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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
March 2, 2005

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

Play Video  Video (Real)

12:51 P.M. EST

MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon. The President looks forward, here shortly, to go over to the Capitol to pay tribute to Jackie Robinson, who will be honored posthumously with the Congressional Medal of Honor. Following that, the President looks forward to welcoming the World Series champions, Boston Red Sox to the White House, and congratulating them on their great victory. And then this afternoon, the President has a meeting scheduled with some members of Congress to continue talking about our efforts to strengthen Social Security and the need to act this year to do so because of the problems facing Social Security.

You all heard testimony from Chairman Greenspan this morning talking about the need to address this unfunded liability, and he talked about the importance of acting sooner, rather than later, because the choices only become -- as he put it -- more painful if we wait and do not act.

With that, I'll be glad to go to questions. Steve.

Q Where do you stand on the Iran question in the wake of Secretary Rice's visit to the European Union?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, she had further discussions with her European counterparts about how we can move forward together on a common strategy to get Iran to abandon any ambitions for a nuclear weapon. We want to do our part to support the European efforts. This is about strengthening their diplomatic approach to resolving this matter. And so we've continued to discuss this issue with our European friends. The President has been looking at ways that we can help and do our part to make sure we're doing everything we can to support those efforts. We want those efforts to succeed.

You understand why we've been skeptical about Iran's intentions, because for some 20 years they have hid their activities from the international community. But the European efforts are important efforts. We want to see them succeed, and we want to do our part to help.

Q Are you negotiating elements of this common strategy, including the economic incentives?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the issue here is really about Iran's behavior and what Iran's intentions are. And the question is, what is Iran going to do to come into full compliance with its international obligations. The international community is sending a very clear, unified message to Iran that it should give up any ambitions to develop a nuclear weapon, that it should come into full compliance with its international obligations, and that it should cooperate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency. The International Atomic Energy Agency has pointed out that there has been some cooperation, but they have much more to do. And we expect Iran to live up to its international obligations.

And Secretary Rice is now back here. She was having a lunch here, and a short time ago, just a few minutes ago she stopped by the Oval Office. And so we're continuing to look at these issues, and when there's more to say, obviously we will at this point.

Q She gave him an update on her conversations?

MR. McCLELLAN: She just went in there a few minutes ago, so I expect that she will certainly talk with him about those discussions that she had with her European counterparts. The President had very good meetings last week with the European -- with each of the European leaders who are involved in these efforts.

Q Scott, a month ago, Chairman Greenspan urged a go-slow approach on Social Security reform. Today he stressed the urgency of it. What changed?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think you're probably talking about two different things here. What Chairman Greenspan was referring to two months ago was talking about how we phase in the personal accounts, and by acting now we will have more time to go about that approach and phase it -- phase it in. The President has called for a plan that phases in those personal accounts over time.

So -- and today, what he was talking about is that if you're going to make changes to Social Security, you need to do them sooner rather than later, because if you wait, the solutions -- this is his quote -- "the solutions are going to be very painful." The fact is, that in 2008 -- and I think Chairman Greenspan touched on this a little bit -- in 2008, the first baby boomers are going to start retiring. You have a lessening amount of workers paying for a growing number of retirees. And the current system cannot sustain that over time. It's an unsustainable liability that is facing the system of more than $10 trillion. By 2018, you're going to have shortfalls start to be experienced and what is being paid out is going to exceed what's coming into the system.

And that's why we need to act now. There are serious problems facing Social Security, and it only gets worse over time, and it only -- and it starts costing $600 billion each year you wait to act. That's why it's important to act now when the choices -- you have more choices available to you for addressing this problem.

Q The battle lines on both sides here are becoming increasingly sharp. Is the President concerned about the depth of the political battle that this issue is igniting?

MR. McCLELLAN: The depth of it? The President believes he was elected to lead and act and address problems. That's what the American people elected us to do. This is one of the biggest problems facing the American people. It affects every American. And that's why the President is really just now stepping up our efforts to engage the American people in this national discussion. We are going to be blanketing the country, senior White House officials, Cabinet officials, talking with the American people and educating them about what those problems are facing Social Security and the need to act on a solution this year.

The President has never been afraid to take on the big priorities facing this country. He knows these are difficult issues, but it was a difficult issue when he took on the education reforms, it was a difficult issue when he took on Medicare reform, it was a difficult issue when he advocated tax cuts to get out economy growing again. And we were able to accomplish big things because people put aside some of their partisan differences and said, let's get things done.

Q Scott, you talked about --

Q I give the floor to my colleagues.

Q You talk about acting right --

MR. McCLELLAN: Deb is waiting patiently.

Q Well, what, I have not been?

MR. McCLELLAN: No.

Q Just because John gave her the imprimatur there?

MR. McCLELLAN: You have not been. But I'll get to you in a minute.

Q Would the President view it as a defeat if Social Security reform did not pass this year? And why does it have to pass this year?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think -- well, because for the reasons that I stated, and for the reasons that Chairman Greenspan highlighted in his testimony today. It's important that we act now because the problem only gets worse with time. As I pointed out, it costs an additional $600 billion each year that we wait to fix the problem. The President wants to make Social Security permanently sound, and he wants to strengthen it for our younger workers so that they can realize a greater rate of return on their retirement savings.

This approach will not change anything for those who are now retired or those who were born before 1950. And one of the issues that has been out there is that some are trying to engage today's seniors in saying this is going to affect you. Well, it's not. It's not going to have any changes for today's seniors. What this is about --

Q Would the President view it as a defeat --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, hang on -- what this is about is strengthening it for our children and grandchildren while making sure that our current retirees and near retirees continue to receive the exact coverage that they've been promised.

Q But, Scott, the people who are saying, we've got to act now, get it passed this year, don't have to face the voters next year. Those people, the actual lawmakers in this country, on the Republican side, are saying, maybe not so fast. You had Senator Frist, who is saying it may not even get done this year. He couldn't say whether it would be weeks or months or even a year. You have Tom DeLay on the House side saying, there are months worth of dialogue that needs to happen. There is a certain amount of pessimism and concern among Republicans about actually getting this done. So, how does the President deal with that?

MR. McCLELLAN: Leadership is about confronting the big challenges that we face, and the American people will reward those who act to address the big problems that this country faces. That's the message that the President is sending. The American people expect us, when they -- when we see problems, to work together in a bipartisan way to solve those problems. And that's what leadership is about. That's why the President is going to lead.

Q I assume he said that to Senator Frist and Tom DeLay, and they are still making public comments that seem to convey a -- less of a sense of urgency than the President is communicating.

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think so. Senator Frist actually, yesterday, said that he was encouraged by the progress that is being made to reach out to the American people and engage them in this important national discussion, and --

Q The President is saying it must get passed this year. Frist said, in terms of whether it will be a week, a month, six months, or a year, it's just too early to tell. It sounds to me like that's a little bit more equivocation than the President would like to hear.

MR. McCLELLAN: He said what we've said. We're very early in the process right now. That's why I said we're really just now beginning to step up our efforts.

Q But he said he wants it this year. He said he wants it this year, and he's not getting that level of commitment yet, is he, from Republican leaders?

MR. McCLELLAN: Okay, let me finish what I'm trying to tell you, because --

Q All right, but let's be responsive.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- time and time again, the naysayers in Washington have said that we cannot get it done. Time and time again, this President has led, the Congress has acted, and we have gotten it done. We saw that in the first term when we passed historic education reforms. We saw it in the first term when we passed the first improvements and reforms to Medicare in its history to give seniors prescription drug coverage. We saw it in the first term when the President was able to pass tax cuts for all the American people and to get the economy growing and creating jobs. And now we've seen the result of the action that the President has taken. So we --

Q Senator Frist is a naysayer at this point, your leader in the Senate?

MR. McCLELLAN: No.

Q Well, he's --

MR. McCLELLAN: You seem to be, though.

Q I'm not anything. I'm just quoting to you what the leaders say. They're the ones who matter here, not me.

MR. McCLELLAN: And I think you should talk to Senator Frist's office, because if you look at what he said, he said he was encouraged by the progress that is being made, and he said that he supported personal accounts. And leader DeLay is someone who is committed to getting this done, as well. So I think you need to look at the full context of their remarks. I think some of those remarks were taken somewhat out of context and used very selectively in some of the reporting that I saw.

Q Scott, can you describe to what extent the President and the administration have been involved with Chuck Hagel and the legislation that he plans to drop on Monday that will include the PRAs, as well as addressing solvency?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know that we've -- I don't know what level of involvement we have, but I don't think it's been much. I mean, I'm sure we've talked with him, as we have others at the staff level. But I don't think we've had much involvement in that legislation.

Q Is the President comfortable with the legislative vehicle being introduced on Monday?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President welcomes people that are putting forward ideas for solving this problem. He welcomes all ideas. He's made that very clear. This is a time to talk about the problems and make sure that we all have a common understanding of the problems facing Social Security, first and foremost. Then we can work together to come up with a bipartisan solution to get something done this year. And so he's going to continue saying he welcomes all those who have ideas for making Social Security permanently sound, and strengthening it for our younger workers.

Q You said we're at the beginning of this process. The President has been talking about this for about two months now. And I'm just wondering, when you say he and others are encouraged by the progress, what progress has been made so far? What's next? And then, what's --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think, first and foremost, more and more people are recognizing that there is a serious problem facing Social Security. If you look at surveys, the American people clearly understand that Social Security faces major problems. Survey after survey has shown that they believe it's in crisis or it faces major problems. And you heard Chairman Greenspan this morning -- remember, Chairman Greenspan was the one who chaired the commission back in the '80s to fix Social Security. And the result was tax increases and benefit cuts. And the end result is we're still back in the same problem. It didn't fix the system permanently.

The President wants to fix the system permanently. And when you say two months, the President really went to the nation just 30 days ago in his State of the Union address and clearly outlined the problems facing Social Security and talked about some ideas for solving it. So we're very much in the early stages of this legislative process and this education process. And the President looks forward to continuing traveling all across this country engaging the American people, as do administration officials. We're going to engage people all across this country to involve the American people in this important priority, because all of us are affected by Social Security. And the President wants to make sure that we strengthen it and that it's there for our younger workers. Many people my age and younger don't think it's going to be there for them.

Go ahead.

Q The President, at the beginning of his term, made a strategic decision to reform Social Security first, and then next year to tackle tax reform. Now, if we don't get Social Security reform this year, does that complicate or derail tax reform?

MR. McCLELLAN: You can ask me that question at that point in time. The President --

Q What's the reason that the President -- is that a reason that the President said, I want to do Social Security first?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President is optimistic and confident that we're going to get it done this year because the American people are involved in the process. The American people expect us to solve problems.

Q But if -- let's say it didn't happen, it doesn't get done this year. What is the ramifications for taxes?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't play "if," but as far as tax reform, we have the bipartisan advisory panel, headed by former Senators Mack and Breaux, who are moving forward. They've already had a meeting. They're working on this issue. They're going to come back with some recommendations to the Treasury Secretary. The tax code is a complicated mess, as the President has often talked about. It needs to be updated and reformed and made simpler and fairer. And we need to make sure that it's a tax code that encourages job creation and economic growth. And so that's a high priority for this President. We're moving forward on that priority, as well. But we are further along right now in the national discussion on Social Security, and that's where our immediate focus is right now.

Q The reason I ask is, Senator Mack told me he was glad that he didn't have to deal with Social Security, because if Social Security wasn't reformed this year, then the tax panel would have to consider it and it would complicate things unimaginably.

MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't seen exactly what he said, but these are both high priorities, and these are both important priorities for the American people. And the President is -- we are early in the second term. This President was not reelected to, in his view, just sit and hold the office. He was reelected to get things done, both at home and abroad, and he is going to continue tackling the big priorities that we face and continue solving problems. He believes it's important for us to focus on the big issues of the day and not pass those on to future generations.

Go ahead, John.

Q Scott, a couple questions on the Middle East, starting with Syria/Lebanon. The President, obviously, is of the view that Syria should pull its troops, intelligence officials -- pull its influence out of Lebanon immediately.

MR. McCLELLAN: Military forces, intelligence services.

Q President Assad yesterday was quoted in Time Magazine as saying, within a few months. That deadline appears to be unacceptable to the United States. As you answer, is it the view of the administration that if that happened tomorrow, if Syria got religion, in your view, and just pulled everybody out, can Lebanon handle that? Can the interim government of Lebanon, then, handle its internal security, or would it need help?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, it's the international community that is saying to Syria, you need to comply with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1559. You need to withdraw from Lebanon. And we've seen words; what we want to see is action that moves in that direction. Syria needs to quit interfering in Lebanon. The Lebanese people are standing up in the streets of Lebanon and saying, we want to reclaim our sovereignty and independence free from outside interference. And the first step is for Syria to get out of the country.

They will also be having parliamentary elections coming up. We want to make sure that those elections are free and fair. That's why it's also important for Syria to remove the military forces and remove the intelligence services. And we want to do what we can to support those elections. And I think Secretary Rice has spoken about election monitors.

But as we move forward on these efforts, as the Lebanese people move forward to build a truly democratic future, I think the international community is prepared to do what it can to help. And we certainly want to do what we can to help. But we don't want to get ahead of that process right now. It is where it is right now, and right now, we are continuing to say to Syria, you need to change your behavior and get out of Lebanon.

Q But it's possible, if you get to that point, help could include some sort of security assistance --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not prepared --

Q -- Israel, for example, has raised concerns that if Syria came rushing out of there, the Hezbollah --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think that's getting ahead of ourselves at this point.

Q On the issue of Iran, you said Secretary Rice is here to brief the President, and had her lunch with others here at the White House. The administration, by all accounts, appears poised to embrace the European approach that there can be, should be some incentives in these negotiations with Iran. What is the administration's view on, if you embrace these incentives, financial and otherwise, what about the sticks, if you have the carrots? How detailed is the administration insisting that the Europeans must be? In the past, there have been hangups over, say, a deadline for referral to the Security Council. Does the administration want the Europeans to put it out there that if there's not progress in these talks, that those countries will suspend economic relations? What are you looking for, specifically?

MR. McCLELLAN: You bring up an important point. First of all, the issue here is Iran's behavior and Iran's pursuit of a nuclear weapon. And that's where our focus is. All of us have a common purpose. That was stated very clearly in Europe by all the leaders involved in this effort. And that common purpose is to make sure that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon. And we believe, ultimately, that that means the permanent end to its enrichment and reprocessing activities. That's the way it can show confidence that it is not developing a nuclear weapon under the guise of a civilian nuclear program.

And we are continuing to discuss our common strategy for getting to that shared objective. We are looking at how best we can help the Europeans achieve that end result. And that end result ultimately depends on what Iran decides to do. They know what they need to do, and that is to fully comply with their international obligations.

Q But if you help them, to use your term, the Europeans, that's what they want, which is for the President to embrace some incentives to Iran. The administration is insisting that the Europeans also -- that they stiffen the stick part of whatever would be put on the table. What is it that you need them to do?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, look, obviously, we're looking at things, we're considering some of the ideas that were discussed. The President was very much listening to some of the ideas that the Europeans discussed. He also expressed some views. We're all working together in common purpose, and we're all working together to make sure we have a common strategy to achieve that end result, and those are the things that we're looking at. Obviously, we'll have more to say at some point, and then we can talk about those matters at that point.

Go ahead, Goyal.

Q I have two questions. One, some people who used to work in the White House, they criticized the President in one way or another, in television or in the books. Now Ari Fleischer, who used to stand where you are now for more than four years, Taking Heat, he wrote a book, and he refused to criticize the President in his book. And in my question --

MR. McCLELLAN: Did he criticize me? (Laughter.)

Q No, he refused to criticize the President.

Q Why not?

MR. McCLELLAN: Hey, no questions for you. (Laughter.)

Q In my -- during my -- during my questions he answered in 2001 and '02, he said that the President is my hero. Now, what I am asking you, if you have seen the book, or the President, and why refused to say anything about the President --

MR. McCLELLAN: I do have my autographed copy. I'm looking forward to reading it. I've only skimmed through it at this point, but I'm looking forward to reading it.

Q Second question, Osama bin Laden is still sending messages in the Middle East and calling on his terrorist movement to go beyond Middle East to attack Americans or people who are supporting the United States. Where he is now? I mean, where he is sending all these messages from?

MR. McCLELLAN: Osama bin Laden? We continue to pursue him and other members of the al Qaeda network to bring them to justice for the crimes that they have committed against humanity and for the attacks that they are responsible for against the American people. They will be brought to justice. We have made great progress in dismantling the al Qaeda network, but the war on terrorism continues. We have brought to justice in one way or another many of the al Qaeda leadership. And we continue to pursue others. Ultimately, we need to work to spread freedom and democracy to defeat the ideology that leads to terrorism.

Q Again on the Supreme Court. Does the President wish to weigh on the Supreme Court's deliberations regarding the display of the Ten Commandments on federal land? And if the justices rule against them, does that mean the commandments would have to be taken down from the Supreme Court and other areas?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, to the latter part of your question, we always respect the decisions of the Supreme Court. They are the ultimate authority when it comes to those legal issues. So we respect the decisions they make. In terms of the Ten Commandments, the courts have ruled in a number of instances, some circumstances they have said that it's okay to display the Ten Commandments, and other circumstances they have said it is not. The administration did file an amicus brief in this case to say that we support the display of the Ten Commandments in this instance for the reasons that the Justice Department has cited. This is part of a larger historical display, and we support it.

Q -- about Iraqi judge who was killed. Did you issue a statement about that?

MR. McCLELLAN: First time I've been asked about it. Well actually, I think I talked about it to a few reporters last night. We strongly condemn the assassination, and condemn all acts of violence against the Iraqi people. The judges and officials who are involved in the special tribunal are not going to be deterred from holding accountable the regime leaders who are responsible for grave atrocities against the Iraqi people. They will be brought to justice by the Iraqi people through their special tribunal. That tribunal is moving forward to bring people to justice, and we support their efforts. But it is an Iraqi process. And it will be a process that is solved by the Iraqi people to hold these people to account for the crimes they committed.

Q I have a couple of questions on Social Security. First, the meeting today with the Republican congressional members this afternoon seems to have been called with some urgency. Is this an attempt to inject them with some backbone on the issue? And second --

MR. McCLELLAN: I disagree with the use of the word, urgency. These are part of the ongoing meetings that we're having with members of Congress. We're continuing to reach out to the American people. We're also continuing to reach out to members of Congress. The President is having meetings -- the President is having individual discussions with members, and members of the White House staff are having discussions with members of Congress about how we can move forward and get this solved this year.

Q What's the message the President wants to deliver to them today?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think he'll continue to talk about the problems that we face and why we need to act this year, and also listen to their ideas for how we go about getting it done this year. I think many of these members will have some ideas about how we can accomplish this goal.

Q Do you have any detail on this blitz that Secretary Snow talked about where members of the administration, as well as the President will be going out around the country?

MR. McCLELLAN: Sure, in fact I referenced that at the beginning. That's why I said we're really just now stepping up our efforts to engage the American people in this important national discussion. This is an issue that affects all Americans. And it is -- Social Security is facing serious problems. That's why we need to act this year. They're going to continue talking about what those problems are. There's some demographic facts that we cannot ignore. Some people may choose to ignore this problem and say it's not really a problem, or we can wait, but they don't understand the fact that this is a problem that will be much worse if we wait. They -- for whatever reasons, they are trying to slow this process down or push it off to future years.

The President believes we've got to solve this problem now, because it only gets worse over time, and that we should put aside any partisanship, and that we should focus on how we can come together on a solution. More and more people are now starting to talk about possible solutions. That's a positive sign, that's an encouraging sign, and the President welcomes that. But we've also got to continue to reach out to the American people, all of us, to talk about the problems.

Q Secretary Snow said something like 60 stops in 50 days or something that. Do you have any detail --

MR. McCLELLAN: That's right. I mean, I think it's -- it will be around that over the next 60 days. But this will include, as I said, senior White House officials. It will include Cabinet secretaries, and certainly, the President is going to continue to be out there. He gets back out later this week to hold conversations on Social Security and to highlight the problems that it faces.

Go ahead, Bill.

Q Scott, following up on John's question about Iran, what would be the next step that we should look for from the President in terms of a statement or a signal that the U.S. is going to change its posture within the EU-3 negotiations with Iran?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I don't think -- I mean, in terms of us changing anything, I mean, we all have a shared goal. So this is just looking at how we can support the diplomatic efforts of our European friends. That's the way you should look at it.

Our goal remains the same, and it's a goal that is clearly shared by the international community. And so the focus is on Iran and how we get Iran to come into full compliance and abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions.

In terms of -- in terms of the strategy, that's what we've been discussing, because we have a common purpose. Now we want to make sure we have a common strategy for getting to that end objective, and when we're ready to talk about it more, then we can do so at that time. But I'm not going to get into talking about how that might be or when that might happen.

Q -- the U.S. has done most of its talking with Iran through the IAEA? Yesterday, the agency issued another criticism of Iran. It's the same criticism that they issued a year ago, that Iran has not been allowing

inspections, that they're building facilities that are suspected. The President said that the U.S. backs the EU-3, that they speak for us, but the United States is not involved directly with Iran in the talks. We're doing it through proxy. At what point, and what would it take, for the U.S. to get involved directly?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think the President addressed that issue on a couple of occasions just last week when we were in Europe. He addressed it very clearly and very head-on. This is about Iran changing its behavior. It's not about the United States. It's about Iran abiding by its international obligations.

Iran knows what it needs to do. Iran is the one that needs to change its behavior. I think there's also a broader recognition in the international community that Iran's behavior is not just out of step on this issue, but out of step on a number of issues. Iran continues to support terrorism, Iran continues to be involved in human rights abuses that are unacceptable, and Iran continues, the Iran leaders continue to ignore the will of the Iranian people to have a greater say over their future.

And so there are many concerns we have when it comes to Iran. This is one that we're working through our European friends to resolve. We're supporting their efforts. We're also working through the International Atomic Energy Agency. We are one of 35 members on the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency. And the International -- the Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency has spoken to some continued concerns about Iran's failure to come into full compliance, failure to be fully transparent. We want it -- Iran needs to come clean, Iran needs to fully comply with its international obligations, and Iran needs to be fully transparent with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Go ahead.

Q Scott, how did the President interpret the signal from Syria that it may remove its troops over a period of time? Is that an encouraging sign at all, that Syria is heeding demand --

MR. McCLELLAN: As I said, we need to see by their action, not by their words, that they are going to change their behavior, and that they are going to withdraw from Lebanon. We also need to see action on other fronts, as well. Syria is a country that is out of step with the rest of the way the Middle East is moving.

The Middle East is moving on democratic reforms in many areas, and that is a very positive sign. Syria continues to be out of step with those efforts. Syria continues to support terrorism. Syria continues to allow its territory to be used by terrorists. Syria -- we have firm evidence now that Palestinian Islamic Jihad was -- out of Damascus -- was involved in planning the attack in Tel Aviv. It is unacceptable that terrorists are allowed to operate out of Syrian territory. Syria is a country that is very controlled, and the Syrian government needs to act against those terrorists and shut them down or get them out of their country.

Syria also needs to act against the regime elements in Iraq that are -- I mean, the regime elements in Syria, operating on their territory, that are planning attacks on the Iraqi people. And Syria needs to get its forces and its intelligence services out of Lebanon, so that the Lebanese people can move forward on a future that is based on sovereignty and independence, free from outside interference.

Iran -- I mentioned some of the concerns a minute ago about Iran. We continue to have concerns, even growing concerns, that Iran is trying to influence the shape of the new government in Iraq. The new government should be formed by the Iraqi people, by their chosen leaders; that is our view. Iran knows what they need to do. They need to not be involved in influencing in any way the internal politics going on in Iraq. The Iraqi people want their future to be determined by them, not by outsiders.

Q Scott, in terms of the pressure we're putting on Syria, why now, or why not earlier? We've known for more than two years that Syria has been supporting various Palestinian terrorist organizations. We've known for more than two years that Syria has been used as a transit point for terrorists and others into Iraq. We've known for more -- since the '70s they've had troops in Lebanon. What has changed? Is it because they could now play a very distinct spoiler role in the greater Palestinian-Israeli peace process that we're hoping to get -- will continue to move forward?

MR. McCLELLAN: It's not a "why now." We have previously expressed our concerns. We have previously acted under the Syrian Accountability Act to get Syria to recognize that it needs to change its behavior. Syria is playing a destabilizing role in the region. And as I said, they are out of step with other efforts in the region to move forward on democratic reforms. While the Iraqi people are moving forward on moving democratic institutions and building a peaceful society, Syria is allowing their territory to be used by regime elements. While the Lebanese people are seeking to build a democratic future, Syria is frustrating those efforts by their continued presence in the country. While the international community is working to support the aspirations of the Palestinian people in real and practical ways, Syria is frustrating those efforts. And they know what they need to do. Syria needs to change its behavior and they need to stop supporting terrorism and they need to get on a different path.

Q "Why now" might have been an inappropriate way to put it --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let me point out that there was an atrocious attack on former Prime Minister Hariri just recently in Lebanon and --

Q I meant there is a ratcheting up the pressure at this time --

MR. McCLELLAN: We've worked closely with our French counterparts on this issue for quite some time. Back in September, there was a Security Council resolution -- another Security Council resolution passed at the United Nations that said all foreign occupation of Lebanon must end. And that was one of the steps that called for it, and also called for supporting free and fair elections in the country, and sovereignty and independence for the Lebanese people. And Syria needs to abide and comply with those resolutions.

So, thank you.

END 1:26 P.M. EST