White House Briefing

 

Friday  May 9, 2003

THE WHITE HOUSE Office of the Press Secretary (Columbia, South Carolina) May 9, 2003 PRESS GAGGLE WITH ARI FLEISCHER Aboard Air Force One En Route Columbia, South Carolina 1:55 P.M. EDT MR. FLEISCHER: A couple things. I'll have the week-ahead for you, so please remind me to give you the week-ahead before we're done. You already have half the week; I'll give you the rest of it. Nothing on the schedule. You know it all. Just one note: At 4:00 p.m. today there will be a senior administration official briefing -- it will be a conference call to discuss the President's announcement regarding a proposed U.S.-Middle East free trade area. This will be done by a senior administration officials, senior officials at the United States Trade Representative's Office at 4:00 p.m.... Okay, that's all I've got, so I'm happy to take your questions. QUESTION: Is there any word on the House tax cut vote? And does the President have any -- MR. FLEISCHER: The President will have a statement by the President in writing as soon as the vote is complete. I just checked; they have not voted yet. We're monitoring it. Of course, in the staff cabin we have C-SPAN on TV. Let the record show that on TV in the press cabin is some -- news show of some nature. (Laughter.) I'm not sure on what. Q: There's a report this morning that we're trying to get Taiwan to buy some advanced Patriot missiles. Is this a good time to be trying to sell Patriot missiles to Taiwan, given the fact that we need China both on North Korea and on Iraq stabilization? MR. FLEISCHER: I would refer you to the Pentagon on any type of discussion of that nature. But of course, the United States, under laws and under longstanding precedence going back to many administrations, does provide arms sales to Taiwan. Q: Usually Taiwan asks for these arms. In this case, apparently, we're pushing them on -- MR. FLEISCHER: On the specifics of it, I would refer you to DOD. Q: Ari, do you have position on the Senate Republican tax deal? Raises taxes on Americans abroad and so forth. MR. FLEISCHER: Of course, the Finance Committee did pass the plan that contained the President's elements. They did something, as I described yesterday, insufficient on dividends, but they are making progress. Senator Lincoln-Lambert, of course, voted for it. We'll work with Congress on all details of the package, and what's important is they are making progress, moving it through the system so it can get to the all-important conference committee. Q: Do you have -- would you accept an off-setting tax increase, or increase in one area in order to provide decreases in others? MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as I talked about this on a number of occasions, the President's budget includes offsets. The President's budget proposed approximately $11 billion worth over 10 years. Offsets are nothing new on the Hill. So we'll work with Congress on the entire tax package. Q: So it's okay to raise taxes? MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I understand the argument that some want to make about that. But when you consider the fact that the President, every year, his budget has had offsets in it, and when you consider the fact that when Republicans took the Congress in 1994, even those revolutionaries had offsets in the tax cuts that they passed -- it's called offsets for a reason; it is actually a good description of what these are. Q: And then you don't have to call them taxes. MR. FLEISCHER: I just don't think it's an accurate characterization to say that. When you close a corporate loophole that raises revenue, it has the double advantage of raising revenue that can be used to offset a tax cut and, indeed, raises revenue. But it closes a loophole in the code that should not be there. Q: Does that leave one over -- Senator Snowe? MR. FLEISCHER: I don't want to speak for Senator Snowe, so we'll see what happens. Of course, she voted for it in the Finance Committee, and there are additional steps to come. And the President is a good listener; he works hard to work with Democrats and Republicans who have a willingness to support tax relief, and he'll continue to do that. Q: Is the White House urging -- there's a group, a pro-tax cut group that's running ads against her in Maine. Is the White House encouraging them to kind of pull back a little bit? MR. FLEISCHER: The White House has tremendous respect for Senator Snowe, for her judgment, for her willingness to represent the people of her state, and we think people should understand that and respect that. The President does. Q: What is the President trying to accomplish with today's speech? MR. FLEISCHER: Today's speech is about the Middle East, primarily. It will have other foreign policy elements to it. But it's a very powerful affirmation of freedom's impact on improving the situation for people's health and welfare, as well as the prospects for peace. That's what's interesting about what the President is going to talk about today. It sounds at one level as if freedom is something people take for granted or is a cliche. But what you'll hear is a thoughtful walk-through by the President of the power that freedom can have on changing people's lives in the Middle East, in Arab countries, for the better, and in the process, the impact that will have on bringing the Israelis and the Palestinians together to promote peace in the Middle East. Q: In some ways it's a challenge to the Arab world to modernize their economies and their political systems. MR. FLEISCHER: There's no question that there's a real focus here on what freedom can mean in the Arab world. The President points out in his speech that already about half of the people who live in Muslim countries live in democracies budget of Indonesia and because of Turkey. But this is a President who has spoken bluntly before, and he will talk directly about growth in the Arab world, reform in the Arab world. That's an important part of his speech, because one of the threads the President will constantly sew in his remarks today is that governments that are representative of the people, that are tolerant, that are economically growing are peaceful governments and are also governments who serve the cause of their people to advance. And there will be some interesting statistics that the President will discuss about the Arab world and the GDP of Arab countries, which means the opportunities of Arab to have a life marked by health, education and happiness, which is also one of the greatest ways to fight terrorism, is to give people more reasons to be free, so they don't pursue radical forces. So it's, in that sense, a lofty speech, a thematic speech. There will be several down-to-earth announcements in this speech today, to promote peace, to promote development in the Arab world -- peace between the Israelis and the Arabs, and then development in the Arab world. Q: -- directed to Israel, about what Israel needs to do? I think a lot of people in the Arab world think the solution is to get Israel to back off the Palestinians -- MR. FLEISCHER: No, there will be -- the President will talk about that, too. He'll talk about the responsibilities of all the parties. Q: And talking about the free trade area, does the President think Palestinian militants who are planning suicide bombs are going to be tempted to stop doing that because there's the prospect of a free trade agreement with America somewhere out on the horizon? MR. FLEISCHER: Well, what will happen is, as a result of the stabilizing benefits that accrue from governments that trade freely, that have rule of law, that have openness, that have transparency, those governments are then stronger. And the stronger the Palestinian Authority is, the more they'll be able to fight the terrorists. The terrorists are everybody's enemies. Terrorists stand in the way of the development of the Palestinian people. So the stronger Palestinian institutions are, thanks to trade and thanks to education, thanks to health and thanks to development, the greater the prospects they'll have to crush the terrorists. Q: How many countries would be in this FTA, about? MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it is not defined by an X number of countries. Q: Basically the Muslim world is within that region. MR. FLEISCHER: It is -- well, not quite the Muslim world, because the Muslim world, of course, has reached deep into Asia. But the Arab world. And it is meant to be all encompassing. Now, different nations are at different stages of development. Some have a very long way to go, such as Iran or Syria. Some still are terrorist states. But again -- and this gets to the overarching message of the President today -- the best way to fight terrorism and to help improve lives on the ground is through freedom, through tolerance, through democracy, through trade. And this is another front in that effort to bring those benefits to people of the Arab world. Q: A free trade area would include Israel? MR. FLEISCHER: Well, Israel already has a free trade agreement with the United States. Q: That's what I was going to say -- if we have a free trade agreement with them now, then we have a free trade area with the Arab world, then, effectively, it's all one happy free trade area. MR. FLEISCHER: Well, that's the point. Through trade, through free flow of commerce between nations and borders, that's a great way to take down walls. Traders don't want to go over walls, they don't want to go around walls. The fewer walls, the greater the chance of success. And don't forget what a wonderful historical area of trade the Middle East is. Think about the great trade routes that traveled through this region over time. And it is within the grasp of people in the region to have that happen again, which does nothing more than benefit the people. And that's the President's message. Q: Will Israel be a part of this deal, or is it -- MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, Israel already has a free trade agreement with the United States. So, too, do other nations in the region. This will add more to it. And, therefore, they will all be, then, part of a Middle East free trade area. Q: Can you name some of the countries that would be added? MR. FLEISCHER: Well, let me tell you who already has a free trade -- Q: We already have Israel. MR. FLEISCHER: -- agreement. Q: And Jordan, too, don't we? Or is that proposed? MR. FLEISCHER: We already have free trade agreements with Israel and Jordan. And this would -- means the United States will take a series of graduated steps that help to reform countries that become members of the World Trade Organization, help countries that negotiate bilateral investment treaties and trade investment framework agreements. It would complete our negotiations on free trade with Morocco by the end of this year -- there's a lot of progress in Morocco -- and launch a consultation with Congress, new bilateral free trade agreements with governments committed to high standards and comprehensive trade liberalization. These are also important carrots to give these nations, so they know that there are, indeed, rewards for their people and for their governments as they open, as they trade freely, as they tear down barriers. Q: Any date -- free trade area by -- MR. FLEISCHER: Ten years. Q: But you can't name any additional countries right now? MR. FLEISCHER: Well, everybody in the Middle East is eligible. Clearly, there are some who are much more eligible than others. There are some who lag far, far behind, and have many steps to take, many internal changes they would first need to make. Q: If an oil-producing country became a free trade partner, would we envision removing controls from oil that are now put on by OPEC? MR. FLEISCHER: I think that's a good question to ask on the 4:00 p.m. call. I think they're a little more expert in whatever current legislation exists, vis-a-vis international trade and oil. Q: Can you cover the outlook for the weekend at some point? Q: Weekend, where the President's staying, and -- Q: Just to clarify, the statement later today is going to be on paper, correct? MR. FLEISCHER: Correct. The statement on taxes will be on paper. Of course, we'll have the vote in the House today. And then, of course, the President is on a three-state job tour. And so we'll be in Nebraska and Indiana right around the time that the Senate is voting -- just before the Senate is voting. Wednesday, the President will meet with the President of South Korea in the Oval Office. Thursday morning, the President will make remarks at the second National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast at the Capital Hilton Hotel. Thursday afternoon, the President will make remarks at the annual Peace Officers Memorial service at the Capitol. Friday morning, the President will meet with the Prime Minister of Norway in the Oval Office. Friday afternoon, he will make remarks at the presentation of the Commander-in-Chief's trophy in the Rose Garden. Later that afternoon, he will depart for Camp David where he will remain until Sunday. And as a special preview of the week ahead -- a question that was asked at the briefing yesterday by Mark Smith -- no, wait a minute, a different question. On May 21st, Wednesday of the following week, the President will deliver the commencement address at the United States Coast Guard Academy. Q: Where is that? MR. FLEISCHER: Coast Guard Academy? Connecticut. And for the weekend, the President will be staying at the home of his Yale friend, Roland Betts, and he'll be in Santa Fe. We'll keep you posted if there are any presidential movements over the weekend for R&R. Q: There's a rumor about a baseball game. Is that a possibility? MR. FLEISCHER: Baseball? Q: Just two former owners. MR. FLEISCHER: Where would they go to watch a baseball game? I hadn't heard that. Q: I don't know where they're playing. Q: That's where we got stuck. MR. FLEISCHER: What is the name of the AAA ball club in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and who used to pitch for them? Come on, that's a give away. Who pitched for them? Pete Domenici. He pitched for the Albuquerque Dukes, a Brooklyn Dodgers franchise, AAA. He always said that if he had better control -- Q: Will he pitch -- MR. FLEISCHER: No, I'm just having fun. Q: Is it likely that there will be some movement either Saturday or Sunday? MR. FLEISCHER: I think within Santa Fe there's possibilities of a little R&R. Q: Art galleries and stuff? MR. FLEISCHER: I'll keep you -- Q: -- any news, or just movements? MR. FLEISCHER: No, he's here to spend time at the house of a friend and -- Q: The First Lady is here, anybody else from the family? You said the First Lady was going to be here. MR. FLEISCHER: The First Lady is already here. Q: I mean in Santa Fe. MR. FLEISCHER: In Santa Fe. Q: Any other family members? MR. FLEISCHER: I haven't asked, so I don't know. I don't have any reason to think there are, but -- Pete Domenici always said that if he had better control, he never would have been a senator. And at Old Timers Day in Albuquerque, he has the distinction of beaning Ernie Banks. Q: When we took off, Ari, when we took off, it seemed like we were hit by lighting. Is that something you can confirm -- MR. FLEISCHER: I'm told we were not. Yes, we had that same sentiment. Q: What was it? MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know. Let me see if I can find out, because I'll try to put it on this transcript. END 2:10 P.M. EDT

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