House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer
Smithsburg High School (via teleconference)
September 15, 2001
12:35 P.M. EDT
MR. FLEISCHER: The President woke up at his usual early hour. He walked Barney
and Spot at about 5:30 a.m. this morning. He went for a run. He also called
President Aznar of Spain and Fox of Mexico. Then he had intelligence briefings,
security briefings this morning. And then recorded the radio address. You all
saw him at the pool, at the beginning of the NSC meeting.
The NSC meeting ended, as scheduled, at noon. And as we speak, the President
and the members of his team are having lunch up at Camp David, and then they'll
get back together again for a dinner with the wives, spouses, tonight. And that's
my update on what he's done today. So with that, I'm more than happy to take
any questions you may have.
QUESTION: Hi, Ari. Could you describe this meeting and tell me whether it was
a decision-making meeting , any decisions have come out of it, et cetera?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes. I saw somebody quoted saying, "a decision-making meeting"
- an official without a name. I can only tell you all these meetings are for
the purpose of making decisions. I would not look at today's meeting in any
different light than the many meetings that have taken place before and the
many meetings that are going to take place after it. It's part of an ongoing
process where the President and his team gather information, analyze information
, make certain determinations and decisions and get ready for the next round
of information that they collect.
QUESTION: Were there any determinations or decisions made today?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to get into any specifics of these meetings. The
other thing I know is it's a Saturday and, you know, it's different because
everybody is at Camp David. But this is the same ground rules that if you knew
about a meeting here in the Situation Room of the President and his team, I
wouldn't indicate what took place in this building, so I certainly won't indicate
what's taking place at Camp David.
QUESTION: And, finally, does it resume tomorrow?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, at this moment there is no scheduled meeting of the National
Security Council. The President will continue to have smaller, individualized
briefings, as he always does. But there is no meeting of the entire National
QUESTION: Good morning, Ari.
MR. FLEISCHER: Good morning, Mark. You don't need to use the phone, I can hear
you here from Camp David. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Thanks a lot. You said the meeting ended around noon. Did it begin
promptly at 9:30 a.m., so it was a two-and-a-half hour meeting?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, you all were in there, the pool. And it began as soon as
you left. So set your clock by when you walked out of that room..
QUESTION: And this afternoon, there are no further meetings? It's just the dinner
with spouses this evening?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct. But I'd never rule out informal chit-chat. But
that's correct, no more planned, scheduled meetings.
QUESTION: Could a U.S. response come at any time?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it depends. As the President said in his radio address
this morning - let me find his exact words - he said, you'll be asked for your
patience, for the conflict will not be short; you'll be asked for resolve; the
conflict will not be easy - because victory may be long.
You know, there is an enemy who wants to know, so I'm not going to give any
indications about -
Q That's not us, right? (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: No, it is not. (Laughter.) But I'm just not going to give any
indication to the enemy. Let them fret it and worry about it. But patience will
be required in many ways from the American people.
Q Okay, thanks very much.
Q Hi, Ari. Can you describe some of the thinking among top advisors that went
into what was a distinctly stepped-up and stronger tone today, if you look at
the President's language that he used, and describe to what extent the President
now feels it's important to frame issues differently for the public and how
that might have changed, even over the last couple of days?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the natural reaction to an attack on our country is twofold.
It is reassuring and it is resolve. And they will both continue. Having said
that, there is a natural process where the events - where at the timing of the
event passes with each day, the planning proceeds each day. And so there is
an ongoing process that shifts into the planning phase and the action phase.
And the President is preparing the nation for that.
QUESTION: But is there a sense that the country is ready now, and needs to get
ready -- in other words, the President needs to really start setting some parameters
and start defining what's happening and what's about to happen to rally the
public and to educate them, in a sense?
MR. FLEISCHER: Actually, if anything, it's a subtle variation of that. The country
is ready. The issue is, as the President has said, he will act when the time
is right, then he will act decisively. And so while the public is ready today,
the President will act when the moment and the time is right. There is no question
America is rallied and ready. The President will only act when the time is right.
QUESTION: Hi, Ari. Let me follow on David's question. On David's question, the
President saying, we're at war, and steeling the country for this in very, very
stirring and urgent language. How is he going to balance that with his request
that the country try and get back into its normal business?
MR. FLEISCHER: The history with our country is, our country does both, and it
does both very well. The country is ready, and the country knows that as the
war preparations are made, that every citizen has a role to play - by doing
their job, by going to work, by resuming their life, by enjoying their recreation.
The stronger the fabric of our country, the stronger our ability to carry out
the military mission.
QUESTION: On another issue, the President once again said today that we'll deal
not only with those that dare attack America, we'll deal with those who harbor
and feed and house them. How ready are you to talk about whether that means
states and governments, or are you just looking for people hiding in holes,
as he said?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'm not going to define it. The President has left it undefined,
but he's made it clear that this will not be an exercise meant to move on a
level that is not comprehensive or fundamental.
QUESTION: Should states be on notice?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has not defined it. He has said, whoever engages
in activities that harbor -- he hasn't - or ruled anything out. He's made it
not a definition of geography or geopolitics, but a definition based on actions
taken that engages terrorism or harbors terrorism. And he's done so by design.
QUESTION: Just following up on David and Terry. Ari, when the President talks
about, you know, those terrorists are going to hide in the hills and we're going
to find them and we're going to smoke them out - is he preparing the American
people for the possibility that U.S. ground troops may have to be used to try
and have this sweeping and effective assault against terrorism?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is preparing the public for all eventualities.
QUESTION: So we're not ruling out that ground troops might have to be used in
this assault against terrorism.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has not ruled anything out.
QUESTION: One other question. In terms of President Musharraf, is there, A,
a plan for President Bush to be calling President Musharraf today? And is there
any truth to the - we heard a report that President Musharraf could be coming
to the United States.
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll let you know about phone calls, if there is anything that
we'll be able to talk about. That's the first I've heard, Kelly, on that one,
about Musharraf coming here.
QUESTION: Okay. First you've heard on him coming here but, phone call, you can't
talk if there's a possibility that the President would reach out to him?
MR. FLEISHCER: Well, again, you've asked me - I know we haven't called him at
this moment. But you're asking me future phone calls, I'm just going to continue
to give you a read out as future phone calls develop.
Also, on your question about ruling things out, I want to also remind you about
actions that can be taken that involve diplomacy, finance, economics, all of
those are tools in America's arsenal.
QUESTION: And one other question. The ruling Taliban regime of Afghanistan basically
has said if neighboring countries go ahead and side with the United States in
any potential act, that would be, sort of, considered a war, or it would be
pushing a holy war. What's your response to that?
MR. FLEISCHER: I refer you back to what the President has said.
QUESTION: And he has said?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has said that a war has been waged against us,
and this is a war with those who engage in these terrorist acts and those who
QUESTION: Do you have anything further for us on the attack that you say you
have credible evidence was going to be made against Air Force One? And have
all presidential travel plans for the immediate future been scrubbed?
MR. FLEISCHER: On the first part, I think we exhausted that topic about two
days ago. On the second question, we'll be releasing his travel schedule on
a much more closely-held basis, as I think most of you by now. And, no, not
all travel has been scrubbed. We're always considering when and where it's appropriate
for the President to travel. But I leave it at that.
QUESTION: Hey, Ari. Continental Airlines announced this morning that it's cutting
20 percent of its flight schedule, laying off 12,000 people, which is about
one-fifth of its work force. Is the President concerned that the country is
inevitably headed for a recession, at least in the short term?
MR. FLEISCHER: You know, that's a question that I think only economists can
QUESTION: I'm sure that he's got some economists advising him. What are they
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it's unclear what impact this will have. You know, to the
degree that there's a - well, let me address the question of the airlines. The
President is concerned about the economic health of the airlines. The administration
is in touch with airline officials.
No matter what the state of the economy, the country will have everything it
needs and all the resources it needs to prevail in this war.
QUESTION: Nobody is questioning that, Ari. But I mean - huge pot of money to
MR. FLEISCHER: If you're asking me as the President's spokesman to give you
a prediction about whether we go into a recession, that's not something I can
QUESTION: I'm not asking you as the President's spokesman to give us a prediction.
Is the President concerned that because of this attack and the drag on the economy
that we're going go into recession? And how is he being advised by the people
who are making those predictions?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President was concerned about the possibility of recession
even before the attack, and will just continue to receive updates about the
state of the economy as things develop -
QUESTION: Is anybody -
MR. FLEISCHER: Hold it, John. His first focus has really been on national security.
QUESTION: I understand that, Ari. But there's also an economy that he has to
worry about here and I'm just wondering if anyone has told him that we're likely
to go into a recession because of this?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I've not heard anybody say that to him. He's been mostly
in meetings involving national security.
QUESTION: Hi, Ari. Two quick questions. Number one, it's long been no secret
that Osama bin Laden and other terrorist organizations around the world have
meant to do us harm on a massive and lethal scale. I wonder what you could tell
the American people as to why they should have greater confidence now that the
World Trade Center and the Pentagon have been destroyed, in some parts, that
we have the capability to rout them out and destroy them than we've had over
the past 10 years? And why haven't we been trying until now?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the difference is the events of the last four days. America's
footing has changed.
QUESTION: How does it make us any more capable of routing them out than we were
as of last Monday?
MR FLEISCHER: Because the nation is shifting from a footing - a peace footing
to a footing based on preparations for things military. And that puts everything
in an entirely different context of what our national capacity is to act.
Four days ago, there was no authorization from the Congress for a use of force.
Everything has changed. And that has put America on a different footing. And
as a result of that, America's ability to mobilize and act is increasing.
QUESTION: My only other question was, sort of a follow up on Kelly Wallace's
question. When you say that the President has not ruled any options out for
our response, does that include the use of nuclear weapons, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: You know that's a subject we never even get into. You're asking
me operational issues.
QUESTION: I'm asking you to clarify your earlier statement that nothing has
been ruled out. Are you being absolute about it or not?
MR. FLEISCHER: Kelly was asking me about ground troops.
QUESTION: Well, you said nothing has been ruled out, no eventualities. I'm asking
if that's truly what you mean now?
MR. FLEISCHER: When I said nothing has been ruled out, it was about ground troops.
But if you're asking me what type of weapons we're going to use, that's a question
that - if you asked me that question in peace time, I wouldn't answer it; you're
asking me today, I don't' answer those questions.
QUESTION: I have two questions. I just wondered if you could give us any more
details on the agreements that Pakistan made to help in any way it could, and
what that actually means? Also, does the U.S. government have any reaction to
MR. FLEISCHER: I would just refer you back to what Powell said on that. I think
he was asked that question this morning and there's nothing I can add to his
QUESTION: What about - they're saying, out of Pakistan, at least, they're saying
that they're going to comply with U.N. Security Council decisions. Has the U.S.
made some sort of deal with them to cover them through the U.N. so that they
can do this without incurring the wrath of Afghanistan?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me try to learn a little bit more about that. On the specifics
of it, I'd feel much more comfortable walking through each one of these alleged
specific things that we've asked for. Powell did not address what the specific
things we asked for - of course, as you know, you heard him not get into that.
He just, nevertheless, expressed his appreciation for their cooperation so far.
QUESTION: What about Masood?
MR. FLEISCHER: The question is?
QUESTION: Does the U.S. have any reaction to his death? I mean, he's the strongest
guerrilla leader, anti-Taliban leader that there was there.
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't have anything on that. You may want to check with State.
QUESTION: I just want to go back to one that was asked some time ago. It seems
like the President now is preparing the American people for a wider and longer
operation than they might be expecting. But is there also the thought of preparing
them for the idea there might not be anything in the immediate or near term
-- it's sort of inherent now, you know, be patient, we'll do something, but
we're not rushing into it.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President said that we will act at an hour of our choosing.
The President's words speak for themselves on that. I'll just leave it at that.
QUESTION: Can you give us more of a sense, Ari, of how far advanced the planning
is, whatever may happen? And, secondly, can you say in any more detail what
sort of help you might be seeking from the United States' allies, beyond the
obvious expressions of support you've had?
MR. FLEISCHER: Obviously, on the planning, I'm not going to get into that. The
President yesterday indicated his satisfaction about the pace of the planning
and its various aspects.
As for other nations, the United States is talking to them about - you know,
different nations can help in different ways. Some nations will be able to help
in many ways, other nations in more limited ways. But among the ways the nations
can be helpful are diplomacy, things financial, things economic, things military,
things humanitarian. So there can be a host of ways that different nations can
respond. And some nations will be in stronger positions to respond in each and
every one of those ways. Other nations may choose to respond only in more limited
ways or may only have the means to respond in more limited ways.
QUESTION: So you're suggesting, though, that you might be asking military support
MR. FLEISCHER: I have indicated that, yes.
QUESTION: Hey, Ari. Do you have any more on these phone calls - how long they
were, what they talked about?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes. Sean is with me. He'll give that to you right now.
MR. McCORMACK: The President spoke with President Aznar for about 10 minutes
this morning. One note - (inaudible) -- the Spanish government in public solidarity
with the United States. He said that Spain would stand together with the U.S.,
both as a NATO ally and as a friend of the United States. We regard this as
another encouraging sign from a close friend of the emerging international coalition.
President Fox and President Bush spoke for approximately the same amount of
time. President Fox reiterated Mexico's solidarity with the President and the
U.S. people. President Fox noted Mexico is working with U.S. authorities on
border security and that Mexico is working with other Latin American countries
to help and cooperate with the U.S. in our fight against terrorism.
QUESTION: Okay, thanks, Sean. And, Ari, do you have any sort of week ahead?
MR. FLEISCHER: Not at this moment, no.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you very much.
QUESTION: Ari, we're embarked on an effort that puts pressure on leaders in
a part of the world where our alliances, even the strong ones, such as with
the Saudis, have weak points. We are endeavoring to go after fundamentalists
who are, themselves, a large threat to the leadership of places like Saudi Arabia
I'm wondering whether we have - and if I can say parenthetically, we've had
mixed success in getting help from the Saudis in things like the Khobar Tower
bombing. Do we have, from the Saudis, from other Arab governments and from Western
financial centers, a new, stronger commitment that we will be able to get at
Osama bin Laden's finances, which are his real strength?
MR. FLEISCHER: Wendall, I think you really very accurately put your finger on
a big picture question here. And that's why the President has referred to this
as the new war of the 21st century - that it doesn't have borders, it can be
nameless, can be faceless, can be shadowy.
The President, on January 20th, was aware, that that is the new type of threat
America faces from international terrorism. And all the planning that's being
done has taken those vagaries and complexities into account. And that's why
the President, in his radio address today, is telling the American people that
this will be long, this will be difficult, this will be complicated.
Only time will tell, is the answer to your question about the specifics of it
and the type of cooperation we're going to get from others. And as I indicated
earlier, different nations will contribute in different ways - some will do
more, some will do less. Only time will tell. But it will be discernable, it
will be measurable and we will know.
QUESTION: Do I take by that, that as of now, in the short-term, at least, we
don't have new commitments to choke off Osama bin Laden's financial network?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, you can't reach that conclusion. That's the type of information
that we're not going to disclose as people cooperate in different degrees. You
won't know, and neither will our enemies until the President is ready to make
any type of announcement.
QUESTION: What is the President's assessment of the security situation in this
country right now?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has said to the American people very plainly, it's
not business as usual; it's important for everybody to resume what they do,
their jobs, their livelihoods, but to be on a higher state of vigilance. And
one of the reasons the President has called up the Reserves is to make that
QUESTION: Is the administration working with - or how is the administration
working with state and local governments on civil defense issues at all? Is
there anything being done in that regard in this new environment?
MR. FLEISCHER: On that, Terry, you probably need to check with DOD and the relevant
agencies for specifics. There are ongoing concerns about security, and the government,
in a host of ways, is moving to address them through the various agencies -
DOD, Coast Guard, et cetera - but you may want to check with the agencies on
QUESTION: Okay. And, finally, you mentioned that the President and President
Fox talked about border security. What precisely is being done along that border?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'd just refer you to what Sean said. We don't have details beyond
QUESTION: No more information on what Fox has pledged to do on that border?
MR. FLEISCHER: Sean says we don't have any more details right here.
QUESTION: All right, thanks.
QUESTION: Ari, I wanted to follow up. A couple of times you've mentioned financial
and economic options available to the United States and its allies. Without
announcing the President's plan, can you talk about what options are available
there? Is it freezing assets or what?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'm not going to get into that level of specificity, but
when the President says this is a comprehensive effort, I think he's making
pretty plain that terrorism, wherever it exists and is found, whatever measures
of success it's had, has found resources and put its resources in a variety
of places. And that's, again, why I indicated when the President talks about
the new type of threat, 21st century war on terrorism, all planning accounts
for that, all planning knows that this is not just an old-fashioned battle on
a battlefield with tanks and sand - that there are many aspects to it that involve
things beyond that just military.
And efforts the President is leading are aimed at all of those areas. And, again,
I just have to apologize, but I think you'll understand, when the President
says, we will let you know when we have something to announce as far as our
actions, those type of specific questions - which are logical - will be learned
when the President decides to make information public about them.
QUESTION: Ari, Pakistanis are saying among those things that they are willing
to do is allow the U.S. to store troops along its border. Can you confirm that
that's one of the things you guys would like to see happen?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to talk about any military movement.
QUESTION: Ari, hi. Two questions. What was the President's evidence today for
naming bin Laden as a prime suspect?
MR. FLEISCHER: What was his evidence?
QUESTION: This was the first day that he actually said bin Laden was a prime
suspect. I'm wondering why he is saying that now?
MR. FLEISCHER: You know I can't reveal what his evidence is.
QUESTION: Let me ask you another question, going back to this question of ruling
out ground troops or ground invasions. Does that mean - you're saying we shouldn't
rule out anything, does that mean that his phrase in his radio address, where
he said, this is a conflict without battlefields or beachheads, was really a
metaphoric - was really more of a metaphor than a specific indication that there
would be no amphibious or ground assaults?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, what the President is, in the war on terrorism it's not
as if in the immediate reaction to a hostile act against our country you can
target another nation's ships in a port, that you can target another nation's
airplanes on a tarmac or another nation's tanks on a battlefield. It's not a
20th century war. And that's what the President is talking about when he's talking
about terrorism being shadowy.
QUESTION: I understand that, but specifically he said, this is without battlefields
or beachheads. So really, those are really -
MR. FLEISCHER: It's referring to what I just indicated, to the traditional definition
of a war as being fought against an enemies planes, ships. It doesn't mean that
there will never be traditional aspects, it just means that it's gone so much
beyond that which is traditional.
QUESTION: There has been a number of people with Middle Eastern names who have
been stopped by the IMS, by the police. Is there a concern at this point that
peoples' civil liberties are being violated, or is the coming war effort so
over-riding that that is incidental?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has made it plain that we must be mindful of the
rights of Arab Americans - and he has done so not only publicly, in one of his
very first, most prominent live moments of that nation, when he was on the phone
with Mayor Guiliani and Governor Pataki. In private meetings I've heard him
call on members of congress and say that, all of you have a leadership responsibility
to speak out and make sure that there are no actions taken against Arab Americans
- they love our flag, too.
Law enforcement agencies are going to act on legitimate law enforcement considerations.
And they will do so in accordance with all of our laws.
QUESTION: Ari, two days ago a senior administration official said the U.S. had
not reached out yet to the Taliban. Has the U.S. reached out yet, or is it planning
MR. FLEISCHER: You might want to check with state. I can only tell you about
the President's phone calls.
QUESTION: You can't talk about, you know, anyone else within the White House,
that there's been any sort of conversation through any diplomatic channels with
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, if it had gone through diplomatic channels, State
would probably be in a better position. I don't know anything that I've heard
about that topic here, Kelly.
QUESTION: Okay. Let me just ask you, too, did you get to talk to the President
following his meetings with family members or victims and the rescue workers
about what that visit to New York meant to him and if it gave him even more
strength to go forward with big decisions ahead?
MR. FLEISCHER: I talked to him on the tarmac last night, when we arrived back
in New Jersey and he changed - as he headed off to Camp David, but that was
mostly about the joint resolution that the Congress was passing that evening.
But let me share this with you, from just watching him in that room. That was
a closed event, let me lay out a little bit of the scene. It was the end of
a very, very long day, where the President had obviously addressed the nation
at the National Prayer Service. He had been to the site; he had been told first-hand
and pointed to where they believe some of the bodies were; the whole description
of what took place on the day the World Trade Center came down; walking amidst
the rubble of it and talking to the fire fighters and the rescue workers; his
remarks on the bull horn.
At the end of it all, the President capped his day by going up for what I think
was the hardest of all moments, which was a room at the Javitz Center - a very
large convention hall room that was cordoned off with pipe and drape. And about
200 family members are gathered there to meet the President -- family members
of those firemen and policemen who were missing.
People ere telling him that they knew their children, their brothers, their
wives, were not dead. They said - I can't tell you, I had one person come up
to me and say, if anybody can get out, it's my brother; he was in Desert Storm,
he's a Marine, he knows how to get out, he can survive under there for days;
if anybody can get out, it's him.
And I think that's what everybody in that room was saying. I don't think there
was anybody in that room who wanted to give up hope that the people who were
missing will come out alive. And that was so much of the conversations with
the President. And people were handing him pictures of those who were missing.
The beginning of it, the President was with about 200 people for an hour-and-a-half,
and he spent time listening and talking with everybody, just one on one, hearing
their individual stories of their family members. It was gut-wrenching. There
was not a dry eye in that place. Literally at times family members were holding
each other up so they wouldn't fall; they were linked, arm in arm and you could
just hear cries and sobs. And I can only tell you, just having watched the President
throughout all of this, there was a real transformation. At the beginning it
was just gut-wrenching and emotional.
And toward the end, my take on it - and I have not talked to the President about
this - but my take is that the President somehow grew from their sorrow an incredible
strength. It was almost cathartic. That there was something about hearing their
sorrow on such a personal and deep and sustained level, that it became pretty
clear to the President that his job is to take these peoples' anguish and sorrow
and channel into something positive for future generations.
And toward the end of it, he kind of resumed his normal way of making people
smile and feel good and have a little bounce about himself and them. And I just
watched him change in the course of that meeting. And then at the very end of
it, the mom from Hicksville, Long Island, gave the President the badge of her
son, who had been pronounced dead. And he was a police officer with the Port
Authority. And when he died in the World Trade Center, his badge was on him.
And it was given to his mom, and his mom turned around and gave it to the President
yesterday, and the President kept it clutched in his hand as he continued walking
around the room.
So I just share that with you, Kelly. That's my read on what happened with the
President while he was in there.
QUESTION: Okay, thanks.
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm looking forward to asking him about that - I want to talk
to him about it, also.
QUESTION: Yes, if we can get that, too, that would be great.
MR. FLEISCHER: All right, everybody. Well, thank you very much, and we'll be
here if you need anything.