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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
June 22, 2005
Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
James S. Brady Briefing Room
1:05 P.M. EDT
MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon, everybody. The President was pleased to visit the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant earlier today in Maryland, to talk about our broader economic agenda and the importance of Congress moving forward on comprehensive energy legislation to reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy. Our economy continues to show sustained economic growth and job creation, with 3.5 million jobs created over the last two years, and the unemployment rate down to 5.1 percent, and more Americans working than ever before. But there is more that we need to do to keep our economy growing and ensure long-term economic security for future generations. And so the President was pleased to talk about that today.
I don't have anything to begin with beyond that. I will be glad to go to your questions.
Q Were you able to check into that report that Kim il-Jong sent a message -- private message --
MR. McCLELLAN: Kim Jong-il?
Q Yes, that's the one. (Laughter.) Sent a message to --
MR. McCLELLAN: Mr. Kim Jong-il.
Q Exactly, that's the same one -- in 2002 to President Bush?
MR. McCLELLAN: I saw the report you were referring to. I guess it was a couple of individuals who had written an op/ed in the Washington Post today. I don't know what your questions are about it, but --
Q Well, the question is, was there, indeed, a message, did the President receive a message --
MR. McCLELLAN: I saw the op/ed that these individuals had written. I didn't consider there anything new to be in that report. I mean, I'm not interested in going back and plowing old ground. We have a way forward for resolving the nuclear issue with regards to North Korea, and that is the six-party talks. The six-party talks, we believe, are the way to resolve this matter. And that's why we've continued to urge North Korea to come back at an early date, without precondition. We put a proposal on the table. The proposal addresses the concerns that were raised in this report of North Korea. It is the way forward.
If North Korea will make the strategic decision to abandon their nuclear weapons ambitions, then they can realize better relations with the international community. And so that's where we are right now, and that's what we're continuing to urge North Korea to do, is come back to the talks, prepared to talk in a serious way, and prepared to make that strategic decision to give up their nuclear weapons programs.
Q So you just won't talk about whether --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm just not interested in plowing that old ground.
Q I was. (Laughter.)
Q As I understand it, tomorrow the Supreme Court will decide whether or not to take up the case of Matt Cooper and Judith Miller, and then will make a decision on Monday. If they don't take up the case, those two journalists could face sentencing next week. Is the President concerned about them, and will he urge whoever the leaker was to come forward? Does he think journalists should have a shield?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President has actually talked about both the questions that you brought up recently. He talked about this situation and said he wasn't going to weigh in on it, essentially. That's a matter the courts are working to address. And in terms of these two individuals, and in terms of the whole investigation that is being overseen by the special prosecutor, I think we've made our views very well known when it comes to that. No one wants to get to the bottom of it more than the President of the United States, and he has urged anyone who has information that can help resolve this matter to come forward and give that information to the prosecutors.
Q Is he concerned about them?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think the President has already talked about this issue, and I don't have anything else to add to what he's already said on it recently.
Q Senator Lott says that the White House should share the documents on Bolton with two senior Democrats on the committee. Have you spoken to Senator Lott, and are you inclined to do that?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I haven't seen his comments. I've been traveling with the President this morning. I don't know if those are new comments, but I think that we have made information available to the Senate. We have worked in good faith to address issues that have been raised by some of the Democratic leaders, and these are Democratic leaders that have already voted against John Bolton's nomination. What happens is they continue to change their request and change their demands for information.
Let me point out to you that the original information that was in question was related to some highly classified information. That information was shared with the ranking Democrat and Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee. That's the appropriate channel to share that information. They were able to review that information, and they were able to talk with other senators about what that -- well, they were able to say to those other senators that there's nothing improper about these requests. Senator Rockefeller himself said that.
Then there was another request by Senator Dodd saying that there are five names that we would like to know if they were part of these intercepts that were in question. And Senator Roberts made a good faith effort, went back and said, okay, there were seven names that Democrats had raised concerns about in the minority report. So he took all those seven names, went to Director Negroponte and said are any of these names part of these intercepts. And he was assured that no, they were not. And he reported back to Democratic leaders.
So I think it's clear the Democratic leadership is not interested in working in good faith and finding the middle ground. They're only interested in moving the goal post and in blocking John Bolton's nomination from proceeding forward. And what they are doing is preventing us from moving forward as quickly as we would like on important reforms at the United Nations because John Bolton is a very strong voice for reform, someone with great knowledge and expertise, who has a record of getting things done. And so we believe he deserves an up or down vote. There has been a good faith effort made to reach out to Democrats. But clearly they're not interested in working in good faith.
Now, there are some Democrats that voted to move forward on the nomination and allow it to proceed with an up or down vote. He has majority support, and we hope that others will recognize that these questions have been addressed. There has been a good faith effort made. And we will always continue to work in good faith, as we have.
Go ahead, April.
Q Scott, on energy and on Iraq. What is the United States doing to shore up the oil production in Iraq, as that could, indeed, help in the short-term here with gas prices that are going up --
MR. McCLELLAN: That's overseen by the Iraqi people. They have an oil ministry, and they're the ones who are in control of their own resources.
Q Understandable, but --
MR. McCLELLAN: What we are doing is trying to reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy. That's why the President outlined a comprehensive energy strategy four years ago and called on Congress to act on it. That's why he went to the nuclear plant today to talk about how nuclear power is an important component of reducing our dependence on foreign sources of energy and addressing the root causes of high energy cost. It is something that is a drag on our economy. Our economy continues to grow in a very strong and sustained way, but this is one of the concerns we have that need to be addressed. And we appreciate that the Senate is moving forward this week on legislation. We hope that they will get it passed this week -- it appears that they will -- and then they will work with the House and work out any differences they have and get a bill to the President's desk by the August recess.
Q According to U.S. oil experts, more oil was pumped and given out in Iraq prior to the war than it is now. Could you tell me what the U.S. military may be doing then to shore up that area so pipelines won't be exploded and things of that nature --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think the military can probably give you the latest information in terms of how they've worked with Iraqi forces to protect the pipelines and protect the oil fields. They're probably the best ones to give you the latest update on that.
Go ahead -- I'm sorry, go ahead.
Q Wait a minute, a second question on Iraq. What tangible is coming out of this meeting, from the U.S. to EU meeting with the 80 nations? It seems that nothing concrete came out, and it's just, "I support, I support." And when you guys need money, aid, and different things, I mean, you get -- the support is one thing, but to have something in your hand is another. What tangible came out of this meeting?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think this meeting was an important meeting. This meeting, you had more than 80 nations represented at this international conference that has been occurring in Brussels. I haven't received an update on the meeting at this point, April. I think you've heard Secretary Rice talk a little bit about it. You've had leaders from those countries talking about it. You've had the Iraqi foreign minister talk about how Egypt has committed to return their ambassador to Iraq.
But this meeting is a sign that the international community is standing with the Iraqi people as they move forward on building a free and democratic future. There are lots of ways that the international community can support the Iraqi people, who have shown their bravery and courage to move forward on the political process and build a democratic future. And that's why this meeting was important. I think it's a significant meeting when you have more than 80 nations represented. And in terms of the information coming out of it, it's still coming out of it at this point.
Q Two quick questions, starting with Iran. About 80 tons of enriched nuclear fuel is about to be shipped from Russia to Iran. The Iranian officials showing this to American reporters today said it should be there in a few months. This is the Bashehr reactor. That's not a concern to the U.S., is it? Isn't that just a civilian nuclear facility?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, our concern is that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program under the cover of a civilian program. That remains a concern. That's why we've been supporting the European efforts, and that's why we believe it's so important that there are objective guarantees in place. I mean, I think the President has always -- already talked to the issue of Russia providing Iran with spent nuclear fuel and having assurance -- and making sure that that nuclear fuel is returned. The President has already talked to that. I haven't seen the latest reports out of Iran.
But it's important that there be an objective guarantee, and that means that there is a permanent secession to all enrichment and uranium -- uranium and enrichment-related activity -- a permanent secession, that's what our position is.
Q And on the President's speech today, and, in fact, this week, not a word about Iraq. Was there a reason -- usually, the President always gets in a mention of Iraq and the effort in the war on terrorism.
MR. McCLELLAN: Today?
Q Does the -- well, when he does the kind of broad speech. And today he included a lot of domestic issues but never mentioned that as another one of the priorities.
MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, he did mention Iraq. He talked about how there were six employees of this plant that are serving right now in Iraq, and he expressed our appreciation for their service -- they're serving in the military. And he expressed our great appreciation for the work that they're doing. And he talked about the importance of succeeding in Iraq.
Carl, go ahead.
Q Scott, back to energy for a second. Can you talk in terms about the administration's goal of fiscal discipline? How or what the administration envisions in terms of addressing overly generous incentives to oil industry in the House bill and perhaps overly generous incentives towards the environmental components in the Senate bill, and what fiscally disciplined energy legislation should look like post-conference?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, what we would like to see it look like is what we outlined. And we outlined some incentives, a very reasonable amount for renewables and energy efficiency. And that's what we're continuing to advocate, and this will be an issue that will be worked out in conference, we expect. And we believe that it's important that we move forward on comprehensive energy legislation, but the President has said when the price of oil is now around $60 a barrel that there is no need to be providing such incentives to the oil industry.
And we do believe, though, that there are some incentives that should be provided to encourage renewables and encourage the use -- encourage more energy-efficient technologies. And that's what we've proposed.
Q Scott, has the senior staff been interviewing prospects for the Supreme Court and briefed the President on that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, there's no vacancy that I'm aware of at this point, and so I'm not going to get into talking about a vacancy that does not exist. I did say the other day that like any White House, we obviously have been making preparations in case there is a vacancy. But that goes back over the last few years. And beyond that, I'm just not going to get into talking about a vacancy that doesn't exist.
Q But have the preparations intensified?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again -- (laughter) -- we have obviously made preparations and taken steps, but I'm not going to go beyond that.
Go ahead, David.
Q Scott, how concerned is the administration about the potential for Iraq to become a sort of training ground for Islamic extremists who may go back to their home countries and use these techniques to destabilize their governments? There's a new report on that recently.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let me mention a couple things. As the President has said for some time now, Iraq is a central front in the war on terrorism. Wherever you stood before the decision to go into Iraq, I think we can all recognize that the terrorists have made it a central front in the war on terrorism. That's why, as the President said earlier today, we are fighting the terrorists in Iraq so that we don't have to fight them here at home. And that's where things are. And that's why the terrorists understand how high the stakes are. We understand how high the stakes are. And that's why it's so important that we succeed in Iraq, because when we succeed in Iraq and Afghanistan, that will be -- those will be major blows to the terrorists and their ideology that they seek to spread.
Q The report suggested that there's concern that Egyptians, Jordanians and others will go back to their home countries, using the techniques they've learned in Iraq to destabilize those countries.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I don't know what your question is.
Q Are you concerned about that? Do you think there's potential for that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Iraq is a central front in the war on terrorism. In terms of what's your question on it, I think you're making the assumption that these individuals would just be sitting around sipping tea, as Secretary Rice likes to refer to in her previous comments. So I don't know what your question is regarding that.
Q The training and the hosting --
MR. McCLELLAN: These are dangerous individuals that are operating in Iraq, and we're on the offensive, going after them, working with Iraqi security forces to defeat them in Iraq, so that -- we're fighting them there, so that we don't have to fight them here. This is all part of the war on terrorism, and that's why we're going after them and seeking to bring them to justice.
Q Just following up on that question, you said at the outset of that, the terrorists have made it a central front in the war on terrorism. I thought it was a central front in the war on terrorism before we invaded.
MR. McCLELLAN: It is. It's part of the war on terrorism, yes.
Q It was.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, it is.
Q It is now --
MR. McCLELLAN: Both.
Q Was it prior to --
MR. McCLELLAN: Both. It's part of the war on terrorism, David.
Q On Social Security, Scott --
MR. McCLELLAN: We know that Iraq was a state sponsor of terrorism. They were on our state sponsor of terrorism list. We can go back through that, if you want.
Q With Republican lawmakers now proceeding with legislation that does not include private retirement accounts, the natural question is, would the President sign any such legislation -- a bill that does not have the private retirement accounts he wants.
MR. McCLELLAN: Mark, I know that there's a Washington, D.C. process game that goes on, and that's what this is all part of right now. The President is interested in solving what is a serious problem when it comes to Social Security. Social Security is on an unsustainable course. That's why the President outlined his approach for doing two things -- one, making Social Security permanently sound for future generations; and two, making it a better deal for future generations through voluntary personal accounts. A voluntary personal account will give them the option of realizing a better rate of return on their retirement savings, much better than what they're realizing in the current Social Security system.
And the President believes this is a time when we ought to be welcoming all ideas and putting ideas on the table, not taking ideas off the table. And that's the approach that he has taken. He welcomes all those who are committed to coming forward with ideas for solving this problem. Republicans have been coming forward with ideas to move forward on legislation to save and strengthen Social Security. The President appreciates that. We would hope that Democratic leaders would start coming forward with ideas instead of simply saying, no, to every idea that is offered or every solution that is put on the table.
Senator Bennett said Democrats had -- Democratic leaders have said they want to be prepared to work on legislation that included personal accounts, so he put forward an idea to get legislation moving. He essentially called the bluff of the Democratic leadership, and it appears the Democratic leadership really isn't intent on working to get something done for the American people; they're intent on putting up a stop sign and saying, no, we're not going to let this problem be solved.
And the American people expect better. They don't want their leaders standing in the way of solutions, they want their leaders putting ideas on the table and offering solutions. And that's what we're doing. The President laid out his principles, and he said, all ideas are on the table, after laying out those principles. And that's how we're proceeding. And the President believes that when it comes to a solution, we need to make it permanently sound, and personal accounts need to be part of that solution in order to make it a better deal for future generations.
Q So it's too soon to say --
MR. McCLELLAN: Mark, see, this is all --
Q -- whether the President will sign something --
MR. McCLELLAN: Mark, see, this is all -- this is all part of the D.C. process game. This isn't the time to be getting into ruling things in or ruling things out. This is a time to be putting ideas on the table. That's what we're doing and that's what we appreciate others doing, as well. It's time for Democrats to stop standing in the way of solutions and start offering ideas for moving forward and working with us.
Q Yes, Scott, along the same lines as Social Security, what does the President think of taking the surplus from Social Security and using that to help fund private accounts? There's legislation on the House side --
MR. McCLELLAN: You want to engage in some negotiations here and talk about this?
Q I'm just asking what the President thinks of this.
MR. McCLELLAN: The President has outlined his proposal, Roger, and the President believes his approach is the way we should proceed. But he welcomes all those who are coming forward with ideas and putting ideas on the table. The President, as I just said, laid out some very clear principles, and he said all ideas are on the table as far as he's concerned. We need to work together to solve this important priority for the American people.
The American people -- there's more surveys that came out over the weekend showing the American people are concerned about their retirement security. They're concerned that their Social Security retirement funds won't be there for them when they retire, particularly younger generations. They're concerned about the direction Social Security is headed. They know that Social Security faces serious problems. Social Security is headed towards bankruptcy. That's why we need to act and get it done now. It's a problem that only grows worse each year that we wait, and our options become even more limited each year that we wait, $800 million more a year each year that we wait to solve this problem. We should be solving problems, not passing them on to future generations. And Democratic leaders have an opportunity to come forward with ideas and work with us. We would hope that they would stop engaging in their obstruction -- obstructionist tactics and join with us to get something done on behalf of the America
Q Can I switch to another question?
MR. McCLELLAN: Sure.
Q On Iraq, the speech next Tuesday, should we expect a sort of assessment on the strategy or any change in strategy? Can you give us any idea or any sense of what that might be --
MR. McCLELLAN: The speech is still several days away. It's too early to preview the speech. But as I indicated to you previously, that the President will continue to keep the American people informed about the progress that we're making on the ground in Iraq, the difficulties and dangers that remain and that lie ahead, as well as the strategy for succeeding in Iraq. We are making important progress, the Iraqi people are making important progress. But there are dangers that remain. And that's why we need to continue training the Iraqi security -- we need to continue to support the Iraqi people as they move forward on the political process. We also need to continue training Iraqi security forces so that they will be able to defend themselves and then our troops can return home with the honor that they deserve. But again, the speech is in very early stages at this point.
Q Should we look at it as a speech that sort of graduates to a different phase or anything?
MR. McCLELLAN: I would leave it where I did for right now, Roger. We can talk about it when it gets closer to the day of the remarks.
Q What's the venue? Or any closer to the venue --
MR. McCLELLAN: Not yet. No, we're not ready to --
Q Can you say if it's in Washington or not?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, it's not here, but we're not ready to update you on the President's schedule at this point.
Q Scott, the President has been asked to remove Ken Tomlinson as head of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting by 16 Democrat Senators, including Senator Durbin. And my first question, of two -- doesn't the President feel that this is actually a commendation of Mr. Tomlinson, coming as it does from Durbin and the rest of these Senators who should instead be asking Durbin to resign as Minority Whip?
MR. McCLELLAN: Wow, that's tying a lot of things together, Les. Let me just say that we continue to support him. We reappointed him. He was originally appointed by the Clinton administration and we continue to support him in his work.
Q Since you called Senator Durbin's statement, "reprehensible," and Chicago's Democrat Mayor Daley called it disgraceful, and since Senator Lott resigned as Majority Leader for a statement far less serious than Durbin's, we can report that the President in all fairness wants Durbin to resign from minority leadership, can't we?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you're making a lot of assumptions there, Les.
Q No, I just wondered, can we?
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me just say that --
Q The President certainly is fair --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- I think what the Senator did was the right thing to do and I think it was the right thing to say to our men and women in uniform who are serving and sacrificing in defense of freedom.
Go ahead, Goyal.
Q Two questions. One, on the spread of nuclear weapons, CNN did a special report on the countries that A.Q. Khan networks supplied nuclear weapons, we already know the story. But also, CNN said that we never had, or anybody on the globe, had access to A.Q. Khan until today. And according to some reports, his life may be in danger now because so much bad publicity Pakistan is getting on him or about him. My question is that if we never had access to A.Q. Khan, but at the same time, how the IAEA can sign an agreement with Saudi Arabia not to inspect their nuclear weapons program because that was also part of A.Q. Khan's, which he supplised to many not only Arab and Muslim countries but also other countries?
MR. McCLELLAN: I mean, I'll let you talk to the IAEA about their actions, but in terms of our views on proliferation, combating proliferation has been a top priority for this administration. The breaking up of the A.Q. Khan network was a great success. There are a number of countries that have been involved in helping us to dismantle the Khan network, and we continue to move forward, working with other countries, to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction. This was a very significant network in terms of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. And it was a significant development in our efforts to stop the spread of those weapons.
Let me keep going. Go ahead. Go ahead.
Q Scott, the Governor of Florida has opened up a probe into the Terri Schiavo case, but he will not open up a probe into the death of Jessica Lunsford, claiming he doesn't have the legal authority to do so. Does the White House have a position on this?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that you can address those questions to the Governor of Florida.
Q Scott, last week when the President issued the long statement about Iran, he indicated that the United States would stand with the Iranian people who want democracy. How far would he go? That's what happened during the Hungarian revolution where we said we'd stand by the Hungarian people. They revolted. A lot of them were killed. How serious is he? How far does the U.S. go to stand by the Iranians?
MR. McCLELLAN: Exactly what he said last week. We stand with all those who seek greater freedom. We stand with the Iranian people who want more freedom. You have an unelected few, the mullahs, who are running that country and denying the Iranian people their rights. They're denying them greater freedom. We stand with the Iranian people who are seeking greater freedom. This election that has taken place -- continues to take place, it's not a democratic election. There have been questions raised about it. We want to continue to support all those who seek freedom around the world, and that's what we will continue to do.
Q But is the "standing behind" just with words, or is it military might?
MR. McCLELLAN: It's -- no, Connie. It's exactly what the President said last week.
Q Scott, can you disavow me of the notion that the "sharpening the focus" message you said the President was going to engage so far looks and sounds like summer reruns? What's new or what will be new in style or substance?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you heard a new speech today where the President was sharpening his focus on the economic agenda. Remember I said that the President was going to be sharpening his focus on two big priorities and two big concerns for the American people. Those are economic security and the war on terrorism, specifically Iraq.
And the President has a meeting coming up Friday with the Prime Minister of Iraq, the elected Prime Minister of their transition government. He looks forward to that meeting to -- as an opportunity to talk about the progress that the Iraqi people are making on the political front, to talk about the security situation and the training of Iraqi security forces, and how that's moving forward.
And next week, the President will be giving a speech on Tuesday to mark the one-year anniversary of when sovereignty was transferred to the Iraqi people. And there's been a lot that has occurred in that time period, a lot of important progress that has occurred in that time period.
These are two issues that the American people are concerned about. They're two top priorities for the President of the United States, and that's why he's focusing more of his public events on these two priorities.
Q Hasn't he been talking about that? Some of this dates back to the campaign, some of the rhetoric.
MR. McCLELLAN: These -- sure, I just said these are two high priorities for the President. And this is simply an effort to sharpen the focus on these two priorities.
Q Can you tell us why you're encouraging Arab ambassadors to return to Baghdad where the level of violence is extremely high while your own State Department issue warnings for Americans not to travel to other parts of the Middle East --
MR. McCLELLAN: What we're doing is encouraging all countries to support the Iraqi people.
Q Violence is minimal in other countries, like in Israeli-Palestine area and in Saudi Arabia. Yet in Iraq, it's extremely high, and yet you want to -- is it more of a symbolic gesture than anything else?
MR. McCLELLAN: This is something -- the Iraqi people -- I just, as I pointed out, this is a sovereign country. This is a government that was elected by the Iraqi people. And they are moving forward to build a free and democratic future. And all countries, we believe, should do what they can to support them as they move forward.
And Secretary Rice has talked about how Arab nations can help play a more prominent role in supporting the Iraqi people and recognizing them as one of their neighbors. And that's what we've been talking about. But this is -- the Iraqi Foreign Minister is the one who announced that the ambassador for Egypt would be returning to Iraq.
Q Did you encourage him, then, for sure --
MR. McCLELLAN: We encourage the international community to stand with the Iraqi people, that -- today's conference that took place in Brussels is a sign that the international community does stand with the Iraqi people as they seek to build a democratic and peaceful future.
Secretary General Annan just wrote an op-ed the other day in the newspaper and talked about the progress that's being made and talked about how the United Nations is supporting the Iraqi people as they move forward. This is a representative, elected government that is in place in Iraq. It is a sovereign country. And they are working to move forward and address the challenges ahead, and we should all do what we can to support them as they do so.
Q Let me ask you about Israel, as well. As you know, they fired a rocket in northern Gaza today, and they said they assuming or resuming, rather, the policy of target assassination of Palestinian militants. Do you see, do you fear that that might sabotaged a plan of pulling out from Gaza, with the escalation of violence?
MR. McCLELLAN: This is a very hopeful period in the Middle East. The Palestinian leader, President Abbas, and Israeli leader, Prime Minister Sharon, had a meeting yesterday to talk about how to move forward on the disengagement plan. And the parties are working to coordinate their efforts on that disengagement plan. That's where our focus is; that's where the focus needs to be. The parties are working together. They've indicated that they'll continue meeting and discussing how to move forward.
It's important that this disengagement plan is successful. That's why Secretary Rice has been in the region; that's why we have General Ward, who has working to help with the security structure of the Palestinian security apparatus; that's why the Quartet envoy, Jim Wolfensohn, has been in the region to help address the economic issues related to the disengagement plan so that we can move forward and make sure that it is successful.
Now, you bring something up. There are terrorist organizations in the region that are determined to derail efforts toward the President's two-state vision of Palestine and Israel living side-by-side in peace and security. These -- some of these are terrorist organizations that have direct ties to Damascus. And our views on terrorist organizations are well known -- they need to be dismantled. There is more that the Palestinian leadership can do to go after those who engage in violence and terrorist activity, and we encourage them to do more.
Go ahead, in back.
Q Scott, the wires are reporting that the U.S. has decided to give North Korea 50,000 metric tons of food today, and it's not related to efforts to jump-start the stalemated six-party talks. Can you explain to us briefly what the thinking is behind this --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'll come back to you in a minute. I was calling back here but I'll come back to you in a minute. Go ahead.
Q Thanks very much, Scott. At the Waco summit, and subsequently after the Waco summit, in private conversations with the Canadian Prime Minister, the President said that he was taking a personal interest in the Devil's Lake diversion. The Governor of North Dakota is now saying that those taps, that diversion is going to start within the next couple of days. Is the President going to get involved in this issue before the water starts flowing?
MR. McCLELLAN: I know there was an issue that came up in his recent conversation with the Prime Minister. I don't have an update at this point. We can check with the Council on Environmental Quality on that matter. You might want to check with them, as well.
Go ahead, Paula.
Q Would the White House be willing to support a compromise on estate taxes that excludes everything but the largest estates?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President believes that the death tax should be wiped out and that it should not come back to life. That's the President's view. It is a double -- unfair double taxation on people, and it's one of our pro-growth policies that the President outlined. And we believe that it ought to be repealed.
Q The Mexican authorities arrested apparently a member of al Qaeda yesterday in border -- northern border of Mexico. I wonder do you have any reaction to those events?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I understand that the Mexican government has an individual in custody. We have been in contact with the Mexican government. I think if there's any additional information to come out, it would be from the government of Mexico.
Q Are you worried that the -- that members of terrorist groups will use the Mexican territory as a way to go to the U.S. as an illegal immigrant?
MR. McCLELLAN: Sure, that's a concern about people coming into this country illegally, whether it's from the north or from the south or other ways. And that's why the President is committed to continuing to take steps to better enforce our borders and to strengthen our borders, as well as move forward on his immigration reform proposal, which we believe will help free up resources to direct towards those who are coming into this country for the wrong reasons, who are coming into this country seeking to do harm to innocent civilians or seeking to carry out other criminal activity.
Q Yes, Scott, could you explain to us the thinking and the purpose and the context of the administration's decision to provide some 50,000 metric tons of food to North Korea?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I have not seen the reports you're referring to. I'll be glad to take a look at them. But we've been a big supplier of food to the North Korean people, and as the President has said, he does not believe food should be used as a diplomatic weapon. We have always had concerns, though, that that food is getting to the people who need it, the people who are starving, the people who are hungry. And we want to make sure that there are assurances that that food is going to those who need it, not to the government or to the military in North Korea. And that's our view. But no, I can't refer to reports that just came across the wires at this point.
Q Thank you.
MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you.
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