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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
November 30, 2007
Press Briefing by Dana Perino and Mark Dybul, U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator
James S. Brady Briefing Room
1:40 P.M. EST
MS. PERINO: It's been our great pleasure to work with Kelly O'Donnell of NBC News. And today is her last day covering the White House full-time, and so we wish you the very best in your -- (applause.)
MS. O'DONNELL: Thank you.
MS. PERINO: Maybe you can knock some sense into Congress while you are up there. But it's been a true pleasure; the President and Mrs. Bush have enjoyed having you here, all of your colleagues have, and I speak on behalf of the press office and I'm sure the sentiment is felt in the room.
MS. O'DONNELL: Thank you very much.
Q Speech. (Laughter.)
MS. PERINO: I have one announcement and then I have a special guest to introduce. Today U.S. Trade Representative Schwab announced a groundbreaking proposal as part of the Doha negotiations to increase trade for environmental goods and services, with priority action on technologies directly linked to addressing climate change and energy security. This is something the President has been talking about for a while, and so has Secretary Paulson over at Treasury.
By eliminating these tariffs and non-tariff barriers to environmental goods and services -- particularly clean energy technology such as solar panels, wind turbines, fuel cells -- we can lower their costs and increase global access and use of these products around the world. This initiative is the result of the President's commitment earlier this year to work with nations to eliminate the tariffs and other barriers to trade and clean energy technologies, and we certainly celebrate that decision.
My guest today is Ambassador and Dr. Mark Dybul, from the State Department. He runs the President's Emergency Plan for AID [sic] Office at the State Department. As you know, today is World AIDS Day. We are celebrating -- we are mourning loss of life, but also celebrating the fact that many people are able to survive and live with this disease. And so we have a special ribbon that is out front of the White House today; it will be up through Sunday. It's eight feet wide and 28 feet tall; it was quite a feat to get it up there and we're very glad it is.
The President has already given remarks, but I've invited Ambassador Dybul here to answer a few of your questions and then I'll finish up. Mark.
AMBASSADOR DYBUL: Hi, good afternoon, everyone. As Dana said, it is World AIDS Day and we're here to commemorate the lives of people who have lost. I think you all know the numbers -- 33 million people living with this disease. HIV is still the leading cause of death in sub-Saharan Africa, so we have a lot of work to do. But as Dana said, we're also celebrating today the many lives that are being saved -- the parents, teachers, health care workers, peacekeepers that are alive to build their communities.
And so we talk about numbers. The President announced the American people are supporting 1.36 million people receiving antiretroviral therapy, care for 6.7 million people, including 2.7 million orphans and vulnerable children. Staggering numbers when you think that only a few years ago only 50,000 people in all of sub-Saharan Africa were receiving treatment. So these numbers are things we talk about, but behind those numbers are the parents, the teachers, the health care workers, the peacekeepers that are alive to build their communities and create hope.
And today the President met with some of the heroes that are making this work. Functionally what we're doing is supporting people on the ground. More than 80 percent of our partners are local organizations and local people, and they're really a legion of heroes out there giving all of themselves for others, and the President met some of those people today. They are the ones who are making it work. It's the leadership of the people in the country, and it's the grassroots local organizations that are out there serving their brothers and sisters.
So I'd be happy to take any questions about --
Q Has the disease been conquered now?
AMBASSADOR DYBUL: Oh, it would be tough to say "conquered." But the tide is turning, and that's the important thing. We need to turn the tide to have a reduction in infections and to have the people who are suffering with this infection cared for and treated. And that's what's happened. So we're going in the right direction.
As President Bush has said today, we talk about a big success -- and it is -- but we're only starting. And that's why he called on Congress to support the next phase, the $30 billion for the next five years.
Q Is it education more than medicine?
AMBASSADOR DYBUL: Oh it's both. It's both. About 46 percent of the budget goes for treatment, which involves not only drugs, it involves the people who provide the drugs, it involves the training for those people. It involves new infrastructure. It involves laboratories. It involves a whole supply chain system, as well as a lot to deliver therapy. That's the treatment piece.
But one of the most amazing things about this initiative, and I hope everyone -- this is the largest international health initiative in history dedicated to a single disease; rather extraordinary statement. And it involves prevention, care and treatment. And there have been initiatives to deal with one or the other, but you need all three. So about 46 percent goes for treatment; about 29 percent goes for prevention, because ultimately the bedrock is to prevent new infections. But you need the care and treatment as well, and the care is for orphans and vulnerable children, and also people living with HIV/AIDS. So it's prevention, care and treatment.
Q One other question. In terms of religious aspects of contraception, has that been a block?
AMBASSADOR DYBUL: No, and as President Bush said today, we support behavior change, which includes the provision of condoms. But you also need to change the way people behave. Really, what we're doing is beginning with young people, five, six, seven, 10 year olds, to try to get them to respect themselves and to respect others. And in Africa that's very important. Gender in equality is a major issue in Africa and Asia and parts of Latin America. So when you begin with young people and teach them to respect themselves and respect others, it means we will hopefully have a new generation where we have gender equality. And we're starting to see some of this.
It also means, if you respect yourself and respect others, that you'll wait for sexual activity, and that you'll be faithful to a single partner; and that when you are sexually active, you'll use condoms. So it's a very comprehensive and coordinated approach. But we're also doing other aspects: prevention of mother-to-child transmission, building safe blood systems, doing counseling and testing so people know they're positive and can have a more effective approach to identify people who are positive to target prevention programs there, but also to try to keep people negative. So it's a very comprehensive evidence-based approach.
Q But it sounds like there is a religious element.
AMBASSADOR DYBUL: There is -- I wouldn't say there's a religious element. I would say there's involvement of faith-based organizations in moving these programs forward. The President met with some of them today. Now why is that? Well there are a couple of reasons. First of all, to be honest, most people don't listen to people like me. Young kids aren't going to listen to health care professionals or ministers of health. Some -- they do listen to doctors and nurses in their community. But in communities they'll listen to the community leaders, and frequently those are faith-based leaders, which helps teach children to change. It's not just faith communities, though -- it's schools, it's the public sector, it's country leaders -- President Mohai and President Kikwete are out there as well, First Ladies, it's tribal leaders, it's everyone.
In the terms of provision of care and treatment, we've got to engage the faith-based sector. The World Health Organization has estimated 30 to 70 percent of health care in Africa is provided by faith-based organizations. You can't possibly tackle a health care emergency like AIDS if you ignore 30 to 70 percent of the health care infrastructure.
And when you talk about orphans and vulnerable children, most of that -- most of that type of care is provided by faith-based organizations. Frequently you'll go to a village in Africa and you'll see no trace of a government or a public health sector, but you'll see a church and you'll see a faith community. And so you've got to work with those groups in prevention, care and treatment.
Q To what degree is the --
Q I've heard a lot of talk about Africa today. And activists in the nation's capital say there is an emergency, there is a crisis right here in the President's own backyard. Washington, D.C., as you know, has the highest rate of new AIDS cases in the country and there are roughly 10,000 people in Washington, D.C. living with AIDS, one in 50 D.C. residents; 81 percent of new cases are African Americans. Activists here say the President isn't doing enough right here in the nation's capital.
AMBASSADOR DYBUL: Well, I'm a Global AIDS Coordinator, so I deal with the rest of the world, so you'll have to talk with the Department of Health and Human Services. But I do think it's important -- I believe this is in the fact sheet you have -- that under this administration around $90 billion has been dedicated to domestic HIV/AIDS, including $18 billion for research. There's been a 47 percent increase in resources for treatment here in this country. So there is a major effort here as well, but we're also looking to the rest of the world because that's where most of the infection is. About 68 percent -- 63 to 68 percent of infection of the world is in Africa. And so we have a heavy concentration there, but there is a heavy effort here in the United States as well.
Q To follow up, though -- I mean, from your knowledge of the crisis in Africa, do you consider, when you hear numbers like this, is this is a crisis in Washington, D.C.?
AMBASSADOR DYBUL: Well, it's certainly something that needs to be tackled. And I saw Dr. Shannon Hader -- who used to work in our office, actually, who now heads the D.C. program -- talking about them, talking about the efforts they're putting in to tackle the epidemic here. But I don't know enough about it say much more about it.
Q Can I have one more, just on the international funding? The programs internationally -- I was trying to get a breakdown earlier and I don't know if you had it now -- the percentage that is spent in the prevention side of the program on abstinence versus needle exchange and condom use.
AMBASSADOR DYBUL: Well, in terms of needle exchange, we actually don't support needle exchange; neither did the previous administration. We carried forward the last administration's policy on global needle exchange. We do support methadone replacement, which I think, you know, our Institute of Medicine has appropriately said is the most effective way to treat drug users. This is a clinical addiction; it is not a social disease. And there's a clinical treatment with this methadone. And methadone substitution therapy actually is the most effective way to reduce HIV among intravenous drug users, so that's what we support.
In terms of the overall pie, as I mentioned about 29 percent of our overall budget is for prevention. Within that we have many different areas. Seven percent of our overall effort is for abstinence and being faithful, both of those, A and B; and about 5.5 percent is effectively for the condoms piece. Since the emergency plan began, the American people have supplied 1.8 billion condoms globally. That, according to Peter Piot, the head of U.N. AIDS, is more than the rest of the developed world combined.
So we do provide a lot of condoms, but it's in this context of behavior change, because condoms alone aren't going to tackle this epidemic, and the data from Africa are overwhelming here, whether it's a study published in Science magazine, if it's in Zimbabwe, showing that you need partner reduction and fidelity, being faithful to a single partner, delaying sexual debut, or being abstinent or -- if you are sexually active to refrain from sexual activity, and correct and consistent condom use; you need all three.
Same data from Kenya, same data from Cote d'Ivoire, same data now from the U.N. AIDS report in many countries where we're seeing this type of behavior change. So you've got to have all pieces, and that's why we support all pieces.
Q Could you indicate how much stigmas that are associated with AIDS are still a roadblock in progress you're trying to make?
AMBASSADOR DYBUL: No question stigma is still out there. Stigma is still here, you know. When I was a young doctor in San Francisco in this country, we were suing doctors to touch HIV-positive people, to operate on them, to do dental work on them. There's been huge -- we're going through the same thing, and that's expected, as people start to learn about the disease.
But what's really radically changing -- and some of the people today the President met with talked about this -- is how radically things have changed in the last couple years. It's been this total transformation from despair to hope, and that's helping with the stigma.
Presidents of countries -- President Kikwete, President Mogae -- are talking about it publicly. They're getting tested for HIV publicly.
What helped change stigma in this country was effectively medicalizing the disease, talking about it as a medical disease -- and that means you need care and treatment, and that means you need counseling and testing. And that's why the President combined prevention, care and treatment, because you've got to get the care and treatment out there to break the stigma.
No question it's still a problem. We spend a lot of effort on anti-stigma campaigns. It's why you need the faith community. It's why you need the tribal leaders. It's why you need everyone in the community talking about this infection, to help break down that stigma.
So it's still there. But I actually always ask this question, and over the last three years, I'll go back and I'll ask people, is stigma going down? And they'll say yes. And the reason is because people are talking about it more, they're talking -- we're talking about it more, we're providing resources, programs are getting out.
So the stigma is going down, but we've still got work -- we've got work to do on everything. That's why the President said we have success here, but it's only just begun.
Q Sir, how serious is the disease in Asia, especially in India? And is the Indian government doing anything about it?
AMBASSADOR DYBUL: Well, as I'm sure you know, U.N. AIDS just revised the numbers and actually revised the number downward in India by about half. There are some very successful programs in India, and Prime Minister Singh has significantly increased resources for HIV/AIDS. The U.S. government is a Privileged Partner with India in their fight; we work in Tamulnadu and Maharashtra. And in Tamulnadu, actually, we've seen a significant decline in HIV infection over time, so there is a response. But the infection is less than we thought because some better evaluation was done.
Q Thank you, Mr. Ambassador. You make reference to faith-based organizations. Can you simply say private sector organizations and private business? And also, does your office have a list of how much money they are using in terms of private dollars to combat the disease?
AMBASSADOR DYBUL: Absolutely. And it's a very good point. I refer to faith-based organizations because I was asked specifically about it. But we actually talk about -- and the President talked about this, and has in the past -- all walks of life, all sectors needing to respond. Governments don't have a corner on compassion and generosity, and certainly not on ability. And so we need all sectors to respond. So we actually talk about government, non-governmental organizations, including faith and community-based organizations, and the private sector. We've actually had some incredibly successful public-private partnerships. Mrs. Bush has launched several of them for us, and they've been incredibly successful.
So you've got to involve the private sector, as well. All sectors need to be involved; tribal leaders need to be involved. This isn't a single-sector disease, it walks across all of our lives, and so you need all sectors involved.
Q Would your office provide a list of aggregate donations for research strictly from private business or private sector organizations?
AMBASSADOR DYBUL: Those estimates are actually made -- we don't collect them, but other organizations do -- the Hudson Institute, for example, has a full list of all of that, from the private sector, from individual Americans. I think one thing the President focused on today is, there were a couple of people he met with today who are in the private sector, business people, who are going to Africa to dedicate their time to serve others in need. The incredible generosity of the American people and compassion of the American people is not restricted to government. And so all these different walks of life, including the private sector, are contributing.
Again, I can tell you very specific public-private partnerships where the private sector has come together to support this incredible humanitarian effort.
Q Thank you.
MS. PERINO: All right, other topics?
Q Iraq's Prime Minister has asked President Bush to hand over Saddam Hussein's cousin -- he's known as "Chemical Ali" -- and two other officials who are sentenced to hang. Is the President going to do that?
MS. PERINO: I do not have an update for you. I've seen those reports and that request. I'll need to check on it, Terry. I've been with the President today on World AIDS Day, so I'll check.
Q Have we taken a position? I guess we have refused to in the past.
MS. PERINO: I do not know. Let me get --
Q Why wouldn't they turn him over to the Iraqi --
MS. PERINO: Same answer. I've got to check on it.
Q Is the President aware of the concerns expressed by about two dozen generals, formal generals, who are advocating an end to the "don't ask, don't tell" policy? Does the President think because of their experience with unit cohesion and morale and so forth, that that's something to be considered?
MS. PERINO: I have not spoken to him about it. I did check this morning policy-wise, with our policymakers that we are not seeking a change in the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. But of course as people have experiences and they want to share those with us, we'll take them into consideration.
Q Can you tell us why the U.S. has withdrawn a resolution in the Security Council which praised the Israelis --
MS. PERINO: I checked right before I came out here. That has just happened up at the U.N. The quick answer that I got was that they didn't think it was a necessary resolution to -- in order to get the peace negotiations underway and launched, that was started earlier this week in Annapolis, and that's all I have for you.
Q Why was it put forward, if it's not necessary?
MS. PERINO: I don't have anything on it. I literally checked on it right before I came down, which is why I was a little bit late, but that was all I got, was that the reason it was pulled out was they felt it wasn't necessary.
Q Does the President want no troops out from Iraq on his watch? I'm talking about all the troops.
MS. PERINO: Well, 5,700 troops will be home by the end of the year, so that is some troops coming home. The President said that troop levels are going to be made by commanders on the ground, and that we're going to have to talk about --
Q Why should it be? Why can't the American people have a say?
MS. PERINO: -- return on success. The American people have had a say. They elected a President who is their Commander-in-Chief and is making decisions based on what his commanders on the ground are telling him.
Q And you think that was the vote of the American people?
MS. PERINO: They elected a Commander-in-Chief, and the President is bringing home 5,700 troops, based on the recommendations of his commanders on the ground and based on return on success. Hopefully in the future we can bring home more, but it's going to depend on what General Petraeus reports and remember he will come back in March.
Q Why should we depend on him?
MS. PERINO: Because he is the commander on the ground, Helen. He's the one who is making sure that the situation is moving --
Q You mean how many more people we kill?
MS. PERINO: Helen, I find it really unfortunate that you use your front row position, bestowed upon you by your colleagues, to make such statements. This is a -- it is an honor and a privilege to be in the briefing room, and to suggest that we, at the United States, are killing innocent people is just absurd and very offensive.
Q Do you know how many we have since the start of this war?
MS. PERINO: How many -- we are going after the enemy, Helen. To the extent that any innocent Iraqis have been killed, we have expressed regret for it.
Q Oh, regret. It doesn't bring back a life.
MS. PERINO: Helen, we are in a war zone, and our military works extremely hard to make sure that everyone has the opportunity for liberty and freedom and democracy, and that is exactly what they are doing.
I'm going to move on.
Q Dana, two questions. You heard the question that I addressed to Ambassador Dybul, and he says he's the expert on the international side of AIDS. So what do you say to the concerns by activists that the President has not done enough to address an AIDS crisis in his own backyard?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think -- as he said in -- you have the fact sheet -- we are putting resources and money towards it. We have -- there is a need here in America, but there is also a need in other countries, including Africa, Latin American and Asia. One of the things the President talks about as well is that it is in our national security interests to make sure that countries aren't completely destabilized by an infection that we know that we can help prevent -- or at least we can help people be able to live healthy and productive lives, which gives them hope, which hopefully turns around their situation.
And so there has to be a dual track. I would have to check in and see, in terms of what the Department of Health and Human Services has in regards to the D.C. situation. Clearly the numbers that you read, I have to believe that those are accurate. It's disturbing and of a concern. And let us check with Department of Health and Human Services and see what actions are being taken. He mentioned some that the doctors are taking, and so we'll check.
Q I wondered if, do you know if the President, himself, is aware of the situation in Washington, D.C. and how concerned he is about it on World AIDS Day?
MS. PERINO: Well, the President is concerned about anybody who has HIV/AIDS, and that is why he has worked to help reduce the stigma, to provide hope for people, to provide more drugs to individuals.
And remember, he has helped empower the faith-based community and encouraged the private sector to move forward to try to help, because government is not going to be able to do it all, and I think by the very fact that he did that helps launch organizations and new initiatives that can take place at a community level, and maybe D.C. needs a little bit more attention on that end. And perhaps we can help in that regard. So we'll check and we'll find out.
Q And just one other on -- any reaction to the word now that a number of ships and even one U.S. aircraft have been denied either port or landing rights in Hong Kong?
MS. PERINO: I'm following the story. Obviously this is something that we've been talking about for the past couple of days. DOD will have details, in terms of how many ships or in terms of the incident.
Q Any White House reaction to this?
MS. PERINO: This incident has not prevented us from being able to work with the Chinese. We are two very large countries, very powerful countries. We have a deep and mature relationship. We have open lines of communication, and we are taking advantage of those now so that we can establish better communication, and part of that is going to be establishing this mil-to-mil or military-to-military hotline that the President and President Hu Jintao agreed to when we were at APEC. And so I think that this has underscored a need to get that moving even faster.
Q But we're not talking about the same story we were talking about several days ago. This is new. They have now banned port calls at Christmas.
MS. PERINO: No, I understand. I understand that. And that's why I said that we are --
Q If we're so close to them, how come we haven't been able to work it out?
MS. PERINO: We are -- we've been communicating with them, and I am sure that we will be able to work it out with them. But that's why we are seeking a clarification from the other day. And we are working to make sure that this situation can be resolved.
Q What's your understanding about why it happened -- why it's happening?
MS. PERINO: Well, what I said the other day was that there was a misunderstanding or a miscommunication -- in my mind --
Q But it still said -- I mean, this is something new. I mean, if there's something new here --
MS. PERINO: No, I'm not sure if it all didn't happen on the same day. I'm not positive.
Q They did not.
MS. PERINO: That's why I need to check with DOD -- in terms of the decision that the Chinese made, when they made those decisions.
Q Well, in terms of their announcing it, it didn't happen on the same day.
MS. PERINO: I realize that, but there's a distinction.
Q What do you see as their reason?
MS. PERINO: As I said, Helen, we've asked for a clarification.
Q Is there a sense of trying to tone down the rhetoric on this and not be perceived as being too critical of the Chinese in a public setting like this?
MS. PERINO: No, I -- what I'm expressing is what the President believes, which is that we have lots of different areas of cooperation with China. We have a complicated relationship in some regards. We're two big countries. We have lots of issues regarding trade; we're working with them on a variety of issues at the U.N., including the issues regarding Iran; we have military-to-military exchanges that we're working towards. And this relationship is growing and maturing, and this is something that two nations should be able to work through, and I don't think escalating it everyday is necessary. We've asked for a clarification and we have a -- we are communicating with them both from here and also at DOD; they're talking to their counterparts as well.
Q Treasury Secretary Paulson has been briefing officials from the financial industry on negotiations with lenders to freeze mortgage rates for the issue to sub-prime mortgage holders. It looks like he is close to an announcement. What can you tell us about it?
MS. PERINO: It's premature for me to talk about any decisions that might come from those discussions that Secretary Paulson is having. But I'll remind you that on August 31st the President called on Secretary Paulson and Secretary Jackson to work together amongst their own agencies and also with private lenders to see what we can do in order to help individuals who might face losing their home in this downturn in the economy -- I'm sorry, downturn in the housing market.
The economy -- the fundamentals of the economy remain strong, but that doesn't mean that Secretary Paulson has wasted any time in trying to make sure that we have a bulwark against that in the future. So that is why he's having these negotiations, and I'm loathe to make any announcement prior to him being able to finalize the negotiations.
Q Is that because -- if I can follow up, is that because it's not done? Because he seems to be talking about it himself to officials. Or is it -- why should we be last to know?
MS. PERINO: The discussion that Secretary Paulson is making -- or, is having will culminate in something that he will announce at the appropriate time. And now is not the time.
Q Yes, but it's being telegraphed now. It was in The Wall Street Journal this morning. It will be on the network news broadcasts tonight --
MS. PERINO: Bill, there's a lot of things that end up in the paper that haven't been announced by the federal government.
Q No, no, no, no. This is directly from people at Treasury. And it will be in tomorrow morning's papers. So why is the White House stepping back?
MS. PERINO: Because there is no announcement to make, and I'm not -- you're not going to be able to get an announcement out of me, because I don't have one to make.
Q Same subject?
Q Without an announcement --
MS. PERINO: Gosh, you guys are -- lots of yelling today.
Q -- can you answer criticism that this bails out people that -- a plan like this would bail out people who made bad financial choices, and that people who struggle --
MS. PERINO: The President has made clear --
Q -- all the time to make payments every month --
MS. PERINO: The President has been clear that nothing that we will --
Q -- just finishing my question.
MS. PERINO: Okay. The President has been clear that no taxpayer money should be used for any sort of bailout. And so let's let Secretary Paulson and Secretary Jackson have the discussions that they are having with the private sector. And when they're -- if and when they are ready to announce something, we'll let them have that.
We are also encouraging Congress to take action on the reforms the President has proposed, such as the reform in the mortgage taxation provision that we've asked, that I think is sitting in the Senate still.
Q Would any of this signal that you really do fear a recession, if something like this doesn't happen?
MS. PERINO: No, I think -- I'd refer you to Eddie Lazear yesterday, who said that while we are facing a headwind because of the housing and credit issues, we believe the fundamentals of the economy are strong.
Q The President announced this morning that he will be traveling to sub-Saharan Africa.
MS. PERINO: Yes.
Q Can you give us any indication of when, and which countries he will visit, and basically what is the overall purpose of that?
MS. PERINO: Well, the purpose of the trip will be -- he'll have multiple reasons for going, obviously. He'll want to talk about freedom, he'll want to talk about and see -- on behalf of the American people -- if the taxpayer dollars that we are putting forward for the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief is bearing fruit. He wants to make sure that these programs are held accountable, so that Americans can feel comfortable that their financial donations are bearing fruit.
I can't give you a date. The President said "early next year" -- that's as best as I can do right now. And when we have --
Q Can you give us a month?
MS. PERINO: No. He said "early next year."
Q What about the countries?
MS. PERINO: No, nothing further to announce, just that he will be going to the region, and when we have more for you, we will --
Q Same subject, please?
MS. PERINO: I can hear you. (Laughter.) Okay.
Q Does the President know anybody with AIDS?
MS. PERINO: Of course he does. In fact, he met with one today, "Auntie Bridget," who was one of the women who was a part of the event today. And remember that he went to Africa in July of 2003. I'm sure there are other people that he's met with here throughout the years. He's been in office for seven years. He might have known somebody from beforehand. But he's certainly been in contact with people with HIV/AIDS. He's very concerned.
Q I meant whether he personally knew anyone, not whether he'd simply met somebody --
MS. PERINO: I don't know.
Q I can try.
MS. PERINO: I'll come back to you, but let me just finish these guys here.
Q Will you come here?
MS. PERINO: Yes.
Q Thank you, Dana. There's two major elections going on that are controversial in the eyes of the world that will be held this weekend: Chile and Russia. And in particular, the --
MS. PERINO: Chile?
Q I'm sorry, Venezuela. Will the White House put out a statement on the election results? And are you monitoring those elections?
MS. PERINO: Well, we're certainly keeping an eye on them and, if there will be a statement, we'll let you know. But we are concerned that people would not be able to have the free and fair elections that they deserve, and the President has expressed his concern about that just last week in a statement in regards to the Russian situation, and I made one yesterday regarding Venezuela.
But clearly in Venezuela you've had multiple protests by up to 100,000 people, I saw yesterday, in terms of -- that was what was reported -- who are unhappy with the Venezuela government, the Hugo Chavez government, and I think there is good reason for them to be unhappy. So this will be a decision that is up to the Venezuelans to make and we'll see what they decide on Sunday.
Q Will you make similar statements if there is protest against the Pakistani elections, about their legality?
MS. PERINO: Look, I think that in Pakistan what we have called for is for people to be able to meet, to assemble, to express themselves, to be able to express themselves in a free and fair media that we've asked for, so that they can have a robust and vigorous debate before the campaign and before the elections on January 8th. And we hope that everybody will be able to do that and we urge everyone to do that without any violence.
Q Thank you. Thank you very much, Dana. Two questions. WorldNetDaily's Jerusalem bureau chief reports that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah organization and its military wing, the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, took responsibility for every suicide bombing in Israel during the past three years. And my question: What's the White House reaction to this report?
MS. PERINO: I haven't seen the report so I'm not going to be able to react.
Q WorldNetDaily also reports that if Israel hands over any of the West Bank territory to Abbas, that Hamas will take over that land. And my question: Since Hamas so quickly drove Fatah out of the Gaza Strip, why does the Bush White House believe that Israel should give any West Bank land to Fatah?
MS. PERINO: I'm not going to comment on that, but what I am going to say is that Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas were here this week, they were here at Annapolis, they came to the White House several times. They have launched their negotiations and we should all be wishing them the best in trying to work to let them work through all of those core issues that they're going to have to deal with, which is going to be quite emotional, is going to be very difficult and is going to take some time.
Q Do you want to respond to Congressman Murtha's comments last night when he said the surge appears to working militarily, though he says he still has obvious problems with the war in Iraq; and also that he might be comfortable with a two-year troop withdrawal instead of a one-year?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that the fact that Congress members have gone over to Iraq in order to see for themselves what General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker have been able to do, is worthwhile. And I think that many of them have come back and said you are seeing a difference on the ground, it's too early to declare any sort of victory, but we're certainly having an impact. That is why the troops need the funding that we've requested, that the Department of Defense has asked for, so that these troops can continue to be well supplied, and well fed, and encouraged, and supported also by the State Department, because as Representative Murtha also said, there needs to be work on the political side of things.
But one of the things that Congress suggested in its $50 million -- $50 billion bridge proposal -- they cut out all the money for the State Department, which is the very political money that they say that they need. And so when they get back on Tuesday, we hope that they will get down to work, stop ducking the issue, and finally get our troops funded.
I'm going to go back here. Go ahead.
Q Hi, Dana. Totally different topic. A Canadian federal court has ruled that the United States is not a safe country for refugees, citing the example of Maher Arar and saying that the U.S. sends refugees back to countries that torture. What's the White House reaction?
MS. PERINO: Well, the court decision just came out. It was in a Canadian court, and we will review it. But I do believe we have a robust protection regime for refugees. And one of the things you just have to look at is our situation with Guantanamo Bay, in which many people have asked us to move people on -- start getting people out of Guantanamo Bay and back to the countries from which they came. But one of the reasons we haven't is because we don't get the assurances that we need.
And so we'll review the decision, but we fully adhere to our treaty obligations, and I think that that report might be misguided.
Q Thank you.
END 2:14 P.M. EST