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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
August 18, 2008
Press Briefing by Gordon Johndroe
Press Filing Center
Crawford Middle School
10:37 A.M. CDT
MR. JOHNDROE: Good morning. Let me make a few statements on a number of issues, and I'll be happy to take your questions.
The President was briefed this morning via secure video by Secretary of Homeland Security Chertoff, as well as FEMA, on Tropical Storm Fay. The White House is following the storm very closely. The federal government is coordinating with state and local governments throughout the region, particularly the state of Florida, to prepare for the tropical storm.
Members of the administration have been in contact with Governor Crist, Senator Nelson, as well as the Director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management. FEMA has activated its federal and regional operation centers and deployed liaisons to state emergency operation centers. Additionally, National Urban Search and Rescue Task Forces, an Incident Management Assistance Team and Mobile Emergency Response System, are ready to assist if needed. Other federal resources have been pre-deployed to the state to assist the state in response to the storm, if they are needed. At this time the state has not identified any unmet needs and has not requested any federal assistance.
An update on Wednesday: the President will make remarks to the VFW Convention. His speech is a look back to the important steps that have been taken in the global war on terror over the last seven and a half years. He then travels to New Orleans, where the President will make remarks at Jackson Barracks on the rebuilding efforts that continue in the Gulf Coast. He will also travel to Gulfport, Mississippi that evening where he will have dinner with community leaders.
A note on the situation in the Gulf Coast: General O'Dell, the Coordinator, recently announced in New Orleans with Governor Jindal the decision to allow Louisiana 30 years to repay the state's share of hurricane protection construction, the levees for the New Orleans area. This represents a substantial move to allow the state to gain better financial footing in the coming years, while simultaneously paying their share of the construction costs.
A statement we provided a little bit earlier on Pakistan: President Bush is committed to a strong Pakistan that continues its efforts to strengthen democracy and fight terror. President Bush appreciates President Musharraf's efforts in the democratic transition of Pakistan, as well as his commitment to fighting al Qaeda and extremist groups. President Bush looks forward to working with the government of Pakistan on the economic, political and security challenges that they face.
And lastly this morning, on Georgia: On Saturday, Russian President Medvedev signed a cease-fire agreement committing Russia to end hostilities and withdraw its forces to their pre-August 6th locations. As President Bush said on Saturday, now Russia needs to honor its agreement and withdraw its forces and, of course, end military operations.
The Russians have said that their withdrawal would start at midday today. We will continue to closely monitor Russian actions in Georgia for confirmation of the withdrawal. This is something that should be achieved without delay.
Secretary Rice is on her way to Brussels, where she will meet with NATO foreign ministers, as well as EU officials, tomorrow, to consult with allies, and make clear to the entire world that we stand with a free Georgia. She will also discuss our humanitarian aid to Georgia and urge similar quick actions from allies in the EU in support of the Georgian people. She will then continue on to Warsaw, Poland, where she will sign an agreement for the deployment of U.S. missile defense interceptors in Poland.
And with that, I am happy to take your questions. Toby.
Q Is President Bush going to speak with Musharraf at all about the resignation? Has there been any contact with the Pakistanis over this -- and President Bush?
Q Can you repeat the question?
MR. JOHNDROE: Toby asked whether the President has spoken with President Musharraf. He has not today, and we'll keep you updated if that changes.
Q And on Georgia, there seems to be some disagreement on whether Russia is pulling back. Georgia says that Russian troops aren't and actually they've broadened where they are. As of right now, what are the signs that you are seeing?
MR. JOHNDROE: Right. I would say that we have a number of reports from the ground. The Russians have said that they are beginning their withdrawal. We are going to closely monitor this. It's hard for me to say, standing right here, right now, exactly the state of the withdrawal. But regardless, the Russians have committed to withdrawing and they need to withdraw. And so that is what we are looking for.
Q Gordon, just as a practical matter, how can the resignation of a strong ally in the war on terror, in the midst of a impeachment crisis, in a country not known for smooth transfers of power -- how can that not have an upheaval or an effect on our prosecution of the war on terror?
MR. JOHNDROE: Well, one, we're going to continue working with the government of Pakistan. The President had a good meeting with the Prime Minister a couple of weeks ago in Washington. The Pakistanis realize that the threat of terrorism, the threat of extremism, is a threat to them, as well as the rest of the world. So the government of Pakistan, the Prime Minister, realizes that they need to go after terrorists and extremists because they are trying to destabilize the government of Pakistan, as well. So we're confident that while we certainly all have more to do when it comes to fighting terrorism, the government of Pakistan will continue in the effort.
Q Gordon, there's a report out of the Pentagon that SS-21 missiles are being moved into South Ossetia. Does the White House have anything on that? And if true, would that be acceptable to the U.S.?
MR. JOHNDROE: I'm not going to comment specifically on what Russian units or equipment are in the area right now. But let me be clear: If it rolled in after August 6th, it needs to roll out. That would be in keeping with the Russians' commitments on withdrawal.
Q To follow on the Pakistan issue, you said the President hasn't talked to Musharraf. Has he talked to the Prime Minister today -- the new democratic government at all about this?
MR. JOHNDROE: We'll keep you updated on any phone calls the President has. Our embassy in Islamabad is in close contact, as usual, with the government of Pakistan. But we'll keep you updated on any phone calls the President may have.
Q Is the White House hopeful that with this transition that the fight against terrorism -- that Pakistan will be even more committed and more focused now?
MR. JOHNDROE: You know, this is a transition that the people of Pakistan and the government of Pakistan made a decision, as well as President Musharraf made this decision to resign. These are issues that they're going to have to work through their political process. While this political process is underway, we certainly expect they'll keep up their fight against terrorists and extremists and -- because of what I just said: This is a fight that they are in, as well.
And that's what the Prime Minister said when he was in Washington. What he has said repeatedly is they understand that these extremists are going after the government of Pakistan. They're trying to destabilize Pakistan. And so it's not only a threat to the United States, Western Europe, and the whole free world, but it's a threat to Pakistan, as well. And that's why we will all continue to work on going after the extremists.
Q And any thoughts on how this might impact U.S. aid to Pakistan in the future? Any thoughts on whether this would increase, in particular, aid to fight terrorism, military aid?
MR. JOHNDROE: No, I think that, again, this is a process that the Pakistanis are going through within their political system. President Musharraf made a decision to resign. As I said, President Bush appreciates President Musharraf's efforts in the democratic transition, as well as his commitment to fight terror.
And so I think that these things that were put in place in Pakistan -- while there's more work to be done, they will continue, and while that continues the United States remains committed to Pakistan, committed to the fight on terror, committed to helping the people of Pakistan through aid -- aid that is not only devoted to fighting extremists, aid that is devoted to helping improve education, health care, and infrastructure.
Q Gordon, you said that the Pakistanis also want to fight in the war on terror. But many in Pakistan actually blame Musharraf's relationship with the United States, with President Bush, for bringing more attacks and more instability into the country. So how do you ensure that that relationship stays strong with the next leadership?
MR. JOHNDROE: Again, President Bush had a good meeting with the Prime Minister of Pakistan -- the new Prime Minister of Pakistan just a few weeks ago at the White House. Secretary Rice, as well as our embassy in Islamabad, remain in close contact with the Pakistani government. We are continuing counterterrorism cooperation. As I just said, we are continuing to provide aid for a variety of social and humanitarian issues. We want to help the people of Pakistan get through their food emergency, their -- the concern they have and that we have over the economic condition of Pakistan. And so we're confident that we will maintain a good relationship with the government of Pakistan.
Q You mentioned earlier that Secretary Rice is going to be talking about U.S. aid to Georgia at the meeting in Brussels and urging other countries to provide similar aid. Can you talk a little bit more about what kinds of aid we're currently providing and what we might provide in the future?
MR. JOHNDROE: I think the Defense Department has provided some additional figures this morning on the type of immediate assistance that we're providing regarding the number of airlift operations that have gone into Georgia, as well as their plans to potentially use ships to get aid in. And this is immediate humanitarian assistance. This is sort of immediate sanitation equipment, food, water, I believe some temporary shelter that's moving in.
So Secretary Rice will have those discussions with allies on immediate assistance to help with the refugee situation within Georgia, the internally displaced persons there. So there's immediate assistance. But I think it's also time to start having the conversation about reconstruction for Georgia and helping Georgia rebuild. The United States is committed to helping Georgia rebuild not only its infrastructure, but also help them rebuild their security forces, as well. And so I think that's the type of thing that she will have a discussion with allies on.
Q Does that include things like their radar facilities that were apparently heavily damaged --
MR. JOHNDROE: You know, I think it's premature to talk about any specifics of what that reconstruction effort might be. But there should be no doubt that the United States is committed to helping Georgia rebuild.
Q Just to follow on -- (inaudible) -- in South Ossetia. If those SS-21 missiles are there, what impact is that going to have now, looking forward in dealing with the Russians and the security issues of Georgia?
MR. JOHNDROE: Well, as I said, I'm not going to get into the specifics of what Russian equipment or what Russian units are in the region. But if it rolled in after August the 6th, it needs to roll back out. And that's part of their commitment, and they need to live up to that.
Q Again, looking ahead to the next turn of leadership in Pakistan, what, if anything, can the administration do to repair this image among some Pakistanis that it was the relationship with Washington and Musharraf that is the cause of some of the problems that they're having in their country?
MR. JOHNDROE: Let's be clear: The extremist ideology is one that has been out there and among these groups for many years. They have an ideology of hatred and an ideology that doesn't allow little girls to go to school, and is not really an ideology known for its respect for human rights. So let's be very clear about where this started, and that's with the extremists.
Again, the people of Pakistan and the government of Pakistan know that this is a fight they are also in. Osama bin Laden, or Ayman al Zawahiri just a few days ago, I think, issued a video saying that they wanted to go after the government of Pakistan, as well. So these extremists and terrorist groups are not limiting their fight to just the United States; it's Pakistanis, it's Muslims around the world, the thousands of Muslims that they've killed since 9/11, as well as going after the United States and Western Europe. So we're all in this together, and the people of Pakistan and the government of Pakistan know that.
Q Gordon, Venezuela President Hugo Chavez says that the Russian -- Russia's fleet is coming to the Carribean and that they're welcome to come visit Venezuela. What do you make of this latest statement of Russia -- Russo-Venezuelan military cooperation?
MR. JOHNDROE: Obviously, the Russians and the Venezuelans can engage in whatever cooperation that they would like. But it's curious. I'm not sure what Venezuela needs or gains by a visit by the Russian fleet. And I haven't seen any specifics or am able to confirm that, or not. But you would think that President Chavez would concentrate more on the problems that the people of Venezuela are having, rather than on inviting a fleet in for a port call.
Q Can I do one on Georgia, as well?
MR. JOHNDROE: Sure.
Q Today Secretary Rice said that the world would soon know what the Russians did, how they did it; it was sort of a veiled reference, it seemed, to ethnic cleansing. Today Lithuania and Poland have both come out and accused the Russians of carrying out ethnic cleansing. And I know that Georgia has also filed a complaint; Russia has filed a counter-complaint. What's -- does the United States have any evidence to back up any of these allegations?
MR. JOHNDROE: We have reports, unfortunately, from both sides, because you have charges from both sides. That's a serious charge, and we take it seriously and are looking into the matter. I think it's clear this was an ugly conflict on the ground as it flared up a few days ago. And we take these charges seriously and are going to look into them.
Q Has the United States been involved in any discussions about possible relocation for Musharraf outside of Pakistan?
MR. JOHNDROE: No, not that I'm aware of, no.
Q If it becomes necessary, can President Musharraf seek exile in the U.S.?
MR. JOHNDROE: I'm not aware of any discussions regarding that, so I don't think it's an issue that we have to take up.
Q Gordon, to follow on that, do you know where he is now?
MR. JOHNDROE: I believe he's in Pakistan, but I -- you should check with Pakistanis officials on that. But I don't have any specific information or updates on his whereabouts.
Q Gordon, with respect to Tropical Storm Fay, is it possible the storm might keep the President from getting to Orlando on Wednesday?
MR. JOHNDROE: Well, we are -- we're staying updated and on top of that, and we're going to work closely with the VFW to make sure that -- they want to make sure, obviously, all their conference participants are safe in a storm area. So we just need to see on the development of the storm, and we'll keep you updated, as well.
Okay? Great. Thank you, all.
END 10:55 A.M. CDT