White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer
Smithsburg High School (via teleconference)
Smithsburg, Maryland
September 15, 2001
12:35 P.M. EDT

MR. FLEISCHER: The President woke up at his usual early hour. He walked Barney and Spot at about 5:30 a.m. this morning. He went for a run. He also called President Aznar of Spain and Fox of Mexico. Then he had intelligence briefings, security briefings this morning. And then recorded the radio address. You all saw him at the pool, at the beginning of the NSC meeting.

The NSC meeting ended, as scheduled, at noon. And as we speak, the President and the members of his team are having lunch up at Camp David, and then they'll get back together again for a dinner with the wives, spouses, tonight. And that's my update on what he's done today. So with that, I'm more than happy to take any questions you may have.

QUESTION: Hi, Ari. Could you describe this meeting and tell me whether it was a decision-making meeting , any decisions have come out of it, et cetera?

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes. I saw somebody quoted saying, "a decision-making meeting" - an official without a name. I can only tell you all these meetings are for the purpose of making decisions. I would not look at today's meeting in any different light than the many meetings that have taken place before and the many meetings that are going to take place after it. It's part of an ongoing process where the President and his team gather information, analyze information , make certain determinations and decisions and get ready for the next round of information that they collect.

QUESTION: Were there any determinations or decisions made today?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to get into any specifics of these meetings. The other thing I know is it's a Saturday and, you know, it's different because everybody is at Camp David. But this is the same ground rules that if you knew about a meeting here in the Situation Room of the President and his team, I wouldn't indicate what took place in this building, so I certainly won't indicate what's taking place at Camp David.

QUESTION: And, finally, does it resume tomorrow?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, at this moment there is no scheduled meeting of the National Security Council. The President will continue to have smaller, individualized briefings, as he always does. But there is no meeting of the entire National Security Council.

QUESTION: Good morning, Ari.

MR. FLEISCHER: Good morning, Mark. You don't need to use the phone, I can hear you here from Camp David. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Thanks a lot. You said the meeting ended around noon. Did it begin promptly at 9:30 a.m., so it was a two-and-a-half hour meeting?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, you all were in there, the pool. And it began as soon as you left. So set your clock by when you walked out of that room..

QUESTION: And this afternoon, there are no further meetings? It's just the dinner with spouses this evening?

MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct. But I'd never rule out informal chit-chat. But that's correct, no more planned, scheduled meetings.

QUESTION: Could a U.S. response come at any time?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it depends. As the President said in his radio address this morning - let me find his exact words - he said, you'll be asked for your patience, for the conflict will not be short; you'll be asked for resolve; the conflict will not be easy - because victory may be long.

You know, there is an enemy who wants to know, so I'm not going to give any indications about -

Q That's not us, right? (Laughter.)

MR. FLEISCHER: No, it is not. (Laughter.) But I'm just not going to give any indication to the enemy. Let them fret it and worry about it. But patience will be required in many ways from the American people.

Q Okay, thanks very much.

Q Hi, Ari. Can you describe some of the thinking among top advisors that went into what was a distinctly stepped-up and stronger tone today, if you look at the President's language that he used, and describe to what extent the President now feels it's important to frame issues differently for the public and how that might have changed, even over the last couple of days?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the natural reaction to an attack on our country is twofold. It is reassuring and it is resolve. And they will both continue. Having said that, there is a natural process where the events - where at the timing of the event passes with each day, the planning proceeds each day. And so there is an ongoing process that shifts into the planning phase and the action phase. And the President is preparing the nation for that.

QUESTION: But is there a sense that the country is ready now, and needs to get ready -- in other words, the President needs to really start setting some parameters and start defining what's happening and what's about to happen to rally the public and to educate them, in a sense?

MR. FLEISCHER: Actually, if anything, it's a subtle variation of that. The country is ready. The issue is, as the President has said, he will act when the time is right, then he will act decisively. And so while the public is ready today, the President will act when the moment and the time is right. There is no question America is rallied and ready. The President will only act when the time is right.

QUESTION: Hi, Ari. Let me follow on David's question. On David's question, the President saying, we're at war, and steeling the country for this in very, very stirring and urgent language. How is he going to balance that with his request that the country try and get back into its normal business?

MR. FLEISCHER: The history with our country is, our country does both, and it does both very well. The country is ready, and the country knows that as the war preparations are made, that every citizen has a role to play - by doing their job, by going to work, by resuming their life, by enjoying their recreation.

The stronger the fabric of our country, the stronger our ability to carry out the military mission.

QUESTION: On another issue, the President once again said today that we'll deal not only with those that dare attack America, we'll deal with those who harbor and feed and house them. How ready are you to talk about whether that means states and governments, or are you just looking for people hiding in holes, as he said?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'm not going to define it. The President has left it undefined, but he's made it clear that this will not be an exercise meant to move on a level that is not comprehensive or fundamental.

QUESTION: Should states be on notice?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President has not defined it. He has said, whoever engages in activities that harbor -- he hasn't - or ruled anything out. He's made it not a definition of geography or geopolitics, but a definition based on actions taken that engages terrorism or harbors terrorism. And he's done so by design.

QUESTION: Just following up on David and Terry. Ari, when the President talks about, you know, those terrorists are going to hide in the hills and we're going to find them and we're going to smoke them out - is he preparing the American people for the possibility that U.S. ground troops may have to be used to try and have this sweeping and effective assault against terrorism?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President is preparing the public for all eventualities.

QUESTION: So we're not ruling out that ground troops might have to be used in this assault against terrorism.

MR. FLEISCHER: The President has not ruled anything out.

QUESTION: One other question. In terms of President Musharraf, is there, A, a plan for President Bush to be calling President Musharraf today? And is there any truth to the - we heard a report that President Musharraf could be coming to the United States.

MR. FLEISCHER: I'll let you know about phone calls, if there is anything that we'll be able to talk about. That's the first I've heard, Kelly, on that one, about Musharraf coming here.

QUESTION: Okay. First you've heard on him coming here but, phone call, you can't talk if there's a possibility that the President would reach out to him?

MR. FLEISHCER: Well, again, you've asked me - I know we haven't called him at this moment. But you're asking me future phone calls, I'm just going to continue to give you a read out as future phone calls develop.

Also, on your question about ruling things out, I want to also remind you about actions that can be taken that involve diplomacy, finance, economics, all of those are tools in America's arsenal.

QUESTION: And one other question. The ruling Taliban regime of Afghanistan basically has said if neighboring countries go ahead and side with the United States in any potential act, that would be, sort of, considered a war, or it would be pushing a holy war. What's your response to that?

MR. FLEISCHER: I refer you back to what the President has said.

QUESTION: And he has said?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President has said that a war has been waged against us, and this is a war with those who engage in these terrorist acts and those who harbor them.

QUESTION: Do you have anything further for us on the attack that you say you have credible evidence was going to be made against Air Force One? And have all presidential travel plans for the immediate future been scrubbed?

MR. FLEISCHER: On the first part, I think we exhausted that topic about two days ago. On the second question, we'll be releasing his travel schedule on a much more closely-held basis, as I think most of you by now. And, no, not all travel has been scrubbed. We're always considering when and where it's appropriate for the President to travel. But I leave it at that.

QUESTION: Hey, Ari. Continental Airlines announced this morning that it's cutting 20 percent of its flight schedule, laying off 12,000 people, which is about one-fifth of its work force. Is the President concerned that the country is inevitably headed for a recession, at least in the short term?

MR. FLEISCHER: You know, that's a question that I think only economists can answer.

QUESTION: I'm sure that he's got some economists advising him. What are they saying?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it's unclear what impact this will have. You know, to the degree that there's a - well, let me address the question of the airlines. The President is concerned about the economic health of the airlines. The administration is in touch with airline officials.

No matter what the state of the economy, the country will have everything it needs and all the resources it needs to prevail in this war.

QUESTION: Nobody is questioning that, Ari. But I mean - huge pot of money to --

MR. FLEISCHER: If you're asking me as the President's spokesman to give you a prediction about whether we go into a recession, that's not something I can do.

QUESTION: I'm not asking you as the President's spokesman to give us a prediction. Is the President concerned that because of this attack and the drag on the economy that we're going go into recession? And how is he being advised by the people who are making those predictions?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President was concerned about the possibility of recession even before the attack, and will just continue to receive updates about the state of the economy as things develop -

QUESTION: Is anybody -

MR. FLEISCHER: Hold it, John. His first focus has really been on national security.

QUESTION: I understand that, Ari. But there's also an economy that he has to worry about here and I'm just wondering if anyone has told him that we're likely to go into a recession because of this?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I've not heard anybody say that to him. He's been mostly in meetings involving national security.

QUESTION: Hi, Ari. Two quick questions. Number one, it's long been no secret that Osama bin Laden and other terrorist organizations around the world have meant to do us harm on a massive and lethal scale. I wonder what you could tell the American people as to why they should have greater confidence now that the World Trade Center and the Pentagon have been destroyed, in some parts, that we have the capability to rout them out and destroy them than we've had over the past 10 years? And why haven't we been trying until now?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think the difference is the events of the last four days. America's footing has changed.

QUESTION: How does it make us any more capable of routing them out than we were as of last Monday?

MR FLEISCHER: Because the nation is shifting from a footing - a peace footing to a footing based on preparations for things military. And that puts everything in an entirely different context of what our national capacity is to act.

Four days ago, there was no authorization from the Congress for a use of force. Everything has changed. And that has put America on a different footing. And as a result of that, America's ability to mobilize and act is increasing.

QUESTION: My only other question was, sort of a follow up on Kelly Wallace's question. When you say that the President has not ruled any options out for our response, does that include the use of nuclear weapons, Ari?

MR. FLEISCHER: You know that's a subject we never even get into. You're asking me operational issues.

QUESTION: I'm asking you to clarify your earlier statement that nothing has been ruled out. Are you being absolute about it or not?

MR. FLEISCHER: Kelly was asking me about ground troops.

QUESTION: Well, you said nothing has been ruled out, no eventualities. I'm asking if that's truly what you mean now?

MR. FLEISCHER: When I said nothing has been ruled out, it was about ground troops. But if you're asking me what type of weapons we're going to use, that's a question that - if you asked me that question in peace time, I wouldn't answer it; you're asking me today, I don't' answer those questions.

QUESTION: I have two questions. I just wondered if you could give us any more details on the agreements that Pakistan made to help in any way it could, and what that actually means? Also, does the U.S. government have any reaction to Masood's death?

MR. FLEISCHER: I would just refer you back to what Powell said on that. I think he was asked that question this morning and there's nothing I can add to his answer.

QUESTION: What about - they're saying, out of Pakistan, at least, they're saying that they're going to comply with U.N. Security Council decisions. Has the U.S. made some sort of deal with them to cover them through the U.N. so that they can do this without incurring the wrath of Afghanistan?

MR. FLEISCHER: Let me try to learn a little bit more about that. On the specifics of it, I'd feel much more comfortable walking through each one of these alleged specific things that we've asked for. Powell did not address what the specific things we asked for - of course, as you know, you heard him not get into that. He just, nevertheless, expressed his appreciation for their cooperation so far.

QUESTION: What about Masood?

MR. FLEISCHER: The question is?

QUESTION: Does the U.S. have any reaction to his death? I mean, he's the strongest guerrilla leader, anti-Taliban leader that there was there.

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't have anything on that. You may want to check with State.

QUESTION: I just want to go back to one that was asked some time ago. It seems like the President now is preparing the American people for a wider and longer operation than they might be expecting. But is there also the thought of preparing them for the idea there might not be anything in the immediate or near term -- it's sort of inherent now, you know, be patient, we'll do something, but we're not rushing into it.

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President said that we will act at an hour of our choosing. The President's words speak for themselves on that. I'll just leave it at that.

QUESTION: Can you give us more of a sense, Ari, of how far advanced the planning is, whatever may happen? And, secondly, can you say in any more detail what sort of help you might be seeking from the United States' allies, beyond the obvious expressions of support you've had?

MR. FLEISCHER: Obviously, on the planning, I'm not going to get into that. The President yesterday indicated his satisfaction about the pace of the planning and its various aspects.

As for other nations, the United States is talking to them about - you know, different nations can help in different ways. Some nations will be able to help in many ways, other nations in more limited ways. But among the ways the nations can be helpful are diplomacy, things financial, things economic, things military, things humanitarian. So there can be a host of ways that different nations can respond. And some nations will be in stronger positions to respond in each and every one of those ways. Other nations may choose to respond only in more limited ways or may only have the means to respond in more limited ways.

QUESTION: So you're suggesting, though, that you might be asking military support from allies?

MR. FLEISCHER: I have indicated that, yes.

QUESTION: Hey, Ari. Do you have any more on these phone calls - how long they were, what they talked about?

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes. Sean is with me. He'll give that to you right now.

MR. McCORMACK: The President spoke with President Aznar for about 10 minutes this morning. One note - (inaudible) -- the Spanish government in public solidarity with the United States. He said that Spain would stand together with the U.S., both as a NATO ally and as a friend of the United States. We regard this as another encouraging sign from a close friend of the emerging international coalition.

President Fox and President Bush spoke for approximately the same amount of time. President Fox reiterated Mexico's solidarity with the President and the U.S. people. President Fox noted Mexico is working with U.S. authorities on border security and that Mexico is working with other Latin American countries to help and cooperate with the U.S. in our fight against terrorism.

QUESTION: Okay, thanks, Sean. And, Ari, do you have any sort of week ahead?

MR. FLEISCHER: Not at this moment, no.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you very much.

QUESTION: Ari, we're embarked on an effort that puts pressure on leaders in a part of the world where our alliances, even the strong ones, such as with the Saudis, have weak points. We are endeavoring to go after fundamentalists who are, themselves, a large threat to the leadership of places like Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

I'm wondering whether we have - and if I can say parenthetically, we've had mixed success in getting help from the Saudis in things like the Khobar Tower bombing. Do we have, from the Saudis, from other Arab governments and from Western financial centers, a new, stronger commitment that we will be able to get at Osama bin Laden's finances, which are his real strength?

MR. FLEISCHER: Wendall, I think you really very accurately put your finger on a big picture question here. And that's why the President has referred to this as the new war of the 21st century - that it doesn't have borders, it can be nameless, can be faceless, can be shadowy.

The President, on January 20th, was aware, that that is the new type of threat America faces from international terrorism. And all the planning that's being done has taken those vagaries and complexities into account. And that's why the President, in his radio address today, is telling the American people that this will be long, this will be difficult, this will be complicated.

Only time will tell, is the answer to your question about the specifics of it and the type of cooperation we're going to get from others. And as I indicated earlier, different nations will contribute in different ways - some will do more, some will do less. Only time will tell. But it will be discernable, it will be measurable and we will know.

QUESTION: Do I take by that, that as of now, in the short-term, at least, we don't have new commitments to choke off Osama bin Laden's financial network?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, you can't reach that conclusion. That's the type of information that we're not going to disclose as people cooperate in different degrees. You won't know, and neither will our enemies until the President is ready to make any type of announcement.

QUESTION: What is the President's assessment of the security situation in this country right now?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President has said to the American people very plainly, it's not business as usual; it's important for everybody to resume what they do, their jobs, their livelihoods, but to be on a higher state of vigilance. And one of the reasons the President has called up the Reserves is to make that easier.

QUESTION: Is the administration working with - or how is the administration working with state and local governments on civil defense issues at all? Is there anything being done in that regard in this new environment?

MR. FLEISCHER: On that, Terry, you probably need to check with DOD and the relevant agencies for specifics. There are ongoing concerns about security, and the government, in a host of ways, is moving to address them through the various agencies - DOD, Coast Guard, et cetera - but you may want to check with the agencies on the specifics.

QUESTION: Okay. And, finally, you mentioned that the President and President Fox talked about border security. What precisely is being done along that border?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'd just refer you to what Sean said. We don't have details beyond that.

QUESTION: No more information on what Fox has pledged to do on that border?

MR. FLEISCHER: Sean says we don't have any more details right here.

QUESTION: All right, thanks.

QUESTION: Ari, I wanted to follow up. A couple of times you've mentioned financial and economic options available to the United States and its allies. Without announcing the President's plan, can you talk about what options are available there? Is it freezing assets or what?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'm not going to get into that level of specificity, but when the President says this is a comprehensive effort, I think he's making pretty plain that terrorism, wherever it exists and is found, whatever measures of success it's had, has found resources and put its resources in a variety of places. And that's, again, why I indicated when the President talks about the new type of threat, 21st century war on terrorism, all planning accounts for that, all planning knows that this is not just an old-fashioned battle on a battlefield with tanks and sand - that there are many aspects to it that involve things beyond that just military.

And efforts the President is leading are aimed at all of those areas. And, again, I just have to apologize, but I think you'll understand, when the President says, we will let you know when we have something to announce as far as our actions, those type of specific questions - which are logical - will be learned when the President decides to make information public about them.

QUESTION: Ari, Pakistanis are saying among those things that they are willing to do is allow the U.S. to store troops along its border. Can you confirm that that's one of the things you guys would like to see happen?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to talk about any military movement.

QUESTION: Ari, hi. Two questions. What was the President's evidence today for naming bin Laden as a prime suspect?

MR. FLEISCHER: What was his evidence?

QUESTION: This was the first day that he actually said bin Laden was a prime suspect. I'm wondering why he is saying that now?

MR. FLEISCHER: You know I can't reveal what his evidence is.

QUESTION: Let me ask you another question, going back to this question of ruling out ground troops or ground invasions. Does that mean - you're saying we shouldn't rule out anything, does that mean that his phrase in his radio address, where he said, this is a conflict without battlefields or beachheads, was really a metaphoric - was really more of a metaphor than a specific indication that there would be no amphibious or ground assaults?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, what the President is, in the war on terrorism it's not as if in the immediate reaction to a hostile act against our country you can target another nation's ships in a port, that you can target another nation's airplanes on a tarmac or another nation's tanks on a battlefield. It's not a 20th century war. And that's what the President is talking about when he's talking about terrorism being shadowy.

QUESTION: I understand that, but specifically he said, this is without battlefields or beachheads. So really, those are really -

MR. FLEISCHER: It's referring to what I just indicated, to the traditional definition of a war as being fought against an enemies planes, ships. It doesn't mean that there will never be traditional aspects, it just means that it's gone so much beyond that which is traditional.

QUESTION: There has been a number of people with Middle Eastern names who have been stopped by the IMS, by the police. Is there a concern at this point that peoples' civil liberties are being violated, or is the coming war effort so over-riding that that is incidental?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President has made it plain that we must be mindful of the rights of Arab Americans - and he has done so not only publicly, in one of his very first, most prominent live moments of that nation, when he was on the phone with Mayor Guiliani and Governor Pataki. In private meetings I've heard him call on members of congress and say that, all of you have a leadership responsibility to speak out and make sure that there are no actions taken against Arab Americans - they love our flag, too.

Law enforcement agencies are going to act on legitimate law enforcement considerations. And they will do so in accordance with all of our laws.

QUESTION: Ari, two days ago a senior administration official said the U.S. had not reached out yet to the Taliban. Has the U.S. reached out yet, or is it planning to?

MR. FLEISCHER: You might want to check with state. I can only tell you about the President's phone calls.

QUESTION: You can't talk about, you know, anyone else within the White House, that there's been any sort of conversation through any diplomatic channels with the Taliban?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, if it had gone through diplomatic channels, State would probably be in a better position. I don't know anything that I've heard about that topic here, Kelly.

QUESTION: Okay. Let me just ask you, too, did you get to talk to the President following his meetings with family members or victims and the rescue workers about what that visit to New York meant to him and if it gave him even more strength to go forward with big decisions ahead?

MR. FLEISCHER: I talked to him on the tarmac last night, when we arrived back in New Jersey and he changed - as he headed off to Camp David, but that was mostly about the joint resolution that the Congress was passing that evening.

But let me share this with you, from just watching him in that room. That was a closed event, let me lay out a little bit of the scene. It was the end of a very, very long day, where the President had obviously addressed the nation at the National Prayer Service. He had been to the site; he had been told first-hand and pointed to where they believe some of the bodies were; the whole description of what took place on the day the World Trade Center came down; walking amidst the rubble of it and talking to the fire fighters and the rescue workers; his remarks on the bull horn.

At the end of it all, the President capped his day by going up for what I think was the hardest of all moments, which was a room at the Javitz Center - a very large convention hall room that was cordoned off with pipe and drape. And about 200 family members are gathered there to meet the President -- family members of those firemen and policemen who were missing.

People ere telling him that they knew their children, their brothers, their wives, were not dead. They said - I can't tell you, I had one person come up to me and say, if anybody can get out, it's my brother; he was in Desert Storm, he's a Marine, he knows how to get out, he can survive under there for days; if anybody can get out, it's him.

And I think that's what everybody in that room was saying. I don't think there was anybody in that room who wanted to give up hope that the people who were missing will come out alive. And that was so much of the conversations with the President. And people were handing him pictures of those who were missing.

The beginning of it, the President was with about 200 people for an hour-and-a-half, and he spent time listening and talking with everybody, just one on one, hearing their individual stories of their family members. It was gut-wrenching. There was not a dry eye in that place. Literally at times family members were holding each other up so they wouldn't fall; they were linked, arm in arm and you could just hear cries and sobs. And I can only tell you, just having watched the President throughout all of this, there was a real transformation. At the beginning it was just gut-wrenching and emotional.

And toward the end, my take on it - and I have not talked to the President about this - but my take is that the President somehow grew from their sorrow an incredible strength. It was almost cathartic. That there was something about hearing their sorrow on such a personal and deep and sustained level, that it became pretty clear to the President that his job is to take these peoples' anguish and sorrow and channel into something positive for future generations.

And toward the end of it, he kind of resumed his normal way of making people smile and feel good and have a little bounce about himself and them. And I just watched him change in the course of that meeting. And then at the very end of it, the mom from Hicksville, Long Island, gave the President the badge of her son, who had been pronounced dead. And he was a police officer with the Port Authority. And when he died in the World Trade Center, his badge was on him. And it was given to his mom, and his mom turned around and gave it to the President yesterday, and the President kept it clutched in his hand as he continued walking around the room.

So I just share that with you, Kelly. That's my read on what happened with the President while he was in there.

QUESTION: Okay, thanks.

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm looking forward to asking him about that - I want to talk to him about it, also.

QUESTION: Yes, if we can get that, too, that would be great.

MR. FLEISCHER: All right, everybody. Well, thank you very much, and we'll be here if you need anything.

END 1:17 P.M. EDT