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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 6, 2005

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

Play Video  Video (Real)

12:12 P.M. EDT

MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon, everyone. I want to begin with an update on the Supreme Court confirmation process. Harriet Miers, the President's nominee to the Supreme Court, has now met with 10 senators -- before today met with 10 senators, as part of her courtesy visits. She has been meeting with additional senators today. By the end of the day she will have met with 14 members of the United States Senate. Today she's meeting with senators Graham, Brownback, Kyl and Durbin.

I am also pleased to announce today that Senator Dan Coats will serve in an informal capacity as advisor to the President's Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers, much as Fred Thompson -- Senator Fred Thompson did for Chief Justice Roberts. Senator Coats will be working closely with the nominee and serving as a public advocate for her. He will help advise her throughout the process. Senator Coats' role will be to attend meetings with senators on Harriet's courtesy visits. He is a well-respected senator, well-respected on both sides of the aisle. He most recently served as ambassador to Germany for the administration, for the President. The President greatly appreciates his willingness to serve, and we're delighted to have him as part our team working to confirm Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court.

And with that, I will be glad to go to questions. Jessica.

Q Scott, the President said today in his speech that there were 10 al Qaeda attacks that have been averted since 2001. Can you tell us what they were?

MR. McCLELLAN: That's right. Some of them are known publicly, like the capture of Jose Padilla and Iman Faris . Jose Padilla, if you remember, was involved in plots involving the possibility of a dirty bomb, and then Iman Faris was someone who had been in contact with people like Khalid Shaikh Muhammed and captured with plots looking at a -- blowing up or destroying a New York bridge. And then there are other incidents that are still classified.

Q You can't give us any more details?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, those are two public matters that would be in reference -- what he was referencing in some of his remarks that you're referring to. And then in terms of other ones, we'll continue to make information available publicly, as we are able to do so.

Q Can you give us a sense of when they were, or how recently these were averted?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I just mentioned two.

Q Those are the only public ones?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, those are two off the top of my head. I'll be glad to see what additional information we can get you. Some of that information is classified, though.

Q Why is this the first time we've heard about these eight others from the President?

MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, I think he's talked -- I think he talked back in June about some incidents that we had disrupted.

Q Has he enumerated an actual --

MR. McCLELLAN: And plots that we had disrupted. The President talked in his remarks about how we have taken the offensive and gone after and disrupted and dismantled much of al Qaeda's senior leadership, and we continue to do so.

Q But why right now reveal --

MR. McCLELLAN: You said why just now, and I would refer you back to some of his June remarks when he's talked about it.

Go ahead, Tom.

Q Scott, is there an interagency meeting at the White House today on Iran, and if so, what's that all about?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, there's not a meeting today.

Q Are we moving -- in what direction are we moving in? Because we've got Tony Blair complaining that maybe Iran was supplying explosives to insurgents in Iraq, but then on the other hand, there look like there might be suggestions in the State Department for having some kind of a U.S. intrasection in Tehran. Are we moving one --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think you're referring to a newspaper article from today, and then some of the reports -- British reports coming out about comments made by Prime Minister Blair and others regarding Iran, or the possibility of Iran supporting some of the insurgents. And my understanding is that the British government is continuing to work to establish the facts when it comes to whether or not there was Iranian government involvement. Certainly, that would be unacceptable if there was. So that's something that the British continue to look into. Obviously, it would be a concern to us.

In terms of this newspaper article, we are not contemplating any change in our policy that would broaden our diplomatic engagement with Iran. There are known communication channels, if needed, to talk about issues of mutual concern. If anything, our policy is only toughening when it comes to Iran. We are more troubled by some of Iran's recent behavior and action than we have been.

Q Scott, all this talk about a radical Islamic empire stretching from Europe across to southeast Asia, even some Republicans are saying that it has the appearance of the President trying to cover up bad policy in Iraq by unduly alarming people.

MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't heard any Republicans say that. Do you have one in mind?

Q A couple in mind, yes.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, do you want to share them with me?

Q You can call them and ask them, but I'm just wondering what you think of that?

MR. McCLELLAN: I -- you made a statement. I haven't heard any Republican make such allegation. So I was just wondering where that came from.

Q Part of the eight. (Laughter.)

Q What's your response to the allegation that you're trying to cover up bad policy in Iraq by unduly alarming people?

MR. McCLELLAN: It's an allegation by John Roberts.

Q Pardon me?

MR. McCLELLAN: Are you saying it's an allegation by John Roberts?

Q It's not my allegation, no.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, go and look at what the President said in his remarks. Today's speech is one in a series of speeches that the President continues to make about the war on terrorism. It's important to understand the nature of the enemy that we face. This is a determined and lethal enemy with a clear strategy. The President outlined that strategy in his remarks. He quoted some of the leaders of this radical ideology that they seek to spread. And he laid out very clearly what their strategy is. I think you can go and look at some of the propaganda and comments that terrorists have made, and it clearly shows what their strategy and what their goals and what their beliefs are.

Q Does he really think they could take over countries like Italy, Spain, Austria, France?

MR. McCLELLAN: This is an enemy that is patient, it is determined, and it is lethal. It is a enemy that is determined to spread a hateful ideology. And what they first want to do is try to establish a safe haven. We took away a safe haven from them when we went into Afghanistan and liberated the people of Afghanistan. They want to establish a country that could be a safe haven from which they could plan and plot their attacks and be able to topple non-radical Muslim governments in the Middle East, and then carry out attacks against the civilized world.

That's why the President made the decision after September 11th that we were going to take the fight to the enemy, that the way to defeat this enemy is to take the fight to them and to spread freedom and democracy to defeat their hateful, murderous ideology.

Q But again, does he really believe that they could take over western countries like Spain and France?

MR. McCLELLAN: That's what their strategy -- go back and look at what the President said in his remarks, because he clearly spelled out what their strategy is. I'm not sure that he characterized it the same way as you just did.

Q Does he think that's realistic?

MR. McCLELLAN: Look at his remarks. They very much have a strategy --

Q He warned of a radical Islamic empire stretching from Spain to Indonesia.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- much like the strategy of communism to dominate and intimidate the world.

Q Scott, what were the three targets of the attacks inside the United States that the President said were thwarted today?

MR. McCLELLAN: He cited a couple of specific examples of what he was talking about in his remarks. In terms of other examples, some of that information is still classified information, and if we can make more information available publicly, we will.

Q But can you say whether it was infrastructure, or whether it was oil refineries, or what type of target?

MR. McCLELLAN: I just cited two examples of what he's referring to in his remarks that are publicly known, and if there's additional information we'll be glad to get that to you.

Q Just one last thing on this. He said the United States and its partners on the 10 plots that were thwarted. What were the other countries involved?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, you're asking me to talk about some classified information. Some of this information is publicly known. I cited two examples. I think there's probably some additional information that is already publicly known. We work very closely with partners around the world to dismantle terrorist networks and disrupt plots from happening in the first place. We stay in close contact with governments around the world that are committed to waging and winning this global war on terrorism. And some of that information -- we'll be glad to point out to you some more information that is public.

Q Scott, more on the speech. First, on that issue, obviously, after the "16 words incident" sometime ago, we are more interested than usual in having -- seeing the footnotes that go with the speech. So just as a matter of maintaining credibility, it would be good if we could get at least outlines of the brief --

MR. McCLELLAN: I just pointed out some that are public, David, as a matter of record.

Q Of those -- you pointed out two.

MR. McCLELLAN: It's unfortunate that you make such a comparison, so --

Q Of the two that you pointed out, one was Padilla and the other was the New York bridge. Were you considering those to be two of the three incidents within the U.S. that he was referring to?

MR. McCLELLAN: Those were incidents within the United States.

Q Okay, so those count as two of the three. So there's only one left that you have not described that he was referring to when he said, "breaking up three incidents in the U.S."

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that's very good deduction on your part.

Q Making sure we all understand what it is that we've got. So you've got one incident that you're saying is remaining classified, you cannot describe, within the U.S.

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I didn't say that. I said, those are two examples right off the top of my head of examples that it would be referring to in his remarks.

Now, in terms of the rest of the information, some of that information, for very important reasons, remains classified, because it goes to sources and methods and things of that nature as we continue to wage this war on terrorism. Now, we want to be able to provide you with as much as is available publicly, or that we can make available publicly, and we'll work to do that.

Q If you could just check later, just to make sure that within the three that he described within the U.S., what you folks had in mind was that two of them were Padilla and the bridge case.

MR. McCLELLAN: I think I just indicated that those were two within the U.S. *

Q Secondly, in references to Syria and Iran, you have talked before about Syria and expressed a lot of concern about their support. But in the Iranian case, if I understood the administration's position correctly, we had not before heard the President himself describe Iran as an ally of convenience with al Qaeda forces, many of whom are not, obviously, Shiite forces.

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, Iran has been a long-time state supporter of terrorism.

Q Right. Ally of convenience would seem to match up with al Qaeda in this case, unless I heard him wrong.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we know that they have a history of supporting terrorism, and I'll go back and look at that specifically if you want additional information.

Q Scott, the President had mentioned before about fanatics in history -- Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot -- that "consume whole nations in war and genocide before leaving the stage of history. Evil men obsessed with ambition and unburdened conscience, must be taken very seriously. Stop them before their crimes can multiply." Where -- what is the thinking of the administration in terms of Osama bin Laden's capabilities or power to incite or inspire others --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, as he pointed out in the remarks, it is diminished. The terrorists are wounded, but they are still capable of carrying out attacks. And Osama bin Laden is someone that we have on the run. He is someone that we will bring to justice. We have, as the President pointed out in his remarks, dismantled much of his senior leadership. Many of his senior leaders have been brought to justice. There are others that we continue to pursue. And we are making some important progress. But this is going to be a long and difficult struggle, and the President emphasized that in his remarks today.

Q And in terms of the priorities in the war on terror, the hunt for Osama bin Laden, where does that fall?

MR. McCLELLAN: It's a priority. We continue to pursue him, to bring him to justice for the crimes he has committed against humanity.

Go ahead.

Q Scott, when you talk about Syria and Iran and that the U.S. is, if anything, toughening our policy towards Iran particularly, what evidence has there been that the toughening of policies to date has had any effect on their alliance of convenience or support of terrorism? And what more should or can be done? It doesn't look like anything is -- it looks as though things are getting worse, now, four years after 9/11.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that's why the President pointed out in his remarks it's important to hold regimes like this accountable for their behavior and for their actions. And that's --

Q Who's going to hold them accountable then?

MR. McCLELLAN: -- that's why we work very closely with the international community to address these matters and address these concerns that we have. We have the Europeans working very closely with us to move forward on reaching an agreement with Iran to stop their pursuit of nuclear weapons.

You saw some of the comments made by the President of the regime in -- at the United Nations, and it only increases the concerns of the international community. There is growing concern when it comes to Iran's development of nuclear weapons.

Q So there's a growing concern, but is there any evidence that that concern has led to any diminishment of their activities that are troubling you more today than they were four years ago?

MR. McCLELLAN: They continue to be a state sponsor of terrorism, they continue to move in the wrong direction. They are out of step with the rest of the Middle East. They need to stop their support of terrorism; they need to change their behavior; they need to give their people greater freedom. Our policy on Iran is very well-known.

Go ahead.

Q Scott, the Senate voted by a huge margin yesterday to put limits on interrogation -- interrogation techniques. Is the President still going to veto that measure, despite its passing 90 to --

MR. McCLELLAN: You're referencing a statement of administration policy that was put out, which said his advisors would recommend a veto if it contained language that restricted the President's ability to effectively carry out the war on terrorism. Some of the language that you're referring to we believe is unnecessary and duplicative. The House did not include such language in its appropriations bill for the Department of Defense. So now both chambers have acted on the appropriations bills; it will go to conference. We have worked with members of the Senate to address some of these issues and will continue to work with congressional leaders as they move forward. This is part of the legislative process, and there is more to go.

Q Okay, so really no change in that SAP then?

MR. McCLELLAN: Our concerns remain what we have stated previously. And we'll work with members of the United States Congress to address those issues as it moves forward.

Go ahead, Les. Hang on, there's one more second-row person. Peter.

Q I'm sorry, I'm coming back to Syria and Iran. I'm not quite clear what we're going to be doing. Does the President's speech signal we're going to be doing anything more, or further, beyond what the policy -- when you say the policy is well known?

MR. McCLELLAN: There's a lot we're doing when it comes to talking with the international community about their behavior and how they are moving in the wrong direction. There are actions that we have taken already with both countries. There are actions that we have available to us if need be. And these are issues -- and the reason he brought it up in his speech was to point out that these are countries in the broader Middle East region that have long had ties to terrorism. And that needs to end. If they continue on that road, they need to be held to account by the international community.

And there are steps that we have taken. There are concerns that we have raised, and we will continue to raise those concerns, and we will continue to work with the international community to address these concerns.

Q Are there additional options -- you say there are additional options available to you to consider. What -- are there options at the moment being considered?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, I think, Peter, it's things that we've talked about at length recently. There are issues and concerns we have when it comes to Syria's involvement in the Middle East peace process -- or support for groups like Hezbollah. There are concerns about the border region and Syria allowing people to operate within their territory to carry out attacks on the Iraqi people. We've expressed those concerns. We have raised those concerns publicly.

Q I'm sorry, the question isn't on concerns. The concerns are laid out, as you say.

MR. McCLELLAN: You're missing what we've been saying. I think you're leaving out what we've been talking about recently when it comes to what those concerns are. We have very publicly, from the President to the Secretary, talked about what those concerns are. And certainly we have options available to us, things like the Syrian Accountability Act. We have options available to us to work with the international community to make sure that these concerns are addressed and that they're held to account for their behavior and their actions. And we will continue to do so. We have become more -- as I said, even more troubled by some of Iran's behavior and actions.

Q Any reason to think that we're going to avail ourselves to some of these options in the Syrian Accountability Act --

MR. McCLELLAN: You're asking me to announce things. I'm not here to announce things today. But I'm saying that these are priority areas and we continue to work with the international community to address those. And it's very well-known what we are doing and what we have done and what our concerns are.

Q Scott, a two-part. The New York Times reports that the pill called misoprostol, or Cytotec, is an ulcer drug that can induce an abortion for less than two dollars. And my question: Does the President believe this should be outlawed, or not?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not sure -- familiar with this ulcer drug.

Q A huge thing in The New York Times. You read The Times, don't you?

MR. McCLELLAN: From time to time. (Laughter.) I think that's -- I'll be glad to take a look at it, Les, but that might be something you want to direct to the health experts.

Q Well, I mean, I'd like to know what the President thinks.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that if you're asking about a drug that would fall under the authority of the FDA, you need to direct those questions to the Federal Drug Administration.

Q How does the President stand --

MR. McCLELLAN: The President wants to make sure that people -- that those drugs are safe that people are getting.

Q How does the President stand on the issue of evolution versus intelligent design?

MR. McCLELLAN: He stands where he stood before, that he believes that students ought to be exposed to different theories.

Go ahead.

Q Scott, sticking with the topic of drugs, tomorrow's meeting on bird flu, is one of the main reasons to talk about ways to protect or shield manufacturers from liability?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one of the concerns that manufacturers have had is certainly the issue of liability and lawsuits. That is why over the past decade or so you've had more manufacturers leaving the market, the "manufacturing a vaccine" market. And so that is certainly one concern. You have a number of drug makers that have just simply left the business, including because of their exposure to lawsuits. And the President's focus is on making sure we're doing all we can to protect the American people.

Avian flu is a global threat that is a serious concern. It's something that he has been focused on for some time now. We are moving forward on developing a comprehensive plan to make sure that we are fully prepared to address the threat that exists, and tomorrow the President will be sitting down and meeting with a number of major manufacturers to talk about how we can move forward and make sure that we're prepared to respond in the event of an outbreak.

And one area where we need to ramp things up is the development of a vaccine. And so tomorrow he'll be talking about this with some of the manufacturers, about how do we meet the need and expand the stockpile of vaccine available for the American people.

Q Does he have a remedy in mind on the liability question?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the meeting is going to take place tomorrow, and we're going to be discussing that with them. And beyond that, you might want to talk to the Department of Health and Human Services about some of the steps that we're already taking to develop a vaccine to help prevent a spread -- the spread of the H5NI virus, and to expand our stockpile of antiviral medications like Tamiflu.

Q These are domestic and foreign manufacturers?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes.

Q And about how many?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't have that for you today. I'll get it for you later.

Q Can you give us anything more on that briefing today on this?

MR. McCLELLAN: Mark, go ahead.

The briefing is taking place after this briefing. So I'll be around after that, obviously.

Q One more question on the speech. In telling us yesterday that this was going to be a significant speech, you said that the President was going to speak in unprecedented detail. What parts of the speech did you have in mind?

MR. McCLELLAN: About the first half of it. When he talked about the nature of the enemy.

Q Right, but his points were things that we've heard him say many times before: that the enemy is determined --

MR. McCLELLAN: He's never spoken in that much detail about the nature of the enemy, like he did today. He has spoken about the nature of the enemy, you're correct. But he spoke in very specific and detailed ways about the nature of the enemy, their strategy and their ambitions and their goals and their beliefs.

Maybe you missed the first half of the speech, but I would encourage you to go back and look at it and I'll be glad for you to come up and show me where he talked about all those things before.

Q That's a little gratuitous to suggest I wasn't listening, Scott, don't you think?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I'm sorry about that, Mark.

Q I listened --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, then, it sure didn't seem like it, because I think most people in this room recognize that it was much greater detail that he talked about than ever before.

Q Care for a show of hands on that? (Laughter.)

MR. McCLELLAN: Sure. (Laughter.)

Q Scott, the President said in his speech that the war will take more sacrifice, time and resolve. Does he think the American people will continue to support him?

MR. McCLELLAN: That's why it's important to continue to update the American people about the war on terrorism and the progress that we're making and the nature of the enemy that we face and the stakes involved, and our strategy for success, our strategy for winning the war on terrorism. The President is confident that we will succeed in this global struggle against a hateful and murderous ideology. And he will continue to talk to the American people about this highest of priorities.

Q Scott, North Korea is reported to have mandated joint security assurances by U.S. and Japan first, before they give up their nuclear program. What is your comment?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there is an agreement that was reached by all parties to the six-party talks, and we're focused on moving forward on that agreement. It clearly spells out what needs to be done; there is a sequencing within that agreement and we expect everybody to abide by that agreement.

Q Scott, you said there is sequencing in that agreement?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes. The principles.

Q The principles. There are principles. Are the principles written in a sequence: we do this, they do that?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, they have to take these steps before they can realize some of these benefits. And that's the --

Q You're sure that's in the agreement?

MR. McCLELLAN: -- props and the principles that clearly spells out what needs to be done, and it's based on a sequence. I'm sorry, before they can realize some of the benefits, like the possibility of having a nuclear reactor.

Q The U.S. has said there's a sequence, but my recollection from reading the text is that there are a series of steps, but they're not correlated --

MR. McCLELLAN: The first thing they need to do is promptly act to dismantle their nuclear programs and verify that those programs have been dismantled. And that they need to abide by their international obligations. And then they can start to realize more of the benefits of being part of the international community.

Q Are you saying that's the U.S. position, or are you saying that's in the agreement?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'll go back and pull for you what we said at the time, because we specifically pointed that out at the time.

Go ahead, Peter.

Q Have you ever heard the President say that God told him to invade Afghanistan and Iraq and --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, and I've been in many meetings with him and never heard such a thing.

Q Are you aware of the -- there's a BBC broadcast tonight that's quoting the Palestinian Prime Minister and Foreign Minister as saying that they were in a meeting with the President in June of '03, and there are some very detailed quotes here, saying that the President said to them, "God told me, 'George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan,' and I did," and then "God told me, 'George go and end the tyranny in the Iraq'" and so forth and so on?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, that's absurd. He's never made such comments.

Q Were you in the meeting when that took place?

MR. McCLELLAN: I've been in meetings with him with President Abbas; I didn't travel on that trip, if you're talking about to Jordan. But I've been in many meetings with the President with world leaders where he's talked about this.

Q So you don't know about the June '03 meeting?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I checked into that report and I stand by what I just said.

Q Can you recall him ever making a longer speech than this 40-minute speech?

MR. McCLELLAN: He's made some lengthy speeches before.

Q No, I know, but have you ever heard one longer?

MR. McCLELLAN: I didn't say it was going to be his longest speech; I said that it would be unprecedented in detail about the nature of the enemy we face. And I think if you go back and look at the first half of the speech, you'll recognize that that's the case.

Q Scott, any reaction to the reports last night of the espionage --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry Mark felt offended by it. Sometimes the questions are gratuitous, too. Go ahead.

Q I was asking for a specific reference that you thought in particular --

MR. McCLELLAN: The whole first part of the speech.

Go ahead.

Q That's not exactly specific.

MR. McCLELLAN: I'll give you a copy of it.

Q Reports last night of possible espionage activity in the White House. Any response to that, any --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, any response to?

Q The ABC report last night, any response to it, in terms of further investigation?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, it's an ongoing investigation and when there's an ongoing investigation like this we refer comments to the proper authorities, and the proper authorities would be the Department of Justice. We will continue to cooperate fully.

Q Any concern, though, that the security system was so loose that this sort of thing could happen right in the West Wing?

MR. McCLELLAN: That's asking me to comment about an ongoing investigation. I think it's important to let the facts come out. So you can refer questions like that to the Department of Justice.

Q I have a purely administrative question here, can I stipulate that?

MR. McCLELLAN: Absolutely.

Q Has any member of the President's staff informed him that in recent days they have become a subject of the CIA leak investigation?

MR. McCLELLAN: First of all, that's an ongoing investigation, too, and the President directed that we cooperate fully with that investigation. As part of cooperating fully, that means not commenting on it from here. And I'm not -- I'm not aware of any --

Q It's an administrative question, too, because --

MR. McCLELLAN: -- I'm not aware of any new developments.

Q I'm sure the President would be interested to know if anybody has become --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not aware of any new developments.

Thank you all.

END 12:42 P.M. EDT

* The Padilla case is an example of a plot to attack inside the United States that was disrupted. The Faris case is an example of stopping al-Qaida efforts to case targets inside the United States.