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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 9, 2005
Press Gaggle by Scott McClellan
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Tbilisi, Georgia
6:20 P.M. (Local)
MR. McCLELLAN: All right, good afternoon, everybody. I wanted to run through some of the President's day, and just give you a little color on the day, as well.
The President, this morning, before he left the hotel, met with some civil society leaders. It was probably about a half hour or so, the meeting. And there were 17 people there, if I counted correctly, a diverse cross-section of Russian civil society leaders, including representatives of human rights groups. In fact, you had a representative from the Helsinki Commission there, which the Ambassador referred to as the oldest civil society organization in Russia. You had representatives from labor, advocates for the free press, Russian Red Cross, representative of people with disabilities, representative or an advocate for abandoned children, someone who is involved in election monitoring, and then an HIV/AIDS activist, as well.
The President viewed this as another opportunity to highlight the importance of civil society in democracies, and to thank them for their work, and also to hear from them. The President met individually with each one, and then he spoke to them as a group, and he talked about how he is here to celebrate the defeat of the Nazis and fascism, and honor the courage of those who served and sacrificed from that generation, but he's also -- this is also a time to remember the lessons of the past as we look to the future. And in that context, he talked about how we must always stand up against tyranny and how freedom is universal.
And he talked about the importance of human dignity and rule of law and minority rights, and people worshiping freely, and people being able to express their views without fear. He talked about how a vibrant society is one in which government recognizes and honors universal truths, but he said society itself honors universal truths through civil society. And he talked about how we support the civil society leaders in their work, and continue to offer them our encouragement and support in their work. And he talked about how in our own country we're constantly working to overcome the wrongs of our past. And I think some of that you've heard in his remarks over recent days.
And then he talked about the good relations he had with President Putin, and he talked about how his strong personal relationship with President Putin allows him to work in an effective way and enables them to work together in a constructive way.
And then he heard from three of the representatives, one from -- represented the human rights organizations, one that represented the media, and one that represented relief organizations. And they talked about, obviously, their organizations, and thanked the President for the support from our embassy and from USAID. And then the President kind of closed by talking about how strong, independent institutions that operate outside of government really help build strong democracies. And they touched a little bit on the role of faith-based organizations in society, as well.
Then I talked to -- the President and Mrs. Bush attended the parade, and staff was there, too, watching the parade. And I talked tothe President afterwards about some of his thoughts. And he talked about how it was a really dramatic moment -- he thought the architecture around Red Square was magnificent, and that the music played by the military bands was powerful. And then he talked about the old Soviet-era trucks that drove by with the World War II veterans. It was very moving. And he talked about what a proud moment that was for those veterans.
Then he and Mrs. Bush went to the lunch with the other world leaders, and they were joined at lunch right by them by -- at least in their area were three veterans, one American, one British and one Russian. And the President got an opportunity to visit with some of the other leaders, like President Hu and Prime Minister Koizumi and others, as well.
Then he went to the embassy, and thanked our diplomatic staff and the Marines for all that they do on behalf of America. And then following the remarks to the embassy staff, the President met privately with 10 American and 10 Russian veterans of World War II. And he thanked them for the opportunity to come by and say hello. He told them that they set an example for his generation and future generations through their courage and sacrifice and willingness to face tyranny and defeat the Nazis and defeat fascism. He talked about how the example that they set will inspire a future generation of leaders. And he thanked them on behalf of a grateful nation. And again there, he talked about his relationship with President Putin and how important that is, and then he said, God bless you, to all of them.
The President, before that, had walked around and met individually with the veterans. And he came upon this one Russian veteran, an older gentleman who had a lot of medals on his coat. And he didn't speak English, he was speaking to the President in Russian. And there was an interpreter there. And this veteran talked to the President about how he had been in Berlin, and he had a coin from Berlin, and he wanted to give it to the President, this old coin. And the President insisted -- he said, no, you keep that, give that to someone in your family. And he said -- he thanked him for his courage, and then he embraced the veteran and hugged him.
Q A coin from --
MR. McCLELLAN: A coin from Berlin. He had been in Berlin. It was a touching moment; the President was very touched by it. I think Eric got a photograph of it, so we'll try to do a photo release of that moment, as well.
Let's see, what else do I have. Just looking ahead to tomorrow, we've got the -- well, tonight we've got the tour of Old Town Tbilisi, and then tomorrow the President will have his meeting with President Saakashvili, and then the press avail following that. And then he's going to have a roundtable with the civil society leaders there. That will be pool coverage. And then he meets with the speaker of parliament. Then he'll make the remarks in Freedom Square, and we expect a pretty good size crowd there, from Tbilisi.
And in the remarks, the President is going to herald one of the world's newest democracies. This is an opportunity to mark the progress that Georgia has made on the path to democracy. Georgia is a beacon of liberty for the world, and the President will talk about that in his remarks. Before there was the purple revolution in Iraq, and the orange revolution in Ukraine, and the cedar revolution in Lebanon, there was the rose revolution in Georgia. And that has been an example of courage -- the rose revolution is an example of courage that has inspired many around the world. And the President will talk about that.
Another point the President will make -- he'll talk about how new democracies -- how important it is for new democracies to meet certain responsibilities in order to sustain freedom. And Georgia is moving forward on a number of reforms. We're very supportive of those efforts. They're moving forward on economic reforms, they're moving forward on democratic reforms, they're moving forward on cracking down on corruption.
And I think the President will talk about that, but he'll also talk about how free societies have a responsibility to build lasting, democratic institutions. And those lasting institutions are rule of law, full and equal rights for minorities, freedom of press. And he'll talk about how we stand with Georgia as they move forward on moving those institutions, but that building those institutions are really key to sustaining freedom. So that's really the focus of his remarks tomorrow in Freedom Square.
Q Scott, when the President says to the civil society people in Moscow, and again in the speech tomorrow in Georgia, Tbilisi, we stand with you, what specifically does he mean? Is there anything specifically that you guys are going at the White House?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we support efforts around the world to move forward on institution building, to put in place lasting democracies. And we've worked very closely with Georgia. The President has a great relationship with President Saakashvili. And we support efforts in the Middle East, we support efforts in the former Soviet republics, and we will continue to -- I think the point he's making is, we will continue to support you as you move forward on that path of democracy. There are lots of ways that we help and support those efforts; there are NGOs that help, as well.
Q Your description of the speech tomorrow sounds very much like Riga, but I assume it's not going to be the same speech. So how might it be different? What are some of the different things he's stressing and different points he's trying to make?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Riga was looking a lot at the lessons of the past, as we move forward on the future. And I think this is really a forward-looking speech. I said he was going to talk about how Georgia is a beacon of liberty for the region and for the world. Freedom is the future for all, and I think that's one of the things the President is highlighting in his remarks tomorrow.
Q Will he talk about the U.S., as he did in Riga? Will he talk about our own sort of path to democracy, with slavery, and that type of thing?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think one thing he'll talk about in the remarks is that sustaining freedom is difficult; it's not easy. And certainly we know that -- we do know that from our own history, but that there are many around the world that are there to support you as you move forward. And there are many lessons we have learned from our past. The focus is really forward looking, it's not really, as I said, looking at the past, as he did in Riga. And so it's really focusing on what they're doing right now, and they're making important progress. And we've been very supportive of those efforts. But they are a young democracy. The rose revolution just occurred in 2003. They are working to address these issues now, and we want to do all we can to support them, and really point out that they are serving as an example by moving forward on those reforms.
Q Scott, in the lunch today you mentioned that he talked with Hu and Koizumi. Who did he sit with, and what kinds of conversations -- were there substantive conversations?
MR. McCLELLAN: Like I said, there were some veterans there. I just know -- we talked briefly about it. I don't know who else was at the table. I'll see if I can get you that information. But I wasn't there for the lunch, so --
Q Did he have any sort of mini-summit with Hu and Koizumi to talk about North Korea? Did they chat about that at all?
MR. McCLELLAN: I mean, I know he had the opportunity to visit with different leaders. I don't know how substantive those conversations were. But I'm sure they brought up some issues that are on both our minds, both countries' minds. But I just don't have any more on that, because I wasn't there for the lunch.
Q The Russians refuse to take their bases out of Georgia, and that's what led to Saakashvili not coming to this event today in Moscow. Does the White House have any position on Russia keeping their bases in Georgia?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know that they've refused. I mean, I think Russia has stated that they are committed to moving out of those bases. We support the negotiations that are going on.
Q On North Korea, there were some discussions -- there were some comments out of China and South Korea about the six-party talks, encouraging North Korea to come back to the six-party talks, and some signals from North Korea about a greater willingness to do so. What is the reaction to that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we've been in close contact with our partners in the region to get North Korea to come back to the six-party talks. And I think all nations involved in the six-party talks are sending the same message to North Korea, that the six-party talks are the best way forward to resolving this matter and to achieving a nuclear-free Peninsula. And so we appreciate the efforts of our partners in the region. We want to see North Korea come back to the talks, so that we can talk in a serious way about how to move forward and achieve a diplomatic solution.
Q When it comes to the test, though, you have mentioned that the U.S. has robust deterrents that are available. What are they?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that Secretary Rice has talked about our deterrence capability in the region. I think that that's well known. I think our focus is on the diplomatic front and getting North Korea back to the six-party talks. The President has talked about moving forward on missile defense, as well. But our focus is on getting them back to the six-party talks. We've made it clear that no one is coming in with any preconditions to those talks, that we have a proposal on the table, and we want to move forward on that proposal in a serious way. So that's really what our focus is, is on getting them back to the six-party talks.
Q How many people in the square tomorrow, Scott?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't want to put a number on it, but I heard it's going to be a pretty large crowd.
Q Did the President say anything at all --
Q Security is pretty dicey in Georgia. Are you guys worried at all about the open-air speech?
MR. McCLELLAN: We have great confidence in the security precautions that are taken for this trip and all our trips. We wouldn't be going if that wasn't the case.
Q Is there any contradiction in all of his talk about open societies and freedom and free speech, and yet every city we go to is virtually locked down when we come through it, mostly for security reasons? Doesn't it send a message that he's coming through locked-down cities?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think I'd view it quite the same way. The President is really looking forward to this trip for each stop along the way. It's been a really good trip so far, and the President is looking forward to finishing the trip in Georgia. I think it's an opportunity for people in these areas to hear directly from the President of the United States, and for us to herald the great things that they are doing to move forward on the path of democracy. Like I said, I expect a rather large crowd tomorrow, and I think people understand the necessity of the security precautions that are taken, particularly when we're in a time of war.
Q I've got a question on Iran. Did the Russians say or offer anything new on Iran in the context of the recent vows by the Iranians to begin enrichment-related activities very soon? Will they be with us at the Security Council if it goes that far?
MR. McCLELLAN: Steve talked about it last night, in terms of the context of the meeting. They did talk about Iran -- I think Steve pointed out that Russia has been supportive of the efforts that are going on by the Europeans. We continue to support the efforts of the Europeans to resolve this in a peaceful and diplomatic manner. Iran made a commitment to our European friends that during the negotiations that they would suspend all their enrichment and reprocessing-related activity. If they decided to take a step to restart some of those efforts, that would be contrary to the commitment that they made to the Europeans. So we want to continue to support the Europeans in negotiations.
And Iran -- we have been skeptical of Iran's intentions for quite some time, and that's because Iran's past -- Iran has a past where they hid their activities from the international community. And that's why it's important that there be some objective guarantee that Iran is not developing a nuclear weapon under the cover of a civilian program. And the objective guarantee is no reprocessing or enrichment-related activity. That's a way to provide a guarantee that their intentions are not to develop a nuclear weapon. So we think that's very important. Europeans have said that they're prepared to look at the next step if Iran were to some reason take such a step and pull away from the negotiations.
Q Did Putin, in any fashion, indicate that he would stand with the U.S., and presumably with the Europeans, at the Security Council if Iran goes back to enrichment activities?
MR. McCLELLAN: Steve talked about that last night at the briefing. He talked about how that's kind of a hypothetical at this point, but that Russia has been very supportive of the efforts by the Europeans to resolve this matter in a diplomatic way.
Q One more on today's event. The President today was the first President to sit in that square for this kind of event. What else did he say about that --
MR. McCLELLAN: To see a military parade.
Q To see a military parade, but Soviet songs were sung, and the Soviet flag marched by. What significance did it have for him, to be sitting in that square --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think it's the way I described it. I visited with him about it, and the way I described it at the beginning of this gaggle is the way I would describe it. Like I said, the most moving part of the parade was when the old Soviet-era trucks were coming by with the World War II veterans in them, waving and holding roses. That was a -- being there and watching it was --
Q Any squeamishness about the hammer and sickle flag, and goose-stepping soldiers and the symbols of that era?
MR. McCLELLAN: No. I think part of this trip has been to celebrate the sacrifice of all those who helped to defeat the Nazis and to defeat fascism. But it's also been a way to look at the lessons of the past, as we move to the future. And I think that's really been the focus of the President's trip.
END 6:40 P.M. (Local)