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White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer
White House Briefing Room
Washington D.C.
October 2, 2001
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QUESTION: And why is that?

QUESTION: Ari, would you go so far as to say that no matter what the Taliban might say at this point, it may not make any difference? Are you ignoring whatever they may say?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President could not have made it any clearer two weeks ago when he said that there will be no discussions and no negotiations. So what they say is not as important as what they do. And it's time for them to act. It's been time for them to act.

QUESTION: Are you ignoring their statements, though?

QUESTION: Why not say -- has time run out?

QUESTION: Ari, on the economic stimulus package, the President said he wants Congress to move quickly, but also they need to agree on a size first. I'm wondering if he's laying down any kind of deadlines or timetables. I know you guys are unwilling to do that on the terrorism legislation.

MR. FLEISCHER: No, the President has not done that. The President was very encouraged by the talks this morning, and I think what has to happen next is each of the members of Congress -- each of the leaders of Congress has to go back now and talk to their rank and file, to their membership. These are the elected leaders, but it's very important for them and for the White House to listen to the rank and file. They play a very important role throughout all of these bipartisan discussions that are going on. So that's the next action you should look to.

QUESTION: Do you expect movement on this in a matter of days, a matter of weeks? What kind of --

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to guess the time frame. I think that there are a series of important initiatives that are moving in Congress that are not limited to just the items that were discussed this morning. Education, for example, is another one that the President would like to see action on.

So, again, there is a deliberative process that the framers of our government put in place that guides us, even during war. And that process remains.

QUESTION: Ari, but as far as the timing, is the size or the components of this package, as well as when you announce it dependent at all on when the United States takes military action and the reaction to that military action?

MR. FLEISCHER: No.

QUESTION: Ari, sorry to belabor a point, but would you categorically rule out any kind of contact with the Taliban?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President could not have said it plainer. I just repeat what the President said -- no discussions, no negotiations, action.

QUESTION: Have you had any contact, direct or indirect, with the Taliban in the last few days?

MR. FLEISCHER: There's nothing that I'm aware of.

QUESTION: Can I just clarify something? Earlier I asked you if, in the President's mind, anything had to be done, diplomatically, information-sharing-wise, anything had to be done before military action could begin. And you seemed to suggest that, no, nothing had to be done. And now Secretary Rumsfeld is going overseas to consult and provide information. And so I just want to clarify that point. Does the President believe that there's any diplomacy left to be done, or anything at all that has to be done before military action can begin?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, obviously from September 11th forward, the United States, at all levels -- the President, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense -- have been talking with our friends and allies. Under Secretaries have been visibly and publicly going to visit areas. So this shouldn't come as a surprise to anybody that the Secretary can go.

QUESTION: But what I'm asking is, at what point have we crossed the threshold where the coalition is set, and we're ready to go, when the President makes the decision? I'm not asking you a timing question. I'm asking you in his mind, is military action ready to begin, or does more diplomacy have to go forward, does more information have to be shared with other countries?

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, that's a question about timing, and I'm just not going to go down that road.

QUESTION: Could you say if more needs to be done?

QUESTION: Ari, there's been an upsurge of fanatical violence in some other parts of the world. Do you see any correlation? Do you think extremist groups are taking advantage of the lack of attention paid to them to conduct their violence?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not sure how to characterize what you say is upsurge.

QUESTION: -- and killings and massacres.

QUESTION: Unfortunately, there are parts of the world where these things took place before September 11th, and take place since. But I really don't know how to characterize that as an upsurge. The United States has a mission ahead of it, to protect our country in the wake of the fact that we've been attacked. And the President is focused on that. He will, of course, continue with the State Department, to work throughout the world to promote peace in any regions of the world where there is instability. But the President has a mission ahead.

QUESTION: Ari, we've learned additional comments by some of those people who attended the meeting with the President, particularly Ramsi Yusef. Does the White House now have any second thoughts at all about the people who were invited to that meeting?

MR. FLEISCHER: Jim, I think I've addressed that question repeatedly in the last several days. There's no answer -- no different answer.

QUESTION: Were you aware of all the things that those people had said before you came, or was that a surprise to the White House?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, we were aware that there very well could have been statements made that the President didn't agree with. The President will have meetings with groups that he does not agree with everything they say. But it's also important to remind Americans that even for those who have differing views, that the rights of Arab Americans and Muslim Americans must be respected.

QUESTION: Ari, the President said this morning on the Israel-Palestinian peace process that he's committed to working with both sides to bring the level of terror down to an acceptable level for both. What is an acceptable level? Is there an amount of violence which he sees as acceptable, given the --

MR. FLEISCHER: You've heard the President say repeatedly, publicly, that what's important is that both sides make 100-percent effort. And that's in distinction to 100-percent results. And the President has called on all parties in the region to make 100-percent effort.

QUESTION: Some people believe that we have given a lot of time to Afghanistan, sending one mission after another mission, and Osama bin Laden may not be in Afghanistan at this time, he may have already cross the border; number one. Number two, Indian Minister said yesterday that they are the same terrorists, but they are under different names throughout the world, including in India. There was a car bomb yesterday, 35 people died. And also, if you can give some detail of yesterday's meeting with the President and --

MR. FLEISCHER: I think that that was addressed yesterday in terms of the meeting. A readout was provided yesterday about that. And as for the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden, I have no comment about that. It's further proof of the multiple contradictory statements that have been made by the Taliban.

QUESTION: Ari, on the economic stimulus package, what is the trade promotion authority -- on it, and when do you expect the President to take some action about it in Congress?

MR. FLEISCHER: That remains another one of the important pieces of domestic legislation that is pending on the Hill. The President continues to adhere to his very principled belief that free trade benefits all people, can help create jobs throughout the economy, higher-paying jobs than is typical of most jobs. And so the President is going to continue to push the Congress to make progress on trade promotion authority while working closely with Democrats and Republicans. It's clearly an issue that you must have Democrat support for it in order to get it done.

QUESTION: Ari, going back to the Palestinian state, could you address the comments coming from some quarters that the reason that we're doing this now is because we need to do something to reach out to Arab countries for this coalition? And could you also address the question of whether the President still feels, as he has said in the past, that Yasser Arafat needs to do more to control violence?

MR. FLEISCHER: On the second point, the President does feel that, yes. And that's why the President is calling all parties to make 100 percent effort, so that we can begin the process that leads to the implementation of the Mitchell Accords, which can have a conclusion at the end of a negotiated dialogue, which is something, frankly, that Prime Minister Sharon said as recently as September 24th, that -- let me put it in Prime Minister Sharon's words -- quote, "Israel wants to give the Palestinians what no one else has given them, the possibility of establishing a state." So I think it should come as no surprise. It's long been the vision of a negotiated settlement.

QUESTION: The first part of the question, though -- Ari, no, you didn't address the first part of the question, the linkage --

MR. FLEISCHER: What was the first part?

QUESTION: The linkage between these developments on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Is it part of a conclusion on the part of the administration that one way to make this that it's not a campaign against Islam, and to solidify the support of Arab nations is to make progress on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and to indicate support of a Palestinian state?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, if you believe what you read this morning, all those stories pointed out that this was in place prior to September 11th. So I think that deals with the question of linkage.

QUESTION: CNN is reporting that, according to my State Departments colleagues, that the Secretary of State is planning another, potentially a speech reiterating that same point, and a series of high-profile steps to make this case, in part to solidify support of the international community, in particular Arab nations.

MR. FLEISCHER: I think that if you're hearing things about what the Secretary would do, I think you need to ask the Secretary.

Lester.

QUESTION: Ari, the Washington Post reports this morning that the Bush administration has dropped a Clinton administration action that charged the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority with alleged civil rights violations, because 93 percent of all female applicants failed in its aerobics test, which test the Clinton people charged was overly rigorous. My question -- given this commendable Bush administration decision, Ari, am I entirely wrong to presume that what you said, the President regards the best armed forces in the world means that he will not succumb to the extremist-feminist demands for females in ground combat units, will he, Ari?i, (Laughter.)

MR. FLEISCHER: Les, I've got to confess that I really haven't been keeping up with aerobics since September 11th.

QUESTION: Well, it is the Washington Post. You read that paper.

MR. FLEISCHER: I have nothing to offer you on that topic.

QUESTION: Okay. Maryland's Republican leader, Dick Bennett, who was appointed U.S. Attorney for Maryland by the older President Bush, recalls vividly that when the Clinton administration moved in, there was what he termed the "Reno Railroad," in which every U.S. attorney in the country was fired. Now, given this, why did this President Bush, through his Attorney General, give to the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York full authority to investigate the presidential misbehavior of the same President who appointed her, and who nearly 10 months after the apparencies of the "pardongate" outrage still has neither any report, not any indictment?

MR. FLEISCHER: Separate and apart from the specifics of your question, the administration, of course, left in place several U.S. attorneys, and they have been being replaced on a regular basis. But to promote continuity in government, continuity in prosecutions, and continuity in justice, several U.S. attorneys were left in place.

QUESTION: It wasn't the Reno Railroad, then -- there was no Reno Railroad in the Bush administration, was there?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not familiar with what that term might mean.

QUESTION: Up in Congress, the Senate Commerce Committee, on a bipartisan basis, sent a very strong signal that they want passenger screeners at airports to be federal workers. Is the President prepared to sign on to that?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President proposed his aviation package, as you know, that include the federalization of standards for the workers, of background training. The President has some concerns about the implications of putting all these new tens of thousands of people on the federal payroll because he believes that there can be effective safety at airports without taking that step. But he's aware that there are many members of Congress who see it differently and he's going to work with them.

QUESTION: Also, on the airline safety, the package announced this morning, the direct-in flight path to Reagan -- which I understand won't be exactly a straight line, it will have a turn in it coming down the Potomac -- what are the implications for any aircraft that strays off that line?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm just not going to discuss things about hypotheticals, but I think you --

QUESTION: It's not a hypothetical.

MR. FLEISCHER: You just said, if an airplane strays off that line.

QUESTION: No, I said, what are the provisions for an aircraft that strays off --

MR. FLEISCHER: You need to get back to Webster's.

QUESTION: What are the provisions for an aircraft that strays off that line?

MR. FLEISCHER: John, I think these questions need to be addressed to the FAA, particularly on the flight path. I think you need -- based on the premise of your --

QUESTION: The President has ultimate authority over that.

MR. FLEISCHER: Based on the premise of your question, you need to talk to the FAA about flight routes coming into National, because it's going to differ from what you just stipulated.

QUESTION: On homeland security, with this new agency being created, will the Defense Department still have the primary responsibility for homeland defense in its purest sense, or might it have to --

MR. FLEISCHER: That's kind of akin to asking, given the fact that the government has a National Security Council, would the Department of Defense still have primary responsibility for the defense of our country. The purpose of the Homeland Office, just like the National Security Council, is to tie together and better coordinate the activities of, in this case, the 46 federal agencies, including some at DOD, that have a responsibility in protecting our nation's homeland defenses. So it's a coordinating post, it's a policy post. But clearly, various agencies continue to have their vital functions, which are much more operational and mission oriented.

QUESTION: Has the President spoken to Tony Blair since he gave his speech?

MR. FLEISCHER: He has not.

QUESTION: Does he intend to talk to him today?

MR. FLEISCHER: As always, I try to do my best to give you readouts on phone calls. If there's anything --

QUESTION: Did he talk to him before he gave his speech?

MR. FLEISCHER: If he's moved to pick up the phone, I'll advise you.

QUESTION: Did he talk to him before Blair gave his speech?

MR. FLEISCHER: Define before. He's talked to Tony Blair several times in the last several weeks.

QUESTION: In the last 12 hours?

MR. FLEISCHER: No.

QUESTION: Why is there no --

MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, and then Keith.

QUESTION: One more on the Middle East. Does the President's recognition of the ultimate goal of the Palestinian state come as a reflection of the administration's sense that part of the campaign against terrorism has got to be to take the fuel out of the anger that some of these people have, and that a Palestinian state and the U.S. working toward it would do that?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, Terry, the President said it because it's the logical conclusion of the vision, that the President talked about this morning, at the end of a negotiated peace process. And that's why I also read to you what Prime Minister Sharon said very recently. That was just a week ago. Prime Minister Sharon's words are similar in that effect. And I think you should see it in that context.

QUESTION: But is there a new urgency to it at all?

MR. FLEISCHER: It's a consistent policy.

QUESTION: I've just got a specific question I've got to ask.

MR. FLEISCHER: Triple follow-up.

QUESTION: The al-Shamal Bank in the Sudan was found by the State Department in 1996 to have been established with $50 million of Osama bin Laden's personal fortune. In the embassy bombing trial there were also links between that bank and bin Laden. Why isn't that bank on the Treasury's list?

MR. FLEISCHER: As was indicated when the President announced it in the Rose Garden, that's the first tranche. And I'm not going to be able to give you a prediction ahead of time about any follow-on groups that are listed as terrorist organizations. The Department of Treasury is reviewing that as we speak, and there can be additional announcements at any time.
QUESTION: Ari, why is there no timetable for the stimulus package, given its importance to the economy?

MR. FLEISCHER: Because, one, it's always important, when dealing with the economy, to take a look in a measured way, to do the right thing, not the rushed thing. And that is the process of the Congress. It's a deliberative process, it's a thoughtful process.

But I also want to make the point, and this is something the President alluded to in his remarks, about how important it is to send a signal to the nation that the leaders and the members of Congress are working together. This is the essence of bipartisan. And the President wants to make certain that the country sees the men and women of the Congress, Democrat and Republican, working shoulder to shoulder on these issues.

Will there be some disputes down the road? No one can ever rule it out. But the President thinks it's terribly important that the nation see the leaders of Congress and the rank-and-file members of Congress working together. This is how you do it. And that means Congress needs the time and deserves the time to go back and vet some of these ideas with its membership, Democrat and Republican alike.

QUESTION: If I could have a triple follow-up, too. So it's correct to assume that there were no deals made at this meeting this morning?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think there was --

QUESTION: On any aspect of the stimulus package?

MR. FLEISCHER: It was a series of discussions about what people believe are the right steps to take, both on the economic stimulus, on a package of relief for dislocated workers, on the budget with the appropriation bills that are now overdue, that are pending action, probably this month.

So it was a collection of ideas from the leadership, an attempt to arrive at principles then that those leaders can take back to the Hill so that the various members of the Hill can weigh in now and move it along.

QUESTION: -- going to meet again this week?

MR. FLEISCHER: This is four follow-ups.

QUESTION: Who's counting? (Laughter.) Are they going to meet again this week?

MR. FLEISCHER: There's nothing on the schedule at this time.

QUESTION: Ari, it's been a little more than a week since the President turned out his request for freezing of assets around the world. When the Treasury provided us with a list yesterday of the countries that have acted on that request, there were only 19. Missing from it were three countries where there has been a lot of banking activity in the past for those groups -- Malaysia -- and the President spoke to Prime Minister Mahathir yesterday --the Philippines, Indonesia, which said it would not join the list. What is the President doing to lean on individual leaders of those countries at this point, a week later, to get them on the list?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as the Treasury Department has indicated, these actions have to be done in concert with the laws of those nations. Not all nations around the world have the same laws that allow them to take as vigorous action as others have done. And so there will be continued focus through diplomatic channels, through the Treasury Department, to work with those nations to get them to do as much as they possibly can do. It's a recognition of the fact that some nations have better laws to get the job done than others.

QUESTION: Did the President raise this issue with Prime Minister Mahathir?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'd have to find out specifically, Dave.

QUESTION: On the economic stimulus, one gets the impression that the President does not want to announce anything that does not already have broad support in the Congress from both Democrats and Republicans. Is that the case? And, if so, to what extent does that limit what the White House would like to do in an economic stimulus package?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I just think you're seeing, as I indicated, the essence of bipartisanship. And that's a process that lends itself to a lot of conversations and a lot of venting after those conversations. That is the President's intention here, because he thinks that's how the nation is best served.

QUESTION: In other words, he's not going to introduce a package for which there is broad Democratic opposition?

MR. FLEISCHER: That would not be the essence of bipartisanship.

QUESTION: Just three quick questions on homeland defense. Is Governor Ridge expected to start next week in his new job? How will that office be staffed? And what's the White House view of making it a Cabinet post, a Cabinet-ranked post?

MR. FLEISCHER: The post will have Cabinet rank.

QUESTION: What about legislation, assuming Congress would want to have a Cabinet post?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President announced it in the manner he did because he thought that was the most propitious fashion to get this office up and running and to have the office well-administered. So Governor Ridge will begin next week, and we'll have further announcements for you next week about staffing and space and various White House issues so you can be in touch.

QUESTION: Is the President open to a discussion on the Hill to make it a Cabinet post through legislation?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, the President will continue to work with Congress, but he's made clear that this the manner in which he thinks is best.

Thank you.

End 1:58 P.M. EDT