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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
March 12, 2008
Press Briefing by Dana Perino
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:44 P.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: Hi. A couple of announcements. President Bush has asked Secretary Rice and Secretary Gates to travel to Moscow on March 17th and 18th for two-plus-two consultations with their Russian counterparts. The Secretaries held similar consultations with those individuals back in October -- October 12, 2007. And as in October, the agenda will cover a broad range of bilateral, strategic issues, including missile defense, post START arrangements, cooperation on nonproliferation, as well as counterterrorism.
The President and President Putin discussed this possible meeting in last week's phone call and both agreed it would be a good idea.
In addition, regarding Egypt, we are concerned by a continuing campaign of arrests in Egypt of individuals who are opponents of the current governing party and are involved in the upcoming local elections. The people of Egypt should be permitted to choose freely among competing candidates. We call on the government of Egypt to cease any actions that would compromise the ability of the Egyptian people to fully exercise their internationally recognized human rights and to participate in a free and fair election.
Q Do you have any reaction to Governor Spitzer's resignation -- announced resignation?
MS. PERINO: The President has said that he thinks that this is a sad situation. He has Governor Spitzer's -- Governor Spitzer and Governor Spitzer's family in his thoughts and prayers. And he looks forward to working with Lieutenant Governor David Patterson when he takes over the post on Monday.
Q Any plans for the President to call Governor Spitzer?
MS. PERINO: I certainly think that's possible; we'll keep you updated once that's happened.
Q Back on that subject, when these kinds of things happen, is there any kind of formal notification from a state that a governor is resigning, that it's going to be official or anything? I mean, just -- whether it's Democrat or Republican?
MS. PERINO: I don't know. I can check.
Q Dana, about this -- I know you addressed this in the gaggle, about the statements, Admiral Fallon stepping down. Here's some of these statements, Senator Kerry saying, "We've seen those who toe the company line get rewarded and those who speak inconvenient truths get retired." Senator Kennedy, "The last thing America needs is an echo chamber of top advisors, especially on all important questions of war and peace." What's the reaction from the White House?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that the two people that you just talked about are highly partisan Democrats and it's not surprising that they would criticize the administration because they look for any opportunity to criticize the administration.
President Bush yesterday said that he praised Admiral Fallon for his service. He was -- said that he deserves considerable credit for a lot of the progress that's been made in Iraq. He said that after 40 years of service that Admiral Fallon deserved all of our gratitude for the work that he had done. The President did not direct action at the Pentagon. He does believe that it was right for the Pentagon to go ahead and handle this matter within the building. And Admiral Fallon and Secretary Gates both made comments yesterday and I'd refer you to those for more.
Q Were there differences between Admiral Fallon and this administration about how to handle, for example, Iran, troop levels in Iraq? Were there differences inside?
MS. PERINO: Well, as Secretary Gates said, when it comes to Iran he does not believe that there was a difference, but there had built up over a period of time a perception that there was a difference. And when it comes to foreign policy it's critical that an administration speak with one voice. And if there's a perception that they are not speaking with one voice, then that becomes a problem. And that's what Secretary Gates and Admiral Fallon both said yesterday.
Q Last thing -- Secretary Gates did say yesterday that he did not think it was just this Esquire article that prompted Fallon to quit, but he thought it was a cumulative kind of thing that he and Fallon had "failed to put behind us." What does that mean? What cumulative kind of thing? Was it cumulative that there was this perception of difference?
MS. PERINO: I think that's what -- I think that's what Admiral Fallon referred to in his statement, as well, is that over a period of time this perception had built up, and that Secretary Gates said they had worked to try to resolve it and they weren't able to.
Q So, Dana, did the perception build up because of things Admiral Fallon had said in the press?
MS. PERINO: I'm not exactly sure how the perception built up. I think that there could be a variety of ways, and we'll let Admiral Fallon have a -- have his final say on that, in whatever way that he wants to. But there is no doubt that he spoke to the military -- to the press often, but so do lots of different generals and others within the military.
I would also point out that some have suggested that President Bush does not want to have dissenting views given to him -- and that is absolutely nonsense, because President Bush has always fostered an environment of robust and healthy debate. He's had many people provide independent thoughts that may have dissented from his own views, and that policy has always worked out in the process, and then we speak with one voice when we go out, whether it be on domestic policy or foreign policy.
And so President Bush is -- respects Admiral Fallon's decision and appreciates Secretary Gates' work on it.
Q But that does leave the impression that it was his speaking to the press, perhaps not in the same voice, that created this perception, because I don't know how else a perception would be created that you couldn't --
MS. PERINO: I think that that's fair. I think that you -- that's a fair point, certainly, that the perception that's built up through -- not necessarily through any other way but through reading about it in the fourth estate.
But I would say that one of the things that I know to be true is that Admiral Fallon would join the President on secure video teleconferences every week, both the ones -- he has two a week, one on Iraq and one on Afghanistan, and then in recent months we've had several on Pakistan. And Admiral Fallon would join those as well. And the President goes around the room -- or around the television screens -- and asks everyone to provide their candid and honest advice. And Admiral Fallon was a part of that.
Q And he could -- he provided a dissenting voice during those teleconferences?
MS. PERINO: Oh, I don't know. I would say he was allowed to express whatever he wanted to. I can't, obviously, speak to those private conversations.
Q Just one more thing. He said in the Esquire article that he had been in hot water with the White House before. Is that true?
MS. PERINO: I do not know where that came from.
Q So you don't know whether he was or not, or --
MS. PERINO: I would say I don't know whether he was or not, and I never heard that he was.
Q What impact does Admiral Fallon stepping down have on the conduct of the Iraq and Afghan wars?
MS. PERINO: Well, President Bush has full confidence in Lieutenant General Dempsey, who will be the acting commander. And then he will be looking for a replacement, for a full time replacement. And as soon as we have that, we'll provide it to you.
Q Do you have names now that the President is considering?
MS. PERINO: I don't know.
Q Dana, just for the record --
MS. PERINO: I'm sorry, if I could just say, obviously, there is a lot of talent and capability within the military, so he won't lack for choices.
Q Dana, just for the record, a short while ago the Capitol was evacuated because of a plane scare. Was the White House notified? There was a brief -- people were moved off the north lawn. Could you just, for the record, tell us what you were told and what --
MS. PERINO: Yes. We were notified there was an aircraft that had entered into the airspace, that there was some concern about. The aircraft turned around and I don't have any further details on that. But we are at normal security levels here at the White House.
Q Okay. And on another subject, White House email, the liberal group, CREW, today is calling on the FBI to investigate missing White House emails. I wonder if you can react to that, but also more broadly talk about where the White House is? You've spoken before about trying to recover lost emails, make sure you have them -- where is the White House in that process?
MS. PERINO: Well, Mrs. Payton actually spoke to this on Capitol Hill last week, I think, when she testified. I haven't heard about CREW asking for the FBI to investigate. They try to squeeze out a press release a week on this, so I'll take a look at it. Scott Stanzel, in my office, is following up for us.
Q What prompted this statement on Egypt today? This has been going on -- is there one big incident --
MS. PERINO: We understand that there have been several hundred people arrested over the -- I don't know how long a period, but enough to cause us concern and to express it both publicly and privately.
Q To what extent is the President counting on Mubarak and his foreign minister to negotiate between Israel and the Palestinians at this point, to try to be a go-between?
MS. PERINO: Well, I would phrase it this way, that the President wants their participation and their cooperation. And when the President was there meeting with President Mubarak he talked about the launch of these negotiations and how it was important for the Arab neighbors to try to help in that regard. And I think you saw last week after Secretary Rice's trip, both to Egypt and to the Palestinian territories in Israel, that they tried to reach out and are trying to do a little bit more with Hamas. I don't have a lot of details on that. I think the most important thing that can happen right now -- and we've seen a decrease in the amount of rockets that are coming across from Gaza into Israel -- and the way that Gaza can stop Israel from retaliating is to stop attacking them in the first place.
Q Is there any concern that this statement might have any kind of a negative impact on the Egyptians involvement in that?
MS. PERINO: No. The President speaks frankly and candidly when he's concerned about human rights or these types of political arrests, and he's not concerned about that, no.
Q Dana, that was quite a broadside today against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. I'm wondering if it's going to be followed up by any formal U.S. policy moves, either sanctions or something like that?
MS. PERINO: Not that I'm aware of, but of course I'll refer you to the State Department for any further questions on that. But what we will continue to do, and today was part of that, is call on Congress to call up the Colombia free trade agreement. We think that that's critical to our national security. But one of the most important things that we can do for an ally in the region that's taken a lot of -- under President Uribe has gone very far in trying to bring down the violence in the country, I think they have a 92 percent rate of people going to school now, which is up dramatically from when he took office seven years ago.
People are starting to pull themselves up out of poverty, but what they need to have is a reason to stay out of the narco trafficking of the past. And President Uribe has given Colombia a lot of running room, on a path to a freer and fairer and more prosperous nation. And the President believes that the free trade agreement is critical to that, and it will serve as a counterweight to the false populism that's expressed in the region by the Venezuelan President.
Q And a separate issue -- I missed the dates for the Rice-Gates trip.
MS. PERINO: Seventeenth and 18th.
Q Can I follow up on that?
MS. PERINO: Sure. I'm sorry, let me let Olivier finish.
Q Yes. And how big an issue is next steps on Iran here in this meeting?
MS. PERINO: Well, it's not on my list, but I'm sure that --
Q No, I'm just curious.
MS. PERINO: -- I'm sure that they'll talk about it.
Q Dana, about the 2-plus-2 -- the last such meeting was held here -- was held in Russia. So the sequence, the logical, natural sequence would be for them to come here. So why are they traveling, when it's up to the Russians to come here? Why are the Secretaries traveling again to Russia? And whose idea was this?
MS. PERINO: Have you forgotten how nice it is in Russia this time of year? (Laughter.) I don't know. They decided -- President Putin and President Bush spoke last week. They decided it would be a good time to meet and their -- our Secretaries were willing to go. I mean, who knows? Maybe theirs weren't able to travel. I'm not exactly sure, but we're pleased to be able to travel and go and have a meeting with them.
What was your second question?
Q When the two Presidents spoke, who called whom?
MS. PERINO: I think President -- I don't remember. I just know the call was arranged and it happened.
Q All right. And basically are you looking for any breakthroughs in those --
MS. PERINO: Well, I would call it ongoing consultations and discussions, but I don't have anything to tell you in terms of what we expect to result from them.
Q Dana, back to the President's speech, when he talked about NAFTA and appealed directly to Democrats to follow the tradition of FDR and Bill Clinton, and said those who criticized unilateralism should not be talking about unilaterally tearing up NAFTA, he wouldn't be injecting himself into a certain presidential campaign, would he?
MS. PERINO: No, and I think that it's not just Democrats that the President is concerned about in terms of turning their backs on trade. If you'll remember, I think it was either two years ago or three years ago, in the President's State of the Union address, he took time out to talk about how concerned he is about an isolationist or protectionist tendencies that we're seeing in the country.
And he's concerned because, one, economically we've actually had a tremendous amount of growth in exports, and he's concerned about what a decrease in trade could mean for those Americans who are working in businesses who are trading overseas. He's also concerned what it means for national security -- for our own national security, as I just described, regarding the Colombia free trade agreement. And in addition to that, free trade helps lift other countries out of poverty, as well. And so the President believes that we should look at the positives of trade.
We do know that there are some people who are adversely affected, and that their jobs might be lost because of free trade. And that's why we have trade adjustment assistance, and we're willing to put more money into that to make sure that the system works well.
Q This is certainly a big issue in the primary campaigns. And you're saying he's not addressing them?
MS. PERINO: It was a big issue in 2004, as well. It's a big issue overall.
Q Thank you, Dana. Two questions. Yesterday in Nashville the President called the so-called Fairness Doctrine "an Orwellian name," whose supporters, by "insisting on so-called balance they want to silence those they don't agree with." And my question: This means the President believes that the First Amendment's freedom of both speech and of the press means that there must be as much freedom for the electronic or spoken or e-mailed press, as for the printed press, doesn't it?
MS. PERINO: He believes in a free press, yes.
Q So he does? Good.
MS. PERINO: And your second question is?
Q The President also said, "Republicans have drafted legislation that would ban reinstatement of the so-called Fairness Doctrine. Unfortunately, Democratic leaders have blocked action on this bill." My question: Does that mean the entire Democratic leadership in both Houses, or was it just San Francisco Speaker Pelosi and Nevada Majority Leader Reid?
MS. PERINO: I'm not sure. You'll have to ask their offices.
Q Thank you.
END 12:59 P.M. EDT