For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 17, 2004
Press Gaggle by Scott McClellan
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Topeka, Kansas
1:19 P.M. EDT
MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon. Let me go through the President's day, to begin with. The President had two phone calls this morning. The President spoke with President Roh and Prime Minister Koizumi.
In the conversation with President Roh, the President congratulated President Roh on his resumption of his official duties after the recent ruling by the constitutional court. The President called President Roh to consult with him about the possibility of moving a brigade from South Korea to Iraq. The President noted that we have been engaged in an ongoing review of our global defense posture for some time, and that we've been involved in extensive consultation with our allies, including the South Korean government. President Roh expressed his understanding and support. They also discussed the North Korean nuclear issue and the recently concluded six-party working group talks.
In the phone call with Prime Minister Koizumi, the President discussed the possibility of a brigade redeployment in the same context he discussed with President Roh. Prime Minister Koizumi expressed his support and understanding, as well. The Prime Minister also mentioned his upcoming trip to Pyongyang. Prime Minister Koizumi made it clear that the trip does not affect Japan's strong and firm support for the complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear program. And he indicated that he would reiterate that to North Korea.
When we land here in Topeka, the Freedom Corps greeter is Pastor Leo Barbee, Jr. Pastor Barbee and his wife every Tuesday read to a kindergarten student at New York Elementary School, as part of a mentoring program. He is also chaplain for the Lawrence Memorial Hospital, University of Kansas basketball team and the University of Kansas football team. And every January he also assists in organizing a four-day Martin Luther King Jr. celebration in his community.
Then the President looks forward to making remarks at the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site grand opening. I gave you a readout on that on Friday, or a preview of that on Friday, so I will skip through that, and you will hear his remarks shortly, as well.
Upon arrival, in Georgia, the Freedom Corps Greeter is Brandon Gray. He volunteers at Jump Start Atlanta, which is a national early literacy organization that recruits, trains and places college students in one-on-one relationships with children in early learning programs. And he is matched with a four year old from a local Head Start program, who he works with two to three times a week.
And then I want to give you a -- we'll get this out as soon as we get it all formatted, but I want to go ahead -- and I'm sorry, the President then makes remarks at a Victory 2004 reception in Atlanta, and then participates in a Victory 2004 dinner before returning to the White House tonight.
I want to read out one statement from the President. This is a statement by the President: The sacred institution of marriage should not be redefined by a few activist judges. All Americans have a right to be heard in this debate. I called on the Congress to pass and to send to the states for ratification an amendment to our Constitution defining and protecting marriage as a union of a man and a woman as husband and wife. The need for that amendment is still urgent, and I repeat that call today.
Q Scott, he hasn't mentioned that in weeks, maybe even months. Is he going to -- are we going to hear him mention this on the stump again?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, today -- well, he talks about her frequently. And I think he references in speeches, too, about the importance of protecting the sanctity of marriage. And we have certainly been in close contact with members of Congress to move forward on a constitutional amendment. The President stands firmly behind his belief that marriage is a sacred institution between a man and a woman.
Q When he was talking to President Roh, did he tell President Roh that moving troops out of South Korea into Iraq was inevitable?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yeah, I think that you're going to hear more from the Pentagon later today. And I think I'll let them talk to you more about that.
Q When you said, "yeah," was that you confirming that that's what he said?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that -- I'll leave it where I stated it. I do want to make clear that any possible redeployment of a brigade from South Korea does not in any way diminish our commitment to South Korea and the region. And, you know, beyond that, the Pentagon, I think, is going to have more to say later this afternoon.
Q How many troops are we talking about?
MR. McCLELLAN: Remember, we've been talking about the global posture review for some time, we've been involved in extensive consultation with our allies on this, including South Korea, and --
Q Scott, we're talking about South Korea --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- anything would be part of this realignment that we've talked about, as part of our global posture review.
Q We're talking about South Korean troops in Iraq, right, not U.S. troops in South Korea?
MR. McCLELLAN: We're talking about the possibility of redeployment of a brigade from South Korea, yes. And I'll let the -- the Pentagon, I think, is going to have more to say on it this afternoon. They'll be briefing on it.
Q What about the Japanese troops, where will they come -- which base, do you know what we're talking about, in terms of the Japanese troops; some of the U.S. troops in Japan that might be redeployed?
MR. McCLELLAN: He talked about the brigade, possibility of a brigade from South Korea, is what the President discussed earlier today.
Q But not U.S. troops that are in Japan?
MR. McCLELLAN: There was discussion about troops in South Korea and a possible brigade.
Q Brigade, one brigade we're talking about --
MR. McCLELLAN: And the Pentagon is going to have more to say this afternoon, on it, so I'll leave it there and let them brief on it first.
Q The assassination in Iraq?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that we will have a statement from the President later today. I talked about it a little bit earlier. Mr. Salim gave his life working to build a free, democratic and peaceful Iraq for the Iraqi people. The Iraqi people will complete his work and make such a vision a reality. The enemies of a free, democratic and peaceful Iraq will not prevail. Democracy and freedom are taking root, and there is no turning back. We are more determined than ever to finish our work. And we express our deepest condolences to Mr. Salim's family.
Q Does this do anything to the plans to transfer sovereignty by the end of next month?
MR. McCLELLAN: It makes us more determined to move forward on building a free and peaceful Iraq for the Iraqi people. And that's exactly what the enemies of freedom want, is to derail the transition to sovereignty and a free and democratic Iraq. And they will not prevail. We are continuing to move forward on the timetable set out in the November 15th agreement, and we will meet that timetable.
Q Do the insurgents now have access to sarin gas? Is that what they're using now in their weapons?
MR. McCLELLAN: I've seen the reports, and at this point we're just trying to find out more information.
Q Scott, does Secretary Rumsfeld approve methods that Seymour Hersh is reporting, that includes humiliating Iraqis or using sexual interrogation techniques? Was any of that approved by Secretary Rumsfeld, to your knowledge?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think the Pentagon has already denied the reporting by Seymour Hersh, and they addressed that this weekend.
Q Did Al Gonzales's memo of 2002 lead to the -- clear the way in some way for what happened at the Iraqi prison?
MR. McCLELLAN: Absolutely not. First of all, the memo you're referencing related specifically to al Qaeda and the Taliban. It did not reference Iraq, at all. We have made it clear that we are bound by the Geneva Conventions in Iraq. And I would point out that in his memo, that -- just to put it in context, there was part of the quote from that memo that was left out. It said, "In my judgment, this new paradigm does not square with Geneva's limitations on interrogation of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions." This part, it did not say: "Some of its provisions requiring that captured enemy be afforded such things as commissary privileges, scrip (i.e. advances of monthly pay), athletic uniforms, and scientific instruments."
Q Can you give us a copy of the memo?
MR. McCLELLAN: If you'll recall, the President made it clear that while Geneva does not apply to the al Qaeda, Taliban detainees being held at Guantanamo, that he directed our military forces to treat them humanely and consistent with the Geneva Conventions.
And I just remind you that we are a nation at war. We are also a nation of laws. And our most important responsibility is the safety and security of the American people. And we act in an appropriate manner to meet that responsibility. But our policy is clear. The United States policy is that we comply with all our laws and with our -- and with our treaty obligations. And that is our policy.
All right, thank you.
END 1:29 P.M. EDT