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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
July 27, 2006
Press Briefing by Tony Snow
James S. Brady Briefing Room
10:12 A.M. EDT
MR. SNOW: Hello, welcome. Busy day. Helen, I'd like to see you afterward. No, you're not in trouble. I just have a favor I'd like to ask.
Q Why? (Laughter.)
MR. SNOW: You'll find out.
A very busy day here at the White House. The President, as you know --
Q What is it?
MR. SNOW: I'm sorry, what?
Q You might as well tell all of us.
MR. SNOW: You'll find out. Life is full of surprises.
The President has signed H.R. 9, the Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Reauthorization and Amendments Act of 2006. At 11:15 a.m. there will be a meeting with the President of Romania, followed by a working lunch; 1:15 p.m. the signing of H.R. 4472, the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006. That will be followed at 1:50 p.m. by remarks to the National Association of Manufacturers. It's an economic speech. The President will be talking about economic policy and also about the importance for fiscal discipline on Capitol Hill.
Also, we take note of the fact that the House has passed the U.S.-India Nuclear Act, with a 359-68 vote. It is going to exempt certain requirements of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954. It is a proposed nuclear agreement for civil nuclear cooperation with India. It's an important step to advancing the strategic partnership between the two countries. The President now encourages the Senate to pass the legislation as soon as possible.
Also, there will be hearings today on John Bolton and his nomination, which has been pending for some time. As United Nations Ambassador, we think Ambassador Bolton has done a terrific job. He's won over a lot of critics while building alliances on a range of issues, including Iran and North Korea, and working tirelessly to achieve meaningful results and reforms at the United Nations. You may recall that Senator George Voinovich of Ohio, who was an early and vehement skeptic, has now said that he has come to the conclusion that Ambassador Bolton deserves confirmation. We hope that the Senate will follow suit.
This morning the President, at about 7:30 a.m. or so, had a conversation with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany. They talked primarily about the Middle East and also the way in which partners can work forward to build a sustainable peace. They talked about the outcome of the Rome conference and also ongoing efforts to secure conditions necessary for a sustainable cessation of hostilities in Lebanon.
Speaking of which, it's probably worth opening at least a little bit, and then we'll get to questions, with a little bit of perspective on what did and did not happen in Rome. I've seen a number of press accounts describing this as not going anywhere, and as a matter of fact, there were significant victories achieved in Rome.
For those who expected Rome to be a cease-fire conference, they were wrong. As Secretary Rice noted yesterday on her trip to Kuala Lumpur, the Middle East is littered with failed peace agreements. It's time now to take a realistic look at what is going to be required for a lasting and sustainable peace, so that the democracy in Lebanon not only can take root, but thrive. And to that end, people in Rome were talking about the conditions that are going to be required going forward.
There are also ongoing diplomatic efforts, and those are worth highlighting. First, there's a recommitment on the part of everybody to make sure that there's full implementation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559. As you know, that not only called for the removal of Syrian forces, but also internal militias. While Hezbollah has some elected representation in the government of Lebanon, it is ironic that Hezbollah militias are working directly against and independently of that government, and therefore are weakening it.
We've also been working very hard on the humanitarian side. As we first noted, the United States has dedicated $30 million to humanitarian aid. We are pleased that the Saudis have contributed half a billion dollars in humanitarian aid, and already a billion dollars for reconstruction purposes. The Jordanians and Iraqis have made contributions, and the United States is doing that.
Furthermore, there are ongoing talks about a troop contribution effort with our allies. Philip Zelikow is working with Javier Solana's staff in Brussels. There will also be some U.N. consultations over the weekend over troop contributions when it comes to -- when a cease-fire is possible, to provide some sort of troop presence to supplement the Lebanese armed forces. Again, the Lebanese armed forces should be the principal means for creating peace in Lebanon, and we hope to give them the capability and the capacity to do so. So Phil Zelikow, as I said, is right now in Brussels speaking with members of the EU staff.
In addition, David Welch and Elliott Abrams have returned to the region, and they are also working on some possible -- with the regional partners. There may be some action on the United Nations in terms of laying out some of the conditions necessary for achieving a cease-fire that is consistent with our stated goals, which is a durable peace.
We also want to remind people that Syria and Iran are playing leading roles here, and they need to step up. They need to make it -- we have already made it clear to both parties what is necessary, and what is necessary is for Hezbollah to lay down arms and to choose a political rather than a military track.
And I think that's sort of the basic take on that, and now I am ready to take questions. Tom.
Q Before we go back to Lebanon, could you talk about the proposal out of ASEAN to have eight-party talks instead of six-party talks to talk about North Korea's nuclear program, adding Australia, Malaysia and Canada, in lieu of the six-party talks?
MR. SNOW: A lot of the proposals -- we want North Korea, as we've said a lot of times, to return to the talks. The North Koreans walked away. The six-party talks are the way. They can choose the path forward. And part of the six-party talks designed to get the North Koreans to renounce nuclear development efforts and nuclear efforts, and choose a peaceful path where regional powers can support them. And we are gratified to see that the Chinese, the South Koreans and others have taken an active and responsible role. And I will leave it to Secretary Rice to provide the proper commentary on it.
We're aware of the proposal, and we'll consider it. And, again, we would welcome efforts to try to get things put together under the proper circumstances.
Q Is this an "in lieu of" type of situation?
MR. SNOW: Again, I'm not -- I'm not going to do an "in lieu of" because that is a diplomatic question more properly posed to the Secretary of State.
Q Would you comment on the Zawahiri tape? Have you been able to authenticate it? And are there concerns this could turn into a broader regional war?
MR. SNOW: Well, look, with regards to Ayman al-Zawahiri, I think this is about the 15th or 16th such communication. None of them in the past have been -- all of these in the past have been confirmed; it certainly looked like him. We have not yet, at this point, fully confirmed. But let us assume that it is such a statement. It is hardly new for Mr. Zawahiri, from his place in hiding, to issue threats.
But I think it does expose something else, and it's important in putting the war on terror in context, because one of the weapons is to use the media and you use the Internet and to use mass communications as a way of fomenting hatred and encouraging violence. And this certainly fits into that pattern.
Al Qaeda's military capabilities have been significantly degraded, and everybody knows that. And so now Ayman al-Zawahiri is issuing tapes. I think it is worth reminding people that a global war on terror involves disparate terrorist organizations using mass communications to achieve the same end, which is to destabilize hopes of democracy and to foment violent action against sovereign governments so that they can spread their own totalitarian brand of Islamic fascism.
We're not surprised to hear from Mr. Zawahiri in that sense, but the broader war on terror is something that is always a concern in the sense that we need to be vigilant about threats that may be sprouting up. And that is one of the things that the President first started talking about on September 20, 2001. He's remained vigilant on it and it's very important.
A couple of other things. There's a certain amount of hypocrisy in the claims of Mr. Zawahiri to be a defender of Islam when many of the things that he has done has led -- have led to the murders of Muslims around the world by his own jihadists. These are people who do not believe in peaceful coexistence. They believe in their way or the sword. We've made it clear that that is not our way. They have made their choice, and as the war on terror proceeds, you've got to keep in mind it's not merely a war against an abstraction, it's a war against something very concrete, which are Islamo-fascists, Islamic fascists, whatever you want to brand them -- people who have a totalitarian view of things which they claim to be representation of a religion, using that to destabilize sovereign states. And it's his attempt to stay in the game.
Q May I ask one other question? Dr. Rice has been using the phrase, "a new Middle East," instead of, "a democratic Middle East." Is this an intentional, deliberate, administration-wide change of phraseology, because I don't think it sounds Western or --
MR. SNOW: I don't think so -- you know, I don't know. That's Secretary Rice's rhetorical device. We haven't had a "change the terminology" meeting. I'm not aware of any broader effort.
Q Can you comment on the concerns expressed by Britain's foreign secretary about how munitions were transferred from the U.S. to Israel using British territory? They are a close ally, they seem very unhappy about how that was done, and --
MR. SNOW: Well, apparently, Kelly, in talking to the Department of Defense -- and you can get a fuller brief on it -- they think their paperwork -- this is a paperwork question -- and apparently the British Foreign Minister thinks the paperwork was not in order, the Department of Defense does. And we'll get it straightened out.
Q But it speaks to something larger than paperwork, although at the root it may be simply that, that one of our closest allies is feeling very uncomfortable about munitions going to an area that they --
MR. SNOW: I'm actually not sure that's the case. I think you would have to ask the Brits about that. That's a characterization, and I'd see how you would draw it. I'm not sure that's the case, because these sorts of things have happened before, and probably are going to happen again. So I would be careful not to read too much into it, but, obviously -- we're going to have Prime Minister Blair here, we'll find out what's going on. But I will try to -- I really would recommend taking -- contacting the Department of Defense, because they've got sort of chapter and verse about the paperwork issues.
Q Would the President consider a moratorium on sending any new munitions to Israel, given the fact that Secretary Rice and others are saying there is an urgent need to end the violence?
MR. SNOW: There is an urgent need to end the violence. There is also an urgent need for Israel to defend itself. We will continue to abide by our treaty obligations.
Q My question is, does the administration see any ambiguity in our helping to escalate nuclear know-how in the sub-continent, India, and enrichment of plutonium by Pakistan, and trying to tamp down the North Koreans and Iran?
MR. SNOW: Well, we're pursuing two different things here, and it's a very good question, because I can see how people would draw the conclusion. What we're talking about with India is a civil nuclear program. This is not something to be used -- and there are safeguards built in. And, obviously, you know that there would be considerable sentiment on Capitol Hill to make sure that those are firm safeguards.
It actually fits into something entirely different, in that it doesn't have to do with the nuclearization of Iran or anything else. But the President has made the point a number of times, and we see it now in escalating oil prices, that we need to get rid of our addiction to oil. Part of what we're seeing, in terms of the global oil markets, is as a result of rapidly-growing economies in places like India and China; you've got two billion people there. When you have growing economies, they're going to have a pretty good appetite for energy.
And we have been encouraging them to take a look at sources other than oil, including nuclear energy, and the President also has been trying to make that case here at home, because it is important in the long run, if people want to wean themselves from that dependence on oil, you've got to look for other sources. And this civil nuclear agreement, I think, is an important part of that.
Q Well, are we -- neither has signed the Nonproliferation Treaty. Are we trying to encourage that? And also, there -- maybe it's not true, that even enhancing the civil nuclear operations with India, they can transfer all their know-how to war making.
MR. SNOW: We have made it very clear that we do not want these nuclear activities, and we do not want them to be used for military purposes.
Q How do you know they won't do it?
MR. SNOW: That is a question beyond my competence, and I'll have to turn it to somebody else. I apologize.
Q If you say that --
MR. SNOW: Let me -- let me -- go ahead, Goyal. You've got a dog in this one. Go ahead. (Laughter.) I shouldn't say that. (Laughter.) That is an American colloquialism. Please forgive any international -- no, I'm not going there. (Laughter.)
Q Don't worry, Tony.
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q My question is, yesterday watching -- it was not amusing to watch the world's greatest body to debate on the civil U.S.-India nuclear agreement, and also a number of congressmen there, they had some charge, many charge, and especially from California. Do you think President buys the Washington Post story on Monday, and what the Congressman was saying that Osama bin Laden is in Pakistan? And also, this may have a nuclear arms -- or nuclear race in the region, and Pakistan may make 50 to 70 nuclear bombs because of this agreement yesterday --
MR. SNOW: No, I'm not going to get into any of that. I'm not going to rehearse that. And certainly, anything about the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden, what we know, don't know, suspect, or don't suspect is not appropriate to comment on.
Q Another thing, do you think President will be meeting when Senate comes in, because next final stage is Senate, U.S. Senate to finalize the agreement?
MR. SNOW: Right now, the Senate votes have been pretty lopsided, and the President has made his views known. So he -- as I said, we encourage the Senate to go ahead and pass the bill.
Go ahead, Ed.
Q I just want to follow up on you saying that Secretary Rice had significant victories in Rome. How can you say that when she came away with no cease-fire? And also --
MR. SNOW: Because --
Q -- we're hearing she's going back probably within the next few days. So she -- the job is not done.
MR. SNOW: Because, Ed, you're laboring under the presumption that she was supposed to come with a magic wand and say a cease-fire. What she has said is, what on earth is the good of having another empty-handed cease-fire in the Middle East? What is the purpose of having something that is not enforceable at this juncture and is not realistic? The purpose --
Q It was --
MR. SNOW: No, because -- I want to push back a little bit, because the presumption was, it wasn't success unless you had a cease-fire. In other words, you measure by a piece of paper, rather than by the ongoing efforts. What do we have? We've got American diplomats on the ground talking in the region, working toward a U.N. resolution. We have American diplomats also in Europe working about troop contributions. We also have ongoing American efforts, which we have led, in dealing with contributions to deal with the humanitarian crisis. Each and every one of these junctures -- now, you have nations that in the past have had different views, or different views of different areas of engagement or disengagement for the region, and they're all pulling in the same direction. That is significant.
Now, the fact that you don't have somebody sort of jumping out and saying we have a cease-fire, I think is a reflection of the seriousness of the deliberations, rather than the idea of trying to get a PR pop out of this. What the Secretary is determined to do, and the President, is to work toward conditions that are going to create a durable peace in the region. Again, we have seen many, many peace agreements in the region before, and they have all come to naught. The determination this time is, create the conditions so that you not only have the piece of paper, you have the peace.
Q Yes, but you just said a moment ago that it would be -- it would not be an enforceable cease-fire. How do you know until you have a cease-fire? Why not get a cease-fire, and then if Hezbollah does not follow it, the world community sees that they're to blame.
MR. SNOW: In other words, why not -- because we are -- because what you're asking for is a PR move rather than a strategic move. The question of why not --
Q Why would it be PR if people are not dying?
MR. SNOW: No, no, no, wrong. Again, Hezbollah is firing, what, 150, 200 rockets a day. Do you seriously believe they're going to stop if somebody in Rome says there's going to be a cease-fire?
Q Nobody knows until you do it, right?
MR. SNOW: No, no, no, don't play "what if." That is naive, Ed, it's naive.
Q You're playing "what if" by saying it's not enforceable. You don't know that. Nobody knows that.
MR. SNOW: Yes, we do. Yes, we do. Yes, we do.
Q Well, then, if it's not enforceable, at that point, the whole world will see Hezbollah is not playing by the same --
MR. SNOW: How many times do peace efforts have to fail? Do you really -- apparently, what you're saying is it didn't make us happy because we expected a cease-fire. What Secretary Rice went for was to get people to roll up their sleeves and take a realistic look at the region. And that's important.
It's important for Hezbollah also to make strategic decisions, whether to take a military or a political path. And so far, every statement and every action by Nasrallah and others have indicated that they intend to be military.
Now, that is a fact. You also have to keep in mind that if -- the parties have to agree to a cease-fire. And right now, the conditions are not right for that. However, suppose that you have nations working together to get conditions where it is in the interest of both parties to do so. Then you lay down a cease-fire. Then you'll have a chance -- say, oh, man, boy, we tried, but look, we showed Hezbollah; they lied again. No, you don't want to do that.
What you really want to have is not a trial balloon for a cease-fire. What you want to have is a cease-fire that really does lay in conditions. And I think people who have long experience in the region understand the complexities and the disappointments of not doing it right, and they want to do it right.
Q Can I just follow on that for a second? This is the one thing I can't get my arms around about all this.
MR. SNOW: All right.
Q In terms of world opinion, you keep saying the "what if" game, if it seems as though the strategy is to isolate Hezbollah. Is there a risk with the United States and Israel gets isolated in terms of world opinion by not saying, let's cut the shooting now, cut the rockets now, and work it out? I hear what you're saying about --
MR. SNOW: Let me counterpose. There's an even greater danger that if the U.S. looks ineffective in doing this, that you not only have a loss in terms of world opinion, but credibility. And you cannot -- we've said it many times, you cannot run foreign policy on the basis of public opinion polls. Quite often there are perceptions that people may get from fractional coverage of the situation that don't expose the real realities on the ground. We are in very constant consultation with people in the region to try to find out exactly what the facts are.
It is important -- I mean, we've made it clear to the Israelis that they need to practice restraint; they understand that, at the end of all this -- and I'll reiterate a point I've made before from here, which is at the end of this, you not only want a cease-fire, but you want the ability within the region for Israel to be able to proceed with the Palestinian Authority toward a two-state solution, and also for Israel to be able to work with Arab partners toward closer relationships, economic and otherwise, in the region.
So we understand all those complexities, but we also understand the fact that if a terrorist organization is able to destabilize a government and is able to declare victory, what that does is it sends a message to terrorist organizations throughout the region that they've got a green light. And that is the most important consideration. And I guarantee if terrorists got a green light, public opinion polls would fall very quickly. We're trying to take a longer-term strategic view, other than the snapshots that quite often will be occasioned by heartbreaking pictures that come out of the region -- we understand that. And we hope that there are going to be conditions for that to be replaced very quickly by signs of people working together to rebuild Lebanon and to secure the peace.
Q So is there backchannel communication from Arab partners or others in the region that is, in effect, saying, look, we have to continue our call for the immediate cease-fire, we understand it's unrealistic and may be damaging.
MR. SNOW: Rather than -- I'll let you connect dots and draw conclusions about what people may be saying behind the scenes.
Q May I ask -- may I follow -- at what point is there a trip wire? At what point does the United States have to get involved militarily to defend Israel if Israel looks like it's going down?
MR. SNOW: That is -- that is so theoretical, Connie, that I can't even --
Q Well, we have treaty obligations.
MR. SNOW: Well, we're not there.
Q Can I ask an economics question?
MR. SNOW: Let me take care of this, then we'll get back to economics.
John, is this on this topic?
Q Well, on the Middle East.
MR. SNOW: Okay.
Q All right. You're talking about communication with different groups. Is the administration in touch with any of the exile or the opposition groups in Syria that would probably be opposed to terrorism, as well as to the Assad regime?
MR. SNOW: I don't have any idea. I'll find out. We'll attach it as a footnote.
Q Tony, same issue. Going ahead a little bit here, when there is a cease-fire, both sides agree that a stabilization force will have to be put in place. I know you don't want to address it, but if you look at the few possibilities to staff such a force, the U.N. has been a disaster, historically. If you look at NATO or the European Union, but perhaps -- the Arab League, does the President have a preference as to how he'd like to see a force made up --
MR. SNOW: The President wants a credible force. And as I just mentioned, that is a topic of ongoing discussions, Ivan. So I think rather than trying to litigate from here, I will let Phil Zelikow, and also some of our designees -- and you'll be hearing of further diplomatic activity in coming days on this topic. I'll let them settle it.
The concern is to have a credible force, because you're right, if you have a force that is not going to be able to secure the area, that gets back to the problem I was just talking about with Jim. It's got to be credible. You've got to be able to make it work.
Q I've got two questions on this. First, the leader of Hezbollah, Nasrallah, said to Al Jazeera last weekend that there were members of the Lebanese government that knew about the strategy prior to their kidnapping of Israeli soldiers. Does the President or the White House have any feeling on the credibility of that claim?
MR. SNOW: No.
Q Okay. Second is, among the most ardent supporters of Israel in this country, and supporters of the current foreign policy in letting Israel do what Israel thinks it needs to do, are evangelical Christians, among the President's strongest supporters, as well. Many of the leaders of this community believe that what's going on right now is part of a biblical prophecy that includes Armageddon. I'm not trying to make light of this, this is --
MR. SNOW: Right.
Q Does the President or the White House have any thoughts on that?
MR. SNOW: The President views this as one of his challenges as President. He's not looking at this through a theological lens. He's looking at it through the lens of national interest, and also commitments to expanding democracy globally. And so that's his view.
Q Even if there is a cease-fire, many analysts believe that it is going to be months before actually the beginning -- accords. Have you got an idea about -- that when both Presidents have -- the debate, and how willing, I mean, how far can you go? What is the measure -- being set back 50 years --
MR. SNOW: Well, there are two things. First, if somebody could guarantee me that a slip of paper would end the death, then we'll have a conversation. But this government has expressed its serious concern about civilian casualties from the beginning. There shouldn't be any doubt about it, unlike Hezbollah, which is not only expressing no concern about Israeli casualties, but wants more.
There's a real difference in the way in which the two sides approach this. And we are concerned about it. And to that end, the United States was the first to begin humanitarian contributions, and has been encouraging other countries.
In terms of being set back 50 years, it's also one of the reasons why there has been an active effort not only to encourage reconstruction aid, but also to have a donors conference very soon to achieve that end.
So I think what you're posing here is kind of a false choice. The United States doesn't want any civilian deaths, period. But unfortunately, it does happen, especially when -- Jan Egeland made this point the other day, the U.N. Commission, High Commissioner for Human Rights, was condemning Hezbollah for melting into civilian populations, deliberately placing them at risk, because that is a tool by which it can, A, conceal its own military activities, and, B, try to create sympathy when it's the instigator of the violence itself.
So those are all things that you have to take into account when you're looking at this. And unfortunately, what the Israelis did in some parts of southern Lebanon is say, if you're a civilian, please leave, we don't want you to be in harm's way. The civilian death toll and casualty toll, and also people have been displaced, is a tragedy that we're all going to have to deal with, and we will deal with. But also the other tragedy is that Lebanon is a country that has been under occupation for the better part of 30 years, and deserves a right for freedom and independence, free of violence and free of the kind of conditions that have led to this. And as long as you have an independent militia operating within its borders, there is the danger that this kind of violence could flair up.
U.N. Resolution 1559 was very clear about that, and it's time to bring that into full effect. It is worth saying that the government of Lebanon, itself, shares that goal. And the Prime Minister, very rightly, is concerned about civilian casualties, and we are, too.
Q Tony, can you talk a little bit about the Bush-Blair meetings tomorrow, what does the President want to accomplish -- what's the message coming out --
MR. SNOW: There are a lot of common interests that they have and I will leave it to when you hear from the two of them. But, obviously, there will be discussions on the Middle East; there will be discussions, I dare say, on other matters of mutual interest. I really don't have a full agenda at this point, so I don't want to get ahead of myself on it. But it's a typical meeting between the two of them, and they tend to cover a pretty broad spectrum of things.
Q What about --
MR. SNOW: Well, he's got a follow-up, and then --
Q International force -- I expect that will be on the agenda?
MR. SNOW: Again, these are conversations and consultations that are being conducted at various levels. I don't expect the two of them to sit around and say, this is how we ought to parse it up. What they're trying to do -- I think you have to look at steps that are going on right now. Again, let me remind you, there's a humanitarian track that we've been conducting for some time. There is also a negotiating track to try to make sure that everybody has agreed upon the proper ends. There is also the possibility of building sort of the troop contribution track, and we also have reconstruction ongoing.
So you put all those together, they will be discussing them. But I think it's a little early to begin to start saying, okay, this is how they're going to do it.
Yes, go ahead.
Q A quick related question. Has the President been in touch with Secretary Rice since yesterday and offered any sort of new thoughts or instructions or anything?
MR. SNOW: Well, I mean, they talk about what's going on and the two of them are agreed. It's not like she needs specific instructions. Again, what we have is the dispatch. Already Phil Zelikow is in Brussels, we've got Elliott Abrams and David Welch in the region. Condi is in constant contact. She's in Kuala Lumpur right now dealing with those problems and others. And the President is in contact with allies. Again, he spoke with Chancellor Merkel this morning.
So as happens every day -- and Steve Hadley is in conversation with people throughout the region. So there's a lot of activity going on. But --
Q Is it getting them anywhere, though?
MR. SNOW: Yes. How can I make this clear? When you have a group of nations working together on common goals, and they are all pitching in and they're contributing -- let's talk about the humanitarian thing. That's coming together. There is talk about a contributors conference; they're talking about troop contributions; they're talking about action in the United Nations. I will return to my quote from a few days ago about egg timer diplomacy: Things do not happen on snap deadlines. But on the other hand, there is progress, and I think you're going to see the fruits of that progress before too long.
Q Can I ask --
MR. SNOW: Staying on the -- staying on the Middle East.
Q Stay on the Middle East.
MR. SNOW: Okay, go ahead.
Q Tony, something just basic in the midst of negotiating for peace is trust. You're talking about egg timer diplomacy. How can you put a timetable on peace in the Mideast when Hezbollah does not trust this administration, this administration does not trust Hezbollah? All sides have to come together.
MR. SNOW: That is correct.
Q So if that's the case, do you think this administration is able to bring peace between Hezbollah and --
MR. SNOW: I think -- no, Hezbollah has to cease. Hezbollah has the primary obligation. Hezbollah is the aggressor. Hezbollah will have primary responsibility for creating the conditions for peace.
To lay it on the United States is something that places us in the position of being one of the combatants. We are not. The parties -- what we are trying to do is to create conditions where the parties to the conflict are going to be able to move forward. The real victim in this is the government of Lebanon, which has been weakened by Hezbollah within its borders.
So, April, I think you're asking the wrong question here. What the United States is trying to do is to make it possible for the government of Lebanon to regain control of its own country and its own territory and to move forward peacefully. And you have to address the condition that Hezbollah has been actively doing it.
Furthermore, there's nobody to negotiate with in Hezbollah. You -- again, you don't have a formal structure. Unless you know. Who would you negotiate with?
Q Well, you have a lot of leaders who are in parliament, correct?
MR. SNOW: No. See, you've got a small fraction of people in the parliament. They would not be seen as "leaders of Hezbollah." That is precisely your problem. You have a political track versus a military track. You have a militia operating absolutely independently of the Lebanese government and the Lebanese parliament. That's how this started, no consultation, no information. I know Jake had -- there's somebody who had a press report that we certainly haven't been able to confirm and do not have comment about.
But the fact is, they operated independently. They didn't notify anybody. Boom, they create the conditions. So you have to keep your eye on the ball here, which is Hezbollah.
Q But you do agree that the essence of this peace is trust, correct?
MR. SNOW: The essence of this peace -- sometimes it's not -- sometimes the essence of it is somebody has to make a strategic calculation, that it is in their interest to pursue peace rather than war. I don't care whether it is trust, whether it is fear, whether it is cold-hearted calculation, there has to be something that creates the conditions for the people who are responsible for starting this to stop it.
Q Go to a domestic and a foreign --
MR. SNOW: No, no, no, I want to stay -- let me complete the round of the foreign, then we'll go to domestic.
Q Over two weeks ago, when this conflict started, did the President expect it to last this long and Israel to achieve so little in weakening Hezbollah?
MR. SNOW: Well, how do you know that it's achieved little in weakening Hezbollah?
Q They are still sending hundreds of rockets into Israel.
MR. SNOW: Yes, I understand that. But I'm not sure that the characterization is correct. I would leave that, though, to people and troops on the ground. It's an argumentative question in the sense that it makes an assumption about Hezbollah. I don't want to get into intelligence on it, but I think it's a disputable premise.
Q Without Hezbollah, did the President expect it to last this long --
MR. SNOW: The President doesn't -- when you have world events in a situation like this, what you try to do is to figure out the best way to pull people together to come to a solution. You don't say, how long do you think it's going to last, because I don't think it's a fruitful question and I'm not sure that he sat around and tried to game out in his mind how long it takes, or whatever. What he does is he says, what do we need to do to create the conditions for peace?
And on the first day, he was clear about that. He had a press availability with Angela Merkel -- I think it was on the 12th or the 13th of July -- where he laid out the conditions that remain the conditions to this day, that now have the support of partners in the region and in the EU, and now people are moving forward toward achieving it.
Q Can I follow up? Is the administration at all concerned by taking this stance, an unpopular stance, resisting calls for an immediate cease-fire, that it could affect the gains made in the international community regarding North Korea and Iran, and is that why the President has spoken with Chancellor Merkel twice in a week now?
MR. SNOW: No. As a matter of fact, I think there is ongoing diplomatic activity with regard to Iran, and North Korea the signs seem to be encouraging. It seems to me that you've got exactly the opposite going on, which is effective diplomacy has begun to produce results and it's also begun to produce engagement on the part of parties who, in the past, did not see themselves as stakeholders and now do.
So I think you -- I can take the question and flip it backward because I think, to the contrary, what people are now saying is that the President is committed to working with partners, especially people who have direct interest in the conflicts at hand, and working with them to try to use diplomacy as an effective means to get at an issue before it turns worse. Unfortunately, in the case of the Middle East, you do have violence and now we have to use diplomacy to the best of everybody's ability to try to shut off the violence and create the basis for peace.
Q Can I follow --
MR. SNOW: A lot of these people haven't had a first question.
Q All right, I just want to ask about an issue of the day, the business of the day -- the meeting with the Romanian --
MR. SNOW: I'll tell you what, we'll save that for later. I don't want to break the flow. We'll get to the meeting.
Q Can I ask a question on a different topic?
MR. SNOW: Let's stay on this topic. We'll get to it. I do have your answer, by the way.
Q You said that there's nobody to negotiate in Hezbollah. But the administration views Syria and Iran as having a hand in this crisis. To get a lasting peace, will the administration be forced to negotiate with those two countries?
MR. SNOW: No. The administration has made its position clear with regard to both of them, and there have been repeated attempts to reach out, especially to Syria, and they have proved fruitless. Nevertheless, we have encouraged those -- and we still have ongoing diplomatic ties with Syria. So we have made our views very clear to both governments. I don't think there's any doubt about what's going on, and frankly, there's nothing to negotiate. The condition here is not, well, do you get Hezbollah to back off a little bit. When you're talking about negotiating, there's some assumption that there's a middle ground. There isn't. Hezbollah has to stop the violence -- has to return the kidnapped soldiers, it has to stop the violence.
That is something that if you stop short of that, you're going to find yourself in a position where violence will be encouraged in the future, because it's going to be read as a triumph for terror in other places. And furthermore, it's not going to create the kind of conditions necessary and conducive for the government of Lebanon to be able to govern effectively within its own territory.
All right -- same topic?
Q No, different.
Q Same topic. Tony, on this question about the impression of other countries, Arab nations, the nations that got together in Southeast Asia yesterday, is the President concerned that, as some would have it, he has abdicated the U.S. role as a peace broker in the region by effectively taking sides with Israel and now becoming a party to the crisis --
MR. SNOW: How can the President possibly have abdicated a peace role when the United States has been the leading force toward united diplomacy that involves Arab partners and European partners? What the President has done, he has not taken a pro-Israeli side, he has taken an anti-terror side. And what you've done is you've taken a constrict that people are trying to use -- a lot of times we get a lot of conflictual reporting, which is designed to try to set people at odds, when, in fact, what you do have is you've got a conflict that people want to resolve amicably and peacefully.
What's interesting is that nobody has questioned the premise that Hezbollah is responsible. You don't have Arab governments coming out and saying, Hezbollah was right. Now, there are questions in Arab governments about Israel's tactics, and the United States has made clear its interest and its desire for Israel to practice restraint. But nobody has questioned the key precondition here, nor has anybody questioned what the proper outcome would be, which is an effective, peaceful, sovereign government, operating within a stable Lebanon.
None of those -- so it seems to me that the United States has actually taken a leading role here, and far from abdicating, has managed to pull together a coalition that has a chance at success. We are working with the U.N. There are talks in Brussels with the EU. There have been talks in Rome with potential contributors. The Secretary of State is in Kuala Lumpur. We have diplomats in the region right now. It seems to me that that is -- that is just the opposite of abdication.
Q Can I follow up? Can I just follow up?
MR. SNOW: Okay, we'll go into second rounds, and then go --
Q Secretary Rice keeps saying that there is a charg d'affaires in Damascus that we could speak to, and could speak to the Syrians. And the Syrians keep saying that they are willing to talk to the United States. Could you please clear up what's going on, why there's no communication, direct communication?
MR. SNOW: Again, I'll just point that back to Secretary Rice. I'm going to let her explain the vagaries of that, because I'm not America's chief diplomat. I'm sorry to pass it off that way, but I'd rather --
Okay, Goyal, you get your second shot.
Q Quickly, thanks. Tony, Iran is still supporting Hamas and Hezbollah, and also some -- one of the spokesmen today, Israeli spokesmen, said that many are also supporting Hezbollah. They are sympathizing to Hezbollah. And he said that how can you have cease-fire when the terrorists are terrorizing innocent people in the area? So what -- where do we stand -- how can we have a cease-fire --
MR. SNOW: Again, as I've said before, somebody has to decide it's in their strategic, their personal, their moral, whatever -- they've got to find a reason that it's in their interest to suspend violence, and we're trying to make it in their interest.
Q Can I ask a domestic question?
MR. SNOW: Yes. Are we on domestics? Are we pretty cleared up -- you've got -- go ahead.
Q On the --
MR. SNOW: No, I'm sorry, I'll finish up the foreign. We got a couple foreign.
Q Thank you. As you know, this morning, Japan announced that they'll reopen their borders to U.S. beef. Can you give me the White House reaction? And also if you think that U.S. beef can regain its market share in Japan?
MR. SNOW: All right, let me just -- because you did -- you were kind enough to ask in advance, so let me just pull through my notes here, and I will get your official response.
The fact is that we're -- we note with satisfaction the decision by the government of Japan. U.S. beef is safe. The Prime Minister had an opportunity to sample it during his trip to the United States on multiple occasions. And we look forward to seeing U.S. beef reenter the Japanese marketplace.
Q The Romanian --
Q Do you think that -- but do you think that it can regain the market share in Japan?
MR. SNOW: That's something that you have to see -- it's a little presumptuous to try to look forward to market share issues. The first thing is getting into the marketplace, and that's the most important thing.
As for the Romanian leader, I'll tell you what we're going to do -- and I apologize for this. What the President -- it's, I mean, he's looking forward to a courtesy meeting with the President of Romania, and I'll give you a readout afterward. As you can see, I'm tap dancing a little bit. So I'll get you better data on it.
Q On the Voting Rights Act, the President said he would vigorously enforce the law. Would this be a change of course? Because some of the members of the Congressional Black Caucus said afterwards that they feel that the administration has not done a great job of enforcing certain sections --
MR. SNOW: No, it's not a change of course, it's the President's job.
Q They cited the Georgia voter ID law as there --
MR. SNOW: I know, and there will be disagreements about whether they think things are being enforced properly. But it's -- look, it's the President's job as the head of executive branch to see that the laws are faithfully executed, and he'll continue to do it.
Q He'll be enforcing it in the same way that the administration --
MR. SNOW: You know, it seems to me that you're asking -- you're trying to get me into a question of people's varying judgments on this. What I would do is change it and say, look and see, and if there are problems that people see in enforcement, let's hear about them, and we'll address those in due course.*
Q Two questions. The Washington state supreme court ruling against same-sex marriage follows similar court rulings in New York, Georgia, Connecticut, among seven state courts this month, while 45 states have passed laws that bar same-sex marriage. And my question, does the President believe that this issue on November the 7th should result in the public voting to remove a number of members of Congress who refuse to vote against same-sex marriage?
MR. SNOW: The President wants to see Republican House and Senate reelected and strengthened on the basis of issues. And he will let the voters determine what the proper issues are.
Q Does the President believe that there is anything wrong or mistaken about 78 percent of France's power coming from nuclear plants, while our own government has not approved of even one new nuclear plant since the presidency of Jimmy Carter?
MR. SNOW: Actually, I think we do have a new permit that's in the works right now. The President does believe in nuclear power and he's been arguing for it, and he has actually cited France to some our European allies as a way to move forward.
Q Before you were talking about PR props in strategic moves. And the President today is going to NAM, the National Association of Manufacturers. I mean, is this just another PR prop? Because frankly, the polls show voters don't take him seriously as someone who is fiscally conservative, and they don't take him seriously because Republicans in Congress are fiscally conservative. What's he going to say today that we haven't already heard?
MR. SNOW: Boy that's -- and am I still beating my wife, correct? (Laughter.) I mean, what you said is nobody trusts him, everybody hates him, what's he going to do? (Laughter.)
Q He could go even once --
MR. SNOW: Exactly. (Laughter.)
Q But you never did beat your wife.
MR. SNOW: No, I didn't. Thank you, very much. The President is going to -- you've got an economy that is expanding vigorously. You take a look at the unemployment report, and what you have is a four-week track that shows continued growth. You have seen projections, consensus projections at 3 percent. When it comes to fiscal discipline, there have been -- if you take a look at the budgets, what are we doing? The deficit is going to be cut in half, in less than half -- well, ahead of the President's earlier request and projections. And --
Q So why give the speech?
MR. SNOW: Because you give a speech, among other things, to answer critics like you who apparently haven't been reading the data. And so you could make the point that a lot of important things are going on with the economy as a percentage of GDP.
Q I'm not the critic. I'm reflecting what I hear from the Republican base.
MR. SNOW: Okay, well that's -- what you've given me are unattributed critiques that are more personal than precise in nature. And so I apologize for saying that to you, because you're right. I know you understand the data. But it is important, when a President is getting pushed like this or criticized, to go ahead and make the case and explain what's going on. And I think it's safe to say that there is a need for further -- the President wants a line-item veto. The line-item veto would enable -- because we have seen that the Congress quite often is unwilling to address spending, and it places the President in a predicament: Do you veto an essential bill just for the sake of cutting out bits of pork, or do you have to accept the pork as part of the natural political process? He thinks there ought to be a better way, which is to do the people's business as effectively as possible by getting rid of the pork and leaving room for the essentials.
So I think you're right, I mean, I think there has been that concern, and it is worthy to be addressed. So I'm glad that you kept at me on this so I could take a more constructive poll on it. And the President, I think, will talk not only about the need for continued economic growth, but also, as I mentioned at the top, fiscal discipline here in Washington.
Q Thank you.
END 10:57 A.M. EDT
* The Administration has aggressively enforced the Voting Rights Act and will continue to do so. According to the Department of Justice, the Administration has since 2001:
Filed a majority of all cases ever filed under the Minority Language provisions of the Voting Rights Act;
Filed three-fourths of all cases ever filed under Section 208;
Filed a majority of all cases ever filed under the substantive provisions of the Voting Rights Act to protect Latino voters;
Filed a majority of all cases ever filed under the substantive provisions of the Voting Rights Act to protect Asian voters;
Filed the first cases ever to protect Haitian, Filipino and Vietnamese voters;
Deployed a record number of federal observers and election monitors.
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