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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
February 3, 2004

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

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12:54 P.M. EST

MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon, everybody. The President and Secretary General Annan had a very constructive meeting in the Oval. They are now having lunch over in the residence. The two leaders discussed a range of issues. The President believes that the United Nations has an important role to play in world affairs, and he talked about ways we can continue working together to address our common challenges.

The President believes the United States certainly has a vital role to play in helping the Iraqi people realize a free, democratic and prosperous future. The U.N. has played a vital role in Iraq, and we look forward to the United Nations continuing -- or to play a vital role in the future. We welcome the decision by the Secretary General to send a United Nations team to assess the way forward to a transitional government.

The two leaders also discussed the good progress in Afghanistan, the welcome dialogue between India and Pakistan, the progress toward a comprehensive peace in the Sudan, and they also discussed the Middle East, as well. The President appreciates this opportunity to visit with the Secretary General and discuss ways we can continue working together.

And with that, I will be glad to take your questions. Go ahead, Steve.

Q Kofi Annan suggested that the June 30th deadline was a suggestion. Is that how you see it, as a suggestion?

MR. McCLELLAN: We are continuing to work toward the agreed-to timetable of June 30th. That was agreed to in the November 15th agreement by -- between the Governing Council and the Coalition Provisional Authority. As I pointed out before, the Governing Council was very involved in the drafting of the November 15th agreement. I think the Secretary General -- as the Secretary General emphasized, the importance of the U.N. team going in there and looking at the mechanisms to get to that provisional or transitional government. And so that's --

Q So it's subject to change?

MR. McCLELLAN: -- and so the United -- we've always said that we're open to refinements, but that the June 30th deadline was something that was agreed to, but within that framework that we were open to refinements. And it was the Iraqi Governing Council that asked the United Nations to send a team in to assess the feasibility of elections within that timetable.

Q Scott, did anyone from the White House talk to Secretary Powell this morning and ask him to clarify the remarks that he made in an interview with The Washington Post, where he said, I don't know if I would have recommended going to war had we known now -- had we known then what we know now about Iraq's weapons stockpiles?

MR. McCLELLAN: We talk to Secretary Powell all the time. He's a valued member of this administration. So we talk to him on a daily basis. The Secretary's comments, I think, spoke for themselves.

Q So that's a yes?

MR. McCLELLAN: We speak to the Secretary all the time, John.

Q But on the point of --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think I would not characterize it the way you were trying to characterize it. The Secretary was the one who made the points that he did earlier today. And the Secretary made it very clear what he has said all along, that the decision we made with regard to Iraq was the right decision and that what we have learned on the ground since then only reconfirms that it was the right decision.

Q But the question was, in one of your contacts with the Secretary of State this morning, did anyone suggest that he clarify his remarks?

MR. McCLELLAN: The Secretary speaks for himself. We talk to the Secretary all the time, John.

Q Why don't you answer the question?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think I did, Helen.

Q I have a question.

MR. McCLELLAN: Okay. Just one?

Q I can understand --

MR. McCLELLAN: You used your one up. No. (Laughter.)

Q I can understand your rhetorical leap backward in view of the new events, from immediate threat taking us into war, or a gathering threat. But will you explain to me what is a gathering threat? What was it?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think Secretary Powell talked about that earlier today. He talked about how Saddam Hussein had the intent and he had the capability. And that equals a threat.

Q Everybody may have intentions --

MR. McCLELLAN: Let's look back at why Iraq was unique. Saddam Hussein had a history of weapons of mass destruction. Saddam Hussein had a history of using --

Q He also destroyed them.

MR. McCLELLAN: Okay, well, I'm trying to answer your question. Saddam Hussein had a history of using chemical weapons on his own people and on people in Iran. Saddam Hussein had a history of defiance of his international obligations. He failed to account for his stockpiles.

Q And we defeated him in war --

MR. McCLELLAN: He had 17 resolutions to come clean. He was given one final opportunity to come clean.

Q No, the U.N. never gave him an ultimatum.

MR. McCLELLAN: No, no, you should go back and look at the United Nations Security Council resolution. It made very clear to Saddam Hussein's regime that this was one final opportunity --

Q They opposed going to war.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- one final opportunity to comply or face serious consequences. That's what the resolution called for. The President believes it's important --

Q It did not call for war.

MR. McCLELLAN: The President believes it's important for us to follow through on our word. We did. Saddam Hussein chose continued defiance. It was his choice and the world is safer and better because he has been removed from power.

Q You had no U.N. support for the war.

Q Two subjects. First, Dr. Khan, the so-called father of the Pakistani bomb, is now saying that top leaders of the Pakistani army, including General Musharraf, were aware of his illegal transfer of expertise and nuclear weapons technology to Iran and Libya and elsewhere. First, does that square with what the administration knows? And what would be the consequence for someone like General Musharraf --

MR. McCLELLAN: President Musharraf has assured us that Pakistan was not involved in any kind of proliferation -- I'm talking about the government of Pakistan. We value those assurances. The ongoing investigation into these proliferation issues by the government of Pakistan is a sign of how strongly Pakistan takes that commitment.

Q If that investigation leads to General Musharraf, as Dr. Kahn seems to suggest it should, what would be the consequences for his relationship with the United States?

MR. McCLELLAN: The spread -- well, one, I think I just addressed that matter. The spread of nuclear weapons-related goods and technology is a matter of global concern, particularly since the attacks of September 11th. And I think that the investigation by the government of Pakistan demonstrates their commitment to working to address proliferation issues. And we are working with other nations, as well, to stop individuals who are involved in the proliferation, as well as to work with other issues on the proliferation security initiative, which is another tool to help stop the spread of these technologies to states and other non-state actors.

Q So is it fair to say that when it comes to Pervez Musharraf, the President's attitude is, we value his assurances that he's not doing these things now, we don't really mind that he did them before?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, no, I don't know that I would characterize it the way you did. I made it clear -- very clear that we value his assurances. He has assured us that Pakistan was not involved in any of the proliferation activity that you are talking about. And we continue to expect Pakistan to follow through on those assurances.

Q You're taking him on faith, Scott, or do you have evidence to back that up?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, John, I would point out that Pakistan is working closely with us on a number of fronts in the global war on terrorism. And we are continuing to work closely with Pakistan to win the war on terrorism, and we appreciate the efforts they are taking to address these proliferation issues.

Q Again, are you taking his assurances on faith?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I said, we value his assurances.

Q But are you taking them on faith, or do you have independent evidence to back up that what he's saying is true?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that I would leave it the way I did. We value his assurances.

Q Scott, did President Bush and Secretary Kofi Annan discuss the Cyprus issue? And what did they agree?

MR. McCLELLAN: They touched on it very briefly in the initial meeting in the Oval Office. I expect that that may be an issue that will come up more in the lunch that they are in right now. But I think our views are very clear on Cyprus. We welcome the sincere willingness to advance a Cyprus settlement on the basis of the Secretary General's formula that Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan conveyed to us during his visit last week.

We urge all parties, our friends on Cyprus and in Greece and Turkey, as well, to agree to finalize a settlement, allow the Secretary General to resolve outstanding issues, and submit a settlement to referenda by a date certain. We believe such a settlement will bring greater security and prosperity to all people on Cyprus, and Turkey and in Greece, as they deepen their integration into Europe.

Q Any recent communication between President Bush and the parties involved?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q Any recent communication between President Bush and the parties involved?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, no update to give you on that. But obviously, Secretary Powell has remained actively engaged on a daily basis in support of the efforts of Secretary General Annan and the U.N. mediator DeSoto to foster a fair and lasting agreement on the basis of the Secretary General's fair and balanced plan.

Q Scott, you expressed some outrage this morning that Democrats are questioning whether President Bush shirked his military duty with the Texas Air National Guard. Is the White House trying to come up with any records or any eye-witnesses to demonstrate that he did show up for his last two years in Alabama?

MR. McCLELLAN: Terry, I would just say that it was a shame that this issue was brought up four years ago during the campaign, and it is a shame that it is being brought up again. The President fulfilled his duties. The President was honorably discharged.

Q Scott, can I follow that up?

MR. McCLELLAN: Do you have a follow-up?

Q Well, the question actually was whether or not you're trying to find any eye-witnesses or any records to prove --

MR. McCLELLAN: Terry, this was addressed four years ago, and like I said, it was a shame that it came up then and it's a shame that some are bringing it up again.

Dana, did you have one?

Q The Democrats have been attacking the President for months on a lot of issues. Why this issue -- why is it that you're choosing to respond to this particular issue, where in the past you've --

MR. McCLELLAN: The reasons I said. It is really shameful that this was brought up four years ago, and it's shameful that some are trying to bring it up again. I think it is sad to see some stoop to this level, especially so early in an election year. The President, like many Americans, was proud to serve in the National Guard. The National Guard plays an important role in the security of America. And the President was proud of his service.

Q On the question of the commission the President will appoint, the Democrats were out -- riled up again today, suggesting that the President intends to "stack the deck," by appointing people that will agree with him and will limit the range of the commission's study to just the intelligence, itself, and not include any communication between the intelligence community and administration officials, and how they used that intelligence. Can you do anything to clarify?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, a couple things. One, the commission will be bipartisan, it will be independent. Their independence will be spelled out in the executive order that the President will sign. The people that the President will appoint to this commission will be people of experience in the public sector; they will be people with expertise in intelligence; they will be people of integrity, people who are committed to doing a thorough job, to take a broad assessment of our intelligence capabilities. And that's important. As I said, this will be -- their independence will be spelled out in the executive order that the President signs.

Q Is it up to them to determine the range of questions they will consider?

MR. McCLELLAN: They are going to have the independence they need to do a thorough job and to take a broad look at the intelligence capabilities we have to address the threats that we face, particularly from weapons of mass destruction and the proliferation or spread of weapons of mass destruction.

Q The way you describe it is somewhat limiting, at least in the view of the Democrats on the Hill who want this commission to look at, as they have other investigations on the Hill, to look at the use of intelligence by administration officials. Is there anything in the President's charge to this commission that would exclude that?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, until the commission is announced and the executive order is signed I don't want to get too far into discussing the scope of the commission. But this commission will have full access to the information that they need to do their job.

And I would remind you that some of these same people, the things that they are pointing out go to issues that have been addressed by people involved in these matters. Stuart Cohen, a 30-year career CIA employee who oversaw the National Intelligence Estimate, said that these were -- referring to the intelligence -- that these were "judgments that we had rendered over a 15-year period and provided to three administrations." This was intelligence that was shared by intelligence agencies around the world. This was intelligence that was shared by the United Nations.

Q Scott, can I ask you about, again, the National Guard thing? As you know, the President was committed to a six-year term, and what's at issue is the last two years. And the commander of the Alabama unit in which Bush was assigned in 1972 said that Lt. Bush never showed. That is absent without leave, otherwise known as AWOL, which is the charge that the Democrats are making. Can you be specific then about those last two years which are in question --

MR. McCLELLAN: Norah, we already have been specific. We were specific four years ago when this shameful accusation was made. I think you need to go back and look at the facts. The President was honorably discharged. He fulfilled his duties. It is really sad that people are now stooping to this level once again. And people should condemn this.

Q So where was he, then, in that period when his commander says he did not appear?

MR. McCLELLAN: This has already been previously addressed four years ago. Yet some people continue to stoop to the level that they are now stooping to --

Q You're not addressing the substance of the charge --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, we already have --

Q So the White House position is that the honorable discharge answers the question, that as far as the President's commanding officers were concerned, he preformed his duties honorably, and that's it?

MR. McCLELLAN: People that are discharged honorably are people that have fulfilled their duties. And we appreciate the service of all those people who are currently in the Guard and all those that were previously in the National Guard. We welcome all that they do to help make this country safer and better.

Q Two questions. Going back to President's meeting with Secretary General Kofi Annan. Who brought the issue of Indian and Pakistan and what the discourse, if you can elaborate? And also, at the same time, if this issue of Pakistan nuclear spread to Libya and Iran and North Korea came up or not during their discussion?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think the President gave a little bit of a readout, I gave a little bit of a readout of the meeting in the Oval Office. Like I said, they're continuing to have their discussion over lunch. And, no, to the latter part of your question, they had not gotten to that issue at that point.

But in terms of India and Pakistan, I think both leaders were expressing how they welcome the developments between India and Pakistan. They are moving forward on a high-level dialogue between these two countries to help reduce tensions in the region. And that's important to help bring about greater peace and stability in the region.

Q Another question. This is the only President, President Bush, who has been fighting during his entire presidency against terrorism. What is the future, where do we stand now as far as terrorism is concerned?

MR. McCLELLAN: Where does -- I'm sorry, I didn't hear the last word.

Q He's still fighting against terrorism around the globe.

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes.

Q What is the future, where do we stand now as far as terrorism? Do we still live in fear of terrorism?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the war on terrorism does continue. I think that as we sit here and talk about Iraq, it's important to remember that a free and peaceful Iraq will help bring about greater peace and stability in the Middle East. The Middle East has been a very dangerous part of the world. It has been a breeding ground for terrorism. And we are not only working to move forward in waging the war on terrorism, but we're working to advance freedom and democracy. There are a number of different ways we're working to win this war on terrorism. And that war continues.

Q Scott, can you update us at all about the ricin testing on Capitol Hill; and also, a, whether it's a wider problem than just Capitol Hill -- because we had a report from Connecticut -- and also, are there any steps that are being taken here?

MR. McCLELLAN: Not that I'm aware of here. And there's no update really that I have beyond what I already told you earlier today. There is an interagency team that is working on this matter. The FBI and Capitol Police are investigating the incident. And there were some initial tests that came back positive; there was at least one that had come back negative. And the testing continues at this point. And the investigation continues.

Go ahead.

Q Scott, the Vice President has emerged from his undisclosed location over the last few weeks to take a much more public role from his --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think the Vice President has been around.

Q Well, much more public since his address to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council, his trip to Europe, and the like. Is the fact that he's being criticized by a number of Democratic presidential candidates now for his role in the intelligence hype leading to war a factor in this, and is he trying to reinvent a kinder --

MR. McCLELLAN: He is the Vice President of the United States --

Q -- gentler Dick Cheney --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, he's the -- I disagree with the whole premise there. He's the Vice President of the United States. He is an important member of this team. And he is going to continue to help the President implement the agenda that we have for the United States, and help us move forward on our highest priorities: winning the war on terrorism, protecting the homeland, and strengthening our economy. That's what his role is as Vice President.

Q To follow up on that, Scott, is this commission going to investigate, in addition to possible intelligence flaws, will they also investigate the fact or the possibility of the intelligence information being utilized or being hyped or being twisted or massaged, whatever you want to say, in order to create a certain political effect?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think I just addressed that earlier to a question here, when I talked about what Stuart Cohen had said and what others have said, as well, Dr. Kay and others.

Q Just one follow-up on that same thing. Senator Daschle said today that no commission that's issued by executive order or operated under executive order would be viewed with the independence and credibility needed to lend legitimacy to this inquiry. That said, why does the President think that a White House approach is preferable to having a separate congressional commission?

MR. McCLELLAN: I addressed this a little bit earlier today. The President believes that the best approach is to have a bipartisan and independent commission that can take a broad look at our intelligence capabilities. Right now you already have congressional committees that are looking into the intelligence, the pre-war intelligence relating to Iraq. So they're already in the process of exercising their oversight responsibilities. You also have the Central Intelligence Agency, which undertook quite sometime ago a review of that intelligence. They continue to look at that intelligence. They have outside people involved in looking at that intelligence, Richard Kerr being who I'm referring to.

But the President believes that we should have a bipartisan, independent commission to do a broad assessment of our intelligence capabilities, particularly relating to the new, dangerous threats that we face -- weapons of mass destruction and the spread of weapons of mass destruction. We face a number of threats, and we're confronting those threats. I would remind you that these are threats that did not develop overnight. These are threats that have been developing over quite some time. But this President knows that his highest priority is to protect the American people. This President is committed to acting to ensure the safety and security of the American people. And that's why we're addressing these threats in a number of different ways.

Q Can I ask you, in what way was this discussed with Kofi Annan this morning? Did the subject come up at all in the conversations?

MR. McCLELLAN: Not in the Oval.

Q And finally, Secretary General Kofi Annan said today that he wants to try to persuade the Iraqis that building a consensus is in their best interest. How does the President think that -- what does the President think that Kofi Annan can do that Bremer has not been able to do?

MR. McCLELLAN: One, I wouldn't look at it that way. I would remind you that the United Nations was playing a vital role in Iraq before the terrorist attack carried out on the headquarters there. We believe the United Nations can once again play a vital role in Iraq. And what Secretary General Annan talked about was something he mentioned with the President, as well -- I mean, those were essentially the same words he said to the President during the meeting in the Oval Office.

But what we're talking about here is the unique and special expertise that the United Nations can bring to the issue of elections and the issue of drafting constitutions and helping move forward on the democratic process. And so the team that he is sending in was at the request of the Governing Council, to assess the feasibility of elections within the timetable that has been agreed to, to transfer sovereignty to the Iraqi people. And we're making great progress in moving forward on a free and peaceful Iraq for the Iraqi people. And we believe the United Nations can once again play a very vital role in helping the Iraqi people realize a peaceful and democratic and prosperous future.

Q Did the President ask the Secretary General to investigate the list of 270 people, governments and political organizations that received -- allegedly received oil vouchers from the regime of Saddam Hussein?

MR. McCLELLAN: Didn't come up.

Q Is he going to? I mean, this is something that --

MR. McCLELLAN: The two leaders talked about how we can work together on common challenges that we face.

Q Well, certainly, answers need to be gotten from the recipients of these oil vouchers, since they acted in contravention to the U.N. resolution.

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not sure of the specifics of what you're bringing up. Obviously, those could be questions directed to the Iraqi Governing Council or the Coalition Provisional Authority. But I would remind you that the Oil Ministry in Iraq, through the Governing Council, is the one that is overseeing the oil resources in Iraq.

Q Scott, Senator Domenici yesterday said he plans to pull the energy bill and scale it back significantly and bring it back on the floor later this month. Does the administration support a significant scale-back of the energy proposal?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there have been different energy proposals out there, number one, I would point out. But we put forward the President's plan, and we have been working with members of Congress, particularly leaders like Senator Domenici, on moving forward on a comprehensive energy plan. It's important to our energy independence to reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy. The President is strongly committed to passing a comprehensive energy plan. It's one of the six points in his plan to create an even more robust environment for job creation here in the United States.

So it's important that Congress move forward on that plan. We will continue working very closely with Senator Domenici in his efforts. He has been working on this issue for quite some time, and we appreciate all his efforts. But I would remind you that we had spelled out the President's approach to a comprehensive energy plan previously. And we're working with members of Congress to move forward on a plan that reflects what the President has outlined.

Q Some Republicans are expressing concern with the slippage of the President in the polls, and they're feeling that the White House and the President, himself, are not responding very effectively to the criticisms that the Democrats are making. Is there any plan for you guys to change --

MR. McCLELLAN: This kind of sounds like a chance to try to draw me into the election. I remind you that this President remains focused on our nation's highest priorities. This President is focused on winning the war on terrorism, protecting the homeland and creating an environment for even stronger job growth. And that's where the President's focus is. There will be plenty of time for the American people to look at the choice that they face next November. And we welcome the opportunity to discuss that. But the President remains focused on our nation's highest priorities.

Q -- guidance on when we can expect the commission announcement?

MR. McCLELLAN: I still expect it will be this week. We are still working on finalizing everything and getting all the commission members in place. But I still expect it will be this week.

Thanks.

END 1:20 P.M. EST