White House Briefing by Ari Fleischer October 21
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 21, 2002
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
President's daily schedule
United Nations Security Council
Terror alert status
Lord Robertson meeting
12:22 P.M. EDT
MR. FLEISCHER: The President began his day with an early morning intelligence briefing, followed by an FBI briefing. Then the President this morning, in the Rose Garden, announced a new program that the administration will take action on to provide generic drugs at reduced rates to more American citizens so seniors and all people in our country can have access to affordable prescription drugs. Then the President convened a meeting of the National Security Council.
Later this afternoon, the President will sign into law the Sudan Peace Act. Then he will meet with NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson. And this evening the President will make remarks at the Republican National Committee Regents Dinner.
With that, I'm happy to take your questions. David.
Q Ari, the Democrats are accusing the President of an election year conversion on this prescription drug issue, suggesting that, in fact, the President was opposed to this legislation when it was broken out separately from the prescription drug bill. The timing is questionable. Do you understand how people would feel that way?
MR. FLEISCHER: David, to be clear, there are two parts of this. One, so everybody understands, it's important to get prescription drugs to our nation's seniors and to everybody in our society. But the Senate way of doing it contained a poison bill.
The Senate provision had liability provisions that they knew were never going to be accepted. So given the fact that the Congress failed to act and the Senate way of getting drugs to people contained a poison pill, the President felt it was so important that he decided to move on his own and use the authority of the administration to do so.
He wishes Congress had gotten it done while Congress was here, but this is one of many issues that the Senate failed to get done. For example, the House of Representatives passed legislation to help seniors get access to prescription drugs as part of Medicare. The Senate failed to get that done, too.
Q Are you suggesting that the President now believes that the only way to ultimately give seniors and others access to more affordable prescription drugs is to do it in a piecemeal way, do whatever can be done through the executive branch and basically forget Congress, because they can't be trusted?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it's not a question of trust. Of course Congress can be trusted. But the question is, will they get it done. And the history has been that the House has and the Senate hasn't. And the President does want to have a comprehensive way to get prescription drugs, particularly to our nation's seniors, under the Medicare program.
He proposed it. The Congress passed something similar, the House passed something similar to what the President proposed. But the Senate failed to act. So the President wants to make certain that whatever powers he has in the executive branch can be put to use to help people get access to prescription drugs and that's why he's moving forward on a prescription drug discount card, by making generics more available to people who need drugs. If Congress can't do it, the President is going to do everything in his power to do it.
Q Just to clarify, it's not that the Senate didn't act -- even though that's sort of the mantra -- it's more that they acted in a way that you guys opposed, right?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, you're asking two questions. On prescription drugs, as a part of Medicare, the Senate did not act. And as I indicated before, on the question of generics, the Senate acted with a poison pill that they knew that the administration would not accept.
Q Two breaking events. One, do you have any reaction to the car bomb in Israel? And what has the White House been told about the arrest or arrests made in the sniper case?
MR. FLEISCHER: Okay. The administration, the President condemns the most recent attack in Israel. It's another reminder of how it's so important for peace to be pursued and for terror to be stopped. On the arrests, it's a fluid situation. I do not have any reports for you. Anything will come from law enforcement authorities. And it remains a fluid situation. And it's unclear, precisely at this moment, about what is unfolding.
Q Just to be clearer, you said arrests, plural. Your understanding is there's been two arrests, more than one?
MR. FLEISCHER: I know there has been more than one.
Q And do you what they've been arrested for, what they're suspected of?
MR. FLEISCHER: That will come from law enforcement authorities, not the White House.
Q At what level is the White House being informed about this, that you would know?
MR. FLEISCHER: The White House stays in close contact, of course, with law enforcement agencies, particularly on the case of the sniper, where it's a joint operation.
Q But can you just explain that further, Ari -- I mean, is it coming up from law enforcement, and informing the FBI -- at what level in the White House are they learning --
MR. FLEISCHER: David, you can assume on a variety of levels the White House maintains close contact with the agencies, but particularly on the case of the sniper, that we are working, as the federal government, at the President's direction, has dedicated itself to working with local authorities, so that we can arrest whoever is doing this as quickly as possible.
Q There's some feeling that the administration may be backing away from the goal of regime change in Iraq. Is that valid?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, ma'am. Regime change remains Congress' policy, assigned by the President, remains law of the land, it remains the American position and a position that the President and everybody in his Cabinet strongly supports.
Q So Powell's remarks are not -- were misinterpreted?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, ma'am. Yes, if you take a look at what the Secretary said, it's identical to what the President said when the President was in Cincinnati. If you recall, when the President went to Cincinnati, he said, "By taking these steps, and only by taking these steps, the Iraqi regime has an opportunity to avoid conflict. Taking these steps would also change the nature of the Iraqi regime itself."
And that's what Secretary Powell said on the show yesterday. He said, "When I said that if Saddam disarmed entirely, and satisfied the international community, that, in effect, would be a change in attitude, a change in the way the regime is looking at its situation in the world." And the Secretary continued, "And it was consistent with what the President has said previously and subsequently."
So unless somebody thought when the President went to Cincinnati he, himself, was saying we no longer support regime change, I think it's a mischaracterization of what the Secretary said.
Q Well, the President went on to say, but it's unlikely Saddam will. Did Powell say that yesterday?
MR. FLEISCHER: He went on and said, the Secretary went on and said, "We think the Iraqi people would be a lot better off with a different leader, a different regime."
Q So it's a change in the nature of the regime that the administration is after, not necessarily a change in the leadership.
MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, what we're interested in is disarmament. What we're interested in is an end to Saddam Hussein and Iraq using hostility as a way to treat its neighbors, repression of minorities within Iraq. We have an objective in mind, and the objective is to secure the peace through disarmament and through the honoring of the U.N. resolutions. It is the view of the Congress that regime change is an effective way to secure those goals.
And we're also talking with the United Nations, as you know, and making progress on the terms of the resolution that would send a clear message to Iraq that their decade of defiance has come to an end, they now need to comply with the United Nations resolutions.
And so the objective remains the same and our position remains the same. I really think this was much ado about nothing, that the Secretary said what the President said.
Q But the President has also repeatedly characterized the Iraqi dictator and laid out facts which demonstrate a level of criminality, cruelty and brutality which cries out for regime change of the leadership. But now it sounds as if the administration is saying, if the U.N. resolutions are complied with, the nature of the regime will have changed regardless of who's at the top.
MR. FLEISCHER: That's exactly what the President said on September 12th, when he went to the United Nations and gave that speech. That's what the President said on September 12th. And that's why I think -- I fail to understand how when the President makes the same statements, people don't think the President is changing from regime change. And if the Secretary says the exact same thing the President does, people subject the Secretary of State to a different standard than the President. I think it's nonsense. I think it's much ado about nothing.
Q So he is -- you describe the objective, is Saddam, then, irrelevant to that objective?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's up to him. The regime needs to change. And we want to make certain that it changes in a way that promotes peace. And the way to promote peace is by Iraq to live up to the resolutions it commit itself to at the United Nations.
But I think to get to the bottom of the matter is if anybody really thinks that Iraq is going to do all these things with the same despot in charge, with Saddam Hussein in charge, where on earth could anybody be getting that idea, based on Saddam Hussein's history and his current practices. I think it's a rather unrealistic notion.
Q Ari, you reacting pretty cooly this morning to North Korea's request, or expression of desire for talks about its nuclear programs with the United States. Are you trying to rule that out, dismiss it entirely, or are you leaving open the door to the possibility that you may resume talks with North Korea about its weapons program?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the next step is the United States will talk with our allies in the region, and those talks are underway. And we will continue to talk to Japan, we will continue to talk to South Korea, we'll continue to talk to China. And I think it's fair to say that international pressure will come to bear on North Korea to make them realize the dangers that they are pursuing, in terms of the future for them will be increasingly isolated if they go down the road that they have indicated they're going done.
So that's the course of action and I can't predict every next move that the United States will make, but we're working the consultation process right now.
Q But to follow up on that, why is there any reason to believe that further isolation of North Korea -- which is already an astoundingly isolated country, its people are starving -- why is there any reason to believe that this particular regime would react to additional isolation in a way that the United States might prefer? Why wouldn't they just hunker down and batten down the hatches and just keep starving their people and ignore anything you might want?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think that the trend around the world has been regimes like North Korea's that exercised their authoritarian rule in that manner have found that an opening up of a society, the development of more freedoms has been in their interest. And the United States hopes that through diplomacy, North Korea will see that message. There's no guarantee that will happen, though. But we will continue to pursue the path we're pursuing in consultation.
Q Zbigniew Brzezinski said that the chances of war are now greatly diminished. Does the President agree with that? And can you give us a -- on what's happening at the Security Council?
MR. FLEISCHER: The Security Council came in at 11:00 a.m. this morning for discussions among the Permanent Five on the resolution. And I think it's fair to say that the discussions will continue and we feel that progress is being made on getting an agreement around the language that's been under discussion for several weeks now. We'll see exactly what course the United Nations Security Council takes. I can't predict the exact dates that they will take concrete action, but I think it's moving forward nicely.
Q What about Brzezinski saying that war is now reduced, the chances of war?
MR. FLEISCHER: I haven't seen what he said, so I'd hesitate to comment.
Q Ari, does the United States government see any merit whatsoever in the fact that Saddam Hussein has decreed practically a general amnesty?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as Secretary Powell said yesterday that can also be read as a political ploy. Nobody knows how many prisoners there are in Iraq. Nobody knows if Saddam Hussein has released a tenth of them, a quarter of them, half of them. So it's very hard to make sense of what Saddam Hussein has done.
The other issue that would be important here, too, is the President, when he went to the United Nations in September, talked about the need for Saddam Hussein to account for the 600 people that remain unaccounted for since the Persian Gulf War. We have no indication that his actions yesterday have touched on the fate of any of those 600.
Q As far as the negotiations at the U.N., do you feel that Washington and Paris are closer now to an agreement, and do you expect a resolution this week?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'm not going to predict the ultimate course. I think that's very risky for anybody to predict what the United Nations will do in final form. But as I indicated, progress is being made. The talks are continuing, but it's moving forward and moving forward nicely.
Q Ari, yesterday Secretary of State Powell indicated that there may very well be a second resolution that will ultimately be voted on. However, it's his position, or the United States' position that once the initial resolution is accepted, if it is in the U.N., that the U.S. will have all the authorization it needs to take action should it come to those steps. Can you explain exactly what kind of language there would be in such a resolution in which the United States could very well still act on its own, however, there may be nations -- other member nations who say, no, we have to have another vote?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the resolution that's being discussed is a very strong resolution. It makes clear that the inspection regime of the '90s will be replaced with a new and much tougher, more effective inspection regime in this century. And it also makes clear that there will be serious consequences if Saddam Hussein fails to honor his obligations. And it's a very important action for the United Nations Security Council to adopt this resolution. We hope that they will.
It is always the right of any nation that is a member of the United Nations Security Council to come forward at any time, and all times, with any resolution that they see fit. But it will -- clear, based on this resolution that the United States will have all the authority that it needs, along with our allies.
Q Do you expect at this point that there will be a second resolutions? Are you anticipating --
MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated, it's always the right of a sovereign nation of the 15 nations of the United Nations Security Council to step forward with a resolution at any time of their choosing, on any issue, at all times. I'm not in a position to predict in this case, vis a vis Iraq, whether that will or will not take place.
Q Secretary Powell said over the weekend that the Korean agreement, 1994 agreement was nullified and therefore, it was nullified. Is it the official position of the White House now that that agreement with North Korea is null and void?
MR. FLEISCHER: What the Secretary said is that the North Koreans informed us that they nullified the agreement. And as both the Secretary and Dr. Condoleezza Rice said that when one party nullifies an agreement, it's obviously important to have that party's support for an agreement to move forward. Our position is still we are consulting with our allies about it. We will continue to consult, but North Korea has made it plain that as far as they're concerned, it's a nullified agreement.
Q And does the White House consider that 1994 agreement null and void?
MR. FLEISCHER: The White House is continuing to consult.
Q And has it made a decision on fuel assistance, whether or not we'll freeze or cut fuel assistance?
MR. FLEISCHER: We're continuing to consult. And that's what we're going to do for a short time-being, as we gather with our allies and focus on this together and work in a multilateral way.
Q Ari, if I could just change topics a little bit. Could you explain why the White House feels it's necessary, going back to Friday, to cut the SEC's budget, or to not increase it as much as had been previously agreed to and supported by the White House?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we've proposed the largest increase in the SEC's budget in modern times --
Q -- increased it more, and now you want to increase it less than that, even though it's still an increase. And I know that there's some back and forth about increases and cuts, but it's still less than what you had supported before.
MR. FLEISCHER: Can I answer your question?
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you. We proposed the largest increase in the SEC's budget of modern times, and that was part of a fiscally responsible budget that has been submitted to the Congress. Congress has not finished its work. It continues to work on the budget not only for the SEC, but for every agency in the government outside the defense and military construction.
When Congress returns we're going to continue to work with them on the SEC's budget, and we want to pass a large increase for the SEC and make sure we do so in a fiscally responsible way.
Q So you're willing to put it back up, is that what you're saying?
MR. FLEISCHER: We're continuing to work with the Congress on what the exact budget will be. And I do want to draw your attention to the fact that the budget that is proposed is the budget that the SEC asked for. The SEC in July notified the President and the Congress, and publicly in a letter, that their needs were -- they recommended that their initial budget request be increased by an additional $100 million, bringing it to $567 million. That is the level of funding that the President has proposed to the Congress, which is almost a 30 percent increase in the SEC's budget, and it is the amount that the SEC said it needed.
Q Ari, at a Baltimore Kathleen Kennedy Townsend for governor rally on Friday, attended by former President Clinton, the Baltimore Sun reports that Baltimore Congressman Elijah Cummings, a Democrat, announced -- and this is a quote, I heard it -- "I still consider him" --
MR. FLEISCHER: Were you there?
Q Yes, I was there.
MR. FLEISCHER: At a Townsend fundraiser?
Q I was covering it.
MR. FLEISCHER: Oh, okay. (Laughter.)
Q "I still consider him" -- that is Clinton -- "the President," with which Mrs. Townsend and Senators Sarbanes, Mikulski, and Baltimore Mayor O'Malley expressed no disagreement. And my question: does the President believe that Congressman Cummings, who took an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, was loyal to that oath when in this statement at a college, Cummings disregarded the Constitution's presidential term limitations? And I have a follow-up.
MR. FLEISCHER: Les, I haven't heard the Congressman's statements. I'm sure your translation of it is entirely accurate, but --
Q Well, it was there and -- so help me -- and it was reported by the Sun. Now, he said that. Does the President believe that's loyal to --
MR. FLEISCHER: Les, if I were to answer your question, then I would be changing my standard on Zbigniew Brzezinksi's question. And since I have not heard what they have said, I always, as Press Secretary, as you know, want to take a look at the context in which any remark was made before I comment. I appreciate the opportunity, but until I see what is said, it's best not to comment.
Q I appreciate your appreciation. How is it that the President can stand up against an evil attack on our citizens, vow to track down and prosecute to the fullest extent those who are found responsible, and turn around and tell another nation, Israel, that it's not a good idea if they wish to do the same?
MR. FLEISCHER: Les, as you heard, the President addressed this issue with Ariel Sharon in the Oval Office, and I'm not sure that your comparison is apt.
Q Ari, just following up on what Arshad and Suzanne were asking about. On Thursday there was a delivery of oil to the North Koreans, under the existing framework accord. That was roughly two weeks after the White House was notified that the agreement was nullified. Was there discussion of turning that ship around, not delivering that oil? And if not, does it give any indication -- does this send any message to North Korea?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I don't know about any possible discussion or not. But as I indicated, that we are pursuing this in a multilateral fashion with Japan, South Korea and China and others. And that's going to be our approach.
Q Maybe I should ask it another way. Why did you go ahead and deliver it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, we are pursuing this with our allies. I think people have a very clear understanding how seriously the United States views this breach, and we do. But our path is going to remain a path of consultation with our allies and we feel confident we will have a common approach to this problem.
Q One final question on that. The State Department statement last week said that you would be approaching this diplomatically with North Korea. There seems to be some difference I'm hearing among different officials about whether that means negotiations with North Korea, discussions with North Korea. I'm not clear I understand what the difference would be. How do you interpret the diplomacy phase? Does that mean we talk to them, or we don't?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think, again, we're going to continue to consult with our allies and once the final determinations have been made about which course to pursue it will become clear at that time. I can't predict each and every step that's about to take place, but that's the path that we are on.
Q I'm still not clear about the status of the United Nations. Is there actually a U.S. draft on the floor that's being discussed? You made reference to something that's being discussed.
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes. The technical word at the United Nations is to "table" a resolution -- which, unlike in the Congress, when you table something you put it off. At the United Nations, when you table something, you put it on. And I would have to refer you up to the U.N. to see what the exact timing of it is going to be. That's going to be a U.N. matter and they can discuss with you the exact timing of it.
Q You referred earlier to something that is being discussed there now that you liked, that you thought was strong. You're talking about our version of events, what we and the British have come up with; are you not?
MR. FLEISCHER: Sure, that's the way everything has been talked about. The United States-British draft language that has been shopped around and is making progress.
Q Thank you. Is there any update on the terror alert status in this country, especially in the wake of what George Tenet said and the fact that we're approaching the U.S. elections?
MR. FLEISCHER: The alert level remains at the same level. Within that level, however, many of the sectors that we feel need to be talked to have been talked to; a series of phone calls were made last week. And when the code system was announced it was made clear at that time, and has now been implemented last week, that you can stay at the same overall national alert level, but within various sectors additional steps are taken so that all precautions can be in place. That's what took place last week.
Q Either way the level --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the level remains -- the overall national level remains the same.
Q You can raise a level in various sectors, you're not implying --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the overall national level is the same, but then specific conversations take place with various sectors to say that, you just need to make sure you're doubly careful, be sure that you've taken all the steps that you need to take. It's a way of giving people all the resources, the reminders and the help that the federal government can provide.
Q Are any sectors on orange alert?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, there's one national level, and that level is unchanged. Within that level, sectors receive reminders.
Q Which sectors?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, for example -- I don't think I'm at liberty to get into what specific sectors. Let me see if I can. If I can, I will post that. I want to just make clear that that doesn't -- but, for example, the way this is typically done -- and you're well aware of this and I'm not saying that this is a sector that has or has not been -- but such things as circulars are made available from the relevant government agencies that deal with transportation. And circulars are a common way of the federal government putting people in the transportation industry on alert -- to take a look at this, be sure you're covering that -- and so that any information the federal government has, is passed along and people can take all the steps necessary. That's one example of how a sector receives communications from the federal government so that they're made more keenly aware of anything that we think they need to be aware of.
Q On generic drugs, you said the Senate bill contained poison pills that they knew the administration would not accept. Could you specify exactly what those unacceptable --
MR. FLEISCHER: They had a series of liability provisions in there -- which, as you know, this administration does not believe that the answer to all our problems is to have people sue each other more. I think it's fair to say that that is a course of action that we think creates more problems, more costs and doesn't solve the problems. And the Senate legislation on generic drugs had a series of liability provisions in there that would have been very helpful to the nation's trial lawyers and less helpful to people who needed prescription drugs.
Q And the White House position is there should be no liability provision and no --
MR. FLEISCHER: The provisions that were in the Senate legislation we viewed as a poison bill, that's correct.
Q Were you in favor of some liability --
MR. FLEISCHER: Ken, I'd have to take a look at the exact, detailed language of the legislation and -- to see whether it was all the liability provisions or whether it was some of the liability provisions. But, in any case, the bottom line remained the same: what the Senate passed was not able to move in the Congress.
Q But is there a SAP?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, I think there was.
Q And that's still the administration's position.
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct. Yes, the information more specifically could be found in the SAP, good point.
Q Ari, considering that North Korea is in violation of a multilateral treaty about developing nuclear weapons, is there anything specific -- does the President believe that now weapons inspectors are a necessary step? Has that been part of the consultation process, ensure that the program has ended? We need weapons inspectors --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, keep in mind that under the 1994 agreed framework, the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Administration, does have a role to play vis a vis their nuclear fuel rods. And so there has been presence of the IAEA in North Korea already. And whether or not there are any changes that are going to be contemplated to that, it is all going to be part of the consultation.
Q After all these years, the Iraqis not only released all their political prisoners but also shipped back several truckloads of documents that had been stolen from Kuwait. After all this time, to do two of those things in the course of two or three days, what do you make of this?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as Secretary Powell said, the release of the prisoners appears to be a political ploy. But it's hard to know what to make of all of this. Saddam Hussein does not often act in a way that is clear or that is rational or even that is open and conclusive. That's why I indicated earlier that nobody knows how many prisoners have really been released. Nobody knows how many he had.
And, so, it's very hard to make any real meaningful interpretations of what he has done. He remains a threat and a menace.
Q Does anyone here view it as an attempt to curry favor both with the Kuwaitis, and perhaps with Iran, since there were many Shiite Iraqis who were political prisoners?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it remains as I described it, and as Secretary Powell described it yesterday.
Q On other thing on the U.N. resolution, if I may. the position is clear on tough rules for new inspections, single resolution and so forth. What is the current U.S. position on whether or not there should be armed escorts for inspectors, and whether or not members of the P-5 should be able to have the right to insist on their own representatives?
MR. FLEISCHER: Okay, let me do this. Much of that will be found in the exact language of the resolution that's being discussed at the United Nations. And so as soon as that is ready to be released publicly, I think you'll find your answers to that. And I will try to keep you advised at what the timing of that may be.
Q Ari, with respect to homeland security and the transportation sector, over the weekend the New York Times put out a lengthy piece on how vulnerable the trucking industry is and how at the moment trucks are left idling, unattended in lots that carry hazardous materials. And the way that tankers are set up, they practically invite terrorist attacks by listing what they're containing.
Why hasn't the administration taken any regulatory action to step up safety measurements for this sector?
MR. FLEISCHER: Paula, I think you may want to -- let me refer you to the Office of Homeland Security, the Department of Transportation if you want anything specific on that sector and any action that's being taken. They may be able to advise you.
Q But as a follow-up, if there were to be an attack of this nature, and if there were some sort of biochemical threat to American people -- as you know, there has been no instruction given to individual households, to commercial properties, as to how to prepare for any type of biochemical attack. And I'd like to know why this hasn't been done?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's why our nation, for all law enforcement and for all protections, relies on our first responders who, indeed, are trained. Our nation's ambulance corps, fire departments, policemen, EMTs and those, since September 11th, the amount of funding that has been made available has increased, the amount of training programs have increased. These things are often done in concert with the Federal Emergency Management Administration. And for all types of attacks, for all types of contingencies, the American people know that they are to rely on the first responders and that's how our system works.
Q But individual households do not know how to respond to this. If there is a threat, they do not know they're supposed to stay inside, they do not -- they've never been -- they've never received instructions from -- with the exception of a few --
MR. FLEISCHER: And that's why there's an emergency -- there's an emergency broadcast system, so that people can get any information. And there's no one cookie-cutter approach to any of this. This is all done on the basis of any possible contingency, what the realities of the contingency are, the nature of the contingency, the location of the contingency. And that's why the first responders would be the ones to get that word to people.
Think of it as you would if there is a hurricane or an evacuation. The local law enforcement agencies rely on communications efforts that are both the emergency broadcast systems as well as public media, to disseminate all relevant information to individuals so they know what course law enforcement recommends they take.
Q As part of the 1991 agreed framework, which is now nullified according to the North Koreans, there was also a ban in that agreement on testing medium- and long-range missiles which pose an obvious threat to North Korea's neighbors in the region. Does the U.S. understand that that part of the agreement is nullified as well, and how big a concern is that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we've always had a concern about North Korea's efforts to develop long-range missiles. It remains a concern. We also have concerns about North Korea's proliferation of missile technology. So these -- both issues remain concerns.
Q The upcoming election, is the President optimistic about the Republican chance for keeping the House and retaking the Senate?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President is hopeful, but he understands that this is an issue that's in the hands of the voters, and they'll be the ones who make that judgment. The election is just over two weeks away and the voters will soon speak their minds and we'll all find out.
Q Ari, what can you tell us about the President's objectives in the meeting with Lord Robertson today?
MR. FLEISCHER: The meeting with Lord Robertson is going to focus on NATO expansion in anticipation of the November meeting in Prague which will make the determination about what nations are now going to join an expanded NATO. I think the meeting might also cover the topic of Iraq, the meeting could also cover the topic of Russia's role in a newly expanded NATO, as you know.
Russia now, for the first time, does have a role in NATO. I think those will be the principal issues that get discussed.
Q Ari, on North Korea, the North Koreans informed us on October 4th that they were pursuing a nuclear weapons program. And we apparently proceeded with a fuel delivery to them 15 days later on October 17th. Why shouldn't that be regarded as rewarding them for bad behavior?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, the United States will consult with our allies about where to go and what course to take and that remains our position. That's what we're going to do.
But I think North Korea is not under any illusions that they will get rewarded for bad behavior by the United States.
Q Is it then fair to assume that until your consultations are done, you'll keep giving them fuel as agreed to under 1994?
MR. FLEISCHER: This is all being consulted about now. But I want to remind you that in the production of the agreed framework, the production issues involving that the agreed framework set in motion, there are many things that have to happen in order for North Korea to be able to actually develop their -- what was supposed to be an energy plant. And it was delivery of the reactors, which would have been the more important triggering event. And we are far from that date.
Q After the President's meeting with Jiang Zemin and the South Korean and Japanese leaders in Mexico, would you expect at that point that we will have a policy to announce toward North Korea?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to guess what date it will or will not be. As you know, the APEC meeting is principally a trade meeting. That is the history of APEC. And there -- nothing says that other topics don't come up, often they do. But the focus --
Q He does have a bilateral with South Korea and Japan, doesn't he?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, he does. But the focus of APEC is trade. And we'll see what exact events unfold. And in addition, as you know, there's the ongoing diplomacy of Secretary Kelley, who is in the region. And the President will have a summit, of course, with President Jiang Zemin on Friday, prior to APEC.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.
END 12:54 P.M. EDT