|The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
August 26, 2006
4:51 P.M. (Local)
MR. McCLELLAN: This is a background briefing, and here is our background briefer.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We just finished what I think is the most productive U.S.-EU summit in this administration, and one that left us all very satisfied, both in the tone and the substantive results.
I have to do a terribly bureaucratic thing, for which I ask your forgiveness, but it is worth it. I refer you to the joint declarations, seven in all, but there are -- there are a couple of them really worth paying attention to, because this is the substance of what we achieved.
One, the joint declaration on Iraq. If you read it, it's very clear that you now have a political consensus between the United States and Europe on the way forward; not a political consensus in retrospect about Iraq last year, but a consensus on what we do now.
For example, the statement blesses the multinational force in Iraq intended to help the Iraqi people with security. This means that the European Union member states who have troops in Iraq now can no longer be accused by anyone of acting against a general European consensus. They are, in fact, fulfilling the general European consensus, which is the multinational force is a good thing to have.
Second joint declaration I draw your attention to is about the Broader Middle East. Broader Middle East initiative was launched in Sea Island. This declaration puts the EU on record with us as supporting reform and reformers in the region. It specifies a number of areas where the United States and European Union will work together to advance reform. This is some specific areas.
I promised one of my European Union associates that I would convey to the American press that negotiating of the Iraq declaration was easy, and in fact, it was. The Europeans wanted -- did not want to torture us over that document. They wanted to show us that they really were committed to moving ahead together on Iraq. And so the negotiations were very fruitful. Ditto to the negotiations on the Broader Middle East statement, which were quite -- which were without any particular drama.
There were also two very strong statements, rather detailed, about cooperation on counterterrorism and WMD-counter proliferation cooperation, including some strong language about Iran that we worked on last night, following Iran's decision to resume its program. The United States and the European Union said in that declaration that we were disturbed by the Iranian decision, and we called on Iran to rethink its position. Now, given the history of the EU efforts to work with Iran, that's very strong -- that's a very strong statement. We also had a joint declaration on Sudan, on HIV/AIDS and on economics.
This was really good work, and we were very pleased with it, and it gives us a very good platform to go into Istanbul.
Meetings today consisted of the bilateral with the Irish Prime Minister, the summit itself, which had two parts, political discussions of regional issues, Iraq, Broader Middle East, Turkey, other issues, and the one session which featured economics. There was then a brief session with the transatlantic business dialogue, which is a mechanism by which business leaders are able to come up with recommendations and put them to governments.
So it was a good meeting, we're very happy with it. It gives us a real platform on which to go to Istanbul, and it's another example of how, in this month, Europe and the United States put the miserable past into the past, and are working together on a common set of objectives, on key issues, starting with Iraq. So with that overview, take questions.
Q Just today, the press was delayed because of protesters, people angry about the President, angry about his policies, presumably. They held us up, and we didn't even get to the press conference on time. And yet you're saying that there is now this harmony. Don't the protests wherever the President goes illustrate that people still are very much against these policies?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, the fact of protests is not necessarily indicative of all that much. Now, I don't want to suggest that the protesters aren't motivated by genuine feeling, but come on, I'm a veteran myself of some protests, and I figured anything less than 100,000 people is --
Q So that's the standard, 100,000 people --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's not a U.S. government standard. I just remember what some real protests are like.
Look, protests have been a feature in Europe and in the United States for a very, very long time. When I look back at the protests in post-World War II Europe, the biggest numbers, I believe, were generated neither by the Iraq war nor the Vietnam War, but by the nuclear freeze movement in the mid 1980s. And there are very few people who actually remember what that was all about.
So the fact of protests -- well, that's a fact of life, and I'm sorry you missed the conference. But what is --
Q Oh, I made it.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Good. But what is important, in fact, is whether the governments are now working on a convergence path or a divergence path, not whether there are protests. There were protests in 2001, plenty of them. There are going to be protests under just about any circumstances. Some of them have more interest and more validity than others.
The point of this summit was that the governments are working on it clearly from a much more common set of assumptions. That's important. Last year, the same could not have been said. It was much, much more difficult to come to a common set of conclusions about, for instance, Iraq. We did not, for instance, have the kind of strong statement on Iraq last year that we were able to generate rather easily this year. That's very significant. So that, to me, is the news.
Q Can I just take one on NATO transformation? He speaks -- there's some suspicion -- suspicion is maybe not the right word, but Dr. Rice and the President talked about NATO transformation a lot, and about the needs to get NATO over its concern of only acting within the region. They hail Afghanistan. And there's this and the launching of the Greater Middle East Initiative. There's some suspicion that NATO is sort of being teed up for a more active role in what comes next in the Middle East, that some of the resistance to NATO transformation and a rapid response mechanism for NATO might come out of a desire not to get embroiled in future entanglements in the Middle East. What's the proper role for NATO going forward; what's your vision of NATO in the Middle East?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There are a couple of parts to your question. First of all, and this is a minor part, but I have to take issue with one of your points, which is that there is resistance to NATO's -- to NATO carrying out its mission in new ways. And you mentioned the NATO response force. NATO response force was agreed to at the Prague summit in 2002. NATO response force is getting stood up. It's been created rather rapidly. It's gone from idea to reality very quickly, with, by the way, the strong support of the French.
Q Dr. Rice acknowledged there was even -- there was cool response even to their request for technical assistance in Iraq.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You mentioned the NATO response force, which is a particular NATO initiative, and I'm going to slice your question, because there are different pieces of it, and all of your pieces are important.
First piece -- and there will be a lot more about this at NATO -- is NATO getting ready to carry out its traditional mission of collective defense in a radically different environment and to meet radically new challenges. This is hard stuff, and it's very big stuff. NATO has undergone and is in the process of undergoing a major intellectual and policy shift, from its post-Cold War identity and concerns about drift to an identity that is very expansive in terms of geography, but without changing NATO's core mission at all. It's just realizing this core mission in a new way.
This is not easy stuff. Folks, five years ago, the notion that NATO would be leading a mission in Afghanistan would have been considered somewhere between improbable and laughable, if not heresy. Now it's a fact. The debate in NATO is, how much, how fast. Well, okay. That is a debate worth having. But the fact that we are able to have this kind of a discussion shows how far we've come.
You judge progress not merely by the results of the current debate at the margin, but by the nature of the debate itself; what is it you are discussing. We are no longer discussing whether NATO should go out of area, we are discussing how fast NATO can get geared up to do things that 10 years ago would have been utterly inconceivable. That, to me, is a good news story.
That said, this is hard stuff. It's no secret that European militaries -- many European militaries need to reform. Europeans admit this. Intellectually, some of the boldest reformers are the Germans. They're changing their military to make it more expeditionary at one end, to have a kind of stabilization force at the middle, and then at the lower end a reserve and training force. The Germans are preparing their military to deal for 21st century tasks to be knit up with the kind of NATO that is developing.
Now I'm going into detail, I know this is a little ahead of myself, but we'll be getting into this in a little while. Now that -- all of this answers the third part of your question, which was, I think, your real point, which is, how much resistance is there to NATO's new role. And I think I've already answered that by saying we're grappling with the operational details of what NATO's new role means. We're not grappling with the strategic shift in NATO, although the shift is not toward a new mission, it's got its old mission in new ways.
Q This story -- is there a deal at NATO for an Iraqi training role, I mean, is it now sort of we're just waiting for it to happen?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let's see, I've been in meetings all morning, and now I'm on a plane, and NATO itself is decamping for Istanbul. So let me -- fair question, don't know the answer yet. The discussions were going reasonably well, and we'll see when we get there.
Q What's the agenda for tomorrow, with the Turks? What are the President's goals for tomorrow?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Turkey is an example, at once, of a secular democracy with a mostly Muslim population, a multi-religious tradition, which is at the same time part of a Muslim world and becoming part of Europe and wants to join the European NATO [sic].
The success of this kind of country, true to its own roots and a secular democracy, is of tremendous importance both for Europe and as a sort of example for the Middle East. In Ottoman history -- starting with Ottoman history, and then a lot with Ataturk, Turkey worked out a vision of itself as a country Europeanizing with separation of mosque and state, a country true to its own national traditions, but a European, modern democracy. That's an important -- that's a relevant model today and an important vision.
So that's the backdrop of what we're discussing. I imagine the topic will include Turkey's desire to join the European Union, the region, Middle East, Broader Middle East, Iraq, Cyprus. No shortage of things to discuss. The current government of Turkey is really a fascinating example of a party with modern Islamist origins which is busy taking Turkey into the European Union, which is really a marvelous kind of thing, a kind of -- it's a party at once -- the AK party is trying to be secular and true to a -- Turkish values. It's a very interesting set of issues in Turkey, and if the Turks work this out successfully, as they are, it's a very good model. After all, if in the 19th century these things started being debated in Istanbul, they were also being debated in Damascus and Cairo.
Sorry for the digression about Ottoman history, but this is important stuff, and it forms the backdrop and we've all been thinking about this.
Q What about the -- stop, you're making me laugh.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You asked the question.
Q About the Ottoman Empire? (Laughter.)
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You asked about Turkey and the backdrop. You all think that the administration doesn't have -- doesn't think in deep historic terms. Oh, what a mistake.
Q I never said that.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And you never will.
Q But I do have a follow up.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: If you dare. (Laughter.)
Q Why is there still the resistance to Turkey entering the EU? What's the President doing about that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, look, this is an EU decision. It's not an American decision. I'm not going to speak -- as someone who thinks it would be good for both Turkey and the EU for Turkey to have membership, I'm not going to articulate -- I'm not going to speak for opponents.
I think that there are some in Europe who regard Europe as a kind of a Christian club. And after all, for Europe, for a long time, the Ottoman Empire was the "other." I think they're getting passed that, and that's why I think Turkey, in the European Union, would be good for Europe.
But I think there are concerns about Turkey's size, and its geography. But I actually have -- I followed the debate the past couple of years. I think there is much greater support for Turkey joining the EU than there was a couple of years ago. That's partly as people get accustomed to the idea, and partly as they see a reformist Turkish government doing the right things.
Q Will the President try to get any pledges on the Kurds and what Turkey might do after the handover, under certain scenarios?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm sure that those issues will come up, but I don't want to have to anticipate how they might come up. But I'm sure it will. Those are good questions, and you should ask it again.
Q The President wants, though, from Turkey, in terms of --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Turkey and the United States want an Iraq to be -- want the independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity of Iraq, with rights for its minorities and constituent communities. They want -- Turkey and the United States want stability in Iraq, and we want a complete end to all terrorism in Iraq, including terrorism from the PKK. I'm sure this will come up.
Q Dan, I'll take you back to Ireland. The meeting with the President and the Prime Minister, they said they raised the Abu Ghraib situation. Was it a matter of fact sort of tone, or how did that go?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It did come up, just as the Taoiseach said, and as the President confirmed. The Irish expressed their concern over what had happened, and the President said that he was as concerned as anyone, and outraged, that it was a terrible episode, and we would investigate it. You've heard the President speak in these terms before. And you heard -- he said that he was glad that they felt they could express this, and he expressed his views, as you've heard him do before.
I frightened you into silence. I'll have to remember that technique.
Q Take us back to the Ottoman Empire again, and --
Q Forty-one went to Turkey and he saw whirling dervishes. Will we see that again?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I have no idea.
Q He saw them.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I really couldn't say.
Q Have you seen them?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: In my life? Yes, as a matter of fact.
Q What was the question?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Have I seen whirling dervishes in Turkey. And the answer is yes, though I don't know what good that does you. (Laughter.)
Q You don't think the cultural experience of whirling dervishes is up there?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I have enjoyed every visit I've ever made to Turkey, as might be obvious to you. Is there anything else, or you don't dare ask anything more?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think you're done. Eleven o'clock lecture on the Ottoman Empire.
Q I had one question for you, and it was, did someone come in and -- did someone go in and tell the President that we were all held up, and that his press conference, his press availability would be delayed? And how did he react when he was told that protesters had been responsible for --
MR. McCLELLAN: We knew that you all were delayed, so we waited to start the press availability until you all could get there.
Q What did he have to say, if anything, about finding out that protesters had done this?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think there was any particular reaction to that, to the protests. It's just an understanding that you all were trying to get through, and so we waited so you all could get there so we could start the press avail. I think it speaks to democracy that people can speak out like that. And certainly we're now seeing that they can do that in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, as well.
Q What did the President think about what Vice President Cheney said to Senator Leahy?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, look, it was a private exchange. These things happen from time to time. I think the Vice President addressed it. And the President is looking ahead.
Q There wasn't any quality, like the last time with -- the podium, with Adam Clymer, sort of a, that's the way he is? Did the President say anything at all?
MR. McCLELLAN: Obviously they talk on a fairly frequent basis, but it's something that's behind us now, in the view of the President, and he is looking ahead.
Q Scott, there is a question about tone. The President ran, for his first term of the presidency, to try and change the tone in Washington. He's running again now, and is this indicative of what the tone is going to be, going ahead?
MR. McCLELLAN: You're talking about one incident involving a private exchange. And like I said, these things happen from time to time. It's not an issue with the President. The President is looking ahead. Certainly, when you bring up the whole question of changing the tone, the President is someone who has always worked to elevate the discourse in Washington, D.C. And it is difficult to change the tone in Washington, given the history in D.C.
Q Just one more on that. When Cheney said he felt better after having said it, and that others told him somebody needed to sort of dress down Leahy, did the President agree with that idea?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, to --
Q That other people told Cheney that they were glad he dressed down Leahy without addressing the specific language question. But did the President agree with that, that somebody --
MR. McCLELLAN: That's why I said that -- look, the President is looking ahead. It happened, and the President is looking forward.
Q One last one on that. Does the President think it's appropriate that the Vice President has no regrets about that comment? He said he has no regrets.
MR. McCLELLAN: It's not an issue with the President.
Anything else? Okay.
END 5:15 P.M. (Local)