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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
April 6, 2005

Press Gaggle by Scott McClellan
Aboard Air Force One
En route Rome, Italy

10:43 A.M. EDT

MR. McCLELLAN: Good morning, everybody. Let me go over the President's day aboard Air Force One. First of all, he's pleased to be joined by his father, President Bush, and President Clinton, as well, as the delegation heads to Rome. His father flew in from a speech in Phoenix last night, got here early in the morning, so he was here at the airport this morning when we got here. And President Clinton flew in this morning, shortly before the President arrived at Andrews, as well.

The President had a few phone calls this morning. The President called President-elect Talabani, to congratulate him on being elected President of the Transitional National Assembly. The President thanked President-elect Talabani for his leadership and all that he had done to put Iraq on a path to democracy. The President commended the Iraqi people for their courage and determination to chart their own future, based on freedom and democracy. And the President said that the United States would continue to support the transitional government as the leaders move forward on drafting a constitution and putting in place elections for a permanent government to be elected.

President Talabani expressed Iraq's appreciation for the support from the United States and for all that the United States had done to liberate the Iraqi people. And President Talabani talked about the importance of moving forward on drafting the constitution, as well. And the President noted the historic day it was in Iraq, with the election of the Presidency Council -- the President and the two deputies. And the President said he looked forward to working with President Talabani and the Transitional National Assembly leadership.

The President also called the Emir of Qatar, Emir Hamad. The President called to extend our condolences to the Emir over the terrorist attack that took place in Qatar last month. As you all recall, that was the first terrorist attack of its kind in Qatar. And the President expressed our support for the Qatari people, and the two leaders talked about intensifying our counter-terrorism cooperation.

Following those calls, the President received his morning intelligence briefing. He was joined by the two former Presidents. And then, just a short time ago, the President placed a call to the head coach of the Lady Bears. The President did watch the game last night, and he called to congratulate -- he called coach Mulkey-Robertson to congratulate the Lady Bears on their great victory and winning the NCAA Championship.

And shortly here we'll have out -- oh, wait, one other thing. You all may not be aware of this, but there was a CH-47, Chinook helicopter with American troops on board that went down in Afghanistan, the indications from the military are that it was a result of bad weather. The reports are that at least nine troops have been lost. The President was briefed on it by his National Security Advisor. And the families of the fallen are in the thoughts and prayers of the President and Mrs. Bush and all Americans.

And also today, we will be putting out a statement by the President shortly on the election of the Presidency Council in Iraq, so you will all have that momentarily, when we get it all coordinated. It will be put out on the ground, as well.

And I think that's all I have to update you guys on, to begin with.

Q What are the two former Presidents doing, besides the intelligence briefing?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that just was completed a short time ago. And they spent a lot of time in that room, just visiting -- in the conference room aboard Air Force One.

Q Here?


Q The briefings were in the conference room?

MR. McCLELLAN: In the conference room, yes.

Q So the three of them were together, the three Presidents were visiting in the conference room at some point?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes. Well, they all participated in the President's morning intelligence briefing, and they also visited during that time, as well, that they were in the conference room. And now they've -- they're all kind of doing their own thing right now.

Q Do you happen to know whether this is President Clinton's first time back on Air Force One, since he left office?

Q The tsunami, right?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, he wasn't on Air Force One for the tsunami. I think it is. Yes, I think it is.

Q His first time? Okay.

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know of any other time he's been on.

Q Has it been firmly established this is the first President to attend a papal funeral?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, my understanding -- we looked into it. My understanding is that President Johnson did attend a papal funeral, but it was when he was Vice President. This was back in 1963, and he led the delegation to Rome for that funeral.

Q Who was that pope, do you know offhand?

MR. McCLELLAN: You're testing my memory.

Q Pope John XXIII.

MR. McCLELLAN: Pope John XXIII. Where's Mark Knoller when you need him? (Laughter.)

Q What about President Carter? I know you dealt with this yesterday a little bit, but is there -- do you have any further word on whether he was actually invited, and declined?

MR. McCLELLAN: I expressed to your news organization, as well as some others who called, he was invited. We did reach out to him to invite him to participate in the delegation, and you all saw the statement from his office, as well. It was his decision to make. We would have been more than happy to have him be a part of the delegation to Rome.

Q And the President tomorrow is seeing the President of Italy, and then having dinner with Berlusconi. Is he -- it seems like a rather low-key day for him. Is that --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, this is a time of mourning. This is a time to also honor and celebrate the life of a truly great moral leader, Pope John Paul II. And that is why we are going to Rome. The President will pay a courtesy visit to President Ciampi tomorrow, early afternoon. And he will be -- the President and Mrs. Bush will be hosting a reception for the American hierarchy -- that's the American Cardinals -- at the Ambassador's residence early evening tomorrow. And then he looks forward to attending a dinner hosted by Prime Minister Berlusconi. But the focus is on celebrating the life of Pope John Paul II.

Q So there won't be any policy discussions? For example, the remainder of Italian troops staying in Iraq, for example?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I don't imagine will have much readout from these. I mean, it's a dinner that he's hosting for the delegation and, you know, if there's more to say, obviously, we will. But we'll probably try to do photo releases from those; there won't be any press coverage of the dinner or the courtesy visit.

Q Is the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia coming to the ranch later in the month?

MR. McCLELLAN: We will try to keep you posted on the President's schedule. As you're aware, typically, when we make announcements we like to do those in coordination with the other government, as well. There are no other announcements to make at this time.

Q When will you be able to announce that? (Laughter.)

MR. McCLELLAN: I will keep you posted.

Q Scott, any unhappiness about Sharon's decision to expand a Jewish settlement in advance of the meeting on Monday?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all -- and you heard from the President yesterday. The President looks forward to welcoming Prime Minister Sharon to the ranch on Monday. As you all may be aware, it was just about a year ago this time that Prime Minister Sharon came forward with a very bold proposal, his disengagement plan, to remove those settlements from Gaza and parts of the West Bank. And that was a bold initiative on the part of Prime Minister Sharon. And so this will be an opportunity now to talk about how Israel is moving forward on the disengagement plan.

We believe it's also important that the Israelis and Palestinians continue to coordinate -- or that they do coordinate on those efforts as Israel moves forward on the Prime Minister's initiative. We want to do all we can to support the parties as they move forward to the President's two state vision. And the road map is really the way to do that. And all parties have responsibilities under that. And the road map also talks about the importance of ending settlement activity. There are a number of responsibilities for both parties in the road map. One of the first phases also calls for Palestinian leaders to dismantle terrorist organizations. So we want to continue to support the parties as they move forward, and that's what we will do.

So Monday's meeting is a good opportunity to talk about moving forward on the disengagement plan and getting the parties focused on moving forward on the road map.

Q But you're not saying the expansion of the settlement is justified because the Palestinians haven't done enough to dismantle terrorist activity?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I imagine that it's an issue that they will talk about when they meet on Monday. Our position is well known, in terms of settlement activity, or the expansion of settlement activity -- the President expressed that yesterday. But this is a hopeful period in the Middle East; it's a hopeful period for the Palestinian people and for the Israeli people. And there has been some important progress made. As the President said yesterday, he believes that they are two leaders that are committed to moving forward on a vision of two states living side by side in peace and security, and we want to do what we can to support those efforts.

As you're aware, the President has also extended an invitation to President Abbas to come to the United States -- or come back to the United States, I should say.

Q Would it be too much, then, to call this decision by Sharon needlessly provocative?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, let's let the discussions take place on this and other issues. As I said, the focus, really, of the meeting will be talking about moving forward on implementing the disengagement plan and what we can do to support efforts of the parties to move forward on the President's two state vision. And we believe as they move forward on the disengagement plan, that it's important that the Israelis and Palestinians cooperate on that effort -- or that initiative.

Q The helicopter that went down in Afghanistan, if you find out it was any of the four that Mrs. Bush used last week, would you let us know?

MR. McCLELLAN: Okay. I don't -- it was a Chinook helicopter; I'm not sure that she was on a Chinook. I assume that she was not.

Q She was on four big helicopters, there were four big helicopters.

MR. McCLELLAN: You were there.

Q That's why I'm asking, because that's the only --

MR. McCLELLAN: Okay. I'll find out. Sure. Anything else for now? We'll see if some of the Presidents visit.

Q Yes, what are the prospects of some visitors from up front?

Q What are they doing to entertain themselves?

MR. McCLELLAN: Former President Bush and I came back earlier this morning, but you all were absent. I guess they hadn't let you on yet. (Laughter.) We were coming back to say "hi."

Q That doesn't count.

MR. McCLELLAN: I'll express to all your interest in seeing them.

Q What are they doing? Are they reading or sleeping?

MR. McCLELLAN: They dispersed and went different ways and are doing their own thing right now.

Q Are they swapping lies? (Laughter.)

MR. McCLELLAN: They've been having a good visit.

Q Are they dropping off in Rome, or coming back to Texas?

MR. McCLELLAN: President Clinton, I believe, is flying back on the support plane. And President Bush, I think, is coming with us to Texas, but he may assume a separate schedule after he gets back to Texas.

Q Support goes into Washington and the other goes to Texas?

MR. McCLELLAN: Right. And we have a nice 11-hour flight to Waco, home of the Lady Bears, the National Champion Lady Bears. (Laughter.)

Q Is the President going to greet them at the ranch, or will they come to the White House?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President looks forward to them coming to the White House. I think he expressed that in the call to the coach.

Q What is the coach's name? I didn't -- you mentioned it, but --

MR. McCLELLAN: Mulkey-Robertson. Her first name is Kim. Kim Mulkey-Robertson.

Q Didn't she go to LSU?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know. Is that where you went?

Q No, no, no, my brother.

MR. McCLELLAN: Oh, your brother, okay.

Q Thanks.

MR. McCLELLAN: Thanks.

END 10:57 A.M. EDT