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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
December 19, 2006

Press Briefing by Tony Snow
White House Conference Center Briefing Room

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12:44 P.M. EST

MR. SNOW: Before we begin the questions, just a couple of comments on bill signings today, and then I'll be happy to take any questions you have.

Today, the President, accompanied by the First Lady, Mrs. Bush, signed the following bills into law. First, the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment and Modernization Act, H.R. 6143, which reauthorizes the Ryan White Care Act to ensure that Americans in need continue to have access to medical care, anti-retroviral treatments and counseling that will help them live longer lives. The Act also supports HIV testing to prevent the further spread of the devastating disease. The bill demonstrates the compassionate and generous spirit of America and the President was proud to sign it into law today.

Also, the Combating Autism Act. This bill will increase public awareness about autism and provide enhanced federal support for autism research and treatment by creating a national education program for doctors and the public about autism. The legislation will help more people recognize the symptoms of autism. This will lead to early identification and intervention, which is critical for children who struggle with the disorder. The President is confident that the legislation will serve as an important foundation for our nation's efforts to find a cure for autism.

Questions. Terry.

Q You said today that a troop surge in Iraq was something that's being explored. Is the idea of a troop cutback something that's also being explored?

MR. SNOW: What the President is asking people to explore are ways to victory in Iraq, which would mean an Iraq that can sustain, govern and defend itself, where the Iraqis, themselves eventually assume full control for the responsibilities of government: security, political, economic, diplomatic and so on. Anything that fits into that description the President will consider. And, therefore, there are a number of ideas that are being discussed and the President is leaving all options open.

Q Well, you confirmed the surge -- how about the cutback?

MR. SNOW: No, I confirmed that there are ideas and I have given you the proper metric. So if people think that that will contribute to the long term goal of victory, it would be reasonable to assume that it would be something under consideration.

Q Tony, senior military officials confirmed that General John Abizaid asked for a second carrier group in the Persian Gulf as a way to dissuade Iran from possibly provocative action in the region. Can you comment on that?

MR. SNOW: No. We do not comment on tactical moves, reported or otherwise, and I would refer you to the Pentagon for any comments they may wish to make, which I suspect are quite similar to the ones that I've just delivered.

Q Is the administration trying to send a message to Iran to --

MR. SNOW: As I said, we're not going to comment on those things. I think it's important, though -- the administration has been pretty clear about Iran's role in the region, which is Iran has to stop being provocative. It is important that the democracies in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Lebanon are allowed not merely to survive but to thrive and to provide an example and an inspiration for people in the region.

We've also made it clear that Iran needs to suspend uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities. And to that end, the United States, along with some of its European allies, has been trying to persuade the Iranians to suspend those activities in exchange for being able to develop a peaceful civilian nuclear capability, and, at the same time, making available to the Iranian people a lot of things they want, including greater contact with the West.

So let there be no mistake what our position is toward the Iranians. But, again, when it comes to describing any ongoing military activity, that's not something I'm going to do.

Q Finally, can you address this story about a possible split between the White House and the Joint Chiefs in the decision about surging troops to Iraq?

MR. SNOW: Well, number one, there is no decision about the next step forward in Iraq. So the idea that there is a decision and a squabble would be wrong. I've also cautioned people that tonally, it is incorrect to say that the President is in any sort of contretemps with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They work together. The President has a great deal of respect for the chain of command -- in fact, the chain of command, starting with the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Chiefs, the combatant commanders, all the way down to the people who are doing the fighting on the ground in Iraq, Afghanistan, and that are serving the nation in uniform. And he's made it very clear, and I think the respect also is shared up the chain of command.

So without commenting on any specific ideas that may be discussed -- and I won't do that -- I can tell you that the notion that somehow there is some sort of feud between the President and the Joint Chiefs would be wrong.

Q But you did tell me today, you were specifically asked if a surge was among the things being considered, and you said, "It's something that's being explored." So you did confirm that.

MR. SNOW: Okay, so I confirmed it.

Q Can I follow on that? The President had said in the past that he doesn't set the troop levels, that the commanders in the field -- has that changed?

MR. SNOW: What the President does -- let me put it this way: What the President does is he sets the mission. And then combatant commanders figure out how to conduct the mission. And when they ask for resources, he provides them. And that's how it works.

Q And so the President would go with their -- would still go with their advice on troop levels?

MR. SNOW: Yes. But, again, keep in mind the President sets the mission. So you define the mission, then you figure out what resources are adequate. This, I think, again, mirrors comments that General Conway has made and also Colin Powell has made, which is you -- when people were talking about surges, the answer is, if it fits into a military plan and you have a good plan for it, then maybe it would be appropriate. I am not commenting on surge; I'm just telling you that regardless of what happens in terms of troop posture or equipping forces or deploying forces or moving or redeploying -- any military decision obviously is going to have to be made in concert with the goal, which is to win in Iraq.

Q Does public opinion enter into his review at all, in terms of the election and --

MR. SNOW: The President -- in this sense, Helen, the President understands that you cannot win the war without public support. And it is important to continue -- because it's going to be a long war and it is going to need the determination of the American people --

Q Why is it going to be a long war?

MR. SNOW: Because as far as we can tell, terrorists don't have any desire to stop entertaining thoughts of terror any time soon. And that the global war on terror, which is not confined to Iraq or Afghanistan, but instead has people who are still committed to committing acts of violence on our shores. The President outlined some of those this fall when he was talking about particular operations that had been intercepted as a result of intelligence that we had gleaned from planners of attacks, that they have no desire to back away, that there's an ideology of hatred that involves not only destroying the United States of America, but also the notion of personal freedom.

So that being the case, it is going to require a commitment over a long period of time to make sure that we deal with the problem effectively. And that's not just militarily -- it means diplomatically, it means economically, it means by example, so that if you have a democracy that demonstrates to people in the Middle East you can practice your faith, you can pursue your future, you can vote for the people who are going to govern you, you can have control over your destiny -- these are things that have not been -- that people in the Middle East have not been able to take for granted. And when they see that they have those options, that in and of itself will probably be the most powerful discouragement to terror imaginable.

Q Why can you identify all the Iraqi resistance as terror?

MR. SNOW: I didn't.

Q We are the occupiers, do you realize that? And do you realize what an occupation is?

MR. SNOW: Do you also realize -- I do -- I think people not only understand occupation, people in Iraq also understand --

Q Your broad brush everything.

MR. SNOW: And that was a precise characterization you just gave me?

Q I am saying that you --

MR. SNOW: No, you just used a broad brush on responding. If you wish to get into pointillism, I'll be happy to go along.

Q Do you think that people are resisting our occupation?

MR. SNOW: I think that there are some people -- as a matter of fact, if you take a look at Saddam rejectionists, they're absolutely resisting the occupation. As a matter of fact, their avowed goal -- it's right here in the 90/10 report -- that says that their avowed goal is to push Americans out. Why? Because they want to reestablish the kind of supremacy they enjoyed during the days of Saddam.

There are many people who want to end the occupation and, in many cases, they want to end the occupation because they, themselves, want to restore or to create their own tyranny over the Iraqi people. They do not want to support the goal of a democracy in which the human rights of all are protected and --

Q What gives you the right to impose anything on them?

MR. SNOW: I think what we're -- you know, what's interesting is the government of Iraq and people of Iraq look upon us not as imposing. I don't know how you impose liberty. I think what you do is you -- you impose tyranny and you relieve tyranny by creating the possibility for freedom.

Q Tony, can you tell us about Mrs. Bush's skin cancer? How is she doing? And how was the decision reached not to disclose this publicly until questions were asked?

MR. SNOW: Yes, I talked to her a couple of minutes ago. She's doing fine. And she said, "It's no big deal, and we knew it was no big deal at the time." Frankly I don't think anybody thought it was the sort of thing that occasioned a need for a public disclosure. Furthermore, she's got the same right to medical privacy that you do. She's a private citizen; she's not an elected official. So for that reason she didn't disclose it. But she's doing fine, and thank you for your concern.

Q She is often an advocate for women's health in the area of breast cancer or heart disease, advocating screenings, preventative care. Is she likely to talk about skin cancer in that way?

MR. SNOW: I don't know. Fortunately, squamous cell carcinoma, at least in this particular case, was not dangerous. But let me just say, without having cleared it with her, I'm sure that she would be more than supportive of anybody to go out, and if you think you've got a problem with a change in a mole or some skin problems, go get it checked out by a doctor.

Q And she didn't feel any obligation as a person of public status to talk about this?

MR. SNOW: No, again, there are any number of -- this is a room full of public people who tend not -- and I know you say, wait a minute, I'm different than the First Lady. Well, no, she's a private citizen. And the fact is, she is entitled to her medical privacy. And, again, it's no big deal. In this case, it's just not a big deal.

Q May I follow on that? The President is also a private citizen, as well as being the President. So --

MR. SNOW: Well, he's an elected official. It's different.

Q He's an elected official and a private citizen. You can make the same claims of a number of people who have public lives. Mrs. Bush has made herself part of this party and this White House's very public face. So my question is, if this were to be something that is a big deal, would the White House feel obliged to share that with the public?

MR. SNOW: I don't know. She didn't feel obliged, and she believes that she has the same medical privacy rights that you and I have.

Q Did the White House doctor treat her?

MR. SNOW: That I don't know. I didn't ask. There is the confidentiality -- and guess what? Medical privacy also applies to her case in this particular incident.

Q This morning you said you'd make that inquiry.

MR. SNOW: Yes -- you know what, I didn't.

Q But you will?

MR. SNOW: No. It's medical privacy, and I'm not going to get into this.

Q Was it done offsite or was she treated here at the White House? That's a question to add to your list.

Q May we ask, just so that you don't say, you never asked so that's why we haven't told you -- is the Vice President well these days? Has there been any medical incident that would be of interest to the American public?

MR. SNOW: As you know, whenever there is a medical incident involving the Vice President -- I've been an anchor when these things have happened -- you are notified promptly and immediately; cameras are dispatched to the scene, where people stand and wait and wait and wait and wait, until they can see the Vice President getting back into a limo and returning to wherever he is.

So as you know, the President and Vice President, being the two chief elected officials in this country, if there are important health developments, you hear about it. And we think that that's appropriate.

Q Tony, on this point, did the First Lady say she actually does not plan to come out in any way? You know, as someone who would advocate for people --

MR. SNOW: Let me repeat to you exactly what she said. She said, "It's no big deal, we knew it wasn't a big deal at the time." Apparently, she's wrong about this.

Q No, what I'm saying is, as far as encouraging people to be checked. What I'm saying is even though she may not be an elected official, she's a very public official and very well loved. And as someone who has two adolescents who don't like to listen to mother when she says, put on the sun screen, get out of the sun, she could potentially have a great influence on a lot of people's lives, especially young women.

MR. SNOW: She's also had colds, she's had the flu, she's had stomach aches --

Q When? (Laughter.)

Q But those tend not to be --

MR. SNOW: -- she's had a number --

Q Melanoma can kill, skin cancer can kill. It can be very serious.

MR. SNOW: This particular one could not.

Q But she could still -- it could be a platform.

MR. SNOW: You guys are really stretching it. I mean, it is now officially a really slow news day.

Q Tony, going back to terrorism in Iraq, now we have a new Secretary of Defense, (inaudible) with vast experience in CIA and also terrorism and he's done so many (inaudible) in the area (inaudible). So what do you think now, being a new chief of the Defense Department, how he will (inaudible) those terrorists, including Osama bin Laden and (inaudible)?

MR. SNOW: I don't know. We swore him in yesterday. I mean, at this point, what Secretary Gates is doing is he's getting fully briefed on situations, he is getting to know individuals and operations within the Pentagon, he is getting briefed and briefing the President. He has made it clear that at some point soon he is going to try to visit the region.

So I think it is grossly premature -- again, going back to the conversations we've had over and over in recent days, when it does come to his rendering opinions or advice to the President, that will remain confidential, as well. So whatever moves are going to be made, obviously, are things that the President and the Defense Secretary will decide. And if they feel it's appropriate to make announcements, they'll do so.

Q One more, going back on Iran. The Iranian President looks like dictator, like Hitler made such remarks. He simply (inaudible) --

MR. SNOW: Are you talking about the Holocaust remarks?

Q The conference, and he again said that wiping out Israel from the world map -- what I'm saying is how seriously administration of President Bush is taking him or his remarks, because he's not only threat to the Jews or the Israelis, but also to their region.

MR. SNOW: Well, what you said, that they're outrageous and reprehensible comments. I think that almost goes without saying.

Also what is -- there are a couple of messages you want to send. First, you want to make it clear to the people of Iran, who have a long and proud history, that we do welcome closer relations with them. But their government is a problem right now, because it is serving as an agent of terror, it is openly talking about the possibility of nuclear arms development, and it is ignoring the stated will of the international community through the United Nations Security Council with regard to its nuclear program.

All of those things are a problem. Nevertheless, we think that with luck they're going to be resolved. We believe the people of Iran -- like the people of Afghanistan and Iraq and throughout the world -- deserve to have a free democracy so that they can explore, each and every one of them, their unique talents and genius, and to feel not only the joys that freedom brings, but also the fulfillment.

Q I know you said this story about the debate with the Joint Chiefs is tonally inaccurate. But the fact is --

MR. SNOW: I didn't say it was totally inaccurate, I said I'm not going to --

Q Tonally. Tonally.

MR. SNOW: Tonally, thank you.

Q Right. But the fact is, someone has put the message out there that there is this dispute, and it's not the first report that we've had about disputes, disagreements about the way to go forward on Iraq. I'm wondering if this is a reflection of paralysis within the administration.

MR. SNOW: No.

Q Well, why are there so many leaks coming out on this?

MR. SNOW: Well, you'll have to ask the leakers. They apparently are talking to you, so please consult.

Victoria.

Q Going back to Mrs. Bush, it seems that there are two things going on, in terms of not informing the public and the press. Which was it, was it that it was medical privacy that was the reason for not informing us, or was it that it was no big deal?

MR. SNOW: It was medical privacy, but also what we're trying to do is to console you with the notion that, in addition, it was no big deal.

Q So there was a conscious decision that, okay, we're not going to tell anybody because this is medical privacy, this is something for us, it's not for --

MR. SNOW: Well, I don't know, if you'll be happy to share all your private medical information, maybe we can change it around. But I don't think that's appropriate, nor does the First Lady. She's got the same privacy rights when it comes to her medical information that you and I do.

Q But was the decision made not to share it?

MR. SNOW: Yes, in the sense -- let me put it this way: It never occurred to anybody that this would be a big deal. It never occurred -- but suddenly everybody is --

Q First it was described as a sore, and now, a month-and-a-half later, it's revealed that it's cancer. So there was one story out there that's been corrected.

MR. SNOW: Do you understand -- if you've been -- there are literally millions of Americans who have been through this, and you can ask them whether they thought this was a big deal or not. It was quickly diagnosed. They said, the sore is not going away, we're going to take a look at it. They did. They did a biopsy, they found out it was a squamous cell cancer and they removed it. They did local anesthetic; they removed it.

Q But the White House might have had an interest in correcting the record when bad information was out there.

MR. SNOW: No, there wasn't bad information. She had a sore. It wasn't bad information -- that's what she knew at the time.

Q Tony --

MR. SNOW: Again, it's just -- yes, let's -- Bret.

Q Just a follow-up. You said the President signed the Combating Autism Act today. For that community that fights autism, they are looking for a commitment, I think, from the administration moving forward. And the question for them is, is the President going to put specific autism funding for this new legislation in the FY 2008 budget?

MR. SNOW: Well, we're in the same position I've been in much of this week, Bret. We will wait to see a budget submission. There are two players in this, not only those who do the budget, but also members of Congress.

I'm not trying to be flip here, but I just simply do not want to be disclosing what we will be including and not including in the budget until the proper time, and that will begin in a few weeks.

Q But the fact that he signed this legislation means that perhaps he's going to be looking for making autism funding a priority?

MR. SNOW: Let me put it this way: The President is confident that this legislation will serve as an important foundation for our nation's effort to find a cure for autism. And you can read into that what you will.

Q The latest round of talks on North Korea appears stalemated, even before they began. Will the President consider lifting sanctions on North Korea as an olive branch?

MR. SNOW: Well, number one, I talked today with State. Yesterday what you had was kind of a typical first day of negotiations with the North Koreans, where they took a maximalist position, and the rest of the people said, come on. And now they've having conversations. There will be continued conversations.

The idea that this is a juncture to start drawing conclusions about the ultimate outcome of the six-party talks is, again, premature. We expect that there will be talks through much of this week, and then they will reconvene at some time next month. We will see how serious the North Koreans are about meeting their obligations under the September 19th agreement of 2005. That really is the centerpiece of our efforts and will continue to be.

Q Tony, back on the troop surge issue, the Democrats and Republicans have been having almost intra-party debates about this. I'm just wondering if the President is going to weigh -- is that just a sideshow for those of us in the media? Is the President -- the point of the question being, is the President going to weigh the political aspects of all this and the decisions he makes, and the Congress is going to have to deal with them?

MR. SNOW: What do you mean?

Q About the troop surge.

MR. SNOW: The political -- the President's goal in looking at options for a way forward in Iraq is to succeed. And he thinks about politics in the following way: We have had an election where people made it clear that they think we need a new way forward in Iraq. They are not happy with the progress, and we agree. Therefore, the President is taking a good look at how to succeed, because the American people also want success. And there is a political opportunity for both parties to work together on this one to get it right.

So the President has made it clear to members of Congress that he is open to hearing their ideas about it. And he's had a number of discussions with Democratic and Republican leaders. He will continue to have consultations. He'll be at Crawford next week, but he will be talking by phone or whatever by other people involved in the process, and there will continue to be consultations until he is confident that he has found what he thinks is the best way forward in Iraq.

So to the extent that he thinks about it politically, it is engaging the political community in a constructive way to bring the American public together behind a plan to win, and that's how he looks at it.

Q But will he put all that aside in the end and ultimately make the decision, obviously? When he makes the decision? Just sweep it all aside --

MR. SNOW: Sweep what aside?

Q The political discussions that are going on around the --

MR. SNOW: Let me put it this way -- again, I hate to keep saying that, but when you say, "sweep" it aside, the President is not going to be cavalier about people who come to him in goodwill with ideas that they think are going to be helpful. But on the other hand, what he really wants is members of Congress, once there is a decision, to move constructively to make sure that our forces have what they need, and also they have a mission that can accomplish the goal of a free Iraq -- a free, democratic Iraq that sustains, governs and defends itself, that helps us out in the war on terror, and also serves as an example to that part of the world.

So again, there is always a political dimension. People have to appropriate money and you have to build public support. And there has been considerable conflict between Democrats and Republicans. And we hope that this time around, as we move forward, that we will move forward in a much more unified way, involving members of both parties.

Q Tony, have you had a chance to look at President Assad's trip to Russia?

MR. SNOW: No, and I apologize. Call me and I'll get you -- get it to you.

Q Has the President -- or will the President take any steps to try to intervene in the issue of the Bulgarian nurses --

MR. SNOW: Again, I think we've made it clear that we're disappointed with the decision, and understand that there's an appeals process. We also hope that there's a way for them to get home. So that's our position there.

Les.

Q Two questions. Reuters reported this morning that the President has just delayed for another six months the 1995 Congress-passed transfer of our U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Israel's capital city of Jerusalem. And my question: In how many other countries of the world do we refuse to have our embassy in their capital, but in another city which resembles Israel locating their embassy in Baltimore?

MR. SNOW: I'm aware of none, Les. Thank you. Number two?

Q Speaker-elect Pelosi has announced that she will be speaker of what she termed, and this is a quote, "The most honest, most open and most ethical Congress in history." My question: Did the President agree with Mrs. Pelosi's announcement, in view of the reelection of Democrat Congressman Jefferson, Hastings, McDermott, Murtha, and Mollohan?

MR. SNOW: I think -- look, she's got a noble goal. Let's hope she succeeds.

Q Is the administration's policy when it comes to Medicare or Medicaid health care coverage, as well as health savings accounts (inaudible) -- part of your policy is to encourage regular screening, health care screening, as well as the importance of early protection and treatment. And if you do that then it avoids becoming a big (inaudible). So I'm just trying to understand the message (inaudible).

MR. SNOW: The First Lady, at the first sign that she had not a nick on her shin but, instead, a squamous cell cancer had it dealt with immediately.

Q I know, but I don't understand --

MR. SNOW: I'm not sure that -- look, as somebody who has been through colon cancer, there's screening for that. The people who have been through breast cancer, there's screening for that. Perhaps I am ignorant, and I'm sure I am, of the situation when it comes to squamous cell cancer, but I'm not sure that there's a regular screening process. However, it's important that people take care of themselves. There is also an element of personal responsibility involved. I don't think, and I think it's a real stretch, Paula, to say that this is a mixed signal. What I'd ask you to do is consult your common sense.

Q I'm sorry, but there are -- and I know, personally, of instances where there is a chance of recurrence of this type of cancer. So isn't it important to stress skin cancer?

MR. SNOW: Okay, well, we consider it stressed. Absolutely, take care of yourselves. Get tested all the time -- still do. In fact, I have my next test tomorrow -- day after.

Q Good luck. How is your diet today? (Laughter.)

On the Bulgarian nurses, this is so horrific. The United States has all sorts of means of pressuring. Is there anything stronger the U.S. can do to pressure --

MR. SNOW: Perhaps. But I'm not going to tell you.

Q Are you working on a --

MR. SNOW: Look, our position is clear, which is we think that they ought to be able to return home.

Q Thank you.

MR. SNOW: Thank you.

END 1:12 P.M. EST