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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
August 23, 2006

Press Briefing by Dana Perino
White House Conference Center Briefing Room

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1:49 P.M. EDT

MS. PERINO: Good afternoon. I'm, frankly, surprised anybody showed up.

Q Why?

MS. PERINO: The junior varsity. Only for another week. (Laughter.)

One announcement, and then we'll go to questions.

Q He'll be gone next week, too?

MS. PERINO: Yes. But we're traveling most of the week.

White House Deputy Press Secretary Dana Perino, Wednesday, August 23, 2006, fields questions from the press in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room.  White House photo by Paul Morse The President spoke to Secretary General Kofi Annan this morning. The call lasted about 14 minutes. It was initiated by Secretary Annan. They discussed the current efforts to assemble an international force for Lebanon, as called for in United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701, and agreed that quick decisions by the main potential contributors will be an important step. Secretary Annan said progress is being made on assembling an international force. The Secretary General said he would travel to the region, and the President asked him to call when he returns to discuss his trip.

They also discussed the Iranian regime's statement on its nuclear program and the terms of the U.N. Security Council resolution. And finally, they also discussed Darfur and the need for action to improve the situation there.

That's my announcement. I'll take questions. Terry.

Q -- peacekeepers, Syria says that the deployment of peacekeepers on the Syrian-Lebanese border would be a hostile act -- this is something that Israel has proposed -- and that they would close their border. Does the United States have any reaction to that?

MS. PERINO: Well, I'm not sure that they're a party to this discussion. United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701 had the entire United Nations Security Council agreeing that troops, international troops would be deployed in Lebanon. Lebanon is a sovereign country; it is its own territory. If the President of Syria was not supplying Hezbollah, this wouldn't have been a problem in the first place. So the United Nations Security Council resolution that calls upon UNIFIL to assist the government of Lebanon in securing its borders, including its northern and eastern borders with Syria, stands and the entire United Nations Security Council agrees.

Q So we don't take this objection from Syria seriously?

MS. PERINO: No.

Q Any further readout on the meeting with Secretary Rice today, and any response on the Iranian issue so far?

MS. PERINO: Yes, I have one. The Secretary of State's office, on the Department of State website probably has this statement up on their website now, as we were walking over.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1696 made clear, as you know, the conditions Iran must meet regarding its nuclear program. And yesterday, the Iranian government conveyed its response in the 21-page package on the incentives that we provided to them on June 6th. That was made by the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, and China, affectionately known as P5 plus one.

We acknowledge that Iran considers its response as a serious offer, and we will review it. The response, however, falls short of the conditions set by the Security Council, which require the full and verifiable suspension of all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities. We are closely consulting with the other members of the Security Council on the next steps.

Q Why are we sending more troops to -- Marines and soldiers to Iraq?

MS. PERINO: I think "more" is the wrong word. I think this is a rotation.

Q What?

MS. PERINO: This is a rotation. The order was signed by the President several weeks ago. The military commanders at the Pentagon know best how to do those troop rotations. And just as he defers to his commanders on the ground in Iraq, he defers to his military leaders here. That's why he signed the order.

As I understand it, DoD held a roundtable today to discuss the order. And they'll be taking volunteers first, and then going to involuntary action, if necessary. This does reflect the fact that we're in a long and difficult struggle. The President is grateful and thankful for every soldier's sacrifice and the sacrifice made by their families, especially.

I would note, this morning, somebody asked if this was a recruiting problem. But across the military, at all branches, the military is hitting its targets for recruiting.

Q So it's not an increase?

MS. PERINO: No, as I understand it, it's a rotation.

Q To go back to Iran, I just wonder, when you said, it falls short, their response yesterday -- so what's next? What's the United States want to do in consultation with the P5 plus Germany in terms of -- the U.N. deadline, obviously, is August 31st. Is there a hope that diplomacy in the next few days could do something? Are you going to push for tough sanctions? What's next from the White House?

MS. PERINO: I should have mentioned, the Security Council will meet on August 31st, as is cited in Resolution 1696. It's U.N. Security Council Resolution 1696. They will meet on August 31st. Of course, they're in communication now. I do not have information for you as to specific next steps, but that's what they're talking about.

Q Do you want tough sanctions, though? I mean, what can you do? There's been a carrot out there with incentives, but where is the stick from the United States?

MS. PERINO: We're going to allow all of our allies to -- the P5 plus one to talk about it and try to figure that out. And when we have next steps to announce, we'll announce them. But for right now --

Q Doesn't that give Iran the signal that they can just keep talking and stalling?

MS. PERINO: No, not at all. I think that what it means is that we're going to -- this is a serious matter, and we're going to seriously consider it. And the P5 plus one will get together and -- they're going to be talking between now and August 31st, but when they get together on August 31st -- or before then, if they have more to say as to what the actual next steps will be, we'll let you know.

Yes, Mark.

Q Was there anything positive in what the Iranians had to say, or was it just, once you don't get past the uranium enrichment, nothing worth looking at?

MS. PERINO: I don't have anything additional from what I had earlier.

Q Senator McCain, in his comments yesterday, said that the American people had been led to believe by the administration that the Iraq war would be a "day at the beach." Does that concern the White House? Do you feel that you're losing support among Republicans?

MS. PERINO: I think it's important to look back at what President Bush has said from the beginning. If you look at what he has said, starting even in March of 2003, that, "Helping Iraqis achieve a united, stable, and free country will require our sustained commitment." Throughout the year, since we've been in Iraq, he has called it -- he has said that it is difficult work to do, going to require sacrifice and patience, prevailing in Iraq is going to require much more tough fighting, it's going to require more sacrifice, and he's thankful for the sacrifices that the military and military families are making.

It's puzzling to me that McCain's comments yesterday are getting so much attention today when if you look over the past couple of months, Senator McCain has made similar comments. He is a Senator who is not shy about sharing his views. That's one of the reasons he is such a unique figure in American politics, and also one of the most popular. And he shares, however, a commitment with the President that we win Iraq, and he understands the struggle that we're in. The President appreciates his support.

The President has never made the comments that you referred to. Any time that the President has felt a need to acknowledge mistakes in the war on Iraq, he has done so. And other members of his administration, they can speak for themselves. And I know that the Vice President has repeatedly been asked about comments that he's made in the past, and he's answered them. So I don't understand why we're going back over all this ground now.

Q Well, perhaps because support for the war seems to be slipping, it's down at a new low point in the latest polling, and may reflect concern for the political year that we're in.

MS. PERINO: I think if you look at what the President said on Monday, this is tough work that we're doing in Iraq, and criticism is part of our system of government and certainly a part of when you take tough action and when you are stalwart in your action. We're aware of the polls, and the President said on Monday, of course, you want people in America to support your positions. You've seen him out talking about it. His administration is going to continue to explain to the American people the situation that we're in, the struggle that we face and how important it is that we win.

Q Dana, on Monday the President said that Iran cannot be allowed to thumb its nose at the U.N. Security Council and there have to be consequences. Does the President believe that this response is essentially thumbing Iran's nose at the U.N.?

MS. PERINO: What I said earlier was that the P5 plus one is going to take some time to discuss amongst themselves, and the President has not made a comment like that to me or to anyone else that I know of. And I think that what's important here is that this serious matter be seriously considered. That's what he's doing now.

Q Yes, "falls short" doesn't seem that strong. Do you believe a stronger statement about Iran's response is expected today, tomorrow? How long will it take to digest?

MS. PERINO: No, I don't think you'll get another statement today. I think that we needs some time to review it and to discuss what the next steps are. All six of them are meeting, and we'll see what comes next. And then as soon as we do have something, we'll be able to give it to you, but I don't expect anything else today.

Q But, clearly, the administration looks at the response and sees that Iran is not agreeing to stop or suspend enriching uranium, correct?

MS. PERINO: The statement says that the Iranians' response falls short of the conditions set by the Security Council, yes.

Q As far as Iran is concerned, they have said that they will not go with the U.N. Security Council or the global community as far as the statements on Iran is concerned. Let's say, if the U.N. fails, or the P5, so what's the next step for Iran --

MS. PERINO: As I just said, Goyal, let's let the P5 plus one meet, have discussions, and then we'll announce next steps when we're ready.

Q -- what you said, would it be fair to say that what matters is the state of play on August 31st, when the U.N. Security Council meets, that that is the point at which you will decide whether to press for sanctions? Is there time between now and then for Iran to modify its response, or for other developments to occur?

MS. PERINO: I, personally, do not know that. I can't tell you right now that August 31st is the deadline -- well, is the date that we're going to have a specific statement. It could come before, there could be changes. I just don't know.

Q The President is going to Kennebunkport tomorrow, he's staying through Sunday. What should we expect in the way of Iran developments and any meetings that he might be having over the course of those days in Kennebunkport?

MS. PERINO: Well, I'll be with you for the weekend, and as there are updates available, I'll provide them. I don't anticipate anything; there's certainly nothing on the schedule yet that's public. We'll let you know if that changes. But I think right now what you'll see, if there's any comment it will probably be coming from the Secretary of State.

Q He'll be making phone calls, I assume, consulting with allies and staff during that time?

MS. PERINO: We'll keep you updated on calls.

Q Were you aware of Rockey Vaccarella's political background? Was he invited to meet with the President because he supports the President?

MS. PERINO: I checked into that, and at the time of invitation, no, there was no knowledge of his political affiliation.

Q You didn't know he had ever been a Republican candidate?

MS. PERINO: No, he was not invited -- he was invited before anybody knew that.

Q And were you aware that he was going to endorse the President for a third term? (Laughter.)

MS. PERINO: No. And, believe me, I think staff thinks that two are plenty. (Laughter.) I don't think it was a secret that Rockey Vaccarella had been supportive of the federal effort and he had said supportive things about the President, as well. He asked to make sure that the President doesn't forget the Katrina victims, and the President reaffirmed that he will not.

Q Why does the staff think two terms is enough?

MS. PERINO: Because I'm tired. (Laughter.)

Q President Bush is going to be meeting with the South Korean President on September 14th. Could you talk a little bit about what President Bush's intentions are in terms of pushing for lowering of trade barriers, particularly against U.S.-made autos?

MS. PERINO: I am wholly unprepared for that question, so I'll either have to attach a footnote to the briefing or refer you to the National Security Council for more later.

Q Does the President support Italy leading the U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon? And did he express any frustrations to Secretary Annan today about that?

MS. PERINO: I'm not aware of him expressing frustrations to Secretary Annan. What the President called for is that leadership should be forthcoming quickly for the international force, but he did not endorse a particular country leading it, no.

Q It was two days ago that he called for that. Is there any concern within the White House that, here we are two days later and still --

MS. PERINO: No, I think, as I said before, Secretary Annan said that there had been some progress, so that's a positive step.

Lester, I can't wait.

Q I have two questions, and could I say that I think you're doing very well.

MS. PERINO: Thank you.

Q At the most recent Democratic National Committee's meeting, they voted by voice vote to penalize any presidential candidate who campaigns in any state that refused to follow a prescribed calendar of primaries and caucuses by stripping that candidate of his or her delegates at the Democratic National Convention.

MS. PERINO: And your question is?

Q My question is: Does this sound at all democratic to the President? Or does he believe it's the latest political totalitarianism of Howard Dean?

MS. PERINO: The President doesn't get involved in the Democrats' decisions. The Republican Party has decided to leave those matters to the state and local parties, so we're not going to get involved.

Q On Monday, The New York Times reported that Tony Snow refused to say the President will support and campaign for Connecticut Republican nominee, Alan Schlesinger. My question: This is primarily because Lamont, the Democratic nominee, has accepted public support from Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and Maxine Waters, and Schlesinger --

MS. PERINO: And your question is?

Q -- has slipped to a single digit. Isn't this the reason Tony didn't want to answer that question? Or would you like to answer the question?

MS. PERINO: I'm going to leave it where the President left it on Monday, and I will give you that transcript so that you have it.

Q He will not campaign for this Republican, will he?

MS. PERINO: He will not.

Olivier.

Q One quick one. The office of Afghan President Karzai says the President invited him to the White House and he's coming. The office of Pakistani President Musharraf put out a statement also saying that he'd been invited and he's coming. Why hasn't the White House confirmed the visits?

MS. PERINO: There's just no announcement yet, but if there is, we'll certainly update you.

Q Just a quick follow on Iran. The House Intelligence Committee put out a report today, talking about threats from Iran, but also specifically said the intelligence community has to do a better job of analyzing what capacity there is for Iran in terms of building and trying to obtain nuclear weapons. What steps do you think the White House has taken, the administration has taken in general, to make sure that the intelligence reports about Iran's nuclear ambitions are not off the mark like the Iraqi WMD reports were?

MS. PERINO: I think that goes back to -- the President acknowledged that the intelligence was poor, and one of the ways that he addressed that was a wholesale transformation of the intelligence community. And the DNI's office, Director of National Intelligence, led by John Negroponte, is now coordinating efforts, and that seems to be working better. And I think that we saw that a couple of weeks ago. I've heard that the coordination amongst the intelligence agencies, not only interagency here in America, but working with our allies overseas when the Brits were able to foil that terror plot, that it was working better. I can't tell you any specifics, of course, but that was my sense.

Sarah.

Q Thank you, and welcome. You answered part of my question --

MS. PERINO: Oh, good. Let's go to the next one.

Q No, no, I have another. The call of the 2,500 Marines for up to 18 months means U.S. forces will remain in Iraq for that long. Does that mean that they will remain in Iraq for --

MS. PERINO: I'll refer you to the Department of Defense who makes all those decisions.

Richard.

Q With the Congress coming back in a couple of weeks, and the immigration bill is still hanging out there, is there any effort on the part of the White House to start pushing the immigration again between now --

MS. PERINO: Immigration is certainly one of the pieces of legislation that we would like to see pushed forward. I wouldn't say in terms of -- I wouldn't call this a start, but a continuation of our efforts. Certainly, Congress has been away, and so during that time it doesn't seem like there's too much activity going on here in the capital, but a lot is going on out in the country. And I'm sure members are hearing from their constituents that they want to have an immigration bill. We consistently see that people understand that if we're going to solve any of our immigration problems individually, that they need to be solved together in one bill, comprehensively. And the President continues to support a bill that would increase border security, improve enforcement of the interior laws in our country, for the folks who are here illegally, and dealing with that problem, and in addition, create a temporary worker program, but reject a plan of amnesty.

It's complicated, it's going to be tough work, but we are confident that the American people understand and that the Congress understands that they have a responsibility to move forward and actually get a bill passed.

Q Has the President been hearing from members of Congress -- over the last two weeks, discouraging or any encouraging words?

MS. PERINO: I haven't heard whether or not. I know that he talks to members quite regularly. Specifically on immigration, I haven't heard.

Peter.

Q Following up on that -- since he does talk to members of Congress regularly, will he or anyone from the staff be consulting with Senator McCain to find out why the Senator believes that the administration has misled the public on the war?

MS. PERINO: We'll see if there's any updates in terms of

-- we have regular communication with Senator McCain's office, as you can imagine. And if there's something to update you on that, we can in the future.

Q It would seem logical that with such serious allegations, that somebody would want to reach out to him.

MS. PERINO: I think we're in regular communication with Senator McCain, but I also -- I point back that he's not shy about his views, and these are views that he's been expressing for several months now. So I'm not quite sure I understand the point about --

Q I don't recall him saying the administration had misled the public.

MS. PERINO: I never actually saw the word -- him use the word "misled" in quotes that I went back and looked up today. I could be wrong. But I understand the point that he is making, and --

Q -- "a day at the beach" --

MS. PERINO: Going back to what the President said, that it's going to be a long and difficult struggle. And what they do is share the goal of winning in Iraq.

Goyal.

Q A Hezbollah question, please. India Globe has carried a front-page story that it's not only Iran supporting Hezbollah, but now Bangladesh has named a new bridge to honor Hezbollah's

-- do you have comments on -- Bangladesh, our ally, is naming a bridge --

MS. PERINO: Goyal, again, I'm not prepared for that question, either. We'll try to get you an answer.

Kelly.

Q When the President today talked about the one-year anniversary of Katrina being just that, a one-year anniversary, was he in any way trying to lower expectations for the people in the Gulf region about the measure of recovery? Oxfam today put out a study saying that housing has not come back in any measure as much as people had expected in terms of using some of the money that's been available. And many people are still suffering, as he indicated. Is the President trying to lower expectations?

MS. PERINO: I wouldn't call it lowering expectations. I think what he is doing is reminding people of what he said a year ago, after the storm, which is that there is a dedication to rebuilding the region, but that it was going to be a years-long effort. This was never something that we were going to be able to do within a year, especially when you have an entire city that needs to be rebuilt.

If you think about it, you all are going to be in here for about nine months as we remodel the White House briefing room. And so rebuilding an entire city is a much bigger challenge. The resources are available. The states both have their plans and the money is starting to go out the door, as I think Don Powell, the Gulf Coast Coordinator, talked about yesterday.

So I wouldn't call it lowering expectations. It's just a reminder to everyone that it's going to take years, and that reminding the American people that we've got to stick with it. And they've been very generous both with their taxpayer dollars and in their personal and private contributions. And so I think it was -- that was a reminder, not a lowering of expectations.

Q Thank you.

END 2:10 P.M. EDT