For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 21, 2007
Press Gaggle by Tony Fratto
Crawford Middle School
9:05 A.M. CDT
MR. FRATTO: Good morning, everyone. The President had his normal briefings this morning. I have a phone call to read out. The President spoke with Prime Minister Maliki this morning, to mark the one-year anniversary of his inauguration. The President reaffirmed his confidence in the Prime Minister, and noted the courage he has shown during a challenging and difficult year.
The two leaders discussed the importance of political progress in Iraq and the need to move forward with key reconciliation initiatives to secure Iraq's democratic gains. Prime Minister Maliki stressed his commitment to national reconciliation and provided an update on legislative initiatives, including the hydrocarbon law and constitutional review process.
The two leaders also discussed the regional situation, and the need for all of Iraq's neighbors to play a constructive role in helping Iraq's democracy succeed.
And, finally, they reaffirmed their commitment to defeating the terrorists and extremists who continue to prey on the innocent in Iraq.
I also note, later today the Senate will be moving to a cloture vote in order to proceed with debate on comprehensive immigration reform. As you all know, this is a very high priority for the President. We look forward to this debate. We hope that it is thoughtful. We know that this is an emotional issue for members on both sides of political parties and both sides of the ideological spectrum, but we hope that we can find common ground on this issue so that we can move forward with this reform effort and deliver legislation to the House of Representatives and, hopefully, legislation to the President's desk by the end of summer.
As you know, the President is meeting with the Secretary General of NATO this morning. We'll have a press conference later this morning, and then on to lunch.
Q Do you think you'll have any trouble with the cloture vote?
MR. FRATTO: I don't think so. All indications we're hearing from the Senate is that there is fairly broad consensus to move to debate.
Q Tony, do you have any sense of what the meetings have focused on this morning at the ranch, and, kind of, what's at the top of the agenda? Is it still -- was it Afghanistan, indeed?
MR. FRATTO: Some of the issues that I ran through yesterday, certainly Afghanistan as the number one operational priority for NATO, and certainly America's highest priority for NATO is progress in Afghanistan. So the President will be looking forward to an update on how operations are unfolding there and what the next period will look like for success.
We feel that both the ISAF forces and U.S. Operation Enduring Freedom have been able to make some progress this spring. We want to consolidate those gains and try to move forward as we head into the summer, and to continue to extend the reach and authority of the Afghan government in Afghanistan. Crucial to that is the continuing buildup and professionalism of the Iraqi army. That's a high priority -- and to also address the other issues that -- the other priorities for NATO.
Q And do you know if -- have they discussed the missile shield today?
MR. FRATTO: Have they discussed the -- I don't know that for certain. I would be surprised if it doesn't -- if it's not part of the conversation, but I don't have anything specific on that right now.
Q President Carter amended his comments over the weekend, this morning, saying essentially he didn't mean to say that the Bush administration's foreign policy was the worst in history, he was talking about it more in comparison with Nixon's foreign policy. Do you have any response to that?
MR. FRATTO: I don't think I have response -- a specific response to that. I think it just highlights the importance of being careful in choosing your words. I'll just leave it at that.
Q Questions for this morning, do you anticipate three or four?
MR. FRATTO: Yes, I think we're looking at -- I think we'll probably do four questions this morning -- obviously, it will be up to the discretion of the President and the Secretary General. I think we're expecting four questions, and we'll see how that goes.
Q Tony, you mentioned that when the President spoke to the Prime Minister this morning he got some updates on some of these key measures -- the hydrocarbon law and constitutional review. Are we getting -- is the President getting any commitments about when those things will happen?
MR. FRATTO: It's very hard to put a sense of timing on some of these things. Obviously, we want the Iraqis and the Iraqi parliament to move as quickly as possible. Progress on advancing these initiatives is not moving as quickly as anyone wants, and I think that includes Prime Minister Maliki and many members of parliament.
So we don't have a specific time frame on that. We want to see them move quickly. Obviously, those are elements of benchmarks that we've talked about and that Prime Minister Maliki has talked about. We think they're essential for bringing peace and security and an equity feeling in a national Iraq that is, to a large part, based on those kinds of reforms. So we want to see progress on those issues.
Q One follow on that, Tony. There seems to be a sense in Congress, among members of both parties, that September is a key month, pegged to General Petraeus's report then. Does the President see September as a significant, make-or-break time?
MR. FRATTO: Well, General Petraeus has said that he plans to provide an assessment at some point in September. We'll look forward to that. We have to remember that the elements of the troop buildup for Baghdad, the security operations in Baghdad won't even be fully in place until mid-June, if things are running on time. So we'll have some opportunity to review their progress, but we have to remember that progress will be measured across a broad front.
Obviously, success on every other element in Iraq is dependent on the security situation. You will not have political progress or economic reconstruction progress unless you have progress on the security front. So we'll look forward to that. I'm not going to put a point on a specific month. But certainly General Petraeus's review of the security situation in Iraq will happen at some point in September.
Q Tony, any movement on the war funding bill since Friday's difficult meeting?
MR. FRATTO: There have been staff-level talks. Those staff-level talks will continue. I think the Chief of Staff, Josh Bolten, will continue his talks. We certainly want to see a bill come to the President before the end of this month, before Memorial Day. That's what the leaders in Congress committed to. We'd like them to live up to that commitment and deliver a bill that the President can sign by Memorial Day. So talks will continue this week and we hope to see progress.
Q Did you say whether the conversation with al Maliki was a phone call or secure video?
MR. FRATTO: I'm sorry, it was a phone call.
Q Phone call. Thanks.
Q What time was that?
MR. FRATTO: I don't have the timing on that.
Roger, did you have a question? I'm sorry, not Roger --Steve, did you have a question? You're good? Okay. Anything else? Elaine.
Q On the search for a new World Bank president -- soon, what does "soon" mean?
MR. FRATTO: I know Secretary Paulson is leading that effort and he'll -- we expect that he'll have some recommendations for the President. He's consulting with other major shareholders at the Bank and other interested groups that are interested in the leadership of the Bank and how the Bank will do its business going forward. So he's starting that process.
I've said that -- there is a process in place, and I've said that we intend to move quickly on this, and we do. But it will be a process, and so we'll wait to hear from Secretary Paulson and how that's going.
Q For World Bank, nothing imminent?
MR. FRATTO: No.
Q Nomination or --
MR. FRATTO: If "imminent" means within the next days or hours? No.
Q Couple of days?
MR. FRATTO: No, I'm not expecting days.
Q I'm sorry, what?
MR. FRATTO: I'm not expecting it in days.
Q Do you know if the President has spoken to Paul Wolfowitz since his resignation announcement?
MR. FRATTO: I don't know.
END 9:16 A.M. CDT