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

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 19, 2004

Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

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Press Briefing
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1:25 P.M. EDT

MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon. Prior to meeting with his Cabinet, the President had a good and friendly discussion with President Shaykh Ghazi, who has assumed the position of President of the Iraqi Governing Council in the wake of Monday's assassination of President Saleem. The President offered his deepest condolences for the tragic loss of Mr. Saleem. The President thanked President Shaykh Ghazi for his hard work in building a new Iraq and assured him that the United States remains firmly committed to the planned transfer of sovereignty and completing the mission for a free and peaceful Iraq.

President Shaykh Ghazi expressed his appreciation for the help the United States and coalition partners are providing to the Iraqi people, and he noted that Iraq wants to build a long-term strategic friendship with the United States.

And with that, I will be glad to go to your questions.

Q Scott, the President made a point of not criticizing Israel. What more information does he have to collect? It had been five hours since the attack when he spoke to us.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, Israel has called this a tragic event and expressed deep regret. We certainly share that view. This is a time to urge restraint by all parties. We had asked for an explanation from the government of Israel. We want to know what has happened, or what happened, how this happened. We have been told that Israel is investigating and we expect to receive an explanation as soon as that investigation is completed. But we want to know how this has happened.

Q Are you able to say now whether it was over the line or not, that it's not justified, or not?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you heard from me earlier today, it is of deep concern to us to hear about the number of Palestinians who have been killed and injured. And we continue to urge restraint. We share the view of the Israeli government, that this was a tragic event. And we agree with their comments expressing --

Q You have to admit this is not self-defense --

MR. McCLELLAN: -- expressing deep regret for what occurred.

Q What I'm trying to get at is, they have admitted it, they have regretted it, but you won't condemn it. Why is that?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I made it very clear earlier today that we expressed deep concern for what occurred. And it's important for us to know more about how this happened. We are seeking an explanation --

Q Do you know whether American gunships were used?

MR. McCLELLAN: -- from the government of Israel. It is very important, as we have always said, that people keep in mind the consequences of their actions. We have made that very clear to Israel on a consistent basis, that they always should keep in mind the consequences of their actions.

Q You would not call this self-defense, would you?

Q Scott, what do you have on reports that 45 celebrants in a wedding in western Iraq were killed by a U.S. helicopter overnight?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't have anything on that. You might want to check over in Iraq.

Q Can I follow up on the events in Gaza? When did the administration come to the conclusion that it agreed with Israel, that this was a tragic event? And why couldn't the President of the United States express regret, a sense of loss for the death of these children?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, some of this was coming to light as we were in the middle of a Cabinet meeting. We are still learning about events on the ground. But you have heard more from me just now as we are learning a little bit more about what occurred. We are hearing more from the Israeli government, and that's why it's important, as the President did, to continue to urge restraint. He talked about the situation in Gaza yesterday in his remarks, and what occurred today was a tragic event, as the government of Israel said.

Q The President's been calling restraint for a while. He's being ignored.

MR. McCLELLAN: Terry, we -- as I said, we always urge parties to keep in mind the consequences of their actions. We want parties to look for opportunities for peace and seize those opportunities. There are opportunities before us that parties need to seize and move forward on to get to the President's two-state vision. And that's where our focus remains. And we will continue to stay in close contact with the parties on those issues.

Q Is it not a concern to the President that he appears impotent when he calls for restraint, and that since this Operation Rainbow began in Gaza on Tuesday, 48 Palestinians have been killed, now these children?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Terry, we need to -- we need to learn more about the facts and have a further explanation from the government of Israel about exactly what occurred. We're still learning information about how this happened. We want to know how it happened. We want to get -- we want to hear more from the government of Israel. And they are investigating the matter.

Q But, Scott, just to follow, beyond the harsh words, is the administration prepared to do anything else to alter Israel's behavior, to change their behavior?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think you've heard our views that we've expressed about the actions parties take in the region. And that's why I said we want parties to look for opportunities to move forward on peace and to get to the President's two-state vision. Certainly, we had officials in the region -- or in Europe the last few days, talking with Prime Minister Qureia about ways the Palestinians can move forward to a two-state vision and seize opportunities that exist. And certainly, in times like this, it is important to always urge maximum restraint. And that's what we have called on the parties to show.

Q But beyond the words, what is the administration prepared to do to alter Israel's behavior, particularly this operation --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, we need to learn more about the facts of this. Because you're talking about a specific operation that is -- it's recent developments. We want to know how this happened, and we're waiting to hear more from --

Q What do you mean, how did it happen? It happened before your very eyes.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- from the government of Israel?

Q So at this time, Scott, you're satisfied --

MR. McCLELLAN: Helen, you -- what is before our very eyes is very tragic, what occurred. But we do not know the facts about how this happened.

Q We know it's not self-defense.

MR. McCLELLAN: We do not know the facts about how this happened.

Q We were told that it was an offense -- and the world was told that they were going to go in.

MR. McCLELLAN: And we don't know the facts about this particular incident. We want to know more about the facts, and we are looking for further explanation.

Q Scott, is there possibly a point where this administration would say an explanation is deemed unsatisfactory, unacceptable?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not going to try to speculate on that, Bob. We want to know how this happened.

Q Scott, different issue. On Friday, the President travels to Louisiana. I believe Bobby Jindal is now is going to be the first Indian American to hold a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Is President going to meet with him after --

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know if he plans to be at the event, or not. We'll keep you posted as we get closer to that event.

Q And second question is that money-laundering is a big problem going on now. Yesterday's Washington Post and this week several other newspapers said that several groups are -- their offices were raided by the FBI and U.S. agents said that money-laundering is going on and millions of dollars are --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, money-laundering where?

Q From here overseas to the terrorist groups.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we have an aggressive program to crack down on terrorist financing, and it's something the Treasury Department is very involved in, other law enforcement officials are involved in. We're working closely with other countries to crack down on terrorist financing and we are making some important progress.

Q According to reports, Saudi Arabia is still on the list of money-laundering or supporting terrorism -- and that's why Riggs National Bank was fined $25 million, and they have to close the Saudi accounts because of this problem.

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, I didn't hear the --

Q Riggs National Bank was forced to close down all the Saudi accounts because --

MR. McCLELLAN: We are taking action on a number of fronts to crack down on terrorist financing, and I think that's probably what you're referring to.

Q The President said today that he had offered details of the plan in Iraq to the Cabinet, including efforts to provide security going forward. Can you tell us if there is something new in the works, with regard to security in Iraq? And are there any new developments you can share with us about the outlines of a new government?

MR. McCLELLAN: Secretary Rumsfeld spoke some about the security situation, as well, during his remarks during the Cabinet meeting. You've heard the President talk about these steps that are being taken around Fallujah and in Fallujah and in southern Iraq, as well, to improve the security situation. You've certainly had briefings from military officials in the region on those matters, as well.

We are moving forward on our plan to transfer sovereignty by June 30th to an interim government. Mr. Brahimi is very involved in that. In fact, he's already laid out the form of that government, saying that it would be led by a prime minister, that there would be a president, and that there would be two deputy presidents, and that there would be a council of ministers that would report to the prime minister. And then there would be an advisory council beyond that that would be selected in July by a national conference.

Mr. Brahimi is also moving forward -- and you heard this from the President, as well, in his remarks -- on naming officials to that interim government. He has been in close contact with Iraqis on that process; he's been in close contact with Ambassador Bremer and other officials with the coalition, as well.

In terms of the security situation, there is an ongoing need for us to continue to work with Iraqis to eliminate the security threats that they face. Terrorists certainly recognize how high the stakes are in Iraq. If you will recall, we achieved great progress very quickly in Iraq by removing the regime from power in a very fast manner. And you had individuals from that regime who fled the battlefield, and now there are some of those enemies of freedom who are seeking to derail the transition to sovereignty.

So we're continuing to work side-by-side with Iraqis to improve the security situation. General Patraeus is certainly over -- now overseeing training and equipping of Iraqi security forces so that they will be in position to someday assume even greater responsibility for their future.

Q Let me go back to the Brahimi thing. The President said he expects decisions will be made soon about who will actually form the caretaker government.

MR. McCLELLAN: That's right.

Q Can you tell us how close he is and --

MR. McCLELLAN: I wouldn't try to put a specific date on Mr. Brahimi's plans. But he is moving forward, and he has been in close consultation with people. We expect that he will come back with some names for that interim government soon.

Q Scott, the Republican leaders have agreed on a budget and are bringing to the floor a budget that extends the President's tax cuts, the three that he wants the most, only one year. Is that acceptable to the White House?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you've heard the President talk about this recently. First of all, we're pleased that Congress is moving forward on a budget framework that meets our priorities and shows spending restraint. That's important. It's important that we continue to fund our priorities, from winning the war on terrorism to protecting the homeland, to strengthening our economy. The President has made it very clear that he wants to see all these tax cuts made permanent. These tax cuts are working to get our economy growing strong. We are in a strong recovery right now because of the actions that were taken. And the President has said that, at a minimum, this Congress should not raise taxes on the American people.

You have three taxes -- three tax cuts that were set to expire, from the marriage penalty to the child tax credit, to the 10 percent -- expanded 10-percent bracket, and it's important that Congress not do anything that would raise taxes on the American people.

Q Okay, I understand that, and they're not doing that. But what I'm wondering is, do you support this bill which is only going to --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, this is the budget framework. Obviously, they'll go back and continue working on the appropriations process going forward. We'll continue to work closely with Congress on these issues. As I said, the President believes those type of tax cuts should be made permanent, for the reasons that he has stated, and for the reasons I just stated. And he has said, at a minimum, this Congress should not raise taxes on the American people. That would have exactly the wrong effect right now when our economy is in a strong recovery. It would be wrong to raise taxes on families with kids. It would be wrong to raise taxes on married couples. And it would be wrong to let that 10-percent bracket go back to where it was, and more people would be paying higher taxes.

Q Okay, so since this doesn't raise taxes effectively, as least until the next year, it's okay then?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, this is still early in the budget process, Keith. We're going to continue working with Congress on these matters.

Q And just lastly on that, it also includes, I think, $50 billion for efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq. That's more than the President requested. Is that okay with the White House?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, remember -- and again, we'll continue to work with Congress on these issues. We'll continue to move forward on the President's request for a contingency reserve fund so that there would be no disruption in resources going to our troops in Iraq or Afghanistan. That's important that we make sure that there is no disruption in those resources and funding that goes to support our troops in their efforts in the war on terrorism.

We have also made it very clear that we will be moving forward on a supplemental when we have a more precise estimate of the costs going forward in Iraq. And it's too early to tell at this point what those precise costs will be going forward because it depends on circumstances on the ground, it depends on the security situation. So we'll continue working with Congress on those issues.

Q So you're willing to take more than $25 billion now?

MR. McCLELLAN: We'll continue to work for that contingency reserve fund. We've also made it clear that that's a reserve fund, it's an insurance policy to make sure there's no disruption in services or resources to our troops after this fiscal year ends and before the supplemental is passed.

Q How big should it be?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q You've requested $25 billion, but now you're indicating that you --

MR. McCLELLAN: The contingency reserve fund, we believe, should -- that they should set aside $25 billion for that contingency reserve fund. We're working with Congress on that to get that done. And, again, that's an insurance policy, it's a reserve fund. Obviously, if it is necessary to use some of those funds, it could come out of a supplemental later on.

Q What's the difference -- on that, what's the difference between a contingency reserve fund and a supplemental appropriations?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, a supplemental is when -- we'll be able to come back with a more precise estimate of the costs going forward in Iraq and Afghanistan. Like I said, I would describe the reserve fund as an insurance policy, because that's why the President set it up, to make sure that there is no disruption in funding and resources for our troops between the time of the budget -- of this fiscal year budget ending and the next supplemental being passed.

Q The difference being you don't have specifics that you know you'll need, but you just --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, but we do know that there have been increased demands on our troops on the ground. We have had to keep some troops there longer because of the security situation. So there are increased demands on the troops to address the security threats in Iraq, and we want to make sure there's no disruption in the resources that they're receiving.

Q But you're not sure how much, so you call -- so it's a reserve --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, we've always said that as -- that we'll know more when we are better able to estimate those precise costs going forward, and that we would come back to Congress with some precise estimates at that point to urge passage of a supplemental bill.

Q So when it -- when it becomes more specific it turns into a supplemental?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, this is a reserve fund, Jim, that's what I'm trying to explain, to make sure there's no disruption. That's how I would describe it. The supplemental will be more of a precise estimate of the cost to support our troops on the ground in Iraq and make sure that they have everything they need to do their job.

Q Scott, the top of page one of Sunday's New York Times reports that six of the defendants in the Abu Ghraib abuse cases once all bunked together in a tent in Baghdad. And my question, a two-part -- since PFC Lynndie England has been impregnated, does the Commander-in-Chief believe that women soldiers should be assigned to gender integrated tents overseas?

MR. McCLELLAN: Les, the President's views have not changed when it comes to our military. I would just say that.

Q The New York Times also reports that the Miles Foundation is helping 153 military women who claim to have been sexually assaulted by fellow soldiers of the Central Command area in and around Iraq. And my question: How can the Commander-in-Chief allow women soldiers to be in combat zones where they're surrounded by and far outnumbered by male warriors, and if they're captured, they're gang-raped?

MR. MCCLELLAN: Les, first of all, let me tell you there is no place for sexual assault anywhere, and the military has taken strong action to address those issues you raise. Second of all, the President is proud of all our men and all our women who are serving admirably in the war on terrorism. They are doing an outstanding job, and the President greatly appreciates their service to their country -- the men and women.

Q Oh, I think that they are. But you put women over there, surrounded by all these men, and you have 153 cases of sexual assault, and then this one that's been impregnated. Why send women into combat zones --

MR. McCLELLAN: Les, you've had your questions. I'm going to go to David, The New York Times reporter.

Q On a different subject --

Q -- follow that. (Laughter.)

Q I can't. (Laughter.) Scott, on Sunday, Secretary of State Powell said that he believed the United States had been deliberately misled by some of its sources about the bioweapons laboratories that the President, of course, had spoken about during his Cincinnati speech. A few months before that, Vice President Cheney said he thought those same labs actually had been used for bio -- or were intended to be used for biological purposes. Secretary Powell said they weren't. Can you tell me what the President's current state of information and thinking is on this?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the current state of information on this, I think I would point back to the intelligence community -- they've said that there is no consensus about the purpose of those mobile laboratories.

Q Secretary Powell seemed to say that there was a consensus at this point

MR. McCLELLAN: The latest that has been said by the intelligence community is that there is no consensus, there is disagreement on what the use of those biological laboratories were for.

Q So, in other words, Secretary Powell was out ahead of the intelligence, is that what you're telling us? Secretary Powell says that they were not used -- he did not now believe that they have any biological purposes and that we had been deliberately misled.

MR. McCLELLAN: And if you'll remember, the President has appointed an independent commission to look broadly at our intelligence related to weapons of mass destruction.

Q My question was, is Secretary Powell out ahead --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, this is one -- this is one of the things that they will be looking at, as well.

Q What's the progress on that commission?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'll try to get you an update, but they have begun their work. They have staff in place and they are beginning their work. But I can get you further update.

Q Scott, if I can just finish -- close the loop on this. Was Secretary Powell reflecting the administration's view of the current state of intelligence, or is the view the one that you just said?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think the view from the intelligence community is where you have to look, is that there is not a consensus. That's the last --

Q So he was out ahead of that --

MR. McCLELLAN: That's the last that they stated. No, I wouldn't describe it that way.

Q Thank you, Scott. And for my question -- my chair just broke. So let me put this --

MR. McCLELLAN: Uh-oh. (Laughter.)

Q It was not me.

MR. McCLELLAN: There are a few other chairs I'd like to see break, but I won't name names. (Laughter.)

Q That's on camera. (Laughter.)

Q A published editorial calls for the President to permanently increase the size of the Army and to convene a summit conference to try and get more international support for Iraq. Is he considering both such suggestions?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think our military leaders have talked about -- well, one, the President strongly supports the volunteer military that we have. And I think our military leaders have talked about how they believe they have the troop levels they need to address the threats that we face. And so that's the President's view on the first part of your question.

On the second part, where we are focused, in terms of building even more support for a free and peaceful Iraq, is on the United Nations Security Council and moving forward on a resolution that would recognize the interim government and support the transfer of sovereignty and encourage more countries to participate in the efforts in Iraq. So that's where we are on that.

Q On that resolution, first of all, where is it at right now? And second, do you expect it to be in place before the June 30th deadline?

MR. McCLELLAN: I expect we will be moving forward on that resolution before -- before that time period, absolutely.

Q They've been negotiating it for a while now.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there have been discussions going on. We've been moving forward on it. Secretary Powell has been having a number of discussions with his counterparts. We've been discussing this with the Security Council. And we expect they'll be moving forward on that resolution -- that we can move forward on that resolution soon.

Q Can I ask you about Taiwan? The Taiwanese leader is giving his inauguration address our time tonight. Does the United States expect him to address the one China policy? And has the administration --

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me -- let's let his remarks take place. Maybe we can have more to say at that point. But, obviously, our views, when it comes to China and Taiwan have not changed. We continue to hold the same views That we always have.

Q Scott, may I follow --

Q As of yesterday, the President has requested the Mexican authorities to increase their oil production to help the U.S. stop this crisis. Do you have the --

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know -- no, you might want to check with the Department of Energy to see if they've had any conversations there, and we'll try to get you more information. But, no, I don't have an update on that.

Q Second question is on Cuba. The government of Cuba has just sentenced three dissidents. You have any reaction to that?

MR. McCLELLAN: Did that just happen? I haven't seen that.

Q You haven't seen it?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I haven't seen that, but I'll take a look at it. And, obviously, I think our views are well-known when it comes to the actions of the regime in Cuba.

Q But the thing is, you seem -- you always criticize Cuba for everything, even for the sentences of three dissidents. And in Israel, has been already killed people and you haven't made any criticism to the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, we don't know all the facts about how this happened, how this tragic event happened in Gaza. And we want to know how this happened. But it was a tragic event and we are deeply concerned about it.

Q On China, Chinese leaders, for the first time, they have removed the word, "destruction" if Taiwan's leader ever used the word --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think we've spoken about that, as well. I mean, we certainly would reject portions of the statement by China that threaten the use of force to resolve differences between Beijing and Taipei. Threats to "crush" Taiwan or drown it in a "sea of fire" have no place in civilized international discourse. And Beijing merely hurts its own case by using them, and such comments are especially unhelpful at this delicate time and they necessitate that we firmly restate our intention to fulfill our obligations under the Taiwan Relations Act.

We note that the statement did also have some positive elements to it, describing areas in Beijing -- areas in which Beijing would be willing to explore improved relations with Taiwan. The United States, as we've said, believes that cross-strait dialogue is essential to preserving peace and stability in the region. And we welcome steps by both sides to promote it.

Q As you try and sort out what happened in Gaza, is one of the issues Israel's contention that some of the people in this crowd had guns and were perhaps a threat to Israelis?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know what their contention is. They are investigating the matter, and we want to have a further explanation when that investigation is complete.

Q Scott, I'd like to ask you, too, Jeremy Sivits, one of the players in this prison abuse scandal, was sentenced today to a year in prison, reduction in rank, bad conduct discharge. Does this send the kind of signal -- is it enough to send the kind of signal the President wants to send?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there are investigations that are ongoing. There are charges that have been filed against a number of individuals. There are additional charges that they have been looking at, as well, and we expect that these investigations take a complete look at the situation in Iraq. These images that we saw in the pictures recently were shameful, and we believe it is important that all people who are responsible for those shameful actions are held to account. And so it's --

Q Will he weigh in on --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not going to get into commenting on specific cases. There are reasons why I can't do that. But it is important that we show the world that we take this matter seriously, and that when something like this comes to light, we pursue those who are responsible to punish them and hold them accountable. And we take strong steps to make sure something like this does not happen again.

Q Senator Warner said there were additional -- another disk of prison abuse photos. Has the President seen them or is there any intention --

MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't seen what Senator Warner was referring to --

Q He said investigators found another disk --

MR. McCLELLAN: We are aware that there are more pictures that have been seen publicly. The President has seen some of those. And these images are just despicable.

Q Is the administration's position still that there are no additional photos that need to be released to the public at this time?

MR. McCLELLAN: I would refer you to the Pentagon to talk more about that. But I think the Pentagon has made clear their concerns about the release of information that could harm the cases that are moving forward to move people to justice. It's important that people be brought to justice and that we don't take steps that would harm those efforts.

Q In that same hearing, Scott, General Abizaid opened the door to the possibility that more troops would be needed in Iraq after the transition. Is the President prepared to grant any further request to increase the size of troop strength in Iraq?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, as I said, as we move forward to a free and peaceful Iraq, there is still an ongoing security threat that we must work side by side with the Iraqi people to address. We must increase the Iraqi

security forces and equip them and train them so that they are prepared to handle more and more of those responsibilities going forward. Obviously, circumstances on the ground are going to dictate some of the needs from the coalition forces. And depending on the security situation, that will affect questions like that. But certainly the President looks to our commanders on the ground and our commanders overseeing these efforts, like General Abizaid, to make those determinations. And as he has always said, if they need additional troops, or need additional resources, they will have them.

We are moving forward to transfer sovereignty. But there are dangers that continue. And the enemies of freedom are going to desperately try everything they can to derail this transition to sovereignty. And we can expect that they will continue to try to carry out their attacks, moving forward, beyond the transfer of sovereignty, as well.

Q So he's open to additional troops, over and above those that have already been added on --

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, that's determined by the commanders on the ground, in terms of what they need. And if they need additional troops or additional resources, we will make sure they have them.

Q Thank you, Scott.

MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you.

END 1:55 P.M. EDT

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