Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:45 P.M. EST
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. I'll give you a report on the President's day, then I'll be happy to take any questions you have.
The President this morning had a briefing with the Central Intelligence Agency and the FBI, to go over the latest developments on the war on terrorism. On national security matters, convened a meeting of the National Security Council.
Early this morning, the President held an event on the South Lawn, where he promoted several energy efficient vehicles that are hybrid uses of cars. It's part of the President's overall energy program, 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 will be an event here in Washington, at the Voice of America headquarters.
And the final public event on the President's schedule 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 federal government is hoping to help states with -- homeland security, as well as focusing on education reform and on welfare reform.
That's a summary of the President's day. Helen.
Q: Ari, why would this administration choose a man for couterterrorism who is so associated with the dark side of the Iran Contra scandal, Admiral Poindexter?
MR. FLEISCHER: When you say, choose him for counterterrorism, can you be more specific?
Q: He's in the Pentagon, he's been appointed head of DARPA, which is a counterterrorist office, developing plans, demonstrations with information.
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not aware of any appointment.
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me just say about Admiral Poindexter, Admiral Poindexter is somebody who this administration thinks is an outstanding American and an outstanding citizen who has done a very good job in what he has done for our country, serving in the military.
Q: How can you say that, when he told Colonel North to lie?
MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, I think your views on Iran Contra are well-known, but the President does believe that Admiral Poindexter served --
Q: It isn't my view, this is the prosecutor for the United States.
MR. FLEISCHER: I understand. The President thinks that Admiral Poindexter has served our nation very well.
MR. FLEISCHER: That's the President's thoughts.
Q: Do you know his record?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm sure you will inform me.
Q: I don't have to, all you have to do is look it up.
Q: There are several manufacturers of hybrid vehicles in the United States. Two of them were conspicuously absent from the South Lawn 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?
MR. FLEISCHER: My understanding is this event was set up in connection with domestic producers of automobiles. 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 consumer should have the 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.
Q: 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 would or who would not be here?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, but I think the event was set up through their good offices, and so they involved domestic automobiles.
Q: So this was in no way sending a signal visually that the President only wanted to emphasize domestic manufacturers, as opposed to outside manufacturers?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. I think that's who was at the White House, who joined the President for the event today. But more broadly speaking, no. 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 as many options at as low a price as is possible.
Q: Is that really about trade, though? Aren't these other vehicles manufactured in this country?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, Major's question was about other manufacturers.
Q: Yes, but the vehicles are manufactured in this country.
Q: Some of them are manufactured here.
MR. FLEISCHER: But they're domestic -- the group that helped sponsor today's event in collaboration with the White House was domestic manufacturers, regardless of location of 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.
Q: I mean, you see the issue there, Ari? When the President stands by any car, it sends a very powerful signal to Americans who are watching it. Is it customary for the White House to give such free reign to someone who has such a particular interest in the President standing by their car as opposed to somebody else's?
MR. FLEISCHER: If the interest is promoting conservation, the answer is, yes. The President thinks that'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.
Q: Just not all of them.
MR. FLEISCHER: The ones that were there -- like I said, you understand the President's position on trade.
Q: Ari, 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?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't believe Zal talked about policing 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 Afghanistan Army, is providing help, is providing weaponry, is providing training to the government of Afghanistan so they have a well equipped army, a well trained army, capable of policing the country.
The President's position is unchanged about the use of the 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 its 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 --
Q: But Rumsfeld did use the words, "police the whole country" when he talked last week about setting up the 30,000 American troops there to control chaos among the warlords. Are you saying there's a difference between combat and non-combat forces?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think there's a big difference between police and combat. And the President has said and the Secretary knows -- and it'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. The President --
Q: But 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 you're making.
MR. 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, 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's 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. It's why the United States is going through the steps it's going to, to help train an Afghanistan army which will be the first real Afghanistan army in some 20 years.
Q: And in the meantime U.S. troops can be used to police what you just called warlordism?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I did not indicated that. I said the purpose of America's military is to fight and win wars.
Q: Then what is Rumsfeld talking about with these 30,000 troops that could be used to police the whole country?
MR. 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 is any different from the President's.
Q: The President said today he's fully satisfied with the support, the help President Pervez Musharraf has been giving the U.S. government in the investigation of the kidnapping and the killing of Danny Pearl. You said this morning that the U.S. government is pursuing the extradition. And the question is, if you do you know have an extradition treaty with Pakistan, how are you going to get him extradited?
MR. FLEISCHER: I said this morning that the United States would very much like to get our hands on Omar Sheik 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, 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. It went into effect in 1942, prior to Pakistan becoming a sovereign state -- because that was at 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.
Q: How can that be? There was no Pakistan in 1942.
MR. FLEISCHER: It's an interesting question, Bill, but that's the lawyers' point, they do believe it remains in effect even though it was --
Q: The treaty was with the British?
MR. FLEISCHER: The treaty was with Pakistan, which was under British rule.
Q: But there wasn't any Pakistan, as such.
MR. FLEISCHER: It was with the Pakistani authorities under British rule. So I think probably --
Q: There were no Pakistani authorities.
MR. FLEISCHER: -- that time. Of course there were Pakistani authorities; it was under British rule, but you still had Pakistani authorities.
Q: Nineteen forty-nine.
Q: It was part of India.
MR. FLEISCHER: You can argue it with the lawyers if you choose, but I can tell you --
Q: Bring them on. (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: Lawyers like to argue these type of points about 1932.
Q: Does Pakistan agree with that interpretation?
MR. FLEISCHER: You'd have to ask Pakistan.
Q: Do you have any communication from them one way or the other? On this broader issue, or on the specific issue?
MR. FLEISCHER: I just -- 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's 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 helping to bring about that result.
Q: But they are extraditable?
MR. FLEISCHER: Connie?
Q: Why would we want them back here? Wouldn't we be just as happy to have them executed in Pakistan rather than put Americans at risk?
MR. 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 our position, that we would be interested in having him sent to the United States, Sheik Omar to the United States, and the others who are responsible for the killing.
Q: I have 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 to be domestic producers, but Chrysler is?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. My understanding is 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.
Q: And on the Pakistan issues, there have been some reports suggesting that there were calls from the kidnappers back to Canada that might have suggested that there was an al Qaeda link to the kidnapping. Do you have any evidence to that effect?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I don't have any information on that, David.
Q: Ari? Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: We have an orderly process of working in the front and making our way to the back. We're going to get there.
Q: Ari, 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 underway to kidnap Americans?
MR. 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, what's happened, about the risks that journalists take in serving a cause and 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 would 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.
Q: How about links between al Qaeda and Omar Sheik, are those becoming more thoroughly known and more clearly established?
MR. FLEISCHER: There's nothing concrete I can point to, Major.
Q: Ari, what can the White House say about this report on anthrax, that there's been a suspect for three months?
MR. 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. There'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.
Q: Well, is it an American, and is it a scientist from Fort Dietrick that is being looked at out of the group that you're saying, possibly?
MR. 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.
Q: And on a personal note for the victims, some of the victims who are still alive who suffered from the anthrax have not heard from the Homeland Security Director, have not heard from the President, have not heard from congressional -- like the ones who represent the Brentwood Postal facility. And some say there's 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 read well, who are still going through years of possible rehabilitation after this?
MR. FLEISCHER: I would hope that's not the case.
Q: Well, it is the case. They have not been contacted.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, 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 are hospitalized, the federal Centers for Disease Control was intimately involved in all areas involving the anthrax that was -- the anthrax attacks. So it's been a very difficult chapter for all concerned, particularly the families of 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 all the hoaxes that followed those attacks. 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 anything more specific where they want to talk to anybody in the federal government, I know the federal government throughout the various agencies would want to respond.
Q: Ari, does the White House hold the view that Osama bin Laden is still alive?
MR. 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
Q: Ari, can we go back to the treaty that you brought up? What will be the next step if, in fact, White House authorities have now determined that there may be an agreement? What are you folks going to do now?
MR. FLEISCHER: The step remains the same, even without it. And that is we have been in contact with the government of Pakistan, the embassy in Islamabad has been in touch. And Pakistan understands that we would like to have Omar Sheik brought to the United States.
Q: So the White House is on the same page as 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?
MR. FLEISCHER: The White House is on the same page with the Justice Department, that's correct.
Q: Ari, 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. This met with a very positive response from our various Arab governments. I was wondering, what is the U.S. attitude to the peace plan and are you working together with Prince Abdullah to try and work out the details?
MR. 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 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. We want to contribute to that process. The President believes the Mitchell accords are the best path to pursue.
Q: Is there any -- to follow up, Ari, is there any idea of getting together with Prince Abdullah or with representatives of him to discuss the details --
MR. 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.
Q: Back on to anthrax for a minute, what's the sense here about the pace of the investigation?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that the experience that we're 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 very 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.
Q: Does the White House feel the government has a full handle now on the inventories of anthrax at universities, at military facilities?
MR. 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, the best that I've been briefed on that topic.
Q: Ari, on the Superfund, if the administration is opposed to reauthorizing the Superfund tax, then how does the administration expect these cleanup sites to funded, or how would you expect to fund them?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the most likely way, Paula, 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 that 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 cleanups become a matter between lawyers and not a matter between cleanup crews. And that's where the Superfund program has languished, and that's why there was bipartisan opposition to reauthorizing the Superfund program without reform.
The President would like to see the brownfield legislation, which created some reasonable caps on legal issues, serve as a precedent for a successful Superfund reform. And that way sites can be cleaned up.
Q: Ari, can I follow that? 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?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there's a formula in place, it's a 70/30 formula. And it deals with a couple of the complicated issues involving 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 is 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 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 cleanup with a fair spread of the costs, that includes the industry.
Q: 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?
MR. 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 can 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 sites were not getting cleaned up.
Q: But where would the money come from? You say the program needs to be reformed. In what manner? Where does the President believe the money should come from, from the government or from industry?
MR. 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 underway. But in the meanwhile, it has not stopped this administration from engaging in cleanups. For example, as you know, the Environmental Protection Agency has announced a major cleanup 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 cleanup.
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 cleanups. And that's why the President wants to reform it, like the brownfields.
Q: Last week the Treasury Secretary said that he'd like to preside or at least see happen 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 time table be?
MR. 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 have been 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 flat tax supporters and creation of perhaps some type of national sales tax. 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.
Q: -- 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 --
MR. 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.
Q: In the past, has he taken a position, flat tax versus sales?
MR. FLEISCHER: He has not.
Russell, you have not joined us for a while, welcome back.
Q: Thank you. The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that Secretary O'Neill is heading the task force on corporate reform, and that they're exploring ways to make it easier for the government to punish corporate officers and direct -- and misleading shareholders.
The question, is the President going to take a position on corporate reform?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President created that task force, so the answer is, yes. They're working right now on a range of options for what to do on the corporate governance side. As you know, in 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 in 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 the 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.
Q: Ari, the Supreme Court today declined to take a case involving the 10 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 10 commandments on public property is an improper mixture of church and state, or is acceptable?
MR. FLEISCHER: If I recall, there was a case where there was a judge in a courthouse who had the 10 commandments posted on his walls. And the President thought there was nothing inappropriate about doing that.
Q: Does he believe it should be handled at the state level or federal level?
MR. 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.
Q: Louisiana Senator Breaux has called for the Federal Trade Commission's funeral practices rule to apply to crematories and cemeteries, as well as at the funeral homes. Does the President agree, and what was his reaction to the 285 uncremated bodies found in sheds, pets caskets and underbrush near that non-working crematory in Noble, Georgia?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's reaction was that it was a horror. I think the --
Q: So he supports Senator Byrd's --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, on your question, I think it's a serious one. And I'll take it and let you know.
Q: Okay. 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 Governor Keating as well as Dr. Coburn, who is an OB/GYN, while agreeing with Secretary Powell, who, without any medical training I know of, urges condom use?
MR. FLEISCHER: Lester, the President's position, as I explained it some 10 days ago, is very clear. The President --
Q: Does he disagree with both of these --
MR. FLEISCHER: The President believes that the federal government needs to have an 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.
Q: In other words, condoms?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President believes in a balanced approach, as I indicated.
Q: Ari, on Angola?
MR. FLEISCHER: Bill?
Q: The President this morning said that he has not yet made a decision on steel imports. Has he been having meetings? Do you anticipate that he will 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?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes. Under Section 201 of the International Trade Commission, the President has until March 6th 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 to the EITC 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.
Q: Do you anticipate further meetings here, other groups coming in to see him over the next two weeks?
MR. 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.
Q: I just have 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?
MR. 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 was that the United States made clear to Pakistan that the United States would be interested in having the Sheik sent here.
Q: Can I just try again on Wendell's attempt to pin down this funding on the Superfund? We understand the President wants the reforms. But that's a separate issue from the funding. He is opposed to the corporate tax, and could you explain why? And if you're going to have funding -- and they're down to $28 million now -- the funding, it seems to me, has to come out of the general Treasury, so is that the President's wish?
MR. 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 in 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.
Q: Even with the reforms, the President is opposed to the old corporate tax, is that right?
MR. FLEISCHER: Not necessarily.
Q: Not necessarily?
MR. 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.
Q: Corporate tax, I'm not talking about corporate penalty. Corporate tax. He's opposed to corporate tax, is that right?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, because, again, as I indicated, if a responsible party 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.
Q: That's what I'm talking about.
MR. FLEISCHER: 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 -- or 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.
Q: If he gets his reforms he is not adamantly opposed to the corporate tax, he would consider that along with -- taxes on the --
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is open for how best to get it done. But, again, there is -- there is a healthy, successful precedent that was created in the brownfields 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 mind.
Q: Ari, last week Dr. Lindsey said that the White House would not support naming Chairman Greenspan's successor ahead of his announcement that he was going to resign, yet that's what he 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?
MR. 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.
Q: In abstract of, you know, naming whoever it is -- (laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: So it's not a hypothetical, it's an abstract?
Q: Right, exactly.
MR. 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. (Laughter.)
Q: Ari, on Angola?
MR. FLEISCHER: Connie? Then we'll come back to Major.
Q: Thank you. What impact do you think the killing of Jonas Zavimbi will have on the talks tomorrow with dos Santos? And does the White House think that the dos Santos government set Zavimbi up for assassination, in effect, to get him out of the way before dos Santos gets here?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the United States is still committed to achieving peace -- 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 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 on the death of Mr. Zavimbi.
Q: Any coincidence about the time?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm sorry?
Q: Any speculation about the coincidence of the time?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have no speculation on that. Major?
Q: 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 thing.
So 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 Islam?
MR. FLEISCHER: Major, 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. Within one week of the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and in 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 that 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.
Q: Does he believe these comments from someone who is as well-known and as widely watched as Reverend Robertson undermined that attempt by the President to send this message?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think all Americans, virtually all Americans, agree with the President on that position. Anybody who doesn't is stating an unfortunate view.
Q: Ari, as 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?
MR. FLEISCHER: You will hear that in the President's remarks, so you will be able to get that directly from the President himself shortly. But the President --
Q: -- on the independence of VOA?
MR. FLEISCHER: 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 it 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.
Q: 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?
MR. 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 in their coverage, and the accuracy of their coverage. And that's what we're all committed to.
Q: Ari, can I just -- the extradition treaty -- just to go back in the time frame? Since this happened since you spoke with us earlier -- was it this morning that lawyers in the administration discovered this? Were they White House lawyers --
MR. 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 at the 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'd be happy to try to provide additional information throughout the day about this, since it has provided some interest here. I'd be more than happy to.
Q: But you say it was signed in 1931 and kicked in in 1942, is that right?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
Q: And did that have something to do with World War II? The United States was then in the war by that time, along with -- do you know if the war had anything to do with it?
MR. 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 the 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.
Q: And we do not know whether the Pakistanis are aware of this extradition treaty, is that right?
MR. FLEISCHER: I've given you all the information I have about -- they may be. I could not tell you.
Q: Can you give us some more information from the lawyers?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, I indicated I would.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.
END 1:26 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/272505