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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
December 20, 2002
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:50 P.M. EST
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. Let me give you a report on the President's day, and then I have a statement by the President I'd like to read. The President began this morning with a phone call to the President-elect Roh Moo-Hyun of South Korea. The President called President-elect Roh to extend his warm congratulations on Mr. Roh's victory in South Korea's December 19th presidential election. The President and the President-elect agreed to work closely together to promote peace on the Korean Peninsula and to further strengthen the U.S.-South Korean alliance.
President-elect Roh accepted President Bush's invitation to visit Washington at his earliest convenience. In the meantime, the President and the President-elect discussed the possibility of sending senior representatives to each other's capitals to address issues of mutual concern. The President and the President-elect exchanged warm holiday greetings to each other and to the families of both nations and people.
The President, after that, had his usual round of intelligence briefings this morning, followed by FBI briefing. Then he convened a meeting of the National Security Council. The President, as we speak, is having his regular lunch with the Vice President. And then this afternoon the President looks forward to meeting with the Quartet, a group of leaders to discuss the path of making progress in the Middle East. The President remains firmly committed to his position that a two-state solution of an Israel that can live in security, along with a state of Palestine side by side is the only viable solution to find lasting peace in the Middle East.
And finally, I'd like to read a statement by the President: I respect the very difficult decision Trent has made on behalf of the American people. As Majority and Minority Leader of the Senate, Trent Lott improved education for the American people; he led the way in securing tax relief; he strengthened our national security; and he stood for a bold and effective foreign policy.
Trent is a valued friend and a man I respect. I am pleased he will continue to serve our nation in the Senate, and I look forward to working with him on our agenda to make America safer, stronger, and better.
That is a statement by the President. And with that, I'm happy to take your questions.
Q Ari, a question about that. Has the President spoken to Senator Lott today? And before you answer that, as head of -- the statement doesn't indicate this -- as head of the Republican Party, does President Bush believe that Senator Lott stepping down as Majority Leader is the best thing for the Republican Party going forward?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President called Senator Lott shortly after 11:00 a.m. this morning and the President communicated to Senator Lott what you just heard in that statement I read. It was a warm conversation and --
Q Before the resignation?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm sorry, Helen?
Q Before the resignation?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, shortly after 11:00 a.m. the President called Senator Lott.
The second part of your question, David?
Q As head of the Republican Party -- because his statement doesn't indicate it is -- given everything that's happened, given the President's criticism of Senator Lott's remarks, does the President believe this is the best thing to have happened for the Republican Party going forward?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President, as he said in his remarks, said he understood and respected the decision Trent Lott made for the country. As you know, the President did not think that Trent Lott needed to resign. Trent Lott has come to this conclusion, and the President respects it. The President is going to continue to work with Trent Lott and with all senators in both parties on behalf of an agenda that is good for the country as well as good, of course, for the Republican Party.
Q What about the question, as head of the Republican Party, does he believe this is what's best for the party? I didn't ask if he respected him, I asked if he thinks it's best.
MR. FLEISCHER: Just as I indicated to you before, the President didn't think he needed to resign. And I wasn't going to indicate with any type of comments about any of the eventualities that could have taken place leading up to the January 6th election. The President offers no judgment on that. The President, as I said, understands and respects the decision.
Q A couple things. One, you were cut off before you could give us more information from the phone call, besides it being a warm conversation. How long was it, what else did the President say to him? And have you been able to determine whether or not anybody in the White House was given a courtesy call from the Senator or his staff before news leaked out in the press that he was resigning?
MR. FLEISCHER: The conversation lasted approximately 10 minutes. And as I indicated, it was a warm conversation, a good conversation. The two spoke as friends. It's not my place, of course, to characterize what Senator Lott has said. What the President said here in his public statement is what he said to Senator Lott.
In terms of the President's notification, the President was notified of it as the meeting that he was in with the National Security Council broke up. The meeting was broken up and the President was informed of this by Chief of Staff Card.
Q What time was that? Was it before or after stories broke in the press?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President went into the meeting in the Security Council in the Situation Room -- I believe that meeting began at approximately -- I want to check. I'm working off a schedule, so I don't know if this is actually when it literally began, but the meeting -- because what you're going to find out, Ron, is the meeting was scheduled to begin at 9:15 a.m. It broke up around 11:00 a.m. So the President was in the Situation Room for that entire period, according to the schedule. And as the meeting broke up, Andy Card informed the President.
Q But as you know -- I didn't ask when the President -- although I appreciate the information -- I didn't ask when the President was notified. The story broke around 10:40 a.m. Did the White House know before 10:40 a.m. or at 10:40 a.m. that he was resigning?
MR. FLEISCHER: I knew when the President knew. When you say the White House -- again, I don't know when different people here found out.
Q Did Karl Rove, Andy Card, Nick Calio, any senior officials get a courtesy call, get a heads up before it broke?
MR. FLEISCHER: I asked Nick and I know that Nick Calio spoke with Senator Lott's office as the news broke just to call and to confirm that that was indeed the case. So Nick talked to the Senator's office.
Q But there wasn't -- as far as you know, the White House did not get a heads up?
MR. FLEISCHER: I can't answer that question. I know from the President, but it's a big building. Again, I don't know -- I cannot say everybody in the building who may have found out.
Q You've been able to canvass senior officials on questions like this before. Would it be inaccurate to say, as far as you know, nobody was given a heads-up?
MR. FLEISCHER: I do not know the answer to that. I know about the President. That's where I started my inquiry, is when did the President find out.
Q When did Andy find out?
MR. FLEISCHER: Andy found out as the meeting was broken up when he was contacted by a member of his staff.
Q When did that member of his staff find out?
MR. FLEISCHER: You're moving the whole thing backwards. I don't know the answers to that.
Q You said that the President didn't think that Trent Lott needed to resign.
MR. FLEISCHER: Right.
Q But did he ever do anything to persuade him to stay? And why didn't he ever talk to him in this whole very tough, trying period?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think, Helen, the President's position is well-known on this. The President expressed his thoughts about the statement that was made by Senator Lott in the President's remarks in Philadelphia. And then the President and Senator Lott spoke that afternoon, as you know, and Senator Lott informed the President that he agreed with what the President had said in Philadelphia. And, as I've said many times, beyond that, the White House made very clear that the White House would not and did not take part or play any role in any decisions that are properly the prerogatives of the senators to make.
Q Does that mean he will not express any view on who should be the majority leader now?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct. The President will continue and the White House will continue to play no role, nor take a part in the decisions that are the business of the United States Senate.
Q Does the President believe because of this episode and other things -- his visit to Bob Jones University, his administration's opposition to the kinds of affirmative action programs that most black voters support -- that the Republican Party now has a problem with minority voters?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think when you take a look at the numbers, it's clear that African American voters vote in large numbers for Democrats and liberal candidates far more than they do for Republican or conservative candidates. I think that's a well accepted statement of fact. The President is a man who believes deeply in outreach. The President, of course, would like to have his message of compassionate conservatism be agreed to by 100 percent of Americans everywhere. Obviously, that's never going to be the case for any politician of either stripe reaching across partisan lines.
But the President will continue his efforts at outreach and caring, and it's important. And whether that's manifest in an increase in vote or not, the President will continue to do it because he believes in it and thinks it's the right thing for the country. Whether or not votes are changed as a result of that, he will continue. Just as he did in Texas, with great success.
I remember the President as a first-term governor going to a second-term governor. In the first term, the President did not enjoy a lot of support in minority vote when he first ran. Of course, when he ran for reelection, the percentages, as people got to know President Bush and saw his policies, increased multiple-fold.
Q Does the President regret at all going to Bob Jones University and not saying any word of criticism about their then-policy of forbidding interracial dating?
MR. FLEISCHER: I would refer you to the statement the President made very publicly in Austin on this topic back in early 2000 when this came up.
Q Not at Bob Jones University, though, he didn't make that statement.
MR. FLEISCHER: No, he made a statement shortly thereafter in Austin regarding that visit, and you have that.
Q Just to button it -- what should black and white voters who are now focused on the issue of race and the Republican Party, on this President, draw from Mr. Bush's visit to Bob Jones University and his silence while there, on that very offensive policy of banning interracial dating?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me describe to you what the President has done about civil rights in America and the President's position on some of these issues, and when you take a look at some of the things that help people of all walks of life in America. The President's programs on education, for example, are some of the best ways to help Americans from all walks of life to have a better future. The President's program for tax relief to help the economy growing again took the economy from a recession to growth. And, of course, people from all walks of life benefit from an economy that is growing.
When it comes to the civil rights laws of our country, this President has moved forward to vigorously enforce the civil rights laws of our nation and has, through the Justice Department, led to some of the most notable settlements that we have had in vexing, difficult civil rights issues that have plagued our country, in some cases for decades. And I cite the dispute over desegregation in Yonkers, which has been successfully resolved by this administration.
After the riots broke out in Cincinnati last year, it was this administration that went into Cincinnati and worked extraordinarily closely with the community, with blacks and whites, with the police, to bring racial healing to a city that had been split as a result of the riots there. On housing and public accommodation cases, through Secretary Martinez at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, there have been a large number of settlement cases that have been made as well.
And I remind you, of course, when the President went to Philadelphia, he went there to promote his faith-based initiative. And I think, as those of you who were there, you saw the reaction from an overwhelmingly African American group to the President's initiatives, because they believe in those policies that the President is focused on.
Q If the President felt so strongly about this, Ari, why didn't he want Trent Lott to resign?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because, as the President has said and as I have said on his behalf many a time, that the President disagreed very strongly with a statement that Senator Lott made and said so. He also said that Senator Lott apologized, and rightly so.
Q Ari, two questions, the first one is just a brief comment. I just want to bring to the President's attention that when we are now about to enter the new year, Christmas is coming. Clearly, I'm very thankful to you and Scott and the rest of the Press Office for the great job and support they have given us. And the question is that if I asked the President how would he review the globe today, and including U.S. and India relations?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President believes that U.S.-India relations are good, they are strong. There have been a series of visits, as you know, from high-level administration officials to India. The situation between India and Pakistan has been one that has been marked by great tension. There have been moments in this administration where the tension reached alarming levels. And, as a result of the intervention of the President and the Secretary of State and numerous leaders around the world, including President Putin and Prime Minister Blair, there is now a markedly diminished point of tension.
The President has met with the Prime Minister of India on several occasions and he looks forward to continuing to work on improving U.S. -Indian relations.
Q And second one is that if again, if I ask him who would be the man of the year, you think President Bush deserves to be the man of the year?
MR. FLEISCHER: Whose man of the year would this be? Would this be your man of the year? Whose man of the year are you referring to?
Q For the rest of the globe, rest of the world.
MR. FLEISCHER: The global man of the year?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm afraid that's not a judgment I'm quite qualified to make. (Laughter.)
Q For me, he deserves to be the man of the year --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you can only judge if he's man of the year for you. I hope he is. He's my man of the year, I can report that to you.
Q Does the President think that it will be easier for him to push the outreach and the agenda that you were talking about on civil rights and reaching out to African Americans now that Trent Lott is gone, now that he's not --
MR. FLEISCHER: Here are the judgments the President makes. the President's job is to work with the duly-elected leaders of the United States Congress, Democrat or Republican alike, on the agenda that President Bush believes is right. And the agenda that the President proposes is the agenda that he believes in and he doesn't change it because one person is in office or a different person is in office. He advocates it because it's in his heart and he thinks it's the best thing for the country.
And so you will see no change whatsoever in the President's approach on these issues, because the President has long focused on outreach for the Republican Party. And particularly on the faith-based initiative, I think the chances are that with a Republican Senate, whether it was led by Trent Lott or led by whoever the senators decide, the prospects for improving the lives of many people in our country will now be enhanced as a result of the Republicans taking the Senate and the faith-based legislation that was passed in the House will now have a much greater chance of being enacted, because the Senate has changed.
Q He won't change his approach, but you need the Senate to enact a lot of those things, and if Trent Lott were the leader, did the President think a lot of that message, a lot of those initiatives wouldn't have been enacted?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that history has given a very different indication. When the Senate was under Democratic control, some of the most compassionate legislation to bring help to people in need, particularly the African American community, languished under Democrat rule. Now that the Senate is under Republican control, I think it is far more likely that policies helping African Americans, in the case of the faith-based initiative, will advance.
Q Can we return for a minute to the Middle East and the Quartet meeting this afternoon? The U.S. seems increasingly out of step with the other members of the Quartet who have become more vocal now, publicly, in saying that they believe that the road map for peace is ready to go ahead. And the U.S. position remains that it is not yet ready. I was hoping that you could reiterate U.S. policy on that score. And the second question, which is, can you confirm the reports that the President has approved an additional deployment of 50,000 troops to the Persian Gulf?
MR. FLEISCHER: On the second point, anything dealing with deployments is a question that, because it's operational, needs to be addressed by the Pentagon. So I have to refer you to the Pentagon on that matter.
On your first question about the meeting, the President will address this when he meets with the Quartet, and, as you know, the press will be there to hear the President's thoughts. But the President would very much like to make progress on the road map. He thinks it's important to move forward; he'd like to move forward at the first possible date that the parties will be willing to give an effective consideration to the road map. And so the President remains deeply committed to it. Additional work will be done on the road map, and the President looks forward to offering it in its final form.
Q Why does the President believe it's not ready yet --
MR. FLEISCHER: Because there is additional work that needs to be done on the road map. And so the President wants to make certain that the additional work can be completed, as well as to make certain that the road map can be received by all parties in a way that the parties are prepared to fully address it and move forward with it.
Q So the timing of the Israeli elections is not a factor?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'll just leave it the way I put it. I put it that way for a reason, and I'd leave it that way.
Q Ari, yesterday the United States accused Iraq of a material breach with its weapons declaration, and yet there appears to be some difference of opinion within even the P-5 on the Security Council about whether that constitutes Iraq being in material breach of Security Council Resolution 1441. Can you clear this up? Can one member state declare a country to be in material breach? Does it take action by the Security Council to achieve that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think that nothing precludes either the Security Council or individual member states of the Security Council from making their judgments known. Clearly, if it's a collective action -- or it's not a question of action, but if it's a collective judgment, the United Nations Security Council has the right to convene and enter into anything it deems collective. But nothing, because the United Nations Security Council has the right to do things collectively, prohibits individual member states from offering their individual judgments.
Q So it's a judgment -- it's an accusation as put forth by the United States, but it's not an established fact yesterday that Iraq is in material breach?
MR. FLEISCHER: You've heard the Secretary of State assert it, and I'm not going to get into the semantic game of whether it's a judgment or a fact. Obviously, the judgment that the facts support calling it material breach would not have been made if it wasn't based on the facts.
Q I'm not sure I want to call it a semantic game or agree that it's a semantic game. There could be differences within the P-5, with Russia, even with the French, about whether or not Iraq is in breach of the resolution, or whether the weapons inspectors would have to find proof that Iraq's declaration was false to put them in breach.
MR. FLEISCHER: I remind you that under the declaration, voted 15 to nothing, Iraq, according to that declaration, is in material breach. So they're in material breach in the present, and I'm not aware that the fact that they submitted a declaration that has been judged universally to be lacking in totality and has not fully complied with the United Nations requests means they've gotten themselves out of material breach.
Q Ari, two questions. The first one is, although you won't make any comment about the Lott problem, the White House seemed to be facing a very tough environment as far as a very divided Republican Party in the Senate with the decision expected to be taken January, until Senator Lott took himself out of the running this morning. Can I ask you, is the White House relieved that this thing has taken place?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's just as the President said. The White House -- the President understands and respects the decision. And now, the senators will choose their leader. And I remind you that House Democrats just chose a leader. There's word that Senate Democrats may be choosing a new leader. And so this is part and parcel in the essence of our democratic process. And the focus of the President remains to work with all senators, including Senator Lott, to advance an agenda that we all continue to believe in.
And frankly, I think that's where the future will lie. I think the future will lie with the movement of an agenda. And very shortly, the questions will all turn again to matters of policy and votes in the Senate as the President makes proposals, as the State of the Union is given and as the business returns to the deliberative actions of the Senate.
Q My second question has to do with Hans Blix, the director of the inspectors, the U.N. inspectors, who I believe has said publicly that he would like to get more or better intelligence from Washington and London to aid his inspection. Is that a possibility?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we continue to meet with and talk to Hans Blix about all matters of how the world can cooperate to make the job of the inspectors easier. It is entirely in the interest of the United States of America for the inspectors to have every tool and resource necessary to help them to be as effective as they can to do their jobs. And the United States will do that. It is in our interests for the inspectors to be able to find whatever can be found, dispute Saddam Hussein's effort to hide everything he can hide. It is in our interest to see the inspectors continue to apply themselves with additional tools, such as the helicopter that only arrived into Iraq in the last week for the inspector's use. The inspectors themselves are ramping up with our help and our support.
So we will continue to work with them to provide them information. The one thing we won't do is do anything that, around the world, not just in Iraq, but around the world, could compromise sources or methods.
Q The President, in the statement that you read, expressed the fact that he was pleased Senator Lott would be remaining in the Senate. Why does the President believe that someone who gave voice to offensive and repugnant views on a subject -- the subject of race, one of the most emotional and divisive issues in this country -- should continue to represent the state of Mississippi in the Senate?
MR. FLEISCHER: Given the fact that the President said that Senator Lott rightly apologized, and he did not think he needed to step down from his seat as majority leader, I think it's fairly obvious that the same sentiment that he rightly apologized would mean that he didn't -- shouldn't step down as a senator. If the President's belief is that he should not resign as majority leader, that of course applies to his seat, as well.
Q How could he continue to represent his state effectively after --
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's position is that the Senator rightly apologized.
Q That's enough to allow him to represent his state?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that those are decisions that the people of Mississippi make. And the Senator enjoys tremendous popularity in his state.
Q Ari, since the President has consistently said since this affair began that the President -- that Senator Lott should not have to resign, then is he disappointed that he decided to resign?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President said he understands and respects the decision. The President's point of view was he did not need to resign, but Senator Lott has made his judgment known. And the President understands and respects it.
Q -- on Terry's question, does the President believe that relations between the Republican Party and African Americans remain damaged as a result of this incident, and does he believe that the Republican Party needs to do anything more to reach out to them?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President's focus will continue to be, as it has been, on bringing Americans together and he will continue to do that. And I think that, over time, people will come to their own judgments. I know you will, as you take a look at the President and his measures of support among different constituencies of America. But the President will do, again, what he thinks is right for the country and for all parts of our community that make up our country. And the voters will make the judgments, and analysts will do so, as well.
Q Does he agree that this has caused some permanent damage for his party?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think that, again, those are judgments that will be made by others. The President's focus is going to be to continue to lead and to continue to lead by policy. And he looks forward to the Senate taking action on some of those policies that can help to improve the lives of everyone in our society.
Q Ari, the Washington Times this morning published Michelle Malkin's (sp) report deploring the major media's failure to report last month's scrawling on black students' room doors of obscene, racist, and even lynching graffiti at the University of Mississippi, in which three black freshmen are now charged with doing this to other blacks' rooms. And my question, first question, do you or the President believe that this should have been covered up by major media or not?
MR. FLEISCHER: Lester, one, I did not see the report.
Q This morning's Washington Times.
MR. FLEISCHER: I leave judgments about what the media covers to the media. I think only the media can sit in judgment of itself and determine whether they are covering issues about race in a fair way. The media makes those judgments.
Q Is it possible -- is it possible that the President is considering no salute at all to President Washington in February because some critics might charge he would, therefore, be portrayed as sympathetic to Washington's ownership of slaves? Is there any possibility of that, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: Lester, as you know, the White House enjoys publishing numerous declarations and statements, and I look forward to your reading the statement the President will publish in February.
Q About Washington? Right? Right, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't want to predict every statement that we'll make in February.
Q Well, you'll make some statement about Washington, won't you?
MR. FLEISCHER: It will be a very exciting declaration. I urge you to read it.
Q It's my turn, Ari.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you, Sarah. (Laughter.)
Q There are published reports that January 27th is the decision date for whether to wage war on Iraq. Is that true? How long will the President leave diplomacy to work?
MR. FLEISCHER: When the President went to the United Nations on September 12th and urged the United Nations to, last time, pass a resolution to make certain that this time Saddam Hussein disarmed, a new stage began. And this stage is unfolding. And this is a stage in which the President has made perfectly plain to the world that, in the interests of peace, Saddam Hussein will either disarm or the President and the United States will lead a coalition to disarm Saddam Hussein.
This process is developing. And with a declaration by Iraq that is in material breach, the process is deepening. The President believes that it remains vital for the inspectors to continue their mission, to have the tools necessary so they can find out everything they can in the face of a nation that is violating its commitments to the world and is doing everything it can to hide the weapons that they have.
The United Nations process includes another date toward the end of January, on January 27th, when United Nations officials are going to report back to the U.N. on what they find. And the President will be very interested in hearing what they say.
Q Ari, there are already some reports that people on the Hill are calling on the Republican leadership, the Republicans to get together and choose the successor to Lott before January 6th, so that they can hit the ground running as soon as they come back after the Christmas break. Would the White House lend its voice to this given the importance the President places on unemployment insurance getting moving fairly quickly?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, in any case -- per the Constitution, I believe, that the Senate cannot convene itself as an institution to pass legislation. They require the actions of the House, as well. The Congress begins next year. So I don't think that the question is directed to passage of legislation. And when it comes to the timing of internal congressional elections per the conference, that is a matter for the senators to resolve.
Q Ari, perhaps I missed this, but will the President speech out publicly or formally today on Iraq? And do you know whether the U.N. weapons inspectors will continue to work throughout the Christmas vacation?
MR. FLEISCHER: You would have to ask the weapons inspectors about the timing of their inspections and what their intentions are during the holiday period. The President will speak, as I indicated earlier, about the Quartet. And I made no predictions of any other topics he may or may not talk about.
Q What about a formal statement on Iraq, is that planned?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, there's nothing formal planned on Iraq. Secretary Powell addressed that rather fully yesterday.
Q Ari, as you know, this Trent Lott episode has forced some sort of a national review on a number of instances in which the Republican Party has evoked some powerful symbols -- particularly in the South, appealing to some of the lesser instincts of the country: states rights in Mississippi, White Hands in North Carolina, Bob Jones, Willie Horton. You know the litany. I'm wondering at the end of this episode whether the President thinks this has been a moment for soul searching for the party, whether he thinks it's a time for a leader to step forward and discipline the party and say, once and for all, we're not going to do this kind of thing anymore, and whether the President sees that leadership role as his role.
MR. FLEISCHER: Bob, first of all, the President when he went to Philadelphia addressed this issue and spoke about it, I think, as directly and in as heartfelt a manner as people can see. And I think people could tell that when they saw what the President said and how he said it, and when they look at the President and his history and what he's done on repeatedly making sure the Republican Party is a party of inclusion and a party of outreach, they know where President Bush stands.
I think that, not pertaining to any one party or another, wherever in America there is racism, wherever in America there is extremism -- and it's not only found on one side of a ledger, it is found, unfortunately, in pockets of our society -- all these pockets need to be noted and to be diminished. And they need to be diminished by a President who shines the light of unity by bringing our communities together. It's not only in one pocket of America.
Q I wanted to follow up on a question earlier about the inspectors. You were talking earlier about the U.S. concern about compromising sources and methods and being very deliberate about providing information to the inspectors. For those members of the Security Council who are asking the United States to provide them the intelligence information that the United States is saying is persuasive, the United States' answer is, no; is that correct?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the United States' answer is, yes. We continue to provide information and to share intelligence and to make means available to the inspectors so they can do their job. It is in our interest to do so.
Q But to the members of the Security Council and to our allies --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you've got an issue -- let me ask you if you have this issue. There was a different issue where the President of the Security Council made a determination in the longstanding traditions of the Security Council dealing with proliferation information, that in an effort to make certain that there are no proliferation impacts from the release of an Iraqi report that was rather explicit on some of their nuclear programs, that information that could be proliferation-sensitive was shared only with the P-5 nations, all of which are nuclear nations. The non P-5 nations or the E-10, the information was not shared with, which is a procedure and a tradition of the Security Council.
I'm aware there has been some discussion of that from the E-10, but this is a decision made by the United Nations Security Council along the lines of making certain that proliferation concerns are addressed.
Q Just to make sure that I have this straight. The United States is willing to give all the intelligence that we have to the inspectors --
MR. FLEISCHER: In keeping with what I said earlier about sources and methods. And that's not just an issue for the inspectors. The United States, as I said, has every interest in wanting to make sure the inspectors are able to do their job. But around the world, we won't have any sources or methods if around the world people think the United States is willing to just share sources and methods everywhere. And so I think that's generally accepted and expected.
Q And the P-5 also? The P-5 --
MR. FLEISCHER: The P-5 are not the inspectors; the inspectors are the ones who are doing the work.
Q But you're talking about -- the P-5 members are not able to get the same intelligence that the inspectors would have?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you need to ask the P-5 nations. But the United States is sharing information with the inspectors. And we have close collaboration around the world with various nations on sharing of information on the intelligence front. And, of course, I'm not going to describe to you what is shared.
Q Ari, this morning Tony Blair issued, I guess, a Christmas message to the troops whose gist was, be ready. Does the President have a similar holiday message for the troops?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's radio address is going to be aimed at the country and it's going to be a message of greetings for the Christmas season, and I encourage you to listen to that.
Q But in a larger sense, does the President have any thoughts to share with the troops as, you know, the possibility of war with Iraq looms?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me put it to you this way. The President's message to America's men and women around the world is that the job that they do and the duty they fulfill helps keep our nation strong and free. It keeps us the pride of the world, and it keeps us the great nation, the strong nation that we are. He has tremendous gratitude for the sacrifices that people are making in serving our country.
Q But nothing specific to Iraq and the potential sacrifices that may be yet to come?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. I think again, I've addressed it as I can. That's what the President's message is.
Q I'll just remind you of something you said you were going to get back to us on this morning about the holiday parties at the White House, how many hands shaken, et cetera.
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't have the information yet. I'm still looking into it. He reported to me he enjoyed shaking all the press hands.
MR. FLEISCHER: And in the strange but true category -- I will out the Social Secretary's Office -- I was informed by the Social Secretary's Office that -- I won't say which press party, but one of the two press parties was reported to be one of the nicest and the politest groups that came through. And the Social Secretary's Office was especially appreciative to the press.
Q It was the first one. It was the first one, Ari, wasn't it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Lester, which one were you in? (Laughter.)
Q I'm not going to tell you.
MR. FLEISCHER: It was the opposite. (Laughter.)
Q -- the President's holiday plans, since this the last time we're going to see you on camera for a while.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President will depart for Camp David tomorrow, and the President will spend Christmas Day at Camp David. The President will depart the following day for Texas, to be at his ranch in Crawford. We will have additional information closer to Christmas Day. I haven't asked the President yet who all is going to be with him on Christmas, what the menu will be, things of that nature. I've been a little busy on other issues. We will, of course, provide that information to you.
Q We'll get the guest list, too?
MR. FLEISCHER: As much as I can provide, I will.
Q Is the administration taking a position now on the University of Michigan affirmative action case before the Supreme Court?
MR. FLEISCHER: The issue remains under review.
Q And will that decision in any way be affected or shaped by Trent Lott's situation?
MR. FLEISCHER: The issue will be decided on its merits.
Q Does the White House have a response to the stimulus plan, $160 billion stimulus plan that was outlined yesterday by outgoing Senate Finance Chairman Baucus?
MR. FLEISCHER: The administration looks forward to continuing to work with all members of Congress, including House Republicans, House Democrats, Senate Democrats, Senate Republicans on the development of plans that can help the economy to grow even more.
Q -- specifically on the one provision that would exempt the first $3,000 of income from federal taxes.
MR. FLEISCHER: Any positions on any specific policies the President may make I think we'll await the President's declaration. And don't take that to mean a yes or a no. It's just that when you get to the level of specifics like that, those would be the things that the President would share.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you, and happy holidays to everybody.
END 1:27 P.M. EST
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