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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
December 13, 2006

Press Briefing by Tony Snow
White House Conference Center Briefing Room

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12:39 P.M. EST

MR. SNOW: All right, welcome. Questions. Jennifer.

Q Tony, can you try to characterize how the administration is involved in these discussions, the internal political discussions in Iraq? You brought up this morning --

MR. SNOW: Yes, I want to -- thank you, I think there was some vagueness. The administration really is not involved other than consulting and encouraging those who are already involved in a process or trying to build a moderate consensus among Shia, Sunni, and Kurds. But the business of coalition-building, of course, is being done by the government itself. We're consulting people who have been working with the Maliki government. This government is not in the business of putting together such an assemblage. That's been done already.

Q But if, as you have said, and the President has said, the administration is fully behind Maliki, why would you be even consulting or encouraging a process that he sees as an enormous threat to him and his power?

MR. SNOW: It's not. This is supportive -- I disagree with the assumption. These are people who have --

Q It's not my assumption, that's what he said.

MR. SNOW: No. I don't think so. You're talking about the efforts of Hashemi, al Hakim and Kurdish leaders to support his government? You have -- today, there was a consultation, for instance, with a member of his government. So the readout we get -- these are people who have said that they support the Maliki government and that they support efforts to broaden across sectarian lines, and also geographic lines, support for that government, and also a commitment to help that government fight terror forces who are trying to destabilize it by acts of violence against innocents.

Q What have you all heard from Maliki? Has he had any requests on how the United States could be helpful in that process, could be helpful to him?

MR. SNOW: I know that there are conversations in Baghdad, but I'm not aware of any specific conversations about that, other than -- the President has made clear on a number of occasions, and will continue to make clear to Prime Minister Maliki, that he supports the government, and especially supports its efforts to get more aggressive in going after those who have been trying to destabilize it, and at the same time, build a consensus within the country that is going to provide greater strength to the government and more support for it.

I mentioned this morning, for instance, they seem to be moving very close to the adoption of a hydrocarbon law, which shares oil and gas revenues, which is enormously important because it gives everybody a real financial stake in the success of the government. So those are the kinds of things that are going on. I am not aware that Prime Minister Maliki has asked specifically about those, but, again, these are people who have pledged to support him.

Q Tony, this morning, Senator Levin said that -- when he was talking about this four-to-six month redeployment, pulling troops out within four-to-six --

MR. SNOW: His idea.

Q His idea.

MR. SNOW: Yes.

Q And he said, I believe the only way to stop the Iraqi leaders fiddling while Baghdad burns is to tell them that our presence in Iraq is not open-ended.

MR. SNOW: Yes, we're aware of his view.

Q Is it a complete non-starter?

MR. SNOW: Look, the President has considered everything, but I think the most important thing to do is to send signals to the Iraqis that we're going to support them, but also, at the same time -- the Maliki government has been making the argument not that it does not want to seize authority but that it does. And we continue to see signs that they are eager to gain the capability so that they can have full responsibility for security and other vital national functions.

Q Philosophically, what is philosophically unappealing about the notion of saying, this is only going to get done if we have an incentive?

MR. SNOW: Well, the Iraqis have plenty of incentive to take full governance of their country, and also to fight terror.

I just think, again, rather than -- I'm not going to get into a debate with Senator Levin, but we've taken a look at every option, including options that have been suggested by members of Congress. The President has tried to be as wide-ranging in the review --

Q But this isn't one that you're -- this isn't one that has any traction --

MR. SNOW: Like I said, I am not going to characterize what does or does not have traction. I leave that to the President to announce the way forward.

Q Just let me follow on this. I guess the question is, you hear people say, they didn't get a constitution in Iraq until there was a hard deadline that was put out there. That served as incentive that ultimately helped them get the constitution. So why doesn't the same philosophy hold as far as saying, four to six months, the troops come out?

MR. SNOW: Well, a war is a situation that's a little bit different than constitution drafting. And you may recall a number of Democrats were suggesting that the Iraqis delay voting on their constitution. And it was this administration that had faith in the -- not in the Maliki government, but in the Iraqi people to go ahead and hold elections that would be full, fair and thoughtful.

So I think, again, Jim, the focus of the deliberations here is to find the most effective way to make the Iraqis fully capable and in charge of their destiny as soon as possible.

So I think we share Senator Levin's goal, and I'll let the President announce whether he thinks that he shares Senator Levin's preferred way of getting there.

Q Tony, a question about timing. You've heard from Senator Reid yesterday. Senator Hagel is quoted in the Times as being critical of the President for putting off the speech, saying that time is of the essence, essentially, and that there's this appearance of either indecision, internal debate, and that simply it can't wait. Response?

MR. SNOW: Well, yes, a couple of things. First, there seems to be -- and I don't want to read too much into it, but let me try to take on some assumptions that may be out there without attributing them to Senator Reid or Senator Hagel, because it's not clear exactly what their fuller positions are, but they've been critical.

Number one, there's plenty going on right now in Iraq. It is not the case that people have returned to barracks and corked up the cannons and said, we'll just await further orders. As a matter of fact, there are continuing aggressive, ongoing operations against terror cells within Baghdad. There have been very active operations within Anbar in recent weeks. Also there is continuing the business of trying to build up civil capacity in terms of support for everything from court systems to justice systems to business creation and so on. So there are a lot of things going on.

In addition, you have overlaid with that an Iraq government that is busy doing a lot of things, as well, including a lot of statements in recent weeks by the Prime Minister about the real importance of going after all the sources of violence within Iraq, whether they be Sunni, Shia, or otherwise. You've heard me talk a lot about the hydrocarbon law, which seems very close to passage. The President has talked to Sunni, Shia and Kurd leaders. So it's not as if there isn't a lot going on. But the President also believes, as the American people do, that more needs to be done and it needs to be done better. And so he's looking at ways of doing it.

And the most important obligation he has is to do it right. And he is not satisfied that he has everything before him that enables him to make that judgment, and so he is asking the people who are working the problem to give him more, to answer questions, and he's tasked them with a number of assignments.

I think the best -- it will be interesting, because the President will have an opportunity to present it as soon as it's ready, and again, I think Americans do not want a way forward that is not yet complete.

Q Can you give us some sense internally of what he's taking more time with, what aspect of it --

MR. SNOW: No, I can't, and I apologize, I know it's frustrating. But there are -- let me try to frame it in a way that at least I hope will be helpful. There are a lot of considerations that go into this, and it is not simply a military piece; you've got a diplomatic piece -- I just hinted at some of the civil considerations that are going on. I mean, we've got a lot of people doing a lot of different things in Iraq to help support and sustain this government and this democracy. And that includes areas far away from Baghdad. It includes the provincial reconstruction teams -- the President was briefed on those earlier this week.

And you start to get a sense of how people are not only working with the army and working with Iraqi forces to deal with problems of violence, but maybe more importantly, they're also actively engaged in the business of creating hope and opportunity in the form of jobs and building homes and dealing with infrastructure. Those are issues that you deal with.

You also deal with matters of military readiness on the part of the Iraqis. You deal with problems of police corruption. You deal with the business of creating a legal system that is going to have everybody's trust and faith, property rights. Prime Minister Maliki has announced a plan to build thousands of homes. And at the same time, they have an investment law -- well, if you're going to invest in Iraq, you've got to make sure that your property rights are going to be defended.

So you have this enormous complex of issues that you're trying to pull all together, and it is not a simple balancing act. And the other thing you have to keep in mind is the necessity, not merely of coming up with what you think is going to work, but anticipating possible reactions and taking different views of it. The State Department may have views on the diplomatic outcome of something that may be suggested by the military. The military may have some views on perhaps the military implications of something that might be suggested by State. And it's good to have everybody take a good, close look so that you can deal with all consequences, intended and not, to the very best of your capability, so that a way forward is something that is going to inspire confidence on the part of the American people, that you've taken a good, hard look at it, that you're being realistic, and that this is the sort of thing that Democrats, Republicans, including critics, will, when the President presents it, be able to support it.

Q Can I just ask one more on a slightly different subject, on the Saudis? The Times reports that essentially, the Saudis told the Vice President, we'll help the insurgents if you pull out. But the Hadley memo, which came to light, whether he liked it or not, makes clear that that sort of support for the insurgency by the Saudis is already going on, is already an issue of concern for this administration. So I'm wondering what kind of communication there's been in the Saudi government to essentially say, stop it, and stop it now?

MR. SNOW: Well, let me break this into two pieces. Number one, that was a representation of conversations the Vice President had with the King. I've spoken with the Vice President's Office, and they say, there's no way that anybody is going to know what the Vice President said to the King because that is kept in the strictest confidence.

And the second point, in talking to our NSC folks who are tasked to it: Number one, that's not Saudi policy. Number two, the Saudis are rightfully and rightly concerned about the adventurism of Iranians in Iraq. And we share that concern. And furthermore, they understand that were the United States to leave without an Iraqi democracy that could sustain, govern and defend itself, that it would create a vacuum -- a power vacuum that would have dangerous consequences.

But in addition, the Saudis also understand that there were Shia within Iraq who fought against Iran in the war the two nations had, and they made distinctions between Arabs and Persians. And so I would caution against reading too much into that press account. The fact is the government of Saudi Arabia understands the importance of having an Iraq not only that stands up and is free, but also one that respects the rights of everybody -- Sunni, Shia, Kurd and so on -- and that they have the ability to exist peacefully within the region. So they share a lot of the same concerns that we have.

Q But the Hadley memo brings this up as already an issue --

MR. SNOW: Well, the one thing that is not acceptable is the support for insurgent groups that kill innocent Iraqis and also kill Americans.

Q Does the President intend to leave this war for the next administration, as he has indicated? Or does he have any option to get out?

MR. SNOW: Helen, what the President has said is that the war on terror will continue. He has made no firm predictions because neither he, nor I know exactly when hostilities will cease in Iraq. But we hope that there will be an Iraqi government that stands up and has successfully fought back against forces of violence in its midst.

Q We're the invader. Do you realize that?

MR. SNOW: Helen, we've engaged in this conversation a few times. The Iraqi people have made it clear that they think that America's involvement in unseating Saddam Hussein was historic and liberating. The real tragedy is that there are people who are willing to kill by the thousands to prevent Iraq from becoming free. And I would --

Q How can they feel free when they're under occupation?

MR. SNOW: I would warn against -- I would warn against drawing moral equivalents between people who take IEDs and blow up civilians and Americans who are laying their lives on the line so that there can be a democracy in Iraq. As for our occupation, the United States would like to be able to leave as quickly as possible. The Iraqis would, too. But the Iraqis say, don't leave until the job is done. We agree. It is important to win in Iraq as defined by a free democracy that sustains, governs, and defends itself.

Q When did the Iraqis say that?

MR. SNOW: They've said it on a number of occasions; they've made it known.

Q Tony, on this moderate bloc, am I right to characterize what you -- the way you described it earlier as, the President is playing a supporting role to an existing effort?

MR. SNOW: You know, the President is really consulting with people who have already made clear their desire to build this bloc. And I'm glad you asked because I think there was some uncertainty about my morning answer. The United States is not busy trying to assemble this. That is something that the Maliki -- the Maliki government is a sovereign government that is certainly capable of building its own coalitions. And that is -- it's a coalition that I think has begun to coalesce simply because people do understand the importance of taking on violence in a serious way and sending a clear message, and also building the capability and the unified national desire to go after those who have engaged in killing as a method of destabilizing a democracy.

Q When I asked about that this morning, you said that -- I asked about the ability to put down a political process, you said, along the lines of, I don't know, we had Mr. Hakim, Mr. Hashemi and others now agree on the fundamentals. Is that -- is agreeing on the fundamentals, is that a -- did that come out of this latest round of consultations?

MR. SNOW: No, what's happened is that they've all made clear that they share not only the important goal of national unity and support for the government, but also some of the things that are essential for creating that sense of national unity, going after those who commit acts of terror, and also building a way forward in terms of the kinds of institutions that the Iraqis are going to need: a strong economy, rule of law, and so on.

Q Tony, as far as this terrorism is concerned in Iraq, are they homegrown terrorists, or are they coming from outside? And also, are we fighting the same war in Iraq as in Afghanistan? Or are they connected with al Qaeda? Because there is two problems -- in Afghanistan, President Karzai is saying that might -- better than Iraq. But is President also in touch with some of the NATO commanders or -- how they are doing in Afghanistan, not doing better in Iraq?

MR. SNOW: Well, okay, you've got about four questions; I'll try to divide them up. First, when it comes to -- well, I'll start at the end. Of course, the President is in contact and consultation with NATO allies about the situation forward in Afghanistan. You're in a situation right now where the pace of operations tends to slow in Afghanistan, especially in the mountainous border regions because the snows are deep. And so when the weather warms up, unfortunately, so do hostilities.

Al Qaeda also has been clearly active -- Anbar Province especially -- within Iraq. And there's a lot of al Qaeda activity and al Qaeda in Iraq certainly remains a source of concern.

What was the rest of the question, Goyal?

Q Are we fighting the same war? And also --

MR. SNOW: Well, okay, let me just, quickly, of course, we're not fighting the same war. You've got different countries, you have different battlefield realities, you have different coalitions who are doing the fighting.

Q And as far as Afghanistan is concerned, al Qaedas are still coming back there. And the Karzai government is really concerned about --

MR. SNOW: Well, the Karzai government, and also the Musharraf government. It's important to try to seal up that border and to prevent further infiltration and to find effective ways of finding al Qaeda.

Victoria.

Q On the Saudi thing, I just wanted to clarify a couple of things. The Vice President and the King, you didn't want to characterize their conversations, but you're not denying that they might have had a conversation about Saudi support for --

MR. SNOW: I'd just -- what I would do is I would warn you against -- away from the story, and I will not characterize the conversation.

Q Right, but you're not denying that it could have taken place, you're just warning us away from it.

MR. SNOW: They could have talked about the Boston Red Sox off-season plan for spending $50 million on a Japanese pitcher. So the realm of theory is vast when it comes to conversations.

Q And the likelihood -- unlikelihood --

MR. SNOW: Yes.

Q And then, with regard to the policy itself, what their policy is and what it isn't, you also would accept that it's possible that, regardless of what their official policy is, it's quite possible that they would put forward the idea that they would support insurgents if the Americans leave Iraq?

MR. SNOW: Well, it is not something that has been described to me as something that is consistent with the conversations we've had. So again, you can talk -- anything is possible, any words can come out of someone's mouth, but whether there's a high likelihood or probability that they did is an entirely different question. And again, unfortunately, I am not in a position to tell you about the Vice President's conversations.

Q But there are conversations that you can say it's not consistent with?

MR. SNOW: Yes. And those would be those with our diplomats who deal with the Saudis.

Q Tony, today's Pentagon session, it's the last that's on the President's public schedule. Does that mark the end of a phase of gathering input, or does that continue?

MR. SNOW: No, it obviously will continue. And the conversation at the Pentagon today, although Iraq clearly will be a centerpiece of it, there will be a lot more. There will be discussion of readiness of service needs. I know there were some people asking about budget requests and so on. So a lot of those things are likely to be covered, too, because you got the Defense Secretary, the incoming Defense Secretary, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, all of the Joint Chiefs, you've got some other senior officials within the Pentagon. But Iraq will also be one. And my guess is that there will be some discussion -- we'll be able to give you a readout, and I apologize for musing, but there's some reason to believe that these are the directions that some of the conversations will go. The President may, in fact, be asking them about certain ideas that have been knocked around.

Q I'm interested in going forward from that --

MR. SNOW: Well, yes. Obviously, what's happened is that the President has been clear that there are a number of things that he wants people to explore and he wants more detailed answers about various options. And certainly the work of the Pentagon or the State Department or the NSC or others does not end with the meeting. It's not as if all the work is done. Everybody turns it in and now he sits down and tries to grind through it. He has certainly been doing that all along. But there are still a number of unresolved issues that are going to continue to keep a lot of people busy.

Q On the area of service needs and the President's talks with Pentagon officials, a couple of questions. On the reporting that Generals Casey and Abizaid told the President yesterday they don't need more troops in Iraq, they need more equipment for Americans and Iraqis.

MR. SNOW: Again, I'm not going to characterize the conversations they've had. But I've certainly see the reports.

Q Are you going to challenge them?

MR. SNOW: No. I'm also not going to affirm them. Look, there are times when I have to walk the high wire. This is a high wire moment when I want to be careful that you understand that when I do not deny something, that does not mean that I affirm it. I just -- I want to be very careful for the sake of everybody's work.

Go ahead.

Q We're also learning that Prime Minister Maliki made some proposals we weren't told about in Amman. Presumably, the President's meeting with Iraq's Vice President yesterday involved input on this strategy. Do we have a comprehensive look of where he is getting input now?

MR. SNOW: From the President?

Q From the President -- having seen the meetings this week that were public and -- or that were announced -- and with our understanding of the Vice President's meeting in Saudi and the President's meetings last month with Iraqi --

MR. SNOW: If nothing else, Wendell, I think you -- I'm sure you do not have an exhaustive list of participants, but I do think you get a feeling for the breadth of it, because we've had the State Department; we have had the Department of Defense; we have talked to provincial reconstruction teams, which tend to be interagency operations in many ways. We have had consultations with governments throughout the region, including the government of Iraq and with key players within that government. We've had the Baker-Hamilton commission; we have had a variety of experts coming into the White House. So there really has been an attempt to be as comprehensive as possible, and also, to have cross-pollination in the sense of different people are taking a look at a broad variety of work, so that you do have the ability to assess from a variety of viewpoints different potential approaches to the conflict, so that you find -- you try to anticipate every possible question that goes into it as you formulate the policy.

Q And not counting the input that Gates will have, and presumably, that Stephen Hadley will have as he pulls all the stuff together to make a recommendation, are we now looking at a process of decision-making without much more input to be given to the President?

MR. SNOW: I can't say that, because what the President has said to a number of people is, I need more. And he may get something back and say, no, I still have this concern and this concern. So I don't want you -- in answer to the earlier question, I don't want to give the impression that all that work and all the tasking is done because it probably isn't. I've tried to give you a sense of the complexity of what's going on. And when you get it back, as you know, quite often you get a fresh piece of work, and it raises more questions. So this is not going to be something where there's an eternal cycle of questioning. Obviously, the President is determined to make decisions and make them as quickly as possible, but he also wants to make sure that he does it right.

Q Tony, three years after the Iraq war began, there's a new way forward now, the President is looking for a new way forward. Five years since 9/11, Osama bin Laden has not been found. Is there any conversations here at the White House about changing plans and strategy and finding the man who started all this?

MR. SNOW: Well, there's not a lot of conversation at the White House, although there is -- the President is regularly briefed in highly classified briefings about ongoing operations involving bin Laden and others. And it is certainly the case that there are continued efforts to go after him and other key members of the terror network. It is worth noting that al Qaeda has lost a lot of its operational coherence and has been shattered as an organization. Instead now what you see are offshoot organizations which we have to address, like al Qaeda in Iraq.

You have seen the inability of the bin Laden organization sometimes to influence the behavior. For instance, you may remember the letter from Dr. Al Zawahiri to Abu Musab al Zarqawi, asking him to cease and desist, which Zarqawi never did do. So there has been a lot of progress in dealing with al Qaeda and a number of other terror organizations. Bin Laden apparently does remain at large, and he will continue to be a target of interest. Just because we don't talk about that every day does not mean that it is not the ongoing concern of people in the field.

Q Follow-up. So as you're looking at revamping a new way forward, are you saying -- or is this the thought from the White House that lopping off the head would not affect the body, meaning al Qaeda? Osama bin Laden, the head, and the rest of the --

MR. SNOW: No, I don't think -- I don't want to characterize, but obviously if you capture or kill bin Laden, it is going to be a significant event.

Q Another topic?

MR. SNOW: Yes.

Q Response to the defeat in Texas yesterday of Congressman Henry Bonilla who had been an important figure in GOP outreach to Hispanics?

MR. SNOW: Yes, well, the President is going to miss him. Henry is a good guy, but we congratulate the victor.

Q What does it say about Hispanic outreach -- GOP outreach to Hispanics?

MR. SNOW: Nothing. I mean, I think that's a local race and you've got to take a look at it, but one thing it does say is that GOP outreach to Hispanics will continue. It's very important to the President, and I think it's important to the country that both political parties work aggressively for all votes, people of all races.

Q Is it a significant defeat in the outreach effort to Hispanics?

MR. SNOW: No, it's not. And I suspect that Henry will remain engaged in that task. He won't be a member of Congress, but there are a number of people who remain committed to it and will continue to be.

Q -- way he winds up losing a seat as a result of the DeLay effort to redistrict in Texas. Looking back on that effort, was it a mistake?

MR. SNOW: That's a Texas matter, and we're not going to comment on it.

Q Texas no longer being part of the union? (Laughter.)

MR. SNOW: No. Texas redistricting, state legislative efforts not necessarily being something over which the President can fruitfully comment. I heard it's a republic, though. (Laughter.)

Q Not so much Republican. (Laughter.)

MR. SNOW: I said republic.

Q Can't follow Ken. It's impossible. First, on the Syria statement --

MR. SNOW: He's fast, though.

Q -- on Syria, why did you put out the statement now? And have you had any contact and cooperation with the Syrian government?

MR. SNOW: Well, remember, you've got to keep in mind, Human Rights Day was this week, and it's important to remind people that Syria remains an aggressive violator of human rights. And it's also important to draw attention to their role in trying to undermine the democratic government of Lebanon and tell them we expect better. But, no, beyond anything we've told you, we have not had -- it has not changed our approach to the government of Syria.

Q And on Saddam Hussein, are you confident that security surrounding him is adequate? And any word on what happened to his nephew?

MR. SNOW: At the risk of being pilloried, I don't know the answer about security, and nor do I know about his nephew. So

-- because, again, when you want to ask me questions that may not be in the brief, please feel free to send me an email in advance because I am eager to get answers for all of you.

Q Did the President and Prime Minister Blair discuss a new direction in Darfur --

MR. SNOW: I saw the report. If they did, it was not in the expanded group. It would have been one-on-one. So the most important thing is that we are committed to an end of violence in Darfur and have been leading the way, and we certainly appreciate the help and support of Prime Minister Blair. We also believe in U.N. Security Council Resolution 1706, which does address the situation. We are hoping that the Addis Ababa framework that was put together, in consultation with the African Union, is going to provide the way to provide security.

But we're going to continue looking at diplomatic efforts with the government of Sudan. And we will also continue looking at effective ways of trying to prevent the ongoing -- to put an end to the genocide in Darfur.

Q People are dying in Darfur, and a lot of people are saying this is just lip service and there needs to be military action as you're waiting for things to happen in Darfur.

MR. SNOW: I think it's -- no government has been more aggressive or assertive on the Darfur front than this one. And the President has made it clear -- and for those who often complain about diplomacy, we have been aggressively engaged in diplomacy in the region, with the African Union, and it took a lot of effort to get the U.N. Security Council on board.

So, April, as you know, it is not lip service when a nation takes the lead on an issue and remains committed to it. And what we need are for people in the region to step up and put an end to the bloodshed.

Q Well, when do you say "when"?

MR. SNOW: We have already said "when" in the sense that it's unacceptable. We are the ones who characterized it as a genocide. We are the ones who demanded international attention. We are the ones who have led diplomatic efforts. We are the ones who have talked about having an effective military presence. So, April, we share the frustration of anybody who deals with the region, and we continue to press allies to step up and take moves that are necessary to put an end to the genocide.

Bret.

Q Tony, do you have a reaction to Senator Nelson sitting down with Syrian President Assad today?

MR. SNOW: Well, we certainly do not encourage members of Congress to be traveling to Syria.

Q What about the actual outreach to try to engage Syria?

MR. SNOW: Well, again, I only know the fractional amount, because this press report just came over very briefly, so I don't know anything that went on, other than we just -- we think it's important that the Syrians understand what our position is, and it is not -- we don't think -- we don't think that members of Congress ought to be going there.

Q Clearly it shows that at least some members of Congress don't believe that not talking to Syria is the right way to go.

MR. SNOW: Again, we've talked to Syria. We have diplomatic relations with Syria. Bret, I think it is a real stretch to think that the Syrians don't know where we stand or what we think. We have made it clear and will continue to make it clear. So it is not as if there's been failure to communicate. The communication has been crystal clear. What has not happened is the appropriate response by the Syrians, in terms of their adventurism within the region, especially with regard to Lebanon; their continued support and housing of terrorist organizations. And so we've -- this government has sent on repeated occasions, messages to that government. They know what our position is.

Q It appears now the Red Sox have signed the pitcher.

MR. SNOW: Did they really? (Laughter.)

Q That's what they're reporting.

MR. SNOW: High fives to Theo Epstein.

Q -- about it in Saudi Arabia. (Laughter.)

Q Tony -- do you know how many Iraqi refugees have gone to Syria for safety?

MR. SNOW: Well, again, that only underscores --

Q They fled there.

MR. SNOW: Helen, that only underscores the necessity of going after people who murder those who want to be free.

Q Tony, quick question on human rights.

Q Follow-up on the Syria --

MR. SNOW: I'll get to you next.

Q The President has been always champion of human rights and also freedom and democracy. But now, as we celebrate -- not celebrate, but these victims are growing across the globe. And what President doing, as far as -- because religious and military dictators are enjoying their life, and millions of victims are suffering across the globe under many dictators and religious fanatics.

MR. SNOW: Right.

Q So what doing now to --

MR. SNOW: The United States has talked repeatedly, and this President, about a freedom agenda, and the importance of acknowledging the importance of privacy of religious freedom.

We've got to go here next, then April, then Steve.

Q Tony, anything to say about yesterday's EU decision to delay three years the accession talks for Turkey to become a full member of the European Union?

MR. SNOW: Well, we support Turkey's accession to the EU.

Q One more on Iraq. Any communication with Turkey, Iran, Syria on the Iraq issue after the recommendation by Baker-Hamilton committee for dialogue?

MR. SNOW: I'm sorry, I will apologize. Could you repeat the question?

Q The question is, any communication with Turkey, Syria, Iran on the Iraq issue after the recommendation by Baker-Hamilton committee for dialogue?

MR. SNOW: The President had a conversation, I think it was earlier this week, with Prime Minister Erdogan, where Prime Minister Erdogan read out his conversations with the Iranians and Syrians. And we found it quite helpful, and we certainly seek his help.

Q What about what the Turkish paper says Mr. Jalal Talabani was very upset with the report?

MR. SNOW: Well, the President had a talk with President Talabani today, and he explained the process through which he is trying to come up with a way forward.

Yes, April.

Q Back on the Sudan, really fast. Originally the White House had tried to get the African Union to allow the U.N. and other world bodies to help out, because the Africans said this is an African problem, and we're going to handle it. And then they allowed the United States and other world leaders to work on the problem of Sudan, and now you're trying to give it back to the Africans. Is that passing the buck back?

MR. SNOW: No, what we're trying to do is to come up with an effective military force. And there are a number of diplomatic concerns, as you know, and considerations. We think it's important to get a diplomatic -- an effective military force on the ground as soon as possible, and it requires a lot of people working together diplomatically and militarily to pull it off. And we hope it happens sooner rather than later.

Q What is so wrong with Senator Nelson's visit to Syria? Are you worried that the Syrians will hear two voices from America?

MR. SNOW: We just don't think it's appropriate.

Q Even though we have U.S. diplomatic relations with them?

MR. SNOW: I'm not going to go any further than I've gone, Steve.

Q May I ask one -- you might have to take this, I'm sorry, I never think of my questions beforehand -- the U.S. inadvertently bugging Princess Diana. Is the U.S. -- it's a big story over there.

MR. SNOW: I know it's a big story, and that's another one, you've got to -- you can't do this to me.

Q Can you take it tomorrow?

MR. SNOW: You can't do Princess Di questions to me.

Q Well, I didn't know I was going to ask it, but can you take it for tomorrow, whether the U.S. has a policy --

MR. SNOW: My guess is that that is the sort of thing that under any circumstances we would neither confirm nor deny. I can say that with a certain amount of certitude. But I will try to say it definitively, at your request, tomorrow.

Q The NSA has said that there are conversations; that she wasn't a target, but there were conversations.

MR. SNOW: Well, again, I'm just -- then call them.

Q Thank you.

MR. SNOW: Thank you.

END 1:15 P.M. EST