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Ari Fleischer Press Conference

Aired November 19, 2001 - 13:22   ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: We are going to go to the White House where, I believe, spokesman Ari Fleischer still is talking with reporters as he has for about the last 20 minutes. And a little bit later, we'll catch up with our military analyst, General Don Shepperd.

Let's listen to the Fleischer briefing.


ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, that's actually something Condi has been saying on a regular basis. Condi has frequently said that. I've heard her say it many times before yesterday's shows and she reiterated it yesterday and, I think, properly so.

What Dr. Rice is indicating is that Saddam Hussein has presented problems for the United States prior to September 11. Saddam Hussein has been someone that we have kept careful eye on before September 11 as well as after September 11.

But this campaign, as Condi added also on the show, is still on phase one, as dealing with what we need to do which is not yet complete. There still is a mission to be carried out and that mission is the destruction of Al Qaeda and the Taliban so they can no longer harbor terrorists or bring terrorist attacks to our shores or to other nations.

QUESTION: Can we expect Iraq to be phase two or phase three? Should we be preparing for that at sometime down the road?

FLEISCHER: If there's any indication of that, you will hear from the president and I'm not leaning one way or another on that, but the president is involved deeply in phase one.

QUESTION: The Northern Alliance spokesman in the U.S. today expressed concern that Osama bin Laden might sneak across the border into Pakistan. What understanding does the U.S. have -- does the administration have with Pakistan if that happens?

FLEISCHER: Well, as part of the more than $1 billion in aid that the president announced for the government of Pakistan, $73 million of that is to increase their security along the border; their ability to detect movement of people into Pakistan. It's a very long border. It's difficult to police the entirety of the border. I believe it's some 900 miles.

So Pakistan is being very diligent. I don't think they want Osama bin Laden operating on their land; no country does or virtually no country does. So it is a concern about any movement back and forth across the border. Pakistan is doing everything it can to be helpful to arrest any movement back and forth across the border.

Having said that, there is no indication that Osama bin Laden has moved across the border.

QUESTION: How does the administration propose to bring him to justice if he is captured alive?

FLEISCHER: One way or another.

QUESTION: Ari, when will travelers start to notice changes in airport security, the provisions contained in the bill he signed today? And has he decided who he will nominate for the new undersecretary position?

FLEISCHER: On the personnel side, no decisions yet.

On the question of how will people know, I think people have already detected a real increase in security. There is more to do. But I think people recognize that their bags are much more likely to be personally inspected now. They recognize that even upon going through the screeners they are liable to get a separate inspection at the gate -- a random inspection at the gate. And there's a whole series of measures that the Department of Transportation and the FAA have put in place to identify people, for example, one-way tickets that could rouse suspicions.

So there have been a series of steps put into place to protect passengers, as well as the marshal program. I think people understand that there is an increase in presence of marshals on their flights and that will continue and that will now actually grow under the legislation that the president signed into law today. So those are several specific examples.

QUESTION: Are you expecting new screeners to be phased in over a period time that would start relatively soon?

FLEISCHER: Well, the Department of Transportation is now going to review the legislation. It's very detailed legislation when you get down to it.

One of the areas that the president is very pleased with, with a compromise that emerged out of a conference is the Department of Transportation will have jurisdiction over this program, not the Department of Justice. Under the Senate provision, originally it would have been the Department of Justice's job to implement this. They don't have experience in transportation of this nature, so the president thinks that was an improvement.

And Department of Transportation is working on that now. They will be announcing their own timetable for what will happen and when it will happen. The bill is now several hours old. And the president has directed the secretary of transportation to move rapidly to put the law in place. There is one-year transition period.

QUESTION: If it were just a matter of the security improvements already put into place, you wouldn't have needed the bill. The president called on this thing to be passed so that improvements could be felt by the holiday travel season. Would you expect that to happen? Would you expect an increase in the current level of security by the Christmas holiday travel season?

FLEISCHER: Well, one of the things the bill provided that nothing else could would be funding for many of these initiatives. And that enables the marshal's program, for example, to expand and grow, as I just indicated -- to do so on a permanent basis. That's a source of ongoing protection for the public that will immediately begin and grow in an enhanced way from what it would have without a signature on that bill. Obviously, the presence of the Guard that's at the airports now is helpful, as well.

But what this bill fundamentally does is, beyond the cockpit protections, beyond the presence of the marshals, things that are already understood by the public, it provides for higher standards to be established for the screeners, which is the first point of vulnerability. That's the first point of security. That's where people enter airplanes. And the system is designed to make certain that they can't carry anything on airplanes that could be used to harm or damage anybody.

By setting higher standards, by paying people more, that will take place over time. The president believes will protect the traveling public.

QUESTION: Governor Ridge today is meeting with Mexican officials. What is the status of the U.S.-Mexico immigration talks? Are they getting back on track?

FLEISCHER: Well, you know, the two principle people who are involved with the discussions the president initiated with President Fox following his visit to Mexico last year -- or earlier this year -- are Secretary Powell and General Ashcroft. They are the two who are singularly charged with a review of Mexican immigration polices as a way to having new guest worker program of some nature that allows more Mexicans into this country or gives some type of legal status to those who are here.

As a result of the war, that has not been moved along as fast the president would have hoped, but it is still a priority for the president. I have not talked to Governor Ridge yet about his meeting today, so I don't have any information about what that covers.

QUESTION: What's the president going to do to jumpstart the negotiations over the economic stimulus package?

FLEISCHER: The president, number one, is very concerned if the Senate were to fail to pass economic stimulus. The president remains very concerned about the strength of the economy and the number of American people who've lost their jobs. And the president thinks it would be a grave mistake for the Senate to leave town without passing an economic stimulus. He earlier said he wants the Senate to get it done and sent to him by the end of November. He reiterates that call.

So the president will continue to work with the Senate. I think you can anticipate a series of discussions between administration officials and Senate leaders. But this is also a real test of the new Senate to see whether they can pass legislation and make it to the conference committee.

The House of Representatives has passed the economic stimulus, now it's time for the Senate to do the same.

QUESTION: Does that mean that you're opposed to the idea of just starting negotiations, even though the Senate hasn't passed a bill? There's been talk of just the Ways and Means and Finance people getting together and talking.

FLEISCHER: No. The administration's prepared to do that. The administration is prepared to have the -- work together with the tax writers in the House and the Senate to help jumpstart negotiations in the Senate. But at the end of the day, it still remains the Senate's job to pass legislation on behalf of the American people. The House did it and the Senate needs to do it as well.

It's never easy. Both bodies have their unique sets of difficulties that they have to present and overcome. But it's vital for the Senate to do so. It's a real test of the new Senate.

QUESTION: Could it ever come to a point where the president would consider calling for a summit just between the principals in the House and Senate, meeting with the president or would you rather just blame this on the Democrats if it dies in the Senate?

FLEISCHER: No. There's no need to blame anybody. There's just a need to have action and that's why the president is engaged and will continue to be engaged. But the president thinks the best route to take is what I just indicated, the tax writers in both the House and the Senate to work together to get this done. That's not a summit.

The president will continue to meet with the four leaders, as he has been doing, to talk about a wide range of issues. And the leaders of the Senate have made it clear that they want to get it done. There are a series of challenges that are faced in the Senate, but that's always the case. It's a close Senate. It was very close under the previous Senate, when it was Republican controlled. It's very close under Democrat control. But it still has to be done to get a stimulus passed.

That becomes even more important, when you take a look at how weak the economy is. Most of the private sector forecasters who are projecting growth in 2002, have baked into their growth forecasts Senate passage and congressional passage of a stimulus package. Failure by the Senate to pass an economic stimulus package will result in a further decline in the American economy, according to the private sector economists. QUESTION: So it has to be done in a regular order of business; there's no way the president would consider...

FLEISCHER: Well, clearly, the president can't sign anything until the Senate passes it.

QUESTION: I know. But I mean, in terms of the president's involvement in limiting this (OFF-MIKE) to the leadership hammering out an agreement, which as been done in the past with budgets, when there's been an impasse.

FLEISCHER: No. I just indicated that tax writers need to get together and the president supports that.

QUESTION: But not anything beyond.

FLEISCHER: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: White House spokesman Ari Fleischer answering reporters' questions there for the last 30 minutes or so.

Among other things, saying that the president is going to, later this afternoon at a cabinet meeting, talk in more detail about ways that the United States can provide humanitarian help in Afghanistan now that the military campaign has progressed as far as it has.

Ari Fleischer stressing, though, the situation on the ground in Afghanistan is still dangerous, in his words, and he reiterated the desire of the U.S. government to see a broad-based government which, in his words, includes a role for women.




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