Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:20 P.M. EST
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. Let me update you on the President's day, then I have a statement I'd like to make about something that just took place in Vienna.
The President began this morning with a bipartisan breakfast with the congressional leadership from both the House and the Senate. He discussed the latest developments in the war on terror, and continued his consultations with members of Congress.
From there, the President had his intelligence briefing, and then he had an FBI briefing, and then he convened a meeting of the National Security Council.
And the President will this afternoon depart the White House to go to a small investor roundtable in Virginia, and make remarks on the economy. The President is going to focus on the importance of passing the domestic agenda, passing the budget, and particularly the economic program the President announced involving elimination of the double taxation on dividends.
Let me make an announcement about what just took place in Vienna. The IAEA board of governors resolution is a clear indication that the international community will not accept a North Korea nuclear weapons program. We are pleased that a broad cross-section of nations -- including China, France and the United Kingdom -- voted to find North Korea in violation of its international obligations and to report this matter to the United Nations Security Council.
Today's vote demonstrates that this is not a bilateral issue between the United States and North Korea; this is a dispute between North Korea and the world. The United States seeks a multilateral solution to this program through diplomacy. We plan to work closely with members of the Security Council and other friends and allies toward our shared objective with the elimination of North Korea's nuclear weapons program in a verifiable and irreversible manner.
With that, I'm happy to take your questions. Steve.
Q: What did you think of North Korea's attempt to get Britain to be an intermediary between you and North Korea over the nuclear issue?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, this is a matter that North Korea has taken provocative steps that have caused great concern around the world, not just for the United States, not just for Japan or for Russia or China or South Korea or not for England. But this is a matter to be settled through diplomacy and through multilateral action.
I want to bring to your attention one interesting point about when, repeatedly, the administration has made the case that North Korea is continuing to further isolate itself. Compare what took place in Vienna today to what took place in Vienna when North Korea previously engaged in provocative actions in 1993. In 1993, when the IAEA voted on a similar matter, the vote at that time was 28 in favor, two voted against, and there were four abstentions against the position of North Korea. This time the vote was 31 in favor, nobody opposed, and just two abstentions. So North Korea continues to march backward in time only to the detriment of the people of North Korea.
Q: Yesterday there was a news conference with Senators Liebermann, McCain, and Senator Lindsay Graham. And they said that France may be trying to weaken NATO as a way of improving their status in the European Union. Does the White House have any thoughts about that and has the White House had an contacts directly with President Chirac?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, certainly, the President talked to President Chirac just a few days ago, as you know. The President is focused on the results. That is what the President cares most about. The President would like to see as much unanimity as possible on the European continent.
But the President is delighted to see how much European support there is for the American position, and for the position of Turkey. The President thinks it's vital that the people of Europe, and the governments of Europe, not turn their back on Turkey. And the President knows that the majority, the overwhelming majority of Europeans will not do that.
There continue to be a small number of European nations that continue to isolate themselves from their fellow Europeans. That's regrettable. But nevertheless, at the end of the day, still, no matter what position ultimately France, Germany, or Belgium takes -- and nobody has any hope that Germany will change its position -- at the end of the day, we will remain friends and allies with each of those three nations. Our alliance has gone through strains before; we're going through a strain now. But more importantly, the alliance is broadly unified, despite the strains that have been brought upon by these three nations.
Q: Is the administration, as the White House moves towards trying to craft a second resolution at the United Nations, are you laying down any red lines, as you did with the crafting of Resolution 1441?
MR. FLEISCHER: On a possible second resolution at the United Nations? No, I don't think it's going to be a complicated matter. I think there will be the usual wordsmithing and discussions that take place in New York. And it still remains somewhat premature to get into the exact wording. I think many of the nations that would be involved want to see what Hans Blix reports on Friday, and then we'll have more to indicate after that.
Q: But are you going in with any red lines, as you did with 1441, where you said it has to demand disarmament and there were a few other things that you said need to be in there.
MR. FLEISCHER: The one thing the President has said that a second resolution must do is enforce the first resolution, Resolution 1441, which called for immediate compliance by Saddam Hussein, said there would be serious consequences if there was not immediate compliance, and said that the resolution would be binding. Not optional, not negotiable, but binding.
Q: Ari, a philosophical question, if I may, that our editors would like us to ask the administration today -- in a variety of venues. Something that the critics of this administration have said both domestically and abroad when it comes to Iraq is that they still do not understand the need not only to go to war, but to go to war now to disarm Iraq and Saddam Hussein. Not just, why war, but why war now.
MR. FLEISCHER: Why has Saddam failed to comply now? Why, when the United Nations, understanding full well the seriousness with which President Bush made his presentation last September, did the United Nations pass a resolution -- binding on Iraq -- that called for full and immediate compliance. The United Nations, the world, didn't say "lengthy compliance." They didn't say "negotiable compliance." They didn't say "compliance over months." They said "immediate." The words "immediate" have value and meaning if international efforts to stop proliferation are themselves to have meaning. The United Nations said without conditions or restrictions. The United Nations said it was a final opportunity -- not a penultimate opportunity, but a final opportunity. The United Nations, as I indicated, said it was binding. And they said that Iraq would face serious consequences as a result of continued violations.
So the question is in reverse. Given the fact that Saddam Hussein has shown no inclination that he intends to comply, at what point does the world say, the United Nations has meaning, the United Nations has value, the resolutions count? Or is the message of the world to allow Saddam Hussein to continue to drag his feet as he builds up his weapons of mass destruction for the possibility of using them. That's a chance we don't want to talk.
Q: But you understand that people who disagree with you on this issue see alternatives to war and do not see the need, even if there is no alternative, to do it now? They do not perceive the threat in the same way you do.
MR. FLEISCHER: Mark, I think -- the President, number one, respects the opinion of people who just don't believe war is ever the answer. That's their right. And there is a strain of thought that believes that. And the President respects it. It's a time-honored part of the American tradition and traditions abroad in some places, as well.
But having said, there is also a school of thought that there are some people who use the excuse "why now" for "why ever." They're not prepared to say, we don't believe ever in the use of military force. And, unfortunately, as the world has seen, when dangers gather, that democracies have a burden on themselves to make a determination about when force is necessary to protect democracy themselves. And that point may come into reach with Iraq. The President still has not given up hope that he can settle peacefully. But I think, clearly, Saddam Hussein has an interest in dragging this out in an effort for people to avoid making decisions we may need to make to protect people.
Q: Ari, the argument you keep making, and the President has made it a number of times, is that if the U.N. doesn't back you on this then the U.N. is, in a sense, irrelevant -- or irrelevant, you use the word. If you dismiss the U.N. as irrelevant in this case and, yet, at the same time you don't want to negotiate with North Korea unilaterally, you're praising what the U.N. -- the IAEA is doing with regard to North Korea. What happens to those situations with North Korea and other countries in the future if you dismiss the U.N. because they don't agree with you on this?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, number one, the President does not want to dismiss the United Nations. As I indicated, the President hopes that at the end of the day, and would like to believe at the end of the day, the United Nations will be meaningful.
And that's exactly why it's important that the United Nations take meaningful action vis-a-vis Iraq, otherwise the message the United Nations will be sending to North Korea and to the next North Korea and to the next North Korea is that international regimes to fight proliferation are useless. That is not a message the world can afford.
But we have to face the reality about whether or not these international systems to combat proliferation are working or not. Iraq is testing the United Nations. The President wants to make certain the United Nations passes the test. And that's why we are going through the United Nations.
Q: Can I just follow-up on two earlier questions. I'm unclear on why do you feel it's important for NATO to act before the Security Council does? I mean, a lot of the NATO countries opposed to you have said they want to hear what Blix has to say first and see what the Security Council decides.
MR. FLEISCHER: Number one, to be clear, Article IV has been invoked by a NATO member, Turkey. Under Article IV -- and it's only a couple sentences -- when a nation feels that they may be under threat it is their right to go to NATO and seek support. So this is a matter that NATO has before it, because Turkey raised it under Article IV. We support Turkey in doing that. Turkey feels threatened as a result of the hostilities that may be imminent because Saddam Hussein will not disarm. And the purpose of an alliance is to work within the alliance to protect nations that feel threatened. And 16 out of 19 agree with Turkey, and agree with the United States. It's a rather powerful statement.
Q: Just quickly on John's question, is any language at all in the second U.N. resolution being discussed, either internally or with other countries?
MR. FLEISCHER: It is. I think it's fair to say that there are conversations underway about the language. I'm not going to get into the drafting of it in public. And, again, I think it still remains somewhat early in U.N. time. But it won't be early in U.N. time for very long.
Q: What is the administration's assessment of the likelihood of the risk that Saddam Hussein with his back up against the wall with war seeming almost inevitable, will open up his arsenal of germs and chemicals and disperse them to terrorists?
MR. FLEISCHER: Does this mean that ABC news is acknowledging that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction?
Q: We just report the facts and the fact says the U.N. --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm raising that for a reason, because there's been suggestions that the United States has not made -- carried out -- has no proof that he has these weapons of mass destruction. And, clearly, if the questions shift --
Q: At ABC News? Can you identify when and where? (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: I will be happy to provide you with transcripts where the administration claims that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, that the administration does have proof that they have weapons of mass destruction.
Q: What is the administration's assessment of the likelihood --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm a transcript collector from way back.
Q: -- of the risk -- I'll get back to you on that. But more importantly, what is the administration's assessment of the likelihood, of the risk, that Saddam Hussein would disperse whatever weapons he has to terrorists now that his survival is at stake, now that his back is up against the wall?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it's always a worry that Saddam Hussein will do that, whether his back is against the wall, or whether his back is free and at peace. So the worry remains no matter what, not because of the actions that will be taken by an alliance, but because of the actions that will be taken by Saddam Hussein. Because Saddam Hussein, himself, would do this, even if there was no military action in play.
Q: Is it possible, though, that by pushing this issue to the brink of war, the President has made Americans less safe from these weapons?
MR. FLEISCHER: We categorically reject that as a possibility in that allowing that is a formula for the United States forever be blackmailed by anybody and everybody around the world who would pursue weapons of mass destruction. That line of thought, that line of logic -- and I'm not suggesting that you're engaging it -- but that line of logic, if it was applied, would mean that the United States is forever saying we will be blackmailed. The United States will never accept that line of reasoning.
Q: So is the President, then, confident that whatever arsenal exists in Iraq can be completely and effectively neutralized by his course of action, rather than dispersed by the violence and chaos of war?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you could rest assured that in the event that the President makes a determination that the use of force would be required, we have made crystal-clear that this is about disarmament as well as regime change, and that part of disarmament will be to make certain that neither Saddam Hussein, nor any of the people who would follow Saddam Hussein would ever be able to use weapons of mass destruction.
Q: Ari, you suggested before that the United States is not interested in allowing a lengthy process of compliance with the existing U.N. resolution. Does that mean that the United States would preclude a second resolution that calls for some additional weeks or months of intensified inspections?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, given the fact that several weeks ago the President said, this is a matter of weeks, not months, I think the timetable remains locked in at what the President said. But I think if you want to take a look at this in terms of the United Nations, United Nations resolutions and Iraqi compliance, what you have is, unfortunately, in 2003, history repeating itself to the period of 1996.
And I have a document -- I'll be happy to release this to you -- about the fact that Iraq has not complied, they cover up their compliance in seeming efforts to comply, such as their statements about unconditional U-2 flights, which we now know from the letter that was sent by the Iraqis, so-called conditional became -- so-called unconditional became conditional as soon as the ink was dry on their letter. It was never unconditional to begin with; it always had conditions attached.
Back to 1996. If you recall, in March of 1996, UNSCOM began a program of intrusive inspections after a 1995 defection of a family member of Saddam Hussein. The defection revealed the tremendous amount of information that Saddam Hussein had previously denied he ever had -- ala the declaration of 2002 where Saddam Hussein denied he had weapons. That was followed by a series of new inspections, provoking another statement by the President of the Security Council condemning Iraq's actions, which led on June 19, 1996, the request of the Security Council, UNSCOM's head travel to Baghdad and gave Baghdad what they called the last chance to avoid enforcement actions.
The United States consulted with allies to gain consensus that Iraq's actions were a material breach of its obligations. Military preparations begun back in 1996. On June 22, 1996, Iraq tried to cut a deal, and they did. They negotiated three agreements, a joint statement committing Iraq to provide immediate, unconditional access; a program of work that could lead to a report that Iraq had disarmed; an agreement on modalities for inspecting sensitive sites. The council then relieved itself of its enforcement actions.
As we all know, that turned out to be worthless and the inspectors were shortly thereafter, in 1998, thrown out of the country.
A similar pattern is repeating itself in 2003. Under pressure, Iraq comes up with phony examples of compliance, trying to get leaders around the world to bite on whether or not they have indeed made a concession or started anew to comply. They hope that the world will fall for it and accept it as new evidence of progress or a concession or a negotiated development. All the while, it's a repeat of the pattern where Iraq continues its weapons build-up, it continues to not comply with the inspectors, hoping that this time they can get away with it.
And that's why 1441 was so significant because it said final chance.
Q: So if the price of bringing France and Germany, say, along and the Security Council is several more weeks of stepped-up inspections, you wouldn't buy it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, the President laid out a timetable several weeks ago when he said, weeks, not months. And I'm not going to go beyond any timetable the President has laid out. But the clock is ticking.
Q: As far as the Osama bin Laden tape is concerned, according to The Los Angeles Times, General Musharraf, in Moscow, claimed that he was mistaken by saying in the past and 2001 that Osama bin Laden was dead. But now he said in a press conference with Putin that Osama bin Laden is alive in Afghanistan, near Pakistan. But many Pakistanis and Afghanistanis are believing that he is still in Pakistan and Musharraf knows about it.
But my question is, as far as the tape is concerned, did Musharraf knew before, or U.S. knew before when the tape was announced that Osama bin Laden had a message on the tape? And where the tape was given -- last tape was handed over to Al Jazeera on the streets of Pakistan. Where this time this tape was handed over to Al Jazeera? Who knew before, Musharraf or U.S.?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you'd have to ask Al Jazeera how and when they got the tape. I couldn't tell you when President Musharraf knew about the tape. I don't speak for the President of Pakistan; you'd have to talk to Pakistani authorities.
Q: Because they -- after Musharraf announced in March -- and after three days, tape came out.
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know about President Musharraf's statements.
Q: Can I follow on Iraq, please? After Friday's U.N. resolution of the U.S. and U.N. meetings that are going on and resolution on enforcing the new resolution, do you think President Bush is ready to give Saddam Hussein 48 hours ultimatum to leave Iraq, if nothing happens at the U.N.?
MR. FLEISCHER: Just as I indicated to Dick, the timetable that the President set several weeks ago is weeks, not months, and I'm not prepared to go beyond that timetable.
Q: One on Iraq and one on North Korea. The German government today said that it finds the tape of bin Laden disturbing and sobering, but it says there's absolutely no proof in that tape of any connection between bin Laden and the government of Iraq, just statements of support for the Iraqi people if there's a war. Is that proof that you have a tough sell still?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think it just shows that Germany, which is unalterably opposed to the use of force, will still be in denial about Osama bin Laden's links to Iraq. Given the fact, especially as Secretary Powell demonstrated that we know that there are operatives of al Qaeda operating inside Baghdad, and now we have an exhortation from Osama bin Laden on this tape to people inside Iraq -- as he calls them, the Mujahideen brotherhood, or brothers -- this is more proof that not only are there ties at the operational level, but now if you are operating inside Iraq and you hear Osama bin Laden exhorting you onward, your message is, as Osama bin Laden said in the tape, himself, Mujahideen brothers, he said, so it is the duty of all Muslims, particularly in Iraq, to roll up their sleeves and prepare for Jihad. And he said, it will not hurt under these circumstances if the interests of Muslims will meet with the socialists in fighting the crusaders. The socialist he refers to is Saddam Hussein.
So it's incomprehensible in its denial for anybody to interpret the phrase, it will not hurt under these circumstances if the interests of the Muslims will meet with the socialists in fighting the crusaders. The interests of the Muslims meet with Saddam Hussein, that is linkage.
Q: The administration's position up to know has been that it is not the time to discuss sanctions against North Korea, give diplomacy a chance. Now that the IAEA has formally referred it to the Council, should there be a discussion of economic and other sanctions against North Korea, or does the administration still believe it should wait?
MR. FLEISCHER: The Council will have a series of options to take a look at. They can include a statement of condemnation of North Korea, they can include sanctions, they can include steps in between. And so now this will become the purview of the United Nations Security Council to review that series of policies or possibilities.
Q: But you're not shy about making recommendations to the Council in the case of Iraq. Will you make recommendations to the Council in the case of North Korea?
MR. FLEISCHER: This action just took place in Vienna, literally 20 minutes ago. And so we will await to see what happens at the United Nations. But this is a step in the right direction. This is the world, again, showing its disapproval of what North Korea has done.
Q: What can you tell us about a new, untested version of the Taepodong II missile that is apparently capable of reaching North America? A U.S. intelligence official, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, apparently is reporting on this.
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not aware of the exact report that was just handed to you, but, of course, we do have concerns -- and Secretary Powell alluded to this -- about North Korea's missile development programs. One of the reasons the President emphatically said that it was in the United States' interest to develop a missile defense system was because of rogue regimes, North Korea included among them.
Now, I'm not aware of any technical capabilities that may be reported to you today, but of course, technology and time mean that regimes like North Korea will increasingly have the ability to strike at the United States, which is a reason why it's important for us to have a missile defense system.
Q: Ari, but this is an intelligence official --
MR. FLEISCHER: Jim.
Q: -- who is testifying on the Hill that this is a missile that is capable --
MR. FLEISCHER: Campbell, is it all right with you if other people get questions?
Q: Let Campbell go.
MR. FLEISCHER: Jim, do you give your question?
Q: Thoughts on Greenspan and what impact it's likely to have on the Hill. Greenspan's testimony yesterday.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, Chairman Greenspan's testimony yesterday focused on the importance of fiscal restraint. And while he's questioned whether or not the economy needed a stimulus, which is a matter that the President and Chairman Greenspan have some differences about, Chairman Greenspan went on to talk about his support for eliminating the double taxation of dividends.
And so the administration views Chairman Greenspan's testimony as a reminder about the need for fiscal restraint, support for elimination of double taxation of dividends, as Chairman Greenspan put it as a long-term good corporate tax policy. And I think it was a little overplayed, frankly, when the press interpreted Chairman Greenspan's comments as being anti-tax relief.
Q: On his comments on the need for a stimulus at this point, is that going to have any impact on the Hill?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think if you take a look at the meeting the President had yesterday with a group of leading Senate moderates, we have high hopes that the President's economic plan is going to move forward on Capitol Hill. And, again, the process is just beginning. It's beginning on a rather strong note, and we expect it will become even stronger over time.
Jim -- Campbell, we'll come back. Jim.
Q: Ari, I'm a little confused on where we stand with regard to talks with North Korea. I know we say we are open to have talks with them, but what needs to happen for the U.S. and North Korea to actually have talks at this point?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, North Korea needs to recognize that contrary to the impression they would like to create, which has not been accepted by anybody, per the IAEA vote this afternoon. This is a multilateral matter. And the United States has made clear that we will sit down with North Korea, so long as the talks focus on how North Korea will dismantle its nuclear program. That is what has brought us to today's point with provocative actions taken by North Korea to abrogate the agreement that North Korea made with the world that it would not pursue nuclear weapons.
Q: So what is it that needs to happen? In other words, you have to wait for the North Korean's to say, okay, we will talk on those conditions? What is it that needs to happen?
MR. FLEISCHER: North Korea actually, to the best that I've been informed, never formally responded to the United States' offer that was expressed through channels to sit down and talk in a multilateral form.
Q: One more. Condi, as we understand it, went to New York yesterday to meet with Hans Blix. What was the purpose of that meeting and what do you have to report from it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Dr. Rice met with Hans Blix as part of the consultations that Mr. Blix has been having with many people around the world. He, per his duty, reports to the 15 members of the United Nations Security Council and keeps in touch with each of the 15. And I think that the United States is looking forward to his report on Friday. And per his job, the report should be focused on the facts of what he is finding. That is the purpose of having the inspectors come back to New York on Friday to make a presentation of the facts. Joe Friday, report the facts.
Q: Did she get a sense of what those facts are in his view?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think that we'll find out what the facts are when he makes his report.
Q: Ari, getting back to this report about the North Korean's missile capabilities, the intelligence information is that it could reach the Western United States. Now, does that -- it raises the question about whether North Korea is, in fact, a greater threat to the U.S. than we perhaps thought, and the priorities that the administration is setting, and how aggressively the administration is confronting the North Korean threat. Can you respond to that, about why North Korea is in fact not the top priority right now, and why --
MR. FLEISCHER: They are both important priorities. The question is, what are the means best used to deal with each priority. In the case of Iraq, the President has come to the judgement that as a result of 12 years of working through diplomacy, the time for diplomacy is going to run out. That if diplomacy had worked, if sanctions had worked, if limited military action had worked, they would have worked a long time ago. They're not working with Iraq. And so, therefore, the President has put the military option on the front and on the center of the table.
That's not the case with North Korea. The case with North Korea continues to be an assessment that the best way to respond to this serious threat that North Korea presents is through diplomacy. So I reject the notion that it sends, because there are different manners of dealing with each problem. It represents one is not the priority over the other. They are both important.
Q: Which does he think is a bigger threat? They have nuclear weapons that can hit the United States, Saddam doesn't. Which does he think is a bigger threat, North Korea or Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: As I just said, the question is the differing ways in which you deal with a threat. They're both --
Q: Right, but the question is which is a bigger threat? I understand you deal with it differently --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's a false choice. They're both important threats. And the United States deals with both in the manner that we deem the most effective.
Q: Can I do one follow-up?
MR. FLEISCHER: Go ahead, Jeanne.
Q: How long has the administration known about the capability for them --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'm not going to comment on any report that I haven't seen. So as you know, and it was -- it was just handed in here and I haven't seen it. So per our long-standing policy, I won't comment on it.
We've always had a concern about North Korea's capabilities, and that's not new, you've heard that before. In fact, the President, in his Citadel speech in 1999, referred to the possibility of rogue nations eventually carrying out the means or having the means to strike the United
States. That's one of the reasons that this administration has, indeed, moved forward with missile defense.
Q: Just a follow-up on Greenspan. To be fair to the Chairman, he did say that he supported the dividend tax cuts, but only if they're paid for, which they are not. Which many, many moderate lawmakers on Capitol Hill interpreted as a negative sign. I quote from Senator Breaux, who said, "I interpret what he said as the proposal they've made on dividends is not good economic policy." Susan Collins also had some negative things to say and she said she's trying to get additional money for the states, which the President, she said, was open to. So there's two questions in there.
Doesn't it make it harder to sell when you have a lot of these people saying, look, what he said is not good and they're not even putting it the same way that you are?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, I think that -- I've never seen an instance where the Chairman of the Federal Reserve went up on Capitol Hill and there was unanimity of interpretation.
Q: But doesn't that make it harder, even if some people are interpreting it to be negative? Doesn't it make it harder for you to sell your plan?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me read from what Chairman Greenspan said. "And I support the President's proposal on eliminating the double taxation of dividends, not as a short-term stimulus measure, but as I think long-term, good corporate tax policy and something which would add to the long-term flexibility and potential growth of the economy."
Q: But he also said, "I support the program for a reduced double taxation on dividends and the other necessary actions in the budget to make it revenue neutral," which it isn't.
MR. FLEISCHER: And that's why we urge Congress to engage in spending restraint as Congress considers the priorities. And this is why when Congress considered the appropriation bills you saw that there was some $380 billion worth of new spending over 10 years that they tried to tack on, that we were successful in stopping.
So whether it's hard or whether it's easy is really beside the point. It is the way our system works. And it was hard in 2001. And the President got it done by working together with Democrats and Republicans and I think that will repeat this time.
Q: A number of those people who backed it in 2001 are saying, no way this time.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you're watching the beginning of the process in the Congress and I look forward to continuing to talk to you about it as the signing ceremony takes place.
Q: You want Congress to hold down spending, but you're not saying -- like Greenspan is saying -- that Congress should -- or at least he's implying that Congress should not pass the dividend proposal unless there are offsetting provisions. You don't believe that, do you? That's what Greenspan --
MR. FLEISCHER: We work through the existing rules of the Senate to make sure that whatever passed is passed with majority support of the Senators. And, as I indicated, I think the biggest area where the President and Chairman Greenspan would differ in this issue, is Chairman Greenspan has said that he, as his words: I'm one of the few people who is still as yet convinced that stimulus is a desirable policy at this particular point. It depends very much on how one reads what is effectively going on under the whole structure of geopolitical and other risks. Unless and until we can make that judgement as to whether there is underlying deterioration going on, my own judgement is I suspect not. The stimulus is actually premature.
The President, looking at the economy, worries about whether or not the economy is growing fast enough to create enough jobs for every American who is looking for work. And the President wants to make sure that he works with the Congress to pass a stimulus plan that provides jobs for the American people. So that's what you're watching.
Q: Greenspan also said that -- he may have been talking about White House officials, that contrary to what some have said, the deficit does affect long-term interest rates. He's expressing concern about that. White House officials have previously referred to that kind of thinking as Rubinomics. Is that still the position here?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think, again, the Chairman talked about long-term interest rates. And these are issues that economists were going to talk about and debate for quite some time.
Q: Ari, two questions. What can you tell us about increased jet patrols over Washington and New York, first of all? And, secondly --
MR. FLEISCHER: Increased what?
Q: Increased jet patrols over Washington and New York. And, secondly, what does the President think about Greenspan's assessment that the threat of war is the major drag on the economy right now?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, on the second point, there's no question, I've said this to you many times, the President knows that there is uncertainty in the markets as a result of what may or may not happen vis-a-vis Iraq. That's an indisputable fact. That is one of the issues that people, before they make investments, is taking a look at. But the President's judgements about what to do with Iraq will not be guided by what it means to the United States economy as much as what it means to the safety and security of the American people. Because the worst thing that could happen to our economy would be for us to be attacked. That would be the worst thing that could happen to the economy.
On your first question, as you know, there, from time to time, a series of actions that are taken throughout the country in various places in the country to enhance security. I've been asked not to get into any descriptions of any of those specific matters. They will be seen. They will not be seen. Some will never be known, but took place. And so, across the board, there will be a series of actions that can be taken at times.
Q: Going back to the second question, does he think the threat of war is the economy's major, you know, biggest problem right now?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the President, I think, looks at this as an economy that is recovering from the recession and the September 11th attack on the country, and that's a process that takes some time. The situation in Iraq has created uncertainty in terms of the speed of the recovery. But the President continues to see the economy recovering. And I think, as always, you'll find any number of economists who'll give you any number of opinions about what the precise cause of economic events is.
Q: Ari, seeing what could be the end result with the situation with Iraq, many people are getting involved trying to deal with the issue on diplomatic levels versus war. Today, the Vatican -- yesterday, I understand, that Reverend Jesse Jackson has sent a letter to Saddam Hussein citing that 12 years ago they had successfully released some hostages. What's the White House's view about private citizens getting involved in this very sensitive situation?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, the President understands that many individuals are going to have thoughts that they hold and they share. It's the right of individual Americans to express their views. I'm not going to have any comments specifically on the Reverend Jackson's letter. But, again, the President respects people's rights to speak out.
Q: Reverend Jackson, in that letter, he did say he told Saddam Hussein there could be major catastrophes if we go to war and what the White House is planning on doing. But do you see any kind of breach of intelligence or anything by a private citizen who has a relationship of sorts with Saddam Hussein, to be able to cause a problem?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, this is not an intelligence matter. It's also a matter that the White House doesn't comment on.
Q: I'd like to go back to what you said a few minutes ago. The President is delighted how much support there is in Europe for the Turkey position in NATO. But a small number of European nations have continued to isolate themselves from the rest of Europe. My question is -- if I get it right -- Britain, France, and Germany are probably the three most powerful nations in Europe economically and politically. So I'm not talking of numbers, I know 16 nations back Turkey. But you will admit that the two nations, especially Germany and France, do have a major weight in European decision-making.
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, the facts of how NATO operates are clear. NATO operates by consensus among the 19 countries, and 16 of the 19 countries see it one way, three do not. And I have not done the math, but I suspect if you added up the populations and GDPs of the rest of the European nations that have spoken out, you might have a differing interpretation.
But still, the point remains, there is an issue of how to best deal with Saddam Hussein and the threat that he presents. And because two nations or three nations see it one way does not mean that the 16 nations or the 18 nations that see it a different way will cease their efforts to work together toward a solution within the alliance on how to approach this issue. And the President will continue to work with the alliance and to lead.
Q: And a second question, Ari, if you'd be so kind. Is the United States or the White House convinced that the message that was broadcast by Al Jazeera is Osama bin Laden, or they're still --
MR. FLEISCHER: We're continuing the technical reviews of the tape, and so while nothing is final or determinative at this point, it does appear to be the voice of Osama bin Laden, according to the intelligence agencies.
Q: One on Iraq, and one on Greenspan. Does the President agree with Senator Bunning's statement yesterday at the hearing that Greenspan was out of line in even commenting on fiscal policy and that he ought to step down?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think I've shared with you the President's perspective.
Q: But Bunning specifically said, you ought to leave, you have no right to even talk about it.
MR. FLEISCHER: I've shared with you the President's perspective.
Q: On Iraq, you said earlier that no one has any hope that Germany will change its position. That implies that you do still have hopes that France and Russia would change their position on Iraq. What's that hope based on?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think Germany has unequivocally said that they will not and never will support the use of force in Iraq. Other nations have not gone as far in their statements. And we will continue to have conversations with all these nations. And with Germany, too. At the end of the day, we will remain nations that are allied.
Q: Do you see daylight between the French and German positions on Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think, again, these are matters of diplomacy that are being talked through, and the President said that he'd be willing to go to the United Nations for a second resolution and we'll see what that outcome is.
Q: Is that a, yes, you do see daylight?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you have to let the events develop.
Q: Ari, now that we are at threat level orange, and since the CIA Director predicts a terrorist attack, does the administration plan to issue gas masks and protective clothing to citizens in America?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not aware of any plans to engage in that step.
Q: There are Avenger anti-missile -- now in place in Washington. Do we expect another terrorist attack from the air, and are the President and the Congress in danger from such attacks?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, the alert has been raised to high as a result of numerous concerns we have about the ability of our enemies to try to strike us in ways that are not knowable with absolute precision here, on our own shores. So a variety of actions have been taken to provide the greatest protections to the American people. And as I indicated earlier, I'm not going to be able to describe each and every one of these steps that are taken, but you can be assured that when the alert goes to high, the government does enhance its abilities to protect the American people.
Q: Ari, back to France. Do you see any areas of common ground between the U.S. and the French position? Do you think Chirac has kept open certain options that Germany has already foreclosed? And, specifically, do you see any promise in the proposal that the French are circulating at the United Nations in the last 24 hours?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, one, we remain in mid-diplomacy here. And I'm not going to venture in too deep on the play-by-play of diplomatic discussions. Suffice it to say, when the President said that we will go to the United Nations for a second resolution so long as it enforces Resolution 1441, he said it because he does believe in the importance of the United Nations as an institution and that this is also the United Nations last chance to show that international proliferation regimes have meaning, have effect and are not just documents to be ignored. And so, therefore, it is important to continue to talk to our allies at the United Nations, and that's what you're seeing develop as we speak.
Vis-a-vis the proposal to double the number of inspectors or to fly the U-2, again I draw your attention to the fact that already this should be unconditional on Iraq. There should not have been any question of negotiating the U-2 with Iraq; Iraq should have allowed the U-2 to fly under resolution 1441.
Negotiations did ensue with Iraq. Iraq then came out and said, just over the weekend, they would allow the U-2 to fly unconditionally. Before the ink was even dry on the Iraqi letter, we found out there were conditions attached to flying the U-2 once again.
As for the number of inspectors, if Iraq was serious about disarming, you would need half the number of inspectors, you wouldn't need double. If Saddam Hussein has no intention of disarming, doubling the inspectors just means there are double number of people for Saddam Hussein to deceive.
Q: So is that what you said yesterday, a non-starter?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
Q: And Ari, is there any -- has Chirac held out any options that Shroeder has foreclosed?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you'd have to talk to President Chirac to see whatever his position is.
Q: Thank you. Regarding my question yesterday about a reassessment of troop levels in Korea and Germany, is the President in favor of a long-term increase or decrease of those troops? And also, on North Korea, is the U.S. in a position of being blackmailed by North Korea because of its nuclear power and its military strength?
MR. FLEISCHER: On terms of your first question, the review involves the number and the types of forces that we have in different locations around the world. I would not prejudge what that would lead to, whether it's increases or decreases in any one spot or another spot.
And, secondly, as the vote in Vienna shows, the world takes what North Korea has done very seriously. And the world agrees with the position that the United States has long espoused, that this is a multi-lateral problem, not a bilateral problem.
The one thing North Korea wants more than anything else is to make this a bilateral problem. And the vote in Vienna today showed that it is indeed the world's problem, caused by North Korea's actions.
Q: Why is there such a fear of using military power against North Korea?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as the President said last Friday, as you know, and you all heard, all options remain on the table.
Q: Does the White House intend to move forward with a more detailed plan on Medicare reform and prescription drugs, or is it just your plan to consult with Congress on general principles, and let them hammer out the legislation?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there is no question the President remains committed to advancing a plan that would help senior citizens get prescription drugs as part of a modernized Medicare. The exact details, the exact wording remains a matter that we are discussing with members of Congress. And the purpose for the discussions is so that the plan receives the greatest amount of support possible.
Medicare has been an issue that for too long, too many in both parties dedicated themselves to enacting reforms and getting prescription drugs to seniors, yet it never happened. And the President would like 2003 to be the year in which it actually does happen. And that requires extra listening, extra care and extra work with members of Congress, so that the path can be set, so that seniors can get the benefits that they deserve.
Q: What's the President going to tell the troops tomorrow?
MR. FLEISCHER: Tomorrow the President looks forward to meeting with the troops in Jacksonville. And he is going to give them a message of how much the United States and the people of our country believe in them, depend on them, have faith in them, and know that in the event that they are called to any military mission, they will have every piece of equipment, everything that they need to carry out their mission to do their job.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.
END 1:05 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/271751