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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 10, 2003

Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
The James S. Brady Briefing Room

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12:16 P.M. EDT

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me start with one statement. We congratulate Shirin Ebadi for the Nobel Peace Prize, the first for an Iranian and the first for a Muslim woman. The prize is well-deserved recognition of a lifetime champion of the cause of human dignity and democracy. She has worked tirelessly, and suffered at the hands of the clerical regime, including imprisonment for promoting democracy and human rights in her country, and we congratulate her on this well-deserved honor.

And with that, we'll go straight to questions.

Q Vice President Cheney in his speech today said the United States would not allow a single country to prevent the United States from acting when it needed to, to defeat terrorism, or to fight terrorism. That seemed to be taking specific target at the U.N. Security Council, and its structure of permanent member vetoes.

MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, we went through the United Nations Security Council with Resolution 1441. And as Dr. Kay's recent report showed, Saddam Hussein continued to be in defiance of Security Council resolutions and in material breach of 1441. The most important responsibility the President of the United States has is the safety and security of the American people, and he will act to make sure that America is safe and secure. And we will confront threats that gather before they reach our shores. And that's exactly what we are doing. And we worked through the international community. We are in a global war on terrorism, with many nations across the world that are involved in that effort, and there are many different fronts in that effort.

Q But his speech seemed to take issue at the whole notion of international consensus on security issues. Is that, like, a bygone part of policy?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think -- we work through the international community on the threats that we face. We're doing that with North Korea, we're doing that with some of the efforts being pursued in Iran. We did that with Iraq. We have done that with the overall war on terrorism. But, again, the President will not wait for threats to gather and let them reach our shores. We will confront threats that gather before they reach our shores, before it's too late. And we will act decisively to protect the American people.

Q So you haven't abandoned the notion of international consensus on foreign policy?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, I just pointed out what we have done. But the number one responsibility of this President is the safety and the security of the American people, and he will do what is necessary to protect the American people and improve our security.

Q The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that in the new location of the Liberty Bell the National Parks Service is focused on racial bondage, especially President Washington's and other founding fathers owning slaves. The Parks Service this morning conceded that there is no mention at all of what the U.S. census reports as 3,400 free black slave owners before 1865 or enslaved blacks today in Sudan and Mauritania or the responsibility of black African tribes and Arabs in supplying black slaves to the world. And my question -- a two-part -- does the President believe this is fair or historically honest?

MR. McCLELLAN: Les, I'm not that familiar with what the Parks Service has done, in terms of the Liberty Bell. Obviously, it's a symbol for our nation, but I think you need to direct those questions to the Parks Service. I have not seen this specific --

Q I did --

MR. McCLELLAN: I've not seen the specific --

Q -- and I want to know, where does the President stand, and will he do anything --

MR. McCLELLAN: Les, I just said that I am not familiar with the specifics you are talking about.

Q Would you look into and investigate for me, Scott --

MR. McCLELLAN: Next question.

Q -- will you?

MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Jim.

Q What can you tell us about how the investigation into the CIA leak are proceeding? Are White House officials being interviewed today, for instance?

MR. McCLELLAN: On that question, specifically, I think it's important to keep in mind that this is an ongoing investigation. The Department of Justice, the career officials of the Department of Justice are working to get to the bottom of this. And the White House is committed -- at the direction of the President, the White House is committed to cooperating fully and doing everything we can to assist the career officials get to the bottom of this. It is a very serious matter.

With that in mind, I don't want to -- I want to continue to preserve the integrity of the investigation, and I think the best way for me to do that is not to try to conduct this investigation from the podium -- I'll leave that to the career officials of the Department of Justice, and if they have information they want to share with you about steps that they are taking, I'm sure they will do that.

Q There are a lot of critics, of course, who are questioning every single move in this, or the absence of moves on occasion. Is there anything you can tell us about anything that has transpired so far? Or are you saying that you can't talk about any of this?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we -- in fact, earlier this week, after the internal self-imposed deadline that the White House passed, we began immediately to make sure that information that was responsive to the request by the Department of Justice was sent to the Department of Justice. We started doing that Wednesday evening. We have continued to move very quickly on that front to get them the information that they need to get to the bottom of this from our standpoint.

Q So the first tranche of documentation went to the Justice Department Wednesday evening?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we've continued to move quickly to provide more information over the last couple of days, as well.

Q And as I understand it, the way you've approached this was the most relevant documents went first, the ones that had the most references to the questions at hand?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, Counsel's Office, like in any other administration, is the point of contact for the Department of Justice, and that's where the information was sent from the staff here at the White House. And we've been moving very quickly to get that information to the Department of Justice, to make sure it's responsive and relevant to their request.

Q But you can't tell us whether or not anyone is being interviewed today or whether --

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I think that's best to address to the Department of Justice, because it is an ongoing investigation.

Q Can I ask one follow on that, and then a Cuba question. Without saying whether or not anyone specifically has been interviewed, is the Justice Department telling the Counsel's Office, informing the Counsel's Office when it wants to interview? Or is there a deal in place that the Counsel's Office will know if, and when, a White House staffer is being interviewed? And also if a staffer --

MR. McCLELLAN: Not necessarily.

Q -- if a staffer is interviewed, is that staffer expected, have they been given guidance internally, to report that to the Counsel's Office, so the Counsel's Office knows?

MR. McCLELLAN: No. No.

Q On Cuba, the President mentioned trying to strengthen --

MR. McCLELLAN: The Counsel's Office is available to answer questions if individuals here at the White House have questions. But, again, if they have information relevant to the investigation, they need to report that to the Department of Justice. And the Counsel's Office would be obligated to report that information to the Department of Justice, as well.

Q On Cuba, the President mentioned today that he was going to toughen enforcement of the travel restrictions to Cuba. Many Americans who go there for purposes other than the purposes allowed either go through Canada or go through Mexico. Is the administration planning to pressure those governments to be more stringent in keeping tabs on Americans who might be going to Cuba for tourism?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we think it's important to step up enforcement at all agencies. And what our focus here, today, that he was talking about, was focused on travel restrictions for Americans. But we obviously work at that level, as well, to communicate our message, as well. We want to hasten the day when democracy and freedom arrive in Cuba, for the Cuban people. The President has stood firmly on the side of the Cuban people in their struggle for freedom and democracy, and he will continue to do so.

Q To a follow up on the Cuba question. The President said that the government of Cuba encourages the illegal sex trade. What's the evidence to back that up?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we can get you that evidence. I didn't bring that with me, but I can get you that.*

Q And, then, there's a report of the largest trade deficit with China now. Is that evidence that the administration's efforts recently to address that, through currency and other means, are failing? And what can the President do to bring down a record trade deficit with China?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we're going to continue to emphasize the importance of free trade with a level playing field. And Secretary Snow recently went to China to take a very strong message to the Chinese government on that matter, in terms of their currency. And we will continue -- that's an important step, but we will continue to stress the importance of making sure that there is a level playing field. The President is concerned about our manufacturing sector, particularly, where there have been heavy job losses. So that's one part of our efforts to strengthen the economy here at home and to create an environment for job creation here at home.

Q Is the President satisfied with the response of China to Secretary Snow's mission?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think that the Chinese heard our message very clearly. Again, we will continue to emphasize to the Chinese government, through various levels, that they need to work towards creating a level playing field when it comes to free trade.

Q A follow up to that. Will the President be talking with Chinese leaders at the APEC conference to reinforce that message?

MR. McCLELLAN: We will have more to read out, in terms of the President's schedule, next week. Tuesday we'll do a briefing on the trip.

Q Can I follow up on that also. There are people in the trade and economy watchers -- people who watch APEC are suggesting that because of the currency friction between the U.S. and China, and because of China's rising economic influence in the APEC nations, that the President might have a little bit tougher time getting what he wants in the way of free trade agreements or pushing the free trade agenda, or soliciting support from China on Iraq. Any observation on that?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again -- and on APEC specifically, the meetings there, we're going to have a briefing next week on that. The President continues to -- he's a strong believer in free trade, but there needs to be a level playing field. And the President will continue to work to expand trade globally, regionally, bilaterally. It's important to open markets for American products and producers globally, that that's an important part -- one of the six-point parts of his plan to do even more to strengthen our economy and create an -- and translate that economic growth that we're experiencing into job creation.

Q Can I follow on APEC --

MR. McCLELLAN: Let's go to Ken, and then I'll come back to that.

Q Two things. One, just administrative. When you get an answer to Terry's question, about the sex trade in Cuba, could you please post that, because I think --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'll see what we can do, sure. I'll see what we can do.

Q Second question. The International Red Cross typically does not issue public criticism of governments, When they have problems with something that a government is doing they try to resolve it privately. Today they publicly criticized the detainment of people in Guantanamo and, in particular, said that what they feel the United States needs to do is present those prisoners with some sort of specific time horizon whereby their cases might be resolved or either be charged or released -- know what's going on. Could you respond to this?

MR. McCLELLAN: First of all, let's remember these individuals are enemy combatants. These individuals are terrorists or supporters of terrorism, and we are war on terrorism. And the reasons for detaining enemy combatants in the first place, during a war, is to gather intelligence and make sure that these enemy combatants don't return to help our enemies plot attacks or carry out attacks on the United States.

I think for specific questions about the report, those are best addressed to the Department of Defense. But keep in mind that we're talking about enemy combatants, people that are enemies of the United States, that have assisted or provided support to attacks against the United States.

Q So the administration's feeling is that it's simply not safe to let these people go, that they need to be held there more or less indefinitely --

MR. McCLELLAN: This is about protecting the American people. We are at war on terrorism, that war continues. And we are going to make sure we do everything we can to protect America in this war on terrorism. And part of that is detaining these enemy combatants, gathering intelligence, seeking to prevent future attacks that may be being plotted, that may be being planned against the United States.

Q The essence of the Red Cross's charge today seemed to be that there doesn't seem to be much being done to separate out the legitimate security threats from the people who may present no threat at all.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I disagree with that. There are some -- some of those individuals have been released and returned back to their country. And these individuals are being treated well, they're being treated in accordance with the standards of the Geneva Convention. But, again, we're talking about enemy combatants during a time of war, and the President of the United States is committed to doing everything we can to protect the American people from future attacks, and part of that is the information we're obtaining from these enemy combatants.

Q Scott, on APEC, I know you said the briefing is Tuesday, but would the President like to see a unified statement on the North Korean issue from the APEC members?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think there is a unified statement from the five nations in the region on North Korea. And it is a multilateral approach, it is working, the North Koreans are receiving a clear message from these nations, including the United States -- and it also includes South Korea, Japan, Russia and China -- that it's important to have a non-nuclear peninsula, that North Korea needs to end, once and for all, its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Q But APEC is far larger --

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, APEC, we will be discussing that more on Tuesday.

Q One thing, is there another meeting scheduled on North Korea, especially now since they said they don't want the Japanese --

MR. McCLELLAN: There have been discussions for another meeting, and we are continuing to work through the multilateral process. I don't have anything to announce here.

Q Scott, when the President says that things are getting better in Iraq, Jerry Bremer says things are getting better in Iraq -- two more U.S. soldiers were killed overnight, four wounded, almost every day more U.S. soldiers killed -- how does -- I get a disconnect between Americans are dying over there, how are things better?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, keep in mind that we're talking about the central front in the war on terrorism. And, yes, there are people serving and sacrificing in this important cause. But look back to what the President has repeatedly said, what he said as recently as yesterday -- the more progress we make, the more desperate the Saddam hold-outs and foreign terrorists will become. They are desperate because of the progress we are making.

When we succeed, when we prevail in this central front on the war on terrorism, we will have dealt a significant blow to our enemies. A free, stable and democratic Iraq will serve as an example for the Middle East, a very volatile region that has served as a breeding ground for terrorism. And so we are making important progress.

And, yes, we mourn the loss of any life. The United States mourns the loss of any life. There are people serving and sacrificing in this cause, but it's an important cause. And the President will see it through because of what it means for making the world a better place and making America a more secure country.

Q Scott, is the President prepared to step up his activity to try to get an energy bill by the end of the year? There's talk now of it will go until next year. What does the President think of that?

MR. McCLELLAN: We are working to get a comprehensive energy bill passed as quickly as possible. The recent blackout only underscored the need for a comprehensive energy plan. We need comprehensive solutions that will reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy and that will modernize our electricity grid, so that we can prevent those kind of problems in the future. And the President is working to get this passed as quickly as possible.

Q Would he accept a scaled-down bill, just to deal with the reliability issues?

MR. McCLELLAN: We believe we need to have a comprehensive solution, not crisis patchwork management. There are a number of issues that need to be addressed when it comes to our energy sector. And I just mentioned the two overriding parts of that: reducing our dependence on foreign sources of energy and updating our electricity grid. And within that, we need to look at diversifying our sources of energy. We need to increase energy efficiency. We need to promote conservation. And that's why the President is pushing for a comprehensive energy bill.

Q A question on Canada. Does the White House have any comment about what Prime Minister Jean Chretien said a few days ago, that he will be trying marijuana and pay his fine, of the new laws in his country? And what do you think of the new rules in Canada that they have safe centers where people can go and take some drugs?

MR. McCLELLAN: What was the first part of your question?

Q Does the White House have any comments about what Jean Chretien said a few days ago, that probably he will try marijuana and then pay his fine?

MR. McCLELLAN: That he will what?

Q Try to smoke marijuana.

MR. McCLELLAN: I think the President's position on illegal drugs is well known, and his commitment to combating drug -- illegal drugs.

Q But any comments on what -- do you think it's a bad example for the people, that a Prime Minister or the head of state would --

MR. McCLELLAN: Look, I think I would just address what the President's views are. (Laughter.)

Q So there won't be any change in the policy of repatriating Cubans who get picked up at sea and don't make it to the U.S. shore?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q Will there be any change to the policy of repatriating Cubans who get picked up at sea before they make it to the U.S. shore?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President talked a little bit in his remarks about -- in fact, we'll have a fact sheet out on this shortly -- but keep in mind that our goal is to see that no Cuban believes it's necessary to risk his or her life when it comes to trying to reach the United States. So we're working to increase the number of migrants admitted from Cuba through a safe, legal and orderly process. And as we do that, we will undertake efforts to better inform Cubans about how to go through a safe, orderly and legal process --

Q How do they get here safely?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, that's part of what the President announced today. One of the steps that we're taking will be working to identify -- improve our ability to identify and protect those who face persecution in Cuba, and provide them the opportunity to come to the United States safely. And that's part of the efforts that we're working to step up here.

Q Is there any change in wet foot/dry foot?

Interview

MR. McCLELLAN: That policy remains the same.

Q Would the President consider doing the same thing for Hatian immigrants?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, there has been no change in our policy there.

Q Scott, earlier this week you told us that neither Karl Rove, Elliot Abrams nor Lewis Libby disclosed any classified information with regard to the leak. I wondered if you could tell us more specifically whether any of them told any reporter that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA?

MR. McCLELLAN: Those individuals -- I talked -- I spoke with those individuals, as I pointed out, and those individuals assured me they were not involved in this. And that's where it stands.

Q So none of them told any reporter that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA?

MR. McCLELLAN: They assured me that they were not involved in this.

Q Can I follow up on that?

Q They were not involved in what?

MR. McCLELLAN: The leaking of classified information.

Q Did you undertake that on your own volition, or were you instructed to go to these --

MR. McCLELLAN: I spoke to those individuals myself.

Q Scott, the Governor-elect of California --

MR. McCLELLAN: This is multiple question day. (Laughter.)

Q Yes.

MR. McCLELLAN: Is this your third time or second time?

Q Just second. The Governor-elect of California has --

Q But they're so good. (Laughter.)

Q You can get another one, then. (Laughter.)

Q Yes. The Governor-elect of California seems to think that one of the solutions to his budget problems is the prospect of tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions of additional money from the federal government. Is that a reasonable expectation?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we know one of the solutions is strengthening our economy, and that will help all states. And that's something the President is focused on doing. We've acted to strengthen our economy, get it out of --

Q -- what he's talking about --

MR. McCLELLAN: Hang on -- I'm coming to that -- get us out of recession, and that will increase revenues to state governments, as well, as it continues to improve. But keep in mind, the President says he looks forward to working with Governor-elect Schwarzenegger. I think they share a lot of the same goals, and that they will work closely together on shared priorities. They haven't had a chance to meet since the election. I expect they will have that opportunity in the future, and the President looks forward to it, and they can discuss issues that are on their minds at that time.

Q Did the President --

MR. McCLELLAN: David.

Q Did the President have any --

MR. McCLELLAN: David.

Q You mean I can't have two?

MR. McCLELLAN: I didn't come back to you yet. David hasn't even had one.

Q Oh, I will yield.

MR. McCLELLAN: This is multiple question Friday. (Laughter.)

Q Open phones. (Laughter.)

On North Korea, you said before, it's working. Were you referring to the fact that you now have countries that are talking to North Korea? Or are you declaring any actual progress in getting North Korea to disarm? And. in fact, do you have any evidence to the contrary that --

MR. McCLELLAN: The multilateral process is working. We have achieved important success. North Korea agreed to multilateral talks, six-country talks. North Korea is hearing a clear message from those countries. We had a recent round of talks, and I expect there will be another one here soon. But we're continuing to work through that multilateral approach. We know that the previous approach did not work. North Korea did not abide by its commitments and obligations.

Q Would we consider it success if, in fact, the North Koreans have been moving ahead with their program, even while conducting this conversation?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I think that the way I described it is we are making some important progress. It is working. The multilateral approach is working. And we will continue to work through that process.

Q Would the U.S. go to talks without Japan?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q Would the U.S. attend talks --

MR. McCLELLAN: We believe it should be a multilateral approach. We believe all those nations in the region, because they're in the region and they're impacted most directly, should remain involved in those discussions. And North Korea doesn't have a say in who attends those meetings, and they need to stop making the kind of provocative statements that they do and start working to end their pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Q Scott, did the President -- what was the President's reaction to the 25,000 Californians who voted for Larry Flint and Mary Carey for governor, and to the thousands of subscription cancellations at the Los Angeles Times?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President's reaction was he felt that Arnold Schwarzenegger ran a very positive campaign and a spirited campaign, and the President congratulates him on his victory. I don't need to -- I don't think every -- 135 candidates or so that were on the ballot.

Q Right. What about the Times cancellation, thousands of subscriptions canceled because of that Thursday dirty trick business. What was his reaction to that?

MR. McCLELLAN: Those decisions are made by readers.

Q He doesn't object to those decisions, does he?

MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Terry.

Q Just a light question, but this is a pretty good baseball post-season, the President is a big fan. I know we've heard little bits and pieces about him tracking it. Can you just give us a picture of how he's following it and what he thinks of the Cubs' chance?

MR. McCLELLAN: He's been watching some of the games. Obviously, he's an avid baseball fan and I expect he'll continue to watch games tonight and over the weekend.

Q He mentioned his team was out of it. Does he have a team? (Laughter.)

Q In June.

MR. McCLELLAN: In June, yes. (Laughter.) Let's be correct on that. (Laughter.) I'm sorry, what was the last part?

Q Does he have a team that he wants to see in the World Series?

MR. McCLELLAN: He wants the best team to win. (Laughter.)

Q Thank you, Scott.

MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you.

END

12:42 P.M. EDT