For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
August 17, 2006
Press Briefing by Tony Snow
White House Conference Center Briefing Room
10:52 A.M. EDT
MR. SNOW: A number of things to start out. First, today, the President has been meeting and continues to meet with the Secretary of Defense, military commanders and senior advisors. This is a follow on to a recommendation made in July by the Secretary of Defense that the President have regular 90-minute discussions with military commanders for a comprehensive review of the security situation in Iraq, and also generally in the war on terror. So that is what is taking place right now.
Later in the day the President departs to Camp David aboard Marine One. There will be meetings with the President's economic team tonight and tomorrow. The economic team will include the Vice President, the Treasury Secretary, the Commerce Secretary, the Labor Secretary, the Secretary of HHS, the OMB Director, the White House Chief and Deputy Chief of Staff, Al Hubbard, David Addington, yours truly, Candi Wolff, Eddie Lazear and Keith Hennessey, also in attendance.
All right, let's see, a couple of other stories that I'd like just to touch on, because I know they're top of news, and then we'll go to questions. First, a couple of things I think that are important to -- by the way, if we can sort of keep it down in the back. That's been a distraction the last couple of days, and I'd like to try to make sure that we can all keep our concentration up.
There were reports that an unnamed military expert had received briefings at the White House that we are continuing alternatives other than democracy in Iraq. It's just not true. The article does note, however, that there has been increased violence in Iraq in recent months, and that is absolutely true.
I'm sorry, guys, if we can hold it down, it is distracting. This is not as big as the room used to be. Thank you.
We had testimony from General Abizaid last month; ones of the things he noticed is, I think he said the sectarian violence had been worse than he'd ever seen it, and that if trends continued, it could place Iraq on a path towards civil war. And the peace in The Times I thinks reflects some of the thinking that went into that. On the other hand, there are developments also subsequent to the third of August, I think, which was the named date of a memo that had been obtained.
A couple of things are probably worth noting. Number one, there is coalition presence throughout the country, but also the training up of Iraqi forces, which have become increasingly nimble and capable. I mentioned yesterday there had been outbreaks of violence that have been handled solely by Iraqi forces in three different parts of the nation, including Najaf and Basra, within the last week or so.
Iraqi Arabs also, as I stressed, retain a strong sense of nationhood, and many people in Iraq still remember a time when sectarianism was not, in fact, a guiding feature or a significant feature of Iraqi life. No major political figure in Iraq has described the situation as a civil war or advocated one, and as a matter of fact, the Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and other Shia leaders, in fact, have played a very prominent and welcomed role in trying to restrain Shia response to some of the sectarian violence.
The administration continues, though, to take a very close and candid look at what's going on. The security situation in some places is uneven, and it's clear that there are huge challenges that await us. The military commanders have been trying to reshape and retool operations, especially in the Baghdad area, and they've yielded some fruit.
I mentioned yesterday the previously violent Dura neighborhood. Let me just give you some of the stats I've received -- and these are about a week old now, but they give you a sense of what's going on -- more than 5,000 U.S. and Iraqi forces were involved in an operation that took violence down by more than 80 percent in Dura. Since the operations began the number of murders dropped to zero. It's the same neighborhood where there were, in some cases, 20 murders a day.
They cleared more than 3,000 buildings; they arrested 22 detainees; they seized weapons. There was an AP story that came out yesterday, I think you probably saw, that talked about Amariyah and a five-day sweep that had similar results. I don't want to be claiming that violence no longer is a fact of life in Iraq because it is. But on the other hand, there are continued efforts to try to be effective throughout the region.
Some other things as you look at stories ahead to think about: As coalition forces, as U.S. and Iraqi forces become more effective in neighborhoods in Baghdad, you can expect some members of al Qaeda in Iraq and also insurgent groups to filter elsewhere, and especially to test out the fitness of Iraqi forces. This will sort of parallel what we saw in Afghanistan, when you saw a transition of forces from U.S. to other forces. So that is likely to happen. We anticipate that.
Second story -- and this is also important -- actually, a couple of stories about what's going on in Lebanon. I thought I'd give you a quick update there. There were reports that senior members of the Lebanese government had said that Lebanon would not disarm Hezbollah. I mentioned yesterday to you the fact that Prime Minister Siniora would be giving an address to the nation. Well, he has delivered that address, he did it last night, and I thought I'd read out some of the key points, because it's counter of the stories that the Lebanese government says it won't disarm Hezbollah.
First, the Prime Minister reiterated that "a strong and democratic state is the biggest victory we as Lebanese can achieve." He also said that Lebanon will never be made into, "an arena for regional and international conflicts." He reiterated his nation's government -- his government to extending and implementing the Taif Accord, his own seven-point plan, and U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, and also the other U.N. Security Council resolutions that well, as he put it, would extend state sovereignty, "over the entire homeland." He said that, "No areas will remain closed to the army," and that's important, because I think part of the reporting was indicating that Lebanese officials had said that they would sort of wink and nod and pay no attention to what Hezbollah had done. And he said there would be, "no armed manifestations outside state authorities." "Weapons should be held only by the state." Again, this is the Prime Minister speaking to the Lebanese populace.
In terms of the U.N. Security Council resolution, 1701 does not directly call for disarmament, but it does refer back to U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559 that does. However, there may be a follow on resolution, there has been discussion, if necessary, of coming up with more specific plans, either by resolution or joint planning, to demilitarize the southern part of the nation, that is demilitarize other than duly constituted authorities. And as I said yesterday, Lebanon will have to take the lead role, and we'll get some assistance from the United Nations forces, but Lebanon will have to do it.
We also understand that the Lebanese government, which has not had a significant presence in the south for 30 years, is going to have to take time to reestablish links and bonds with the Lebanese people. But again, the ultimate goal of the process is Lebanon, under the authority of a sovereign and elected government. Those are just a couple of the basic stories I wanted to make sure that I gave you sort of a readout on. I know there are others, and we'll take questions now.
Q Do you think that Lebanon is fulfilling the U.N. resolution or is even making a good faith effort to fulfill the U.N. resolution?
MR. SNOW: Beginning to, yes. When you're talking about taking 15,000 Lebanese armed forces, troops and moving them into the south, that is something that's called for. It has been agreed upon by the government. But again, we're not expecting overnight results. We understand that this is something that is going to take time. But it is important to realize that there has been a commitment on the part of the Lebanese government eventually to regain control over the entire countryside. And that does include disarming Hezbollah.
Now, Hezbollah can do it of choice. We certainly hope that's the case. As the President said the other day, you can't be an organization and have one foot in politics and one in terror. You got to make a choice, and we hope they make the political choice.
Q And could I ask you on Iraq?
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q Does -- the military commanders that the President is meeting with, are these the same military commanders that he's going to listen to for recommendations on troop strength? That level?
MR. SNOW: Yes, it includes General Casey and General Abizaid.
Q So do you expect any kind of recommendation -- the President to hear recommendations from Casey and Abizaid about where to go in troop levels?
MR. SNOW: I suspect it would come up, but I don't know. I'm not sitting in on the room. It's a highly restricted meeting for obvious reasons. But the President does take advice from them, and when you're getting a comprehensive review, one of the questions that's going to come up is, what do we need? The President has always said that that's the first question he asks his commanders, and I suspect it will arise today.
Q There seems to be a subtle change in tone. When this conflict between Hezbollah and Israel first erupted, the President was forceful in saying, we must address the root cause. And here you're sort of saying, hopefully Lebanon will deal with disarming Hezbollah. There seems to be a backing off.
MR. SNOW: No, no, and I'm glad you asked, because, no, I don't want to give the impression that there's backing off. You've got to address the root cause. And let's walk through that a little bit. You've got to remember how this all began. Hezbollah declared war on Israel, in effect; it fired rockets, it crossed over a border, it kidnapped soldiers. That's an act of war. Israel responded, in terms of its self-defense.
Now what's going to happen, I think, is it will -- Hezbollah will be forced into making a choice, because I think people in Lebanon kind of get it. I mean, they understand that many of those areas have been laid to waste because Hezbollah committed an act of war. They understand that Hezbollah -- I'm sorry, I'll let you -- you can interrupt when I'm done with this. But they understand the deep cynicism of Hezbollah, which didn't do this as an act of liberation for the people or Lebanon; it wasn't designed in any way, shape, or form to improve the life of the Lebanese people. And terrorist organizations look upon human life as something that's dispensable, that's disposable. And as a matter of fact, from time to time, they will actually create this sort of photographic carnival of the carnage by going out and inviting people in and staging scenes.
This is not the way in which you enhance the dignity of people who have been victimized. And we are deeply conscious of the terrible human cost that has already been wrought.
Q But many people on the ground in Lebanon do not view Hezbollah in those terms.
MR. SNOW: You know, a lot of people do. I mean, I don't know which people on the ground. Again, it's very difficult to assess. The conventional wisdom is that Hezbollah is suddenly popular. I don't think -- you can think about people's self-interest. You have a group that you know has been going in and operating independently in a rogue fashion. It declares war on a neighbor. There is a response. This group says, we are going to continue to do it. Now, if you're a victim of that, you had no party in that, you are not likely to be very happy about it. If you understand that what is going on is that people are being held hostage for political or ideological reasons to a group that is beholden not to the people of Lebanon, but to the governments of Iran and Syria, sooner or later they're going to say to themselves, this is not a good deal for me. And so that's part of it.
Also, it's important to understand that in all of this, Hezbollah does have a choice to make. I know that one of the new tactics, and we're seeing this with Hamas, we've seen it with Hezbollah, we've seen it with al Qaeda now, this is an emerging tactic, which is, commit acts of terror, try to get people to fight against each other, and set up a charitable foundation to hand out cash and crumbs to the victims. While that may be an attempt to make some sort of PR advantage, but in the long run we would hope that Hezbollah and all parties would, in fact, work toward having a sovereign government whose decisions would be respected and whose autonomy and authority would be respected by Hezbollah and all parties.
So this -- you have to address the root cause, which is that Hezbollah, operating independently, decided it could declare an act of war. It did so in complete independence and defiance -- well, I don't know that the government was informed, so you can't be defiant, but completely independently of the government of Lebanon -- and as a result, has, in fact, caused great carnage and damage to the country.
Let me also say that the United States not only has been deeply aware and conscious of this, today the United States helped open up a corridor not only humanitarian, but also in terms of commercial traffic between the Rafiq Hariri International Airport in Beirut and also the airport in Amman, Jordan -- that with the help of the Jordanian and the Israeli governments, we've been working to open up humanitarian corridors, and we consider it absolutely essential to ramp up humanitarian and reconstruction aid within Lebanon.
I know it's a long answer, but there are a lot of facets to the question.
Q It seems, though, that when you come out here and make a preemptive statement that there is no agreement not to disarm Hezbollah that you're flying in the face of the evidence on the ground. You know, for example, that politics in the Middle East is deliberately ambiguous much of the time. There is no indication that, in fact, the Lebanese government is going to force Hezbollah to give up its arms. Your preemptive statement this morning seems based on the belief that they should, and that the interests of the people will force it. But there's nothing on the ground and nothing in past history to suggest that that would ever be the case.
MR. SNOW: Well, there are a couple of things on the ground. You have the movement of 15,000 troops into the region.
MR. SNOW: Well, that's something. Now, perhaps you've been talking to people directly on the ground there, and have a better read out. But we're now talking about an agreement that is several days old. And if you're expecting, Bill, for there to be dramatic new things and people sort of running out to the village square and dropping off their Kalashnikovs, we're not quite there yet.
Q No, but this just strikes me as -- someone once said in a far different context that the triumph of "hope over experience."
MR. SNOW: Yes. However, that was Winston Churchill talking about second marriages. (Laughter.)
Q I believe it was Samuel Johnson.
MR. SNOW: Samuel Johnson speaking -- absolutely right, thank you, it was Samuel Johnson. So Dr. Johnson speaking of second marriages. It's a clever quote. (Laughter.) This is great. No, it's always good to get corrected.
Look, there is going to be -- there is not only a considerable amount of hope, but determination. You're absolutely right. Hezbollah is going to play a very important role in determining what happens here, because if the situation doesn't change, you're still going to have the same root cause. You're going to still have the same possibility of unrest in the region, and that's a real concern. And so you have to figure out every possible way -- at this point, every possible and peaceable way to place enough pressure on Hezbollah and also to empower the Lebanese people so it doesn't happen again. But, yes, absolutely, we do hope that it works.
Q Earlier you said that violence is down 80 percent in one Baghdad neighborhood. John McCain has complained about a whack-a-mole taking place across the -- cross-country -- you've heard of that.
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q It seems like it's whack-a-mole now on the local level because by all accounts Baghdad is -- by most accounts, Baghdad is worse than it's ever been, as far as the security situation. So how is this not whack-a-mole on the local level?
MR. SNOW: Well, let me ask you a question. Is every time that we have a success going to be called whack-a-mole? Because if that's the case -- no, I think what you have now is we had to retool Operation Together Forward. It wasn't producing the desired results. I'm not saying that suddenly everything is sunny and helpful and bright, but I am saying that you do have some successes. And it's quantifiable, and you can call Major General Caldwell or others in Baghdad and they'll give you all the good numbers on this stuff. But there has been progress. But there's a lot to be done.
The fact is, yes, al Qaeda is going to scatter and run, and there's going to be the need to pursue them. Now, in response to that, what have we been doing? We've been training up Iraq forces. We've also been chasing down al Qaeda independently. And so it is not as if it's a static situation where we just have a bunch of people here. We have people who are gathering intelligence throughout the country, both U.S., Iraqi -- all three and coalition forces, and they are responding.
So Senator McCain, I'm sure, will get fully briefed on the latest developments, and I'll let him give his own assessment in the future. There's always the danger that you think that you're chasing around an elusive enemy. And there's no doubt that some guys are going to run and hide and try out something else.
What they have been finding out is that the Iraqi forces which have been standing up are becoming more capable and more combat-ready and more able to address this. The United States, in and of itself, cannot be chasing all over Iraq for each and every piece of insurrection. That is inappropriate.
But what we are doing is we're trying to target resources and operations in such a way as to go after the key sources of terror and secure some of the key places. I think Senator McCain would agree -- in fact, I believe he said as much, you've got to secure Baghdad.
Q One more briefly, I know you don't do book reviews, but more people are reading now, Fiasco, by Tom Ricks, a well-respected reporter in this town. And he says that mistakes -- civilian mistakes not only fueled the insurgency, but led -- might have even spawned it. With so many people reading it, do you have any reaction?
MR. SNOW: A lot of people are reading Tim Russert's book, too. It's nice that people are reading.
Go ahead, Helen.
Q After a week of soul-searching -- I mean, not soul-searching -- I mean briefings the President has had, has he done any soul searching in terms of policy towards Iraq? The highest fatalities in July and so forth, so there is an increase in violence. Are any policies changing?
MR. SNOW: Well, I've tried to -- the answer is first without -- I will -- without having cleared this with the President, I think it's safe to say that any President in a time of war does constant soul-searching because he understands the human toll of sending people into harm's way. And any President who has held the office will tell you the same thing. It is a deeply personal and very difficult thing to do.
The other thing the President does is -- he wants realistic assessments of what's going on, and he wants the ability to adjust. It is an absolute fact that, in a time of war, you're going to try things that don't work. And what you have to do is to figure out how to define the proper formulation of things that are going to work.
The President is not going to walk away from Iraq. It is central to winning the war on terror. It is central to sending a message to terrorist organizations. It is central to creating a democracy in the region.
Q Willing to sacrifice?
MR. SNOW: Well, as they continue to exhume and now put together exhibits in Iraq of the hundreds of thousands who were killed by Saddam Hussein, there is still the hope that was expressed by more than 12.5 million people who went out and voted at some risk to their lives, but they think it's worthwhile.
And if we could do this in a totally bloodless way, that would be great, but terrorists, as I pointed out before, they look at human carnage as a political asset. We look at it the different way. We mourn the loss of lives. We don't look at that as a way of advancing our ideology. We look upon every human life as possessing unique and independent dignity, and we wish that none of them had to be sacrificed, and we hope that we're precisely working toward the day in which you're not going to have to worry about mass graves in Iraq, where you're not going to have to worry about sectarian violence, and that the primary concern is whether their taxes are too high and whether they're getting what they need from their government.
Jennifer -- Jessica. This is a bad day.
Q If that's the only name you call me, I'll be very happy. The U.S.'s closest ally in its Middle-East policy is Britain. The man who's filling in for Tony Blair while he's on vacation, the Deputy Prime Minister there, may have said in a meeting -- used an expletive to describe the President's work on the Middle East road map, and called him a cowboy in a Stetson hat who's not just doing the job. Any reaction to those comments? And also, more broadly, how concerned is the President that in Britain there is plummeting public support for the U.S. position and Blair's alliance with Bush on Mideast policy?
MR. SNOW: Well, the President talks regularly with Prime Minister Blair, who is the Prime Minister, so I will restrict my comments to Prime Minister Blair. And Prime Minister Blair understands, just as the President does, wars create anxiety. And he understands that that is an unpopular thing. People don't like to be anxious, they don't like to worry about it. On the other hand, we've just come through a week where the British people were reminded, along with the Americans and Pakistanis, that terrorists are simply not going to stand down because there's anxiety. As a matter of fact, they seem to take some encouragement for plummeting popularity, thinking that maybe the United States and the Brits and others are going to let down their guard.
Prime Minister Blair has made it clear: he is going to remain a firm ally to the United States in the war on terror. And both the Prime Minister and the President have taken some hits in the polls, but again, they still see their primary obligation as protecting national security. So the President has been called a lot worse, and I suspect will be. And there will be piquant names sort of hurled his way from time to time, but that's part of the burden of leadership.
Q Can I follow on Helen's question? Does the President go through any soul-searching when he hears -- yes, Tony Blair supports him, but when he hears there's such little public support overseas for his positions -- does that cause soul-searching?
MR. SNOW: Again, you keep asking me these existential questions about whether the President is sort of -- well, he is concerned. But the other thing is there is real -- you can't be a President in a time of war without soul-searching. It's just not possible. But on the other hand, you also cannot be a President in a wartime and not realize that you've got to stay the course.
Let me direct you back again, all the talk about the greatest generation -- in every previous war, there have been times where there have been difficulties and people said, it's not worth the cost. And it's been true in every major engagement in our history. And yet, you've had leaders who understand that the cost is something that you have to bear, and not happily, but in order to achieve your objectives. The President understands that. And the objective here is ultimately to spread freedom and democracy around the globe, but also to go after terrorists.
Terrorists spread across the globe have made it perfectly obvious, it doesn't matter what we do or say. They don't care. And so you have to find a way not merely to go after what they're doing, but also to discourage anybody who would follow them, either through a combination of force, diplomacy, or creation of hope. And those are the things that the United States government continues to do.
So the President thinks about these things every day. Again, this is -- he sees stuff far more horrifying than you and I see, because he gets the briefings every day. And it is impossible to be a President in a time of war without being reminded of the nature of the threat and also the cost of fighting it.
Q You said that alternative democracy in Iraq weren't being considered. Have they been discussed in any shape or form?
MR. SNOW: I'm not aware of that. I mean, I've never heard it, as far as I know -- no.
Q I wonder how this came up?
MR. SNOW: You'll have to ask the guys who wrote it. I don't know.
Q But beyond soul-searching, is the President contemplating changes in policy? To follow on what Helen was saying, because you have these 21 retired generals, diplomats and others today sending an open letter to the President saying they do want a dramatic shift in that policy. You said again a moment ago, stay the course. You could still achieve your objectives maybe with a different course. Is he considering a policy change?
MR. SNOW: The President always considers changes of course. I've already talked about what goes on in Baghdad. But --
Q Such as what? What would be one policy change he's contemplating in Iraq?
MR. SNOW: What they've already done is they've restructured Operation Together Forward. Now, if you -- we're not going to move our forces to the Philippines, halfway across the globe and use that as a "staging area." The United States is going to remain engaged, but also remain engaged in the business of trying to train up Iraqi forces.
You know, you understand in a political year people are going to make political statements, including retired generals, and they're perfectly welcome to. It's an important addition to the public debate. But we're also -- the President is a guy who has got real responsibility here. Now, I've got to tell you, just given to what I said to Jessica -- not Jennifer -- in response to the sort of ongoing cost of promoting freedom around the globe, do you not think a President will do everything in his power to succeed? And the answer is, yes. He's not sitting around saying, boy, I'm stubborn, I'm going to stick with it. That's not the way the President is.
Q But every time a new policy comes up, whether it's an alternative to democracy, like today, The New York Times, you say he's not considering that. So what change is he considering --
MR. SNOW: Well, wait, an alternative to --
Q You're saying, in general, he's always considering changes. And we ask for a specific one, you don't have one.
MR. SNOW: Well, but you regard a change -- you regard wholesale throwing away of the policy as a change.
Q I didn't advocate that.
MR. SNOW: Okay, well, tell me what you have in mind for a change. Tell me what's in mind for a change.
Q I don't know what they are, I'm not the President. I'm saying, what is he considering? What is he -- everything that's thrown up that supposedly he's contemplating -- that's mentioned in The New York Times or anywhere -- you shoot down and say he's not contemplating that. And then in the next breath you say he's always soul-searching, he's always contemplating change.
MR. SNOW: Right, well, number one, people who are apparently in credible battlefield positions are not making the same judgments as retired generals who write group letters. And they may have different facts available to them. But, A, for obvious reasons, I'm not going to tell you about contemplated changes other than in a general fashion, because to do so lays out the road map of our intentions and our goals, and places American lives at risk and the overall mission in jeopardy.
However, for those of us who have seen the President behind the scenes, he doesn't sit around and ask for people to put on rose-colored glasses; he wants to know exactly what's going on and how to get the mission done. I will go back again to the simple matter of duty and also personal interest. You want to make sure that what's you're -- you're making every effort to do it and to do it right. And the President is open to advice and he has tasked his chief military officers to do it and he listens to them. And he's made that point many times.
And many of these options may at some point have been discussed, but the fact that they have been discarded doesn't mean that the President is resistant to change; it means that he didn't think that that was the proper way to change.
Q Well, I think what everyone is reacting to is that there's been a lot of writing from war supporters that there needs to be a change, and clearly this is driven by the violence that we're seeing out of Baghdad, and some of these writings from the biggest supporters of the invasion, they've been advocating an increase in forces, a major increase in forces -- not from one place to another, but a re-upping. And in this political year, is it politically feasible to increase troops by November -- will the party --
MR. SNOW: If it's the right --
Q -- and will the President do it, if the generals say, you need a major increase --
MR. SNOW: The President has made it clear, if the generals make the recommendation and they say they need it, they're going to get it. And I don't know how many times I have to say it, but I'll keep reiterating, the political angle really matters less to him than his obligations and solemn responsibilities as Commander-in-Chief. You've got to get that right. I mean, that is his absolute objective. And so, it's simply -- if somebody says, sir, you're going to get a real political bounce if you detail another 30,000 -- if that is not what the generals have asked, that's not what's going to happen. Similarly, if somebody says, you'll get a real political bounce if you pull out 30,000, and that's not what the generals have requested, it's not going to happen.
Q But to follow up, there is this assessment coming out -- especially supporters now saying we need to up the troop level --
MR. SNOW: I understand --
Q -- that's how we control Iraq, so what is -- is that a misperception on the part of the people who want --
MR. SNOW: Let me get back to -- I used the phrase yesterday which is -- I said the President has strategic patience. There is a lot of impatience right now because you have violence in Baghdad -- you have the sectarian violence, recently described by General Abizaid as the worst he'd seen. You can understand at a time like that, when you also have ongoing hostilities that recently have ended in the Middle East, when you have comments coming out of Tehran and Damascus, you understand at a time like that that there's going to be some impatience, people want things to be solved quickly; so does the President. But sometimes these things don't happen overnight.
You have to look for the right use of forces, in combination with policies that not only are going to solve the immediate problem, but also address the issues that gave rise to it, so that you don't have to fight this war again, so that you don't have to fight these battles again. That is the chief challenge. That's the way he looks at it.
Q Tony, you mentioned, the obvious ultimate goal of getting mission accomplished. When is that going to happen?
MR. SNOW: You tell me. I mean, again -- as I've also said, you don't do this by a clock. The President has practiced strategic patience. The term "The Long War" has been used. If you can tell me when terrorists are suddenly going to turn their swords into plowshares, we'll settle upon that as the date.
Q Is this years in Iraq?
MR. SNOW: I mean. I really don't know. I honestly -- I don't think anybody knows.
Q How do you define when the mission is accomplished?
MR. SNOW: Same way we've always defined it, which is when you have an Iraqi government able to sustain itself, defend itself, and govern itself. That has been the clearly stated objective of the President over and over. That's how you do it. I mean those are the metrics you're going to have to use. We're seeing some -- we now have an Iraq that has begun to govern itself through a government that involves parties from all over the country. We've seen increased ability to defend itself, but we are by no means there. Sustain itself also means that you've addressed the terror and sectarian factions where people are trying to make sure that their government fails.
Q Back on Lebanon, you mentioned the possibility of a follow-on resolution or joint planning.
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q -- for demilitarization. I guess I'm wondering how imminent that might be, how likely it is that either one of those would come off, and also, who would be involved in the joint planning.
MR. SNOW: Well, at this point, let's first see how -- I'm going to kick the can down the road. Let me just be frank with you because we have to see what's going to be happening right now in this -- we put together the UNIFIL forces, and they started going in through different parts of Lebanon, and I think you have to see how that works to figure out how people make adjustments, if they're necessary or not. So I added those qualifiers just in case they do become necessary, don't know that they will.
Q The budget deficit: CBO estimate out today says, Yes, it's coming down to $260 billion this year, but then will jump to $286 billion next year. And then over the next decade, the total deficit will be $1.76 trillion, even if the tax cuts aren't made permanent. Aren't things going in the wrong direction with the President?
MR. SNOW: No, I'll tell you --
Q As he talks to his economic advisors, is he looking at spending cuts or tax increases to close the gap?
MR. SNOW: The answer is the President is working on keeping the economy growing, and the other thing is, go back and take a look at CBO estimates from last year or the year before. Go back to the Clinton years. It's an inexact science, and I'm not going to get into that whole methodology.
The President is confident that we remain on a path to cut the deficit in half by his stated deadline, if not before, and the way you do that is by promoting government growth. The deficit declined in the '90s because we had a booming economy, and as the economy continues to boom, you're going to find revenues coming in and enabling us to close the deficit. The President still believes that.
Q So is the CBO wrong in projecting that the deficit will increase next year?
MR. SNOW: Who knows? The problem with it, it's like asking if the weatherman is right about next Tuesday. Economic prediction is always inexact. You use this as benchmarks for guiding policy. As you know we do our own estimates, and I'll stick with the OMB estimates. And I will let our number crunching guys, our econometricians go through the methodologies with you. I'm just not competent to do so.
Q Tony, several pro-life groups have called on the President to withdraw von Eschenbach's nomination to head the FDA. They're concerned about his position on this Plan B abortion -- birth control plan. First of all, does the President stand by the nomination? And secondly, what is the President's view on that Plan B controversy?
MR. SNOW: Honestly, I don't know. I won't fake it. I'll get an answer for you.*
Q North Korea. The President of the Republic of Korea visits the White House next month, in part to talk about the six-party talks. Chinese officials are upset over the stalled talks. They feel the United States should be dealing with the issue of long-range ballistic missiles versus the issue of money laundering.
MR. SNOW: In other words, what you're saying is we should not be dealing with money laundering, we should be dealing with long range -- okay, go ahead.
Q What are the thoughts there? And especially as they're saying that the President, himself, will also have to put his hands in the mix personally when they deal with the issue of money --
MR. SNOW: Look, we appreciate the help the Chinese have given us, and we look forward to more help. They have considerable leverage over what goes on in North Korea, not merely by virtue of being a neighbor, but also of having the most extensive economic and energy ties with the government of North Korea. But our position is pretty clear, you got to do both. And we have already gone after counterfeiting activities on the part of the government of North Korea. But at the same time, the whole point of the six-party talks is to find some way to create a non-nuclear Korean Peninsula.
The two are not exclusive aims, and the United States has not simply been going after one goal, but in fact, we've been trying to figure out ways to reintegrate the North Koreans into -- or to integrate North Korea with the civilized world. And the way we've done that is to say, come to the six-party talks, let's figure out a way to do this. If in fact we move to the nuclear-free Korean Peninsula, then there are a lot of good things that can happen, including all of these things. The Chinese know the point, and we stand by our policy.
Q But, Tony, if it is, indeed, about this threat, about these long-range ballistic missiles, why not make it about that, instead of dealing with another issue that you could solve the problem?
MR. SNOW: I believe we're confusing issues. What's happened is the North Koreans have walked away because they're doing money laundering to finance global terror. We don't want them to have money to finance global terror. Sorry, period. We don't think it's in our interest to allow them to be selling weapons that could be used to destroy innocent human lives. But the point on the six-party talks has been precisely to deal not merely with long-range weapons, but the ability to put nukes on top of them. And that is of mutual interest to both parties. So you're really talking about two different things.
The North Koreans -- at this point, the North Koreans are trying to stall everything out so they can have the ability to do counterfeiting activities to support terror. As President of the United States, the President simply cannot say, okay, we'll wave that off. Instead, it's important -- and in the six-party talks, our allies have been helpful on this -- to stand together and say to the North Koreans, you got to behave.
Q Going back to Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott?
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q You said that he gave support to the war in Iraq because they were promised the road map. And if we look at the situation in the Palestinian territories right now, it's not good. It could possibly be argued, could it not, that he has a point, that, in fact -- not so much that where we are is the word that he used, but the situation is not great?
MR. SNOW: Well, Victoria, I think as the President's noted on a number of occasions, we're getting pretty close. It was pretty clear that there were some discussions between the Olmert government and President Abbas moving toward the road map, and all of a sudden what do you get? You get a kidnapping by Hamas. And then it looked like they were getting close to a resolution, and you have a Hezbollah attack. It seems clear that there is a desire on the part of most Palestinians to have a democratic state, and Israel certainly wants to have democratic states side by side.
I'm loath to characterize the situation with an adjective because these are awfully fluid situations, and a lot of times suddenly, in what seemed moments of desperation, amazing things happened. I'm not promising that. I'm not saying it's going to happen, but I do think it's important to realize that again, snap characterizations, or maybe even considered characterizations seem to indicate that we can't walk and chew gum at the same time, and the United States has been fully engaged on all of these issues. And we'll remain so because we do believe that creating an effective Palestinian democracy is absolutely essential to creating democracy in the region and in fighting the larger war on terror. And we remain committed to the road map and have been committed to the road map. And we've been working with our partners in that.
The Quartet remains active in trying to make sure that we have the conditions for peace in the region. Again, you always have the ability of terrorists to try to disrupt things, and they will continue to try to do so.
But we will continue working so that ultimately we're not taking our eye off the goal. We're not going to be deterred by these. We understand that this is kind of skirmish warfare that terrorists are going to try to do to throw people off the tracks. But as long as all the parties are committed to creating the road map and going ahead and pursuing a road to independence and democracy on the part of the Palestinians, I think ultimately we're going to get there.
Q Just going back to Hezbollah?
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q Hezbollah are rebuilding south Lebanon, and the people in south Lebanon are very grateful for that. They're receiving apparently what they need, and they seem to be receiving what they need. They also feel, apparently, that Israel and the United States are responsible for what happened to them. Now, even though we are giving money, we're not seen to be giving money. The Saudis are not seen to be giving money. What, in fact, can we do to change that perception, given that perception of us is already negative?
MR. SNOW: Well, a few of us probably ought to spend some time in southern Lebanon talking to people. I mean there are lots of perceptions right now.
The other thing is, we're talking about a peace accord that is less than a week old. Let's see how things shake out. I mean look, we're also going to keep a careful eye on what's going on, but perceived or not perceived, the United States is still committed not only to creating the conditions for peace, but also the conditions for a decent life on behalf of the Lebanese people by supplying humanitarian aid now, reconstruction aid later.
But we're talking about quick impressions at an emotional time, and understandably so. And I think we're all going to have to keep an eye on it. Let's see where it stands in a month or two.
Q Thank you, Tony. I have two questions for you. During an interview with Mike Wallace on Sunday, the President of Iran seemed to imply that he was willing to engage in direct talks with the United States. Would the President Bush -- would President Bush consider such thoughts --
MR. SNOW: Okay. I'm going to cut you off.
Q -- at the Foreign Minister's level?
MR. SNOW: The President has already made it clear that the way forward with the Iranians is very simple: Renounce the enrichment and reprocessing-related activities, and we'll talk. That hasn't changed.
Q Will the President allow officials to arrest an illegal alien while she was taking refuge in a Chicago church?
MR. SNOW: You're getting into sanctuary law, and I'm not prepared to answer it. I'm just unfamiliar with the situation.
Q Can you tell us a little bit more about why the President wants to meet with his economic team tomorrow?
MR. SNOW: Again, this is an annual deal and so this is part of the annual meetings with advisors. We've seen it -- we've had Defense and State; we've had the counterterror, and we'll have the economic meeting. Again, go back and look at something that happens -- but I'll tell you, part of -- one of the reasons you'll want to meet is you've got an economic record where we've had sustained growth, sustained job growth; we're beginning to see wage growth; we're beginning to see some moderation of inflation in the face of really significant energy price increases, of which the President is deeply aware and wants to find ways of addressing.
And so you look at ways to try to make sure that there is continued economic growth at a time where we're getting to a point that economists think are pretty close to full employment. You see every month employment numbers are growing, and we have good employment numbers once again. But on the other hand, it's still important to keep creating opportunities for people that want to enter the job market. What we saw last month were more people who had been on the sidelines going in and looking for jobs. We want to make sure everybody gets off the sidelines and that there are opportunities for everybody, but that's what every President wants to do.
Q Do you tell us any specific agenda items that will actually be discussed?
MR. SNOW: No, because I haven't actually looked at the agenda yet. I mean, we'll get up there. But you can take a look at the participants, and I think what you're likely to get, at least if it follows what we've had this week, are briefings on where we stand and where we need to go. And you've got the Secretaries of Commerce and Labor, you've got the Treasury Secretary, you've got the HHS Secretary. You've got a lot of people who are going to be able to talk of components that have to do with economic growth.
Again, I don't want to fib and pretend that I've seen the whole thing, but you can sort of connect the dots there.
Q And just lastly, I assume they'll be talking about some of the legislation on the Hill. Does the President support an increase in the minimum wage?
MR. SNOW: The formulation we have used is he supports an increase in the minimum wage that won't come at the expense of jobs.
Q Thank you.
END 11:36 A.M. EDT
*Q Tony, several pro-life groups have called on the President to withdraw von Eschenbach's nomination to head the FDA. They're concerned about his position on this Plan B abortion -- birth control plan. First of all, does the President stand by the nomination? A President Bush continues to strongly support Dr. von Eschenbach's nomination. Q And secondly, what is the President's view on that Plan B controversy? A It is an FDA decision, and the FDA is working with Barr Labs to ensure it is done in a way that prohibits over the counter distribution to minors and establishes other protections.