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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
November 21, 2008
Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Dana Perino, Assistant to the President for International Economic Affairs Daniel Price; National Security Council Senior Director for Asian Affairs, Dennis Wilder; And National Security Council Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Dan Fisk
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Lima, Peru
9:51 A.M. EST
MS. PERINO: Hello, everyone. I have a very special treat for you today. So we're on our way to Lima, Peru. You're a captive audience, so I'm just going to take an opportunity to -- I'm going to give you a schedule update on a couple of things, I'm going to have Dan Price talk a little bit about the meeting we're going to. I also have Dan Fisk and Dennis Wilder to give you a little bit on what's to be expected with the bilaterals with the Latin American and Asian countries.
The update for you on the schedule is that, as you know, the President has been very committed to combating HIV and AIDS and helping people with treatment and antiretrovirals and prevention. The program he first announced in 2003 and expanded in 2008 has made the United States a leader in these efforts. We now provide lifesaving antiretroviral treatment for 1.7 million people, and provide funds to prevent an estimated 12 million new infections every year.* The program continues to grow.
And Monday, December 1st, is World AIDS Day. The President will participate in the Saddleback Church Civil Forum on Global Health with Rick and Kay Warren.** It will be in Washington, D.C. They will discuss current and future efforts to combat HIV/AIDS, as well as tuberculosis and malaria. We will provide details as they're available.
The President and Mrs. Bush will also present the World AIDS Day Ribbon on the North Portico of the White House earlier that day. You guys might remember the ribbon from last year -- we're going to do that again.
Okay, let me turn it over to Dan first, and then we'll go to -- Dan, Dan, Dennis, and then I'll be around for anything at the end. Oh, let me just tell you the President did speak to the Attorney General this morning. He said that he sounded well. I'll refer any questions about his status and any reports that they want to provide to the Justice Department and we'll keep you informed if the President talks to him again.
MR. PRICE: Good morning. I'm Dan Price, Assistant to the President for International Economic Affairs. I'll try and speak up. I know some of you attended our briefing the day before yesterday, I believe, so there's a lot of material for your background in that briefing. I'll go over some highlights and try not to repeat too much of what I said there.
This is the President's eighth APEC meeting. He's attended every such meeting since he's been in office. A few critical background facts: One, the APEC economies account for 55 percent of world GDP, nearly half of world trade, and comprise together 41 percent of the world's population. In terms of the importance of the APEC region to the United States, U.S. goods trade with APEC economies grew from $1.2 trillion in 2001 to nearly $2 trillion in 2007. So U.S. trade with APEC constitutes nearly two-thirds of U.S. goods trade.
In terms of our priorities for this APEC Summit, the President will be seeking to build on the results of the very successful summit that was held in Washington, concerning financial markets and the global economy. As you may recall, the Washington declaration issued after that summit represented in our view a remarkable consensus and convergence on the causes of the present crisis, actions to be taken to address the global slowdown, principles governing financial market reform and concrete actions, a rejection of protectionism, and a commitment to free market principles, as well as an important commitment to helping the most vulnerable in the global economy.
So at APEC, we hope the leaders will endorse and support the declaration adopted at the summit; will subscribe to those common principles for reform; will, likewise, commit to free market principles; and, importantly, we hope that the APEC leaders will also agree not to raise new trade and investment barriers and so exacerbate the economic slowdown. We are also hoping that the APEC leaders will signal their strong support for the completion of the modalities agreement for Doha and will help spur the way, lead the way for the conclusion of a Doha Round that actually creates new trade flows in agriculture, industrial goods, and services.
One of the second key priorities will be to advance the cause of regional economic integration. In furtherance of APEC integration, APEC has completed 14 so-called model measures, or chapters, model chapters, of a potential FTA. These model measures, or chapters, if adopted and incorporated into regional FTAs, would help raise the standards of the agreements negotiated in the APEC region and, we hope, lead to an eventual free trade area of the Asia Pacific.
As you may know, the United States decided in September of this year to join in the free trade negotiations then underway among Singapore, Chile, New Zealand, and Brunei -- this so-called trans-Pacific economic partnership we have now joined. Yesterday in Lima, Australia and Peru announced their intention to join these free trade negotiations. Vietnam has also expressed interest in eventually participating. This agreement -- this trans-Pacific free trade agreement among such parties would truly be a high standard agreement.
As you know, there's been a lot of regional agreements underway that have not included the United States -- to the detriment of U.S. exporters, U.S. investors, and U.S. service suppliers, as well as our agricultural industries. We believe that our participation in this agreement will certainly serve as one channel for achieving the long-range goal of the free trade area of the Asia Pacific. We are hopeful that other APEC nations will eventually join in. And certainly from a U.S. perspective, it ensures that our companies are on more of a level playing field and that the United States thus helps foster a so-called regional economic architecture that is not Asia-only or Asia-first, but that is truly trans-Pacific.
I mentioned at the earlier briefing that we will be looking at ways that we can enhance the competitiveness of the APEC region -- I'll talk about two. One is bridging the digital divide and ensuring universal broadband access throughout the APEC region by 2015. The other is by carrying forward a program of regulatory reform in the area of telecommunications so that we keep those markets open and we liberalize the possibilities for investment in telecom infrastructure.
As you may know, telecom is one of those drivers of economies -- you lower telecom costs, it has a multiplier effect throughout the economy. So telecom energy capital costs -- you address those costs, you lower those costs, you really spur economic growth.
Next, we expect there to be some discussion -- actually a fair amount of discussion on food security. We expect there to be a discussion of ways of enhancing productivity, improving infrastructure for the storage, transportation, and distribution of food, as well as the development of science-based regulations so that the region can benefit from the advantages offered by biotechnology.
We also expect there to be a pretty thorough discussion concerning corruption, and the importance of combating corruption. Corruption represents a very significant threat to economic development; corruption has a corrosive effect on public trust, on government, and the rule of law. Corruption is simply incompatible with the rule of law and, as I mentioned in connection with telecom, corruption is one of those issues that also has a multiplier effect. If you address corruption, you have a positive impact on economic development, promoting just and stable democracies, and promoting accountable governments.
So if steps can be taken comprehensively to address corruption, you affect a wide variety of ills that affect a number of societies.
Finally, we expect there to be some discussion on energy security and climate change. We expect a discussion of those interlinked challenges. We think -- we expect that the leaders will be discussing the benefits and contribution of the major economies meetings and that process, as well as their desire to carry forward the work first at Poznan and then later in Copenhagen under the U.N. Framework Convention.
I think there will also be a discussion of the need for enhancing the deployment of technologies, particularly to the developing world, so that they are able to take a lower carbon path to economic development than was available to the developed countries when they were industrializing.
And I think I'll stop there.
MS. PERINO: Do you want to see if there's any questions for you? That way we don't have to go back and forth.
Q You mentioned food safety as an issue. Is that going to be part of a declaration at the end? Is there any precedent for them addressing that in the past?
MR. PRICE: I think there will be -- I think the subject of food security, both the safety aspects, the import safety aspects, but also, importantly, the aspect of the need to increase productivity, the need to get food to people who need it, and to build out the infrastructure within the APEC region to promote agriculture, to promote food security -- I expect that you will see that in the leaders' declaration.
Q Quick question about the economic context of this meeting. You mentioned the consensus that was reached at the G20 session last weekend. But since then there's been a series of other more negative steps -- the debate over the automakers, that has not reached consensus on the Hill; new unemployment claim numbers; problems with the stock market dropping. Is it the President's view heading into this meeting that the economy is getting better or getting worse right now?
Q Dan, can you summarize the question, I couldn't hear a word of it.
Q Is the economy getting better or getting worse heading into this meeting?
Q Thank you.
MR. PRICE: I understood the question to say there have been developments since the summit in Washington; will those be discussed at this meeting among leaders? Surely they will. It's not only the United States, it's globally we're experiencing serious economic challenges. It is not just the financial sector. We are experiencing more broadly challenges in our country, as are many countries around the world. I'm sure that will be a topic of discussion among the leaders.
Q Can you speak to whether the President believes the economy is getting better or worse right now?
MS. PERINO: I will handle that one later.
Q Do you know what garment they're going to be wearing on this summit? Don't they always have some kind of special garment -- jackets, hats, boots? (Laughter.)
MR. PRICE: I don't know.
All right, I'll turn it over to Dan Fisk, Senior Director at the National Security Council for Western Hemisphere Affairs, who will talk a little bit about U.S. relations in the region over the last eight years.
MR. FISK: Thanks. Good morning. My name is Dan Fisk. I'm the Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs on the National Security Council. It's good to see a number of familiar faces on this trip again.
First, let me just start with a basic. In addition to the United States, there are four other Western Hemisphere countries that participate in APEC: Chile, Peru, Mexico and Canada. Also the President on this trip specifically will have a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Harper of Canada. And then he will also see President Garcia of Peru, who is the host. Of course we expect during the APEC meetings the leaders will have a great amount of time together, that President Bush will see his colleagues from the other Western Hemisphere countries, as well.
This trip builds on, and I think in a lot of ways is a good capstone, for what's been the President's long interest in the Western Hemisphere, and his very active engagement with leaders in the hemisphere, and, as I said, his interest in the region. To put this trip in some broader hemispheric perspective, the President will have -- this is his 14th trip to the Western Hemisphere, to a Western Hemisphere country. It is his ninth trip to Latin America; his second trip to Peru. He traveled to Peru in March of 2002. So there is, again, a long history with the President of trying to take every opportunity to travel in the region.
In terms of his interaction, to give you a little bit -- again, a little bit more idea of how engaged the President has been, again, I mentioned that he will have some specific bilaterals. Overall during his presidency, he's had more than 350 either meetings or phone calls during his presidency, with Western Hemisphere leaders. Again, this trip we think will build on that. We're looking forward, and the President is looking forward to his interaction with his Western Hemisphere colleagues.
Of course, this is also a chance once again for him to talk about some of the policies he's pursued in the area of social justice, which has been one of his themes throughout the eight years; what we've done as a country to help Latin American nations, in particular, benefit from democratic government and from expanded economic opportunities. During his administration, we have put forward about $300 million for education initiatives. Of course, we have the Centers of Excellence and Teacher Training, which have trained about 20,000 teachers up to this point. There is a center in Peru, as one of the focal points for that program.
In terms of health, we've spent over $1.5 billion in assistance in Latin America to help countries with their health care. In 2007, the United States partnered with Central American countries to open a health care training facility, which is based in Panama. I understand, just as a footnote, that Mrs. Bush, who was in Panama yesterday and today, was going to visit that facility. So we also have the area -- of course, the area of health.
Of course, the other one that's been of particular interest to the President is economic development and creating more job opportunities for individuals throughout the hemisphere. Of course, one of the keystones in this for this administration has been the Millennium Challenge Account. We have six -- there are six Millennium Challenge programs in the hemisphere. They total more than $900 million in assistance. We have the 10 free trade agreements that this administration has also put in place. We have another initiative that the Treasury Department has spearheaded to help provide microcredits to entrepreneurs. That's about $250 million. And then through the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, we have put more -- or OPIC specifically has put more than a billion dollars in financing guarantees to help workers in Latin America achieve affordable housing.
So again, in terms of the President's record in the hemisphere, this is, again, I think, a good opportunity to remind people of that.
Let me just highlight some very specific areas where I do think that this administration has not only improved the relationship with the hemisphere, but has laid a very solid foundation that the new President can build upon.
In terms of the relation with Brazil, that is a case in which the two Presidents -- President Lula and President Bush -- from the very early moments, both administrations laid a strong personal relationship from that. We have developed a number of areas of cooperation. We have a biofuels agreement with the Brazilians to cooperate in the development -- the research and development of biofuels.
Just this week it was announced that we would expand that cooperation beyond the hemisphere to now include efforts to try to help countries in Africa develop alternative fuels. We also have with Brazil an initiative for -- to address malaria in Africa. We have a program in Sno Tomé, and then we also are working with the Brazilians and Africa in issues of governance, and we have had a program in Guinea-Bissau, in terms of helping legislators in that country become better prepared to handle their responsibilities. Again, these are all initiatives we have with Brazil.
Finally, one of our initiatives has been the creation of the U.S.-Brazil CEO Dialogue, CEO Forum, to get our private sectors talking more and more about how we can expand and deepen the economic relationship between what are the two largest economies in the Western Hemisphere -- Brazil being the largest economy in South America.
Another area where we've had -- expanded the relationship, of course, is Mexico. This President has taken a very strong interest in Mexico. Being a former government of Texas, he has a certain sensitivity and awareness of our history with them and a deep appreciation for Mexican culture and Mexican people. In that, of course, we have not only continued to pursue NAFTA implementation -- we think NAFTA is working, we think it is bringing benefits to all the people of North America. But we also, within the last year and a half, have pursued and begun to put in place an unprecedented level of cooperation in terms of addressing the threats to both societies of drug cartels and organized crime.
We are also working with the Mexicans in the security arena, in terms of how we help the Central Americans also address what they are dealing with in terms of criminal gangs and drug cartels, as well. And then, of course, also with Mexico and Canada, we have pursued initiatives on a North American basis to expand kind of what we can do as three countries together to enhance prosperity and enhance security of our citizens. And again, this North American construct, while we had NAFTA, the President, the Prime Minister of Canada, and the President of Mexico have been able to put that together in terms of the North American Leaders Summit process, in which the three leaders have met four times. And again, we think that's a very solid foundation that we will be able to -- that we will hand off to the next administration.
Of course, another area that I'll raise is Colombia. The United States has sustained its support for Colombia. We have a pending free trade agreement. We would like to see Congress pass that. We think it's in our interest to pass that; we think it's in Colombia's interest. It would be a strong signal of support to a friend, to a country that has done fundamentally the right things in terms of governance, in terms of economic development, and in terms of making sure that the benefits of democracy are delivered to the Colombian people.
Colombia is a dramatically different place at this point in time, eight years after what President Bush and his administration has been able to help President Uribe and his predecessors achieve, and we think that success needs to be cemented. But we do think that there is no doubt that the United States' willingness to sustain our support for a country taking the right actions has been critical to the success that we have seen in Colombia.
We also have taken other steps to deepen our economic relationship with Uruguay, a country that doesn't get a lot of attention. But nonetheless, we have taken an effort through USTR to see what can be done there in terms of expanding an economic relationship. And we've also done some outreach with the Caribbean, with CARICOM, to try to improve relations there, and also look at how we can help that region become more economically prosperous.
Again, I put all that into context. That's the kind of -- that is the background and the backdrop to this trip, which, again, I think is an important statement about this President's record and interest in the hemisphere.
So I will -- I'll stop there. And, Dana, if you want me to take a few questions --
MS. PERINO: If there's questions for you, then we'll let you answer questions, and then I'll go to Dennis.
Q What, in your assessment, is the realistic likelihood that the Colombia free trade agreement is going to pass?
MR. FISK: The question, just so everyone heard, was, what is our realistic assessment of the likelihood of the Colombia trade agreement being approved by Congress. Let me say this: I'm not going to get into tea leaf reading with the Congress of the United States. I'll refer you to my -- to Dana or Congressional Affairs colleagues on speculating on kind of how Congress may or may not act. The point I would reiterate is that we think that the approval of the Colombia free trade agreement is critical to Colombia continuing the success it's had in putting in place a democratic security policy. Again, we think it's the right thing to do for American workers, for the American economy; exports are working for the United States.
Right now you have a situation in which the European Union is looking at pursuing a free trade agreement with Colombia. I don't know why Americans want European goods going in and American goods paying a 35 percent-plus tariff. I mean, it just seems to me that's a logical question people ought to be asking their elected representatives, which is, what about us? But it's also, from the Colombian perspective, they understand they need that to consolidate what they've done.
So we're going to continue to make the case. Hopefully the Congress --
Q Never say die, huh?
MR. FISK: Never say die, that's right.
Q Leading the witness. (Laughter.)
Q Dan, over the past four weeks or so, Colombia has purged several members of their military over ties to extrajudicial killings. If you listen to some of the Democrats on the Hill, they've cited specifically those kinds of killings as an objection. Are you asking the -- are you drawing this stuff to the Congress's attention? Are you asking the Congress to take another look, especially the members who have those kinds of concerns, to give Colombia another look, given the events of even just the last few weeks?
MR. FISK: For those who know Colombia's history, you know that if you look back to less than 10 years ago, we were looking at a country that was -- the international community was prepared to declare was a failed state; it was unsafe for the citizens of Bogata to walk the streets; Colombians were more interested in making sure they had visas to get out of the country rather than figuring out what they could do to build their country and make sure that it was a successful place. Tragically for Colombia, abuses have still continued. But to the benefit of the Colombian people and to the -- with our compliments to President Uribe, Colombians have taken every step to make sure that when a wrong is brought to attention, that steps are taken to bring those individuals to justice.
So what we have seen is a country that is trying to fight impunity, and when in these recent incidents they've been brought to light, you've had President Uribe take decisive leadership. He's not been afraid to dismiss the individuals who are alleged to have committed these acts, submit them and their cases to the justice system to be dealt with. He's given, in my view, no quarter when there has been serious -- or allegations of human rights abuses. He does want the rule of law to prevail in that country.
We have tried to make that case to the Congress. You can make it, in terms of statistics. You can make it in terms of kind of the human story. And I also know the Colombians have tried to make that case, as well. Just recently they -- "they" the Colombians -- provided an extensive analysis to members of the House leadership. Again, this was something from the Colombians about kind of what they have done.
So while, again, these incidents happen, they're tragic; nonetheless, when they do happen, the Colombian government takes a very strong action and one that we applaud. They do try to make sure that justice is done and that people are held accountable. And again, that is a dramatically different place -- Colombia is in a dramatically different place today than it was 10 years ago. And we think that this success has to continue. We think it's actually in our interest that it continue, let alone in Colombia's interest. So that's the best answer I have for you.
MS. PERINO: Let's get a quick word from Dennis.
MR. WILDER: Good morning. I'm Dennis Wilder, Senior Director for East Asia at the National Security Council.
Let me start by saying that I think when historians look back on the last eight years, one of the key changes in the world, transformations in the world, will be the rise of East Asia and the emergence of China. I think what people will also see is that President Bush was very aware of that trend and took advantage of that trend to build American relations in this region.
One of the things the Secretary of State has talked about is that we are in a remarkable place today with our relationships with East Asia. We have strong relations now with India, China, Japan, Korea, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand -- all of the major powers of East Asia we now have strong and productive relationships with. Never before in American history have we been able to make that statement as strongly as we can today.
If you look at what the President has done in East Asia, there's some key things that I would point out to you. First of all, the President is the designer of the six-party talks. The six-party talks were a real breakthrough in regional security cooperation -- the fact that six parties in Northeast Asia working together for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula had never been tried before, and was really something that the President personally pulled the leaders together. He got China to recognize its responsibilities in this matter. He got the parties to gather together and to move forward.
Obviously the work is not completed, but I think we have set both the institutional framework in place and the right principles to move forward on denuclearization. And so we're optimistic that that progress can continue to be made in that area.
In terms of other parts of East Asia and what we've been able to accomplish, I think there is a remarkable story on counterterrorism in East Asia, when, after 9/11, there were huge concerns about the situation in Indonesia and the Philippines. In Indonesia we had some very tragic high-profile bombings. Since that time, working together cooperatively, the United States, with Indonesia and other Asian partners, we have eliminated much of the terrorist threat in Indonesia. The terrorist organizations there are no longer the powers they once were.
Similarly in the Philippines, very close cooperation with the Philippine government to reduce the terrorism threat in the Philippines to a point now that it is no longer endangering that society in the way it used to.
If you look at our alliances in East Asia, regrettably, at the end of at Cold War there was a certain atrophy in alliance relationships in the region. At the beginning of this administration, the President made a priority to rebuild those alliances with Korea, with Japan, with Australia, and build our friendships with others in the region. The creation, for example, with Singapore of a strategic framework agreement allowing American forces a logistic center to move between the United States and the Middle East was very important and has been very useful to us.
We have, of course, transformed our military presence in Japan and Korea. We're in the midst of that transformation, but it's a transformation that removed some of the irritations in the relationships because American troops were in central cities. We're now moving them away from cities; we're now moving them to areas where they can train more easily, and we're doing a lot to give back lands that no longer are necessary for American troops in places like Korea -- important things to the Korean people.
Missile defense: When we began this administration, the United States was vulnerable to a missile attack from North Korea. Today, we have a viable and effective missile defense capability to defend ourselves against a rogue attempt at a missile launch. Why? Well, because of the investment in a missile defense system here in the United States, but also because of missile defense cooperation with the Japanese and others. We now have the necessary radars in Japan, for example, to detect a launch, to help us track a launch, and then to defeat that launch. So that's an important change.
In addition to that, in the defense arena, we now base in Japan, for the first time in American history, a nuclear carrier battle group. That is a very profound change. It was a difficult change to get effected because of some feelings in Japan, but working very closely with Prime Minister Koizumi and his successors, we were able to change from having an old carrier battle group, a diesel carrier, the last one we had, the Kitty Hawk, and now we have put modern military capability in Japan.
Let me highlight just a couple more things in the security area: Taiwan. At this APEC you will see a former vice president of Taiwan representing Taiwan at this Asian economies meeting. Eight years ago, that would have been unthinkable. Eight years ago, the United States and China were at odds over Taiwan and how to deal with the Taiwan issue. There were great strains caused by this issue in the U.S.-China relationship.
Working very closely with President Hu, working with the officials on Taiwan, you have seen in the last few months a huge reduction in the tensions along the Taiwan Strait. You have seen a senior Chinese official go to Taiwan earlier this month and sign new agreements on links between Taiwan and the mainland. And at this conference, you will see a former vice president of Taiwan sit down at international meetings with world leaders. This is a real opening and a real change and a real reduction in tensions.
The President will have an opportunity to meet with former Vice President Lien Chan during the sessions of this group. And he's interested to hear from both the Chinese side and the Taiwan side not only about what's been accomplished so far, but what they're going to accomplish in the future in terms of adding to peace and stability on the Taiwan Strait.
So I think there are many accomplishments in East Asia. I think that the President has created excellent relationships across the region with regional leaders. They've appreciated his foresight. They certainly have very much appreciated his commitment to free trade. They have benefitted greatly from free trade, but we have also benefitted greatly from free trade.
Remember that the economists say that 50 percent of the growth in the American economy in the last few years has been because of exports, and those exports in large measure have gone to East Asia. We are inextricably linked with this region of the world, and the President wants to make sure that this region understands that America is its partner and will continue to be its partner over the long term.
Q The President is meeting with the President of China, the Prime Minister of Japan, the President of South Korea, a lot of six-party talk activity, it would seem. Is there any particular goal you have in mind for the six-party process here at this APEC Summit?
MR. WILDER: Absolutely. Our primary goal is to get back to the negotiating table in Beijing. We need to put in place, in the six-party context, the verification principles that we have worked out to a certain extent bilaterally with the North Koreans. We need that to be memorialized and codified at a six-party meeting. The Chinese obviously host the six-party, so they need to call that meeting. So we are very much hoping that by the time we leave APEC, we will have that meeting -- the timing of that meeting in place. And then hopefully that meeting can really get us to the end of what we call the second phase of the six-party process, and begin to start thinking about the third phase of the six-party process.
MR. WILDER: I think the goal is early December, would be the best timing.
Q Very soon, then.
MR. WILDER: Right.
Q What is the ultimate goal, then, on changing North Korea's behavior before January 20th? In other words, what's the most that you feel that you can accomplish in the time that you have left?
MR. WILDER: Well, I'm reluctant to predict what exactly we're going to get accomplished because we have to sit down in the six-party talks and get everybody's views on this. This is not just an American process; it's a six-party process.
However, what I hope we leave in place for the next administration, and what I think we can, is a very viable six-party process, a commitment on all parts that this is the way to negotiate the ultimate denuclearization of the North Korean Peninsula, and the normalization of relations in Northeast Asia. After all, the real long-term goal is not only denuclearization, which is very important, but is peace and security in Northeast Asia. And ultimately, what we would like to see is the Korean -- the North Koreans becoming a productive member of the international community and the community of nations in Northeast Asia.
So the long-term goal is clear -- the long-term goals, I should say. And what we need to do is leave a process in place that the next administration can pick up and work with. And I think we will do that. I'm optimistic.
Q Do you feel that you don't have that right now?
MR. WILDER: Oh, no, I think we have the process in place.
Q -- plan for the process?
MR. WILDER: I think we very much do. I think, though, that the North needs to come to the table and demonstrate to the other parties that it is committed to that six-party process, and that it wants to move forward with the denuclearization process, in exchange for those things we are promising to do to help the North rebuild and again become, if you will, a responsible player in the international community.
Q Dennis, is there any new insight into the condition of Kim Jong-il?
MR. WILDER: You know, there really isn't. North Korea is a very secretive place. We see the same photographs that you see. We really can't make much of them. We don't know how to tell exactly what his condition is. I think we continue to believe that it seems credible that he had some sort of health crisis, but as to his recovery from that health crisis, I'm just not in a position to speculate on that.
Q Dennis, you talked broadly about the President's accomplishments in the region and how history will show that he paid attention to this region. How would he like to be remembered in this region?
MR. WILDER: I think that, first of all, he would say that he worked hard to understand this region, worked hard to build really strong relationships with leaders in this region. I've had the privilege to sit in on his meetings with those leaders. These are genuine relationships.
President Hu Jintao of China really has a great deal of confidence and faith in the President, in part because the President was very honest and candid with him on where we were on Taiwan, but also kept his promises in relation to Taiwan that we would not support independence in Taiwan, that we would not support provocative steps on Taiwan, but also, that we weren't going to let Beijing bully Taiwan. And I think the fact that the President was able to walk that line with the Chinese and maintain a very productive relationship shows the skills, really the diplomatic skills that the President brought to that relationship.
We're very proud of the strategic economic dialogue between us and the Chinese. We very much hope the new administration will continue that, because the President believes, and has always believed, that engagement and bringing China in as a responsible stakeholder into the international community was key to getting China right.
I think that this last G20, and you've seen a lot of people comment on this, was a real sign of that, that there is a shift of gravity in world economic relations from West to East. And the fact that the international financial conference included the nations of East Asia -- India, China, South Korea, Japan, others -- shows that -- the importance now to us of East Asia, importance to the global economies. And the President I think understood that very early on, and built those relationships and spent time on those relationships.
You'll recall the close relationship with Koizumi, ending with a visit to Graceland, one of the great road trips of all time for an American President. His recent meeting with President Lee at Camp David, at which they shared their faith and their deep feelings about how their Christian faith motivates them and their leadership, I think was one of those moments. So I think the President has really worked hard to build with Yudhoyono of Indonesia, he has built a very close personal relationship.
So all across the region I think these leaders respect his leadership, respect his strength and, again, respect what he's done to build free markets and opportunities for both the American people and East Asians to prosper. And there's no question that East Asians have prospered very well because of the policies this administration took.
MS. PERINO: Does anyone have one for me?
Q Can I ask two?
MS. PERINO: Okay, go ahead, Ben.
Q Is it still likely that President Bush will meet with the Russian President? Is that just a matter of logistics?
MS. PERINO: I'll check for you. I think that if they get a chance to talk that they want to, and the President wants to, so we'll keep you updated. I don't have it specifically on the schedule.
Q Sorry, what was the question?
MS. PERINO: Whether he would meet with Medvedev here. And let me just confirm for you because I didn't hear the latest. I know that the -- if there's an opportunity to, the President wants to.
Q Also, can I take another run at my question of like a half hour ago -- the success that's been remarked upon about the G20 summit. Since then, there have also been some downturns in the economy -- the auto deal didn't come together, the stock market has dropped. I'm just trying to get a sense from the White House perspective, heading into this meeting, is the economy on -- headed in the right direction? Is the economy going the right direction heading into the meeting?
MS. PERINO: Well, there's no doubt the economy is very tough, and it's very tough all over the world. And we didn't promise immediate results. What we did is establish what Dan Price just talked about, which is establishing what the causes were and then working on reforms for the future, including -- especially transparency and oversight. Remember, the next meeting is set for I think in April of '09.
So there's lots of things that need to do -- need to be done between now and then to get that worked out, and we're working hand-in-glove with the President-elect's team to make sure that they have what they need going forward so that when we hand the baton to them, they can already be running and working to implement what we have been working with these other leaders on.
Our economy is obviously very tough in the United States. Just this morning, the President signed an extension of unemployment insurance benefits because the economy has continued to worsen since June when we first talked about an unemployment extension when we were at 5.5 percent unemployment; yesterday's numbers had us at 6.5 percent unemployment, and the job market is still very tight. The credit markets seem to get better, and then they contract a little bit and tighten up again. And we are looking at all good ideas and considering what to do.
When it comes to the automakers, however, what I would say is that it is appalling that Congress decided to leave town without addressing a problem that they themselves said needed to be addressed. What's interesting is that they came around to our point of view, that we have established a couple of weeks ago, that we would only be willing to put money to help these companies out -- into companies that could prove that they had a long-term plan for viability.
Low and behold, all of a sudden, yesterday the Democrats say that, okay, they too agree that firms should have to prove viability. But they must not think it's such an urgent situation if they want to kick the can down the road for another two weeks. What I think is unfortunate is that there's this mindless opposition to anything that the President or Republicans would support.
But not only that, they even opposed a bipartisan solution that was brought forward yesterday that took a lot of our good ideas and added some of theirs in order to use a program that had already been authorized and appropriated for the car makers. That they decided not to do that is -- can only lead the American people to think that, one, they don't think the automakers need emergency help; two, they're willing to kick the can down the road and just to see what happens; or three, they wanted to punt because they just have an inability to get anything done.
So we will continue to work with Congress, if they are going to come back December 8th -- we'll see. It's also just shocking to us that Congress would talk about the need to create jobs and to have pro-growth policies, and yet when you have the Colombia free trade agreement sitting right there at their desk, where they could have a simple up or down vote on it and actually help jumpstart jobs in America, they punt on that, too.
So if we have to work around Congress to establish policies that we can do on our own, we will to some extent, but that's not how our system of government is set up. We need the legislative branch to be doing their part, as well.
Q What do you mean, "work around Congress?"
MS. PERINO: Well, some of the things that we were able to do at the -- like, for example, what the Fed did, and some of the innovative proposals that they came up with to try to loosen credit markets; things that were already under their authority through the executive branch that they didn't need additional legislative approval on.
Q Just two questions. Can you just share the current thinking on a stimulus, given yesterday's events in the stock market and sort of renewed calls for some kind of stimulus? What's your position today?
MS. PERINO: Obviously, yesterday, and the day before, and I think even a day before that, the stock market took quite a beating. I'm not able to tell you why, because I'm not a soothsayer and it's hard to tell with the markets. In regards to a stimulus package, I'll just have to get back in touch with you because, as I said, we're always looking at what needs to be done or what could be done next or what more needs to be done, should there or should there not be a stimulus.
What we had seen put forward by Congress so far were programs that would not have a short-term effect on the economy, or an immediate effect, a stimulative effect on the economy. Given that, we didn't think it was prudent just to put taxpayer dollars toward something that would have maybe a long-term impact. What we're looking for is something more immediate, and so far we haven't seen that from them. But, again, we're open to ideas.
Q And then, finally, looking ahead to Monday, Mr. Olmert is coming. You've said that the prospect for a peace agreement is unlikely. So can you just share with us, what do you think the conversation between the two leaders will be like? Both are on their way to private life.
MS. PERINO: Well, obviously these two leaders have been through a lot together; our two countries have been through a lot together. I think one of the things that they will talk about is how far we've come since 2001. When the President first arrived, there was an intifada and hundreds of Israelis and Palestinians were dying needlessly, but at the hands of horrible violence.
Over the years, we had a change in leadership and we had a change of attitude. And the President of the United States was the first to articulate a two-state solution and to support a two-state solution. And now almost everywhere around the world, because of the work we have done, culminating in the Annapolis Conference, you have the world supporting a Palestinian state.
How they get to a Palestinian state could end up taking a little while longer, but you have negotiators and the Israelis and the Palestinians who recognize that there is a path forward for them to do that. So I think what the President and Olmert will want to do is to talk about how can they continue to help this process over the next two months. And I'm sure that Prime Minister Olmert will want to talk about old times, but also what the future holds. And they obviously are two leaders who love their countries very much and have been victims of terrorism and share a lot of solidarity in trying to improve the world and bring peace to the Middle East.
So I think that's what the conversation will probably be like. We're almost a year -- to the year anniversary of the Annapolis Conference. What Secretary Rice would tell you is that they have made great strides. They haven't quite reached the goal yet, but they're getting there.
Q So a little bit of a goodbye meeting, it sounds like.
MS. PERINO: I think that -- you've seen several leaders that have come by to have one last opportunity to talk to the President of the United States. At the same time, since the election, as I've told you before, there have been a lot of leaders who have called the President-elect and his team to establish relations with them as well. And we think that's healthy and we try to help facilitate it.
Q Dana, on the Iraqi-U.S. -- this I guess what you guys are calling alternative -- the SOFA and the long-term strategic pact, do you plan to make available publicly an English-language version of the SOFA so that Americans can take a look at it and make up their minds?
MS. PERINO: Yes. As soon as we possibly can, when we're -- agreement is reached, we'll be able to do that. You bet.
Q When agreement is reached? Do you mean when it's ratified?
MS. PERINO: I don't know exactly the timing of it. Obviously, we've provided full briefings to appropriate members of Congress. I think over 200 members of Congress saw it. Secretaries Rice and Gates, amongst others -- I think General Lute -- were up on Capitol Hill to provide that information to the citizens, representatives in Congress. And then as soon as we are able to, we'll provide the English language, sure.
Q But you're suggesting that you're going to provide it after --
MS. PERINO: I actually can't tell you when it will be. I just don't know.
Q Dana, are you saying Congress should have stayed in session and acted to authorize the 136 loans right now, and not waited a couple of weeks?
MS. PERINO: Well, it seems to me that it's sort of senseless. You had a bipartisan path forward to help the automakers, as long as they were willing to show viability through the 136 program, that would not relax environmental standards. And nothing would bar the Congress from putting more money towards helping companies retool their plants if they wanted to in the future.
So I would -- I just think that it was mindless opposition to anything that we would propose, and they cut off their nose to spite their face. So now we'll have to wait and see if they even come back on December 8th. But one thing that is very curious is how in the world are 535 members of Congress going to determine viability of a company? It's mind-boggling. They can't even get together to pass a Mother's Day resolution. So we are a little bit perplexed as to what they plan to do when they get back on the 8th and how they plan to do it.
We agree that the viability portion of the language is absolutely critical. But we want these automakers to succeed. We don't want to see the huge numbers of unemployment that would result from a possible insolvency. And these companies have to be willing to make hard decisions to change for the long run.
Q And those who are engaged in mindless opposition would be Reid, Pelosi, those people?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think it's obvious. I don't have to name them -- they know who they are; you know who they are. They're the people who are opposing our plan, and the people who decided to go home without actually getting anything done. I mean, this is like do-nothing Congress part two, same song as they sang last time. And as I said, we will do what we can to try to put forward innovative policies like we had with this 136 program. It had a bipartisan path to succeed. And they wouldn't even allow for a vote. What kind of democracy is that?
So we're a little bit perplexed. But we'll see what the companies come up with, and if they can meet the Democrats' so-called test. Okay. One more.
Q One more on financial markets. You know, there's been a lot of concern about credit markets tightening up, seizing up again the last couple days. Is there anything that the administration is contemplating doing today, or in the very near future?
MS. PERINO: I'd have to refer you to the Treasury Department. Obviously we got on the plane at about 7:00 a.m., and so I haven't been able to talk to them. But if we get any word from D.C. I'll let you know. But in the meantime if you could have your people check with Hank Paulson's office, that'd be great.
Q Dana, did the President call Ted Stevens?
MS. PERINO: I don't know. I would have to check. I know that he saw him at the NCAA championships. But after the concession, I don't know. I'll check.
Q Dana, can you get back to us on the Russia meeting?
MS. PERINO: Russia and Stevens. You bet.
END 10:48 A.M. EST
* PEPFAR now supports lifesaving antiretroviral treatment for more than 1.7 million people worldwide. And as a result of the Tom Lantos and Henry J. Hyde United States Global Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Reauthorization Act of 2008, the next phase of PEPFAR will support prevention of 12 million new infections.
** The President and Mrs. Bush will participate in the Saddleback Church Civil Forum on Global Health with Rick and Kay Warren.