CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Ari Fleischer Holds White House Briefing
Aired November 27, 2001 - 12:04 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: From Afghanistan to the White House, where Ari Fleischer has just begun his briefing.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Good afternoon. The president began his day early this morning with a phone call to Jordanian King Abdullah. They reviewed the progress in the international struggle against terrorism and the situation in Afghanistan.
The two leaders also discussed U.S. efforts to secure a cease- fire between Israel and the Palestinians and to implement the Mitchell plan. The king expressed his support for the president's efforts to fight terror and to revive negotiations between Arabs and Israelis.
The president thanked the king of Jordan for his strong support in the war against terror and also for Jordan's assistance in trying to broker a return to the negotiating table.
Following the call, the president had his usual round of briefings this morning -- intelligence briefing, FBI briefing. He convened a meeting of the Homeland Security Council. Then he met with Senator Jack Danforth who is the United States special envoy to the Sudan to discuss efforts to broker some type of improvement in the deplorable human rights situation in the Sudan.
The president, later this afternoon, will conduct a ceremony to honor the U.S. Nobel Laureates and to hail them for the excellence that they have achieved.
And the president will also, this afternoon, have a meeting with the presidents of the international, the U.S. and the Salt Lake City Olympic committees to discuss the upcoming Olympics, particularly with an eye toward some of the security aspects of the Olympics, given the designation of the Olympics as a security site.
Following that, the president will have a meeting with President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen to discuss U.S.-Yemenese bilateral relations.
And let me also give you, before I take questions, an update on some of the humanitarian information, some of the latest facts and statistics on the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan. As of November 26th, the Department of Defense has air-dropped 1,883,100 humanitarian daily rations into Afghanistan. Since mid- October, the United Nations World Food Programme, through U.S. assistance, has delivered enough food into Afghanistan to feed 6 million hungry Afghans for one month.
On November 23rd, for the first time, food aid was air-lifted into Afghanistan from Tajikistan; 17 metric tons of wheat flour, which is enough for almost 275,000 people was delivered to provide food aid to remote locations in northeastern Afghanistan.
And finally, a ship carrying 10,000 metric tons of food aid for Afghans left Port Lake Charles, Louisiana on November 20. And that's all courtesy of the Coalition Information Center.
QUESTION: In the phone call with Prince Abdullah were other things discussed like the briefing on finances, banking business, return of Saudis who had volunteered on the Taliban side?
FLEISCHER: This is the complete report I have on the phone call. So if there's any other information, this is all I have to report.
QUESTION: There were no other irritants that...
FLEISCHER: I just received a briefing on the phone call. I wasn't with the president when he made it, so I can only provide to you the information that I've been provided about the phone call.
QUESTION: What role is King Abdullah playing in the current events?
FLEISCHER: Well, as you know, the president met with King Abdullah in the Oval Office a little while ago, some weeks ago. And Jordan has been very helpful as an ally of the United States in the war on terror and that includes some of the first and most powerful comments of an Arab nation in support of the United States, in support of the war objectives. Jordan has been a stalwart friend and ally of the United States.
QUESTION: In General Zinni's mission, does King Abdullah have a special role? Did this phone call represent anything specifically that the United States is asking Jordan to do in terms of the Middle East peace process?
FLEISCHER: Well, I think, as you've seen throughout the year, the president is in an ongoing series of phone calls with leaders in the region. This is part of it. There is a delegation of representatives of the president in the Middle East right now trying to bring the parties together, and so you're seeing ongoing activity to help the parties to come together to engage in the Mitchell plan.
QUESTION: One more on that. Does that delegation represent a tacit admission of a mistake? That for too long the president and the administration did not send something as high profile and as energetic as this delegation to try to broker a peace process? FLEISCHER: No, I don't believe that's the case, not even close. I think what you've seen is a strong message from President Bush from the beginning of this administration that the United States is ready, willing and able to play a helpful role in bringing the parties together in the Middle East. But that the fundamental fact remains that the parties themselves have to first demonstrate a willingness to want to come together in order for any result to be achieved, whether that result is at the highest level or that result is at normal levels of ongoing diplomatic conversation.
The two parties have to be willing to do that. Clearly, if the two parties aren't willing to do that, it doesn't matter who is doing the talking to them. If they don't want to get together, they won't. The president is going to continue to make every effort to bring them together.
QUESTION: Ari, there are reports out of Kabul that women activists have been prohibited from marching in the streets by the Northern Alliance. Is the CIC aware of that? And given the administration's keen focus on women's rights there, is the United States going to take a stand on this?
FLEISCHER: The message that the administration is carrying to the talks in Germany and in all the conversations the United States has with the parties in Afghanistan is, the importance of having a multi-ethnic government that also includes a role for women in the future government of Afghanistan.
The United States is not under any illusions that it will be done easily, right away. We're talking about different regions of the world where people have their own cultures and histories. And the future shape of Afghanistan will fundamentally be determined by the people of Afghanistan.
The United States will continue to play a helpful and constructive role in it. We cannot dictate everyday's events to everybody all throughout Afghanistan, but the president will speak out clearly, as he did at Fort Campbell last week, about the need for people in Afghanistan to follow human rights procedures and treat people well, including all women of Afghanistan.
QUESTION: So are you saying that you are or not aware of this prohibition?
FLEISCHER: On this specifically, I have not heard that one issue, where have other issues that raise questions is not always easy. I have not particularly heard on that one.
QUESTION: But at the moment, the administration is comfortable that the Northern Alliance may not share its goal for a place for women in a post-Taliban world?
FLEISCHER: Well, first of all, you have to remember, when you talk about the Northern Alliance, you're talking a very wide collection of different people in different regions who are constantly doing different things. So it's not fair to say that there is one policy that the Northern Alliance puts in place for every person in Afghanistan. There is really separate entities that constitute the Northern Alliance.
The United States message will continue to be consistent with all those entities about the need to treat women with respect.
But certainly, I think, it's fair to say when you look at events on the ground in Afghanistan, the liberation of Afghanistan by the Northern Alliance and by the Pashtuns in the south of what was previously held Taliban territory has been nothing but a liberating experience for women.
QUESTION: So it's fair to that women in Afghanistan are not free yet.
FLEISCHER: Well, I think it's fair to say that Afghanistan is still a nation at war, that it has a lot to work out.
QUESTION: Well, have we given any them any guidelines or any advisers on how to proceed with a democratic government?
FLEISCHER: That's under way in Germany right now.
QUESTION: With American advisers?
FLEISCHER: Yes. As you know, there is an American envoy to...
QUESTION: I think we have the right to call some shots, don't you, in this, in terms of guidance?
FLEISCHER: Always interested in your opinion, Helen, about where the United States can and cannot call shots. The president...
QUESTION: Well, I'm interested in your opinion, too.
FLEISCHER: Thank you.
FLEISCHER: The United States will continue to use its good influence in Afghanistan, as it has around the world. And I think, David, points up one issue that I had not heard about, but if that's true, that's suggests that it's always a difficult challenge to achieve every foreign policy objective.
Having said that, thanks to the United States, the life of women in Afghanistan has improved immeasurably. The condition of women in Afghanistan today compared to what it was three even four weeks ago, before the fall of the Taliban, has led to a dramatic improvement in the quality of lives of the women in Afghanistan. Children are going to school again. Young girls know that they can get educated again. The situation has changed immensely for the better.
Will it change to America's standards? No. We're America. Not every nation needs to be like us or is like us. But there's dramatic improvement, dramatic change. We can't get everything that we like as Americans, and neither should we seek it everywhere, but there's dramatic improvement and a dramatic change.
QUESTION: Ari, Iraq has rejected the president's call for opening up to arms inspections. Where do you go from here? Do you see a need to step up pressure? What's the next step?
FLEISCHER: Well, nothing changes is what the president said yesterday. Iraq has made that position clear on a number of times. So, too, has President Bush's statement, as do other nations of the world, talked about the need for Iraq to honor its agreements that they themselves made. The president remains focused on phase one of this campaign against terrorism and that phase one is still well underway and is not yet complete.
Phase one involves the destruction of Al Qaeda, the bringing of Osama bin Laden and his top lieutenants to justice, and that's where the president's focus still remains.
QUESTION: So for the time being nothing really changes with regard to Iraq and arms inspections.
FLEISCHER: Well, clearly, if Iraq is not willing to let arms inspectors into their country, they continue to violate an agreement that they promised to keep.
QUESTION: Ari, intensify that first to get a U.N. agreement on new SMART sanctions for Iraq...
QUESTION: ... would you explain what those would -- not something that would be in specifics, but what the goal would be and whether there's a distinction between SMART sanctions and the sanctions which the president, then as a candidate, referred to as porous as Swiss cheese?
FLEISCHER: Well, the P-5 is meeting in the United Nations today the permanent five members of the National Security Council to discuss the sanction policy that has been in place since the Persian Gulf War against Iraq.
And the president, during the campaign, made the point that the sanctions policy had too many loopholes in it. I think he called it Swiss cheese at the time. There were so many holes in it that -- the sanction policy covered so many items that too many nations wanted to violate the sanctions policy and provide material to Iraq in violation of a sanction that was so broadly written that it invited loopholes.
So the president believed that it would be more effective to more tightly and narrowly define sanctions to those products that really needed to be denied to Iraq to stop Iraq from developing weapons, from harming its neighbors, from carrying on terrorism and from being a state sponsor of terrorism and a military threat to its neighbors the way Iraq proved itself to be when they invaded Kuwait.
So the president believes -- and so too does the United Kingdom -- that we need to have a smarter sanctions policy that more tightly and narrowly defines the sanctions -- the items that would be sanctionable -- and to make certain that those sanctions are enforced.
QUESTION: Let me follow up. The president went out of his way in Crawford to talk about the progress he and President Putin had made on proliferation issues.
Iraq generally falls under that. Can you describe, in any specificity, how the two leaders dealt with this issue, because Russia has been resistant, up until now, to join in the SMART sanction regime?
FLEISCHER: And I think you need to allow the talks in New York to continue. There has been some movement by Russia on this matter. And ultimately, what its final outcome is, it may take months to finally be determined.
The sanctions policy comes up for review every four to six months or so. I think it's six months specifically, but there is a preliminary period where the P-5 and others at the United Nations gather to talk about it before the actual vote takes place on extending the sanctions.
And so we'll see what exactly -- what actions are taken at the United Nations. But the president is patient. The president recognizes that it's important to continue to consult with Russia and with others on changing what has been a sanctions policy that the president does not believe was successful into one that more tightly defined, that will be more enforceable and, therefore, have more impact on Iraq.
QUESTION: Ari, prior to September 11th, while there was a lot of discussion at the U.N. on SMART sanctions, there wasn't much pressure to get inspectors into Iraq in a new way. I've gone back and can't find the president talking about it very often.
Is the essence of what he was saying yesterday that, in the post September 11th environment, the status quo of Iraq continuing to keep inspectors out and presumably continuing some development of weapons destruction is not a status quo you can live with, that something has to change with that?
FLEISCHER: I think the president's words spoke for themselves yesterday, nothing I would add to it. I think the president made it clear yesterday.
QUESTION: Would you view that there is a difference between how the administration viewed this prior to September 11 and then the post-September 11...
FLEISCHER: I think, as I indicated to Randy (ph), the president is focused on phase one of this campaign against terrorism, and anything that may come subsequent to that would be something the president would discuss at the appropriate time if and whenever that would come to be.
QUESTION: If Iraq continues to refuse, really, any discussion of even allowing the weapons inspectors back in, what are your options? What are the options of the U.N.? What are the options of the U.S. to try to increase the pressure on them?
FLEISCHER: The president was asked that question yesterday, I was asked that question for about 15 minutes yesterday, and the answer remains the same. The president left that for Saddam Hussein to figure out.
QUESTION: Would he be figuring out something that would be unilateral from the United States or multilateral from the United Nations?
FLEISCHER: We can dive deeply back into this topic if you like, but the answers will remain the same.
QUESTION: What's the administration's position on what the obligation of the international community is to get weapons inspectors back into Iraq? Is that a United States obligation or is that something that the international community is obliged to make happen?
FLEISCHER: It was an agreement that Iraq made, as a term for ending the war. It's an agreement the president thinks Iraq needs to honor.
QUESTION: You said today that it was two separate events, in terms of the USS Cole and September 11. But if bin Laden may be behind both of those events, how are they not connected?
FLEISCHER: Because you used the magic word "may," and you said if he may be behind both events. While Osama bin Laden has been indicted in the destruction of the embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, he is suspected to be involved with the Cole.
FLEISCHER: We do not know that for certain. And so they may be two separate events. But you were also asking if we're making a direct tie between events with the Cole and September 11, and what I indicated earlier this morning is that, since September 11, there's been a helpful new energy from Yemen in terms of cooperating with the United States in the war on terrorism.
QUESTION: Could you explain the administration's opposition to add on to the anti-terrorism bill, especially since a lot of the money is going to things -- would go to things that you'd support including improvements with FBI computers, beefing up border security, Nunn- Lugar? Why wait to spend the money if we can get these sort of things going now?
FLEISCHER: Well, the Congress has entered into an agreement with the president many weeks after September 11, when people already understood the need to beef up on the domestic front; the need to provide more resources, and an agreement is an agreement is an agreement.
Congress knew at the time it made the agreement that we needed to spend more money on bioterrorism, on domestic terrorism. And Congress said that amount should be $686 billion, and the president accepted that. They agreed to have a $40 billion supplemental. So Congress made an agreement, and the president thinks it's important that, when an agreement is made, the agreement should be kept. If not, what good is whatever Congress would agree to this week, if they said, "Well, that was this week, we'll have another one for you next week."
Agreements should be honored, the president thinks, and the president believes also that the amount of funding is the right amount, that it is sufficient to protect America, given our needs at this moment. Governor Ridge is also conducting a review of all the budgets for next year, and that will be part of the budget presentation the president makes.
The one final point on this, there's also a question of how much can actually be spent as Congress rushes here in its last week or two weeks, three weeks, of being in session that actually gets spent. There often is a tendency for money to be approved at the last minute that never gets spent because they can't spend it fast enough, because Congress rushes to spend too much money.
So those three factors combine to make the president believe that we have sufficient money now to make certain that America is protected on the domestic front. The agreement should be honored, but Congress can't spend it anyway, even if they were authorized to spend it, because it can't be spent fast enough, and that agreement should be kept.
QUESTION: Thank you. Could you follow up on King Abdullah -- sorry. How active is the diplomacy concerning the king's plan that all the Arab countries in Palestine guarantee security for Israel? And also since General Zinni is in the region, and he's a tough guy, does he plan to, in fact, butt heads and be very tough with both Sharon and Arafat?
FLEISCHER: Well, I think, you know, diplomats, even tough guys understand the nature of their job, and that is to work to get agreements. And the measure of what will take place will depend on the willingness of the parties to begin seriously discussions of the Mitchell recommendations.
The Mitchell recommendations was the result of an effort that begun in the previous administration, and that called on the parties, and the parties accepted the call, to begin security talks so that the violence could be reduced; that would be followed by political talks.
FLEISCHER: That's what you see is under way now. It's an arduous, process. It is very difficult in the Middle East. It always has been and that's the reason that the president has sent these gentlemen into the region.
QUESTION: What about the plan, the 22 Arab countries -- the plan to guarantee Israel's safety?
FLEISCHER: Well, again, I think this is all part of the same series of talks. QUESTION: Is the president going to reconsider his decision to close the White House to public tours now that the Secret Service has allowed the general public to attend the lighting of the national Christmas tree next week?
FLEISCHER: They're separate events, separate security situations. One applies to the building; another applies to an area where the president does not live and will be visiting for moments.
QUESTION: Would he be open to some form of a compromise that might allow some limited general public attendance or general public touring of the White House?
FLEISCHER: Well, the president, as the first lady said this morning, wants to open the White House, hopes it can be opened, would like to do so as quickly as is possible.
But as always in a matter like this, it's also wise to listen to the recommendations of the people who are in charge of security, who have a very keen understanding of the security issues involved.
So the president would like to see those recommendations whenever they can be made, but he also understands that we remain a nation at war and that the Secret Service had reasons for its recommendations.
QUESTION: But to follow on that, why was the decision made to open up the tree lighting? Did the president intervene at all? And is he considering intervening here?
FLEISCHER: No, actually I think that you need to talk to the Secret Service about that and that's not a White House event, so it's not under the White House's review.
But there was a different reason, as the Secret Service explained it to me last week, dealing with something to do with permits or something of that nature. So I would encourage you to contact the Secret Service to determine what their reasons were for that.
But, you know, there's just a difference, as you know, in the security of the White House verses other events that the president would travel to, would go to, would meet with others, the general public, when he's on the road.
QUESTION: How would you rate the level of Saudi cooperation in response to the president's call to freeze the assets of certain terrorists and suspected terrorist organizations?
FLEISCHER: It remains strong. The president and Secretary O'Neill are satisfied and are pleased with Saudi cooperation on the financial front, as well as many other fronts in the war on terrorism.
QUESTION: Then why is it necessary to send a delegation there to try to convince them to cooperate more?
FLEISCHER: You know, I saw that report and I can't confirm that there is a delegation that's going to Saudi Arabia. You know, from time to time there are conversations that take place with the United States and other nations about the cooperation in the war on terrorism. But that report said there is a delegation going, and there's nothing like that to report. If there were to be one that was going, I would have let you know about it, so I cannot confirm that report.
QUESTION: Do you think you can say with a certainty that the administration is thoroughly satisfied with the level of Saudi responsiveness to this call to freeze these assets?
FLEISCHER: That's correct. In that, Saudi Arabian government has done everything the United States has asked it to do in the war on terrorism.
And let me give you some specifics of how cooperative and helpful Saudi Arabia has been: when it comes to how their economic assistance to Pakistan, which the Saudi Arabian government has been very helpful in; humanitarian relief to the people of Afghanistan, where Saudi Arabia has been very helpful; intelligence-sharing with the United States in the war on terrorism, Saudi Arabia has played a very helpful role in that.
I would want to remind you that Saudi Arabia was one of only three countries that had relations with the Taliban. Saudi Arabia quickly severed relations with the Taliban in the very early stages of the war. Saudi government played a lead role in working with the Organization of Islamic -- the OIC -- the Islamic conference, as well as with the GCC, the Gulf Cooperation Council, in bringing support from a variety of those nations in the war on terrorism. So Saudi Arabia has played a helpful role and the president's appreciative.
QUESTION: How much (inaudible) and how many accounts have they frozen?
FLEISCHER: You need to talk to Treasury to get any type of specific dollar amounts. Saudi Arabia has issued blocking orders, I know, to some of the banks that operate on the terrorism front.
QUESTION: So this report today is incorrect, is that what you're saying?
FLEISCHER: What aspect of the report?
QUESTION: Well, all aspects, that the United States and Saudi Arabia are still butting heads over the freezing of assets.
FLEISCHER: That's incorrect.
QUESTION: So all these reports have been incorrect that the United States and Saudis are having a hard time coming together on certain aspects of fighting terrorism?
FLEISCHER: Well, you know, it's a question that I (inaudible) from time to time here, and obviously, you have some unnamed officials in both places who are saying things, and neither one of which is shared by the president. QUESTION: But I just think it should be clear that there have now been a series of reports over many weeks, and the White House has said and continues to say that all of them are wrong.
FLEISCHER: Well, it's a series of reports where, if you thought they were right, maybe the people saying them would use their names. Obviously, they don't feel confident enough to use their names.
QUESTION: There are a lot of cases where reports are perfectly accurate with anonymous sources. So that's kind of a false argument. I mean, either all of these reports are wrong, is what the White House is saying...
FLEISCHER: I just answered the question and said that the United States government...
QUESTION: ... this is not the first time it's come up. There have been a series of reports about difficult relationships. So you're saying that this is wrong and they've all been wrong.
FLEISCHER: I can walk through the list of Saudi cooperation once again, and do so with my name attached and on the record, as well as on the financial front.
I said the president is satisfied. Secretary O'Neill is satisfied. And I've heard the secretary say that in private meetings with the president about his satisfaction with the Saudi cooperation. So I will be more than pleased to continue to share that information with you. I have to leave to your judgment what to do with people who obviously provide information but don't feel good enough about the information that they won't attach their name to it.
QUESTION: ... there's no delegation?
FLEISCHER: If there is, I will let you know. But there's no delegation traveling now or plan to travel. I did indicate that it's not uncommon, though. I mean, we do have people that help other nations with financial matters. There are diplomatic conversations that take place.
So if there were to be such a trip, I will let you know. That would not surprise me. It's not unusual, but I can't say that there's a trip now. If that changes, I will let you know.
QUESTION: There are signs...
FLEISCHER: I called on Lester, so I have to do it.
QUESTION: The New York Times quotes the letter signed by 88 U.S. senators who wrote the president, including these two sentences, "The American people would never excuse us for not going after terrorists with all of our strength and might, yet that is what some have demanded of the Israeli government after every terrorist incident they suffer, no matter what the provocation, they urge restraint."
QUESTION: And my question is, does the president believe these 88 U.S. senators are right or wrong?
FLEISCHER: This is a question that's come up in the past in a slightly different preamble. But the president, as I indicated earlier in the questions about Mideast peace, the president wants to help the Israelis, the Palestinians and others in the region do what they pledge to do, which is pursue the path of peace.
They have promised to each other, the Palestinians to the Israelis and the Israelis to the Palestinians, that they would support a political process, not a military process, to achieve peace in the Middle East. That's a totally different situation from the United States having been the victim of a terror attack in New York form the Al Qaeda organization. I'm not aware of any such agreement between Al Qaeda and America.
QUESTION: The Chicago Tribune quotes National Public Radio senior foreign editor, Lauren Jenkins, as ordering his reporters in or near Afghanistan to find out and report where U.S. troops are, because, quote, "The game of reporting is to smoke them out." And my question is, does the president believe that, since we are at war, that such media attempt to expose locations and thus endanger the lives of United States troops is not criminal behavior?
FLEISCHER: Actually, I think that the press understands that, throughout this nation's history of war, the difficult job the press has.
QUESTION: But this guy doesn't understand it, apparently. He said, "smoke them out wherever they are," special forces and so forth.
FLEISCHER: I think the press has shown a historical ability to wrestle with these type of questions, and that is, frankly, what the press has done throughout our nation's history. I think it becomes more challenging.
This is the first war of the 21st century, but it's also the first media -- we're dealing with the media of the 21st century, which has abilities and capabilities to cover things live, to put themselves in situations where they haven't before. It presents very difficult issues for a democracy and for a free press, and I have confidence the free press always figures it out.
QUESTION: Ari, is the president going to visit the troops overseas during the holidays?
FLEISCHER: He has no plans to do so. If he has any plans at any later dates, we will announce it. He has no plans to do so.
QUESTION: When Senator Danforth took the Sudan job, he said he wanted to see if there was something that the United States could do to end the conflict that the United States wasn't currently doing. Has Senator Danforth and President Bush concluded there is something that the United States can do on Sudan? And if so, what?
FLEISCHER: Well, the president and Senator Danforth met for about half an hour in the Oval Office for the president to receive a report from Senator Danforth, who had just returned from the region. He traveled to the Sudan. He traveled to Kenya. He met with President Moi. He traveled to Egypt and met with President Mubarak to discuss how to bring about an improvement in life for the people of Sudan.
FLEISCHER: And I think it's fair to say that the senator was deeply struck by what he saw, the human suffering and the sorrow for the people of the Sudan. He met somebody who was enslaved, someone who had been sold into slavery, who was able to escape. But it's an ongoing heartbreaking situation in the Sudan and that's why the president has sent his special envoy there.
As a result of what he saw, he's had conversations now with President Mboya, with president Mubarak. I think you can anticipate additional conversations to try to build a cooperative approach in the region, to achieving an improvement on the ground in the Sudan and he will be going back to the Sudan in January. So the president's looking forward to further reports.
This is one of the world's most difficult, difficult enduring crises. This has been a war that has lasted 18 years. There has been a war in the Sudan for some 30 of the last 40 years. And it is a very difficult matter and the president is hopeful that the senator will be able to achieve some type of improvement there. It's very difficult.
QUESTION: On the economic stimulus package, Senator Daschle this morning indicated the major roadblock appears to be the $15 billion and additional money for homeland security. If the president wants the Senate to take action to get this bill onto conference, why are Republicans opposed to at least considering the homeland security provision just for the purpose of moving the process forward?
FLEISCHER: Because the president believes that it's important to spend money, to promote homeland security, to protect our nation at home, including the war against bioterrorism and he's already entered into an agreement with the Congress to do just that. So the president thinks that it is wrong to enter into an agreement on how much money should be spent and as soon as the agreement is reached and is concluded for then the people who want to spend more money to say, "Well, we're about to bust that agreement. We want to spend more now." And that's what this is all about.
There are some people in the Congress who do not view this as a matter of creating an economic stimulus. They view it as a way to just spend more money. The president believes that having authorized and signed all the additional money that has been spent, which is a lot of money -- it's a 14 percent increase from the spending from last year, some $96 billion more than was spent last year. It's now appropriate to focus on stimulating the economy so that the economy can grow and so people can keep their jobs.
QUESTION: But does he know in order to get a bill to conference, you sometimes have to accept some provisions along the way that you don't like? Why is the administration opposed to working with a deal that has some acceptable provisions in it if those can be negotiated out in the final product?
FLEISCHER: Because in order to get a bill to conference, it's important for people to keep the agreements that they made. After all, what good is the next agreement, if you don't keep the one you just made?
An agreement has been made and reached, and finalized with members of Congress on how much will be spent. And this is a sign of how Washington still is a city that was built to spend other people's money. Even after they reached an agreement and said, "We'll spend no more," now they say, "We're going to spend some more."
And they're willing to hold up an economic stimulus package if they don't get more spending. And the president thinks it would be wrong of the Senate to keep people unemployed, to prevent the economy from coming back as strongly as it needs to come back, because there are some people who want to spend more money after they already agreed that they received and spent enough.
QUESTION: The Transportation Secretary Mineta said this morning, it may be difficult to meet some of the deadlines imposed in the (inaudible) particularly involving baggage screening. Is the president willing to consider changing some of these deadlines, either for baggage, screening, or the security standards, employment standards, for the new security workers?
FLEISCHER: In the speech that Secretary Mineta gave earlier today, the secretary discussed the realities of the legislation that was passed, which provided 60 days for government to search every bag that goes into the hold of airplanes. And the secretary remains committed to getting that done within 60 days.
What he explained today is that it's going to be very difficult. And the secretary has a variety of means available to him that go beyond the standard equipment to search bags, that can also be included over the 60 day period, with searches by individuals who are trained to look through bags, by dogs that are trained to look through the bags.
Now, what the secretary was talking about, of course, is the amount of time it takes to bring equipment on board, and the limited ability of manufacturers to produce that equipment. They will be accelerating the amount of production. They are looking at other companies that can also produce the equipment. Congress gave a very tight 60-day deadline, and the administration is going to do everything it possibly can to comply with it.
QUESTION: Ari, on transportation, too. I'm wondering if the president has reached an agreement with the senators who a sent a letter two weeks ago about the Mexican trucks to get the final deal as soon as possible. And my second question are with the trade promotion authority. When we're going to see (inaudible) in this bill on the House, especially with Democrats, who are opposing to get -- as the president wants -- before the end of the year?
FLEISCHER: On Mexico trucking, that's a matter that's on the transportation appropriation bill. That is a topic of discussion with leaders on the Hill. The president is working hard to get an agreement on that issue. The president continues to believes it is very important not to discriminate against our neighbors to the south and to allow them, under the terms of the North American Free Trade Agreement or NAFTA, the ability to carry out commerce in the United States. It's an agreement we've made, and the president thinks it should be honored.
On the trade promotion authority, the president has had a series of meetings and continues to meet with various members of Congress. The House representatives scheduled a vote on trade promotion authority for next week. And this is always one of the -- it's always been an uphill fight, at least in the last decade or so to get trade promotion authority for the president. And the president will continue to have conversations with Hill leaders about it.
QUESTION: Ari, the fact that the president's father is going to be representing the U.S. in Great Britain on Thursday, does that mean that the president's going to be calling on him more often? He's played a fairly low key role in the past. And how does this come about? Did Great Britain ask that the president's father be there or...
FLEISCHER: The president thought this was a fitting moment in a fitting event, when Britain holds a ceremony on this Thursday to honor the families of those who lost their lives in the World Trade Center in New York. There were many Britains who were in the World Trade Center, and this event at Westminster Abbey will be held to honor the families in a memorial service.
And the president sent a representative, on official representative of the United States government, and that representative will be his father, the former president. And so, this is the first of these occasions where the former president has represented the United States. And the president is very proud that his father will be representing our country.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) more often now?
FLEISCHER: We'll always announce it, just as I did today. But I would not urge you to read anything into any one announcement. There had to be something that came first, and this is it.
QUESTION: There are indications that, not just Spain, but the rest of the European Union states will be unwilling to extradite terrorist suspects if they face the prospect of a trial by military tribunal. Are you willing to consider making guarantees that such suspects would not face a tribunal in order that they be extradited to the United States?
FLEISCHER: In the matter at hand, nobody asked Spain to extradite anybody, so it's not a relevant issue. QUESTION: But is it clearly an issue that is going to come up and that is likely to come up. Do you have plans for dealing with matters? FLEISCHER: That's speculation. It's hard to say that if we didn't ask anybody to be extradited, then Spain has a justice system that is fully capable of carrying out as it sees fit. But the United States never asked Spain to extradite anybody.
QUESTION: Are you not going to ask that these eight suspects be extradited?
FLEISCHER: I'm not aware of any plans to do that.
QUESTION: Ari, Saxby Chambliss is running for the Senate in Georgia, has apologized for some comments he made to some Georgia law enforcement personnel, where he's quoted as saying, to deal with security issues in Georgia, quote, "Just turn the sheriff lose and have him arrest every Muslim that crosses the state line."
QUESTION: Now John Cooksey, a Republican from Louisiana and also running for the Senate, made some similarly inopportune comments. The White House criticized those. Do you have some words also for Saxby Chambliss? And the president's gone out of his way to admonish (inaudible) around the country. How would you react to these comments?
FLEISCHER: The president does not share those remarks. As you know, the president has been very clear that the need for all Americans to be tolerant. That's one of the finest traditions of our nation.
QUESTION: Does this in any way disqualify him as a candidate seeking this Republican nomination for the Senate?
FLEISCHER: The voters of Georgia are the determinant of that. I could share with you the president's message.
QUESTION: Congress is back and, obviously, had strong comments about the agreement that they made to keep spending at a certain level. Does that mean that the president intends to veto anything that goes over that amount?
FLEISCHER: The president has made that explicitly clear to the Congress, yes.
QUESTION: As he meets with congressional leaders tomorrow morning, will the White House lay down any other markers? Or are there any other bills before Congress?
FLEISCHER: Well, tomorrow's meeting with the congressional leaders will be important and I think you can see from the president's point-of-view the focus will be on the Senate passing an economic stimulus package so Americans don't lose their jobs. And the president will be giving a speech tomorrow on a similar topic, about the importance of passing an economic stimulus package.
The House of Representatives has passed an economic stimulus to help America's workers and now the time has come for the Senate to do the same. It's hard to imagine that the Senate would leave town without taking action on something so important as helping Americans to keep their jobs. So I think it really will be a matter of -- the Senate always has a difficult job, given the rules of the Senate and the tight margins of the Senate, and this will be a real challenge for the new Senate to see whether they can do it, and the president will be helpful to the Senate so it can get done. What this fundamentally comes down to is whether the Senate can or cannot get the job done. The president hopes they can.
QUESTION: There are a lot of issues before Congress. Are there any other issues on which the president has laid down a marker on which the White House has told members of Congress he will veto if this bill does not change?
FLEISCHER: There have been others. I think I'd have to go back and take a careful look at some of the statements of administration policy on those issues to determine it. Let me go back and take a look at that to be precise. There have been I think one or two others if I recall.
QUESTION: On the CIA, did you find anything new on that...
FLEISCHER: No, I asked right before I came out here and there's nothing new to report.
QUESTION: Is the president willing to compromise on the stimulus package, instead of giving three-quarters of the money to corporations?
FLEISCHER: Your information on statistics is not correct. Most of the money in the president's proposal goes to individuals.
FLEISCHER: An overwhelming amount of money goes to individuals in the form of tax cuts for low-income Americans and also accelerating the existing tax cuts that Congress agreed to for all Americans.
QUESTION: How much goes to corporations?
FLEISCHER: I'd have to take a look at the exact numbers in the president's proposals, but it's a small percentage of the overall amount of what the president requested, which was some $60 to $75 billion. The overwhelming amount is individual income-tax rate cuts.
Having said that, the president does think it is important to pass provisions that help businesses who are going through a difficult economic downturn in a recession, to have incentives so they can invest in plant and equipment, which helps create jobs.
WOODRUFF: White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer making a couple of important points there.
In particular, stressing how strongly the president feels that the Senate needs to get passed an economic stimulus bill -- in so -- pass that legislation that has already passed the House.
We heard him say all these attempts to spend more money, clearly pointing at a number of Democrats who proposed even spending more money for homeland security. Ari Fleischer saying the president believes enough money has already been allocated for this year. An agreement was reached -- an agreement is an agreement. And -- and repeating the president's intention to veto legislation that goes beyond what the president is willing to spend.
Just quickly, on Iraq, the president, or rather Ari Fleischer, asked again, whether the president has -- intends to put more pressure on Iraq to abide by the U.N. sanctions and to let U.N. inspectors come in to look for facilities that may be building or developing weapons of mass destruction.
Ari Fleischer falling back in his language from yesterday, saying the president's made it clear, that Iraq is in violation of agreements that it had agreed to some time ago, and it is up to Iraq. It's up to Saddam Hussein to determine what comes next.
Finally, with regard to Afghanistan, when he was asked about the fact that in Kabul, the Northern Alliance -- there's a report -- is preventing or prohibiting women activists from marching with others in the streets of Kabul. And Ari Fleischer was asked, doesn't this conflict with the U.S. policy that women need to be a part of this broad-based new government in Afghanistan?
And he basically said, the United States can't dictate what the government's going to be in Afghanistan, we can simply say what we think it should be, but it is ultimately up to the people of Afghanistan.
Again, that's the -- Ari Fleischer's -- briefing.
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