For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 18, 2007
Press Briefing by Dana Perino
James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:40 P.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: Good afternoon. I have nothing to start with, so we can go straight to questions.
Q Did you find out anything about Iraq and China, Iran --
MS. PERINO: Similar to what I said this morning. We don't have details on any of the contracts or a deal. But what we do know is that we have encouraged investment in Iraq. We want -- would like to see constructive and positive action in Iraq by its neighbors. If that is going to be Iran and they want to help contribute to building a power plant, and that's a constructive way to contribute to building up the Iraqi society, great. If it's a cover for clandestine operations or to bring in more foreign fighters into the country, or Quds Force people into the country, then we would be very concerned. But we don't have a lot of details yet. But, in general, we are supportive of investment into the country, and that would include Chinese investment. If they're working on the power sector, that would be a good thing.
Q And Iranian?
MS. PERINO: Well, as I said, if it's legitimate and it's a good and productive way to contribute to helping the Iraqis rebuild, great. And if they are doing something that is a clandestine way to bring in foreign fighters into the country, or to cause additional mischief in addition to what they've already been doing, then we would be concerned. But we don't have a lot of details on the contracts yet.
Q Philosophically speaking, when the United States spends hundreds of billions of dollars on the country, is there -- should American companies, corporations get first crack at big contracts like this?
MS. PERINO: I don't think that -- well, I think that American companies can compete on their own merit. We've got excellent products, we've got great prices, and we have probably among the best technology that any country could buy. So I think that when we compete on our own merit I think that the companies that are investing in Iraq can do so. We are competing globally around the world in all sorts of places, and I don't think that we should need to encourage preference to our companies.
Q It's not preference -- everybody is going to see that headline, people will see the headline and say, wait a minute, why should Iran and China end up --
MS. PERINO: This is not our decision to make. Iraq is a sovereign country and they are helping rebuild their own country. They're putting their own money into it. Obviously American taxpayers are paying a lot of the bill right now, but our companies -- our private sector companies can compete for these contracts and get it on their own merit.
Q And what kind of safeguards have you received, assurances from the Iraqi government, about the security angle of this whole thing?
MS. PERINO: As I said, we don't have a lot of -- we don't have details about the contracts or about the ideas of -- and I don't even think there are necessarily contracts yet. I think there's discussions about possible future investment. And we don't see that as a negative, necessarily, unless it's used for clandestine purposes and to negatively affect the country.
Q The President's World War III comment yesterday has spawned a lot of reaction. Today Iran's foreign ministry spokesman said it was warlike rhetoric that would -- in his words -- "jeopardize peace." Was the President making an offhand remark there, or are these people reading too much into what he was saying?
MS. PERINO: What the President was doing was focusing the world on the consequences of Iran having a nuclear weapon. This is a country that has a leader who says that his goal is to wipe Israel off the face of the earth. They are -- it is a country that is sending its foreign fighters into Iraq that are targeting our troops, killing our troops and killing innocent Iraqis. They are a state sponsor of terrorism, especially Hezbollah, and the world community through the United Nations Security Council has said that Iran should not be allowed to have a nuclear weapon. There is a path that Iran could get on to get a civilian nuclear program that we have said that we would help them with if they would walk away from their ambitions to have a nuclear weapon.
What the President said yesterday wasn't about what we would do. It was about them, it was about the Iranians and what they have said and what they have not done in terms of meeting their international obligations. So the President was focusing the world's attentions on the negative consequences of Iran having a nuclear weapon, and that is why we are working through the U.N. Security Council to make sure that they meet their Chapter 7 obligations under the United Nations Security Council resolutions.
Q So by raising World War III he wasn't overstating the dangers?
MS. PERINO: The President was making a point that this is a country that has said that they want to wipe Israel off the face of the earth, and the President has long said -- and I think no one would want the President of the United States -- any President of the United States -- to take any option off the table. But what the President also said is that we are going to continue to work this continue to work this issue diplomatically, we believe it can be resolved diplomatically, we're tightening the financial sanctions on the country, and that is having an impact. Secretary Rice said so again this morning in comments that she made to the press. And so what the President was making was a point that Iran with a nuclear weapon would have very negative consequences for the region.
Q The Iraqi Prime Minister said today that his government would expect only limited Turkish air strikes in northern Iraq against the Kurdish rebels, and not an actual all-out offensive on the ground there. Could the U.S. live with that?
MS. PERINO: Well, what we have said is that -- the President said yesterday what we want to see is for Turkey to not send additional troops into that region. The President said yesterday there's a small contingent there that have been there for a few years. That's been a longstanding presence. What you have now is the Americans and the Iraqis working together with the Turks to work together against the PKK, a terrorist organization, which we would like to see eradicated in the region as well.
What was very positive was that Prime Minister Maliki send his Vice President, Hashimi, to Turkey yesterday in order to work with them. That's where you see -- that's what a good neighbor does. In the world of international politics, you want neighbors to be talking with one another and working together to solve problems. So I think that that is an encouraging sign, and we have asked Turkey to refrain from doing anything more.
Q Can I follow on that?
MS. PERINO: You want to follow? Okay.
Q Turkey's justice minister says the President is basically being hypocritical by opposing Turkish military action in northern Iraq. He says the same justification the U.S. used to go after al Qaeda in Afghanistan is the justification that Turkey would use to go after the PKK in northern Iraq.
MS. PERINO: I haven't seen the justice minister's comments. What I can say is that we have Ambassador Crocker, our ambassador in Iraq, and our ambassador into Turkey, as well as General Petraeus working closely with the Turks to help solve the problem. And also you have the Iraqis participating, as well. We think that's the way to help solve this issue. I understand that he's making a point about terrorists attacking their country, that this is something that the Iraqis and the Americans have said that they would help the Turks help eradicate, and to end the PKK terrorist influence in that region. And so we'll continue to try to work it that way. We don't think that a larger-scale incursion is necessary to help solve the problem.
Q I think the point he's making is two-fold; one is a point of rights, and the other is that the efforts by the U.S. and Iraq have not solved the problem yet, and so Turkey --
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that we saw yesterday the Iraqis saying that they are going to work with the Turks, and they will redouble their efforts to help them. And I think that's the appropriate way to help solve this.
Q Can we can come back domestically for a moment?
MS. PERINO: Okay.
Q Could you give us the President's view, considering he is an experienced campaigner and politician and head of the party, the compressed primary schedule, over how people are reacting to the competition over who goes first and when, and it's drawing back even closer to happening this year. What does the President think about that?
MS. PERINO: Well, the President, first and foremost, is grateful that he's not a candidate this year. He went through a grueling primary in 1999 and 2000, and he says it was, obviously, something that was difficult to do, hard on the body physically, hard on the family. And that was -- it takes a lot out of you, because you have to be out there all the time.
He doesn't express a lot of opinion about it, but he does think that -- he's glad he's not out there. He thinks it is running very early. And the President would like to see if there's going to be any changes in the future for the two parties -- the Republican Party and the Democratic Party -- to come together. He thinks it would take the parties coming together to decide that they would like to make a change. And, obviously, that's not going to happen this year, but maybe down the road, it would.
Q Is he concerned about the consequences with the holiday season, not just on the candidates, but on voters, their attention? Does he think what's happening now is a bad idea?
MS. PERINO: I haven't heard him say that it's a bad idea. Obviously, there is a lot of appetite out there for politics. The country is facing serious issues both domestically and internationally, and so there is a lot of room and a lot of new ways to get out information through cable television, the Internet. And so -- I don't think the President is worried so much about it interrupting the holiday season. I just think that he thinks, as a candidate, that it's difficult to keep up that pace. And if there's going to be changes, it's going to have to be dealt with at the party level between the Republicans and Democrats; they're going to have to sit down and hash out.
Let me go to Elaine.
Q Dana, on Iran, has the White House received a readout yet on Vladimir Putin's meeting with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?
MS. PERINO: No, not yet, not yet. The President did say he's interested in hearing from him, and if -- when he have an update for you on that, I'll let you know. Secretary Rice and Secretary Gates are actually going to be here tomorrow to meet with the President to brief him on their trip. And then from there, we'll let you know if there's additional contact.
Q And also, did you get a chance to see the comments from President Putin regarding U.S. efforts in Iraq? He said it was pointless to describe U.S. efforts --
MS. PERINO: I didn't. I didn't see them. I think that -- and I'll just decline to comment those directly. Obviously, what we have now is a continuing -- a situation in Iraq that is continuing to improve because of the surge, the General Petraeus plan that he is implementing, and Ambassador Crocker's work; that those trend lines are starting to creep upward and we'd like to see that move faster. But the violence is thankfully coming down. It's still too high; al Qaeda still has too large of a presence, but the reconciliation is starting to happen, the economy has improved, and we want to have a good, enduring partnership with the Iraqis and in that region.
Q What's the next step with SCHIP now that the vote is over with?
MS. PERINO: Well, is it -- have they taken the --
Q Yes, it failed.
MS. PERINO: Okay, they hadn't finished by the time I left out there. Obviously, the President wants to have his negotiators that he announced yesterday -- Secretary Leavitt and NEC Director Hubbard and OMB Director Nussle -- he has designated those three individuals to go to Capitol Hill and to work out the details so that we can find some common ground.
And the President would like to see SCHIP reauthorized and expanded. He has said that his priority is that poor children should be taken care of first. He has offered a 20 percent expansion in funding. He has said that if in the negotiations there is a desire and there is a belief and evidence that we need to have more money put towards that goal of covering those 500,000 children that we know right now who are eligible for SCHIP but who haven't been found to be able to get on the program, that he's willing to go to a higher number. And so we would hope that they would like to have discussions with us soon. Obviously when we were going through the SCHIP debate originally, Republicans were cut off from the debate. They weren't allowed to participate. And that's what the President was saying yesterday when he said that we weren't dialed in. That's what he meant.
And he also -- the President has been saying for weeks that he would like to have discussions and negotiations on this. The Democrats decided to hold it, and I think they used MoveOn.org and the unions to spend a million dollars to try to change Republican votes. That didn't work. And so now we'll hopefully get to a point where we can come together and find common ground.
Q The President -- we don't often hear the President say, here, here's some more money, here's more than I recommended, if we can make this problem go away. Isn't that a sign of how many Republicans --
MS. PERINO: The President is trying to solve the problem. The President is trying to solve the problem. He's not trying to make a problem go away. He's saying, if you want to -- if you believe that we're going to need additional money beyond 20 percent to fund the poor children that I have wanted to fund -- remember, in the original bill, they took out the provision that would have said that 95 percent of the funds have to go to the poorest children first.* That provision was explicitly taken out of the bill. The President would like to see something like that back in there. That's what his principle is, that poor children should be taken care of first. So he's trying to solve the problem.
Q But my question was a political one: Isn't is a sign of how many Republicans defected on this issue, that he has had to come up with more money?
MS. PERINO: Well, actually, we're having a conversation today about how many Republicans stayed with the President to sustain the President's veto. And now we can have a conversation about getting to common ground that fits what the President has said he wants to do, which is take care of poor children first. That's how we look at it.
Q Dana, kind of a follow-up on that. He said that he wants to take care of those half a million children; you just mentioned that, too. How much does the expansion go beyond that half million?
MS. PERINO: Well, we -- you mean our expansion or theirs?
MS. PERINO: Well, we believe that all the children that are on the program now could -- will remain, and that we'd be able to take care of that additional 500,000. Those are our numbers. We believe that -- Congressional Budget Office has a different number. They think differently -- there's a lot of details here that are going to have to be worked out, and the President has directed Nussle and Leavitt and Hubbard to go up and try to start working on that right now.
Q Follow on that?
Q My question is, does it go beyond 500,000 kids, the expansion?
MS. PERINO: I don't believe so. I don't believe -- we would like -- well, I'm not going to negotiate from here. We'll have to see what they would say. As much as I would like to, I'm going to let Hubbard and Leavitt and Nussle do that.
Q One last thing. Would he bring the top leaders of Congress down here at some appropriate point, once the emissaries are done with?
MS. PERINO: Well, that's hypothetical. Let's let the details get worked out. At the President's direction, Secretary Leavitt, Director Nussle and Al Hubbard are to go up to Capitol Hill and start working on the details. From there, we'll get to, hopefully, a finalization in the agreement.
Q Same subject?
Q Dana --
MS. PERINO: Is it same subject?
MS. PERINO: Okay.
Q First of all, just logistically, can we expect to see the President today commenting on this?
MS. PERINO: Well, you saw the President today commenting on Liberia. No, I don't think you're going to see him on SCHIP, no.
Q All right. Given the politically charged nature of this debate, and the President's obvious concern that his stand hasn't been understood -- as we saw yesterday in the news conference when he kept going back to it -- what kind of a price do you think Republican House candidates are going to pay for their votes on this?
MS. PERINO: I actually think that -- maybe I'm just -- it's like Alice that's fallen down a rabbit hole, I see the world in a different way. I think Republicans who stayed with the President are actually going to be very protected because of their strong stand about sticking to the principle of, one, poor children first and making sure that we're not raising taxes and that we're not having a program that's supposed to be for poor children be used to expand to government-run health care. I think that that bodes well for Republicans.
Q Well, you know their opponents are not -- are going to paint it exactly the opposite way.
MS. PERINO: I'm sure their opponents are going to come after them with a lot, but I think it says a lot about how many Republicans stayed with the President. After a million dollars, they spent a million dollars to try to get Republicans to pull off of this bill -- MoveOn.org and the unions and the like -- and it didn't work. And so I think that Republicans feel that they're comfortable that their stand in their district is one that they feel comfortable with and they'll be able to win on.
Q Just for the record, where does that figure come from, that million-dollar figure?
MS. PERINO: It came from you guys. You guys told me -- I was asked when -- I was asked here that MoveOn.org put out, I guess, a press release. It was in this room last week -- or two weeks ago when the vote first happened. That's when the Democrats decided that they were going to postpone the bill for two weeks so that this money could be spent and run ads in these districts, and it didn't work.
Q Same subject. Is the cigarette tax or tax raising in SCHIP still off the -- a deal-breaker for the President?
MS. PERINO: The President does not believe we need to raise taxes on this.
Q And would you like to respond to Congressman Stark's statement on the House floor during the debate, when he said, "We don't have the money to fund the war or the children, but you're going to spend it to blow up innocent people if we can get enough kids to grow old enough for you to send to Iraq to get their heads blown off for the President's amusement"?
MS. PERINO: You know, I'm not going to respond to comments like that. I will say that it's interesting to me to read the coverage of the President yesterday who came to this podium and said, I have dedicated three of my -- a Cabinet member and two of my high-level advisors to go to Capitol Hill and negotiate and find common ground -- and when you open up the paper today, the President is described as having lashed out and being angry and complaining bitterly. The President is none of those things. The President is extending a hand and reaching out. And I'm just not going to comment on comments like that.
Q What about drawing a comparison between domestic spending like that and the billions of dollars that he's --
MS. PERINO: There's no doubt that we're -- that the taxpayers -- American taxpayers are spending a lot of money in order to help fund our troops in Iraq and protect our country from an unprecedented threat from al Qaeda. And the President doesn't apologize for that. He thinks that that's the priority, that's where the money can be spent. But what I will tell you is this President has us on a path to get a budget surplus by 2012, but he's only going to be able to do if he can make sure that Congress holds the line and doesn't overspend. And that's why you see these veto threats out there and that's one of the reasons we're winning on this debate on SCHIP, and we're going to win on the other ones, too.
Go ahead. Let me do Olivier and then come to you, Paula.
Q In 2005 the President got very involved personally in trying to convince Turkey not to strike in Iraq. This week the Pentagon says that one of the reasons that the U.S. military is not more involved with the PKK is that they're overstretched with -- not overstretched, they've got their hands full, was the term, with AQI, with other insurgents. Is there a disconnect between the President's words to Turkish leaders and the military's response, and is there a U.S. military role in this current situation?
MS. PERINO: Well, I'll go back to -- it was the President who got a briefing from General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker last Thursday, in addition to Secretary Rice and Secretary Gates, and it was the President who talked to them about the cooperation, got a briefing on it, and also got the word how the Armenian genocide resolution would be devastating to our efforts in Iraq. There is a lot of cooperation amongst those individuals, between General Petraeus and Crocker and their Turkish counterparts, as well as the Iraqis. And that's why Secretary Gates and Secretary Rice came out and made a public statement, and then you saw the President make a public statement. The President is very involved. He talked about it yesterday here, but he also made a -- the standalone statement to ask the Congress not to do it. He called Secretary -- I'm sorry, he called Speaker Pelosi on Monday asking for that vote not to be taken up. So I think the President has had a lot of involvement.
Q I wasn't saying he was disconnected. I was asking whether there was a disconnect between his comments as to the Turkish leaders and the U.S. military response to that.
MS. PERINO: From everything I have heard I understand that the Turkish leaders feel that we are -- we have an appropriate level of coordination and I have not heard anything to the contrary.
Q Current CHIP enrollees already pay premium co-payments on a sliding scale. Would the administration be opposed to having higher income families enrolled in this program as long as any of the funding is not by the federal government, but by higher co-payments and premiums?
MS. PERINO: That sounds like something that maybe one of the Democratic negotiators will bring up with the President's negotiators, and I'll let them have those conversations and not do it from here.
Q Just one other follow-up? The argument you've been making about Democrats, you know, waiting, delaying for this vote, how is that any different than the amount of time the vote was delayed, alleged deal-making to get the Medicare prescription drug passed?
MS. PERINO: Thankfully, that's one of the things I can say was before my time here. But I think that there are times when you delay votes, and that's one of the ways that the game is played. We won this round on SCHIP.
Go ahead, Les.
Q Thank you, Dana. Two questions. For 19 years after 1948, the city of Jerusalem was divided between Israel and the Palestinians under Jordan. And my question: What does the President see by way of any sign that the Palestinians, without Jordan, will be any more accepting of Israeli sovereignty over half of Jerusalem now than they were during those 19 years that led to the Six-Day War?
MS. PERINO: Let me just -- let me just point you to the Middle East peace conference that we're going to be having here this fall. Secretary Rice has been in the region; Stephen Hadley is going to go to the region late next week. This is all in support of Secretary Rice's efforts to get ready for that meeting and we'll let that meeting take place before we comment.
Q Well, my other -- well, then, all right, let me go to another question.
MS. PERINO: Okay, your second question.
Q Congressman Dana Rohrabacher has asked for what he calls a thorough review of the treatment given Border Patrol agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean in solitary confinement, saying they have been treated more severely than terrorists held in Guantanamo Bay. And my question: How will the President respond to this request?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think -- I'd have to refer you to the Department of Justice to give you any more information about anyone who is in detention. We don't get involved in that from here.
Q Thank you.
END 12:59 P.M. EDT
* In reauthorizing SCHIP, the President wants to maintain the goal that 95% of eligible children in households earning less than 200% of the federal poverty rate are covered before waivers are considered to cover higher income groups.