For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 8, 2003
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
May 8, 2003
PRESS BRIEFING BY
President's schedule....................................1-2 U.N.
resolution on sanctions on Iraq......2-4, 9, 11-12, 16 Tax
plan/elimination of dividends.......................3-4 Assault weapons
ban.....................................4-8 Middle East/Secretary
Powell's visit................6-7, 20 Judicial
presidential travel/agenda.......................8 Iraq/search for
WMD.......................................9 Upcoming Philippines state
visit.........................10 Visit of European leaders/support in
benefits....................................12 Women in combat
roles................................12, 17 President's speech in
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
Immediate Release May 8, 2003
PRESS BRIEFING BY
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:45 P.M. EDT
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. Let me give you a report on the
President's schedule, and then I have two announcements I'd like to
make. This has been a busy day on the foreign policy front, welcoming
to the White House several of America's best friends and allies
throughout the world.
The President began his day with a breakfast meeting with the Prime
Minister of Denmark. The President thanked the Prime Minister for
Denmark's strong support in the war on terror and the operation in
Iraq. They discussed European relations with the United States, as
well as Middle East peace prospects.
Then the President had an intelligence briefing, followed by an FBI
briefing. And the President also just completed a meeting with the
Amir of Qatar, as well as a lunch with the Amir. They talked about the
reconstruction of Iraq, prospects for peace in the Middle East, and the
President congratulated the Amir on the reform efforts that he has led
in the nation of Qatar.
Later today the President will make remarks at a briefing for
Asian-Pacific Americans and he will sign an executive order dealing
with insular affairs. And then this afternoon, in a celebration at the
White House, the President will welcome the foreign ministers of seven
new NATO nations. The United States Senate, just this morning,
ratified the membership of these seven as part of the expanded NATO,
and the President looks forward to cementing a strong basis for the
future of close cooperation we enjoy with these nations. Those nations
are Slovakia, Lithuania, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Romania, Estonia, and
And that is my report on the President's day. Two announcements:
The President and Mrs. Bush will welcome Prime Minister Koizumi of
Japan to his ranch at Crawford on May 22nd and May 23rd. Japan stands
as a committed ally and firm supporter of coordinated efforts to tackle
the major security challenges we face. The President looks forward to
discussions with Prime Minister Koizumi on the reconstruction of a
liberated Iraq, strengthening a united strategy to deal with North
Korea's nuclear threat, and exploring closer cooperation on global,
economic and security issues.
And also, President Bush will welcome to the White House Philippine
President Gloria Arroyo for a state visit on May 19th. The Philippines
are a close friend and stalwart ally in the war on terror, and the
President and the First Lady will host the President for a state visit
and state dinner later that evening.
John, are you stretching, or is that a question?
Q No, I'm just getting ready to launch that finger in the air,
as soon as you're done. (Laughter.) It would be the first finger.
MR. FLEISCHER: I was going to ask. (Laughter.) This is a family
briefing, so I decided not to. (Laughter.)
Q Do you expect there to be another diplomatic dustup with
France when you introduce the resolution to lift sanctions against Iraq
MR. FLEISCHER: There's no reason that this current U.N. process
should look anything like the last one. There is no reason for a
dustup. This is, after all, about helping the people of Iraq. And any
disagreement among allies would get in the way of helping the people of
Iraq. And we do not anticipate it will look like the last one did. We
certainly hope it won't.
Q But there are still, certainly, stark differences between the
positions of the two countries. Do you expect that you can bridge
MR. FLEISCHER: Speaking for the United States, and speaking for
the President, you already see a unity of approach among four different
nations who are co-sponsoring this resolution. And I can't speak for
other nations. I think it's fair to put the question to them. But now
that the people of Iraq have been freed, now that the Saddam Hussein
regime is gone, why would anybody have any opposition to lifting
sanctions on the Iraqi people? That's not a question I can answer from
their point of view. But as the President said last night, he is
hopeful that we'll have a new atmosphere for cooperation at the United
Q So this idea that you've got a like-minded nations who have
positions on the Security Council together, is that an indication that
you plan to steamroll France?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think it's -- in fairness to France, you
need to ask the question to France. And in fairness to France and
other nations, they have not yet received the resolution. There's been
considerable talk about it. As Ambassador Negroponte just stated, it
will be formally presented and tabled tomorrow. So members of the
United Nations Security Council will have their own opportunity to
speak about it. But the Saddam Hussein regime is gone. There is no
reason for the people of Iraq to suffer sanctions any longer.
Q I'm sorry, if I could just ask one more. Do you expect that
Germany will be on board this time around, since the issue is not about
MR. FLEISCHER: As the President said, this -- the environment is
much more hopeful this time. But I can't speak for other nations.
Q On the tax cut plan, the President, as he talks around the
country, has made the dividend tax elimination such a centerpiece of
the plan. And now that the House has trimmed it back a little bit, and
the Senate has cut it way back, and there are different versions in the
different Houses, what is it exactly the President is going to ask for
when he goes to these audiences and tries to promote his plan? He's
been urging people to email their members of Congress, but what exactly
is he supporting at this point?
MR. FLEISCHER: Make not mistake, the President is still committed
to a 100-percent elimination of the taxation on individual dividends,
because it's double-taxation. He thinks it's wrong. And by
eliminating it, it creates the greatest boost for the economy. That
continues to be the President's goal.
Now, as you know, there is a process here. The House and the
Senate pass their legislation and they meet in the crucial conference
committee to iron out differences. So we're watching the beginnings of
the story here. The beginnings have already gotten off substantially
to a good start. No question, there are differences in some of the
substantive levels on the dividend tax cut. We'll work through the
Q Well, he can no longer realistically expect to get the full
elimination of that tax.
MR. FLEISCHER: We'll continue to work through the process. And if
the President believes that zero is the appropriate goal, he'll work
Q But what's the purpose of talking about the whole thing now
if it's going away already?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't think you can presume it's gone away
already. Let the process proceed.
Q Is he going to change his message a little next week when he
talks to these audiences in Indiana?
MR. FLEISCHER: You'll be there. I'm sure you'll be able to cover
Q Ari, on the United Nations, the President is pretty clear
that he believes the United Nations failed the test when it really
mattered, when it had to do with war and peace on Iraq. So does --
what is his level of confidence? Does he think that there's a
legitimate place for the U.N., going forward?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think you have to separate the U.N.
activities here into two columns. The first column is what the
President viewed as a failure by the United Nations to come to terms
with preserving peace and security by not enforcing its resolutions;
therefore, the coalition enforced the resolutions.
On the other side, in the second column, are the ongoing activities
that the United Nations has demonstrated success in, involving
reconstruction efforts and humanitarian efforts. And that's what the
oil-for-food program represents, and that's what lifting the sanctions
represents. So this is proceeding along those tracks. Again, the
President said last night, it's proceeding on a more hopeful
environment in the Security Council. And events will take place.
We'll judge from there.
Q Let me ask you something about the assault weapons ban. I
realize the President was for the reauthorization back in 2000. Why
does he support that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President thought, and said so at the
time in 2000, that the assault weapon ban was a reasonable step. The
assault weapon ban was crafted with the thought that it would deter
crime. There are still studies underway of its crime deterring
abilities, but the President thought that was reasonable, and that's
why he supported it. And that's why he supports the reauthorization of
the current ban.
Q Does it work?
MR. FLEISCHER: There are, indeed, studies underway that will
determine that. And we'll await those studies to make any final
conclusions. But that's exactly what the President said in 2000.
Q But he's willing to disappoint a pretty big supporter here,
the NRA, based on some ongoing studies, or does he have a more
fundamental belief that these kinds of weapons should not --
MR. FLEISCHER: He believed it in 2000, before studies were
completed; he continues to believe it now. We'll see if the studies
provide any additional information. But the President focuses on this
issue like he does on all -- he focuses it on the merits. He makes
his determinations. Often the President will agree, of course, with
the National Rifle Association. On this issue he does not.
Q One more point on this. Forgive me for wading into the
politics of issues like this, but he doesn't think that there's --
is he concerned about taking steps that put him at odds with his
Republican base, or does he feel like really he's built himself up so
much it's not an issue?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think when you look across-the-board at the
positions the President takes, the President evaluates the issues that
come before him based on the facts, based on the merits. He makes the
determinations, and then others are free to say whether they agree or
disagree with the President. I think his view to whether it's an issue
that's important to one party or another party, or to many people in
the middle, his view is, do what's right, and let people interpret it
from there. In this instance, you know what he said, as you pointed
out, in 2000. He continues to believe it today.
Q Ari, on that, last night Karl Rove was in New Hampshire, and
he spoke with one of the leading gun activists in the state, who says
on his website today that Karl Rove said Congress isn't going to pass
this extension anyway, and so gun owners don't have to worry, the
President is going to be for the extension, but Congress isn't going to
pass it anyway. Is that the President's attitude, that this bill isn't
really coming his way?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think you can talk to any number of
handicappers about any number of issues that are pending before the
Congress and probably get an equal number of opinions. So this is a
matter that the Congress will be taking up, and they will be taking it
up now, knowing what the President's position is on it. And I can't
make any predictions about what Congress ultimately will do. It's a
business that outsiders engage in and insiders engage in; we'll see
Q According to this gentleman, Karl Rove was engaging in that.
Given the fact that Republicans do control the Congress and that
getting this passed, getting it onto the agenda will require Republican
leadership, is the President willing to fight for this, to fight for
the extension of the assault weapons ban?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has made his position known. And
during the course of the debate, I imagine that people will refer to
the President's position and cite it, and I will continue to repeat
it. The President, you will watch his actions and judge for yourself
Q So no plan to make any calls on this, to spend political
capital to get this done?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, as I indicated, I think you'll be able to judge
the President's actions by observing them yourselves.
Q What does the President hope Secretary Powell will be able to
achieve this weekend in the Middle East?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is hopeful that in the Secretary's
visit to the Middle East, the Secretary will find a willingness from
the parties to take the first steps down the road that the road map
outlines. It's very important for the Israelis, for the Palestinians,
for the Arabs to recognize that this is now a moment to seize. And the
Secretary is going to the Middle East to help them to seize it. And
it's the beginning of an important process.
Q Does he hope to come out of this with a cease-fire, something
MR. FLEISCHER: Just as I indicated. The road map represents a
hopeful moment, a hopeful process, and it outlines a route for the
Israelis, the Palestinians and the Arabs to travel together to reach
the goal of a two-state solution to the violence that has wracked the
As we've seen in many other peace efforts in the Middle East, going
back decades, sometimes they're successful, sometimes they're not.
This President is determined to take every step the United States can
make to help this one to be successful. There are no guarantees; it is
the Middle East. What can be guaranteed is that this President will
put a shoulder to the wheel to try to make it happen.
And this is a topic that came up in the lunch with the Amir of
Qatar. This is a hopeful moment in the Middle East, and that's how the
President begins this. We've seen before hopeful moments in the Middle
East go up in a puff of violence, and we hope that won't be the case
again. And the President is determined to make every, every effort to
take advantage of this time of history.
Q Ari, attacking this another way on the assault weapons ban,
basically the NRA is getting what they want from Congress. What is the
President willing to do -- as he said he supports the Clinton
administration's assault weapons ban -- what is he willing to do to
go the extra mile so this ban would be reinforced after 2004?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the statement from the President, already,
sends a very clear signal to people about what the President supports,
the fact that the President is prepared to sign this legislation. And
this is an issue that both parties will take up and face, and I think
you'll find any number of people in the other party who has different
thoughts about this, as well.
But the President is for it. I've said it, you know his position,
and you are free to talk to him about it yourself -- he took
questions today -- raise the issue with him, and you know his
Q But there's a contradiction. One of his main advisors is
contradicting what the President is saying. How is that --
MR. FLEISCHER: That's not true. It's not true.
Q Well tell me then. Tell me why it isn't true.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think as Terry described the remarks by a third
party, it was a question of analysis of what Congress will or will not
do. And as I indicated, you can, on any number of issues, find people
who handicap what Congress will or will not do. It's a guessing game.
Q But basically what the Karl Rove statement is, is the
politics of politics that will ultimately give the NRA what they want.
They don't want the assault weapons ban --
MR. FLEISCHER: April, this is, to the President, this is about a
promise he made, a commitment he gave because he thought on substance,
this was reasonable. Now, I'll leave politics to others, but that's
the President's position.
Q Two questions about the President's judicial nominations. To
what degree do you think people in America, citizens, are following the
to-and-fro over this issue between Republicans and Democrats at the
MR. FLEISCHER: I think, like a lot of issues that come before
Washington -- issues, obviously, like the war I think the entire
country pays attention to. But there's a whole series of issues that
slices of America pay attention to. And I think when it comes to
judicial issues, there are, indeed, a lot of Americans, a fairly large
slice, who have a care about our constitutional system and about the
judiciary being filled, because many people depend on courts for
justice, and when they go to court they want to know that they won't
have interminable delays as a result of a lack of judges sitting in the
chairs, and too high a vacancy rate, which is the present condition,
particularly in the circuit court.
So I do think this is one of those issues that many people do pay
attention to. It's a good government issue. Failure by the Senate to
ratify judges, to engage in filibuster against judges who have been
nominated for more than two years, is just a failure to engage in a
good government process. Every judicial nominee, in the President's
judgment, deserves an up or down vote.
Q And, Ari, over the next number of days, the President will be
going to New Mexico, Nebraska, Indiana. I wonder if you could tell us
how each of those states was chosen, and what the President hopes to
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President, as you know, repeatedly
travels around the country to make his case on behalf of different
issues that are pending before the Congress. The President enjoys
traveling to different places, places he hasn't been to recently. He
also does, indeed, look at this as a close vote in the Senate. And the
President hopes that his travel will help members of Congress to reach
decisions based on the merits of the President's proposals and his
discussions about those proposals.
Q Ari, Security Council countries like France and Russia have
made clear that they're reluctant to completely lift the sanctions
against Iraq until they know that they're no weapons of mass
destruction in Iraq. What is the U.S. willing to do to address that
issue with --
MR. FLEISCHER: Let's allow the countries to speak for themselves,
allow them an opportunity to look at this resolution. So I think you
might be surprised about the prospects for this resolution moving
forward in a cooperative fashion. So I don't know that you can take
too much out of the bitterness that marked the previous debate at the
U.N. and apply it to this debate. Allow the resolution to be
introduced, and allow the member states of the Security Council to
speak for themselves having looked at the resolution.
And, still, at the end of the day, it comes down to the question of
the Iraqi regime is no more. The concerns the United Nations had when
they imposed sanctions have vanished. Why, therefore, should the Iraqi
people suffer? This is about the Iraqi people.
Q Let me ask the question a different way then. Can you
clarify the U.S. position on that issue? Obviously, Negroponte --
John Negroponte said that he doesn't favor UNMOVIC going in there, but
other international inspectors, is that something that the U.S. --
MR. FLEISCHER: It's exactly what I said this morning. The
coalition is continuing to lead the effort to find the weapons of mass
destruction. And as you know, in terms of what, certainly by all
appearances, would seem to be the mobile biological weapons van that
Secretary Powell warned about, that Iraq denied having, that has now
apparently been found, we are beginning to have success. There
continues to be a voluminous amount of documents that still are going
through, and other sites to be visited. So the process is well
underway. We remain confident about what we will find. And the
coalition is leading that effort.
Q Leading the effort, but would you go along with other
agencies, like the IAEA, for instance, going along with the coalition
MR. FLEISCHER: Just as I said this morning, we don't rule anything
out. But for the foreseeable future, this is a coalition-led effort.
Q By my count, the state visit from the Philippines will only
be the President's third since he took office.
MR. FLEISCHER: I believe that's correct.
Q So why is the Philippines receiving this rare honor?
MR. FLEISCHER: This is the President's way of saying, thank-you,
to the government of the Philippines, to President Arroyo and to the
people of Philippines for their stalwart efforts in fighting the war on
terror, for being such a good and reliable ally to the United States.
The Philippines, in an area of the world that has not received much
notice, because much notice in the war on terrorism has been focused on
Afghanistan or Iraq or other places -- the Philippines have suffered
mightily at the hands of terrorists. And the Philippine government and
President Arroyo have shown great courage in taking on the terrorists
inside the Philippines, particularly on some of the more remote islands
in the Philippines. And the President wants to express the gratitude
and appreciation of the American people and himself by hosting a state
Q Second question. Critics of the administration see the White
House and the State Department spending a lot of time with the new NATO
candidate members today, with the Philippines, and spending
significantly less time with traditional allies like France and
Germany. Do these critics fail to understand the value of these other
countries? Has there been a shift in emphasis?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, but, you know, what are you seeing -- and I
know I mentioned at the top this has been a busy foreign policy day
here at the White House, and, of course, President Aznar was just here,
and the President and Prime Minister Blair speak often and have met
often. What you are seeing here is a real numerical reminder of how
the world agreed with the United States, and how few countries
disagreed with the United States. And that's a fact. Much of the
world, most of Europe, agreed with the leadership that President Bush
and Prime Minister Blair and Prime Minister Aznar and Prime Minister
Berlusconi displayed in the recent confrontation with Iraq. There were
a couple nations that did not. They are a small minority of nations.
Q But your critics would say that in terms of size of the
country and in terms of population and the power of their economies and
their clout around the world, that the preponderance of opinion was
against the U.S. policy, so that the numbers of countries supporting
is not an accurate count of world support for the war in Iraq and other
MR. FLEISCHER: I think if people measure principles of right and
wrong by GDP size, they're using the wrong measurements. Right and
wrong is right and wrong, whether it's the smallest nation with the
lowest GDP that stands on principle, or the largest nation with the
highest GDP. You don't measure right and wrong by a nation's GDP. You
measure it by the decisions they make to defend freedom.
Q There does seem to be a shift in sentiment along these
lines. Is it fair to say that the U.S. now believes it is easier in
many ways to work with some of the new members of NATO than it is to
work with some of the members of the Security Council?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think the President has been very up-front
about this; there is a very refreshing notion in many of these Eastern
European nations about the price of liberty and freedom. They remember
what it was like to live and suffer from tyranny, and they understand
the risks that have to be taken to defend liberty. And these East
European nations were proud to stand up early and alongside the United
States. And the President has been unabashedly proud to say thank you
to those countries.
Q You said that we should reserve judgment until France and
Russia and others have had a chance to look at the resolution. What is
it in that resolution that you think they will find persuasive? Are
there portions of it --
MR. FLEISCHER: My point is I think you're overstating their
opposition and you need to just allow them to have a look at it. And
as I mentioned, we are in a different era and a different environment
at the United Nations. I don't think some of these nations want to
repeat the mistakes that they made in the past, and allow them to speak
Q Is there something in this resolution that will resolve or at
least move toward resolving the issue of how Iraqi oil can be sold, who
can assert ownership, and how the money will be dealt with, and who
will be able to spend it, and all the questions surrounding Iraq's
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me tell you what it will include, and there
will be additional details that will come later. But it will lift
sanctions on Iraq, wind down the oil-for-food program, provide for an
appropriate administration to help provide security and rebuild Iraq,
and encourage international participation in this effort.
The President wants the Security Council to act quickly to pass
this new resolution. There is no need for a lengthy debate. And
previously, I think I said there were four co-sponsors of it. I
believe there are three -- it's the United Kingdom, Spain, and the
Q Ari, could you just address the oil thing in particular?
Does it resolve this question of how they'll be able to sell Iraqi
oil? I mean, who can sell it --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm going to leave it at this level for now.
Member states have not yet received the resolution, so I'm going to
leave it at that for now.
Q Does the federal support extending unemployment benefits for
those whose benefits coming to an end cease at the end of this month?
MR. FLEISCHER: This is an issue, as you know, that the President
supported earlier this year, the extension of unemployment benefits.
Unemployment remains a key concern for the President and this is an
issue on which we will work with the Congress.
Q So you have no view of that? You have no view about whether,
in principle -- I'm not saying by how long, but whether in principle
the benefits should be extended?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that all depends on specifics, and the
President will want to work with the Congress.
Q On women in combat roles in the military, the President said
this morning that our commanders are going to make decisions. Is the
President going to get a report from him, from them? How is he going
to sort of keep track of this particular issue?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you need to start with DOD and see, in the
wake of the war, if they are or are not doing any evaluations of the
role of women in combat. I don't know if they are, or not. The
President was asked an interesting question about it; it may have been
hypothetical. And you know the President's thinking about it, but to
start the process you need to check with DOD.
Q Can you describe for us what the President wants to talk
about in South Carolina tomorrow? And is this the only commencement
address he's going to give this year?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, this is not the only commencement address he
will give. I believe in the week-ahead tomorrow we will indicate the
one other that he will do.
The President is going to give a foreign policy address in South
Carolina tomorrow. The President's address is going to focus on the
hopeful moment in the Middle East and he will touch on other areas
around the world, as well, particularly in the war on terror.
Q Can you also describe for us a little bit more about the
weekend the President is planning, this Mother's Day weekend in Santa
Fe? You said you'd have some more details.
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, I'll do that tomorrow at the week-ahead.
Q But no here?
Q Ari, the President said on Thursday on the aircraft carrier
that the Iraqi regime would not be providing terrorist groups with
weapons of mass destruction, that that was one of the advantages of the
war. How can he know that with certainty, given that Iraq's main
nuclear facility went unguarded for days and was looted?
MR. FLEISCHER: This is a question that I got, I think a couple
days ago here, and what I said then applies today, too. The
President's reference was to the Iraqi regime. The regime is no more.
And we always will have concerns about any loose-knit group of people,
but we have no information about that. The President's statement was
about the regime.
Q So it's possible that the very scenario that this war was
fought to prevent could have unfolded and we really know nothing about
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think that's a hypothetical, and you have to
leave it as a hypothetical.
Q How so?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to say it is or isn't. Who knows?
Whatever the risk is, it has obviously been greatly and severely
Q Two questions, Ari. One, since the U.S. team led by Deputy
Secretary Mr. Armitage -- peace for the Indian subcontinent --
still there. When I was in Kashmir, life was going normal, but it was
-- only one or two terrorist activities now. How much -- conflict
of 50 years old between the two nations is going to be solved, because
when the two nations were at the brink of war last year and the
President was given credit for -- the tension. Now how much is
involved Kasmir to solve this problem?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as you know, the Deputy Secretary of State is
in the region for the purpose of working with India and Pakistan to
help bring them together. And there, too, this is a very hopeful
moment. You have seen a thaw in relations between India and Pakistan,
and a very helpful one, at that. Many people have been working very
hard, including the United States government, to help make this
happen. And it's an important step forward that both countries have
taken toward each other. And the President commends them for it.
Q Second -- I have one.
MR. FLEISCHER: Robert. We're going to keep moving.
Q Ari, I'm not sure whether the President has seen this or
you've seen it, but a very prominent politician in Britain, the mayor
of London, Ken Livingstone, has had some pretty strong words about the
President today. He said, "I think George Bush is the most corrupt
American President since Harding in the '20s, he's not a legitimate
President. I look forward to his government being overthrown as much
as I look forward to Saddam Hussein being overthrown." Have you seen
that? Do you have a reaction to it?
MR. FLEISCHER: First of all, I've never heard of the fellow.
Second of all, I wouldn't dignify it with a comment.
Q Just to clarify the record, are you saying that the
statements attributed to Karl Rove by the anti-gun-control activists
were not made by Mr. Rove, that he didn't say them?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, it's the first I've heard of them, so I'm not
in a position to tell you that one way or another.
Q Could you check, please, and perhaps post the --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll see if there's anything I have on it.
Russell. You haven't been here for a while.
Q I've been in row five, that doesn't count. (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: Welcome to row four. I'd like to move to row five
Q That's fine.
MR. FLEISCHER: Not you, Lester.
Q The President was in Santa Clara last week and he appeared at
United Defense, a major defense contractor controlled by the Carlyle
Group. The President's father is a paid advisor to the Carlyle Group.
So you have a situation where the President was there touting the
products of the company that directly benefits financially his father.
Why isn't that unethical?
MR. FLEISCHER: The question is, are Bradley fighting vehicles part
of what the military does that should be supported. The answer is, of
course, yes, regardless of who serves on Carlyle.
Q What if the President's father was, like, the President of
United Defense? Would that be unethical?
MR. FLEISCHER: What if the President's father was on Social
Security and the President wanted to strengthen the Social Security
program so all Americans could have a strong retirement. (Laughter.)
Q Two quick ones. The President made reference to working
together to stop weapons of -- proliferation of weapons of mass
destruction. Are military actions ruled in or out if diplomacy does
not work in the case of Iran, North Korea?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm sorry, could you rephrase the question? I was
-- (laughter) -- busy eye-surfing.
Q Regarding Iran, the President said we must work together to
stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Are military
actions on the table? Are they ruled in or out if Iran or North Korea
do not stop this proliferation?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, as the President said, the IAEA has been into
Iran and we are awaiting their report in June. But make no mistake,
what Iran is pursuing raises very troublesome issues, particularly
given the fact that Iran is a nation that is rich in oil and rich in
gas. In fact, Iran flares off more gas than they would ever produce
from the nuclear programs that they claim they are producing for
peaceful purposes. It is odd for a nation as rich in energy as Iran to
seek production of nuclear energy that they claim is for peaceful
purposes. This is a serious matter. And the IAEA is on the spot, they
are on the job. We will await their June report.
Q May I ask a quick one on the terrorism ruling in New York by
a New York judge yesterday? Would the President support giving some of
the seized Iraqi money to families of 9/11 victims?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't have comments on that court case.
Q Ari, you've quoted the President as saying that the situation
on the Security Council -- there's a more hopeful environment. But
immediately after the battle of Iraq, as you all are calling it, there
was indications that -- from the Defense Department, particularly
-- that France would have a price to pay for its opposition. Is that
no longer effective?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well the -- I think Secretary Powell said, yes,
to a question about will there be consequences.
MR. FLEISCHER: And I think on this issue, it's important to allow
the member states of the Security Council to speak and to vote on the
merits of what is put before them. We shall learn their position.
They shall take their position publicly, and we will know more.
Q But in order to gain their support, are there still --
regardless, are there still going to be consequences?
MR. FLEISCHER: The reason the President said what he said last
night is because the members of the Security Council want to work
together. And I think, from the President's point of view, some of
these nations that oppose the United States have learned lessons, and
made mistakes, and they don't want to repeat those mistakes. And they,
too, want to work better with the United States. So we will see what
happens when it's put before them.
Q As was mentioned, the President said it's up to the Generals
to decide whether women should be in combat. But isn't he, as
Commander-in-Chief, at a time when Jessica Lynch and others have been
held prisoner, responsible for setting policy to the Pentagon on an
important issue like this?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think what the President is saying is that
if there are any reviews of any specific issues that arose in the
conduct of the war, regardless of whether it deals with a gender issue,
or a fighting doctrine, or a type of vehicle, or a type of military
equipment used, that it should be the Pentagon and the military who
makes the first evaluation of what that means.
Now, of course, if anything rises up to a higher policy level, the
President will be involved. I think the President also gave a rather
strong statement about his approach to these issues, and how qualified
women are to serve in very important roles in our military.
Q But, specifically on my question of women in combat roles,
some conservatives are saying the President is essentially punting this
issue. And you talked earlier about how he has a tendency to tackle
tough, thorny issues, even if it might alienate conservatives or
liberals. Why not tackle this one?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, first of all, you're dealing with a
hypothetical. You don't even know if there is a review, you don't even
know if the events in the war have led to a need for anything to be
reviewed or for the status quota to remain.
Q But he would be the one to review it.
MR. FLEISCHER: What the President is indicating is his overall
approach, and I think he gave you a pretty strong statement about the
important role that women play in our military, and his confidence in
women. He has seen it happen.
But, as with all matters in the military, the President wants to
hear first from the experts, and then if there is anything beyond this
hypothetical, he might have more to say, if that even happens.
Q Yesterday, an open letter signed by over half the members of
the Iranian parliament was read aloud during their sessions. The
letter called for liberal reforms and an end to diplomatic isolation.
Does the administration interpret this as a sign that this member of
the "axis of evil" is getting the message? And what is the
administration going to do to reach out to the Iranian reformers?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there, indeed, are intriguing developments
underway inside Iran that are very hard for outsiders to read. Iran is
a remarkably young country. The population of Iran disproportionally
does represent very young people. The message that young people,
particularly in Iran, have expressed is they want to be free, they want
to have an open society.
And we shall see what the future of Iran holds. It's an important
issue; it's a hard issue for outsiders to read. But the cause of
reform and the cause of democracy are important everywhere. I would
refer you to the President's statement that he issued to the people of
Mr. Sanger, very gracious of you to assume a seat in the fifth
Q Well, my colleagues in the front always ask better questions
than I do anyway. Is it the U.S.' policy that we have the right to
intercept missile shipments coming out of -- this follows Connie's
question -- North Korea or Iran, shipments that don't necessarily
violate a specific statute in international law, as a way of trying to
contain the kind of threat the President was talking about this
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the conduct of any operation on international
waters, the United States would be bound by domestic law and
international law, and within those two bodies of law, the United
States has options.
Q Let me just take you to the specific example. We had an
earlier one where the North Korean shipment was intercepted on the way
to Yemen. In that case, you believed it might be going to Iraq. If
it's not going to a prohibited country, like Iraq, is it still the view
of the administration it has a right --
MR. FLEISCHER: It all depends on the facts and the circumstances,
the information pertaining to that incident. And it would be
evaluated; but any action taken would, of course, be consistent with
Q Ari, two-part. Considering our military and CIA's very
effective use of unmanned aerial drones in Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan,
and the support of Republicans John McCain, Steve Shadegg, John Warner
and Asa Hutchinson, are using such drones to police our Canadian and
Mexican borders -- and my question is, does the President disagree
with his fellow Republicans and oppose such use of drones to police our
MR. FLEISCHER: On an issue like this, it's more a matter that the
agencies would take a look at and if they have anything to report to
the President, he'd evaluate it.
Q Yesterday, the AP reported from Jerusalem that the road map's
provision of "the right to return" for 700,000 Palestinians who fled
Israel in '48, 1948, is, in Prime Minister Sharon's words, "a recipe
for the destruction of Israel." And since there has been no Arab
restitution for hundreds of thousands of Jews who lost their land --
Arab lands in 1948, how can the President possibly endorse this
Palestinian return demand?
MR. FLEISCHER: Lester, this is exactly the reason the road map has
been offered to the parties, to find a way to bring them together on
contentious issues like this.
Q He's rejected it -- Sharon has rejected it, and remember,
Congress instructed Ben Franklin not one dime to those Torries. You
remember that, don't you, Ari? (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: And we are following the road map that Benjamin
Franklin laid down, which is the peaceful resolution of disputes.
Q Ari, there have been many peace plans or road maps to peace
in the Middle East over the years in various administrations, and
terrorism has always come into play to severely undermine them. What
is the United States doing proactively in regards to Syria and Iran on
cutting off funding and support for terrorist groups that again could
tip over the apple cart?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, keep in mind, the Secretary of State was just
in Syria, and gave a very tough and strong message to President Assad
of Syria. And he received certain commitments from the President of
Syria, and we are going to watch very carefully to see if those
commitments are kept.
From the President's point of view, terrorism risks undermining the
prospects for peace in the Middle East. If there is terror, it will be
very difficult to get the parties to work with each other. Terror is
the first starting point for the process. Terror must be stopped, in
the President's judgment. And that is a crucial ingredient about the
responsibilities of the Palestinian Authority and the Arab nations.
And the President has been satisfied with what he has heard from the
Palestinian Authority in the person of Abu Mazen, and the work that he
has already put in place with Egypt and Saudi Arabia and Jordan. It's
a crucial matter.
Q Ari, that's one leg of the stool. What about Iran? Will
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, Iran clearly is a sponsor of terrorism. It's
a major source of concern and a problem.
April. I'm sorry -- Sarah. I've been promising.
Q You forgot me.
MR. FLEISCHER: Sarah.
Q Thank you. Has the President made up with his friend,
Vincente Fox, and are they going to visit each other again soon?
MR. FLEISCHER: There was no making-up to do. President Bush and
President Fox have always been good friends. There are a series of
issues that remain pending, that remain important. And that's how the
President approaches it.
Q Ari, tomorrow the President is going to South Carolina, a
place where many African Americans are still upset over -- about this
flag flap. Is the President still concerned that this group of people
who he's trying to woo for the next election are concerned still over
the issues of the Confederate flag and over racial issues? Where are
MR. FLEISCHER: I would remind you that when the President said
that's an issue for the people of South Carolina to decide, the people
did. A compromise was reached that involved the African American
community and other community leaders throughout South Carolina. A
compromise was reached and a compromise is in place.
Q So he feels good going, and not worrying --
MR. FLEISCHER: The President feels free to go around to every one
of our 50 states. And most foreign countries. (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.
END 2:26 P.M. EDT