|The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
March 15, 2005
March 15, 2005
PRESS BRIEFING BY SCOTT McCLELLAN
Syria/Lebanon.......................................1-2, 7 Hezbollah..................................1-2, 6-9, 13-14 Italy/troops in Iraq...............................2-3, 11 Majority Leader DeLay....................................3 Iraq war/marking of anniversary........................3-4 Anthrax investigation..................................4-6 Hugo Chavez/anti-American actions.....................9-10 Northern Ireland........................................10 China loan guarantees...................................11 President's comments on Israeli settlements..........12-13 Iran/support for Hezbollah...........................13-14 Video news releases.....................................14 Sale of fighter jets to India and Pakistan?..........14-15 Karen Hughes' role/reaction in Muslim countries......15-16 Mexico/terrorists crossing border into U.S..............16 Energy Secretary lobbying OPEC countries.............16-17
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
___________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release March 15, 2005
PRESS BRIEFING BY SCOTT McCLELLAN
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:14 P.M. EST
MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon, everybody. The President was pleased to welcome King Abdullah back to the White House today. They had a good discussion about the importance of supporting efforts in the Middle East to move toward the President's two-state vision. They also had a good discussion about our continuing efforts in the war on terrorism. And we also appreciate Jordan's strong statement calling on Syria to withdraw completely from Lebanon. They join Egypt and Saudi Arabia and a number of other countries in the international community who are making it clear to Syria that they need to withdraw completely and fully from Lebanon. And we appreciate those strong statements of support for the Lebanese people.
And with that, I'll be glad to take your questions.
Q Specifically, what would the President like to see Hezbollah do in Lebanon to join the political mainstream?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Resolution 1559 spells out what needs to happen. And our focus right now is on making sure that there are free and fair elections without any outside intimidation or interference. The Lebanese people should be allowed to choose their own future and to chart their own path, and that's where our focus is. This isn't about Hezbollah, this is about allowing the Lebanese people to freely choose their leaders without any intimidation or outside interference. And you can't have that as long as Syria remains inside Lebanon.
And that's why we are making it clear, as well as other nations, that Syria needs to completely withdraw all its military forces and all its intelligence services from Lebanon, so that those elections can proceed forward in a free and fair and credible way.
Now, if you have free and fair elections, I think experience shows that people tend to choose leaders who are committed to improving their quality of life, not terrorists. But in terms of Hezbollah, nothing has changed in terms of our views. You've heard from administration officials over the weekend; you heard from the President earlier today.
Q The President -- does he recognize that Hezbollah is a potent political force in Lebanon?
MR. McCLELLAN: Hezbollah is a terrorist organization. Our view has not changed when it comes to that. And 1559 also calls for all militias to be disarmed. And we want to see 1559 fully complied with.
Q Scott, what is your understanding of Italy's position on withdrawing troops from Iraq?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, actually, last week Prime Minister Berlusconi spoke to, I believe, the Italian Senate and addressed this issue. He said that, as Iraqis are able to assume more responsibility, we will work in agreement with our allies and start to withdraw some of our forces. And that was something he said, I believe it was just about a week ago -- last Wednesday, I think.
Q But has this come to a head, then, today?
MR. McCLELLAN: I saw the comments he made today and I think they were very similar to the comments he made last week.
Q What does this do to our overall troop strength there? And is it hurting our effort, in general, in --
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think so, because if you look at what he said last week and what he said again today, this will be based on the ability and capability of Iraqi forces and the Iraqi government to be able to assume more responsibility, and that he will work in agreement with allies in the region before taking those steps. And we certainly appreciate the contributions of the Italians. They have served and sacrificed alongside Iraqis and alongside other coalition forces.
Our focus remains on making sure that the Iraqi forces are fully trained and equipped and ready to assume more responsibility for their future, and that's where our focus will remain, so that eventually our troops will be able to return home with honor.
Q How much of this reflects the tension between the United States and Italy over the shooting incident?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not sure that I'd make a connection there. I don't view it the same way.
Q Is there any connection?
MR. McCLELLAN: Not that I'm aware of.
Q So no connection at all?
MR. McCLELLAN: Not that I -- I haven't heard any comment to that effect from Italian officials.
Q Scott, you addressed this to some degree yesterday, but it bears bringing up again because there's some new developments. Majority Leader DeLay today denied any wrongdoing in a couple of trips he took overseas a couple of years back. Does the Majority Leader still enjoy the full faith and confidence of the President?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the Majority Leader is someone that we support. He is someone we'll work very closely with in Washington to get things done on behalf of the American people. And we join with Speaker Hastert and other leaders in Congress who have talked about how he is a valuable member of the congressional leadership.
Q Is the President confident that there was no wrongdoing, either in the trips that he took or in the corporate donations to his Texas political action committee?
MR. McCLELLAN: We join with other congressional leaders in our support for Congressman DeLay, and we will continue to work closely with him to get things done for the American people. Those questions can be directed to his office.
Q How is the President going to mark the second anniversary of our war against Iraq and the start of the third year?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there's still a few days off until the date that we began the liberation of Iraq, and --
Q The invasion of Iraq.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think the Iraqi people showed that they appreciate the sacrifices of the coalition forces, of Iraqi forces, and our men and women in uniform of the U.S. military, who helped --
Q Well, we're still there and we're still fighting, aren't we?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- to provide them with the opportunity to determine their own future, and to move away from their past of oppression and terrorism. And, obviously, we will --
Q How is the President going to mark the anniversary?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we will have more to say as we move closer to that, to express our eternal gratitude to the men and women of our Armed Forces who have served and sacrificed in the defense of freedom, and who have helped to liberate some 25 million people in Iraq. We are --
Q That isn't why you went in.
MR. McCLELLAN: We are forever grateful to our men and women in uniform. And the Iraqi people have expressed their gratitude, as well, and showed that they are committed to defying the terrorists who want to return to the past by going to the polls and voting for a future based on freedom and democracy. And the National Assembly that was elected by the Iraqi people, the transitional National Assembly, will be meeting for the first time tomorrow. It's an important step on the path to democracy. And we stand with the international community in doing everything we can to support the transition to democracy in Iraq. We stand with the Iraqi people, and we are greatly appreciative of our men and women in uniform who continue to serve and sacrifice for this important cause. We are also grateful to their families who have made sacrifices, as well.
Q How many people are dead?
MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, April.
Q Scott, on the anthrax attacks. The latest anthrax attacks reminds Americans that we have not found the origins of who or a group of people or one person who sent the anthrax in October of 2001 at -- this has all gone on as we're spending so much money for biodefense. Why have we not found the person or persons responsible for the anthrax attacks of 2001?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's a matter that remains a priority. It remains under investigation. The FBI continues to pursue it. In terms of the issue today that you're bringing up, let me just make clear that there was a preliminary -- or some preliminary tests that came back positive. But there has been additional testing that has come up and that has been negative. So there's still some testing going on. We expect to be seeing more definitive results soon. So I don't think we should jump to any conclusions at this point. The proper authorities are looking into the latest matter to determine what exactly this substance was on these letters, and when we have more definitive results then maybe we'll be able to talk about it at that point.
Nevertheless, I would also point out that we take a number of precautionary measures when something like this happens. And we have made sure that those who may have been exposed to this substance, whatever it may be, are able to receive antibiotics if they need it. There's been no indication whatsoever that anyone has shown any symptoms of exposure to anthrax. So we need to see what those final results are.
Q But, Scott, it somewhat makes -- some of the critics of this Bush administration are very concerned, as we're talking about preventing terrorism abroad in the Middle East and the oppression and tyranny there, we're still very vulnerable to terrorism here, and still have not, again, found the origins of the anthrax attack of October 2001.
MR. McCLELLAN: Okay, let me repeat -- I would not try to draw conclusions yet on some of the current information that we have seen in the news, or the current matter relating to these Department of Defense facilities. There's been a lot of additional testing that came back negative. But they're continuing to pursue it, because anytime something like this shows up positive, it becomes a high priority, and that's why a number of authorities are working on it. Health officials, the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI obviously will be involved, and trying to determine exactly what this substance is.
But in terms of the issue you brought up, we have made preventing bioterrorism a top priority, and that's why we have worked on initiatives to address those issues. And the President will continue to make sure we are doing all we can to better protect the homeland, while also staying on the offensive abroad to prevent terrorist attacks from happening in the first place.
Q So does this show that there's still a vulnerability to this type of attack, these latest incidents?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, these latest incidents are a matter that is still being looked into. There haven't been any definitive results drawn, so I don't think you can --
Q Whether there is a definitive result or not, does this still say we --
MR. McCLELLAN: You're asking me to draw conclusions, and I don't think I can draw conclusions until we see definitive results.
Q Scott, if we can go back to the President's remarks earlier today, he said, we view Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, and I hope that Hezbollah would prove that they're not by laying down arms and not threatening peace. Is the President giving Hezbollah an opportunity to change, to renounce terror? And if so, will the United States consider it a legitimate political organization?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you're asking me ifs. Those are very hypothetical questions.
Q Well, the President brought up the hypothetical when he said, I hope the Hezbollah would prove that they're not by laying down arms and not threatening --
MR. McCLELLAN: Right.
Q -- that they could become a legitimate organization, not a terrorist organization.
MR. McCLELLAN: Because 1559 calls for Hezbollah to disarm, like other organizations -- terrorist organizations -- in Lebanon. That's what's spelled out in 1559. Again, let me emphasize what we have said previously. You can't have a democratic society and a society based on rule of law where you have groups, organizations, that are committed to violence. And that's why what our focus is on right now is getting Syria to fully comply with Security Council Resolution 1559. That calls for the complete withdrawal of all their forces, military and intelligence, and it says in the resolution, fully and urgently. So we want to see that withdrawal happen as soon as possible. It's important that it happens before the parliamentary elections in May take place, because, in order for those elections to be free and fair, you need to remove the Syrian presence from Lebanon.
And, again, experience shows that when people are given the opportunity to choose their leaders, they tend to choose people who are committed to improving their lives, not terrorists.
Q Is the President saying today, when he says, I hope that Hezbollah would prove that they're not -- being not a terrorist organization -- by laying down arms and not threatening peace, is he giving Hezbollah an opportunity here to prove, if they lay down arms, if they renounce terrorism, that the United States would work with Hezbollah in the future and consider it a legitimate --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, what you're stating would be that they would be -- it would change the dynamic if they disarmed and renounced terrorism, in your own words. So that changes the situation. We're not -- this isn't about Hezbollah. This is about supporting the Lebanese people. The President believes that the future of Lebanon is in the hands of the Lebanese people. We saw that yesterday, again, in the massive demonstration taking place in the square in Beirut, where the Lebanese people were saying, we want freedom and democracy, and we want Syria out; we want the outside intimidation and outside interference in our country removed, and that means Syria needs to leave. So that's where our focus remains.
The step that needs to happen now is Syria needs to leave. And we appreciate all those other countries that share our view, and are calling on Syria to withdraw. We have confidence that the Lebanese people will be able to determine their future and make the choices that are best for their country. So we want those decisions to be in the hands of the Lebanese people, and the way for that to happen is for Syria to get out.
Q But, Scott, the President's comment was about Hezbollah. And what he said -- and you said, that would ultimately change the dynamic if they were to lay down their arms and renounce terror. If they were to change the dynamic, would the administration deal with Hezbollah? Would they consider Hezbollah a legitimate organization? Is the President creating that opening for this organization to change its dynamic?
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me repeat -- would and ifs are hypotheticals. I'm not into hypotheticals. No, the President made very clear that our views have not changed when it comes to Hezbollah. Hezbollah is a terrorist organization. They need to disarm, as called for in Security Council Resolution 1559.
We have -- we support the ability of the Lebanese people to chart their own future. And so we want to support them as they move forward on holding elections in May. And the best way to do that is to continue to call on Syria to leave, and to leave now.
Q So we're not to read into this, the President's comments, that if they were to disarm, if they were to lay down their arms and not threaten peace, that there would be an opportunity here for the United States to recognize Hezbollah as an organization that it can --
MR. McCLELLAN: That's not what the President said. That's not -- you were asking what the President said. I just said he said that our views have not changed when it comes to Hezbollah. And I'm not going to get into hypotheticals. But you, yourself, pointed out if they renounce terrorism, in your question, and if they disarm, well, then that does change -- change the dynamic.
Q Scott, how much concern President has over the $4 billion gas deal with India and Iran through Pakistan? Because many in India are warning that terrorist may blackmail India over this gas pipeline from Iran to India, so -- and also U.S. is also closing the deal. So what --
MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't really had a discussion with him. I'll see if there's anything else to add to it. I think the State Department might be able to address it.
Go ahead, Carl.
Q Does the administration believe that once a terrorist organization always a terrorist organization, or that any organization is redeemable, specifically Hezbollah?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not going to get into that in the context of this question.
Q Well, it's a policy question about whether or not a terrorist organization can change its behavior, moderate its actions, and change its relationship with the U.S. administration.
MR. McCLELLAN: Carl, I think that in terms of Hezbollah -- you're asking this question in terms of Hezbollah -- I just stated what our views are. Those views remain unchanged and --
Q And do they ever change?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not going to -- you're asking in the context of Hezbollah, and I think I've just made our views clear again what our views are, and I'm not going to get into playing "what ifs" when it comes to Hezbollah.
Q Well, as an example then, there have been Baathists who have been helpful to administration efforts in Iraq -- the Baathists clearly on the negative side of the ledger not too long ago -- because of their moderated behavior. Isn't that something that could be imaged by Hezbollah?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think -- let's distinguish here, because you're talking about -- you may be talking about people that may be members of organizations, but are not terrorists, versus terrorists, people who have blood on their hands. There's a big difference. And I think we've spoken to that in the past. But organizations like Hezbollah have to choose, either you're a terrorist organization or you're a political organization. They remain a terrorist organization. The President spoke about their past atrocities and their past terrorist acts in his remarks earlier today.
Now, we've seen, when I talk about experience shows that people tend to choose leaders who are committed to improving their own livelihood, that are committed to improving their own security, that are committed to improving their own -- or expanding prosperity for those people, and one example is elections that took place in the Palestinian Territories. And you saw that there may have been people elected that may have been members of Hamas, but they weren't terrorists. They were people who advocated the importance of improving the quality of life for people in the region, people in the Territories. And they were businesspeople, they're professionals.
Go ahead, Sarah.
Q Thank you. Scott, Venezuela's President, Hugo Chavez, continues his anti-American verbal attacks. He is also making oil and arms deals with countries that are not friendly to the United States. What will the President do if Chavez cuts off Venezuelan oil to the U.S.?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he continues -- the government of Venezuela, under his leadership, continues to take steps that give us concern, and I think they are concerns shared by others, as well. And our concerns about the steps that have been taken in Venezuela relate to actions that move away from democratic institutions and freedom for the Venezuelan people. We've also expressed our concerns about what intention -- what the intentions are of Venezuela in the region. And in terms of the concerns, as I said, they're shared by many in the region. And that's why we'll continue to work with others in the region through the Organization of American States, to make sure that Venezuela is meeting its commitment that it has made under the Democratic Charter for the region.
Go ahead, Connie.
Q Thank you. To follow up the questions asked yesterday about Northern Ireland, do you consider the IRA and Sinn Fein now to be terrorists? And also, how much time will President Bush spend with the McCartney sisters?
MR. McCLELLAN: How much time will he what?
Q Spend with the McCartney sisters.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we'll let you know then. He looks forward to seeing them. They will -- they have been invited to the White House to attend the St. Patrick's Day celebrations. And I think part of the message that sends is that we remain committed to the efforts of the Prime Ministers -- Prime Minister Blair and Prime Minister Ahern -- to bring about a comprehensive peace agreement. We share the views of Prime Ministers Ahern and Blair that continued violence is an obstacle to reaching a comprehensive peace agreement. Ongoing paramilitary activity and thuggery stands in the way of a lasting and durable peace. And we want to make it clear to the parties in Northern Ireland where we stand. We stand with those who are working to achieve a comprehensive peace agreement. And there's been a step back from that process by the parties. There's been a lack of progress. And we want to see the parties get back on the path toward a comprehensive peace agreement.
Q Is this a blanket indictment now of IRA and Sinn Fein? Are you saying they are terrorist organizations?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think we've stated our views on the violence that goes on and the terrorist acts that have continued in Northern Ireland. And we stand with the Prime Ministers who are working to bring about a comprehensive peace agreement. I don't think there's anything to add to what I said.
Q Two brief questions. Following up yesterday on my question in the afternoon session, I dropped off all the documents from the Import-Export Bank on the $5 billion in loans and loan guarantees to China, and specifically to the CNNC, which was involved in building reactors in Iran and Pakistan. Has anything changed on that since yesterday?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't have much on it. I just checked into it initially, and my understanding is that this was a preliminary proposal. It still has not been adopted. Also, when it comes to the issue of proliferation, we have agencies that look into those matters to make sure that what is involved here does not involve any proliferation concerns. And so you would have agencies that would make sure that proliferation is not going on, that this is for other purposes.
Q Second question I had was this: One of the worst-kept secrets within the Republican Party is that the President and Karl Rove like to get involved in primaries ahead of time, and picking nominees for office or blessing nominees for office. Secretary Martinez is a good example. Has the President made --
MR. McCLELLAN: Senator Martinez.
Q Senator Martinez, right. Has the President made any overtures to Lt. Governor Michael Steele of Maryland about running for the seat that Democratic Senator Sarbanes is giving up?
MR. McCLELLAN: Not that I'm aware of, and of course, that announcement was just made the other day.
Q Back to Italy. Your President, our President and the administration have repeatedly said there will be no timetable --
MR. McCLELLAN: Everybody else agree? (Laughter.)
Q There is no timetable for --
MR. McCLELLAN: Sometimes I wonder.
Q -- U.S. withdrawal --
Q Awww --
MR. McCLELLAN: I said it with a smile.
Q I meant to say you and the administration. (Laughter.)
MR. McCLELLAN: Me and my President?
MR. McCLELLAN: Herman is waiting to jump in on this one.
Q I'm behaving. I'm behaving. (Laughter.)
Q So the policy of the Bush administration has been stated, no timetable for withdrawal of troops from Iraq. It's conditional on the basis of establishing an Iraqi security force. What Berlusconi said today is, already in September, we will begin a progressive reduction of the number of our soldiers in Iraq. And he said, it's the public opinion of our countries that expect this. That seems to be somewhat of a different approach than what the President has outlined.
MR. McCLELLAN: You've heard the President's views, in terms of our forces. I mean, obviously, every country will make their own decisions about what they can continue to contribute, or contribute in the future, when it comes to helping the Iraqi people. But Italy has contributed in many ways, and we appreciate all the contributions that they have made to support the Iraqi people as they build a peaceful and democratic future.
And there are countries that have made decisions previously that they were going to be there for a set period of time. There are other countries that -- in terms of forces, there are other countries that have committed to extending their troop presence. What our focus is on is on training and equipping the Iraqi security forces so that they can provide for their own security, so that they can defend themselves against internal, external threats. And when they are fully capable of doing that, then our troops will be able to return home with honor.
Q Scott, an apology if this has been covered already, but one of the President's comments today with the King of Jordan has made a bit of a splash in Israel. It's a comment, "Israel must withdraw from the settlements," not specifying which ones and where. Did the President really mean all settlements?
MR. McCLELLAN: I thank you for bringing that up. What the President was referring to was the withdrawal plan that is being pursued by Prime Minister Sharon, as well as the unauthorized outpost, which the road map calls for Israel to remove. So that's what he was referring to, what our position is.
Q Scott, the President -- you say that this isn't about Hezbollah, it's about the Lebanese people, but the President also implied that it was -- said it was broader than that. He said, both the United States and Jordan were concerned that Hezbollah will interfere with the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Can you tell me, to what extent is Hezbollah continuing to train Palestinian terrorists at camps in the Bekaa Valley? To what extent are they funneling money from Syria to Palestinian terrorist groups? What plans have you uncovered that would indicate that they are, indeed, intent on disrupting the peace process?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think if you look at their history and look at their past actions, they have been a destabilizing force in the region. And the President and King Abdullah did talk about their concerns that Hezbollah might try to have a negative impact on the Middle East peace process. That remains a concern of ours. They are a terrorist organization. The President spoke to that earlier today. And it's important that all parties in the region work together to support the aspirations of the Palestinian people, and to support Israeli and Palestinian leaders as they move forward to achieve a two-state vision, the one that the President outlined.
I don't have anything to update you on in terms of specifics, but it remains a concern, and given their history, I think, is the best way to look at it.
Q Have you considered Hezbollah's disarmament part and parcel of the whole Syrian package that we're looking for?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, and we've spoken to this, what needs to happen now is Syria needs to get out of Lebanon so that those parliamentary elections can proceed forward freely and fairly and in a credible manner so that the Lebanese people can chart their own path. And 1559 does call for Hezbollah to disarm. We want to see 1559 complied with.
Q Are you seeing any role with Iran in -- especially with Hezbollah?
MR. McCLELLAN: Am I seeing any --
Q Any role with the regime of Iran?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that is an organization that they have provided support for. We remain concerned about both Iran's and Syria's support for terrorism. They continue to move in a direction that is out of step with the rest of the Middle East. They need to change their behavior and stop supporting terrorism. They need to go after terrorist organizations that are in their country and deal with them.
Q Scott, on video news releases, yesterday the Comptroller General, reacting to the Bolten memo, said that it's not just a legal question, there are ethical questions. Does our President --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, who said that?
Q The Comptroller General, David Walker. Does our President think there are ethical questions to be answered concerning the use of video news releases?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think the President looks at this and -- in the sense that there are some clear guidelines in terms of what department and agencies can or cannot do. There -- and in that memo that you were given yesterday, it references some of those and says that you need to make sure you're complying with those guidelines. In terms of these informational news releases, that is something that has been used for quite some time now by federal agencies. And as long as that information is factual and not crossing the line into advocacy, the Justice Department believes that it is perfectly appropriate. And it's well-known to the television stations where this information is coming from.
Q Has the administration reviewed any of these? Have you found any that you thought crossed a line, or have they all been okay?
MR. McCLELLAN: No. And one thing we wanted to do was make it clear to federal departments and agencies what the guidelines were and what they can and cannot do, and so that's why we sent the memo out last week spelling out those guidelines.
Q Scott, I think there's a story about the United States selling fighter jets, F-16s to India and Pakistan. In the meantime, you oppose the EU's arms embargo lifted towards China. Why the double standards? Is this all designed --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I did see news reports, I have not seen any announcements. Secretary Rice is traveling to the region. She is in India, I believe, today and tomorrow, and then going on to Pakistan. We have developed good relations with both those countries, and we have worked with -- to support the efforts of both those countries to reduce tensions in the regions. And we appreciate the efforts of those countries in the global war on terrorism, as well.
In terms of any specific announcements, I don't have anything to add from here. I mean, Secretary Rice is in the -- going to be in the region, and she'll be talking with these leaders, as well. I'm sure that defense matters are an issue that will come up, as well. I just don't have anything to add from here.
Q Can I ask you one more? Are you concerned with the Chinese military budget? But compared with the United States, it's only about $30 billion for 1.3 billion people. Is that really too much?
MR. McCLELLAN: Secretary Rice did express our concerns about that earlier today.
Q In the Muslim world, women are considered, at best, second-class citizens. Is there any concern that Karen Hughes's effectiveness will be compromised at all because she is a woman dealing with primarily male leaders in the Muslim world?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, she is someone who has been very effective in the past, and she is someone who has been a member of the Afghan Women's Council, and worked to support the rights of women in Afghanistan and free them from their past of oppression. We have stated very clearly that when it comes to promoting democracy, it's important to protect the rights of all -- that means minorities, that means women. And that remains our position. She is someone who is a proven communicator, and someone who has some real, practical foreign policy experience that she can bring to our public diplomacy efforts. And --
Q You see no gender friction between Saudis, or any leaders who just do not sit down eye-to-eye with women, and Karen Hughes has said we need to reach out to Muslim --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one of the most important efforts that we have undertaken in the global war on terrorism is to advance freedom and democracy in the world. It's central, as the President has said, to all our discussions with leaders around the world. The President talked about reforms with King Abdullah earlier today. He is someone who has been supportive of reforms in the Middle East.
It is important that we support the aspirations of the people in the region, and Karen Hughes is overseeing our public diplomacy efforts to help do just that. And we will continue to speak out very clearly, what we stand for and what our values are. And we believe those are values that are shared by people in the Middle East, as well.
Q Scott, has the President received any specific information about the presence of terrorists in Mexico who are trying to cross the border --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I'm not going to get into obviously talking about specific intelligence matters, but border security is a very high priority for this administration. We have taken a number of steps to make use of new technologies to better track people that may be trying to enter the country illegally. It's a high priority for this President that we ensure the security around our borders to prevent people who are coming to this country for the wrong reasons from entering the country. And that's why we've dedicated additional resources to the effort. That's why we've expanded the number of Border Patrol agents along the border. It remains a high priority.
Q But the President shared the concern of some members of Congress yesterday, for example, that were saying they knew that al Qaeda has some members in Mexico who are trying to get with the coyotes to cross the borders illegally into the United States. Has the President shared that concern? And he trust the Mexican government to deal with that --
MR. McCLELLAN: Oh, sure, we stay in touch with the Mexican government on issues like this, and we will continue to do so in the future, as well. We also will talk to them about our efforts to implement important reforms that will allow us to focus more time on the border, going after those who are coming into this country for the wrong reasons.
Q Several OPEC oil members have said that they've received phone calls from Energy Secretary Bodman. I was wondering if you could just confirm that the Energy Secretary is, indeed, lobbying OPEC to lift production? And also, my second question is, has President Bush joined in this effort? Because, generally speaking, he is more effective at this.
MR. McCLELLAN: I think the Energy Secretary can speak to the calls that he has made. But we do stay in regular contact with OPEC and non-OPEC producers about the importance of acting in ways that support our growing global economy and our growing U.S. economy. In terms of the issue of energy prices, high energy prices are a concern for the administration. And our view is that those high energy prices are a drag on our growing economy. And that's why the President believes it's important that Congress act now on the comprehensive energy plan that he outlined four years ago. It's a plan that will help reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy, and make us more energy-self-sufficient. Affordable, abundant supplies of energy are important to make sure that we are meeting the needs of a growing world economy. And so we'll continue to stay in touch with OPEC and non-OPEC producers on matters of mutual interest.
Q Has the President, himself, made any of these phone calls?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't have any update, in terms of the President's world leaders calls, beyond what you already have.
Q Thank you.
MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you.
END 2:49 P.M. EST