this resolution, authorization to use force if Iraq does not comply?

    MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, I'm not going to get into the specific language; this is still something that is being discussed privately among the diplomats on the Security Council. And I think it's important to allow them the opportunity to do their work. And the exact language will be a continued point of discussion.

    But the point the President is making is he wants to make certain that it is different from the past. Why would anybody want to support doing the same thing all over again? What good did it do for the world for the last ten years? And that's the point the President is making.

    Q Well, it sounds, if I may, like there's agreement -- as the Russian Minister said -- on inspections, trying to find the answer quickly and thoroughly -- and maybe disagreement on what the United States is seeking authorization to use force if there is noncompliance.

    MR. FLEISCHER: No, that's -- you were not in the meetings and no discussions along those lines came up, Terry.

    Q Ari, the Ivanov comment on how to make inspections more effective, does that suggest to you the Russians now would support a new resolution?

    MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I think it's up to the Russians to categorize their position. I will not do so. But it's fair to say that the consultative process is continuing. The diplomacy you would expect to take place is taking place. And nations are going to continue to think about this, it's an important issue; I think they're hearing the President's message loud and clear.

    And the President wanted to make certain that they understood how strongly he feels about this issue and what is at stake -- because the President feels what's at stake is peace around the world and the need to protect Americans and the people in the region and elsewhere from the threats that Saddam Hussein presents, which are real and are growing.

    Q And what did he tell them regarding Georgia?

    MR. FLEISCHER: On the question of Georgia, the President stressed the importance of Russia protecting the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of Georgia. The President talked about the United States' desire to work closely with the Georgian government, we have a program to train and equip the Georgian military so they can take action against the terrorists in Georgia. That was the extent of the conversation.


    Q In view of the announced intentions of the anti-capitalist convergence to shut down the city of Washington next friday, D.C. Police Chief Charles Ramsey has advised the public, including thousands of federal workers, to "bring a sandwich and a good CD." And my question is, the head of the federal government, for whom this city of Washington was created, doesn't agree that the city should be allowed to be closed down; does he, Ari?

    MR. FLEISCHER: Lester, I think this is an issue where we have seen before in Washington, D.C., and in many other cities as there are international gatherings, and the federal government is working very closely with the District of Columbia government and police to make certain that two things happen: one, the American people's right to peaceful protest is honored and respected; and, two, that the city can function and function well and function smoothly. That's the efforts of our government and we hope that will be the case.

    Q On October 2nd, the President is scheduled to speak in Baltimore at a fundraiser for Congressman Bob Ehrlich for Governor, who has announced he will not raise taxes, while his rival, Lieutenant Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, has refused to say she won't raise taxes if she is elected, while new polls indicate that Ehrlich is now ahead. And my question: is the President glad that Congressman Ehrlich will not raise taxes, and has experienced nothing from the Maryland Republicans like Mrs. Townsend has suffered from her fellow Maryland Democrats, who have furiously questioned her whole campaign?

    MR. FLEISCHER: There is no question that there are a group of people who want to raise taxes on the American people. And the President is very supportive of those who want to lower taxes and prevent people from increasing taxes.

    Q So he's happy with Ehrlich, isn't he?

    MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President is supporting him in the campaign, you can absolutely count on that.


    Q Ari, a couple of questions. One, do you have any comments on this week, Mir Qazi, a Pakistani national who was sentenced to death in connection with killings of two CIA employees, lost his appeals and all that, and he will be -- he will die on November 7th. And if you have any comment on what -- because he was also connected with Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.

    And another question is that most of these terrorists, according to the Washington Post and other reports, that they were based in Pakistan, they came from Pakistan, and after committing the crime, they fled to Pakistan. Now, according to the -- also, that Pakistan is still a help for terrorists. And another Pakistani man who sent a letter to President Bush, he wanted to kill President Bush and other government members, and he was in D.C. jail, and he was released this week and fled to Pakistan.

    MR. FLEISCHER: Okay. On your first point, I have nothing specific to report on that one individual matter. But more broadly, as you know, the President met at the United Nations with the leaders of Pakistan and India, and he stressed in his meetings the importance of ending cross-border infiltration. This remains a very important topic, and one that's constantly discussed at the highest levels of the administration repeatedly.


    Q Foreign Minister Ivanov said that he would like to continue exchanging views on how to make weapons inspections more effective. Is it the position of the administration that this might reflect a greater openness from Russia, in terms of perhaps tougher inspections, or a U.N. resolution that would reflect some changes?

    MR. FLEISCHER: No, there really is nothing new I can add beyond what I shared with you on what the President said in these meetings. The President stressed in the meetings the importance of making certain that the United Nations doesn't make the same mistake twice, and that it's important to have a different type of inspection -- one that is effective, one that will make certain that Iraq has disarmed.

    That's what this is about. This is not about inspections, this is about disarmament.

    Q And does the President plan on speaking with Chinese officials, as well?

    MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, we'll keep you as routinely updated as I can on all the phone calls the President makes. He has completed his foreign phone calls for today. He has made the two that I mentioned.

    Q Ari, U.N. officials are saying that it might take from nine months to a year for the weapons inspectors, assuming they get full cooperation, to assess the state of Saddam's compliance. Is that kind of a timeline comfortable? Are U.S. officials, and/or the President, comfortable with that kind of projected timeline?

    MR. FLEISCHER: Again, this is another illustration of why the focus, in the President's judgment, needs to be on the resolution the United Nations is going to pass, as well as the importance of destruction of weapons.

    The inspection process is not the end result of what the President is focused on. The end result is destruction of weapons, and we'll see what the United Nations does when it votes.

    Q Ari, the Washington Times had a story this morning that the U.S. authorities are holding a Sudanese pilot who was intending to attack -- kidnap a plane and attack the White House. Any merit to that story?

    MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, as you know, I have a long-standing policy of just not commenting on anything alleged to be intelligence information. I'll just leave it at that.

    Q Well, are they holding at least some Sudanese detainees?

    MR. FLEISCHER: I'll just leave it where I left it.

    Q Ari, given that the Miller/Gramm proposal on the Department of Homeland Security, if it does pass, it's going to pass by a very narrow margin. Is the President concerned at all that it might be the wrong way to do it, on such an important legislation, to have a fairly partisan vote passing a Department of Homeland Security?

    MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President hopes it won't be a fairly partisan vote and he hopes that more Democrats will join with their colleague, Senator Miller, so that won't be the case. But what's important is for the Senate to act. If the Senate doesn't vote, it doesn't matter -- the country won't benefit from having the creation of a Department of Homeland Security.

    But in the end, the President is interested in action, because the nation needs to be protected and it can be protected through the result of a vote to create the department. So whether the vote is 99-1 or the vote is 50-50, with the Vice President casting the tie-breaking vote, the result is what matters and the result is creation of the department.

    Q Okay. And on another topic, given also that the economy is still sluggish, why hasn't the President proposed these tax cuts that he has talked about? And apparently he's not going to do that. Isn't he -- given that he thinks that tax cuts would stimulate the economy, isn't he being remiss is not at least putting them forward?

    MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there are many tax cuts that the President has proposed that remain pending on Capitol Hill. And the President reserves the option of proposing additional ones. But certainly judging by what Congress has done, the Senate, for example, has failed to take action on a number of the tax relief proposals and other stimulative proposals the President has made that he hopes will bring additional strength to the economy.

    But he will continue to work with the Congress and hope that something can get done.

    Q He's not worried that those tax cuts, if he does propose them, could prove politically unpopular for Republicans?

    MR. FLEISCHER: No. No, the President thinks that --

    Q Because they would --

    MR. FLEISCHER: There are a number of items that are pending in Congress that can bring help to people -- not only to help stimulate the economy, but to help protect people's pensions, for example. That's another issue where the Senate has not yet acted, where the House has.

    The President was glad the Congress passed trade promotion authority, which can help create jobs. But terrorism insurance is another issue that is pending in the Congress, where jobs can be created in an immediate sense if the Senate and the House can get together and pass terrorism insurance.

    So there remains a number of items that are economically important to the country, and the President hopes Congress can get those done. Congress does not have a lot of time left; they are getting ready to leave, and leave for good.

    Q I have a question to national security strategy, and the shifting to the preemptive strikes. If America declares that it will never be challenged internationally again, how would that go down internationally?

    MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think that what the world has seen in the 20th century is a benevolent America that uses its strength for good around the world. And as a result of America's reluctance, which became an eventual use of strength throughout the 20th century, the world became a safer, better place for it.

    Democracies flourished in places where democracy previously did not exist; Germany and Japan are the most recent examples. And democracy is on the march around the world thanks in good part to the United States' efforts.

    And so the United States' role as a military power has been -- we are a nation that is very reluctant, extremely reluctant to use that power. But we do use our influence that can be backed up by power through a way that I think has led to a better world.

    Q Since you mentioned Germany, can you give us a sentence on the German-American relations regarding the -- well, whatever the Minister of Defense said in Germany. I mean, she refused to resign today. So do you think --

    MR. FLEISCHER: Minister of Justice.

    Q Justice, sorry, Minister of Justice. She refused to resign. Do you think the relations between America and Germany are damaged permanently?

    MR. FLEISCHER: Well, relations between the American people and the German people have been very strong. And it goes back 50 years. It's a very important tie.

    Having said that, the statements made by the Justice Minister were outrageous and inexplicable, and nothing has changed since that was noted yesterday. The President continues to view this as a troubling event.

    Q So if Schroeder wins, what then?

    MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to speculate about the outcome of any elections, and I can just answer your question about what the Justice Minister said.

    Q Can I follow up on that? Do you know that she's claimed she has been misquoted. Does that alter your opinion?

    MR. FLEISCHER: From everything that has been reported in Germany today, the newspaper that originally reported her remarks stands by their reporting, as well as people who were at the event say that it was, indeed, said.

    Q Are you looking for an apology from the German government?

    MR. FLEISCHER: I think that -- I can only express to you how strongly the President feels about this. And I've expressed that, and anything beyond that is up to the German authorities.

    Q Ari, I have another question -- I kind of want to follow up on that. But being compared to Hitler is a very strong statement. Has the President said anything to you or anyone here about that -- from his words?

    MR. FLEISCHER: I've expressed the President's feelings.

    Q Okay. Now, on the question I wanted to ask -- China, France and Russia are not in support of an attack on Iraq. And some are saying that the United States military is already stretched thin because of protecting the United States against terrorism, as well as fighting in Afghanistan. If America does not get support militarily from China, Russia and France, how thin will the United States be in fighting this war against Saddam?

    MR. FLEISCHER: Well, taking your second question first, it's been made very clear, and similar questions were put to Secretary Rumsfeld and others who have testified up on the Hill, there is no question that the United States has the ability to deal with more than one threat around the world at one time. No question about it whatsoever.

    On your first point, again, these nations have not spoken yet. The speaking of these nations, or the final declarations of these nations will take place in a vote of the Security Council. And the President has begun a process that he knew would not be an overnight process, that would be a process that would take some time. And that time is -- we're in the middle of that time right now, as the consultations and discussions continue.

    Q So, in essence, what I'm getting, the United States can go it alone, they don't need China, Russia or France?

    MR. FLEISCHER: I think we will find out what happens when these nations vote at the United Nations. This remains still a test of the United Nations' relevance, to see if they intend to enforce the resolutions that they've passed. So I think you're a little hasty in your judgments about where these three countries are.

    Q Has Russia made it known what they want to do?

    MR. FLEISCHER: Connie.

    Q Thank you. On this security document, can you give us some background on it? Is this something that's produced every year? And is there any consultation with the allies or any input by them into the document?

    MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the document is required under the law. This is the Goldwater-Nichols Defense Department Reorganization Act, which dates back to 1986. And that's why it was produced. And this has been discussed in a great many places, with a great many people. And it's a very long preparation time to prepare a document like this. And I think on any more specific information about exactly who was consulted, you'll probably be able to get more detailed answers at a background briefing that an administration official will be giving early this afternoon.

    Q Ari, what incentive is the President using to try and get Russia's support for a strong Security Council resolution? Is he offering to pay Russia the $7 billion or $8 billion Iraq owes?

    MR. FLEISCHER: The incentive the President is offering is logic and a straight, direct, from-the-heart talk about the risks that Russia faces and the rest of the world faces, and in addition the American people face, from Saddam Hussein and his relentless quest for weapons of mass destruction. That's what the President stresses in his phone call with President Putin, as well as in his meetings today with the Defense and Foreign Minister.

    Q But is the U.S. making any commitments concerning those Iraqi debts to Russia?


    Q Yes, on that --

    MR. FLEISCHER: Jim, in a different seat?

    Q Yes. I was trying to shake you from this geographical hang-up that you have. (Laughter.)

    MR. FLEISCHER: But you haven't changed rows; you've just changed sides in the same row.

    Q I wanted to ease it in on you. I didn't want to shock you too much --

    MR. FLEISCHER: Horizontal move, not a vertical move? (Laughter.)

    Q Left to right. (Laughter.)

    Q The President's -- the phone call with President Putin and his talks with the two Ivanovs, did they talk about the details of how to make the inspections more effective? Or merely that they need to be effective?

    MR. FLEISCHER: They did not get into details of how to make it more effective. I think these are some of the discussions that are taking place at other levels, including at the United Nations.

    Q Now, the Russians also mentioned that they have been granted the right to go and question five Russian citizens who are currently at Guantanamo, who were recently arrested. What can you tell us about that?

    MR. FLEISCHER: That did not come up in the meeting in the Oval Office. I would refer you to the Department of Defense; I think that was a conversation between the Defense Minister and America's Secretary of Defense.

    Q Okay. One other point. On the National Security Strategy, would you just describe a little bit for us the new concern that has prompted this talk of a preemptive strategy? It appears to be that the concern now -- the concern used to be against governments that were military strong. Now it is against groups or governments that have little military strength and decide to use other means.

    MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it used to be, particularly in the 20th century, that the threats to America came mostly from states that were strong. And the 21st century is seeming to be a century where the threats to America come from states that are crumbling and are weak. That's where terrorists find homes, and that's where the strongest threats to America has come from.

    September 11th has changed substantially America's way of viewing how vulnerable we are. That attack did not come from a former superpower or a former rival; it came from a crumbling regime that is a parasite, that had a parasite of the terrorists take over that country, in Afghanistan, and bring the threat to us.

    The Strategy states that the safety and the security of America is the first and fundamental commitment of our government. And the President will be realistic in assessing where those threats come from.

    Q Can I follow up on that?

    MR. FLEISCHER: We'll come back, Bill. Paula?

    Q Despite the somewhat controversial analogy that was used by the German Minister of Justice, I believe her criticism was directed at the President focusing on foreign policy at the expense of domestic priorities. Does the administration feel that there are any domestic priorities on its agenda that cannot be given the attention you would like because of all the attention that's directed in the foreign policy area? Other than blaming --

    MR. FLEISCHER: Paula, I think that premising that question by again likening back to anything even close to what the German Justice Minister said does not do regard to the seriousness of this debate -- domestic issues and foreign issues. It bears no comparison whatsoever to what the German Justice Minister said.

    Q Mr. Fleischer, it was reported recently in Athens that President Bush sent two letters to the good Prime Minister Costas Simitis. I was wondering what prompted the President to send those two letters?

    MR. FLEISCHER: I'll have to take a look at that. I have not gotten any information on that.

    Q Ari, two questions. First, this week marks the 20th anniversary of the massacre in Sabra and Shatila, 1,700 Palestinians were killed. And Ariel Sharon was found by an Israeli commission of inquiry to be personally responsible for that event. Also the 20th anniversary of the slaughter in Hama, Syria, of 20,000 Syrians by the Assad regime. And my question is, why aren't we seeking regime changes in those two countries, given the nature of those leaders?

    MR. FLEISCHER: No, I said yesterday that no nation, no nation on earth is like Iraq. And that's why the United Nations has spoken out as often as it has and as repeatedly as it has for more than a decade about asking Iraq to comply with the U.N. resolutions that have been passed, and they have failed to do so. No nation represents a threat to peace on earth the way Iraq does, because of its attempt to get weapons of mass destruction, and because of its militaristic recent history, where it has shown a willingness and an ability to invade its neighbors and attack its neighbors. No other nation is like that. And so I reject any other comparisons to those nations.

    Q Well, if I could follow up, Israel itself has reportedly 20 to 40 nuclear weapons. So it has weapons, and its leader -- the current leader has been found personally responsible for slaughter in Lebanon.

    MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I don't think you can compare any other nation on earth to Iraq. I think any comparison is faulty.

    Q Ari, I just wanted to get back with you on the Lackawanna suspects. Based on what you found out, is the door now closed to designating them enemy combatants and putting them in --

    MR. FLEISCHER: Well, this is moving through the criminal justice system under the purview of the Department of Justice. As an overall matter, the President will always reserve his rights to make a designation if he thinks as a result of any new information that's obtained he would need to act differently. But this remains, in this case, the specific people you asked about, this remains under the purview of the Department of Justice.

    Q But he does reserve the right to review it and intervene, if necessary?

    MR. FLEISCHER: Of course, and that's as a general statement about any arrests from anybody. In the case of Mr. Padilla, of course, he did come to a different conclusion, and that's a result of the President being advised of any new information that could change a previous determination. So don't confuse the two. I'm making a generalized principle, but to answer your question specifically, DOJ.

    Q The national security document says in part that the lessons of history are clear in the point that market economies and not command and control economies are the path to prosperity and peace, and so on. How do you square that statement with recent political and economic events in Latin America?

    MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not sure I follow your premise. Are you saying that it's inconsistent?

    Q The growth of Latin America during the '90s was less than it was in the '60s and '70s. And there's now a wave sweeping across Latin America that's both political and economic in nature, that seems to represent a repudiation of this statement.

    MR. FLEISCHER: Actually, I think it's an exact proof of this statement. If you take a look at what's happened in Latin America, the advent of democracy in those countries, as well as the advent of free trade, which many nations in Central and Latin America seek to get into

    more trade agreements not only with the United States, but other nations around the world -- Latin America and Central America are real success stories in many cases.

    That's why the President visited El Salvador in March or February of this year. He went to Peru as well, if you recall. These are success stories that are a result of the free flow of capital and the free flow of ideas, openness, transparency, resulting in democracy.

    Q Then why are the economies stagnant?

    MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think economies can always be stagnant. In capitalist countries, and in free and democratic countries, there's growth and there's recession and there's retraction. That still is not command and control. It's not as if command and control communist-style governments are exactly coming back into vogue. Democracy and free trade are the trends that are sweeping the world.


    Q Ari, the Bank of Japan has taken the unprecedented step of beginning to buy stocks in the effort -- of companies over there in an effort to prop up an ailing economy. Does the President have any views on this? And has anyone from the administration shared any --

    MR. FLEISCHER: I have not had any conversations with the President about it, and I don't think that would be the type of thing the United States would comment on.


    Q Ari, the version of the National Security Strategy published this morning says that "The President has no intention of allowing any foreign power to catch up with the huge lead the U.S. has opened up since the fall of the Soviet Union." But that sentence doesn't appear in the final version that we were given. Was it dropped because of the fear that it sounded arrogant?

    MR. FLEISCHER: Let me go back and take a look at the entire document, Bill, just to see if that is, in fact, right. I have to take a look to make that determination.

    Q Was there concern about the tone of the document?

    MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think the tone of the document speaks for itself and it represents how America's values have served the world well, and will continue to serve the world well, and that we will, indeed, have a military that is capable of protecting the peace.

    Q You don't intend it, obviously, for it to be surpassed by anybody, but then why not say it?

    MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, I'm going to take a look at the exact language in there before I comment on that.

    Thank you.

    END 1:10 P.M. EDT