|The White House
President George W. Bush
|Print this document|
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 29, 2003
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:20 P.M. EDT
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. I have no opening statement, so I'll be happy to take your questions. I'll try to move it along briefly today, because I know many of you are getting ready to depart for the trip. So let us begin. Helen.
Q Is the President satisfied with the intelligence he got before the war? Because now one Cabinet officer is saying that they buried the weapons; another said they destroyed them; and another official said they -- what is the President's view on all this?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is indeed satisfied with the intelligence that he received. And I think that's borne out by the fact that, just as Secretary Powell described at the United Nations, we have found the bio trucks that can be used only for the purpose of producing biological weapons. That's proof-perfect that the intelligence in that regard was right on target.
Q We go to war for two trucks?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm sorry?
Q You would go to war from the finding of two trucks?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I don't think it's anything to dismiss. Iraq had, contrary to their protestations to the United Nations, trucks for the purpose of producing biological weapons. They said they didn't have them; they got caught -- proof-perfect that they had them. The only use for those trucks is to produce biological weapons. And so that's one item of it. And on the rest of all the intelligence, of course, the President continues to be satisfied with it. He thinks it's borne out.
Q But doesn't he have sort of a mix -- he gets the CIA, then he gets the Pentagon special briefing -- special intelligence group, and so forth. Do they all gibe?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me try to -- keep in mind, of course, that under the statute you have a Central Intelligence Director. His responsibility is to oversee all the various intelligence agencies. You have the Defense Intelligence Agency; you have the National Security Agency. There are a variety of agencies who, all under the statute; there's a central intelligence source.
The President, per the way Congress created this, benefits from the fact that you have different agencies which have different slices of intelligence, who look at it, which provides for a varied point of view, as they look at the areas of their expertise at intelligence, and all adds up -- this is often referred to as a mosaic, where they assemble the various pieces of intelligence they get, to paint as full and complete a picture as intelligence can do.
Q Was the White House aware of the last-minute compromise which resulted in the loss of the $400 extra child tax credit for a number of low-income earners? And if it was, did it try to get that changed? After all, the President made a very big deal about the child tax credit, and the checks going out starting in July.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think everybody who sat in that conference room was aware of the provisions that were before it. That includes Senator Lambert, for example, who -- Lincoln-Lambert -- who had the provision put in in the Finance Committee, who voted against it even with the provision put in. Everybody was aware in the conference of what was in, what was out. So that was very well-known to all the conferees, including to the White House.
In the end, the tax bill that the President signed yesterday delivered tax relief not only for people who pay income taxes, but delivered tax relief by eliminating 3 million families from having any obligation to pay income taxes anymore. This is people at the lower end of the income scale. Sixty-nine million taxpayers will benefit from the expansion of the 10 percent bracket. And, of course, for people in the 10 percent bracket, they benefit the most from it, and that's the lowest-income workers in America. Twenty-five million children -- families with children will now benefit from the child credit.
Q What was the President's reaction when he learned that a significant number of people would be excluded?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well this has been a longstanding matter of policy that deals with several of the technical provisions of the child credit. What you always have to keep in mind in the administration of the child credit is, does tax relief go to people who pay income taxes and forgive their income taxes? Or does it go above and beyond the forgiving of all income taxes and you actually get a check back from the government for more than you ever owed in income taxes? And this is part and parcel of the debate over tax relief. This certainly does deliver tax relief to the people who pay income taxes.
Q But that's precisely what happened in this case. These people will not get that $400. And they are arguably the people who could most use it.
MR. FLEISCHER: Aha. But what they will get is they will pay absolutely no income taxes, while people up the income scale -- even if they get a larger credit, still pay income taxes. And so what happens is, there are people who, as a result of this agreement, will pay absolutely zero income taxes. Now, there are going to be other people who pay much more in income taxes. And that's where fairness comes in.
Q But, Ari, isn't the issue here that the White House, playing such a strong role in this conference negotiation, certainly saw to it that two things happened, that taxes on dividends for the investor class got reduced -- nobody was left behind there -- and that the acceleration of the rate cuts for the highest earners in America, those also go accelerated on the President's timetable. So that was taken care of. But when it came to, now, a large group of people who stand to get more of the government's money -- their money, as the President says -- they're left behind in is.
MR. FLEISCHER: Keep in mind that when you say their money, if you owe $400 in income taxes, and let's say you would get a $500 child tax credit, if you only owe $400 in income taxes, you get the $400 forgiven, you actually get $100 back of other people's money. So by actually forgiving all income taxes and then giving people money above and beyond that, it's not the same as the way other people on the income scale are treated.
Now, you mentioned the fact that the acceleration of income tax rates took place at the various levels, including the higher levels. That's only because, per the President's priorities, the 10 percent rate was accelerated in 2001. In the 2001 tax act, the 15 percent bracket was dropped immediately to 10 percent. All the other brackets were ramped up over time, or their reductions were made over time. So the 10 percent was a presidential priority enacted in the 2001 act. The other rates remained higher, and that's why they could be accelerated in this act.
Q Do you think people who are in this category, who earn just above the minimum wage, who are watching what you say about this accept the notion that this is just what happens in the administration of tax policy and this is how the government does its business?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think all taxpayers appreciate the fact that the income tax burden is too high. And for people who have had their entire income tax burden forgiven, I think they're very appreciative of the fact that they pay no income taxes in America and still benefit from a national defense, which is paid from income taxes; they still benefit from school programs that are paid at the federal level income taxes. They still benefit from a host of programs that income taxes help them in their daily lives; yet they pay zero income taxes. In fact, they get back money from the Treasury which is in the form of public assistance, above and beyond income taxes.
There's a whole other, larger group of Americans, tens of millions, who still pay income taxes, who now will pay less income taxes as a result of this tax relief. And that's why, in the President's judgment, this is fair to all Americans. And I don't think the American people look at it and they say, I'm paying absolutely zero income tax and that's not good enough for me; I want to have more money back from the government, even though I have been forgiven of income tax obligations.
And under this bill, 3 million families will now pay -- 3 million additional families pay zero income tax. There is an interesting trend in tax policy where a larger and larger percentage of the country pays no income taxes.
Q Just to button this up, the President was satisfied with sacrificing this area in order to get the compromise and ultimately get the package, even though it would leave this particular group out?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as the President said, he doesn't get everything that he wants, and if this provision had been included, the President would have signed it. But the conferees did make that decision. The President would have signed it had it been sent to him.
Q You were a party to that conference, so it's not like it's an "us" versus "them." You were a party to that.
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm walking you precisely what happened.
Q So why did the White House conferees agree to drop these 11.9 million children from this benefit?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there were many decisions that were made that represented compromises in order to get something done. At the end, it still was a very close vote. You had the interesting position of a senator who advocated for this position, got it -- on the Senate Finance Committee -- and still voted against what she wanted. So different members of Congress made different decisions, based on the compromises that were made in order to still make progress. At the end of the day, the President determined it was still important enough to make progress, even though he was not getting everything he wanted in this bill.
Q Is it fair to say that the White House, not members of Congress, not senators, but the White House at the end of the day thought that to make progress, the benefit for these 11.9 million children should go in order to, in part, save the dividend benefit for investors?
MR. FLEISCHER: Keep in mind, investors are across-the-board in terms of income groups, include many senior citizens, whose only source of income is their investment, because they don't have an income since they retired. And that's aimed at creating jobs. And so there are a variety of economic factors that go into the tax bill in terms of giving it the oomph to create jobs, which is what this is about. And I think economists can argue, they will differ about which provisions help create more jobs. And that's a debate that will go on.
Q No, but you had to make a choice, and I just want to make sure that you are saying that the White House agreed to make the choice to leave these children behind.
MR. FLEISCHER: Many, many choices get made. For example, people of different income levels don't even get a child credit. There are many people who don't qualify because their income levels are too high to even get a dollar's worth of a child credit, and they pay considerable amount of income taxes. The President wanted to have a zero percent dividend exclusion. He got less of a dividend exclusion.
There are many different factors that go into it. There's still the permanent issue. These tax cuts were not made permanent as a result of the compromises that were made. And so, as always, the President has to make a judgment about whether sufficient progress is being made toward the achievement of a good tax bill that creates jobs and growth for the economy. In his judgment, this tax bill is a good tax bill that creates jobs and growth for the economy.
Q Can I go -- just a quick follow-up on Helen's question here -- that the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq goes on, the President's expressed confidence that they will find them. But it seems that whatever is found, is discovered in Iraq will differ to some degree or more from the description that the administration gave of a locked and loaded stockpile, munitions ready to go on the ground, on the battlefield. That was essentially the description that the administration gave before the war. Does the President, as chief executive, not have any concern about the quality of the intelligence he's getting?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think rewind the tapes, and you'll see what the administration said before the war and you'll find a series of statements, all of which are valid.
The concern as it was expressed repeatedly at the United Nations is that when the United Nations was thrown out of Iraq in the late 1990s, the United Nations reported that Iraq had not accounted for the botchulin, the toxin, the VX, the sarin gas. They said, not accounted for. They didn't say, locked and loaded. And we repeatedly cited the U.N.'s words and said, not accounted for.
Q The President said Iraq has weapons of mass destruction.
MR. FLEISCHER: As the war was pursued, we, of course, had concerns about whether or not it would be locked and loaded, and that's why we had our forces in the defensive postures they were and with the uniforms and the equipment that they carried with them. So it was a result of their possession of it in a variety of forms, a variety of facts that led the United Nations to conclude, and to vote 15-nothing, that they had not provided adequate explanation of what was unaccounted for that the U.N. knew they had.
Q But let me just -- once again, as chief executive, does he not have any concern about the quality of intelligence on this, as he described it, one of the most critical security matters before the country, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. As I described to you, when the proof came in about what was known so far -- and I think there's going to be more to learn as different people are talked to, as different documents are looked at, as additional forces arrive for the sole purpose of looking for the weapons of mass destruction and obtaining information from Iraqi scientists, particularly mid-level officials -- what else would those biological trucks have been for? Those biological trucks themselves -- and as Secretary Powell pointed out at the United Nations, it doesn't take a lot to produce a lot of deaths, that biological weapons can be small in quantity and large in death. And that's why the American people had a lot to fear about Saddam Hussein developing these weapons, including biological weapons, which there's now proof-positive that he had these biological mobile trucks for the purpose of producing biological weapons.
Q Ari, the President said he would go to a Middle East summit if he thought it would advance the peace process. Well, clearly, he's going, so he must think he can advance it. How does he think he can advance it? Is it just a photo op, just because he's there?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, it's obviously real work. And the purpose of the summit is for the President to take advantage of this moment and exercise what, in his judgment, is his important personal responsibility as the President of the United States, who can play a very helpful role in bringing Israelis and Palestinians together, to help them take concrete steps to implement the road map toward peace.
That's why he's going -- to look the leaders of the Israelis in the eye and to look the leaders of the Palestinians in the eye and say to them, you must make progress; you must implement the road map; you must carry out your concrete obligations to Palestinian on security, to the Israelis on the humane treatment of the Palestinians, and to -- a reminder that the vision is a two-state solution. This is serious work.
Q Would he be satisfied with a statement that commits both sides to implementing the road map? Would that be progress?
MR. FLEISCHER: Clearly, implementing the road map is what this is about, and there must be concrete actions that are taken.
Q What does he expect to come out of today's meeting between Sharon and Abbas?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'm not going to make predictions about a meeting that the United States is not a direct participant in. We will see. The meeting is supposed to be taking place anytime now, Eastern time, and we'll try to get a report after the meeting and see.
Q What does he hope will come out of the meeting?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, what the President hopes will come out of the meeting is a willingness of the Israelis and the Palestinians to work together to implement the road map, meaning the Palestinians taking measurable concrete actions to dismantle terrorism; the Israelis taking measurable concrete actions to help improve the humanity, the conditions of the Palestinian people; and a reaffirmation by both parties toward the vision of a two-state solution, as the road map lays out.
Q President Mubarak is reported to have called Yasser Arafat today to discuss the peace process. You've made very clear that the President doesn't want Yasser Arafat representing the interests of the Palestinian people in the peace process. Can you really keep him out of playing a critical role, given the way other Arab nations are likely to deal with him throughout this?
MR. FLEISCHER: Clearly, there's an important meeting about to take place, and the proper representatives of the Palestinian people will be there, who believe in peace and are espousing the cause of peace. I don't know every detail of every conversation an Arab leader has with Yasser Arafat. But I don't know that you have reason to believe that their message to Yasser Arafat is any way inconsistent with America's message about working to achieve peace and the importance of not interfering with the peace process.
Q So is your message that -- to the Egyptians and other Arab nations to tell Arafat to butt out?
MR. FLEISCHER: I can't speak for what their message is. I think you need to ask them.
Q If I could have one other. The President is going to meet with his Chinese counterpart --
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes.
Q -- in Evian. Given the rounds of negotiations that he's had with the South Koreans, the Japanese and so forth, is he going to be ready to make a decision about a new round of talks with North Korea?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think this will be another important piece in making a determination about the next way, the next step to proceed in dealings with North Korea. The Chinese involvement in resolving the North Korea attempt to nuclearize the Peninsula is a very important involvement. The President wants to talk to the new Chinese President about this, and China is committed to this process -- that's important -- and the President wants to talk to them about that. I think there will be a number of other issues that come up with China, as well, including trade and some other matters.
Q Ari, two quick questions. One, last week was the 10th anniversary of the largest caucus on India in the U.S. Congress. And 163 members from the both parties, Democrats and Republicans were there -- I mean are the members of the caucus. Now both parties on calling on the administration, that they should pay more attention to the world's largest democracy, India. And also time has come for the administration to fight against terrorism into India, in the -- the terrorism in Kashmir. Do you have any comments? And also where do you -- where would the President put today the relations, really, between the world's two biggest, powerful democracies?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, relations between the United States and India are very good. And in terms of the commitment of this administration to India and to peace and stability and to the reduction of terrorism, I think you have seen so many recent positive developments between India and Pakistan that are, in part, the result of America's active diplomacy in the region. Deputy Secretary Armitage's recent trip to the region is one small piece of that. Many others have been participating in that effort. So this is an ongoing issue of the top priority levels of the American government.
Q Back to the child tax credit. You said the President didn't get everything he wanted. Just to be clear, in his initial proposal, the $726-billion package, he did not propose that this group earning between $10,000 and $26,000 would get the increase in the child tax credit. Is that correct?
MR. FLEISCHER: The 1997 tax act that is the basis for all this legislation applied the tax credit against income taxes, not against payroll taxes. In 2001, the President signed legislation, and supported it, that would, for the first time, have a small application of it to the payroll taxes. That allowed for an increase to kick in in 2005. That was part of the President's budget, and the President supported that increase in his budget.
Q Can you clarify -- there's a report out of the Financial Times out of London that says -- the Treasury Department, that former Secretary O'Neill had commissioned a report to evaluate the federal deficit, they came up with a figure of $44 trillion, and that that report was shelved in the budget of 2004. Is that accurate?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, that's an erroneous report. There's nobody at Treasury who was involved in this. I think there may have been some retired people, people who left Treasury, who had some thoughts. But we agree with their thoughts. If you take a look at President Bush's own budget, you'll find in the budget President Bush submitted to the Congress, the President warned about these long-term structural deficits -- it was a chapter called, "The Real Fiscal Danger" -- on page 31 of the President's own budget where he warned that Social Security and Medicare and the nation's entitlement programs are creating a tremendous burden of debt on the next generation of Americans, which is why entitlement reform is so necessary.
This is why the President wants to create a system of social security based on personal accounts on a voluntary basis, to relieve that crushing debt. There is no question that Social Security and Medicare and the nation's entitlement programs are going to present next generations with a crushing debt burden, unless policymakers work seriously to reform those programs.
Q So just to be clear, the Treasury Department did not commission that study?
MR. FLEISCHER: You can talk to Treasury about it, but my understanding is there is nothing like this underway at Treasury, and nobody working at Treasury has been working on this. There may have been some people in a private capacity outside of the Treasury Department who worked on various projects, but those are not federal employees.
Q On the child credit, you've given that very elaborate explanation, but at the end of the day, there's -- the perception seems to linger that this is an administration study. At the top, it tends to favor the haves, as opposed to the have-nots. And is this a concern that the White House has in light of --
MR. FLEISCHER: This administration treats taxpayers fairly. This administration treats taxpayers right. And this administration recognizes that people who pay income taxes should receive income tax relief, and that when you reach a point where people pay absolutely zero in income taxes, you're being very fair to all income taxpayers.
Now, there may be some who argue that after somebody actually pays zero in income tax, other taxpayers have a responsibility to transfer more of their income to people who pay no income taxes. And that's an argument that some people might want to make, that in the end it's a redistribution of income, that is public assistance, above and beyond what people pay in their income taxes.
But this administration has been very fair about providing relief at the lower-income end of the scale. After all, 3 million people now pay no income taxes. This administration lowered the 15 percent bracket to 10 percent, all of which predominantly helps people at the low end.
Go ahead, Bill.
Q You're talking about taxpayers here. You're not talking about people who don't pay taxes.
MR. FLEISCHER: Income taxes, I said.
Q Well, but the tax credit only applies to people who pay taxes, both payroll and income.
MR. FLEISCHER: No, it was designed in 1997 as an offset to income taxes. There's a small portion that offsets payroll, but it is designed as an income tax credit. That's what the child credit is, to offset income taxes.
Q But these are the people who it was designed to benefit, the people who pay those taxes.
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct. And that's why it's benefiting everybody, to the point where many in society are absolutely forgiven from paying any income taxes, and others will receive a child credit, and therefore, pay less income taxes, but they will still pay income taxes.
Q The point of this discourse seems to be there are people who are not receiving that benefit as a result of the change that was made in conference.
MR. FLEISCHER: Many people would say that if you're paying no income taxes at all, you received a lot of benefit.
Q You and Condi and others talked about conditions permitting for the three-way summit to go forward. Is there something in today's meeting between Sharon and Prime Minister Abbas that creates the conditions for the three-way summit with President Bush to go forward?
MR. FLEISCHER: All signals are go. The same phrase applies, conditions permitting. All -- conditions are permitting; all signals are go.
Q Can you clarify for us at all what "conditions permitting" means?
MR. FLEISCHER: Nothing different than I said yesterday.
Q I wasn't sure what you meant yesterday either.
MR. FLEISCHER: Dr. Rice and I said the same thing yesterday, about the responsibility of the parties -- and you may quote her -- the responsibility of the parties to work toward peace.
Q There's a lot of talk that Hamas may, in fact, be willing to consider a cease-fire. What does the administration make of that? How big a step would that be?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, what's important is for the Palestinian Authority to move immediately to completely disarm and dismantle those groups that oppose a two-state solution and employ terror and violence in order to achieve their aims. Should the Palestinians declare a cease-fire, it must be accompanied by parallel steps to disarm and dismantle terrorists and terrorist infrastructure.
Q We're talking about one of the terrorist groups, itself; not the Palestinian Authority as a whole, but actually one of the terrorist groups that has, in many cases, actually undermined efforts to --
MR. FLEISCHER: And that's why the negotiations and the work with the Palestinian Authority, because they have these responsibilities.
Q Ari, two questions. Again, going back to what Jim brought up, "conditions permitting." It's been like a history in the Middle East, anytime something major is about to take place, terrorist acts take place, and usually, major terrorist actions. Would this be involving the question, "conditions permitting," if something major in terrorism occurs?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as I just said, all systems are go. The conditions are permitting. And I think unless -- in the event, something would change that, you will know it. But all systems are go. And if you have a hypothetical, if something becomes real later, we'll deal with it if it becomes real later. But what's real now is the meeting is moving forward.
Q And the second question, Ari, today another death has been reported in Iraq, an American soldier. This makes nine in the last few days and 24 wounded. The President, as the Commander-in-Chief, is he worried about this turn of events? It seems to be an unending situation, every day something is happening.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as the President said on the Abraham Lincoln, there are dangers that remain still in Iraq. There are still battlefields in Iraq. The President declared that the major hostilities are over. He did not say that there was an end to the violence in Iraq, because much of this was foreseeable because there are still enemies inside Iraq who are loyal to Saddam Hussein, who are fighting the coalition. And that's why the coalition is there, dedicated to the mission of achieving security and carrying out their efforts against remaining pockets of resistance.
Q Ari, on the -- you say -- going back to the child tax credit -- you say the President would have signed it into law if it had been in the bill. Does that mean that he endorses it and would like to see it become law?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I've been asked many questions about what the President will do next, because there are other things the President did not get in this bill that he would have signed into law. And my answer remains the same, that there will be future budgets. I'm not going to predict everything that's in those budgets.
Q So he's not necessarily endorsing it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Just -- there will come a day when other budgets are proposed, and I'm not going to predict everything that's in those budgets.
Q Just to follow up on the Financial Times report about the deficit. Are you saying -- it said that a report was suppressed. You're saying that's not true?
MR. FLEISCHER: I checked I with Treasury and they say that's absolutely not true.
Q Ari, back on the child tax credit, just talking about what the President believes --
MR. FLEISCHER: You don't have to say back on, you can say continuing on.
Q That's right. What does the President think would be a greater stimulus to the economy, just in pure economic terms, giving more money back to the investor class, or giving money directly to lower-income working people who might spend that money immediately on goods?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President views it as a combination of both.
Q If you had to compare those two options, which one serves as a greater stimulus to the economy?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the point has arrived where the bill is law as a result of a good compromise that was achieved that allowed this to pass into law.
Q I'm asking you, Ari, about the President's philosophy, his economic philosophy, and what serves as a greater stimulus to the economy.
MR. FLEISCHER: It's a combination of both.
Q Ari, about the trip, if I may, briefly. A lot of the Europeans have said the President's got a serious amount of fence-mending to do. He's not meeting with several of the G8 folks that would normally be in the meeting with -- in the context of the larger summit. He's leaving a day early. Is he sending the opposite signal, that he doesn't really care?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think, frankly, if you talk to the European leaders that he's meeting with, they just don't view it that way. This is about making progress as members of the G8 on issues that unite us. And I think that the time has moved beyond us, whether there were recriminations or disagreements about previous issues. And for the U.N., we all know now we all are moving together in a unanimous fashion on the reconstruction of Iraq. So I just don't think this has to do with fence-mending. This has to do with working together to move forward.
Q You don't think that there's bitterness left -- this is his first trip to Europe since the Iraq war, where there was huge demonstrations in the streets. And even if some of the European leaders were undecided --
MR. FLEISCHER: One thing I've noticed about European trips, and especially trade summits and EU meetings, it doesn't matter if the President is there or not there, there are hundreds of thousands of people in the streets. This is just the nature sometimes of these meetings. Sometimes it's aimed at the President; other times it's aimed at the European leaders themselves.
Q So you don't think there's any lingering bitterness that the President needs to try to work to ameliorate?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President is going to work to bring people together around the agenda that he has outlined, that he's going to talk about in Poland, and that he's going to demonstrate at the G8, which is America's work -- and we hope the world will work with us -- to help alleviate poverty, to help reduce famine, to help provide relief for AIDS. And he goes to Europe armed with substantial accomplishments where the American taxpayer is leading the way to help the suffering, reduce the suffering around the world.
Q A number of the President's predecessors have spent time with one-on-one meetings to try to address the Middle East peace question over the years. What kind of time or extra attention has President Bush spent in trying to learn from his predecessors and their actual experiences, sitting down with leaders in the Middle East in trying to resolve the problem?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, of course, the President has met repeatedly, on numerous occasions with Arab leaders, summit meetings, one-on-one meetings; with Prime Minister Sharon. Many of those meetings are here at the White House.
Q Not in the same context.
MR. FLEISCHER: It's all the same context. It's all the context of how do you achieve peace in the Middle East and gathering ideas. I submit to you that this meeting could not even be taking place if it was not for the success of the meetings that the President had with these Arab leaders, with Prime Minister Sharon in his conversations, and his efforts in creating a new reformed leadership in the Palestinian Authority. So it all is of the same context, creating an environment now where people in the Middle East can sit down in a different atmosphere where there is a chance of moving forward to implement the road map.
Q But what kind of time has the President spent paying attention to his predecessors' experiences? Either lessons learned, positive or negative?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think the most valuable lesson was something that the President expressed in the June 24th speech where he talked about there has to be a fight by the Palestinian Authority against corruption and against violence, and that Yasser Arafat was not committed to that fight. And one of the lessons is that Yasser Arafat was not working toward peace -- that the previous President of the United States was working toward peace, Arab leaders were working toward peace, Israel was working toward peace, Yasser Arafat was working in the opposite direction. And that's the most valuable lesson, and that's why there is now a chance for peace, because you have a new direction in the Palestinian government.
Q Ari, two questions. At the G8 summit, will the President consider asking the other nations to contribute peacekeeping troops to Iraq so that their soldiers can put their lives on the line, as have the U.S., British and Polish soldiers?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there are numerous conversations around the world with a number of nations about their role in peacekeeping in Iraq. As you know, Poland is leading an effort in one sector of Iraq. I anticipate there will be other nations, as well, that join with the United States, the United Kingdom and Poland and others in providing troops and security for Iraq.
Q Will we ever see a day when the U.S. really reduces dramatically its soldiers, so that the other soldiers can be there?
MR. FLEISCHER: Our position is very clear; that we will stay in Iraq for as long as is necessary, and not one day longer. We are there to help get the job done and to do it right.
Q Who decides?
Q Two questions today, please. Given that transfers of power in the Middle East usually occur abruptly and sometimes violently, what contingency plans do we have in place to deal with the implosion of the government of Iran that some in the administration have suggested may occur?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, you go back to the President's statement of July 12th, which is our policy toward Iran, and that is the future of Iran will be determined by the Iranian people. And this is based on the belief that people everywhere, including Iran, want to be free, want to have a government that is respectful of their rights, wants to have a government that allows them to express their views and allows them to advance economically. That is our position, and I cannot predict what every turn will take in Iran.
Q Well, if something happens abruptly, and considering --
MR. FLEISCHER: I just can't speculate, Jeff, about something that hasn't taken place or might not.
Q Two questions, Ari. Since Prime Minister Sharon and the Knesset have accepted the road map to peace with many strong reservations, while Prime Minister Abbas contends that there can be no such reservations, even as Yasser Arafat has expressed his strong reservations about Abbas being at the summit instead of himself, ny question is, is the President glad that the Israelis will not allow Arafat to leave his Rumallah compound?
MR. FLEISCHER: I would just put it to you that the President is looking forward to working with people who are dedicated to peace. And that's why he is looked -- so much looking forward to this meeting.
Q The AP reports from Austin that Governor Rick Perry signed a defense of marriage law, making Texas the 37th state to outlaw same-sex marriages and civil unions. Governor Perry said, "Like the vast majority of Texans, I believe that marriage represents a sacred union between a man and a woman." And my question: You would leave us with no doubt at all that the President is like the vast majority of fellow Texans?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President agrees with that position. That was legislation signed into law by President Clinton. President Bush supports it.
Q Thank you, very much, Ari. (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: Relax, relax, Lester.
Q It's a wonderful answer.
MR. FLEISCHER: You're not going on the Europe trip, are you? (Laughter.)
Q I'll be watching your every move.
Q Ari, there are reports that the United States is using the dissident group MEK to try and stage a coup in Iraq. Is that true? And isn't the MEK on the State Department's terrorist list?
MR. FLEISCHER: I refer you the Department of Defense's statement about what they are doing involving the disbarment of MEK in Iraq. Our position on that is well-known. Nothing new there.
Q President Bush is meeting with the Chinese President Hu, and since that will be the first summit between the two leaders, can you tell us more about that? Like the agenda, the format, will they be any formal joint press conference --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, actually, this will be their second direct meeting. The President met with President-elect Hu earlier. Now he will be meeting with President Hu, of course. They will have a bilateral meeting. And, as I indicated, I anticipate they will talk about North Korea, they will talk about trade, they will talk about regional security. I think they have a rather busy agenda.
Q Ari, on the subject of Iran, even though the meeting in Egypt will primarily, of course, focus on the Middle East peace process. The President is -- I think you said yesterday he's going to bring up the regional trade idea, as well. Can we anticipate that concerns over Iran and its nuclear program will also be raised for the Arab leaders?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'll try to keep you informed as the meeting takes place. I think they have a busy agenda to talk about the Middle East peace process and the road map. If that's a topic that comes up, we'll try to let you know.
Q Ari, six U.S. congressmen are to visit North Korea. Can you tell us what will be the purpose of this visit?
MR. FLEISCHER: This is a visit that they are undertaking on their own, not representing the President. And I would just refer you to the congressmen and to the State Department on that.
Q Can you tell us if either today or tomorrow the government's going to lower the terror threat level?
MR. FLEISCHER: The terror threat level does get reviewed every day. Given the fact that it was recently raised, it has been reviewed on a continual basis to see whether that raise should continue in place. Conversations are taking place about that. There's nothing to report yet on whether there will be today or tomorrow. We'll see later. So it is something that is being reviewed.
Q The federal officials are saying that it is likely to be lowered as early as today. Is there anything you can say --
MR. FLEISCHER: As of this very hour, no decisions have been made. It is being actively reviewed today.
Q Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.
END 1:00 P.M. EDT