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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
November 9, 2007

Press Gaggle by Gordon Johndroe
Press Filing Center
Crawford Middle School
Crawford, Texas

11:23 A.M. CST

MR. JOHNDROE: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Guten morgen meine Damen und Herren. President Bush received his normal intelligence briefings this morning, and now they await the arrival of Chancellor Merkel to the ranch. President and Mrs. Bush look forward to welcoming Chancellor and Dr. Sauer this afternoon to their ranch in Crawford, Texas. This is a good opportunity for the two leaders to continue ongoing discussions on important issues.

I expect them to discuss a number of topics. They'll discuss the need for Iran to suspend its nuclear activity, as well as discuss the importance of remaining committed to Afghanistan. President Bush notes Chancellor Merkel's recent trip to Afghanistan and appreciates the German troop contribution there, and urges our NATO allies to continue to help the Afghan people as they rebuild their country and fight extremism there.

I expect the two leaders will also discuss the need for elections in Lebanon free from Syrian interference. This will be an opportunity for Secretary Rice to give an update to the Chancellor on her recent trip to meet with Israelis and Palestinians, and an update on the progress towards the Annapolis meeting.

They'll also likely talk about Kosovo, Burma, energy security, climate change, trade -- and specifically the Doha Round -- and also Iraq. Chancellor Merkel knows that a stable and secure Iraq is in the interest of the entire world.

Let me make one statement, and then I will go to your questions.

We join the people of Pakistan in their continued concern about the state of emergency and curtailment of basic freedoms. We urge Pakistan's authorities quickly to return to constitutional order and democratic norms. All parties in Pakistan agree that free and fair elections are the best way out of the current situation there. Free and fair elections require the lifting of the state of emergency. We, therefore, continue to call for an early end to that state of emergency, and the release of political members and peaceful protestors who have been detained. We also continue to call on all sides to refrain from any violence, and to work together to put Pakistan back on the path to democracy.

And with that, I'm happy to take your questions. Peter.

Q Gordon, why doesn't that statement mention Musharraf by name?

MR. JOHNDROE: Well, we call on all Pakistan authorities. We have talked about this with President Musharraf. He made some comments that we noted yesterday; it's good that he clarified those for the people of Pakistan, that elections will be held early next year and that he will remove his uniform.

But there are certainly a number of people involved in the situation on the ground there, and so we call on all of them.

Q Is that an indication that the administration has given up on him doing what you're desiring?

MR. JOHNDROE: No, absolutely not. I think his remarks yesterday were notable for calling for elections early next year, as well as removing the uniform. So we expect him to uphold those commitments that he's made.


Q Gordon, is the administration in contact with Benazir Bhutto, and is there any move for the administration to support or facilitate her pro-democracy protests?

MR. JOHNDROE: U.S. officials on the ground in Islamabad have been in touch with members of a variety of the political parties, including Ms. Bhutto's. So we are urging all sides to engage in a dialogue, to work through this peacefully and to get to free and fair elections, which is obviously in the best interest of the people of Pakistan.

Q Is there any consequence, has the administration said there will be any consequence to Musharraf or his government if she is not released from house arrest, or her supporters, as well?

MR. JOHNDROE: What I would say is that we want an early end to the state of emergency. We want them to get back on the path to democracy, which means having free and fair elections, and I think that's hopefully the path they're getting back on.

Q What is the administration doing? What are you doing now?

MR. JOHNDROE: Ultimately, at the end of the day this is for the people of Pakistan to decide. President Musharraf and the people of Pakistan know where we stand. We've made that position clear. President Bush spoke to President Musharraf earlier this week. Secretary Rice had numerous discussions with President Musharraf leading up to the declaration of the state of emergency on Saturday morning. Government officials have been in touch with Pakistani government authorities. They know exactly where we stand. The review of aid remains ongoing.

But the ultimate goal is not to punish the people of Pakistan; it's to help them get back on a path to democracy, and that is by having free and fair elections and lifting the state of emergency. And I think we are headed in that direction.


Q Why is your statement not putting the onus on General Musharraf? It seems fairly even-handed, when it's General Musharraf who is the one who is arresting all the lawyers, who's arresting the human rights activists. He's the one who's caused the current crisis, so I'm just kind of curious why the statement does not take some more even-handed, balanced approach to what's causing the problem there.

MR. JOHNDROE: Well, I would say that our position with regards to President Musharraf has been very clear. We've talked to him about having elections soon, ending the state of emergency, removing the -- removing his uniform. So our position is clear to him and to everyone in Pakistan.

But I would also say there are a lot more people involved on the ground than just one person, and the point is that all of these people need to work together. There needs to be a dialogue among all the various political parties, and that is the best way to end this situation.

Q You don't agree then that he is the cause of the current crisis?

MR. JOHNDROE: I believe that there are a lot of factors on the ground. There is a number of issues, whether it's dealing with extremists. It's a complicated and complex situation in Pakistan. And what I think our focus is on, and what we are urging them to do, is get back on the path of democracy -- to democracy, and have elections.


Q Gordon, is it fair to say that the President, President Bush, is at all frustrated that he's seeing these steps after the phone call that he made, where he seemed to get some assurances, as you mentioned earlier, that they were going to go back on the path to democracy?

MR. JOHNDROE: Well, I would characterize the President's feeling as focused on a Pakistan that is a ally and a partner in the war on terror, and gets back to the path to the democracy.

So we're -- we noted again, yesterday, that it's good that President Musharraf clarified for the people of Pakistan that he'll have elections soon, take off the uniform. We'd like to see the state of emergency lifted. But I think that's where our focus is.

Q But you've seen additional steps that would seem to contradict your stated goal.

MR. JOHNDROE: Right. Well, we certainly want them to release everyone that has been detained, and we want people to have freedom of movement.

Q Gordon, what does it say about the President's phone call to Musharraf if, the day after, or is it two days after that, Benazir Bhutto is basically in house arrest? I mean, so what impact did President Bush's phone call actually have?

MR. JOHNDROE: You know, I don't think it's for me to be the political scientist or the pundit on what impact the President's phone call had. I read in the papers this morning it had a particular impact that led to an announcement, and now I hear this afternoon that perhaps it's led to another impact. So I don't -- I think what's important is what happens on the ground in Pakistan, and that we all focus on getting them to free and fair elections, which will end the current situation we're facing.


Q I'm going to ask the same question in a slightly different way. Why do you trust President Musharraf when he says he's going to hold these elections and he's going to consider taking off his uniform, under very specific conditions -- why do you trust him? He told -- apparently told the President that he was going to move back to the path of democracy, and then, in the interim, he's crushing opposition leaders, he's detaining people, he's already removed the chief justice of the supreme court. What -- why do you trust this guy?

MR. JOHNDROE: Look, we're certainly concerned about the situation on the ground. We've -- we don't want -- we want the protests to be peaceful. We don't want people to be beaten. We want people who have been detained or had their freedom of movement curtailed, we want that lifted. But we are going to hold him to his commitments, but more importantly, I think the people of Pakistan will hold him to his commitments to have elections and take off the uniform.


Q We haven't touched on Chancellor Merkel's visit. I would request the cameras be turned back on.

MR. JOHNDROE: Okay, why don't we finish on Pakistan, and we'll go on to other issues and then address that request.

Q Have you -- has there been any attempt by American officials to talk to Bhutto, or have you tried and failed because of communications problems, once she's been under detention?

MR. JOHNDROE: No, our Ambassador, Anne Patterson, spoke with her recently; I don't know exactly when. So we've been in some touch with her, but we're in touch with all responsible political parties on the ground, because we're urging them to engage in a constructive dialogue because that is the best way out of this situation.

Q You say you didn't really hope that there would be any protests -- or at least peaceful protests. You know, she was supposed to lead -- speak to a demonstration. Do you feel that's a bad idea? Do you think she's playing a positive role or a negative role?

MR. JOHNDROE: I think her role has to be determined by the Pakistani people, and I think that these two political parties -- and, frankly, all responsible political parties -- should be engaged in a dialogue with each other and a dialogue that leads to the peaceful resolution of this situation.

Q Just one more on Pakistan. It appears that by law the administration really doesn't have to -- doesn't really have a legal obligation to cut aid, based on what's happened over there. Is that idea completely off the table at this point, or is it still being considered?

MR. JOHNDROE: No, the review is still ongoing. I think there's been some discussion of preliminary findings of that review, but that's what they are, they're preliminary. And we will see where this goes.

But let me make the larger point, though, with regards to U.S. assistance to Pakistan. It's designed to help the people of Pakistan, the aid that flows from the State Department. I mean, it's to help with democracy-building. It's to help with education. It's to help with health issues and basic services. And the assistance that flows out of the Defense Department is to fight the war on terror and to counter extremism, which is absolutely in the best interest of the United States. So we'll review this, but again, the overarching goal is to help the people of Pakistan have a democracy that serves them well and is an ally to the United States; it's not to punish them.


Q Gordon, you said, when I asked about why you trust him, you said that, "we're going to hold him to his commitments, but more importantly, the people of Pakistan will hold him to his commitments to hold elections and take off the uniform." How are they going to do this? I mean, this implies there's a way beyond elections for the people of Pakistan to pressure -- put pressure on Mr. Musharraf. Are you --

MR. JOHNDROE: I think the people of Pakistan will make their views clear. They want a democracy. They enjoy the freedoms -- the freedom of the press, for example, that Musharraf helped usher in. So I think the people of Pakistan will make their feelings known and do so in a peaceful way.


Q Have there been any phone calls by Rice or other senior administration official since Bhutto was detained?

MR. JOHNDROE: You know, I'm not sure. You'd have to check with the State Department, specifically. I'm not sure at this point.

Okay. All right. Wendell, you want the cameras back on? Can we do a one-on-one later?

Q Yes, we can do a one-on-one later.

MR. JOHNDROE: Why don't we do that, rather than turn the cameras back on?

Okay. We'll wait then.

Okay, yes, Ann.

Q President Bush -- former President Bush gave an interview in which he defends his decision not to go after Saddam Hussein, but also President Bush's decision to go in and take Saddam out. Does President Bush have any second thoughts about what his father did? Or has he talked to former President Bush about the comments in the interview today?

MR. JOHNDROE: I've not asked the President about the interview today. I just think that President Bush 41 was noting something that we note from here often: Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator who was a threat to his own people and the world, and it was the right thing to do. But our focus now on is making Iraq a secure and stable country and an ally in the war on terror.

Q Does the President solicit advice from his father on Iraq?

MR. JOHNDROE: You know, I would say I think the conversations between Presidents 41 and 43 are private, and I will leave them at that.

Q Gordon, there's a news report out of Israel that the United States and Israel have set up two joint committees on Iran, one to share intelligence and one to talk about the way sanctions could be applied. Is this -- can you confirm this for one thing? And what's the purpose of these joint committees?

MR. JOHNDROE: I know that we have a strategic dialogue with Israel, the United States and Israel do. It met last week. Nick Burns met with some of his counterparts. I know the issue of Iran came up in the discussion. It's something, obviously, we bring up, but the Israelis, as a country that has been singled out by Iran to be wiped off the map, often bring up Iran, as well. And you can understand why. So it's a discussion we have with them, but I would refer you to the State Department for any specifics on any committees.


Q Just two quick questions. One, do you know when Judge Mukasey is going to be sworn in?

MR. JOHNDROE: I believe later today --

Q And then just on the --


Q -- the Merkel visit, what would be the administration's assessment of how well the effort to isolate Iran is going, particularly to persuade German companies not to do business with Iran?

MR. JOHNDROE: I think, one, that the President -- President Bush and Chancellor Merkel see eye to eye on Germany, as do -- see eye to eye -- they see eye to eye in Germany, too, but as -- and Iran, as do most -- most of the international community, as we've seen through the unanimous -- two unanimous resolutions from the U.N. Security Council sanctioning Iran.

So obviously, this is going to be a topic of discussion. I think you're seeing companies around the world think twice before they invest or trade with Iran, because you don't know who you're dealing with. When you deal with an Iranian company, you don't know who you're dealing with. Are you dealing with a company that perhaps helps support terrorism? Maybe. Are you dealing with a company that perhaps supports proliferation activities? Yes, maybe that, or maybe both. So I think companies are looking at that, taking a close, hard look at whether they want to deal with companies in Iran.


Q Any reaction to the indictment on Kerik, the President's nominee at one point for Homeland Security?

MR. JOHNDROE: Let me look into that.


Q Is there anything you can give us in terms of color, in terms of what they're going to -- what they're going to do? Like, is there a menu tonight for dinner, or anything at all?

MR. JOHNDROE: Sure. We will release the menu out of Mrs. Bush's office, and we'll get that for you. I expect that tomorrow -- tomorrow is supposed to be a nice day here in Crawford, and I expect that the President will want to make sure that his guests are able to -- they'll take a tour of the ranch, I'm sure, and that sort of thing. He's fond of taking visitors around and showing off the ranch. And so I think they'll spend a lot of time together to -- discussing issues, but then also just relaxing.

Q Is the President going to go hiking? The President mentioned something about that in one of the interviews.

MR. JOHNDROE: Yes, let's see, let's see. As I said, it should be a nice day tomorrow. I know he wants to show the Chancellor around, so I certainly wouldn't rule that out.

Q They had a barbecue in Germany, I believe. Is there a barbecue tonight? Even though the menu is not being released, can I say it's a barbecue --

MR. JOHNDROE: We'll get you the menu. I'll get you the menu -- soon.

Q What is President Bush hoping to get from Chancellor Merkel on the issue of sanctions on Iran? I mean, is there a specific plan --

MR. JOHNDROE: Look, I think -- as I said, they're going to discuss Iran. These are part of ongoing discussions. We are also waiting to get reports back from Solana and Mr. ElBaradei later on this month. Then everyone will go back to the U.N. Security Council to discuss those. So I just look at this as part of ongoing -- ongoing discussions on the situation.

So, okay? Yes, ma'am.

Q One more question. On climate change, the President and Chancellor Merkel have a difference of opinion about caps. And I'm wondering, is anything decisive going to come out of their discussions today, ahead of the Bali meeting?

MR. JOHNDROE: Look, I think that they both agree that something needs to be done on climate change. That's why the President made remarks leading into the G8 in Heiligendamm. That's why he convened the major economies meeting a couple of weeks ago at the State Department, to have a good proposal in a post-Kyoto world that reduces greenhouse gases.

And so I'm sure this will come up. So let's let the discussions take place. But the President -- we're committed to going to Bali and discussing with countries there the way ahead on climate change. And so let's let the meeting take place.

Okay? Thank you all.

* * * * *

MR. JOHNDROE: Two more announcements. Today we kick off the contest to name the 2007 National Thanksgiving Turkey. The President will pardon the turkey during the annual ceremony, which will take place at the White House on November the 20th. We encourage everyone to log on to and vote for your favorite name for the National Thanksgiving Turkey.

For the week ahead: The President will honor our nation's veterans in an event this Sunday; details to come.

On Monday afternoon, the President will return to the White House.

On Tuesday, the President will travel to New Albany, Indiana, and make remarks on the budget. That evening the President and Mrs. Bush will host a dinner in honor of America's Promise, at the White House.

Wednesday, no public events.

On Thursday, the President and Mrs. Bush will participate in the presentation of the 2007 National Medals of Arts and National Humanities Medals. That will take place in the East Room; open press. Later that evening, the President will make remarks at the Federalist Society's 25th anniversary gala dinner. The dinner is being held at Union Station and is open press.

On Friday, November the 16th, the President will participate in a photo opportunity with the recipients of the 2006 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring. That will be in the Oval Office; stills at the top. Later in the day, the President will make remarks on National Adoption Day in the East Room; open press.

Thank you.

END 11:46 A.M. CST