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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Ari Fleischer Conducts White House Briefing

Aired February 25, 2002 - 12:46   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.
DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Now we go from Rome right to the White House for today's daily media briefing. Here is White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: which focuses on both conservation and on increased production of domestic energy sources.

Later today, the president will travel to participate in a live radio address in honor of the 60th annual celebration of the Voice of America. That'll be an event here in Washington, at the Voice of America headquarters.

And the final public event on the president's scheduled today is in the East Room the president will meet with the governors who are here for their annual National Governors Association conference. The president's remarks will focus on the efforts the government is helping to helping states with homeland security, as well as focusing on education reform and on welfare reform.

That's a summary of the president's day.

QUESTION: Why would this administration choose a man for counterterrorism who's so associated with the dark side of the Iran- Contra scandal, Admiral Poindexter?

FLEISCHER: When you say choose him for counterterrorism, can you be more specific?

QUESTION: In the Pentagon, he's been appointed head of DARPA, which is the counterterrorist office, developing plans, demonstrations with information.

FLEISCHER: Well, I'm not aware of any appointment.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

FLEISCHER: Let me just say about Admiral Poindexter, Admiral Poindexter is somebody who this administration thinks is an outstanding American, an outstanding citizen, who's done a very good job in what he has done for our country, serving the military.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: How can you say that, when he told Colonel North to lie?

FLEISCHER: I think your views on Iran-Contra are well known. But the president does believe that Admiral Poindexter served...

FLEISCHER: I understand. The President thinks that Admiral Poindexter has served our nation very well.

QUESTION: Really?

FLEISCHER: That's the president's thoughts.

QUESTION: Do you know his record?

FLEISCHER: I'm sure you'll inform me.

QUESTION: I don't have to. All you've got to do is look it up.

QUESTION: There are several manufacturers of hybrid vehicles in the United States. Two of them were conspicuously absent from (INAUDIBLE) this morning, Toyota and Honda. They actually have vehicles in showrooms today, not in 2003 or 2004. I'm wondering if you can tell us why they were excluded from the event.

FLEISCHER: My understanding is this event was set up in connection with domestic producers of automobiles, and I don't think it's any reflection beyond that. It was just the hosts of this event were the domestic producers.

As far as the president is concerned, the consumers should have a choice of whichever vehicle the consumer wants to purchase. And the president wants to generally promote the use of hybrid fuel vehicles as a way of promoting conservation.

QUESTION: When you say "set up by the domestic manufacturers," they had free rein? Here at the White House -- I mean the White House had no say in who or who would not...

FLEISCHER: No, but I think the event was set up through their good offices. And so they involved domestic automobiles.

QUESTION: This was in no way sending a signal visually that the president only wanted to emphasize domestic manufacturers, as opposed to outside...

FLEISCHER: No, I think that's who was at the White House and joined the president for the event today. But (INAUDIBLE) as you know, the president's position on trade is very clear. And the president thinks that trade benefits the consumer and empowers the consumer to make choices, so that they have those many options at as low a price as possible. QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) trade bill? Aren't these other vehicles manufactured in this country?

Major's question was about other manufacturers.

QUESTION: Yes, but the vehicles are manufactured in this country. FLEISCHER: They're domestic -- the group that helps sponsor the event in collaboration with the White House was domestic manufacturers, regardless of location or plants. Obviously, it's a very integrated world, when BMW for example has a plant here. And the United States has plants overseas. It's actually a very integrated production operation.

QUESTION: You see the issue here, Ari, is that when the president stands by any car, it sends a very powerful signal to Americans who are watching him. Is it customary for the White House to give such free rein to someone who has such particular interest in the president standing by their car as opposed to somebody else's?

FLEISCHER: If the interest is promoting conservation, the answer is yes. The president thinks it's a worthwhile goal, and that's why the president welcomed those groups to the White House today to promote vehicles that focus on conservation. It's an important national priority.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

FLEISCHER: The ones that were there -- like I said, you understand the president's position on trade.

QUESTION: The president's special envoy to Afghanistan said yesterday that U.S. troops might be needed to help police the country if they can't set up a military soon enough to control warlord chaos, and Secretary Rumsfeld said as much last week. What's the difference between keeping control over warlord fighting and peacekeeping?

FLEISCHER: I don't believe Zal talked about "police the country." I think what he referred to is the United States is considering, as we talk to our allies in the region, several options for how to strengthen the security forces that are currently in Afghanistan. And toward that end, the United States is training the Afghanistani army. It's providing help. It's providing weaponry. It's providing training to the government of Afghanistan so they have a well-equipped army, well-trained army capable of policing the country.

The president's position is unchanged about their use of United States combat forces. The president continues to believe the purpose of the military is to be used to fight and win wars and not to engage in peacekeeping of that nature.

Having said that, the United States is committed to the long-term of Afghanistan, including its security and safety. That's one of the reasons that the United States is providing the amount of aid, funding aid we are to Afghanistan, the training aid that we're providing to Afghanistan. And the United States will continue to work with Afghanistan toward helping them to secure their...

QUESTION: But Rumsfeld did use the words, quote, "police the whole country," close quote, when he talked last week about sending up to 30,000 American troops there to control chaos among the warlords. Are you saying there's a difference between combat and noncombat forces?

FLEISCHER: I think there's a big difference between police and combat.

And the president has said, and the secretary knows, and that's the secretary's position as well that the purpose of the military is to fight battles win wars. And in the process of doing that, we are making Afghanistan safer.

Now I think it is also fair to say that it's not going to be an easy process, and it's not going to happen overnight in Afghanistan...

QUESTION: The military troops can be used to police Afghanistan; U.S. military troops can be used to police Afghanistan. I'm trying to understand the distinction...

(CROSSTALK)

FLEISCHER: The purpose of the troops there is to fight and win wars. And in the process of doing that it certainly has made Afghanistan a safer country than it was. For example when it was under Taliban control just several months ago.

But the broader point I was just about to make is, after 20 years of domination from outsiders, 10 years of Soviet domination and 10 years of Taliban domination, the situation in Afghanistan is fragile. It is difficult, and it is not going to become an instantly peaceful nation overnight. There still is a problem of warlordism in Afghanistan, and that's why there's an international security force there. That's why the United States is going through the steps is going to to help train an Afghanistani army which will be the first real Afghanistani army in some 20 years.

QUESTION: And in the meantime, U.S. troops can be used to police what you just called warlordism?

FLEISCHER: No. I did not indicate that. I said the purpose of America's military is to fight and win wars.

QUESTION: Then what is Rumsfeld talking about with these 30,000 troops that can be used to...

(CROSSTALK)

FLEISCHER: Again, if you can give me the full context of the quote, I think it's something you may want to address to the Pentagon. But I can't imagine that his position's any different from the president's.

QUESTION: Yes. The president said today he's fully satisfied with the support to help President Pervez Musharraf has been giving the U.S. government in the investigation of the kidnapping and the killing of Daniel Pearl. You said this morning that the U.S. government is pursuing extradition. And the question is, if you do not have an extradition treaty with Pakistan, how are you going to get him extradited? FLEISCHER: OK. I said this morning that the United States would very much like to get our hands on Omar Sheikh and the others who are responsible.

And there is a judicial system in Pakistan that has cooperated with the United States.

And one further point on it. Even without an extradition treaty, the United States can work productively with other nations, as other nations make their decisions about justice and pursue things through their courts, often in cooperation with the United States.

But since the gaggle, I've talked with some of the lawyers inside the White House, and there is some updated information on a treaty, because there is actually a treaty dealing with extradition with Pakistan that was signed in 1931, that went into effect in 1942, prior to Pakistan becoming a sovereign state, because that was a time when Pakistan was under the British empire.

But it's interesting to note that the lawyers say that treaty does remain in effect, even though it was signed with the predecessor of the Pakistani government.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... there was no Pakistan in 1942?

FLEISCHER: It's an interesting question, but that's the lawyers' point, they do believe it remains in effect, even though it was...

(CROSSTALK)

FLEISCHER: The treaty was with Pakistan, which was under British rule.

QUESTION: There was no Pakistan as such.

FLEISCHER: It was with the Pakistani authorities under British rule. So I think probably the likelihood is at that time...

(CROSSTALK)

FLEISCHER: Of course there were Pakistani authorities. I was under British rule, but you still had Pakistani authorities.

But we just looked it up...

(CROSSTALK)

FLEISCHER: You can argue it with the lawyers if you choose, but I can tell you this is...

(CROSSTALK)

FLEISCHER: Lawyers like to argue these type of points about 1932. QUESTION: Does Pakistan agree with that interpretation?

FLEISCHER: You'd have to ask Pakistan.

QUESTION: You have any communication from them one way or the other?

FLEISCHER: The lawyers just filled me in on this point. And so there is a treaty.

But as I was making the point, even without this, as I indicated this morning, it does not change the United States' fundamental determination to bring justice to the people who killed Mr. Pearl.

And in that measure, whether there is or is not an extradition treaty, the president has said that he is satisfied with the actions of President Musharraf and of the Pakistani government to helping to bring about that result.

QUESTION: Why would you want him back here? Wouldn't we be just as happy to have him executed in Pakistan rather than put Americans at risk?

FLEISCHER: Well, I've told you what the government's position is. Pakistan, of course, does have its own justice system. And I can't predict what Pakistan will decide to do. They are a sovereign nation. The United States has made clear to Pakistan that we would be interested in having him sent to the United States -- Sheikh Omar to the United States and the others who are responsible for the killing.

QUESTION: Ari, two follow-up questions; one on the cars and one on Pakistan. On the auto issue, do I understand you correctly to be saying that Honda and Toyota are not considered domestic producers, but Chrysler is?

FLEISCHER: No. My understanding -- and this is just the logistics of the event that was held at the White House this morning that was put on with a group that sponsored these three cars and not others.

QUESTION: And on the Pakistan issue, there's been some reports suggesting that there were calls from the kidnappers back to Canada, might have suggested that there was an Al Qaeda link to the kidnapping. Do you have any evidence?

FLEISCHER: No. I don't have any information on that.

QUESTION: Ari...

FLEISCHER: We have an orderly process of working in the front and making our way to the back. We're going to get there.

QUESTION: Is there any indication that this kidnapping was part of a larger plot for more kidnappings -- I'm talking about Dan Pearl now -- that there is a larger plot under way to kidnap Americans? FLEISCHER: It's hard to tell. The fact of the matter is, the government receives bits of information from time to time, and it always is evaluated to determine what risks are.

I have said from this podium on several times, particularly with regard to journalism that this is a reminder of what's happened about the risks the journalists take in serving the cause, in serving our country, so that people in our country can read the truth and read the facts. Travel to different parts of the world can be risky. There is no shortage of people in Al Qaeda and other organizations who will seek to do harm to Americans.

Americans who do business abroad, for example, have had to take into account the risks of kidnapping and terrorism in their plans for several decades unfortunately. That's a long way of answering in an inconclusive fashion, but there are reports that we get. And the president has said that this remains a dangerous period in Afghanistan and the region.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) Al Qaeda and Omar Sheikh? Are those becoming more clearly known, or clearly established?

FLEISCHER: There's nothing concrete I can point to, Major.

QUESTION: What does the White House say about this report on anthrax that there has been a suspect for three months?

FLEISCHER: I've noted that report, and I've done some digging into the topic. I wish it was that easy and that simple right now, but unfortunately, there still are several suspects. It's not as if there's only one. And so the FBI is continuing its investigative efforts.

That story, I think, was a little overreaching in saying there's just one. The FBI has not narrowed it down to just one. They are continuing their investigation.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) scientist from Fort Detrick that is being looked at out of the group which we're saying positive?

FLEISCHER: All indications are that the source of the anthrax is domestic, and I can't give you any more specific information than that. That's part of what the FBI is actively reviewing, and I just can't go beyond that.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) Some of the victims who are still alive, who suffered from anthrax, have not heard from the Homeland Security director, have not heard from the president, have not heard from congressional (INAUDIBLE) like the ones who represent the Brentwood postal facility. And some say there is insensitivity on the part of the federal government. What do you say about that, for these victims who are still suffering, who still can't breathe well, who are still going through years of possible rehabilitation after this?

FLEISCHER: Well, I would hope that's not the case. QUESTION: Well, it is the case. They have not been contacted. FLEISCHER: I think that in all instances, that the appropriate health authorities, whether they were federal government or state government or a collaboration of both, have been in touch.

Very often, in the case of people who were hospitalized, they were -- the federal Centers for Disease Control was intimately involved in all areas involved in all the anthrax -- that was the anthrax attacks. So it's been a very difficult chapter for all concerned, particularly the families, those who lost their lives in the attack. It was difficult moments for the government.

Obviously, anybody who would engage in that type of terrorism through the mail puts people in a position where it becomes very difficult not only for them but for local communities, for all the people who were affected by the hoaxes that followed those attacks.

FLEISCHER: But I think the federal government responded as well as it could given the knowledge the federal government had as quickly as it could. And if any individuals who were involved had any more specifics where they want to talk to anybody in the federal government, I know the federal government throughout various agencies would want to respond?

QUESTION: Ari, does the White House hold the view that Osama bin Laden is still alive?

FLEISCHER: The simple answer is, we do not know. There have been no indications that he is dead. And therefore, the most likely suspicion is that he is alive.

But of course, in the absence of any type of proof, you can only deal in likelihoods, but that is the most likely scenario based on the reports that we've received.

QUESTION: Ari, can you go back to the treaty that you brought up? What will be the next step if in fact White House goes and now determines that there may be an agreement. What are you folks going to do now?

FLEISCHER: The step remains the same even without it. And that is, we have been in contact with the government of Pakistan -- the embassy and Islamabad has been in touch. And Pakistan understands that we would like to have Omar Sheikh brought to the United States.

QUESTION: White House is on the same page (OFF-MIKE) with the Justice Department. The Justice Department apparently has sought successfully an indictment for a '94 case actually, and this is why you want him back.

FLEISCHER: The White House is on the same page with the Justice Department. That's correct. We're going to move it to the back and then come back up.

QUESTION: Thank you. Prince Abdullah has put forward a peace plan which he apparently is going to take up also at the Arab League meeting later this year. It was met with a very positive response from various Arab governments. I was wondering, what is the U.S. attitude to the peace plan?

QUESTION: And are you working together with Prince Abdullah to try and work out the details?

FLEISCHER: The president welcomes all initiatives whose goal is to bring peace to the Middle East. The president continues to believe that the Mitchell accords represent the best path to achieve that peace, and that begins with the two sides sitting down for security talks, which has begun, and then was halted, and then has begun, halted. And it's important for the parties to continue the security talks, which hopefully can then lead to more political negotiations to resolve the outstanding issues in the Middle East between Israel and the Palestinians.

So the president welcomes the thoughts of Arab leaders who want to contribute to that process. The president believes the Mitchell accords are the best path to pursue.

QUESTION: To follow up, Ari, is there any idea of getting together with Prince Abdullah or with representatives of him to discuss the details...

FLEISCHER: Well, as you know, the vice president will be in the region in March, and I anticipate that peace in the Middle East will be one of the issues on the agenda.

QUESTION: Back on the anthrax for a minute, what's the sense here about the pace of the investigation?

FLEISCHER: I think that the experience that we've seen in this investigation is that these things are often very difficult, to catch who did something like this. Obviously, the person who did this is pretty smart, has employed means that are very difficult to track. The block handwriting on the letters was chosen most likely by design, knowing how hard it is to track that type of handwriting.

And so the president would like to get this, obviously, resolved as quickly as is possible. The pace of justice is a methodical one. It's very important for them to build a case that will stand up in court, that is thorough and is conclusive. And that's the effort of the FBI, and the president believes the FBI is doing a good, solid job.

QUESTION: Does the White House feel the government has a full handle now on the inventories of anthrax, at universities, at military facilities?

FLEISCHER: To the best of all the information that we have received here, that was never a question.

The military laboratories, other laboratories accounted for their anthrax. The military laboratories accounted for their anthrax, those under federal purview. And so, that has not been a question that I've been briefed on that topic. QUESTION: On Superfund. If the administration is opposed to reauthorizing the Superfund task (ph), than how does the administration expect these clean-up sites to be funded?

FLEISCHER: Well, the most likely way is to emulate the successful reform that was put into place through the brownfield program, which was done after some 10 years of inaction. The president working together with Democrats and Republicans in Congress was able to get it done last year.

People used to think the brownfield legislation could never be taken care of to clean-up abandoned urban sites. There were legal liability provisions that were put in place that allowed that program to go forward.

But the Superfund program has not been as successful as it should be, because too often, Superfund clean-ups become a matter between lawyers and not a matter between clean-up crews. And that's where the Superfund program has languished, and that's why there was bipartisan opposition to reauthorizing the Superfund program with that reform.

The president would like to see the brownfield legislation, which created some reasonable caps on legal issues, serve as a precedent for successful Superfund reform, and that way sites can be cleaned up.

QUESTION: Does the president believe, as a matter of policy, that the federal government should take over the role of paying for cleaning up the Superfund sites instead of the industry?

FLEISCHER: Well, there is a formula in place that's a 70/30 formula, and it deals with a couple of the complicated issues involved in Superfund cleanup. For example, if it's known who the polluter is, the polluter cleans it up, there's no question about that, the industry should pay.

Where it often gets very complicated is where it's not known who is responsible for pollution of a site, and somebody wants to purchase that site, it's an old, abandoned site that contains toxic chemicals, and a purchaser comes along who wants to buy that land that is currently desolate, they had nothing to do with creating the pollution in that land. The president wants to make certain that we have a system that is not unfair to a potential new purchaser, who had nothing to do with creating the pollution, yet allows that site to be cleaned up.

The problem right now is, because of some of the liability issues, those sites are languishing. Nobody would be crazy enough to purchase them because they'd get stuck with bills having nothing to do with their own pollution, and therefore nothing gets cleaned up. So the president wants to have a reform that's put in place that allows for a cleanup with a fair spread of the costs that includes that industry.

QUESTION: But by specifying the president did not want to renew the tax that had been used to build up the Superfund, is the president saying the government should take this over? Is he looking to Congress to take the burden of reenacting the tax, which it has so far been unwilling to do?

FLEISCHER: Well, the message is clear that the program needs to be reformed, just like the brownfield legislation was successfully reformed.

And if Congress pursues that path, then I think it's fair to say that there could be a Superfund program that's in place that works.

But in the absence of reform, the existing program was not working. Lawyers were getting rich, but fund sites were not getting cleaned up.

QUESTION: Where would the money come from? I mean, when you say the program needs to be reformed, in what matter? Where does the president believe the money should come from? From the government or from industry?

FLEISCHER: Well, the EPA is currently taking a look at exactly how to improve for the future of the program, make a recommendation, so that is under way.

But in the meanwhile, it has not stopped this administration from engaging in clean-ups. For example, as you know, the Environmental Protection Agency has announced a major clean-up of the Hudson River that's fully paid for by the responsible party, which is General Electric.

That was a rather controversial issue. The administration took action, held the -- in this case, the industry General Electric, liable, and proceeded with the clean-up. But this has been a vexing issue for people in both parties for many a year, and in the meanwhile, the existing program was not leading to clean-ups, and that's why the president wants to reform it like the brownfields.

QUESTION: Last week, the Treasury secretary said he'd like to preside or at least see happen a fundamental tax reform. Where does that rank on the White House's list of priorities? What principles would be embodied in this idea, and what would the timetable be?

FLEISCHER: From time to time, the president reflects on the question of how to make the tax code fairer and simpler to fundamentally reform it.

I can tell you, he has no one leading candidate in mind. That's an issue that has been divisive in the Congress. While there are a great number of people who talk about how to fundamentally reform the system, it's fair to say there's a great division among Republicans between the flat-tax supporters and the creation of perhaps some kind of national sales tax. And I'm not really sure, Democrats have some of their ideas, although most of this debate seems to be on the Republican side. That's really where it stands for the president.

The president likes to hear the ideas that people have about the topic, but I think it's a little early in his mind to begin the debate. QUESTION: On the question of timing, the treasury secretary seemed to be saying that nobody should hold their breath. Is that what you're telling us, that this is something...

FLEISCHER: Well, there's no one idea that has coalesced. As I said, the president likes to reflect on this topic, but he hasn't decided on one approach himself. He listens when people bring up different ideas to him, but if you were to try to propose something to the Congress right now, I think you would find a fairly large split in the Congress, even among Republicans, on what the best type of reform is. And so there's really no consensus behind any one type of approach. And there's no consensus by the president about what an approach should be.

So I think it's something that's on the horizon that interests the president, but I can't tell you it's anything closer.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) taken a position flat tax versus sales?

FLEISCHER: He has not.

QUESTION: The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that Secretary O'Neill was heading a task force on corporate reform and that they're exploring ways to make it easier for the government to punish corporate officers and direct (INAUDIBLE) for misleading shareholders.

Is the president going to take a position on corporate reform?

FLEISCHER: The president created that task force, so the answer is yes. They're working right now on a range of issues for what to do on the corporate governance inside. As you know, the collapse of Enron raised a series of issues about how to protect people's pensions, what pension reforms should be required, as well as what areas involving corporate governance, particularly involving accounting, honesty and statements, transparency, any type of wrongdoing; that all needs to be explored.

The pension side came to a conclusion, and the president has submitted a proposal to the Congress that he continues to urge the Congress to pass to take care to protect people's pensions. On the corporate governance side, the task force is still meeting. I cannot give you a specific date on when they will have their recommendations. The president is looking forward to receiving them. He thinks that's something that can and should be done by the Congress this year.

QUESTION: Ari, the Supreme Court today declined to take a case involving the Ten Commandments. I know you don't comment on every court case or court issue, but does the president have a public position on whether the displaying of the Ten Commandments on public property is an improper mixture of church and state or is acceptable?

FLEISCHER: If I recall, there was a case where there was a judge in a courthouse who had the Ten Commandants posted on his walls, and the president thought there was nothing inappropriate about doing that.

QUESTION: Does he believe it should be handled at the state level or federal level, these issues?

FLEISCHER: I don't know that that's something I've heard the president reflect on about the appropriate level. I know that that was the president's sentiments when he heard the case in that one courthouse.

QUESTION: Louisiana Senator Breaux has called for the Federal Trade Commission's funeral practices rule to apply to crematories and cemeteries, as well as to funeral homes. Does the president agree? And what was his reaction to the 285 uncremated bodies found in sheds, pits, caskets and underbrush near that nonworking crematory in Noble, Georgia?

FLEISCHER: The president's reaction was that it was a horror. I think the...

QUESTION: Senator Breaux's...

FLEISCHER: On your question, I think it's a serious one, and I'll take it and let you know.

QUESTION: The president's good friend, Oklahoma's governor, Frank Keating, told a news conference on Saturday that he agrees with Dr. Coburn, the co-chair of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV and AIDS, that condoms are not safe. He emphasized that. And my question: Does the president disagree with the Governor Keating, as well as Dr. Coburn, who's an ob-gyn, and -- while agreeing with Secretary Powell, who without any medical training I know of, urges condom use?

FLEISCHER: The president's position, as I explained it some 10 days ago, was very clear. The president believes that the federal government needs to have increased focus on abstinence education programs, which have too often been lacking as part of the curricula.

But the president does believe in a balanced approach, for people who are not going to engage in abstinence, to provide for safe sex.

QUESTION: In other words, condoms.

FLEISCHER: The president believes in a balanced approach, as I indicated.

QUESTION: The president this morning said that he had not yet made a decision on steel imports. Has he been having meetings? Do you anticipate that he'll have people in to talk about this? Is he aware, for example, of the argument that higher steel prices domestically will result in more jobs lost than are already lost to the steel workers?

FLEISCHER: Under Section 201 of the International Trade Commission, the president has until March 6 to make a determination on the steel case. And he is listening carefully to all sides of this issue. It's a very complicated one. It has implications for the domestic industry which has been, according the ITC finding, hurt as a result of steel imports. But the president is keenly aware of all sides which involve prices to consumers, prices to manufacturers of steel imports.

And so it's an issue that the president is looking at in its entirety. He has not made any determination, as he indicated today in the Oval Office.

QUESTION: Do you anticipate further meetings here -- other groups coming in to see him over the next two weeks?

FLEISCHER: It's possible. He has had a number of meetings on the topic already. He may have more. There's some two weeks before that deadline, and so I don't rule that out.

QUESTION: I just had a clarification -- I'm going back a little bit to what we were talking about earlier, the extradition treaty. You had said that U.S. officials had talked to Islamabad. Did they specifically talk about what you learned from the lawyers today, that in the view of the U.S. this extradition treaty should apply?

FLEISCHER: You may want to address that to State. The conversations were held by the State Department. I don't have every detail of what the conversation was.

I can report to you the bottom line of the conversation, which is that the United States made clear to Pakistan that the United States would be interested in having the sheik sent here.

QUESTION: Can I just try again on one of those attempts to pin down this funding on Superfund? We understand the president wants the reforms, but that's a separate issue from the funding.

QUESTION: He is opposed to a corporate tax. Could you explain why?

And if you're going to have funding, and they're down to $28 million now, the funding, seems to me, has to come out of the general treasury. So is that the president's wish?

FLEISCHER: You cannot separate it from reform. The reason that the tax was not reauthorized, was because it was a bipartisan consensus on Capitol Hill going back to 1995, seven years, that the program needed to be reformed. If they were able to reform the program, the funding would have taken care of itself. So you cannot separate the two. And that's why the EPA is taking a look at this issue.

But the way it was successfully reformed under the brownfield legislation was they imposed realistic and reasonable caps on legal liability provisions. And that prevented some of the brownfield cases from being tied up in court when the real work should have been spent on the ground cleaning up the sites. And that's the president's approach.

QUESTION: Even with the reform, the president is opposed to the old corporate tax.

FLEISCHER: Not necessarily.

QUESTION: Not necessarily?

FLEISCHER: No. As I indicated in the case of General Electric, General Electric is doing the cleanup under the EPA-ordered cleanup of the Hudson River. General Electric is paying for it.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) tax, I'm not talking about corporate penalty, corporate tax. He's opposed to the corporate tax, is that right?

FLEISCHER: No, because, again, as I indicated that if the responsible is known, then under the Superfund strict liability provisions they have to pay the entire cost, and that's under the 70/30 formula. The other 30 percent was a general revenue tax on the industry.

On the 30 percent, the president is not locked in stone on what the appropriate percentage is. But the president wants to make certain that it's not done in a way that prevents sites from being cleaned up because a purchaser comes along, buys land that was a Superfund site -- wants to buy the land -- that pollution is found on that site and that new purchaser had nothing to do with the creation of the pollution, so therefore they don't want to buy the site. At the same time, the president wants to make sure that whatever funding is put in place is equitable.

And that's why it lapsed in 1995. If it worked so well, it wouldn't have lapsed. And that's why Democrats and Republicans joined in letting it lapse.

QUESTION: If he gets his reforms, he is not adamantly opposed to the corporate tax? He will consider that along with general taxes...

FLEISCHER: No. The president is open for how best to get it done. But there is -- again, there is a healthy, successful precedent that was created in the brownfield's legislation, which the president thinks could serve the Congress well in looking at what to do with Superfund.

And again, I point out, that that bedeviled Congress for 10 years, and then the president was able to work that out with the Congress. So there is a good precedent in store -- in mind.

QUESTION: Ari, last week Dr. Lindsey said the White House would not support naming Chairman Greenspan's successor ahead of his announcement that he was going to resign if that's what they did when he came into office.

And I was wondering if you could articulate why you think that such a stability enhancing move would not be supported by the White House?

FLEISCHER: That is, by far, one of the most clever attempts I've ever had to get me to speculate about a personnel choice that has not even come open, may not even come open. So I just don't engage in any speculation about any appointments, as you know.

QUESTION: In the abstract of, you know, naming...

(LAUGHTER)

FLEISCHER: So it's not a hypothetical; it's an abstract.

QUESTION: Right, exactly.

FLEISCHER: Thank you for the honor. If you're going to get me to speculate about any one personnel position, it will not be that one.

QUESTION: What impact do you think that the killing of Jonas Savimbi will have on the talks tomorrow with dos Santos, and does the White House think that the dos Santos government set Savimbi up for assassination and expect to get him out of the way before dos Santos gets here?

FLEISCHER: Well, the United States is still committed to achieving peace through equitable development, through equitable solutions in Angola. And the president calls upon all Angolans to fulfill their obligations to peace there.

As you mentioned, President dos Santos will be here tomorrow, along with President Chissano of Mozambique and of Mogae of Botswana, for a meeting with the president, so I think you may have more on this topic tomorrow. And I would also refer you to the statement put out by Richard Boucher last week upon the death of Mr. Savimbi.

QUESTION: Any speculation about the coincidence of the time?

FLEISCHER: I have no speculation on that.

QUESTION: Ari, on Thursday, on "The 700 Club," Pat Robertson said, and I quote him directly here, "I have taken issue with our esteemed president in regard to his stand in saying Islam is a peaceful religion; it's just not, and the Koran makes it very clear." Pat Robertson and Franklin Graham, both of whom are not, incidentally, known here at the White House, have said more or less the same things.

I wonder if you could offer the president's reaction to their assessment that Islam in its totality is not exactly a peaceful religion and how it conflicts with what the president has tried to say both publicly and worldwide about it.

FLEISCHER: I haven't talked to the president directly about what Pat Robertson has said, but I would refer you to the visit the president took to a mosque on September -- I think it was the 17th -- and within one week of the attack on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and Pennsylvania the president visited a mosque here in the Washington community to send a signal that Islam is a peace-loving religion. And throughout the various meetings the president had with members of Congress, even in the week prior to that, right after the attack, the president urged members of Congress to remind Americans that Arab Americans love our flag just as much as anybody else, and that Islam is a religion of peace.

QUESTION: It seems to me these comments from someone who is as well-known and as widely watched as Reverend Robertson undermine the attempt of the president to send this message.

FLEISCHER: I think all Americans -- virtually all Americans agree with the president on that position. Anybody who doesn't is stating an unfortunate view.

QUESTION: If the president does this Voice of America event, what's the administration's philosophy on the news gathering and news reporting independence of the Voice of America? I'm thinking specifically of the earlier airing of a certain mullah's voice that some in the administration took exception to.

FLEISCHER: You will hear that in the president's remarks so you'll be able to get that directly from the president himself shortly.

But the president will talk about the mission of the Voice of America is to the truth, is to fully informing people around the world about the truth, under the belief that is that factual flow of information that allows people to be free. And how -- the importance of a free media around the world -- which is a subject as you know the president has brought up with President Putin and others, about the importance of a free media.

The president will also talk about how the Voice of America has a charter, and that when it comes to the war on terrorism, the Voice of America is not neutral; that there is a right and a wrong. And the Voice of America speaks the truth, so that people will know what is right around the world. QUESTION: Can you assure us that no one in the administration has ever tried to influence, not the editorial portion of their broadcasting, but their news gathering areas?

FLEISCHER: I'm really not involved in the day-to-day running of the Voice of America. They have a board that is involved in that. So you asked me a very broad question about assurance. They have a board set up to guarantee their objectivity and their fairness and coverage and the accuracy of their coverage. And that's what we're all committed too.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) this has happened since they spoke of this earlier. Was it this morning that lawyers in the administration discovered this? Were they White House lawyers, were they State Department lawyers?

FLEISCHER: Well, I'll tell you how it came about. I was on a conference call, as I am every day, with the State Department and my colleagues, Pentagon and other places. And State noted that they thought there was an extradition treaty that went back prior to the creation of the modern Pakistani state. And so our lawyers took a look at it and that turned out to be exactly accurate.

And I'll be happy to try to provide additional information throughout the day about this, since this has provided some interest here. I'd be more than happy too.

QUESTION: Did you say it was signed in 1931 and kicked in in 1942, is that right?

FLEISCHER: That's correct.

QUESTION: But the fact that that has something with World War II -- the United States has been in the war by that time along with -- do you know if the war had...

FLEISCHER: I don't have any more historical context other than what I've informed you about. But I want to reiterate that even absent this, the position of the United States was clear to the government of Pakistan, and Pakistan is and has been, continues to be helpful in this matter.

Pakistan is a sovereign government. They have their own laws. They have their own rules. And if you can imagine if the horror was reversed and a Pakistani citizen was in the United States and was killed in the United States, we have our own laws. If we apprehended the killers, there would be a legitimate discussion about does that person get tried in the United States or should the person be sent back to Pakistan. These are legitimate ongoing issues between sovereign governments, and that's the current status of this now. But we are pleased with the reactions of the Pakistanis as their judicial system proceeds. And they understand our request. I can't indicate to you what the final determination will be.

But the president is very pleased with President Musharraf's actions, as well as the judiciary in Pakistan.

QUESTION: And we do not know whether the Pakistanis are aware of this extradition treaties are, right?

FLEISCHER: I've given you all the information I have about it. They may be. I cannot tell you.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) some more information from the lawyers?

FLEISCHER: Yes. I indicated I would.

Thank you.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: White House press secretary Ari Fleischer wrapping up his daily briefing. Couple of things to note here, mentioning the intensive negotiations under way right now with Pakistan for the extradition of Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the top suspect in the kidnapping and murder of "Wall Street Journal" reporter Daniel Pearl. Also things to note here, you mentioned that the president and his staff still looking at suspects in the anthrax scare. The FBI intensively looking at that. Also Osama bin Laden, no indication he's dead, so the manhunt continues. Also talking about peace in the Middle East. The president is going to continue security talks. That is still in full force, still sticking by the Mitchell Accords also as the best path to pursue. In addition, coming close to tax time, the question came up about reforming the tax code. The president hasn't made any decisions with regard to that, just too early to debate.

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