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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

White House Press Briefing

Aired September 20, 2002 - 12:40   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Let's go now to the White House. Ari Fleischer giving the daily briefing. Let's listen in.
The president thanked President Balkenende for the Netherlands' strong support, as expressed in a recent speech that was given to the United Nations by Netherlands.

The president also this morning called President Putin of Russia. The two spoke for approximately 30 minutes. They discussed the situation in Iraq. The president talked about the need to make certain that the United Nations passed resolutions that are firm, that accomplish the goals of disarmament and don't let Iraq avoid responsibility.

Following the meeting, the president met with a group of Republican governors who are in town visiting Washington. And then the president had a meeting with the Russian foreign minister and defense minister in the Oval Office. During that meeting, the three discussed the ABM Treaty, the situation in Georgia, as well as the situation in Iraq.

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECY.: And then the president had a meeting with Senator Phil Gramm and Senator Zell Miller, a bipartisan group that is working to get passage of homeland security in the Senate.

The president will later depart for Camp David, where he will spend the weekend.

With that, I can take your questions .

QUESTION: Is Russian still opposed to the president's proposed U.N. resolution?

FLEISCHER: I think you need to address any questions about Russian policy to the Russians. I can share with you a little bit more what the president said during this meeting.

The president was encouraged by the meeting. The president made clear in his phone call with President Putin his desire to work with President Putin. He said that President Putin is a world leader and that he wants to make certain that the United States and Russia work together, so that whatever comes out of the United Nations is different from the resolutions of the past. And that was the emphasis of the conversation from the president.

QUESTION: Did the president hear anything that would indicate he's closed the gap between the two nations?

FLEISCHER: Well, as I said, the president is encouraged. And I think you're going to continue to see ongoing diplomacy between now and whenever the vote takes place in the United Nations not only with Russia, but with other nations.

It's entirely appropriate for nations to think carefully about the votes that they will take and the exact language that will be offered.

And this is precisely what the president said he was going to do when he said he would go to the United Nations. This is the consultative process. This is how United Nations votes takes place. And the president is part of the diplomatic efforts that are under way to talk to Russia and other nations.

QUESTION: Let me take one more chance, one more shot at it. Do you know why he was encouraged? Specifically, what gave him reason for encouragement?

FLEISCHER: Well, you know, the president is confident that at the ultimate outcome of the action that would be taken in the United Nations, the president just cannot imagine the United Nations making the same mistake twice. The president can not imagine the United Nations again allowing an inspection regime that will not allow the world to know that Saddam Hussein is disarmed. The president thinks that would be a grave mistake, and that's something the president does not think the world would do.

QUESTION: Well, let's try it one more time. Did the president find any change, however subtle, in the Russian position as publicly expressed?

FLEISCHER: Well, I can only, again, describe to you what the president said in the course of these meetings. In the meetings with the foreign minister and defense minister of Russia, the president talked about how the status quo was not acceptable; that what the objective was is to make sure that Saddam Hussein has destroyed the weapons that he has.

I can also tell you, in the course of the meeting, the president cited what took place on September 11th. And the president reminded the Russian and the foreign and defense minister that the oceans that used to divide the United States from the world no longer protect our country the way they used to.

He said that it's come home to America. And he said his responsibility to make certain that he protects the American people and people around the world so, as President Bush said, we can make the world a more peaceful place. That's what the president said in his meeting with the ministers.

You heard Igor -- foreign minister. When he left the White House, Igor Ivanov walked out to the driveway and he said that he's -- the Russians have agreed to exchange views on how to make the inspectors more effective. So you heard that yourselves. QUESTION: Yes, but this isn't about inspectors I understand. I hear it's about disarmament.

FLEISCHER: And the point being how to make inspectors more effective so that we know disarmament is taking place.

QUESTION: You mentioned that the president wants a firm resolution; one that doesn't let Iraq avoid responsibility. Does that mean that the president is seeking in this resolution authorization to use force if Iraq does not comply?

FLEISCHER: I'm not going to get into the specific language. This is still something that is being discussed privately among the diplomats on the Security Council. And I think it's important to allow them the opportunity to do their work. And the exact language will be a continued point of discussion.

But the point the president is making is he wants to make certain that it is different from the past. Why would anybody want to support doing the same thing all over again? What good did it do for the world for the last 10 years? And that's the point the president's making.

QUESTION: Well, it sounds, if I may, like there's agreement, as the Russian ministers said, on inspections, trying to find the answer quickly and thoroughly, and maybe disagreement on what the United States is seeking authorization to use force if there is noncompliance.

FLEISCHER: No. You were not in the meetings, and no discussions along those lines came up.

QUESTION: Ari, (INAUDIBLE) comment on how to make inspections more effective, does that suggest to you the Russians now would support a new resolution?

FLEISCHER: Again, I think it's up to the Russians to categorize their position. I will not do so.

But it's fair to say that the consultative process is continuing. The diplomacy you would expect to take place is taking place. And nations are going to continue to think about this. It's an important issue. And I think they're hearing the president's message loud and clear. And the president wanted to make certain that they understood how strongly he feels about this issue and what is at stake, because the president feels what's at stake is peace around the world and the need to protect Americans and people in the region and elsewhere from the threats that Saddam Hussein presents, which are real and are growing.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

FLEISCHER: On the question of Georgia, the president stressed the importance of Russia protecting the sovereignty, the territorial integrity of Georgia. The president talked about the United States desire to work closely with the Georgian government. We have a program to train and equip the Georgian military so they can take action against the terrorists in Georgia. That was the extent of the conversation.

QUESTION: In view of the announced intentions of the anti- capitalist (INAUDIBLE) to shut down the city of Washington next Friday, D.C. Police Chief Charles Ramsey has advised the public, including thousands of federal workers to, quote, "bring a sandwich and a good CD." And my question is, the head of the federal government, for whom this city of Washington was created, doesn't agree that the city should be allowed to be closed down, does he, Ari?

FLEISCHER: I think this is an issue where we have seen before in Washington, D.C., and in many other cities, as there are international gatherings.

And the federal government is working very closely with the District of Columbia government and the police to make certain that two things happen: one, the American people's right to peaceful protest is honored and respected; and two, that the city can function and function well and function smoothly. That's the efforts of our government and we hope that'll be the case.

QUESTION: On October the 2nd, the president is scheduled to speak in Baltimore at a fund-raiser for Congressman Bob Ehrlich for governor, who has announced he will not raise taxes, while his rival, Lieutenant Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, has refused to say she won't raise taxes if she is elected, while new polls indicate that Ehrlich is now ahead. And my question, is the president glad that Congressman Ehrlich will not raise taxes, and has experienced nothing from the Maryland Republicans like Ms. Townsend has suffered from her fellow Maryland Democrats who have furiously questioned her whole campaign?

FLEISCHER: There's no question that there are a group of people who want to raise taxes on the American people. And the president is very supportive of those who want to lower taxes and prevent people from increasing taxes.

QUESTION: So he's happy with Ehrlich, isn't he?

FLEISCHER: I think the president is supporting him in the campaign. You can absolutely count on that.

QUESTION: I have a couple of questions. One, do you have any comments on this week (INAUDIBLE), a Pakistan national, who was sentenced to death (INAUDIBLE) two CIA employees (INAUDIBLE) appeals and all that. And he will be -- he will die on November 7th.

QUESTION: And do you have any comment on what -- because he was connected with Osama bin Laden and Al Qaida.

And another question is that most of these terrorists, according to The Washington Post and other reports, that they were based in Pakistan, they came from Pakistan and, after committing the crime, they fled to Pakistan. Now, according to the book also, that Pakistan is still a hub for terrorists. And another Pakistani man, who was -- who sent a letter to President Bush, he wanted to kill President Bush and other Cabinet members. And bin Laden -- he's in jail, and he was released this week, and fled to Pakistan.

FLEISCHER: On your first point, I have nothing specific to report on that, that one individual matter.

But more broadly, as you know, the president met with the United Nations with the leaders of Pakistan and India, and he stressed in his meetings the importance of ending cross-border infiltration. This remains a very important topic, and one that is constantly discussed at the highest levels of the administration repeatedly.

QUESTION: Foreign Minister Ivanov said that he would like to continue exchanging views on how to make weapons inspections more effective.

Is it the position of the administration that this might reflect a greater openness from Russia in terms of perhaps tougher inspections or a U.N. resolution that would reflect some changes?

FLEISCHER: No, there really is nothing new I can add beyond what I shared with you on the president said in these meetings. The president stressed in the meetings the importance of making certain that the United Nations doesn't make the same mistake twice and that it's important to have a different type of inspection, one that is effective, one that will make certain that Iraq has disarmed.

That's what this is about. This is not about inspections, this is about disarmament.

O'BRIEN: Ari Fleischer at the White House. You've had a sampling of the day's briefing. The briefing continues on. We will continue to monitor it, but we are going to press on with other matters.

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