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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
December 30, 2002

Press Gaggle by Scott McClellan

12:20 P.M. CST

MR. McCLELLAN: All right. Good windy, rainy Crawford afternoon to everybody. Let me start off with the President's day.

The President had his usual briefings this morning. He then cleared some brush and I would expect that about now he's probably having lunch.

Q When will the brush be cleared? (Laughter.) Scott, is there an end to this? (Laughter.)

MR. McCLELLAN: It's ongoing, it is ongoing, David; it is ongoing. (Laughter.)

Let me make some remarks on the news out of Yemen this morning. We strongly condemn and deplore the murder of three American citizens who were providing humanitarian assistance to the Yemeni people. We are working closely with Yemeni officials to investigate these attacks.

Yemeni officials already have one individual in custody, and we will work with them to bring to justice all those who are responsible. The President's thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families, and he hopes for a speedy and full recovery of the individual who was wounded in the attacks.

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

Q The Yemenis say they sent -- the President of Yemen sent a note of condolence to President Bush. Has he received any correspondence --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'll check on that. I'm not sure if he received that. I know he was informed early this morning of the killings.

Q By who?

MR. McCLELLAN: I just know he was informed early this morning by staff.

Q And what reason do we have to believe that there's more than one person involved?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, I don't have any specific information to provide regarding the investigation. We'll let the American officials who are working with Yemeni officials investigate that. But our intention, I want to make clear, is to bring to justice any and all people who were responsible for these murders.

Q Is there an indication by saying "all those responsible" -- is the implication that you think there's more than one?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, it's continuing to be investigated, so we need to let the investigation continue.

Q -- this is a terrorist attack?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, these -- what we know is that these were murders of American citizens who were there in Yemen to provide humanitarian aid to the Yemeni people, and we need to let the investigation continue. And then when we have more information, or when the Yemeni -- when Yemen has more information, we'll share that at that time.

Q Are there any links that the U.S. knows of between the suspect that was arrested and terror groups?

MR. MCCLELLAN: Nothing -- nothing to report at this time, Mark.

Q What about these five that the FBI is looking for? Is there a suspicion that they may be involved in a New York kind of plot for New Years or any other time?

MR. MCCLELLAN: There's not any specific information, David, related to terrorist activities that we have. We did receive information about these individuals through intelligence. But, you know, any time we have five individuals like this who enter the country illegally, we want to know why they are here, we want to question them. And that's why the FBI has enlisted the help of the public. The FBI is working closely with state and local law enforcement officials, so that we can find these individuals and question them and find out more.

But with that said, that we don't have any specific information relating to terrorist activities, there are -- and the FBI pointed this out in their release yesterday -- that based on information developed in the course of ongoing investigations relating to the war on terrorism, the FBI would like to locate and question these people.

Q And you say, when we have individuals like this, I mean, is that because they're of Middle Eastern descent, is it because they are traveling in a group? Because the intelligence indicates they have some association --

MR. MCCLELLAN: It's based on intelligence -- I'm not going to get into sources or methods -- that the intelligence brought to our attention these individuals. Again, we don't have any specific information that ties them to terrorist activity, but they -- we do believe they have entered this country illegally. And any time anybody enters the country illegally we want to know why they're here and we want to question them.

Q But intelligence that they may have some association with terror groups, if not terror activity? Is that --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think what I would point back to is what the FBI said, that while there isn't specific information, that based upon information developed in the course of ongoing investigations -- investigations relating to the war on terrorism -- the FBI would like to question these individuals.

Q Given the hunt for these five on our soil, is there any thought to changing the status of --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, there's no change in the alert status.

Q Scott, could you clarify on North Korea, is it the administration's position that the International Atomic Energy Agency bring the case before the United Nations Security Council in the weeks ahead, or is that something that you are kind of stepping back --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that's a decision for the International Atomic Energy Agency to make, and they will be meeting, as you are aware, on January 6th with their board of governors to discuss what steps they take and whether or not to refer that to United Nations Security Council.

I think Secretary Powell yesterday stated the administration's position very clearly.

Q Will the administration make a recommendation to the IAEA, in terms of where to push that --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not aware of any such recommendation that's been made. But that is a matter for the IAEA. What we have here is that, you know, I would go back to that North Korea is continuing to isolate itself from the international community. The entire world stands ready to help North Korea, but North Korea will not realize any of the benefits and help that they need until they reverse its current course.

Q But will the administration take the position either way on whether or not it should bring it forward to the U.N. Security Council during that meeting, the January 6th meeting?

MR. MCCLELLAN: I think that's a decision for the IAEA board of governors. That's what I was making clear.

Q And the administration will not have any position, no recommendation?

MR. MCCLELLAN: I'm not aware of any recommendation that's been made. That's an IAEA decision.

Q Scott, with what you just said there, are you including food aid in what North Korea may not receive?

MR. MCCLELLAN: No. Secretary Powell actually addressed that yesterday. Through the World Food Program, we will continue to meet our allocations to the World Food Program. There is a concern about that food actually getting to the people of Korea, as Secretary Powell stated yesterday.

Q But is there -- when you say, the entire world stands ready to help?

MR. MCCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q When you say, the entire world stands ready to help North Korea, I mean, are you trying to stress the idea that if you want aid, if you want to include your situation, you know, just comply and you'll get aid right away?

MR. MCCLELLAN: I'm trying to make the point that North Korea needs to change its current course. They need to change their current behavior; that as long as they continue down their current course, North Korea will continue -- North Korea will continue to pay a serious price by its own actions; and it continues to isolate itself from the international community by these actions, by the latest actions. I think Secretary Powell stated very well yesterday that the United States was ready to help and we were in direct contact, in direct talks with North Korea.

Japan, Prime Minister Koizumi, was ready to talk normalization and economic assistance to North Korea. South Korea was ready to do so as well. But because of the revelations and by the acknowledgment by North Korea that it was seeking another way to develop nuclear weapons and its continued course of action, in opening the seals off the fuel rods and restarting the Yongbyon nuclear facility, it has continued to isolate itself and it cannot realize those benefits from the international community while it continues down its current course.

Q Scott, Kim Dae-jung today said that the only option for dealing with North Korea is dialogue, and that isolation won't work. He criticized what is perceived to be coming out of the U.S. Do you have a response to that?

MR. MCCLELLAN: Yes. North Korea is the one that is isolating itself by its action. The international community is unified and is in agreement that North Korea's actions are a challenge to all responsible nations. And it has made clear that North Korea's relations with the outside world hinge on the elimination of its nuclear weapons program. So that's the point I would emphasize, that the international community is unified in its approach.

Q But it doesn't appear to be the case, because South Korea is specifically criticizing our approach, saying pressure and isolation won't work and likened what we're doing to Cuba, saying that --

MR. MCCLELLAN: I think if you look back, South Korean President-elect Rho said last week that North Korea must withdraw the nuclear measures that it has taken and restore facilities and equipment to their original state. He made those remarks last week. And that's why I point to the fact that the international community is unified in its approach. And we are going to continue consulting and working closely with our friends and allies as we move forward.

Q And I also have a question on Iraq. What is the U.S. planning to do to get these Iraqi scientists into a neutral country to talk with the U.N. folks?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that's a question you ought to refer to Dr. Blix and Dr. Elbaradei. They're are the ones who are -- they are the inspectors. They're the ones who are implementing the process that was set out by the United Nations Security Council. And so I think those comments ought to be directed to them.

But it's very clear what the resolution states, and that is that we should be able to question those scientists inside and outside the country, if need be.

Q Scott, any thoughts on the reluctance of China and Russia to use sanctions, economic sanctions through the U.N. against North Korea? Are there any efforts to bring them around?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, anything specific you are referring to? I mean, we are continuing to mobilize the international community to keep pressure on North Korea. But North Korea, by it's own actions, is isolating itself from the international community. I mean, China, North Korea's strongest friend in the region, has stated that it's policy is one of no nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. So by its own actions, North Korea continues to isolate itself.

Anybody else?

Q Back on Yemen, is it the U.S. view that Americans were specifically targeted?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, Mark, that's kind of getting into questions that -- this is being investigated as we speak. As I pointed out, one individual is in custody. Let's let the investigation take place, and as we develop more information and it's ready to be shared, I'm sure it will be shared at that time. But this underscores the world we're living in these days, the dangerous world we live in these days. And the State Department has had travel advisories and warnings out to American citizens in different parts of the world. We take this very seriously and we will work closely with Yemeni officials to bring any and all people who are responsible for these murders to justice.

Q On a lighter note, have you got any information about how the Bushes are going to ring in the New Year?

MR. MCCLELLAN: You're a day ahead of things. You're not going to leave me anything for tomorrow if we talk about that today.

Q What's he have planned for today?

MR. MCCLELLAN: I don't know what his afternoon activities are at this point. I would imagine he might get some fishing in, as well. But, obviously, he continues to conduct business while he's here as well.

Q Any other major phone calls or visitors?

MR. MCCLELLAN: Nothing I've been informed of, in terms of world leader calls or anything like that.

All right, thanks.

END 12:35 P.M. CST