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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
August 9, 2004

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

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12:31 P.M. EDT

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me start by saying that the President looks forward to welcoming Prime Minister Belka of Poland to the White House this afternoon. The United States and Poland have a strong strategic alliance that is rooted in our shared values, and a common struggle for freedom. Poland is a vital partner in the international efforts to help the Iraqi people build a free and peaceful future. And today's meeting is an opportunity for the two leaders to continue discussing the war on terrorism, Afghanistan and Iraq, and our bilateral economic relations, and the NATO and E.U. agendas. And you will hear more from the President following that meeting.

And with that, I'll be glad to go to your questions. Go ahead, Helen.

Q The President said at the community college that the people who we're fighting are cruel, have no conscience, and kill innocent people. And my question is, during our two wars in the last three years, have we killed any innocent people?

MR. McCLELLAN: The United States military goes to great lengths to make sure that we minimize any loss of innocent human life, and they go out of their way to make sure that that happens. This administration is strongly committed to making sure we do everything we can to minimize the loss of innocent human life.

Q I didn't ask you that. I asked you if we have killed any innocent people.

MR. McCLELLAN: And I would point out that this -- that the war in Iraq was one where we were able to target and remove a brutal regime from power while minimizing any collateral damage --

Q Did we kill any innocent people?

MR. McCLELLAN: -- or loss of innocent human life. We certainly do not target innocent human civilians. And there are terrorists and others in Iraq, former regime elements who do target innocent civilians, innocent Iraqis. They are enemies of freedom and peace. What we have done --

Q Seventy thousand tons of bombs --

MR. McCLELLAN: -- is liberated the Iraqi people and provided hope for innocent Iraqis.

Q How about the people who are dead?

MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead.

Q I understand that you don't want to comment on these charges that have been leveled against Ahmed Chalabi by the Iraqi government on counterfeiting. You said that already. But given the fact that he was once a welcome figure around the White House and other federal buildings in this town, does the President now feel that Ahmed Chalabi is a totally discredited figure? And is concerned about Chalabi's being in Iran and that he may be in some way vetting the Iranian nuclear project or turning over some information that could be harmful to the United States? Is he concerned about Chalabi?

MR. McCLELLAN: John, I think we have talked about this issue previously. His future will be decided by the people of Iraq, if he wants to continue to be involved in Iraq 's future. Iraq is a sovereign nation now. They're moving forward on building a free and peaceful and stable future. This latest investigation, that is a matter for Iraqi authorities to handle. They're working to address that matter We would expect that due process be followed. The rule of law is part of the new Iraq, and so we would expect there to be due process.

Q Apart from the counterfeiting charge, based on other allegations that have come out regarding Chalabi, as far as this White House is concerned, is Chalabi is not welcome around here?

MR. McCLELLAN: Look, he is someone who is an Iraqi citizen, he is -- and his future will be determined by the Iraqi people, if he seeks to have a future role in that country. So this is bigger than any one person, what is going on in Iraq.

Go ahead, Jeff.

Q Thank you. The imam that was arrested in New York last week was discovered because his name appeared in a Rolodex in a terrorist training camp in Iraq before the war. The book was found after, by U.S. troops, but he was in Iraq before the war. Is this another piece of evidence showing the direct terror ties between Iraq and al Qaeda?

MR. McCLELLAN: One, that's an ongoing investigation. I think the questions related to those particular individuals are best directed to the Department of Justice. And so that's -- I would refer any questions about that investigation to the Department of Justice.

We are continuing to wage the war on terrorism on many fronts, both abroad and at home. And I think you're seeing that through the actions that we are taking.

Q Let me follow up with a second question. How damaging was the revelation of the deepest mole that we've ever had in al Qaeda? The publication of that man's name by The New York Times -- how damaging is that to our war on terror?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry -- which specific instance are you referring to?

Q The New York Times published the name of Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, who was described by intelligence officials as the only deep mole we've ever had within al Qaeda.

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not sure where it was published, first. Obviously, it was published recently -- the capture of this individual. It is important that we recognize that sometimes there are ongoing operations underway. And as we move forward on capturing or bringing to justice al Qaeda members, we need to keep that in mind. And sometimes we aren't able to go into as much detail we would like to because of those ongoing operations. And I think everybody has a responsibility to keep that in mind.

Q Scott --

MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Terry.

Q Do you think The New York Times shouldn't have published the name?

MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Terry. Q Senator Kerry has been making light, or making fun of the President saying "we've turned the corner, and we're not going back," given the fact that the job growth has been weak, and the energy prices are rising. Is that something that the President is not going to say anymore? Is he reconsidering that, given that the jobs are --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, let me talk about rising energy prices as you pointed out. This President has put forward a comprehensive energy plan and called on Congress to act on it, so that we don't continue to run into this problem every year. And there are two reasons why we do not, today, have a comprehensive energy plan. It's called -- they are called John Kerry and John Edwards. They voted against it and stalled action in the Senate on a comprehensive energy plan that would help us reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy and keep us from going through this cycle every year where we see gas prices rise.

In terms of the economy, which I think is what you were talking about more broadly, there are clear choices going forward. First of all, the economy is moving forward. The latest employment report was one of many indicators that shows that the economy is moving forward. It also shows that we're in a changing economy and we've got more to do. That's why the President is continuing to act and call on action on his six-point plan for strengthening our economy even more. But we've had 11 straight months of job growth, 1.5 million jobs created since last August, the unemployment rate dropped to 5.5 percent, which is well below the averages of the '70s, '80s and '90s, and real, after-tax disposable income is up 10 percent. That's real money that people have after they've paid their taxes. And that's important to look at, as well.

Consumer confidence is at a two-year high. Home ownership is at record levels. So you have to look at the overall picture. The economy is moving forward, and we're not turning back. The last thing we need to do right now is raise taxes and bring the economy to a screeching halt. And that's what the President's opponent would do if he were in office.

Q Maryland -- I have a two-part. Maryland's ambassador, Alan Keyes' decision to run in Illinois against State Senator Barak Obama has provoked the absolute editorial fury of the Washington Post this morning, which quoted Dr. Keyes objection four years ago to Hillary Clinton of Illinois and Arkansas running in New York. And my question. Since New York has preferred to elect outsiders like Bobby Kennedy and Hillary, and since Alfred Lord Tennyson's classic, "new occasions teach new duties, time makes ancient good uncouth," the President will surely support Ambassador Keyes' right to change his mind, and he'll look forward to those Illinois debates, won't he?

MR. McCLELLAN: Les, if there is more to say on this, I'll let you know. But the committee in Illinois recently just made a selection in this race. The President is certainly going to compete for the votes in Illinois for his own campaign, and I'll let you know if there's more to say on this.

Q All right. Journalist -- I have a follow up. The Journalists of Color organization, comprised of black, Hispanic, Asian and American Indian, which would have barred such journalists as Ralph McGill of the Atlanta Constitution and Hodding Carter of the Greenville Mississippi Delta Democrat Times, risked their lives fighting racial segregation. But it would be open to such journalists as Jayson Blair of the New York Times and Janet Cooke of the Washington Post. And my question, why did the President speak to this racially segregated organization, whose title leaves you, and most of us in this room, as colorless?

MR. McCLELLAN: Les, if you have questions about the organization, I think you can direct them to the organization. The President --

Q I tried. They don't answer the phone. I want to know why did the President speak to this racially segregated organization?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President was pleased to go and speak to the UNITY Conference and talk to them about his record in office and his agenda moving forward. It is a record that is based on expanding opportunity for all Americans and improving the quality of life for all Americans. It's a very strong record. The President has delivered, when it comes to expanding opportunity for all Americans and improving the quality of life for all Americans. And he was pleased to go there and talk about that, and talk about his agenda as we move forward and build upon that record.

Suzanne, and then John.

Q Has the President, by executive order, implemented any of the 9/11 Commission recommendations? You said that would happen within days. Can you give an update on that?

MR. McCLELLAN: He said that he would be moving forward on that in the coming days with some presidential directives. There's no update at this point, in terms of those directives, but we are continuing to move forward in a quick and responsible manner. We have already moved forward in one way or another on 36 of 41 of the 9/11 Commission's recommendations. And we are continuing to move forward on the additional recommendations that build upon the reforms that this administration has already put in place. We've made significant strides when it comes to creating the Department of Homeland Security; transforming the FBI to where its mission is focused on combating terrorism here at home; and creating the Terrorist Threat Integration Center; and in strengthening aviation security.

So we've made significant strides, and the President welcomes these recommendations and we're continuing to move forward in a quick and responsible manner. It's important that we carefully and seriously consider these recommendations and how we implement them as we move forward. And we'll be working with Congress closely on that. Members of Congress are already moving forward on it, as well.

Did you have a second question?

Q Can we expect that this week, perhaps, he'll be signing an executive order?

MR. McCLELLAN: He said, in the coming days, and I'll leave it where he left it in his radio address.

Gregory. I'm sorry, I said, John, and then Gregory. Go ahead, John.

Q Let him go first.

MR. McCLELLAN: Okay.

Q About stem cell research. There are those -- not only the politicians opposing this President, but some in the scientific community -- who think that the 2001 policy ought to be expanded, that the President called for stem cell research; there ought to be additional cell lines made available for research. Is the President open to that?

MR. MCCLELLAN: First of all, the 2001 policy was an expansion of the policy. This President is delivering when it comes to advancing medical research and combating disease. He is the first President to authorize federal funding to explore the promise and potential of embryonic stem cell research. We are doing so in a way that doesn't cross an ethical line. And it's important that we not go down a dangerous, slippery slope where we divorce ethics from science.

And so this policy has allowed the federal government, for the first time, to open up the doors of funding so that we could explore the potential of stem cell research. The funding for fiscal year 2003 was $24.8 million, that's up from zero in the previous administration. That's for embryonic stem cell research. We've also provided over $190 million in funding for adult stem cell research, which continues to show great promise. And that's the President's policy. He believes --

Q But the President, himself, said that it's the embryonic research --

MR. McCLELLAN: -- he believes that this was a well thought out policy and he believes it's the right policy for continuing to explore the promise of stem cell research in a way that doesn't cross a certain ethical line.

Q Is the answer "no," then?

MR. McCLELLAN: That's what I -- I said, he believes this is the right policy and he's committed to continuing to move forward on exploring the promise and potential of stem cell research.

Q Even in the face of some prominent Republican activists, like Nancy Reagan, the President does not believe that any additional federal funding should be made available for expanded research in this area?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I've seen a lot of mis-reporting about this issue recently, that seems to imply that we put a ban on stem cell research, when the fact is this President was the first to open the doors for federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.

Q You just said that, and I covered it at the time and I understand that. What I'm asking you is, you're saying, unequivocally, that he does not believe that there is any need or is not, you know, prepared to provide any additional federal funding to expand this area of research?

MR. McCLELLAN: Keep in mind that right now, embryonic stem cell research is still in its early stages. We're still trying to explore the promise and potential of that kind of stem cell research, in addition to the adult stem cell research that is going on. And the President does not believe we should be creating life for the sole purpose of destroying it. That's a principle which he feels very strongly about. And so he came up with this well thought out policy that allowed the federal government to move forward for the first time.

There are more lines available in the United States for stem cell research than in any other country. Many countries have placed limits on embryonic stem cell research. But the United States has no -- on private stem cell research -- but the United States has no limits on private stem cell research. And federal funds have supported more than 500 shipments to researchers to date, and there are more than 3,500 shipments available. He believes this is the right policy to allow us to explore the promise and potential of stem cell research. And he remains committed to the policy he outlined.

Q Just one more on this. How does he react to the criticism that has been leveled against him, that he is allowing ideology and religion to trump potential scientific breakthroughs in this area?

MR. McCLELLAN: That's why I said, David, you go down a dangerous, slippery slope when you try to divorce ethics from science. This President views this as a decision that is based on his commitment to advancing medical research and combating disease in a way that doesn't cross that ethical line.

Q But isn't it really driven by his ideology and his religious beliefs --

MR. McCLELLAN: You know that these are --

Q -- he cited his religious beliefs on August 9, 2001.

MR. McCLELLAN: You know that that's not -- not an accurate way to describe it. This President has long held principles when it comes to creating life for the sole purpose of destroying it, and he's spoken about that for quite some time.

Go ahead.

Q Earlier when the United States stopped having dealings with Mr. Chalabi --

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me add one thing, too. Because when I talk about his -- how the President is firmly committed to advancing medical research, we have worked to increase funding for the National Institutes of Health by more than 40 percent. The funding for Alzheimer's by the National Institutes of Health is up more than 30 percent since 2001. We've proposed $700 million in our 2005 budget. So I think you need to look at this -- the record of the President. He is delivering when it comes to advancing medical research. It's not something he's talked about; it's something he's delivered on.

Go ahead. Sorry.

Q At the morning session, we started to talk about Mr. Chalabi, and so again. Going back to that, when the United States stopped having dealings with Mr. Chalabi earlier in the year, he made it very clear that he wanted to come to Washington and talk to members of Congress and tell his side of the story. Is that offer still open to him? Is that avenue still possible? And, second, is he a fugitive now in the eyes of the United States?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you need to talk to the members of Congress about that. But, again, this is an Iraqi matter, and Iraqi authorities are working to address it. They're taking steps to address it. You need to direct those questions to Iraqi authorities. They are a sovereign nation, and it's not something that -- to my knowledge -- we've been involved in.

Q So you would not give him a visa, for example?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I'm not going to get into speculating about things that are just hypotheticals.

Go ahead, Wendell.

Q Scott, how do you respond the Kerry campaign's assertion that the President's push for an ownership society rings pretty hollow to people who either can't find a job, or can't find a good-paying job?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, this is a fundamental difference in the campaign -- a fundamental difference based on principle. The President trusts in the American people to make the right choices, and to have more control over their own lives, whereas his opponent trusts in government. So there are fundamental differences of principle on this issue. And when it comes to improving economic security, creating an ownership society is an important part of improving people's economic security. The President feels strongly that people should be able to be in a position to own their own home, have more say over their health care plans, have more say over their retirement plans, and be able to start and own a small business. And that's -- the policies he's focused on are pro-growth policies that allow people to do that, that allow people to own their own small business, and reduces government's role in overseeing those small businesses.

Q You did not address the --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let me --

Q The issue being --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think I'm coming to it.

Q -- the ability to own anything.

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q The issue being the ability to buy. If you have no job, if you have no well paying job --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, look at the results from the actions that we have taken. Remember what we've been through. We've been through a recession. When we came into office, we had the September 11th attacks, we had the corporate scandal, we had the lead-up to the war in Iraq. This President acted in a very strong and decisive way to get our economy growing. Our economy is moving forward, but there's more work to do. And that's why the President is also -- also recognizes that we're in a changing economy. He's not satisfied. We've got more work to do. There are people who are still looking for work. And this President is committed to making sure that we have as robust an environment as possible for job creation.

That's why he put forward his plan to strengthen high school education and his plan to better train workers, so that they can fill the jobs of the 21st century. The fact of the matter is that people's real, disposable, after-tax income is up 10 percent under this President. And that's important to point out, as well. But in order to also improve their economic security, it's important to foster an ownership society. And that's why the President wants to usher in an era of ownership in America. And he wants to empower people to have more control over their own lives. That's what this is about, and there's a fundamental difference of principle here that we welcome the debate about.

Q Scott, I have two questions, if I may. Dr. John Hamre, former number two at the Pentagon, claims neither the 9/11 Commission nor the President got it right in solving America's intelligence problems. Dr. Hamre says, if a National Intelligence Director must be named, that person should only be in charge of intelligence gathering, not its analysis and perspective. Would the President consider this proposal as --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think you've heard the President talk about his support for creating a National Intelligence Director. We're continuing to work through the details, in terms of the authority over matters like budget and personnel that that individual would have. But we've made it clear that that person will have the authority he or she needs to do the job. And we want to make sure that that person has effective authority to do the job right. And the National Intelligence Director will be the President's principal intelligence advisor. And the President will be moving forward with more details about this as we work through some of the specifics.

Q Given the National Atomic Energy Agency and the United Nations failed to actually stop Iran's nuclear weapons program, is the President willing to go it alone in dealings with Iran?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that this is a problem that the international community recognizes is a threat. The international community is confronting Iran, because of the leadership that this President has provided. It was the United States that brought our concern -- the concerns about Iran's nuclear weapons program to the international community. And the international community recognizes that this is a real threat. And that's why we are working with our friends in Britain and Germany and France on this matter. Iran needs to comply with its international obligations. We expect that at the next board meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency that there will be a very strong statement regarding Iran's continued non-compliance with their international obligations. And the international community recognizes that we cannot afford to let Iran move forward on a nuclear -- on building nuclear weapons. And so that's how -- that's where it is right now.

Connie.

Q Thank you, Scott. Last week, the Protocol Office of the State Department listed a lot of gifts to the President and their family. Especially huge were the gifts from Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince, well over $100,000. First of all, does the President and his family get to use these gifts, and are they considered a bribe? Do they affect policy in any way? (Laughter.)

MR. McCLELLAN: No, they -- absolutely not, Connie. And I don't know what's happened with those gifts. I'll try to check into it.

Peter.

Q Scott, Senator Biden, this morning, became the latest to question whether or not there's an imminent terror threat to the country. What do you make of his comment, what --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think Secretary Ridge said that he could not say that it was an imminent one. I think we expressed urgency about the information that we recently uncovered.

Q What do you make of the ongoing questions about whether there is an urgency, whether the evidence merited what has happened --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think anyone who has seen or been briefed on this intelligence recognizes that it is serious and it is real. You have to look at the most recent intelligence that has been uncovered in the context of what we already knew. We're already in a heightened state of awareness with the pre-election threat that Secretary Ridge and Attorney General Ashcroft have talked about, going back to earlier this summer. And you also have to look at it in the context of other streams of intelligence that are out there. But this is serious and real, and that's why it was important to talk to the American people about this recent information that we have received, which is very specific and detailed in its nature.

Go ahead.

Q Scott, two clarifications, please. One, President said many times that there are no training camps in Pakistan at this time, because Pakistan is an ally of the United States (inaudible) -- terrorism. But during his recent visit, Mr. Armitage, the Deputy Under Secretary of State -- Deputy Secretary of State, he was in (inaudible) and he made it clear that there are still training camps in Pakistan.

Number two, rather than blaming the intelligence authorities or intelligence of CIA as far as 9/11 report is concerned, don't you think that we -- or U.S. may have been misled by the French or allies that U.S. was -- relied on the information?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, the information? Well, let me address your first one and then come back to your second one. But in terms of Pakistan, it is -- Pakistan is another example of the great progress and the results we are achieving in the war on terrorism. We've come a long way from three years ago where al Qaeda was allowed to move through Pakistan. Now Pakistan is working closely with us to combat al Qaeda and defeat the terrorists within their own country and along the Afghan-Pakistan border there. So they're working very closely -- we're working very closely with Pakistan as we move forward to defeat the enemies and defeat the terrorists that are in Pakistan and along that Afghan-Pakistan border. And we appreciate all that they're doing in the war on terrorism. There's always more to do in the war on terrorism.

Q Thank you.

MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you.

END 12:59 P.M. EDT