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

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 14, 2004

Press Gaggle by Scott McClellan
Aboard Air Force One
En Route St. Louis, Missouri

11:41 A.M. EDT

MR. McCLELLAN: Okay, good morning. The President taped his radio address before we left. It will be an update on Iraq. Then he had his usual briefings. Then he met briefly with the foreign ministers from the G8 who are in town. Secretary Powell is meeting with them the rest of the morning. I think in the early afternoon they have a press conference, I think a joint press conference, at 3:30 p.m. this afternoon over at the State Department.

And the Freedom Corps greeter upon arrival is the Reverend Mark Reyling. He is a Catholic priest in Illinois who volunteers with the Cahokia Illinois Volunteer Fire Department, as well as the local police department. Then the President will make remarks at a Victory 2004 luncheon. Then we go to -- that's all in Bridgeton, Missouri, is where the remarks will be made.

Q Bridgeton?

MR. McCLELLAN: Bridgeton. From there, we go to Milwaukee, where the Freedom Corps greeter will be Rebecca Haupt. She volunteers with the Volunteers Outreach in Christian Enthusiasm, or VOICE, is the acronym, program, at Concordia, and they help organize students to participate in volunteer activities. I think they do that on a regular, weekly basis.

And then the President looks forward to making remarks at Concordia -- at the Concordia University commencement. The focus of his remarks will be on compassion. I expect the President will talk to the students about how they can help build a more compassionate society. And I think specifically he'll talk about how they can do that by working to fight poverty and despair and helping those in need, working to build a culture of life, and demonstrating our goodwill to the rest of the world by helping those in need beyond our borders. And so I think that will be kind of the general themes of his remarks.

That's all I've got.

Q Is he going to hold up parts of his own agenda, I assume, on compassion, too?

MR. McCLELLAN: He may touch on some it, but I think it will be kind of broad, some broad themes. I think he may touch on some of that.

Q Can I ask you whether the President accepts the CIA's conclusion that Zarqawi is behind the beheading of Berg?

MR. McCLELLAN: Typically, we look to the intelligence community to make those assessments. And the intelligence community has said that it's a high probability that it was al-Zarqawi who was in the video. I think it shows that the terrorists recognize how high the stakes are in Iraq. We will pursue those terrorists and bring them to justice. There is simply no justification for such brutal acts against innocent civilians. And they will not prevail. They will be -- the terrorists will be defeated.

Q What does it tell you about Zarqawi, what he's trying to do; what he's trying to --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think we saw that in the letter that was intercepted that he was sending to other terrorists. And he recognizes that when we prevail in Iraq, that that will be a major blow for the terrorists. And that's why building a free and peaceful Iraq is critical to winning the war on terrorism. And we will continue to stay on the offensive and go after those terrorists who are in Iraq and defeat them.

Q Is he trying to be the bin Laden of Iraq, was really my question.

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q Is he trying to position himself as the bin Laden of Iraq?

MR. McCLELLAN: He, for a long time, has been known as a dangerous terrorist who is a senior al Qaeda associate. That was well-known before, when he was in Iraq prior to any action being taken. He was responsible for the killing of an American diplomat in Jordan, responsible for overseeing a poison laboratory in Iraq. He will be brought to justice.

Q Scott, is the President aware of Nicholas Berg's father's remark that his son died for the sins of George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld? And if he's aware, what's his response?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think -- I think I spoke to your colleague late last night, I don't know if you saw that -- this is a very difficult time period for the Berg family. This is a time to keep Nicholas Berg's family in our thoughts and prayers. And that's what we intend to do.

Q Has the President spoken to anyone from the Berg family?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you heard him the other day. He publicly expressed his condolences to the entire Berg family. There simply is no justification for the brutal terrorist act that was carried out against Nicholas Berg. He was an innocent civilian in Iraq to help the Iraqi people.

Q So he has no intention of calling the Berg family?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I'll always keep you posted if there's any updates. But he has already publicly expressed his condolences to the family. We extend our deepest condolences to the entire Berg family, and his friends.

Q Can you tell us about Hunter Engineering Company, the site of this fundraiser?

MR. McCLELLAN: We'll try to get you some of that information on the ground. I'll try to find someone for you from the party that's there to get you that information.

Q How much is he raising?

MR. McCLELLAN: We'll get someone on the ground, they'll be there.

Q Any reaction to the FEC ruling on the 527s?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think that the RNC has put out some remarks on it. I think some of the senators who were involved in the campaign finance reform have talked about how they failed to address what is a loophole in the campaign finance law. They failed to address a loophole that allows people to circumvent the intent of the campaign finance reforms. And we had hoped that the FEC would have addressed that matter.

Q Scott, General Latif, in Fallujah, apparently said today that his militia, the Fallujah Brigade, will not disarm the insurgents in Fallujah, and also said that if the United States forces want peace, that they should withdraw. How does that complicate the effort of standing up an Iraqi security force --

MR. McCLELLAN: One, I haven't seen his specific comments. I think that's, obviously, getting into some of the operational details related to the military. And I know that General Kimmitt and the CPA were holding a briefing -- General Kimmitt and the CPA were holding a briefing this morning to talk some about the latest operational activities. So I think I would leave it to them to describe the latest situation. I just don't know the full context of what he said. Obviously, there are ongoing developments on the ground, but we are continuing to patrol jointly with Iraqis in the Fallujah area. And we are continuing to stay on the offensive to go after those who are enemies of freedom, both in Fallujah and Najaf, in the southern part of Iraq.

Q And is the administration willing to work with Congress on the $25 billion funding request, or are you looking for a blank check?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, we have to. But it's important to work closely with Congress to establish this contingency reserve fund. This is important -- this is an important reserve fund, to make sure that there is no disruption, in terms of funding or resources for our troops, going forward in Iraq. And, obviously, it's important to have some flexibility within that funding, to make sure that we can provide our troops with the resources they need, when they need it. Obviously, we want to plan for contingencies that can be affected by circumstances on the ground, particularly the security situation on the ground. And that's what this is about. It should be viewed as an insurance policy to make sure that there is no disruption in funding or resources for our troops going forward, after the fiscal year '04 funds -- after the fiscal year '04 year.

Q About a year ago, April 24th, last year, the President went to Canton, Ohio. He went to the Timken Company. I don't know if you remember the trip, I wasn't on it. He went to a bearings factory, part of the Timken Company, touted his economic plans and talked about jobs and growth. Timken announced today that they're shutting down that plant that the President visited a year ago. I just wonder if that's ironic, that the President touted his economic strategy, doesn't appear to be working?

MR. McCLELLAN: One, I don't know about the report or the circumstances related to the company. But I think it is important to point out that our economy is showing great strength, and continuing to grow stronger. We've had more than 1.1 million jobs -- new jobs created since last August. The unemployment rate is well below the averages of the '70s, '80s and '90s. So the economy is moving in the right direction. Obviously we are also in a changing economy.

And the President believes it's important to push forward on the initiatives he's outlined to make sure workers have the skills they need to fill the jobs of the 21st century. And we must continue to work to move forward on the President's six-point plan to create an even more robust environment for job creation. And we also need to work to make sure that we have an educated workforce, to fill the high-growth jobs of the 21st century.

But the economy is moving in the right direction, and we need to -- because of the actions that the President took. And we will continue to work to create an even more robust environment for job creation.

Q Are you worried about poll numbers in the mid 40s, all-time lows?

MR. McCLELLAN: There are going to be a lot of polls between now and November. The President will continue to talk about our nation's highest priorities, from winning the war on terrorism to strengthening our economy. Because of the tax relief that the President advocated and passed, our economy is growing stronger, as I just mentioned. We are also making important progress in the war on terrorism. There are obviously difficulties that remain as we move forward in Iraq, because the enemies of freedom recognize how high the stakes are in Iraq. But at the same time, it's important that we complete the mission in Iraq, because a free and peaceful Iraq is critical to our efforts in winning the war on terrorism. And the President will continue talking about those. But there will be plenty of polls between now and November. So the President is focused on doing what's right for the American people, and he'll continue to talk about the important priorities that we're pursuing.

Q What's pulling the numbers down, and how do you lift them up again?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sure there will be all sorts of analysis of the poll numbers that come out on a weekly basis now. You always have to take into account current events and developments. But the President is focused on moving forward on his agenda to make America -- to build a stronger, safer and better America.

Q Is he worried that other Presidents who lost reelection -- Carter and his father -- had poll numbers at this level, and that the Presidents who won, Reagan and Clinton --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, again, I mean I think that the campaign, and Matt Dowd, have talked some about -- they've done some of the analysis of the polling. I think you might want to look to some of their comments, because I think that will put it in context.

Q Would you consider sending Karl back, maybe on the next leg? It's an interesting period we're in right now, politically.

MR. McCLELLAN: I'll consider it.

Q Could you ask for us?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'll consider it. I wouldn't expect it today. I would not expect it. Anything else?

Q Do you have any further details of Condoleezza Rice's visit to Germany next week, as far as --

MR. McCLELLAN: In terms of meeting with Prime Minister Qureia?

Q Yes.

MR. McCLELLAN: Nothing more at this point. Obviously, Secretary Powell, I believe, is meeting with Prime Minister Qureia tomorrow, if I recall, and Dr. Rice will be meeting with Prime Minister Qureia on Monday in Germany. She looks forward to talking to him about the importance of the Palestinians seizing this unique opportunity to move forward on the President's two-state vision. The proposal that was put forward by Prime Minister Sharon provides a real opportunity to jump start the road map, that can get us to the two-state solution. And this is a unique moment, where the Palestinian people can realize their aspirations for a viable and democratic state.

Q Scott, one last thing. What is the President's response to the French foreign minister's statement, that French troops will never serve in Iraq, whether alongside the U.S. or under U.N. leadership?

MR. McCLELLAN: One, I think in his brief meeting with the G8 foreign ministers, the President talked about the important mission we're working to accomplish in Iraq. He talked about the importance of putting aside past differences, and all of us working together to help the Iraqi people realize a brighter future; that it is in all of our interests to make sure that there is a free and peaceful Iraq. It will make the world a safer and better place, and it will certainly make America more secure, too.

And the President said he looks forward to our consultations with countries going forward, to pass a new United Nations resolution that will recognize the sovereign interim government in Iraq, and encourage other countries to participate in the efforts going on there. So there is a strong coalition participating on the ground in Iraq right now. And we look forward to continuing to talk to other countries about how we can work together on what is a shared priority for all of us.

Q Did you say, "democratic Iraq," or did you just -- I didn't hear what you said.

MR. McCLELLAN: I think, free and peaceful, but, democratic, yes, free; interchangeable.

Q But what was his reaction? You didn't actually say. Was he concerned about that comment? It was very strong.

MR. McCLELLAN: One, I don't know if the President has seen his latest comments. He was in the Oval Office with the President. The President's, again, reaction is what he said to all the foreign ministers, that it's important that we work together and work beyond any past differences to help the Iraqi people realize a free and peaceful future. We are pleased that there are some 30 countries that are providing troops to the -- to help the Iraqi people have a stable and free future. **[see below]

And the President also talked about the important priorities at the G8 with the foreign ministers, as well, and he talked about the importance of supporting efforts by leaders and people in the greater Middle East to advance political and economic reform. And he talked about the importance of also moving forward on the two-state vision in the Middle East.

Q Week ahead.

MR. McCLELLAN: You waited too long; we've got to go quick. Monday has already been announced, with the Topeka visit and the Atlanta visit. On Tuesday, the President will make remarks at the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee in Washington, D.C. On Wednesday, he'll meet with his Cabinet, participate in a photo opportunity with NCAA winter sports champions. And we'll have a meeting with a world leader. We'll get you a statement on that later, still working --

Q A meeting with a world leader?

MR. McCLELLAN: We're still working out the exact timing of the announcement, but we'll probably have it later today for you. But let me give you a hint: The President later that day will make remarks at the Sons of Italy Foundation's 16th Annual National Education and Leadership Awards Gala, which we previously announced.

On Thursday he'll meet with the Prime Minister of Greece. On Friday, remarks at LSU, commencement address, and then a Victory 2004 reception in Louisiana, overnight at Bush Ranch. And then on Saturday, he'll attend a private family and friends dinner for their daughter's graduations in Austin, Texas. Mrs. Bush will be there, as well. And then overnight at the Bush Ranch.

And then Sunday, he will attend a family and friends dinner for their daughter's graduation in New Haven, Connecticut. The one in Austin on Saturday, New Haven on Sunday.

Q Return to Washington Sunday night?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes. Thank you.

END 11:59 A.M. EDT

***We have always said countries have to make their own decisions about what they can do to support efforts in Iraq.

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