print-only banner
The White House Skip Main Navigation
In Focus
News by Date
Federal Facts
West Wing

Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
April 29, 2003

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

Play Video  Video (Real)
Play Real Audio  Audio

12:23 P.M. EDT



MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. The President began his day with a phone call with President Roh of South Korea this morning. The two leaders exchanged views on last week's talks in Beijing and agreed to continue pressing for the irreversible and verifiable elimination of North Korea's nuclear weapons program. President Bush reiterated his intention to resolve the issue peacefully, and also to include South Korea and Japan fully in the diplomatic efforts.


The two leaders agreed to continue their discussions on the North Korean situation and other topics when they meet in Washington on May 14th, as previously announced.


Following that call, the President also spoke with Prime Minister Koizumi of Japan, had a conversation about the same topics. They also agreed and exchanged views on last week's talks in Beijing, and agreed to continue pressing for the irreversible and verifiable elimination of their weapons program. The President reiterated his intention to resolve this issue peacefully, and the two leaders agreed that they will continue their discussions and consultations as we work very closely with our good friends and allies in the region on this matter.


Following that, the President had an intelligence briefing and an FBI briefing, convened a meeting of the Homeland Security Council. And later this afternoon in the East Room, the President will hold an event to call on the Congress to pass his HIV-AIDS initiative, so that the nations that have been ravaged by AIDS in Africa, as well as nations affected in the Caribbean can receive the relief they need to fight this disease.


And that is it for the President's public schedule. One announcement, and then I'll be happy to take your questions. Literally just a few moments ago, the United Nations voted to reelect Cuba to the Human Rights Commission. This is a setback for the cause of human rights. Cuba does not deserve a seat on the Human Rights Commission. Cuba deserves to be investigated by the Human Rights Commission. The action taken in the United Nations -- the Human Rights Commission at the United Nations comes upon, immediately upon Cuba's actions of rounding up 78 independent journalists, librarians and opposition leaders and sentencing them to 28 years in prison. Having Cuba serve again on the Human Rights Commission is like putting Al Capone in charge of bank security. It was an inappropriate action that does not serve the cause of human rights in Cuba or at the United Nations.


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


Q Does the administration, does the President envision any kind of action that he might take in the United Nations to formally protest this seating of Cuba?


MR. FLEISCHER: We deplore the action. We will speak out against the action. But this is an action taken by the United Nations through their Economic and Social Committee -- that was where the vote took place to reelect Cuba to the Commission. The action has been taken.

Q On the Middle East, what do you make of Abu Mazen/ Mahmoud Abbas' statement today that he -- his pledge to reign in militants?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President welcomes his statements that Palestinian leadership may look in a different direction for how to resolve the differences between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Violence is not, and cannot, be the answer. And the President welcomes all those who hear the call for a peaceful settlement of disputes.

Q In terms of the road map, it calls for a negotiation for a final status on Palestinian borders, final settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. In terms of how far you let that process go, are you laying down any parameters within which to work, in terms of negotiation? Are you prepared to tolerate endless negotiation, as has been the case in the Middle East all these years?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, here's what will happen next: The road map will soon be released to the parties, the formal release of the road map so they will have it formally for the first time. At that point, we anticipate that they will review it, and we will welcome contributions to the road map from the various parties.

This is something we will continue to work directly with the Israelis on, and work with the Palestinians on. We want to hear what they have to say. And I think this will begin a process, a process which the United States will play a role, and an important role and a helpful role. Fundamentally, it still is a matter for the Israelis and the Palestinians to work together on, to resolve matters for themselves. There are many important players, but there are no more important players than the Israelis and the Palestinians. We will be at their sides to help them.

Q So will you set any kind of ground rules at the onset to say, listen, we're not going to tolerate endless negotiation; we have a schedule that we would like to keep to, and so, we want to work with both of you to try to reach that, but this can't go on forever?

MR. FLEISCHER: The parameters were set in the President's June 24th Rose Garden speech about what it is the United States supports, and as well, those parameters are clear from the read of the road map. And those parameters can basically be described as creating now through the road map a process whereby the security situation is enhanced as the political process is advanced, as well, all toward the point of a state of Palestine by 2005 that can live side-by-side in peace and security with Israel. And we will be there to make certain of the security.

Q Again, are you saying to the parties going into this, this process can't go on forever, you can't keep negotiating -- back and forth, you've got to come to a point where you've got to step up to the table here and sign this?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the process is just beginning. And they have not even yet received formally the road map yet. So I'm not going to put any type of timetable on a process that has not even gotten the formal kickoff of being delivered the road map. The President wants progress to move quickly. The dates that the President outlined are the dates that he seeks and believes in and will work toward. Those dates are not to change. So the amount of time they take up takes up the amount of time left between now and that date. And so we will continue to work the process.

Q One housekeeping thing. Do you know if Elizabeth Smart will be at the White House tomorrow?

MR. FLEISCHER: There will be many families coming to the White House tomorrow as the President signs the National Amber Alert System. And many of these families who join the President have all been touched, one way or another, as a result of missing children. The Smart family has asked the White House not to make any statements about whether their daughter will or will not attend.

Q How long will that last? Will we find out by either seeing her or not seeing her? Or will we know sometime before that?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, that certainly is one way. (Laughter.)

Q I'm not trying to be flip. I'm actually just asking whether you're going to --

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm limited at the request of the family. In respect to the family, I can't say anything more.

Q On North Korea, is the President prepared to rule out any concessions to North Korea in exchange for a complete dismantlement of their nuclear program, whether financially, whether it's food, anything like that?

MR. FLEISCHER: The reason that we are -- the world is in the spot it is in is because North Korea entered into an agreement and then did not keep up their terms of the agreement. They received aid in return for promising not to develop nuclear weapons. They took the aid, they ran with the aid, and then they developed a nuclear weapons program anyway.

So what the President has said is that we will not reward North Korea for bad behavior; that what we seek is North Korea's irrevocable and verifiable dismantlement of its nuclear weapon's program, and we will not provide them inducements for doing what they always said they were going to do anyway.

Q So how does this happen? Because you say you're on a diplomatic track; they're opening gambit was to put something on the table that you, it seems, dismiss out of hand, which is concessions for that dismantlement of weapons. But everybody's still talking. So, in the end, what does the President believe is actually going to force their hand to do what he wants them to do?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think one of the most notable, positive elements of the talks that just emerged is the fact that the approach that the President always believed was the right approach was the diplomatic approach, whose diplomacy will be enhanced because it's multilateral, has indeed been enhanced because, as he discussed with Japan and South Korea today, we see it the same way, and China sees it very much the same way, as well.

So the President's hope is as a result of the multilateral path that we are pursuing, that North Korea will reassess whether or not it wants to engage with the world, whether or not it wants to economically advance. And then North Korea will come to a reasoned conclusion about the best way to economically advance and help its people, and that begins with their verifiable dismantlement of its nuclear weapons program.

Q All right, but, I mean, there hasn't really been much of an advance here. I mean, the diplomatic approach so far has resulted in North Korea asking for the same thing it got out of the Clinton administration. So it's terrific that Japan and China are involved, but what evidence is there -- or what will be different, say, than 1994?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, and this is the diplomatic process -- and the diplomatic process is a lengthy one. And the President's prepared to pursue it at that length. And so if it takes time, it will take time. But what will not happen is North Korea will not be rewarded for developing nuclear weapons.

Q Ari, on Cuba, what good is a human rights organization that within days of a government arresting all these dissidents and poets and jailing them, elects that government to the Human Rights Commission? What does the President see as the usefulness, and what worth does he see in the expenditure of American tax dollars to go to such an organization?

MR. FLEISCHER: The Human Rights Commission undermines its own credibility at the United Nations when they allowed Cuba to get reelected. The Human Rights Commission not only hurts the people of Cuba, but they hurt the very cause in which nations should sign up to serve on the Human Rights Commission. The Human Rights Commission wanted to send investigators into Cuba, and Cuba said, no. And yet today, Cuba gets reelected to the Human Rights Commission. It raises troubling issues, and that's why the United States is speaking out about it. We hope others will speak out.

Q Right now, though, speaking out is all the President intends to do, that he intends to continue to contribute and other ways that the United States does to this organization?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there is no change in our overall position toward the United Nations. The United Nations continues to pursue other areas that do good around the world. But in this case, the Human Rights Commission voted to reelect a nation that would -- deserves to be the object of an investigation, not a duly elected member of the Human Rights Commission.

Q And then on the global HIV/AIDS initiative, what is the White House response to conservative social critics of this legislation that say it won't be effective because it fails to promote abstinence efficiently, and it opens the door for what they believe is an ineffective way of stopping the spread of this disease, which is the distribution of condoms?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President looks forward to working with all parties to make progress on this important legislation so it can, indeed, be signed into law, and done soon. The President think it is a top priority and moral calling for the United States to aid African nations, to aid Caribbean nations, in the fight against AIDS.

There is a very successful role model in place, and that is the Ugandan model. And the President would like to call attention, wherever there are critics, whether they're on the left or the right, to success that works. And the Ugandan model is a great role model. It provides a focus on abstinence. It puts an emphasis on abstinence. Then it recognizes that, alone, is not the only answer. But it is an effective model of fighting AIDS in Africa. And that's where the President is focusing his attention, is how to deliver that relief, while be cognizant of some of these other important issues such as abstinence, because it does play an important role. But he wants to make certain that the program is funded, that it can do its job, and do so based on successful existing models.

Q But there are some in the conservative camp, as well, who believe that this bill would represent a departure from the so-called Mexico City policy that President Reagan adopted, that President Bush has re-adopted.

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the program the President supports to provide aid for Africa -- the AIDS initiative to fight AIDS in Africa -- will apply the same standards for all family planning, grants using foreign assistance funds, but we are not expanding the Mexico City policy to cover this HIV-AIDS program. Any organization that wants to participate in the treatment, care, and prevention of HIV-AIDS under the President's emergency relief plan will be eligible, provided they do not use the funds to promote or perform abortions.

Q Are you considering any policy changes, or any increased sanctions against Cuba for their crackdown, Ari?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, this action just took place at the United Nations, literally in the minutes leading up to this briefing. So I'm going to limit my comments to what just took place.

Q The dissidents were arrested last week.

MR. FLEISCHER: And we have vociferously condemned it. Obviously, for those who are proposing to remove some of the trade restrictions that exist on Cuba, we remind them that Cuba remains a very repressive regime, as proven by its actions in the arrest of these leaders, who simply want to speak out, journalists who want to write the truth. And this is a reminder to these groups that want to liberalize or open up trade with Cuba, that this repressive regime will use that money to further their dictatorship, not to help the people.

Q Ari, after about 20 years out in the field, one of the major commandantes or commanders of the armed revolutionary force in Colombia, FARC, has turned himself in, and is asking other commanders to do the same. The President is meeting tomorrow with President Uribe. What is the importance the White House attaches to this meeting?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President very much looks forward to tomorrow's meeting with President Uribe. Colombia has been working closely with the United States in the fight against narco-terrorism, and we are their ally. We want to help Columbia. Columbia is a democracy, and we want them to succeed. The President will meet tomorrow, and one of the topics they've talked about repeatedly is how to protect the Colombian people from the terrorist FARC, and that will be a topic on the agenda tomorrow.


Q Ari, usually the White House has had special events on Cinco de Mayo, a special celebration. I think last year and the year before, if I'm not mistaken. Is the White House planning anything, which is a week from today, Cinco de Mayo?


MR. FLEISCHER: I have not looked ahead to next week's schedule yet, so let me do that and see if we have anything planned for that day. I just don't know off the top of my head.


Q Ari, going back to what Terry was talking about, or the response you had to Terry, how is the White House or the federal government going to determine if these funds will be used for abortions, or not? What is the mechanism that's in place?


MR. FLEISCHER: There's a series of mechanisms in place, and that deals with the transparency of these organizations, the bookkeeping of these organizations. They will not be able to do business with the government unless we were satisfied they had transparency in place to know about their use of funds. We obviously don't put money into organizations where we have no accountability for these organizations on how the funding is spent. So that is exactly how the program would be implemented.


Q And also, an abstinence issue. Just looking here, teenage pregnancy rates may have fallen a bit, but they're still large. Some are saying that you're throwing money away, just throwing it to the winds, talking about abstinence and dealing with issues of abstinence, when smacking you in the face that people are going to follow a human need.


MR. FLEISCHER: Well, this is why I pointed out the successful Ugandan role model here. Uganda stands strong in Africa as having a program that they implemented years and years ago to fight AIDS, and it's called ABC -- it's the ABC approach, which is abstain; if you can't abstain, be faithful; if you can't be faithful, use condoms. But abstinence in an essential part of the prevention program of the Ugandan model. That is the Ugandan experience in Africa, a successful one, and it does put an emphasis where emphasis belongs, which is on abstinence. It's not the only area of emphasis, but it is where they put emphasis.

Q But is that a realistic emphasis in today's day and time?


MR. FLEISCHER: I think you could ask the Ugandan Ambassador when the Ugandan Ambassador is here, and she will tell you emphatically, yes.


Q Ari, Senator Grassley, the Chairman of the Finance Committee, is warning Republicans not, when pushing other Republicans, the moderate Republicans on the tax cut, not to push too hard, or else what happened with Jim Jeffords two years ago might happen again. Is the White House taking heed to that? Is the White House trying not to --


MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think you can also see in some of the subsequent interviews he's done, that's now quite what he has said. He's explained it a little bit beyond that. I think he was asked, are you aware of anybody who is looking to do that, and he said, no. So the President is going to stand on principle, and he's going to stand on the principle that we need to help Americans find jobs. And of course, he will fight for that. That's what the President believes in. And we ask all to engage in this debate in the spirit of open-mindedness and fairness. And that's how the debate will be engaged, and we expect that's how the debate will be received.


Q To follow up, separate from Senator Grassley, his comments, people like Senator Snowe, Senator Voinovich, if they don't in the end, end up going along with the White House, are you going to be careful not to have any kind of overt or covert retribution, much like --


MR. FLEISCHER: Oh, of course.


Q -- Senator Jeffords said that he saw after he didn't go along with the White House initially?


MR. FLEISCHER: No, we disputed that notion then and there's nothing to that. Of course, the President recognizes different people will vote different ways, and we will work -- the President will work very hard to build a majority to support jobs for the American people.


Q Ari, beyond the road map, to what extent is the President prepared to put his personal weight behind this peace process?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President is going to work very hard and try to help the parties come together to achieve a two-state solution to the violence between the Israelis and the Palestinians. This is a priority for the President, and he is committed to it.

Q What does that mean, work very hard?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, he's going to put a lot of time into it, a lot of attention into it, put whatever it takes into it so that we can help the parties to get it done, while always understanding it still fundamentally is a matter that the Israelis and the Palestinians have to want to do themselves. If there is a lack of desire from either one of those parties, there is nobody on the outside, including the United States, who can do it for them. They must have that will to get it done themselves.

But if you take a look at some of the more recent events in the Middle East, this is an optimistic moment for events in the Middle East. The fact of the matter is that the Palestinian Authority now has a prime minister who is dedicated to moving the Palestinian people in a different direction, a direction way from violence. In large part, that is a result of the fact that the President, on June 24th, said that Yasser Arafat cannot be a party to peace because he does not support peace. And as a result of the President's tough message, we have a greater prospect for peace now in the Middle East than we've had in years -- which you'll ultimately see that the President is committed to and will work hard to make it happen.


Q On the Cuba vote, did we take any actions at the U.N. to try to bring about a different outcome on the vote?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, certainly we worked the vote. The Economic and Social Committee makes its own determinations up. And you have to keep in mind that Libya is the chairman of this committee. There are some things that happen at the United Nations that it's very hard for anybody to explain.

Q On the tax cut, what is the administration's position on the idea of offsets, either revenue raisers or spending cuts, in order to get up the total of the potential tax cut, especially on the Senate side?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President's budget that was submitted to the Congress earlier this year contained, for example, $11 billion of offsets over a 10-year period. And so the question of offsets is, indeed, a question that belongs on the table. As with any policy, it's a matter of exactly what specific program are people talking about. And each program or each proposal will be analyzed on its own merits to make certain that it is a legitimate loophole-closer or offset.

Q Eleven billion dollars wouldn't do much to boost the size of the tax cut as its currently envisioned in the Senate. There are those who are talking about a far larger list of offsets. Does the administration have any position on that? Does it intend to express its preference to members of Congress today, for instance?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it depends on they are. That's why I've said each one of these will get examined on its merits. I can tell you that in the late 1990s, the Republican Congress enacted many offsets into law at that time. The more that you enact, the fewer are left that are legitimate offsets. But it depends. Each one will be analyzed on the merits. And as members of Congress step forward with their ideas of an offset, we look forward to hearing their explanations.

Q At the U.N., where do you stand in preparations for a resolution to lift sanctions? And will you include a lot of other issues in one resolution, such as endorsing any potential Iraqi Interim Authority and that sort of thing?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, one, the timing is a little early still. The oil-for-food program has been extended to June 3rd, and so the timing of any action that we would offer a resolution still remains some time into the future. Right now the process is a consultative one. We're talking to allies, we're talking to people at the United Nations about timing, about language. And the fundamental goal remains the total lifting of sanctions.

Q There are those who think that time is running short, because this is likely to be as big a wrangle as the debate over 1441.

MR. FLEISCHER: Hard to imagine anything will be that size. But the date is until June 3rd, and we'll see exactly what the timing allows.

Q Just to follow on Jim's question. What's the good of offsets that raise revenues or taxes to be used in order to lower taxes?

MR. FLEISCHER: Because it's not just the aggregate number that counts, it's the merits of each proposal. And if there is a provision on the books that is worthy of being applied as an offset, it's because the law needs to be changed. As a benefit of changing that law, revenue comes in that can allow the tax cut to grow to an even higher number to create jobs for the American people.

Q And also, following Dana's question. Something caused Grassley to say what he did say. Does the White House feel that it has been pressuring Republican senators too hard on the tax cut?

MR. FLEISCHER: No. I think, again, you can talk to Senator Grassley about it. I think you might find some people who wish we could push a little harder.

Q And there's no regret about going to Ohio, Voinovich's state, to campaign for the tax cut?

MR. FLEISCHER: Of course not. The President looks forward to going to other states, as well.

Q I want to make sure I understand what you mean when you say that you're not going to expand the Mexico City to the Global AIDS initiative. As I remember it, the key issue in the Mexico City debate was over fungibility, the idea that even if money provided to an organization wasn't going to be used directly for abortion, other funds could be used for that purpose. Are you saying that you won't apply that fungibility test to governments or organizations that receive aid under the global AIDS initiative?

MR. FLEISCHER: We're not expanding the Mexico City policy to cover this initiative. But we do expect -- what we do expect is that any funds not be used to perform or promote abortions.

Q That's direct in this case. The policy is limited to the actual money --

MR. FLEISCHER: Exactly as I described it.

Q Ari, with the war winding down and attention being focused -- media attention being focused back on the Democratic presidential candidates, is the President paying attention to what these presidential candidates are saying about his management of the economy, specifically? And two, is the President making any plans to start putting his campaign together?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think it's fair to say that when the President picks up the papers he reads the serious news first. And it's still a little early for the President to pay any attention to the campaign. He's in the middle of governing. There still is serious international situations that are underway. We still have our troops in danger in Iraq. And so the President is focused on doing his job governing. There will come a time, of course, for more politics. It just has not yet come.

Q Ari, you've spoken about the prevention -- the Ugandan ABC prevention component. Is there a research component to this initiative that the President breaks out today, as well?

MR. FLEISCHER: A research component to it?

Q In other words, expanding any kind of research into trying to find --

MR. FLEISCHER: The program was a $15-billion initiative that focused on retroviral drugs. I'll take a look at some of the more specific language, and maybe we can get that for you here in the announcement about a research component. I remember the top-line numbers on it.

Q What is the President's policy, or the White House policy on AIDS research in terms of goals?

MR. FLEISCHER: The administration strongly is support of AIDS research. That's one of the -- when the President talked about this initiative and he talked about some of the breakthroughs in research that allow an initiative like this to help extend people's lives, as you know, the President has also talked about some of the testing procedures, and he's changed the testing procedures so that we can deliver more help as a compassionate nation to people who suffer from AIDS within our own borders.

Q Ari, back to Cuba for a moment. There have been any number of delegations going to Cuba for trade purposes in the past year or so. Would the President -- given what happened at the U.N. today, would the President be inclined to tighten restrictions or put a clamp on increased trade -- albeit small, but it has been increasing -- would he be inclined to do that?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President has been vociferous in saying that we should not lift the sanctions, change the sanctions aimed at Cuba. In fact, if you recall, the President went to Florida and made a speech about the Cuba policy, and he actually offered Cuba an opportunity to change its relationship if they would welcome in democracy and make changes in their human rights situation. The President offered to take new steps, and Cuba, unfortunately, went in the exact opposite direction and increased its repression of its people.

Q What do you make of that?

MR. FLEISCHER: We make of it that Fidel Castro is an outright, absolute dictator who has no interest in the lives or the suffering of his own people. He only has interest in keeping himself in power at the expense of those people.

Q Ari, can I ask you about Iraq? Why have coalition commanders in Iraq signed a cease-fire with an anti-Iran guerrilla group that is on America's list of terrorist groups? Was that cleared here? And does this not undermine America's case in the war on terror?

MR. FLEISCHER: In this instance, during the operations that took place in Iraq -- and the group that you refer to is called the MEK, Mujahedeen e-Khalk -- U.S. Forces engaged formations of the MEK, which were integrated into Saddam Hussein's defensive forces. Following the fall of the regime, our forces have now been working to promote security throughout Iraq. As part of that process, the MEK agreed to stop fighting and to confine its forces to designated areas. We expect the MEK to remain in these designated areas and refrain from any military or security operations. So this is part of the ongoing, immediate post-combat effort to enhance security on the ground. This is not necessarily the final word, but this is the word in the immediate, post-combat security environment.

Q Does this not undermine the case that we make, that terrorist organizations -- we don't ask who they're attacking, but if they're on our list --

MR. FLEISCHER: Our goal remains an Iraq that is free, and that is also free of all terrorist organizations. We're reviewing what the next steps will be, so you're watching a story unfold. There may be more to this. But for now, it's focused on the immediate security on the ground. They are a terrorist organization, they deserve that label, and we are reviewing what the next steps will be.

Q Okay, just real quickly, was that approved here ahead of time, or is that something that the commanders on the ground can do without having to come to the White House first?

MR. FLEISCHER: This instance, Mark, I don't know. I couldn't tell you whether this was done operationally on the ground. It very well may have been.

Q Ari, who is coming to the leadership meeting tomorrow from Congress?

MR. FLEISCHER: It will be the Republican leaders in the House and the Senate. I haven't seen the exact list. We'll post it, as usual.

Q Is Grassley coming?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm sure he will be. It's the Senate Finance Committee. We'll post the list. The invitations are extended to the Senate and to the House leaders. And sometimes the Senate and the House leaders send the leadership teams, not the committee chairmen; sometimes it is the committee chairmen. So it all depends on the House and the Senate, as well. So let me revise that. We'll put it out as soon as I see it in writing. We'll get it to you. So you can assume it's either the leadership teams, which are the elected leaders; sometimes they do and sometimes they don't include their committee chairmen.

Q With four weeks to go in this particular session with Congress, is that enough time for the tax cut, and is the President going to set some sort of deadline like he did with the budget, for April 11th? And secondly, to follow up on Dana's question, you said that Grassley had said that he hadn't -- wasn't aware of any Republicans who are now going to change their mind. But as you know, no one was aware of Senator Jeffords, either. So is he worried at all about this possibility?

MR. FLEISCHER: No. With all due respect, I think you're fishing off a dock that doesn't exist. (Laughter.) I think if you're aware of something, you'll bring it to me, but until that point, I really think this is -- I enjoy fishing, but I think it's akin to that.

Q What about the deadline?

MR. FLEISCHER: On the deadline, if you take a look at what Congress has done, actually, they're moving rather early on the process. They passed the budget resolution early. Typically the Congress never even gets to it by this time of year. And so the four weeks that are between now and the Memorial Day recess the Congress takes are a perfect opportunity for Congress to come together on the tax and growth plan.

Q If it's not done by then, is it too late, though?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President wants it done as soon as possible, because if you're unemployed, you want it done now. And that's who the President is focused on, is the needs of the unemployed.

Q This is a two-part question. It's becoming apparent that France may have been aiding Saddam's regime up until the war broke out. When might the President phone President Chirac about this? Second part of the question: If members of the Iraqi regime turn up in France, what agreements do we have in place to ensure that they'll be turned over to the U.S.?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, on your second question, I remind you that President Chirac agreed with President Bush when the focus was on whether Syria was indeed receiving anybody who had fled from Iraq, and President Chirac spoke to the Syrians and stressed to them that they should not harbor. And we expect that's a principled stand that France takes that would apply everywhere.

On the first question, I have nothing to report on that topic.


Q Ari, I have two questions. What's happening to those millions of U.S. dollars in hundred dollar bills found at presidential palaces and residences in Baghdad? And has the Secret Service determined the money is real?

MR. FLEISCHER: The last update I had was that it did appear that the money is real. It will be saved and used for the people of Iraq. It is their resource, and that is -- it will be saved for them.

Q I have another question. Is it true that when the President goes to the G8 meeting in France next month, he is going to sleep across the border in Switzerland?

MR. FLEISCHER: It is not. (Laughter.) It is not true.

Q Ari, on the AIDS initiative, have you seen any sign from the other African countries, with the exception of Uganda and the Caribbean countries, that they are making changes to alleviate the AIDS crisis? And has there been any cooperation from Tahabo and Mbeki in South Africa?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, keep in mind, this initiative is specific to the countries that were named as part of the initiative. It's not every country in Africa. It is the countries with whom we have a working relationship, where we have confidence that the money will go toward important AIDS programs that work. And so, there is a screen to protect America's taxpayer money.


And if you take a look at some of the absolute horror stories coming out of Africa, there are countries in which 40 percent of the population of these countries have AIDS. There's an absolute moral calling, in the President's judgment, to the people of the United States to help those in need in Africa and the Caribbean that have been ravaged by this. And of course, we will work through these systems in place to make certain that the money and the aid go to the people who need it, not to the governments who might siphon it off. Those countries -- and there are countries that have troublesome records -- are not part of this.

Q So South Africa is not a part now?

MR. FLEISCHER: You have to take a look at the specific list of names.

Q Can we get that list, by the way?

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, I think that's public. We provided that when we announced the initiative.

Q Ari, to follow on some earlier questions, what benefit does the United States see to remaining a member of a Human Rights Commission that has Libya as a chair, and reelects Cuba despite what it's doing to its citizens?

MR. FLEISCHER: It is troublesome. But we believe by being a part of the Human Rights Commission we can work from the inside, as well as from the outside, to effect positive change. But it certainly does raise eyebrows and raise questions about the United Nations Human Rights Commission's commitment to human rights. It does raise those questions. You cannot get around it. The United Nations Human Rights Commission cannot expect to have Libya be its chair, to reelect Cuba, and not have people wonder if they really do stand for human rights, or not.

Q A couple minutes ago, you cited the fact that there are still Americans and troops in Iraq as one of the reasons that the President is not in campaign mode. Do you think that there will still be American troops in harm's way when he is ready to go political?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think the question is, at what level are the dangers? Clearly, the combat phase has wound down, and is winding all the way down. But any time Americans are anywhere -- whether it's Afghanistan, or whether it's in Iraq -- there are dangers. We are still a nation that has elections in times of danger, and that means the President will make his determination about when he wants to engage in that process. But it's still way, way too early for the President.

Q A second question on Iraq. What role, if any, did the President have in the decision to grant asylum to the Iraqi who helped lead to Jessica Lynch?

MR. FLEISCHER: I know Homeland Security made that announcement today. I'd have to take a look at the exact chain of policy determinations made by this. I don't know what role the President had in this, but I know that it's a welcome announcement. This was somebody who acted heroically and it's a welcome announcement.

Q Did he weigh in on it --

MR. FLEISCHER: I was indicating I'd have to find out for you.

Q Thank you.

Q Sorry, just before you do -- can you comment on some breaking news? The Palestinian cabinet was approved. Can you just give us the White House position on that and what it means for the road map going forward now?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President looks forward to working with the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people, as well as the Israeli government and the Israeli people, to advance the cause of peace in the Middle East. The United States will shortly release the road map formally to the various parties. Our hope is that they will work diligently and hard to advance the cause of peace. And we will welcome their contributions to the road map.


Thank you.

Q Will that be today? Tomorrow?

MR. FLEISCHER: We'll let you know the time.

END 12:58 P.M. EDT