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Ari Fleischer Holds White House Briefing

Aired April 23, 2002 - 13:51   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Straight to the White House now for the daily briefing. Ari Fleischer at the podium.


ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This afternoon the president will have a photo opportunity and make remarks on the South Lawn to the 2002 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic teams who are visiting Washington. And then he will meet with the prime minister of Bulgaria, where they will talk about bilateral relations between the United States and Bulgaria, and I suspect the topic of NATO expansion might come up as well.

And that is it for public events, and if there's any questions you have, I'd be happy to answer.

QUESTION: A couple things on the Middle East. Can you give us a deeper readout on the king of Morocco meeting and if the president made headway in enlisting that country or any other Arab nations to pressure Arafat?

FLEISCHER: They talked about a variety of issues actually, including, of course, the Middle East; I'll come back to that in a second. But they discussed the importance of a trade agreement with Morocco that the president raised in the Oval Office. They discussed the situation in Western Sahara, and the president expressed his hope that any issues involving disputes involving the Western Sahara would be settled peacefully.

And they spent some time talking about, of course, events in the Middle East. The king noted Secretary Powell's visit and his appreciation for the secretary's trip to the region, and they did discuss various ideas about how to bring peace to the Middle East. I think one I can just share with you is there was a general level of discussion about something the secretary raised during his trip about a possible ministerial conference. That continues to be an interesting idea in the eyes of the president. And that's really where that idea remains.

QUESTION: If I could just follow up, this is the king -- you're talking about Powell's trip, this is the king who at a photo opportunity turned to the secretary of state and said, "Shouldn't you be in Jerusalem first?" Did the president make any headway in convincing this or any other Arab leaders that they need to press Arafat to be part of this peace process?

FLEISCHER: Well, I think the king can express for himself any messages that he sends. Suffice it to say Morocco has a longstanding history of looking Westward, of being a good ally of the United States, and that was the mood and the spirit of the meeting. Actually it was a very good session with the king. The president believes he's a very bright leader, and the president had previously been to Morocco, they spent some time talking about the president's previous visit.

But, as you know, the president has said that there are Arab nations that can play a very constructive role in bringing peace to the region. The president believes Morocco is one of them. The president believes Morocco is working very hard to bring about a peaceful resolution.


FLEISCHER: Yes, absolutely. Morocco, as I mentioned, is a nation that has historically looked Westward and has historically been a good ally, strong ally of the United States, and that remains.

QUESTION: But, Ari, can you clarify, because it's not just the king of Morocco, it's the Saudi crown prince. They're not making any secret about the fact that they don't think the U.S. or the president is doing enough or putting enough pressure on Arafat. So it looks like you're at a standstill here with you saying, well, they should do...

FLEISCHER: They don't believe the United States is putting enough pressure on Arafat?

QUESTION: I'm sorry, on Sharon.


QUESTION: But putting enough pressure on the Israelis, especially with regard to the Church of the Nativity and Ramallah. Are you making any headway beyond that or is a just a back and forth with U.S. saying, "You should do more," and them saying, "Well, no. We want to see more"?

FLEISCHER: Actually, I think that from the president's point of view -- and this is something that he talks about with these leaders, and as you know, the president has now had a series of meetings and is continuing them with a number of the Arab nations in the Middle East. He met with the president of Lebanon last week, king of Morocco today, of course, the crown prince is coming. The president has had a series and will continue to have a series of meetings. He spoke to King Abdullah of Jordan. And you know from the president's point of view that the believes Secretary Powell made progress in the Middle East.

And the one overriding factor about events in the Middle East that is guiding this president is, as he put it, the Middle East is an area where there has been hatred that is centuries old and there has been violence that is decades old. And up against that background and that environment, the president does understand that the key to bringing peace in the Middle East is a process. And the process from the president began early in his administration, and then it continued on to the events of April 4 when the president gave the specific responsibilities he believes need to be accepted by the three parties in the Middle East in order to continue progress. And that's where he is.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up?


QUESTION: Is the president specifically doing anything to reassure these countries, the leaders that he's talking to, who have their own concerns about the instability it's causing for them at home to have the perception be that the president is siding with Israel on this?

FLEISCHER: Well, I think they understand the president's view. And one thing they also understand living in the region is they understand that there is no overnight solution to events in the Middle East, and they don't come to Washington asking for one. They know that's not the way it works.

And so they I think -- I won't speak for other nations. You will obviously talk to these leaders and get their points of view directly.

The president understand that he has outlined the course that he believes needs to be taken by the three parties in the Middle East in order to continue to make progress, and that's the cause that he remains committed to.

QUESTION: Ari, will there be another key to the peace process that the White House doesn't talk much about? Would it be easier for Arab leaders to take the risks for peace that the president is talking about, if they were democratically legitimate -- if they were elected?

FLEISCHER: Well, I don't know how to answer that. The president works with the leaders of the region, and the president, as you know, does believe in the power of democracy throughout the world. But the president is working with the situation as he found it when he came into office on January 20, 2001. And we'll continue to work productively with all those leaders, and then we'll look forward to the visit with the crown prince this week, for example.

QUESTION: If I may just follow up, the president believes in the power of democracy. Is the administration doing anything to further the cause of democracy in these countries which don't have elections, which are so crucial to the peace in the Middle East? One of the reasons its often said that these leaders can't get out in front in the peace process is because they're afraid of the reaction of their own people partly because they don't have legitimate authority.

FLEISCHER: Well, it's a very complicated question you ask, and it could be ask about any number of nations around the world. And the president will work with the elected leaders, the chosen leaders of the nations around the world. And we'll work with them as productively he can to bring peace, particularly to the Middle East. I really don't know how to go beyond that, as you know.

QUESTION: Did he urge the king to pressure other Arab leaders to do more to reduce the violence?

FLEISCHER: The president told the king what he has said publicly, which is that he believes that the best way to achieve peace in the Middle East is for Israel to continue to do its withdrawal, just as the president called on it to do, for Chairman Arafat to act in deed and not only in word to fight terrorism, and for the Arab nations to use their good influences to reach out and talk to Chairman Arafat about the need for him to put into action not just word his commitment to fight terrorism.

That's the president's message in private. I can assure you -- in public. I can assure that's the president's message in private, as well.

QUESTION: Ari, is the major obstacle at this point, from the Arab world standpoint, is the continued presence of Israeli troops around the Church of the Nativity and around the Palestinian compound in Ramallah? Reports from the region on the status of those negotiations are quite pessimistic. Do you have anything contrary to that, any reports from Ambassador Burns or others about any progress? And as you answered in the last couple hours, there have also been reports of new explosions in the Arafat compound, any indication as to...

FLEISCHER: I'm aware that in the talks concerning Bethlehem there was a Palestinian legislator this morning who was quoted as saying they were constructive. But I think it's best to keep a focus on the longer term process for how to help the parties to help themselves in the Middle East, than relentless focus on the tick-tock of this morning, this afternoon, this evening, because I think it's one thing everybody knows about the Middle East is events change and change rapidly.

The president is focused, despite any incremental moves forward or backward, to keep the pressure on the three parties to focus on what needs to be done in order to achieve peace, which are those three issues I just outlined before.

And frankly, what alternative do the Palestinians, the Israelis and the Arab nations have other than to heed the president's helpful call from that Rose Garden speech? The alternative is continued violence. And that's not an alternative that this president wants to countenance. And that's why he is going to continue so steadfastly to work with the three parties to help them to achieve those goals.

PHILLIPS: Press Secretary Ari Fleischer Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, giving the daily White House briefing there. Driving home the point that the president remains committed to this fight on global terrorism, talking about the successful meeting today with President Bush and Moroccan King Mohammed VI. Not only did they talk about a trade agreement, but focused on the Middle East and ideas to bring peace to that area. And continuing to work together to fight terrorism all around the world. TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT



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