For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
January 11, 2007
Press Gaggle by Gordon Johndroe
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Fort Benning, Georgia
12:01 P.M. EST
MR. JOHNDROE: Good morning. The President had his regular morning briefings, then presented the Medal of Honor posthumously to Marine Corporal Jason L. Dunham, the story of an American hero who made the ultimate sacrifice, and the President has spoken at length about that today, and also when he was at the Marine Corps Museum opening.
The President spoke a little while ago to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. They talked about the speech last night, the way forward in Iraq, Secretary Rice's upcoming trip, and important regional issues.
We're on our way to Fort Benning, Georgia, now. This is the President's first visit here. He'll have lunch with about 300 military personnel and family members, deliver remarks to them, then view a demonstration of infantry training, with an emphasis on airborne and mechanized infantry systems. In 2005, the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 3rd Infantry Division based at Fort Benning conducted 24,000 combat patrols and 3,500 joint U.S.-Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police operations. About 4,000 members of the unit will deploy to Iraq in the coming months. The President will then meet with 25 families of fallen military personnel.
On board today are Congressman Sanford Bishop and Lynn Westmoreland.
A couple of other announcements. The President will participate in an interview with Scott Pelley of CBS News to air on 60 Minutes this Sunday night.
And Mrs. Bush will travel to Paris, France on January 14th through 17th to speak at Mrs. Chirac's Missing and Exploited Children conference. Mrs. Bush will discuss how education is a crucial part of reducing the exploitation of women and children. Mrs. Bush will lead a delegation of U.S. government officials involved in successful efforts here in the U.S. aimed at preventing the exploitation of women and children and prosecuting offenders. Mrs. Bush, who serves as UNESCO's honorary ambassador for the Decade of Literacy, will also visit UNESCO's headquarters in Paris. Mrs. Bush will be briefed on their efforts regarding the critical issue of teacher training and their plans for upcoming regional global literacy conferences as a follow-up to the White House Conference on Global Literacy held during the week of the United Nations General Assembly in New York City this past September.
And with that, I'm happy to answer your questions.
Q I just have a quick question about the deployment. We've been reporting that it's -- they're going earlier, the 3rd Brigade is going earlier. Is that accurate?
MR. JOHNDROE: The Department of Defense will have some announcements today on the deployment schedule that includes the --
Q They were already supposed to go, right?
MR. JOHNDROE: -- that includes the group the President is seeing today.
Q So it does affect them?
MR. JOHNDROE: Yes, it does.
Q They're going this month, then, or this week, or next week?
MR. JOHNDROE: The Department of Defense has a specific schedule they're releasing today, and I'd defer to them.
Q Are they going earlier than they thought?
MR. JOHNDROE: Yes.
Q Can you preview a little bit of what the President is going to say today to the troops?
MR. JOHNDROE: The President is going to, one, thank them for their service in the global war on terror -- personnel from Fort Benning have, one, a long tradition of being deployed overseas in battles for the United States, but most recently in the global war on terror in Afghanistan and in Iraq -- thank them for their service; thank the family members that are here for the sacrifices they make when their loved one is overseas. And then he's going to talk about his speech last night and the mission he outlined and the way ahead in Iraq.
Q How concerned is the President about losing Republican support on the Hill? I think you had Coleman and, yesterday, Brownback, surprisingly, one of the conservatives, saying -- Voinovich and others -- how concerned -- is there any concern around the White House about that?
MR. JOHNDROE: You know, we understand that people are going to be skeptical. We've said that --
Q But they're opposed, not skeptical.
MR. JOHNDROE: We've said that ourselves. I hope they will take a look at the details of the President's plan. I hope they will listen to Secretaries Rice and Gates and Chairman Pace, who are up on the Hill testifying today and tomorrow, and take a look at what actions Prime Minister Maliki and the Iraqis are taking in Baghdad. This is the beginning of new operations and of the new way forward. So let's give them the -- hopefully they will take the opportunity to look at all these things that are happening on the ground.
Q Gordon, Democrats were already complaining about the planning before it came out. But some of these same Democrats -- like Reid, Pelosi, Biden, Kerry -- had all called for an increase in troops over the last couple of years. What does the White House think about the tone of the debate so far, with Democrats disliking the plan even before it came out?
MR. JOHNDROE: I'm sorry, what was the last part of your question?
Q Just the tone of the debate so far. I mean, the tone -- you know, will there be bipartisan support? How will -- how will the White House handle what's happening already with the Democrats?
MR. JOHNDROE: You know, President Bush and the White House engaged in extensive consultations. Over 100 members of Congress came down to the White House in the last few weeks. These are consultations that really began right after the election. And we want to work with the Congress on the way ahead in Iraq. That's why the Secretaries and Chairman Pace are up there testifying today. And we think they will ask tough questions today. But these are the type of tough questions that we were asking as we were putting the policy together. And so we understand some of the concerns, but we want to work with them.
Q One last question. There's some concern about the operation in Iraq last night that involved some Iranian nationals, that this could be construed as an act of war, going on sovereign territory. Can you respond? What's the President's thought about that?
MR. JOHNDROE: I can't -- I'm not going to speak specifically to the Iranians and to that operation today. But the President made it clear last night that we will not tolerate outside interference in Iraq. And that's what the Iranians are up to. And if we get information that is actionable that the Iranians are interfering with Iraq, with Iraqis, or in any way going to harm Americans that we're going to take action.
Q Even if it means going on Iranian soil?
MR. JOHNDROE: No, Chairman Pace said this morning that these are actions that take place within Iraq, and much of this is about force protection of our troops there, and that takes place inside Iraq.
Q Gordon, one more on Saudi Arabia. Can you characterize the discussion that he had? Because in May, the President said he wanted more regional help -- Saudi Arabia, others in the region, to weigh in on this. Now it's January; we haven't seen that yet. Is he pushing for more action on that side?
MR. JOHNDROE: One of the things the President and His Majesty spoke about was Secretary Rice's upcoming trip to the region, which begins tomorrow. And so she's going there to have numerous meetings, and let's see the results, outcomes of those discussions. She'll be coming back and will report to the President. But I think everyone in the region understands what is at stake and what needs to be done.
Q Did he call him, or did the King call --
MR. JOHNDROE: It was a mutually arranged phone call.
END 12:11 P.M. EST