For Immediate Release
April 1, 2005
Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
James S. Brady Briefing Room
1:07 P.M. EST
MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon. I'd like to begin with a comment on the Pope. The President and Mrs. Bush join people all around the world who are praying for the Holy Father. The outpouring of love and concern from so many, including millions of Americans, is a testimony to his greatness. During this time, His Holiness is in the thoughts and prayers of us all.
And with that, I will be glad to take your questions.
Q Have you gotten any later update? You said earlier that Andy Card updated the President this morning, anything since then?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, the President has been updated on the most recent statement from the Vatican.
MR. McCLELLAN: I briefed him in the Oval Office on it, that was shortly after noon.
Q What you're telling him, is that what you see on television or do you have other sources of information, are you getting from the embassy or what kind of information do you have?
MR. McCLELLAN: We do have an embassy to the Holy See and our embassy is in close contact with the Vatican, and they remain in contact with the Vatican at this time.
Q Does the President think -- I wasn't here for the briefing yesterday, unfortunately. Does the President think that the CIA analysts misled him in going to war?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think you need to read the report from the Robb-Silberman Commission. This was a bipartisan commission that was appointed by the President, and it came to a number of conclusions in that report. And it talked about what went wrong with the intelligence relating to Iraq. And that report would be a good place to look; and it spells out the conclusions.
Q Was he upset that he was misled?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again -- and I don't think that's the words that the members of the commission used in their report. They talked about a culture within the intelligence community that had not changed and adapted to meet the threats that we face today; there are many new dangerous threats that we face. And the --
Q Is that what motivated him to go into Iraq?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let me -- the organization structure of our intelligence community was such that it was aimed at the Cold War; it was organized and structured to confront the threat from the former Soviet Union and it has not fully transformed itself. We have taken a number of steps since September 11th and since the September 11th Commission came out with its recommendations to transform our intelligence community and to make sure that we have the best possible intelligence. The President is committed to moving forward quickly on the recommendations in this report, as well. That's why --
Q That's not the point of my question. My question is, is he upset that he moved aggressively against Iraq on the basis of information that was false?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Helen, we've been through this question a number of times before. I don't think the report changed what we have previously said on this matter.
Q It has not changed it at all? He's not --
Q Scott, can you tell us how the President plans to pay tribute to the Pope, should he pass in the coming days? Will we hear from the President, personally, and does he plan to attend a funeral?
MR. McCLELLAN: Jessica, I think this is a time of prayer; this is not a time to get into issues of that nature.
Norah, you had something?
Q Well, past Presidents have not attended funerals of the Pope. Why would this President want to go?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, Norah, it's not an appropriate time to get into those issues. This is a time for all of us to join in prayer for His Holiness.
Q How has the President indicated that he wants to proceed when the Pope passes?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think I just answered your question.
Q Can I ask you then, what he -- in terms of, for this afternoon in the Oval Office, has he watched any of the coverage that's been on television, has he been personally monitoring -- I mean, we know he's been receiving the updates from Card --
MR. McCLELLAN: He is following up the developments closely, and he has been kept up to date. He is now back in the Oval Office, and participating in a meeting on another subject.
Go ahead, Goyal.
Q Scott, Pakistan's Ambassador to the U.S., Mr. Karamat, told The Washington Times that his country will not honor the U.S. request to get directly or interview A.Q. Khan, where or which rogue nations he supplied, or his network, nuclear components. And, also, he received number of letters that there will be arms race in South Asia if this arms supply continue. If President was under any pressure to supply these armed F-16, or he made his own -- the decision was on his own, or any -- under pressure from somewhere?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, the decision was made based on what we briefed you all on last Friday, I believe it was. The State Department had a briefing to talk about the decision and the President spoke with Prime Minister Singh to inform him of the decision, as well. This is something we have been discussing for quite some time, and we continue to work closely with both India and Pakistan, and will as we move forward.
Q And A.Q. Khan?
MR. McCLELLAN: What was your question? I didn't hear a question.
Q Ambassador of Pakistan to the U.S. told The Washington Times that his country will not give access to the CIA or the U.S. to interview A.Q. Khan which rogue nations he supplied, what kind of nuclear components --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Pakistan has been a good partner in the global war on terrorism, and they've been a good partner in working with international community to address proliferation issues.
And, in fact, we were talking about the report here earlier today that came out by the bipartisan commission, and they talked about some of the solid successes within the intelligence community. One of those successes was our efforts to break up and shut down the A.Q. Khan network. That network was one of the -- was the world's most dangerous proliferation network, and that was a great success. And we're continuing to work closely with Pakistan and learn more information about that network.
Go ahead, Connie.
Q Thank you. The President joined Mrs. Bush this morning in an event. So far, can you see any impact on Mrs. Bush's campaign to curb gang violence? And how are you going to go about it, especially since most gangs are formed of illegal immigrants --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Mrs. Bush's effort is much broader than just gang violence. Her effort is aimed at promoting positive youth development. It is aimed at helping America's at-risk youth. And this is an important priority for the President, it's one of Mrs. Bush's top issues, and it's something that we will continue to work to address. She has been speaking around the country and we have a number of different programs. The President talked about a number of those initiatives earlier today. The mentoring children of prisoners is one of the initiatives that is important to this effort. And addressing gang violence is also one part of helping America's youth and really changing our culture.
And there are a number of parts to this initiative, but Mrs. Bush really is committed to reaching out particularly young boys who often lack the kind of adult supervision and mentoring that is so needed. And she will continue to speak out about the importance of positive youth development.
Q President Yushchenko of the Ukraine said yesterday that the missiles delivered to Iran were stolen. If that's the case, isn't there, and shouldn't there be world pressure on Iran to return stolen missiles, which the President of the Ukraine says is the case?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think the government of Ukraine is investigating those issues and they are acting in a responsible manner. And so that's something that they have been working to address. I don't know that --
Q Well, they said unequivocally they were stolen. And so that means Iran is not in possession of stolen missiles. Is there any response from the State Department or the President?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, in terms of the issue of missiles to Iran and elsewhere that may have come from Ukraine, like I said, that's a matter that I understand has been under investigation by the government of Ukraine, and we appreciate the steps that they are taking to address it. In terms of our concerns about Iran, they are many, and we have expressed those views. Those concerns remain. Iran is acting in a number of ways that causes us great concern. They are a country that has been out of step with some of the recent developments in the region.
Q What's behind the increasing involvement of the First Lady in political affairs -- her trip to Afghanistan, this effort the President gave her in his State of the Union address. Has she come to him and said she wants to be more involved? Has he decided that she's a resource he needs to use more in his second term?
MR. McCLELLAN: She has a great passion for the issues that you brought up. She is someone who comes from a background in education, having been a teacher and a librarian. She cares deeply about the education and development of young people. She has made education a top priority throughout her life and her career. This is something that she personally has a deep passion for.
And in terms of Afghanistan, this is an effort to help advance the rights of women in Afghanistan and to help build an education system that will provide opportunity for all the people in Afghanistan, for men and women. And that's why she is focused so strongly on those areas.
Q You're going to completely ignore the basis of the question, though, that she is certainly more active in the second term than she was in the first?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think -- I think she was very active in the first term, Wendell. She is someone who has made these issues a priority throughout her life. And I think the way you characterized your question, I would take some exception to that, because these are not new issues to Mrs. Bush. These are issues that she has cared about throughout her life. And we welcome her involvement in all those areas.
Q I was not suggesting that she was not active in the first. We are seeing, however, a much higher profile First Lady in the second term, it seems.
MR. McCLELLAN: She's a tremendous asset, and the President knows that. And he appreciates all that she is doing to help our young people and to improve education in America.
Q Thank you. There is a new Rand report that says the United States was not prepared for the war's aftermath in Iraq, and that during the war, intelligence and tactics were flawed. Is anybody going to be fired as a result of this report?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, I think that that's a report that was requested by the Department of Defense. I'm not sure that we have actually seen that report. You might want to direct questions about it specifically to the Pentagon. But in a time of war, you have to be prepared for the unexpected. And you have to be prepared to adapt to changing circumstances on the ground. And we have worked to adapt to the circumstances on the ground to accomplish the important mission we are working to achieve.
Q The point is that they weren't prepared.
MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead.
Q Scott, can you tell us, looking at Monday, the visit of the Ukrainian President, is the President -- President Bush going to be offering any kind of economic gestures or political support to uphold Ukraine at all? I'm thinking --
MR. McCLELLAN: A couple of things. One, you're going to hear from the two leaders after they've had an opportunity to meet. They will have a press availability, and I expect they will have more to say after that.
But let me back up and say that the President was pleased to meet President Yushchenko at the NATO Summit in Brussels recently. They had a very good discussion there. The President looks forward to welcoming President Yushchenko to the White House. His election was a landmark event in the history of liberty. And the Orange Revolution was inspiring to all who yearn to be free. So the President looks forward to talking with President Yushchenko about a range of issues. Ukraine is a strategic partner of the United States, in our view. And, yes, I suspect that they'll talk about the importance of supporting the advance of freedom and democracy in Eastern Europe and the broader Middle East region. And I expect they'll talk about our cooperative efforts on counter proliferation, as well.
But we appreciate President Yushchenko's strong commitment to democratic reform. And we support his efforts to build a more prosperous, just and free Ukraine. And I suspect they will talk about those issues, and then have more to say on Monday.
Q What about endorsement of Ukraine into the WTO, for example, or into NATO?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, let's let the meeting take place. But as I said, we strongly support the efforts by President Yushchenko to build a Ukraine that is more prosperous, more free and more just. He is someone who has shown a commitment to strengthening the rule of law and fighting corruption, and someone who has committed himself to accelerating economic reforms, as well. And those are important steps.
Q Would NATO be --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, as I said, we view Ukraine as a strategic partner. Q And WTO would --
MR. McCLELLAN: And, certainly, President Yushchenko has been a strong partner in the war on terrorism, as well.
Q Can I ask briefly about next week, as well? Parkersburg, the visit to the Bureau of the Public Debt. The President said on a number of occasions the trust fund -- the Social Security trust fund doesn't exist. I gather this is a way of saying, well, it does, but it's really only on paper?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we might want to wait and talk a little bit more about it Monday. But I think that's one of the points the President will emphasize. That is one of the problems with the Social Security system, because of the way it's been set up as a pay-as-you-go system. Many people, I think, think that their money is being set aside and held in an account somewhere, and it's not. The government is holding IOUs, but they're not setting aside their money. And the benefit of personal accounts is that that will be your money, you will own it, you will control it, it will be yours to pass on to your heirs, as well. And that's one of the important elements of the President's plan to strengthen Social Security.
Q Is he going to say anything there about how Social Security, in its current pay-as-you-go form, actually helps keep the debt down?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, let's get a little bit closer to the day, and then we can talk more about it at that point. I think it's still a few days out before the President has finalized exactly what he wants to say on that day. But you've heard him talk about these issues already, and certainly he's continuing to go across the country to talk about the importance of acting now to strengthen Social Security. It is a problem that only gets worse with time. It is on an unsustainable course, and we need to fix it now.
Q Thank you, Scott. It is reported that North Korea has proposed a disarmament talk, instead of the six-party talks. Has the United States government officially received any such proposal from North Korea?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we hear a lot of things from North Korea. What North Korea needs to do is come back to the six-party talks and discuss how we can move forward on the proposal that we put forward at the last round of talks. That proposal addresses the concerns of all parties. It is the way forward.
The first thing that North Korea needs to do is make a strategic decision to completely abandon its nuclear weapons ambition. All parties in the region are saying we need a nuclear-free peninsula. It's time for North Korea to come back to the talks so we can move forward on the proposal we have outlined. That is a proposal that we believe addresses concerns of all parties, and it's the way forward.
Q They changed it to a disarmament talk with United States -- bilateral talks.
MR. McCLELLAN: And what they need to do is come back to the six-party framework so we can talk about how to move forward on the proposal we have outlined.
Q Last night, the Security Council of the United Nations decided to hand over the dossier of Darfur and possible war crimes there to the International Criminal Court in Hague. And the U.S. didn't prevent that to happen. Does that mean that you see the International Criminal Court now in a more positive light?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I mean, in terms of our view of the International Criminal Court has not changed, nor has our view that those who were responsible for atrocities in Darfur need to be held accountable. We strongly support holding individuals who are responsible for the atrocities that have taken place accountable for their actions.
And we have worked very closely with other members of the Security Council on these efforts. There are three resolutions that we've moved forward on. One was the peacekeeping operation to enforce the north-south agreement. The other was to move forward on sanctions to hold people responsible for the violence -- the continued violence in the region, as well. And then this one that passed last night.
And the reason we didn't stand in the way of that resolution was for two reasons. One, we believe strongly that people need to be held accountable for the atrocities committed. Two, it provides protections for Americans in that resolution. And that's why we do not stand in the way of that resolution passing.
Q So you think that in that concrete case, the International Criminal Court can play a positive role?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q Does that mean that in your view, the International Criminal Court --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, it's important --
Q -- can play a positive role in this case of Darfur?
MR. McCLELLAN: It's important that those who are responsible for atrocities be held accountable. We've made that very clear. We've expressed our concerns about the International Criminal Court and how it could be used for political prosecutions. That view remains the same. But this resolution included some protections that addressed our concerns. And so that's why we supported it.
Q Back to the report on the botched WMD intelligence, have the massive intelligence failures documented in the report caused the President to rethink his policy of preventive war?
MR. McCLELLAN: You know, September 11th taught us a very important lesson, and that lesson was that we must confront threats before it is too late. If we had known of those attacks ahead of time, we would have moved heaven and earth to prevent them from happening.
This President will not hesitate when it comes to protecting the American people. And in the post-September 11th world that we live in, the consequences of underestimating the threat we face is too high. It's tens of -- possibly tens of thousands of lives.
Q What about the cost of overestimating?
MR. McCLELLAN: Are you talking about the Iraq situation?
Q Going into Iraq, yes, with bad intelligence.
MR. McCLELLAN: I think we've talked about this before. The world is safer with Saddam Hussein's regime removed from power. The Iraqi people are serving as an example to the rest of the Middle East through their courage and determination to build a free future.
Q The ones that are alive, you mean?
MR. McCLELLAN: We looked the other way in the Middle East for too long and allowed for authoritarian regimes to operate in the hopes that we would have peace and stability. We got neither. And that's why the President believes that the war on terrorism that we're involved in now must be a comprehensive effort. We must go after and bring to justice those who seek to do us harm, and we must work to advance the spread of freedom and democracy for our long-term peace and security. And that's what we will continue to do.
Q Scott, Medicare Administrator Mark McClellan has said that next year Medicare --
MR. McCLELLAN: I know that guy. (Laughter.)
Q -- will start paying doctors 4 percent less and charge seniors 14 percent more. And as soon as the prescription drug benefit kicks in, that gap will even -- will deepen. What steps is the President taking to reform the Medicare system?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think, first of all, in terms of some of the costs issues related there, I think that the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services is continuing to work to address those issues and look at some of the reasons behind that.
But the President strongly supported and advocated the Medicare Modernization Act because it expanded benefits for seniors and provided them prescription drug coverage. So starting in 2006 -- low-income seniors have already started to realize some benefits, but starting in 2006, you're going to see better and expanded benefits for seniors, ones that they have previously not had, like prescription drug coverage under Medicare. And you're going to see a health care system that provides better care for our seniors and gives them more choices. This was -- the reforms that we passed will help provide our seniors better health care and more options and better benefits to choose from.
Q And what about paying for it?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q What is the President doing to ensure that the system can pay for these increased benefits?
MR. McCLELLAN: The CMS is working to implement the reforms now, and these reforms will help reduce costs for America's seniors -- that's what's important -- while providing them better quality of care. And that's why the reforms that we passed are so important. And the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Service is working to put those reforms into place, so that seniors will have prescription drug coverage, so that they will be able to have the kind of care that they need, that will prevent more costly surgeries from being needed in the first place.
The President has often talked about that Medicare would pay for the heart surgery, but it wouldn't pay for the prescription drugs that could prevent that heart surgery from being needed in the first place. So that will bring costs down, when we implement these reforms. And you have to look at it in that context. But they're getting more benefits, they're getting prescription drug coverage, and they're getting better quality of care under the reforms that we passed and are in the process of implementing.
Q Thank you.
MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you. Have a good weekend.
END 1:30 P.M. EST