For Immediate Release
May 12, 2005
Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:56 P.M. EDT
MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon. I want to begin with a few announcements of world leaders who will be coming to meet with the President, and then I want to make a statement about one announcement that was made by Prime Minister Martin earlier today, regarding Sudan.
First of all, the President will welcome President Karzai of Afghanistan to the White House on May 23rd. The last time they met, you all will recall, was in September 2004, during the United Nations General Assembly in New York. This will be an opportunity for the two leaders to discuss the progress in the global war on terrorism, the achievements of the Afghan people in building democracy, and our ongoing cooperation on a range of bilateral, regional and international issues.
The President will welcome Prime Minister Rasmussen of Denmark to the White House on May 20th. Under the leadership of the Prime Minister, Denmark has been a key partner in advancing freedom and democracy around the world. The President looks forward to discussing with the Prime Minister how Denmark and the United States can continue to support freedom and democracy, particularly in Iraq, Afghanistan, through the Broader Middle East Initiative, NATO and -- they'll also discuss NATO and U.S.-EU issues, as well.
The President, on May 18th, will welcome Prime Minister Nazif of Egypt to Washington. I expect they will discuss a wide range of bilateral and regional issues, including the President's efforts to promote democratic reform, achieve peace in the Middle East and advance the war on terrorism.
And on May 17th, the President will welcome former South African President Nelson Mandela to the White House. This meeting will be an opportunity for the two leaders to discuss our shared priority for fighting HIV/AIDS in Africa. It will also be an opportunity for the leaders to talk about President Mandela's foundation to promote universal education in Africa and enhance the social development of African youth and children.
And finally, on Prime Minister Martin's announcement in Canada today, Prime Minister Martin announced increased support for humanitarian efforts in Darfur. While there's been progress in reducing the suffering and loss of life, the crisis in Darfur continues. We commend Canada for acting to help people in need by offering assistance to the peacekeeping efforts of the African Union. Canada is an important partner in our humanitarian mission around the world. Sudan continues to be a high priority for the United States and we support the efforts of the African Union on their peacekeeping and mediation efforts in Darfur. We also continue to undertake a major humanitarian assistance operation in southern Sudan, Chad and Darfur.
And specifically, what Canada announced earlier today was an assistance package of $200 million that would provide equipment such as aircraft and helicopters and basic military equipment for the African Union peacekeeping mission, as well as up to, I think, 60 Canadian forces to support those efforts. And they also are providing additional humanitarian and diplomatic support for the mission in Darfur. And this will enable the African Union to really increase their ability to help protect people in Darfur.
And with that, I'm ready for your questions.
Q Scott, yesterday the White House was on red alert, was evacuated. The First Lady and Nancy Reagan were taken to a secure location. The Vice President was evacuated from the grounds. The Capitol building was evacuated. The continuity of government plan was initiated. And yet, the President wasn't told of yesterday's events until after he finished his bike ride, about 36 minutes after the all-clear had been sent. Is he satisfied with the fact that he wasn't notified about this?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes. I think you just brought up a very good point -- the protocols that were in place after September 11th were followed. The President was never considered to be in danger because he was at an off-site location. The President has a tremendous amount of trust in his Secret Service detail.
The Secret Service detail that was traveling with the President was being kept apprised of the situation as it was developing. They were in close contact with officials back here at the White House. And the President appreciates the job that they do.
Q The fact that the President wasn't in danger is one aspect of this. But he's also the Commander-in-Chief. There was a military operation underway. Other people were in contact with the White House. Shouldn't the Commander-in-Chief have been notified of what was going on?
MR. McCLELLAN: John, the protocols that we put in place after September 11th were being followed. They did not require presidential authority for this situation. I think you have to look at each situation and the circumstances surrounding the situation. And that's what officials here at the White House were doing. That's what officials were doing that were with the President at the off-site location, and this was a matter of minutes when all this was happening, when the alert level was going from yellow to orange to red, and then it went back down to yellow when the plane turned away.
The plane was -- as described yesterday -- lost and accidently in the restricted airspace around the Capital region. And we appreciate the job that was done by all those who worked to make sure that the protocols that were in place were followed. That was one of the President's priorities after September 11th, was making sure that we were prepared for a situation like this. And the fact is that the protocols were followed.
Q I take it that it's not the Secret Service's duty to inform the President of national security circumstances, that that would come from somebody here at the White House. Even on a personal level, did nobody here at the White House think that calling the President to say, by the way, your wife has been evacuated from the White House, we just want to let you know everything is okay.
MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, all the protocols were followed and people were -- officials that you point out were taken to secure locations or evacuated, in some cases. I think, again, you have to look at the circumstances surrounding the situation, and it depends on the situation and the circumstance. But the Secret Service detail that was with the President was being kept apprised throughout while the situation was developing. There is always a military aide that is right with the President. That military aide was in close contact with the Situation Room here at the White House, which is overseen by the National Security Council. And --
Q Nobody thought to say, by the way, this is going on, but it's all under control?
MR. McCLELLAN: And I think it depends on each situation and the circumstances surrounding the situation when you're making those decisions.
MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Kelly.
Q Thank you. Isn't there --
MR. McCLELLAN: And welcome.
Q Thank you, I appreciate that. Isn't there a bit of an appearance problem, notwithstanding the President's safety was not in question, protocols were followed, that today, looking at it, he was enjoying a bike ride, and that recreation time was not considered expendable to inform him of this. Isn't there just an appearance problem?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I mean, John mentioned 36 minutes after the all-clear. Remember, this was a matter of minutes when all this was happening. The all-clear was given at 12:14 p.m., and it had gone down to yellow a few minutes before that, as well. So again, you have to take into account the circumstances; you have to take into account where the President is. The President was never considered to be in danger. The protocols that we put in place after September 11th, I think, worked.
This plane was warned by flares and it turned and then was escorted to an airport in the area. And the pilots were questioned. It was determined that this was an accident, that they should not have been in the area and they did not realize where they were at the time.
Q Scott, I think there's a disconnect here --
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me keep going through here and then I'll come back to the -- I'll come back to your --
Q It's a follow-up.
MR. McCLELLAN: I know, I'll come back to you.
Q But has the President even indicated that even if everything was followed that he would prefer to be notified, that if the choice is: tell the Commander-in-Chief or let him continue to exercise, that he would prefer to be informed?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, it depends on the situation and the circumstances. And you have to take all that into account, and I think that's what people were doing here at the White House, as well as those people that were with the President.
And let me just step back from this specific question because any time you have a situation like this, we will review the procedures and protocols that were followed. And if there are any steps that need to be made to make improvements, those steps will be made. But that's not pointing to anything specific at this point. The President appreciates the job that those that were with him did in the situation like this. They were constantly being kept apprised of the situation as it was developing.
Q Is he ever -- is he on any protocol to be informed at any point? Is there a protocol that involved when he's informed?
MR. McCLELLAN: Of course, and he has been in the past, Helen.
Q Scott --
MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Steve.
Q New subject, or do you want --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let's stay on this subject since there seems to be interest in this subject.
Now, go ahead.
Q I think there's a disconnect here because, I mean, yesterday you had more than 30,000 people who were evacuated, you had millions of people who were watching this on television, and there was a sense at some point -- it was a short window, a 15-minute window, but there was a sense of confusion among some on the streets. There was a sense of fear. And people are wondering was this not a moment for the President to exercise some leadership, some guidance during that period of time? Was this not a missed opportunity for the President to speak out and at least clarify what -- that he was informed, and what was taking place at that time? If not even during the 15-minute window, why not later in the day?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President did lead, and the President did that after September the 11th when we put the protocols in place to make sure that situations like this were addressed before it was too late. And that was the case -- that was the case in this situation. And in terms of during this time, this was a matter of minutes when this was occurring. And all the appropriate security personal and Homeland Security officials and others were acting to implement those protocols. And we commend all those that worked to follow those protocols and make sure that this situation was addressed. And it worked, in terms of the protocols.
Q Beyond the protocols here, I mean we're talking about just simply demonstrating to the American people, I understand what's taking place, we're in control of the situation, and I've been apprised of what is happening here -- because there were thousands of people involved in what was a very scary moment.
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, and we briefed you about the circumstances of the event shortly after that. But during that time period, it's important in those minutes when this is occurring, that everybody is focused on making sure the people in the area of the threat are protected, and there are protocols in place to make sure that the people in the area of the threat are protected. Those protocols were followed. You all covered this on the coverage last night and pointed out how those protocols were followed and how jets were scrambled. This was an instance where presidential authority was not required because we had put these protocols in place after September 11th.
Q Any consideration of reexamining these protocols in light of yesterday?
MR. McCLELLAN: Like I said, I'm not pointing to anything specifically, but in any situation of this nature, there's always going to be a review to look at how things transpired. And if there are any improvements that need to be made, they will be made.
Q Scott, on the protocol issue, is there going to be a review of the fact that, one, the intercom system, this elaborate intercom system and the emergency response that the White House was supposed to give after 9/11 did not go off; the fact that some people over in the Old Executive Office Building got emails to tell them to evacuate -- who sits at an email constantly -- at the Internet constantly to see that you have to evacuate because of an emergency situation?
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me stop you right there and correct you, because it's not just an email. I mean, it's notifying you through sound, as well as flashing.
Q Oh, really? When you open an email up, correct?
MR. McCLELLAN: No.
Q Okay, well --
MR. McCLELLAN: It will automatically be notified --
Q How many people sit -- how many people sit in front of their computers solely all day to see an email come up to say, evacuate or to leave?
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me correct you again. There were personnel at the White House, security personnel, the Secret Service Uniformed Division, the Secret Service personnel that is part of the President's detail here at the White House that were acting to notify people and to make sure people were going to the appropriate locations or staying where they were if at some point it was more appropriate and safer for them to remain where they were.
So there was a great effort, I think, by those who work here at the White House and protect us all, every day, to make sure that they were following protocols, as well, and that they were looking out for the interests of all those who work every day --
Q The Old Executive Office Building got emails. What did the people here in the press area, get nothing --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'll be glad to -- I'll be glad to come to your question, April, but I'd like to finish talking for a minute.
Q Okay, go ahead.
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, they work day-in and day-out with one priority in mind, and that's the safety and security of the people here in this building. And as I said, anytime there's a situation like this, you're going to review it, you're going to look at what occurred, you're going to look at all issues. And if there are improvements that need to be made, they will be made.
But I personally saw people here at the White House, security personnel, working to evacuate people or move people to more secure locations, or tell people to stay where they were, if that was the more appropriate action to take and safer action to take.
I appreciate your concerns. This was one of the first things I asked yesterday, and I'm sure that all these issues will be looked into.
Q I have one more question. When we walked out of this door yesterday, when those of us who heard that there was a situation, when we walked out of the door, we heard aircraft, jets overhead. There is a concern that that plane came closer to the White House than the White House said, more -- it came within the three-mile radius, it was closer than you --
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, I said that it came within three miles.
Q Okay, but you said three miles. How close --
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, it came within three miles.
Q How close was it?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't have --
Q How close was it? Because someone has taken a picture of a plane being escorted on K street. How close was the plane?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, I mean, if the Department of Homeland Security or FFA has any additional information, I'm sure --
Q Scott, how close was it?
MR. McCLELLAN: April, it was within --
Q You know how close it was. Please tell us.
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, within three miles. I don't know beyond that. Go ahead.
Q Could you be a little more specific --
MR. McCLELLAN: And I appreciate your concerns, April. I know you work here. And that's why I was asking questions about how things occurred here --
Q Not just us, but -- that door was shut, that door was closed, and we called back to find out who -- the people -- to tell people in the press office, the people who were left downstairs, that door was shut and locked.
MR. McCLELLAN: My understanding was that people were directed to go downstairs at a certain point after a number of people here were being evacuated. I think you all were here covering it. I really appreciate your concerns. I know that they're all going to look at all these issues, the ones that you're bringing up. They'll take a look at those issues.
Q Can you be more specific about who's going to conduct this review, whether it's going to involve the Secret Service and their procedures and protocols, as well as the senior staff here in the White House, and --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, it depends on what aspect you're talking about. Everything will be reviewed. The Department of Homeland Security will do their own review. We have the Homeland Security Advisor that's involved in overseeing some aspects. In terms of procedures here at the White House, we have a Deputy Chief of Staff that oversees the Secret Service, as one of his responsibilities. And then you have the head of the Presidential Protective detail. They'll be looking at all these issues and reviewing what occurred. There's already been discussion, as I indicated to April -- there's already been discussion about what was taking place at the time.
Q I'm talking specifically about the question of notifying the President.
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q I'm talking specifically about the question --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think I already addressed that question. That always depends on the situation and the circumstances. And this question was asked earlier today, about whether or not the President was satisfied -- I indicated --
Q This review is not going to --
MR. McCLELLAN: I indicated that he was. But, obviously, you review and look at everything, and if there are any necessary improvements that need to be made, they'll be made.
Q But they're not going into it with any sense that something needs to be changed, that everything was fine --
MR. McCLELLAN: I talked about this yesterday, I talked about it in this briefing room a short time ago, and I indicated the President's view.
Q Scott, may I just maybe take a slight step back? Aside from the particulars of what happened yesterday and when, maybe the larger issue has to do with whether this President is sufficiently at the levers of power on his job during the day or night. When we think of the event at the ASNE meeting, when the President said he didn't know about the issue of possibly requiring passports of all Americans who are returning from Canada or Mexico until he read it in the papers -- and I think that's the larger question we're all trying to get at.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I disagree and I think that's unfounded. Absolutely the President is. I disagree with your characterization completely, and I think the American people reject that, as well. And the President was informed immediately upon the conclusion of the bike ride, as well, about what had occurred. But by that point, it was well in hand.
Q Thank you, Scott --
MR. McCLELLAN: Are we still on this issue?
MR. McCLELLAN: Sarah, stay on this topic.
Q Why was the Cessna allowed to get so close to the White House or the Capitol? And why weren't the federal buildings along Pennsylvania Avenue between the White House and the Capitol evacuated?
MR. McCLELLAN: A couple of things. One, there's an operations center at the Department of Homeland Security where you have a number of personnel, that includes local officials, as well, or representatives of local organizations, like the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department. And then you have other operations centers at various locations, as well, including here at the White House, and they're in constant communication about these matters.
I pointed out yesterday, and I think that the Department of Defense and some others provided some additional detail, as well, following my briefing, pointed out how all this occurred. And you had the fighter jets scrambled fairly early on when this plane was in the restricted air space. And they were up there, fired a flair to signal to the pilot that -- or to get the pilot's attention, because there were efforts made to communicate with the plane. And those efforts were not being responded to by the pilot. So there were protocols in place.
Let's keep in mind that there weren't -- these protocols weren't in place prior to September 11th. The President led our efforts to make sure that we were doing everything we possibly can to protect the people across America, as well as here in D.C., and prevent something like what occurred on September 11th from ever happening again. And so we appreciate the efforts that were undertaken, and the protocols that were followed in this instance. And I think people did a tremendous job.
Again, any time there's a situation like this, you're going to review matters and take a look at where, or if any improvements need to be made.
Q Scott, same topic.
MR. McCLELLAN: Sure.
Q Might there be something wrong with protocols that render the President unnecessary when the alarm is going off at his house?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's not at all what occurred, Ken. And I would disagree strongly with the way you characterize it for the reasons I started earlier, and that I talked about. This was a situation where the President was in an off-site location. He was not in danger, a situation where protocols have been put in place to address the situation. The protocols were followed. The Secret Service detail and the military aide that were with the President were being kept apprised of the situation as it was developing over a course of 15, 20 minutes. And as you're well aware, after several minutes, the plane turned away from the direction of the White House and Capitol.
And I don't think anybody -- as the Department of Defense indicated yesterday -- that it came to a point where a more drastic measure was needed to be taken to protect people in the area of the threat. But the protocols are in place to protect the people in the area of the threat. And those protocols were being followed.
Q And those protocols are okay with the President despite the fact that his wife was in a situation where she might have been endangered?
MR. McCLELLAN: She was taken to a secure location, as were some other officials.
Q And wouldn't he want to know about that as it was happening?
MR. McCLELLAN: He was briefed about the situation.
Q After it happened.
MR. McCLELLAN: He was briefed about the situation, Ken. And I think that he wants to make sure that the protocols that are in place are followed. The protocols that were in place were followed.
Q Scott, to follow on the same line of questioning, if there is a possibility that a plane may have to be shot down over Washington, doesn't the President want to be involved in that type of decision?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Keith, I think again, it depends on the circumstances in the situation. You have to look at each individual situation and the circumstances surrounding that situation. There are protocols --
Q You talked about the circumstances -- a plane was three or four miles away, maybe less, from the White House --
Q No, within three miles, within three miles.
Q Doesn't the President want to be involved in what could be a decision to shoot down a plane over Washington?
MR. McCLELLAN: To answer your question, I was just getting ready to address exactly what you're bringing up. The protocols that were put in place after September 11th include protocols for that, as well. And there are protocols there. They're classified. But they do not require presidential authority. But you have to look at each individual situation and circumstance. But it was important that we put such protocols in place after September 11th. That was one of the many measures we have taken to better protect the American people.
Q They don't require presidential authority, but they don't obviate the need for presidential authority, do they? They don't say the President cannot be involved --
MR. McCLELLAN: Like I said, that depends on --
Q -- wouldn't he want to be involved --
MR. McCLELLAN: It depends on the circumstances and it depends on the situation.
Q And wasn't there a possibility that a plane headed for the White House, that this was the leading edge of some broader attack, isn't the President concerned that maybe he should have been alerted to the fact that this could have been the beginning of a general attack?
MR. McCLELLAN: That was not the case, and I think the Department of Defense yesterday indicated that they didn't sense any hostile intent on the part of the plane, so again --
Q How did they know -- how did they know this plane wasn't laden with WMD or some other type of weapons like that? Did they get reassurances from the pilot? Or how did they know that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, if you want to give me a chance to respond, I'll be glad to. The protocols were followed. This situation, as you're well aware, turned out to be an accident. The Department of Defense pointed out yesterday that they didn't sense any hostile intent on the part of the plane. There were fighter jets scrambled. There was a Blackhawk helicopter scrambled, as well, to get in contact with the plane. Once the flare was fired and the warning was sent to the plane, the plane realized -- the pilot realized that they were in the wrong place and turned away. And the plane was escorted safely to the ground where the pilots were questioned. And it was determined that they were just in the wrong place and it shouldn't have been that way.
Q So if it was assessed that there was no hostile intent on the part of this aircraft, can you tell us why 30,000 people -- 35,000 people were told to run for their lives?
MR. McCLELLAN: Because of the protocols that are in place, John. We want to make sure that the people in the area of the threat are protected. After --
Q But what was the threat? You just said there was no threat.
MR. McCLELLAN: John, after September 11th, we have to take into account the world that we live in. We live in a very different world than we did before September 11th. And the President is going to do everything in his power to make sure we are protecting the American people and to make sure that the people in areas that could be high-risk areas are protected, as well.
And, I, personally, having been someone here at the White House, and I think many others in the area, as well, appreciate the job that was done. In this instance, it turned out that this plane was accidentally in the area, had no intent of carrying out any sort of attack.
Q Right, but there seems to be so many disconnects here. You've got a plane that was assessed as not being a threat, you've got 35,000 people evacuated, you've got a person who you claim is a hands-on Commander-in-Chief who is left to go ride his bicycle through the rural wildlands of Maryland while his wife is in some secure location somewhere, it's just not adding up.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, John, I disagree, and let me tell you why: You have highly skilled professionals who are involved in situations like this, in a variety of different fronts, from our Homeland Security officials to our National Security Council officials to our Secret Service officials and to others and to local officials, and they work very closely together. The protocols that were put in place were followed, and I think they were followed well.
Now, with that said, you always want to step back after a situation like this occurs and do a review and see if there are any improvements that need to be made. If there are, they will be made. We always learn things as a situation like this occurs, and you want to make sure that you're always working to do a better job in the future.
Q Any idea what you've learned from this so far?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, that will be part of the review, John, and I'm not carrying that out from this podium.
Q Scott, protocols aside, was there any kind of explanation given by the Secret Service, kind of a commonsense reason for why they didn't notify the President? Was it that they didn't want to disrupt his bicycle ride, they didn't want to inconvenience him? I mean, what was the reason?
MR. McCLELLAN: Maybe you didn't hear what I pointed out earlier in the briefing so let me repeat that. The President was never in danger. He was at an off-site location --
Q I heard you.
MR. McCLELLAN: -- and the protocols that were in place were being followed, the Secret Service detail that was with the President, as well as the military aide, were being kept apprised of the situation as it was developing over the course of a very short period of time. And in a very short period of time, it also -- the threat level went back down, because the plane had turned away from this direction. And so we appreciate the job that was being done, and the President appreciates the job that his security, Secret Service detail did, as well.
Q Can we go to another subject? Could we?
MR. McCLELLAN: Are we off, are we done?
MR. McCLELLAN: It's up to you all. Can we start with Terry, because he wanted to go first to a different subject. And I think -- Steve, did you have something?
Q The Bolton nomination. Senator Voinovich had a scathing statement, a Republican Senator, saying that John Bolton is the poster child for what diplomats should not be, he refused to give his assent to the confirmation, and he suggested that his fellow senators reject him. What do you say to that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we respect Senator Voinovich's decision, but there are many people who agree with the President that John Bolton is the right person at the right time for this important position. We appreciate that Senator Voinovich is allowing his vote to proceed to the floor of the United States Senate, and we are confident that the Senate will confirm his nomination.
John Bolton is a strong voice for reform at a time when the United Nations is beginning efforts to move forward on reform. He is exactly the kind of person we need at the United Nations. He brings a lot of unique qualifications to the position and a great amount of experience and passion, and sometimes a little bluntness. But the President believes that's exactly what is needed at the United Nations during this time of reform.
Q You say you appreciate Senator Voinovich allowing it to go to the floor, but he did so, tagging it with just a blistering attack. Do you think that that level of denigration of John Bolton as the person who should be at the United Nations for the United States hurts the nomination when it gets to the floor?
MR. McCLELLAN: No. And in fact, we think that the issues that were raised have been addressed -- by John Bolton, himself, and by many highly respected individuals who have worked very closely with John Bolton in the past. Look at comments from Secretary Baker and former Attorney General Meese, and former United Nations Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, and former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger -- these are all highly respected individuals. Ambassador Kirkpatrick was someone who brought a strong voice to the United Nations. John Bolton is going to bring a strong voice to the United Nations to make sure that it is results-oriented and effective in the important work that it is doing, and to make sure that much-needed reform is implemented at the United Nations.
I think the American people want to see reform at the United Nations, and John Bolton has the experience and the ability to get things done at the United Nations. And if you look at his experience -- let me just point this out -- he has been Under Secretary of State for Arms Control, under this President; he was the Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations, under the administration of former President Bush; and he has accomplished many great things. He has been our primary point person when it comes to combating the spread of weapons of mass destruction. He worked to build a coalition of 60-plus nations to move forward on the President's proposal for the proliferation security initiative. That is one of the most dangerous threats that we face in this day and age -- or the most dangerous threat we face in this day and age. That is a high priority for the United Nations.
He's also someone who was the chief negotiator for the Moscow Treaty, where we have now reached an agreement with Russia and we're significantly reducing our nuclear arsenals. He is someone who was involved in making sure Libya got rid of its weapons of mass destruction and weapons of mass destruction programs. He is someone who has been a strong advocate for ending anti-Semitism in this world. And he is someone who's accomplished many great things, and those are the kind of results-oriented people we need at the United Nations at this time.
Q So you don't think Voinovich will have any effect on other Republicans if they can get the votes together --
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, we are confident that the Senate will move forward and confirm his nomination when it reaches the floor. And the sooner the better, because we've got a lot of important work to get done and many important reforms to implement at the United Nations.
Q Scott, since the Europeans issued their warning against Iraq, is it your position that if -- sorry, Iran -- if Iran begins uranium enrichment, will you then refer their case to the Security Council?
MR. McCLELLAN: The Europeans have been in discussions with Iran and moving forward on efforts to get Iran to provide an objective guarantee that they are not developing nuclear weapons under the cover of a civilian program. We are very supportive of the efforts of the Europeans. We continue to support those efforts. Those efforts are ongoing at this point.
But let me point out that Iran has a long history of hiding its nuclear activities. For some two decades, Iran hid its nuclear activities from the international community. Iran made an agreement with the Europeans that while these negotiations were ongoing, that they would suspend their uranium enrichment and reprocessing-related activities. That's important. Ultimately, we believe there needs to be a cessation, because that's the objective guarantee that will build confidence with the international community that Iran is not trying to develop nuclear weapons. And given their history, it's important that there be an objective guarantee.
Now, the Europeans have made it clear that they support referring Iran to the United Nations Security Council if Iran breaks the agreement and starts its nuclear -- starts some of those nuclear activities again. And that's been our position, as well, as you -- has been our position, as well, as you are well aware.
Q Scott --
MR. McCLELLAN: Jennifer.
Q Scott, I'd like to turn to Russia for just a minute. Just a few days after --
MR. McCLELLAN: See, if you talk quieter and politer, you get your question in, Les.
Q Well, I'm sorry.
Q Just a few days ago --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I'm coming to you. I'm just kidding.
Q Thank you.
Q Just a few days ago, the President and President Putin had a great show of unity and the warmth of their friendship and relationship. And yet today you have Russia's security chief saying that American NGOs and NGOs from other countries are being used to spy on Russia and to plot governmental overthrows in the region. What's the White House reaction to that?
MR. McCLELLAN: I have not seen that. I have no idea what he's referring to.
Q Scott. (Laughter.)
MR. McCLELLAN: I've not seen those comments yet. I have no idea what he's referring to. But Russia is someone that we work very closely with on a number of shared priorities --
Q Are his comments, then, completely unfounded?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- and we will continue -- we will continue to do so. I haven't seen his comments. I have no idea what he's referring to.
Q Scott. Scott, the President has said he is opposed to illegal aliens getting driver's licenses, and he supports the REAL ID Act. But on the other hand, he says we need the cheap labor that these illegals provide. And my first question: Does he believe these cheap labor illegals should be confined to being bused rather than being able to drive even used cars?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, that immigrants --
Q Well, does he believe these cheap labor illegals that he says we need, should they be confined to being bused to their jobs, rather than being able to drive, even used cars?
MR. McCLELLAN: Les, I don't think that's the way the President has described it, first of all. The President -- in fact, this was one of the issues that came up in his discussion with the Central American leaders and the leader of the Dominican Republic that was here earlier today. They spent most of the time talking about the importance of getting the Central American Free Trade Agreement passed.
And you heard from the President in the Rose Garden about how this is a larger issue than just trade. This is about promoting democracy and freedom and stability and prosperity in our own hemisphere. And the Democrats that are trying to block efforts from moving forward on the Central American Free Trade Agreement are only hurting efforts in the hemisphere that will lead to stronger democracy. Many of these are emerging democracies that are new and young. And we need to do all we can to support them.
And then towards the end of their discussion, they talked a little bit about immigration. And the President talked about the importance of making sure we have a common-sense, rational immigration program. Right now we do not. There are some 8 million to 10 million undocumented workers in this country that are filling jobs that Americans are not. And there's also a great strain on our border because of that, that we need to address. We've done a lot to strengthen our border security.
But the proposal that the President put forward will not only match willing workers with willing employers and address an economic need, it will address a humanitarian need, and it will address a security need, as well, because it will free up our resources along the border to focus more on those people who shouldn't be coming to this country in the first place.
Q Both of --
MR. McCLELLAN: But -- hang on. One other thing he said in that discussion, as well, was he pointed out -- and this is something he talked about in his remarks, as well, about how CAFTA will help improve the living conditions of people in those countries. And it will also -- and I remember one President pointed out that it will now be a two-way street. Right now it's kind of a one-way street because most of the trade that has evolved with those countries is coming into the United States duty-free. And that's not the case with American goods and products. And so this is, as many of those Central American leaders talked about, a win-win situation. And all of those leaders expressed their strong support for getting it passed. And the President made a very strong commitment that we need to move forward on this. He is going to work it hard because this is an important priority not only for our efforts to expand trade, but for our hemisphere. It's a geopolitical issue, as well.
Q Both of Washington's daily newspapers this morning report the President's fellow Republican, Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter, of California, supports the Military Personnel Subcommittee's amendment to ban women from serving in combat support units, of which another Republican, John McHugh, of New York, chairman of the subcommittee said, "The majority of Congress believes women should not be engaged in combat-related activities." And my question: Does the Commander-in-Chief agree or disagree with these Republican congressmen?
MR. McCLELLAN: There is a policy prohibiting women in combat zones. And the President has been supportive of the Department of Defense policy regarding women -- well, women in combat, I should say.
In terms of these other issues, we support the decisions by the Department of Defense and their views on this. Women are doing a tremendous job serving in our military in many capacities. We are grateful for their service and for their sacrifice, as well. There are women --
Q How about all the sexual assaults that are being reported --
MR. McCLELLAN: There are women who have --
Q -- sexual assaults from all over.
MR. McCLELLAN: And those issues need to be taken seriously, and they are by our military leaders. And the President has made sure that they take those issues seriously and that they work to correct any of those problems. That cannot be tolerated at all. But let me reemphasize, we appreciate the extraordinary job that many women in the military are doing in a variety of capacities, and we support the policies of the Department of Defense that they have right now. And that says no women in combat, but there are many other ways that women can contribute and help, and we appreciate those that are.
Q Scott, United Airlines got the go-ahead this week to dump $6.6 billion in pension benefits on the U.S. agency that insures these. From the White House's perspective, is this an appropriate way to deal with cost at companies --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, are you talking about United Airline?
Q Yes. Is this an appropriate way for companies like United, other airlines, to deal with their cost structures? And what's preventing this move by United from starting a whole flood of these kind of --
MR. McCLELLAN: A couple of things. We talked a little bit about this yesterday, I think. But, one, there is a court decision relating to this on the bankruptcy proceedings related to United Airlines. The President has worked to make sure that airlines are taking the necessary steps to restructure in the aftermath of September 11th in our changing transportation world. And so many airlines have been working to restructure and adapt to the circumstances.
You're aware after September 11th, there was a need to provide some support to the airlines, and we did. In terms of workers and their pensions, the President has outlined a pension reform plan to make sure that we're protecting the retirement security of workers, to make sure that their pensions are protected. You also have the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation, which is in place, as well. In this circumstances -- in this circumstance, they will be meeting their obligation to provide that security for workers that are affected by this decision. I'm not going to get into individual decisions by the Guarantee Corporation, but I will point out that the President believes strongly we need to continue to move forward on pension reforms, and he outlined some very specific proposals so that we are doing everything we can to protect the retirement benefits of workers.
Q Scott, U.N. leaders have faced a number of scandals over the past year, from the Oil for Food scandal, the sex scandal in Africa, possible involvement by Kofi Annan, the Volcker possible whitewash of the investigation. Why is it that Republican leaders seems to be more upset about John Bolton's tough management style than they are with corruption at the U.N.? And where's the outrage regarding that instead of whether or not Bolton is, let's say, polished enough to handle the job as U.N. ambassador?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I talked about why John Bolton was uniquely qualified and has the kind of experience that is needed and the approach that is needed at the United Nations. He's a can-do kind of guy who gets things done. And, you know, in terms of trying to divide this into a partisan issue -- I mean, I think that the reforms at the U.N. are too important to try to make a political issue. We all need to work to support reform at the United Nations so that it is effective, and John Bolton is the kind of guy that we need there to lead that effort.
Q Do you think you have to -- there is reform going on right now?
MR. McCLELLAN: They are beginning to move forward on some reforms. We're working very closely with them. That's all the more reason we need to get John Bolton in there quickly, so that we can make sure that the reforms being implemented are going to make the organization more effective. John Bolton is someone who has worked to make sure that multilateral organizations are effective, and I pointed to some examples of that earlier.
Q This is a two-part follow-up to that, though. When a Republican says the nominee is arrogant, bullying and the poster child for what someone in the Diplomatic Corps should not be, isn't that an invitation to the Democrats, first off, to filibuster the nomination? And the second part is, what would you say to Kofi Annan and other diplomats there at the United Nations when they hear that kind of language coming from a Republican?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, I think you're going to see the Senate move forward and vote to confirm John Bolton. We are confident that he will be confirmed and we believe strongly in his nomination for the reasons that I stated earlier today. I think we've been through this during this briefing and I think I've pretty much addressed it. We believe also that --
Q Are you worried about a filibuster?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- those issues that were raised have been addressed. And there are many, many people who have worked closely with John Bolton who agree that he is the right person to be at the United Nations at this important time of reform.
Q Sorry, this is unrelated, a China question. After Chinese President met with Taiwanese political leader, the leader of Taiwan, Mr. Chen, said -- and his people, still, they are seeking an independent and sovereign country. Do you recognize that? What do you think, these talks should go ahead?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, we do not believe there should be any unilateral change in the status quo. We've made very clear what our policy is. That policy remains the same, and that's a one China policy based on the three communiques and that remains our position. We want to continue to work to promote peace and stability in the region, and a lot of that centers around the importance of dialogue between the two countries. And that remains our view. So our position and policy remains unchanged.
Q Thank you.
MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you.
END 2:46 P.M. EDT