Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
2:30 P.M. EST
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. I'd like to give you word on the President's schedule. Then I have an important announcement I'd like to make on campaign finance reform.
The President this morning began his day with his usual briefings from the CIA and the FBI. He then convened a meeting of the National Security Council. The President met with President Musharraf of Pakistan for approximately 45 minutes to an hour in the Oval Office, and then had a one-hour lunch with President Musharraf back in the residence.
During their time together, they discussed the war on terrorism, bilateral relations with India and Pakistan, and economic assistance for Pakistan. The President views President Musharraf as a stalwart ally in the war on terrorism and is very grateful to President Musharraf for the strong actions that Pakistan has taken.
Later today the President will meet United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan. And then the President will depart for the State Department where he will make remarks to Cabinet and sub-Cabinet government employees about the importance of government service. And the President will say that it's important to leave Washington better than we found it. It's a real message -- a team-building message from, in effect, the manager of the federal government to many senior-level government employees.
MR. FLEISCHER: No, it is not. I was not able to change that.
Approximately one hour ago, the President was just informed about a very troubling development on campaign finance reform, as a result of a provision that is a multimillion-dollar soft money loophole that was inserted in the Shays-Meehan substitute campaign finance reform legislation in the middle of the night last night.
This change, which was not in previous versions of the bill, is engineered to allow soft money to pay off existing hard-money debt for the Republican National Committee and the Democratic National Committee. The President views this as an unfair, unwise and unwarranted change that makes something that is currently illegal and tries to turn it into something that is legal. And the President believes that this should be removed from the version of the bill that is being considered on the floor.
With that, I'm happy to take your questions.
Q: Will he veto?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President, again, wants to sign something that improves the system. That provision, that multimillion-dollar loophole is not in the Ney-Wynn bill; it is in the Shays-Meehan bill.
Q: What's the answer to the question?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President wants to sign something that will improve the system. The President hopes that the House will take the appropriate action.
Q: This is the only time that you have spoken out one way or the other for the -- or against campaign finance reform on behalf of the President. Do you continue to assure us today that the President is doing nothing behind the scenes to help the Republican Party in its interests defeat campaign finance --
MR. FLEISCHER: Actually, Bill, I've been talking on a regular basis about campaign finance reform and what the President thinks. And the President wants to sign a bill that improves the system. The reason nobody could talk about this before was it didn't exist until midnight last night.
Q: But is he doing anything behind the scenes, as has been suggested, to help defeat it for the Republican Party?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President would like to see something pass. But, no, the President has not made any phone calls or done anything of that nature.
Q: Was the President aware, when he announced support earlier today for having -- that it ought to take effect immediately, was he aware of that amendment as seen by supporters as a way to kill the bill?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the President -- this change was made in the middle of the night; it's on page 79 of the Shays substitute. And the President was not aware of that until after his meeting with President Musharraf.
Q: No, I'm asking --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the President's statement about an immediate effective date still applies.
Q: Did he know when he said that, did you guys understand that the supporters of the bill see that amendment as a way to kill the bill? In effect, he's speaking out to kill the bill.
MR. FLEISCHER: Why would that kill a bill? If it's a good reform, then shouldn't it go into law? And, of course, Shays-Meehan always had an immediate effective date, they only changed it recently. So that was part of the Shays-Meehan bill previously. I think that doesn't make sense, that that would kill the bill. I don't know how it would do that.
Q: Is this multimillion-dollar loophole the only deal-breaker in the Shays-Meehan substitute?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, I described it on behalf of the President as unfair, unwarranted and unwise. The President still wants to sign something that improves the system. The House has its opportunity to work its will and to remove this provision.
Q: Is this the only deal-breaker, though --
MR. FLEISCHER: I haven't used that word, Ann. I've described it as I've described it.
Q: Are the other 78 pages okay?
MR. FLEISCHER: Shays-Meehan makes several improvements to the current system. There are some things in there that the President does not see as improving the system. The same could be said about the other legislation that's pending, as well, in Ney-Wynn.
Q: So he supported -- today the President supported an amendment that supporters of campaign finance reform say will kill the bill, and you've come out against an amendment that has been attached to the bill. Is there any reason we should really think that you're for this bill?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'm not really sure why a supporter of reform would say this is a good bill, these changes need to be made, but we don't want to make them right now. I mean, I don't see why that would kill a bill.
Q: You know why.
Q: Come on, you were on the Hill long enough.
Q: You know, Ari, they're concerned that it will play a role in the 2002 election, so that you might get more support if it takes effect after 2002, because some Republicans are concerned that it would alter the balance in the House of Representatives leading up to November elections.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think, frankly, if it's a good reform, the reform should go into effect. That's what the President believes. I think that to make that argument means perhaps that the reformers aren't as dedicated to reform as they would indicate.
Q: So how can we take the President's comments today about how he would like to see something that takes effect immediately? If a bill comes to his desk and takes effect after the November elections, would he sign it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as I indicated this morning, if you recall, that if it has a later effective date the President has said that it's not the end of the world. But the President does believe that it should take place immediately. And I think he has a lot of support for that on Capitol Hill. But in terms of -- well, go ahead.
Q: So it's not the end of the world, meaning he would sign it?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has indicated he will sign something that improves the system.
Q: Could you describe what exactly is wrong with the soft-money loophole?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, first of all, it is currently illegal to use soft money to pay off hard money debts. So it just seems like an odd so-called reform to take something that's currently illegal and legalize a million-dollar, multimillion-dollar infusion of soft money into the system. If campaign reform is designed to get soft money out of the system, then why are they changing something that is currently illegal about using the soft money and inviting more millions of dollars of soft money to pay off debts?
The other interesting issue about it, Steve, is if you take a look at the debts of the Republican National Committee and the Democratic National Committee, the Republican National Committee does not have any hard-money debt; the Democratic National Committee has approximately $10.8 million in debt, much of it hard, much of it soft.
Q: Might that be why you're opposed to the loophole?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think that's also one of the issues why this midnight change was put in there. No change should be designed to help one party or another party, it should be a fair reform to all.
Q: Ari, you said this morning that the regular meeting with the Congress leadership is going to be now every two weeks, instead of every week. Any particular reason for that?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President said that, himself, a couple of weeks ago at a press event. I think it's just scheduling logistics. They continue to like each other a lot, but biweekly meetings worked, as well -- or semi-weekly --
Q: The meeting today with the Secretary General was not on the schedule. Is this something that came up --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that was called out last night. The Secretary General was in town; he sought a meeting with the President and the President was able to accommodate.
Q: And how much time has been allowed --
MR. FLEISCHER: For that meeting?
Q: What time did it start?
MR. FLEISCHER: It starts now. I guess I won't be going to it. And I think it's a 20-minute meeting. A 20-minute meeting.
Q: What's on the table for that meeting?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think they'll talk about any number of items around the world, and certainly including Afghanistan.
Q: A couple questions about Pakistan. Did the President make any assurances to President Musharraf about the $3 billion in debt forgiveness that Pakistan wants? In the issues of being able to sell textiles, was there anything given by the U.S. on that? And the same with their ability to buy military goods from the U.S.
MR. FLEISCHER: On the question of textiles, discussions are ongoing. That's an important topic. There are many people on the Hill who have strong opinions about that issue. So those discussions are ongoing.
On the question of economic assistance, the President has committed to $200 million worth of economic assistance to Pakistan, which will result in a paying down of approximately $1 billion worth of Pakistani debt. That's for the '03 budget.
Q: Is that new money, or is that the old --
MR. FLEISCHER: That's for the '03 budget, new money. In addition, they did talk about additional funding this year, to help Pakistan with education assistance, law enforcement assistance and economic development. No dollar amount.
Q: How about military? Well, first of all, let's go back to $200 million. That will -- how does that help pay down $1 billion in debt?
MR. FLEISCHER: Ron, that is a great question, and I have asked it to the people who do work in the realm of international debt. And I have been advised that if you give $200 million of assistance, it pays down $1 billion of debt. I can only repeat it. I can't understand it. (Laughter.)
Mr. Sanger, perhaps you can explain it.
Q: I'll read it in the paper tomorrow. How about the military goods? Are they going to be able the F-16s, any of the military goods they need?
MR. FLEISCHER: On military matters, they did discuss, and we will have a program of military cooperation in exchange with the Pakistani government. That has been suspended for an approximately 10-year period. And the President views that as a very constructive change in the relationship, showing the long-term commitment of the United States and Pakistan.
Q: But no immediate progress --
MR. FLEISCHER: Keep going.
Q: Okay, is there any immediate progress -- oh, you're --
MR. FLEISCHER: I guess you're keeping going. On other issues involving the military. The President is meeting with Secretary Rumsfeld this afternoon. You may want to get updates from the Pentagon about any other discussions about anything involving weapons or weapons systems. On the question of the F-16s, no change in the status from what the President said in New York City on that topic.
Q: Ari, Musharraf said, regarding Daniel Pearl, that he is reasonably sure that he is alive. Did he offer the President any more reassurance or explain how or why --
MR. FLEISCHER: The President brought up the question of Mr. Pearl in the Oval Office during their discussions. And I won't speak for President Musharraf, but the President is pleased with the actions the Pakistani government has been taking. They've been very earnest in their efforts to help us to have Mr. Pearl come back to the United States. But we still do not know exactly where he is.
Q: But did you get the impression, based on what he said today, that there was anything new or any progress, I guess, in the last 24 hours?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, certainly, Pakistan has been very aggressive in making arrests, which have been helpful in leading to information. It just hasn't gotten all the way there yet, unfortunately, in terms of allowing the release of Mr. Pearl.
Q: Did they discuss in particular the arrest yesterday of the man believed to be a chief suspect in this, Sheikh Omar?
MR. FLEISCHER: I was at the lunch portion in the Oval and I have not heard that level of detail about that.
Q: Ari, do you believe this is payback for Musharraf because he's taking a hard stand against Islamic militants?
MR. FLEISCHER: I can't begin to guess at the motivation of kidnappers. What they've done is just wrong. It's terrorist, it's kidnapping, and the United States simply says, again, he's a journalist and he should be released.
Q: One more on Pakistan?
MR. FLEISCHER: We're coming to the back. I'm working my way forward -- backward.
Q: Ari, were there discussions of Osama bin Laden, where he may be? And President Musharraf made a point of saying that tensions with India seem to be declining a bit, so will that allow -- did Musharraf give any indication that he would use his forces to actively search within his own country for bin Laden?
MR. FLEISCHER: They did discuss Osama bin Laden, and obviously, neither one of us -- neither the President, nor President Musharraf knows exactly where he is. But we are working very cooperatively with Pakistan in trying to find --
Q: Is there a commitment to increase the effort on the part of the Pakistanis?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's fair to say there's a lot of effort already in that area.
Q: Two questions on Musharraf's meeting. The President has said on many occasions that he was quite concerned about missile proliferation, particularly from North Korea, one of the axis powers. And, of course, Pakistan has historically been one of the largest importers of missiles from North Korea. Was there any discussion of this, and were there any commitments from President Musharraf to cease importing missile technology from North Korea?
MR. FLEISCHER: There was no discussion that I heard.
Q: Is any of the aid money contingent on Pakistan ceasing its missile purchases from North Korea?
MR. FLEISCHER: Not that I've heard. That did not come up in the meeting that I was attending.
Q: And on Osama bin Laden -- this was raised before -- President Musharraf, you may recall, suggested about two or three weeks ago that he thought bin Laden was dead. Did he repeat that today and is that still his belief --
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, nobody knows for sure. He doesn't know for sure if he's alive or not. And most of that conversation took place in the Oval Office, and so I want to hesitate to characterize it in full. They did talk about how no one knows exactly where he is. So I think the implication is that he is likely alive.
Q: Musharraf spoke about education reform as a means of curbing extremism. And I'm just wondering what specific steps is the U.S. taking to address some of these underlying cultural tensions that help breed terrorism.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it was a very interesting discussion on education, because the President thinks -- and this is very long-term thinking in terms of how to work around the world, particularly in countries that have been known to foster terrorism, where terrorists seem to come from -- the importance of education. As the President says, it's through education that young people have hope. And the President has always been very clear in all the statements he's made -- whether it was about North Korea, Iran, Iraq, or anywhere -- the Palestinian Authority -- that it's the people that the United States is concerned with, that they are victims of regimes that invite terrorism and that practice terrorism.
But the overwhelming number of people in these areas, these countries, just want hope, they want opportunity, they want economic development. And that's why the President enjoys talking so much with President Musharraf about education reform, because they are moving forward in Pakistan with education reform, as President Musharraf discussed.
Q: There was this big push in the early stages of the war to kind of communicate the U.S. side, and to cultural outreach. What is the status of that? What are we doing?
MR. FLEISCHER: On cultural outreach?
Q: You know, with your communication offices kind of sending out the U.S. message -- I'm just wondering, has that branched into something else?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, that continues. The efforts of the Coalition Information Center continue.
Q: Ari, President Bush said something today about the education reform in Pakistan, that this year he would be putting up $34 million. Is that on top of -- is it $100 million this year, as well, and $34 million?
MR. FLEISCHER: The $200 million, it would go for the debt reduction. It would have a wide-spread impact because it frees up other money that Pakistan would otherwise have used that would have prohibited them from spending more on education.
Q: But specifically, the money is targeted for education reform with a religious component to change, to get into sciences and things of that nature -- mathematics and Pakistan --
MR. FLEISCHER: That's Pakistan's determination, how to spend their dollars. And the President is pleased with the efforts they're making, but it's not for the United States to dictate on a micro level how Pakistan should spend its money.
Q: Ari, just to clarify, you said additional money is coming in terms of economic aid, education assistance, et cetera. Do you have any ballpark about what you're talking about for this year -- on that additional aid that's forthcoming?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, they did not discuss a specific dollar amount.
Q: Is there a specific amount that you all are looking at to help?
MR. FLEISCHER: We'll keep you advised if a specific dollar amount is attached to that. President Musharraf is going to have additional meetings with Secretary Powell, he met with Secretary O'Neill this morning; as I mentioned, his meeting with Secretary Rumsfeld shortly. So we'll keep you advised about that.
Q: Ari, on the educational stuff, what he seemed to be saying, General Musharraf, was that he was going to change the madrasas from being a center for religious and often extremist teachings to one where they teach a basic curriculum of science and math and that sort of thing. To what extent is the U.S. involved in helping with that, in helping with the training of teachers and materials, and all of the things that will be necessary to reorient that?
And secondly, there has been some talk of trying to prevent a new generation of terrorists from coming out of any number of places, including these kind of schools. To what extent is that kind of thinking part of this effort?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, as the President said at the news conference, that he believes through education young people will have help, will have opportunity. And so it is an important part of the thinking about how to deal with regions of the world in which people have engaged in terrorist acts against our country. It's an important long-term, forward-looking approach that, I think it's accurate to say, won't have an immediate dividend, but will have a long-term dividend. And that's why, again, the President discusses it with different leaders. It's not just President Musharraf with whom he has spoken about that important value.
Now, in terms of the role the United States is going to play, the United States is open to different ideas with Pakistan in terms of how to develop closer ties on something of this nature. Education is an internal Pakistani issue, so that would have to be something that the Pakistanis would welcome, but the United States is open on that matter.
Q: So there's no specific role now determined? That is yet to be determined?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct. You may want to talk to the Department of Education and just see if they currently have any international programs with Pakistan that I'm not aware of. But that's the broader tenor of it.
Q: Global warming, which you've said is going to be coming up tomorrow -- could you remind us of why it was necessary for us to come up with a substitute? What was so wrong with the Kyoto pact? And why was the, I guess, the voluntary and market-based approach that the President is going to be talking about tomorrow, why is that so much better than a positive commitment like Kyoto envisioned?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me -- two points here, and let me take your second one first. On the question of your premise about what the President will announce tomorrow, I'd urge you to be cautious in assuming that you know what the President is going to announce tomorrow.
On the first part of it, the President views the Kyoto Treaty as flawed for two principal reasons. One, it exempts many developing nations around the world from participating in something that has to be a global effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And he does not think it's fair to reduce such giant nations -- to ignore such giant nations as India or China as part of a global effort to reduce greenhouse gases.
Also, the President is very concerned about the effect Kyoto would have on America's workers, on American jobs and on the American economy; that it is not the right remedy to have a massive reduction below 1990 levels. If that were to go into effect, it would have a screeching halt effect on the economy and people would lose their jobs as a result. The President believes that we can have economic growth and environmental enhancement, and that's what he'll be discussing tomorrow.
Q: Has the President been briefed on the February 4th Predator strike in Afghanistan? And is he confident that a military target was hit?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President, of course, has been briefed as part of his regular morning meetings. And I think you have heard from the Defense Department directly about that topic, and the President is satisfied fully with what Defense has informed him.
Q: More specifically, there was a report this morning that a senior al Qaeda finance official may have been hit, as opposed to innocent civilians. Can you shed any light at all on that?
MR. FLEISCHER: I cannot confirm that information.
Q: On Pakistan, please. Did the two Presidents discuss, number one, the question of cross-border terrorism, which has been holding up their dialogue? And secondly, India was given a list of 20 people, the criminals they want repatriated. Fourteen of them are Indian citizens in Pakistan. And did they discuss this aspect -- when the President said that he will promote a dialogue -- did they discuss these two issues, namely cross-border terrorism and meeting the Indian list?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you heard President Musharraf, himself, address the issue in the news conference about cross-border terrorism, when he made a determination -- a commitment to fight terrorism of all forms, everywhere. So I think President Musharraf directly addressed that question.
Q: Is Kofi Annan coming to the stakeout?
MR. FLEISCHER: You'd have to ask him, I could not tell you. I don't know.
END 2:51 P.M. EST
George W. Bush, Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/272498