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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 27, 2003

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

Press Briefing


12:23 P.M. EDT

MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. The President began today with his intelligence briefing, followed by an FBI briefing. Earlier this morning he welcomed to the White House the World Champion California Angels. And then, later this afternoon, the President will leave for a major ceremony at the Department of State, where he will sign into law the emergency AIDS legislation to help the suffering people of Africa, as well as the Caribbean.

And tomorrow the President looks forward to signing into law the economic jobs and growth package that the Congress just passed. The President will be signing into law this week several pieces of major legislation as part of a season of accomplishment that the Congress has passed so much legislation the President is pleased to sign.

Other items I want to bring to your attention: Yesterday President Bush called to express condolences over the loss of Spanish soldiers on the military transport that crashed in Turkey. He spoke with President Aznar. They discussed Iraq and the Middle East. He also congratulated President Aznar on the local election successes that his party enjoyed. He sent congratulations to Mrs. Aznar, who won a seat on the Madrid City Council.

The President, also yesterday, spoke with Canadian Prime Minister Chretien. The two leaders discussed the upcoming G8 meeting, U.S.-Canada relations and other international issues of concern. Both said they look forward to seeing each other in Evian. They also touched on Afghanistan, the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and on the global economy.

One schedule announcement for you: The President will welcome Portuguese Prime Minister Barroso to the White House on June 6,2003, for a meeting and working lunch. Portugal has stood firm from the first hour of America's -- among America's closest allies in the war against terror, and the effort to bring peace and democracy to Iraq. And of course, they hosted that important meeting that took place in the Azores.

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

Q Ari, on this summit that may or may not happen next week, everybody seems to be talking about it that it's going to happen, and, understandably, there's logistics to be worked out and other kind of negotiations, but this is a little bit unusual. Why is it that the White House is being so circumspect before making the decision to go ahead and do this and make it official?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think at this point there are just some formalities as the President continues to review the exact manner in which he will put his wheel to the shoulder, as I've said many times before, to help bring the parties together in bringing peace to the Middle East. So there still are -- I would put it this way, it's under active consideration, a possibility of meetings. And I'd just leave it at that for today.

Q The very fact that he's doing it is significant, given his views about direct involvement from the President when this has been done before. So if he decides to go ahead with this summit, is it because there will be something to announce at that summit? Or what other specific action does he believe will result from him sitting down directly to this?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, after a very sustained period of killing in the Middle East, we are -- now arrived at what can possibly be a very hopeful moment. And the President wants to do everything in his power to make it the most hopeful moment possible.

And this will continue to involve the President, and in the conversations that he's had with Prime Minister Sharon, with Abu Mazen, the meetings that the President has had, plus a tremendous amount of behind-the-scenes work that the President and others have done involving the Arab neighbors in the region. We have seen moments in the Middle East come and go before, when people thought they could achieve peace. This President is committed to seeing if, perhaps, this time peace can be achieved.

Q Ari, before the summit was to take place, there was supposed to be a meeting tomorrow between Abu Mazen and Sharon, and that has now been cancelled, apparently by the Palestinians. Is this another bump in the road?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, of course, I don't speak for either party that was scheduled to have a bilateral meeting. But I would not be surprised if a bilateral meeting still took place in the near future.

Q Is there a chance there will be a summit both in Jordan and in Egypt?

MR. FLEISCHER: There are a number of possibilities that the President is taking a look at. And, again, I have nothing to say yet in the formal sense of it. But there are a number of possibilities the President is looking at.

Q These will all be part of the larger G8 trip, wouldn't it?

MR. FLEISCHER: If there is something, it would certainly follow the G8. It would not be prior to the G8, and it would be some time shortly after the G8 if it were to happen.

Q Ari, the Iranian Foreign Minister has said that his country has arrested a number of suspected al Qaeda members. What's the White House's response to Iran's pursuit of these terrorists?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we are pressing the Iranians to end their support for terror, including the harboring of al Qaeda terrorists. Our policy on Iran remains that the future of Iran is to be determined by the Iranian people. And we continue to press Iran to end its nuclear weapons program. We continue to press Iran to cease its harboring of terrorists. And we will continue to work that message to the Iranians through multiple channels -- through our channels, as well as through international channels.

Q Are you satisfied with the steps that they claim to have taken?

MR. FLEISCHER: The steps that the Iranians claim to have taken in terms of capturing al Qaeda are insufficient. It is important that Iran live up to its commitments and obligations not to harbor terrorists.

Q All of this talk recently about supporting the democratically-elected factions of the Iranian government, leaning on them to round up al Qaeda, has created an atmosphere here in Washington at least of thoughts of some sort of looming confrontation with Iran. Senators Hagel and Biden were out on the weekend urging this administration to take a go-slow approach. And can you disabuse us of any kind of notion that, if not war, there is some sort of aggressive posture that the White House is taking toward Iran that could lead to a confrontation?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, surely I hope nobody is suggesting that our policy should be to wink at Iran and to say to Iran that it's okay to harbor terrorists. This President will not do that. This President has a stated, consistent message around the world, and that includes the nation of Iran. But it's a diplomatic course that the President is pursuing, and it's a course that trusts the Iranian people at its core, that the future of Iran will be determined by the people of Iran. And that's a diplomatic approach.

Q And also wrapped up in that is this idea of its alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons, as well. How does that factor --

MR. FLEISCHER: Certainly we hope that nobody would want to look the other day if Iran is developing nuclear weapons. After all, this is why the IAEA, the international agency has been to Iran, has visited sites, and has expressed its concerns about Iran's involvement in pursuing a full nuclear fuel cycle. We continue to have concerns, and those concerns have been expressed to the Iranians.

Q Ari, you said we've arrived at a hopeful moment in the Middle East. Why? What factors and forces have brought this opportunity?

MR. FLEISCHER: From the President's point of view, this can be a hopeful moment in the Middle East because, one, the Palestinians have a new leader who is dedicated to reform, Prime Minister Sharon has accepted the road map and the two-state solution. And this President, working with Arab nations, working with Israel and working with the Palestinians, is determined to see if this can be the right moment to get the parties to move forward, to implement the road map as they've accepted the road map.

Q Is part of the goal here to boost Mahmoud Abbas, Abu Mazen, to show that he is the main guy on the Palestinian side, and get the other Arab states to do more to endorse his leadership?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think from the President's point of view, the main goal is to boost the peace process. That's what the President is endeavoring to do, and that means all parties to the peace process. Each individual entity or nation will be responsible for finding their own way to support that road map. The United States cannot do it for them, but the United States can be there to help the various parties come together, to work them along through good diplomacy.

And that's what you've seen. You've seen a lot of behind- the-scenes work, you've seen a lot of overt work, you've seen a lot of meetings. And that's what it works to working this issue in the Middle East.

Q But how does this differ, this President's activity differ from President Clinton's efforts in this regard, which -- not to bring up a sore spot -- what you once said he tried to shoot the moon, President Clinton did, and it didn't quite work?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think the biggest difference has historically been the United States' role to help the parties come together. The biggest difference is Yasser Arafat is not party to the current discussions. And it was Yasser Arafat who did the most to destroy the prospects of an agreement being reached when it was very close to being reached. That's the principal difference.

Q Ari, you've expressed some concern about Iran not allowing the IAEA full access. Obviously, they've allowed more than the North Koreans have at this point. In the administration's estimate, which country, North Korea or Iran, is closer to developing nuclear weapons, and how does that affect the timetable of diplomacy in each case?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I've seen no estimates that I can compare one nation to the other. They both are sources of deep concern. And the timetable remains, in the situation with North Korea, to continue to work the multilateral diplomacy, which is having some success; and in Iran, similar diplomatic approach. But both are approaches that are based on reality, that are based on telling the facts, telling the truth to the American people, and letting these nations know that the world expects them to come into international compliance.

Q You said you've seen no estimates. The public CIA estimate on North Korea is that it probably has two weapons and may or may not be reprocessing now. The public CIA estimate on Iran is that they are not yet in possession. Is that correct -- reprocessing?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, Iran has admitted to the IAEA that they are pursuing a full nuclear fuel cycle. They maintain that it's for peaceful purposes, to produce fuel for civil nuclear reactors. But the United States rejects that argument as a cover story. Our strong position is that Iran is preparing, instead, to produce fissile materials for nuclear weapons. That is what we see.

Q And one last follow-up. What is your assessment now, since the President will be meeting President Putin, of how much continuing aid Russia is offering to Iran in the completion of the nuclear fuel cycle program?

MR. FLEISCHER: This has been a matter of some dispute between the United States and Russia, and we have urged the Russians to take a look at this, and they are continuing to take a look at it. I think it remains an issue where the President is hopeful that we can effect a change in policy by Russia, but it does remain a matter of some dispute.

Q You urged them to do that on our last trip to St. Petersburg, last year. What progress has been made on that issue since the last St. Petersburg trip?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, let's await and see what happens at this trip and see if we have anything definitive to report.

Q Ari, a question on Burma. I hope President Bush and you have seen the article yesterday in The Washington Post, and also reports of the last 13 years that the regime, the military dictatorship in Burma, they have killed democracy 13 years ago and still they are doing today. And those people, 15 million or more Burmese cannot even demonstrate in Burma like the Iranians demonstrating outside of the White House today. And it seems from the press reports that the military dictatorship in Burma, they are enjoying this administration's support. What is President Bush going to do to bring democracy? We are really talking about bringing democracy around the globe, so what about Burma and how long these people will continue to suffer under this military dictatorship?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think you've seen from the President a very consistent message, no matter where it is in the world, about the future of democracy and his faith in the people around the world, no matter what their background, no matter where they are, to be able to make determinations for themselves about the types of government that they seek. And that's a clear, consistent message universally.

Q The administration argued that Iraq posed a danger to the United States, a threat because of its weapons of mass destruction and the possibility of having it get into terrorists' hands. When it comes to Iran, can you give us a sense, an assessment of whether or not it's considered to be a threat to the United States because of its nuclear weapons program and the extent of al Qaeda, the size and scope, in that country?

MR. FLEISCHER: We continue to have concerns about two issues inside Iran, and I will reiterate, from the President's point of view, that it's important for Iran not to harbor terrorists. It's a message that the President has repeatedly sent, as well as the message that the world community has sent to Iran, about not developing nuclear weapons. At all times, we are always concerned everywhere in the world about nuclear weapons ending up in the hands of terrorists, or weapons of mass destruction ending up in the hands of terrorists. That is a worry in several places, and this is why this President is pursuing these policies and speaking directly as he has.

Q Can you give us a sense of the size and scope of al Qaeda inside that country, or even the threat level compared to what Iraq was, say, before the war?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, clearly, you have different histories involving those nations. Iraq, of course, had a militaristic history in which they had repeatedly attacked their neighbors. And of course, Iran and Iraq did fight a very lengthy war. In terms of the numbers inside Iran, there's nothing concrete that I can report on that. There is intelligence, and it's been talked about. Secretary Rumsfeld eluded to it very specifically last week in terms of saying he knows that there's al Qaeda, we know that there's al Qaeda there. And that remains a concern.

Q What does the administration -- what has the administration been told, or what has been conveyed to the U.S. by Iran about the arrest of al Qaeda member? And do you have any sense from them about how senior these people are, either from contacts with Iran, or from your own information?

MR. FLEISCHER: I've seen the press reports. I don't know if there's been -- of course, we don't have direct diplomatic relations with Iran, so I couldn't tell you if there's been any other back-channel communications with us. But I can tell you that our assessment is of their actions that they are insufficient.

Q And insufficient in what way? What is it that you want the Iranians to do now? Turn those people over to the countries they came from?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there's also a concern about whether or not top level al Qaeda that are in Iran are being arrested.

Q And you're not -- obviously, you have some skepticism that Iran is doing what it claims to be doing, which is arresting all the al Qaeda it knows about.

MR. FLEISCHER: That's a accurate way to put it, as well.

Q And does the U.S. have a sense that Iran is actively harboring these people? Or did they just happen to be in Iran and that the government has not done all it could to find them, and arrest them, and expel them?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think Iran is not exactly the type of nation that people just happen to end up in. People seem to want to have a desire to go there, and our concern is that the desire can be matched by a government that allows them to be there. And that's why this is a message that is being pressed as directly as it is.

Q What would you say to the stories over the weekend that the U.S. is considering destabilizing Iran?

MR. FLEISCHER: That's why I said to you that the future of Iran will be decided by the Iranian people.

Q Well, with any help from the United States?

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, our message is that the future of Iran will be decided by the Iranian people. We continue to get the message across about the importance of Iran acting as a nation that assumes its proper place in the world, that does not seek to harbor terrorists and that does its part in making certain that terrorists are not able to use, or al Qaeda is not able to use, Iran as any type of place to have operations out of or just even to collect or be.

Now, earlier Jim was asking about how people may end up there. We don't rule out the possibility that a nation with as long a border that some may cross, but we also are concerned about the fact that some may be able to find some level of safety there.

Q Iran seems to be meeting all of the conditions that the President laid out as an enemy state under the terrorism -- in the terrorism category. You all say they have al Qaeda operatives within, they're pursuing weapons of mass destruction, there's the potential of the deadly marriage that Cheney and the President warned so much of in the pre-war days with Iraq. What's different?

MR. FLEISCHER: I've cited before the different militaristic history of Iraq from Iran. And we have -- the President is pursuing the diplomatic policies as I said, and as you've seen in other places around the world. That is the policy.

Q Does it stay diplomatic, or is it -- have you left on the table the fact that you all may proceed in a fashion more like Iraq?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, it's a diplomatic pursuit that is being -- it's diplomacy that is being pursued. And, again, the future of Iran will be determined by the Iranian people. And I think the Iranian people have a great yearning for a government that is representative of their concerns.

Q Ari, American soldiers are being killed in Iraq, or being wounded, and many Iraqis are protesting that they're not getting the service from the Americans under the occupation or administration that's now being run by Mr. Bremer. Is the White House satisfied with the pace or the way things are being handled in Iraq?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, clearly, any violence is always a matter that the United States takes seriously. And the recent killings of our servicemen there is always a worrisome event. And it's a reminder that Iraq remains a place of great danger, that there are bad neighborhoods in place to place inside Iraq. But there also are developing neighborhoods and better neighborhoods and neighborhoods where there is increasing power, increasing civil life, increasing civilian control over the infrastructure. You're seeing that in the port city of Umm Qasar. And there continues to be the goals of the United States to develop that as rapidly as is doable, and that's what's happening in an uneven pattern around the country of Iraq.

Q The President of Syria, Mr. Assad, has said that he doubts the existence of al Qaeda, or has doubts about the existence of al Qaeda --

MR. FLEISCHER: I think that's not a credible statement.

Q Ari, is it accurate to say that the administration is undergoing a major shift in its policy toward Iran and is about to embark on a new course that hasn't been embarked upon before?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, that would be inaccurate. Our policy on Iran is unchanged. I would refer you back to the statement that the President issued on July 12th. That is the statement that talked about the future of the Iranian people being determined -- the future of Iran being determined by the Iranian people. That was perceived at that time, and I think it's fair to say it still remains, a bold statement, a statement of support for the people of Iran. And that is the cornerstone of the President's policies.

Q What is the cause of the increased concern within the White House about Iran lately?

MR. FLEISCHER: I wouldn't say there's an increased amount of concern in the White House. I'd just say there's an increased volume of questions. But the policy is unchanged.

Q Ari, back on the Middle East. The White House has already sent advance teams, apparently, to the Middle East to look at prospective sites. The groundwork is clearly being laid for some type of meetings. How much of the comments that seem to be a mixed signal coming out of the Middle East, how much is that playing into the White House's inability at this point to firmly say, yes, the meeting is going to happen?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think it's just a question of just making certain of certain facts and events. As you know, the White House, as you know, is sometimes the last to make something official. We continue to explore possibilities.

Q Do you believe that there -- does the White House see that there's still mixed signals coming out of the Middle East? And, also a comment --

MR. FLEISCHER: What do you mean by "mixed signals"?

Q Well, we accept -- for instance, the Israelis presenting the road map to the cabinet, accepting it, but still have questions, for instance, on the settlement activity, as an example.

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think that's consistent with what we've always heard about Israel's position on that issue. It's why it's important to bring the parties together to try to bridge any disagreements they may have.

Q Just one more, please. Prime Minister Sharon last night made it clear that he's willing to use language -- for instance, the word "occupation" came up. Is this something that the White House had asked for? And just a general comment about that --

MR. FLEISCHER: Not that I'm aware of.

Q And what was the White House position after he said that?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President, as you know, welcomes the fact that Prime Minister Sharon is working hard to achieve peace in the region. And others are working hard to achieve peace, as well. I think what you're seeing is a leader of Israel who wants to find a way to bring peace to the region, who is committed to a two-state solution, as he has said. And what you have here is, for the first time, an Israeli Prime Minister committing to a two-state solution; an America President at the same time committing to, publicly, a two-state solution. These are, again, some of the reasons why this is a hopeful moment.

Q Ari, it's been almost a month since the President declared an end to major combat operations in Iraq and we still haven't found any weapons of mass destruction. So will you say at this point that there is a very real possibility that we're just not going to find them?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think you saw what General Myers said on the Sunday shows about the importance of being patience in this. It is just a month and nothing has changed our confidence that they will be found.

Q You indicated that having senior Baath Party officials in our custody would help lead us to those weapons. But it's been a while now that we've had them in our custody. So is the strategy shifting to now us relying on just random searches? Or do we still have --

MR. FLEISCHER: The strategy has always been multi-fold. It involves discussions with -- I think you've really heard medium officials is probably where we'll get most of the information -- medium-level officials, the review of the numerous documents that are being found, the conversations that are taking place with numerous officials, all of the above is what goes into what we hope will be the day when, as a result of a scrap of information or a tip that is received, we are able to follow up. And, of course, we have already had the successes in finding the bio -- the trucks, the bio-trucks that have no other use than for the production of biological weapons.

Q -- on the tax cut signing tomorrow, Ari. The President repeatedly makes reference to the downturn in the stock market before he took office, and things were in fairly dire straits when he took office and the recession that followed and the other events. It has been asserted that with his signature tomorrow, the President really takes ownership of the economy, for better or for worse, politically. What do you think of that?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think that's one of the silliest notions I've ever heard, because the President took ownership of the economy on January 20th, 2001, when he became the President. I remember people saying after the President signed the tax relief act in 2001 that the President now has ownership of the economy. I just don't understand that argument, that it only begins now.

This President has always faced facts, always dealt with the reality, always dealt with the fact that, indeed, he did inherent a recession. But it is his job as President to do something about it. And that's what he's been doing, both in 2001 and in 2003. And that's the purpose of his presidency, when it comes to the domestic security and economic security.

Q Politically, the Democrats make much of the number of jobs lost since the President took office. Is the President willing to stand or fall on the number of jobs that have been created when he goes to the voters next time?

MR. FLEISCHER: Mark, I think you have to ask the public on what criteria will they make their determinations about the President. And I think that you will find from the public, they will make that as a very sophisticated judgment, as the public typically does. They take into account a variety of factors. They take into account that there was a recession, there was September 11th, an attack on our country. And I think they will make their determinations based on the President's response to it.

Q Is that -- the reason I ask it that way is because you know that the projection that you folks have for the package that originally was presented to Congress was that it would create a million jobs. There still would be a net loss, even if that were the case, even if the President's own projections for the effect of his tax cut came --

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we'll all learn. We will all learn, as the future unfolds, what the net and gross job creation number is. This is projected to create more than 1 million jobs, and we'll see what aggregate effect that has on the economy. But, again, I think those are the judgments the American people look forward to making, and we look forward to them making them.

Q On the tax cut, does the President consider the bill that he's going to sign tomorrow, does he consider it a component of fundamental reform? Or does he consider it a major step of the existing system?

MR. FLEISCHER: You mean tax reform in terms of simplification?

Q Right.

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there's no question there is simplification elements to this. I think when you take a look at the acceleration of some of the tax cuts that were previously scheduled to be phased in that are now on the books, that's helpful for people. I think when you take a look at the capital gains rate structure, which, in reality, was a 20-18 structure for upper-income people and a 10-8 structure for lower-income people, it's now simplified to a universal 15-5. That's a simplification -- if you understood any of those numbers that I just said.

Q A move to a consumption tax, or closer to a consumption tax, does he consider that --

MR. FLEISCHER: I think you'd have to ask economists that.

Q And, secondly, on the French Foreign Minister said that President Bush decided to go to war in Iraq in January, despite his public pledges that he hadn't made up his mind until late March. What does the President think about this declaration?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think you watched it all play out all before you. I think the President was prepared to use force from the day he went to the United Nations in September and said that the United Nations needs to enforce its resolutions. I think it was clear then that the President in his words -- you can examine them -- talked about the need, as he said, for the U.N. to enforce its resolutions, or the United States will. But the President did not make up his mind until when he indicated to you that he did.

Q So he, and senior administration officials who said that this is accurate are lying?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's just a matter of different people get different perspectives depending on where they sit.

Q Ari, our policy toward Iran has always been fairly consistent in terms of trying to effect a change in the leadership there in that more moderate element have the upper hand. And we've been fairly quiet the last few months with regard to Iran. Why this new attention? Is it simply because of the Saudi incident? Or is there an element of Iran trying to de-stabilize Iraq and what we're trying to do in Iraq?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I really don't know that it's my place to say what creates a increased interest. My job is to answer the questions that

you raise about these matters. I think it is fair to say that the recent attack on Saudi Arabia has certainly put this on people's radar screen, and legitimately so.

Q And what about evidence of possibly meddling in Iraq and stirring up the Shiites there against U.S. forces?

MR. FLEISCHER: That, too, is a concern about Iraqi -- Iranian interference in Iraqi affairs. That is a concern, as well.

Q -- to a more vigorous U.S. pursuit of boosting moderates at the expense of the Islamics?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think there's no question that Iranian society is going through some very serious internal debates about the future that the Iranian people want for themselves. Iran is one of the youngest nations on Earth in terms of the percentage of its population that is under 30 years old. And it is represented by a leadership that many Iranians do not see as meeting the needs, their human rights, their basic wants. And these are issues that the Iranian people will sort out.

Q Ari, back on Iran on the claim the Iranians make that this is a civilian nuclear program. You said earlier the United States rejects that as a cover story. Why?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think if you look at what the IAEA has indicated when they were there, the Iranian admission to the IAEA that they are pursuing a full nuclear fuel cycle, while we have not yet received the final report from the IAEA, we do, indeed, have concerns about a country that is awash in gas and oil producing nuclear energy when they don't need nuclear energy for their electric grid, when they don't need nuclear energy to produce energy in their country. They have sufficient energy from fossil fuel sources, from gas and from oil. So that raises a concern.

And so we will look forward to the final conclusions that they have reached. And I remind you that the IAEA would not even have been in position to find these facilities had they not been led to these facilities from Iraqi -- Iranian opposition groups.

Q And second, if I may, the State Department made a determination earlier this month that China was continuing to provide Iran with substantial assistance in its missiles development program. Is the President planning to meet with Hu Jintao during this trip when Hu is on the sides of the G8, or in St. Petersburg? And will he discuss this with him?

MR. FLEISCHER: Two points: One, as you know, the State Department did take action, as required by law, in regard to that. And two, we will have briefings -- I believe tomorrow you will receive a briefing about the trip. And I think we might be in a position to give you some of the meetings tomorrow on who the President will be meeting with. So we'll have that tomorrow.

Q Ari, the Canadian government, this morning, introduced legislation that will decriminalize marijuana. What is the administration's position? Should Canada expect any repercussions, like border delays? And did President Bush speak about this with Prime Minister Chretien?

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't believe that was a topic that came up in their conversation. It certainly was not in the notes that were given to me. And that's a position the President has not supported here.

Q Ari, the upcoming trip of the President, he's dealing with a lot of international issues. But one issue in particular, how the United States is helping Africa. When is the President going to deal with the issue of Africa, especially with this potential trip in July to the continent?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, certainly the signing ceremony today at the State Department is a very significant statement of America's commitment to the people of Africa. There are nations in Africa in which AIDS has taken the lives of some 40 percent of the children in one country. And the President has made it as a front-and-center priority of his administration. This is one of the initiatives that he launched in his State of the Union address. He highlighted in the State of the Union because of the importance he attaches to improving the lives of people in the African continent. And today he will reflect on that in his remarks at the State Department.

And, of course, the AGOA, or the African Growth and Opportunity Act is legislation that is also being implemented to improve and -- improve the lives of people of Africa through more trade with the United States and others.

Q -- examples, do you think that it's going to kind of snub the world community, which we already have tensions with after the Iraqi war, to say what have you done lately to help these poor nations?

MR. FLEISCHER: Absolutely not. The President hopes it will be a call to action to these other nations to do what the United States has done, and that is to put its money where its compassion is, and help the people of Africa so they can deal with the plague of AIDS.

Q When will you announce the trip?

MR. FLEISCHER: If we have something to report, we'll report it.

Q Ari, there's a new documentary film by an Irish journalist, Jamie Duran. He alleges --

MR. FLEISCHER: I haven't seen it.

Q Well, let me tell you about it then. He alleges U.S. military involvement in a massacre of 3,000 Taliban prisoners in Afghanistan. He says that the 3,000 prisoners were forced into sealed containers and loaded onto trucks for transport to Shebarghan Prison. When the prisoners began shouting for air, U.S. ally Afghan soldiers fired directly into the truck, killing many of them. Then witnesses in the film say that the trucks arrived and soldiers opened the containers, most of the people inside were dead. U.S. Special Forces redirected the --

MR. FLEISCHER: And your question is?

Q Well, you said you hadn't seen it, so I'm giving you some background. So just one more thing. U.S. Special Forces redirected the containers carrying the dead into the desert and stood by as --

MR. FLEISCHER: I think I understand your movie review.

Q And there's a mass grave of 3,000 Taliban prisoners. Question: Does the President know about this massacre? Is he ordering an investigation?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, one, I would not use a movie as a basis to make assumptions about what is right and what is wrong. And if you have questions about a factual matter in Afghanistan dealing with the military, I think that's a question you should address to the Pentagon. I'm not aware of any such thing.

Q Is the President aware of it?

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know if he's aware of this movie or not; I would doubt it.

Q To follow up on Iran, Ari, you were saying that the U.S. policy towards Iran is unchanged and that the U.S. policy is to pursue diplomatic means to effect change.


Q Could you please summarize again, what are the incentives currently for Iran to make those changes? In other words, what's the carrot? And then on the flip side, what's the stick? Is it the pressure from external sources, or is it inside the country?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, no nation should need a carrot to stop harboring terrorists. Nations should stop harboring terrorists because it is the wrong thing to do if a nation wants to be seen as a serious and legitimate player on the international stage, and a nation that is to be taken -- treated with the respect that all nations should have. That is why states are labeled as terrorist states.

And it's a wrong premise to say that it should be the obligation of the United States or any other nation to offer a carrot in return for nations behaving in a civilized way. And so that's why I said earlier that this is a consistent message and a principled message that the President is delivering.

Q And the disincentive to continue as they have been, as you allege, as the United States alleges Iran is doing -- what is the disincentive?

MR. FLEISCHER: The disincentive for Iran? I think Iran just needs to reach the same conclusions that virtually every other nation on Earth has reached, which is terrorists do not deserve support anywhere -- the support of people who kill, who take innocents, who use acts of violence against innocents as a way of life is not a policy that any nation should take upon itself to support or harbor.

Q What is the White House policy regarding U.S. troops in the Golan Heights to help enforce the peace there, if that ever comes about? And will the U.S. have any input on actual issues -- Jerusalem, refugees, so forth?

MR. FLEISCHER: Our longstanding policy hereto is unchanged, and that is the United States, in working with the two parties -- the Israelis and the Palestinians -- have said that if the parties request monitors -- which is different from armed forces -- if they request monitors, that is something we'd be willing to work with the parties on. A separate matter, though.

Q And the Golan Heights?

MR. FLEISCHER: That's for the region.

Q Just to follow up on that last question on Iran. It seems what you're response was that there's an implied carrot out there. That is, if a nation wants to be a part of the world community then, obviously, they will not participate in things like harboring terrorists. Does that mean that the U.S. would welcome Iran into the world community we participate in if they take those steps?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think there's a certain obviousness about this, in terms of there are states that are classified by the State Department, after careful review, as terrorists states or states that support terrorism. These nations have to ask themselves a fundamental question: Why would they want to be in that business? Why would they want to be among the elite minority of countries around the world that engage in actions that lead to violence and to murder? That's the fundamental issue that puts somebody on a terrorist-sponsoring state. And I can only put it in the most simple terms like that, because that is ultimately what it comes down to. These are decisions that states make.

Q Is that the only block between normalized relations then, between Iran and the U.S., the sponsoring of terrorism? If they did not do that, would that open the door to better relations?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think that there are a series of issues that we are pressing on Iran. They involve not supporting -- putting an end to its nuclear weapons program, working through the IAEA and other multilateral channels to do so, to end its support for groups which use violence to oppose the Middle East peace process, as well as the interference with the Iraqi people as they rebuild their future. These are all issues that we consider important in our discussions.

Q What's the White House response, Ari, to the letter Senator Lieberman has sent to the Chief of Staff, asking for help in tracking down whatever federal government involvement there might be with the missing Texas Democratic legislature?

MR. FLEISCHER: Let me make sure I understand this correctly. Is this the letter that's dated today that was given to the Washington Post yesterday before it was even given to the White House? That very serious letter that -- yes. Well, I think you can tell by the manner in which this letter was sent to the White House, it was intended less to be a serious letter and more to be a campaign gambit by somebody who is running for the presidency. Otherwise I think it would have been treated as most letters are, sent to the White House first, received, and then it would have been discussed publicly if the author had intended it to be discussed publicly, which would have been fine. But there -- as you know, Homeland Security is taking a look at this, and that's where the matter lies.

Q There's a nagging doubt that the Saudis are doing everything they can to stop terrorism. What changes have we demanded, and have they been implemented?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the Saudis have been working well with us in the war against terror, as we have repeatedly said. And I think in the wake of this attack, Saudi Arabia has also recognized what you've heard here, that they need to face the fact that they have terrorists operating in their own country, and they are doing so. Saudi Arabia has cooperated, and it is cooperating with the FBI team that is in Saudi Arabia. They're working well with us. We are exchanging information. They are pursuing leads, and all of this is appropriate.

Q President Fox says that it is time again to discuss the immigration issue with the President, after 20 months from 9/11. What is the President's position on the future of the immigration accord? And second question, do you think it's fair for some members of the U.S. Congress to trade immigration versus the opening of the oil sector of Mexico to the U.S. investors?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President's position is he remains committed to improving border safety and advancing our bilateral immigration agenda with Mexico, of course, consistent with the United States' security concerns and needs. There continue to be ongoing conversations through the State Department. And we continue to press Congress to make advancements on issues such as 245 I, and of course, the Mexico trucking issue, if you remember, is something that the President worked to make progress on.

Q Do you think it's fair to trade immigration versus oil sector of Mexico, to be open?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not aware of anybody making that connection, so I'd hesitate to venture into that without having more information about it.

Q The mad cow issue, doesn't that prove that we need some country-of-origin labeling to prove where this food comes from? And the second question: The President last week made comments about genetically-modified organisms. Could you comment on that?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, on the genetically-modified crops, this is an issue that the President thinks is very important to helping people in developing communities, in the developing world, to help the African people who suffer from famine. And this is a serious trade dispute between the United States and the European Union about a matter that is scientifically safe and proven. And we regret that the European Union has taken the actions that it has. And the President will continue to press the Europeans to help relieve starvation around the world by allowing genetically-modified crops to be fed around the world. It's safe and it's healthy.

The first part of your question on mad cow was an issue where --

Q Well, mad cow -- that shouldn't American consumers know where there beef comes from, if it comes from Canada, if it comes from Mexico, or wherever?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, these are all a series of trade actions. Of course, with American products are shipped around the world, as well, they are all covered by the same international regimes that govern the export and import of products, including agricultural products. I think what it shows is that the Department of Agriculture and other nations around the world will move quickly when they see potential threats to the food supply, and they acted properly in this case and quickly in this case.

Q Ari, the Iranian groups, the opposition groups that you mentioned earlier have now said that there are two previously unknown Iranian nuclear production facilities -- one at Lashkar-Abad and one at Ramideh. Does the administration have any information to confirm that?

MR. FLEISCHER: I've noted that report. But I do not have confirmation at this time.

Q Thank you.

MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.

END 1:05 P.M. EDT


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