Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer - Feb 12th 2002
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
February 12, 2002
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
Listen to the Briefing
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
- President's political ad
- Iraq/axis of evil
- Drug control strategy/Afghanistan
- RNC/campaign finance reform
- Latest terrorist alert
- CIA/mandate in war on terrorism
- Status of WSJ journalist
- Boy Scouts/visit to the White House
- United Airlines/union vote
- Faith-based initiative
- Pakistan/Musharraf visit agenda
12:07 P.M. EST
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. The President this morning called President Mubarak of Egypt. The call was part of the two leaders' regular consultations about the situation in the Middle East. The President expressed his appreciation for President Mubarak's leadership role in the search for peace in the region. The President also reaffirmed the value of U.S.-Egyptian relationship to regional security and stability.
After his call, the President convened meetings of the National Security Council. He had his regular briefings from the CIA and from the FBI. And then the President signed into action an executive order for Historically Black Colleges and Universities. This is a follow-on to the President's commitment to increase funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities by 30 percent over four years. The executive order will strengthen the ability of these universities to educate children, particularly in the minority community.
Then the President named Congressman Tony Hall, a Democrat of Ohio, to be the United States representative to the Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome. The President, later today, will meet with leaders and members of the Boy Scouts of America to receive their annual report. And following that, at 1:30 p.m. in the East Room, the President will make an announcement about the 2002 National Drug Control Strategy.
The strategy the President will outline today will focus on three things: one, stopping drug use before it starts; two, healing America's drug users; and three, disrupting the market. The President's National Drug Control Strategy seeks to reduce use of illegal drugs by 10 percent over two years, and by 25 percent over five years. And these goals apply to drug use among young Americans, which are considered people in the 12-17 year-old age group, and among adults.
There will be a briefing by the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Strategy following the President's announcement, here in the briefing room, on the record, off camera, to help reporters -- answer any questions about it.
With that, I'm more than happy to take questions. Terry.
Q Why is the President appearing in a very sharply partisan political ad? It's seeming, according to Democrats, to exploit the patriotism surrounding the war effort against Democrats who have honest disagreements with him on domestic policy.
MR. FLEISCHER: Have you seen the ad?
Q I have not; I've read the script.
MR. FLEISCHER: Okay. I have a hard time classifying it as sharply partisan. It says the same things that the President has said repeatedly, which is it's important to pass a stimulus plan to get the economy going again and to help workers find jobs. That's not partisan. That's the President's policy. And it's a good message.
Q What the President is saying, it's time for members of Congress to do their job during wartime. And is an honest disagreement about domestic policy not doing one's job during wartime?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think honest disagreements about policy are the essence of what campaigns are all about. And this is an election year, and the President will be doing his part to help elect people who vote for and support the agenda that he's proposed, particularly helping workers get jobs.
Q And part of his pitch to the American people will be that his agenda is necessary to the war effort's success, and that those who oppose it are opposing success in the war?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there's no question that the President views the actions of those who vote with him as helping him to implement his agenda across the board.
Q Isn't this a subtle way, though, of using the war politically during the 2002 elections?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, have you seen the ad?
MR. FLEISCHER: I recommend take a look at the ad, read the script, and you'll see that it's focused on the stimulus and everything that's in there is really things that are part of the public policy debate, which is what you would hope that campaign ads focus on.
Q The President's position, though, in terms of using the war politically -- obviously some Democrats criticized comments Karl Rove made weeks ago --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, this ad is about the stimulus.
Q Right. But just in general, the President's position about whether the war -- using the war in any way politically to help candidates in 2002, what's his position?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think the voters will make their own minds up about which party they trust most when it comes to fighting terrorism and fighting the war. And those are the judgments that the voters always make.
Q Is the President ready to go to war with Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, as the President said in his State of the Union, the President is prepared to take whatever action is necessary to protect the United States, protect our allies, and to protect the peace internationally. And I can assure you that no decisions have been made beyond the first phase of the war on terrorism. The President has been very plainspoken with the American people about the need to fight the war on terrorism wherever terrorism is. And he's focused right now on Afghanistan, but the President has been very clear that time is not on our side because of the threats posed by nations and terrorists against the United States.
Q Does he know of any connection with the current fight against terrorism by Iraq? Does he have any evidence?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, when the President referred to the axis of evil, and identified North Korea, Iran and Iraq, what the President was referring to is their -- not only their support of terrorism, which is plain -- they are on the State Department list of terrorist states -- but also their development of weapons of mass destruction, their willingness in the case of several of those nations to export technology and material and provide weapons of mass destruction. And the President does fear the marrying of any of these nations with terrorist organizations.
Q Well, we have weapons of mass destruction and we don't permit any inspection.
MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, if you're suggesting that there's a moral equivalence between the United States' success in keeping the peace for 60 years with our weapons and the actions of terrorists, I would urge you to reexamine that premise. I see no moral equivalence.
Q Senator Daschle said yesterday that it's right to take a very close look at the problems presented by Iran, Iraq and North Korea, but the President should be careful with the kind of rhetoric he used by labeling them the axis of evil. Any response to that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, Senator Daschle's remarks are confusing because it appears that he has changed from what he said the night of the State of the Union address when the President spoke to the nation about the axis of evil. Let me cite for you what Senator Daschle said in an interview on January 30th with Good Morning America.
When asked specifically about the President's reference to the axis of evil, Senator Daschle said, "We know that we've got to take more preventive action, and the President outlined some of the steps last night, and I think the Congress supports him, Charlie." And he continued, "And if it takes preemptive strikes, if it takes preemptive action, I think the Congress is prepared to support it." So it just seems that something has changed with Senator Daschle or perhaps he has had a change of opinion, but it does not appear that he is perfectly consistent.
Q In those comments he didn't say anything about the President's phrase, axis of evil. This is the first time he has come out and said that phrase is a little hot.
MR. FLEISCHER: That's why I raise it then. When he had a chance to say that when interviewed the morning after the speech, he indicated otherwise, because he was asked in that interview exactly about the axis of evil. And, at that time, he had nothing negative to say about it. In fact, he went on to indicate that the Congress would support the President if the President deemed it necessary to take action.
Q Ari, in the drug control strategy opening statement, the President talks about how internationally, drugs finance the work of terrorists, profits fund their work. As you know, in Afghanistan, the poppy crop is about to be replanted in March. What is the United States prepared to do about the crop? Will we wipe it out? Are we going to do anything to stop Afghanistan from becoming the heroin capital of the world?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there's no question that drug use has a direct funding for terrorists; that casual drug users, non-casual drug users, serious drug abusers, as a result of their purchase of drugs, it ultimately does support many terrorist organizations around the world.
In Afghanistan, this is a topic that has been discussed with the Interim Chairman of Afghanistan. It is an issue that the Afghani government is concerned with, and I think that as a result of the prosecution of the war against terrorism, you will see a diminution of the amount of poppy in Afghanistan that is exported for drugs. Can we eradicate all of it? Is that a possibility? I don't think anybody is prepared to say that will happen in a country that is as lacking in central control as Afghanistan. But it will represent an improvement because there will be a diminution of the supply.
Q But are you saying that this is Chairman Karzai's job, or will this become a function of the U.S. military? Chairman Karzai has said that they will eliminate drug-trafficking, but they've also got a big job on their hands in order to do it.
MR. FLEISCHER: They have a big job on their hands. I think you will see the United States in a variety of means be helpful to the government of Afghanistan. I'm not indicating that's anything that the military will play a role in, but the United States wants to work with the government of Afghanistan to help eradicate their drug crops.
Q Why not take a more proactive role, rather than just being a helper? Why wouldn't the military actually go in and do some of the work here?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, when it comes not only to eradication of drugs in Afghanistan, but helping Afghanistan become an independent, strong nation, the United States is going to be working to train Afghanistan's military, and that's something which Chairman Karzai and the President talked about. Chairman Karzai recognizes the importance for Afghanistan to be able to stand on its own feet and take action across the board, not only in this one area of drug production, but in terms of law enforcement and rule of law and openness, transparency, in Afghanistan. He wants to create an Afghanistan that is able to take care of its own matters. And the United States will be helpful to Afghanistan in that endeavor.
The United States won't do everything for Afghanistan. We cannot and we should not. But the United States will help Afghanistan in a number of areas, including drug eradication.
Q I just want to be clear on this. You're saying that the United States will not take any direct action to eliminate heroin in Afghanistan going forward?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I didn't say that. I talked about the role of the military. I said the United States will continue to work productively with Afghanistan. And a number of steps have not all been determined. They are a young country. They are just -- still in a state of war. So there will be a series of developing actions with Afghanistan, not all of which can be known right now.
Q You are saying the U.S. military would not take a part in eradicating --
MR. FLEISCHER: Ron, I have heard no discussion about the United States military taking part in that role. Now, again, I want to stress that Afghanistan is a young country. There will be continued actions with Afghanistan. Afghanistan is still in the middle of a war. But not all steps can be known with how we're going to cooperate with Afghanistan, because, again, there are still an interim government. They don't know all the steps they'll be able to take. But across the board, the United States wants to be helpful and work with Afghanistan. It's in both our nation's interests.
Q Has the President or Karl Rove given the RNC the green light to work behind the scenes to either defeat or alter the leading campaign finance reform bill?
MR. FLEISCHER: No.
Q Is the President or any of his aides doing anything to either work to defeat or pass any amendments that would change that bill as it currently stands?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President would very much like to see the House of Representatives pass a campaign finance reform measure that improves the current system. The President does see a number of weaknesses in the current system that he thinks can be improved. Particularly, the President would like to ban soft money from corporations, ban soft money from unions. The President would like to see greater disclosure along the lines of what he, himself, did during the course of the campaign, where the President instantly -- virtually instantly disclosed contributions on his web page. The President would like to see an increase in the hard dollar limits of contributions to candidates. The President believes that if that is enacted, it will mean candidates spend less time raising money, and more time focusing on the constituents' needs.
The bill that currently -- a couple different bills are currently before the House -- are going to be amended in a process that's not yet clear. As the rule is currently constituted, there will be some 10 amendments by the majority, some five by the minority. There will be additional possibilities of amendments. So it's still a little hard to say what the final outcome of the House will be. But the President has made it clear to all those in Congress who ask him that he will sign into law something, if in his judgment it improves the system.
Q If he wants -- he says he would very much like to see a bill. Why then isn't he working the phones, inviting lawmakers over here to get the bill that he really likes to pass the House of Representatives?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, he's contributed to this process mightily by, for the first time in more than 10 years, sending the signal to the Democrats and Republicans alike in Washington that this year campaign finance reform is real. It used to be a phony debate. It used to be a debate where the Democratic Congress would send a bill to former President Bush, knowing he was going to veto it. It used to be a debate in which former President Clinton would make a proposal to the Republican Congress, knowing it was going to go nowhere. And frankly, both parties liked it that way. Both parties liked the phoniness of the debate. They both liked being able to say to each other, we're more for reform than you are, it would be done if it wasn't for you.
President Bush has changed that this year, and I think that's why you're seeing something very close and interesting in the House of Representatives, where nobody knows what the ultimate outcome is going to be. And he has accomplished that by making it clear to members of Congress that they should not count on him to scuttle whatever is done, that he generally wants to improve the system. So I think people can thank the President for making it a real and meaningful debate, and making people in both parties focus on the reality of the actions they'll take.
Q So why doesn't he send the message to the party not to work on trying to defeat the bill in the House?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because individual members are entitled to exercise their individual will. I don't think it should surprise anybody that there are individual members of the Republican National Committee who are state party chairmen, who represent other congressmen in the House or congressmen in the Senate, who have individual views about this and a wide diversity of views about it.
Q The President has no influence over them and what he feels should happen?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President has exercised his influence plenty, and that's why you're seeing for the first time in more than a decade a real debate.
Q He's not exerting his influence at all?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think he's exerted it to the point where, for the first time in more than a decade, campaign finance reform is real.
Q Ari, a point of contention, but apparently negotiable is the effective date when a soft money ban would actually take effect. At this point, do you think it's feasible or even fair for a soft money ban to go into effect this year?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the President is open-minded about that. I think the effective date will be something that ultimately Congress will decide. But the President is open-minded about whether it should be this year, it should be after the election. I think you find plenty of people in both parties who will tell you different things about how that would impact the ultimate outcome.
Q Now, if he's open-minded to this and a bill gets on his desk, are you saying then that you would act quickly on it if it included the ban going into effect this year?
MR. FLEISCHER: Obviously, if a bill lands on his desk, he has 10 days to either sign it or not. So I don't think that changes the timing of how the President would act, once it's on his desk.
Q Ari, the President will be announcing shortly his national drug control policy. In the past, the certification process this country has had irritated a lot of countries in Latin America because it pointed the finger at suppliers and at the people who produce it, but it has not paid much attention to the people who use it, consumption. You say in the President's new plan that's a major facet, to stop the consumption in this country. But how does this President's budget on that issue compare to the previous budget? Because everybody gave lip service to stop consumption, but they didn't do much about it.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's budget will spend more than $19 billion on fighting the war against drugs on a wide variety of fronts, including treatment, including demand, including supply, including border enforcement. And I would urge you when Director Walters is here, you may be able to get into greater depth with him about it.
Q Ari, can you give us a little more background on where the latest FBI alert came from, whether it was shared with the Office of Homeland Security, how it was implemented?
MR. FLEISCHER: The alert that the FBI announced last night was a result of a collaborative process that has been in place here for months, that involves many people of the national security team, and especially Governor Ridge. The information was derived from multiple sources and it was deemed to be credible. It was deemed to be specific by name, a photo was available -- in several cases more than one photo. And there was no more specificity than that. In other words, it was not a known location, a known target. It was not even known if the Yemeni individual in question is in the United States or outside the United States. We just do not know.
But the information came from a number of sources sufficiently credible that the alert went out last night. It's called a BOLO alert, which means "be on the lookout," and that's something the FBI and law enforcement communities are long familiar with. Be on the lookout for somebody for different types of crime. In this case, the crime is fear of terrorism.
Q Does that mean that there are any special roles for homeland security if it's an FBI alert?
MR. FLEISCHER: The FBI has almost always issued the alert. The FBI is the operational entity here that sends out alerts to 18,000 law enforcement -- the community. Homeland security is a policy-coordinating role. Just as the National Security Council doesn't put troops in the field to fight a war, the Homeland Security Council doesn't operate the FBI, but it's a coordinating function.
Q Do you know the exact date? You were told the exact date that this would occur?
MR. FLEISCHER: Beginning on. On or about. Beginning on. So, no, it's not limited to any one day, but based on the information that was gleaned, it's beginning today.
Q Was the President told that the alert was going to go out before it did, and did he sign off on it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, the President was aware of that.
Q Did he sign off on it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, I mean -- unfortunately, this is -- although this is not the same type of ongoing alert status which has been in place, which is currently in place through the Olympics and a little bit beyond, it's unfortunate to say that there's just almost a routine, a pattern now that has become part of the alert structure of our government. It's unfortunate, because it's a recognition of the fact that we have to deal with terrorism in that vein. It's fortunate because it means we're dealing with terrorism in that vein, meaning we get information quickly into the hands of the law enforcement community, including in this case a specific picture of a specific individual.
Q The reaction, as reported on the wires, was almost universally, how much higher can we go? We're already on high alert, what more do they want us to do? There were quotes from a number of different police officials around the country to that effect. What are you supposed to do if the country is already on high alert, and even higher for the Olympics?
MR. FLEISCHER: Be armed with a photo of somebody, so they can look for the person if they see him. That's what the purpose is. That's why this is not the same status of alert before, as I just said. The United States is still in the same alert status it was prior to the Olympic games, continuing through the duration of the games. This is what's called a BOLO, "be on the lookout for." And that's something, frankly, that the law enforcement community welcomes. They want that type of specific information, wherever there's a photo available. Imagine how helpful that is to the eyes and ears of law enforcement throughout the communities and the country. That's exactly the type of information police officials and local officials want. And, fortunately, in this case, the United States government was able to provide it.
Q Has the CIA in any way overstepped its mandate as an intelligence gathering organization by participating in military operations in Afghanistan?
MR. FLEISCHER: Actually, the President believes that the integration immediately of the CIA with the Department of Defense has been one of the reasons we were so successful in winning the war on terrorism up to this point in Afghanistan; that everything that has happened has been a result of a marriage of the CIA and DOD, involving intelligence sharing and operational role that the CIA has played.
So it's just the opposite -- the President believes that this is a great part of the transformation and the way that a country like ours, that has a large conventional capacity, can fight and win terrorist-style wars, guerrilla-style wars, because of the strength that the CIA and the DOD have, when combined.
Q Just so I'm understanding this. So the CIA no longer has to maintain its operations to intelligence gathering? It can move into a variety of other operational spheres, as well, including military actions taken against specific targets?
MR. FLEISCHER: They will at all times conform with what the law requires, and that is always allowable under the laws.
Q If I could clarify one thing on the warning. Are you saying that this was not an alert to the public that they should expect a new terrorist threat, rather just a warning to law enforcement to watch out for these guys?
MR. FLEISCHER: Technically, Jim, it is an alert to 18,000 law enforcement officials who are a part of the FBI and media communications system. As a practical matter, it's hard to send something out to 18,000 law enforcement officials without it also becoming a public alert. And that's just a recognition of the way the media and the interaction of government officials plays in our society with a free press. So it's a blurring of the lines, but technically it was sent to 18,000 law enforcement officials. The public is notified, and in the President's judgment, that's helpful.
Q But that's also done -- was also done in the previous cases. You're saying this was different from previous alerts?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, in previous cases, as well, there were notices that were sent to the 18,000 law enforcement officials. And at the same time, it was made public. The same thing happened last night here.
Q They were not any different? You said they were different, the previous ones.
MR. FLEISCHER: Because the technical answer is, the FBI notifies 18,000 people who are part of their communications system. That's the instant communication. It helps keep law enforcement locally tied in to what's happening nationally. Imagine the process. Word gets out, the FBI shares it with the public.
Q Let me ask a question about Iraq. The President's remarks and some other comments by officials after the State of the Union led some people to believe that basically the bombers were warming up and headed to the runway. You and Secretary Powell today have suggested that is not the case. What is the case? What is the state of play on going after Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: First of all, I think that's an over-interpretation. The President said directly in his State of the Union address that we will be patient, we are a deliberative nation, but time is not on our side. And immediately the next morning when I was asked for additional information, I said military action is not imminent. So I think it's all very clear. I think the American people have welcomed what the President said.
Let me make a broader point about what the President said, though, on the axis of evil and the language that he used, because this is a type of diplomacy that the President engages in; it's rather plainspoken. The President believes that moral clarity makes for strong diplomacy and that creates better results. And, as an example, Ronald Reagan did not say to Mikhail Gorbachev -- let me rephrase that -- Ronald Reagan said to Mikhail Gorbachev, tear down this wall. He didn't say, would you mind making it a little shorter? He spoke with moral clarity and, as a result, the world is a better place. So, too, with President Bush.
Q He didn't say what he was going to do if he didn't tear it down.
MR. FLEISCHER: And it came down, as a result of Ronald Reagan's moral clarity and strength.
Q If time is not on our side, as the President said and as you've pointed out several times, then why isn't an attack imminent?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's a determination of the President to protect the American people, and the President understands the timetable that he may or may not operate under. And so the President is continuing to take whatever action he thinks is necessary. And the American people have, I think, strongly supported the statement the President made or the actions the President may or may not take.
Q What is the status that you know about Daniel Pearl, and does the U.S. hold Pakistan responsible for the safety of American journalists? Do you suggest more journalists get out of Pakistan?
MR. FLEISCHER: The United States continues to very closely monitor what is happening with the kidnaping of Mr. Pearl. There have been reports this morning that I cannot confirm. The United States continues to call for the immediate and unconditional release of Mr. Pearl. He's a journalist who's doing his job. And, as I've said before from here, it's a reminder about the risks and the dangers that journalists face in doing their job around the world to keep their viewers and their readers informed.
President Musharraf will be here tomorrow. The cooperation of the Pakistani government and security forces has been very strong and very helpful. The President hopes that this matter will be resolved.
Q The man who was arrested, did he give any indication where Pearl is, either dead or alive?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have no information to contribute on that.
Q Ari, getting back to this alert issue, whatever happened to the idea of the Homeland Security Director coming up with a recognizable series of alerts that people could identify with?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's still under development. Nothing is final about that. The Homeland Security Director believes it would be helpful, and I think you will see that happening. But again, I want to remind you, what was put out by the FBI last night is called a BOLO, be on the lookout. It's not a change in our alert status. Our alert status remains just as it was prior to the Olympics, and ongoing.
Q But you have to --
MR. FLEISCHER: Last night's alert, in other words, last night's BOLO fits in to the existing alert.
Q But as others have mentioned, it adds to the anxiety, if you will, and how soon do you think there will be a recognizable system of alerts that would have maybe various grades or various names attached to them?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not willing to take a guess. That will be developed by the Homeland Security Council in cooperation with other agencies, and I have not heard a timetable for when it will be. But I'm not really sure that it does add to anxiety. I think, frankly, it's just the type of information that the law enforcement community seeks; that when there is something specific, when there is a picture available, imagine how much safer we are because that picture is then in the hands of officials at airports, at train stations, at bus stations, at different security venues. That's exactly the type of information that needs to be shared with local law enforcement by the federal government to prevent terrorism or to
disrupt a potential attack.
Q Ari, with the Boy Scouts meeting with the President this afternoon, does the President share the view by some Boy Scouts and their supporters that the organization has been mistreated or unfairly treated, I guess, since the issue of the membership requirements of the group went before the Supreme Court?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think not by President Bush. Certainly the President met with the Boy Scouts last year, is meeting with them again today. So the President is very pleased to receive them here at the White House.
Q Ari, union leaders representing United Airlines workers predict that they'll reject the company's contract offer in the next day or two, setting a strike deadline for the 20th, I believe. Does the President or Larry Lindsey or anyone intend to get further involved in this process?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's premature to judge the outcome of an election that's underway. The voting by the members of United Airlines union have begun today; it's ongoing. The results will not be known until sometime later. And that's even unclear exactly at what point the voting will be known. So I don't think it's wise to judge the outcome of an election. Certainly we've learned that lesson from 2000 about judging outcomes of elections. So we'll wait six weeks until it's over.
Q The Senate bill on the faith-based initiative doesn't have any of the charitable choice language that the House bill had. Now that House members are saying that the charitable choice language this year in reauthorizing welfare reform is going to be a struggle, as well, how would the President treat the idea that this idea of charitable choice for faith-based groups is actually -- might be on the decline right now, with the way that the Senate has become more Democratic?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think the President would differ with that interpretation, actually. The House, of course, did pass a measure that sought to create a level playing field, so that faith-based groups, community organizations would not be discriminated against by the government in issuing contracts because those groups were from the basis of faith.
The House of Representatives accomplished it through a measure very similar to the 1996 welfare law, called charitable choice. The Senate arrived at the same result through a different measure, which is a ban on discrimination against religious groups based on a iconography and other issues of that nature.
So they both, in the President's opinion, help accomplish the goal of tearing down barriers so groups that do good work in communities, to help people who are suffering, help people who are in poverty, help people who suffer from drug abuse or alcohol abuse, can get help often from the faith-based groups that provide the best help in breaking people of these habits.
So the President is pleased to see --
Q -- really a significant difference between the two bills --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the President sees them both as constructive ways to get to the same end point, and that end point is tearing down barriers in which the government discriminates against faith-based groups and refuses to give them money because they may operate from a faith position, as they help improve and save people's lives.
Q On the Boy Scouts, does the President agree with the Boy Scouts view that -- their decision to exclude gays from membership?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President views this as the courts have held, which is that it's a private organization.
Q The New York Times reports that while Congress twice voted last year to allow U.S. hostages who were held in our Tehran Embassy for 444 days to sue the $8 billion we hold in Iranian assets. This is being opposed by the State Department, even though President Bush has accurately identified Iran as part of the evil axis. And my question, why is the President allowing the State Department to try to block this twice congressionally justified lawsuit?
MR. FLEISCHER: Lester, I have no information on that, so let me take that question and try to post something on that.
Q In what I think is your impressive knowledge of the presidency, can you name any book, beside the Bible, that has been more promoted by any President than the New York Times number one best seller that was carried by President Bush in front of cameras, BIAS, a CBS insider exposes how the media distort the news?
MR. FLEISCHER: What was the question? (Laughter.)
Q Well, do you know of any book that has ever been more promoted by a President of the United States than this book?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm sure there were some. (Laughter.)
Q Can you name one? And did you like the book, too, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: You guys keep me so busy I have a hard time reading books.
Q That's an evasion.
MR. FLEISCHER: Actually, I think it's an interesting book. I think it raises some interesting issues.
Q The President liked it, didn't he? The President thought it was great?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President thought it also raised some interesting questions.
Q Such as?
Q Going back to alert, this comes on the eve of General Musharraf's visit to Washington, he's in town. And -- number one. Number two, there was a CBS report last week and also a published report that Osama bin Laden was in Pakistan on September 10th and ISI then -- then the ISI chief was in Washington on September 11th. And, finally, what are we seeking or asking General Musharraf when he comes tomorrow to meet with the President? What is he expecting and what is the United States expecting from him?
MR. FLEISCHER: This will be the President's second meeting directly and personally with President Musharraf. They met up in New York in November. And they'll just discuss a wide range of issues, including the war against terrorism. Education reform, which interestingly has been a key issue for President Musharraf, something they spent a lot of time talking about in New York, I anticipate they'll spend a lot more time talking about here in Washington. I anticipate they are going to want to talk about economic assistance and also a restoration of democratic government in Pakistan. I think they will also talk about military-to-military cooperation and expanding military exchange programs as well.
Q Is he going to talk to him about the Wall Street Journal reporter and also Osama bin Laden's presence?
MR. FLEISCHER: The Wall Street Journal reporter, Mr. Pearl, will likely come up.
END 12:39 P.M. EST