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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
February 21, 2007
Press Gaggle by Tony Snow
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Chattanooga, Tennessee
10:18 A.M. EST
MR. SNOW: Good morning, everybody. All right, the President's schedule is he had his normal morning briefings and meetings. And you're going to be witnessing the rest of the schedule. So there you have it, the official schedule for the day.
Q The Iraq withdrawal plan announced by Tony Blair, do you see that as a negative sign?
MR. SNOW: No, it indicates that there's been some progress in Basra. The fact that there has been progress in a couple of areas -- one is training up Iraqis to take over some of the responsibilities that the Brits and the Danes have been handling within Basra has made it possible for Britain to remove some of the forces. On the other hand, it has not changed the combat capability of British forces within the area, and instead, as we understand it -- and I think you have to -- I have not had a full chance to read through the Prime Minister's comments today -- but as we understand it, they are going to have enhanced abilities to continue doing the work of embedding and training and working with the Iraqis, with the army, with the police and also with border guards.
So the Brits still have a significant commitment. But the fact that they have made some progress on the ground is going to enable them to move some of the forces out, and that's ultimately the kind of thing that we want to be able to see throughout Iraq. As the President said all along, the idea is to build greater Iraqi capability, and when the time comes, to be able to move folks out.
Q Can I follow that, Tony? The plan calls for the British to remove troops as conditions permit. And the initial response from the U.S. was that that's a model to emulate. But that's what some have, in fact, been calling for here, is time lines for removal of troops if conditions permit. So why is that model not okay for U.S. troops?
MR. SNOW: No, this is not a time line. And the Prime Minister made it clear it is not a time line. As a matter of fact, what you had is progress first and then the removal. This was not in response to any calendar that had been set by the Parliament or by the Prime Minister. In fact, it had been the result of a judgment.
And a lot of what's happening is that in certain facilities in Basra, for instance, guard responsibilities -- what they call fixed security responsibilities -- now are being handed over to the Iraqis. They've trained them up, they're able to do it, be able to transfer some of the authority. So there are still plenty of challenges within Basra, which is why they maintain a sizeable and robust military capability within the province. But to the extent that they're able to transfer responsibilities, as we've seen in other provinces, that's what you want to do.
So, again, this is not a case of a specified time line, trying to hit it. But, look, the President has made clear all along, we want to do -- we want to move as rapidly as we can to build capability on the part of the Iraqis so they can, in fact, assume first, primary responsibility, and then eventually, sole responsibility not only for matters of security, but also economic development, political reconciliation and so on.
Q Is there any consideration of having the Brits ease the burden on the U.S. in its own surge in Baghdad and al Anbar?
MR. SNOW: No, these are -- they have had separate -- as you know, there has been a division of labor within Iraq and people do have separate responsibilities.
Q Can you give us any flavor for this roundtable today? Who is he going to be sitting with, talking with?
MR. SNOW: Yes, what you'll have are -- there will be one small business owner who cannot afford insurance for his workers, and then you'll have, I believe, four people who are uninsured -- one married, one single with children -- and I forget the rest of it. But we'll get the details to you on it.
It's also notable because it is the place of Steve Holland's birth. So you'll be visiting the facility in which Steve was born. It's a facility that does, in fact, handle a lot of uninsured. So this enables us to talk about the benefits of the President's program in terms of bringing private health care into the realm of affordability for people -- for working folks.
Q Why do we have Al Hubbard on this trip instead of Mike Leavitt?
MR. SNOW: Instead of who?
Q Mike Leavitt.
MR. SNOW: They're both here.
Q They're both here, okay.
Q Back to Iraq for a second. I read in the paper where the helicopters' downing -- that they think that possibly a helicopter was downed by a sophisticated SA14 or 16 from Russia recently put in the country. Is there any suspicion that Russia is arming the insurgency?
MR. SNOW: I have no -- Steve, I don't know anything about that.
Q Do you have any reaction to the Iranian situation --
MR. SNOW: Well, today, obviously, the U.N. Security Council resolution has the time line for the Iranians today. We'll just have to see how they react. We'll get an IAEA report, if not today, later in the week, and at that point, we'll be meeting with our allies and figure out if we need to move forward diplomatically.
Q Everyone assumes that the Iranians are not going to meet the U.N. criteria, so what is the U.S. preference for how to proceed --
MR. SNOW: Well, as I said, we suspect that's probably the case, as well. So there will be follow-on diplomacy with our partners.
Q All right. Thank you much.
MR. SNOW: All right. I'll be around all day if anything pops up.
END 10:24 A.M. EST