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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 4, 2008
Press Briefing by Dana Perino
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
11:09 A.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: Good morning. As you know, President Bush has left for Camp David. He'll be there until Saturday morning.
One thing I wanted to note for you is that today at the National Press Club, the Office of National Drug Control Policy participated in a release of a survey that was the 2007 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. With all the other news out there, I just wanted to highlight this for you. We're very pleased with the survey. It shows that drug use is declining. There's been a 67-percent reduction in meth use for youth. Also in youth drug use, in regards to cocaine, has gone down 33 percent, and 18 percent decrease in youth prescription drug use. And there were other good statistics in there. There were some, such as prescription drug use in adults that we're continuing to be -- continue to rise and present a concern, and something that ONDCP will be working with its partners on. But good to see those numbers coming down.
Also an update for you for next week. In his 2002 State of the Union, President Bush launched USA Freedom Corps, to help Americans connect with opportunities to serve their neighbors. On Monday, September 8th, the President will host an event on the South Lawn of the White House to highlight USA Freedom Corps, and to honor America's volunteers who serve here at home and abroad. Guests will include Americans who have served through national service programs like the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, and Volunteers for Prosperity, as well as many of the 655 individuals that the President has personally recognized with the President's Volunteer Service Award.
And additional information will be coming from USA Freedom Corps on Monday, detailing the initiative's work to help improve communities and change the lives through leadership and service.
Q I want to ask about Pakistan. Obviously, the Pakistani government is complaining about the U.S. military effort there, and it's a pretty big departure from our past practice. Can you talk about what the communications have been like between the two governments? And also, can you talk about whether you all have concluded whether this was worth it?
MS. PERINO: Well, one, in regards to the reports about that incident, we have not commented and I won't today. But what I will reiterate is that we've been working closely with the new civilian government of Pakistan that is feeling its way and working to establish itself. It obviously had a very big scare yesterday with an attack on the Prime Minister's motorcade. And thankfully, that attack was not successful.
We have a lot of cooperation that's ongoing with them, and a lot of need to increase communication. And one of the things you saw just about three weeks ago was a meeting off the coast with Admiral Mullen and other generals, with their generals, so that we can work on jointly tackling the problems that we have in Pakistan.
Q They're not emphasizing cooperation. They're emphasizing right now that they're upset that this happened.
MS. PERINO: Well, I understand that. And we're focused on trying to improve coordination and communication.
Q Does that mean you're trying to improve letting them know ahead of time when something like this is going to happen, or what does that mean?
MS. PERINO: I'm just not going to comment on the incident in any way. And to answer your question, I would have to do that. So I'll decline to comment on it.
Q May I just follow?
MS. PERINO: Sure.
Q Dana, this was the first time that many Pakistanis were demonstrating against Taliban and al Qaeda in Pakistani. And this new government also stood against Taliban. So what do you think the future after this attack? Because now they are after the new government -- not only the Prime Minister, but the new government, because they have stood against them.
MS. PERINO: Are you referring to the attack on the Prime Minister's motorcade?
Q And plus the people of Pakistan now are also against Taliban first time.
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that what we have said before remains true, which is we have a common enemy in terrorists and in the Taliban. We also have great challenges in a very troubling region in the world, and that is in that Northwest Territory area.
Q Does the U.S. have new strategy to go along with the new government? Because that's what they are asking, that how can we go forward against Taliban like General Musharraf --
MS. PERINO: Yes. In fact, that's what I was just saying to Jennifer, that we are working to increase coordination, cooperation and supporting the Pakistanis as we work to fight against the Taliban in a coordinated way.
Q The Pakistani government is very publicly accusing the U.S. of violating its territorial integrity, and saying this cannot go on. What is the U.S. policy -- not specifically with this incident, but what is the U.S. policy towards cross-border attacks from Afghanistan into Pakistan?
MS. PERINO: I don't have any -- I'm not going to comment on reports about an incident. I'm just not going to do so. And so, if you want to ask another question --
Q What is the U.S. policy on --
MS. PERINO: We've been very clear about working in cooperation and coordination with the Pakistanis to help go after the Taliban, which is a common enemy for them, for us and for other free nations around the world.
Q Does the U.S. reserve the right to unilaterally go --
MS. PERINO: I'm not here to make news about this. You know what the President's position has been. It's been very clear. I'll just refer to his previous statements.
Q Dana, it's now September. General Petraeus is soon to shift over to CENTCOM. We've been hearing from the Pentagon that he's made his initial recommendations about troop levels in Iraq. Obviously, the President still hasn't weighed in on it. What are the plans? What's the timing that we can expect? What are the plans for rolling out a decision? How will we learn about all this?
MS. PERINO: Well, General Petraeus as you'll recall, asked for a 45-day assessment period; that has ended. That was after the President announced that the five brigades would be coming back. That period now having ended, General Petraeus, through his chain of command, has given his assessment, and Secretary Gates and Chairman Mullen have briefed the President. The President is now considering his options, and I would expect that as he works through that, as soon as he's finished with it, we'll be able to provide you more information.
I would point out to you I believe that there is a hearing next week that Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen are participating in. I would expect that they would talk about troop levels in Iraq there.
Q Meaning that that is where announcements will be made?
MS. PERINO: Not necessarily, Mark. It's a little bit premature for us to say.
Q Let me ask a more general question if I may then. The President has said repeatedly that he sees a need for more troops in Afghanistan. We've certainly heard that from commanders on the ground, from others. And there doesn't seem to be much place for those to come from except from Iraq. Is there any doubt that there will need to be some shifting of resources from Iraq --
MS. PERINO: We have sent more troops into Afghanistan. And if you look at the NATO summit that occurred in Bucharest in April, President Bush said, along with his partners, that he would be increasing the amount of troops. I don't have the numbers in front of me, but I refer you to the Pentagon so you can get those. And I don't have any announcement here for you about Afghanistan, but the President sees this as a global war on terror. And we put resources where they are needed. So I'll just leave it at that, and then we'll give you more information as we have it.
Q The Vice President assured the President of Georgia today that the U.S. will push that country's MAP status in December. Will we invite Georgia into NATO even if Russian troops are still in --
MS. PERINO: I don't think -- our desire -- our support of Georgia's entry into NATO started long before any of these hostilities began. We believe that they have met the requirements to be included in the MAP process, as has Ukraine. It was decided at the NATO summit that we just talked about, in April, that while that issue was not resolved there in a final way in April, that they would have a foreign ministers meeting in December, in which to finalize that.
And our support for NATO MAP has not changed at all. And in fact, I think that the desire to bring these new countries, these new democracies and these countries that want to live in freedom and help defend each other is even strengthened by the past month's activities.
Q And also on that, most of the Russian Black Sea fleet is based at the Sevastopol in Ukraine. Would we also extend NATO membership to Ukraine with the Russian fleet based in that country?
MS. PERINO: Well, again, I think you should separate our support for NATO MAP for Ukraine and Georgia from recent hostilities, because our support for their entry into NATO has not changed. It's been a longstanding position. It's something that the President personally fought for there in April. And so, hostilities of the past month have not changed our support. So yes, we continue to support them, both countries.
Q Sorry, but the question was not about the hostilities of last month. The question is about NATO criteria. You say that both countries have met the criteria. But unless I'm mistaken, the criteria say that there should not be internal conflicts in the territory of NATO members. Actually, that was the big reason why, for instance, Hungary and Romania were settling their own internal -- and it was promoted by the White House at that point as an example of how beneficial NATO is.
MS. PERINO: Look, I'm not a NATO expert, and I'll refer you to those who are, Andre. But I can tell you that there were plenty of NATO experts there in Bucharest in April of 2008. And if that would have been an issue that would have prohibited them from moving forward on this meeting in December of 2008, I think that would have been voiced then by those people. If you -- this dispute in regards to South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the ones that have been zones of frozen conflict that Secretary Rice has talked about, that was well-known going into the April 2008 conference. That hasn't changed. That's been that way since 1992. And so I don't think that's going to change our support for Ukraine and Georgia being given access to NATO so that they can see if they meet the requirements after you get MAP status.
Q It did prevent Europe from supporting MAP status at the time. It is precisely the reason that many Western European nations kept --
MS. PERINO: I would go back -- that wasn't the only reason, Wendell. I think you should go back --
Q But it was one of them.
MS. PERINO: Possibly, but I would go back -- look at the statements from such people as Chancellor Merkel leading up to this December meeting. And I think that the support for Georgia's territorial integrity, its independence and its sovereignty has been boldly underscored by not just the United States, but certainly by Europe.
Q Dana, has the support grown after the recent events in Georgia? From your allies?
MS. PERINO: In the United States?
Q No, European allies.
MS. PERINO: I would refer you to those statements. I think that's a conclusion that one could come to, yes.
Q Support for NATO, for NATO membership, not support for Georgia.
MS. PERINO: From my reading of it, I think you can make that argument, yes.
Q Secondly --
MS. PERINO: Last one for you, and then I'm going to move on.
Q Yes, sorry. Secondly, the issue here is even bigger I think, that we discussed. It's bigger in the sense that you say those are the rules; if there were objections to the rules, they would have been voiced; they were not voiced. The issue here is that you make up the rules as you go along. You actually, are willing to bend the rules. And the best example is this Pakistani situation, that you wouldn't even acknowledge. This is your ally in the war on terror. You make an excursion -- incursion in the territory. You kill a number of people. And somehow it's okay. Many people in my part of the world would regard that as a blatant example of double standard. Why is that perception not correct?
MS. PERINO: Andre, I think that is obviously your personal view, and it might be the view of the people from wherever you said -- your part of the world. I would say that there are many people who died in this conflict unnecessarily, many innocent people who no longer have a home who are suffering, they have no food. And that is precisely why the United States and its European allies are working on aid packages just to help people have a roof over their head.
And the issue regarding NATO, our support for these countries to be a part of NATO has not changed. It did not -- we were supportive before April and after April. And we'd be happy to put you in touch with a NATO expert who can go into the intricacies of this. But I think that your personal opinion probably doesn't have a lot of place here.
Go ahead, Olivier.
Q Dana, there is a meeting Friday in Beijing of the six-party envoys. What does the White House hope to get out of this meeting?
MS. PERINO: Well, one, we want some clarification on what is happening in North Korea. I refer you to the State Department's briefing yesterday, in which it described what it knew about reports of new activity, or resumed activity in North Korea. I think the most important thing that we can do moving forward, and why this meeting is important on Friday, is that you had the five parties of the six-party talks unified in a position that North Korea needed to come forward with a verification protocol. And once it did that, under our premise of action for action, then we would move, as well. And I think that that message will be delivered to the North Koreans.
And Secretary Rice said yesterday that negotiations -- tough negotiations like these have their ups and downs. We're going to try to make sure that we keep North Korea headed in the right direction. But up and until they move forward on this verification protocol, which is what the five parties agreed to -- I'm sorry -- the six parties agreed to, then we are not going to remove them from the state-sponsor of terrorism list.
Q And a follow on some of the other questions about the Pakistan situation. This White House has talked about all kinds of military operations all over the world for the last seven years. What makes this strike unique?
MS. PERINO: There's also many other reports of other strikes that we haven't commented on, and so I'm not going to comment.
Q So what's the underlying principle? That it's --
MS. PERINO: I'm not commenting either way.
Q -- bad timing because of the Pakistan presidential elections coming up? Is it -- what's the -- I just want to explain -- how do you tell a reader, just the White House refused to answer questions? But why? What's the --
MS. PERINO: Well, all I can tell you is that I am going to decline to comment on reports about that incident.
Q I have a question on federal regulations.
MS. PERINO: Okay.
Q At the end of the Clinton administration, the White House was criticized for putting out a lot of so-called midnight regulation, and this May, Josh Bolten put out a memo instructing federal agencies not to do that. Yet have they -- has the White House reversed its policy? Because several federal agencies have proposed rules since the cut-off date.
MS. PERINO: I'll go back and look at the memo, but I think that all the agencies are complying with what Josh asked for. And I think what he was wanting is, one, good government so that you weren't rushing things through at the last minute. And to my knowledge, the agencies that have put forward proposed regulations have done so in a timely fashion and in a way that they can get sufficient public comment so that they meet the obligations and laws of this country.
Q But if the White House hasn't reversed its policy, anything coming out after that cut-off date is only supposed to be issued under extraordinary circumstances.
MS. PERINO: I don't remember the memo from May, Paula. We'll go back and look at it and I'll have Tony Fratto get back to you.
Q Thank you. The U.S. personnel -- (inaudible) -- on the ground at the Yongbyon in North Korea. Do they hear anything from North Korea after meeting?
MS. PERINO: Let me refer you to the State Department for that because they talked about it yesterday and they have Chris Hill going there on Friday. We do have people there on the ground, but as -- the State Department I think spoke most authoritatively yesterday on what they did or did not know about that activity.
Q Thank you.
MS. PERINO: One more to Mark -- sorry.
Q Have you received any -- or has the President received any thank-you notes or phone calls from Hugo Chavez for the oil for Citgo from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve?
MS. PERINO: Didn't you see last night that Citgo reversed and they decided that they actually didn't need the --
Q No, I didn't see it.
MS. PERINO: Yes. So they withdrew their --
Q So they're not getting the oil?
MS. PERINO: Citgo withdrew their request, right.
Q Do you know why?
MS. PERINO: I think they decided that they -- as far as I know -- I'll refer you to DOE for more -- but companies make these requests based on their assessments, and as the hurricane moved out they were able to do a better assessment and realized that they didn't need it. There are other -- there are possible other companies that will be asking DOE for some support from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and DOE will make those decisions as they come in. But they did reverse that last night.
END 11:25 A.M. EDT