For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
April 24, 2008
Press Briefing by Dana Perino
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:40 P.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: Hello, everyone. I don't have anything to start with, so we'll go straight to questions.
Q Does the information that's being released today about North Korea and Syria help or hurt the administration's argument that North Korea is going to fully disclose its nuclear activities?
MS. PERINO: As I said this morning, there are many things I'm not going to be able to comment on in today's briefing, which I know is very frustrating, not just for you but for me, too.
Q I'm not talking about the information itself, but I'm talking about --
MS. PERINO: But commenting on -- by answering that question I would be also answering the previous question. There are Hill briefings that are ongoing right now. Out of respect for that process, and for the members of Congress to be able to hear this from administration officials first, I'm going to defer to answer specific questions on that until they have a chance. But I would refer you back to what the President said on -- just last Saturday at Camp David in regards to the North Koreans and the six-party talks and North Korea's declaration.
Q When did President Bush see the videotape of what happened in Syria?
MS. PERINO: Again, I'm going to decline to comment on specifics of whatever is being said to Capitol Hill right now and what other people -- what you all might see later today.
Q Was it shown to the South Korean President?
MS. PERINO: I'm not commenting on it. You can chase me around the podium -- (laughter.)
Q One more general question, though. The administration got it wrong on Iraq and weapons of mass destruction. Why should this new information, whatever it is, be believed?
MS. PERINO: Again, Mark, I am going to -- I understand the question. I appreciate that you'd like for me to be able to answer it. I am not going to be able to answer these questions. I'm going to let the senior administration officials and intelligence officials talk to Capitol Hill. Last fall we did brief 22 members of Congress, House and Senate members, consistent with our obligations. More members are being briefed today and I'm going to let that process take place.
Q Dana, on that point, because you brought up the lawmakers, two of them who were briefed today who were among those who were briefed back in the fall came out -- Chairman Reyes and Ranking Republican Hoekstra -- and they were livid, I think to say the least. And what Hoekstra said -- and I'm quoting him -- he says, "We were used." The administration -- he said, we were told -- "We were used today by the administration, not because they felt they had to inform Congress because it was their legal obligation to do that, but because they had other agendas in mind." He says, any bond of trust between the administration and Congress has been shattered. And he says it will now be very difficult to get any agreements, in particular, anything based on the six-party talks through Congress. What do you say to that?
MS. PERINO: Obviously we would be very disappointed that he feels that way and would hope he understands our tremendous respect for members of Congress. And as I said, back in the fall we briefed 22 members of Congress, consistent with our obligations. He was one of them. There are tensions that exist between the executive branches and the legislative branches on a range of issues in regards to who should know what when. But we will continue to work with Representative Hoekstra and continue to talk with him. And he was part of the briefings this morning, and again, I'm not going to comment on anything until those briefings can be completed today.
Q He says he just doesn't feel that then, in September, eight months ago, that they got any kind of decent explanation as to why the other members of the committee shouldn't have been briefed. They asked for them to be briefed. And he said, I don't -- still don't believe we've gotten a good explanation then today for this delay. Why now?
MS. PERINO: Again, I will decline to comment. There will be more information that will hopefully answer more of these questions later today. It could be that once senior administration officials talk with Representative Hoekstra that he still won't be satisfied, and we'll have to satisfy that he got an answer that he believes is satisfactory. We'll have to accept that -- that's his opinion. But we certainly have tried to work with him and the Democrats across the board, and consistent with our obligations, briefed the appropriate members of Congress last fall.
Q Syria is saying that this is an attempt -- all it is is an attempt to put pressure on North Korea. Is the United States at this point trying to increase pressure on North Korea to comply with its nuclear declaration?
MS. PERINO: Our pressure on North Korea has been ongoing through the six-party talks, and you just heard from the President on Saturday about that. I think that by the end of the day, I think a lot of these questions will be answered for you. I'm not able to go into details here.
Q Will one of those questions later today be why this information came out? Will we find that out later today?
MS. PERINO: I believe that you will be given more information about that later today and that -- again, will it satisfy everybody? I don't know. But let's let the briefings take place and then we can go from there.
Q What form will the information be put out later here? Is there a statement by the White House?
MS. PERINO: As I said this morning, I am working to get something that could come out from me as soon as possible. I'm having to be respectful of the congressional briefing schedule that is ongoing today, and I'm trying to push the system a little bit for not only our interest to make sure that we inform the American public, but for yours so that you get -- don't get jammed on the back-end of your day. I'm aware of deadlines and hope that we can meet them.
Q Are there other agency briefings, backgrounders or otherwise -
MS. PERINO: I'd just refer you to the intelligence community for that.
Q But you will be having a statement later today, but maybe not before 5:00 p.m., 6:00 p.m.?
MS. PERINO: I hesitate to put a time on it. I'm pushing as hard as I can. It probably will not be as early as I would like.
Q Is it tied to the conclusion of the briefings on the Hill?
MS. PERINO: I'm trying to work on that and trying to push the system a little bit. I'm not sure if I'll be successful.
Q Dana, just to be clear, Hoekstra did already get his briefing and he wasn't satisfied. So will you be reaching out again to him?
MS. PERINO: Of course, we'll just have to -- our senior officials and our staff talk with him and his staff on a regular basis.
Q Dana, in October the President said that any such proliferation activities would be a grave threat to the United States and that North Korea would face serious consequences. Does he stand by those statements?
MS. PERINO: Yes.
Q What should the consequences be then?
MS. PERINO: Well, let's let the briefings take place and the declaration take place, and we will move on from there.
Q And what's the international component to this? Have you talked to the other -- do the other six-party -- or four parties know the information that's being provided to Congress today?
MS. PERINO: This will not come as a surprise to any members of the six-party talks.
Q Okay. And I understand that the United States reached out to the IAEA today. Do you want inspectors to go into Syria to make sure that they're satisfied -- make sure that Syria is in compliance with the NPT?
MS. PERINO: I don't know who reached out, if they did. So I'm not aware of that. I don't know who it would have been. But I think when I have my statement today that you'll have later this afternoon, that that question will be at least partially answered.
Q Another issue?
MS. PERINO: Is everyone okay with that? Okay.
Q I'd like to ask you about a couple of comments from Democrats about the oil price situation.
MS. PERINO: Okay.
Q Some Senate Democrats are threatening to block arms deals if the Saudis, the Kuwaitis and other Arab countries don't pump more oil. And there's also a call on the House Democratic side once again to tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
MS. PERINO: Okay, I'll go in order then, taking the first question first. I think once again the Democrats are barking up the wrong tree. The last thing that we want to do is increase our dependence on foreign sources of energy. For years they have been in the lead to block efforts to have environmentally responsible exploration and production in our own country. Arms deals are not favors that we do for friends; they are in our national strategic interests and something that we work closely with Congress on.
And therefore, what would be most productive on Capitol Hill right now is to take measures into their own hands and work to make sure that we are increasing production and exploration here in our own country, so that we can reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy in ways where we know how to do it, without harming the environment -- or with minimal impact on the environment, while we work to transition our economy to one where we would be able to operate on less traditional sources of energy -- alternatives and renewables.
I would remind you that it was just in his 2007 State of the Union address that an additional plan the President put forward was to reduce traditional oil and gas use by 20 percent in 10 years. We were able to get that bill passed. It doesn't go as far and as fast as we would like, but just this week, on Tuesday, Secretary Peters of the Transportation agency, said that on the mileage-per-gallon standards that were supposed to be increased at 4 percent a year, that we think that we can do better and we can do it faster, and so we're going to do it at 4.5 percent a year.
So we're trying to push the technology and push the system. But the suggestion that they made today is not one that we could support, for the reasons I said.
Q What about the Petroleum Reserve?
MS. PERINO: So to that point, the purpose of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is to provide the United States with oil in the event of a severe disruption of supply. It has been ineffective when it has been used to manipulate the price in the past. And the administration continues to fill the reserve at a very modest rate, and we don't believe the fill rates have a meaningful impact on oil supplies, as this oil equates to less than one-tenth of 1 percent of daily world consumption.
Q Can I just get your reaction to something that Senator Schumer said on the same thing? He said that the Saudis and the oil companies are in cahoots and the administration is coddling them.
MS. PERINO: You know, I think that Senator -- that those types of -- that those remarks are ones that again continue to ignore the root cause of this issue. And continuing to blame other countries, when in fact, those countries -- and the one that he mentioned, especially in regards to Saudi Arabia just this week talked about how they have spent billions of dollars to explore for more oil in their own country. There are limits to supply and there is a huge amount of demand.
We can encourage them, and we have asked them, to increase production. But we are not going to be able to do so in a way that waves a magic wand and immediately reduces gas prices. And I would say this about that particular Senator that you mentioned: For the very same people that are clamoring for lower gasoline prices, they are the same ones that are hailing policies in the United States Senate that would expressly increase gas prices or electricity prices. And I could point to the Warner-Lieberman bill as one that across the board economists have forecasted would increase gas prices.
Q On the same topic -- you called on them to take measures to increase production. Can you just be specific?
MS. PERINO: Sure, there's ANWR, which we've been talking about for years. And I think that the issue -- there are so many facts on the ground now when it comes to that, that it's disingenuous to suggest that it would harm the environment, because we know how to do it in the best possible way, with the newest and best technologies on Earth that could help us produce that; plus, not to mention, all of the jobs that it would create up in that part of our country.
In addition, there is offshore oil that we could pursue in ways that don't hurt viewscapes, as has been a concern, but also ones that take into account the way to do offshore oil in a way that will not harm the environment.
Q And just a quick question -- in the letter that Speaker Pelosi sent to the President, she mentioned -- she called on him to get the FTC to crack down on price manipulators. Is that something under --
MS. PERINO: We absolutely agree. We absolutely agree that there are -- if there are any cases of price gouging, that they should be fully investigated. But I think that, again, to bark up the wrong tree and suggest that there is an easy fix to this -- they are -- it's not fair to the American people and it's absolutely misleading. And what Congress should be focused on is how do we start addressing the root causes of these problems in a way that we can reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy in ways that we can produce more here at home?
Q Two quick issues. Senate John McCain was touring a Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans today. He said, "Never again will a disaster be handled in this terrible and disgraceful way." He was asked specifically to talk about President Bush and how he failed in his Katrina conduct, and he said, "I think everybody knows how it was a failure." There were unqualified people in charge. There was a total misreading of the dimensions of the disaster. There was a failure of communications on the part of the way -- the common spectrum to used by many first responders. He said, "It's been well chronicled. I don't think anybody in America, hardly, is unaware of the many failings that took place." What your reaction to that?
MS. PERINO: Well, I didn't see the comments, but from what I know, having been here during the time, President Bush absolutely took responsibility for any failing on the part of the federal government. But at the same time there were problems at the federal, state and -- I'm sorry, at the state and local levels, as well, which they have admitted to. One thing I would point to is that -- it was the largest hurricane to hit us. It hit us hard and it hit us in a spot where we were the most vulnerable; where we had citizens who were living in a place that was really in a bowl, and they suffered the consequences of a terrible flooding.
That said, one of the things that the President asked then Homeland Security Director Fran Townsend to do was an after-action report, of which we did, and the recommendations have all been taken into account and they are being addressed. And we can get you an update, but I think that almost all of the recommendations were accepted and have been addressed by -- across the board, across the federal government.
Q One quick one to finish up. Is there any update on the stolen Blackberries in New Orleans? What is the story with this?
MS. PERINO: There was an incident in New Orleans at the leaders' summit in -- where an individual from the Mexican delegation, or a staff member was involved in these Blackberries -- the disappearance of a couple of Blackberries. I don't know how many it was. The matter is under investigation by law enforcement officials and they haven't decided yet what exactly happened, but they're working on it.
Q Was there sensitive material on the Blackberries?
MS. PERINO: I don't know. I'm going to let the investigation take place before I comment on it.
Q Whose were they?
Q Yes, whose Blackberries? Were they White House staff Blackberries?
DANA: I don't -- I'm not --
DANA: U.S., yes.
Q White House officials?
DANA: I don't know if they were -- I'm not quite sure whose they were, so I don't want to say that, but they were certainly U.S. delegation.
Q Dana, there seems to be some concern in the Palestinian community that the President does not have any meetings on his schedule when he goes to Israel with Palestinian leaders. What, if anything, will the President do while he's there to reach out either to Palestinian leaders or ordinary Palestinians to commemorate in a way the flip side of Israel's birthday, which is the loss of Palestinian homes and their expulsion?
DANA: Well, the first thing he's going to do is he'll be meeting in just 20 minutes with President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority. So we'll be there, and then there's pool at the bottom of their meeting and I think you'll hear from him that he plans to be able to see President Abbas in Sharm el-Sheikh when he's there.
Q But what about when he's in Israel, will he reach out in any way to the Palestinian community?
MS. PERINO: Well, we haven't released the schedule yet so let's wait and see. But the expressed purpose of the trip is to go to the 60th anniversary of the celebration of the start of Israel. And beyond that, let's wait for their meeting to take place. We're still finalizing the schedule; it's not set in stone.
Q Does he view that, though, as an insult in a way to Palestinians, to go to -- you know, is he siding himself too closely with Israel?
MS. PERINO: Since the President met yesterday with King Abdullah and he's meeting today with President Abbas and plans to see him in a couple of weeks, no, I don't think that that's a fair characterization.
Q The President in August, saying that time is running out -- do you still believe that the peace process is on track?
MS. PERINO: Well, we certainly think it's had much more halting progress than we would have liked and it's not moving fast enough. But one of the things the President is doing today is listening to President Abbas as he continues to find the spots where we can continue to push. I mean, a lot of this is up to the Palestinians and the Israelis, who committed to trying to work something out by the end of the year. And we are hopeful that we can continue on that path, but we also know we have a heck of a lot of work to do.
Q But since Annapolis, it's been six months until now. Can you point out any achievement that happened between now and then, in nine months until the President is --
MS. PERINO: Well, I think you have to look at this in terms of a package. And while they have had good conversations early on in the process, then they backtrack a little bit. And we have a very complex situation on the ground and it's going to take a little while. But I wouldn't say that you're going to get this in a piecemeal fashion. I think that you're going to have to take a look at it in total, once we get to a resolution, if we can get one.
Q Thank you.
MS. PERINO: Can I just do Goyal -- sorry.
Q Thank you.
MS. PERINO: Go ahead, Goyal. Kathleen must have a lunch date. (Laughter.)
Q Two quick ones. One is that Iran is saying now that they are opening for the inspections for IAEA and because their nuclear program is now for peaceful, which they have denied in the past. How does it look -- President believes Iran now that they are ready to open various facilities?
MS. PERINO: We'll see. Actions speak louder than words, and we haven't seen a lot of action on their side, but a lot of words.
Q And second quick one. Yesterday Attorney General was speaking at CSIS and he gave a review of the -- what do you call the international --
MS. PERINO: The terrorist program?
Q What I'm saying is my question, quick, does President believe what he set out as far as international criminals are concerned they are also connected with terrorism and terrorists? And what steps President --
MS. PERINO: Yes, the President believes that and that's something we've been working on and something Judge Mukasey -- I should say Attorney General Mukasey is continuing to work on.
Okay, thank you.
END 1:01 P.M. EDT