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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
August 1, 2006

Press Briefing by Tony Snow
James S. Brady Briefing Room

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2:54 P.M. EDT

MR. SNOW: Hello, good to see you all. A lot of stuff on the docket today.

First, the President's schedule. He'll be meeting -- most of the daily schedule has been taken care of, though he will have a meeting with some Republican senators during the course of the day -- basically a general conversation at the end of the session to wrap up.

The President had his physical today. We will have hard copies available for all who wish to see. The doctors, once again, have found the President fit for duty and have every reasonable expectation that he will remain so for the duration of his presidency. And for any highlights, I will direct you toward the text, but he's still healthier than we are. (Laughter.)

Q Is that what he means by he "had too much birthday cake"?

MR. SNOW: I think he put on five pounds; he's up to 196, I believe. Let's see -- yes, that he does, in fact, attribute to an excess of birthday cakes in the recent past. Nevertheless, his standing heart rate is still 46; his cholesterol is at the lowest level ever.

Q At what?

MR. SNOW: What is it? You're going to have to read it, there are too many -- there's too much of this stuff. You read the fine print. I'm not going to do your work for you. It's 174. (Laughter.) Guess I will. Holland is such a nice guy, I don't want to leave him in the lurch.

Let's see, what else do we have. Also, after the physical he met with 27 men and women. This included 18 Marines, three sailors, a soldier, an allied soldier from El Salvador, a couple of roommates -- I know one of them was an Air Force officer. He also presented to seven of them, purple hearts. And, as always, was moved by the courage and the character of the young men he encountered today.

And that's pretty much it and we go to questions. Terry.

Q With Castro sidelined, has the United States reached out to his brother, Raul, to try to turn the page, look for anything new?

MR. SNOW: No. Look, the one thing that this President has talked about from the very beginning is his hope for the Cuban people finally to enjoy the fruits of freedom and democracy. And for the dictator, Fidel Castro, to hand off power to his brother, who has been the prison keeper, is not a change in that status. So Raul Castro's attempt to impose himself on the Cuban people is much the same as what his brother did. So, no, there are no plans to reach out.

The one thing we want to do is to continue to assure the people of Cuba that we stand ready to help. As you know, a few weeks ago there was another report from the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, where we talked about a number of things, including a compact with the people of Cuba for the day in which they no longer live under the boot of tyranny. And we will be ready and eager to provide humanitarian and economic and other aid to the people of Cuba.

Q Can you expand on what you might know about sidelines, I mean --

MR. SNOW: We really don't. We don't know -- we don't know what the condition of Fidel Castro is; we don't know the exact facts of this because Cuba is a closed society and, therefore, we just don't have --

Q Do you have any reason to believe he's not alive?

MR. SNOW: No, no reason to believe that. Again, we suspect that some of those things would be announced at a proper time. But we really don't have any information on it.

Q Tony, when did the President find out that Castro had surgery? And how did that news come about?

MR. SNOW: I think he probably found out yesterday evening. I think the news came out in news releases. We were hearing news releases about the time I think we arrived yesterday. I don't know the precise time he learned.

Q There was no advance notice yesterday early, at all?

MR. SNOW: They did not call us in advance to let us know what was going to be happening.

Helen.

Q My question is, how does the President feel about the breaking of the temporary truce in Lebanon?

MR. SNOW: Well, I was reading this out the other day. I think the way this thing was characterized in some press reports was different than the way it had been presented to the White House, which was that the Israelis said that they would suspend bombing except for sites that had activities aimed at Israel or Israelis. And this is the way I read it out the other day on the plane.

So you know, I will direct all questions about Israel's tactics and how it matches up with rhetoric to them. But the way it was presented to us was not just a blanket cease-fire. The one thing that was blanket was 24 hours of free passage for humanitarian aid, and also for people to get out of the area.

Q The President is still against a cease-fire?

MR. SNOW: No, the President is for a cease-fire, but he's for a sustainable cease-fire and a lasting peace.

Q An immediate cease-fire?

MR. SNOW: An immediate cease-fire is something that at this point doesn't seem to be in the cards. Neither side is headed that way. But what the President is working on and what our allies are working on are providing those conditions for a sustainable cease-fire, which means being able to move into southern Lebanon -- the Lebanese armed forces. They're going to need some support, certainly at the outset, by a multinational force. There are contribution talks that are beginning to take shape on those.

And so the President is very supportive of diplomatic efforts that involve the United States, France and other members of the United Nations Security Council to put together conditions that achieve all of the things that everybody says they want. Everybody wants a cease-fire, a cessation of hostilities; also a recognition that Hezbollah has been responsible for this; and in keeping with U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559, it cannot operate as an independent militia within Lebanese borders.

There is also the recognition that there is going to be need for humanitarian aid, and the United States was first to that. And we continue to support humanitarian efforts. There will be a need for reconstruction efforts in time. In other words, there is a comprehensive approach to trying to deal with the situation in Lebanon so that the people of Lebanon do not once again have their hopes lifted by false promises. In this case, we are trying to look for a practical way to make good on promises that have been made in the past, in the form of U.N. Security Council 1559.

Q May I just add?

MR. SNOW: Yes.

Q Doesn't that mean many more people are going to die?

MR. SNOW: I hope not. I think everybody hopes not.

Q Back to Cuba, what do we know about Raul Castro?

MR. SNOW: Well, we know that he's his brother. We know that he is as -- he has been responsible, among other things -- look, Raul -- you know what we know about Raul Castro, which is that here's a man who, as I said before, has served as the prison keeper for his brother and has certainly not been somebody who is a leading democratic figure. The fact that you have an autocrat handing power off to his brother does not mark an end to autocracy.

Q Tony, can I just follow on Holland for a second?

MR. SNOW: Yes.

Q Yesterday was a day of a lot of public statements about, sort of, where the diplomatic process was headed.

MR. SNOW: Right.

Q Today, less so. Can you give us some read behind the scenes on what seems to be happening today as far as getting all the players on board? And also with the multinational force.

MR. SNOW: Yes, without betraying what's going on behind the scenes, because I think it's important, I think it is safe to say that the United States and the members of the Security Council are working now to try to figure out the practical business of what kind of resolution is going to get us to where we want to be -- which is a safe and secure South Lebanon.

Part of that, and working parallel to that, are conversations about troop contributions. The President said he does not -- we're not going to have combat troops on the ground in southern Lebanon. He said that in a couple of interviews. There may be some U.S. support, we don't know. But those are the kinds of things that they're going to hammer out.

So you have working out the conditions of a Security Council resolution, and something that will support that resolution and give it effect, in the form of a multinational force, and those contribution talks are taking place now.

Q But there was a word -- there was some word yesterday that by midweek you might have something in place. Tomorrow being midweek --

MR. SNOW: You know, far be it for me to predict what diplomats are going to do. We hope that in a matter of days, as soon as all parties can get resolved on this. I think you saw today, Jim, that, for instance, the European Union put together a resolution that talked for an end to hostilities. There had been some debate about whether they have immediate cease-fire and that sort of thing.

There are a lot of issues at play, and everybody is working together to get those issues resolved so that you're going to have strong support for a resolution when it comes out. And I honestly don't know and I don't think the people involved at this point know how long it's going to take, but I know that they're working very hard at it right now.

Q Tony, if I could follow. Is the U.S. position any closer to the French, in terms of looking at a political alliance between Lebanon and Israel before the multinational force would show up?

MR. SNOW: You know, I think what you find is that the U.S. and the French are very close on all of the goals that we want to reach, and there is some question about what comes first, and that's one of the things that they're discussing right now. But if you take a look at the draft resolution that came out, there are many things that we support in it, and including that would be political relations between Lebanon and Israel.

Q Tony, is there any concern that the news out of Qana on Sunday is turning opinion -- world opinion against the Israelis, is isolating the U.S. --

MR. SNOW: No, because -- Jim, you and I had this conversation yesterday, so I'll help you write tomorrow's piece. (Laughter.)

The fact is that the underlying realities are pretty much the same here, that you know that you cannot have stability as long as Hezbollah has the opportunity to operate independently and with impunity in the southern part of Lebanon.

The Lebanese government has to have the ability to be the sovereign of all Lebanese territory. And the President supports -- has made that clear over and over and over in talking about the importance of supporting the government of Prime Minister Siniora.

And so that is kind of the key condition. You have to have not only a cessation of violence, but the cessation of the ability to threaten independent civilians in south Lebanon, and also to operate independently, and therefore in a way that is threatening to the government of Lebanon, itself.

Q So will that be the requirement? That any agreement has to ensure here and now that Hezbollah will not have that ability any longer? Or is it more -- there's a process to get to that point?

MR. SNOW: I think it's probably the latter. I don't think anybody believes that you're going to have an instant change. Hezbollah has been gathering power and committing acts of violence for well more than 20 years. We can go back to the Beirut barracks bombing, for instance. But it is also clear that it simply cannot pose that kind of threat. What the President had talked about in the shorter time line was, stop firing rockets and return the soldiers.

Q And do you take their -- you know, the rocket -- the number of rockets have diminished significantly in the last couple of days, do you take that as a sign that Hezbollah is trying to send a signal, that it would be willing to --

MR. SNOW: Don't know. We're not going to negotiate with Hezbollah. The parties involved are going to negotiate with sovereign governments, and that would be Lebanon and Israel. And honestly, it is a very complex business to try to ascertain the facts on the ground. We obviously try to do that as best we can. But I don't want to try to interpret it because, who knows? Let me put it this way: We would like to see the number of rockets reduced to zero.

Q Tony, can I get you to comment on Prime Minister Olmert's statement today, that he said, "Every additional day of this war is one that erodes the power of this cruel enemy." That first. And, secondly, what do you say to critics who believe that the U.S. is dragging its feet here to give Israel at least a few days to continue to approach Hezbollah?

MR. SNOW: I don't know -- let me take the second first, Brett, because it's a little easier to answer. I don't know how you can accuse the U.S. of dragging its feet when we've been leading the diplomatic initiative from the beginning. We've been leading it in terms of trying to organize humanitarian relief, talking about contribution talks, and at the same time, working toward a U.N. resolution. That's not foot-dragging.

It's complex business, and I think you're going to find the diplomats on all sides -- it's going to take some time. I don't think that means that the French, by having an extended debate on this, are trying to prop up the Israelis. I don't think that means that the European Union, by failing to come to language that called for an immediate cease-fire, was doing the same. I think it's an acknowledgment that you really do want to come up this time with a proposal that's going to make a permanent difference, rather than something that is going to lead to false and brief hopes on the part of the Lebanese people.

First part of your question was?

Q Does the President believe, as Prime Minister Olmert believes, that every day of this war reduces the capability of Hezbollah?

MR. SNOW: I'll leave the military judgments to the Israeli military who are involved directly, or to members of Hezbollah, who are not speaking to us.

Q One more then. You mentioned the EU. What they did not do today is add Hezbollah to their list of terrorist organizations. What's the comment on that?

MR. SNOW: We believe it's a terrorist organization.

Q Iran apparently has rejected the deadline. Any comment on that?

MR. SNOW: Well, once again, what this will do is, the U.N. Security Council -- and I'm glad you raised it, Connie, because it's a significant development for those -- I know there's a trope about failed foreign policy, but what have we had in recent weeks? We've had the United States organizing a resolution involving North Korea -- our allies are together with us; working together to get a resolution on Iran; working together now on a resolution in the Middle East. There have been a number of things in which the United States I think has been taking a lead, and this is an important one.

What will happen is if the Iranians stick to that position that by the end of the month, the Security Council will meet and plan the next steps ahead. They understand what the position is.

Q Can you also -- change of subjects -- is there going to be a news conference tomorrow, by any chance?

MR. SNOW: No, but there will be a briefing. (Laughter.)

Q Tony, two questions. One, ever since President came to office he has been fighting against global war on terrorism, and I still support him on his efforts, working hard on this. My question is that India Globe a while ago did a story on father and son were arrested here. They took part in a training camp in Pakistan and they were planning to have some -- their jihad here in the U.S. And now there's a big story all over The Globe, that in California -- Lodi, California, there's a trial going on --

MR. SNOW: Okay, well, Goyal, I'm going to cut you off for the simple reason that, as in all ongoing legal proceedings, we're not going to comment.

Q A second question --

MR. SNOW: Well, let me -- I'll tell you what, we've got a lot of people on the Middle East. Why don't we come back to that one. For those, let's do the Middle East and then we'll keep going.

Victoria.

Q Senator Chuck Hagel yesterday said that the President should appoint a statesman of global stature, experience and ability to serve as his personal envoy to the region, who would report directly to the President. What is the President's reaction to that? It seems to implicate that perhaps he doesn't have very much confidence in Secretary Rice.

MR. SNOW: The President does. (Laughter.) Mike.

Q Are you concerned that a senior Republican senator does not have confidence in Secretary Rice?

MR. SNOW: We understand the political process. The President right now -- I'm not going to get into characterizing it, but the President has full confidence. And it would be interesting to ask Senator Hagel what he -- because he was not specific about it. You didn't give me a specific characterization. You're trying to draw a conclusion from his comments. I'm not sure he's ready to draw that conclusion, but if he is, okay.

Q He gave a few names, however. He gave --

MR. SNOW: Well, no, I appreciate that. But, again, Secretary Rice is -- let me make a point, because it's worth making the point that, again, the United States has achieved significant diplomatic -- has had significant diplomatic achievements on the North Korean front, on the Iranian front, and soon with the Middle East. That is a demonstration of effective diplomacy, in difficult times, when people would sometimes rather just kick the can down the road.

We've been addressing it and we've gotten allies to go along -- and in some cases allies who, in the past, have not spoken out on these issues. That, to me, is exactly the definition of effective diplomacy, and that's one of the reasons why the President has so much confidence.

Q I was going to ask one other question about Senator Hagel, because he made a point that a lot of other foreign policy experts have been making in recent days, which is that the United States has not been deeply enough engaged in trying to solve the Arab-Israeli problem, and they see that as sort of coming back to haunt the administration. And I'm just curious about what your reaction to that is.

MR. SNOW: I understand that. I would count that as observing from the sidelines, rather than reporting from the front lines.

Q Tony, is the administration at all alarmed by Bashir al-Assad's announcement that they raised their military readiness --

MR. SNOW: I don't think we react to it. But, again, I'm just going to let Assad's announcement stand for what it is. We don't have any particular reaction to it.

Q Not that it's bluster, or --

MR. SNOW: Again, I don't -- at this point it doesn't serve to react to it at all.

Q Sort of a chicken-or-the-egg question. Does Hezbollah have to give up, give back the two Israeli soldiers before there is a resolution? Does a resolution require them to do that? Do you envision that? And, if so, who makes them do it? Are you counting on the Lebanese government to essentially negotiate with Hezbollah to make that happen?

MR. SNOW: Those are very good questions. I don't have answers for them. I know that they're under -- these are some of the things that they're working through right now. Honestly, I don't. But it helps you -- it helps point you to the complexity of the situation here.

Q The United States probably has some thoughts on the answers to those questions.

MR. SNOW: We do, and as you know, what happens is that in the process of negotiations, you tend to share your thoughts with negotiators and not the global public.

Q Tony, come back to Cuba, if I can. Has the administration seen any signs of refugee activity from Cuba? Are you concerned that there might be a major exodus? Are you prepared for it?

MR. SNOW: It's a good question. What the President wants to reiterate is the importance of developing an orderly procedure for moving people from Cuba to the United States when that is possible. We encourage people not to get into the water and not to engage in those activities.

What we also are hoping, however, is to have a Cuba that is free and ready for full American assistance as soon as that is possible.

Q But have you been making any sort of preparations?

MR. SNOW: Again, what's going on is that a lot of people are asking questions that are premised on the death of somebody who is not dead. And so I'm just not going to get there yet. It's gets you into Monty Python territory.

Q Tony.

MR. SNOW: On that topic, Lester?

Q Yes.

MR. SNOW: Not vaguely related to the topic, precisely related to the topic?

Q No, no, it's right on the topic. And my first question --

MR. SNOW: When I hear this, it's not going to feel like biting on foil? (Laughter.)

Q Can I come back later for another?

MR. SNOW: Okay, go ahead.

Q During his meeting with Tony Blair last week, the President characterized Hezbollah, which murdered 241 American servicemen in Beirut in 1933 --

MR. SNOW: Eighty-three.

Q Nineteen eighty-three -- as a "closed political party that happens to be armed." In contrast, the President routinely describes al Qaeda as killers and terrorists. And the question: Does the President regard Hezbollah as any less murderous or terroristic than al Qaeda?

MR. SNOW: I think we've made our characterization of Hezbollah clear over the years. I don't want to try to get into assigning precise adjectives. I think we've done that.

Q Can I come back with another --

MR. SNOW: Please. (Laughter.)

Q Thank you. Do it now, or when?

MR. SNOW: This one --

Q I'm trying to obey your instructions.

MR. SNOW: Let's just -- go ahead. (Laughter.)

Q The Reverend --

MR. SNOW: Like they told the President today, this will just hurt a minute. (Laughter.)

Q Yes, the Reverend Ted Baehr, as chairman of the Christian Film and Television Commission, says that while Mel Gibson's behavior was shocking, his apology should be taken to heart. And Attorney William Donohue, of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, said, "What Mel Gibson said was indefensible, anti-Semitic and irresponsible. Fortunately, he's apologized, which is being rejected by some who should know better." In 2003 Roman Polanski, the convicted child rapist, received a standing ovation when he won an Oscar. Nice to know what really offends Hollywood. And my question: Does the President forgive Mel Gibson or not? (Laughter.)

MR. SNOW: The President believes in the forgiveness of sins for all who seek forgiveness.

Q Thank you.

MR. SNOW: All right, let's -- now, what --

Q Thank you --

MR. SNOW: It's really my honor. (Laughter.)

Okay, let me first -- let's try to stick -- Middle East or foreign policy questions, then we'll get to domestic questions.

Q Kosovo.

MR. SNOW: Later.

Q Cuba.

MR. SNOW: Okay, Cuba.

Q Okay. With Fidel Castro sidelined, at least temporarily, is the President concerned that Venezuela's Hugo Chavez will now emerge as the strong man in Latin America?

MR. SNOW: The President is worried about people in the neighborhood who seek to destabilize neighbors using economic or other means. And it's one of the reasons why the policy of this government has always been to push for free trade and to get along well with neighbors. I'll leave it at that. It's a general characterization, but that's as close as I'm going to get.

Q Cuba.

Q North Korea.

MR. SNOW: Yes, North Korea, sure. Okay, Middle East and then we'll get to North Korea.

Q Tony, are you aware of an Israeli strategy of driving Lebanese civilians out of southern Lebanon up to the north of the (Inaudible) River, as to create a buffer zone, as has been reported (inaudible)?

And, secondly, you are calling for a cessation of hostilities and the Israeli Prime Minister says no cease-fire. Do you really think (inaudible) that the Security Council can impose any (inaudible) as you optimistically say, in the next few days?

MR. SNOW: Well, I think that is the hard business that the Security Council is going to have to address. And I will leave it to them. As for -- I've seen reports; what Israel has done is offered safe passage to people who want to get out of harm's way. But, again, I think in terms of buffer zones and all that, that's really not an appropriate characterization for the U.S. government to make. Israel is plotting its own tactics on this, and I'd refer you to the Israelis for clarification on it.

Q Are you in consultation with the --

MR. SNOW: No, we really -- no, we're not. We're not consulting on -- we're just not consulting on military policy.

Q Back to Cuba. When the U.S. government is talking about the transition of the government in Cuba, the U.S. is really thinking only of Cubans living in Cuba? Are you talking also about Cubans living in Florida?

MR. SNOW: Well, let's wait until we get to that point, then we'll start talking about the vagaries of this. Obviously, there are a lot of Cubans living in Florida who would like to repatriate, but they're going to do it in a free Cuba. I think the most important thing right now is to look forward to the day when people on the island of Cuba right now, who are living under a despotic and totalitarian government, have the opportunity to be free again and express their genius, and their entrepreneurial spirit, and their real zest for life in the way that people in south Florida have done.

Q And one more, please. There are some military U.S. officials who have been contacting generals in Cuba. And they say Raul is more pragmatic than radical -- than the radical, his brother, for example. So if he's in power, you really don't want to have any business with him? Even if he will change his position or the position of --

MR. SNOW: The view is pretty simple -- it's not my view, it's the government view -- Raul Castro is no more elected than his brother.

Victoria, you had a question?

Q You may have answered it. It was to ask you to expand a little on your description of Raul Castro as the prison-keeper.

MR. SNOW: Yes, well, he at a time had had jurisdiction over the penal system.

Okay, let's -- first, Goyal.

Q Tony, recently, there was a topic at the Aspen Institute, Women in Leadership, and (inaudible) were there. But also there was a director from UNICEF, from Geneva, and she said that the U.S. contribution to the UNICEF for woman and children have gone really down. And the message for the President she had, that we have to do more, for U.S. has to do more --

MR. SNOW: I can't help you. I don't know about UNICEF levels.

Okay, Kosovo. It's a question I can't answer, but go ahead and ask it.

Q Do you know if President Bush and British Prime Minister discussed the Kosovo issue at the last meeting here at the White House the other day?

MR. SNOW: I don't know, because the long luncheon that the two had was attended only by them. And so that would be for the two of them. I don't know.

John.

Q Thank you, Tony. A follow-up question to your opening remarks about Cuba, and a question about Venezuela. Almost all of the U.S.'s non-participation and hard line on Cuba is codified, such as Helms-Burton, and they tightened some more rules just recently. Is the U.S. now considering harder legislation on Venezuela, including a boycott?

MR. SNOW: No. The one thing we hope is that the people of Venezuela will also have the ability to have faith in the democratic system and that the government will be able to use the oil revenues to help the people of Venezuela. There are problems of poverty and there are problems of crime and there are problems of stability, but beyond that, I don't want to lean any further.

North Korea.

Q Thank you, Tony. North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has recently postponed his long-planned trip to South Korea, and despite the United States (inaudible) in the region. Would you care to comment?

MR. SNOW: No.

Q Thank you.

MR. SNOW: All right, thank you.

END 3:22 P.M. EDT