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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 19, 2006

Press Briefing by Deputy National Security Advisor and Senior NSC Directors on the President's Bilateral Meetings
Press Filing Center
Algonquin Hotel
New York, New York

5:43 P.M. EDT

Meghan O'Sullivan, Deputy National Security Advisor for Iraq and Afghanistan
Mike Kozak, NSC, Senior Director for Democracy, Human Rights, and International Organizations
Judy Ansley, NSC, Senior Director for European Affairs

MR. JONES: Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome. I have with me three Senior Directors from the -- and one National Security Advisor from the National Security Council here to brief on the President's meetings that they attended today. I have with me Mr. Mike Kozak, who is Senior Director for Global Democratization at the National Security Council; Ms. Meghan O'Sullivan, who is Deputy National Security Advisor for Iraq and Afghanistan; and Ms. Judy Ansley, who is Senior Director for European Affairs at the National Security Council. We'll go in chronological order and Ms. Ansley will discuss the Chirac bilateral meeting.

MS. ANSLEY: Thanks, Fred.

The President met this morning with French President Jacques Chirac. It was a very good meeting, very constructive; actually ran a bit longer than it was scheduled. They met for about an hour and 20 minutes. They covered a wide range of strategic issues.

On Iran, they both discussed the importance of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, and they both spoke about their desire to solve the issue diplomatically.

On Lebanon, the President thanked President Chirac for French leadership in resolving issues in Lebanon and for their troop contributions to UNIFIL.

They also discussed Darfur. They both share a concern with the ongoing situation there. They both talked about a need to stop the suffering. President Chirac has announced that he will make a formal appeal to President Bashir to accept a U.N. force in Darfur.

A number of other issues -- they talked about Syria and the Israel-Palestine situation. Overall, a very good meeting, very constructive talks about how to jointly approach all of these issues. I think I'll leave it there and just take questions at the appropriate time.

MR. JONES: Actually, let's do it right now --

MS. ANSLEY: You want to do these now? Yes, please.

Q Can I ask right off the bat if it was -- there were constructive talks on Iran? How is it President Chirac, an hour or so after saying in the presence of President Bush that they were totally on the same on Iran, then went out and said that setting a timetable, any timetable -- suggesting even the August 31st timetable for sanctions is counterproductive?

MS. ANSLEY: They didn't have a discussion that talked about that timetable within the meeting, but they did agree on the need, or the desire to go with a diplomatic approach, if that's possible. President Chirac has historically not liked sanctions, he's very up front about that. He doesn't think that they're effective. However, he has not taken them off the table, including in the Iran case, if that's the option that ends up being the one that people choose if negotiations don't succeed. What he talked about is trying to see if there was a framework where negotiations could go forward.

As you know, Solana, with the EU, is in talks with Larijani to see if there isn't a way you can go forward on the basis of suspension for suspension. In other words, you start the negotiations, the Iranians agree to suspend their enrichment activities, and in exchange, the U.N. will agree to suspend activities at the Security Council as negotiations go forward. In assuming that negotiations can go forward on that basis, then we wouldn't have to deal with the issue of sanctions at this point.

Q At the press conference, the French President seemed to be saying that all six parties should first start together. He didn't seem to buy into the President's formulation of, you know, talks by the EU, suspension and the U.S. comes in. He seemed to be setting out a slightly different kind of scenario.

MS. ANSLEY: The way he talked about it, I saw as being consistent with what was discussed in the meeting, which was discussion of the six, if the U.S. wanted to participate. And if the U.S. did not want to, then the EU3 and the other two if they chose to be a part of it -- this initial round of discussions to get the negotiations going, they do it that way. And the President made clear that he was not comfortable with being involved in the first part.

As we've said all along, we will join the negotiations when Iran suspends. So once you get to that point, we'll join the negotiations.

Q The President, in his speech, said that if the government of Sudan doesn't accept a peacekeeping force, then the U.N. is going to have to act. Didn't specify what that meant. Did that come up in the meeting with President Chirac? Was there any more clarity on what that action would look like?

MS. ANSLEY: It did come up in the meeting with Chirac, and the President did say that we'd have to act, but no specifics were discussed.

That's it? Okay -- oh, I'm sorry.

Q Just one other thing. Why did the meeting go on longer than expected?

MS. ANSLEY: They had a lot of things to talk about. That's -- really, they had a lot of items on the agenda, and they were having good discussions, and the time just went on.

Q Did the President ask -- did our President ask the French President about the comments that have been reported in the papers yesterday? Did he --

MS. ANSLEY: Oh, sure, yes.

Q And what did -- how did Chirac explain it to the President?

MS. ANSLEY: They had a discussion about where they each were on the issue of Iran and whether any positions had changed on that. Yes, they did have a discussion, and I think that the way the things were reported in the press were not quite the way that Chirac had -- not quite what his position was. I think if you do a full reading of what Chirac said, even in his interview yesterday, you'll see that there was some quoting that made it look like there had been a change in position. But there really had been no change in position, which is why, at the end of the meeting, they felt -- and even during the meeting, they felt that they were still very much on the same -- on the same wavelength on how to proceed.

Q Did the fact that they do seem to be of different minds over sanctions, is that an accurate way to see it? Chirac did not, today, mention the word, "sanctions" during his address to the United Nations. He's saying there shouldn't be a timetable. So are they at least at odds on the sanctions question?

MS. ANSLEY: No, I think that they -- there's an agreement that if you have to go to sanctions, then we'll go to sanctions, or if they talked about sanctions in the meeting today, as well. I think that Chirac's comments are -- he's more talking about what he thinks is the most effective approach, but I don't think there's a difference. I mean, we all want Iran to stop what it's doing, to suspend its enrichment activities and to get to negotiations. That's the preferred approach of everyone. Sanctions is only if that fails.

Q Would it be accurate, though, to see Chirac as sort of saying let's wait longer for sanctions than, perhaps, the United States wants to wait?

MS. ANSLEY: No, I think that -- like I said, the -- Solana -- the EU through Solana is in talks with the Iranians right now to see if there can be a basis for proceeding with the negotiations. And, hopefully, that won't take very long. And I don't think Chirac would want to -- I shouldn't speak for him. That shouldn't take very long, and then hopefully we get into negotiations. But, obviously, we'd like it on a quick time line.

Q How long has the U.S. supported this suspension for suspension proposal?

MR. JONES: That's kind of a --

MS. ANSLEY: Yes, I just --

MR. JONES: -- you can characterize the meeting based on her participation --

MS. ANSLEY: That's just not my -- that's not my portfolio. Okay, yes.

Q Did Chirac tell President Bush that the press has characterized his comments, or is that your interpretation of the press's description of his comments?

MS. ANSLEY: Yes, that's my characterization. They did not -- they did not talk about it in those terms. They really just talked about just what their positions are. They didn't get into any press characterizations.

Q Did President Bush discuss with President Chirac his recent meeting with Interior Minister Sarkozy, and did anything about the current political calendar come up?

MS. ANSLEY: No, nothing on that came up.

Q Did the President talk to Mr. Chirac about Mr. Chirac's comments on Iraq? Yesterday, Chirac, I think in a couple of interviews, said, well, everything came -- was borne out the way I predicted, and, you know, I'm very pessimistic.

MS. ANSLEY: No, they did not speak about Iraq.

Is that it? Thank you.

MR. KOZAK: Okay, I've got three meetings in a row -- I'll try to keep them quick -- the meeting with the President and Secretary General, meeting with the President and the new President of the General Assembly, and then the President's meeting with a wide group of democratic heads of state -- or heads of government, and some non-governmental organizations involved in promotion of democracy abroad.

The meeting with the Secretary General, they talked about how well they had worked together over the years -- this is the Secretary General's last general assembly, and so they looked back a little bit and assessed that they had worked very well together, indeed. The President previewed in his speech he was going to bring the focus back on freedom, that if we didn't keep working for freedom in the world, that people end up enslaved, that there's no other -- there's no third option.

The Secretary General observed that there had been a good meeting on the compact with Iraq the other day, and the President congratulated him on the work that he had done on that score. The President reiterated that Iraqis need to solve Iraqi problems, but others need to help. And they were both looking for ways to involve the international community more in helping.

The President raised Sudan and the fact that the situation there is deteriorating, and the absolute need to get something done. And they talked about the state of play, vis- -vis the Sudanese government, vis- -vis potential troop contributors for a U.N. peacekeeping operation in Darfur.

They talked about the Middle East, generally, and I think it was a bit of a preview of what the President said in his speech; he reiterated his commitment to a two-state solution and the need to get Hamas to talk as part of an effort to peace, that they need to accept their role as a partner for peace if they want to be successful.

They also discussed that after some frustrating days, that a good job had been done on Lebanon by all concerned, and talked a little bit about the way forward there in implementing the agreements reached and building upon them.

They discussed Iran and the state of play there. I think the main thing they both agreed on was the need to stay -- the international community to stay consistent and united on the topics, so that there was clarity as to the way forward and the way to a solution.

They discussed Cuba just a bit, because the Secretary General had been to Cuba and visited President Castro as part of the NAM summit there of last week. And they talked a bit about the future potential of Cuba as it develops and becomes a state with a free system and a free economy.

That was the topic range for the meeting with the Secretary General. Then we went over and saw Sheikh al Khalifa, who is the new President of the General Assembly and the first Muslim woman President of the General Assembly. So the fact that she's there is a great distinction. The President congratulated her on election. They talked about the various issues they have to work together on. They talked about women as an agent of change in the Middle East, and the need to treat women with equality and respect, as human beings.

And they went through some of the issues where the U.N. had been able to do useful things of late, and some places where we still see problems, and just talked about the need in general terms to work together to try to bring about further reform at the U.N. to make it a more effective body -- discussing the importance of the organization for all concerned and the need to build on its successes and make it improve.

In that context, the President of the General Assembly indicated that they were going to try to make progress on the counterterrorism convention this year. They also discussed briefly the process that will lead up to the selection of a new Secretary General, which is one of the orders of business for this fall.

The President then went to a roundtable which he chaired with these other democratic leaders and non-governmental organizations -- I think we had about 25 democratic leaders, or heads of state or government from all around the world, and then we had 7 non-governmental organizations, two of them with global reach, and the others that are -- the other five from different countries.

And the main topic of discussion, the purpose of the meeting was to show solidarity with these groups that are fighting for freedom in their own country, but are increasingly coming under repressive measures, so it was to get a sense of what kinds of problems they're encountering, and then what they thought that democratic governments could do to show solidarity and help them and support them in their work. It was a very lively discussion that went on actually for an hour and 20 minutes -- even though it started late, it ended much later.

We have, I think, a list of the participants, so instead of me trying to read all of them, if you're interested, they're available from the press officers. But I think, again, the purpose of the meeting -- it was building on a meeting that he had last year with a similar group of democratic governments. Then they were talking about the launching of the U.N. Democracy Fund, which was an idea the President had had a couple of years back, and last year we were able to say it's being implemented. So the notion was these guys coming together seemed to have -- there was a lot of energy there for how we can work and promote democracy. And so we engaged with the NGOs this year. And I think it's going to be an event that has follow-up to it as people take some of the ideas and then try to see if we can be more partners with those groups.

Q Was there a discussion of the events in Thailand at any point in the President's day?

MR. KOZAK: No. I mean, we heard about it between meetings, but it didn't come up in any of the meetings I was in.

Q And what about any action on -- of the U.N. Security Council on Burma?

MR. KOZAK: During the time we were having the roundtable on democracy there was -- also the First Lady had an event on Burma, to call attention with a lot of Burma experts, which I -- I was not there, but I understand went well.

As you may know, at our initiative, the Security Council voted last week to put Burma on the agenda for the Security Council. So it's on the agenda. When it will come up exactly I think remains to be seen. But it will come up now because of that -- because of that vote. And we're just trying to get more attention on that terrible situation there which has -- it's not only political, but ramifications in the areas of refugees, drug trafficking, just terrible humanitarian crisis. So a lot to be done in that area, as well.

Again, the effort for that kind of problem is, how do you get enough countries and groups of countries engaged that you can make some difference with your diplomacy.

Q Did the Secretary General shed any light on who might send troops to Darfur? Anything more on that?

MR. KOZAK: You know, I think if you go back to -- we didn't talk about that specifically, no. I mean, we talked about the problems facing potential troop contributors, but we didn't talk about individual countries and where they stood.

Is that it?

Q I don't know if it's in the purview of this briefing, but did the administration have any reaction to the coup in Thailand.

MR. KOZAK: No, I haven't had enough time to get fully briefed yet, even on the facts.

Q One more thing, you said that Cuba came up. Did the President inquire into Castro's condition?

MR. KOZAK: Yes. The Secretary General -- when he met with the Secretary General, and so he said, I heard you saw Castro. And he gave a little briefing on his encounter. I'd let the Secretary General characterize his own meeting with President Castro. But it wasn't -- this was not a long, deep, analytical thing. It was more, you know what did you find in Cuba, and then some general discussion about the future of Cuba, not -- that wasn't a prediction on the health of the leader. But just that one of these days, if Cubans are able to make the kind of changes that they need to make, that it could once again be an economic tiger in the Caribbean.

MS. O'SULLIVAN: I'm here to give you a readout of the President's meeting with President Talabani. They met today for about an hour, and ended just before getting here. Sorry to keep you waiting a bit.

The atmospherics, as I think many people in this room have seen, the two -- these two leaders together, and the atmospherics, as always, were very positive. It was really a spirit of partnership throughout the whole meeting. And I was trying to think of how I could best describe it to you. And in some ways, there's a little anecdote from the meeting that I think -- that shows the closeness of these two leaders.

They began talking through an Arabic interpreter, with Talabani speaking Arabic and it being translated, and the President's words being translated into Arabic. But I'd say about 20 minutes into the meeting, Talabani sort of leaned forward in his seat, and the President kind of leaned forward in his seat, and they just started talking in English. I think they were feeling that the pace of their exchange and what they wanted to say was being slowed down by the translation, and from there, you had a very kind of vigorous exchange about a whole range of issues.

I'd say overall, the theme of the meeting was really one of support and one of confidence that Iraq will succeed, but also one of commitment on all sides to work together to help Iraq make some very tough choices that lie ahead in its immediate future. And the President made a point -- which he made both in his speech to the General Assembly today and he's done in other opportunities with the press -- after Talabani and he finished up, just about American support, about his commitment to Iraq and his understanding of the difficult times that the Iraqi people are having and his admiration for their courage, and at the same time saying that Iraqi governments will have American support as long as they're making the tough decisions necessary to build a united democratic Iraq.

Talabani, again, the same theme, he sort of affirmed -- affirmed the need for the Iraqi government to make some tough decisions and expressed a lot of appreciation for American support. You would have seen that today at various public venues, including an op-ed that President Talabani had in today's papers.

So in the context of that overall discussion, there are a few things which I'll just highlight here. Both leaders talked about the Maliki government, with the President saying that he really has a lot of confidence in Maliki and he's very pleased with how Maliki has performed over the last hundred days. He noted that Maliki is stronger a hundred days into his government than he was at the beginning. And that, of course, in this environment, is not something that could be taken for granted. That's actually my point there; I'm not paraphrasing the President there.

And President Talabani spent some time talking about how he -- his party, how the institution of the Presidency Council are all working together very closely to support the Maliki government and how critical it is for this government, for Prime Minister Maliki to succeed in Iraq's overall efforts.

Also, in the context of talking about the tough decisions ahead of Iraq, the two leaders touched on a range of issues: oil, federalism, militias, police reform, the army. So those were some of the issues that they touched on, albeit, quite briefly.

Talabani spent a bit of time talking about that there has been progress on the reconciliation front. And he said that we're in the process of building a project, but we're not yet finished, and we need your support and your patience. He talked about, again, the reconciliation progress. And he really took the whole group back a little bit to where we were maybe five or six months ago, and compared to the constitutional process how there are so many patterns of interaction between leaders from different communities that hadn't existed even just a year ago, talked about the formation of the national unity government, talked about the government agenda that they all agreed upon, and talked about a new commitment to tackling these tough issues together.

There was also a conversation about the rule of law and the extent to which crime is also a problem in Iraq, and that is -- it is integrated, I guess, in some respect, into some of the other security problems there. There was a discussion about the region. It generally focused on the importance of having the region support -- Iraq support this government as it moves ahead. And in that context, they spoke about the international compact and what an important initiative that was. And they both referred to the meeting that happened yesterday at the U.N., which was a foreign ministerial meeting on the compact.

Just lastly, there was a brief discussion -- mention of the PKK, and the agreement, again, by both leaders on the importance of addressing this issue head on in working closely with Turkey to do so.

I think I'd stop there. I'm happy to take some questions.

Q Did President Talabani give the President any briefings or information about the meetings that Prime Minister Maliki had in Iran recently?

MS. O'SULLIVAN: No, he didn't. There was a mention that the Prime Minister had recently gone to Iran, but there was no characterization of it. There was a little discussion about Prime Minister Maliki's attitude before he went, which was certainly one of stressing that Iraq needs no interference that works against the government by its neighbors.

I should also mention there was a brief one-on-one at the end, and -- by the nature of one-on-ones, I wasn't there, so I have that caveat over everything I say.

Q Can you elaborate on this point that the United States is going to support the government of Iraq as long as it's making the tough decisions? Can you explain that? I mean, it sounds like conditional love to me. (Laughter.) I mean, what's --

MS. O'SULLIVAN: Actually, the President had a very similar theme in his comments today in the speech.

Q I know -- curious.

MS. O'SULLIVAN: And there was -- I'm trying to think of the exact --

Q Can you explain what he means, though?

MS. O'SULLIVAN: Sure. And I'll try to shed some light on that. I'm just going back to another speech that he gave -- I think August 31st. Anyway, that's something that has been in a lot of the President's comments. And I think it reflects the reality that the Iraqis have a lot of difficult decisions to do, these are hard decisions to make, and that we need to both encourage and urge them to take on these decisions, because we look at something -- we look at the security situation and recognize that part of this has a security solution, but a security solution won't be the whole solution. It's got to be a political one, as well, it has to be an economic one, as well.

And the issues that I described -- or I just listed very quickly, they're very political issues, and these are the issues that the leaders need to come together and figure out how -- and this, I'm actually characterizing President Talabani's comments -- how Iraqi leaders in communities are going to share the power and the resources of their country.

Q Can I follow up on that?


Q I mean, it's interesting, certainly, to -- it did seem to, you know, we will not yield the future of your country to terrorists -- in return, your leaders must rise to the challenge. Is there a definition for what "rising to the challenge" means? And is there a kind of if/then, sort of, part of this -- that if they don't rise to the challenge, the U.S. will be less inclined to continue helping?

MS. O'SULLIVAN: There was no "if/then" in the conversation that happened today. And it is implicit in the conversation that what they're talking about, the tough challenges are the issues that I laid out for you, and are the issues that the Iraqis, themselves, have identified as the ones that are still points of contention with each other, and that these issues, again, how to share the power and resources in Iraq are the ones that they need to come to agreement on in order to pave the way for a stable, democratic Iraq.

The President was overwhelming in his support and appreciation for the leadership of Talabani, and recognizing that the Iraqis, again as I've said before, have been through a very tough period. I think this is just, we all need to move together, forward, is very much said in that fashion. I don't think there was anything threatening about it. It was constructive.

Q Did they talk about the President of Iran, and Iran's alleged ambitions in the region? Did that topic come up?

MS. O'SULLIVAN: They did not talk about the President of Iran. Iran came up -- there were two references to Iran, there was not a heavy discussion about Iran -- one, just as I mentioned, a little bit about Prime Minister Maliki and his intention to talk to the Iranians and to urge them to provide support for the government.

Secondly, there was a bit of a discussion where Iran was mentioned, but it was mostly about the Iraqi Shia, and President Talabani was talking about how the Iraqi Shia -- he was talking about the independence and talking about their history, and underscoring the Iraqi Shia are not beholden to Iran, that they're very different people and they have different traditions and histories.

Q Did the President of Iraq come up in any of the other discussions?

MR. JONES: For the transcript, that's a "no." (Laughter.)

Okay, thank you very much. Once again, the first speaker was Judy Ansley, who is the Senior Director at the National Security Council for European Affairs. Our second speaker was Mr. Mike Kozak, who is the Senior Director for Democracy, Human Rights, and International Organizations. And our last speaker was Meghan O'Sullivan, who is Deputy National Security Advisor for Iraq and Afghanistan.

Thank you.

END 6:13 P.M. EDT