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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
April 21, 2004

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

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12:31 P.M. EDT

MR. McCLELLAN: All right. Good afternoon. I want to begin with a statement from me.

On April 24th, the people of Cyprus will make the momentous decision of whether to accept a settlement plan presented by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. This is an historic moment in which, for the first time in decades, the Cypriot people control their own political destiny. Secretary General Annan has blended his wisdom as a great statesman with Cypriot, Greek and Turkish insights, arising from years of negotiations, to formulate a settlement plan that is fair and balanced.

The Annan plan offers a hopeful vision of a peaceful and prosperous future for all Cypriots as citizens of a unified state in the form of a bizonal, bicommunal federation that honors the traditions of its diverse citizens, while forging a common future with the European Union. The settlement, as the Secretary General finalized on March 31st, outlines an equitable compromise in which no party receives everything it seeks, but which satisfies the fundamental requirements of all parties.

The plan foresees the return of over 120,000 Greek Cypriot refugees to their former properties; the reduction of tens of thousands of foreign troops to several hundred; and the enshrinement of human rights and democratic freedoms in a new state with workable governing institutions. These historic achievements are now within reach.

Should the Cypriot people accept the Annan plan on April 24th, they will not stand alone. The United States and its partners in the European Union have already pledged more than $800 million to ensure implementation of the settlement. More support will be forthcoming. The friends of Cyprus around the world are thus extending heartfelt encouragement for the people of Cyprus to make the decision of a lifetime on April 24th in favor of peace, prosperity and unity with the European and transatlantic families.

And with that, I will be glad to go to your questions.

Q Chuck Hagel says you need $50 billion to $70 billion more to pay for Iraq operations this year. Are you going to be requesting this money?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Steve, as the President said as recently as last week in his news conference, he is committed to making sure our troops have everything they need to do their job. That's why we worked to pass the $87 billion wartime supplemental last year, specifically for making sure our troops in Iraq had the equipment and resources they needed to do their job.

If they need additional resources, as the President has said, they will get those resources. The President's commitment to our troops is solid and steadfast. He will not hesitate when it comes to making sure our troops have everything they need to do their job.

However, the President looks to the commanders in the theater to make the determinations of what is needed for our troops. They're the ones who are in the best position to look at circumstances on the ground and determine what is needed. And we have received assurances from Pentagon officials that the resources they have at this time are more than enough to meet their needs. However, we will continue to always look closely at circumstances on the ground and look to what the commanders are saying to make sure that they have the resources they need.

Q Scott, Senator Hagel also talked about the idea -- the need for more troops, perhaps speaking to the notion of reinstating the draft. What's the President's position on reinstating the draft?

MR. McCLELLAN: John, that's not something that's been under consideration.

Q Is it something that the President keeps in the back of his mind, though, that he may have to do at some point?

MR. McCLELLAN: As I said earlier today, it's just not something that's been under consideration.

Q Is he ruling it out categorically?

MR. McCLELLAN: John, it's not something that's under consideration. That's the way I would describe it.

Q Scott, the price tag today is going up. General Myers said today it's going to cost $700 million to keep those 20,000 troops on their 90-day extended deployment. Can you just flatly rule out, yes or no, whether you'll ask for more money this year for Iraq operations?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think that the Director of our Office of Management and Budget has spoken to this issue previously and talked about that at some point, we will need an additional supplemental for Iraq. And again, we will continue to listen to our commanders in the theater to determine what is needed, going forward.

Q So you're keeping the door open to asking for more money this year?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we've always said that there would be -- at some point, there would be a need for an additional supplemental in Iraq. And again, we will make those determinations based on what our commanders in the field say. But what we have said previously still stands at this point, and I think the Pentagon officials have said that at this time, they have more than adequate funding to meet their needs.

Q What's the status of the standoff in Fallujah? Is that offer still on the table? Because no heavy weapons have been turned in by insurgents.

MR. McCLELLAN: I think those are questions that are best directed to the coalition in Iraq, and they can address those questions on what the latest is. Obviously, Secretary Rumsfeld spoke yesterday about the importance of an Iraqi-centered solution when it comes to Fallujah, and that's what we've been working to find.

Q Do you know if he told the President today about that?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't read out those meetings that he has with the President, but those are meetings that he has on a regular basis with them. And those questions would be best directed to the coalition.

Suzanne, you had something.

Q Yes, just to follow up on Scott's question. The Pentagon has said it's costing $4.7 billion a month, and again, an extra $700 million to keep those 20,000 extra forces. And they don't know how many new troops they're going to need for how long. You're saying that you would seek an additional supplemental before January 2005, if necessary?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, what we have said previously, that we do not expect one this year. However, we always look to the commanders in the theater to make those determinations in terms of what the troops need to complete their work and do their job.

Q So if they seek those funds, you will go ahead and ask for additional --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Suzanne, it really depends on circumstances on the ground. It depends on what the commanders in the theater say in terms of whether or not additional funding would be needed sooner. So far what we have heard is that they have more than enough funding to do their job.

Q Scott, can I clear something up just on the money here? When you talked about this year, are you talking calendar year, or fiscal year?

MR. McCLELLAN: The Office of Management and Budget Director has said this year, and that's what he has said --

Q He's talking fiscal year then?

MR. McCLELLAN: -- and you should look back -- you should look back at his remarks.

Go ahead.

Q But hang on. But what he's saying --

MR. McCLELLAN: John, I just said look back at his remarks. That's what I would point you back to.

Go ahead.

Q Though it's a fairly small number, relatively, does the U.S. intend to replace the troops, the coalition troops who have now announced that they're leaving?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that -- again, and if you go back to what we said earlier in the week, the President regretted the decision by the new leader in Spain to withdraw those troops, and he stressed that it was important that it be done in a coordinated and responsible fashion, working with the other coalition partners. And I think that in terms of troop levels and things of that nature, those are military questions that are best directed to the military leaders in the region.

Q Yes, but you've got several other nations who are now following suit. And I just wonder if --

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, those are questions best directed to the military leaders. And they can talk to -- and, first of all, I disagree with several -- the term several other nations. The coalition in Iraq is strong. We have received a number of statements reaffirming support for the work that is ongoing to help the Iraqi people realize a free and peaceful future. There are many nations that are part of this coalition, and that are committed to making sure the Iraqi people realize a free and peaceful future.

We're moving forward on the transfer of sovereignty. The United Nations is playing a vital role in the political process, in helping to set up an interim representative government that will serve until the time of the elections. There's also the United Nations mission in Iraq that is helping to move forward on the timetable for elections beginning next January. So this is about helping the Iraqi people realize a better and brighter future.

Countries, obviously, have to make their own decision. But we are pleased by the strong statements of support from many of the coalition partners, and we remain in close contact with the coalition. Secretary Powell has spoken with many of the coalition partners who have reaffirmed their resolve to see this through.

Q On the funding issue, I just want to make sure I understand what you're saying. Obviously, we're leaving more troops there than we intended to. The fighting has been more serious than we anticipated. Obviously the burn rate on what we're spending there is moving substantially faster than anyone would have anticipated when you got the supplemental sometime ago. So you're saying that if it continues in this way, and if it's necessary, you would, indeed, seek additional money, as required.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, those are decisions that are best made by the commanders in the theater, because they're the ones on the ground that can look at the circumstances and events on the ground and make those determinations. I think it totally depends on circumstances on the ground, and it depends on the security forces -- the security situation moving forward.

Q No, I know, but what we're saying is, the circumstances on the ground are obviously more expensive than you planned when you sought the supplemental. So we're simply saying, is it reasonable to assume that if you continue to spend money at a much faster rate, as you are now --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, but, see, what we want to do is look to the commanders in the field; not speculate about it, but make sure that we're constantly in contact with our commanders in the theater, and ask them if they have everything they need. That's what the President does almost all the time when he's in a National Security Council meeting -- do you have everything you need; are you getting all the resources you need? And that's what he will continue to do.

Q So the White House has a pretty passive role in this -- you just wait for them to tell you if you they need more, and then you say yes?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I disagree with that characterization, because we're always -- the President had a National Security Council meeting earlier today. He is always in close contact with his commanders in the theater and with the leaders at the Pentagon, from General Myers to Secretary Rumsfeld, to discuss these issues. And the President's responsibility is to make sure that they have everything they need to carry out their mission and complete their work. And he will always be asking the question, do you have what you need, based on the circumstances on the ground. And so that's why he looks to the commanders in the theater to make those determinations, because they're the ones in the best position to do that.

Q And none of them have said they need more.

MR. McCLELLAN: At this point, we have been told that they have more than adequate funding and resources to do their job. But it's questions that we constantly ask and we constantly look at those matters.

Q Can I ask one more on that? Is the President at all concerned, as has been suggested on Capitol Hill, that bringing up the funding issue again with the supplemental will cause a political problem for him during a --

MR. McCLELLAN: That's not the way he looks at it, Keith. The way he looks at it is what our troops need, and when do they need it, and let's make sure that they have it. As you heard him say last week in his news conference: "My message to our troops is, we will stay the course and complete the job, and you'll have what you need. America's armed forces are performing brilliantly, with all the skill, and honor we expect of them. We're constantly reviewing their needs. Troop strength, now and in the future, is determined by the situation on the ground. If additional forces are needed, I will send them. If additional resources are needed, we will provide them. The people of our country are united behind our men and women in uniform, and this government will do all that is necessary to assure the success of their historic mission." That's the President's words from just last week, and he has repeatedly said that.

Q Can I follow up?

MR. McCLELLAN: John, I've already taken your questions. Jacobo.

Q No, but this is on the same topic.

MR. McCLELLAN: Jacobo.

Q On the question Jim asked, you said the President is regrets the decision taken by Spain. Both Honduras and the Dominican Republic, as announced yesterday, were under Spanish command.

MR. McCLELLAN: That's right, they were under the command of the Spanish forces.

Q How does the President feel about Honduras and the Dominican Republic making their decision?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, certainly, we regret that decision. This is about helping the Iraqi people realize a better future. And this is about helping the Iraqi people realize a free and peaceful future. And this is a time of testing, when the enemies of freedom are seeking to derail the transition to sovereignty and the transition to democracy. It's important that we stay the course and help the Iraqi people, as we work to transfer sovereignty and build a free and democratic future for the Iraqi people. And that's exactly what we will continue to do. The enemies of freedom want to spread fear and chaos and they want to intimidate. But the coalition is strong and we will continue to work to help the Iraqi people.

Q Besides regretting, how does the President feel? Does he feel this is a political blow to the coalition?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President believes that the resolve and the will of the coalition is strong, and the President appreciates the statements from coalition nations reaffirming their commitment to help the Iraqi people build a free and peaceful future.

Q King Abdullah of Jordan, as we know, has delayed his visit here to see the President. And Egyptian President Mubarak, in an interview with the French newspaper, Le Monde, today said that Arabs hate Americans now more than any other time, and he cites Iraq, he also cites the President's support for Israel and Prime Minister Sharon's plan regarding withdrawal in parts -- Does the President take these as personal slaps? And does he view these as major roadblocks now on the road map toward peace?

MR. McCLELLAN: Those statements? No, look, the President will continue to communicate what he said last week. We have a unique opportunity to move forward on the road map, which will lead us to the two state vision that the President outlined. This is a unique opportunity for the Palestinian people to realize their hopes and aspirations for a free and viable and democratic state. And the President made it very clear that when it comes to some of the issues that leaders are bringing up, of final status on settlements and issues of refugees, that those are issues that will be decided in negotiations between the parties.

But it's important to look at the reality on the ground and take that into account as we move forward on that. But this is an opportunity to get the process jump-started again and get us moving forward to a Palestinian state.

Q But what about Mubarak's claim, fresh back from a visit to the ranch, he's now really -- these are very strong statements from a man who is supposedly our ally.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think Secretary Powell spoke very eloquently to this yesterday, when he was asked about some of those comments. The United States is working to help the people of the Middle East realize their hopes and aspirations, and realize a future that is built on freedom. The President has talked about how we have a freedom deficit in the Middle East. And the President outlined the Greater Middle East Initiative to support the efforts in the region to move forward on democracy and freedom, and to move forward on efforts to realize a better economic future for all people in the region.

So the President will continue to remain actively engaged in getting the parties in the Middle East peace process back together and moving forward toward the two-state vision. And that's the way he viewed the proposal by Prime Minister Sharon last week, that this is an opportunity to get back to moving forward on the road map. And the President has also talked about expanding trade in the region to help lift up the hopes of the people in the region. And so we will continue to communicate how our efforts are there to support the people in the Middle East so that they can realize a better future.

Q Scott, back on the issue of the supplemental -- when do you say when? This country is right now at a point where financially it can't take more supplementals. And also everyone knows that the need in the Iraqi theater is great, but when do you finally say when? What is the timetable for this to finally say enough is enough, either we have succeeded or we've failed? What is the timetable?

MR. McCLELLAN: We've succeeded for we've failed in what?

Q In Iraq for the reconstruction.

MR. McCLELLAN: We will succeed in Iraq, because the stakes are high, and it's important that we do succeed. The President will continue to stay the course and help the Iraqi people realize a free and peaceful future because a free and peaceful Iraq is key to bringing about greater stability in the Middle East, which has been a dangerous region in the world. And that will lead to a more secure America, and it will lead to a better and safer world. So it's very important work that we're trying to help move forward on in the region.

Q So this process could go on for a very long time. Where does the money come from?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we will always make sure that our troops in the theater have everything they need to do their job.

Q But where does that money come from?

MR. McCLELLAN: And that's why -- well, you can go and look at what we outline in our budget and what we talk about in terms of a supplemental going forward. That's why you set priorities in a budget. And we will always work to make sure that our troops have everything they need to do their job. The President has made that very clear repeatedly.

Terry, you had something.

Q The money gets borrowed, though. Just to follow up, the money is borrowed.

MR. McCLELLAN: Keith, I'm going to try to keep jumping around. The President --

Q -- the money is borrowed --

MR. McCLELLAN: Hang on. I'll follow up with you. But the President is speaking here shortly, so I'm trying to keep jumping around quickly.

Q I'll follow up.

Q Thank you, thank you, Terry.

Q Because it's an excellent question.

Q Thank you. And --

MR. McCLELLAN: We cannot -- we can't not afford to make sure we succeed in Iraq.

Q Let's get a little -- let's try and get a little more specific here. The President, as a responsible Commander-in-Chief, is surely being informed and has reached judgments about what it will take to succeed in Iraq. Don't the American people in an election year, aren't they entitled to have this President level with them specifically about what, in his best judgment as Commander-in-Chief, it will take, it will cost?

MR. McCLELLAN: He did.

Q How long --

MR. McCLELLAN: He did just last week.

Q How much --

MR. McCLELLAN: And he does -- and he does in almost every speech. And he talks about -- he talks about that they will have all the resources they need. We've been very clear, and keeping Congress informed along the way, too, that, look, there's going to be a need for an additional supplemental. But we need to look the circumstances on the ground. We need to base it on the most precise estimates that we can going forward. And that's why we look to commanders in the field to make those determinations.

Q So the Commander-in-Chief --

MR. McCLELLAN: But our -- but the troops --

Q -- who is the responsible political official to the voters, right now he's clueless about how much it will cost? He cannot tell us --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, actually -- actually, our Director of the Office of Management and Budget has talked about this in briefings to members of Congress. I think Pentagon officials are talking to members of Congress again today about those issues, going forward.

Q Can you give us a ballpark figure?

MR. McCLELLAN: I just disagree with that, and --

Q -- $50 billion, $100 billion --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think our Management -- the Director of the Office of Management and Budget has testified in recent months about the needs going forward. And he's talked about those levels. So you can look back at his very comments. But the alternative of not taking this course is something that we cannot let happen. This is too important, and we must stay the course and finish the job in Iraq, and make sure that our troops have all the resources they need to complete their work.

Q Scott, isn't part of staying on the course to actually know what the course is? I mean, there has been a pattern in this administration, from the prewar days, of not telling Congress and the American people in precise terms what was required financially of the deployment.

MR. McCLELLAN: No, we've -- no. Wrong.

Q Again, you're saying, well, whatever the facts are on the ground, whatever the commanders say. Why don't we put a little -- shed a little light on all of this?

MR. McCLELLAN: That's why members involved in the budget process testified before Congress, and go and brief Congress on these issues. I would encourage you to look at their very comments, because I think you're mischaracterizing those very comments, David. Let's be very clear here. This President --

Q You have to refresh us what the numbers are, Scott.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- this President has increased defense spending by records amount, by 35 percent since 2001. In addition to that significant increase in funding to meet our defense needs, the President has worked to pass supplementals totaling $164 billion for the Pentagon to wage the war on terrorism. This is about winning the war on terrorism. And this is the highest priority for this country, because it goes directly to the safety and the security of the American people. So I think we need to be clear in looking back at exactly what has been said and what we anticipate going forward.

Q That's non-responsive.

MR. McCLELLAN: Sure, it is.

Q No one is questioning whether or not we need the money, and whether it's not a valuable goal. But the question is, what is the money? You've just given me, it's $164 billion in what supplementals he's asked for in the past --

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, and that $87 billion wartime supplemental was very important to making sure our troops had the resources they needed going into this year and going forward. And we said we were going to be coming back with a supplemental at some point, and that we would look at the needs from the commanders in the theater to make a determination, a precise determination of what those needs would be.

Q We still don't know what the needs are?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think our Director of the Office of Management and Budget has spoken before Congress and talked about how -- the range of what we're looking at.

Q Can you tell us what the range is in the near future?

Q Can you just remind us what the range is?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't recall that specific number off the top of my head, but he's talked about that in testimony before Congress. So I think you can go back and look at that.

Q Two part. Scott, you have on more than one occasion noted that Iraqi production of lots of oil has continued uninterrupted, but that this oil belongs to Iraq. And my question: Since U.S. taxpayers are paying many billions of dollars to free Iraq, why shouldn't proceeds from some of that oil go to pay our costs in freeing and rebuilding Iraq?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think that those oil resources will be used to help with their reconstruction. We talked about that when we passed the wartime supplemental.

Q Candidates for President have, for decades, made public all of their medical records, with the exception of Bill Clinton, their military records, and their tax returns, because the American people, in the important job of choosing a President, ought to know all about him or her. My question: Since President Bush has revealed all of these things, does he believe it right for candidate Kerry to insist on concealing the tax returns of his multimillionaire wife, Teresa?

MR. McCLELLAN: Look, Les, I think that that's an issue that the campaign has already addressed. It's been going on since --

Q But what do you think --

MR. McCLELLAN: -- since tax day. The President -- the President is pleased to make his full tax returns available to the public.

Q And he hopes Kerry will, too.

MR. McCLELLAN: He is pleased. He has been doing that for several years while in public office, and he will continue to do so.

Q I have comment and a question. Indian Ambassador to the U.S. had a great praise for the Bush administration, especially for President Bush, for fostering the U.S.-India relations. But he said also that the two democracies have a long way to go, and the administration can do more to work together. Now, the question is, that I was at the U.N. in New York, and I have spoken with several high-level people, including Kofi Annan. At this time, U.N. officials are really scared, or not willing to go to Iraq because of concern of the security. How does international community from the United Nations can be ensured that they are safe in Iraq under the U.S. leadership?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, those are the issues that we've been working to address with the United Nations. Our coalition in Iraq has expressed to them that we stand ready to assist in any way with their security. And those are issues that they've been discussing going forward. We believe the United Nations has a vital role to play in the political process going forward in Iraq, and they are playing an important role now.

Mr. Brahimi's comments just yesterday, saying that he expected that there would be a new resolution soon, is very welcome. That can help encourage more countries to participate when it comes to the -- when it comes time that we transfer sovereignty to the Iraqi people, and that's a welcome development.

Q Scott, you've used the word sovereignty a couple of times here today. You said that the situation is moving forward toward the transfer of sovereignty. Is it really going to be sovereignty, though, on June 30th --

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes.

Q -- under the way that is understood in international law, true sovereignty?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes. That will be an interim representative government. Obviously, on the security side, we've made it very clear that we are going to continue to help provide for the security and stability of Iraq going forward from that date. We will be there to make sure that there is a free and democratic and peaceful Iraq. That is part of our mission in Iraq. But on June 30th that will be the day to transfer sovereignty to an interim representative body that Mr. Brahimi has been talking about. And he's going to be coming back with some more specifics, as he said, in May on that interim representative body.

Q But the U.S. would still, in effect, be the --

MR. McCLELLAN: The Coalition Provisional Authority will cease to exist come that date.

Q But the U.S. will still, in effect, be the police force, the army, and the treasury of Iraq, right?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, no, I think that you have to look at this as working in partnership with Iraqi people. The Iraqi people want to see sovereignty transferred on June 30th. And that's what we have -- that's what we have committed to do, and that's what we will do because this is about helping the Iraqi people realize a brighter future.

And so we are going to continue working with Iraqi leaders. And we'll continue partnering with the Iraqi people to provide for their security and to help with their reconstruction, and to help move forward on the economic front, as well. There's a lot of important progress we're making. Obviously, these have been some tough times recently. But our resolve will not be shaken by a relatively small number of thugs and terrorists and Saddam loyalists who seek to derail --

Q But aren't these Iraqis defending their own land?

MR. McCLELLAN: -- who seek to derail this process.

Thank you. I've got to go.

END 1:00 P.M. EDT