House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer
White House Briefing Room
September 21, 2001
1:51 P.M. EDT
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. I want to give you some information about the
President's day, then, if you will remind me I have as much detail as I can
provide on a week ahead, which I'll do at the conclusion.
The President this morning spoke with Turkish President Sezer. The President
and President Sezer affirmed their solidarity in the fight against terrorism
and all those who support and harbor them. The President expressed his thanks
to Turkey, a Muslim country, and NATO, that has long suffered from terrorism,
for its strong support. The Presidents agree that Turkey and the United States
will work together in the long struggle ahead.
The President also spoke with Nigerian President Obasanjo this morning. The
President thanked President Obasanjo for his support and letters and calls of
condolence. He described his new policy to fight terrorism and those who provide
terrorists with sanctuary.
President Obasanjo offered Nigeria's unconditional support to fight against
terrorism, stating that, "If we fail in the task, the world is unsafe for
all of us." President Bush thanked President Obasanjo for his leadership
role in Africa and noted his current efforts to promote peace in the Sudan.
And the President offered condolences to the Nigerian people for the loss of
life in the recent Muslim-Christian violence in central Nigeria.
The President also spoke with Omani Sultan Qaboos this morning. The Sultan conveyed
his condolences to the United States over the attack, and pledged Oman's support
for the international fight against terrorism.
The President thanked the Sultan for his expression of sympathy and stressed
the high value that the United States places on the friendly relationship with
the Sultanate of Oman. And the President also made clear in the course of that
conversation that the United States did not attribute the criminal actions of
the terrorists with the peaceful religion of Islam, which rejects terrorism.
Two upcoming visits I want to report. President Bush has invited Prime Minister
Chretien of Canada to come to Washington for a working visit on Monday, September
24th. The Prime Minister has accepted, and he will be in the Oval Office followed
by a lunch, private lunch, for a meeting with the President.
In addition, President Bush looks forward to welcoming Japanese Prime Minister
Koizumi to Washington for a working visit on September 25th, next week.
In a little while, this afternoon the President will meet with leaders of the
insurance companies from across America. And the message the President expects
to hear from these leaders is that the insurance industry is very well capitalized
and is prepared financially to respond fully to all concerns raised in the wake
of this disaster, which is good news for all Americans.
And, finally, the President will depart for Camp David this afternoon. And I'll
get a little bit into the week ahead, including weekend activities, at the end.
One other item -- two other items, just an update on a couple areas involving
the Cabinet. Attorney General Ashcroft and Director of the FBI Robert Mueller
are in New York City today. General Ashcroft has announced $10 million in emergency
assistance from the COPS program to assist the city of New York with its law
And Education Secretary Paige is in New Jersey, where he has announced a $1.5
million grant to assist the New Jersey Department of Education, and also to
provide $250,000 in assistance to the Maryland Department of Education, to assist
students and teachers impacted by terrorist attacks.
QUESTION: Ari, the Taliban's response to the President's speech last night was,
show us compelling evidence that bin Laden is guilty and then let's talk. What's
the President's message for the Taliban today?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's message to the Taliban today is the same message
that he gave last night, that there will be no negotiations and no discussions;
he expects the Taliban to honor the demands that he made in his speech last
night, to cease their efforts to support and harbor terrorists and to turn terrorists
over to the United States or other authorities and to allow the United States
access to the terrorists' camps where the training took place, to make certain
that they are no longer training terrorists who can bring harm to people around
the free world.
QUESTION: So he rejects their response?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's a fair characterization.
QUESTION: And he also said that if they do not comply, that they will share
the fate of the terrorists. So is it now the policy of the administration that
if the Taliban regime does not comply they will be removed from power?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has made it very clear that the United States is
preparing for action on a wide range of fronts, that include military, financial,
diplomatic and will be aimed at those who harbor and support or engage in terrorism.
And I think your question answers itself.
QUESTION: But shouldn't the American people know that one of our war aims is
to remove from power the government of Afghanistan?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has said that he will take action to protect our
citizens and people from around the world, and that those who engage in terrorism
will meet with, as he put it a few days ago, that those who attack the United
States engage in an act of self-destruction -- whether it's a removal of power
or whatever form it takes. And I'm not going to go into what specific form it's
going to take.
QUESTION: Let me follow, then. During the campaign, the President said -- now,
obviously, things have changed -- that one of his conditions for committing
military force was having a clear exit strategy. In Afghanistan, what would
that look like?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'm not going to presume to tell you what the operational
details may be, but the goal is very clear. And the definition of victory is
when freedom defeats fear. And that is what is one the line, as the President
said last night. The terrorist attacks have created a situation of fear in the
United States and around the world. And this war against terrorism is aimed
at making certain that freedom conquers fear and that the world can be safe
from terrorism, Terry.
QUESTION: Is the President ruling out any kind of discussions with the Taliban
that could ultimately lead to his goal along the lines that the United States
has had with Pakistan?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has made very clear that he is looking for action,
not words. And he has given in his speech last night a very clear list of actions
that need to be taken.
QUESTION: But does meaningful consultation or negotiation not constitute action?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President addressed it last night, himself.
QUESTION: Does he believe that the Taliban wants to negotiate, or is he convinced
that the response to the speech was essentially the Taliban thumbing its nose
at the United States?
MR. FLEISCHER: One, we have received no official word from the Taliban. What
you have heard has been conveyed through the press. But the President could
not have made it any plainer last night that this is not the time for negotiations
or discussions, this is the time for action.
QUESTION: Do we have concrete proof, other than they hate freedom and that --
this is very nebulous, simplistic stuff, because you really don't know. That
doesn't really give enough of meat on the plate here. Do you have concrete proof
that this man was guilty, and if you have it, why don't you present it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me remind you what I've been saying for the last three days.
QUESTION: I know he's been indicted and so forth, but that
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct. Osama bin Laden and the al Qaeda organization
have been indicted in connection with the bombings of United States facilities
in Kenya and Tanzania. That indictment stands on the books today.
There are also indications that the al Qaeda organization was involved in the
bombing of the Cole. Let me try to help you on your specific question, Helen.
You're asking for us, today, publicly, to provide you, the press, with evidence,
when Secretary Powell has said that all evidence --
QUESTION: Provide the American people.
MR. FLEISCHER: -- fair enough -- that Secretary Powell said all roads point
to the al Queda organization. You've heard other people, Vice President Cheney,
talk about the President -- the President talking about the prime suspect is
Osama bin Laden, the al Queda organization.
The challenge that the government always faces when you ask a question like
that, provide the proof, is the means of providing the proof provides valuable
information to those who are the objects of any potential action. They would
like nothing better than to be able to hide where they are hiding, and have
the United States reveal what we know and how we know it, which will make it
easier for them to hide, and will make it easier for them to carry out further
actions if we report our sources and our methods for how we obtain information.
We're just not going to do that.
QUESTION: You are saying it's not incumbent on this government to explain?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the American people have heard plenty of explanations
from the President and from the government assembled. And the American people
support those actions.
QUESTION: The President and others in this administration keep asking for not
only hunkering down for the long-term, but patience. And yet polls show that
the American public is angry and wants some sort of immediate military retaliation.
Without getting into operational details, can you tell us if that military strike
or retaliation, or whatever, is coming within hours, days, weeks or months?
Can you give us some kind of time frame?
MR. FLEISCHER: Of course not. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Ari, can we ask this question then? Does this administration believe,
based on the Taliban's response, that military action is inevitable?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has made it abundantly clear that this nation is
preparing for war, because war has been declared against the United States.
And the United States will respond. The United States will respond to protect
lives in the future. The United States will respond because justice demands
QUESTION: The President also went through a list of what he says are the evil
to the Taliban's own governance of Afghanistan. Is this, in effect, a war of
liberation of Afghanistan?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, it's a war to protect people around the world, so they can
enjoy their freedom, and so freedom can defeat fear. I think what the purpose
of the President doing that was, he wanted to share with the American people
who it is who would engage in such an attack on the United States. The President
has previously referred to al Queda organization and terrorists generally as
they operate in the shadows. It's hard for Americans to relate to who they are
and what they seek. So I think the purpose of the President saying that last
night was to give the American public a broader explanation about who these
people are who would do this.
QUESTION: Is the administration then supporting this exiled King, the northern
insurgency or some kind of U.N. administration of that country if the Taliban,
now removed by military or other ways?
MR. FLEISCHER: The objective, again, is to protect the American people and people
from around the world from terrorism and from harm, so they can live without
fear. That's the objective of the campaign and the President has made it very
As plans are put in place through the variety of means which I've identified
before -- diplomatic, political, otherwise -- the United States, of course,
will always keep an eye on issues involving stability. And that will all be
taken into account involving the planning.
QUESTION: Let me do just one more. Shouldn't the American people be involved,
informed in that debate, as to what their government is committing to in the
governance of Afghanistan? In other words, if we're supporting some King, shouldn't
we know that? If we're supporting --
MR. FLEISCHER: That's not the case, Terry. What we're doing is preparing for
action on a host of fronts with our allies. And as the United States leads,
that helps to protect people around the world from terrorism. You're right away
jumping to hypotheticals about, well, what happens next after a hypothetical
action is taken, what happens to a hypothetical government that would be in
a hypothetical place. And I can't go there.
QUESTION: Ari, one of the ways to achieve that objective domestically, at least,
Secretary O'Neill has said, is to federalize the U.S. Marshal program for the
skies for the aviation. Does the White House economic team, Josh Bolten, Larry
MR. FLEISCHER: The U.S. Marshal program, of course, is federal.
QUESTION: I mean the sky marshals.
MR. FLEISCHER: They are federal.
QUESTION: And the security -- increase the number of sky marshals and the security
screeners at the airports?
MR. FLEISCHER: Right.
QUESTION: Does the White House economic team, Josh Bolten and Larry Lindsey
have a different view of that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Actually, I think what he was referring to, what the Secretary
of Treasury was referring to was the agreement that's being negotiated and was
completed last night on the Hill. There are still additional talks going on
today, and I think it will still get voted on today.
QUESTION: -- going much further than that agreement?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, what he was referring to was not a question of putting people
on a payroll, he was referring to making them federal employees. He was talking
about the federal assistance to upgrade security and to have better training
of the people that are at those gates who the Americans see every day when they
travel through airports, who look through the X-ray machines, et cetera.
QUESTION: But federalizing those workers, the security screeners, is off the
MR. FLEISCHER: Mark, that's not part of what they're talking about on the Hill
right now, so --
QUESTION: I realize it might not be in the initial package, but are you rejecting
it out of hand forever, or just for the immediate future?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think it's not in the cards right now, and we'll see
-- when you say, is it off the table, the administration is going to continue
to listen and work with the Congress on it. There are some people who have some
thoughts about it, so we'll listen. But I think the agreement that's being worked
out on the Hill is all but final. They're going to vote on it shortly. So just
watch the events on the Hill.
QUESTION: Ari, going back to the exit strategy question, when will we know,
how will we know, if freedom is defeated here, the war is over, and our troops
can come home?
MR. FLEISCHER: First of all, I need to again remind everybody that this is going
to be a different type of war. And so you're asking in the traditional sense
of troops come home.
QUESTION: That's what I'm asking, how do you define the end of this?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there are going to be things, Ron, such as undermining
financial networks that the President has talked about, that you may not know.
There will be victories the President has talked about that are going to be
But I think it will be clear to the American people that when they're again
able to say that they can travel without fear throughout the country, that the
risks have been so reduced because of the actions that were taken in the form
of financial, in the form of military, that the world will be able to breathe
a sigh of relief and say that the events have changed, the war on terrorism
has been won.
QUESTION: But when he decides to put troops in battle to do this military operation
you're building up for, will he be able to tell the American people at that
time when they're coming out?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to deal with hypotheticals, Ron. He has made no
such commitment yet about putting troops in battle. So I think you're way ahead
of things. But I will just remind you, the President has said that the definition
of victory is when freedom conquers fear and the world is safe.
QUESTION: But you can see that's a hard thing to define -- when freedom has
defeated fear, when a war is over.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, but I think also the American people will recognize that
over the course of this struggle, there are going to be many victories, many
of which they will know and will be plain to see; many of which will be new
-- things in the financial realm, that they will come to understand. And it
will be a different type of war. But I think in the end, the American people
will have a good grasp of what victory means.
QUESTION: Ari, the President, the Secretary of State, others in the administration
made clear that priority one is taking out al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. If
that is successfully done, will the American people, should the American people
feel that the level of security has been restored? Is that the important marker?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I'm not going to get into hypotheticals about any potential
action against any group right now. I think that you have to let this develop
QUESTION: But that's not a hypothetical, it was a defined goal. And if the President
has said, has pledged that that goal will be achieved. So when and if that's
done, what should Americans conclude from that?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think there is no question that when it is done, that the al
Qaeda organization has been eliminated and they no longer have the global reach
and the ability to carry out terrorism the way they have, there will be no doubt
that it will be a marked improvement, that the American people will call a victory.
QUESTION: To follow on one other point. As we sit here now, does the President
believe that the window of opportunity has closed in terms of the Taliban responding
to his demands?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think he's put them on notice, and he is preparing to do what
must inevitably come next.
QUESTION: But the clock is ticking. How long will the clock tick?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to define clocks.
QUESTION: So he does not consider the public response from the Taliban today,
through the media, to be an official rejection of his demands?
MR. FLEISCHER: Suffice it to say, the reason the President met with his National
Security Council this morning and that he will do so again tomorrow, is because
the planning is active and underway.
QUESTION: Will you answer that point, about what he's concluded, or has he reached
a conclusion about whether they have rejected --
MR. FLEISCHER: Given the fact that war preparations continue, I think it's fair
to say that nothing has changed. The Taliban have not agreed to the demands
the President laid out, and therefore the President will continue to take every
action necessary to protect this country.
QUESTION: How solid do we feel we have the support in South Asia, the surrounding
countries, so forth, for any action we take?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think -- now this is some 10, 11 days after the attack
took place, and all indications are strong. The meetings with the foreign ministers
QUESTION: Pakistan, India, Iran, China?
MR. FLEISCHER: The meeting with the Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia was a very,
very positive, productive meeting. Pakistan, of course, has been supportive.
As the President said, from the very beginning, this will be a time for Pakistan
to determine in actions what course it seeks to take. And the President has
been very encouraged by the results and the actions of Pakistan, of India, of
the neighboring countries.
You know, the President is aware of what goes into coalition building. And that's
why I always remind you that different countries are going to do different things.
And I wouldn't be surprised if over time different countries change the things
that they do. That's to be expected, as well. This is going to be a coalition
that's going to be changing, in terms of what it does, given different events.
And that's also to be expected in the course of anything long.
QUESTION: Ari, the President has said that the country should be prepared to
take casualties in this fight. Is he talking about civilian casualties beyond
the 6,000 or 7,000 at the World Trade Center? Is he indicating that as we press
the fight against terrorism, there are likely to be more terrorist incidents
in this country?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has made it very plain to the American people that
we still have to be vigilant here at home, domestically. And that is because
there are still threats that remain, and will always remain, so long as there
are terrorists who operate, and so long as our society is free. And so the President
has warned, domestically, that people have to be prepared.
And the President has also warned that as the planning is made for what comes
next militarily, that it will be a different type of war from some of the wars
that -- if you can say, fortunate enough to have experienced in the past, where
casualties were kept at such a great minimum, or none at all.