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White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer
White House Briefing Room
Washington, D.C.
September 24, 2001
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QUESTION: But I really am talking even bigger. You're talking about actions in other parts of the world. And certainly you want the support of as many people around the world as possible. I guess it seems as though you're asking everyone to trust you, but without supplying information to show why you should trust -- I mean, to go to a point and then stop.

MR. FLEISCHER: Two points. One, again, many of these nations know what we know. And they are working with us, because they know a lot of the things that we know. There are many conversations that take place between the United States at the state level, at the presidential level, with foreign leaders, that if there were to be a transcript of that conversation, for example, it would be classified, because they discuss secrets. There is a sharing of information. You're presuming that there's no such sharing of information in private. There can be, and there is.

That's not the type of information that can always be publicly shared. And I think the country has an appreciation for that. But you just have to gauge the reaction of nations around the world for themselves. They are working with us, because they believe us. They're working with us because of things they know, and because of the trust they hold in the United States government.

QUESTION: Ari, I just want to follow on the Pakistan question. Without getting too much into the fine details of this, one of the groups that's on the list is the Harakat ul-Mujahidin, which provides a lot of the funding for the resistance in Kashmir, the rebels in Kashmir. Do you have a commitment from Pakistan yet to cut off funding -- or if by freezing the assets of that group you would cut off funding to the rebels in Kashmir? Has Pakistan signed on to that idea?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not in a position to go down the list of each organization and tell you what the international commitment is to take action on each of the 27 groups that were listed today. You may want to refer that to the Pakistani officials.

QUESTION: A statement broadcast today, apparently a fax from Osama bin Laden, in which he called on Muslims in Pakistan to, "fight the American crusade." A, does this administration believe the statement is credible, and do you have any reaction to it?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there have been so many different statements coming out of the Taliban that I think the only statement that the President is looking for is a statement of action. And the words that were issued today by the Taliban are a chilly reminder about how serious and real this is.

The words of attack that they have launched against freedom-loving people, Christians and Jews around the world, is consistent with the statements that Osama bin Laden has made in the past, urging people to rise up and kill Christians and Jews. And it is a chilling reminder of how serious and real this is.

QUESTION: Ari, a lot of nations, foreign nations that have weak banking laws also serve to create offshore tax havens for corporations. And the OECD has been going after tax havens for a while; the Bush administration hasn't shown a whole lot of support for that effort. Is today a sign that that might change, that the administration begin supporting the --

MR. FLEISCHER: I think you should not confuse the two issues. One deals with domestic laws and dealing with tax consequences and tax dodgers or tax evasions. This deals with terrorism.

QUESTION: Let me try one more. Once more, if I could, on the proof issue, I think the picture that we all have in our minds is of Adlai Stevenson at the United Nations, passing around previously classified photographs of missiles with the understanding that America could, within days, if not hours, be the target of those missiles. What's the difference between then and now, in terms of publicizing information that would point the court of public opinion directly toward those who we think are responsible?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, first of all, you can't compare what's happened in the past with what's happening today with the instant communication age. Don't forget, anything that is said here in this White House today can be broadcast and be watched by terrorists around the world, as it's said. There is a huge difference in terms of the instant transmission of information and the ability, therefore, of people to take advantage of it for wrongful purposes.

But as I indicated, in the democracy, there still remains an always important goal of sharing as much information as possible with the public. And the President, Secretary Powell, Secretary Rumsfeld, all remain committed to that. And I think you will just be the judges over time about whether that balance is struck. And I submit to you it has been struck, and struck well.

QUESTION: The differences is, like, the 24-hour news cycle and the availability of communications?

MR. FLEISCHER: And it's also just the means of how information is collected. And every administration makes a different determination about how to protect that means of collection of information.

But, you know, again I remind you, I understand the frustration that journalists feel in this regard. And we're going to continue to do the best as an administration in providing information. But I also remind you that nations of the world are not passing this message on to the United States; the message has been one of cooperation and trust. And the administration will continue to work hard to keep it that way. And every sign points that it's going that way.

QUESTION: I think some of the confusion over this was caused by a couple of reports that there was a white paper and some other reports that there was going to be evidence in a couple of days and that it would be put out before you moved militarily and that sort of thing.

I just want to see if I can be clear in my mind. Are you saying there is some specific effort underway now to provide a -- to work up a nonclassified document that can be shared with the public, here and abroad, and other governments, or is it just a general intention to do so?

And on another track, is there some other effort to come up with a classified document just for use by government officials so that everyone knows you're on the same page?

MR. FLEISCHER: Okay. On your first question, I cite Secretary Powell's words today. As the Secretary said in the Rose Garden, as we are able and as it unclassifies, which clearly implies it is a classified document that is not unclassified.

QUESTION: Say that again. (Laughter.)

MR. FLEISCHER: It's a classified document that is not unclassified. The Secretary said, as we are able and as it unclassifies -- those are his words and he's right, and that's accurate. So he's indicating then there will be, over time, different issues will be looked at with an eye toward whatever can possibly be publicly shared. But as we speak today, and as the Secretary said, as we are able and as it unclassifies.

Now, of course, right from the beginning, as I indicated in the top of the briefing, as soon as the attack was launched, the investigation began. That investigation, of course, compiles documents, assembles information, and does so in a manner that will reveal how do we know these things, by what sources, by what methods do we know and have received that information. Of course, that's a classified document.

QUESTION: The point is, what I'm trying to figure out is, is a group of people somewhere being tasked with coming up with a document that can be scrubbed of classified material so that you can lay out the case? Is that an effort that's now underway? Is that just an intention somewhere down the road?

MR. FLEISCHER: It remains a classified document; a series of classified documents, to be more precise.

QUESTION: Ari, do you know if classified documents are being supplied to the grand jury that's looking into this in New York?

MR. FLEISCHER: You need to talk to the Justice Department about anything dealing with grand juries.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. analyzing the possibility of supporting the return of King Zahir Shah to Afghanistan and maybe create another government?

MR. FLEISCHER: As Condoleezza Rice said yesterday, the United States will continue to be in contact with numerous parties. And that's the position.

QUESTION: Can you confirm he possible landing of two American planes in Uzbekistan as preparedness for the operation over there?

MR. FLEISCHER: No. And to follow on with what I know is a difficult series of questions for the press, where you want these answers, I will not get into any operational details of the missions.

QUESTION: Ari, what are the benefits for Rudy Giuliani staying in as Mayor of New York in the midst of this terrorist situation?

MR. FLEISCHER: That's not a matter for the White House, and so there's nothing for me to indicate on that.

QUESTION: Has the President talked to him recently about this possible --

MR. FLEISCHER: Not to my knowledge, April; I don't believe he has.

QUESTION: Are there any nominations that you have now or are pending that you think are especially urgent for Congress to pass as a result of this -- the terrorist attacks?

MR. FLEISCHER: Interestingly, in the meeting that took place with the congressional leadership on Wednesday, September 12th, the day after the attack, a couple of the nominations were brought to the attention of the Senate. And the Senate immediately took action. U.N. Ambassador Negroponte, for example, the Senate confirmed him, which is -- the President was very grateful to the Senate for taking such swift action.

I'll have to take a careful look at a more detailed list to see if there are any other pending nominations that need to be expedited. I'll take that question and see if I can't get back.

QUESTION: I have another follow up, and that's -- the President this morning again said this is the primary focus of his administration, but you clearly want to move ahead on some of your domestic agenda. At this point, you obviously can't do everything. Besides education, what are your main priorities that you really want to see get done this year?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President's domestic agenda has not changed, despite the fact that the nation is increasingly shifting to a war footing to deal with the international crisis that has hit home. It still is terribly important, in the President's opinion, to have public schools that serve our children, to have a patients' bill of rights so patients can continue to get the protections they need in their dealings with HMOs. It's now more important than ever to get energy legislation passed to help protect and promote American energy independence.

It remains important, in the President's opinion, for the faith-based initiative to pass and move forward, because there still are millions of Americans who are in need who can find solutions to their problems through some of these more community- and faith-based solutions.

So the domestic agenda continues, and part and parcel of that, too, is always in the need, both in war and peace, to keep a careful eye on taxpayer dollars.

So while the domestic agenda will certainly not have the prominence it was going to have, it still remains of importance to this President.

QUESTION: Ari, on Canada, can you, because it is a -- and because there are separate concerns with regard to Canada, in terms of --
MR. FLEISCHER: Oh, let me -- I'm sorry, I want to back up, because there's one other I should have mentioned, and I did not, and I saw that Ambassador Zoellick addressed this rather forcefully today, and that is trade promotion authority, securing that for the President.

QUESTION: Working with Canada, especially in terms of preventing future attacks, terrorists coming in the country through Canada, the discussions today, are they focused at all on the immigration laws on how people are getting in, coming through Canada?

MR. FLEISCHER: Number one, cooperation with Canada on border issues, on immigration issues has always been very, very strong. I would not be surprised -- and the meetings, as I indicated, wrapped up just as I began this briefing, so I'm not in a position to give you any information about it right now. But I would not be surprised if areas of cooperation were discussed between the United States and Canada on border issues. That's common sense.

QUESTION: Was the President concerned about how easily some terrorist affiliated individuals can get into Canada and, therefore, from Canada into the United States?

MR. FLEISCHER: John, as I indicated, cooperation with Canada on border issues has been and continues to be very strong.

QUESTION: But is that a concern of his?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think it's a reflection more broadly of the fact that we are such an open society. And open societies can be vulnerable. And of course that vulnerability showed up in the attacks against us on September 11th.

QUESTION: Does he think Canada should be --

MR. FLEISCHER: No, that's why I began it by saying that the President is satisfied that border cooperation with Canada is strong. Now, in the midst of that strength, are there opportunities to look and see if there are any additional things that can be done? I will never rule out that possibility. And that could be discussed in their meetings. And we'll try to have a read for you.

QUESTION: Do you know if he expressed that concern?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, because I'm here with you.

QUESTION: No, but has he expressed it prior to this meeting, in other meetings?

MR. FLEISCHER: Not that I'm aware of, particularly.

QUESTION: Can you make sure that question is answered in the readout?

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, I think what we're going to try to do is get you some type of read on the meetings.

QUESTION: Ari, going to the meetings with the families of the victims and the flight crew on the Pennsylvania crash. Number one, is the administration sharing or will it share the transcripts of the cockpit voice recorder with the families? Is the administration planning to make that public? And has there been a determination about who was actually flying the plane when it crashed?

MR. FLEISCHER: Those type of issues I think need to be addressed to the appropriate agencies, particularly in terms of who was flying the plane when it crashed. The cockpit recordings, I don't have any information about whether that will be released.

QUESTION: Can you deny reports that it might have been shot down by us?

MR. FLEISCHER: Oh, that's been denied for almost two weeks now. Right from the beginning that question was asked, and right from the beginning Secretary Rumsfeld and the administration said no, it had not been.

QUESTION: Getting back to the list of terrorist individuals and organizations, it encompasses people across a wide variety of countries: Egypt, Libya, Palestinian groups, Pakistani. And there is concern in the Arab and Muslim world that the U.S. is out to achieve other objectives, regional objectives, settle old scores, as this war on terrorism proceeds. What do you say to those concerns, and is there any truth to them?

MR. FLEISCHER: Can you tell me specifically who was making those concerns known?

QUESTION: I saw some press report in -- you know, it was a Middle Eastern -- it was Palestinian.

MR. FLEISCHER: Was it a government, or was it a person?

QUESTION: It was a -- there was concern on the street.

MR. FLEISCHER: Of any identifiable background, or --

QUESTION: There is a lot in the American press about trying to get Saddam.

MR. FLEISCHER: I think Terry's question deals with the seizing of assets.

QUESTION: It seemed to be a reflection of public opinion, concern that America was flexing its muscles.

MR. FLEISCHER: The message the President has been hearing from foreign governments, including the Arab states, is one of support. They don't want these terrorist organizations operating within their own boarders. And they're aware of the internal threats that these organizations present to them. And as a result of the manner in which the United States is putting together this coalition and leading the world, this provides these nations an opportunity to have meaningful action taken which will result in hopefully more security for these states.

So I anticipate that these states will join with the United States and the international community in helping to dry up the sources of terrorist funding, even within their own borders.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.

END 1:38 P.M. EDT