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White House Gaggle with Ari Fleischer October 22

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 22, 2002

Press Gaggle with Ari Fleischer
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Downingtown, Pennsylvania

Campaigning / Pennsylvania and Maine
North Korea
U.N. Resolution / Russian Reaction
Sniper
Regime Change in Iraq
9:41 A.M. EDT

MR. FLEISCHER: Hello, troops. Sorry about this. I figured do it now, even though it's a short flight, or we won't get it done for quite a while.

The President this morning is going to be campaigning in Downingtown, Pennsylvania, to support state Senator Jim Gerlach's congressional campaign; Attorney General Mike Fisher's gubernatorial campaign; and the rest of the Pennsylvania Republican ticket. Then he will travel to Maine, 2nd District, where he will campaign on behalf of Kevin Raye's campaign, Senator Susan Collins reelection campaign, Peter Cianchette's gubernatorial campaign, Steven Joyce's 1st congressional district campaign, and the rest of the Maine Republican candidates.

Then the President will return to the White House this evening, and that is his schedule for the day.

Q Ari, what's your -- overnight the North Koreans reacted in a fairly hostile way, saying that they might have to take unspecified -- let me get the exact quote for you -- "tougher counter-action" if the United States doesn't agree to talk to them about their nuclear program. What's your reaction?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we continue to approach this in a multilateral fashion. We're meeting and consulting with our allies about a common approach, and once that determination is made we will have something to say. We're still consulting.

Q Are you ruling out the possibility of resuming talks with them at some point?

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, nothing is ruled in, nothing is ruled out. We're continuing to consult.

Q Do you see this as particularly threatening, this language of tougher counter-action or counter-measures?

MR. FLEISCHER: There's no question the President has accurately labeled North Korea as part of an axis of evil. But the response remains the same; we're going to consult.

Q -- is reporting the Russian reaction to the latest resolution is that they find it "unacceptable." What is your reaction to that?

MR. FLEISCHER: One, that's the first I've heard such reaction. I think you can anticipate, as we've seen throughout this multi-week process, a series of statements, sometimes which are not supported by what is said in private. We'll continue the work in the United Nations. It is ongoing. It is coming down to the end. The United Nations does not have forever, and we'll continue to work it and see when we get an agreement, if we get an agreement, how to proceed.

Q -- you say that the United Nations can't do this forever. I mean, is that signaling an impatience on your part?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it's a fact that they don't have forever. The United Nations is entering the final stages on this, and we would like to see an agreement reached.

Q Ari, just for the record, are you still opposed to a two-resolution process?

MR. FLEISCHER: Correct, that position remains the same; one resolution is appropriate.

Q A couple questions. On the political stuff, Gerlach, it seems to me -- it looks like the race is pretty much going his way. Why does the President feel -- the same with Collins in Maine -- why does the President feel it's necessary to make these particular stops?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the decisions about where to campaign are made based on where we -- the judgment is that the President can do the most good and be the most help. And obviously, the conclusion is to go to the places where we're going to. So a lot of care and thought goes into it, and the President wants to be helpful wherever he thinks it can make a good difference.

Q Ari, why is Andy Card, Calio, Steve Hadley, a lot of sort of administration fire power on this trip. What are you all doing here today?

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, I noticed that as well.

Q Why are you all here?

MR. FLEISCHER: Andy is here principally because the President is going to Maine, and Andy -- the President is going to Maine. And always does the trips to Maine, out of personal interest. And Nick was here because we were expecting several members of Congress to be on the flight and actually some of them got delayed in traffic this morning and could not make it.

Q So who's on the flight?

MR. FLEISCHER: Senator Specter is here.

Q Okay, and then --

MR. FLEISCHER: Let me see if I can give you all that.

Q Santorum?

MR. FLEISCHER: Let me verify the names and make -- Senator Santorum was going to be on the flight and is not.

Q Was he on the Beltway or someplace?

MR. FLEISCHER: I can't -- you have to get that from the individual staff. I don't think it's appropriate for me to --

Q How many were supposed to be on board, and are we just with Senator Specter now?

MR. FLEISCHER: Let me see how many were supposed to be on board. Specter is the only one I saw.

Q Is it fair to assume that most of the people who missed it missed it because of the traffic, lockdown after the shooting?

MR. FLEISCHER: I have no idea.

Q Is the sniper information part of the President's regular daily brief from the FBI?

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes. The President this morning was informed about the latest shooting. And again, his heart goes out to those who are affected, not only the victims of the crime and their families, but everybody in the Washington area whose lives are so tossed about as a result of this. And the President hopes that the sniper will be caught, and caught as soon as possible.

Q How was he informed, do you know?

MR. FLEISCHER: Through his FBI briefing this morning.

Q The FBI --

MR. FLEISCHER: You know, it's not clear to me if the President knew about it on his own, prior to the briefing, which is always possible.

Q Ari, no more fundraisers for the President from here until election day?

MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct, none are scheduled and I don't anticipate any.

Q Would you characterize his feelings now about the election? Is he optimistic, pessimistic?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President leaves these matters up to the voters. He's not in the prediction business. The President thinks, though, one of the best ways to break some of the gridlock in Washington so prescription drugs can be given to seniors, so America can become more energy independent, and so we can have fiscal restraint is by electing people who will support his agenda.

Q On the sniper, does the President support the task force using the media to transmit messages and doing --

MR. FLEISCHER: Those are the judgments that local law enforcement will make and federal professionals will make with local enforcement. The President doesn't micromanage it.

THE PRESS: Thanks, Ari.

Q Does regime change mean that you want to change the leader of Iraq, or you want to change the nature of the regime?

MR. FLEISCHER: The objective is for Saddam Hussein's Iraq to disarm, to stop threatening its neighbors, to stop repressing minorities within its own country. And that's why Congress passed the policy of regime change.

Q Well, which of those definitions is correct?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, let's do it -- let me cut to the bottom line on it. What I would propose is that in the event Saddam Hussein gives the order, and under his leadership and direction disarms Iraq, gives up its weapons of mass destruction, has no more chemical weapons, no more biological weapons, stops using hostility as a way to deal with its neighbors, stops repression of minorities with his own country, give me a call. After you cover Saddam Hussein doing these things, let's talk about it. Until then, the President is focused on making sure that these developments take place as a result either of the U.N. resolutions being enforced, or by whoever in Iraq taking these actions to make it happen. But this is probably the mother of all hypotheticals. Give me a phone call when it happens.

Q But can you define --

Q Why not just say we want him Saddam to go? Why not just say we want him overthrown, we want him out?

MR. FLEISCHER: The policy is regime change. Saddam Hussein is the heart of the regime.

Q But can you define regime change? Can regime change exist, and Saddam still be in power?

MR. FLEISCHER: This is like how many angels, or in this case, how many devils can dance on the head of a pin.

Q -- you guys use all the time. This is crucial, you have to define it.

MR. FLEISCHER: The resolution that Congress passed didn't define regime change.

Q This is the President of the United States. Forget Congress, what does regime change mean? Does it mean that Saddam Hussein can stay in power?

MR. FLEISCHER: It means exactly what I said.

Q No, it doesn't mean -- then what did you say? Say it again.

MR. FLEISCHER: I said, it means that

(NOTE TRANSCRIPT APPEARS TO END PREMATURELY...)

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