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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
April 4, 2005

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

Play Video  Video (Real)

1:21 P.M. EDT

MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon, everybody. The President and Mrs. Bush are honored to lead the delegation to attend the funeral of Pope John Paul II this Friday. The President had the highest respect and admiration for the Holy Father. His Holiness was a great moral leader who inspired millions of Americans and many, many people around the world.

The President and Mrs. Bush are planning to depart Wednesday morning for Rome. The delegation is expected to number five, at this point -- we're still finalizing the names on the delegation. The President is likely to participate in a bilateral meeting or two on Thursday, as well. And then following the funeral, we will continue on to Texas, where the President has a meeting scheduled with Prime Minister Sharon of Israel on Monday. And that has not changed.

Q When would you depart Rome?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know the exact times. We'll get you the exact times, but it will be on Friday.

Q And which former Presidents will be among the five-member delegation?

MR. McCLELLAN: Like I said, we're still finalizing details and we'll get you that list as soon as it's final and ready to be released.

Q Will that be today, Scott?

MR. McCLELLAN: I expect it will be. It's close to being finalized.

Goyal, go ahead.

Q President met several times with Pope, over here and also in Rome. And he is also a religious person, very religious, and of course God plays role in everyday life. And U.S. is the only currency which has "in God we trust." My question is that if, like, when Mother Teresa died and same Holy Pope gave her -- or recommended that she should be saint, given that (inaudible) "saint." Do you think President propose sainthood or a special --

MR. McCLELLAN: Those are issues for the church to decide, Goyal. The President spoke about his relationship with the Pope earlier today. They had great respect for one another. The President was honored to have known him. He was someone who, as the President put it, helped change history for the better. He was someone who spoke out for the poor and the weak and the outcast. He was someone who provided strong, moral leadership for people all across the world, and he will be missed.

Q Just to follow. You think President feels that the Pope played a great role in his life or during any meetings with him?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q That the Pope played a big role or a great role in the President's life during his meetings with him?

MR. McCLELLAN: He inspired many, many people, and certainly he was an inspiration to the President and Mrs. Bush, as well.

Q If I could follow up on that, just for a second. The President is the first U.S. President to go to a papal funeral, from what I understand, as far as I have ever heard. In the abstract, what was the decision process -- what is it that the President feels in kindred spirit with this Pope, even though they differed I guess over the war, they had a lot of cultural issues that they shared in common, cultural views that they shared in common. Can you give us a little bit of the process about why he decided that he would be the first President to do this?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think it goes back to some of what the President said in the press conference a short time ago, as well as what he said on Saturday. And the President has -- the President met with the Holy Father on three occasions during his presidency, back in 2001, again in 2002, and then last year, in June of 2004. And the President was honored to present him with the Medal of Freedom on that visit to the Vatican. That is the nation's highest civilian award. And the President stated the reasons why he chose to present it to the Holy Father: the Holy Father is someone who stood for freedom, for human dignity and promoting a culture of life. And there are many values that the President shared with the Holy Father, and he had great respect for his moral leadership in this world. And so I think it was a very quick decision for the President to decide to lead the delegation to Rome this week.

Richard, go ahead. I'll come back to you. Richard, go ahead.

Q Have you determined who is going to be the pool going down to Rome? And, two, do you know when the press charter will go to Crawford?

MR. McCLELLAN: I imagine that it's all worked out on the normal rotation. But our office has been in touch with people on that, and they will be. Like I said, I expect we're leaving Wednesday, and then I think we reached out over the weekend to see about a press charter, but the decision was made not to take a press charter to Rome at that point.

Q What about Crawford? Do you know when a press charter would depart for Crawford?

MR. McCLELLAN: I imagine it's probably on the same schedule as previously, but we'll get you that information.

Q Scott, has the President reflected at all on the Pope's legacy, and has he -- is there one thing that stands out, in his mind, from the Pope's time leading the church, as something that was especially meaningful to him?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we spoke about it on Saturday when we were here at the White House, shortly before the President was going out to give remarks. And I did talk to the press about that. The President talked about how it showed the courage one man can help -- or the courage of one person can help change history. And, obviously, he was pointing to some of what he discussed earlier today. The Pope was someone who stood firmly for freedom and stood firmly for the human dignity of all people all across the world. He was someone who believed very strongly in a culture of life and defending those who were not able to speak for and defend themselves.

Go ahead, Elisabeth.

MR. McCLELLAN: Scott, you haven't read out the meeting between Bush and Yushchenko, have you?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think they pretty much went through that in the statement -- the joint statement that we are putting out also addresses many of those issues. They had a very good discussion. It lasted more than an hour. They spent a good bit of time talking about the importance of reform, the importance of Ukraine continuing on a path of democratic reform and economic reform. They talked about the importance of fighting corruption and rule of law. And the President made it clear that as Ukraine moves forward on democratic and economic reforms, the United States will be there to support them in those efforts.

They spent a good bit of time talking about the neighborhood, as well. And they spent some time talking about relations between Ukraine and Russia. And they touched on Iraq, as well, and spent some time talking about the importance of cooperating on stopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

Q In that -- on that topic, did they talk about the sale of the cruise missiles to Iran by Mr. Yushchenko's predecessor?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, that did not -- that did not come up in this meeting.

Q It did not?

MR. McCLELLAN: There are going to be a number of other senior-level discussions going on with President Yushchenko and his staff. And they'll get into more specifics of some of the issues that they addressed.

Q But did that fact, which came out last week -- does that change the President's assessment of Iran's nuclear program in any way?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, a couple of things. First of all, on the sale of the missiles, President Yushchenko has spoken out on that matter and the government of Ukraine has been investigating the matter. This occurred before he was in the presidency. And they are acting in a responsible manner to address those issues.

What was the second part of your question?

Q I'm talking about the President, President Bush. Has that changed his assessment of Iran's nuclear program, this information?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, our assessment of Iran remains the same. We have a number of concerns about their behavior and, certainly, when it comes to their nuclear program, we have real concerns about their intent. We believe that they have been pursuing a nuclear weapons program under the guise of a civilian program. And our suspicions are only heightened by the fact that for some 20 years Iran was hiding what they were doing from the international community. We believe it's very important that Iran cooperate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency and provide the Agency access to their sites so they can fully inspect, and we believe that they need to turn away from that path.

Q Right. But just specifically about this last issue, the cruise missiles have nuclear capability -- has that changed the administration's --

MR. McCLELLAN: Our concerns remain the same --

Q It didn't change anything? It didn't heighten your concerns?

MR. McCLELLAN: Our concerns remain the same regarding Iran, and this is an issue that's still being looked into by the government of Ukraine.

Steve.

Q Prime Minister Sharon is pledging to move ahead with expansion of a major Jewish settlement. Is the President going to talk to him about this?

MR. McCLELLAN: I imagine that will be -- that settlement activity will be a subject that comes up in their discussions.

Q Does this complicate the process?

MR. McCLELLAN: Our opposition is well known when it comes to the expansion of settlement activity. We oppose the expansion of any settlement activity. That has been our view and that remains our view.

Q Did you talk to the President at all about his feelings in awarding this Medal of Honor? Has that come up in your conversations?

MR. McCLELLAN: That's another thing that he's honored to do today. The President will be presenting the Medal of Honor posthumously to Sergeant Smith. He looks forward to welcoming the family -- his family to the White House later today. He was someone whose courage and bravery went beyond the call of duty. Sergeant Smith was someone who took it upon himself to save the lives of those who -- of his fellow troops. He overcame -- while they were under attack by some of the forces from the Republican Guard, Sergeant Smith took it upon himself to defend their position and defend his troops, and he saved many lives because of his actions and because of his bravery. And the President will be talking about that in his remarks here shortly in the East Room.

We will always honor and pay tribute to those who have served and sacrificed in defense of freedom, and Sergeant Smith went well beyond the call of duty by sacrificing his life to save his fellow soldiers.

Go ahead, Connie.

Q To follow up again on Ukraine, did President Bush and President Yushchenko talk about Yushchenko's health at all and about who poisoned him? And is President Putin taking any retaliatory actions because of their friendship, such as selling Russian missiles to Iran?

MR. McCLELLAN: A couple of things. I don't know anything about the second part of your question; I haven't heard anything like that.

On the first part of your question, I think they talked briefly about it. I mean, the President wanted to know how he was doing. And beyond that, I'd leave it to Ukraine, the government of Ukraine to discuss.

Q Is he going to see the American doctors who helped him?

MR. McCLELLAN: You can check with his office on that.

Go ahead, Elaine.

Q Scott, you mentioned the culture of life. When Pope John Paul II wrote about the culture of life in 1995, he described it also in terms of the death penalty, not just abortion and euthanasia. He said that in these modern times, cases where the death penalty was warranted are rare, if not nonexistent. Now, knowing that the President fully supports the death penalty, used the death penalty, does he see it as a contradiction to use that phrase, "culture of life," and still support the death penalty, which the Pope expressed his opposition to?

MR. McCLELLAN: Elaine, I think the President's views are well known. I don't think now is the time to talk about where they may have differed on one or two areas. This is a time to honor a great moral leader, someone who, as the President said, was a hero for the ages.

Q Well, wait. Don't you honor a great moral leader and a great teacher, somebody who did engage in debate, whose whole life was about this kind of discussion and wrestling with difficult moral problems, by answering that question: Does the President see it as a contradiction that he adopts only part of what Pope John Paul said was the culture of life?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, let's separate out -- I mean, because I spoke about this issue last week, and why the President's view is the way it is. And that's because we're talking about the difference between innocent life and someone who is guilty of horrific crimes.

Q But, Scott --

Q Scott, if I could --

MR. McCLELLAN: Okay, Wendell, and then Les. We'll get to Arizona Minutemen in a minute. (Laughter.)

Q I didn't ask that.

Q It is the Pope's phrase, "a culture of life," which the President adopted, endorsing only part of.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, the President's views go back a long ways. This is not something that was new to the President over the last decade. The President has long believed in promoting a culture of life in America. And that is something he has talked often about, and he will continue to talk about. And he has stood on the side of defending life when it comes to legislative efforts.

But one of the things that I think -- and I think that the Holy Father was a great moral leader in this respect -- and one of the things the President talks about is that building a culture of life in America is about more than laws, it's about changing hearts. And that's what the President has tried to do, as well.

Go ahead, Les.

Q Scott, The New York Times reports a Supreme Court case involving Oregon's assisted suicide law, which the Bush administration wants to prosecute doctors who administer lethal doses of federally controlled drugs. And my first question, is the President, as a devout Christian, aware of early church father, Lactantius, the tutor of Emperor Constantine's son, and his justifying suicide for impending torture, or St. Jerome's justifying suicide in defense of chastity, and in 16th century Britain, the use by priestly permission of the holy stone?

MR. McCLELLAN: You lost me at, "thank you," Les. (Laughter.) The President and I have not had that discussion. (Laughter.)

Go ahead.

Q Follow-up. Follow-up?

MR. McCLELLAN: Okay, follow up.

Q Is the President aware of the years of acute agony preceding the death of cathedral dean, journalist and Gulliver's Travels author Jonathan Swift?

MR. McCLELLAN: I will take your question. If there's more to say, I'll get back to you. I don't think -- we haven't discussed that one, either.

Go ahead.

Q Is the President planning to meet with other heads of state in Rome? If so, whom? And do we know if the presidents of Russia and China are planning to attend the Pope's funeral? And on a different question, you probably know there was a large scale attack on Abu Ghraib Saturday by the insurgents. Has the President been briefed on the attack, and has he been told what the purpose of the attack was? The Pentagon is unclear, at least, won't tell us if they were going after and trying to rescue or spring an insurgent --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, as you know, I leave operational matters like that to the Pentagon to discuss for the reasons that they are the ones on the ground and they're in better position to address those questions. Yes, he has been briefed on it; he has been briefed on the latest situation in Iraq. And he had a good conversation this morning with the new Speaker, to congratulate him on being elected to that position.

There is important progress being made on the political front. There continues to be progress made on the security front, as well. The President talked about this in his press conference a short time ago. We need to continue to train and equip Iraqi security forces so that ultimately they can provide for their own defense. And the President thanked President Yushchenko for all that Ukraine troops have done to help in that effort. And President Yushchenko talked about how they wanted to continue to help with the training of Iraqi security forces as we move forward.

Q -- heads of state --

MR. McCLELLAN: In terms of heads of state, typically when we go to a country, the President meets with leaders from that country -- but, again, we're still finalizing details on the visit and we'll get those to you once they're final.

Q Russia and China, any indication if they're going to send a delegation?

MR. McCLELLAN: You might check with the State Department on other delegations. I don't know if they may be keeping track of that list. I don't know all the other delegations that are attending at this point. I understand that there's some 176 delegations that will be attending the funeral. And I think, as I said last week, that the outpouring of love for the Holy Father is a testament to his greatness.

Go ahead.

Q What was the goal and the substance of the political declaration signed between the United States and Ukraine after the meeting of the Presidents? And the second question, President Bush singled out Moldova and Belarus during the press conference. Why were these two specific countries singled out, and does the United States expect Ukraine to play any specific, special role in these two countries?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, a couple things. They did talk about the neighborhood in a general sense, and we do have a joint statement. I guess it's not out yet; it should be out momentarily and it will go through some of these various issues on Moldova. Our position, and it's stated, so I think it's shared with Ukraine, is stated in the joint statement, as well, that we support a peaceful resolution to the conflict that ensures Moldova's territorial integrity and independence, and we also believe it's important that as Moldova moves forward, that they do so in a democratic way. And that's our view when it comes to that.

What was the other part of your question?

Q Belarus, what specific about Belarus --

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, and in the statement, it does address Belarus and talks about supporting the advance of freedom in countries such as Belarus. And so that will be in the joint statement that should be out momentarily.

Go ahead.

Q The President today said that he appreciated the fact that the Syrian forces are withdrawing from Lebanon. Does that signal a new slight improvement in the relationship between the administration and Syria?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he was referring to the statement from the U.N. Envoy, Mr. Larsen, who has been in Lebanon, and stated that Syria has committed to fully withdraw all its troops and intelligence services from the country. That's an important step, but now we need to see Syria follow through and meet that commitment.

It's important that we have -- it's important that the people of Lebanon have free and fair elections without outside intimidation or outside interference. And that remains our view. And they are scheduled to, I believe, hold elections toward the end of May. The President made clear that it's important that those elections proceed as scheduled. And as you heard from Mr. Larsen, he said that Syria has committed to being out of there completely by the end of the month, and we will see by their actions now if they follow through on that. But that was an important step, is what the President was referring to.

Q Do you still believe the fact that they will withdraw both intelligence and troops -- that Syria will still play a role and try to undermine the situation --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that's what Security Council Resolution 1559 calls for, the full withdrawal of Syrian troops and intelligence services. And that's what Mr. Larsen had assurances from Syria that they would do that, and we will see by their actions whether or not they will follow through on that. It's important that they do follow through on that. That remains our view. That's so that those elections in May can take place in an environment that is free from outside intimidation or interference.

Q President Bush said he spoke with President Yushchenko today about World Trade Organization membership and NATO membership. Did they talk at all about the timetable?

MR. McCLELLAN: Actually -- and this will be something that will be in the joint statement, too; I happen to have it here before me, like I said, it should be going out very soon -- but it talks about how we are committed to working together to achieve Ukraine's accession to the World Trade Organization. And it goes on to talk about some of the responsibilities Ukraine needs to meet in there, as well. And it said that the United States and Ukraine are committed to working together to complete our bilateral negotiations for Ukraine's accession to the WTO in 2005. And so that will be in the joint statement. It should be out any minute now, and I'll -- as soon as I finish here, I'll make sure it gets out.

Q Scott, the President called the Minutemen in Arizona the same vigilantes that they were before -- I assume he still believes that. And -- but is there any change in his opinion, now that they've actually taken action out on the border this past weekend?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think the question that he was responding to was essentially suggesting that people taking things into their own hands and going after people who are trying to enter the country illegally. We remain concerned about -- well, first of all, if we're talking about people reporting suspicious activity to the proper authorities, that's one thing. And people, if they do see suspicious activity, should notify the proper authorities so that they can take action and go after those individuals. If we're talking about armed, untrained individuals who are seeking to take matters into their own hands, then that is a concern to us. And the reason why it is a concern is because it could lead to people getting hurt. And that's what we want to avoid.

We have Border Patrol agents that -- we've worked to increase the number of Border Patrol agents along the border to go after and prevent people from entering this country illegally. Ultimately, there's a much bigger issue involved here, and the President is committed to moving forward on that, and that's a safe, orderly, and humane migration system. And that's why he put forward a proposal to address some of these issues so that our Border Patrol agents can focus on those who are coming to this country for the wrong reasons -- either to commit terrorist acts, or to be involved in other criminal activity.

Q Does the President think that these people are doing their American duty, which is what they've said -- they're trying to help --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I've seen the reports over the weekend where some individuals have been reporting suspicious activity to the proper authorities so that the authorities could take control of those matters. And so that's what I've seen from the news reports.

Thank you.

END 1:44 P.M. EDT