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For Immediate Release
November 5, 2007
Press Briefing by Dana Perino
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:33 P.M. EST
MS. PERINO: Good afternoon. In about an hour, President Bush will meet -- in less than an hour, President Bush will meet with Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey. He will there talk about our important relationship and longstanding partnership with our ally in the Middle East. They will discuss the challenge posed by the PKK terrorists, and the President's commitment to working with Turkey to eliminate that risk. They will also discuss the Iraq Neighbors Conference that was held in Istanbul over the weekend. And the President plans to bring up his support of Turkey's aspiration to join the European Union.
At that meeting the press will be brought in at the end for statements by the two leaders. And at that time the President will also address the situation in Pakistan.
One announcement for tomorrow: The President will receive the report of the Import Safety Working Group, which has been led by Secretary Mike Leavitt. The President created this working group on July 18th, following a nationwide fact-finding mission that Secretary Leavitt has led. He issued an interim report in September, and then said he would come back with an action plan in mid-November.
As the President said, the American people expect their government to work tirelessly to make sure consumer products are safe. And that's what the working group is focused on, ensuring that all measures are being taken so that Americans are confident that the products they are buying on their store shelves are safe and reliable. The action plan will include short- and long-term recommendations for continuing to improve the safety and reliability of imports entering the United States. So there will be much more on that tomorrow.
I'll go to questions.
Q The President said last week at Heritage that we are standing with those who yearn for liberty. Isn't -- aren't we in the position now in Pakistan where we are supporting a government that is cracking down on liberty?
MS. PERINO: The government of the United States is deeply disturbed by the proclamation of emergency in Pakistan on November 3rd -- about 48 hours ago. We cannot support emergency rule or the extreme measures that are being taken by President Musharraf. Such actions are not in Pakistan's best interest. And President Musharraf had taken Pakistan well -- pretty far along the path to democracy, and this is definitely a setback.
We are currently reviewing our aid. The President has been following this issue very closely. He has been given updates by the Director of National Intelligence over the weekend, his national security team and, of course, Secretary Rice. Pakistan is a strong fighter against terrorists and we have to keep that in mind as we move forward. But our aid package is currently being reviewed. And Secretary Rice has been urging President Musharraf, on behalf of the President, to return quickly to civilian rule.
Last week President Bush directed Secretary Rice to call President Musharraf to explain our deep concern about the possibility of a state of emergency. Now that that has taken place, we are going to continue to urge them to end that, get back to civilian rule, that -- to declare that the elections that were scheduled for January are actually going to take place in January, on time. We want the press freedoms to be restored. We want anyone who has been detained to be released. And the President will also call on President Musharraf to take off the uniform, as he said he would do.
Q Well, while you're reviewing the aid, there's widespread expectation that most of that aid, which is for the military, is going to continue. Isn't that --
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that -- I'm not going to prejudge the outcome of a review that is going to be ongoing, and Secretary Rice and Secretary Gates have said that they would be leading those reviews. We will review all of our assistance programs and we are going to be mindful that we should not undermine any of our counterterrorism efforts there either. Pakistan has a difficult situation with many terrorists who are there operating in the northern region. President Musharraf has helped the fight against them. These terrorists are the enemy of all innocent people -- not just Americans, but the Pakistanis as well.
Part of our aid program -- package includes not only the military counterterrorism measures, but also the money for education reform, economic development in the FATA region because people there do not have any jobs and they are pulled towards the extremism that leads to terrorism; economic development in the region and also public health. So all of theses things will be taken into consideration.
Q Dana, when President Musharraf was here last, I believe, he described the relationship with President Bush as one being based on trust and confidence. Does President Bush still have trust and confidence in President Musharraf?
MS. PERINO: Well, you're going to hear from President -- from the President in just about an hour. Obviously we oppose the state of emergency. We want the free and fair elections to go forward. We want full respect and restoration of civil rights and civil liberties for all people around the world, particularly when we focus on Pakistan right now -- there's no doubt that we are deeply disappointed with this action.
Q But we may not be able to ask the President the questions that we want to at the photo opportunity, so I'm just wondering --
MS. PERINO: It's not a photo opportunity. He's going to be taking questions.
Q Can you tell me if he still has confidence in --
MS. PERINO: I'm going to let the President speak for himself. But he'll -- you can expect he'll take questions today.
Q For a long time the President has urged Musharraf to give up his military status, and he has not done so. And you cited a couple of reasons why we should all be mindful of Pakistan's assistance in the war on terror. Is the U.S. willing to accept a certain amount of Musharraf's lack of democracy in order to have his assistance?
MS. PERINO: We are not in a give-and-take situation. We want democracy to work. We know that democracy had been working in Pakistan. People have been able to have press freedoms, they've been participating in civil society groups, education had started to reform, the public health system was starting to get better.
So I think that if they can return quickly, as Secretary Rice said, return quickly to the rule of law, they can get back on that path to democracy and we won't face that situation, an either/or situation.
Q Can you have a partner in the war on terror from a country that does not embrace these democratic institutions?
MS. PERINO: I think that the most important thing is for them to get back to their stated goal of having a path to democracy, establishing that free and fair elections would take place in January. You'll hear from the President more.
Right now we have a review underway of all of our programs that we are supporting. We have to keep in mind that it is important that we fight the terrorists there for all people, not just those there in Pakistan but for our national security interests as well. And the President has an obligation to protect Americans, to protect American assets. So all of these things are going to have to be taken into consideration as we review the situation.
Q Is there any concern from the President that during this time of uncertainty that the work the Pakistani military was doing to try to root out al Qaeda in its border regions would be compromised, or that this could be an opening for bin Laden and his associates?
MS. PERINO: I haven't heard that expressed, but I'm sure that since we've been cooperating with the Pakistani military to try to root out the terrorists I don't have any reason to believe that that would end.
Q Why hasn't the President called Musharraf, who is, after all, a key ally, personally? Is he reserving that, is there a lack --
MS. PERINO: The President has directed his Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, to have that direct contact. And if there's more to update later today we will.
Q But, Dana, the President does take great pride in his personal diplomacy. He's met numerous times with General Musharraf. He stood shoulder to shoulder with him here and in other places. Why doesn't he just get on the phone and say, back down from this?
MS. PERINO: I'll just repeat what I just said, which is he has directed Secretary Rice to deliver the message on his behalf, and if there's more to update you on later we will.
Q Okay. The Pakistani Attorney General is saying that they will go ahead with elections in January --
MS. PERINO: I don't know if we have official word on that yet. I hope that that is true, but if we can get you more as the situation develops we'll let you know.
Q Can fair elections be held under the circumstances?
MS. PERINO: Well, we obviously have to get back to civilian rule so that you can have free and fair elections. So there's a whole package that comes -- it all has to happen at the same time.
Q Dana, you talked about the U.S. government being deeply disturbed and disappointed in the emergency proclamation. Benazir Bhutto's spokesman said that they view these actions as an act of terror against the judiciary, the constitution, and the civil society of Pakistan. Does the U.S. share that view that this would be construed as an act of terror, that the rounding up of lawyers and the crackdown on the media constitutes acts of terror?
MS. PERINO: I'm going to let her have her own definition. What we -- we can only support, as the United States, constitutional measures, measures that are within the constitution. These extra-constitutional measures that President Musharraf has undertaken, starting late Friday night, are deeply disappointing and not something that we can support.
Q Has the President, indeed, already spoken with Musharraf today?
MS. PERINO: No.
Q Dana, should we take it as significant that he has not spoken directly to --
MS. PERINO: No, no. Obviously the President got briefings over the weekend; he had Secretary Rice in touch with him last week. Our Ambassador, Anne Patterson, has been in contact with Musharraf and the -- Musharraf's officials in his government. And we've been getting regular updates from the Director of National Intelligence, as well as our national security team, and of course from Secretary Rice, who has been in the region.
Q But it does seem a departure from the way he deals with other world leaders that he claims to have good relationships with.
MS. PERINO: If there's a phone call, we'll let you know.
Q Did Musharraf decline calls? Have you attempted a call?
MS. PERINO: No, I don't believe so.
Q What is the possible level of concern here that some of the billions of dollars in military aid that the U.S. has sent Musharraf has been used in this crackdown?
MS. PERINO: I haven't -- well, obviously that would be a part of the review. I haven't heard that that was the case. But we're just 48 hours into this, let us have inter-agency folks work together and get information. Our Ambassador, Anne Patterson, has been working around the clock to get us information.
Q Would she put -- would she put the Pakistani government, or would Secretary Rice put the Pakistani government on notice not to use any U.S.-supplied military hardware, radios, anything else --
MS. PERINO: Obviously, we would never want to see any of our aid or our equipment going towards something that we cannot support. So I think that would be taken as a given. Whether or not there's an explicit statement, we'll see if we can get anything more from the embassy.
Q So, Dana, you've said that this is under review, the financial aid to Pakistan. But you've also said it will not harm the counterterrorism efforts --
MS. PERINO: What I said is that we cannot allow it to undermine our counterterrorism efforts.
Q So thereby -- you wouldn't be taking money from the aid specifically aimed at counterterrorism --
MS. PERINO: I'm not going to prejudge the outcome of that review. I just can't do that today.
Q Is it fair from your -- from putting those two statements together to get to that point?
MS. PERINO: No, no, I think Secretary Gates and Secretary Rice, both who were traveling overseas this weekend, to allow them to get together, let their staffs do the review, along with our national security team and once that review is complete, for us to comment then, not now.
Q So what do you say to critics who look at this and say, this is just at the edges; these are just statements, and you're really not going to do anything significant that changes the situation in Pakistan?
MS. PERINO: Well, look, I think critics are going to say a lot of things. But we are just 48 hours into this. I think it deserves a thorough review, a comprehensive review, and not something that we should rush -- in terms of any actions that we take -- if and when actions are taken, they will be done after a thorough and comprehensive review.
Q But, Dana, to follow on Bret and Kelly for just a second, because I think there's a question that a lot of the American people are wondering -- this concept of doing business because of the war on terror with a regime that doesn't embrace democratic ideals -- is that acceptable to the administration?
MS. PERINO: The stated goal of President Musharraf and the people of Pakistan is that they want to get back to -- back on the path to democracy. We want to see them return to that path as quickly as possible. In terms of what happens in the future, I can't say from here. But, obviously, we have -- it's a complex situation. We have terrorists that we are trying to fight in that northern region, that we have been supported by President Musharraf in doing so. That has helped protect American -- the American people, as well as our allies around the world. It's helped protect Pakistanis.
But we cannot accept these extra-constitutional measures. And so it's something that is -- we have to work through. We're calling on them to immediately end the press prohibitions, to release the detainees, and to take several actions to get back to the democratic path; and to hold -- announce that he's going to hold free and fair elections in January, and that he will take off his uniform. But let's let the President have a word with you all today, in about an hour.
Q You say that President Bush directed Secretary Rice to be in contact to President Musharraf last week. What did Musharraf say to her when she said, "Don't do this"?
MS. PERINO: Well, she had said that she would decline to comment on her -- on details of her conversation and so I'm not going to do so either. But she's had public -- many public comments over the weekend and she's not answered that question directly.
Q But she reported back to President Bush after that --
MS. PERINO: She has been reporting back to President Bush. Obviously when she made the request that expressed our deep concern, President Musharraf had moved ahead anyway and that is what is deeply disappointing to us and a setback for the Pakistanis.
Q And does President Bush take that personally, if Musharraf simply ignored a request from the United States?
MS. PERINO: I'll let the President speak to you in about an hour, but I don't think you can personalize these things. It's obviously very disappointing, and our efforts should be right now on getting them back to the democratic path that they had been started on.
Q Is there aid that you provide to the Pakistani government for, like, rule of law or democracy building that you would you be more inclined to suspend or change?
MS. PERINO: Well, that is going to be part of the review that is ongoing, and when we have more we can provide it. But one of the things that we have to remember, we weren't -- the aid that we were providing, especially for building up civil societies and education and public health, that went for the Pakistani people -- not President Musharraf individually. So that's something that we have to keep in mind as well, because clearly those reforms should continue, but we have a situation now where we have to review the whole package.
I'm going to go to Terry.
Q When you say "as quickly as possible," what do you mean by that? Is this something that can just go on for a year or --
MS. PERINO: No. Well, I'm not going to put a time frame on it from this podium. We would like an immediate halt to the state of emergency and a return to civil law.
Q And what have you heard from General Musharraf when he's been talking to Secretary Rice? What's he said in response to how long it might be?
MS. PERINO: I'm not going to speak for her; I'm going to let her speak for herself.
Q And how long will the review take?
MS. PERINO: I don't know; obviously it would be done on a -- in an expeditious way, and as soon as we can provide more we will. I won't put a time frame on it.
Q Is that days?
MS. PERINO: I'm just going to decline to --
Q Is there a meeting here today about the review?
MS. PERINO: As you can expect, there's going to be a lot of meetings, and there were meetings over the weekend, whether in person or on the phone. People have been working this since before it happened.
Q Was the Pakistani ambassador called in?
MS. PERINO: Not that I know of, but we can check.
Q Dana, what are the consequences to the United States if an unstable Pakistan or a Pakistan that is not a democracy?
MS. PERINO: Well, these are things that we're going to have to consider. Obviously having a -- we want to prevent terrorists from having a safe haven in Pakistan, and that's what President Musharraf has been helping us to do. And that has to continue. As Secretary Gates said, we don't want to take any measures that would undermine our efforts there. But what we'd like to see is an immediate return back to the path to democracy that they were well on their way towards achieving.
Q But what he says what he's doing is against the terrorists, that is necessary to preserve stability there against terrorist organizations?
MS. PERINO: We do not believe that any extra-constitutional means were necessary in order to help prevent terrorism in the region. And that's why we are deeply disappointed with the actions, and we asked them to not do it.
Q Is it ever reasonable to restrict constitutional freedoms in the name of fighting terrorism?
MS. PERINO: In our opinion, no.
Q Dana, in addition to this situation, the President has delegated authority for the management of the Middle East summit to the Secretary of State. And here, two days into this crisis, he hasn't picked up the phone and called the guy who he stood here and called his "good friend." Is it fair to assume that the President is reluctant to personally invest himself in a situation that possesses a high risk of failure?
MS. PERINO: No, Mark, I think -- look, that's apples and oranges. The President has asked Secretary Rice to work on the Middle East peace summit. She's the Secretary of State, that is what she does. And she is the person that the President entrusts to carry his messages for him. That's not unusual. We are working towards a summit on Middle East peace which the President would attend. So I just -- I don't think that follows.
Q We have a couple of situations which hold in them a high risk of failure. Is it fair to consider -- is it fair to perceive him as not being interested in personally investing himself in the situation?
MS. PERINO: I resent that, because the President is personally engaged, and it is because of his engagement and his desire to see this succeed that he has Secretary Rice, one of his closest and most trusted advisors, carrying out this action for him.
Q Dana, would you consider restricting aid to the war on terrorism?
MS. PERINO: Restricting what?
Q Restricting aid to the war on terrorism to ensure that it doesn't -- in other words, would you consider being so restrictive of whatever aid you decide to give to Pakistan in the future once you've done this --
MS. PERINO: Again, you're asking me a hypothetical question about an outcome of a review that is ongoing, so I'm not going to answer the question right now because I don't know. I don't want to prejudge it.
Q Thank you. Dana, six years and $11 billion of the U.S. taxpayers' money to Pakistan and (inaudible) and Pakistan has become a haven for terrorism. You think President believes really that this money has worked and --
MS. PERINO: Well, we know one thing for sure, which is that Pakistani officials have certainly helped us find individuals like -- terrorists like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. That's how we were able to get him and actually help prevent another terrorist attack. So there has been help; we cannot lose sight of that.
Q And you think President will still call -- President Bush still call General Musharraf "President," or he will change to "General" Musharraf now, because he has --
MS. PERINO: The President has called on President Musharraf to take off the uniform.
Q They're not (inaudible) -- the Cyprus issue will be discussed during the meeting between President Bush and the Turkish Prime Minister (inaudible)?
MS. PERINO: I don't know if that's on the agenda or not, and we'll let you know afterwards if it does.
Q One more question. Who will be present from your side during the meeting?
MS. PERINO: Who will be present during -- several different officials will be there, including Mr. Hadley.
Q Chairman Conyers has now written saying that the contempt issue in terms of the prosecutor firings and the testimony that the Hill is looking for is coming to a head. Is there any change in that, or is the administration still insisting that there be no testimony and no even interviewing under oath, on the record, transcribed?
MS. PERINO: I'm just amazed that the Democrats actually think they've accomplished so much on behalf of the American people that they can now waste time again on another diversion. Last week was the first that they appointed conferees to the Labor-HHS bill. That's the first bill they've even -- appropriations bill they've even appointed conferees to, and it must have just been exhausting for them because now they decided they can move on to this -- taking us backwards to where we were.
If the House Democrats were actually serious about getting information from us they could have taken us up on the offer that we provided initially, which is interviews with senior staff -- that they asked to interview. They decided not to take us up on that offer. We have turned over thousands of pages of documents, many people have testified, hundreds of hours of testimony on this issue regarding U.S. attorneys. And so while they failed to pass legislation that's important to the American people, they move forward with this contempt citation. I don't know if they'll actually have a vote on the House floor, or not. If they do, I guess we'll just take it from there. But it's been very clear that this is a futile attempt on their part because they know that it won't go anywhere.
Q Are you still refusing to supply anybody to testify where that -- I'm sorry -- to discuss these matters where that will be transcribed?
MS. PERINO: There is an offer on the table for them to get exactly that and they turned us down.
Q No, not with transcription.
MS. PERINO: Not with transcription, but they could have had all the information that they sought, they just chose not to.
Go ahead, Les.
Q Thank you, Dana; two questions. Could you explain what purpose there is in the proposed but still unscheduled Annapolis Middle East peace conference, when, as The New York Times reported this morning from Jerusalem, Hamas has rejected it as "pointless"?
MS. PERINO: Actually, Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas have both said that they had positive meetings with Secretary Rice over the weekend. We don't have a date yet to announce, but obviously things are moving in, hopefully, the right direction.
Q The U.S. Supreme Court agreed last week to grant a stay of execution to a convicted murderer in Mississippi, and in the case of Baze vs. Rees in Kentucky, will rule whether lethal injection is cruel and unusual punishment. And my question: Does the President, in what I understand is his supporting the death penalty, believe states and the federal government should use gas chambers or what?
MS. PERINO: I'm not going to comment specifically on that, but to say that the President respects the Supreme Court and their decision.
Q Dana, on the Sarkozy visit, what can we expect, what does the President hope to accomplish?
MS. PERINO: Well, obviously President Sarkozy is a strong ally. We have many different issues to discuss with him, including Iran. Let's see if we can get you a little bit more detail later today. I focused almost primarily today on Pakistan.
Q How would you describe the U.S. relationship with Pakistan and General Musharraf since the events in the past 48 hours --
MS. PERINO: I think that I've answered that question several times. I don't know if I need to re-answer it.
Q The situation in Pakistan has kind of overshadowed the situation with Turkey. In this meeting today obviously we'll hear about the relationship, but Turkey is still concerned about a lack of action on the PKK, so much so that there is some thought that they may improve their relationship with Iran. Is there concern about that relationship?
MS. PERINO: Well, this past weekend in Istanbul when Secretary Rice was representing the United States at the Iraq Neighbors Conference, there was a lot of discussion about the PKK issue, the cooperation that the United States could provide, including the intelligence information that we can give to the Turks as they carry out limited and targeted exercises against the PKK. The President will talk to him about increased cooperation.
And I have not heard additional words about Iran, but I do believe that the Turks understand that we are fully committed to helping them eradicate the PKK. We understand the threat; we agree the PKK are terrorists and they should be stopped.
Q Yes, Dana, one more, if you would. Tomorrow it looks like the House is going to vote on the override of the water bill. Can you remind us specifically what the President does not like about the water bill and what he feels about the possibility that he's now going to have his first veto override?
MS. PERINO: Well, the President is fine with it. The bill that you're talking about is the Water Resources Development Act. It was -- it's an authorization bill, and not a penny of taxpayer money is going to actually be spent because of the authorization bill. The House and Senate will fight out in the appropriations process over the years as they work to try to get those projects funded.
Look, the President understands that many of these programs are important to the hometown districts, but remember one thing: We're talking about federal taxpayer money. And the House passed a bill at $14 billion; the Senate passed a bill at $15 billion. They went to conference to work out their differences and they came out with a bill that would cost the federal taxpayer $23 billion. The President thinks that that is not fiscally responsible. He also believes that the -- well, the Corps of Engineers is already stretched. They have too many projects that they can deal with at the moment, so adding all of these additional ones is going to probably make it even less effective, because there will be more money spread out over more projects and not enough will get done. So that's why the President vetoed the bill. We expect the override and the President is okay with that.
Q Thank you.
END 12:57 P.M. EDT