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DR. RICE: Good morning, everyone. I would like to talk to you about the President's schedule in New York and give you a brief preview of his speech to the U.N., and then I will take you through the President's schedule with President Putin next week, and then I will be happy to take your questions.
On Saturday, the President will address the United Nations General Assembly. He will take this opportunity to thank the United Nations and its member states for the quick action and strong stand against terrorism that was taken. He will reaffirm the U.S. and Allied commitment to fighting terrorism and the regimes that harbor it.
He will urge every U.N. member to live up to both the letter and the spirit of U.N. resolutions against terror, and he will pledge U.S. support for helping developing nations build capacity to fight terror and address humanitarian cases. The President considers this an opportunity to once again state the call to all civilized countries to responsibly deal with terrorism within their own borders.
The President will also meet with the Secretary General on Saturday and he will attend the Secretary General's lunch. On Sunday, the President will attend an observance at the World Trade Center site, with Secretary General Annan.
You probably already know that the President will meet with President Musharraf of Pakistan and he will have a number of other bilaterals with heads of state, and we can release a list of those bilaterals to you a little bit later today.
The President will return to Washington on Sunday and, beginning on Tuesday, he will host a series of meetings with Russian President Putin in Washington and then, later on, in Crawford, Texas. President and Mrs. Putin will arrive Monday night. They are staying at Blair House.
President Bush will meet President Putin with members of their national security teams on Tuesday morning. That will be followed by a lunch with senior members of the President's administration to discuss economic and business issues. The Presidents will address the press at 1:45 p.m. in the East Room.
I understand that the afternoon is a program for President Putin, in which he will make remarks to the congressional leadership and a speech at the Russian embassy.
The next morning, Wednesday morning, President Putin will fly to Houston, where he will meet with Mayor Brown of Houston and will be greeted by former Secretary of State James Baker. And he is going to deliver a speech at Rice University. He will have a reception there with business leaders.
Then President and Mrs. Putin will fly to Waco, where they will be welcomed. They will then go from Waco to Crawford. President and Mrs. Putin will have Bush -- will have dinner with the Bushes at the ranch. And on Thursday, President and Mrs. Putin and President and Mrs. Bush will have breakfast at the ranch; so they're going to have several meals, clearly. (Laughter.) And later that day, the Putins will fly to New York, where they will meet with Governor Pataki, Mayor Giuliani, and visit Ground Zero in New York.
Now, I'm happy to take your questions.
Q Dr. Rice, what does President Bush hope to get out of his meetings with President Putin, both on terrorism and ABM? And since the President has decided on a nuclear stockpile number, what is the expectation that Putin will accept it?
DR. RICE: First, to the second question, Ron, it's not a question of an acceptable number on offensive forces to the Russians. We've said several times, and the President said all the way back in the campaign, that his desire to cut offensive nuclear forces comes from his belief, which has now been confirmed by a study by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a nuclear strategy review, under Secretary Rumsfeld's leadership, that the number of nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal exceeds the number of nuclear weapons needed for America's deterrent needs in this particular time. So that's the -- Ron, I'm not going there -- (laughter) -- but that is the President's belief, that this is something that the United States should do in accordance with its own security concerns.
As to the relationship between the two Presidents, this, of course, is the fourth in a series of meetings between the Presidents. The relationship is building steadily. I think everyone can see that the relationship has gotten better and better. September 11th gave a kind of new impetus to the relationship.
But it is a relationship that is very, very good, and also normal, in that not every meeting has to be accompanied, like the old summits were with the Soviet Union, by arms control agreements and by a series of agreements, because this is now a normal relationship that's moving forward progressively.
The two Presidents will have, I'm sure, an extensive discussion of counterterrorism. They have continued to discuss this since September 11th in several conversations, as have their defense ministers and their foreign ministers. They will, of course, continue to discuss issues about the new strategic framework and how to move to a relationship that is more in accordance with their new relationship, not something based on the 1972 ABM Treaty, but these are discussions that are progressive.
I wouldn't expect any particular arrangements to come out of any particular meeting.
Q Dr. Rice, the information coming from the two Iraqi defectors who have been talking recently about a terrorist training camp inside Iraq that was training Islamic fundamentalists, is this giving the administration cause to change its thinking toward Iraq, and go after Saddam and perhaps do it sooner than later?
DR. RICE: John, I can't comment on any specific information here. Let me just say, the President's made very clear that Iraq remains a threat to American interests, to interests in the region and to Iraq's neighbors and its own people. That was true before September 11th, that's true now.
The Iraqis have been trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction. That's the only explanation for why Saddam Hussein does not want inspectors in from the U.N. Iraq continues to be unable to say that its neighbors have a right to exist, like Kuwait. So there is plenty of reason to watch Iraq, there is plenty of reason to make very clear to the Iraqis that the United States does not intend to let the Iraqis threaten their own people, threaten their neighbors, or threaten our interests by acquiring weapons of mass destruction. So this is something that is ongoing in the policy with Iraq.
Q So the disclosure of these terrorist training camps just adds another piece to that?
DR. RICE: I think it surprises no one that Saddam Hussein is engaged in all kinds of activities that are destabilizing.
Q Dr. Rice, in -- today, President Musharraf is strongly urging the United States to halt its bombing of Afghanistan during Ramadan. Since he has been such a valuable ally in this campaign, is it possible to just ignore his wishes at this point?
DR. RICE: The important thing here is to complete the mission, and to complete it in as timely a fashion as possible. Let me just remind everybody that the United States was attacked on September 11th. What we are engaged in now is an act of self-defense to try to root out al Qaeda, to try to deny them safe harbor. We are working with many, many governments in the world to try to root out cells that are still sitting out there planning attacks.
I think it's understandable that the pace of those operations has to be dictated by getting to the end of the mission as quickly as possible, having completed the mission. And it's the completion of the mission that is at stake here.
Q Are you ruling it in or out?
DR. RICE: The President has made very clear, we've all made very clear, that this mission is going to be completed, and that the logic of the mission and the logic of military action is what will dictate what we do over the next several weeks.
Q Does next week's visit essentially amount to Russia's last chance to move beyond the ABM Treaty before we are forced to essentially give the six-month notice that we've got to withdraw?
DR. RICE: The President and President Putin are continuing to look cooperatively for ways to move their relationship forward. And I just want to emphasize, there is a lot of talk about what we will or will not do on the security front. But the President has been saying since he first started that this is larger than the security relationship. And so economic relations are important, political relations are important. Common security threats like counterterrorism are important.
The President has also made clear that he believes that the acquisition of an effective missile defense system for the United States and its allies is one of his highest priorities, that he believes the only way to get there is a robust testing and evaluation system, and that he is not prepared to permit the treaty to get in the way of doing that robust testing.
So we will see about the timing here. I just want to repeat what we've said several times: The President is committed to a robust testing and evaluation program and eventually deployment.
Q On that point, since we are now bumping up against that, because of the constraints of the ABM Treaty, I am just wondering if, indeed, again, this is sort of their last chance to get on board with us before we have to pull out and say, look, six months from now we are going to unilaterally withdraw?
DR. RICE: We are going to be talking with the Russians through -- the two Presidents are speaking here at this meeting. There will continue to be contacts with the Russians. We are going to continue to work on the new strategic framework. We will look at the timing of what we need to do when, yes.
Q Dr. Rice, what is your current assessment of the attitudes of the Afghani people themselves to the American bombing and to the Taliban regime? There are some indications that the bombing has been counter-productive in rallying the Afghan people to liberate themselves. What is your assessment?
DR. RICE: Well, I don't know how to assess some of the reports that we have seen. But I will say this. The Taliban regime has been perhaps the most brutal in the world and the most brutal against its own people. It's very hard to imagine that the people of Afghanistan have forgotten that suddenly. This is a regime that brutalizes its population, that brutalizes women in particular, that executes its citizens summarily in a stadium that was given to it by the United Nations for sports games. This is a regime that was starving its own people.
Let's remember that the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan started well before September 11th, with the systematic starvation of parts of the country because the Taliban was unwilling to let U.N. workers work there in a way that they could get humanitarian relief. So it's very hard for me to believe that the Afghan people have forgotten what this regime has been doing to them since its inception.
Q Can I just follow on that and ask one other unrelated question? Do you feel though, following Terry's question, that you are having difficulty getting that message out, that in some way, the U.S. might be losing the information war with the Taliban?
DR. RICE: We don't believe that we are "losing the information war." We do believe that it is important to get the message out, and we have been more aggressive certainly in recent weeks in trying to make sure that message gets out.
There is no doubt that the United States has a very good story to tell, that the coalition has a very good story to tell. On humanitarian efforts, the United States was the largest donor to Afghanistan before September 11th, $170 million in humanitarian assistance. That amount now is over $300 million. That doesn't even count all that the rest of the world is trying to do for the starving people of Afghanistan, or those who need food.
The problem in getting food to the people of Afghanistan is the Taliban tries to tax it, they threaten and harass and take away the equipment of U.N. workers. They are a dangerous group when it comes to humanitarian assistance.
So we do have a very good story to tell, and I think we have a good story to tell about the potential future for Afghanistan and along -- through the United Nations and Mr. Brahimi who has the lead on this, I think it is important to sketch out for the Afghan people that there is a better future, they deserve a better future than this horrendous regime under which they have lived for the last several years.
Q Dr. Rice, what is the thought of the administration that last week President Bush said he wanted to speak to the nation, he wanted to speak to America in reference to some of the critics of homeland security and Tom Ridge, and tonight he is going to do that, but many of the networks will not carry him. The American public will not get a chance -- the full American public will not get a chance to fully hear his hope for domestic security and his confidence in Tom Ridge. What are your thoughts about that?
DR. RICE: Oh, there are outlets where he will be heard; I'll leave it at that. (Laughter.) And so, the President will, I think, talk to the American people about how life both changes and goes on since September 11th, about the spirit of the country, about some of the things that the government has been doing on behalf of the American people to make us all safer.
He will make a very clear case that the government is on the case in doing everything that it possibly can; but the American people need to continue to be vigilant. And this is an important progress report, and I certainly hope that the American people will use those outlets that they have to see it. (Laughter.)
Q I want to ask you, I understand President Bush is having at least two meetings with Latin American leaders, President of Colombia Pastrana and President de la Rua from Argentina. Are there more meetings with Latin American leaders? And I want to ask you about Argentina. The situation, their economic situation is really very, very dire. Is the United States contemplating, will President Bush have a message for President de la Rua on the economic situation of Argentina?
DR. RICE: Well, the President just met with President Cardoso of Brazil as well. So he has seen and is seeing a couple of Latin American leaders.
The position on Argentina is, and remains, that we want to be supportive of measures that Argentina can take internally to create a more sustainable situation. Argentina has a zero deficit plan that it really must carry out in order to make its situation sustainable. Argentina is talking about some measures in terms of restructuring of debt to try and make this situation sustainable.
We are encouraging Argentina to work closely with the IMF, to determine the best course towards sustainability. The President will carry that message to President de la Rua, asking him and continuing to talk to him about the importance of leadership in doing the things internally that Argentina has to do to sustain itself.
Q Any more meetings besides de La Rua and Pastrana with Latin America leaders?
DR. RICE: We'll give you a full list. It's a fairly lengthy list, and I didn't want to take up the time here.
Q On Russia, will there be any working meetings in Crawford? And to put a finer point on the ABM question that we all have, do you expect, out of these meetings, there to be any kind of breakthrough agreement on missile tests -- missile defense?
DR. RICE: As we've said, this has been a series of meetings, I think, all the way back at Ljubljana, we said don't expect any breakthrough at any particular meeting. This is a process that we're involved in, not a single point in time. And so, we will continue to discuss with the Russians how to move forward on a new strategic framework, we will assess what pieces of it are in place and what pieces of it still need to be developed, and we'll see what comes out of the meetings.
Now, as to Crawford, I believe that the two Presidents intend to have principally private time to get to know each other. I'm sure the President is going to want to take President Putin on a tour of his ranch and to get to know the ranch a little bit.
But, of course, they're going to continue to talk about building U.S.-Russian relations and building the nature of the relationship. But this is a different relationship than the one that Leonid Brezhnev and Richard Nixon had, or even that George Herbert Walker Bush and Gorbachev had. And those meetings, the key moment was when the two sides signed an agreement that said we don't want to destroy each other. And the whole world breathed a sigh of relief, and they turned the atomic clock back from midnight, because the only thing that we really had in common was our desire not to annihilate one another.
This is a very different relationship now. It is a relationship in which economic ties are growing. It is a relationship in which I believe you will start to see the United States and NATO talk to Russia about how NATO and Russia can better relate.
It is a relationship that got new impetus to shared cooperative security issues concerning September 11th and counterterrorism. There is a proliferation agenda that needs to be discussed. So this is a broad agenda, and I think what one should not expect is that one defining moment that you always looked for on the steps of the Kremlin, it's not the way this is done.
Q On Russia again, what is wrong with an agreement? Especially if your newly-found Russian friends want it? (Laughter.) What is wrong with codifying this relationship? Whatever you reach, whatever understanding you reach on strategic weapons, or defensive weapons? What's wrong with signing a formal agreement?
DR. RICE: We've said -- we have said that we are open as to the form that a new strategic framework might take. But we're going to be working on a new strategic framework for a number of years, going forward, because it has many different elements that have nothing to do with nuclear security.
I think we all have to try and get out of a particular frame of mind about U.S.-Russian relations that just turns it into a newer version of U.S.-Soviet relations; that's what we're saying. And so when it comes to something like nuclear offensive forces, we have no reason to need to match warhead for warhead in the way that we did in old Soviet times.
Q Dr. Rice, what is -- on the U.N. meetings, what does the President hope to accomplish beyond shoring up support for the terrorism campaign?
DR. RICE: Well, the President will go there to continue to rally the coalition. We think that the coalition is as strong as it was the day that it started to come into being. I think you heard Prime Minister Blair last night talk about his meeting with European leaders. And out of this discussion with European leaders, of course, and the work that they have been doing with Central Command, you're starting to get more and more offers of even military support from our European allies.
But this is a broad coalition in which people are contributing on very different and very many fronts. The key to the broad coalition is to remember that while everybody, understandably, wants to focus on military contributions, this is not the Gulf War. An equally important part of this war on terrorism is a disruption of these terrorist cells abroad.
If you imagine that there are cells sitting out there in 60-plus countries that could be continuing to plot, continuing to look for ways to wreak havoc, the intelligence and law enforcement efforts that have resulted in over 300 arrests of known and suspected al Qaeda operatives, is as important to this war on terrorism and to trying to avoid another attack, either on ourselves or on others, as is the war in Afghanistan.
And so I think that's what the President will say to this coalition: It's financial assets, it's intelligence and information-sharing. That's the important point that he will make.
Q President Putin believes that it's possible to interpret the ABM Treaty to allow for U.S. missile defense research. Is that a basis for proceeding with this strategic framework? And, secondly, if you're not matching warhead for warhead, are you still looking for Russia to announce some reductions in its stockpile?
DR. RICE: What the President intends to do is to share with President Putin the results of the nuclear review that he initiated, and he has been promising to do that for some time and he will do it. I would hope that President Putin will also share with President Bush what they are thinking about in terms of their offensive forces, and so I expect that they will have that conversation.
In terms of the ABM Treaty, the President has made clear that there are a couple of problems with the ABM Treaty. One is that it limits our ability to explore fully the technologies that we need. And, secondly, that we need to move beyond it because it is not representative of the kind of relationship that we now have with Russia; it comes from another era.
They are continuing the discussion of what the new strategic framework might look like. There are clearly some elements that are even more obvious today than they were the last time they met. I would suspect that any strategic -- new strategic framework would have a significant counter-terrorism element. I would expect that it would have a significant proliferation element. So the pieces of it are coming into relief; but, again, I wouldn't expect any particular moment in which you tie it all up with a red ribbon.
Q You would still like to see the ABM scrapped, then?
DR. RICE: The ABM Treaty is a treaty that belongs to another era, and I think that has not changed from the day that we have been here.
Q Dr. Rice, is Yasser Arafat a terrorist and, if so, is he in the cross hairs of this anti-terror campaign? Or is he a statesman and a partner for peace? And, if so, will the President be meeting with him at the U.N. this weekend?
DR. RICE: The President has made very clear that Chairman Arafat, who, in the peace process that is under way with Israel or has been under way with Israel, is the representative of the Palestinian people. We accept that. But there are responsibilities that come with being the representative of the Palestinian people.
And that means to make certain that you do everything that you can to lower the level of violence, everything that you can to root out terrorists, to arrest them, to make sure that the security situation in the Palestinian Territories -- Area A, for instance -- is one from which terror cannot spring. These are responsibilities that we have asked Chairman Arafat to take, and to take seriously. We still don't think that there has been enough in this regard.
But just like with any leadership, it is extremely important to separate yourself from international terrorists. You cannot help us with al Qaeda and hug Hezbollah -- that's not acceptable -- or Hamas. And so the President continues to make that clear to Mr. Arafat, and there are no plans to meet with Mr. Arafat in New York.
Q On information, you talk about getting the message out. And I'm wondering why you think it is that it's hard for so many in the Arab world, on the Arab street, why they don't understand that the United States has gone to war to protect Muslims in the past, and why that information doesn't reach the people? And do you even blame friendly governments of the United States for somehow being part of the problem and not part of the solution?
DR. RICE: Well, I think everybody has to take a look anew at what we do to get the message out to Arab populations around the world.
Now, I want to caution: this notion that all the people of every country in the Middle East is anti-American simply doesn't prove out. Just look at the number of Muslims in the United States who have relatives still in the Middle East. Look at the number of students studying in American universities and still wanting to come to study in American universities. Look at the number of immigrants, still, from those countries that come to the United States seeking what the United States can provide. So I think sometimes we overstate the degree to which the Arab populations are anti-American.
That said, we do believe that in some quarters there is a tendency to allow the spewing of propaganda that most -- propaganda and conspiracy theories -- that are not helpful and not true. And everybody -- and that includes all of us in this room -- have an obligation to make sure that when propaganda is out there from, let's say, for instance, the Taliban, which has never been known to be a regime that cared much about telling the truth, that it's clear that the Taliban is a regime that's known not to tell the truth.
It's very well hidden from the international community for its entire rule, the things that it's been doing to its population, it's only been leaking out. So the Taliban is not a very good source.
I think it was Chairman Arafat, himself, who said that Osama bin Laden was essentially trying to hijack the Palestinian cause, where has he been for 30 years. That's something that President Mubarak of Egypt has also said about Osama bin Laden.
So it's not clear to me that this "hatred of the United States" is as widespread. I think we do have to do a better job of getting the message out, and everybody has to tell the truth about the source of these conspiracies and lies.
Q When you said -- you said all the things Arafat hadn't done. You said the President wrote him a letter asking him to do those things about two-and-a-half weeks ago. Last time I checked, there was no answer. I wonder what you think of that and I wonder if what you want him to do are the conditions for a meeting with the President?
By the way, his -- Nabil Shaath is saying he is not even sure Arafat is coming to New York, he is not sure he's going to see Powell. Would it help to see Secretary Powell, at least?
DR. RICE: Look, it's not up to me to try and determine Chairman Arafat's travel schedule. All I can say is that the United States has been tireless in its efforts to make clear to the Palestinians, Chairman Arafat, what he needs to do. Also to make clear to our Israeli friends that we support Israel, Israel is our friend, we share values. There are things that Israel can do to make the situation better. We've talked about the problem of closures, for instance.
Now, the process that is out there in the future, if we can get both sides to get through a period of time where the violence is down, is one to which both sides are agreed, the Mitchell process. And that gives us a roadmap that we can walk down.
So what our goal has been, and we've been absolutely tireless in it, is to work with both sides to see if we can get on the road to Mitchell.
Q On Afghanistan, can you tell us if you think it would help or hurt at this moment to have a government in exile basically formed and ready to move in? And on Russia, can you say whether or not you have or are prepared to offer WTO endorsement or entry into the WTO when President Putin comes?
DR. RICE: On the question of the Russians and WTO, we've said that we think it would be a good thing if Russia is able to become a member of the World Trade Organization. It would have good effects in terms of Russian domestic reform, and Russia will hopefully one day be a big economy and ought to be involved in the World Trade Organization.
Obviously, there are steps that anyone applying for membership to the WTO has to go through. The harmonization of domestic laws is an important part of that. We have tried to help in talking to the Russians about how some of that might get done.
But this is a process, and it's a process that has pretty clear markers that have less to do with whether we want Russia to be in the WTO -- which, of course, we do -- and more to do with getting Russian domestic reforms and laws in line with WTO standards.
As to your first question about a future Afghan government, I think, David, we are trying very hard to send the message this can't be a made-in-America solution. This is something that the Afghans themselves are going to have to take on. And I think we are agnostic as to the form that takes.
But we are -- we do believe that it has to be a broad-based government that is representative of the many ethnic groups that are represented in Afghanistan, that it has to take those interests into account, and when and how those get formulated, I think we will leave at this point to the U.N. and to the members of the Afghan community who are trying to get it done.
Thank you very much.
END 12:05 P.M. EST
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