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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
December 5, 2007
Press Gaggle by Tony Fratto
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Omaha, Nebraska
9:10 A.M. EST
MR. FRATTO: So, on our way to Omaha, Nebraska, for two events: a visit to a community health center -- and I'll tell you a little bit about that shortly -- and for a fundraiser for Secretary Johanns for his race to be the next U.S. senator from the great state of Nebraska.
I think you have this on your press schedules already -- the President, upon arrival, will make a statement to the pool. You can expect that at the top of the statement will be about Iran and the continuing international concern for the potential threat posed by Iran. And then he'll make some comments about Secretary Johanns, as well. And after arrival, we'll head to the tour of One World Community Health Centers. At 9:50 a.m. there, the President will participate in a roundtable on health care.
Just as a reminder, back in 2001, the President set a goal -- actually, I think it was in 2000, during the 2000 campaign, and then in 2001, in making his 2002 budget announcement, the President called for 1,200 new or expanded community health centers in needy places across the country in order to bring health services to individuals at or near the poverty line. I think about 90 percent of the people who visit community health centers are below 200 percent of the poverty line. So these community health centers are bringing necessary services to people who overwhelming lack -- of course, lack health insurance. And so they're getting the health care they need at these centers. And we're very proud that we've not just met this goal, but we've exceeded it. I think the number is 1,236 new or expanded community health centers across the country.
So we'll do that visit, and the President, I think, will make some comments at the bottom of the roundtable. We'll bring you all in. And then at 11:30 a.m., the President will attend the Johanns for Senate reception. I think it's a Nebraska victory reception, also, and we'll try to get you some details on that, as well.
Q Tony, does the NIE change the administration's push for a third round of U.N. sanctions, either in terms of how you go about it, or even the need for it?
MR. FRATTO: No, absolutely not. It doesn't change it. In fact, what the NIE confirmed with the highest degree of confidence from the U.S. intelligence community was that Iran had an active nuclear weapons program. And it has said that now with, as I said, the highest degree of confidence. This was a covert program that they hid from the international community. They still hide from the international community the details of this program. And it's counter to their responsibilities and obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and it's contrary to the binding mandates of two U.N. Security Council -- two existing U.N. Security Council resolutions. And so we, of course, will be actively pushing for a third U.N. Security Council resolution --
Q China says that that's not looking likely. I mean, they say things have changed. Everyone will start from the position things have changed.
MR. FRATTO: I think we'll continue to have our conversations with the other Permanent 5 members of the Security Council, plus Germany. And I know Secretary Rice and the President's National Security Advisor, Steve Hadley, are having conversations with their counterparts.
But anyone who thinks that the threat from Iran has receded or diminished is naive and is not paying attention to the facts. This is still a country, as I said, that is hiding information from the International Atomic Energy Agency, from the U.N. Security Council, from all the international community. It's in violation of its Non-Proliferation Treaty obligations. And it's in violation of two U.N. Security Council resolutions that speak very directly to this subject. It's also a country that's -- that is testing mid-range ballistic missiles. And it's a country that's continuing its enrichment -- uranium enrichment activities.
So what we have said all along is that that is indication of a threat that we need to take seriously; we do take it seriously -- along with all the other activities that Iran has been doing and continues to do to be a destabilizing force in the Middle East, including its support for international terrorism.
Q Does the President believe that -- does the President believe, as some of his even conservative allies are now saying, that because this thing has -- because the drive for international sanctions may be diminishing, as evidenced by China's comments and by other comments, that now is the time to maybe reconsider the idea of direct talks, unconditional talks, with Iran?
MR. FRATTO: No, the talks with Iran should be conditional, as Secretary Rice has laid out in the past. They should be conditioned on Iran's compliance with its U.N. -- with the U.N. Security Council resolutions. And we have said, and Secretary Rice has said, that she will meet with the Iranians any time, anywhere, as long as they meet that obligation to suspend uranium enrichment. And the very generous offer that was on the table, with respect to these negotiations and with respect to a civil nuclear electric power generation program in Iran, that we're willing to help with that, and the international community is willing to help with that. And that would be the responsible way to proceed.
Q Just to clarify one point from the press conference yesterday, the President was -- said that he was told by Mr. McConnell, just generally, that there had been some new intelligence and that people were taking another look at it. Did the President at that point ask any follow-up? Did Mr. McConnell offer any comments that, in fact, there might have to be a serious reevaluation of the whole intelligence?
MR. FRATTO: What Director McConnell said is that we're going to go back and do rigorous analysis of this intelligence, and when we can be certain of it, we're going to come back and talk to you -- and that's what they did. I've seen some criticism of, number one, of the international -- I mean, of the intelligence community in the last couple days, which I think is just incredibly misguided. The intelligence community is out there doing very difficult, courageous work to try to get the intelligence right. They're doing it in some of the most hardened places to try to acquire this intelligence, and they're doing an astounding job of it, under Director McConnell's leadership.
And then I've seen some criticism of the leadership of the intelligence community for not being more forthcoming, and I think this is also unfounded. It is important, if you're going to tell the Congress and the American people and the President of the United States an important piece of intelligence information, that it be rigorously analyzed, that you have the highest degree of confidence. And that's what they went back and did and they took the extra time to do that.
And then I've seen criticism that the President should have either changed his rhetoric or asked more. What he asked of his intelligence community was to tell him what was right when you know it's right, and that's what they did. In terms of rhetoric, there is no rhetoric to change when the facts on the ground still suggest to any reasonable observer that Iran poses a threat and is a destabilizing force, unless they change their activities.
Q In that conversation did McConnell tell him that our previous intelligence could be all wrong? How -- (inaudible) -- was he about that?
MR. FRATTO: I don't have anything on that.
Q Iran says the U.S. should apologize to it. Iranian leaders are saying that; that it wants compensation for the sanctions. And also, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is saying this is a victory for Iran.
MR. FRATTO: I think that's absolutely absurd and Iran should take no comfort or vindication from the NIE, because what the NIE has said, with -- again, with the highest degree of confidence, is that Iran has been lying about its nuclear program to the international community. It has been in violation of its NPT obligations, and it has been in violation of U.N. Security Council resolution sanctions. So if they take vindication from that, you can see how divorced they are from reality on this. And fortunately, the international community sees this also.
Q I just want to follow up on Mike's question. Was there any indication from McConnell of the nature of the intelligence in the meeting in August?
MR. FRATTO: I can't give you more detail on what Director McConnell said to the President.
Q What about Mohamed ElBaradei saying that this report was too generous to Iran? What do you make of that?
MR. FRATTO: I didn't see what ElBaradei said, but I can't imagine -- so I don't know what that -- I don't know what he would mean by that. I think the report was -- it was very direct and clear on both the history of the Iranian threat and the present of the Iranian threat.
Q On the Mideast trip, the upcoming Mideast trip next month, any --
MR. FRATTO: No, I'm sorry, nothing more than what we said yesterday: In January. And when we can give you more on it we certainly will, but we're just not ready to be able to do that yet.
Q On a different subject, the House is going to take up energy legislation this week and the bill has some things the President has wanted, including increased mileage standards and incentives for alternative fuels. Is this a bill that the President can sign right now?
MR. FRATTO: We're not even sure that this is a bill that members of Congress know whether they can vote for it or not yet, let alone whether the President can sign it. In fact, I don't believe -- the last I heard, the members of the Ways and Means Committee hadn't even seen the language on the tax provisions that apparently are in this bill.
We obviously have problems with the tax revisions; we have problems with the RPS standards that are in the House bill. All of this was spelled out in a letter by the NEC Director, Al Hubbard, earlier this week, and so that hasn't changed.
But just to be clear, what it appears that the House of Representatives is doing today is going to dump a thousand-page energy bill on the desks of members of Congress and ask them to vote on it, with very little information about what it is. Very few members have actually seen legislative language, and without good consultation with Republicans. And as a reminder, energy bills have always been bipartisan exercises. The departure this time to make it a relatively partisan exercise will make it difficult and could, unfortunately, we're afraid, lead to stalemate.
Q What kind of conversations has the White House had with the congressional leaders about the bill? This specific proposal.
MR. FRATTO: Republican leaders or Democrat leaders?
MR. FRATTO: We've shared information with Speaker Pelosi. I know that Al Hubbard has spoken to Speaker Pelosi a number of times and to other leaders on the Democratic side. We've also had extensive conversations with Republican leaders on the Hill. And again, one of the difficulties is that people are dealing with incomplete information of what exactly is in the bill.
Now, the President laid out a plan back in February that was very ambitious, that would significantly reduce our dependency on -- or, I'm sorry, our use of gasoline, would lower our gasoline consumption and lower emissions, as well, and be much more accommodative to innovation in the use of alternative fuels. That's something we support and that's something that we want to see in this bill. And in fact, it goes -- on the alternative fuel standards, goes much farther than what the House bill is proposing.
So we're going to see what the House does. I think we'll speak to it later today, and then we'll be working with the Senate to see what can get through the Senate -- (inaudible) -- for a statement coming out of Washington.
Actually, one other scheduling note which I forgot to mention is that at 2:00 p.m. this afternoon in the Press Briefing Room, Jim Connaughton and Paula Dobriansky, the Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs, will be talking about the just-started Bali conference that will be going on for the next two weeks. So they'll be giving a briefing on that, too. They may be able to share some information on this, as well.
Q Is the statement coming from you or from the President?
MR. FRATTO: I would -- it would most likely come from Dana.
Q -- any other leader calls that the President has made on the Iranian issue --
MR. FRATTO: I'll let you know if I have anything on that -- I don't right now.
Q Do you think the President will say anything about the Children's Health Initiative and that -- I mean, since he's here on a --
MR. FRATTO: SCHIP?
Q On SCHIP, yes.
MR. FRATTO: He may. We'll see. Look, I think it's interesting that the population we're trying to focus on with our SCHIP bill -- what we have always said is that we're focused -- we want to focus on the poorest children, those at or below 200 percent of poverty, and make sure that they're taken care of and that they're enrolled in SCHIP. That's the -- a lot of the community that shows up at these community health centers. So we're very interested in this population. That's the community we want to see enrolled. If they're Medicare -- I'm sorry, Medicaid-eligible, we want to see them enrolled in Medicaid. If they're SCHIP-eligible, we want to see them enrolled in SCHIP programs. And we want to see money focused on this population before it's spent on higher populations.
Q Do these health centers in any way -- how will they affect the drain on the health care system that undocumented immigrants might pose? I mean, is there is any -- how does it -- what's the interplay there?
MR. FRATTO: Well, they're outside the regular -- these community health systems are outside the traditional health system, and they're funded by federal and state dollars and private philanthropy. So I don't see them in any way as a burden or a strain on local health systems. They supplement local health systems; they provide health care where it's most needed and to the communities who are, as I said, poor and are lacking in access to health care, either because of location, because they're away from existing health centers or hospitals that could -- where they could get treatment, or because they lack health insurance.
So we're very proud of this effort to bring health care to as many poor communities as possible, and we're looking forward to meeting the practitioners at this facility in particular.
Q You would say it would ease the burden of undocumented immigrants on the health care system?
MR. FRATTO: I'm not sure that it has a large impact, one way or the other. It provides health care to all poor, qualifying people, and we think that's a good thing.
Q Do you think the President is going to make any comments today -- I mean, take any questions today?
MR. FRATTO: I'm not expecting it.
Okay, thank you.
END 9:28 A.M. EST