Briefing by Ari Fleischer - September 24, 2002
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 24, 2002
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:20 P.M. EDT
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. Let me give you a report on the President's day, and then I'll be happy to take questions. The President began this morning with an intelligence briefing from the CIA, followed by a briefing by the FBI. Then the President convened a Cabinet meeting shortly after 10:00 a.m. this morning, where the President stressed to the Cabinet the importance of completing work in the limited time that the Congress has left on the domestic agenda. Specifically, the President raised with his Cabinet the issue of completing action on the spending bills on the Congress in a way that is fiscally disciplined so that we do not over-spend at this time of deficits.
He also talked about the importance of getting pension protection for America's workers, and the importance of passage of legislation to promote energy independence. The Cabinet meeting also discussed welfare reform and getting seniors prescription drugs. They also talked about the upcoming White House conference on missing and exploited children.
Then the President signed into law this morning the Flight 93 National Memorial Act that will work to create a permanent memorial to honor the lives of those who were lost on Flight 93. And later this afternoon, the President will meet with the NCAA Championship teams, all of whom have gathered at the White House for their honorary visit. And then the President, later this afternoon again, will meet with a group of women who are gathered here from Afghanistan who are learning and being trained in the skills of governance. These are some of leading lights of Afghanistan, and it's part of America's ongoing commitment to helping Afghanistan in their nation-building efforts as we move forward in our assistance programs.
And with that, I'm happy to take questions.
Q What changed to allow you to lower the threat level status, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, this was based on a review of intelligence and an assessments of the threats by the intelligence community, as well as the passing of the anniversary of September 11th. And it was also a result of the disruption of potential attacks, as a result of some of the recent arrests that were made in the United States. All these factors, intelligence information, recent arrests and the passing of September 11th period allowed the President, late this morning, to make the decision to lower the threat.
Q Ari, the British dossier that was released this morning makes no mention of any link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. Does the President still believe that there is a link between the two, and what evidence is there to support that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, that's not the immediate question that the President has asked, as he considers what steps are necessary to protect the American people, because he views the threat from Saddam Hussein of being a threat in and of itself, as a result of Saddam Hussein's military activities, his arms buildup and his history of using those arms.
As for September 11th, what we do is that there are al Qaeda operating inside of Iraq. But the United States has not gone beyond that. The President believes that what is known about Saddam Hussein, based on his decade of defiance and his arms buildup, is cause enough for the world to need to take action.
Q Ari, if I could just follow up, the congressional resolution and the draft that you sent to the Hill list that as one of the reasons to justify possible action against Iraq. And then Secretary Rumsfeld just today also mentioned that as again another justification --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, to be clear, what the resolution sent up to the Hill mentioned was the growing awareness of the risk that America faces since September 11th; the fact that our nation is no longer as safe as we once perceived that we were prior to September 11th -- that's what the resolution cited. And then it went on to talk about al Qaeda operating inside of Iraq.
Q That's just in Northern Iraq, as I understand it, right in the Kurdish controlled area?
MR. FLEISCHER: Iraq is Iraq.
Q Yes, but one part of Iraq is controlled by Saddam Hussein. Another part is controlled by the Kurds. That makes it a vastly different --
MR. FLEISCHER: Actually, the information we have is that they are operating inside of Iraq. But again, the point that the President made in his speech to the United Nations did not rest on whether Saddam Hussein was involved on September 11th or not. The point the President made to the United Nations and that he makes to the American people is that we face a threat from Saddam Hussein because of who he is and what he has done.
Q Okay, not to drive you crazy, I just want to be clear, are we talking about Kurdish controlled Northern Iraq, or the part of Iraq that Saddam --
MR. FLEISCHER: Campbell, I would have to take a look at an exact detailed map and have a more precise briefing on the exact coordinates of where they are and where they may move to.
Q Ari, when you raised the level to orange, you guys are very good about telling people what this meant for them, what they should do, what the significance is. Going down to yellow, do people now -- sigh of relief, there's no problem out there now? What does this mean, here?
MR. FLEISCHER: The Justice Department has issued, as we are speaking now, an actual statement by Governor Ridge and the Attorney General on what this entails, and let me try to provide some explanation for this, as well, and some background on it.
Yesterday morning, the President, in his morning meetings, directed Governor Ridge to convene a meeting this morning of the Homeland Security Council to make a recommendation about whether or not, based on the intelligence we have, the threat level should be lowered. This morning, the topic did not even come up in the President's morning meetings with his intelligence community because the President knew homeland security was meeting later.
At 11:15 a.m. this morning, the Homeland Security Council met, and at 11:24 a.m. they reached an agreement with no objections to make the recommendation to the President to lower the level. Governor Ridge at 11:35 a.m. briefed the President on the Homeland Security Council meeting and the President made the decision at that time to lower the level.
And the reasoning is because the threat level is a meaningful measure of alert for the nation and for the law enforcement community. It is based on the best intelligence we have and the best assessment of the threat to our country. It is not a science, it is an art, as Governor Ridge says. And the determination was made because of the intelligence we have and because of the arrests and the passage of time from September 11th, that it's appropriate to always bring the alert level to the level that measures the perceived threat.
Keeping the alert level at an artificially high level can, over time, lead to the degradation of the meaning of the level because it's impossible for the law enforcement community to stay up at that heightened a level unless there is sufficient ongoing information to justify it. Any law enforcement community will tell you that these types of actions will be meaningful only if they are put into place when the circumstances actually warrant it. To leave it up at such a high status when the circumstances no longer warrants it can lead to people not taking it seriously any longer.
So based on those intelligence threats, based on the information from the arrests and the passage of September 11th, it was returned to its elevated level from a high level. We still are on alert; we still need to be careful. But, clearly, the immediate information that the President received that led to its moving from elevated to high has changed, and our intelligence community and law enforcement community will reflect that change.
Q On Iraq, Ari, and weapons inspections, disarmament versus the U.N. resolution under Chapter 7, Kofi Annan yesterday said that his understanding of the agreement that he knocked out with Naji Sabri was for unimpeded inspections. An Iraqi official today said he would welcome inspectors in with unfettered access. Do you still need a Chapter 7 resolution at the U.N.?
MR. FLEISCHER: This really is no longer a matter of what Iraq says; this is a matter of what Iraq has done. If what Iraq said mattered, we wouldn't have thought they invaded Kuwait, would we? They said that that was a part of Iraq, and they denied the original invasion, didn't they? And so Iraq's words have really lost any value. What does have value is protecting the world from Iraq's threats. And this is just another example and it's the latest example of Saddam Hussein trying to wiggle out of things and trying to buy time in an effort to fool the world once again.
Just yesterday, Iraq, in state-run press, said that passage of another U.N. resolution would be wicked and would lead to no inspectors returning. Today they said, unfettered inspectors returning. Their story just constantly changes. The one thing that doesn't change is their threat.
Q So are you concerned that this may again blunt the momentum that you've managed to rebuild at the U.N. Security Council for a Chapter 7 resolution?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think that people have seen Saddam Hussein as somebody they don't rely on. So efforts continue and the conversations continue and we'll continue the diplomacy along the timetable that the United Nations has outlined.
Q Ari, last night, early this morning, the U.N. Security Council, with the United States abstaining unusually, issued pretty tough criticism of the Israel government's action in Ramallah, called for withdrawal. The President has merely said those actions are unhelpful. What specifically is the President expecting of Israel in Ramallah and the West Bank?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the reason the President said it was unhelpful is because the President thinks the single most important ingredient to bring peace to the Middle East is change in the Palestinian Authority. And that's vis a vis the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There have been efforts underway within the Palestinian people and the Palestinian Authority to bring change, to have new leadership, a leadership that actually does have an interest in working side by side to allow Israel to exist in peace and security, a leadership that will take meaningful action to stop the terrorists, just as the Palestinian Authority had pledged it would do in Oslo.
And so the President is focused on helping to bring those changes about. The President believes, and he said so this morning, that Israel's actions in Ramallah are not helpful to the cause of creating this change in the Palestinian institution, that Israel's actions can have a boomerang effect that they build Yasser Arafat up when he should no longer be the issue.
Q Is it fair to read that as a call on Israel to withdraw, stand down from what they're doing in the West Bank --
MR. FLEISCHER: Israel has to come to its own conclusions and make its own judgments. And the President urges Israel to make the judgments that will create peace in the region. And the President has expressed his thoughts directly on this.
Q Do these actions and this flare-up in the violence complicate the President's efforts to build international support for confronting Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I have not heard the President say that, Terry, no.
Q You don't think they do?
MR. FLEISCHER: I haven't heard the President say that, and I think that the threat the world faces from Iraq is so clear and is of such urgent nature that the world is going to continue to focus on this. And the events in the Middle East have long been very difficult and complicated vis a vis Israel and the Palestinians and the Arabs, but we've seen again in that situation an ability to work well with the Arab nations and others and all parties and with their responsibilities to try to bring peace between Israel and the Palestinians. What's happening in Iraq is really a separate matter with the world and the U.N.
Q Ari, is it important for the President that the Congress act first on the Iraq question before the U.N. takes it up --
MR. FLEISCHER: Really the President has not set a sequence in motion or asked for a sequence to be set in motion. As a practical matter, it does appear that the schedule of the House will go first on this matter. But again, these are determinations that will be made by House leaders and then Senate leaders, and then by the United Nations. But the President is looking for action in both, but I have not heard him talk about sequence.
Q Yes, two questions, Ari. Normally when an election is held, a democratic election, and especially when it's an ally, the President either calls or sends a congratulatory message. Has he called or congratulated Gerhard Schroeder?
MR. FLEISCHER: As you know, Secretary Powell received a phone call from German Foreign Minister Yoschka Fischer yesterday. And the President was pleased that the Secretary took the call, and extended his message.
Q Al Gore made some very critical remarks yesterday regarding the conduct of President Bush's foreign policy with respect to Iraq. What was the President's reaction?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's reaction was that, one, the President, regardless of any things that are said in the political arena, is going to continue to unify our country and to provide leadership to take action against Saddam Hussein's threat. And the President is very pleased with the fact that the country has rallied behind his message and his call for action. And the President is going to continue to work with the great many Democrats in the Congress who see it differently from the former Vice President and who will work with this White House.
Q Can I follow up on that?
MR. FLEISCHER: We'll get there, Ed. You're in the on-deck row.
Q I'm swinging my bat.
MR. FLEISCHER: Because of your desire, we'll go from left to right instead of right to left when we get to your row, to get to you quicker.
Les, we'll have to miss you today. (Laughter.) Ken.
Q What is that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Nothing, Les. I was talking to Ed.
Q Ari, if I can go back to Jacobo's question regarding Germany. What is the difference between the President of the United States going to a fundraiser for a Republican candidate and talking about Saddam Hussein and Iraq, and the administration in German deciding that it's a viable election issue to criticize the U.S. position on Iraq? What's the difference between the President of the United States doing that and the Germans --
MR. FLEISCHER: Are you equating the United States' discussion of Germany with discussion of Iraq?
Q No, I'm trying to basically equate it in a political realm. Since we've seen partisan politics here in this country where people run on different issues --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not aware that the President is running against any other countries. The President is making a case about the threat that Saddam Hussein poses. The President is not running against any of our allies in any of the meetings that he goes to and speaks about the threat that the world faces. He will speak about the threat the world faces from Iraq. Ken, you've heard the President at, as you say, fundraisers or any speech -- the President does not talk about our allied nations in that context.
Q Do you think that's where it was out of bounds? You're not criticizing the fact that they have their own agenda?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think this is all very plain for everybody to know and plain to see, and I'm not going to belabor the point. Things were said that I think, in the President's judgment, were excessive during the campaign and raise a sense of anti-Americanism and criticism of the United States and the United States policies from an ally. These criticisms were not muted.
And it is the right of anybody to do that in a democracy, and German leaders exercise those rights. And now the German people have exercised their right and they have spoken. And the United States government will work with whoever people elect around the world in free -- freedom of democracy. And that's what will happen here.
But nobody should be under any illusions or mistakes that, now that the election is over, that everything goes back to the way it was. That's not the natural result of the manner in which that campaign was waged. And I think that's plain for everybody to know and see.
Q Let me ask, first, a follow-on to that. What specifically then is the President looking for? Obviously you, yourself, said this is a key relationship, the United States and Germany. We have military installations there. There is an economic partnership in the world. What specifically is the President looking for that will convince him to say, I'm not going to forget, but let's move on?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is not looking for anything. Life will move on. Everyone will move on. But I think it would be puzzling for anybody who was in the position like the President was to just say, you had your election, you could say what you wanted and then we will instantly ignore everything that was done and said. I think you -- around the world people would say that's not the right way to react when somebody goes and says the excesses that were said in the German election. So I don't think anybody is surprised by the fact that for every action there is a reaction. And what people are witnessing now is the reaction. It's appropriate, it's sensible, and it's reality.
Q When the President went to the United Nations he said he wanted action -- days and weeks, not months. And there have been deliberations between the United States and Great Britain to come up with the language of a resolution. When will we see that and are we at the danger point of the timetable slipping beyond what the President thinks is acceptable?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I wouldn't characterize that when it comes to the timetable. The President's speech to the U.N. was just a week ago Friday. And the U.N. is a great, deliberative body, enjoys these drafting sessions. And they are underway. So this is the nature of U.N. process, and the United States is committed to it. We will continue the conversations; they are underway.
Q Ari, two quick questions. One, Indian-American community is now caught between two worlds, East and West. Here they are loyal Americans, back home they have relatives. Now there is another terrorist attack at the Hindu -- inside the Hindu temple -- and scores of innocent worshippers were killed. And here, back in the U.S., an Indian Sikh man is facing 20 years for shaving in the Northwest Airlines bathroom in the sky. And now they're asking some kind of action that the President Bush would get involved -- a man shaving in the bathroom in the airplane, 20 years in jail.
MR. FLEISCHER: Goyle, on the first matter, the President condemns all terrorist attacks, and this was a particularly deadly attack and the President condemns it.
On the second matter, I have no information on what you're referring to. If you have questions about a specific criminal justice matter, you need to take it up with the appropriate authorities.
Q Second question, if I can follow, please. As far as Afghanistan is concerned now, first -- one year, first anniversary has gone by. Can President Bush claim victory now? Because the al Qaeda are still, recently in Afghanistan and they are -- so where do we stand, what is the future of Afghanistan?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has said repeatedly that we have made a great deal of progress in the war against terror. I think it's fair to say that the Taliban have been destroyed as a governing body. Al Qaeda has not been destroyed, but they have been disrupted. And that's why the President believes that we have made progress. But I have not heard the President say "victory." The nation still is faced with many challenges as a result of terrorists attempting to regroup around the world, and so the threat remains.
Lester. I remind you that for some reason sometimes these briefings are covered on live cable. You're at the front row now, you're sitting here. (Laughter.) You need to behave. Ask away. (Laughter.)
Q Great balls of unmitigated fire. (Laughter.)
Ari, the President has asked all Americans to be alert and to report any suspicious activity, which a nurse named Eunice Stone did in Calhoun, Georgia, when overhearing three Muslim medical students joking about what sounded like terrorism. Now there are reports they may sue her. Since -- and my question -- since Governor Bush, Jeb Bush, has reportedly commended her, will the President also commend her and give some hope to other Americans who so report, that they will not be sued?
MR. FLEISCHER: Lester, let me make the case generally for the President, because I have not talked to him specifically about this. These incidents are some of the sad reminders of what terrorism can do to the fabric of a country. And this is one of the reasons that we have to work so hard in such a unified way in our great country to defeat terrorists who come to our country to take advantage of our openness, of our freedom, of our multi-ethnic background, who want to destroy us and kill us.
And, of course, it is a citizen's responsibility that, when they hear something that could be threatening to their neighbors and to their communities, they should, of course, tell the authorities. That's what every child is told to do growing up, that if you hear something that you think could be a threat, you need to tell -- for a child, an adult, and as you grow older, the law enforcement community, so that all of us can be protected.
Of course, we wish all the information could be unfaultingly wrong. That's not always the case. But does that mean that people should just look the other way when they think that something may be amiss? Of course not. We are one community in this nation, and as a community, we help each other, regardless of the background or the color of anybody's skin, because these terrorists present a threat to all of us. And so, people across the country should continue to report anything that they believe is unusual behavior, and let the law enforcement authorities make the proper judgments.
Q The President was understandably outraged to be compared to Adolph Hitler by that German Cabinet member, for which there have been profound apologies. And my question is, does his outrage extend to what the Washington Post and the Associated Press accurately reported as a political consultant named Henson retained by Maryland's Democratic Party Coordinated Campaign who called congressman and gubernatorial candidate Bob Ehrlich a Nazi?
MR. FLEISCHER: Without commenting specifically, I don't have any information on that particular charge. But obviously --
Q -- page 1 of the Washington Post, Ari. Undoubtedly you read that paper, don't you?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, obviously, any charge about anybody in America being equated to Nazism or to Hitler is beyond the pale.
Q Is beyond the pale? Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Ari, I wanted to ask two questions about the British report. The first is, could you talk us through briefly what the process was between Britain and the U.S. on coordinating on this report? Obviously, it involved some level of declassification, since they refer frequently to the Joint Information Center, of which we're a part. Could you tell us a little bit about who approved the report and why it came --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's obvious to say that the United States has close relationships with intelligence communities around the world, particularly in the nations like Britain that are most allied with us. And we often work shoulder to shoulder to help prevent problems from becoming life-threatening and to share information. One of the things the President repeatedly stresses to foreign leaders when they come to the Oval Office, particularly since September 11th, is the importance of information-sharing, intelligence-sharing, so that we can be aware of what they're aware of, in order to further protect our country.
In the case of this report, we are aware, of course, what the United Kingdom was working on in the report. But make no mistake, this is their effort, this is their work, this is their product. We were aware of it, and we agree with their findings.
Q Did you review -- did the White House review a copy of it, go through the declassification?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know. I'd have to take a look and ask a number of people who work here to see at what stage they saw it. Obviously, we were aware of it prior to its coming out. But I don't know the answer specifically on what day somebody here may have actually taken a look at it.
Q One specific question that grows out of it. Vice President Cheney, in the course of his speeches, San Antonio and the one that preceded it, and I think Dr. Rice have both said at various points that at the end of the Gulf War Saddam was six months to a year from a nuclear weapon. There's nothing in this report to back that up, and in fact at one point the report says that a --
MR. FLEISCHER: One to two years.
Q -- crash program did not appear to have made much progress. Can you tell us where Dr. Rice and Vice President Cheney got that --
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, our information is that -- at the time of the Gulf War we believed that Saddam Hussein was three years away from the development of a nuclear weapon. And then based on the assessments we received from the inspectors who were in Iraq, subsequent to that, and on other intelligence information, the conclusion of our community here was that it was six months to 12 months away from development of a weapon.
The point, though, whether it was six months, 12 months, one year or two years, is how close do you want to cut it before Saddam Hussein gets his hands on what he wants? And it's too close right now. The other issue, you always need to ask yourself when you heard that Saddam Hussein is x period of time away from developing a nuclear weapon, at what point did that clock start? It's not as if the 6-month or 12-month or one-year clock starts the day a reporter asks somebody in the government the question. The clock could have started three months ago, six months ago, a year ago. We don't know. We don't know because inspectors aren't in the country, and because Saddam Hussein is using every means at his disposal to develop his nuclear weapons in the utmost secrecy, because that's what he wants more than anything else. What type of chances can the world take to allow Saddam Hussein any type of margin for our error in the calculations of how long he has?
Q To get back to Al Gore's speech yesterday, which you dismiss as those having been made in the political arena. As I remember, Gore talked about his views in a substantive way. I wonder, does the President brook no dissent on this issue? After all, the President, himself, talks about the war in very overtly political arenas almost every day.
MR. FLEISCHER: What makes you say that anybody would brook no dissent? The President talked about it this morning very respectfully in the Cabinet Room. Of course.
Q And he also does in political fundraisers.
MR. FLEISCHER: Sure.
Q I think Al Gore's speech was -- he talked about it on a substantive, in a discussion in which he had some very different views. So I wonder why you simply dismiss it as a political comment.
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm rebutting what you said about "brooks no dissent." I think that's an overstatement about the President's reaction to a question, and the President discussed it. But I think it's fair to say that as the debate unfolds on Iraq in a number of places -- some which are official government business places, such as the United States Congress, where elected officials are; and some which are places where people may want to return to public arena, and there's a political process for which they need to go through -- people are going to be entitled to their opinions and they will give them. That's proper. That is what the former Vice President should be doing.
And I think it's fair to say is that as the process unfolds, both politically and substantively, you're going to see a variety of opinions expressed in the Democratic Party on this. There may not be unanimity in the Democratic Party on this; they're probably won't be unanimity in the Republican Party. But that process will continue. And the President is going to work very closely with members of the House and Senate. He's already had members of the Democrat Caucus from the House here to build support for the resolution. And the former Vice President is going to differ with many other Democrats in the Congress on this question when the Vice President opposes what the President is doing. Many Democrats in the Congress support what the President is doing. That's the Vice President's right.
Q But to look at it politically, though -- look at it politically for a second. Does the Gore critique provide cover to some Democrats who heretofore have been reluctant to criticize the President?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think only Democrats can judge whether or not, one, they are seeking cover and, two, whether this provides it if they were seeking it.
Q Can I follow on that? Did the venue and the fact that he may be running for office make his speech a political speech?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think I'd be hard-pressed to say that his accusation that the President is following on this foreign policy because
of the President's, according to Al Gore, desire to appeal to far right was a non-political statement, itself.
Q Well, when the President touts his policies on Iraq at a political fundraiser is he not making Iraq a political issue?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the American people have come to the judgment and the conclusion the President is focused on the problems of Iraq for serious governmental reasons.
Q But why is it serious when the President talks about it --
MR. FLEISCHER: We'll come back, Ron.
Q -- but it's not when somebody else does?
MR. FLEISCHER: Ron, we'll come back.
Q Has Chancellor Schroeder sought a meeting with President Bush since the election? Or are there any plans for the President to meet with the Chancellor at any time soon?
MR. FLEISCHER: There's nothing that has crossed my radar screen that would tell me that he sought a meeting. I just haven't heard if he has.
Q You used the term "anti-American" in connection with the German election campaign. In what sense is it anti-American for the leader of one country to raise disagreements with the policies of a leader of another country -- in this case, the United States? In what sense is that anti-American?
MR. FLEISCHER: Ken, I think that many of the observers of the election cited what they called a rising sense of anti-Americanism as a result of the campaign.
Q But you seem to be equating criticism of a particular leader with sentiments against the entire society. In what sense is that the case?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that's a very fair statement of some of the side-effects of the type of campaign that was raised.
Q Ari, just to follow something you said earlier. When you -- I'm paraphrasing -- you said approximately that it doesn't matter anymore what Iraq says. Does that mean that the United States was basically giving up on inspections since, presumably, you'd have to have some guarantees from Iraq --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, it means Saddam Hussein has no role as a negotiator of what the United Nations will do. This is a matter that now the United Nations has to decide. Saddam Hussein long ago forfeited his right to decide because he acted when he, in 1998, as a matter of practicality, threw the inspectors out.
Q Okay. And also on another issue, the homeland security bill. Would the White House veto a homeland security bill that included an independent commission that could also study intelligence matter leading up to 9/11?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the letter that was sent to Congress made it plain that the commission that we support would appropriately look into and build on the intelligence committee's findings, as well as get into other topics, as well, dealing with visas and transportation, et cetera.
Q So it could look into intelligence matters, as well?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes. The exact terms are going to be discussed as the language gets put forward and moved forward and it goes to conference. But there's no prohibitions on them looking at intelligence, no.
Q Ari, some members of Tony Blair's own party -- say there's nothing new in the dossier Blair delivered to his Parliament. Is there a smoking gun?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think there was new information in there, particularly about the 45-minute threshold by which Saddam Hussein has got his biological and chemical weapons triggered to be launched. There was new information in there about Saddam Hussein's efforts to obtain uranium from African nations. That was new information.
But on this whole question of new information, this is not about whether or not there is something new. There is something a decade long that indicts Saddam Hussein and threatens freedom for people in the region and the United States. So no one has said that without anything so-called new, the case against Saddam Hussein should go away; it doesn't.
Q My second question --
MR. FLEISCHER: We're going to try to keep moving; there are a lot of hands up. Deb.
Q Ari, how does this dossier fit into our efforts to get a U.N. resolution? And can you sort of give us your sense of where we are in trying to get a new U.N. resolution?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I answered the question earlier about where we are in the United Nations, as they are in the middle of the drafting and the negotiating process. And I think that every different piece of evidence is helpful as the world considers what type of threat Saddam Hussein is. And I think the American people have come to their conclusions about it. And we are continuing to work with diplomats around the world and particularly on Perm Five and the other members of the Security Council, the other 10 members of the 15-member Security Council, which, after all, will be the entity that conducts the vote.
Q I think it was John asked before, the President spoke last Thursday about days and weeks, not months.
MR. FLEISCHER: Right.
Q What's your time frame, looking ahead? How soon do we think we might have a resolution --
MR. FLEISCHER: I answered that question earlier. John's question was are we at the dangerous point, and I indicated the President gave a speech just a week ago Friday, and so that's just a little over a week ago that the President gave it. And this is the nature of the United Nations. The United Nations is a deliberative body and they are drafting.
Q Ari, on the back-to-school situation in the Ivory Coast, will the U.S. ask the factions in the Ivory Coast to stand down or have a truce so that the foreigners in the school can be released?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, our position is that extraconstitutional action is not in order, that it's important for the parties to lay down their arms so that there can be a peaceful resolution of the situation in the Ivory Coast.
We do have a concern about the safety of Americans who are in the Ivory Coast, and we continue to closely monitor the situation there and work with the French especially on this.
Q Do you have any bargaining power? You've got 200 U.S. troops, 2,000 French troops. But you could have a very bloody explosion.
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to, obviously -- I don't think anybody is in a position to predict what's going to happen. But suffice it to say, around the world, the United States always keeps an eye on and helps to protect Americans who are abroad. And that's why we are closely monitoring events in the Ivory Coast and also, as I indicated, working closely with the French on it.
Q Yes, Ari. Should we regard the British dossier as the final or definitive word on what is known by Western intelligence about his weapons programs?
MR. FLEISCHER: I can't predict the future. I don't know if any other information is going to come out. But, again, I don't think this rests on piling one more foot on to Mount Everest. The mountain of evidence against Saddam Hussein is plenty high already.
Q But did you know of any plans for the U.S. to do something similar?
MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated, I'm not going to predict the future.
Q Now, on the missiles, they note -- one of the interesting things here was they note an ongoing program to develop missiles with a thousand-kilometer range or more. Does that conform to U.S. knowledge about his missiles, and is that something that is surprising, given the last three or four years?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll just say the dossier is consistent with our information on the topics raised in the dossier. And I would point out again that Saddam Hussein agreed to, in writing, disarmament of all missiles with a range of greater than 150 kilometers, as part of the terms for ending the Gulf War. Obviously, he is again in violation of one more provision that he swore he would uphold -- which is why when he says he'll let the weapons inspectors in, why does anybody believe him today, when he consistently lied about everything yesterday?
Q Ari, back on Schroeder, did the Chancellor actually do or say anything personally that the White House considers anti-American? You said the campaign in general --
MR. FLEISCHER: I have nothing further to add on the topic. The President, the Secretary of State have addressed it. And I'm going to let it lie.
Q Is the administration comfortable with efforts ongoing on the Hill to make it clear that in the resolution the use of force would be focused only on Iraq and not on other potential targets in that region?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, there is no question. We have said so publicly; you've heard that from senior administration officials. The focus is Iraq. What other nation would be the focus? Of course, it's Iraq. And there is language in there about international peace and security in the region, which is taken directly out of previous United Nations resolutions. This language matches United Nations resolutions.
And so we'll work with Congress on the language. And certainly there's no harm done in fixing a problem that's not there. But at the same token, I guess the United Nations could have language that the United States Congress finds objectionable, because the Congress thinks the United Nations went too far. This is basically boilerplate diplomatic language that has been found in previous U.N. resolutions dealing directly with Iraq on the question of Iraqi compliance.
If people on the Hill have objections to that language, we'll talk to them about it, explaining clearly that it is focused uniquely on Iraq, and we'll work with them on the drafting of it. I really don't think that's going to be any type of considerable point in the end. If changes are sought, we'll work with Congress.
Q Ari, I had a follow to the answer you gave yesterday on the stem cell California issue. Could you tell me, how does the President go about balancing his support for states rights, as well as responding to issues at the state level that he might object to on moral grounds?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think the President made that decision on how to balance it when he decided that he was going to leave a governor -- leave being a governor and become a President. When he was a governor, he was in charge of state's rights for the state of Texas. As President, that's not his purview, to sign or veto every bill passed by every legislature in every state.
This question, the President has spoken very plainly to the American people about the importance of creating a culture that values life. And in that, he differs with Governor Davis on this matter. And the President has set forward a stringent set of federal guidelines to make certain that ethical considerations are put in place, as there is limited stem cell research using federal dollars -- that values the culture of life. And that's what the President has done on the federal level.
Q Does the President still consider Germany a friend, or does the friendship end when the United States government is criticized? And what could Germany do to mend the strained relationships?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's just going to sort itself out over time. Of course, the people of Germany and the people of the United States have a very good friendship. And on a state-to- state level, of course, we're going to work together. There's no alternative but to work together. But I'm also not going to sugar-coat or pretend that problems were not created by the conduct of this campaign, when they were.
Q -- U.S. troops in Germany?
MR. FLEISCHER: Back there, go ahead.
Q On the economy, consumer confidence numbers dropped again last month. And the President said this morning he has confidence in American productivity. But does he have any specific plans or new initiatives on helping the economy?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think one reason that consumer confidence may be dropping, in addition to the economic data in there, is that people want to see action in Washington. And there can't be action in Washington if the Congress does not finished its business and send to the President legislation that holds the line on spending. Overspending and busting the budget is a pure threat -- a clear threat to economic growth. And that can drive consumer confidence down. Hard-hats are waiting, construction workers are waiting for Congress to pass terrorism insurance, knowing that it will create jobs.
So there are many things that happen when Congress and the President are able to get things done for the country that boost the country's optimism and sense of confidence. The President is optimistic, but it remains to be seen whether the Congress will be able, in the short time left, to get some of these things done. There are several pending economic matters up in the Congress, and I just cited two of them. The President is going to continue to work with Congress in the short time that they have left before they go home to try and get that done.
It always happens. Every time Congress and the President join together in the passage of significant legislation, it's a good boost of confidence for the country to see in a bipartisan way people in Washington working together. That's what the President is trying to create.
Q House Republicans haven't passed an appropriations bill since, I think, the 24th of July. So I'm just wondering what the President wants appropriators to do now? Does he think that they can pass a number of these spending bills, or should they do a continuing resolution into next year, or come back after the election and take --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there's no question that this has been one of the slowest years on record. And the pace of Congress definitely needs to pick up.
There is an important difference, though, between the House and the Senate, because the House at least passed a budget, and the funding level for domestic discretionary programs in that budget is $759 billion. And therefore, the House, when they take up continuing resolutions, will spend at last year's level, but as they work toward next year's levels at least they have a ceiling in mind.
There is no such ceiling in the Senate. In the Senate, the sky is the limit, because there is no budget. And when the sky is the limit, the taxpayers are the losers. And that's why the President wants to work so hard, to protect the taxpayers. And it's important for Congress to exercise fiscal discipline and pass the appropriation bills.
Q Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.
END 1:01 P.M. EDT