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White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer
White House Briefing Room
Washington, D.C.
September 28, 2001
1:08 P.M. EDT

MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. I want to report to you on the President's day. The President, earlier this morning, called Prime Minister Howard of Australia and thanked him for the strong expressions of sympathy and support from the Australian people and from the Australian government. The President thanked the Prime Minister for Australia's actions to to freeze the assets of terrorist organizations, and the two said they were looking forward to working together in other areas of bilateral cooperation in the counterterrorist effort.

The President also called President Arroyo of the Philippines this morning and thanked the Philippines for their immediate and strong support in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks. They discussed the Philippine government's ongoing struggle against terrorism within the Philippines, and President Arroyo noted the government's determination to secure the release of American hostages who have been held in the Philippines.

They discussed cooperation in the counterterrorist effort, and they also said they were looking forward to seeing each other at the upcoming meeting of the President with other APEC allies in Shanghai.

After his phone calls, the President convened a meeting earlier this morning of the National Security Council. Following the meeting, he met with the King of Jordan where the two discussed ways to cooperate in the war against terrorism. They discussed the importance of moving forward with the peace process in the Middle East, and they also discussed the importance of the strong bilateral relations that exist between the United States and Jordan. And, of course, earlier this morning, the President signed into law the Jordanian Free Trade Agreement.

The President will have a meeting midafternoon of his Domestic Consequence Committee to discuss various proposals to help people who have been hit by all of the layoffs in the economy, and to help with the possibility of a worker relief package. And then he will depart for Camp David late this afternoon, and he will be in Camp David through the weekend, where he will participate again in a meeting of the National Security Council via teleconference.

One final note for you and then I'll be pleased to take questions. Secretary Powell and the Foreign Minister of Spain will be available at 4:15 p.m. this afternoon at a stakeout following their meeting at State. With that, I'm happy to take questions.

QUESTION: You mentioned the worker relief package. Is that the same thing as what others call a stimulus package?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President has had a series of meetings on a stimulus package. A component that is also being explored is a worker relief component to a stimulus package.

QUESTION: Does that include such things as extending unemployment benefits? Is that one of the options?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President is very concerned about the rising unemployment that's taking place in the country prior to September 11th, but also in the wake of the attacks, with all the layoffs that have hit various communities across the country. The President wants to address that by working with the Congress, in a bipartisan way, on an economic stimulus package. He's going to discuss a variety of ideas, that many people, including many leading Democrats have offered, about how to help workers who have lost their jobs.

QUESTION: Would that be ready as early as next week?

MR. FLEISCHER: You know, I'm just not going to get into guesses about the timing of it. It will be ready when the President and the Congress have reached sufficient agreement about it and the President thinks that it's right.

QUESTION: Is that something that you want to -- following up on Ron, and then I have a separate question -- but would you want to attach that or -- as some people on the Hill have talked about -- to the airline security package, or is that something you would want to do separately? Would you rather do it with the stimulus package?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, yesterday in Chicago, the President made a series of announcements designed to help protect the traveling public, so when they travel, for example cockpit doors are reinforced, the federal government takes a much more aggressive role in background checks of airport workers and setting federal standards on the screening operations that people go through when they board airplanes.

The President has viewed this as a way to send a signal that safety of the traveling public has got to come first, that safety is terribly important and that he's going to address that. There are a variety of other ideas that the President wants to review, dealing with the impact of the layoffs on workers. But the President announced yesterday a separate safety package. And he wants to make certain that the safety package is able to move through the Congress.

QUESTION: So how it's affecting the airline industry isn't necessarily a part -- you view that as something different?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there are two real issues here. One is the safety of travelers, an ongoing concern that the President wants to move quickly to address. The other is restoring strength to the economy and helping people who have -- who are suffering, who have lost their jobs.

QUESTION: Don't want to ask about a timetable here, though I understand it's a matter of some urgency. But can you say that Reagan National Airport will be reopened?

MR. FLEISCHER: That's going to be a determination that's ongoing to be made by the appropriate security people, working with the Department of Transportation and the National Security Council, the Secret Service, in consultation with officials here. The President is keenly aware of the impact of leaving Ronald Reagan Airport closed. He's very concerned about the impact it has on the people who work there, their families, the economy of Northern Virginia, on US Air and its ability to maintain its obligations to its passengers.

There are, of course, unique security considerations that come into play having an airport located so close to Washington and to the Congress, to the White House, to the other institutions of government. So it's a real question of balancing some crucial needs that affect people's lives and livelihoods with security. Now, those issues are all being reviewed as we speak. No final determinations have been made.

QUESTION: Is it his personal desire to see it reopened?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President has authorized the appropriate people to work on the issue and to bring him their recommendations. He's very aware, as I said, about the implications of leaving it closed, and he's very concerned about that. So the review is underway and there's nothing further I can say until the review is complete and then shared.

QUESTION: Do you think they'll have a decision next week?

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't want to guess on the timing, Helen. But the President is aware the need to move with dispatch because it's affecting people's lives.

QUESTION: One of those appropriate people is Secretary Mineta, who said this morning it will reopen. Was he wrong?

MR. FLEISCHER: The Secretary, I think, did four interviews this morning, on four different morning shows, and on three of them he indicated exactly what I just indicated, and that's the answer.

QUESTION: So he was off-message on ABC? (Laughter.)

MR. FLEISCHER: I would never comment about any one particular network. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: In that interview, he was not stating the administration's position?

MR. FLEISCHER: Let me just say that I paid careful attention to all his interviews, I refer you to the three that I reference.

QUESTION: But he also said a decision could come as early as Tuesday or Wednesday of next week. Is that --

MR. FLEISCHER: That's all possible.

QUESTION: Ari, on the same issue, it's not only the economic impact that has happened to the whole region, the livelihood of people, it's also a symbol, National Airport is the main airport of Washington. The President is speaking of people getting on the air again and flying, and flying is safe again. So this is like going against the message as long as it stays closed.

MR. FLEISCHER: You know, you're right, it is a symbol. And, unfortunately, in the aftermath of the attack on September 11th, many Americans are taking a look at things symbolic and things real and saying, things are changing. And it's an unfortunate reality of what's happened since September 11th.

So at the same time, the President is doing everything in his power to help Americans to resume their lives across the country. There are going to be issues that are also, for the first time in so many of our lives that are touched by security considerations for the first time. And the question of National Airport is directly one of them.

QUESTION: Ari, there are press reports that say that special forces from the United States and Great Britain are on the ground in Afghanistan. Has the military war against terrorism begun?

MR. FLEISCHER: Ivan, let me lay out one rule now and for the future. I will never comment on any military operations that may or may not be underway.

QUESTION: I wanted to follow up on the National Airport. Dulles Airport is very close to Washington as well, about 20 miles or something like that. The planes involved in the incidents here on September 11th, or the incident here on September 11th, I believe were traveling something like 400 miles an hour. That's also only a couple of minutes away by air from downtown Washington if somebody suddenly decides to divert from their flight path.

Why aren't there special measures in place at Dulles unique to deal with the Washington area, and why is National of so much greater concern?

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, those are the all of the issues that the security experts are taking a look at. Sometimes, the difference between minutes and seconds is a big difference, and so they are looking at exactly those types of issues.

QUESTION: I have two questions. Did Secretary Mineta jump the gun on ABC this morning? Is that what you're saying? (Laughter.)

MR. FLEISCHER: I think I have addressed it.

QUESTION: And number two, what did the President mean by "hot pursuit"?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'll leave that to others to guess at.

QUESTION: I assume by your answer earlier, there's no longer any debate here about whether there will be an economic stimulus package. The White House agrees that there will definitely be one, and there's a need for one?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think until the President says something, you can rest assured that it's a matter that's under review. I wouldn't reach any conclusions until the President, himself, says something. But the President has indicated, of course, that he remains very concerned about the economy and he's taking a look at a series of possible actions that can be taken to help people, and he's going to do that in concert with the Congress.

QUESTION: And is there anything about if there is a stimulus package, how large that should be?

MR. FLEISCHER: There is no final determinations on that.

QUESTION: Ari, just following up on your answer to those other questions, the fact that you're not going to comment about any operational details from the podium, so is it fair that the American people should -- have to expect that some things could be happening right now on the military front that they just won't be told about?

MR. FLEISCHER: As the President said, there are going to be elements to this war that everybody will know about, that people will be able to see and know about for themselves, that will be publicly discussed. But it is also the nature of this first war against terrorism that there may be areas that people do not know about. And I'm just not going to go beyond that in discussing anything that is operational like that.

QUESTION: A general policy question on this. Do you have any assessments whether it was proper to publish the article about alleged covert actions, and would the White House like to see the press exercise greater restraint, even if official wartime powers have not been invoked?

MR. FLEISCHER: You know, this is always a balance of democracy. But the fact of the matter is, our democracy seems to typically get it right, and it's one of the reasons we win wars, is because we have a free people and a free press.

And in that interesting, historical and delicate balance, people do their part; they understand the implications about what they do, they say, they write, they publish. And history, I think, is a good guide. I think there are some challenges today in the modern communications era that didn't exist in World War II, for example, where things said today are instantly heard and can be heard by enemies around the world.

But it's an interesting question of delicacy and balance. I've made some concerns known to the media, which I'll continue to make known on a private level about things that are done or said, and I think we're all going to work our way forward on this together.

QUESTION: Was the article, was the paper wrong to publish that kind of article? Did it put the American forces in danger if they, indeed, are there?

MR. FLEISCHER: That's not a judgment for me to make and answering that question would be giving an indication whether it was accurate or not, and I won't do that.

QUESTION: My impression was that you had been saying that you wanted to wait several more days, in keeping with Greenspan's advice, to see whether or not some stimulus was actually needed. The sense I get from you now is that judgment has been made and that you were deeply involved in preparations, looking at all of the options and that you've actually decided that, in fact, some stimulus will be necessary.

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President is looking at options. He's reviewing with his staff and with Cabinet Secretaries a series of possible steps to take. And he also has been discussing it with leaders on the Hill, with Senator Lott, Speaker Hastert, Congressman Gephardt, Senator Daschle, and he's going to continue to do that. So it's a process. He hasn't reached any conclusions yet, but he is reviewing a series of actions that may be taken.

And the reason is, is because there are a lot of people in this country who are hurting, who are out of jobs and who need help. And there is an economy that the President is always going to focus on in times of war or peace, that he wants to make certain is strong.

QUESTION: So, in a sense, you have rolled, then, all the concerns on Capitol Hill about finding some sort of relief for laid off workers -- that has now become part of your thinking on an economic stimulus?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, you say we've rolled in all the concerns. The President is taking a look at a lot of options.

QUESTION: But, I mean, action on that front is now seen as part of any stimulus package?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's all possible.

QUESTION: Now, the Senate was talking about $21 billion in assistance for laid off workers. Is that somewhere in the realm of anything the White House could contemplate?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to speculate about any numbers. The President is going to continue to explore these options and see where -- see what determinations he makes.

QUESTION: You had indicated, I think, earlier in the week that you thought in the $100 billion that was identified by Greenspan and others as the amount needed for any stimulus, that you thought about $50 billion, $55 billion had already been spent, in terms of emergency spending in the airline bill.

Is that your thinking, that there's another $40 billion or so that would come and no package should really exceed that amount?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, that was actually what the Federal Reserve said in a statement they issued. There was some confusion about what some people interpreted Chairman Greenspan to have said when he went up to the Hill. And some people were suggesting this $100 billion figure. The Federal Reserve subsequently put out a clarification to correct any of the misinterpretations others made.

QUESTION: Do you share that view?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think you'll get the number when the President is ready to report a number.

QUESTION: Is there any ongoing discussion with Reverend Jackson on going to Afghanistan and getting the Americans out? I don't think he feels designated to negotiate, but you people keep saying no negotiations. I don't think that's the problem. Would you be very unhappy if he went?

MR. FLEISCHER: Reverend Jackson has talked to Secretary Powell and to Condoleezza Rice. And the administration's position is clear. The United States government is not going to negotiate or to have any discussions with the Taliban.

QUESTION: We know that. We heard that in Iran-Contra, too, about ten times -- thousand times, before --

MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, you can come to conclusions about what you're hearing today, and I'm sure you will. But I repeat, the government is not going to negotiate with the Taliban or enter into negotiations with him.

QUESTION: But that isn't the point of the --

MR. FLEISCHER: And Reverend Jackson can be very helpful in reminding the world about the importance of fighting terrorism.

QUESTION: Can I just follow on that? When you say that the U.S. government is not going to negotiate, does that mean that there's no diplomat -- no room for diplomacy here?

MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.

QUESTION: No room for diplomacy?

MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.

QUESTION: Okay, so no additional delegations from Pakistan to go to talk to the Taliban? You wouldn't support that?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President could not have said it any plainer in his speech to the nation. It's time for actions, not words. And the Taliban is harboring terrorists. And the President has said that he will protect this country after it's been attacked by those who engage in terrorism and those who harbor terrorists. And he meant it.

QUESTION: Would you object if Jackson went and got the young people who've been -- and the people who've been jailed, got them out?

MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, I've addressed the question.

QUESTION: That isn't the question.

QUESTION: Do you think the worker relief package should include a --

MR. FLEISCHER: Should include a what?

QUESTION: I wasn't sure if Helen was speaking. Do you feel that the worker relief program should include a component that involves job training as well as health benefits?

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, there are a series of things the President's looking at that's under review. And until the President makes those determinations, I'm not going to speculate.

QUESTION: And also, on the stimulus package, there's a school of thought that if you're going to do anything, it should provide relief for corporate as well as for individuals. Specifically on individuals, payroll cuts, because many people were not eligible for the first round of rebates. Is that something the President is open-minded about?

MR. FLEISCHER: That's another idea that has been floated around on the Hill, and the President's aware of that. But again, these are all good attempts to get me to speculate about the specifics of what the President's reviewing, and I just won't.

QUESTION: Ari, you won't talk about the specifics. What prism of principles is the President applying to all these good ideas that are coming into the White House?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President is taking a look at it in the context of what will be real and meaningful to help the economy and to help workers get jobs. That's the first principle that the President is applying. And of course, in war and peace, it's always important, the President believes, to keep an eye on wise use of taxpayer dollars.

QUESTION: Ari, a follow-up to Helen's question. When President Clinton was President, Jesse Jackson went to Kosovo, got the three soldiers out. The administration was very upset with him. What are the thoughts of a civilian dealing with a government to government, a higher level government to government situation now than just leaving it alone?

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, I really -- I think we've exhausted the topic. I've said what the administration has to say about the possible visit.

QUESTION: Reverend Jackson now is putting out a statement -- a written statement to try to prove that the Taliban did get a hold of him. And he's still thinking it could be his moral obligation to go there. Could he be a fly in the ointment in this situation?

MR. FLEISCHER: I've addressed the question, and I think he'll figure out what he does.

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