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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 13, 2006
Press Briefing by Tony Snow
White House Conference Center Briefing Room
2:17 P.M. EDT
MR. SNOW: Afternoon. Questions. Terry.
Q Kofi Annan, back from two weeks in the Middle East, says that most of the leaders that he spoke to thought the invasion of Iraq had been a real disaster for them and believe it's destabilized the region. Do you agree with that?
MR. SNOW: No.
Q Do you think it -- why not? I mean, it certainly looks like there's unrest.
MR. SNOW: Well, I'll tell you why. If you take a look at what's gone on in the region, you have attempts to establish democracies in Lebanon, you have an attempt to establish a democracy in the Palestinian areas. You have democracies now up and gaining their footing in Afghanistan and Iraq. And those are developments that are positive. Now, I'm not going to engage in a further disputation with the Secretary General of the United Nations, but I disagree with the characterization.
Q You said earlier on one of the television networks that the U.S. goal in Iraq is not to subdue every bad guy in Iraq. What does that mean exactly?
MR. SNOW: What it means is that it has always been the strategy of this administration to work with the Iraqis so that their military and police forces are able to provide safety and security within Iraq's borders. It is not America's job to settle every dispute or to fight every insurgent. Indeed, what we want to have happen is the United States supporting the Iraqis in such a way -- you know the formulations, Steve -- stand up, stand down. And that hasn't changed.
Q Is the U.S. goal also to defeat the insurgency?
MR. SNOW: The U.S. goal is to have the insurgency defeated. Let me repeat what I said before. If the United States says it is our sole responsibility to defeat each and every insurgent, then we will not have done what we set out to do, which is to create a nation that's able to sustain, govern, and defend itself. So I repeat, that's merely a statement of administration policy and it really goes back to the beginning.
Q Can you give me the administration's reason why 72 hours and 60 days isn't enough, and you don't want to get a warrant to wiretap?
MR. SNOW: I'm not sure if I understand exactly --
Q You oppose getting any warrant for a wiretap.
MR. SNOW: No, we've been working -- what we're trying to do is we are working with Congress to find ways to reform FISA so that you're able not only to have a court proceeding that allows you to gain court warrants when necessary, to do so in a quick and timely basis.
Q But why -- you think a warrant is not necessary?
MR. SNOW: No, I'm just -- look, call me later. I'll talk to the lawyers, I'm getting over my head.
Q One on Iraq, one on the debate over detainees and interrogation methods over torture. First, about Iraq. Can you say specifically what, if anything, Nouri al-Maliki has done in, say, the past two weeks to confront the death squads that are aligned with his political party, that are responsible for a lot of the sectarian violence?
MR. SNOW: Let me put it this way: Prime Minister Maliki has been working with the United States and with the American authorities in Baghdad and elsewhere, and he has made it clear from the very beginning, including meeting with the President in Baghdad, you go after militias, you pursue reconciliation. Do I know strategically from a block-to-block basis precisely what they've done? No.
Q But isn't that a problem, given that the President said as recently as one of the first speeches that addressed Iraq, that it's incumbent upon the Maliki government to take on -- to make hard political judgments and to confront these death squads and these militias? And, yet, nothing tangible?
MR. SNOW: No, I didn't say that. What I'm saying is Nouri al-Maliki is not submitting progress reports to me. But he's working with General Casey. What we have seen -- take a look at the metrics that are available to us, and we have seen a decrease in violence, especially in the neighborhoods in Baghdad, where they've been going in and directly targeting those. And that continues to be a commitment.
It's absolutely -- you're absolutely right, you've got to go after militias. They cannot operate independently in Iraq in the long run. You've got to go after them. You have to go after death squads. You have to make sure that the police are there to protect the citizens. And those have been concerns from the very beginning. So I can tell you that our combatant commanders on the ground, including General Casey, have regular -- and Zal Khalilzad, our Ambassador have regular and honest conversations with the Prime Minister and others, including the Minister of Interior, about how best to pursue these aims.
So I don't know if there is something, David, that prompts the two-week time line or whatever, but I can tell you it's a continued point of emphasis. And it takes place not only at the level of trying to do the combination of peacekeeping and law enforcement, but also reconciliation. Note, for instance, that yesterday the speaker of the parliament said that attempts to try to partition the country were legislatively -- they weren't going to go anywhere. That's a positive development. What it does mean is that there are a number of people of goodwill -- Shia, Sunni, Kurd, and others -- within Iraq who are devoted to having a unified Iraq. That's what voters chose, 12 million voters. And so we certainly don't want to ignore the fact that you do have sectarian difficulties. Got to keep pursuing them.
Q Let me ask you about this debate the President said is so important with regard to interrogation techniques, because he wants now for Congress to clarify what's permissible. The President said he did not authorize torture.
MR. SNOW: That is correct.
Q What did he authorize?
MR. SNOW: Can't tell you.
Q Why can't you say that, given that the President wants a national debate about what's permissible?
MR. SNOW: Because there are also classifications. I think if you listen to what the President said last week, you have a conversation that's permissible -- you have a conversation about what's permissible and a lot of that is classified, and for a very good reason. You do not want to tell the enemy what you do in terms of interrogation because they will adjust and you won't get information. Indeed, some of the al Qaeda training manuals went in great detail about ways to resist known interrogation methods that have been used in the past. So, yes, it's important to consult with Congress; no, it's not advisable to advertise it to the entire world.
Q One technique that's been widely reported on and widely debated is water-boarding. Does the President consider water-boarding to be torture?
MR. SNOW: Again, I'm not going to go beyond what the President has said, which is that we do not have torture, there have been orders not to torture, and that everything that has been done -- and I'm not going to say yes or no to water-boarding -- everything that has been done has been deemed by the Department of Justice, which has been the arbiter of such things, as consistent with U.S. law, international law, and our treaty obligations. In the wake of the Hamdan decision, we're going to make sure that that continues to be the case with each and every method used.
Q Does the President -- do others in the White House feel vindicated now that Richard Armitage and Bob Novak have explained the circumstances surrounding the outing of Valerie Plame?
MR. SNOW: That is always a tempting question to get involved in, but we still have a Scooter Libby case ongoing and we simply can't comment on it in any way, shape or form -- including the now public differences between Bob Novak and Richard Armitage.
Q -- I'm asking about your actions there.
MR. SNOW: I understand that, but to talk about -- you also understand that any number of people, including Richard Armitage, could be called to testify in the case. And the best policy, keep my yap shut so that it doesn't get involved in the legal proceedings.
Q Can I ask you about the term, Islamo-fascism, that the President has used quite often in explaining the nature of the threats that we confront --
MR. SNOW: Right.
Q A little slow day, I was reading a dictionary -- (laughter) -- and I'm looking at the term --
MR. SNOW: Big print, little print? (Laughter.)
Q Small words. The definition of fascism: "A philosophy or system of government that's marked by stringent social and economic control; a strong centralized government, usually headed by a dictator; and often a policy of belligerent nationalism." It doesn't quite seem to fit what we're talking about -- something that exalts the nation above the individual and centralized government? How does that fit?
MR. SNOW: Well, it actually does fit. But let's draw some distinctions here, too, because I want to be clear that the President is not taking broad swipes at Islam. And I know there are sensitivities in the Muslim community. The President quite often has taken pains to say Islam is a religion of peace -- and we're not talking about Islam here. What we're talking about is people who are trying to use the Koran as cover for engaging in this.
Now, listen to what Osama bin Laden has said. He has said that his envisions an "Islamic nation," to reestablish the caliphate -- I don't know if it would still be headquartered in Baghdad, but if you want your pristine historic analogy, that's where it would be, and it would extend from Asia all the way back to Spain, because memories are still raw about 1492 when the Moors were expelled from Andalusia. That's what he's talking about. So in that sense, what you end up having is strict centralized government under repressive conditions, the likes of which we saw with the Taliban. If you look at the interpretation of sharia law that has been championed by bin Laden and others, it fits all of the descriptions you've had. And if you talk about an unbroken government using those kinds of regulations over an extended landmass, which is what he's talking about, that it does fit the description.
Q Just so we understand this, when the President talks about Islamo-fascism and confronting that, he's talking about stopping a movement before it builds an entire nation, a terrorist nation?
MR. SNOW: There are a couple of things. Perhaps -- I don't know if you've heard the references; they've been repeated. He's taking -- what he's doing is saying, yes, you want to fight the efforts of bin Laden and others to establish a caliphate. The history of the caliphate was that you had centralized leadership at that time. It had control over the impressive landmass that was controlled by Muslims during that period. And they want to establish that sort of thing. So the President's notion is absolutely right, you want to preempt that.
Speaking of Iraq, he has said that part of the strategy is to create failed states so that you can go in, you can use their land for training, but also you can make use of their resources. He's spoken a couple of times recently, for instance, of the dangers of such a state that would have access to oil and the ability to bring Western and industrialized nations economically to their knees.
Q I want to go back to interrogations for a moment. There was a story in The New York Times this weekend that there was some debate about which method of interrogation worked. Law enforcement interrogators were quoted saying that their methods were working, and when the CIA interrogators came in, that's when the interrogations started to fail and that the detainees stopped talking. The President in his speech said that it was the CIA interrogators who got the information. Is he absolutely certain that the information that was important came from the CIA interrogators? Is there no doubt in his mind?
MR. SNOW: The President -- look, what you're trying to do is to draw me into a process dispute about who got when. The President said that the CIA interrogation program yielded information that you would not have received elsewhere and was absolutely vital in establishing some of these links. So, read the text; he stands by his words.
Q So it was the CIA interrogators, not the law enforcement before that who didn't use the alternative methods?
MR. SNOW: Under this program -- this was not something where there was sort of a jousting. These people were under the jurisdiction of the CIA from the beginning -- my understanding. We can go back and look at it, but it was my understanding that they were immediately in the jurisdiction of the CIA, and not within intermediate questioners. There may have been some other instances; I just don't know.
Q Can we also go to Baghdad? You say there's a decrease in violence in Baghdad --
MR. SNOW: I said in some sectors, yes.
Q And those sectors are where American troops have moved in, in great numbers and effectively cordoned off an area. What does that say about the effectiveness of the Iraqi troops, if the American troops had to come in there? And what does that say about the potential for --
MR. SNOW: Well, as you know, the vast majority of troops still operating within Baghdad are Iraqi troops. And they are operating in conjunction with U.S. troops. And we've said -- look, Martha, as you know, part of the business is training up, helping work up and professionalize a military force so it's able to conduct those sorts of activities. I don't think you want to suggest that there's been no success on the part of the Iraqis. These have been joint operations. We're happy that they've succeeded. We understand that Americans working in support is something that has been necessary at this time, and we still look forward to the time where the American troops have their jobs done and they can come home.
Q But, Tony, you say all the time, "stand up; stand down." There are now 270,000 Iraqi troops, and there's been no draw-down. There are 147,000 American troops over there now.
MR. SNOW: That's right.
Q Which is equal to how many there were a year ago when you sent them up for elections. What does that say about the ability for the American troops to stand down when the Iraqi troops are now numbering 270,000 --
MR. SNOW: Well, what it says is, you continue -- a couple of things have happened, which is, especially in a lot of key areas, you have seen Iraqi forces moving into the fore, where American forces have been before; American troops being moved into support missions. A lot of times, the numbers can be deceptive. You also have to look at the mix of forces, whether you've got people doing combat or support roles or logistics or whatever. Ultimately, again, all I can do is repeat -- what it says is, you still have people who are determined to have this Iraqi government fail, and we're not going to let it.
Q Just one more. Back to something from yesterday, you said that the President never said there was an operational relationship between Saddam Hussein and Zarqawi. Are you saying he didn't suggest there was a relationship --
MR. SNOW: He said there was a relationship --
Q What does that mean?
MR. SNOW: What it means is -- again, had you been in Iraq before the war? You may have. And I had, too. And you understand --
Q Before the war? No, no --
MR. SNOW: Okay, well, let me tell you about the old days, when you went in before the war, strangers didn't just sort of wander into Baghdad when Saddam was there. They knew who was there. And Zarqawi was in Baghdad. And he, in fact -- as we've said, they organized the murder of a U.S. diplomat in Amman, Jordan. We also know that there were other members of al Qaeda operating within Iraq. But what we've taken pains to say is -- being a little colloquial about it -- but they didn't have a corner office, the Mukhabarat. They were not line-items in the Iraqi budget. They were people who were there, but they were also not officially part of the Iraqi government and there was no official or functional coordination, at least as far as we can tell. And this was what the CIA has told us, that there was no operational relationship -- no direct, demonstrable operational tie between the two --
Q They said there was no relationship.
MR. SNOW: They weren't -- a relationship means that they were there. We knew they were there.
Q So all of your comments about the relationship between Saddam Hussein and Zarqawi -- we just knew they were there. Did we know what they were up to? I mean, how far does that go?
MR. SNOW: I don't know. We'll have to look at the documents --
Q No, but that's important, Tony.
MR. SNOW: How so?
Q You don't know -- I mean, there was a lot of rhetoric coming out of the White House in the build-up to the war, and since, that there was this relationship between Saddam Hussein and Zarqawi, and thus linking them to al Qaeda.
MR. SNOW: No, the argument has been that Saddam Hussein was a supporter and sponsor of terror. And we talked more often about, for instance, the fact that people who went in and committed suicide bombings against Israelis were getting paid bounties, and that Saddam was working as best he could to try to support and foment terror.
Q -- no relationship with al Qaeda, no relationship with Zarqawi.
MR. SNOW: That's right, no operational relationship, as far as we can tell. But they were there. And Zarqawi was committing acts of terror while he was in Baghdad, but we don't -- look, if we had the goods, we'd share them, but we don't have the goods to demonstrate --
Q But Saddam Hussein didn't know about that?
MR. SNOW: I don't know. I don't know if he knew about it. What we have been unable to demonstrate or discover is whether they're sitting around in the map room, spreading out the map, saying, okay, you bomb there. We just don't have that kind of granularity in terms of the relationship, and therefore, we're not going to go -- we're going to -- not going to out-run the facts.
Q Tony, in Afghanistan, there's been a spike in Taliban activity recently, some 2,000 people killed this year, increasing efforts to destabilize the democratic government. Is the White House, then, concerned about the fact that recently, when a significant number of Taliban leaders were attending a funeral and they were in the sights of a U.S. drone, that our rules of engagement there prohibiting attacking anyone in a cemetery came into play and they were allowed to walk free?
MR. SNOW: Well, I'm aware of the story. I don't have -- I have not received any guidance on it, but I think it's safe to say, on matters like rules of engagement, it's best to kick that over to the Pentagon. If you need help, Martha can get you in touch with the right people. (Laughter.)
Q I know who to get in touch with over there.
Q Maybe not the right -- (laughter.)
Q Seriously, though, I mean, if Osama bin Laden is still believed to be hiding somewhere in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, wouldn't the White House -- if this, indeed, is -- if these are our rules of engagement, would it not be a prudent time to reexamine them, considering that they would, I assume, apply to him, as well, if he were in a cemetery, that he could not be attacked?
MR. SNOW: I'll repeat what I said: Ask the Pentagon about this one.
Q No concern, whatsoever, then?
MR. SNOW: I'm not saying that. I'm saying I have not -- it's been a very busy day, it continues to be a busy day, and I'm not sure anybody has had an opportunity to study fully the report and, therefore, to provide the proper emotional or factual response.
Q How about an emotional or factual response to the Rhode Island primary yesterday?
MR. SNOW: The Republican incumbent won. Woo-hoo. (Laughter.)
Q Is there any irony in the fact that the administration campaigned hard for someone who opposed the President on Iraq, on the environment, on abortion and a bunch of other things?
MR. SNOW: No. It means, unlike in Connecticut, we support our incumbents.
Q Tony, in the Senate today, the Judiciary Committee seemed a little schizophrenic on the NSA legislation. They passed the bill that the White House backed, but they also passed a bill that Democrats backed that would effectively make the NSA wiretapping program illegal.
MR. SNOW: I don't think that's quite what happened. What you had was you had Senator Specter's bill and you had another bill and people are going to get to vote.
Q But my question to you is, you have talked about making progress and feeling confident that you could get legislation through on both this matter and the detainee. Given this vote, and given the push-back from Republicans on the detainee bill, what accounts for that confidence?
MR. SNOW: You call it push-back, we call it consultation. We're still working. Look, the view of the President has never changed. When he gave the speech last Wednesday, he talked about the fact that we had a detainee policy and a questioning policy that had achieved results and saved lives. Also we know that the American people want, and the President wants, the ability to listen in on terrorists who want to kill Americans. We think that's information we ought to have.
And, therefore, it is now up to members of Congress to go ahead and work through the issue. That's what they're doing. We don't expect measures to go through, undebated, or given scant consideration. These are very important, momentous issues, and the fact that you're getting multiple bills reported on, people are going to be able to choose is a good thing. But we remain confident that people of goodwill are going to work together so that we get these things right.
Q As a follow-up, the President will be speaking to House Republicans tomorrow --
MR. SNOW: That's right.
Q -- what is his message to them on this particular issue?
MR. SNOW: Actually, it's interesting -- House Republicans have already passed out a bill, and at this particular point -- I guess it's made its way out of committee, as well. We want to make sure that the House and Senate ultimately work together to give the President the legislation that is going to make it possible for the CIA to continue its program and to enable those who are operating detention facilities to detain properly those who have been collected off of battlefields, and also to make sure that we're able to listen in on the bad guys. I mean, those are sort of the basics.
The President has made an offer some time ago to Republicans, when you want me down on the Hill, let me know. They said, come down. And I'm not sure that there's an agenda. Typically what happens is, he may talk for a couple of minutes, but there's a lot of back-and-forth. And my guess is this is a chance for members to express their -- ask their questions and express their concerns.
Q Will the President or any of his surrogates campaign for Randy Graf in Arizona?
MR. SNOW: A little too early to tell. We don't really have, at this point --
Q -- Republican candidate for Congress?
MR. SNOW: No, and we hope he wins. But on the other hand, we'll get back to you on the schedule. It's going to be a very busy schedule, and a lot of surrogates out going to a lot of different places. You've got somebody who won yesterday, you've got a number of primaries. And at this point, I don't think there are plans afoot in a number of cases to figure out who you're going to support and when.
Q How does the President feel, though, about his views on immigration? I mean, he was an architect of proposition 200 in Arizona --
MR. SNOW: The President's position on immigration is real clear. And again, this is an issue on which there's some disagreement within Republican ranks, which is he wants a comprehensive immigration reform bill that not only addresses border security, but also interior enforcement, temporary worker program, path to citizenship. You've got to put all the pieces together. Otherwise, you're not going to have the full ability to control your borders, relieve pressure on the borders, and also deal with 11 million people who arrived here illegally, and come up with a sensible way to have disposition of their cases.
That's the President's position, remains his position. But it's also the President's position that he's better off with a Republican Congress than the alternative. And there are going to be times when the President disagrees with members on a particular issue. But, generally, you look for broad support from the party, and he's the party leader.
Q Even though that makes it more unlikely that an immigration bill the President likes would actually ever have a chance of winning?
MR. SNOW: I'm not sure that's the case. Got 435 members in the House.
Q On the meeting with President Roh tomorrow, does the President --
MR. SNOW: You mean Roh.
Q -- has the President got any new ideas for jump-starting the talks with North Korea?
MR. SNOW: Well the administration position has always been pretty consistent, which is that the North Koreans need to come back to the table. Really, the impetus is on the North Koreans. But at this point, let me not prejudge or get too far ahead of the meetings. We'll give you a readout when they're done.
Q Can I follow up on Martha's question? She mentioned that 270,000 troops are said by the Pentagon to be trained in Iraq. They say that they're on track to make their goal of, I think, 320,000 by the end of the year. If they do that, does that mean, then, the Iraqis are "stood up"? And if not, what is the definition of "stand up" at that point?
MR. SNOW: The definition of "stand up" is when the Iraqis have the independent capability of providing security throughout the country. And it's going to take time.
Q What would -- how would we define that --
MR. SNOW: Well, we've already started to see it. We've had one province transferred directly into full control of the Iraqis. I suspect there are going to be some others sooner rather than later, that are going to be handed over to full Iraqi control. And what you're going to see is the transition of the controlling military authority in various sectors going from coalition forces, U.S. forces, British forces, whatever, to Iraqi forces. You do allow time for the training to conclude and the transitions to occur.
Q Tomorrow, the House is going to vote on a stand-alone border security or border defense bill, 700 miles. Does the administration want to see that bill pass?
MR. SNOW: What the administration wants is comprehensive reform. The President has talked a lot of times about trying to make sure we secure our borders, and we continue to do so, looking for the most appropriate way to provide security along the borders. But his position remains unchanged, which is you need comprehensive reform.
Q You're not going to work to help that pass, then?
MR. SNOW: Again, we are urging the House of Representatives and the United States Senate to work together to come up with comprehensive reform.
Q Thank you, Tony. A follow-up question on Mark's question. In that race in Rhode Island, the National Republican Senatorial Committee spent, by its own statements, $1 million in attack media on Mayor Laffey, questioning his record as mayor and in private business. And he, himself, described the ads as despicable, although he did endorse Senator Chafee in the end. Is this the kind of campaign that the President would countenance or support against people who back him on most issues?
MR. SNOW: The President understands that there is zesty ads in any political campaign. He's been the object of --
Q Of what?
MR. SNOW: Zesty. He's been the object of a fair amount in his past.
MR. SNOW: Zesty, z-e-s-t-y. Axelrod has a dictionary. (Laughter.)
Q Was he aware of the commercials?
MR. SNOW: I don't know. I honestly don't know if he was aware. This was something that was not operated out of the White House, as you know, and the President is not -- the President, again, has been devoting himself to large matters. I sincerely doubt, but I will find out for you whether he was passing judgment on ads being used in particular campaigns.
Q Would you also kindly find out if he was aware of what many say was an egregious stand by the Senatorial Committee -- that's spelled e-g-re-g-i-o-u-s -- that if Mr. Laffey was the nominee, they wouldn't support him?
MR. SNOW: Egregious, though, often -- does not often modify an inanimate object like a stand, but I get your drift here. In other words, what you want to say is, is the President really unhappy that Linc Chafee won -- is that the question?
Q No. My question is, was he aware the Senatorial Committee said they wouldn't give any money if Mayor Laffey defeated Senator Chafee?
MR. SNOW: Okay. I will -- we'll get to it.
Q Is Jim Baker currently serving as a key advisor to the White House on Iraq, including making a trip to Baghdad?
MR. SNOW: I don't know. I mean, as you know, he's been part of the commission that's been taking a look at these things. I don't know how you would -- are you asking, has he been doing some surrogate work for us in Baghdad?
MR. SNOW: I don't know. I'll find out. If you can give me a more precise question, that would give me something to go on.
Q Has he been advising the President on how to proceed in Iraq?
MR. SNOW: Well, what you've had are discussions that have been co-chaired by Jim Baker and Lee Hamilton, a bipartisan group that's been in a number of times to talk with the President about developments in Iraq. In that sense, yes, he has been providing some advice. But whether there is some sort of official -- some unofficial cover where he's passing -- I don't know. I'm not aware of any.
Q But that's all in the context of the Iraq Study Group, what you're talking about?
MR. SNOW: Yes. Yes.
Q Nothing beyond that, as far as you know?
MR. SNOW: I'm not aware of any. But if you've got something specific you want to toss at me, I'll ask a direct question. I just don't know.
Q Has Baker traveled to Iraq?
MR. SNOW: I think he has. I think --
MR. SNOW: I think members of the Iraq Study Group have been over. I don't know -- I honestly don't know, Bill, what the itinerary is. Why don't you guys -- obviously, you're hearing something. If you can collect some stuff that you want me to take a look at and try to confirm or deny, I'd be happy to do it.
Q Tony, any response to John Murtha today not only calling for Rumsfeld to step down again, but saying that the military has been stretched so thin it has put the nation dangerously at risk?
MR. SNOW: We've heard it before. We disagree.
Q Tony, may I follow, on immigration --
MR. SNOW: Goyal, go ahead, yes.
Q Thank you. One on immigration going back. Are you saying that immigration issue is not yet dead as far as before the election --
MR. SNOW: I'm saying the President is maintaining a consistent position on it. You're going to have to ask the judgment of where -- the disposition of immigration, especially
comprehensive reform. That's really for members of the House and Senate. You know, we've got a very limited amount of time. You draw your own conclusions.
Q Second question: So much has been written on or about Osama bin Laden. This past week -- 9/11 five years ago and now, very little. Why so much focus on Osama now in the last one week or 10 days? And second, there was some demonstrations at the Capitol by -- and what they are saying is really a message for the President that President is supporting the wrong man who is misleading the U.S. in the name of Osama bin Laden and --
MR. SNOW: Who are you talking about? Which person are you talking about? Who is doing the misleading?
Q General Musharraf.
MR. SNOW: Oh, General Musharraf.
Q Right, in the name of -- and bin Laden. What they are saying is really to get the highest level of al Qaeda have been arrested by him. And what my question is, for the money we have spent, so much money in the name of al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, are we getting, or U.S. is getting help as far as hunting for Osama bin Laden is concerned?
MR. SNOW: Yes. Now that I've given you the one-word answer, let me give you a wordier answer. We understand that the hunt for -- Osama bin Laden and others, as you know, Goyal, have been filtering across borders. And we understand the obligations of sovereign governments, and we're working with General Musharraf -- President Musharraf -- to do what he can. He's been very helpful in the war on terror, and he's taking considerable political risks to do so. We appreciate that. He is an extremely valuable ally in the war on terror, and we consider him such.
As far as mentions of bin Laden, we've been mentioning the guy -- it's interesting, you mention him a couple of times, you mention it too much. If you don't mention him often enough, people say, why don't you talk about him? The fact is, there are a lot of players in the war on terror. Osama bin Laden, for many, has been kind of the titular head by virtue of what he now freely admits, which is that he helped organize and arrange and serve as the organizing mode of force behind the September 11th attacks. So it's important to remember not only that he did that, but what he and his colleagues now intend for the United States of America, which is harm and bloodshed. And it's why we've got to take it seriously. When we didn't take it seriously before, people died. We need to make sure we don't repeat the mistake.
Q So we will get him during this presidency?
MR. SNOW: I don't know. I mean, that's kind of crystal-ball gazing. In a time of war, you can never make facile predictions about who you're going to get or when.
Q Thank you. Does the President have any comment on the non-aligned conference going on Havana, a conference blaming the United States and Israel for international terrorism?
MR. SNOW: No.
Q Yes, Tony, two questions. WorldNet Daily notes that the official --
MR. SNOW: What notes?
Q WorldNet Daily -- eight million --
MR. SNOW: What's that?
Q Eight million viewers. The official transcript, they note that the official transcript of the March 13, 2002, presidential press conference has the President responding, "I truly am not concerned about him," when he was asked about Osama bin Laden. Is it possible the President is still not so concerned about bin Laden?
MR. SNOW: I think -- you know what, here's the deal. What you're seeing is that the operational capabilities of al Qaeda have been significantly degraded. But bin Laden still remains somebody who, from time to time, can smuggle out an audiotape, and Ayman al Zawahiri continues to do the video tapes, and therefore, they remain targets of interest. But there are also many other players in the war on terror, and the idea that you focus solely on him would be a mistake, which is why what you do is that you target the broader terror network through all the means we laid out last week in the strategy paper.
Q The Washington Times on page one reported that the Congressional Black Caucus will remain exclusively black. Does the President support or oppose this racial segregation, which excluded California Congressman Pete Stark, who risked his life for civil rights in Mississippi, because Stark was born white? Now, wait a minute, are you going to just evade that question?
MR. SNOW: No, I'm going to laugh at it. (Laughter.)
Q You're going to laugh at it?
MR. SNOW: Olivier.
Q All right, okay, you think it's funny?
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q I couldn't hear Roger's question very well about the Korean meeting tomorrow. What do you hope to get out of it? Is it time to consider alternative diplomatic arrangements for engaging the North Koreans in denuclearizing the peninsula?
MR. SNOW: At this point, look, the United States has worked with its allies and made it clear to the North Koreans that they have obligations. We have said, you need to get back to the table. There are incentives awaiting the government if it behaves well. That remains the proper approach. And it also remains the proper approach to say to those in the neighborhood, you're closest, you have the most influence, you need to step up, as well. And so those continue to be parts of a cooperative arrangement. But nobody wants a nuclearized peninsula. That's well recognized. And people are still trying to figure out the proper way to proceed on it.
Q Thank you, Tony. The other day, Defense Secretary of Rumsfeld had officially notified South Korea on their transfer of -- (inaudible) -- he mentioned in 2009. At the summit meeting between President Bush and President Roh of South Korea tomorrow, can some kind of final agreement be reached?
MR. SNOW: Well, we'll have to find out. We'll find out tomorrow.
Q A clarification, Tony, back on the Murtha question --you were asked about Don Rumsfeld and whether the military was stretched thin -- you said, we've heard it before, we disagree. You don't believe the military is stretched thin?
MR. SNOW: Look, the commanders have asked us for what they believe they need. I'll let people debate on the meaning of "stretched too thin." We know that the forces we have deployed in the field are capable of the missions they've been assigned. And if that means -- so I'll stick with my answer, without getting further in the murk.
Q Thank you. Two questions, one on Gulf War Syndrome, one on Syria. First of all, anything new on the Syrian situation, any contact from the Syrian government?
MR. SNOW: I believe it was Iman Mustafa, the Ambassador, had a few things to say yesterday. But our position is that the law enforcement officials who helped interrupt an attempted terrorist attack did their job professionally. And now we look forward and we urge the Syrian government to step up and start fighting the war on terror in a more significant way, by shuttering the offices of terrorist organizations who are headquartered or who have facilities in Damascus, and stop being a part in the war on terror and instead be an ally in fighting terror.
Q Yesterday there was a report on Gulf War Syndrome, and they found that it didn't really exist -- it's not just one syndrome. A lot of the veterans are very upset. They say this is another stalling tactic. Can the administration give any more disability aid to those suffering?
MR. SNOW: I have no idea. It's a good question. If we can compile a bit of a bupkis list, because I know we've got a number of questions here that I don't have answers for and I want to try to get to them.
Q Tony, quickly, how concerned is the White House, though, about the re-emergence of the Taliban in Afghanistan, about the spike in activity, about the threat it poses to the democratically elected government there?
MR. SNOW: Well, what's happened is there has also been a spike in dead members of the Taliban. The Taliban has been suffering a series of significant battlefield defeats. They have been trying to stand up and they've been losing. As I've said before, it's understandable that at a time when the Afghanistan government is trying to extend its sphere of authority, that the Taliban is going to test it, and it's going to test forces also as you make a transition from U.S. to NATO. But so far, each time they've been doing the testing, they've also been doing the losing.
Q Are there any methods justified to take them out, considering the danger they pose?
MR. SNOW: I'm sorry, what?
Q I said do you believe that any methods are justified in taking them out?
MR. SNOW: In any time of war you have rules of engagement, and our troops are instructed to follow them. And that remains the same whether you're fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan -- and you must keep in mind, most of the engagements we're talking about here do not involve U.S. troops, but, in fact, NATO troops that have been deployed as U.S. troops have moved elsewhere.
Q Thank you, Tony.
MR. SNOW: Thank you.
END 2:55 P.M. EDT
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