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 Home > News & Policies > May 2005

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 23, 2005

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

Play Video  Video (Real)

1:03 P.M. EDT

MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon. A short time ago, the President had a good conversation with Prime Minister Berlusconi. The Prime Minister had reached out to the President. Italy is a good, close friend and ally, and the call was part of our continued consultations. The two leaders discussed the importance of United Nations Security Council reform, among other issues. They both agreed that the focus needs to be on how to make the United Nations work better.

And that is all I have to begin with, so I'll be glad to go to John Roberts.

Q What's the White House's position on sex offenders in prison having access to Viagra, paid for by Medicaid?

MR. McCLELLAN: John, I saw those reports. You might want to direct those questions to the centers for Medicaid and Medicare.

Q Does the President have some kind of opinion on it?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think there are current laws that are in place regarding those matters.

Q Right.

MR. McCLELLAN: So I don't have any additional update on that from this podium.

Q The people at HHS say, "Now that the issue has been brought to our attention, we're certainly going to see what we can do administratively, if anything," to deal with the problem.

MR. McCLELLAN: Right.

Q Does the President think it's appropriate?

MR. McCLELLAN: And that's what we would expect the Department to do. And so I think -- I have not discussed it with the President since I've been back, but I'll be glad to look into it further.

Q One other question. Karzai was quite definite in saying that he didn't believe that the violence in Afghanistan was directly tied to the Newsweek article about Koran desecration. Yet, from this podium, you have made that link. So --

MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, I don't think you're actually characterizing what was said accurately.

Q By whom?

MR. McCLELLAN: As I said last week, and as President Karzai said today, and as General Myers had said previously, the protest may well have been pre-staged. The discredited report was damaging. It was used to incite violence. But those who espouse an ideology of hatred and oppression and murder don't need an excuse to incite violence. But the reports from the region showed how this story was used to incite violence.

Q But Karzai seemed to think that that wasn't what led to the violence, that it was --

MR. McCLELLAN: That's right, he actually -- he talked about -- President Karzai spoke about how the demonstrations were aimed at undercutting the progress being made toward democracy in Afghanistan, and the progress on elections. They have elections coming up soon. And I spoke about that, as well, last week.

Q So could it be said that the Newsweek article played a role, but was not --

MR. McCLELLAN: John, I think we've made our views known when it comes to the discredited report. There are some that want to continue to defend what is a discredited report that has been disavowed by Newsweek, and that's their business. We're perfectly willing to trust the American people to make their own judgment about it.

Q Who's doing that, exactly?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q Who wants to defend it?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you can see in the media coverage, there are some that want to continue to do that.

Q On North Korea, they've indicated a willingness to return to the bargaining table, they say, if Washington clarifies conflicting statements on U.S. policy. What's your reaction?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think there are any. We've made our views very clear. We've also made clear to North Korea that the six-party talks are the way forward to resolving this issue. We want to see them come back to the talks, as do the other five parties -- or the other four parties, to the talks. We have no preconditions for returning to the talks, and we've made that very clear. We all have a shared goal of a de-nuclearized peninsula.

Q They say that the United States has made conflicting statements about the U.S. attitude toward North Korea. Do you think that maybe you could clear that up for North Korea as a step toward getting them back?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think we have, and I think we've made it clear to North Korea that there are no preconditions for returning to the talks. Now we do want to see serious progress on the proposal that we outlined at the last round of talks, and we've said that, as well. But there are no preconditions for returning to the talks. We hope that they will come back soon, so that we can talk about how to move forward and resolve this matter through diplomatic means.

Go ahead, Terry.

Q Scott, President Karzai before today has said that he wants -- he says it's time for Afghanistan to establish some control over the operations of U.S. and coalition forces in their country. In particular, he talked about when U.S. forces raided specific homes of individual Afghani citizens. Today, the President said that he would -- the United States would work in partnership with Afghanistan. And in the joint declaration on the partnership, it says "the U.S. and coalition forces are to continue to have the freedom of action required to conduct appropriate military operations based on consultations and" prearranged procedures -- "pre-agreed procedures."

MR. McCLELLAN: Right.

Q It does sound as if one partner is going to have most of the say here.

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think it's consistent with what we do around the world when we have troops in sovereign countries. Afghanistan is a sovereign country. We're there at their invitation. You have an elected government that is in place. President Karzai expressed his deep appreciation on behalf of the people of Afghanistan for the job that our troops are doing in Afghanistan. And our focus is continuing to be on training and equipping the Afghan forces as the President talked about. There are some 25,000 troops already trained and equipped in the Afghan army , and we're working to train and equip an additional 22,000 on top of that so that they can assume more responsibility for their future and be able to defend themselves.

In terms of these issues, these are always issues that we consult closely with the host government on. And we will continue to do so in this instance, as well. We'll continue to cooperate and coordinate closely with the government of Afghanistan as we move forward.

Q Where else does the United States insist on having the freedom of action to conduct appropriate military actions?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think any time that our troops are going to be fired upon, they're going to be able to defend themselves. That's always been the way it is. But as it says in the document that you cited, it says that it's based on the consultations and agreements with the government of Afghanistan. And that's the way it is in other places, as well.

Q But, Scott, the United States -- must the United States be fired upon in Afghanistan before it can decide to take action?

MR. McCLELLAN: You might want to talk to the military about this, they've have discussions and they will continue to have discussions with the government of Afghanistan about those arrangements. Any time there are security issues like that and we have troops in another country, we will consult and come to agreements with the host country. And you have the joint declaration from the two leaders stating their views; they signed that document at the conclusion of their meeting in the Oval Office.

Q So is this true in Germany?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q Is this true in Germany, where we have troops also? Would the United States be able to act after it had consulted -- whatever the --

MR. McCLELLAN: We have agreements with the government of Germany on our troops being in their country, as well.

Go ahead, David.

Q I want to follow up on this point, let's be very clear about this. "Consultation" is one thing, "approval" is another. The United States military forces in Afghanistan do not feel that they need, nor will they ask for anyone's approval to carry out a military operation of any kind; isn't that right?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think that -- I disagree with that characterization. And look at the joint declaration. It says that this is based on agreements and consultations with the government of Afghanistan. We are there at their invitation, and we are also there to help train and equip Afghan forces -- Afghanistan forces so that they can take care --

Q Right. The same thing is true in Iraq, and it's pretty clear that we don't get approval from anybody if we want to carry out -- I mean, isn't that right?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think you're giving a full picture to the American people when you characterize it in those terms. Any time we are in a country that is sovereign, we are going to have agreements and consultations with the host government. And we are there at their invitation. And we remember that, so I think --

Q I know, but don't -- but let's not try to fool people, either. "Consultation" is one thing, and that's important, and then there's "partnership" --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let's not try to. Let's be clear about what the agreements are.

Q They consult -- everybody is very diplomatic about this, they consult. But just as in Iraq, if the United States military wants to do something, there's no -- the Afghan government doesn't have veto power, does it?

MR. McCLELLAN: But those agreements are arranged with the Afghanistan government. And you ought to talk to the Department of Defense about what those agreements and arrangements are. They're in the best position to be able to explain those to you.

Q Can I follow up on another point that seemed to go -- kind of dodged in their press appearance, which is, the President of Afghanistan wants control over detainees, wants to have authority over detainees at Bagram, as I understand it.

MR. McCLELLAN: That's right.

Q And the President is not prepared to do that at this point, right? In other words, until the United States sort of works these detainees through whatever the U.S. process is exactly, there will be no -- the Afghan government will not have any partnership there; isn't that correct?

MR. McCLELLAN: A couple of things. One, I think you're referencing not only detainees at Guantanamo Bay, but detainees at Bagram, as well.

Q Right.

MR. McCLELLAN: And we have released detainees into the custody of the Afghanistan government, from both those places, already. And we will continue to consult with the government of Afghanistan as we move forward, but the President said there are certain things that need to be in place before that happens. We want to transfer those people back to their country of origin, but there needs to be certain security measures in place, as well as the ability to provide for their care and food.

Q Right, but isn't that a slightly different issue? I mean, when you have the kind of abuse that has been documented by the military of detainees at Bagram, the issue for the Afghan government is, no, we would like to have some sort of sharing -- some kind of partnership with regard to their detention, not just what happens when they get released. And is that something that the President has said "no" to?

MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, if you look at the joint declaration that was put out, it said that we will continue to consult on all these areas -- the political, the economic, the security arrangements, and so forth. That's why they formed this strategic partnership. We have a very good relationship with the government of Afghanistan. The relationship is strong, and they had a good discussion about these issues during their meeting in the Oval Office. And we will continue to move forward together, in a spirit of partnership.

In terms of issues of abuse, we take all allegations very seriously when it comes to allegations of abuse of prisoners. And we are holding people to account. Seven soldiers are now pending trial by court marshal because of some of the incidents that occurred at Bagram, for example. And we will always hold people to account and take any action that needs to be taken to prevent those things from happening again.

Q So when you talk about a partnership, is it fair to say that the United States is the senior partner, and Afghanistan is the junior partner?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, it's a partnership. A partnership, by nature, is equal.

Q That being the case, and the matters regarding the sovereign territory of Afghanistan, would not Afghanistan have an equal opportunity to say, we want certain things, therefore we should get them?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, it is a sovereign country, and they are a duly-elected government that represents the people of Afghanistan. We are there at their invitation. But we have a very good relationship, as you heard from the two leaders. This is a strong partnership, and we want to move forward together to address the challenges that are ahead of us. And that's exactly what we'll continue to do with President Karzai and other leaders from Afghanistan.

Q But when the President of Afghanistan says, we want more involvement in the decisions that are made militarily, and the United States says, we'll see, is that an equal partnership?

MR. McCLELLAN: We'll continue to cooperate and consult closely with Afghanistan. That's what the President made very clear. These are arrangements that are worked out with the host government. I would refer you right back to the joint declaration that Terry cited at the beginning of this briefing for the language in there. I think that that addresses your question.

Q Scott, two questions; one on Afghanistan. The President said that -- during the press conference that he was very happy to see that Afghanistan is no longer safe haven for terrorists. My question is that we still live under the fear of terrorism, and we are at the war against terrorism or on terrorism, but where are those terrorists that we are still afraid of and where they come from, where are they striking from?

MR. McCLELLAN: Where are they coming from?

Q Yes, where are they -- if they are not in Afghanistan --

MR. McCLELLAN: We are pursuing them wherever they are, and we will continue to do so. This is a global war on terrorism. We've made significant progress. We appreciate the government of Afghanistan working with us in the global war on terrorism. We appreciate the government of Pakistan being a good partner in the global war on terrorism. We've made significant progress. There are still remnants of al Qaeda and Taliban that seek to undermine the move toward a free and democratic future in the region. And we will continue to work closely with the governments to pursue those individuals and bring them to justice. And we will also work to continue to support the advance of freedom and democracy in the region, to address the -- to defeat the ideology of hatred and oppression and tyranny.

Q Second question. The First Lady's trip in the Middle East and representing the United States there. This is the first time I think I have seen in my 25 years in the White House that the First Lady is on such a mission, a critical mission that image of the United States, global image around the globe -- of the United States -- that she's there to repair. What motivated her on this kind of mission, being a teacher and caring for the women, and also women's rights and children -

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, this --

Q Is this something the President made a special and personal offer or request to her?

MR. McCLELLAN: Mrs. Bush cares deeply about improving education for all. And she cares deeply about women's rights and making sure that women can enjoy the same freedoms -- freedom that men have in parts of the world where they currently do not have those freedoms. And she has been having a very positive trip. She and the President spoke this morning. They had a good discussion about her trip. She updated the President and said that the trip is going well. I think you've seen coverage from the region, as well -- and coverage -- seen some of her remarks. And we appreciate that we went on this trip to talk about women's rights and to talk about improving education, and to highlight the importance of supporting the advance of freedom in that part of the world.

Q Do you think the trip will --

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me keep moving. Go ahead.

Q Scott, the President in the East Room a short while ago said we're making great progress in Iraq. Last week some senior military officers both at the Pentagon and in Baghdad said the U.S. mission in Iraq could fail. Is the President aware of those comments? And does he believe that the mission could possibly fail?

MR. McCLELLAN: He believes we will succeed in Iraq because the Iraqi people have stepped forward and said we want a free and democratic future. The Iraqi people showed in large numbers, as the President cited in his news conference, more than 8 million people showed up to say that they want a democratic future and they want a peaceful future. And we are there to continue to stand with the Iraqi people as they work to address the challenges that remain.

There is a determined enemy in Iraq, but they will be defeated. The Iraqi people are taking charge of their own security more and more and going after those who seek to derail the transition to democracy. You've seen this weekend that there are a large numbers of Sunnis who are stepping forward and saying, we recognize that the political process is the way forward. That is a good sign. We continue to encourage the government to reach out to all sectors within Iraq to participate in the political process. And we believe good progress is being made, but there are difficulties that remain. And we must continue to work closely with the Iraqis as we go after the enemy of freedom.

Q Can I ask a follow-up question?

MR. McCLELLAN: You may.

Q Just quickly, during the same conversations with these senior military leaders, one said that since the Iraqi security forces are not coming on stream fast enough, it will be "many years" before U.S. forces can withdraw and come home. Does the President agree with that?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think you've heard military leaders talk about the progress that is being made to train and equip Iraqi security forces. Iraqi security forces are the largest number of security forces in the country. They are assuming more and more responsibility, and we must complete the mission. That is the President's mission. And when we do, our troops will return home with the honor that they deserve. But it would be based on the progress and circumstances on the ground. But there is great progress being made in terms of the training and equipping of Iraqi security forces so that they will be able to defend their country for themselves.

Q Scott, from --

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me go to David first. I saw we had a second-row person had his hand up. And then I'll come back to the third row.

Q Scott, if I could change the subject briefly to Iran. As you know, the Europeans are going to be meeting the Iranians in what may be -- in what the Iranians say may be the last negotiating session. Is it the position of the United States and the President's position at this point that no compromise position that allows the Iranians to retain control of fuel cycle enrichment is permissible, but under the agreement with the Europeans, you must break their own control of the fuel cycle?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, I don't want to put ourselves in the position of the negotiations. Those are negotiations going on between the Europeans and --

Q But there was a letter, however, that put you --

MR. McCLELLAN: Hang on, hang on -- no, between the Europeans and the Iranians. And we support the efforts of the Europeans to resolve this matter through those negotiations. And we continue to support their efforts.

In terms of uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities, I think the Europeans have made their views clear, as have we. And there needs to be an objective guarantee in place to show that Iran is not developing nuclear weapons under the cover of a civilian program. And that is something that was stated by the Europeans previously. We know that Iran has a history of hiding their activities, their nuclear activities from the international community. That's why an objective guarantee is so important. And we continue to support the efforts of the Europeans to move forward on the negotiations.

Q Scott, the mutual letter between the United States and the Europeans, roughly two months ago, went beyond objective guarantee, and said that they must actually not be in control of the whole fuel cycle. That is still the position of the United States, a non-negotiable position, that they may not be in control --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, our positions have not changed, and we continue to support the Europeans.

Go ahead, Les.

Q From Jerusalem, World Net Daily's bureau chief reports that an official Palestinian Authority information website has published on its Arabic language section a copy of the protocols for learned elders of Zion. And my first question -- will the President, when he hosts Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday, ask him why they are publishing this notorious anti-Semitic forgery, and why Abbas hasn't repudiated his doctoral thesis denying the Holocaust?

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me just say that the President has spoken out strongly against anti-Semitism wherever it exists, and he has stood firmly for ending anti-Semitism in this world. We stand with Israel when it comes to that issue.

And in terms of President Abbas coming to the White House, the President looks forward to welcoming him back to the White House, this time as President of the Palestinian Authority. And I think the focus of the meeting this week will really be on the Gaza disengagement plan that Prime Minister Sharon outlined. We need to make sure that that is successful.

Q Congressman Barney Frank has for the second time publicly denounced Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean for Dean's repeatedly saying that Majority Leader DeLay is likely to go to jail and should step down. My question: Does the President agree with Congressman Frank on this issue? And what was his reaction to Dean, as a physician, making fun of Limbaugh's battle against addiction to painkillers?

MR. McCLELLAN: There's a Democratic National Committee. There's also a Republican National Committee. I think the best place to look for a response would be from the Republican National Committee when it comes to that. I think the President has made his views pretty clear when it comes to Leader DeLay. Leader DeLay is someone he considers a good friend and someone that we work very closely with to achieve important priorities for the American people. And that's what we will --

Q That evasive--

MR. McCLELLAN: -- that's what we will continue to do. I think we'll let others respond --

Q That means the President really wants Dean to continue forever as Democratic Chairman, isn't it?

MR. McCLELLAN: We'll let -- we'll let others respond. We'll let others respond to the Democratic National Committee Chairman.

Go ahead, Roger.

Q Scott, Ariel Sharon apparently is in town today and maybe in to tomorrow, too. Is he planning any drop-by's to the White House at all? Is there any conversations going back and forth?

MR. McCLELLAN: There's nothing scheduled with the President. I don't know what the rest of the schedule is. But I'll be glad to check into that.

Q -- the Secretary of State?

MR. McCLELLAN: You can check with the Department of State on that.

Go ahead.

Q Scott, with regard to Moqtada al-Sadr's apparently willingness now to pursue political means of achieving his ends, rather than violent means -- or at least that's what he's saying -- what is the view here?

MR. McCLELLAN: Our view is that it's up to the Iraqi people to determine their future and to determine who their leaders are and who represents them in their government. And as I said earlier, there are more and more Iraqis stepping forward, recognizing that the political process is the way forward to a better Iraq and to a free, peaceful and democratic Iraq.

I don't think I have anything particular to say about any individual, per se.

Q Do you guys believe him when he says that?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not going to get into individuals. I think I continue to emphasize what we've said previously. And it's a good sign that you had the Sunnis coming together this weekend saying we want to get involved in the drafting of the constitution; we want to be involved in the political process; we recognize that's the way forward here in Iraq.

Go ahead.

Q Scott, last week you said that claims in the leaked Downing Street memo that intelligence was being fixed to support the Iraq War as early as July 2002 are flat-out wrong. According to the memo which was dated July 23, 2002, and whose authenticity has not been disputed by the British Government, both Foreign Minister Jack Straw and British Intelligence Chief Sir Richard Dearlove said that the President had already made up his mind to invade Iraq. Dearlove added that intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. Do you think these two very senior officials of our closest ally were flat-out wrong? And if so, how could they have been so misinformed after their conversations with George Tenet and Condoleezza Rice?

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me correct you on the -- let me correct you on the characterization of the quote you attributed to me. I'm referring to some of the allegations that were made referring to a report. In terms of the intelligence, the -- if anyone wants to know how the intelligence was used by the administration, all they have to do is go back and look at all the public comments over the course of the lead-up to the war in Iraq, and that's all very public information. Everybody who was there could see how we used that intelligence.

And in terms of the intelligence, it was wrong, and we are taking steps to correct that and make sure that in the future we have the best possible intelligence, because it's critical in this post-September 11th age, that the executive branch has the best intelligence possible.

Go ahead, Ken.

Q Scott, in Afghanistan, if the U.S. military leadership decided to pursue a mission and, in consultation with their partners, determined the partners didn't want that mission to happen, would that mission happen?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think you need to talk to the Department of Defense about all those matters. They have discussions with host governments, they have discussion with the government of Afghanistan and they have agreements in place. And you ought to ask them about those agreements.

Q By the terms -- the statement put out by the two Presidents today, what is the White House understanding of what would happen in that circumstance?

MR. McCLELLAN: The White House understanding is what the Department of Defense understanding is, and they're in the best position to address those questions. But we cooperate and consult closely with Afghanistan when it comes to security arrangements, and that's what we'll continue to do as we move forward. And as President Karzai said, he is grateful for the contributions and the sacrifices of American forces to help the Afghan people realize a brighter future.

Q Scott, recently, at one time, a summit meeting between the United States and South Korea was reported to be for sometime in June, without an exact time --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, a meeting between --

Q Between the U.S. and South Korea.

MR. McCLELLAN: And you're asking me to make a scheduling announcement --

Q Yes, in June. Yes, the exact time and place fixed --

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't have any update to the President's schedule at this point.

Q What is the timetable? Do you have any --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry? We will keep you posted.

Q Scott, back on Iran. The Indian Foreign Minister has been on a visit to Iran. They've had extensive discussions. And according to reports in the region, Foreign Minister Kharrazi, was especially interested in finding out if he would get any Indian support were Iran to be attacked by the United States, politically if not militarily. And the Indian Foreign Minister -- of course, India has had very extensive relations with Iran, Kharrazi indicating that an attack, if not imminent, was at least expected within a shorter period of time.

MR. McCLELLAN: I think the President addressed that issue previously. No one is talking about doing that. This is not the same situation as it was with Iraq. No one's talking about that.

Q Is there consideration --

MR. McCLELLAN: And the President addressed that in Europe.

Q If the European negotiations do not go according to the way the United States wants them to go, and there were a decision taken, what would the -- would the other countries, our allies in the area --

MR. McCLELLAN: There are a lot of "ifs" in that question. It's quite a hypothetical. We continue to support the Europeans and hope that this matter will be resolved through those negotiations.

I'm coming to you. Go ahead. I'll come to you next.

Q On Capitol Hill, it looks like there's growing support for stem cell legislation that would be -- the White House would find objectionable. Is the President on the phone with any lawmakers to talk about this --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think the President made his views very clear last week when it comes to the legislation that you're referencing. The President strongly supports the advance of science. But we also have moral and ethical obligations that we must meet as we move forward. And the President believes very strongly in the policy that he outlined when it comes to embryonic stem cell research.

The President laid out a moral threshold that we should not cross. We should not be creating life for the sole purpose of destroying it. And that's something the President feels very strongly about.

Now, we have provided a tremendous amount of support when it comes to adult stem cell research. We have also provided federal resources for embryonic stem cell research that meets the criteria that the President outlined. And there are some 600 samples that have been sent out to researchers so that they can look at the promise of embryonic stem cell research. Right now, we're in the very early stages when it comes to understanding the promise of embryonic stem cell research, and there's much we have to learn. And that's why the President outlined the policy that he did back in August of 2001.

Q Isn't there any White House concern, though, the tide is turning on the Hill against those very principles the President outlined?

MR. McCLELLAN: We will continue to stay in close contact with members of Congress as they discuss this legislation, but they know very well what the President's view is. And he made that clear, again, last week.

Q I just want to come back to this question about the partnership that you speak about. President Karzai has said -- and Terry referenced this earlier -- that "Operations that involve going to people's home, that involves knocking on people's doors must stop, must not be done without the permission" -- "the permission" -- "of the Afghan government." Is he stating accurately what the strategic partnership is about?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think the most accurate thing you can look to is the joint declaration that was signed just around 11:00 a.m. this morning here in the Oval Office by President Bush and President Karzai. And it says very clearly that "In order to achieve the objectives contained herein, U.S. military forces operating in Afghanistan will continue to have access to Bagram Airbase and its facilities, and facilities at other locations, as may be mutually determined," and that the U.S. and coalition forces are to continue to have the freedom of action required to conduct appropriate military operations based on consultations and pre-agreed procedures. So I think that's --

Q So they don't need permission, as President Karzai has said?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, they have pre-agreed procedures in place. I think that you have agreement with that, right there. It's in the joint declaration. If you have pre-agreed procedures and policies in place, then --

Q That's not what he seems to be saying, though.

MR. McCLELLAN: He just signed this joint declaration, and you ought to look at the joint declaration.

Thank you.