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White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer
White House Briefing Room
Washington, D. C.
September 18, 2001
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QUESTION: Tag team. Given the events of the last week and given the direction that we were headed before last Tuesday, how confident is the President that we can avoid a recession?

MR. FLEISCHER: That will be a simple matter of judging the economics as the data comes out. The second quarter, as you know, grew at a rate of 0.2 percent, and the third quarter's preliminary data will be released, I believe, on September 24th. So that's next week. And we'll know at that time how close to recession the country is or is not. And of course although that data will -- substantially, if not all, preceded the attack on the country.

But the President understands that the fundamental underpinnings of the economy are strong -- that even with the attack, the combined effect of the Federal Reserve rate cuts and the stimulative affect of the tax cut will have an impact on the economy. We'll see precisely, in the wake of the attack, what level of impact they will have. And the President will gauge all that as he meets with his economic team to decide whether or not anything else needs to be done.

QUESTION: Ari, you said that the United States has received mixed and conflicting messages from the Taliban. How are those messages being communicated? Is the Taliban communicating with this government through an intermediary?

MR. FLEISCHER: You might want to ask the State Department for the exact ways of the conversations. I know that in Islamabad, for example, there can be contacts between our embassy and Taliban officials in Pakistan. There are also press accounts of what the Taliban are saying. So there are various ways.

QUESTION: Are you trying to open a channel to that government that hasn't existed before because of this crisis?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think you may want to check with the State Department on that. This is a real legal, diplomatic matter of exactly what form of communication there is with that government. And State could explain it to you better than I can.

QUESTION: Ari, now the Indian-American community, especially with turbans and beards are under attack in this area, in Virginia. And this morning the members held a press conference at the National Press Club, and they're calling on the administration, President Bush, they wrote letters, and also that he should take steps and call on the Attorney General to take immediate steps today. And same -- from the Indian Ambassador, in which also he said that they are with the U.S., but at the same time, our community who are citizens of this country should be protected as any other citizens; they are the same.

MR. FLEISCHER: Absolutely. The head of the FBI yesterday made that message clear, and this government will not tolerate any such intolerance. And the President is committed to doing everything he can. You know, 99.999 percent of the American people would never even think or do anything like this. To the degree there is a teeny minority, this government will get them. That is wrong, and the laws must be enforced, and they will be. And that's a commitment from the President at the highest level.

QUESTION: At the stakeout here, Mineta seemed to say that though it's premature to talk about the specific details in the airline bailout, that the airlines should be made whole from the losses they suffered while they were forced out of the skies last week. That would suggest there is a floor on what the administration is considering for the airlines.

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think what he's indicating is that we have to help the airlines to become safe, secure and stable. There's no question that when the order from the FAA went out, ordering all the airlines to put their planes down wherever was the closest location where the FAA could land them, as opposed to their destinations, that has a cost to the airlines, of course. It also was what enabled the United States to know exactly how many flights could be hijacked that were up in the air. That's how the United States was able to quickly gain information.

So this is all part of what the President has tasked his advisors and the Secretary of Transportation to look at, as they consider what steps to take.

QUESTION: Mineta indicated, though, that at a minimum, the airlines should be made whole for the losses they suffered, which he described as $250 to $300 million a day for those days when they weren't allowed to fly. So it makes it sound as if there is a minimum that the administration has already agreed to, and it's just thinking about the rest of the --

MR. FLEISCHER: I was in synagogue this morning, and so I did not participate in the meeting with the airline people, and in yesterday's meeting, there was no discussion with the President about minimums. There was a discussion of taking those steps to help the airlines to deal with the consequences of the attack.

QUESTION: Ari, the AP reports that they have filed a protest to Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority about threats to a cameraman who filmed crowds of Palestinians celebrating the attacks on the United States. And the Palestinian Authority ordered material not to be aired, and there were threats to the lives of cameramen. And this was also protested by the Foreign Press Association in Jerusalem.

And my two-part question. The first is, the President surely supports the AP and the Foreign Press Association in this protest, doesn't he, Ari?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President always supports the right of a free press to operate around the world.

QUESTION: Good. Now, since it was -- (laughter) -- since it was so many thousands of Arafat's Palestinians who, in Nablus, Ramallah, East Jerusalem and Gaza publicly celebrated the mass murder of nearly 6,000 of our fellow Americans and I understand 60 other countries -- and they also carried photos of bin Laden. Why does the President want anything to do with the leader of these creatures?

MR. FLEISCHER: When I indicated earlier, Les, that the President welcomed the steps or the announcements that were taken in the Middle East, it's because through this tragedy, the President hopes that others in the Middle East would seize an opportunity to finally get serious about the peace process and implementation of the Mitchell talks. Anyone, anywhere in the world who reacted with any level of joy to the tragedy in New York needs to be denounced.

But there still is a fundamental issue in the Middle East about how to achieve peace with Israel and her neighbors, and this President will remain committed to that process.

Let me go to the back.

QUESTION: On the airline bailout, I think $24 billion may sound like a large sum to a lot of people, and you said earlier that many industries are hurting. Is there any thought being given to helping other industries, and can you explain more about why the airline industry should be bailed out? Does the President feel it's a matter of national security to keep all the airlines that currently exist flying?

MR. FLEISCHER: Number one, when I said the President is confident in the fundamentals of the economy, it's always important to keep in mind that our nation has gone through war before. And the American people, the American commerce, American industry adjusts. It does figure out how to get back on its footing. And that's part of the reason our nation is so resilient and strong for more than 200 years.

In the case of the airline industry, they have been particularly harmed by what has taken place in the wake of the attack up in New York. And so the President has directed his staff to take a look at any potential proposals that can come together to help the airline industry. I indicated the President is going to have other meetings today on the overall status of the economy, and to the degree that the President authorizes any actions to help the economy, it helps all those who, of course, participate in the economy. Beyond that, I have nothing else to offer on it.

QUESTION: Is there any concern that one industry after another might, as this effort goes on, especially if we go to a full-scale war situation, come to the White House with a hand out, saying we need some bailout for us -- and the money has to come from somewhere at some point.

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't think the President looks at this as a bailout. This is a reasoned reaction to what has taken place to the airline industry in the wake of the attack.

QUESTION: As the administration puts together all the various pieces of the economic puzzle, with the data coming in next week, how much weight, how much significance, how concerned is the administration about one particular part of that picture, which would be consumer confidence, which, arguably, has taken a big hit from what's happened here beyond what was already -- the trend that was already evident?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the answer to that really is contained in what I talked about before, that America has gone through war before, and our people and our industries, our commerce has proven its resiliency and strength. And an amazing thing is happening right now, if you take a look at consumer confidence, if you take a look at people who think the country is on the right track. There has been in many circles a patriotic rally where the American people have expressed their confidence and their belief that the United States is on the right track, that the United States economy will be strong.

And it's that American spirit that has always kept us free, and has enabled us to deal with any adversaries that have ever crossed our paths before. So there's that spirit of the country that will get matched by the real policies of this President that will lead to the growth and the continuation of our strength.

QUESTION: Ari, can I ask about the President's view of his own role over the next few days, or however long it takes to come up with the first of likely military reaction? Is he going to be holding daily events to rally the American people and highlight various aspects of what he believes to be this sort of comprehensive war on terror that he has in mind?

MR. FLEISCHER: There's no rule. This is new for -- fortunately, this is new for all of us. I think the President will continue to speak out as he sees fit. He will continue to say and answer things as he feels is right for the country. And that's really what you've been seeing.

QUESTION: The reason I ask is because, obviously, to the extent that the American people are angry and are looking for action, there are sort of two graphs going -- one is going down as their attention span may begin to slip. Does he feel the need to sort of keep up a certain level of concentration on this issue?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think the President -- I know the President believes his first need is to put together a war plan that will work, over whatever period of time it requires. That is his first priority. And he has asked the American people for patience, as you've heard him say, as Secretary Rumsfeld has said, as the Vice President has said, as that process continues. He's aware that the American people are very focused on this right now, but it doesn't matter the degree of focus, the President will do what he believes is the right option. He will not rush it, he will not delay it, he will act as he has said, at a time and a moment and a way of America's choosing. That's his first thought.

Beyond that, the President does understand that he has an important role to play in speaking for the nation. The American people want to know what he is doing, what he is thinking and why he is thinking it, so people continue to speak out and answer those questions.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ari. On the international terrorism, I understand the President wants to change international tolerance for terrorism, but you listed a disparate group of terrorists in Northern Ireland, everyplace else. Does the President have any proof that these different terrorist groups are linked together in any way?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the al Qaeda organization is present in, as you've heard from the President, more than 60 countries, and its links are -- its links are amorphous, and that's one of the ways that terrorism has so successfully operated around the world. It's hard to tell where one group begins and another group ends often. But the President is making clear that as he approaches this, he's approaching it from a very broad and total sense. I think it's his judgment and the judgment of the planners that is the way to be most effective.

QUESTION: Are you leaving the impression that this campaign against terrorism will be against the IRA as well as all of these -- I mean, it's going to be that massive? This is what you're telling us.

MR. FLEISCHER: The President has indicated he will go after terrorism wherever terrorism threatens the United States. And --

QUESTION: Oh, threatens the United States.

QUESTION: I'll yield the floor to Ron.

QUESTION: Actually, I wanted to follow up on that and then ask you something else. Have you just now declared war on the IRA?

MR. FLEISCHER: I said that the links for one group begins and the other group ends are often amorphous, and the President has said we will go after terrorism in a way that is most effective.

QUESTION: But we only go to war against terrorist groups that threaten the United States? Was that a distinction you intended to make?

MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.

QUESTION: Let me follow up with something more nebulous. Small point. But have the Bushes had a chance to make a donation to the rescue groups, any of these charities, themselves?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'll ask.

QUESTION: Please.

QUESTION: We carried word of an intelligence report believed to be credible that Mohammed Atta, who was taken to be the ringleader of the 19 that were involved in the last Tuesday's attack, was seen meeting with the head of Iraqi intelligence in Europe earlier this year. Do you have any knowledge of that report? Do you have any knowledge of a connection to Iraq?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'll have to take a look at that.

QUESTION: The other question was, the President used the word crusade last Sunday, which has caused some consternation in a lot of Muslim countries. Can you explain his usage of that word, given the connotation to Muslims?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think what the President was saying was -- had no intended consequences for anybody, Muslim or otherwise, other than to say that this is a broad cause that he is calling on America and the nations around the world to join. That was the point -- purpose of what he said.

QUESTION: Does he regret having used that word, Ari, and will he not use it again in the context of talking about this effort?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think to the degree that that word has any connotations that would upset any of our partners, or anybody else in the world, the President would regret if anything like that was conveyed. But the purpose of his conveying it is in the traditional English sense of the word. It's a broad cause.

QUESTION: You mentioned the President's pleasure with the developments in the Middle East. What role did the administration play in all of its ongoing diplomatic conversations the past week to achieve what appears to be the beginnings of a breakthrough in the Middle East on the peace question?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it's been a constant process. It's something that the President spoke with Prime Minister Sharon about when they spoke on the phone earlier. And it's been something that the Secretary of State has been very involved in in his conversations. And it's also based on good sense that from this there is an opportunity.

QUESTION: Carry on with that. An opportunity because it's necessary for the United States as it builds a coalition to make sure this -- there is also progress shown in that part of the world?

MR. FLEISCHER: Because I think it's a reminder to the parties in the Middle East that they can choose a path that leads to further violence, or they can choose a path that leads to peace. And it wasn't so long ago that the two were making progress on the path that led to peace. And the President hopes that in the wake of witnessing such an act of terrifying violence that it will send a wakeup to the Palestinian authority and to Israel and to all in the Middle East, don't let this path of violence be the path that guides you. Choose another path, and that is the past that you committed yourselves to, to engage in dialogue, to engage in confidence-building steps, to engage in security talks, so that you can have a lasting cease-fire, which allows you to address the broader political problems in the Middle East.

QUESTION: There are reports that an aviation official contacted Senator Kerrey and warned that Boston Logan airport was vulnerable to a hijacking, that the plane could be then used to crash into a building. There are also reports that FBI agents were at one of these flights schools.

Looking back and looking forward to securing the safety of the American people, is the President concerned about the information flow -- one hand knowing what the other hand is doing, the head knowing nothing within the federal government? That, one of the -- what went wrong last Tuesday?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think that any time you have a nation as open as ours, where you have so many hundreds of millions of people who come to visit this country, and you have so many crossings into this nation, we have a security system that is set up that is really among the best, if not the best in the world. I think in the wake of this, obviously, changes are being made to tighten up. But there was no credible -- there was no specific evidence that this attack was coming. And we remain an open nation, which has been one of our greatest strengths and assets, and will always be. But it does expose us to vulnerabilities.

QUESTION: Does the President want to get a better system in place where information can be processed quickly to the people who are securing the country's safety?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think you may want to direct that directly at the operational side. If you want to talk to the FAA, if you want to talk to the Department of Justice, if you want to talk to the Pentagon --

QUESTION: Isn't that a White House priority?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President's priority is to take all steps necessary to secure the safety of the American people. And he'll continue to do so.

QUESTION: In limiting this battle against terrorism to groups which threaten the United States, what incentive is there for the international coalition the President is trying to assemble to join in? And in particular, with Britain, which has its own issues with fighting the IRA?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, when I say that, the President has made it clear to his allies on the phone that these attacks were aimed at Western civilization; they were aimed at those who cherish liberty. And that does include nations outside the United States. And when I indicate -- the question about the IRA, for example, you should not interpret that to mean that the IRA is or is not a part of this.

What I've said -- because I'm not going to be specific about any one organization -- what I have said is when the President commits this nation and others to fight terrorism, it's hard to tell where the bounds of one group begins and one groups ends, and in that, it goes beyond the United States; all nations have a reason to protect themselves. And as this coalition is formed, nations will have those reasons to protect themselves as part of this.

So that broadens my earlier answer a little bit.

QUESTION: A follow-up to this one. You're asking for different contributions from different countries. Are you going to ask any European countries for any military contribution? And what do you make out of countries which are neutral, like Austria?

MR. FLEISCHER: This is going to be the longstanding policy of this White House in this matter: Until the President chooses to announce what concrete actions and steps are being taken, I won't get into the specificity of what we are asking.

The requests fall into a broad series of categories, involving things that could be military, political, financial, economic, diplomatic. And as I explained yesterday, the reason that I'm not going to get into those specifics is, to say from this podium what we're asking somebody to do to help us would give information to those who want to hurt us -- they could change their habits, they could change their behavior, they could change the way they do things if they knew what we were specifically going after. So, of course, I can't answer that in specificity.

QUESTION: You're including military needs, you're including military, political, financial and so on?

MR. FLEISCHER: I just answered that in the affirmative.

QUESTION: What is the White House position on the Justice Department's proposal to the Hill on counterterrorism and changing the laws? And I understand people on the Hill are waiting to get word from the White House on whether or not they support it, and are just waiting to hear from you guys.

MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated yesterday, the President supports Attorney General Ashcroft's efforts in this matter. He's briefing, as a matter of fact, as we speak, and so you'll be able to get additional information from the General.

Thank you. Thank you.

END