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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
July 19, 2004

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

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1:52 P.M. EDT

MR. McCLELLAN: I have one announcement to update on the President's schedule today. At 2:30 p.m. today, the President will meet with a group of Iraqi women and wounded American soldiers. The Iraqi women were scheduled to meet with a group of senior administration officials. These women asked that they be able to thank some American troops for all that they have done for the people of Iraq. So Secretary Wolfowitz will be bringing a group of wounded service personnel to the White House. The President looks forward to meeting with them in the Oval Office. This will be open to stills at the bottom, and we would ask that all the stills gather in the drive at 2:15 p.m., so that you don't interrupt the briefing here. And I also expect that some of the Iraqi women will be going to the stakeout.

And then I have one other announcement to make on the President's schedule. The President will welcome Prime Minister Nastase of Romania to the White House on July 21st. Romania is a stalwart NATO ally of the United States and a key contributor to the international effort to help the people of Iraq. The President looks forward to discussing with Prime Minister Nastase the war on terrorism, Afghanistan and Iraq, NATO's agenda following the Istanbul summit, and international efforts to support reform in the broader Middle East.

The President looks forward to discussing United Nations issues with the Prime Minister, given Romania's presidency of the United Nations Security Council this month. The two leaders, I expect, will also review Romania's continuing political and economic reforms.

And that's all I've got. I'll be glad to go to your questions. John, go ahead.

Q Scott, does the President believe that a single über intelligence czar with a Cabinet-level appointment -- does he believe that that person would be able to effectively oversee the myriad intelligence agencies of the U.S. government? And does he believe that the creation of such a Cabinet position would ignite a turf battle over budget?

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me make a couple of comments and then come to your specific question there. The President greatly appreciates the hard work of the 9/11 Commission. And he looks forward to seeing the recommendations that they'll be making later this week. The President is very much open to ideas that build upon the reforms we are already implementing. The President has taken a number of steps to improve our intelligence-gathering and our intelligence capabilities. We worked to create the Terrorist Threat Integration Center. We worked to pass the Patriot Act, to knock down the wall between law enforcement and intelligence. And we also are continuing to work to transform the FBI, so that its primary mission is counterterrorism now.

But the President looks forward to seeing what the recommendations are. I know there are a lot of press reports about that, and certainly we want to look at all the issues that the 9/11 Commission has looked at to come to the conclusion that they will make certain recommendations. One area that you want to look at is that you want to make sure that the intelligence continues to be something that is independent, and you want to strengthen its independence. So that's one area you want to keep in mind, as well, when you're looking at ideas to build upon the reforms that we're implementing.

The intelligence community has always maintained a sense of independence, and it's important to maintain that or strengthen that as we move forward on reforms, as well.

Q But I take it that your reforms are not based solely on this 9/11 Commission report. And this idea of a Cabinet-level secretary with jurisdiction over all of the intelligence agencies has certainly come up in the past, it's been discussed here --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think you heard from the President earlier today, he said that he was reserving judgment. He wanted to take a look at what the 9/11 Commission recommends. There have been other recommendations put forward by some congressional committees. There is a commission that the President appointed to look at our intelligence capabilities, regarding weapons of mass destruction in the 21st century. And the President's number one priority is to protect the American people, and he's made it very clear if there are additional ideas out there that can improve our intelligence-gathering and help us better protect the American people, he is very much in favor of moving forward on those ideas.

Q But this is something that's been discussed many times in the past, this administration in meetings, other administrations, as well. Does the President believe it's time to create a Cabinet-level position to oversee intelligence? Or does he believe that the way the system is set up now works just fine?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think you want to look at all these issues and give them careful consideration. But you want to look at all the issues as the 9/11 Commission has looked at them, as well, and see what the benefits may be, or what the issues may be related to doing a specific proposal, one way or the other. I'm not going to get into discussing a specific proposal, but the President has made it very clear earlier today that he is open to ideas that build upon the reforms that we're already implementing.

We have taken significant steps to improve our intelligence-gathering and our intelligence capabilities, and there are additional reforms that we need to continue to pursue to make sure that the President and the White House are getting the best possible intelligence, so that we are in the best position to protect the American people.

Q Scott, just to button that part of it up. The Acting DCI made comments over the weekend that he was opposed to the creation of a Cabinet-level position of an intelligence chief. As was asked of you before, was he speaking for the administration?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, I indicated that earlier. I already answered that question earlier today. But you have to look at what he said, as well. He said, you have to look at all these ideas and consider the pros and cons. And certainly the 9/11 Commission report will be coming out later this week, and you want to weigh all the issues related to taking certain steps.

Q Yes, but he's not reserving judgment, and the President is. So, I mean --

MR. McCLELLAN: That's what I said. I said, earlier today --

Q Was the Acting Director speaking for the President?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think he was expressing his view. The President is very much open to ideas that build upon the reforms that we're already implementing. But the Acting Director also pointed out that you have to carefully look at these issues when you're talking about intelligence reform.

Q I just have one other question about Iran and 9/11. The President said earlier that the government is still investigating whether there is a connection we don't know about between Iran and 9/11. I just want to -- related to that, how you would respond to criticism that will likely come from Democrats and others, who say that your very aggressive posture toward Iraq may have been misplaced, and that given the -- if there was an actual connection, there may have even been influences or a role on the margins of 9/11 by Iran that this administration's posture toward Iraq was, frankly, misdirected in the war on terror?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think what the President said was, he repeated what the Acting Director said yesterday on one of the Sunday shows, when he said that there's no evidence that there was any official involvement between Iran and the September 11th attacks. And the commission will be coming out with their report later this week. Apparently they addressed this issue in the report. We want to see what they know about that issue; apparently it's something that's evolved over time.

The President, though, has made it very clear that he has been pursuing the issues we have with Iran from very early on in this administration. If you'll go back and recall that September 11th, as the President said, changed the equation, it taught us that we must confront threats, we can't wait for them to build and fully materialize. That's something that we learned from September the 11th.

And there are different ways to confront different threats. We've been confronting the threat from Iran. We've spoken out about the need for Iran to stop harboring and supporting terrorists, namely Hezbollah. We've spoken out that Iran will be held responsible for the actions that they take. And we've also talked about the importance of Iran ending its pursuit of nuclear weapons. We are pursuing that in a multilateral way. We've made some progress on that. But we're continuing to keep the pressure on Iran and to persuade them that that is the wrong course for them to take. And we're also -- we've also made it very clear that we stand with the Iranian people and their aspirations for greater freedoms. And the unelected few in Iran should listen to the aspirations of those many in Iran who want greater freedoms.

Q I asked you, Scott, whether the President spent too much time, money, effort, political capital confronting Saddam Hussein in Iraq and not enough confronting Iran?

MR. McCLELLAN: Remember, Iraq was a unique situation. We talked about that from early on. Iraq was a country that had invaded its neighbors, had used weapons of mass destruction, had a 12-year history of defying the international community. It was a threat, I think everybody recognized that it was a threat, and we have removed that threat.

There are also concerns that we have about Iran, and we've been pursuing those concerns. I would remind you that the President, in January 2002, in his State of the Union address, brought up some of those very concerns that we have with Iran. So what this President is doing is pursuing the threats that we face and confronting those threats before they have a chance to fully materialize, whether it's Iran, Iraq, North Korea or elsewhere.

Q Scott, what's the thinking about how productive it would be to try to undertake some sort of major reorganization of the intelligence community in an election year?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President will never hesitate when it comes to taking steps that can better protect the American people. So if there are ideas that are worthy of pursuing, this President will pursue them. As I said, we are already pursuing many reforms and implementing those reforms. And we will never hesitate to take steps that can better protect the American people, whether it's an election year or not.

Q But there is a lot of thinking that this is something that requires a lot of time, a lot of hearings, a lot of discussion on the Hill with members of both Houses; that it's not the kind of thing you can do in the heat of two conventions and the final two month --

MR. McCLELLAN: I disagree. The President's highest priority is to protect the American people, and we have made significant steps since September 11th to make the world a safer place and to make America more secure. This President is pursuing an approach that is making the world safer and making America safer. It is a broad war on terrorism that we are waging and we need to make sure that we have the best possible intelligence as we wage that broad war on terrorism.

Q So if he sees ideas he thinks are good, he will move on them quickly. By the same logic, then, if he doesn't move on them quickly, then he doesn't think they're good ideas.

MR. McCLELLAN: No, Jim, I wouldn't look at it that way. I think that's too simplistic to characterize it that way. I wouldn't necessarily look at it that way.

Go ahead, Helen.

Q I liked it.

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not saying you're simplistic. (Laughter.)

Q Prime Minister Blair took full personal responsibility for taking his nation into war under falsehoods -- under reasons that have been determined now to be false. Is President Bush also willing to take full, personal responsibility --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think Prime Minister Blair said that it was the right thing to do; that Saddam Hussein's regime was a threat.

Q Those were not the reasons he took his country into war. It turned out to be untrue, and the same is true for us. Does the President take full, personal responsibility for this war?

MR. McCLELLAN: The issue here is what do you to with a threat in a post-September 11th world? Either you live with a threat, or you confront the threat.

Q There was no threat.

MR. McCLELLAN: The President made the decision to confront the threat.

Q Saddam Hussein did not threaten this country.

MR. McCLELLAN: The world -- the world, the Congress and the administration all disagree. They all recognized that there was a threat posed by Saddam Hussein. When it came to September 11th, that changed the equation. It taught us, as I said --

Q The Intelligence Committee said there was no threat.

MR. McCLELLAN: As I said, it taught us that we must confront threats before it's too late.

Q So the President doesn't take full responsibility?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President already talked about the responsibility for the decisions he's made. He talked about that with Prime Minister Blair.

Q Personal responsibility?

MR. McCLELLAN: Terry, go ahead.

Q Two things. First, you do sound a little cool to this idea of the 9/11 Commission, that there should be new Cabinet-level intelligence.

MR. McCLELLAN: Like I said, I'm not going to get into discussing any specific proposals right now. We're going to reserve judgment because we want to see what the 9/11 Commission outlines and their reasons for coming to those conclusions, on their recommendations.

So the President is very much open to ideas that help us build upon the progress we are making to reform out intelligence capabilities.

Q Okay. And then on a similar subject that Helen was raising. On the 28th of January, 2003, in the State of the Union address, the President said, "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." Several months later, White House officials -- yourself, included -- said the President shouldn't have spoken those words because the intelligence process that led to that statement being included in the State of the Union was unreliable.

Now you have the Senate Intelligence Committee independently reviewing the evidence, saying there's some evidence still there that Saddam may have been looking for uranium, and Lord Butler's independent review in Britain saying the President's statement was "well-founded." So does the President now believe that Saddam Hussein sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, as you're aware, two reports have come out. You cited them. As I said last week, I think those reports really speak for themselves on this issue. There is additional information that they have looked into, and I think the reports speak for themselves. That's the way I would describe it.

Q First -- to try to follow up -- what does the President now believe? He said to the country and to the world, in the January 2003 State of the Union address, that he believed Saddam Hussein sought uranium from Africa. Does he now believe that?

MR. McCLELLAN: As I said last week, we went through this issue at length about a year ago at this time, over a few days, and I think I would leave it where it is with the reports. The reports speak for themselves on this issue.

Q Well, do you feel vindicated at all, Scott?

MR. McCLELLAN: Steve, I don't look at it that way. I think you have to look at the reports and see what they have to say.

Q Why didn't you stand behind --

MR. McCLELLAN: This was an issue that was covered at length. These reports address the issue, and you can look at those reports yourself.

Q Do you now regret disavowing a year ago what you --

MR. McCLELLAN: Steve, we don't look at it that way. We're a forward-looking administration.

Go ahead.

Q To clarify one thing on Iran. The President referenced McLaughlin's statement that Tehran, the government wasn't officially, perhaps, behind, or notified about the fact that hijackers passed through, or that they were behind the 9/11 plot. But then the President said that they're still digging into the facts. Does that mean that he's leaving open, or the administration is leaving open the possibility that the Iranian government was either very much aware of the fact that they went through and what they were doing?

MR. McCLELLAN: I wouldn't look at it that way, Dana. I would look at it as what the President said and what the Director -- the Acting Director of the CIA said yesterday was, that there is no evidence to suggest there was any official involvement between Iran and the September 11th attacks. Of course, we want to see what the September 11th Commission has to say on this issue. They'll be coming out with their report. Apparently, it's an issue that has evolved over time, so we want to take a look at that. But, again, there's no evidence to suggest anything there.

Q Okay. The President, today on Iran, talked about a link between Iran and al Qaeda. We now know that there was a connection, at least, between Iran and the 9/11 hijackers. He talked about the fact that they have -- that we think they have weapons of mass destruction, nuclear material. So that sounds eerily similar to Iraq. So why -- can you explain --

MR. McCLELLAN: What was the connection? What was the relationship?

Q Which one?

MR. McCLELLAN: Between Iran and al Qaeda.

Q That they passed through.

MR. McCLELLAN: And there were ties between Iraq and al Qaeda, where they had contacts going back over the last decade.

Q So my question is, many people are asking, why is it that the President did focus on Iraq, and perhaps -- the way he did, and perhaps not on Iran?

MR. McCLELLAN: That wouldn't be an accurate way, I think, to describe it, because he has focused on Iran. It has been a high priority for this administration from very early on. As I said, you confront different threats in different ways. There are different strategies for confronting different threats. But what this President is doing is confronting those threats. We're not letting them build and fully materialize. September 11th taught us that we had to confront those threats before that happens. That's why he's been working with the international community to get Iran to end its pursuit of nuclear weapons and to abide by the international obligations Iran agreed to. That's why we are pressing Iran to turn over those al Qaeda members in their country to their country of origin. That's why we are continuing to urge the unelected few in Iran to heed the aspirations of the Iranian people.

Q Ten days ago there was a growing consensus in this room, in the press, that Congressman Porter Goss would be named as the permanent DCI, Director of the CIA. And over the weekend the reports came out that Senator Rockefeller considered him too important, and that the administration had decided not to --

MR. McCLELLAN: Too important?

Q Too partisan.

MR. McCLELLAN: Senator Rockefeller said that?

Q Yes, he did.

MR. McCLELLAN: That's interesting. (Laughter.)

Q My question -- and that the administration would wait until after November to name a permanent director. My question is this: What is the reaction to the criticism that Congressman Goss was too partisan? And is the administration going to leave Acting Director McLaughlin in --

MR. McCLELLAN: First of all, the report over this weekend that speculated that we may wait until after the weekend just has no basis in fact; let me make that very clear. You heard from the President earlier today when he was asked about a CIA Director. We certainly have a very capable and strong leader in the Acting Director, Director McLaughlin. And he is someone who is very capable and is doing a good job at the CIA.

At the same time, I'm not -- as has been my practice, I don't get into speculating about personnel matters like this, particularly ones of this importance. The President will make an announcement on a decision when he is ready, and I'm not going to speculate about the timing or who may or may not be under consideration. I don't think that serves the process very well.

Q -- about the criticisms that it was too partisan a choice, and that there was going to be hostility from Democrats in Congress.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, you're asking me to get into speculation about certain people that may or may not be under consideration. I'm going to avoid doing that. But I did find it interesting that the remark apparently came from Senator Rockefeller.

Q I just want to clarify, Scott, then, the item that appeared over the weekend about the White House going to delay a decision until after November -- that's incorrect, and that we should expect some nomination at some point before the November election?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I'm not speculating on the timing one way or the other. I have no idea where that report came from, but that kind of speculation has no basis in fact. The people who are suggesting that or talking about that clearly don't have an understanding of where things are in the process.

Welcome back.

Q Thank you. First of all, I bring the best wishes from 135-year-old spiritual leader for President Bush.

MR. McCLELLAN: Hang on, hang on. Let's stop the cross talk here.

Q I met 135-year-old spiritual leader, after three days, and he died. And before he died, he told me best wishes for President Bush, and he said that India and the United States would work for global peace.

MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you, we appreciate that.

Q And he said that to end terrorism is a must for permanent peace and lasting peace. And my question is here: Governing the India-Pakistan (inaudible) Delhi, there was something good going on this time, progress between the two countries. And now this week, also, when I was there, the day I left, the (inaudible) was arriving Delhi. What sort of things going on, as where President Bush is concerned, as far as India-Pakistan is (inaudible) and peace between two countries?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there has been some progress made. There is a dialogue that has been ongoing between India and Pakistan. And that's positive. It's important that they have --continue to have a dialogue to continue reducing tensions in the region. And we work very closely with those countries and stay in contact with them on those issues.

Q And what sort of work President Bush is planning now with the new government in Delhi?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we're working closely with the new government. The President congratulated the new government on the election, and we are continuing to work closely with them on this issue that you brought up, as well as other issues of common interest.

Go ahead, Les.

Q And, finally --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm going to keep going. Les, go ahead. I've got to keep going. Let's go, Les.

Q The Governor of California has refused demands that he retract his description of Democratic legislative budgetary obstructionists as, in his words, "girlie men." And my first question: The President continues -- fully supportive of Republican National Convention principal speaker Schwarzenegger, doesn't he?

MR. McCLELLAN: Les, I think that the Republican National Committee can talk to you more about who the speakers are at the convention --

Q I want to know about the President. Does he support Schwarzenegger, or not?

MR. McCLELLAN: Does he support him? Yes, he supports Governor Schwarzenegger.

Q Good. Then my second question --

Q Are they girlie men? (Laughter.)

Q Congresswoman Corrine Brown has joined 10 other Democrats in asking the U.N. to monitor our elections on November the 2nd. When this was described by Congressman Steve Buyer of Indiana as "foolish nonsense and silly," Ms. Brown denounced Republicans, saying, you stole the election, for which she was ruled out of order by a vote of 219 to 187, while 243 to 161 approved Buyer's amendment barring any funds being used by the U.N. to monitor our elections, even in South Dakota. And my question: The President is grateful for this strong bipartisan vote against U.N. intervention and this reprimand of Ms. Brown, isn't he?

MR. McCLELLAN: It sounds like Congress has taken care of this issue and they addressed it, Les.

Q So you're thoroughly supportive --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think Congress has already addressed this issue and it's been put behind us.

Q -- and you think it's good?

MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead.

Q Scott, do you have any observations on the growing violence in Gaza? And does the administration still back Prime Minister Sharon's plan to pull Israeli settlers and soldiers out of Gaza at this point?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, on the plan. We think it's a bold step that can get the parties moving forward again on the road map, which will lead to the two-state vision that the President outlined. As you're aware, the President has outlined a two-state vision of Palestine and Israel living side-by-side in peace and security. All parties have responsibilities when it comes to moving forward on the road map, which is the way to get there.

In terms of the recent things that are going on in Gaza and among the Palestinian people and the leadership there, I think it's important that the Palestinian leadership -- or that there is a Palestinian leadership that is committed to fighting terrorism and creating a unified security structure to improve the security situation in the region. It's also important that you have a Palestinian leadership committed to building the institutions that are necessary for a democratic state to emerge. And I think the Palestinian people yearn for leadership that is not tainted by corruption and that is committed to building the institutions necessary for a democratic state to emerge. And the Palestinian leaders have an obligation to the Palestinian people.

And so that's what we will continue to speak out about. When you have the institutions in place, it's bigger than any one person. The leaders will emerge and be able to proceed forward on the vision that the President has outlined.

Q So the United States backs the Qureia, or representative leadership, even though he's kind of resigned, does not back the Arafat --

MR. McCLELLAN: What we back is a Palestinian leader -- cabinet that will be committed to cracking down on terrorism and committed to building a unified security structure, and committed to putting the institutions in place necessary for a Palestinian state to emerge. That's what we -- and we'll be continuing to closely watch the situation there as it unfolds.

Go ahead Sarah.

Q Thank you. Scott, in its editorial today, The Washington Post says the $100 million in new aid to Haiti isn't enough. And if the United States doesn't do more to help, another crisis in Haiti will occur. Will the President do more, and if so, what?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there's a donors conference that, I think, actually gets underway today, but will be really going on tomorrow here in Washington, D.C., to look at these issues. We made some significant commitments to Haiti, both in terms of helping address the security situation there early on and providing humanitarian assistance.

The President and President Lagos had a good discussion about Haiti earlier today. Chile has certainly provided strong support to the Haitian people. And so these issues will be discussed at the donors conference, and we hope everybody will step forward and meet their commitments to help the Haitian people build a brighter future.

Go ahead, Bob.

Q Scott, in a conference call sponsored by the Democratic National Committee earlier this morning, Senator Max Cleland, former Senator Max Cleland, who has been a campaign surrogate for Kerry, is saying the he and Senator Kerry were "flat out lied to about the war in Iraq." Let me quote again also what he theorized about the war. The President went to war "because he concluded that his daddy was a failed President, and one of the ways he failed was that he did not take out Saddam Hussein, so he would be Mr. Macho Man." What is your reaction to all that?

MR. McCLELLAN: My reaction is that all they can offer is more political attacks. The world, the Congress, the administration, all shared the same intelligence and all looked at the same intelligence, and concluded that there was a threat. And that threat needed to be addressed. The United Nations Security Council gave Saddam Hussein one final opportunity to comply.

It's been shown, since we went into Iraq, that he was still in serious violation of Security Council Resolution 1441. But I would remind you that the President's opponent looked at that same intelligence and made the same decision to support the use of force to remove that regime from power. I know he's been all over the map since that time frame, trying to justify his positions, and giving some tortured responses with regard to that position, particularly with his lack of support for the troops in voting against the $87 billion.

Q Regarding the September 11th Commission recommendations, you've said several times today that you are open to building on ideas that you

are already implementing. Members of the commission have indicated to me that their recommendations will be wide-ranging. Suppose their recommendations are quite different from those you're already implementing. Are you also open to those ideas?

MR. McCLELLAN: We've been working very closely and cooperatively with the September 11th Commission, because their work is very important. And their recommendations will be very important, and we will take them very seriously. That's what I'm talking about, when I'm saying -- when I say that the President is open to ideas that build upon the reforms that we're already implementing.

Q That's why I'm asking about ideas that you're not implementing, or if the recommendations --

MR. McCLELLAN: That's why I said, if there are additional ideas that can help us build upon the reforms we're already implementing, we want to see those ideas. And if they will help us do a better job of protecting the American people, I can assure you this President will move forward on them.

Q On the Sergeant Jenkins issue, is the administration considering a type of plea bargain with him, as Ambassador Baker --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q -- as Ambassador Baker, to Japan.

MR. McCLELLAN: Oh, on Mr. Jenkins, is that what you're asking about? I know Ambassador Baker did meet with some Japanese foreign ministry officials, I believe over the weekend. And Mr. Jenkins is now in Japan and we continue to state what our views are. And we will present, at the appropriate time, a request for custody of Mr. Jenkins. He was someone that was a deserter, and so that's where things stand at this point.

Q I wonder if there is a possibility of a plea bargain with him.

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q I wonder if there is a possibility --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there have been discussions with the Japanese government. Like I said, at the appropriate time, we will present a request for custody of Mr. Jenkins.

Q Thank you.

MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you.

END 2:22 P.M. EDT