The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 17, 2003

Background Briefing by a Senior Administration Official on the President's Meeting with Prime Minister Koizumi
Akasaka Prince Hotel
Tokyo, Japan

10:03 P.M. (Local)

MR. McCORMACK: Good evening. I'm impressed by this robust turnout at 10:00 p.m. at night, after all that flying. We have a senior administration official here this evening who will talk about the President's visit with Prime Minister Koizumi this evening, and also talk a little bit about events tomorrow in the Philippines. So I will turn it over to our briefer now.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I will try not to knock over everybody's tape recorders here. I'm fully surrounded by whirring things. Now, since many of you happen to have left Washington within an hour or two of when I left Washington, I know you're all bright-eyed, enthusiastic and anxious for this first briefing on what's going to be a very long trip. Look at this enthusiasm. I love to see that.

This is actually a very good place for us to start. And of course, what this was, was a lay-over for the President to begin his trip in East Asia. Are we fighting over the words, "lay-over"?

Q We aren't.

Q We're not. (Laughter.)

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay, start over again, because I can push these all back and --

Q There was a senior administration official on the plane who contradicted what the National Security Advisor had said a few days earlier, that it was a lay-over.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, if I have a National Security Advisor saying it, then I'm pretty safe saying it. (Laughter.)

Q So the official on the plane was wrong then? (Laughter.)

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me put it this way -- (laughter) -- who was the official on the plane? (Laughter.)

Q Your boss.

Q Looked a lot like the National Security Advisor. (Laughter.)

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Ah. So wait a second. Don't you guys try to trick me here. Anyhow, let me explain the process then. Maybe I'll step back just a second and say, okay, we, of course, as you guys all know, back in May, President Arroyo invited President Bush out for a state visit to reciprocate her state visit. He accepted and said that he would stop on the way out to the APEC leaders meeting.

Now, those of you who have ever looked at a map and tried to figure out where the Philippines is in relationship to the West Coast of the United States, knows that there's no way comfortably to do that. So, call it what you want, this Tokyo stop was the way to make that stop possible. It's basically, oh, wait a sec, we can't get to the Philippines easily. There should be a stop in between. We have lots -- we always have lots to say to Prime Minister Koizumi, even if we're not having formal set of meetings with him, so why don't we stop there. And the Japanese graciously offered to host us for a meal. And that's basically what this stop was, a chance to touch base with Prime Minister Koizumi.

There was a conversation between the two leaders beforehand, about a half hour, and then we went on into the dinner. The two leaders, of course, stressed at great length the importance of the alliance. They both noted that the alliance is obviously performing its work as a force for stability. But not only in the region, as it was initially envisioned, but also more broadly. The evidence is all around us of that, and much of the rest of the conversation was basically talking about the evidence of the strength of the alliance.

On Iraq, for example, the President thanked Prime Minister Koizumi for the leadership that he showed in several areas. The first, of course, is the recent successful passing of the resolution in the Security Council, where the Japanese played a very helpful and active role, calling up people, urging them to be supportive to make this thing work. Then, of course, they have just announced a very large assistance package. This will not only show the commitment of the Japanese, but it also sort of serves as a remind to the rest of the world that there are important players that are willing to step up to the plate.

The Prime Minister put it in a very interesting and powerful way. He said, in effect, we're doing this not as a favor to the United States; we're doing it because it's in Japan's interest, it's in the region's interest, it's in the world's interest, and of course, it is in the interest of the U.S.-Japan alliance.

Another issue that -- where you see the health of the alliance is the question of the North Korean nuclear program. The two leaders, once again, reiterated the need for a peaceful resolution of the nuclear weapons ambitions of the North Korean leadership. Both agreed that the six-party process lays out a very helpful way to try and achieve this goal. They note that the five powers have all agreed that North Korea cannot reap the benefits of being engaged with the international community without abandoning its nuclear weapons program.

Other issues that the leaders talked about included the question of missile defense. Both leaders agreed that this is an area where our country should work together to strengthen our mutual defense. I'm sure all of you are interested in whether exchange rates came up. They did. The President once again reiterated his support for a strong dollar and for market-determined exchange rates.

The conversation also briefly touched on the question of Okinawa. And once again, the President said that our two bureaucracies should be trying to find mutually acceptable ways to resolve the issues there, again in the context of trying to keep the alliance as strong as possible.

Tomorrow, if we survive tonight, we will all be running off to the Philippines and we will get there. The agenda for the Philippines will basically be a state visit. We will have bilateral meetings with President Arroyo, an expanded meeting with her cabinet. The President will lay a wreath at the Martyrs Monument. And then he will give what we think is going to be an important address to the Philippine Congress where he will touch on such issues as our support for the Philippines democracy and for the fight of the Philippines against terrorism.

Anyhow, I will leave it at that and I will take questions for a while before I drop dead of exhaustion.

Q What did the Prime Minister say in response to President Bush's remarks on the dollar? Did he make any commitment?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The Prime Minister did not make any firm commitments. He did note the need to while he welcomes the President's commitment to a strong dollar and he acknowledges the formulation about how to agrees with the formulation about having the market determine exchange rates, he did caution that rapid fluctuations in exchange rates could be dangerous and upsetting to the markets.

Q On the same issue, on the dollar, I understand the formulation that says we're in favor of a strong dollar. And I understand the formulation that says we're in favor of the market setting the rate. I don't understand a formulation that says both, because if the market sets a rate that is not consistent with a strong dollar, you have an internally contradictory policy. And that appears to be what's going on. Can you explain this to us?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, okay. We have people trying to say -- reveal the depth of your ignorance about economics. (Laughter.) I would argue that if you think that the U.S. economy is strong and is growing and has good fundamentals, then you would think that over time, the markets would give you a strong dollar.

Q Well, that's fine. But that doesn't need to a be strong dollar policy. That can be the markets have to look at our conditions and that's where we are. So there's an interesting game being played here, but I'm not sure I'm clued in to what it is.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I will leave that to the economists to clue you in. My wife is an economist. Ask her when she gets back. (Laughter.)

Q Did they discuss troops going to --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, not specifically. And the way the President put is we warmly welcome what you have done; we welcome that which you can do in the future.

Q What's the President planning to do when it comes to dealing with Mr. Mahatir next week?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The topic hasn't really come up. And we wish him a happy retirement. (Laughter.)

Q The President have no view on the fact that Mr. Mahatir made those comments about the Jews? And the President has no approach to the way it should be handled?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Look, again, to put it more succinctly, we are in a transition phase on Malaysia, obviously. We all know that. You do have a leader who is saying extreme things. Yes, I'm sure we've condemned him back in Washington. All I'm saying is the President is not obsessed with him because he realizes that this is a transition phase and that -- you're right -- heck, if we were worried that we were going to face another six or seven years of this, we'd have to be really thinking about the overall relationship with Malaysia. But we certainly hope that we will see an improvement in tone.

Q Is he going to say anything to him --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Again, we don't have specific meetings set aside. There is no bilateral, there is no pull-aside. They'll see each other in larger meetings, so I don't know whether he's going to be saying anything specifically. And I'm not even sure whether he's going to have the specific opportunity to do so.

Q -- Japanese contact in trying to gather support for the U.N. resolution -- what exactly did they do?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister picked up the phone and reached out basically to a number of people. And we heard that not only from the Japanese, but from the people who are reached out to. I'm not going to go into details of names, but they did.

Q Leaders in this region?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Worldwide. Worldwide, not just in the region.

Q Has the President contacted any other foreign leaders today in terms of the U.N. resolution, by phone?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Again, I'm not supposed to be talking about that. He's trying to reach out. There's a question of timing, whether -- there were some people we're trying to reach out and I'm not going to go into any details.

Q The senior administration official who briefed on the plane said that the President is reaching out to the APEC nations for support in Iraq. Can you give us some kind of idea who is being contacted, what you're looking for from the individual countries?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, again, not to go into too much detail, you've seen what Japan has done. South Korea, we're talking with in various areas. South Korea, of course, already has a presence there. Philippines has a presence on the ground. Singapore, we're talking to. We don't see much there yet, but they are going to get a few people in. So it's various people. Australia, of course, has been there from the start. So, yes, APEC has actually been pulling quite a bit of the load.

Q Do you have any hope of trying to get something from an important Muslim nation like Indonesia, or is internal political situation there now a little too fragile to ask them to step up to the plate?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's hard to read. We're not going to push them on it. It's one of those places where if they think they can do it, we'd welcome it. You've actually seen sort of conflicting signals out of Indonesia. At times, you've had some government official say that if there is an appropriate U.N. cover, they would consider it. And now it seems like we do have an appropriate U.N. cover.

Q You mentioned -- on Japan troops for Iraq, you mentioned that the President said that he warmly welcomed what they can do in the future. Did the Prime Minister mention anything about a timetable, about when he might try to push to get some boots on the ground in Iraq, particularly with the upcoming election in November and everything?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: He didn't mention a timetable and he didn't mention specifically going after troops. But he did say, look, I've told you in the past that I will do whatever I can to help you. I've just recently seen the results of my most recent efforts. Trust me, I will be working on other issues in the future. Whether that's a specific reference to the Madrid conference coming up or something beyond that, we didn't really get into.

Q So he didn't actually --

Q Did the President talk with Mr. Koizumi about the -- with North Korea -- what kind of further detail did the two leaders discuss?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We didn't get into details of security assurances.

Q The Prime Minister actually didn't bring up the troop dispatch, just kind of referred to it alluded to it vaguely?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: He talked about their efforts to help in Iraq. And it was mostly to be fair, it was mostly about the reconstruction of Iraq. So, no, he didn't specifically say I'm going to get you boots on the ground, or anything like that.

Q What incentives did the President offer President Megawati to encourage her to crack down on terrorism?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, actually, if you look at what they've done since Bali, you could make a convincing argument that they are trying to crack down. So what we're going to look at is continuing to work with them in the counter-terrorism field. And, again, we are providing considerable assistance, both technical and training and equipment to the Indonesian police. Congress, I think, has voted something like $8 million to help out on that.

So we're going to continue to work with them on it and, if we see them lagging, yes, we'll push. But actually right now the cooperation against terrorism is pretty good.

Q Any indication that they would sort of build on what is being done in the Philippines, a similar kind of thing there?


Q Military assistance, military training, military aid, sending U.S. troops over there.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Actually, no, there is no discussion about sending U.S. troops in. There is talk about working with them through an IMET program to increase the professionalism of their military. And we're actually -- we have some money for that. We're starting to do that.

Q Excuse me, there's been talk that Japan will contribute in Madrid at the conference on Iraq, another $3.5 billion on top of the $1.5 billion. Can you confirm that? Did it come up tonight? For a total of $5 billion.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's -- again, I leave that for the government of Japan to determine. If they went that way, we'd be very pleased, of course. And anything they can do, as the President said, we'd greatly appreciate. But, no, that's for Japan.

Q Coming back to the dollar for just a moment, it sounds a little bit like the leaders were reiterating existing points of view. They talked past each other. Can you just say whether the President was satisfied with that discussion? Was that what he was looking for?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I would -- I guess I'll disagree with your original hypothesis. There are times -- you're talking to a guy with lots of experience in China where we come with talking points and we sort of give them to each other, and nobody listens. This was give-and-take. You know, okay, look, Prime Minister Koizumi, here's what we believe in. The President, well, I can -- the Prime Minister to the President, well, I can understand and welcome your support for a strong dollar, and in theory understand why you're talking about market-determined rates. But we do have concerns about rapid fluctuations in the exchange rates. So it's an exchange. Is it the millennium? Maybe not, but it's not a meaningless talking past each other, either.

Q Can you give us your assessment of the progress, or lack of progress in the Philippines against the Muslim insurgency and flesh out a little bit what the President is going to say about that?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, there's a number of groups engaged in terrorism in the Philippines. The results have varied. We're looking at trying to support the Philippines and coming to an agreement, a negotiated settlement with the largest Muslim group in the island, the MLIF. That's going okay. It's shaky. The Malaysians are playing a role in it. We've got a U.S. nongovernment -- nongovernmental organization that's trying to help. Congress has set aside money if they're able to reach an agreement, and we're going to use that money to sort of turn the fighters into farmers, as we've done with another group down there called the MNLF. So that one, a little bit of progress.

On the other hand, some of the people in that group down there have had ties with the JI, the transnational group, which is very worrisome. This group, the ASG, the ones who kidnap people and behead them, they're pretty much on the run. They're still there. They still have a presence in the far south. But they're certainly not the force that they were 10, 12 months ago.

And throughout the country, you have the remnants of the old communist insurgency, the MPA. It comes and goes. It's there still. And so the -- basically, the Philippine government has several fronts to fight the terrorist problem. They make -- they have setbacks, they have successes. We will not shed a tear for the death of Mr. al-Ghozin. That was, from our perspective, a positive development. And we will continue to support him.

You had another question -- what was the second part of that?

Q Well, what was -- can you flesh out a little bit what the President is going to have to say about those fronts that the Philippines are fighting?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, what the President is going to say is basically, what can we do to help? The Philippines are in -- as you saw with the mutiny, they're in sort of a dicey situation right now. And I think President Arroyo wants to try and find a way to make the military more effective, to reform it into an effective fighting force. And we're going to see where we can help in that process. And I think that's going to be part of what the President wants to talk to her about.

Q Just before you go, can I just follow on Terry's point? We talk about the terrorist groups operating in the Philippines, He said that Abu Sayyaf is pretty much on the run. Would you say that Jamaat-e-Islamic is the growing, the bigger problem there -- who is the biggest problem in the Philippines now in terms of terrorism?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Tough question. It's apples and oranges. I think the Philippine government worries as much about the MPA as anybody else, just because they're all over the country. And they are a constant drain on their resource just because they are -- they're not a localized threat. They're almost a nationwide threat. So I think they believe that the MPA is their biggest threat.

JI -- what you're seeing is a very worrisome development, which is, in effect, the regionalization, or globalization of terror organizations moving in, trying to set up relationships with indigenous organizations -- in this case the MILF -- to do nasty things.

Q There were stories from Manila earlier this week saying that the Philippine Defense Minister said that President Arroyo was going to press President Bush to immediately deliver the promised military hardware, I guess, $30 million in training and hardware. They said they especially need helicopters. What is your posture about that?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We're working with Philippines on -- there was actually a commitment on our part to deliver helicopters. And these are basically refurbished old helicopters from our stockpiles. We have identified the 20 helicopters. We're not trying to come up with the money to refurbish them because it costs a lot of money. It's almost a million bucks a head. There are several pots that we're looking at. I'll be honest with you, we haven't found funding yet. I'm sure we will by the end of the next fiscal year, but we're not there yet.

We have a very good, healthy exchange with the Phils on all these mil/mil issues. They remind us if we're sort of falling behind on stuff, and we expect them to and we push them on in areas where we think they can be making a better effort. And there's nothing wrong with that.

Thank you.

END 10:22 P.M. (Local)

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