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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
August 22, 2008
Press Briefing by Gordon Johndroe
Press Filing Center
Crawford Middle School
11:47 A.M. CDT
MR. JOHNDROE: Good morning. The President had a rather full morning this morning, so let me run through it and then I'll be happy to take your questions.
The President started his day by recording the radio address; the topic is energy. The President urges Congress to work with him to expand domestic oil production and take meaningful steps now to address the pain caused by high energy prices.
He then heard from Secretary Rice on her trip to Baghdad and received an update from his national security team on the current situation in Iraq; that was by secure video. He then had his normal intelligence briefing after that, also by secure video. President Bush spoke to Prime Minister Maliki of Iraq. The two discussed the agreement we are currently working on with the Iraqis and agreed that our teams would continue those discussions.
After that, the President spoke by phone to French President Sarkozy. The President expressed his condolences to President Sarkozy and the people of France for the soldiers recently lost in Afghanistan. The two discussed President Sarkozy's recent trip to Afghanistan. They also shared assessments on the situation in Georgia. The two agreed that Russia is not in compliance and that Russia needs to come into compliance now.
Also, next week the President will return to Washington on Wednesday. On Friday, the President meets with the President of Tanzania in the Oval Office, and that evening the President will attend, at the United States Marine Corps Barracks in Washington, the Evening Parade.
With that, questions.
Q Gordon, you say that both Sarkozy and President Bush share the assessment that Russians are not in compliance, yet the Russians are saying today that they have completed their withdrawal from Georgia.
MR. JOHNDROE: Yes, I saw that announcement. We will continue to monitor the situation, but we are not seeing that they are in compliance right now. I think it's important that they adhere to the requirements that they agreed to in the six-point plan that President Sarkozy took with him to President Medvedev that's been signed by the Russians, signed by the Georgians. And so compliance means compliance with that plan. We haven't seen that yet.
Q What have they failed to do?
MR. JOHNDROE: It's my understanding that they have not completely withdrawn from areas considered undisputed territory, and they need to do that.
Q Gordon, a CNN producer outside Tbilisi saw some Russian soldiers making some slight modifications to their uniforms, putting on some white markers to appear as peacekeepers. Have you heard any kind of reports like that, and what would you make of that, if, in fact, it turned out to be true?
MR. JOHNDROE: I have not seen that specific report. There are a lot of different reports coming out of Georgia right now. It's important to analyze them, assess them, determine what the hard facts are. Obviously, that sort of behavior would be not only inconsistent with the withdrawal agreement, but I believe not consistent with the standard rules of conduct. That's the type of thing that will need to be looked into.
Q The Russians also have said that they'd pull back to South Ossetia; that that's the demarcation point. Do you expect -- is that satisfactory, or do you want them back within Russian soil?
MR. JOHNDROE: The agreement says that the Russians need to withdraw all troops and assets that entered after August the 6th, and that's what we expect. It's not only what we expect; that's what the French expect, that's what the European Union expects; frankly, it sounds like it's just about what the whole world expects.
Q To where, though?
MR. JOHNDROE: They had Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia prior to August the 6th. The agreement allows for those Russian peacekeepers to remain in South Ossetia. Anything that rolled in after August the 6th needs to leave.
Q New topic. Are we done with Georgia?
MR. JOHNDROE: Are we done on Russia and Georgia?
Q Iraq. Where do we stand now? Is there a draft agreement? I mean, Secretary Rice said there was a document, said that it was acceptable to the United States. Iraqi officials are on the record saying that the time horizon for withdrawal would be end of 2011. Do you have any reason to dispute what the Iraqis are saying on that?
MR. JOHNDROE: Towards the end of July, after a secure video conference between President Bush and Prime Minister Maliki, we announced that, as part of any agreement with the Iraqis establishing our future bilateral relationship, would include aspirational time horizons -- goals for when Iraqi troops begin to take over more of the combat missions in various parts of Iraq, which allow for more U.S. troops to come home.
So any discussions that are ongoing, that we are having with the Iraqis right now, include these aspirational timelines, these goals for more troops to come home.
We are only able to have these conversations now because of the security progress, the progress that has been made on the ground in Baghdad, in Basra, and all over Iraq. This progress allows us to have the conversations with the Iraqis to bring more troops home.
Five combat brigades have already returned to the United States. We expect to hear -- the President expects to hear from General Petraeus next month on recommendations for potential additional withdrawal of troops.
So these conversations are ongoing with the Iraqis right now.
Q But the Iraqis -- officials are saying on the record this 2011 date. Do you dispute that? Do you have any reason to lead us away from it?
MR. JOHNDROE: I am not going to negotiate from the podium. President Bush and Prime Minister Maliki had a good conversation this morning in discussing the agreement. And our team and the Iraqi team are continuing discussions now.
I think it's fair to say -- and I think everyone understands this -- that when negotiations are hopefully coming to an end, when you can see the end in sight, there are a lot of details that have to be worked out, and I think we're in the process of working out details right now.
Q Gordon, on the same subject -- Scott, did you -- thanks. So you're denying that there's a tentative agreement between the United States and Iraq -- never mind the precise date of a withdrawal -- when these folks come out and say, we've reached a tentative deal; it now needs a ruling from the cabinet and other Iraqi institutions -- you're saying that's wrong; there is no tentative agreement.
MR. JOHNDROE: There are still discussions ongoing. And it's not done until it's done. And the discussions are really ongoing.
Q Are the discussions ongoing? (Laughter.)
MR. JOHNDROE: Yes. (Laughter.) And ongoing and ongoing. But hopefully drawing to a conclusion.
Q There's a report out of Afghanistan suggesting that 76 civilians may have been killed in a military operation, U.S.-led operation. My understanding is the U.S. is disputing that number. I was wondering if you had anything to offer on that, to -- if you have information to counter that report.
MR. JOHNDROE: I have no specific information on that. I would say that the United States and NATO have taken great steps to avoid any civilian loss of life. I would also caution on the first reports out of Afghanistan. Often the Taliban and extremist groups are very quick to get out there, and violence that they've perpetrated they blame on the United States or our allies. And so I think it's very important to assess these situations because the United States and NATO take very seriously our obligations to avoid civilian casualties.
Q I wanted to ask you about the draft regulation issued on abortion, reproductive policy yesterday. The language seems somewhat vague. The advocates are saying that this not includes only doctors and nurses but all healthcare workers, including pharmacists, and that in some cases it would mean that women who had been raped after a sexual assault would be denied emergency contraceptives. Is this true? And why so broad?
MR. JOHNDROE: This proposed regulation is about the legal rights of a healthcare professional or a medical institution to practice according to their conscience. Doctors and other healthcare providers, including institutions, should not be forced to choose between being in good professional standing and violating their own personal beliefs.
Right now this is in a public comment period, and -- that the Department of Health and Human Services is running. Secretary Leavitt addressed this issue at great length yesterday, and I would refer you to HHS for any additional comments on that.
Q The Wall Street Journal today is reporting that the big three auto makers are looking to the administration, the government, to provide $25 billion in loans. Is the administration negotiating that? Is it open to that?
MR. JOHNDROE: I have nothing on that.
Okay? All right, thank you all.
END 11:58 A.M. CDT