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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
December 29, 2003

Press Gaggle by Trent Duffy
Crawford Middle School
Crawford, Texas

1:53 P.M. CST

MR. DUFFY: Good afternoon. The President had his regular morning briefings today, he's now working at the ranch. I don't have any further updates on his schedule.

I can tell you that the administration continues to monitor the BSE situation. The President has been receiving regular updates on the situation, as necessary, and he did speak with Secretary Veneman yesterday. And as you know, the Department just concluded a briefing on BSE.

Special Presidential Envoy Baker had very productive meetings with Chinese President Hu and Premier Wen to continue to discuss the importance of removing the crushing burden of foreign debt on the Iraqi people, and he also had productive meetings with Japan, as well. He looks forward to returning to the United States on the 30th.

And with that, I will be happy to answer questions.

Q How does he update the President? Does he see the President, personally, here in Texas, when he returns?

MR. DUFFY: I don't have anything further to say about his schedule. We'll update that as necessary. There are currently no plans for that.

Q -- his schedule, how does he personally update the President? He's the President's Personal Envoy.

MR. DUFFY: They talk on the phone regularly and I know when he returned from his first sets of meetings with European leaders he actually did go to the White House. If there is news to update you there, we will get that to you.

Q Do you anticipate a phone update on this Asia trip?

MR. DUFFY: I'll check on the specific manner in which the Envoy will brief the President, but that's all I have at this point.

Q Trent, has there been an update with North Korea on the six-party talks? What state of play are we at this morning?

MR. DUFFY: I do, if I brought it with me. Let me get that for you, Suzanne, I don't have it with me.

Q Trent, Robert Novak writes in his column today that requests for proposals for the reconstruction of the $18.6 billion in contacts for reconstruction of Iraq have been delayed, that they were supposed to be going out by February 1st. And he quotes Pentagon sources and others as saying that that's been delayed now. Can you confirm that there has been a delay in the reconstruction money for Iraq? And, if so, what's the holdup?

MR. DUFFY: No, I cannot. I would refer those questions to the Pentagon, which is overseeing all the contracting activity in the reconstruction of Iraq.

Q But you're not aware of any holdups?

MR. DUFFY: I'm not, personally, but I can check further.

Q Does the United States share Britain's concerns about a possible terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia pending?

MR. DUFFY: I'm sorry?

Q Does the United States share Britain's concern about a possible terrorist attack looming in Saudi Arabia?

MR. DUFFY: I don't have any specific updates, but the United States is, as you know, on an alerted status of orange, and the United States remains concerned about terrorist activity here and across the globe and is doing everything it can to protect the American people and to work with our coalition partners in the war against terror.

Q Thanks, Trent. I guess Secretary Ridge is about to announce a new set of directives for international air carriers, ordering them to have armed air marshals on board those flights. Is that a matter that the President was consulted on, did he sign off on it, and is it in any way motivated by any frustration with how the French responded to concerns about those flights being commandeered?

MR. DUFFY: I'm going to have to check on the specifics on the President's involvement in that. As to the motivation, I'll have to check on that, as well.

Q Two quick things. First of all, on the same issue, can you tell us how or find out for us how it is that we can ask foreign carriers to always put air marshals on every flight and, yet, not have the same rule for domestic carriers?

Secondly, on a different topic, can you just tell us who's out at the ranch with the President?

MR. DUFFY: The senior staff, typically, who travels with the President; I'll see what we do, as far as names. I mean, Joe Hagin is with him, Steve Hadley is with him.

Q Family?

MR. DUFFY: Family? Okay, I'll have to get that. Since there are some questions about homeland security, you all know that Secretary Ridge is having a briefing at 3:30 p.m., so I assume he will answer all these questions in greater detail.

Q Trent, I missed your opening announcements. Did you say whether the President has been updated on mad cow?

MR. DUFFY: I did. He has been receiving regular updates on the situation as necessary. He did speak with Secretary Veneman yesterday. And, as you know, Agriculture just concluded a briefing.

Q Is it accurate that the President is going to endorse new steps or new regulations by USDA to safeguard the meat supply?

MR. DUFFY: Well, the efforts to control and prevent BSE exposure is an ongoing priority for the federal government, it has been for many, many years -- and we have very strong safeguards in place, as evidenced by the fact that we've been able to deal with this current situation. But since the discovery of BSE in Canada in May, the administration has looked at all the options available to the federal government to further strengthen these safeguards so that we can continue to protect public health and the safety of the food supply.

Q Does that mean these steps are in the pipeline?

MR. DUFFY: It's safe to say the administration is looking at options to further strengthen the safeguards for BSE.

Q Does the administration have a comment about Japan refusing to ease the ban on beef imports because of a lack of tighter regulations that they're asking for? And what about the 10 percent drop in the value of cattle futures since the announcement?

MR. DUFFY: I'd refer you to the Agriculture Department for answers to those questions.

Q Do you not have even a comment on the 10 percent --

MR. DUFFY: I'll see what I can get, Roger. I don't know if there's going to be anything from us on that.

Q How concerned is the President about the economic fallout from mad cow?

MR. DUFFY: Well, the economy is one of the President's top domestic priorities. So from the extent that anything would impact our economy, the President is concerned. But the fact is, is that we need to do the appropriate things to deal with the situation so that our longer-term and shorter-term economy is not harmed.

But the President is always concerned about the economy, about job creation, about making sure that the recovery that's taking place really takes root and sustains itself into the future. So it's a point of concern for any time something might impact the economy.

Q Has the President spoken to Musharraf since these two assassination attempts?

MR. DUFFY: I don't have anything to update you on phone calls with foreign leaders at this point.

Q Is that a "no"?

MR. DUFFY: I don't have any update from what's been said previously. I don't know what the latest was on that. I'll check.

Q If you could check, that would be great.

MR. DUFFY: I'll be happy to check, sure.

Q Trent, should we expect the President to make a traditional cheese burger stop on New Year's Eve at the Coffee Station, as he has in years past?

MR. DUFFY: I have no updates to the President's schedule. But borrowing a line from past gaggles, if we have something to announce, we'll announce it. (Laughter.) I've been waiting all my whole career to say that. (Laughter.)

Q Any updates to his diet?

Q On the Iran aid. Despite the fact that this is a calamity, a catastrophe, is there any opportunity here to increase dialogue with Iran as a result of the aid and the contacts with Iranian officials?

MR. DUFFY: Well, I think the United States stands ready to help the Iranian people with humanitarian assistance as they deal with this terrible tragedy and suffering. The United States' primary focus right now is assisting the Iranian people with what they need. And according to their officials, the things they need most are medicines, medical care, shelter and blankets. And so our assistance is targeted towards those four areas.

As far as specific questions, as to the status of USAID, State Department, or other areas where you can look, as far as what we're doing on that score.

Q Anybody coming out to the ranch you expect this week? And what's he doing out there, other than chopping cedar? And is he working on the State of the Union?

MR. DUFFY: Well, I think it's safe to assume that since the State of the Union is fast approaching, he's been thinking about it and preparing. It is approaching. I don't know -- we'll update you on any specific activities that he's doing at the ranch at this point, but mostly he's just enjoying some time with his family -- and working out there. I mean, he had his regular briefings today. I was out there.

Q Anything specific that he's doing that you can tell us? Fishing -- (laughter) -- any sort of --

MR. DUFFY: He is working at the ranch, doing the typical cedar clearing and cutting, I believe, today. I saw him toss a few horseshoes to Barney.

Q At Barney? (Laughter.)

MR. DUFFY: Barney is a pretty good horseshoe player.

Suzanne, I did get a North Korea update. The U.S. stands ready to resume the six-party talks at an early date, and without preconditions. And we are working with others to do so. Our goal in the talks is the complete, verifiable and irreversible elimination of North Korea's nuclear programs.

Anything else?

Q You all have gone to great pains to sort of play down what you hope to get out of Iran. This is a strictly humanitarian mission at this point. But is the administration at all encouraged by the fact you now have the U.S. military warplane that landed supplies there yesterday, the first time in 20 years you've had such a U.S. presence in that country? Is there a hope on the administration's part that this could lead to a greater level of cooperation with the Iranians?

MR. DUFFY: The U.S. policy on Iran remains the same. The President issued a statement some months ago that I can get for you, but that has not changed in the least. But, again, we do stand ready to help them with humanitarian assistance.

Q Is there hope that this disaster may provide an opportunity for greater cooperation?

MR. DUFFY: I think that would fall into the speculation category, of which I will not participate.

Thank you.

END 2:05 P.M. CST

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