White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer
White House Briefing Room
Washington, D. C.
September 17, 2001
1:17 P.M. EDT

MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. I would like to fill you in on the President's day and, also, I have a couple announcements to make.

President Bush this morning spoke with President Zayid of the United Arab Emirates. The two spoke about cooperation against terrorism. The President thanked President Zayid for his public statements of support and his willingness to help the United States.

The President, earlier today, convened a meeting of his National Security Council to continue making plans. Earlier, the President visited the Pentagon to be briefed on the status of the call-up of the Reserves and to thank the employers and families who we know will be making a sacrifice to allow the Reservists to come serve our nation.

The President is about to make a phone call to the Chancellor of the New York City public schools, Harold Levy, to discuss how the federal government is prepared to help the school children and the parents of New York City deal with this tragedy as children go back to school.

The Secretary of Education is with the Chancellor right now. He will be there for the phone call and he will be making an announcement about additional millions of dollars which will be provided to New York City public schools to help them in this effort and to help our children and to help their parents.

A little later this afternoon, the President is going to be departing the White House to go to an Islamic center in the Washington, D.C. area, where the President intends to speak out very strongly about the need to remind all Americans that Arab Americans and Muslim Americans love the American flag, just like everybody else who is a citizen of this country. And he's looking forward to that visit. He'll spend some time with the leaders of the community, as well as various members of the community. The President considers that a very important meeting.

Later this afternoon, the President will return for a meeting of the economic policy team, where they will discuss the consequences of the terrorist attack on the United States, from an economic point of view, as well as discuss the airline industry and the position the airline industry is in at this moment.

Mrs. Bush will be in Pennsylvania for the memorial service for those who lost their lives in the crash of the airline in southwest Pennsylvania.

Two announcements for you, and then I'll be more than pleased to take questions. President Bush will welcome French President Jacques Chirac for a meeting and a private working dinner on September 18th, tomorrow. The visit is part of President Bush's continuing consultation with key allies about our global agenda, including the war on terrorism. And I'd note that this was a previously planned meeting.

In addition, the President will welcome Amir Shaiki Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani to Washington. He is the Amir of Qatar, for a working visit on October 4th. And with that, I'm more than happy to take questions.

QUESTION: Ari, on the economic front, the President talked about working with Congress on an economic stimulus package. Is he specifically preparing to back another tax cut? Does he think the country needs that right now?

MR. FLEISCHER: Too soon to say, David, but the President will continue to keep his eye on the economy, and he will continue to listen to members of Congress in both parties about what steps, if any, they believe need to be taken to help the economy, if any need to be taken.

QUESTION: Can you be more specific? Is that one of the ideas that's currently being discussed, both in Congress and between Congress and the administration?

MR. FLEISCHER: That is one of the ideas being discussed, correct.

QUESTION: And what kind of tax cut? Are we talking about capital gains --

MR. FLEISCHER: No, it's too soon to say. The President will have the briefing later this afternoon, and so I would hesitate to speculate until the briefing.

QUESTION: Let me go further. Does the administration support the bill in Congress to provide assistance to the airline industry?

MR. FLEISCHER: That's the topic that will come up at the meeting this afternoon -- the best forum that assistance, if any is to be coming, could be available. So that's a topic the President will review, and he has -- he's very concerned about the health of the airline industry.

QUESTION: Will there be a decision on either one of these matters out of this meeting?

MR. FLEISCHER: Let the meeting take place, and I'll try to keep you informed. And, again, this is the beginning of a process where the President will keep his eye on the economy, in the aftermath of the attack on the United States. So I'll keep you updated.

QUESTION: The Taliban is now saying that it's Supreme Council will meet tomorrow to discuss the U.S. demand to turn over bin Laden. What's the administration's response to that? What are you looking for out of that?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President's response will be, he will see what they say. But this is much bigger than that. The President has made it clear, the Vice President has made it clear, the Secretary of Defense has made it clear that this war on terrorism is bigger than any one person. The al Qaeda organization is a network that is represented in some 60 countries around the world, that exists beyond any one leader. And this war on terrorism is a war that the President said he is committed to taking throughout this organization that engaged in this attack on our country.

QUESTION: And the Pakistani officials are saying that they told Afghan leaders, the Taliban, they had 72 hours to turn over bin Laden. Is that a U.S.-sponsored deadline?

MR. FLEISCHER: Anything involving, any specific actions that may or may not have been taken by our allies in this matter, I'm not going to get into. And let me try to shed a little light on the reason for that, because there have been many questions about what have you asked your allies to do, and I've indicated the broad areas.

We've asked our allies to cooperate with us in military areas, in financial areas, in economic areas, in political and diplomatic. And I understand why you want to know more. But for me to indicate to you anything more than that would also be an indication to our enemy about what concrete steps allies may be taking. And one of the easiest ways for them to get around any steps our allies may be taking is for them to know about them.

So I wish somehow there was a way that I could share this information with people here and with the American people. But, as you know, any answer I would give to that would also be directly provided to our enemy. And I will not do that.

QUESTION: Ari, two things. One is, we're hearing reports of an American airliner that had to make an emergency landing in Chicago today. The FBI came on board, apparently, and took away three gentlemen. What kind of state of alert is the White House had, and law enforcement, about people who may still be flying, that may be a danger? And, secondly, has the President rescinded the order for the military to shoot down commercial airliners, if necessary?

MR. FLEISCHER: On the second point, I'm not going to address the exact status of the defense operations to protect the American people. Suffice it to say the United States remains on a very heightened status of alert to protect the traveling public. But that's an operational question so, therefore, I'm not going to get beyond what I have said.

On the first part of it, the President has tried every day in every way to warn the American people that this is a war and we are an open society. Obviously, the events of September 11th, a terrorist organization was able to penetrate our country and to attack. And being an open society, everybody does still need to be vigilant; people still need to take care and to remember that we are in a war footing. And it is a different time and a different era, unfortunately.

QUESTION: Does law enforcement, Ari, in the United States, does law enforcement believe that there may be a number of suspects still at large in the U.S. that may have participated in the Tuesday attack and may be planning future attacks?

MR. FLEISCHER: Concerns remain dealing with ongoing security. And that's why I think you've seen steps that are being taken by the Department of Transportation, the Federal Aviation Administration, to do everything possible to secure the traveling public, particularly in the air. So there's a reason for the stepped-up vigilance and for the stepped-up security. It's because there are causes for concern that remain.

QUESTION: There's a news report today that there's a division among the President's advisors about whether or how much to help the airline industry. As the President goes into this meeting, what is the current thinking about that? And is ironing this out one of the purposes of the meeting?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think, as you can imagine in any major issue where it involves the health of an American industry, there are lots of factors that need to get considered. And the President will have a good opportunity today to start to address what the facts are. And as I indicated earlier, the meeting hasn't taken place yet. It will take place mid-to-late this afternoon, and you may want to check back with me after that.

QUESTION: Ari, the IMF cancelled their meetings today, and the Emir of Qatar is coming. Do you think the WTO ministerial should proceed as planned?

MR. FLEISCHER: I have no information about that. That, of course, is in Qatar and that's an entirely different security situation. So you can't put everything in the same category. Of course, the meeting that was cancelled is right here in Washington, D.C., and that meeting would have involved bringing down police from New York, bringing down police from Philadelphia. Obviously, there is a major strain on the police departments along the east coast and they've made their decision.


QUESTION: What items on the President's legislative agenda are now on the back burner, shelved for the year?

MR. FLEISCHER: None. It was interesting -- none. It was interesting, at the meeting last week with the Cabinet, the meeting of the Cabinet was called for the purpose of discussing what the Cabinet members, again, in collecting information from Cabinet Secretaries about the status of combatting the attack on our country and dealing with it. At the end of the meeting, however, the President called on all the members of the Cabinet to take action on our domestic agenda.

The President reminded them that a patients' bill of rights remains important; that there are a series of initiatives that are pending up on the Hill that remain important. And he called on them to get done, including education reform, which the President reminded them remains a top priority domestically.

QUESTION: He doesn't expect to get it, surely?

MR. FLEISCHER: You know, Helen, I think it's interesting, the Congress still has a job to do and we still are a constitutional system and that's what has kept us strong and that's what is going to enable us to win. So there is a domestic agenda, the President is committed to it. I think it's fair to say that you'll hear less about it because of the dominance, obviously, of dealing with an attack on our country.

But the President told the Cabinet members to be dedicated to it and members of our staff are.

QUESTION: A couple of times in the past two or three days the President has talked about the need to rebuild New York, the need to do it as quickly as possible. It is his opinion that the World Trade Center, or something similar to it, should be rebuilt?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's too soon to say, John. And that's the type of conversation the President is going to want to have with New York officials and, of course, with the many private organizations who are headquarter in the World Trade Center.

But, obviously, the President has a real keen eye out for how to help New York and how to bring New York -- rebuild New York. But what form that will take, it's too soon to say, this is six days after the attack.

QUESTION: But is he of the mind, though, that if you did not rebuild that building, or a reasonable facsimile thereof, that it would be bowing to the terrorists?

MR. FLEISCHER: No. I think, again, the President is going to have serious discussions at the appropriate time with the Mayor of New York, with the Governor of New York, with the appropriate people who are responsible for such an endeavor. But what the President is making clear is not only for the symbolism of rebuilding New York in the wake of attack, but for the humanity of it and for the deserving nature of helping New York, he is intent to get it done.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up on Helen's question. The President would like those issues addressed this year, patients' rights, education and everything that was on the plate, trade promotion authority, still this year?

MR. FLEISCHER: That was his charge to the Cabinet members.

QUESTION: Now, wouldn't that foster some disunity on the Hill? I mean, a lot of those are very contentious issues and he's looking for a united Congress.

MR. FLEISCHER: You know, Keith, I guess that's one way to look at it. I don't think that's the way the President looks at it. And I think that in the wake of this there is a different mood in the Congress, and in the Presidency about working with each other and cooperating with each other. So I've made no such presumption. The issue should be, proceed with the people's business on the domestic front and work together.

QUESTION: Can you give us any kind of summary about the Pentagon meeting the President had today?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President received an update about the status of the call up of the Reserves, the number of people involved, the activities that they will be working in. The President, of course, listed many of those activities -- you heard him, himself, when he was talking about engineering roles, he went through -- protecting the harbors. He went through the whole list of activities which the Reserves are helping in. And also talked about the employers and the families, the difficulty that a call-up can impose on them. And the President expressed his gratitude for those who provide such a vital service.

It's interesting because the Reserves really do play a tremendous role in our nation's ability to defend itself. It's not a passive role, it's not a small role -- it's an integral role. And that's what they talked about.

QUESTION: Ari, you know the eyes of the world are on Wall Street today. It's been closed for six days, after the terrorist incident. Is the President being appraised -- I know Secretary O'Neill was over there for the opening, but is the President being appraised continually of the behavior of the markets, not just the averages?

MR. FLEISCHER: You know, I did not ask him when we went over to the Pentagon if he was aware what stocks were trading at, at that moment. But, of course, the President is keenly aware of the first day of the markets opening, and the importance of the markets working and functioning. It's a terribly important topic. That's why Secretary O'Neill has been so involved in it and will continue to be.

QUESTION: Will he be at the meeting this afternoon, the economic meeting?

MR. FLEISCHER: Secretary O'Neill? I believe the meeting is of the White House staff that works with all the Cabinet Secretaries. But, again, the meeting will be in a couple of hours.

QUESTION: Ari, can you elaborate a little bit on the President's remarks today about wanted dead or alive? I mean, could you explain his intent? Is he essentially issuing an appeal for anyone to hunt down and possibly kill bin Laden?

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't think you can elaborate. I think they were pretty plainly spoken.

QUESTION: How about in addition to that, then, if we want to go through the same imagery, is there any consideration of a federal bounty, a reward?

MR. FLEISCHER: There's nothing that I've heard about like that.

QUESTION: To follow up on that, yesterday afternoon the President used the term, find the perpetrators and bringing them to justice. Was he talking about a form of justice in which you police, the international community polices, brings them to an international sense of justice in terms of judicial justice, or is he talking about specifically just military strikes, obliteration?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, and the President said that again today, he said that remark in the context of justice. He added that, as you heard, in his comments. I think that justice comes in many different shapes and forms. And the President has stressed his opinion about a couple of those different shapes and forms that it could come in.

QUESTION: The comments that the President and his senior advisors have made about the increased security, the increased awareness that we will have to follow now have been careful to note that we don't want this country's freedoms to be eroded by the terrorist attack, we want to remain America. And, yet, the presence of five or four Middle East nationals on a domestic flight is exceptionally rare.

Are the rules different for non-Americans? Should that trigger now questions -- Middle East nationals on domestic flights in large numbers, should that trigger questions? And are non-Americans in this heightened sense, this more aware time, to undergo more close scrutiny than members of the Arab American community -- non-Americans to undergo more scrutiny than they did in the past?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think when you look at the fact that there are lines, sometimes people are told to get to their flights four hours early, that way they can all go through the same security review, I think it's perfectly clear that these provisions apply to one and to all. As a matter of law enforcement, anybody who is believed to be violating the laws of the United States will be held accountable and responsible. And the laws target law-breakers.

QUESTION: -- whether we can be more focused on non-Americans in this time. I'm trying not to get to profiling; I'm trying not to get to the diminution of civil liberties. But is the scrutiny more on non-Americans than it can be on Americans?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think the scrutiny is on those who violate the law. And whether that's in the form of immigration, whether it's in the form of anything else that would give the law enforcement community reason to believe that there are threats. But I remind you, again, that the precautions that have been put in place apply to one and to all.

And, again, the President -- also, there's a reminder here when he goes to the mosque this afternoon that it still is a time to remind all Americans about the role of civil justice in our society, about the role we all play as individuals in treating our neighbors fairly and in making no presumptions about guilt. And that's one of the reasons the President is going. He wants to stand shoulder to shoulder with the American Arab community and Muslims to say that they, too, are patriots and they, too, are victims of this attack.