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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
December 30, 2008
Press Briefing by Deputy Press Secretary Gordon Johndroe
Crawford Middle School
11:39 A.M. CST
MR. JOHNDROE: Okay, good afternoon. This morning President Bush received his daily intelligence briefing. He then met via secure video with his senior advisors to discuss the latest developments regarding the situation in the Middle East.
Also this morning President Bush called Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to thank him for his leadership and for the positive role that Egypt is playing in the current crisis.
The President also called Palestinian Authority President Abbas and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Fayyad. President Bush and the two Palestinian leaders discussed their efforts for a sustainable ceasefire. They agreed that for any ceasefire to be effective, it must be respected, particularly by Hamas.
President Bush reiterated his concern about the citizens of Gaza, as well as the United States' desire to help with the humanitarian situation there. Prime Minister Fayyad thanked President Bush for the recent U.S. contribution to the United Nation Relief and Works Agency to assist the Palestinian people.
With that, I will be happy to take your questions.
Q How exactly is the United States trying to recreate the ceasefire to make it sustainable and durable? What's the difference between an immediate ceasefire and one that is sustainable and durable? It sounds like, kind of, semantics.
MR. JOHNDROE: No, I think a ceasefire that is sustainable and durable, what we've been calling for, is one that is exactly that -- it's lasting. We don't just want a ceasefire for the sake of a ceasefire, only for violence to start up immediately, or within the next few weeks. That serves no one's interest, as President Bush discussed with Prime Minister Fayyad, and --
Q But how do you know that it would be lasting?
MR. JOHNDROE: We have got to get a commitment from Hamas that they would respect any ceasefire and make it lasting and durable. And so until we can get that assurance -- not the United States, but until Israel can get that assurance from Hamas -- then we're not going to have a ceasefire that is worth the paper it's written on.
Q How do you propose to get Hamas onboard with the ceasefire if you guys aren't actually talking to them?
MR. JOHNDROE: Well, you know, Egypt brokered the last ceasefire, the one that was in place for six months that expired last week, that Hamas failed to renew -- and not only did they fail to renew the ceasefire, then they substantially increased their rocket and mortar attacks into Israel within the last few days.
These other governments in the region, such as Egypt, the officials in the Palestinian Authority, Jordanians, others who are in touch with the various Hamas factions, will make it clear that this is in no one's interests -- certainly not the Palestinian people, certainly not the people of Gaza, and definitely not the people of the entire Middle East region. This sort of violence is in no one's interest. So all those governments, as they have been in the past, are committed to assisting with the current situation.
Q And is President Bush prepared to have this violence in Gaza continue through the end of his presidency? Do you think it will last that long?
MR. JOHNDROE: You know, that's 21 days from now and I'm not going to speculate about this. I think we all want to see an end to the violence. But that first starts with Hamas ceasing its rocket attacks into Israel.
Q Gordon, so when Ban Ki-moon calls for an immediate ceasefire, an end to the violence by all sides, since he doesn't use the words "sustainable" and "durable," that's not enough for the U.S., right?
MR. JOHNDROE: As I've said, we think, one, we want to see an end to the violence. But two, we want to see an end to the violence for the long term, not just the immediate. So again, we don't want a ceasefire agreement that isn't worth the piece of paper it's written on. We want something that's lasting, and most importantly, respected by Hamas.
Q Gordon, a prison was bombed, police who were keeping the peace in that region have been killed, hundreds of people have been killed in this onslaught. Why isn't the President urging restraint on behalf of Israel?
MR. JOHNDROE: I've seen various figures about the number of people in Gaza killed. It is not for me to speak to the facts of who has been killed or wounded in this. We have urged the Israelis to avoid civilian casualties. But I would also say, you know, let's be careful in assessing these numbers, and what the police force is or isn't -- whether the police force of Hamas-controlled Gaza is or isn't working on keeping the peace.
I'm not sure that that's something that any of us can say with any certitude. Hamas had its tentacles throughout Gaza, and was recruiting and training. And we see that manifested through these various rocket and mortar attacks.
And so let's be careful. We want Israel to avoid civilian casualties. But let's be careful about some of the numbers we're seeing coming out of Gaza.
But also, what about the three people I believe I saw reported today that were killed in Israel by rockets. I'm not going to compare numbers between the two locations. I'm just saying that this is a conflict with two sides, and both of -- both these sides I think know how to end this: Hamas stops firing rockets, and Israel will not see a need to protect its people from rocket attack.
Q There are reports out today that the Israeli cabinet is considering a 48-hour ceasefire truce to allow humanitarian aid in. Has the Bush administration been told that they are considering that, and what would be the U.S. position on that? Would you urge Israel to allow the humanitarian aid in?
MR. JOHNDROE: I would say that both Secretary Rice and National Security Advisor Steve Hadley have been in touch with Prime Minister Olmert and his staff. But beyond that, I'm not going to get into those discussions. As you said, the Israeli cabinet is supposed to meet tomorrow. Let's let the cabinet meet, and then go from there.
Q Would you be in favor, though, of a truce to allow --what is the humanitarian situation? What is the U.S. intelligence on the humanitarian situation? We've all seen the pictures. Would you be in favor of that?
MR. JOHNDROE: Well, as I've said, as President Bush told Prime Minister Fayyad and President Abbas, the United States is concerned about the humanitarian situation. That's why we released $85 million today, although this money has been in the pipeline as part of our 2009 commitment -- but just a reminder of the U.S. commitment to helping the people of Gaza.
The President is concerned about the citizens of Gaza, but not the Hamas terrorist leaders who are doing this to the people of Gaza. It's my understanding that dozens of truckloads have come in into Gaza in the last 24 hours to 48 hours to bring relief supplies, medical supplies and food. But we remain concerned about it. And we're going to keep on working with the U.N. agency and the ICRC to make sure that the innocent people of Gaza are able to get food and medical supplies.
Q But will that concern translate into you pushing Israel toward the 48-hour ceasefire?
MR. JOHNDROE: I'm not going to get into any private discussions, but our message to Israel has been the same that I've said here, our message to everyone, and that is that the only way this is going to stop is if Hamas stops firing rockets and everyone agrees to a sustainable ceasefire.
Q Given that Israel yesterday declared all out war on Hamas, would the administration object to the crippling of that organization?
MR. JOHNDROE: I think that a Hamas that is unable to rain terror down on the people of Israel is probably a Hamas that is better, even for the people of Gaza. If Hamas is not able to carry out terrorist activities, hopefully they would see the light and start to serve the people of Gaza better. Instead, they have -- they bring them nothing but continued poverty.
Q Did President Mubarak and the Palestinian leaders urge President Bush to talk to Israel and have Israel stop the air strikes? And if they did, what was President Bush's response?
MR. JOHNDROE: I'm not going to get into any more of the conversations than I've already read out. But you can know that our position, both privately -- our position in private is the same as our position in public, and that is we see that Hamas needs to stop the rocket attacks.
Q And is there any indication that anybody is any closer to a ceasefire at this point than they were on Saturday?
MR. JOHNDROE: I don't have any indication of that at this point. But that's the purpose of the diplomacy that Secretary Rice has been engaged in. She has been the President's point person on dealing with leaders in the region and around the world. I believe she's on a call now, or had this morning, with the representatives of the Quartet. And the purpose of all these conversations is to lead to a ceasefire, but one that is lasting, and as I've said many times before, one that Hamas actually respects.
Q Different topic?
MR. JOHNDROE: Different topic. Is anyone still on this? All right, Elaine, go ahead.
Q On the Vanity Fair article that's just out, does the White House have any response to some comments made by some former Bush aides, first on Hurricane Katrina -- Matthew Dowd said that Katrina was to him the tipping point that President Bush broke his bond with the public -- and once that bond was broken, he no longer have the capacity to talk to the American people. And then Dan Bartlett says, politically, it was the final nail in the coffin.
MR. JOHNDROE: I won't speak specifically to these comments except to say I think we, with regards to Katrina, as the President has stated many times, the response at first was not what was needed. But that is why he made repeated visits to the region to help with Gulf Coast recovery.
And so it's not really for me to analyze their comments. I think that there have been a lot of major events and a lot of tough decisions during this administration, and different people will make their assessments on them.
Q Larry Wilkerson also has some comments in that article, saying that as a new President, Bush was like Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, that he was a Sarah Palin-like President. Any response to that?
MR. JOHNDROE: No, I have no response to Wilkerson.
Q Tomorrow is the last day of the year. And it was a year that was good for repo men and federal prosecutors in Chicago, but very few other people. And I just wanted to ask from the White House perspective, can you just sort of assess what happened economically last year, and does the President feel a sense of personal responsibility for that?
MR. JOHNDROE: Well, I think you've heard the President say -- he said in his address to the nation what he saw as the root causes of the economic crisis we're in now, the recession that we're in now. And I know he certainly wishes this is not the case, after 52 months of job creation, he would rather have seen that continue, rather than for the United States to slide into recession. But he's been focused on what can we do to work to protect the financial markets, to unfreeze credit and get the economy moving again, help people out through extended unemployment insurance, so he has been focused on what to do to resolve the crisis. But obviously he would rather see the economy to continue growing. But we're working to get it back on the right footing.
Q The consumer confidence level hit an all-time low in December. Does the President have a message for consumers post-Christmas shopping here, or is he concerned about the unexpected drop?
MR. JOHNDROE: I'm not -- did someone call it unexpected? I mean, you know, we're in a --
Q It was larger than expected, I should say.
MR. JOHNDROE: Larger than expected. Look, we're in a recession. The President is committed to working with the Treasury Department and dealing with the crisis at hand to try and, as I said, unfreeze the credit market, get credit moving again, help people that are out of work, and help people find jobs. And so I don't think the numbers are surprising. And, you know, unfortunately I think these bad numbers will likely continue into the future. But the President is committed to trying to get the economy back on the right footing.
Q It appears that yesterday's target deadline to close the deal with Chrysler and GM was missed and the money was not sent. Can you tell us why, and when you expect that to happen?
MR. JOHNDROE: I would check with the Treasury Department about the financing on that. I understand it's in train, but they can give you specifics on it.
Q What is the President doing today, and when will you update us on his New Year's Eve plans?
MR. JOHNDROE: You know, the President met with his -- had his intelligence briefing and met with his advisors for -- I think it was over an hour or so, and then made his various phone calls. He's been working from the office and at home at the ranch. I expect he'll work on some trails at the ranch today. I think they've got some friends there, as well. And I will -- tomorrow morning I'll ask him what they're doing for New Year's Eve. I don't expect them to leave the ranch. I expect them to celebrate it on the ranch. And in the past, he's talked about getting up at sunrise to see the New Year that is coming in.
Q "Working on trails," does that mean clearing trails, is that the same thing?
MR. JOHNDROE: Clearing brush, working on trails.
Q Is he reading any books? I know Karl Rove recently wrote about the book-reading contest.
MR. JOHNDROE: Yes. He is. He just finished the McPherson book on Lincoln. But I don't know what he's reading right now.
Q He enjoys reading, obviously.
MR. JOHNDROE: He certainly enjoys reading, as you know, mainly histories and biographies; histories, not current affairs, which I saw someone, columnist write on today and is concerned about the President's reading list. But the President is well read, and I'll see if I can find out what he's reading right now.
Q Gordon, which advisors were on the SVTS today? Same as yesterday -- Cheney, Hadley, Rice?
MR. JOHNDROE: You know, the President has spoken by phone to Secretary Rice, but on the SVTS I believe it was the Vice President, Josh Bolten, and Steve Hadley.
Okay, thank you all.
END 11:57 A.M. CST