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America's New War: White House Briefing

Aired September 25, 2001 - 12:50   ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to move over to the White House now where spokesman Ari Fleischer is starting to brief reporters there.

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: ... difficult times and the impact it's having on airline workers and their families. Following his meeting with the airline workers, the president will also have lunch with Mayor Daley. That's on Thursday.

I want to share with you some new information also out of the Department of Education about assistance, and the Department of Treasury. From Education, Secretary Paige announced today that the U.S. Department of Education will provide $5 million in immediate assistance from its Rehabilitative Services Administration to New York State to help those who have suffered disabling mental and physical injuries as a result of the terrorist attacks.

The secretary also announced a $1.7 million grant to New York from the Department's Project Serve to meet the needs of New York school districts whose students and teachers were directly affected by the attacks.

That grant is in addition to the $4 million grant that had previously been announced. And the secretary announced that the department is sending a team of mental health experts specializing in trauma and disaster response to meet with key staff of the New York City Board of Education to create a plan to help the city's students and teachers in the aftermath of the attacks.

And now over to Treasury. These are follow-on announcements to yesterday's announcement by the president in the Rose Garden.

Secretary O'Neil participated today in a conference call with G-7 finance ministers during which they discussed the economic and financial situation in the G-7 countries and their common causes in strengthening the international fight against the financing of terrorism.

And the secretary and the finance ministers have issued a joint statement, just moments ago, in which they agreed to integrate action plans developed since the attacks and pursue a comprehensive strategy to disrupt terrorist funding around the world. They also agreed to meet in the United States in early October to review the economic developments, which is a very encouraging sign that, again, the world is joining the United States shoulder to shoulder to fight this war against terrorism on multiple fronts, including the financial one.

With that, more than happy to take questions.

QUESTION: The president said this morning that we're, quote, "not into nation building," but at the same time he's made it abundantly clear the Taliban is a target. So what is the administration's plan with regard to the power vacuum that's likely to result if you take out the Taliban?

FLEISCHER: Well, again, the president said that we have respect for the Afghani people. I remind you that the Taliban regime is not comprised entirely -- it comprised substantially of non-Afghanis who came into Afghanistan for the purpose of sponsoring terror and bringing it to the rest of the world.

So the president's message is that we will take actions designed to protect the people of the United States, to protect people around the world from terrorism and that we will take action, including military action, against those who harbor terrorists. It is not designed to replace one regime with another regime.

Part of the process also will be being mindful of stability in the region throughout the process. But it is not nation building, but that's not to say that the Taliban will be given a free pass, because they can encourage terrorism, harbor terrorism, and then, because we have to worry about issues involving instability, we won't take action. The president's made clear we will.

QUESTION: But if you're not -- I mean, if he says we're not into nation building, ultimately you're going to have a situation, when this is over, that you have to deal with. Or is it your view that it's someone else's problem, other countries in the region, to deal with it...


FLEISCHER: I think you're presuming in your question that after whatever action the United States takes and the world takes that the situation in Afghanistan will be worse, and that's not a presumption that I think you can make.

QUESTION: Ari, maybe because of the deliberate ambiguity of the president's comments, but I took it another way, which is that he was saying today that the government, our government, is not after the removal of the Taliban as a precondition of achieving its objectives, that in fact he'd work with any of the citizens of Afghanistan, he said, who would be willing not to support terrorism. Does it represent a less aggressive posture for the regime in Afghanistan than he articulated in his list of demands last Thursday?

FLEISCHER: I think you need to look at it exactly as the president described it, which is that anybody who harbors terrorism will be the target of our operations and the target of our actions. And within the Taliban, they have to decide what to do. And, clearly, they are, at least from what we are hearing, making their choice that they will continue to harbor terrorists. But we will take whatever actions necessary, with our eye always on stability, to protect people from terrorism that is sponsored by the Taliban.

QUESTION: But if there are officials within the Taliban, dissident officials in Kabul as opposed to (inaudible) for example, who are willing to meet our demands, that's OK, you know, we aren't looking, as you point out, to replace one regime with another...

FLEISCHER: The issue is not to what regime do you belong, but what actions have you taken in sponsoring or harboring terrorism. If you are sponsoring or harboring terrorism, you will be a target for American action and for world action.

QUESTION: Don't you think that the United States ought to have an answer at the end of the road, if they do come along with us, this will happen and so forth. You were saying, we're assuming it will be worse. Well, we're not assuming anything, we want to know where you're headed.

FLEISCHER: Well, that's why I answered Campbell's (ph) question by saying that stability is always an objective.

QUESTION: In World War II, many promises were made, the Atlantic Charter and so forth, to people who would help us, allies and so forth, North Africa, that they would find freedom at the end of the road and so forth. And we are offering nothing.

FLEISCHER: What we are not doing is turning a blind eye to anybody who would sponsor or harbor terrorism.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) offering is destruction.

FLEISCHER: We're offering protection.

QUESTION: Ari, first of all, isn't it fair to say the president said that the Taliban is, I think his word was an "incredibly repressive regime"? Does he believe that the Afghanistan public would be better off without it?

FLEISCHER: You know, again, there's just not question the Taliban is a repressive regime. Women have no rights. It's just, by all definitions of the free world and other world, a repressive regime.

But again, the fundamental mission that the president is focused on is going after, through a variety of means, those people who sponsor or harbor terrorists. The stability of the region is also important. It will, of course, be a part of all the planning that goes into what is done, but it will not stop the United States or any other nation from taking action against those who have carried out this attack on the United States.


QUESTION: ... say that there has to be discussions going on within the administration and with allies about possible steps, whether it be a U.N. protectorate or some thing set up in the case of removal of the Taliban? I mean, isn't it fair to say there has to be some discussion about...

FLEISCHER: Again, you're assuming the objective here is to remove a regime. The objective here is to target those who have sponsored or gone after or harbor the terrorists, and that'll take a variety of forms.

QUESTION: Ari, if our support for the Northern Alliance is not to overthrow the Taliban, is it then to try to occupy more areas of Afghanistan and remove the affected amount of territory that bin Laden operate in?

FLEISCHER: The United States is going to work with a variety of people, including Pakistan and, of course, as you know, Russia and others, involving putting the coalition together.

The question on the Northern Alliance specifically, is?

QUESTION: If our support of the Northern Alliance is not to remove the Taliban from power, is it then to encourage the Northern Alliance and help them occupy more areas of Afghanistan to remove the affective areas that bin Laden can operate out of?

FLEISCHER: The United States welcomes the efforts of the Northern Alliance and anybody else to put an end to those who sponsor terrorism, to fight those who sponsor terrorism.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) but have we stated to the alliance that we want their help in fighting terrorism, but don't march on Kabul?

FLEISCHER: I'm not going to be more explicit than that. We're not, as you know, indicating exactly what actions we're asking different people or nations around the world.

QUESTION: Can I put aside the issue of what we or our allies might do, but was I wrong when I heard the president say that the Afghan people, you know, have this repressive regime, many would like to be rid of it, was I wrong in hearing really calling for the overthrow of the Taliban?

FLEISCHER: The president has made it clear and Condoleezza Rice said on one of the Sunday shows that the people of Afghanistan would clearly be better off with a different regime.

But the whole purpose of this exercise is that the Taliban should not be given an excuse, because there could be other issues that follow after their support for terrorism is diminished or put an end to. There should be no question around the world that our actions are going to be aimed at protecting citizens around the world from the Taliban's actions to sponsor terrorism.

QUESTION: Even if our explicit goal is not regime change or nation building, the president will be delighted if the Afghan people did that job for us?

FLEISCHER: Well, the Afghani people are not synonymous with the Taliban, they are different. And the Taliban, to a significant degree, has come in from the outside, from other nations, from different regions of the world. And they've taken advantage of the turmoil that existed in Afghanistan and the lack of a powerful central government in Afghanistan to make Afghanistan the breeding ground for their international terrorism.

So there is a difference between the Afghani people and the Taliban.

QUESTION: I just heard the statement you said, we would support any elements within Afghanistan, who are willing to...

FLEISCHER: End terrorism in Afghanistan. We'll work with.

QUESTION: Ari, President Putin last night when he spoke on Russian TV, made it clear that the degree of Russian participation in the campaign against terrorism would depend on what he called, "greater understanding for what the Russians are trying to do in Chechnya." Is he going to get that greater understanding from the United States?

FLEISCHER: Well, the position of the United States is enshrined as an important principle in fighting for human rights everywhere around the world. And it will continue to be America's position.

Russia too, has terrorists threats that it is addressing. And the United States at all times will remind all nations around the world, as they deal with any threats that human rights must always be a policy objective.

QUESTION: Would you say for the record what this government's current view is of the war in Chechnya? What is our attitude?

FLEISCHER: The United States government's view about the war in Chechnya is one that we are reminding the Russians about the need to adhere to important human rights, to respect various nationalists movements and to do so in a way that is consistent with the U.N. charter and human rights.

QUESTION: So are you saying that Russia and other nations who might be offering money or assistance to us, you'll not give up on this desire to have human rights be at the top of the agenda? You'll let that kind of slide for a little while in order to get their support?

FLEISCHER: You know, if I think you take a look around the world at all the actions that over time our American military and our nation has been called on, human rights has always been at the forefront of it. It's true in the manner in which the United States military conducts its operations and the manner in which any type of harm to civilians is always tried to be kept to the absolute, absolute minimum. And that message is an eternal American message to all nations around the world.

QUESTION: On the economic front, you mentioned earlier today that the administration is looking at both industry-specific problems and the big picture. Is it possible that we'll see another bailout similar to what you've done for the airline industry for some other industry?

FLEISCHER: I think it's too soon to say. The focus remains on having taken action to help the one industry that was principally adversely affected as a result of an order by the United States government to put all its planes on the ground, and therefore denied itself the ability to carry out its business for a period of several days. The United States moved quickly to help the airline industry. No such immediate action was taken that had a direct impact on any other industry.

The president is working with members of Congress very closely on any potential next package that would help the economy in general. There could be different elements of that package that bring different amounts of help to different people, depending on their circumstances. That's under view right now and there is no specific indications that I can give you about what it will look like.

QUESTION: To ask about the Taliban here -- at what point did the president's strategists or advisers differentiate between the Afghan people and the Taliban? And are you saying that the United States is content to let the Taliban fold in upon itself and not make any sort of value judgment about who would replace that leadership?

FLEISCHER: The distinction has always been made. The best example I can give you is the United States provides approximately $140 million a year in humanitarian assistance to help feed the people of Afghanistan, while at the same time the United States has never recognized the Taliban regime as a legitimate government.

So that's the existing policy, and it's a wise one. So all the actions that the president and his staff have been undertaking since September 11 have kept that distinction in mind.

QUESTION: Ari, on the second part of that question?

FLEISCHER: Give it to me again?

QUESTION: Is the United States content to let the Taliban fall down upon itself to create pressure that will cause it to all apart on its own without making a bad judgment about who replaces that leadership?

FLEISCHER: The United States has made it clear about the conditions for action that must be taken on the ground in Afghanistan involving turning over Osama bin Laden, his top lieutenants, to the proper authorities, shutting down and closing all the terrorist facilities, allowing the United States access to make certain that they're shut down. Those are the conditions, and they need to be met.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) meeting yesterday on the House side today, on the Senate side, talking about economic stimulus. To what extent is the White House involved in this, and what is the White House view on the need for any stimulus in general? And on the (OFF-MIKE) FLEISCHER: Well, that's why I indicated the administration is working very closely with members of Congress about what type of economic action could be taken to help as far as a stimulus for the economy.

One of the interesting developments out of some of these meetings on the Hill involving Chairman Greenspan was the chairman's statement that it's very important for Congress to pass trade promotion authority. He believes, in the wake of the attack on the United States, it's now more important than ever for the United States to have that authority. That's been reported by a senator up on the Hill this morning. It's a senator's attribution to what Mr. Greenspan said.

And the president shares that view. The president does believe it's important for Congress to take action on trade promotion authority and do so this fall. That's another way to help the economy, to help protect and create jobs in American. a QUESTION: Has the administration reached the view that it is necessary in fact to have another stimulus program -- a package of things -- to stimulate the economy beyond what is already in place?

FLEISCHER: It remains under review.

QUESTION: Isn't the president concerned that an issue like that if it comes up for a vote in the House will be divisive and harm this unity that he's fostered on the Hill?

FLEISCHER: No, I think the president wants to do it in a way that reaches out. Clearly, trade promotion authority cannot be agreed to unless it is bipartisan. You have a Republican House and a Democratic Senate. So by definition, anything that moves in the Congress will move with bipartisan support.

QUESTION: A recent poll shows that while a majority of Americans support war, they don't support using the Social Security trust fund to pay for it. What is the administration's position on this? Isn't it quite clear that he would need to dip into this money?

FLEISCHER: Let me make a couple of points: One, is I read that story. It surely seemed to me, at least by the person who was quoted in the story, that he was under the impression that the choice was lose his Social Security check to pay for war which clearly is not the case. The existence of Social Security surpluses has nothing to do with the ability of the government to pay all benefits to retirees now and for the long-term future. So I think there was a wording issue in that poll.

But even having said that, the president is not going to be governed by whatever the polls show, and I think the president recognizes that he's appreciative of the very strong support he has from the American people. You know, I don't think anybody believes a 90 percent rating is going to last forever. But the president is going to continue to do what he thinks is right for the country and to protect the country and to take whatever actions are necessary in accordance with his previous statements about Social Security should not be used (inaudible) times of war or a recession. And, clearly, we are in a time of war.

QUESTION: Is the president, when he meets with the airline workers on Thursday, going to have anything to offer beyond what he's already done for that industry and the possibility that there might be additional stimulus?

FLEISCHER: We'll keep you posted if there are any policy developments to accompany that trip. Nothing I can report now.

QUESTION: But he's going to meet them, is he simply going to feel their pain or is he going to try and help them in some other way?

FLEISCHER: That's exactly what I indicated in my announcement about the purpose of the trip and if there are any other add-ons to it, we'll let you know. We'll keep you posted.

QUESTION: Ari, do you know if the president has spoken directly with the exiled king of Afghanistan?

FLEISCHER: I have no information that says he has.

QUESTION: In the letter the president sent yesterday about the deployment of combat troops to foreign nations in the Central and Pacific Command, do we know what nations and what the criteria is? Or are we not allowed to know?

FLEISCHER: I'll have to look into that. I don't know that specifically.

QUESTION: On airline security, the president said that Transportation Secretary Mineta is coming over this afternoon.


QUESTION: So he's going to present options where you'll take the president to sign off on recommendations today?

FLEISCHER: Well, I think it depends on what the options are and what the discussion is. The president has asked his advisers to take a look at various issues effecting airline security and other matters like that. He's having a series of meetings. He'll, likely have more. So I'll be in that meeting, and if there's anything to report, I'll try to keep you posted.

QUESTION: Because I understand, you know, Mineta has his task force. Is he presenting to the president the findings of the task force?

FLEISCHER: Let the meeting take place and I'll try to fill in you.

QUESTION: In terms of one view of the president, does he support having federal workers, federal employees, be the ones to screen baggage and luggage at airports? FLEISCHER: That's under review. I think it's part of the whole package. The president wants to see the recommendations and the totality.

QUESTION: The president this morning said that Labor Secretary Chao is developing recommendations to just-displaced workers, but no consensus has been reached yet. Can you elaborate on what the differences are and is this dealing with what sectors should be assisted or how to assist displaced workers?

FLEISCHER: Well, of course -- and here you get into the differences in the government about who has direct authority over which programs. Secretary of labor, of course, has jurisdiction over unemployment programs. And clearly, there are concerns, as tens of thousands of Americans have been laid off and are being laid off, about what actions the government can take to make sure that the safety net is working for them. And so that's what he's referring to.

And let me broaden this for a second, because a lot of the questions are around what are we going to do on aviation security, on the economy stimulus, on health for uninsured workers.

And I just want to reiterate something I mentioned last week. Throughout this process still, the normal, deliberative, thoughtful fashion of the government has got to go on. There is going to be planning on the military front, there's of course a rush to action to help people in New York and at the Pentagon respond to the immediacies of the disasters. But when it comes to what domestic action needs to be taken, one of the strengths of our country and one of the factors of a congress is that it needs to be carefully thought through, developed, worked with the Congress, hearings held, and that in itself is a process that takes time, and the administration recognizes that. So that's one of the reasons you're hearing on a lot of these issues it's under review, et cetera. There won't be a rush to action, there's going to be action taken at the appropriate time.


QUESTION: ... Secretary O'Neill has indicated that if there is to be any stimulus package you need probably at least another week to assess the impact of September 11. Would you agree with that time frame?

FLEISCHER: Well, I'm not going to, you know, comment on any particular timetable, but as I indicated, it's a process that will take the amount of time to make certain that it's a deliberative and thoughtful process. I'm not going to put a hard day on it, it very well may turn out to be exactly that. It may turn out to be somewhat closer or different from that.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on (inaudible). The president's not worried at all that wrapping up TPA into the economic stimulus package is going to kill any chance of getting a stimulus package through...


FLEISCHER: Well, one, I never said anything about wrapping it up into a stimulus package. I talked about it, as others have, on its own merit, on its own intrinsic worth. And no determination is made about whether that will be part of an existing stimulus or not.

But, no, that remains an important issue for many Democrats and Republicans and something the president feels strongly out.

QUESTION: On the stimulus package, does the administration share the concern of some economists that there's a danger here of replicating the policy mistakes of the late '60s in building in too much stimulus? It would then have the affect of laying the ground work for an inflation problem down the road.

FLEISCHER: Well, without addressing specifically that one concern, there are a variety of reasons that the thoughtful process that our framers left to us, that has gotten this nation through times of war and times of peace, is a process that needs to be followed. And that is why, as I indicated, it's going to be deliberative, it's going to be thoughtful.

It won't be a rush to come out with an economic stimulus, because the nation was attacked. It has to be done right. And that's why the president met with the leaders today to discuss it with them, to talk it through with them, to listen and to hear their ideas, to share his thoughts, and that's how the process will go. And then, of course, it's going to go through the regular order of the Congress, which is a process that takes weeks.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) to the extent of which, in the debate, within the administration, the prospect or the problems of potential inflation in the future are being sort of factored in to the deliberative process?

FLEISCHER: You know, the meetings that I have been in, I have not heard that explicitly said. You know, there are lots of economists in this building, though, so I wouldn't rule out that some economists somewhere said something.

QUESTION: Ari, the administration has said, war or recession justifies spending the Social Security surplus. But do they believe the same thing is justified going into deficit spending? Or is there a bottom line on how much they would spend?

FLEISCHER: The president's priority is to take the necessary steps to protect this nation in the wake of this attack and to assemble the coalition and give it the means required so that we can be victorious in this war throughout whatever period of time it's going to take.

The budget implications of that remain to be precisely determined. And those will also substantially be determined by the strength of the economy and how quickly the economy comes back. So we'll all have at our disposal, the latest estimates as time goes by about the shape of the economy.

But make no mistake about the president's priority, is to give the resources necessary to fight and win a war. He will always be mindful that whatever actions are taken still involve taxpayer dollars. And when it comes to the domestic consequences, when it comes to any industries that are asking for assistance or whether it comes to the means necessary to fight the war.

QUESTION: (inaudible) spending, that's what it takes.

FLEISCHER: Right now, the government continues to have a very large surplus. I think the other day, I explained that this is the first time in the nation's history that the government has had a surplus as it began a major military effort like this. Previously, it has always had deficits, which puts the country, economically speaking, in a stronger position to begin this effort. But those are the president's priorities.

QUESTION: Ari, on coalition building, can you...




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