For Immediate Release
June 30, 2008
Press Briefing by Dana Perino
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:07 P.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: Hi. I don't have anything to start with. Sorry I'm late.
Q Robert Mugabe was welcomed with no public criticism at an African Union summit in Sharm el Sheikh. Is that the kind of message that you had hoped that the African leaders would send to Mugabe?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think let's see how the meeting goes. We don't believe that the Mugabe regime is a legitimate government. We think that because they ran a sham election last week, in which they intimidated every voter who would have voted against Mugabe, that the African leaders had an opportunity at this week's meeting to really dig into these issues. Because one of the single greatest challenges of regional instability in southern Africa is Zimbabwe. And let's just see how the meeting goes.
I think that they do understand -- a lot of those leaders in Africa understand and did speak out before the sham election. So I think we should let the meeting take place and see what happens.
I do think that it is unfortunate that the Mugabe -- Mugabe's actions has cast a negative light on some really good democratic leaders in Africa. I don't want them all to be painted with the same brush, because I do think that there are many of them who are working very hard to institute democratic reforms in their own way, commensurate with their culture and their traditions and their history.
And so I think that we will continue to put the pressure on. In the meantime, regardless of what happens at that African Union meeting, President Bush has instructed the Secretaries of State and Treasury to develop sanctions against the regime and we will be working on those. Those sanctions could also go against those who support the regime. So as Secretaries Rice and Paulson work on those, we'll continue to keep you updated.
Q Dana, will those sanctions be unilateral? Will the President be --
MS. PERINO: They could be.
Q -- seeking other -- seek other forums where those sanctions will be implemented?
MS. PERINO: We will press for strong action by the United Nations, but we could also act unilaterally. It could come in multiple ways. Obviously sanctions work best when there are multiple parties working in concert, like we are with the European Union when it comes to getting Iran to halt its uranium enrichment so that we can have talks with them.
Q Dana, on sanctions, what is the ultimate goal for the United States in imposing these sanctions? Do you want him to hold another election?
MS. PERINO: I think that we'll have to see. I don't know if that's necessarily clear. What we would like is for people, first and foremost, to feel safe in their own country and to let their voices be heard. I know that down in the area there's conversation about a possible power-sharing agreement. I don't know a lot about that; I think that it's a little bit too early to say. But first and foremost, we want people to feel safe in their own country.
More on Zimbabwe?
MS. PERINO: Okay.
Q Anything we're saying, in all due respect, is so namby-pamby. I mean, isn't there some mechanism to arrest him as a war criminal, detain him in Egypt? Why isn't the world taking a firmer stand on this?
MS. PERINO: I think that the President has taken a very firm stand on it. He's working -- he pushed very hard last week for the U.N. Security Council to put forward a president's statement, which has to -- which requires a unanimous consent by all 15 parties, including the South African leader. And then he called for the Secretaries of State and Treasury to work on sanctions against the regime and those who support it. And we will continue to press on it. The President is very interested in what's going to happen in the area. And I think that the African leaders, knowing that there is a huge problem of instability in their region casts a pall on all of them, and so I think that they'll have incentive to work for it to make something happen.
Q But would the administration -- would the Bush administration be upset if he were detained and not allowed to leave Egypt?
MS. PERINO: I think -- I'm just not going to speculate on any such action. I don't know of any that's being contemplated.
I'm going to go back to April, because she had one, too, on this.
Q Dana, as you're talking about these stiff sanctions, possibility of stiff sanctions on Zimbabwe, how do you deal with that as this country is in a crisis, has humanitarian needs? How do you implement a sanctions or put forth sanctions without hurting -- 80 percent of the population is in poverty and in despair.
MS. PERINO: Well, again, I think that sanctions would be targeted to the leader and his cronies and then those who support the regime. But what we will continue to do is continue to provide food assistance to more than 1 million people, and then AIDS -- HIV/AIDS treatment to more than 40,000 people there in Zimbabwe who need that treatment. We'll continue to do that -- and I believe that the NGOs were allowed to go back in and to try to help feed those people; that happened I think a couple of weeks ago. But we're going to keep a close eye on it and we'll try to make sure that no one suffers humanitarianly [sic].
But this is also -- I mean, this is something that the leader of Zimbabwe -- now the discredited leader of Zimbabwe -- has done to his own country. And he's led them to this so that -- whereas this was a country that was a shining jewel in Africa, one that was going -- that was able to export food, it was the breadbasket of Africa, is now one that is one of the most impoverished nations.
Q And has President Bush talked to Thabo Mbeki about what you're saying, the "sham elections"?
MS. PERINO: I'm not sure President Bush has. I know Secretary Rice had been in contact with all of the leaders on the Security Council in order to make sure that presidents' statement went out. And Jendayi Frazer is still in the region and working on it.
Les. On this?
Q Yes, on this. Thank you, Dana. Two questions. Does the White House believe that apartheid South Africa ever killed and tortured as many blacks as Mugabe's Zimbabwe?
MS. PERINO: It would be impossible for me to quantify. I don't know, Les.
Q Does the White House believe that in the United States there have ever been as many demonstrations against Zimbabwe and against Amin's Uganda by black organizations like the NAACP than the 5,000 who picketed the apartheid South African embassy?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that any time anyone -- any time there is suffering or people aren't allowed to live free as everybody is guaranteed the right to under God, as the President has said, that that should be condemned. I'm not going to comment as to how many protests there are against a regime.
Q Well, do you think it was more -- don't you think it was more protests against --
MS. PERINO: I'm going to move on, Les.
Q You don't want to --
MS. PERINO: I'm going to move on. Olivier.
Q Can I just clarify a couple of things? One, when you talked about targeted sanctions against the leader, his cronies and those who support the regime -- the part about "those who support the regime," is that a reference to individuals and companies that do business with the leader in Zimbabwe?
MS. PERINO: It could be, it's too early to speculate.
Q And when you talk about the -- Mugabe's actions having cast a negative light on some of these democratic leaders, do you mean because there hasn't been a stronger action by countries in the neighborhood to pressure him, is that --
MS. PERINO: No, I think actually what I mean is I -- a lot of African nations -- Tanzania, for example -- have moved quite far forward in their democratic reforms. And unfortunately because of the way the world works -- this is not a criticism of the media -- but negative stories get attention and the stories about progress and the good work that people are doing in order to help their populations don't necessarily get the attention that they deserve. And so I just think that people would hear a lot more about the negative actions in Zimbabwe than they would about the positives in other countries and that that would be unfortunate.
Last one for you, April, and then I'll go --
Q Okay. Back on the sanctions, the British government has sanctions to include the fact that many of the children of the leaders in Zimbabwe, Mugabe's people, they're not allowed to travel out of the country or come there to be educated. Is that some of the kinds of things that you're talking about?
MS. PERINO: Travel bans are certainly possible. I don't know about the UK's specific sanctions, but travel bans are certainly a part of something that would be in the mix of consideration, and that would be something that the Secretary of State's office would institute.
I'm going to go back over here -- can I go to Sheryl -- okay, Sheryl.
Q Dana, when Kenya had a political crisis the President sent Condi Rice to support efforts by Kofi Annan. Some Africa experts are calling for a diplomatic offensive here, where perhaps some high-level envoy might be sent maybe to a neighboring country, to be paired up with someone of similar stature in Africa, to bring pressure to bear. Is anything like that under consideration? Is the President --
MS. PERINO: Could be; I'm not positive and I'll have to -- you know, we can check with the State Department or you can check with the State Department to see if that's something that they're thinking of. But I know Jendayi Frazer, who the President relies on greatly to help, such as she did in Kenya -- when we were there on our trip it was Secretary Rice that went with Jendayi to Kenya, as you know. I'll see; I just don't of anything in the works.
Q Right. But there's consensus, I think, that when Secretary Rice went it sort of raised things up to a new level. And I'm wondering if the President is willing to take that kind of step --
MS. PERINO: We'll have to see. I think that also it depends also on -- I think you're dealing with very different leaders in very different circumstances. I don't think you can apply the situation in Kenya directly to the situation in Zimbabwe; I think they're quite different in many regards.
Q I guess I might ask if you'd please take it -- last night, CBS "60 Minutes" had a horrific feature on the persecution of Christians and I guess other minorities in Iraq and it appears to be getting much worse. Is there anything that our administration -- your administration can do to try to prevent this?
MS. PERINO: Well, this is something that the President has raised with Prime Minister Maliki and our Ambassador is certainly aware of it. The President also spoke about it with the Pope in both of his meetings this year. So it is something that the President gets regularly updated on. He's concerned about it and he thinks that everybody should be allowed to worship freely. And he believes that Prime Minister Maliki agrees with him in that regard -- whether you're Sunni, Shia, Christian, Jew or otherwise -- that everybody should be allowed to worship freely and be free from persecution.
Q Did the President tell the columnists today that he's considering repealing the offshore oil drilling ban first, before Congress does?
MS. PERINO: I don't know if I would put it that way, and I don't have the words right in front of me. But I was there, I think what the President -- a question was asked was, why did you ask Congress to move first, before just go ahead and taking unilateral action.
One of the things the President reminded them is that there's two moratoriums and you need both of them to be lifted before there could be any drilling in the offshore area. So he said that he's asking Congress to move and that he would work in concert with them and lift his at the same time so that there would be incentive to get it done at the same time. So I think that was more along the lines of what he said.
Q He did not say that he would have perhaps considered moving first?
MS. PERINO: I think -- in those exact words, I'm not exactly sure how he put it. But there was lots of different -- you could have done this lots of different ways. You could have lifted it first; you could have said, Congress lift it first; you could have said, let's do it at the exact same time together. And I think that because we've seen this Congress under the Democratic leaders constantly shove and push away any ideas on domestic exploration and production, that the President believes that first and foremost the onus should be on the Democratic leaders to allow for a vote to come up so that we could lift that moratorium and we can explore in environmentally safe ways oil on our -- off our own shores. He's prepared to lift his moratorium as well, but he thinks that if he does it alone and Congress doesn't act then nothing is going to happen, there's not going to be any change.
Q Did the President ask Congress for $400 million to send covert operatives into the -- on the ground in Iran to "prepare the battlefield"?
MS. PERINO: I couldn't comment either way, and I haven't on that story that was in The New Yorker. So I couldn't comment.
Q The President today when he signed the war supplemental basically ended a two-year fight with the Democrat-controlled Congress over setting timetables for the troops in Iraq. How significant was what happened today? Does the President see it as a -- what kind of achievement was that? What does it mean?
MS. PERINO: I think what this -- yes, the President believes that today in signing this war supplemental that provided our troops what they need in order to carry out the jobs they've been asked to do was significant. And the policy of making sure that the President of the United States, whoever it is, the Commander-in-Chief, is able to work with his commanders on the ground and make recommendations on troop levels and troop movements based on those recommendations is something that the President welcomes.
He thinks that that's the way that it should be, that Congress should not try to tie the hands of the Commander-in-Chief or the generals when it comes to the war. And I think that because we have seen success in the surge, perhaps Congress decided that it was okay to allow the Commander-in-Chief to be able to move forward as he saw fit.
And I would say that, yes, it's a victory, but we have -- we're going to need more resources in the future. And this was a long, drawn-out fight with the Congress when it came to the spending. But the other part of it that's a victory, Wendell, is the supplemental came in at the same number that the President asked for. It was a slightly different look at the pie, but it was the same size pie.
Q But in that pie there was more money than the President wanted to spend for the GI Bill; it included an extension in the supplemental unemployment benefits. He didn't really feel it belonged in there. But what do you say to the idea they basically blocked a compromise with the Democrats -- taxpayer money?
MS. PERINO: I don't think -- look, that's not the way a negotiation or a compromise works. First and foremost, the President wanted, on the policy side of things, transferability, for any member of the military to be able to transfer his GI benefits to his children -- his or her children, or their spouses. That's one of the things the President brought up in the State of the Union. He's heard over and over again -- you ask the military, what's one of the things that you need, and they ask for that transferability.
The original proposal that came out of the Senate did not include transferability. So while the number might have been slightly higher than what the President originally thought of, the fact that it included transferability was something that the President thought was a key win, and he was very happy to sign the bill today.
And in addition to that, when it comes to the unemployment benefits, obviously we're going through a time of continued economic uncertainty. There's been a slowdown; there are many people looking for a job that haven't been able to find one. Thankfully, our unemployment rates have not been as high as in the past, and so we don't think that we need to do this as aggressively, in terms of extending unemployment insurance benefits, because the original proposal from the Democrats was for a 20-week -- 26-week extension. The bill the President signed today includes a 13-week extension. So I think that it's a very fair compromise.
Toby, did you have another one? Go ahead.
Q U.S. forces in Iraq reportedly killed a relative of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki during a raid last Friday on a villa belonging to the Prime Minister's sister, and the villa is in Karbala province, which is supposedly under full Iraqi control. And Iraqi officials said they were not informed about the raid in advance. Was that raid a mistake, and will you issue an apology?
MS. PERINO: I think you'll need to call MNFI. I don't have any information on that.
MS. PERINO: Goyal.
Q Two quick questions. As far as the situation in Afghanistan is concerned, Afghanistan's Attorney General was in Washington and speaking at USIP. And what he was saying, really, there is no law in his nation, and as Attorney General, even he cannot arrest people who are breaking the law, and he called it a lawlessness nation today. And he was asking the help from the administration; that NATO should do more and the U.S. -- I don't know what he was asking here, meeting with people. And also at the same time --
MS. PERINO: What's your question, Goyal?
Q -- as far as cross-border terrorism is concerned, Pakistan has launched a new campaign against terror, the Taliban. So where do we stand? Do we see anything new from these --
MS. PERINO: Do you want me to answer the Afghanistan question first or the Pakistan question?
Q Well, the Taliban (inaudible).
MS. PERINO: Okay. Here's the thing. In Afghanistan, one of the things -- in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and in other places, one of the things that we have to do as the United States and as part of NATO is help build the institutions that will help make law and order something that everybody can count on. And that's one of the things that we'll continue to work with, in terms of Afghanistan.
They're starting at a very different place than many other countries. They're starting from ground zero, and it's going to take a long time to build up the institutions. And when it comes to the FATA region, obviously we have devoted resources over the years, significant resources, in order to help build up capacity for the security forces, but as well as economic development and political reconciliation and helping to try to bring those tribal chiefs together.
Q And second, as far as Iran is concerned, what kind of message are we sending as far as opening up a section in Iran for the U.S. section? Is it a message for the Iranian government or for the people in Iran?
MS. PERINO: As I said last week, I didn't have any information on it. There might be an idea floating around the State Department, but nothing concrete.
Q Dana, before leaving on the 4th of July recess, the Senate confirmed 29 non-career nominees, including several judges. I'm wondering, from your perspective, where things stand on judges? And is the President hopeful that more of his nominees will get an up or down vote, in terms of judges?
MS. PERINO: Well, Congress has a short amount of time when they get back in order to get some more things done. And one of them has to be following through on more of these nominations. Obviously, there are the non-political career and military appointments that the President would like to see put to a vote; done quickly. These people have had their lives on hold. Many of them don't know where their children are going to go to school. We're already -- we're almost in July, as of tomorrow. So yes, that's first and foremost a priority.
But when it comes to judges, this Congress has really dragged its feet. And they said that they would be able to confirm a certain number of judges a month, and they really fell behind on that. And I don't know if they'll be able to make up for lost time, but we certainly think that our judges need to be confirmed, especially because people who are out in America and want their day in court are, in many places, waiting for months, if not years, in order to actually get that day. And in Michigan, we were just now able for the first time in the President's seven-and-a-half years, to seat a full bench in the 6th Circuit up in Michigan. So it's not a good reflection on how the Senate has been managed over the past couple of years.
Q Dana, just one more?
MS. PERINO: Elaine is the last one.
Q On al Qaeda, this morning you were talking about the hunt for al Qaeda. The President, of course, is doing all he can to ensure that al Qaeda leadership is rooted out, to try to prevent another terrorist attack. Well, yesterday Senator Lieberman said that he believes, based on history, it's very likely the U.S. will get hit again in the next year, in 2009, because enemies of the U.S. will try to test the new President. But given what you said, that President Bush right now is trying to do all he can, everything possible to prevent another attack, what's your reaction to a statement like that by Senator Lieberman?
MS. PERINO: I think Senator Lieberman, unfortunately, could be right. And the only reason I say that is because we know that there are people who are very dangerous who are trying to attack us every day. The President has been looking for Osama bin Laden since September 12th. That effort has never let up. And we are dealing with a very -- very dangerous terrain, difficult physical environment, very secretive people hiding in caves, an enemy that respects no uniform, respects no civilians, just absolutely wants to destruction. And the President has said that whenever and whenever -- whenever and wherever we get actionable intelligence, we will take action to make sure that they're brought to justice.
Now, when it comes to being the number three in al Qaeda, such as Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, or al-Libi, those people have had a tough time of it. We've been able to track them down. And all the other work we've done in attacking senior leadership within al Qaeda has helped us prevent attacks in America. But the reason I say it's unfortunate that Senator Lieberman could be right is that with all these people -- terrorists -- plotting to kill innocent people, not just in America but elsewhere, amongst our allies, or even innocent Muslims like we've seen in Iraq and elsewhere -- they only have to be right once. And we have to be right all the time.
And not only is it important we go after them, but we also help provide an alternative vision. Like I was saying this morning, we try to help establish a better economic environment, or a better political environment so that people can have hope in an alternative vision in these areas, such as in the FATA region in Pakistan or elsewhere.
And so he could be right, but we're doing everything we can to prevent it.
Q Can I ask you one more on Iran? I'm sorry, really quickly.
MS. PERINO: Okay.
Q Is the outcome of the U.S. election in any way, shape or form affecting the way President Bush looks at the option of a military strike against Iran? Bill Kristol -- the reason I ask is Bill Kristol suggested recently that if John McCain is elected President, that President Bush would think that decision could be left to John McCain, but that Barack Obama might be perceived as being too weak and not -- will not follow necessarily the U.S. policy, and therefore a need to strike would be more urgent.
MS. PERINO: There are a lot of political analysts out there, and I respect that they have their opinions. What I can tell you as the President's spokesperson, he is singularly focused on trying to solve this issue diplomatically.
END 1:29 P.M. EDT