For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
August 14, 2006
Press Briefing by Tony Snow
White House Conference Center Briefing Room
10:16 A.M. EDT
MR. SNOW: Let me run you through a bit of what's going on with the President's day. Then we will get to questions. First, let me -- I'll run through the President's day.
He is meeting right now with the Secretary of Defense and the defense policy and programs team at the Pentagon, will have lunch with experts on Iraq. Those experts are Vali Nasr, professor of Middle East Politics at the Naval Post-Graduate School; Eric Davis, professor of Political Science at Rutgers University; Carole O'Leary, scholar-in-residence for the Middle East Initiative at American University; and Reuel Marc Gerecht, who is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
After lunch, he will travel to the State Department, meeting with the Secretary of State and the foreign policy team; will deliver a statement on foreign policy from the State Department at approximately 3:30 p.m. And at 4:25 p.m., there will be the signing of HR 5683, to preserve the Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial in San Diego, California.
An update on the situation in Lebanon: Since the cease-fire this morning, there have been no rocket attacks, no defensive movements. There have been two minor military skirmishes between Israeli and Hezbollah forces.
Let me see what else we have here. In addition, there was a foreign leader call this morning at the behest -- it was initiated by Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, about the situation in Lebanon. The two of them welcomed the passage of the U.N. Security Council resolution -- that's 1701 -- and discussed how to ensure that the enhanced UNIFIL authorized by the resolution will succeed in its mission. The President thanked the Prime Minister for Italy's willingness to contribute troops to the international force, and the President stressed that Iran and Syria must halt their supply of weapons to Hezbollah and respect the sovereignty of Lebanon.
In addition, the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Interior, at the top of the hour, will be announcing that routine surveillance has indicated the possible presence of an H5N1 avian influenza virus in wild mute swans in Michigan. However, this is not what we're accustomed to hearing about from Asia. At this point, they believe it is a strain of low pathogenicity, similar to strains that have been seen before in North America. It does not appear to be related to the highly pathogenic strain that has spread through birds in Asia, Europe, and Africa. For further information, I would direct you to the briefing by Interior and Agriculture Department officials who will be talking about that in just a few minutes.
I'm ready for questions. Terry.
Q As you look at this, the month-long war in the Mideast, who won?
MR. SNOW: I'm not sure -- right now what's won is diplomacy has won. There has been an attempt to make effective U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559, which called for the abolition of militias in the southern part of Lebanon, and also -- by the way, that would include Hezbollah or any other militias -- and also the cessation of attempts to arm such militias from abroad. That is now the focus of efforts by the United States, the United Nations, the international community.
At this point, we are hoping that the people of Lebanon will be the ultimate victors because they'll be able to have a government in which the democratic will of the people is expressed through the policies of that government, and they don't have to be worrying about Hezbollah having its own independent foreign policy or the ability to try to wage war and engage neighboring states.
Q Do you think that Hezbollah has been weakened? What is its strength --
MR. SNOW: I'm not going to give you a military assessment. I mean, it's pretty obvious that there's been some weakening; I'm not going to try to assess it. But by Israeli reckoning, more than 500 Hezbollah guerillas killed, certainly rocket capacity has degraded, and so on. But, again, it would be presumptuous of me to try to give you an on-the-ground military assessment. I will let the interested parties talk about that.
Q Tony, the President has spoken many times about the support from Syria and Iran for Hezbollah. Is he confident now, under the terms of the cease-fire, that that support will somehow be interrupted?
MR. SNOW: Well, we're going to find out, aren't we? That really does have to be one of the things that -- one of the outcomes of this. I think, in part, it will require placing on the northern border of Lebanon somebody who is capable of handling security in such a way as to intercept, interrupt and, with any luck, stop the transport into Lebanon of arms from Iran and Syria.
It's folly to make predictions, but that is certainly the intention. It's one of the reasons why we're talking about the beefed up UNIFIL force. It's one of the reasons why the President was talking today with Prime Minister Prodi about ways to work forward -- to move forward, and it's why there have been ongoing discussions with some of our allies to build a much more robust force than UNIFIL has had in the past, or, for that matter, more robust than the capabilities, at least at present, of the Lebanese armed forces.
Q But northern border protection is not part of this cease-fire.
MR. SNOW: Well, it's -- one of the things in it is making effective the provisions of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559, which does, in fact, specify that armaments should not be coming in from foreign governments.
Now, you're right. I don't want to be trying to prejudge what people are going to be doing, but it does seem that there's going to be some need to be able to prevent the influx of weapons into the country.
Q Tony, you mentioned there were no defensive actions today after the cease-fire. What do you define as "defensive actions"? If Israel continues to go into areas after being attacked, is that a defensive action?
MR. SNOW: It appears at this point -- let me just put it this way -- nobody seems to have initiated any kind of movements, and I'll leave it at that for now.
Q Could you define what you mean by "defensive action", why you chose to use that language?
MR. SNOW: Because that was the language that was recited to me. (Laughter.)
Q Well, what does it mean?
MR. SNOW: That's a very good question. Why don't we -- I'll tell you what. We'll try to be more specific in terms of
-- let me be very precise. There have been no troop movements, apparently, on either side designed to change the military status quo that prevailed at 5:00 a.m. GMT, which is when the cease-fire took hold. And rather than getting myself into the sticky wicket of trying to define "defensive," because I have a feeling it's going to be one of those you-know-it-when-you-see-it deals, I can tell you that there have been two minor skirmishes and that is it today.
Q I have two questions. Did the President call for the respect of sovereignty by both sides?
MR. SNOW: Respect of sovereignty?
Q You just mentioned Hezbollah.
MR SNOW: I think what happens here is that -- yes, the President has called for everybody to respect the sovereignty of the government of Lebanon. And one of the things that he's pointed out in the past is that when you've had a power vacuum in the South, which has been the case in the past, it has invited Hezbollah to go in and serve as a government within a government or state within a state. The Israelis have agreed to pull out as international forces move in, providing credible security for the people in southern Lebanon, and also, at the same time, providing some assurance that Hezbollah will not try to rearm again.
Q My second question: Why does the President want to modify the Geneva accords, conventions, to prevent inhumane, cruel treatment of detainees?
MR. SNOW: The President has never suggested modifying the Geneva conventions.
Q You mean that all these stories are wrong?
MR. SNOW: Well, the Geneva conventions, as has been construed -- there are two things you've got to keep in mind. Number one, the Geneva conventions always must be construed especially -- you're talking about Common Article Three?
MR. SNOW: -- in manners that are consistent with the U.S. law. The second thing is this is a new situation because the Geneva conventions in the past have not been construed as applying to those who do not fight for duly constituted military forces. We will wait to see when we have a final decision on how to implement the Hamdan case. I think, at this point, what you're reacting to is things that you've seen, and I'll be happy to entertain more specific questions when we have a proffer.
Q Are these all speculative and not true?
MR. SNOW: No, it's all trying to figure out the proper way also. One of the difficulties in Common Article Three is that there's a great deal of vague language and rather than, "trying to change the Geneva accords," what we're trying to do is to interpret them.
Q Does the President have any concern about how Prime Minister Olmert's political standing has been affected by all of this? A lot of criticism within his own country and around the world.
MR. SNOW: No, but I think the President does understand what happens when you're in a period of war, which is that you're always going to take some political heat if you're trying to do what you think is right. And he certainly understands and appreciates the fact that there are going to be responses from people in any nation that is affected by war, and he certainly has a keen understanding and appreciation.
Q Prime Minister Olmert today said that Israel will continue to pursue Hezbollah leaders, "everywhere and any time." I mean, do you view that as in line with the cease-fire?
MR. SNOW: Well, I think what we ought to do is just to see what people do on the ground and we'll react to things going on on the ground.
Q Tony, could you characterize for us the President's, the administration's impressions of this cessation of hostilities so far? And also, is it still the case that no U.S. troops will be involved in this beefed up UNIFIL force?
MR. SNOW: As the President has said, at some point U.S. forces may be involved in kind of support or logistics, but --
Q But not UNIFIL --
MR. SNOW: No. It's probably a little premature to be taking a look at a cease-fire that's been in effect for nine-and-a-half hours, but I think the one thing we can say is that this is one of the things that the President and the Secretary of State have been pushing forward from July 12th on, which is to try to create conditions diplomatically that are going to provide some credible way of giving effect to U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559.
So that is why there's been a lot of conversation -- and as you saw, there was that diplomatic taffy pull as we tried to figure out how to get to the resolution that all sides would support, in which you would have a resolution that had clearly stated goals; that would define what we were talking about in terms of security and sovereignty for the government of Lebanon in the southern part of Lebanon; that would have an international commitment so that the armed forces, the Lebanese armed forces also would have the kind of support they need to effectively control the southern part of the country; and would not only restate the provisions of 1559, but also look forward on some of the other questions that have been raised. And there is language within the resolution to deal with some of the outstanding negotiation issues including that of prisoners.
Q So, no adjectives -- hopeful, optimistic?
MR. SNOW: It's been nine-and-a-half hours. I mean, it's what -- the one thing you want to do is, obviously, we want not only for the cease-fire to hold, but to set in train the kind of events that are going to get us to where we want to be, which is a freestanding, democratic government in Lebanon that no longer has to worry about provocations that are waged within it's borders by a militia that does not represent the people of Lebanon.
Q How soon do you expect the international force to start deploying in there, and who should be in it? I mean, you've talked about the United States' role -- who else? Who should be in it?
MR. SNOW: I'll let you ask the parties involved. That is a matter of ongoing discussion. I think the French and Italians have been on record as having some interest, but I would be loathe to try to tell you exactly who's going to be in it. My understanding is that a lot of these things ought to be worked out within the next couple of weeks. Deployment schedules we'll get to you as soon as we know about it.
Q And you're confident that what's on the ground now is going to hold while the international community sort of slowly ramps up into this --
MR. SNOW: I think -- no. Look, it's going to require good behavior on the part of Hezbollah, and we're going to have to see. We've had statements coming out that would indicate that people say that they're not going to abide by it, but so far they have. No rockets fired by Hezbollah today. And we hope that everybody will stay true to this cease-fire, and that the government of Lebanon, again, will be able to have the credibility.
But a piece of paper outlines the way forward, but a lot of times that still has to be conducted by people on the ground, the people also within Lebanon. The Lebanese government has a role to play; the governments of Syria and Iran have a role to play; Hezbollah has a role to play; the Israelis have a role to play. And we'll have to see how all those things work out in the hours, days, and weeks ahead.
Q Tony, what does the President want to get out of today's meeting with these experts? And, if I may, I guess he's had several of these now -- have these meetings affected policy at least in terms of tactics? And how open today is he to hearing about ideas about changing tactics?
MR. SNOW: Well, number one, these meetings happen all the time and the meetings that we're going through today are meetings with the national security team. Tomorrow we'll have the Homeland Security and Counter-terror team. We'll have the economic advisors at the end of the week. He does that every summer.
Today's topics at the Department of Defense have to deal -- first, the conversation deals with transformation within the Department of Defense, which, as you know, has been a priority of the Secretary from the very beginning, and also some discussion of the Far East. The Iraq experts are being brought in today to help provide differing views and overviews of the situation, in particular taking a look at the roles, the politics, the outlooks, the culture of Sunni, Shia and Kurd forces within Iraq, but also to take a broader look at the region, see how everything pieces together.
I think it's safe to say what the President does in sessions like this is invite people to express very openly their candid views on things. And you're going to find people who have disagreements within this group of four about the situation, about who could play what role. But, having said that, they play a role in the sense that they add to the President's knowledge and understanding of the region; they introduce new ideas and they allow him to question closely people who spend the vast majority of their time studying issues that are of keen concern to him, and at this point, of the country.
Q Even dissenters?
MR. SNOW: Yes, absolutely. And, Helen, that's an important point. We do not in "Amen" choruses. What you do is you invite smart people in who have different points of view. At Camp David, we heard widely differing recommendations on how to proceed militarily within Iraq. And that is a very useful service. You don't want people who are simply saying exactly the same thing. You want to be able to take an issue, look at it from different angles, try to understand the arguments and the information that motivates those arguments. It gives the President just a much broader spectrum by which to view what's going on.
Q But does that affect the policy? And there's been a lot of -- there continues to be criticism of the efficacy of the plan to quell the violence, so is this part of a process of honing the tactics, changing the tactics?
MR. SNOW: Well, the tactical responsibilities still lie, for instance on military operations, with the generals on the ground. The President uses this to shape his thinking about issues. It's not as if somebody says, "you know, I heard something really good at lunch, let's change tactics." It doesn't quite operate in that way. But what does happen is that the President finds himself -- he wants to look at creative ways of looking at the situation, and I think it's useful, not merely for the President, but for everybody involved.
Since I'm here, I won't -- I'm not likely to be at the lunch, I may get there in time, but if not, I'm getting full readouts on the note-taking. Furthermore, read books of all the things that the people have put together. I think it's important for all of us to try to learn as much as possible, and this is part of the ongoing dialogue that the President has been inviting for quite some time.
Q Tony, while there's been a lot of welcoming by Democrats of the cease-fire, there's also been a lot of criticism of getting there. What's your response to some of the Democrats' criticism?
MR. SNOW: I need to have a specific criticism. I don't want to just be --
Q That the President didn't press hard enough from the beginning.
MR. SNOW: Well, it's a peculiar criticism, since the President was the first to talk about it within hours of the seizure of Israeli hostages on the 12th of July. And furthermore, at that juncture -- and I would invite you to go back and look at the press avail he did that day with Chancellor Merkel -- laid out the principles that ended up not only being the guiding principles, but the core principles of the United Nations resolution. Furthermore, the United States took a lead role in the diplomacy from the very beginning, and ended up working with the French and others to try to come to a resolution. And, in addition, on a welcome note, Secretary General Annan also, in the final hours, was playing a very constructive role, as well, making sure that the process moved forward in a way that achieved the goals that the President outlined at the very beginning.
So, I'm sorry, but it may be a handy criticism to say that the President is not engaged, but it simply doesn't fit the facts in this case.
Q Is there any disappointment in the administration that Israel didn't do a better job of knocking out Hezbollah?
MR. SNOW: No. There's been a lot of speculation that the United States has been engaged in military coordination, cooperation with Israel, and it's not the case. And furthermore, the notion that we're sort of sitting back, saying, "get them, get them, get them; we're buying you time," that's not the way it worked. If you take a look at the diplomacy last week, we were pushing very hard to try to get a resolution wrapped up as quickly as possible. So the answer is, no.
Q Can you talk about the economic advisors event on Friday? And how is that going to be different from what he's done in past summers?
MR. SNOW: You know, I'll give you a fuller readout as it approaches, but it's going to be the same sort of thing he typically does, which is to take a look forward, how do we build on the strength and growth in the economy. But rather than give you a boiler plate answer, which is what I'm doing at this moment, I'll try to get you something that's a little more specific and useful.
Goyal, go ahead.
Q Two questions, yeah, one on Lebanon. Tony, what was accomplished? The terrorists are still there. Those soldiers who are still there. So many people died, and their supporters and their financials are still there. Nobody has been punished as far as this war is concerned. What was accomplished?
MR. SNOW: Well, number one, you've leaped to a whole lot of conclusions that I'm not sure are fully grounded in fact, Goyal. It will take some time to assess what was done. I guarantee you that some of the terrorists were punished. Furthermore, what you now have is a global emphasis on the roles of Iran and Syria in terms of helping foment violence within Lebanon, and also trying to foil the democratic aspirations of people in Lebanon, and also the Palestinian Authority, for that matter. That's an important advancement because it does make clear who's responsible not only on the ground, but regionally, for supporting the kind of violence that we have seen.
In addition, what you also have -- Secretary Annan pointed this out last week -- there have been no prior commitment to UNIFIL troops to say, okay, you need to make sure that the militias are not operating in the south. That's now crystal clear. That is absolutely part of the mandate of forces that are going to be there in the South.
You also have a commitment on the part of -- on all parties to make sure that the government of Lebanon has the ability to stand up and govern the entirety of its country and exercise sovereignty effectively. So I think what you've had is one of those clarifying moments where people really do realize all the factors that are in play, and now are working together to try to figure out a proper way and a diplomatic way and as peaceful a way as possible to move forward so we can get to democracy without further bloodshed and violence.
Q I have another one on --
MR. SNOW: If it's on India and Pakistan, I can't help you. But if you've got something -- what you need to do, if you've got an India-Pakistan --
Q -- terrorism and Britain --
MR. SNOW: Okay, that's fine. Go ahead.
Q I have been saying this for the last 10 years, and now I think all the front-page headlines in The New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, and U.S. and British officials are also saying -- my question is, does still the President trust and still consider allies General Musharraf and Pakistan?
MR. SNOW: Well, the Pakistanis, as the British have pointed out, played a very important role in breaking this cell. And President Musharraf has certainly taken considerable risks in moving against terror, and we welcome all advancements in breaking into the terror network.
Q Cuba, the statement over the weekend, the photographic evidence that Fidel Castro is alive, if not totally well -- but he told his people, be prepared for adverse news. Would adverse news for Cuba be good news for the White House?
MR. SNOW: We'll have to find out. I mean, heaven knows. At least they came up -- first you had the cheesy photo shop picture; at least the second one was a little better.
Q Can you give us a sense of where the U.S. government right now thinks the threat level is for an attack on the United States, off of this plot? The terror threat came down one notch today, but the ringleader is still out there, other guys are still out there they haven't caught yet. What is the message here?
MR. SNOW: With all due respect, we never answer questions like that. We're just never going to provide operational information about the whereabouts, the tactics. But what I can repeat is the fact that we went from red back to orange, as have the Brits. So there has been some degradation at least of this particular threat.
Q So what does that mean? We're getting back to the whole question of what do the color codes mean. How are people supposed to react to that, getting on planes --
MR. SNOW: Well, as I said last week when it was red, it's safe to fly on airplanes. And I think hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people experienced that over the weekend. So it's still safe to fly on airplanes, but it's also important to be vigilant and look out for things that may be -- may seem to be a little bit fishy, and do what you can to play your role.
Q Does the President support the Republican candidate for Senate in Connecticut?
MR. SNOW: The President supports the democratic process in the state of Connecticut, and wishes them a successful election in November.
Q Wait a minute. I realize he supports democracy, but I'm wondering, does he actually support his own party's candidate?
MR. SNOW: I know that's not news --
Q Why aren't you committing -- why wouldn't the President commit support for the Republican candidate in that --
MR. SNOW: I don't know. Why do you ask? Is there something about the candidate that I should know about that would lead to judgments?
Q I'm just asking you --
MR. SNOW: No, that's just a --
Q -- it seems like a very natural thing, why wouldn't he support a member of his own party? Is it because he's well behind in the polls? Is it because the President likes Joe Lieberman? What's -- why not?
MR. SNOW: There may be -- there are a whole host of reasons the President -- I'm just not going to play.
Q It's not really a game --
MR. SNOW: It's not a game. It's not a game, but I'll -- okay, I'll tell you what. I'll refer you to the political office to give you the full judgments on that. I think you know the situation in Connecticut.
Q Could you clear up for us the situation regarding whether there was pressure from the U.S. on the British as to when the arrests should be made, or whether there was a disagreement as to when the arrests should be --
MR. SNOW: I'll refer you the Fran Townsend, who denied it all. I just -- I don't have any information beyond what Fran said over the weekend.
Q One other quick one.
MR. SNOW: Sure.
Q As far as security on the trains is concerned, we know that trains have been targeted in other countries by al Qaeda-type terrorists. I took Amtrak on Friday; there is no security whatsoever on our trains. Are we going to do anything about that?
MR. SNOW: I'll refer that to Homeland Security. I think they may have a different take on it.
Q Following on Keith's question, so we should not routinely assume that the President is supporting the Republican nominee --
MR. SNOW: I think there's some peculiar characteristics going on in the Republican Party with the President candidate, and why don't you wait and see what happens?
Q What are those characteristics?
MR. SNOW: I think I was asking you and you wouldn't play, so --
Q Are there any other states where there are peculiar characteristics, or is this one unique?
MR. SNOW: I think this one may be unique. But we'll find out. Look, I know what you're trying to do and it's great and it's great fun, but --
Q -- get an answer.
MR. SNOW: Yes, well, they know the answer.
Q Back to Victoria's question, apparently, Amtrak has put in place some things, how passengers get tickets, but that is the only thing. As Victoria said, there are no metal or -- detectors. There are no security agents on the trains. And former Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater, last week, said that Amtrak is one of the vulnerabilities of this fight, as well as the port. So what next --
MR. SNOW: Rather than trying to get me to answer a question that I don't have the information on, I really would refer you to Homeland Security. I know that there have been efforts and they have been documented in the past for dealing with trains. I'm just -- A, I'm not going to go into operational detail, and B, honestly, April, I just -- I don't have the background to answer your questions.
Q We saw what happened in Madrid, and we saw what happened in --
MR. SNOW: There's always concern about terrorism. But in terms of the specifics of how we're handling the train situation, I'm just not briefed up. I can't -- I don't want to do you the disservice of dancing around it and trying to pretend I know something I don't know.
Q Can you ask Homeland --
MR. SNOW: Why don't you --
Q I will call, but your call will get through faster.
MR. SNOW: I'll facilitate the phone call if you have difficulty. I'll make sure yours just gets right through. (Laughter.)
Q To follow up on Peter's question, is it worrisome or sobering that, given a month, Israel wasn't able to defeat, contain, degrade Hezbollah?
MR. SNOW: Again, I think you guys are trying to keep scorecards based on impressions. I don't know -- if you can tell me exactly what the situation in on the ground and precisely how Hezbollah has been affected, then you ought to ask the Israelis about that. That is an Israeli strategic question.
The concern of this administration, from the start, has been very clear: to try to lay the basis for dealing with the root cause, which is Hezbollah aggression, and also to put in place a force that is going to be able to deter and deal with that aggression in the future. But you are asking me to render judgment on a military operation in which we play no part, and therefore, it's simply inappropriate for me to be entertaining such questions. You can call the Israeli embassy or you can call the Israeli military and try to get their own judgments on this, but it is not something that is of germane concern for us.
Q No, it's just in the past you've said it was part of the global war on terror, and that's --
MR. SNOW: And it is part of the global war on terrorism. But what you're asking for is an operational assessment of what's been going on with the Israelis and Hezbollah. I think what you were asking me to do was to assess what you considered the military objectives on the part of Israel and how we would assess their success in meeting those goals. And my point is that's a question for them and not for me.
Q But, Tony, would you like to see Hezbollah degraded?
MR. SNOW: We would like to see Hezbollah stop committing acts of terror. We also would like to see Hezbollah take the political path rather than the terror path.
Q Don't you want to see them disarmed?
Q But not militarily degraded --
MR. SNOW: Disarmament is something that will be the responsibility of the sovereign government of Lebanon with the assistance of international forces. It is part of the resolution, as it was part of Resolution 1559. So the answer is, yes, we would like to see that happen. But it is not something that's going to happen overnight. It is going to take concerted action on the part of the government of Lebanon and also on the part of the forces that are there operating in conjunction with and in support of the Lebanese armed forces.
Q Tony, did the President have a chance to see "60 Minutes" last night, and/or do you have a reaction to the Iranian President's statement that their program is civil and it's this country that wants to make bombs out of --
MR. SNOW: Well, I think it's pretty clear that the international community disagrees, as having been expressed with the U.N. Security Council resolution, and also the P3 plus one, which we're also working in conjunction with the Iranians. What we have said is, if you want it to be civil, we're perfectly willing to support that; let's do it in a way that it can be verifiable and let's move forward.
Also, furthermore, if it's guaranteed -- we don't have any problem with the peaceful, civil use of nuclear energy in Iran. As a matter of fact, we've been encouraging it for a number of countries, to eliminate the global dependence on oil or the addiction to oil. Having said that, it is of sufficient concern to a number of countries, with the situation with centrifuges and some of the other things, that if the Iranians do, in fact, want to make it clear that they're interested in civil -- not only can they sit down at the table, not only can they stop the enrichment and reprocessing-related activities with regard to those centrifuges, but there will be willing support for Western nations to help them develop peaceful civil nuclear power. And in addition there are any number of other inducements -- economic, cultural, social, political, and otherwise. And we've made that clear to the Iranians, and we hope that President Ahmadinejad will take us up on it.
Q Do you think the President watched the interview?
MR. SNOW: I have no idea. I didn't ask him this morning.
Q Thank you.
MR. SNOW: Okay. Thank you.
END 10:46 EDT