The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
August 5, 2003

Press Gaggle by Scott McClellan
Crawford Elementary School
Crawford, Texas

11:35 A.M. CDT

MR. McCLELLAN: Good morning, everybody. The President had his usual briefings this morning. He continues to spend time here at the Western White House, tending to official duties, including visiting with senior staff about important policy priorities and spending some time on the ranch -- clearing brush and fishing and exercising.

The President looks forward to Secretary Powell's and Deputy Secretary Armitage's visit this afternoon. They will have dinner at the ranch this evening and use tomorrow morning to discuss a range of important policy priorities that I mentioned yesterday.

Secretary Powell and Deputy Secretary Armitage will arrive at approximately 4:30 p.m., this afternoon, at the TSTC airport, and that is open coverage.

And with that, I'm glad to jump right into questions.

Q Scott, what do you know about the Jakarta bombing? Does this have the hallmark of al Qaeda? Does it appear that they're going after Americans?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, we condemn -- we strongly condemn this terrorist attack in Jakarta. This is a deplorable attack on innocent civilians, and our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and with their families. We fully support President Megawati and her administration in their efforts to fight terror and rout out terrorism. And we stand fully prepared to assist in any way possible in bringing those responsible to justice.

This is a recent attack and there's still information being learned at this point, so we'll let that investigation continue. But we stand prepared to assist in any way possible.

Q Does that include sending American investigators?

MR. McCLELLAN: In any way possible. We fully support President Megawati's efforts to fight terror and we will continue working with her administration and bring those responsible to justice. I think that this terrorist attack on innocent civilians is a reminder that we are still waging a global war on terrorism, and the global coalition remains steadfast in our efforts to pursue terrorists and bring them to justice.

We are making important progress in dismantling and disrupting terrorist networks, but the war continues, and we will not stop until we have disrupted, dismantled, and defeated these terrorist organizations.

Q On Powell's visit today, can you be any more specific about the issues? Is it safe to assume North Korea --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think it'll cover the gamut of foreign policy priorities across the world. So, yes, I think the issues I mentioned yesterday, including North Korea, the Middle East, there are a whole range of issues that they will discuss.

Q Why did you decide to tell us only 24 hours out on this one, versus Rumsfeld, a couple weeks, the economic advisors, a couple of weeks' notice?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, we always update the schedule as meetings are confirmed. This is -- this was something that was under discussion for the last couple of weeks. It was firmed up last week, the exact time, date, and location, and so I announced that to you yesterday. Secretary Rumsfeld's visit was firmed up previously, and we tend to put out the public schedule in advance, and then update the President's schedule on a regular basis, as you are aware.

Q Is the administration considering reducing loan guarantees to Israel because of the -- that they continue to build the fence, the --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we have expressed our concerns to the Israelis about the fence. We've urged the Israelis to consider the route that the fence is taking. The Israelis have stated that they are considering the route of the fence to minimize the impact on the daily lives of the Palestinian people. And they will take our views under consideration. We will continue to talk directly with the Israelis. The President committed to an open dialogue on this issue, as well as many other issues.

I think at this point, no decisions have been made regarding the loan guarantees and speculation in the media at this point is a little premature.

Q So no decisions have been made, but --

MR. McCLELLAN: That's what I just said.

Q Right, but you're not denying that there are discussions about possibly the --

MR. McCLELLAN: I just said that no decisions have been made at this point about the loan guarantees, and speculation is a little premature at this point about decisions that may or may not be made.

Q Do you want Israel to stop construction of the fence, or just re-route it somehow?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think it's something that the Prime Minister -- Prime Minister Sharon and the President addressed recently in their joint news conference, as well as during their meeting. We have made our concerns known. The Israelis understand our concerns and they said that they would act to minimize the impact on the daily lives of the Palestinian people. And what we want to do is continue to discuss that directly with the Israelis, continue to have an open dialogue about this issue so we can keep things moving forward in the Middle East peace process.

Q -- discuss with the Israeli government the possibility of reducing the loan guarantee?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, look, I think the Israelis understand our concerns. I don't want to get into what at this point is any decision that hasn't been made -- that would be getting into some speculation about possible decisions, and I just want to avoid getting into speculation about that. I think it's a little premature to get into that kind of speculation at this point.

Q So yes or no, have you discussed possibly reducing the loan guarantees with the --

MR. McCLELLAN: That's what I just -- we have a very open dialogue with the Israelis, but I'm not going to get into specifics when decisions like that have not been made, because it's getting into speculation that I think is a little premature at this point, from the media standpoint.

Q But is it meant to pressure Israel, the notion that they might lose some loan guarantees? Is that --

MR. McCLELLAN: See, that would be speculating about a decision.

Q But I'm not asking you to speculate, either say "yes" or "no" that the United States has raised the possibility of using this as pressure or not.

MR. McCLELLAN: We are in constant discussion with the Israelis and they understand our concerns regarding the fence. But beyond that, I wouldn't want to jump into something where a decision has not been made.

Q You said yesterday you were going to get -- access tomorrow to the President. Have you reconsidered, had a chance to talk to him --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, it's a closed coverage.

Q How about open coverage for their departure, to talk to them?

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me take that under consideration. But we did open up the arrival. But beyond that, this is part of continuing discussions that the Secretary and the President have on a regular basis on a range of issues and we typically do not read-out those discussions.

Q The arrival happens before the meeting. Can you open coverage --

MR. McCLELLAN: That's correct. I'll see what I can do. I hear you, I hear you.

Q Two questions, Scott. First, what about on the Vice President's visit? Will you open that up for coverage and give us a photo op there?

MR. McCLELLAN: You're talking about regarding Friday's meeting?

Q No, that would be Rumsfeld. I think the Vice President is here on Thursday.

MR. McCLELLAN: I think he's coming in, in advance of the meeting with Secretary Rumsfeld and other defense leaders.

Q Coverage of that?

MR. McCLELLAN: I will keep you posted on that. We're a few days out on that. And as you're aware, we update you on a daily basis. I'll let you know of any changes on that.

Q Back on the Israeli fence, there is reporting that says that the United States really doesn't have any option but to reduce U.S. aid to Israel by the amount seen as violated, if you will, by the fence, depending upon the route of the fence. Is this reporting inaccurate?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, inaccurate on which part of it?

Q Is the reporting inaccurate? Do you have the option of ignoring the route of the fence, in terms of U.S. aid to Israel?

MR. McCLELLAN: We've made -- again, I think the President and others in the administration have made very clear our concerns to the Israelis, and I think it's best that we approach this through an open dialogue with the Israelis and continue to discuss these issues, and continue to discuss matters as we move forward.

But, again, I just don't want to get into -- I mean, I have seen the media reports, I'm very well aware of them, and I'm telling you that there have been no decisions made in that regard. So I think it's jumping ahead and getting into premature speculation at this point for me to be discussing in the media. We'll continue to talk with the Israelis and have a dialogue about this issue, as well as many others.

Q So you decline to say whether or not you have the option of ignoring the route of the fence, in terms of U.S. aid?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, of ignoring?

Q You decline to say whether or not the U.S. has the option of ignoring the route of the fence, in terms of U.S. aid?

MR. McCLELLAN: Oh, well, the route of the fence, that's something I just addressed in terms of we expressed concerns about. In terms of -- that's kind of getting into a decision that I just said, at this point, has not been made. But we will continue discussing things with the Israelis as we move forward.

Q Scott, is it your understanding, or impression, that the Israelis are using, or intend to use, some of the money, the loan guarantee money for the fence?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, I think that you would need to talk to Israelis about what they're using the specific money for.

Q But you guys monitor it, right?

MR. McCLELLAN: But, again, see, this is kind of a roundabout way to continue getting into a decision that has not been made, and I don't want to --

Q No, no, no, it's not about a decision. It's not about -- it's about how the money is being used, and how you -- what your understanding of the money -- how the money is being used.

MR. McCLELLAN: I think that you can get that from the State Department and the Israelis, as well, in terms of how that money is actually being used at this point.

Q Prime Minister Abbas pulled out of talks with Prime Minister Sharon today over the prisoner release issue. Does that concern you at all?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, this is regarding talks between Prime Minister Abbas and Prime Minister Sharon, that Steve asked about. I would point out a few things. One, there has been successful cooperation between the parties, particularly on security issues. We have made some important progress. And we've always noted that this will continue to be a difficult process as we move forward. But we are continuing to stay actively engaged.

We are continuing to provide assistance to the parties to keep them focused on moving forward on the road map, and moving forward on the peace process. Ambassador Wolf is back in the region. We'll continue to monitor the situation and work with the parties to keep the dialogue moving forward. It's important for the parties to continue talking about how to build upon the progress over there that we have made. And that's what we will continue to do.

Q Has the President decided to resume U.S. anti-drug flights to Colombia?

MR. McCLELLAN: Has the President --

Q Decided to resume U.S. --

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't have any update on that at this point. I'll look into that. Did you hear a report?

Q Powell has recommended it.

MR. McCLELLAN: Okay, let me look into that and see the latest.

Q What was the question?

MR. McCLELLAN: Regarding resuming anti-drug flights to Colombia.

Q Over Colombia.

MR. McCLELLAN: Over Colombia.

Q In the Indonesian bombing, does the U.S. have any insight into which groups are responsible?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't have any update at this point. We'll try to keep you posted as we do.

Q Is there any suspicion at all the Indonesian bombing is a follow-up to the al Qaeda warning of the past several days, the tape --

MR. McCLELLAN: I just -- I think it's premature to get into that at this point. Let's let the investigation and facts come out. And then we'll have more at that point. But I think it's premature to discuss that at this point.

Anything else?

Q Has President Megawati made any request for help in the --

MR. McCLELLAN: In the immediate aftermath? I don't know of specifics, but again, that's why I said that we stand ready to help in any way possible to bring those responsible to justice.

Q -- contacts between our government and the Indonesian government?

MR. McCLELLAN: Oh, I'm sure there -- I'm sure that there are. I just don't have specifics on the latest contacts, whether it's on the ground there or back with -- back here with State Department.

Q Were there any calls, Scott? Does he plan to?

MR. McCLELLAN: No. No update on calls to world leaders at this point, but we'll keep you posted if there are.

Q Is this meeting Friday with Rumsfeld and Cheney a high-stakes meeting on a specific agenda? Why is this --

MR. McCLELLAN: It's part of a continuation of the defense briefing and transformation issues. The Secretary has come to the ranch the past two years, I believe, to brief the President on transformation issues. And that's, again, the purpose of the meeting. I'm sure they will discuss other issues, as well, but that's the purpose of the meeting.

Q I could be wrong, but I don't recall Cheney being there at those meetings the last two years.

MR. McCLELLAN: I'd have to double check.

Q But we shouldn't read anything into this as a war council or any sort of high stakes meeting?

MR. McCLELLAN: No. The purpose of the meeting, at this point, is what I just said.

Q On Liberia. Charles Taylor is apparently saying that he wants the war crimes charges against him dropped before he'll leave the country. What's the U.S. position?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, our position is, first things first, he needs to leave the country. That's what our focus is. He needs to leave the country. We continue to urge all parties to cease any and all fighting, to pull back and abide by the terms of the cease-fire agreement. We continue to urge the parties to focus on the -- all their efforts, on the peace talks in Accra. We continue to urge Charles Taylor to act on his words and leave. And we remain encouraged by the deployment of the initial vanguard forces into Liberia.

Q He should leave, no matter what, and that's --

MR. McCLELLAN: Our position is very clear: he needs to leave the country. And that's the first thing -- first things first. Let's leave the country.

Q Even if that means dropping war crimes --

MR. McCLELLAN: That's not what we've said. We've said, first things first, he needs to leave the country, and then those issues can be addressed.


END 11:48 A.M. EDT

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