Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:55 P.M. EDT
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. Let me give you a report on the President's day. The President began early this morning with a phone call to King Abdullah of Jordan. The two discussed the importance of America's ongoing commitment to bringing peace to the region by working with the parties in the region to help them find a path to peace. They agreed about the vital role the United States is playing and will continue to play in securing peace for the region. And they agreed about the responsibilities of all three parties in the Mideast to take actions necessary to help continue the progress that Secretary Powell has made.
The President then began his morning briefings with the intelligence community, as well as then with the FBI. And then he met in the Oval Office earlier this morning with President Pastrana of Colombia to discuss the Colombian government's efforts to fight narco-trafficking, as well as the importance of trade initiatives the United States is seeking to undertake with our neighbors in the south.
The President also held an event this morning in the Rose Garden to present environmental youth awards to students from across the country. And then he met with the Secretary of State and just concluded that a few minutes ago, to receive a report about the Secretary's travels to the region.
The President is, as we're speaking, having lunch with the Vice President. And later this afternoon, the President will make remarks about welfare reform and the next step in welfare reform, and discuss the legislation that he has sent up to Capitol Hill to help improve the lives of people who are on welfare.
And, finally, this evening the President will make remarks to the National Fire and Emergency Services Dinner, and make special note of the sacrifice and commitment our firefighters make, noting the events of September the 11th, particularly.
Finally, before I take your questions, the President just moments ago was informed about the incident in Milan. I have no additional information for you at all at this time. This is a breaking story and I do not have anything else beyond that, but the President has been informed.
Q: By who?
MR. FLEISCHER: By both Dr. Rice and Chief of Staff Card.
Q: Can you tell us if you've been in touch with Italian authorities on this?
MR. FLEISCHER: John, it literally is happening as I came out here, and I have no additional information. I think you can presume that we will be, if we are not already, in touch with Italian authorities and we'll ascertain precisely what the facts are.
Q: Any change in the U.S. alert status?
MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, I just walked out here. And so -- I've shared with you all the information that I have on the topic.
Q: Do you know if that's a building where a lot of Americans are --
MR. FLEISCHER: Ron.
Q: On the Middle East, the President a few minutes ago praised the Prime Minister for meeting his timetable for pulling out of the Palestinian cities. I thought the timetable was immediate. And why would anything less than that be acceptable to the President? And is the President now for the first time justifying the siege on Arafat's compound?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, Ron, I was in the same room you were. What the President said was that the Israeli withdrawal is continuing, that the timetable that Prime Minister Sharon outlined to the President that the Prime Minister is meeting. I think what you heard, Ron, was the President refer to Ariel Sharon, as you know, in the phone call between the President and the Prime Minister, when Ariel Sharon told the President that they would be out of Jenin in a couple days, and Nablus within a week. That's what the President was referring to.
Q: Why is that acceptable to him, though, when he said two weeks ago --
MR. FLEISCHER: The President, as he said in the Oval Office, said that the withdrawal needs to continue.
Q: And can I follow up on that? The President's words were, the Prime Minister gave me a timetable and he has met that. Why would it be wrong to conclude, then, that Israeli operations, in particular in Jenin and in Nablus and in Bethlehem were conducted according to a timetable that had the approval of the President of the United States, and that he didn't really mean it when he said, Israeli troops -- now almost two weeks ago -- must withdraw without delay?
MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, I think you're hearing absolutely nothing new in this, and that -- you heard this, and Secretary Powell, when he was in the region, referred to the progress that he is making. And when people said, can you cite the progress that you're making, the Secretary indicated and the administration indicated -- the President did it again today -- that now there is a timetable for withdrawal.
If you recall, when the Secretary went to the region, Israel was on its way into the West Bank. It was an open-ended operation, there was no discussion about when they might come out. As a result of the Secretary's efforts, there is a timetable for withdrawal. And what the President indicated today is that Israel is honoring the timetable they gave him on the phone.
Is it enough? No. The President has said that Israel needs to continue the withdrawal. the President has made clear that all the parties have to continue to honor the responsibilities he outlined in the Rose Garden.
Q: Let me just press you on this. That timetable obviously, according to Prime Minister Sharon, included actions in Jenin and Nablus and Bethlehem. And so what the President just said was he didn't object to that timetable, that those operations -- as long as Israel was withdrawing in some form or fashion -- were okay with this administration.
MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, I can only say it as plain as day. The President said the withdrawal needs to continue, and that's what the President said. That is a call on Israel to make certain they do as he's asked them to do, which is to withdraw.
Israel did give the President a timetable for Jenin and for Nablus, and Israel is honoring the timetable. And that's what the President reflected. I think that's an accurate statement, as you all know.
Q: When did the President change his mind about nation-building?
MR. FLEISCHER: Can you be more specific? What are you referring to?
Q: Well, the New York Times really strongly interprets his speech yesterday -- something that you want to build -- now you're going to take care of health, welfare, and education of the Afghans in the aftermath of the hostilities. That's nation-building.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has always been for those. I think what you're getting --
Q: He's always been for --
MR. FLEISCHER: Do you have any evidence to the contrary?
Q: Well, every statement by you --
MR. FLEISCHER: And what were those statements, Helen?
Q: -- that you don't believe in nation-building.
MR. FLEISCHER: What were the statements that I made that would indicate that?
Q: And the President's campaign.
MR. FLEISCHER: What statement in particular, if you're going to accuse the President of changing policy?
Q: The President said he didn't -- I can't give you word for word.
MR. FLEISCHER: Right. But here -- I can.
Q: But he said in the campaign that he did not believe in nation-building.
MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, I can give you word for word. And what the President said is that the purpose of the military should be to fight and win wars. The President has always believed in helping strengthen nations, and that's why the United States has been Afghanistan's largest supplier of food, health care, all the items of foreign aid that we provide to help build an infrastructure.
Don't confuse that, which the President has always supported, with the use of the military as peacekeepers, the use of the military to do things other than fighting and winning wars.
Q: So he doesn't believe that any military should be used to protect our people who are there, who are trying to help?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President believes the purpose of the military is to fight and win wars. And part of that is training the Afghanistan army, so the Afghanistan army can provide the security that a sovereign nation should have.
But it's a very different question. The President and the United States have always supported the economic support, the financial support we were doing in Afghanistan even before September 11th. We do it, for example, for the Palestinian people, as well. So that's an integral part of America's foreign policy.
Q: Then he equates nation-building with peacekeeping forces, right? That's what you're saying?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm -- what the President has said is that the military should be used to fight and win wars. The President does believe in helping nations to grow, to be successful. And you can call that nation-building if you want; the President has always been for that.
Q: Well, the first time he mentioned the Marshall Plan, and it related to that. This is massive aid.
MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, with all -- I think you're a little confused about what the President said in the campaign and the President's views about helping nations to grow and to be successful by developing their infrastructure, and what the purpose of America's fighting men and women should be for.
Q: Ari, what is the timetable for withdrawal from Ramallah as you understand it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Withdrawal from Ramallah, as the President indicated in the Oval Office, is contingent, from Israel's point of view at least, on resolution of what to do with the people that Israel claims are in Ramallah, in the basement of Chairman Arafat's compound, who are accused of or responsible for the killing of the Israeli Cabinet Secretary, Zevi. Israel has indicated that is what the hang-up is in Ramallah. And there are efforts underway to help resolve that issue. The President believes that once that issue is resolved, Israel will withdraw expeditiously.
Q: You're satisfied with that explanation, willing to let them go along with --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, listen, the President's point is Israel needs to withdraw and withdraw from all of the West Bank. That is the President's point. Israel makes a counterpoint. Their counterpoint is that so long as these people are being held and protected, Israel cannot withdraw. There's a difference of opinion on that. The President continues to press Israel to withdraw.
Q: So, wait, wait. You say, Ari, there's a difference of opinion. But did the President not endorse that part of the occupation this morning when he said he understands Prime Minister Sharon's reasoning and, in fact, that those people were in the basement when Secretary Powell -- he said, the President specifically said they were there when Powell was seeing Arafat. Is it not fair to say that the President endorsed that part of the Israeli military operation? He said he understands the Prime Minister's position.
MR. FLEISCHER: And the reason that we are still working to bring the parties together is to resolve that issue. So the President understands the issue, he understands Israel is saying that they will not withdraw until that is resolved. The President has given a blanket statement, withdraw from the West Bank. The President is committed to that blanket statement.
In the process of that, and this is what is so hard in the Middle East -- the United States can call for it and will continue to press for it, but the parties have to do it. We don't sit in the Israeli tanks and we don't sit in Ramallah as the United States people. The Palestinians do and the Israelis do. The job the President is dedicated to is to find ways to help the Israelis and Palestinians come together to resolve specifically in Ramallah the Zevi five, so that the withdrawal can proceed.
Q: If I could follow on that point. The Palestinians say, under previous agreements with Israel, that if those five are to be charged with anything, the Palestinians should handle it. Is the United States saying, in this case, no; turn them over to the Israelis now?
MR. FLEISCHER: The United States is trying to help to resolve the differences and that's a delicate bit of diplomacy that is ongoing. So I'm not going to be able to get into the details of it. Hopefully, that will get resolved and resolved shortly.
Q: We need you to clarify something. You said there's a difference of opinion on that. Are you saying there's a difference of opinion between the Bush administration and Israel on their position that they're not going to pull out until these guys are out? Or a difference of opinion between Palestinians and Israel?
MR. FLEISCHER: When the President said Israel should withdraw from the West Bank, he meant from the entire West Bank.
Q: But he also said today that they should be brought to justice.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President does think they should be brought to justice; that's correct.
Q: And you have said that he understands Israel's position that they should --
MR. FLEISCHER: But, Ron, what --
Q: -- he understand's Israel's position that they're not going to withdraw until these guys come out. So why should we not conclude --
MR. FLEISCHER: Ron --
Q: -- that he's embracing, endorsing --
MR. FLEISCHER: Ron, if there was never any move by Israel into the West Bank, the President would still say that the killers of Zevi should be brought to justice. So whether Israel's troops are there or aren't there, the President's view is consistent. If they killed an Israeli Cabinet secretary, they should be brought to justice. That's what the President is consistent in around the world about terrorism. If people resolve -- go to murder to resolve political disputes, the President thinks that's terrorism and they should be brought to justice.
Q: Can you say -- are you able to say yes or no to the question, does the President believe that the siege on Ramallah should continue until the Zevi five come out?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President believes that the people responsible need to be brought to justice. But the President's statement from the Rose Garden that Israel needs to withdraw and withdraw from the entire West Bank stands.
Q: But, Ari, should we take away from this that, since the President's statement of a couple weeks ago that Israel should withdraw without delay, further reinforced by Dr. Rice who said that means now, he has discovered that there are extenuating circumstances regarding Ramallah and Bethlehem and he's willing to let Israel take a little more time in those areas to get those issues resolved?
MR. FLEISCHER: John, as the President said, Israel needs to continue its withdrawal, and that's what the President believes. Obviously, in the town of Ramallah and the town of Bethlehem --
Q: He said, now. And now it's seems he's saying, now doesn't necessarily mean now.
MR. FLEISCHER: -- in the town of Ramallah and the town of Bethlehem. Israel has said back to the United States that there are particular circumstances which will not allow them to withdraw.
Q: And he's comfortable with that?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the President is comfortable with Israel withdrawing, and withdrawing in comportance with what the President said in the Rose Garden. What has happened, and throughout the Middle East -- it's not just this issue, there are many -- that there are issues that both parties raise, the Palestinians raise and the Israelis raise, which does not allow them to immediately fulfil what the President has called on them to do.
Q: And he seems to accept what you seem to characterize as extenuating circumstances in those two cases.
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, if Israel did not have troops in Ramallah, the President would still say the Zevi five needs to be brought to justice. If they have --
Q: But they do.
MR. FLEISCHER: And the President believes that they need to be brought to justice, and Israel needs to withdraw.
Q: Okay, but is it fair to say, the President said -- in the context of Israel does have troops in Ramallah -- the President said they should be brought to justice and he understands Prime Minister Sharon's reasons for keeping them there. The President said that with the troops still there, with -- after saying the five should be brought to justice, and a day after Yasser Arafat appealed directly to the President of the United States, saying, I cannot go outside, you have to get the Israeli troops out of here -- one has to draw the conclusion when the next morning the President says, I understand the Prime Minister's reasoning, that he is in fact endorsing the presence of the Israeli troops there, until, as you say, this diplomacy can continue to try to withdraw the handling of those five.
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I think you can only go back and quote the President. And the President said Israel needs to continue its withdrawal, and that applies to all areas of the West Bank.
Q: -- ready for something else? Could the President foresee signing an energy bill that does not include new rights to drill for oil in Alaska?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, let's see what the outcome of the vote is in the Senate. I think that will happen shortly --
Q: It just happened.
MR. FLEISCHER: Has it just happened?
Q: Senate kills White House plan.
MR. FLEISCHER: As soon as I get official confirmation, I will have something to share with you on that. Not that your media accounts would not be fully accurate; I'm sure they are. I'm sure I will still be here briefing as I get official reports to confirm what you just said. So I will answer that shortly.
But if you don't mind, Keith, let's come back to that in about 10 minutes or so, and I will take that question and answer it. I'll just wait to get confirmation.
Q: On Afghanistan, is the President ready to make any changes or -- of this war in Afghanistan? Because the king is back, and terrorist activities are on the rise in the area or elsewhere, and more and more tapes are coming from Osama bin Laden now; again, there is a new announcement that more tapes are on the way. What's happening? And who is behind -- is somebody misleading the United States about where is Osama bin Laden? Or is the President not doing enough to get him where he is -- maybe across the border?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, keep in mind what the President said yesterday. The President, in a public speech, said that as spring enters into Afghanistan, that he does anticipate that the operation, which has always been very dangerous, will get even more dangerous, as a result of terrorists trying to regroup and as a result of the changes in the climate, which will precipitate more potential difficulties.
And this is why the President, at every possibility, urges the American people to keep in mind that this is a long war, and that there still remain people who threaten us, who want to do us harm, both in Afghanistan, as well as in the United States and around the world.
On to the question of Osama bin Laden; I think Secretary Rumsfeld explained it very directly when he indicated that the facts are we just do not know if Osama bin Laden is alive or not.
Q: Ari, I have two questions for you, one on the Middle East. President Bush will be meeting with Prince Abdullah, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, on the 25th of April in Crawford, Texas. Is the U.S. government willing to participate in an international conference, including Israel, the Palestinian National Authority, Arab countries and maybe some European countries? Is that a position the United States --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the Secretary, the Secretary of State has raised this issue, and it's an idea that is being discussed in various circles in the Middle East, as well as in the United States. It's an interesting idea. No decisions have been made about it.
But I do urge you to see a few of the events and put them in a row. Yesterday, the President* of Lebanon was here, President* Hariri, to meet with the President and discuss avenues to pursue peace in the Middle East. The President this morning reached out to King Abdullah of Jordan; the two spoke. The President next week will welcome King Mohammed VI of Morocco. And following that, the President will also meet with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Abdullah. So there's a series of meetings that the President is undertaking directly with some of the key Arab leaders in the region.
The Secretary of State remains in contact with those leaders and Secretary Burns stayed behind from the Secretary's trip in the region. So there continues to be an ongoing series of talks to try to follow through on the President's Rose Garden speech, and those talks are constructive and important.
Q: Can I follow up?
MR. FLEISCHER: All right, follow up. And then Jay, with his new haircut.
Q: I want to ask a question on Venezuela. I was watching you yesterday from Florida or the day before, and I saw the whole row here ask about Venezuela. Today, the OAS is holding a very special Extraordinary General Assembly, the 29th in its history. Foreign ministers are going to come from all over Latin America to be present at the meeting, and they're going to be discussing the Venezuelan issue and the -- law. Will the U.S. take this opportunity to clear a lot of the doubts that are still out there about the role it played or didn't play, first in the removal of Chavez and then --
MR. FLEISCHER: As you heard from President Pastrana today, the only doubts are vis-a-vis President Chavez and to make certain that he is committed to democracy and to tolerance and to having a pluralistic society. I think the United States was joined by the Organization of American States, neighbors and countries, in the vote Saturday night. And I think you're going to see continued unanimity with the United States, shoulder to shoulder with our friends in the OAS about the situation in Venezuela.
* Prime Minister
And the President addressed that this morning in the Oval Office when he said if there's a lesson to be learned, it's a question of will President Chavez learn the lesson, after the tumult that took place in the streets that led to his fall and then to his return to office. So we'll see what the events play out in Venezuela with President Chavez. The President certainly hopes that he'll have learned the lessons and will be a force for democracy in the region.
Q: Ari, the President today repeated his belief that Ariel Sharon is a man of peace. And I wonder if -- how the President sees that in view of the fact that Sharon has been explicitly in opposition to Oslo and Madrid, those peace processes in his career -- has been a principal advocate and implementer of a policy of building settlements throughout the West Bank, a policy that's widely viewed by Palestinians and other -- and non-participant observers as an effort to basically expand greater Israel and reduce the size of an eventual Palestinian state. Are these the actions of a man of peace, does the President believe?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has met with Ariel Sharon on numerous occasions. And the President said what he said because he believes it. He does believe that Ariel Sharon is a man of peace. The President has met on numerous occasions with King Abdullah; he's had numerous phone calls with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia; he's met President Mubarak, with President* Hariri. The President believes that there are many people in the region who are men of peace and who seek peace. And that is the group that the President will work most closely with in an effort to try to forge an environment for peace.
And let me -- do you have a follow-up? I'm sorry.
Q: Well, I was going to ask where the President stands on Oslo and Madrid.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President is committed to implementation of what Oslo called for, which is a renunciation of terrorism, a renunciation of violence, and the vision, as the President announced it at the United Nations, is for an Israel and a state of Palestinian to live side by side.
This is just in. The Senate has just rejected the bipartisan proposal to open a small portion of ANWR to
* Prime Minister environmentally responsible exploration. At a time when oil and gas prices are rising, the Senate today missed an opportunity to lead America to greater energy independence. The President will continue to fight for the tens of thousands of jobs that are created by opening ANWR, as well as, more importantly, for the need for America to be able to achieve more energy independence that would result from opening ANWR.
The President believes that it's vital for Congress to enact a balanced, comprehensive, energy reform, that reduces our reliance on foreign sources of energy, increases conservation and increases the use of clean, modern and reliable sources of energy. The House has passed comprehensive energy legislation, with strong bipartisan support. And we'll continue, in conference, to work toward achievement of these goals.
Q: What effect would opening ANWR have on the current rising price of gasoline?
MR. FLEISCHER: We're going to come back, John. There are a lot of people in the back of the room --
Q: Can I just -- since I had a question on the floor, follow up?
MR. FLEISCHER: All right, because this was Keith's question, we're going to go to Keith.
Q: Would the President consider signing a bill that did not include that provision, the ANWR provision?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, the process, as you know, is the House passes a bill, the Senate passes a bill. And we'll go to conference and try to improve the bill from what the Senate passed. The purpose of energy legislation is to make America more energy-independent. And that's the goal of the conference, in the President's opinion.
Q: I hesitate to return to this question of pullout in Ramallah, but since we spent so much time in past years arguing over the definition of "is" around here, we can now do the definition of "now". (Laughter.)
Q: Or "pullout".
Q: Is the President comfortable with a sequencing that calls for -- that would involve taking as long as it takes to resolve the issue in Bethlehem and resolve the issue in Ramallah, and then do a complete and full pullout? He does not see a way that the Israeli troops could pull out before those two issues are resolved?
MR. FLEISCHER: What the President has called on Israel to do is to withdraw from the West Bank. And as the President said in the Rose Garden when he gave his speech announcing what he believed the responsibilities were on all the parties, he talked about how this is a process. And the Secretary's visit was a step in that process.
The process is ongoing. The process predated the President. The process will likely postdate the President in the Middle East. What's important is to continue to make progress, as the Secretary has already begun. And progress in the Middle East is measured very slowly. And the President is going to resist any temptation from others to try to make him put a stamp on progress and put it in some type of time frame for events that are not what will lead to lasting peace in the Mideast.
Q: His word, not ours --
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct. And given what's happened in the Mideast, the President also understands that it is a process. He's recognized that. That's what he said in the Rose Garden. It's interesting, President* Hariri, in his meeting with the President yesterday -- and then the President* of Lebanon said it outside, too -- he said that this is a process, this is a series of events that takes time.
What's important now is that the diminution in the violence, the lack of suicide bombings that have taken place, the commitment by Chairman Arafat in the statement he put out last Saturday, all those were important developments that took place as a result of the Powell mission. Those now need to be followed up on. Those will be followed up on. And, as part of that process, Secretary Burns remains in the region and other contacts continue to be made to try to help the parties to come together to further that process. It's not an instant process.
Q: And, Ari, that's my question. In terms of next steps, any decisions this morning? Is Director Tenet going to go to the region next week? Are we going to see a steady stream of American officials going over there?
* Prime Minister
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think the purpose of this morning was for the Secretary to give the President and the Vice President the full, in-person, detailed briefing about the conversations he had, the events that took place. The process will continue.
And one of the things I think is very important, and the Secretary stressed this in his meeting, is the humanitarian issue on the West Bank. The United States currently provides $80 million of aid to the Palestinian people through the United Nations. The Secretary announced on his trip an additional $30 million will be provided. And, as the President has said, at the end of the day, whenever Israel pulls back, military force alone will not solve this problem. Kofi Annan said that this afternoon, as well.
And it's important to continue to work with the parties so that whenever the violence is at a level -- and the President hopes that will be immediately -- whenever the violence is at a level that is sufficiently reduced, political aspirations, political talks, humanitarian assistance can really be focused on in earnest.
Q: -- any decisions on additional missions there? No immediate decisions?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, that was not the purpose.
Q: When the President talks about pullout from all of the West Bank, is he including parts of Jerusalem, which is considered part of the West Bank very often? And also on this international conference, under whose auspices, where would it be, what would the purpose be?
MR. FLEISCHER: On the question of Jerusalem, or the question, for that matter, of any of the actual borders or demarcations or security points, or the question of the settlements, that is all what needs to be negotiated. Those are all the issues that the United States would play a constructive role in helping the Israelis and the Palestinians come together on. That's the essence of the Mitchell process or the Mitchell accords.
The second part of your question, on the conference, it's too premature. The conference is in the idea stage, being something that has just been discussed generally. Nothing beyond that, other than ministerial level, as the Secretary announced it.
Q: Is George Tenet going back to the region? Has that decision at least been made?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have nothing for you on that topic.
Q: On an entirely different subject, the President has had lots of nice things to say about Mayor Giuliani and Governor Pataki during 9/11. Andrew Cuomo, who's running against Governor Pataki, yesterday suggested Pataki was just a coat-holder, played no role. Does the White House have any reaction to that?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you've heard from the President loud and clear what a strong leader he believes Governor Pataki is, how Governor Pataki has earned the support of New Yorkers in both parties -- actually, New York, in all five parties -- and the great leadership and strength that Governor Pataki has displayed.
Q: Palestinians say as many as 500 have died in the Jenin refugee camp. Does the President want an investigation into this?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has called for the United Nations and the Red Cross to be permitted to have unhindered access to Jenin. The President believes what's important is transparency, so all the facts can be developed. Secretary Armitage said there's a mythology sometimes to these events, where numbers are bandied about. What's important is to find the facts. And that's why the President has said that it's important to allow the U.N. and the Red Cross in to find out.
Q: Does he think the reports are credible?
MR. FLEISCHER: He'll be guided by the facts.
Q: There is talk in the U.N. and among independent analysts about not just monitors, as the U.S. has embraced, but also an international force, a peacekeeping force of some kind. What is the administration's position on that, and is there any talk at all of participating in such a force?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I noted that, in the Secretary General's remarks, which were very constructive, he talked about the Powell mission has lessened the violence in the region, as Kofi Annan said. He talked about that there is no military solution to the conflict, which is a position that the President agrees with.
He did talk about, I think his words were, "a military force of the willing." Not the United Nations, but "a military force of the willing." I'm not quite clear what that means, who that might entail. But what the President believes is that if the parties agree to have monitors there, that is something the United States would support. That's a different type of question.
Q: Monitors, obviously, are perhaps civilians, but unarmed people not tasked with maintaining the peace; they're just there to report -- to watch and report. The question is, he's talking about a military force to actually enforce a peace. Does the U.S. have any position on that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I think his words were a coalition of the willing. The President believes that if the parties agree to monitors, that's the position of the President.
Q: I'm trying to make a distinction here between monitors, who just watch to see if the cease-fire is maintained, and those who are actually there to enforce a cease-fire. "A military force of the willing" suggests who might participate, but not the role they might have. What I'm asking is, is the U.S. open to the idea of a military peacekeeping force between Israel --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think I've done my best to explain to you what the United States is open to.
Q: You're only open to monitors, you're saying?
MR. FLEISCHER: In the back. Not you, Russell. Right behind you. I'm sorry?
Q: I'm sorry, is that right? You're saying --
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, the position of the United States is monitors. As I said at the beginning of the briefing, the President thinks the purpose of America's military is to fight and win wars.
Q: On the question of the four Canadians that were killed last night outside of Kandahar, do you have any information about whether the American pilot had permission to bomb in a known restricted training zone?
MR. FLEISCHER: That is all being looked at by the Department of Defense, and so I'd have to refer you over there. I can tell you that the President last night called Prime Minister Chretien to express America's condolences about the terrible accident that took place.
Q: On that same matter, Ari, three times this morning the President has appeared before the cameras, yet he hasn't seemed to take the opportunity to address the deaths at all. Do you know why we haven't heard from him on this?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President addressed it directly last night with the Prime Minister.
Paula, and then Russell, and then in the back, and then Les.
Q: The House is scheduled to vote on making the tax cut law from last year permanent. Senator Daschle has already indicated he has no intention of taking up that bill. One of his primary objections is funding; he says that to fund the bill, you'd have to -- Social Security trust fund. What is the administration's response?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President is a very strong supporter of making certain that the tax relief that was passed is permanent, and that it's not taken away from the American people. I notice that Senator Daschle did say that he would never schedule this. Well, that means that he is always for reimposing a marriage tax penalty on married couples across America. He is always for taking away the child credits that have been given to families across America. He is always for reimposing the death tax on small family farmers and on businesses that count on abolition of the death tax to pass on their life savings to their children. So that would be a regrettable stance, and the President does believe that it should be made permanent.
Q: And how does the administration expect a permanent extension to be paid?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, actually it's just a quirk of the budget rules. It was paid for when it was passed in the first 10 years. And under the budget rules, had it not been for, as you know better than most, what's called the Byrd rule as a part of reconciliation package, it would have considered fully paid for. So really all you're talking about is the parliamentary procedures of the United States Senate.
Q: Ari, you said the other day that the United States is, "set in stone against military coups of any kind." And yet there's a long history of the United States organizing coups against democratic elected leaders, including Arbenz in Guatemala, Mossadeq in Iran, Allende in Chile, and Lumumba in the Congo. So when you said that we're set in stone against military coups of any kind, were you announcing a new policy or --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, Russell, I think the examples you use are interesting. I think when you talk about Iran, you just went back to 1954. President Bush came into office here in 2001. And one of the great prides and success stories in American politics has been that in the last 20 years, there has been a wonderful sea change in Central and South America, brought on in large part as a result of people like Otto Reich and Eliot Abrams and others, Ronald Reagan, George Bush, who worked very hard to bring democracy to the region. And as a result, there is a difference in the military in those regions.
And one of the big changes is the United States military has cooperative programs with the militaries of the region are focused on making sure that they adhere to the rule of law. It has been a dramatic and very helpful change that brought democracy to the region. And that's why President Bush traveled to El Salvador and Peru, to highlight the importance of democracy.
And you do accurately point out -- I can't speak to every one of those examples -- but there was differences in America's policy in the past. And I think the government should get credit when changes are made. And those changes began some 20 years ago, were continued by successive administrations, including President Clinton.
I promised in the back.
Q: First a chronology question regarding the deaths of the Canadian soldiers. Do you know when President Bush was informed last night, and when he spoke to Prime Minister Chretien?
MR. FLEISCHER: He spoke to Prime Minister Chretien at approximately 8:00 p.m. last night.
Q: And are there any plans for the two to converse today?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have no updates on that. If there is, I'll let you know.
Q: Finally, is there any concern at all about whether there is a need to rethink the participation of other national forces other than Americans in the actual military areas in Afghanistan as a result of these deaths?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, this remains the actions of a very strong and dedicated coalition that recognizes that it is important to stay firm in the fight against terrorism. And unfortunately, as the President said when he went to the Congress on September 20th, this fight against terrorism, unfortunately, will risk the loss of life. And the President regrets very deeply the loss of lives of anybody from any citizenship who is fighting with us in Afghanistan. And that extends directly to our good friends the Canadians, who lost lives last night.
Q: In his constitutional obligation to see to it that the laws are enforced --
MR. FLEISCHER: Les, are you wired for sound? You seem to have some type of microphone on you today.
Q: I am. You come out very, very nicely on it.
In his constitutional obligation to see to it that the laws are enforced, the President does not believe that anyone who is court-ordered to testify should be able to resist that order because of his ordination or consecration, does he, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: Les, I'm really not sure what you're driving at.
Q: Well, I mean --
MR. FLEISCHER: The laws -- the laws --
Q: -- a person who is ordained or consecrated a bishop, archbishop, or cardinal, say that because I'm ordained, I don't have to obey a court order -- does the President believe that or not?
MR. FLEISCHER: Les, if your question is about judicial procedures, I think you have to ask your question to the courts involved.
Q: Well, what about the President? How does he feel?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President believes that the laws need to be followed.
Q: That's great. (Laughter.)
In his commendation, in its commendation of the President's speech yesterday at VMI, the Washington Times contended this morning, "Gone was the deplorable distinction that had taken hold in the White House between terrorism as directed against the United States and which justified military action in Afghanistan, and terrorism directed against Israel, which apparently did not warrant retaliation." Is this true or untrue?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not sure I follow your thread here, Les.
Q: Well, I mean, you read the editorials, Ari, surely?
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.
END 12:58 P.M. EDT
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/272575