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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
July 28, 2005
Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:40 P.M. EDT
MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon, everybody. I wanted to start by talking about the busy week that has been going on in Congress. We have been working closely with Congress to get things done this week. You all will recall, back in May, the President called on Congress to act on four major domestic priorities. Those were the energy bill, passing a comprehensive piece of energy legislation; moving forward on the Central American and Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement; and continuing to move forward in a way that keeps us ahead of cutting the deficit in half; and moving forward on Social Security.
Congress is on the verge of passing a comprehensive energy bill for the first time in more than a decade. We appreciate their efforts. On the deficit, we are now well ahead of schedule to cut the deficit in half. That's because of the economic policies, particularly the tax cuts, that we put in place, and the spending restraint that Congress is exercising.
And on the Central American Free Trade Agreement, last night's vote was a real victory for the American people and for our hemisphere. That agreement will help promote peace and prosperity throughout our hemisphere. It will help level the playing field for American workers, farmers and small businesses. And on Social Security, Chairman Thomas and Chairman Grassley are continuing to move forward on it, and they have committed to moving forward on legislation in the fall when we return.
The economy remains strong, as the President has talked about in recent days. And we appreciate the strong reception that Judge Roberts has received from members on both sides of the aisle.
Following on the Central American Free Trade agreement passage by the House, the President received a call from President Saca of El Salvador this morning. President Saca called the President to congratulate him on the House approval of the Central American and Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement. Both leaders noted that the vote was an important step forward in consolidating Central America's democratic governments and promoting economic opportunity and prosperity in the hemisphere. The President thanked President Saca for his help and hard work in the run up to the vote. And the President expressed his appreciation for the efforts of all Central American leaders.
Both leaders agreed that the Free Trade Agreement lays the groundwork for a stable, free, and vibrant Central America, and points to a long and productive relationship between the United States and countries of Central America.
And with that, I will be glad to go to your questions.
Q Scott, could you just give us a little something more on the energy bill? Passage is imminent. This is something four years in the making.
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, the President outlined a proposal early in his administration -- four years ago, as you pointed out. This is a piece of legislation that will put us on a path to reducing our dependence on foreign sources of energy. This legislation helps address the root causes of high energy prices. It will expand domestic production, it will increase conservation, and it will improve reliability of our electricity system, as well. So this is an important piece of legislation. We're pleased by the work of Chairman Barton and Senator Domenici and Senator Bingaman and Congressman Dingell and the conference committee, and we look forward to Congress moving forward on it.
Q How would you describe the path to get here? It's been a long battle.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we have waited on an energy plan for, as I said, more than a decade. It has been far too long for the American people to have a comprehensive energy strategy in place. The President is pleased that this Congress has come together and recognized the importance of acting on this now and getting it to the President's desk so that he can sign it into law. And we appreciate the leadership shown by members of Congress, and we look forward to Congress acting on that legislation in the next couple of days. They're on the verge of getting it done.
Q So there are some things in there that the President -- there are some things not in there that the President wanted; there are other things in there that make even the Energy Secretary uncomfortable, but, I mean, are you taking this as it's long -- a victory here?
MR. McCLELLAN: This is a good --
Q A win is a win?
MR. McCLELLAN: This is a good bill. The President hopes Congress will move forward quickly over the next two days and get it to him so that he can sign it into law, because he does intend to sign it into law. It has been too long for us to have a comprehensive energy strategy, and this legislation will help us reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy, and help address the root causes that have led to high energy prices. It also has in there initiatives that will help increase energy efficiency, initiatives that will expand -- help promote the expansion of nuclear energy, which is important. This is promoting clean energy. It's safe, and it will help us to reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. So this is a good piece of legislation, and the President looks forward to it getting to him.
Q Is there anything in this bill, Scott, that will give Americans relief from the high gas prices?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Terry, we didn't get into this overnight, and we're not going to get out of it overnight. The President has talked about that repeatedly. But what this does is it puts us on the path to reducing our dependence on foreign sources of energy. For more than a decade, we haven't had a national energy strategy in place. This legislation is a comprehensive piece of legislation that addresses all those areas that I just mentioned.
Q Why did the administration hold back on releasing an EPA report that acknowledges car fuel efficiency has actually decreased?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think you might want to talk to the EPA about that. I'm not sure of all the reasons on that.
Q Did the White House ask the EPA to hold it back as a way to ensure that it didn't get in the way of passage --
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think it really has any relation to the energy bill, but you might want to talk to the EPA about it.
Q Is the President concerned about car fuel efficiency and the fact that it's actually decreased and it's not addressed in the energy bill?
MR. McCLELLAN: We've actually increased the standards for light trucks and SUVs. We've taken action to do that, and we continue to consider other ways to improve the energy -- or the fuel economy standards.
Q Is it adequately addressed in the energy bill?
MR. McCLELLAN: The energy bill is, as I just said, is a good piece of legislation. I can't go down every piece of -- or every initiative within the energy bill, but this administration has acted. We need to make sure that we act in a way that not only saves lives and ensures that cars are safe, but that also addresses issues when it comes to fuel economy standards.
Q Scott, the U.S. has now had three lengthy bilateral meetings in China with the North Koreans. Are you now having direct talks with the North Koreans?
MR. McCLELLAN: I wouldn't say "now." Let me back up and remind you that we have met with the North Korean delegation and other delegations within the context of the six-party talks. It is something we have done in each of the round of talks. So I would disagree with you saying "now." North Korea's nuclear weapons program is a concern of all nations in the region. That is why the President pursued a multilateral diplomatic approach. And in terms of the bilateral discussions that are going on, those are discussions that relate to the modalities of the talks, and it's a way for us, also, to understand North Korea's position and for us to explain our views, as well. But we have had, previously, bilateral discussions with other delegations within the context of the six-party talks --
Q Oh, come on.
MR. McCLELLAN: -- and this is happening within the context of the six-party talks.
What I think it's important to keep in mind, and this might be what Helen is grumbling about, is that -- (laughter.)
Q You have rejected time and time again.
MR. McCLELLAN: We have -- we have no intention of negotiating any bilateral agreement with North Korea. That approach was tried and it failed. North Korea, I will remind you, violated the '94 agreed framework.
Q What do you see in this joint statement that the two sides, or the six sides are working on?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think I'll let the Assistant Secretary Chris Hill talk about it. We want to see progress made toward the goal of a denuclearized peninsula. He's been talking about it. This is something that is going to be a deliberative, methodical process. It's going to take time, as Chris Hill said earlier today. There's a lot of work to do. But we are committed to making progress, and we think the other parties are committed to making progress in this round of talks. And we'll just have to see as the talks continue. But they continue at this point.
Q Since the first time, now, you've had three separate meetings where the North Koreans and Americans have met together alone, in private.
MR. McCLELLAN: We've had meetings with all the delegations.
Q It's the first -- pardon?
MR. McCLELLAN: We've had meetings with all of the delegations.
Q I know, but this is not -- it's not comparable. North Korea is the issue, and we have met privately with them. But we've always said we weren't going to. Why do you keep rejecting the whole idea that there's a possibility for rapprochement? There are negotiations going on, obviously. We have heard their side now, and we are telling them what we think, and so forth.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the place to negotiate is in the context of the six-party talks and with all parties at the table. All parties that are involved in this share the concern. All of us want to see a nuclear-free peninsula, and that's why the President --
Q I'm asking you a specific question. The two sides are getting together privately. Why don't you admit that?
MR. McCLELLAN: I just said it.
Q No, you only say it within -- you're so afraid --
MR. McCLELLAN: Did I not just say that? I think I did.
Q There's always a -- you're afraid to say there's been a change --
MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, David. Have a question?
Q -- that's what you're afraid to say.
MR. McCLELLAN: There has been change. We're pursuing this in a multilateral format with all six parties in it, but not in terms of negotiations.
Q They just go together -- (laughter.)
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not going to get the last word in here. Go ahead, David.
Q Helen's got a good point. I don't want to steal the floor from her. On the Bolton nomination, is the President prepared to recess appoint him?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, there's nothing that's changed, in terms of what we previously said.
Q Well, which is what? You're not going to get an up or down vote, near as we can tell. The President said his priority --
MR. McCLELLAN: It's what we've said. We've always felt that he deserves an up or down vote.
Q Right, and you're not getting one.
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm just telling you there's nothing that's changed, nothing else to --
Q So you won't rule out a recess appointment?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- nothing else to discuss at this point.
Q How soon will you be able to discuss it?
MR. McCLELLAN: Do you have something else?
Q I do. Just to button that up, you're not ruling that out, that a recess appointment --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm saying that nothing has changed, and I'll leave it there. (Laughter.)
Q On the documents, on the Roberts documents from when he was the deputy solicitor general, has there been discussion, and is there, perhaps, an agreement about some release of those documents or to certain members of the Senate or any viewing of them in any capacity?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know of any such discussion, and I would if there were. Senator Leahy himself said that it's important for the American people to have all the information that we considered in making the nomination.
Well, no one involved in the vetting process has seen any of the documents from his time at the Solicitor General's Office. You have people on both sides of the aisle who recognize that this is relating to confidential, deliberative -- the confidential, deliberative process. It's relating to attorney-client privilege. You have seven bipartisan former attorney generals who have said it would have a chilling effect to make this information available publicly. They depend on candid and honest assessments from their attorneys in that office.
Q You said a minute ago that you -- the President appreciates the kind of reception that Roberts has gotten on the Hill, and he's gotten a pretty good one. But does the White House, nevertheless, believe that Democrats want to slow-walk the nomination?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, a couple of things. One, I think people on both sides of the aisle recognize that he is someone that is exceptionally well qualified for this position. You heard the initial comments after the nomination was made. No one has questioned his qualifications for the position. The President has called for fair treatment and a timely hearing on his nomination. I think that's what the American people expect. They want to see a dignified process that rises above partisanship.
Now, we know that the Democrats had a three-part plan of attack in their strategy before the President even made his nomination. This was a preconceived plan of attack on the President's nominee. Senator McConnell was just talking on the floor of the United States Senate about this. There were three parts to that -- three lines of attack: One was that whatever we did, they were going to say we didn't consult enough. Well, the consultations that we engaged in were unprecedented. Two, that whoever the nominee was, they were going to distort and misrepresent his record and paint him or her as someone that was extreme. Well, I think people across the nation recognize that Judge Roberts comes from the mainstream of American law and the mainstream of American values. He is someone who is committed to ruling in an impartial and open-minded way on the bench. And the third --
Q Well, most people don't know who the guy is, so this notion that you've convinced them that he's mainstream is a bit of a stretch, don't you think?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think that the people in the United States Senate and the people that have been paying attention to this recognize that he is someone exceptionally well-qualified and he is someone that has shown that he is a mainstream jurist committed to interpreting our Constitution and our laws. I think there's been a lot of information that's come out on that. He is someone that believes in judicial restraint, and he has talked about that.
And the third part of that strategy was that they were going to say that whatever documents were provided wasn't sufficient, wasn't enough. Well, that seems to be the line of attack that they are now pursuing. We went out of our way this week to help expedite the release of documents so that they could move forward in a timely manner. And now you see members of the Senate, some Democrat members of the Senate making unreasonable requests, as Senator McConnell talked about. It's just not appropriate to get into the documents related to the Solicitor General's Office, for the reasons that the former seven solicitor generals have stated publicly.
Q Scott, now, after CAFTA, is the President ready to push immigration bill in the Congress, which he supports, because most of the illegal aliens from around the globe, what they are saying is, they're not paying any taxes, they say that there is no legal way to pay taxes. They want to pay the taxes, and they live underground, and they are being taken advantage by their employer they work for, because they are not paid what they are supposed to get paid. So where do we stand now --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, you're talking about --
Q On the immigration bill.
MR. McCLELLAN: On the immigration bill? Well, we are continuing consultations with members of Congress about how to move forward on legislation that will strengthen our borders and improve interior enforcement and meet an important economic need, and that is the temporary worker program that the President has outlined. We believe it's important to move forward and address all those issues. Those are all important priorities when it comes to immigration and border security.
And so we want to continue to move forward in a way that improves our border security and enhances our enforcement inside the United States, and move forward on a temporary worker program.
Q Do you think President will push for the immigration bill like CAFTA and other bills on the Hill, so then billions of dollars will be coming out of illegal aliens in -- after taxes --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, at this point, we have really just begun some of the intensive consultations with members of Congress about moving forward on a comprehensive piece of legislation that addresses all those areas that I just mentioned. It's critical that any reform address border security enforcement and the economic reality of demand for willing workers. We know that there is a huge demand for willing workers, and all those issues are an important part of any reform efforts.
Q Is the administration going to take any steps to take a hard look at what's going on with the shuttle program at NASA right now? Does the President believe that the NASA administration has an effective control of the program, in light of what's happened the last 24 hours?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, a couple things. One, the safety of the crew is the top priority. The President relies on the judgment of the experts, the engineers at NASA. Engineers at NASA look at all the issues, and they assess the risk. The President appreciates NASA's commitment to safety and acting out of an abundance of caution. He is confident in the job that Administrator Griffin and the experts at NASA are doing.
In terms of the latest announcement, NASA has not made any decision or announced anything about the timing of the next mission. The experts at NASA continue to look at all the facts and all the data. And once they have had the opportunity to do so, then they will come to some conclusions and make decisions about how to proceed.
Q Scott, to follow up on that.
MR. McCLELLAN: Sure.
Q Does the President consider the grounding -- the shuttle grounding a setback to the U.S. space program?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, I think I just made a point -- I don't know that the officials at NASA describe it the same way you do. They have not announced, nor have they made any decision regarding future missions for the space shuttle. They're continuing to look at all the data, and that's what they're doing right now, and to assess the situation and determine how to proceed forward.
Q So the administration doesn't see it necessarily as a setback to the program?
MR. McCLELLAN: What we continue to do is wish the crew on board the shuttle Discovery success, and a successful mission. And they are continuing to move forward on their mission, and we appreciate Commander Collins and the entire crew, and all that they are doing.
Q On another matter --
MR. McCLELLAN: Space exploration is a high priority for the United States, and we want to continue to lead the way.
Q On another matter, does the White House have an update on the investigation into Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's role in the Iran hostage crisis?
MR. McCLELLAN: Sure. A couple of things. One, it is something that we have been looking into. In terms of the President, we've looked into the allegations that were made, and -- about his involvement in the 1979 Iran hostage crisis. We know he was a leader of the student movement that organized the attack on the embassy and the taking of American hostages. However, we are still looking into whether or not he was actually one of the hostage-takers. That's something we continue to look into.
Q Scott, what -- Scott -- just hold on a second. He was a leader of the student movement that orchestrated the attack on the embassy and the taking of the hostages, but you don't know if he was a leader of it? That sounds like --
MR. McCLELLAN: We don't know if he was explicitly one of the hostage-takers.
Q But he organized the attack that led to the hostage-taking.
MR. McCLELLAN: He was a leader, is the way I would describe it, of the student movement that organized the attack and the taking of American hostages.
Q Scott, what more --
MR. McCLELLAN: We're continuing to look into it.
Q What more information do you need at this point, and what are you looking into to try to actually determine that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, when we have more to say on it, then we can talk about it at that point. But that's the update in terms of what we know at this point.
Q Where is the evidence leading you now? Do you believe that he was involved --
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know -- I'm not going to go there at this point, John. We're going to continue to look into it.
Q As a substantive matter, if he was the leader of an organization that led to a hostage-taking, what does it matter if he was actually there physically doing it?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, remember, I told you I don't think it should surprise anyone, given the nature of the regime in Iran, that he might have been involved in this kind of activity. But, again, there were people that were actually the hostage takers and carried it out, and we're still looking into that.
Q How do you know that, though, Scott? How do -- is this from photos, or from interviewing people over there --
MR. McCLELLAN: This is the latest update. If there's more to share, we will do so once we're at that point.
Q Scott, does the close vote in the House on CAFTA weaken the President's ability to strengthen relationships in --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, does it what? Weaken --
Q Weaken the President's ability to strengthen relationships in Central and South America? And did the President have to make any personal promises to some House members in return for their votes?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think the passage of it strengthens our relationship with Central American countries. I just talked about that. And the President had a good discussion with President Saca about it, and it helps to strengthen democracy in our own hemisphere. This goes right to our own national security. This is an agreement that will help extend peace and prosperity throughout the Western Hemisphere. While we're working to advance freedom abroad, we also need to be looking in our own hemisphere and make sure that we're supporting the democratic efforts that continue to advance in our own hemisphere. And this legislation helps do that.
It also is very important in terms of leveling the playing field. There is a strong consensus among Republicans in the House for this legislation -- 200 -- the vote, 217 to 215, I believe, in the end -- there were only 15 Democrats, and it seems considerably down from where some of the other free trade agreements have been. You have to start asking, well, where are the free trade centrist Democrats in all this. I don't know where they've gone.
Q I wonder if you can help me understand something from earlier this week. When Alberto Gonzales went on the Sunday shows and was asked about the leak investigation and said that he told Andy Card 12 hours before the rest of the staff was told, we asked you about that, being an ongoing investigation, you told us that he wasn't saying anything new that hadn't been said on the podium in October 2003. And yet, when we've asked you about statements that you made in the podium in 2003, rather than affirming those statements, something that it seems like Gonzales might have done, you've just said that you can't comment on an ongoing investigation. So there seems to be a difference here. He's willing to restate something that happened, or that he said, but you're not.
MR. McCLELLAN: We already addressed this the other day. There's nothing else to add to it.
Q Scott, an article in the American Conservative by Philip Giraldi, former intelligence operative, indicated the Vice President has revamped strategy towards Iran where there are now 300 to 400 missiles targeted various sites in Iran, including tactical nuclear missiles, especially aimed at the Iranian nuclear capabilities. These are now, according to Giraldi, also under command of the theater commander.
Given our problems with Iran and the fact that now that they have decided to go for the full cycle of their peaceful nuclear program, might we be anxious that if there were a terrorist incident here in the United States in any way connected to Iran, that there might be a knee-jerk reaction of utilizing this hair-trigger against the Iranians?
MR. McCLELLAN: One, I appreciate your question. I'm not going to get into accepting anything that you alleged in your comments. I'm not going to get into discussing matters relating to national security of that nature.
Two, in terms of Iran, Iran made some commitments to suspend their uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities. We expect them to abide by that commitment. If they were to begin those activities again, they would be violating the commitment they made under the Paris agreement with the Europeans. And we have made it very clear that Iran has a history of hiding their nuclear activities from the international community. That's why it's so important that you have some confidence-building measures, or objective guarantees in place, so that they show the international community that their nuclear program is not being used to develop weapons, or that they're not developing weapons under the cover of a civilian program.
And if Iran is going to violate their agreements, then we would, obviously, be looking at discussing with the Europeans, who have also committed to doing so, looking at going to the Security Council.
Q Scott, you mentioned your consultations with Democrats on the Roberts nomination. Did any of those consultations with the Democrats actually affect the President's choice?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President welcomed their views and he listened very closely to their views. And as I indicated earlier, as we were going through the nomination process, the list that the President was considering of potential nominees was something that was very fluid. Names were being added and names were being taken off. Some Democrats actually suggested that Judge Roberts was someone who would be acceptable. And so, yes, he took into account the views of Democrats. He took -- he takes this -- or he took the nomination process very seriously and he takes the confirmation process very seriously. And now it's time for the Senate to continue to move forward in a timely manner so that he can have a fair vote and be in place by the time the Court comes back in October.
Q Okay, on another matter. I might have missed it; I wasn't sure if I heard an answer. The energy bill that Congress is going to pass, will it decrease gasoline prices at the pump eventually?
MR. McCLELLAN: As I said, what Terry was asking was what impact this will have on people now. And we didn't get into this overnight; we're not going to get out of it overnight. The President talked about this. What this legislation will do is put us on the path to reducing our dependence on foreign sources of energy. It will help address those root causes that lead to higher energy prices. And that's what's important, and that's what is important about getting a comprehensive energy strategy in place.
Q So that's a "yes," it will address the root causes.
MR. McCLELLAN: I just answered it.
Q Can you give a simple answer, that, yes, it will reduce gasoline prices?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think that -- I think you have to look at what has led us to this position today, and go to the root causes of high energy prices, and why we're in this position. We're in this position because we are dependent on foreign sources of energy. And that's why this legislation is so important because it will put us on the path to reducing our dependence on foreign sources of energy.
Q But what -- this is very interesting, because we've asked you many times what the President is doing to reduce gasoline prices, and you said, well, number one, Congress can pass an energy bill. Now I'm asking you, Congress is about to pass an energy bill -- simple question -- will the energy bill reduce prices --
MR. McCLELLAN: And I just said it goes to address the root causes. We're not going to get out of this overnight. That's why we need to move forward on this legislation that will put us on our path to reducing foreign sources of energy, and that will go to address some of the root causes that have led to higher energy prices.
Q Scott, you said that the President is going to be signing the energy bill. What about the highway bill? There are reports from the Hill that he will be signing that, is that correct?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not sure that the leaders have come out and talked about the agreement that has been reached. Congress does appear to be moving forward on it. The President talked about it with the House Republican Conference yesterday and expressed his appreciation for Congress moving forward on this important piece of legislation. This is a piece of legislation that will help us meet our transportation needs over the next six years, and it will also keep us on track, or ahead of schedule to cut the deficit in half.
And that was one of the President's big priorities in this. He wanted to make sure that we meet our needs when it comes to the highway legislation. And he believes that it will, and that we also exercise responsible spending restraint and that -- and what you have seen is that from where this started a couple of years ago in both chambers, that Congress has come significantly down in terms of the amount of money that they are dedicating to this -- or to these needs.
Q That sounds like all reasons to sign it.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, let's let them announce it, but I think the President is -- you just heard me describe it -- pleased with the efforts of members of Congress to reach an agreement and to move forward on this important piece of legislation. We're pleased that they have come significantly down in terms of the amount of money that they are dedicating to this legislation, because it's important that we meet our needs, but it's also important that we stay on track and ahead of schedule to cut the deficit.
Q But you can't say, yes?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Roger, I think -- let's wait until they make the announcement, but I think you have a pretty clear indication from me that the President is pleased about the agreement that they've reached.
Q Scott, a two-part. Does the President agree with Judge Roberts' 2003 statement that Roe v. Wade is, "the subtle law of the land?" Or does he hope Judge Roberts, once on the Supreme Court, might vote against this three-decade long Court precedent?
MR. McCLELLAN: You know, Les, the President doesn't have a litmus test when it comes to our courts. The President has made that very clear. He has never had a litmus test for appointing people to the bench. What the President believes is important is that we have judges serving that are committed to interpreting our Constitution and our laws and not trying to legislate from the bench. Judge Roberts meets that criteria, Judge Roberts has talked about how ideology and personal views shouldn't be getting in the way of the Judge making an impartial and open-minded and fair decision based on the law and based on the facts. He's talked about that in his previous testimony.
Q Can I follow up to that, Scott?
Q We are just two weeks away from the 60th anniversary of the surrender of Imperial Japan. The Washington Times reports in detail this morning on the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, which has been likened by some historians to a Berlin shrine to Nazi Germany. And my question, does the President believe it would be wise and just, on August the 15th, for Prime Minister Koizumi not to honor Hideki Tojo and 13 other hanged war criminals, or should we just try to forget about the Bataan Death March?
MR. McCLELLAN: Les, I think there are some -- certainly some sensitivities in the region relating to this issue. I'm not going to comment on it from here. The President has a good relationship with Prime Minister Koizumi, and he appreciates his friendship.
Q Doesn't he think he ought to not get involved with these Japanese war criminals?
MR. McCLELLAN: I just told you, I'm not -- I'm just not going to get into commenting on it from here.
Q Representative Tom Tancredo recently suggested that taking out Muslim holy sites might be a good way to fight terrorism. Now his statement has been showing up in newspapers throughout the Muslim world. Will the White House ask Mr. Tancredo to apologize and retract his statement, as it did with Senator Durbin?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, I think the State Department actually addressed this issue right at the time, and they expressed the views of the administration. The President has made very clear that Islam is a religion that teaches peace, and it is a proud and great religion. And he stated his views on it.
So go ahead.
Q Scott, it has been reported that outgoing Iranian President Khatami has said that the senior Iranian leadership has decided to go ahead and restart the nuclear refueling facility in Isfahan, no matter what the European Union -- the European countries offer next week. Are we willing to allow that as a face-saving measure if we're going to go ahead on the larger scale program? Or is that going to be a deal-breaker?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think I -- is this following up on the question over here?
Q It's actually -- well, it's connected, but it's slightly separate.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, what are you -- and what are you -- what's your question relating to?
Q Well, in the -- if they do carry out this threat of going ahead and starting just one particular site, would we consider that a deal-breaker?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think, first of all --
Q Or will we possibly allow it as a face-saving measure --
MR. McCLELLAN: First of all, in terms of their nuclear activities and abiding by the commitments that they've made, we believe very strongly that they need to abide by the commitments that they have made. We continue to support the efforts of our European friends to get Iran to abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions, and we're continuing to support those efforts. Those discussions continue, and we're going to continue to support the efforts of our European friends.
Ken, go ahead.
Q Scott, last night on the Tonight Show, Jay Leno, who apparently is subbing for Johnnie, displayed a video of the President at the Capitol yesterday. In that video, the President walking away from the press lifts his hand and raises a finger. Mr. Leno interpreted it as, shall we say, a finger of hostility. Each of our fingers has a special purpose and meaning in life. (Laughter.) Can you tell us what finger it was he held up?
MR. McCLELLAN: Ken, I'm not even going to dignify that with much of a response. But if someone is misportraying something, that's unfortunate.
Q Well, it was not a finger of hostility?
MR. McCLELLAN: Ken, I was there with him, and I'm just not going to -- I'm not going to dignify that with a response. I mean, I haven't seen the video that you're talking about, but I know the way the President acts. And if someone is misportraying it, that's unfortunate.
Q Senator Schumer indicated this morning that the hearings for Judge Roberts likely may need to spill over into October. Is the White House comfortable with that particular time line?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think we've made our views very clear that we believe Judge Roberts needs to be in place by the time the Court comes back into session, which is October 3rd. I think the American people expect the Senate to move forward in a timely manner, and to move forward on a fair confirmation process. This is -- this is an important position, and it's -- President Bush believes very strongly that he should be in place by the time the Court comes back. He has done his job and nominated someone who is exceptionally well qualified in a timely manner, and we are also doing our job to make sure we get the Senate all the appropriate information they need to be able to move forward in a timely manner. And so we hope that they don't resort to these lines of attacks that they have talked about, even before the President made the nomination, and try to delay things or drag things out.
Q They say Justice O'Connor is -- has expressed her willingness to continue to serve, and they say a thoughtful, deliberative process serves the American people. Do you have -- does the White House have any response to that?
MR. McCLELLAN: And there's plenty of time to have a thoughtful and deliberative process. If you look back over the years, and particularly at the most recent two nominees to the Supreme Court, the Senate was able to move forward in a timely fashion. These were individuals that I think many in the United States Senate would disagree with their ideological or personal views, yet they were able to move forward and have a very deliberative confirmation process and vote on both those nominees. I think the average was around 70. I think one was 40-some days and the other was about 72, 73 days. And I'm talking about Justices Ginsburg and Breyer.
Q Scott, on the IRA, please. On your statement on the IRA, what is the U.S. specifically doing to make certain that both sides implement the agreement to disarm?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there is an independent verification process that will be in place to make sure that the IRA fully implements what they have pledged to do. We appreciate the leadership of Prime Minister Blair and Prime Minister Ahern. We continue to strongly support the peace process. We are committed to working with those leaders to do what we can to ensure that there is a lasting peace that is achieved.
And the President welcomes the statement that was made by the IRA today. He understands, too, that there are going to be victims and families that are skeptical of this, and that's why it's so important that there be an independent verification. And Prime Minister Blair and Prime Minister Ahern talked about that in their joint statement that they released. There will be the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning, and the Independent Monitoring Commission that will play that vital role, to make sure that the commitments that were outlined are being fully implemented on the ground.
Q And one more. On the phrase, "contact with any foreign paramilitary terrorist groups," do any of those apply to groups in the United States, do you know?
MR. McCLELLAN: It applies to any foreign paramilitary or terrorist groups.
Q Scott, it's clear British officials and intelligence officials did a poor job infiltrating radical groups in England, which resulted in the bombings, and now they're playing catch-up by rounding up a number of people they suspected in being involved with the bombings in London. Can this administration say with confidence that in America the intelligence community has done a better job infiltrating groups that may be -- have a propensity to do the same thing on American soil, so that the American people are safer than the British people are?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not going to agree with the way you characterized things, first of all, but we continue to work closely with British authorities and assist them in every way that we can. That investigation is something that is ongoing at this point and --
Q What don't you agree with what I said?
MR. McCLELLAN: And in terms of here in the United States, we are doing -- taking all steps that we can to make sure that the American people are protected. There's always more that we can do. There is no specific credible threat information that points to any such attack here in the United States, but we must -- this is a long-term struggle of ideologies that we're engaged in. That's why we must continue to stay on the offensive and go after those terrorists who seek to do us harm and the civilized world harm, and bring them to justice before they can carry out the attacks. That's the best way to prevent attacks from happening, is to take the fight to the enemy.
And it's also important that, in order to prevail in this struggle, that we continue to work to advance freedom, because freedom and democracy leads to peace. Free societies are peaceful societies. And that's why the President believes so strongly in the importance of advancing freedom in the broader Middle East, a region that has been a breeding ground for terrorism.
Q Is there any opinion as to why the British didn't see that there were a number of cells out there that were going to do this, how they weren't infiltrated?
MR. McCLELLAN: At this point, the investigation is ongoing and I'm not going to try to draw conclusions while the investigation is ongoing.
Q Scott, do you know when you are planning to name a new ambassador to the Republic of Cyprus, since the previous one left a long time ago? Why this is an unusual delay?
MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't checked on that recently.
Q And also, a new question -- according to the Associated Press, the head of the Kurdistan Democratic Partnership, Barzani, stated yesterday, "We have the right to establish a state and we have not abandoned this right. The Kurds suffered for hundreds of years, but especially after the Iraqi state was established after World War II." How do you respond, since, as you understand, you are fighting for a unified Iraq under a central government?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's right, and I think that's what the Iraqi people want. And you have a government that is in place that was elected by the Iraqi people, and it is a government that is committed to listening to the views of all communities in Iraq. They're moving forward on drafting a constitution so that they can move forward on the election for the -- or the election to approve the constitution, and then elections later this year for a permanent representative government. But you did state our position, that we --
Q -- agree with the statement?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- we support the territorial integrity of Iraq.
Q Scott, let me just circle back to the '79 Iranian hostage-taking. Does this White House consider that to be an act of terrorism?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again -- you're talking about the hostage taking?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that was sovereign American territory that was violated. That was -- we all remember well the hostages that were taken and held for so long.
Q Was it an act of terror?
MR. McCLELLAN: And I think that the administration at that time commented about it and the administration that came into place at that time, as well, commented about it. And I'll leave it at that.
Q But does this President consider it to have been an act of terrorism?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think I'd leave it at that. I don't think we've -- I haven't had that discussion with him. But it was --
Q Could you check on it?
MR. McCLELLAN: It was certainly a violation of international laws and obligations.
Q One quick question more about Roberts, Scott. Yesterday, Chuck Schumer at the Press Club said that he thought the battle had been won by those who believed that the confirmation process --
MR. McCLELLAN: And I would point out, too, that -- hang on -- that Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism. They continue to be on our state sponsor of terrorism --
Q I'm just wondering if you considered that particular incident --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I know, I heard your question.
Q -- to be an act of terrorism, because --
MR. McCLELLAN: I added one thing to it.
Q -- because then it opens up the question of what is Ahmadinejad's status under the Bush Doctrine?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that's why I was pointing out that Iran --
Q That's why you were avoiding answering it.
MR. McCLELLAN: -- that Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism. We haven't had that discussion, John, and I'd like to make -- give you informed responses when I respond.
Q Could you check on that question?
MR. McCLELLAN: But Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism, and the administrations at those -- at that time, addressed those issues. And we will all always remember that time period.
Q Well, if you could check on how you view it and get back to us, that would be great.
MR. McCLELLAN: Carl, go ahead. John, you've had your questions. Carl, it is your turn.
Q Thanks. So Schumer at the Press Club yesterday suggested that, in his mind, the battle had been won, but what he described as his two-year effort to include in the confirmation process and the assessment of judicial nominees their personal politics and ideology. Does the administration agree that personal ideology now is part of the fair confirmation process hearing?
MR. McCLELLAN: That personal ideology? I think that --
Q Personal politics and ideologies.
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that the nominee has talked about that issue in previous testimony, in terms about --
Q I'm not asking the -- I'm asking if the administration shares that view.
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, the Senate's going to be able to ask whatever questions they want of the nominee. I know that the nominee looks forward to the confirmation hearing process. And we'll let that proceed forward. We hope they do it in a timely manner.
END 1:24 P.M. EDT
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