Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer - Sept. 10 2002
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 10, 2002
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:10 P.M. EDT
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. Let me give you a report on the President's day. The President began with a National Security Council meeting. He had his intelligence briefings, followed by an FBI briefing. And the President, continuing his series of phone calls to leaders around the world in advance of his Thursday speech, called President Asnar of Spain, and President Uribe of Colombia. He will later call President Fox of Mexico, to continue the consultation process.
The President, also this morning, met with the Prime Minister of Portugal, where they talked about the war against terrorism, and they also talked about the upcoming meeting in the Czech Republic dealing with NATO expansion.
Later this afternoon the President will depart the White House and make remarks at the Embassy of Afghanistan and meet with a group of Arab and Muslim American leaders. The President will talk about the importance in our free society of tolerance and respect, particularly as the anniversary of the attack on our country approaches.
And finally, I want to draw your attention -- there will be a 1:15 p.m. news conference at the Department of Justice involving Homeland Security Director Ridge and Attorney General Ashcroft, to discuss the evolving security situation. I'm not at liberty to get into any details about that in this briefing. They will have information for you at their briefing.
Q Can you confirm for us that the alert is being raised to orange, a high risk of terrorism, specifically threats against U.S. embassies abroad?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, anything more specific than that will be given out at that news conference.
Q Do you have any idea what caused this raised level of threat?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I'm not going to -- anything more specific than that will be coming from them. Let me just say that the government continues to monitor the security situation. Our abilities have been enhanced since September 11th, and through the efforts of the department of homeland security and other agencies that work very hard, we are in a constant state of monitoring what we can learn about the intentions of any of our enemies to bring harm to the United States. Based on any of the information we receive, that's what determines the various levels of the color codes.
Q Are you confirming that it was raised?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not.
Q Ari, there's a lot -- I understand that Justice is going to talk about it -- a lot of people who are watching you now across the country who may be wondering, since this is the first time that the threat level has been raised, and with the anniversary tomorrow, what's the President's view of -- from a safety point of view, people out to mark 9/11? Should they take specific actions or not take specific actions on such a solemn and potentially dangerous day, based on this?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President thinks the American people should absolutely take specific actions, and those specific actions are to live their lives, to honor the memories of those who were lost, to pay respects to the families and the loved ones of those families attacked and killed on September 11th. The American people need to live their lives. That's the best thing the American people can do to send a signal to anybody who would do us harm.
The law enforcement community, the private sector that secures the infrastructure, they all are part of the developments in the Office of Homeland Security, to continue to harden America's assets to make us harder to hit. And the law enforcement community is in constant touch with the federal government at all levels, and so if there are any changes, that would be where people would expect to see any changes, as the law enforcement community steps up its protections of the country.
Q Ari, on Iraq. The Prime Minister of Portugal said that it's a global problem, requires a global response. Prime Minister Blair in his speech today said that action will be taken against Iraq if he does not comply with U.N. resolutions. Is this a clear indication that the President will be moving through the United Nations on any further action, or future action against Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President will be giving an important speech to the United Nations on Thursday in which he will discuss his thinking about how to deal with the threat that Saddam Hussein poses to the United States and to others. And the President looks forward to giving that address. It will be before a large number of ambassadors and leaders who represent the world.
Q Can you speak to Prime Minister Blair's comments this morning? You said that you would at this briefing.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President welcomes Prime Minister Blair's strong leadership in the war on terror. Prime Minister Blair represents the thoughts of many who were concerned about liberty and freedom, and the President looks forward to giving a speech Thursday at the United Nations.
Q I don't mean to monopolize your time, but what Blair said this morning about action will be taken if Iraq continues to ignore U.N. resolutions, is that a clear reflection of the President's thinking?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me leave it where I put it, and the President will be speaking in his own voice on Thursday.
Q Ari, if I could just link the two subjects in a question that I don't like asking, but needs to be asked. Can you assure the American people that this elevated threat alert is not part of the administration's effort to convince people that the danger is such that military action against Iraq is necessary?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think any further questions on that will be addressed to the Director of Homeland Security and the Attorney General.
Q But you can assure us that the assessment is entirely related to --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think any follow-up questions to something that I, myself, have not announced need to be addressed to the Attorney General and to the Director of Homeland Security.
Q Is there any link to Iraq on this threat?
MR. FLEISCHER: Any questions need to be addressed to those two individuals.
Q Will the President keep his public schedule?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes.
Q Do you have a readout on the Portuguese meeting? Did the President hear what he wanted to hear from the Prime Minister?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President -- I'm not going to characterize the remarks of the Prime Minister. It's always the prerogative of the other nations that visit with the President to characterize their own statements. The President welcomed the President of Portugal to the Oval Office. They had a very good meeting. The President talked about his concerns about the threat that Saddam Hussein poses. The President said that he is looking forward to giving his speech on Thursday at the United Nations. And I think that Portugal and the people of Portugal and people around the world will have a very full and clear sense of what the President thinks after the speech is given.
Q Ari, two questions?
MR. FLEISCHER: Kelly.
Q First, on the Vice President, can you tell us why he's been spending the night at a secure, undisclosed location? And is it precautionary, or is it due to some specific threat?
MR. FLEISCHER: I will confirm that the Vice President last night spent the night at a secure, undisclosed location. And, as was the case last year, based on an ongoing review of information that is received, as well as out of precaution, the combinations of the two are what makes these determinations necessary. And so, I do confirm that.
Q Is he there now?
Q Let me just follow up -- is he going to continue to work out of an undisclosed location -- keep his public schedule?
MR. FLEISCHER: Any further -- any further announcements about his schedule, I'm not going to make certainly in advance. And those announcements would come from the Vice President's office in any case.
Q Was he here this morning?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm sorry? He was here this morning, as I was speaking this morning. But the question was about where he will be later today. If you're asking me where he is at this very moment, I don't know.
Q Just confirming, though, one night only, or has it been a few nights?
MR. FLEISCHER: Any further information, you need to ask the Vice President's office.
Q Should we view that the President will be issuing an ultimatum on Thursday to Saddam Hussein, either comply with resolutions or face consequences?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's getting close enough to the time of the speech that you'll have all these answerers very shortly, you'll be able to hear from the President himself. And I don't think it would be my position to give his speech for him.
Q But the message in general -- Tony Blair sort of put it out there -- is that a fair assessment, that Saddam either -- this diplomacy one last time works, or there will be military action?
MR. FLEISCHER: You can reflect on what Prime Minister Blair said today, and you'll be able to reflect on what the President says on Thursday.
Q Ari, two quick questions. One, former President Bill Clinton the other day, he said that Osama bin Laden is not dead, and terrorists are -- al Qaeda terrorists are still in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And why we are not getting them and why don't we get them? But Vice President Cheney said that I'd like to see him to be handcuffed, but I don't know where he is, maybe he has moved out of the -- to another country. So what do you think, both of them?
MR. FLEISCHER: We continue to not have anything definitive. The President does not know if Osama bin Laden is dead or alive. Nothing has changed in that regard. It's a frequently asked question, but that doesn't change whether the President has any updated information. He does not. We do not know.
Q Ari, now that the Office of Homeland Security is once again in the spotlight, how does the President or the White House view the negotiations that are taking place in the Senate? Does he think there's any progress in the Senate toward the President's decision, or is it still in the air?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the progress of the legislation can be summed up in one word, and that is, slow. It is important that America know that it will have a new Cabinet-level department of homeland security to protect the country. And this issue has been passed by the House of Representatives, it's moving slowly in the Senate. And the President has been calling on the Senate to pass this for quite a lengthy period of time. And the President remains hopeful and will continue to help the Senate so they can get this passed. But the President would like the Senate to pass it -- it still has to go to a conference committee, and there's not much time left in this Congress. So we'll continue to work diligently with the Senate to help them so they can get this done, but it's been slow.
Q And a second question, Ari, the President been on the phone speaking to world leaders about the situation in Iraq. Is he receiving messages -- I don't necessarily mean phone calls -- is he receiving messages from leaders around the world on the occasion of the first anniversary of the 11th of September?
MR. FLEISCHER: He is. In many of the calls that the President makes, as he talks about his speech on Thursday, foreign leaders offer on their own their thoughts and their sympathies for the American people as the one-year anniversary approaches. These messages are in many ways heartening, to hear these leaders express their solidarity with the United States.
Q -- the diplomatic messages for the State Department arriving from other countries?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think anything arriving at the State Department you need to ask the State Department about.
Q I mean, addressed to the President.
MR. FLEISCHER: You know, correspondence is correspondence. I can just report to you on the President's phone calls and what he's thinking about these issues.
Q Can you talk a little more about what the point of the speech to the Afghan Embassy is, or what the message --
MR. FLEISCHER: The speech at the Afghan Embassy is really going to be about tolerance, tolerance and respect in the United States. If you remember, the attack on the United States took place on September 11th, and then on September the 17th, six days later, the President traveled to the Islamic Center in Washington to make certain that all Americans heard the message that Arab Americans and Muslim Americans love our country just as much as anybody else. And that's an important message, and the President wanted to sound it again here on the day before the anniversary.
Q Ari, can you comment on the reports that surface-to-air missiles have been deployed in various locations in and around Washington?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, sure, there's a news release that went out. This is very public; it's part of the training exercises for Clear Skies II. If you recall, there was similar Clear Skies I training exercises that took place earlier this year, and I'd refer you for anything beyond that to the Pentagon. But this is all very public, well-announced, and it's exactly as I indicated it would be.
Q Ari, the Senate overwhelmingly passed nearly $6 billion in drought aid today. I'm wondering, is the White House going to accept that, or what's the deal on that?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President very much would like to help those people who have been affected by this drought. The drought has been severe and many people need help, and the President is dedicated to giving them the help they deserve. And so the President will work with the Congress to pass help for these farmers. He believes we can do it and should do it in a way that is within budget limitations and that does not bust the budget.
Q Is that $6 billion within -- would that bust the budget, or not? I mean, do you support what the Senate did today?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President will continue to work with Congress. This is one body's action on it, on this matter. Ultimately, it will get settled in a conference committee. But the President wants to make sure that we can do two things. One is help those who need help; and two, do so in a manner that's fiscally responsible.
Q Ari, what are the President and the White House doing right now to bring along members of Congress, particularly Democrats, on Iraq policy?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, Dr. Rice and Director Tenet of the CIA went up and briefed Hill leaders today. As you know, the Vice President went up and briefed Hill leaders earlier. And so there constantly will continually be a flow of information to the leaders on the Hill. And I think Thursday's speech will be informative for many members of Congress. Even though they won't be at the U.N., they certainly will hear what the President has on his mind. And the administration will continue to listen carefully to the voices in the Congress, and we welcome the hearings that the Congress will shortly begin on the topic of Iraq. Of course, Senator Biden's committee -- these will be a continuation of the hearings he's already begun.
Q What are the chances of a news conference with the President to build on Thursday's remarks? Will we be seeing him Friday?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I would not anticipate one this week.
Q And also, when will we get a chance to ask him some questions about --
MR. FLEISCHER: You will have a chance this afternoon. The President's going to be -- have a press pool this afternoon.
Q -- his speech this afternoon?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not how you can judge that's a preemption. But the President -- the President frequently takes questions from the pool, as you know. And he'll continue to do that.
Q But what about a news conference to build on Thursday's remarks?
MR. FLEISCHER: As always, any time there's a news conference, we'll let you know.
Q Is it under consideration?
MR. FLEISCHER: News conferences are always under consideration. (Laughter.)
Q Following on Richard's question, the President has now talked with congressional leaders and also made phone calls to a number of world leaders. Is the President encountering any difficulties in making the initial case here against -- on his policy with Iraq, when as you've said repeatedly, he has yet to decide how he's going to act?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the purpose of the calls is to touch base with these foreign leaders. He stresses to each of them that he intends to consult along the way and will constantly be in reach and in touch at all levels of government. And then he invites them to listen carefully to his remarks on Thursday.
There are a variety of ways that the President reaches out to foreign leaders. One is, of course, direct, on the phone; others are through the President's public statements, particularly in the more notable settings, the more important speeches such as Thursday's speech; and there will be other ways, through other administration officials. For example, the President has already said that he'll be sending teams of people out to various capitals around the world to continue the consultations. So it's going to be ongoing at multiple levels. And I think the reaction has been from these leaders that they welcome this type of consultation.
Q Thank you. The streets around the White House seem inordinately quiet. Do you sense fear and concern on the part of the people? And how do you reconcile the two advices, to live a normal life, but to be vigilant at the same time?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, no, I don't think the President detects that at all in the American people. I think in the American people, the President detects what has always been found in our people, and that is a fantastic, wonderful strength, that has made us the strongest and the freest nation. And we've had attacks on our country, and every time after an attack the United States responded in a fashion that represented justice, and we brought more freedom to the world. Because as the President has said, particularly vis-a-vis Afghanistan, we did not go into Afghanistan to conquer, we went in to liberate, which is exactly how the people of Afghanistan reacted when they had their cities and their towns returned to them.
And so the President sees in the American people -- and he'll talk a little bit about this in his remarks -- a fantastic eternal strength. And the American people, when they hear information about threats to our country, particularly going back in the aftermath of September 11th, they've shown a resiliency, an ability to understand that two things go on at once -- that the American people can and will live their normal lives, and that security people and police are paid to take care of the security situation, and they've done a masterful job at it and will continue to work hard to do so.
Q Ari, on drought relief, I thought the administration's position was that the new farm bill, that mammoth farm bill had money in it to deal with drought relief, and that you did not want to pursue drought relief through emergency spending. Is the administration now talking about --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there are a number of ways to do this in a manner that both helps the farmers, which is important, and also does it in a fiscally responsible manner. The farm bill does have plenty of funding in it to handle many different issues. And the President will continue to work with Congress to see what the most appropriate way is to bring this help to the people who need it.
Q Are you contemplating supporting emergency spending measures for drought relief, or would you prefer to see it all come out of the farm bill?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there are various different ways, as I indicated, of working to get something that's final result is fiscally responsible, in the President's judgment. And he'll continue to take a look at what the Congress is working on. I don't think we've heard the last word from the Congress on this issue.
Q So you're open to emergency spending for drought relief?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President has said it needs to be done in a fiscally responsible way.
Q Was there -- what was the White House reaction to Prime Minister Blair's speech, and was there any coordination with its timing?
MR. FLEISCHER: I've already given a reaction to the speech. On the coordination of it, I think it's fair to say when the President met with the Prime Minister, they had a good exchange of ideas. They strongly understand each other's positions, and there were no surprises. But it's really at that level. It's not as if Tony Blair hands a copy of his speech to President Bush, or that President Bush hands a copy of his speech to Tony Blair prior to giving it. But you can assume that the two have a very clear understanding of each other's positions.
Q When the President, as he put it, started a process last week, he was explicit about gaining congressional approval. Now you're talking about members of Congress hearing Mr. -- hearing the President's ideas at his speech on Thursday. Has the importance of the U.N. in this process grown, and can you characterize the importance the President attaches to the U.N. as he pursues his objectives in Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think that the -- that people around the world will reach their own conclusions about the importance of the United Nations, given the fact that the United Nations has passed many resolutions that call on Saddam Hussein to disarm, to get rid of the weapons that he has, to abandon the pursuit of the weapons of mass destruction, especially the chemical, the biological and the ballistic missiles. And that judgment is still out about whether the U.N. has done a good job in enforcing its resolutions.
Q That's not what he asked. He asked you what the President and the White House think.
MR. FLEISCHER: What does the White House think? You'll get that Thursday when the President gives his speech.
Q Thank you. I know part of my question was already asked, but I have another part. The Pentagon is now conducting an air defense exercise in and around Washington, using a Avenger surface-to-air missile launchers that are not equipped with missiles. On the eve of 9/11, is this very smart? (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, the answer is that this is an exercise and this is a drill that is being carried out. There are numerous ways that the Homeland Security Office, the Department of Defense have to protect the American people -- CAPs are one of those ways. And so there are various ways, but this is in a different context. This is, as the Pentagon indicated, a drill.
Q Yesterday, the Prime Minister of Canada said, after discussing the Iraqi situation with the President, that the President hadn't offered him any new evidence or proof that Hussein is currently or doing anything new in terms of pursuit of these weapons. And some members have had briefings, closed-door briefings from administration officials, like the Defense Secretary, CIA Director, and have emerged from those meetings and say the same thing. Does the President have new information, new evidence gathered within the last six months, or is he simply content to press the case based on what the world has already known about Saddam Hussein?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has said, and you heard this repeatedly on the Sunday shows from the Secretary of State, from the National Security Advisor, from the Vice President, from the Secretary of Defense -- that there already is, based on what we know, a mountain of evidence about the threat that Saddam Hussein poses to the United States, to our interests abroad and to our friends and allies around the world. And based on that, as well as other information, the President is going to discuss at the United Nations the threat that he sees in Saddam Hussein.
Q By "other information," what do you mean?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, it's the beginning of a process, and as the President reflects on various issues, the President will continue to discuss his case. But, make no mistake, based on what President Bush and the national security team know already, and has been known, Saddam Hussein presents a threat to the United States.
Q Even if there's nothing new?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll leave you with that conclusion.
Q Ari, has the U.N. failed the world in not addressing Saddam more aggressively and quicker?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President would hope that that would never be the case, that the U.N. would fail the world.
Q He doesn't feel that the U.N. has failed the world --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think, again -- I understand the questions, but I am going to say that the President will give this speech on Thursday, and it's just not the staff's role or job to give it for him on his behalf. He'll be doing it Thursday, and you'll have the answers to many of these questions then.
Q On the issue of cybersecurity, the Office of Cybersecurity reportedly will be presenting recommendations next week to the President on how to secure computers, whether at universities, even at home. And according to The Washington Post, some of these recommendations are just going to be for voluntary compliance, rather than requirement by the federal government. How does the administration weigh in on this? And is the administration in favor of a privacy czar?
MR. FLEISCHER: The issue of cybersecurity is an important part of the overall defensive efforts, and it's a focus that has been brought to the security team. And I think it's too soon to predict when any report that the cyber people have been working on will be ready. There is ongoing -- work that is ongoing about that project, and so I would not leap to any conclusions about when they will have something. They're continuing to work hard on a review of cyber policy.
Q And what is the position of having a privacy czar to make sure that individual and businesses' privacy is not --
MR. FLEISCHER: Paula, let me see if I've got anything on that, and I'll post it if I do.
Q Ari, as a follow-up to this morning, do you have anything more on terrorism insurance? Are you guys close to a deal?
MR. FLEISCHER: I did not get an update on that. I think we'll be able to get you something today, but I did not get it yet.
Q Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.
END 12:33 P.M. EDT