For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
March 28, 2006
Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
James S. Brady Briefing Room
1:13 P.M. EST
MR. MCCLELLAN: Good afternoon, everyone. It's been a busy day here. Sorry for my tardiness. We've had a number of meetings this morning. I would like to update you on a few things regarding the President's day.
First of all, the President, this morning, called Jamaican Prime Minister Patterson, as he leaves office, to commend him for his distinguished service to the people of Jamaica and for his leadership in the Caribbean. The two leaders briefly reflected on their work together, including their shared commitment to free trade in the hemisphere.
The President then called Prime Minister-designate Simpson-Miller to congratulate her and let her know that he looks forward to working with her once she takes office. The President and Minister Simpson-Miller both expressed their commitment to strengthening U.S.-Jamaican relations.
Also this morning, the President, as you heard, had a good meeting with his Cabinet. This Cabinet meeting went a little longer than usual. I think it was probably in the hour-and-15-minute range -- I think typically they run 45, maybe up to an hour at most. But we are a nation that remains at war and the President emphasized to his Cabinet that all of us have a responsibility to do our part to help us meet our commitments during a time of war. And this was an opportunity really for the Cabinet to receive an update from our commanders, as well as our Ambassador in Iraq, about the broader war on terrorism and about Iraq fits into that, as well.
General Abizaid, our commander at Central Command, provided an update on the broader war on terrorism and talked about the long struggle that we're engaged in against an extremist ideology, and the progress we're making. Secretary Rice also talked about the importance of, once the Iraqi government takes shape and is in -- formed and is in place, that it's important for the Cabinet to continue to work to provide technical expertise to the ministries as they get up and running. This is a young and emerging democracy. This is a new experience and they are learning many things as they move forward.
Secretary Rumsfeld and General Casey both talked about the training and equipping of Iraqi security forces. And Ambassador Khalilzad, in Iraq, talked about the progress that the Iraqis are making on the political front. He talked about how the Iraqi leaders were back meeting this morning and how they are moving forward to form a government of national unity. And he talked about how they have made a lot of tough choices and they have reached a lot of compromises along the way. There is still work that they are finishing up, but they're making good progress, and we are continuing to urge the government -- the government leaders to move forward as quickly as possible to get a unity government in place.
And then, following that, the President had a good meeting with three congressional delegations that just recently returned from Iraq. This included bipartisan members of both the Senate and the House, and this was an opportunity for the President to get an update from these members about what they saw during their visit, as well as listen to their thoughts an ideas that they have as we move forward toward victory in Iraq.
Then, finally, I would just like to make some brief comments about the announcement earlier today by the President that Andy Card will be stepping down as Chief of Staff. Andy has been an inspiration to all of us here at the White House through his leadership. He represents the best of public service. Andy is someone who is committed to serving others. He is a person of the highest integrity, a person of humility and decency and thoughtfulness and good judgment. And he exemplifies the high ideals that we all strive to meet. And all of us who have worked here with him have been honored to serve with him, and we will deeply miss him.
And with that, I'll be glad to go to your questions.
Q Scott, does Josh Bolten have the authority, or will he have the authority, to make other personnel changes if he deems it necessary?
MR. McCLELLAN: Sure, he'll have all the authority he needs to -- as Chief of Staff -- to make the decisions that he feels best, working with the President. Josh Bolten is someone who brings a lot of broad experience to the position. The President felt he was the best one to succeed Andy Card. Andy has done a great job. As the President talked about earlier, he has the highest admiration and respect for Andy, and appreciates the great job that he has done through some very historic and challenging times. We have accomplished much over the last five-and-a-half years. And now the President has tapped Josh Bolten to come into this position. Andy is not leaving until April 14th, so there will be a smooth transition period. Josh is certainly someone who knows the President well, knows his priorities, knows his philosophy. And the President looks forward to working with him in his new position as Chief of Staff.
But, I mean, I think that all of us here serve at the pleasure of the President. And that's important to keep in mind. But the President will look to Josh for his advice and counsel on management and staffing issues throughout the administration. But I think it's premature to try to speculate about what, if any, decisions might come.
Q Does the President think that this move today will satisfy the concerns of many Republicans who were calling for a White House shakeup?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Terry, I know that there's a tendency in this town to look at it in those terms and look at it in kind of zero-sum ways. That's not the way the President approached this. Let me back up, because I think it's best to kind of lay out some of the facts for you.
Andy initially approached the President back -- I think it was on March 8th -- he came to the President and raised the possibility of him stepping down. And after that period they had a number of conversations over the last few weeks, over the last three-week period. The most recent conversation they had was this weekend at Camp David on Saturday. And after a lot of thought and a lot of discussion, the President -- I think the best way to describe it would be -- reluctantly accepted his resignation. Andy is someone who has had the trust and confidence of the President and the staff and those throughout the administration. There were a number of standing ovations for him today, both in the senior staff meeting, as well as at the Cabinet meeting, for the great job that he has done.
But I think Andy recognized that it is time for a change. So he and the President had a good discussion about that over the last few weeks. The President reached out to Josh, to talk to him about the possibility of succeeding Andy. And that's some of the facts.
Q Well, there have been these calls, as you know, among Republicans for some big changes here at the White House. And there are some people who feel the President is just trading one insider for another -- Andy Card, who is a longtime Washington hand, worked for him for five years, with Josh Bolten, who's worked for him for five years and also is well --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Josh Bolten is someone that is well-respected not only throughout the administration, but by members of Congress, members of both parties. And I think that you will hear that from people who know him well. Josh is someone who brings his own unique experiences to the position. And he will certainly run things the way he sees best. But the President believes he was the best person for the job, and that's why he reached out to Josh to succeed Andy.
Q The question, though, Scott is, did the President feel the change was necessary as he tries to better his political standing in his second term?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, after a lot of discussion with Andy, he felt that this was the right decision. He accepted the wise judgment of his Chief of Staff.
Q Why is it time in the President's view?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, I think we need to step back and look at the broader picture, because over the course of the last year, since the election of -- the reelection of 2004, I think half the senior staff has changed. So there's constantly change within the White House. Now, it's important that that change be smooth and that you continue to bring in good people. The President has surrounded himself with very smart and capable people. He has had a good team that has helped him accomplish many great things for the American people, particularly during a time of war. And remember, as he talked about earlier, we came into office during a recession, and we are now in a strong economic expansion, and we need to keep that going. We need to continue to move forward in the war on terrorism.
So I think it shouldn't be surprising that after five-and-a-half years, his Chief of Staff would come to him to talk to him about this very matter, and say that it's time for a new season, as he talked about earlier in his remarks.
Q But was there atrophy among the senior staff? Did the President have a sense that he's getting knocked around politically, he's -- there are missteps in the White House that may be attributable to staff, and that he needed to shake things up? Did he have that view?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know that he looked at it necessarily in those terms at all, David. He appreciates the job that his staff is doing. He talked about that in this very room just last week. He has a great team. He appreciates the job they're doing and they have his confidence. And certainly Andy Card has served very well, and with the admiration and respect of the entire White House, starting with the President.
Q Scott, when Andy Card shows up on March the 8th and raises the possibility, what's motivating that? Just because he's tired, or was it on the heels of the ports deal, and the low poll numbers --
MR. McCLELLAN: Having worked with Andy for the last five-and-a-half years, one thing I know is that I've never seen him tired. Although he is someone that puts in as long as hours [sic] as anyone -- he's the first one to come into the White House each morning, and many times is the last one to leave, and he's constantly working round the clock from wherever he is.
Q What was new on March 8th?
MR. McCLELLAN: But I think that -- he talked about this a little bit earlier in his remarks. In a White House, particularly a White House of this size, there's always going to be change, and that change can be good. And so Andy and the President had a good discussion about that over the last few weeks.
Q Scott, can you expand on that a little bit? You said Andy recognized it was time for a change, and you're right, he did talk about it a little bit. But did he feel someone else could do a better job at this point, that anything had gone wrong? Give us some clarity on why Andy Card would --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you always learn from experience over the last few years, Martha. But I don't think that's the way anyone was looking at it. I think that Andy was looking at it from a very selfless standpoint -- selfless standpoint. And he talked to the President about it on a number of occasions over the last few weeks. And so this was something that they put a lot of thought into, and the President accepted his resignation after those discussions.
Q But even saying he did this as a selfless -- meaning what? Meaning he thought the White House needed a change, fresh blood, what?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Andy has a lot of experience. And the President has -- he has continued to enjoy the President's full confidence throughout the last five-and-a-half years, because he has done a really spectacular job. And I think that he's someone who knows that there comes a time when it's time to move on and allow someone else to come in. And I think that is what he -- the recognition that he came to.
Q They could have fresh eyes? Just give us a sense of why he wanted to do this. Did they think someone else, looking at the same situations, or after Dubai Ports, or after any of what you've been through, might be able to bring more to --
MR. McCLELLAN: I wouldn't try to overanalyze it. I would take it for what it is. That's why I laid out the facts for you. The facts are exactly as they were spelled out earlier today, and it's exactly as I'm spelling out to you right now. This was something --
Q So Mr. Card didn't think there were any problems?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- Andy felt it was time, that change is necessary in any administration, and this was a time for change in this position.
Q Scott, completely off the subject, and I'm sure others will come back to it soon. On Charles Taylor's disappearance in Nigeria, what's the White House reaction? Will President Bush go ahead with tomorrow's meeting with the Nigerian President? If so, will he have some message, some threat of sanctions for him, or any other country that might give sanctuary to Taylor?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, we're not in a position to confirm his location because we have not been informed by the Nigerian government of Mr. Taylor's whereabouts. It is the responsibility of the Nigerian government to see that he is conveyed to the Special Court for Sierra Leone. We expect the government of Nigeria to fulfill this commitment. And I think if you have further questions about his whereabouts, that that's something that needs to be directed to the Nigerian government. We have been committed to working with the Liberian government, the Nigerian government, and the tribunal to make sure that he is brought to justice.
Q Will the meeting with Obasanjo go ahead tomorrow?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, right now we are looking for answers from the Nigerian government about the whereabouts of Charles Taylor.
Q Scott, on Iraq, there's a report that the President does not want Prime Minister al Jafaari to lead a new government of national unity, and that he actually put this into some sort of a letter or some sort of communication to a Shiite leader. Does the President want Prime Minister al Jafaari to move forward as leader?
MR. McCLELLAN: What we are doing is encouraging the Iraqi leaders to move forward on a government of national unity, based on strong leadership. It is up to the Iraqi people to decide who the prime minister is. And I don't think that's an accurate report at all, what you just described.
Q So the President did not contact any Shiite leaders and tell them what he thinks?
MR. McCLELLAN: I know of no letter.
Q Scott, back on Charles Taylor. Reading between the lines, it looks like you're saying the meeting is on hold for now, until you get answers to the whereabouts of Charles Taylor, correct? It may not happen tomorrow?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm saying that right now we're interested in getting answers from the Nigerian government.
Q Do you think the Nigerian government, or someone in Nigeria had anything to do with Charles Taylor's disappearance?
MR. McCLELLAN: You're asking me to speculate; I'm not going to do that. We have not been informed by the Nigerian government about his whereabouts.
Q But, Scott, if you're asking for answers from Nigeria, you're putting the onus of everything on Nigeria, it seems, as to Charles Taylor. Could you explain --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, they have a responsibility here. I think I described it in my initial comments in response to Matt.
Go ahead, David.
Q Scott, just to follow up first on your answer on Jafaari. While there may not have been a letter, is it your understanding that the President or others in the White House have conveyed through our embassy there, their sense that Mr. Jafaari would not be the best person to be heading the unity government?
MR. McCLELLAN: What we have conveyed is what I just described to you. We continue to encourage the Iraqi leaders to move forward on a government of national unity. But it is up to the Iraqi people to decide who their prime minister is. And our Ambassador briefed the Cabinet earlier today; he was also on -- through video conference with the congressional delegations that had just returned, as well, and he talked about the progress that's being made to form a government of national unity. But it's up to the Iraqi people to make those decisions, David.
Q Should I interpret that, Scott, as a denial that the United States has indicated to the Iraqi government what our preferences were, even if it is up ultimately --
MR. McCLELLAN: What we are doing is supporting the Iraqi leaders as they move forward on putting a government in place that represents all Iraqis. And what we have emphasized and encouraged is that it be a government of national unity based on strong leadership. And it's up to them to decide who those leaders are within that government.
Q The question you're sort of stepping around, Scott, is understanding that it's their decision to make, have we expressed a preference or advice?
MR. McCLELLAN: I would describe it the way I just did, David.
Q And one further on Andy Card's move. Should we assume that the current deputy chiefs of staff are staying in place?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, David, I think it's premature to talk about any future decisions that may or may not be made, and so I would discourage you from doing that. First of all, Josh is going to have plenty of time to transition and get in place. And he has the full confidence of the President and his authority to manage the White House staff and to look at personnel issues throughout the administration and within the White House. And if there are any discussions about future decisions that need to be made regarding personnel matters, those are discussions that the President and the Chief of Staff will -- new Chief of Staff will have, and they'll move forward based on those discussions.
Q Scott, two topics, on Afghanistan and Hamas. Can you tell us the whereabouts of Abdul Rahman, and will he be protected here? And has the image of Afghanistan suffered through this incident?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know the latest in terms of his whereabouts. Obviously, it's good news that he has been released. I haven't received an update because of some of the other meetings I've been in this morning prior to coming out here. What was the second part of your question?
Q Is he likely to receive asylum here?
MR. McCLELLAN: I saw some other countries that had talked about offering asylum to him and I don't have any additional update on that at this point.
Q Has the image of Afghanistan been hurt through all this?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think it's important to put in context where Afghanistan is. This is a new and emerging democracy. This is a democracy that has enshrined in its constitution certain universal principles of human rights, and we will continue to emphasize the importance of adhering to the universal values that all democracies hold dear, such as freedom of expression and freedom of religion. The President has made it clear that we expect people's religious freedoms to be protected. And so we'll continue to make that clear to the government of Afghanistan as they move forward. But we are pleased that this was resolved in a favorable manner and that he has been released.
Q And can I ask on Hamas, where does U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority stand now, given this Hamas majority?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we've been having discussions with the international community about how to continue to provide humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people. But in terms of our views of Hamas, nothing has changed. Hamas has a decision and choice that they need to make. It was spelled out very clearly what the international community expects of Hamas in the Quartet statement that was put out in recent weeks. And it's up to Hamas to make the decision if they want to realize better relations with the international community. And the decision they have to make is, will they renounce violence and terrorism; will they disarm; and will they recognize Israel.
Go ahead, Richard.
Q Scott, there's been a lot of speculation that one of the reasons why there's a need for change in the White House staff is because many people are tired. Did Andy Card ever indicate to the President that that was one of the reasons why --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think Jim was asking that question earlier, and as I said, I mean, I know no one has put in more hours and worked harder than Andy Card, but I've never known Andy Card to tire. He is someone who is deeply committed to serving the public and serving the American people, and doing his best to help the President advance his agenda. And we have accomplished much over the last several years, from getting our economy growing and creating millions of new jobs, to advancing in the war on terrorism, to passing a modernization of Medicare that is providing seniors now with real savings on their prescription drugs, to moving forward on a comprehensive energy plan, to passing tax cuts for the American people.
So there's much we have accomplished, but the President also emphasized the importance of, we still have a few years left, there's a long road ahead of us, and he's determined to continue getting things done. And he looks forward to working with Josh and the rest of the White House staff and the Cabinet Secretaries to continue to build upon our record of results.
Q Scott, in regard to -- a two-part question -- regarding Connie's question, a group monitoring Christian persecution reported yesterday that two more Christian converts in Afghanistan have been jailed, with Abdul Rahman having narrowly escaped the death penalty for the crime of converting to Christianity. What does the President plan to do --
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know about those reports, Les, but our view has been very clear. We talked about how deeply troubled we were about the case involving Abdul Rahman, and we will continue to express our views and work with the Afghan government to make sure that they continue to move forward on important universal values of democracies.
Q The result of five national polls, including Gallup and NBC/Wall Street Journal, show an overwhelming majority of the American people believe that the federal government should do more to prevent illegal immigration, instead of the McCain/Kennedy amnesty proposal, so similar to what was tried in 1986 and which failed. And my question: Why does the President believe that illegal immigrants will bother to sign up for a guest worker plan when so many millions have been able to stay in this country while breaking the law?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, I think you should look back to the President's principles that he outlined for comprehensive immigration reform. And let me remind you what the President said yesterday: "Comprehensive immigration reform begins with securing our borders." That's why we have taken a number of steps to better secure our borders. We've increased funding by some 66 percent since he came into office. We're continuing to move forward and increase that funding and hire more Border Patrol agents, and deploy technology along the border to stop people from entering this country illegally. And the President talked about the interior enforcement side, as well.
But if we're going to have an orderly and secure and rational immigration system, then we need to address it in a comprehensive way. All of these elements reinforce one another. That's why the President believes that we need a temporary worker program, where most people, the President believes, would eventually return home after they have gone through their time period in the temporary worker program.
Now, there are a lot of --
Q What was his reaction --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- the President has made it very clear that he is opposed to amnesty. He's opposed to any effort that would put these immigrants on an automatic path to citizenship. And he will stand firmly opposed to amnesty. But what's important right now, I think, Les, is that this is early in the legislative process, that the legislative process is moving forward. The Senate is working to move forward on legislation. They're taking the matter up today. We believe it ought to be comprehensive, but at this point we are pleased that the legislative process is moving forward. And we'll continue to work with members of Congress to iron out the details and work on some of the specific matters that you bring up as we move forward.
Q What is his reaction to the hundreds of thousands of people demonstrating in Los Angeles and across the country? What does he think? They seem to be demonstrating in favor of no restrictions at all, an open border --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, what he thinks is what he has spelled out in his remarks yesterday and what he spelled out two years ago, when he outlined his principles for comprehensive immigration reform. So I would encourage to you to look back at exactly what he talked about.
Q Scott, back to his Chief of Staff. Josh Bolten once worked in Congress. Would you expect, or would it be reasonable to expect further changes, say, in the congressional liaison staff, or other places to improve --
MR. McCLELLAN: As I said earlier and as I indicated in previous questions, I think it's premature to get into any sort of speculation.
Q Okay, you're not ruling anything out yet?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not ruling anything in. I'm saying that Josh Bolten will be the new Chief of Staff. He will start on April 15th, and he has the confidence of the President to do what he needs to do to help him advance his agenda and make the decisions that are in the best interest of the American people.
Q Scott, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief has said that she's highly concerned that the government of Iran is about to increase its persecution of the 300,000 members of the Baha'i faith in that country. What is the President's message to the government of Iran on this issue?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, as you pointed out, she has expressed her concern that the situation with regard to religious minorities in Iran, the Baha'i, is, in fact, worsening. We share those concerns. We call on the regime in Iran to respect the religious freedom of all its minorities, and to ensure that these minorities are free to practice their religious beliefs without discrimination or fear. And we will continue to monitor the situation of the Baha'i -- the Baha'is in Iran very closely, and to speak out when their rights are denied.
Q What pressure would you urge, perhaps, other countries to put on Iran?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think we will talk with ambassadors of other countries in the region and raise this issue with them, and with their governments. We will continue to speak out and to raise this issue, the treatment of the Baha'is, in the United Nations and other organizations, and to ask all those who have any sort of influence in Tehran to continue to defend the rights of the Baha'i and other religious minorities.
Q Thank you. Scott, what specifically does the President want Mexico to do to stop the flow of illegals into this country?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President looks forward to going to Cancun. We will be leaving tomorrow afternoon. He will be having a bilateral meeting with President Fox and he looks forward to talking with President Fox about immigration. I think one of the things the President will do is reiterate his commitment to comprehensive immigration reform. It's also an opportunity to talk about the responsibilities that we all have, that both governments have, to address the issues along the border and to secure our borders. There are responsibilities on both sides, and we all need to work together to make sure those responsibilities are met.
Q I have a second question. Will the President sign any immigration bill that does not contain a guest worker provision?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, this question came up yesterday, and the President believes very strongly that any immigration reform ought to be comprehensive, and that means it ought to have all three elements that he outlined, including a temporary worker program, because what a temporary worker program would do is help relieve pressure on the border. It will allow our law enforcement officials and Border Patrol agents to focus on those who are coming here for the wrong reasons -- the criminals and the drug dealers and the terrorists. And so it will help us better secure our borders.
So the President, when he looks at this, starts with, what is our objective. Our objective is a rational, orderly and secure immigration system. And how do we get to that? We have an immigration system that is broken. I think it's clear to everyone that we need to continue to do more to secure our borders. We need to do a better job of enforcing our laws in the interior, and we need to address the situation when it comes to the undocumented workers who are in this country that are filling jobs that Americans are not wanting to fill. And so that's why the President outlined a comprehensive approach. And if we're going to fix the system, we need to do it in a comprehensive way, we ought to do it right.
Q Does the President plan to nominate a successor to Josh Bolten before he leaves his post?
MR. McCLELLAN: Before he leaves -- well, we'll move forward as quickly as possible to name a successor to Josh at the Office of Management and Budget. As you know, I don't speculate about the timing or any of those personnel issues relating to it. The President will have more to say, I'm sure, soon.
Q Scott, Andy Card said he resigned because it was time for a change. Was it a time for a change for himself, or did he believe it was a time for a change for the White House?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think Andy always looks at it in terms of what's best for the President. And so that's the way he approached it.
Q So he did it because it was best for the White House for him to leave?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q So he did it because he believed it was best for the White House if he left?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think he was looking at what is in the best interest of the President, in his view.
Q And, obviously, the President agreed.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, no, Ken, I think that that's simplifying it too much. As I indicated earlier, the President reluctantly accepted his resignation. This was after a number of discussions that they had. And Andy was the one who first approached the President about it and raised the possibility of it. And the President took time to think about it, discussed it with others, discussed it with Andy, and came to the decision he did over the course of the weekend.
Q So he agreed with Andy that it was best for the President if Andy left at this time?
MR. McCLELLAN: Ken, I think you're trying to simplify it, and I wouldn't do that. And I would not agree with the characterization. I would look at the facts and then move forward from there.
Q Well, does the President think this was the best thing for this White House, for Andy to leave at this time?
MR. McCLELLAN: Ken, he expressed what his views were when it came to Andy. And now you're trying to get me to fall into this simplification that this town likes to do in terms of describing things. I wouldn't do that.
Q Would it be fair to --
MR. McCLELLAN: I know, it's not that simple. But that's my point, Ken, it's not that simple. I'm trying to encourage you to look at the facts.
Q It was not too long ago, a White House Conference on Aging, and delegates came from all the states, red and blue, and they voted unanimously that the Medicare drug benefit plan needs a lot of work and a lot of revisions. Do you think that's going to be a political issue in the midterm elections?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I noticed that just last week, I believe it was, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced that there are now some 27.5 million people who have signed up or who enrolled in the prescription drug benefit. And I've seen recent stories where people who are enrolled in it are very pleased with how the program is working for them. For the vast majority of people, the prescription drug benefit is working very well. But anytime you have a change of this size, there are going to be some kinks in it that you need to work out, and that's what we have worked to do.
But the enrollment period is still going on, and it's up to seniors to make the decisions that best fit their own individual health care needs. What's important now is that they have the choices available to them and they have better benefits available to them, including prescription drug coverage. So you're seeing substantial savings realized for our seniors, and I think that's important to take a look at.
Q Can you talk a little bit more about Cancun and the other side of the talks, with Canada -- border, immigration? Are those high priorities?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, this will be -- you're talking about Canada? I mean, the President had a -- first of all, had a good discussion with Prime Minister Martin [sic] yesterday. That was a call that Prime Minister Martin [sic] initiated, really to thank the President on behalf of the people of Canada for the efforts of our coalition forces, our American forces, part of the coalition, to rescue the hostages last week, including one Canadian.
But I think that when you're looking at this trip, first of all, it was last year in Waco when the three leaders -- Prime Minister Martin, at the time, President Fox and President Bush -- announced a new initiative, the Security and Prosperity Partnership, among the three nations. And this is a way to build upon our efforts to really make sure that North America is more integrated and remains competitive in this global changing economy that we live in. So they're going to talk about concrete ways that we can move forward on the security and prosperity partnership. And the President looks forward to those discussions with the other two leaders.
In terms of Canada, this will be the President's first meeting with Prime Minister Harper since he took office -- he had met with him briefly previously when he was the opposition leader. And each of these relationships -- the relationship with Mexico, the relationship with Canada -- is a unique relationship. We've had good relations with both countries. And the President looks forward to visiting with Prime Minister Martin [sic] and strengthening our relations. So he very much looks forward to this trip.
Q Scott, the Arab summit has convened today in Sudan. Does the President have any expectations from this summit, especially from neighboring countries to Iran?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, the --
Q The Arab summit.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we continue to encourage all governments in the region -- many of the Arab governments that you're referencing -- to do their part to support the Iraqi people and the Iraqi government as they move forward on putting a lasting democracy in place. We will continue to call on those nations to establish diplomatic relations with Iraq, and have a diplomatic presence inside Iraq. There are lots of ways that they can help. The Iraqi people have shown they want to chart their own future, and all of us -- particularly those in the neighborhood -- have a responsibility to help them as they move forward.
Q Scott, going back to this meeting with Obasanjo, beyond being the President of Nigeria, he is the Chairman of the African Union. And the White House put out a statement saying there would be other issues to be discussed, to include Darfur/Sudan.
MR. McCLELLAN: Absolutely, that's a top priority for the President. I know it has been a priority for President Obasanjo, too.
Q But as you're saying it's a priority, is this meeting being held up because the President looks at Charles Taylor as a threat to the United States, as well?
MR. McCLELLAN: I would just leave it where I did earlier. Right now we're seeking answers from the Nigerian government.
Q It's known that Charles Taylor harbored al Qaeda in his country when he was President. Do you --
MR. McCLELLAN: We have called for Charles Taylor to be brought to justice. We have supported the wishes of the Liberian people to see that he is brought to justice.
Q Scott, can you just explain, why did the President reluctantly accept Card's resignation, if, as you pointed out, he's been on the job five-and-a-half years, it's reasonable he wants to move on to other things, they both came to the realization that it would be the best thing? Doesn't that --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think for the reasons that the President stated in his remarks. Andy is someone who has earned his admiration and respect, and the President has a deep appreciation for the job that he has done, particularly during the challenging times that we have been living in and that this administration has faced.
We live in historic times. There are many challenges that we have had to address, and Andy has done a great job heading the White House staff in helping the President address these challenges and get results for the American people, results that are helping to make the world safer and results that are helping to make America more prosperous. So the President knows that he is someone who has given it his all, and he has done everything he can to help the President represent the American people and do what is in their best interest.
Q But might that be criticism that the President is insulated, doesn't want to move beyond a small circle of advisors?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think that's another tendency of this town to overanalyze things, and I would discourage that.
Q Thank you.
MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you.
END 1:49 P.M. EST