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White House Gaggle with Ari Fleischer October 5

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 5, 2002

Press Gaggle with Ari Fleischer

11:38 A.M. EDT

West Coast Port Closure
Iraq/United Nations
Russia on Iraq
War on Terror vs. War on Iraq
Political Debate on Iraq

MR. FLEISCHER: I have no opening statement. I'm happy to take your Saturday questions.

Q Will the President take any steps this weekend on the port strike?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President has been kept informed on a regular basis. He spoke this morning with Andy Card, the Chief of Staff, to get the latest information. The President's message to labor and to management is simple: You're hurting the economy, you are hurting your fellow workers and unions in other parts of the country, whose jobs depend on the products you ship. His message to management is the same. People in the rest of the country who depend on the products that your ports provide are starting to suffer setbacks.

The President's message to labor and management is, go back to work and resolve the problems.

Q Is he contemplating a concrete step, opening a board of inquiry under Taft-Hartley?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not prepared to go any more beyond that. The President will continue to monitor events.

Q And apart from you communicating this to us, is he communicating this to the parties? Is there any other line of communication?

MR. FLEISCHER: There have been many conversations with the administration, and we'll continue. Secretary Chao issued a rather strong statement last night. I think you -- I hope you have that.

So the administration is going to remain in a position to monitor this closely. And, of course, the federal mediator remains on the ground to help the parties.

Q Is there a point at which you have to consider intervening, just for the sake of the economy?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to go beyond that. The President will continue to monitor it.

Q On the whole Iraq issue, on Monday night, is he likely to cage things like he did today, in saying we will lead a coalition? I mean, it's a little bit of a change. Weeks ago, he said America will do what it has to do, go it alone if it has to. In recent days, he's been saying we will lead a coalition. Is that what we can expect him to say in laying out the case?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think, you know, the President's speech Monday night will focus on the growing menace that Saddam Hussein presents to people who want peace. And the President thinks this is important to talk directly to the country about it. He'll have a lot to say.

Q But he won't couch it as, we will be part of a coalition?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to preview the President's precise words this far in advance.

Q Well, going back to what he said this morning, when he says that we know that Britain is part of that coalition, are there other nations that you can definitively say --

MR. FLEISCHER: Sure. That's why -- that's why for those who question whether the United States will do anything unilaterally, the question is answered: The United States will not. The only question is, will the United Nations take action or will the United States and the United Kingdom and others be part of a broad, international coalition that protects the peace?

Q In the wake of the oil summit in Houston this week, has there been any further negotiation with the Russian government to allay their fears that their commercial interests may be jeopardized in the event of U.S. action?

MR. FLEISCHER: The message to Russia is, this is about peace, this is about how to preserve peace by removing the greatest threat to peace, Saddam Hussein, and his weapons. That's what this is about with the Russians.

And I think you're starting to see in the diplomatic efforts with Russia, France and China, that persistent effort that we are making is because this is an important endeavor. It will continue to be discussed diplomatically, and we're making progress.

Q Presumably, he's working on the speech today and tomorrow?

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes. The President has it. He'll do a -- it will be a teleprompter speech, so he'll do a practice session on the prompter on Monday.

Q Is it just accidental that he's making a speech on the anniversary of the first military action in Afghanistan? Or is he going to connect the war on terrorism with Saddam? I mean, is it just -- is it just accidental that it happens on the 7th?

MR. FLEISCHER: The speech will be about Iraq. Of course, the President will talk about war on terror.

Q You chose the date intentionally, though?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, I can't say -- I'm sorry. I can't say that. No, I don't think -- the time was driven more by the fact that Congress is going to begin and vote on a very important topic and the nation should -- the nation should see its elected leaders speak from the heart, say what's on their mind, educate the country. And that's -- this is what great democracies do.

Critics and supporters all raise valid issues. Their voices should be heard, their voices should be respected. And leaders on both sides of this issue should talk freely.

Q Has he talked to Daschle at all since that morning breakfast meeting?

MR. FLEISCHER: Not that I have been made aware of.

Q The President has, in recent speeches, made a point of saying that debate and all sides of debate are important. Is he actively bringing in people who oppose the idea of war just to hear them out and make sure he's getting all arguments?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think that, as the President says, war is not his first choice and that's why what is so important is that the United Nations speak clearly, speak strongly so that maximum pressure can be applied so that military force can be avoided, if possible.

Q But I know that the U.S. Conference of Bishops and other people have made strong statements. Has he brought in anybody like that to hear out those arguments, sort of a domestic, here's why we're against it --

MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President respects the opinions of those who totally differ with him. But the one thing the President has made perfectly plain is, inaction is not an option; inaction is the greatest risk we could take.

Q Is Biden-Lugar dead?

MR. FLEISCHER: That's up to the Senate to decide. It will be put to a vote in the Senate under Senate rules, however they decide to make different approaches, in order, when they begin the debate. For those -- the senators will make that judgment. But I think it's fair to say that McCain-Lieberman is supported far and wide.

Q Has Lugar told the White House, I'm peeling off of that effort.

MR. FLEISCHER: You'd have to ask Senator Lugar.

Anything else?

Q Thank you.

Q Thank you.

MR. FLEISCHER: All right. Thank you. Thank you.

END 11:45 A.M. EDT

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