For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
July 18, 2007
Press Briefing by Tony Snow
James S. Brady Briefing Room
Press Briefing Slides (PDF, 1.8 mb, 7 pages)
1:05 P.M. EDT
MR. SNOW: As Bill Plante just said, let's begin by welcoming back Bret Baier. You've been in a lot of our thoughts and prayers, and very happy to hear the Bret's son has come through some very testing surgery, coming through with flying colors. (Applause.) There's no fear like a parent worrying about a kid. So, God bless you. Just very happy to hear it.
We are going to give you some audio-visuals -- or some visuals today.
Q Oh, boy.
Q Pictures of Bret's baby? (Laughter.)
MR. SNOW: No, but I'll tell you what, we expect to see those soon.
As we mentioned yesterday, there have been a number of actions against al Qaeda in Iraq. Today, in Baghdad, General Kevin Bergner laid out some recent developments, and I thought I'd share a few of those with you today. Now, one of the things I mentioned last week was the fact that there -- hang on a second. All right, let's try this -- here we go. (Laughter.) Getting used to my own technology here.
One of the things we noted last week is that in the months of May and June, there were kills or captures of a number of senior al Qaeda in Iraq leaders. That would include 11 local al Qaeda in Iraq leaders, seven facilitators, five cell leaders, and three vehicle-borne IED network leaders.
Since then, further developments: On the 14th of this month, coalition forces captured the security emir of Mosul, the security leader, and also a car bomb cell leader, southeast of Baghdad. The following day, coalition forces killed a top al Qaeda target in south Baghdad. His name was Abu Jurah, who was a cell leader responsible for considerable death and carnage. He was responsible for IEDs -- vehicle-borne IEDs, and indirect fire attacks on coalition forces in Abu Jabour.
After U.S. forces received intelligence about a meeting involving Abu Jurah and his associates, field artillery fired two guided rounds into a house in which a meeting was taking place. After an unmanned aerial vehicle spotted people fleeing the scene in a sedan, an Apache helicopter was dispatched and tracked down and destroyed the sedan.
This is an example of the kind of intelligence we are beginning to get now from locals about al Qaeda activities. And it has certainly been indispensable in Baghdad and elsewhere.
In addition, MNF-I has announced the capture earlier this month of another senior al Qaeda operative, Khalid Abdul Fattah Da'ud Mahmoud al-Mashadani -- also known as Abu Shahid. He was captured in Mosul on July 4th. He was the highest ranking Iraqi in the al Qaeda in Iraq ranks. He was the so-called media emir, basically the propaganda minister. He also served as an intermediary between the Egyptian head of al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Ayub al-Masri, and senior al Qaeda leadership, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. Quite often, he was the direct conduit of conversations between the two.
The following chart notes some of his key associates, living and departed. These include Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, al-Kurdi, who was a bomb maker, Baziyani, a senior leader -- all of these are either killed or captured -- Wamid, a former emir of Baghdad, another former emir of Baghdad, Azzam, Khalil who was al-Masri's spiritual advisor. The point here is that this is a very important fellow who clearly had connections with senior leadership.
Now, Mashadani was the senior Iraqi, but he answered to foreigners. I already mentioned that al-Masri, who is the head of al Qaeda in Iraq, is an Egyptian. But the four top officers who respond to al-Masri are, themselves, not Iraqis, they're an Egyptian, an Saudi, a Yemeni, and a Tunisian. Al-Mashadani and his masters understood that Iraqis wanted some sense that al Qaeda in Iraq had indigenous leadership, so what they did is they created a fictional head of al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi. They even hired an actor to provide voice-overs for al-Baghdadi's statements that were posted on the Internet.
Mashadani, under interrogation has, in fact, admitted to sort of the nature of the charade, and he told those who were questioning him: "Al-Masri started overpowering us and acted of his own accord." Al-Masri controlled the distribution of funding and controlled the content of ISI publications.
Among other things that also have happened this week in Iraq was, in south of Baghdad, the seizure of a car bomb-making factory, a bomb factory was destroyed. As you can see, it contained two truck bombs, 10 shaped charges, and 3,000 pounds of ingredients for explosives, along with 10 55-gallon drums filled with explosives such as nitric acid.
So there you have -- again, if you're trying to get a sense of the motion and the operational pace when it comes to going after al Qaeda in Iraq, operations like this are going on constantly, dealing with cell leaders and also with small cells around the country. We'll try to provide those on a fairly regular basis, just to give you a sense of ongoing operations.
And with that, we'll go to questions.
Q Yes, Tony, are you convinced that this kind of information is not being reported adequately out of Iraq, itself? Is that why you're doing it --
MR. SNOW: I don't know. This is something -- I actually think Kevin Bergner has been very forward-leaning and he's putting these things out. I'm not sure that the American public gets an opportunity to see a lot of this and I think it's important to do it.
Q Tony, do you know what compares with last year, how many people were captured or killed or --
MR. SNOW: I will get you a comparison. No, a perfectly good question, Martha, and I'll give you a basis of comparison. What is clear right now -- and I think you know this from your own reporting -- is that there does appear to have been what Pete Pace was calling a sea change in the way that the Iraqis, themselves -- particularly Sunnis -- are regarding al Qaeda. They look upon it as an interloper, an invader, and one that is clearly flying not only under false colors, but knows it, even to the somewhat comical point of creating a fictional head of a fictional Islamic front within Iraq. So I'll try to get you some basis for a backward comparison, but it is important to note the forward progress, as well.
Q Could you talk about the hierarchy here and how you decide who is high-ranking, who isn't high-ranking? You put 26 guys high-ranking. Do you have any sense of how big this operation is, what the command and control is like there?
MR. SNOW: Well, you do know -- again, you don't want to go too far into disclosing sources and methods, but on the other hand, what you do have is a pretty clear structure. You do have al-Masri and his lieutenants, who are sort of at the top of the pyramid. And actually, Kevin did provide kind of an operational flowchart. I'll make that available to you. I did not put that together as a slide --
Q But just the scope of the organization. I mean, you, over the years, have said that, I think, two-thirds of al Qaeda, the international leaders --
MR. SNOW: Yes, senior leadership.
Q -- senior leadership was knocked out, and yet you said they're regenerating. It appears, from tracking this for the past few years, that al Qaeda in Iraq also regenerates --
MR. SNOW: Of course.
Q Zarqawi was killed. So you'd say, these senior leaders, they just keep regenerating?
MR. SNOW: Well, look, people fill the vacancies. But on the other hand, what you also have when you fill those vacancies, quite often are people with less experience and less capability than the people they have replaced.
Q They don't seem like they're any less capable in the last --
MR. SNOW: Well, I don't know. If you take -- no, if you take a look at what has been going on, and point of fact, they have been less successful. There have been more interdictions, there have been more cases in which their operations --
Q The lethality has been enormous.
MR. SNOW: Well, the lethality -- what you had was, sort of, a fall in lethality from, I guess it was February through May; then you had a spike in May and June -- no, I'm sorry, March and April -- and then it has gone down again. Look, you know that there are going to times when al Qaeda does, in fact, succeed, having lethal attacks. The question is, are you degrading capabilities, and more importantly, are the locals turning on al Qaeda? Are they providing actionable intelligence against people who are clearly committing acts of violence against them? And that is the case.
Q Just one more. Diane Sawyer asked Fran Townsend this morning, are there more al Qaeda in Iraq today than there were before the Americans went in? And Fran said, "It's difficult to say because there's no baseline by which I can judge the numbers." Do you actually think it's possible there aren't more al Qaeda members?
MR. SNOW: I'm going to stick with what Fran said, but it is clear that what has happened is that al Qaeda does look upon Iraq, or has been looking upon Iraq as a great opportunity to try, in fact, to blow apart a democracy and establish its own safe haven.
There has been -- as we've documented and we've talked about before, you know that 60 to 80 suiciders seem to be coming across the Syrian border each month; 90 percent of them are not Iraqis. And they clearly -- so there's an attempt to get that in. You also know that there are unrelated -- well, there are related activities, but Quds forces and others have also been flooding some resources in. So we do know that foreigners are trying to come in and disrupt the democracy in Iraq.
Q Then how can you stick with what she said? You don't really know whether there are more now than before?
MR. SNOW: Because Fran -- look, Fran is our Homeland Security Assistant to the President, has access to more information on this than I do.
Q You're making a great deal out of the cooperation of the locals.
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q Do you have any reason to believe that the locals would be as cooperative if there weren't American troops and American money behind this effort? Do you believe that they're doing this simply because they want to, or are they simply going where the power is?
MR. SNOW: No, I think -- for instance, if you take a look -- and I don't want to pretend to be able to read their minds, Bill, but at least based on what I've been able to see, if you take a look at what happened in Anbar, this was not sort of following the dough or following the power, but, in fact, making a deliberate decision, once there was some confidence that American forces were going to be staying with the Iraqis, to turn against al Qaeda. Why? Because al Qaeda was killing their people, they're sick of it.
There are also some evidence that out of Diyala, former insurgent groups that operated as fairly cohesive units going after U.S. and Iraqi forces, again, have made the decision that it is in their interest and their security interest to be going after al Qaeda because al Qaeda is killing them and they're tired of it.
I think it is safe to say that having some confidence of American presence is a contributing factor because if, in fact, you believe that the Americans are going to be there, they're going to help you finish the job and they're going to provide support, that there is going to be a higher level of confidence, not merely in sort of cooperating militarily, but also turning over pieces of intelligence, such as saying, we've got a meeting in this house.
Q Why would they believe that the Americans are going to be there when there is a great effort, which they can see, to get the Americans out?
MR. SNOW: On the other hand, what they have also seen is a surge of troops in, beginning in February, concluding just several weeks ago, of troops being surged in, and they also see that there are --
Q The President says they're coming home.
MR. SNOW: The President doesn't say when they're coming home, and the President also says that the troops are there to create greater security conditions. And so far, there's evidence that they're having some success in that area.
Q I guess the bottom-line question is, what guarantee can there possibly be of security when American troops do draw down?
MR. SNOW: Well, one of the things that the President -- we have always said is that what you need to have is the ability for the Iraqis to step up into the leadership roles. There are some examples of that, as well. Kevin talked about a number of them today, and this had to deal with some of the Quds forces. He mentioned on July 1st, Iraqi police detained a special group brigade commander -- they call them special groups, or special group brigades -- commander 50 miles south of Baghdad; 7 July, Iraqi forces detaining seven special group members in Baghdad are involved in death squad activities, kidnappings and assassination; 11 July, Iraqi army, with some support from coalition forces, killed a special group cell leader who controlled a cell of 120 terrorists and was involved in kidnapping, extortion, sectarian murders, explosively formed penetrators; 14 July, Iraqi security forces killing two special group terrorists who were trying to put an explosive device along the roadside in Al Quds; and on 15 July, Iraqi army and coalition forces detaining three special group terrorists.
What you do have is operational cooperation that is building greater capacity on the part of the Iraqis. As we've mentioned, they're taking a much higher percentage of casualties and kills in battle than the Americans are. So they are stepping up and developing the capability. But also, as we noted last week, they've got a long way to go and they still need more. They need more in terms of troops, they need more in terms of equipment. And that has to be a continued point of emphasis, because our forces -- we do want our forces to be able to come home, but we also want them to come home under circumstances where the Iraqi people, themselves, are going to know that their own forces can do the security job.
Q Tony, could you say something about the 52-47 Senate vote? Republicans pretty much held together; it was eight votes away from cloture. Do you expect to be able to hold these Republicans together going forward?
MR. SNOW: Well, we think so. The question is whether they're -- look, as we've said all along, it is important to allow people to assess what's going on in Iraq. We've given you a little bit of evidence of what's gone on the last week in terms of taking on some of the key factors in Iraq. It's important for members of Congress to get a fuller sense of how the surge is working, or also where they think it's not working. They're going to get a report -- they want a report on September 15th from Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus; they'll get that. And at that point, people will be able to make further assessments.
Q Following up on the NIE and the administration's recognition, according to that document, that what's happening in Pakistan with respect to al Qaeda simply is not working, given that, what is the administration prepared to do?
MR. SNOW: Well, there are a number of things. We, in fact, have done a number of things in terms of trying to provide support for the Pakistanis. And I'll just lay out a few of those for you. Forgive me as I leaf through my own materials here. Among other things -- and this is just a partial list -- but let's -- first what you have is 85,000 Pakistani security forces deployed at the border, and they're making further forward deployments.
The Pakistani government has a development plan for the region, for about $100 million from that government. We're committed to providing $150 million a year for five years. We've also committed to $300 million a year in foreign military financing. We also provide coalition support funds to reimburse expenditures incurred in operations in the war on terror. We have provided 100 forward observation bases within the tribal areas. We have provided fixed-wing aircraft and also helicopters for doing surveillance and trying to make it possible for more rapid deployment.
President Musharraf wants additional funding to support Frontier Corps that represent the majority of those fighting in the federally administered tribal areas, and we're looking for ways to support the request. And, as always, we also retain -- we certainly do not rule out options, and we retain the option especially of striking actionable targets.
So there's considerable discussion going on, but it is clearly of the utmost importance to go in there and deal with the problem in the tribal areas.
Q Given all those resources and everything you've laid out, is there a new urgency, now that the NIE has been made public, to take action?
MR. SNOW: No, I think there's been continued urgency, and I think one of the things -- it certainly provides a moment of focus or clarity, but on the other hand, these are realities that I think people have known about and need to continue to deal with. Keep in mind that the movement of forces toward the tribal area by the Musharraf government began before this report came out.
Q Following up on that, Tony, given that urgency and the new resources that you're talking about, what do you think the prospects are that you'll ever stand up there and put on a slide show that shows the kingpins that are hiding in the -- the capture of the kingpins who are hiding in Pakistan?
MR. SNOW: Look, we devoutly hope for that day. I'm not going to try to make a prediction. It is obviously very difficult business. But make no mistake about it, we're determined to get bin Laden, we're determined to get Zawahiri, we're determined to get senior leadership of al Qaeda. And furthermore, we're determined to continue to develop methods by which we interrupt, intercept, kill and capture those who are involved, but also use whatever means at our disposal to make it more difficult.
One of the key findings in the National Intelligence Estimate is that the United States has become a much more difficult target, in many ways, since September 11th, because we have enhanced security, because we have enhanced abilities to try to ferret out what terrorists are doing, and also because we've been very active on the global front, and, in addition, we have considerable cooperation from our allies around the globe.
So while al Qaeda is trying to build strength, keep in mind we're building strength at the same time, and so are our allies. So to roll this all together, again, obviously we want to get bin Laden, and the sooner the better.
Q Given the political reality in the domestic situation in Pakistan, do you think Musharraf fully shares that determination?
MR. SNOW: Again, Pervez Musharraf is a guy who twice has been the target of al Qaeda plots to kill him. I think he understands far more vividly than you or I the importance of breaking up al Qaeda and going after terror elements.
Q Tony, two quick questions. One, as far as this report is concerned, comparing the first reports, you think the President is concerned about this report this time, or is no change as far as attitude or -- what President think about --
MR. SNOW: Well, first, this is a different kind of report. This is one that was directly concerning homeland security. What the President does is he takes a look at the intelligence, and obviously, what you do with intelligence -- the President gets briefings constantly on this -- is that you try to use that as the basis for effective action to make the country safe.
Q But then as far as the U.S.-India civil nuclear agreement is concerned, there were yesterday some high-level officials meeting with Mr. Hadley, including Energy and Foreign Secretary and also National Security Advisor from India. Did they discuss, as far as this report, of terrorism in the region, and also, where does this up-and-down vote, "123" stands now?
MR. SNOW: Well, again, as we've said all along, Goyal, the civil nuclear agreement is very important to us and we want to see it successfully concluded.
Q Tony, this morning, you said the Import Safety Working Group the President is setting up is not a slap at China.
MR. SNOW: Right.
Q But it does come after this string of high-profile cases --
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q -- of food-borne illnesses, so it's kind of easy to connect the dots to China, isn't it?
MR. SNOW: Yes, but it's also important to note that you still have food safety concerns throughout the world and it's important to act on them.
Q China's now blocking some shipments of chicken and pork ribs and other food products from American companies. Is this -- is there a concern here that this increased food fight might be a mini trade war?
MR. SNOW: I don't think so. Again, I think it's important to understand that the first obligation of the federal government is always the safety and security of the American people. And what we're doing is due diligence on trying to make sure that, in fact, we can ensure the safety of products coming into the country.
On the other hand, the President also has been a vigorous and continues to be a vigorous advocate for free trade. We have been pushing to try to have a successful completion of the Doha Round, and we understand that it is especially important for developing countries to have free trade. It not only gives us access to the vast majority of the world's markets, but also gives them access to be able to strengthen their own economies through an open and competitive process. So, no, we don't see this as the beginning of a trade war.
Q Tony, two questions about the President's telephone diplomacy ever since the Middle East conference or meeting announcement. My understanding of the timing is that Sheikh Khalifa was either on his way to or just arriving in Syria when the phone call happened. Was there any discussion of what he should -- what the United States would like him to say to Syria?
MR. SNOW: No, we've given you the details and the readout.
Q When you talk about asking these leaders to provide support or keep supporting -- provide more support President Abbas, what kinds of things are you looking for?
MR. SNOW: Well, again, I'll leave it at -- look, there are any number of forms support can take. One is financial, one is humanitarian, certainly to do -- so you put together whatever packages you want. But the fact is that you also have to do the institution building. We keep talking about the upcoming meeting involving parties.
The most important thing right now is to strengthen the Palestinian government institutionally so it's capable of moving forward. It will need to be able to provide for its security; it will need to be able to provide for the needs of its people; and obviously there's still humanitarian concerns in Gaza that folks need to deal with, as well.
Q Tony, following on Bret's question, you mentioned this morning, obviously, there's import products from a large number of countries, but does the administration have specific concerns about China and its role as an increasingly large provider of an increasingly wide array of products that are commonly used in the United States?
MR. SNOW: Well, we think it's important -- no, we believe in free trade. But on the other hand, again, it's important to maintain the safety and security of this country by making sure the things that you import meet the basic health standards.
So, look, China obviously does a brisk trade with the United States. It's one that we think we have a vested interest in making sure that there's continued growth in China; at the same time, continued two-way growth between China and the United States in terms of trade.
Q Does the recent track record provide anything to give Americans pause about products from China?
MR. SNOW: I'll let others draw conclusions on that.
Q Tony, you just said recently in this press conference the U.S. has become a much more difficult target, while, when Tom Ridge was the head of Homeland Security, he said it's not a matter of it, but when. Are we still living under that umbrella?
MR. SNOW: I think you always have to assume that al Qaeda is going to do whatever it can to try to commit high-profile acts of violence in the United States. And the last thing we want to do is to have people become complacent about the security situation.
One of the things that the National Intelligence Estimate said and briefers said afterwards, is that while al Qaeda certainly has a much different configuration than it had before September 11th, the one thing that hasn't changed is the determination to inflict damage on the United States. So I think there is a need for constant vigilance, and therefore -- I'm not going to -- I understand what Tom Ridge said. We hope that it doesn't come to pass that it happens again. But on the other hand, one of the reasons why the President has spent so much time trying to build capacity on the security side -- militarily, in terms of intelligence, in terms of greater cooperation between federal, state and local law enforcement officials, and sharing information and responding quickly to things that are going on -- all of that is designed not only to make the country safer, but also make it much more difficult and even prohibitively expensive for terror organizations to try to conduct large-scale operations in the U.S.
Q Our vulnerabilities six years ago compared today -- what is the percentage of the nation's vulnerabilities --
MR. SNOW: There's no way to quantify, but we are significantly less vulnerable than we were --
Q How? Can you give us specifics?
MR. SNOW: Well, again, you simply talk about the security situation, September 10th, 2001. We didn't have the Patriot Act. We didn't have surveillance programs. We didn't have military operations and police operations all around the globe going after al Qaeda and its affiliates, ranging from Asia to North Africa to Europe, even to the United States when there have been cells. The most recent report indicates no known al Qaeda cells in the United States -- doesn't mean they're not going to try to set up cells. But the fact is that we have brought a whole lot more resources to bear, we know more, we have more people in the fight -- and not just Americans, but people from all around the world who are providing intelligence and cooperation in fighting the war on terror.
It's one of the reasons why the United States is less vulnerable, it's a tougher target -- but on the other hand, again, you have to underscore three times, as the President has said many times, it only takes one successful operation on al Qaeda to be able to declare victory. We have to have a hundred percent success record in interdicting and preventing those acts of violence. And that requires a lot of vigilance and a lot of people staying on top of things constantly.
Q Tony, tomorrow there will be a news conference of the Israeli Project on Capitol Hill. They've got 75,000 petitions they're distributing to world leaders, asking for more rapid sanctions against -- and international pressure against Iran. Is the administration now backing and taking action at this point?
MR. SNOW: Connie, I'm not -- I'm afraid I was not briefed on the Israel Project's activities before I came up here today.
Q Have any of these sanctions or steps that have been taken by the United States or the U.N. had any results?
MR. SNOW: Let me put it this way: The United States engages in activities that are designed to send a clear signal that the status quo is unacceptable. You saw that with some financial sanctions with North Korea. And what actions we take with regard to the Iranians, are designed to make it clear that they are posed with a choice: The choice is to go ahead and align itself with the international community, stop trying to pursue anything that may be construed as progress towards nuclear weapons, and have a way forward that has been offered; or, on the other hand, face strictures from the international community. The President talked yesterday with Ban Ki-moon, once again, about the importance of U.N. action when it comes to the Iranians, because the Iranians have not met up with their obligations.
Q What is your reaction to the airing of the so-called "confessions" of these Americans being held by Iran?
MR. SNOW: Well, again, the entire -- these are people who came peacefully to Iran, and ironically, many of these folks have devoted considerable amounts of their time and energy to try to encourage Americans to think more kindly of the government of Iran. They are private citizens, they are not party to any of the ongoing disputes between the government of Iran and government of the United States. And it is just ridiculous for anybody to harbor notions that they represent a threat to the regime.
Q Is there any leverage that the U.S. has to get them out?
MR. SNOW: Connie, I'm not going to go -- obviously, we'll use what leverage we can.
Q Is there any reaction to Iran's Foreign Minister saying his government has accepted a U.S. request for ambassador-level talks on Iraq?
MR. SNOW: Well, what's going on -- the proper venue -- what happens is that the Iraqis themselves request conversations between the United States and the government of Iran, and this is a channel that has long been open, in terms of dealing strictly with issues that have to do with the security of Iraq. And there certainly has been some interest in having conversations with the Iranians, not about anything broader -- not about the nuclear issues or anything else, but security issues. Again, this is a channel we have talked about many times.
Q At the ambassador level?
MR. SNOW: It could be at the ministerial level, but it's certainly going to be high level.
Q I also have a question about Pakistan. The President, when he had a news conference with Musharraf last September, right after the tribal deal was signed --
MR. SNOW: Right.
Q -- he said that when the President, President Musharraf, "looks me in the eye and says the tribal deal is intended to reject the Talibanization of the people, I believe him." Does he regret allowing that plan so much time to give it a chance to work?
MR. SNOW: No, I think -- again, Pakistan is a sovereign government and Pervez Musharraf is a man who, as President of Pakistan and as the general, has an obligation and a challenge to do what he thinks is going to be most effective in securing peace within his own land and, also, at the same time, obviously, dealing with many of the troublesome issues that have to do with border -- the incursion across the border of Taliban fighters into Afghanistan. But the one thing we can say for sure is that the plan, as well-intentioned as it was, didn't work.
Q But as a close U.S. ally who receives aid, can't you put pressure on him? Are you --
MR. SNOW: Well, again, as I pointed out, he understands the realities and they have begun moving troops -- they began moving troops before the NIE came out. And they've been moving troops into the area because they understand that they got a real -- they have got a challenge then they need to deal with.
Q Tony, one more on the Senate debate.
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q Have you been able to ascertain whether the President watched any of it? And is it your judgment that this was a completely waste or time, or was something accomplished by it?
MR. SNOW: Well, I'll let others -- look, I'm not sure a whole lot was accomplished by it. I don't think a lot of people are going to take out campaign ads, saying triumphantly that they skipped a night's sleep or that they spent time on a cot. (Laughter.) So I think I'll just let it stay at that.
Q Just one last thing. I think you said the most recent intelligence said that there are no known cells in the U.S. Are you --
MR. SNOW: That's what the NIE was saying, yes.
Q But that -- the NIE wouldn't really be the most recent intelligence. Would it be real-time intelligence --
MR. SNOW: I'm not going to try to talk about real-time intelligence. I was repeating what the NIE said.
Q Okay, that's what I wanted to make clear. And that was finished when?
MR. SNOW: I don't know. These things are -- as you know, they get completed, and then they run through a staffing process. But this is not something that's been sitting on the shelf for a long time. Better make sure I get those --
Q Is that an unscrubbed version that you're giving us the statement from?
MR. SNOW: I am giving you the unscrubbed -- I am giving the key judgments.
Q Can I just get your reaction -- I know you talked about this morning, or actually didn't talk about it -- about the Border Patrol agents. Senator Feinstein is saying she and Senator Cornyn are going to write letters to the President -- a letter asking for commutation --
MR. SNOW: Well, I'm sure the President will read them with interest. What I did say -- and we never talk in advance -- as you noted the Scooter Libby case -- we simply do not talk about applications or petitions or requests for pardon or commutation. That is something that is done on a confidential basis, and people look at it. I will not confirm -- confirm or deny that anything has been done, including whether there have been any applications by the parties involved. So it's just inappropriate to get into that.
Q Tony, you noted this morning that the sentences in the Border Patrol case were within the federal sentencing guidelines. They also were in the Libby case. So those guidelines are not a hurdle around here?
MR. SNOW: Well, actually -- no, if you take a look, actually, there is some dispute in legal circles about what the proper boundaries were for the sentencing in the Libby case. And I'll leave it at that. I'll leave it to the lawyers --
Q No one recommended no jail time.
MR. SNOW: On the other hand, there are differing benchmarks there for the use of it. What you do have is you've got probation, you've got a $250,000 fine. That's a significant punishment.
Q Is it the administration's position that the sentence in that case was beyond the federal sentencing guidelines?
MR. SNOW: Again, I will -- I'm not going to try to get myself into the legal cases, but you've seen arguments on both sides. I think if you took at look at the court papers -- I'm not going to try to fob myself off as a lawyer on this. I'll let the lawyers argue over it.
Q Thank you. Tony, what are the safeguards of American nuclear plants to prevent what happened in Japan? And do we also have sufficient safeguards to protect against terrorists at our nuclear plants?
MR. SNOW: Yes. (Laughter.)
Q How does the President see the job description of Tony Blair as the envoy for the Quartet --
MR. SNOW: I'm sorry, what?
Q How does the President see the job description of Tony Blair as the envoy for the Quartet to the Middle East?
MR. SNOW: Well, obviously, what he's going to try to do is to be a facilitator in efforts to try to deal with the many challenges. In the short run, it amounts to trying to assist in institution-building in the Palestinian -- with the Palestinian government -- that is the foremost challenge right now -- and to try to create conditions and institutions that are going to provide security and stability so that that government will be in a position to negotiate in good faith with Israel, and also be able to deliver on Quartet requirements, ultimately. But first things first is, we're in an institution-building phase, and Tony Blair obviously is somebody who's very persuasive and able to try to marshal a lot of support on the international scene.
Q Do you have any reaction to Mahmoud Abbas -- he just said a few minutes ago he doesn't want to talk about money, he doesn't want to talk about our procedural steps towards a state, he wants to talk about the final status now, which he actually rolled out from his conference.
MR. SNOW: That's the first I've heard. I can't react to something that I haven't had a chance to see or put in context.
Q Tony, you told us this morning that Americans don't like the imagery of Iraqi lawmakers not working in August. But what about the White House? What does the President think about that imagery?
MR. SNOW: Well, I've said before, what we think is important is that there is continued work and continued progress toward political accommodation, and ultimately political success in the form of passing key pieces of legislation. I'm not going to go any further.
Q Tony, just curious, what are the mechanics of the way this deal works with the slides? How often do you --
MR. SNOW: Well, obviously I pushed the wrong button for starters, so I'm getting used to it myself. (Laughter.)
Q How often do you think you'll be using it? How are the pictures chosen? What agency -- how many agencies were behind this thing today?
MR. SNOW: Well, basically, I'm the one who picked the slides, and what we did was we put them through a staffing process to ensure accuracy. We will use them when we think it's appropriate, in terms of providing things that are of news value. And at some point, we may have a capacity for using video, as well.
I don't want to -- obviously, you want to use it in a way that's going to be a complement and not a substitute for doing a press briefing. So -- but we do plan to make fairly regular use of it. I think it's important.
Q Do you see the President, himself, standing up there and pressing buttons? (Laughter.)
MR. SNOW: Again, I hope he does a better job than I did at the outset.
Q Did you press the buttons or did they?
MR. SNOW: I did. Didn't you notice when I was like, oh, no, that's the wrong button.
Q No, but that lectern is so big and ugly I can't see a thing. (Laughter.)
Q What does the button say?
MR. SNOW: "Next." (Laughter.) That's literally what is says.
Q Tony, going back to a question of legality in Scooter Libby, did the President and Scooter Libby, by any chance, have any communication --
MR. SNOW: No.
Q -- since the commutation?
MR. SNOW: Oh, since the -- no, I don't think so. I don't think so.
Q So Libby hadn't sent a note or anything, saying "thank you" or -- (laughter) --
MR. SNOW: Not that I'm aware of. I don't think there has been any. There were no flowers, no chocolates. (Laughter.)
Q Do you have an "eject" button there, Tony?
MR. SNOW: An "eject" button? No. (Laughter.) But I think, in advance -- one of you can say the magic words. You're certainly free to do it. (Laughter.)
Q Thank you.
MR. SNOW: There you go. (Laughter.)
END 1:40 P.M. EDT