House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer
White House Briefing Room
Washington, D. C.
September 18, 2001
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
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
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
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
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
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll ask.
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,
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.