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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
June 24, 2005

Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
James S. Brady Briefing Room

Play Video  Video (Real)

2:10 P.M. EDT

MR. MCCLELLAN: A couple of announcements to begin with on the President's schedule. The President will welcome Prime Minister Sabah of Kuwait to the White House next Friday, July 1st. The United States appreciates Kuwait's friendship and values our strong partnership in the region. The President looks forward to discussing with the Prime Minister a range of bilateral and regional issues, and congratulating the Prime Minister on Kuwaiti women achieving full political rights.

On July 19th, the President looks forward to welcoming Prime Minister Howard to the White House. Australia is a critical ally and partner that continues to work with the United States to combat terrorism, stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and to promote peace and freedom. The President looks forward to discussing with the Prime Minister important regional and international issues and ways to further deepen and broaden bilateral relations between our two countries.

And with that, I am glad to go to your questions.

Q Scott, at the President's prime time speech next Tuesday night, how specific is he going to be on a strategy going forward? And do you foresee a shift in strategy at all?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think we have a clear strategy that we have outlined. The President is going to be talking about our strategy for success. He talked about how it is a two-track strategy. There's the military track and there's the political track. And he will talk in a very specific way about the way forward to succeeding and implementing that strategy. There is important progress that has been made. There are also many challenges that lie ahead -- he talked about that today. This is hard work; it is not an easy task that we have ahead of us. But the Iraqi people are showing through their courage that they are determined to have a peaceful and democratic future. And a free Iraq will be a powerful force for change in a dangerous region of the world, and helping to defeat the ideology of oppression and hatred and tyranny that the terrorists espouse.

Q Scott, I understand there is an anniversary date next Tuesday, but you're saying that this speech is happening, in part, because this is a critical moment, a critical time --

MR. McCLELLAN: That's correct.

Q -- in Iraq. What's more critical about this month and this moment than, say, a month ago or nine months ago?

MR. McCLELLAN: This is a critical period. The transitional government is moving forward on drafting a constitution. They are moving forward to prepare for an election for the Iraqi people to adopt that constitution. They are moving forward to hold elections for a permanent representative government. The terrorists, as you see on our TV screens, are a determined and ruthless enemy that has no regard for human life. They seek to do everything they can to derail the transition to democracy. But every step of the way they have failed to stop the advance of democracy and freedom in Iraq, because the Iraqi people are defying the terrorists and defying those who seek to stop democracy from taking root.

We have a number of our men and women who are serving in harm's way; all of us want to see those troops return home. We mourn and grieve when we lose our men and women in Iraq. They are making tremendous sacrifices in defense of freedom and supporting the advance of freedom in a dangerous region of the world. And the way to get them home is to complete the mission and succeed in Iraq. And we will succeed. We are making great progress, but there are difficulties and dangers ahead.

Q Is this moment any more critical than the critical moments you described in the run-up to the presidential election a year ago September/October, in the run-up to the election in Iraq last December/January? You said the same thing then, a "critical moment."

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, I think you can go back and look at those time periods and look at what we said during that time period. This is a very critical period in Iraq. Here's why: because the terrorists are trying to test our resolve, and they're trying to shake the will of the international community and the Iraqi people. The terrorists, as General Abizaid --

Q They've been doing that for months, don't you agree or --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, as General Abizaid talked about, there have been a growing number of foreign terrorists coming in to Iraq, because they recognize that Iraq is a central front in the war on terrorism. And, Bill, we are a nation that is at war. And the Commander-in-Chief believes it's important to keep the American people informed about --

Q Yes, but what's changed?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, are you going to let me finish, or are you going to keep jumping in?

Q Well, you said the same thing before, and I accept what you say. But what's changed?

MR. McCLELLAN: I was just talking to you --

Q It's the same condition that we found ourselves in a year ago.

MR. McCLELLAN: I was just outlining to you why it's a critical period --

Q Yes, but it was a critical period for the same reason then.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- in Iraq, and we are a nation at war. And the Commander-in-Chief has a responsibility to keep the American people informed about the progress we're making and the strategy we have for succeeding. It's important that the American people know the progress that we're making and they understand the difficulties and dangers that lie ahead. This is a time when we are seeing that the enemy is determined and ruthless in the violence that they seek to spread to try to shake our will and shake our resolve. And that's why it's important to talk to the American people. It was important to talk to the American people at that time, as well, Bill.

Q Yes, but I mean, it's the same thing that you're saying.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that -- no, it's not. I think the American people want to hear from their Commander-in-Chief. And you may take it --

Q I'm not arguing about that.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you may take a different view, but I think the American people want to hear from their Commander-in-Chief, and they will have the --

Q That's not what I'm arguing about.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let's go on if you're not going to --

Q The Prime Minister talked about perhaps a Bush Plan, likening it to the Marshall Plan that helped rebuild Europe after World War II. And when the President was asked about reconstruction, he said of course, the U.S. is devoting resources, but the job belongs to the Iraqi people. Is there a different outlook between the Iraq Prime Minister and the President about the building of infrastructure?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I'll let him talk further about what he was talking about. But if you'll recall, there was an international conference earlier this week, more than 80 nations coming together to show their strong support for the Iraqi people. The international community is standing with the Iraqi people, and they talked about in their meetings -- both in the Oval Office and in the residence during the lunch -- about the importance of the international community continuing to support the Iraqi people and the transitional government as they move forward on this historic transformation that is taking place. And we've been, as the Prime Minister pointed out, providing tremendous support from the United States for the Iraqi people.

One issue that I imagine will continue to come up is the issue of debt relief. And there's a donor's conference coming up in Jordan here shortly, as the President talked about. So I think you're seeing that the international community is sending a strong message of support for the transitional government and for the Iraqi people. There are a number that have come forward with commitments, there are a number that have made commitments -- and we hope that they will move forward quickly to fulfill those commitments, because it's vital that we continue to stand with the Iraqi people as they move forward to meet their political objectives, which they are doing. The President talked about that.

Q Is the President satisfied that the reconstruction money is being used properly?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the Iraqi government is now in charge. This is a sovereign country, as we were just talking about. We're coming up on the one-year anniversary of sovereignty, and so the Iraqi government has assumed responsibility for the various ministries in Iraq. And you had the finance minister and the minister of electricity that were here today for the meetings and for the lunch with the President, and they talked about some of these issues, and how they're moving forward, and their strategy for moving forward.

Q Yesterday in the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Senator McCain asked about the readiness of the Iraqi units trained, he wanted to know percentages. And he was told that we've developed readiness categories, but he wasn't told what they were. And then he was told that this information was classified. And in a previous Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, he'd asked to know numbers of the insurgency, to get an idea of how that was. He was also told it was classified. And he said: We need to know this, we need to know why it's classified; the American people need to know this, they are paying for this war. Could you address Senator McCain's concerns?

MR. McCLELLAN: Sure, and I think the generals have talked about this and our commanders have talked about these issues, so you'd probably want to look back at what they've said, because you didn't point out what they have said in terms of the training.

Training of Iraqi security forces is a key part of our strategy for success, and I expect the President will be talking more about that in his remarks. And the commanders have talked about the progress being made. There's a lot of good progress being made when it comes to training and equipping Iraqi security forces. You have more than 160,000 Iraqi security forces that are now trained and equipped. There are different levels of readiness, and the commanders have talked about that. I imagine the President will talk about it some in his remarks next Tuesday, as well, because what we want to do is train and equip those forces, those Iraqi forces, so that they can provide for their own security and defend their country and our troops can return home with the honor that they deserve.

And so -- and so that's what -- and the other part of your question was?

Q Well, the Senator recognized that and recognized he felt that progress is being made, but nevertheless felt that the American people have a right to know what kind of percentage of numbers of Iraqi troops are getting ready -- not that we're doing it, but how is it going, what are the numbers. And, also, he wanted to know the numbers --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think I just talked to you about the numbers, and the commanders can give you a better estimate of what the precise numbers are, in terms of what's --

Q They said it was classified.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- in term of what's been trained, the training and equipping. Well, they've talked -- they've talked about some of these issues. I mean, there are certain parts of it that may well be classified, but they have talked about this and they will continue to talk about the training and equipping of forces, and the various levels of readiness that they are at, at this point in time.

But they are pleased -- the commanders have told the President and the Vice President in their briefings that they are pleased with the progress that is being made to train and equip these forces. These forces are standing up and fighting against the terrorist and the regime elements that seek to derail the transition to democracy. They are showing some good signs of success. There is more to do, and that's why we're working closely with those forces to get them trained and equipped and prepared to take over their security.

Go ahead.

Q Thank you. Scott, does the President plan to introduce legislation to counter the Supreme Court's decision on eminent domain? Isn't a man's home his castle?

MR. McCLELLAN: First of all, on the Supreme Court decision from yesterday, we were not a party to that case. The President has always been a strong supporter of private property rights. Obviously, we have to respect the decisions of the Supreme Court, and we do.

Go ahead.

Q Scott, two questions. One, yesterday I spent part of the day at the United Nations in New York assessing a number of issues, including ambassador John Bolton and U.N. reform and also (inaudible). And, also, there was a -- eight countries were given award for good performance and also for the public service, including India and Canada. My question is here, that as far as Mr. Kofi Annan's support in the U.N. goes, it's diminishing or it's going down, because there is some kind of memorandum going against him, one. And also talking about John Bolton, depending on who you talk with, Mr. Kofi Annan said that -- and diplomats, a number of them I spoke to, they said that we will work with another ambassador from another country, representing these countries to the U.N. My question is here how far President now willing to go for Mr. John Bolton and also for Mr. Kofi Annan? Will they still have his full support?

MR. McCLELLAN: We have worked closely with the Secretary General and we are continuing to work closely with the Secretary General, particularly when it comes to reforming the United Nations. He's put forward some ideas for comprehensive reform; we strongly support comprehensive reform. And we outlined our ideas for moving forward in a comprehensive way to reform the United Nations and make it more effective -- that means making it more open and transparent and establishing a democracy fund, a convention on terrorism, and also moving forward on budget and management reform, among other issues. And Security Council reform is part of the overall, comprehensive reform in our view, as well.

Q Second question is that according to The Washington Post, now there's cross-border terrorism from Pakistan into Afghanistan, that is according to President Karzai. He has called General Musharraf to stop this kind of behavior, and also these terrorists from his country into Afghanistan. And now the thing is that some people are saying that, Scott, that these terrorists are really the ones are being released, and they are back on the street because they have no jobs, nothing else to do, because they are educated only to terrorize the people and to kill other innocent people. So if President Karzai has ever spoken with the President after he left the White House about this problem?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we stay in touch with the leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan, not only at the presidential level, but at various other levels, as well. And we work very closely with those governments on a daily basis. And when you talk about the border region along Afghanistan and Pakistan -- and we know that that is an area that some of the al Qaeda remnants and Taliban remnants seek to hide from the international community. But I think both countries recognize the importance of going after those terrorists and bringing them to justice. And we've had good cooperation from both. We'll continue to work with both to address these matters.

Q Back to Marshall Plan for a moment. Does the administration believe that Mr. Jaafari and the Iraqis are seeking a greater coordinating role of international relief from the administration? And has the administration now reached a point in the political calendar where it has to begin to essentially insist that the Iraqis take a more proactive role in their own self-determination? In other words, is -- to the extent that Mr. Jaafari would like to see a Bush-Marshall plan, is that counterproductive in terms of their own --

MR. McCLELLAN: First of all, I'm not aware if they talked about any specific idea he had in mind. Obviously, they want the international community to continue to help them as they move forward. It's important for the international community to do because of the importance of succeeding in Iraq. I think the international community recognizes the importance of helping to build a free and peaceful and democratic Iraq, and how crucial that is to the region and to the security of the rest of the international -- the rest of the world.

In terms of -- you have to ask him, in terms of what he was referring to, unless they somehow discussed it during their one-on-one time together, I didn't hear any specific discussion of that. I heard specific discussion about ways that the international community can step up and support the Iraqi people. A lot of that was discussed at the conference on Wednesday in Brussels. And there are a number of countries that made some commitments of financial aid, some other countries that made some strong statements of support that they would be providing some additional help.

They issued a very strong statement saying that the international community stands with the Iraqi people and will help on the three areas that were outlined in the United Nations Security Council Resolution -- I believe it's 1546 -- talking about the economic and reconstruction front, the security front, as well as the political front. And certainly the United Nations is providing a lot of help. Kofi Annan pointed out in his op-ed earlier this week how they're working to help the Iraqi people move forward on the democratic process.

Q And yesterday after your explanation of Mr. Rove's remarks the night before at the Conservative Union in New York, Democrats went to the Senate floor, held a news conference, pretty much teed off on this, calling for either an apology, one that they said had to be a profound apology. They called it gutter politics, nauseating and vulgar, and said that if Karl doesn't apologize appropriately, he should be resigned and even suggested the President should apologize. What's the thinking on it lately here?

MR. McCLELLAN: There's no reason -- no reason for that. It's still puzzling why Democratic leaders were coming to the defense of liberal organizations like moveon.org and people like Michael Moore. Karl was talking about the conservative philosophy and the liberal philosophy when it comes to the war on terrorism. And I think that he -- again, go back and look. He was speaking to a political organization, the New York Conservative Party, and he was talking about different political philosophies. I think that's what you do when you speak to political organizations.

And it's just puzzling why Democratic leaders are trying to defend the views of people like Michael Moore and organizations like moveon.org that took a very different view after the attacks of September 11th, after the attacks on the World Trade Center, and the Pentagon here in Washington, D.C. And you can go back and look at some of the comments that they made. But moveon.org had urged restraint and understanding, and they had said that we shouldn't be using instruments of war, that we should look at international law, human rights law, and international organizations to indict people.

The President took a very different view, and conservatives have a very different view. And that's what Karl was talking about. And many of the leaders who came out and, for whatever reason, started launching into attacks and trying to twist things around, stood with us in the aftermath of September 11th. There was a very united Congress when it came to how we proceed forward in the war on terrorism, in the aftermath of September 11th. So it's just puzzling that they're sitting there trying to defend these liberal views.

Q But insofar as the administration, the President clearly disagreed with those views, insofar as it's a philosophy, what is the conservative view of the liberal anti-war pacifist philosophy?

MR. McCLELLAN: What is the view --

Q Not just right or wrong, but is it a legitimate -- is it a legitimately debatable philosophy?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, and I think it's important for the American people to know what the different philosophies are. And that's all Karl was pointing out in his remarks. And the American people can judge for themselves. We have great confidence in their judgment, and we'll let them judge for themselves.

Go ahead.

Q Thank you, Scott. Brief questions: Back to John Bolton for a moment, with the clock ticking toward a congressional recess this summer, just what Democrats is the President calling and talking to in order to try to break the filibuster? And, realistically, if the filibuster fails to be broken, can we expect a recess appointment of Mr. Bolton next month?

MR. McCLELLAN: A couple of things. One, the President believes very strongly that John Bolton is the right man to go about advancing reform at the United Nations. This is a critical period at the United Nations, when they're looking at some major reforms to really make it more effective. And that's why the President believes so strongly that he is the right person to be there at this critical time.

The President continues to believe that the Senate needs to give him an up or down vote. He enjoys the support of a majority of the United States Senate. There are some Democratic leaders who already voted against John Bolton's nomination that claimed they wanted more information.

And the administration has worked in very good faith to address some of those issues that they brought up, and it's clear that they're not interested in more documents. They're only interested in moving the goalpost and trying to block the nomination from proceeding forward. And what they're doing is preventing us from moving forward and getting about the important work of reform at the United Nations. I think the American people expect better from the United States Senate and from their Democratic leaders.

It's clear he has majority support on the floor of the Senate, and so we've continued to act in good faith. The President has had conversations with some Democrats. I don't think that at this point it's necessary to get into all those conversations. Andy Card has reached out, as well, and other members of the White House staff, including our legislative team. And we will continue to do so. It doesn't take but a few more to break with the ranks of their leadership who simply aren't interested in acting in good faith to move this nomination forward.

Q So we shouldn't expect a recess appointment and you feel this process is going to work?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President is continuing to push for an up or down vote.

Go ahead, Bob.

Q Scott, in the past you've asked us in the media not to jump the gun regarding a Supreme Court nominee. But already you have on one side a group, like Progress for America, starting to spend as much as $18 million on ads in support of whoever the President would nominate. On the other side, you have a group like People For the American Way ready to spend millions, and already setting up a war room. What do you say to those groups?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Bob, I say that there's not a vacancy at this point, and if there is a vacancy, then we can talk about it at that point.

Q Well, should they be already lined up like this?

MR. McCLELLAN: Bob, you can ask those groups what they're doing. All I know is that there's not a vacancy at this point, and this is kind of a creative way to get into speculation about a potential Supreme Court vacancy, but there's not one at this point.

Q They're speculating.

Q Scott, I have a two-part question, the first one dealing with the great state of Texas.

MR. McCLELLAN: Do you ever have a one-part question? (Laughter.)

Q No. If I was on the front row, I'd get a six-part question. (Laughter.)

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there's a seat there and a seat there.

Q Suppose that McLennan County, Texas, decides that a center for slot machines would bring in much more revenue than the Bush ranch. Would the President try to fight the eminent domain, as now legalized by five members of the Supreme Court, by means of the Aderholt-Shelby bill, or how?

MR. McCLELLAN: You know, I don't know of any attempt by McLennan County to do such a thing, first of all. And, second of all, if they did, it's a matter for McLennan County to deal with. But I know of no such effort.

Q He would fight it, wouldn't he?

MR. McCLELLAN: Les, I think the President has made his views clear when it comes to private property rights. In terms of Supreme Court decisions, we obviously have to respect the decisions of the Supreme Court.

Q Does the President feel as strongly about that lady in New London, Connecticut, who will be forced out of her home where she was born and has lived for 87 years, does he feel as strong as Justice O'Connor feels, and does he believe this decision will help with his nomination of new justices?

MR. McCLELLAN: Les, we just haven't talked about it, but the President is always concerned about the American people and their well being.

Q He really is concerned about this lady, isn't he?

MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead.

Q Apparently there was a deal worked out between the House and Senate on the highway bill that funded $2 billion more than the President will accept. Does that mean he's going to veto this bill?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not aware of any announcement that's been made by members of Congress in terms of the highway legislation. We have continued to work very closely with members of Congress to move forward on highway legislation that is responsible, that meets our transportation needs, and keeps us on track to cut the deficit in half over the next five years.

There's been a lot of progress made in terms of the number coming down from where it originally was. If you'll recall, the Senate was originally at $318 billion, I believe, a year ago. I think they were even higher than that initially. But what they passed last year and then this year, they passed legislation on the level of $295 billion. And I think there's been significant progress made, in terms of coming down on that.

The President's position is well known. We appreciate the members of Congress who have been working to reach an agreement on a responsible piece of legislation that is fiscally responsible and that meets our transportation needs. And I don't believe that Congress is going to send us a piece of legislation that the President would need to veto.

Q But just so I'm clear, though, the President's advisors will still recommend a veto if the bill is not at the level he recommends?

MR. McCLELLAN: Like I said, I don't believe Congress is going to send us a piece of legislation that will need a presidential veto, because there's been good progress being made.

Go ahead.

Q Scott, can you preview the Schröder visit a little bit, and specifically address the issue of U.N. Security Council enlargement we know the Germans wanted to see? Can you say what the President would like to tell -- will tell Chancellor Schr der?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think it's what we've said publicly, and I imagine that U.N. reform is something that will be discussed in their meeting. I know it's something that's of interest to both leaders. We are strongly committed to moving on -- moving forward on Security Council -- I mean, on reform at the United Nations, and we believe it ought to be comprehensive reform. So when you look at reform at the Security Council, it ought to be in the context of broader comprehensive reform. We've outlined a number of initiatives for doing so.

In terms of Security Council reform, we've laid out some very specific criteria that we ought to -- that we believe ought to be the basis for Security Council reform and ought to be the basis for making decision about who is on the Security Council. And so it ought to be a criteria-based approach is what we outlined.

And in terms -- in terms of positions on who ought to be on the Security Council, I mean, the only position we've taken is that we support Japan being a member of the Security Council. Japan has been a very significant contributor to the United Nations and played a very important role in the organization. And that's why we have expressed our support for them.

Now, in terms of the meeting, itself, this will be an opportunity for the two leaders to talk about ways we can continue to strengthen transatlantic relations. And I imagine they will talk about a broad range of issues, from the freedom agenda to extending prosperity and supporting development. I imagine they'll talk about our ongoing efforts in the war on terrorism and efforts to combat the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

So I'm sure there will -- they will cover a range of important issues. And the President looks forward to visiting with Chancellor Schr der again here at the White House this Monday.

Go ahead, Paula.

Q Scott, when you said a moment ago that you don't believe that Congress will send you a highway bill the President will veto, then are you saying you don't believe that Congress will send you anything above $284 billion?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think I would leave it where I stated it. The President's position is well known, and I just don't believe that Congress -- Congress has made some very important progress in terms of meeting the President's goal of having a responsible piece of legislation that keeps us on track when it comes to cutting the deficit and meets our transportation needs. And I don't believe Congress is going to send them something at this point based on discussions that have been ongoing that he would need to veto.

Q So you think $2 billion -- additional $2 billion --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not going to get into talking about speculation about any potential agreements. I'm not aware that any announcement has been made at this point.

Go ahead, Connie.

Q Scott, two -- in light of the latest tragic deaths of Americans in Iraq, does the President still reach out on an individual basis to families of those killed?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President regularly meets with the families of the fallen. Let me step back, first of all. We mourn the loss of every life. We mourn the loss of every one of our men and women in uniform who have made the ultimate sacrifice -- whether it's in Afghanistan or Iraq or elsewhere. And our thoughts and prayers are certainly with the families of those who have lost their lives.

In terms of the President's visits with the family of fallen, the President views that as one of his most important responsibilities, to visit with the families and provide them comfort and let them know that their loved one sacrificed for an important cause and their loved one sacrificed, making the world a better place, making the world a more peaceful place.

And the President, when he goes to Fort Bragg, I expect he will visit with some families while he's there, as well. But he has regularly visited with families of fallen from Afghanistan and Iraq. And I know that it is something that greatly saddens him any time we lose one of our troops in combat.

Q And one about Rumsfeld. Would the President share with us what he told Donald Rumsfeld when he refused to accept his resignation offer?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think that this issue came up a while back. I don't think there's any point in going back through that. Secretary Rumsfeld is doing a great job at the Department of Defense and working to succeed in both Afghanistan and Iraq and address other threats that we face, as well as helping to transform our military.

Thank you.