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 Home > News & Policies > January 2004

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
January 22, 2004

Press Gaggle with Scott Mcclellan
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Roswell, New Mexico

9:18 A.M. MST

MR. McCLELLAN: Now, when we land today there are certain things that we may ask you not to report, that you may see. (Laughter.)

Q I'm not playing that game. If there's a flying saucer, it's going on the wire, man. (Laughter.)

MR. McCLELLAN: Good morning. The President had his usual briefings before we departed Phoenix. The Freedom Corps greeter is Amy Coppin. She's a cadet at New Mexico Military Institute, in her senior year, who is an active volunteer. She participates in a variety of service programs each semester, helping children from -- such service activities as helping children with reading to working with the Red Cross to working with the Boys and Girls Club.

The President will, upon arrival, place a phone call to the March for Life participants back in Washington, D.C.

Q Has he done that every year?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes. Where he will talk about building a lasting culture of life and talk about the progress we're making to build a culture of life in America. And we will get you the transcripts from that call, it's an open press event, so it'll be heard back in Washington, D.C.

Then the President looks forward to making remarks to -- there will be about 1,600 people present today for his remarks on the war on terrorism, that will include cadets from the New Mexico Military Institute, it will include local law enforcement and first responders and community leaders, as well. And the President will talk about the progress that we're making in the war on terrorism. He will talk about how his greatest responsibility is protecting the American people -- some of what you heard the other night. And he will talk about how we're making some important progress, but the danger is still there and we must continue to press on in the war on terror.

I also expect that he will talk about the commitment that we are making to protect the homeland and touch on the significant resources we are committing to that effort.

Q Patriot Act?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, I expect he will touch on that, as well. That provides some important tools --

Q On what?

MR. McCLELLAN: Patriot Act. That provides some important tools for law enforcement to help prevent attacks from happening in the first place.

Q Specific new budget figure?

MR. McCLELLAN: I expect he will touch on the '05 budget for our homeland security efforts, and we will have a fact sheet for you all that will provide some information on that, as well as information on the war on terrorism.

Q Is that new? I mean, have we not seen that budget figure?

MR. McCLELLAN: We have not announced the '05 figure.

Q We invite you to announce it now.

MR. McCLELLAN: You will hear from him shortly; it will be in the fact sheet.

Let me just touch on one other thing, then I have one announcement.

As you all are aware, Special Presidential Envoy Baker yesterday concluded his most recent trip to discuss the importance of reducing Iraq's debt burden with countries in the Middle East. The discussions were very productive. He had discussions with leaders in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

The President appreciates the positive response of all four countries and their continued commitment to the successful reconstruction of Iraq. All countries agreed on the need for substantial debt reduction and that it should happen this year. They all agree to begin negotiations on specific amounts quickly. They agreed that debt reduction is key to helping the Iraqi people build a free and peaceful and prosperous future.

And Special Envoy Baker also met with Iraqi representatives, including the finance minister and the central bank governor, to update them on his trips to Europe and Asia, and talk about the progress we're making on debt reduction. As you all recall, he has previously gone to Europe and Asia, in addition to the Middle East. And most countries now agree that debt reduction is key to the successful reconstruction of Iraq for the Iraqi people, and that it should be substantial and that it should happen this year.

One other announcement and then I'll take your questions.

On Monday, the President will travel to Little Rock, Arkansas, where he will participate in a roundtable with doctors and patients and then make remarks on the importance of passing medical liability reform, before he returns to the White House that afternoon.

Q No fundraiser?

Q Has Baker now visited all the countries that are owed money by Iraq?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'd have to double-check that, Steve. His work continues. Obviously, we now need to move forward on the negotiations about the specific amounts. As I said, most countries have agreed to substantially reduce the debt for Iraq as we move forward on building a free and peaceful and prosperous Iraq.

Q Scott, on homeland security, I realize you put out the budget figure today and we're eager to see that, but this is going to be a big campaign issue this year because Democrats, as you know, say that this administration has under-funded homeland security across the country, while at the same time taking credit for, you know, hardening America's targets to terrorists. How do you respond to that?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, I would point back to what I said a minute ago and what the President said in his State of the Union and has consistently said, his number one responsibility is to protect the American people. And the best way to win the war on terrorism is to stay on the offensive and take the fight to the enemy.

And that's exactly what we are doing. We are removing threats before it's too late, by the actions that we are taking. It is also important to make sure we are doing everything we can to protect the American people at home and secure the homeland. And we have committed significant resources to that effort. And the President will talk about how we will -- how we are going to continue committing significant resources to those efforts in our '05 budget proposal.

I would point out that, in terms of what we have already provided since 2001 to help state and local governments prepare for -- prepare for and prevent terrorist attacks: we have provided more than $13 billion to help state and local governments, which will help -- which is helping state and local first responders and emergency medical providers.

So we are providing significant resources to the home front. But the best way to win this war is to take the fight to the enemy, and that's exactly what this President is doing.

Q That's fine, but is that enough? I mean, Democrats say it's not enough, not in an era when we've got to raise threat alert, or there's so much more responsibility on local law enforcement to protect the country.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, it's important that those -- that the significant resources that we are providing are focused on where they are most needed, too. And that's what we're committed to doing, as well. But, absolutely, we are doing everything we can to secure the homeland, but there is much that remains to be done. And we will continue to press on and build upon the efforts and progress that we are making.

Q Scott, the increases that --

Q -- speaking for him believe that, you know, together, the criticism of taking action of Iraq, the criticism of extending the Patriot Act? Do all these things amount to -- would you say that that amounts to returning -- not taking -- not protecting the country adequately, not fulfilling that responsibility?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think you bring up something that he pointed out in his State of the Union, there is a clear choice. We are at historic period in our history. There are big challenges that we face. And first and foremost, it's -- that is winning the war on terrorism. And this President is acting decisively to win the war on terrorism by the actions that we are taking. And the choice is clear. We can continue building upon the important progress we are making to make the world safer and better and make America more secure, or we can turn back. The efforts that we are undertaking are about protecting the American people.

Q And turn back would be going back to when it was treated as a law enforcement issue and --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that's one that -- as we discussed yesterday, I think, that there are some that, as the President pointed out in his State of the Union, think that by serving legal papers, we can do what is needed. The President disagrees. The President believes very strongly that we must stay on the offensive, that we must take the fight to the enemy in order to win this war.

Q Scott, the budget figures he's going to be announcing today, will that include money for new programs or for greater funding for programs that already exist?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we'll get -- obviously, we're going to have a fact sheet coming out shortly. There are some increases in a variety of areas -- for counter-terrorism efforts at home, to mention one. This will all be in the fact sheet, and we're going to have a budget briefing for more detail here in a couple of weeks, less than a couple of weeks. So we'll get into it some more then.

Q How does Baker brief the President, number one? And, number two, what does Iraq owe us, and have we committed to reduce that debt?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, in the past, he has received both briefings over the phone and in person from Secretary Baker. We'll keep you posted, obviously, on the President's schedule and any briefings that Secretary Baker provides to him. So I'll keep you posted on that matter.

Your second question was --

Q What is Iraq's debt to the United States?

MR. McCLELLAN: Just like other countries, we recognize the importance of reducing Iraq's debt burden in order to help build a free and peaceful future for the Iraqi people. And so, yes, we are --

Q What is that --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think the Treasury Department has that specific number. I don't recall off the top of my head.

Q Billions?

MR. McCLELLAN: You would have to check with the Treasury Department. They've got that -- kind of the estimate of that number. But, yes, we are committed, along with other countries, to helping the Iraqi people realize a bright and successful future.

Q The reason I ask is because you said Baker had met with some Iraqi officials. I wonder whether he committed to them that America would reduce Iraq's debt burden --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we've already said that we're committed to reducing their debt burden. And the purpose of his meeting with the Iraqi representatives was to brief them on his recent trips and the commitments that other countries are making. So that was the purpose of the trip.

Q Can I ask you just one more question on Baker? Is his job now kind of done? Or is he the one who is going to be leading the negotiations on specific figures?

MR. McCLELLAN: His work continues. He is the President's special envoy on debt reduction. And so that work continues. His work continues. Now we're entering a period where we'll be discussing specific amounts of what constitutes substantial debt reduction.

Q So that's --

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, his work continues. Okay, thanks.

END 9:30 A.M. MST