|The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
February 11, 2003
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:35 P.M. EST
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. It's been a busy day on the diplomatic and the domestic front, so let me give you some reports. And then I have a statement by the President I'd like to read to you on an important domestic matter pending in the Senate.
The President began his day with three calls to foreign leaders. He spoke this morning with Philippine President Arroyo. Both said they were looking forward to the state visit of President Arroyo that is coming up here in Washington in April. President Bush expressed appreciation for President Arroyo's leadership in the war on terror, and pledged continuing United States support for her effort to defeat the Abu Zayef terrorist group. President Bush also praised President Arroyo's leadership on Iraq, and emphasized that the regime in Baghdad must disarm or that it would be disarmed by a coalition of the willing. President Bush emphasized the importance of passage by the Philippine legislature of effective new legislation to combat money-laundering.
The President, also this morning, spoke with Angolan President dos Santos. The Presidents discussed their shared view that Saddam Hussein must disarm and comply with the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1441. And President Bush also noted the Security Council must not allow Saddam Hussein to continue violating and ignoring its resolutions if it's to maintain any legitimacy. The Presidents affirmed the friendship of the United States and Angola and their desire to maintain a strong bilateral relationship.
The President, also this morning, touched base with Prime Minister Tony Blair as the two continue their consultations about proceeding to make certain that Saddam Hussein is indeed disarmed.
Following that, the President had his intelligence briefing. Then he had an FBI briefing. And then this afternoon the President will meet with the President of Ecuador, where the President will reaffirm America's strong support for democracy in Ecuador. I also expect the two will talk about counterterrorism efforts between our two countries, and also talk about trade between our two countries.
Finally, the President will have a meeting this afternoon with Senate Republicans to talk about the economic growth package, and the President will also welcome down to the White House a bipartisan group of House members to talk about the welfare reform legislation that is pending in the Congress. The legislative wheels of the Congress are beginning to turn and to move, and welfare looks like it may be up for passage in the House of Representatives. And the President is very pleased that even in the midst of this important time of international affairs, the Congress is tending to business on the domestic front.
One item on the domestic front leads to a presidential statement. This is a statement you'll have in writing shortly from the President: Last week, the Senate began floor consideration of the nomination of Miguel Estrada to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Mr. Estrada's nomination was first submitted to the Senate in May, 2001 -- almost two years ago. Miguel Estrada is well-qualified and well-respected. He is a nominee who enjoys the bipartisan support of the majority of the Senate. Fairness demands that he receive an up or down vote on the Senate floor. I urge the Senate to act quickly and allow for an up or down vote on this worthy candidate.
And that's a statement from the President. With that I'm happy to take your questions.
Q Ari, on Angola, did President dos Santos give any indication on how he would vote on the Security Council resolutions?
MR. FLEISCHER: I would refer to you a spokesperson for the Angola President to interpret how he would vote. I can just report to you the President's conversation with him. But our longstanding practice, as you know, I don't report the actions or thoughts of foreign leaders.
Q Except when it's Estonia and you're talking about how much he supports the United States?
MR. FLEISCHER: That was a very public statement.
Q Secondly, back in November at the Prague summit, NATO agreed to take, "effective action" to assure Iraq's compliance with Resolution 1441. Do you say this latest blocking action by Belgium, France, and Germany on putting defensive measures into Turkey as being an abrogation of that pledge?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not certain -- I think it's too soon to say this is an abrogation, but it's a setback. And it's not only a setback for NATO, a setback that the President believes will be overcome, but it's a real setback for Turkey and the people of Turkey.
And you don't have to search very hard to look in the Turkish press this morning, or press around Europe to see that these three nations have invited a significant amount of criticism upon themselves. They have succeeded in distancing themselves from our good and worthy allies in Turkey at a time when Turkey needs to have the individual nations of NATO, and NATO collectively stand up on their behalf.
But make not mistake, NATO consists of 19 nations. Sixteen are pleased to help Turkey as Turkey invokes its Article IV rights under NATO. Three have, at least temporarily, sought to delay or block the NATO action. And I think that perspective is important. Virtually all of Europe -- virtually all of NATO are on board. There indeed are some who are not. And the United States is proud to stand tall and strong next to our ally, Turkey.
Q How long are you willing to wait before you take action either on a unilateral basis, as Secretary Rumsfeld suggested yesterday, or together with the other 16 member nations? What's the window of opportunity here for getting what you think you need to get into Turkey?
MR. FLEISCHER: John, I'm not prepared to put any timetable on it. I think, again, the President believes in the importance of diplomacy. We'll continue the diplomatic efforts. And at the end of the day, the President does believe that the right thing will be done and that nations will honor their obligations to our friend, Turkey.
Q Secretary Powell said today that he saw the transcript of a new statement from Osama bin Laden. What can you tell us about that?
MR. FLEISCHER: That is precisely what the Secretary said. And I think that he summed up what we have heard accurately. I think this is something that you may hear more about on this broadcast.
Q Well the broadcast networks in the Middle East, including Al Jazeera, say they have no idea what he is talking about. Are we -- this could be a really good thing. Are we ahead of the game of Al Jazeera? Are we scooping Al Jazeera here? (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's -- I don't think it's the first time that there's been information that has come about in this manner that was reported by Al Jazeera after a period of time. And from everything we have heard, Al Jazeera will be reporting this.
Q So you are confirming that the U.S. government is aware of a new statement that, as Secretary Powell said, we've determined is from Osama bin Laden --
MR. FLEISCHER: Secretary Powell would not have said what he said if he didn't have a basis to accurately say it.
Q Fair enough.
Q How did you get the tape before they did?
MR. FLEISCHER: John, as you know -- well, I'm not sure that's the proper sequence, but as you know, there are a variety of ways these things float and people talk about them. And I don't think it surprises anybody that people are able to hear and see and find information about things that are newsworthy.
Q And can I ask you something that might be underneath or surrounding this NATO dispute, and that is what a lot of people, in fact Secretary Powell in his testimony today see as a rising tide of anti-Americanism -- not among the governments; you cite the vote of governments in NATO, but among the people, as measured by polls and sort of anecdotal evidence, as well. How big of a problem is the sentiment of ordinary people among our traditional allies against the course of action the President has chosen?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, given the fact that these are democracies and these elected governments represent the people, these governments are speaking -- I don't think they would be speaking on behalf of people and supporting the United States if that was a position that did not align with their people. So I think that much can be made of the fact that there may be opposition in some quarters and some sections, but I think the great under-reported story about what's happening vis-a-vis the Alliance and Iraq is the amount of support for disarmament of Saddam Hussein that people choose to ignore. Similarly, just as it was ignored for quite a considerable amount of time, how many nations stood with the United States on this same issue?
The fact of the matter is there are few nations that are increasingly isolating themselves and distancing themselves from important Alliance partners like Turkey. And the fact, though, remains, in the end, because we are all democracies, and because democracies are entitled every now and then to a good spat, this will all pass over and we will all remain as allies. Not everybody may be there through every stage of the process, but the President is confident that at the end, even amidst our differences with a couple, perhaps three, maybe two, maybe one, that we will remain an alliance, that we will remain unified, and in the end, Saddam Hussein will be disarmed, thanks to the collective will of all.
Q You don't see a rising tide of anti-Americanism among the people of our traditional allies?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me remind you again of something I've talked about before in this room. If you go back to the early '80s, you saw even greater manifestations of European positions against the positions of European -- Western European governments and the United States. And in that I refer to the hundreds of thousands, occasionally -- I think in the case of Germany, some million people who took to the streets to protest the United States's counter-deployment of intermediate-range cruise missiles to counter deploy the Soviet Unions intermediate-range cruise missiles that they put into Eastern Europe. Massive street protests throughout Europe. The fact of the matter is that this is the way democracies sometimes speak. And democracies sometimes speak in protest, democracies sometimes speak in unit. At the end of the day, we work together and we work together well.
I also suggest to you that what you do see, too, is a difference in tactics. I think that it is often part of the tactics of one side in the debate, the left, to engage in their right to peaceful protest and take to the streets. That does not, as often, appear to be the tactic used by people who support military action and military force, which is, again, the reason I think that much of the support you'll see often goes under-noticed, or under-reported.
Q Ari, given -- on this bin Laden message -- and to some extent we understand that it will deal with some comments or an address he would make to the Iraqi people about their condition, if that's correct, what does the President conclude about that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, based on what Secretary Powell has said, it gives rise to concern about the ties between al Qaeda and Iraq.
Q And does it tell us anything more concretely about those ties? Or maybe more pressing?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you'll --
Q -- or where bin Laden is?
MR. FLEISCHER: You'll be in a position to judge for yourself from what we understand.
Q Does it shed any light on where bin Laden is? And by that last answer, are you suggesting that we're going to hear more from the President specifically on this topic?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think that you will hear this tape that is purported to be Osama bin Laden.
Q Ari, I just want to follow on a slightly different point. Does the President believe that Americans should be as prepared for an act of terrorism today and should take measures to prepare themselves that's similar to what Americans did in the '50s during the threat of nuclear war, preparing school children and the like?
MR. FLEISCHER: In terms of being cognizant of the threats to our homeland, the broad answer is, indeed, yes. In terms of the specifics, no, because the tactics, the techniques are different from the '50s to the way they are here in the year 2003. But it's a sad but accurate reflection of the era that we live in when people are advised about the procedures they have to do to undergo to protect themselves and their families and their homes.
It's not a discussion that anybody in the government wants to be having. Having said that, based on the reality of the threat, it's a discussion that we can't afford not to have. And that's the unfortunate, sad reality about this threat we face. And that's why you saw the government yesterday put out in rather specific terms, steps that people could take to protect themselves and their families at home. We have no choice but to share that information and hope that people listen.
Q Ari, I still don't understand the providence of this bin Laden tape. Does the United States government, does it actually have a copy of this tape? Has it been played a copy of this tape? Does it have a transcript? Exactly what forms does our knowledge of this tape take?
MR. FLEISCHER: I couldn't tell you the precise form of the knowledge of it, but I know that, as I said, and I think you've seen this before, these tapes float around from time to time, and there's conversation about them, information is provided or shared about them, and indeed, Al Jazeera plays them.
Q The people at Al Jazeera tell us that they have no such tape. So how is it that we have a copy of something that they don't?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that -- I'm not sure who you're talking to there, but I don't think Secretary Powell would have said it if he didn't have a good basis to say it.
Q He actually heard this tape?
MR. FLEISCHER: He referred to a transcript, I think is what he said.
Q Can I switch to domestic for a minute, on the Senate Republicans coming in an hour or so? Who are they and what part of the economic package are they talking about?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, this is part of the President's overall agenda for meeting with members of Congress and people in both parties. It's a way the President has been very successful, in two years, about building support for the plans that he's proposed. And as I indicated to you, this will be a busy two weeks on the diplomatic front and on the domestic policy front. And that's exactly what you are witnessing now.
The President feels very strongly about the agenda that he's proposed for the Congress on domestic matters, and he intends to fight for it. And so you will see on a regular basis, not only on the budget, not only on taxes, but on a host of issues -- welfare, members of Congress coming to the White House from both parties to talk to the President to meet, to talk about what they think, to talk about what the President thinks. That's how coalitions are built. That's how majorities are found.
Q Are you concerned that a lot of Republicans on the Hill are saying this economic package is not going to go through the way he --
MR. FLEISCHER: If the President didn't invite people down here, you would say, well then, how come the President is not listening? The President brings people down here to have meetings to build support. And that's exactly how the process works. And, as I talked about last week, you're watching the very beginning of the process. Congress will go out on a recess soon and then they'll come back under the budget deadlines.
Congress has until April 15 to pass a budget resolution. And typically, they won't even take up the budget plan, the economic plan that the budget blueprint puts in place until after that. So you're seeing the beginning of a process. And in the end, the President believes that he will get much, if not all, of what he has asked Congress to pass because he lends a good ear to Congress's concerns, listens to them, and works with them.
Q Ari, going back to the new threat from Osama bin Laden, is the President ready to raise the threat level from orange to red? And if they know about the threat, that means are you saying that he is still alive?
MR. FLEISCHER: One, on your first point, I would see nothing that would indicate that. As you know, it remains a daily matter of review. But, no, I see nothing that indicates that. On two, what Secretary Powell said specifically was what bin Laden, or we believe to be bin Laden, would be saying on Al Jazeera here in the course of the day. So those are the words the Secretary used.
Q Just to follow second one, on January 12th, last year, President Bush -- General Musharraf made a pledge to President Bush and the world that he will cut down all the terrorists against India now. It seems to me that the world's largest democracy again, and the threat from those same groups because he is releasing, according to the press reports, hundreds of terrorists from the jails in Pakistan. And according to Pakistani officials, same groups are now coming under new names, which were banned by the United States and they pose a threat to peace in the region. So what -- -
MR. FLEISCHER: After a considerably long period of time, dating back many years, decades, the tensions between India and Pakistan have been reduced, been reduced as a result of constant and ongoing diplomacy. They tend to have their seasons where they flare up and they come back down again. And the situation has been less tense in recent times. This is going to be long-term project for this President, for this government, and the President is going to continue at it, along with many other nations that have played very helpful roles, including Russia and England, in reducing the tensions between India and Pakistan.
Q I have two questions to follow up on the bin Laden tape. But first, while we've been sitting here, the NATO meeting in Brussels has broken up, and they do not have a consensus. They said there will be more talks tomorrow. You said earlier today, the President views this as a setback, but a temporary setback. Is there a time line for the President, at which point he will say, as he has said to the United Nations, forget it, either you make a decision or I'll work outside?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that's to be determined. But if there's any time line, it's for the people of Turkey. What message are these three countries in Europe sending to the people of Turkey? Turkey is a part of the Alliance. They have invoked under NATO's rules. Their Article IV rights to ask for assistance, and this is really an issue that not only is a matter for the United States, but for all 19 NATO nations, and including Turkey. Nevertheless, the President does believe that in the appropriate matter of time, NATO will fix itself, will right itself, and that these three nations that are blocking 16 nations will, through logic and through diplomacy, see the merits of Turkey's request.
Q On the subject of this purported bin Laden statement, from this podium you have made the case in the past, National Security Advisor Rice has, Secretary Powell has, Dick Cheney, the Vice President did on his trip to Qatar directly to the government, urged them to lean on Al Jazeera to not play such statements because they could foment anti-Americanism, could have messages to sleeper cells around the world from bin Laden. If this tape, assuming the administration is correct, exists, you want Al Jazeera to play it because if it exists in this case, it helps the administration and you have bin Laden talking about his solidarity with Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think that the message which was conveyed to the American news media was to exercise the judgment of the American news media. As you know these conversations were held immediately after September 11, 2001, with many of your presidents of your news organizations. And we asked them to make their news judgments about whether or not the tapes should be played in their entirety or played in some type of snippets, so that message, the news could be delivered, but not in its entirety. Those are judgments that we leave up to the news media to make the final decisions on. We are not in a position to dictate or to say.
Q But in this case you would prefer they run it?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the message remains just as we said before that people should use their discretion and think twice about playing something in its entirety. There are other ways that people can be fully informed about the news value, the news content of something. That remains a decision for you all to make.
Q Yes, on that same point, on the bin Laden tape, if I remember correctly, Secretary Powell said -- made a reference to the fact that the tape, according to his information, was going to say from this person who purports to be bin Laden that he is in partnership with Iraq. If, indeed, that is the phrase that this individual uses, what does the U.S. make of such a statement? And how is that likely to play into the U.N. debate?
MR. FLEISCHER: Just as I indicated earlier, it gives great concern about the fact that Iraq and al Qaeda are working together.
Q You already had that concern. This would seem to confirm, if, indeed, this person is bin Laden, would seem to confirm what the administration has been claiming.
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct. I think when Secretary Powell went to New York and talked about the evidence we have of ties between Iraq and al Qaeda, he did so on the basis of knowledge, on the basis of fact. And he would not have said it if he didn't mean it and if the United States government and others around the world didn't have cause to know. And so what the Secretary has alluded to this morning gives further proof of the concerns that we have about Iraq and al Qaeda linking up.
Q Now, if I could, on a second resolution, obviously, you're facing a little diplomatic headwind here from France, Germany, Russia, and it appears, China. What are the current plans for a second resolution? And what do you think its prospects are?
MR. FLEISCHER: Resolutions at the United Nations are always matters that have headwinds and tailwinds. It can often be a windy affair. That is the diplomacy. And that is something the President has dedicated himself to. This would not be a matter taken to the United Nations if President Bush did not want it to be considered by the United Nations. And that's why he went there almost six months ago.
It's now been five months since the President went to the United Nations. The President believes that the world would benefit greatly if our international organizations are effective in countering proliferation. He thinks that there is much riding on the actions of the United Nations because not only would the actions of the United Nations help to disarm Saddam Hussein, they will send, hopefully, a powerful signal to the next would-be proliferator that the international regime set up to stop proliferation actually works.
If it doesn't, imagine the consequences. What leverage, what authority would the international regimes have to stop proliferation if it doesn't have it vis-a-vis Iraq, if Iraq is able to thwart and defy? This is Resolution 1441. This is the very document that the United Nations passed by unanimous vote that called for the following: full and immediate compliance by Iraq -- not full and five-month later compliance; not full and six-month later compliance -- full and immediate compliance by Iraq without conditions or restrictions.
And as we have often seen in the past with Iraq and with this issue now involving the U-2, what Iraq one day says is unconditional, 24 hours or less becomes conditional. We've seen Iraq make statements with its fingers crossed before. The resolution says it's a final opportunity to comply with disarmament obligations -- final. It says final. It says it's binding on Iraq. And it says that Iraq will face serious consequences as a result of continued violations. If the U.S. can -- if the United Nations can say all those things -- that it's final, that it's binding, and it's immediate -- and not mean them, what value does a U.N. resolution hold?
The President wants to make certain that U.N. resolutions hold value. It's not only important to disarm Saddam Hussein; it's important to pave the way for a good future.
Q Ari, one on the bin Laden tape and one on the resolution. On the bin Laden tape, why did the administration decide to preempt any airing by Al Jazeera and to tell the world that this tape exists?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think Secretary Powell, as he gave his remarks this morning, was talking about the threats that we face. He began it by talking about al Qaeda, bin Laden, terrorists trying to develop weapons of mass destruction. And obviously, the Secretary alluded to something that he was aware of.
Q Well, was there concern in the administration that they wouldn't run it?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think Al Jazeera has had a pattern of running these things in various forms. And I think you could easily make the case, if we are aware of something like this and we didn't say anything about it, your questions would be, why aren't you saying something, are you trying to hide something. So the fact of the matter is that when information is made aware to us and is reportable like this, the President has said that these are pieces of information the American people have a right to know about.
Q On the resolution, how deeply involved is the President in drafting the second resolution? Is that an issue that he and Blair discussed today?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President is not going to be the micromanager of the process, drafting it. And based on 1441 and the fact that what I just reported from 1441 being final, being immediate, being binding, followed by serious consequences, this is not a complicated matter in terms of the wordsmithing. There will be a process followed at the United Nations; I'm not going to give the specific words they may or may not use, but it's not a lengthy matter, it's not a complicated matter. It can only be lengthy, it can only be complicated if the words of 1441 have lost their value or their meaning. The President does not think that should be the case.
Q Then has he laid out even to Secretary Powell or to someone else, these are -- some sort of broad outline or at least specific points that he thinks absolutely must be --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, yes, just as I reported last week, that Resolution 1441 be enforced.
Q What did the Prime Minister and the President discuss? Did they discuss the NATO disputes, world strategy, the --
MR. FLEISCHER: They talked about the need to make certain that we work together to continue the diplomacy, to work through the United Nations on this second resolution. I think, just as I've reported out to you, you're seeing busy time of diplomacy; that busy time of diplomacy is going to involve continue conversations between the President and Prime Minister Blair, as well as the others who you know have been visiting the White House -- Prime Minister Howard last night. You're seeing a lot of the heavy diplomacy in front of you right now.
Q Did the Prime Minister give President Bush any kind of assessment of where the French, German and Russian combination is on this?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I don't speak for other leaders, but as I indicated, at the end of the day, the President does believe the United Nations will live up to its obligations. The President thinks it's too important, this is too big for the United Nations to fail.
Q Did they discuss NATO? Did they discuss --
MR. FLEISCHER: They also agreed about the need for help for Turkey, that Article IV should be respected.
Q Ari, if part of the motive to talk about the bin Laden transcript is to get the word out to the public, are you considering releasing the entire transcript?
MR. FLEISCHER: Are we concerned about that?
Q No, are you about to release the entire transcript?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't think this is something you're going to see get released by the United States. I think the pattern her has been that Al Jazeera does. But again, as I indicated to you before, if you knew that we had this information you would say, why aren't you providing it, why are you sitting on it, don't people have a right to know if you have evidence of a new potential bin Laden tape.
Q -- saying right now, why are you sitting on it? (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: Because these things have historically come from Al Jazeera and we don't expect that -- to change.
Q But, historically, you don't talk about them ahead of time.
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not sure that's always the case.
Q Ari, who asked for this meeting on the economy, the economic growth package -- the White House or the --
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know. It very well could be mutual. As you know, many of these same conversations took place at the retreat, where people talked about working together on behalf of passing the economic package. And, no surprise here. You've seen many of these meetings in the past and you'll see many more in the future.
Q -- a little bit of a surprise that the President has to sell his own economic growth package to a group of Republicans?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. No. I think it's very important to recognize that every individual member of Congress has an opinion, and it's important to reach out and talk to as many as is necessary. And that's been how the President has been a successful President, with extraordinarily narrow margins, about passing legislation. You saw that on trade promotion authority, where it passed by one vote, where it couldn't pass before for a decade. You saw it on the economic plan the President passed in 2001 on the education bill.
If the suggestion is that the only people that the President should consult with are Democrats, that's a premise that we won't accept.
Q Is he willing to consider significant changes to his economic growth package if some of these senators ask for that?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is going to fight for the plan that he proposed and he'll continue to consult and work with members of Congress in doing so.
Q Once Al Jazeera -- or you -- put this tape out, are you guys considering, if necessary, putting forward any analysts to talk about the authenticity of it --
MR. FLEISCHER: The authenticity, as Secretary Powell referenced, is always an issue, and of course, we always seek to make the most careful evaluations about the accuracy of any such tapes, and you can presume that would happen again.
Q Ari, two things. First on the economy, the economic stimulus package. -- reality of an economic stimulus plan when you have, for the first time in history, a tax cut proposal and a potential war at the same time?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not sure I follow what you're saying.
Q Is it realistic to say the economy will be stimulated when, for the first time in history, you're talking about cutting taxes and war that could have an astronomical figure?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, first of all, I'm not aware that your premise is correct. I think you'd have to go back to previous conflicts in which the United States fought. But I think the question is, are you saying that because there's a potential for war, the domestic agenda should be abandoned, and the answer is, no. Just as the President continues to think that no matter what happens vis-a-vis Iraq, it's important to get prescription drugs to our nation's seniors; it's important to have an economy that is growing; it's important to have a welfare system that protects people who might fall through the cracks.
This remains a nation that wants a domestic agenda. And it remains part of the President's job, and he will deliver.
Q And the second question, back on bin Laden. Granted you're talking about bin Laden -- but why is bin Laden such a taboo subject around here? This is like --
MR. FLEISCHER: It seems to be the only subject around here.
Q Today. Today. But, typically, there's -- you hear more Saddam Hussein. You don't hear about Osama bin Laden dead or alive, or whatever, anymore.
MR. FLEISCHER: Right, right.
Q Why? Why?
MR. FLEISCHER: For the obvious reasons. Today there's talk of a new video tape, or a new tape that -- I'm not sure it's video, I shouldn't say that. A new tape that gives rise to the very questions that you're asking. But on any given day, the threat doesn't come only from one person, the threat comes from the network, from the al Qaeda operatives. And that's why the President doesn't focus on any one person. But I, April, am never in a position to explain why I get the questions that I get on a daily basis. (Laughter.)
Q Ari, my question is related to some of the other questions. But is the President willing to disarm Iraq without a second resolution from the Security Council?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has said many times that he wants to work with the United Nations, he would welcome the United Nations Security Council, however, if the United Nations Security Council will not disarm Saddam Hussein, a coalition of the willing, which is a large and grow one, will.
Q Ari, on NATO again, obviously, the action by France, Belgium and Germany has caused a serious rift internally within the Alliance. Probably the most serious in its history. But is it something more? Is it symptomatic of a post-Cold War NATO in which there's no one major threat to bind all the countries together, that this kind of rift might continue on?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I wouldn't say that. I think throughout the history of NATO there have been various moments of tests involving the unity of NATO. It would not be the first time that there have been various nations within NATO that have strong thoughts about the potential for diplomatic action or military action where there was not unanimity. But at the end of the day, it has not stopped the United States and others from doing what they thought was necessary to protect the peace.
I remind you in 1986 about the very successful military operation carried out over Libya after Libya was involved in the bombing of the Berlin disco. Not all European nations supported the combined nations of many other nations in bringing justice after the Libyan terrorist involvement. So these aren't firsts, and alliances survived.
Q Will you be able to actually get over this particular one? It seems to be quite bitter.
MR. FLEISCHER: That's why I indicated, it's not a first and the alliances have survived. These things can test alliances, but in the end of the day, the President is confident that, because we're a democracies, we will weather whatever differences there are. But I want to remind you again, the issue here is 16 nations see it one way; three do not. That's a powerful statement of where European leaders are. And we are proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with Europe.
Q Ari, what can you tell us about this Patriot II Act that the administration apparently is contemplating? Is it -- what position is it in, and is the President at all concerned that he'll be perceived as suppressing civil liberties beyond what's already been done?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the President believes it's always important to examine the ways that we protect the American people on a host of fronts -- whether it's military, whether it's diplomatic, or whether it's law enforcement and giving law enforcement the means they need to protect the country against terrorist threats. And that's a matter that will always be evaluated. Those evaluations are underway in draft form at the Department of Justice. It has not reached a high-up level either at Justice Department or at the White House. And that's where it is. I think you would expect the government to constantly review all measures to protect the country.
Q So, basically, right now, it's basically a review of the Patriot Act and that nothing has passed the President's desk?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's exactly right.
Q Ari, one more on the tape. In the past when these communiques have come out, the administration has emphasized the difficulty in authenticating these tapes. You mentioned it a few minutes ago. I'm wondering what degree of confidence you have with this one. Is it higher than you've had in the past, and if so, why?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's too soon to say. This is a process that takes a little bit of time to evaluate through the technical means that the analysts have. But too soon to say. But I think that's why Secretary Powell used the words he did this morning, when he said, or who we believe to be.
Q So you're still not asserting for certain that this is him?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
Q And, Ari, today, I believe Chairman Greenspan was suggesting that at a time of growing deficits wasn't the best time for additional tax cuts. Any response to that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Can you cite me the statement that he made backing that up?
Q It comes from my economics writer, so I'm afraid I'm having to depend on her.
MR. FLEISCHER: Because I've got quite a lengthy description of what Chairman Greenspan said today and I'm not sure that's an accurate statement. He talked about budget discipline. He talked about his longtime support for elimination of corporate dividends, of dividend taxation as a way of giving a long-term boost to the economy. But I'm not aware, Bob, and correct me if I'm wrong, of anything more specific in the area of taxes. I know he's talked in the past repeatedly about making certain that there's spending restraint, as well as fiscal discipline.
Q So it's your position that the Chairman's comments today support the tax cut?
MR. FLEISCHER: I didn't say that. I said I'm not aware of any statement that he has made to the contrary.
Q Two things. According to the current Business Week, the Congress -- estimated that tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians were killed in result of the first Gulf War. In a -- poll yesterday, it shows that 54 percent of Americans are opposed to the upcoming war in Iraq if it means thousands of Iraqi civilian deaths. So the question is, what is the administration's estimate of Iraqi civilian deaths in the upcoming war?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not aware of any estimates. I will say to you that every step would be taken to protect civilian and innocent life. The greatest risk to civilian life, of course, comes from Saddam Hussein, who has shown that he is willing to kill his own people with chemical weapons, that he is willing to put his own people in harm's way as human shields, and that the greater threat that the President also has to concern himself with is that the civilians who would be killed would be Americans as a result of Saddam Hussein carrying out an attack either directly or through terrorist organizations that he links up with. That's what's on the President's mind, as well, Russell.
Q And the second question, is a question I --
Q -- won't get killed?
Q Sorry -- a question I asked last week, you didn't get a chance to answer, so I'd like to rephrase it. President Bush has said that Jesus Christ is his favorite political philosopher. He said that --
MR. FLEISCHER: Do you really want to open up this door again? (Laughter.) Where's Lester? Did you wait until Lester was gone before getting in this today?
Q I would actually like you to answer the question.
MR. FLEISCHER: Go ahead.
Q The question is this: President Bush has said that Jesus Christ is his favorite political philosopher. He said that during the campaign. Jesus Christ said, turn the other cheek. He said, the meek will inherit the Earth. And he said, do violence to no man. How does the President square his militarism with Jesus Christ's pacifism?
MR. FLEISCHER: One, I think your choice of words is inappropriate when you refer to President Bush's militarism. The President is seeking a way to provide peace and to protect the American people from a growing, gathering threat at the hands of Saddam Hussein and the weapons he has collected. And the President approaches this matter per his constitutional duties. His constitutional duties are to be the commander-in-chief who is sworn to uphold the Constitution and protect the American people from threats to our lives. And that's the manner in which he approaches it.
He does view this also as a matter of great morality in terms of the serious judgment that any President has to make about risking lives to safe life. And that's the focus that the President brings.
Q Ari, you've just touched on the fact that the President has mentioned his faith in a number of recent speeches, what should the perception be in a Muslim world where clerics have recently framed this as a religious or holy war, spoken about the fangs of our enemy? That's my first of two questions on this subject.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think the lesson is that America has been a shining example to the world of how people of a variety of faiths can find strength in tolerance and strength in faith and respect for people of whatever faith and people who have no faith. That's been the wonderful American example to all the world. And that's the message that the President believes strongly in. And he hopes it's a message that spreads around the world.
Q Given foreign perceptions and domestic -- traditional domestic concerns about the separation of church and state, is the President comfortable when he's introduced as he was yesterday, as our brother in Christ?
MR. FLEISCHER: He is. And at the meeting the President had prior to the introduction, he was joined by people from a variety of faiths. There was a rabbi with him. And the President would not suggest to other people how to tailor their words. As you know, the President, when he speaks, speaks in a very inclusive way, very respectful, just as I indicated, of the fact that we are a nation whose great strengths comes the fact that we have people of so many faiths and people who have chosen not to have any particular religious affiliation. We are all equal. We were all given the same rights under our Constitution. And that's what the President respects.
Q While you can't control the way people introduce the President, is there any concern that that type of introduction sends an exclusive message?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that just as when the President meets with people of a variety of different backgrounds, people are entitled to state their points of view. And no one point of view is superior to any other point of view in the President's eyes.
Q Air, it was very clear before we got the first U.N. resolution that the President didn't believe that Saddam Hussein was ever going to disarm himself. So given that, why when we went for the first U.N. resolution did we not try to get a U.N. inspection system that was not about verification but was about disarmament? And what I mean by that is a system by which air strikes were authorized on places where we thought things were being transferred out? That U-2 spy planes began flying with the realization that any shot fired on them would immediately be a cause for war? So what I mean is use that process if we're trying to avoid war as a legitimate way to disarm and not just verify?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, one, the name of UNMOVIC in and of itself is verification. That's part of -- that's the V in the UNMOVIC. And while they're called inspectors, I think it's also fair to call them verifiers. That is their task -- to go there to verify that disarmament has taken place, not to inspect around the country with a magnifying glass trying to find something that's very hard to find.
Q So you believe they could not have been disarmers? There's no way that the process could even set up to allow that to happen?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the disarmer is Saddam Hussein. That's what he was called on to do.
Q Ari, one question on the anti-American sentiment. The foreign media still reports that the United States hasn't present real evidence that Saddam Hussein has biological and chemical weapons. And the foreign media still believes that the only interest of the United States in Iraq is to control the oil. Why do you think the foreign media doesn't buy the argument of President Bush? And second, do you think these reports in some way has been contributed to the growing sentiment against the United States around the world?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, one, I just differ with the characterization. I think you're overly broad in saying the foreign media. There is much in the foreign media. And the foreign media, just like the American media, takes a variety of different viewpoint. And I saw a report in Germany this morning that was very critical of the German government, in one of the most respected German newspapers, for the isolationism that the German government has brought on itself as a result of the position they have taken.
And so, you see a variety of different stories and a variety of different points of views. But again, the elected leaders of these democracies who represent the people have taken their positions, and, as I indicated earlier, I think there's a tremendous amount of overstatement of the opposition and understatement of the support.
Q Ari, these are presidential policy questions, not Pentagon deployment questions. Would the President ever consider reducing the American troops along the DMZ if the majority of South Koreans want it? And also, in Germany, is there any thought to reducing the number of troops in Germany?
MR. FLEISCHER: Our current structures around the world are based on Cold War needs, and while it helps to reinforce important alliance relationships and provides a forward presence and coalition training for U.S. forces, 11 years after the end of the Cold War, there is a school of thought to rethink the numbers and types of forces we have in different locations as events warrant. Our objectives would be to maintain our military presence, to ensure our friends and allies, while deterring, if necessary, and defeating adversaries. We are seeking a posture that is U.S. presence suitable to each region, coupled with an ability to take effective military action promptly. Throughout this process, we will of course continue to work with and consult closely with our allies.
Q So are you saying there is a review going on?
MR. FLEISCHER: There is constantly a review about the best force structure that we should take to protect our needs in a changing environment.
Q Are you seeking -- you said something that you're seeking a posture that is --
MR. FLEISCHER: You can just go back to the transcript and see what I said.
Q But if South Koreans take a vote and want the U.S. out, would the U.S. leave the DMZ?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't think it's a question of a vote. I think it's a question of what is the best force structure to protect the needs of the United States in concert with our allies.
Q Ari, does the President see any merit, whatsoever, in the French and German plan for more inspectors and more time?
MR. FLEISCHER: The reason I think that the so-called plan, which has yet to be formally offered by a few nations, has met with significant resistance is because it -- to secure the peace, it is not a question of how many inspectors are inside Iraq; it is not a question of whether the U-2 is flying or not. To secure the peace, it's a question of whether or not Saddam Hussein is cooperating. If Saddam Hussein is giving the runaround to 108 inspectors, why does anybody think he won't give the runaround to 216 inspectors.
The very fact that people think a U-2 needs to fly is proof perfect that Saddam Hussein is not cooperating. If he was disarming, you wouldn't need a U-2 to see it. You'd only need one or two inspectors in a parking lot to watch the weapons be rolled out. So the very arguments they make underscore the contention from those around the world who are worried that Saddam Hussein is indeed not disarming.
Q So there will be no meeting them halfway.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the United States has made clear that those proposals are off the mark, do not address disarmament, and are non-starters.
Q Ari, is the omnibus budget bill in risk of a presidential veto if it contains proposed overseas family planning, which the President opposes?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we're going to take a look at all the provisions in the omnibus, including the aggregate size of the omnibus. We continue to have a great number of concerns about some of the extra-curricular activities that always seem to get added to omnibus appropriation bills. There are a variety of different projects that members have some thoughts about. It is not yet set in the Congress about what the final Omnibus will look like. And so we're continuing to review it.
Q Ari, in terms of all these domestic events that are going on, is the White House concerned that people may think that the war is distracting President Bush from domestic concerns, particularly the economy?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I don't think that's the case at all. And I think, as you know, from your ability to cover it very closely, what the President is doing, how he spends his time, you know that's not the case.
I think if you take a look at -- if you flip to the insides of the newspapers, you'll see the President's rapidly rising poll numbers. And of course, when the poll numbers were just a couple points below their very strong level today, they were on the front page. So, no, I don't think that's a position the American people have.
Q You stressed today that today was domestic day, and I believe the President is giving some kind of economic speech --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think I said it was both domestic and foreign.
Q And the President is giving some economic speech tomorrow. I mean, why are we doing these domestic events these particular days?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because the President has two major responsibilities, and one is to protect the country, and the other is to provide for the common welfare, per our Constitution. That's how they -- the Constitution describes it. He has a two-part job, duty -- foreign policy and domestic. He's going to do both.
Q Ari, to go back to the bin Laden tape. It wasn't clear from your comments, has the President seen a transcript of what's on this tape? And if Al Jazeera does not release it, will the administration release a copy of the transcript?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have not talked to the President directly about it. And I think we'll just watch events unfold in the Middle East, as they often do.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.
END 1:24 P.M. EST