The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
February 20, 2007

Press Briefing by Tony Snow
White House Conference Center Briefing Room

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12:12 P.M. EST

MR. SNOW: Questions.

Q Do you have any reaction to the Court of Appeals decision on the Guantanamo Bay case?

MR. SNOW: Not at this point; taking a look at it. It came in this morning, but we'll assess it.

Q I mean, it's got to be good news for the administration.

MR. SNOW: Well, I mean, the court decided with the position that we put forward, but I don't want to try to get into any extended legal analysis of this. You've got to take a look -- our guys are reading through the opinion and I'll probably have more tomorrow.

Q John McCain is out there saying that Donald Rumsfeld may go down as one of the worst Defense Secretaries in history. Is that something you agree with? (Laughter.)

MR. SNOW: I think on this one --

Q The Vice President has called him one of the -- if not, the best, I think.

MR. SNOW: Look, we think Donald Rumsfeld was an enormously consequential and effective Secretary of Defense, and somebody who led to the transformation of the Department of Defense. Senator McCain holds a different point of view. The thing that's important to us right now is that Senator McCain is a strong supporter of the President's position on the way forward in Iraq and somebody who has been an eloquent voice and a reliable leader on the issue, and we appreciate it.

Q Tony, could I just follow -- do you chalk this up to election politics?

MR. SNOW: I'm not going to -- I left the chalk at home. (Laughter.)

Q The administration's mantra for a long time has been "support the troops." What is the reaction, then, when you read this series of stories in The Washington Post about troops coming home from Iraq, Afghanistan and being treated so poorly, apparently, based on this long investigation? What's the President's reaction?

MR. SNOW: There are a couple of things. First, it's not a mantra. I would really choose words carefully. It's a commitment to support the troops. And the President, as you know, has visited the wounded many times at Walter Reed and we are concerned about it. And the people who --

Q Were you aware?

MR. SNOW: We are aware now, yes. And I would refer you to the Department of Defense, which I know is taking a very close look at it, too.

Look, the men and women who have gone and fought for our country over there, they deserve the best care.

Q So why has that not been guaranteed, then?

MR. SNOW: I'm not sure that -- you know, when you find a problem, you deal with it.

Q So you're saying the President learned about this from The Washington Post?

MR. SNOW: I don't know exactly where he learned it, but I can tell you that we believe that they deserve better. And, again, Ed, this is something where I'd suggest you give DoD a call, because I know they've taken a good, hard look at it.

Q Tony, can I follow on that? As Bob Dole might ask, where's the outrage?

MR. SNOW: There's plenty of outrage.

Q Is there?

MR. SNOW: Yes.

Q So the President responded how when he learned about this? What, specifically -- did he order something to be done?

MR. SNOW: What I'm suggesting -- there's a reason I'm suggesting -- DoD is the proper place in which we'll be taking care of these issues. And I would refer you to them for comment. But this is something that's going to have to be an action item.

Q But is there any evidence that it was even looked at before the paper printed its two stories?

MR. SNOW: Yes.

Q Then tell us about that evidence.

MR. SNOW: That's why -- again, I would refer you, Bill, to the Department of the Army, which runs the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. This is the place where if you want to get --

Q That's just an easy way for you not to have to talk about it.

MR. SNOW: Well, it's also a way of pointing to the proper authorities, which is what you would want.

Q The White House doesn't want to be on record with a more emphatic expression of amazement and upset about this?

MR. SNOW: No. David asked where the outrage -- of course there's outrage that men and women who have been fighting have not received the outpatient care -- if you read the stories, there are many who are happy with it, some who are unhappy, and it's important that we show our commitment to the people who have served. I don't know what more you want me to do.

Q In December NPR ran a series looking at the quality of mental health care for Iraq veterans who have returned, showing that it's shocking how little care is provided to them. And several congresspeople -- Obama, Boxer and Bond -- sent a letter to the Pentagon, which you're referring us to, asking for an investigation, which they have not agreed to conduct. So you're referring us to the DoD, but they're not acting quickly on this. So does the President want them to act quickly?

MR. SNOW: Well, again, you've asked me about two separate stories.

Q It seems there's a problem that's endemic to the system.

MR. SNOW: Well, rather than leaping to a conclusion, as I said, I would suggest you call them, and then we can talk about it later.

Q Off camera this morning you said that you would have something at noon; you said, I'll talk about it then. And now you're not really --

MR. SNOW: Well, that's because -- again, I think that you may see some activity on it. And at this point I would refer you to the Department of Defense.

Q Is the system working?

MR. SNOW: Well, I'll tell you what -- is the system working? Yes. Is it working perfectly? No.

Q It's good enough?

MR. SNOW: No, I said, it's not good enough. I just told you it's not working perfectly. But there are also thousands of people who have been through the system who have been cared for. But it is important that we maintain a commitment to following up or providing the treatment that these men and women deserve.

Q Do you think the President is going to say something about this later?


Q You responded to me a moment ago that the administration was aware of this before the articles appeared in the paper.

MR. SNOW: That is my understanding. But, again, this is something that's an action item over at the Department of Defense and, in particular, the Department of the Army. I am not fully briefed on the activities or who knew what, when. And I suggest --

Q Was the President aware of it? Was the White House aware of it?

MR. SNOW: I am not certain --

Q May I follow on --

Q What is the President's --

MR. SNOW: -- when we first became aware of it.* Now the President certainly has been aware of the conditions in the wards where he has visited, and visited regularly, and we also have people from Walter Reed regularly over to the White House as guests, sometimes in fairly large numbers. So as I said, the President is committed -- committed to these people, committed to men and women who have served. We need to make sure that whatever problems there are get fixed. I couldn't be any stronger or plainer about it.

Q Has he given any new orders?

MR. SNOW: No. At this point, Helen, I think the most important thing -- the way this would work is the Department of Army has its own investigation about what's going on at Walter Reed. They will be taking action. The President certainly wants to make sure that, as I said before, whatever problems there are get fixed.

Q On Walter Reed, a lot of the veterans, the medical community, the doctors, the neighbors who have worked at Walter Reed are very upset about this move, pending move to Bethesda. In light of everything that's happening, does the administration still support uprooting --

MR. SNOW: The Department of Defense has made the decision to consolidate the treatment facilities at the Bethesda Naval Medical Center.

Q Is there any chance of a second look? Some of the facilities at Walter Reed are brand new.

MR. SNOW: Well, again, I'm just going to refer you to that. This is -- all of a sudden people are trying to open up different avenues of inquiry. The fact is that those changes have, in fact, been decided upon by the Department of Defense. I am not aware of any decisions to change.

Q To clarify, were these -- any actions that the Pentagon has taken, these action items, were they done on its own, or did they do this in response to some order from here?

MR. SNOW: Again, I'm not aware that anybody has -- look, when you have a problem like this, the imperative is to fix it. I'm not sure that you have to issue orders; there are people there who know if they've got a problem they need to fix it. So I don't think that -- I will try to find out for you, but I'm not aware that the President has cut any special orders. But I will try to get for you additional information.

Q I think what we're --

MR. SNOW: I know what you're trying to do, you're trying to get a tick-tock on what did he learn and how did he respond and who did he call.

Q Yes, we're trying to determine if someone here built a fire under someone over there to do something.

MR. SNOW: You know, that's assuming that people there are callous about the fate of the people who are serving.

Q It isn't --

MR. SNOW: No, I think it is. When you say "light a fire," it's as if, you know, you find out that there's a problem and you don't move quickly to try to correct it. My sense is that there's plenty of fire for trying to get it right. But this is why I'm telling you if you want a more direct answer about this, you do need to talk to the people at the Department of the Army --

Q But, Tony, when you read --

MR. SNOW: -- who are at the ground level involvement here.

Q -- an account that says a commanding general, quotes a commanding general as saying, well, gee, we ordered repairs done, but they weren't done -- you'd think they would have known this hadn't been accomplished.

MR. SNOW: Well, again, that's why -- you've just made my point, which is you need to get back to them, and I will also get back for you with a tick-tock about what's going on at this end.

Q It's not just -- you're describing kind of a cold, detached bureaucratic process. We all know how this works. Something like this, this kind of story gets people's attention. You are now --

MR. SNOW: Well --

Q Wait a minute. You're now in the PR business, you know if something like this happens it's at odds with the commitments you make; the Commander-in-Chief might well stand up at a meeting and say, darn it, let's get to the bottom of this now and let's get answers. And this happened over the weekend, and you're saying you think the White House knew, but you're not sure; you're not sure when the President knew or if he said something to somebody. It just seems like you should have those answers.

MR. SNOW: Okay, but you also -- fine, I'll try to get them for you. But when you talk about cold detachment, I don't think saying that if it needs --

Q You're calling it an "action item"?

MR. SNOW: Well, yes, because what I'm telling you is that it is something that falls under the providence of the Department of the Army. Therefore, if you want the detailed answers about who knew what, when and how it's been handled, you do need to ask them, because they're going to have the information, David.

I can tell you that the President feels passionately about them, and you should have no doubt about it -- you've been at enough events where when he looks these people in the eye there is a commitment, a strong, profound emotional commitment to the people who serve this country. And it is one where the President is committed to doing right by the men and women who serve. There should be no doubt about that.

Q But, Tony --

MR. SNOW: Wait, wait. In that case, what I'm telling you is let's sort through the facts. I know that what you want is for me to tell you more than I know right now. So you keep at it --

Q But it would not be unreasonable for you or the President, through you, to express some kind of outrage over what has happened up there.

MR. SNOW: Well, it's also a matter of trying to figure out precisely what has happened. You have news stories, it is important to investigate. As you know, the most important thing is to fix a problem, correct? And there is absolute determination to fix the problem. The President is somebody, again, whose passion for these forces should never, ever be a topic of doubt on the part of the forces or the American people.

Q Right, but Tony, when you say he looks in the eyes of the families -- but what if the bureaucrats on the ground are not actually following through on the commitment you say he has? Doesn't he have a duty to follow through and say, what --

MR. SNOW: That's why I'm asking you to direct your questions to the people who are in direct line of responsibility for this, who are going to have more information on this than I do right now.

Q What is your reaction of Major General Weightman, who is the Commander at Walter Reed, also says in the bottom of the article on Sunday in The Washington Post, said that he's concerned and that they're bracing for, "potentially a lot more casualties," people coming to Walter Reed because of the surge. Does that cause the White House to think at all about that policy, because you have the Commander of Walter Reed --

MR. SNOW: There are a whole series of things, and, again, this is why you need to talk to people who are in the chain, because --

Q But this he said on the record.

MR. SNOW: I understand, Ed. But there are a series of things. First, for Walter Reed, what you end up having is treatment of people who are wounded -- and also this is Bethesda, as you know, different sorts of injuries are treated at the two facilities. And many of those people are there for months. And this story deals with outpatient care after that treatment, right? So it's important, I think, to understand that you've got to be prepared for all things that are going to come your way, including getting the piece right when it comes to outpatient care, and continuing also to do well by inpatients.

But, again, I know you want me to -- I'm simply not going to go beyond what I know. And in this particular case, the people who do know the facts and do know what's going on, and do know how the investigations are proceeding are the guys over at DoD.

Q I think that's part of the question. It doesn't seem like -- beyond what you know, it doesn't seem like you're asking that many questions to find out. I mean, you have a limited knowledge about the situation.

MR. SNOW: It's because they're working the issue, and I'm telling you, those are the people to talk to, the DoD.

Q -- I mean, you keep putting me off on other people --

MR. SNOW: I know.

Q This is a commitment the President has made, you said, to the families, right?

MR. SNOW: Yes.

Q So why isn't the President, why isn't his staff saying, let's get to the bottom of it now?

MR. SNOW: We are trying to get to the bottom of it, and the people who are responsible for getting to the bottom of it work on the other side of the river.

Q But, again, you put it back on the Pentagon, you're not keeping --

MR. SNOW: Yes. The members of the Pentagon, of course, Cabinet agencies and people in the administration, do answer to the President. And I've said, what's wrong needs to be fixed. Now the people that are going to do the fixing are over there. So you might want to talk to them.

Q Tony, before entering Pakistan, the Indian train was ripped up by a terrorist bomb, undermining the India-Pakistan relations. But some experts in the area are saying because of problems in the area, including Afghanistan, because the ISI, the new Pakistani intelligence is at odds with General Musharraf, who may be trying his best to control terrorism in the area.

MR. SNOW: Well, I think what you've seen is Prime Minister Musharraf and also --

Q President.

MR. SNOW: President Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Singh -- thank you -- together have not only expressed their outrage about it, but they have promised to deal with it, which is what you would want them to do. We certainly express our condolences, and we despise acts of terror, period.

Q But can we make anything out of this at this junction of --

MR. SNOW: No. No, I know that you are trying to talk about other players in it, but, no. No.

Q Tony, how do you respond to the Iranian President's offer today, that his country will stop uranium enrichment if the Western nations stop theirs?

MR. SNOW: That's not the way the U.N. Security Council resolution reads. The fact is that we are perfectly happy to help Iran acquire civilian nuclear power. We are not, however -- and the international community has made it clear that Iran should not be in a position to develop or possess nuclear weapons. So that kind of -- that is a false offer because the position of the international community is clear.

And, furthermore, the offer, the offer of help, the offer of nuclear power for the Iranian people, that's out on the table, as well. So now it's the responsibility of the Iranians to step forward and act. As you know, there's a deadline tomorrow under U.N. Security Council resolution. The International Atomic Energy Agency will be reporting later in the week -- at least we think later in the week, certainly soon, on that situation. And we'll have to see how it develops. But the offer that the Iranians need to make is to suspend activity that could lead to the enrichment of nuclear material that could be used in creating a bomb.

Q Do you sense some softening from European leaders? They've sensed, or spoken out about a conciliatory tone from the Iranians in recent weeks.

MR. SNOW: Again, let's just wait and see what happens in the next few days, in terms of developments with the Iranians. In the sense that we have been pursuing diplomatic channels, I don't know if you want to call that conciliatory, but the fact is, the emphasis continues to be on diplomacy. And the United States is committed to diplomacy with the EU3 plus two, plus Russia and China. And we continue to work as aggressively as we can with that group, because as in the case of North Korea, people who have direct interest and influence over the major party are the ones that we think may lead to breakthroughs that could be good for the country and also for the international community.

Q Last one. The President has previously said, when questioned why Iran would need nuclear power, because it's got so much oil. Now there's a report out that Iran's oil production is declining, and looking to the future, it may need to shift to nuclear power.

MR. SNOW: Well, we've also said all along -- the quote that you're referring to, that your colleague sent me a little while ago, the President also at the back end of that quote talked about the fact that the Iranians have expressed a desire for civil nuclear power, and it's something that we have never opposed. Oil production in Iran right now is a fraction -- a little more than half of what it was before the revolution. So it's considerably down, and of course they do have some -- they have rising demand, they have low prices -- they have subsidized prices.

So we understand all of those things. We have no objection to the Iranians having civil nuclear power. We do have objections to their having the capability to have nuclear weapons.

Q Thank you, Tony. When we had our exchange about the new accord with Korea on Friday, it was also the last day at work for Dr. Bob Joseph, the Under Secretary for Arms Control and Disarmament. Did he disagree with the policy, and did he resign in protest over it?

MR. SNOW: Not that I'm aware of. In fact, I don't have any idea. (Laughter.)

Q The New York Times reported that privately he vehemently disagreed with it on Thursday. I just wanted to know if the resignation was --

MR. SNOW: You're going to have to ask him.

Q Can I ask you another one on Iran? To what extent are you concerned, based on their past track record, that they're going to try to stall this out with this U.N. deadline?

MR. SNOW: Well, I think -- I don't want to express premature concern. Let's see what happens. They've got 24 hours. But the one thing that they -- I think that has been demonstrated, with a Chapter 7 resolution, is that the United States and its allies in this are standing pretty firm in terms of sending a clear message to the government in Tehran.

We support the Iranian people, and we want to make sure that they have the ability to lead better lives and to have energy that is necessary to be able to create jobs and opportunities for them. But their government has to take that first step, in terms of renouncing nuclear ambitions. They say they don't have them, fine. There's a simple step to take, and in exchange you will get benefits that are going to be good for your country and are going to be good for your people. And that's the message that we continue to send through diplomatic channels, and it's an offer that we'll continue to make publicly from this podium.

Q Is Steve Hadley in Brussels or on his way to Brussels?

MR. SNOW: I don't know if he's left yet, but he will be traveling to Brussels, Berlin, and Moscow this week.

Q What's his mission?

MR. SNOW: There are ministerials with his colleagues, basically fellow national security advisors, and he will be doing -- typically there's going to be a meeting in Berlin. Often when he gets in the area he stops in Brussels, and that's typical, and he also received an invitation to visit Moscow, and he's accepted that one, as well.

Q Anything related to Iran nuclear --

MR. SNOW: I don't know -- I'm not going to predict what might come up, but, again, it all arose -- these meetings have been in the works for quite a while.


Q Tony, over the weekend you were asked by Wolf Blitzer, are you getting ready for war with Iran. And you replied, no, and furthermore I'm at a total loss to find any place where this administration has been trying to "create a run up with a war in Iran. It's interesting to me that it seems that politicians maybe are trying to protect Iran." Which politicians are trying to protect Iran?

MR. SNOW: Well, there's a -- without naming names, people continue to say, well, you must stop trying to wage war with Iran. Well, we're not trying to do it, and it seems that they're -- it looks as if somebody is coming to the defense of somebody who is not under siege; that's what I meant.

Q But you're putting it out there, that some politicians are trying to protect Iran. Surely you have --

MR. SNOW: I think I said "it seems," and I left it in general.

Q Who does it seem that's trying to protect Iran?

MR. SNOW: Well, again, the one thing I'm doing is I'm responding to a general trend of argument rather than trying to pick fights.

Q But are there individuals that you have in mind?

MR. SNOW: Again, Victoria, I told you, I'm responding to particular arguments and I --

Q But, Tony, couldn't that concern be about the United States, about deploying U.S. forces to a potential conflict with Iran, and not in the interest of protecting Iran?

MR. SNOW: Well, perhaps, but I don't -- what's been interesting to us about the persistence of these stories is that the President, the Secretary of Defense, and the Press Secretary, on, probably approaching a dozen occasions right now, made it clear that our approach with Iran is comprehensive and diplomatic. And we've said it over and over, and people --

Q Why doesn't anybody believe you? (Laughter.)

MR. SNOW: Well, it's a good question why people have -- it's just been an interesting tactic, in terms of trying to create a sense of aggression on the part of this administration that is not only unwarranted, but unwelcome in terms of trying to do diplomatically what we think ought to be done with Iran.

And so the point here is, why try to whoop up suspicion and skepticism about an administration right after we've demonstrated the success of diplomacy in North Korea using the same means and methods that we're trying to employ with the Iranians, when it is our clear commitment to pursue a diplomatic course and a diplomatic path toward a nation with whom in the past we have had very warm relations, and its people we support. And, therefore, it just strikes as curious why people persist in trying to stoke up rumors about something that simply isn't true.

Q One more, please. Can you confirm that Karl Rove received a copy of the Iranian proposal for negotiation sometime in early May, 2003?

MR. SNOW: I absolutely cannot. I know nothing about it.

Q Are you sure you know nothing about it?

MR. SNOW: I am sure that I know nothing about it. I will try to find out --

Q Can you find out about it?

MR. SNOW: I will try to find out.

Q Thank you.

MR. SNOW: Apparently you think you know something about it -- (laughter) --

Q I do.

MR. SNOW: -- so we'll try to see what we can. All right.

Q Thank you, Tony. I have one question with three parts. The Associated Press --

MR. SNOW: For the record, note that groans have just filled the room. Proceed. (Laughter.)

Q Thank you. The Associated Press reported from Orangeburg, South Carolina yesterday that Hillary Clinton announced that the confederate flag should be removed from the war memorial in Columbia's Statehouse grounds. And my question, does the President agree or disagree with this Hillary request?

MR. SNOW: The President is not going to get involved as pundit-in-chief in political campaigns.

Q Does the President believe that Mississippi's state flag needs to be changed because it has the confederate battle flag and that the 15-star replica of the Star Spangled Banner, now flying at Fort McHenry, should be removed because it was the flag of a slave nation?

MR. SNOW: My goodness, Les; it hasn't come up.

Q Well, I'm just raising it right now, and how does the President stand?

MR. SNOW: Thank you. Thank you. Believe it or not, I don't have an answer for you on that. Continue, though.

Q Okay, last one. The name of George Washington -- President Lincoln in 1842 said that, "The name of George Washington is the mightiest name on earth -- long since the mightiest in the cause of civil liberty; still the mightiest in moral reformation." You're familiar with that statement?

MR. SNOW: No, but I'll take it at --

Q Does the President believe President Lincoln was wrong in saying this because President Washington owned slaves?

MR. SNOW: Oh my goodness, Les. That's -- (laughter.)

Q You'd rather duck this, okay.

MR. SNOW: Paula, help me out. I go to Paula for help. (Laughter.) Go ahead. Paula asks good, tough questions. I like them. Go ahead.

Q I have a question on Walter Reed outpatient care, and it's related to part of the report. It said --

MR. SNOW: I don't -- Paula, I can't help you with an individual patient.

Q No, it's not individual patient. There appears to be a pattern that physicians are determining that some of the war-related injuries, particularly related to mental health and head trauma, are pre-existing conditions. And is that going to be looked into, particularly --

MR. SNOW: I'll try to find out. Again, when it comes to things like this, I know -- it is not a dodge, it is the responsible way to do this, which is, the Army has to take a look at what's going on at Walter Reed. And the Army and the Pentagon will give you detailed responses, not only to charges, but to procedural matters. I'm just not in a position to do that for you right now.

Q Tony, were reports yesterday correct that the al Qaeda leadership has, to at least some extent, reasserted its command and control ability?

MR. SNOW: Well, I think it's been pretty clear that al Qaeda, certainly, has tried to become more active in Afghanistan. That we saw last year in the offensive, and read out much of it from here on the podium. And it's also clear -- look, you've got an enemy like al Qaeda that's committed to trying to figure out some way to wage war against the United States and against civilized states. They have been badly disorganized, but it is also clear that they are determined people who are going to try to reorganize. And we're every bit determined to continue to chase them down and make a difference.

Q Okay, but that doesn't answer -- have they, in fact, reorganized to the extent that the leadership now has much more effective command and control over --

MR. SNOW: I'm not going to -- I've given you a general answer because I'm not going to get into specific matters of intelligence from the podium.

Q Okay. Does the President still believe that al Qaeda leadership is on the run?

MR. SNOW: Depends. For instance, you take a look at Anbar province, absolutely. You take a look at different parts around the world, they have certainly been struck by significant military action. But on the other hand, to treat -- al Qaeda is not a place that has a big, shiny, glass and steel headquarters where you can measure the activities on a daily basis, and they certainly don't put out sheets for their shareholders. Instead, what you have is an organization that is amorphous and that tends to move around, and tends to rise and fall in different areas.

Let me put it this way: It is a significant terror threat, we're aware of it. And it's one of the reasons why the President, early on, began trying to put together tools that not only were going to enable him to fight al Qaeda, but future Presidents to fight al Qaeda. The terrorist surveillance program, the Patriot Act, the SWIFT program, all of those have been made -- certainly one of them was voted on Congress, the other two have been made known publicly, and continues to do on a multiplicity of fronts what is necessary to try to confront the challenge.

Q So they may be on the run in some areas, but not in others, is that what you're saying?

MR. SNOW: There are some areas where they have safe haven, and you've got to try to deny them that safe haven

Q Lastly, is there more danger now, given their -- of a terrorist attack, given what they've tried to do?

MR. SNOW: I don't know. Again -- and that's not the kind of thing that I think would be appropriate for me to try to render.

Q Tony, in the wake of what's happening at Walter Reed, what lengths has the administration gone to, to prevent another Vietnam scenario? Because many have made comments about, you know, this could wind up being another Vietnam, and, indeed, we're in the situation where many of the troops are not being taken care of properly.

MR. SNOW: Well, wait a minute. First, April, there are thousands and thousands who, in fact, have been cared for. The assumption that somehow everybody has gone through and not received appropriate care simply isn't the case. It is important to make sure that everybody gets -- resort to treatment. To try to whomp this up -- to try to come up with a Vietnam analogy is just --

Q I'm not trying to come up, that analogy has been floating out there for a while. And that's the question that I'm asking you, to what lengths is this administration going to, to prevent that kind of scenario?

MR. SNOW: Look, what the administration is going to do -- and this, again, you need to talk to the people who are in the line of authority here -- is to fix the problem. The one thing we're not going to do is to run from a problem or deny it exists. We're going to try to figure out what the dimensions of the problem are, and how to fix it. And that's something that I'm sure members of both Houses of Congress will be happy to do if it requires additional attention.

Q Tony, when the President -- back on the Iran line of questioning, when the President spoke at length on Wednesday about the Quds forces operating inside Iraq, that did create quite a stir around the world, considering the language he used. Can we assume that that's one of those things that's not on a diplomatic track?

MR. SNOW: Again, we've already said that the matter of the Quds forces or those who are trying to import weaponry or materiel into Iraq is something that's a force protection issue inside Iraq, and that's how we treat it. There have been members of the Quds forces who have apprehended within Iraq, and there have been arms caches that have been discovered, and we continue to do everything we can to interdict and to save American lives and the lives of innocents. But it is not, as I said last week, it's not a casus belli. Instead, it is a matter of force protection, and that's exactly how we view it.

Q The President is off to energy and health care events this week, two of the areas he has mentioned as possible cooperation with the Democrats. Any progress you can tell us about those areas or any --

MR. SNOW: No, but the conversations we've had have been very productive. I've just -- at this point, you need to let the legislative process work it out -- work itself out a bit. But there have been continuing and regular contacts with Democrats and Republicans on all four of the action items that the President mentioned in the State of the Union address -- energy, education, health care, and immigration -- and we've been encouraged.

But on the other hand, we know that there are going to be political differences on some of the issues. I think there's a lot of good will within Congress, in trying to address these matters.

Q Tony, yesterday chief executives of P.G. County and Montgomery County were speaking at a function in Maryland, and what they both were saying, Mr. Jack Johnson and Ike Leggett, that as far as Black History Month is concerned, and civil rights and other fundamental rights for (inaudible), President Bush has done great, but there's more to do. And also they are supporting the D.C. voting rights. What the President has to do more, as far as civil rights or fundamental rights (inaudible) -- Martin Luther King and Black History Month?

MR. SNOW: Goyal, the President believes in advancing civil rights, not only in terms of legal protections, which he has certainly pursued, including with re-upping the Voting Rights Act, but also the best way to advance the cause of civil rights is to make sure that everybody has an equal opportunity to share in the American Dream, and that there are no legal barriers, and also that the ladder of opportunity is extended in such a way that everybody has access to a first-rate education, that everybody has access to health care, that everybody has access to work, and that you address a lot of the issues that have led to persistent poverty and hopelessness in certain parts of our country.

Q Thank you.

END 12:42 P.M. EST

* The President first learned of the troubling allegations regarding Walter Reed from the stories this weekend in the Washington Post. He is deeply concerned and wants any problems identified and fixed.

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