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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
June 10, 2005

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

Play Video  Video (Real)

3:12 P.M. EDT

MR. McCLELLAN: All right, I'd like to begin with one statement by the President, and then I'll give you a little bit more of a general readout on the meeting with President Roh.

First, the statement by the President: Harvey Rosen has served with distinction on the Council of Economic Advisors. He has been a vital and trusted member of my economic team, and his sound counsel helped lay the foundation for economic growth and job creation. I appreciate Harvey's hard work and dedication, and I wish him and Marsha all the best.

Today is Harvey's last day here at the White House, and he's done a great job at the Council of Economic Advisors. And we all wish him the best. We all have very much enjoyed working with him.

The President was pleased to have President Roh visit the White House this morning, and then have lunch with him this afternoon. The President and President Roh had a great visit. The President also expressed how he looked forward to going to Seoul later this fall for the APEC summit.

The meeting in the Oval Office was a little more than 50 minutes. They had a very good discussion that focused on our alliance. Our alliance is very strong. It is an important relationship that we have with South Korea. They are a good ally. They have played a vital role in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, and made significant contributions in Iraq, with some 3,600 troops that they have provided to help the Iraqi people build a better future.

We've also had good cooperation with South Korea when it comes to relocating some of our troops inside the country. South Korea has provided good support while we work to reorganize our posture in order to continue to keep the peace.

The meeting was also an opportunity to discuss North Korea and the nuclear issue. When it comes to the nuclear issue and North Korea, we share the same goal of a denuclearized peninsula, a peninsula that is at peace, as the President referred to in his remarks. The United States, South Korea and our other partners in the six-party talks are speaking with one voice to North Korea, saying it is time to come back to the talks and discuss how to move forward on the proposal that we put on the table last year. Both leaders expressed how we are united when it comes to this issue. We seek a peaceful, diplomatic resolution through the six-party talks. And I would just add that it is time for North Korea to come back and be prepared to move forward in a serious way on that proposal. North Korea has a strategic decision that they need to make to abandon their nuclear ambitions. If they don't, they only further isolate themselves from the international community.

Following the meeting in the Oval Office, the two leaders had a good working lunch over in the Residence, in the Old Family Dining Room. They continued their discussion on North Korea; they continued to talk about our alliance. They also discussed the neighborhood and relations with countries in the region, and the importance of peace and stability in the region, as well. And that is all I have to begin with.

I'll be glad to go your questions.

Q Thank you. (Laughter.)

Q Scott, did they go into specific aspects of why the talks are hung up, or did they talk about possible sanctions, possibly going to the U.N., or did they just kind of generally discuss it? Because the differences between them are known and there's no point to get into --

MR. McCLELLAN: It was more of a discussion that -- I think that -- one, I think that we are all somewhat hopeful that North Korea is going to return to the six-party talks soon. The discussion was really more centered on the proposal that we put on the table last year. This was a proposal that had the support of all the five parties, including the United States. It was put on the table for North Korea. We're still waiting for North Korea to respond to that proposal. That's why, when they come back to the talks, we want to discuss how to move forward in a serious and substantive way on that proposal. That proposal really lays out the way forward for resolving this matter. It addresses the concerns that North Korea has. We believe that it is a proposal that will help them realize better relations with the international community. But the first thing they have to do is make the strategic decision that they're going to get rid of their nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons program.

Q President Roh talked about one or two differences that he said were minor. What's he talking about?

MR. McCLELLAN: In terms of the approach to North Korea?

Q What differences -- yes.

MR. McCLELLAN: I think he was just making the point that there's been some -- that maybe -- some that have maybe overstated any differences that exist. He said that we are united in our principles, I think is the point that he was basically making. We both have a shared goal which is a nuclear-free peninsula, and we also have a common approach to get there -- that is the six-party talks. We have a proposal on the table, and so everybody that is a party to these talks -- South Korea, China, Russia, Japan, and the United States -- are speaking together and saying to North Korea, come back to the talks, and let's move forward on this proposal.

Q There was an interesting op-ed piece that you probably saw in The Washington Post this morning by someone who I suppose could be referred to as an old North Korean hand -- somebody who's been there and knows the lay of the land, was there earlier this year. And he said that the hardliners in North Korea won out earlier this year in a struggle there, in a factional fight within the North Korean hierarchy, and that the hardliners still believe that the United States wants regime change in North Korea. Does the United States want regime change?

MR. McCLELLAN: Look, I think we've made our position well-known when it comes to any talk of such, and we've made it known that no one has any intention of attacking North Korea. In terms of the six-party talks, there's no preconditions for coming back to the talks. We want North Korea to return at an early date without precondition. We want to resolve this in a peaceful and diplomatic way. And if North Korea makes that strategic decision and is prepared to move forward on this proposal, then they can start to realize better relations with the international community.

Q Is the White House encouraged by the developments this week, earlier this week, combined with the fact that they let an American TV news crew in there -- are these all positive signs, or do they mean anything at all?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we appreciate that they expressed their commitment to the six-party talks. But we want to see them actually set a date and come back so that we can talk in a serious way about how to move forward. That's what the message is that we're sending and that all our partners are sending to North Korea.

Q Insofar as they signal that there's a willingness to come back, North Korean leaders told that Western ABC news crew that they're building more bombs. So how is that a positive signal?

MR. McCLELLAN: Like I said, when North Korea makes comments such as that, or takes steps to move forward on their nuclear weapons program, they only further isolate themselves from the rest of the international community. We've made it clear that we want to see them return at an early date without precondition. We have no preconditions for returning to the talks, but we do want to see North Korea come back and be prepared to talk in a substantive manner about how to move forward.

Q Did the President urge his South Korean counterpart to step up some of the pressure on North Korea? Is the United States satisfied that, in terms of achieving our shared goals, there are, in fact, shared means to achieve those ends -- in other words, is South Korea doing everything --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think you heard from the two leaders; we very much appreciate South Korea's support for the six-party talks and their involvement, and our united front in terms of saying to North Korea, it's time to come back to the talks and it's time to move forward on this proposal. We all want to see a denuclearized Korean Peninsula. That is what China has said; that is what Russia has said; that is what Japan has said; that is what South Korea said; that is what the United States has said. And that is a significant step there.

And then we put forward -- we took another significant step last year at the six-party talks, when we laid out a proposal on the table that was the way forward to resolving this matter in a peaceful and diplomatic manner. And now it's time to talk about how to go about moving forward on that proposal.

Q A couple of things on Korea. When the two leaders first met here in May 2003, they emerged with a common statement that said, "We will not tolerate nuclear weapons in North Korea." That statement was notably absent today. Can you explain why?

MR. McCLELLAN: Everybody said that they want a nuclear-free peninsula.

Q It's a different thing than, "we will not tolerate nuclear weapons in North Korea."

MR. McCLELLAN: Look, we can get caught up in all the semantics, but let's talk about the issue that is before us. The issue before us is North Korea and their nuclear weapons ambitions. We are seeking to resolve that through the six-party talks. We have all been committed to the six-party talks. We believe that that is the way to, once and for all, resolve this issue. Remember, it was back in the '90s when North Korea had violated the agreement they made previously. We believe now, with all nations in the region coming to the table and speaking with one voice, that that is the way to get this matter resolved.

Q On a related issue, Scott, when the President -- Secretary Rice and Secretary Rumsfeld have all said at various moments, and the Vice President, that there would not be an endless time period for going on with the six-party talks. In fact, you heard some people in the Defense Department suggest during Secretary Rumsfeld's trip that we might be approaching a moment of debating going to the United Nations.

MR. McCLELLAN: And the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense both said that there are no timetables.

Q There are no timetables. So the question is, did the two Presidents today discuss the criteria by which they would know when the six-party talks have been exhausted, and were they in agreement on what that criteria should be?

MR. McCLELLAN: Where we are focused is on the six-party talks, and trying to get North Korea back to those talks, and trying to -- and working to get North Korea to respond to the proposal that all the other parties put on the table last year. That's where our focus is. I appreciate that you may want to focus elsewhere, but we want to move forward in a diplomatic way through the six-party talks to resolve this situation. And that's where we are.

Q President Roh has made clear that he believes that the offer that you made in June needs to be, at best, clarified, made more specific. The Chinese are taking the same view. The President seemed to rule that out today. Has he rejected the South Korean and Chinese advice on that?

MR. McCLELLAN: They had -- the two leaders had -- I don't know exactly what has been said, but the two leaders had a good discussion about getting North Korea back to the talks and moving forward on the proposal that we outlined. We believe that we need to hear a response from North Korea on that proposal. We have heard no response at this time from North Korea. And that's why we want them to come back to the talks, so that we can talk about how to move forward on the proposal that we put on the table. I think that -- and the President talked about how this proposal -- you heard directly from him -- provides a way forward for North Korea to resolving this matter, and to becoming more a part of the community of nations.

Q In terms of how the President today addressed the leader of North Korea by using "Mister," as a -- presumably a sign of respect, when recently Vice President Cheney referred to him as an "irresponsible leader," Secretary of State Rice had talked about the "outpost of tyranny" in referring to North Korea -- is it a specific attempt to be more respectful in order to entice North Korea to respond?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think I was just talking to David a second ago -- this isn't about semantics, this is about a very serious matter. This is about peace on the Korean Peninsula. This is about getting North Korea to abandon their nuclear weapons ambitions. So I wouldn't get caught up in all the semantics.

Q But there is a toning down of some of the rhetoric.

MR. McCLELLAN: I wouldn't read anything into it.

Go ahead, April.

Q Scott, on a whole new subject, if I may. On the NAACP, apparently the NAACP has found their next leader to replace Kweisi Mfume, Bruce Gordon, from the corporate sector. He'll be voted on, on June 25th --

MR. McCLELLAN: You're announcing him for the NAACP.

Q I broke the story, I know. So, anyway, here's the deal --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we'll find out if you had the scoop.

Q I did. Anyway, Mr. Gordon is from corporate America, and some of the critics are saying that if you pick someone from corporate America, they can reach to both sides of the aisle, Democrats and Republicans. And the NAACP is definitely trying to make an attempt to reach to this administration, who has felt for many years that there has been a tumultuous relationship. If indeed Mr. Gordon, which he is, will be the next President of the organization, what is the White House willing to do to mend this relationship as they are trying to reach out to you and this administration?

MR. McCLELLAN: You know how much I like the "what if" questions, first of all. In terms of the President, the President has always been someone who is willing to reach out and work with those who want to find common ground to get things done. That is one of the hallmarks of his leadership over the course of the entire time he's been in public service. People have to reach back, as well. And the President had a good relationship with Kweisi Mfume; I think they had some good discussions during his tenure. And we look forward to working with all those who want to find ways to get things done.

Q So the organization has tried to build on another session with the President, after Mr. Mfume's meeting last year, end of last year. Once this person is announced, do you think the President will allow for another meeting? Because Mr. Mfume did say at the stakeout that he was hopeful that another meeting with the NAACP --

MR. McCLELLAN: As I said, the President is always willing to work with those who want to find common ground, and try to get things done and work in a constructive way. And part of that means focusing on how we can all elevate the discourse. The President has elevated the discourse. The President has worked to change the tone here in this town, where oftentimes it becomes bitter and partisan. And, unfortunately, it's tough to kind of kind of crack that.

Q Going back to North Korea. Often it's talked about, the possibility of a diplomatic option or an embargo. What is there left to embargo? Would the U.S. actually cut off remaining food supplies to North Korea? And also, do you know whether President Roh was briefed on the sale of North Korean missiles to Syria?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think the President has always made clear that food shouldn't be used as a diplomatic weapon. He's been very clear on that for a long time. When it comes to the food aid issue, though, we want to make sure that the food is getting to the people who need it, that it's not going to others who are not in need of getting that food. There is a problem in North Korea with people that need that humanitarian assistance. But we want to make sure that there's assurances that food is getting to those who need it. And what was the other question?

Q I just wonder how you do that in North Korea. How do you ensure that the food goes to --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, North Korea has been a closed society and has not been transparent about that, and that's a concern we have. We want to make sure that food gets to those who need it. And that's what we'll work to try to make happen.

Q I wonder, is there any more details on the North Korean missile shipments to Syria?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I don't have any update.

Q Scott, next week you've got not one, but two Medicare events on the schedule. I'm wondering if the President is planning something major in this field, and if he's hearing the people who have said to him, hey, there's a bigger crisis here in Medicare than there is in Social Security?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, in fact, something major is happening in Medicare; we are implementing the prescription drug law so that all seniors are going to be eligible to receive a prescription drug benefit for the first time, starting in January of 2006. The President had a briefing earlier this week with the head of his Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, as well as Secretary Leavitt, and he received a briefing about how we're going about implementing this vital legislation.

Remember, the President has often talked about how, before we had all these changes, Medicare -- which hadn't been modernized in some 40 years -- did not -- while it paid for the surgery that someone needed for their heart problems, it wouldn't pay for the prescription drugs that could prevent them from needing that surgery in the first place. So this is legislation that we believe, when implemented, will help bring down cost -- we know it will bring down cost for seniors, that they'll have to pay less out of their pocket, that they're going to realize significant savings on their drug benefits through this approach, by opening it up to more people and giving them the same kind of choices that federal employees have under their federal health plans.

And so the President was updated on that. Next week the President looks forward to talking about how we're moving forward on implementing this legislation and getting it in place, particularly so those low-income seniors will have the health care that they need and they deserve. Many of the low-income seniors are going to have virtually all of their health care costs paid for -- prescription drug costs paid for.

Q These events are not going to be talking about any ways of bringing down the cost of Medicare to the government. The Medicare prescription drug cost --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first and foremost, we want to make sure we're bringing down costs for seniors, particularly those seniors who are in need. And what this legislation did, it put in place -- it has some cost controls in there that would help address some of those costs. And when this program gets fully in place, not only will it provide seniors with better health care at a lower cost, but it will help address some of those costs.

Now, there's more to do. I mean, it's a first step, and the President has talked about that. But we've already acted on Medicare and taken an important first step. What we need to do right now is make sure that we get it right and get this implemented so that seniors will get everything that Congress intended for them to get. And they will under this approach.

We're moving forward, and the President received a good update. There's good progress being made, but there's a lot of work to do over the next few months. And so the President is going to be reaching out to the American people, particularly our seniors, talking about this important legislation that was passed, that he signed into law -- legislation that he advocated, legislation that -- while we're sitting here talking about the second-term agenda, many people said wouldn't get passed. But Congress came together and got it passed and seniors are going to benefit.

Q Scott, is there an agreement with Britain on debt reduction relief to African countries?

MR. McCLELLAN: What about it?

Q Is there agreement?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, there was an agreement earlier this week between the United States and the United Kingdom. And they have now worked out the details of that proposal, and they're discussing that with the G8 finance ministers in London today. I don't have any update in terms of how that's proceeded, but remember, the President and Prime Minister directed Secretary Snow and Chancellor Brown to go about finalizing those details so that we could provide debt relief to those highly indebted countries that need it. And they are putting that before the G8 today.

It is consistent with what we had said earlier in the week; the proposal will cancel 100 percent of the World Bank, African Development Bank, and IMF debt, and calls on all countries to cancel their bilateral debt for the 18 immediately eligible countries that have already met the full requirements of the -- let me go back to this -- to the highly indebted country process. And that was something that was outlined at a previous G8 -- and will do so for those other countries as they fulfill the requirements of the program.

Those requirements include improving governance, reducing corruption, and completing a program with the IMF that demonstrates a commitment to sound economic policies. We believe that's very important that return for getting this kind of assistance, this debt relief, that those countries need to be moving forward on good governance and transparency and rule of law, and promoting economic growth, free market policies.

Q Scott, members of the 9/11 Commission said recently that they intended to ask the White House for some documentation of exactly how the administration has responded to the recommendations that the 9/11 Commission made in its report last summer, and they might also seek access -- further access to administration officials, or to speak to them directly about the subject. Have they made that request? And if so, has the White House responded?

MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't heard any update on that -- I haven't checked on that in the last day, but I haven't heard any update that we've received any request from them at this point. We appreciate the great work that they did. We've moved forward on the vast majority of their recommendations in one way or another; many of them we were moving forward on prior to their report even being finished. There were things we started shortly after the September 11th attacks to make sure that we're doing everything we can to protect the American people.

And, of course, the President has been out at the National Counterterrorism Center today, which is one of the reforms we moved forward on. And I think the people that were there, the press that was able to cover that event saw firsthand the great work that we're doing to disrupt plots and prevent attacks from happening in the first place. You have, at that National Counterterrorism Center, all the various agencies represented, and it's very interesting to see it, because when you go in there and you see all those agencies working together, there are no walls between their various areas -- not only figuratively, but literally. And it's provided -- I mean, the President talked about how we are grateful for those who are working 24/7 on the front lines of the war on terrorism to do everything they can to prevent attacks from happening. Many of these people are never heard from and much of what they do is never heard about. But every day they're working to better protect the American people.

In terms of the September 11th Commission, we appreciate their continued involvement. We're going to continue acting. One of the most important recommendations that they had was the creation of the National Intelligence Director and his office. We have a great National Intelligence Director now in place who is the President's principal intelligence advisor. And he was there with the President at this event today.

Q Scott, in regard to who is running the intelligence agencies in this government, it was reported recently that there was a memo that essentially disinvited Porter Goss from the National Security Council briefings, and disinvited him from the morning briefings to the President on intelligence matters. Is that, in fact, the case? And what's the status of Porter Goss --

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know about that particular one. I'll be glad to take a look into it, but in terms of Director Goss, he's doing a great job. The Central Intelligence Agency was a place the President just visited to thank the employees of the Central Intelligence Agency. And they're very much a part of the National Counterterrorism Center, as well. They have representatives there today that the President was thanking. Director Goss was right there with the President. He has continued to be very involved in fulfilling his role.

Q If I could change pace a little bit -- on the national space policy and the weaponization in space, I wonder, where -- we haven't talked about this in about a month or so. Where's the President right now in terms of that review? And in light of comments by Russian Defense Minister Ivanov, and the Chinese, that this could spark a space weapons race, what's the President's thinking --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that his comments were based on a report that did not reflect accurately what is going on. In terms of the space policy review, I'm not aware that it, at this point, has risen to either the level of the National Security Advisor or the President. I mean, our national space policy has been undergoing an interagency review that has not been updated in several years. One part of the review that the President initiated of our space policies back in June of '02 is the one you're referring to. The President has already issued I think four presidential directives as part of that space policy review. But this was something that had not been updated in over nine years, and we've seen a lot of dramatic changes, internationally and domestically, that affect our space policy. And that's why it needs to be updated.

But we believe in the peaceful exploration of space. And there are treaties in place, and we continue to abide by those treaties. But there are issues that relate to our space program that could affect those space programs that we need to make sure are addressed. And that's what part of this interagency review process is. It's not looking at weaponizing space, as some reports had previously suggested. But the peaceful exploration of space also includes the ability of nations to be able to protect their space systems.

Q Scott, back in 2002 when President Roh was running for office in South Korea, there were two 14-year-old girls killed by a U.S. military vehicle. This gave rise to a certain anti-American sentiment that fueled his campaign. And earlier today, a U.S. military vehicle struck and killed a 51-year-old woman, for which the President apologized at the top of the meeting. When did the President hear about this incident, and what was the nature of the discussion with President Roh? And did he give rise to any kind of talk about the posture and positioning of U.S. forces at large within Korea?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, in terms of the last part of the question. In terms of the first part, the President did express our sincerest condolences to the family of the woman who was tragically killed in this accident. This was a terrible accident. Our military had already issued an apology. The President was briefed on it earlier this morning, and he wanted to make sure that on behalf of America, he extended our condolences.

Now, in terms of our troops and our troops that are in South Korea, we appreciate the job that our troops are doing there. They are there to help maintain peace and stability in the region. And they had a discussion about the posture, and the President expressed our appreciation for all the support South Korea has provided when it comes to relocating those troops within the country. That was part of our posture review efforts in making sure that we're adjusting to better keep the peace.

And in terms of South Korea's views of the troops, President Roh expressed how appreciative the people of South Korea are for the job that our troops do to help work with the South Korean forces to maintain peace and stability.

Q Scott, sorry, this just in. U.N. spokesman, Fred Eckhard, confirms that the United Nations has decided it is going to send its investigation team back into Lebanon, though no date has yet been set. I know we were talking about this situation with Syrian involvement in Lebanon earlier today.

MR. McCLELLAN: Right.

Q What is your reaction to this, and anything further you can share with us about --

MR. McCLELLAN: We welcome that development, if that's the case. I've been out here briefing, so I've not seen that for myself. But we very much welcome the United Nations sending back in the verification teams to make sure that Syria is fulfilling the Security Council resolution that the international community passed through the United Nations Security Council. The United States had urged the United Nations to send back in the verification teams. We want to see them there through the period of the elections and the cabinet formation, in order to better clarify reports of Syria's continued intelligence presence, and to deter any further efforts to derail the democratic process that is underway.

We -- as you heard from the President -- are deeply concerned about Syrian interference and intimidation inside of Lebanon. The Security Council resolution clearly spelled out that Syria needs to withdraw not only all its military forces, but all its intelligence operatives, as well. There are reports that we have been hearing about for some time about a Syrian hit list targeting key Lebanese public figures of various political and religious persuasions for assassination. These reports resurfaced with the recent assassination of the journalist, Mr. Kassir.

We strongly believe that Syria's covert intelligence apparatus in Lebanon is destabilizing to the country and creates an environment in which violence and intimidation are encouraged and become possible. Syria needs to abide by the Security Council resolution. They need to stop meddling inside Lebanon and stop meddling in Lebanon's internal affairs. So we also support the decision to send the envoy, Mr. Larsen, to Damascus, as well, to talk about these issues with Syria.

Q The President referred to those as press reports that he read about. When you're referring to reports, are you talking about intelligence reports, or about press reports?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm talking about reports and intelligence we have that would include intelligence we have seen.

Q Thank you.

MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you.

Q Thank you for dropping by. (Laughter.)

MR. McCLELLAN: Always good. I didn't want to keep you here too long on a Friday afternoon.