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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
December 18, 2007

Press Briefing by Dana Perino
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

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12:26 P.M. EST

MS. PERINO: Hello. I have two for you, first the news that you've been asking for for a while, and we tried to get to you, but we can do it today, which is details, as many as we can give you today, on the President's trip to the Middle East.

President Bush will travel to Israel, the West Bank, Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, from January 8th through the 16th next year. In Jerusalem, the President will meet with President Peres and Prime Minister Olmert, and in the West Bank he will meet with President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad.

The President will then travel to Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, where he will meet with Amir Sabah, King Hamad, President Khalifa, King Abdullah, and President Mubarak, respectively. This visit will follow up on the progress made at Annapolis in helping Israelis and Palestinians to advance their efforts toward peace and achievement of the President's vision of two democratic states living side by side in peace and security, as well as to encourage Israeli and Arab reconciliation.

This trip will also be an opportunity to reaffirm the enduring commitment of the United States to the security of our allies in the Middle East, especially with the Gulf nations, and our close work with them to combat terrorism and extremism, promote freedom, and seek peace and prosperity in the region.

The meetings with leaders will allow for discussions of developments in Iraq, the challenges presented by Iran, regional security, economic ties, and relations between the United States and those close allies.

Tomorrow we look forward to, hopefully, passing -- the President signing the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. That bill will be voted on for final passage in the House later today. In January, the President announced his 20-in-10 initiative, a comprehensive plan for a more secure, cleaner energy future, which would reduce our consumption of gasoline by 20 percent over 10 years. He has pushed Congress to pass this legislation all year. And the bill would increase fuel economy and expand the use of renewable fuels; it will save billions of gallons of fuel, expand our energy security and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

While the President's alternative fuel standard and CAFE proposal would have gone farther and faster, we are pleased that Congress has worked together on a bipartisan way that provides the chance for the President to sign a bill that does not include tax increases.

Questions.

Q Dana, on the Middle East, could you spell out a little bit more about what the President's objectives are? Does he see this as a negotiating trip? Is he going to be looking for concessions from one side and working with the other? Or how does that work?

MS. PERINO: Well, the negotiations that were launched the day after the Annapolis Conference are just underway now, and what the President's role can be is to help encourage them to help continue to push on those negotiations. They're going to take a while to complete. The President has said that there are going to be good meetings and bad meetings, and the important thing is for the leaders to keep their eye on the big picture, and to work with their staffs and trust their staffs, who are going to work out these details. And the President can help facilitate those discussions. I do not anticipate -- although we can let you know as we get closer -- whether there would be detailed discussions about a concession on one side or the other.

Q When you say he can facilitate the discussions, how so?

MS. PERINO: I think just like he did in Annapolis, where he brought the leaders together and said -- they were close on a statement, Abbas and Fayyad, as well as Prime Minister Olmert, were close on a statement that they could agree to in Annapolis, but they hadn't quite gotten there. And the President was able to sit down with them and push to bring them together so that they could resolve their differences and issue a statement that helped launch the negotiations. That's one of the things that the President can do, and will do when he's in the Middle East.

Q Well, it's awfully early in the process. What can he push them to do if they've just started talking?

MS. PERINO: Well, they had a meeting -- one of their first meetings was right after Annapolis -- I think a week afterwards -- and then the Paris Donors Conference just happened yesterday. So just three weeks from now -- three or four weeks from now, the President will be there so that he can continue to keep the process going. As he said, Secretary Rice will be in the region quite a bit. We're in communication with the leadership of those countries on a regular basis, and the President said he's going to be committed to helping them continue to push forward so that they can realize what they agreed on, which is a Palestinian state.

Q Does he have specific goals or is this ad hoc, as whatever happens when he gets there?

MS. PERINO: Well, as I said, part of it is to continue to keep the discussions going, to show the commitment, and to remind the world that this is a moment that has presented itself and it's time for everyone to seize the opportunity to make sure that the Palestinians and the Israelis are supported. In addition to that, the President wants to help try to increase Israeli and Arab reconciliation. That's an important piece of the Annapolis Conference, and it's something that the President recognizes as important to security not only in the region, but around the world.

And finally, as I mentioned earlier, the global war on terror is playing itself out in large part in the Middle East. And the President will be there; he'll be able to talk to some of our troops, and we'll get more details for you on the rest of the trip as we get closer.

Q Is that a hint about Iraq?

MS. PERINO: Well, certainly, Iraq is going to be discussed, and Iran.

Q No, I mean --

MS. PERINO: Oh, a hint about a trip to Iraq? No, not at all, and I don't anticipate one, but --

Q -- (inaudible) -- (laughter.)

MS. PERINO: I really don't anticipate one, and I don't want to start any rumors. I do not believe there's a trip to Iraq.

Q Why is he not going to Jordan?

MS. PERINO: I don't know all the reasons -- all the states that he could have gone to, but these are the states that we're going to go to this time.

Q Did he give any consideration at all to try -- any meeting with people who control Gaza, the Hamas, as to -- in a mutual site? Obviously there are all sorts of security considerations, but was that even thought of, or did he explore that idea?

MS. PERINO: I think the President wants to deal with the elected leader of all the Palestinians, which is Abu Mazen and Prime Minister Fayyad. So he is going to focus on talking with them. Hamas is a terrorist organization. He is not going to be talking with them.

Q Dana, is the White House taking any steps to make sure the CIA does not destroy any tapes -- any more tapes while these -- judges look at things, Congress looks at things, the CIA -- is the White House taking any steps to make sure there's no more destruction?

MS. PERINO: I'm going to refer you to the Justice Department, who is working on the preliminary inquiry with the CIA.

Q Okay. You've previously not commented on the CIA tapes case by saying that you want to -- you don't to interfere with any investigations, you want to make sure they move forward. Why then on Friday did the Justice Department all of a sudden say they're not going to cooperate with congressional investigations, any of the oversight that's going on on the Hill?

MS. PERINO: I think that's a question that is best put to the Justice Department, and the Justice Department will be able to answer for you.

Q But the Attorney General serves at the pleasure of the President, so it's clearly something that the White House has --

MS. PERINO: We have complete confidence in General Hayden and General -- Attorney General Mukasey to handle this in an appropriate way. And so I refer you over there for details about their decision.

Q One last on that. Republican Congressman Pete Hoekstra is not satisfied and saying he'd be onboard with subpoenas -- they may be voted on in the House Intelligence Committee as early as today. Would the White House comply with subpoenas if they come up in the CIA tapes case? Or would you, like you've done in other cases, not want to comply with them?

MS. PERINO: I'm going to refer you to the Justice Department.

Q But if they actually issued subpoenas to the White House, not the Justice Department, would you comply with that?

MS. PERINO: I'm going to refer you to the Justice Department on that.

Q Since Annapolis the Israelis have -- apparently are planning 300 new settlements in the West Bank, and they also have put Gaza under greater siege. Is this helpful for the President?

MS. PERINO: Well, I would point you back to Secretary Rice, who has had conversations with her counterpart in Israel, and actually talked about this issue yesterday at the Paris Donors Conference. She has said that it's important for both sides to remember that right now in the negotiations is not a time to be talking about specifics, outcomes that would be decided towards the end of the negotiating process. So she's had those discussions.

In regards to Gaza and the Israeli strike, I think that you're talking about, today, Israel has a right to live in a country free from terrorism. So do we; so does every nation.

Q So do the Palestinians.

MS. PERINO: And terrorist attacks have been ongoing for many years, and Israel has a right to defend itself.

Q Both borders have been closed.

MS. PERINO: Peter.

Q A couple of follow-up questions, Dana. First of all, just to clarify, will he have a joint meeting with the Palestinian and Israeli leaders? You said he was going to go to Israel and to the West Bank. So there's no --

MS. PERINO: There's no trilateral meeting that I know of. We'll let you know as we get closer. Right now they're set up as bilaterals.

Q And you also said that he wants to foster Israeli-Arab reconciliation.

MS. PERINO: Sure.

Q Does that mean at the subsequent stops in the Arab countries he's going to be saying it's time for them to recognize Israel's right to exist?

MS. PERINO: I think he's going to continue to try to push on this process. Remember, at the Annapolis Conference, we invited the Arab world and they showed up at the conference. And that was really important. It was an important step, and the President wants to keep that momentum going.

Q So will there be either direct or an implied call on them to recognize Israel?

MS. PERINO: I think it's too early to say.

Q Back to the CIA. Does the White House have any comment on the judge's orders today for a hearing on December 21st?

MS. PERINO: Nothing beyond me referring you to the Justice Department.

Q Talk about the budget?

MS. PERINO: Okay.

Q The President has had some positive comments about it; you, as well. Republicans are critical that the omnibus spending bill contains, among other things, about 9,000-plus earmarks, and they say some of the priority shifting -- spending has been put in the emergency category, and some of what they would call pork has been put in the overall budget to keep from busting the President's top line on it. Is he not concerned about the number of earmarks in this bill?

MS. PERINO: We share the concern about the number of earmarks, absolutely. And it was President Bush who joined Republicans and actually Democrats who said that they wanted to see less earmarks, and the President called for less. There are less, but not as few as we would like. We don't think that's an appropriate way to spend taxpayer dollars.

That said, the Congress did come down to the President's overall top line number of $933 billion. And in regards of the emergency spending, most of that spending would have passed on an emergency basis anyway. It's not added into the baseline of the budget. And so when you're talking about Southeastern droughts or the California wildfires and the Minnesota bridge collapse, those are all emergencies that I think would have passed on their own in Congress anyway.

Q There's also veterans' care money in the emergency category and some other things that some people think really belongs in the baseline. Does the President not have any concern that Congress has finessed his baseline?

MS. PERINO: Well, we believe that the Veterans Affairs money in particular -- that the Veterans Affairs Department has a robust budget, especially under this President, as we have increased it. To the extent that there needs to be additional money spent on veterans, we will take a look at that. That money that has passed in the House bill is actually contingent upon a presidential review, of which the President will do. But we think that if there's going to be emergency money spent, that spending it on veterans is not a bad place to put it.

Q And finally, assuming the Senate corrects the bill and puts in sufficient money for the war in Iraq, will the President sign it?

MS. PERINO: Well, the President is going to support the Senator from Kentucky's amendment -- that's Majority Leader Mitch McConnell -- for $70 billion in a clean bill. If that amendment does not pass and the bill comes to the President's desk without it, then he will veto the bill.

Q By "clean" you mean -- "clean" you mean without a withdrawal deadline?

MS. PERINO: He would sign it with a -- he would sign it with $70 billion clean -- "clean" meaning no strings attached to the money, no withdrawal data.

Q Follow on that?

MS. PERINO: Okay.

Q Is that a hard figure? Until now, you haven't put an actual figure out --

MS. PERINO: We are going to support the McConnell amendment of $70 million -- $70 billion, excuse me.

Q Why? Why $70 billion?

MS. PERINO: We think that that's a number that we need right now. It's a number that we believe can pass the Senate. And that's the one we will support.

Q How long does that carry you?

Q And when would that --

MS. PERINO: I would have to refer you to Defense Department or OMB. I don't know a date.

Q But that would get you through for a couple of months?

MS. PERINO: I don't know how long it would take. But the President asked for a full supplemental; this is money that the troops need, it's not money that they want. And it's what General Petraeus and the Defense Department has said is necessary in order to keep operations ongoing. So that money is going to be essential to the effort. But for right now, the $70 billion is what the President will support if it comes to him in a clean bill. If it doesn't, then the President would veto the bill.

Q Dana, two questions. First, a follow-up to Wendell when he asked about the veterans, which is a great question. It's not just veterans recuperative care, it's also those who are still serving who need a lot of -- will they be getting any money?

MS. PERINO: For any of those people who are still serving, they are taken care of in terms of the budget baseline that we've already talked about. This money is in particular for veterans. He's talking about a specific $3.7 billion.

Q On Kurdistan, why does the U.S. not support an independent Kurdistan? There's something like 16 million Kurds supposedly in this world.

MS. PERINO: Well, I think that if you look to the leaders of Iraq, including President Talabani, they believe that Iraq should be whole. And so we support that sovereign integrity of Iraq.

Q Dana, do you think it's a fair and accurate statement to say that the President's foreign policy has been marked by an "arrogant bunker mentality"?

MS. PERINO: It's a clever way to get me --

Q I was just saying, in general.

MS. PERINO: -- to comment on 2008 partisan politics, and we're going to stay out of the primary politics. And when there is a nominee, the President will vigorously support that nominee.

Q Well, when a candidate says something, in all seriousness, that harshly about the President's foreign policy, and essentially calls him arrogant, don't you feel a duty to respond and defend the President's record, at least?

MS. PERINO: I will refer you to the Republican National Committee, which during the primary season can answer those questions. As much as I may want to, I'm not going to do it from the podium.

Q Oh, come on. (Laughter.)

MS. PERINO: I did it once before in Waco; I'll not do it again. (Laughter.)

Q Just on Iraq and Turkey and the Turkish incursion into northern Iraq -- the President's reaction?

MS. PERINO: Well, this is an issue that's been going on for some while. The President believes that the PKK is a threat to the United States, Iraq and to Turkey. And we have been coordinating and working with Turkey in order to -- and the Iraqis -- in order to help eliminate the terrorist threat that exists there. We've asked Turkey to be very limited in its activities and we certainly have cautioned -- as Secretary Rice said today, very concerned about any loss of innocent life.

Q But particularly, the actions this morning, the incursion into --

MS. PERINO: There are a lot of conflicting reports regarding that, and so we are still waiting on -- getting final details about the extent of that issue.

Q You're unsure whether they've gone into Iraq?

MS. PERINO: No, I said that there are conflicting reports in terms of the depth and scope and breadth of it.

Q But are you convinced, though, that they set boots over the line?

MS. PERINO: Well, they have, but they have been doing that for years. That's not -- that's a new operation yesterday, but it's not new over the course of time.

Goyal.

Q Two quick questions. One, as far as human rights issue is concerned, -- (inaudible) -- putting us down like Saudi Arabia rape victims, or in China, or in Pakistan, women are being mistreated -- like the latest case in Saudi Arabia. Rape victims are not only that they don't get justice, but they are charged and then they are pardoned by the King. Where do we stand now -- President will visit the region -- you think he will talk about this human rights issue, especially --

MS. PERINO: Well, the rape case that happened in Saudi was something that King Abdullah decided that he needed to address, and he did, and we think that's appropriate.

Q And you think it's acceptable because --

MS. PERINO: No, we already said that we thought that that case was outrageous.

Q Second, as far as Iran is concerned, President was saying the other day that as far as fuel from Russia to Iran is acceptable. But now other report it has come today that they are building other -- second nuclear plant there in Iran. So where do we stand now as far as Iranian nuclear plants are concerned?

MS. PERINO: Well, President Bush said yesterday that the fact that Russia is willing to provide civil nuclear power to Bushehr just means that Iran should suspend its enrichment of uranium. And we are going to continue to work with our allies on a third U.N. Security Council resolution.

Q But they have not done it.

MS. PERINO: Let me go to Keith. That's why we have to work on a resolution.

Keith.

Q To be clear on the omnibus, because in the past there's been some talk about reading every line and concerns with various things -- would the President now sign this omnibus despite concerns that he may still have if it comes to him in its current form?

MS. PERINO: Well, I didn't say that. I said that if it comes to him without the $70 billion in a clean form he would veto it. We are -- I think it's 3,000 or 3,500 pages worth of legislation and report language that we have to read, and you have to turn over all the rocks to see what might be hiding under there. So that process is underway.

Q Assuming there's nothing particularly egregious that you don't know about, would he sign it?

MS. PERINO: Yes.

Q Thank you.

END 12:46 P.M. EST