For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 22, 2008
Press Briefing by Press Secretary Dana Perino
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
10:11 A.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: Hello. I'll have an update for you on the economic issue -- issues in just a moment, but first let me just remind you that today, in about half an hour, the President will meet with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the President of Liberia, who he had a chance to see yesterday at the international development conference. This visit will provide an opportunity for the two leaders to discuss areas of ongoing cooperation, especially when it comes to Liberia's security sector, combating malaria, and improving the quality of education in Liberia. It's also an opportunity for the President to reinforce the United States' long-term commitment to assist Liberia in reconstruction and stabilization efforts.
Early next week, on October 27th in Monrovia, the Peace Corps director, Ron Tschetter, will swear in 12 Peace Corps volunteers as the first group to return in over 18 years. With the country enjoying a new period of peace and at the request of President Sirleaf, the Peace Corps is reestablishing a program to help rebuild Liberia's education infrastructure. And it was last year in October that the President of the United States told President Sirleaf that we would work to make that happen. So he is going to be happy to talk about that today. Just one note: There were over 4,400 Peace Corps volunteers in Liberia before they left in 1990 due to the civil war.
Now, on to the news that some of you have already had a chance to find out about. The President today is going to invite the leaders of the Group of 20 countries -- I'm sorry, 20 -- yes, 20 countries to a summit in Washington, D.C. That will be November 15th, and it will be to discuss the financial markets and the global economy. The meeting will be preceded by a dinner the night before, on November 14th, at the White House, hosted by President and Mrs. Bush.
The leaders will review progress being made to address the current financial crisis, advance a common understanding of its causes, and, in order to avoid a repetition, agree on a common set of principles for reform of the regulatory and institutional regimes for the world's financial sectors.
These principles can be further developed by working groups for considering in subsequent summits, as announced on Saturday night by President Bush, President Sarkozy and the President of the EC, Barroso. In addition, we expect that the leaders will discuss the effects of the crisis on emerging economies and developing nations. The summit will also provide an important opportunity for leaders to strengthen the underpinnings of capitalism by discussing how they can enhance their commitment to open competitive economies, as well as trade and investment liberalization.
Don't have a venue yet for you here in Washington, D.C., but we'll get that as soon as possible. There's only 23 days between now and that meeting. Usually, when you have a big summit like this, you have over a year to plan. So we're going to put it together quickly. We're going to do it here in D.C. We think that's the best way to get it done most efficiently, and actually cut down on costs for all of us. So we're looking forward to meeting.
Q You expect heads of government to come?
MS. PERINO: We do expect heads of government. The President has spent the past couple of days on the phone with a lot of different leaders, talking to them about their thoughts about this meeting. And today, he is proud to be able to announce that he is inviting them here for that meeting on the 15th, and the dinner on the 14th.
Q Will the President-elect be there?
MS. PERINO: As I've said, we will look for his input after the election. But I think it's too early to say. We don't know what that President will want or not want to do, and so we'll just leave that open for now. But just to say that the President does anticipate and look forward to seeking the President-elect's input as we move forward.
Q So he'd be open to attend if he wanted to?
MS. PERINO: Yes. Well, I think that we -- I think we need to check on -- let's just let this election happen. We don't want to box the next President in. So we'll just let it happen, and we'll get their input as we move forward.
Q When you say that they're going to be -- they're going to set on some principles, they're not going to actually establish policy, they're not going to come up with decisions about regulatory this or transparency that, but it's just for principles?
MS. PERINO: I think there are a couple of things. I think that, first and foremost, they'll discuss the underlying causes of the financial crisis. They will review the response to date and the progress that's being made, and we saw that a little bit today in the reports on our own credit markets. They will identify principles for reform. And then I believe that they will task financial experts in those countries to put meat on the bones when it comes to fleshing out the principles that we would be talking about.
So, for example, when it comes to transparency, that might be something that everyone agrees on, that more transparency would be good, but not every country is going to have the same approach to transparency because they have different systems. And so a lot of work will need to be done at a task-force level, working-group level, and then they'll be able to come back in subsequent summits that we've announced -- but not announced dates or locations -- but I would anticipate that that would continue. We have a sherpa here, Dan Price, who deals with our international economic issues. He's talking to all of his counterparts and a lot of these details will be fleshed out in the next couple days.
Q At the present, this will be 11 days after the election and barely two months before the President leaves office. How much clout does he have in dealing with these other leaders?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think all of the leaders have agreed that we wanted to have this summit. They wanted the President to be able to host it, and he's excited to be able to do so. We will seek the input of the President-elect. But we didn't want the financial crisis to happen at all and -- but now that it's happened, we can't control the timing of it.
And we think it's important not to wait to have this meeting. The time will be just about right to have it then because a lot of the emergency measures that these countries have put forward are hopefully starting to have an impact on unthawing the credit markets.
The markets are digesting a lot of information. We have earnings reports and you have news about oil prices -- they're actually going down, thankfully -- but you have lower demand, you have retail sales, you have unemployment, you have information today that says that banks are more willing to help homeowners try to work out their loans if they need it. So we're starting to see some movement.
And so by November 15th, when the leaders get together, it will be time to start identifying what the underlying causes were, what progress has been made to date, and then what are the principles for reform going forward, and then task out to working groups to make sure that we get it right.
Q Dana, why do you want to wait until the President-elect is determined and not get the input ahead of time? As you said, it's -- that's not -- 23 days isn't a lot of time. You're cutting yourself even shorter. Why not start the input now?
MS. PERINO: Well, how do you know that that hasn't happened?
Q Well, you just said you're going to wait until after it's determined.
MS. PERINO: For the details of the meeting, yes, but the two candidates have been made aware of the meeting and their -- and the President's intention to invite the leaders. And I think they were supportive of the idea.
Q Will the subsequent summits also be for heads of state, or would those be lower level?
MS. PERINO: I think it's to be determined.
Q A number of the European allies have said what's needed is a wholesale rewrite of the rules under which financial markets operate. Does the President think that's needed?
MS. PERINO: I think that we -- I think that everybody will come with their ideas, and the President recognizes that every country is going to have a responsibility, but not every country is going to have the same solution. So there will be a lot of people coming forward with recommendations and ideas. There's lots of financial experts in all of these countries, and we have some in our own country. We'll come with our own recommendations, and they'll come with theirs, and that's what you would expect of a meeting of this kind. So I think it's too early to say what will come out of it.
Q What's the reason of making it the whole G20? Isn't that a rather unwieldy size group to --
MS. PERINO: The G20, as I understand, first came together on a finance-minister level back in 1999 when they dealt with the last financial crisis. And it's a chance for this group to be able to continue to talk together. It includes developed and developing nations. And the President thinks it's very important to include developing nations, because they have emerging markets, they're important on a variety of levels to the global economy, and their input is important.
One of the things President Bush will stress at this meeting is the importance of opening trade and for liberalization of goods going back and forth between countries so that we can get every country back on the path to prosperity, including our own. We have three free trade agreements that are in front of our Congress that they would have an opportunity to pass quickly, and it would be one great way to help stimulate the economy is to actually open new markets to American goods.
Q Is this a way to get back at Doha?
MS. PERINO: I'm sure Doha will be discussed. Ambassador Schwab never stops talking about Doha. But I am sure that the leaders, when they get together, will try to talk about how do we continue to make sure that trade is open and that it's liberal so that every citizen across the world is able to benefit from free trade. We've seen the benefits in our own country. Emerging countries are starting to see these benefits. And there are a lot of countries who are concerned about protectionism and isolationism by the larger countries. President Bush has been talking about that for some time now for -- going back several years. It's a concern of his, and that will be one of the topics he talks about.
Q Can we assume that this will be the -- this first summit will be the only one that President Bush will be attending? And do you have any idea when a second one might be held?
MS. PERINO: I think it's too early to say. I just don't know. But I do believe that when the leaders get together on November 15th, they'll talk about when would be appropriate for the next time to get -- would be to get together. So I don't think you could say whether or not there would be a second summit. But the President committed to a series of them, so I can't say that he will or he will not. But I don't think it would be unlikely -- I should say it's likely that he could, but I don't want to say for sure, because we need to have this first meeting and find out.
Q But he could attend a second summit.
MS. PERINO: Sure. Sure, it's possible. Or we might -- it might not be at a head-of-state level. We'll just have to see.
Q Dana, two quick questions. One --
MS. PERINO: On this topic?
MS. PERINO: Okay.
Q As far as this summit is concerned, is India included? And second, yesterday there was another milestone and celebration was held --
MS. PERINO: India is a part of the G20, so they'll be there. And I'll have a -- there will be a statement coming out from me, a written one that gives you all the list of participants. It includes the U.N. Secretary General and others. So you'll have that in just a few minutes.
Q And talking about U.S.-India relations and also economic and trade relations, yesterday the U.S.-India Business Council Chamber of Commerce celebrated another milestone between U.S. and India -- India landed on the moon yesterday. And it is carrying two payloads from the NASA. Any -- is the President aware of it, any comments?
MS. PERINO: I haven't spoken to the President about it. I saw that story, it was very interesting. We noted it's very encouraging for India, I'm sure, very exciting.
Q So, do you foresee any kind of system of global financial regulation coming out of this? Is that ruled in or ruled out?
MS. PERINO: I don't believe that you'll have any details coming out of this meeting in terms of things that everyone agrees to at the first meeting. I think that what the goal is for this meeting is to identify the causes; note the progress to date that we've made working together in a coordinated fashion, which the President wants to continue; identify principles for reform; and then task the working groups to put meat on those bones and figure out what the principles will look like once they have more detail attached to them.
And the President is very clear that every country is going to have different ideas on how to do this in their own country. We've been able to take actions in our separate countries, but in a coordinated way, and that's been beneficial for the markets. We've started to see some stabilization and strengthening even while the markets absorbed some pretty tough news over the past few days.
Q Dana, is it correct to understand from what you have just announced that all the countries have agreed to take part, the G20 countries, on the head of government --
MS. PERINO: I don't want to speak for them, but the President has had good conversations with a lot of different leaders over the past few days.
Q A lot of different leaders from different countries -- does that include Russia? Have you announced all of his conversations? Have there been unannounced --
MS. PERINO: I don't know if he spoke to the Russians or not, but I know that our -- his sherpa has.
Q Excuse me --
Q Do you know when the candidates were informed of the date?
MS. PERINO: Of the date? This morning.
Yes, sir, in the back.
Q The Prime Minister of Britain told his country to expect a recession. Does the President believe a recession is likely here in the United States and/or globally because of the conditions now?
MS. PERINO: We know that we're in for tough times ahead. We don't forecast recessions from here, but we know that things are going to be tough on the employment side of things and on the earnings side of things. So the most important thing we can do is implement the stimulus package that we put forward in February and then this rescue package that we have. And we think that that's the best way to stimulate our economy and pull us out of any downturn. Whether it's just a downturn or a recession, I just couldn't say right now. You'll have to check in with the National Bureau of Economic Statistics.
Q Does he at least then feel that there's still the opportunity to avoid a recession?
MS. PERINO: I couldn't say. I don't know. I think we're in for a very tough GDP number next week. I don't think anyone should -- will be surprised by that, given what we've dealt with in the past couple of months, but we hope that the actions that we've taken will help us pull out of this sooner.
Q Thank you, Dana. Two questions. From San Francisco, the Associated Press reported yesterday that next month voters will either approve or reject Proposition K, "a measure that prevents local authorities from investigating, arresting, or prosecuting anyone for selling sex." And my question: How does the President regard this ballot proposal legalizing prostitution?
MS. PERINO: He regards it as a local issue and we'll just leave that for San Francisco to decide.
Q He doesn't oppose this?
MS. PERINO: I'm not going to comment on it.
Q All right. Does the President hope and believe that Proposition 8 on California's ballot will be passed in that it defines marriage as the union between one man and one woman?
MS. PERINO: The President's position on this is very clear. I'm not going to comment on it and I don't understand why you're so interested in California. I thought you lived up in Baltimore. (Laughter.)
Q I lived in California.
MS. PERINO: Oh, you did. Mark.
Q Thank you.
Q Yes, Iraq, the cabinet has now said that there need to be changes in this agreement. Is it up for renegotiation or is the draft --
MS. PERINO: Well, the text was negotiated by both sides and it's now before the Iraqi government, as you say. Secretary Gates put it well yesterday, which is that the door wasn't slammed shut but it's pretty much closed, in our opinion. So the -- I'll leave it to our negotiators to look at any suggestions that the Iraqis have, but I think that any changes would -- it would be a very high bar for them to clear.
Q There's not an awful lot of time to negotiate this. Are you still convinced that you will get this before time runs out on the mandate?
MS. PERINO: We are working towards it. As we said -- and I said the door is closing fast, the expiration date for the U.N. mandate is December 31st, and there will be no legal basis for us to continue operating there without that. And the Iraqis know that. And so we're confident that they'll be able to recognize this. And if they don't, there will be real consequences if Americans aren't able to operate there. And I think they saw that yesterday with some of the violence where they needed some backup by Americans. Iraqis are increasingly in the lead, they're doing much better, but they're not quite ready to do it on their own yet.
Q Understanding that, Dana, you've for some months now been voicing this same confidence -- "oh, we'll get this thing done" --
MS. PERINO: I think I've been realistic, said we're working towards it, we want to get it done, but we have a deadline and if the Iraqis don't -- ultimately decide that they don't want to have this agreement, which I don't think that they will -- they have a lot of internal politics that they're dealing with. We put forward what we think is a solid negotiated agreement. It's in front of them now and we'll wait for our negotiators to see what changes they suggest.
Q Dana, can you elaborate on the input you've gotten from the candidates because --
MS. PERINO: No.
Q -- you said you just informed -- why not? You said you informed --
MS. PERINO: Because I'm not going to talk about it, but I have let you know that we've kept them informed about very important issues along the way.
Q So you told them, rather than them -- you know, getting input from them?
MS. PERINO: I don't know. There could've been other conversations. All I know is that I asked to make sure that they were informed about the date, and they were.
Q Dana, there have been a series -- there have been and will be this week a series of House meetings on the financial meltdown, where we go from here, that kind of thing. Does the White House find these helpful or just finger-pointing, blame-gaming? Has there been any consultation between the White House on what Congress is finding out this week?
MS. PERINO: Well, a lot of us -- a lot of administration officials have been testifying in front of those, so there has been consultation. And Congress has a role to play. And if they can help identify the underlying causes of the problem and then put forward helpful solutions we would welcome that. And we all have to work on this together.
Q Thank you.
END 10:28 A.M. EDT