For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 10, 2008
Press Briefing by Dana Perino
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
11:10 A.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: A couple of announcements for you. The President had his briefings this morning. He is also, this afternoon, going to be meeting with the President of Iraq, President Talabani. I expect them to discuss a number of important issues that are in front of the Iraqi parliament now, including the provincial elections law. They will also likely discuss the improved security situation on the ground, as well as the ongoing talks regarding the strategic framework agreement.
Also I'd like to note that the United Arab Emirates today had its ambassador present its credentials in Iraq, and so he is now there in Iraq. It's the first Arab ambassador to return to Iraq since 2005, so significant development and both countries are to be praised for that action. Several other countries, including Jordan, Kuwait and Bahrain, have also signaled that they will post their ambassadors to Iraq soon.
Also, as we announced last night, the President and Mrs. Bush will host a state dinner for the President of Ghana and Mrs. Kufuor on Monday. Entertainment for the state dinner will be selections from the Lion King, performed by members of the theatrical cast.
Also, federal officials continue to monitor the path of Hurricane Ike. This is a storm that has left tremendous damage in its wake and is expected to strengthen as it continues into the Gulf of Mexico. This morning the President issued an emergency declaration for Texas to supplement state and local response efforts in response to Hurricane Ike. Resources are being redirected to support the Texas operations for the hurricane. As we continue to respond to this peak period in the hurricane season, it's really important that citizens continue to listen to their local officials. Safety should remain everyone's top concern.
Finally, the United States government will dedicate $10 million to immediate disaster assistance to Haiti, following Hurricane Gustav, Hanna and Ike. Of this amount, $5 million is new funding pledged for program in the past week. Our support includes provision of relief supplies, transportation and logistics to deliver relief and ongoing damage assessments. Our highest priority is to help deliver urgently needed relief supplies to communities which are now cut off from overland access.
Now I'll go to questions.
Q With another anniversary of 9/11 upon us, how does the President feel about the failure to find Osama bin Laden?
MS. PERINO: President Bush has been working and directing thousands of men and women across our intelligence community to help us find Osama bin Laden, his deputies, and to disrupt plans to attack America again, wherever they might be plotted. He has not let up on that, and that fight and that hunt will continue to go on until he is brought to justice.
I will remind you that the top deputies have had a very tough time of it. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of 9/11, is in jail today, and he is awaiting trial. That is something we should all be thankful for, not only just for the fact that he is no longer out, able to plot and plan, but we should be very thankful for the work that our intelligence community has done to bring some of these people to justice.
Tomorrow is obviously a very sober anniversary for Americans. Many of you were probably here that day seven years ago. And the President thinks about 9/11 every single day. When he wakes up and before he goes to bed this is what he's concerned about. He's always been concerned about another attack on our country. Thankfully, we haven't had one. But there are terrorists out there, extremists out there who are plotting and planning to attack Americans. And that is why we have continued operations in Afghanistan and in working with our allies across the world, especially in Europe, to disrupt plots like we did with the airliner plot.
But we know that every single day is a day that we are blessed not to have had another terrorist attack. We work very hard to prevent one, but the terrorists are very determined and they have to be right only once and we have to be right every single time.
Q Is Osama bin Laden as important now as he was seven years ago?
MS. PERINO: I think that what we have tried to do is disrupt any area from becoming a safe haven where terrorists could plot and plan attacks. The leadership of al Qaeda has largely been replaced over the years, but they have more people that keep coming up through the ranks and are trained to plot and plan against us.
I think -- the President believes it's important for us to hunt and track down and bring to justice Osama bin Laden. And it would be important for Americans, but it's important for justice most of all.
Q So is he frustrated that he hasn't been captured or killed?
MS. PERINO: President Bush is focused on trying to get it done. And, of course, he would have liked to have seen him brought to justice sooner, but what we can say is that the efforts of this President and the thousands of men and women in our military and in our intelligence community who are working together to prevent another attack have done a tremendous job.
We've also fundamentally restructured a lot of our government in order to help protect us against attacks. And that is -- it's been a lot of hard work, it's not been without its ups and downs, but there's -- fighting the war on terror has been a lot more than just hunting for Osama bin Laden.
Q Just to follow up on Terry's question, does Osama bin Laden have some symbolic power about the limits of the American military and intelligence communities' reach?
MS. PERINO: I think you could probably say that. I think that it also says a lot about the geography for where al Qaeda decides to hide. And as the President says, Osama bin Laden is not out there leading any parades. But we know that the danger is that they are hiding in secret and that they are trying to plot and plan attacks against us.
So there are human limitations to any -- this is not the movies, we don't have superpowers. But what we do have is very dedicated people who are working with our allies to try to bring him to justice.
Q Can I just follow, Dana, please?
MS. PERINO: Okay.
Q Thank you. On 9/11, that attack was on the world, not on only the U.S. and New York and in Washington. And do you think that President may think now that he was misled by putting all the eggs in one basket -- (inaudible) -- General Musharraf and then he may have misled the U.S. as far as Osama bin Laden is concerned? Because yesterday -- I mean, a few days --
MS. PERINO: I hear you -- let me just answer your question.
Q Osama bin Laden -- what I'm saying is Senator Obama said that --
MS. PERINO: See, I was going to answer your question and then you bring in the 2008 election. (Laughter.)
Q What I'm saying really -- Pakistani ambassador -- he said that all the money directed against India,but not getting Osama bin Laden, and Pakistan ambassador to the U.S. accused Washington --
MS. PERINO: Okay. President Bush worked very closely with General Musharraf, and then President Musharraf, in order to help prevent attacks from happening again on American soil. So far, so good. And we have to continue to work with the Pakistanis, and President Bush just spoke yesterday to President Zardari and pledged the full support of America to continue to work with them in order to prevent more attacks on the American people.
I know what you're referring to in terms of were we -- was the United States misled, but what I can say is that the results are that we haven't been attacked again. That doesn't mean that there aren't those who are trying to plot attacks and plan attacks and that aren't ready to try to carry out attacks. But it does mean that we have increased cooperation and coordination. And I think that Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen, who are up on the Hill right now testifying, could underscore that in terms of all the cooperation that they're working on with their counterparts.
Q Any comment on the Pakistani ambassador who said that that's why the CIA -- recent attacks are going against Pakistanis and Pakistanis are not very happy?
MS. PERINO: As I've said, we are working with the Pakistanis. And I think that you should look at President Zardari's comments yesterday, in which he also pledged Pakistan's full support.
Q Dana, any reaction to the OPEC decision to reduce production of oil?
MS. PERINO: Well, we certainly disagree with it. We would like to see more oil on the market, not less. And that's exactly why President Bush has called on Congress, as they come back into session now after being away for a month, to take this opportunity to have an up or down vote on expanding responsible and environmentally friendly exploration here in our country.
We'd like to have more supply that we'd produce here. They have some legislation that's in front of them that would be comprehensive. It wouldn't just be about offshore oil drilling, but also look to oil shale, as well as more renewables and alternatives.
So we are looking for a comprehensive energy package that can help us add more supply to the market, and diversify the supply at the same time.
Q Dana --
MS. PERINO: Does that follow on this?
Q No --
MS. PERINO: Anybody else on this?
Q -- back on 9/11.
MS. PERINO: Can I just -- anybody else want energy? Okay.
Q Yes, Dana. The President has made two trips to the Middle East this year to press OPEC oil producers, including Saudi Arabia, to increase production, not cut it. Does the President plan to make any personal efforts to use his relationships with these leaders to try and bring about a change, reversal of the OPEC decision?
MS. PERINO: Remember, it's not just the United States, but many other countries who have asked OPEC to make sure that those oil markets are well supplied. What President Bush is going to be focused on in the next three weeks is working with Congress in a bipartisan way, to the extent that we possibly can, to try to get a bill that would allow for more expanded production here in our own country.
And we have a way to do that. There's legislation in front of them. All they need to do is have a vote. President Bush took the action to lift the moratorium on the offshore oil drilling here in our own country. Congress needs to do the same, and then we can move forward. And that would be the responsible thing to do, for Congress to take this up, especially as they say they are so concerned about the economy. Democrats in Congress have an opportunity in front of them to stimulate the economy in a way that would have -- in a way that would address the root causes of the energy problems that we've been having, the high prices.
Q Will the President be reaching out directly to OPEC leaders?
MS. PERINO: I don't know of any calls. I think they know his position very well. And I don't know if all of the OPEC leaders were in agreement during their meeting last night anyway.
Q Can I follow on that? The President made these pleas very directly to these leaders. Does he feel let down, or spurned by them?
MS. PERINO: No. I think that what the President feels is energized to try to work with the Democrats in Congress and Republican leaders in Congress to get a bill done that would allow us to have more production here in our country, so that we can be less dependent on foreign sources of energy.
Q He feels energized about energy? Is that what you're saying?
MS. PERINO: As soon as I said that, I thought you would pick it up. (Laughter.)
Go ahead, Wendell. And then I'll come back to you, April. Go ahead, Wendell.
Q A couple of questions involving the President's meeting with President Talabani today. How much of his decision to order a fairly conservative troop withdrawal from Iraq was determined by the fact that the coalition of the willing will all but cease to exist next year? And just exactly how many members of the coalition do you expect to negotiate their own SFAs with Iraq?
MS. PERINO: I don't know how many, and I'll let the Iraqis, or MNFI address that. I don't know how many. But there will certainly be many countries that have already announced that they're going to be ending their operations in Iraq this year. They're basically able to do that because of the success that we've had working with them, and because of the President's decision to send in more troops and to fundamentally change our approach, in terms of protecting the population and making sure that we did not lose Baghdad.
The President's decisions about troop levels were based on the recommendations from the Department of Defense, who I'm sure took into account all of the other aspects of the conditions on the ground, including how many other coalition members would be there.
Q Meaning that we're going to have to cover for a number of other countries?
MS. PERINO: I actually think that we're able to make the -- we're able to bring back troops based on success because of the success that we've had. Other countries have already said that they were going to be scaling back operations. And as you heard President Bush say yesterday, we're very thankful for all that they've done. We knew that we were going to be in Iraq for a longer period of time. There are some countries that will continue to be there, but I don't have a list in front of me, I'll let MNFI announce it.
Q Are you suggesting we're not going to have to replace the troops that other countries withdraw?
MS. PERINO: You'd have to ask DOD. I don't think so.
Q Okay. When the President talks to President Talabani today --
MS. PERINO: I mean, I should just say that doesn't mean necessarily that they wouldn't move troops around to certain places where they think they might need them if countries pull back their troops, or if they need security training for forces. I don't know. I think that all of those decisions about specifically what they need and where troops need to be will just have to be made at the Pentagon.
Q When the President talks with President Talabani today, will he try and break the impasse over the SFA?
MS. PERINO: I think that they'll certainly talk about it. The Iraqi parliament is coming back into session; our negotiators have had a little bit of a break, but they're ready to go back and finish up some of the last-minute details on it. So they'll talk about that, the provincial elections law. They had -- Iraq has had success lately in attracting foreign investment. I think the President will praise them for their economic and their political development. So it will be a fairly routine meeting that will cover all those subjects.
Q And one final question. Given that our SFA is expected to be the model for other countries that decide to remain in Iraq, how much of a problem is it the we're about a month -- going on a month-and-a-half now past the original time for completing the --
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that we're on track to be able to get this done. The Iraqis are motivated to try to get it done, and we should get it done before the end of the year. So we have a little bit more time. Obviously, we wanted to get it done by July 30th; that was our target, we didn't meet it, but we continue to try to make it so that we can get there before December 30th.
Q Dana, back on 9/11. John McCain is out on the campaign trail vowing to find Osama bin Laden. Does that -- it kind of leads one to believe that if he's vowing to find Osama bin Laden and this administration hasn't found him in seven years, the conclusion -- it sounds like that you may not be finding him leading up to the end of this presidency. Where does this White House --
MS. PERINO: I'm sure that this President and I'm sure future Presidents will continue to try to track down al Qaeda leaders. We will continue to try to find Osama bin Laden. The 2008 election doesn't play a lot of -- doesn't play any role in the President's trying to track down and find Osama bin Laden and his top deputies.
Q But Osama bin Laden is the one that -- you keep talking about his lieutenants, and, yes, they are very important, but Osama bin Laden was the mastermind of 9/11 --
MS. PERINO: No, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was the mastermind of 9/11, and he's sitting in jail right now.
Q Well, what, in this White House's opinion -- what was the role of Osama bin Laden, then, for 9/11?
MS. PERINO: Well, obviously, as the leader of al Qaeda, he is somebody that we want to bring to justice. He was the one that asked his deputies to plot and plan and carry out attacks. And that's why we've been aggressively going after them, as well.
Q And lastly, is there concern that this 9/11 is weighed down more by the issues of the war in Iraq, that had nothing to do with 9/11? Many people, detractors, Democrats, critics are saying, as we look at this anniversary, there's more of a heaviness dealing with the war in Iraq and troop withdrawal there, and not dealing with fighting the war against Osama bin Laden.
MS. PERINO: I could not disagree with you more, April, and I think that you should go back and look at the President's speech yesterday, and go back over this past seven years. You've covered this President long enough to know that the global war on terror is something that he takes seriously every single day, and that there are men and women -- thousands of them -- men and women across our government who are working to try to prevent attacks from happening. And also we fundamentally changed our posture, which is we went on the offense and we took the fight to the enemy. And that's why we've been able to help prevent attacks here in our country and in other countries.
Q Thank you, Dana. FOX News reported yesterday that Speaker Pelosi has agreed to meet with San Francisco Catholic Archbishop Niederauer to discuss whether Pelosi, an abortion rights supporter, should take communion, with Pelosi agreeing to meet with him, but no date set. And my question: The President agrees with the Archbishop on abortion, rather than the Speaker, doesn't he?
MS. PERINO: I am absolutely not going to comment on Speaker Pelosi's meetings or the Archbishop -- absolutely not going to comment, Les.
Q Could I follow up, then?
MS. PERINO: Quickly.
MS. PERINO: And then I'm going to Laurent.
Q Saint Thomas Aquinas, Anselm and Alphonsus Liguori, as well as Popes Innocent III and Gregory XIV, all disagreed that a human life begins at conception. Does the President believe these two holy fathers and three Catholic saints were all wrong?
MS. PERINO: The President's position on this is well known.
Q He thinks they were wrong, then?
MS. PERINO: I'm not -- Les, I'm going to -- I'm not going to comment on it. I gave you a question because we talked about this --
Q I appreciate it.
MS. PERINO: -- I'm going to move on.
Q Good morning, Dana. A couple of questions on North Korea.
MS. PERINO: Okay.
Q What is the latest you know about the illness of the leader of North Korea?
MS. PERINO: I'm still unable to provide you any comment on reports about the leader of North Korea's health. I would point to you, however, that we heard from -- in public comments today, the second in command earlier this morning talked about the six-party process, and while talking about the North Korean concerns regarding the terrorism list, said that the North Korea -- that North Korea wants to move ahead and that the six-party process was important.
And so we are going to continue to work with the six parties. North Korea knows exactly what they need to do, which is to establish a verification protocol so that we could then take the next step that we promised to do, which is to take them off the terrorism list.
Q So you don't see the fact that the process seems to be stalling now to be linked to Kim Jong-il --
MS. PERINO: I think you should look at the second -- the comments from the second in command there. And if and until North Korea is ready to talk about the health of their leader, I'll just decline to comment for now. I don't have anything I can add today.
Q Follow up North Korea?
Q On the budget --
Q Follow up North Korea?
MS. PERINO: Okay, one more on North Korea.
Q Do you think dismantlement of the North Korean nuclear program will be resolved by the time President Bush leaves office?
MS. PERINO: Well, we hope to establish, first and foremost, a verification protocol, and then that way we will be able to be assured that the Korean Peninsula will remain nuclear free.
The negotiations have had their ups and downs, as Secretary Rice has said, and we're going to continue to work on it. I think that we are looking at the comments today from the second in command as positive ones that we can hopefully continue to work to bring them into compliance with what they agreed to do.
Q On the budget, the Congressional Budget Office came out with deficit projections that are considerably higher than earlier forecasts. Does the White House still believe it can cut this budget in half by 2009?
MS. PERINO: I've heard nothing different from the OMB Director.
Q One government contract-related question. The Defense Authorization bill has several veto threats on it --
MS. PERINO: Yes.
Q -- and I just wondered, one of them deals with prohibiting private contractors to interrogate detainees. And I wondered why the White House would threaten to veto a provision that would limit interrogations to either the Defense Department or the intelligence --
MS. PERINO: I think that's SAP yesterday was about 18 pages long. I'll refer you to that and see if I can get you any more, but I don't know it in detail.
Q Dana, the District of Columbia's gun law, which was recently turned down by the Supreme Court, or repealed by the Supreme Court -- there's going to be a vote this week in the House on a way to fill that in. Critics say that it goes too far, that it allows people to have firearms in public, that there's no restrictions. There's quite a fight over it. I wonder if the White House has a position on any changes in the D.C. gun law and what those changes should be.
MS. PERINO: I know that legislation is pending in front of Congress and I haven't seen details of it. What you've just described to me is not something I'm familiar with. So let us take a look at it and Tony Fratto will get back to you.
Q On the mortgage crisis, the Congressional Budget Office yesterday said that the bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac should be on the books of the government. Does the President have a position on this?
MS. PERINO: I know that the Office of Management and Budget here at the White House is looking into that matter and reviewing it, so we haven't made a decision yet.
Q As a follow-up, does the President believe the bailout was a matter of national security?
MS. PERINO: I wouldn't -- I don't know what sort of -- I think what you're trying to get at is whether or not we think that if they had failed and the economy had gone into turmoil, would that have been a problem for national security?
MS. PERINO: I don't know if that was necessarily a consideration. What I do know is that Secretary Paulson kept the President informed, asked the President if he should move forward with the plan that he had designed. The President gave him the go ahead to do that and it was the right move at the right time.
Go ahead, Victoria.
Q I've got a couple of questions on the Woodward book. He says that the President acknowledged that he had failed to change the tone in Washington. Why does the President think that he has failed to change the tone in Washington?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that maybe -- I think the President takes a lot of -- takes responsibility for it, but I don't know if he -- all the blame belongs at his feet. I've been a spokesperson for the President for many years. I have never once had to apologize on his behalf for any personal attacks or demeaning thing he has said about any one individual. But yet, I get -- I see on a daily basis members of Congress from the Democrats who say very demeaning things about him, and it's not constructive at all. And I think that is one of the -- that one of the biggest disappointments this President has in Washington and during his presidency is that he had a very constructive and good bipartisan relations in Texas and that was not translated up here in Washington. And I think that Washington is among -- is about the most partisan I've ever seen it.
So I think the President is as gracious as ever and accepts a lot of that responsibility, but I don't know if the blame should rest with him.
Q He also says that twice in the last interview with the President, that the President mentions the word "win" in connection with the war in Iraq, and then immediately corrects himself and substitutes the word "succeed." Does the President see a difference between winning and succeeding?
MS. PERINO: I don't necessarily think so. I read those interview transcripts and I don't -- I think what the President is saying, that we would win and succeed, I think that he uses those interchangeably.
Q Thank you.
END 11:31 A.M. EDT