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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
March 27, 2008
Press Gaggle by Gordon Johndroe
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Dayton, Ohio
MR. JOHNDROE: Good morning. Morning, morning, morning. Okay, let's see. We're on our way to Ohio. The President had his normal briefings this morning. At 10:15 a.m., the President will make remarks on the global war on terror, focusing on Iraq. He's going to talk about security, political and economic progress that has been made as a result of the surge; that the reduction in violence brought on by the surge has allowed for the purpose of the surge to succeed, and that is to allow there to be political and economic progress in Iraq.
He will talk about some of the political progress, and the laws -- the benchmark laws that the Iraqi parliament has passed. And he will talk about some of the economic progress made. Iraq is able to pay for more of its own reconstruction and more of the cost of its security forces.
He will also talk about the current situation primarily in Basra, where you are seeing strong steps taken by Prime Minister Maliki, with the support of the entire Iraqi government leadership behind him, and that is to have the Iraqi security forces taking on what I would describe as some of the criminal elements, some of the illegal militias and gangs who have been leading Basra down a path away from the central government and away from the rule of law. So the Iraqi government is taking the lead in trying to restore the rule of law in Basra and other areas, away from these criminal elements and militias. So the President will talk a little bit about that.
Then he will meet with some families of fallen soldiers and airmen. He'll attend a Ohio Victory 2008 reception. We'll then go on to Pennsylvania, where he will attend a Pennsylvania Victory reception. On the last leg home the President will participate in a short interview with the History Channel's "Air Force One: Behind the Scenes" documentary. The President should arrive at the White House about 8:30 p.m. tonight.
Two other quick announcements. The President called Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak this morning. President Bush expressed his deep regret and sympathies for the incident in the Suez Canal, said the United States would fully investigate this.
Also today, Secretary Peake, of the Department of Veterans Affairs, will announce the 4th National Summit on Women Veterans' Issues. It will be held from June 20th to 22nd in Washington, D.C. The summit will offer attendees an opportunity to enhance future progress on women veterans' issues. Please contact the Department of Veterans Affairs for more information on that.
And I'm happy to take your questions.
Q Gordon, do you have anything on Abbas being invited by the President to visit the White House next month?
MR. JOHNDROE: Sure. The President looks forward to welcoming President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority to the White House sometime in the next month, perhaps the first of May. Details are still being worked out. It's part of the continuing efforts of President Bush and this administration to work with both the Palestinians and the Israelis, as well as other countries in the region, in realizing a Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel.
As you know, the Vice President just returned from the region. Secretary of State Rice will leave on Friday. President Bush will return in May. So the President looks forward to seeing President Abbas.
Q Is the President's journey to the Middle East in danger at all if there's no progress or the violence continues in the Middle East?
MR. JOHNDROE: No, the President looks forward to returning to the region in May to, one, celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel, as well as have discussions with other regional leaders.
Q Will he be going to the Palestinian Territories during that meeting?
MR. JOHNDROED: You know, we're still working out details of the trip. That's obviously many, many weeks away and we have many other stops on the President's schedule before we get there.
Q What would you say is the specific goal of the meeting at the White House with Abbas? How would you characterize it?
MR. JOHNDROE: I would say, let's -- it's a continuation of the discussions that the President has engaged in, certainly in the process that began in many ways at the Annapolis Conference, and the desires of both the Israelis and the Palestinian leadership to realize the vision of an agreement before the end of this year. And so I think this is just a part of the -- a follow-on to all the meetings the President has already had, the meetings the Vice President, the Secretary of State, as well as our other officials continue to have. So I'll leave it at that.
Q On Iraq, does this come as a result of Cheney's meeting last -- meetings last week? Or was this planned before that?
MR. JOHNDROE: We are -- have been constantly in communication with both the Palestinians and the Israelis at many levels, and I would just say this is not the result of one specific meeting, but just part of the continuing process that the President has committed to.
Q Let me switch gears to Pakistan. The Post has a story about increased strikes in Pakistan in anticipation that the new government is going to be restrictive on that. What can you tell us about that?
MR. JOHNDROE: Well, what I would say is that President Bush had a very good conversation with the new Pakistan Prime Minister earlier this week, and Prime Minister Gillani reiterated his commitment and that of the new Pakistani government's commitment to fighting and taking on extremists. His office has reiterated that in their public comments in the last couple of days. I know that there are various political parties and leaders in Pakistan. They have different ideas about the best way to handle this, and we're going to work hand-in-hand with the Pakistan authorities on the best way to go after the extremists.
But, look, the Pakistanis understand that these extremists are trying to derail democracy in Pakistan, just as much as they -- as many are using some areas to plot and plan attacks on Europe and the United States. So we have a common enemy in these extremists. I'm confident that the Pakistani authorities will continue to take this issue seriously because they've said that. Deputy Secretary Negroponte and Assistant Secretary of State Boucher are there now, having good meetings, having discussions with the leaders, and I'm confident we'll be able to work together on the way forward.
Q Would you challenge the assertion that there are -- there is an increase in strikes?
MR. JOHNDROE: No, I don't have anything on that.
Q On Iraq, do you have any reporting on how the situation in Basra is unfolding? You talked about the government asserting its rule of law. Have they been able to do that? Have they been able to succeed in seizing control of the oil in Basra or other parts?
MR. JOHNDROE: Yes, I think it's premature to answer that question because this operation has only been underway for a very short period of time. And so -- and it's going to take some time for these -- for the Iraqi security forces to root out and regain control of the city. So let's see. We have --
Q Does it give you any pause that in two days they haven't been able to establish control -- the government, that is -- in the second largest city in Iraq?
MR. JOHNDROE: You know, Iraq faces a lot of challenges. So I would say that 48 hours is hardly a lengthy amount of time to regain control in a city that has been dealing with these criminal gangs and special militias for some time. So I think this is a real credit to the Iraqi security forces. They are undertaking an operation that they would not have been able to undertake just a few months ago.
This is a -- in part, a credit not only to the Iraqis, but to the success of the surge, allowing the creation of space so the Iraqi security forces could train up and grow and get equipped, that they can be in the lead and try and regain control and establish the rule of law in their second largest city.
Q Gordon, you mentioned political progress in Iraq. What's the status of the law to distribute oil wealth? Where does that stand?
MR. JOHNDROE: You know, I believe the council of representatives has just reconvened this week, after a short recess. I think that is an issue that they are still working on. I know that that's an issue that has come up in all the conversations that senior U.S. officials have had with the Iraqis. I know Iraqis want to get it resolved, but there's still more work to do.
I will say this: Even -- while we all agree that a hydrocarbons law is a step in the right direction, the Iraqi government has been distributing much of their revenues gained from oil. So even in the absence of a hydrocarbons law, they are able to distribute some of the money in their budget.
Q The President has had three days of briefings now on the way forward in Iraq. I take it he's not going to signal any conclusion or outcome from those briefings in the speech today.
MR. JOHNDROE: I think the President will say in his speech today that he will talk about his decisions after General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker testify in Congress.
Q So it's going to be that week after we get back from Europe?
MR. JOHNDROE: Right.
MR. JOHNDROE: Okay. Thank you all.
END 8:59 A.M. EDT