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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
June 13, 2005
Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:29 P.M. EDT
MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon. I'd like to begin with a readout from a world leader call that the President had just a short time ago.
The President had a good conversation with President Talabani of Iraq. The President thanked President Talabani for his strong and courageous leadership for the Iraqi people. The two leaders discussed the constitution, the drafting of the constitution in Iraq. They underscored the importance of the constitutional process and meeting the August 15th deadline that was set out in the transitional administrative law. They also talked about importance of being inclusive of all of Iraq's communities. They talked about the security situation and the progress being made to train the Iraqi security forces.
And the President also congratulated President Talabani and the Kurdish people on the formation of a unified regional government. They noted how this demonstrates the importance of reconciliation to the rest of Iraq. And that's the readout from the call.
One other thing I'd like to mention, make an announcement about -- today at 2:30 p.m. there will be a State Department briefing by Ambassador Tobias, who is overseeing the President's emergency plan for AIDS relief. You heard the President talk a short time ago with the African leaders about the progress we're making to implement his emergency relief plan. This was an unprecedented effort that had never been undertaken before. And as the President said earlier, we have been working closely with our African partners and we have now delivered life-saving treatment to more than 200,000 people in the sub-Saharan Africa, and that we are on track to meet our five-year goal of providing treatment for nearly 2 million African adults and children. So I think that will be an important briefing to give you the specifics of the progress that we're making on that front.
And with that, I am glad to go to your questions.
Q Scott, you said that they talked -- the President, in his discussion with Talabani, talked about the security situation. Did they express any concerns about the rising level of civilian casualties and the deaths of American troops?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that President Talabani -- actually, some of the numbers have been coming down, but, I mean, there still are difficulties that remain. The terrorists and the regime elements are doing everything they can to try to derail the transition to democracy, but they cannot. They will be defeated. And it's important that we continue moving forward on our strategy to train and equip Iraqi security forces so that our troops can eventually return home with the honor that they deserve.
Just to keep in perspective here, this is still less than a year since we transferred sovereignty to Iraq. In that time period, Iraq has made important strides on the political front. More than eight-and-a-half million Iraqis showed up at the polls and said, we want a democratic and peaceful future. They elected their interim government; their interim government is now in place, moving forward on drafting a constitution, working to meet the deadline that was set out; they're working to reach out to others to participate in that constitutional process and we welcome that, we urge them to continue to do that.
And it's important that they continue to move forward on the political front because that helps improve the security front, as well.
Q What's the expectation? The President has talked, like, at some points where he's warned that the casualties are going to rise, there's going to be more violence. What's the expectation now, going forward?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that's the desperation you see from terrorists and see from regime elements who know that a free and peaceful Iraq is going to deal them a significant blow, and deal a significant blow to their ambitions. They recognize how high the stakes are in Iraq. We recognize how high the stakes are in Iraq. A free and peaceful Iraq will help bring powerful change to a dangerous region in the world. It will help make America safer. That's why we must continue working closely to train Iraqi security forces, so that they can defend themselves from external, as well as internal threats.
Q Do you think that things are going to continue to get worse, not better?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you have to be prepared for changing circumstances on the ground. That's one of the lessons I think we've learned in previous wars, is that commanders need to have the flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances on the ground.
In terms of assessments, I think that's best left to the coalition forces to give you assessments of what the latest is on the ground. I think as I indicated, that President Talabani seemed to indicate that some of the number of attacks had come down recently. But we still have men and women who are in harm's way who are serving and making the ultimate sacrifice. We are forever grateful for those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of freedom. They made that sacrifice to build a more peaceful and secure world for generations to come. We are seeing that the Middle East is in a period of transformation, when freedom is on the advance. And we want to do all we can to support those efforts, and one part of supporting those efforts is supporting the Iraqi people as they move forward to build all the democratic institutions that they need to have a sustained democracy.
Q How does the President feel about the growing calls from members of his own party about withdrawing from Guantanamo, about setting a date certain for bringing troops home from Iraq, the growing sense of uneasiness that's been expressed?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President has talked about how timetables send the wrong message. A free Iraq is an important part of winning the war on terrorism and transforming a dangerous region of the world. The President believes it is vital that we complete our mission, and that means training Iraqi security forces. Then our troops can return home with the honor they have deserved. Our troops understand the importance of the mission and they understand the importance of completing that mission. We are grateful for their families who are making tremendous sacrifices, as well. But completing that mission is vital to the long-term peace and security of the world.
MR. McCLELLAN: And in terms of Guantanamo, I think we have to step back and keep in mind who is at Guantanamo Bay. We are a nation at war. The President, last week, talked about the Patriot Act and the important tools that provided, and he talked about how the terrorists are very patient; they want us to grow complacent. The further we get away from September 11th, it's easy to kind of forget about the impact that has had on the world. The President will never forget. We remain a nation at war. The individuals who are at Guantanamo Bay are dangerous terrorists who seek to do harm to the American people. And the President is committed to doing everything he can to keep America safe and protect the American people.
Now, in that context, the President believes that we should always be looking at our options of how best to protect the American people, and that means how to deal with detainees, as well. We have a clear strategy moving forward, but we should never limit our options when it comes to protecting the American people and winning the war on terrorism. And that's where it stands.
Q So you're not ruling out the possibility that Guantanamo could be closed?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think the President addressed the question last week and said we're always looking at all alternatives for how best to protect the American people. And nothing has changed since that time period.
Q Can I just -- I just want to follow up on one point that's related to this. When the Vice President comes out and says, let's not forget that these are bad people, and when you reiterate the point that they are -- were swept up on the battlefield and believed to have been somehow involved in terrorist acts, doesn't it sort of miss the point that there's a large question that has to be asked here, which is, what do you do with these people? We know, based on accounts of people who are involved in this, that there's only so much intelligence value that they are providing. And there's a big question going forward about what do you do with detainees when you're in the middle of a war that doesn't end, when they have no legal rights and they're in this sort of black hole.
So instead of just saying that they're bad people, does the President worry that he's got to say something, he's got to deal with this in a way that tells the world and the American people that, you know, we do have some plan here?
MR. McCLELLAN: You bring up some good points. I don't think it's just saying that they are bad people. I mean, they are dangerous people. What we don't want is for these people to be released only to return to the battlefield, where they can carry out attacks again against Americans, or innocent civilians. There have been -- and Secretary Rumsfeld talked about this recently -- at least a dozen or so individuals that were released from Guantanamo Bay, and they have since been caught and picked up on the battlefield seeking to kidnap or kill Americans.
And you bring up a very good question, too, when you say what do you do about these individuals. We are a nation at war; these are enemy combatants and these are people that are dangerous. They have been involved in plots to attack America, or they otherwise seek to do harm to the American people. And so that's something we're always looking at. We're always looking at our options. And we're not ever going to limit our options. We released a number of individuals to their countries of origin, which is something we would prefer to do. We don't want to hold these individuals any longer than is necessary. We've released them to their country of origin when those countries have provided assurances that they're going to look after them, or when we felt that they no longer posed a risk to us, or that we had -- and that we had gotten all the intelligence value out of them to help disrupt and prevent attacks from happening in the first place.
But the individuals that are there, they're there for a reason. They are enemy combatants; they are dangerous individuals. And we have to keep that in mind when we're talking about this.
Q One follow-up on this. What are the criteria that would be used to come up with a different location? Would one of them be that, fair or unfair, Guantanamo Bay is being -- is now consistent with something that's undermining America's credibility, undermining America's claim to be ruled by law and to uphold the rule of law?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, a couple things. One, I wouldn't even venture to speculate about "what ifs" or anything of that nature. The President has said that we always keep all our options open and we always look at all alternatives. That's what he said; it's nothing more than that at this point.
In terms of I think you're talking about allegations of abuse and that nature, the Pentagon recently had a briefing with Secretary Rumsfeld and General Myers, and I think they really put this is a good context. They talked about how there have been 370-some criminal investigations into charges of misconduct involving detainees. We've had 68,000-some detainees in detention since September 11th. You have some 525,000 men and women who are serving in our military or who have served in our military in Iraq or Afghanistan or at Guantanamo Bay.
So when you boil it down, I think they said there is a hundred substantiated charges of allegations of abuse and a little more than a hundred people that have been held to account. You're talking about less than 1 percent that have been found to have committed illegal acts against detainees, as Secretary Rumsfeld recently pointed out.
The point I'm making is that our military, our men and women in uniform adhere to the highest standards. And that includes when it comes to treating detainees humanely. Our military expects high standards to be met and our military does not tolerate or condone it when individuals do not meet those standards, as our actions to hold people accountable demonstrate.
Q The U.S. Senate is expected to pass a resolution apologizing for failing to pass anti-lynching legislation historically. Will the President also issue an apology?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think the President has talked about our own past, our own dark and terrible past. The President is strongly committed to moving beyond the past, as he has done through his actions to enforce our civil rights laws and make sure everybody's civil rights are protected.
This was a terrible, dark chapter in our own nation's history, and scores of African Americans and their families were brutalized and suffered great injustices. The President earlier today was visiting with five leaders from African countries who were recently elected. And the President was talking about how democracy is not easy, how it takes time. And he said, your own ancestors were enslaved in America, a country that was supposed to be the land of the free. And he said, you know, we have acknowledged that and we are working to move beyond the dark part of our history, our own history. He talked about how we have learned our lesson.
So that's where the President has been focused.
Q But he's not choosing to issue his own apology, formally, to the --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that the Senate has taken a step that they feel they need to take, given their own past inaction on what were great injustices.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, actually, the President and the leaders had a good discussion about that. I think that today was really an opportunity to celebrate democracy in Africa and the progress that is being made in countries like the ones who were here today, from Mozambique to Niger to the others. And the President had a very good visit with them. First and foremost, these leaders were grateful for the President's strong leadership.
When it comes to supporting the continent of Africa and the people on the continent of Africa, this President has provided strong leadership to not only provide expanded trade and opportunity inside of Africa, but to also move forward on alleviating hunger through the recent announcement of some $674 million that will go to an emergency, right now in the Horn of Africa, to the debt relief agreement that was reached by the G8 finance ministers last week, where a hundred percent of the debt will be canceled for the highly indebted poor countries.
And we've moved forward on the Millennium Challenge Account and the emergency relief plan for AIDS, as I mentioned earlier. The President talked about that in his remarks. But these people are very grateful, these leaders were very grateful for the Millennium Challenge Account. And the President said -- and he said in his remarks, too --
Q Why has so little been paid out?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- he said we're going to be working to speed up authorization of these funds so that those who are meeting the criteria outlining that -- the criteria that is based on good governance, a commitment to democracy, a commitment to economic reform, a commitment to rule of law and transparency, a commitment to fighting corruption -- that those who are meeting that will be eligible to receive those funds. And he said, you know, this is a relatively new program, Madagascar is the one country that was the first one to become eligible for that funding. But they had a good discussion about it and they're appreciative that we are making that additional commitment of aid, but also focusing it on something in return -- results -- to move forward on democratic and political and economic reform, which will lead to long-term prosperity and democracy in Africa.
Q Going back to Guantanamo for a moment. By your remarks saying all options are open, and by the President's remarks, the door on Guantanamo still seems to be slightly ajar. And, yet, the Vice President and the Defense Secretary have, for all intents and purposes, slammed the door, saying there are no plans to close Guantanamo. Are they correct? Do we assume --
MR. McCLELLAN: They were saying "at present." We are all saying the same thing.
Q "At present," I mean, do you want to extend that at all --
MR. McCLELLAN: What I said just a second ago was that we should never limit our options. That's the President's view when it comes to protecting the American people and when it comes to dealing with these detainees -- that's part of the war on terrorism. This is part of the war on terrorism. These are dangerous individuals that were picked up on the battlefield. They are at Guantanamo for a reason and we're always going to keep our options open for how to deal with those detainees.
Q And can we determine that --
MR. McCLELLAN: This war is ongoing.
Q Right. Can we determine that what you're saying, that Guantanamo will continue to be a detention center for the foreseeable future?
MR. McCLELLAN: You heard from the Vice President and the Secretary of Defense; you've heard from the President and we're all saying the same thing.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the elections are ongoing at this point. There's another set of elections to go still in Lebanon. I think that, generally speaking, people feel that the elections are being conducted well. There are observers there, but this is a process that is ongoing. I think most people are looking at this and would say that the people of Lebanon are casting votes for change. But in terms of the actual individuals that are being elected, that's up to the people of Lebanon to decide.
What we want to make sure is that there are free and fair elections and that there is no outside interference or intimidation going on inside Lebanon. That means Syria needs to stop meddling inside Lebanon. We have real concerns about Syria's continued intelligence presence inside Lebanon, and I think we sent a clear message last week and I think the rest of the international community shares those concerns. And we appreciate that Secretary General Annan has committed to sending the verification teams back to Lebanon, and we believe those verification teams should remain there through the elections and through the formation of the cabinet to make sure that we're moving forward on Resolution 1559, which spelled out very clearly what Syria needs to do, which is get out of Lebanon and stop meddling inside Lebanon's -- when it comes to Lebanon's internal affairs.
Q So in terms of the juxtaposition of the idea that the elections are being conducted well, but the administration has concerns that there's ongoing intelligence presence in Lebanon, you're saying that the intelligence presence isn't apparently --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm talking about the election process. I think that if you look at it, there are large numbers of people turning out to vote. And so the process, I think most people there that are observing it are saying it's being conducted well. I mean, it's still ongoing at this point. But in terms of the individuals, that's up for the people of Lebanon to decide.
Q Scott, when some of the visiting African Presidents expressed their frustration at the Millennium Challenge Account and the bureaucracy and the red tape, one, was the President surprised? And, two, what was his reaction, in terms of directing any actions to correct the situation?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think -- well, the Secretary of State was right there, and the Department of State oversees the -- the President and the Secretary of State have had discussions about this, so that we can continue working to speed up that process. And the Secretary of State is committed to doing that, working to do that. You do have bureaucracies that you have to go through when you have initiatives like this. The President -- and I wouldn't describe their comments as necessarily frustration. I think they were greatly appreciative of the President's leadership in establishing the Millennium Challenge Account. I was sitting there in the meeting, and they were grateful for the steps that we are taking.
The President was the one, I think, who up front told them, we need to do a better job of speeding up this process and getting those funds distributed and authorized so that they can continue helping to make a difference in Africa. The President -- and you heard in his remarks -- made it very clear that we are going to continue to provide significant help to Africa. And that's a commitment that he has shown since the beginning of this administration.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, they had a discussion about the drafting of the constitution, and both expressed the importance of being inclusive. And we appreciate his efforts to reach out and be inclusive to all sectors within Iraq.
Q Did Talabani give any concrete reassurances that he was going to improve and try to --
MR. McCLELLAN: They're working trough that right now in Iraq, and we continue to encourage them to be inclusive in that process. They have made a commitment to do so, and that process is ongoing right now. It's for the Iraqis to decide; it's for the Iraqis to work through this and reach agreements.
Q Scott, last week, Pakistan's foreign minister was in Washington, he met with -- the White House, also met with the President and National Security Advisor. The same day, son and father were arrested for terrorism and also they met with Osama bin Laden and (inaudible) in Pakistan. My question is that if the issue of Osama bin Laden and nuclear and F16s or terrorism are still (inaudible) in the U.S. and in Pakistan came up --
MR. McCLELLAN: There are three or four things you're connecting there. I'm trying to follow the line of questioning. What's the question?
Q If the issue of this father and son -- because they met with Osama bin Laden --
MR. McCLELLAN: You're talking about the individuals in the California area?
Q Right. And also how many more like them are in the U.S. today that we are living under fear as far as terrorism is concerned? If this issue came up during the meeting with --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we've made significant progress to go after and bring to justice those who seek to do harm to America. And we've made significant progress when it comes to disrupting plots here at home. We appreciate the work of our law enforcement and intelligence community and the work they're doing here at home to protect the American people.
This investigation that you're bringing up is ongoing. I would leave it to the proper authorities to discuss. But we are going to continue to pursue those who come here seeking to do harm to the American people.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, U.N. reform is something that the President is strongly committed to, and it's something that John Bolton is strongly committed to. That's why we are encouraging the Senate to move forward quickly so that he can get in place and get about doing the important work of reform at the United Nations. The Secretary General has come out with a reform agenda. We believe that it's important to move forward on the broad reform effort at the United Nations, to make sure that the United Nations is accountable and it's effective and that it's achieving real results. There is much that we can do to make the United Nations work better. And both the President and John Bolton are committed to making sure that the United Nations is an effective multilateral organization.
In terms of the timing, I think those are questions to direct to the Senate. We just continue to urge the Senate to move forward quickly. Unfortunately, you have Democrats still playing stall tactics with this nomination. They have decided to engage in politics. That is unfortunate. The American people I think want to see reform at the United Nations and that's why we need to get John Bolton confirmed, so that he can get about working on those important efforts.
Go ahead, Mark.
Q Does he have the votes?
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me go ahead. He has -- I think it's clear that he has majority support.
Q The Senate energy bill is on the floor this week. There's talk that even Republicans might join in some sort of limits on greenhouse gases. What is the White House stance on that? And is it opposed to limits on greenhouse gases, even if it's in the form of a cap and trade system, which the President has favored in other areas?
MR. McCLELLAN: A couple of things. One -- and not to say that it's you, but I know some colleagues of you [sic] have suggested that, well, we're not making that much progress in the Congress. I would point out that we are making progress on a very important issue -- that is comprehensive energy legislation. The President has long called for a comprehensive energy plan that will help reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy. So we're pleased that the Senate is moving forward on that legislation.
In terms of our views on climate change, I think we've made our views very clear, not only by what we've said, but what we've done. The President talked about how this is a serious long-term challenge, and we must take steps now to address it. That's why we are taking steps to address it. And in terms of --
Q -- greenhouse gases?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we're working to reduce greenhouse gas intensity. We are on track to reduce the growth in greenhouse gas intensity by 18 percent, come 2012. And that's something we're already doing. We're not waiting on legislation, we're already working to address it.
We're also putting billions into research so that we can better understand the science of climate change and investing in new technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And we're working on international partnerships. The market-to-methane initiative is one that will help reduce a greenhouse gas emission, while also providing us cleaner burning electricity.
Q What about the proposals that have -- that some are -- they're planning to attach to the Senate bill?
MR. McCLELLAN: We're going to continue working with members of Congress to get a comprehensive energy plan passed. We are hopeful that we can get it done and get it done before the August recess.
In terms of the President's views on climate change, we're going to continue pushing forward on the initiatives that he is working on.
Q -- is he ready to veto? Is there a veto threat?
MR. McCLELLAN: Look, there's a legislative process. It's ongoing at this point. We're going to continue working closely with Congress.
Go ahead, Les.
Q What is the President's --
MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, let me go to Ken. He was being patient. He had his hand up before you. Go ahead.
Q Very good.
MR. McCLELLAN: "Very good," I don't know. (Laughter.)
MR. McCLELLAN: This is -- this individual that you do reference, Mr. Kahtani, is a dangerous terrorist. He is what is considered a high-value detainee, someone who was trained to resist interrogation techniques. He is someone who followed the al Qaeda training manual when it came to providing false information and misleading interrogators. He is also someone that we believe was intent on participating in the September 11th highjackings that led to the deaths of 3,000 innocent civilians. That was the day we were attacked and we went to war. He is someone who has provided us valuable intelligence when it comes to disrupting plots or better understanding al Qaeda so that we can prevent attacks from happening in the first place.
In terms of interrogation techniques, I think that, if you'll recall, we had a briefing just about a year ago with the White House Counsel and the Pentagon Counsel, as well as his Deputy, and the Deputy Chief of the Army for Intelligence. And I think in that briefing they pointed out -- and they discussed some of these very issues -- and they pointed out how all interrogation techniques, actually authorized, have been carefully vetted, are lawful and do not constitute torture. The President made it very clear through his February -- I think it was a February 2002 directive, that the military is to treat all detainees humanely and to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity in a manner consistent with the principles of Geneva.
Q Specifically in this case, we know what the practices were. They don't seem to be -- the Pentagon doesn't seem to be questioning it. Those techniques are acceptable in this case --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, they had a briefing on this last year, and I just referenced that. You ought to go and look and at that. If you have specific questions about specific techniques, I think that's best directed to the Department of Defense. I would just say, though, Ken, this is not "24."
Q Scott, what is the President's thinking about propriety of the --
MR. McCLELLAN: I was calling on Mark.
Q But you --
MR. McCLELLAN: I said I'd come back to you. Mark -- I mean, Peter. Sorry, radio guys, I get them --
Q When are you coming back to me?
MR. McCLELLAN: In just a second. I'm coming this way.
Q Thank you, Scott.
MR. McCLELLAN: He was waiting patiently.
Q So was I.
Q Going back to one of your --
MR. McCLELLAN: Didn't mean to confuse you two.
Q Going back to one of your earlier responses, you said that timetables send the wrong message. In light of the fact that Congressman Jones and others are talking about some sort of a legislative action on this -- in this regard of the timetables, what message are you concerned that that sends?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President has talked about it. The message that it sends to terrorists and others -- all you have to do is wait and we'll leave -- and the message it sends to the Iraqi people. The Iraqi people, remember, if you go back in the past, they thought previously that we were going to come in there and remove the regime and it didn't happen. And many were slaughtered by that brutal, oppressive regime.
So it's really -- it's what the President has talked about, that it would send the wrong message to the terrorists and it would send the wrong message to the Iraqi people. They have shown they're committed to democracy and freedom, and we're going to stand with them to complete the mission, which is to train the Iraqi forces to be able to provide for their security and to support the Iraqi people as they move forward putting the institutions in place for a sustainable democracy.
Q So are you, in effect, asking Jones and others to forget about this --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm stating what our views are. I haven't seen exactly what he said or what he's proposing, but I'm stating what our views are.
Richard, go ahead.
Q Scott, earlier this month the President did a fundraiser for Senator Talent. Tomorrow he does a fundraiser for Senator Santorum. How heavy a schedule do you expect the President to get involved in, in fundraising over the 2005-2006 --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think it's a little bit early to get too far into it, but these are two senators that we have worked very closely with and the President strongly supports. They are two individuals who share the President's agenda for building a freer and more peaceful world, and to expanding freedom here in our own society.
Q Do you expect there to be --
MR. McCLELLAN: I just think it's way too early to start getting too far into the 2006 elections. But he strongly supports those two senators and wants to see them reelected; he wants to do what he can to help.
Q On the lynching issue, you said it was a terrible, dark chapter in our nation's history. And if I'm correct, the same quote was used as it related to slavery. Scott, when will the administration stop saying it's terribly dark and, you know, in our nation's history and finally acknowledge that, yes, there needs to be an apology for the atrocities of lynching or -- and/or slavery?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, April, if you'll recall back in 2003, the President visited the continent of Africa and he went to Gor e Island in Senegal and he called slavery "one of the greatest crimes in history." The President talked about how Americans throughout history have "clearly saw the sin and called it by name." And so the President has spoken out about this dark, terrible past in our own nation's history. He does it frequently when he talks about supporting freedom abroad and supporting the advance of democracy abroad. It was a terrible part of our past, and there are great injustices to scores of African Americans and their families.
That's why it's important today that we move forward in a way that protects and enforces the civil rights of all Americans, and that's what this administration is working to fulfill.
Q Charles Rangel --
MR. McCLELLAN: We're about to speak.
Q -- let me finish, Charles Rangel --
MR. McCLELLAN: The President is about to speak.
Q Wait a minute, Charles Rangel and invited guests was out there at stakeout and said that the races need to come together on certain issues. An acknowledgment of these atrocities would help to heal the racial divide. The President is talking about, you know, acceptance of people.
MR. McCLELLAN: The President has expressed his views, I've expressed his views here at this podium.
Q Scott, what is the President's thinking about the propriety of the Republican Party accepting $5,000 from a pornographer, the example that sets the moral climate of this nation? And I have a follow up.
MR. McCLELLAN: I think you need to direct those questions to the committee, itself.
Q Among the Evangelical Protestant leaders who so helped the President win reelection, the Reverend Don Wildman, of The American Family Association said, "The Republicans need to go public with an explanation. Just doing nothing is the worst thing they can do." And my question: Do you think that tomorrow night, none of the TV cameras at all will focus on Mary Cary who was arrested in Tacoma last month for publicly touching herself in a sexual manner --
MR. McCLELLAN: Les, you've asked this question before and --
Q No, no, no, no, this is a new question. It's newly worded --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that those are questions to direct to the event sponsors --
Q But do you agree with him, Scott?
MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, in back.
Q Could we go back to the press availability with Prime Minister Blair last week? In response to a question, the President said, about the Downing Street memo, "My conversation with the Prime Minister was, how could we do this peacefully." And then later on he says, "And so we worked hard to see if we could figure out how to do this peacefully."
"How to do this" -- that refers to regime change or just to weapons inspections?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, regime change was the policy of the previous administration -- remember, that goes back to the previous administration.
Q But the policy of previous administration was --
MR. McCLELLAN: I addressed the threat posed by Iraq.
Q Right, which was not to do it using military force at that time. The decision by this administration was to use military force. So when talking about this --
MR. McCLELLAN: Not at that time.
Q But when talking about this, and this response, is the President referring to regime change or referring to inspections of weapons --
MR. McCLELLAN: The threat posed by the regime in Iraq.
Q So regime change.
Q What, with the defeat of CAFTA -- what kind of a signal did that send to --
MR. McCLELLAN: What kind of signal did --
MR. McCLELLAN: It would send a bad signal to young emerging democracies in our own hemisphere. The President has talked about how this has important strategic implications. You have a number of young democracies that are working to move forward and build lasting prosperity and putting in place lasting democratic institutions. And we should do what we can to support them. It's not only that -- I mean, it's also the trade issue. When you have 80 percent of goods coming in from those countries duty free, our farmers and producers and businesses should be able to have that same level playing field so that it can help create jobs and opportunity here at home. But this does have strategic implications. It is an important vote. The President believes very strongly that we need to pass the free trade agreement, and it's part of our efforts not only -- not only -- let me back up, too, to one other issue here.
When some people talk about immigration and immigration reform and the concerns about people coming to this country illegally, well, let's remember a lot of the reason people are coming to America illegally is because they are able to make a better wage here in America then their at home, so that they can support their families back home. This will help provide greater economic opportunity and prosperity for people in those countries, and it will help address that situation at home by improving their quality of life.
Q But wouldn't it also undercut the -- your approach to Africa --
MR. McCLELLAN: Would it what?
Q Your approach to Africa, which is based also on trade expense and trade attempts --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry --
Q Wouldn't it undercut that strategy with respect to Africa --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we're working closely with members of Congress. Ambassador Portman is leading our efforts, as well. And we are pushing to get this thing passed.
Q There was a demonstration in front of the White House for the couple of two days, regarding the election of Ethiopia. Is there anybody who is counseling them and -- (inaudible) -- keep the country's strategy (inaudible) on terrorism -- are they going to get some sort of exemption from being denounced, especially --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, the country's --
Q Yes, especially to create a strategy partner, fighting against terrorism, to the U.S.? And --
MR. McCLELLAN: I didn't understand the part about the terrorism.
Q Okay. There was election has been had in Ethiopia and students have been jailed. This woman (inaudible) suffering. And (inaudible) -- and there was also protest in front of the White House for a couple of days. My question is, is there anybody who is counseling them? And the terrorism question is, if a country is a strategy partner with the U.S., are they going to be exempted from being denounced?
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me make a couple of points on Ethiopia. We talked about -- this President had a conversation with Secretary General Annan last week, where Ethiopia was discussed as well. He had just returned from Africa. Secretary Rice has been in touch with the Prime Minister there, as well -- that was just recently -- to urge a peaceful, democratic resolution to the situation in Ethiopia.
We are deeply concerned about the election related violence that continued last week. You have up to 36 people that have been reported killed, and others arrested. And we are deeply concerned about that situation. We are encouraged by the signing of the joint declaration and expect each party, after signing the declaration, to abide by the letter and spirit of the agreement without adding conditions that were not part of that agreement. The parties have agreed to abide by the ruling of the electoral commission, the Carter Center has been very involved with that, as well. And that's what we want to continue to urge them to do. Violence is unacceptable; the threat of violence is unacceptable and we continue to make that clear.
Let me go to Paula and then I think the President has got some remarks.
Q Scott, the highway bill negotiators are talking about splitting the differences in funding levels. This would amount to about $5 billion more than the White House wants. Is there any willingness on the part of the administration to --
MR. McCLELLAN: We've been continuing to work closely with members of Congress. We believe very strongly that it should be at that $284 million level, or $239.9 million*, I believe, is what it actually is.
This is an important piece of legislation. We want to get it passed. It's important that we meet our transportation needs. This legislation at that level would be some 35 times* what the previous legislation authorized for the six-year period prior -- prior period. This is not only about meeting our transportation needs -- and we believe we can do it at that level -- but it's also about keeping us on track to cut the deficit in half by 2009. So we believe very strongly that we ought to stick the level that was agreed to and we're continuing to work with members of Congress; we hope we can resolve this and get legislation passed soon.
*"$284 billion level, or $283.9 billion"
**". . . would be a 35% increase over what the previous legislation authorized"