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Ari Fleischer Holds Daily Press Briefing

Aired May 9, 2002 - 12:32   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: To the White House, Ari Fleischer now -- that briefing well under way in D.C.


QUESTION: Arabic, which the president considered very good. And today we hear a news report he has arrested members of Hamas (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Is this the trend the United States expects to see, or is this Mr. Arafat's way of trying to hold up this Israeli attack?

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Only time will tell. The president believes that the statement that Yasser Arafat made was a positive statement. He was pleased to hear it. He was pleased to hear it in Arabic.

But time is what is important. A dogged determination to crack down in a meaningful and an enduring way against people who would engage in terrorism is what is necessary in the region. This is one of the responsibilities on the Palestinian Authority that the president spoke about in his Rose Garden address on April 4.

And so the president viewed the chairman's statements as positive. The president will continue to watch.

QUESTION: The president has spoken now at length about the need for reform in the Palestinian Authority -- a new constitution, et cetera. Is there any sign that Yasser Arafat is on board for this effort?

FLEISCHER: Well, I think that's something only Yasser Arafat can address. That's something that can be put to him.



FLEISCHER: Helen, is there any chance you're going to get the answer to Terry's question from Yasser Arafat? You may have an interview we don't know about.


FLEISCHER: But this is something that is a key test of the Palestinian Authority and its leaders, in -- more than one leader, of all the Palestinian Authority's leaders.

The president believes very strongly that the Palestinian people deserve a state, that they deserve a country. At the end of the vision, the Palestinian people deserve a right to live side by side with Israel.

In order to make that vision a reality, in order to do so faster, the president is looking to the Palestinian people and officials in the Palestinian Authority to take the actions that are worthy of a potential country. And those actions are dedication to rule of law, transparency, a fight against corruption -- the very simple and reasonable things that all reasonable-minded people around the world look to from potential countries or potential leaders to create stability in violent regions.

QUESTION: And the United States is prepared to assist that by sending George Tenet to the region to help construct a security force, by funding these institutions, by providing perhaps other assistance. It sounds like nation-building.

FLEISCHER: The United States is prepared to assist, and the United States believes that it would be productive for, at the end of this vision and in accordance with the reforms the president has outlined, for progress to be made.

And not only the United States, but one of the key events in the Middle East to keep your eyes on are the actions taken, and productively so, by the Arab nations in the region -- Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Morocco, Jordan. All have been very helpful. This is a topic that the president and the king of Jordan discussed.

QUESTION: Any idea when Tenet is going?

FLEISCHER: I don't. Don't have that yet.

QUESTION: Isn't this nation-building? Isn't the president now committing the United States to assist in the construction of an entirely new Palestinian government and civil society?

FLEISCHER: Well, the president at the United Nations called for the creation of a Palestinian state as part of this process, as part of this vision. The United States is prepared to help. It has to be done in a way that, as the president said, brings peace and stability to the region.

But, again, every time I hear those words, "nation-building," I remember the president's statement was not to use America's military for nation-building. But the president does believe in helping to promote stability around the world.

QUESTION: Ari, do you have any more information on the Hamas members arrested? There seems to be conflicting reports.

FLEISCHER: I do not.

QUESTION: OK. And then a question on Arafat. You said in the recent past that Palestinians deserve better leadership. Do you mean that in terms of personalities or in terms of practice or both?

FLEISCHER: The president is focused on bottom line, on results. And that means that he believes that the Palestinian people deserve leadership that will focus on the education of the Palestinian people, on building the economic structure of the Palestinian people, on helping agriculture for the Palestinian people -- all the building blocks that lead to a people who have a way of life that is marked by economic hope, economic opportunity, educational hope and by freedom.

And that's done through the rule of law. That's done by leadership that takes actions that is reflective of the needs of its people. And a clear sign of that is a crack down on corruption. Corruption has often been an impediment to helping the cause of the Palestinian people.

QUESTION: Can Arafat provide that leadership, in the U.S. opinion?

FLEISCHER: It's not the United States' job to pick who leads the Palestinian people.

QUESTION: Well, is he meeting that standard?

FLEISCHER: I think, as the president has said himself, Yasser Arafat has not earned the president's trust, and all of these are issues where that plays into the president's definition of how to earn his trust, that does fit the president's vision of what the Palestinian leadership needs to do to help its own people. But again, it's not the president's job to pick the Palestinian leaders.

QUESTION: Does he agree with Prime Minister Sharon that Arafat should be sidelined from the peace process?

FLEISCHER: Again, just as I indicated, it's not the president's job to pick the Palestinian leaders.

QUESTION: Ari, could I follow on that? When you say it's not the president's job to pick the Palestinian leadership, all this talk of this push for reform within the Palestinian Authority, isn't there a hope of this administration that those reforms would lead to new leaders, more moderate leaders, maybe leaders that this administration believes would be more willing to make the decision for peace?

FLEISCHER: The president's focus on it is all this push for reform and all this talk of reform will lead to a better day for the Palestinian people. And he leaves it to the Palestinian people to decide who their leaders will be.

QUESTION: Let me ask you an unrelated -- somewhat unrelated follow-up. The House Appropriations Committee today is expected to pass the supplemental bill, and apparently a Republican is expected to offer an amendment to include $200 million in aid to Israel. Would the administration support additional money to Israel now?

FLEISCHER: We're taking a look at that now. Clearly, the president has supported and does support aid for Israel. That is part of the president's budget for fiscal year '03. We're taking a look at the exact emergency nature of this proposal, given the fact that this particular piece of legislation is emergency legislation.

QUESTION: Is there any concern, though, this aid to Israel could sort of upset the balance in terms of dealing with the situation with Israelis and Palestinians?

FLEISCHER: No. As I indicated, we're talking a look at that now.

QUESTION: Ari, a couple of days ago a former Clinton administration official said that there should have been discussions on the issue of reparations, because it's been such a major issue of late, and they started dealing with it around the time of their One America initiative. And you've said from this podium that President Bush has looked at it as a tangled and complex issue because some African leaders back then at that time participated in that.

But why not at least hold discussions now and talk to some of the African-American leaders of this day and just discuss why, to help untangle the situation that President Bush has about it?

FLEISCHER: The president's focus has been to look forward, and the president believes that one of the most important ways to help all Americans, and particularly Americans, as the president traveled to the Midwest this week, through educational opportunities to have more chances of better life in America. And that's where the president has been focused on. And so, I just have to leave it at that. There are no changes.

And I'm aware the former administration had many thoughts about many issues. And the former administration took whatever actions -- or in this case, they did not take any action on that question of reparations.

So different administrations have different approaches. The president, his approach is to look forward and to focus on education.

QUESTION: So he doesn't look at the issue of having just even holding discussions with some of the African-American leaders? Because they're really finding that this is a serious issue more so than what was thought in the past about the fact that slaves -- the United States government did sanction slavery.

FLEISCHER: Yes, as I indicated, the president is looking forward. And I've addressed the question directly on reparations before.

QUESTION: Ari, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld says he's not at war with the legislative branch of the Congress over the Crusader Army missile system, that he terminated it. And yet, there are Washington watchers who say that there will be a battle royale that is now shaping up...

HEMMER: We're going to get away the White House here. If they go back to Middle East peace, we will bring it to you. But, clearly, the issue right now before Ari Fleischer and the White House is, in their words, reminding Israel of its responsibilities in the Middle East process -- all this right now during a climate where many in the Middle East do expect reprisals by the Israeli military, possibly in Gaza. That's the word floating around the region right now. To this point, though, no military action has been taken. But there are many observers right now watching and waiting to see how and when Israel responds after the suicide bombing of Tuesday.




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