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

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
March 29, 2004

Press Gaggle by Scott McClellan
Aboard Air Force One
Andrews Air Force Base

11:28 P.M. EST

MR. McCLELLAN: Good morning. All right. Let me go through the day. The President had his briefing this morning on the plane. When we get back to D.C. this afternoon, the President looks forward to meeting with the heads of government of the seven nations that are acceding to NATO today.

And then he will make remarks on the South Lawn. I expect in his remarks the President will talk about how these seven nations endured bitter tyranny and showed great courage and determination to earn their freedom. And this is an historic day of achievement for those seven nations, as well as NATO. They will now be equal partners in this alliance, going from 19 nations to 26 nations. And the Adriatic Charter nations will also be represented, as well. And the President will talk about how the door to NATO remains open to those seeking to join NATO.

Q Does their membership take effect today?


Q It does.

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, they are joining today. It is official today. Then this afternoon the President also has a meeting -- one of his regular meetings scheduled with the Secretary of State. And that's all I've got for today.

Q Where do things stand with Porter Goss's request to declassify the Clarke testimony from 2002?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I don't know if there's any update beyond what we've already told you all over the weekend. Obviously this is a request by congressional leaders. Our role would be simply to review the documents, along with other appropriate agencies, to determine what could be declassified. This is a decision that some congressional leaders have made.

Q But it's up to you to decide if it can be.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think ultimately it's up to the members of Congress to decide what they would choose to release, regarding the joint inquiry. It's their congressional report.

Q How long would a decision take?

MR. McCLELLAN: A decision take -- you'd have to ask members of Congress. You mean, how long would a review take? I don't know that I could put a timeline on it at this point. It will be reviewed, just like any other documents would be reviewed at the request of members of Congress.

Q This Clarke request goes beyond just congressional testimony. He's also asking for all of his emails and all correspondence to be released. Is that something that the White House would have to review? Is there anything you'd give consideration to?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, those are decisions that would be made in discussion with the September 11th Commission. Those are issues that we would work to address with the commission, in order to make sure that they can provide the American people with a full and complete report.

Q Any reaction to the decision by the Afghan President to postpone elections until September?

MR. McCLELLAN: That was a decision that they made based on the fact that they felt they should hold both elections at the same time. We are there to support them in their efforts as they move forward on those elections. We'll continue working with leaders in Afghanistan to help them move forward on those elections.

Q Any response to those who say that the problems with the Afghan elections suggest that similar Iraqi elections might have problems -- with registration, that kind of thing?

MR. McCLELLAN: First of all, I think they're at different stages in their democratic development. Afghanistan is further along. I think that a delay of a few months doesn't have an overall impact in the direction -- overall impact to the direction Afghanistan is moving. So we will continue working with them.

In terms of Iraq, we're continuing to move forward and make some significant progress toward transferring sovereignty by the end of June. There are ministries that are being turned over completely to the Iraqi people. Ambassador Bremer has been working on other steps to move forward on that -- on preparing us for the transfer of sovereignty by the end of June. And obviously the United Nations, we believe, has a vital role to play in helping Iraq conduct elections at an appropriate time, and as soon as possible.

Q But still not a leading role?

MR. McCLELLAN: They have a vital role to play. I think the role -- the leading role is going to be played by the Iraqi people, come June 30th. They're already playing more and more of a leading role.

Q Scott, is there any effort underway to work out a deal with the 9/11 Commission about public testimony for Dr. Rice?

MR. McCLELLAN: First of all, just to reiterate, Condi very much looks forward to meeting with the commission again, and answering all their questions. She has already previously met with them for some four hours, and answered all the questions that they had. So she looks forward to the opportunity to visit with them again. Right now we're just in the preliminary discussion stages with the commission. I think the next time the commission gets together is Tuesday. And we made the request just Friday, and the commission has not met since that request was made. So we need to have the commission have an opportunity to meet and discuss it.

Q Well, what I'm asking is, is there an effort or a willingness to compromise on this, or is the White House adamant and dug-in that there can be no public sworn testimony by Dr. Rice?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, our position remains the same, in terms of the principle, and why we believe it's important to uphold that principle. That remains the same. So we are continuing to have discussions with the commission -- they're just in the preliminary stages right now -- about a second meeting between Dr. Rice and the commission.

Q In Iraq, the -- Ambassador Bremer signed an order closing a newspaper that was viewed as a mouthpiece for a very critical cleric. How does closing newspapers square with the assertion that democracy is taking root?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think it's that simple. I think there are some different circumstances here, and I think you need to address those questions to the CPA. I'm not familiar with the specifics of the action, but I think that the CPA can probably address those questions.

Q CPA did not respond to requests over the weekend, nor did the Pentagon.

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sure that -- they're very available, and I'm sure they will be glad to --

Q No, they were simply not in town.

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sure they'll be glad to discuss it with you. Again, I'm not familiar with the circumstances, but I'm not sure they are quite the way they were described in the previous question.

Q Can I follow up on Mark's question? Is there a way to uphold the principle and make an exception in this case to meet the commission halfway on what they want?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I think I stated -- Dr. Rice stated our position again last night on 60 Minutes, and that's where it stands. Beyond that, you're asking me to speculate about the possibility of doing something different than that. And our position remains where it is.

Q But Dr. Rice was interviewed Sunday morning. Has there been any discussion with the commission in the interim that might lead to a compromise?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not sure how much -- I mean you obviously heard from the chairman and vice-chairman yesterday on some of the shows, and that they very much welcome the opportunity to have her come back and visit with them. So we appreciate that. But I'm not sure what kind of discussions occurred yesterday afternoon. But again, those discussions are still in the preliminary stages.

Q Scott, does the President now remember that September 12th discussion with Richard Clarke, the pull-aside where Clarke says --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, no, look --

Q Initially you said he didn't remember it.

MR. McCLELLAN: There were some media reports that failed to report everything that we said last week. We pointed out what was recalled, and what the record showed, but at the same time, we made it very clear from the beginning that regardless, of course the President was asking people to explore all possibilities of who might have been responsible for the attacks of September 11th. It was important to have an open mind in the immediate aftermath and to explore all possibilities of who might be responsible.

We said that from the very beginning, yet some media outlets refused to report that part of what we said last week. So the idea that all of a sudden there was a change, we simply said what we said: Regardless of whether or not there was a meeting, let's get to the heart of the matter. And the heart of the matter is that of course in the immediate aftermath of a terrible and tragic attack like that -- like what happened on September 11th, you want to explore all possibilities.

Q But didn't Rice say last evening that there was -- that the President did ask Clarke to pursue whether or not Iraq had a role in 9/11?

MR. McCLELLAN: She was saying that the President thought it was important to explore all possibilities.

Q But didn't you say that the President didn't recollect that meeting?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think she was saying that that -- she was talking about whether or not that meeting happened, she was just saying, look, we'll accept the premise, if that's what you want. We've said that from the beginning, regardless of whether or not that occurred, it was important to explore all possibilities. And some media outlets refused to report that. And I've said that from the very beginning.

Q Some did report it. But regardless, there seemed to be a change in tone in what Dr. Rice said last night. So just to be clear, it's not that anyone's recollection has now changed about that meeting. She's not saying that some sorts of records or some questioning of the President --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I'm not aware of anything different there. But I am -- she did say the same thing that we have said from the beginning: of course the President was asking people to explore all possibilities.

Q Is there any reaction to the news that Israel's top prosecutor wants to indict Sharon?

MR. McCLELLAN: That's an internal matter for Israel.

Anything else? All right. Enjoy the rest of the flight.

END 11:38 A.M. EST

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