For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 21, 2007
Press Briefing by Dana Perino
James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:47 P.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: Good afternoon. Happy Friday. Sorry I'm a little late. I have nothing to start with, so we'll go to questions. Does anyone have a question? (Laughter.) If not, I've got plenty of other things to do.
Q Blackwater security resumed limited patrols in Baghdad today. Did it do so under any new instructions from the U.S. government? Do you feel that improved training is required? What do you have to say about this?
MS. PERINO: I think you're going to have to ask the State Department in terms of if there was anything different about their resumption of duties today. I think Tom Casey did some on-the-record speaking this morning about it.
In addition, just remember that we have just set up a joint inquiry commission with the Maliki government, and so we're going to have to take some time to figure out what happened at that event, and then also look at the policy recommendations to see if there's anything that needs to be changed.
Q But there apparently there was no need to change anything in advance of Blackwater resuming its patrols?
MS. PERINO: I don't know. You're going to have to ask the State Department.
Q You're not even interested in saying anything generally about the problems which have been endemic to the private security --
MS. PERINO: I'm not, I'm not going to comment on it. I think that this joint inquiry will be able to look into that -- not only that incident, but if there are others that are alleged to have happened, that they'll be able to look at them, figure out those recommendations to see if they --
Q And there are.
MS. PERINO: Well, and they'll take a look at it and see. But obviously it's important for the people who are there -- the State Department employees and other civilians who are there trying to do the work to help the Maliki government achieve reconciliation -- they need some protection. And Blackwater and other companies are there to help provide it. The loss of life was deeply regrettable. That's why Secretary Rice and Prime Minister Maliki have decided to set up this joint commission, and we'll see where it takes us. And I'm sure if there are policy recommendations, that the State Department and others will be willing to take a hard look at them and probably make them.
Q And the issue of their immunity from prosecution, would that be a part of the --
MS. PERINO: It could be. I don't know. Although I would ask you to call the State Department because there's a lot of legal issues surrounding that and I don't know if immunity is the exact right word.
Q The debate this week in the Senate on Iraq, given how that turned out, continuing today in today's vote, what do you -- does the White House see this as essentially the end of the debate over the war?
MS. PERINO: Oh, I'm sure we're going to see much more discussion and continued debate about the war. I think there's no doubt about that. We're pleased with the votes this week. I think, especially in regards to the question about the Webb amendment, I think Secretary Gates made it very clear that that amendment would have put our troops in harm's way and would have been a bureaucratic nightmare for the Defense Department. I think people who -- members of Congress who heard from him were able to make their own determination, and that's why that amendment failed.
But I'm sure that we're going to see continued debate on Iraq, and we should. We have 160,000 troops over there now; the President has announced, based on conditions on the ground and based on success that our troops have started to have, that 5,700 troops would come home by Christmas. He's directed General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker to come back in March. So I think that between now and then you're going to continue to see debate.
Q Dana, the White House is very dedicated to setting the record straight, as we all know, on reporting that you deem to be inaccurate. Is the reporting about the strike against Syria by Israel as reported by The Washington Post today accurate?
MS. PERINO: David, I'm not able to comment, as much as -- I don't know, and I'm not able to comment. I don't know.
Q Were you going to say, "as much as you'd like to"?
MS. PERINO: As much as I'd like to be able to --
MS. PERINO: -- let some air out of the balloon on this story, I don't know and I just can't comment.
Q But there's nothing inaccurate about that, as far as you know?
MS. PERINO: I'm not saying one way or the other whether it's accurate.
Q Do you think that this administration has been naive about the North Koreans while pursuing an effort to get them to abandon their weapons program; that it didn't realize that just as you all accused the Clinton people of being naive, that you were being double-dealt by the North Koreans; that they might have been saying one thing and doing another in this case, as well?
MS. PERINO: No, I think we've been very clear-eyed about the North Koreans, and I think that Ambassador Chris Hill, who has helped shepherd the six-party talk process, has brought some accountability to them. I think we've started to see some success.
But we're clear-eyed about the situation and the dangers. And that's one of the reasons the President set up the Proliferation Security Initiative, not just in regards to North Korea, but other countries. We need to continue to push on that. Many countries are participating now. One of the things the President talked about in many of these bilateral meetings is more and continued participation in that, so we can stop proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
Q Does the administration suspect or know for certain that the North Koreans helped the Syrians in any way?
MS. PERINO: I'm not going to comment, and I don't know.
Let's go over here. John.
Q If we could go back to Blackwater. The Iraqi government's own inquiry has concluded that Blackwater was not fired upon before they were firing in that incident. Is there any reason to doubt that account?
MS. PERINO: I don't know. I think what we need to wait for is the joint inquiry to be able to do its work and come back and report.
Q Is there any thought being given to using U.S. forces to protect State Department personnel, even though it might strain --
MS. PERINO: I don't know. I don't know, I'd have to look.
Q Why do you have to have private contractors who have, on the face of it, a lousy record?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that there is because -- I think that is because there is a need. I don't know why it was originally set up that way. Our troops are -- obviously have a different mission and are helping train Iraqi security forces. And their missions are different. It could be that in the inquiry somebody would suggest using the military to do those functions, but I have not heard talk of that.
Q In the list of bilaterals the President plans to have next week, we didn't see anything -- any meetings with Hu Jintao or Putin. Does the President plan --
MS. PERINO: Remember, they just met three weeks ago in Australia.
MS. PERINO: So I don't know if they needed to have another meeting.
Q Okay. But with their opposition, China and Russia's opposition to a new round of sanctions on Iran, does the President plan to spend some time trying to lobby them --
MS. PERINO: You know what I would do, I'd point you to Under Secretary Burns. He met with his counterparts today, and I think he'll have an update for you later today on those discussions regarding sanctions against Iran. But the President just met with Hu Jintao and President Putin -- was it less than three weeks ago? I can't remember. I don't have jet lag anymore, but -- so it must have been at least three.
Q I want to revisit a subject, because Dan Rather, obviously back in the news, suing CBS. He told Larry King that he stands by the authenticity of the document that was taken from Bush's former commander, Colonel Killian, that states that during Mr. Bush's time at the Air National Guard in May of 1972, he writes that Lieutenant Bush called in to talk about "how he can get out of coming to drill from now through November." "He's working on a campaign in Alabama and may not have time to take his physical." First, is this true?
MS. PERINO: Look, I'm not going to go back and revisit all these questions that have been asked and answered. There was an independent panel set up by CBS and led by former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh and Louis Boccardi, the retired president and CEO of AP. They determined that there was misconduct on the part of CBS in their authentication of the documents and the production of the story in general.
And I think that story speaks for itself. It was a sad day for that particular network in terms of -- and a sad day for journalism in general. And we are not going -- I'm just not -- I'm just going to let that stand for -- let that independent panel stand.
Q Is the White House saying unequivocally that back then, he did not ask for any specific favors, nor did he receive them in the fulfillment of his duty in the area --
MS. PERINO: I refer you to all the previous public comments that we've made on this before.
Q And has Rather's attorneys reached out to anybody at the White House?
MS. PERINO: Not that I'm aware of. I mean, I could find out. I have no idea.
Q And has the White House made any effort to authenticate this document?
MS. PERINO: I think that the independence -- independent panel, led by a former Attorney General and former -- and retired
CEO of Associated Press, when they come down, when they make their decision and they come out with a report, I think that that speaks for itself, in addition to the remarks that we've made before.
And look, if one of the -- look to the motivations about where this is coming from. This is a person who has filed a $70 million lawsuit. I'm just not going to comment any further on it.
Q So you are saying, though, that there were no -- he never asked for any favors, nor did he receive them in fulfilling his six-year duty for Air National Guard?
MS. PERINO: Look, I'm going to refer you to all the previous statements on this. Obviously, I'm not steeped in all the history of this issue, and many other people have been at the White House.
Q We could bring you up to speed. (Laughter.)
MS. PERINO: Look, I'm not going to comment any further. I think you need to look at the motivations of why someone would say these things.
Q Dana, has the -- the President is going to talk about the budget on Monday morning. Is he -- can you preview that a little bit, and also, is he going to talk about developing CR on the Hill?
MS. PERINO: Let us get you a readout, or a -- I'm sorry, a preview of that speech a little bit later today as things develop. Obviously, he's going to be talking about the need for Congress to start passing some appropriations bills. We're almost at the end of the fiscal year, September 30th.
He said yesterday, you heard him say that he wanted to get a clean S-CHIP bill to him, to his desk, that one that he could sign. And CR is probably going to have to be in the works. And so you can bet that he would talk about that. But we would prefer to have Congress actually pass some appropriations bills.
Q Dana, I have two questions for you. One on Blackwater, which is, is there any concern at the White House that insurgents in Iraq might decide to draw Blackwater into firefights that would then result in collateral damage?
MS. PERINO: I don't know. I've heard that that could be a concern, but that's mostly from news reports. And so I don't know, and I think the most important thing we can do is wait for this commission to come back.
Q And on North Korea, the President yesterday, when he described possible, hypothetical proliferation by North Korea, and said they need to stop any proliferation, he didn't use the word "nuclear" ever. And there's new reporting now that the Israeli strike may have hit Scud sites, not nuclear sites. What I'd like to know is, in the President's view, he's been very clear to say proliferation would imperil the deal, the six-party deal. Would that cover missile exports by North Korea to a third --
MS. PERINO: I'm not going to comment one way or the other in regards to the reporting that you've heard about Scud missiles.
Q That's fine.
MS. PERINO: I'm not going to do that. I think that in regards to the six-party talks, that generally has been about de-nuclearizing the North Korean Peninsula. Obviously, we wouldn't want proliferation of other weapons of mass destruction, either. I think that the President -- I don't think that he was trying to signal one way or the other regarding proliferation issues, in regards to not saying nuclear. I think that because the six-party talks have been known to be about de-nuclearizing the North Korean Peninsula, I wouldn't read anything into it.
Q Can I just clarify what you just said? You wouldn't want proliferation of other weapons of mass destruction. In your view, is a Scud a weapon of mass destruction?
MS. PERINO: I think that the way that those -- look, I'm not an expert in the definition, but I believe that includes chemical, biological, nuclear and long-range ballistic missiles.
Q Thank you, Dana. Two questions. The head of the Institute for Holocaust Studies, Dr. Medoff, has compared Columbia University's speaking invitation to Iran's Ahmadinejad to Columbia's hosting of Nazi speakers and Columbia faculty members attending Nazi ceremonies in Germany in the 1930s. And my question, does the White House agree or disagree?
MS. PERINO: Look, it's a free country. We wish the same were true in Iran. And if people want to attend and listen to a person who has advocated the destruction of Israel and treats his people terribly, then that's their business.
Q In view of the President's expressed opposition to racism, what was his reaction to Jesse Jackson's accusing Senator Barack Obama of, "acting like he's white"?
MS. PERINO: I'm not going to comment on that.
Q You have no comment?
MS. PERINO: No.
Q You're left speechless?
MS. PERINO: I'll do Mark and Paula, and then we'll be done.
Q Continuing on Iran and Ahmadinejad. He's got not just Columbia, he's got a National Press Club appearance, the U.N. speech.
MS. PERINO: Are you attending? (Laughter.)
Q Does the President enjoy sharing the world stage with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?
MS. PERINO: I don't think the President ever gives it a thought.
Q Effectively, next week, even though the President has politely declined in the past to debate with Iran's President, isn't that what's --
MS. PERINO: The President of the United States feels like he gets plenty of publicity.
Q In addition to the budget outlook, I just wondered what the administration's prospects are on some of these other bills pending, such as those in energy, some of the housing disclosure bills -- FHA, and that sort of thing?
MS. PERINO: How we feel about them?
Q I put that wrong. What do you think are the prospects for passage?
MS. PERINO: We'll see. The Democrats haven't been moving too quickly, but there's a lot of time left in this session to get some of that policy work done. We'd like to see them pass an energy bill, as well as the FHA modernization bill, and all the appropriations bills. There's many things in front of them that they could get a handle on.
Q Well, do you think there's a possibility of a veto showdown on some of them, such as this idea of expanding the scope of Ginnie Mae, Freddie Mac, something that you proposed?
MS. PERINO: If we have veto threats out on bills, then you could bet that there is a possibility of a veto fight, but hopefully we won't have to -- it won't come to that.
END 1:01 P.M. EDT