The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
November 23, 2002

Press Gaggle by Ari Fleischer
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Andrews Air Force Base

6:45 P.M. (L)

MR. FLEISCHER: I have nothing, no opening statement. I have nothing to say. I understand that one reporter has asked to make sure that I come back today, so I am happy to be back here. If anybody has any questions, I'll answer them, and we will be more than pleased to circulate this at whatever hour we can tonight.

If there are no questions, that's it, I'll be happy to go back.

Q Can you give us a readout of the President's bilats today?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President had his bilateral meeting first with the President of Lithuania, followed by a quadlat with the Presidents of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, as well as President Bush. Then the President met with the President of Romania and the Prime Minister of Romania was also part of that expanded bilateral meeting. They talked about the expansion of NATO and how pleased all the Baltic nations were and honored to be part of the expanded NATO. And Romania had the same message.

Q Was the President surprised by the tone of some of President Putin's remarks yesterday, talking about Saudi Arabia and Pakistan?

MR. FLEISCHER: No. I mean, I think that's something I think everybody has heard before, that the fight on terror is a worldwide fight on terror, that everybody has their role to play, and that involves a role on the financial front, political front. And the President's report repeatedly called on many nations to play a role. I think that was President Putin's way of saying something similar.

Q Was the President disheartened that President Putin said the United States should not go it alone in Iraq?

MR. FLEISCHER: But he said that -- I have the quote written down. I didn't bring it with me; I'll be happy to go get it. But he said that -- something to the effect that we have to work together to make sure Iraq doesn't have weapons of mass destruction. And, of course, you saw the issued statement by the President of Russia and President Bush about the need for Saddam Hussein to disarm.

Q The administration has said that not finding -- not finding Osama bin Laden is not that big a deal, because he's on the run. But President Putin seemed to think it was a very big deal indeed. What's your reaction?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I don't know that President Putin said a very big deal. He accurately pointed out that Osama bin Laden is hiding, he believed, somewhere between Pakistan and Afghanistan, so that's what he stated.

Q He was asked a question about Iraq, which this administration has made a very big deal about. And so instead of answering that question, he brought up what he thought was also a very -- of equal importance. So he thinks it's as important as the Iraq question.

MR. FLEISCHER: He didn't answer the question about Iraq and then went beyond the question about Iraq and talked more broadly about the war on terror, which is something the President repeatedly talks about, too. I mean, he has been focused on the war on Iraq while, at the same time, winning the war on terror and capturing terrorists. So -- go ahead.

Q He specifically brought up Osama bin Laden and his whereabouts, as an important -- as an important unfinished business in the war on terror. This administration thinks it's not as important as he does. What's the difference?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think what the President continues to emphasize is that the war is about more than one person and that we're going to continue to diligently hunt people down around the globe. The fact of the matter is, this has been a bad hair week for Al Qaeda. They've had some people get killed recently, had some people get captured recently, particularly in the Middle East region. And so, whether it's Osama bin Laden or the top people in his organization, it's not a good time to be Al Qaeda, because the United States and our allies are out to get them.

Q But, Ari, in their discussions, did Putin discuss frustration over the fact that bin Laden is still at large?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, the name of Osama bin Laden did not come up in their private discussions. They did talk about, globally, the war on terrorism.

Q What was the President referring to specifically when he said, we don't agree 100 percent of the time? What were they disagreeing on in that meeting?

MR. FLEISCHER: That's a pretty obvious generic statement by the President that they don't always have the same approach. The issue of NATO expansion, obviously that's something that Russia is coming to terms with. And the reason that the President went to Russia was explicitly to make the point, both in person and symbolically, that Russia has nothing to fear from NATO's expansion. I think it's fair to say that Russia doesn't see it precisely the same way as America and NATO does. That's why it's important to keep working together with Russia to keep us focused on the things we do agree on.

So I think that's an example of something where we don't have the exact, identical approach. But we're learning to work together even with those differences. And doing well.

Now look, I can tell you just from watching the Bush-Putin meeting again, it went longer than expected. There's just this natural warmth and camaraderie that exists between Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush. And the fact of the matter is, that has benefited both nations and both peoples. They get along. They can really mix it up and talk back and forth freely. And I'll share one thing that took place in the meeting.

President Putin at the beginning began it by congratulating President Bush on the Republican victory on election night and then about 10 minutes after that, they were talking about some of the most important bilateral issues. And one of them was export controls, which Congress did not pass last time, and Jackson-Vanik, which Congress did not pass last time.

The President made the case that, I'm for both of those, but Congress didn't pass them. And Putin interrupts the President and says, why do you think I congratulated you on Election Night? I think that's very clever. He said, now you've got a Republican Congress. Now, you know, you can get these things done. And they have this -- everybody kind of laughed. It was a very witty thing for Putin to say.

They just have this natural bonhomie, if I can use a French word to describe American-Russian relations, and you just see it at the table.

Q The issue about Iraq, I mean, Putin seemed to make an equivalence argument between going after Iraq and going after Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. I mean, he specifically talked about the concern of weapons of mass destruction in Pakistan. Did that not seem a little bit surprising to the President, or discordant?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think you can only get from President Putin himself, because when you say "going after," does he mean "going after" in the same way? We're going after finances in Saudi Arabia. We're going after finances around the world. We went after Pakistan and Pakistan changed its course immediately after September 11th. We're still working with Pakistan.

Q -- Al Qaeda reconfiguring itself in Pakistan --

MR. FLEISCHER: Let me just ask you, do you equate "going after" in the President's context of Iraq with "going after" in the President Putin context of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan? I don't think President Putin was suggesting that President Bush needs to have that -- he understands clearly that President Bush has a focus that is militarily oriented toward Iraq as a last resort. He understands the President is not militarily going after anybody else in that context.

So I think President Putin again is making a similar point President Bush made: It's a worldwide effort. But President Putin, obviously, when he gets a question about Iraq, answered in a broader context.

Q Back to Steve's question, I mean, I have the quote here. It's: We do believe that we have to stay within the framework of work being carried out within the United Nations. Now --

MR. FLEISCHER: What was the sentence right before that, though?

Q To make sure that we agree with the President of the United States that it's important to make sure that Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction in its possession.

MR. FLEISCHER: That's right.

Q But this second sentence -- and that's the one that Steve was asking you about -- do you take this to mean that the United States, in Russia's opinion, cannot -- that the United States just cannot step outside the Security Council and decide the Security Council is not moving fast enough, they're not deciding that violations are real violations, and the United States is going to go ahead and disarm by force?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think you would have to ask President Putin for more elaboration on what he meant. I don't know that anybody --

Q What did he say in the meeting about Iraq?

MR. FLEISCHER: In the meeting, it did not come up in that context.

Q What context did it come up in?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President reiterated what he has said many times publicly, that military options weren't his first option, that he wants to resolve it peacefully. But look, it's the United States that asked for a U.N. Security Council resolution. We, too, want it resolved in the context of the U.N. resolution. We want Saddam Hussein to follow the resolution.

Q What did President Putin say to Bush about working within the United Nations?

MR. FLEISCHER: That conversation did not come up.

Q Ari, the President has also said, though, many times, that if the U.N. doesn't act, the U.S. will lead a coalition of willing allies to do it on their own. Putin said it has to be done within the U.N. framework. So that seems like a direct contradiction.

MR. FLEISCHER: I think you try to interpret President Putin's words in a way that I think only President Putin can interpret. When Sandra read that quote, you're reading it to be, military action has to go back to the United Nations. It's also possible that what he is saying is what the President is saying. I don't know what he's saying with precision; only President Putin can tell you in a follow-up -- that you have a resolution; Saddam Hussein has to live up to the resolution. But we're pleased that we have the resolution. We, too, want it solved within the context of the resolution.

Q Is Russia part of the coalition of the willing?

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I am not in a position to start naming names in those countries. I will say this, it will become very obvious to all who's in the coalition of the willing if and when it gets to that point. I'm not prepared to give that out today.

Q Can I switch to Saudi Arabia for a second?

Q I just have one quick question on Iraq. Since it's clear that President Putin wants the United States to stick to the U.N. resolution, but since the United States position is that, in order to disarm Saddam Hussein, he must be removed from office, did Putin discuss with the President the U.S. position that, in order to disarm him, we must remove him from office?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President's position is that Saddam Hussein needs to live up to the resolution and disarm. If he does not, he will be disarmed. So that's the President's position, to be clear about what the President is saying.

Q The President has never said that we want to remove Saddam Hussein from office.

MR. FLEISCHER: The President has said that he hopes that Saddam Hussein and Iraq will comply with the resolution. If they don't, we will disarm them.

Q In the press conference with Tony Blair, the President didn't say, "We want to remove Saddam Hussein from office"?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President's position is either he will disarm or we will remove him so Iraq is disarmed.

Q Did he or did he not say that he wants to remove Saddam Hussein, in that press conference with Tony Blair? I mean, is that his position or not?

MR. FLEISCHER: Look, this is an age-old issue and we've gone through this a month ago about can Saddam Hussein disarm.

Q No, but do we want to remove him from office or not?

MR. FLEISCHER: If he doesn't disarm, yes.

Q If he does disarm?

MR. FLEISCHER: If Iraq disarms and you have all the other products of the U.N. resolution obeyed and what President Bush called for in New York obeyed, then the regime will have effectively changed.

Q So then he could stay in office?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think we're very skeptical of Saddam Hussein has any intention of doing it that way. Saddam Hussein has some choices to make.

Q So the President has changed his mind on whether he wants to remove him from office?

MR. FLEISCHER: We're going around in circles on this. You know what the President's position is on this. You know what the President's position is.

Q No, I don't.

Q Obviously, none of us do, for sure.

Q The President has often said that regime change is the policy of this administration, as it was the previous administration.

MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.

Q The President has defined that in a press conference with Tony Blair as removing Saddam Hussein from office. You are now saying that's not the case?

MR. FLEISCHER: This is not very complicated. The objective is to disarm Saddam Hussein and have Saddam Hussein live up to everything that he committed to, that the President called on him to do in his September 12 speech.

Q Why can't you be as clear as the President was when he said in his press conference with Tony Blair that he wants to remove Saddam Hussein from office?

MR. FLEISCHER: If Saddam Hussein doesn't disarm, he will be removed from office. And the President is very skeptical that Saddam Hussein will disarm. But the burden is on Saddam Hussein.

Q Is Al Qaeda being funded by government officials in Saudi Arabia?

MR. FLEISCHER: If you're asking about the story in today's New York Times and Newsweek, there is an investigation that is underway pertaining to that specific matter and it's an FBI investigation and I can't comment on it.

Q Did President Bush raise Chechnya with President Putin?


Q What did he say?

MR. FLEISCHER: He urged a peaceful resolution of the situation in Chechnya and said the political solution is the one that should be pursued.

Q What did Putin say?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think there is some information about a referendum and a new constitution in Chechnya showing some progress on the political front, and that's what President Putin focused on.

Q Ari, the person in the Canadian government who called the President a moron submitted a resignation to Jean Chretien and he refused to accept it. Do you have any observation? Does this impact U.S.-Canadian relations at all?

MR. FLEISCHER: That's the first I've heard about a resignation, so I don't have anything further on that.

Q She apparently submitted it, but Chretien refused to accept it.

MR. FLEISCHER: I'll look into that; that's the first I've heard.


Q Thank you.

END 6:58 P.M. (L)

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