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 Home > News & Policies > June 2004

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
June 23, 2004

Background Briefing by Senior Administration Officials on the President's Trip to Ireland and Turkey
James S. Brady Briefing Room

5:08 P.M. EDT

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: If I could, I'd like to turn to the actual substance and themes of the trip. This upcoming trip to the two summits is, in many ways, a continuation of the President's first trip to Europe earlier this -- in June of this year, and the Sea Island Summit. That is -- it is framed in the immediate sense by the international community beginning to come back together and reunite over a set of shared goals in Iraq; by a greater sense of unity, generally; and by a growing consensus about a larger context in which Iraq fits, which is, giving the shorthand name of the Broader Middle East Initiative -- that is, Iraq is a country looking for stability and security in a region which desperately needs more freedom, and through freedom, greater security, as well.

The second major strategic theme of this visit, beyond a growing U.S. -European consensus, is a redefinition of the transatlantic relationship, which is not new; it has been going on in a process of redefinition for a couple of years, in a post-9/11 world. To put it very roughly, if in the first decade of the postwar world the U.S. and Europe were still concerned with problems on Europe's periphery, the Balkans or the question of the former Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall, now, and increasingly henceforth, the U.S. and Europe are concerned with threats and opportunities that lie beyond Europe. So, for example, this NATO summit is the first NATO summit which has really been mostly about challenges and opportunities well beyond NATO's traditional theater of responsibilities, but NATO has decided that its traditional mandate, its standard 50-year-plus mandate of collective defense must be realized in a new way to meet new threats. So it is, at once, the same NATO, but the same NATO we've always known dealing with new threats in a changed world.

The U.S.-EU summit, and actually, a lot of the work is still ongoing, but a lot of the work has to do also with post-9/11 challenges and how the United States and Europe are working together and down in the nitty-gritty of dealing with issues like counterterrorism, nonproliferation in very real ways.

Those are our macro-themes. Now, there will be, obviously, a lot of issues that come up and a lot of individual topics. Iraq will be discussed, Afghanistan will be discussed -- Iraq will be discussed at both summits. NATO is in Afghanistan, so I suspect that NATO will have something to say about that. The President's and the G8 Broader Middle East Initiative, which was launched at Sea Island, is very likely to be discussed both by the U.S.-EU summits and at NATO.

So you really have, if you -- if I were writing stories, I would take a look at the whole month of June and starting off where we were going into June, and we are likely to be at the end of June, as Iraq gets its sovereignty, and as the G8 and the U.S.-EU and NATO all, in their own way, contribute to building a transatlantic consensus about the way forward.

It has been a very busy time. We are still working on the details of all the issues at NATO and at the EU, so I can't tell you in a lot of detail exactly where we're going to be. But my strong sense, having been at Sea Island and working with our NATO and EU partners in the run-up to both of these summits, is that there is a strong will on both sides to put the disagreements of 2003 in the past, and without prejudice to any government's position about Iraq or other issues in 2003, to move on.

So it has actually been a very -- there are two kinds of hard work. There is hard work where you're trying to get back to zero, and there's hard work where you are in plus territory moving deeper. That's very much where we all feel we are. It's -- we're looking forward to the next week. I won't be sorry when we've achieved what we have set out to achieve, but I am increasingly confident that where we started in the beginning of June, that we will achieve what we started out to do in the beginning of June.

Now, you'll have a lot of questions and a lot of specifics, and if it's all right, I've got my colleague, a senior administration official, or mystery guest number two, who can speak about any details you have with respect to the U.S.-EU summit, and then happy to take questions.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Just a quick word on the U.S.-EU summit. As my colleague said, obviously, the U.S.-EU summit has a significant economic component to it. It's an area in which the European Union, itself, core competence lies on economic issues. So along the theme that mystery guest number one talked about, of working together to address practical issues, that's been very much the spirit in which we've worked with the Europeans in the lead-up to the summit in trying to address some real practical issues of concern on the economic side, whether they're trade and economic issues, specific areas of trade irritants that we've tried to resolve together, as well as partnering up on some more visionary, forward-looking areas, such as AIDS and other areas of cooperation that look forward to -- and where the cooperation between the U.S. and EU can be most beneficial.

Q Can you talk about -- you said NATO was uncertain where you were going to wind up on some things, but tell us where you want them to wind up. What are some of the tangible things that you want to come out of the NATO summit on Iraq?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, the question of NATO on Iraq is not so much really what the United States or other NATO countries want in the abstract. The question is really what the Iraqi government is going to want, and want from the international community, generally, and from NATO, in particular.

It is going to be a sovereign government. We keep saying full sovereignty, and we actually mean it. And one of the implications of full sovereignty is that we ought not to be, and, in fact, are not, simply deciding in the abstract and in consultation with our NATO partners what we want. We need to hear from the Iraqis what they want.

And I think the -- my sense from the Iraqi government is that they're interested in help from the international community for them to defend themselves, to stand up as a country and deal with their own problems, themselves. And I think that that will be the direction that NATO's discussion takes.

Q In fact, NATO has received a request from the Prime Minister, has it not? Is that what you're going to respond to?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I can confirm that request from the Prime Minister is in, and that's what NATO will be debating in the next couple of days -- how we can respond to that, what form that response takes. That's exactly right.

Q And since the Sea Island Summit, have you got a better view of how the French and the Germans view a NATO role in Iraq for training? Do you see some consensus coming together on that?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, we'll find out at Istanbul. I think that the -- the Sea Island discussions were actually pretty good, because they defined a lot of the issues and a lot of the parameters of the discussion leading up to Istanbul. And now you have the request of the Iraqi Prime Minister. So we'll see how the discussion comes out. There will be -- the discussions are now taking place in NATO, and we'll see in the next couple of days.

But the Sea Island discussions were actually very useful. And the sense we had coming out of those meetings is that you really did begin to have a forward-looking, rather than backward-looking transatlantic consensus. And I think that's continued. But, again, we'll know more in a few days.

Q How hard is the President going to push for this at the summit? Is he, in fact, going to push for this? Are you going to be taking a back seat?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The question is, how NATO responds to an Iraqi request. And we'll see. We think that we should be responsive, and we'll see how the debate goes.

Q With all due respect, I've heard you and other administration officials say almost identical things for more than a year now, which is that we had our disputes about how we got into Iraq and now we're trying to cooperate on how to move forward. And yet, there hasn't been very much concrete, new expressions of help from allies who weren't a part of the coalition to begin with. Do you really expect concrete results, or do we expect just to have lots of touchy-feely -- we're at least not antagonizing each other, France and Germany aren't going to be obstructionist to U.S. goals, but just basically paper things over until we get through the election period?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I'm not sure -- and with equally due respect -- I'm not sure I entirely accept the premises of your question. That suggests -- the logic of the question suggests that things like the Security Council resolution is in the category of touchy-feely. That was actually very important, because another word for touchy-feely is a political consensus, rather than a political division. And that, it seems to me, is not insignificant. It is extremely significant -- whether France, Germany, the United States, Italy, Great Britain, Poland, Spain are all moving in the same direction and all want the same things, or not.

Now, an expression of political commitment is not to be sneered at after last year. And I also submit to you that we have begun to see the real results of that commitment. That is, you have had a successful U.N. process; you have had, by most accounts, a fairly successful -- in fact, a very successful launch of the interim government. It has stood up, it has a personality. The transatlantic relationship is much better than it was when a senior administration official said some time ago, said to you that the United States would be working to try to assemble that kind of a consensus. So I think we've made some real progress here, and we're going to keep moving in that direction.

Q A lot of the European allies have very serious problems with domestic opposition to any kind of assistance for the United States, especially in Iraq. How are you going to make the argument to them that it's in their interests to help us in Iraq when so clearly their populations are against it?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I've been heartened -- God knows I'm aware of what you're talking about, certainly. I have been very heartened by the several European governments which have confirmed a continued commitment to the coalition in Iraq. There have been a couple of parliaments and a couple of cabinets which have made these sorts of decisions in the last 48 hours. That's very heartening, and that comes not by chance. That comes in the wake of the Security Council resolution and the standing up of the Iraqi government, soon to take sovereignty.

Now, I didn't answer one of your earlier questions, and I really should. Of course, there is no magic wand that produces lots of new troops for Iraq. I want to make that clear. That's not been an expectation. Fifteen or 16 NATO members already have forces on the ground in Iraq, and something like 21 NATO members have forces on the ground in Afghanistan. And, by the way, the Canadians are leading the NATO force in Afghanistan, and that's soon to be taken over by the Euro Corps, which is a French, German, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Spanish lead. And I think I've got that right -- lest we forget or project differences over Iraq where they shouldn't go, because in Afghanistan there has been a substantial degree of allied unity from the beginning.

But we never expected there would be a massive influx of new troops. There are lots of NATO troops already in Iraq. The two divisions in southern and south-central Iraq are essentially NATO, non-U.S. divisions. That's plenty of commitment. What you have been writing about, and what we have been working with, and sometimes, frankly, worried about has been the lack of political unity, which is important. It's important to the new Iraqi government, and it's important to the environment, and it's important to get beyond where we were in 2003 and deal with the larger context, which is Iraq in a region with an international community helping reform and reformers in the region, and helping Iraq. That's where we want to be.

Q You said Iraq is going to ask the international community for some -- to be able to secure themselves. I guess you are aware of the nature of their request. Could you detail us what the nature of the kind of things Iraq will ask for?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I don't want to characterize it in great detail, but before I came over here, I noticed wire service accounts that the Prime Minister of Iraq had sent a letter to NATO, to the NATO Secretary General, asking for NATO's assistance in helping Iraq provide for its own security.

So you should -- it's not for me to characterize that further, but I can confirm that those wire service stories are accurate because I've heard from the U.S. mission at NATO that that letter has, in fact, come in to the NATO Secretary General.

Q Can I follow on that? The President spoke with Dr. Allawi today. Do you expect Dr. Allawi to be in Istanbul making this case for himself? Can you give us some sense of the contribution that NATO could make, given that you have countries, NATO countries that are not in Iraq that have training missions in adjacent countries in the region, if a NATO cap could be put on that kind of training mission? And, secondly, can you tell us anything about these plans for the Gulf Cooperation countries to be added in some form of a -- something that would build on the Mediterranean dialogue and how that might fit into this context?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I very much doubt to the vanishing point that Prime Minister Allawi will be able to go to Istanbul. It's my sense that he's got a lot of work to do in Iraq getting ready for the transfer of sovereignty. So I don't expect him there, I never have.

The issue of training is something that NATO will be grappling with. There are a lot of ways to do this. Obviously, there are things that are done -- that are already being done outside the country; a lot of training needs to be done inside the country if you're going to get to larger numbers. We'll see what NATO does.

You mentioned very -- you mentioned in passing a NATO outreach to the Gulf. If some of you are on the trip, I suspect I may have more to say at a later point about NATO's piece of a set of initiatives we roughly call the Broader Middle East Initiative. And you're basically right, there is an idea of NATO outreach, but NATO is finalizing the plans, so I'll say I hope to be able to say more about that later.

Q Without addressing it, could you say the advantage that would bring to the greater Middle East-North Africa initiative, how it would help?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, when we get it, I'll tell you all kinds of way in which it will help -- believe me, I won't be shy. But I'd rather wait until we have something to be proud of, rather than almost something we would have been proud of.

Q On that, and just to take a step back, you said NATO has come to a decision to redefine its mandate -- and forgive my ignorance --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, I didn't quite put it that way --

Q That's my question. Did I miss something? Has there been an affirmative decision by the Alliance that its new role is the power projection into the broader Middle East? I'm missing something.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. No. That is -- I'm glad you asked, because I want to be very clear about this. NATO's mission has not changed. Its mission was and remains collective defense. What I said was that NATO is in the process of developing a new way to go about realizing that traditional mission under very different circumstances. That has been a process that began after 9/11, and the Prague Summit of November 2002 was a milestone in that process. Another one was NATO's assumption of responsibility for ISAF in Afghanistan. Another was the standing-up of the NATO response force. And another may be, if we get it, may be the NATO outreach and cooperation offer to the countries of the broader Middle East.

This does not mean NATO has made a decision to change its mandate; indeed, NATO's mandate and NATO's mission remains exactly as it was. But it is interesting, if you go back and read the Washington treaty to establish NATO, it doesn't say: defense against communism, defense against the Soviet army, defense against the Soviet Union. It says: collective defense. And it doesn't mention geography. And there was, through the 1990s, a terribly complicated and hideously wonkish debate called "in area, out of area," which meant, can NATO even contemplate doing something outside the traditional European theater of the Cold War. And this was the debate about the Balkans, when the Balkans seemed to be very far afield for NATO.

My point was that this debate -- in area, out of area -- has been settled. That NATO, actually -- the closest thing you can say to a decision point in NATO came in the spring of '02 when NATO ministers decided that threats can come from anywhere and NATO must be prepared to respond to them. Now, that does not mean power projection, that's not a term that NATO would use. It does mean that NATO has to deal with global problems. After all, the first time NATO -- and only time NATO has invoked Article V was in response to an attack on the United States, unexpected, from -- originating, in some sense, in Afghanistan and hatched in Western Europe. All of this was unexpected, all of it was real, and it taught NATO a lesson that it had to learn how to deal with 21st century threats to carry out its traditional mission.

Now, that's a long answer, but I wanted to be very clear about the difference between NATO's classic mission of collective defense and the new way NATO in which is carrying it out.

Look, this is complicated stuff. And I think in 10 years, when we look back at this period, instead of talking about the rhetorical debates and old Europe and new Europe and fireworks and all of this stuff, we'll talk about that a little bit, but we'll also talk about this as a period when NATO transformed itself successfully to reach out and deal with new challenges and new opportunities and emerged as a seriously relevant organization. So the issue that people had 15 years ago, was NATO relevant in a post-Cold War world, is going to be not only not relevant, but understood not to be relevant.

Q Let me follow on this question of relevance, because what NATO has said -- at least, individual NATO members, like France -- President Chirac made very clear in Sea Island that he didn't see a role for NATO in Iraq. So are you suggesting that Prime Minister Allawi's appeal to the NATO Alliance is going to produce some result different from what individual members have taken as a position?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I'll let the French characterize their own position, but I did not read the Sea Island discussions as that categorically negative. I think there is a great deal of caution on the part of some of the NATO allies about what a proper NATO role might be, and we'll have to see what develops.

This is not easy stuff. After all, the thought of five years ago that NATO might have a role in Afghanistan would have seemed absurd. This was debated in transatlantic policy wonk circles in 2001, and most people thought Afghanistan was too far afield. Now NATO is in Afghanistan, and the fact that we can have this sort of an exchange about what NATO might do in Iraq is a sign of how much NATO, mentally and in policy terms, is successfully dealing with new challenges. We'll see when we get there.

Q I don't see what's so complicated. I mean, all of these NATO Alliance members, except for some of the newer members and, of course, Great Britain, were opposed to the war. Their publics were opposed to the war. And now they are indicating that they're opposed to go in any kind of peacekeeping capacity.

So the question I have and what critics seems to be raising is, are you effectively lowering the bar for NATO involvement, so at the end of the day, if they offer to train some Iraqi security forces, this administration will raise its hand and say, there's the political unity we've been after for so long, they're going to go in and they're going to help train the forces, when, in fact, our needs in a security -- on a security level, are much deeper than that?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, our needs at the moment are to respond to the needs of the Iraqi government. In the end, it's their country. It's Iraq that has to be defended by Iraqis. And however long we're going to be there, it is going to be Iraqis that do the job. I think most --

Q While we're there, we've got 140,000 troops who are doing the job.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's right. Look, most NATO members, 15 or 16 have forces in Iraq. That's out of 26. So it's not just the new members and Great Britain. Most countries do. There have been a number of NATO coalition partners who -- NATO members who have reconfirmed their contributions and, in some cases, officially extended it.

So you've got a lot of NATO members there, and we'll see what else we get. This is tough stuff. This is not an easy -- it's not -- these aren't easy decisions.

Q It's not an easy sell, is that what you were --


Q -- beginning to say?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, no. Oh, no. It's not easy in reality.

Q Have you had to lower the bar of your expectations, given the political reality you're going into the summit?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I can answer that question a couple of ways, but one of the ways I could answer it is by noting that for a very long time, the expectations were set by a lot of commentary that the alliance was hopelessly divided about Iraq and that the divisions might even prove terminal.

So whether -- where the bar is set is an interesting question. But having gone through a lot of the transatlantic debates over the past year, I would say that expressions of unity and solidarity are not to be sneered at, and not to be considered insignificant. I think that that's actually pretty significant, pretty good stuff if we get it, given the kinds of debates we've had within the Alliance.

Q Is there any point in having this debate until we know what Mr. Allawi is seeking, what level of help, and whether NATO is in the position to provide it? Does he need 2,000 trainers, does he need 30,000 trainers?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think that that's actually an excellent question, and I think it's -- far better than having an abstract discussion like this, it's better to work out with the Iraqis what sort of assistance they have in mind, where they have in mind doing it, and what NATO can provide. I think that those are real-world discussions, and I think they will be taking place at Istanbul and beyond if NATO makes those kinds of decisions. We'll see.

Q With the U.S. dominating the security -- providing of security in Iraq at this point, I wonder how much flexibility, how much independence the Prime Minister really has. Did he, for instance, consult with the U.S. government before making this request for assistance from NATO? I mean, the timing of it couldn't be better for you all. Is it, in fact, -- is he operating independently, or are we basically saying, look, this is what we want you to ask?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Certainly, Prime Minister Allawi is very capable of expressing himself and his desires. The people that have worked with him in this administration are impressed with his strength and his ability to say what he wants and what he doesn't want.

Q On Afghanistan, are you going to get something meaningful to move NATO -- to move it outside of Kabul, to go around the clock around Afghanistan?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's what we're working on; I hope so.

Q Anything you can say about it?


Q What do you mean? More troops or --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: NATO is principally now in Kabul, though the Germans are outside in Kunduz. And we are working on what more NATO might do in Afghanistan, and we'll see where we come out.

Q Can I ask mystery guest number two about the EU summit, just briefly? You didn't touch on it. What is the President seeking to gain out of stopping there for as short a time as he is? What are your goals in this brief stop in Ireland?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Remember, these summits are regularly scheduled, so they occur on an annual basis, and this is their turn to host. And so we're -- fundamentally, that's the reason why we're heading out there. In terms of what we hope to accomplish, I think the scene setter that my colleague tried to set is the broader set of objectives. I think the broader kind of theme that we're trying to emphasize on both visits, in other words, the same idea of the transatlantic relationship, reconnecting with Europe, that's part of what we're doing at NATO, but part of what we're doing at the U.S.-EU, as well. So the theme is one and the same.

In terms of specific things to do, there are joint statements, like at any other summit, that we're working on with the Europeans, covering a number of issues, including Iraq, the broader Middle East, some specifics on the economic side, counterterrorism, non-proliferation. And each of these, I think what you need to look for, particularly on the CT, non-pro, and economic ones, is sort of the practical spirit in which we're approaching the summit and approaching the challenges of the day, trying to work -- pool our efforts, coordinate our efforts, collaborate and addressing difficult issues in a spirit of cooperation.

Q On the economic front, is the GPS, would that -- would you say that most substantial, most significant one that--

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That will be a significant part of what will come out of the summit.

Q -- the crisis in western Sudan is a matter of great concern to the European Union. And it's somewhat of less concern to the U.S. administration. Are we going to see that being brought out with the President's discussions with the European Union?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think that that's very possible. In the recent weeks, we have been discussing that our concerns over the situation have been growing, and we and the Europeans see the situation -- terrible situation there in a very similar way. So I wouldn't be surprised at all if we have something to say about that.

Q Without lowering the bar at all, would it be a decent solution for you if, for security reasons, for instance, that this training would take place in Jordan and Kuwait, or in NATO countries without a flag -- having the NATO flag flying over Iraq, actually?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, that's interesting, because it seems to me that questions comes up, is the NATO flag itself an extra target? And it seems to me that everything in Iraq is a target for the terrorists. The U.N. flag was a sufficient target. If France were in Iraq, France would be a target. And countries that haven't been in Iraq have also been targets. So the notion that you can avoid being a target by not being there is not necessarily true.

Training, I think -- some training can be done and is being done outside of country. Other training is more practical and certainly more cost-effective to do inside. And you have to have the right mix. The question of the flag is one I've never quite understood. We've seen that the terrorists and the enemy in Iraq will kill wherever it can and is not particularly inclined to give any institution a pass -- again, witness the U.N.

Q Well, what is the plus from the U.S. perspective to have the NATO flag in Iraq, if there is a plus?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, the question is not a NATO flag -- that's a highly theoretical and abstract question. The question is, what can be done to help the Iraqis defend themselves, and what can the international community do.

Look, all the NATO governments, whatever their position in 2003 about the decision to begin fighting in Afghanistan (sic), all agree that the way forward in Afghanistan (sic) must be security, stability, a country at peace with itself and its neighbors, and a single Iraq with rights for its constituent communities. There is agreement about that. There is also agreement that a failure in Iraq would be catastrophic for everyone. Therefore, logically, there should be -- we should be discussing the way forward and what we can do to help prevent the worst outcome and help achieve the best outcome. And, in fact, that's what I hope the discussion will center around, rather than abstract points.

Q One more question regarding Mr. Allawi's letter requesting technical assistance. As we are talking on the mystery guest level, what do you think Europeans could deliver in that respect? And what do you think -- or what do you make of Senator Biden's demand that allies, NATO allies like France and Germany should provide troops for border control, for protection of United Nations forces?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, we want to do as much as can be done to help the Iraqis help themselves, and to respond to the Prime Minister's appeal. He appealed for, as you said, technical assistance and training, and we want to be responsive. And I think it's incumbent upon all of us to do what we can at NATO to respond to his request.

Q What kind of assistance, what --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, that covers a multitude of possibilities and we'll be discussing that in Istanbul and beyond.

END 5:44 P.M. EDT