For Immediate Release
June 3, 2005
Press Gaggle with Scott McClellan
Crawford Middle School
11:39 A.M. CDT
MR. McCLELLAN: Good morning, everybody.
Q Good afternoon.
MR. McCLELLAN: It's before noon.
I want to begin by giving you an update on the Virgin Atlantic flight 45. Just to start at the beginning, the Virgin Atlantic flight 45 had departed London earlier today and it was en route to New York. And while it was over the Atlantic Ocean, it had relayed a code signal for a hijack. And once that happened, there was additional communication made with the pilots of the aircraft. The pilots indicated that there was no hijack, but out of an abundance of caution, procedures were put in place, Canadian fighter jets intercepted the plane and they escorted the plane to Canada. The plane was required to land in Halifax.
It has since landed in Halifax, as you are aware, a short time ago. It was met by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and I believe that the Canadian border service, as well, is involved in overseeing jurisdiction for this situation right now. And as far as additional details, you might want to direct questions to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police at this point. But it is on the ground in Canada and was met by the Canadian police. The President was briefed on it while he was out at the ranch and kept apprised of -- has been being kept apprised of the situation, as well.
A couple of other things to update you on, in terms of the President's day. He had his usual briefing this morning at the ranch. And following that briefing, the President called President Saakashvili of Georgia. The President called to congratulate President Saakashvili on reaching agreement with Moscow on Russia withdrawing its forces from military bases in Georgia. The two leaders agreed on the importance of Georgia and Russia working together in a constructive way to move forward on the agreement and to advance cooperation on the peaceful resolution of Georgia's separatist conflicts.
The two leaders also discussed the cooperation between the United States and Georgia to advance democracy in the South Caucuses, Central Asia and beyond.
And then following that, the President was out on the ranch, where he was doing some work and clearing some brush. And that's the latest update I have on his day. And with that, I'm glad to go to your questions.
Q Scott, did the President discuss with Saakashvili the grenade incident during his visit?
MR. McCLELLAN: They touched on it briefly. The President expressed his appreciation for the official -- the security official who located it and removed it.
Q Scott, -- increasing in recent weeks on North Korea, and if they don't return to the six-party talks, what is the next step? Also, what's your reaction to the North Korean foreign minister's comments that when President Bush referred to Kim Jong-il as Mr. Kim Jong-il it sort of softened the tone and maybe opened up the chance for talks?
MR. McCLELLAN: What we want to see is North Korea return to the talks as soon as possible. That's what all the other parties to the talks want to see, as well. We are all saying we want to see a nuclear-weapons free peninsula, and the way to get there is through the six-party talks. We've made that very clear to North Korea. The other parties have made it very clear to North Korea. We would like them to return as soon as possible. They made a commitment some time ago that they were committed to the talks.
But not only do we want to see them return to the talks, we want to see them return prepared to move forward in a serious way on the proposal that we outlined. We outlined a proposal that we believe addresses the concerns of all the parties and is the way forward to resolving this matter in a diplomatic way. And that's what we're committed to, and so that's what we would like to see.
Q Do you have a reaction to the foreign minister's comments?
MR. McCLELLAN: My reaction is that we'd like to see them return to the six-party talks. They say a lot of things. We want to see them come back and be prepared to talk in a serious way about how to move forward. And I think that's what the other parties in the region want to see, as well. They've made that clear, too. There are no preconditions for returning to the talks.
Q Did the U.S. government think that the hijacking alert from that plane might have been a homeland security issue, and was the President briefed while it was underway or after it was over?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, he was briefed when we first were learning about it, on the ranch, and he's been kept apprised of it since. Other than that -- I mean, I just reported to you the facts that we know at this point, and I don't have any information beyond that. We will probably hear more from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, I suspect, later today.
Q Is that kind of an event a homeland security alert that would put the U.S. government on the watch for it?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there are procedures in place, and those procedures were followed in this instance. The plane was diverted to Canada, where it landed. It was intercepted by Canadian fighter jets. They escorted it as it landed in Halifax. We had officials, senior staff that was here with the President, including the Deputy Chief of Staff and the President's military aide that participated in various calls regarding the situation, as well. After September 11th, we worked to put steps in place to address matters like this. And those procedures were being followed in this case, as well.
Q British Prime Minister Tony Blair is visiting the President on the White House on Tuesday. He's going to ask the President to support initiatives for debt relief in Africa, and fighting global warming. Tony Blair has been a supporter of the United States and President Bush in the war in Iraq. What is the President's posture, at this point, in terms of willingness to give the British Prime Minister what he's asking for?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, I think that --
Q What was the question, Scott?
MR. McCLELLAN: It was regarding Prime Minister Blair's visit, and some of the things that the two leaders may discuss. First of all, this is -- this meeting is an opportunity for the President to congratulate Prime Minister Blair in person on being reelected to office. And I suspect that they are going to talk about a wide range of issues. I suspect they're going to talk about our efforts to support the advance of freedom and democracy around the world. I'm sure that they will talk about the progress in Iraq, to build a free and democratic future and peaceful future.
And I'm sure they'll talk about Afghanistan and other areas around the world. I imagine that they'll talk about proliferation. That's something that has always been high on our agenda, particularly after September 11th. And it's something that has been a focus of the G8, as well. They've taken a number of steps to move forward on efforts to counter proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The most serious threat that we face are those weapons getting into the hands of terrorists.
And I suspect that they will talk about Africa. The United States has been leading the way when it comes to providing assistance to developing countries in Africa. And we've been working with the G8 to make sure that aid is focused on achieving its intended results. In 2002, there was an Africa Action Plan that was adopted by the G8, and there were commitments that were outlined in that Africa Action Plan. We have been fulfilling our commitments under that African Action Plan, and we encourage other countries to join with us and do the same, and meet their commitments.
And so the President looks forward to talking about these issues with Prime Minister Blair, as we get ready to head to the G8 next month in Scotland. But they will talk about a range of issues, and I think we should let the meeting take place.
In terms of debt relief, we've been at the forefront of encouraging debt relief for those developing countries in Africa. So I would take exception with some of the characterization there that left an impression like -- that it's not something we've been working on. These are issues that we've been working on for quite some time, and we've been working closely with the United Kingdom and Prime Minister Blair. There are many common goals that -- there are common goals that we share. And we must continue working together to address those common goals.
Q One follow up. The President, in the Oval Office photo op with South African premier Mbeki, was asked a question about the British proposal regarding debt relief in Africa. He said, it doesn't fit our budget cycle. It was a negative comment. What did he mean by that, and to what extent does that reflect where the talks are between the U.S. and Britain right now?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that, again -- and I talked about it a little bit later that day -- the commission that Prime Minister Blair led, in terms of Africa, addresses many different issues. And I think there are many areas on that commission where we agree. We want to make sure that the aid that is being directed to Africa is focused on achieving real results, that it's focused to countries that promote good governance, that promote rule of law, that are committed to democratic institutions. We believe that's very important when it comes to providing aid, as well, because we know that democratic countries are committed to improving the quality of life for their people, and we want to make sure that that aid money is going to achieve its intended result, which is to help people in the region and to help those countries move forward and develop. And that's what we're committed to doing.
So there -- we have a shared goal here, and I think sometimes that might get lost when there's discussion going on on various issues. But it's a shared goal. We've worked very closely with Prime Minister Blair on those efforts, and we will continue to do so. We look forward to doing so at the upcoming G8.
But again, there was an Africa Action Plan that was outlined at the 2002 G8. It was adopted by that G8 Summit. That's the basis for us for moving forward. We need to make sure that we're implementing that Africa Action Plan. The United States is fulfilling our commitments under that plan. And we want to see other countries work with us and join us in meeting their commitments, as well. And so that's something that we will, I'm sure, talk about as we get closer to the upcoming G8 Summit.
Q Scott, you're not signing on to Blair's proposal on the doubling. Is that right?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well remember, we have significantly increased aid to Africa, and it's important -- I think it's important that as you look at that aid that's going to Africa, that you make sure that, one, that those countries have the capacity to take that aid in, and, two, that those -- that aid is going to countries where it's going to achieve real results on the ground and promote some of the priorities that we share. And I think that's one of the priorities that was in the commission for Africa plan that the United Kingdom outlined, which was talking about making sure that countries are committed to good governance and committed to free markets and committed to rule of law and things of that nature.
Q But we're accurate in saying we're not yet ready to sign on, as other European countries have, to the doubling?
MR. McCLELLAN: We are committed to a shared goal. And the United States is moving forward on fulfilling the commitments we have made to Africa. And we look forward to working with other countries to make sure that all of us are meeting our commitments and implementing the Africa Action Plan that was adopted. I think that's an important place to focus as we move forward. It's also important that we continue to encourage leaders in Africa to be at the forefront of these efforts. And I think that's one of the things that the Commission for Africa Plan -- or the Commission for Africa outlined, as well. So there are many areas of agreement, and we'll look forward to discussing how we can continue to move forward on our shared goal.
Q Scott, on Syria, do you believe that it was just an accident that those scud missiles were fired? That's apparently what the Turkish foreign minister was reassured by the Syrians, that it was just an accident. What do you think?
MR. McCLELLAN: We're aware of the missiles that were launched, and I think I'll just leave it at that.
Q Do you think it was just an accident?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think I'll just leave it at that. I don't think we have anything further to add to it.
Q Do you have anything on the assassination of the Lebanese journalist?
MR. McCLELLAN: Sure. We strongly condemn the brutal assassination of Mr. Kassir. He was a prominent journalist who long advocated Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon. And this heinous act was clearly an attempt to intimidate the Lebanese people and undermine their efforts to build a free and democratic future. I think it reflects an environment of political repression created by Syria's long military and intelligence presence inside Lebanon. And we continue to call on Syria to comply fully with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1559, which calls for Syria to withdraw all its intelligence operatives from Lebanon, in addition to the military forces.
Under Secretary of State Burns is also at the United Nations today, and I think he will be talking about this while he is there. We would like to see the United Nations Security Council expand its mandate for a United Nations-led investigation into the assassination of Prime Minister Hariri to include an investigation into the assassination of Mr. Kassir.
Q Scott, there was a published report this morning that the President had decided to return $4,000 in campaign contributions he received from Tom Noe, the rare coin dealer in Ohio who is under investigation, but that he did not plan to return some $100,000 in other people's contributions that Mr. Noe had helped raise. Is that true, and why draw the distinction between them?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that there are some serious allegations that have been raised against this individual. They have raised concerns with people in Ohio, they have raised concerns with the White House. And the President felt it was the right thing to return those contributions that came directly from him.
Q But why not the additional contributions that Mr. Noe had raised?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, those are from other individuals, and in the past, I think the campaign, if you'll go back and look, has returned contributions from individuals that maybe have been convicted of crimes, and so forth. And this one is certainly a unique situation that raises some very serious allegations and we felt it was the right thing to do to return the contributions that he had made to the campaign.
Go ahead, David.
Q Scott, you mentioned proliferation before as a concern with Prime Minister Blair. There's a report out from UNMOVIC, their quarterly report about the situation in Iraq, and they have found evidence of additional sites that have been completely looted, including sites related to the production of missile propellants and other missile technology which had been programs Saddam had running for some time.
MR. McCLELLAN: Right.
Q It looks like most of this looting happened after the American occupation began. Can you explain to us why it is that there's been so much difficultly in securing, in the aftermath of the invasion, more than two years ago now, sites that the U.N. had clearly marked before the invasion as related to missile technologies?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not sure that I necessarily agree with your assessment, but I would encourage you to go back and look at the Duelfer report, because he talked specifically about some of these issues. But in terms of our coalition forces and the Iraqi government, the transitional government now, we have been working closely with the government in Iraq to ensure that Iraq's former weapons of mass destruction personnel and proliferation materials do not contribute to proliferation programs in other countries. So we have worked to make sure that there is priority put on sites and that those work to -- work with the transitional government to make sure that those sites are secure and safe.
Now in terms --
Q The report seems to suggest that 85 percent of those are already gone.
MR. McCLELLAN: Hang on. Hang on, let me back up, let me back up, because I think you should go back and read what Charles Duelfer said, because he talked about it in his report and said that his sense was that any looting was the work of uncoordinated elements. Now remember, the former regime had sites all across the country where they were hiding materials. And it was Duelfer's sense, as he reported, that any looting was the work of uncoordinated elements rather than directed at an effort to try to export equipment to a country that might obtain or have a weapons of mass destruction program.
And he went on to say in his report that if -- and this is a quote -- "If Iraq could get this equipment, then other countries could, as well, and would you buy a used piece of equipment from a country which had just been invaded in that war? Probably not," is what his assessments were -- his assessment was. So you might want to go back and look at his report. These are quarterly reports by UNMOVIC, and -- as you indicated at the top. These are items -- those items that are not on any of the international control list, in particular, could easily be obtained elsewhere. So I think you ought to look at what his assessment was.
Q One additional question if I could. Secretary Rumsfeld is going to be speaking on China in a few hours.
MR. McCLELLAN: Can I add a -- can I add a couple other things of what we did to work to -- in regards to what I was saying with the transitional government and the government before that. We removed low enriched uranium and radioactive sources, We secured other materials and also offered employment to individuals with proliferation-sensitive information to address those issues. And we also assisted Iraq in establishing an independent radioactive source regulatory authority and took other steps to make sure that sites were secured and safe.
But obviously, yes, there are a lot of sites -- there were a lot of sites across the country.
Q But the priority sites in this case were missile sites, and had been identified prior to the invasion.
MR. McCLELLAN: And I think you ought to look --
Q And about 85 percent of that missile system is gone, the report seems to suggest.
MR. McCLELLAN: I think you ought to look back at what the Duelfer report said in response to some of those issues.
Q One other quick thing on China. Secretary Rumsfeld is going to be speaking on it sometime soon, I think in the next few hours. Is there a reassessment underway within the administration about the degree to which we should be concerned about the Chinese military build up? And do you expect the tone in the administration to change on this subject?
MR. McCLELLAN: In terms of, I'm sorry?
Q Concern about the nature of the Chinese military build up?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think -- well, you just said Secretary Rumsfeld is going to be speaking shortly, let's let him speak and talk to it.
Q Is he speaking for the entire administration in this case?
MR. McCLELLAN: He's the Secretary of Defense.
Q Is he speaking for the entire administration in this case?
MR. McCLELLAN: He speaks for the administration as Secretary of Defense. I haven't seen his remarks.
Go ahead, Deb.
Q In the wake of the showdown over the nuclear option in the Senate, is the President interested in submitting a new batch of nominees at this point, or is he anxious to test the filibuster agreement?
MR. McCLELLAN: I saw that report. It kind of seemed to imply that there were some -- I don't know, there was some speeding up of the nominations, or something of that nature. I don't think I would characterize it that way. I mean, there are vacancies that exist. And any time there are vacancies that exist, we're going to work to move as quickly as we can to nominate people to fill those vacancies.
And there are a number of judicial vacancies that we have been moving forward on, regardless of what's been occurring in the Senate. And those nominees to the bench typically take some time, because you want to go through background checks and review nominees, and the President has to come to a decision, obviously, as well. And so those are matters that we've been working to move forward on as quickly as we can.
Q I think that the President even said in his news conference that, in terms of extraordinary circumstances, that we're about to find out, and he's hinting that we were going to get a new group pretty soon?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there are already some other nominees that are awaiting a vote. The Senate has committed to moving forward on a couple of those nominees that have been waiting for some time to receive an up or down vote. And in terms of other vacancies, we continue to move forward to nominate people to fill those vacancies.
Q There was a report in a Haitian newspaper of possible return of U.S. Marines to Haiti.
MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't read the Haitian newspaper this morning. I don't know anything about the report. You might want to talk to the Department of Defense about it.
Q Can I verify two things, just because I'm not sure I can hear you. Where was the President when he was informed about the Virgin Atlantic jet, and, two --
MR. McCLELLAN: On the ranch, doing work on the ranch.
Q He was out doing ranch work?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes.
Q And number two, was it -- you said it was Navy jets?
MR. McCLELLAN: It was Canadian fighter jets.
Q All of the law enforcement help was Canadian?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry -- well, in terms of intercepting the plane, it was Canadian fighter jets, and then when the plane landed, it was met by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and I believe the Canadian Border Service is involved, as well. And those two entities really have jurisdiction over it right now.
Q Scott, do you have any response to Congressman Rangel again calling for the reinstatement of the draft?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think the President has made his views pretty clear. He supports an all-volunteer military, and he greatly appreciates the service of those who sign up to serve, or sign up for the military.
Q Is the President's decision on the draft a matter of just practicality and policy, or is it a matter of principle that he doesn't think the draft will --
MR. McCLELLAN: The President thinks the all-volunteer military works best. It's not something that -- it's something that he's against, any reimposing of a draft. And he does not think it would serve us well. He thinks the all-volunteer force does serve the United States well, and we have a great military with many men and women who do an outstanding job. And he's appreciative for their service and sacrifice. We are a nation at war, and there are difficult challenges that remain ahead for our military. They are rising to the occasion and meeting those challenges and serving admirably.
Q But he doesn't view the draft as a violation of the 14th amendment, prohibition of involuntary servitude?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know that he's ever looked at in those terms.
MR. McCLELLAN: I mean, we haven't talked about it in those terms. Go ahead, Elaine.
Q I didn't hear you very well. You said the President this morning spoke with President --
MR. McCLELLAN: Saakashvili.
Q Saakashvili. And they discussed briefly the grenade incident?
MR. McCLELLAN: They touched on it, yes. That wasn't the purpose of the call, but they did touch on it.
Q Did the President ask the Georgian President why it took so long for Georgian authorities to notify the --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, they didn't get into that level of detail. I mean, as you know, it's something that's under investigation, remains under investigation.
All right, anybody want the week ahead?
MR. McCLELLAN: All right. On Monday, which we've already announced, the President will be going to Ft. Lauderdale to make remarks at the opening of the general assembly for the Organization of American States. That's in Ft. Lauderdale. Then when he gets back to the White House, he'll make remarks on the South Lawn for Black Music Month. There will be a White House Black Music Month reception.
Then on Tuesday, the President looks forward to welcoming Prime Minister Blair back to the White House. Following their meeting, they will participate in a joint -- it's an afternoon meeting, they'll participate in a joint press availability. That's scheduled for the East Room at this point. And then I think they have dinner scheduled after the joint press availability.
Then on Wednesday, the President looks forward to meeting with Prime Minister Erdogan at the White House in the Oval Office, and then he will also be making remarks on strengthening Social Security later in the day.
And on Thursday, we will travel to Colombus, Ohio. The President will make remarks on the Patriot Act. As you are all aware, Congress is considering legislation to reauthorize the Patriot Act right now, and they're moving forward on that.
And then on Friday, the President will go to McLean, Virginia, where he will tour the National Counterterrorism Center. And then he will meet with President Roh in the Oval Office later that day.
Then on Saturday --
Q Is there a press availability with President Roh?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think it's probably a pool spray, but we'll keep you posted. I think it's still TBD at this point.
Q No overall press?
MR. McCLELLAN: I imagine it will be pool coverage, but we're still talking about that, so nothing is final. We'll be talking about that with South Korea, as well.
Saturday, nothing to update on his schedule. And then on Sunday the President will attend the Ford's Theater Gala in Washington, D.C.
Q Scott, what is the President's opinion of the new OAS Secretary General?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he met with him with the other day. They had a very good meeting. And he's someone that the United States was very familiar with. And they had a good discussion the other day. And I think in terms of Monday's remarks -- maybe you all would like a little bit on that. Let me just kind of give you an update. I mean, one of the things -- and this is one of the issues they talked about in their meeting earlier this week in Washington, because the Secretary General was in town headed toward the General Assembly meeting.
The President does look forward to addressing the General Assembly. The President will focus on strengthening democracy in our own hemisphere. We are seeing that freedom and democracy are advancing around the world, and we have seen dramatic democratic advances in our own hemisphere since the last time the United States hosted the Organization of American States General Assembly. That was back in 1974, and there were 10 of 23 members who attended that General Assembly -- only 10 had an elected, democratic government at that point. Today all 34 members of the Organization of American States are democratically elected governments. The only country in the hemisphere that is not a democratic government, of course, is Cuba. And I imagine he will touch on that, as well.
But what the President will focus on is that we cannot take democracy in our hemisphere for granted. Elections and democratic rule is only the beginning. Successful democracies are built on free institutions that guarantee transparency and rule of law and accountability. And I imagine the President will talk about that in his remarks.
And there are really two competing visions in our own hemisphere. One vision is for our hemisphere to be based on hope and democracy and freedom. The competing vision seeks to roll back the democratic progress in the region by spreading fear and pitting neighbors against one another. And I think that's something the President will expand on in his remarks. He will also talk about the importance of CAFTA. The Central American and Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement has very strategic significance. And it's important that Congress move forward and pass that free trade agreement to show our continued support for young democracies in Central America. And the President will talk about why CAFTA is so important from a strategic perspective, as well as why it's important from -- important to our efforts to open up markets to American products and producers and farmers.
Thank you all. Have a good day.
Q The Social Security event, where is that?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'll get you more information on it. It's in D.C.
END 12:08 P.M. EDT