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 Home > News & Policies > March 2003

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
March 4, 2003

Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

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12:46 P.M. EST

MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. Let me give you a report on the President's day. Then I have two statements to make. The President began this morning with a phone call to Prime Minister Vajpayee of India. They spoke and agreed about the need for Iraq to fully disarm and comply with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1441. They also discussed the need for calm along the Line of Control, and decided to remain in close consultation.

The President, also this morning, spoke with President Mubarak of Egypt. They talked about the recent Arab League Summit in Cairo and the forthcoming Islamic Conference Summit in Doha. They also discussed the situation regarding Iraq. Finally, the President told President Mubarak about his recent speech where he reiterated his commitment to move forward on seeking peace between Israelis and Palestinians. President Bush told President Mubarak of his personal commitment to dedicated time and energy to this goal as they discussed developments in that area.

After the phone calls the President had his intelligence briefing and FBI briefing. The President gave a speech this morning at the American Medical Association about a series of new health care initiatives designed to deal with medical liability suits that have driven doctors and patients away from each other depriving people of the health care they need, as well as a new proposal to get prescription drugs to seniors.

Later this afternoon, the President will meet the leaders of the digital freedom initiative. This is a program to promote economic growth by transferring the benefits of information communication technology to entrepreneurs and small businesses in the developing world. Under this program, 100 volunteers will be mobilized to be sent to Senegal as the first country to benefit from this program, designed to promote growth.

Later this afternoon, the President will meet with the President of Rwanda in the Oval Office.

Two statements for you: One, the President extends his condolences to the people of the Philippines and to President Arroyo for the lives lost and those injured in today's attack. The President condemns the wanton terrorist act and pledges cooperation and assistance to ensure that those who are responsible are brought to justice.

The President notes that the bombing underscores the seriousness of the terrorist threat in the southern Philippines, and he emphasizes that the Philippines have been a stalwart partner of the United States in the war against terror. The President notes that we will continue to work closely with President Arroyo to assist her and her government's campaign to defeat the terrorists, and we will continue to do so.

Finally, the President is announcing today that the Department of Health and Human Services will release $150 million in Low Income Home Energy Assistance funding -- otherwise known as LIHEAP. This additional funding will provide much needed help for families struggling with rising heating costs. This new money, combined with emergency funds released in January, will help keep many Americans warm during this cold winter.

And with that, I'm happy to take your questions. And hearing none, I say thank you. (Laughter.)

Q Can you give us a little more information on the Musharraf -- I'm sorry, the phone call this morning, and specifically whether or not they talked about the second new resolution? Did the President ask for help in that regard?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President congratulated President Mubarak on the recent conference, wished him well at the upcoming conference. They talked about their shared view that it's important for Saddam Hussein to comply with Resolution 1441 and to disarm.

Q On the peace process, did they talk more specifically on what the road map or what the time frame is?

MR. FLEISCHER: They did not. It was a general discussion about the importance of focusing on this issue, as the President pointed out from his recent speech. He wanted to be sure to bring it to the attention personally of President Mubarak.

Q Does the enhanced Medicare plan have traditional fee-for-services prescription drug coverage?

MR. FLEISCHER: Under the proposal the President made today, seniors will have more choices and better benefits. The choices available to seniors are whatever seniors want, including traditional fee-for-service; including preferred provider organizations, if they so desire; including managed care, if they so desire. It will have what seniors want. It will give seniors the same options that members of Congress have in the private plan available to members of Congress.

Q -- include prescription drug coverage?

MR. FLEISCHER: And under all those plans, seniors will be eligible for prescription drug coverage. What's notable about the plan is, by providing to seniors the exact coverage that members of Congress have, it means that this plan would be available in all 50 states; it would be available in the most rural areas across America -- because members of Congress and their staffs receive the same coverage. That includes, under fee-for-service, prescription drugs. It includes, under a variety of programs, prescription drug coverage, including a fee-for-service, which is defined as when you need medical attention, you visit the doctor or the hospital of your choice.

Q In the call with Mubarak, did the President mention anything about the need for democratic reforms?

MR. FLEISCHER: I've given you all the info I've got on the call.

Q So, after the big speech last week where he talked about the importance of democracy, here he's talking to the leader of a very repressive regime in the Arab world and he mentions not a word about the need for democracy?

MR. FLEISCHER: I've given you the information on the call. The President, of course, makes that a point of all his focus. And I think when you take a look at the actions of Egypt, what you see is Egypt is a regime that is being very helpful to the United States, and being very helpful to Israel, and being helpful to the Palestinians. They, after all, are a moderate Arab country that has entered into a peace treaty with Israel. And the President --

Q So if they serve our interest, democracy for Egyptians doesn't matter?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think that Egypt is a nation that is working it's way forward with reforms to the greatest degree that they can. This is something the President has supported. And it is also a state that has entered into a peace treaty with Israel, which serves the world's needs, not America's needs.

Q All right. Just quickly on timing. Does the administration intend to call for a vote at the United Nations, whether or not it looks as if the U.S. has lined up the necessary votes? Will there be a vote on the resolution that the U.S. and the U.K. have tabled --

MR. FLEISCHER: What the President has said is that he believes that a vote is desirable, it is not mandatory. The President has said that we want to move forward to listen to the Blix report, and then give members the opportunity to say what they think and to act. And so, from the President's point of view, we are consulting with nations around the world, as you know, talking to them about the second vote. The timing of it cannot yet be predicted with certainty. But that's the President's view.

Q So it's possible --

Q But there will be vote?

Q You're backing off it?

Q You're backing off.

Q That's different from what you said this morning.

MR. FLEISCHER: No, the President has -- I've reiterated what the President has always said -- I've reiterated what the President has always said, which is that the vote is desirable, it is not mandatory. We seek --

Q -- you said this morning.

Q Where did he say that \?

MR. FLEISCHER: We seek a vote --

Q Where did he say that?

MR. FLEISCHER: You know I have said to you that the resolution is desirable, not mandatory. The President has on multiple occasions -- in Cross Hall and in photo ops, that you all have been there -- the President has said that it is desirable, that we are doing it to work with our friends on this issue, that we seek the support on a second vote, and that's speaks for itself.

Go ahead, Ron.

Q The President said a resolution is desirable, not mandatory. You, from that podium both this morning and last week, said there will be a vote, regardless of what the outcome is going to be. Now, if you're going to back off, that's fine. But just -- concede it to us and let us know why.

MR. FLEISCHER: Do not interpret this as any change in position. The President has always said, and I reiterate it today --

Q You're changing the position.

MR. FLEISCHER: No, no, no, let me -- let's work through this. What I am saying to you is the President has made clear that the outcome, whether the United Nations votes or does not vote, that we will disarm Saddam Hussein with a coalition of the willing. That depends on the actions that the United Nations takes. We are proceeding with all the plans for the vote. And so I don't see any difference here. We'll continue to consult with our allies and friends, listen to the Blix report and then the members will have their opportunity to be heard --

Q Last week you said there will be a vote. This morning you said there will be a vote regardless of whether or not -- how it turns out. Do you stand behind those words? Or are you changing your --

MR. FLEISCHER: My words exactly this morning were that, shortly after the Blix report members will have the opportunity to be heard at the Security Council, members will have the opportunity to vote. That's what I said.

Q You were specifically knocking down a story that --

Q That's when you said there would be a vote.

Q -- if there were not nine votes, the U.S. would not ask for a vote.

MR. FLEISCHER: And I continue to say that story has no basis.

Q But you can't guarantee there will be a vote at the U.N. You're leaving the option open that if we can't get the support, we'll pull the resolution and go to war anyway.

MR. FLEISCHER: I've said exactly what I've continued to say the way I've said it --

Q Try it one more time.

MR. FLEISCHER: -- which is, this morning -- take a look at the transcript of what I said this morning -- with certainty, what I said was that shortly after the Blix report, members will be given the opportunity to vote.

Q The U.S. won't do anything to impede a vote, even if it appears that there are not the necessary nine votes to pass the resolution?

MR. FLEISCHER: We are proceeding. Now, if you're asking me if all of a sudden support around the world crumbles and there is absolutely no one for it, I can't predict with metaphysical certitude every eventuality. But I'm telling you what the President is doing and how he's focused on it and what the plan is.

Q Ari, one last try.

MR. FLEISCHER: We'll get there, Elizabeth.

Q Thank you, Ari. Are you willing to offer Turkey a more generous package, and how much time do they have?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we continue to talk to Turkey. Turkey is a NATO ally. The particular package that we've been talking to them about was predicated on assistance and cooperation in any plan for the use of force against Iraq. Obviously, it is predicated on that assistance and cooperation. We'll continue to talk to them as we move forward.

Q Are you willing to increase the amount in the package, or is that package pretty much the final offer?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, as I indicated, the particular package that we have talked to them about was predicated on their assistance and cooperation.

Q Ari, one last try on the vote. I asked you this morning, will there be a vote, without question, and you said, yes. And now you're --

MR. FLEISCHER: You need to read exactly what I said on the transcript. What I said on the transcript I'll repeat again right now. What I said is, that the plan is that shortly after the Blix report, members will be given their opportunity to vote.

Q I just -- do we have the transcript?

MR. FLEISCHER: Sure you have the transcript.

Q Last week -- we'll check his transcript, as well, but didn't you last week say there will be a vote, period?

MR. FLEISCHER: You can check the transcript on it, Ron, but I've indicated all along that what the President has said is we are continuing to talk to our allies in advance of the second vote. And I see nothing that has changed the President's confidence in the ultimate outcome of the second vote, which is the 18th vote.

Elizabeth, a follow-up, and then we're going to go to Goyle.

Q On North Korea, would you consider what the President said yesterday about North Korea in the interview, that he for the time mentioned military action explicitly, is that a ratcheting up of pressure on North Korea?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President has always said that we leave our options on the table and that he continues to believe this can be settled diplomatically, but we leave all our options on the table. That's what the President has always said.

Q Is that a difference in what he said this morning and what he said yesterday?


Q Ari, as part of the phone conversation between the President and the Prime Minister of India, does that have anything to do with what Prime Minister Vajpayee said yesterday in Parliament that India is very much frustrated with -- in Washington because they both failed to caught Pakistan terrorism into India. And also he said that now we don't know who to believe because President Bush pledged including General Musharraf that within a year it will be all stopped, but it has not, and he was saying that as far as Iraq is concerned, India is with the United States, just like on Afghanistan.

MR. FLEISCHER: As you know, the President and Prime Minister Vajpayee talk from time to time. It's not predicated on any one event or another; it's part of what allies do. And the situation involving Kashmir and the Line of Control has long been a contentious issue and an issue that involves tension on both sides. And so this is a matter of ongoing diplomacy by the United States. That was the tenor of the conversation that they talked about.

Q Ari, one on Iraq and one on Medicare. If the President makes a decision to send in the troops, go to combat, would he first, in one last effort to avoid war, issue some sort of ultimatum to Saddam Hussein, say, you have 24, 48, 72 hours to leave the country?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's too soon to say. The President continues to hope, one, that this can be settled peacefully; but two, let's see what the outcome is up in New York. Let's see what happens in the Blix report. Let's see what happens after the second vote takes place -- or the 18th vote takes place. And I cannot predict the future more than that.

Q Is the President's decision to offer a blueprint today on Medicare, as opposed to a detailed piece of legislation, a reflection of the requests, the entreaties from congressional Republicans to not send up thousands of pages that have "White House" stamped on the front page, which they thought would be essentially political suicide for them because the Democrats were going to rally against it because it had the President's name on it, on an issues the obviously is very political?

MR. FLEISCHER: There's no question that if you take a look at the trend in Congress for years on Medicare, both parties talk about getting prescription drugs to seniors, but then it never happens. And so what the President wanted to do was find a new way to work with Congress so that whatever plan was proposed in getting prescription drugs to seniors would have the most likelihood of actually getting enacted into law. And so, following the State of the Union, the President listened to members of Congress and heard their different thoughts about how to proceed, and what you see today is reflected in the consultations we've had with members of Congress.

Q If I could refine the question about the vote. The U.S., obviously, has the power to call for a vote. The sponsors have the power to call for a vote. So how about if we just ask simply, does the U.S. intend to call for a vote, come what may, on a second resolution?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, obviously, when I keep referring to the fact that after the second vote takes place -- after the 18th vote takes place -- you're hearing very clearly our plan how to proceed. I'm saying we will continue to keep our ear to the ground, but all plans, all intentions are indeed to proceed. And that's why I'm having a hard time understanding how there can be seen as any type of shift or change here. We'll listen to the Blix report, and then, I cannot predict to you the timing, but the President has always said that he is confident in the outcome of this.

Q Yes, I mean, the question we all have, I think, is fairly simple, which is, if the situation did not change from where it is today, and there were five votes, and the whole purpose of this was to find an expression of support for our allies, and voting on a second resolution wasn't going to do that, would the U.S. decide not to call for a vote?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as you know, I've often told you, too, that this vote is one of these votes where it's kind of hard to tell exactly how many votes you're going to have, often until the day the vote is called, isn't it? And so, I think this means that a lot of the guessing about how many votes will there be, this far out from a vote that hasn't even been called yet, are just that, guesses. And this is why I went through the exercise of reading to you, in 1990 similar statements made, threatening vetoes by China, by France, by Russia, in terms of the resolution.

And so we've seen this pattern before where people believe that it's impossible, or that it's a very uphill fight for the President to achieve a United Nations outcome. And we saw that that speculation was wrong in 1990. We saw it was wrong in the fall of 2002. And I believe you'll see again that it's wrong in 2003. And that's why the President has expressed his confidence in the ultimate outcome of a vote.

Q Okay, one quick thing on North Korea, if I may. Were the President's remarks in this interview, should we interpret those as a simple restatement of administration policy which always leaves military options on the table, or as a warning to North Korea after its provocations of yesterday?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think you should see it as a restatement of American policy that the President continues to believe that this matter can be handled through diplomacy. We are in consultation as we speak with the Republic of Korea and our other allies about this incident, and we are consulting with them on how we will protest this incident in the most appropriate way to lodge the protest.

Q Where would you lodge a protest?

MR. FLEISCHER: That's what we're in consultations with them about. There actually are -- there are several places it can be done.

Q Two quick ones. On Medicare, some even moderate Republicans on the Hill are saying, while this is a step in the right direction, it still doesn't go far enough. How much is the White House willing to negotiate, particularly on the benefits that the President outlined for those who stay within traditional Medicare?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President wants very much to work with Congress on this issue. And it's important to listen to the points of view of all those who approach this in the same spirit the President does, which is, to summarize the President's approach, let's make this the year that seniors actually get the prescription drugs they've been promised. So the President wants to work with Democrats and Republicans to find a way to make that happen.

Q So he's willing to negotiate and beef up those benefits if that's the will of Congress?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President has proposed this, and now it's important for Congress to take it up. And the President is confident they will take it up in a good spirit, and move it forward so seniors can get the prescription drugs. In terms of its generosity, this is a generous plan. The President has proposed $400 billion over 10 years, with additional assistance to low-income seniors to help them with their costs. Last year, when this was being debated, Democrats had been talking about a plan in the range of $300 billion. So the President thinks that this is the ultimate test of, if there's a will, there's a way. And he wants to see that happen.

Q On -- just to follow really quickly on North Korea. As much as this is a restatement of policy, surely the President knew that his remarks would be provocative. So why did he --

MR. FLEISCHER: The President thought that his remarks would be provocative?

Q Well, to become more specific -- I mean, why didn't he just restate what you have always said, I keep all my options on the table, which is sort of a benign way of not closing off options, but also it doesn't move the ball anywhere?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, first of all, I just want to differ with the premise of it, because I think when you take a look at the action that was taken, the President is not being provocative. But the President has said in different formulations the same statement, and he said what he said yesterday. And I was asked earlier about that question, and it's a restatement of what he has said, all options remain on the table. He continues to believe, as he said yesterday, that this can be handled diplomatically.

Q Ari, two quick ones on Medicare. One, seniors would join the exact same plan that members of Congress have, that very plan, not a parallel, comparable plan, is that right? They'd have that option.

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes. The President has proposed -- I brought this with me. The President has proposed giving senior citizens the identical coverage that is available to members of Congress and their staffs. It's called the Federal Employee Health Benefit Plan. And in the 2003 book, which is given to all members of Congress, on pages 12 through 14, it describes a dozen or so fee-for-service insurance policies, all of which mean that when you need medical attention, you visit the doctor or hospital of your choice.

This is not managed care; this is member of Congress care. This is the same care that's available to members of Congress, and the President thinks if it's good enough for members of Congress, it should be good enough for our nation's seniors.

Q It's not like equal coverage, it's that very plan? They will become part of the members of Congress plan?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm really not sure I follow the question. This means that the same coverage that is made available to members of Congress will be made available --

Q You can have two different plans that provide similar coverage. I'm simply trying to understand whether it's --

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there are a variety of choices and options and plans. That's why when you look at 12 through 14 here, you'll see that it lists a whole series of plans, private plans that are available in all 50 states across the country, all congressional districts across the country, rural and urban, that are available to members and their staffs. And what members or the staffs do is they go through and they make a selection about this co-payment, this premium, this level of coverage, that's what suits me and my family the best.

The President is proposing a way to build this into Medicare on an enhanced basis for Medicare so that a senior citizen could look through it and say, this is the plan that works best for me. This is the amount of co-payment I'd like to pay. This is the amount of premium I'd like to pay. And they'll have assistance from the government in paying these costs because the federal government will be subsidizing $400 billion.

Q So they'll get that same booklet, in effect, to choose from? That very same booklet?

MR. FLEISCHER: That's the gist, that's correct.

Q And anybody in any level of Medicare, old, new, whatever, could use the doctor and hospital they choose, although depending on what coverage you picked, you might pay more or less for it, is that right?

MR. FLEISCHER: It depends on the choice that a senior makes. Under what members of Congress have, it does say that when you need medical attention, you visit the doctor or hospital of your choice. That's for the nationwide fee-for-service plans. So if a senior decided what they wanted to do was pick a plan where they could go to any doctor, any time that they wanted to go to, the doctor of their choice, they could have that available to them. If they decided that they prefer a provider organization, they could have that choice. If a senior decided they wanted managed care, that, too, would be their choice, just as it's the choice for members of Congress today.

Q The President see -- envisions a prescription drug benefit as part of a very comprehensive plan of reforming Medicare. Does he keep on the table the idea that maybe you could just provide prescription drug benefit and come back to revisit Medicare reform later on?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, of course, under the proposal the President has made, people who stay in traditional Medicare will have prescription drug coverage. So that is covered. But the President does look at this as a issue of taking a system that was designed in 1965, when health care was essentially just hospitals and doctors, making a 21st century Medicare that is more helpful to seniors.

One way to perhaps think of this is if a senior citizen works for a private company, is 64 years and 364 days old, they receive a booklet from the private company that describes a whole series of plans that are available to them. And when they're 64 years old, they can choose among those plans the option they think is best, the best benefits, the right price. The day they turn 65, under Medicare, all those choices are taken away from them. They're not given those choices. And that's why they don't have prescription drugs under Medicare.

The President thinks that many people who are like that, and who have been working for years and who are in Medicare, will be familiar and comfortable with this. But there are going to be seniors, perhaps, who are older than that, octogenarians, who want absolutely no changes. They want prescription drugs. They'll get that. They don't have to make any changes to get the prescription drug coverage. But there are going to be younger seniors who are used to having choices and options who are probably going to be more inclined to take a look and have an enhanced Medicare program.

Q The Democrats don't like this. How do you get them on board? How are you going to convince them it's a good idea?

MR. FLEISCHER: If -- first of all, I don't agree with the premise that all Democrats don't like it. Senator John Breaux, for example, this morning, said that this is a combination of the best of the government has to offer with the best of what the private sector provides. It's a good combination in Senator Breaux's opinion, and he often is a key indicator of whether or not there will be a centrist coalition that can do this.

Of course, there are going to be liberal Democrats who only want government-run health care. This is an alternative to government-run health care. This provides people with options and better benefits. So there may be some element of that, but that's why the President thinks that there can be, indeed, a center built around this plan that can get prescription drugs to seniors.

Q Ari, two questions, please. Today, on the occasion of the Muslim New Year, Iraqi television read a speech of President Saddam Hussein in which he had extremely harsh words for President Bush. And I think -- I may be paraphrasing, but I think he accused him of trying to enslave the people of Iraq.

MR. FLEISCHER: That's just further nonsense. And when you talk about the conditions of the people of Iraq, Saddam Hussein is the one who has created a brutal, totalitarian dictatorship in which people cannot speak, people are not free to exercise their rights. Saddam Hussein has created one of the worst totalitarian, most violent states -- after all, he has gassed his own people -- imaginable on this Earth. I think that it's a fair thing to say that if Saddam Hussein is removed from power, the people of Iraq will, for the first time in a generation, be free.

Q Next question, Ari, please -- recently The Washington Post had an editorial in which it expressed its worries about some of the latest steps taken by President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, and asking the United States to get more involved with a group of friends trying to find a democratic solution --

MR. FLEISCHER: The United States is deeply involved in the Mission of the Secretary General of the Organization of American States. They have formed this group of friends that is working very hard to bring solutions to the problem in Venezuela based on a constitutional solution and based on a peaceful model. We're a deeply integral part of that.

Q I'm still unclear on Medicare, why the President was willing to

send up only a framework that left the details up to Congress, but on something like tax cuts, he set up a detailed proposal with price tags for each provision.


Q Why not get as specific on something so important?

MR. FLEISCHER: Because it's the President's judgment that what's important is at the end of the day to get things done for the American people, and in this case, to get taxes cut, so that the economy can grow, and then also to get prescription drugs to seniors. And it's entirely appropriate, in the President's opinion, to have different tactics to a common -- to accommodate those objectives or accomplish those objectives.

The President's judgment was, on an issue where Congress has engaged in such heated partisanship as they have in the past on Medicare, which stopped anything from getting done on Medicare, it is more appropriate, more helpful and more bipartisan to send up a framework and to let members of Congress work their will with the framework. Taxes has proved itself to be an issue where people have been able to forge majorities, people have been able to get taxes cut. And so it's not a similar issue to Medicare.

Q So on his tax proposal, he doesn't anticipate that heated partisanship that you see on --

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there may be some heated partisanship, but I don't think it's going to stand in the way of actually getting it done; 2001 is an indication of that. But after all, the Senate last year wasn't even able to pass a Medicare proposal. They weren't even able to pass in the Senate -- of course it was under different control at that time, but they couldn't even pass through the Senate a plan to get prescription drugs to seniors.

Q Ari, the North Korean intercept over the weekend. A, is it your impression that this incident over international waters, a lock on an American plane over international waters, takes things up a notch to a new level, if you will, of tension? But beyond that, there's also a report that we have now suspended those reconnaissance flights. Is that true?

MR. FLEISCHER: One, I can't comment on anything operational. You need to talk to DOD about that. But, two, this is exactly as I indicated. This is a matter that we will protest. And we're talking to our allies about the best manner in which to do that.

Q Ari, Newsweek, which has a cover story headlined, "Bush and God," also reports as did WorldNet Daily, that Saudi Arabia will once again not be, "a country of particular concern in the State Department's annual list of systematic, ongoing and egregious violators of religious freedom." And my question: How can the President, as a born-again Christian, tolerate the State Department doing this, when there is obviously and undeniably no religious freedom in Saudi Arabia?

MR. FLEISCHER: One, Lester, any judgments the President makes are based on his role as the President of all the people, not on the basis of what his individual religion happens to be. Two, there is a careful review process that the State Department can walk you through about all their criteria about how they conduct their reports, and you can talk to them to get that.

Q He doesn't -- wait a minute.

MR. FLEISCHER: Go ahead.

Q The overwhelming majority of the quarter of a million of our Armed Forces who are now poised Iraq are men. Most of these are aware, well aware of the extensive media coverage of the male and married commander of the Kitty Hawk battle group being relieved of command for having an affair with a female Naval officer whose identity the Navy is concealing. And my question is, when our Armed Forces see that, instead of speaking to this gender discrimination, you buck the question back to the Pentagon, but won't talk, would you deny, Ari, that this does not -- this doesn't suggest the Commander-in-Chief doesn't care?

MR. FLEISCHER: Lester, I review you to my previous buck. You need to talk to DOD. (Laughter.)

MR. FLEISCHER: Sarah. Happy birthday.

Q You wouldn't let me --

MR. FLEISCHER: Lester, you're interrupting Sarah's celebration of her birthday.

Q Happy birthday.

MR. FLEISCHER: Happy birthday, Sarah.

Q Oh, my gosh. Thank you, thank you, very much. That's very nice. That's what you like, right?

Q Happy birthday, my dear.

MR. FLEISCHER: I hear no question. We'll move on. (Laughter.) You're speechless, Sarah. Do you have a question?

Q I have a question. This is something for the books, though. Now the question, just -- thank you. After today's bombing in the Philippines, does the President believe he will now get the okay from the Philippine government to send combat troops to the southern Philippines to go after the Abu Sayyaf and the Islamic Liberation Front?

MR. FLEISCHER: One, the President -- as I indicated at the beginning of the briefing -- does view this as an act of terrorism. And we stand ready and able to help the people of the Philippines. The Philippines are a sovereign government, and we continue to talk to them. Their Defense Minister was just here meeting with the American Secretary of Defense about how best to accomplish this assistance. And that will be a subject of these talks.

Q Thank you. Does the administration still consider Saddam Hussein to be a terrorist?

MR. FLEISCHER: Does the administration consider Saddam Hussein to be a terrorist?

Q Right.

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, certainly, he is the dictator of a state that is on the terrorist list, so I see nothing that would indicate he is anything but a terrorist.

Q Why doesn't the U.S. go after him overtly, the way we have Osama bin Laden?

MR. FLEISCHER: You asked me that the other day and the answer remains the same. If force is used, I think you can assume that we will not carve out a safety zone for Saddam Hussein.

Q And also, was a bounty paid on the people in Pakistan who helped with the arrest of Sheik Mohammed?

MR. FLEISCHER: You would have to talk to Justice Department about that. I don't have that information.

Q Ari, the man that President Bush has appointed to be the civilian head of Iraq after military operations, retired General Jay Garner, is one of about --

MR. FLEISCHER: The President has not appointed anybody to be the civilian head of Iraq.

Q -- the man who was appointed, maybe it was Elliott Abrams or somebody else who appointed him -- at any rate, General Jay Garner is going to be the one heading the civilian administration. Now, General Garner, with an impressive military career nevertheless, is one of about a couple dozen generals who are closely associated with JINSA and have worked very closely with the Israeli military, among other things, I believe on the Arrow missile program. Is it really appropriate, with these kind of credentials, to place him as the face of American democracy in Iraq? And wouldn't that create the wrong impression?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President has not made any appointments about the face of American democracy in Iraq. I just dispute the premise of your question. If there are any people who are going to be involved in any ways about this, you can talk to DOD about some of the various people who are going to be involved in DOD's operation.

Q Is this not true, then, that General Garner will be the head of the civilian side of Iraq in a post, in an occupation --

MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated, the President has made no appointments about a "civilian head of Iraq."

Q What's the President going to tell the Papal Emissary tomorrow?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President looks forward to receiving and greeting the Papal Emissary tomorrow to find out what the message of the Pope is on this topic. The President has said previously that he hopes that this matter can be resolved peacefully, and that the best way for this to be resolved peacefully is through the actions of Saddam Hussein. We will see what happens in the meeting tomorrow, what the message is, and I'll have a report for you tomorrow.

Q Ari, the Pope has already said there's no moral or legal justification for war. What are the legal and moral justifications in the President's mind?

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I will have more to say on this after the meeting takes tomorrow. And I don't want to presume what a message may be, or what the meeting will be. But if there are those who differ with the President on this, the President respects their opinion and respects their ideas and respects their thoughts. He listens. He listens carefully. In the end, the President will make the judgment that he thinks is best needed to protect our country.

Q Does he see a moral/legal justification for war?

MR. FLEISCHER: Clearly, the fact that Saddam Hussein has violated the United Nations Security Council resolutions means he is not following the legal path that the world has set out to preserve peace. And the President thinks the most immoral act of all would be if Saddam Hussein were to somehow transfer his weapons to terrorists who could use them against us. So the President does view the use of force as a matter of legality, as a matter of morality, and as a matter of protecting the American people.

Q This is about Iraq. On Saturday, I interviewed Aziz al-Taee, Chairman of the Iraqi-American Council. He detailed a compelling body of evidence about the holocaust being waged against the Iraqi people. Why hasn't the administration focused on this aspect of Saddam's regime to justify intervention without U.N. approval? After all, it was the Clinton administration that used ethnic cleansing as a pretext to bomb and send troops into Kosovo.

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the administration has frequently pointed that out. And Secretary Powell, in his presentation up in New York, described at some length the crimes committed by Saddam Hussein against his own people. And this is something the President remarks about from time to time. What about the cries on the basis of human rights for the people of Iraq who are suffering under the hand of Saddam Hussein? That is an important issue for the world to face, as well, as the consequences of allowing Saddam to have weapons of mass destruction.

Q Ari --

Q What about going in order?

Q During the first Gulf War, the anti-war activists were out across the street banging a drum around the clock. Now, the "code pink" ladies, mostly, have indicated that -- I mean, they've kept sort of regular hours. But they've indicated now they're going to be more aggressive, more noisy, as things progress. First off, I'm just wondering, is the President, do you know, has he noticed them out there every single day?

MR. FLEISCHER: He has never said anything to me about it, so -- I've not heard him talk about that. The President has talked generally about protesters, of course. The large protests that took place in Europe, or in other places, the President, of course, has noticed and seen those. And one of the things that the President has seen also is, of course, is the President listens to those who differ with him. He has seen hundreds of thousands take to the streets all around the world to protest free trade, but he remains a free trader because he thinks it's right. So he respects the opinion of those who protest and to exercise their democratic rights, but he will still act as he sees fit to protect our country.

Q Thank you. Just to go back to the protest issue, is the President aware of the global email movement currently happening to send the Pope to Baghdad, and how might he respond?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well again, the President respects the opinions of those who differ with him on this. He has heard them, he listens to them, and he takes all opinions into account for any decision that he may make. Just as I indicated, I think the free trade protests are a very good example of people who are well-known, who have strong opinions, who share those opinions, who exercise their rights to protest. But nevertheless, the President still makes the judgments that he makes to represent all Americans.

Q If the Pope was to be in Baghdad as a human shield, how might that affect the President's decision?

MR. FLEISCHER: He has no basis on that, whatsoever.

Thank you.

END 1:20 P.M. EST