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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
December 8, 2004
Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:05 P.M. EST
MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon, everybody. The President is pleased that the House yesterday, in an overwhelming, bipartisan way, passed the intelligence reform legislation. He commends Speaker Hastert, Congressman Hoekstra, Congresswoman Harman, Congressman Hunter and all members of the House who helped to make it happen. We look forward to the Senate acting on this high-priority legislation this afternoon. The President appreciates the leadership of Majority Leader Frist and Senators Collins and Lieberman on the important reforms contained in this legislation.
The President's number one priority is the safety and security of the American people. These reforms build upon the many steps we have already taken since September 11th to better protect the American people. We remain a nation at war on terrorism and intelligence is our first line of defense. It is vital that we have the best possible intelligence. The President is pleased that Congress is acting this week to get this done. He looks forward to the legislation reaching his desk so he can sign it into law.
And with that, I will be glad to take your questions. Steve.
Q How long will it take to implement the legislation, to implement -- to create the terrorism center?
MR. McCLELLAN: The legislation spells out a time frame for moving forward on these provisions within it. The President has already acted on a number of the recommendations that the 9/11 Commission made prior to this legislation. The President has acted in one way or another on 31 of 41 of the recommendations from the 9/11 Commission. September 11th brought to light in a very vivid and tragic way that there are some new dangerous threats that we face, and this President has led and acted to take steps to better protect the American people and make sure we are doing everything we can to ensure their safety and security. And he will continue to do that as we move forward.
Q Scott, how quickly will he sign the legislation, and how quickly will he name a national intelligence director?
MR. McCLELLAN: On the first part, it depends on the legislation arriving here at the White House, as well as working out schedules with members of Congress. I wouldn't expect it to be this week. Certainly we want to make sure that some members are there with the President so we can commend them for all their work in helping to make this happen. Congress deserves a lot of credit for moving this legislation forward in a relatively quick period of time.
Q You would or wouldn't expect this --
MR. McCLELLAN: I would not expect it this week.
Q You were going to say something about how --
MR. McCLELLAN: And on the director of national intelligence position, first of all, let me remind you on both those questions that the legislation has to pass the Senate this afternoon. So we fully expect that it will, and are pleased to see that happen. But we will move as quickly as we can, obviously, to implement the provisions and to move forward on the steps it calls for in this legislation. But I don't get into speculating about the timing or who might be in that position.
Q Scott, there's a lot of complaints up on the Hill today that the compromise bill was watered down and a number of important provisions were dropped. Is the President confident that everything necessary to reform intelligence and protect America is included in the bill that will come to his desk?
MR. McCLELLAN: John, the President, as I mentioned, has taken a number of steps already, prior to this legislation, to make sure that we are doing everything we can to better protect the American people. He begins his day each morning focused on the safety and security of the American people. The very first meeting he has is with his intelligence team to discuss the threats that we face. And the President never stops thinking about ways that we can better protect the American people.
The 9/11 Commission had a certain scope and focus that they looked at and they made some recommendations. There were certain recommendations that they made that required legislative action, beyond the steps that the President had already taken as the head of the executive branch. And so we supported those recommendations that required legislative action. We've worked closely with Congress to make them happen. And the President looks forward to receiving this legislation. But there is always more that we can do to make sure we are taking every possible step to protect the American people from the threats that we face in this day and age.
The President appointed an independent commission to look into the intelligence related to weapons of mass destruction. The number one threat we face is the nexus between weapons of mass destruction and terrorists. And the President has made it a priority to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction. He's also made it a priority to make sure that we take a full look at the intelligence that we're getting. As I said, it's vital that the Congress and the President have the best possible intelligence to protect the American people, and we will never stop in our efforts to make sure that we are getting the best possible intelligence.
Q So if this bill isn't the be-all and end-all of what needs to be done, how would you describe it?
MR. McCLELLAN: This legislation is a major step forward in our efforts to make sure we are doing everything we can to protect the American people. But the President is always looking at additional steps that we can take.
The number one way we can protect the American people is to stay on the offensive against the terrorists and bring them to justice before they can carry out their harm on the American people. It's also important that we continue to move forward and defeat the ideology of hatred that terrorists espouse. And that's why the President is working to advance freedom and democracy in the Middle East. For too long, we ignored that region of the world and we saw what had happened when the terrorists hijacked planes and flew them into buildings and killed some 3,000 innocent Americans.
Q But I take it from what you're saying, is that the President believes there is more to do, beyond this bill.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that's why he appointed the independent commission. There is always more that we can do to better protect the American people. We started with creating the Department of Homeland Security, but it doesn't -- actually, we started by going into Afghanistan immediately after September 11th. We took steps, additional steps. We created the Department of Homeland Security; we've transformed the FBI to make terrorism its number one priority; we created the Terrorist Threat Integration Center; we passed the USA Patriot Act.
The President will never stop in his efforts to make sure that we are doing all we can to protect the American people from the threats that we face.
Q Scott --
Q On that point, there are some --
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me go to Norah, and then I'll come to you.
Q Given that the President shares the concern of the leaders of Iraq and Jordan that Iran may be trying to influence the Iraqi elections, what steps were discussed in his meetings with those leaders about how to make sure that there aren't a million Iranians in Iraq that could unfairly influence the elections?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think they just touched on relations with Iran. There was not a detailed discussion about it. Obviously, we stay in close contact with both those countries about matters like this. The communique that came out of Sharm el-Sheikh recently -- of which Iran and Syria are both signatories, I might point out -- calls on all countries to contribute to Iraq's stability and to prevent terrorists from coming into Iraq, as well as weapons and financing to support those terrorists. It calls on all parties to increase cooperation to control the borders. And the Sharm el-Sheikh communique also called for moving forward on the timetable that was set by the Independent Iraqi Election Commission for elections being held on January 30th. And as I mentioned, Iran was a signatory to that. Syria was also a signatory to that. So we talk about these issues very publicly when it comes to Iraq's neighbors.
Q The President has talked a lot about moving forward on January 30th and the right of the Iraqis to choose democracy, to choose freedom. And you have leaders of countries in that region saying there are a million Iranians that have flooded Iraq, and they're going to disrupt the process.
MR. McCLELLAN: We've made it very clear that Iran needs to play a constructive and helpful role in Iraq. That's what they need to do. They know what our views are. They were signatories to the communique coming out of Sharm el-Sheikh saying that they would act responsibly and live up to the commitments made in that communique, and that's what I expect to happen.
Q Scott, on the intelligence bill, some of the things that didn't make it are the key issues regarding immigration that Mr. Sensenbrenner and others have raised, including driver's licenses for immigrants. The President has indicated he will cooperate with an effort to address those issues early on next year. Does the White House have a position at this point on driver's licenses? Are there other issues in the immigration area that it thinks need to be addressed?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, the President believes our immigration laws do need to be strengthened. And this legislation takes several steps towards that goal. I would point out that this legislation increases the Border Patrol agents by 2,000 in each of the next five fiscal years. It increases the immigration and Customs enforcement agents by 800 in each of the coming fiscal years. And it increases criminal penalties for illegal -- for smuggling and harboring of illegal immigrants. And it has some other measures in there that help us strengthen our immigration laws.
The President did previously, in a letter to Congress, express his views on some of those other issues, and you mentioned one. I mean, he talked about how he -- and he talked about in his most recent letter how he looked forward to talking with Congress early next year to look at ways that we can improve our asylum laws, as well as improve standards for issuing driver's licenses, and he felt that that is an issue that needs to be discussed closely with the states as we move forward.
Q Does the administration have a position on whether or not that should be a federal policy so that you don't have one state that has lower standards than others and --
MR. McCLELLAN: The view that the President has expressed is that we need to consult closely with the states on those standards that are being discussed.
Q So you haven't taken a position -- you have not yet embraced the notion of a single federal standard for --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, what we've said is we'll talk with Congress about these issues, and he looks forward to doing so early next year, and that it's important to consult closely with the states so that we can improve those standards.
Q Would you also explain the decision taken today, or announced today, that the President will send $20 million in direct aid to the Palestinians to help them deal with some of their financial problems?
MR. McCLELLAN: Sure. Sure. Well, the President believes we have a real opportunity before us to move forward on helping the Palestinian people realize a viable democratic state. The upcoming elections are part of the process toward moving in that direction, and we certainly have a national security interest in helping to end violence in the area and to move towards the President's two-state vision that he outlined in 2002. And the Secretary of State had recommended to the President that he use his waiver authority. The President agreed with that recommendation. He previously said we want to do everything we can to help the Palestinian people as they move forward on holding elections, and this contribution of financial assistance hopefully will send a signal to other nations, as well, that they should help the Palestinian people as they move forward on conducting these elections.
We're pleased that an agreement has been reached out between the Palestinians and Israel over the framework and the logistics for holding those elections. That's a positive and constructive step forward. And certainly, now you have a Finance Minister in Minister Fayad who is strongly committed to transparency and openness with those funds. He is someone that posts the budget on the website so everybody can see it. And so we have great confidence in the ability of those funds being directed toward the purpose for which they are designated.
Q If I could just clarify one thing. As I understand it, these funds are designated specifically to pay utility bills, because the Palestinian Authority is in such arrears that, I gather, it's in danger of losing power?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, they are in a serious financial situation right now. And that's why we're sending a message with this financial assistance that we want to help as they move forward on elections and as they move forward on putting institutions in place for a viable state to emerge. And, yes, the funds are designated for financing the provision of utility services, and this will help them address some of those financial issues as they move forward on holding elections and putting the institutions in place.
Q May we follow that?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I'm going to keep going, and I'll come to you. Go ahead.
Q Scott, two questions. One, right after meeting President Bush in the White House in the Oval Office, General Musharraf told CNN that it was -- he joins Mr. Kofi Annan of the U.N. criticizing the U.S. war on Iraq. He said that it was a big mistake why the U.S. to invade Iraq, and later on he went to London, in the House of Commons and he said that the U.S.-led war -- the way the U.S. led the war in Iraq made the world more dangerous than safe. How does the President feel? He calls him friend and helping the U.S. war on terror, and now he's --
MR. McCLELLAN: We work very closely with Pakistan in the global war on terrorism. We appreciate all their help. I think our views are very clear when it comes to Iraq, and I think the views of the international community are clear now, too, in the fact that everybody is supporting the hopes and aspirations of the Iraqi people to move forward on building a free and peaceful future.
Q The second question, Afghanistan --
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me keep going. Sarah, go ahead.
Q Thank you. Following Norah's question about Iran, there are published reports today that Iran is trying to influence the general Iraqi elections to form a religious government similar to Iran's. Would the President tolerate such a government in Iraq?
MR. McCLELLAN: The Iraqi people are going to decide who represents them in their government. Democracy is emerging in Iraq, and there is no turning back to the days of Saddam Hussein and his oppressive, brutal regime. We are there to support the Iraqi people and help them move forward on holding elections and determining who their leaders will be. January 30th is the date that was set by the Independent Electoral Commission, and we remain committed to helping them move forward on that time frame to elect the transitional national assembly that would pick the transitional leadership. And then we'll move forward on the constitution and move forward on elections for the permanent Iraqi government.
Q Scott, in your answer on Iran, and starting with your answer to Norah's question, I heard a very articulate reemphasis of what your policy is, but not an answer to the question of what it is that we would do. In other words, if we actually think that there are Iranians who would be attempting to vote, what is the action plan to help the Iraqis, as you said, in supporting them in the election, to make sure that only Iraqis are voting? And what is the set of disincentives that you are preparing to lay out for the Iranians so that they don't interfere?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, Iran did make a commitment. It was reiterated in the communique from Sharm el-Sheikh. We expect them to abide by that commitment. Iraq has talked to Iran about these issues. We've made our views very clear to Iran, as well as others. And we continue to call on Iran to act in a responsible way and be helpful as the Iraqi people move forward on building a brighter future.
And in terms of the election, all the modalities are being worked out by the Independent Electoral Commission to make sure that it's Iraqis who are the ones that are voting. We're there to help them make sure that they can move forward on an election where all Iraqis who want to are able to vote. And that's what we're committed to doing. We'll continue to make our views clear when concerns like this arise, and continue to remind those in the neighborhood that they have certain commitments that we expect them to live up to.
Q So just to make this clear, in response to the question, what is the action plan, the answer is: Remind them of their past commitments and hope that the Electoral Commission works out the proper modalities?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I wouldn't just limit it to those issues. But, again, you're asking me to speculate on something that is yet to happen at this point. I'm not going to do that. But I am going to make it very clear what our views are, and what we expect of parties in the region.
Ann, you had a question.
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, I'm glad you actually brought that up. I got a little bit of additional information from this morning when we discussed this issue. First of all, the President believes it's important for Major League Baseball -- management and the players' union -- to act by taking strong steps to address the problem. Professional baseball players are people our children look up to. Players use drugs -- players who use drugs undermine the efforts of parents and coaches to send the right message to our children. Drug use also poses some real risks, health risks to athletes, and it also diminishes the integrity of sports. And the President has made it very clear that he believes Major League Baseball needs to act to address the problem.
In terms of our involvement, the White House is not involved in any of the current negotiations between management and the players' union. There is some positive discussion going on that we've all ready about, where they are looking at instituting a new, tougher drug policy -- a tougher steroids-testing policy. And we hope that they will continue to move forward on that.
There was an individual, Roland Betts, who is a close personal friend of the President, someone who has a long history of involvement in baseball, who the President -- who I would describe as an informal conduit for the President with Major League Baseball previously. He had some discussions with management and the players' union about the President's belief that they need a tough, steroids-testing policy. And that was back in the May-June time frame. But my understanding is he has not been involved in any of the current negotiations.
Q Why not? He made a big deal out of it in his State of the Union address? What's wrong with the President --
MR. McCLELLAN: Not only that; the President has talked about it on many occasions. I remember when the Florida Marlins baseball team was here earlier in the year, he again emphasized the importance of setting the right example for our children and of taking steps to address this issue. The President has talked about it on many occasions. He believes very firmly that baseball needs to act to address this matter. And baseball is moving in that direction, and we hope that they will continue to move in that direction.
Q What prompted that May-June effort by Betts? What --
MR. McCLELLAN: There were some -- there were some talks I think that were going on at that point. And like I said, he was an informal conduit for the President on some of these issues. But it was really focusing on letting them know what the President's view was, his belief that Major League Baseball needs to act to address the matter.
Connie, go ahead, and then I'll come to Bob.
Q To follow on the Palestinian question, will the United States authorities monitor that $20 million to see that it actually is used for utilities? And is the U.S. helping the Palestinian people recover that reported $6 billion that Yasser Arafat --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that's why I said that -- I don't have any update for you on the latter part of that question. But I -- that's why I pointed out to you how we have great confidence in the accountability and transparency that's been established by Minister Fayad. He has a fully transparent system in place now that was not previously. And so we have great confidence in the ability that those funds will go where they're supposed to be going.
Q But if he's defeated on January 9th --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Connie, I guess you'll ask me about it then.
Q Scott, on intelligence reform,, the President said after the election he had political capital to spend. Can we assume he spent a considerable amount of it on this legislation? And was he surprised at the idea of having to spend it so quickly on Republicans to keep them from scuttling this bill?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, I would go back to what I said earlier. Members of Congress worked in a bipartisan way to get this done. There was overwhelming bipartisan support for this legislation in the House. This was a high priority for the President. His number one responsibility is the safety and security of the American people. And this -- the action on this legislation shows that we can get big things done when we work together and focus on what is right, and not worry about who gets the credit for the legislation or how to get a political advantage out of it.
Q Did he spend some of that capital --
MR. McCLELLAN: And the President -- the President worked very closely with leaders to move this legislation forward. I kept you apprised of his conversations, as well as his correspondence with members. The White House staff was very involved. Our leg team -- our legislative team deserves a lot of credit for their efforts to work with the leaders on this, as well as Secretary Card. And the Vice President was in close contact with the leadership. The President is pleased that it is moving forward.
Q Scott, two unrelated questions. First, on the economic conference next week, can you give us anything more in terms of themes or participants? And, secondly, getting back to the steroids issue for a minute, those of us who cover him know the President to be a very -- a very serious baseball fan, follower of the game. I'm wondering what his opinion is on the developments of the last week or two, the revelations about Giambi and Bonds.
MR. McCLELLAN: Those are ongoing investigations. We're not involved in those, and I'm not going to get into discussing those from this podium.
In terms of the economic conference, there's no additional update for you at this point. We're continuing to move forward on it and get all of the participants in place. As we get closer, we'll keep you apprised of the exact modalities of the meeting.
Q Scott, two days ago the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors gave a speech at Johns Hopkins, talking about, among other things, Social Security and how unsustainable it will be for two main reasons -- one being that, of course, the baby boomers, there are more of them than there will be young people to support them in the future. But the second point he raised is the fact that currently, benefit levels initially are determined by indexing them to wages, and that over a long period of time that that is just not sustainable. And I'm wondering if the administration would support the idea of indexing future benefits or initial benefits to prices, rather than wages.
MR. McCLELLAN: Paula, I think the President has made his principles very clear for moving forward on strengthening Social Security for future generations. The system is unsustainable. It is an unfunded liability that we need to fix now. It's important to addressing the long-term deficit and bringing that deficit down. That's why the President is committed to acting on this. He believes in solving problems, not passing them on to future generations. And we look forward to working very closely with Congress on the legislation as we move forward. But the President has not come out and endorsed a specific proposal on that at this point. He's simply outlined the principles that should guide us as we move forward on reform. The cost of inaction is far greater than the cost of action.
Q Would you agree the scheduled benefit increases should grow at a slower pace?
MR. McCLELLAN: Paula, we will continue to talk about this issue as we move forward, I am sure. The President believes that younger workers should be able to realize a greater rate of return on their retirement savings. That's why he strongly supports personal savings accounts. Personal savings accounts are part of the solution for fixing this problem of an unfunded liability. It is headed in a direction that will cost us some $10 trillion, or $10.4 trillion in real dollars today. And the President is committed to acting and fixing this problem, not passing it on.
That's what we will do. We look forward to working with Congress. We certainly appreciate Congressman Boyd, a Democrat, coming out in strong support of fixing this problem.
Q You don't rule out a --
MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead. I'm going to keep moving. I think the President, in his principles, Paula, outlined very clearly that there would be no changes for those at or near retirement, but that, for younger workers, we want to help them realize a greater rate of return on their retirement savings. That's why he is calling for a new benefit that would be in the form of a personal savings account.
Q On the International Criminal Court, the assistance bill for 2005 includes a provision that would bar any American aid to countries that do not sign the actual agreement with the U.S. Does the President support --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, which agreement?
Q The bilateral agreement that U.S. soldiers --
MR. McCLELLAN: Oh, the Article 98, yes.
Q But does the President support that clause in the assistance bill?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, the --
Q Should I start again?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, start again, please.
MR. McCLELLAN: It would bar -- I'm sorry, it would bar who?
Q American aid, American assistance to countries that do not sign --
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, and this is in the budget, is what you're referring to.
Q Does the President support it, the clause?
MR. McCLELLAN: First of all, in the budget, I mean, the President, I expect, is signing it very shortly, if he hasn't as I'm speaking out here right now. In terms of all the individual provisions, I can go and look at those, I'll be glad to take that question and take a look at it.
Q Scott, you say you expect Syria and Iran to abide by the agreement from Sharm el-Sheikh. I'm wondering -- I really find it hard to understand how there can be any confidence that they will keep to those agreements. Both countries have repeatedly, over the decades, shown absolutely no proclivity for abiding by agreements. Iran, you just look at the nuclear problems we've been having with them; they violated many agreements on that. Syria had agreed with us and promised us that they would cut down on support for terrorists and shut down terrorist operations, and now they still remain a major conduit. We've had sanctions against Iran since 1979; it hasn't done any good in controlling their behavior. We've just put in sanctions against Syria; it's not having any effect. So how can there be any confidence that they will live up to their agreements? And what leverage, realistically, do we have to make them?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the entire international community, I think, is coming together to express some of these same concerns that we have expressed with both these countries. And we will continue to work with the international community to keep pressure on these countries to take the responsible steps necessary and the commitments that they have made.
Q Will there be any investigation into the leak of the classified CIA cable about Iraq that was reported in yesterday's New York Times? And doesn't this incident further support Senator McCain's belief that the CIA is in some ways a rogue agency?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, in terms of determinations like that, I think you need to direct questions to the Justice Department. Those are matters that -- decisions and matters that they would look at.
Q Well, we just voted on this big intelligence bill and we have the CIA leaking like a sieve, right after Porter Goss is installed as Director. Don't you have any concern --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think we've publicly stated the seriousness of the leaking of classified information. The President has made his views very clear on that matter. But in terms of investigations, those aren't decisions that are made here.
Q On November the 16th, 2001, two months after 9/11, the Treasury Department announced that it would designate Series EE Savings Bonds as Patriot Bonds, and those funds that are raised by the sale of these bonds would contribute to the federal government's overall effort to fight the war on global terrorism. And I just have two quick questions. The first question is, does the President, at this time of Americans in harm's way, this time of year, the holidays approaching, does he encourage more Americans to purchase these Patriot Bonds? And is the administration doing enough to promote the sale of these bonds?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think it's probably best to get an update from the Treasury Department. I have not received an update recently on the matter. But in terms of cracking down on terrorist financing, we have taken a number of steps, and the Treasury Department has been at the forefront of those steps. That's one part of winning the global war on terrorism. And I think there were some provisions within the legislation as well that addressed some of those issues.
Q Scott, the Target Corporation of Minneapolis has barred the Salvation Army's Christmas bell ringers from the area of its 1,272 stores. That's cost the Salvation Army almost $9 million. And my first question, does the President have no concern about this at all?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think the President has talked about his views when it comes to faith-based organizations, and their ability to retain their identity as they help people. But in terms of this specific issue, I don't know the familiars of this specific issue, Les. I'm sorry, I don't set the policies for Target. And it's certainly a private company.
Q Why is the President, as Commander-in-Chief, allowing the sale of 50 AMRAAM missiles to Jordan, which supported Saddam Hussein during Desert Storm, which presently hosts Fatah terrorists, and in violation of the Jordan-Israel peace treaty has not had a full ambassador in Israel for four years?
MR. McCLELLAN: Jordan is someone that has also worked closely with us in the global war on terrorism. King Abdullah was just here. The President and King Abdullah had a very good visit about how we can continue to work together in the global war on terrorism, as well as other bilateral and regional issues, and certainly moving forward on Middle East peace.
Q Who threatens Jordan? Who is the threat that they need these missiles? Who?
MR. McCLELLAN: Bob.
MR. McCLELLAN: Because he believes these individuals have served their nation with distinction and honor. And he appreciates the great work that all three of those individuals have done, for a variety of reasons. And the President looks forward to awarding them the Medal of Freedom.
Q And why now, Scott?
MR. McCLELLAN: Helen, go ahead.
MR. McCLELLAN: Ongoing? If you have something, you ought to let --
Q Even after Abu Ghraib and the terrible shame that it brought to us, this still goes on.
MR. McCLELLAN: If you have something, you ought to take it to the attention of the Department of Defense.
Q I personally don't. I've been reading in the papers recently, several days, that this is going on.
MR. McCLELLAN: The President expects allegations of this nature, which are serious allegations, to be fully investigated. He expects the Department of Defense to get to the bottom of any allegations that are made, to hold people responsible for wrongdoing if there is wrongdoing, and to take corrective action where appropriate. The Department of Defense has a number of ongoing investigations. These are issues that they take very seriously. In terms of the policy, I think the President's policy has been made very clear. We are a nation of laws and a nation of values, and we expect people to adhere to our values, as well as our laws.
Q You don't adhere to the Geneva Conventions. How can they know --
MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, in Iraq, the Geneva Convention does apply, and we do expect it to --
Q How about Guantanamo?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- we do expect it to be adhered to.
Q Thank you.
MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you.
END 1:39 P.M. EST