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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
April 1, 2004

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

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*** Military Options in al Qaeda plan

1:25 P.M. EST

MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon. I want to begin with some phone calls the President made earlier today. The President discussed the Cyprus settlement presented by Secretary General Annan yesterday with the Secretary General this morning, the Greek Prime Minister Costas Karmanlis and Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan. The leaders agreed that Secretary General Annan's plan outlines a compromise in which no party receives everything it seeks, but meets the core interest of all parties. The fate of this historic agreement is now in the hands of the Cypriot people, who will vote on the settlement in referendum on both sides of Cyprus on April 24th. The President underscored our readiness to do everything we can to support the Cypriot people as they move to take advantage of this historic opportunity.

And that's all I have. And with that, I'll go to your questions. Helen, go ahead.

Q When is the President going to hold a news conference? He has not tackled any of these issues in an overall news conference, full-scale, since last December 15th. Isn't it about time that we had a time -- chance, that is, to question?

MR. McCLELLAN: I appreciate your question, and I always try to work to accommodate your needs.

Q Well, is there any possibility of having one --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there's nothing I'm announcing today. But I understand your question and I will certainly take it into consideration.

Q Is it a difficult question?

MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead.

Q Obviously you would have told us just now if the President had made phone calls on OPEC. Is there any new outreach to report today, countries that don't already agree with the need to not cut production -- Kuwait, UAE already agreed with us.

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me just continue to reiterate that we remain actively engaged in discussions with our friends in OPEC, as well as non-OPEC producers around the world. We will continue to make our views known. The President certainly makes his views known when he meets with world leaders and when he talks with world leaders. High-level administration officials from Dr. Rice to Secretary Powell to Secretary Abraham are always in close contact with producers around the world to make our views known. And we will continue to do so.

Q You'll let us know, then, if there is any fresh outreach today, as you did yesterday afternoon?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, I'll keep you posted if any more calls come to my attention.

Q Is Hastert tilting the wrong way on limiting tax cuts? Have you heard anything about that?

MR. McCLELLAN: What are you specifically referring to?

Q The Senate wants to limit the tax cuts. The House appeared to be maybe tilting that way, too, Hastert said today. Have you heard anything about it?

MR. McCLELLAN: What do you mean by, limit the tax cuts?

Q They want to limit the scope of tax cuts over the long haul. That's what the Senate --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, if you're talking about the budget process, we're continuing to work closely with Congress on the budget resolution. We're pleased that Congress has worked to make sure that the budget resolution meets our important priorities, from winning the war on terrorism to protecting the homeland, to strengthening our economy. And it restrains spending elsewhere, and it makes sure that we do not raise taxes this year. That's very important. The President believes we need to make all the tax cuts permanent to provide certainty for the American people and for small businesses and for entrepreneurs, so that they can plan and they can spend and save and invest.

Q Scott, in the speech that Dr. Rice was to have given on September 11th, that she ultimately did not give, is it accurate to say that the emphasis in that speech, when it came to dealing with counter-terrorism, was on weapons of mass destruction, on rogue regimes, state-sponsored terrorism, instead of al Qaeda. And if that's the case, why is it unfair to conclude that that reflected the sort of emphasis in the counterterrorism policy-making in the White House, that -- which is to say, emphasis on state-sponsored terror, not on the likes of al Qaeda?

MR. McCLELLAN: Because it was one speech, David. That's why. I mean, you're talking about one speech. I think you need to look at the actions and concrete steps that we were taking to confront the threat of terrorism. On September 11th, I might remind you that the President was scheduled to give a speech on education. That doesn't take away from the fact that we were acting to confront the threat of terrorism, which we took very seriously prior to September 11th. And certainly, September 11th, when war was declared on the United States, it changed the equation. And we continue to take it very seriously to this day, and that's evident by the actions that this President has taken to take the fight to the enemies.

But this administration doesn't measure commitment based on one speech or one conference call or one meeting. We look at the sum total of the strong actions that we take.

Q Okay, well, if you want to look at the sum total, then we can certainly, together, go through the statements that were made that summer -- we were all around, covering these issues, and missile defense was, indeed, a priority. Dismantling the ABM Treaty was, indeed, a priority. What we're not privy to is to what extent that was emphasized over eliminating al Qaeda. So what I'm getting at, to brush it off as just one speech -- this was a statement about the real national security threats going forward.

MR. McCLELLAN: I disagree with the way you characterize things, first of all. Al Qaeda and the threat of terrorism was a top priority for this administration prior to September 11th. We took the threat very seriously. Look at the action that we took the very first -- or, the first major foreign policy directive of this administration was a plan to eliminate al Qaeda. That was the first major foreign policy --

Q That directive was on the books essentially since December of 2000?

MR. McCLELLAN: That was the first major foreign policy directive. No, you're wrong on that.

Q Really?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, you're wrong.

Q How so?

MR. McCLELLAN: You're wrong. Again, there were a lot of ideas that had been previously discussed, but the previous administration had not acted on some of those ideas. The plan to eliminate al Qaeda was something the President directed this administration to pursue when we came into office. Remember, this is the President who said, "I'm tired at swatting at flies." And he directed the administration to pursue a comprehensive plan to eliminate al Qaeda.

When we came into office, we looked at some of the ideas that were being discussed. We certainly continued some of the policies that were already in place when it came to terrorism -- immediately upon coming into office. We also looked at some of the other ideas that had been discussed, but never been decided on, going back all the way to 1998. Some of those ideas, we found, were very helpful to confronting the threat. We also thought that in some areas that we could do more to better confront the threat of terrorism. We worked to increased the counterterrorism budget. We worked to provide aid to Uzbekistan, to begin taking a more aggressive approach to the threat of terrorism. We worked to develop new relations with Pakistan, as we were working to address the problem of the Taliban regime and the safe harbor they provided to al Qaeda. So that was all in the works during that time.

I might also point out that this President reconstituted daily meetings with the Director of Central Intelligence, where the Director of Central Intelligence personally came in and briefed him on a daily basis on the threats. And there were many occasions, well more than 40, where certainly the Director of Central Intelligence was briefing him about terrorism prior to September 11th, in person. So I think you have to look at the sum total.

Q A couple things. First, I just wanted to associate myself with Helen's request here. There are a lot --

MR. McCLELLAN: Anybody else? Anybody? Okay.

Q It would be great to hear from the President.

MR. McCLELLAN: Okay, we will do one later today. Oh, April Fool's, I'm sorry. (Laughter.)

Q But, substantively, the President said he didn't want to swat at flies. He also told Bob Woodward that he didn't have a sense of urgency about al Qaeda. Is that a fair description from his own mouth?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think some of what you're referencing is talking about bin Laden. Certainly the threat of terrorism is not one person. We recognize the threat of terrorism was broader than any one person, that we needed to go after this al Qaeda network and have a more aggressive approach to eliminating al Qaeda. The threat from al Qaeda and terrorism was a high priority for this administration prior to coming into office; it was a threat we took very seriously.

And September 11th is a day that terrorists declared war on the United States of America. And the war is exactly what they got, as the President points out. September 11th changed the equation. September 11th taught us that we must confront threat before they gather, before it's too late. And this President's commitment is to make sure we win the war on terrorism. And he is doing that by taking the fight to the enemy and bringing them to justice before they can carry out their attacks.

Q But hadn't al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, personally, already declared war on the United States in a Fatwa in 1998, in acts of war against our embassies in Africa, and against a U.S. Naval vessel. And I wonder, was there any action taken by the White House, by the administration, to have military -- a military response to al Qaeda before September 11th?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, there were military options as part of the -- as part of the plan. We've already discussed that. Dr. Rice discussed that in an op-ed she sent to a paper recently, and we've discussed that in other ways, as well.

Q There were military options --

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes.

Q -- before the President, before September 11th?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, as part of the comprehensive plan to eliminate al Qaeda. We've made that very clear. What was the first part of your question?

Q Well, let me just ask the question that might be on a lot of people's minds. You said this was the first foreign policy initiative --

MR. McCLELLAN: And you did point out -- at the beginning of your question, you did point out that these threats didn't happen overnight, that they had been developing for some time, that certainly, there were attacks back on the World Trade Center in 1993, there were attacks on embassies back in '98, and certainly, the USS Cole in October of 2000. We cannot forget that these threats were happening for quite some time, and when this administration came in, we made a commitment to pursue a comprehensive policy to eliminate al Qaeda. And that was in the works prior to September the 11th.

Q And just one question, and then I'll yield the floor, which is, a lot of people might wonder, if this was the first thing the President decided to do, why did it take so long to get it done, and was there a lack of a sense of urgency?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know that I would agree with that characterization. One, as I said, we were pursuing the policies in place already of the previous administration. We kept some of the counterterrorism team in place. We were pursuing policies that were already in place. We also started to look at ideas that had been discussed but never been decided upon, and we started pursing some of those ideas and changing our policy in other ways to better confront the threat from terrorism. And as I said, the President directed the administration to pursue a comprehensive policy to eliminate al Qaeda, as well.

David.

Q Just pursuing, for a moment, Terry's -- actually on something different. When you say there was a military plan, was it a -- what the Pentagon would call a plan, which is a written plan of action and a theory of how you would go do this, or was there simply a statement that we need to develop such a plan --

MR. McCLELLAN: This is about going after targets related to the Taliban and al Qaeda targets. So that's what the military --

Q To eliminate --

MR. McCLELLAN: David, I didn't bring the plan out here with me to go through it today. But I think we've already made it clear, and Dr. Rice made it clear, and she will continue to talk to the 9/11 Commission about these issues, as well.

Q Okay, so what you're saying is that it was more than --

MR. McCLELLAN: He asked if there were military options that were part of the plan, and yes, there were.

Q Okay, so it's more than just an intention to develop those options, there were plans on the table?

MR. McCLELLAN: That was part of the plans, to have military options to go after al Qaeda and eliminate al Qaeda as part of a comprehensive strategy.***

Q The second question, Scott, I had for you is, yesterday when the President spoke late in the afternoon at the fundraiser, he talked about Iraq briefly, but he made no statement about those quite horrific scenes we all saw yesterday, and that you addressed yesterday. Since this was a day of rather extraordinary American casualties yesterday, I was wondering, what goes into the thinking that when you have the President comment on the events that happen on the ground in Iraq, and when you have days like yesterday where he simply stays away from it?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think the President talked about the situation in Iraq. He talked about in his remarks how we will not be intimidated, that we will continue to stay the course, and we will finish the job. There are certainly areas of Iraq that remain dangerous. But we will not be deterred by these cowardly, hateful acts. These were despicable attacks, and this administration will continue, working closely with the coalition, and the international community, and the Iraqi people, to help the Iraqi people realize a better future built on democracy and freedom.

Go ahead, April.

Q Scott, following off on Terry's question and another question, with all of these horrific incidents that happened through the hands of al Qaeda, and the American public is aware of that, why not put al Qaeda in that speech and make it part of the sum total, if America understood and knew?

MR. McCLELLAN: First of all, there was a discussion of counterterrorism in those remarks.

Q But not al Qaeda. Al Qaeda attacked America on -- away from American soil, but why not put it in?

MR. McCLELLAN: April, we're talking about one speech here. And look at the actions and steps that we were taking prior to September 11th. I think that's what you need to look at to measure our commitment to addressing this high priority. There are obviously -- she's the National Security Advisor, April. She's responsible for overseeing our efforts to implement the important priorities of this administration when it comes to foreign policy. And certainly, there are a number of important priorities on our foreign policy agenda -- whether it's terrorism; whether it's going after rogue states, or confronting rogue states that seek weapons of mass destruction or have weapons of mass destruction; whether it's addressing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; or missile defense, or other priorities. You need to keep in mind that --

Q They previously killed Americans.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- you need to keep in mind that it's not necessarily an either/or proposition here. These aren't mutually exclusive. Confronting one can help us address the other.

Q Okay, on the subject, on OPEC. Reverend Jesse Jackson was asking that this administration look at other resources in the wake of OPEC cutting its production. He's saying since America -- since the White House is dealing with having a partnership with Africa, with all these democracies there, and it's an oil-rich, mineral-rich nation -- or continent -- why not go to Africa and try to work out something in the long-term, maybe build infrastructures in some countries to help with our problem here.

MR. McCLELLAN: That's assuming we're not looking at some of those ideas. But, obviously, there are producers beyond OPEC that we stay in close contact with. But I think what he ought to do is urge Congress to pass the President's comprehensive national policy so that we can reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy, so we don't continue to go through this issue year after year. That's what he ought to do.

Q Scott, can I clarify something you just said before it gets too far away?

Q To follow up on April's question about the one speech, you say it's just one speech. You obviously believe that the excerpts don't accurately reflect the priorities of the administration when it comes to fighting terrorism. Why not just release the full text?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think -- well, I already addressed that issue earlier. I don't think one meeting or one conference call or one speech necessarily reflects our commitment. I think if you look at the actions and steps that we took, that reflects our commitment. And we acted and we took concrete steps to confront this threat.

Q Why not release the full text to give us the context in which those --

MR. McCLELLAN: I've already addressed that issue, Suzanne. We went through it earlier today and it stands where it is.

Q Did the 9/11 Commission, do they want access to that text?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, if they want to talk to us about issues like that, they're welcome to do that. We work with them very closely.

Q If I can just clarify something you said in answer to David's question -- it was almost the last thing you said. You said, part of the plan was to have military options. Did you mean that you didn't have the military options, but that part of the plan was to have them, or did you --

MR. McCLELLAN: What do you mean, didn't have? Military options -- part of the plan was military options.

Q So it's not true to say that part of the plan was to have military options.

MR. McCLELLAN: They included military options. The plan included military options.

Q It included already formulated military options?

MR. McCLELLAN: That was part of the development of the strategy, the comprehensive strategy.

Q So just to make sure, so those military options were written out, they were in place?

MR. McCLELLAN: It included military options, John. We've addressed this.

Q Two questions on al Qaeda. First of all, before 9/11, were there any steps taken to freeze the money as there were steps taken after 9/11 that made the link to al Qaeda?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think there's -- I mean, you look at our counterterrorism budget, which a lot of it, obviously, is highly classified, but there are steps taken in a number of different areas. Certainly there is a recognition that the threat from terrorism cannot just be continued to be addressed through law enforcement or through launching a few cruise missiles. You need to have a more comprehensive strategy. And as you know, cracking down on terrorist financing is an important front in the war on terrorism.

Q And number two, on Uzbekistan. One of the leaders in Uzbekistan has said that they think that today's bombing was related to al Qaeda. Are we providing any support now to Uzbekistan?

MR. McCLELLAN: We work closely with them in the war on terrorism.

Q Scott, on another topic for a moment. We haven't asked for a while about the North Korean situation. What do you expect from the next round of talks with North Korea, and when? And has the U.S. gotten any closer to the South Korean people in light of the impeachment of the South Korean President?

MR. McCLELLAN: Have we gotten any what?

Q Closer to the South Korean people in light of --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think South Korea has made it very clear that they're going to continue to work closely with us on the shared priorities that we have and the shared challenges that we have.

In terms of North Korea, our view is very clear. One, there hasn't been a set timetable for the next round of discussions, but North Korea needs to commit to dismantling, in an irreversible and verifiable way, its nuclear weapons program. That's our view. We've made that view very clearly known. And we are working through the multilateral process. I think it's a view shared by the other nations, as well, to -- the parties to this. Certainly they are committed to a nuclear-free peninsula. And we will continue working through the multilateral process to bring about a diplomatic solution to the situation.

Q Scott, David Broder in The Washington Post takes the President to task for allowing Condoleezza Rice to testify publicly before the 9/11 Commission, and he suggests that instead the President, himself, testify publicly. Would the President consider that?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President is taking an extraordinary step to sit down and meet with all 10 members of the commission, and he looks forward to sitting down with them and answering whatever questions they have. And we are working on scheduling that time with the commission as we speak.

Q Scott, on that point, if I may. Where are you in the preparations -- for the President and Vice President to testify? And would you anticipate that that would be here or on Capitol Hill?

MR. McCLELLAN: Nothing to announce at this point. And when that is all firm and we get to that point, we will then have more to say to you at that point.

Q And what about Condi's testimony?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think I'll leave it to the commission to address that further.

Q One other thing, if I may. I take it the U.S. is now in favor of a new U.N. resolution regarding the mandate in Iraq? Is that something the U.S. will introduce, or simply support?

MR. McCLELLAN: We've said -- well, one, there are three previous resolutions, which we believe provide for the international efforts going on in Iraq now to support the Iraqi people. And we've always said that when it comes time for the transfer of sovereignty, that we were certainly open to looking at another resolution if needed.

Q But you would want that, obviously, before the transfer of sovereignty because some of the other nations that are participating in Iraq want a new U.N. mandate. So I gather --

MR. McCLELLAN: Remember, 1511 though, we believe, provided the authority necessary for countries to provide support for the efforts underway in Iraq.

Q I know what you believe, but what you believe is -- in a sense, is beside the point, because it's really something that the other countries are asking for in order to maintain their presence in Iraq, which we obviously want to do. Then I gather the U.S. has now decided that it will, in fact, support -- perhaps even help push a new U.N. resolution.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we've said that, yes, we will look at another resolution. Certainly, other countries have expressed an interest in that. And so that's where it stands. But obviously it's very early right now in that process. So we'll continue to work with other countries at the U.N. as we move forward. Certainly, we believe the United Nations also has a vital role to play as we move forward on transferring sovereignty, and conducting elections, and the drafting of the constitution in the Iraq.

Q Scott --

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes.

Q One question on Taiwan: Does the United States recognize Taiwan as a country? And secondly, the leader of Taiwan has been talking to international media that Taiwan is actually a sovereign country. And the Pentagon yesterday you showed some arms sales, is that rewarding --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, our policy remains the same when it comes to Taiwan, and certainly, we are working for peace and stability across the Straits there. And the three communiqu -- that is our policy.

Q Scott?

MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead.

Q Has the Commander-in-Chief asked why, if all those cameramen in Fallujah were able to picture the bodies of four of our fellow Americans being burned, dragged through the streets, and hanged on a bridge, why our troops were not there to imprison or to shoot the creatures who did this? And I have a follow-up.

MR. McCLELLAN: Les, I'm confident that those people will be brought to justice, that those thugs will be brought to justice.

Q Reuters quotes Mohammad Nafik as saying, "This is the fate of all Americans who come to Fallujah." And my question is, why hasn't he or any of the rest of those celebrating mobs been either arrested or shot, or have they?

MR. McCLELLAN: Les, I'm confident that appropriate action will be taken to bring these thugs --

Q But none have so far.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- to bring these -- to bring these thugs to justice. These were despicable, horrific attacks. And it was inexcusable the way those individuals were treated.

Q I agree, but have any of them been arrested or shot? Any?

MR. McCLELLAN: Les, I'm not going to get into discussion any military operations or planning from this podium. I will say that I'm confident those individuals will be brought to justice for these horrific, despicable attacks.

Q Scott, the President today will sign the Unborn Victims Act into law. Critics of this particular piece of legislation say it's -- it heralds a new attempt or it is part of an ongoing attempt by the administration to chip away at Roe v. Wade. What do you say to that?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I say this is legislation that enjoyed broad bipartisan support. It has strong support among the American people. This is an important piece of legislation where a federal law will now recognize that when a crime is committed against a pregnant woman, that there are two victims. The President looks forward to signing this legislation. This legislation reaffirms our commitment to building a culture of life in America. And the legislation is appropriately referred to for the tragic killing of the Peterson --

Q What -- can you say anything to calm the concerns of the -- of pro-abortion groups and others that this is chipping away --

MR. McCLELLAN: The President looks forward to meeting with the families of Laci and Conner Peterson before signing this legislation. What this legislation is focused on is making sure that federal crime recognizes what I think so many people recognize, that when a crime is committed against a pregnant woman, that there are two victims. And federal law will now appropriately recognize that fact.

Q But is that bill necessary?

MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Jeff.

Q I'd like to comment on the angry mob that surrounded Karl Rove's house on Sunday. They chanted and pounded on the windows until the D.C. police and Secret Service were called in. The protest was organized by the National People's Action Coalition, whose members receive taxpayer funds, as well as financial support from groups including Theresa Heinz Kerry's Tides Foundation.

MR. McCLELLAN: I would just say that, one, we appreciate and understand concerns that people may have. I would certainly hope that people would respect the families of White House staff.

Q Why weren't any of these people arrested?

MR. McCLELLAN: Les, you've had your questions.

Q No, no, no --

MR. McCLELLAN: Les, you've had your questions.

Q Why weren't they arrested, Scott?

MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Alex.

Q I wanted to ask a couple of questions about how much the President pushed certain members of OPEC. And the reason why is not to blind-side you, as the Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia said, they received no communication from the U.S. prior to the meeting that the U.S. did not want that production cut to go into effect.

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know that's exactly what he said. But we certainly have been in contact with Saudi Arabia previously.

Q And the second question, have you expressed to the Saudi government the disappointment? Because he said he's hearing it through the press, not through the State Department or other official --

MR. McCLELLAN: We expressed publicly our disappointment in the decision, and we will continue to stay in close contact with our friends in OPEC, as we have been since the decision. And we will continue to stay in close contact with other producers around the world, as well. It's important that markets set prices. That's our view.

Finlay.

Q Consenting abortions are allowed under this bill, aren't they?

Q Scott --

MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Finlay.

Q Women who consent to an abortion -- this is allowed --

MR. McCLELLAN: Les, I understand you would like another question, but you've had your turn. Let me go to Finlay.

Q Scott, does the administration at this point now have a response to the ruling yesterday at the International Court of Justice?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, it's something that's kind of a lengthy ruling, and we just received it. And we will be reviewing it. It's a very complex

ruling. There are many issues that were addressed in that ruling. I would note that the court did reject many of the remedies that Mexico had sought. And remember, this case concerns more than 50 individuals in a number of states, so we'll be taking a very careful review of the decision.

Q Does the administration agree with the view of the Governor of Texas that treaty law does not apply to --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think, one, we've just had an opportunity to start looking at this ruling. Let us review this decision, and then we can have more to say at that point.

Q Thank you, Scott.

MR. McCLELLAN: Thanks.

END 1:53 P.M. EST

*** The NSPD called on the Secretary of Defense to plan for military options "against Taliban targets in Afghanistan, including leadership, command-control, air and air defense, ground forces, and logistics." The NSPD also called for plans "against al Qida and associated terrorist facilities in Afghanistan, including leadership, command-control-communications, training, and logistics facilities."