Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:02 P.M. EST
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. I want to begin with a brief announcement, and then I'll be happy to take your questions. President Bush will welcome NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson for a meeting and dinner on April 9th. This visit is an opportunity for the President to discuss with the leader of NATO our progress in the war against terrorism and our preparations for the November NATO summit meeting in Prague. This meeting will mark the fourth time the President has met with Lord Robertson in just over one year.
With that, I'm more than happy to take your questions.
Q: Ari, does the President think that the Palestinians have a right to resist 35 years of brutal military occupation and suppression?
MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, the President believes that a result of a process that has got to focus on peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The President was the first to go to the United Nations and call for a Palestinian state. That remains the President's hope. That remains the President's vision. And, obviously, events in the Middle East have grown very violent. But that is the vision that the President continues to hold out for.
Q: But he does think they have a legitimate right to fight for their land?
MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, I do not accept the description of the premise of your question, and the manner that you asked it.
Q: Occupation, 35 years.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President believes that there is a process that can bring the parties together, that he is very dedicated to. And that he has General Zinni in the region, that he is involved in this on a very regular basis, to try to find a way to bring the parties together, so that peace can be achieved, so Israel can live in security, and so a Palestinian state can be implemented.
Q: When he asked Prime Minister Sharon to leave a pathway for peace, what does -- when he just said that a moment ago in the photo op, what does the President mean? What does he want Sharon to do?
MR. FLEISCHER: What the President was saying is just as he indicated Saturday, with his remarks over the weekend. The President believes that given the suicide attacks against Israel, Israel has a right to live in security, and that Israel has a right to defend herself.
The President also believes, at the end of the day, that Israel has got to be cognizant of the fact that a path to peace still has to be the focus of everybody's efforts in the Middle East, and that as Israel conducts whatever Israel is going to do as a sovereign nation, the ultimate goal must still be creating circumstances for peace to take hold in the region.
And the history of the Middle East has been for every step forward, there's a step backwards. Sometimes it's two steps forward, one backward. Sometimes it's two backward for one forward. The President always wants to find a way to keep the process moving forward, even in times of violence.
Q: So what does that -- what does he want Sharon to do, considering the amount of military force now being used, that apparently, they say, will be in place for weeks, if not months?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, he wants to be certain that both parties can agree to the creation of a security environment that they have ostensibly agreed to, which is what's called the Tenet plan. The Tenet plan is a series of specific, on the ground, real-life security arrangements, that are designed to reduce the level of violence, if not stop it.
The problem has been in getting to Tenet and making it endure; that there are people in the region who are opposed to peace no matter what. These people take out their actions in the form of suicide attacks that take the lives of innocents. It is terrorism, pure and simple. The President believes that Israel has a right to defend herself against those type of attacks.
But the President does not want Israel or the United States or the Palestinians to be derailed from a path that leads to peace, because the future cannot be one of one bombing after another after a reprisal after a bombing after a reprisal. Both parties need to exercise statesmanship, to find a path to peace, even despite the violence. That still is the core mission.
Q: There are people on both sides, as well as many observers, who insist that this isn't going to change until the President of the United States gets more personally involved. Is there any sign that he will?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is personally involved.
Q: More personally involved.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is deeply personally involved. The President has made numerous phone calls, spoken directly with the leaders in the region. There have been a number of entreaties that have been sent out at very high levels. And that will continue to be what the United States does.
But, Bill, I think there is -- it's not so much who takes what role as much as it is the violence on the ground that is denying people like the President, people who want to bring the parties together, an opportunity to achieve peace. And that stems from the terrorist attacks. And, again, the President will remain deeply involved; that will not change.
Q: Ari, can you explain why, then, did we support -- did the U.S. support the U.N. Security Council resolution on Friday that called for Israel to withdraw? And then the President, in a matter of hours, later said that he supports Sharon. And, essentially, what he's saying today is that Israel has a right to defend itself. So I guess I'm confused. Which is it, do we want Israel to withdraw, or do we support what Sharon is doing?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, you've addressed one small section, one important, but small, section of 1402.
Q: But it was in there. It was an important section. Do we support everything else and just not that one section?
MR. FLEISCHER: The resolution speaks in its entirety, not just any one section of it isolated. The resolution speaks in entirety, and of course the President supports that.
Q: But that was in the resolution.
MR. FLEISCHER: Here's what the resolution calls on, both parties to move immediately to a meaningful cease-fire; that's the very first sentence. It calls for the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Palestinian cities, including Ramallah. It calls upon the parties to cooperate fully with Special Envoy Zinni and others to implement the Tenet security work plan. It further reiterates the demand and resolution for immediate cessation of all acts of violence, including all acts of terror, provocation, incitement and destruction. So that's perfectly consistent with the President's view about what needs to happen to create peace in the region that will allow for Israeli withdrawal and an end to the incitement, an end to the violence, an end to the terror.
That's, in its totality, what the resolution calls for, and the United States is proud to play a role in having that be drafted and voted for.
Q: So what the U.S. meant when we were supporting that resolution is that we want Israel to withdraw once Sharon does whatever ne needs to do?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think the resolution speaks in its totality. And I don't think you can give a fair interpretation to a resolution in isolation of any one particular section of it, or another section. It's a totality of the document and Security Resolution 1402 represents faithfully the position of the United States.
Q: Ari, you're talking about two steps forward, every two steps forward there is one step back. When is enough, enough? When is Tenet and Mitchell walked away from and serious intervention -- other than following a standard peace accord and going another way, as Bill said -- the President having direct involvement, picking up the phone, meeting with people face to face, versus talking just to regional leaders, talking to the leaders, themselves, the two that really matter in this?
MR. FLEISCHER: April, this President will never walk away. This President will always remain committed to finding a way to achieve peace in the Middle East, no matter how difficult it gets. And the President has set in motion a series of events that create a pathway for peace to be achieved.
But at its core, it remains an issue where no one can force peace on the region. The Israelis and the Palestinians have to want peace, seek peace and work to create peace. And in so doing, they will always have the United States standing at both sides' shoulders in order to achieve peace.
Q: But, Ari, going back to what I said, when is enough, enough? When will there be -- is there a line that Tenet and Mitchell are not going to work? Because it's escalated so far -- is there a line coming up in the near future that you will walk away from Tenet and Mitchell and say, possibly there is another step?
MR. FLEISCHER: Keep in mind what Tenet and Mitchell are. These are names that get bandied about and I think it's important to attach a specific definition to what they mean.
Tenet is a series of actual, on the ground, agreed upon security steps that are taken collaboratively by the Palestinian Authority and the Israelis at the same table. An example of what is included in the Tenet, as far as meaningful security, cooperation, is information exchanges between the Israelis and the Palestinians. So that if Israel hears of an attack that is taking place, or about to take place, they can give that information to the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinian Authority will act to stop the attack before it takes place. That's literally what Tenet is.
Q: Ari, there's an information exchange right now. You have one leader in a room secluded with a cell phone, and then another one making plans over here, free to do whatever. There is no information exchange --
MR. FLEISCHER: Actually, April, that's not a full characterization of the facts on the ground. On Wednesday morning last week, you heard the President directly state how much progress had been made as a result of General Zinni's efforts in getting the parties to agree to that security framework of the Tenet accord. Significant progress had been made Wednesday, until it was derailed by a suicide bomber who attacked on Passover.
Chairman Arafat does have the ability to communicate. He has demonstrated that repeatedly on many of your shows over the last several days. He has the ability to talk to his people in the field. He has the ability to reach out and tell people that they need to stop the violence. The President believes Chairman Arafat has the authority to do so. He believes that there are people in the Palestinian Authority who will listen to him, and that it can make a difference to reduce the violence.
So even armed with a cell phone, the President believes that Chairman Arafat has the power and the responsibility and the authority to reduce the violence. That's what Tenet addresses.
The Mitchell series of recommendations are a step-by-step incremental approach to how to achieve peace in the region. And it's a recognition that in order to achieve a lasting peace, in order to keep the pathway to peace open, as the President has called on Prime Minister Sharon to do, there's got to be a recognition of a political solution. A political solution, as defined by the Mitchell accords, includes a discussion of the settlements, includes a discussion of the boundaries.
Those are the vital steps that have to be taken in order to bring the parties together. So whether you call it Tenet, whether you call it Mitchell, those actions -- security, cease-fire, action against terrorists, discussion of political solutions, settlements, boundaries -- those are the steps that have to be taken, in the President's judgment, in order for peace to be brought to the region.
Q: Ari, I'd like to ask you two questions about facts on the ground, one dealing with Israel and one with the Palestinians. First, on the Israeli situation. Two weeks ago, from this podium, the President of the United States said, ongoing Israeli military activity at that time was not helpful. The military activity has dramatically increased since then. Does the President believe what the Israeli government is doing now is helpful, using his words from today, toward keeping open a pathway to peace?
MR. FLEISCHER: As the President said on Saturday, the President understands and respects Israel's right to defend herself and to live in security. What's changed, Major, is the repeated suicide bombings that are targeting innocents, and that does change events, because this type of terror stands in opposition to all those who seek peace. This type of terror is undermining Yasser Arafat's ability to lead. And that's why the President has called on Chairman Arafat to do more. But it's a recognition that any nation that was confronted with the type of violence and terrorism that targets innocents that Israel has been, the President understands that nations have a right to self-defense.
Q: As my follow-up -- and you've touched on it a little bit there -- you just said terrorist factions are undermining Chairman Arafat. So it's the administration's contention that he is not completely able, and may only be partially able to diminish the violence and, therefore, is still a partner with whom the United States government will continue to negotiate and does not fall under the Bush doctrine of terror? Is that correct?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has repeatedly said that he believes Chairman Arafat can make 100 percent effort, and that's what he believes.
Q: How far short of 100 percent is he?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have not heard any type of definition of that.
Q: Ari, are there any discussions at this point -- I know this came up this morning, but are there any discussions at this point about sending Secretary of State Colin Powell over there possibly? And does it potentially undermine General Zinni's attempts to have calls from abroad, as well as Capitol Hill, for sending the Secretary of State over?
MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated this morning, the President has deep faith in General Zinni, his ability, the respect that the leaders in the region hold for General Zinni is very helpful. I also indicated this morning that the President will never rule anything out; there are multiple steps that any day could possibly be taken.
But the President believes that General Zinni was just that close last Wednesday to getting an agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians toward achieving a cease-fire, until those good efforts were derailed, as a result of a suicide bombing in Israel. It's proof that if the parties are willing, General Zinni can be successful.
Q: Ari, you said the President, himself, said he's been on the phone from the ranch talking to world leaders. But has he talked at all to Ariel Sharon since the military action started?
MR. FLEISCHER: As always, we'll keep you informed about any calls the President makes.
Q: So for the time being he has not called him?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think Secretary Powell spoke to Prime Minister Sharon last week, late last week, and I think over the weekend. I can tell you the Secretary of State called the European Foreign Minister Solana. He called Spanish Foreign Minister Pique. He called Shimon Peres. He called Jack Straw. All of that was over the weekend. And I think it was yesterday, as a matter of fact, already this morning before even the National Security Council meeting here at the White House. The Secretary of State called Kofi Annan and the Japanese Foreign Minister. So the President -- the Secretary of State continues at the President's direction to be the chief diplomat working the issue and the President will continue to be involved, himself.
Q: I'd like to follow up, please. As you have heard most of my colleagues say, that the Mitchell -- the Tenet, Mitchell, the two plans are out there, both governments have accepted them, but it doesn't seem to be leading us anywhere.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, that's not right. It was leading to almost success Wednesday morning last week, until it was derailed as a result of a suicide bombing. So I think you do have to -- you were here, you heard the President in his own voice talk about -- he was optimistic last Wednesday.
But it's important also to take a step back from the events and see it in the longer context and understand the President's approach. And that is, no matter what the level of violence, this President will remain committed to finding a pathway to peace, to helping the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government to achieve peace.
The Middle East is one of the most difficult, if not the most difficult, regions in the world. And the President will not be deterred as a result of violence. He will still try to find a way to peace.
So it's important not to judge everything just by a 24 hour, by 24 hour, by 24 hour perspective. The events each day count, they are important. The violence and the taking of any innocent lives, the loss on the Palestinian side, losses on the Israeli side, trouble the President deeply.
But the President's approach, still, to work through it all, to find a way -- as he was that close last Wednesday -- to achieving peace, and not to allow setbacks to deter him from that ultimate goal.
Q: This was the most -- what do you call -- important week or holiest week for many world religions, including for Hindus it was -- holy; for the Jews and Christians, Passover and Easter. But many killings are going on around the world, including in Kashmir over the weekend, and also in the Middle East. So the President is saying that Israel has a right to defend herself against terrorism.
So you think President also believes that India also has a right to defend itself from terrorism, and Musharraf is not doing what he promised to President Bush and to General -- and Secretary Colin Powell, according to the Washington Post last week -- in his editorial? And, also, finally, why Arabs are not condemning these suicide bombings?
THE PRESIDENT: On your first question, the President does believe that nations have the right to self-defense. And consistent with that message, as the President has said, is the pursuit of peace. And that's why the President has been working as hard as he has, working with India and Pakistan, on settlement of any of the disputes that could lead to a more volatile situation in the region.
The President is consistent in that approach: terrorism is terrorism is terrorism, and that applies worldwide. The President, recognizing that, does hope that the world will speak out and not condone suicide bombings. There can be no peace, in the President's opinion, if people use suicide bombings as a way to achieve their political objectives.
Q: So, Ari, under what circumstances would President Bush consider pursuing face to face meetings between Arafat and Sharon, encouraging meetings between them, or even inviting them to meet with him? Or is he just closed all together to the idea of face to face meetings?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President will take whatever steps that he deems would be constructive. If it becomes the President's judgment that that is the final step that would achieve something, that leads to peace, he has never ruled anything out. But he always will weigh what is constructive, when the time is right, when it will lead to peace.
Q: If I can follow-up the question. So he is open to, at any point, stepping into this process, himself, to encourage meetings between Arafat and Sharon?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has said at all times that he will take whatever steps that he deems would be constructive in achieving that goal. And he has many tools available; he exercises them on a daily basis, for bringing the parties together.
But I want to remind you again, this issue, at its core, remains an issue that outside influence, United States' influence, will be and continue to be applied. But at its core, Israel and the Palestinian Authority have got to demonstrate the will to work toward peace.
Q: When was the last time the President spoke with Sharon?
Q: How is it that having Arafat on a cell phone, promoting statesmanship and allowing him to be a statesman? And, secondly, by the White House not saying anything about him being penned in, is that not tacit approval for that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, Israel is a democracy, Israel is a sovereign government, and Israel, as the President said, has the right to defend herself. The President made clear this morning that there is a pathway to peace, and he hopes that Israel will continue to pursue it.
Q: You keep going back to what the President said and what you said about Israel having the right to defend herself. Does Mr. Arafat have the right to call in help and defend his compound, which has been under siege now since Friday?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I'm not going to get into hypotheticals. What the President is referring to -- when suicide bombers take the lives of innocents, I think it's something that can only be described as an act of terror. A sovereign nation state has a right to self-defense. And the President has been consistent and clear in the application of that principle about combatting terrorism. That won't change.
Q: I'm not sure I understand how it's a hypothetical. The siege is a reality that's been going on since Friday. Does he have the right to defend himself against an attack on his compound?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to get into hypotheticals of a Palestinian Authority calling in somebody else -- I don't know who you have in mind.
Q: I rephrased the question, I said, is he --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm sorry, rephrase it again.
Q: Does he have the right to defend against the attacks on his compound?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President, again, hopes that this -- as deep as the violence can get, that all parties will remember that it needs to be followed by peace.
Q: The President, Ari, briefly spoke to the issue that we were all discussing here this morning, which was whether or not there was an exception carved to the Bush doctrine for Arafat. And his response, if I understand it right, came to he's a negotiating partner; we were engaged in serious negotiations with him until last week, as you said here.
So if we're trying to understand the Bush doctrine now, is it that the Bush doctrine tolerates no terrorists or people who support them, but if you support terrorists and you're engaged in peace negotiations, then there is a category for you?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has made clear around the world, in the wake of the attack against the United States, as he said in reference to the Taliban harboring al Qaeda, those who harbor terrorists will be treated like terrorists. And the President made that clear.
The situation in the Middle East is, indeed, different. What makes it different is the fact that you have parties, who themselves have agreed, together, to the Tenet accords, to the Mitchell accords, which all follows the Oslo peace process. That was not, is not, the case with al Qaeda. And I understand you want to compare them, but that's not a comparison that the President accepts.
Q: They may have -- all that you just said may be true, but he may also be harboring terrorists at the same time, by virtue of the fact that you've said today you think he has some control over them. So is your view that he is a signatory committed to the Oslo accords, but is also harboring terrorists?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's view is that Chairman Arafat continues to be the authority for the Palestinian Authority, that he speaks for the Palestinian Authority, that he is in a position of command and control and that he has the ability to do more.
The President also believes that Chairman Arafat cares deeply about the plight of the Palestinian people and that Chairman Arafat knows that President Bush wants to create an environment for more commerce, more travel, more business -- job opportunities for the Palestinian people to travel to where their jobs are. That's what the President is committed to.
And because of that combination of Chairman Arafat's ability to influence events on the ground, and the President's stated goals of creating a Palestinian state and easing the plight of the Palestinian people, that Chairman Arafat can take action in accordance with agreements that he has made. And that's not the case with al Qaeda.
Q: Ari, the Middle East News Agency says that the United States has arranged for political asylum for Yasser Arafat in Morocco and that Arafat declines to go. Is this report true or false? Is the U.S. doing what it can to ensure Arafat's physical safety? Is it making efforts to ensure his physical safety? And does the President believe that the path to peace that he wants Israel to leave open goes through Chairman Arafat?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have not heard the first report, so that's news to me.
The President does believe that the path to peace goes through Chairman Arafat. He believes that, as I indicated just moments ago, Chairman Arafat continues to speak with the authority of the Palestinian people, that Chairman Arafat has the means and the ability to reduce the violence; and that Chairman Arafat also has the ability to enter into productive, fruitful peace talks with Israel. We were very close last Wednesday.
Q: Ari, over and over again you and the President have come back to the Tenet process. But some of the discussion coming forward now is that what will stop the terrorism is the hope, the light at the end of the tunnel of a final resolution. And so some people are now suggesting that we sort of leapfrog forward to a final resolution, so that there is a greater sense of hope about it. What do you all think about that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think if somebody could -- if the parties were willing to agree to leapfrog forward to a final resolution, that's something the President would welcome. The President will pursue whatever path gets to a peace settlement, a political peace settlement. That's what Mitchell entails. And whether they do all of Mitchell in one day or if Mitchell takes more time, that's something the President will work with the parties to achieve.
Q: So, as a follow-up, are you actively, yourself, pursuing that as a policy and encouraging a leapfrog?
MR. FLEISCHER: The Mitchell path has always been a path that has been available to the parties. But I think it's hard to, at this moment, think that the parties are going to leapfrog to the end of Mitchell, given the state of the violence, the way it is today.
Q: Ari, isn't a leapfrog what you criticized President Clinton for trying to do?
Q: Ari, some of the senators on the weekend talk shows expressed the concern that Palestinian terrorists are using suicide bombings as sort of a testing ground in Israel for a method of killing that they'd like to see spread to other parts of the world. Does the President, does the administration share that concern?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think that, obviously, terrorism anywhere, in whatever form it takes, is something the administration will always concern itself with and speak out against, and urge nations around the world to speak out against.
Q: Well, they noted that hijackings, for instance, started in that part of the world -- violent hijackings started in that part of the world, and that they see this suicide bombing pattern as possibly something that could be a threat here, or elsewhere. I'm specifically asking about that.
MR. FLEISCHER: That's something if you were asking you might want to address one of the law enforcement officials who are charged with observing. I can only speak from the President's point of view, and he believes that terrorism is terrorism is terrorism. And the United States is committed to stopping it, wherever it threatens America's interests.
Q: Ari, just to follow up on your answer to David, is it the President's position that Chairman Arafat and the Palestinian Authority does not encourage terrorism?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President believes that Chairman Arafat can do much more to stop the terrorism that exists.
Q: But he's not encouraging it?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President believes that Chairman Arafat can do more. I can only tell you what the President said. I speak for the President, that's what the President has said.
Q: Ari, is there any limit to U.S. tolerance for Israeli military action? Is there anything Israel can do in the name of self-defense that would be totally unacceptable to the United States?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, the President, to reiterate what he said this morning, sees a peace process still, despite the violence. And he, as he said this morning, hopes that Prime Minister Sharon will pursue whatever he pursues in a way to keep in mind the pathway to peace.
Q: Can you translate that for us? What is it he could do that would derail it, in your mind, given all that's happened so far?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's what the President has said, and so I can't go beyond what he said.
Q: Ari, on this question of terrorism is terrorism is terrorism, Lev Grinberg is a professor at Ben Gurion University in Israel. He's written an article in Tikkun Magazine, called "Israel's State Terrorism." And he asks the following question, "What is the difference between state terrorism and individual terrorist acts?"
You argue that when a Palestinian straps a bomb around his waist and blows it up in a cafeteria, killing innocents, that's terrorism. He wants to know, what about the Israeli targeted killing of 100 Palestinians or the 120 Palestinian paramedics who have been killed, or the 1,200 Palestinians who have been killed during the last couple of years?
Why doesn't the administration call that terrorism? Why do they insist that that's self-defense?
MR. FLEISCHER: The administration is always concerned with and committed to finding ways to create a peaceful environment in the Middle East for the difficult issues there to be resolved. What threatens that is acts of terrorism that target innocent civilians where the whole purpose of the campaign is to find and kill innocents. And that makes it different in application. There are times when, in military operations, innocent lives are lost, and the President decries that. The President will always look for ways, continuing throughout the violence, to find ways to bring the parties together. And I'll leave it at that.
Q: Ari, The Jerusalem Post on Good Friday published former Prime Minister Netanyahu's statement that the Palestinians', in his words, ultimate objective is our destruction, and they pursue this objective by the most barbaric means imaginable, so there is no place for negotiations, no hope for reaching any sustainable peace agreement. We must, instead, seek a total military victory.
And my question: considering the number of Palestinian suicide
bombing through Passover and Easter -- I believe it's five -- how can the President, who is leading total war against terrorists in Afghanistan, disagree with Netanyahu in Israel?
MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated earlier, no matter what happens in terms of the level of the violence, this President will not give up hope and will not stop working to achieve a peaceful resolution of all the disputes. The President thinks that the Palestinian people deserve that, the Israeli people deserve that, and the world deserves that. And that will remain the focus of his efforts.
Q: Ari, there are 10 corporations, such as Aetna and Fleet Boston who are being sued for unspecified damages in black reparations, which presidential candidate Al Sharpton says would be good for America.
The President does not agree with Sharpton, does he, Ari? And I know you won't evade, because that would suggest that he does. (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: On the question of reparations -- this is a discussion that we've had before in the context of a meeting that was taking place under the aegis of the United Nations. And what the President said at that time is that the complexity with the reparation issue is, there are many West African, African nations that participated in the slave trade, and so the question quickly becomes, to whom should pay reparations to whom, given the tangled web that was part of our history that, of course, thank goodness, is long gone.
Q: That's not an evasion, Ari. I think that's splendid. Thank you very much.
Q: When you say that the President will never rule anything out in the Middle East, will he rule out the use of American troops to patrol or keep peace between Israelis and Palestinians?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think Secretary Powell addressed this several months ago, and the position remains in place, that if the parties enter into an agreement that requires monitors, that is something the United States will consider.
Q: At the Arab League Summit last week, two resolutions were passed unanimously. One, supporting the Saudi peace proposal. The other, using language almost precisely the same as Article 5 of the NATO Charter -- said that any attack on Iraq would be considered by Arab nations as an attack on them.
This administration has argued -- implausibly, I would suggest -- that one of those resolutions matters, the one supporting the Saudi peace plan; the one saying there would be a common defense of Iraq doesn't. Could you explain that to me?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, first of all, I'm not going to speculate about plans that the President has said that he has made no decisions on and have not crossed his desk.
Q: That wasn't my question.
MR. FLEISCHER: You're asking about an attack on Iraq, and the President has said repeatedly that he has no plans and nothing has crossed his desk. So that enters into the area of hypothetical.
Q: No, it doesn't. The resolution is not hypothetical. The pledge of common defense among Arab nations, the first time that's ever happened. And the question of anything that might happen to Iraq isn't a hypothetical. And this administration says that simply doesn't matter, it's not a policy position that the administration considers serious. I'm trying to find out why you don't think that is an important policy development.
MR. FLEISCHER: Given the fact that the President has said that he has made no decisions, no plans have crossed his desk, it's not something that I can go down.
Q: Ari, yesterday, it was Senator Specter, I believe, who indicated that General Zinni had told him that the U.S. was prepared to send in some small number of forces as peacekeepers into the Middle East. This was deemed as somewhat newsworthy. I'm wondering, is it -- should it be newsworthy? Is this a change in policy? And, if not, when does the U.S. consider it the right time to perhaps send in some peacekeeping?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me go back and review what Senator Specter said on that show. I hadn't seen that. So let me take a look at that and see if we have anything to offer on it.
Q: Is there any consideration in the U.S. administration of the Arabic -- of the Arab street, reaction to the humiliation of President Arafat? When Arafat is humiliated like that, the Arab street is actually enraged and actually some people are -- are actually thinking, is the United States taking notice at all of the Arab anger and will the United States take care of that, because of the American interests in the region?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's position is that one of the reasons he has pushed for a Palestinian state and called for the parties to work together and has General Zinni in the region, asked the Vice President to travel to the region, is because of his concern about the plight of the Palestinian people. I don't think it's a small accomplishment for a sitting United States President to go to the United Nations and call for a Palestinian state.
And that's why the President wants to make certain that the leaders in the area exercise the statesmanship required so that that vision of a Palestinian state can become a reality that's based on peace and based on Israel living in secure borders. And so the President does hear that message. The President is sensitive to that call. And the President believes that's why it's so important for the parties to work productively with the United States to achieve that peace because the plight of the Palestinian people is something that's on the President's mind.
Q: Ari, on another subject, believe it or not, in the past when the President has made major announcements about New York, he has surrounded himself with the congressional delegation. I'm wondering why at least the New York City delegation or the two senators were not with him this morning when he announced the hand-over of Governor's Island?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, the short answer is, Congress is in recess. The announcement was made today. But the President has made other announcements about New York that don't have every single member of the New York delegation there. So the President is very pleased to be able to make the announcement today about giving Governor's Island to the people of New York.
Q: Did you choose a Monday because Congress wasn't around? (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: Congress was out all of last week, Congress is out all of this week.
Q: Don't you think a lot of those people would have liked to have been there, given the opportunity?
THE PRESIDENT: I think they'll be delighted with the news that's made.
Q: Ari, the President has been meeting with the National Security Council. The Middle East has been on top of it ever since the problems started and before that. Is he considering calling the leaders of Congress when they return, or before, to talk with them about this strategic region to the United States?
MR. FLEISCHER: This is a topic that you can imagine does come up with different leaders. As you know, the President met in the Oval Office just a couple of weeks ago with the Chairman and ranking members of the Foreign Relations Committees. And this was one of the issues that was raised at the time.
I heard a follow-up in the back. Who had a New York follow-up?
Q: -- the Governors Island. What is the nominal cost that's associated with this transfer? And why is now the administration agreeing to give it to New York, when last year they were planning on using its proceeds to pay off the deficit?
MR. FLEISCHER: The nominal cost is to be determined. Those assessments are being made to determine the precise dollar amount -- nominal -- it's fair to say that nobody knows what that is with precision now.
Q: Much less than $300 million, which I assume --
MR. FLEISCHER: Correct, much less than $300 million -- nominal. Even in Washington, $300 million is not always nominal. But --
Q: Will it be --
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, nobody knows what the precise figure will be. That will be determined.
But as to the timing, I think it is fair to say that September 11th changed a lot. September 11th has left New York, especially the downtown area, in a very difficult situation economically, and the President wants to make certain that our nation's city, New York, is revitalized, and revitalized fully; New York being a beacon to the world, not only a wonderful city to the United States. So the President is helping New York to recover from the damage of September 11th, and he's very pleased to be able to take this action.
Q: My understanding is that the Governor wanted to use Governor's Island for parks, not so much development. Is that what this agreement is going to be, as well?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as you heard Governor Pataki talk in the Oval Office about using it for education. So I can't speak for Governor Pataki, but that's what he said.
Q: Okay, Ari, real quick. Back on the reparations issue, you say it's a tangled web, but the United States did participate in the issue of slavery and they were permitting it. I mean, how can the United States not justify their involvement in allowing slavery that goes into the issue of reparations, and leave the African nations out, because the United States did have a hand in it. So give me, if you will, a separation for the United States versus the African nations. I want to hear your --
MR. FLEISCHER: I really have nothing to add beyond what I said before. That's the stated policy of the United States government, and I can't --
Q: But leave out the African nations, the United States was involved. It allowed slavery, the slavery trade in the United States. What is the United States' responsibility to dealing with the issue of reparations?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's the stated position of the government. I can't go beyond it.
Q: Moving to China, Hu Jintao's visit scheduled here to Washington, his first visit to Washington -- what's on the agenda? Do you foresee greater cooperation between China and the U.S. on terrorism issues, in particular?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes. Let me go back to any of the visits that we've announced. Let me take a look at that, because I'm not certain that we've made any such announcement, so let me take a look and -- at a time any announcement is made about potential trips, we can provide the information then.
Q: Ari, the terrorism in the Middle East is the same terrorism elsewhere in the world -- Taliban. Now, my question is, if the U.S. is ready, or the President to remove its campaign against terrorism from Afghanistan to the Middle East?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm sorry, is the President --
Q: If U.S. is ready to move its campaign against terrorism from Afghanistan to the Middle East?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think as the President made clear on March 11th, in a speech to the nation, he said at that time that we already have entered the second phase of the war against terrorism, and that is denying sanctuary to terrorists.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 12:42 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/272546