|The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
June 19, 2006
Press Gaggle by Tony Snow
Aboard Air Force One
En route King's Point, New York
8:55 A.M. EDT
MR. SNOW: Okay, quickly. The President, obviously, will be giving an address to the Merchant Marine Academy, the first President to do so.
Q Can you speak up, Tony?
MR. SNOW: Certainly. Incidentally, we're going to work on some way to make this easier for everybody, so these are easier to hear. We're working on some technological fixes for gaggles on the plane.
In any event, the President will be speaking to the Merchant Marine Academy, the first President to have done so. He obviously will be saluting the graduating class; in addition, reiterating the administration's position on Iran as the President gets ready to head off for consultations with the European Union later this week.
Also on the schedule, the President will have policy time today at about 1:45 p.m., and tonight remarks at the 2006 President's Dinner at the Washington Convention Center.
Q Do you guys have any confirmation that North Korea has actually finished fueling the --
MR. SNOW: I can just refer you back to press reports. We're really not commenting specifically, merely reiterating our position that North Korea has imposed a moratorium on launching missiles, we hope it will continue that moratorium and we hope it also will go and abide by the commitments it made last September 19th, in terms of working towards regional security and returning to the six-party talks. Nothing beyond that.
(Interruption to gaggle.)
MR. SNOW: The record will reflect a coffee-related incident aboard Air Force One. (Laughter.)
Q -- is the U.S. going to respond appropriately and properly, if they do test this missile? What does that mean?
MR. SNOW: It means you'll find out if a response is necessary; we hope none is.
Q What are your options?
MR. SNOW: I'm not going to tell you that, either. I mean, it's really inappropriate -- it's inappropriate to go into options and responses, especially because our efforts right now are trained toward making sure that North Korea continues to abide by the missile testing moratorium and by its word given last year at the six-party talks.
Q To that end, Tony, you can confirm that you guys have talked directly with North Korean representatives in New York at the U.N.?
MR. SNOW: That is correct; yes.
Q What about Zoellick stepping down, do you have any comment on that?
MR. SNOW: No. He's been wanting to pursue options in the private sector for some time, and now he's going to do it.
Q Tony Blair was saying that they're going to start phasing out some troops in the southern region in Iraq. Do you guys have any word on that or have you --
MR. SNOW: In some cases, as you've seen, for instance today, the announcement by the Prime Minister that in one of the provinces the Iraqis are going to take sole responsibility for security. In many cases that does not mean that the troops are going to leave, it means that they're going to redeploy elsewhere in Iraq. I can't tell you specifically about the British, but I suspect that is the case. But rather than relying on my word, you may want to contact the Pentagon reporters to find out.
Q Is there any timetable on North Korea for when you need to see them stand down or change course or anything like that?
MR. SNOW: No. I mean, it's kind of up to the North Koreans right now. They're going to have to decide how they proceed. But, no, there's no timetable.
Q What was the nature of these talks in New York? I mean, are these sort of like the first direct talks we've had with North Korea in a while?
MR. SNOW: No. It's usual to contact through U.N. representatives. In addition, the administration and senior officials -- both State Department, NSC, and the President, himself, have contacted more than a dozen heads of state, including all of those in the six-party talks, as you would expect. This is something that the President has been working vigorously through diplomatic channels to encourage the North Koreans -- as I said, I hate to keep repeating the same phrase, but I will -- to meet their -- to abide by their self-imposed moratorium on missile testing and also return to the talks.
Q Who did the President speak to?
MR. SNOW: I'm not at liberty to say right now, but there have been a number of heads of state and, in addition, as I said, there have also been contacts -- there have been reported contacts, for instance, Ambassador Schieffer yesterday meeting with the Japanese foreign minister; Secretary Rice has been working the phones, as has National Security Advisor Hadley.
Q When were these calls and discussions taking place?
MR. SNOW: I don't have -- I'm not going to give you a tick-tock. I hope at some point we may be able to put together a tick-tock, but it's premature to do that.
Q How receptive were the North Korean representatives at the U.N. to your overtures?
MR. SNOW: Again, one thing you don't do at a juncture like this is to start, A, negotiating in public or, B, betraying confidences in public. I think it's safe to say that once again we're repeating our encouragement to the North Koreans to abide by the moratorium and return to the talks.
Q What is he going to say about Iran that we haven't heard?
MR. SNOW: Not much. I mean, it's going to be a reiteration of the position about the importance of an Iran without nuclear weapons.
Q Is this supposed to be a message to the Europeans in some way?
MR. SNOW: It's in some way teeing-up what is going to be a topic of conversation, one of many, at the European Union consultations this week. So, yes, it's a way of teeing it up.
Q Any update on the missing soldiers, Tony?
MR. SNOW: Nothing. We have just -- apparently an al Qaeda-related group has today issued something claiming responsibility, but there is no confirmation, and I just had our NSC guy call back to the White House. So we have absolutely nothing new on it, at this point, beyond what General Caldwell had to say in his briefing.
Q Can you tell us a little bit about the President's briefing on this, over the course of the weekend, and how he's being kept apprised?
MR. SNOW: Well, he's being kept apprised regularly by aides. I mean, I can't tell you exactly who's doing it at what juncture, but he's being kept regularly apprised of what's going on and what we know.
Q The focus on Iran with Europe, is there a concern that, you know, they're getting wobbly on this or something?
MR. SNOW: No, actually it's -- one of the good things so far is that the EU3 have remained firm and also the Chinese, as well -- what you have is -- I'm sorry, the Russians, as well. No, at this point it's not that they're getting wobbly, it's just simply teeing up what is going to be a topic of conversation and of interest, obviously, to the EU. No, the Eu, as you know, was the first to lead the negotiations with Iran and the President is grateful for that and happy to be able to try to assist.
Q Solidifying support or --
MR. SNOW: Well, the support is solid. It's really not --
Q What's the message?
MR. SNOW: The message is -- look, it's also part of the democracy template, trying to secure democracy in the region, trying to make sure that external threats do not become a problem and a complication. I mean, you'll hear it in the speech -- real soon, as a matter of fact.
Q On Iraq, is he going to talk either today or in Vienna about getting -- are there European countries that have still not met their pledges toward this $13 billion?
MR. SNOW: I suspect the topic is going to come up.
Q Do you know specifically which countries, or how much money?
MR. SNOW: We're still trying to track it down. Its' a rather squirrelly figure and it's difficult to track down -- believe or not, it is, yes. We've been trying, so I really can't -- honestly can't help you on that one.
Q Now that these missing soldiers have been ID'd, has the President made any attempt at all to reach out to their families that we know of?
MR. SNOW: I don't know.
Q On Zoellick, is the President sorry to see him go?
MR. SNOW: I'm sure he is. Look, Bob Zoellick is a guy who served -- he's highly competent, served a number of Presidents, but you also know that at a certain juncture in the administration some people have worked very hard for a long time and are going to go back and pursue other opportunities.
Q So was Andy Card decisive in getting the President to come to his alma mater or would-be alma mater?
MR. SNOW: I don't know, but I think Andy is awfully happy to be going back and this time he's not going to be hung up on a flagpole. (Laughter.)
Q Flagpole? We don't know that story.
MR. SNOW: I've just tipped part of the speech for you. (Laughter.)
Q There won't be police waiting for him?
MR. SNOW: I don't think so. (Laughter.) Anything else, guys? Okay, thanks.
END 9:03 A.M. EDT