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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
November 30, 2006

Press Briefing by the National Security Advisor, Steve Hadley, on the President's Meeting with Prime Minister Maliki
Aboard Air Force One
En route Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland

11:36 A.M. EST

MR. SNOW: Fire away, ladies and gentlemen.

Q Thank you for coming back.

MR. HADLEY: You're welcome.

Q What do you think you got accomplished in the Maliki meeting? How are things going to change in terms of U.S. policy in Iraq?

MR. HADLEY: As the President said, they received a report of a commission that has worked to talk about accelerating the transition of responsibility to the Iraqis. They have some plans for accelerating their ability to enhance their -- the capability of the Iraqi security forces, basically moving up the schedule by which things will get accomplished, in terms of the training and equipping of those forces. That was an important element. It was really one of the principal reasons why they got together.

There was a talk -- a discussion about the reconciliation process, and some of the next steps; discussion about what to do about issue of militias and things of that sort. What was important about it was, one, that these two men get together, continue to build and strengthen their personal relationship; secondly for Maliki -- Prime Minister Maliki to give his assessment of the situation on the ground; third, for the President to indicate a little bit the way ahead in this reassessment that is going on on Iraqi policy; to make it clear that the Baker-Hamilton report was going to be one input to the President as he made his own decision, got his own thoughts together about the new direction in Iraq, that there would be other inputs from the Congress, from his own administration.

But also, that the conversation he was then having with Maliki and would continue to have with Maliki and other Iraqis was also a very important input, because in the end of the day, the upshot of this review has to be a way forward that is agreed between the government of Iraq and the President, because as the President made absolutely clear in the press conference, he recognizes this is a sovereign government, Iraq; that Iraqis have the responsibility and want the responsibility for their own future; that it is a unity government that we support and that any way forward has to be an Iraqi way forward that we support.

And this was an opportunity for them to talk about these issues in the way I described, and also in a private one-on-one session again to talk candidly about some of the challenges they face, and to strengthen their personal relationships. So we think the meeting accomplished what we wanted it to accomplish.

Q One thing the President said in that press conference was that they're going to -- the United States will keep troops in Iraq as long as the Iraqis want U.S. troops there. Did Prime Minister Maliki indicate to the President how long he was willing to have U.S. troops in his country?

MR. HADLEY: No, because this, again, is the notion that somehow the troops are a function of timetables, rather than a function of progress. And what the Prime Minister and the President talked about was how to make progress in standing up Iraqi security forces that are able to provide security for the country, and then transferring responsibility to those security forces, so that the U.S. role, in terms of security, declines as the Iraqi role increases. That's what they talked about.

In terms of continuation of U.S. forces, obviously we've just had the rollover of the U.N. mandate, which will permit the continuation of U.S. forces and other forces in the coalition for the coming year. But these folks are focused on succeeding at bringing -- advancing Iraqi democracy, building Iraqi institutions, maturing those institutions, including the security forces, and having Iraqis increasingly take responsibility for the security. It's what Iraqis want, it's what Americans want. That's what they're focused on.

Q Do we have enough trainers, and are the trainers that are being sent in fully trained to actually train? Are they -- do have capability to help them in that area?

MR. HADLEY: That's one of the things that is being looked at. As you know, there's been some discussion in the press and some comments from General Abizaid and some congressional testimony about expanding -- potentially expanding the imbedding program, as well as potentially accelerating the training program. General Abizaid said that that might require some additional numbers of specialized folks who do that work, so that is one of the issues that's under discussion as part of this policy review.

I think also, just to answer the other part of your question, I think there have been stories in the press about the efforts the military has done to enhance the capability of the trainers to do the training -- additional schools, and those sorts of things. This is a business we were kind of out of for a number of years, we're not obviously back into it big time. One of the things the military is trying to do is to ensure that our young men and women who go over and do this role have adequate support and adequate training at home, so they can do the training overseas. And that's not going to be a problem.

Deb, did you have another question?

Q Do we have enough trainers, and are they adequately trained to go over there and beef up their training?

MR. HADLEY: Obviously, General Abizaid and General Pace and others are talking about what we need in terms of trainers, identifying them, and then of course they will go through these training programs that you've already written about in order to put them in the position to do the training.

I think the answer to that is, sure, yes, there is. Yes there is, in the sense there -- are enough trainers in the United States military, are there are enough people in the United States military who can do this mission. I think the answer to that question is clearly yes. We need to identify how many are needed, who are the right people to do it, and then put them through the kind of training that we do for folks when they go over to do particular missions in combat areas.

Q That takes a lot of time.

MR. HADLEY: It's not clear how much time that would take. That's one of the things that is being looked at. I don't think you should conclude that this is a long-time proposition, to get trainers over there doing the training. Obviously, training a military force is something that does take some time, and it's partly a classroom, but it's also heavily on the job, under combat, units learning to work together, young leaders being tested and proving themselves.

Building a military, a successful and high-quality military, is something that, obviously, takes some time. We've been at it for a while. There is going to be more work to do. But you can get units to the point that they can take increasing responsibility for security. That's what we've been doing, that's what we'll continue to do.

Q It seems pretty clear from today's events that there will be an increase, at least short term, in the number of troops.

MR. HADLEY: That's, again, an issue that needs to be looked at. I think the point is that in terms of a review, what you need to do is to say, when the President says it hasn't moved fast enough, quickly enough, why not; what have been the barriers to making it move faster and better; how do you remove those barriers; what does it take in terms of things Iraqis need to do and we need to do? Once you get those things defined, then you can go into the process of who are the people that are going to do it and what are the numbers? So in some sense, the numbers issue comes at the end of the process, not the beginning of the process. We're not done with that process yet.

Q Would it be fair to say, though, that it looks like there will be a likely increase in troops?

MR. HADLEY: I don't have anything new for you on that. I think you saw General Abizaid's testimony about increasing imbedding and additional training, and whether that might require some additional troops. That's an issue that's being discussed.

Q Accelerated training would seem to lead to that conclusion.

MR. HADLEY: Again, I don't have anything more for you than what General Abizaid said. But I think the process that the President is going through -- let's define the problem, what are the barriers, what do we do to overcome them, what does it require from Iraqis, what does it require for us, and then how does that transfer into who, what, when and numbers. And let's let that process go through.

Q Did your assessment of Prime Minister Maliki from your memo following your October 30th meeting with him, did it change after this meeting, or did you focus it down more? There were three things that you said in that memo about him, you said either he's not aware of the situation on the ground, or maybe he's misrepresenting things, or he doesn't have the capabilities. What is your assessment now?

MR. HADLEY: I came back from that trip being very positively impacted by Prime Minister Maliki. It was the first time I'd had an opportunity to spend one-on-one time with him. The meeting was supposed to go for an hour; it went for two and a quarter. The last part of it was just the two of us together.

He's a very impressive guy as an individual. He's obviously got a lot of challenges. That's the impression I had when I came back, it's what I conveyed to the President. And both in his meeting with the press today and then the meeting with the President from which I participated, he just confirmed that. He says all the right things about his vision for Iraq: a democratic Iraq where Iraqis take responsibility for their future, in which all communities can participate, the need to get beyond sectarianism.

He says all the right things, and he has presented a number of plans to the President of how they want to proceed, both an accelerated transfer of responsibility, how they want to proceed in terms of enhancing security in Baghdad, how they want to proceed on their economic policies.

So he gives the impression of a man with the right vision, determination, is developing a plan and a series of plans with his team as to how to get that done. He clearly talks about his impatient to do things quicker, faster, better. And the President said that's one of the things we like about him.

Q Do you believe him?

MR. HADLEY: Yes, I believe him. I believe him, I think he has -- he and the unity government have enormous challenges for doing it. I mean, if you think about we all talked last time about the new phase since the bombing in February of the mosque, and the rise of sectarian violence, and what he talked about, the big challenge that poses for him.

But, you know, that process was well underway before he even came into office. So I think the issue for him is, I think enormous challenges with new institutions; that he's got to both build the army and fight the army at the same time, build these democratic institutions and make very tough decisions all at the same time. That's a challenge for any government; it's particularly a challenge for a new government. I come away with a high regard for him and a high appreciation for the challenges he and we face.

Q In that memo, as Toby has said, you listed three possibilities, that he was ignorant of the situation, that he was misleading, or that he was incapable of putting his good intentions into actions. What's convinced you that it's not the middle of those, that he's not misleading?

MR. HADLEY: Well, it's just an assessment of when you listen to someone -- and I think you saw in that memo, I was very clear about being very positively affected by what he said. I made a reference that it's confirmed by other things we know. And the judgment of that memo was pretty clear, because the rest of the memo is how to enhance his capabilities.

So I think the judgment, clearly, that I conveyed to the President was, this is a guy who is saying the right things, who has the right instincts. There's a real question of capabilities, he feels it, he's right to feel it. And the bulk of that memo was really how to enhance his capabilities, if you read it. So that was clearly the judgment I came to, and I think if you listened to the President today, that's the judgment the President has come to.

MR. SNOW: You may want to expand a little bit, too, on the fact -- you mentioned the Prime Minister came and he had plans and he was talking -- this was not a one-sided meeting.

MR. HADLEY: No, and what was interesting, he said, look, he said, these are the plans that we are developing, and by the way, he said, these are plans that we have developed. We will be talking with General Casey and we will be talking to Zal Khalilzad, but the message he was clearly sending to the President was, we are standing up as a government and taking responsibility for charting the way forward for Iraq. And the President's response is, was, that's good.

That's what this is all about, empowering a unity government in Iraq with a vision for a democratic Iraq that can govern itself, defend itself, sustain itself as an ally in the war on terror, stepping up and being able to make decisions and chart a way forward for their country. That's what this is all about. And so the President reacted to that as, great, that's just what we've been wanting to see.

Q What did he say about Sadr, and the suspension of his coalition, basically, from the government? And how will that affect him? What were his concerns that he shared with the President?

MR. HADLEY: Well, one of the questions is what that really means. There has been announcement. There has been speculation in the press about whether this is a real intention by them to leave the government, or is an effort to make a statement. You've all written about that. I think time will tell.

Q Did he express concern over it, or was it just like, oh well, they're just trying to talk?

MR. HADLEY: That was more a subject that was covered by the two leaders one on one. I did not participate in that subject. I think really that's a -- so I really cannot comment on what exactly he said to the President when the two of them were together.

Q How much time was it --

MR. SNOW: Maliki did take it up at the press conference, too, when he was asked the question.

Q How much time was it -- did they have one on one, just the two of them? What was the format and how did that go?

MR. HADLEY: It was supposed to be -- I'm going to have to check to be sure. It was supposed to be an hour with the large group and an hour with the smaller group. The larger group went about an hour and 20, maybe an hour and 25 minutes, and then the smaller group went close to an hour.

MR. SNOW: Meanwhile, there was also a tandem -- there were two groups operating at that point. It was not -- there wasn't a coffee break, there was a continuing working session.

MR. HADLEY: When the President and Prime Minister Maliki went one-on-one with translators, Condi and I then had the national security advisor, the foreign minister and some other Iraqi officials, General Casey, Zal, Meghan O'Sullivan, had a -- in the ante-room, and Tony joined that, as did Dan Bartlett and Josh Bolten a little bit way into it, again talking about the way forward in Iraq, talking about what the source of violence is, how Iraqis see it, how Americans see it. It was a good conversation.

Q When he talks about accelerating the security, can you talk a little bit about the mechanics? What does that involve?

MR. HADLEY: Well, again --

Q Troops and training, but anything else?

MR. HADLEY: It is, one, accelerating training, two, it also involves -- and this is not an exclusive list, I can go back and look at their briefing. But there's obviously issues of equipping and enhancing the provisioning of equipment. Third, there's an issue of sizing, and whether there should be a larger Iraqi army than is currently programmed. There are issues about accelerating its capacity to do logistics, accelerating its capacity to enhance its intelligence capabilities, and accelerating the schedule by which Iraqi divisions get chopped from MNFI over to the Iraqi chain of command that they are building.

So that's kind of a list of some of the things that are talking about. It's a longer list than that.

Q Did he ask for any sort of timetable, like can we have this done in, say, six months or --

MR. HADLEY: Did "he"?

Q The Prime Minister.

MR. HADLEY: The briefing was the things the Prime Minister is doing and the Iraqis are doing, and their schedule for accelerating their ability to take more responsibility for security.

MR. SNOW: The President went through this a number of times, but I think you need to dismiss the timetable talk. It really is a matter of developing the capabilities. The Iraqis have some innovative ideas about ways in which they want to enhance their security operations. And as they go ahead, start building that, then as Steve and the President said many times, then you have the ability to go back and assess, and say, okay, is this time now to step back? But the idea that the Prime Minister or the President is sitting around looking at their watch is not the way you conduct a war.

And so that's just -- that's not the way they're approaching it, but there is a real sense of urgency and also eagerness to assume full responsibility on the part of the Iraqis, which the President welcomes and is happy to hear about.

MR. HADLEY: Can I say one other thing that was done in the background briefing that was provided earlier in the day -- there is a real sense of urgency, but there is not a sense of panic. And that is a good thing for a government that's under -- has a lot of challenges before it. And I think that's also one of the other things that's encouraging. They understand the challenges and they don't underestimate the challenges. They're developing plans to deal with them. They're accelerating their efforts to implement those plans. But they're not panicking. It's a good thing, it speaks well for them.

Q On the Iraq Study Group recommendations that were reported earlier today, are you going to recommend --

MR. HADLEY: I don't think the recommendations have been reported. I think they have announced that they are going to make their report, I think on the 5th of December.

Q There have been news reports of what the recommendations are going to be.

MR. HADLEY: Well, there have been news reports about what reporters think the recommendations are going to be.

Q No, news reports about what sources are saying the recommendations are going to be.

MR. HADLEY: Sources are saying, correct. I just want to be -- I'm not being contentious here, I want to point this -- we don't know what's in the report. It is going to come out on the 5th of December. I've read the press reports about what people are reporting people are saying is in the report.

MR. SNOW: I think it's the 6th of December.

Q And from the press reports of what people are reporting of what is in the report -- any of those ideas sound like something that you would recommend the President take on?

MR. HADLEY: I think it would really be pretty --

MR. SNOW: Let me help out: nice try. (Laughter.)

MR. HADLEY: I think we ought to wait and see what the report says. I am sure that the commission will be meeting with the President, presenting him with the report, talking about what is in it. He's, obviously, and we are all going to want to read it and think about it. This is an important report. We are at an important stage on the issue of Iraq, and it's not something we should shoot from the hip on. So let's all wait until we get the report, know what's in it, and then we'll have appropriate time to give you the President's reaction to it.

Q Do you personally, as National Security Advisor, believe that it would be a good idea for the United States to open up a direct dialogue with Iran and Syria on Iraq? Your own opinion.

MR. HADLEY: The President has been, I think, very clear on his views, and I support the President.

MR. SNOW: Toby, that's a "just between you and me moment." That doesn't work.

Q Was there any talk about a regional conference? That was mentioned in your memo. Possibly early next month?

MR. HADLEY: You know, interesting, there have been regional conferences, as you know. Turkey has hosted a conference of neighbors, which I think has met over half a dozen times. Most of the time, I believe, it's in Ankara. You can check this though. The most recent one they met in Tehran. As you know, there has been an international group that has gotten together in connection with the international compact, most recently up in New York.

So this notion that somehow international meetings on Iraq is breaking new ground I think is not true. There have been, again, at least the two kinds of international meetings that I've talked about. I'm sure there will be more in the future.

Q The one that you talked about in your memo, though, that you thought maybe it might be a good idea to have Condi go to the region and have something in early December, remember, in the memo?

MR. HADLEY: I do have a recollection of the memo, and now you do, too, unfortunately.

Q You're saying it wasn't leaked intentionally?

MR. HADLEY: It sure was not leaked intentionally by me, I can tell you that.

MR. SNOW: Or the White House.

MR. HADLEY: On the eve of going to a meeting with Prime Minister Maliki, no, I don't think so.

Q Did it upset you? Were you upset by that?

MR. HADLEY: Next question.

Q Did it color the meeting in any way?

MR. HADLEY: I think it didn't, and that's a good thing, because, obviously, that's what I was worried about. But in terms of the body language in the meeting, the candor of the conversation, the relaxed character of the meeting between the two leaders, the great relief to me was that it did not seem to have an affect on the meeting. And I must say that Prime Minister Maliki greeted me very warmly. He's a really class act.

Q This may be plowing old ground, but the President said today that one of the frustrations that Maliki has expressed to him is that the U.S. was holding back and not giving him the tools he needed. Is that training, or are there other tools there specifically that he's asked for?

MR. HADLEY: One of the good things about the Prime Minister is that he knows that his government is responsible for the future of Iraq, is being looked to by the Iraqi people to solve these problems, and he wants to get on to it. He's an impatient guy; he shares that with --

Q Frustrations though, specific --

MR. HADLEY: I think most of them relate to the issue of dealing with his near-term problem, in terms of security, and getting his security forces ready to go. But there wasn't -- this was not a session of a list of demands or complaints. The tone of it, which was reassuring, was Iraqis coming in and presenting their plans. And then in some of those plans, particularly in terms of work on the police and the army, he was able -- this joint committee that has been Zal and Casey and then the three Iraqis were able to say, this is what we want to accelerate, this is what we need to do. We have looked at the prospects for funding. Iraq is going to put up this amount of money, and in some instances they've identified what we need from the United States. And we are already looking at including those items in the supplemental.

So it was very much in a sort of collaborative, problem-solving mode. That's, I think, one of the positive things about the meeting.

Q Do you have a rough range of the amount of the supplemental, and when would that come? Is that part of the Iraq package?

MR. HADLEY: We can try -- I've been out most of the month, in terms of travel, and I can't tell you exactly where we are on those things. We can try and get that for you.

MR. SNOW: That's a Candi Wolff question.

MR. HADLEY: I'm just not in a position to answer.

Q And one other thing, not that I'm fixated on times or dates, but the study commission comes out with its report December 6th, NSA is doing its review, DOD is doing its review -- can you give us any sense of when the President is going to start making or announcing subtle shifts in decisions, policy?

MR. HADLEY: We're still working it, as you know. We announced publicly that these individual reviews have been going on for a number of weeks. Some three weeks ago, or so, the President asked them to be pulled together in a single government-wide review. We've been doing that. We've had, really, one or two progress sessions where the President has been able to talk about that with his principals. There's obviously more work to do. I don't have a timetable for you on that.

Q January?

MR. HADLEY: I think probably it's going to be weeks rather than months, but that's really, I think, all I can tell you at this point. It's really going to be when the President is comfortable in his own mind as to where he wants to go, and when we've been able to have the kind of discussion with the Iraqis so we can be sure that it is going to be a common plan between the Iraqi government and the United States government for success.

Q January, probably, at the earliest?

MR. HADLEY: Really, I can't do any more than what I've said.

Q Are you going to get an advance copy on the Iraq Study Group, just so you all can be ready to respond?

MR. HADLEY: We'll get what the Iraq Study Group decides they want to give us. This is an independent review, and I've had some conversations with Secretary Baker about their coming to meet with the President. Those are still being worked out. But again, this commission, this study group will report to the President and to the Congress in a way that they are comfortable with.

Q Were there any humorous moments in this meeting today? Or extremely tense moments?

MR. HADLEY: You know, he does the humor thing.

There were no tense moments. There were a couple mistranslations. One of the problems that bedevils translators is, there are a number of people that speak both languages fairly well, so if you're a translator, you get a lot of help from the table. And there were a couple interesting moments when there were some mistranslations, and suddenly you see some strange looks coming over the face of the Iraqis, and an Iraqi comes in and says, no, the word was X, not Y. There are some of those things.

Q Do you remember any specifics?

MR. HADLEY: I don't.

Q What about the setting? Can you tell me a little bit about the setting? Were you -- this side was American side, and Iraqis, or were you in a round circle? Were there peanuts?

Q At a rectangular table, round table?

Q Did you have Coke, or what did you do? Color.

MR. HADLEY: Color. The format of the -- the setting for these meetings, when representatives of two countries get together are pretty formulaic. It's usually a rectangular table. It is traditional that one delegation is one side, the other is on the other. The two leads of the delegation sit at the center. People then are sort of rank order on the sides.

Q Where were you?

MR. HADLEY: Not going there. (Laughter.) Translator sitting, of course, right behind the two leaders so that there will be no problem on the audio there. Generally there will be -- I can't remember whether there were today -- flags of the two countries in those nice little stands, one in front of each of the participants.

This is a group of people that are getting to know one another well, so they come in, there's a lot of exchange of pleasantries, shaking of hands. People go to the tables, sit down. And the President starts by thanking the Prime Minister for coming. It's a good session.

Q Who was there from the Iraqi side?

MR. HADLEY: We'll get you a list.

MR. SNOW: One more little piece of color. In the little session afterward, in the ante-room, you had the President and the Prime Minister basically pull up chairs in a circle. It was not divided up by nationally, and it was a pretty good conversation.

MR. HADLEY: The session that Condi and I did. This was just a bunch of folks sitting around a circle of tables, going back and forth.

MR. SNOW: It was animated, and it was very good. The other thing is that there's renewed determination to be in contact more often and more constructively and more detail as they start building plans for enhancing Iraqi capabilities.

MR. HADLEY: And that's one of the things that we're helped on by technology. The secure video teleconferencing is a huge plus. You know, it used to be, two decades ago, you would communicate through cables or letters and trips. But the ability to call people up and have a prearranged meeting by secure video, where you can both hear and see, is a wonderful -- we're doing a lot of it, and it is really helpful.

Q Have they been done about every other week, on average, so far?

MR. SNOW: Not the SVTS, the phone calls.

MR. HADLEY: The President will do them with world leaders, but I do them with my counterparts, we'll have working levels. It is a terrific tool for ability to work cross-nationally.

END 12:08 P.M. EDT