For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
July 23, 2003
Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
1:17 P.M. EDT
MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon. Let me run back through the President's day. The President had his usual briefings this morning. Following that, he had a visit with Ambassador Bremer and the Secretary of Defense, and you have those remarks from earlier. The President appreciated having the opportunity to hear personally from Ambassador Bremer about the progress we are making on the coalition's comprehensive strategy for a secure, prosperous and democratic Iraq.
Following that, the President dropped by the National FFA Organization State President's Briefing. And then the President was very pleased to welcome a great friend, statesman and strong leader for freedom to the White House, President Havel, the former President of the Czech Republic. They had a very good visit and the President looks forward to presenting Havel the Presidential Medal of Freedom later this afternoon.
The President will be meeting with the President of Argentina, President Kirshner, at 2:15 p.m. The President looks forward to meeting with President Kirshner. The President values our bilateral relations with Argentina, who is an important ally. And the two leaders will discuss a range of issues, including the global war on terrorism, global and hemispheric trade, and advancing economic prosperity in the hemisphere. The President supports President Kirshner's efforts to return Argentina to a path of sustainable growth, and the President will also underscore the importance of Argentina working constructively with international financial institutions.
Then, at 2:50 p.m., this afternoon, the President will participate in the ceremony to honor the 2003 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. This is the second time during this administration that we've presented Presidential Medals of Freedom here at the White House.
And this afternoon, the President will also be meeting with members of the congressional conference committee on Medicare reform. The President looks forward to meeting with these leaders and continuing to talk how we can get something done quickly on a bill that will give seniors more choices and better benefits so that they can choose the health care that best meets their individual needs, so that they can have the same kind of options that members of Congress and other federal employees enjoy today.
And one other announcement. I'm pleased to announce that Secretary Snow, Evans and Chao will travel to Minnesota and Wisconsin on Tuesday, July 29th and Wednesday, July 30th, to discuss the state of the economy and the recently passed jobs and growth plan, as well as other efforts by President Bush to create jobs, strengthen the economic recovery that we're in, and increase workers' standards of living.
During the tour, Secretaries Snow, Evans and Chou will participate in town hall-style meetings, roundtables and tours in the two states. While doing so, they will meet with families, workers, manufacturers, local business leaders, economic officials, small business owners, seniors and individual investors.
And with that, I will be glad to take your questions.
Q Scott, has there ever been an attempt or effort on the part of anyone here at the White House to discredit the reputations or reporting of former Ambassador Joe Wilson, his wife, or ABC correspondent Jeffrey Kofman?
MR. McCLELLAN: John, I think I answered that yesterday. That is not the way that this White House operates. That's not the way the President operates. And certainly, I first became aware of those news reports when we were contacted by reporters and the questions were raised. It's the first I had heard of those. No one would be authorized to do that within this White House. That is simply not the way we operate, and that's simply not the way the President operates.
Q In all of those cases?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, go down -- which two?
Q Joe Wilson and his wife?
MR. McCLELLAN: No.
Q And Jeffrey Kofman from ABC.
MR. McCLELLAN: First of all, if there's any truth to it, it's totally inappropriate. Second of all, I just made very clear, that's simply not the way we operate.
Q So that's a little bit of a change. You said if there's any truth to it, it's inappropriate, whereas just a moment ago --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, no, you were talking about the first one on I guess, the ABC reporter. And I had previously said that if that were true, it would be totally inappropriate. I'm not suggesting it is. I have no knowledge of anything to suggest that it is. Obviously, sometimes there are anonymous reports out there. I always wish I knew -- I could find out who anonymous was.
Q Are you trying to do an internal investigation to find out?
MR. McCLELLAN: I have no reason to believe that there is any truth that that has happened. So if I thought that there was any reason to believe that something like that had happened, I would --
Q So you're saying that reporters just made it up?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- try to get to the bottom. Campbell, I just said that anonymous is someone I would like to know who that is, but it's usually a fruitless search.
Q Can I ask you a different question on the President's speech?
MR. McCLELLAN: You may.
Q He said this morning, a free Iraq wouldn't be a training ground for terrorists, or funnel money to terrorists, or provide weapons who would strike our country or other allies. Does the administration have new information since the coalition has been operating in Iraq to suggest a link between Saddam and al Qaeda?
MR. MCCLELLAN: It's the information that we've already presented -- that we presented previously when we laid out the clear and compelling case about why we needed to confront this threat. So that's the information that I'm aware of at this time. And it certainly was a concern before, and that's part of the reason we took the action that we did.
Q But even -- I mean, as such as -- as you all have gone back over the evidence, given what happened with regard to uranium in the President's State of the Union address, and you released to us the National Intelligence Estimate last Friday, even that suggested that any link between Saddam and al Qaeda was a low priority in terms of the overall threat. Why does the President, given what happened with the uranium in Africa-State of the Union mishap, why does he continue pushing that as a justification for war?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think until the last days, when Saddam's regime was still in power, they sheltered and supported terrorists. That was well-known -- who directed violence against Iran, Israel, and Western governments. We laid out very clearly to the American people the information that we knew. Iraq was harboring terrorists. Iraq was supporting terrorists. You had an individual who oversaw a network that was responsible for the killing of an American diplomat, Lawrence Foley. You had an individual who directed a poisons and toxics laboratory in Northeastern Iraq, alongside the radical Islamic organization, Ansar al Islam.
And that's part of what we've already previously got -- not to mention what I just said, which was Saddam Hussein's support for terrorist activities in the Middle East, as well.
Q Just to be clear, even though since you stated all that stuff, the CIA has put together a panel to review the evidence and they have found that the links between Saddam and al Qaeda are pretty flimsy; many within your own administration have said as much. Does the President still believe that that was a major reason for going to war?
MR. McCLELLAN: That was one part of a mountain of intelligence that we had for confronting this threat, and we stand by it.
Q The Iranians say they are holding a number of al Qaeda people, Scott. Would you like to gain custody of these people, or are you going to be in contact with them about it?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, Steve, I'm not in a position where I can confirm the accuracy of those statements by the Iranians, nor am I exactly sure what the term "custody" means. The statements would appear to confirm what we and others believe to be a significant al Qaeda presence in Iran, to include members of its senior leadership. These terrorists, we've made very clear, must be brought to justice. We, along with a number of our allies, have called on Iran to turn these terrorists over to the United States or to their countries of origin so that they will face justice for their terrorist activities.
Q So we would like to get custody of them if they really are there?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, I'm not -- well, we've made that very clear, that if they're in custody, they have them, they need to turn them over. We've made that very clear.
Q You don't believe that they're in custody? When you say you don't know what "custody" means when the Iranians say it --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there's no way for me to confirm the accuracy of their statements at this point, that's what I mean. But, certainly, if they are, we've made it very clear what they need to do.
Q On another matter, Article 17 of the Geneva Convention requires countries at war to "ensure that the dead are honorably interred, if possible, according to the rights of the religion to which they belong." Does the President, as Commander-in-Chief, believe that the United States is bound by that, when it comes to the bodies of Uday and Qusay Hussein?
MR. McCLELLAN: Terry, I'd have to look at the specific. I'm just not familiar enough with it to respond to that question right now.
Q Is the President going to weigh in on the question of whether the photographs of the bodies of these two men should be displayed to the Iraqi people and the world?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that Central Command, the Department of Defense have already stated that they will present evidence. They went over some of how they identified the bodies earlier today, and that's something that they're addressing. And I would direct questions to the Department of Defense relating to that matter.
Q I just want to know, though, there is obviously evidence that you can present the innate findings, dental records, and then there are photographs of dead bodies that is a display --
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't have anything to update you on, beyond what has already been stated by the Department of Defense on that matter.
Q Is the President at all going to be involved in this decision?
MR. McCLELLAN: If there's anything to update you on, I will.
Q All right. Just one quick question on the uranium-Niger thing. Can you just explain in a summary fashion as possible how it is that the President's foreign policy advisors and speechwriters took this claim out of the speech in October, after being warned about it by the CIA, and then put it in, in the State of the Union?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's correct, the CIA said, take it out, and it was taken out. And as we've already said previously, if they had said it on the State of the Union, we would have, as well. But Steve Hadley made it very clear yesterday in the briefing -- it was an extended briefing, he was very straightforward about it -- that he didn't have a recollection of it at the time. But when it came to his attention, he was very straightforward and disclosed that to you all publicly so that we could share that information with the public. It was important to do that, and we've been very straightforward about this all along.
Q And what would you say to the argument that Democrats or others, opponents of the war, would raise that this --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm glad you just pointed out, opponents of the war trying to justify their past position.
Q I'll let you get to that when maybe we ask the question -- but that this was evidence that the White House was bent on presenting the evidence in a certain light and not telling the American people the whole story.
MR. McCLELLAN: First of all, we take our intelligence very seriously. And we are very deliberate in how we approach that intelligence and how we check those facts. But I think it's just still nonsense, and in some cases outrageous, that some partisan Democrats would try to do one of two things, either have it both ways -- because there is an overwhelming bipartisan congressional resolution that supported the action we took, and some people, now, are trying to change what they previously said, and, essentially, try to have it both ways. Their current rhetoric just doesn't match their past statements.
And then there are other people, as you pointed out, that were in a very small minority, that are seeking to justify their opposition to the war with something that just has nothing to do with the overriding clear and compelling evidence that we presented to the American people, that the United Nations acted on by saying that Saddam Hussein had one final chance to comply. This was a guy that for 12 years, a brutal dictator for 12 years, defied the United Nations, would not come clean, went to great lengths to conceal his weapons of mass destruction and his weapons of mass destruction programs. And this was something that -- the clear and compelling evidence that everybody was well aware of in the international community -- at the United Nations, at the Congress. And Congress acted on that and said, we support the action that you are taking, this is a threat that needs to be confronted.
Q Does the President still consider it vital to find these crucial weapons to uphold his credibility? Or does he believe, like Wolfowitz, that it no longer matters, the question of finding weapons and --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think we made it very clear that we are confident that we will uncover the full extent of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction program.
Q Where are they?
MR. McCLELLAN: We will -- the President talked about this last week. There is a lot of speculation out there, but let's let the truth come true. We have a team over there that is going through --
Q -- would they have the --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- that is going through the documents, there is a massive amount of documents, they're interviewing people that are familiar with his past history and familiar with this weapons of mass destruction program. And I think it will become very clear.
Q Just to quickly follow up on Terry's question. The President is, of course, Commander-in-Chief -- presumably, he would have some kind of opinion on whether or not to release these photographs, especially given what he said in the Rose Garden today.
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know how else I can tell you, other than to say that I'll update you if there's any additional information. But this is a matter that has been -- being addressed by the Department of Defense.
Q Just to follow up. Condoleezza Rice's predecessor, Sandy Berger, said today that -- although we know that Bill Clinton sort of gave the President a pass last night -- but Berger said that even now, especially since Steve Hadley said what he said about the memos coming and the phone call coming, it's imperative for the President of the United States to give some kind of speech, to talk to the American people -- through us or whatever -- to explain what exactly happened. What are the chances of that happening?
MR. McCLELLAN: To explain what exactly happened in what sense? To explain the clear and compelling case that we had for confronting this threat?
Q To explain the process of getting information into the State of the Union address that his senior aides now say should not have been in there because of information that they had --
MR. McCLELLAN: We had an extended, 90-minute briefing yesterday on this very subject to share that information with the public --
Q -- on background --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, it was an on-the-record briefing.
Q Not from the President.
MR. McCLELLAN: To share that information with the public. And nothing that was said -- let me repeat -- nothing that was said changes the underlying case, which was clear and compelling: America is safer because of the action we took. The Iraqi people are going to realize freedom and democracy. And that's going to help bring about peace and stability in the Middle East, which is important to addressing the underpinnings of terrorism.
And the President believes in leading. The President believes in confronting threats, not ignoring them. And we saw the horrific attacks of September 11th, and that changed the way we had to look at the threats of the 21st century. The threats became much more real and new in the sense that we're not going to let outlaw regimes join together with terrorists and attack the United States.
Q Just to follow up on that, the polls are showing that the President's biggest strengths really since September 11th, which have been leadership and trust and especially national security, that this controversy has sort of chipped away at that. Is there any sense that there is a need to address it from the President, to sort of stand up to what has been that reputation as somebody who has said, the buck stops here, and I'm a man of my word?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think the President continues to enjoy strong support for his leadership to protect the American people and make America safer. He has provided very strong leadership, and will continue to do so, to address these threats that we face. And he's going to continue to talk to the American people about what's most important here. Let's talk about what's most important. That's the war on terrorism, winning the war on terrorism. And the best way you do that is to go after the threats where they gather, not to let them come to our shore before it's too late.
Q Scott, back on these 16 words, in Africa in an on-the- record briefing from Colin Powell, he said the American public understands. Apparently they don't, after all of this wrangling back and forth for weeks. The American public, according to many polls, expect perfection or close thereto from the White House. And the White House is now saying the procedure failed. How could the procedure fail when you had many hands looking at memos, when you had many eyes looking at these memos? How did the procedure fail? And what safeguards would be put in place --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think this was addressed in the briefing yesterday. And we're going to do everything we can to make sure that that process doesn't break down again. But we made it very clear that those 16 words should not have been included in the State of the Union, even though the British continue to stand by that statement based on additional intelligence they had.
But remember, this was one piece of one part of a large body of evidence about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein and his regime. These words, these 16 words, do not change the fact that there was a mountain of evidence about the threat that Saddam Hussein posed, and that it was important that we act on this threat. And we did, and that threat has been removed.
Q Scott, let me follow up on that. But those 16 words helped rally people for war. Those 16 words were partially factual according to that briefing yesterday. What do you say to the American public now who were rallied to war and supported the President on partial facts?
MR. McCLELLAN: I say to the American people that you are safer because of the action that the President of the United States took on their behalf; that the world is a safer place, and America is a safer place because we have removed a threat that was very real and that was gathering.
Q Scott, two things. First, just to follow up on the Iranian question. Do we know, or have we been told the names of these people who the Iranians allegedly have in detention?
MR. McCLELLAN: David, that's why I said, at this point, I'm not in a position to confirm the accuracy of --
Q That wasn't the question, whether you could confirm it. The question is, have we been given names by the Iranians?
MR. McCLELLAN: Previously? Are you talking about --
Q Any time in the past couple of weeks --
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me put it this way. What I can say is that we have expressed concerns about their support and harboring of terrorists. We have expressed concerns about al Qaeda terrorists in Iran. I think the Iranians know who they are. They know what they need to do --
Q So we've given them names?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- and they know what they need to do, but I'm not going to go beyond that as far as intelligence.
Q And then, the second -- I'll take that as a "we told them who we want them to look for."
MR. McCLELLAN: They know who they are and what they need to do.
Q And they know it from us?
MR. McCLELLAN: They know who they are and what they need to do.
Q The second question, which gets to an issue that never got quite addressed in our 90-minute marathon yesterday --
MR. McCLELLAN: I hope it's not a 90-minute marathon today. (Laughter.)
Q We couldn't stand it, either. (Laughter.)
MR. McCLELLAN: I know you meant that in a good way.
Q Yes, right. (Laughter.) We still have not gotten to the bottom of the question of how the set of facts about Niger and the other countries could be in the NIE published on October 1st, and withdrawn by the Director somewhere between October 5th and October 7th. We raised it yesterday. Now that you've had a chance to go back and consider that question, what is the answer? Did something change in those five days?
MR. McCLELLAN: In terms of the specific reference? I mean, I think we've addressed the reference that was in the Cincinnati speech; we've addressed the reference that was in the State of the Union speech and the different sourcing that was involved. I think we've been through this.
Q I don't think we have. We still have a gap here of a fundamental fact that's in the NIE, which you released on Friday, and then the Director of Central Intelligence calling over and writing -- or somebody in the CIA writing to the White House five days later saying, don't use it, we don't have confidence in it. What changed?
MR. McCLELLAN: The NIE is, as you pointed out, the consensus document of the intelligence community. Let me point out what the NIE says: "We judge that Iraq has continued its weapons of mass destruction program in defiance of U.N resolutions and restrictions" --
Q That's not the point they called about.
MR. McCLELLAN: But I think it's important to address this. "Baghdad has chemical and biological weapons, as well as missiles with ranges in excess of U.N. restrictions. If left unchecked, it probably will have a nuclear weapon during this decade." And, of course, it points out the INR alternative view. "We judge that we are seeing only a portion of Iraq's WMD efforts, owing to Baghdad's vigorous denial and deception efforts. Since inspections ended in 1998, Iraq has maintained its chemical weapons effort, energized its missile program and invested more heavily in biological weapons. In the view of most agencies, Baghdad is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program."
What you're getting at, that one statement does not change the overall case that was clear and compelling.
Q Do you want to skip down and read the section about Niger, Somalia and the Congo? I mean, that's the part they called back and said was no longer operative.
MR. McCLELLAN: Are you talking in the Cincinnati speech? Again, the Cincinnati speech was --
Q In the days leading up to the --
MR. McCLELLAN: The Cincinnati speech was going to an amount and a source, and I think that these issues were addressed in the extended briefing you mentioned yesterday. We've been very straightforward about this. What's most important is to look at the case, and the case was overwhelming that this was a very real threat.
Q First of all, the President has warnings to various enemies on the table -- Iran, North Korea, Syria. When does the White House believe that the U.S. troops are stretched too thin?
MR. McCLELLAN: You know, Connie, I don't know if you have a specific instant you're referring to?
Q And I'd also like an update, if possible, on Liberia and North Korea.
MR. McCLELLAN: Right, but we're obviously going to do what it takes to protect the American people. And we appreciate all that our troops do and we'll make sure they have all the necessary resources and support that they need to carry out their missions. I just don't know of specific --
Q Does the White House believe that the U.S. could open up fronts for --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think the Department of Defense has gone through this, the importance of addressing the threats that we face in this day and age.
Q Anything on North Korea or Liberia?
MR. McCLELLAN: Did you have a specific question? Well, let me continue on. I'll try to come back if I can. We need to keep moving.
Q Scott, Al Jazeera reported that Saddam's two sons were "killed in cold blood, in what was a crime." AP reported from Manchester, New Hampshire, that Howard Dean, when asked about whether these deaths were a victory for the Bush administration, replied, "It's a victory for the Iraqi people, but it doesn't have any effect on whether we should or shouldn't have had a war." And my question, first of two, does the President believe we should have any more respect for Dean's statement than for Al Jazeera's?
MR. McCLELLAN: We recognize there are a lot of people running on the Democratic primary. We'll let them work out their own differences first. But the two individuals you mentioned were leaders of a very brutal regime. Those two individuals carried out horrific attacks on the Iraqi people. And I think you have seen how the Iraqi people welcomed the news that they will no longer be able to carry out their acts of torture against them. They have been removed and they will not be coming back.
And let me keep moving --
Q Does the President -- I have a follow-up --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'll try to come back if I can. I want to keep moving so everybody can get in here. Greg.
Q The President is meeting with the conferees on Medicare. Congress is about to go out for the summer recess. Does he have any hope of completing the bill now. Or is this an issue that he looks forward for the fall --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, obviously, Congress sets the time lines in terms of when they actually hear legislation. But the President will continue to urge that Congress move as quickly as possible on this, because this about getting important help to America's seniors, getting them the prescription drug coverage that they have waited on for far too long, getting them the choices and benefits that other people have that they don't have right now.
Q Congress sets the timetable up there, but the President applies the pressure. So I'm guessing -- I'm trying to get at what the point of the meeting is today.
MR. McCLELLAN: To continue to talk about the importance of the leaders resolving their differences and to move as quickly as possible. Obviously, there are a number of important priorities that Congress is addressing. And we appreciate that, but we hope that they'll move as quickly as possible on this one because it's a very high priority for the President of the United States. It's a very high priority for America's seniors.
Q Does he have faith in the Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee still, after his conduct in recent days and deteriorating relations with Democrats?
MR. McCLELLAN: He is someone who has been very helpful to us in implementing our agenda. And we appreciate the support that he has provided to us in that manner.
Q Scott, is there any assessment here in the White House about why it took so long for the administration to give us a sort of full accounting of how the speech process worked and why there were so many confusing and in some cases inaccurate explanations about how --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, now, I'm not quite sure what you mean by why it took so long in terms of -- when information came to our attention, we moved quickly to make sure that that information was shared with you all, so it could be shared with the public. And we were very straightforward about that. I think the American people appreciate that kind of straightforward approach.
Q The controversy over 16 words raged for more than two weeks before you tried to sort of nail down some of the specifics. And there was an acknowledgment yesterday in that briefing that the fear and the concern was that the controversy over one sentence, a relatively minor point in an overall case, as you explained it, blotted out, as one of the officials said yesterday, the entire case you had made against Iraq on chemical, biological, and nuclear. Isn't there some sense that you were a little late in coming to this conclusion, that you needed to lay out some information about how you got to this point?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think, again, we moved as quickly as possible to share the information as it came to our attention, and be very straightforward about it in that process. But as you pointed out, what the President of the United States is focused on, and I think what the American people are focused on, is our nation's safety and security, our nation's national security. The President is going to continue to stay focused on that highest of priorities, which is winning the war on terrorism and making America a safer place.
Q One last little thing. The President said today that he urges other nations to contribute militarily and financially to the efforts in Iraq. What is the President looking for, and where is he looking?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think he spelled that out a little bit, that Resolution 1483 calls on countries to help in our stabilization and reconstruction efforts. The President pointed out that you have some 19 countries that are already providing assistance with troops. You have another -- you have some 30 countries helping with financial assistance to help with reconstruction. So, yes, we want to -- we welcome more help and support from other countries in this effort. And I think that Resolution 1483 at the United Nations provides the authority for them to provide that help. I mean, we need --
Q Is the President actively soliciting?
MR. McCLELLAN: We're in discussions with countries about how they can help, absolutely, on a regular basis, and how they can contribute to this important cause, which is bringing freedom and democracy to the Iraqi people. This is about a better future for the Iraqi people, and despite whatever your view may have been before we took action, we can all work together on this important cause, which is crucial to stability and peace in the Middle East.
Q Today, Ambassador Bremer is laying out what the administration is calling a comprehensive strategy for reconstructing Iraq. The President noted this morning that today were 83 days after he declared an end to combat operations. Eighty-three days is a long time to not have a comprehensive strategy to rebuilding Iraq. Why wasn't the administration better prepared --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I don't know that I agree with the characterization. Obviously, we --
Q Then how did we get to this point --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- we went and did planning on postwar Iraq well before any activity started, just in case that was needed. I think that, obviously, things change and you have to be flexible when you approach that. But we are making important progress in Iraq. I think you have to look at what we're trying to achieve. Obviously, there are difficulties along the way and sacrifices are made. But they're made for a very just and noble cause, as the President pointed out earlier today.
But we have to keep our focus on what this is about. This is about liberating the Iraqi people. This is about helping bring about freedom and democracy, and setting an example for the rest of the Middle East, which will help address some of the underpinnings of terrorism, which will make the world a safer and more peaceful place.
Q -- the administration have been better prepared for the postwar situation? I mean, 83 days is a long time --
MR. McCLELLAN: I just don't know that I agree with that characterization. I mean, we -- Ambassador Bremer has been doing a great job. And we immediately began -- I think if you look at how quickly we moved in terms of the military action, we prevented a huge humanitarian crisis in that country. That helped for us to start in a strong position to begin addressing some of these other issues.
But there has been three decades that a brutal regime -- a brutal, oppressive regime has been denying the Iraqi people the opportunities of a better life, the opportunities that come with freedom. So I think the Iraqi people, they're becoming a big part of this now. They're learning the importance of taking responsibility and being involved in this effort. And I think things are moving. But, obviously, there are some remnants of the old regime, there are some terrorists that are trying to prevent the success that we are having, that will continue to target the success that we are having. But we will find them and we will destroy them.
Q You mentioned something -- the President's meeting with the President of Argentina, Mr. Kirshner, this afternoon. You said the President is looking forward to the meeting. The United States is the biggest contributor to the IMF, if I'm not mistaken. And one of the things Argentina is looking for is strong support from the United States for the plan that Mr. Kirshner is presenting to the IMF. Do you expect the President to give him that full backing today?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I don't want to jump ahead, giving you a full readout of the meeting. Let's let the meeting take place and then we can give you a readout after that. But I think that we've made our views very clear in terms of our support for Argentina and what they need -- and what action it's important to take.
Q Do you know who's going to be doing the --
MR. McCLELLAN: We'll get you that information later.
Q You've had in custody for some period of time now Tariq Aziz, who was obviously one of Hussein's top lieutenants, along with some of the top scientists from the regime. At this point in time, has there been any progress made from interrogations of those men or others that put you on the trail to discovering weapons of mass destruction, or even the paperwork that might reveal how and where they were disposed of? I mean, the point is, you've had --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I understand. I think that the direction I would point you is to what David Kaye recently said in some interviews. This is an expert that has a long -- has some deep experience in Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program. And he has recently spoken to some of these issues. But I think what we said all along is that we want to see the full picture, so that we can find out the truth. And we'll see -- we'll see. And we're confident that the truth will show the extent of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program and Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.
Q One of the unanswered questions from yesterday concerned whether or not Condi Rice had, in fact, read the second memo from the CIA, in which she was listed as a recipient of. Steve Hadley said he didn't know for certain whether or not she read it, didn't even know for certain if she received it. Can you now, a couple hours later, shed any light on that?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's what I know, as well.
Q Could you check, please, and share --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'll see if there's additional information and find out. I'll look back at the briefing, as well.
Q Scott, the President in his speech today talked about an ambitious timetable and clear benchmarks to measure progress. What are they?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think Ambassador Bremer has been talking about those benchmarks and time lines, and I would leave it to him, since he is the head of the coalition provisional authority, to address that.
But, Peter, I think that Ambassador Bremer has made a priority of not only securing Iraq, but getting the economy going in Iraq. It's a whole different approach that has been taken from the last three decades under Saddam Hussein, so it's going to take some time to get where we need to get. But the steps that we are taking -- bringing in the governing council, which is representative of the country, a very diverse group of individuals, bringing them into the process where they can have a say in who the people are involved in overseeing the different areas, and getting electricity going at full-speed and everything else.
Q I guess what I'm getting at is the benchmark the American people worry about the most -- is there a benchmark on when the troops will be out of there?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we've made it very clear that we will stay as long as possible [sic] and not a day longer. Obviously, we went in there with a commitment to see this through. We will finish the job. We will make sure that we have a secure Iraq, that we have a free Iraq, and that we have a democratic Iraq that is governed by the Iraqi people. It will be as long as it takes to finish the job, but not a day longer.
Q You just said "as long as possible." You just said "as long as possible."
MR. McCLELLAN: As long as necessary -- I'm sorry -- as long as necessary to complete the job. Thank you.
Q The new President of Argentina is trying to run a country that is broke and where unemployment is as high as 25 percent. Does President Bush plan to bail out Argentina, and, if so, how?
MR. McCLELLAN: Let's let the meeting take place with the President of Argentina, and we'll be glad to provide a readout after that. I think we've already said what our views are in terms of their economic outlook and what we believe -- who they need to work with as they address those issues.
Q This morning the President talked of a new plan for Iraq given to him by Ambassador Bremer. Will we get a copy of that plan or, at least, highlights?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think Ambassador Bremer is regularly briefing you on what we're doing and what we're trying to accomplish. He had a briefing over at the National Press Club earlier today. So he'll keep you apprised of what we're doing.
Q Two quick ones on the remarks this morning. One, the President said that it was important for the troops there to have all the tools necessary. Did Ambassador Bremer ask the President for any additional resources in that regard this morning?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think it came up in the context with Ambassador Bremer. But we've made it very clear we're going to do everything we can to support our troops and make sure that they have everything they need. They're carrying out a very important cause and making great sacrifice. And as the President said, we're eternally grateful for what our troops are doing, we're eternally grateful to the families of those troops.
Q A follow-on to Jim's other question -- 1483, which is now about three months old, called on all member states of the United Nations to step forward with humanitarian and other assistance for Iraq. Given that so few countries have done so, is the President's message this morning that he is irritated with the lack of response to that --
MR. McCLELLAN: There are a number of counties that have. There are a number of countries that we continue to be in discussions with. Each country has to make their own decision about how they can participate, or in what ways they can participate. And we'll continue working with those countries. But I think he pointed out 19 countries are already assisting with troops. Some 30 others are helping with financial assistance to the reconstruction efforts. We appreciate that support. We're going to continue working and reaching out to other countries, as well, to provide help.
Q He made an explicit plea this morning. He said, it's time for other countries to step up. What was behind that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think it's just important to continue to remind countries that whatever past differences there may have been, that there is an important cause going on here. And we welcome their help in our efforts.
Q Scott, thank you. The President spent quite a bit of time this morning touting the accomplishments of postwar Iraq. Is he concerned that what he sees as those accomplishments are not getting through to the public based on polls show that most people don't think things are going well over here. Do you think that their conclusions about that are mistaken? Is this an effort to try to correct that picture?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think it's always important to point out what we are doing because of the importance of our efforts in Iraq, not only what they mean to the Iraqi people, but what it means to the region, and what it means to the world. And we have been making some important progress. Ambassador Bremer has been addressing that. Again, there are going to be difficulties, and this will take some time, but we will see it through. We will be there until the job is finished.
Q Is the administration at all concerned about the public impression about what's going on in Iraq?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know about any various polls you're citing specifically. But what we're concerned about is making sure that the Iraqi people have a free and democratic country, and making sure that they have a secure and prosperous Iraq. That's what we're focused. And obviously, we're going to continue to talk to the American people about what we're doing.
Q Thank you, Scott. Last night on Hannity and Colmes, Democratic Congressman Charlie Rangel said that the United States acted illegally in killing Uday and Qusay. By extension, he's saying that our troops are criminals and not heroes. Would you comment on that, please?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know what exactly he's referring to. I mean, this is a military operation, and command and control targets are things that we will -- are what we will pursue.
Q Were our actions illegal?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, absolutely not. I don't know what -- in what sense. This is a military armed conflict, and they are part of the leaders, and part of the command and control of the former regime, and people who carried out horrific acts on the Iraqi people, people that were leaders of a brutal, oppressive regime. And the military completed a successful operation, and the President congratulates our military and intelligence community for the job that they did.
Q Scott, where do we stand on a Liberia decision? And then also, could you articulate, in the President's view, why it would be in our national interest to send troops to Liberia?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that, one, the President has addressed what the national interest would be. But in terms of the situation there, we continue to be actively engaged with the United Nations and the West African states in their attempts to bring peace and stability to Liberia. We have representatives of the United States on the ground participating the peacekeeping planning in Dakar, Senegal, as well as the peace talks in Accra, Ghana. So we have representatives from the State Department, representatives from the Department of Defense involved in those discussion. And these are high-level discussions, and we're continuing to visit with those -- both the Economic Community Of West African States and the United Nations so that we can move forward.
The President has made it very clear that we want to help the West Africa states get in there so that they can make sure a cease-fire takes hold. And we continue to call on all parties to cease military activity, abide by the terms of the cease-fire and focus on the efforts of the peace talks in Accra.
Q Are you confident the President has adequately articulated the national interest in that situation?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, the President -- if you go back to his June 26th remarks said that, "we are determined to help the people of Liberia find the path to peace." And he talked about how the United States is working with regional governments to support those negotiations and to map out a secure transition to elections. I think we've already discussed the national interest that is involved there, both in terms of if you have failed states and in terms of our long ties to the country. And we want to do what we can help, and that's why we're continuing to have the high-level discussions about how we move forward in trying to get the West African states in there to make sure a cease-fire takes hold.
Q Scott, what are the President's expectations for the Medicare meeting this afternoon? And who exactly is he meeting with?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we'll try to put out a list later. But all members of the conference committee were invited. And what he's hoping to accomplish is to urge everybody to continue working together to resolve differences so that we can get a strong Medicare reform bill passed that provided prescription drug coverage to seniors and that provides our seniors with more choices and better benefits, similar to what members of Congress have under the Federal Employee Health Benefit Plan. It's important for seniors to be able to choose the care that best meets their individual needs. Medicare has not been brought up to date, and we want to bring it up to date.
Q Is he going to set a deadline for the conference to finish work?
MR. McCLELLAN: Let's let the discussions take place. If there's anything else, I'll have it for you. But what he's continuing to urge is they act as quickly as possible.
Q Scott, getting back to Liberia, is ECOWAS making as a precondition to their sending peacekeeping troops in that United States troops go in with them?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that the discussions are ongoing. Let me let the discussions take place in those areas I pointed, and then we'll see what we have from there. And we'll keep you apprised of anything. But I think the President has spelled out very clearly that we want to enable ECOWAS to get in there and make sure the cease-fire can take hold. And that's what he has continued to emphasize. And his commitment is very clear, to doing what we can if help is needed in that cause.
Q Scott, why the Urban League over the NAACP or any other civil rights organization? The Urban League is now saying that President Bush is supposed to come to speak to their organization. The President still has yet to meet with a civil rights organization.
MR. McCLELLAN: I think we're going to have an announcement very soon in terms of the President's schedule which you're talking about. And I'll have more to talk about it at that point.
Q Why is it --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'll have more to talk about it. Let me go to Jennifer because we've already been to you.
Q I just want to follow on Liberia. What is it that's taking so long? They're in discussions with ECOWAS. The Western African countries have now said they're going to send in battalions in the next few days. What are we waiting for? What do we need to hear that we haven't heard in the two to three weeks of meetings with those groups? Are you waiting for Taylor to leave?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think I pointed out that the discussions are going on right now.
Q But why is it still happening? What do we need to hear?
MR. McCLELLAN: And that was both the peace talks, as well as the planning. And Secretary Powell has been in daily conversations with Secretary General Annan, as well, speaking with him a couple times yesterday. We've been actively working on how the United States can complement, continue to complement the actions and planning being done by the United Nations and the West African states. And so those discussions are going on. I'm sorry?
Q Why does it take this many weeks of meetings to figure that out? It doesn't seem like --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there are a lot of discussions going on within the West African states. We're having those discussions with them so that we can do the necessary planning to move the process forward.
Q Is Taylor the issue, that he hasn't left?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we've made it very clear that he needs to leave, and that still stands.
Q Thank you.
END 2:07 P.M. EDT