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

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
January 17, 2003

Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer

12:20 P.M. EST

MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon, and happy Friday to the White House press corps.

Q And to you.

MR. FLEISCHER: The President began today with an intelligence briefing, followed by his FBI briefing. Then he convened a meeting of the National Security Council. He will depart the White House shortly to visit Walter Reed Army Medical Center, to visit with several servicemen who were wounded in the course of the operation underway in Afghanistan. He will depart from there for Camp David, where he will spend the weekend.

The President will welcome President Lucio Gutierrez of Ecuador to the White House on February 11th. The United States is committed to working with Ecuador to promote democracy and open markets, to fight terrorism, and to combat illicit drugs.

President Bush has also invited President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to visit Washington in the first half of this year. The Philippines and the United States are treaty allies and longstanding friends. The President looks forward to discussing continuing support and cooperation in the war on terror, and how the United States can support President Arroyo's economic reform agenda.

And the final announcement I have for you: President Bush will welcome President Ismael Omar Guelleh of the Republic of Djibouti to the White House on Tuesday, January 21st -- next week. President Bush looks forward to discussing issues affecting the common interests of the United States and Djibouti, particularly our continued cooperation on the global war against terrorism, regional stability, humanitarian development efforts, as well as fighting HIV/AIDS.

And with that, I'm happy to take your questions.

Q Senator Graham says, in regard to the Medicaid limitations, that the limitations allowed in the HHS letter are in clear violation of the intent of Congress in 1997. Do you have a response?

MR. FLEISCHER: The Department of Health and Human Services will be responding in greater detail later this afternoon on this --

Q They told us they have nothing to say.

MR. FLEISCHER: We, I think, having additional amounts to say later this afternoon --

Q By then they'll have something to say --

MR. FLEISCHER: You may have talked to the wrong person, Mr. Plante.

Q Let me ask you this --

MR. FLEISCHER: Let me get to the substance of the issue -- unless you have more --

Q Go ahead. I have a question, yes.

MR. FLEISCHER: I understand, go ahead, ask your question before I give you a response.

Q How can the administration say that the letter did not remove the so-called prudent layperson standard, which says that in all cases people will get care paid for?

MR. FLEISCHER: Because what the action of Health and Human Services did is equalize the treatment that's available to patients under both fee-for-service and managed care. And clearly, that standard was allowable for fee-for-service; it's also allowable for managed care.

This deals with a December 20th letter to state Medicaid directors which deals with the requirements of the law. It does not remove the prudent layperson statutory requirement that Medicaid managed care organizations permit enrollees to obtain emergency room care. It simply does not do that.

Q If it allows the states to limit visitations or to place limits as yet undescribed on emergency room visits by patients, how can it not undermine that standard which you just outlined?

MR. FLEISCHER: Because the states have the right under the law for flexibility, which is administered through the Department of Health and Human Services, and equalize the treatment, as I indicated, between managed care and fee-for-service.

It's also worth noting the bottom line here is that patients will continue to get all the care they need. This is a reimbursement issue among the various parts of the government for who will pay the costs as people obtain the care that they need.

Q I still don't understand how it is that if a state decides to limit the number of emergency room visits, that the patient is then always allowed to go to the emergency room without fear of having to be billed for it.

MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated, it's a payment issue. It's a question of who will pay. But, as you know, throughout our society, if somebody shows up with an emergency in an emergency room they are not turned away. The issue here is to make certain that emergency rooms are used for emergencies and that people don't use them as a matter of -- a more routine matter for primary care. And that's an interest that the states have and health care providers have working closely with us.

Q The inspectors in Iraq don't appear to be putting as much importance on the finding of these 12 rocket canisters as the United States is. Why are these units that distressing to you? And are you certain that they were not in any of the accounting, as Iraq says they were, in the declaration of the last month?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, one, the inspectors' role, as they're fulfilling it properly, is to comply -- to seek Iraqi compliance with the resolution. Their mission is to inspect and to verify and to dismantle. The United States, members of the Security Council, have the right to judge the actions that they're taking. I'm not aware of any statements that have been made by the inspectors to the contrary.

We're continuing to work with UNMOVIC and the United Nations Security Council to obtain additional relevant information about what they discovered yesterday. Here's what we do know to date. The chemical warheads found by the inspectors were not -- not -- on the declared list that Iraq provided to the world indicating what weapons it said it possessed. The fact that Iraq is in possession of undeclared chemical warheads, which the United Nations says are in excellent condition, is and of itself a serious and troubling matter.

Q Ari, how did you determine that the canisters are not in the declaration? Did somebody go through the whole 12,000 pages --

MR. FLEISCHER: Went back and looked through the declaration, and I think it is an easy matter to review. If somebody wants to make the contention that the 12 chemical warheads discovered at this facility, this late '90s-constructed bunker just outside Baghdad is in the declaration, the burden is on them to show what page it's on and to cite the reference.

The United States government has very thoroughly -- and we're familiar with the declaration -- gone through it very, very carefully to see whether or not the existence of these 12 warheads at this bunker was in the declaration. It was not. And I think also it's fair to say if it had been in the declaration, there's not a person in this room who wouldn't have known it because you would have remembered it, because it would have been a very significant declaration that they are indeed in possession today of chemical warheads. They kept saying they were not.

Q So does this constitute the smoking gun, Ari?

MR. FLEISCHER: It's troubling and it's serious, is exactly as I've characterized it. The President is continuing to work with our allies, consulting with our allies. The inspectors' efforts remain underway. More information about this very discovery needs to be carried out -- needs to be obtained. The inspectors are doing their job, and we'll see what the rest of their job entails in terms of what knowledge is gained from the additional information that we are all seeking about these warheads.

Q Can I ask another Iraq related question? This weekend, there are some more anti-war demonstrations planned in various parts of the country. Is the President troubled by these manifestations of dissent?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President welcomes the fact that we are a democracy and people in the United States, unlike Iraq, are free to protest and to make their case known. And that's a time-honored part of American tradition, and the President fully understands it. It's a strength of our democracy.

Q Is he worried about going to war with a sizeable percentage of the population not supporting him?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not sure that it's fair to say that it's sizeable. I think it is anybody's guess. But there are equal numbers of people who -- larger numbers of people who, of course, are very much in support of what the President is doing. I think the fact of the matter is, most people who support what the President is doing are not going to take the street to say disarm Saddam Hussein.

Q Ari, on affirmative action, because the administration is not asking the court to overrule the Bakke decision, is the government not conceding that it is okay for race to be a factor when selecting students for college admission?

MR. FLEISCHER: What the President is saying is he, as President, is setting a vision and a goal for the country, and that is that diversity on our college campuses is an important goal to achieve. He is saying the manner in which the University of Michigan, by giving students 20 points on the basis of the color of their skin, and only 12 points, for example, on having a perfect SAT score is the incorrect way to achieve the goal of diversity.

The President, as you look at his record in the state of Texas, adopted different approaches to dealing with this difficult issue about how to promote diversity on campus and to do so in a way that is race-neutral. And the President is urging and is pushing through this brief and through his statement yesterday the wheels of universities in the direction of increase your diversity and do so in a way that is race-neutral. And that's the message that the President is sending.

Q Right, but the question is, by not challenging Bakke, are you not conceding that it's permissible for colleges and universities to use race not as "the" factor, but as "a" factor?

MR. FLEISCHER: Here's how the President approaches it. He believes, in his words, that university officials have the responsibility and the obligation to make a serious, effective effort to reach out to students from all walks of life without falling back on unconstitutional quotas. Schools, in the President's opinion --

Q But that's not responsive to the question.

MR. FLEISCHER: -- should seek diversity by considering a broad range of factors in admissions, including a student's potential and life experiences. That's how the President approaches it.

Q Right. Just one more on this. Because it's distinctly possible that the Supreme Court justices will not find that a race-neutral alternative like what they do in Texas or Florida is an appropriate alternative to any sort of race-based program, they may very well ask the Solicitor General, well, what should colleges and universities be able to do with regard to race, can race play any factor. How is he going to answer that question?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, that came up in the deliberations where the President had to decide what type of brief he wanted to file, and the President's judgment was that because he wants to promote the goal for our society, because he thinks it's in the interests of our society -- we are not, after all, yet a color-blind society -- to promote diversity as a goal, without quotas, the President made the decision to file a narrowly tailored brief that would not test the outer edges of constitutionality. That's the matter --

Q Isn't it a political dodge not to address the heart of the matter, which is to ask what role race should play appropriately in these kinds of admissions?

MR. FLEISCHER: The heart of the matter, in the President's opinion, is how to lift our society up and help it evolve in a way that focuses on the importance of diversity as a goal. The exact manner in which to deal with it, the President did not want to constitutionally prescribe one way or another, except for the fact that it cannot and should not, in the President's judgment, be done through the use of quotas.

Q Secretary Rumsfeld says the President has not made a case for war. Does the President plan to make his case or such a case, and if so, when? And I have a follow-up.

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, if the President does decide that war is the only option to protect the American people and the region and the world from Saddam Hussein who has not disarmed, the President will, of course, make a case to the American people about that. The President recognizes that our democracy does not go to war without all the issues being explored by the American people with the active leadership of the President of the United States. And so, of course, if he makes that judgment, he will do so.

Q The follow-up is that British Prime Minister Tony Blair said in a news conference earlier this week that he would not allow the United Nations to act as a veto to any war if the war should come. Does the President feel the same way?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President has made very plain -- he said this in private conversations with many of our allies that we will continue to consult. And that is precisely what we will do. We will continue to consult. And the President appreciated very much the United Nations Security Council action in November that put the inspectors back in there. And I'm not prepared to make any guesses on speculations about what other actions may or may not be taken beyond that.

Q Does the administration plan to take the chemical warheads issue to the Security Council, or press it in any way before the U.N.?

MR. FLEISCHER: I have not heard any discussion about that specifically, no.

Q So at this point, you're going to wait for the 27th before the next round of discussions before the Security Council about Iraq compliance?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think what we will continue to look for is whether or not Saddam Hussein is disarming. And obviously, the discovery of 12 chemical warheads is proof that he has not disarmed, especially when you consider the fact that, for the purpose of letting the world know whether he had disarmed, he filed a declaration saying that he did not have weapons. He also filed a declaration that did not include these 12 warheads at the bunker. And now we know, of course, that he has them.

Q There's a wire report that Secretary Powell is telling a German paper that by the end of the month it will be proven that Iraq is not cooperating. Does the U.S. have some plan to lay out some evidence before the end of the month?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as I indicated, the President and members of his administration will continue to talk to the public about this matter. There's no question Saddam Hussein has not cooperated, and I can cite for you some of the statements that were made by Dr. Blix, for example: We feel Iraq must do more than they have done so far in order to make this a credible avenue -- the message we want to bring to Baghdad is the situation is very tense and very dangerous, and everybody wants to see a verified and credible disarmament of Iraq. That's when he added, we feel Iraq must do more than they have done so far to make this a credible avenue. I think it's fair to say that the inspectors are finding increased examples of Iraqi failure to comply.

Q Ari, the President, in the days leading up to the adoption of that resolution, spoke in very clear language. He said that this was Saddam Hussein's final chance, that it had to be a full and complete and accurate accounting, and that there would be no deceptions and no games, zero tolerance. You say, in the case of these warheads, he filed a declaration, they were not in there. Unless you see a complete change of heart before that January 27th deadline, is the President prepared to tell his representatives at the United Nations to say, game over?

MR. FLEISCHER: Number one, nobody has called that a deadline, January 27th is an important reporting date. And the President has indeed said that Iraq is entering its final phase. And the President has said time is running out. It's not my place to put words in the President's mouth saying if there's a timetable attached to that. I think Saddam Hussein needs to get the very clear understanding and message from the United States and from the world that he needs to disarm, that this is indeed serious. The timetable for it, Saddam Hussein needs to figure that out. He needs to disarm immediately, and he promised he would do so in the declaration. And as yesterday's discovery shows, what he filed in the declaration is not met by the facts on the ground.

Q Is the President worried as we go through this debate and await the 27th and whatever other decisions the President makes about a timetable, are you worried about the two very different views of how the inspections process is working? You look at this discovery and cast it as -- you haven't used the word, but almost as a failure, saying it's proof that Saddam is not meeting the test; it's proof that he's not meeting his commitment, that the burden is on him to disclose and destroy. Others are saying this is proof the inspectors are working. Are you concerned that while you focus on disarmament, others, including the French today saying give them more time, might be focusing on containment in saying this is okay?

MR. FLEISCHER: There's no question the inspectors are on the ground working. The question is, Iraq is not complying and Iraq is not fulfilling its word that they gave in their own declaration.

All the President knows to do is to speak directly and realistically. And when a discovery is made that Iraq has 12 chemical warheads that they failed to declare, the President will call it for exactly what it is. And it is serious and it is troubling, in the President's judgment.

Q Were the inspectors acting on the basis of any U.S. intelligence?

MR. FLEISCHER: Elizabeth, I would not be able to answer that question. I've indicated to you broadly that the United States will -- has and will continue to provide intelligence to the inspectors because it is in our interest for them to have the best information. But I'm not going to be able to give you step-by-step information about what intelligence is passed along on any type of daily basis.

Q Has there been any new intelligence passed along?

MR. FLEISCHER: Of course.

Q Is there any other way to get to that information?

Q Why not just pass -- why is it coming out in dribs and drabs, the way you're suggesting it?

MR. FLEISCHER: There are ways to convey intelligence so it is the most useful. And I hear no objections from the inspectors.

Q Two questions. On North Korea, is there any active review underway about removing the 37,000 American troops?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, there is not.

Q Would this President favor removing the troops under any circumstance?

MR. FLEISCHER: I have not heard any discussion of that here. The President -- the President believes that United States and South Korea are reliable allies, that we have worked well together and we will continue to work well together. Obviously, there is a new debate that has been launched in the United States about whether or not the troops should be withdrawn, but that's the view of the President.

Q What if South Korea asked the United States to remove the troops?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we're not going to deal with hypotheticals. That's not the case; it hasn't happened. Just the opposite has happened. As you know, President Roh just recently visited with the troops and thanked them for their efforts to keep the peace on the Peninsula which, I think, is representative of a majority of the South Korean people.

Q Just one on the University of Michigan. Does the President favor abolishing the SAT scores at all as a criteria? Some colleges are actually moving in that direction.

MR. FLEISCHER: I've never heard the President weigh in on that topic.

Q Ari, just to follow up on the question John was asking, the President -- we heard him say this week that time is running out for Saddam Hussein. Today, or actually I think it might have been yesterday, Mohamed ElBaradei said he wanted more time for the inspections to go into March. Given what we've learned about the chemical warheads, has the President seen enough?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think, again, if it reaches the point where the President has come to the conclusion that he has seen enough, to the point where the only way to protect us is by disarming Saddam Hussein, he will inform the country about that. In the interim, the inspectors are doing their job. They are carrying out their mission. And we will, of course, continue to support them in that mission. The real issue here is, what is Saddam Hussein doing? What is Saddam Hussein hiding? And what else has Saddam Hussein failed to list in his declaration?

Q If I could just follow up, if time is running out for Saddam Hussein, does the President think that maybe time is also running short or running out for the inspectors?

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, the President has not put any timetables on it as such. And if the President decides to, he will make such a statement. But at this point, we are continuing to let the process work, obviously.

Q First of all, a follow-up to Elizabeth's question. Without regard to what may or may not have been passed to the inspectors in the way of intelligence, did the United States, anybody in the United States government, have any advance knowledge of the warheads that we discovered yesterday before they were discovered by the inspectors?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not in a position to give you an answer to that. You're asking me to speak for the entire United States government.

Q To your knowledge.

MR. FLEISCHER: To my knowledge, no. The inspectors worked at the inspectors' discretion. But I really am not in a reliable position to give you that type of information about the entire United States government. And, again, I am not going to pass on information to you about intelligence conveyance.

Q I'm not asking that. I'm asking, basically, did this come as a surprise to the White House?

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I'm not aware of -- the people that I spoke to immediately about it, that they had any advance information about it. But I don't know whether that's necessarily conclusive.

Q Assuming that you're right and Iraq is wrong about whether these warheads were disclosed in the declaration, does the fact that Iraq has undeclared warheads, chemical warheads, put them in material breach of any U.N. resolutions?

MR. FLEISCHER: As for picking a legal word, the President's approach to this is that the issue is that Saddam Hussein is not disarming. That is what is most relevant. Per the United Nations and the use of the word "material breach," according to Resolution 1441, when it was passed, Iraq was and continues to be in material breach. When they filed their declaration that at the time the United States declared failed to have all information in it which, of course, has now been verifiably demonstrated to be an accurate statement, as if there would have been a doubt, we said at that time that they continue to be in material breach. Certainly, the discovery of the chemical warheads in Iraq does not get Iraq out of the material breach they're currently in.

Q Can you put this in some sort of context? Is this just one more element or one more piece of evidence that builds the case? Is that how you would describe this discovery?

MR. FLEISCHER: I described it as serious and troubling.

Q Ari, will the President have a lot to say about Iraq in his State of the Union message -- address? And will you give us a sneak preview?

MR. FLEISCHER: I will give you a sneak preview, but not this previewy. This is a little early to do any sneaking. The speech is not for another 11 days or so, 10 days or so. I will be happy to share with you additional information as it gets closer to the speech, but it's still in the middle stages of drafting, and so I think this is a little premature to get into that from the podium.

Q Ari, as the President heads over to the hospital to visit these wounded soldiers, what is the status of one of the big reasons they were sent to Afghanistan in the first place, the search for Osama bin Laden?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, actually, if you take a look at what the President said on October 6 or October 7th when the United States defended itself against the attack that took place on September 11th, I don't think the President said that one of the reasons we're going over there is to get or to find Osama bin Laden. He said we were going over there to protect the United States from the people who perpetrated this crime against us.

On the question specifically about Osama bin Laden, the President's focus is much broader than any one person. Around the world, al Qaeda leadership are being wrapped up. Around the world, al Qaeda leadership are still at large. Al Qaeda leadership are still trying, as well as their foot soldiers, to bring as much harm as they can to the Western world and to the United States. It's the definition of an ongoing war, an ongoing struggle. And that's the status that we are in.

The President believes that we continue to make great progress in this war, but, as you can see from events around the world, when you read about people in London being arrested for possession of ricin, there clearly remain people in the world who want to inflict as much harm as they can on the Western world and on others. When you look at the explosion in Bali, you see continued evidence that there are those who want to carry out the war and continue to find ways to attack us.

I don't mean to belabor it, but their ability to carry out has, of course, been impaired greatly as a result of the successful prosecution of the war. It's been much harder for them to organize, much harder for them to group up, much harder for them to find financing. But they still are able to carry out attacks, obviously.

Q Since you -- neither you nor the President have mentioned Osama bin Laden by name in such a very long time, how important is it to the war on terrorism to find him?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think at the beginning, right after September 11th, Osama bin Laden, in the minds of most American people, was an important symbol, that Osama bin Laden was the head of the organization that carried out the attack on September 11th. I think as the months have come and gone since then, the American people have recognized that this is a bigger war than about any one person, which is what the President had been saying all along. And I think as time has gone on, people have come to see that increasingly for themselves.

And so obviously the United States welcome bringing Osama bin Laden to justice. But the war is much bigger than any one man, in the President's opinion.

Q Ari, in the last few months, everything has been about Iraq and North Korea to a great extent. Is there any -- and some people have been complaining, what's happened to the war on terror? Do you see this as all part of the war on terror, or do you think the focus has shifted a little bit?

MR. FLEISCHER: There's no question the President views what's happening in Iraq as a portion of the war on terror. There's no question about it. And the President views this as all areas where, as the President has said many times, the biggest threat that we face is a nation like Iraq teaming up with terrorists to provide them with weapons of mass destruction.

Q Do you all have any reaction to the 9th Circuit ruling on Mexican trucks?

MR. FLEISCHER: Currently that review from the court in San Francisco is under review -- the opinion of the court in San Francisco is under review. The President is committed to living up to NAFTA, to our NAFTA obligations by opening the border to our friends in the South in a way that is consistent with safety. The President demonstrated this commitment when he lifted the moratorium on Mexican trucking in November of 2002.

We have worked to ensure that the regulations require stringent safeguards to keep America's highways safe. In addition, the regulations require that all Mexican trucks that enter the United States adhere to all U.S. federal, state and local environmental laws and regulations.

In terms of the specific case which was just decided yesterday, the Justice Department is reviewing its specific substance.

Q -- feel about it?

MR. FLEISCHER: No decision has been made, and so I'm not able to say that to you today. But the President does feel strongly about making certain that we honor our obligations to Mexico, which are part of NAFTA. And he does believe very strongly that it can be done in a way that's consistent with all environmental regulations.

Q Ari, the President signed a proclamation declaring Sunday as National Sanctity of Human Life Day. I'm wondering if you could speak to the President's commitment to that issue and if he's going to be observing the day in any way?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President will participate. There will be a rally on the Mall and I think you can anticipate the President calling into the rally. He'll be on the road that day and you'll be able to get the words from the President directly himself on that day.

Q He's speaking to the pro-life rally next Wednesday.

MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's -- yes, that's correct, it's Wednesday. And, of course, you have the statement the President made in the proclamation yesterday.

Q Is the President planning on using the State of the Union as a platform for promoting Medicare reform and prescription drug coverage?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, when I said I would provide the sneak preview

later, I didn't literally mean five minutes later. (Laughter.) Again, there will be -- believe me, the White House is eager to tell you the story of the State of the Union and what will be in it, and we will. I just don't think -- it still remains a little bit early to engage in that.

Q Thank you.

MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.

END 12:48 P.M. EST


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