IWS - The Information Warfare Site
News Watch Make a  donation to IWS - The Information Warfare Site Use it for navigation in case java scripts are disabled

02 April 2003

White House Press Briefing Transcript

(President's schedule, POW rescue/President's involvement, President's
mood/stress of war, reconstruction funds, Iraq's debt/future Iraqi
leaders, airline aid package, tax cut, Turkey/aid package, definition
of victory in Iraq, President's involvement in day-to-day events,
Miguel Estrada, outside countries involved in reconstruction,
President's public appearances, Middle East communications network)
(8120)



White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer briefed.

Following is a transcript of the briefing:

(begin transcript)

THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY ARI FLEISCHER
April 2, 2003
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
3:30 P.M. EST

INDEX

President's schedule
POW rescue/President's involvement
President's mood/stress of war
Reconstruction funds
Iraq's debt/future Iraqi leaders
Airline aid package
Tax cut
Turkey/aid package
Definition of victory in Iraq
President's involvement in day-to-day events
Miguel Estrada
Outside countries involved in reconstruction
President's public appearances
Middle East communications network


MR. FLEISCHER: Let me give you a report on the President's day. The
President began with an intelligence briefing, followed by FBI
briefing; convened a meeting of the National Security Council. He has
spoken today with the Emir of Qatar, with the Foreign Minister of
Kuwait and the President of Spain. This afternoon, the President just
concluded a meeting that went much longer than scheduled -- so my
apologies for coming out here late -- with a group of economists from
Wall Street to talk about the state of the economy and the President's
jobs and growth package that is pending on Capitol Hill.

And then I have one announcement, and I'm happy to take your
questions.

The President will meet with President Jorge Batlle of Uruguay, at the
White House on April 23, 2003. This visit provides the opportunity to
deepen United States cooperation with Uruguay, a strong ally in the
war on terrorism and promoting democracy and economic growth in the
hemisphere.

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

Q: Do we know from either forensic evidence or any statements by
Private Lynch the identity or whether or not any of those bodies were
coalition troops?

MR. FLEISCHER: I have no information on that. Anything about that
would come from the Pentagon.

Q: And can you tell us when the President found out that there would
be a mission to try to rescue her?

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, let me try to walk you through a little bit about
this. Yesterday, the President was informed about the successful
rescue in a conversation he had with Secretary Rumsfeld, shortly
before 5:00 p.m. in the afternoon. Secretary Rumsfeld informed the
President of the successful rescue and the President's reaction was,
"That's great."

The President had a hint of it earlier in the day, but the tactical
decisions were made by General Franks and his commanders on the ground
about exactly what to do and when to do it. And that's what took
place.

Q: -- add to that?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think the President had some generalized
information, but, again, the tactical information was -- the decision
about what to do and when to do it, was made by commanders on the
ground. The President had some general awareness that something might
be happening, but not the details.

Q: Could he have told General Franks not to do it? And was the plan
signed off on by him?

MR. FLEISCHER: It's not a question of whether this is signed off on or
not signed off on by the President. These are the exact types of
things that Commanders-in-Chief entrust to their people in the field
to do. That's the way the military structure works best. That's the
way the President works it. So this --

Q: We know there's a history of Commanders-in-Chief signing off on
authorizing just this kind of mission, literally?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President has made it clear that he wants the
commanders in the field to have the flexibility, the ability, and
knowing that they'll have the backup from the White House for them to
make these types of calls and these types of decisions in a way that
maximizes the mission.

Q: So whose call was it to do it, Franks  -- 

MR. FLEISCHER: You have to ask DOD specifically which military
official, but --

Q: But it wasn't the President's, you're saying?

MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.

Let me say this, though: The President does express to the Armed
Forces, to all those involved, especially to the daring servicemen who
carried out -- the servicemen and women who helped make this happen --
the President expresses to them the pride of our nation for the
successful rescue. And, of course, he expresses the joy of our nation
for the Lynch family upon her being rescued.

And, I do want to say, it is tempered somewhat by also the fact, of
course, that the President knows that we have others who are missing
in action, we have others who are POW, we have others who have died.
And that, of course, is always on the President's mind. But there's no
question this is a good day, a good moment, and the President is very
proud of what took place.

Q: How is the President reacting to the stress of the war? There's an
article that suggests in quotes from his friends that he feels he's
being tested, that he feels burdened by this. How would you --

MR. FLEISCHER: You know, I can only say that I think the people who
are talking are not people who have spent much time with the
President. Because my read of having seen the President is the
following -- and I see him often -- I think it's fair to say that the
hardest part was the lead-up to the decision to use force. I think for
any Commander-in-Chief, for the President, for this President -- that,
to him, represented the most difficult time of deciding whether or not
force must be used, knowing that it would put American men and women
in harm's way.

Once the decision was made, this is a President who is very
comfortable, who is very steady with the decision made. And that's
what I see in him. These are serious times. We are a nation at war.
And the President is always cognizant of that. Tomorrow, when the
President goes to Camp Lejeune, he's going to meet with some families
whose servicemen or women have lost their lives in Iraq. And that is
something the President thinks about. But he also keeps in mind the
purpose of the mission, the nature of the mission, the importance of
the mission. And that's what I see in him.

Q: Do you feel that he feels burdened and that he feels that he is
being tested?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, I really can't say that. I think -- when you say
burdened, I don't know how to define what the word burdened means. I
think any time a President of the United States authorizes the use of
force, when this President has authorized the use of force, he
understands the serious nature of that. But when he does so because he
feels so strongly and so deeply, and has he has shared with the public
the important reasons why force has to be used, the President is
somebody who has set his sights on a mission and is proud of the men
and women who are carrying out the mission, and he is resolved to see
it through.

He is comfortable with the decisions that are made. And I think that
you'll see tomorrow at Camp Lejeune that it's going to be a private
meeting with the families. As you know, the President does think
carefully about these decisions to put people in harm's way. And he
cares deeply about that.

Q: Ari, has the U.S. any contact with the Iraqis, or any third-party
intervention to end the war?

MR. FLEISCHER: Not that I know.

Q: Ari, can I follow up on Ron's question? You said he had a hint of
it earlier in the day and he knew something was going on. Did he know
that there was a rescue mission underway to try to get one of the
POWs?

MR. FLEISCHER: I really am not going to go into any more depth than
that, than what I said. Just, without being specific, there was some
generalized information, obviously of a highly classified nature. And
-- but as far as the timing, the tactical aspects, he did not.

Q: I'm not asking about any of that. I'm asking -- and I know it's
classified, but now everyone knows that DOD received intelligence that
Jessica Lynch might be alive and that they were going to launch this
special operation mission to get her.

MR. FLEISCHER: Campbell, I'm just not at liberty to get into any more
specifics about what it was that the President got hinted.

Q: I'm trying to get a sense for how much the President is tuned in to
the daily developments on the ground. I mean, this is a big deal,
obviously.

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, obviously, when I say he's tuned in, he's tuned
in. He's tuned in; the Secretary informed him about it at ten of 5:00
p.m. That was part of the regular briefing that the President receives
on all events, particularly something like this. But on many of the
different events in the theater, the President is told about it.
Earlier in the day he received some generalized information about some
possibilities -- or this possibility, and I just leave it at that.

Q: Possibilities of what?

MR. FLEISCHER: This possibility, that what transpired later in the day
may happen.

Q: What transpired later in the day?

MR. FLEISCHER: The rescue.  And that was singular.

Q: Ari, on a different subject, appropriation committees in both the
House and Senate have now rejected a White House request relating to
the supplemental for the $2.5 billion that would go toward
reconstruction and humanitarian aid -- rejected your request that that
money be controlled by the Pentagon. And instead, they're designating
that it be controlled by State Department and other agencies.

MR. FLEISCHER: Correct.

Q: Does this mean the State Department is now going to run the
reconstruction effort?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, it's part of a $74-billion appropriation bill that
Congress is considering. They granted the President's request in this
area for the dollar amount, but there is a difference in their
committee work about exactly who should get to expend the dollar
amount. So the President is pleased with the focus on the correct
dollar amount in this case. We disagree with the committees about
whether it should be the State Department or the Defense Department
that should be authorized to expend the funds. And that is an issue
that we'll take up with the House and the Senate when it comes to the
floor.

Q: But given that both committees -- and this is not just a partisan
issue; Republicans agree that the money should go to the State
Department, too
-- how do you readjust? Is Jay Gardner, retired General Gardner, who
is supposed to be running the operation, does he work for the State
Department now?

MR. FLEISCHER: Just by working -- by working the issue when it comes
to the full House and the full Senate. It was a committee that did it
in the House, a committee that did it in the Senate. And, of course,
the way the process works, it's the beginning stages of it. And we'll
continue to work it.

Q: So just to clarify, the President still believes that the Pentagon
should be in control of the rebuilding and the humanitarian relief
effort under this supplemental.

MR. FLEISCHER: The President made the proposal to do it in that manner
because, given the fact that the Pentagon has the security force as
the Armed Forces on the ground, he believes that's the most effective
way to deliver the help to the Iraqi people that will be necessary for
the reconstruction of Iraq. So that's why he made the proposal the way
he did. He stands by it. We'll see ultimately what happens when it
gets to the floor.

Q: Iraq has a debt, an external debt of about $100 billion. It's a
huge burden, obviously, even with its oil reserves -- run up by Saddam
Hussein, unelected dictator, building palaces and weapons. And there
is --

MR. FLEISCHER: Actually, he was elected. He had 100 percent he said.

Q: I stand corrected. There is a proposal out there that once Saddam
Hussein and his regime are gone, that the people of Iraq should not be
burdened with this debt, that it should be forgiven, partly to
liberate them from this conduct of Saddam Hussein, and also to teach
banks and corporations and countries who lent such a tyrant that kind
of money a lesson not to do it in the future. Does the President have
a feeling on what should be done with Iraq's debt?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think that all of these issues are going to be the
issues that are going to be part of the reconstruction effort. And
these decisions will get made with the international community.
Obviously, there are a number of nations who have money that is owed
to them -- owed by the state. The state will continue to exist. And
so, therefore, it is still an important issue. The people of Iraq will
have a role in this, as well. So I don't think anybody can tell you
what the outcome will be.

The one thing that is certain is Iraq is a wealthy nation. Iraq has
vast resources. Iraq will have -- unlike Afghanistan, for example --
Iraq will have a huge financial base from within upon which to draw.
And that's because of their oil wealth. And that should serve
benevolent purposes in the future, should serve peaceful purposes,
should serve trade purposes in the future. It has a future, also,
where the trade sanctions will get lifted one day.

Q: So you aren't ruling in or out debt forgiveness for Iraq?

MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, I'm just saying I think it's too soon for
anybody to give any assurances on one way or another. As I said,
state-to-state relations continue, even if a regime is changed.

Q: Can I ask a more specific question? Does the United States know now
that forces are within 15 miles, perhaps closer to Baghdad, the day
after this regime falls -- literally, the day after -- who runs the
financial system in Iraq? Who runs its diplomacy? Who runs its oil
fields?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, this will be part of the whole reconstruction
effort.

Q: But we don't know that yet?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think when the day the Taliban fell, did we
know the name of the new President of Afghanistan? No. The point is,
the best way to ensure the future stability of a country is to take
care first of the security matters, which is first, to make certain
that the regime is disarmed, to make certain that Saddam Hussein and
those around him are not in power. And things will evolve, and I think
things will evolve in different parts of the country at a different
pace. Already you're seeing some talk by the British of empowering
Iraqi officials to run certain affairs in some of the areas that they
have now controlled.

And so, again, I think you're going to see different things, different
regions of the country. But broadly, the effort is designed to make
certain that security is enhanced. They'll be additional handovers of
roles to the Iraqi people from both within and without.

Q: You mentioned this morning that the airline aid package on the Hill
is excessive. Do you think the airlines are trying to take advantage
of the government to cover up some structural problems they have?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think that the airline industry, even prior to the
war in Iraq, was beset by economic difficulties, obviously unrelated
to anything happening in the war in Iraq. The taxpayers responded
generously once, right after September 11th, in the form of loans that
were available to the airlines, some of which have just this week
accepted substantial loans from the taxpayers.

So the airline industry has to be looked at in terms of, is there
something specific that was caused as a result of this war that merits
additional help from the taxpayers? Or were there other conditions
that existed in the marketplace that need to be considered, separate
and apart from the war.

Some of the issues that the airline industry brought to the attention
of policymakers were their fear that a war would lead to a spike-up in
the price of fuel oil, which is a large component of the cost that
airlines incur. Jet fuel costs have actually fallen, not risen, as was
predicted. Fuel costs have fallen from $1.20 a gallon in February, to
just 80 cents last week. Also, in terms of passenger ridership, the
airlines anticipated a 15-percent decline in ridership. There has,
indeed, been a decline of 10 percent, not the anticipated 15 percent.
And that's also a factor that needs to be considered. The level at
which the ridership now is very similar to the level of just one year
ago.

Therefore, when the administration takes a look at the congressional
committee's action to add some $3 billion to the appropriations for
the airlines, the White House believes that that is excessive.

Q: What is an appropriate amount?

MR. FLEISCHER: Something less than that. (Laughter.) The
administration does not oppose assistance for the airlines. But,
clearly, given the factors that have affected the airlines, such as
fuel oil and the limited impact the war has had, the administration
believes that the amount that the Congress is considering now is
excessive.

Q: Ari, there's a lot of stories out there saying the White House is
signaling it wants to compromise on the tax cut. What is your reaction
to that? And is $550 billion acceptable to you?

MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you for bringing that up. Obviously, the House
has passed a figure at the level the President sought; the Senate has
passed a different figure. And we believe that -- the President
believes very strongly that the higher the number, the more jobs will
be created for the American people. And, therefore, the President
continues to think it's very important that the $726 billion figure
that the President sought is the figure that is arrived at. He will
continue to push for that figure.

We understand that there will be a give-and-take process in the
Congress between the House and the Senate, but the President is going
to continue to push for that figure.

Q: That isn't exactly a resounding, no, we're not going to compromise.

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, we understand that the President proposes,
Congress disposes -- but the President is continuing to push for the
figure that he proposed.

Q: Ari, I think the point people are trying to get at when it comes to
the rescue operation is you say, the President had a hint of it.
Without getting into any of the classified information or operational
details, that seems to suggest that the President was told in the
morning at one of his earlier meetings with his national security team
that there was some intelligence and the possibility of a rescue
operation being launched, was he also given the option to say no?

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't think people view the President as looking at
it in that way, when the President reviews his briefings in the
morning about here are the different possibilities of things that may
take place down the road. And then later in the afternoon, down the
road is traveled, and the President gets an update on the things that
he talked about earlier in the day.

The President has made it very clear to the commanders, and to Tommy
Franks, that Tommy Franks makes the calls about the tactics and the
timing of the operations. That is how the President thinks wars are
won. The President has said repeatedly, the White House will not
micromanage the war. That is exactly why you have generals and
admirals and experts to guide the war and run the war in the way that
they believe is the best to run it. He'll stay deeply involved. He
monitors it. He asks questions about what is happening to enforce
accountability, to make certain that people are doing the things that
they said they were going to do. But when it comes to running the war,
the President believes that it's best left in the hands of the people
who are expert at running the war.

Q: I have a question now on the financial issues. In the supplemental,
there are a number of Republicans who are saying there is a majority
support for striking out the money for Turkey because of anger on the
Hill about how -- the Turkey situation. What is the administration
doing to try to keep that money in there?

And to follow on Elizabeth's question, not as the White House Press
Secretary, but as the former spokesman for the Senate Budget Committee
Chairman and the former spokesman for the House Ways and Means
Committee Chairman, how likely is it that the President will get his
$700 billion? (Laughter.)

MR. FLEISCHER: Are you asking me as an AP writer?  (Laughter.)

Q: Sure.

MR. FLEISCHER: (Laughter.) The land of the formers.  (Laughter.)

Q: What a checkered past -- (laughter.)

MR. FLEISCHER: As a former spokesman for those two entities, I think
it's appropriate to buck that question to the White House Press
Secretary. And he answered already. So thank you for the opportunity.
(Laughter.) No, I can tell you, there is a process that's underway on
the Hill. We have seen this before. And the President made a proposal
because he thought it was the best proposal to do the most good for
the economy. And therefore, he is going to continue to push the
Congress to pass the proposal that he made. We will work with the
Congress in that endeavor. Congress, of course, has the final word.
But it will be a final word where the President's voice is heard.

Q: Turkey?

MR. FLEISCHER: And on Turkey, as you know, Secretary Powell has been
in Turkey meeting with Turkish officials about the ongoing bilateral
relations and interests. And we will see exactly what happens on the
floor of the House or the floor of the Senate. We're aware that
members of Congress have some strong opinions on this. But the
President does think, given Turkey's economic circumstances, it is
appropriate, it is the right policy for the $1 billion to be approved.

Q: There seems to be a new big push going on towards Baghdad at the
moment, and the Pentagon said today that the toughest fighting may be
ahead of us still. One of the criticisms of this administration is
that the rationale for the war has seemed to change over time. So, for
the record, at this point, would you say what -- how would this
administration define a victory?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President has been unequivocal. He said it in
his speech in Philadelphia, he's been saying it on all his remarks,
and I think this is something you've heard repeatedly out of the
Pentagon: this mission in Iraq is about the disarmament of the Iraqi
regime. It is also about making certain that Saddam Hussein and those
around him are no longer in power so they can do this again to the
Iraqi people or to the world. Those are the two missions.

Q: It has to be both things in order to be a victory? One or the other
doesn't --

MR. FLEISCHER: It always has been. And that is the purpose of the
military effort.

Q: Can you tell us what the threshold is for Defense officials coming
to the President and asking for some sort of fresh authorization,
aside from any classified matters? Are there circumstances under which
they must come to him for a fresh authorization?

MR. FLEISCHER: You know there is really nothing that's been brought to
my attention like that. What happened is, here, the President develops
a war plan with the experts, with the National Security Council, with
the DOD, with the generals, with the CINC, with the Secretary of
Defense. The plan is approved. And Tommy Franks' job is to carry out
the plan. And that is what is happening.

I can't, off the top of my head, Jim, give you an example of something
that only the President can authorize. But, again, I think it's
important to understand the President's approach to how wars are won
-- the President's approach to how important it is for the
Commander-in-Chief to make certain that there is accountability by
asking questions about the mission so that people in charge of the
mission can answer to the President about how the mission is being
conducted and carried out.

But the President wants to make certain that the commanders in the
field know that they are comfortable making the calls and making
decisions. That's part of the whole military approach, too. When you
talk to top military officials, they'll tell you they don't
micromanage the actual levels on the battlefield. There are decisions
that are made by lieutenants. There are decisions that are made by
captains. There are decisions that are made by majors, et cetera. And
that's how the President thinks wars are best won.

Q: Okay, one thing on the airline assistance package, even though it
was clear that the White House didn't want any money for this, or at
least they didn't put any in the supplemental, it is equally clear
that both Democrats and Republicans on the Hill are determined to push
this through. In spite of White House objections, they've put around
$3 billion in there. Does the White House intend to threaten a veto?
What do you intend to do, at this point, to tell people that --

MR. FLEISCHER: Jim, Jim, Jim, Jim, this is the beginning of the
process. The committees have spoken, but it hasn't even made it to the
House floor yet, or to the Senate floor. So allow the process to take
place.

You are correct, this is not a partisan issue. I think that you will
find people in both parties on different sides of this. There are --
of course, anytime you're dealing with a situation involving the
airlines, there are parochial concerns, there are regional concerns.
Different members of Congress from both parties represent important
constituencies that are involved in this. And so, I don't think this
is an issue that's going to lend itself simply to different party
breakdown. And that's true for those who support the $3 billion or
more that the Congress is proposing, and those who believe that that
is excessive. I think you'll find people on both sides of that issue.

Q: It makes it much more difficult for the White House to deal with if
you have prominent Republicans, including leadership, pushing
something.

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we shall see. But, again, I think it's important
to look at the substance and the facts. And this is predicated on the
fact that the airline industry suffered particularly as a result of
the actions in Iraq, and therefore, it needed taxpayer dollars. And
again, think about what I described to you as one of the largest
drivers of cost, which is fuel oil, and the fact that it has actually
come down, not gone up, and come down rather substantially, too.
That's a 33 percent drop in the price of fuel oil in just a few short
months.

The other important thing to take a look at is the airlines are on
their way to solving many of their internal issues, as well. We've
already seen certain airlines as they deal with labor costs, and as
they reach agreement to lower costs so they can avoid going into
Chapter 11. This is already taking place in the marketplace without
the taxpayers being asked to pony up and pay more. So the President
does have a concern about the airlines. We want to make sure we are
working with the airlines, but we believe that the amount Congress is
looking at now is excessive.

Q: Ari, I just want to follow quickly on that point. There seems to be
some -- a bit of confusion, or something out of this morning's gaggle.
And so, just to absolutely clarify, you never intended, today, to
suggest that a veto threat is hanging over the supplemental because of
the airlines?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, and I never did suggest it. Somebody asked me that,
and I gave an answer similar with a few less gems in it -- (laughter)
-- when I said it's much too soon in the process.

Q: Okay, I just want to make sure that's absolutely crystal-clear. On
the tax cuts, is the President going to make phone calls and
personally lobby members of the Hill to get his package through?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I don't rule that out, of course. And as you
know, Senator Grassley was down here yesterday talking to the
President. So there are important conversations that are underway and
will continue. Other members of Congress have been down here to talk
to the President -- some quietly, some coming down here that you know
about.

The meeting today, for example, with the economists -- there was a --
the meeting was focused on the growth package. And many of these
economists agreed with the President about the need to get this passed
and they want to do their part, in terms of convincing the Hill to
pass it.

So we're still at the beginning process of this. Congress deserves to
be complimented for moving the budget process on time. There will be
votes in the conference committee coming up on the budget that will
set the dollar amount for what the tax cut will be. And then only
after that will you actually get into the hard work of actually
writing the tax cut, itself. That's the next part in the process; it
has not yet begun.

Q: But what about the moderate senators, because that's -- that's the
real key here.

MR. FLEISCHER: There are a number of senators that are important in
both parties and they'll, of course, be talked to. They're talked to
on a regular basis and the President will do his part.

Q: So he will call people?

MR. FLEISCHER: I said never rule out the President calling people;
he's already focused on it and working on it. We'll see exactly what
is necessary.

Q: Once more on the rescue mission. Is one of the reasons why there
was no decision to go or not go at the President's level because it
was simply presumed all along that this was a desirable thing to do
and that if the opportunity presented itself it would be attempted,
come what may, and so --

MR. FLEISCHER: The reason it's not decided at the President's level is
because this is exactly why the taxpayers have put the military there
in the first place. They are the best. They are the expert. They know
how to get it done.

And as important as this was, because this is the rescue of a POW,
there are many other similar missions that take place in a routine
manner involving search, rescue efforts, a pilot is down, the military
responds and rescues a pilot. None of that has to rise to the
President's level. It's exactly what the military is so good at. And
this is why the President expresses gratitude to the members of the
Armed Forces who carried out this rescue raid. Rescuing a POW is the
heart and soul of America's military. That shows how much they care
about all of those who serve our country, to make certain that no one
is left behind. That's what they do. And it need not rise to a
presidential level.

Q: Where does the line get drawn in President Bush's view? Where does
the line get drawn between things that do rise to his level and do
need his sign-off, and things --

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, let me do it this way. If I'm aware of something
that comes up that only can be decided at the presidential level, I'll
do my best to share it with you, if and when that happens. But I think
it is important for the country to know how this President believes
his job as Commander-in-Chief is best carried out, and that's why I
described it to you -- about the accountability, the level of meetings
that the President has, the frequency of the meetings that he has. But
the decisions, the timing, the tactics lie in the field.

Q: Ari, two things. First, is the President planning on attending any
of the funerals of those who died in the conflict on the U.S. side at
all?

MR. FLEISCHER: We always keep you informed about the President's
schedule, and we will always do our best to do that. Obviously,
tomorrow, when the President goes to Camp Lejeune, he will have an
opportunity to meet with some people in a private meeting. And I think
in the President's remarks you'll also here some sentiment from the
President about those who serve and those who have lost their lives.

Q: Has he already talked to some of the family members who have lost
loved ones there?

MR. FLEISCHER: April, at the President's request, whatever
communication the President has with those who serve our country --
and this is not the first time, this goes back to the Afghanistan
theater, as well -- he's asked me to keep private.

Q: And the second subject. There are some critics who are concerned
that there is not a push by the federal government for the
International Red Cross to go in to see the POWs. What is that saying
to the American public?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'm not certain that's the case.

Q: I'm talking about the POWs that are in Iraqi captivity.

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, you're saying there's not a push for the United
States to get the Red Cross in there?

Q: -- saying there's not a push  -- 

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not certain that's the case. Of course, we'd like
to have the Red Cross be able to do its job and visit anybody who is
captive in Iraq -- of course.

Q: Ari, following up on John's question. After Foreign Minister Gul of
Turkey and Secretary of State Powell met today, Turkish officials did
say, however, we reserve the right to go into Turkey if we see a need.
What's the White House position on that stand? And what does that do
to negotiations with Hill types in order to get them the billion
dollars?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, that's nothing new. Turkey has been saying that
for weeks. And the important thing is that Turkey has not taken any
action, they have not crossed the border, and they continue to not
cross the border.

Q: And what about -- does it make it more difficult to get the billion
dollars off the Hill with that kind of rhetoric still out there?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I can't speak for the Hill, I can only speak for
the President's proposal. And there was a previous package that's been
withdrawn as a result of Turkey's not cooperating fully. But the
President does believe this is a meritorious proposal and it's based
on Turkey's economic circumstances, and that it should be granted by
members of Congress.

Q: May I have just one more on this topic?

MR. FLEISCHER: Let's try to come back, Ken, because we've got a few
people with their hands up behind you.

Q: The British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, has called for a postwar
conference sponsored by the U.N. of Iraq's various -- leadership of
Iraq's various ethnic groups, with the hopes that one of them would
emerge as the next leader. Is the U.S. endorsing this plan? And, if
not, why?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we'll continue to work with all parties about the
leadership of Iraq. But I think that, again, as the President has made
clear, the leadership of Iraq will come from the Iraqi people. There
are those who have lived and suffered under Saddam Hussein's regime
that the President thinks should have very important role in the
governance of their own country. There are people who fled, have lived
abroad who also should have an important say and role in the future of
their country. And we will continue to work with these groups on the
exact formulation of the best structure, the best form of government.

Q: So this particular forum, you believe, sponsored by the U.N. is not
the best structure?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there are numerous forums. We're going to take a
broad look.

Q: Ari, briefly on the Lejeune visit tomorrow and the remarks the
President is going to make in public, the Pentagon today was just
reporting the destruction of two divisions, U.S. forces within two
dozen miles of Baghdad. Is it safe to assume the President's going to
again underscore how much of the fight still remains ahead?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President will talk about the progress
being made in the war. And he continues to be pleased with the
progress that is being made. But as was pointed out, the Pentagon
today, difficult days, difficult times very well may lie ahead. And so
I think as much progress is being made, people have to be tempered,
calibrated to the reality of the situation on the ground and not go
too far in one direction or another. Events are as they are, and
progress is being made.

Q: Ari, for the fourth time, Senate Republicans have been unable to
break the filibuster on Miguel Estrada. In the President's view, what
else can be done at this point to break the stalemate?

MR. FLEISCHER: Stand on principle and do the right thing, continue to
stand by a good man, Miguel Estrada, for a job that he deserves.
That's the President's approach. The President thinks it is a very bad
mistake for senators, particularly, at a time when the judicial branch
lacks judges, to make the matter -- compound the matter and make it
worse by failing to confirm qualified judges. And so the President
very much regrets the politically driven tactics of those who are
filibustering the nomination of somebody who clearly has the
bipartisan support to have a strong majority on the Senate floor. He
has 55 votes. That is a sufficient majority to pass. And the President
regrets that there is a partisan minority standing in the way of
bipartisan progress.

Q: In addition to standing on principle, is he actively doing anything
to make headway, making phone calls?

MR. FLEISCHER: Sure. We continue to work the issue on the Hill. The
President has talked to a number of people. And I think it's just a
question of whether or not the Democrats want to keep up their
obstructionist tactics for as long as it is necessary, because the
President continues to stand by Miguel Estrada and will continue to
stand by Miguel Estrada.

Q: Ari, who in the White House has been tasked to supervise or oversee
the efforts on the part of the U.S. government to let out contracts
for business for reconstruction in Iraq?

MR. FLEISCHER: Typically, those would come out of USAID.

Q: Is there anyone in the White House who's monitoring the concerns
about conflicts of interest or special favors, in order to somehow
guard the President's best interests here?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think, from the President's point of view, he's very
satisfied that the longstanding contracting provisions that allow
USAID to carry about their business are being carried out the way they
should be carried out. Of course, we always have people at the White
House who work with all the different agencies. So, literally, I can't
give you an answer to what person here is working directly on any one
issue -- if that is an issue that has reached here or not. I don't
know if it has.

Q: And last thing, there's been a lot of discussion in the British
press about the annoyance that the Brits have that they are not
allowed to be in on the business. What is the President's response to
Mr. Blair, or anyone in that government, about whether the Brits can
compete for that business?

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, the President does not decide who gets
contracts. These are issues that are to be decided by the USAID, as
part of their contracting authorities and their decisions.

Q: As far as the President is concerned, the British would qualify if
they can do the work?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President wants to make certain that all the rules
are followed. He believe they're being followed, and USAID makes these
calls.

Q: And that would be the same for the French?

MR. FLEISCHER: USAID makes these calls.

Q: Back on the airline industry. You seemed to indicate you oppose
some of these funds because they weren't directly related to the war
in Iraq. Are there some funds that you would support, for instance, in
this increased security measures at airports or at airlines?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, of course, keep in mind the airline industry has
already received from the taxpayers multiple billions of dollars as a
result of what took place on 9/11. These are loans that -- one major
airline just took a $1-billion loan; it was announced this week -- it
has been ratified or announced by a board and then the formal notice
came this week about that.

So there are existing costs. There is a willingness by the
administration to provide some additional assistance at this time in
the appropriations bill for the airlines. But, clearly, given the fact
that the worst fears of the war did not materialize for the airlines,
and fuel oil prices have actually come down substantially, the
President believes that the $3 billion request is excessive.

Q: Realistically, though, because both chambers and their committees
are at similar levels, is there any way that they can be reduced?

MR. FLEISCHER: Sure.

Q: I understand with floor amendments or something like that.

MR. FLEISCHER: Exactly. Sure. What happens in committee can be
repeated on the floor of the Congress. It can be increased, it can be
maintained at the same level, it can come down. And, of course, it can
go also to the conference committee -- which is why we are, in
fairness, at the early stage of the process.

Q: Ari, if the tax cut does get trimmed back -- and I don't think
there's anybody that believes that it won't get cut back at least
somewhat -- is the President prepared to insist that the dividend
portion of the proposal remain intact --

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes.

Q: -- while other portions -- he is? So he would rather have that,
rather than it get cut across the board?

MR. FLEISCHER: No. The President believes that the best plan is the
plan that he proposed. I'm not prepared to enter into any discussions
about what contingencies plan could be if the number is not what the
President proposed. The President thinks the numbers should be the
$726 billion figure he proposed, and that the plan should have a
100-percent exclusion for dividends, and should have the acceleration
of the child tax credit and the other provisions that he proposed.

Q: Ari, why has the President limited public appearances since the war
began only to military audiences? Why not go out among the civilian
population?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President has had -- I have to go back and
take a look at every appearance that he's had -- of course, with Prime
Minister Blair, that public appearance was with you. So he has had it
with other audiences beyond military. But clearly, we are a nation at
war. While the President is also doing work behind the scenes on
domestic issues, as you know from his meeting today with these
economists, much of the President's focus is on the war. Much of the
public's focus is on the war. And, I think -- I'm not ruling out that
there won't be any other events that will be public, but clearly, that
is an immediate focus of the President.

Q: It sounds like tomorrow the President is going to speak more
expansively about the human loss of war, certainly more than he did in
Philadelphia, where he didn't talk about it. Has there been some
reluctance to dwell on casualties so as to not to send a message to
Saddam that there's a low threshold of pain in this country and that
we'll flinch if there are too much loss of life?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think you've heard it from the President directly. He
talks about the sacrifice. He talks about the risks of war. And so, I
just -- I'm not sure -- I don't share the premise of your question
because it is something the President has talked about. Tomorrow, as I
indicated, the President is going to meet with some of the family
members of servicemen who have lost their lives in Iraq. And you've
seen this from the President before. I remind you, he went to Walter
Reed Medical Center to meet with those who were wounded in
Afghanistan. You were there. You talked to the President afterwards.
So this is part of his job, and he knows that.

Q: Thank you. Back on Turkey for a second, the reason the Turkish
government is so concerned and leaving the threat out there apparently
is they have not been convinced that the Kurds will not try to have an
independent state. Have the Kurdish rebels who are fighting on our
side assured us -- or what assurances have they given us that that
won't be the case?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think this is something that has been expressed
directly to the Kurdish authorities, as well as to the Turkish
authorities. And that's one of the reasons you're seeing such relative
calm on the border there. We are pleased with the reactions of both.
The President has said all along that it's important to maintain the
territorial integrity of Iraq, and he means that.

Q: This morning, you called our attention to the $31 million that was
in the supplemental for a Middle East communications network. Does
that -- does the administration feel that a provision like that is
commensurate with the problem that we're facing, as described by
people like President Mubarak of Egypt, who said that the turmoil
there could wind up creating 100 Osama bin Ladens?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the reason -- first of all, there was preexisting
funding that already had started to move. This is in the supplemental
for additional funding to bring this program online. And the President
has always placed a focus on getting out America's message around the
world. It's something that the President asks about.

When the United States is the leading nation around the world in the
provision of food supplies, of medicine, of combating AIDS, and then
you hear people say some of the critical or negative things they say
about our country, the President wants to make certain that the truth
and the facts about what the United States does around the world are
shared around the world. Particularly in areas where there is less
free media, it's not as always easy for the facts to get out. The
President believes that it's important for the truth to be discussed,
the facts to get out, and that's one of the reasons that money was in
the supplemental.

Q: Two real quick things. One, I think we forgot to ask you who it was
that gave the President this heads-up with this hint this morning.

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, I don't discuss that.

Q: Was it at the morning NSC meeting?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm just not going to get into further details.

Q: Since we can't get the week ahead anymore, can you give us the
48-hour ahead? What's on his schedule for Friday?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'll do Friday tomorrow.

Q: Thank you.

MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.

(end transcript)

(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S.
Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)