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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
November 6, 2003

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

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12:35 P.M. EST

MR. McCLELLAN: Okay, good afternoon. A couple of things, and then we'll go to questions. First off, the President looks forward to signing the wartime supplemental here at 1:05 p.m. this afternoon. We commend Congress for working in a bipartisan way to provide these much needed resources to support our troops deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. These resources will help our troops achieve their objectives in Iraq and help build a stable civil society as the Iraqi people transition to self-government. And this legislation underscores the commitment by America and the world to prevail in this central front in the war on terror. A peaceful, free and prosperous Iraq will help transform the Middle East, which has been a breeding ground for terrorism. It will make the world a safer and better place, and America more secure.

One other statement I'd like to make before getting into questions. We are pleased that the Senate Judiciary Committee today acted on the nomination of Janice Rogers Brown and voted her out of committee. Janice Rogers Brown is a highly regarded judge with a distinguished career in public service, and she will make an outstanding addition on the D.C. Circuit Court. We now call on the full Senate to do its part in holding an up or down vote on this outstanding and exemplary nominee.

And with that, I'll be glad to go right into questions.

Randy.

Q Scott, regarding the President's Middle East speech, is he prepared to use pressure on countries like Egypt to use U.S. aid, threaten to withhold aid in order to achieve some of these objectives? And also, countries like Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia -- is he going to use pressure to achieve --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think he talked about each of those countries and he talked about the importance of standing with those who seek freedom. And that's exactly what the United States will do. We will continue to work with those countries. Some of those countries you mentioned have started to make some steps toward reform, and we will continue to work to encourage the advance and spread of democracy in this very important region of the world.

As the President said, free societies are peaceful societies, and free societies do not serve as safe havens or support for terrorism. So we will continue, as the President outlined in his speech, he made it very clear that there are some challenges and opportunities ahead and that sometimes it takes time for democracy to take hold. But we are firmly committed to advancing this cause.

Q For example, how do you hold Saudi Arabia to its plans or promises?

MR. McCLELLAN: And you heard the President talk about that they had made some initial steps or some of the first steps toward reform. And we --

Q How do you hold them to that?

MR. McCLELLAN: -- and it's important to applaud those efforts and commend them on those efforts and encourage them to continue to move in that direction.

Q Scott, can I follow on that?

MR. McCLELLAN: You may.

Q In the speech, he referred to a new policy of moving forward on freedom. I was trying to figure out if he meant a new statement of policy or, in fact, there is new policy there. I just wanted to follow --

MR. McCLELLAN: One, he has talked about the importance of spreading democracy and freedom across the world ever since he took office and before. And you heard his remarks to the American Enterprise Institute earlier this year. You heard his remarks to the people of Poland back in Warsaw in 2001. He also spoke in China about this. The President will continue to speak out about this important cause and that freedom is a universal value and it's a universal right that all people have. And we will continue to work in every way we can to advance the spread of democracy.

Q When he said, new policy, there isn't something envisioned, newly --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, this is what he's talking about, is promoting a forward strategy of freedom. That's what we will continue to do.

Q And that's a goal, not -- goal rather than a series of steps of implementation he's ready to discuss?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there are a number of ways. Right now, obviously, you've got efforts underway in Afghanistan and steps being taken to have free elections with the draft of their constitution. In Iraq, we're working closely with the Iraqi people to build a free and prosperous future for the Iraqi people and transition to a self-government there. And that will be an important example for the rest of the Middle East. It will be a historic moment to help transform the rest of the Middle East.

Go ahead, Terry.

Q Is there anything that the United States is going to do? Any change in its behavior? Many of the moderates and even the extremists say that they -- or complain that the United States for years has supported corrupt regimes, undemocratic regimes in the Middle East just so that we can get Middle Eastern oil. We're calling on these countries to adopt democratic reforms. Is there anything the United States is going to do?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you heard the President talk about how 60 years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe because in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty. You heard the President directly refer to that. Again, the President recognizes the importance of advancing freedom. Freedom and security go hand-in-hand. That's what the President talked about. Free societies are peaceful societies. Free and democratic societies do not breed terrorists, they breed hope and opportunity for all people. And free and democratic governments do not support or provide safe havens for terrorists. And so the President will continue making this one of our highest priorities on the international front.

Q So is he saying then that whatever this policy of accommodation has been will stop?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you heard what he said, and we will continue working with those governments in the region as they make steps to advance towards democracy. We will also continue to stand with the people in countries that are oppressed, in countries that seek -- in countries where people seek greater freedoms. We will stand with the people of Iran, for instance, who yearn for freedom and democracy.

Q So was it mostly a bully pulpit thing that he's talking about, that the United States is now talking about --

MR. McCLELLAN: This is a central element of our national security strategy. That's what the President is talking about.

Q Can I change the subject for just a second? Chairman Greenspan said this morning he's concerned that the mounting debt that this country is taking on could jeopardize payments of Social Security and Medicare to baby boomers as they start to retire. Other economists have said, while the debt has helped to fuel the type of recovery that the United States is experiencing now, that at some point in the future, if we keep taking on debt, it will actually become a drag on the economy. The President has said that he wants the tax cuts to be made permanent --

MR. McCLELLAN: Right.

Q -- but the only reason why you're projecting a return to surplus or balancing the budget is because those tax cuts sunset. So I'm wondering about this disconnect here and how you want to come out of deficit, but at the same time, you want to institute a policy that would keep us in deficit --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, keep in mind --

Q -- not concern for those long-term effects.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- keep in mind that the way we address the deficit is to increase revenues and to have spending restraint here in Washington. That's the way we're working. It's a two-part effort there.

First and foremost, the President's focus is on strengthening our economy and creating a strong environment for job creation. The economy is moving in the right direction, but the President is by no means satisfied because there are people that are still hurting, they're still looking for work. And the President wants the people to have jobs if they are seeking work. And --

Q I can understand that, I heard the speeches --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, no, let me finish. I'm coming back. And we have a plan in place to reduce the deficit in half over the next five years by increasing revenues and holding the line on spending in the budget, setting clear priorities and showing spending restraint. And that's the first step toward addressing the issue that you brought up.

Q But I'm curious, does he share Chairman Greenspan's concern and the concern of other economists that if we continue to take on debt, we could jeopardize programs in the future and we could drive the economy down later?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President believes that the deficit, where we are right now, is manageable, and that's why he has a plan in place to address it and bring it down. That's what the President believes.

Q I just have one more unrelated question, if I could. What's the security situation with the Vice President? Are post-9/11 concerns still limiting his public schedule?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't get too far into the security details. I mean, I think you might want to direct specific questions about the Vice President's office to his press office.

Q So what can you tell me about it?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think you want to direct those questions to him. The Vice President keeps his own schedule and his office can address those issues for you.

Q Do you know if there's still a conscious effort to keep him and the President apart?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, if you're talking about the continuity of government and that aspect, that's always an important priority, particularly in the day and age that we live. But I think a specific question regarding the Vice President, you need to talk to his press office about that.

Q So far, the President has pushed democracy through the sword by war, Afghanistan and Iraq. Is that going to be his modus operandi in the future?

MR. McCLELLAN: Helen, I think you've heard the President say numerous times that --

Q Is that the way he promotes democracy?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think you've heard him say numerous times that that is always a last resort. The President is -- but the President recognizes in the day and age that we live in, where there is dangerous new threats that we face, that we must confront those threats, and the President is --

Q What was the threat from Iraq --

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me finish. The President is confronting the dangerous threats that we face. He is confronting the threats that we face from North Korea, from Iran. We are seeking peaceful solution to resolve those issues. The multilateral approaches are working in those instances. It's also important that we follow through on our word. The international community passed some 17 resolutions over 12 years to bring Saddam Hussein into compliance. He continued --

Q And Israel has 60 resolutions --

MR. McCLELLAN: He continued to defy the international community. The world is a safer and better place with Saddam Hussein removed from power --

Q So we are pushing democracy through war, are we not?

MR. McCLELLAN: -- the President seeks peace. The President seeks to advance freedom and democracy. That's what we are doing.

Dana, go ahead. I'll come to you.

Q Were you able to find out from either the President or anybody else who might know if he, in fact, knew about any last-minute efforts by Iraq to back-channel a deal before the war started?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, remember what I said earlier, that we exhausted every legitimate and credible opportunity to resolve the world's differences with Saddam Hussein in a peaceful way. If there were a credible and legitimate opportunity to resolve it peacefully, we would have pursued it. But keep in mind that the bottom line here, Saddam Hussein's unwillingness and his failure to comply, after 12 years and some 17 Security Council resolutions from the United Nations, including one final opportunity was the reason that the coalition was forced to act and bring Iraq into compliance.

Q Did the President know about this --

MR. McCLELLAN: I see -- I understand your interest. We're focused on what matters. I see no reason to bring it up there. You saw the news reports, I saw the news reports. I think you had response from those that knew something about this, saying something to the effect that they didn't view it --

Q Everybody is asking the --

MR. McCLELLAN: -- that they didn't view it as a credible --as a credible opportunity or credible communication.

Q So basically, it was -- the decision was made that it wasn't credible enough to bring it to the President?

MR. McCLELLAN: You need to talk -- see, now you're asking specific questions about those agencies and what they may have known. I think you should direct those questions to those agencies.

Q She's asking about the President.

MR. McCLELLAN: I see no reason to bring it up.

Q By what you're saying you're inferring that the President didn't know about it.

MR. McCLELLAN: What I said is I see no reason to bring it up, because we exhausted every legitimate and credible opportunity to avert military action and to achieve a peaceful solution to this.

Q We're asking you to bring it up.

Q Yes.

MR. McCLELLAN: I see no reason to.

Q Who exhausted it, though? The President of the United States exhausted it?

MR. McCLELLAN: The United States exhausted every --

Q So, therefore, he should have known about some of these back-channel --

MR. McCLELLAN: The United States exhausted every legitimate and credible opportunity. Again, you saw the responses from some of those that had knowledge of this communication.

Q And our understanding of those responses is that it didn't reach a level --

MR. McCLELLAN: That's right.

Q -- is that correct -- it didn't reach a level that the President would have been concerned about it.

MR. McCLELLAN: The bottom line is that Saddam Hussein had any number of channels available to him through which he could have communicated with the United States or members of the coalition. He was given more than enough opportunity to avert the use of military force. He was given opportunity to leave the country. He chose to continue his defiance. He chose to continue to defy the international community, despite all these opportunities.

Q I have just one follow-up. Richard Perle was contacted by this gentleman and sat down with him, and he's confirmed to us that he sat down with him in London and had a meeting. So that's a fairly high level -- it's not the President, but that's a fairly high level.

MR. McCLELLAN: And I saw his comments saying that he had contact elsewhere.

Q Do you know who told him not to pursue this further?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think you need to ask him or ask those that had knowledge of it.

Q Scott, there are 17 former POWs from the first Gulf War who were tortured and filed suit against the regime of Saddam Hussein. And a judge has ordered that they are entitled to substantial financial damages. What is the administration's position on that? Is it the view of this White House that that money would be better spent rebuilding Iraq rather than going to these former POWs?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know that I view it in those terms, David. I think that the United States -- first of all, the United States condemns in the strongest terms the brutal torture to which these Americans were subjected. They bravely and heroically served our nation and made sacrifices during the Gulf War in 1991, and there is simply no amount of money that can truly compensate these brave men and women for the suffering that they went through at the hands of Saddam Hussein's brutal regime. That's what our view is.

Q But, so -- but isn't it true that this White House --

Q They think they're is an --

Q Excuse me, Helen -- that this White House is standing in the way of them getting those awards, those financial awards, because it views it that money better spent on rebuilding Iraq?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, there's simply no amount of money that can truly compensate these brave men and women for the suffering --

Q Why won't you spell out what your position is?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm coming to your question. Believe me, I am. Let me finish. Let me start over again, though. No amount of money can truly compensate these brave men and women for the suffering that they went through at the hands of a very brutal regime, at the hands of Saddam Hussein. It was determined earlier this year by Congress and the administration that those assets were no longer assets of Iraq, but they were resources required for the urgent national security needs of rebuilding Iraq. But again, there is simply no amount of compensation that could ever truly compensate these brave men and women.

Q Just one more. Why would you stand in the way of at least letting them get some of that money?

MR. McCLELLAN: I disagree with the way you characterize it.

Q But if the law that Congress passed entitles them to access frozen assets of the former regime, then why isn't that money, per a judge's order, available to these victims?

MR. McCLELLAN: That's why I pointed out that that was an issue that was addressed earlier this year. But make no mistake about it, we condemn in the strongest possible terms the torture that these brave individuals went through --

Q -- you don't think they should get money?

MR. McCLELLAN: -- at the hands of Saddam Hussein. There is simply no amount of money that can truly compensate those men and women who heroically served --

Q That's not the issue --

MR. McCLELLAN: -- who heroically served our nation.

Q Are you opposed to them getting some of the money?

MR. McCLELLAN: And, again, I just said that that had been addressed earlier this year.

Q No, but it hasn't been addressed. They're entitled to the money under the law. The question is, is this administration blocking their effort to access some of that money, and why?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't view it that way at all. I view it the way that I stated it, that this issue was --

Q But you are opposed to them getting the money.

MR. McCLELLAN: This issue was addressed earlier this year, and we believe that there's simply no amount of money that could truly compensate these brave men and women for what they went through and for the suffering that they went through at the hands of Saddam Hussein --

Q So no money.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- and that's my answer.

Q Scott, two questions, and back on Dana's question. Is it fair to say -- well, a few weeks prior to the Iraqi war, we were told that time is up, Saddam is -- he's going to be attacked. Is it fair --

MR. McCLELLAN: Saddam Hussein was given 48 hours notice that he could leave the country and overt military action.

Q Weeks prior, we were basically told that time was up. Now, a couple of days prior to it, is it fair to say that the administration was unrelenting, no matter what and what was going on, with what they were trying to do, trying to broker a deal to avoid this -- was the administration that unrelenting to the point that nothing could change the minds of the administration?

MR. McCLELLAN: Look, there simply was no need for back-door contacts. The front door was wide open. If people wanted to communicate with us, they knew how to do that. There were lots of channels and ways for them to do that. And that front door channel was wide open. Saddam Hussein could have gone to the world and said he was leaving his country and averted this military action. He chose a final act of defiance of the international community. And the result was that the coalition -- the international coalition was forced to act and follow through on what 1441 called for, which was serious consequences if Saddam Hussein continued after 12 years to defy the international community.

Remember what September 11th taught us, that there are new and dangerous threats that we face, and that we cannot wait for those threats to gather and come to our shores. We must address those threats. We must confront those threats. That's exactly what we did, and the world is better for it, and the world is safer for it, and America, most importantly, is more secure for it.

Q So when you ended -- when you gave the deadline, when the administration gave the deadline, that was the end of front-door approaches? Is that what you're saying?

MR. McCLELLAN: He had 48 hours all the way until -- he had 48 hours to leave the country. He chose not to.

Q All right, now, the next question. There's a call for Donald Rumsfeld to step down from Charlie Rangel because he says that there is no plan that Mr. Rumsfeld has for this war in Iraq.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, our strategy has been outlined for -- has been outlined publicly by Ambassador Bremer, by Secretary Rumsfeld. They are briefing again today. Secretary Rumsfeld is an outstanding member of the President's team, and he is strongly committed, like the President, to making the world a safer place and making America more secure.

Q The President said today that the Iranian government must heed the democratic demands of the Iranian people or lose its last claim for legitimacy. Does he feel the same for the governments of Egypt and Saudi Arabia?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, again, I think we went through these issues earlier.

Q I don't think we did.

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, I think we addressed some of these issues. And he brought up some of the countries that you mentioned in his remarks.

Q But he didn't criticize them, Scott. Why did he not criticize --

Q Excuse me, I'm sorry. Is there a question about the legitimacy of the governments of Egypt and Saudi Arabia for not fully heeding the democratic demands of --

MR. McCLELLAN: Saudi Arabia has taken some initial steps toward reform. And we welcome those steps.

Q And consequently, there is no question about its legitimacy because it has taken these steps, and also Egypt, as well?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, there are a lot of ways that we're working to advance the spread of democracy and the spread of freedom. Democracies take time to take hold and develop fully. We saw it in our own nation that it took time to fully develop, where we were a country of justice for all and an inclusive country.

Connie, go ahead.

Q Did you have -- just a follow up on my question yesterday, do you have any response today to the EU resolution about Israel?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think I addressed that yesterday. I think I talked about it -- I think I talked about it yesterday.

Q Scott, in a couple of days, the World Trade Organization is expected to rule -- reaffirm its ruling against the U.S. on the Bush steel tariffs. Is the President committed to upholding the rules of the World Trade Organization?

MR. McCLELLAN: Now you're trying to get me to get ahead of any decision that may or may not be made. So, again, that --

Q By why would --

MR. McCLELLAN: Can I finish? The safeguards are under review at this point. The ITC was required to review those measures, and they have submitted a report. We continue to review that report. In addition, we continue to listen to all interested parties, including consumers, including producers, including members of Congress to make sure that we have a full understanding of this issue. The President has not made any decision at this point. I wouldn't want to speculate about any timing or speculate about the decision, itself.

Q For someone who extolled the virtues of cutting taxes in almost every speech he gives, why would he consider keeping the tariffs for another year and a half when the ITC report, itself, really, the only benefit was increased revenues to the government?

MR. McCLELLAN: Keep in mind, the President has talked about that free trade is an important engine of economic growth, and it's one of the cornerstones of his economic agenda. With that said, an integral part of our commitment to free trade is our commitment to enforcing trade laws so that we ensure that there is a level playing field for America's businesses and workers to compete on a level playing field. That's what -- why the President took the action that he did. And he imposed those temporary safeguards to give our domestic steel industry an opportunity to adjust to import competition.

Q Separately, on the supplemental, what do you say to skeptics who say that $87 billion is just a down payment? Are you --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you're going to hear from the President here shortly, and we've addressed that issue, that this is a one-time, wartime supplemental to address those needs. And I say that we are going to always stand strongly behind our troops and make sure that they have the resources they need to carry out their objectives. And we will make sure that they have the technology and the equipment and all their needs to succeed. That's what we do.

Q -- so you might come back and ask for more --

MR. McCLELLAN: Most of this money is for -- most of this money is for our troops. We've already addressed that issue.

Go ahead, Mark. Keep moving.

Q Back to the democracy speech one more time. By not directly criticizing Saudi Arabia or Egypt in that speech, doesn't the President excuse and accommodate their lack of democracy?

MR. McCLELLAN: There is no stronger proponent of advancing freedom and democracy than the President of the United States. He has made this a cornerstone of our national security. He will continue working to advance the cause of freedom and democracy. He has been very clear in that regard. As I said, this is a central component of the national security strategy.

Q But he just talks about the challenges --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'll keep moving because the President is getting ready to speak here shortly. Do you have something else?

Q Yes. The Labor Department reported today that jobless claims fell to the lowest level since January 2001. Does the administration expect that this is a revival of job creation?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there are a number of positive signs in our economy. The economy is moving in the right direction. The President has expressed optimism about the direction that it is moving. But he has also said there is more to do. There are people that are still hurting because they are looking for work and they cannot find a job. That's why we need to act to take additional steps. We will continue focusing on strengthening our economy even more so that we can translate more of that economic growth into jobs for the American people, and for America's families, and for America's workers.

Q Specifically, is this a pick-up of job creation?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, the President recognizes that there is more to do. While our economy is moving in the right direction, there is much more to do. And these numbers come out on a weekly basis. There have been positive signs, but we're focused on continuing to keep our economy growing and moving in the right direction. And the President won't be satisfied as long as they are people looking for work who cannot find a job.

Q Scott, yesterday the President signed a bill that affects women, yet there were no women on the podium. Are you concerned about the message that that sends? And also, Reverend Lou Sheldon was there --

MR. McCLELLAN: Here's why. Because -- go ahead.

Q -- and he's been known to say things against gay Americans, and he was sitting in the same row as General Ashcroft. Are you concerned about --

MR. McCLELLAN: You know the President's views on those issues. And let me be very clear about the support that this legislation enjoyed. This legislation had very strong support all across America. And I think if you look, there are a number of indications or surveys that you can look at that will show that banning this brutal and abhorrent procedure had the strong support of the American people. It certainly had the overwhelming bipartisan support by members of Congress --

Q How about --

MR. McCLELLAN: -- and the President was pleased to sign it into law. Well, the President's views are very clear on those issues. The President has always spoken out about the importance of treating all people with dignity and respect. And that's what he'll continue to do.

Q One quick one on the President's speech. The President said that it was up to governments around the world to demonstrate that they were not using their judicial system to punish political adversaries. Did he have Russia in mind when he said that?

MR. McCLELLAN: He was making a general statement that it was important in this overall context of foreign policy. There wasn't a specific reference to one particular country.

Q He didn't give any reference --

MR. McCLELLAN: I just said there wasn't a particular reference to one specific country.

Q On the economy in terms of much more to do, specifically as it relates to tax cuts, the administration has done a major tax cut bill every year. Is there a plan by the administration to do one next year specifically related to pension savings, specifically related to Social Security and having a personal savings account --

MR. McCLELLAN: We remain committed to the personal retirement

accounts. We continue to believe that it's important to have a national dialogue on that. That's what we've been doing. And in terms of tax cuts, what's most important right now and where our focus is, is on making those tax cuts permanent. It's important to provide that certainty for the American people, and it's important to our economy as it's growing not to raise taxes, not to increase taxes. And so the President believes that those tax cuts ought to be made permanent.

Q And in addition to doing -- to trying to maintain that commitment and having national dialogue, are you also committed to having legislation next year enacted to establish these pension savings accounts?

MR. McCLELLAN: There are a number of important priorities that we are pursuing. And you know where our focus is right now and we'll have plenty of time to talk about it next year once that comes around.

Q The Pentagon is now asking for volunteers to help staff the nation's 2000 draft and appeals boards across the country. Is the President considering asking the Congress to reestablish the draft?

MR. McCLELLAN: No.

Q Scott, Lieutenant Colonel Allen West is facing court martial and possible prison sentence for likely thwarting an ambush of American soldiers in Iraq by firing a pistol near an Iraqi prisoner's head, thereby coercing him to provide vital information. Colonel West has received wide-ranging support from his military colleagues, and many American citizens consider him a hero, not a felon. Question: would -- one of two -- would the President consider --

MR. McCLELLAN: We're going to do one today because the President is speaking very soon.

Q Right. Would the President consider pardoning Colonel West who, through his actions, probably saved --

MR. McCLELLAN: Les, let me -- Les. We've got to go. The President is getting ready to speak. Let me make it -- let me respond to your -- very quickly here. I am not in position to where I can comment on an ongoing investigation. You need to direct those questions to the appropriate authorities.

Thank you, very much.

END 1:04 P.M. EST