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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
December 12, 2005

Press Gaggle by Scott McClellan
Aboard Wire Van 1/Press Van 1
En Route Park Hyatt Philadelphia

10:52 A.M. EST

MR. McCLELLAN: All right, good morning, everybody. Welcome to the first mobile gaggle of the administration. Let me first start off by going over the President's day. The President, this morning, called President-elect Zelaya of Honduras. It was a congratulatory call. They talked -- it was a little bit under 10 minutes. The President called to extend his congratulations, and said he looked forward to working with the President-elect. Both leaders talked about the importance of the U.S.-Honduras -- Honduran relationship, and expressed their commitment to work to strengthen the relationship. They also talked about the importance of moving forward on the Central American Free Trade Agreement and implementing it. And the two leaders also said they looked forward to seeing each other soon, sometime after the President-elect is inaugurated in January.

And then following that, the President had his usual intelligence briefing this morning. He received an update on the assassination of Mr. Tueni, the member of parliament in Lebanon who was killed in a car bombing. And I'll come back to that in a minute. Then he participated in the first of three interviews he's doing today with Brian Williams. That's for the Nightly News tonight, and then tomorrow for the Today Show -- I think they'll be showing some segments of that. He did that in the Oval Office.

Then we departed, and the President, on the plane, participated in an additional interview with Brian Williams. That's why I was unable to come back and talk to you all. And then here, shortly, the President looks forward to going to the World Affairs Council. I should say it's a World Affairs Council sponsored event at the Hyatt. And I think you all have a preview of the remarks.

Let me just kind of mention a couple of things about it. This is the third in the four that the President is doing ahead of the election. The next one will be on Wednesday, as you're aware. Today he's focusing on our efforts to help the Iraqi people build a lasting democracy. And I think one thing that he'll do is talk about how it's important to keep in mind our own history. And he'll talk about how our own democratic experiment was challenging and difficult, and it took time to build. But we were able to learn from experience and adapt and adjust to circumstances.

And then he'll focus on how over the last two-and-a-half years in Iraq it's been a difficult period, but it's also been a hopeful period, and a period of great achievement. There's been a lot of remarkable progress on the political front, and that's what he's going to be talking about today. He'll talk about how the Iraqi people have met the four major milestones for the transition to democracy, the fourth being this week with the elections for a constitutional government. And he'll talk about how the Iraqi people have proved the skeptics and pessimists wrong at every stage of the political process, and those who question the universal appeal of liberty.

He'll also talk about the challenges ahead after the election. There will be four key challenges that he'll talk about, following the elections, from security, to forming an inclusive government, to encouraging reconciliation, to establishing democracy in a tough neighborhood. And he'll expand on that in his remarks. And, obviously, he'll talk about the stakes involved in Iraq and the importance of a free Iraq to the broader Middle East.

And then we return back this afternoon -- oh, I'm sorry, before we depart the event, he'll participate in his third segment with Brian Williams. Then we'll head back to Washington, and he's got some policy time this afternoon, and then he's got the Diplomatic Corps reception over at the State Department this evening.

And I think that's really all I have to begin with.

Q What is the fourth speech going to be about this week?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he'll continue to talk about -- I mean, all these have some common themes to them, that center around our strategy for victory in Iraq that he'll -- that will be the day before the election, so, obviously, he'll be talking about the important milestone that will be coming this week. But I'll try to preview a little bit more tomorrow. It's still in the works right now.

Q Do you know who was behind the Beirut bombing?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, not at this point. We strongly condemn the assassination of Mr. Tueni. We extend our condolences to his family and the family of the others that were killed in this savage attack. I think that his murder is another act of terrorism aimed at trying to subjugate Lebanon to Syrian domination. He was a Lebanese patriot, a member of parliament and an editor of one of the leading newspapers. And he was a strong and well-known opponent of Syria, someone who was pro-democracy and pro-sovereignty for Lebanon.

And, remember, he was assassinated one day after he had returned to Lebanon. He had left because he was concerned that -- concerned about his situation there. It's clear -- this savage attack is clearly intended to intimidate those in Lebanon who would courageously and openly speak their minds. It's also a violent and direct assault on freedom of press in Lebanon. The attack is a reminder that all of us in the international community must continue to insist on enforcing the Security Council resolutions aimed at ending Syria's interference in Lebanon once and for all.

But I think it's premature to know exactly who is responsible for the attacks. But it's clear what it was intended to do.

Anything else?

Q I'm sorry, just one more thing. Is he doing more of these Brian Williams-like interviews; is he doing ones with other networks this --

MR. McCLELLAN: He does have a couple of others set for later this week. And I'll update you on those as we get closer to them.

Q Do you expect violence during the election?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, a couple things. And, one, I think -- as I said, the President will talk about the security situation within his remarks, and the challenges that remain. We have always anticipated that there would be an up-tick in violence heading into the elections. We've seen some suicide bombings recently aimed at innocent Iraqis.

But each step of the way the Iraqi people have defied the terrorists and those Saddam loyalists who want to return to the past. They cannot win -- all they can do is seek to spread fear and chaos. And the Iraqi people are determined to build a future based on freedom.

And I think you've seen some of the -- some of the latest surveys that have come out, and it shows the optimism of the Iraqi people, and the confidence that they place in the elections and the confidence that they place in their future. And it's important that all of us, not only in the coalition, but the entire international community and the Arab world, stand behind the Iraqi people during this time of transition to a peaceful and democratic future, because the Iraqi people have shown through their courage and determination that they want a freedom of future [sic]. And the President will talk a little bit about that aspect in his remarks, too, and talk about the importance of all of us standing behind the Iraqi people.

And as I mentioned at the beginning, there are still going to be challenges that remain after the election. And one of the most significant challenges is still the security situation. The terrorists and Saddam loyalists will continue to try to carry out attacks against the Iraqi people after the elections, because they recognize the stakes involved -- a free Iraq will be a devastating blow to their ambitions. A free Iraq will help inspire reformers throughout the Middle East, and it will make America more secure. And that's why it's so important that we succeed, and that's why we have a plan to win in Iraq.

Q Scott, is the President pleased with how these four speeches are going so far? Does he feel as though they're accomplishing the goal he set out, I guess to better educate the American people about what's going on?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, they are important speeches, and they are speeches that are helping to inform the American people about the progress that's being made on the ground in Iraq, the stakes involved in Iraq, and the challenges that remain. This is an opportunity for the American people to get a clear understanding of the strategy that we have in place to succeed, and how that strategy is a dynamic one -- it's based on adapting and adjusting to the circumstances on the ground. And that's important when you're in a situation like you are in Iraq.

Q Right. But does he feel as though these speeches, in particular, have been better able to communicate what has been difficult to communicate in the past?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, these speeches -- remember, these speeches are being given in the lead up to a historic milestone for the Iraqi people this week. It's an important time period for the Iraqi people. There are still difficult challenges that remain, and it's important that the President keep the American people informed about the progress being made and the challenges ahead. And that's what they were designed to do. And so in that sense, yes. But, I mean, he's not going to -- I mean, he has been talking about it before, and he'll continue talking about it after the elections. This is -- Iraq is critical to our efforts to win the war on terrorism and spread freedom throughout the broader Middle East.

Thank you.

END 11:04 A.M. EST