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America's New War: White House Briefing

Aired September 18, 2001 - 14:12   ET


JUDY WOODRUFF: Let's listen to Ari Fleischer now.

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president made three phone calls today I want to fill you in on, then I'll give you a walk-through on the president's schedule.

He spoke with the secretary general of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, this morning. The secretary general condemned the terrorist attacks of September 11 unequivocally and expressed his condolences to the American people. The president and the secretary general agreed that the attacks were against all freedom-loving people and that all nations should join in the fight against terrorism. The secretary general also expressed appreciation to the president for his message of tolerance which the president conveyed yesterday at Washington's Islamic Cultural Center.

The president also spoke with President Cardoso of Brazil this morning. President Cardoso expressed his condolences and solidarity, and said that this has been an attack against Western civilization, against all of humanity. The president thanked President Cardoso for his statements on behalf of the American people and he said that we are facing a different kind of war that will require patience and cooperation.

And finally, the president spoke again today with Prime Minister Chretien of Canada. The president expressed heartfelt appreciation for Canada's solidarity with the United States and for everything that Canada has done to assist.

Let me just recap the president's day and fill you in a little bit about what he's going to do this afternoon. In addition to the phone calls to world leaders, the president convened a meeting of his National Security Council to continue the planning. The president met earlier today, as you know, with a group of charitable organizations that are doing everything they can to make it easier for the American people's outpouring of generosity to be easily met.

And they have set up a special web site,, and the president urges all Americans who want to help to give to the charity of their choice or to log on. It will contain information on where they can go to volunteer, to help, as well as to give financially, if any individual American seek to do so.

On the personnel front, the president has a meeting today with his personnel team. These are part of the regular routine meetings of the White House. The president will have another one today, as he continues to focus on the personnel appointments to the government. He will have a meeting later this afternoon with his economic team to discuss other types of action that may or may not be required to help the economy. And then this evening, he will meet with and have dinner with President Chirac of France.

One update on schedule, Attorney General Ashcroft will brief at 2:30. The head of FEMA will brief at 3 o'clock and Treasury Secretary O'Neill will brief at 4 o'clock, as we continue to fill the American people in on all events that are going on.


FLEISCHER: That will be a closed meeting.

Let me give you an update, too, on some of the activities around the administration and I'll be happy to take questions. Secretary Paige will be holding an interactive satellite town meeting from the Newseum to discuss talking with children about last week's disasters, as well as parental involvement in their children's education.

At the Environmental Protection Agency, Administrator Whitman announced today that results from the agency's air and drinking watering monitoring near the World Trade Center and the Pentagon disaster sites indicate that vital resources are safe. The administrator also announced EPA has been given up to $83 million for FEMA to support EPA's involvement in the cleanup activities and ongoing monitoring of environmental conditions in New York City and in the Washington, D.C., areas.

At the Small Business Administration, the administrator is in New York City today to talk about SBA's plans to assist those in need through its disaster loan program.

The SBA offers low-interest, long-term financial assistance to help victims with their disaster-related losses.

Two more agencies and then I'll be pleased for questions.

Treasury: The IRS has released new information to help the public use charitable organizations, and announced it will speed processing of requests for tax-exempt status from the new charities formed to assist the victims of the attacks. And the IRS is also compiling a publication called "Disaster Relief: Providing Assistance Through Charitable Organizations," which will explain how to make contributions through existing charitable organizations and how new organizations can apply for tax-exempt status.

And finally, as you know, the secretary of transportation met with airline executives to discuss the safety, the security and the stabilization of the American airline industry.

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

QUESTION: Ari, on the airline industry, is the administration moving toward the $24 billion figure that the airline industry is talking about? And another point, are you confident that the current financial woes of the airline industry are wholly owing to last week's attacks? They've been having a bad year up until now. I'm just wondering if there is any concern by the administration that you may be picking up the tab for what had been a bad year up until last Tuesday?

FLEISCHER: Well, the secretary of transportation, as well as senior White House officials, met with executives of the airline industry today. And this was after their meeting with the president -- after the staff and the secretary met with the president yesterday.

His charge to them was to come up with the specifics of a plan to help the airlines deal with the consequences of the attack on the United States, and its implications for the airlines. That was the president's charge, and the plan that Secretary Mineta alluded to earlier that he is working on and will consult with the Congress on, deals with helping the airlines so they can be secure, so they can be safe and they can be stable in the wake of this attack.

QUESTION: Ari, on the two questions about the $24 billion. And also, are you confident that you're not picking up the tab for the first nine months of this year as well as what has happened...

FLEISCHER: Well, I thought I addressed that second question when I said that the president's charge was to do so in the wake of the attack.

On the first question, it's premature to know what the exact dollar amount will be. Clearly, the airlines have a dollar amount in mind. And that will be something that the government, the administration, working with the Congress, considers.

QUESTION: Ari, on the economy, the president and Congress are now discussing, we understand, seven or eight different options, some of which I gather include another tax cut to stimulate the economy. And I know the president is interested in having the administration consult with Congress (inaudible), but where is his head about this time about what would best stimulate the economy now? He certainly knows about this, he's thought about it, he's thought about his first tax cut, so where's his head now? Capital gains: Is that a good idea?

FLEISCHER: No, the president is actually -- I've heard him say these are no ordinary times. And he said this is an economy that's going to get a dose of post-supply-side and Keynesian economics, meaning the advantages of tax cuts that stimulate the economy and, of course, Congress just approved $40 billion in spending which has an immediate impact as the money is spent. That's not $40 billion over a long period of time, that's $40 billion over a relatively short time, also which is to address some of the human suffering that has taken place.

So the president recognizes that this is not an era of normal economics, normal responses. And he is going to continue to be very open-minded as he works with the Congress and with Democrats and Republicans about what comes next. But it's premature to know exactly what comes next.

Yesterday's meeting that the president lead about the economy and the airlines was the first of many meetings he's going to hold. I just indicated there's another one this afternoon. And so this is the beginning of a process where the president's going to consider what exact actions.

QUESTION: But is he more than open-minded? Is he actually committed to further tax relief? Does he believe that's what the economy needs right now?

FLEISCHER: Premature. It's premature to say. He'll have another meeting this afternoon, and he'll listen to various thoughts from various advisers. But he has not come to any determinations yet.

QUESTION: Ari, what is first on the agenda tonight with Chirac?

FLEISCHER: I haven't seen the agenda specifically for the meeting, but I anticipate it's going to be about, obviously, the reaction to the terrorist on the United States -- ways of cooperating, to combat terrorism. I don't rule out other important bilateral issues will be discussed; any time when two heads of state are together, that can happen. So that's a summary of the agenda.

QUESTION: Specifically what does the president want from Chirac?

FLEISCHER: Well, again, that gets back into the same list of specificity that I'm not going to get into if you're asking in the context of the attack, but it's going to be ways to combat terrorism and ways the Western world can unite.

QUESTION: Britain has said that it too wants to aid its airline industry which is suffering and so that other countries may want to help their national carriers. Is this opening the door to a lot of economically distorting government subsidies for the industry, and could it be harmful in the long run if you provide this aid?

FLEISCHER: Well, clearly, if it's harmful in the long run the president won't opt for it. But what the president does recognize is that this attack has had consequences, not only on the lives lost, the people missing and on the psyche of our country, but on American commerce, on American industry, on Americans' ability to travel, on a most specific example. And he is not going to adhere to any one rigid ideology in the wake of this. He's going to explore what the government needs to do with any open mind to deal with this. These are not ordinary times.

Now, having said that, he's also cognizant of the fact, and John Roberts pointed up, that there existing economic conditions that predated this attack on the United States, and he's tasked his policy- makers to consider those factors in determining what the best next step should be.

QUESTION: OK. Now, following that idea, disruption of ordinary life and so forth, what does the president expect of the American public as he, you know, conducts this war against terrorism? What kind of sacrifices, efforts, work does he want non-military Americans to do?

FLEISCHER: Well, I think, number one, the president is very heartened by the resolve of the American people. This patriotic rally is in the finest traditions of our nation, and it's one reason that, as the president said, any time anybody attacks America, it's an act of self-destruction, and that's because of the strength of our people.

Two, he's asked for patience.

Three, he's asked the American people to go back to work. The president thinks it's very important that people resume their lives. Every time somebody shows back up at their office, every time somebody is able to enjoy entertainment once more, every time people travel, it strengthens our economy, it strengthens our country and makes it easier for the government to do what needs to be done to fight terrorism.

So those are -- that's a short list of what the president is asking for.

QUESTION: Ari, you mentioned the secretary general had expressed appreciation for the president's comments yesterday at the Islamic center. Have you been able to gauge any other impact that that appearance and those words might have had across the world?

FLEISCHER: You know, the only way to gauge it is just to hope that acts of violence don't exist. And the president continues to remind leaders of their job around this country in calling out to people and urging that no acts of violence exist.

QUESTION: I meant internationally. Has he heard from any Arab country or Muslim country...

FLEISCHER: You may want to check with State. I've got the readout on three calls the president made today, but I would not be surprised -- but State would have a better read.

QUESTION: On the scope of this response to these attacks, while the immediate focus is on these perpetrators, all administration officials have said is to eliminate the scourge of terrorism around the world. Is terrorism in Ireland, Colombia, the Philippines, Russia, is that what the administration is after?

FLEISCHER: The president has made it clear that this will be broad and this will be sweeping, and that anybody who is part of the worldwide network that exists to foster terrorism anywhere will be included in this. Make no mistake, that is the charge that the president has set.

QUESTION: Does he believe it's all linked to one network?

FLEISCHER: Wherever it is, that will be the actions the president takes. QUESTION: Did he ask Kofi Annan to do anything? Have you heard from the Taliban? Have you heard from Pakistan?

FLEISCHER: Well, first of all, the United Nations has already done something. The United Nations' Security Council passed a resolution on September 12 condemning this.

QUESTION: Did he talk to Kofi?

FLEISCHER: Beyond that, there's nothing to report today. If there is any additional with the United Nations, I'll keep you informed. There's nothing beyond that from today with the U.N.

QUESTION: How about Pakistan and the Taliban? What do you hear?

FLEISCHER: Well, as you know, we are not indicating with specificity what actions we have asked Pakistan to take. Nevertheless, the status of our reaction to what Pakistan has done remains unchanged, in other words, the president continues to be very satisfied with the steps that Pakistan has taken to help the United States at this time.

QUESTION: And what do you hear from Afghanistan?

FLEISCHER: Afghanistan, at least the ruling Taliban, have been all over the lot. They've been giving a series of messages to the United States government, one seemingly contradictory from the other. So the message to Afghanistan remains loud and it remains clear: Those nations that harbor terrorists will not be spared.

QUESTION: Ari, just a couple things: Yesterday, I asked if the president had specifically decided whether or not to seek U.N. Security Council endorsement for any military act that would fall under the umbrella of this crusade -- war against terrorism. Do you have an answer to that?

FLEISCHER: Well, there's no specificity yet on whether or not anything else will be asked of the United Nations. But, of course, in accordance with the United Nations' Charter, all nations have the right to act in self-defense. But whether or not there'll be any additional requests made to the U.N., I can't give you an indication yet.

QUESTION: OK. Back on the airline legislation, the industry has been giving the Hill, for several days now, a very specific list of things it would like to see done. You have now talked to the -- transportation secretary talked about coming up with your own plan. Does that suggest that what the industry has put before Congress does meet with entire administration approval and you want to go in a different direction?

FLEISCHER: No. I think what it suggests that even at this time, the administration, the Congress are going to exercise their discretion and their judgment. They will, of course, work with affected constituencies. But in all times, war and peace, constituencies come to the United States government with requests and those requests get considered. That doesn't mean they'll get considered and every one of them approved just exactly as proposed, and that's how our government works in all times.

QUESTION: Ari, Reagan National Airport is a vital transportation center and it's also the main airport of the capital of the United States -- it's a symbol. The president wants the United States to get back to normality as quickly as possible. I know there are security problems, and they're trying to be addressed. Does the president have any sense or any feeling that he would like Reagan National open or is he willing to wait?

FLEISCHER: That'll be a decision that's made by the appropriate security authorities and by the Department of Transportation. That's not going to be a decision made by the president.

The president is, of course, aware of the inconvenience that this has caused people in the Washington, D.C. area. He wishes there were no inconveniences to travelers or to residents anywhere in the United States. But it's a recognition of what happens when you have an airport so extraordinarily close to so many major governmental and important facilities.

QUESTION: Can I follow up?

FLEISCHER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Not just an inconvenience to travelers, it happens to be one of the most vital industries of the capital and the metropolitan area of the state of Virginia.

FLEISCHER: Sure, it is. Again, many economies, many industries have been effected by this. But as the government reacts to all of this, security will always be an important concern, and I think the people recognize that.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) understand the president's reaction to talk of a cease-fire and will he address this, do you think, in his meeting with Chirac for the cameras?

FLEISCHER: I think there's an open event with Chirac.

Is it a pool event?


FLEISCHER: Pool at the top on Chirac.

QUESTION: Do you think he has specific intention to address it or -- I mean, I know he'll take questions.

FLEISCHER: I have not seen his remarks for tonight with Chirac yet, so.

QUESTION: But nevertheless, his reaction, can you tell us his reaction?

FLEISCHER: Rephrase it, reaction to?

QUESTION: To talk of cease-fire now in the Middle East?

FLEISCHER: Oh yes, thank you. The president welcomes the positive statements by Chairman Arafat, including a call for our complete cease-fire for the exercise of maximum self-restraint and for a resumption of direct contacts between the parties. The president hopes to see these steps implemented immediately on the ground.

The president also welcomes the Israeli government's statement that it has called a halt to its offensive military operations. The president has called on all parties, and he reiterates it today, to seize this moment and to do everything possible in the wake of this attack on the United States to move forward with the peace process the Middle East. And so the president welcomes today's remarks.


QUESTION: Let me just follow this.

FLEISCHER: When you are the press secretary, you will be able to call on anybody, in any order.

QUESTION: He's had his hand up for 20 minutes.

FLEISCHER: As far as I can tell, everybody in this room has had their hand up since I got here.

QUESTION: Does the president have some indication now whether Israel will be a willing partner or a hindrance to this coalition that's being assembled?

FLEISCHER: Well, the president hopes that all nations around the world will help to resolve this matter. And he's going to have continued conversations with the government of Israel. But it's also important for Israel and for the Palestinian Authority to do all they can to seize this opportunity to move forward on peace in the Middle East, which will, in and of itself, be a major contribution to reducing terrorism and violence around the world.

QUESTION: Ari, I just want to make it clear, when you were asked before about the president's statements about eradicating terrorism around the world, and not being specific to Osama bin Laden and his organization, how do we then work with Iran, which there has been talk of doing, in spite of the fact that they harbor terrorism, fund Hezbollah? I mean, do we make their cooperation contingent upon serving Hezbollah up to us?

FLEISCHER: Well, I think it's going to be a very complicated matter. With different states, it's going to be more complicated. And I think the basic approach that you can look at is, as I indicated yesterday, some nations are going to be able to do more. Some nations are going to be able to do an awful lot. Other nations may be only able to do a little.

But if that little is constructive, that little will proceed. I think the approach of the government will involve both a carrot and a stick, and in different nations the carrot may be bigger; in other nations, the stick may be bigger.

QUESTION: Isn't it likely that in order to get Iran's cooperation we would have to essentially give them an implicit, if not explicit, promise that we're not going to go after their own operations?

FLEISCHER: I think it all depends on what the definition of cooperation is by various nations around the world. And that's why I indicated it's a complicated measure. There will be different actions taken with different governments. And I'm not going to say specifically what it will be with Iran...


QUESTION: Ari, I don't think it's been over 19 minutes actually.

Given the events of...

FLEISCHER: Very effective way to get a question to the back.


QUESTION: Tag team.

Given the events of the last week, and given the direction that we were headed before last Tuesday, how confident is the president that we can avoid a recession?

FLEISCHER: Well, that'll be a simple matter of judging the economics as the data comes out. The second quarter, as you know, grew at a rate of 0.2 percent, and the third quarter's preliminary data will be released, I believe, on September 24, so that's next week. And we'll know at that time how close to recession the country is or is not. And of course all of that data substantially -- not all -- preceded the attack on the country.

But the president understands that the fundamental underpinnings of the economy are strong, that even with the attack, the combined effect of the Federal Reserve rate cuts and the stimulative effect of the tax cut will have an impact on the economy. We'll see precisely, in the wake of the attack, what level of impact they will have. And the president will gauge all that as he meets with his economic team to decide whether or not anything else needs to be done.

QUESTION: Ari, you said that the United States has received mixed and conflicting messages from the Taliban. How are those messages being communicated? Is the Taliban communicating with this government through an intermediary?

FLEISCHER: You might want to ask the State Department for the exact ways of conversations. I know that in Islamabad, for example, there can be contacts between our embassy and Taliban officials in Pakistan. There are also press accounts of what the Taliban are saying. So there are various ways. QUESTION: Are we trying to open a channel to that government that hasn't existed before because of this crisis?

FLEISCHER: I think you may want to check with the State Department on that. This is a real legal, diplomatic matter of exactly what form of communication there is with that government. And State could explain to you better than I can.

QUESTION: The Indian-American community, especially with veils and turbans, under attack in this area, in Virginia, and this morning, the members had a press conference at the National Press Club. And they're calling on the administration (inaudible) and also that he should take steps and call on the attorney general to take immediate steps today (inaudible)

FLEISCHER: Absolutely, and you know, the head of the FBI yesterday made that message clear, and this government will not tolerate any such intolerance. And the president is committed to doing everything he can.

You know, 99.999 percent of the American people would never even think or do anything like this. To the degree there is a teensy minority, this government will get them. It is wrong, and the laws must be enforced and they will be.

And that's a commitment from the president to the highest level.

QUESTION: At the stakeout here, Mineta seemed to say, though it's premature to talk about the specific details on the airline bailout, that the airline should be made whole from the losses they suffered while they were forced out of the skies last week. That would suggest there is a floor on what the administration is considering for the airlines.

FLEISCHER: I think what he's indicating is that we have to help the airlines to become safe, secure and stable. There's no question that when the order from the FAA went out, ordering all of the airlines to put their planes down wherever was the closest location where the FAA could land them, as opposed to their destinations, adds a cost to the airlines, of course.

It also enabled the United States to know exactly how many flights could be hijacked that were up in the air. That's how the United States was able to quickly get information.

So this is all part of what the president has asked his advisers and the secretary of transportation to look at as they consider what steps to take.

QUESTION: Ari, Secretary Mineta indicated, though, that at a minimum...




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