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Fleischer Briefs First 100 Days

Aired April 30, 2001 - 14:08   ET


LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: It's the 101st day of the Bush administration, and right now in the West Wing Ari Fleischer is meeting with reporters here to discuss the first 100 and the next 100 and whatever else comes on.

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: So, it's -- president is doing exactly what he promised and said he would do in the campaign. And he is moving forward with the development of the missile defense system that he will outline tomorrow and the consultation process that must begin with our allies to have things go well and to have things go right.

QUESTION: Ari, is the president going to abrogate the ABM treaty? (UNINTELLIGIBLE), why does he think after all this time it's appropriate?

FLEISCHER: Well, I would refer you to his speech tomorrow. I think after you hear the speech tomorrow, you'll have a good understanding about what the president is doing and why. But I urge you not to rush to any conclusions like that.


FLEISCHER: ... tomorrow. Pardon me?

QUESTION: What should we make of the speech to the Danish parliament, which sort of seems to indicate that he'd try to (OFF- MIKE)?

FLEISCHER: I urge you to listen to the president's words himself tomorrow, and think you will have a very fine understanding of what he's doing, what actions he's taking specifically, and why he is taking it.

QUESTION: Speaking of defending the United States, is the president getting involved at all in the current dispute between the Navy and Puerto Rico over Vieques?

FLEISCHER: Well, the president wants to make certain that our troops are able to carry out their mission, which is to protect the peace by being ready and able to carry out their missions. He's directed DOD to engage in the operations that they deem necessary to do so, and DOD is -- I'd refer you to DOD for anything further on that. QUESTION: Follow-up there. There is an agreement in place, as you know, between the last administration and the former governor of Puerto Rico. Does the president feel that agreement is the way he wants to go? If it's still enforced, will he abide by it?

FLEISCHER: The president's concern is making sure that American troops are able to carry out their missions, and the responsibility for making certain that our troops are able to carry out their mission falls with the DOD.


QUESTION: What's the latest with the plane in China, please?

FLEISCHER: As you know, a team of Americans will be heading to Hainan island to inspect the airplane, an assessment team to determine how best the plane can be brought back to the United States. That was part and partial of the process that we discussed several weeks ago, when the crew -- it was announced that the crew would be able to return home.

The actions by Chinese officials are viewed by the president as constructive. The crew will be there -- I would refer you to the exact time of when the crew is going to be there. This, too, is a DOD operational matter. They'll be able to give you the best play-by-play on where the assessment team is and when they'll be landing. But the president views this as a constructive step by China.


QUESTION: If I could just take you back on missile defense for just a sec.

When the president spoke with all the foreign leaders, is it his view that these leaders have an active role in the decision making, or is it his view that these leaders will just be consulted and informed ahead of time about what the U.S. position will be?

FLEISCHER: From the president's point of view, he views it as a question of leadership. He believes that if the United States leads, and that we consult wisely, our allies and friends will find good reason to follow and to join with us. And that's why -- as I indicated earlier, when he met with Schroeder and when he met with Blair, that those topics of course came up. And in the joint communiques afterwards there was some encouraging language in there about the need to develop defensive weapons. So that's the president's mindset as he discusses this with these leaders.

QUESTION: As far as missile defense is concerned, do you have any comments on "The Washington Post" article that now the U.S. shifting it's aim from Russia to China -- that means there is a threat from China in the future?

FLEISCHER: I think the point the president makes repeatedly about the need to develop a missile defense is that the Cold War is over. And the United States needs to protect itself and our allies and our troops that are stationed abroad from a different nature of threat.

And the paradigm that existed in the Cold War is no longer the most imperative paradigm that should guide America's defense structures. That's why Secretary Rumsfeld is conducting a four- structure review as well, to assess our needs in this post-Cold War era. And that's the reason the president wants to proceed. Where is your tie today? No tie?

QUESTION: How would you frame what the president is going to do tomorrow? Is he going to make the same case he's made to the foreign leaders to the American people? Can you try to explain why we need this?

FLEISCHER: In his remarks tomorrow, the president will present this as his view of the best way to preserve the peace in the post- Cold War era, and how to work with our allies and work with other nations in the development of missile defense system that could not only protect the United States from rogue or accidental missile launch, but protect our allies as well, our troops abroad. The president views this as a new way of thinking in the protection of our nation. That's what you'll hear tomorrow.

QUESTION: What do you mean by "new way of thinking"?

FLEISCHER: A new way of thinking, reflecting the fact that the Cold War is over and that the threat to peace comes mostly from rogue nation missile launches or accidental missile launches, which is very different from what the threat was in the 1980s -- when conversation about a missile defense was about a much broader defense that could protect the United States from a launch of multiple warheads, for example. And this is much more focused on protecting the United States and our allies from accidental or principally rogue missile launches.

QUESTION: The president said that drilling should be allowed in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge because he's convinced it could be done in a -- quote -- "environmentally friendly fashion." But the "Wall Street Journal" on April 13th ran a lengthy front-page article, it reporting that days before Gale Norton's trip to Prudhoe Bay state inspectors found that almost a third of the safety shutoff valves tested at one drilling factory failed to close.

Now, the president's close friends with Bob Malone, who is the VP executive in charge. Apparently Malone helped him pick out the ranch in Texas. The question is, did the president see this article which said that 100 workers say because of the oil fields are operating in slipshod manner there could be jeopardy to the environment? Did he see the article, and what are the chances that his decision was unduly influenced by Bob Malone, his friend?

FLEISCHER: I haven't asked the president about his particular reading habits with regard to that article. But as you know, Vice President Cheney is giving a speech right now about the importance of developing a way to secure America's energy needs and America's energy supplies. In regard to the specific question of ANWR, of course, the vice president will get into this today. ANWR is 19 million acres, and the amount of area that the president is proposing to open up for exploration is 2000 acres. Another way to put it is ANWR is the size of South Carolina. The area that the president is proposing to use new technology to develop the resources is the size of Dulles Airport, 2000 acres. It's a very small part of the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge that could develop a lot of resources.

QUESTION: They're not saying -- it's not a question of size. What these 100 workers in the "Wall Street Journal" are saying is that these shutoff valves, which would prevent disaster -- oil spill in ANWR -- are inherently flawed. There are design flaws.

And they're saying it's not a question if it's as big as Dulles or National, it's a question that BP, which is operating Prudhoe, will be operating ANWR, and you've got the same kind of slipshod management.

FLEISCHER: If you're asking me a question about shut-off valves, I'd refer you to the agency that handles shut-off valves. It's not the White House press platform.

QUESTION: Ari, what is the current thinking on when the task force will release its recommendations?

FLEISCHER: When the president announced the task force, he indicated that the time would be this spring. As the vice president will announce in his remarks today, it'll be in the next couple weeks.

QUESTION: Ari, there's a couple of versions of legislation in the Senate to close the gun show loopholes. Does the White House have a position on them?

FLEISCHER: The president, in the course of the campaign -- Scott, refresh my memory on that -- but in the course of the campaign...

SCOTT MCCLELLAN: He's always supported closing the gun show loophole, and as far as the specific legislation, we haven't seen that specific legislation.

QUESTION: We didn't hear that back here.

FLEISCHER: In the course of the campaign, the president said he would support closing the gun show loopholes. As always, he would reserve the right to view any specific legislation. And that's where that stands.

QUESTION: Ari, if I could go back to Vieques, it seemed to me in response to the last question, you left open the possibility that the agreement between the last administration and the former governor might now hold up and that, in fact, there might not be a terminal point to testing. Is that what you meant to do?

FLEISCHER: No. What I've indicated is that you need to talk to the Department of Defense for the operational matter at hand in Vieques. They are conducting this operation. The president's priority is to make certain that our troops receive the training they need, and DOD is handling it.

QUESTION: But, Ari, it would be the president who decided whether he continues to support the idea that there should be an end to testing on Vieques. Are you saying, he will rely on the advice of the...

FLEISCHER: Well, obviously, there is testing going on in Vieques this weekend.

QUESTION: Yes. No, no, but...

FLEISCHER: So that would not be an end to it.

QUESTION: There's an end point in that agreement that at a certain point next fall it steps. And the question is: Is he still committed to that or might that end point no longer exist?

FLEISCHER: He's continuing to work with DOD and Puerto Rico.

QUESTION: Page one story in yesterday's Washington Post quotes Senator Kerrey, in light of his SEAL squadmen, as saying, quote, "One of the men in our squad remembers that we rounded up women and children and shot them at point blank range. That simply is not true."

QUESTION: And my question -- I have one follow-up. Does the president believe these six veterans are telling the truth? Or does he believe what is reported by the New York Times Magazine and CBS?

FLEISCHER: That's not a topic that I've gotten into with the president and talked about his...

QUESTION: Well, it's page one of the...

FLEISCHER: That's just something I've not talked with the president about. His focus this week has been on the passage of his agenda in the Congress and that's where he's focused.

QUESTION: This past October the 29th, the Associated Press quoted candidate Bush as saying, "I support the current 'don't ask, don't tell' policy crafted by General Colin Powell regarding homosexuals in the military." Has the president in any way changed from that campaign policy promise? And does he expect that all Pentagon civilian appointees will support this policy?

FLEISCHER: No, the president continues to believe that "don't ask, don't tell" policy is the best policy.

QUESTION: Those people appointed as civilians in the Pentagon are expected to support that policy, correct?

FLEISCHER: It supports if the position of everybody in all the agencies when the president has taken a position that should be the administration's position. WATERS: Ari Fleischer, beginning the second 100 days of the Bush administration in the West Wing, and the news coming out of there today is basically the White House agenda. For tomorrow, the announcement by Ari Fleischer that the administration is moving ahead with its proposed missile defense system. The president will give a speech at the National Defense University tomorrow on the plans to develop a ballistic missile defense system in conjunction with significant cuts in nuclear weapons.

As you may know, there is agreement within the administration that the ABM, or Antiballistic Missile Treaty, the cornerstone of arms control for nearly 30 years, is outdated. There is an internal debate whether it needs to be killed off completely or changed. You heard Ari Fleischer say we are dealing now with the best way to preserve the peace in the post-Cold War era.



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