The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
March 3, 2008

Press Gaggle by Gordon Johndroe
Aboard Air Force One
En route Andrews Air Force Base

10:11 A.M. EST

MR. JOHNDROE: All right, let me do the -- I'll do the President's schedule. We just left Texas en route Washington. The President received his regular briefings on board. On arrival, at 12:20 p.m., the President will participate in a photo opportunity with winners of the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Voice of Democracy Award. That's on the North Portico of the White House.

Then at 1:00 p.m., the President meets with the National Association of Attorneys General. Attorney General Mukasey will be briefing him ahead of time. The President will come in, spend some time with them. His remarks to the attorneys general with the pool will focus on FISA. Twenty-one of our nation's attorneys general have written a letter in support of FISA modernization.

Then the President, at 1:40 p.m. in the Oval Office, will meet with the former commanding general of Multinational Corps Iraq, Lieutenant General Ray Odierno. General Odierno assumed command of Multinational Corps Iraq in December of 2006, and recently redeployed with the 3rd Corps back to Fort Hood, Texas, and continues to serve as the commanding general at Fort Hood.

As the number two commander in Iraq, Lieutenant General Odierno oversaw the day-to-day operations, and in particular, commanded the surge of military forces the President announced last year. The President and Lieutenant General Odierno will discuss the continued progress in Iraq, the training of Iraqi security forces and Iraqi security forces' increased capability to take the lead in combat operations.

At 2:35 p.m., in the East Room -- this event is open press -- the President will present the Medal of Honor posthumously to Master Sergeant Woodrow Keeble of the United States Army. As the Army News Service recently reported, during the final allied offensive of the Korean War, Master Sergeant Woodrow Wilson Keeble risked his life to save his fellow soldiers. Almost six decades after his gallant actions, and 26 years after his death, Keeble will be the first full-blooded Sioux Indian to receive the Medal of Honor.

And with that, I am happy to take your questions.

Q On Condi's trip to the Mideast, what's the expectations, and how does she deal with the recent flare-up?

MR. JOHNDROE: Sure. Obviously, as you know, the Secretary of State leaves at 11:00 a.m. this morning to go to the Middle East, has meetings in Egypt, as well as meetings with Israelis and Palestinians. We have a clear message: The Palestinian people have a choice to make. It's a choice between terrorism, or a choice between a political solution that leads to a Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel.

The number one thing that has to happen is Hamas has got to stop targeting Israeli citizens with rockets. It must stop. The parties then need to get back to the negotiating table and have discussions. Ultimately, it is in the best interest of the Palestinian people and their future, and also in the best interest of the Israelis and the whole region, for these two parties to have discussions that leads to a peaceful settlement.

Q Do you fear that the -- Abbas pulling out of the discussions for now will be prolonged and stall efforts by the President to get this going?

MR. JOHNDROE: Well, look, I saw that President Abbas had said that he suspended talks. We obviously want these talks to resume as soon as possible. I think that's something that Secretary Rice will take up with President Abbas, as well as other leaders in the region.

Q Does the President -- in infer from your comments that the President does not feel that Israel has used disproportionate force, as the Secretary General of the U.N. has said?

MR. JOHNDROE: Look, we obviously don't want any innocent civilians to lose their life, but I think that started with these rockets that have been fired from Gaza into Israel, recently killing and injuring Israeli citizens in some of their bigger cities. So they've had these -- a barrage of rockets fired out of Hamas for some time now, and now Hamas escalated it, firing larger rockets longer-range and killing people. And so that's got to stop.

Q So the answer is, no?

MR. JOHNDROE: The answer is as stated.

Q It seems as if Hamas is driving this Middle East agenda, because any time they want to derail the negotiations, they can.

MR. JOHNDROE: You know, there are always people, whenever they see the democratic process making progress, that try and derail it. And so that's why I said the Palestinian people have a choice to make. President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad can help lead the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people in a better direction. And that's what Secretary Rice is going to be focused on when she arrives there later today.

Q Do you guys think there's any possible way to have a peace negotiation, a peace accord if there is a divided Palestinian group?

MR. JOHNDROE: As the President has said, it's a two-state solution, not a three-state solution. But I think I'm going to wait for Secretary Rice to get there and have her discussions before I say anything more.

Q Is there any chance of having any kind of Middle East accord by the end of the year like he wants?

MR. JOHNDROE: We're going to keep on -- we're going to keep after it.

Q Are you optimistic about that?

Q The President hasn't given up on this yet?

MR. JOHNDROE: No, absolutely not. We're going to keep on pursuing it. It is in the best interest of the Palestinian people, it's in the best interest of the Israeli people, it's in the best interest of the people in the region and the whole wide world, so we've got to keep after it.

Q What about the air strike and reports that civilians were killed, in this pinpoint strike?

MR. JOHNDROE: I would say that it's unfortunate whenever civilians lose their life. We do not want to see that, either Israeli or Palestinian --

Q -- about Somalia.

MR. JOHNDROE: Somalia, okay. Somalia, look -- the United States is going to go after al Qaeda and al Qaeda-affiliated operatives wherever we find them. They are plotting and planning all over the world to destabilize the world, to inflict terror, and where we find them, we are going to go after them.

Q Who was the target?

MR. JOHNDROE: I'm going to refer you to the Pentagon for any specifics, but the action was to go after al Qaeda and al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists.

Q -- get anybody?

MR. JOHNDROE: I'll refer you to the Pentagon for any additional details.

Q Gordon, does the President feel that the elections yesterday in Russia were fair and free?

MR. JOHNDROE: Dimitri Medvedev is now the President-elect of Russia, will soon be the President of Russia. The President looks forward to working with him. It's in our mutual interests that the United States and Russia continue cooperation in a number of areas, including counter-proliferation, counter-terrorism, fighting transnational crime. So I expect that in the coming days the President and Mr. Medvedev will have a chance to talk.

Q Right, but the President has been very eloquent in the past about the need to hold free and fair elections all around the world. That's not quite the question I asked. What does he think about how the elections went in Russia?

MR. JOHNDROE: I think the United States position in the lead-up to the elections was clear. But now I'll refer you to election observers who have made some comments about the election. They're also continuing to take a look at it. So we'll wait to see what these observers have to say.

Q Do you folks have any comment about Ahmadinejad's visit to Baghdad? He's saying that they're not arming the insurgents there. He said they're not training the --

MR. JOHNDROE: I heard his comments. Nice words for him to say in the middle of Baghdad, but the facts on the ground prove otherwise. We continue to intercept equipment and people coming in from Iran into Iraq with no other purpose but for the killing of innocent Americans and innocent Iraqis, and the destabilization of that country. So we would just urge them to stop that. But at the end of the day, we want Iraq and Iran to have good relations. It's in the best interests of both people, and in the region.

Q Gordon, on FISA, Congressman Reyes said yesterday that he was hopeful that there might be some kind of compromise worked out on the Hill on this issue. Do you know anything about that? Is the President willing to entertain some kind of compromise?

MR. JOHNDROE: I think our position has been clear; we need to see liability protection for these telecommunications firms, so that they will be willing to provide assistance to our national security agencies. We're hopeful that the House Democratic leaders will bring the vote to the floor soon, because it has the votes to pass.

Q How much pressure are the phone and the telecom communications companies putting on the White House and putting on the administration to get this done?

MR. JOHNDROE: I would just say I think we're --

Q Are they putting any pressure on --

MR. JOHNDROE: I think I would decline to comment on any specific conversations. Our intelligence community has conversations with the telecommunications companies about the -- about some of our national security requirements, but I'll just leave it at that.

Okay, all right. Thank you all.

END 10:18 A.M. EST

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