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White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer
White House Briefing Room
Washington, D.C.
September 21, 2001
Con't

QUESTION: We're talking civilian casualties, we're talking the potential -- it's still more terrorist incidents within our borders.

MR. FLEISCHER: I think you can only look again to what the President has said. How can he make a prediction. What the President has said, that everybody has to remain in a state of alert and warning because we still are a free country and that people have to be prepared to take actions. And that's why the military and the domestic agencies remain on alert within these borders.

QUESTION: John Ashcroft apparently has warned the Mayor of Boston and the Governor of Massachusetts that for some reason, tomorrow is a significant day, according to their investigation. Can you share with us any of his security concerns, or what is Attorney General Ashcroft trying to convey?

MR. FLEISCHER: I would refer you to Justice on anything specific that the Attorney General has said.

QUESTION: A separate question. Is the United States sending a message to Iran? Have they done that in the last few days?

MR. FLEISCHER: The United States maintains contacts with Iran through the Swiss in Teheran, and the government of Iran sent the United States a message of condolences. The United States sent back to Iran a message of thanks for the expression of condolences.

QUESTION: Were there any other messages, besides just thanks?

MR. FLEISCHER: To the best of my knowledge, that's the extent of it.

QUESTION: When the President meets the Chinese Foreign Minister, is he going to tell about Pakistan -- through China?

MR. FLEISCHER: We'll try to get you some type of readout for the meeting.

QUESTION: Is there coverage on that, Ari?

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, I don't believe we're going to have an open meeting for that.

QUESTION: When you said a moment ago that the defeat of bin Laden and his network would be viewed as a victory, you didn't mean it would be viewed as the victory, correct? That's not the end of the war, if his organization and he were destroyed?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as the President has said, this is going to be a long struggle, and there are going to be many components to it. But, again, you have to take a look at these things through things that will be financial victories, as bank accounts are drained, as assets are frozen. There will be military moments, some that will be visible to the American people, some that won't be, and probably will never be known.

So there will be a series of actions, and each one will represent a step on the way to victory.

QUESTION: So that's a "no"? The goal of this is not just the defeat of bin Laden and his network, it's broader, and that action, defeating bin Laden, would not be the end of this, correct?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as I've been indicating on a regular basis, the President has said that the goals are broad, and that is to fight terrorism where terrorism continues, where terrorism persists, and where terrorism represents a threat to free people in the United States and everywhere. And, again, I just remind you that the al Queda organization is present in some 60 countries. And those who harbor and support terrorists are the targets of the President's action to protect our country. And there are nebulous lines about where some of these organizations begin and some end.

QUESTION: Ari, going back to what Helen had to say, yes, the Taliban wants to know specific answers as to why the United States is targeting Osama bin Laden. But there are some people, even though the United States as a whole, the American people, seem to be looking for retaliation, there are still some people here who want to know -- to remove some of the shadow of what you have, to precisely pinpoint Osama bin Laden as the person who has perpetrated this.

MR. FLEISCHER: April, I can only ask you, and this has been a consistent question from Helen and from other people here who are seeking information on behalf of the people of this country. I can only remind you that there are some questions that, to find the answer to, reveal very valuable information about how the United States would get that information. And to reveal that, we would provide information to the al Queda organization, to Osama bin Laden, to any other enemies of this country, that they would love to have. And I will not do that.

I just want to say this with the greatest respect possible. You have the right to ask those questions. I have the responsibility not to answer them.

QUESTION: Ari, a follow up to that. But what do you say to the people here in this country, who, as we talk about security, that we have to be mindful of what's going on in our borders, and there still seems to be a cloak of secrecy and people are still uncertain after what happened on 9/11. So what do you tell those people? Just trust the Bush administration, this is it? I mean, is it supposed to be full trust?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think if there is any uncertainty, it doesn't derive from the fact that the United States government is properly keeping details and operations and methods and sources secret; I think the American people, frankly, are pleased to hear that the government does that.

I think, if anything, there is still throughout the country a shock that has been felt as a result of the fact that our country was attacked and lives have been lost, and that is natural. Our nation is still going through a period of mourning. People have lost loved ones. People are missing. And so I think that is more the cause of the anxiety. Fortunately, for our nation, this is a new occurrence. But it has happened. Our borders have been attacked, within our borders. And I think that's the source of the anxiety.

I think, frankly, the American people take encouragement from the fact that this government will not have loose lips.

QUESTION: To what extent will Governor Ridge be taking over as the face of the response to September 11th? I mean, since this was an act of domestic terrorism, will he be helping to coordinate military responses going after Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda? Would he have an equal footing with the Attorney General, in terms of the Justice Department investigation? Will he be handling the reconstruction in New York City?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, he will have Cabinet rank and, therefore, he will be part of a team that always has worked very closely together. And if you notice, there's always areas of overlap between various government agencies and between different Cabinet departments. The key here when it comes to homeland defense is to have one very effective person at the pinnacle of it who can help coordinate it.

Now, there will be other clearly defined missions, of course: DOD, Defense, Attorney General, with Justice and the investigation, the gathering of evidence. But all of that still has implications for how you combine the various interagency groups that are working on homeland defense and ongoing protection from terrorism. So that will be his charge, and he'll work as a member of a team.

QUESTION: Let's follow up on that. Still this is not very well defined, what he's going to be doing. Will he, for example, have any role in overseeing the investigation of terror attacks? Will he have any oversight authority in retribution for terror attacks? Or is his job only to protect the country in the event of a terrorist attack?

MR. FLEISCHER: The investigation part will continue to be in the hands of the Department of Justice. But of course, as they develop their information, there's going to be things that can help in preparing to protect our country. As Justice Department uncovers leads, for example, that would indicate the types of action that were taken against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, those could be valuable clues that somebody like Governor Ridge will want to know about, so he can say, these are the types of patterns we saw, these are the types of things we need to know so we can protect America from anything in the future.

QUESTION: But Justice still takes the lead on the investigation?

MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct. The mission of the Governor, of Governor Ridge and this homeland office, homeland security, is to develop a coordinated, integrated and comprehensive national strategy to combat domestic terrorism, strengthening our homeland preparedness and security at all levels of government. And there are a lot of different agencies. His job will be to coordinate them in preparing for the homeland defense. It is not to replace the existing agencies that are doing their work in investigation. It is not to replace the Department of Defense, where it has taken the lead, of course, on things military.

QUESTION: One more question. Are you -- do you have any idea how many people are going to be in the office? And I take it from this morning, you are leaving open the possibility that the White House would ask for additional money to pay for this office?

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, those matters are still being considered. I think the best analogy, I gave you one this morning on something administrative, but I think the best way for you all, people very familiar with the White House, to think of this, too, is the National Security Council provides a real coordinating capacity involving State, involving Defense, involving CIA, and does so in the position of security.

This will do something similar in the direction of homeland defense. And there are subtle differences, but that's your best guide.

QUESTION: Will it be like some of the agencies, there will be people on loan from Justice and other departments working the White House rather than hiring a new staff here? Is that
how --

MR. FLEISCHER: It could be any combination of the above. It's early, and we'll keep you fully informed as that develops, but it's early.

QUESTION: What was the question?

MR. FLEISCHER: Will it be new hires, will it be people on loan from Justice or other agencies.

John, you had one?

QUESTION: Ari, can you tell us more about this other radar track that you were mentioning this morning, that gave clearer evidence that American flight 77 was headed for the White House initially?

MR. FLEISCHER: The Secret Service is going to handle all the inquiries concerning any tracks involving the White House and the security of the White House, and they'll give you a full explanation. In fact, I think they may already have, in the case of CBS.

QUESTION: In Israel, the newspaper, Haaretz, reports that every political party in the Knesset denounced the manifestations of Palestinian joy following last week's terror attacks on the United States, except the Israel-Arab parties, who also refused to sign the Knesset's letter of sympathy to the American people. And my question, surely after last night's unforgettable and specific, very specific Presidential address, the White House is not going to evade comment on these Israeli-Arabs, are you Ari?

MR. FLEISCHER: I took that question when you asked me a question two days ago about anyone around the world, including the Palestinians, who would rejoice at the loss of American life. And I said at the time, that the United States condemns it.

QUESTION: Given the fact that during Desert Storm, 100 percent of our female POWs, two of them, were both raped, the Commander-in-Chief does not intend to send any women into what appears to be coming combat, does he, Ari?

MR. FLEISCHER: Les, the President has the highest regard for the military, believes it is fully prepared for this mission. And the military, as currently constituted, is the best in the world. And the President supports their structure.

QUESTION: But there are no females in those special forces --

MR. FLEISCHER: I stand by what I said --

QUESTION: He won't send women into this, will he, Ari?

MR. FLEISCHER: I stand by what I said about the President knows that we have the best military in the world.

QUESTION: On which day did the President approach Governor Ridge with the job offer? And was he the President's first choice for the job?

MR. FLEISCHER: Actually, I have no information on the second part. I have not talked to the President about that. According to the information I have, it was Wednesday night, and then again Thursday morning.

QUESTION: In order to respond fully to the terrorist attack, is the administration willing to exhaust all surplus funds and, if necessary, even resort to deficit spending or consider rescinding part of the $1.35-trillion tax cut?

MR. FLEISCHER: Actually, Paula, I've taken a look at the financial condition of our country at times of previous wars. And as much as the President has indicated because of things operational that this is a different kind of war, it is also important to note that this will be the first war that will have begun when the United States government was in a position of surplus.

All previous wars in which the United States engaged, our nation was in deficit. The surplus is the second-largest in history, and that does provide an important and helpful cushion. But the President's focus will always be in times of war and peace to keep an eye on taxpayer dollars because in no case, war or peace, will taxpayer dollars be wasted. But the President is prepared to wage this war, and to do what is necessary to keep the country free.

But right now, I'll just follow the projections, but we do have a very large surplus, which puts us in a stronger position to begin this effort.

QUESTION: -- projections were based on mid-session review prior to September 11th. If it does look like your surplus is exhausted, are you willing to reconsider rescinding the tax cut or resorting to deficit spending?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to deal with hypotheticals. Obviously, the President is talking with Congress about an economic stimulus package that actually would have additional tax cuts in it. So I don't think what you've suggested on a tax cut is in the cards at all.

QUESTION: Have we gone into a war with this level of accumulated debt?

MR. FLEISCHER: In the percentage of the GDP, I would have to take a look; I couldn't tell you.

QUESTION: Wouldn't that be important, though? Because the surplus is sort of a momentary thing, comes and goes, it seems like. Isn't the more important figure whether or not, you know, what level of debt we're in?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think economists could differ on that question, but I think the important question is debt as a percentage of GDP, and I don't have that off of the top of my head.

QUESTION: Will this coalition have a restrictive effect on the President? Will it tie America's hands, as did the coalition, to some extent, in the Persian --

MR. FLEISCHER: No. And that's one of the reasons I indicated earlier that this will be a coalition where people contribute differently, and it will change over time. There will be moments where people contribute more, and then they'll contribute less. There will be moments where they contribute fully throughout. It will be a coalition with changing needs, with changing requirements. And the President will continue to work with all nations of the world to accept their contributions to helping defeat terrorism as those nations see fit.

We have to get to the week ahead, I just want to remind people.

QUESTION: You said the other day that the airline companies have a legitimate claim on the U.S. government for having their planes put down on the ground and some of the ensuing problems that have flowed from that. What about the airline workers? Do you feel that they, many of whom, tens of thousands of whom have lost their jobs in the last week or two, do they have a legitimate claim on the U.S. government?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, certainly the action that was ordered affected the airline companies. They were told to put the planes down on the ground. And that's all being considered as part of the package to help the airline industry. As I mentioned, there are other factors that are being taken into consideration to help the economy, to help unemployed workers, and those will be addressed, as well.

QUESTION: One question before you go to the week ahead?

MR. FLEISCHER: John, go ahead.

QUESTION: About my former homeland. The President did not mention Canada last night in his address, and it's being taken north of the border as a snub because Prime Minister Chretien has not stepped up to the plate to support this effort.

MR. FLEISCHER: Oh, no. Oh, no. No, the President would hope nobody would take it in that manner. In fact, Prime Minister Chretien was among the first people that the President called on Wednesday, September 12th, to thank Canada for the role that they played in helping the United States. And he'll be coming here next week, as you know, which is a sign of the high esteem that the President holds Canada in, and that all Americans do. I just think American support for Canada is so strong it speaks for itself.

QUESTION: So why didn't he mention it last night?

MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated, I think that American support for Canada is so strong that it speaks for itself. And the President is looking forward to visiting with Prime Minister Chretien next week. Canada has been stalwart, and always is.

QUESTION: One quick question. Just a quickie. Going back quickly to proof and culpability, can you say definitively from the rostrum, without divulging sources of intelligence or anything else, that Osama bin Laden and his organization are responsible for the attack of last week?

MR. FLEISCHER: I will refer you right back to the statements that have been made by the President, where he called him a prime suspect; the Secretary of State, who said, all roads lead to the al Qaeda organization. Their remarks speak for themselves.

QUESTION: That's not really definitive. That's not quite definitive.

MR. FLEISCHER: Their remarks speak for themselves. Let me give you the week ahead.

QUESTION: What are we doing next week?

MR. FLEISCHER: Let me give you the week ahead.

QUESTION: -- there is a -- every terrorist group of global reach. And this has been interpreted by some in one country who say that unless the administration has a global reach, they are free to carry on terrorist attacks on neighboring countries. So can you clarify, the President -- terrorism, period, whether it is global, local or cross-border?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President's message to terrorists is clear: that those who carry out acts of terror that threaten freedom will find a very strong foe in the United States and in the coalition.

Tomorrow, the President will chair a meeting of the National Security Council from Camp David via teleconference, and then --

QUESTION: What time will that be, Ari?

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't have the exact time, Ron, and there will be no read from that. It will be, obviously, a private conversation the President will have.

QUESTION: Will it be multed in? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Video conference you said, right?

MR. FLEISCHER: It's a teleconference, correct.

On Sunday morning, in accordance with the proclamation that the President issued on Tuesday, September 11th, to lower flags across America to half-staff, the flags will be resumed at their full staff on Sunday morning. The President will take part in a brief ceremony up at Camp David, along with members of the United States Marine Corps, to proudly return the American Flag to full staff on Sunday morning. And I would anticipate you will see similar events across the country as the flags are brought to full staff.

QUESTION: What time and remarks?

QUESTION: Do you expect he'll make remarks?

MR. FLEISCHER: We'll get the time out to you as it becomes clear for Sunday.

QUESTION: How about remarks?

MR. FLEISCHER: We'll get the times out to you and any other description of the event, Ron. It will be a pool event.

QUESTION: Will that be before or after the fire fighters' memorial in New York City?

MR. FLEISCHER: We'll get the time out to you as soon as it's immediately clear.

The radio address, which is being done in collaboration with the office of House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt -- the President's speech writers have been talking with Congressman Gephardt's speech writers. Both the Minority Leader and the President will talk about the economy and how we're going to work together to take actions to help strengthen the American economy.

The President and Mrs. Bush will return to the White House on Sunday. On Monday, the President, as I indicated, will meet with the Prime Minister of Canada; on Tuesday with the Prime Minister of Japan. The President will continue next week with meetings with his National Security Council, as well as with his domestic consequence group, as he prepares to focus on the fight against terrorism, and to get the American economy back on track.

The President will turn his attention next week to also some domestic matters, including education. And the Senate, for example next week, it looks like it will pass the Jordan free trade agreement. So there will also be other domestic issues that start to take place next week as well.

Thank you, everybody.

END 2:28 P.M. EDT