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White House Press Conference

Aired April 29, 2003 - 12:24   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Let's go over to the White House right now. The Press Secretary Ari Fleischer is beginning the briefing.
ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECY.: The president began his day with a phone call with President Roh of South Korea this morning. The two leaders exchanged views on last week's talks in Beijing and agreed to continue pressing for the irreversible and verifiable elimination of North Korea's nuclear weapons program. President Bush reiterated his intention to resolve the issue peacefully and also to include South Korea and Japan fully in the diplomatic efforts.

The two leaders agreed to continue their discussions on the North Korean situation and other topics when they meet in Washington on March 14, as previously announced.

Following that call, the president also spoke with Prime Minister Koizumi of Japan. Had a conversation about the same topics. They also agreed to exchange the views on last week's talks in Beijing and agreed to continue pressing for the irreversible and verifiable elimination of their weapons program.

The president reiterated his intention to resolve this issue peacefully, and the two leaders agreed that they will continue their discussions and consultations as we work very closely with our good friends and allies in the region on this matter.

Following that, the president had an Intelligence briefing and then an FBI briefing, convened a meeting of the Homeland Security Council, and later this afternoon in the East Room, the president will hold an event to call on the Congress to pass his HIV/AIDS initiative so that the nations that have been ravaged by AIDS in Africa as well as nations affected in the Caribbean can receive the relief they need to fight this disease.

FLEISCHER: And that is it for the president's public schedule.

One announcement, then I'll be happy to take your questions.

A little earlier, just a few moments ago, the United Nations voted to re-elect Cuba to the Human Rights Commission. This is a setback for the cause of human rights.

Cuba does not deserve a seat on the Human Rights Commission. Cuba deserves to be investigated by the Human Rights Commission. The action taken by the Human Rights Commission at the United Nations comes immediately upon Cuba's actions of rounding up 78 independent journalists, librarians and opposition leaders, and sentenced them to 28 years in prison.

Having Cuba serve again on the Human Rights Commission is like putting Al Capone in charge of bank security. It is an inappropriate action that does not serve the cause of human rights in Cuba or at the United Nations.

And with that, I'm happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: What does the administration -- does the president envision any kind of action that he might take in the United Nations to formally protest this seating of Cuba?

FLEISCHER: We deplore the action, we will speak out against the action. But this is an action, and it's taken by the United Nations through their Economic and Social Committee; that was where the vote took place to re-elect Cuba to the commission. The action has been taken.

QUESTION: On the Middle East; what do you make of Abu Mazen mocking Abbas's statement today that he -- his pledge to rein in militants?

FLEISCHER: The president welcomes the statements that Palestinian leadership may look in a different direction for how to resolve the differences between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Violence is not and cannot be the answer. And the president welcomes all those who hear the call for a peaceful settlement of disputes.

QUESTION: In terms of the road map, it calls for negotiations for final status on Palestinian borders, final settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. In terms of how far you let that process go, are you laying down any parameters within which to work in terms of negotiation? Are you prepared to tolerate endless negotiation, as has been the case in the Middle East all these years?

FLEISCHER: Well, here's what will happen next: The road map will soon be released to the parties, the formal release of the road map so they will have it formally for the first time. At that point, we anticipate that they will review it and we will contributions to the road map from the various parties. This is something we continue to work directly with the Israelis on, and work with the Palestinians on.

FLEISCHER: We want to hear what they have to say. And I think this will begin a process. A process which the United States will play a role. And an important role, and a helpful role.

Fundamentally, it still is a matter for the Israelis and the Palestinians to work together on to resolve matters for themselves. There are many important players, but there are no more important players than the Israelis and the Palestinians. We will be at their sides to help them.

QUESTION: But will you set any kind of ground rules at the outset to say: Listen, we're not going to tolerate endless negotiations. We have a schedule that we would like to keep to, and so, we want to work with both of you to try to reach that, but this can't go forever.

FLEISCHER: The parameters were set in the president's June 24 Rose Garden speech about what it is the United States supports, and as well those parameters are clear from the read of the road map. And those parameters can basically be described as creating -- now through the road map -- a process whereby the security situation is enhanced as the political process is advanced as well. All toward the point of a state of Palestine by 2005 that can live side-by-side in peace and security with Israel, and we will be there to make certain of the security.

QUESTION: But, again, are you saying that the parties going into this, process can't go on forever? You can't keep negotiating (inaudible) back and forth. You've got to come to a point where we've got to step up to the table here and (OFF-MIKE).

FLEISCHER: Well, the process is just beginning. And they have not even yet received -- formally -- the road map, yet. So I'm not going to put any type of timetable on a process that has not even gotten formal kickoff of being delivered the road map.

The president wants progress to move quickly. The dates that the president outlined are the dates that he seeks, and believes in, and will work toward -- those dates are not to change. So the amount of time they take up takes up the amount of time left between now and that date. And so, we will continue to work the process.

QUESTION: One housekeeping thing. Do you know if Elizabeth Smart will be at the White House tomorrow?

FLEISCHER: Ah, the -- there will be many families coming to the White House tomorrow as the president signs the National Amber Alert System. And many of these families who will join the president have all been touched one way or another as a result of missing children. The Smart family has asked the White House not to make any statements about whether their daughter will or will not attend.

QUESTION: And how long will that last? Will we find out by seeing her or not seeing her, or will we (OFF-MIKE)...

FLEISCHER: Well, that certainly is one way.


I'm -- yes, I'm...


I'm limited by request of the family, and in respect of the family, I can't say anything more.

QUESTION: North Korea? Is the president prepared to rule out any concessions to North Korea in exchange for complete dismantling of their nuclear program, whether it's financial aid, whether it's food, anything like that? FLEISCHER: The reason the world is in the spot it's in is because North Korea entered into an agreement and then did not keep up their terms of the agreement. They received aid in return for promising not to develop nuclear weapons. They took the aid, they ran with the aid and then they developed a nuclear weapons anyway.

So what the president has said is that we will not reward North Korea for bad behavior, that what we seek is North Korea's irrevocable and verifiable dismantlement of its nuclear weapons program, and we will not provide them inducements for doing what they always said they were going to do anyway.

QUESTION: So how does this happen? Because you say you're on a diplomatic track, their opening gambit was to, you know, put something on the table that you, it seems, dismiss out of hand, which is concessions for that dismantlement of weapons, but everybody's still talking. So at the end, what does the president believe is actually going to force their hand to do what he wants them to do?

FLEISCHER: Well, I think one of the most notable positive elements of the talks that just emerged is the fact that the approach that the president always believed was the right approach was a diplomatic approach, because diplomacy will be enhanced because it's multilateral, has indeed been enhanced, because as he discussed with Japan and South Korea today, we see it the same way, and China sees it very much the same way as well.

So the president's hope is that as a result of the multilateral path that we are pursuing, that North Korea will reassess whether or not it wants to engage with the world, whether or not it wants to economically advance and then North Korea will come to a reasoned conclusion about the best way to economically advance and help its people, and that begins with their verifiable dismantlement of its nuclear weapons program.

QUESTION: There hasn't really been much of an advance here. I mean, the diplomatic approach so far has resulted in North Korea asking for the same thing it got out of the Clinton administration. So it's terrific that Japan and China are involved, but what evidence is there, or what will be different, say, than 1994, do you believe?

FLEISCHER: Well, this is the diplomatic process, and the diplomatic process is a lengthy one, and the president's prepared to pursue it at that length. And so, if it takes time, it will take time.

But what will not happen is North Korea will not be rewarded for developing nuclear weapons.

QUESTION: On Cuba. What good is a human rights organization that within days of a government arresting all these dissidents and poets and jailing them, elects that government to the United (inaudible)? What does the president see as the usefulness, and what worth does he see in the expenditure of American tax dollars to go to such an organization? FLEISCHER: The Human Rights Commission undermines its own creditability at the United Nations when they allowed Cuba to get re- elected. The Human Rights Commission not only hurts the people of Cuba, but they hurt the very cause in which nations should sign up to serve on the Human Rights Commission.

You know, the Human Rights Commission wanted to send investigators into Cuba,, and Cuba said no. And yet, today, Cuba gets re-elected to the Human Rights Commission. It raises troubling issues, and that's why the United States is speaking out about it. We hope others will speak out.

QUESTION: Right now, though, speaking out is all the president intends to do, that he intends to continue to contribute in other ways that the United States does to this organization?

FLEISCHER: Well, there's no change in our overall position toward the United Nations. The United Nations continues to pursue other areas that do good around the world. But in this case, the Human Rights Commission voted to re-elect a nation that deserves to be the object of an investigation, not a duly elected member of the Human Rights Commission.

QUESTION: And now on the global HIV/AIDS initiative. What is the White House's response to conservative social critics of this legislation who say that it won't be affected because it fails to promote abstinence sufficiently and it opens the door for what they believe is an ineffective way of stopping the spread of this disease, which is the distribution of condoms?

FLEISCHER: The president looks forward to working with all parties to make progress on this important legislation so it can, indeed, be signed into law and done soon.

FLEISCHER: There is a very successful role model in place, and that is the Ugandan model. And the president would like to call attention wherever there are critics, whether they're on the left or the right, to success that works.

And the Uganda model is a great role model. It provides a focus on abstinence. It puts an emphasis on abstinence. Then it recognizes that that alone is not the only answer. But it is an effective model of fighting AIDS in Africa.

And that's where the president is focusing his attention, is how to deliver that relief while being cognizant of some of these other important issues, such as abstinence, because it does play an important role. But he wants to make certain that the program is funded, that it can do its job and do so based on successful existing models.

QUESTION: But there are some in the conservative camp, as well, who believe that this bill would represent a departure from that so- called Mexico City policy that President Reagan adopted, that President Bush as re-adopted. FLEISCHER: Well, the program the president supports to provide aid for Africa's AIDS initiative to fight AIDS in Africa will apply the same standards for all family planning grants using foreign assistance funds, but we are not expanding the Mexico City policy to cover this HIV/AIDS program. Any organization that wants to participate in the treatment, care and prevention of HIV/AIDS under the president's emergency relief plan will be eligible, provided they do not use the funds to promote or perform abortions.

QUESTION: Are you considering any policy changes or any increased sanctions against Cuba for their crackdown, Ari?

FLEISCHER: Will this action just took place at the United Nations literally in the minutes leading up to this briefing, so I'm going to limit my comments to what just took place.

QUESTION: The dissidents were arrested last week.

FLEISCHER: And we have vociferously condemned it. Obviously, for those who are proposing to remove some of the trade restrictions that exist on Cuba, we remind them that Cuba remains a very repressive regime as proven by its actions in the arrest of these leaders who simply want to speak out, journalists who want to write the truth. And this is a reminder to these groups that want to liberalize or open up trade with Cuba that this repressive regime will use that money to further their dictatorship, not to help the people.

QUESTION: Ari, after about 20 years out in the field, one of the major commandantes or commanders of the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia, the FARC, has turned himself in and is asking other commanders to do the same.

The president's meeting tomorrow with President Uribe. What is the importance the White House attaches to this meeting?

FLEISCHER: Well, the president very much looks forward to tomorrow's meeting with President Uribe. Colombia has been working closely with the United States in the fight against narco-terrorism. And we are their ally, and we want to help Colombia.

Colombia is a democracy. We want them to succeed.

The president will meet tomorrow. And one of the topics they've talked about repeatedly is how to protect the Colombian people from the terrorist FARC, and that will be a topic on the agenda tomorrow.

BLITZER: All right. Ari Fleischer is going to continue answering reporters' questions. We're going to continue to monitor his answers, and of course bring you the latest developments, news, if in fact we get some important new developments.


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