White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer
White House Briefing Room
Washington, D.C.
September 26, 2001
12:38 P.M. EDT

MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. Let me update you on the President's day, and then I'll be more than happy to take any questions. The President this morning spoke with Dutch Prime Minister Kok. The President and the Prime Minister expressed their agreement about the need for full solidarity, and the Prime Minister said that the Dutch government would be with the people of the United States and stressed that solidarity means deeds, not just words.

The President also this morning spoke with Kazakhstan President Nazarbayev. The two Presidents discussed cooperation in the common fight against terrorism. And President Nazarbayev reiterated that Kazakhstan will support the U.S.-led effort "with all available means."

The President earlier this morning convened a meeting of his National Security Council. He concluded just recently a meeting -- it may still be going on, if it's not quite concluded -- with a group of American Sikhs, another reminder to the American people of the importance of waging a battle against intolerance and prejudice in this country as we proceed with this fight against terrorism. The American Sikh community has been beset with occasional violence and it's another reminder about the need for Americans to honor our constitutional principles in respecting all Americans and all visitors to our country throughout this time.

The President will depart for the Central Intelligence Agency in the early afternoon, where he will have a briefing over at CIA, take a tour of the CIA, and thank the CIA employees for all the efforts that they are making to win the war against terrorism.

Upon his return to the White House in the mid-afternoon, the President will meet with a group of Muslim leaders to send another signal, another reminder to the American people about the need to be -- to avoid prejudice and intolerance. The Muslim American community has been very supportive and cooperative with all efforts to win the war on terrorism, and the President is very appreciative of that.

He will meet with the Foreign Minister of Egypt at 4:15 p.m. in the Oval Office. And at 4:50 p.m., the President will have a meeting of his Domestic Consequences Group to discuss economic actions that the government may be able to take to help provide a stimulus to the economy.

A couple updates on other events or briefings: Secretary Powell will also meet with the Egyptian Foreign Minister at 2:30 p.m., and then the two will participate in a joint stakeout at the State Department at 3:00 p.m. In addition to the schedule from what I announced earlier, Attorney General Ashcroft and FBI Director Mueller will also hold a briefing for the American people at 3:15 p.m., open to the press, of course, to continue to communicate with the American people about the efforts underway in the war against terrorism.

QUESTION: Ari, Pakistan says they've been discussing with the U.S. a broad agreement on an operational plan that includes attacks on camps in Afghanistan. Is that report inaccurate?

MR. FLEISCHER: Ron, I'm not going to characterize in any way any of the operational details about what the United States may or may not be discussing with any of our coalition friends.

QUESTION: Is the United States taking a softer line on Russia over Chechnya in return for the cooperation Putin has offered in this effort?

MR. FLEISCHER: President Putin gave a very important speech the other day. This should be noted. President Bush appreciated very much President Putin's offer of concrete cooperation in the common fight against international terrorism. And President Putin's remarks demonstrate that Russia can make a major contribution to that common struggle against international terrorism, while at the same time displaying a respect for the sovereignty and independence of Russia's neighbors.

In particular, the President noted and wants to thank President Putin for his offer to provide, as President Putin described it, permission for humanitarian overflights, information about the situation on the ground, as well as search and rescue operations, if necessary. The President looks forward to continuing to work with the Russia government together as we build this international coalition.

But the President also wants to note particularly President Putin's remarks about the situation in Chechnya in which President Putin called on Chechen insurgents to disassociate themselves immediately from the international terrorist networks, and meet for discussions to resolve the crisis in Chechnya.

The Chechnya leadership, like all responsible political leaders in the world, must immediately and unconditionally cut all contacts with international terrorist groups, such as Osama bin Laden and the al Qaeda organization. At the same time, the United States has long said that the only solution in Chechnya is a political solution, a political process to resolve the conflict there. The President welcomes the sincere steps that have been taken by Russia to engage the Chechen leadership and, consistent with what you've heard repeatedly, respect for human rights and accountability for violations on all sides is crucial to a durable peace there.

QUESTION: Does this offer by Putin reflect any input by the United States, did Bush suggest that you needed to do something on Chechnya? And do you have any idea what might happen if the 72-hour period expires without an acceptance by the rebels?

MR. FLEISCHER: Actually, there's been an update on that. As you may have heard, Chechen leader, Mr. Maskhadov has responded, indicated a commitment to the peace process. He has indicated a willingness, and so it's important now to let events develop in Chechnya. That is an encouraging sign.

QUESTION: And so, the administration believes, with President Putin, that the resistance in Chechnya has been infiltrated and is linked to the same terrorist networks that committed the atrocities in New York?

MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, there is no question that there is an international terrorist presence in Chechnya that has links to Osama bin Laden. And that's why I indicated what I indicated. That also is a point of view that was shared with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in, I believe, it was November of 1999 by a spokesman, an official from the Clinton State Department when he testified before Senate Foreign Relations. So that's been long been known; in fact, it's been referenced in the Pattern of Global Terrorism Report, which was issued by the State Department.

QUESTION: One more on this. Would, then, Chechen separatists, by the statement you ready today also calling on them to cut off links to this group -- are they on notice as the Taliban is that they will share the terrorists' fate if they don't do so?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, the President's words speak for themselves about those terrorist organizations that have global reach. But what's notable here is, the President is reiterating that it's important to have a political solution to the situation in Chechnya. But, undeniably, there are terrorists' organizations in Chechnya that have ties to Osama bin Laden.

QUESTION: And did he suggest this offer by Putin? Did the President and Putin discuss this offer in advance of Putin's making it? Does this reflect U.S. input?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'd have to check, Randy. Don't know.

QUESTION: Haven't we made many statements denouncing Russia for its attacks at Chechnya? And is there some image of some freedom fighters there? And all of a sudden, you're calling them terrorists?

MR. FLEISCHER: As I just indicated, the concern for human rights remains a vital part of American policy, and the only solution to the problem in Chechnya is a political one.

QUESTION: Yes. But why is it just today that you're calling them terrorists? What has changed? Is this what Putin has asked for, in exchange for his help?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as I indicated, that's not the case. That's been the longstanding position.

QUESTION: I think this is the first time -- is this not the first time you've used this word at that podium?

QUESTION: It's the first time we've heard it.

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not sure that I have discussed the situation in Chechnya with the White House Press Corps prior to this. We haven't had much reason to do so. But that's why I indicated, going back to the previous administration, in testimony before the Senate, they said what they said because it's true. And the State Department publishes a report every year that included similar information.

QUESTION: Is it fair to assume that these words from you are in exchange for Putin's cooperation on the U.S. effort?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, it's an accurate statement about the situation on the ground and the importance of the speech that President Putin made. But keep in mind, President Putin called for political discussions, which leaders of Chechnya have now indicated they are willing to engage in such discussions. That's a positive development.

QUESTION: Sounds like a deal, though. It sounds like in exchange for Putin's support, we, rhetorically from this podium, are lending him support in characterizing the opposition as international terrorists.

MR. FLEISCHER: No, no such conclusion should be reached. This is consistent with actions taken by the previous administration, because it's an accurate statement about developments in Chechnya.

QUESTION: Can you give us the date of that Senate testimony?

MR. FLEISCHER: If I recall, it was November 1999.

QUESTION: Is the administration planning to go to the U.N. Security Council before for approval before any sort of military action is taken? And do you think that's something you should do? Is it necessary?

MR. FLEISCHER: Number one, the United Nations through the Security Council has already spoken out on this matter. Number two --

QUESTION: But not on military action.

MR. FLEISCHER: Number two, in accordance with the U.N. Charter, the United States has the right to self-defense, of course. The President has spoken directly on that point. But no decision has been reached about whether or not there will be any additional requests made of or through the United Nations. There's just no determination at this time.

QUESTION: But it's something under discussion that you're talking about?

MR. FLEISCHER: It's one of many options that could be used, but there's no determination.

QUESTION: Senator Shelby continues to suggest that CIA Director Tenet should probably step down. Is the President planning today to indicate his support for the Director?

MR. FLEISCHER: Director Tenet has the full faith and confidence of the President. The President will be at the CIA. He'll have public remarks, so you'll have to hear those yourself.

QUESTION: How does the White House, CIA and so forth view bin Laden? Is he a religious leader or a political leader, or both?

MR. FLEISCHER: He's a terrorist. He's a leader of a terrorist organization that has inflicted grievous harm on our country. That is the only way to see him. The President has described him as an evildoer, and the President has said that this is a struggle between good and evil.

QUESTION: But deeper into that, do you consider him a religious leader or a political leader?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's so hard to assign any religious value to the acts that he's carried out. There is no religion that preaches or tolerates the murder of innocent civilians, as he has done to our nation. There is only one word to describe him, and that is a terrorist.

QUESTION: I mean, terrorist is an all-encompassing word. What do you think his goals are? Political, are they not?

MR. FLEISCHER: His goals are murderous, and that's how he's viewed.

QUESTION: Just to murder --

QUESTION: Actually, kind of following up on that, but maybe a little more personal, President Mubarak has basically said the President was a target in Genoa during the summit. A few weeks ago, you were concerned that Air Force One was a target of the attacks. Does the White House believe that bin Laden is trying to kill the President?

MR. FLEISCHER: You know, I'm not going to comment on any particular threats coming toward the White House. Unfortunately, as you all who work here know, it is not an uncommon occurrence for people to threaten the government of the United States, regardless of whether it's President Bush or any of his predecessors. And that's why there are security precautions taken at the White House as a matter of routine.

But that's not what this is about. This has nothing to do with anything individual that may or may not have been directed at President Bush; this is about an attack that took place on our country.

QUESTION: Ari, on your Chicago trip tomorrow, the President is going to announce some security measures for the airlines?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President has been reviewing reactions that the government should appropriately take to help protect the traveling public through increased security at the nation's airports and on airplanes. The President has a visit to Chicago tomorrow where he will discuss a series of issues important to the traveling public and to the airline industry, and when the President has concluded his review, he will make the announcement himself.

QUESTION: Tomorrow?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think that's a good possibility, Elizabeth.

QUESTION: Ari, is anything off the table, though, any of the options, such as guns in the cockpit or federal employees to be the airport screeners? Are those off the table?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think at this point it's best to let the President express it for himself. He'll be doing that shortly.

QUESTION: So he's going potentially tomorrow, so is it fair to say he's pretty much decided, there's a decision-making agreement?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think he's likely to have a couple of additional conversations today.

QUESTION: Ari, any reaction to the burning of buildings in the embassy grounds, U.S. embassy grounds in Kabul?

MR. FLEISCHER: There's no immediate -- I mean, I think it's just another sign of the fact that this is serious. That was an abandoned building, as you know. The United States left it many, many years ago, but it doesn't change anything about what the President has said or what the mission of the United States will be.

QUESTION: Ari, on Pakistan, this is not an operational question, but the Foreign Minister is quoted as saying he's asked the administration to put aside any notion of supporting Afghan opposition groups. Is this a roll-back on Pakistan's part? What is your assessment of the level of cooperation the U.S. is getting from Pakistan?

MR. FLEISCHER: It's been very good. And as I've indicated all week, there are going to be certain areas in which different nations cooperate in different ways. And I think you can anticipate that with Pakistan, as well as any number of nations.

QUESTION: Could I follow on that, though? Have the Pakistanis warned the administration about supporting the Northern Alliance in the overthrow of the Taliban? Have they expressed concern about the President's comments sort of encouraging the people of Afghanistan to step up -- of the Taliban regime?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, historically, there are certain facts about the relationship between the Northern Alliance and Pakistan that are indisputable. And as the United States goes about building the effort to put an end to the terrorist actions that are fostered in Afghanistan by Osama bin Laden, the al Qaeda organization, hosted by and harbored by the Taliban government, the United States will keep all these interrelationships in mind.

QUESTION: So Pakistan has legitimate interests inside Afghanistan which we will take into account?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's a very complicated region of the world, Terry, where there's a host of groups and nations that have longstanding -- have various amounts of interests. And as I indicated, there is an historical relationship between the Northern Alliance and the Pakistan government, which the United States is aware of and sensitive to.

QUESTION: Ari, Iran has soundly rejected any overtures that the U.S. might or might not be making in terms of building an international coalition; in fact, calling the U.S. effort "disgusting." Any reaction?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, the President has made it clear that this is a time for nations to choose about whether they are with the United States and the free world in the war against terrorism or they are not. And I will leave it at that.

QUESTION: Ari, is the President going to have any concrete requests about how he wants Egypt to be involved in this war today?

MR. FLEISCHER: He may. But, again, I'm not going to be at liberty to get into any specific requests that the United States is asking. But Egypt has been a good friend of the United States before, and the relationship remains very strong.

QUESTION: Ari, I know you don't want to comment on specific tax cuts that you're considering, or at least you didn't this morning. But would you comment on whether or not tax cuts that people are considering as part of the stimulus package potentially should be temporary, or should they again be looking at long-term tax cuts as were passed earlier?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think from the President's point of view, it will all depend on the substance of the specific tax cut, for example. The tax cut that has been passed by the Congress and signed into law, the President obviously believes that should be permanent. The President believes that is helpful for the economy now and long-term, and plus it's the right thing to do. People should not have a marriage penalty reimposed on them for any reason, for example.

Other ideas that are new will be considered, and there are some suggestions that some of those be temporary, and I think the President will weigh any reason for something to be temporary, as opposed to permanent, in the context of whatever that new idea may be.

QUESTION: Okay. And are reports correct that the White House has been specifically pushing for a cut in corporate taxes?

MR. FLEISCHER: That's one of the options that's under review.

QUESTION: Have you been pushing for that on the Hill? Supporting that?

MR. FLEISCHER: The White House isn't pushing for anything on the Hill because the President hasn't given any indications yet about any determinations or decisions that he has made. There have been a series of conversations with people on the Hill where the pros and cons of various proposals have been walked through, including a reduction in the corporate tax rate, but that falls under the category of a series of tax items that have been discussed with the Hill. But I think that's what you're hearing.