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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
July 18, 2003
Press Gaggle by Scott McClellan
Wyndham Anatole Hotel
3:23 P.M. CDT
MR. McCLELLAN: I think you have everything, we put out the statement on the issue of the British detainees. So you should have that, as well as a few other statements.
I'm here for your questions.
Q Can you elaborate on the statement? What does it mean, essentially? That you --
MR. McCLELLAN: It means that it's under discussion between our legal experts and their legal experts, to determine how we can resolve this. That's what it means.
Q Is the President considering the option of sending those detainees back to Great Britain for --
MR. McCLELLAN: The statement said there are a range of options and we want to discuss it between legal experts.
Q Is that one of the options, though, sending --
MR. McCLELLAN: So I don't want to speculate about what may or may not be decided. Let's let the legal experts talk about it and then we can discuss it from there.
Q And about some of the options?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, if we're getting into a discussion like that, that's starting to speculate about how -- you know, the disposition. And we need to let the legal experts discuss it first.
We understand the concerns and that's why we're working -- the British and Australians are close friends and allies and that's why we're working with them to address this issue.
Q Can you characterize their discussion last night about this matter?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think you pretty much got the characterization in the statement.
Q Scott, did they discuss -- did the President learn any more from the Prime Minister about the British intelligence behind the uranium claim?
MR. McCLELLAN: That was not -- it was my understanding that was not something that was discussed.
Q They didn't discuss it?
MR. McCLELLAN: They focused on the issues that they addressed last night, as well as what I had talked about previously, earlier in the day.
Q They didn't discuss uranium at all?
MR. McCLELLAN: I was told that that did not come up in the conversation.
Q So throughout the course of the day they never discussed uranium?
MR. McCLELLAN: I was told it didn't come up during the meetings. Remember, he was here for a short amount of time. What they focused on was moving forward on winning the war on terrorism and a number of other important issues that they're addressing.
Q Some U.N. inspectors found what they believe is enriched uranium in Iran. What is the administration's reaction? Is that a cause for --
MR. McCLELLAN: I saw the reports. As you are aware, we remain concerned about a lot of things that Iran is doing, particularly its pursuit of nuclear weapons. And we believe strongly that Iran needs to open up to rigorous examination by the IAEA. But at this point -- I've seen the reports, and our position remains the same.
Q Scott, why did the administration put out all the information that the senior administration official put out today on the intel --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, well, we always want to share facts with the American people. And this information was just, as of today, officially declassified, and it was an opportunity to share with them some information that showed the clear and compelling case that we had for confronting the threat that Saddam Hussein posed.
Q Does the White House think that this should end the case, the discussion? Are we done with this after --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, I think we always welcome the opportunity to discuss and talk about the safety and security of the American people. It's the President's highest priority. This was, as I said, an opportunity to share some important facts with the American people that had recently become declassified. And that's what we did earlier today.
Q Did some of the documents that came out undercut some of the argument, like State Department documents about things being "highly dubious" and all?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that when you look at the information that was released, it shows further how clear and compelling this case was regarding the threat that we faced in Iraq, and that we ended in Iraq. Saddam Hussein is gone and his regime is no longer a threat of using these weapons of mass destruction.
Q Why, Scott, was the cable that was -- that derived from the debriefing of Joe Wilson not included among the declassified documents?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we always want to share as much information as we can. There is some classified information that -- well, there's some information that remains classified for national security reasons. But we felt that this information -- which is what the State of the Union statement was originally based on -- was important to share with the American people, because it could be declassified.
Q When was it actually declassified?
MR. McCLELLAN: It was officially declassified today.
Q Just today?
Q Scott, can you just tell us, why did the President not raise the subject, at all, of the uranium with Tony Blair, given events going on --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think the Prime Minister -- it came up at the press conference. The Prime Minister made it very clear that he stood behind that statement. I think you have to take into account that the British government had additional sources and they made a commitment not to reveal the additional source that they had. And we understand that.
But as you see from today, that one statement had -- that one statement, in and of itself, was by no means the reason that we decided to act and confront the threat that was posed by the Iraqi regime. The case was much broader and the evidence was much broader.
And it was clear and compelling evidence, as you see, in the National Intelligence Estimate, along with the other information that has previously been disclosed by the United Nations, by the international community, that Saddam Hussein is someone that possessed weapons of mass destruction, he showed a willingness to use weapons of mass destruction in the past against his own people, he was someone who defied the international community for 12 years. He was someone who went to great lengths to conceal these weapons of mass destruction. But he is no longer a threat to the American people.
Q Now that you've put this out, I mean, is the case closed, as far as the White House is concerned? Is this the end of it, as far as you're concerned?
MR. McCLELLAN: The end of?
Q The end of the probe looking into it? Is there a need for -- to look into it further?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that it's -- a lot of information has been provided to Congress, these questions have been addressed extensively. And, yes, the issue has been fully addressed.
Q But, Scott, the polls show that as this controversy has raged on, Bush's approval ratings have dropped, more people believe that they exaggerated information. Are you hoping by getting more out there you can stop that slide, their hemorrhaging of support and more doubts of the American public? From a political point of view, this does not help the administration.
MR. McCLELLAN: I think it goes back to we welcome the opportunity to talk about the safety and security of the American people, that this is the highest priority for the President of the United States, and it should be for any President of the United States. And I think what you saw last night from the President and the Prime Minister were some very strong statements that reminded the American people about the importance of acting on the dangerous threats we face in the 21st century, and acting on the new threats we face in the post-September 11th world.
Q Are you worried about the political damage this may have caused the President?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, we continue to look forward to discussing the war on terrorism, because of how important it is to the long-term security of America and the safety and security of the American people. This is about confronting threats, not ignoring them. This is about acting on threats that we face before it's too late.
Q Are there any other countries besides the U.K. and Australia to which the President would even consider sending detainees from Guantanamo back for justice in their respective countries?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I don't want to speculate on any of that. I mean, I think the statement was put forward and that's where things stand now. And so let's let those discussions happen. And I'm not aware of any other discussions at this point.
Q Do you think the Democrats are overreaching in some of their questions they're raising and some of the comments they've made this last week? Do they risk going so far that they may be out on a limb?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that there are some that do seek political gain from this issue, whether it's to justify passed opposition to confronting these dangerous threats we face, or for other reasons. And like I said, we welcome the opportunity to talk about these issues involving the safety and security of the American people. It's important that a President lead and act to address these threats. And that's exactly what the President of the United States has done.
Q Sharon and Abbas coming in the next couple weeks, what should Sharon be doing? There are some reports that he should look at releasing more prisoners, more militants. Do you have any sense of whether the administration supports him expanding the group that gets released?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, what we think is important when it comes to the Middle East is that the parties continue to have an open dialogue, continue to talk to one another. We've made some progress. There will, undoubtedly, be difficulties along the road. But we are pleased that they are working together and trying to move forward on the road map. The road map lays out the framework under which they are working together. And we're going to continue -- Ambassador Wolf and others that are on his staff are going to continue to work with the parties to make sure that they're meeting their commitments and that they're moving forward on the road map.
Q -- prisoners?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that what's important is for the parties to continue talking to each other about these issues, to continue to find ways forward. And that's what they're doing.
Do you all want the week ahead?
Q What's on the agenda with Berlusconi?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, it's what we put out the other day. I'm sure that the two leaders will continue to -- Prime Minister Berlusconi has been a great friend and partner in the war on terrorism. And I'm sure that they will discuss that, among other issues, as well as trans-Atlantic issues. I'd refer you back to the statement that we put out previously. As we get closer to the event on Monday, maybe I can get you some more information.
Q Is this is a reward, also, for his backing on the Iraq war, bringing him --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that he's long been a friend and partner in our efforts to confront threats in the post-September 11th world. And the President looks forward to him coming to Crawford and showing him around his home.
Q Will the President ask him directly to supply troops on the ground in Iraq in the peacekeeping effort?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let's let the meeting take place. But there are a lot of people that are providing help in a variety of ways. And Prime Minister Berlusconi has been someone that's been a true friend throughout our efforts.
Q -- suspect intelligence about the uranium come from Italy originally? Will that be talked about?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that these leaders -- that leaders like Prime Minister Blair or Prime Minister Berlusconi, these are opportunities for us to continue to talk about how -- to continue to talk about the progress we are making in the war on terrorism, to continue to talk about the progress we are making in bringing stability, security and prosperity and democracy to Iraq, which is very important to a stable and peaceful Middle East. And that will make the world a much safer place for all people, including the American people. So that's what's important.
Let me go over the week ahead. You already have from last week the information on Prime Minister Berlusconi. Monday afternoon, following the visit with Prime Minister Berlusconi, the President will return to the White House. And there are no public events. Tuesday there are no public events to announce. If that changes, we will let you know.
Wednesday the President will meet with the President of Argentina in the Oval Office. That afternoon he participates in the ceremony for the 2003 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in the East Room. Thursday the President will travel to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he will make progress -- where he'll make remarks on his jobs and growth plan. From there the President will travel to Detroit, Michigan, where he will meet with small business owners before making remarks on the economy. And that evening the President will attend a Bush Cheney 2004 reception before returning to Washington, D.C.
Friday morning the President will meet with the President of the Palestinian Authority, which we announced yesterday.
Q Is he coming back that evening?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's back in Washington. And that's all I have. Thank you, guys. Enjoy the rest of the afternoon. See you this evening.
END 3:37 P.M. CDT
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