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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 30, 2002
Press Gaggle with Ari Fleischer
Aboard Air Force One
Prior to Departure from Texas State Technical College
8:44 A.M. CDT
MR. FLEISCHER: All right, let me give you a little bit on today and then some questions you have. When the President gets back to the White House this afternoon, he's going to have a series of policy briefings focused on the domestic agenda. He's going to prepare for Wednesday's conference on missing children. And he will also have a meeting on homeland security, to discuss the status of the legislation and what's holding it up, and other aspects of protecting the homeland. He'll have a meeting on faith-based legislation or the CARE Act.
The President remains hopeful that, in the few weeks the Congress has left, that they will return to the domestic agenda and pass a whole series of bills that are stuck, either in conference committee or in the Senate.
Also this afternoon, I want to bring your attention to what I think will be one of the more notable developments of the day, and that's Secretary Rumsfeld's briefing. The Secretary is going to brief about Iraqi attacks against United States and British fliers patrolling to enforce the no-fly zone.
Since 2000, there have been 1,600 incidents of Iraqi attacks against United States and British aircraft. And since September 16th, the date that the Foreign Minister of Iraq sent a letter to the United Nations saying that they would allow for so-called unconditional inspections, Iraq has attacked coalition aircraft 67 times -- just since that September 16th promise. He will show video of these attacks.
And this is a reminder again of how the words of Iraq continue to change but their actions don't. Their actions are defiance of international law, international rule, military attacks on coalition aircraft who are flying to patrol the no-fly zones that Saddam Hussein agreed to in 1991. And this will be a very living and vivid display of Iraq's military intentions. And that's the report for the day.
Q Ari, a couple of things from the -- that have been hanging over from the weekend. Do you have any comment on the weapons-grade uranium that was seized in Turkey, where it might have been headed, whether it was seized about 250 miles from the Iraqi border --
MR. FLEISCHER: Arshad, you notice the administration has not said anything about that. And the reason is, we are going to deal carefully with something that has the potential to be serious, and make certain that anything that is said is based on fact. And we continue to evaluate the information.
I do not have at this time anything that is determinative about it. So unless and until we have that -- and we will -- the administration is just going to monitor it. I just urge people not to leap to conclusions.
Q One other thing, just today there were new signs from both Russia and France that they are not entirely pleased with the stance the United States and Britain are taking on Iraq. Russia -- Russia's foreign ministry issued a statement criticizing British and U.S. recent air strikes against Iraq, saying that the increase in the pace over the last couple of weeks is making the diplomacy harder. Can you comment on that, specifically on the diplomacy issue?
And, secondly, France, I believe, again reiterated its desire for a two-step rather than a one-step resolution.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we will continue the conversations. I think you can anticipate any number of things that will be said, particularly in public. But the focus remains on building support for what counts most, which is the resolution. And the American position on the resolution remains unchanged. The resolution has to declare that Iraq is in violation of U.N. resolutions. It has to declare what Iraq needs to do to come into compliance. It has to make clear what will happen to Iraq if they fail to come into compliance.
Q Does Under Secretary Grossman think that he made any progress in his meetings over the weekend?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that's a question you have to address to the Under Secretary. Speaking for the President, the President continues to believe that conversations are helpful, the consultative process is the path to pursue, and we will continue to do it.
Q Do you think these meetings in Vienna that happened last night are going to make your life harder, in terms of getting support for that resolution? It will give a lot of people cover to say, let's just see what they do with the old resolutions, before backing a new one?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think you have to see things on two tracks. The meetings in Vienna are focused on the existing resolutions which, the world knows, have not been honored. And I don't think that will distract from the focus the President is asking the U.N. to bring to a new set of resolutions that are tougher and more effective.
Q So are you saying that basically these meetings and these talks about -- with the inspectors and the Iraqis are essentially irrelevant to the process?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, but they're -- they need to be seen in context, and the context of these talks are the existing inspection regime. It is not about the new inspection regime that the President called on the United Nations to pass when the President spoke on September 12th.
Q The Israeli pullback yesterday, do you guys see what the Israelis did as sufficient, in that they didn't actually completely pull back?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President welcomed this development. The President thinks what's important now is for all parties to focus on their responsibilities, and those responsibilities include efforts to promote peace, security and reform in Palestinian institutions.
Q Should they pull back further?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President welcomed the development.
Q So are you satisfied with it?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President welcomed it.
Q So you're saying he welcomed it? (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me rephrase it. The President welcomed it. (Laughter.)
Q Need to have a little ticker that gives translations. You know, this is what "welcomed" really means. (Laughter.)
Q What's the President doing today on either the U.N. resolution or the congressional resolution? Is he getting personally involved at all?
MR. FLEISCHER: He'll continue to monitor it, get briefings from Dr. Rice and from Nick to see what progress is made.
Q Any comment on the two Democratic congressmen who were in Iraq over the weekend?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I watched what they said and it struck me as somewhat remarkable. A member of congress goes to Baghdad, Iraq, where he says that Saddam Hussein needs to be given the benefit of the doubt and Saddam Hussein -- that Saddam Hussein may be more believable than President Bush, because he says President Bush will mislead the American people.
And it's his right to say anything he wants, no matter how foolish, and he exercised that right.
Q Do you worry that if you don't get homeland security passed by November 5th, sort of the pressure of people going home and having constituents say, what about homeland security, that it essentially will just linger and never quite get going if it doesn't get done before Election Day?
MR. FLEISCHER: Absolutely. This is why the President feels so strongly about passage of homeland security legislation. It's important to protecting our country and it's unimaginable that the Senate would fail to act on homeland security.
Q Can -- I'm sorry, go ahead.
MR. FLEISCHER: Go ahead.
Q I was going to say, can you clarify what the administration did proactively regarding the Israeli pullback?
MR. FLEISCHER: There have been a series of contacts at the highest levels of the Israeli government, through various channels of the United States. The President spoke out publicly; there can be no mistaking the President's message about how unhelpful the Israeli action was. And that message that the Israelis heard as a result of the President speaking out publicly was conveyed to them privately in a variety of settings, including by the Secretary of State. And --
Q What about the meeting this week with Rice? Right now, all we have is that Israeli media reported that a top Sharon aide came here and met with Condi this weekend. Did that happen? What was --
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, it happened.
Q Okay. What was -- what was her message?
MR. FLEISCHER: Her message was just as I indicated to you, just what the President has said, that it was unhelpful by Israel to do what they did.
Q That was obviously before the pullback began on Sunday morning?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
And before the President's helicopter arrives, let me mention one thing that I just got a kick out of in today's New York Times. There was a little bit of whining in the New York Times from the author of the note, I don't know if you saw it --
MR. FLEISCHER: It's about calling on reporters --
Q Is this like a beat-up on the poolers?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. No, no, no, no. No, just the opposite. It was -- I just want to give an assurance to everybody who comes to work every day at the White House that the people who sit in the rows behind the first or the second row are going to continue to be treated the same way as always. And the White House has no intention of imposing a gag order on people who don't sit in the first two rows.
My standard is always to treat people fair when they come to the White House and show up just like anybody who works for the big organizations in the White House. And everybody is still going to get their equal and fair chance to ask questions, despite the wishes of someone who no longer shows up for work at the White House every day and doesn't know what it's like to never get called on.
So that's an assurance to the press. Fair and equal will continue. (Laughter.)
Q Well, I'm sure our friends in the fourth, fifth and sixth rows will remind you of that.
MR. FLEISCHER: Did you see this?
Q It's an op-ed by Mark --
Q Halperin? (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: Thanks, everybody.
END 8:55 A.M.CDT