For Immediate Release
June 26, 2004
Press Gaggle By Claire Buchan
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Ankara, Turkey
1:47 P.M. CDT
MS. BUCHAN: Okay, happy to take your questions. No opening. Yes.
Q Does the United States agree with the European Union that the United States should put sanctions on Sudan, if Sudan doesn't do more to end the conflict in Darfur?
MS. BUCHAN: Ending the violence in Darfur is one of the President's highest priorities. The President has called on the government of Sudan to stop the Jinjaweed violence and he has called on all sides to respect the cease-fire, to allow humanitarian assistance to flow readily. As you know, Secretary Powell has been to Sudan, and he has impressed upon the parties the importance of acting on these -- the specific steps that he has laid out.
We are closely monitoring the government of Sudan's response. There have been some improvements. But the picture is mixed, and we believe that more needs to be done on the security front and we're continuing to monitor that.
Q Claire, what was the purpose of the meeting at the White House this morning with Mueller, Ridge, Ashcroft and Dr. Rice?
MS. BUCHAN: Norah, this morning, following the President's National Security Council meeting, he received an update from Secretary Card and the group that he has charged with reviewing the 9/11 Commission reports -- I'm sorry, recommendations. So that was the purpose of that meeting. The President participated in that by secure videoconference.
Q Were any decisions made today?
MS. BUCHAN: They were not made today. The President charged the group with reviewing the recommendations and impressed upon them the importance of acting quickly. The President believes that the 9/11 Commission has done some important work and he greatly appreciates their efforts, and the recommendations that they've put forward.
The President favors reform. And he wants a rapid review of the recommendations, so that if we can do anything to make America safer, the President wants to be acting on that as quickly as possible.
Q Should we expect action this week?
MS. BUCHAN: Well, the President has asked the group to fast-track their review and the implementation of the recommendations. And to the extent that there are some recommendations that could be acted on sooner rather than later, the President could certainly act within days on some, obviously longer on others.
Just to give you a sense, over the weekend the President was in touch with Secretary Card and with other staff about the 9/11 Commission report and recommendations. He, I think, will continue to get updates throughout the week from Secretary Card and others. Dr. Rice is arriving this afternoon. Staff over the weekend worked through some of the recommendations, looking at those recommendations that the President could act on with executive authority, as opposed to those that would need congressional approval. So they're going to continue -- at a staff level, to continue to look through them, also, over the weekend.
Q Claire, are you able to give us an example of some of the actions the President might take or could take because of his executive authority?
MS. BUCHAN: I'm not going to go through the recommendations one by one. The staff is in the process of reviewing those, and we'll let the review take place.
Q Is it safe to assume that the NID is not something that can be fast-tracked?
MS. BUCHAN: That the what?
Q The proposal for a national intelligence director is not one of the ideas that could be fast-tracked?
MS. BUCHAN: That is one of the recommendations that the commission has put forward, and it's a recommendation that the President takes seriously. It is a serious recommendation by the commission. The President wants that thoroughly reviewed. And the President's goal is to make sure that we have the best intelligence possible to protect the country. He has laid out three principles for reform, including improving human intelligence, improving the use of technology in intelligence gathering, and improving the coordination among intelligence agencies. And the President will be viewing the recommendations in light of those principles that he has laid out. And certainly the Director of National Intelligence is one of the recommendations that will receive very careful consideration.
Q Back to Mark's question, should we expect any announcements yet this week while we're in Texas here? As best you know?
MS. BUCHAN: We'll keep you posted. The review has begun. It's underway and the President wants it fast-tracked. He has charged Secretary Card and others with putting forth the options as quickly as possible, and to doing so on an accelerated basis. So we'll keep you posted if there are developments.
Q Does the President have any other scheduled teleconferences or meetings specifically for those recommendations the rest of the week? And, if not -- that he's involved in, or that his team is involved in?
MS. BUCHAN: Well, I expect the President will continue to get daily updates, both from Secretary Card and from Dr. Rice while she's down here, as well as from other staff. We'll try and keep you posted, if we can, on the format that those will take. But I expect him to be in daily contact with Secretary Card and, likewise, I expect that Secretary Card will be in daily contact with others on the team who are undertaking the review. And that could take a variety of formats, whether it be by phone or by videoconference.
Q Who exactly is on the task force?
MS. BUCHAN: The people who participated today -- the Chief of Staff, the Vice President, Secretaries Rumsfeld and Ridge, General Ashcroft, Director Bolten, Secretary Armitage, Director Mueller, Harriet Miers, Dr. Rice, Fran Townsend and Steve Hadley. *(also participating were Judge Gonzales and Acting Director John McLaughlin
Q The Kerry campaign has already done a review of the 41 recommendations that were in the report and they said that their analysis is that 25 of them could be enacted solely by presidential action. Is that an analysis that the White House hasn't completed yet?
MS. BUCHAN: As I said, the staff is and has been reviewing the recommendations to determine those that can be done with executive authority and those that would need congressional authority. And I would remind you that the President has already taken a number of actions to make America safer post-9/11. We have established the Terrorist Threat Integration Center, we have enacted a number of steps to increase our biosecurity, we've undertaken the most sweeping reform of government in 50 years with the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security. So we have done a tremendous amount to make the country safer and the President agrees with the Commission that we are safe -- I'm sorry, that we are safer, but that we are not safe and that there is more to do.
Q Has the President read the Commission report?
MS. BUCHAN: The President is reading the Commission report. He brought it with him on the trips on Thursday and Friday. He has it down here with him, and he has been reading it. He is finding it interesting, and he agrees with the commission that we are safer, but not safe, and that there is more to do.
Q The videoconference meeting this morning, how long did that take?
MS. BUCHAN: I don't have the specifics on the time.
Q But is it safe to say that the President was on videoconference, and all of the rest of the participants were in the White House? Or where were they?
MS. BUCHAN: That wouldn't necessarily be the case, they wouldn't have to be. Some of them could well have been elsewhere. I don't know, specifically, if there were others participating from there agencies. They could have been.
Q Has the President been in touch with members of Congress at all on their hearings, and stuff? Or has he had any communications on these --
MS. BUCHAN: I don't know, Roger. I'll see if I can get you more on that. He had some members, I believe, traveling with him, or that he saw at his events at the end of the week, and they may well have discussed it, but I don't have any specifics for you.
Q Claire, two clarifications, and then a real, full-borne question. Was this videoconference meeting on the report and its recommendations separate from a National Security Council videoconference?
MS. BUCHAN: Yes.
Q Or they were one and the same meeting?
MS. BUCHAN: Separate. One followed the other.
MS. BUCHAN: Some different people in the second.
Q Second clarification is, I'm not sure I got the answer to Caren's question, which was, we know that it's a serious proposal that there be a national intelligence director, and we know the President is considering it seriously. But is that considered one of those proposals that could be enacted without congressional approval or not?
MS. BUCHAN: Well, I think they're continuing to do that review, James, in terms of making determinations as to which could be done with executive authority and which would need congressional authority. I think, as it would be structured in the 9/11 Commission report, my guess is that that would be one, since it would require Senate confirmation, I don't know if that's something the President can do on his own or not.
Q And my full-blown question, a different subject, is, Ayad Allawi, on his trip to Lebanon, was quoted as saying that Iraq would not seek to establish normalized relations with Israel until the Israeli-Palestinian question was fully resolved and until all other Arab nations, in fact, established normalized relations with Israel. Is that something that the United States encouraged?
MS. BUCHAN: You know, James, let me get back to you on that. I don't have answer for you.
Q Claire, should we expect the President to watch any of the convention tonight -- getting popcorn ready? (Laughter.)
MS. BUCHAN: We'll see if we can keep you posted. You know he is an observer of the political process, and he's got a stake in this one. So I expect he'll at least keep an eye on it in some form. But we'll keep you posted.
Q Two things. Is Dr. Rice here primarily to work with him on the 9/11 report recommendations?
MS. BUCHAN: Well, there's always someone from the National Security Council here with him. So that will certainly be one of the things that she will be working with the President on while she's here, but not exclusively.
Q With the Democratic Convention opening later today, what is the latest on the terrorist threat? Is there any update on the terrorist threat level or --
MS. BUCHAN: I don't have any more specifics beyond what we have already put out.
Q Is it possible the White House would release a photo of the teleconference, of Bush participating in the teleconference this morning?
MS. BUCHAN: Yes, I think that's actually likely.
Q Claire, what has the President been doing today?
MS. BUCHAN: He had his regular intelligence briefings. He participated in a National Security Council meeting. He then received this update from Secretary Card and the team reviewing the 9/11 recommendations, did a little bit of bike riding.
Q Claire, how do you respond to the criticism that if the President makes this announcement this week --
MS. BUCHAN: That what?
Q How do you respond to the criticism that the President may be planning to make this announcement about things he can do without congressional approval as a means to upstage the Democrats at their convention?
MS. BUCHAN: I guess I would respond by saying that the President thinks that his most important obligation is to protect the American people. He is committed to reform and to making any improvements that would make us safer. And he will be governed by doing what's best and doing what's right and by acting as quickly as possible. If there is something we can do to protect the American people, the President isn't going to wait.
Q Do you know if the President has spoken with Kean or Hamilton since they came to the Oval Office?
MS. BUCHAN: I don't have any updates on that.
Q Claire, another point. By reiterating the President's three principles through which he would review the recommendations, are you suggesting that the President is unlikely to accept the recommendations as they were written by the Commission and is more likely, then, to come up with a series of his own proposals, simply using that as advice?
MS. BUCHAN: I'm suggesting that he's laid out those principles because he believes they are important guiding principles and that the 9/11 Commission has put together some very thoughtful recommendations. The President appreciates those. And he is going to review them in the context of the goals he has already laid out.
Q That sounds like he's inclined to edit the recommendations, at least to some degree.
MS. BUCHAN: The President wants to review them and to do what's best to make America safer, to do what's best to build on the reforms that we've already undertaken in the area of intelligence. And he's going to take each and every recommendation that the commission has put forward seriously.
Q Claire, can you just help me out with today's meeting a little bit more? What was the purpose of the meeting? Is it for them, for the task force, to present the President with their recommendations after reviewing the material this weekend? Have they come to the point where they can present the President with recommendations? Or was it just a discussion of what they have been discussing this weekend?
MS. BUCHAN: I'm not going to get too deeply into the specifics of it. But they are continuing to review the recommendations, so they were not giving him their recommendations on the recommendations, if you will.
And the President talked with them, impressed upon them his view that we need to take any action that makes sense, that could help make America safer. The people in the intelligence community are doing good work and the President respects that, and if there is more to do, the President wants to do more. And he wanted to talk to this group today to review their work over the weekend and also to talk about going forward and his commitment to reform.
Q Claire, this is his first opportunity to speak to the entire panel; is that right?
MS. BUCHAN: To the entire panel, but as I said, he's been talking with staff over the weekend, he talked to Secretary Card over the weekend. So, together, yes.
Q So did today's meeting formally inaugurate the processes, then?
MS. BUCHAN: Well, the President charged Secretary Card with the review on Friday, and I would say that was the beginning.
Q Are we to infer that his only telephone call in the past several days has been to Lance Armstrong?
MS. BUCHAN: No.
Q Who else, then? (Laughter.)
MS. BUCHAN: He has not, that I'm aware of, made any calls to world leaders, which are ones we typically read out. But, James, if you were paying attention, you would have heard that he has been in touch with Secretary Card, with other staff members, and others over the weekend, as well.
Q Thank you. I try. (Laughter.)
Q Claire, are there any other family members joining the President?
MS. BUCHAN: Mrs. Bush is here.
Q His daughters?
MS. BUCHAN: No.
Q Anybody from the campaign, Claire, down?
MS. BUCHAN: I think he may at some point have -- be in touch with folks from the campaign. We'll let you know if there's anything to read out on that.
Q But by phone, not in person?
MS. BUCHAN: It may be a combination. We'll let you know if there's anything.
Q The Kerry campaign is accusing the President of flip-flopping in his reaction to the report, saying that initially there was no time line given and the talk was of reviewing the recommendations carefully, and now the talk is of fast-tracking and moving swiftly.
MS. BUCHAN: I'll leave the politics to the campaign, but the President has always been committed to reform and to reviewing the recommendations carefully and thoroughly, and to doing whatever we can, as soon as we can, to make America safer and to improve our intelligence-gathering operations if there is more to be done.
Q Claire, when you say the situation in Darfur is improving, what are you referring to specifically?
MS. BUCHAN: I think we've seen some positive steps. I believe those relate to some of the steps that Secretary Powell has put forward. But Secretary Powell has impressed upon them the importance of improving the security situation. And that's an area that, I believe, we have not seen the improvement that needs to happen there. State may have more for you on that.
Okay, thank you all.
END 2:06 P.M. CDT