For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
January 2, 2009
Press Briefing by Deputy Press Secretary Gordon Johndroe
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
10:05 A.M. EST
MR. JOHNDROE: Good morning, good to see you all back here. President and Mrs. Bush are pleased to be back in Washington.
Next week, on Monday morning, the President will meet with the first Vice President of the Government of National Unity of Sudan and the President of the Government of Southern Sudan. Later that evening, the President and Mrs. Bush will host a dinner for the Joint Chiefs and combatant commanders. That's here at the White House. That's something they've done every year; this will be their last one.
On Tuesday morning, the President will attend and make remarks at a Military Appreciation Parade at Fort Myer. That is something that the military does for outgoing Commanders-in-Chief. I know the President is looking forward to attending that and speaking there and thanking our troops.
Later that day on Tuesday, the President and Mrs. Bush will host a lunch for the Secretary General of the United Nations and Mrs. Ban here at the White House.
And on Wednesday, President Bush will host a lunch with former President Jimmy Carter, former President George H.W. Bush, former President Bill Clinton, and President-Elect Obama. While the lunch, which will be in the President's private dining room off the Oval, will be closed press, there will be a photo opportunity in the Rose Garden preceding the lunch.
And on Thursday, the President and Mrs. Bush will host a reception for former White House staff here at the White House.
And with that, I will take your questions.
Q A couple questions on Gaza. How concerned is the administration about a possible Israeli ground invasion into the Hamas-controlled territory? And is the administration doing anything to try to prevent that?
MR. JOHNDROE: You know, we've been in regular contact with the Israelis -- President Bush spoke to Prime Minister Olmert. Secretary Rice, as she just said, has been in regular contact with her counterparts, as well as Prime Minister Olmert. What we have talked to the Israelis about is the need to be mindful that any of the actions that they're taking in Gaza avoid unnecessary civilian casualties, and also to help continue with the flow of humanitarian goods.
So I think any steps they are taking, whether it's from the air, or on the ground, or anything of that nature, are part and parcel of the same operation -- an operation that Israel has decided to undertake because they were no longer willing to put up with the barrage of rockets that Hamas has been raining down on them for the last few days since they refused to renew the cease-fire. I mean, they continued to fire rockets even while there was the cease-fire, the state of calm up until December the 19th. But then they substantially increased that last week. And Israel had to take action, and you're seeing that now.
Q Would the United States consider that kind of operation, ground operation, justifiable as Israel defending itself?
MR. JOHNDROE: You know, I don't want to speak to an operation that has not taken place -- that may or may not -- taken place. Those will be decisions made by the Israelis. Any actions they take in this overall operation that they are involved in right now need to avoid civilian casualties, and we also need to continue the flow of humanitarian goods into Gaza.
Q I'm off this subject, if you want to stick --
MR. JOHNDROE: Okay, well, let's stick with this.
Q A couple questions. One, is there any progress to report, incremental or otherwise, of reaching a cease-fire at this stage?
MR. JOHNDROE: Well, we're not seeing Hamas stop its rocket attacks. And that's something that we're going to need to see them do. And I know that we've been engaged in a lot of diplomacy. I know that Foreign Minister Livni is traveling in Europe right now, and they've signaled that this is not an operation that they're going to stop right now because they have to protect their people. Israel has a right to defend itself from these rocket attacks.
And so we'll see. We want a cease-fire as soon as possible, but we want one that is durable and lasting and won't be broken right away again by Hamas, one -- a cease-fire that Hamas respects.
Q Secondly, has the U.S. fielded any requests from Israel for additional arms or munitions?
MR. JOHNDROE: None that I'm aware of.
Q Gordon, recently Foreign Minister Livni told the French Foreign Minister Kouchner that there is no humanitarian crisis. Is that a characterization that the administration agrees with?
MR. JOHNDROE: Well, we want to make sure that there isn't a humanitarian crisis. Israel has allowed -- I think yesterday's count was 93; before that there were dozens of truckloads of humanitarian supplies that entered into Gaza. We want to make sure that flow continues. And we want to make sure that that, the food and medical supplies, reach the people of Gaza.
The Israelis are reporting that Hamas hoards the humanitarian supplies and doesn't allow them to reach the people of Gaza, to create the idea of a humanitarian crisis. I can't speak to the exact situation on the ground. I can't speak to their allegation. I can't speak to Hamas's allegation that humanitarian supplies are not flowing in fast enough. We've seen humanitarian supplies flow into Gaza. We want to see them continue to flow into Gaza.
Q But, Gordon, on that point, the official evidence coming from Gaza would indicate that there is already a crisis in terms of hospital treatment, doctors, civilian casualties. So how can you say there is not a humanitarian crisis?
MR. JOHNDROE: No, I -- Gaza has been under the rule of Hamas now for 18 months or so. And Hamas has done nothing particularly good for its own people. That is why the United States has pledged nearly $200 million over the last year and a half for humanitarian assistance in to the people of the Palestinian Territories. The United States is the largest donor through the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, as well as the ICRC.
We are very concerned about the people of Gaza. We are concerned about the humanitarian situation on the ground there now. I also know that Israel is permitting humanitarian shipments to go into Gaza. I also know that Israel alleges that Hamas is hoarding the humanitarian shipments, the food and medical supplies, to make the humanitarian situation worse and to blame the Israelis. I cannot speak to the specific facts on the ground. There is obviously a problem with the ability of the citizens of Gaza to be able to access everything as quickly and easily as they want, whether it's medical supplies or food. And we want to make sure that they do have access to it.
Q Gordon, so if we don't talk to Hamas, who are we talking to, to try and arrange a cease-fire, aside from the Israelis?
MR. JOHNDROE: Well, President Bush spoke to President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad; he also spoke to President Mubarak of Egypt; he spoke to King Abdullah of Jordan, as well as King Abdallah of Saudi Arabia. So we're speaking to a number of people who do have some ability to influence Hamas. It's a difficult situation. I mean, there's different factions in Hamas. Egypt brokered the cease-fire that ended on December the 19th, and Hamas seems unwilling at this point to re-enter into another cease-fire, Egyptian-brokered or not.
So, anyway, we remain in touch with leaders in the region who have some -- I don't know whether it's influence or not, but at least the ability to talk to Hamas, and hopefully get them to see that serving as a terrorist organization does nothing for their own people or their own cause.
Q Gordon, has the administration said whether it feels the Israeli response is proportionate or disproportionate to the rocket attacks by Hamas?
MR. JOHNDROE: No, I don't think I'd address that issue this week, but I think I have been clear that Israel took this action because Hamas is firing hundreds and hundreds of rockets into southern Israel, rockets that are going farther and farther, it appears, every day, killing innocent Israelis. Israelis are having to spend much of their time in bomb shelters now. So clearly, what Israel is trying to do is deal with Hamas in a way that gets them to stop firing rockets on their people, on the Israeli people.
Q Gordon, can you explain to us why Secretary Rice doesn't think it's necessary to go to the region?
MR. JOHNDROE: She's been making, as she said and as we've said, a number of phone calls constantly. We were talking about, just this morning before she went out, that over the New Year's time period it wasn't -- it really wasn't a holiday; it was a working week for her and for many people, as you can imagine. So she's been on the phones constantly since last Friday and Saturday, for about a week now. And so there's no -- don't see a particular need for her to travel to the region to deal with this when she can do this work from here.
Q Should we see a sign there that there is very little that the administration can do, in terms of brokering a truce?
MR. JOHNDROE: No, I just think it's just as easy for her to keep on working the phones from here in Washington, rather than being in the region right now.
Q I just want to be clear. That sounded to me like a yes to Mark's question about proportionality.
MR. JOHNDROE: No, it was -- I can't remember the specifics there, but --
Q So there's no -- the administration is not going to say one way or the other?
MR. JOHNDROE: I'm not going to take a position on the proportionality because I'm not even sure if I could define what that is. Israel is taking action to stop the rocket fire into Israel, and they have a right to defend themselves.
Okay, another subject. Bill.
Q In spite of the fact that the President-elect has said there's only one President at a time, he's about to take up residence across the street and immediately go to Capitol Hill and start working on a stimulus package, as of Monday. How does the President feel about having a parallel administration across the street?
MR. JOHNDROE: A parallel administration. Well, as this last week has shown, we're still pretty busy around here. I think the President understands. He's had very good conversations with President-Elect Obama, several over the last few weeks. President Bush uniquely understands the role and the job that President-Elect Obama is about to take in I think 18 days, and understands that he needs to put a team together and work on -- for the future of the United States. And President Bush's instructions to us have been to assist the transition team, and make sure that we provide them with the information and access they need so they can start right away on January the 20th.
Q He's going to be right across the square there. They could wave to each other probably from the second floor.
MR. JOHNDROE: The great thing is they won't have to wave to each other because President-Elect Obama will be here with all the other -- with the former Presidents on Wednesday. So they will not only have a chance to wave to each other, but have a chance to have a nice conversation and a good meal. I think that will be a very interesting and historic lunch.
Q Do you know when the last time the living ex-Presidents gathered at the White House was?
MR. JOHNDROE: At the White House I'm not sure. I think at the funeral of President Ford would have been the most recent time they all gathered together. But I'm not sure if they were ever here at the White House. But we'll check on that.
Q What time is the lunch?
MR. JOHNDROE: Noon.
Q Can you maybe elaborate on -- since the crisis in Gaza, there doesn't seem to be an end in sight -- the extent to which the White House is briefing and keeping the transition team and the President-elect up to date? Is Secretary Rice talking to him and his team daily, or how does that work?
MR. JOHNDROE: I'm not sure -- well, one, I know Secretary Rice has spoken to the President-elect at least once in the last week. The President-elect receives the same intelligence briefings that President Bush receives. So he is familiar with the intelligence and what we know about what's taking place there in Israel and Gaza. But we're staying in close contact. I can't speak to any other staff discussions, but we're providing them the information that they are seeking.
Q The same intelligence briefings?
MR. JOHNDROE: Yes. President Bush authorized the presidential daily brief to be provided to the President-elect shortly after his election.
Q Sorry, if I can go back. You just said providing information they are seeking. So you all are receiving requests for information from the Obama --
MR. JOHNDROE: I don't have any specific request. I think if we hadn't contacted them, they probably would have sought out information. But it's a very mutual and amicable process of providing information.
Q Thank you. What is President Bush's expected destination for the North Korea nuclear issue?
MR. JOHNDROE: President Bush's expected destination on the North Korean nuclear issue. Well, we'd like to see North Korea verifiably denuclearize. There are steps outlined in agreements that all six parties agreed to, and we expect North Korea to live up to its obligations. The whole six-party process is based on action for action, and if the North Koreans would take steps to allow a good verification protocol to take place, then the United States and China, Russia, Japan and South Korea would be prepared to fulfill their obligations, their actions in the agreement.
Q And you still expect that the six parties working destination for their --
MR. JOHNDROE: We think the six party process has worked well. Five parties are on the same page; one party, the North Koreans, are being a little difficult lately and not showing a willingness to live up to their commitments, to their agreements to the other five parties. And so we want to see North Korea get back on the right track.
Q A question on Israel one more time. You said last week that Olmert gave the assurance that they were trying to minimize civilian casualties. Isn't that a given anyway, that that would be -- they would be attempting to minimize civilian casualties in a conflict like this? I mean, is the White House making other requests or urging Israel to do anything else?
MR. JOHNDROE: I said that on Wednesday, last week, only to make the point the United States is concerned about civilian casualties and the Israeli Prime Minister assured the President they were doing what they could to avoid civilian casualties. Very difficult situation when Hamas really embeds itself among the civilian population there.
Q One more? Gordon, do you know what the status is of the pardon that was revoked last month? Is it dead for good?
MR. JOHNDROE: As far as I know. You mean withdrawn?
MR. JOHNDROE: I don't know what the legal or technical term is, but as far as I know, yes.
Thank you all.
END 10:20 A.M. EST