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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
February 15, 2005

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

Play Video  Video (Real)

12:46 P.M. EST

MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon. I have one announcement to begin with. The President and Mrs. Bush will host the King and Queen of Norway for a lunch at the White House on March 7, 2005. The United States and Norway share a long history of friendship and a strong commitment to freedom. Norway is contributing to democracy and stability in Afghanistan, the Balkans and Iraq, and working with us to resolve conflicts and provide assistance in Sudan, Sri Lanka and elsewhere around the world. The visits of their Majesties King Harald and Queen Sonja will mark 100 years of U.S.-Norwegian diplomatic relations.

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

Q The fact that the U.S. has recalled Ambassador Scobey from Syria, is that an indication that you believe that Syria was involved in yesterday's attack in Beirut?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Ambassador Scobey met with Syrian officials, I believe, yesterday, and delivered a very clear message about what our concerns are. Secretary Rice has decided to recall Ambassador Scobey for consultations and that's what will be taking place. She will be leaving Syria and coming back for consultations here.

Yesterday's attack was a disturbing development and we've made it clear to Syria that we expect Syria to act in accordance with the United Nations Security Council resolution calling for the withdrawal of all foreign troops and the disbanding of militias. We also have made it very clear to Syria that we want them to use their influence to prevent the kind of terrorist attack that took place yesterday from happening.

Q But, sorry, again, just to pursue this a little further -- you don't recall an ambassador unless you're showing displeasure with the country in which that ambassador is stationed. So what sort of displeasure are you demonstrating here with Syria by recalling Ambassador Scobey?

MR. McCLELLAN: We've had a number of serious concerns about Syria's behavior. We want to see Syria change its behavior and play a constructive role in the region. And we want to see Syria take steps to use their influence to prevent terrorist attacks from happening in the first place. That's what we've made clear -- Syria and their troop presence in Lebanon is a destabilizing force in the region.

Q So are you suggesting that they didn't take steps to prevent this car bombing and this assassination, or that they may have had some involvement?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, in terms of the terrorist attack that took place yesterday on former Prime Minister Hariri, that is a matter that's being discussed at the United Nations Security Council; they're having discussions about it. We are very much a part of those discussions; we've been working very closely with our French counterparts at the United Nations to discuss this matter with the rest of the Security Council. I think that's going on as we speak. They're talking about what measures may need to be taken, and we'll let that meeting take place first.

In terms of the investigation, I don't have any update in terms of the investigation of who was responsible for carrying out this horrible terrorist attack on former Prime Minister Hariri. What I do want to make clear is that Syria's troop presence in Lebanon is a destabilizing force. The people of Lebanon should be allowed to control their future free from outside interference and free from terrorism.

Terry, go ahead.

Q How long do you think these consultations will take? And are any other diplomatic personnel being brought home?

MR. McCLELLAN: Any other diplomatic personnel in Syria? You can talk to the State Department about that. The Ambassador is being recalled, that's what I know.

Q And how long will these consultations take? Do we expect this is going to be a long absence, or just a week or --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the State Department is briefing right now, and they're probably the best ones to address those questions to about the timing of those consultations.

Q And to be clear, are you bringing the Ambassador home for consultations, or to send a clear message?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, she has delivered a clear message to Syria. She did that yesterday, as I said, I believe. You can double check that with the Department of State. We've made very clear what our concerns are regarding Syria and we've made it very clear that we want to see Syria change its behavior and play a constructive role in the region. They are not playing a helpful role in the region right now by some of their continued activity.

And in terms of the consultations, again, those would be best directed to the Department of State, and they're briefing, I think, right about now, as well.

Q How can you on the one hand say you don't know who is responsible, and at the same time, be pulling the ambassador back and moving forward with the Security Council, talking about punishing those responsible? Why tiptoe around the issue?

MR. McCLELLAN: Norah, I think we've made our views very clear when it comes to Syria. We've expressed our concerns. Our concerns are not just with their presence in Lebanon. That is one of the concerns, and the terrorist attack that took place yesterday on former Prime Minister Hariri underscored the importance of Syria taking steps to change its behavior, by withdrawing its forces and helping to use its influence to prevent attacks from happening in the first place. We've expressed our concerns about Syria's continued support for terrorism, we've expressed our concerns about Syria's behavior with regards to Iraq, and we've expressed our concerns on other issues, as well.

Q But, Scott, can you just clarify this, because I'm still not clear. Is this a temporary withdrawal of the ambassador? I mean, is this a sign of the relationship between the United States and Syria changing?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, in terms of the ambassador being recalled for consultations, those are questions you ought to direct to the Department of State. They can fill you in on possibly more specifics about how long that may be. I think you should not look beyond it, other than the fact that she's coming back for consultations to talk about these concerns and to talk about where we go from here with regards to Syria.

Q So it's not necessarily the administration's position that Syria is not listening to the United States, they're not willing to talk, or that diplomatic means isn't working?

MR. McCLELLAN: That diplomatic means isn't working; is that your question? We have, in terms of our ways for addressing our concerns with Syria, we have a Syria Accountability Act in place. We've taken some steps under the Syria Accountability Act, because of Syria's continued behavior that plays a counterproductive role in the region. The President made very clear some of his views with regards to Syria in his State of the Union address. He stated them very clearly. And there are always diplomatic options that are available there to us when it comes to Syria. And in terms of anything beyond that, I would look at exactly what we said yesterday, and exactly what we've said today. I wouldn't go beyond that.

Q Have you received any information that directly links Syria to the attack?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I have no update on the investigation, itself, in terms of the terrorist attack that took place yesterday. I think I've made that clear.

Q Because on one hand, you're making the link between these steps that you're taking against Syria to the fact that the attack happened. But on the other hand, you're not linking Syria to the attack. I mean, how do you mesh the two?

MR. McCLELLAN: This was a brutal terrorist attack that took place yesterday in Lebanon on someone who had long fought for Lebanon's freedom and sovereignty and independence from outside influence and outside interference. And the Security Council resolution that was passed last September was very clear in terms of what the expectations are with regards to Lebanon. It stated very clearly that foreign troops need to be withdrawn from Lebanon. It stated very clearly that militias need to be disbanded and disarmed. And it stated very clearly that control over Lebanon ought to be by the government of Lebanon.

And as I stated again, Syria's continued presence in Lebanon is a destabilizing force in the region, and a destabilizing force in Lebanon. Syria's continued support for terrorism is a problem. It's a concern that we've expressed directly to the government of Syria. Syria needs to change its behavior and use its influence in a constructive way to do what it can to prevent attacks like this from happening in the first place.

Q Do you suspect that Syria is behind this attack?

MR. McCLELLAN: Terry, I would express what I have already expressed, and that's what I -- that's what I know at this point. In terms of who is behind this attack, that's a matter that obviously is being investigated at this time. I think it's still premature to know who was the one responsible for the attack, itself. But Syria's military presence there is not playing a helpful role. It is playing a destabilizing role.

Q Scott, what kind of action does the President want to see out of the United Nations Security Council, if any?

MR. McCLELLAN: As I said yesterday, that we would be consulting with members of the Security Council about these issues. Those discussions are going on now. I'm going to let those discussions take place. The French are very involved in that -- we appreciate their efforts, we've been working very closely with the French. And let's let those discussions take place.

Go ahead.

Q Scott, I'd like to pursue a question we started earlier this morning, which is, speaking of diplomatic clarity, have we sent a clear message to the North Koreans about whether or not they should go ahead and conduct a nuclear test? And if not, would -- do you think there was any risk that they don't understand where America's red lines are here?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, North Korea has previously stated that they are committed to a nuclear free peninsula. They've made those comments themselves. And what our focus is on is the same focus of the other countries in the region. All countries in the region have said they want to see a nuclear free peninsula. All countries in the region are saying to North Korea that they need to come back to the six-party talks to talk about how to move forward on resolving this in a peaceful, diplomatic manner. North Korea needs to come to a strategic decision to dismantle and eliminate its nuclear weapons program. That's where our focus is, that's where the focus of all parties in the region is. And we're continuing to consult with people in the region about that.

Q Understanding that goal, Scott, they did declare last week that they have nuclear weapons. Maybe they do, maybe they don't. The question is, have we sent a clear message to them about the risks or the punishments that would follow if they followed that up by conducting a nuclear test?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, in terms of why they made that statement, I'm not going to try to get into --

Q Right, nor will I.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- assessing that or trying to determine what they meant by what they were saying and why they said it. North Korea has frequently used that kind of rhetoric in the past; you're very well aware of that.

North Korea knows what our views are when it comes to their nuclear weapons program. They are views shared by the rest of the countries in the region. We want to see North Korea abandon its nuclear ambitions and eliminate its nuclear weapons program. That's a way for North Korea to realize better relations with the outside world. If they continue down that path, they are only further isolating themselves from the rest of the world.

Q But we have not sent a specific message about testing?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think I've addressed this matter and what our views are. I'm not going to get into "what-ifs" or anything of that nature.

Q Scott, as far as fighting against terrorism is concerned, President Bush is very famous in India. After extensive interviews in India and across the country here, India Globe decided that he deserved to be man of the year.

As far as my question is concerned, more money for Pakistan -- the opposition leaders in Pakistan, and also in London -- what they are saying is really two things. One, of course President Bush and General Musharraf fighting against terrorism. But as far as -- there is no push towards democracy, and also Pakistan has not delivered Osama bin Laden. So where do we stand now, further fighting against terrorism?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Pakistan is a strong partner with us in the global war on terrorism. We appreciate all their efforts they're taking to go after those who seek to do harm to Americans, to the civilized world. They've made significant progress, and they've made sacrifices, and we appreciate that. They're one of a number of countries around the world that are working closely with us to win the war on terrorism.

In terms of the President's views on freedom and democracy, they're very clear, and he's made it very clear to Pakistan, as well. They've taken some steps and we want to continue to encourage them to take -- build upon those steps and take additional steps.

John, go ahead.

Q All right, no questions about funding Social Security reform today. Two quick questions on the tragedy that's happened to President [sic] Hariri. One, all of the things that you said this morning and that the President put in his statement -- the demand of the troop withdrawal, the disbanding of the militias -- was all part of the Taif Accord of 1989 that was supposed to end all of the trouble in Lebanon. What will be different now that would enforce the rules of the Taif Accord that hasn't been the case for the last 15 years?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, they have acted inconsistent with the Accord. As I pointed out yesterday, Syria has, and there was a resolution passed last fall at the Security Council at the United Nations calling for an end to the foreign occupation in Lebanon. It stated very clearly what needs to happen. And we want to see Syria act in accordance with that resolution. We want to see Syria withdraw its forces, we want to see Syria stop playing a role that is not helpful and that is destabilizing. And that's what we're saying.

Q The follow up question I had is, this is the highest level assassination in Lebanon since the bombing that killed President-elect Bashir Gemayel, 21 years ago. And I note with interest that his brother was at the Hariri home yesterday and expressed feelings about it. The Phalange and the Maronite Christian element have not been close to the United States since the death of President Gemayel a long time ago. Does this mean that we'll work a little bit closer with them to achieve the goal of a free Lebanon?

MR. McCLELLAN: We're going to continue to stand with the international community and the Lebanese people as they work to achieve the freedoms that are theirs, and to have more control over their own lives, their own future, and to have a sovereign and independent state free from outside interference, free from intimidation and free from terrorism. Our views are very clear in terms of Lebanon, and we will continue to make those views known and we will continue to support the Lebanese people as they move forward.

Carl, go ahead.

Q This morning, Secretary General Kofi Annan said that he would be expecting there to be some progress toward the implementation of 1559 before he reports back to the Security Council in April. Is the administration satisfied with that timetable?

MR. McCLELLAN: I didn't see exactly what he said.

Q In essence, that they were looking for progress towards the implementation of 1559 by the time the Secretary General --

MR. McCLELLAN: There are discussions going on right now at the Security Council. I want to let those discussions take place, and then maybe we can have more to say after that.

Q As a secondary question, Scott, is the administration satisfied with not participating in the investigation of the assassination of Hariri and leaving it up to parties there? Or would the U.S. government like to take a more active role in the investigation?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that would be something that would have to be requested of us. That has not been requested at this point in time. And we want to see the matter investigated fully and find out who was responsible. And then it's important that steps are taken to punish those who were responsible for this brutal attack on Mr. Hariri.

Q So wait for an invitation rather than suggest U.S. involvement is a necessity now?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, I think that's exactly what I said.

Peter, go ahead.

Q Scott, what message would the President like the rest of the world to take from the U.S. non-participation in the provisions of the Kyoto treaty that kick in tomorrow?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think our views are very well known; they've been known for quite some time. In terms of the issue of climate change, let me step back and talk about that, because the United States has been a leader in advancing the science of climate change.

Under this administration we have made an unprecedented commitment to reduce the growth of greenhouse gas emissions in a way that continues to grow our economy. And you have to factor those things into consideration when you're looking at these issues. There's a lot that we are still learning about the science of climate change, but this administration is working to advance that science and to learn more about climate change, itself, and its effect on the world. And we're working very closely with our international partners on these issues, as well. We've made some unprecedented commitments to furthering the research.

Q What, if anything, would it take for the President to revisit being part of this?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think the United States Senate spoke very clearly several years ago when it came to the Kyoto protocol and voted 95-0 to reject that approach, for some very good reasons. But we are continuing to move forward in an aggressive way to address climate change. It is a serious matter; it's a matter that this administration takes very seriously.

And you should look at the initiatives we're pursuing. There are a number of hydrogen initiatives we're pursuing. We've invested $3.6 billion in tax incentives for renewable energy efficient technologies over the next five years. We're increasing fuel economy standards. In terms of hydrogen, the President is working to make hydrogen fuel cell vehicles commercially available by 2020. And then, of course, the zero emissions coal-fired power plan that the President announced, as well. So there are a number of initiatives we're pursuing.

Q And just one more on this, if I may. Former Vice President Gore today suggested that financial interests of the President's supporters play a big role in the President's stand on this. To what extent do they play a role?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President is making decisions based on what is in the best interests of the American people, and that's what he will continue to do.

Q Scott, the South Korean government has given away about $260 million worth of various form of economic aid to North Korea. Does the U.S. government have any plan to request South Korean government to cut off --

MR. McCLELLAN: To do what with the South Korean government?

Q To cut off any economic aid --

MR. McCLELLAN: We work very closely with the South Korean government. And we're working together with South Korea and the other countries in the region to move forward on the six-party framework that we've been pursuing when it comes to North Korea and their pursuit of nuclear weapons. That's what we will continue to do. I don't have any update beyond that.

Q Scott, on the CIA leak situation, a judge has ruled that the two reporters have to testify before the grand jury. Does the White House agree with this, or have any thoughts on it? And can you tell us, do you know whether Robert Novak has been divulging the source of the person who leaked the name originally?

MR. McCLELLAN: First of all, on the first part of your question, that's a matter that's before the courts. I don't know the facts surrounding that matter, so I think we'll leave it to the courts to address that matter.

Q Anything on Robert Novak?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I don't.

Q So the President thinks that they should testify or go to jail?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President has made it very clear that when it comes to this matter that anybody who has information ought to come forward and present that information so that the people investigating this can get to the bottom of it. That's what the President's views are. I don't know the facts about these individual reporters and what they may or may not know that would be helpful. That's a matter that the courts are working to address. But the President has made it clear that he wants to get to the bottom of this matter, and that anyone who has information that relates to this that can help the prosecutors move forward and get to the bottom of it should provide that information to the prosecutors.

Q But just to be clear -- because you're suggesting that the President believes there's no First Amendment privilege, is that what he believes?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, that's not what I said. I said I don't know the facts regarding the circumstances of these two reporters. That's a matter before the courts. I don't know the facts regarding it, that's not what I'm saying at all.

Go ahead, Greg.

Q Scott, a former White House staffer in the faith-based office said the President's compassion agenda hasn't lived up to its potential partly because of minimal effort on the part of senior White House staffers. Any merit to those claims?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, the President has made his faith-based and community initiative one of his highest priorities. It was something that he talked about at the very beginning of his administration, and then we've worked to put that initiative into action. And the President has signed two executive orders relating to the faith-based and community initiative. Those executive orders help level the playing field so that faith-based organizations at the local level that have a proven record of helping those who are in need and those who are suffering can compete with other organizations on an equal footing.

And the President is going to continue to push forward on his faith-based initiative in the second term. He talked about some of the initiatives we're working on this term, in the State of the Union address, that build upon our efforts that we've already undertaken. This is a high priority for this administration. The President has participated in White House conferences on the faith-based and community initiative. There have been conferences all across the United States to highlight this initiative and to reach out to the armies of compassion that exist all across America to enlist their help in our efforts to help people in need.

Q Your answer goes to the heart of the President's commitment. The criticism was really aimed at senior White House-level officials who are working with members of Congress, in terms of putting muscle behind --

MR. McCLELLAN: And those officials are helping the President implement his agenda. And his agenda includes rallying the armies of compassion to help those in need. And that's exactly what we have done, and that's exactly what we will continue to do. You should look at the results. The results are very clear in terms of the money that is now going out to faith-based groups to help more people that are in need.

Q Can I follow up on that? Rallying the armies of compassion and that kind of leadership is one thing. This former special assistant points to the resources dedicated and makes the claim that originally there was a proposal for roughly $8 billion annually in tax incentives and direct funding for faith-based programs, and that the actual results has been far, far lower than that because other priorities have taken precedence.

MR. McCLELLAN: No, Congress has to act, as well, on these efforts. We've made clear what our views are, we've called on Congress to act on those. We've continued to make a significant commitment to providing incentives for charitable giving in our '06 budget. And we will continue to urge Congress to act on those initiatives.

Q Scott, back on the leak-gate situation. What has changed here at the White House as it relates to your office and other offices here as it relates to us? How has -- how have things changed?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know of any changes. I hope that our relationship has continued to improve.

Q I mean, is there any more kind of a filing system, of sorts, of emails? Is there a filing system of phone calls? What has changed since leak-gate?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know of any changes that have occurred in recent months.

Q All right, well, and a follow-up question on this. Some are saying that it's curious that the White House, all the documentation that is out there now in the hands of the courts, that there is no information as to who gave the reporter the information. What do you say to that?

MR. McCLELLAN: What do I say to that? The same thing that the President has said previously and what I said to Norah earlier.

Sarah, go ahead.

Q Thank you. Scott --

Q What did the President say earlier? Can you reiterate that?

MR. McCLELLAN: I did. I addressed it to Norah in response to her question. No one wants to get to the bottom of it more than the President of the United States, and that's why he's urged anyone who has information that can help prosecutors get to the bottom of it to provide that information to those officials.

Q So the paper trail has ended here at the White House --

MR. McCLELLAN: Sarah, go ahead.

Q Thank you. Scott, Colombian President Uribe and Venezuelan President Chavez are meeting today, a meeting arranged by Fidel Castro. Is the President going to use his personal diplomacy to try and heal the rift between these two countries?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think the State Department has spoken to some of our views with regard to Venezuela and the relationship that they have with Colombia. President Uribe is someone we have worked very closely with, and I think you should look at what the State Department has said over recent days on that very matter.

Q The President has spoken repeatedly about an "axis of evil." With Syria's suspected increased involvement in terrorist activities, are we now looking at a "quadrangle of evil"?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think you're looking at exactly what I said yesterday and exactly what I said today. And I think that's how you should look at it. I know there's an interest in this room sometimes of trying to interpret things beyond what is said, but I would encourage you to look at exactly what was said and report what was said.

Q A follow-up to that. You've got Zarqawi out of Syria involved in Iraq; now we have suspected involvement with the possibility of Syrians in Lebanon. One cannot help but connect the dots to say that Syria is --

MR. McCLELLAN: Involvement of Syrians in Lebanon? I mean, that's --

Q Well, we're not sure.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there are Syrians in Lebanon. There are troops in Lebanon.

Q So are we more concerned -- is Syria more now -- could be part of an "axis of evil" and a "quadrangle of evil"?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think I just addressed that. Go ahead.

Q -- issue of reforms and political prisoners in Egypt raised last night in the meeting between the Vice President and Egyptian foreign minister?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't have any readout from that. You might check with the Vice President's office. I haven't checked on that.

Q Scott, you say that Syria hasn't played a very helpful role in a number of areas in the Middle East. Will you be a bit more specific in terms of what Syria has done that has not been helpful, in terms of Palestinian opposition groups, such as Islamic Jihad, Hamas and others? Are they funding the terrorism? Are they training the terrorists in Southern Lebanon?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think we've expressed our views previously, in terms of Syria's support for terrorism. That has been a concern of ours. We've talked about their support for groups like Hezbollah, and we've talked about the role that they're playing in the Middle East. And we want to see people play a constructive role in the Middle East --

Q Spoiler role?

MR. McCLELLAN: -- not a destabilizing role.

Q Thank you.

MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you.

END 1:15 P.M. EST