|The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 27, 2002
Press Gaggle by Ari Fleischer
Aboard Air Force One
En route Phoenix, Arizona
3:00 P.M. MST
MR. FLEISCHER: Okay. I don't really have much for you. The President will be in Arizona this evening to support the campaigns of Congressional candidate Rick Renzi and gubernatorial candidate Matt Salmon and the Arizona Republican ticket. That will be his event this evening. And then off early in the morning to New Mexico and Colorado.
Q -- right now to fundraise or anything.
MR. FLEISCHER: Correct, a political event.
Q What's the President's reaction to the Russia disclosure that 117 of the hostages died from gas, in fact none of them -- only one died from gunshot?
MR. FLEISCHER: Right. Well, the President abhors the loss of all life. And this is a reminder of the tragedy that can unfold when terrorists attack. This is a tragedy. The Russian government and Russian people were victims of this tragedy. And the tragedy was caused as a result of the terrorists who took hostages, who booby-trapped a building. They created a dire circumstance.
Q -- criticism of the tactics that using the gas that led to the deaths, and the injuries of so many people?
MR. FLEISCHER: We don't know all the facts and all the circumstances. So I'm not going to venture into that. Given the fact that the terrorists were deadly serious, had already killed people, and apparently had the theater booby-trapped so all would die, it's important to know what the full circumstances are before venturing further.
Q You're clearly blaming -- laying all the blame now on the terrorists and not on any tactics by the police.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, obviously, everyone wants to save as many lives as possible. It's the hostage-takers who put people in harm's way to begin with.
Q So you can envision circumstances where the use of gas would be appropriate?
MR. FLEISCHER: I didn't say that. I said, we don't know what all the facts are.
Q Do you know, has the President spoken to President Putin?
MR. FLEISCHER: He has not.
Q Do you have any idea what sort of gas was used?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, we don't know the facts. President Putin addressed the people this afternoon.
Q Oh, he did, I'm sorry.
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes.
Q Ari, do you know what he -- oh, I guess -- I was going to ask you what he said, but I guess we could read it later.
Q Do you have any reaction to the election in Brazil?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President congratulates the winner of the election, looks forward to working productively with Brazil. We have many allies in the region who also work with Brazil. And the people of Brazil have spoken.
Q Do you have any confidence that that could bring back Brazil's economy, that that could spur a recovery down there?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we'll see ultimately what steps that he takes. But I think today is the day upon an election like this for a congratulations to be offered.
Q Is the President disappointed with what seems like the lack of progress on the diplomatic front, with regard to Iraq and with regard to North Korea, vis-a-vis the meetings over the weekend?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, certainly on North Korea, you had two rather important statements, one comes from South Korea, Japan, the United States, and the other was an APEC-wide statement, with Russian support, all calling on North Korea to dismantle their nuclear weapons program. These are rather strong statements. In diplomatese, it doesn't get much stronger than what they did. So the President is gratified to have the strong, multilateral support of APEC, as well as the neighboring countries.
Q How about Iraq? What's the latest on Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: With the United Nations?
MR. FLEISCHER: As Secretary Powell said yesterday, this will be a key week. And we will see what happens in New York. This is the United Nations chance to do some good, or this is the United Nations chance to fail.
Q How would you assess the chances right now?
MR. FLEISCHER: I would hesitate to guess. I think that typically what happens in cases like this is once it is known that the vote will take place, the day leading up to, if not the hours immediately prior to the vote are when people really start to take firm positions. And people will at that time know. Leading up to that final moment, there is always interesting diplomacy, interesting public statements versus private statements.
But the President went to the United Nations with a clear charge on September 12th. It remains to be seen whether the members of the United Nations Security Council have heard that speech, and intend to change their ways, or whether the United Nations Security Council will once again fall into an acquiescent slumber.
Q Back on Russia. Right after the snipers were -- suspects were taken into custody, the President quickly praised the police and their actions. Should we interpret what you're saying about the Russian action that the White House is praising the actions of the Russian police?
MR. FLEISCHER: Ron, you've got to remember, one is a domestic law enforcement action of a totally different nature, where you did not have a theater full of 700 hostages, a theater apparently booby-trapped so that if there was any type of attempt to free the hostages or save the hostages, 700 lives could have been taken. In addition, in Russia, the hostage-takers already started to kill hostages. Different circumstance domestically.
The other difference is, we know the facts here in America. We're aware of the steps the law enforcement agents took because they were our law enforcement agents. We do not know all the facts yet in Russia.
Q I guess I'm just trying to struggle to characterize your opinion of the actions taken by the Russians. Unless the answer is, you don't have one yet, because you don't know the --
MR. FLEISCHER: The point is, you can't compare the two.
Q I'm not asking you to compare them to now. If you can characterize for me what the White House's position is on the actions taken by the Russian officials?
MR. FLEISCHER: We're ascertaining -- we don't know the facts.
Q Ari, the President was strongly criticized today by Senator Lieberman, who had been one of his strongest supporters on Iraq policy in the Senate. Senator Lieberman said, "The distance and negative reaction of some of the allies like the French speaks to the fact that the Bush administration didn't bring our allies in early enough." Is the President disappointed that Senator Lieberman is being this critical?
MR. FLEISCHER: Actually, I think the facts prove that as a result of the President's efforts, the allies are more focused on Iraq than they have been in 11 years. So it's just the opposite. For 11 years, the United Nations slumbered. And this President is the one who is waking up the allies.
Q Can you tell me -- us, who is going to Wellstone's memorial service?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, the memorial service is on Tuesday. We are ascertaining who the appropriate official will be. We will have something to say on that tomorrow.
Q Who is that memorial service for? I didn't catch that.
MR. FLEISCHER: Senator Wellstone.
Q Is there any chance the President will go?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. If you take a look at the historical record of when a sitting senator dies in office, no the President will not go. This has not been the past pattern. We will send an appropriate official.
Q Has the White House had to change any travel plans on Friday? Were we planning to go to Minnesota for campaigning?
MR. FLEISCHER: We had not announced our schedule yet for Friday, and so once we have it ready to be announced, we'll announce it.
Q But had the President been planning to go to Minnesota on Friday?
MR. FLEISCHER: We had made no announcements yet, and so we'll release the schedule as it firms up.
Q Speaking of schedule, I apologize if this was on the week ahead. Have you told us what we're doing Tuesday and Wednesday yet?
MR. FLEISCHER: Tuesday and Wednesday are in D.C.
Q Have you told us what he's got on the schedule, though?
MR. FLEISCHER: We have not.
Q Can you tell us now?
MR. FLEISCHER: We will have events in Washington. I'll have to take a look at the schedule. So stay tuned.
Q Any reaction to the possibility of Mondale running in Minnesota?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that -- one, I think it's still appropriate to let the people of Minnesota mourn the loss. Once there is something official from the Democratic Farm Labor Party in Minnesota, I think at that point it will be more appropriate to have something to say.
Q Let me rephrase my question. Has Senator Wellstone's death caused the President to have to rearrange his schedule in any way?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, we haven't released all the details of the President's travel. So once we have something firm, we'll announce it.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thanks.
END 3:08 P.M. MST