|The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 20, 2006
Press Gaggle by Tony Snow
Aboard Air Force One
En route Andrews Air Force Base
12:17 P.M. EDT
MR. SNOW: All right, speed gaggle. Questions?
Q Did the President watch President Ahmadinejad's speech last night?
MR. SNOW: No.
Q He didn't. Has he been briefed on it? Does he have any reaction?
MR. SNOW: He's been briefed on it and his reaction was that we've been pretty clear on conditions for meeting with and talking with the Iranians -- which is to suspend the enrichment and reprocessing related activities and come to the table. There are a whole variety of benefits we want to make available to them, but we're not going to engage on specific points in his speech.
Q The President clearly yesterday was trying to speak over the heads of the regime to the people of Iran, and also more generally to the people of the Middle East. Is the White House doing anything else to try to get this message out?
MR. SNOW: Well, the President has spoken directly to the people of Iran on a number of occasions and will continue to do so. It's important to make a distinction between the government and the behavior of the government right now and the Iranian people, who are cosmopolitan, accomplished, have a long and proud historical and cultural tradition.
And we want to make it clear that in speaking to the government of Iran, saying you should not and must not be sponsors of global terror, that we are casting aspersions on the Iranian people. We, in fact, respect the vivacity of their culture and their desire for liberty that we hope that they are going to be able to achieve, as we hope all the people in the region will be able to achieve a democracy in which they're able to speak freely and pursue their destinies freely.
Q Does the White House or the President have any reaction to the assertions that Ahmadinejad made regarding the U.S. having too much power in the U.N.?
MR. SNOW: No.
Q Given that Iran is showing no sign of backing off from its position, how much longer is the U.S. willing to give them for diplomacy to work, before they move to sanctions?
MR. SNOW: Well, first, it's a little difficult to figure out whether there's progress or not on the Iranian front. You made a categorical statement about Iran's behavior, and there have been conflicting signals. But we've made it clear that they need to suspend, and the United States is going to proceed working with allies toward remedial measures if the Iranians do not suspend. We retain the hope that they'll suspend those activities, because, again, it's a great deal for the Iranian people -- not only will they get the nuclear energy they say they want, but in addition, they're going to get economic, cultural, and political benefits that aren't available to them.
So there's a real choice now to be made on behalf of the Iranian people: Do you suspend, and get everything you want, or do you continue along the road toward developing the capacity to do an enrichment that could be used for weapons purposes, and find yourself isolated in the community of nations?
Q There have been a number of deadlines already set in the past. Specifically, how much longer would the U.S. wait -- days, weeks, months?
MR. SNOW: We're working with our allies.
Q Given the President's heartfelt promotion of democracy yesterday in his speech, how come we haven't heard from him about the coup in Thailand? Does he have any reaction to the efforts by the military there?
MR. SNOW: Yesterday, while this was going on, we were still trying to gather facts on the ground. We're disappointed in the coup. We hope those who mounted it will make good, and make good swiftly, on their promises to restore democracy. And by restoring democracy not only means elected governments, but protected rights of citizens, including freedom of speech and assembly. And we also think it's important -- well, again, not only the restoration of democracy, but once that's -- once you have democracy restored, we'll also be in a position to move forward on a free trade agreement with them.
Q Did the U.S. government either officially, or unofficially, have any indications that this coup was coming? Did it catch you guys by complete surprise?
MR. SNOW: I don't -- the honest answer is, I don't know. I'll try to find out. Rather than saying something on the record, call me later and I'll get you a clear answer. I think I know the answer, but I don't want to say without being absolutely sure.
Q Did the President have any interaction with the Prime Minister, former Prime Minister of Thailand at the U.N., or any other Thai officials?
MR. SNOW: I don't believe so, no. I think -- in fact, I believe the Prime Minister was back in the air yesterday -- wasn't he in the air fairly early? I think he was heading back to London.
Q On Abbas, during that meeting, did the Prime Minister -- or the President, rather, of the Palestinian Authority, did he make any specific requests of the President in terms of economic aid? Did it get down to that kind of specifics?
MR. SNOW: No, but the two of them spent a lot of time talking about how to move forward toward a two-state solution. So they spent a lot of time really working -- I'll tell you what they decided -- President Bush said, let us know how we can help you move toward a two-state solution, so that you have two parties that can credibly negotiate to get this deal done. And that really was the key point of emphasis.
Q Did he give you any indication of how he was coming along with his efforts to form some kind of unity government with Hamas?
MR. SNOW: Yes, he did. I don't want to go into details about it, but he talked about building the kind of unity that will enable the Palestinians to speak with one voice and to negotiate toward a two-state solution.
Q Just to be clear, he didn't ask the President to resume aid?
MR. SNOW: There were no specific monetary requests, no. He did not come off with that kind of a list.
Q Did he ask the President to recognize the unity government, if one were formed, that would include Hamas?
MR. SNOW: No, he didn't. But again, you don't have a unity government yet -- you're still in the process of doing talks. What the President said is -- again, he reaffirmed his commitment to working with President Abbas toward a negotiated two-state solution. And they talked about the framework for getting that done.
Q Did the President express his opinion of the whole -- this proposed unity government plan, and whether Hamas was required to pay concessions?
MR. SNOW: He was not asked for any kind of approval of internal politics within the Palestinian Authority, nor would you expect that. If that falls into the root work of internal politics, then the Palestinians will have to do what they think best.
Q Tony, is it correct to say that the President supports Abbas's effort at forming the coalition government? Or just that he supports Abbas as a man of peace in his effort?
MR. SNOW: The President supports Abbas's desire to have a Palestinian government that can move forward constructively toward a two-state solution.
Q Are the reports true today that the White House has lost confidence in Mr. Maliki?
MR. SNOW: No, no, and no. And the President was -- I think that will show up also in the Wolf Blitzer interview later. But, no, that's absolutely false. You've had a Prime Minister who has been in office for barely 100 days, as a matter of fact, has been working with the generals on the ground. And what the President is doing -- you'll notice there was some fairly unclear citation of who was supposed to be a critic.
The people the President talks to, including Zal Khalilzad, our Ambassador, and General Casey, they've expressed confidence in Prime Minister Maliki's, not only desire, but his ongoing efforts to work toward, number one, suppressing terror, number two, creating national reconciliation in building the basis for a stronger democracy in Iraq. So, no, it is not true to say that there is a lack of confidence in the Prime Minister.
And it's also worth, again, reminding people who are trying to leap to conclusions, that the man has been in power for barely more than 100 days and, frankly, there has been significant progress and he continues to work with General Casey and with Ambassador Khalilzad so that we can reach that end state of a government that can sustain, govern, and defend itself.
END 12:26 P.M. EDT