|The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
April 27, 2005
Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:30 P.M. EDT
MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon, everybody. The President looks forward to speaking at the Small Business Administration's conference this afternoon, here in Washington. The President will talk about his comprehensive energy plan and the need for Congress to get it passed. Today's remarks focus on the importance of harnessing new technology to make us more energy-independent. And the President will talk about the need to address the root causes of high energy prices. The fundamental problem we are in is that our supply of energy is not keeping up with the demands of our growing economy. And the global demand is also exceeding the global supply and that is contributing to higher energy prices.
We've seen dramatic advances in technology over the last 25 years, and even more dramatic change will occur in the next 25 years. And these incredible advances in technology will help -- will make our energy supply more abundant and affordable and cleaner, while helping us to continue to grow our economy, protect our environment and make us more energy independent.
And the President, in his remarks, will highlight four essential steps that have really formed the foundation of his comprehensive plan to promote greater energy independence. We need to use new technology to increase domestic production, to create new sources of energy, to expand conservation and energy efficiency, and to work with other nations to make sure they are taking advantage of new technology to reduce their own demand. And there are several new measures you all are aware of that the President will talk about in his remarks. All of those fit within the areas I just talked about.
One issue that we were discussing earlier today was the President's plan to call on federal agencies to work with states and local communities to encourage construction of new refineries on closed military sites. As you all are aware, one of the problems we have is that there has not been a new refinery built since the '70s. And we -- with the increase in demand, there is a capacity -- refining capacity problem. And I know some of you had some questions earlier about whether or not any new incentives would be provided, and we're not talking about providing any new incentives. And previously passed legislation already provides for the authority needed to transfer these military sites for such use.
And you all are aware of the other new steps that he's going to be talking about, as well. So with that, I will be glad to go to whatever questions you have.
Q Before we talk about the energy, can you tell us about the security scare here this morning, what happened?
MR. McCLELLAN: Sure. And I think the Secret Service has talked about it, as well. There was a report, or an indication, that an aircraft had entered restricted airspace around the White House, and so there were some precautionary measures that were taken. It was quickly learned that it was a false alarm and that all was clear in a very short amount of time. And everything is fine.
Q Was there, indeed, no plane? Or had the plane been cleared?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think the Secret Service is still looking into that, so you might want to talk to them about that matter.
Q They give a one-sentence thing and say they can't comment beyond that.
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sure if they have additional information, they will be glad to provide it. But the last I knew was that they were looking into it to determine exactly what it was.
Q How long was the President in the PEOC?
MR. McCLELLAN: Very short amount of time.
Q Was it one or two planes? Some reports said two planes.
MR. McCLELLAN: There was an indication that an aircraft, so I'm referring to one, but they're looking into exactly what it was at this point.
Q The Vice President --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q Both the President and the Vice President were moved?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, that's correct.
Q But, Scott, some of the Secret Service are saying that it might have been a radar anomaly. And it's happened before where nothing is --
MR. McCLELLAN: That's why I said they're looking into it to determine exactly what it was.
Q But is there a concern that if there is a radar anomaly that you're jumping every time, and it might be nothing? Is there concern that the system is flawed?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, we appreciate the precautionary steps that the Secret Service took. They do an outstanding job and they took some precautionary steps. And I think you saw what a great job that they do.
Q Was this the President's first time in the shelter since 9/11?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'll have to double-check that. I don't recall another -- you mean being moved there? I don't recall another time, but I think so.
Q Was the Vice President here at the time?
MR. McCLELLAN: He was at the White House, yes.
Q Because there was a motorcade that arrived right as this was all ending that we thought was his.
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that was his.
Q On the refineries, how would this work? I take it this is all U.S. government land still? But would the oil companies be given title to that land?
MR. McCLELLAN: Right, the sites would be transferred to the companies. That's what we're talking about doing. That's why we want to work closely with state and local communities. A lot of these closed military sites are being redeveloped or used for other purposes to help create jobs, and this is one area we think that they ought to -- that we ought to look at for these closed military sites. It addresses a pressing problem that we face. And it will also address an economic need in these communities, as well. So we want to work closely with those communities and we think that by doing so, we will help encourage people to look at the long-term benefit in investing in these sites and building refineries.
Q That would involve a fee, wouldn't it? Or do they get the land free?
MR. McCLELLAN: No. No, I don't -- yes, I expect that it would be just the same as with any other transfer of a military site.
Q So they get the land free, then?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let me look into that, Roger. I'll get back to you on that question.
And let me back up, because what we're talking about doing is working with the state and local communities, so I think that you have to take that into account when you're talking about transferring these military sites. I'm sure that the local communities would want to have some input into that, as well. But I'll look into it to see if there is any additional information to provide you on that.
Q Scott, as it relates to the gas situation, short-time gas situation, what does the White House consider affordable for all socioeconomic levels in this country as you're talking about possible -- to have affordable gasoline? It sounds like you're looking for a rollback in prices. What is the price that's --
MR. McCLELLAN: As you're aware, the government doesn't set the price. What we have is a shortage of supply, and that's why energy prices are so high. That's something I addressed at the beginning in my remarks. And what we want to see is those prices come down. We want to see more affordable gas prices for Americans, because it is something that has a direct impact on families who are struggling to make ends meet, and small businesses that are working to grow and hire new people. It is something, as I have previously said, is a drag on our economy.
Q But coming down to what? What is -- $1.46 for 2000 was the price of gas in America when President Bush took office. Was that affordable? And what are you looking for in 2005, with inflation going up -- what do you look at as affordable? You keep talking about it's too high; give us your scale, give us your ratio, what's too high versus what's affordable.
MR. McCLELLAN: Maybe you didn't hear me a minute ago, but the government doesn't set the price.
Q I heard you, but what is affordable?
MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, John.
Q The reason why there hasn't been a refinery built since the early '70s is because of environmental regulations. (Laughter.) How would this offer of land on old military bases change that situation at all?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think, as you are aware, when military sites are closed, any environmental exemptions related to that military base end at that point. But what we have here is a growing problem with our dependence on foreign sources of energy. It goes to our economic security, it goes to our national security. It's a matter that we need to address. And one of the areas that we need to address is to expand our refinery -- refining capacity by encouraging the construction of new refineries.
And this -- so this is really something I think that the President believes, and one of the new measures he's talking about is -- makes a lot of sense. It's common sense and there are ways that we can harness that technology to make sure that we are going about this in environmentally responsible ways.
Q Understood, but if the reason why the oil companies haven't built a new refinery in so long is because of the environmental regulations and restrictions and hurdles that they would have to jump, how does this change that situation at all, and why would they be encouraged to build a refinery if they --
MR. McCLELLAN: As I said, there's a lot of advances we're seeing in technology and I think that the action that he's talking about today will make it easier for a refiner to build a newer, cleaner facility, which would make it more economic for them in the long-term and address some of these environmental issues, as well.
Q How does it do that?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry -- new technologies?
Q No, I mean, how does what he's announcing today do that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Because if they can work with the state and local communities, they can work to make the permitting process smoother. I think that's how it would do it.
Q Are you talking about waiving environmental restrictions as a part of this?
MR. McCLELLAN: No.
Q Are you talking about --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, that's why I was pointing out -- I think one of the things we were talking about earlier was that military sites do have some environmental exemptions, but you should note that those exemptions end when that military site is closed. And so what we're talking about doing, again, and I emphasize, is working with the states and local communities to move forward in a way that would encourage building of more refineries and use these closed military sites to address this important need, as well as other needs in the community.
Q By that are you suggesting then that the state and local jurisdictions request exemptions or waivers of some kind you might consider?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I'm not suggesting that at all.
Q I don't see how it facilitates the construction when apparently environmental concerns and restrictions have held up construction in the past. Why does it facilitate the construction of new refineries to put them on old military bases where the environment --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that's what I just pointed out, we'll work with those local communities to transfer these sites and make them available to refiners. I think that if you look at what the President is talking about today, this action will encourage refiners in the way that I described earlier because it will be more beneficial to them over the long-term to go ahead and make use of these sites.
Go ahead, Connie.
Q Thank you, another topic. The equivalent of presidential debates are coming up in Great Britain and Tony Blair's political future is at stake. Is the President watching this at all? Is he in contact, giving any advice to Tony Blair?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's a matter for the people of the United Kingdom to decide, as I've said previously. We don't get involved in the internal politics or elections of other countries by endorsing specific candidates.
Q Do you know if he'll watch them or get readouts?
MR. McCLELLAN: He'll follow the election, sure.
Q Scott, the Republican-majority Texas House of Representatives on Monday voted 101 to 29 to allow voters in November to decide whether the state constitution should ban same-sex marriages and civil unions. And my first question, the President supports this Texas Republican vote, doesn't he?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Les, the President believes that we need to protect the sanctity of marriage. This is something that he believes goes to one of the enduring values of this country. The President believes marriage is a sacred institution between a man and a woman. And as you are aware, he's called for a constitutional amendment to address the issue that we're seeing because of activist judges or local officials trying to redefine the institution of marriage. And the constitutional process, we believe, gives states all a way to have their say, have their voice in that debate.
Q New York Democrat Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, with 12 co-sponsors, has introduced HR501, which would restore the so-called Fairness Doctrine, which was vetoed by President Reagan and which I seem to recall was described by Edward R. Murrow as "equal time for Jesus Christ and Judas Iscariot." And my question, the President does not support this, does he?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, but I'm not quite familiar with HR501 as a number. The Fairness Doctrine of --
Q The Fairness Doctrine, which you know applies only to electronic media, not to The Washington Post and The New York Times and other such Democrat-dominated papers --
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me take a look at the specific legislation. I think the President kind of expressed some of his views recently at the newspaper editors convention that was here.
Q Scott, are there costs associated with the President's proposals to be announced this afternoon?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, there will be some costs when you're talking about the risk insurance proposal and so forth. I don't know that we have exact figures on that, but I'll see what else. I'll see what else we can get you. I don't --
Q The House-passed energy bill had $8.1 billion in incentives, and that went beyond the $6.7 billion the President wanted. So I'm wondering how this squares with added costs now, compared with the House-passed --
MR. McCLELLAN: The President in our proposal focused those incentives on renewable sources of energy and energy efficiency. And we did express our view in terms of that part of the House legislation. The House legislation is largely consistent with the comprehensive plan that the President outlined. But we do have concerns about that number, where it is right now, because the President has put forward a plan that would cut the deficit in half by 2009, and we believe that's important. So everything we're talking about here would fit within what the President has proposed as we move forward.
Q Scott, could you comment on something Senator Schumer said this morning on the Senate floor with regard to the filibuster? He said, "Mr. Rove can order senators not to compromise. I hope and pray that the senators will not take direction from the White House on something where the White House's interest, whatever party the President might be, are different from the senators, and, frankly, different from the Republic's."
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that there are some news reports that mischaracterize exactly what he said. He said what we have said before -- I'm talking about Karl -- he stressed that we believe all judicial nominees deserve an up or down vote on the floor of the United States Senate. The President has a constitutional responsibility to appoint -- or nominate qualified individuals to the bench. The Senate has a constitutional responsibility to give those nominees an up or down vote. It is a tradition that has gone on for some 200 years, and Senate Democrats have taken the unprecedented step of blocking those nominees from receiving an up or down vote. They are playing politics with the judiciary. Some of these vacancies are judicial emergencies. These are individuals who have received high marks from people that know them well and from organizations, and they deserve an up or down vote.
In terms of the Senate and their procedures, the President has made it clear that that's for the Senate to decide, and that remains our view.
Q Do you believe that the Senate has a responsibility to give an up or down vote to John Bolton?
MR. McCLELLAN: John Bolton is someone we are very confident will be confirmed. This issue is boiling down to a vote for reform at the United Nations or a vote for the status quo. John Bolton is someone who has focused on reforms and results throughout his 25 years in public service. He is someone who has gone through four Senate confirmations previously, including four years ago before the very committee that is looking at his nomination now. We urge the Senate to move forward quickly on his nomination so that he can get about doing the much-needed business of reform at the United Nations.
Q Can I follow up on that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Sure.
Q What about the reports that he was abusive to staff members? Does the White House see any truth to these reports?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again -- and we've talked about those issues. I think that these are side issues that distract from the real issue. The real issue here is, are we going to move forward on reform at the United Nations, or are we going to accept the status quo. There is a lot of talk about reform at the United Nations. We believe it is much needed. John Bolton is someone who brings a lot of experience and a lot of passion, and sometimes a blunt style to this position. But those are exactly the kind of qualities that are needed in an agent of change to get things done, particularly at a place like the United Nations. So we hope that the Senate will move forward quickly on his nomination.
Q Can I follow up on that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me go back here to the back. I don't want to -- I allowed Connie to have a follow-up, but let me keep going to some of the others in the room and then I'll try to come back to the others who haven't had a question, like Ed Chen. Let me go back here and then I'll come to you.
Q President Putin is visiting Cairo and he has already asked for a summit, international summit, attending with the Quartet, regarding the Middle East. How do you see Russia's role now? Is it trying to compete with the U.S.?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I don't think so. We appreciate President Putin's commitment to the road map. Russia is a valued member of the Quartet and we appreciate their support for the road map. We have worked closely with Russia to advance the President's two-state vision. And the road map is the best way to get there.
In terms of an international conference, we have to look at where we are right now. The road map does call for an international conference. We believe there will be an appropriate time for an international conference, but we are not at that stage now and I don't expect that we will be there by the fall. We need to continue to focus our efforts on the disengagement plan. We all need to do what we can to support the Palestinian leaders as they move forward to put the institutions in place for a viable democracy to emerge as Israel pulls out of those areas in Gaza and the areas of the West Bank that they have talked about.
So that's where the focus needs to be right now, is doing all we can to make sure that that disengagement plan works and that it is a success, and that the Palestinian people are getting the support they need to build a viable democratic state.
Q -- both Iraq and Lebanon forming a new government, and just your comment on that, if you think this is --
MR. McCLELLAN: In terms of Lebanon holding elections?
Q -- forming a government, both Lebanon and Iraq.
MR. McCLELLAN: Lebanon and Iraq?
Q Lebanon and Iraq.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Iraq is moving forward to put their new government in place. It appears from reports that they're making some important progress and that they're close to announcing the new government -- the prime minster and the cabinet. And we appreciate that they're moving forward quickly to get that done. It's important that we continue to do all we can to support the Iraqi people and the Iraqi government as they move forward on the political front, the economic and reconstruction front and the security front.
There's been a lot of progress made on the security front. You heard from Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Myers, yesterday talk about the training and equipping of Iraqi security forces. And that's important so that the Iraqis can eventually provide for their own security and that our troops can return home with honor.
So we appreciate that progress has been made. There are obviously difficult challenges that remain and we're doing all we can to support to Iraqi people as they work to address those challenges, and we'll continue to do so.
Q Can I follow the Putin thing, Scott?
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me do one follow-up on Putin, and then I'll come to you. Sorry. You may. Although I don't usually reward people who are trying to jump in, but -- (laughter.) You did it in a nice way. Others take note. (Laughter.) I'm not looking at you, John. (Laughter.)
Q In what is tantamount -- address Vladimir Putin --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, start again, Ivan. I'm sorry. See, he just did -- he just did what I told him not to. It's a side conversation here. Could you start again? I'm sorry.
Q Three, two, one. (Laughter.) Russian President Vladimir Putin, in what is tantamount to a State of the Union address, said he, in effect, mourned the loss of the Soviet Union and thought it was a catastrophe, in a sense. With the President going to Moscow, is he concerned about Putin looking to the past and would he lecture at all about --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that if you look at his remarks, they did offer a positive vision and a forward-looking vision that was based on the values that we believe very strongly in of freedom, democracy and justice. And he talked about how they would move at their pace. And the President has consistently emphasized that there is more than one path to freedom and democracy and that different areas of the world will progress at different paces.
But I think President Putin emphasized positive changes that would be needed to make Russia also more attractive for foreign and domestic investment. So we view this as a forward-looking speech and we look forward to actions that will be translated into reality to meet what he was talking about in his remarks.
Now, obviously, the way you described the demise of the Soviet Union, we take a different view of what that was. We have no regret that the demise of the Soviet -- of the demise of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. That was an important moment in our history that has led to the advance of freedom and democracy. But I think we understand the personal, social, and financial dislocations that affected Russians in the '90s, and I think that's much of what his remarks were focusing on. So just to keep that in perspective, as well.
Q Back to the President's proposals today. Can you point to any specific events or market forces that have changed in the last few days that triggered these proposals, including the meeting with the Saudis a few days ago?
MR. McCLELLAN: Sure. I think how you should view what triggered these proposals, you should look at that we have continued to act and look at ways we can address the root causes of the high energy prices that we face year after year, and that we're facing this summer, as well -- this spring and this summer.
And the President asked his senior staff to go back and look if there are any additional measures that we can take to meet the objectives that he outlined in his comprehensive national energy strategy. All of these new measures fit within the four essential areas that he has talked about as part of his comprehensive energy plan and they make a lot of sense. And that's why he's moving forward on them after the staff reviewed these and made some recommendations and he made the decision to move forward on these.
Q When did he ask the staff?
MR. McCLELLAN: This has been -- one, it's an ongoing process. So this is -- I don't think it has ever stopped. We put forward a comprehensive national energy plan four years ago, and Congress has yet to act on that plan. That's why the President is emphasizing the importance of Congress acting now. So I don't think we've ever stopped looking at ways. But the President wanted to know in more recent weeks what additional measures can we move forward on to meet our objectives and to address this problem.
Q Not on Tuesday?
MR. McCLELLAN: No.
Q A couple of other matters. Back on --
MR. McCLELLAN: It was before that, Ed.
Q Back on March 21st, the President was in Denver doing an event. At that event three Denver residents were removed by somebody working on behalf of the President who is now being investigated for impersonating a Secret Service officer. I understand the White House knows who this person is. Will you tell us who this is? And will you, more importantly, explain what role the White House has in recruiting --
MR. McCLELLAN: Sure.
Q -- and training volunteers at these events? Is the White House encouraging people to screen or expel people from the President's events based on their point of view?
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me -- and I think I've talked about this issue before. But, first of all, let me just walk back through it because I think that's the best place to start. My understanding that a volunteer at this event -- and let me -- I need to back up before that. We use a lot of volunteers at events to help us in a number of different areas because you obviously have -- you tend to have a lot of people come into the event, a lot of logistical support that you need, and so we do rely on volunteers to help in a lot of different ways at events.
Now, in terms of this issue, my understanding is a volunteer was concerned that these three individuals were coming to the event solely for the purpose of disrupting it. And if people are coming to the event to disrupt it, they are going to be asked to leave. There are always protest areas set up outside the events where people can express their views.
These three individuals acknowledged that they were coming to the event to disrupt it. They stated that publicly in some of the initial reports. And so my understanding is the volunteer was concerned about these individuals, and that's why he asked them to leave.
Q Does the White House have any role in telling volunteers at these events, screen people that you think might be disruptive?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know if I'd view it that way. If we think people are coming to the event to disrupt it, obviously, they're going to be asked to leave. And if they do disrupt it, they will be asked to leave, as well. There's plenty of opportunity for people to express their views outside the event. That's why areas are set up for that sole purpose.
But again, these three individuals acknowledged that they were coming to the event to disrupt it. And in terms of who this individual was, I don't think that really serves any purpose to get into that publicly, other than to help advance the political agenda of these three individuals.
Q If I could get your comment on another matter, somewhat off the news. Yesterday on the radio network Air America, there was a skit that went like this -- an announcer said, "A spoiled child is telling us our Social Security isn't safe anymore so he's going to fix it for us, well here's your answer you ungrateful" -- and there was then an audio sound of four gunshots. "Just try it, you little bastard," the announcer continued. And there was the audio of a gun being cocked. Do you have any comment on that?
MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't heard anything about it until you must mentioned it, but it sounds very inappropriate and over the line to me from the way you described it.
Let me go here to the back -- Steve. And then I'm going to get a few here.
Q Just a couple quickly on Bolton. Are you saying that Senate Democrats are opposing Bolton because they oppose U.N. reform?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's what this issue boils down to. A vote for John Bolton is a vote for reform at the United Nations. A vote against him is a vote for the status quo at the United Nations. John Bolton is someone who shares the President's commitment to making sure the United Nations is effective and to moving forward on much-needed reform at the United Nations. It's time to get him in this position because this is a critical time at the United Nations. He is the right person at the right time, and we want the Senate to move forward quickly on his nomination.
Q To follow up on that, Scott, to follow up on that.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, let me go to the back. I promise, I'll start over here and then work my way across.
Q Thank you. In case North Korea refuses again to return to the six-party talks, the United States intends to bring the case to the U.N. Security Council. Can the United States do this alone, even if South Korea or China object to the U.S. --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, can the United States do what?
Q Do this alone?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, as I think we indicated before -- Secretary Rice indicated, I've indicated -- if North Korea refuses to come back to the six-party talks, then we will consult with our partners in the region about next steps. But our focus remains on getting North Korea back to the six-party talks. That is the way forward to resolving this issue and achieving the shared goal of our partners in the region, who want to see a nuclear-free peninsula. It's time for North Korea to come back to the talks. We believe there should be no pre-conditions and we hope that they will fulfill what they have said earlier, which is fulfill their commitment to come back to the talks so we can talk about how to move forward on the very practical proposal that we put on the table at the last round of talks.
Q Two quick questions. Of the concerns currently on Americans' minds, where does the President think high energy prices ranks?
MR. McCLELLAN: Very high, because it's affecting the pocketbooks of everyday Americans. It's affecting people out there in the country who are trying to make ends meets. It's affecting small business. It is one of the key areas that we need to address as we move forward to strengthen our economic growth even more. Our economy has been growing strong because of the pro-growth policies that we have been putting in place, but this creates a drag on our economy and the economy is at the top of the President's agenda and energy security is key to economic security.
Q Secondly, what's wrong with the United Nations that needs fixing?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there are some reforms that they've talked about. We want to see them be a more effective organization, an organization that means what they say and that follows through on what they say they are going to do.
There are a number of areas where we work very closely with the United Nations to promote development and to provide aid to countries who are in need and to people who are in need. But there are other areas where we believe that the United Nations could be much more effective. The United Nations put out a report on ideas for reform; the Secretary General talked about it. We appreciate that he is committed to acting on some reforms. That's why I say this is a critical period at the United Nations. We need to make sure that those reforms that are put in place make the organization more effective and help the organization achieve results to accomplish what its original mission was.
Q Let me ask you, are these reforms so important that if not made, the United States might re-think its participation?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think we ever characterized it that way, Ken. We believe that the United Nations is an important organization and we want to make sure that it is an effective organization, as well. And there have been a number of areas -- the oil-for-food program -- where we've seen some of the corruption, and other areas that we can address to make it a more effective organization and to end any abuses within the United Nations. I think that's what the American people want. The American people want to see reform at the United Nations. That's why we need John Bolton there, because he is an agent of reform.
Q A Saudi official told us in Crawford that they think the Syrians should be given a clean slate after withdrawal from Lebanon. Were there such mediations between the Syrians and the Americans by the Saudis? Did the Saudis ask the President to soften his position on the Syrians?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think our views are very clear. And I think those views that we state publicly are what we state privately, as well. We put out a joint statement which talked about Lebanon and the need to move forward on free and fair elections without any outside interference or intimidation. We appreciate Saudi Arabia's efforts to support the people of Lebanon.
Syria has taken an important step by pulling their military forces out of Lebanon. The U.N. verification team is in Lebanon to verify that they have completely withdrawn not only their military forces, but their intelligence forces, as well. That's important to fulfilling the resolution that was adopted by the international community at the United Nations, 1559. We also welcomed the announcement that Lebanon is moving forward on elections on the May timetable. And we want to do all we can to support the Lebanese people to make sure that they do have free and fair elections as they move forward.
In terms of Syria, and we've talked about concerns that we have with the government in Syria, and those are concerns that remain.
Q Did he ask you to return, like Saudi ambassador, and try to normalize diplomatic relations again --
MR. McCLELLAN: You might talk to the State Department about that. As you know, she returned for consultations and that continues at this point. In terms of any other update on that, you ought to talk to the State Department.
Q Is anyone following the Taiwan opposition leader's trip to mainland China? Are developments on this Taiwan issue important or even relevant to this administration?
MR. McCLELLAN: We, obviously, follow developments very closely in the region. We welcome dialogue between Beijing and Taiwan, major figures in Taiwan, because we believe diplomacy is the only way to resolve the cross-strait issue. But we hope that this is the start of Beijing finding new ways to reach out to President Chen and his cabinet, because any long-term solution can only be found if Beijing negotiates with the duly-elected leadership in Taiwan.
Let me keep going. Paula, you had something, I haven't gotten to you. And then Terry, and if we have time --
Q The President has been promoting his Social Security personal accounts all around the country, yet at the Senate Finance Committee hearing yesterday, they examined proposals that did and did not include personal accounts. Is there any concern by the administration?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, we appreciate Senator Grassley and others in the Senate moving forward on legislative efforts to strengthen Social Security and get legislation passed this year. This is a high priority for the President, and we appreciate the leadership of Senator Grassley. It's important at this stage that we be welcoming of all ideas to find a solution. And that's the approach that the President has taken because he wants to advance a bipartisan solution. That's why he's been reaching out to members of Congress and to the American people so that we can move forward on getting something done this year and do so in a bipartisan way. And we hope others will come to the table with their ideas instead of standing in the way of solutions.
Q Back on Bolton, are you saying that the same characteristics that have raised questions about his conduct -- abrasiveness, bluntness -- are exactly the qualities that you need in a U.N. ambassador?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm saying that the qualities he brings to this position are exactly the kind of qualities we need for getting much-needed reform in place at the United Nations. He is someone who gets results. He is someone who has great experience. And I remind you that he has been confirmed on four occasions previously by the United States Senate. He was confirmed just four years ago by this very committee. And he is exactly the kind of person we need at the United Nations during this critical time.
Q Some people feel, though, that he has -- that he's run roughshod over people and he's been abusive. Do you think --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think he's addressed those issues. I think the State Department has addressed those issues, as well, in his hearings and in his written responses, as well. And if there are additional questions that members have, we're glad to answer those questions. And we have been.