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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
June 27, 2005
Press Briefing Scott McClellan
James S. Brady Briefing Room
2:12 P.M. EDT
MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon, everybody. Let me begin by giving you a preview of tomorrow night's remarks.
Iraq is a top concern on the mind's of the American people. Tomorrow night, they're going to have the opportunity to hear directly from the Commander-in-Chief. The President recognizes one of his most important responsibilities during a time of war is to keep the American people informed about the situation. So tomorrow night the American people have the opportunity to hear from their Commander-in-Chief about the nature of the enemy we face in Iraq, the situation on the ground and the way forward to victory.
In a time of testing like this, it's important to let our troops know that the American people stand firmly with them as they seek to complete the mission. So the President looks forward to going to Fort Bragg tomorrow night to speak before the men and women who have been on the front lines in the war on terrorism. This is a time of testing. It is a critical moment in Iraq. The terrorists are seeking to shake our will and weaken our resolve. They know that they cannot win unless we abandon the mission before it is complete.
Tomorrow also marks the one-year anniversary since we transferred sovereignty back to the rightful owners -- the Iraqi people. In that time period we have made significant progress: elections have taken place; more than 8 million Iraqis showed up at the polls and defied the terrorists and elected a representative government to serve during the transition to democracy. That transitional government selected the leaders to oversee that transition period. And they have been working on drafting the constitution. They have reached an agreement to have an inclusive process that includes all communities in Iraq.
The international community has been standing strongly behind the Iraqi people over this time period. Just last week there was a very successful international conference where some 80 nations came together to show their support for the Iraqi people.
There are difficulties and dangers that remain. There is going to be tough fighting in the days and weeks ahead, as the President has talked about. He will talk about the nature of the enemy, as I mentioned. The terrorists have no regard for human life. They have no vision and no alternative but chaos, destruction and violence. It is a determined and ruthless enemy that has chosen to make Iraq a central front in the war on terrorism. They know that their survival is at stake. Iraq -- a free and peaceful Iraq will be a major blow to the ambitions of the terrorists.
And every step of the way, these terrorists have failed to stop the progress on the political front. They have failed to stop the Iraqi people from moving forward on holding elections and electing a representative government. They have failed to stop the Iraqi people from signing up to serve in the security forces. And they failed to stop the transfer of sovereignty just one year ago, as well, on the time schedule that was outlined.
Tomorrow, the President will also talk about the strategy for success. He will talk in a very specific way about the way forward. There is a clear path to victory. It is a two-track strategy: there is the military and political track. On the military front, it's important to continue training and equipping the Iraqi security forces so that they're able to defend themselves, and then our troops can return home with the honor that they deserve. And then there is the political track. The Iraqi people are showing that they're determined to build a free and democratic and peaceful future, and we must continue to do all we can to support them as they build a lasting democracy.
So the President looks forward to speaking to the American people tomorrow night. You will hear from him in much greater detail, but I wanted to give you a little bit of a preview to begin with. And with that, I'll be glad to go to your questions.
MR. McCLELLAN: As I said, this is a new speech. And the President will be talking in a very specific way about the strategy for succeeding in Iraq. And he will talk about the two-track strategy that we have in place. He touched on it a little bit last week; he's touched on it in -- many times over recent weeks. But this is going to be the President talking about it in a very specific way, about where we are for succeeding and where we are in implementing that strategy.
Q Well, I guess what I'm asking is, are people going to hear things they haven't heard the President say before? Are there new details?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think many Americans have not heard much of what the President has to say tomorrow night. And the American people are rightly concerned about where we are in Iraq. That's a top priority for this country; it's a top priority for the President of the United States. The American people want to see our troops return home, but I think they understand the importance of succeeding in Iraq. And the President will talk about that in his remarks. I think we all want to see the troops come home sooner than later, and the way to get our troops home is to complete the mission.
Our troops, as General Abizaid was talking about over the weekend, understand the importance of the mission that they are working to complete. This is critical to winning the war on terrorism. A free Iraq will deal a major blow to the terrorists and their ideology of hatred and oppression.
Q The question is, is there a new direction, though, or not?
MR. McCLELLAN: You're going to hear from the President tomorrow night. I think we have a clear strategy for success. He's going to be talking in a very specific way about what that strategy is. It's an opportunity for the American people to hear about the strategy. We've all seen on the TV screens the images of bloodshed and violence. They are disturbing. The President is disturbed by those images. The terrorists have inflicted great suffering. There have been tremendous sacrifices. But the cause for which we are in Iraq is an important one, and there is great progress being made on the ground.
The terrorists' only alternative is to spread violence and chaos and destruction because they know that when a free Iraq takes hold, a democratic Iraq, that it will be a major defeat for their ambitions. You've heard terrorists talk publicly about the importance of trying to stop the progress that is being made in Iraq.
Q Isn't the message really more patience? Isn't that really what the President is going to be requesting, something he's --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think if you go back to September 11th -- remember, on September 11th the threats of the 21st century were brought to our shores. We saw in a very clear way the threats that we face on that day.
And the President said shortly after the attacks of September 11th that this is a long struggle that we're going to be in, that this is a different kind of war, one which we have never seen before. And we do face a determined and ruthless enemy, an enemy that has no regard for innocent human life. That's the nature of the enemy that we're up against. That's the nature of the enemy that the President will be talking about in his remarks tomorrow night.
And the President made it clear after September 11th that some will want us to grow complacent and forget about, or put the attacks off as a distant memory. But it does require patience and resolve to see this struggle through to the end. We have no option but to defeat the terrorists, and the terrorists will be defeated.
MR. McCLELLAN: As I mentioned earlier today, I know you all are going to have a lot of questions in -- today, the days ahead, probably, but I don't think it's my place to get into talking about any potential vacancies that may or may not occur.
Q But you haven't heard anything, the President hasn't been alerted, hasn't received a letter or anything?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, as I indicated this morning to some of you all, I said that I'm going to draw the line here because I'm not going to go down that road. If there is a vacancy to announce, I would imagine that that would come out of the Supreme Court first. And that's the appropriate place for it to come out of, and I don't think you should read anything into that one way or the other.
But if you ask me now and I say "no," and then you come back and ask me later, and I don't answer, then you're going to start speculating about all sorts of things. So I think it's -- I think it's best for me just to say, you know, if there's anything else to announce, I'm sure it will come from the Supreme Court.
Q When the President talks about high gasoline prices, he often cites the demand for gasoline and crude oil from China. Is the President comfortable that the company partly owned by his campaign media advisor is assisting the Chinese in their attempt to purchase Unocal?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, in terms of that matter, we are following those reports closely. If a bid were to go through, like all foreign-based transactions, there is a regulatory process that is in place that will be followed to address any national security concerns. So in other words, there are procedures in place, and if a bid goes through, then we would expect the appropriate procedures to be followed.
Q But is he comfortable with this company that was so closely aligned with his --
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know about any such involvement.
Q Well, Public Strategies out of Austin, Texas is helping CNO buy Unocal.
MR. McCLELLAN: I think you have to look at what I just said. That's the -- that's the President's view when it comes to this matter.
Q But it's just that it's a really close tie to the White House, and would the President be comfortable in using this company again for any further media strategies that he may have to engage in, or is this just part of free enterprise?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President would want to make sure that the procedures that are in place are followed, and that's what we would expect if a bid goes through.
Q Two questions. First, you've said in the past that, on the matter of Matt Cooper and Judith Miller that the President supports the investigation. What specific steps is the White House taking to support it? Has the President called people into the Oval Office?
MR. McCLELLAN: What I said is the President wants to get to the bottom of the investigation; no one wants to get to the bottom of it more than he does. It is a very serious matter and the President has said that if anybody has information, they ought to provide that information to the prosecutor so that they can continue forward on their investigation.
Q Has he called specific people into the Oval Office to ask them if they --
MR. McCLELLAN: What we made a decision to do was to support the efforts of the independent prosecutor to move forward on the investigation and that's what we're doing. If there are any specific questions you have about individuals, those are questions that are best directed to the special prosecutor in this matter.
MR. McCLELLAN: As you point out, there were two cases. In one -- well, and let me say that in both cases we filed briefs in support of displaying the Ten Commandments. In the Texas case, it was regarding the Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the state capitol. And in the Kentucky case it was relating to the courthouse there. And first of all, we respect the Court's decision.
The Ten Commandments in the Texas case, the Ten Commandments monument was on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol and it is part of a larger display commemorating state history and culture. And the court agreed that it is consistent with the First Amendment. Now the court took a different view than we had on the Kentucky case. But, again, we respect the Court's decision.
Q Is this the sort of case, the Kentucky case, that could be decided differently in a future court -- that you were hoping would be decided differently?
MR. McCLELLAN: Not even going to try to speculate about that.
Go ahead, Ed.
MR. McCLELLAN: If so much progress has been made? I think we can go through and talk about the progresses made. There has been --
Q The question is why --
MR. McCLELLAN: There has been significant progress made in just a year's time. It takes time to build a democracy. Our own nation went through a lot of struggles before we were able to build the kind of democracy that thrives today.
Q But why is public support dropping so much?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we're a nation at war, and war is something that is very tough. It is tough to see the images of violence on the screens of our televisions. The terrorists, all they can do is try to -- as Secretary Rumsfeld and General Abizaid talked about yesterday, all they can do is seek to grab headlines by spreading their destruction and fear and violence and attacking innocent civilians. They have no vision to offer, they have no alternative to offer the Iraqi people. All they seek to do is spread an ideology of hatred and oppression.
And so when you see those images on your TV screens, people are rightly disturbed by those images. And that's why it's important, at a time like this, when it is a critical moment in Iraq, it is important for the President of the United States, as Commander-in-Chief, to talk to the American people and to talk to them about the nature of the enemy that we face, and to talk to them about the way forward to victory in Iraq. We are succeeding and we will succeed, but it requires that we remain strong in our resolve. This is when the terrorists are trying to test us and trying to weaken that resolve.
Q Scott, just to follow up on what Terry was trying to ask -- you said the President is going to get very specific. I understand he's not going to shift strategy at all. But, in terms of specifics, is it going to be the kind of thing where he's going to talk about how many battalions have been trained in Iraq? Is that the kind of thing you think that Americans don't know about? Or is it going to be, you know, presenting new initiatives and new ideas, things we don't know about?
MR. McCLELLAN: Now, this is starting to get more into the speech, and that's for the President --
Q I'm just trying to --
MR. McCLELLAN: I know, but that's for the President to do tomorrow night. You're going to hear all this tomorrow night. He will talk about the importance of training and equipping Iraqi security forces, and where we are in terms of making progress to do that. There has been a lot of important progress made. Iraqi forces are standing and fighting the insurgents, and standing and fighting with coalition forces, they're doing it on their own. The Iraqi people are also coming forward, providing more intelligence to help defeat the terrorists and go after them where they are.
So the Iraqi people continue to assume more and more responsibility not only on the security front, but also on the political front. They are taking charge and showing that they want a democratic and peaceful future. And what we've got to do is continue to stand with them, along with the rest of the international community, during this time.
Q I guess my question is, beyond discussing, perhaps in great detail, what's already going on right now, is he going to offer new ideas, new initiatives, either from the U.S. -- joint initiatives with the U.S. and other countries -- in order to make what he says the goal -- is possible?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think I would describe it the way I did. You're going to hear him talk about the strategy we have for succeeding in Iraq, the strategy we have for victory, and where we are in terms of implementing that strategy. And one part of that is the military component, and a part of that is training and equipping the Iraqi security forces and continuing to make sure that they are fully ready to assume responsibility for their own defense.
There are different levels of readiness in the various security forces, and that's something that you've heard our commanders talk about. The commanders on the ground recognize the progress that's being made, and understand the importance of continuing to move forward on training and equipping those security forces.
Q Prime Minister Al Jaafari, in London a little while ago, said that two years will be more than enough to establish security in his country. What does the President think of that time frame, and is that a time line that might send any dangerous signal as you have discussed --
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't imagine that's what he was trying to set, some sort of time line. But I haven't seen his comments, so it's hard for me to comment directly on what he said without seeing the context of his comments. I would say, though, that what we have said, and what our commanders have said is that it's important that those decisions be based on conditions on the ground. And so we will always look to our commanders on the ground to make those kinds of decisions. And when the Iraqis are ready to assume full responsibility for their own security, then our troops will be able to return home.
Now, as we continue to stand up Iraqi security forces, we can work to stand down some of our forces. But it will be based on conditions on the ground.
Go ahead, Les.
Q Scott, regarding what has been extensively reported by the Times of both New York and Washington, as well as The Washington Post, does the President agree with Senators Clinton and Schumer and Governor Pataki that it is wrong for the federally unrecognized Shinnecock Indians of Long Island to sue for 3,600 acres of South Hampton vicinity, plus billions of dollars in back rent and interest in order to build a gambling casino? And I have a follow-up.
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me take your question and look into it, see if there's anything else to get to you on it.
Q All right. The President surely honors the federal battlefield and cemeteries for all of those killed at Gettysburg, including a good number of Texans. So does he believe that one and a half miles from this hallowed ground, there should be allowed the erection of a gambling casino or not?
MR. McCLELLAN: Les, I haven't even looked into these issues. I will be glad to take a look into them.
Q Extensively featuring --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think he's stated his views broadly when it comes to gambling, and I'll leave it where he's left it. In terms of these are individual matters related to states or localities, obviously, that's a decision --
Q He's opposed, in other words.
MR. McCLELLAN: -- that's decisions for them to make. But the President has made his views known when it comes to --
Q He's opposed, then, to --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- when it comes to gambling.
Q -- these gambling casinos, right?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, if it's a state matter or a local matter, we don't tend to insert ourselves into it. If it's a federal matter, I'll be glad to take a look into it and see what else we can go you on it.
Q Thank you very much.
Q Chancellor Schröder had some comments about Iran on the way -- on the flight over here that seem to acknowledge Iran's rights to develop nuclear energy. And yet he said, when he was in the presence of the President, that it was important that there be a crystal-clear message to Iran about that. Are you comfortable that the Germans feel that Iran should not only not have a nuclear weapons program, should not have anything that might morph into a nuclear weapons program?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think you heard from the two leaders. They did discuss the importance of continuing to send a strong, tough message to the regime in Iran. This isn't a question about the rights of the Iranian people. The Iranian people are denied most of their rights. We're concerned about the unelected few who run the country. This is a regime that has raised a lot of concerns because of its past actions. It has a history of concealing and hiding its nuclear activities from the international community. It has a history of violating its international obligations, and so that raises serious concerns.
The concern is that the unelected few are trying to develop nuclear weapons under the cover of a civilian program. That's why we believe it's so important that there be an objective guarantee in place to make sure that they are not developing nuclear weapons. That means a permanent end to uranium enrichment and reprocessing-related activity. That would be the kind of guarantee needed to build confidence with the international community that their intentions are not to develop nuclear weapons.
In terms of the Iranian people, we continue to stand with the Iranian people who seek greater freedom.
Go ahead, John.
Q Scott, could you talk a little bit more about the nature of the enemy? And what I'm specifically wondering about is, it seems that a significant percentage of the terrorists involved in the violence in Iraq are not Iraqis. And I'm wondering if you can say whether the non-Iraqi percentage is going up? And if that's a concern, if that's the case, is there anything more the United States can do to stop the flow of those people into Iraq?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's a good question. I think this is some of what you're going to hear more from the President tomorrow night. The President will talk about -- as General Abizaid pointed out in testimony last week to Congress -- the growing number of foreign terrorists that are coming into Iraq. That's why I said that the terrorists have chosen to make Iraq a central front in the war on terrorism. They recognize what is at stake here: their survival is at stake, because a free Iraq will help send a message to the rest of the Middle East and those people in the Middle East who seek greater freedom. It will be a powerful force for transforming a dangerous region in the world. And we've got to continue to work to train and equip Iraqi security forces so they can ultimately defeat the insurgency.
And we'll continue to take the fight to the enemy. That's why we're fighting them in Iraq, and we're not fighting them here at home. We're fighting them in Iraq so that we can defeat them abroad, so we don't have to fight them here at home. That's one of the lessons of September 11th, is that we must take the fight to the enemy, and that's exactly what this President has done and will continue to do. And we recognize how high the stakes are in Iraq, and we will succeed.
Q Thank you. I have one question, but part of a Supreme Court question.
MR. McCLELLAN: Okay.
Q According to published reports, Mexican President Vicente Fox has failed to reform Mexico. Does President Bush believe any new Mexican President can stop the immigration problem between these two countries?
MR. McCLELLAN: We've worked closely with President Fox. The President has known him for quite some time, going back to his days in Texas as governor. And we will continue working closely with President Fox for the duration of his term in office.
In terms of elections in any particular country, we don't insert -- we don't insert ourselves into those internal political matters. That's for the people of Mexico to decide. And in terms of immigration, I think the President has spelled out what our proposals are for moving forward on strengthening our borders, as well as moving forward on a temporary worker program to implement a more humane and compassionate immigration system, and to address an important economic need.
Q Thank you. The Supreme Court -- I know you have answered a lot of the questions. But the decision banning the Ten Commandments in a Kentucky courthouse while allowing them in front of the Texas capitol seems contradictory. Do such decisions intensify the President's desire to appoint more conservatives to the high Court?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, and again, there is no vacancy that I'm aware of at this point. So we're not going to get into speculating about any potential vacancy. We have a process in place, and we've been preparing for any potential vacancy, if one should occur. But I'm not aware of any such vacancy that's been announced at this point, so I don't want to get into speculating about it.
In terms of the Ten Commandments decision, I think I addressed that when Jessica asked the question earlier. And we supported the display of the commandments in both of these cases for reasons that we stated in the briefs.
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, let me give you an update on that. I'm glad you brought that up. First of all, this is a matter under the jurisdiction of the Department of Energy, and the plutonium that we're talking is not -- is non-weapons-grade plutonium. The Department of Energy is responsible for producing significant heat and electricity power systems that would require no maintenance in places like deep space. And plutonium-238, which we're talking about, is the substance that makes that feasible. Such power systems are used in support of deep space exploration missions and certain national security applications. But, again, we're not talking about any weapons-grade plutonium.
And I think the Department of Energy can probably talk to you more about why we need to produce it.
Q Speaking of that, how's the Mars project coming along? (Laughter.)
Q Thank you.
MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you all.
END 2:38 P.M. EDT