The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:35 P.M. EDT
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. Now, what happened to Helen? She was here this morning.
Q: She’s talking up that news conference. (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: I miss her already.
I have no opening statement, so let us begin. Not you first, Lester. (Laughter.)
Q: You did April.
MR. FLEISCHER: That’s correct. Not you first, Lester. Terry.
Q: Ari, during the 2000 campaign, the President said that he would be judicious in deploying troops around the world and he laid out these criteria. He says, “It needs to be in our vital interest and the mission needs to be clear and the exit strategy obvious.”
MR. FLEISCHER: That’s right.
Q: First, does he still hold to those principles?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, he does; indeed.
Q: What would the possible vital interests of the United States national security be in Liberia?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the interest here is working with the international community in an area of the world where we do legitimately fear a humanitarian problem, a humanitarian crisis, as a result of the suffering that is going on in Liberia.
As the President also discussed in 2000, when he was asked about the mission in Somalia, the President talked about his support for the humanitarian mission of Somalia, but then the President said “the mission changed into a nation building mission, and that’s when the mission went wrong.”
The most careful judgments have to get made where the situation is not only involving a matter of clear, military issue, but also where humanitarian issue comes into play. And these are close calls. These are difficult calls. And this is why the President is working with his Secretary of State, his Secretary of Defense and his National Security Advisor, as well as with the United Nations, to determine what is the right call for the American people.
Q: And then just on the exit strategy, what’s the exit strategy in Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, Iraq does not fit the same category as what the President was talking about there. The President, when he began this, said to the American people that this will be a war in which we cannot predict its outcome. We can predict with certainty what the outcome will be, but not the duration of the outcome. And so the President has never put a specific timetable on it. He was very direct with the American people about that and he said it would be as long a necessary, but not a day longer.
Q: But he did say that whenever he committed troops around the world, it would be in our vital national interest and there would be an exit strategy. He made the case that Iraq was in the vital national interest —
MR. FLEISCHER: There’s no question there’s an exit strategy. The exit strategy is just as the President said today, that we will see this mission through, to complete the mission so that Iraq can be stable, that Iraq can be secure, that Iraq is on a path to democracy. Those are the criteria the President has laid out. And the President is not putting a specific timetable on it because it’s such an important mission, he will see it through — and then bring our troops home.
Q: Ari, AIDS advocates had a couple of reactions to the Tobias appointment and administration AIDS policy in general. First of all, they’re saying that Tobias’ history as a drug company executive show that that’s where the administration’s real allegiance lies, is in policies that foster the profits of the drug companies, rather than AIDS victims in Africa who would benefit from low-cost generic drugs — that sort of thing. And they are also criticizing the administration for not seeking full funding in the first year of the AIDS initiative, saying that the $2 billion figure, rather than $3 billion, is authorized by Congress. Can you address those two?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, first of all, I’m not sure who you’re quoting, but I can tell you for certain they don’t speak for the majority of AIDS activists in the country. Let me cite you somebody who has spoken out about this appointment, and this is Sandra Thurman, who was the Director of the White House AIDS Office in the Clinton administration. She is now the President of International AIDS Trust. She called Mr. Tobias’ selection “good news.” And she added, “This is clearly a person with tremendous stature and management acumen.”
And, indeed, that’s right. The President wanted to appoint somebody to undertake a massive $15-billion 5-year program who had sound business and management judgment. The President is the one who has sounded the moral call and has shown the leadership to fight, to take on AIDS.
What’s important now, particularly when you start to work on something that has international dimensions, with the United States tax dollars, is that the person in charge would be a very effective, good manager so the help gets to the people who suffer from AIDS and doesn’t get lost in bureaucracies; that it’s not administered in a fashion in which the money gets siphoned off into causes that don’t serve the people who suffer from AIDS and the communities that have to treat people with AIDS.
Mr. Tobias is a known and innovative leader. He’s a successful businessman. He has worked with billion-dollar organizations before to make certain that they were run effectively. Just so you know a little bit more about his background — in 1997, he was named one of the top 25 managers of the year by Business Week. He was also named the 1997 Norman Vincent Peale Humanitarian of the Year. And he was named CEO of the Year by Working Mother, in recognition of his leadership in bringing work and family initiatives to the company and advocating those policies within the U.S. business community. So that’s who the President wanted to reach out to, somebody who can administer and manage a $15-billion program.
Q: Does he support revising his trade policy to make it easier for African countries to get low-cost generic drugs?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, of course, the President’s proposal for AIDS focuses on getting low-cost anti-retroviral drugs to people who suffer from AIDS. That’s part and parcel of the program. That’s exactly what he’s going to administer.
Q: And then the funding question?
MR. FLEISCHER: On the funding question, I don’t recall off the top of my head whether the funding proposal in its first year was $2 billion or $3 billion. But it’s a $15 billion, five-year initiative. Listen, I think — the President has tremendous sympathy with all the advocates who are fighting for more. This is the President who has delivered the most. And he understands that for people who suffer, the most will never be enough. But this is the President who has tripled funding for AIDS around the world, who has made a front-and-center State of the Union national priority fighting AIDS in Africa. He understands that there are people who have friends and relatives who suffer. But he is leading the way around the world and bringing help to those who need it.
Q: Ari, I just want to be clear. The President’s belief is that there is no, zero, discrepancy between the threats on the ground in Iraq and what this White House and the intelligence community described being the threat prior to the war — is that his belief?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President has said it very clearly, that Saddam Hussein was a threat for a variety of reasons that he cited, including his possession of weapons of mass destruction, including the fact that he started wars against his neighbors and that he gassed his own people.
Q: I know all that, Ari. I’m asking you to deal with a specific question. So he believes there is no discrepancy between what this administration reported about the threat, what the intelligence community reported about the threat, and what is being borne out after the war?
MR. FLEISCHER: It’s just as I said. That’s the reasons the President discussed —
Q: Can you answer yes or no?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because I suspect you have a second question, Mr. Gregory —
Q: Yes, I do. But that’s a — question, you can either answer it yes or no.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think there are always evaluations of the intelligence at all levels, and there’s a variety of pieces of information that as we’ve discussed many times, form the mosaic. Some of it is clear, some of it is not so clear.
Q: I don’t think that’s a straight answer. I think that’s obvious.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think your question doesn’t lend itself to a direct answer, which is why it was asked.
Q: Well, I think other people would disagree. But here’s the crux of this. Because I don’t think the President answered this straight, either, when Terry asked earlier, when he had a chance. The President says that Saddam Hussein was a threat. And what he said on March 17th is that “the intelligence leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised.”
MR. FLEISCHER: Right.
Q: And he went on to talk about the link with al Qaeda operating within Iraq. So the issue was the imminence of that threat. Has that, or has that not been borne out by what we’ve seen or not discovered —
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has stated directly that the United States has intelligence information saying that Saddam Hussein’s regime possesses weapons of mass destruction. The very fact that they were not used against our forces does not in any way indicate that the President’s statement was wrong. It just means they weren’t used. It doesn’t mean that they weren’t hidden. It doesn’t mean that some of them were destroyed, as the President previously has said. That doesn’t give any other indications.
And the Iraqi regime, through its history of being able to conceal their weapons of mass destruction that we know they have — we know they had — was able to hide much of it, too. So I don’t think the fact that it wasn’t used serves as proof that what the President said isn’t valid. It is valid.
Q: And so Americans should conclude that those weapons exist? But why shouldn’t they conclude that if we haven’t found them, that they’re not there, or that they were sent, you know — weapons materials were sent out of the country?
MR. FLEISCHER: Frankly, I think the burden on this falls to the President’s critics. They’re the ones who have to explain, after the United Nations, themselves, found that Iraq had failed to account for tons, for liters of botulin toxin and risin and anthrax — is one to assume that Iraq waited for the United Nations inspectors to get thrown out of the country in order for Iraq then to destroy what everyone acknowledged that they had, and that Iraq failed to tell anybody they actually destroyed it? They failed to do as South Africa did, and take people to the sites of where they destroyed their weapons of mass destruction? I think that’s fanciful.
I think that the burden, again, falls on the people who are criticizing the President here, for them to explain how and when Saddam Hussein destroyed it. Or perhaps they believe he never had it in the first place.
Let me say this. “There are consequences, which is the threat that Saddam Hussein will use those weapons of mass destruction that we know he has, that he will use the ballistic missile — delivery system capacity, to deliver those weapons of mass destruction that we know he has, in rudiment and is developing even further.” That was Senator Joe Lieberman speaking from the floor of the Senate in 1998. There are many, including the previous administration, who say that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction. And that’s because the intelligence has led us to believe that consistently for a great period of time.
Q: They could have been wrong, too, I guess, right?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, that’s why I said —
Q: I mean, it could have been a bipartisan mistake.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the burden falls on those who think he didn’t have them to explain when he destroyed them, and why, after he destroyed them, he didn’t tell anybody or show anybody. He, instead, decides to suffer the consequences.
Q: But let me just —
MR. FLEISCHER: Scott.
Q: Is there no burden on the administration —
MR. FLEISCHER: David, this will be the last one, and then we’ll go to Scott.
Q: All right, but is there not a burden on this administration to prove what it has not proved conclusively about the other piece of this, that was critical to this nexus, which is the existence of al Qaeda operating out of Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that’s been demonstrated very clearly in the assassination of State Department representative — AID representative Foley, who was based in Amman, Jordan, which we have linked to al Qaeda operating out of Iraq. This is well-known.
Q: In his news conference just now, the President said, “It’s just a matter of time, a matter of time,” on weapons. He hasn’t come out and said in awhile, we will find the weapons, we will find evidence of the weapons programs. Is that him saying again today we will find these weapons —
MR. FLEISCHER: I’m not sure what the difference is. When he’s asked about a question about finding weapons of mass destruction, he says, “It’s a matter of time. It’s a matter of time,” that clearly is a reference to the fact that we will find them in a matter of time.
Q: Also in Iraq, when he says, “My answer is bring them on,” to people who would be tempted to attack American troops, does that kind of language risk inviting more attacks?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think what the — first of all, I don’t think people in Iraq who are loyal to Saddam Hussein are going to or not going to attack based on a news conference. They’re going to attack because that’s what they do, that’s what they’ve done as long as they were in power, and that’s what they continue to do. I think what the President was expressing there is his confidence in the men and women of the military to handle the military mission that they still remain in the middle of. Major combat operations have ended, but obviously, combat has not for those who are there. And the President has faith and confidence in the men and women of our military who are doing difficult duty.
Q: Can I ask you one question, too, about Liberia? The President said, “One thing has to happen. Mr. Taylor needs to leave the country.” We heard him say last week that Taylor has to cede power. I didn’t hear him say, leave the country. Is there any significance in that?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, there’s no significance in that. Same thing.
Q: Fiscal year for most states started yesterday, and as you know, many of them are either seeking or have sought tax increases to help balance the budget. Does the administration intend to reflect in its upcoming midsession review any adjustment and growth estimates due to what the states are doing?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, growth estimates are derived from multiple sources, and it’s not really driven by what the states are doing as much as it is by federal policies and by macroeconomic assumptions about growth rates and unemployment trends on the national level. So I don’t think the midsession review will be reflective of that.
Q: There’s been some estimates that the stimulative effect of the President’s tax cuts could actually be cut in half by these increases. Is there any agreement at all by the administration that the stimulative effect of these tax cut policies will be diminished by the fact the states are raising or planning to raise state taxes?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think, again, state governments are under different circumstances than federal governments. The President has made his decisions and the Congress has passed them, he has signed them, for what is the best way to get growth going on the federal level, which helps the states.
Q: Yesterday your comment that you wouldn’t rule out the dispatch of troops to Liberia triggered, apparently, actions in the streets, people taking that as a sign that American forces are on the way. Two questions. There are reports that forces are on stand-by, so are American forces on the way? I would expect you to say the President hasn’t made the decision —
MR. FLEISCHER: That’s correct.
Q: — but are you prepared to dispatch forces on a moment’s notice? And does it trouble you that that mild a comment from the podium here, that you wouldn’t rule out the dispatch of forces, could trigger such a strong reaction in Liberia?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think, number one, it’s an accurate statement and the President just made it today. This is a matter that is under active review, and no decision has been made. The facts are the facts. And there is a very delicate situation in Liberia, although it remains calm still, but there is a delicate situation underway in Liberia. And this happens, internationally, from time to time in different regions of the world, that the United States, working with allies, considers what the best course is to promote peace and bring stability to a violence-prone region. That’s what’s underway now.
As for anything operational, Wendell, you need to talk to the Department of Defense about their capabilities. That’s not something that I would get into from here.
Q: And the idea that a comment you make could trigger such a sharp reaction in Liberia?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, frankly, I think that it’s not a question of a comment that is made, as much as it is a reflection that America plays a unique and important role around the world, and this is why these are important matters for the President to weigh. Because it can have an effect around the world; it also can have an effect at home. And the President’s job is to make distinctions and judgments on these matters that involve both humanitarian and military and stability operations, and render his best judgment. And this is why this is a carefully considered matter.
I think it’s a reflection of the fact that America is held in high regard around the world, and people want to know that America cares. This President does care about the situation in Liberia. He’s assessing the best way to deal with it.
Q: Ari, as American troops continue to face dangers in Iraq, some countries have offered to send troops to help keep the peace. But not too many of those countries have come forward. Is the administration undertaking a major effort to get other countries to join with an even number of troops?
MR. FLEISCHER: There have been numerous conversations with many nations around the world about joining in the international effort to maintain stability and promote stability inside Iraq. Secretary Rumsfeld, at his news conference the other day, said we’ve talked to some two dozen nations about this. And so there are a number of conversations underway around the world.
Q: I know countries like Poland and Great Britain are probably thinking more troops. How about some of the countries that disagreed with the United States using military action in Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we’re — the United States is reaching out to many different nations, and these are judgments that these nations will make. So we’ll see what different nations decide to do, and that will speak for itself.
Q: President Bush again today that said that Saddam Hussein was not a threat, no longer posed a threat, to the Iraqi people, to the American people. But Bremer has said very recently on the ground that the fact that the administration has not captured or killed Saddam Hussein gives some sense of support, even if it’s just psychological, moral support to Baathist loyalists, the fact that he hasn’t been captured. Does the administration see any credence to that argument, does the President not see the importance of the need to wrap that up, to either answer that question?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think, first of all, if Saddam Hussein is dead, he’s not a threat. If he’s alive, he’s hiding and he’s not a threat the way he was when he presented a real serious threat to the region as a result of his launching of missiles, of his possession of weapons of mass destruction.
What Ambassador Bremer has said, and the President agrees with, of course, is that if he is alive, it will be helpful to the Iraqi people to have closure and certainty; for people to know that Saddam Hussein is dead, that he will not return; and, therefore, I think the Iraqi people will be freer and bolder and the people who are bringing violence to the American forces will be less committed to it.
Q: But it is clear that the fact that that very question exists undermines the administration’s ability to move forward with reconstruction in Iraq, because people don’t know where Saddam Hussein is.
MR. FLEISCHER: I don’t think you can say it “undermines,” but it’s one of the challenges that is presented there.
Q: Regarding Liberia, are there any African leaders who the President is visiting on his trip who have expressed their concern about sending U.S. troops to Liberia? I assume that it’s an urgent matter, that the President has at least —
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the nations of West Africa have already gotten together and agreed that they will be providing a military presence to help enforce the cease-fire in Liberia. So, frankly, there’s significant consensus among West Africans about the importance of their sending an international commitment. Kofi Annan, at the United Nations, has spoken about this, as well. You know, you are in just as good a position as me to figure out if there are others in Africa who have different thoughts about it. I don’t know off the top of my head, but you may want to just get in touch with the different nations in Africa.
Q: Ari, just to clarify another thing the President said earlier today. He said, “We’ve got the force necessary to deal with the security situation.” Is he saying there that no more troops are needed in Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, those measurements will always be something DOD is going to look at. And they’re in-flows and out-flows of forces, and these are ongoing judgment calls that DOD makes, based on rotation of troops and other factors involving security in different regions of the country.
The President is saying that he has faith in the force structure that we have there, the men and women of the military, to carry out the mission. But part of carrying out a mission is always assessing what is the right number, and that is always a changeable thing. It’s something that the operational people will weigh in on. I don’t think anybody can assume that planning is a static event. Plans will always result from the best guidance that comes from the people on the ground.
Q: Okay. And on Liberia, do you feel a need to make a, or announce a decision quickly, before he gets to Senegal?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, as I was indicating, I think this is one of those close judgments that need to be made after a careful assessment of the facts, in consultation with the international community, with Kofi Annan. And that’s what the President is in the middle of. Sometimes it’s best before committing American troops, if troops will be committed, to think it through long and hard.
Q: So it could be weeks, even?
MR. FLEISCHER: I’m just not going to put a timetable on it. And that’s not an indication that troops will be sent, it’s not an indication they won’t be sent. It is genuinely something that is under discussion.
Q: President Taylor of Liberia is under indictment for war crimes from the War Crimes Tribunal in Sierra Leone that’s been backed by the United Nations. Would the United States support him leaving Liberia to go to a country that could not extradite him to face war crimes charges?
MR. FLEISCHER: The first step is for him to relinquish power and to leave. That is the first thing that has to happen. That’s where the President is focused. We will continue to work and support international efforts, but this step cannot even be considered unless he does the right thing and leaves.
Q: But, clearly, he’s got to leave to somewhere. There are going to be less attractive and more attractive options to him. Would you support him leaving to go to a country from which he could not be extradited to face those crimes?
MR. FLEISCHER: I just don’t know that it’s useful to discuss what his options may be. I think what’s useful is for him to leave, and that’s the first step that has to take place.
Q: On March the 24th, 1998, the BBC reported that near Kampala, when President Clinton said the U.S. was wrong to benefit from slavery, Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni replied, “If anyone should apologize, it should be the African chiefs for capturing their own people and selling them. We still have these traitors today.” And my question: Does President Bush have enough respect for President Museveni that he will speak about those traitors today who hold tens of thousands of black slaves in Sudan and Mauritania, or will he, like the Clintons, avoid saying anything about this horror?
MR. FLEISCHER: Lester, when the President arrives, he will be giving a speech at Goree Island, where many slaves were sold and shipped off. And his speech will speak for itself. I’m not going to preview every aspect of it, but I think it’s a speech that’s worth paying attention to.
Q: — the President of the Zionist Organization of America, said yesterday, “It is appalling that a President who has vowed to put an end to terrorist regimes around the world now plans to give U.S. taxpayers’ dollars directly to a corrupt terrorist regime, the Palestinian Authority, despite more than a billion dollars to the PA from 1994 to 2002, during which time Palestinian terrorists continued murdering Israeli and American civilians.” And my question is, why does the President want to increase PA funding, when they have, for the past two months, done absolutely nothing — nothing — to stop terrorists?
MR. FLEISCHER: Lester, this is something we discussed at length yesterday, and nothing has changed from the answer yesterday.
Q: Well, this is a new thing. He’s asked why this huge increase —
MR. FLEISCHER: For the exact reason I gave yesterday — that the circumstances of who we are dealing with the in Palestinian Authority have changed from night to day. And that was evidenced in the warmth that you saw in the news conference between Prime Minister Sharon and Prime Minister Abbas yesterday. The Israelis are working directly with the Palestinian Authority for the right reasons. And under Prime Minister Abbas’ leadership there is a new moment of hope, and the United States is going to work very hard with the President, in his conversations with Arab leaders around the region. He called today to President Mubarak and King Abdullah, as you know, to make this even more of a moment of hope.
Q: Ari, I have two questions. Number one, would you talk about Friday, Bush is heading to Ohio — what is he going to be doing, and the significance of the July 4th holiday? And I have another question.
MR. FLEISCHER: On Friday, the President will travel to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of flight, and of course, also to celebrate July 4th. The President will talk about freedom, he’ll pay a tribute to liberty. He will talk about the valiant service of the men and women who serve our country in the Armed Forces. I think he will touch on the war on terror. He will be joined there by a crowd of approximately 20,000 members of the military, their families, and others who will present tributes to the invention of flight, and flight simulation displays will be available to one and all.
Q: Great. And the second question goes back to Liberia. Aides to Defense Secretary Rumsfeld say that he believes there is no compelling U.S. interest in Liberia. West African leaders say that because the nation was founded by American slaves, there is a particular significance for the United States for Liberia. What’s the President’s position on Liberia? Is there a particular significance for Liberia?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President looks at this in the context of 2003 and what is best to promote humanitarian goals that we think are important to promote international peace and to provide for stability. Of course, we do have historical relationships around the world that always fit into decisions that get made. But this is very much an important 2003 decision that’s, of course, based on our history.
Q: Does he believe, though, that Liberia might stand out among other African nations since it was founded by African slaves — by American slaves?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think it’s — the President is focused on this in 2003 for a decision that affects people on the ground there now, as well as the American people.
Q: Ari, getting back to the weapons of mass destruction for a minute, the administration was pretty clear in lots of testimony, Secretary Powell at the U.N., Director Tenet up on Capitol Hill, gave the very clear impression, in fact, stated categorically, we will find these things. Obviously, that hasn’t happened yet. It may. But is the administration prepared to rule out the possibility, which we haven’t discussed much lately, the possibility that many of these weapons or a significant portion of them were spirited out of the country in the days leading up — and weeks and months leading up to hostilities?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I’ve repeatedly been asked that, and I’ve always indicated, and I indicated today that we have nothing concrete to give that indication.
Q: Can you rule it out then?
MR. FLEISCHER: I’ll leave it exactly as I said it. I don’t have anything concrete that would lend any support to that conclusion.
Q: Ari, back on Liberia for a minute. The President and yourself, you said from the podium that you would like President Taylor, obviously to leave. Yesterday we learned that the Nigerians have floated a plan to
grant him exile. Is the United States actively taking a role in trying to find a nation for him to go to, provide transportation, anything along those lines beyond just saying, leave?
MR. FLEISCHER: Ken, I have to pore into it a little bit and to see if there is any involvement in that. There’s nothing that’s been brought to my attention, let me put it to you that way.
Q: An unrelated question. Is the United States actively urging European nations — you cited the West African nations, which will contribute troops to a peacekeeping effort — is the United States actively asking better-armed European nations to play a role there?
MR. FLEISCHER: As the President said, he has directed Secretary Powell to talk with Kofi Annan at the United Nations about this, and we are working with the international community, broadly defined, to find the best solution to enforcing the cease-fire.
Q: Ari, there is a little inconsistency here with Kofi Annan. Kofi Annan is asking for U.S. troops to go to Liberia, but he wasn’t particularly anxious for U.S. troops to get involved in Iraq. Why is he so anxious now for U.S. troops to be sent to Liberia?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think, in fairness to the Secretary General, and it’s worth nothing, that not every country around the world requires the same solutions, and people are free to have differing judgments from one region to the next. Not every nation is the same.
Q: Why does he think the United States is particularly suited? Why isn’t he saying France and Germany should help out?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think these are questions that you could address to the United Nations. I don’t speak for him.
Q: Two questions, one on Iraq. Your answer to Dana’s question about the number is always under review and is potentially changeable — are you meaning to suggest that there’s consideration being given to augmenting the total number of U.S. forces in Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: I’m not indicating one way or another. It’s a question the Department of Defense can provide you with. My answer indicates that ongoing policy judgments are never static. They always are reflective of the latest facts and reality on the ground. Certainly, you wouldn’t say to somebody, you made a force level judgment three months ago and you have to ignore everything that’s happened three months since then. It’s a constant situational review and DOD has set the level of forces that are there now.
Q: Is there possibility of an increase in the total number of forces under consideration?
MR. FLEISCHER: You need to talk to DOD about that. And I’m not leading to you any indication that it would be, I’m just trying to explain an approach for how these decisions get made.
Q: Second question. In yesterday’s gaggle you were asked about Senator Frist’s proposal for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Your answer was to cite the Defense of Marriage Act, which President Bush supported that. The implication was that the President thought that that law was enough and that a constitutional amendment wasn’t necessary. Is that the President’s view?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, my next sentence was that this is something in the legal realm. The Supreme Court just made its ruling in the Texas case. This is a matter for lawyers to assess, and I don’t know that there is any clear assessment that anybody has at this point about the legal ramifications of a just-made decision that was ruled on a basis that may or may not be analogous to a situation involving DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act.
Q: So the President hasn’t formed a judgment yet —
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the President was asked that at the news conference.
Q: As we approach the July 4th weekend, is there any reason for Americans to have any heightened concern about the possibility of a terrorist attack? And are there any specific additional measures that the administration has taken?
MR. FLEISCHER: Nothing has been brought to my attention suggesting that the current threat levels are in any way on the verge of any type of potential change. It’s a matter, as you know, that is reviewed very day. But nobody has brought anything to me on that, no. Again, it is a matter that’s reviewed on a regular basis. Homeland Security is the one who probably is the closest to it. But nothing has been brought to my attention.
Q: Any additional measures that will be being taken, security measures this weekend?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think that around the country different regions will do different things. For example, New York City is typically on a higher alert status then the rest of the country. I know for large gatherings, cities — Washington, D.C. — have a real focus on security and on attention. And certainly we’re a nation that has learned from previous ramp-ups of security. And many of these events are put on by the same organizers who have benefited from the experience they had at last July 4th’s celebrations, et cetera. And so I think you’ll see the law enforcement community across the United States take the steps that they think, based on intelligence or other required steps, to protect the American people as they gather this weekend.
Q: Ari, two issues on Africa. Liberia. A couple of weeks ago the administration, from the podium or from the Oval Office did not deal with the issue of Liberia. Why now? Is it because of this trip the President has planning on taking and heightening all the African issues?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think the reason is because the cease-fire agreement wasn’t reached until June 17th. That’s the event that has precipitated this discussion. There were factions that were competing. As a result of international efforts that the U.S. supported, a cease-fire was entered into on June 17th, just two weeks ago.
Q: But the war was still of grave concern. Why not then, though?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think that’s what led to the June 17th agreement. And as I mentioned, the United States was supportive of the efforts that led to the agreement.
Q: And then on the trip. On Randy’s question, on HIV/AIDS, some are saying that this is going to be a victory lap, a photo op in Africa. And they’re saying that it’s all about the President’s promises for HIV/AIDS, this $15 billion. And it still has yet to be allocated. And many Republican congresspersons are trying to underfund this. There’s a concern, many people want to hear from the administration, one, if the HIV/AIDS will be fully funded, as well as the millennium program, and if this funding will be of new money, not taken from any other developmental projects.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, one, the House and the Senate just passed this with overwhelming, big votes, a full $15 billion. So the President announced it in his State of the Union in January. In June, a mere five months later, Congress passed it. And now we’re in the middle of the appropriations cycle, as you know. You’ve been around, you’re an expert. You know the timing that Congress acts under. So now comes the important appropriation process to back up the authorization level, and members of Congress in both parties know that this is a top presidential priority and the President is going to fight for every penny of this funding.
Q: But at this point, it’s a promise. Is the President going to put this on the fast track? Is he going to say —
MR. FLEISCHER: I think he already has. It’s clear to all.
Q: But it’s a promise at this point. Many are talking about underfunding this. How is this going to be fully funded to $15 billion —
MR. FLEISCHER: I just — I don’t understand how right after Congress overwhelmingly just voted the full $15 billion you can say that it’s being underfunded. It was just voted on.
Q: Ari, before you answer my question I would like the President Feliz Cumpleanos. My question is, the President says terrorists, extremists, and Saddam loyalists are the ones attacking U.S. and coalition troops in Iraq. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld says this is not a guerrilla war. How would the President describe it?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President describes this as people who are loyal to the former regime still fighting American forces who are there, and in the process, they are becoming enemies of the Iraqi people.
Q: Two on Africa. Will President Bush increase his pressure to oust or overthrow Mugabe in Zimbabwe? Before, he’s just called for democracy, which isn’t going to happen while Mugabe is there.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President has spoken out directly on this. The bitterly contested election in Zimbabwe, the fraudulent election in Zimbabwe, has led to great questions about the legitimacy of President Mugabe. And this is a matter of considerable concern.
Q: But he hasn’t actually called for his ouster or overthrow. He just called for —
MR. FLEISCHER: We question the legitimacy of this election.
Q: Also on Mbeki in South Africa, is he helping more on the AIDS situation now?
MR. FLEISCHER: Clearly, this is going to be an issue that is discussed when the President goes to South Africa. This is an issue that’s important throughout the continent, including South Africa, and the President looks forward to his discussions with President Mbeki.
Q: I wanted to know, as you get ready to leave the White House if there is a country song — we know you listen to our radio show in the morning — if there’s one country song title that would sum up your tenure at the White House?
Q: He’s got Friends in Low Places. (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: That’s a good suggestion, as I look — I have Friends in Low Places. No? Let me put it to you this way. This is my 299th briefing. My final one will be when we come back from Africa, my 300th briefing. I think, looking back, the one country song I would pick is, “I Should Have Been a Cowboy.” (Laughter.) Thank you.
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