For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
March 22, 2004
Press Briefing Scott McClellan
The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:24 P.M. EST
MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon. I have a few phone calls to read out from the President's morning. The President called Sudan President Bashir this morning. He also called Dr. John Garang, Chairman of the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement. The President indicated to both President Bashir and Dr. Garang that there were moments in history when leaders must rise to make a big difference for their countries. This is that moment for Sudan. Now is the time for Sudan to show the world that they can reconcile their differences, make peace, and improve the lives of all the Sudanese. He told both parties to work with a sense of urgency to finalize an agreement. The President urged President Bashir to accept the United States' proposal offered by his envoy, John Danforth, on the disputed area as the basis for working out remaining issues and completing a framework agreement in the coming days.
The President offered reassurance that Sudan's relationship with the United States will change once a peace is completed. The United States wants a new relationship with Sudan. The President expressed concern about the humanitarian crisis in the western province and asked President Bashir to rein in militia and open up humanitarian access in the region. The President thanked Dr. Garang for accepting the United States' proposal offered by his envoy, John Danforth, on the disputed area, and urged that it be used as the basis for working out remaining issues and completing a framework agreement in the coming days.
The President offered assurances that the United States will remain engaged after a peace is reached to ensure implementation, including United States support for international monitors and reconstruction of the south.
Also this morning, the President called the NATO Secretary General. The President thanked the Secretary General for his strong stand against terrorism at NATO following the Madrid bombings. The Secretary General said that the need to stand up against terrorism is something where there's a strong consensus at NATO and he reiterated his commitment to ensure NATO does so. The President thanked the Secretary General for acting so quickly on Kosovo and traveling there tomorrow. And the President reiterated continuing United States commitment to peace in Kosovo.
The Secretary General welcomed this. The Secretary General also noted that most NATO allies with troops in Iraq have now committed to keep them there through July 1st, and that with the transfer of authority and likely United Nations resolution and role, they are prepared to stay longer.
The President also called Prime Minister Berlusconi today to thank him for his strong statement against terrorism in the wake of the Madrid bombings. The President also thanked him for extending troop commitment in Iraq and sending additional forces to Kosovo. Prime Minister Berlusconi stressed his determination to fight terrorism and said he wants the European Union summit this week to issue a strong statement against terrorism.
And with that, I will be glad to take your questions. Steve.
Q With Israel's killing of Sheik Yassin, do you see that as -- do you agree with Israel that this was an act of self-defense? And do you support Israel's policy of targeted assassinations?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, our policy on the last part of your question there remains the same. It is unchanged. In terms of the first part of your question, we always have said Israel has the right to defend herself. We also always have said that all parties need to keep in mind the consequences of their actions. I would point out that Hamas is a terrorist organization. Shiek Yassin was personally involved in terrorism. It is important, as we have emphasized time and time again, for the Palestinian Authority to take action to dismantle terrorist organizations. It is also important during this time period that all parties should exercise restraint and do everything possible to avoid any further actions that make it more difficult to restore calm in the region. We want all parties to get back, focused on the President's two-state vision, so that all people in the region, Palestinians and Israelis alike, can realize a better tomorrow.
Q What does this do -- from your point of view, what does this do to the peace process? Is it a setback?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, it's always important to keep in mind that there are possibilities for moving forward. I mentioned one important aspect, and that is that the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian Prime Minister and cabinet act to crack down on terrorism. That is a foundation for moving forward on the two-state vision. You also have some ideas that have been presented by Prime Minister Sharon. We've been in discussion with the government of Israel about those ideas. Those certainly have the potential to help move forward on peace in the region.
Q What about the Israeli proposal to withdraw from Gaza? Do you see that as still a possibility?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that's something that we have been in discussion with the government of Israel on. We continue to be engaged in an ongoing dialogue on that matter. He certainly has offered some positive and interesting ideas. They certainly have the potential to be historic. We're continuing to discuss those ideas with the Prime Minister and the government of Israel.
Q Do you have any words for countries or groups who maintain that nothing can be settled in the rest of the Arab world until the Israeli-Palestinian issue is settled? Are they using that as a stalling tactic?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there's the greater Middle East and there's the Israeli-Palestinian situation, as well. Certainly we are moving forward in Iraq on advancing freedom and democracy in a very volatile region. And that's an important effort that will help bring about stability in the region. But we also have remained very engaged, for quite some time, on the Middle East peace process. The President has been strongly committed to working with the parties to move forward on the two-state vision. There are always difficulties in this process. But we continue to call on all parties to focus on moving forward on the peace process.
Q Do they use it as a stalling tactic?
MR. McCLELLAN: Does who?
Q The rest of the Arab world and the Palestinians?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, all parties have responsibility. We've made that very clear, and we've called on all parties to help move that process forward and move forward on the President's two-state vision.
Q Israel's Foreign Minister, after his meeting with Cheney, said this morning at the White House that this is a message to Hamas leaders that they don't have immunity anymore. Do you think a targeted assassination is the correct way to deliver that message --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that we've expressed our view on that. Our policy remains the same, as I said in response to Steve's question about that. Where our focus is, is on working with the parties in the region -- all parties, Palestinians, Israelis, as well as Arab countries -- to move forward on the two-state vision that the President outlined. We continue to believe that the road map is the best way forward to get to that two-state vision. And we call on all parties during this time period to exercise restraint, to help bring about calm in the region, so that we can get back to moving forward on that two-state vision.
Q Does the White House condemn the attack?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that, again, what we have said is that Israel has a right to defend herself, but all parties, including Israel, needs to keep in mind the consequences of their actions. Again, Hamas is a terrorist organization. Sheik Yassin is someone who was personally involved in terrorism. That's very well-documented.
Q But if I could just try and spell it out here, the administration's policy remains unchanged concerning targeted assassinations. The United States government opposes that. This was a targeted assassination. So this was wrong in the view of the United States government?
MR. McCLELLAN: Terry, again, during this time period, we want to continue to urge all parties to show restraint. That's where our focus is, so that we can get back to moving forward on the peace process. Again, we've made it very clear this is not something we had advance warning about.
Q But I'm just wondering, is there some kind of exception to the policy of opposing targeted assassinations for terrorist leaders? Or is that --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, keep in mind what I said about Hamas -- Hamas is a well-known terrorist organization. They have carried out atrocious attacks on innocent men, women and children. That's very well-known. And we need to keep in mind the importance of trying to get everybody focused back on working together on the peace process. And that's where our focus is, and that's where it will remain.
Q While the United States government and others had identified Sheik Yassin as a terrorist, obviously, many people in the Palestinian Territories saw him as a patriot and a leader from their point of view, and so his killing changes the security situation there somewhat. Given that, and given that Israel had tried to kill him in the past, had the administration ever communicated to Israel anything about Sheik Yassin? We know that the President has asked that Yasser Arafat not be killed. Was there any kind of message like that concerning Sheik Yassin?
MR. McCLELLAN: What I can tell you is that we had no knowledge that they were going to carry out this effort that they did over the weekend. And I think we've made that very clear. Dr. Rice made it clear earlier on the shows, as well. But she also emphasized that there's always the possibility of a better day in the Middle East. And certainly, Israel has offered some interesting ideas in that respect. And so that's where our focus remains, so that we can get all parties moving back on the peace process.
Q Scott, a question about the Richard Clarke book. Why shouldn't his account of the war on terror in this administration and past administration's be believed?
MR. McCLELLAN: David, I think one, if you -- you can only look to some of the Senate Democratic leaders who were on some of the Sunday shows yesterday -- Senator Lieberman, Senator Biden -- and they certainly discounted some of his comments about Iraq. They said that -- and Senator Lieberman, I believe, said something to the effect that there was no basis in fact for that. I think that his assertions that there was something -- or his assertion that there was something we could have done to prevent the September 11th attacks from happening is deeply irresponsible, it's offensive, and it's flat-out false.
This administration made going after al Qaeda a top priority from very early on. It was something that was discussed during the transition. And very early on in this administration, Dr. Rice asked for -- requested from Dick Clarke that some of his ideas be presented. And I would remind you that the very first major policy directive of this administration was to develop a comprehensive strategy to eliminate al Qaeda -- not role it back, as some had previously called for, but to eliminate al Qaeda.
Q What would motivate him to engage in, as you say, offensive behavior -- what you call offensive, his charges here?
MR. McCLELLAN: It appears from what I've seen that he's been more focused on the process than the substance. It appears to be more about Dick Clarke than about the substance. For the President, it's more about the actions that we are taking to protect the American people. Mr. Clarke has been out there talking about what title he had; he's been out there talking about whether or not he was participating in certain meetings. So it appears to be more about the process than the actual actions we have taken.
Q That seems a little simple, doesn't it, Scott? I mean, the process matters when you work in the White House and have to get the attention of superiors who ultimately have the President's ear to make a decision. So isn't that a little disingenuous to dismiss it as a process complaint?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, wait a second here. This is a gentleman that left the administration one-and-a-half years ago. Certainly let's go to the facts. These threats did not happen overnight. These threats have been building for quite some time. Go back to the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center. Go back to the 1998 attacks on United States embassies. Go back to the 2000 attack on the USS Cole. These threats had been building for quite some time. Dick Clarke was here for some eight years. This administration was here for some 230 days before the attacks of September 11th.
Q Condi Rice made a similar point. Should we take from that that the President's view is that Dick Clarke was part of the problem, not part of the solution, since all of these things happened on his watch, when his primary job was counterterrorism?
MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, I think Dr. Rice pointed out earlier today that she requested that some of his ideas be presented to the administration. He presented some of the ideas. There were some that we took into account that were useful, and then there were others that we didn't find as useful. But this was talking about --
Q That doesn't answer my question.
MR. McCLELLAN: This was talking about rolling back al Qaeda. We were focused on eliminating al Qaeda.
Q Scott, you didn't answer my question, which is, by listing all those things that he was here for, is it the President's view that, in fact, he was part of the problem, not part of the solution?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, he was this administration's counterterrorism expert up until -- well, the time that the job was separated into a cyber security position and counterterrorism position, which was something that he had suggested happen.
Q But you still didn't answer the question, it doesn't seem to me, does it?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q Does that answer the question?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think it does. He was part of our efforts to go after al Qaeda. He was a member of this team for some two years, and we appreciate the service that he provided. But --
Q Why do you think he's doing this?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, why, all of a sudden, if he had all these grave concerns, did he not raise these sooner? This is one-and-a-half years after he left the administration. And now, all of a sudden, he's raising these grave concerns that he claims he had. And I think you have to look at some of the facts. One, he is bringing this up in the heat of a presidential campaign. He has written a book and he certainly wants to go out there and promote that book. Certainly let's look at the politics of it. His best buddy is Rand Beers, who is the principal foreign policy advisor to Senator Kerry's campaign. The Kerry campaign went out and immediately put these comments up on their website that Mr. Clarke made.
Q Of course, he says he did raise those concerns --
MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Mike. Go ahead, Mike.
Q He says he raised those concerns --
MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Mike.
Q -- in the administration.
MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Mike.
Q Scott, the whole point of his book is he says that he did raise these concerns and he was not listened to by his superiors.
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, and that's just flat-out wrong. Go back and look at what we said. It was very early on when Dr. Rice -- the first week of the administration, Dr. Rice asked for the ideas that Dick Clarke had in mind, or the previous policies of the previous administration. But we wanted to go beyond that. We didn't feel it was sufficient to simply roll back al Qaeda; we pursued a policy to eliminate al Qaeda. And that's what the NSC worked on from very early in this administration. We took the threats posed by al Qaeda very seriously. And we acted on those threats. Certainly, during that spring and summertime, there was a spike in the terrorist threat, and -- go ahead.
Q Some Democratic senators are asking today if, based on the revelations of this book, based on the proactive response you guys have had over the weekend, if Dr. Rice will reexamine her position on testifying before the 9/11 Commission.
MR. McCLELLAN: I think she's stated her position. Again, it's not something that's a matter of personal preference. It' a matter of separation of powers. It's a matter of principle. There are some issues involved here about White House staffers testifying before Congress, and they relate to separation of powers issues. However, she was more than happy to sit down with the 9/11 Commission and visit with them for more than four hours and answer all the questions that they had.
Q And what the Democrats say is that because this is an independent commission, that there are not separation of powers issues.
MR. McCLELLAN: This is a legislatively created commission. It is a legislative commission.
Q Scott, this morning, you said the President didn't recall the conversation in the Situation Room on September 12th that Mr. Clarke said he had, where the President asked Dick Clarke three times to pursue links between 9/11 and Iraq. And you said he doesn't -- I had two questions. So did the President tell you or somebody in the White House over the weekend, he doesn't recall?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, I talked to him. He doesn't recall that conversation or meeting.
Q And that was -- he said it this morning, or this weekend? When did he say that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, this weekend and this morning, yes.
Q Okay. And secondly, Clarke now says that he has three eyewitnesses, and he repeated it again this morning, and he named them -- to the conversation.
MR. McCLELLAN: Let's just step backwards -- regardless, regardless, put that aside. There's no record of the President being in the Situation Room on that day that it was alleged to have happened, on the day of September the 12th. When the President is in the Situation Room, we keep track of that. But put all that aside, let's go to the heart of the matter. This was supposedly the day after the September 11th attacks. And, of course, you want to look at all possibilities of who might be responsible. It would be irresponsible not to consider all responsibilities.
And, in fact, I would point out that Mr. Clarke himself said in a "Frontline" interview, he emphasized the importance of officials having a very open mind. On the -- quote: "On the day of September 11th, then the day or two following, we had a very open mind." Those are words from Dick Clarke. He went on to say: "The CIA and FBI were asked, see if it's Hezbollah, see if it's Hamas, don't assume it's al Qaeda. Don't just assume it's al Qaeda." So I think that --
Q Well, so are you saying that while the President doesn't recall that conversation, are you leaving open the possibility that there's these three eyewitnesses that Clarke says, therefore it may have happened?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, but let's go even beyond that. One, in the immediate aftermath of an attack like that, you want to explore all possibilities. And that's what this administration did. Of course, you want to do that. But just days later, the President met with his National Security Council; the Director of Central Intelligence informed him that there was no link between the September 11th attacks and Iraq. And at the National Security Council meeting, what happened? There was a map that was unrolled on the table, and it was a map of Afghanistan. And what did the President do? The President directed that we go into Afghanistan, and we go after al Qaeda, and we go after and remove the Taliban from power so that al Qaeda would no longer have a safe harbor from which to plan and plot their attacks on the American people.
Q Okay, Clarke is now saying that the -- your response this morning was an example of how the Bush administration just goes after -- just uses ad hominem attacks and tries to suppress the truth.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, when someone uses such charged rhetoric that is just not matched by the facts, it's important that we set the record straight. And that's what we're doing. If you look back at his past comments and his past actions, they contradict his current rhetoric. I talked to you all a little bit about that earlier today. Go back and look at exactly what he has said in the past and compare that with what he is saying today. And ask yourself why, one-and-a-half years later, after he left the administration, he's, all of a sudden, coming forward with these grave concerns? If he had had such grave concerns, why didn't he come out with them sooner?
Q Scott, two questions. So you're saying, because the President doesn't recall the conversation -- you're not saying he denies that that conversation happened?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm saying let's look at the heart of the matter, regardless of whether or not that took place. The President doesn't recollect it. But let's look at the heart of the matter. And that is, in the aftermath of an attack like that, the immediate aftermath, is it responsible to explore all possibilities? Of course, it is. And Dick Clarke said so, himself.
Q He's not denying that that conversation could have taken place?
MR. McCLELLAN: He doesn't have any recollection of it, and, again, it purportedly took place in the Situation Room. There's no record to indicate that happened.
Q And second, why do you feel it's a fair criticism to say that this is partisan politics that he's trying to promote a book? This is man who served 30 years in the government under Reagan; under Bush, Senior; Clinton; as well as this President. He was a registered Republican in 2000. Why do you believe that that is a fair way to judge him, that it's simply politics?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let's look at the facts. Let's look at the timing. It's important to look at all those aspects. Let's look at his history there. This was someone who is now saying he was against the Department of Homeland Security, but we know that he actually sought to be the number two person at the Department of Homeland Security. He wanted to be the deputy secretary of the Homeland Security Department after it was created. The fact of the matter is just a few months after that, he left the administration. He did not get that position, someone else was appointed to it. And now, all of a sudden, he's saying he's against the Department of Homeland Security.
And if someone is going to make these kind of serious allegations, it's important to look back at his past comments and his past actions, and compare that with what his current rhetoric is. It's also important to keep in mind -- I think Newsweek pointed this out this week -- who his best friend is. His best friend is Rand Beers, who is the principal advisor to the Kerry campaign. It's also important to keep in context -- we're in the heat of a presidential campaign right now and, all of a sudden, he comes out with a book that he is seeking to promote. He is actively going out there and putting himself on prime-time news shows and morning shows to promote this book. And he is making charges that simply did not happen.
Look back at the facts. To suggest that Iraq was the immediate priority in the aftermath of September 11th, that's just not the case. This President was focused on reassuring the American people; on making sure that there wasn't a follow-on attack that was coming; on making sure that we got our airlines back up and running in a secure fashion. There were a lot of immediate focuses -- focus that this administration had in the aftermath of September 11th.
The President also was focused on going in and taking the fight to the terrorists, going on the offensive, because September 11th taught us a lot of important lessons. And this President learned those lessons by the actions that we took, by implementing the Patriot Act to provide law enforcement with new tools to combat terrorism at home; by working on all fronts to go after the terrorists -- the military front, the diplomatic front, the financial front, the law enforcement and the intelligence fronts.
Q But, Scott, Dr. Rice said this morning the reason he was kept on was because he was so valuable in his counterterrorism expertise. Why is it that this administration and previous Republican administrations would keep him on if he didn't have any credibility, if he was just a partisan player?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think Dr. Rice said earlier that, obviously, he had been around for quite some time. Like I said, he had been around for some eight years before the September 11th attacks. This administration had been in place for some 230 days. Again, these threats did not develop overnight. They had been building for quite some time. And I think that's important to keep in perspective when we're having this discussion. But certainly al Qaeda was a top priority. We made that determination during the transition and immediately began acting on that priority when we came into office. And it was important to continue some of those policies until we were able to develop a new, comprehensive strategy to eliminate al Qaeda -- not roll it back, like was the previous policy.
Q You're really suggesting he's looking for a scapegoat now.
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me keep going. I'll come back to you. Go ahead, Jim.
Q But you're suggesting that he's a scapegoat and that he missed it for eight years, right?
MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Jim.
Q Would you go over the facts in this? I mean, he's clearly suggesting that he could not get the administration -- the President and his top national security aides -- to pay sufficient attention to the threat from al Qaeda. You just said that the determination was made during the transition that al Qaeda was the top threat. What set of facts would you point to from the transition on that would --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we were briefed on it during the transition. And then the very first week Dr. Rice requested information from some of the ideas that Mr. Clarke had, and requested that those be presented to her. And we began, very early on in this administration, to develop a new, comprehensive strategy to go after and eliminate al Qaeda, so that we could get rid of this threat.
Q When --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, it was actually presented to the President -- or, actually, it was completed on September 4th, this new comprehensive strategy. That was the timing of it. Certainly there were -- there was a terrorist spike during the summer, as well. And all the focus was on threats overseas. And it's important to point out that Mr. Clarke is the one who made some assertions about the millennium plot on Los Angeles. And the question that should be asked of him is, what was done after that? Well, there wasn't any effort really to focus on the sleeper cells in the United States. The attention was still focused overseas.
Q Let me just clarify one thing. When did the administration begin its work on the comprehensive strategy to eliminate al Qaeda?
MR. McCLELLAN: We began very early on. I think it was actually the NSC deputies had met -- they met frequently between March and September of 2001 to decide and talk about many of the complex issues that were involved in the development of that strategy. And contrary to his assertion that he wasn't able to brief senior officials until late April, the first deputy level's meeting on al Qaeda was held on March 7th. And that's -- and Dick Clarke was the one who conducted the briefing. And the deputies agreed that the national security policy directive should be prepared at that point. And it was just less than six months later when the strategy was ready to go, on September 4th.
Q Scott, you, earlier, said that Clarke had refused orders to attend a certain number of meetings. You said that in the gaggle this morning. Can you tell me, what do you mean by that? Were there meetings he was supposed to attend that he didn't attend? Did he have to be ordered --
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, Dr. Rice --
Q -- and the timetable for --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Dr. Rice, early on in the administration, started holding daily briefings with the senior directors of the National Security Council, of which he was one. But he refused to attend those meetings, and he was later asked to attend those meetings and he continued to refuse to attend those meetings. You would have to ask --
MR. McCLELLAN: You'd have to ask him why. But those, obviously, are important meetings, and meetings that are held on a daily basis by the National Security Advisor.
Q Didn't someone confront him and say, you work for the government, you have orders, and you're refusing to obey them?
MR. McCLELLAN: I just said that he was asked to attend those meetings, but he continued to refuse to do so.
Q Scott, I wanted to follow on on your answer just a little bit ago about the threat being presumed to be abroad rather than domestic. Dr. Rice said this morning in the CNN interview that, in fact, it was she that asked for a meeting with Mr. Clarke, because she believed that in June or July there could have been a domestic threat.
MR. McCLELLAN: That's right.
Q She specifically said in the interview that she asked for the meeting to talk with aviation and FBI. And I wanted to ask you, because I remember the discussion she had with us here in the briefing room sometime after 9/11, in which she said that there was no way that this White House could have known or suspected airline attack in the United States. And I was wondering if there's an inconsistency, and if she was more specific in describing those meetings to the 9/11 Commission?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think she's talked about what we knew and what was
what we were briefed on during that time period. But during that summer -- spring and summer period, there was a spike in the terrorist threat. And it was Dr. Rice who went to Dick Clarke and specifically asked Dick Clarke and the counterterrorism strategy group to meet to consider possible threats that could happen to the homeland, and to coordinate responses by domestic agencies. So that was something Dr. Rice did do. Even though all the chatter was pointing to something overseas, she wanted to go back and make sure that we were looking at the homeland, as well, so that we could increase security and surveillance here at home.
Q Has she described to the 9/11 Commission already that this White House had sufficient information, or she had sufficient concerns that she asked for a specific meeting to talk about aviation threats domestically?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, obviously, the 9/11 Commission is continuing their work. I'll let you direct specific questions to them about information that they are learning in their process. We are working very closely and cooperatively with them to help them.
Q Is this White House willing to share her responses that she's already given to the 9/11 Commission?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think she's been out there taking your questions in the media. So she's been very pleased to do that.
Q Can we get a transcript?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, she met with them for more than four hours. And this goes to the issue of public testimony --
Q She's been so forthcoming --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- from White House staffers. And again, it's not a personal preference. This goes to a matter of principle. This goes to the issue of separation of powers between the executive and the legislative branch. And when you start crossing those two, it could have a chilling effect on the President receiving the kind of advice that he needs.
Q If she's already been candid and helpful, could we get access to --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, if you have specific questions like that, you need to direct those questions to the 9/11 Commission. She was pleased to meet with them and answer all their questions that they had for more than four hours.
Q It they want to release it, that would be okay with you?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not saying that. I'm saying that, again, there are separation of powers issues, there are principles involved. And that's where it stands.
Q I thought the separation of powers had to do with testimony, not --
MR. McCLELLAN: Alexis, I think I've answered this, and now you're trying to get into public testimony versus private meetings with the commission, and I'm saying there's a difference here that we need to keep in mind.
Q Presidents have been known to waive executive privilege. Why doesn't the President do so in this case, so that Condoleezza Rice can testify publicly before the 9/11 Commission, just like she's done on all these talk shows? And is she also -- second question, is she going to be acting as a campaign surrogate?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, we've been through this question a number of times. And in terms of her personal schedule, I'm sure that her office can keep you posted on that.
Q Why doesn't he waive executive privilege in this case, so that she can testify publicly before the 9/11 Commission?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think we've been through this question many times, and she's answered it and I've answered it, and that's where it stands.
Q Just for the record, could you please explain the different reaction by the White House to this book, in contrast to the book in which Paul O'Neill played such a central role? Is it because Dick Clarke has more, on these issues, he has more credibility? Why the difference in reaction?
MR. McCLELLAN: There have been some assertions made that just are not backed up by the facts. And it's important to set the record straight. And that's --
Q O'Neill's assertions weren't backed up by the facts?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- and that's exactly -- that's exactly what we're going -- that we are doing right now.
Q Scott, can you please clarify two reports? One, last month when the President made an announcement in Mexico that U.S. is giving India a special status partnership -- Now last week, Secretary Powell was in Pakistan. He announced a special status with Pakistan, non-NATO status. What the difference between the two? Are they the same? Or is this opening the door for Pakistan to buy the U.S. weapons, or remain the same between the two countries, or triangle?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, does what remain the same with the two countries?
Q The triangle -- having same relationship with the U.S. will have with both countries, or is this special status with Pakistan, non-NATO alliance or allies?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think we made it clear that we're willing to explore the same possibility of similar cooperation with India. That's something we've made clear.
Q What's the status of the President's --
Q Can I have a second one, please? Describe by this -- if President is ready to give or present another 123,000 H1B visas because of a cry from the employers after last months INS closed the door --
MR. McCLELLAN: If we're ready to --
Q President is ready to give --
MR. McCLELLAN: We're working with Congress on some of the migration reforms that the President has put forward. And we've made our position clear on some of the other issues, as well. And that remains -- that remains the same.
Q What's the status of the President's appearance before the 9/11 Commission?
MR. McCLELLAN: No update. And like I said --
Q -- anytime soon?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, like I said last week, I think right now, I think you have -- the 9/11 Commission obviously is focused on the public testimony that's going on this week. And we're still in discussions with them, and I'm sure when they get through this week we can make some further progress on that. But he looks forward to the discussion.
Q Does the President have any regrets about his new tone policy, now that one more Clinton holdover has betrayed his administration?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry? Does the President have --
Q Well, does he have any regrets about the new tone that he wanted to set in Washington, now that these people from the previous administration, from another political party, have taken the actions that they've done?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let me just, without getting into specific areas there, just broadly, the President has always been someone who's worked to elevate the discourse and worked to focus on where we can advance on common ground issues of great importance. There are many common challenges that we have, and the President believes it's important to reach out and work together to address those priorities. Certainly, it's difficult to change the tone in this town. But the President --
Q Don't you see it as a little one-sided here?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- the President has certainly set an example by elevating the discourse and talking about what he's for and trying to find common ground to where we can get results.
Q The Cabinet meeting tomorrow, what's the subject?
MR. McCLELLAN: We'll have more on it tomorrow morning. Stay tuned and, obviously, they tend to cover -- they tend to cover several areas. But I'll have more to brief you on that in the morning. You can check with me later today, too.
Q Scott, no one -- no one at the press offices of either the Secret Service or the Department of Homeland Security was available this morning to answer questions about that Secret Service agent in Sun Valley who was trying to protect Senator Kerry, who publicly called this agent "a son of a bitch." And my question, first of two, you can assure us, can't you, Scott, that the President will take some action to assure that no more Secret Service agents be subjected to such vile abuse by Democrat nominee, Kerry?
MR. McCLELLAN: Les, first of all, I've seen the reports, but I think that's a matter between Senator Kerry and his Secret Service detail.
Q But what is the President going to do? Is he going to allow Secret Service to be abused?
MR. McCLELLAN: Les, we don't know the specifics of that matter.
Q A new book has just been published, written by John Podhoretz of the New York Post and Fox News. It's entitled, "Bush Country: How Dubya Became a Great President While Driving Liberals Insane." And my question, is the President familiar with this book, and if so, does he like it?
MR. McCLELLAN: We're getting into every single book. Anybody else have any books they want to bring up today? (Laughter.)
Q Is he aware of this book?
MR. McCLELLAN: Anybody writing any books in this room that I should be aware of? (Laughter.)
Q Getting back to the Israel-Palestinian thing. What's the administration's assessment of the state of the Palestinian Authority? There are reports that the Palestinian Authority is very disorganized, corrupt, et cetera. What's going on with the Authority? We don't hear much about it.
MR. McCLELLAN: I think the President has made his views known when it comes to certain individuals within that organization. We've also made it very clear that you need a Prime Minister and a cabinet that is committed to dismantling terrorist organizations, because that is the way forward to the two-states -- the President's two-state vision.
Q Is the United States in discussion with anybody with the Palestinian Authority?
MR. McCLELLAN: We remain in contact with all parties, and I think State Department can talk to you about some of their contacts. But we remain in contact with all parties in the region.
Q Apart from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, does the President believe that the killing of the Sheik is seen as progress as the war on terror, the broader war on terror?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, you're asking in the context of all these recent developments. Obviously, there have been some recent suicide bombings. Hamas is an organization that commits terrorist acts and sponsors terrorist acts. The Sheik was someone who was involved in these -- in this kind of terrorism. And it's important for all parties to show restraint during this period. That's where our focus is going to remain, so that we can get them back to working together to move forward on the President's two-state vision.
Q Is there a difference between Israel targeting the Sheik and the U.S. targeting Osama bin Laden?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, it goes back to what our views have -- what we have stated repeatedly, that while Israel has a right to defend herself, we always need to keep in mind -- everybody needs to keep in mind the consequences of their actions. And we hope that everybody will work to restore calm in the region, after these recent terrorist attacks and this latest incident. So that's where we are.
Q Thank you.
MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you.
END 2:04 P.M. EST