|The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
June 25, 2004
Press Gaggle by a Senior Administration Official
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Shannon, Ireland
12:30 P.M. EDT
MR. McCLELLAN: This is a background briefing. Here to answer whatever questions you have on the trip.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Why don't we just take questions.
Q On North Korea, are you worried they're going to actually have a nuclear test, or is that an idol threat, or what?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, it's not the first time that the North Koreans have talked about showing their deterrent. It's not really clear precisely what they said, but it wouldn't be the first time that they've talked about that. Anything the North Koreans do to demonstrate that they are -- that they don't get the message from the other five that they have to denuclearize simply serves to isolate them. And what the United States did in conjunction with others of the five parties is to put forward something that gives the North Koreans a different path. And it would be an extremely odd time, given that they've just been given a different path that they might be able to take to do something of that kind. But, you know, they make those threats from time to time, and it would just serve to further isolate them.
Q You don't seem to be too concerned about it.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: First of all, I don't know what they will do or what they won't do. But the North Koreans are -- there's no doubt that they're dangerous, there's no doubt that they have been engaged in a program to acquire and perfect nuclear weapons for a couple of decades now. So no one should take this as something that you don't want to take seriously. But they've just been offered, through the six-party talks, a way to end their isolation, which is to agree to a period in which they will prepare to dismantle their nuclear weapons programs. It would, again, be a very odd step to go and have a nuclear test when there is a different path.
Q What kind of effect do you think Dr. Allawi's request for technical and training assistance has on NATO members, and with the sort of increasing or seeming -- continued effort to make it the Iraqi security forces, the Iraqis are going to be responsible for their security, and it's not going to be the U.S. How does that help or --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, let me return to this question of -- involving the -- obviously, for a while, the Iraqis have made clear to everybody, and I think everybody understands, that they're not capable of performing the functions that are needed to secure the country. They are -- they need a robust police force. The Iraqis themselves have their own ideas about a more robust army, about rearranging the ICDC into something that looks more like a national guard. I mean, they've got some very strong ideas about how they want to do this.
Obviously it will take some time, although the Iraqis themselves say there are a lot of people with security expertise who could be brought back. And they will tell you that -- they are all people who spent years fighting the Baathists. They're not going to bring people back in who have blood on their hands. So they're got a good program going forward. It is going to take some time, and we understand that the multinational force has to play an important role until they are ready. That's why the multinational force will be there.
As to how people will react to the Iraqi request, I think it's extremely important that it's an Iraqi request, because what it does say is that there are Iraqis who are now stepping up and who are saying that it is their responsibility -- having been given the chance by the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, it's their responsibility to build a democratic and peaceful Iraq. And the countries of NATO and the countries of the Middle East ought to be completely supportive of what the Iraqis say they need to try to get into that position, because this is not the occupation forces, this is the Iraqis taking responsibility for their own future.
Q Well, when you talk about NATO -- when you talk about a NATO training mission, how many people are you talking about? Is that hundreds, thousands?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I really don't know, Terry. I think we have to look at what the Iraqis need, how much training is needed, the different kinds of training that's needed. Some of it might actually be not just for military forces, but of course you've got more Carbinieri kinds of forces that might need to be trained, too. And I think what will be called for is that there needs to be, then, an assessment and a mechanism for deciding precisely how this training will take place. I can't give you numbers, because I don't have the Iraqi numbers on what they think they'll need.
Q Would it be a single nationality, though, or would this be something under NATO auspices that would be constructed?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't think it will be a single nationality. Remember that NATO is made up of member states, and so obviously the training is going to have to be done by member states' trainers. NATO doesn't have a NATO training facility, or a NATO training mechanism. These are states that will provide the training, but NATO is clearly giving -- is clearly the organization under whose auspices it will take place.
Q General Petraeus is already looking at it -- into some larger mission like that, or are efforts that he's leading will continue sort of on its own?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Again, these are the sorts of things that have to be worked out. But obviously, no one wants to duplicate efforts, no one wants to have efforts that are pulling in different directions. At the very minimum, I would think that you would have the tightest possible coordination between them, but it's possible that they might actually even be part of the same system, in some way.
Q The Germans seem willing to train outside of Iraq. Are you flexible on that point, or -- I think Allawi's letter said inside Iraq.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Inside Iraq. The Iraqis are principally interested in inside Iraq, and that's important. I think there is some training that could also be done outside of Iraq. So there's room for both.
Q There were some reports out this morning that the U.S. is going to have to send more troops, more U.S. troops to Iraq. Anything on that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I saw that. We haven't seen anything that suggests that. The President has always said, though, that whatever his commanders need, he's going to be prepared to provide. But we haven't seen anything at my level and certainly nothing has come to the President about more troops for Iraq.
Q Can I ask you about Zarqawi's network? How do you assess this right now? I mean, is his network as strong as he is as a figurehead? Even if you killed him, is the network at this point strong enough? Where is it centered, and what level of progress is there on dismantling it?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: David, he clearly has a network, and he clearly has fighters who are loyal to him. I don't think we have, really, any idea how broad it is, whether what you really have is loose connections between a number of groups of fighters. I suspect that there is some kind of command and control that Zarqawi himself is involved with. I mean, I think the kind of simultaneity of some of the bombings that you saw probably suggests that.
We have concentrated a lot recently, as you noted, on Fallujah and that area right around Fallujah. There have been good hits on what are believed to be safe houses associated with Zarqawi; a number of fighters who were taken down up there, killed in those bombings. And you also had, clearly, a really big arms cache up there, because there were secondary explosions going off for a while.
I think there really isn't a very good sense of -- to use a -- clear how distributed this network is, or whether or not it has a more central character. We just have to improve intelligence about him. We knew a lot about him before: that he had a relatively small but very lethal network in Baghdad, which used to be something called Egyptian Islamic Jihad. These were fighters who actually pledged fealty to al Qaeda. And that group was probably responsible for Foley. So we knew he had a small but lethal network. It's a little hard to know whether what's really happening is that you have networks that are being joined together.
Q Is the U.S. contemplating any change post-June 30th in how the leaders of the Iraqi government are protected? Will we have to play a more direct role in protecting those leaders, like we are doing in Afghanistan?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I obviously don't want to go too far for security reasons, but we are helping the Iraqis to provide as much protection as possible to their leadership, and I don't think that's going to change.
Q On the NATO summit, are you hoping that they will come to some agreement for training; that that will be the end result of this summit?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think that everybody here, and a number of our other allies, believe that when you get from a leader from Allawi a request for training that NATO needs to be responsive to that, and that Istanbul is the time to be responsive. Now, nobody can be responsive in detail, because you have to sit down with the Iraqis, you have to sit down with the NATO members. There isn't, as I said, a NATO training mechanism. NATO countries have a lot of experience in providing training, through Partnership for Peace and organizations like that. But while I don't think this will be very specific, we would certainly hope that NATO is prepared to make a commitment to the training of Iraqi forces, in order to answer Allawi's --
Q What does that mean though, not specific, to make a commitment?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It means you make a commitment to try to get specific. I mean, you have to do the planning. So it's a commitment to do the planning.
Q We're talking about it as a multi-stage process, where in the interim, what you would have, ideally coming out of this, is a commitment from the organization that sets the stage then for discussions around what capabilities could be applied to the goal.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I would not call it discussions, because it implies that this goes on for a long time. But really, for a kind of implementing --
Q How long will that stage -- as you move from that, this weekend, to that next stage, how long is it you contemplate that stage taking, and --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I can't answer that, but I would tell you that we would push for as quickly as possible, because obviously the needs of the Iraqis are immediate, not in the long-term.
Q Did you just say a minute ago that there is consensus now within the organization?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, I said that we would expect that NATO will be responsive to what Allawi has asked. And on that, we've heard from a number of people that they wanted to hear from the Iraqis, what the Iraqis wanted, and they've now heard from the Iraqis what they want. So it's time to be responsive.
Q So that will be part of the final communiqu?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We'll see, Steve, but it certainly will be something that's discussed, and I would expect that NATO is going to be ready to help the Iraqis in the way that they need to be helped.
Q Back on Zarqawi, it's hard to ask for you to rank the importance of him versus other bad guys there, but we saw with Saddam Hussein, leading up to his capture, there was that, you know, huge effort to zero in. He was in the bull's eye. Is the importance of us getting Zarqawi now reaching that level?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, Saddam Hussein was special. I mean, he represented a lot, in terms of the end of Baath rule and so forth. But Zarqawi is really important. He has made himself the face of terror in Iraq. He's gone out of his way to personalize and personify terror in Iraq. I think we have to be a little bit careful in assuming that -- that that is actually the case. You can get too focused one person. What you really want to do is you want to be sure that you're going after the safe houses that are where you're learning about his people or other people. You want to be sure that you're exploring the intelligence on other potential bad people with whom his people may be cooperating. So it's a good question, because I don't think we ever want to become so centric on -- so centered on one personality that we forget that these networks are capable of operating without one person.
Q But to your point, isn't this a hearts and minds problem? I mean, isn't it a problem that the U.S. has to take some accountability for, that there is so much sympathy for Zarqawi and his ilk?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: David, I don't know that there's sympathy for al Qaeda and his ilk. I know that there are some people who either don't have a future in a new Iraq, that would be Saddam loyalists who have spent their entire lives oppressing their entire citizens, and foreign terrorists who are fighting the Jihad somewhere else, and have now decided to fight it in Iraq.
Q You don't think they're getting some sympathy from the residents in Fallujah and other places?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I would not implicate the people of Iraq in sympathy for foreign terrorists and for Baathists. I do know that when we took out that safe house in Iraq you didn't see much unhappiness about it. In fact, a lot of the local people were very glad to see those foreign terrorists taken care of.
There's no doubt that any insurgency tries to feed off a sense of disorder, it tries to feed off a sense that politically there's no future, it tries to feed off of misery. But we have to remember that people living in places like Sadr City and parts of the south and Fallujah were living in misery well before the United States got there because of the policies of Saddam Hussein.
What the Allawi government has an opportunity to do is, as the first free government of Iraq -- and I say that knowing that they're not elected, but they will be the first sovereign government of a free Iraq -- what they have an opportunity to do now is to mobilize the Iraqi people behind what's going to be a very tough struggle to rid themselves of these terrible elements, and then to start moving forward.
Q How likely do you think it is that NATO might actually contribute troops after the handover? Chirac seemed to indicate that they might be more responsive to a direct appeal from the new government once it's installed.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, you mean after an elected government is installed, because there's about to be a new government in a couple of days here.
Q -- government is --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think there are all kinds of reasons that different members of NATO have reservations about putting troops on the ground. Now, let's remember there are 16 members of NATO that are currently participating. There are a number who are pretty tapped out in Afghanistan, and there are some who probably politically believe they can't do it. This has been the case with every mission that NATO has ever been involved in. Find a mission in which you have ever nation of NATO NATO involved -- you won't find one. So countries choose their contributions to any mission based on a combination of capabilities and what they are able to do politically. I think there's nothing new about that. There are, obviously some NATO members -- it's hard because of Turkey, Turkey for other reasons. The Iraqis have made clear that they really don't want border states involved.
Q You would not --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I would not expect to see a lot more NATO boots on the ground.
Q Your reference to Muslim states yesterday, could you amplify on that a little bit?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Just that we've heard from the Iraqis that they are talking to Muslim states that are not border states to see if they can get perhaps some help in some specialized missions, like for instance U.N. support or border support or those kinds of things. Again, the Iraqis are also very careful not to want to import problems.
Q Not to what?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Not to want to import problems by -- and will be careful, I think, in choosing which states they would ask to come in.
Q Who are we talking about, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I really don't want to get into naming names, because this is their diplomacy, and let's let them do their diplomacy on it.
Q What were you hinting at yesterday when you said, if there are any changes to the schedule, we'll let you know?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I say that at the end of every one of these things.
Q I don't think so. Our ears perked up.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think I do, yes. It's just so that after I give you the schedule, you can't say, you didn't tell me that --
Q I guess the question is, are we going to anywhere else besides --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We're going to Ireland, Ankara and Istanbul.
Q And that's it.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And we're going home.
Q Can I ask you about Sudan? Why haven't you declared a genocide taking place in Sudan, and will NATO take action on this at all?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, there is a very specific legal test about genocide that -- the U.N. has actually -- the U.N. has not also declared this a genocide. I think the U.N. has even been careful about language about ethnic cleansing, because if you look at what's happening in Darfur, one village has been done, the next village might be left. So there's a complicated legal test about genocide, and I just think it's better to be specific and precise and accurate.
That does not mean that this isn't a humanitarian crisis of significant proportions. It's why Secretary Powell is going there. It's why we are working very hard with the United Nations to get humanitarian workers in. That's why there's a USAID mission that's going there. We are doing some planning to see what more we could do to support, logistically, a USAID mission. And you might note, too, that we're working -- actually working with the Libyans to see if we can get a third route open to going there, because it's very hard to get to.
Q On Zarqawi, it was believed that he had ties to Saddam's government, or at least he was there while Saddam was in power. Do we have any sense, then, if he is relying on, or somehow utilizing elements of that regime, and whether some of those higher up officials like al-Duri are cooperating?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think it's entirely possible. I don't have any particular information that that's going on. But he, Zarqawi, knows the territory, because he was in Iraq before, he was even in Baghdad before. The Iraqis were asked to turn him over by the Jordanians well before the war, and they wouldn't do it. So he's -- I don't have any information about it, but let me just say, analytically, it would not be surprising if he has got links to people that he knew before.
Q What's the latest on our talks to hand over Hussein to the Iraqis?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: After sovereignty, I think the Iraqis will receive custody of him, legally.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, I think physically nobody is going to be anxious to get into any arrangement that might make it possible for Saddam to get out. The Iraqis, themselves, have said that the security arrangements have to be very, very secure. And I think probably given the status of Iraqi forces at this point, that means they probably can't.
Q You don't think they would object to that.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No.
* * * * *
Q Any plans to mark the handoff of sovereignty on Wednesday?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'll be giving a week ahead here in a second, but we're not ready to announce any public events on Wednesday at this point. If there are any changes or updates to the schedule --
Q Oh --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: If there are any changes to the schedule, we'll let you know.
* * * * *
MR. McCLELLAN: Okay, let's see. Like I said, on Wednesday, no public events to announce at this time. You already have everything up to Wednesday. On Thursday, July 1st, the President will make remarks in the State Dining Room at a reception commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. On Friday, he will make remarks on the economy in the East Room. And then on Sunday, July 4th, the President will make remarks at a 4th of July celebration in Charleston, West Virginia, and then he will return to the White House, where he'll watch the fireworks from the White House balcony. And if there are any changes or updates to the schedule, we'll let you know.
Q You're going to mark Wednesday somehow, right?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's why I said there are no public events to announce at this time. We'll keep you posted as we get closer.
Q Speech or news conference or --
MR. McCLELLAN: Like I said, we will keep you posted as we get closer.
Q We're definitely not going anywhere on this trip though, right, anywhere else?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think your background briefer made that pretty clear, that we are going to Ireland and Turkey and then back to Washington.
END 12:56 P.M. EDT