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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
January 28, 2004

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

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12:50 P.M. EST

MR. McCLELLAN: The President, as you heard, is having a very good discussion with Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey. You heard directly from the two leaders. They are now having lunch over in the residence, and we'll try to get you any more updates after that, if possible.

One of the issues they did discuss was the importance of moving forward on building a free and peaceful and democratic Iraq for the Iraqi people. And in that regard, I would like to give you an update on some of the ongoing efforts by the Iraqi people to bring about a democratic and peaceful Iraq.

As you all are aware, Iraqis are now freely participating in discussions about the future of their country. And today, 200 Iraqis freely gathered in Baghdad for a town hall meeting to discuss the transition to sovereignty and development of democracy in Iraq. This is the third of 18 planned town hall meetings, and is expected to be the largest gathering of its kind. There are now more than 200 political parties in Iraq, and elected town and city councils in most of the country. This grassroots participation is another important step toward unleashing freedom and building democracy in Iraq.

And with that progress report update, I will be glad to take your questions. Terry.

Q David Kay said on the Hill today that he supports the idea of an independent investigation into the intelligence failures about what Iraq had in terms of weapons. Does the administration support David Kay's idea, or support that idea?

MR. McCLELLAN: Terry, I think that David Kay has also publicly talked about the importance of letting the Iraq Survey Group complete its work. The Iraq Survey Group -- the mission of the Iraq Survey Group is to find the truth. That work is ongoing. They did provide a progress report, I would remind you, which showed that Saddam Hussein's regime was, indeed, in material breach of Security Council Resolution 1441. So it's important that we let the Iraq Survey Group complete their work and gather all the facts they can. Then we can go back and compare what we knew before the war with what we've learned since. But that work is ongoing at this point.

I would point out that the CIA has publicly talked about the fact that they have an internal process where they go and review their intelligence. And that's something that's ongoing at this point, as well. It's important that we gather all the facts, that we look at all that information and compare it to what we knew before the war. That's important. But first, before we can draw firm conclusions, we need to let the Iraq Survey Group complete its work. But, at the same time, the CIA is already looking into the intelligence as well.

Q Well, the CIA, obviously, isn't an independent commission. Do you think the idea of an independent commission is incompatible with letting the Iraq Survey Group complete its work?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I think our position at this point is we want the Iraq Survey Group to complete the important work that it has undertaken. That work is still a work in progress. There is a new head, Charles Duelfer, of the Iraq Survey Group. We need to let him get in there and complete the work that Dr. Kay started. Dr. Kay --

Q Are you saying weapons can still --

MR. McCLELLAN: Dr. Kay did a great job working on the Iraq Survey Group. We very much appreciate his service. It's difficult work. But he has pointed out that they need to complete their work.

Q Are you saying that still -- you still expect weapons to be found, when the President, the Vice President, Powell and so forth have basically written that off?

MR. McCLELLAN: Helen, I think I've addressed this question over the last couple of days. What we know is that Saddam Hussein's regime was a gathering threat. And in a post --

Q I didn't ask you that --

MR. McCLELLAN: I understand, but I'm coming to your question. In a post-September 11th world, it's important that we confront those threats before it's too late --

Q What were his threats? Has he ever threatened us?

MR. McCLELLAN: And before -- before -- well, we -- and Dr. Kay, himself, has stated that it was a very dangerous place. The President talked about, you had a dangerous man in a dangerous part of the world. And after September 11th, this President is acting decisively to make sure that we are doing everything we can to protect the American people, because we want to do everything we can to prevent something like that from ever happening again.

Q Do you still expect to find weapons?

MR. McCLELLAN: The work of the Iraq Survey Group is ongoing. And they've already found that he was in material breach of Security Council Resolution 1441. I would remind you that that was a unanimous --

Q That's not answering the question.

MR. McCLELLAN: Helen, that was a unanimous resolution that said, Saddam Hussein, you have one final opportunity to comply, or face serious consequences.

Q I'm asking you if you found the weapons.

MR. McCLELLAN: And as I pointed out yesterday, if the inspectors had found even half of what Dr. Kay's team, through the Iraq Survey Group, has already uncovered, they would have had to have found his regime in clear violation of 1441. So we're going to let their work continue. I'm not going to get into prejudging the outcome of their work; it's ongoing. But we already know that they have reconfirmed --

Q You're doing a beautiful job of filibustering. (Laughter.)

MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you, Helen. We have already reconfirmed that it was the right decision to remove Saddam Hussein from power.

Q Who said so?

MR. McCLELLAN: The world -- I think a lot of people say so. The world is a safer and better place --

Q Well, the jury is still out.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- the world is a safer and better place because Saddam Hussein has been removed from power. America is more secure. It was the right decision then, and we know that it was the right decision today.

Q Scott, I'd just like to review a couple past administration statements with you. I won't bother you with the dates, but I can provide them for you. Secretary Rumsfeld said that Saddam has amassed large, clandestine stockpiles of biological weapons; large, clandestine stockpiles of chemical weapons. President Bush referred to stockpiles of anthrax we know he has, stockpiles of BX, the biological weapons which he possesses. And Secretary Powell said, our conservative estimate is that Iraq today -- this was on February 5th, I'll give you that date, last year -- has a stockpile of between 100 and 500 tons of chemical weapons agent, enough to fill 16,000 battlefield rockets. Do you today stand by the accuracy of those statements?

MR. McCLELLAN: You know, John, I think we addressed this yesterday, as well. The work of the --

Q Scott, with respect, we never talked about these statements made by administration officials in the past, in which they unequivocally say that he had large, clandestine stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons. So do you stand by the accuracy of those statements?

MR. McCLELLAN: The intelligence that was presented was something that was shared by intelligence agencies around the world. It was certainly information that was shared by the United Nations, as well. There was a lot of similar conclusions, a lot of the information came from UNSCOM's report, as well, which talked about what was known about Saddam Hussein's regime. I would point out to you that the choice was Saddam Hussein's. He had 12 years to come clean. He had some 17 resolutions to come clean. And even then, he was given one final opportunity to comply through Secretary Council Resolution 1441. He chose to continue to defy the international community.

Given his history -- I would remind you that we know that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction; we know that he had used weapons of mass destruction on his neighbors and on his own people; we know that he failed to comply with the demands of the international community; we know that he refused to account for the programs and information that you're talking about. And, yet, he was given one final opportunity, and he chose to continue to defy the international community. Given his history and given the events of September 11th, we were not going to wait on the good intentions of Saddam Hussein.

Q Well, Scott, given those statements that John raises, do you think it's possible that the next time the United States government -- this President or another President -- accuses a nation of developing weapons of mass destruction secretly, there will be many people in many governments around the world who will say, why should we believe you?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I think that if you go back and look at the intelligence, it was something that was shared by other intelligence agencies around the world. It was shared by the United Nations. There was a lot of similar intelligence that everybody had and was made available publicly, in terms of what was going on in Iraq. Saddam Hussein --

Q And it turned out to be wrong.

MR. McCLELLAN: Saddam Hussein had the choice to come clean. And, again, we cannot afford to rely on his good intentions in this post-September 11th world.

Q But I asked about the future, not the past. And I'm asking about is there damage, strategically, done to the United States' credibility on this issue?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I think you want to --

Q And what will the President do about it?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I think you appreciate the importance of gathering all the facts that you can. That work is ongoing, in terms of the Iraq Survey Group. At the same time, the CIA has already -- a long time ago began looking at the intelligence. They took that steps, themselves. They've talked about it publicly. That effort is ongoing. But it's important to let the Iraq Survey Group gather all the facts that they can and to draw as complete a picture as they can. Then we can go and look at what we knew before the war and compare that with what was learned since.

But I remind you that that intelligence was shared by many agencies around the world, and certainly the United States had a lot of similar views.

Q So there isn't a "boy who cried wolf" problem that the United States has --

MR. McCLELLAN: Saddam Hussein was a gathering threat, Terry. And it was important to remove him from power. The world is safer and better because of the action that we took. I think that's the bottom line.

Q Scott, the Vice President apparently was, in a recent interview on NPR, was pointing to these two trailers that were found in Iraq as conclusive evidence that Iraq did have weapons of mass destruction, an ongoing weapons of mass destruction program. And this was as recently, I guess, as last week. David Kay, however, today says that it is the conclusion of all the experts they were never used for weapons of mass destruction. Why is he still saying that?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, I think he talked about what was known before and then the different views that are held -- I think I saw what Dr. Kay said about that. But you can direct questions to the Vice President's office if you need to. But, again, if you go back to the progress report that was released by the Iraq Survey Group, it showed that Saddam Hussein's regime was, indeed, in clear violation of Security Council Resolutions 1441. And Security Council Resolutions 1441 called for serious consequences if he continued his defiance.

David, do you have something?

Q Well, since neither you, nor the President, is willing to offer an explanation for how it is that the intelligence was so far off from the reality, then why shouldn't voters this year, in this election year, question the President's credibility on the basis for which he took us to war? If the President wants to wait until all the facts are gathered by the ISG, that's one thing. The voters are voting this year and they're looking at this issue now. Why shouldn't they judge his credibility?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, and I would say that -- I say that when we went to the American people and outlined the case, that it was very clear that Saddam Hussein was a gathering threat, and that Iraq -- the regime in Iraq was a unique situation. We're confronting threats in a number of different ways. One of them I talked about yesterday in terms of Libya, about the great progress we're making there, how they're eliminating their weapons --

Q -- was based on weapons that don't exist --

MR. McCLELLAN: Hang on.

Q But we've heard all this. I understand you want to get to this stuff, but the gathering threat was cited based on weapons that don't exist. So isn't that a credibility problem?

MR. McCLELLAN: We know that Saddam Hussein's regime had weapons of mass destruction. We know that he had a history of using weapons of mass destruction. We know that he had the intention, we know that he had the capability. Dr. Kay has talked about that just recently, in just the last few days. We know that it was a regime that had sought to be dominant in the Middle East. The Middle East is a very dangerous part of the world. And what we are working to achieve in Iraq will help bring about a more secure and more peaceful Middle East. And I talked about -- and we're moving forward --

Q Well, it would have been fine if you'd actually said that before the war, instead of citing the weapons stuff --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, no, wait. And Saddam Hussein was the one who made the choice. He had every opportunity to come clean and comply with his international obligations. Saddam Hussein refused. Saddam Hussein was given a final opportunity. He continued to defy the international community. He had 12 years and some 17 resolutions. And in the post-September 11th world that we live in, the President is going to do everything he can to make sure that we're confronting new and dangerous threats that we face.

Q Was the President misled? Did the President mislead the country in any way --

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, David, in terms of the Iraq Survey Group, that work is ongoing. We want them to finish their work. It's important that they find the truth. That was what the President told the Iraq Survey Group to do: find the truth. And so they will gather all the facts that they can and they will come to -- well, they will draw as complete a picture as possible. And then we can go back and compare what was known before with what we've learned since.

Q You keep saying it's important for the Iraq Survey Group to continue its work. When you were asked about the 9/11 Commission this morning, you said that it was important for them to stick to the schedule that was set out for them. In October, David Kay said that the Iraq Survey Group would complete its work within six to nine months. Is it important that they stick to that schedule and --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, look, Charles Duelfer is now the head of it. David Kay was operating independently, had a lot of autonomy to do what he needed to do. What we wanted to make sure was that he had the resources he needed, so that he could go and find the truth. But he has since resigned; there's a new person coming in. Those determinations will be made based on his judgments of when he can complete the work. But, obviously, yes, we would like it to be completed as soon as it possibly can, for the very reasons that I've stated. It's important that we look back at what we knew before the war and compare that with what we've learned since.

Q But you're not willing to put any sort of timetable on it --

MR. McCLELLAN: Those aren't our decisions to make. It's the decisions of the Iraq Survey Group, now headed by Charles Duelfer, to make. And we hope they move forward as quickly as they can to gather all the facts and draw as complete a picture as they possibly can.

Q Scott, two questions. One, it was a rare opportunity for a Foreign Minister to be welcomed by the President in the Oval Office, Prime Minister of India, last week. He was at a press conference at the new embassy, praised President Bush from left and right. Could you tell us what President did to him, or what they talked about and what was really their discussion, other than what we know now?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think he was here meeting with some other officials and it was more of a brief meeting with the President. But, obviously, one of our priorities remains working with India and Pakistan so that they can continue to engage in a dialogue that will help reduce tensions in the region.

Q A quick -- two questions --

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, quick. We've got a lot of hands up.

Q This week President completes 1,100 days of his presidency. Could you give us little rundown of his achievements?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think we kind of went through that at the end of last year and put out some information on what we've achieved --

Q It can change now --

MR. McCLELLAN: And I think in the interest of keeping this briefing moving, I will go to the next question.

Keith.

Q I want to hear every achievement.

MR. McCLELLAN: Okay, okay.

Q -- day-by-day? (Laughter.)

Q Run back through the State of the Union, if you would. (Laughter.)

MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Keith.

Q Given what we know now, or the information that we have now about what's in Iraq, was the war worthwhile?

(Cell phone rings.)

MR. McCLELLAN: Hello? Cell phone violation in the room. Sorry, that was not me trying to get out of this briefing.

Go back and look at the progress report from the Iraq Survey Group, when it was headed by Dr. Kay. It made very clear -- and Dr. Kay, himself, has made very clear over the last few days that Iraq was a very dangerous place, that it was potentially more dangerous than we even thought.

Q But that's -- I'm sorry.

MR. McCLELLAN: The situation in Iraq was a gathering threat. And the decision that the President made was the right decision then. And what we have learned since only reconfirms that it was the right decision.

Q So, in essence, what you're saying is that even in 2003, if we believed that he probably did not have large stockpiles of weapons -- which is where we are right now -- believed that he probably did not have large stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction --

MR. McCLELLAN: If we believed when?

Q If we believed that in 2003, before the war, you're saying we would have gone to war anyway because that's what we understand now; correct?

MR. McCLELLAN: He was a gathering threat, and the President talked about why he was a gathering threat. And what we have learned since was that he was in -- continued to be in violation of Security Council Resolution 1441. That resolution was unanimously passed by the United Nations Security Council. That resolution called for serious consequences if Saddam Hussein chose continued defiance. And that's exactly what Saddam Hussein -- the choice that Saddam Hussein made.

Q Okay, I want to ask about pensions also. The Senate passed a pension bill -- (laughter) -- I realize it's kind of a shift -- there's a White House veto threat against that. Does that veto threat still stand?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think that was some -- that senior administration officials would make a recommendation to that effect. We did put out a statement of administration policy, and I actually talked about that very issue last week, and there's no change in that at this point. But thank you for bringing up a different topic.

Mark, did you have something?

Q Yes, I wanted to ask about tomorrow's trip. Is there anything in particular that the President wants to say in New Hampshire about his economic plan and about the prospects of the economy? And why is it that he wants to say this in New Hampshire?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, it's a message he says all across the country. And it's important to go out and talk with the American people around the country. But the economy is one of our top priorities. The most important responsibility the President has we've been talking about in this room, and that's protecting the American people. And this President is acting decisively to make sure we are making the world a safer place and America more secure. But right up there with that is the importance of moving forward to make America more prosperous.

The economy continues to grow. It is growing strongly and it is moving in the right direction. But the President is not satisfied because there are people who are still looking for work and cannot find a job. And so the President is going to urge Congress to act on the rest of his six-point plan for creating a more robust environment for job creation.

We've had a number of jobs created over the last few months, but there is more that we need to do. And one thing that Congress can do quickly is to move forward on making the tax cuts that were passed permanent. That's an important step to bringing about a more robust environment for job creation.

Q Are you telling me that it was just pure coincidence that the President wants to make this argument in New Hampshire?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he travels across the country, Mark, and he's going to continue taking his message across the country. This is one of the highest priorities for the American people. It's a high priority for people in New Hampshire. It's a high priority for people on the other side of the coast, as well.

Q Scott, while in Moscow, Secretary Powell reportedly told Russian President Putin that the possible stationing of U.S. troops in countries of the former Soviet Union would not pose a threat to Russia. Has the President personally conveyed this to Putin?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, these are issues I think that we've discussed previously with Russia. Secretary Powell did just return from a very good trip there and he had a good meeting with President Putin, and he talked -- they talked about that very issue. He also put out an op-ed where he talked about our relations, relationship with Russia. We are moving forward in a good relationship and cooperating on a number of important areas. And it's certainly a relationship between President Bush and President Putin that is built on trust.

There are, obviously, some areas of differences that we have, and we're discussing those. We continue to discuss those with Russia. And one of the issues that did come up was to talk about some of the troop deployments. And that was the discussion that they had.

Q In the last two weeks, Elaine Jones, President of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, announced her retirement, after a complaint was filed against her with the Virginia Bar for her role in interfering with hearings on judicial nominees to the 6th Circuit, which, in effect, rigged the outcome of the Michigan affirmative action case. Will the President direct the Justice Department to investigate the unethical and possibly illegal conduct that was revealed by memos leaked by the Senate Judiciary Committee?

MR. McCLELLAN: Jeff, I'm not familiar with all the specifics that you brought up there, but I'm sure that if there is action that needs to be taken, the appropriate officials will take that action. But, again, I'm just --

Q But is the President concerned that these special interest groups have been able to circumvent his constitutional right and duty to appoint judges?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I'm not exactly sure on the very specific there, but, obviously, one important priority for this Congress is to move forward on the President's judicial nominees. There are some judicial emergencies that exist, and that's why it's important for Congress, the Senate, to give an up or down vote to those nominees. They're highly-qualified individuals.

Q Scott, did the White House receive a readout of the Hutton report in England? And does the President have any reaction to the findings, which basically exonerated Prime Minister Tony Blair?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think that that was previously a matter for the British government and for the people of the United Kingdom, and it remains a matter that's being addressed by the British government and by the people in the United Kingdom.

Q Do you know if the President will at least contact Prime Minister Blair --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, they speak on a regular basis. But, again, this was a matter that was for the British government and the people of the United Kingdom to address.

Q Scott, anything on the meeting between President Bush and the Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you heard directly from them just a short time ago. I think they are still probably having lunch at this point. They were running a little bit behind because their discussion was going over -- the initial meeting was going beyond the originally scheduled time. They were having a very good discussion and you heard directly from them. They gave you the update of the issues that they had talked about, from Iraq to the war on terrorism, to Cyprus, some of the issues that occurred in their initial meeting. And we'll try to get you more information if there is to give out from the lunch.

Q What do you expect from this meeting between the -- with the Prime Minister of Turkey?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I talked a little bit about this earlier, but the President was pleased to welcome Prime Minister Erdogan back to the White House. Turkey is certainly a key ally in helping fight the war on terrorism. The President talked about it in the Oval Office, about how we -- both nations know what it means to be attacked by terrorists who have no regard for innocent human life. And so we're working together to fight the war on terrorism.

They certainly, I expect, will continue to discuss the greater Middle East area and the importance of continuing to promote freedom and democracy and peace in the region. And, certainly, the issue of Cyprus came out, as well, and moving forward on the Secretary General's efforts to resolve that matter.

Go ahead, Mark -- I mean, Greg.

Q Back on the 9/11 panel. Has --

MR. McCLELLAN: No mustache. (Laughter.) Radio guys, you know? (Laughter.)

Q On the 9/11 panel, has it been determined if the President or the Vice President and/or Dr. Rice will provide testimony to that commission?

MR. McCLELLAN: One, we already have -- well, one, this White House is committed to making sure that the commission has all the information they need to do their job. We have been working to provide unprecedented cooperation to the commission in their efforts. I would point out that we have made a number of agency-level heads available to the commission through briefings and interviews. We've made hundreds of people available for briefings.

But we will continue to discuss all those issues going forward with the commission. But it will be to make sure that they have the information they need to do their job. That's the spirit in which we will work. We want to make sure they have all the information they need to do their job, and that would include discussions with other senior administration officials, as well.

Q It sounds as if you do want them to do the best job possible. The panel chairman says to do that best job, they need a little bit more time. Is the White House open to that idea?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well -- and this is an issue that came up a little bit earlier -- the commission, itself, is the one who said that -- said just recently, just a matter of weeks ago, that they believed that they could meet that timetable that was set out in an agreement with the Congress and the commission; and the White House obviously was involved in those discussions, as well.

We believe it's important that they move forward as quickly as they can to complete their work. This is important work that they are undertaking. And if there is information that we can learn from the commission's work that will help us prevent future terrorist attacks, we want to have that information. And so we hope that they will move forward as quickly as they possibly can. I would point out that we have worked to provide them information in a very timely manner so that they could meet that timetable.

Q They want more time. What's wrong with that?

MR. McCLELLAN: We understood -- we understood that there was a timetable that was agreed to and so we have been working in a way to help them move forward as quickly as they possibly can. And that's what we will continue to do. But obviously, any such discussions would have to involve Congress, as well. This was all agreed to with Congress and the White House involved in those discussions. But it was previously agreed to, and we're hopeful that they can continue to move forward as quickly as they can.

Q One more question on Iraq.

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me go right here, then I'll come back.

Q Thank you. On Cyprus, how important is this for the President that a solution will be achieved before the May 1st deadline, at which point the Cypriot accession to the E.U. will take effect? And after today's meeting, should we expect the President to increase the administration's engagement in the issue?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you heard the President talk about -- or the two leaders talk about it in the Oval Office. And again, these discussions are ongoing over lunch. But they will continue to discuss a range of issues. But the United States is committed to helping in the efforts to find a solution on the issue of Cyprus.

Last -- I guess it was last Saturday in Davos, the Prime Minister demonstrated a strong willingness to advance a Cyprus agreement on the basis of the Secretary General's fair and balanced plan. And we urge our Greek Cypriot friends to agree to finalize a settlement and allow the Secretary General to resolve outstanding issues, if necessary, and submit a

settlement to referenda by a date certain. Because we believe such a settlement will bring greater stability and prosperity to all people on Cyprus and in Turkey as they move toward deeper integration into Europe. So that's our view.

John, do you have something on Iraq?

Q I did. Just an update for me, if you could. What's the White House's position on those aluminum tubes that Iraq was caught with?

MR. McCLELLAN: John, again, we're now trying to get into issues that are continuing to be --

Q No, I'm just wondering if you still believe that they were destined for uranium-enrichment centrifuge work.

MR. McCLELLAN: John, again, a lot of this -- the Iraq Survey -- the Iraq Survey --

Q A simple yes or no --

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me finish. Let me finish. Again, you're asking me to get into discussions of what the Iraq Survey Group is looking into, all these matters. There was an interim progress report that was put out that talked about what we have learned so far. It was a public document, but it made very clear -- I mean, you want to go, I know, line by line on --

Q No, I don't. I just want to -- you said that --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, you want to go line by line on prewar intelligence. And I'm saying that --

Q The administration says --

MR. McCLELLAN: -- let's let the Iraq Survey Group complete its work. Then we can compare what we knew before the war with what we have learned since the war.

Q It's a simple question. You said prior to the war that those aluminum tubes were destined for centrifuge work --

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, and I think Dr. Kay has since talked about --

Q -- and I'm wondering if you still believe it.

MR. McCLELLAN: Dr. Kay -- Dr. Kay, in his interim report, has talked about the efforts toward a nuclear program in Iraq. He's already addressed it. So he's already addressed that matter.

Q I'm wondering, do you still believe what you said before the war.

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I know what you're trying to do. But I think I've addressed the matter.

Q Thank you.

MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you. Thanks.

END 1:20 P.M. EST