For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
June 10, 2003
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:33 P.M. EDT
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. Let me give you a report on the President's day. The President began with an intelligence briefing, followed by an FBI briefing. He then had a meeting with the Prime Minister of Thailand. There is a joint statement from the United States and Thailand which will be circulated on the meeting.
Later this afternoon in the Rose Garden, the President will make remarks on the No Child Left Behind Act, as the states begin their implementation of this important education reform program.
And later today, the President will meet with the President of Uganda. I anticipate the President will discuss with the President of Uganda his new AIDS initiative, which will be of tremendous value to Africa. Uganda, of course, is a role model for many of the successful programs that are working to fight AIDS in Africa.
And then later this afternoon, the President will meet with a group of members of Congress, Republican members, to talk about upcoming congressional actions and items. And with that, I'm happy to take your questions.
Q Ari, not long after you said the President was deeply troubled by Israel's attack this morning on Abdul Rantisi, the Hamas leader, there was another helicopter attack -- three Palestinians killed, 32 injured. What's the White House response to that attack?
MR. FLEISCHER: The White House is just now beginning to receive the reports about this second incident. We will study this carefully to see what the facts and the circumstances are, and I have no additional information. This is breaking news, so we want to ascertain exactly what took place in this second series of events.
Q Now, you said earlier today that there were contacts between the White House and both sides in the Mideast. Who made the contacts, and who were the contacts with?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, first, let me say that the President is deeply troubled as a result of the attack by Israeli helicopter gunships that claimed at least two lives and wounded more than 20 people. The President regrets deeply the loss of life and the innocent -- the injuries to innocent Palestinians. The President is concerned that this strike will undermine efforts by the Palestinian Authority and others to bring an end to terrorist attacks, and the President thinks that this action does not contribute to Israel's security.
To express this strong sentiment, the President has directed members of his administration to carry that message to the Israelis and to the Palestinians. As a result, a rather full-court press has been made, conversations have been had and phone calls were made by National Security Advisor Rice, Assistant Secretary of State Burns, the counselor in Jerusalem Feltman, Ambassador Kurtzer, as well as Mr. Abrams here at the National Security Council. A wide-ranging series of phone calls have gone out to senior Palestinian and Israeli officials.
Q Did anybody talk with Ariel Sharon?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the principals have not been contacted directly. This has gone just at the levels I described.
Q Ari, the President's reaction today, the deeply troubled, seemed to be stronger than his reaction yesterday, when there was violence by Palestinian groups in an Israeli checkpoint in Gaza. Is this -- are the two -- are the violations equal in his mind, or was the one today of a more serious nature?
MR. FLEISCHER: To the President, this is not a linear matter of which action presents the greatest threat to making progress toward peace. They both do. And the President doesn't have to put one before or after the other. The issue for the President is in the hopeful moments after Aqaba and the hopeful moments leading up to Aqaba. Neither party can afford to take actions that derail the road map because it's too important to the peace and security and the well-being of the Israeli people and the Palestinian people. And that's why the President finds this deeply troubling.
Q Yesterday he insisted he was still optimistic, despite the violence. Does this shake his optimism at all?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think the President would tell you he still is optimistic that, as I put it, just said, what alternative do the Israelis and the Palestinians have other than to pursue the road map, to pursue peace? Because the alternative is surely one the President believes they will reject, which is continue killing.
Q Does he intend to make --
MR. FLEISCHER: Campbell.
Q You said that a full-court press was underway after this first attack, and I know you don't want to comment on the specifics of the second attack, but it did take place, presumably after you made this full-court press to key Israeli officials. Wouldn't this suggest that they're ignoring you?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. I don't know how you can reach any conclusions about it until you know what the facts and the circumstances are. Let's await and find out what took place on the ground, what caused this to happen, who caused this to happen, whether this was action of a retaliatory nature, or whether it was action of a preemptive nature, whether it was a planned attack action. We don't know those facts yet. Those facts will be very important before anybody can make any judgments about this second incident.
Q Can I shift gears to Medicare? There's a number of reports, as I'm sure you've seen today, suggesting that the White House is willing to compromise on a Senate and House plan that would give equal benefits to those who choose private plans versus those who stay in traditional Medicare. Are we going to hear the President when he sort of goes out campaigning for this back off that idea that better benefits should go to those seniors who choose private plans?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President believes very deeply, and he will talk about this, for all seniors, everybody under Medicare to have access to prescription drugs, and he wants to do so in a way that expands choices and options for all seniors everywhere, under Medicare. And that includes allowing them to have access to the private plans, if that's what they want. And those private plans, as just as is done for members of Congress through their health plan, would give them choices and options. That's what the President supports.
Q But should there be in those private plans and does the President still support incentives, better benefits in the private plans versus what they would receive in traditional Medicare?
MR. FLEISCHER: By supporting choices and options, the President supports allowing seniors to make their own selections, so that seniors who have needs for certain types of preventive care or treatment or drugs at a certain level will be able to sign up for that level. Other seniors who may want to have a different choice with different levels will be free to sign up for that level, as well.
What the President wants is to get away from a cookie-cutter approach to health care and allow individuals and empower individuals who are seniors also to have choices in selections. The same choices and selections seniors have when they're 64, why shouldn't they be able to have those when they turn 65? That's the type of Medicare that the President wants to create. The bottom line remains the same, that seniors will get prescription drugs.
Q Does it bother the President that he is asking for more time and patience in the search for weapons when he denied that request to the U.N.?
MR. FLEISCHER: This is something we discussed at great length yesterday, and there is a fundamental difference. The difference is, when those previously asking for patience ask for it, it didn't matter how patient anybody was, because Saddam Hussein was in charge of Iraq and nobody was going to find anything, nobody was going to make any progress, so long as Saddam Hussein hindered the ability of the inspectors to do their jobs. Patience wouldn't have accomplished anything.
We're now in the post-Saddam Hussein era where we have documents that we never would have had otherwise; we have access to sites that we never would have had otherwise; where we have the ability now to talk to individuals who previously would have been shot if they talked. And that totally changes the equation.
Q -- worth going to war for that, for thousands of people to be killed?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it was worth going to war to remove Saddam Hussein from power, yes.
Q Ari, does the United States believe Israel --
MR. FLEISCHER: And by the way, I don't know if you noticed the New York Times yesterday in the op-ed page, but I did think of you fondly yesterday.
Q I think it was very unfair because they should have had my comments. (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: That's why I liked it so much. (Laughter.) I do hear your comments.
Q In that first attack today, does the United States believe Israel acted in disregard of the road map?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, when the President says that this action did not contribute to the security of Israel, the road map is about the security of Israel. And that's why the President is so troubled by this Israeli action.
Q Okay. And secondly, the United States has used unmanned aerial vehicles, for example, to take out or kill al Qaeda leaders in Yemen. What's the difference between that sort of attack and what took place today, where Hamas, which is recognized by the United States as a terrorist group, was attacked?
MR. FLEISCHER: This President has been very up-front and will continue to be very up-front about the right of Israel to defend itself. But this attack deeply troubles the President particularly as a result of the new environment that has been created in the post-Aqaba era. That means both parties agree that the best way to dismantle terror, and therefore, enhance Israel's security and the livelihoods of the Palestinian people is through the actions laid out in the road map. Both parties said they would follow the road map. And the President wants to remind all parties about their responsibilities. Today he reminds Israel.
Q So this attack was outside, was not following the road map and he's trying to keep them back on it?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
Q Ari, if the President is so deeply troubled, why doesn't he pick up the phone and call Ariel Sharon?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think there is a -- moments when the President will decide when it's appropriate for this to be a presidential contact and --
Q This doesn't rise to that level?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think again, remember the history of the Middle East. You want the parties to be able to work together to solve these problems with the help of the President of the United States, without the President of the United States being the only crutch that they have to get anything done. It's important that they can rely on the President, but it's also important for the parties to take actions themselves. And the administration is actively engaged through the series of phone calls made in helping the parties to find that way.
Q To switch to Uganda for just a brief moment, will the President of Uganda press -- will the President press the President of Uganda on Uganda's involvement in Congo's civil war, in addition to talking about AIDS?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, frequently regional issues do come up. And the meeting is scheduled to take place in a couple of hours, and so we'll give you a report afterwards. I can't predict everything that comes up in these meetings, but as I say, regional matters do come up.
Terry, did I -- I'm sorry.
Q Just one question. Does the President still believe Ariel Sharon is a man of peace?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, he does. But this is a test for all those who are committed to peace and committed to the road map to reenforce that commitment to the road map and rededicate themselves to the road map, because that is the best way to achieve peace.
Q Was there any discussion of San Sun Kyi this morning and is the administration contemplating additional sanctions against Myanmar if she's not released?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President and the Prime Minister in the meeting expressed their deep concern over recent developments in Burma, in particular the violence that occurred on May 30th. The two leaders agreed on the need for immediate release of San Sun Kyi and other National League for Democracy members.
Q Is there a possibility of increased sanctions?
MR. FLEISCHER: As you know, as a result of some of the action that was just taken in the annual renewal of the national emergency with respect to Burma, we have prohibited new investment in Burma by all United States -- all persons in the United States. We extended for one year the national emergency and associated sanctions with respect to Burma as a result of the actions that were taken. We have great concerns about the actions that are being taken in Burma.
Q Ari, two on the Middle East. Is it simply the fact that there was an attempt at a targeted strike against an individual that is deeply disturbing, or is it the timing of it? Would it be okay if we weren't a week after the summit?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, what's important to note is both Israel and the Palestinian Authority have vowed to work together to dismantle terrorism, which is how Israel will have the security most enhanced. And according to the road map, which all the parties have agreed to, the dismantlement of terrorism will come as a result of the actions taken by the Palestinian Authority. And that's what's been agreed to.
And this President has continued to say that Israel has a right to defend itself, but in this instance, in this post-Aqaba environment, the parties adhere and agreed to adhere to the road map. That's the way to the future. That's the way to security. And that's why the road map is so important. And that's why the President today reminds Israel and the Palestinian Authority of the importance of getting back to the road map.
Q Israel says in some ways it is left with no choice because Prime Minister Abbas has said he will not crack down, at least immediately, on these groups. He wants to negotiate with them, and they have, of course, been publicly taking responsibility for killing Israeli soldiers just in recent days. In the conversations with the Palestinians today, was there any pressure from the White House to essentially prove to Israel the Palestinians are willing to take security matters into their own hands and round up these people?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think the Palestinians are aware of that responsibility that they have, and that's why the President thinks it's important for the Arab nations, as well as Israel, to help support Prime Minister Abbas; therefore, he will have more means to crack down on the terrorists and to implement the dismantling.
Q Yes, but Prime Minister Abbas stills says he will negotiate with them. These groups have publicly claimed responsibility for killing Israel soldiers. They are, I would assume by your definition, terrorists.
MR. FLEISCHER: The road map is a results-oriented plan. The next step is determined by whether or not results were achieved in the first step. And that's how the road map has to be looked at. Results have started to be achieved. It's now important to build on those results, despite this violence, and not to let this violence deter both parties from engaging in fulfillment of their responsibilities.
And we've been very clear, very plain that a cease-fire is not enough, dismantlement is what is required. But there have to be steps taken toward that dismantlement. And this is where the President wants to create this environment for the Prime Minister to be successful -- the Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority.
Q Ari, the President is going to be talking about education and the No Child Left Behind Act. The Democrats are saying that he has not lived up to his commitment in terms of funding this act. Is that the case?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, you know, Washington is a town where spending is very easy for people to do. After all, they're taking the taxpayers' money and spending it. And the fact of the matter is our nation today is spending the historically highest amount of money on a federal level of education ever. And for some people, the highest level ever isn't high enough. But under the President's budget, the federal commitment to education in dollar terms is higher than ever. And it represents a boost in education to $53.1 billion, an increase of nearly $11 billion since the President took office.
So, yes, this President is committed to funding for education, to full funding for education, to proper funding for education. But, again, for some people the highest ever isn't high enough.
Q Are there some unintended consequences of this plan that the President might want to address, such as children from failing schools are unable to be placed in more desirable schools for lack of openings, just as an example?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as you know, one of the reforms that the President has sought, but did not get, was to help children who were in failing schools so they could be able to move to the school of the parents' choice, including private schools. There were some modest reforms that were put in there that allowed them to move to more limited options, in terms of other schools that were successful.
But what the President is going to talk about this afternoon is how this bill helps to improve education for children, because it really focuses on lifting up standards and not teaching down, but building and lifting up by having standards set at a level that are achievable, but also mean that children actually learn. They're not set at levels are so low that parents have kids who graduate from class unable to read, even though they were able to advance.
That's what this does. It creates a new standard, a standard of higher expectations, which the President is confident our schools can achieve. And he's given them the resources and working with the teachers and provided the training to make that happen.
Q Ari, on the full-court press, can you tell us how quickly that was set into motion and who it was that officials called? Did they call the Palestinians and --
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes. It was immediate. I think Dr. Rice informed the President shortly after 7:00 a.m. this morning in the Oval Office about the attack. The President's reaction was just as I've read to you. And that set in motion a series of actions and phone calls and conversations at the President's instructions.
Q To both sides, Palestinians and Israelis?
MR. FLEISCHER: Both sides.
Q And how high up?
MR. FLEISCHER: To the appropriate counterpart levels, as these phone calls were made.
Q In other words, just below the Prime Minister level?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
Q One question on the weapons of mass destruction issue. The President yesterday said three times in a row "weapons programs," rather than "weapons." Did the President intend to shift the focus here or establish a new position to in any way suggest a change in what he alleged before --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, as you know from listening to the President on this issue repeatedly, when the President talked about weapons programs, he includes weapons of mass destruction in that.
Q So he means by weapons, weapons programs, he means weapons, themselves?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
Q I mean, but he used "weapons programs" three times in a row. What should we make of that?
MR. FLEISCHER: You know how the President has addressed this issue repeatedly over time. I'm telling you I don't think you should make anything of it, because I know what the President meant. When he said "weapons programs," he includes weapons of mass destruction, as you heard him say on numerous occasions.
Q So he uses them interchangeably?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct. He did yesterday.
Q In the contacts with the Israelis and Palestinian officials, is the White House seeking an explanation of what happened, or pressing for something affirmative to occur?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think in this case, it's making certain that Israel understands as clearly as they do as a result of these calls what the President thinks about their actions.
Q That it's out of bounds with the road map?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
Q One on the Middle East and one on Medicare. If I understand the timing of the call that you outlined a moment ago, they would have been made after the first attack, but before the second one. Should we draw any conclusions, therefore, about the efficacy of these calls?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's Campbell question. Unless you can tell me right now what all the facts and the circumstances are of this attack that literally took place just prior to this briefing, I don't know how you're in a position to make any judgments about it.
Q So you're holding out the possibility, at least, that the second attack would not be out of bounds from the road map and might be a legitimate --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think at all times, everywhere in the world, it's important to ascertain the facts. That's particularly the case here in the Middle East in the wake of this second incident. We will find out. These are knowable things. And so, literally, I was scheduled for this briefing at 12:30 p.m., I saw the stories on the wire shortly before I came out here. I already started to make the phone calls to find out the facts. And we are gathering them. So I think this will all be clear, it's just not clear as we speak here. And that's why -- and I know you wouldn't jump to conclusions until you knew the facts.
Q One on Medicare. What's the President's attitude toward the compromise that was reached between House and Senate negotiators that's now moving forward?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President is, one, very pleased with the fact that progress is being made on getting seniors prescription drugs. This is a change in the Congress. This has been an issue that has bitterly divided Democrats from Republicans, that has separated the House from the Senate. And now for the first time it looks like the House and Senate are coming together to get something done. The President is cheered by that, because that's how you help our nation's seniors.
Now, it's a very complicated matter with a lot of moving parts in it. And I suspect a lot of these moving parts will get settled on in the conference committee between the House and the Senate. And the administration is working very closely with the House and the Senate, Democrats and Republicans alike, to move this forward, to get it into conference, so a lot of these issues can be addressed. And I think all Americans should be heartened by the fact that 2003 looks like it very well may be the year where seniors are able to get the prescription drugs they deserve.
Q Some members interpreted Secretary Thompson's comments to them yesterday as support for the notion that the same prescription drug benefit would be available to all seniors, regardless of which plan they were in. Did they misunderstand him?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think I addressed that earlier in my discussion of choices and options and the federal employee health benefit plan.
Q Well, not quite. Can we just pin this down? You're saying that that's not the way Secretary Thompson's comments --
MR. FLEISCHER: Secretary Thompson was making clear just what I said, that we -- the President supports the process of moving this forward so that we can address these issues once we get to the conference. And the ideal bill the President sees, that improves and modernizes and strengthens Medicare the most, is by giving seniors the same options that current members of Congress and their staffs have.
Helen, did you have a contribution? I couldn't overhear you as you were --
Q Ari, back on the Middle East. Do you expect to make a statement with regard to the second attack once you get some facts today?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, we are doing due diligence. We are going to take a look at the facts, take a look at the circumstances. And as we have those facts, we will have answers.
Q Does the President view this latest attack -- I mean, the first attack, anyway -- as a setback to the road map?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President views the attack this morning as an action that does not contribute to the security of Israel. The road map contributes to the security of Israel.
Q Newspapers in recent days have been filled with articles about lying, cheating criminality at high levels. You have Martha Stewart charged with insider trading, indicted for obstruction; Sammy Sosa using a corked bat. On the front page of the Post today --
MR. FLEISCHER: Russell, you're not going to blame President Bush for Sammy Sosa, are you? (Laughter.)
Q I'm just asking a question. On the front page of the Post today you've got WorldCom execs inflating revenues and Freddie Mac execs fired for doctoring the books, and so forth. I'm wondering, is the President concerned about sort of a culture of cheating and lying and criminality taking hold in the country? And if he is, what does he plan to do about it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Russell, I think that's a rather pessimistic statement to make about the American people and the American character. And the President wouldn't share that. I think to the President what it indicates is a need to have a society of laws where the laws are vigorously enforced, no matter who violates them; and to have ethics that are followed at home and in the workplace and corporate boards. That's how the President approaches it. But, no, the President would have a different approach to what it means society-wide.
Q John Wolf was named as the monitor for the Mideast talks after the road map. Is there any change in his status, and is he in the Middle East yet, or is he --
MR. FLEISCHER: Not yet. He's scheduled to leave in the next several days.
Q Is there any thought being given to holding him off?
MR. FLEISCHER: Nothing that I've been made aware of, no.
Q On the talks with the Prime Minister of Thailand, did AIDS come up, use of the AIDS fund, that particular problem in that part of the world?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't believe it did come up in that meeting. There's nothing I have that leads me to think that. Let me correct that. I see in the joint statement, they do talk about -- and this is in the joint statement you'll have this shortly -- the U.S.-Thai partnership on a wide variety of tropical infectious diseases including HIV-AIDS. That's in the statement. Whether that was actually discussed or not, I don't know.
Q Ari, highest U.S. official -- the Deputy Prime Minister of India is in Washington, and he was at the White House yesterday and today meeting with the highest level of U.S. officials, including Dr. Rice, and also Vice President Cheney. And also, I understand yesterday the President also --
MR. FLEISCHER: Dropped by.
Q Dropped by. Was there any commitment from the President or Dr. Rice as -- into India from Pakistan and Kashmir? Or U.S. will not sell any arms to Pakistan when General Musharraf comes next week?
MR. FLEISCHER: We, the administration continues to work very closely with Pakistani officials, including Prime Minister Musharraf, about -- President Musharraf about the need to make certain that action is taken to prevent infiltration of the Zone of Control into Kashmir. And that continues to be a repeated part, and an important prominent part of our foreign policy in the region.
Q Any commitment that U.S. is not selling arms to Pakistan?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, we continue to provide for Pakistan as an ally, and we continue to provide them with assistance.
Q Yesterday, Ari, in your answer to my question, you referred to Prime Minister Abbas as "the leader of the Palestinian Authority." But last month, Abbas himself said, "Arafat is the top of the Palestinian Authority. He's the man to whom we refer, regardless of the American or Israeli view of him." And my question, how can the Bush -- I've got a follow-up -- how can the Bush administration possibly refer to Abbas as the real leader when the said Abbas, as well as the official Palestinian newspaper still identify Arafat as the leader?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because this is the President's approach. It is well-known. The President recognizes the Prime Minister of the Palestinian people as their leader. And he thinks that's the effective way to proceed.
Q Across the country, people are wondering just what date in July you are going to leave us. And there is also concern about the absence of any progress report in the selection of a successor to match your mettle. (Laughter.) Surely, you can help us out in this area of concern, can't you, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: Lester, that is problem one of the most meddlesome questions you've ever asked. (Laughter.)
Q What date, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: I will be leaving just as I indicated earlier in the --
Q Sometime in the July?
MR. FLEISCHER: -- the middle of July.
Q Middle, about the 15th?
MR. FLEISCHER: Somewhere right around there, in the middle of July.
Q And what about the process of selecting a successor?
MR. FLEISCHER: As you know, I don't speculate about personnel. But you'll like the successor.
Q I will?
Q Thank you. Yesterday, Senator Craig was criticized for holding up Air Force promotions. Today, Senator Patty Murray is putting a stop on releasing funds for homeland security in Washington state. There's two
judicial filibusters going on, with a third on the way. Will you comment on the obstructionist mentality that's taken over the Senate?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it's important for the President's nominations to proceed. And that message, we are confident, has been received. And we respect Senator Craig, but it's important for those nominations to proceed.
Q Ari, back on Israel. U.S. weapons sales to Israel are predicated on the premise that those weapons be used strictly for self-defense. In saying today that the actions did not contribute to the security of Israel, is that tantamount to saying these are not regarded as self-defense?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the action, the statement that I made speaks for itself as representing what the President thinks about this.
Q Is there any difference between that statement and saying, this was not self-defense?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I wouldn't try to parse the statement beyond what I've said about it.
Q And second, can you tell us what Senator Biden and Lugar were doing over here earlier today?
MR. FLEISCHER: Don't know. They weren't meeting with the President -- best I could tell. Although that's the first I've heard they were here. But I was with the President for much of the morning, and unless there was something that I'm not aware of, they had no meetings with him.
Q On postwar Iraq, how important is it to the administration to get multilateral support and resources for peacekeeping, for rebuilding? Are there targets for manpower, money from countries around the world?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it is important to have the involvement of much of the world -- there are many nations around the world in the reconstruction of Iraq, and many nations are willing to do that. Different nations will play different parts. Nations will send peacekeeping forces there. Other nations will participate financially. Other nations will participate in the reconstruction effort. I anticipate at some point down the road there will be a donor conference to help Iraq. And of course, many countries want to trade with Iraq as the Iraqi infrastructure grows.
Q But at this point, there are no targets for numbers of people that you would want to have in Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: I would let DOD handle anything involving targets when it comes to peacekeepers, things of that nature. They are the best agency to give you the answers on that.
Q How would you describe the tone of the full-court press discussions?
MR. FLEISCHER: Frank. I think it was direct.
Q Was there a direct call for each side to stop shooting? Was that the thrust of it?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think it very much followed the message that I had given you from the President. There's a reason to expect that anybody calling at the direction of the President would give anything other than what the President has said.
Q You spoke directly about what the message to Israel was. But can you elaborate on what the message to the other side was?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the message to the Palestinian Authority remains the same, that it is important to dismantle terrorism; that the terrorists still represent a great threat to the security of Israel and the security of the region; and it is vital for all parties to focus on security and the dismantlement of terrorism. And the Palestinian Authority has a responsibility, still, to do that.
Q Ari, on another subject, on the Hill, it seems Republicans are thwarting a chance by some Democrats to honor Shoshanna Johnson, the female African American POW, first -- female African American POW. What are your thoughts as Republicans have a new era of inclusion in trying to court African Americans to come into their camp, and then they're doing this?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, first of all, I'm not aware of any of what you've described involving Shoshanna Johnson. It's the first I've heard of this. What I just submit to you, there's nothing new about Republicans being inclusive. That is what Republicans believe and that is something that Republicans worked very hard to do. It's, after all, what our country is based on.
Q Ari, yesterday in Chile Secretary Powell made a call to all the leaders of the Western Hemisphere to support the U.S. on the way to the democratization of Cuba. How do United States wants to get the other countries to help in the situation in Cuba when at the OAS, the countries of the Western Hemisphere reject a proposition by the United States to condemn the situation with human rights in Cuba?
MR. FLEISCHER: There's no question the United States has strong views about what's happening in Cuba because this President has strong views about the protection of human rights, and about treating people with dignity. And Fidel Castro is one of the worst human rights violators on the globe. You can take a look at his recent actions and the recent arrests of some of the human rights leaders in Cuba, to see his most recent egregious actions.
Q Do you think there is some hypocrisy on the side of the countries of Latin America rejecting -- to condemn the situation on human rights, and at the same time, calling for the democratization of Cuba?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think Secretary Powell is in the region for important meetings to talk about this, as well as a number of other topics. And he's working closely in a constructive fashion with those countries.
Q How concerned is the President about the increasing resistance in Iraq against the American troops? And when does the President think that the Iraqi people will finally have a representative government, security, and the freedom he promised them?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, keep in mind, the President said that major combat operations are over, and he warned that Iraq remains a very dangerous place. And it's dangerous because there are still elements of the Baath Party there, and they still want to fight for a regime that has failed and died. But their elements of power remain. And these elements are in particular areas, particular neighborhoods, and they present a threat to the future of Iraq because these are the same people who enslaved the Iraqi people, who are the loyalists of Saddam Hussein. So, on the one hand, it's not a surprise that these people are continuing to fight. And we will, as the President has said, stay there to help the Iraqi people to find a secure and peaceful future. And the President meant it. We will.
Q Sorry, just -- is it the President thinking that the Iraqi people really want the American troops to be there, and just the Baath elements who are fighting against them, against the troops?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think there's no question. When you look around much of the country, you see pockets of tranquility in much of the country. But there are also very dangerous places. And typically, of course, the dangerous places is what you hear, or read, or see most about.
But there is, indeed, a growing improvement in the lives and the conditions of the Iraqi people. And, thankfully, they are free. And they're able to now begin to engage in what we call a horizontal -- a horizontal conversation, as opposed to a vertical conversation, where previously they were ordered what to do, and what to say, and what to think. And now, they're able to start beginning, to begin the messy process that is known as freedom and democracy.
Q Two quick questions. Does the President have any opinion on this Internet gambling regulations bill that's making its way through the Congress?
MR. FLEISCHER: As typical, you might see a statement of administration policy on it. I have not looked at it or brought it with me. So it's being considered by the House today. I anticipate there would be a SAP on it.
Q Okay, and one more on the Middle East. Maybe I missed this, but wasn't the attack against the five Israelis a terrorist attack?
MR. FLEISCHER: If you're referring to the action that took place several days ago, where a joint group of Palestinian- terrorists combined, wearing Israeli uniforms, to attack Israelis, yes, it was.
Q So was that condemned?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, it was.
Q Ari, is the Congress making any progress in funding the President's Millennium Challenge Account to fight poverty in struggling countries around the world? Is the MCA program still one of his top priorities?
MR. FLEISCHER: It indeed is. The President announced this in Monterrey as a way to get help to nations around the world, developing nations that are actually engaging in real, meaningful reform, so that the money is able to go right to the people and is not syphoned off into corruption. And the President continues to push the Congress to make progress on this. It is a top priority.
Q Thank you, Ari.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.
END 1:12 P.M. EDT