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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 31, 2006

Press Briefing by Tony Snow
James S. Brady Briefing Room

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1:07 P.M. EDT

MR. SNOW: Good afternoon. One quick personnel announcement: The President today is announcing he's going to name Raul Yanes to be Assistant to the President and Staff Secretary. Mr. Yanes is now General Counsel at the Office of Management and Budget, and previously served as Senior Counselor to the Attorney General at the Department of Justice. He was also Associate Counsel to the President at the White House from 2003 to 2005. A statement will be published presently.

As I mentioned earlier in the day, Secretary Rice gave a speech and she was outlining United States' continued efforts to persuade Iran to suspend any enrichment and enrichment-related and reprocessing efforts when it comes to nuclear programs of the Iranian government. And that has attracted a certain amount of interest. And with that, I will turn it over for questions. Terry.

Q Have Russia and China agreed to support sanctions against Iran if it declines to stop its nuclear activities?

MR. SNOW: What's happened is that everybody has agreed at this point on the fundamental, which is that Iran has to go ahead and suspend these activities. And that is still the precursor to the United States joining the talks. They are still finalizing both a series of inducements and punishments to Iran if it fails to do that, and the United States is continuing to work with its allies on those.

The President spoke yesterday, as I mentioned, directly with President Putin. There have also been ministerial-level contacts with the government of China.

Q So is there a general agreement, or how would you characterize where China and Russia are?

MR. SNOW: I think at this point there's still attempts to work out the package of incentives and to get that -- it is hoped that that will get worked out in Vienna. Secretary Rice is on her way to Vienna where there is going to be a ministerial meeting with the P5 plus Germany, and I'll let her make any further announcements there.

Everybody is very close. And what's important I think to point out here is that in many ways this represents the triumph of about 15 months of very hard diplomacy on the part of the President. It began back in a speech he delivered in March of 2005, where he said it was important for Iran to suspend the nuclear activities that I've been talking about. In addition, he was supporting the efforts of the EU 3.

At the very beginning, there weren't many nations signed on to this. Subsequently, however, you've had a number of different nations joining on. You've got all 25 members of the European Union; you've got the IAEA; you've got the United Nations Security Council; you have Saudi Arabia; you have Egypt. You have a number of nations now that have realized that development of nuclear weapons by Iran could be a global crisis.

And what we want to do is to resolve this diplomatically. What started as, sort of a group of four `-- the United States plus the EU 3 -- is now a large and robust international coalition. And the President now is trying -- as Secretary Rice said, we created a climate of opinion, now there's also a climate for action. The action here is to try to get all of these nations to work together with Iran diplomatically, not only to suspend those activities, but if that happens, then there will be a series of inducements to follow. And they are working out the particulars of the inducements at this point.

Q Is there any reason the President hasn't called his Chinese counterpart?

MR. SNOW: I suspect, and I don't want to step too far, the answer is, I don't think there is any particular reason. A lot of this, again, has been done at the ministerial level. He has not called each and ever counterpart who's been involved in recent months in going ahead and joining us in this effort.

Q Any indications from the Swiss, when they delivered the initial package, of any response from Iran or any --

MR. SNOW: No, we haven't. But one of the things -- it's a very good question, Kelly, because there is a possibility that somebody may quickly try to reject -- there's been history of sort of quick reactions. And what we're hoping is that the Iranians will take a little bit of time to study this and think about what's going on, because the United States, again, is putting its weight behind these negotiations in the clear hope that they're going to succeed.

We are now dealing with a situation where there are real timetables. In the past when the Iranians have made threats about nuclear development, they've followed through on them. When they said that by the end of the year they want to have 3,000 centrifuges, that would give them, in essence, a fully ramped-up nuclear capability. We can't have that happen. We don't want that to happen. Therefore, you try to follow the proper series of inducements. And the United States is going to be working very vigorously with the allies to make sure we don't get to that point. That's why we're getting started right now.

Jessica.

Q Why this change in tactics now?

MR. SNOW: For the reason I just mentioned -- the realities on the ground, as Secretary Rice said earlier today, have made it clear -- there have been a couple of things over the years that are worth thinking about. For instance, the EU 3 spent two years in Paris working with the Iranians. At the end of it, the Iranians jumped out of the talks and accelerated their nuclear development. We can't have that happen again. And so the United States is entering -- now there is no time to play rope-a-dope. We have between now and the end of the year. The Iranians -- we have to take seriously what they have said about the development of centrifuges. And so this is a time to work very aggressively to reach out to the government of Iran and say, the ball is in your court. There are two paths to follow. One is going to be very good for you. It will offer on economic cooperation, educational exchanges, cultural cooperation, trade -- all of those things will be possible if, but only if, you suspend these nuclear activities.

On the other side is a path where there are also a series of options that would begin with the United Nations Security Council in a Chapter 7 proceeding and continued financial pressure and other methods that could be used against the government of Iran. We want to make it clear, as the President said today, we have nothing, no fight with the people of Iran, and, frankly, we don't want to have a fight with the government. We want to be able to reach out with the international community -- and understand this is not the United States and Iran; this is the global community and Iran. And we want to make sure this thing works and we're adding the power of prestige of the United States to the direct talks because -- a couple of other things -- not only do we have the concerns about the centrifuges, but also, as you know, the Iranians have been pinging us quite a bit lately. They've been reaching out through third parties. They say that they want to be serious about doing this. This is a time to measure that. We want to find out if they are serious.

Steve.

Q Could you tell us a little bit about the decision-making process here? Who did he talk to? When did he actually decide to make this change in tactics?

MR. SNOW: Well, this has been under consideration for a considerable period of time. The United States has been talking with the allies. We have been following closely what has been going on with the EU 3, and we've been trying to answer the question, how do you make diplomacy work? What is the simplest, what's the most effective way to make diplomacy work?

The President has been in consultations, as he mentioned, today. It was discussed last week in his conversation with Prime Minister Blair. He has discussed it with a number of other leaders. There were those three important phone calls yesterday with President Putin, President Chirac, and Chancellor Merkel. And this is -- so it's become one of those things --

Q Was there a debate within the White House on whether to do this or not? Were there some opposed, some for it?

MR. SNOW: No, this is -- and I'm glad you asked about that, because this is one of those cases where everybody agreed. You don't have fights between the Department of Defense, you don't have internal schisms, and at the same time, you don't have any daylight between the allies.

The President has been working this for a time -- and I failed to finish answering your prior question, which is that the final decision was made after going through and reviewing all this and finally signing off last night on the statement that Secretary Rice gave today, and then proceeding with the notifications this morning of other governments, and particularly through dual channels, the government of Iran.

Carl.

Q Insofar as this is a new getting-started period with the United States bringing its power and prestige to a group of four, what does that say about the efficacy of the EU 3 for the last two-and-a-half-years?

MR. SNOW: First, it's not a new getting-started period. This is an attempt, really, to add momentum to what's going on. We have fully supported what the EU 3 is doing. And let's face it, for the United States to get behind the table adds extra weight to the proceedings. We think that what has happened is that the principles have been laid out, and also the signals that we've gotten from Iran -- keep in mind, Carl, that in recent days there have been public and private statements by key players in Iran that they want some way to reopen an avenue of conversation. We've always made it clear that it's not going to be a one-on-one conversation because this is not Iran versus the U.S., or Iran dealing with the U.S. It is the global community talking with Iran about a matter of concern. So this is not designed to impugn the efforts of the EU 3. What it's designed to do is to assist it.

Q If the U.S. believes that the Iranian regime supports terrorists, how is this different than, let's say, Hamas?

MR. SNOW: Well, actually, it's not. And keep in mind that there are a number of things. Secretary Rice made it clear today that simply because Iran suspends nuclear development does not mean that we cease putting pressure on Iran for other things, for human rights and terrorism activities. That still remains on the table, and we want the government of Iran to cease on both sides.

So I'm glad you raised it, because it's not -- as she said, this is not a grand bargain, this is not -- we're not going to sweep everything off the table. We're talking about one thing, and one thing only, and that's the nuclear program, when it comes to the negotiations with the EU 3.

Now, as Secretary Rice also said, once they get to the table, then they can discuss anything. But we are going to have the same approach, which is there will be carrots for good behavior, and there will be sticks for bad behavior. But what we're hoping to do right now is to create a climate where we can work diplomatically with the government of Iran to solve this.

Q -- you still send a mixed message just by virtue of being at the table?

MR. SNOW: No. It doesn't send a mixed message because what you're suggesting is we have to solve everything at once, and I don't think anybody is arguing that that's possible. I think what you have to do is to deal with the most immediately urgent issue, which is the nuclear issue, and you deal with that. And once you've done that also, let's face it, there have been problems of confidence in these negotiations. I just mentioned what happened in Paris. If you build a basis for confidence and trust, I think it's going to be easier to deal with the other issues in the future. So, again, don't look for a grand bargain here. We're tackling one issue at a time, and issue number one is the nuclear issue.

Q Do you happen to know when or whether Donald Rumsfeld first spoke with the President about Haditha?

MR. SNOW: Hang on a second. I've got a timetable and I will try to get you a date here. Let me -- if you'll permit. Or do I?

Q And also, when the Secretary of Defense first knew.

MR. SNOW: I think, again -- I will get back to you because I do have a tick-tock on Haditha. And the characterization I've received -- obviously, there was a report, I believe on November 19th -- was that the date? There was a follow-on sort of account on the 20th or the 21st. So in that sense, people knew about Haditha. But I think the concern about subsequent reports of people being massacred or people being killed, that really was stimulated by reporters' inquiries, which came, I believe in January.

Q There have already been serious allegations of, at best, foot dragging, and at worst, a coverup. Why not get out ahead of the curve, go on the offense, and just appoint an independent inquiry?

MR. SNOW: Because the Marines are actually conducting an inquiry and it's a very vigorous one. I would ask you to suspend any judgment about what happens.

I mentioned this morning that there are two tracks. Number one is what happened with the reporting of the incident, and what happened. And the Marines are taking both of those very seriously and they're proceeding very aggressively. So I think rather than trying to prejudge it -- the second thing, and this is equally important, is that when you have an ongoing criminal proceeding, to try to characterize it on my part or anybody within the chain of command within the Department of Defense could very well prejudice and injure any attempts to engage in a prosecution should it be necessary. So you've got to be very careful about how you do this.

What I've been assured by the Department of Defense and what I fully expect to see and you expect to see, as well, is when the report is released, we're going to see it. We're going to see everything. And we'll have an opportunity not merely to gauge the conclusions in the investigation by the Marines into all areas of conduct, on the ground and afterward, but also the subsequent measures that may or may not be taken in response.

Jim.

Q Tony, the President has been very open about what he thinks about Abu Ghraib and how that affected the world's view of Iraq. So what was his personal reaction to the reports initially?

MR. SNOW: Well, again, you take a look at the initial reports and, obviously, these are disturbing, but this is where I want to be careful, Jim, because, again, if we start characterizing a reaction to a report, it could be construed as trying to intervene in an ongoing investigation. So we have to be very careful. It's very inviting to say, we've heard these things, it's terrible -- to express full outrage. But the President has an obligation to make sure that the people who are conducting a criminal investigation within the Department of Defense have an opportunity to do that in a way that is consistent with the rule of law and with the military -- the Code of Military Justice.

Q Is he satisfied that that investigation started quickly enough?

MR. SNOW: Again, keep in mind, there are two parts in this investigation. I can't even answer that question because it may prejudice something that's ongoing, as well.

Lester.

Q Yes, Tony, two questions. According to researcher Deborah Sherman Coughlin (phonetic), of the Violent Crimes Institute in Atlanta, 240,000 illegal alien sex offenders in the United States have had an average of four victims each, making nearly 1 million sex crimes perpetrated by illegals. My question: Is the President aware of this research? And would it make him more likely to make border security the cornerstone of his immigration reform?

MR. SNOW: Lester, what you have got to -- what you've got to do is you've got to send me advance -- let's do an early warning system for Lester so that when you come up with these fairly obscure stories and studies, that I have an opportunity to look into it. Because that one, I've got no clue. I'm serious --

Q You will pursue it, though?

MR. SNOW: Of course. One of things you have to do is to figure out whether these are legitimate pieces of research or whether they're -- and I can't characterize it.

Q Okay. The President's recent statement: "The Palestinians want to live in peace. Our beef is not with the Palestinian people, but with the government." And my question: Since the overwhelming majority of these allegedly peace-loving Palestinian people voted for Hamas, which the President recognizes as a terrorist organization, how can he claim they are peace lovers when polls also report 75 percent of Palestinians support attacks on Israel?

MR. SNOW: A couple of points to make. Number one, there were many reasons for the election of Hamas; one of them was corruption in the previous regime. And Hamas, you may recall, ran on an anti-corruption platform. Also it is worth noting that the President is -- well, that there is still an ongoing debate within the Palestinian Authority, and President Abbas has said to Hamas that they need, within a very short span of time, to go ahead and recognize Israel. So rather --

Q -- they aren't about to recognize Israel, are they?

MR. SNOW: Well, it means that it gets to dissolve the government. And then you get back to having -- yes. So then you get back --

Q Do you think the Palestinians will then vote the other way?

MR. SNOW: I don't know. I don't know. Look, if you're -- I don't want to speak on behalf of the Palestinian people, but I think it is safe to say that people there have gotten just as tired of war as anybody else and they would like to have a peaceful, successful society.

Q How does the White House characterize this recent escalation of violent activity both in Afghanistan and Iraq? Is it part of a pattern, or just some that --

MR. SNOW: I think it could probably be both. For instance, take the case of Afghanistan. We have recently had the turnover from U.S. forces to some coalition forces, especially in the south, and you could interpret some of what's going on as testing. This happens.

The other thing is we have just had a successful transfer of government -- or the inauguration of the government of Prime Minister Maliki in Iraq, and again, as we've said at many junctures, when you get these key points, what's going to happen is the people who do not have a vested interest in a free democracy in Iraq are going to do everything they can to test it. And we have seen terrorist spikes around elections, around the announcement of elections, and around a formation of government.

So I think in some ways -- I hate to say that they are predictable, but these are things that do happen in a time of war, and especially in a time when you're seeing the Taliban trying to assert itself in the southern regions of Afghanistan.

Kelly.

Q Going back to Haditha for a moment, today and in some of your earlier comments, you've said when the investigations are complete you expect that we'll see everything. Will that include some of the photographic evidence --

MR. SNOW: I think so, yes. Yes, I do. I mean, the stuff is going to come out.

Q When is it coming out?

MR. SNOW: I don't have -- we don't have a direct answer on that. We've been given vague time lines. I don't want to get into speculating on it, but there is no firm release date at this point. But I expect it to be in a matter of weeks, not a matter of months.

Q Have you been given assurances by the Pentagon that they'll release photographic evidence?

MR. SNOW: I have not asked specifically, but the characterization is it will all come out, something to that effect.

Q Tony, when you say it will all come out, do you mean it will all come out from the Pentagon to the White House, or it will all come out from the Pentagon to the White House to the public?

MR. SNOW: There's going to be a public release I think of substantial portions of the report, or all of the report. I mean, I would --

Q -- substantial versus all of it --

MR. SNOW: I don't have that answer. And unfortunately, the Secretary of -- well, actually, we've got a couple of hours -- we could talk with the Department of Defense. I don't know if there are going to be any parts that, for reasons of criminal prosecution or classification, may be withheld. There is that possibility, so I don't want to be completely categorical about it.

Q Thank you, Tony. I have two questions, please. Is immigration reform stalemated in the conference committee? Or has the President gotten any encouragement from the House and Senate leadership that there will be a bill passed before --

MR. SNOW: First, there's no conference committee, so we're not even to that point. You've got a House bill, and you have a Senate bill. There is still the business of appointing conferees. The President will continue working with the House and the Senate to try to achieve comprehensive immigration reform. But to talk about anything that may be happening in conference, it's very premature.

Q I have another one, please.

MR. SNOW: Yes.

Q Will General Hayden resume the practice of the former CIA Director by personally giving the daily intelligence briefings to the President?

MR. SNOW: Well, the CIA Director now answers to the Director of National Intelligence who, each day, has that responsibility. So Director Negroponte will continue to deliver the daily briefings.

Victoria, I think you had a follow-up?

Q The follow-up was substantial portions, question mark -- which you just answered.

MR. SNOW: Okay.

Q Mr. Snow, two questions on Turkey. Do you have anything to say about the upcoming meeting between President Bush and the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Erdogan? Do you have any idea of when the meeting is going to take place, since there are a lot of reports of this event?

MR. SNOW: No, I don't. By the way, what we do is when those meetings are fully confirmed, we do announce those at the beginning of press conferences or gaggles. So we will have a formal announcement if and when the time should come.

Q A follow-up. The New York Times reported yesterday, "Washington can help promote Turkish democracy by using its longstanding ties with the Turkish General." I'm wondering, Mr. Spokesman, if the President is concerned about democracy in Turkey, since the Turkish General, according to reports, is planning a coup d'etat in Turkey?

MR. SNOW: I don't want to comment on The New York Times report, which I haven't seen. I think the United States has talked often and supportively. You just -- you're out of my brief here. I don't have any response to it, but I'll try to find out.

Q -- democracy in Turkey.

MR. SNOW: Well, we support democracy in Turkey and we've said that many times. And we support the peaceful transition of power as we did when Prime Minister Erdogan took power.

Q Will a temporary suspension of enrichment of Iranian -- the kind that Iran has done in the past, satisfy the U.S. conditions to hold talks with Iran?

MR. SNOW: It's not the U.S. conditions. It's the IAEA conditions, which are not temporary, but permanent. So it's -- what the United States is doing is not setting out its own conditions for negotiation. What we're doing is restating the positions that have been laid out by the IAEA in the additional protocol, which not only -- which make it permanent, verifiable, and subject to inspection at any time by IAEA inspectors. So those conditions remain.

But let me be very clear: As I've said many times, it's not between the United States and Iran. This is between the international community and Iran. And the United States is adding its weight to those talks and not changing the preconditions that have been in place.

Q But just for the United States to go ahead with the statement that was announced by the Secretary of State today, would it need a permanent pledge from Iranians to suspend all enrichment activities --

MR. SNOW: Again, the conditions have been laid out. Yes, the conditions have been laid out. That's right, the suspension of enrichment and reprocessing activities -- enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, pursuant to the agreement with the IAEA.

Q Can I take another stab at China?

MR. SNOW: Yes.

Q The President had spoken about this Iran policy with Merkel, Putin, Chirac, and -- who else?

Q Blair.

Q Blair.

MR. SNOW: Blair, Merkel, yes.

Q So why not Hu?

MR. SNOW: Jessica, unfortunately, we now get into the status of my time prior to coming here, which is when President Hu was here, and I just don't -- I don't have a readout on what the two talked about at the time.

This does not mean -- again, governments talk to one another and it's not always necessary -- it's not necessary at all times for leaders to talk with one another. I do -- I have been assured that conversations have been taking place at a ministerial level.

Q So it doesn't signify any dissension by China?

MR. SNOW: That's just -- no, no, no, no. It doesn't signal dissension or discomfort on the American side, no.

Q Tony, can I ask you about Iraq? It was a year ago today that Vice President Cheney said that the insurgency there was in its last throes, and now we have this latest Pentagon assessment saying that the insurgency is going to remain steady, the strength will remain steady through the rest of this year. How does the administration reconcile --

MR. SNOW: Well, there was a time when -- and I don't want to try to back-interpret what the Vice President said, but let me just offer at least one view on it, which is, for a long time, when we talked about insurgency -- that is, "we," generally, Americans -- we thought of al Qaeda. And I think it's pretty safe to say that the al Qaeda and the foreign fighters remnant presence in Iraq has been dramatically reduced, such that, at least, in the opinions of people there, it is no longer the major factor when it comes to what's going on. Now you do have former members of the Saddam regime and you do have Iraqi citizens who are in entrenched opposition and are using terror and other tactics to try to derail democracy.

Again, I don't want to try to back-interpret what the Vice President said. But I do think that one of the significant changes from the weeks and months after the end of major combat activities in Iraq and today is that that al Qaeda presence has been dramatically, very dramatically reduced -- but it does mean that we still do have opposition within former elements.

Q Thank you.

MR. SNOW: Thank you.

END 1:32 P.M. EDT