White House Press Briefing April 23, 2003
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
April 23, 2003
Wednesday's Press Briefing
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
1:17 P.M. EDT
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. Let me give you two updates on the President's day, and then I'll be happy to take your questions.
The President earlier this morning spoke with Prime Minister Erdogan, of Turkey. The two reaffirmed their strong relations between the United States and Turkey, long-time friends and allies. President Bush expressed appreciation for Turkey's ongoing resupply of United States forces in northern Iraq, and he welcomed Turkey's desire to work closely with the United States in support of Iraq's security, stability and reconstruction.
The President also welcomed Turkey's ongoing economic reforms and Turkey's cooperation with the International Monetary Fund. Prime Minister Erdogan expressed thanks to the United States for their -- for our support of Turkey, including the $1 billion of assistance included in the recently passed supplemental legislation.
The President also met today with the President of Uruguay, President Jorge Batlle, in the Oval Office. The two Presidents reviewed a number of issues of mutual interest, including the situation in Iraq, the war on terrorism and the economic situation in Uruguay, as well as in the region.
The President reaffirmed his continued support for President Batlle's efforts in cooperation with the International Monetary Fund to promote sustainable growth in Uruguay. The President underscored our commitment to strengthen trade and investment ties with Uruguay.
And with that, I'm happy to take questions. John -- and welcome back.
Q Thank you, sir; good to be back. What are your concerns about Iran's attempts to involve itself in a budding Iraqi democracy? And particularly this idea of an Iranian agents that may have been sent in to some Shiite areas with the attempt to advance Iranian interests in the area?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me make a few points. The President thinks it's essential that the Iraqi people determine their own future, that they are capable of doing so and they will be able to do so. There's more than enough for the international community to do in helping the Iraqis build a better future for themselves, and we hope countries seize on the opportunity to make a positive contribution to the Iraqi people.
We note that some recent reports about Iranian activities and we have made clear to Iran that we would oppose any outside organization's interference in Iraq, interfering with their road to democracy. Infiltration of agents to destabilize the Shia population would clearly fall into that category, and that is a position that we have made clear to the government of Iran.
Q So in terms of you opposing any attempts to destabilize the move toward Iraqi democracy, what have you told Iran that you will or will not do to oppose those attempts?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm going to leave private conversations where they belong, which is in the realm of good diplomacy. They received that message.
Q You were pretty clear with Syria when you were worried about what might be going on there. Are you issuing similar statements to Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: We have made the message clear to Iran. But let me state something -- I want to make sure you understand clearly the nature of what is happening here and what is happening on the ground in Iraq.
There is no love lost between the Iraqi people and the Iranian people. The Iraqi Shiite community is a very capable community, a very large community and a very diverse community. And I think that any efforts or anybody outside of Iraq to try to create an outsider's version of what should take place for the Iraqi people, by the Iraqi people, will not have much chance of success.
So it's important that you understand what is going on, the seriousness of it, and also understand the inherent abilities of the Iraqi Shiites, which are a very different group of people from the Iranians.
Q Just one other question, if I could. Are you surprised at the level of anti-American sentiment that has been surfacing in Karbala?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, you see these reports and you see, of course, the headlines, and you see some people, any number of people who were interviewed who say something bad about America, and of course, that screams up to the top of the headlines. But I don't think that's indicative of the feelings of the Iraqi people or people in Karbala. In fact, there is some reporting that shows what the Iraqi people and Shiite people and people around Karbala and other regions really want is to have control of their own future. And that's what we want, as well.
And so I think people are experiencing the joy of being liberated, and they are able people, and they understand the United States is going to stay to provide for the security. We'll stay as long as we need to, but not a day longer. And we share their thoughts about not staying any longer than is necessary. But I think you have to be very careful about how you analyze the message of a few and interpret it as a message for an entire people. That's not the case.
Q Have any weapons of mass destruction been found? And if they are not, will there be an explanation to the American people by the President? How does he feel about it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President knows that the proper people are in charge of looking for the weapons of mass destruction and they have a very effective protocol that is in place. And just as we have always said for months, even before the war began, and even while the inspectors were there, the chances of success depend not on finding something by bumping into it during the courses of travel through Iraq, but it really depends on information that is provided to the United States, or to the coalition, or previously while the inspectors were there, from the Iraqi experts who were involved in the program. And that also means getting access to, and reading the thousands of pages of documents that we were in the middle of doing.
So it really requires the ability to get that information on the ground from Iraqis involved, which we are doing; to study the documentation that exists on the ground, which we are doing; and then to spread the process out and verify the information over whatever period of time it takes. Nothing has changed the President's confidence that this, indeed, will result in the findings.
Q Does he feel he's been misled by his own advisors?
MR. FLEISCHER: Of course not. Of course not.
Q He still thinks there are weapons there?
MR. FLEISCHER: Absolutely.
Q Can I just follow on that, Ari? Because yesterday on that point, you said that you were confident weapons of mass destruction would be found.
MR. FLEISCHER: Correct.
Q And others within the administration are saying, publicly and privately, that, well, it may be that they're not found, that they would have been destroyed, or spirited out of the country, or any number of things. So what's it -- which is it? And what should the American people conclude about this, given the fact that this was probably the rationale for invading Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: You should conclude that there is no changes in the American position. It's a consistent position that's been stated by the briefers on the ground, in the Gulf, by the President, by Secretary Powell, by Secretary Rumsfeld, by myself. We have high confidence that Iraq did, indeed, have weapons of mass destruction. And as a result of the protocols that I just walked through, in terms of how we are going about the conversations with Iraqi scientists, and looking through the documentation that exists, that, indeed, will be found, whatever form it is.
Q But you seem to be suggesting that in the end, this is going to be the history of a program based upon experts who come forward and tell you this is what was going on, and it's probably not around to be found any longer, but this was the level of the program. Is that accurate?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, clearly, the program is no longer going on, but the people who were involved in it are the keys to finding it. And that's what we've always said. That's why we felt so strongly about the need for the inspectors to be interviewed -- the inspectors who were previously there to interview Iraqi scientists outside of the country. That hasn't changed. That was how we thought the search could be most effective before. It continues to be how we think the search will be most effective.
Q Just one other thing, if I can. Does the President know more about what Senator Santorum said? Does he have any feelings about his comments? Do they think they were inappropriate or appropriate?
MR. FLEISCHER: I haven't personally talked to the President about it, so I don't have anything direct from the President to share.
Q So you all are just making a conscious decision to just keep clear of this one?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me put it to you this way. The President typically never does comment on anything involving a Supreme Court case, a Supreme Court ruling or a Supreme Court finding -- typically. And in this case, we also have no comment on anything that involves any one person's interpretation of the legalities of an issue that may be considered before the Court.
Q It wasn't inappropriate, though, to comment on Trent Lott's comments when it had to do with race. And here, besides the legal interpretation, he made the comment that he was comfortable with homosexuality but not homosexual acts. Those he disapproved of. No need for the White House to intervene in that?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I've expressed it as we see it.
Q Yasser Arafat and Abu Mazen apparently agreed on a Cabinet. Is the President going to publish and push for the road map?
MR. FLEISCHER: Number one, we are pleased by the initial reports that we have received about the agreement that the Palestinian Authority has apparently reached between Abu Mazen and Yasser Arafat. The next step would be the submission of the Cabinet to the Palestinian legislature, as well as the PLC would need to quickly approve it, which would take place over the coming days. Those are the next two steps that would take place before this is actually certified and ratified. We see no need for that to take any length of time, period of time. When that happens we will officially provide the road map to the parties soon thereafter.
Q And then one question stemming from that. The President last year called for Israeli settlement activity to come to a close as progress towards ending terrorism was made. What is the President's position on those settlements, given that we just fought a war over enforcing U.N. Security Council resolutions? A very simple question: does the President think those settlements are legal, or illegal, under applicable U.N. Security Council resolutions?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, he thinks they're covered under the road map, and under the road map that will be proposed to the parties once this important reform step takes place. It is exactly as you said, Terry. It is a process that would allow for the dismantlement of the settlements as progress is made toward peace. That's the President's approach to it.
Q There are, obviously, U.N. Security Council resolutions which we've just gone to war to enforce which apply to this situation. Does the President believe these settlements fall within those resolutions?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, our actions are always, in this case, based on -- and this is specifically, I believe, was Resolution 242 and 338 -- and those resolutions deal with a political settlement, the peaceful negotiations of all the issues that are involved, including the settlements. But it's not only the settlements; it's a series of issues that involve security. And that's why the road map ties security together with political progress on the ground for both the Israelis and the Palestinians.
Q So he's looking at the settlements through the road map, rather than through any U.N. Security Council resolutions?
MR. FLEISCHER: Clearly, as I just said a premise here is 242 and 338, which is the peaceful settlement of the disputes.
Q All right. And then on the -- just to follow-up on David's question. Does the President agree with the legal proposition that states have the same right to ban private, consensual homosexual activity between adults that they do private consensual incestual activity between adults?
MR. FLEISCHER: This is a matter for the Supreme Court to sort through as they hear the facts in the case.
Q Ari, is the road map a set document? Or do you contemplate any changes to it before putting it out?
MR. FLEISCHER: It is a set document, but the President has always said that he looks forward to being able to release it to the parties. And once it is formally released to the parties, we welcome their contributions to it. It is important to receive the contributions from the Israelis, it is important to receive the contributions from the Palestinians. Because in the end, as much as the United States will be there with our shoulder to the wheel to help make this happen -- and, indeed, President Bush will -- it still in the end is up to the Israelis and the Palestinians to work together on agreement about the terms of the road map to make it meaningful progress.
And so we will welcome their contributions.
Q Some members of Congress worry that it's a little too tough on Israel. Is he taking that into consideration?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the road map is a series of actions that need to be taken by all parties. And I think it's fair to say that when you look at the difficult history of peace in the Middle East, none of this is easy. But it is certainly much easier than the violence that has taken place and the loss of life that has taken place between the Israelis and the Palestinians for the last several years.
Now, there has been somewhat of an absence of suicide or homicide attacks recently. There is an increasing willingness, it seems, for the parties to want to work together. And that's all to the good. This very well may be the right time, the right moment to do something new and different in the Middle East, in terms of the parties working together to achieve peace in the Middle East. The road map, in the President's judgment, can help foster that climate to make that happen.
Make no mistake, it's always been a difficult process. But it's one that the President is committed to because peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, creation of a Palestinian state and an Israel that can live side-by-side in peace and security with the United States helping with Israel's security has always been our policy.
Q Ari, first to follow-up on the questions on Iran. The U.S. said before the war started that it would not tolerate outside influences stepping into to interfere with a post-Saddam government. To the other countries there, Iran and Syria, the United States is doing that by protecting Mr. Chalabi, for example, in a compound in Baghdad. How do you separate out the moral equivalency here of their efforts to influence what kind of government comes up in Iraq and our own?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think you answered it with the way you posed the question, comparing the points of view of states that support terrorism with the point of the view of the United States, which is working together with the Iraqi people and other nations in the region, cannot be compared. The interests of Syria and the interests of Iran have not always proved to be the interest of peace or stability or freedom or democracy.
And we've always said that one of the principles of the liberation and the government that would follow would be a government that is based not on an Iranian model or a Syrian model, but based on a model of freedom, democracy, tolerance, openness, rule of law.
Q On a second subject, Secretary Powell said last night in an interview that there would be consequences for France for its opposition to the U.N. resolution. Can you describe to us what kind of consequences the President believes are appropriate? And tell us a little bit about this meeting that happened on Monday on the subject?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, let me make a couple points: One, you have framed it exactly correct, that was the Secretary's word. That was a question that was posed to him by the journalist who said: will there be consequences? His answer was: yes. I've seen some reports saying that Secretary Powell said that France must pay a price, or that the United States will punish. So if anybody has written those reports, that's an incorrect characterization of what the Secretary said. It is exactly what you said.
By consequence, I think you've seen that played out before you. Relations between the United States and France have been strained over this very issue. That's a consequence that we have to deal with in terms of the bilateral relationship between the United States and France. You have seen that --
Q I think he was talking about future consequences.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, but I think he's also applying it to the very definition of relations between the United States and France. And he was direct and honest. He said, yes, that, indeed, relations between our countries have been strained. And that's no secret to anybody. I think the real surprise or news would have been if he said, no, no consequences -- in other words, pretending that everything is hunky-dory between the United States and France.
We have made -- not been shy about telling you that this has complicated relations between our countries. In the end, the President continues to believe, because of our common values between the United States people and the French people and the government of France and the United States, the alliance will continue, of course, but it has put a strain on the relationship and that's a consequence that is paid.
Q And the meeting?
MR. FLEISCHER: The meeting -- there are typically meetings around here at various staff levels, and I don't discuss any of those meetings.
Q The ACLU has filed suit in San Francisco about this no-fly list, people who supposedly have been put on by the government for political purposes. Is the President aware of this? And, if so, has the White House expressed some concern, or what's the White House's view?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has every confidence that the agencies responsible for securing the homeland are acting in a way that is in accordance with the Constitution and with the powers they have, as well as the Patriot Act, which was passed just recently by the Congress with an overwhelmingly large vote. So he doesn't worry very much about an ACLU suit.
Q Can you just flesh out a little bit more about the communication between the U.S. and Iran, or to Iran -- what level it was, when it happened?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to get too specific about it in terms of who exactly talks, but we have a number of channels to talk to the Iranian government, and they are open and we use them from time to time. We do not have diplomatic relations with Iran, but we have other channels of communication. You're familiar with some of them; you saw that in, for example, the Bonn Conference, which was part of the funding for Afghanistan -- Iran being a neighbor of Afghanistan, participated in the talks at the Bonn Conference. And so there are channels of communication that have been open. And messages get passed, messages were passed.
MR. FLEISCHER: Recently.
Q This week?
Q The past couple days or --
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't have the precise date, but I'll just leave it at recently.
Q Just to follow-up on the road map. The President has said that he's going to spend as much time on this as Tony Blair had on an issue in Northern Ireland, he's there. Can you explain what exactly that means, or define that, how much time he's going to spend? And in what form? Is he going to have a summit? What is he going to do?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians is a major objective for the world, for all -- other than those terrorists -- for all who love peace, peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians is a major objective. And it is something that the President has worked on long and hard.
And one of the reasons that we are now at a hopeful moment in terms of reforms being enacted in the Palestinian Authority, and the Israeli government who is expressing a new willingness to work with the Palestinian interlocutors, is as a result of some of the things that President Bush has done. For example, his June 24th speech, which faced facts, and said that if you want to make progress in the Middle East between the Israelis and the Palestinians, Yasser Arafat is an obstacle to making progress toward peace. The President stated it. And as a result of that, new developments have taken place on the ground.
The President now wants to take advantage of those new developments through the road map, continuing the work that he has done, as you know, worked long and hard, for many of the Arab nations in the region who have been constructive partners in bringing about an environment where, hopefully, now the Israelis and the Palestinians can make progress. It's going to take time, it's going to take effort. But the President is dedicated to it, and so is the Secretary of State.
Q -- about the past, but are there any specifics you can give us in terms of --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, let's allow the Palestinians to finish their business. Let's allow them to take these last two steps after today's important development, so that the Cabinet can be confirmed, that it can be finalized, and that the road map will then be released to the parties. And then, I think you'll see more.
Q Ari, we have said -- administration officials have said that we think some senior Iraqi leaders have gone to Syria. Do we have any similar information about weapons of mass destruction having gone to Syria or some other part of the region?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have no concrete information on that.
Q Is it we don't know, or you won't say?
MR. FLEISCHER: I just have nothing concrete that I can report on that.
Q On the question of Iran, what is it that the U.S. believes Iranians are doing or trying to do in Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'm not going to discuss intelligence. We have some concerns about outside interference in Iraq's road to democracy and we have acted on those concerns and conveyed a message.
But, again, I want to stress that people should not over-interpret the capability of the Shia Iranians to influence the Shia Iraqis. They are not one in the same; they are very different, in fact. Of course, the Iranians are Persian, the Shia Iraqis are Arab and there are important differences that mean the two should not be seen in the same modern context. When you think of the government of Iran and the Shiite government of Iran, and just automatically think same thing for Iraq. Far different cry. The Iraqi people are a far different people. There is no love lost between the Iraqi people and the Iranian people, and that's something that anybody who comes from the outside and tries to influence events on the ground inside Iraq is going to have to recognize -- which is why the first principle for President Bush is that the future of Iraq is up to the Iraqis.
Q You're suggesting that even if the Iranians are messing around somewhere in Iraq, that it is unlikely that they could, in fact, generate some sort of radical Islamic state simply because they happen to be Shia, like many of the people in southern Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm urging you to approach the issue thoughtfully and recognize that not everything is on the inside the same as it may appear on the outside, simply because somebody has the same letters attached -- in this case, the letters that spell Shia.
Q One more question about France, if I may. Is the U.S. contemplating some reduction in the consultations the U.S. has with France, some smaller role in talking things over with the French, and working around the French in international bodies? What is it that the U.S. is contemplating?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think when it comes to Iraq you've heard this expressed very directly. There's a coalition that is involved, that has been involved, that shed blood and lost lives to help provide for the freedom of Iraq. And that coalition is on the ground and is taking the actions to help the Iraqi people to a better future. Our focus is on our mission, and that's what we're doing.
Q But, I mean, in general with relations with France, over any number of issues? I mean, obviously, this has been a difficult moment in U.S.-French relations. How should we anticipate this will be reflected in U.S.-French relations?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think it's been the history of U.S. relations with France, on some issues we agree, on other issues we disagree. Typically, there are, indeed, more that we agree on than we disagree. The disagreements can sometimes become pointed.
I noted with interest France's statement about sanctions and whether the sanctions should be lifted in the United Nations. It's important to note that France has recognized the Iraqi situation has changed as a result of Saddam Hussein's regime now being gone. With it being gone, the President believes that economic sanctions on Iraq are no longer needed. They shouldn't be merely suspended, they should be out-and-out lifted. And that's a difference of opinion between the United States and France on how to get the job done. We're pleased that France has made some moves in this direction; they've got a little more to go.
Q You're saying they've turned the corner, they just haven't gone quite far enough?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll leave it as I put it.
Q Why won't you answer the question about --
MR. FLEISCHER: Greg.
Q Hold on. We're entitled to follow up, Ari -- this isn't homeroom.
MR. FLEISCHER: Greg.
Q Why won't you answer the question about whether or not -- he said there are going to be consequences --
MR. FLEISCHER: David, there are other qualified reporters in here, too, who can follow-up.
Q I didn't say they were not qualified, Ari. I'm saying you're running it like it's homeroom, like we can't follow-up when you're refusing to answer a question that's been posed twice to you, directly. The Secretary of State said that there would be consequences. Why won't you say what they might be?
MR. FLEISCHER: Greg.
Q Do you want to elaborate on what those consequences would be?
MR. FLEISCHER: I addressed it earlier. You heard what I said about consequences.
Q You didn't address it, which is the point. But you can't tolerate that kind of dissent.
Q On the home front, the Senate GOP is beginning the early discussions on their tax bill, which -- a net of $350 billion. Does the White House have a preferred level of revenue raisers they'd like to see added to that bill that would allow you to extend, in effect, the overall size --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think -- the Congress is still on recess. And when they come back, I think they're going to focus in earnest, particularly at the Ways and Means and the Finance Committees, on exactly how they're going to craft the package. And keeping in mind that the House already has a $550-billion target, the Senate, a much smaller target. So we'll work with the committees, see what they come up with. There are all kinds of different ways to get what the President has proposed into the tax cut of $550 billion. And we'll see ultimately where that goes.
Q Two questions, one on Iraq, one on France. On Iraq, is there a debate within the administration over how quickly -- and within the White House, specifically -- about how quickly we should be trying to get out of Iraq altogether?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, it's exactly as was outlined before. We never put a precise timetable on it because it's not a knowable timetable. It's not as if anybody could put a certain date out there in time and say that is the date to come back, or that's the goal to come back. It's more driven by events, facts on the ground. The security situation, the transition to a new government -- those are the end marks that all our policies will work toward. Whatever that date may be, we have made clear that we will stay for as long as it is necessary to get that job done -- not a day longer, but as long as is necessary.
Q But are there differences of opinion in which some administration officials are arguing for a quicker exit than others, who say we need to stay longer?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think it's just as I said it to you.
Q Wait, wait, wait. What does that mean -- to have their differences of opinion in the administration --
MR. FLEISCHER: If you're able to find any, bring it to my attention. But I'm not aware of anything other than support for what the President has said.
Q Okay, one on France. Newt Gingrich yesterday portrayed French opposition to the U.N. resolution on Iraq as part of a larger and long-term French effort to constrain the United States, to rein it in -- hear a direct connection between the vote in the U.N. in 1991 in which the United States was not reelected to the Human Rights Commission, and which the French failure to support us was decisive there and events later on. Does the administration share that view?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think, again, the President will judge each issue by the merits about what comes before us. As you know, the President announced the United States' return to UNESCO, which is based in France. That was done back on September 12th. So there will be a variety of different issues that come up, and the President will make judgments on each of these on the merits
Q But does he share the view that the French government is playing out a long-term strategy to try to co-opt the United States, rein in its influence, and constrain its power?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think you have to ask France what its goals of its policies are. The President knows that France is an ally. We may not see everything the exact same way, and we'll differ on some issues with France. And others, we'll find agreement.
Q Yes, on the Middle East, a couple of quick questions. Does the President have any plans to bring the new prime minister -- the Palestinian Prime Minister to the White House? And, two, are there any plans to convene a new Middle East conference, like, similar to the one after the Persian Gulf War when they had the meeting in Madrid where Secretary Baker called it a window of opportunity?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I think you have to let events take their course here. The road map has not yet been shared with the parties, in the formal sense. And we still await for that to happen. Let the final two steps that need to be taken in the Palestinian Authority be taken. At that point, the road map will be publicly offered -- will be formally offered, and then we will see what events lead to what events from there.
Q Ari, back during the fall, while the U.N. weapons inspectors were on the ground in Iraq, the President many times, and you from this podium many times, praised their professionalism, their ability, their expertise.
In the aftermath now, absent any findings of chemical and biological weapons to date, there is, at least internationally, an awful lot of skepticism about U.S. claims that, you know, justify the war. Given that political context, wouldn't it be appropriate and sensible and valuable for the administration to have U.N. weapons inspectors conducting these searches so that there could be no questions whatsoever about any possible --
MR. FLEISCHER: Dick, we went through this at length yesterday, and nothing has changed from what I said yesterday about the coalition taking the role that it has taken in the search for WMD and about what will come next involving the United Nations and the role of the United Nations. Nothing has changed on that. I saw some stories on the wire this morning that talked about Iraqi scientists who were involved in their program saying they always knew when the inspectors were coming -- which was always a concern that we had about the inspectors, despite their best attempts, and their best abilities, were infiltrated.
Q The credibility questions remain and, certainly, the conditions on the ground now are far different. It won't matter if anyone knows whether they are coming or not, and there may be a better air of cooperation.
MR. FLEISCHER: Dick, what I said yesterday applies today. We have the utmost confidence that, at the point where, as a result of the protocols that I outlined earlier for the discovery of the WMD, one is found, we don't see a credibility issue here at all. We see a world that is focused on what we are doing, understands why we're doing it, and it'll be a process that has been and is transparent.
Q Ari, can I ask you to look ahead to the Ohio trip tomorrow? Is this a post-war re-launch, if you will, of the tax cut campaign? And, also, if this is not an attempt to twist George Voinovich's arm, then what is it?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is going to travel to numerous states to make the case for his economic growth stimulus package and for the tax cut. The purpose of the President's travel to Ohio tomorrow is to talk to Ohio constituents, and people who live there, about the need to pass the tax cuts so they can have more growth in the economy. The President looks forward to talking to the people of Ohio about how to create jobs, not only in Ohio, but across the country. And he will, tomorrow, in his speech, call for congressional passage of the tax cut.
Q But it is not part of a lobbying campaign to bring him and the other GOP moderates on board?
MR. FLEISCHER: We've always said that the President is going to work to put together a majority, a majority from wherever it comes, from all 50 states that have senators. We want to work with everybody who can provide a vote for this package, where a vote is possible. And the President will not be shy about making his case.
Q Are you aware that a spokesman for Voinovich is quoted on the wire today as saying that the President does not have a snowball's chance in hell of getting him to change his position?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President will continue to make his case, and the President looks forward to talking to the Senator.
Q Ari, two things. First of all, there were reports today that terrorist efforts were thwarted during this war, against U.S. soldiers. What can the White House say about this?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there have been numerous instances where, as a result of the work of our armed forces, attacks on American troops were prevented. General Brooks has briefed on several of them. He showed a very interesting video yesterday about some of the techniques that have been used by -- or would have been used by Iraqis if they had been successful. They were not, fortunately.
Q So you consider this another victory against, in this ongoing line of victories in this war, that the White House feels that they have?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, clearly, in the armed conflict in Iraq, there were numerous attempts that the President viewed the work of our armed forces as being exemplary in preventing greater harm to American troops, whether it was from terrorism, or whether it was from out-and-out combat.
Q And second thing, Democrats on livid with their hearing
that President Bush, for his reelection bid, will begin his campaign around 9/11. Democrats are saying that once again it's a shameless way to promote himself. What are your thoughts?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, you know, the President hasn't said anything about when he is going to begin to campaign for reelection, so I don't know what basis anybody has for concluding when the President is going to begin that. The President is focused on doing the job he's elected to do, which is governing, and that's what people have seen.
Q Two questions. Are you any closer to a declaration of the cessation of hostilities, military activities in Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: Anything like that you would hear from the President, and he's still waiting to hear from General Franks.
Q Can you elaborate on President Bush's reported statements that he has no plans for any further military actions? How does that affect the anti-terrorism war or the doctrine of preemption?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think it speaks for itself. The war against terrorism is continuing. The President is talking about in a large operational sense. The President talked about the current operational abilities that we have that are being conducted in Afghanistan and in the Philippines to help win the war on terror. But I think the remarks of the President spoke for themselves.
Q Ari, part of my question has been answered already. But in an interview with Dan Rather, Jordan's King Abdullah says the major problem in the Middle East is still the Israeli- Palestinian one. He said there can be no peace in the region, including Iraq, until the problem is solved. Does the President agree?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the Middle East is a very complicated region where many different problems come into play. And certainly the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians is one of the most important ones. And that's why the President has dedicated the time he has to it. That's why we're hopeful that we're on the verge of some positive moments involving reform of the Palestinian Authority and then actions between the Israelis and the Palestinians to create peace between them.
That effort will now be assisted by the fact that one of the greatest sponsors of terror and suicide bombings no longer exists, and that's the Iraqi regime's support for the suicide bombers who took lives in Israel.
Q Ari, I guess the first day of talks concluded today in Beijing, among the Chinese, Americans and North Koreans. Can you say whether the President was briefed on that first day of talks, any reaction he might have had, and what his overall goal is in this week's round?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the initial discussions are still underway. They met today. I anticipate there will be additional discussions. And so we will allow the discussions to continue and see what exactly comes out of them. I remind you this is the initial phase of them.
Q What does the President hope to come out of this round this week?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President's hope is that this will lead to greater stability on the Korean Peninsula, and the way to create greater stability on the Korean Peninsula is for the North Koreans to agree to the permanent dismantlement of their nuclear weapons programs. It is, after all, the North Korean actions in moving forward with their nuclear programs that has brought the region to the point of instability that it is at. So the best way to remove the source of the problem is for North Korea to address it.
Again, I stress these are initial talks, and we will see where they lead to.
Q Ari, you said the President doesn't comment on Supreme Court cases, but he did weigh-in on the Michigan affirmative action case. I mean, is this Texas sodomy law too much of a hot potato with the Republican base, the President doesn't -- or the administration doesn't want to weigh-in?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's why I said the President typically doesn't. I think that what you saw on that case with the affirmative action in the Michigan case, the President held a news conference, addressed it, gave a speech about it. But that's a very, very rare event. Typically, the Supreme Court cases are things that happen scores of times a year without the President's participation.
Q How does he respond to criticism from gay groups, Democrats, that Senator Santorum's comments are another example of the Republican Party being intolerant, lack of diversity? Is this hurting the President's attempt to fashion a more inclusive, compassionate party?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I addressed it earlier.
Q I thought I understood when Secretary Powell said it, until I heard your answer, so let me -- help me out here. The way it was reported, anyhow, was the Secretary, based on his one-word answer, was that Secretary Powell said there will be consequences based on the fallout with France on Iraq. Is that a correct interpretation of what he said?
MR. FLEISCHER: The question was, are there consequences. He said, yes.
Q Okay. Do you think there will be consequences because of the fallout?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you're watching the consequences. And the consequences are still with us, and the consequences are a somewhat strained relationship between the United States and France.
Q Is that the only consequence, is a strained relationship? What are the consequences of a strained relationship?
MR. FLEISCHER: Issue by issue, different issues will arise and will be judged on the merits. And we shall see when that happens. As a result --
Q Will they be judged any differently --
MR. FLEISCHER: France made an interesting statement about sanctions, a statement which we believe they have room to go farther. We hope that they do. But, indeed, they took a step. That's a consequence of it. Perhaps that as a result of the strain in the relations, France saw this as an opportunity to take a step toward our position. We welcome that. We believe that there are more to go.
Q You're speaking for France here, which I know you don't like to do. I would like you to speak for the President, when he looks at these issues, one by one, does he look at --
MR. FLEISCHER: I can't make a prediction about things not yet happened.
Q Does he look at them through a different prism? Is that one of the consequences, that he looks --
MR. FLEISCHER: I can't make a prediction about things not yet happened. I think the consequence played out in the phone call between President Chirac and President Bush, where the President viewed it as a businesslike phone call.
Q Is that a past-tense thing, that there was a consequence, and the strained relation is now behind? Or there are consequences coming?
MR. FLEISCHER: You'll be in a position to witness it. I can't predict every future event, and every future event will be judged on the merits. And sometimes the United States and France will agree on the merits, sometimes we'll disagree.
Q But are you saying -- obviously, we don't look at France the same way as we did six months ago -- is that fair to say?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, clearly, we had a very major difference on an issue of tremendous importance to President Bush.
Q Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.
END 1:55 P.M. EDT