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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
February 12, 2007

Press Briefing by Tony Snow
White House Conference Center Briefing Room

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12:39 P.M. EST

MR. SNOW: Questions.

Q Wow. (Laughter.)

Q Tony, the Democrats are out with their proposed --

Q Answers. (Laughter.)

MR. SNOW: Please, Steve is trying to speak here. We believe in decorum.

Q The Democrats in the House are out with their resolution -- fairly straightforward. Is this something you can live with?

MR. SNOW: Look, Congress is going to do whatever it thinks it needs to do, in terms of resolutions. We're not going to get into the business of writing them. What the President lives with is the responsibility of being an effective Commander-in-Chief and advancing the cause of a democracy in Iraq. Although members of the House did not have an opportunity to vote on General Petraeus, members of the Senate did, and without objection they voted for him. And we believe that he ought to get what is necessary to move forward in Iraq.

So as we have said in all cases, members need to understand that their words do travel, and they need to assess what impact they think they may have. But other than that --

Q Tony, to be more specific on that point, there were Republican talking points on the Hill floating around that say that this House resolution Steve mentioned will, "weaken troop morale," and will, "give comfort to the enemy." Do you agree with that assessment?

MR. SNOW: Don't know. I mean, I've always said that -- and the President has said that those are things that people have to take into account. Certainly, General Petraeus and Secretary Gates thought that they would have an adverse impact when it came to morale, and also that they may provide some comfort to the enemy. But, again, I think these are serious matters that people voting on the resolution are going to have to take into account.

Q But the resolution, itself, the first line says that the United States Armed Forces are serving and have served bravely and honorably in Iraq. I mean, it's very clearly stating that the supporters of this resolution -- there is one Republican who has signed on -- believe that U.S. soldiers have served bravely and honorably. So what's the --

MR. SNOW: Okay, so they don't want to provide the additional support for their mission, and that helps how?

Q That's for them to answer. But they say that --

MR. SNOW: That's what I'm saying.

Q Okay. Well, then what is your problem with it? Because specifically after saying that they believe U.S. soldiers have served bravely and honorably, it says Congress disapproves of the decision of President Bush announced on January 10th to deploy --

MR. SNOW: Well, we disagree, and the President is Commander-in-Chief, and he has the obligation to do what he thinks is best to make this country safe, and that's what he's doing.

Q Doesn't the Congress have the obligation to weigh in on it?

MR. SNOW: Congress has the option of it. Members of Congress can express themselves however they wish.

Q This brings up sort of a very interesting point that I think, if we pull back a second, that a lot of Americans are probably engaged in trying to get their arms around. There was an op/ed piece yesterday by a former Director of the NSA and a former Army senior intelligence official, and he asked the question, can you support the troops and still call for bringing them home? Is the only way to support the troops to follow out what -- follow what the President's sort of continued mission is? What do you think of that?

MR. SNOW: Well, what I think is I'm not going to quite rise to that bait, but I'll give you an answer that is responsive. The way you support the troops is help them complete their mission successfully. That's how you support them. And after a very long period of review, the President and senior military commanders came to the conclusion that it will require additional troops, but a completely different kind of mission.

I think there's a common misperception that all we're doing is we're throwing an extra 21,000 into exactly the same mission that existed before. You've got a different structure with the Iraqis, you have different rules of engagement, you have a different approach to trying to deal with problems of violence -- including integrating economic development teams, the provisional reconstruction teams -- in areas where we have cleared out some of the bad guys.

So the fact is, this is a significantly different approach to dealing with the problems of violence, especially in Baghdad, Anbar province and a couple of other places within Iraq. And, therefore, in order to make this particular approach succeed, the President came to the conclusion you need five brigades in Baghdad and you need another 4,000 Marines in Anbar.

Q Clearly, the underpinnings of what the President -- why the President decided on the policy he did -- and I don't think this is bait. I think it's a very important philosophical question, because right now, the way it's configured, you can't say "bring them home" without being accused of not supporting the troops.

MR. SNOW: Well, again, if "bring them home" -- I want somebody to fill in the blanks: Bring them home achieves victory in the following way. If the simple goal is to bring them home, that is different than having a goal of providing victory in Iraq, providing an Iraq that can stand up as a democracy. And we have said from the very beginning the members of Congress, yes, they've got a chip in the game, and one of the things they can do is that they can offer their own plan that they think is going to be -- if they think that they have a superior way to have a democracy that's going to be stable so that you do not have the opportunity for al Qaeda to use Anbar province as a launching pad; so that you do not create a power vacuum that may allow other nations to come in and try to take advantage of chaos within Iraq; and you do not set off a series of consequences throughout the region that may, in fact, make us less safe, make that region less stable and make the globe a less peaceful place.

So you put all that together, there are real consequences to leaving before the job is done. And if critics have a better way of achieving the aims that we've laid out, we'd love to hear them.

Q When he makes the speech this week on Afghanistan, is he going to be making the case for military buildup or at least --

MR. SNOW: I'll let the President make whatever case he wishes to make. We have talked about having more resources in Afghanistan.

Q And, also, does the administration have any evidence that Iran is becoming more involved in Afghanistan?

MR. SNOW: I'm not aware of any findings to that effect. The real key -- the destabilizing factors in Afghanistan largely have been al Qaeda or Taliban remnants. That's a much different thing, as you know. It tends to be Sunni violence. In any event, the key level of concern in the southern part of Afghanistan tends to be, again, attempts to rebuild the Taliban or to have fighters coming in across the Pakistani border.

In terms of going any more in depth into the intelligence, it's inappropriate for me to do it. I direct you to DNI.

Q Tony, the senior military officials made this presentation in Baghdad on background about the evidence against Iran active inside Iraq. Can you talk about the significance of that presentation, about its timing, and what it really means in context of the war right now?

MR. SNOW: What it means is that there is evidence that there's been some weaponry coming across the border into Iraq and it's being used to kill Americans. And it explains why the administration -- why our military commanders are doing what they can to try to interdict any movement of weapons into the theaters of battle so we can save American lives. It really is a -- it's a force protection issue.

So why in Baghdad? Because that's where the action is and that's where people are collecting things. Why on background? Because one of the key briefers otherwise could not participate, and we thought it was important to get information to reporters. Why then? Because the information was ripe and it had been scrubbed and therefore was ready for presentation. But I don't want to make more or less of it than it was.

Q You and others have said repeatedly that the U.S. is not preparing for war against Iran. Yet administration critics continue to say this is making the case for action against Iran.

MR. SNOW: These guys are trying to create an issue maybe for their own political fortunes, and they need to stop it. This is clearly a case where people are hyping something up. I don't know how much clearer we can be: We're not getting ready for war in Iran. But what we are doing is we're protecting our own people. And we're going to do it, and we've made it clear that that is going to be a priority.

We have also said to the Iranians, look, you really do have an opportunity to get yourself into the global community in a way that is going the reflect not only the long glory of the Persian culture, but also an opportunity for Iran to be a member in good standing of the international community, with many of the things that it has always seen as benchmarks of respect, including civil nuclear power. So we continue to work diplomatically with the Iranians. The President has made it absolutely clear that he believes in pursuing diplomacy. We have a number of partners who have been working with us on it, and we will continue to make our views known that way.

Q Tony, when Diane Sawyer interviewed Iranian President Ahmadinejad earlier today, he said that this presentation was based on fabrication. Is the U.S. administration confident that there is conclusive evidence that Iran is providing these weapons to Iraq?

MR. SNOW: Yes.

Q And what's the administration's reaction to Ahmadinejad's claim that Iran is promoting peace in the region?

MR. SNOW: Well, it's got funny ways of showing it. We think the Iranians -- if they want to promote peace, they need to stop funding Hezbollah, they need to stop funding terrorist organizations around the world; they need to stop moving in the direction of developing nuclear -- enriched uranium or plutonium in a way that could be used for nuclear weapons. And they also have an opportunity to demonstrate their own peaceful desires by, in fact, meeting the conditions that have been laid out for returning to the table with the U.S. and other partners.

So, I mean, I think that's probably the key here. We would love for the Iranians, in fact, to be a force for peace in the region. It would be good for them, it would be good for the region. And we've laid out very strong inducements that we think make it perfectly sensible for them to do so.

Q As far as democracy and freedom is concerned, beyond Iran, last week Secretary of State Dr. Rice was on the Capitol Hill before the Senate. And many senators, including -- especially Senator Lugar was very critical of what the Secretary was saying. He's saying that, as far as democracy and freedom is concerned in Pakistan, that it must (inaudible) terrorism is concerned, because he is not very helping. And upcoming election is not going to be fair and free, and General Musharraf must step down and --

MR. SNOW: What? I'm sorry, there have been so many parts to this --

Q Actually, about the elections -- upcoming elections in Pakistan, and also democracy and freedom in Pakistan.

MR. SNOW: We obviously advocate the continued progress toward democracy everywhere.

Q Tony, going back to something you said earlier, is there anything in the resolution that denies Petraeus what he needs, inherent in that resolution?

MR. SNOW: No, because Congress -- the budgetary authority already exists for dispatching the five brigades and the 4,000 Marines. At some point, if Congress wishes to get back into the business, obviously there are going to be some budgetary decisions to be made later this year. But in the short run, no.

Q Do you support the statements made by Prime Minister Howard of Australia about the deadline? And has President Bush been in contact with him since the statement?

MR. SNOW: The answer to the second is no, and the answer to the first is we're not commenting on Democratic candidates. People have tried to get us to bite on that a number of times. What's going to happen is that Democratic candidates are going to be standing for election. Most of them -- I think they all oppose the President's policy in Iraq, so they're going to have to describe how to make the world safer.

Meanwhile, the President is trying to put in place the tools that are going to allow the next President, Democrat or Republican, to be able to exercise Commander-in-Chief responsibilities with the kind so tools necessary to succeed, and that includes everything from the Patriot Act, the Terror Surveillance Program, putting in place the vital tools to fight effectively a war on terror that surely will continue into the future, not merely in Iraq, but elsewhere. And as each and every one of these candidates hits the hustings, they're going to have to make their case about why they're going to be better as a Commander-in-Chief.

Victoria.

Q What direct evidence do you have that Iranian leaders authorized the smuggling of weapons into Iraq?

MR. SNOW: What I first would do is just point you back to the briefing. What they have are a number of serial numbers, and so on. I'd just take you back to the transcript on that. If you're looking for the granular evidence, that's what they presented.

Q But that wasn't direct evidence linking Iran --

MR. SNOW: Let me put it this way: There's not a whole lot of freelancing in the Iranian government, especially when it comes to something like that. So what you would have to do, if you're trying to do the -- to counter that position, you would have to assume that people were able of putting together sophisticated weaponry, moving it across a border into a theater of war and doing so unbeknownst and unbidden.

Q Could I just follow it just one more time? So the direct evidence would be the assumption, then, that it would have to be Iranian --

MR. SNOW: Again, what I would suggest, Victoria, if you really want to go into the details, is you go to Embassy Baghdad, because they're the ones who do the briefing. This really is -- it's a force protection matter. That's why they did the briefing. And I'm not going to be able to give you all the jot and tittles on it. That's why -- if you want to call them, or call DoD, they'll be able to give you more detail on it.

Les.

Q I thought you were going to be calling on me. You said you would call on me first --

MR. SNOW: No, I think I actually said Victoria. I didn't say April. I did look in your direction, however.

Q You did call on me, because --

MR. SNOW: Sorry if I created offense.

Q I will certainly yield to this lady on my right.

MR. SNOW: You know, I believe many people will be grateful for that. Go ahead. (Laughter.)

Q Following up with Jessica and Victoria's question. Tony, the American public is somewhat leery of the intelligence issues with the United States, because especially after Iraq, they found that a lot of the intelligence was faulty on Iraq. And word is from those in the security community, national security community, that our intelligence is much less -- it's maybe just as faulty or worse on Iran. How can you say for sure and for certain what you're saying from the podium?

MR. SNOW: Well, number one, again, I would refer you back to the people doing the briefing. And this -- there is no question when you have these enhanced devices, these IEDs, they have them -- they're there. So you do have direct physical evidence that, in fact, the weapons are being used within Iraq. There's no question that they're being used, and they are, in fact, of enhanced lethality. And we are doing our best to respond as quickly as possible to the challenge presented by it.

April, the most important thing to understand here -- again, I think what's happening is a lot of people keep trying to hype this into a casus belli with the Iranians -- no, it is simply a matter of force protection with the United States. Our people laid out what they think -- "our people," that is, the Pentagon -- and the briefers in Baghdad laid it out. They're the ones who have the evidence. And if you want to get into the evidentiary findings, you're going to need to talk to the Pentagon about it.

Q Do you think the American people deserve a little bit more than deduction? I mean, the evidence --

MR. SNOW: I think what the American people -- what our troops deserve is somebody who is going to protect them. Now, you cannot deny these weapons exist. You cannot deny that there is presently no manufacturing capability within Iraq able to produce those kinds of weapons. Beyond that, again I point you back to Defense briefing. What the American people need is somebody who is going to say we're going to protect our people from these weapons. The weapons exist. People have got to look at it, they've got to look at what happens when they detonate. It's hard for me to argue that that's a phantom menace. And it's also a lot harder to argue to our troops, who have been getting hit by them.

Q Tony, Senator Feinstein has been authorized by Judiciary Committee Chairman Leahy to lead a Senate investigation of the case of former U.S. Border Patrol Agent Ignacio Ramos, who was assaulted by four other inmates in the federal prison in Yazoo City, Mississippi, about which Senator Feinstein said this -- and this is a quote -- "I urge the committee to look into why these agents are not being protected in the federal prison system. It is not hard to predict that two federal agents would be targeted in a prison population."

And my question, what is the President's reaction to this upcoming investigation and Republican Congressman Rohrabacher's warning of "impeachment talk if either of these agents is killed"?

MR. SNOW: You know, this is a time when cooler heads ought to prevail and facts ought to be presented. Therefore, we're perfectly happy with anything that will reveal the facts of this case. I think there are efforts ongoing and may yield fruit quite soon to get the full transcripts of the trial of agents Campean and Ramos out before the public, every syllable. You and your guys can read them. You know, obviously, we're concerned about the safety of anybody in the prison system.

Q As a former leader of baseball, what was the President's reaction to the death on February 9th of the greatest pitcher who ever lived?

MR. SNOW: And that would be?

Q Eddie Feigner, the King and his Court.

MR. SNOW: He actually may have been, Eddie Feigner having thrown, what, 280 perfect games? Having struck out more than 12,000 people? Having had a fastball in excess of 104 m.p.h.?

Q (Laughter.)

MR. SNOW: -- from time to time? Did you ever watch the King and his Court? (Laughter.) I don't know, but I think he's under-rated. I will speak completely independently.

Q Did you brief --

MR. SNOW: No, I'm a sports nut. Eddie Feigner --

Q Softball we're talking about?

MR. SNOW: Yes, we're talking about softball, Eddie Feigner, softball.

Q He struck out five in a row, of the top baseball player.

MR. SNOW: Of six. He faced six.

Q There were some reports it was 113 m.p.h.

MR. SNOW: I think it's time for WorldNetDaily to do more of its famous investigations.

Q Tony, I'm not sure you want to go back on this notion of freelancing in the Iranian government, but there's obviously a difference between saying, as they did in Baghdad, that some elements in the leadership --

MR. SNOW: Look, the Department of Defense is doing this. What I'm telling you is you guys want to get those questions answered, you need to go to the Pentagon, because they're the ones who have done the work on this.

Q But they've refused. I mean, you should be able to give us --

MR. SNOW: Well, actually, no. I didn't get briefed on it.

Q Well, there should be some kind of coordination, don't you think?

MR. SNOW: Well, actually, when you've got -- combatant commanders are out doing their work. You can pick up the phone and call the Pentagon. We'll be happy to supply numbers for you.

Q Give me the number --

Q How long have these EFPs been around, that the White House is aware of, in Iraq?

MR. SNOW: Again, I'd refer you back -- I think -- I don't want to fake it.

Q They've been reported for a few years, though.

MR. SNOW: Yes, but they've also been increasingly rather dramatically in use, I believe, if you take a look at it over the last year or so. They're a concern. But on the other hand, you've got to keep in mind, there's an attempt here to try to narrow the focus, so this becomes the grand showdown between the United States and Iran. What you have are weapons making their way in and we're going to try to stop it to protect our people. But there are plenty of other things going on. Al Qaeda is active, and you do have rejectionist cells, and you do have some activity -- you have militia activity.

And all these things need to be addressed in the context of a war. It's sort of a classic case of taking one piece and trying suddenly, boom, to make it the big story of the day or to try to internationalize it. This is what it is. They have found munitions, they've traced them to Iran. And, again, for all those further details, you can call the Pentagon and get what you need.

Q But that's not new, is it?

MR. SNOW: No, it's not -- thank you -- no, it's not new. It's not new. The concern is something that we've had for some time, and it's one of the reasons why, for instance, there's a new generation of armor that's being used for Humvees and other things.

Q Thank you. Tony, politics aside -- (laughter) --

MR. SNOW: Politics aside. (Laughter.)

Q Aside. Would the President like to get more troops in Iraq from Australia and other friendly nations? And what about NATO? Shouldn't we try to get NATO to send troops into Iraq, as well as Afghanistan?

MR. SNOW: Politics aside, he's the Commander-in-Chief of the United States, and I would defer to the commanders-in-chief of the other nations.

Paula.

Q No Child Left Behind is up for reauthorization, and there's a somewhat controversial provision in there right now, requiring standardized tests for immigrant children after they've been here a year, regardless of their proficiency in English. Why is the administration opposed to alternative assessments for children who aren't proficient in the English language?

MR. SNOW: Paula, I cannot answer question. I will find out.

Q Tony, I just wanted to follow on what you were saying before, about the President -- with the resolutions flying around the Hill, what the President is doing. He's focused on trying to, you said, leave tools in place to fight the war on terror for the next President.

MR. SNOW: Correct.

Q What, then, do you say to the President of Russia, one of the President's allies, who is saying that the President's policies have actually made the Mideast more unstable?

MR. SNOW: That's actually not what he said. What he -- I've got the quote, maybe you've got a different one. He talks about greater and greater disdain for the basic principles of international law. He says --

Q Okay, let's start with that one, then.

MR. SNOW: Okay.

Q I mean, he said a litany of things --

MR. SNOW: Yes, he said a litany of things, and the fact is, the basic thrust of those is wrong. The United States continues -- we continue also to have Russia as a valued ally in this. For instance, you talk about the ongoing discussions with North Korea, the six-party talks, where we're working with the Russians; we have worked with the Russians on the GNEP program, which is an attempt to try to provide peaceful civilian nuclear energy, among others, to Iran. They're working with us on the Iranian front. We continue to work with them on matters of trade. We've continued to work on matters of intelligence and security.

If you take a look at the way this administration has dealt with international issues, it has always begun with an international diplomatic component, and will continue to. Secretary Gates will be in Moscow, I believe next week, and so --

Q But if you're working on all these things together, then why would President Putin come out and say, "uncontained hyper use of force ... bringing the world up to the abyss of one conflict after another." I mean, those are things --

MR. SNOW: I'd pose that to President Putin. The most important thing is, we continue to work together.

Q But how can you say on the one hand, you're working together on all these wonderful projects you just laid out, and on the other hand, he's saying the President --

MR. SNOW: On the other hand, he's delivered a speech. I would ask him.

Q Where are they on the kumbaya index?

MR. SNOW: I don't know. That's a very good question. I haven't heard him sing.

Q Tony, as far as the Iranian support for the Iraqi elements are concerned, do we know where the Iranians are getting those weapons they are supplying to the --

MR. SNOW: Why do you guys ask me intel questions that even if I knew them, it would be utterly inappropriate for me to answer?

Q And is this a warning to Iran, as far as --

MR. SNOW: No, no, no, no. I'm almost ready to hit my head on the microphone again. I'm not saying, but I'm saying -- (laughter.)

Q Is our President ignoring us? Does he want to have a news conference this week, maybe, and if so, when?

MR. SNOW: You'll be contacted at the appropriate time.

Q Thank you.

MR. SNOW: Thank you.

Q Tony, Tony --

MR. SNOW: Yes.

Q One -- The New York Times quotes Senator Clinton in Berlin, New Hampshire, saying in answer to a question about her vote for our military move into Iraq, "I've taken responsibility for my vote. Mistakes were made by this President, who came into office with an obsession to oust Saddam Hussein. I'm not a psychiatrist, I don't know all the reasons behind their concern. Some might say obsession."

Question: Will the President remain silent about this presidential candidate's charge that he is obsessed?

MR. SNOW: Yes, but I hope you will read them with equal feeling at all times. (Laughter.) You can do sort of a daily readout.

Thank you.

END 1:04 P.M. EST