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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
January 13, 2006

Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
James S. Brady Briefing Room

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2:02 P.M. EST

MR. McCLELLAN: Happy Friday the 13th. (Laughter.) Friendly Friday the 13th. (Laughter.)

The President was pleased to welcome Chancellor Merkel to the White House today. They had a very good discussion. They had previously met in Germany, on the President's trip there. But they had a very good discussion today; I think you all saw that in the news conference, that these two leaders get along very well. They had a good conversational discussion during the meeting in the Oval Office. They talked for probably about 50 minutes in the Oval Office, just the two of them with their interpreters, and had a very good discussion on a range of issues. And then the delegations came in and they met for about another 40 minutes.

Then they, of course, had the press conference and a lunch that went over, about an hour and 15 minutes. They discussed a range of issues. They talked about a number of shared priorities. You heard from the leaders, that's what friends do; they sit down together, they talk about common problems and they talk about how to strategize to solve those problems.

Secondly, just before I go to questions, I would just like to extend our condolences on behalf of the United States and on behalf of the President and Mrs. Bush to the families of those who lost loved ones while taking part in the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. We extend our deepest sympathies to those families.

And I'm glad to go to questions.

Q Scott, can we go to the question that wasn't answered at the press conference about possible military action? I know you've answered this in the past, but you're ruling out military action, and doesn't Iran pose a greater threat than Iraq?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think the President was actually starting to get to it in his comments. But these are different situations. Iraq and Iran are not the same situations, and I think the President previously has talked about that. When he was in Europe he said Iran is not Iraq.

We are working to solve this in a diplomatic way. What we are now entering is a new diplomatic phase. Secretary Rice talked about that yesterday. And we're working with the international community to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Iran has continued to defy the international community. They have chosen defiance over cooperation. And everyone I think recognizes the threat posed by a nuclear armed Iran. You heard the President talk about it. And we want to continue to work with our European friends and others to solve this in a diplomatic manner.

And that's why we're looking at the next step, which is moving it to the Security Council of the United Nations. That is still a diplomatic phase, and there are a number of measures and tools that are available to us and we'll be talking about those as we move forward, and heading to the board of governors meeting at the International Atomic Energy Agency. The President has also always said we don't take options off the table, and he's made that very clear.

Q Does the subject of options include sanctions?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I don't want to get ahead of where we are. I think that it's important for all of us to continue the intensive diplomacy that's been going on, and talk amongst ourselves. As I indicated, that's what friends do, and we all have a common objective. The President talked about that earlier today.

The common objective is preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Iran has shown over the last couple of decades that they cannot be trusted. They continue to conceal and hide their activities from the international community. They don't abide by their agreements. They don't abide by their safeguard obligations. And that's why this is a serious matter that needs to be discussed among our partners and friends and others about how to proceed forward. And that's what we're doing, so we don't want to get ahead of where we are at this point.

Q But, Scott, if they were in defiance for a matter of decades --

MR. McCLELLAN: Carl, you're in the back today.

Q Yes. If they've been defiant for the last couple of decades, and the last two-and-a-half years good faith negotiations and talks have been undertaken by the EU3, and they've gotten nowhere, what reason is there to hope that another round of diplomacy will make a difference, when Iran has already said sanctions will not stop us?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, but this is taking it to another step, and that is to the Security Council. I think the only --

Q A step they've said won't work --

MR. McCLELLAN: -- alternative left at this point, because Iran has chosen to continue to behave in a manner that is based on defiance and failure to cooperate, the only alternative is really to look to the Security Council. And we've made that clear. The Europeans have made that clear. They found Iran in violation of their safeguard obligations at the last board meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency. And there are a lot of options available to us at the Security Council. That's what we'll be discussing as we move forward. But the first step is to go to the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency and get a referral to the Security Council. And we'll continue to talk about these matters as we move forward.

Q Is the administration optimistic --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think it's --

Q How should the American people -- I mean, is the President optimistic that diplomacy has hope? And, further, what should the American people expect in the next --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, this is about Iran. This is about the regime's behavior. And the regime has shown over time it cannot be trusted. We have long said we will see how these diplomatic efforts go in this first phase, or this initial phase that we were in. And now we're entering a new phase of diplomacy. And there are additional options that are available to the international community, and this is about bringing the weight of the international community together to bear on the regime in Iran.

This is not about the people of Iran. We stand firmly with the people of Iran. The people of Iran want greater freedom. But what their regime is doing is continuing to further isolate them from the rest of the international community. It's because of the actions of a few -- unelected few in power that they continue to go down the wrong direction, a direction that runs counter to others in the broader Middle East that are taking steps toward a more peaceful and free future.

Go ahead, Sarah.

Q If the diplomacy doesn't work, is the military option still on the table?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I addressed that question in response to Martha. And I think the President has always made clear what his views are. But we're focused on diplomacy. We're focusing on developing a common strategy to address this common objective. And that's what we're doing.

Q Yesterday, Dr. Rice at the press conference at State Department put Iran on alert and saying that the international community is behind to put Iran further on -- is putting itself in isolation -- (inaudible) -- international community. And she admitted that -- she said that so far we know only A.Q. Khan behind Iran's -- who gave its knowledge to Iran. But also, according to The Washington Post -- I think that it was in yesterday -- A.Q. Khan network is still working and still spreading their technology. But we don't know where we go from here, because terrorists -- I mean, al Qaeda --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one of the great intelligence successes of this country is the breakup of the A.Q. Khan network. This is a network that was not engaged in peaceful nuclear power, and as she pointed out yesterday, Iran did have contact with A.Q. Khan and his network. That's another reason why the international community is concerned about Iran's ambitions. And the international community is fed up with their continued defiance. That's where things are at this point. Their patience has worn thin.

And the German Foreign Minister spoke about how the negotiations had reached a dead end. Now it's time to look at another diplomatic phase, and to look at additional measures and tools that can be used to make it clear to Iran that we will not tolerate the development of nuclear weapons.

Q Scott, as things move toward the next step with Iran, what's the message to the Iranian people? What should they interpret? What should they --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, our message to the Iranian people has always been that we stand with you; we support your desire to live in greater freedom. We have long talked about that. This is a regime that is more interested in continuing its own power and trying to pursue nuclear weapons and sponsor terrorism. And these are things that only further isolate Iran from the rest of the international community. They're not looking out for the best interest of the Iranian people. The Iranian people want better and they deserve better.

Q But you're not taking options like military option off the table.

MR. McCLELLAN: We're focused on diplomacy. The President made that very clear, that this is another phase of diplomacy that we are entering. And that's where our focus is. And we're all working together. Different situations around the world are addressed in different ways. And Iran is different from Iraq. And I think that the two leaders made that clear. Of course the President has talked about how we never take options off the table.

Go ahead, Les.

Q Scott, in your statement yesterday, "It is unfortunate for the American people to see such an ugly side of Washington during the hearings for our nation's highest court." Which senator, if any, would you say was uglier than Senator Kennedy?

MR. McCLELLAN: Les, a couple of things, first of all. Judge Alito has shown over the course of the last week to the American people that he is a brilliant, honorable and decent, open-minded and fair jurist. He is someone who will represent the American people well on our nation's highest court. He is someone we can all be proud of.

And I think the American people have come to see that, particularly over the course of the last week as he openly and straightforwardly answered numerous, hundreds of questions that came before him. And we urge the Senate to move -- the committee to move forward quickly on voting on his confirmation, and then the full Senate to move forward quickly on getting him confirmed so that he can get in place. And we appreciate Senator Specter's commitment to continue moving forward in a prompt manner.

And in terms of some of what occurred this week, I think that we have already talked about that. It's unfortunate that the American people had to see those kind of personal attacks injected into our confirmation process for the Supreme Court. I think that the American people expect better from their elected leaders. It started off, largely, in a dignified way. And I think yesterday you saw that some of the senators probably that you're referencing recognized that they probably had gone too far and they backed away from some of their behavior of the previous day.

Q In other words, you can't think of anyone uglier, can you, than Kennedy? And I want to go to a second question. Given Vice President Cheney's recent health problems, the President has given thought as to who should replace him should he become incapacitated, hasn't he?

MR. McCLELLAN: The Vice President is doing a great job and the President looks forward to continuing to work with him for the next three years.

Q Scott, did President Bush and German Chancellor Angela Merkel today discuss the Kosovo issue due to the upcoming talks of January 25th in Geneva?

MR. McCLELLAN: I know that they talked about Kosovo and they addressed that; they talked about Afghanistan, Kosovo and they talked about a number of important areas around the globe. I think that they may have talked in a little bit more detail when they were in the Oval Office, just the two of them. They only touched on it briefly in the discussion with the full delegation.

Q Do they agree at least on this issue?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q Do they agree --

MR. McCLELLAN: On which issue?

Q On Kosovo issue.

MR. McCLELLAN: We're all working together on these issues.

Q Scott, did the administration have concerns about the potential economic impact of the removal of Iranian oil from the world market?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think, Ken, that right now, what we're focused on is making sure that Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon. And that's trying to get us to -- it's an interesting way to come at the question of what action may or may not be taken when the matter is referred to the Security Council.

Right now we're focused on discussing those issues with our friends and partners and others.

Q Is it true that any reduction in supply from anywhere is --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not going to get into that kind of speculation.

Q It's already happening, though, isn't it?

MR. McCLELLAN: Peter, do you have one?

Q I'm sorry, one last question. Sorry. On the President's answer on Guantanamo today -- I wonder if you'd help us interpret it. Should we interpret that to mean that Guantanamo will stay open as long as there is a war on terror, or that Guantanamo might close at some point --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think it was similar to what we said before. I mean, first of all, he talked about how it's a necessary part of protecting the American people. We remain engaged in a global war on terrorism. The reason we have Guantanamo Bay is because there are enemy combatants we have picked up on the battlefield that were either fighting our forces or that otherwise want to do harm to the American people. And so there's a reason Guantanamo Bay is there.

Now, we have tried to move forward on the military commissions, and that is a matter that is still before the courts and we're working to resolve so that we can move forward on addressing these individual cases. We've also, I think, returned to -- returned individuals to their countries of origin in some 200 cases or more, from where we originally were. I think we originally started at some 800 or maybe a little bit more than that.

But I think the President made an important point. Go down and see for yourselves how these detainees are treated. They are treated well, they are treated humanely. The International Committee for the Red Cross has access to go down there and look. We encourage people to see. It's a transparent process. And we've got to keep in mind that we don't want to release people that are later going to come back and attack us or try to fight our forces.

And so that's a very serious thing that we look at before making that determination.

Q There were discussions, though, a few months back, about how, in fact, at some point, Guantanamo might be closed. I mean --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think at the time we talked about it. No one has come forward with a better alternative. And that's why we're trying to press ahead on the military commissions and resolving these individual cases in that manner. We feel that's the best way. But it's a matter that's still before the courts at this point.

Q One more, please, on domestic. As far as immigration is concerned, a lot of the small businesses are complaining that they have no legal workers and there is more demand, but legal workers are not available. And many businesses are closing down. And if the situation continues like this, then they will -- more businesses will close down. And they're calling on President Bush, that he should do something about this illegal immigration.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that's one part of our comprehensive plan for reforming our immigration system It is a system that is broken that needs to be fixed, and the President has talked about that. He talked about our plan with President Saca of El Salvador this morning; they had a phone conversation. The President talked about our comprehensive reform plan that is focused on enforcing our borders and taking additional steps to do so, and moving forward on a temporary worker program that would help solve the problem you bring up.

Q Thank you.

MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you.

END 2:18 P.M. EST