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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
August 15, 2006
Press Briefing by Tony Snow
White House Conference Center Briefing Room
4:36 P.M. EDT
MR. SNOW: All right, thank you for accommodating me for my late schedule today. It's good to be here. Just a couple of things off the top and then we'll go to questions.
First, the Department of Treasury today has announced the designation of Syrian officials, General Hisham Ikhtiyar and General Jami Jami, under Executive Order 13338. It's aimed at financially isolating individuals and entities that are directly or significantly contributing to Syria's support for designated terrorist groups, its military or security presence in Lebanon, its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, interference with international efforts in Iraq, or that are acting for or on behalf or other specially designated nationals of Syria.
Also, there's considerable interest in the fact that the President today, in a series of long-scheduled briefings, spent some time today at the National Counterterrorism Center. Let me tell you a little bit about the briefings, put them in context for you. Again, these have long been on the schedule, but I think it's safe to say that the President understands that terror and the war on terror is one of the central concerns. As a matter of fact, every day begins with a national security briefing. He regularly receives updates on terror plots around the world.
Last week we were reminded that terrorists have -- there is no lull in terrorist plotting against the United States. And the President has spent a great deal of time encouraging members of his administration to be nimble, to be creative, and to be ever vigilant in fighting the war on terror. Today's briefings followed on that theme, and let me just give you a little sense of some of the things that were discussed.
There was a discussion of counterterrorism, where we are, what we've learned and what remains to be done. What the President got from a number of people -- and I'll give you a characterization in a moment -- was a sense of the kinds of improvements and the kinds of innovations we have been taking to try to make sure that we can stop terrorists before they hit us. After all, as the President has pointed out many times, the terrorist only has to succeed one time -- one time in the United States of America -- as they did on September 11, 2001, to create big news or to be able to declare victory. We can succeed thousands of times, but have one time when they get through and that will be deemed a defeat.
The President understands that and he feels very keenly that we ought, at all times, to do everything within our power and within our resources to look for innovative and effective ways to continue to fight the war on terror.
So we had briefings today from the -- among others, the Attorney General of the United States, talking about some of the ways of trying to transform the Department of Justice. One of those, incidentally, is to set up a new division that is supposed to fight terror -- that division right now being held up because the designee, at least at this point, is being held up for political reasons --0 Senator Levin of Michigan -- even though it's U.S. Attorney in Washington, D.C.
But also they were talking about ways of transforming and of making even more effective the efforts of the National -- well, going through all the things, let me just -- I'm bopping around here a little bit. He had component briefings of various portions in the National Counterterrorism Center, and also an extensive briefing about what's going on at the Department of Homeland Security, taking a look at ways in which the Department of Homeland Security is doing everything from trying to secure our borders, figure out who's crossing the borders, to trying to protect people from harmful things that may be coming into the United States, to trying in any way, shape or form possible to catch people who are trying to plot terror on our shores or commit terror coming in from abroad.
There is discussion of counter-terrorist techniques, counter-measures, and also response if, in fact, somebody should commit an act of terror on our soil. He received briefings from Secretary Chertoff. He also heard from, as I mentioned before, the Attorney General. He heard from Secretary Leavitt, and he also heard from Secretary Rumsfeld.
Final note here: One of the things that the 9/11 Commission and other commissions made clear is that the government no longer can operate as a series of isolated departments and agencies, but, especially when it comes to the war on terror, must act as one. You cannot have Department A and Department B doing exactly the same thing and duplicating efforts. They have to learn how to communicate.
So there was a lot of discussion, not only about how to get the most bang for the buck, but also to get people to work more effectively. The one thing that we do know is that in the war on terror we have increased assets, increased information -- but, most importantly, increased intel sharing -- and that there are extensive efforts to work with our allies to make sure that the war on terror truly is global. Because there is globalization of terrorists, there also ought to be globalization of counter-terror activities. And so that kind of gives you the flavor, at least, of what the President was hearing.
And I'm remiss -- Mark Knoller, welcome back. I know that you got out a shout out this morning from Dana, but we'll do it on camera, too. Yes, absolutely.
Q But what about this central Democratic argument that the money spent on the Iraq war has taken away from homeland security and the war on terrorism?
MR. SNOW: Well, it's an argument that seems to indicate the war on terror would not exist if we were not in Iraq. Let me remind everybody that the war -- that terrorists spent years plotting September 11th. Hezbollah has been active as a terrorist organization for decades. Hamas has been on the terror watch list for many years. Jimiya Islamia and other groups have also been on the terror watch list for years. So the fact is that the Iraq war has become a central point as Prime Minister Maliki has pointed out and the President said, as well, because terrorists are trying to figure out if Western governments have the will -- and also governments in the region have the will to stand up to isolated acts of terror that are designed to frighten and disrupt nations. The President said, no, it's not going to happen in the case of the United States of America.
But it's also pretty clear that in the war on terror we have, in fact, been doing a lot of things pretty ably. We had the arrests in London last week, and that was the result of cooperation between the United States, Britain, Pakistan. In addition, what you saw is the United States government -- for those of you who were traveling -- that within a very short period of time we sort of ironed out procedures at airports, which is pretty miraculous. This is not the sort of thing that would have happened before September 11th.
And so I think what you're seeing is also some evidence of the very kinds of efforts that the President was being briefed on today, but also a reminder that the challenges are always there, that terrorists, in fact, are busy trying to do these -- are always trying to come up with innovative ways to murder innocent people. And the President is encouraging all of his people to think creatively so that we can try to prevent that.
Q I think, to follow up on Steve's point, the argument is not that the war on terror would not exist if the U.S. was not pursuing a war in Iraq, it's that it's a drain on resources, not only in dollars, but also in the capacities that the government has.
MR. SNOW: Well, Michael Chertoff is not suiting up and going to Iraq. The fact is that you can have different departments and agencies doing this. This has been a war that has cost a lot of money -- $250 billion or more. And we've lost a lot of American lives. But it does not mean that our government is incapable of doing this. And I think one thing that we have to combine is both optimism and determination. What I hear is, well, it's tough on the Pentagon, so therefore, the Department of Homeland Security or the Department of Justice or the Department of National Intelligence somehow are unable to do their jobs. What we saw in the briefings -- and, frankly, the State Department. What we saw in the briefings in the last two days is not only are they capable, but they are eager, because they share the same sort of passion for making sure this doesn't happen again.
I think what is lost in trying to reduce this to a balance sheet is the passion with which people approach this job. Anybody who was here on September 11th -- and that includes most of the people in this room -- know that the memories of that day may fade, but it doesn't take long for them to come flaring back, vividly. And each and every day, when people are taking a look at intelligence estimates, and when you get new terror reports, it's pretty obvious that there's a lot of work to be done. And the idea that somehow the men and women who are engaged in this on a daily basis are somehow distracted or don't have the resources -- don't tell that to them, because they certainly don't buy it.
Q What do you think that the President's approval rating on his handling of terrorism are not higher?
MR. SNOW: That's a question for you guys. I think what's happened is, for instance, on the handling of terror, it went up 11 points in one weekend. Why did that happen? Because, two things, I think. Number one, people were reminded that the war on terror is real. I think for many people, terrorism is something that gets committed in Gaza -- our prayers go out to my friend, Steve Centanni, today on that front, and to his cameraman -- that the war on terror somehow exists 5,000, 10,000 miles away. Well, it doesn't. The war on terror also persists on a daily basis, and people are trying to do damage here. I think in our daily lives, we've thought, well, that's sort of passed. And last week was a reminder.
Now, I've got to say, a lot of the things that were discussed today are not done out in public. And perhaps if they were, the President's ratings would be a lot higher. Unfortunately, at the expensive of the approval ratings would be our national security. A lot of the things that were discussed today simply are inappropriate to bring out in front of the public because they create a road map for terrorists to know what we're trying to do to interdict them.
So I think the President realizes -- and he's said it many times -- is that whatever approval ratings may have to say, he's got an obligation to protect the American people. And he's committed to it and he's determined to do it. And by the way, these were not grim, sober meetings. These were meetings where you had people who were energized, and the President asking very practical questions -- what works, what doesn't, where do you have roadblocks, how do you get past them. And it was more an expansive, sort of an extensive briefing about ongoing efforts, and at the same time, an effort to say, okay, we can do better, we can be more creative, we can be more nimble -- how do we do it? So I don't want to give you the sense that this was a grim meeting. It was anything but. As far as popularity ratings, again, his obligation is to save lives.
Q Was the President told today in any of these meetings about a possible al Qaeda connection to the Britain plot?
MR. SNOW: Again, there's been a lot of discussion about al Qaeda, and what we have said and will continue is to say is until we've got firm proof and feel comfortable in announcing it, we're not going to do so. The characterizations in the past has been, it has the looks of al Qaeda, and I'm aware of reports from other governments that it's al Qaeda. But our intelligence at this point does not permit us to say with confidence that that was the case.
Q Tony, you say it wasn't a grim meeting, but there are a lot of grim things happening in the world, and particularly the terrorism. Did he have a rather upbeat assessment of what's going on? Because when you think --
MR. SNOW: No, he's not Pollyanna-ish. I think what you see -- and it's a good question, I'm glad you asked it, Martha, because I don't want to give the impression that it's like, wow, this is great. Instead, you've got a President who realizes it's a big challenge. And he is somebody who is not frightened by the challenges, but motivated by them. And what you need to understand, to be effective in that you not only want to push your people, you want morale to be high, you want there to be an esprit de corps. And that's one of the reasons why there was so much discussion of how to make sure everybody is working together, that you do not have the Balkanization of departments and agencies where they're using incompatible software and they're not talking to one another and all that sort of thing. It is grim stuff, but it's also -- go back to what I said before -- determination and optimism; you have to be determined to win. And the tone of this is -- again, I'll steal a line from "Apollo 13" -- failure is not an option. So when you work on these problems you constantly are trying to get the most out of your people, and to ask pointed questions and to try to find a way forward. And that's really what the tone and tenor of the debate was today.
Q Tony, isn't one of the reasons the poll numbers look bad is because Americans hear the administration say again and again, we've captured or killed two-thirds of the known leadership of al Qaeda, we've got them on the run, and, yet, a plot like this is uncovered?
MR. SNOW: Well -- no. I really am not going to sit here and do a seance about public opinion polls because I don't know. I don't think anybody knows. I think it's pretty -- when you're in a war like this, and especially with a vague and unseen enemy, you can understand that people are going to have anxiety. And one of the frustrations is you can't show everybody the kinds of things that are going on each and every day. But the fact is, just because you've degraded a lot of al Qaeda doesn't mean that you still don't have people who are committed to killing Americans. And that is an important ingredient.
Furthermore, as you know, Martha, there have been sort of al Qaeda "affiliated groups" that have been springing up across the world. The other thing -- go back to what the President was talking about on September 20, 2001, when he said -- he pointed out that this is not something that's restricted to the Pakistani tribal areas or to Waziristan, but it's spread across 50 countries all over the world. We have information being swapped by the Internet, and, in some cases, by pack mule. But you have all sorts of different ways of trying to transmit information and put together operational plans, and these are people who are deeply dedicated to what they want to do.
And the only way to do it is not only to win, in terms of thwarting their efforts, but also to set an example that provides hope so that the business of trying to recruit people to this sort of activity becomes increasingly difficult because there is hope not only in the form of democracy, but the ability to build good and independent lives.
Q Tony, you said that this was a sort of free-wheeling discussion where everyone was questioned about what's working, what's not, what can we do better, what can we do differently. So, then, will we see any changes, any hard, any fast, concrete changes at the airports, the train stations, at the ports, soon, when? Or is this all just -- is this all strategy right now?
MR. SNOW: No, it's not all strategy, Kathleen. But a lot of the things that go on you don't see, including changes at airports and including changes at rail stations. I was asked by April yesterday, and I think Victoria also asked about rail stations. Well, we've spent $330 million or more on rail improvements for security in the last three years, most of it unseen by people.
And I don't want to give the impression that this is free-wheeling. You had people giving very structured reports and the President was giving questions, the rest of us were sitting back and learning. So it wasn't sort of a dormitory rap session. This was a chance for the President to get detailed and organized briefings from key people involved in the war on terror.
Q Tony, you said that they identified some key areas. What are the key areas where the U.S. does have to keep up on this?
MR. SNOW: And again, this is -- it gets back in -- and this is why I was being very general about this -- I can't tell you. I mean to say, we need to beef up this, is a way of saying to al Qaeda -- which, I'm sure, is watching -- "hey, go there" -- and I can't do it.
Q How much beefing up is there that needs to be done? Is this a series issue? Are there -- you've got to plan -- is there tweaking that needs to be done?
MR. SNOW: I just -- I can't play with it. Let me put it this way: There are extensive and very impressive efforts going on to save American lives, but the idea that it would be responsible for me to get up and give you a characterization of where there is weakness or if we're tweaking or we're overhauling, I think is irresponsible.
I feel safe in saying that, again, you've got some very impressive, very determined efforts to try to make sure on every front that we are capable of bringing to the war on terror every conceivable and necessary tool so that we can protect the freedoms of Americans and also restrict the ability of terrorist groups to kill us.
Q Tony, former President Clinton told ABC News in an interview there this morning that, "While I don't think the foiling of that London bomb plot has any bearing on our Iraq policy, they seem anxious to tie to al Qaeda. If that's true, how come we've got seven times as many troops in Iraq as in Afghanistan? Why is the administration and congressional leadership consistently opposed to adequate checks on cargo containers in ports and airports? I think Republicans should be very careful in trying to play politics on the airport thing --
MR. SNOW: Can you hand me that quote when you're done, because I think this one needs some parsing. So you hand that to me, and we will deconstruct, all right? (Laughter.) You have it marked up for me?
Q The bottom of the first --
MR. SNOW: Okay, "I don't think the foiling of the London bomb plot has any bearing on our Iraq policy." Fair enough. "They seem to be anxious to tie it to al Qaeda." I think Bill Plante will tell you that's not true.
Q Well, I don't know that it's not true. I only know what you told me. (Laughter.)
MR. SNOW: Well, I'm telling you the truth. But the fact is, as a public matter, we haven't done it, which leads to a series, therefore, of non sequiturs that are tied to a fallacious premise. The fact is that --
Q Oooh --
MR. SNOW: Well, it is. I'm sorry, but go take a logic class.
Q We're in it. (Laughter.)
MR. SNOW: Exactly. (Laughter.) But I'll tell you what -- for instance, containers. There have been considerable efforts -- and the President continues and he was briefed on this today -- on ways to ensure container safety. The best way to ensure container safety is to ensure at the point of origin. And that's one of the things this government has been very busy doing, is trying to make sure containers, when they leave, are safe and, furthermore, that you have ways of tagging those containers to make sure that they haven't been tampered with on the journey.
So President Clinton, I know, is sort of committing some politics here and accusing Republicans in so doing. But I'll tell you what. I think in the same position he'd be looking at the same options. And I think he would be ordering his people to be every bit as nimble, too, because as a former President he knows how serious this is. And so I appreciate the comment, because it gave me an opportunity to read right off this here transcript -- (laughter.) All right, thank you. Well, I'll keep it as a treasured memento. But it's a bit beside the point.
Q What about his point, though, that in devoting seven times as many troops to Iraq as in Afghanistan, we're not spending enough resources to go after al Qaeda, which is presumably in Afghanistan --
MR. SNOW: Well, among other things, he doesn't know what we're doing to go after al Qaeda. Period. He doesn't know. We're not broadcasting it. We're not going to tell anybody. The other thing is, President Clinton is probably aware of the fact that if you're going to fight an effective war on terror, you don't fight it alone. The Pakistanis have been very helpful on a number of occasions. And the notion that the United States, in and of itself, ought to be winning all the wars is something that we haven't tried to do. The President has assembled not only some of the largest coalitions ever in Iraq, in Afghanistan, but in the war on terror even larger coalitions trying to get people to work together so that the United States doesn't have to expend itself and extend itself everywhere.
So the fact is you have a government in Afghanistan that is standing up and trying to extend its control. And, also, if you take a look at the map of Afghanistan and the troops there, I believe we have nine different countries now that are contributing troops and working throughout the region. And that's a perfect example of the kind of phenomenon I'm talking about. One of the reasons we're doing it is we've got help in Afghanistan. One of reasons we remain committed in Iraq is that we, as the Iraqi people do, understand that there is an attempt there to foil democracy. You heard it a little bit today in some of the talk out of Tehran and also Damascus, where there was crowing about foiling what people were trying to do, which is create democracy. That is one of the reasons why Iraq remains absolutely fundamental, and we're committed to making sure that democracy succeeds.
Q What's the President's current thinking on the idea being pushed by Senator Biden and others for a partition of Iraq into separate regions?
MR. SNOW: Doesn't buy it.
Q Why not?
MR. SNOW: Because it's not practical. And, furthermore, if you've listened to what's -- who was it that wrote the op-ed, was it Maliki who wrote it over the weekend? One of the Iraqi officials, and I'm kicking myself now, wrote a pretty extensive explanation of why most Iraqis don't want it. It may provide kind of a nice construct -- break it apart, and then it won't be a problem.
The fact is, Iraqis really -- Iraqis look upon themselves not at -- at least, in all cases -- as Sunni, Shia and Kurd, but as Iraqis, as the descendants of a Mesopotamian civilization that has been around for a very long time. And they see themselves as a nationality, rather than unmeltable ethnic groups. So it's important to try to go ahead and give them the ability to experience that nation --
Q Can I follow up on one other question from yesterday? You've said a number of times within the last couple of days that there was no coordination with the Israelis. Why wouldn't there be coordination? I mean, this is a war on terrorism, right, and Hezbollah is --
MR. SNOW: It is a war on terror, but it's --
Q -- you coordinate with Pakistan, so why not Israel?
MR. SNOW: Well, there's a difference. What you had is an attack on Israel, and Israel is engaged in a matter of self-defense. In the case of Pakistan, Pakistan had actionable intelligence about somebody who was working to fight the United States. They're entirely different kinds of situations.
Q Tony, you mentioned briefly the statement of Bashir Assad, President Assad, and the Irani President. Can I press you on that, and the administration's reaction to especially President Assad saying that this was a loss for Israel and that it has essentially taken root in the hearts and minds of hundreds of millions of Arabs that this resistance was a winner for Hezbollah?
MR. SNOW: Well, it's going to be interesting to see, and I've heard that Hezbollah is a winner trope, but on the other hand, I opened up The Washington Post today and there's a story about people making jokes at the expense of Hezbollah and Nasrallah.
What Hezbollah did is it brought bloodshed into Lebanon that did not need to be there, and the people of Lebanon, over time, are going to have to ask themselves, what good have they done us? For the notion that Hezbollah brings bread, it brings blood, as well.
The United States was the first nation to commit humanitarian resources, $35 million; there's going to be more. It was the Israelis who opened up the humanitarian corridors. The Saudis have committed half-a-billion dollars to humanitarian relief and said that they're going to commit a billion dollars to reconstruction. You also have the fact that the Iraqis committed $35 million.
So I know there's a war of words right now, but I think the most important thing is just for the people of Lebanon to ask themselves, how do we get our country back? Do you really get a country back if you have a militia -- Hezbollah -- financed by Iran and Syria, continuing to try to operate independently so they can place everybody's lives at risk? And one of the reasons I think the Syrian President may want to be claiming victory is that he knows that one of the things that's come out of this is a recognition in the region and in many parts of the world of what Hezbollah is really about.
And, by the way, Hezbollah also tipped its hand in terms of the kind of fortifications it has, the kinds of forces it has. Those sorts of things are no longer secrets. But, furthermore, people throughout the region now have to ask themselves, why are Syria and Iran so opposed, and openly opposed by their own admission today, to having democracy in Lebanon or, for that matter, in the Palestinian areas.
Q To go back to al Qaeda for a second.
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q Do you think that -- is there a concern that al Qaeda is becoming more of a first-world phenomenon, if you will, and that our focus should be less on failed states and we should really be more concerned about what's going on in places like the U.K.?
MR. SNOW: I don't think you -- no, John, I don't think so. I think you remain concerned about everything. I think the moment you try to say, I'm not going to look here, especially if you make a public pronouncement, they're going to go there. I mean the one thing we've learned is that al Qaeda and also terror cells are very -- they respond very quickly to changes, as well. That's one of the reasons why people on our side have to be very quick to react to changes.
And, yes, you'll look at some of the brewing problems in Europe. You'll look at the possibility of people trying to do homegrown terror here, and, at the same time, you look at failed states. If you take a look at a lot of the folks who have been arrested in recent years, they've been trained in terror camps in some of those failed states. So you need to deny them the ability to create significant operational capabilities. And failed states quite often provide them their real estate.
Q Tony, quick two questions. One, as the global war on terrorism is concerned, the President has been speaking on doing it better, like yesterday and today. But my question is that, are these rogue nations are listening what he has been saying really for the last five years since 9/11 and now in recent days? And second, as far as this funding is concerned, many organizations are still raising funds in the name of earthquake victims and war victims and all that, and most of the money, according to WTOP News is going to fund the terrorists.
MR. SNOW: Well, first of all, thank WTOP for the insight. The fact is, as a matter of U.S. law, the moment we know that somebody is trying undercover to use a charity as a vehicle for financing terror, we shut it down. That's what the law permits us to do. So that's not unusual. And the fact is, we're not only saying things about terror, we're doing things about terror, and that's the most important part.
Q How about the rogue nations --
MR. SNOW: What about the rogue nations that what?
Q Rogue nations -- if they are still listening to the President's message against terrorism?
MR. SNOW: I don't -- it doesn't matter if they're listening. They need to know that we're not backing away from the fight.
Q In response to Peter's question, he suggested that Iraqis tend to see themselves as Iraqis first and then Shiites and Sunnis. But one of the experts that met with the President yesterday said the exact opposite, that our policies have led to a Shiite ascendancy that can have long-term implications. Did they engage on that issue in their discussion?
MR. SNOW: Well, I'm not going to -- I'm not telling you about the discussions because one of the ground rules we have is that we're not going to characterize what goes on. But let me just say that what you've talked about is not inconsistent with the notion of still people being part of an Iranian [sic] nation. You can expect that there are going to be different groups vying for influence within Iraq. That's perfectly natural. And it's obviously one of the things that we look at. But the ground rules are, we let people talk freely and openly, and therefore, I don't want to get into characterizing the nature of the debate.
Q Did the President hear from critics?
MR. SNOW: Yes, the President always does. And this is a point I've tried to make. These are not meetings where he comes in and gets cheerleaders. What he gets is smart people who look at issues at different angles and in different ways, because that's the only way -- just as he's trying to get his people to think creatively, he needs to think creatively, too. The only way you do that is bringing in all different points of view so that you're not simply looking at it from the standpoint of what policy papers may come your way. You need some new ways. And these have led to -- meetings like this have led to conversations with folks who have not always been congenial with administration policy, but have extensive experience in whatever region or whatever topic matter may be under discussion. And it's very useful for the President.
Q They don't get Oval Office syndrome, pull their punches?
MR. SNOW: No, they really don't. I mean, you've been around the President. The President knows how to make people relax. And that's one of the things he does. He wants them to feel comfortable. And otherwise, it doesn't work.
Q How will the government spend our money in Lebanon so that it doesn't end up in the hands of Hezbollah or end up as appearing that Hezbollah is actually succeeding in reconstruction of the country? How will Americans get credit for those tax dollars spent in Lebanon?
MR. SNOW: You know, I don't know tactically about what guidelines we're going to have on the expenditure of money, but I think it's pretty safe to say that we won't be handing checks to Nasrallah and say, here, go do good. So I think -- quite often what happens is that you've got NGOs and other organizations that are duly designated to distribute such aid, and we will work with recognizable organizations. We don't want to do a victory lap saying, look at us, we're committing humanitarian aid. What we want to do is to let the Lebanese people know that all over the world there are people rooting for them to succeed as a democracy.
Q But, as you know, I work for an investment magazine, so I'm looking for the investment implications. Will we be giving money directly to U.S. contractors for projects --
MR. SNOW: I have no idea what the guidelines are. Just don't.
Q Tony, has the President has anything to say about Senator Allen's remark about an Indian member of --
MR. SNOW: If he has, it has not been discussed. I gather Senator Allen has apologized for it.
Q Last night, the Prime Minister of Japan visited the controversial Yasukuni Shrine. Can you tell me if the President is concerned over the rising tensions in South Korea and China, or does he think they're overreacting?
MR. SNOW: The President is not going to get involved in any of that. What the President wants to do -- I mean, one of the things the President has worked consistently to do is to build a common sense of purpose, which is why you've had the six-party talks with regard to North Korea. You had the North Koreans, the Chinese, the South Koreans, the Russians, the Americans, all working together to try to figure out some way to have a non-nuclear Korean Peninsula. And that will continue to be the case. The President, obviously, wants all parties to get along, but he is not going to get involved in -- embroiled in that dispute.
Q On South Korea, South Korean President Roh mentioned South Korea wanted to conclude the transfer of wartime command and control. What is the United States' response on that? Also I have a --
MR. SNOW: We are aware of that, and we will cooperate.
Q Tony, was there discussion today by the President or any of his advisors about legislative changes that might be needed? And does he feel that some of the pending counterterrorism legislation on the Hill such as the FISA law or the detainee treatment package will be in any way affected by the sort of reminder --
MR. SNOW: No, I don't think so, because you've got to keep in mind that the kind of reforms that are being discussed on Capitol Hill, including FISA reform and response to the Hamdan case and others, were done by an administration that thinks about this stuff every day, and that gets threat assessments regularly, and understands the nature of the enemy, and therefore, in this particular case, doesn't need an adjustment, but is concerned in working with members of Congress to make sure that we're able to get the intelligence.
Suppose you find somebody someplace, and you hear word, okay, they think that there's a plot that's going to happen in 24 hours, you need to find ways to protect lives, and you need to do it in a way that's consistent with our laws and traditions, and the President is eager to work with Congress on that.
So, no, actually, there was discussion about some of those reforms, but it was not, boy, we've got work to do. I think what the President and members of his team are eager to do is to work with Congress so that everybody -- and I think this is something that really isn't a partisan issue, or should not be, everybody wants to figure out the best way to keep us safe.
Q Thank you. Tony, how does the President feel about the Pence-Hutchinson immigration reform proposal?
MR. SNOW: The President welcomes any attempts on the part of members of the House and Senate to work together to get a comprehensive immigration reform. He's not picking favorites. What he's trying to do is to get both sides to the point where they appoint conferees and get a bill done. That's what he wants. He wants comprehensive reform, and this is one of a number of proposals that are being knocked around on the Hill.
Q George Will wrote this morning that the administration is so self-delusional that if it recognized that it needed to make -- or it became necessary to make a change in tactics, that it would not recognize it, and that perhaps Senator Kerry had the right formula back in the last election year. Would you like to reply to that?
MR. SNOW: It's the first time I think I've ever heard you cite George Will with approval. (Laughter.) No, look, the fact is, I've just talked to you about how nimble the administration is. One of the things you need in a time of war is a clear vision and a clear sense of determination. But one of the things the President has talked about at all junctures is being nimble in response to threats.
So George writes a wonderful column, a nice readable column -- but this administration -- I'm sorry, but the column doesn't resemble the administration for which I work.
Q I don't understand why the President doesn't want to get involved in the defusing of tension between China and South Korea, on the one hand, and Japan on the other, over the visit to the shrine.
MR. SNOW: Because that's something they can do themselves.
Q Tony, with all the talk today about counterterrorism and the President's visit to the center there today, I'm just trying to square that approach on actively engaging in the war on terror, and here you have a strong U.S. ally, Israel, come under attack from a terrorist organization, and the U.S. was all about diplomacy and settling that peacefully, as opposed to allowing them to engage in the war on terror. How does that square?
MR. SNOW: Well, wait a minute. The United States said that Israel had the right to defend itself. You're seeming to imply that the United States put up a big stop sign. The United States did nothing in terms of trying to -- again, Israel had its right to defend itself. Both of these efforts are designed to create peaceful ways to the future. If you interrupt a terror operation you're saving lives. If you're trying to find a diplomatic way out, you're trying to save lives. They both have that in common.
But also in common is the desire to foster democracy and foster democratic dreams. And, interestingly, the two are related, because to the extent that you can build a stable democracy in Lebanon, to the extent that you can build a democracy with the Palestinians, to the extent that you build a democracy with the Iraqis, you're sending a powerful message to the jihadis, or to the people that they would want to recruit, that there's a better way. And so the two are related in that sense.
But I think, otherwise -- I don't buy the analogy.
Q The President had avoided being involved in the Connecticut primary prior to voters going to the polls. You've avoided taking any position --
MR. SNOW: You noticed?
Q -- and the Vice President today said that "The Dean Democrats have defeated Joe Lieberman. Their choice instead is a candidate whose explicit goal is to give up the fight against the terrorists in Iraq." Why is the Vice President making such comments? And does he support Senator Lieberman's independence?
MR. SNOW: No. Number one, we are not making any endorsement in Connecticut. The Republican Party of Connecticut has suggested that we not make an endorsement in that race, and so we're not. We are certainly not going to be endorsing between Joe Lieberman and Ned Lamont because both of them are going to caucus as Democrats if they're elected to the United States Senate.
But as we were talking about last week, Ned Lamont ran on a campaign of getting out of Iraq, period; getting out. You have to ask yourself at a time of choosing what this does in the war on terror, what the consequences of that are going to be. Does this help the people of Iraq or does it create a power vacuum? Does it, in fact, support Osama bin Laden's comments -- and I want to thank one of your colleagues for setting me right on this; it was after Mogadishu, when we left Mogadishu -- that the Americans, you stay at them long enough, they're going to lose their will, they're going to walk away -- and he used that as inspiration to persuade people to conduct the September 11th attacks.
So it is important to understand what the consequences of an idea are. And I think the Vice President was well within his rights, and I think correct, in making that analysis and assessment. But in terms of the race, the Connecticut Republican Party has asked us to stand down on it, so we will.
Q You don't find that a little odd?
MR. SNOW: Nope.
Q Why not?
MR. SNOW: Well, there are times --
Q -- I don't recall it ever happening, when the White House has been asked to stay out of Republican race.
MR. SNOW: No, actually, there have been races in the past where candidates didn't meet the expectations of the local parties and Presidents have stayed out, Democrats and Republicans, in the past.
Q I'd like to see a list.
MR. SNOW: You know what? Perfect. We'll do the asterisk for you. (Laughter.)
Q Tony, on your stop sign metaphor, isn't a cease-fire a stop sign?
MR. SNOW: A cease-fire is something -- it's a stop sign, but it's one with which the Israeli people agreed. The Israeli government and the Lebanese both were full participants and supporters of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701. This was not done in a vacuum; it certainly was not done without collaboration or without discussion there.
I think it is important to note that while we were not involved in military discussions with the Israelis, we certainly were involved in diplomatic discussions -- the President having said as early as the day of the seizures that he was looking for a diplomatic way out; pushed it at the G8; pushed it in Rome; pushed it with the U.N. Security Council.
So, yes, that is a stop sign, but it's a stop sign that both parties are supposed to hold up and both parties are supposed to abide by.
Q Thank you.
MR. SNOW: Thank you.
END 5:13 P.M. EDT
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