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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 26, 2005
Press Briefing by Scott McClellan and Ambassador to Iraq Zal Khalilzad
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:18 P.M. EDT
MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon, everyone. Let's get started. We are pleased to have Ambassador Khalilzad here today. He participated in a briefing with the President on the latest developments in Iraq and the political process being made. And I thought I'd bring him by the briefing today and let him update you all on the situation in Iraq, and answer any questions you have. And once he's done, I'll be glad to take whatever other questions you have. So, with that, I'll just turn it over to the ambassador.
AMBASSADOR KHALILZAD: Thank you very much. The Iraqi people have taken another major step towards building a new democratic political order. I want to congratulate Iraqis on the announcement by the independent election commission of Iraq, the draft constitution has been ratified to the October 15th referendum, with 63 percent of the Iraqi people turning out to vote, and 78 percent of the voters casting their ballots in favor of the draft constitution.
This is a landmark moment for Iraq. It places Iraq in the vanguard of nations in the broader Middle East, moving toward a system of government that is based on the will of the people, and that will respect the rights of all individuals.
Success in Iraq, both for Iraqis and for Americans, depends on whether the Iraqi leaders can agree on a national compact, a vision for the new Iraq that has the support of Iraq's communities. The ratification of the constitution signals major progress towards that goal.
In negotiating the constitution, Iraqis on all sides of all major issues worked towards compromise. Sometimes the talks were difficult and some of the compromises did not come easily. We can take heart that the process of overcoming differences through negotiations, not conflict, has begun to take root. Also, for those who voted against the document, an avenue exists for further changes that can be made by the next assembly. Like the U.S. Constitution, this is a living document that can be adjusted, if necessary, to reflect the values and needs of the Iraqi people.
There were no winners or losers among the Iraqi people. By casting his or her vote, every Iraqi was winning a victory for democracy in Iraq. The only losers in this referendum were the terrorists and the Saddamists who want to destroy the democratic aspirations of the people of Iraq. Though more remains to be done to overcome the divisions in Iraqi society, the process of forging and implementing a national compact is underway.
I will continue to work with the Iraqi leaders to facilitate this process as they move toward national elections in December and the formation of a new government. It's important to avoid becoming jaded about events as historic as this constitution. This is a breakthrough for this region. Never before has a major country in the Arab world freely elected representatives to a draft -- to draft a constitution that would then be submitted to the people for ratification in an open, free, and fair process.
Iraqis have vindicated the fact that the ideas of rule by the people and the sanctity of individual rights are, indeed, universal; that they can be the basis for politics and government in the Middle East, just as they have been in successful countries in the Americas, in Europe, and parts of Asia.
Americans should be proud of the role that we, as a nation, are playing in Iraq. We are supporting the needed political and economic transformation of the broader Middle East because authoritarianism and repression breeds the kind of terrorists who struck us on September the 11th. Yet, we are fighting not just with armed forces, but also with the power of ideas of freedom and democracy. It is in favor of these ideas and the hopes and the possibilities that spring from them that the Iraqi people have so resoundingly voted.
Thank you, very much. I'll be glad to take your questions. Yes, ma'am?
Q You spoke about the -- there's more that needs to be done to erase the divisions in the Iraqi society. What do you think is the biggest hurdle there?
AMBASSADOR KHALILZAD: Of course, there are several issues on which the Iraqis are divided at the present time. One is on the issue of federalism. Some Iraqis see federalism as a way to keep the country together; others see it as a way to -- as a pathway towards fragmentation. They have reached a compromise because there has been an acceptance in the constitution of the principle of federalism, but at the present time it's limited only to the Kurdish area. But the next assembly will decide whether and how many additional federal units will be formed.
There's also a difference of view with regard to the role of Islam, and they have reached a compromise on that, which respects the role of Islam, but at the same time emphasizes the principles of democracy, as well as the human rights -- there are many of which have been enshrined in the constitution -- are respected. Those are among the issues that have separated Iraqi communities from each other. But I think the compromises were arrived at. Additional changes and compromises will be necessary in the coming months.
Q A couple questions. Why are you confident that the Sunni "no" vote was a vote to participate in the new Iraq, and not a rejectionist vote? You said last night that there could be substantial U.S. troop reductions in a year -- why? And how much of a problem is the new regime in Iran?
AMBASSADOR KHALILZAD: With regard to the first issue, if you look at the elections that took place in January, very few Sunnis participated. That indicated they didn't have confidence in the process. In the constitution referendum, they participated in substantial numbers.
Q But they didn't like it.
AMBASSADOR KHALILZAD: Well, some liked it. The majority of Sunnis -- still we have to assess, but the majority may have voted against it. But some significant Sunni forces supported the constitution, and that was progress. And today, as you see in the statements that have been made by the leaders of the Sunni community, they are saying they will participate in the elections. And I want to remind everyone that in the package agreement that was made just prior to the referendum, there was the notion of additional changes that could be made to the draft, now to the constitution, in the next assembly, and that more than 50 articles in the draft constitution requires implementation laws to be passed by the next assembly. So being in the next assembly will also affect possible changes in addition to the normal amendment process that's also present in the constitution and also the next government that will be selected.
So the Sunnis by their participation -- and we'll encourage them and we'll work with them as we work with others that they should participate -- could be not only significantly present in the next assembly, but also perhaps as part of the next government in Iraq. So the idea of winning the Sunni people over to the political process, isolating the terrorists and extremists and Saddamists, is a necessary element for winning, for succeeding in Iraq. And in my view, given where we were eight or nine months ago, we have made significant progress with regard to that goal.
On the troop reductions, I have said that these current numbers of troops, 138,000 or so, and the composition of the forces that we have there, and their mission are not ends in themselves for us. What it is, is Iraq being able to stand on its own feet. That's the end, Iraq succeeding. And as the political situation changes, as the Iraqi capabilities grow, we need to -- we will adjust our -- the size, the composition and the mission of our armed forces, because the military commanders are very focused on this, they will make recommendations to the President. But I do believe it's possible that we could adjust our forces, downsizing them in the course of next year. That's possible, given the positive political developments and continuing growth in the capabilities of the Iraqi forces. But that decision, of course, will be made the by President, based on the recommendations from the commanders.
Q What's your analysis of the Iraqi insurgency at this point? Are they growing in numbers? And can they ever -- will they finally be defeated, or will they just simply be tamped down?
AMBASSADOR KHALILZAD: I think that the insurgents and the terrorists remain strong. They present a significant challenge in Iraq. But I believe that they're on the wrong side of history, that the people of Iraq are moving away from them, including the Sunni community. They will ultimately be defeated. The question is not whether, but when. And it will depend -- the pace of progress against them will depend not only on our military strategy, but also on the political progress. This problem will not be solved by military means alone. We need an integrated approach, which we are -- which we do have, of political progress, military progress, including the growth of Iraq capabilities; also progress with regard to the neighbors, because at least two of the neighbors are playing unhelpful roles, and a change in their policies also will affect the pace of progress.
Iraq will succeed. It will take longer if the neighbors play an unhelpful role. It can happen at a faster pace if the neighbors play a positive role.
Q Related to that, Mr. Ambassador, key figures in this administration had declared the end of this insurgency, or the insurgency being in its last throes, or that they were dead-enders quite often. In fact, the insurgency continues and it's strong. What sustains it? Why is it popular, number one? And number two, why is it that if Iraq and an emerging democracy is supposed to be a beacon of hope for this part of the world, why aren't there more Muslim, Arab leaders who are stepping forward and working hard with you and the leaders of this government to make terrorist acts and insurgent violence less fashionable, when it is fashionable, it appears?
AMBASSADOR KHALILZAD: Well, first, as I said before, that the insurgency and the terrorists remain a formidable challenge, strong, and their defeat will take time and will require progress on multiple tracks. With regard to the success of Iraq being a beacon of hope for the region, the process of doing important things, big things such as transforming an important country like Iraq, very difficult, very complicated things. We are a very impatient people. We want to see change, even big changes, happen very quickly. But, in fact, state and nation building, the kind of transformation that we have taken on in Iraq -- if you look at the history of the world, you see the transformation of other important countries takes a long time.
And therefore, it is going to take time here, as well. And the struggle for Iraq is not only -- some Iraqis were not brought on to this new Iraq and their attitudes are changing. I talked about the Sunni Arabs, that positive changes have taken place. But it also is a struggle, in a sense, for the whole region. And therefore, you have forces from outside Iraq very much participating. And that's why I talked about some of the neighbors, that they're playing a helpful role. And that also is an important fact. And, in fact, the struggle for Iraq is a struggle for the whole region.
And last, your point on the neighbors, I think we're -- they're differentiating themselves from each other, that's changing. You saw the Arab League, for the first time, send the Secretary General -- I have visited a number of Arab states, neighbors of Iraq; they promised to play a positive role. Some of them are sending ambassadors. I think for them, for the Arab world, too, this is not an easy thing to accept, this kind of transformation of Iraq into a democratic state. And so there are difficulties, of course, but I think we're making progress on that score.
Q Can I follow up --
AMBASSADOR KHALILZAD: Yes.
Q Can you help us understand why there is this measure of popularity for an insurgent campaign that results in people's heads being cut off and children blown to bits? Can you help us explain why there's -- why that's fashionable in certain quarters in this country?
AMBASSADOR KHALILZAD: Well, there is support in some quarters, as you say, for the insurgents because the change that's taking place has a change in distribution of power very decisively in Iraq. Where a particular group and particular individuals governed, now power is exercised through participation of a much broader community. And some people in Iraq are driven by nostalgia. They think they can take Iraq back to the old days. Some are driven by fear to support the insurgency.
What we're doing through this political process is to deal with people's legitimate fears, that there is a role for them, that their rights can be protected, they can participate. But nostalgia, that going back to the previous order -- the old order is dead. It's not coming back. And they can have a positive role to play, that their fears -- legitimate fears can be dealt with. And people adjusting to this monumental change takes time. And I think, as I said before, we're making progress.
Q Mr. Ambassador, have you been able to measure any kind of impact of the Zawahiri letter in Iraq? And can you tell us who that letter was addressed to? Because there was a reference in there to say, please pass along my greetings to brother Zarqawi, should you see him, so it would suggest that that letter was not written to him directly?
AMBASSADOR KHALILZAD: It's my understanding that the letter was directed from Zawahiri to Zarqawi, and that it reflected, among other things, the plans of the terrorists for Iraq. And it had an effect on the Iraqi leaders that I have discussed this with -- we have shared the letter with them. The American people, of course, need to know that the stakes are very great, and this letter -- in Iraq -- and this letter demonstrates that, that were we to abandon Iraq, what we will have is an effort by the terrorists to establish a little caliphate, and that then to strike out from Iraq at the neighborhood and beyond.
Q But what's its effect on the Arab street been?
AMBASSADOR KHALILZAD: Well, I have not had any data on it with regard to the Arab street, but I can say that based on my conversation with the Iraqi leaders, they were -- their intensity of dislike for Zarqawi and Zawahiri, of course, were further intensified by the contents of the letter.
Q Just a follow-up -- just a follow-up on -- you talked about nostalgia for the old days, which is dead. One way I know that you're trying to illustrate that is with the trial of Saddam Hussein. But apparently, his lawyers just said that they were going to suspend all contact with the special tribunal because they're afraid for their lives. So if you have lawyers for Saddam Hussein who can't represent him, how can you illustrate a fair trial?
AMBASSADOR KHALILZAD: Well, the process has to be fair, and we will work with the Iraqis to make sure that all necessary measures are taken to provide as much protection and security as possible to the lawyers or the witnesses. We have focused on the witnesses and on the court and on -- for Saddam, and the others accused of committing crimes against Iraqi people, and we'll have to expand that level of effort to include others.
We have urged the Iraqis and are working with them, that, of course, it's very important that Saddam and his associates be brought to justice, but it has to be done in a fair and transparent and credible manner. And, of course, as I said, this is an ongoing process. There are people who still support Saddam Hussein. I said there are Saddamists as part of the insurgency and the terror network that are there. And, therefore, they will seek to disrupt, they will seek to kill people, and they have no scruples, as you know, using kids, targeting kids, killing teachers, killing women and children. And of course, it's a difficult environment, but there's -- progress is being made.
Q Is that something that's already in the works, getting more security for them?
AMBASSADOR KHALILZAD: We are working with Iraqis to -- and we're prepared to entertain steps that may be necessary to provide security for people.
MR. McCLELLAN: We have time for two more for the Ambassador.
Q Can I follow up on Terry's question, please? Terry asked a great question about Iran. And Iran has been making some incredibly hateful statements about Israel, about destroying Israel, today. What is the U.S. going to do? How is it ever possible to change minds and intents among this Iranian government?
AMBASSADOR KHALILZAD: That points out to the challenges that we face, and the necessity for change and transformation of this region. The turn of this region has come. For hundreds of years you had dysfunctional Europe that produces ethnic conflict, it produced religious conflict -- we had religious wars, we had even wars that became global wars. And in the aftermath of World War II, transformation occurred in Europe, and we have a better Europe. And then we focused on containing the Soviets. They posed a strategic challenge and it took a long time, and transformation occurred there.
Right now the main source of security problems around the world are from this region, the broader Middle East, as we call it. And we didn't go looking for the problems of this area; they came looking to us. They came -- September 11th is the biggest manifestation of that as far as our people, our own security here is concerned. So now, strategic -- the defining challenge of our time is the encouragement of a positive transformation, a change in mind-set and relationship, and how they organize themselves for this region. And we had considerable success, beginning with Afghanistan.
We're facing a huge and difficult transformation in Iraq. Success in Iraq, success in Afghanistan will set the stage for a longer-term transformation of this region, a necessary transformation. And I think that, as I said before, this is the defining challenge of our time. We can't escape from it. We have to have clear goals and be adaptive and smart about the tactics and the strategy that we follow.
Q What are you going to do --
AMBASSADOR KHALILZAD: Of course, we are opposed to Iranian policies with regard to Israel, we're opposed with regard to their nuclear policy, with regard to their support of terror, with regard to their negative policies in Iraq. There is a long list of concerns that the President and other senior leaders have spoken with regard to Iran.
I'm not responsible for Iran. I've got my hands full, as you can imagine, in Iraq. But I think you know where the administration policy is.
Q Mr. Ambassador, you have seen a free Afghanistan and now, free Iraq. And because of that, you said, and the President said many times, that it's because of the will of the people. Now, how much outside interference do you see in Iraq and Afghanistan? Are there people still loyal to Osama bin Laden still and a hurdle in the coming months and years for democracy -- or democratic Iraq and Afghanistan?
AMBASSADOR KHALILZAD: Well, I would talk about Afghanistan because of the -- I spent a good 18 months there. Afghanistan, in my view, strategically is on the right trajectory, and I wish President Karzai and the Afghans all the best. They were great hosts when I was serving there.
But with regard to Iraq and the terrorist threats, bin Laden and his network is a significant challenge. Zarqawi and his associates, whether foreigners or Iraqis, present a significant challenge. They need to be defeated in Iraq. It will take time because should they succeed in Iraq, it will make Afghanistan under the Taliban, with al Qaeda there, as child's play. And I will tell you why.
In Iraq, you have many more resources, oil and gas. In Iraq, you have a more talented, in terms of education, skilled people. In Iraq, you have a strategic location. And imagine all of that falling into the hands of a terrorist network with global reach and ambitions. So whatever you think of how we got into Iraq, I believe the forces are configures such now in Iraq that we have no option but to succeed. And that will require adaptability, adjustments with regard to tactics and strategy. But we have taken on something extremely important and now forces are engaged, and we need to prevail, and I believe we will prevail.
MR. McCLELLAN: Bill, let's make this the last one. Then I'll take some questions. The President is going to be speaking shortly.
Q Thank you, Ambassador. The reconstruction in Iraq has been slower than anticipated. The oil production, electricity production, is not what was projected. There's rationing, there are attacks. Why has it -- why has it been so difficult to rebuild the economy in Iraq? And what kind of progress do you expect to make now that they have a constitution and a government formed?
AMBASSADOR KHALILZAD: Well, first you have to recognize that you are doing this reconstruction in the middle of a conflict with the terrorists and insurgents targeting the reconstruction effort as part of their war against the Iraqi people. And their targeting has added to the costs of reconstruction, because you have to worry about security.
Quite a significant number of people who were involved in reconstruction have been killed by the terrorists and insurgents. We don't recognize that adequately. But with the difficulties that have been there, a considerable number of projects have been underway. More than 2,000 projects have been underway; quite a significant number of projects have been finished. There has been significant addition, in terms of the power generation, although the demand has also expanded so that the distribution -- people may not see the addition of number of hours because of the increase in demand. The American people have contributed to that.
But for success, we do need progress on the political track, progress on the security and military track, and also need progress on the economic track. And progress in one can affect positively the other. And we have made some changes with regard to our reconstruction program, focusing more on smaller projects, more on the provincial level, more Iraqi companies and, of course, we're also making sure that the American taxpayers' money is spent appropriately with good accountability.
Thank you very much. Thank you, thank you.
MR. McCLELLAN: Ambassador, appreciate it.
AMBASSADOR KHALILZAD: Thank you.
MR. McCLELLAN: Okay, I'm here for whatever other questions you all may have.
Q Scott, the Ambassador described the nature of the insurgents and their various different agendas and motivations, and we're constantly told that they are being debilitated. What is the current estimate of the actual numbers of insurgents? Is it a group of 2,000 spread across Iraq, 5,000? How do you estimate the actual size?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that our commanders on the ground are the best ones to answer the questions about numbers like that, or estimates in terms of numbers. But keep in mind, you have former regime elements, and then you have terrorists who are coming into that country, and seeking to transit through countries like Syria, and come in there and carry out attacks. Because, as the ambassador talked about, the Zawahiri-to-Zarqawi letter highlights the stakes involved, and it talks about the nature of the enemy. They recognize that Iraq is central front in the war on terrorism. And that's why it's so important that we succeed there.
And there's great progress being made on the political front and the security front, as you just heard from the Ambassador. And we must continue to support the Iraqi people as they move forward. There are difficulties and challenges that remain. And that's why we've got to continue to train and equip those Iraqi forces as they take more and more responsibility for their future.
Q Scott, with what looks like indictments pending in the CIA leak investigation, what's the anxiety level like here at the White House? What's the atmosphere in the hallways?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, there's a lot of speculation going around, and I think there are a lot of facts that simply are not known at this point. It remains an ongoing investigation, and we'll let the special prosecutor continue to do his work. And I'm sure he will have more to say in due course.
In terms of the White House, this White House is focused on the priorities of the American people. We're working on the priorities that the American people care about. The President has had a very busy day. He started his morning focused on the highest priorities facing this country, which is winning the war on terrorism and protecting the homeland. He had a good discussion just a short time ago with congressional leaders to talk about how we can move forward to continue to support the people in the Gulf Coast region who have been affected by the hurricanes, but do so in a fiscally responsible way. They had a lengthy discussion about how we can find spending offsets and rescissions in spending to help fund what is needed going forward to support the people, as they get back up on their feet and rebuild their lives and their communities in the region. The President also had a meeting, as you are aware, with Ambassador Khalilzad, to talk about current events in Iraq, and how we support the political process going forward.
So we're continuing to focus on what the American people care most about. Those are the things that we can do something about. We obviously continue to follow developments in the news. And I'm sure when the special prosecutor has more to say, he will do so at the appropriate time.
Q What's the anxiety level like as you wait through this process to see what's going to happen?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we've got a lot of work to do, and so we don't have a lot of time to sit back and think about those things.
Q So you're losing yourself in your work, is that what it is?
MR. McCLELLAN: We're focusing on what the American people care most about, and that is winning the war on terrorism, succeeding in Iraq, addressing high energy prices -- which the President will be talking about here shortly -- and helping the people in the Gulf Coast region recover and rebuild.
Go ahead, Dave.
Q I'm going to divert momentarily. Harriet Miers -- there's a picture emerging, despite the fact that the President keeps trumpeting her qualifications, that she appears in meetings with Republican senators to be singularly unimpressive. Why is that the case, do you think? And what are you prepared to do about it?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know that I would agree. She has had 28 courtesy visits now with members of the Senate.
Q You can count them, but the Republicans are saying publicly that they're not prepared to throw their weight behind her yet.
MR. McCLELLAN: I think you're seeing a lot of members of the Senate saying, we want to hear what she has to say in the hearings, before they make a judgment. And remember, with Chief Justice Roberts, he had gone through confirmation hearings before. A couple years before he had been confirmed to the Supreme Court, so there was a familiarity with his views and his experience and his judicial philosophy.
With Harriet Miers, there are many in the Senate that simply did not know her previously, although she is widely respected within the legal profession. She is someone who is highly qualified and in a unique position to bring a different perspective to the United States Supreme Court. This is still early in the confirmation process. The hearings will give people an opportunity to ask her questions where she can talk in more detail about her experience and her background and talk about her judicial philosophy. It's a philosophy that is based on interpreting our Constitution and our laws, and not making law from the bench. And we're confident that senators, as they come to know her, will recognize that she will make an outstanding member of the United States Supreme Court.
Q But first impressions matter, too, and they're not just first impressions, because numerous lawmakers have had some experience with her as -- in her role here at the White House, and she does not seem to be making --
MR. McCLELLAN: Not numerous. I mean, I think some have, but not to a large extent. And certainly, the senators from the state of Texas know her well and they are strongly supportive of her, and as others come to know her, I think they will be, as well. But these are courtesy visits. This is an opportunity for her just to start to get to know the members of the Senate and for them to start to get to know her. She is also providing additional information. She'll be sending some additional responses to questions to the Senate today. And then she looks forward to going before the Judiciary Committee and answering their questions.
Q Everything is A-okay on this --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we're continuing to move forward on the confirmation process. I think what you're seeing is the confirmation process play out. And senators who don't know her are reserving judgment. And we respect that. That's part of their role to play.
Q Just real quick on the questionnaire that's being sent up. Will there be additional documentation going back up with this questionnaire like there was last time?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, it's being finalized and it will be going up later today. And we'll get you all --
Q Are you releasing --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the Judiciary Committee will provide all that information to you once it goes out. I don't have all the information in front of me to talk to you about.
Q But it will be documentation, not just the questionnaire?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, they're working to get -- in terms of additional documentation that you talk about, we want to make sure the Senate Judiciary Committee has the information they need to be able to move forward on the confirmation process. The President talked about the important principle that needs to be respected, but we're going to continue to work with them as they move forward.
Go ahead, Goyal.
Q First, quick correction -- the Festival of Lights in the White House will be on Tuesday, not Wednesday. Now, my question is --
MR. McCLELLAN: Let's go to quick question because we've got the President's remarks coming up so I can get to a few others.
Q -- quick question is that the President spoke on Iraq now the 2,000 died and all. I'm sure that no President wants to see that any one of its citizens will be or should be killed anywhere on this earth, including in Iraq. And this President doing his best to free --
Q -- quick question.
Q The question is that, who are those people who are killing in Iraq? Where they are coming from, those terrorists that -- they are killing Americans and Iraqis?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I actually just talked about that in response to Carl's question at the beginning of my question period. So I think I'd refer you back to that. The President talked about it at length yesterday, and talked about the nature of the enemy that we're facing there.
And in terms of the sacrifice that is being made, there is tremendous sacrifice that is being made to lay the foundation of peace for our children and grandchildren. We mourn the loss of every one of our men and women in uniform who have lost their life in Afghanistan and in Iraq as they carry out the global war on terrorism. Our men and women in uniform are doing an outstanding job, and they understand the importance of the mission that they're working to complete. And we will be forever grateful, particularly for those who have made the ultimate sacrifice to defend our freedoms and lay the foundation of peace for generations to come.
Sarah, go ahead.
Q Thank you. Scott, today's suicide bombing in Israel shows again that there are terrorist organizations in the Middle East that don't want peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The President -- the Palestinian President wants to include some of those organizations in the political process. But Israel is totally opposed to it. What is the President's position on including Hamas and others? And do today's events change this position?
MR. McCLELLAN: I appreciate your question. A couple of things. First of all, the suicide bombing that took place today in northern Israel is a heinous attack on innocent civilians. We condemn it in the strongest possible terms. Our condolences go out to the families of the victims and those who have been injured. I think the latest report I saw was that four people had lost their lives and a number of others had been wounded in this terrorist attack.
The Palestinian Authority needs to do more to end the violence and prevent terrorist attacks from being carried out. The terrorist attacks that take place only undermine the leadership of President Abbas, and undermine his principle of one authority, one law, one gun. President Abbas is a leader who has expressed his commitment to peace and his commitment to moving forward based on the one law, one authority, one gun principle. And the President and President Abbas had a good discussion about that last week.
Our views on Hamas are very well-known. Hamas is a terrorist organization; it needs to be disarmed, it needs to be dismantled. We've made that very clear. And you can't have organizations involved in politics that are also carrying out attacks, or armed outside of that political process. We've made that very clear. And it's up to the Palestinian Authority to make it clear to Hamas that as long as they continue to engage in such activities and are armed, there really is no role for them to play in the political process.
Q Scott, just one question today. Since I presume the President is concerned with both education and equity, the trustees of American University here in Washington fired President Benjamin Landner and gave him a severance package of $3,750,000. And my question: Is the President at all concerned about this, or sympathetic with the students and faculty who are protesting?
MR. McCLELLAN: Maybe I forgot to announce at the beginning, the American University press briefing will be later this afternoon. (Laughter.) But direct those questions over there.
Q The President is concerned about this, isn't he?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's a decision made by the board of American University, and they can answer for those decisions.
Mark, go ahead.
Q Scott, can you tell us what the President is going to see in Florida tomorrow, what message --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm glad you brought that up. We, by the end of the day when we put out the schedule, should have more details for you. But the President will be going to Florida tomorrow and I think he's going to be going to the Hurricane Center and touring some of the area that has been devastated by Hurricane Wilma. And I know he looks forward to visiting with residents in Florida, if that is possible, as well. He would like to do that. So it will be similar to other trips that we have taken in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane, but we'll get you more details this afternoon.
Q The National Hurricane Center?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, I think that's the plan. But, again, we're still finalizing that. So we'll get you more information this afternoon.
Q When you say -- it's up to the Palestinian Authority to make clear to Hamas that they can't be armed and participate in politics, does that mean that the President does not believe Hamas should be participating in elections?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think we've made our views very clear on Hamas. Hamas is a terrorist organization. It needs to be dismantled; it needs to be disarmed. And as I said, our views are clear; you can't have an organization operating outside of the legal structures within a democratic state.
END 12:57 P.M. EDT
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