The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
November 16, 2006

Press Gaggle by Tony Snow
Aboard Air Force One
En route Hanoi, Vietnam

9:11 A.M. (Local)

MR. SNOW: All right, I don't know if they read this out in Washington: Last night, Singapore time, the President had a brief conversation with Prime Minister Singh of India, talking about the civilian nuclear proposal saying that we're committed to its passage and he was encouraged by Senator McConnell's comments to the effect that the Senate hoped to vote on it soon.

As for today, I think you guys have seen it, but basically we get in -- let me run through the events for the day and then we'll do questions. The President has already done the radio address. When we get to Hanoi we will have a lunch with Prime Minister Howard of Australia. Then there will be an arrival ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Hanoi. The President will meet with the President of Vietnam and also with the Prime Minister, as well as the General Secretary of the Communist Party. And this evening there will be a state banquet.


Q Why is he going to Communist Party headquarters?

MR. SNOW: To meet with the Secretary General of the Communist Party. It's a Communist Party state, it's a Communist state and he will meet with the head of the party.

Q What are the President's thoughts coming to Vietnam 30 years after the war? What does he intend to focus on here?

MR. SNOW: Basically, on expanding a number of areas of mutual interest with the Vietnamese. You've got an economy that's now growing briskly. We obviously want to talk about the economy. But there is also security cooperation. There are military to military contacts, which we've begun doing with the Vietnamese. Let me just run through a couple of others: health cooperation, both in the areas of avian influenza and in AIDS -- the President mentioned that in his speech yesterday; POW/MIA, there's still efforts to try to make sure that we've learned everything we can about the status of more than 1,300 Americans still missing and unaccounted for after the Vietnam War; and WTO accession and also permanent normal trade relations.

Q The last time an American President went to Hanoi, there was some concern about having the President appear with all of the trappings of the Communist Party headquarters -- the photos of Ho Chi Minh and so forth. Have you done anything at this point to diminish the optics of this in any particular way, or have you heard any concern from Republicans?

MR. SNOW: No, David, we haven't. Vietnam is now making a transition, we're certainly encouraging that reform in many ways, both in terms of domestic policy -- that is, its political system -- and also economically. You've got an economy that is beginning to grow. You've also had removing Vietnam from the list of nations of concern when it comes to religion, and there's going to be a talk -- there will be talk about further progress, in terms of democracy and human rights, because that is essential for any society to be able to explore its own potential. So the President will be talking about the freedom agenda.

Q Has the President made any calls to congressional Republican leaders about PNTR for Vietnam?

MR. SNOW: No, I don't think so. At this point -- we had conversations before we left town, and the President did meet with House and Senate leaders. It did come up then and so he discussed it with Senator McConnell, Senator Frist, for the lame duck. So it has been discussed.

By the way, he also did call Representative Hoyer this morning to congratulate him on his victory.

Q A question on the conversation with Prime Minister Singh. One of the concerns about the U.S.-India deal has been that there were no provisions in it that would keep India from continuing to make fuel for its own nuclear weapons stockpile or expand that. Has he gotten any private assurances from the Indians that they would not do that?

MR. SNOW: I was not party to the phone call and I doubt it would have been considered. This was more, David, a touch base in terms of what's going on, on Capitol Hill.

Q What lessons did Americans learn from the Vietnam War and do any of those apply to what's going on in Iraq now?

MR. SNOW: I think the two situations are not comparable and I don't want to try -- I will let Americans tell you what their various lessons were from Vietnam. That's far too large a question for me to contemplate, let alone answer.

Q Tony, you talk about the transformation in Vietnam and the President wants to focus on that -- this is his first trip to Vietnam, he's a baby boomer who lived through the war. What focus does he intend to put, if at all, on the war and the lessons of the war?

MR. SNOW: David, what's interesting is that the Vietnamese are not particularly interested in that. You've got a young population and a dynamic economy. This is not going to be a look back at Vietnam; it really is going to be a looking forward to areas of cooperation and shared concern, in terms of working with the Vietnamese.

The President, as he mentioned yesterday, is keenly aware that most of our trade now -- we do more trade now with the Pacific Rim countries than we do with Europe. And it is vital for us to continue to maintain a strategic and economic presence in the region. And we'll continue to build closer relations with the parties in the region.

Q Tony, does the White House believe that increased trade with Vietnam would undermine the communist regime in the long run and promote freedom, more political freedom in Vietnam?

MR. SNOW: I think at this point, David, we're simply talking about the virtues of free trade. I'll let you draw whatever long-term conclusions you may wish to draw.

Q Does he want to send a message, though, about the importance of democratic institutions with the hope of undermining the Communist Party in Vietnam?

MR. SNOW: I don't think the President comes and says to his host, I come here to undermine you. But what is going on, David, is significant. You've got a regime that has been liberalizing on the economic front. And you've got an economic growth rate that I think -- Sanger will correct me if I'm wrong -- 8.5 percent last year. It's growing at a brisk rate. It is the second-fastest growing economy in the region, to China. And the President does -- as he said many times and certainly I expect will be reiterating today -- believes that having free institutions are essential for fostering not only economic vitality, but long-term political stability.

Q Was he disappointed that he doesn't have this trade deal?

MR. SNOW: He understands that politics occasionally break out on Capitol Hill. But he also has been encouraging leaders on Capitol Hill to go ahead and finish work on a PNTR. We've been assured that there will be votes in the lame duck, but in December. And we will be passing that word on. We're certainly are going to make it clear to the Vietnamese that we support it.

Q Tony, Secretary Rice said yesterday that she believed that it would require some show of good faith on both sides between the North Koreans and the U.S. before they came back to the talks on the nuclear issue. Could you describe to us what kind of show of good faith the President is looking for from the North Koreans? Would it be dismantling part of their facilities? And what kind he's prepared to show, as well?

MR. SNOW: No. (Laughter.) I'll let the President do his negotiating, David.

Q -- the speech yesterday, the President have any additional plans to expand the (inaudible) of APEC, as he outlined it yesterday? Is there any follow up?

MR. SNOW: I'm sorry, to examine --

Q He's talking about APEC becoming a free trade region. He obviously wants APEC to be strengthened as an institution. Does he have any plans to sort of put that forward in an agenda --

MR. SNOW: Richard, there is already a 21-nation compact for building a free trade area within the region, and we certainly support that. At this point, we're talking about strengthening APEC, but not having dramatic changes, simply building greater economic cooperation.

Obviously, things like the Doha round are important. We're going to be talking about Doha bilateral trade relations, as well. But we continue to hope to make APEC a stronger forum for all of that and to use it as a way for the United States to work even more closely with the Asian allies.

Q Since I struck on my North Korea question, let me try a harder one. (Laughter.) On Saturday, the President is going to meeting President Roh. President Roh has already indicated that he would not participate more fully in proliferation security initiative and so forth.

Does President Bush believe that President Roh has lived up to the commitment that he made during his last visit to Washington, that everything would change if there was a North Korean nuclear test?

MR. SNOW: Certainly, I'll be much better able to give you a read-out after the meeting, but let me put it this way, we do expect parties to abide by the provisions of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1718. And it is, you know, and in terms of the proliferation security initiative, we hope to have the South Koreans playing a role in it.

Q And does that mean that right now you believe that the South Koreans are not living up to 1817?

MR. SNOW: No, it just means that I'm giving you the boilerplate answer and I will be happy to give you a read-out after the meeting. It will be an important meeting and I'll be happy to give you a more candid and effective readout after it has taken place.

Q What's the topic of the radio address?

MR. SNOW: The themes that he talked about yesterday in Singapore.

Q Does the President have any reaction to Milton Friedman's death?

MR. SNOW: I think we have a statement out, but obviously Milton Friedman is one of the giants in global economics over the last hundred years. He lived a long and great life. He was somebody that the President respected and admired -- as you recall, he did something for Milton Friedman's 90th birthday, and at the age of 94, Milton Friedman was a truly amazing guy.

Q Tony, the President as tourist, does he have any personal interest in any Vietnam War relics or trappings that he will experience on his trip?

MR. SNOW: Not sure, David. I'll check and try to find out for you. I know that's kind of an important nuance. I know today it's basically wall-to-wall meetings. There will be a POW/MIA event, I believe. I think there are going to be some events, and I will try to get you some color that will be useful.

Q But has he talked at all from a personal perspective about what it's like to come here for the first time?

MR. SNOW: Not yet, no. He really hasn't. I mean, at this point, you're -- we spent a lot of yesterday working on the speech for last night, and right now the President is getting ready for a series of meetings with Prime Minister Howard, as well as with the heads of the Vietnamese government. But, again, if he does say anything that I can report, I'll get it back to you.

Q What are he and Howard talking about?

MR. SNOW: Well, obviously, you've got security interests, you've got economic concerns. And they'll talk about the very close and cooperative relationship between the two nations. It'll touch on everything from the global war on terror to economics to working on North Korea. Kind of the predictable topics.

Q The Guardian had a report yesterday that Bush is considering sending 30,000 additional troops to Iraq for one last push. Does that have any conception of reality?

MR. SNOW: I'm not going to try to characterize anything. We saw the report, but I don't want to get into the thicket of trying to characterize it. The best thing to do on that is to throw that over to the Pentagon and let them give you the answer.

I believe -- and correct me if I'm wrong -- The Guardian story was based on at least what they considered a leak about Pentagon ruminations about possible ways forward, at a time when General Pace is conducting a comprehensive review. I think the best thing to do is to let General Pace do that review and provide a report and then we'll --

Q So it's just not true?

MR. SNOW: I don't know.

Q When is his report going to --

MR. SNOW: David, on thing, I think it's pretty clear that what we've said all along is that the United States is going to stay until the conditions on the ground make it possible for American forces to step down as the Iraqi forces become more battle capable. So I don't want to give the impression that we have changed at all the approach, which is, again, working with the Iraqis, making them more capable on the political, economic and security sides so that they're going to have a stable government.

Q The Sudanese accepted a presence of a U.N. force in Darfur -- any reaction from the President?

MR. SNOW: Well, I think the most important thing to do is to have an effective force in Darfur that can protect the people. We are aware of Secretary General Annan's comments on this today and we think that the region and the people in Darfur deserve an effective protection of force and we hope that that is going to be the case.

Q Reaction to the election results in Congo? I see you've got it right there. (Laughter.)

MR. SNOW: Well, I've got it right here, got the election results in Congo. (Laughter.) Well, obviously, you're going to make sure if there is any challenge, they be done in the established electoral process.

Q There's no topic that we can throw at you that you're unprepared for. (Laughter.)

MR. SNOW: I just wanted to make sure, yes. (Laughter.)

Anything else, guys? If you've got some specifics, or any of you guys have specifics over the meetings for the next couple of days that you want to let me know about, I'll try to be helpful. And I'm honestly going to try to -- tomorrow, I'll be in on the bilats, but when they go off to the APEC meetings, I think I may have to do one thing in town, but I'll get to the file and try to be as helpful as I can.

Q Just one logistical thing that you might be able to help us with tomorrow, which is that I think after President Roh's meeting, it's going to be about 8:00 p.m. in the east coast, U.S. if we could get a readout right away on that one, because otherwise we're going to miss a whole news cycle.

MR. SNOW: Understood. I don't know what we have in terms of whether we're going to have statements or questions or all that. I'll let you know in the morning.

Q Is he going to take questions at any of the meetings today?

MR. SNOW: I don't know. I mean, we've got pool coverage at the bottom, so we'll play it by ear.

Q Thank you.

END 9:26 A.M. (Local)

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