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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 18, 2006

Press Briefing by Senior NSC Directors on the President's Bilateral Meetings
Press Filing Center
Algonquin Hotel
New York, New York

5:45 P.M. EDT

Dennis Wilder, NSC, Senior Director for East Asian Affairs
Dan Fisk, NSC, Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs
Dr. Cindy Courville, NSC, Senior Director for African Affairs

MR. JONES: Good evening, everyone. I'd like to welcome some White House officials here to give you a quick briefing on the President's meetings today. We have Dr. Cindy Courville, who is the Senior Director for African Affairs at the National Security Council. We have Mr. Dennis Wilder, who is the Senior Director for East Asian Affairs at the National Security Council. And we have Mr. Dan Fisk, who is the Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs.

We're here to talk about the bilaterals that the President participated in. They really don't cover other issues, so with that, I'll let them begin. And we are on the record.

DR. COURVILLE: Thank you. This afternoon, President Bush met with President Kikwete of Tanzania. The focus of the meeting was on economic development, regional security, and democratization. They focused primarily on the Millennium Challenge Account, which Tanzania is one of the recipients and is in the process of securing a compact which we hope will come shortly.

They also focused on the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the political situation there, and elections. President Kikwete reiterated that he thought the process was moving well, that regional leaders were taking a firm role, and also talked about the successes of Burundi and getting the final rebel leaders to come to the forefront and sign on an agreement.

Also they spoke about Kenya and the dynamics of democracy there, and expressed concerns to make sure that democracy is moving forward, and discussed some of the issues of political instability that were taking place.

MR. JONES: I think we'll take questions after each individual director talks about their meeting. So, any questions?

Q Did the President mention his plans to appoint a special envoy for Sudan in that meeting?

DR. COURVILLE: I don't have anything in regards to an announcement of a special envoy. As you know, we had Senator Danforth, who was the President's special envoy on Sudan. The President reiterated on Friday his concern for the gravity of the situation in Sudan.

Other questions?

Q Fred, I was hoping we might be able to get names and full titles again, with spellings.

MR. JONES: I will do that afterwards.

Q That would be great.

MR. WILDER: Good afternoon. The President met with Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi this afternoon for about 50 minutes. They engaged in a broad-ranging discussion of both the bilateral relationship between the United States and Malaysia, and a variety of international issues.

Prime Minister Abdullah is an excellent friend of the President, and as a democracy with a Muslim majority in its population, Malaysia has a great deal to offer as a sounding board for the President of the United States in his outreach to the Muslim world. One of the interesting topics that they discussed today was the common roots of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, and their belief that there is much that these religions can learn from each other. As you may know, Abdullah Badawi of Malaysia is a leader in the moderate Islamic world and has a concept called Civilization Islam which advocates the practice of tolerance and affirmation of all religious faiths in his nation.

The two leaders decided -- agreed that U.S.-Malaysian relations are in very good shape, and that one of the most important priorities we have is movement forward on the free trade agreement negotiations. They noted that both of their trade teams are prepared and will move to the next round of talks in late October.

They also discussed the situations in Darfur, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, and Palestine. Prime Minister Abdullah noted that Malaysia is willing to send troops -- peacekeeping troops to Lebanon. President Bush thanked Prime Minister Abdullah for all Malaysia has done to further world peace and security through its contributions to peacekeeping operations and its efforts against terrorism, both in Malaysia and around the world.

The leaders, as they have on several occasions, discussed relations between the peoples of different faith, as I said, and President Bush complimented Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi for his work in promoting tolerance and unity.

They both look forward to seeing each other again at the APEC meetings in Hanoi in November, and President Bush noted that he is very much looking forward to that opportunity as it will be the first time he visits Vietnam.


Q Malaysia's Foreign Minister says that the Pope's explanation for his comments on Islam is insufficient. Did the topic of the Pope's comments come up at all in this discussion of multi-faith understanding et cetera?

MR. WILDER: Yes, it did. And the President noted that the Pope had made some apologies for his remarks, and the President believed that the Pope was sincere in those remarks. And that's where the discussion was left.

Q So there was no response from the Prime Minister as to whether or not that was a sufficient explanation?

MR. WILDER: No, he accepted the President's position on the subject.

MR. JONES: Is this a press conference between the speakers and just Olivier? (Laughter.) That's fine. If that's that, thank you very much.

MR. FISK: Good evening, my name is Dan Fisk. I am, again, the Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs.

The President today had two regional bilaterals. He met separately with President Tony Saca of El Salvador, and that was followed then by a bilateral meeting with President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras. Both Honduras and El Salvador, the people and countries are good friends of the United States, and also both are CAFTA partners -- Central American Free Trade Partners -- with us.

One topic covered in both meetings was the situation in the region, specifically Central America and the upcoming elections in Nicaragua. These elections are scheduled for November 5th of this year. Each President respectively expressed the importance of a free, fair, transparent process in Nicaragua and the importance of the democratic forces in Nicaragua having space to fully participate, and make sure that the playing field was as level as possible.

Specifically turning to the bilateral with Antonio Saca of El Salvador, President Saca raised the issue of crime, focusing his interest on greater cooperation with the United States in dealing what is a growing transnational threat, represented by the gangs -- the so-called Maras -- I think the groups that you all -- some of you know well, such groups as the MS 13. The President was very receptive to this and wants to do what more we can to deal with this, as it is something that does threaten not only both countries, but the region more widely. And both expressed the concern that the threat of the Maras to regional stability.

President Saca then updated the President on the Salvadorans' discussions with the Millennium Challenge Corporation. Salvador has been in discussions and hopes to conclude a compact this year. This would be the third compact of a Western Hemisphere country. Currently Nicaragua and Honduras already have Millennium Challenge compacts.

The President thanked President Saca and the Salvadoran people for their contribution to Iraq. Salvador has participated in seven rotations of troops to Iraq, and again, the President was very appreciative of the efforts and the sacrifice the Salvadorans have made to support Iraqi democracy.

Going now to the second bilateral, the bilateral between the President and President Zelaya of Honduras. This was in many ways a follow-up to the meeting they had in June, which was the first time that they had met. President Zelaya expressed appreciation to the President for his -- President Bush's strong stand on immigration reform. And President Zelaya noted the cooperation that we have in terms of returned Hondurans that have been detained and returned to Honduras under our Secure Border Initiative, its ongoing areas of cooperation.

One of the issues that President Zelaya wanted to discuss in some detail involved his efforts to address the energy situation in Honduras. Honduras is one of the countries in Central America and actually in the Western Hemisphere that is most dependent on imported oil, including oil to run -- to generate electricity. So this is something of great concern to President Zelaya and Hondurans. He wanted -- President Zelaya wanted to give the President a brief on his thinking on how to proceed on this and President Zelaya's proposal to create a mechanism to try to lower energy costs.

Frankly, the President's response went to the importance of relying on market mechanisms, noting that we've seen a drop in fuel prices, we've seen some change in the market, due to letting the market work and not through government intervention and reiterated the importance that we believe that it's part of our commitment to CAFTA and other principles that the free market needs to be in a position to work, and that government, frankly, should do what it can to get out of the way.

The President also reaffirmed his strong interest -- President Bush reaffirmed his strong interest in looking at alternative sources of fuel and energy; discussed ethanol and issues like the alternative sources of energy with President Zelaya, and encourage the Central Americans to look more at how you process sugar cane and turn it into ethanol.

Finally, both President Zelaya and President Bush briefly discussed the situation in Cuba and the importance of supporting the Cuban people's aspirations for a democratic transition. And then President Zelaya noted that they, Honduras, have a maritime boundary issue with Cuba that they would like to see resolved.

Each meeting lasted about a half hour, and I'd be happy to take questions. And we should go to someone else. (Laughter.) With all due respect.

Q Just to clarify, when the President was talking about market forces and energy, was he talking broadly, including about the United States, or was he giving advice to Honduras?

MR. FISK: The President is very, very respectful of the role of other leaders to set the agenda. And he was talking more broadly and more philosophically about the importance of the market to do its work.

Nice to have a little change, but we will default here. I guess you get paid extra, get paid by the word. (Laughter.)

Q Unfortunately, I don't. (Laughter.) Does that mean that Cuba did not come up in the discussion with President Saca?

MR. FISK: The discussion with President Saca went more to the circumstance and situation in Nicaragua. And as I recall, Cuba specifically did not come up.

Q Did Venezuela come up in either meeting?

MR. FISK: Venezuela did come up in both meetings. Again, part of this was having to do with the energy situation in the region, and PDVSA's efforts to get a foothold in Central America. But as much as anything, it was more of just a matter-of-fact discussion. Both countries -- Salvador and Honduras -- have expressed their support, by the way, for Guatemala in the U.N. Security Council. So that was reaffirmed by the other countries.

Q What did the other two leaders say specifically about President Chavez and his campaign against the Bush administration?

MR. FISK: Well, I don't want to get into more than I have, but it was, as much as anything, in terms of focus on -- again, what Venezuela is trying to do in terms of using its energy resources to make a political point.

Q Did they talk about Chavez specifically, as opposed to Venezuela?

MR. FISK: They talked about Venezuela.

Q Any more resources for the FBI to fight the Mara Salvatrucha --

MR. FISK: Well, here right now, the Justice Department, with leadership from the FBI, is involved -- has a task force to deal with the gang. So there were not specific resource issues. How I would characterize it is that both leaders affirmed their commitment to work forward and cooperate on dealing with this transnational gang problem.

Q Were there discussions about preparing for a post-Castro Cuba?

MR. FISK: More -- given the amount of time of the meetings, it was more generally a -- again, with President Zelaya, the affirmation of the importance of what countries can do to support the Cuban people's aspirations for democratic change.

Q Can you remind me how many Salvadoran troops are in Iraq? Did the President ask him to expand that number?

MR. FISK: There are about -- as I recall, the last numbers are about 360 -- 360-390 troops, Salvadoran troops. That's pretty much been the consistent level that they've had. Saca -- President Saca noted that, and reaffirmed his -- this is President Saca's commitment -- to stay the course in Iraq. But the President was -- just thanked him and took note of that and went on.

Q You talked about the importance of what countries can do to support democracy in Cuba -- what specifically are those things?

MR. FISK: In terms of specific -- it was just generally -- a general statement of the importance of moving forward on that.

Q -- anything we're asking from those countries to help democracy --

MR. FISK: Make that in terms of their engagement with Cuba and their foreign policy towards Cuba, factor that in to their thinking and their actions.

MR. JONES: Okay, thank you very much. Thank you.

END 5:50 P.M. EDT