Excerpts from the Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer, April 2, 2003 (Full Transcript)
POW rescue/President's involvement
President's mood/stress of war
Iraq's debt/future Iraqi leaders
Airline aid package
Definition of victory in Iraq
President's involvement in day-to-day events
Outside countries involved in reconstruction
President's public appearances
Middle East communications network
3:30 P.M. EST
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me give you a report on the President's
day. The President began with an intelligence briefing, followed by
FBI briefing; convened a meeting of the National Security Council. He
has spoken today with the Emir of Qatar, with the Foreign Minister of
Kuwait and the President of Spain. This afternoon, the President just
concluded a meeting that went much longer than scheduled -- so my
apologies for coming out here late -- with a group of economists from
Wall Street to talk about the state of the economy and the President's
jobs and growth package that is pending on Capitol Hill.
And then I have one announcement, and I'm happy to take your
The President will meet with President Jorge Batlle of Uruguay, at
the White House on April 23, 2003. This visit provides the opportunity
to deepen United States cooperation with Uruguay, a strong ally in the
war on terrorism and promoting democracy and economic growth in the
With that, I'm happy to take your questions. Ron.
QUESTION: Do we know from either forensic evidence or
any statements by Private Lynch the identity or whether or not any of
those bodies were coalition troops?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have no information on that. Anything
about that would come from the Pentagon.
QUESTION: And can you tell us when the President
found out that there would be a mission to try to rescue her?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, let me try to walk you through a little
bit about this. Yesterday, the President was informed about the
successful rescue in a conversation he had with Secretary Rumsfeld,
shortly before 5:00 p.m. in the afternoon. Secretary Rumsfeld informed
the President of the successful rescue and the President's reaction
was, "That's great."
The President had a hint of it earlier in the day, but the tactical
decisions were made by General Franks and his commanders on the ground
about exactly what to do and when to do it. And that's what took
QUESTION: -- add to that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think the President had some
generalized information, but, again, the tactical information was --
the decision about what to do and when to do it, was made by commanders
on the ground. The President had some general awareness that something
might be happening, but not the details.
QUESTION: Could he have told General Franks not to do
it? And was the plan signed off on by him?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's not a question of whether this is
signed off on or not signed off on by the President. These are the
exact types of things that Commanders-in-Chief entrust to their people
in the field to do. That's the way the military structure works best.
That's the way the President works it. So this --
QUESTION: We know there's a history of
Commanders-in-Chief signing off on authorizing just this kind of
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has made it clear that he
wants the commanders in the field to have the flexibility, the ability,
and knowing that they'll have the backup from the White House for them
to make these types of calls and these types of decisions in a way that
maximizes the mission.
QUESTION: So whose call was it to do it, Franks --
MR. FLEISCHER: You have to ask DOD specifically which
military official, but --
QUESTION: But it wasn't the President's, you're
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
Let me say this, though: The President does express to the Armed
Forces, to all those involved, especially to the daring servicemen who
carried out -- the servicemen and women who helped make this happen
-- the President expresses to them the pride of our nation for the
successful rescue. And, of course, he expresses the joy of our nation
for the Lynch family upon her being rescued.
And, I do want to say, it is tempered somewhat by also the fact, of
course, that the President knows that we have others who are missing in
action, we have others who are POW, we have others who have died. And
that, of course, is always on the President's mind. But there's no
question this is a good day, a good moment, and the President is very
proud of what took place.
QUESTION: How is the President reacting to the stress
of the war? There's an article that suggests in quotes from his
friends that he feels he's being tested, that he feels burdened by
this. How would you --
MR. FLEISCHER: You know, I can only say that I think the
people who are talking are not people who have spent much time with the
President. Because my read of having seen the President is the
following -- and I see him often -- I think it's fair to say that
the hardest part was the lead-up to the decision to use force. I think
for any Commander-in-Chief, for the President, for this President --
that, to him, represented the most difficult time of deciding whether
or not force must be used, knowing that it would put American men and
women in harm's way.
Once the decision was made, this is a President who is very
comfortable, who is very steady with the decision made. And that's
what I see in him. These are serious times. We are a nation at war.
And the President is always cognizant of that. Tomorrow, when the
President goes to Camp Lejeune, he's going to meet with some families
whose servicemen or women have lost their lives in Iraq. And that is
something the President thinks about. But he also keeps in mind the
purpose of the mission, the nature of the mission, the importance of
the mission. And that's what I see in him.
QUESTION: Do you feel that he feels burdened and that
he feels that he is being tested?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I really can't say that. I think --
when you say burdened, I don't know how to define what the word
burdened means. I think any time a President of the United States
authorizes the use of force, when this President has authorized the use
of force, he understands the serious nature of that. But when he does
so because he feels so strongly and so deeply, and has he has shared
with the public the important reasons why force has to be used, the
President is somebody who has set his sights on a mission and is proud
of the men and women who are carrying out the mission, and he is
resolved to see it through.
He is comfortable with the decisions that are made. And I think
that you'll see tomorrow at Camp Lejeune that it's going to be a
private meeting with the families. As you know, the President does
think carefully about these decisions to put people in harm's way. And
he cares deeply about that.
QUESTION: Ari, has the U.S. any contact with the
Iraqis, or any third- party intervention to end the war?
MR. FLEISCHER: Not that I know.
QUESTION: Ari, can I follow up on Ron's question?
You said he had a hint of it earlier in the day and he knew something
was going on. Did he know that there was a rescue mission underway to
try to get one of the POWs?
MR. FLEISCHER: I really am not going to go into any more
depth than that, than what I said. Just, without being specific, there
was some generalized information, obviously of a highly classified
nature. And -- but as far as the timing, the tactical aspects, he did
QUESTION: I'm not asking about any of that. I'm
asking -- and I know it's classified, but now everyone knows that DOD
received intelligence that Jessica Lynch might be alive and that they
were going to launch this special operation mission to get her.
MR. FLEISCHER: Campbell, I'm just not at liberty to get
into any more specifics about what it was that the President got
QUESTION: I'm trying to get a sense for how much the
President is tuned in to the daily developments on the ground. I mean,
this is a big deal, obviously.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, obviously, when I say he's tuned in,
he's tuned in. He's tuned in; the Secretary informed him about it at
ten of 5:00 p.m.
That was part of the regular briefing that the President receives
on all events, particularly something like this. But on many of the
different events in the theater, the President is told about it.
Earlier in the day he received some generalized information about some
possibilities -- or this possibility, and I just leave it at that.
QUESTION: Possibilities of what?
MR. FLEISCHER: This possibility, that what transpired later
in the day may happen.
QUESTION: What transpired later in the day?
MR. FLEISCHER: The rescue. And that was singular.
QUESTION: Ari, on a different subject, appropriation
committees in both the House and Senate have now rejected a White House
request relating to the supplemental for the $2.5 billion that would go
toward reconstruction and humanitarian aid -- rejected your request
that that money be controlled by the Pentagon. And instead, they're
designating that it be controlled by State Department and other
MR. FLEISCHER: Correct.
QUESTION: Does this mean the State Department is now
going to run the reconstruction effort?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, it's part of a $74-billion appropriation
bill that Congress is considering. They granted the President's
request in this area for the dollar amount, but there is a difference
in their committee work about exactly who should get to expend the
dollar amount. So the President is pleased with the focus on the
correct dollar amount in this case. We disagree with the committees
about whether it should be the State Department or the Defense
Department that should be authorized to expend the funds. And that is
an issue that we'll take up with the House and the Senate when it comes
to the floor.
QUESTION: But given that both committees -- and
this is not just a partisan issue; Republicans agree that the money
should go to the State Department, too -- how do you readjust? Is
Jay Gardner, retired General Gardner, who is supposed to be running the
operation, does he work for the State Department now?
MR. FLEISCHER: Just by working -- by working the issue
when it comes to the full House and the full Senate. It was a
committee that did it in the House, a committee that did it in the
Senate. And, of course, the way the process works, it's the beginning
stages of it. And we'll continue to work it.
QUESTION: So just to clarify, the President still
believes that the Pentagon should be in control of the rebuilding and
the humanitarian relief effort under this supplemental.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President made the proposal to do it in
that manner because, given the fact that the Pentagon has the security
force as the Armed Forces on the ground, he believes that's the most
effective way to deliver the help to the Iraqi people that will be
necessary for the reconstruction of Iraq. So that's why he made the
proposal the way he did.
He stands by it. We'll see ultimately what happens when it gets to
QUESTION: Iraq has a debt, an external debt of about
$100 billion. It's a huge burden, obviously, even with its oil
reserves -- run up by Saddam Hussein, unelected dictator, building
palaces and weapons. And there is --
MR. FLEISCHER: Actually, he was elected. He had 100
percent he said.
QUESTION: I stand corrected. There is a proposal out
there that once Saddam Hussein and his regime are gone, that the people
of Iraq should not be burdened with this debt, that it should be
forgiven, partly to liberate them from this conduct of Saddam Hussein,
and also to teach banks and corporations and countries who lent such a
tyrant that kind of money a lesson not to do it in the future. Does
the President have a feeling on what should be done with Iraq's debt?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that all of these issues are going
to be the issues that are going to be part of the reconstruction
effort. And these decisions will get made with the international
community. Obviously, there are a number of nations who have money
that is owed to them -- owed by the state. The state will continue
to exist. And so, therefore, it is still an important issue. The
people of Iraq will have a role in this, as well. So I don't think
anybody can tell you what the outcome will be.
The one thing that is certain is Iraq is a wealthy nation. Iraq
has vast resources. Iraq will have -- unlike Afghanistan, for
example -- Iraq will have a huge financial base from within upon which
to draw. And that's because of their oil wealth. And that should
serve benevolent purposes in the future, should serve peaceful
purposes, should serve trade purposes in the future. It has a future,
also, where the trade sanctions will get lifted one day.
QUESTION: So you aren't ruling in or out debt
forgiveness for Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, I'm just saying I think it's too soon
for anybody to give any assurances on one way or another. As I said,
state-to- state relations continue, even if a regime is changed.
QUESTION: Can I ask a more specific question? Does
the United States know now that forces are within 15 miles, perhaps
closer to Baghdad, the day after this regime falls -- literally, the
day after -- who runs the financial system in Iraq? Who runs its
diplomacy? Who runs its oil fields?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, this will be part of the whole
QUESTION: But we don't know that yet?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think when the day the Taliban fell,
did we know the name of the new President of Afghanistan? No. The
point is, the best way to ensure the future stability of a country is
to take care first of the security matters, which is first, to make
certain that the regime is disarmed, to make certain that Saddam
Hussein and those around him are not in power. And things will evolve,
and I think things will evolve in different parts of the country at a
different pace. Already you're seeing some talk by the British of
empowering Iraqi officials to run certain affairs in some of the areas
that they have now controlled.
And so, again, I think you're going to see different things,
different regions of the country. But broadly, the effort is designed
to make certain that security is enhanced. They'll be additional
handovers of roles to the Iraqi people from both within and without.
QUESTION: You mentioned this morning that the airline
aid package on the Hill is excessive. Do you think the airlines are
trying to take advantage of the government to cover up some structural
problems they have?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that the airline industry, even
prior to the war in Iraq, was beset by economic difficulties, obviously
unrelated to anything happening in the war in Iraq. The taxpayers
responded generously once, right after September 11th, in the form of
loans that were available to the airlines, some of which have just this
week accepted substantial loans from the taxpayers.
So the airline industry has to be looked at in terms of, is there
something specific that was caused as a result of this war that merits
additional help from the taxpayers? Or were there other conditions
that existed in the marketplace that need to be considered, separate
and apart from the war.
Some of the issues that the airline industry brought to the
attention of policymakers were their fear that a war would lead to a
spike-up in the price of fuel oil, which is a large component of the
cost that airlines incur. Jet fuel costs have actually fallen, not
risen, as was predicted. Fuel costs have fallen from $1.20 a gallon in
February, to just 80 cents last week. Also, in terms of passenger
ridership, the airlines anticipated a 15-percent decline in ridership.
There has, indeed, been a decline of 10 percent, not the anticipated 15
percent. And that's also a factor that needs to be considered. The
level at which the ridership now is very similar to the level of just
one year ago.
Therefore, when the administration takes a look at the
congressional committee's action to add some $3 billion to the
appropriations for the airlines, the White House believes that that is
QUESTION: What is an appropriate amount?
MR. FLEISCHER: Something less than that. (Laughter.) The
administration does not oppose assistance for the airlines. But,
clearly, given the factors that have affected the airlines, such as
fuel oil and the limited impact the war has had, the administration
believes that the amount that the Congress is considering now is
QUESTION: Ari, there's a lot of stories out there
saying the White House is signaling it wants to compromise on the tax
cut. What is your reaction to that? And is $550 billion acceptable to
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you for bringing that up. Obviously,
the House has passed a figure at the level the President sought; the
Senate has passed a different figure. And we believe that -- the
President believes very strongly that the higher the number, the more
jobs will be created for the American people. And, therefore, the
President continues to think it's very important that the $726 billion
figure that the President sought is the figure that is arrived at. He
will continue to push for that figure.
We understand that there will be a give-and-take process in the
Congress between the House and the Senate, but the President is going
to continue to push for that figure.
QUESTION: That isn't exactly a resounding, no, we're
not going to compromise.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, we understand that the
President proposes, Congress disposes -- but the President is
continuing to push for the figure that he proposed.
QUESTION: Ari, I think the point people are trying to
get at when it comes to the rescue operation is you say, the President
had a hint of it. Without getting into any of the classified
information or operational details, that seems to suggest that the
President was told in the morning at one of his earlier meetings with
his national security team that there was some intelligence and the
possibility of a rescue operation being launched, was he also given the
option to say no?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't think people view the President as
looking at it in that way, when the President reviews his briefings in
the morning about here are the different possibilities of things that
may take place down the road. And then later in the afternoon, down
the road is traveled, and the President gets an update on the things
that he talked about earlier in the day.
The President has made it very clear to the commanders, and to
Tommy Franks, that Tommy Franks makes the calls about the tactics and
the timing of the operations. That is how the President thinks wars
are won. The President has said repeatedly, the White House will not
micromanage the war. That is exactly why you have generals and
admirals and experts to guide the war and run the war in the way that
they believe is the best to run it. He'll stay deeply involved. He
monitors it. He asks questions about what is happening to enforce
accountability, to make certain that people are doing the things that
they said they were going to do. But when it comes to running the war,
the President believes that it's best left in the hands of the people
who are expert at running the war.
QUESTION: I have a question now on the financial
issues. In the supplemental, there are a number of Republicans who are
saying there is a majority support for striking out the money for
Turkey because of anger on the Hill about how -- the Turkey
situation. What is the administration doing to try to keep that money
And to follow on Elizabeth's question, not as the White House Press
Secretary, but as the former spokesman for the Senate Budget Committee
Chairman and the former spokesman for the House Ways and Means
Committee Chairman, how likely is it that the President will get his
$700 billion? (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: Are you asking me as an AP writer?
MR. FLEISCHER: (Laughter.) The land of the formers.
QUESTION: What a checkered past -- (laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: As a former spokesman for those two
entities, I think it's appropriate to buck that question to the White
House Press Secretary. And he answered already. So thank you for the
opportunity. (Laughter.) No, I can tell you, there is a process that's
underway on the Hill. We have seen this before. And the President
made a proposal because he thought it was the best proposal to do the
most good for the economy. And therefore, he is going to continue to
push the Congress to pass the proposal that he made. We will work with
the Congress in that endeavor. Congress, of course, has the final
word. But it will be a final word where the President's voice is
MR. FLEISCHER: And on Turkey, as you know, Secretary Powell
has been in Turkey meeting with Turkish officials about the ongoing
bilateral relations and interests. And we will see exactly what
happens on the floor of the House or the floor of the Senate. We're
aware that members of Congress have some strong opinions on this. But
the President does think, given Turkey's economic circumstances, it is
appropriate, it is the right policy for the $1 billion to be approved.
QUESTION: There seems to be a new big push going on
towards Baghdad at the moment, and the Pentagon said today that the
toughest fighting may be ahead of us still. One of the criticisms of
this administration is that the rationale for the war has seemed to
change over time. So, for the record, at this point, would you say
what -- how would this administration define a victory?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President has been unequivocal.
He said it in his speech in Philadelphia, he's been saying it on all
his remarks, and I think this is something you've heard repeatedly out
of the Pentagon: this mission in Iraq is about the disarmament of the
Iraqi regime. It is also about making certain that Saddam Hussein and
those around him are no longer in power so they can do this again to
the Iraqi people or to the world. Those are the two missions.
QUESTION: It has to be both things in order to be a
victory? One or the other doesn't --
MR. FLEISCHER: It always has been. And that is the purpose
of the military effort.
QUESTION: Can you tell us what the threshold is for
Defense officials coming to the President and asking for some sort of
fresh authorization, aside from any classified matters? Are there
circumstances under which they must come to him for a fresh
MR. FLEISCHER: You know there is really nothing that's been
brought to my attention like that. What happened is, here, the
President develops a war plan with the experts, with the National
Security Council, with the DOD, with the generals, with the CINC, with
the Secretary of Defense. The plan is approved. And Tommy Franks' job
is to carry out the plan. And that is what is happening.
I can't, off the top of my head, Jim, give you an example of
something that only the President can authorize. But, again, I think
it's important to understand the President's approach to how wars are
won -- the President's approach to how important it is for the
Commander-in-Chief to make certain that there is accountability by
asking questions about the mission so that people in charge of the
mission can answer to the President about how the mission is being
conducted and carried out.
But the President wants to make certain that the commanders in the
field know that they are comfortable making the calls and making
That's part of the whole military approach, too. When you talk to
top military officials, they'll tell you they don't micromanage the
actual levels on the battlefield. There are decisions that are made by
lieutenants. There are decisions that are made by captains. There are
decisions that are made by majors, et cetera. And that's how the
President thinks wars are best won.
QUESTION: Okay, one thing on the airline assistance
package, even though it was clear that the White House didn't want any
money for this, or at least they didn't put any in the supplemental, it
is equally clear that both Democrats and Republicans on the Hill are
determined to push this through. In spite of White House objections,
they've put around $3 billion in there. Does the White House intend to
threaten a veto? What do you intend to do, at this point, to tell
people that --
MR. FLEISCHER: Jim, Jim, Jim, Jim, this is the beginning of
the process. The committees have spoken, but it hasn't even made it to
the House floor yet, or to the Senate floor. So allow the process to
You are correct, this is not a partisan issue. I think that you
will find people in both parties on different sides of this. There
are -- of course, anytime you're dealing with a situation involving
the airlines, there are parochial concerns, there are regional
concerns. Different members of Congress from both parties represent
important constituencies that are involved in this. And so, I don't
think this is an issue that's going to lend itself simply to different
party breakdown. And that's true for those who support the $3 billion
or more that the Congress is proposing, and those who believe that that
is excessive. I think you'll find people on both sides of that issue.
QUESTION: It makes it much more difficult for the
White House to deal with if you have prominent Republicans, including
leadership, pushing something.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we shall see. But, again, I think
it's important to look at the substance and the facts. And this is
predicated on the fact that the airline industry suffered particularly
as a result of the actions in Iraq, and therefore, it needed taxpayer
dollars. And again, think about what I described to you as one of the
largest drivers of cost, which is fuel oil, and the fact that it has
actually come down, not gone up, and come down rather substantially,
too. That's a 33 percent drop in the price of fuel oil in just a few
The other important thing to take a look at is the airlines are on
their way to solving many of their internal issues, as well. We've
already seen certain airlines as they deal with labor costs, and as
they reach agreement to lower costs so they can avoid going into
Chapter 11. This is already taking place in the marketplace without
the taxpayers being asked to pony up and pay more. So the President
does have a concern about the airlines. We want to make sure we are
working with the airlines, but we believe that the amount Congress is
looking at now is excessive.
QUESTION: Ari, I just want to follow quickly on that
point. There seems to be some -- a bit of confusion, or something
out of this morning's gaggle. And so, just to absolutely clarify, you
never intended, today, to suggest that a veto threat is hanging over
the supplemental because of the airlines?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, and I never did suggest it. Somebody
asked me that, and I gave an answer similar with a few less gems in it
-- (laughter) -- when I said it's much too soon in the process.
QUESTION: Okay, I just want to make sure that's
On the tax cuts, is the President going to make phone calls and
personally lobby members of the Hill to get his package through?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I don't rule that out, of course. And
as you know, Senator Grassley was down here yesterday talking to the
President. So there are important conversations that are underway and
will continue. Other members of Congress have been down here to talk
to the President -- some quietly, some coming down here that you know
The meeting today, for example, with the economists -- there was
a -- the meeting was focused on the growth package. And many of these
economists agreed with the President about the need to get this passed
and they want to do their part, in terms of convincing the Hill to pass
So we're still at the beginning process of this. Congress deserves
to be complimented for moving the budget process on time. There will
be votes in the conference committee coming up on the budget that will
set the dollar amount for what the tax cut will be. And then only
after that will you actually get into the hard work of actually writing
the tax cut, itself. That's the next part in the process; it has not
QUESTION: But what about the moderate senators,
because that's -- that's the real key here.
MR. FLEISCHER: There are a number of senators that are
important in both parties and they'll, of course, be talked to.
They're talked to on a regular basis and the President will do his
QUESTION: So he will call people?
MR. FLEISCHER: I said never rule out the President calling
people; he's already focused on it and working on it. We'll see
exactly what is necessary.
QUESTION: Once more on the rescue mission. Is one of
the reasons why there was no decision to go or not go at the
President's level because it was simply presumed all along that this
was a desirable thing to do and that if the opportunity presented
itself it would be attempted, come what may, and so --
MR. FLEISCHER: The reason it's not decided at the
President's level is because this is exactly why the taxpayers have put
the military there in the first place. They are the best. They are
the expert. They know how to get it done.
And as important as this was, because this is the rescue of a POW,
there are many other similar missions that take place in a routine
manner involving search, rescue efforts, a pilot is down, the military
responds and rescues a pilot. None of that has to rise to the
President's level. It's exactly what the military is so good at. And
this is why the President expresses gratitude to the members of the
Armed Forces who carried out this rescue raid. Rescuing a POW is the
heart and soul of America's military. That shows how much they care
about all of those who serve our country, to make certain that no one
is left behind. That's what they do. And it need not rise to a
QUESTION: Where does the line get drawn in President
Bush's view? Where does the line get drawn between things that do rise
to his level and do need his sign-off, and things --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, let me do it this way. If I'm aware
of something that comes up that only can be decided at the presidential
level, I'll do my best to share it with you, if and when that happens.
But I think it is important for the country to know how this President
believes his job as Commander-in-Chief is best carried out, and that's
why I described it to you -- about the accountability, the level of
meetings that the President has, the frequency of the meetings that he
has. But the decisions, the timing, the tactics lie in the field.
QUESTION: Ari, two things. First, is the President
planning on attending any of the funerals of those who died in the
conflict on the U.S. side at all?
MR. FLEISCHER: We always keep you informed about the
President's schedule, and we will always do our best to do that.
Obviously, tomorrow, when the President goes to Camp Lejeune, he will
have an opportunity to meet with some people in a private meeting. And
I think in the President's remarks you'll also here some sentiment from
the President about those who serve and those who have lost their
QUESTION: Has he already talked to some of the family
members who have lost loved ones there?
MR. FLEISCHER: April, at the President's request, whatever
communication the President has with those who serve our country --
and this is not the first time, this goes back to the Afghanistan
theater, as well -- he's asked me to keep private.
QUESTION: And the second subject. There are some
critics who are concerned that there is not a push by the federal
government for the International Red Cross to go in to see the POWs.
What is that saying to the American public?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'm not certain that's the case.
QUESTION: I'm talking about the POWs that are in
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, you're saying there's not a push for
the United States to get the Red Cross in there?
QUESTION: -- saying there's not a push --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not certain that's the case. Of course,
we'd like to have the Red Cross be able to do its job and visit anybody
who is captive in Iraq -- of course.
QUESTION: Ari, following up on John's question.
After Foreign Minister Gul of Turkey and Secretary of State Powell met
today, Turkish officials did say, however, we reserve the right to go
into Turkey if we see a need. What's the White House position on that
stand? And what does that do to negotiations with Hill types in order
to get them the billion dollars?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, that's nothing new. Turkey has been
saying that for weeks. And the important thing is that Turkey has not
taken any action, they have not crossed the border, and they continue
to not cross the border.
QUESTION: And what about -- does it make it more
difficult to get the billion dollars off the Hill with that kind of
rhetoric still out there?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I can't speak for the Hill, I can only
speak for the President's proposal. And there was a previous package
that's been withdrawn as a result of Turkey's not cooperating fully.
But the President does believe this is a meritorious proposal and it's
based on Turkey's economic circumstances, and that it should be granted
by members of Congress.
QUESTION: May I have just one more on this topic?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let's try to come back, Ken, because we've
got a few people with their hands up behind you.
QUESTION: The British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw,
has called for a postwar conference sponsored by the U.N. of Iraq's
various -- leadership of Iraq's various ethnic groups, with the hopes
that one of them would emerge as the next leader. Is the U.S.
endorsing this plan? And, if not, why?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we'll continue to work with all
parties about the leadership of Iraq. But I think that, again, as the
President has made clear, the leadership of Iraq will come from the
Iraqi people. There are those who have lived and suffered under Saddam
Hussein's regime that the President thinks should have very important
role in the governance of their own country. There are people who
fled, have lived abroad who also should have an important say and role
in the future of their country. And we will continue to work with
these groups on the exact formulation of the best structure, the best
form of government.
QUESTION: So this particular forum, you believe,
sponsored by the U.N. is not the best structure?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there are numerous forums. We're
going to take a broad look.
QUESTION: Ari, briefly on the Lejeune visit tomorrow
and the remarks the President is going to make in public, the Pentagon
today was just reporting the destruction of two divisions, U.S. forces
within two dozen miles of Baghdad. Is it safe to assume the
President's going to again underscore how much of the fight still
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President will talk about the
progress being made in the war. And he continues to be pleased with
the progress that is being made. But as was pointed out, the Pentagon
today, difficult days, difficult times very well may lie ahead. And so
I think as much progress is being made, people have to be tempered,
calibrated to the reality of the situation on the ground and not go too
far in one direction or another. Events are as they are, and progress
is being made.
QUESTION: Ari, for the fourth time, Senate
Republicans have been unable to break the filibuster on Miguel
Estrada. In the President's view, what else can be done at this point
to break the stalemate?
MR. FLEISCHER: Stand on principle and do the right thing,
continue to stand by a good man, Miguel Estrada, for a job that he
deserves. That's the President's approach. The President thinks it is
a very bad mistake for senators, particularly, at a time when the
judicial branch lacks judges, to make the matter -- compound the
matter and make it worse by failing to confirm qualified judges. And
so the President very much regrets the politically driven tactics of
those who are filibustering the nomination of somebody who clearly has
the bipartisan support to have a strong majority on the Senate floor.
He has 55 votes. That is a sufficient majority to pass. And the
President regrets that there is a partisan minority standing in the way
of bipartisan progress.
QUESTION: In addition to standing on principle, is he
actively doing anything to make headway, making phone calls?
MR. FLEISCHER: Sure. We continue to work the issue on the
Hill. The President has talked to a number of people. And I think
it's just a question of whether or not the Democrats want to keep up
their obstructionist tactics for as long as it is necessary, because
the President continues to stand by Miguel Estrada and will continue to
stand by Miguel Estrada.
QUESTION: Ari, who in the White House has been tasked
to supervise or oversee the efforts on the part of the U.S. government
to let out contracts for business for reconstruction in Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: Typically, those would come out of USAID.
QUESTION: Is there anyone in the White House who's
monitoring the concerns about conflicts of interest or special favors,
in order to somehow guard the President's best interests here?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think, from the President's point of view,
he's very satisfied that the longstanding contracting provisions that
allow USAID to carry about their business are being carried out the way
they should be carried out. Of course, we always have people at the
White House who work with all the different agencies. So, literally, I
can't give you an answer to what person here is working directly on any
one issue -- if that is an issue that has reached here or not. I
don't know if it has.
QUESTION: And last thing, there's been a lot of
discussion in the British press about the annoyance that the Brits have
that they are not allowed to be in on the business. What is the
President's response to Mr. Blair, or anyone in that government, about
whether the Brits can compete for that business?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, the President does not decide who
gets contracts. These are issues that are to be decided by the USAID,
as part of their contracting authorities and their decisions.
QUESTION: As far as the President is concerned, the
British would qualify if they can do the work?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President wants to make certain that all
the rules are followed. He believe they're being followed, and USAID
makes these calls.
QUESTION: And that would be the same for the French?
MR. FLEISCHER: USAID makes these calls.
QUESTION: Back on the airline industry. You seemed
to indicate you oppose some of these funds because they weren't
directly related to the war in Iraq. Are there some funds that you
would support, for instance, in this increased security measures at
airports or at airlines?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, of course, keep in mind the airline
industry has already received from the taxpayers multiple billions of
dollars as a result of what took place on 9/11. These are loans that
-- one major airline just took a $1-billion loan; it was announced
this week -- it has been ratified or announced by a board and then
the formal notice came this week about that.
So there are existing costs. There is a willingness by the
administration to provide some additional assistance at this time in
the appropriations bill for the airlines. But, clearly, given the fact
that the worst fears of the war did not materialize for the airlines,
and fuel oil prices have actually come down substantially, the
President believes that the $3 billion request is excessive.
QUESTION: Realistically, though, because both
chambers and their committees are at similar levels, is there any way
that they can be reduced?
MR. FLEISCHER: Sure.
QUESTION: I understand with floor amendments or
something like that.
MR. FLEISCHER: Exactly. Sure. What happens in committee
can be repeated on the floor of the Congress. It can be increased, it
can be maintained at the same level, it can come down. And, of course,
it can go also to the conference committee -- which is why we are, in
fairness, at the early stage of the process.
QUESTION: Ari, if the tax cut does get trimmed back
-- and I don't think there's anybody that believes that it won't get
cut back at least somewhat -- is the President prepared to insist
that the dividend portion of the proposal remain intact --
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes.
QUESTION: -- while other portions -- he is? So he
would rather have that, rather than it get cut across the board?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. The President believes that the best
plan is the plan that he proposed. I'm not prepared to enter into any
discussions about what contingencies plan could be if the number is not
what the President proposed. The President thinks the numbers should
be the $726 billion figure he proposed, and that the plan should have
a 100-percent exclusion for dividends, and should have the acceleration
of the child tax credit and the other provisions that he proposed.
QUESTION: Ari, why has the President limited public
appearances since the war began only to military audiences? Why not go
out among the civilian population?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President has had -- I have to
go back and take a look at every appearance that he's had -- of
course, with Prime Minister Blair, that public appearance was with
you. So he has had it with other audiences beyond military. But
clearly, we are a nation at war. While the President is also doing
work behind the scenes on domestic issues, as you know from his meeting
today with these economists, much of the President's focus is on the
war. Much of the public's focus is on the war. And, I think -- I'm
not ruling out that there won't be any other events that will be
public, but clearly, that is an immediate focus of the President.
QUESTION: It sounds like tomorrow the President is
going to speak more expansively about the human loss of war, certainly
more than he did in Philadelphia, where he didn't talk about it. Has
there been some reluctance to dwell on casualties so as to not to send
a message to Saddam that there's a low threshold of pain in this
country and that we'll flinch if there are too much loss of life?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you've heard it from the President
directly. He talks about the sacrifice. He talks about the risks of
war. And so, I just -- I'm not sure -- I don't share the premise
of your question because it is something the President has talked
about. Tomorrow, as I indicated, the President is going to meet with
some of the family members of servicemen who have lost their lives in
Iraq. And you've seen this from the President before. I remind you,
he went to Walter Reed Medical Center to meet with those who were
wounded in Afghanistan. You were there. You talked to the President
afterwards. So this is part of his job, and he knows that.
QUESTION: Thank you. Back on Turkey for a second,
the reason the Turkish government is so concerned and leaving the
threat out there apparently is they have not been convinced that the
Kurds will not try to have an independent state. Have the Kurdish
rebels who are fighting on our side assured us -- or what assurances
have they given us that that won't be the case?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think this is something that has
been expressed directly to the Kurdish authorities, as well as to the
Turkish authorities. And that's one of the reasons you're seeing such
relative calm on the border there. We are pleased with the reactions
of both. The President has said all along that it's important to
maintain the territorial integrity of Iraq, and he means that.
QUESTION: This morning, you called our attention to
the $31 million that was in the supplemental for a Middle East
communications network. Does that -- does the administration feel
that a provision like that is commensurate with the problem that we're
facing, as described by people like President Mubarak of Egypt, who
said that the turmoil there could wind up creating 100 Osama bin
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the reason -- first of all, there
was preexisting funding that already had started to move. This is in
the supplemental for additional funding to bring this program online.
And the President has always placed a focus on getting out America's
message around the world. It's something that the President asks
When the United States is the leading nation around the world in
the provision of food supplies, of medicine, of combating AIDS, and
then you hear people say some of the critical or negative things they
say about our country, the President wants to make certain that the
truth and the facts about what the United States does around the world
are shared around the world. Particularly in areas where there is less
free media, it's not as always easy for the facts to get out. The
President believes that it's important for the truth to be discussed,
the facts to get out, and that's one of the reasons that money was in
QUESTION: Two real quick things. One, I think we
forgot to ask you who it was that gave the President this heads-up with
this hint this morning.
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, I don't discuss that.
QUESTION: Was it at the morning NSC meeting?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm just not going to get into further
QUESTION: Since we can't get the week ahead anymore,
can you give us the 48-hour ahead? What's on his schedule for Friday?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll do Friday tomorrow.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.
END 4:12 P.M. EST