|The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
December 27, 2004
Press Gaggle by Trent Duffy
Crawford Middle School
12:17 P.M. CDT
MR. DUFFY: Good afternoon. Let me update you on the President's schedule. The President had his normal intelligence briefings. And then following those, he received a special briefing, an update on the situation in Asia following yesterday's earthquake. The President also spoke directly with Secretary Powell about both the response efforts underway, as well as the elections in the Ukraine.
But back to the earthquake, again, this is a terrible tragedy. There is a significant loss of life. And our thoughts and prayers are with all those who are suffering. The United States, at the President's direction, will be a leading partner in one of the most significant relief, rescue and recovery challenges that the world has ever known. And the USAID briefed earlier today about all those efforts underway. As we said yesterday, the United States expresses its sincere condolences for the loss of life and suffering, and we've been working since early yesterday morning to support American citizens who may have been affected in the region through the various embassies.
And with that, I will answer your questions.
Q The President was said to have written a number of letters to chiefs of state of nations. Do you have a list of those nations that he has written?
MR. DUFFY: Yes. The President sent letters of condolence to leaders of the seven countries that were affected. I don't have that list handy, but we can get that for you. But the list of the seven countries that were affected mainly by the earthquake and the tsunamis.*
Q Trent, is there any estimate of how much money we're going to be putting up to --
MR. DUFFY: I think the State Department addressed some of that this afternoon. I mean, obviously, the first thing that needs to be done is there needs to be an assessment of what can be done. There are some initial United States funds that are already flowing through the embassies. I think the dollar amounts are $400,000 at the early outgoing, and then $4 million in the next few days. But I would refer you to the State Department for more on the actual dollars.
Q Will the U.S. military be involved?
MR. DUFFY: That's something Secretary Powell addressed. He said that the Pacific Fleet is going to look and see whether there is a role, and what the role might be for the United States military. I was able to check with the Pentagon, as far as impact to the military from the earthquake and the tidal waves --and, obviously, keep in touch with the Pentagon -- but as of now, we don't detect any large impact to the United States military, at this point.
Q Trent, is the President going to make some phone calls, as well, or is he just going to write letters at this point?
MR. DUFFY: All I have is the letters of condolences that he's sent. We'll keep you updated on any other calls. As I said, the President spoke with Secretary Powell this morning.
Q Can you just tell us, was he watching any of this? Has he seen the images? Is he watching it on television?
MR. DUFFY: He's been monitoring it very closely. He's seen some of the images on television, yes.
Q Is there any anti-terrorism component to this? Is the administration concerned about -- that the terrorists might take advantage of the situation?
MR. DUFFY: Well, the United States is always concerned about terrorist activity, no matter what day it is, or no matter what the events are. The President's most solemn obligation is to protect the American people. Certainly, any time that there's events like this, the U.S. government will be working overtime to ensure that the American people are protected, and the war on terrorism goes on. So as far as any specific activities, obviously, we wouldn't get into any classified types of information, but the American people can rest assured that no matter what happens in the world, that the government will be doing everything it can to protect the American people from terrorism.
Q Trent, today one of the Sunni parties in Iraq said that they would not participate in the elections because of security concerns. Does this give rise to any concerns about the credibility and legitimacy of the election if this party does not participate and Sunnis don't participate?
MR. DUFFY: Well, I think Secretary Powell addressed this, as well. But our interest is, we want as broad a participation as possible in the Iraqi elections and we're urging all parties to participate. Remember, what happens on January 30th is that a transitional national assembly will be selected, and that national assembly will act as the legislature, will begin drafting a constitution, will select presidents and vice presidents. And from that perspective, they'll go forward from there. But, yes, we'd like to see as broad a participation as possible. We've made that quite clear, and we support those efforts.
Q Do you remain confident that the security situation will allow this election to move forward on schedule?
MR. DUFFY: We're confident that the security is going to be in place. The American and the multinational forces are helping the Iraqi people to secure the polling places around the country, and we're confident that that will go forward.
Q Can I ask you just about some more detail about what the President is doing in terms of preparing for the State of the Union, Inaugural Address, who is he meeting with; are some of the speech writers down here with him, or do they plan to be?
MR. DUFFY: I don't have any plans on senior staff, but right now, as I said yesterday, this week the President is, obviously, reflecting back on what he has accomplished and looking forward towards a very active second term agenda that he outlined in the course of the campaign, from securing Iraq and having successful elections, to continuing to grow democracy in Afghanistan to the Middle East peace process; and then on the home front, continuing with our education reforms, continuing to build the economy and have job creation, and address some serious challenges, like Social Security, tax reform and other items -- medical malpractice. So he's got some very big speeches coming up, with the Inauguration speech, as well as the State of the Union. And now is the time for him to sort of think about how he wants to address the American people and try to bring us together to move forward on some big challenges. I think that's the best way to classify it.
As far as formal speech preparation, I mean, there's been some early draftings. Obviously, you're aware of Mr. Gerson's health -- it's good, it's getting better, he's doing very well. So I'm sure he'll be back in the rotation before too long.
Q Is Gerson back here doing --
MR. DUFFY: I beg your pardon?
Q Is -- are any of the speechwriters down here?
MR. DUFFY: No, they are not; not at this point.
Q Is he actively working on the speech this week? Are they faxing or emailing copies back and forth?
MR. DUFFY: There are some drafts. I think the best way to characterize it is there are some initial drafts, but as I was just mentioning, that Mr. Gerson is back in the rotation, or soon will be after his health issue.
Q Do you have anything further to say about the Ukranian election?
MR. DUFFY: Nothing further, besides what Secretary Powell said. Obviously, we certainly await the final outcome, but we're very pleased with the conduct of the election. It appears to have gone very smoothly and meet all the international standards. We're pleased that it looks like the Ukranian people have had a chance to exercise their votes in the Ukraine. The U.S. interest all along has been for a process to take place that was fair, open and transparent.
Q Separately, a new bin Laden tape has emerged that's calling on Iraqis not to vote in the election. Do you have any information on whether that tape is authentic, or any reaction to it?
MR. DUFFY: I just saw the news reports on that, Caren, I don't have any confirmation of that. Obviously, we're hoping that there will be broad participation and we think there's been some positive starts in the registration and the kinds of activities that are underway there now.
Q Trent, on the explosion in Mosul, has the President been updated on either of two questions -- how the infiltrator got into the U.S. base, or what kind of explosive was used?
MR. DUFFY: Let me take that question. I mean, he's always updated on the activities in Iraq. As far as the day to day sort of tactical type of issues, I'll see.
Q Can you get back specifically on those two issues?
MR. DUFFY: Absolutely, I'd be happy to.
Q Trent, you said the President got a special briefing on the quake and tsunamis -- who gave it to him?
MR. DUFFY: Normal briefers in the National Security Council, along with Secretary Powell, Mark.
Q Apparently the U.N. emergency relief coordinator today called the U.S. and other governments stingy for spending only a tenth -- or two-tenths of a percent of GNP for international assistance. Any response to that?
MR. DUFFY: Well, as we all know, the United States is one of the largest contributors -- in fact, I think it's the largest contributor to international relief and aid efforts, not only through the government, but through charitable organizations. The American people are very giving. We'll continue to be that and we'll be a leading partner in this effort that lies ahead.
Q Besides, you know, keeping track of what's going on abroad, is he doing anything special today? Is he outside? Is he fishing? Is he --
MR. DUFFY: I think he was clearing some brush, one of his favorite activities, this morning; working hard on the ranch, doing some yard work. That's pretty much it.
Q The French foreign minister is going to the region, where the tsunami has hit. I know he's going to Sri Lanka and Thailand, and some other government officials from European countries are going. Is there any intention to send a U.S. delegation to the area? If so, who would it be? Is there any thought as to who it would be?
MR. DUFFY: I don't have anything on that at this point; I would refer you to the State Department. We already have the disaster assistance response teams heading there. I assume personnel will be going there. As far as official delegations, we'll make those announcements when they get together.
Q I believe it was last week the White House was suggesting cutting U.S. help to the World Food Bank, to help with budget problems. Has this disaster in Asia changed that at all?
MR. DUFFY: I'm sorry, can you repeat that?
Q Sure. Last week, the White House was suggesting cutting U.S. help to the World Food Bank, to assist with budget problems. And has this changed that at all? That was one of the suggestions that came out.
MR. DUFFY: I don't know about that. I will check into that.
I do have one phone call to read out, but I figured you didn't want to do that at the beginning. The President spoke to Spanish King Juan Carlos, the King of Spain, on December 24th. During this Christmas Eve call, the President and King Juan Carlos exchanged their best wishes and holiday greetings. They also discussed their hopes for good relations between their nations and peoples during the year ahead.
Q Any --
MR. DUFFY: New Year's plan for the visit? Are we going to Spain?
Q Are we going to Germany?
MR. DUFFY: I don't have anything further on the President's schedule.
END 12:30 P.M. CST
*Bangladesh, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, India, Maldives, Malaysia