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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
December 18, 2003

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

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2:05 P.M. EST

MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon. The President was pleased to visit some of our bravest soldiers today at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. This was an opportunity for the President to let these fine members of our United States military know that America is forever grateful for their service and sacrifice. These brave troops represent the best of America, and as such, they are receiving the best care from fellow Americans at Walter Reed. The President was pleased to be able to personally thank the outstanding medical team at Walter Reed, and the volunteers, for the high quality care they provide those who have been wounded while serving to make America more secure.

Let me give you one update also on Secretary Baker's trip. Secretary Baker had a good and constructive meeting with Russian President Putin. They discussed the need to reduce the crushing debt burden on the Iraqi people. President Putin told Secretary Baker that Russia will work with us in a cooperative spirit of partnership and is prepared to join promptly in negotiations in the Paris Club in order to reach an agreement as soon as possible on debt relief for Iraq.

Secretary Baker is pleased that the countries visited have agreed to work with us on an issue so important to the future of the Iraqi people. While this trip has been a good start, there is certainly more work to do. Secretary Baker will be continuing his efforts and visits to other capitals in the coming weeks.

And finally, I just would say that the President and Mrs. Bush look forward very much to seeing everyone here, and others, tonight at the holiday reception. And with that, we'll go right to questions.

Steve.

Q Prime Minister Sharon is saying he will take a unilateral security measure of separation if the Palestinians don't continue on the road map. What do you make of his speech?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, we are pleased to hear Prime Minister Sharon's strong reiteration of his support for the road map as the way forward. He, Prime Minister Sharon said it is "the best way to achieve true peace." We are also pleased, as well, that he repeated what he said at Aqaba -- "It is not in our interest to govern you. We would like you to govern yourselves in your own country." Those were his words. We hope that Prime Minister Sharon and Prime Minister Qurei will meet face to face soon to discuss how to move forward. We urge them to do so very soon and without any preconditions.

Q Scott, if I could follow. Sharon also said, however, that if the Palestinians don't make some headway within several months on the U.S. backed road map, he's calling for implementing what he's calling "severance procedure," a procedure he said that is pursued in maximum coordination with the United States, including moving some settlements, drawing new security lines, and altering the deployment of Israeli forces. Is this a plan the administration endorses?

MR. McCLELLAN: A couple of things -- one, the plan the administration supports is the road map, because that is the way to get to the President's vision that he outlined on June 24, 2002, here in the Rose Garden of two states living side by side in peace and security. And Prime Minister Sharon, as I pointed out, again said that that is the best way to achieve true peace. And we believe that the road map is the way to get to the President's two-state vision.

Secondly, we would oppose any unilateral steps that block the road toward negotiations under the road map that lead to this two-state vision. Steps that ease the conditions of Palestinian life, that reduce friction and violence, or that help block terrorist activities are, of course, part of the road map. And they are steps under the road map.

And I think what you're referring to was that Prime Minister Sharon stated that such actions, under what you discussed, would be undertaken only if there is no progress on the road map. We are continuing to work hard with Israel and the Palestinians to make progress on the road map. And we don't think it's best, at this point, to be discussing now what to do if progress is not made, because we're staying focused, working with the parties to achieve progress on the road map.

Q So the administration doesn't support this severance -- what he's calling a severance procedure. That's not what the administration is endorsing.

MR. McCLELLAN: The United States believes that a settlement must be negotiated, and we would oppose any effort -- any Israeli effort to impose a settlement. Unilateral steps can help the road map move forward if they are part of the road map and steps under the road map, or they can block the road map. It depends on what they are. And Israeli action to remove unauthorized outposts or to remove isolated settlements are consistent with the road map, I would point out.

Q Let's be clear here, Scott. The President believes that if Sharon makes good on his pledge to essentially cut Israel off from the Palestinians, he believes that that would not be consistent with the ideals of the road map, is that fair?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think I just addressed where we are, and that he reiterated his commitment to moving forward on the road map. Remember, under the road map, Palestinians must reform their political institutions, unify their security services and have an empowered Prime Minister, and fight terrorism and dismantle terrorist organizations. The President has repeatedly said that the Palestinians need to take steps, firm steps against terror --

Q -- what Prime Minister Sharon said.

MR. McCLELLAN: And under the road map, Israel must undertake a settlement freeze and eliminate unauthorized outposts. We're pleased that the Prime Minister flatly stated that unauthorized outposts will be dismantled, period. Those were his words.

Q But you're cherry-picking what you want to hear --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think you are cherry picking.

Q -- appears to blow up the whole process.

MR. McCLELLAN: We look forward to immediate action on that pledge that I just mentioned. We are also pleased that for the first time, he said flatly that there would be no new settlements, no confiscation of land for construction, no special economic incentives for settlers and no construction beyond present construction zones. We believe that these are elements of a settlement freeze. And we will soon be discussing those details and implementation of such a freeze with Israeli officials.

Q I recognize that those are significant steps. But if Sharon is saying that he is prepared to take a step that essentially negates all of the rest, complete separation from the Palestinians, and this President says, no, we would oppose that, well, what's he going to do about it? Because he has opposed the fence for some time, and the result has been, in the face of U.S. opposition, Sharon is ratcheting up the steps he's willing to take to deal with the problem that he sees. So what's the U.S. going to do about it, besides say that you oppose it?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, he said, only if there is no progress on the road map would he take such steps. What we are going to do is continue to remain actively engaged with the parties, with the Israelis and with the Palestinians, to make progress under the road map. And at this point, I think that's where the focus needs to remain. And that's where our focus is remaining.

We going to stay on this topic? Okay, go ahead.

Q So the position of the President is that you would oppose any effort to impose a settlement, any effort by Israeli to impose a settlement? Is that what Prime Minister Sharon is outlining, an effort to impose a settlement?

MR. McCLELLAN: What I made -- well, what he outlined was that the road map was the best way to achieve the vision that was outlined by the President, two states living side-by-side in peace and security. That's the best way to get there. That's where our focus remains. That's why we've remained actively engaged with the parties. That's why a number of administration officials have been visiting with the parties, some in person, and some over the phone.

Q But he said, if that doesn't work, I'm going to impose a settlement. And the administration would oppose that?

MR. McCLELLAN: He said only if there is no progress on the road map. And I think I made it very clear that we would oppose any unilateral steps that block the road toward a negotiation between the parties under the road map that will lead to the two-state vision the President outlined.

Q So you see some of what he outlined today on the settlements issue as consistent with the road map. He's freezing settlements. He's --

MR. McCLELLAN: Right.

Q Okay. What about --

MR. McCLELLAN: That's why I said some unilateral steps, if they're consistent with the road map and taken under the road map, can be helpful. There are others that cannot be. We want the parties working with each other and moving forward on the road map.

Q Like the fence --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we've said that we've had concerns about the fence. It's not that we necessarily oppose construction of the fence, but we oppose a route that interferes with the normal Palestinian life, or what makes building a viable Palestinian state impossible. We have said that the fence should not be or appear to be a pretext for taking land, and it should not be something that presses undue burdens on the Palestinian people. That remains our view. That's what we've said all along.

Q As long as the fence is a security measure, it doesn't preclude settlement issues, you're okay with it. How do you determine the difference?

MR. McCLELLAN: The Israelis have claimed that it is purely a security measure, but we've made it clear that we have some concerns about some of the steps that were taken. And again, that is that if it led to a pretext for taking land unnecessarily or it unduly burdened the Palestinian people. We want steps to be taken to ease the plight of the Palestinian people. We have been deeply concerned about the conditions of life for the vast majority of Palestinians who seek peace and oppose violence. And we are glad that Prime Minister Sharon addressed that issue and promised steps to allow more freedom of movement and freer economic activity. Those are essential steps and they should be taken now.

Q So just to button this down, you like some of what he said, but really you're warning Prime Minister Sharon today not to go forward with the program he outlined to impose --

MR. McCLELLAN: I described it the way I did, that we are working very closely with Israelis and the Palestinians to make progress under the road map. We're pleased that Prime Minister Sharon reiterated his commitment and support for the road map as the best way to achieve the President's vision. So that's where things are.

Q Scott, can I follow up --

MR. McCLELLAN: You want to stay on this? Let's stay on this, and then we'll go to the next topic. Go ahead, Connie.

Q What are you telling Israeli settlers? What do they think? Do they think that their settlements that they are in now are going to be dismantled now, or wait a few more months? And what happens to --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, those discussions we'll have with the Israelis as we move forward on the President's -- the plan that was outlined to achieve the President's vision. That's the road map. And the road map calls for some of the steps that Prime Minister Sharon talked about today.

Q Two other things. What about the loan guarantees, do they get reinstated now?

MR. McCLELLAN: Do they get reinstated? That remains in place. We've already had this discussion and the State Department is the one that oversees that.

Q Is it still your opinion that Jerusalem is a final status issue?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the road map spells out all those details. I mean, first and foremost, the President has talked about the need for the Palestinians -- for new Palestinian leadership to take steps to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure. It's also important for Israel to recognize they have steps to take, and I think Prime Minister Sharon talked about some of that today. And we're pleased with a number of things that he said in his remarks, particularly his commitment to moving forward on the road map.

Anything else on this? Anything else on this? And I'll be glad to move to the next topic. Okay.

Q An appeals court has said the President does not -- any President does not have the power to detain an American citizen seized on U.S. soil as an enemy combatant.

MR. McCLELLAN: What I would say is that the President's most solemn obligation is protecting the American people. We believe the 2nd Circuit ruling is troubling and flawed, and the President has directed the Justice Department to seek a stay and further judicial review. This is a case in which an individual was involved with terrorist organization activity and was actively engaged in an effort to do harm to the American people.

Q Why couldn't that be adjudicated in some way by going through the regular court system, instead of making him an enemy combatant?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, let's remember what we're talking about. We're talking about an individual who was involved in seeking to do harm to the American people. And the President has repeatedly said that his most solemn obligation and responsibility is to protect the American people. And the 2nd Circuit's ruling is really inconsistent with the clear constitutional authority of the President and his responsibility that I just mentioned, and with previous circuit and Supreme Court rulings. The 4th Circuit previously ruled on a similar matter, and it upheld the authority of the President to designate enemy combatants. So let's keep all that in mind.

The President is going to continue aggressively pursuing the war on terror and do everything he can to prevent an attack from happening in this country.

Q So what's the next step?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President directed the Justice Department to seek a stay and further judicial review. So that's the next step.

Q -- to seek a stay from the same court -- or do you go to the Supreme Court, what do you do?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I'll let the lawyers determine the best course forward. But the President has made his views very well-known.

Q Is the stay meant to study whether to appeal?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I said, and further judicial review. So we will continue to --

Q -- might take it to the Supreme Court?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, if that's necessary.

Q What happens if Pedilla's court asks the Pentagon to release Pedilla from military custody?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think that that's the case, if you're suggesting that, that that would be the case. That's why, one, we're seeking a stay; and two, seeking further judicial review.

Q I'm asking whether Pedilla would be released per this court's order.

MR. McCLELLAN: It's my understanding that would not be the case at this point.

Q He will not be released pending this review?

MR. McCLELLAN: It's my understanding that would not be the case.

Q Does the ruling in this case and the ruling in the Moussoui case lead the President to believe that he's being well represented by the Justice Department in these court matters?

MR. McCLELLAN: We believe the Justice Department is doing a great job.

Q Scott --

MR. McCLELLAN: Any more on this? Anything else --

Q No, but I had a different matter --

MR. McCLELLAN: We can go to a different matter.

Q Okay. Is David Kay thinking about leaving his position?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, I wouldn't presume to speak for him. I would let him speak for himself. I would point out that the search is an important priority and the work of the Iraq Survey Group continues. The interim report already pointed out that Saddam Hussein's regime was in serious violation of Security Council Resolution 1441, and the Iraq Survey Group will continue and complete its work.

Q Has he notified you that he intends to leave?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I would not speak for Mr. Kay. I will let him speak for himself. But regardless, the work of the Iraq Survey Group continues, and they will complete that work.

Q One other thing, if I may. Secretary General Annan today said that he needs much greater clarity on what Iraqis and the coalition expect of the U.N. before he determines whether or not it is worth the risk to go back in. Can you clarify what it is the coalition would like the U.N. to do at this point, and what it would like it to do, especially with regards to --

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know that I need to. I think if you look back at the Security Council resolutions you'll see what we want the United Nations to do, to continue to play the vital role that they were previously playing. And they have designated a new special representative for Iraq. We're hopeful that they can return to Iraq soon. We'll continue to have those discussions with the Security Council. I would just reiterate that you have three Security Council resolutions that called on the United Nations to play a vital role. And certainly, in 1511, it talked about the United Nations playing a vital role in the electoral and constitutional process.

Q Well, that clearly is not enough clarity for Annan. You're not prepared to offer --

MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't seen his exact remarks. As you know I've been --

Q I quoted him pretty much verbatim.

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sure you did. I've been with the President at Walter Reed. But I think that the points I made are still applicable to your question.

Q Scott, the Chairman of the 9/11 Commission, Governor Kean was quoted today as saying that 9/11 was preventable, that some officials in the government failed to prevent it, and that some of those people who failed are still in positions of authority. Any reaction to that?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, I would remind you of something that the President has repeatedly said, the best way to prevent something like September 11th from ever happening again is to take the fight to the terrorists. And that is exactly the kind of decisive action that this President is taking to protect the American people. And as to the specific news report, I did see that, as well. I saw the Chairman's comments, and I would just say that I don't think I quite walked away with the same impression that you did.

Q How so? How so? How do you mean that?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that there were some comments made, and then the report may have gone a step further. I'm not going to speak for Chairman Kean, but you might want to ask him.

Q Well, I have talked to his office, and they're saying that he was quoted accurately. But he did say, apparently there's no question about it, he did say it was preventable. He did say, when asked specifically, are there people who failed to prevent it who are still in authority, his answer was, yes, and we'll find out who those people are.

MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't seen any further comment from him. But when I looked at his comments, I didn't quite take that same impression. But I would reiterate that the President strongly supports the work of the commission. If there is something that we can learn that can help prevent a terrorist attack like September 11th from happening, we want to know about it. And that is why at the direction of the President, we are working very closely with the commission to help them complete their important work. Both the chairman and co-chairman have publicly applauded the assistance of the White House in helping the commission. So that's where things are. But the commission is continuing to do its work.

Q What's the status of the commission's access to the intelligence briefings that it was seeking? Has that process begun now? Have they --

MR. McCLELLAN: Oh, yes. That process began shortly after all the agreements were reached.

Q What impression did you get from what Kean said?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, I don't want to speak for Chairman Kean, but I just didn't quite walk away with that same impression that Ken described.

Q Has the commission officially notified the White House of these claims, or are you learning of it just from this --

MR. McCLELLAN: Of which claims?

Q That there were problems and that there are people in place who possibly could have prevented September 11th?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, the commission is continuing to do its work. And it's important that they complete their work. And that's why we're working closely with them, to help them complete their important work. I don't want to do anything that would get in the way of them completing their work. I mean, I think I'll let them describe, in terms of where they are in conducting their work and completing their work.

Q In the cooperation that the White House has shown with the commission, have any of your people found any similar evidence to match what Governor Kean has suggested?

MR. McCLELLAN: Which part of what he suggested?

Q That there were problems that could have possibly been prevented.

MR. McCLELLAN: As we have previously said, there is nothing that we have seen that leads us to believe that September 11th could have been prevented. We previously said that. That still stands.

Q On the MRI today, did the doctors tell the President if and when he could resume the kind of running that he wants to do?

MR. McCLELLAN: First of all, while he has not been running really like he used to, he has been running occasionally. I think that what you saw today from the medical summary was that the wear and tear is consistent with his previous -- some of his previous activity and his previous examinations, and his continued level of activity. I think that this is -- the treatment that they were recommending for his knee remains the same, and that is, continue to do cross-training, continue the elliptical -- such as the elliptical-type training that he does, the water jogging, strengthening his quadriceps. That's another important activity that was spelled out in his previous physicals, as well, and listening to his body.

Remember, after he had the calf strain, the President said what he learned was that it's important for someone of his age who exercises rigorously and regularly to listen to their body. And so if you feel pain, it's saying, don't do that. Take some time, let it heal.

Q I'm a little unclear, though. Is he -- is it the kind of thing that once he does all that, he can resume running at the pace he enjoyed before, or is he permanently sidelined from --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, not at all, for the reasons I've just stated. And like I said, he ran over Thanksgiving, and ran on the treadmill and ran outside at the ranch in Crawford.

Q -- running for reelection? (Laughter.)

MR. McCLELLAN: Hold on. Anything else on this?

Q Any prescription painkillers?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, you have the medical summary, both from his previous physicals and today. And that's where it is.

Q I've seen aspirin, I think, in the past. No prescription painkillers.

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, you have all the medical summary there, so I would leave it where it is.

Q Has the President talked with Colin Powell or seen him since --

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, he saw him earlier today while he was at Walter Reed. And he reported that the Secretary is doing well.

Q What did they say to each other? Did they talk about the Baker visits and what's going on --

MR. McCLELLAN: They had some private time together. The President wasn't there very long because he was primarily there to go and visit our troops who had been wounded defending freedom and making America more secure. So that's the reason he was there. But Secretary Powell was there, and so the President dropped by to wish him well and say hello. And so that was really the purpose of it.

Q He didn't update him on anything at all? Because we understand that Powell has been working from his hospital bed.

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, I typically don't read out his discussions with Secretary Powell here at the White House, and I don't do it at Walter Reed, either. But it was a good private discussion, primarily just the President dropping by. He wasn't in there very long with the Secretary.

Q On the troops -- I'm sorry -- can I just ask you one thing about the visit with the troops?

MR. McCLELLAN: You've had questions. I'll come back to you. I'll come back to you.

Q All right.

MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead.

Q Can I go back to David Kay for a minute?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes.

Q Do you have any concern that if he does depart early, in the next couple of months, that this would send a signal that the administration is, if not giving up on finding WMD, then ratcheting down?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think made it very clear that this is an important priority -- there are a number of important priorities we have. This is one of them -- and that that work will continue -- they will complete their work.

Q Yes, the President alluded to but didn't quite explain for us in his remarks about the soldier who lost two legs and arm. Could you tell us what the deal is with his citizenship?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, actually -- actually, this was a young man from Micronesia that the President saw on his last visit to Walter Reed on September the 11th. His father was with him there that time, and his father was with him again today. And I'll tell you it's just remarkable to see the progress. And it's remarkable to see the spirit of someone like that who made a great sacrifice on behalf of his adopted country. And at the time, he had only recently arrived, I believe, at Walter Reed. And he had not received his prosthetic arm and legs. And the President had a very good visit with him and his father.

And it was a short time after that, I believe, in November, that Secretary Principi made him a United States citizen. And as with all the Americans who are serving and sacrificing for this country, and to make the world a safer and better place, we are forever grateful to him, as well. And it was quite a remarkable experience to be there in the physical therapy room where you had a lot of people that had been moved from the stage of being in their hospital beds to going through rehabilitation and physical therapy. And there's a large room -- some of the family members were there, as well. And all of them applauded and yelled very loudly when this new U.S. citizen got up and walked back and forth along the little path there. It was quite a remarkable sight.

Q Do non-citizens who serve in the U.S. military automatically qualify for citizenship? Or do they get some sort of --

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, there's -- and I don't recall off the top of my head -- there's some specific things outlined there. And I know the President made some designations to speed up that process for some of those that were serving in our military. I just don't recall the specifics of that right this second.

Q Scott, quick question, going back on the war on terrorism. As we enter the new special holidays, or big holidays next week, or in the next two weeks, are we still living under the threat of terrorism? Or after Saddam's capture, we or Americans should have some kind of relief from traveling abroad? And also at the same time, General Clark said that if he was President, Osama bin Laden would have been captured, and both should have been captured at the same time. And he's much more a threat than Saddam Hussein.

MR. McCLELLAN: Okay, a lot of things in there. Let me see where I begin. First of all, as far as travel abroad, the State Department keeps Americans posted on any advisories or any threats that they need to be aware of, wherever they are traveling. And there are a number of advisories that continue to exist right now for Americans traveling to certain parts of the world. The war on terrorism continues. And there are -- I would point out that when you talk about al Qaeda -- remember that Iraq is part of the war on terrorism. In the post-September 11th world, the President has made it very clear that we must confront gathering threats before it's too late.

We cannot wait before it's too late, and that attack comes to our shores. We've learned that. We need to go after these terrorists and go after these outlaw regimes and confront them. And that's exactly what the President has been doing. Certainly the capture of Saddam Hussein was an important moment for the Iraqi people and is great news for the Iraqi people. It said to them that you can be certain that he is no longer coming back, his regime is gone, and they will not be coming back to carry out the torture and intimidation and fear that they instilled in that country.

Then, you have al Qaeda. Obviously that has been a priority from immediately after -- well, even before, but certainly more so even immediately after September 11th. That's -- we have already brought to justice, in one way or another, two-thirds of the al Qaeda leadership. The President refers to a lot of it as the middle-management level. And we

continue to pursue the other leaders, including the one you mentioned. They will be brought to justice, too. That's where it stands.

Q Do you think you will have a new year gift by capturing Osama bin Laden?

MR. McCLELLAN: I would just say that he will be brought to justice. We will find him. And as the President said the other day, he remains on the run, but he will be brought to justice.

Q Scott, I have a two-part. In his interview with ABC --

MR. McCLELLAN: Do you ever have a one-part?

Q I don't get six parts like lots of people in the front row?

MR. McCLELLAN: But Jim was being very nice. He had a smile on his face today.

Q I'll smile, too.

MR. McCLELLAN: This administration doesn't believe in pointing fingers, Les. Let's try to raise the tone in here, too.

Q In his interview with ABC, the President said, whatever legal arrangements people want to make, so long as its embraced by the state or at state level. And my question, does this mean that the President sees no problem with any state passing civil unions or homosexual marriage laws that give them the same legal status as marriages between one man and one woman?

MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you for that question, Les. I would point out that the President reiterated what he has previously said. The President has always been strongly supportive of the principle that marriage is a sacred institution between a man and a woman, and that he will do what it takes to protect and defend the sanctity of marriage. He made that very clear in the interview the other night. He strongly supports the defense of marriage act, which says that for federal law purposes, marriage is between a man and a woman. And it says that states don't have to recognize other states' laws on the matter. So we strongly support that.

He has also made it very clear, in light of the recent Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling, that he will do what is legally necessary to protect the sanctity of marriage. And that's what he's committed to doing. We said, going back to the campaign, that states have the right to decide legal arrangements that they so choose. Certainly the President's views during the campaign, we said that he would not have supported that for the state of Texas, and he was governor at the time.

Q In the President's proclamation of human rights day, bill of rights day and human rights week, he declared, "Freedom is the right of mankind and the future of every nation." But the New Hampshire Union-Leader said, President Bush, who not so long ago was speaking eloquent phrases about the U.S. commitment to democracy all over the globe, apparently thinks it is a bad idea for the people of Taiwan to so much as vote on whether they prefer the Chinese missiles not to pointed in their direction. My question, could you help us, Scott, in this Bush contradiction?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I don't agree with the premise of the question there. The President's priority is to preserve peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, in order to safeguard Taiwan's democracy, to promote the spread of personal freedoms in China and spare the region the scourge of war. That's the President's priority. We support Taiwan's democracy, as we do others around the world. The President's uncompromising position on Taiwan security is the clearest proof of his administration's commitment on that. And the President made it clear to Premier Wen that the United States would fulfill its obligations to help Taiwan defend itself, as called for under the Taiwan Relations Act.

But as the President said during those meetings, we oppose any unilateral decision by either China or Taiwan to change the status quo, for the reasons I stated at the beginning of my comments on this very issue. And that's the President's view. That's been his position.

Q Those are two good answers. (Laughter.)

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, they were two good questions, Les.

Q One-part question. (Laughter.)

MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead.

Q Scott, this is sort of out of the blue, but now the it's been upheld by the Supreme Court, does the President have any feelings about the way the campaign finance reform law is shaking down in that independent organizations such as Move On is ready to spend millions of dollars to defeat him, another shadowing organization is ready to spend money to attack Howard Dean. Does he have any feelings about this? Is this what he expected?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think that from the President's past you've learned that the President has always been someone who believes in full disclosure. And that is something he has strongly advocated as one of the best campaign finance reform measures. He supported the campaign finance reform that was passed by Congress because he felt overall it helped improve the system. And that's where it was. We have continued to look at the recent Supreme Court ruling to review it, and we are continuing to review it very closely and carefully.

Q Did he expect this is where all the soft money would go when he signed it?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, the Supreme Court tried to bring some clarity to this issue in the recent ruling, but I think that the President has always been someone who believes that there should be full disclosure. And that's why, during the campaign previously, we rapidly disclosed his campaign contributors. He set the example. It went beyond what was required.

Q The President at his news conference a few days ago was noncommittal about advancing another major tax cut next year. Is it still the administration's plan to move forward with the lifetime savings account and retirement savings account the Treasury announced last year, but that didn't go anywhere at the time?

MR. McCLELLAN: As you are aware, we're going through the budget process as we speak. But I would point out that there are a number of provisions that the President has already proposed that we've called on Congress to enact. I would say right at the top of that list is one part of his six-point plan to strengthen the economy even more, and that's to make the tax cuts that were passed permanent. Congress should not take action to increase taxes. That would be the worst thing we could do to our economy right now when it's continuing to grow and strengthen. So that's one of the top priorities for the President, to make those tax cuts permanent.

Q What about the savings --

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, you've seen what he has proposed. We're going through the budget process for the '05 budget and we will be coming out with that in February, as you're well aware.

Q Talking about the six-party talks -- how is the United States going to change North Korea --

MR. McCLELLAN: If they insist on what?

Q Insist there are -- conditions.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we've made if very clear what our views are and what North Korea needs to do. They need to end their nuclear weapons program in a verifiable and irreversible way once and for all.

And so we are continuing to work with the other parties to seek a multilateral resolution to this issue. We are continuing to pursue a peaceful resolution, and we are prepared to go to the next round of talks without any precondition. We've made that very clear. But I would remind you that five of the six parties in these talks share one important goal, and that is a nuclear-free peninsula. And so that's what we continue to talk about. We've made it very clear, also, that we are prepared to offer a multilateral security assurance to North Korea as they commit and achieve benchmarks on ending their nuclear program.

Q Is this a precondition, though? I don't understand that.

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q North Korea needs to end their nuclear program once and for all, isn't that a precondition?

MR. McCLELLAN: That is what we are all trying to achieve. That's what all the parties are working to achieve. And we've already made clear that, look, we'll put forward a multilateral security assurance if that's what they need. But we expect them to achieve benchmarks toward ending that nuclear program.

Q Scott, are there any White House concerns about the ruling yesterday for unsupervised or outings by John Hinkley?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, I would say that our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families, those who were so needlessly harmed in that incident. And second, I would just say that it's important to make sure that the concerns of those who were injured and their families are heard.

Q Thank you.

MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you. We'll see you all a little bit later.

END 2:43 P.M. EST