For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
June 6, 2005
Press Gaggle by Scott McClellan
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
10:34 A.M. EDT
MR. McCLELLAN: All right, good morning, everybody. Let's see -- the President had his usual briefing a short time ago aboard Air Force One.
I want to also make -- bring your attention to one announcement today. Secretary Leavitt is going to be making an announcement on a new -- on some new initiatives regarding health information technology. As you will recall, the President made a commitment to make sure most Americans have electronic health records within the next 10 years. And the Secretary will be making an announcement about some initiatives that will advance our efforts to meet that commitment.
We recently had a -- there's an inter-agency review process that was going on to address these issues. The President met with Secretary Leavitt and some of his policy advisors recently and directed the secretary to move forward on this initiative. Health information technology is an important part of making health care better, as well as making it more affordable. And so I just wanted to point that out.
Other than that, we've got the remarks at the General Assembly of the Organization of American States. I previewed those Friday, it still holds as a pretty good preview for today. And then when we return, the President will celebrate Black Music Month at the White House by delivering remarks at a White House reception. And that's really what we've got on the schedule for today.
Q Is he going to mention Chavez by name? Is there going to be specific reference to Chavez, and also Fidel Castro? Is that something you expect?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, remember, on Friday I talked about how -- I think the focus of his remarks will be on democracy in our hemisphere, and strengthening democracy in our hemisphere. And one of the things I touched on Friday that I expect he will talk about in his remarks is the dramatic progress we've seen in our own hemisphere since the last time the United States hosted the General Assembly. That was back in 1974, when you had 23 members participate in that General Assembly, only 10 of which were representative democracies.
Today, all 34 members who are participating in the General Assembly are representative democracies. There is one exception in our hemisphere, and that is Cuba. And I expect the President will touch on that. The broader message will focus, really, on the two competing visions we have before us in our own hemisphere. There are some older democracies and younger democracies, but all of us share a common goal of strengthening democracy in our own hemisphere and making sure that all people have the ability to live in freedom. And the President will talk about how one vision is based -- one vision is one of hope, based on democracy and freedom, and the other vision is the one based on rolling back the democratic progress we have made by spreading fear and trying to pit neighboring countries against one other. So that's really part of the focus of his remarks.
The President will talk about how elections are only the beginning of a democracy, that to fulfill democracy's promise, you need to make sure that you have transparency and rule of law and the institutions for -- to sustain democracy. So that's really what he'll talk about in his remarks.
And one way that we can help support younger democracies in our own hemisphere is to continue to advance trade. And the President will talk about the importance of CAFTA in his remarks. CAFTA has great strategic significance in our own hemisphere. It's not only about leveling the playing field and making sure that our farmers and producers at home can compete on an equal footing, it's also, in a much broader sense, about supporting these younger democracies and helping them fulfill the promise of democracy; we need to make sure that democracy delivers more than promises. And so that's something the President will touch on in his remarks.
Q But he asked if he's going to mention -- are you going to mention Chavez, or --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I'm sorry, I don't -- I expect that he will point out that there's only one country in our hemisphere that is not democratic, when he talks about the 34 countries that are participating in the General Assembly, and the one that is not. But I don't expect that he will specifically bring up other countries in that regard.
Q Why wouldn't he take this opportunity to mention the concerns that the U.S. has expressed about Chavez's administration?
MR. McCLELLAN: It's much larger than that. This is about the two competing visions that are facing us in our own hemisphere. That's what the President is going to focus on. This is about continuing to support democratic progress in the region, continuing to advance the great achievements we have made in the last three decades to advance democracy in our own hemisphere.
Democracy is, as the President will point out in his remarks, democracy is on the march around the world. And we need to make sure in our own hemisphere that we are doing all we can to strengthen it here at home, as well.
Q Some of the Latin American nations are being slow to embrace this idea of a mechanism, some kind of a way that the OAS can track and monitor democratic progress. Is the President going to continue to push for that today, and is he upset that they're not embracing it more?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know that I would say, "not embracing." There are discussions that are ongoing, and it's important that we have discussions through the Organization of American States about how to strengthen democracy and support democracy in our own hemisphere.
One of the core purposes of the Organization of American States is promoting representative democracy. And the Inter-American Democratic Charter is something that we believe we should look at -- we believe we should look at it and discuss ways to strengthen it and continue to support democracy in our own hemisphere.
Q Some nations think that --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think the fact that they're having discussions about it is an important step, and let's let those discussions take place.
Q So he's not going to back off that idea; he's going to continue to push for it, then.
MR. McCLELLAN: We're going to continue to work with other countries in the hemisphere to advance and support democracy, sure. There's an important discussion going on on that now, about ways we can do that. That's one of the core missions of the Organization of American States.
Q Were you surprised by the strong showing of Hezbollah in the elections in the south of Lebanon? Is that something that took you by surprise, since you --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, our focus has been on making sure that there are free and fair elections in Lebanon, without any outside intimidation or interference. And that remains our focus. These elections are ongoing, and in terms of Hezbollah, I think our views are well known, and they remain unchanged.
Q Can you just tell us what those views are?
MR. McCLELLAN: You have a Security Council resolution which calls for the disarming of groups like Hezbollah. And that remains our view. Hezbollah, as you are well aware, is a terrorist organization, and we've made our views known about that.
Q Do they need to be dismantled, or just disarmed? Is there the possibility, if they do disarm, that they could be -- have a relationship with the United States?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think our views on Hezbollah are well known. Again, our focus, really, is on making sure that there are free and fair elections, without any outside interference or intimidation. And those elections are ongoing right now in Lebanon, and they're going to -- they continue on.
Q You've asked the Europeans to add Hezbollah to their terrorism list. Is that something that you still support, and is that something you're pushing for?
MR. McCLELLAN: Look, I appreciate you trying to -- our views on Hezbollah are unchanged. Our views on terrorist organizations are unchanged. We've made those views very clear, and our belief that terrorist organizations need to be dismantled.
But what you have in Lebanon is an election process that is ongoing right now. And we want to make sure that that election process is free and fair. And there are people observing those elections. We continue to have concerns about outside interference inside Lebanon. The recent assassination of Mr. Kassir kind of underscores the environment that has been created by Syria's long presence in that country. And that's something that needs to be -- his assassination is something that needs to be fully investigated. We continue to call on Syria to make sure that all intelligence operatives are out of Lebanon.
Q When you say you have concerns about interference, you're talking in the current elections that are taking place?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I'm just saying that about -- the United Nations was unable to confirm that Syria had withdrawn all its intelligence operatives. So I was making a general statement about that -- the recent assassination.
Q Has North Korea indicated any -- any indication that they're going to return to the talks?
MR. McCLELLAN: There is a New York channel, which they can communicate with us if they need to. I'm not aware of any response from North Korea at this point. We are hopeful that North Korea will be responding soon. We continue to urge North Korea to return to the six-party talks at an early date without precondition.
Q Was there a phone call that took place? This Japanese report and also in The Times today that there was some contact made that might suggest that they were going to make some additional contacts through the New York channel. Did that actually take place?
MR. McCLELLAN: As I said, I'm not aware of any response through the New York channel from North Korea. Now in terms of --
Q The news story --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I know. Now in terms of that channel, that is used simply to communicate messages. It's not used to negotiate by any means. And we -- there recently was some discussion through that channel, but we reiterated our message that we want North Korea to come back to the six-party talks. And what I'd tell you at this point is that they have not responded through that channel to that message. And I wouldn't go beyond that at this point.
Q You had the meeting with -- you had the contact in May through that channel, New York channel, and there have been reports in the last few days of an additional contact.
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm aware of those reports. I would just leave it where I did, though, for now. We have not had a response from North Korea through that New York channel.
Q You may have been going over this --
MR. McCLELLAN: I said we are hopeful that we will receive a response soon.
Q That doesn't mean that the other communication didn't happen.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I didn't say that at all.
Q But you're not confirming that it did, right?
MR. McCLELLAN: We are waiting to hear back from North Korea -- waiting to hear back on a response from North Korea. I'm not going to go beyond what I said at this point.
Q Are you hopeful that you will receive the response soon? What makes you confident of that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I'd just leave it there.
Q Secretary Rumsfeld said that China should do more. Is that the White House's position?
MR. McCLELLAN: What does that mean, more. More on what?
Q I think the word that he used was, China could be more effective. I forget exactly what it was in the transcript, when he spoke to the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
MR. McCLELLAN: Look, I mean, the President talked about our relationship with China. It's a complex relationship. And when it comes to North Korea and the six-party talks, China is someone we consider to be a partner in those talks. They're one of the other -- one of five countries who have joined together to say to North Korea, we want a nuclear weapons-free Peninsula. We believe the six-party talks are the way forward to achieving that objective. And, you know, there's always more that could be done, but we appreciate China's involvement in the six-party talks.
Q Scott, you said you're hopeful for a response from North Korea soon. You have a better sense of how soon you want a response before you --
MR. McCLELLAN: Those are questions for North Korea, so --
Q That would be a response through the New York channel, that's what you're referring to?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, because we had had some contact through that channel. We reiterated our message that we wanted to see them return to the talks without precondition. And there are no preconditions for returning to the six-party talks. We want to move forward on those talks and discuss, in a serious way, how to move forward on the proposal we outlined.
Q And your reaction to the 9/11 Commission's new attempts to get back to work, although without subpoena power, and they're requesting some information from you all with regards to how you handled --
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know that they have requested anything from us at this point. I mean, I've seen the media reports that there may be a letter coming. That may have been communicated to the media. I'm not aware, as of this morning, of any communication they have had with us regarding some of those reports.
In terms of the work that they did, we greatly appreciated the work that they did. It was very important in our efforts to make sure that we're doing all we can to protect the American people and prevent an attack from happening in the first place. We have acted, in one way or another, on the vast majority of their recommendations. One of the most important recommendations that the commission made was the establishment of a director of national intelligence. We now have a director of national intelligence in place who is the President's principal intelligence advisor. And so we are continuing to move forward on those recommendations. We welcome their continued involvement, and we look forward to receiving any letter that they want to send us.
Q You already picked up --
MR. McCLELLAN: Most -- you can go back and look at that fact sheet we put back out at the time, but we pointed out how we had acted on the vast majority of the recommendations that they had made, one way or another. And we're continuing to move forward on those recommendations, as well. It's not something that ever stops, I don't think. We always want to make sure we're doing all we can to protect the American people.
There are a couple recommendations, for instance, that weren't ones we could act on, that required congressional action.
Q Do you have any issue, Scott, though, with supplying them with additional information from you all? And they left open the possibility of interviewing again Secretary Rumsfeld or others.
MR. McCLELLAN: They know our door is open, if they want to communicate with us and send us a letter. And if there's any more to update once we've received the letter, then I'll do so at that point. I don't want to respond to something when we haven't received any such request at this point.
Anything else? Okay, thanks.
END 10:53 A.M. EDT