For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 18, 2006
Press Gaggle by Tony Snow
Aboard Air Force One
En route Yuma, Arizona
11:52 A.M. EDT
MR. SNOW: Are you guys ready? Okay, just for beginning, we're very happy that the House passed a budget last night, especially on the heels of the President being able to sign a tax extension yesterday. We look forward to working with the House and Senate on lots of other issues of interest.
And with that very brief opening statement, I'll toss it open to whatever questions you may have.
Q Tony, what can you say about some sort of new approach with North Korea? Is there any truth to that?
MR. SNOW: Well, the approach to North Korea has always been the same, which is when North Korea comes back and participates in the six-party talks, then we can proceed. Nothing happens until North Korea goes back and participates in the six-party talks dealing with the possibility of developing nuclear weapons, and to talk about any further steps is premature.
The September statement, however, does speak for itself and I'll refer you back to that.
Q Can you say a little bit more clear, is the idea of a peace treaty -- that is part of the September agreement, right? But is there some new discussion about how to pursue that, what to talk about, if they do come back to the table, as you said?
MR. SNOW: Well, again, unfortunately, you can't have anything new until North Korea has taken the first step of getting back to the six-party talks. And, certainly, I am not going to stand here in the back of Air Force One and try to do international negotiating from here. It's very clear, North Korea comes back to the table, we proceed from that point on. I'm not going to make any further comments about future steps because they haven't taken the necessary first step.
Q Tony, what's your reaction to Prime Minister Prodi's comments today that Italy is going to withdraw their troops from Iraq?
MR. SNOW: Unfortunately, look, we're in the air and I'm not in a position to start talking about ongoing breaking news at this point, so I have no comment. What I'll do is I can double-check for you, but I don't have any comment on it right now.
Q Just one more on North Korea. As part of that last statement, wasn't the door opened to peace talks on a peace treaty with North Korea?
MR. SNOW: Again, I'll bring you back to the September statement. There's nothing new in terms of what the September statement lays out. But I will say again, there are no other steps -- and I'm not promising anything, I'm not showing leg -- I'm just telling you that North Korea has an obligation to come back to the table and it's premature to discuss anything other than what happens when they get back to the six-party talks.
Q Has the Iranian situation changed any thinking in terms of North Korea? Are the two situations in any way linked in the administration's mind
MR. SNOW: No, the administration -- once again, pretty clear approaches on both. We're using multilateral approaches to both nations. What we've said to the Iranians is, the international community is united, in terms of our approach to what Iran does, and, similarly, Iran has certain obligations it must meet. And we continue to work with our allies toward a proper resolution of both situations.
Q Can you talk a little bit more about what the President expects to see today -- what, exactly, he's going to do on the tour, what --
MR. SNOW: Yes. In many ways this is sort of emblematic of what we're talking about in terms of border security. We're going to be going to Yuma; we've got an area with the fence; we've got Border Patrol there. But also this is an area where National Guardsmen are involved in non-law enforcement roles. They're doing communications. He's going to go to a communications site and see what the National Guard units are doing there.
And at the same time he's going to have an opportunity to talk to Border Patrol agents about what they see, what they do and what they expect.
Q Are these National Guard -- are these the ones that Governor Napolitano called up, herself? Do you know how --
MR. SNOW: That's the way it works. Presidents don't call up National Guard units, governors do.
Q I'm sorry. I mean, these are ones that -- she made that declaration last year that she was going to call up new ones. Are these ones that she called up to do that, are these ones that are engaged in the counter-drug operations from earlier; do you know?
MR. SNOW: I really don't.
Q Is the President okay with the Senate bill -- the amendment passed yesterday, where the 300-plus miles of fence --
MR. SNOW: Yes, we supported the amendment.
Q There are many that claim that this just sends the wrong signal -- that the fence sends the wrong signal to Mexico. What do you -- what does the administration say to that, in terms of what this represents?
MR. SNOW: "Wrong signal" in what sense?
Q Wrong signal in terms of walling off America from the outside.
MR. SNOW: I don't think anybody has seriously proposed building a wall across the entire border. What the President has said is he's going to try to have the right and appropriate types of security in the right places. In some places you're going to need a fence; in some places you'll need Border Patrol agents; some places where you have vast stretches of desert or wilderness, you'll use surveillance techniques. So you use things that are appropriate to the locales.
The President spoke last week with President Fox and made it clear that we're not going to militarize the border. And he also emphasized with President Fox the importance of trying to cut off drug trade, and also human trafficking in the border areas.
Q Tony, can you talk about, just in terms of today, how going to a place like this -- which, as you said, is emblematic on many levels of the kinds of things the President is talking about -- how does that help? What does that do to sort of push the debate or convince House members, who obviously have a lot of convincing yet to do?
MR. SNOW: Well, I think in many ways, again, it gives you a snapshot -- I'm glad you pointed that out, Jennifer -- it's a snapshot of what we're talking about. There have been a lot of people, there have been concerns, for instance, that we would send combat troops through the National Guard to the border. We're not doing that. We are talking about people who are trained in specific tasks -- whether they be communications, surveillance, transportation, construction -- and placing them in appropriate places so that they can do tasks to free up Border Patrol agents to do what they're supposed to do, which is to arrest -- to interdict, arrest and take care of the detention of people who cross the border illegally.
So I think it provides -- in many ways it's going to give people a real view of the kind of proposal the President has in mind and maybe lay to rest some of the concerns of those who are worried about militarization.
Q How much time do you think you guys have to sort of turn the debate around?
MR. SNOW: I don't even know that there's a time clock on it. I think we're very happy that there's now the opportunity to start laying out what the President stands for, because a lot of people have had lots of characterizations of the administration's policy. Now there is an opportunity to make the arguments -- and we're going to have to make them a lot at times, to skeptics and to friends, alike -- so that people understand precisely what it is the President stands for.
Q The President wasn't really excited about the idea of a fence in the past. I mean, is this an example of a concession that needs to be made to try and get the broader compromise that he wants?
MR. SNOW: When you talk about a fence, are you referring to a fence across the entire border or fences in particular places?
Q When he's been asked about it before, I mean, he said in on CNN interview that, you know, you can't fence-off the border. Was he referring to a --
Q He was referring to the House bill, which calls for 700 miles --
MR. SNOW: Again, he doesn't think you fence-off the entire border. But there are places -- and he said this Monday night -- there are places where fences are appropriate, and you build fences there.
Q But he would draw the line if the type of fence in the House bill were to be part of a compromise?
MR. SNOW: I'm not going to negotiate at this point. As you know, first things first: get a Senate bill passed. We are glad that the Senate is proceeding to a comprehensive immigration reform. But I am certainly not going to negotiate on the part of the White House in advance of a House Senate conference.
Q Can you just explain why you would support the Senate amendment, versus what's in the House bill? Because they're not that dissimilar.
MR. SNOW: I'm just going to refer you back to what the President has said, which is there are places where fences are appropriate and where they are not. And I am not going to pre-negotiate anything that may come up between the House and Senate.
Q Are there any members of Congress on board?
MR. SNOW: Yes. There are five members of the Arizona delegation aboard. Let's see, we've got Hayworth, Kolbe, Flake, Franks, and Shadegg.
Q No senators?
MR. SNOW: No senators. And Chief Aguilar, the Chief of the Border Patrol.
Q The President has some interviews today?
MR. SNOW: The President is going to be doing interviews with the broadcast and cable networks -- brief interviews, three to five minutes.
Q Do you think anything new in the speech, or mostly the same message with a new backdrop?
MR. SNOW: Basically the same message. The President is going to reiterate what he said before.
Q Do you guys expect an easier ride for Hayden today?
MR. SNOW: I don't know. He's getting some brisk questioning -- I'm sure you've watched some of it on the TV.
Q No, "King Kong." (Laughter.)
MR. SNOW: Oh, no. Well, we've been watching it on CNN; it's doing okay.
Q Has the President been watching, as well?
MR. SNOW: I don't know. He's in the fore cabin. I've not made it my business to barge in and ask him what he's doing. But he's going to face vigorous questioning, but, also, we've got a lot of confidence in General Hayden. This is a guy who has been appointed precisely because he's the most qualified intelligence officer in the country and a guy who has got a record of trying to take on big reform tasks and carry them out.
Q First time on Marine One today?
MR. SNOW: No, I worked in a previous White House and got up in the air from time to time.
Any other questions? All right guys, thanks.
END 12:02 P.M. EDT