White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer
White House Briefing Room
Washington D.C.
October 2, 2001
1:20 P.M. EDT

MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. I want to give you an update on the President's day and share some scheduling information. Then I have a brief statement I'd like to read, and I'll be happy to take some questions.

The President, as many of you know, had breakfast at 7:00 a.m. this morning with the four leaders of Congress, a bipartisan, bicameral breakfast, where he discussed with the leaders the importance of passing the stimulus package to help the economy, the importance of taking action to help dislocated workers who have lost their jobs in this economy as a result of the attacks, as well as the importance of getting a bipartisan agreement on the budget and appropriation matters that are coming up.

Following that, he had an intelligence briefing from the CIA. He had an FBI briefing about latest developments, and then he convened a meeting of the National Security Council at 9:30 a.m. this morning. Following that, as many of you know again, the President went to Ronald Reagan Airport to announce the limited opening of Reagan Airport, starting on this Thursday.

Other events that you can anticipate this afternoon -- at the Department of Defense, Tory Clark will brief at 1:30 p.m. this afternoon. Secretary Powell will participate in a joint stakeout with the Indian Minister of External Affairs, Jaswant Singh at 2:00 p.m. At 3:15 p.m., General Ashcroft will have a media availability with the Canadian Solicitor General Lawrence MacAulay. And finally, at 4:30 p.m., Secretary Powell again will have a joint stakeout with the Foreign Minister of Greece George Papandreou.

For tomorrow, on the trip to New York City, departure will be early in the morning, first thing. Upon arrival in New York, the President will meet with approximately 30 national business leaders at Federal Hall to get their assessment and their projections of the impact of the September 11th attacks on their important sectors of the U.S. economy. The President is very concerned about the effects of the economy in New York -- not only in New York, throughout the country. He will also visit PS 130 and later have lunch with the Mayor.

Finally, I want to just read to you briefly from a statement about an important action that has been taken by NATO. NATO has reaffirmed its Article V declaration that an attack on any one member of NATO is an attack on all members of NATO. And the President welcomes NATO's determination that the September 11th attacks against the United States were directed from abroad, thereby reaffirming NATO's September 12th decision that the attacks should be considered an attack against all NATO allies.

NATO Secretary General Robertson stated that there were "clear and compelling evidence" that the attack came from abroad, and he continued -- and his words speak for themselves -- "It is clear that all roads lead to al Qaeda and pinpoint Osama bin Laden as having been involved in it."

With that, I'm more than happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: Can you speak to us about the timing, Ari? Are you fully invoking Article V?

MR. FLEISCHER: The timing?

QUESTION: Does that suggest that action may be imminent?

MR. FLEISCHER: You know I'm not going to discuss anything involving the timing of when action may or may not be imminent.

QUESTION: Well, can you speak to the timing then of the actual invoking of Article V?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, this was just a follow-on announcement by NATO that is just important to note. And I also note what Lord Robertson said on the question of the evidence that he has seen, all roads lead to al Qaeda and pinpoint Osama bin Laden.

QUESTION: When are we going to see it?

MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, I think we've discussed that at great length. And what the process has been, is the United States has been meeting privately with allies from around the world, talking about different information and sharing that information.

QUESTION: Why can't the American people see it?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it's the same answer that I've given before. If there was a way to share that information with the American people and with the press in this room without it being conveyed outside to the terrorist organizations that would benefit from knowledge of how we acquire the information we have, we'd like to find a way to do that. But that's not immediately possible.

QUESTION: The public has heard very clearly from the President and from the Taliban. The President has said, turn over bin Laden, destroy al Qaeda, meet all of our demands. The Taliban has said no on all counts. The President very clear today, Tony Blair very clear today, the window is closed, no more negotiation. In the President's mind, what else has to be done diplomatically, financially, you name it, before action can begin?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I don't think you should lead to -- jump to the conclusion that anything else has to be done before action can begin. Several things are going to happen, all at various stages and times. And I'm not going to be able to tell you what will happen when, of course. So the President has made very clear that the United States has been attacked and he will take whatever steps are necessary to protect this country.

QUESTION: Is it fair to say then that there is nothing standing in the way of a military response at any time, whenever the President makes that decision?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President has made himself abundantly clear.

QUESTION: Were you -- can you confirm the reports that the administration was ready to announce that it favored a Palestinian state before the bombing?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as the President said this morning, that, of course, at the end of the vision that it's always been contemplated for the Middle East that a Palestinian state is part of that vision, and that it's important at the same time to respect Israel's right to exist in security.

But, clearly, in the context of a negotiated settlement between the parties in the Middle East, the United States believes that the Palestinian people should live peacefully and securely in their own state, just as the Israelis should be able to live peacefully and securely in their state.

QUESTION: Has the President stated so flatly as it was in The New York Times and the Post today?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think I'll leave those judgments to you about what's been stated previously.

QUESTION: It does seem sort of new.

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I can't comment on the timing of when the newspapers publish their stories.

QUESTION: Has the President ever come out and said that he supports the establishment of a Palestinian state since his inauguration?

MR. FLEISCHER: I would have to go back and take a look at the records, Terry, but I don't believe so. I believe that -- what I just indicated and what the President said this morning is a reflection of what the President believes, and you've heard it from him.

QUESTION: How come we've never heard it before, in all this -- nine months?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think the focus, of course, is on the immediate steps, and the immediate steps are in the Mitchell agreement. The question in the Middle East now is how to secure a peace agreement that can allow political solutions that end in the vision that the President described this morning to take place. That has to come first.

QUESTION: Is it also to win over the Arab states?

MR. FLEISCHER: Until that comes first, everything else was a follow-on issue. So you've heard it from the President, but clearly, the focus in the Middle East remains the Mitchell Accord and getting the parties to begin the political process.

QUESTION: Yes, but, Ari, to follow on that, all the public declarations from this podium and from others in the administration has put the onus directly on the Palestinians and on Chairman Arafat to stop the violence before anything else happens. And now, there is this openness to the idea of a Palestinian state when the administration, the President was not able -- wasn't willing to approach that idea before now.

MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated, this is all in the context of a negotiated settlement. And as the President said this morning, peace in the Middle East is measured in centimeters, and the first step has got to be an end to the violence, a cease-fire, the following of the Mitchell Committee recommendations on security, which lead to political talks. And at the end of the political talks, the vision does include a Palestinian state. So it's not surprising; first things first.

QUESTION: Tony Blair today said that the "Taliban must surrender the terrorists or surrender power" -- flatly, "or surrender power." Does the President agree with that sentiment?

MR. FLEISCHER: Ron, the United States has been working very closely with the British government on a common approach to combatting terrorism and responding to the attacks. And the President welcomes the Prime Minister's comments and his firm commitment to combatting terrorism in the wake of the attack.

The President has said repeatedly that the United States will act decisively to protect the United States and our friends from all terrorist attacks, that are affiliated with or responsible for, and those nations that harbor terrorists.

QUESTION: That's not quite the same thing, isn't it?

QUESTION: Blair -- hey, let me follow up. Blair went further than saying we have to act decisively or, as the President said today, there will be consequences. He said plainly, surrender the terrorists, or surrender power. Can you be as plainspoken as that?

MR. FLEISCHER: Let me just put it in the President's words, because that's who I speak for. And as the President has said, been very clear on what the Taliban must do to avoid any type of military action. They must hand over Osama bin Laden and other terrorists, destroy the terrorist camps, ensure that the territory of Afghanistan will no longer serve as a base for terrorist operations, and allow the United States access to those terrorist camps to make certain that they've been destroyed.

QUESTION: Will they surrender power if they don't meet those demands?

MR. FLEISCHER: I can only speak for the President, and I can only put it in his words. But the speech by the Prime Minister of Britain is welcome.

QUESTION: Why do we leave it to the British to send that strong signal? Why didn't the President send that strong signal himself?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President has spoken out very strongly on his own.

QUESTION: Not like that, he hasn't.

MR. FLEISCHER: It's the right of everybody to speak out as they see fit, and the United States welcomes those comments.

QUESTION: But, Ari, it has the appearance of a coordinated effort, with Britain delivering the ultimatum.

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not the spokesman for the Prime Minister. The United States welcomes the comments.

QUESTION: Did he see the speech, the President?

QUESTION: What kind of coordination was there between the United States and Great Britain about the Prime Minister's remarks? Because there were reports yesterday that he was going to go so far as saying time has run out on the Taliban, and that they now will face military strikes.

MR. FLEISCHER: I think the Prime Minister's remarks speak for themselves, and the Prime Minister speaks for himself and for his nation. His remarks are welcome.

QUESTION: -- agree with those remarks?

QUESTION: Was there consultation --

MR. FLEISCHER: What's that?

QUESTION: Was there any coordination between the U.S.? Did the U.S. have an advanced indication of exactly what the Prime Minister was going to say?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'd have to check with British authorities to determine if there was any, to what degree. I don't know the precise answer to that question.

QUESTION: The Taliban Ambassador to Pakistan went on TV, said they condemn terrorism, they still want proof. Are there any circumstances in which you would offer them some proof?

MR. FLEISCHER: Steve, we'll continue to meet with officials and to share information. I noticed President Putin today said that he has seen all the proof that he needs. You have Lord Robertson's statement. So we'll continue to meet with allies and consult, and share information.

QUESTION: Can I follow on that? It's not just a matter of governments to government sharing proof, because there is widespread feeling within the Muslim world that people haven't seen enough proof. Is there going to be any public presenting of the proof of any form to convince not governments, but the people?

MR. FLEISCHER: This is a rehash of an issue that we've been talking about here for a week. Helen asked it earlier, just a few minutes ago, and I've answered it.

QUESTION: Not the American people, but people around the world?

MR. FLEISCHER: I've answered the question about what happens to the public sharing of proof.

QUESTION: So you're really saying, no, we can't at this point because it might jeopardize --

MR. FLEISCHER: Clearly, any time information is shared publicly that involves matters of proof, much of that relies on how did the United States government get that information, how do you know enough to say that that is proof. And the manner --

QUESTION: You never tell us how we get information.

MR. FLEISCHER: -- in which that information is brought in, includes sources and methods of how the United States gets that information. So it's a quandary of how to share that information with the public, with the press, yet not let it be available to terrorists who would benefit from that knowledge.

QUESTION: So the administration believes that it's enough to convince governments --

MR. FLEISCHER: -- but again, the United States is very satisfied that the conversations it's been having around the world with our allies and with friends in the Middle East and others, is leading to sufficient action that these nations are joining with us. And I think that speaks volumes for itself.

QUESTION: Can I just go back to the Taliban Ambassador to Pakistan's comments today, saying that they'd be open to negotiations, but want to see evidence first? Does the administration see this as a delaying tactic, or as a sign that the Taliban is feeling the heat of the international community?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think Secretary Rumsfeld has said it very well. The Taliban have made so many different statements that are all over the map, that what counts is the United States' declared statements, the President's statements about what he intends to do.

QUESTION: I just want to follow. Do you see, is the administration seeing any sense of sort of disunity in the Taliban, and has there been any contact between U.S. officials and any Taliban dissidents?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, Secretary Rumsfeld referred to -- you call it disunity -- earlier today, and clearly, any time a nation has so many of its people fleeing is an indication that those people don't support that regime that is in place. And clearly, the Taliban seizing food from the Afghani people, depriving the people of Afghanistan from the means to survive, the repressive nature of the Taliban regime is all a reflection of a regime that lacks strong support.

QUESTION: Any contacts, though, between U.S. officials and Taliban dissidents?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to get into any type of contacts of that nature.

QUESTION: To follow on that, the Ambassador's plea or, he complained that the U.S. is sharing evidence with other nations, but not with them, and that by sharing information and beginning negotiations, that would open the door, holding out some notion that they might hand over bin Laden. Can you officially respond to that from the White House perspective?

MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated just a minute ago, the United States will continue to share information with Pakistan and with other nations, and we're very pleased with the cooperation of Pakistan.

QUESTION: But the Taliban was complaining. The Taliban's Ambassador to Pakistan --

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't address Taliban complaints.

QUESTION: Ari, there have been contradictory statements made by different authorities in Saudi Arabia, including a contradictory statement between the Minister of Defense with the father of the Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. that have had contradictory statements. Are you getting the full support and respect from Saudi Arabia? And I want to ask you about the military --

MR. FLEISCHER: The President is very satisfied with the Saudi support, and he has stated so publicly on a number of occasions.

QUESTION: Fine-tuning this if I may -- the British press, at least two newspapers, are implying today that Tony Blair says that war against the Afghani Taliban is imminent. Without getting into op-sec, is that a statement you're willing to buy?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'm not going to discuss with you the timing of any military actions.

QUESTION: Not timing, but just imminent as a kind of a --

MR. FLEISCHER: The last I look up "imminent," it had something to do with a sense of time. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Does the President agree with what Prime Minister Blair said today, that the Taliban must choose between surrendering bin Laden or surrendering power -- do you agree with that --

MR. FLEISCHER: You know, I think I've addressed the topic. I've addressed the topic.

QUESTION: You said his statement was welcomed. Does that imply that you agree --

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't think anybody should expect two leaders to give speeches that are carbon copies in every iota and every sentence and every word. But the two have said virtually the exact same message. We are united, we stand strong together. Britain has been a wonderful, valuable ally and friend, and continues to be.

QUESTION: When did the President see the speech --

QUESTION: So you're saying that you see no difference between what the President and the Prime Minister --

MR. FLEISCHER: We are together, and the President welcomes their statement.

QUESTION: Let me ask it this way, Ari --

MR. FLEISCHER: Britain is a good ally, and the President appreciates Prime Minister Blair's efforts.

QUESTION: Ari, does the President think it's possible for the Taliban regime to survive if the United States intends to fulfil the mission that the President has laid out?

MR. FLEISCHER: You know, it's not a question of survival or not survival, David, it's a question of honoring the demands that the President has made, so we can protect this country. That's what this is about. And I understand your questions about this, but it's always important to remember the fundamentals here, that our nation has been attacked, and the President will lead an effort to defend our nation. And in doing so, he has made crystal-clear that he will take action against those who carried out the attack and those who harbor -- continue to harbor terrorists.

QUESTION: Ari, if I could follow that, Prime Minister Blair also said today to the Afghani people that if the Taliban is replaced, Britain is prepared to work with the Afghani people in building a broadly-based government. Does this White House share that sentiment?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as I said yesterday, the United States is not going to choose who rules Afghanistan. But the United States will assist those who seek to create a peaceful, economically-developing Afghanistan that's free from terrorism.

QUESTION: So you're on the same page with Blair on that issue?

MR. FLEISCHER: That's the statement I made.

QUESTION: On that point, Blair also suggested that this time Western powers would not walk away, they would go back and mount some sort of effort to help lift the Afghani people out of poverty if the Taliban were gone. Does that statement also comport with White House thinking?

MR. FLEISCHER: There's no question that the United States is very concerned about the humanitarian plight in Afghanistan. As I've said repeatedly, the United States is the world's largest donor of food to the people of Afghanistan. And the President will continue his efforts to make certain that we can do everything possible, working through relief organizations and others, to get food to the people of Afghanistan in the future.

QUESTION: The other question was about Rumsfeld. Apparently the Pentagon has announced that he is headed to the Middle East. Can you tell us why, and what the President has asked him to do?

MR. FLEISCHER: DOD is briefing as we speak, so you're free to leave here and listen to the DOD briefing. He's going to several nations in the Middle East, and they'll be able to give you the precise nations.

QUESTION: Why him, not Powell?

QUESTION: Has the President asked him to do something in particular, or is this solely related to his own duties within the Defense Department?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, he's going over there for information-sharing and for consultation with friends.

QUESTION: To share information along the lines of evidence --

MR. FLEISCHER: It's the Secretary's trip and I think he can best explain it.

QUESTION: Ari, why is the Defense Secretary going and not the Secretary of State? What message are you trying to send by sending Rumsfeld?

MR. FLEISCHER: Because it's perfectly appropriate for the Secretary of Defense to go.

QUESTION: I'm not saying it's inappropriate, but you make a decision on what message you want to send in part by who you send.

MR. FLEISCHER: I think you may just want to talk to the Secretary, and he'll be filling that information in.

QUESTION: I'm asking the White House, why does President Bush want the Secretary of Defense to carry out this mission? What is the mission, and why not send the Secretary of State?

MR. FLEISCHER: Because he's the appropriate person to go.