The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 7, 2005

Press Gaggle with Scott McClellan
Radisson Hotel
Riga, Latvia

4:24 P.M. (Local)

MR. McCLELLAN: All right, good afternoon -- and good morning, if we're back on D.C. time. I want to walk through the President's day, give a little bit more information on the meetings, and then I'll answer whatever questions you all have. My apologies to the larger press corps; because of the time between now and the speech, it was just easier to come here and visit with you guys.

First of all, in the President's meeting this morning with President Vike-Frieberga, they had a very good discussion. President Vike-Frieberga welcomed the President and expressed her appreciation for the President's trip and for America's involvement in supporting the three Baltic states. The President talked about his belief in the importance of freedom and advancing freedom to achieve peace. He talked about how advancing peace around the world makes us safer. He also talked about the difficult time that it is, as we mark the occasion of World War II -- the difficult time that it is here in the Baltic states, because while this was the liberation of many people in Europe, it was not the -- well, as essentially what he was saying later on today, that it was the beginning of an occupation and painful period for the Baltic states. And he talked about how now is the time to move beyond it while remembering the history, something he touched on in his press conference, as well.

And they talked about relations with Russia, and the President talked about how he had a good relationship with President Putin, and that enabled him to be able to speak clearly with him when they have meetings, and to talk about the benefit of having democracies on Russia's border and the benefit that that is for Russia, and that he would emphasize to President Putin, too, the importance of moving -- being able to move beyond the past.

They also had a discussion about the development of democracies here in the Baltics, and the President talked about some of the things you've heard us talking about recently, the importance of minority rights; they talked about language issues -- that's something I'm going to come back to when I talk about the civil society meeting. But the President pointed to an example of his own state of Texas, and how we have many people in the state of Texas whose first language was Spanish. And he talked about the importance of what we have there in Texas, which is English-plus, in that people learn English, but it shows respect for people's own heritage. And then President Vike-Frieberga talked about the importance of civil society and they had a good discussion about that.

The President talked about his -- they had a discussion about the President's trip to Moscow, and the President talked about the importance of newer democracies like Russia to make sure they pursue economic reforms and have openness and transparency, that that's important for -- that's important for attracting capital and growth.

Let's see. Then they discussed a range of other issues. They talked about Iraq. The President thanked the President for Latvia's involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, and talked about the progress that's going on in both those countries. He particularly talked about the formation of the new government in Iraq, touched on Syria and the importance of Syria getting out of Lebanon so that Lebanon can have freedom and sovereignty. They talked about the Middle East and the President talked about his vision for peace and the developments in Gaza. Then they talked about some bilateral issues, like visas, which you heard the President talk about in his remarks at the press avail. And on that discussion, they talked about the importance of opening up educational opportunities for Latvians in the U.S. And you heard the President, again, touch on that at the press avail.

Let's see what else. Talked a little -- touched on reform at the United Nations, and they also talked about the neighborhood. They talked about Belarus and Ukraine and Georgia and Moldova. And they talked about the importance of supporting and working for democracy in Belarus. They talked about the importance of supporting reform leaders in Ukraine and Georgia and Moldova, as they move forward on the path to democracy. And then the President, at the end, essentially summed up the meeting by talking about how free nations must work to support freedom in the world, that we cannot accept tyranny in the world. And you're going to hear some more on that in his remarks here shortly.

And by the way, the remarks are going out probably right about now. We're going to send out, as prepared for delivery, the President's remarks, so hopefully, that will be helpful to you all.

And, let's see -- then following that, the President had the meeting with the civil society leaders. I think you all have the background sheet on the roundtable, and you see that it's a very -- it was a very diverse group of representatives from Latvia society, included a number of representatives of NGOs, the education -- of educational institutions, included representatives of various ethnic backgrounds, and as you see, as well, business people. I know there's a small business woman in there that spoke, and another businessman that talked about the importance of free market principles and so forth.

But that was -- it was a very good meeting. It was a good -- it was an opportunity for the President to have a good discussion, a back-and-forth discussion with the civil society leaders, and to hear from them some of the concerns that they have as Latvia continues to move forward on a democratic path, being a relatively young democracy. And the President was able to relate some of our own history in America as we worked to address some of the problems over the course of our -- course of our history to develop a truly free and democratic society.

A couple of things to highlight from it. At the beginning, the President talked about his belief that all people want to live in freedom. He talked about the importance of free societies, to make sure that they're inclusive. And he talked about the importance of welcoming diversity within free societies, and he talked about how that was a strength. He also talked about the right of all people to live in freedom throughout the world. And then he stood -- then they went around the table, had briefing opening remarks, they went around the table. He heard from essentially I think everybody in the room. I think there was about 20 people, if I counted correctly. As I said, it was a diverse cross-section of Latvian society.

The President talked about -- I think it began with the small business woman, and the President -- she was talking about opportunities and how in business everybody is playing on the same -- playing under the same rules, and the President used that to talk about how all people ought to have the same chance to succeed. Then he heard from -- he heard from an opposition leader from an ethnic Russian who was one of the opposition leaders, and he talked about some of his thoughts on democracy. He heard from a university professor who was also a regulator.

The President also talked about -- he said, I understand the mixed message of the moment. He said that this is a time where we celebrate the defeat of Hitler, but on the other hand, it was a time when a government was imposed on you, and --

Q I'm sorry, you said the President talking --

MR. McCLELLAN: This is the President talking, yes. It's not a direct quote, but it's paraphrased, talking to the participants in the room, when he said -- when he talked about how he understood the mixed message of the moment, that we're celebrating the defeat of Hitler and fascism, but at the same time, this was a period when a government was imposed on you. And so he was really reflecting on the painful history that they had gone through. But then he went on to say -- and this is a quote, "When you go and celebrate the past, it gives you an opportunity to look at the future." That's a quote from the President.

Q An opportunity to look at the future.

MR. McCLELLAN: Look at the future. And he talked about how Latvia is a country where the future seems bright, or the future is bright. And then he heard from NGO representatives, and he talked about the importance of supporting nongovernmental organizations and how they're a vital part of developing democracy. The President heard from a representative of the press -- you all will be glad to know -- and she reflected on the importance of a free press and how there's been a rapid development in Latvia because of the open debate that they've had over the last 15 years and how that stimulated the rapid development.

Q Pool report from her?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes -- (laughter) -- go track her down. I think she's on the list you have. Then she talked about -- then she talked about the different views of history that some had, and -- oh, and one other thing the President said about nongovernmental organizations, when he heard from another representative, was that it's important to have organizations, strong independent organizations that are independent from government, that that really helps develop democracy.

Let's see, a couple other highlights. Another quote from the President: He talked about how democracy is about convincing people to change to meet the needs of humankind. And at one point, he reflected on -- because he heard from the representatives --

Q Where's the quote --

MR. McCLELLAN: -- one of the representatives talked about the Holocaust, and he said, one thing my country will never do is let people forget the Holocaust. And he talked about how we can never let history be rewritten.

And then at the end he heard from a democratic activist, and he closed by talking about how he -- he thanked them for their work, and he talked about how democracy is like a wildfire, people want to be free. And then he went on to talk about, it's important to have a follow-up, meaning that democracy is about more than just elections. And he pointed to Latvia as an example to many other parts of the world, like Afghanistan and Iraq, and that building free societies in this part of the world are examples to other parts of the world, as well. And that's where he reflected a little bit on the Middle East and what -- the great progress that is going on in the Middle East.

And then, quickly, and I'll go to your questions -- at the lunch, it was a wide-ranging discussion. They had a very good discussion. This was the President with the three leaders of the Baltic states. And the President started off, really, by talking about World War II and defeating fascism, and then he talked about ending communism. And he used that to talk about the freedom agenda. And they spent a good bit of time talking about the freedom agenda. And as they were talking about the freedom agenda, they talked about places like Moldova and Belarus and Ukraine and Georgia. And again, he talked about -- they talked about Russia and the relationship there. And the President talked about his ability to sit down with President Putin and have a frank discussion with him on the issues which I touched on his earlier meeting, as well.

And then they covered a range of other issues, as well, like North Korea, China, China-Taiwan, Iran, Lebanon, the Middle East peace process, and Iraq and Afghanistan. Of course, the President, there, again, thanked these countries for all the sacrifices that they have made and the help that they have provided in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. And the President gave an update on Iraq and the progress that we're making there.

And they talked about the visa issue, as well. Oh, and back up, in the civil society meeting, someone brought up the importance of -- someone that had been involved in higher education brought up the importance of their education in the United States, and the President talked about making sure that we have institutions that are accessible and open. And that kind of ties into the visa issue, as well.

I think that's all I've got. That's the readout from today. He had his briefing this morning, as well, beforehand. And I'll be glad to take whatever questions.

Q Can I ask you about something that he said a couple different times in different ways in the news conference just now? He talked about how this could potentially be a time to move on past the dispute, past the pain of the Baltic occupation. And the particular quote that I'm interested in, where he said, "This moment in history will give everyone a chance to recognize what took place in the past and move on." That says to me, everyone, including Russia, recognize this, and then we can move on. So is that not sort of a back-door way of asking --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you heard what he said. And I've got some of his remarks here, too, where I think he was responding

-- he was responding to your question, I believe. But he talked about, "My hope is that we're now able to move beyond that phase of history and into a phase that is embracing democracy and free societies." And a lot of his speech will focus on that and advancing freedom. I think one point he was making is that we should all recognize history for what it is. We must remember the past as we look to the future. And so I think that's what he was talking about in his remarks.

Q What does he mean -- does he mean, now we can move on, like Russia doesn't have to do anything, or we should all recognize, including Russia, and then we can move on?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I don't think that's the same -- but he was just emphasizing what we've -- what he said and what we've said before, which is that you have to acknowledge the past and recognize the past to be able to move ahead to the future. And our efforts now should be focusing on how we can continue to strengthen democracy in emerging free societies, as well as expand freedom and democracy around the world, because that's what will make the world a more peaceful place.

Q Should Russia issue a statement of regret about the Soviet domination?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President has spoken with President Putin about that in the past, and, again, all of us should recognize history for what it is. And the President spoke very clearly about the past, about the occasion that we're marking and celebrating with the defeat of the Nazis and fascism, but it was also a period here in this country and neighboring countries that was a very painful time. And -- but, like I said, that's an issue the President has brought up in the past.

Q You're unwilling to -- you're unwilling to ask President Putin to do this, specifically?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, it's an issue that has been brought up with him in the past.

Q But he seemed to be saying today that it still should happen.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- the President will -- we will be going to Russia. The President will, as he said, be talking about how to move forward on the path of democracy, and about how important having free and democratic societies on your -- on Russia's border are to Russia, itself.

Q Well, given that he talked about the anger and frustration, I think were his words, that the Baltic nations still feel over what happened, does the President think it would be helpful if President Putin reiterated past comments by other Russian leaders of regretting what happened during the occupation? Is he going to --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think I'll leave it where I did. The issue has been raised with him, and all of us should recognize history for what it is. That's the best -- I think that's the best way to describe it. And we do. The United States does recognize history for what it is. The President talked about Yalta in his remarks -- will talk about Yalta in his remarks coming up. And he'll talk about the pact -- the secret pact that was formed. And he talked about, in response to one of the questions at the press avail, about how we shouldn't have secret deals --

Q Does he think it might be --

MR. McCLELLAN: -- when it comes to issues of this nature.

Q Given President Putin's difficulties with some of these neighbors that President Bush is visiting today here, does the President believe that it might be helpful for President Putin to revisit --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think I've addressed it from our standpoint. Do you want to move on to other questions? We've only got a few minutes left.

Q Do all three of these countries have troops in Iraq? And was there any discussion at their meeting about when they can get their troops out of Iraq?

MR. McCLELLAN: I didn't hear -- no, not that I'm aware of.

Q Do you know the grand total of the three countries --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, but I can probably get you that information. We're greatly appreciative of those efforts.

Q On a different issue, has the -- what's the White House's reaction to Harry Reid's comment yesterday that the President is a loser? And did he, in fact, call Karl Rove to apologize?

MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't had a chance to hear from Karl this morning because of the time change. My understanding is that did occur, but I haven't had a chance to talk to him yet. So I don't have -- but I think I'd make a couple of points. The President has worked to change the tone in Washington by elevating the discourse and reaching out to find common ground to get things done. It has been a challenge and it has been disappointing that we haven't been able to make more progress on that front. I think the American people want their elected leaders to elevate the discourse and to reach out across partisan lines. And that's what the President will continue to do.

Q Belatedly, Scott, in Asia, a number of countries, including some U.S. allies, feel that Japan is not a country that has faced up to its past, that it's confronted its past completely and dealt with it. What's your sense of that? Is Japan suffering from some historical amnesia in the way that Russia is, perhaps?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't have any particular update at this point. I mean, it's something I think that Japan has worked to address and it's not necessarily an easy thing to do. But, as I said, we all need to -- we all should recognize history for what it is and we need to look at the facts. As I pointed out, in the civil society meeting, the President said, we can't let history be rewritten.

Q -- Japan recognize history for what it is?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I don't have anything more at this point.

Q Do you have anything more on North Korea?

MR. McCLELLAN: What's your question?

Q Whether they have been testing? There's evidence they might be preparing to test a nuclear --

MR. McCLELLAN: A couple of things, I guess. One, we do have concerns about North Korea. I think it's shared by our partners in the region. North Korea would only further isolate itself if it took such a provocative step. We are working with our partners in the region to get North Korea to come back to the talks and to be prepared to move forward in a serious way. We've had ongoing discussions with our partners on those matters about how to get North Korea back to the talks, and that's where our focus remains. I think you heard from Secretary Rice earlier this week -- we have a robust deterrent capability and everybody needs to remember that, too.

Q Say it again.

MR. McCLELLAN: We have a robust deterrent capability and no one should mistake what our capability is. But we're working to try to get North Korea back to the six-party talks and we're in close consultation with our partners about that, because the six-party talks is the way to resolve this issue and realize the goal of a nuclear-free peninsula.

Q Scott, by saying that you -- that we share concerns of neighbors in the region about North Korea, are you confirming that they're ready to conduct a test --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not getting into discussing intelligence matters, but I think one thing the President talked about with President Hu the other day was North Korea's unwillingness to come back to the six-party talks. They had said long ago that they wanted to work through the six-party talks, and now they've been unwilling to come back to those talks. And that's a concern I think that parties in the region have because we believe the six-party talks are the way to resolve this and achieve a diplomatic solution, which is what we all want.

Q When you say you have a robust deterrent capability, is that just to remind North Korea that --

MR. McCLELLAN: I just point out that -- what Secretary Rice had said the other day.

Q That they should be forewarned?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that we have a strong deterrent capability.

Q Has the President made any calls on this today?

MR. McCLELLAN: And the President also talked about the importance of moving forward on missile defense in his press conference. And it's another reason why that's so important.

Q Has the President made any calls on this today?

MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you.

END 4:47 P.M. (Local)

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