The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
January 12, 2004

Press Gaggle with Scott McClellan
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Monterrey, Mexico

12:03 P.M. (Local)

MR. McCLELLAN: All right, good morning, everybody. I hope everybody is looking forward to traveling to Monterrey today. The President had his usual briefings this morning before departing the ranch. Right now he is participating in a briefing on the Special Summit of the Americas with others including Dr. Rice and Secretary of State Powell.

And then, when we arrive in Monterrey this afternoon, the President will participate in a bilateral meeting with President Fox, and they will participate in a press availability afterwards. Then the President will participate in a brief meeting with the Caribbean leaders -- we'll have a photo release from that. It's really pretty much just a photo opportunity with those leaders.

Then the President has a bilateral meeting with President Lagos of Chile later this afternoon, and we will have pool at the bottom for that coverage. Then he will go over and participate in a greeting to the United States Mission in Monterrey. Then he will participate in the inauguration ceremony of the Special Summit of the Americas, before beginning the first plenary session, which today will focus on economic growth and reducing poverty by creating opportunity for all.

Following that plenary session, the President will participate in a bilateral meeting with President Lula of Brazil. That will be pool at the bottom. And then this evening he participates in a dinner being hosted by President Fox of Mexico. And that's the general schedule for today.

Let me just kind of go back over the goals of the Special Summit of the Americas. The Special Summit of the Americas will focus on creating opportunity for all by strengthening democracy and promoting greater prosperity. We will be working with other nations in the hemisphere to look at ways to sustain economic growth, reduce poverty, invest in people through health and education, strengthen democratic institutions, and encourage greater governmental transparency in the fight against corruption in our hemisphere. So we'll be looking to build a consensus on specific commitments to achieve measurable progress in our collective neighborhood.

As I said, first we need to promote growth and reduce poverty by creating jobs. We need to work together to significantly reduce the time required to start a business. We need to expand access to credit by small and medium-size businesses. As you've heard the President repeatedly say, small business is the backbone of economic growth. We should also work together to lower the cost of remittance transfers, so that people can more easily send money back home to their families and local communities.

We need to -- secondly, we need to work to invest in people. Each country has to work to improve health and education if we're going to improve the quality of life in the hemisphere. When it comes to education, we'll be focusing on accountability. You've heard the President often talk about the importance of measuring progress so that we know where we need to improve. And on health, there's nothing more important than working together to combat HIV/AIDS, by expanding prevention programs and providing treatment for more people.

And finally, we will work together to increase accountability and reduce corruption. Corruption remains an impediment, an obstacle to economic growth and to strengthening democracy and improving hemispheric security. And so we believe governments need to set high standards to be more transparent and accountable to the people. And we will work to have a strong commitment at this summit to fight corruption together.

And I would just say that the United States has committed hundreds of millions of dollars to the summit agenda, and worked hard at achieving our common summit goals, which are strengthening democracy, creating prosperity and realizing the full potential of humans. This summit represents an important next step towards realization of this shared hemispheric vision.

So the President looks forward to spending today and tomorrow in Monterrey participating in these bilateral meetings and continuing to build on the progress we're making in this hemisphere on those issues.

Q Before I ask my question, the key phrase, if I heard you right, as you previewed the plenary session remarks was "property rights"?

MR. McCLELLAN: Today is focused on economic growth and reducing poverty.

Q Did you not say the words, "property rights"?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't believe I specifically did. I mean, but, obviously, we're talking about private sector growth, and issues such as you're mentioning are important parts of all that.

Q The President meets with Fox for almost an hour today. It's one of the longest bilateral meetings of the whole summit. Is this a chance to air out some old grievances? Will they iron out some of the details of the immigration proposal today?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I do expect that they will talk about the President's temporary worker program that he proposed last week. I also expect they'll continue to talk about building upon the progress we're making to strengthen our borders by border security. And I think they will talk about continuing to build on economic growth and the free trade -- our shared commitment to free trade.

Q Will they talk about older disagreements at all?

MR. McCLELLAN: What's that?

Q Older disagreements at all?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, look, we have a good relationship with Mexico. President Fox is a good friend of the President's. They have a long relationship that started when the President was governor of Texas. And whatever differences have been there in the past, we have a lot of common challenges that we're working very closely together on, some of which I just mentioned. And we will continue to have a close and good friendship with Mexico and a good working relationship with them on our shared challenges.

Q Scott, on the O'Neill book, did the former Treasury Secretary make false claims or accusations? And if so, what were they?

MR. McCLELLAN: David, you've heard me say repeatedly that we're not in the business of doing book reviews. I don't get in the business of selling or promoting or critiquing books. I would say that you all are well aware of a lot of these facts on issues that have been raised over -- that some of you raised over the weekend.

But this -- I think it appears to be more about trying to justify personal views and opinions than it does about looking at the results that we are achieving on behalf of the American people. And the President is someone who is always forward looking, and he's going to continue to be forward looking. He's going to continue to focus on the results that we are achieving and building upon those results, to strengthen our economy even more and to make our world -- continue to make our world a safer and better place.

Q You're declining to take on specific assertions, such as --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, you didn't make any -- you didn't ask a specific question. But again --

Q I asked you if you if he made false accusations -- like on Iraq, he claims at the very first national security meeting, there was a discussion about targeting Saddam Hussein and that it was his impression and interpretation that, essentially, the President wanted to find a way to make that happen. Is that --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let me remind you of a few of the facts. First of all, the President exhausted all possible means to resolve this -- resolve the situation in Iraq peacefully. You will recall that he went to the United Nations Security Council and they passed a 17th or 18th resolution giving Saddam Hussein one final opportunity to comply. He was given a final opportunity to comply. He continued to defy the international community and was in material breach of Security Council Resolution 1441, which called for serious consequences.

And the President believes, in the aftermath of September 11th, that it's important to confront threats before it's too late. And, certainly, I think everyone recognizes that Saddam Hussein has been a dangerous man for a long time, and his regime -- the international community recognize that his regime was a threat for a long time.

Q Does the President consider Paul O'Neill's book an act of disloyalty?

MR. McCLELLAN: Look, people -- one, people have the right to express their views. That's one of the strengths of our democracy. And the President is going -- as I said, the President is going to continue to be forward-looking. He's got plenty to focus on, on behalf of the American people, and he is someone who focuses on getting things done, and focuses on the results that we're achieving.

Q But he's not holding a grudge against Paul O'Neill?

MR. McCLELLAN: Look, that's -- like I said, that's just not the way the President looks at this. The President is someone that is forward-looking.

Q Can I just ask a follow-up on that? One of -- the portrait O'Neill seems to portray, at least in the excerpts that we've seen on TV or seen in print -- I haven't read the book, so I have to make that clear -- but he paints a portrait of a President who is somewhat disengaged, whether it's in Cabinet meetings or other discussions on policy. One of the strengths that the White House has always said that the President has is his leadership, his sort of setting an agenda and following it. Do you think O'Neill -- this portrait that O'Neill presents -- do you have any concern that it might change that perception of the President as a strong leader?

MR. McCLELLAN: As I just said, I don't get into book reviews. But I've known the President for a long time, and I think the American people know this President well. The President is a strong leader who acts decisively on our big priorities. The President is someone who asks tough questions and makes tough decisions to make America more prosperous and our world more safe, and to make our world a better place.

Q Did O'Neill or anyone acting on his behalf make any effort to contact the White House or administration officials in advance of the publication of the book?

MR. McCLELLAN: Look, I understand that there is a media interest in this book. But it's just not something this administration gets caught up in. We are focused on what we are trying to accomplish on behalf of the American people. And that's what we will continue to do.

Q So there was no effort?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know what contacts may or may not have been made. But I can tell you what I know speaking for the White House.

Q But he chose O'Neill to be part of his administration. So you may have known him a long time, but why shouldn't the public believe what the former Treasury Secretary of the United States says about the President?

MR. McCLELLAN: And, David, we very much appreciate his service. That's the President's view. We appreciate his service. Again, I think I would say what I said a minute ago, that while I certainly haven't seen the book, I've just seen what you all have seen, but it just appears to be more about trying to justify personal views and opinions than it does about looking at the results we're achieving on behalf of the American people. And that's where the President is going to keep his focus, on the results we're trying to accomplish for the American people.

Okay, thank you, everybody. See you in Monterrey.

END 12:16 P.M. (Local)

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