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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
December 2, 2002
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:19 P.M. EST
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. Let me give you a report on the President's day, and then I have several announcements for you. The President began early this morning with a call to Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi. He expressed his condolences to President Moi and to the Kenyan people about the tragic terrorist attacks in Mombasa, Kenya last Thursday, and he offered United States assistance in their investigation. The leaders share their commitment to bring to justice those responsible for the attack. The President expressed his appreciation for the cooperation of President Moi and the Kenyan government in the global fight against terrorism.
Following that, the President signed into law the reauthorization of the North American Wetlands Conservation Act. And later today, the President will sign into law the National Defense Authorization Act in an event over at the Pentagon, at which the President will also give an update on the war against terror and discuss the significance of the upcoming December 8th deadline vis-a-vis Iraq and the United Nations.
The President will also welcome to the White House today Tony Stewart, the 2002 NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion. He will also sign into law a resolution concerning John Adams Commemorative Work bill, and the Paul and Sheila Wellstone Center for Community Act.
In other announcements, you had this on the week ahead, but I want to give this to you at the briefing, as well. The President will welcome Kenyan President Daniel Arab Moi and Ethiopian President Meles Zenawi to the White House this Thursday, December 5th. The President looks forward to discussing issues affecting common interests of the United States and the East Africa region, particularly our continued cooperation in the global war on terrorism, regional stability, humanitarian development efforts, and efforts to combat HIV-AIDS.
Two other announcements for you. One, the President will be issuing a statement about the passing of George Christian. The statement will read as follows: George Christian was an honorable, decent and kind man who represented the best of public service. He was devoted to his family. He was a statesman of the highest integrity. He also was a great Texan whose wise counsel was sought by generations of leaders.
Laura joins me in offering our most heartfelt condolences to the Christian family. We are grateful for the life he lived and the many positive contributions he made to his country and his state.
That will be going out shortly.
And finally, the President would like to take this occasion to congratulate and praise the workers of the Transportation Security Administration for the excellent job they did over the busy Thanksgiving weekend. This was TSA's first time in Thanksgiving and the holiday season, and I think the traveling public recognizes that there are many dedicated professionals who performed their job ably to protect the American people, and did so politely and did so with great care and great security in mind.
And with that, I'm happy to take your questions.
Q Ari, Professor DiIulio, who was the head of the faith-based office, made some comments that have been getting a lot of attention in Esquire Magazine about how political the White House operation was. And he has since issued an apology today, a statement of apology. What's your reaction in general to his comments, and then to the apology?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think that any suggestion that the White House makes decisions that are not based on sound policy reasons is baseless and groundless.
Q What about his apology? Have you had any contact with him directly, or has he called Rove or any of the people involved?
MR. FLEISCHER: I know he has spoken with officials in the office -- the faith-based office, and talked with them. And I think his statement speaks for itself. He did issue an apology.
Q Did he retract his --
MR. FLEISCHER: He issued an apology, Helen, and I think you can read what he had to write.
Q What is he apologizing for?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you'd have to ask Mr. DiIulio.
Q Weapons inspectors in Iraq have now visited a couple of sites that both the President and Prime Minister Blair pointed to specifically as possible sources of new construction and new development of Iraqi weapons programs. It doesn't seem they found anything. What's the President's assessment of Iraqi cooperation --
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's assessment of Iraqi cooperation is that it is far, far too soon to say. The regime is just beginning -- the inspection regime is just beginning. They will continue to increase their numbers and their efforts. And the President has not reached any conclusions; it's too early to reach any conclusions.
Q Does it undermine the President's credibility at all that these sites were pointed to by him and by Prime Minister Blair as very suspicious, and inspectors and reporters went there and didn't seem to find anything?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think there's widespread agreement that those sites were the sites in which Iraq previously violated United Nations accords, and it underscores the President's concern about Iraq moving things around and the fact that in the '90s they did say they weren't in violation of the United Nations charters, they were living up to the United Nations charters. And everyone recognizes that they violated the U.N. resolutions at those sites. Just because they're not violating it at the same site today doesn't mean that Iraq can be taken at its word.
Q That's not what the President said. But let me raise a broader question here. Back in August, the Vice President said that there was a danger in weapons inspectors going back into Iraq because it would perhaps convince the world that Saddam was back in the box, as he put it. Is that possibly what we're seeing here, as the inspectors show up at sites and don't find anything?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I would encourage you, one, to listen to the President's speech this afternoon. The President is going to talk about the inspections in Iraq and what they mean and the importance of the December 8th deadline for Iraq to provide the United Nations, and therefore, the world, with a list of its weapons programs in violation of the United Nations resolutions.
Two, I don't think that it's fair to compare one week's worth of preliminary work to four years worth of the absence of inspectors. That's why the President's conclusion is it's much too soon to make any judgments.
Q Does the President hope that there will be no weapons there?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President wants --
Q I mean, everything you say is so negative. It doesn't sound you people really want to not find anything there.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think everything Saddam Hussein has done has been so negative that this President is accurately and realistically describing facts to the world. And as a result of the President accurately describing facts to the world --
Q But you're going in with such a negative attitude.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think it's fair to say the President has gone into this with a can-do attitude to preserve the peace, and if it hadn't been for the President's efforts and leadership and willing to state facts realistically, there would be no inspectors inside Iraq, would there be? There wouldn't have. It was the President who caused this to happen.
Q Have they ever threatened the United States? Has Iraq ever threatened the United States?
MR. FLEISCHER: Only when they shoot at our pilots. Only when they attack their neighbors and America's interests abroad.
Q During the Gulf War when we were shooting at them.
MR. FLEISCHER: They were shooting at our pilots just recently.
Q You continue to tell us that the President is very skeptical that the Iraqis will cooperate. So in the event that they do, as they have so far, do you have a plan B? What happens if this actually doesn't turn up anything? Then what do you do?
MR. FLEISCHER: I urge you to wait until the President's speech this afternoon, and we will see precisely what the President says. And then there is also this interesting question about what will Iraq do when they have to honor the United Nations resolution and provide a list of their weapons that they hold in violation of United Nations resolutions. It's up to Saddam Hussein to produce that list.
Q You're assuming in your answer that they have weapons of mass destruction which they are hiding. They say they do not; you say that they do.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the history of people who accept Saddam Hussein at face value and take his word for accurate is one of disappointment because they have been deceived. Saddam Hussein does not exactly have a track record of telling the world the truth. So he, on December 8th, has to indicate whether or not he has weapons. Let's see what he says. If he declares he has none, then we will know that Saddam Hussein is once again misleading the world.
Q How will you know?
MR. FLEISCHER: We have intelligence information about what Saddam Hussein possesses.
Q So you say that you do have information that he has these weapons.
MR. FLEISCHER: It's no secret. We've said many times -- you've heard the President say repeatedly that he has chemical and biological weapons, and he has missiles that can reach an access of 150 kilometers, all three of which are violations of his sworn commitments to the United Nations.
Q One quick follow. What happens on December 8th?
MR. FLEISCHER: December 8th will mark the beginning of a process, a process of verification to find out whether or not Saddam Hussein is indeed telling the truth, and whether or not he has indeed disarmed. That will mark the beginning of that process. If Saddam Hussein indicates that he has weapons of mass destruction and that he is violating United Nations resolutions, then we will know that Saddam Hussein again deceived the world. If he said he doesn't have any, then I think that we will find out whether or not Saddam Hussein is saying something that we believe will be verifiably false.
Q It's a process -- what do you mean?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it's a process of verification. That's the purpose of the President going to the United Nations and asking the world to support the effort to put the inspectors back into Iraq. And that process is now, as you know, underway and just beginning. So the inspectors will then begin, and increase their efforts to find weapons of mass destruction and obtain information.
But I want to remind you that much of this depends on Saddam Hussein's cooperation. The inspection regime cannot work on its own, without the cooperation of the Iraqi government. Iraq is a country the size of France. If they desire to hide things or move things, they have the means and the ability and the history of doing so. The inspection regime substantially depends on the cooperation of Iraqi officials.
Q I'm curious about why you're saying it's just the beginning of the process on Sunday. If Iraq, as you say, using your hypothetical, if Iraq declares Sunday it has no weapons of mass destruction, why should that begin a process? Why should that not end it? Why don't you stand up and verify that they're lying and have them suffer the consequences?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think the timing, if there's anything that goes beyond that, will be determined by the President, and Saddam Hussein will have to figure out what the timing is. But I share with you the President's approach that this is the beginning of the process, and I make no statements to you about how long that process will be.
Q In terms of moving the process forward after the 8th, is there a mechanism that's in place for the President to share the broader intelligence that he's -- with specifics that he knows about -- to compare that against the Iraqi statements?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President has shared much information with the American people in many of his speeches, including his speech in Cincinnati, for example, where he is trying to find the appropriate level of information that can be shared without endangering sources or methods. But suffice it to say the inspectors, of course, as is well-known, will have access to intelligence information from not only our government, from other governments, and that means they will be in the strongest position to do their job so that we can know if the Iraqis are telling the truth, or not; we can know whether or not he has disarmed.
Q The theory would then be that you have the statement from Iraq on the 8th of what they have and what they don't have. Then information, if it hasn't already been, would be transmitted to the inspectors on the ground so that they could then go to cross-check, basically, against the Iraqi declarations, and at that point, presumably there would be some sort of unveiling of further information? Or would it all be kept at the classified or background level with the inspectors?
MR. FLEISCHER: Under the U.N. resolution, the report that Saddam Hussein must file on December 8th is to be filed with the United Nations Security Council. They will be the recipient of Saddam Hussein's cataloging of what weapons of mass destruction he has, or perhaps he will say he has none. This is up to Saddam Hussein. That will get filed with United Nations Security Council, and of course, that will provide some level of information -- or maybe no information for the inspectors to proceed and to do their jobs. And beyond that, I'm not prepared to say what type of information may or may not be declassified. I can't guess.
Q -- reports are circulated and then member countries comment on them, is that right?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'd have to take a look at the exact resolution. As a practical matter, this would become -- depending on what Saddam Hussein says or lists, this will become information then for the inspectors to use to fulfill their mission to make certain that he disarms.
Q Ari, if the Iraqis were to declare they have no weapons of mass destruction, would the President require proof from the inspectors to the negative, or does he already have indications that would disprove that claim?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I don't want to say with specificity what every potential hypothetical could or could not be.
Q But does he have enough information now to act if Iraq claims they don't?
MR. FLEISCHER: It was President Bush who made the determination to go to the United Nations and ask for the inspectors to be put back into Iraq. And the President successfully urged the world to take this action after four years of the inspectors being absent. And I think the world is pleased now that the inspectors are going in. The President wants to allow the inspectors to do their jobs, and that's what the President's approach will begin with.
Q Is he confident they can, they could find --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we'll find out. We'll find out.
Q Ari, what information does the administration have, what evidence have you compiled about the attacks in Kenya that suggests that al Qaeda is involved?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we are looking into it. There is nothing conclusive to report. There are suspicions that al Qaeda is involved, but I cannot go beyond that. It remains at the beginning of the investigative process. We have offered assistance to the Kenyan government and this is at the beginning of the investigative process.
Q What about the shoulder-fired missiles, one of which was also allegedly fired at a U.S. plane in Afghanistan? So what do we make of that? You have two very similar incidents and in both cases, the casings were left behind. Is there anything to tie the two together?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have received nothing that I can pass along on that topic.
Q Just one other thing for you if I may. Has the administration concluded that some sort of economic stimulus is, in fact, necessary for the economy?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is continuing to review a number of economic options. He continues to study the economy every day, to receive the latest reports about the strength of the economy. And in the event the President has something further to add, he will add it. It remains an issue that he monitors.
Q I know you're always wary to talk about what he might propose, but I'm just asking the basic question, which is, have they even concluded that a stimulus is now necessary?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President would be the one to make any determination about whether a stimulus is necessary.
Q Has he made that determination?
MR. FLEISCHER: He continues to review the economic data, and if he has something to indicate on that he would be the one to do it.
Q Ari, when did the President decide to give this speech today to the nation? It wasn't on the week ahead. It seems to have come up awfully suddenly.
MR. FLEISCHER: It wasn't on the week ahead, the signing of the Defense Authorization bill? Then that's a -- that was an oversight. I think a corrected version of the week ahead went out that had it on there, if I recall. I think there was something where it wasn't on there.
Q Yes, this morning.
MR. FLEISCHER: This morning? Teach me to go away for Thanksgiving. (Laughter.)
Q So this has been in the works for a while?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'd have to take a look at it. Presumably, yes. With Thanksgiving, I'd have to go back and take an actual look at it.
Q Ari, two on the Iraq question. Has the administration given already the head of the inspections teams its most sensitive intelligence about suspected weapons sites, or has the administration deliberately held back some of that information to let Saddam go first, to let him file on December 8th?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know. I don't know the sequence in which that information gets provided. Suffice it to say that all nations want to work with the inspectors; the inspectors want to be able to have the best information to help them to do their jobs. The exact sequencing or the exact nature of any information that is passed on to them, I don't have that information.
Q We are quoting a source within the inspections saying that Iraq has admitted to the inspectors that it did try to buy those aluminum tubes that the President, the administration made an issue of some months back, and that Iraq is saying that they were for conventional rockets, not for nuclear weapons, as the administration has alleged. A, have you received such reports from the inspectors? B, do you accept that on its face and is that, in and of itself, a violation worthy of moving to the next level?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm aware of the report that CNN aired ont his topic and I will say this is something that the President has said publicly, that Iraq did, in fact, seek to buy these tubes for the purpose of producing, not as Iraq now claims conventional forces, but for the purpose of trying to produce nuclear weapons. And so it's, on the one hand, mildly encouraging that Iraq would now admit to what it's been doing. But on the other hand, a lie is still a lie, because these -- they sought to produce these for the purpose of production of nuclear weapons, not conventional.
And I remind you that conventional weapons, missiles that have a range in access of 150 kilometers, are prohibited to Iraq under its agreements with the United Nations.
Q Do you have any concern that they may be deliberately pleading guilty to misdemeanors, if you will -- okay, we violated the past regime here, we tried to buy these tubes, we did this -- so that people would say -- the administration might say, see, he's lying, but others might say, see, he's getting religion, let's let all this play out for months?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President has one point in mind. This is about disarming Saddam Hussein. He plays games. He's done this for a decade. He has a way of finding half-truths that try to get him off the hook with the world. And the President went to the United Nations to make the point that this has been a decade of defiance by Saddam Hussein who is very good and very clever at finding ways to deceive the world, including the inspectors. And the inspectors' task is a very difficult task, given the ease and the nature of what you can move around, weapons, thanks to mobile laboratories and hiding things underground and putting things in places that are hard to find.
This is one of the reasons why the President insisted on strong language in the resolution, so that people who might have information inside Iraq could leave the country to provide that information to the inspectors. Very often the inspectors are able to do their best work as a result of information they receive from sources inside Iraq, who then worry about their own safety and protection. The President wants to make certain the inspectors have every tool available so they can do their job because the history of Saddam Hussein is he will do everything in his power to lie, to deceive, to deny and to hide.
Q One more quick one if I can. Can you help us at all understand why the administration is so certain Iraq wanted to buy these tubes for nuclear weapons, not as the Iraqis are apparently saying now, for conventional rockets?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not a technical expert, John, but I think if you talk to the people who are versed in the exact methodology for the production of nuclear weapons, what you will find is there are different issues involving the size of the various aluminum tubes that is an indication of the type of weaponry in which they are seeking to develop.
Q Ari, I know you don't want to speculate, but I just want to ask, does the President feel that when he does make the determination about his economic stimulus plan that he wants to do it quickly in the holiday season to make sure it gives the most time, I guess, for --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I make no predictions on this. If the President has something to indicate, he will indicate it.
Q So he doesn't feel like it's important to get something out there as soon as possible --
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I didn't say that. I said I make no predictions about the potential timing of this. And so if there's something further to be discussed, the President will be the one to do it.
Q Ari, The Washington Post reports that Harvey John McGeorge of Woodbridge, Virginia, is one of the Americans on the United Nations inspection team in Iraq, despite what the Post reports -- and this is a quote -- "he played a leadership role in sado-masochist sex clubs like the Leather Leadership Conference, where he teaches courses on sex slaves and techniques including knives, ropes and choking devices." And my question is, does the President believe it is good for the United States to be represented by this sado-masochist?
MR. FLEISCHER: Lester, I think any questions about the composition of the inspection team need to be addressed to the United Nations --
Q I just want to know, how does the President feel. You obviously, and he read The Washington Post, you know about this. How does he feel? Does he think it's a good idea for America to be represented on this inspection team by this man?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President feels as I indicated, that the question of the selection of the inspectors is something that needs to be addressed to the United Nations.
Q The Washington post quotes Paul Weyrich as writing, "Islam is at war against us. The Bush administration's promotion of Islam as a religion of peace and tolerance, just like Judaism or Christianity, it is neither." And Ken Adelman said, calling Islam a peaceful religion is an increasingly hard argument to make. Does the President believe that Weyrich and Adelman and others are wicked or ignorant or what?
MR. FLEISCHER: Lester, the President is proud to stand up for America's longstanding traditions of tolerance and openness and to welcome people who practice the religion of Islam in the United States and around the world. The President knows that Islam is a religion of peace. And like many religions, and like many beliefs, there can be individuals within a certain religion who distort its meaning and divert from the peaceful intentions of a religion, having nothing to do with the religion. They themselves are the ones who violate and twist a religion, and Islam is a religion of peace.
Q Can I come back to the aluminum tubes, Ari? Has the administration been told of any Iraqi admission on this score, or are you just --
MR. FLEISCHER: I said I was aware of the media report. I'd have to take a look specifically at whether the inspectors have conveyed that to the United States government.
Q Have we gotten any sort of reports back from the inspectors along the way yet of any sort?
MR. FLEISCHER: The reports from the inspectors go to the United Nations and then there are regular channels so that the United States and other nations that are on the Security Council that authorize the mission of the inspectors, so they can be informed about the progress of the inspectors.
Q Have we gotten at least -- you said that it's too soon to tell whether there has been any sort of compliance. Are we at least getting a preliminary report from the inspectors?
MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated, there is a routine channel for the administration to receive information as the reports are filed with the United Nations, and we do that. The President's conclusion is, it's too soon to make any conclusions.
Q So there's at least preliminary information passed along?
MR. FLEISCHER: Surely. The inspectors, as they do their job, keep in touch with the United Nations Security Council. The United States, as a member of the Security Council, will monitor all the reports and pay very close attention to them.
Q Ari, Dr. Kissinger has said that he'll sever all ties with any clients that may become a subject of the September 11th investigation that he's heading up. Is this something that the White House looked into, the possibility that Kissinger may have a potential conflict of interest here and it's something to be concerned about?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's fair to say for all 10 commissioners, they all are covered by the same ethics provisions. And ethics provisions make clear that you cannot have, even on a part-time commission, a conflict of interest. And so all commissioners are going to be bound by those ethical standards, and we expect all commissioners to live up to them. And, of course, Senator Mitchell and Dr. Kissinger indicated that they would.
Q If he does have a client, if this is determined, isn't this something that could potentially taint the investigation, considering that this is the man who's heading it up?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think all 10 are bound by that same provision; we expect all 10 to honor all the ethics laws. We have every reason to believe that they will; we have no reason to believe that they wouldn't.
Q Ari, the British government is putting out a list of human rights violations by the government of Saddam Hussein. Amnesty International is saying that this has been known for a long time and Britain has looked the other way, probably the U.S. also. Now they're coming up with this argument and, according to Amnesty this is a way of preparing for war.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I would hope that Amnesty International would welcome a dialogue around the world about human rights abuses, and that when a nation puts out a report, even if it's a report that characterizes or catalogues information that was previously discussed, Amnesty International would treat this as a serious document that describes accurately -- and there's no dispute by Amnesty International about the accuracy of the document -- the facts on the ground in Iraq.
Q Can I have a follow-up? It has to do with the President of Colombia. Secretary of State Powell is going to be traveling to Colombia and President Uribe has initiated a dialogue with the ultra military -- ultra right wing groups, trying to find a way to bring peace also to Colombia. Does the White House have any opinion on this negotiation between the President of Colombia and the paramilitary groups?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me take a look at that. There's nothing that's been provided to me on that. So, if there's anything, I'll try to share it.
Q How long is the White House willing to go along with this whole inspection regime and diplomatic efforts at the U.N.? Is there a weeks or months or time limit to --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, President Bush is the one who sought the inspections. President Bush is the one, I think, more than anybody else around the world, who made them happen again after the absence of inspectors.
Saddam Hussein will have to figure out how long the United States intends to go along until we find out what Saddam Hussein is really doing. And the President has made certain -- wants to make certain that the inspections are effective and that the inspectors have every resource they need to do their job. And that's what the President wants to see happen. The President wants the inspectors to be successful.
And the key to the success of the inspectors really rests with Iraq. As much help as the world can give to the inspectors, as many resources as inspectors can have, it remains a daunting challenge to find everything in a country the size of Iraq. And without cooperation from the Iraqis, the
chances for the inspectors to be successful is very, very limited. And so the President will continue to very closely monitor Iraq's behavior because what is at stake here is the disarmament of Iraq, so that peace can be preserved.
Q Is there any time limit he's willing to wait out for this thing?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's something Saddam Hussein will have to figure out.
Q The critics of Henry Kissinger's appointment say that he was not exactly an avatar of openness in government during his public service. And they say that that makes him an inappropriate choice to lead a commission whose job it is to get to the bottom of some of the most secretive agencies in government. Would you respond to that?
MR. FLEISCHER: I've noticed a few editorials that seem to be fighting old wars. And the President and I think much of the American people recognize that Dr. Kissinger is an outstanding leader of unparalleled integrity who is very expert in the ways and the means of the various agencies that are involved in the whole review of 9/11, in addition to the congressional role. It's important, too, for Congress to be examined as the commission proceeds. The legislation creating the commission includes the oversight of the decisions that Congress made. And the President thinks that Dr. Kissinger is very expert and will be a leader for the nation in bringing this group together to do it.
Q Well, they may be old wars, but the critics say they're relevant if they bear upon contemporary service.
MR. FLEISCHER: Obviously, the President differs with these critics.
Q Ari, were any members of the Wellstone family invited to the bill signing today and are any representatives -- is anybody going to be here for that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes. Indeed, I listed them this morning. They have been invited and they will be here. It's on the list I distributed this morning or I announced this morning.
Q Correct me if I misstate what you're saying, but what I heard you say is if Iraq comes forward and says, yes, it has weapons of mass destruction, it proves they were lying. If they come forward and say they don't have weapons of mass destruction, they're lying. And that's -- if that's accurate, what course does the United States really have if the inspectors come up with no evidence that there's any weapons there?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we'll find out, won't we? And I think it's all premature until we see what Saddam Hussein lists on December 8th, and that's why the President will address that today.
Q Ari, last week in response to a question, you talked about America's foreign aid to allies and to friends. Egypt is on of the largest recipients, several billion dollars a year. But there has been a virulent anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish campaign in Israel -- I'm sorry, in Egypt, which the government doesn't seem to discourage. Is the U.S. reevaluating its aid to Egypt?
MR. FLEISCHER: The United States, when it provides aid to a nation, looks at aid from a totality of relations with that nation and, in terms of, in this case, the interests of peace in the Middle East. Egypt, of course, has a signed peace treaty with Israel. And even though the peace treaty has not developed to the full, robust nature that both Egypt and Israel had hoped it would develop to, Egypt remains a very important partner for peace in the Middle East and we are pleased to provide aid to the nation of Egypt.
Q But is there any concern about the tenor of these statements?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President addressed this earlier this year when the President talked about some of the hateful things that are in the media in some of these Mideastern nations, and this remains an issue that is commonly discussed between the United States and these nations, particularly through diplomatic channels.
Q As recently as a week ago, the Business Roundtable recommended that the Social Security payroll tax be temporarily cut. And a few more lawmakers have also come on board in support of this idea. Is this among the options the President would be willing to consider in terms of stimulus for tax relief to low-income and moderate-income --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'm really not going to be in a position to start to say what may or may not be in anything the President may or may not announce, because then you'll know what he may have already announced before he announces it. So I just can't go down the line. Of course, anything dealing with payroll taxes would have an impact on the Social Security trust fund balances at a time when the President is concerned about preserving Social Security for current and future generations.
Q John Howard, the Australian Prime Minister, has said that Australia intended to take preemptive military action to fight terrorists in the wake of the Bali attack. Does the President support the use of preemptive military action against terrorists in Asia?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President of course supports preemptive action. The President has said that is part of America's doctrine because of the different nature of terrorism.
Let me try to step back on this point, too, and remind you of what the President said. September 11th changed everything, and nations must respond and change their doctrines to face new and different threats. That's the way of the world; it always has been. And a nation that remains in the status quo after an event like September 11th can only endanger its own people.
And that is why the President did announce a new doctrine that recognizes the threats we face are no longer from known enemies, nations that have fleets or missiles or bombers that we can see come to the United States, nations that can be deterred through previous nations such as mutually assured destruction or any other previous defense notions. It requires a fresh approach to protect the country. Other nations think it through, as well, and come to similar conclusions. Australia has been a stalwart ally of the United States in the war on terror.
Q So it's a universal principle then that all nations are encouraged or entitled to rethink that position, and all nations are entitled to take a preemptive view of military action against terrorism?
MR. FLEISCHER: In the shadowy war against terror. As I indicated, doctrines must recognize the nature of the threat, and mutually assured destruction, of course, worked because you were dealing with nation-states. The point I made about the shadowy nature of terrorism, which the President reflected on after September 11th, and it was a change in doctrine reflecting that threat, not all threats.
Q The General Accounting Office estimates it would cost $200 billion to fight a war in Iraq. Can the economy stand such an expenditure?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, number one, I don't think anybody can know with certainty what expenses would be incurred in a potential war with Iraq. It all depends on the nature of the war and how events unfold. And I have not seen anything in the White House that's any type of reliable estimate.
Too, I think the question in the President's mind is, what is the price of failure to act if, indeed, Saddam Hussein has the weapons that we fear he has and we know he does have them, what is the price of failure to act in terms of protecting the American people. And that's how the President approaches this.
Q Why did the President decide to cut pay increases to most federal workers? And if the President is happy with that decision, why was it made on the Friday night after Thanksgiving?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, number one, the federal workers will be receiving a pay increase and, as has happened many times in the past with many different administrations, the nature of the statute governing pay increases and its locality pay has often involved alternative pay plans that President Clinton proposed, for example, that President Bush has proposed, much along the lines of what was announced by the President this week. So this is not surprising, this is not anything new. This has happened many times before, as federal managers deal with the various intricacies of the laws that govern the pay increases and the alternative pay plans that are available.
Q Ari, two quick questions. One, last week -- State Department issued -- last week in the world press that Saudi Arabia and this money trail and all this, terrorism and also Pakistan link. The question at the State Department clearly angered them, we were asking on Saudi Arabia and Pakistan -- basically not to ask any questions on Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, go to the White House and ask them, which we have been doing. I have not seen anybody getting angry or -- anyone else like you and Richard when asking on any topic, on any issue. My question here today then is, how much President is bothered or concerned about the reports that appear in world press that one day he hears from his intelligence reports and General Musharraf that Osama bin Laden is dead; next day there is a tape and there's a report that he's alive, and now CIA is saying that the tape is real and he's alive and a Pakistan doctor even admitted meeting and treating him? So what the President thinks now --
MR. FLEISCHER: He thinks, just as he said publicly on numerous occasions, that this war is about more than any one person, and that the United States is working with our allies and working very diligently ourselves to bring everybody responsible for the 9/11 attacks to justice, and to dismantle the terrorist network worldwide. And it will indeed be a long fight. And it's a fight that the President is going to continue to wage.
Q The Russian leader and the Chinese leader issued a declaration yesterday urging to resolve the Iraqi question through political and diplomatic means. Is that being considered? And secondly, they also urged America and North Korea to resume relations. What's your comment on that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, certainly it is being pursued -- resolved differences with Iraq through diplomatic and political means. This is the purpose of the President going to the United Nations and seeking a tough inspection regime. Whether or not Saddam Hussein is willing to settle this through diplomatic and political means remains to be seen.
And I noticed that the Chinese-Russian statement vis-a-vis North Korea continued to call for North Korea to make certain it does not engage in the nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and we'll continue to work with our allies on achieving that goal.
Q Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.
END 12:55 P.M. EST
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