For Immediate Release
June 3, 2008
Press Briefing by Dana Perino
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:31 P.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: Hello, everyone. I'd like to start off by mentioning the Food and Agriculture Organization Conference is taking place today in Rome. The United States is represented at the conference by a delegation led by Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer and USAID Administrator Henrietta Fore. You've heard us talk a little bit about our commitment and how this year we're going to be providing an additional $1 billion in total U.S. government assistance to address the food price crisis around the world. We are on track to provide a total of nearly $5 billion for 2008 and 2009 to fight global hunger.
The United States is pursuing a three-pronged strategy to combat the food crisis, through short- and long-term actions that do these things: One, target countries made vulnerable by food prices that are on the rise; provide assistance to countries capable of rapidly increasing staple food production; and support trade liberalization and increasing the use of advanced agricultural technologies.
Remember that the administration has long proposed to stabilize by purchasing local crops near a crisis so that we can help break the cycle of famine; instead of shipping U.S.-grown food there, that they could actually grow their own. That's one of the things we've been trying to do. The request was in the administration's farm bill proposal. It was to allow 25 percent of food aid appropriations to purchase crops from farmers in the developing world. Unfortunately, Congress has failed to act on that proposal. But we are going to be at the conference talking about not only the additional financial assistance we can provide, but also this other technical assistance to help people in these countries grow their own crops and become more self-sufficient.
Q Any updates on the President's meeting with Olmert?
MS. PERINO: It will take place tomorrow afternoon -- I think it's around 1:45 p.m.-1:50 p.m. in the afternoon. And I think they'll make statements at the top of their meeting.
Q Here, at White House?
MS. PERINO: Here in the Oval, yes.
Q And what is the President's -- can you just talk again about what the President's sense is of the impact of the Prime Minister's troubles, political troubles, on the peace process? And does he intend to address that at all in their meeting?
MS. PERINO: Well, obviously, he and the President are good friends and they talk a lot about a range of issues, and they often have a little bit of one-on-one time. And almost every instance I've seen when the Prime Minister has come they spend some time alone. So I don't know what they speak about when they're by themselves.
In the meetings that I'm attending they're focused on the issues at hand in terms of how do you negotiate with the Palestinians to arrive at a place where we can define a Palestinian state by the end of the year. And he believes that the Israelis as a whole are now committed and understand that in order for them to live in peace and security, that there has to be a state that the Palestinians can call their own. And he thinks that that is bigger than any one person, and that we're going to continue to work on it, despite what may or may not be happening in Israeli political circles.
Q The Israeli media is reporting that Olmert is going to come with a message that he hopes the President will disavow the NIE on Iran; that essentially Israel believes it's wrong. Do you believe that to be true?
MS. PERINO: I don't know what Olmert will say. Obviously Prime Minister Olmert will have his speech tonight at AIPAC and so I'll -- you will get a chance to see that. The President has spoken to Prime Minister Olmert and many other leaders across the Middle East and throughout the world about the Iran NIE, and so I don't think there's really anything too new there for them to discuss. I think they both made their points very clear, and Israel has made it clear that they think the -- that intelligence is wrong, and that Iran is still pursuing a nuclear weapon.
We are concerned about the continuing enrichment and also because there's no transparency with the Iranians. We've been asking them to fulfill their international obligations, and while they have not been willing to do that, we are pursuing sanctions through another round of U.N. Security Council resolutions.
Q So as you continue to hear this concern about the NIE, what's the message from the White House to the Middle East about this document?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that the President has been clear. And you heard him say, when he went to the Middle East back in January, he explained to everyone that our position on Iran is -- remains one in which we want to solve this diplomatically, and that we are working on an international basis with our partners, the EU plus a couple of others -- I can't remember the number of that one -- but there's multiple -- multilateral negotiations going on in order to put pressure on Iran in order to get them to fulfill their obligations, which is to halt, or suspend the enrichment of uranium, come clean on what their past program was, and allow the international community to come in and be satisfied; that if their claims are expected to be taken as truth, then we have to have some verification that they really aren't pursuing a nuclear weapon.
Obviously, what the NIE said is that they had a nuclear weapons program, it was covert, and they hid it from the world. The NIE said that it stopped in 2003, but there is no evidence -- nobody could say either way whether they restarted it. That's what the concern was.
And the President also talked about it again in the Middle East when he was there in May, although I think he had satisfied people's concerns about the President's position on Iran when he was back there in January.
Q Something that was brought up earlier today, on the F-22s, is the U.S. considering selling -- making that plane available to allies like --
MS. PERINO: I'm sorry, Jeremy, I did not check in on that, I'm sorry. I'll do that and I'll get back to you. I'll try to get back to everybody. I'm sorry, I should have checked in on that.
Q Dana, is the President disappointed in the South Korean President's leadership now that he's backed off his pledges to reopen the South Korean beef market entirely to U.S. beef?
MS. PERINO: Well, we are going to continue to try to work with and understand the South Koreans' position, and work with our Congress and our industry as we try to move forward. Obviously the President's position on the safety of American beef is well known. And so we'll continue to work with the Koreans and monitor their process.
Q And one on Olmert. He wasn't on the schedule -- only just now do we hear that they're going to make statements at the top. Is there some kind of friction here that we don't know about? Is there some kind of --
MS. PERINO: No, there's no friction.
Q -- are you trying to downplay this visit?
MS. PERINO: No, it's not friction, and obviously we're going to have statements at the top. It just took a while for us to settle when he was going to be able to come over, what time it was going to fit into the President's schedule, and what type of media coverage would take place. And it's going to be, traditionally, as we have done in the past, pool at the top.
Q And you used to say that we were at a special time, you -- the administration used to say that we were at a special time in the Middle East peace process because of these two individuals leaders, Mr. Abbas and Mr. Olmert. You said "they're ready to make the concessions necessary." Now, "the peace process is bigger than any one person," "the Palestinian people and the Israeli people are committed." Are you just emphasizing a different aspect of this, or has there really been a sea change in the attitudes now that these two leaders are no longer indispensable?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that one of the reasons you've seen a sea change is because of the leadership of these two leaders. Both President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert have put their money where their mouth is when it comes to working on this peace process. And they've worked very hard and they've helped to explain to their people, their own populations, why it's so important to try to define a Palestinian state before the end of this year, while this President is in office. And I think that he deserves -- Prime Minister Olmert deserves a lot of credit, along with many other people in the government.
But I think it's taken a little bit of time for people to come to the realization -- people in Israel to come to the realization that what the President set out to do in June of 2002, in his Rose Garden speech when he called for a two-party state, that it took a while for people to fully accept it and to embrace it and to continue to try to move forward on it. And that's what they've been doing.
And they've gotten a long way down the road, but there's a lot of complex issues that still have to be worked out. But remember what Secretary Rice has been saying, as well, which is a lot of the negotiations and discussions are going on behind the scenes and it's not taking place out in the open and in the press, and so that patience is going to have to rule the day here so we can allow them to do that good work. And I believe that that will take place -- that will continue on because the people have decided, both the Palestinians and the Israelis, that this is what they want -- they want to have a two-party state.
Q Dana, you talk about the need to conclude this by the end of this year, on the President's schedule. But putting it on the President's schedule, doesn't that create an artificial deadline that the President usually tries to steer clear of?
MS. PERINO: I think you're mixing up a couple of different things there. But remember, if you go back to November 30th, when the President invited all the leaders here at the Annapolis Conference, one of the things that President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert, amongst other leaders who attended, that they all said that they believe that it was the right thing to do to try to get this done before the end of the year. That was their timetable. And the President fully supports it. He wants to try to get it done, as well.
Q So are you saying that this is in no way driven by the President's term in office?
MS. PERINO: Well, of course, it -- I'm not saying that. I don't know why you would suggest that. I'm saying that they both -- both of those leaders said they want to get it done on this President's watch, and the President is going to try to help them do that. We're pretty well aware of the calendar, seven and a half months or so left, a long way to go. But they've also come a long way since November.
Q Is the administration communicating at all with Ehud Barak about his threat, essentially, to bring down the government and force elections in Israel?
MS. PERINO: I don't know. Obviously we know Defense Minister Barak very well and I'm sure that people have conversations with him. But in terms of internal Israeli politics, I don't know if people are having conversations with him. I couldn't tell you. I'm not.
Q Would you prefer that he not force that --
MS. PERINO: Again, I think that Israeli politics, as the President has described, is "full-court karate," so we understand how tough it is in terms of their internal politics. But they'll have to work it out. But I do think that the President believes that they all are working towards the greater good for Israel, and that they now recognize that there should be a Palestinian state. Fundamentally, if you're looking at it from that perspective, those are good things.
Go over here -- Mark.
Q Dana, let me get at the Olmert question another way. President Abbas is in a very tough political situation, challenged by Hamas, by others. You all have said how painful the concessions will be that are necessary to achieve a deal. What possible incentive does he have to make concessions now to a government that may not be there in weeks?
MS. PERINO: The Palestinian President? Well, I think that, again, he's working with -- across the board, their whole government is working together. And the two negotiators on the Israeli and the Palestinian side have established a very good working relationship, one based on trust and confidence. And I think that what the President will continue to advise them to do is to have their negotiators work on those details, and for others to try to support them.
Q But do you think the Palestinians are able to make painful concessions under this kind of --
MS. PERINO: It's never going to be easy. It's absolutely one of the most difficult things that we could ever try to achieve. And that's what Secretary Rice has said, too, that if the problem was easy to solve it would have been done decades ago. And the President is going to continue to push his -- put his full weight behind trying to get this done and to help them achieve this goal of trying to define a Palestinian state before the end of the year.
Q Can I change the subject?
MS. PERINO: I guess -- I think so.
Q The government of Mexico has already announced that it's going to say no to the Merida Initiative with the conditions set up by the U.S. Congress. What's your reaction to that?
MS. PERINO: Well, I haven't heard that from the government of Mexico in terms of -- are you talking about the lawmakers, the legislators, or the President of Mexico?
Q He's going -- the government of Mexico, the President, through his interior secretary, announced yesterday that they're going to say no to the Merida Initiative.
MS. PERINO: Since I haven't seen it, can I check into that and get back to you? Because obviously President Bush thinks the Merida Initiative is very important. We did not want Congress to attach any strings to the money that we were asking for. So let me just take it back and find out.
Q But if you allow me -- Congressman -- Senator Leahy says that the reason they have conditions is because you guys never invited them to negotiate the Merida Initiative when it was announced in Mexico. What's -- you really believe it was a mistake not to involve the U.S. Congress at the beginning of the negotiations with Mexico?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that from what I recall -- I would have to look back at the time frame -- but the idea of the Merida Initiative goes back all the way to last winter when we were discussing the first supplemental. So I think Congress has had plenty of time to have input.
Q Thank you, Dana. Two questions. As of yesterday, the California ballot this November will have the definition of marriage as between one man and one woman, which the President supports, doesn't he?
MS. PERINO: You know the President's position on this has been very clear.
Q And he does support it?
MS. PERINO: Let's go to your next question.
Q The New York Times editorial page commends Senator McCain for promising, if he is elected, to bring the hallowed British parliament's Prime Minister's question time to Congress. And my question: Would the President be willing to try this just once as a sampling before the election? (Laughter.)
MS. PERINO: As entertaining as that might be, I think we'll let -- the next President can decide if they want to do that or not.
Q Well, the next -- don't you think that McCain is going to be the next President?
MS. PERINO: I do, and we'll let him decide --
Q And he has decided, so why doesn't this President break it in? (Laughter.)
MS. PERINO: It's a great idea. It would be a lot of fun for you to cover.
Q Any reaction on the election in Skopje last Sunday?
MS. PERINO: No, I don't have any, but we'll see if I can get you some. I'm sure -- have you asked the State Department?
MS. PERINO: Okay, I'll see if I can --
Q And one more. What about the -- (inaudible) -- between Greece -- Athens and Skopje? Any initiative on the part of the President?
MS. PERINO: I don't have any -- I'm not prepared today. I haven't seen you in a while. But I will get -- now if you're going to be back, I will get more prepared.
Q Is there any chance the U.S. beef market issue will be in negotiation with South Korea?
MS. PERINO: Do I believe it will be in negotiation?
MS. PERINO: Well, they're discussing it right now, so we are monitoring it very carefully.
Go ahead, Goyal.
Q Two quick questions. One, as far as the food conference, U.N. food conference is concerned, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that there's a need now for the international community to come farther because there's chaos in many countries -- many people are dying, and looting and fighting over food and they are hungry. Now, you think President is going to reach to the rich nations like the oil-producing rich countries to come forward with more money for food for the people --
MS. PERINO: I think that we should wait and see what happens at the conference. Obviously we are concerned enough that we have asked Congress to appropriate more money. One thing I would point out is that President Bush asked Congress to pass $350 million of food aid in the supplemental that they haven't considered yet, because I know that all Americans are concerned about people around the world who are facing hunger and the rising prices that are putting such pressure on many people that just don't have enough to live. But we are sufficiently concerned. We pledged a lot more money. And I think that you'll see that other governments will come forward, as well. I know Saudi Arabia announced a $500 million increase, as well.
Q As far as Iran is concerned, they are saying together they will go ahead with their nuclear program, and nobody can stop it. And also, Senator McCain and Senator Obama both are calling on tough sanctions. But sanctions so far have not worked. What is the next step, because this is also, I think, rising in the food and oil prices, because of these things going on.
MS. PERINO: Well, as I said, we are -- our first and foremost priority is to try to solve this diplomatically, which is why we're working with those other states to consider further U.N. Security Council resolutions. In addition to that, unilaterally one of the things we have been able to do is use the tools of the Treasury Department to put pressure on them financially, which is what Secretary Rice has asked Secretary Paulson to do.
Q Thank you.
END 12:49 P.M. EDT