Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer February 3, 2003
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
February 3, 2003
Press Briefing by Ari
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:27 P.M. EST
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. The President began his day this morning with the intelligence briefing, followed by a briefing from the FBI. Then he met with the Administrator of NASA for 45 minutes in the Oval Office. He is as we speak having lunch with the newly elected members of the House of Representatives, Democrats and Republicans. And then he will depart the White House to visit the National Institute for Health, where he will tour the Vaccine Research Center and make remarks.
The President's remarks, I submit, will have several pieces of news in them. The President will talk about the importance of dedicating resources for the next generation of countermeasures. He will talk about the need to expand research and development in the production of vaccines to fight bioterrorism, and he will talk about the promising treatments available quickly for emergencies and getting those products developed quickly, tested and in a position to be administered to people quickly.
The President will return to the White House, and then -- a scheduling change -- the meeting with the King of Bahrain will now take place at 6:30 p.m., with dinner at 7:00 p.m.
And with that, I'm happy to take your questions.
Q Does the President agree with Colin Powell's op/ed piece today, there is no smoking gun?
MR. FLEISCHER: The administration has always said that we have a wide variety of reasons to know that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction, particularly chemical and biological weapons. And of course, the President agrees with what Colin Powell has written.
Q So he does agree that there isn't any one thing that --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the reason that we know Saddam Hussein possesses chemical and biological weapons is from a wide variety of means. That's how we know.
Q On that issue, is the administration willing to join Great Britain in seeking a U.N. resolution that would set a date certain for complete Iraqi compliance?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as the President said Friday, standing with Prime Minister Blair, a second resolution would be welcome so long as it accomplishes the mission, and the mission is the disarmament of Saddam Hussein. And so it remains something that the President has expressed very clearly that under his authority in the Constitution as Commander-in-Chief, and under 1441, he already has existing authority to make the decision. But the President, of course, is in the process of consultation with our allies, and you'll see a series of more meetings, consultative process with our allies to determine precisely what the next course of events should be.
Q Ari, can we come back to the shuttle. Can you give us an idea of what Administrator O'Keefe said to the President? And also in connection with the shuttle, the budget envisions an increase which went to the printer before, obviously, the disaster -- envisions an increase in the shuttle program by 23 percent. Is that the President's way of saying that the shuttle program was underfunded before?
MR. FLEISCHER: One, on the funding issue, as you know, funding for the NASA budget total will go from $15 billion in 2003 to $15.5 -- or .469 -- million in Fiscal Year 2004. Funding for the space shuttle itself will go from $3.2 billion to $3.9 billion under the budget, as was proposed this morning, as was prepared prior to the disaster involving the Columbia.
Having said that, I don't know that anybody can make any conclusions about money at this point. The investigation is just beginning. And as Sean O'Keefe said to the President, all causes will be evaluated, all causes. It is vital; this country owes it to the people who lost their lives, to the people who -- families left behind, and to the astronauts who lie ready and waiting to go on their next mission to explore every possible reason why this could have happened. And I think it's impossible to make any judgments at this point.
So those are the facts of the budget, but I think it's still too soon to say anything.
Q Well, why the increase, Ari? What's the justification for the shuttle program, in particular?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as Director Daniels walked through at his briefing, there were a series of components inside NASA that involve various aspects of the space shuttle, that all are going to receive the funding designated. The funding for the last decade was relatively flat; in fact, there was a decline over the last decade. And now there is an increase in the funding. The funding for the international space station, as you know, had run into a series of cost overruns; that has been addressed, and the combined total leads to a budget of NASA that is increasing.
But again, this administration is making no conclusions about whether the funding over the last decade or the increase in funding has anything to do with what took place on the Columbia. It would be premature and unwise to make any judgments about that at this time.
Q Ari, the space shuttle program lost a quarter of its fleet on Saturday morning. And if the space shuttle is the vehicle to be relied on for at least the next decade to build the international space station, if the President wants to continue the journey into space, is he at all considering an appropriation to build another shuttle?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, it's too soon to say. This just took place. It's very important to work with Congress on this, as well, to hear Congress's thoughts and opinions. It's too soon to say. But it's fair to say, and as the President said in his meeting with Mr. O'Keefe, the President is committed to the future of space exploration. He's committed to the future of the men and women of NASA and the international collaboration that has allowed mankind to explore space to the degrees that we have and the degrees we continue to do so and will do so.
Q Is it even possible to consider building another shuttle, because the apparatus to manufacture the parts is, to a large degree, been shut down?
MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated, it's too soon to say.
Q Ari, is there a need or does the President think it's maybe time to look at accelerating the search for another, a new generation of space planes to replace the shuttle, given the age of the fleet?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, I'm not going to, two days after the explosion, leap to any conclusions for anybody in the government about what the next steps should be. This has to be a review --
Q Is that something you think should be looked at?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think, first, it's important to allow the independent panel and the internal NASA panel to conduct their investigations. Let's find out what the cause of the accident was before reaching conclusions about what the next course in space exploration should be. But the principal point that I want to emphasize is the President is determined to continue mankind's exploration of space.
Q Ari, one quick question on Korea, and then one on the shuttle. On North Korea, was the President apprised of or involved in the decision to send additional air power to the region so that you could act as, I think what the Pentagon called, a prudent deterrent?
MR. FLEISCHER: As you know, as a matter of longstanding policy, I just won't discuss military operations.
Q The Pentagon has described this military operation -- I'm not asking -- the only thing I'm asking you to do is tell us whether the President was apprised of it and considers this a necessary step up. Because it certainly seems out of tone with what you've been conveying to us here, which is this is a serious problem, but not one that requires necessarily anything other than a diplomatic response.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you can assume that there's -- what the President has said to you is ongoing and valid, that the President continues to believe that the matter with North Korea can be resolved through diplomatic means, but that does not mean that the United States will always have contingencies and make certain that the contingencies are viable.
Q When he says that he's committed never to invade North Korea, or he has no intention to invade North Korea, I think was his exact words -- does the no intention and the use of the word "invade" as opposed to attack as in a preemptive strike, are those conscious choices?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, when the President says that he believes that this can be resolved through diplomacy, I think it expresses how the President is approaching the solution to this matter. And this is an international issue that North Korea has brought upon itself, and the President is treating it as a matter of international diplomacy. That's his approach.
Q One quick one on the shuttle. Has the -- did the President express today to the NASA chief or to anybody else that he wants any words of dissent about -- within the organization about whether -- what kind of damage might have been done to the orbiter, to be out early, or are you content to let this sort of go on at the pace at which it did during the Challenger?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President did not dictate the timing of the investigation. That's for the investigators to determine and to make known, as they are doing twice a day in their two news conferences, as events warrant, as facts are developed. That's not a question for the President to exercise any judgment about. He wants the independent investigators to be the ones to make those determinations.
Let me fill you in a little bit on the meeting that the President had. It lasted 45 minutes. Mr. O'Keefe began it by talking about the families of those who lost their lives, the relatives and their well-being now and the care that is being taken for them. The President agreed that that has to be a priority, to make certain that the families are taken care of. He reviewed the chronology -- Mr. O'Keefe reviewed the chronology of events that immediately led up to the disaster and he said that his intention is to get back into space as soon as possible, with all safety issues having been fully -- fully -- explored. And he said that all causes are being evaluated.
The President inquired about the health and the status of the families. He talked and inquired about the morale of NASA. He made note that, amazingly, nobody -- we have received no reports of anybody who was hurt by falling debris, in the entire field in which the debris fell. And both the President and Mr. O'Keefe expressed amazement at that. And obviously, that's one small positive piece of news in this tragedy.
And the President talked about the status of the next crews and the morale of the next crews -- crew -- and how they are ready to go as soon as they are able to go back into space. The President inquired about the children's experiment that was aboard the space shuttle. And finally, the President said to the head of NASA, "You make us proud."
Q Ari, in the budget today, the charitable tax credits are $20 billion over 10 years, which is down from the original proposal of $90 billion. Can you explain that drop, and is that all the proposal needs or is that a first installment?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'd have to take a look at the delta from last year to this year, and I think that may have been something that Director Daniels addressed in his briefing. The President remains committed to making certain that all Americans have the right to have a charitable deduction for their giving. Under changes that were made in 1986, only taxpayers who itemized were able to receive an itemized deduction. The President would like to extend that to more people. There was some consideration in Congress last year about how open-ended to make that, and so this is also an expression of wanting to work with Congress on some of their concerns.
Q Looks like Hans Blix and maybe Mohamed ElBaradei will be going back to Iraq next week. Is that something that you are worried that will throw off your timetable as this week, the big presentation from the Secretary of State? The last time they were there, there was this big agreement and Iraq said that they were going to comply, and it kind of helped shift the world opinion a little bit. Are you concerned about the timing of this?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. Under 1441 is, of course, within the prerogatives of the directors of UNMOVIC and IAEA to travel to Iraq for the purpose of implementing the resolution. That is their prerogative and the President wants to make certain that 1441 is enforced.
Q Can you tell us a little bit more about what's on the agenda for the Bahrainian meeting this afternoon? And how concerned is the President about growing public opinion elsewhere in the world that is against any action against Iraq, particularly reaction in the Arab world?
MR. FLEISCHER: Okay. One, in the meeting with Bahrain, the President looks forward to the meeting. They're a very good ally of the United States. And I think you can anticipate the topic of Iraq will, of course, come up. I think they may also talk about peace in the Middle East, which is something that the President and Prime Minister Blair continue their conversations about. I think those, broadly speaking, will be the two areas of conversation that arise.
As for public opinion, as you know, I've said this many times -- the President will be guided by what he thinks is necessary and right to protect the people of our country, as well as the region, and our allies in the region, as well. He's consulting very closely, as you can see, with the leaders of many of these nations. And I think as you started to see last week, something that we've been indicating to you for quite some time is starting to manifest itself, and that is expressions of support for various leaders around the world. And I anticipate that that will continue.
And so this will remain, just as the President promised, a very heavy consultative process. The diplomatic window remains a window in which the President will fully engage, to reach out and enter into discussions with our friends and allies. And I think he is having quite a bit of success.
Q Ari, can you lay out for us some of the details of the declassification process, who's in charge, where the effort is centralized, to try to figure out what can be used by Secretary Powell? And secondly, has the decision been made to use verbates of communications intercepts of Iraqi officials?
MR. FLEISCHER: On the second part of your question, I'm not going to indicate exactly what will be said. That will be for Secretary Powell to do Wednesday up in --
Q Can you say whether or not the decision has been made to use --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to get into that. These will be things that the Secretary himself will reveal and that will be your indication. But the process has been a week-long, a little bit longer than that, interagency collaboration that involves the CIA, the NSC, the State Department, DOD, to review the raw material, the information that is known, with the eye toward how much can be made public so that the people of the United States and people around the world can have as much information as is possible about why we feel so strongly and know that Iraq has biological and chemical weapons, balanced against the need to protect the sources of this information so that we do not, one, lead to anybody getting killed in Iraq as a result of this, or the source of this information drying up in the future. So it's a very important series of judgments that get made to each piece of data to determine whether or not they can or can not be made public.
Q A little thing for you -- the President often articulates principles on legislation or on any sort of effort to lay down the law, if you will. With regard to a second resolution, does the President have one or two particular principles that would need to be met for a second resolution to get his support?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it's exactly what he said Friday with Tony Blair.
Q Just as long as it gets done quickly, he doesn't care what the content is?
MR. FLEISCHER: So long as it leads to the disarmament of Saddam Hussein.
Q Ari, back on the -- on NASA's funding, it sounds like you all are leaving the door open to an increase in funding for NASA. Not that you are committing yourself to it, but once --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President is proposing one in the budget that he sends up today.
Q It sounds as though you're opening up the door, or at least leaving the door open to the possibility of even more money being sent to NASA after the investigation is done, and if it concludes and you all agree that that is something that's needed?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, Jean, when I indicated at the top -- and today is the day the budget gets sent to the Congress. The process begins today in terms of where the decisions get made in the Congress. And it's important to listen to and work with members of Congress on this, and in all areas of the budget. As I indicated at the top, I don't think anybody can reach any conclusions about funding levels and the disaster affecting the Colombia. Everything needs to be looked into in order to make determinations, but no one can make any conclusions this quickly after the disaster.
So, as always, the budget goes up, we'll work with members of Congress on it, but the amount that's in the budget is the amount the President thought was necessary. Clearly, now a disaster has taken place, and as the process unfolds it's a healthy process, it's a flexible process and it allows for additional input as events warrant.
Q So you're not ruling out the idea that the President would support an increase in funding later if, in fact, an investigation and you all agreed that that was necessary?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I'm not addressing it because I think within 48 hours of the disaster is just too soon to address.
Q Ari, ever since the President announced Secretary Powell's U.N. appearance in the State of the Union address, there's been a great deal of expectation around that appearance. Was his statement in today's op/ed piece that there is no smoking gun an attempt to lower those expectations?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think people will form their judgments, having watched the Secretary, and people will come to their conclusions about it. I think it will be compelling, but I think that these will be judgments that people make, and that is exactly why the President wants this done in public. The President wants this information shared publicly so that individual Americans can exercise their own right to tune in and make their evaluations as citizens of our democracy about what it is that the government knows. In the event that the President decides to use force, he thinks it is vital that the American people have as great an understanding of the reasons why as possible.
Q Should we take the Secretary's piece today as, in effect, a summary of what he's going to say tomorrow?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's obviously a good guide to what he is going to say Wednesday.
Q Ari, two questions for you. When the President met today with the NASA Administrator, Sean O'Keefe, did they discuss the program that will take place tomorrow in Houston, what the participation the President and First Lady will be, will they meet with the families of the victims?
MR. FLEISCHER: They did talk about that very briefly. And the program is still being worked through at the staff level, but they did talk about that briefly.
Q Will the President attempt to try to meet with the families of the victims?
MR. FLEISCHER: We'll have all the details of the program as it's final. But, yes, the President will, of course, spend time with the families.
Q Second question, the President must have been receiving a lot of condolence calls from leaders around the world. I imagine he's taken some and some he hasn't had the time. Can you tell us some of the calls he has received, especially lately?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, over the weekend, we released to you the names of the eight foreign leaders with whom he spoke, so that's a matter of record. I don't know if I brought all eight with me. I know that yesterday he spoke with President's Musharraf and Vajpayee. He's spoken with President Putin. I don't want to go down all the list because I may forget one person or two people. You can take a look at all the information that was released over the course of the weekend; we can provide that to you.
Q Has he taken any calls today?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, he's not, not today.
Q You and others in the administration today said that 48 hours is too soon and that there's suggestion that there's too much discussion as of right now about money. But over the weekend, there were some people, specifically yesterday, on the talk shows, there were members of Congress who did complain about NASA funding. I wonder if you would comment on the fact that some people have suggested that there just hasn't been enough money in the program up to this point.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President respects the opinions of people who are going to take a look at this and you will likely here a variety of different opinions about it. And the nation has just gone through a tragedy. And in the President's judgment, after a tragedy like this, what's most important is that everybody join together in making certain that we know what happened and why, that no stone be left unturned; and once the cause is determined, that we all, together as Americans, look at what needs to be done next, and do so in a spirit that's marked by the same spirit that NASA has, which is a spirit of working together to get a mission accomplished.
The mission to be accomplished, in this case, is to resume space flight and to continue the marvels of space exploration that have been the hallmark of American pioneerism around the world, particularly the international collaboration that has marked space flight and space travel today.
Q Ari, since some of the criticism has actually come from Republicans, as well, has the White House made an effort to reach out to members of its own party to just ask that people hold their tongue on this issue for the time-being?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, as I indicated, members of Congress are free to express their opinions, and the President values all of them. That is a part of our process.
Q Ari, as far as seven astronauts are concerned, prayers were heard throughout India and also here in the United States, throughout all the Hindu temples, including one in Maryland. Ambassador Lalit Mansingh he delivered the message for condolence and he said that India had lost one of her daughters, Ms. Kalpana Chawla. My question is, when the President spoke with Prime Minister Vajpayee, what they spoke, what they said, as far as -- because since India lost one.
MR. FLEISCHER: I reported this last night. When the two spoke, they expressed mutual condolences because of the losses. And the Indian astronaut, of course, a hero in India. She was born in India and became an American citizen, and was an example and a roll model to millions in both countries, particularly women. And that summarizes the message.
Q Ari, on the astronauts memorial in Titusville, Florida, the name of Colonel Ilan Ramon of Israel will presumably be included with the other six from the Columbia. And my question: Is the President grateful that in 1981 this officer, as an F-16 pilot, helped demolish Saddam Hussein's nuclear plant at Osirak, near Baghdad?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that many people expressed, after 1991, when the United States realized that, contrary to the intelligence information suggesting that Iraq was years away from the development of a nuclear weapon, they actually were only six months away. Had that mission not taken place at that time, the military mission in 1991 would have been made far, far more difficult. I just leave that as a statement of fact.
Q Ari, page one of this morning's Washington Times reports the acute discomforture of Democrat presidential candidates about how to observe the NAACP boycott of the entire state of South Carolina. And my question is, while I know it's tempting for you to enjoy this Democrat problem, doesn't the President really believe the NAACP would be far more valuable in working to end the slavery of blacks in Sudan and Mauritania today than in conducting an attempted censorship of a flag that is entirely historic and under which fought hundreds of combat Confederate soldiers who were black?
MR. FLEISCHER: Lester, the President does not see it as his job to suggest policies to private organizations about how they conduct their business in that sense.
Q He suggests to lots of private organizations. Ari, he suggests to all of us --
MR. FLEISCHER: You, Lester, are not a private organization. There is only one of you. (Laughter.)
Q Before the disaster of the Columbia, the President increased the funding for the shuttle in his budget. What was he thinking in terms of his goals and priorities for the shuttle program when he put that increase in?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's a belief in the importance of the space shuttle mission and the importance of continuing to pursue scientific research and exploration in space. That's why the budgets the President has submitted reflected that.
Q But were there specific line-items for specific areas of the shuttle program?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, there were, and Director Daniels, I think, briefed those at his 11:00 a.m. briefing. And those are also available from NASA. Now the budget is coming out. You will have that actually in writing, as well. So you'll be able to see several of those line-items in the budget.
Q What did you find out about the Don Nelson contact with the White House?
MR. FLEISCHER: It appears that that letter was dealt with at the staff level.
Q How high up did it go?
MR. FLEISCHER: To Mr. Marburger.
Q And never conveyed to the President?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, as you -- the letter came in, was referred to Mr. Marburger. Mr. Marburger -- as you know, his staff received the technical briefing from NASA. and Mr. Marburger responded on behalf of the President. Dr. Marburger, I should say.
Q Ari, last week the President said, on Iraq, you are either with us or you are with the enemy. France and Germany are clearly not with us. Why aren't they with the enemy?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's not true. France and Germany are with us. They just, in the case of Germany, made a decision not to use military force; and in the case of France, I think France is still exploring what their ultimate position will be. But clearly, they're both with us. The question is the use of military force. So I don't think that's quite doing justice to what the President said.
Q The President has repeatedly said he wants to bring democracy to Iraq. But here in the District of Columbia, citizens have no elected representatives in Congress. On the license plate, there is a permanent protest. It says "taxation without representation." What is the President doing to bring democracy to the District of Columbia?
MR. FLEISCHER: Per the Constitution, the District of Columbia is a unique entity and the President has expressed no desire to change the representation that the District of Columbia was given by the framers. And I don't really think you can equate the District of Columbia being a democracy with Iraq's failure to be a democracy, and it's, in fact, of course, a totalitarian state.
Q In the discussions with O'Keefe, was there any time frame set out for resuming the shuttle flights or when you have to resume it to take care of the people up there? And also, did you get a date for when Bush last visited Johnson Space Center?
MR. FLEISCHER: On the first question, no, there is no discussion of dates. It was, as I indicated earlier, as soon as possible, pursuant to every aspect of safety being reviewed. That's where it stands. On the second, I'm still working on that and I'll have, hopefully, more to indicate.
Q Ari, you said the President will be discussing the Middle East with the Emir tonight and has discussed with Prime Minister Blair. Can you tell me what he's saying? It seems like the initiative, given the Israeli incursions in the Gaza and the operation in Hebron --
MR. FLEISCHER: All it means is the President continues --
Q -- U.S. is not playing a proactive role.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President in these meetings reiterates the important need to focus on the peace process in the Middle East and the bringing together of the Palestinian Authority through reform, and new leaders of the Palestinian Authority with Israel. Particularly now that the election of Israel has come and gone, the President wants to renew the focus on how to promote peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. And that's an area where many of the Arab states, as you know, are heavily invested. The President has spared no effort to work directly with many of the Arab leaders in the region to help bring about the process toward peace.
Q Secondly, Ari, there are reports that the United States is interested in setting up military bases, or using military bases in Poland with possible eye toward operations against Iraq and maybe even transferring forces from Germany. Is there now a shift and a greater interest in Poland? Given all the diplomacy with the Polish Prime Minister this week, Polish President --
MR. FLEISCHER: You need to talk to DOD about anything involving bases.
Q On two unrelated questions, can you just tell us who was in the room in the O'Keefe meeting this morning?
MR. FLEISCHER: It was the usual White House senior staff: the Vice President was there; Andy Card was there; a number of senior administration officials were there; Brian Montgomery was there and his business as Cabinet Secretary.
Q Was Mitch Daniels there?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think Mitch was briefing the press at that time.
Q How about Marburger?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't recall.
Q Okay, and going back to something from last week -- can you describe how the President, in coming forward and offering the idea of exile to Saddam Hussein, squares that in his mind with his concern about him being the epitome of evil, human rights violations, and his desire to bring him to justice?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as the President said, that if Saddam Hussein were to leave Iraq and to take, as the President put it, his henchmen with him, that would be a very desirable event. That would save the lives of many. It would improve the lives and the fortunes of the Iraqi people and give them, for the first time in decades, the freedoms that they are entitled to. And the President views that, if it were to happen -- and the President holds no high hopes that it would happen -- but the President, of course, and I think people around the world would welcome that event, no matter how evil Saddam Hussein is. The source of his evil comes first from himself, and second from his ability to manipulate the levers of power, and to do so in a tyrannical way, against not only his own people, but the neighbors in the region, and hence, his threat to peace. Certainly, if Saddam Hussein no longer has his fingers on the levers which weapons of mass destruction could be launched, the world would be a safer place.
Q So if Saddam Hussein were to forfeit his control over Iraq and seek exile, he could save his life and he could avoid any kind of international judicial experience, being brought to justice.
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I think the world would rejoice if he left, and let's leave it at that and let's hope he leaves.
Q Ari, the government of Chancellor Schroeder had two bad defeats in the election yesterday. The Christian Democrats, who did quite well, who have been quite supportive of the United States, and their leader says that they hope the United States will take those elections results as a message from Germany. Do we, and what do we read in to them?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's an internal German matter and I don't have any comment on it.
Q The South Korean government has announced a hotline has been set up between Seoul and Washington. What is the purpose of that hotline?
MR. FLEISCHER: I cannot speak to that. I know that there are many methods of communication, of course, picking up the phone with South Korea. So I'm not aware of any specific report about a hotline.
Q Ari, on Iraq. When the President said, weeks, not months, he's thinking about maximum a month is four weeks, when he mentioned that? And second question, do you trust the government of Mexico to guarantee for the United States that no terrorists are going to enter by the Mexican border of this country?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm sorry, I didn't follow the second part of your question.
Q If you really trust the Mexican government to have the guarantees to cover the border, to protect that from the entry of terrorist groups to the United States.
MR. FLEISCHER: There's no question that the conversations with Mexican authorities have been very productive and helpful. Mexico, of course, stands shoulder to shoulder with the United States in fighting terrorism. It's a very long border, however, and that's why concerns remain anywhere on any of America's borders for people coming into the United States. And that's why we're constantly working to upgrade and to be as diligent as possible to prevent terrorists from coming in, no matter what the source or what the border.
Q Ari, have you heard the President talk at all about the situation in the Ivory Coast? You've got crowds of people marching to the U.S. embassy and pleading for the United States to intervene and stop the imposition of a peace deal arranged by President Chirac of France. Has he talked about this at all? I know you issued a statement, but it's an interesting situation to see crowds of people chanting, "USA, help us, save us," when France was supposed to have arranged the deal.
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me begin by saying that the United States applauds the efforts of President Chirac to move all parties toward a peaceful resolution. We hope that there will be flexibility in the implementation of the framework. And I have not personally spoken to the President about the scenes, but I think those scenes are a reminder of America as a beacon of hope and freedom around the world. And I think that's why, sometimes, when you hear some of the current discussion, the amount of affection for America around the world often gets understated.
And I think it is a reminder.
And I think when you take a look at many of the statements about America's standing in the world, and you look at America's college campuses, where students from throughout the world come for the opportunities and the ability to study in America, it's always worth stopping and remembering that we remain, and still are, and will always be that beacon of hope and freedom and opportunity around the world.
Q Does it say anything about France's standing in the world?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I began my statement with an expression of support President Chirac. It's a very difficult situation.
Q Mohamed ElBaradei has said that he may bring the issue of North Korea to the United Nations Security Council. Would the U.S. support the idea of sanctions on Pyongyang, considering what Kim said, that sanctions would be seen as a declaration of war?
MR. FLEISCHER: One, as I indicated last week, the United States does support the IAEA's call to bring the matter of North Korea's failure to comply with their international obligations to the United Nations Security Council. I'm not going to predict the outcome of what it may or may not be in the end, or how many steps this will take. But suffice it to say that just because a nation makes a threat about whether or not sanctions is appropriate or not appropriate, the world body, the United Nations Security Council and the United States included, will act in what it deems is the right course to take, given the fact that North Korea is violating its obligations to the world. Now, these events will develop, but I want to lay down that predicate.
Q Part of the question is there -- do we oppose sanctions, or are we in favor of --
MR. FLEISCHER: We will continue to pursue this in an international manner, in consultation with our friends and allies. And this will be headed to the United Nations Security Council in all likelihood, and we'll see what the ultimate course is at this time and any courses to follow.
Q Should Americans and allies be prepared for a greater loss of life in an Iraq conflict this time as compared with 1991, when the objective was simply to push Iraq out of Kuwait?
MR. FLEISCHER: One, I want to remind you the President has not made any decisions about the use of force, and the President continues to hope that that will not be a line that gets crossed.
Q Is that a factor in his decision-making?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the factor in the President's decision-making as to whether Saddam Hussein is disarmed or not. That is the factor. Beyond that, I think it's impossible for anybody to make any predictions. The United States is very, very, very capable, and beyond that, I just will not make any predictions.
Q Just following John's point on North Korea here, I'm trying to understand how we should interpret this decision to send new aircraft and the personnel around them. Should we interpret it as equivalent to what you're doing in Iraq, where you frequently said that the presence of American troops nearby helps increase the diplomatic pressure for them to fully comply -- in North Korea's case, that would mean allowing inspectors back in and doing all those things you've asked them to do -- or should we instead interpret it as a concern on the part of the President that North Korea could lash out at some moment because of sanctions, because of anything else?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you should interpret it exactly as I said earlier, that the President thinks that this can be handled through diplomatic means, that we have contingencies all around the world and we always make certain that our contingencies are viable.
Q You have 37,000 troops there already.
MR. FLEISCHER: We have contingencies around the world that involve a number of uses of force structure to make certain that the contingencies are viable.
Q Ari, a domestic question. This is Black History Month. The President has put out a proclamation talking about Black History Month. How important is the black vote in the midst of time a of a lot of racial controversy, the fact the President did not erase anything about race in the State of the Union address, and the fact that many African Americans will be fighting this war if there is a war in Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that the President views this, number one, as a question not of votes, but about doing the right thing for all Americans. And that's how the President approaches his job. He doesn't sit in the Oval Office calculating the number of votes that a different decision may or may not get him. He sits in the Oval Office weighing the policies and their impacts on all of us together as one community. The President is sensitive to the needs of the various constituencies that make up America's community. But the President adopts -- believes that the best way to approach future elections is to focus on policy decisions today.
Q Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.
END 1:05 P.M. EST