White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer
White House Briefing Room
Washington, D. C.
September 19, 2001
2:20 P.M. EDT

MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. The President today spoke with South Korean President Kim early this morning. President Kim reiterated the deep condolences of the Korean people and the government, and said that South Korea will fully cooperate in the antiterrorist effort in the spirit of the United States/Republic of Korea Mutual Defense Treaty. He also noted South Korea's readiness to participate in the international coalition.

President Bush thanked President Kim for South Korea's support and concerns for American people, and said we will stay in consultation about the war against terrorism. They both look forward to meeting in Seoul next month.

The President also spoke this morning with President Mbeki of South Africa. President Bush expressed his appreciation for South Africa's offer of search and rescue teams and medical assistance to help in America's recovery. President Mbeki offered his condolences and said that President Bush has taken on an important task to mobilize a global coalition against terrorism. The Presidents acknowledged the common threat of terrorism to both the United States and South Africa, and President Bush explained that his effort to go after terrorist sanctuaries, as well as countries who sponsor such evil.

Earlier today, as well, the President had a meeting with his National Security Council. He met with the President of Indonesia, and the two Presidents condemned the attack on the United States and pledged that they would strengthen existing cooperation in the global effort to combat international terrorism. They also reaffirmed their commitment to the principles of religious freedom and tolerance and relations within and among nations.

As the leader of the world's largest Muslim population and the third largest democracy in the world, President Megawati joined President Bush in underlining the importance of differentiating between the religion of Islam and the acts of violent extremists, which has taken place in New York and here at the Pentagon in Washington, emphasizing that Islam is a religion of peace that neither teaches hatred nor condones violence.

President Megawati encouraged President Bush in his stated purpose of building a broad coalition across religious lines and cultures to deal with these new and dangerous threats. And noting also, President Bush noted also that Islam is the fastest-growing religion in the United States. President Bush assured President Megawati that the American people respect Islam as one of the world's great religions, and that the United States would join hands with freedom-loving people around the world of all religions to combat international terrorism.

The President will meet with the Foreign Minister of Russia this afternoon. He will meet with the Foreign Minister of Germany this afternoon. And he will also meet with a bipartisan leadership group coming down from the Congress, including Speaker Hastert, Majority Leader Daschle, Minority Leader Gephardt and Minority Leader Lott, to discuss recent developments with the attack on the United States, as well as to discuss the important issues on the domestic agenda, particularly concerns about the American airline industry and a possible economic stimulus package, as well as whatever else may be on the minds of congressional leaders.

Finally, the President has noted the speech of President Musharraf today in Pakistan. The United States is very pleased with the cooperation of Pakistan, and President Musharraf's speech is an indication of the strong relationship between the United States and Pakistan to counterterrorism.

With that, Mr. Fournier?

QUESTION: Is the President definitely for a stimulus package, and it's just a matter of what it is? And does he think it's time now to give businesses a tax break after giving individuals tax breaks earlier in the year?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President, first and foremost, wants to work with Congress, and work closely with Congress. And that's why he's looking forward to this meeting with the leaders. And he wants to hear what the Democrats say, what the Republicans say, and he wants to see how narrow or how wide the differences may be, because we are in a new era where the differences, really, between the two parties are narrowing out of a sense of trying to help the country.

So he wants to work with Congress. He has talked about a variety of plans that could include tax relief, that include some areas of spending. Certainly $40 billion, which a large portion will be spent in a one-year period, of emergency assistance to deal with the consequences of this attack will have a stimulative effect on the economy. And the President is also prepared to listen to ideas about regulatory changes.

QUESTION: Such as?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to get into specifics. I'll allow them to have their meeting, and then as the President makes up any determinations or agreements are reached with Congress, I'll have more to indicate.

QUESTION: You know that the United States made specific requests/demands of Pakistan, and Pakistan is cooperating. Can you say whether in some of these meetings or in separate phone calls, the President is yet at the stage where he is making specific requests for various countries in the area of cooperating in this war?

MR. FLEISCHER: It varies. It varies from country to country. I think it's a safe assumption that in some cases the answer to that is yes; in other cases, it's developing, and will continue to develop as plans are made.

QUESTION: Can you say which countries have had various requests made of them?

QUESTION: Does the President feel any increasing pressure to act militarily? We see a new poll today, for example, that shows over 80 percent of Americans favor some sort of military action.

MR. FLEISCHER: As the President said last week, that while this attack may have begun by our enemies, it will end in a manner and at a time of America's choosing. I think the President is keenly mindful of the fact that this has to be done right. It cannot be done early, it cannot be done late; it has to be done for the right reasons, at the right time because the response will be effective.

And this is another reason why he's also mindful of the patience of the American people. The American people are a patient people. The American people also want to see action. But the President is going to be guided by a very resolute sense of only action that should be taken is action that will work, that will be effective, and that will be effective for the long-term. And so, therefore, whatever series of steps you take -- and I urge you to think beyond just the traditional military -- will be taken at the appropriate time and in the appropriate way, as the President sees fit.

QUESTION: What do you mean by "beyond just the traditional military"?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I keep reminding you that there are other steps that are financial, that are diplomatic, that are political. So I just think as you all approach this issue, you need to consider that mind-set, that this is, as the President points out, a different kind of war. It is the new war of the 21st century, and there will be more elements to it than only traditional military.

QUESTION: When you say it has to be done right, are you talking about going after the one person? And do we contemplate any change in our foreign policy that might have contributed to this?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President has said this is much bigger than any one person. This deals with all terrorist networks that contribute to this form of terrorism, and to those who harbor terrorism. The President has said that he sees in this an opportunity to do something for the next generations, so that people will not have to suffer these terrorist attacks that culminated in the attack on the World Trade Center.

QUESTION: So we could break diplomatic relations with any nation?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to get into any possibilities or hypotheticals, but the President has indicated clearly that they involve --

QUESTION: Well, those who harbor -- what would you do? You would invade their country?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to get into any of the specifics, but I have indicated earlier that it could involve things that are military, things that are diplomatic, things that are financial, all of the above.

QUESTION: Ari, last week officials were saying -- Secretary Powell, in particular -- that the U.S. would present convincing evidence to other governments and people around the world, if and when we acted, to show the justice and accuracy of our actions. This morning you seemed to indicate that in order not to compromise how we're gathering information, you might not do that. Did I read that right?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think the question was put to me, one, about the United Nations, would he go to the United Nations before he'd take any action and present evidence to the United Nations? I was also asked if I had anything that I could contribute publicly here from this podium about proof that we had. And that was the context of my answer. But the President will, of course, work with our allies and other nations as we make plans and move forward.

QUESTION: And so we will be presenting that convincing proof to other governments?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think we are going to build out alliances and coalitions. And that means interesting interplay, always, with different nations about how much they want to contribute, how much they will do based on their own desires and their own abilities. And that is going to vary from nation to nation. So I don't think you can make any one inference about sharing of information, for example, across the world. It would be different elements with different nations.

QUESTION: And one more on this. Given what a shadowy and nebulous creature we are dealing with in this terrorist network, is the administration finding it hard to forge those links from these atrocities to specific individuals?

MR. FLEISCHER: That's a question of what evidence have you gathered. And I'm not going to get into the process of the evidence-gathering.

QUESTION: Isn't it hard to prove this kind of thing, though?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's always accurate to say that the war on terrorism is a shadowy one. Terrorists do operate in a shadowy way. And that's why the President, from the beginning, has recognized that this is, as he put it, the new war of the 21st century. And that will be reflected in the actions he takes.

Jim Angle, who is sitting in the second row. He moved up.

QUESTION: On the question of evidence, I mean, obviously, it would be helpful to the U.S. and those it is asking to cooperate to help demonstrate that this is not a war against Islam, that it's based on specific evidence. That would obviously help the Pakistanis. It would obviously help a number of other people we've asked to participate in this with us. Is the administration inclined in some way and in some forum, or even privately on a one-on-one basis, to provide whatever evidence or some kind of evidence so that those who are also exposed in this battle can make the case that they have seen convincing evidence and that it's real?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think all you have to do is listen to President Musharraf's speech today. And based on the information that Pakistan is aware of and the conversations that Pakistan has had with the United States, they are taking action that the United States government is appreciative for. And so I think the questions about evidence, for example, many of the nations around the world are already ahead of your questions. They are already working with the United States very productively and cooperatively. And so I think you have to ask yourselves the question of, are the other nations around the world asking the same questions that you are, and I indicate that many of those nations are beyond what you're asking.

QUESTION: I don't think there is any question that our allies are prepared to believe this. What we're talking about are people who are not necessarily our allies and those who try to make the argument that the administration is simply waging war on Islam. Is there anything you can do to soften those views, or do you just chalk those people up as being beyond the pale in terms of your ability to convince them otherwise?

MR. FLEISCHER: I draw your attention to the meeting today, of course, in the Oval Office with the President of Indonesia, the conversations the President has had with other Arab nations and Muslim nations, and those conversations have been very productive.

So that's -- again, I'm trying to draw you off of that question a little bit, because it's not really reflective of what the United States is hearing from nations around the world. I indicated to Terry that to the degree there are any such concerns, different nations will have different issues that get addressed on a host of issues. And I think that's not surprising.

QUESTION: You're confirming that you have shared information with Pakistan and some other countries?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, I'm not confirming that. I said we could take a look at the statements that have been made by these nations, and they are satisfied with the actions we are taking or requesting, and we are satisfied with their response. That is why I am saying these nations have moved beyond your questions.

QUESTION: Ari, President Musharraf said that in his opinion, the United States need not seek any further authorization from the United Nations General Assembly or the Security Council to act militarily, because of the resolution passed last Wednesday. Does the administration agree?

MR. FLEISCHER: You have been asking me that question for two days, and I pointed out to you that under the United Nations charter, the United States has a right to self-defense. Of course, there was a Security Council resolution also. Whether or not any other action will be taken at the United Nations is not a determination the President has made at this point, which is the same answer I gave yesterday.

QUESTION: All right, let me ask you this. On the scope of this global effort, you said yesterday, first, that it was against terrorism generally. Then you said against terrorist organizations that pose a direct threat to America. A moment ago you said, seeking out a campaign against a people, terrorism that affects people. Is it still the administration's position that this is only a campaign against organizations that pose a direct threat to America?

MR. FLEISCHER: It is all of that. And that is why the President has indicated that in this new war of the 21st century against terrorism, the United States, in concert with our allies and coalition partners, will target terrorism and those who harbor terrorists. Terrorism presents a threat to people who love freedom and democracy throughout the world. And that was what I added to my statement yesterday, if you recall.

QUESTION: But is it a coalition against terrorism activity in, for example, Spain or Ireland or India?

MR. FLEISCHER: We talked about this yesterday. This is a worldwide attempt to combat terrorism, where terrorism threatens people who cherish freedom, and where terrorism is a threat to ourselves and to our allies and to our friends.

QUESTION: Given the President's sense of urgency to help bail out the airlines, does he also feel it necessary to provide direct financial aid to other industries, such as the insurance industry, reinsurance industry, hotels, motels, tourism in the state of Hawaii, that are also having financial difficulties that they can trace directly to the aftermath of the terrorist attack?

MR. FLEISCHER: On the domestic consequences, the President is looking at this, at least initially, in two distinct groups. There is one, the airlines, which clearly have been directly and adversely affected as a result of the attack on the United States. The President is considering what appropriate remedy is proper and wise and in the taxpayers' interest for the airlines, to help them deal with the consequences of the attack.

More broadly speaking, the President is also, as he will today, talking to members of Congress and to his advisors about what steps could be taken to help the economy in general. And of course, any steps that would help the economy in general could also have an impact on various industries.

QUESTION: But what about hotels and restaurants located in New York or Washington that can show you proof that they've also lost money as a direct result of --

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, that's why I was addressing the question of the economy in general, which, of course, has --

QUESTION: So you won't help any --

MR. FLEISCHER: -- which, of course, has an impact on other industries. I'm not prepared to go down a line tick-tocking them, and who knows where you want to start and where you want to end. I have given you the answer that the President is focused on the airlines, and then the economy in general, which, of course, has impact on others in other sectors.

QUESTION: Most Latin American Presidents have expressed messages of condolence and support for the United States in this perilous hour. Now it seems that the foreign ministers will be meeting here in Washington on Friday to vote for what is called in Spanish by the acronym PIAR, which is the Inter-American Reciprocal Assistance Treaty, also known as the Treaty of Rio, which was signed in December of 1947, in which each nation must come to the aid of all the nation-members if one of them is attacked. Did the United States ask for this meeting, or was this meeting a spontaneous thing?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as you know, Secretary Powell was actually in Lima, Peru, meeting with the OAS General Assembly on September 11th when the attack took place. But like all other regional security arrangements that the United States has, or that we are a signatory to, the Rio Treaty provides also a collective security mechanism through which we can coordinate our response. We're gratified by the calls in the region to invoke the treaty and look forward to exploring how its elements can be used.

It's just another indication of how the world is speaking out and expressing unity and solidarity in a variety of ways with the United States in a way that will isolate the terrorists and enable the world to do combat with terrorism on a host of levels.

QUESTION: There's a press report I'm sure you're aware of that the pilot of one of the planes that hit one of the towers of the World Trade Center met last year with the head of intelligence from Iraq. Iraq denies it. Can you confirm that meeting took place?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm aware of the report, but I'm not in a position to confirm or give you any further indication on that.

QUESTION: Ari, back to the President of Pakistan's speech. He said three things I wanted to see if you could confirm or elaborate on. First of all, on the point that you've been discussing, he said he was still asking the United States for evidence, which would seem to suggest that he wasn't completely satisfied yet with what he's seen concerning bin Laden.

Second, he said that the U.S. has asked for intelligence-gathering, logistics and permission to use air space. He said nothing about actually placing troops on the ground -- if you could discuss that. And, thirdly, he also issued a warning to India not to take advantage of the situation. I'm wondering whether or not the U.S. has also expressed concern to India that it not take advantage of this in any way, in Kashmir or elsewhere.

MR. FLEISCHER: First, I'm not prepared to go into the list of all of the specifics. President Musharraf did, himself, acknowledge three. I'm not prepared to go into whether there are any others --

QUESTION: Can you confirm those three?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not prepared to go into any beyond that, but I will confirm those three. On the first point, I've read his speech, David, and I'm not aware of that statement, so if you could point that out to me, I would appreciate seeing that. But the President, as I indicated, is pleased with the actions taken by Pakistan, and certainly this is an important speech that the President of Pakistan has given to his people today.

And your third question?


MR. FLEISCHER: And what about it?

QUESTION: The President of Pakistan indicated concern that India might take advantage of this, that they were on high alert against India -- the military was. Has there been any U.S. communication to India about not taking advantage of this? Any intercession on behalf of Pakistan's behalf?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President did speak with President Vajpayee just the other day, and the President is aware of the regional implications of all the actions in this region. But the President is satisfied that the nations there understand the cause that they are all uniting behind -- India, Pakistan, together with the United States. The President is confident that broader context will be the modality in which those nations operate.

QUESTION: Did you specifically ask the President of India not to take any steps related to Pakistan that would make the --

MR. FLEISCHER: I would have to go back and look at the exact phone call.