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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
August 2, 2006
Press Briefing by Tony Snow
James S. Brady Briefing Room
1:32 P.M. EDT
MR. SNOW: Welcome to the final briefing before we christen the next swimming pool here at the White House. Scared silence. No, no, no. The last iteration of the present version of this briefing room. The next time we have a briefing here, it will be spiffed-up and high-tech. But it's a wonderful thing and a wonderful day and I'm glad you are all here.
Q When will that be?
MR. SNOW: Sooner, rather than later, I hope. I think we all do. On the other hand, gathering from the temperature in this room at this moment, I think everybody agrees that it's probably about time to have a new and updated air conditioning and heating system.
Q -- something more about this press and now about the --
MR. SNOW: I'll wax philosophic in a couple of minutes. But why don't we go ahead and dispatch with our day job here.
Just a couple of little announcements. Actually, you know what, I've already misplaced it -- can somebody pull the First Lady piece for me?
Q What? (Laughter.)
MR. SNOW: It's a piece of paper that regards the schedule of the First Lady -- and I'm ashamed for all of you. (Laughter.)
Let's just go ahead and do questions. Jim.
Q Gee, I don't know whether to ask you about a new press room or war in the Middle East.
MR. SNOW: There will be a new press room. For all of those of you who have been asking questions, there will, indeed, be a new press room. It will be right here. It is not going to be in a distant part of town. It will be right here in this very spot and the carpets will be clean, the electric -- the connections will be up-to-date, and it will be a more congenial and helpful work environment for all.
Q Better answers? (Laughter.)
MR. SNOW: In response to better questions. (Laughter.)
Q Let me ask you, if you can -- it's been -- with the Fidel news and, around here, at least, with the new press room, I'd like to ask you to go back to the Middle East, and, if you can, while the cameras have been focused perhaps elsewhere, there has been a diplomatic process. Can you bring us up to date on are we getting any closer to stopping the violence?
MR. SNOW: That, ultimately, is going to depend on the parties involved. Let me tell you about the diplomatic steps. There has been considerable progress since the President's first statement on the 12th of last month, when Hezbollah went into Israel, kidnapped a couple of soldiers, killed eight others, and began a rocket barrage that continues to this day.
We've had a statement from the G8; we've also had the Rome conference; we have had statements by the European Union. But in addition, we now have ongoing efforts at the United Nations. The French and the Americans are now working off the same sheet of paper, and within the Security Council, you have people who are busy working away on the issues. And there is agreement on all the steps that are necessary. There is still some continuing work on the practical issues of sequencing, and so on.
But they include making it possible for the government of Lebanon to have full sovereignty over Lebanese territory, and to be able to assert effective military control in the south; for Hezbollah to cease to operate independently as a militia in defiance of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559; to provide support for the government of Prime Minister Siniora so that it is going to be able to fulfill its obligations. There are humanitarian steps underway, as you know -- there will be reconstruction -- and also to try to put together steps that are going to lay in place the foundation for security in the future that's going to prevent the kinds of mischief that we've seen on behalf of Hezbollah that have gotten us to this place.
Q But you're talking about the Secretary of State saying it's going to be days, not weeks. And you have Shimon Peres saying it's going to be weeks, not months. And there's a gulf there that --
MR. SNOW: Well, but the Israeli government also has said -- and, again, people within the Israeli government, I will let them answer. The person who has been speaking is Prime Minister Olmert, who is the head of government. But the Israelis also have said that they would accept -- I don't know, "welcome" may be too warm a word -- a multinational force to work in concert with the Lebanese armed forces to help provide that kind of security within southern Lebanon that we all speak.
MR. SNOW: Yes, Martha.
Q One of the things you cite as progress is the G8 statement.
MR. SNOW: Right.
Q In that statement, there was no mention of an immediate cease-fire. And since the G8, you have almost everyone calling for an immediate cease-fire.
MR. SNOW: Well, no --
Q So how can you cite that as great progress, since you've actually gone backwards?
MR. SNOW: Because -- we haven't gone backwards. You are assuming that an immediate cease-fire -- we want a cease-fire immediately. No, we want a cease-fire that is sustainable, that is going to provide the basis for security in the long run in Lebanon. The G8 did not call for it. Rome did not call for it. The EU did not call for it. So the voices have been a lot of you guys, and a lot of people speaking on the side. But in point of fact, there have been public statements about it.
But when you've taken a look at the diplomatic efforts and groups of nations combined, they all recognize that if you declare an immediate cease-fire and you do not have the conditions for real peace, it is simply going to be a hollow declaration. And that has happened enough in this region.
Q But they recognize that. But they also want a cessation of violence immediately --
MR. SNOW: And so do we.
Q -- which the U.S. does not.
MR. SNOW: No, no, no, wrong. Let me -- because it's very important. What you want -- there's a difference between a declaration of an immediate cease-fire and a cessation of violence, which we want. It's up to Hezbollah. Hezbollah can stop firing rockets. I believe today is a record-setter. The fact is that you've got to get the conditions on the ground where Hezbollah stops providing the provocation. As I've said many times, we would love a cease-fire yesterday. We want an end to violence. We think that what has happened is a tragedy not merely for the people of Lebanon, but the people of Israel. A million Israelis right now are living in bomb shelters.
And the enormous tragedy of what has gone on is the sort of thing that is going to haunt people for a very long time, and it is going to be the object of considerable humanitarian outreach and reconstruction efforts. We understand that. But what we also want is a situation where in the future you are not going to have a militia able to operate within Lebanon, in defiance of the Lebanese government, trying to create an international incident, trying to create a war with a neighboring, sovereign nation.
That is the emphasis that the United States is talking about. When Condoleezza Rice, the Secretary of State, talks about not going back to the status quo ante, that's exactly what she's referring to.
So this government would love to see an immediate cease-fire, but it has to be a cease-fire that is going to provide credible conditions for peace and security in the country.
Q Can you see any point in the U.S. saying to the Israelis, the green light is over? I know the United States has said, please take care, but can you see at any point saying --
MR. SNOW: You're assuming -- you have just assumed that there's a green light. The United States is not doing ongoing military --
Q You've said that Israel has a right to defend herself and --
MR. SNOW: And Israel will have a right to defend herself. And furthermore, if -- well, let me ask you this. The question is, somebody fires -- somebody goes across your border, kidnaps some of your citizens, kills some of them, and begins firing rockets. Do you have a right to defend yourself? By international law, you certainly do.
What we're hoping for -- and I think what you've done is you're putting all the focus on the Israelis rather than on the people who started this, and continue to provide the impetus for the violence, and that is Hezbollah. Hezbollah, and also its supporting nations, Iran and Syria, need to understand that we are committed to peace and democracy in the region, and we're not going to back away from it.
Q Two questions. First, will there be any U.S. involvement in the hostilities? Do you foresee that at all?
MR. SNOW: No.
Q And the second is, do you expect this to widen? The war, to widen --
MR. SNOW: I don't want to make predictions.
Q -- so it escalates, involving Syria, Iran, and so forth?
MR. SNOW: I certainly hope not. That would be decisions that they would have to make. But what we are trying to do is create the conditions for peace.
Q It's a question of hope, I mean, is there any --
MR. SNOW: I'm not going to predict. I don't have the crystal ball.
Q Israeli officials say that their incursion could last several more weeks. Is that okay with you, or is it possible?
MR. SNOW: Again, what the United States is working toward right now, in a matter of days -- according to the Secretary of State, supported by the President -- is a U.N. resolution, a resolution within the U.N. Security Council that meets the conditions that we have laid out and we've been consistent about from the very beginning.
Q Tony, after that, how soon is the -- assuming you get your resolution in a matter of days, how soon after that would the fighting stop?
MR. SNOW: Well, you're going to have to ask Hezbollah about that. We are hoping that what you're going to have is the basis for a credible force that can secure southern Lebanon. And that is one of the very hard, practical questions that people have been discussing in New York, and we'll continue discussing in the Security Council. It's one of the reasons why -- again, this is not a snap of the finger, quick resolution to the situation.
What you're trying -- what we are trying to work on right now are practical negotiations, because the people of Lebanon have had enough false promises over the years. They've had enough betrayed promises over the years. They deserve a chance to live with a reasonable expectation that for once, their hopes are going to come true.
Q Do you think that the war has increased Hezbollah's popularity in Lebanon and its influence in the Lebanese government?
MR. SNOW: I don't want to speculate; don't know. I have a feeling -- it's hard to imagine that treating people as human shields is going to be a winner in the long run; or that the idea of placing rockets in people's homes, radar installations in civilian areas, and essentially holding civilian areas hostage to military operations is, in the long run, a winner. But I'm not conducting public opinion polls in Lebanon and can't give you a scientific answer.
Q Tony, you've said many times that the Bush administration is not coordinating military strategy with the Israelis. Would you be surprised to hear that a senior Israeli government official said today that Secretary Rice's statement about days, not weeks, was coordinated with the Israeli government? What's your response?
MR. SNOW: Well, that means that we've been making clear what our intentions are.
Q Do you think that, in fact, that next week a resolution will conclude Israeli military operations?
MR. SNOW: I don't want to -- I have no idea. It's one of those things -- we are hoping that there are going to be conditions where the Israelis can stand down and where Hezbollah will cease to operate as a menace in the region. Those remain our goals, and we hope it's going to come through.
Q How much reaching out is there between the U.S., European governments and Syria and Iran, since they've been supplying, by all accounts, Hezbollah's ability to wreak this kind of havoc?
MR. SNOW: Well, you're going to have to let the European governments speak for themselves. We have diplomatic relations with Syria, but we are not having formal meetings with Syria, as we've said.
Q What about informal communications?
MR. SNOW: No.
Q You need to dial this back?
MR. SNOW: No, no. "Informal communications" -- we're doing it formally. They can watch right now. They need to dial it back. This is something I've said from the podium, the President has said repeatedly. There ought to be absolutely no confusion about the U.S. government position with regard to Syria and Iran and their support for Hezbollah.
Q Tony, given the -- given that the Israelis continue their response to this, does the President believe it is really politically tenable for them, in the court of public opinion, in the court of world opinion, to continue this for the length of time that they're openly talking about --
MR. SNOW: I don't think the Israelis are running for election right now. They're trying to defend their country.
Q Tony, this issue of whether you have cessation of violence first, or sequential or parallel, it isn't simply academic. I mean, the French have said -- they're seen as possibly leading this peacekeeping force. Everyone sees a peacekeeping force as a necessity for ending the violence.
MR. SNOW: Right.
Q But they say they won't give in and talk about it at the U.N. until there's an end to the violence. How do you square that?
MR. SNOW: Well, I'm not going to get into the behind-the-scenes conversations. I'll refer you to what I said earlier, which is the U.S. and the French, within the Security Council, are working on the same draft. I think when those issues are ironed out, everybody will have a full answer to it. I'm not going to get myself in the middle of what are ongoing and very constructive conversations.
Q Has the President called, or does he plan to call the Prime Minister of Israel? And, if not, why not? I mean, you said the U.S. isn't dragging its feet --
MR. SNOW: This is the daily question. The President has -- look, there have been conversations with the Israeli government every day. You saw Shimon Peres here yesterday. Secretary Rice has spoken on repeated occasions to Prime Minister Olmert. The President has had conversations directly with heads of state who have dealings -- to answer the earlier question -- with Iran and Syria. Again, there is no doubt about what our position is. We have said to Israelis, you have the right to defend yourself, but you need to practice restraint. That continues to be the position of -- it seems to me that there's plenty of communications between the government, and that's what you need from a diplomatic point of view.
Q Going back to what Martha was saying, asking about the green light, are you -- just to clarify, are you saying that the United States is not --
MR. SNOW: We don't have a green light. The idea that the United States government is saying, go, go, go I think is a disservice both to the Israeli government, which operates independently and to this government.
Q But when Shimon Peres comes out and says that he doesn't feel any pressure from the White House, isn't that tacit approval to continue?
MR. SNOW: No. Well, on the other hand you've just heard from Brett a conversation saying that the Israelis know that we're talking about days not weeks. You can't have it both ways.
Q To what extent has the administration given any thought to rebuilding after this is all over?
MR. SNOW: We've been -- we have been advocating that. We've been talking about it. There are going -- there's going to be a donors conference at some point, and we've talked about that. And that was one of the things that Secretary Rice has mentioned, as well. There is absolutely no doubt that when hostilities cease, there's going to be a huge rebuilding job within Lebanon.
Q And how -- what's the commitment from the U.S.?
MR. SNOW: We'll talk about dollars and cents and also support when the time comes. The government of Saudi Arabia has already pledged a billion dollars to reconstruction. In terms of conversations, the most urgent conversations right now are to get the fighting stopped and to restore the integrity of the Lebanese government throughout Lebanese territory.
Q Tony, can you put the Israeli operations in Lebanon in the context of what's going on in the region? You see a flare-up again in Iraq. Now we've got -- trying to retake the city of Ramadi. You've got what's happening in Afghanistan, military action there in Helmand and other parts of the country there. And then this Lebanon thing. Somebody coming from the outside looking at it would say, look, this is the beginning of World War III.
MR. SNOW: Well, on the other hand --
Q Now, doesn't the President feel in that kind of a situation, placing the Israeli operations in that context, that the fire has got to be put out somewhere, sometime quickly in order for that --
MR. SNOW: Okay, are you saying that Israel is responsible for the Taliban response in Helmand province? Are you saying that Israel is responsible for what's going on --
Q What I'm saying is that this latest flare-up of violence, in the context of what otherwise is going on in the region, seems to be heading towards a more general concentration toward --
MR. SNOW: Okay, let's make -- no, and I would encourage people not to entertain that kind of thought. What you do have is what -- Prime Minister Blair yesterday talked about an arc of violence, an arc of tyranny in the region, where people really do have hostility toward democracy. Helmand province, what's going on? Within parts of Afghanistan right now, what you see is the transfer from U.S. to NATO troops, and there has been an attempt by the Taliban to test it. And the Taliban has been suffering very heavy losses as a result.
Within Iraq, you have the Iraqi government beginning to assume full control already of one province, and they say that they're going to be ready to assume full control of others in the not-so-distant future. Also you clearly have an attempt to try to focus operations in Baghdad and in that area, which is one of the reasons why General Casey and Prime Minister Maliki have been working together to retool the effort to win that battle of Baghdad and regain security.
What you do have is a flaring up of violence inspired by people who want democracy to fail. That is not the beginning of World War III. You know what it is? It is people who do not want the people of the region to enjoy freedom and democracy and human rights, trying to win their argument with bloodshed and with violence. And we're not going to let them.
Q Follow-up on that.
MR. SNOW: Very quickly.
Q The Israeli operations near the Syrian border could very well be an attempt to provoke Syria to get involved in this conflict. Now, Syria has been pretty cool about this, not to get involved. But is there not a fear that this will again be extended if these operations --
MR. SNOW: It sounds to me like you've just made a Syrian argument against Israel, that the Syrians have been "cool" about it. Look, again, we are --
MR. SNOW: No, no, the way it's framed, Helen, is extremely argumentative. I'll tell you what. I think you ought to be asking questions of Israeli military tactics to the Israelis. At this point, we are working for peace. And let me just reiterate: The United States has been working aggressively on North Korea, we've had the resolution on Iran, we've had a resolution in the U.N. Security Council, both led by the United States. And the United States is taking a leading role in diplomatic efforts to move forward together in a coordinated way with regional and European allies to try to provide a semblance of democracy and security in Lebanon.
Okay, go ahead. Is this same topic? Okay.
Q Tony, Hezbollah is still fighting deep in Israel, and can you comment on the reports, and including some U.S. officials that there Chinese made rockets going -- hitting Israel through Iran?
MR. SNOW: No.
Q It's no secret that much of the world dislikes the United States now, largely because of the Middle East situation. Do you see a change when this particular war is over, and do you think there will be more sympathy towards the United States as the 9/11 anniversary approaches?
MR. SNOW: First, I'm not sure I buy, Connie, they dislike us because of the Middle East situation. When tragedy happens, who is the first to respond? When a tsunami hits, the Americans are there first. When an earthquake hits, including in Iran, who is there first? The Americans. People understand that this is a nation that is committed to human rights and is also committed to the cause of compassion. Who was the first to commit money to humanitarian causes in Lebanon? It was the United States.
So I think at this particular juncture, the United States has to demonstrate its goodwill through deeds, and also through unflagging commitment to democracy and equality. And that's what we have been doing -- at some considerable cost. But it's the right thing to do.
Q Tony, can I just follow on that? The President has taken pains to try to repair relations with Europe in the wake of the war in Iraq. Now we're in a situation where the United States is standing strongly alongside Israel and is generating unease again in Europe. Is the President concerned that, in effect, he is getting himself back to where he started?
MR. SNOW: No, because I think your premise is wrong. Again, we're working with the French right now on the same sheet of paper when it comes to what everybody said was an unbridgeable chasm with regard to Lebanon. We worked with our European allies at the G8 in Rome. We came up with unified statements on those. We have worked with our allies. When it came to Iran, we got a U.N. Security Council resolution. We worked with people in the Middle -- I mean, in the Far East on a North Korean resolution.
The fact is, the United States is not standing alone. If its standing alone, it's because it's in the front of the line and others are joining us in a commitment to try to find peaceful methods for dealing with very vexing and difficult causes.
MR. SNOW: Yes, Les.
Q One question.
MR. SNOW: You promise? The nom de guerre is not "Lester," everybody. It's, "Les."
Q Thank you. Last Friday, a Muslim American denouncing Jews and Israel took a 13-year-old girl hostage at the Jewish Federation Center in Seattle and shot six women, one of them dead. Yet, the FBI and other law enforcement authorities refuse to call this terrorism. The President says we're in a war on terrorism. Can you or the President better define terrorism so the American people can understand just who or what it is we are fighting?
MR. SNOW: Les, I hate to use the murder of innocents as an attempt to make a debating point about terror. And I'm not going to do it.
Q Tony, what is your latest assessment of what's going on in Cuba? And to what extent has this most serious health crisis involving Castro affected U.S. plans for the eventuality of his demise?
MR. SNOW: Well, there are a couple of things. I think the most important thing is, we can't characterize. Cuba, as I said yesterday, is -- it's a closed society. And it's difficult for us to assess what the situation is.
However, the President, from the very beginning, has stressed the importance of a free and democratic Cuba in a post-Castro era. The committee for assistance -- I'm sorry, the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba has laid out a compact with the Cuban people that includes plans for economic, educational, social and other aid, so that we can regain the ties -- the naturally close ties between the American and Cuban people.
It's also, however, important at this juncture to tell people, stay where you are. This is not a time for people to try to be getting in the water and going either way. We have talked about the importance eventually of finding an orderly and safe way for people to make transit between the two places.
But there is a lot to rebuild. You talk about a rebuilding job. You've got people running around in 1957 Chevys because it's a country that has not, in fact, been able to enjoy the fruits of the technological revolution that has made life easier in the rest of the world. And it is time now for the Cuban people also to have a rebuilt infrastructure, electricity, social services, the whole bit. And that is one of the things that this government has been thinking about for quite a while.
Q With the Congress about to recess until September, is the President still optimistic that he can get an immigration bill by the end of --
MR. SNOW: There are ongoing conversations, and I think -- let me put it this way. The President is going to do everything he can, because it is important to address immigration not in a piecemeal method, not in a method where you do a little now and a lot later, but to come up with a comprehensive solution that is going to provide the basis for orderly immigration of people onto American -- into America, and at the same time, to keep our borders secure, to know who people are, to have a guest worker program in which we can monitor who's working and we can make sure that they're taking jobs that otherwise are not being taken by Americans, and all the goals that the President has laid out.
So I think there's increasing awareness in both Houses of Congress that that is the proper way to proceed.
Let me just -- let me just say that's the end of the question session here. I want to -- and I'll be happy to entertain other questions afterward. But today is the last day in which we're going to be gathered in this iteration of the James S. Brady Briefing Room. And it's one of the real glories and honors of anybody who's been a press secretary not only to have the privilege to working for a President, but also with the press.
There are many things that bind people together. I've been in government service, I've been a speech writer, and now press secretary. And you find that across party lines, you have similar experiences and you provide similar support. One of the things that also draws us together is the cussedness and the persistence of the press corps, without whom my life would be a lot duller, and I think so would the life of American democracy. One of the great things is continuity of government, and also the fact that there's always here somebody trying to keep us honest and trying to get the story out to the American people.
It is a real privilege to be here. It's a real privilege to work with you. And now it's a real privilege to introduce some of my predecessors who have worked here, beginning with James S. Brady, for whom this press briefing room is named. (Applause.) Ron Nessen, who served President Ford; Marlin Fitzwater, who's worked for everybody; Dee Dee Myers from the Clinton administration; and also Joe Lockhart from the Clinton administration. (Applause.)
This is just one of those moments -- I hate to be kumbaya, but we're going to be kumbaya, because I got help and advice from a lot of people before I took this job. And I think we can all agree whatever frustrations there may be, this is a great job.
MS. MYERS: Some days.
MR. SNOW: Some days, that's right. Some memories linger, don't they?
All right. Also one of the things I just want to do again is to reiterate to one and all you're always going to be welcome here, including up in my office. Let me just say to everybody who wasn't around earlier today, when we move over to our temporary lodgings in Jackson Place, I'll keep hours every day between gaggle and briefing time, and we will make sure that there's always somebody there.
And as the unavoidable glitches occur, please let us know and we will try to fix them. But we are obviously going to do everything we can to keep doing a better job of getting more information to you. And you just keep it up. As Helen said, keep questions coming to us, too.
I don't think people realize before you walk into this room how small and cozy it is. It is cozy. I like being in close quarters with everybody. And I think --
Q Is that what they teach you in spin school?
MR. SNOW: No, no. Unfortunately I missed spin school. I pay a price for that from time to time, but --
Q Now he's just a professor.
MR. SNOW: That's right. (Laughter.) I'm self-taught.
Q This is the first time, Tony, I have seen so many and all the great press secretaries in this room, one time together.
MR. SNOW: Well, thank you, Goyal. These are wonderful press secretaries. And, again, we fully appreciate and understand the honor. And when we're done with this, I hope that we'll all have a chance to mix and mingle and visit a bit, because that's also part of it. Again, this is an event that a lot of people who have not worked here are not fully going to understand. But I see since we have people -- how far back are people back there? (Laughter.) People don't want to miss this day. They're way back.
And, Jim, God, it's great to see you here.
MR. BRADY: It's great to be here.
MR. SNOW: Well, again, I want to thank Joe, Dee Dee, Marlin -- the Commodore of Deale -- Ron. Was the air conditioning any better when you guys were here?
MR. LOCKHART: No. Very polite though.
MR. SNOW: They are very polite. (Laughter.) Well, they're all being polite. And I'm vamping, as you've probably figured, and I'll continue to vamp for a couple of minutes because we have a couple of other special guests coming along.
Q Want to sing Auld Lang Syne?
MR. SNOW: Yes, go ahead, Connie, sing Auld Lang Syne. Why not this -- I'm not going to sing. No.
Q You keep vamping.
END 1:57 P.M. EDT