|The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 10, 2006
Press Briefing by Tony Snow
White House Conference Center Briefing Room
11:50 A.M. EDT
MR. SNOW: Good afternoon. Let's go straight -- I guess it's still morning. Let's go straight to questions.
Q Where are you in the state of determining whether or not North Korea tested a nuclear device?
MR. SNOW: That's really up to the scientists. They're really trying to take a look, Terry, at all the seismic and other evidence to figure out whether it was a nuclear device. They do know that there was a seismic event, presumably an explosion. But at this point, the analysts are being extremely careful. They want to make sure they don't outrun the facts, and they continue to assess it.
I wish I could tell you, because, like you, I'm curious to find out what rendering they have. And there's a possibility that they will never be able to say to a complete certainly exactly what did occur. Nevertheless, as they continue to study it and as they feel comfortable in making statements, we'll pass them on. I don't know whether DNI's office is going to be the proper venue, or we will, but in any event, I'll make sure that the Press Office gets out to anybody any statements that are made to try to assess precisely what happened.
Q Tony, does the administration believe that North Korea has the capability to put a nuclear weapon on a ballistic missile?
MR. SNOW: Don't know.
Q Can you address this threat from North Korea today that they would fire one at the U.S.?
MR. SNOW: Again, that is not unusual and not new for the North Koreans to be provocative. That's what the real take-away has been from the last few days. And furthermore, they've been provocative in the face of direct attempts to influence their behavior on the part of the Chinese and the South Koreans and others, so this does fit a pattern. And we have seen the pattern of making statements that are designed to be provocative, presumably in order to get concessions. And in the past, that sort of behavior has worked. But it appears now that the parties in the six-party talks other than North Korea are unwilling to go that way.
The Chinese today have called for taking actions against the North Koreans. You have had the South Koreans out with a tough statement, the Japanese out with a tough statement. The point is that this is a pattern of behavior that has worked in the past for the North Koreans, but it appears that it may work no more.
Q Tony, in 2003, the President said very clearly that we will not tolerate North Korea with nuclear weapons.
MR. SNOW: Right.
Q And here we are in 2006 operating on the assumption, as the government is, that, in fact, they tested a nuclear devise. So what went wrong?
MR. SNOW: I'm not sure anything went wrong. The failed diplomacy is on the part of the North Koreans because what they have done so far is turn down a series of diplomatic initiatives that would have given them everything they have said they wanted, which was the ability to have adequate power for their country, to have economic growth, to have diplomatic ties with other countries, and to have security guarantees. All of that was included in the September 19th agreement of last year. And yet they've walked away from all of it. So if there's a failure in diplomacy, it's on their part.
But what also has happened, David, is that over that period of time you have seen the six-party talks continue to evolve, and the United States and the allies working together, trying to figure out what is the proper way and the effective way, diplomatically, to put leverage on the government of North Korea that in the past has been able -- as I was just saying to Brett -- has been able to use bluff and bravado as a way of exacting concessions. And that appears to be something of declining utility at this point.
So rather than having something going wrong, what you really have is the emergence of a process now in which the people who have the most leverage over the North Koreans -- and let's face it, the Chinese, the South Koreans, the Japanese, they all have more direct leverage over the North Koreans than we do -- the people who have the greatest ability to influence behavior are now fully invested as equal partners in a process to deal with the government of North Korea. So what really has changed now is not only the method by which you approach it, which is now a multilateral method, but also, I think, the determination and the unity of the parties that are involved.
Q In 2002, though, and since then, this President likes to focus on results. So here's the result: In 2002, the President said that he didn't want the so-called "axis of evil", the worst regimes in the world, to get the most dangerous weapons, WMDs. And here we are in 2006; this President has invaded a country that had no nuclear weapons, and there is a country that in that process has been able to acquire more nuclear weapons.
MR. SNOW: Well, it's an open question about what the status -- as you know, there was speculation even back in the Clinton years, did they have six, did they have eight nukes, and the intelligence on that, I think, has always been a little varied. The fact is that the North Koreans --
Q You dispute the idea that they have more today than they had when you came into office?
MR. SNOW: I don't know, I honestly don't know. And I think intelligence analysts will tell you that they're teasing through the question, as well. You'll have to ask a technical question of whether they've had the capability to build additional weapons since they unlocked Yongbyon a couple years ago. Don't know. But I think the most significant -- so let's set a couple of benchmarks. Number one, going back to the 1990s, it was clear that the North Koreans were attempting to try to put together a nuclear program. That was why you had the agreed framework back in 1994 under the Clinton administration. The idea was, you provide the carrots, maybe they'll back off. It was -- it made a lot of sense, but it didn't work because the North Koreans cheated on it and were trying on the sly to enrich uranium.
So it is not -- so what has happened in recent days, at least in terms of an announced or desire by the North Koreans to develop a nuclear weapon, that's not new. They've been trying to do this for years. What is new is that you do have, I think, a much more effective mechanism, or at least a more promising mechanism for dealing with them, because the people who have direct leverage, the people who can turn the spigots economically and politically, are now fully engaged and invested in this. That was not the case in the 1990s; it was not the case earlier in this decade; it is the case now.
Q But, Tony, results -- I'm trying to get you to focus on results. You invaded a country that had no nuclear weapons and all the while a country further developed their nuclear capacity.
MR. SNOW: You may have better intelligence than I do. You're --
Q It's not a question of me. I think the intelligence is not as unclear as you're projecting it as.
MR. SNOW: No, I think it is. People have been trying to assess. But you know what, I'll take the worst case scenario as you've placed it, okay? Number one, we invaded a country that was directly involved in a war on terror, that was paying off terrorists, that was making direct threats. That was one thing. And we went ahead and we dealt with a terrorist threat, and, frankly, the world is safer off without Saddam Hussein.
At the same time that all this was going on, the United States was also working on the Korea problem. Having learned from the mistakes, or having learned from the inability of prior administration efforts to try to deal with the North Koreans, we thought, you know what, if we go it alone, we don't have the leverage. We need to come up with a much more practical way of trying to deal with a regime that sometimes does not seem to respond to rational incentives. And we have to find a way from every possible angle to look for a diplomatic solution to this problem.
The North Koreans have made it clear for a very long time -- you can go back and look at what members of the Clinton administration said, or what we have said -- they've made no bones about it. So you look for the most effective diplomatic method of doing this. The North Koreans have proceeded. Absolutely right; given. But now what has happened is that the people, again, who are most directly capable of influencing their decisions have stepped up and said, you know what, the old policy of appeasing these guys apparently isn't going to work anymore. So you have to look prospectively now, and say, okay, what is going to be happening in the future that we think is going to enable us to modify the behavior of the North Koreans?
Q Just one more, I just want to be clear. You're suggesting the Clinton approach was appeasement?
MR. SNOW: No, what I'm saying is that in the past what has happened is the attempt to say to the North Koreans -- because I think the Clinton administration, again, tried something and it was worth trying, which is to say, okay, we're going to give you a bunch of carrots: You guys renounce; we're going to try to give you a light-water breeder reactor, we'll give you incentives. And the North Koreans took it and ran away with it. What has also happened is that in response to bad behavior in the past, people have said, you know, what we'll do is we'll increase aid, we'll increase trade.
So rather than using the term "appeasement," what I will say is that you had primarily a carrots-oriented approach. Now you've got carrots and sticks. The sticks would be economic pressure on the government of North Korea, but the carrots are even more important, because you've got millions of people there who are starving, who are in agony, who have been living under an oppressive regime, who deserve better. And what the United States and the allies have been offering are ways in which those people can enjoy a better quality of life, North Korea can enjoy more security, and the region generally will be able to enjoy security.
Q And your belief is that the march to war against Iraq in no way limited this administration's ability to dissuade North Korea from developing nuclear weapons?
MR. SNOW: Absolutely right, absolutely right, absolutely right. The two are, in fact, separate issues that are worked on by separate people. And as I pointed out, the administration was working on the six-party approach completely independent of what's going on. The fact is that it has been a difficult process, and will continue to be, for people in the region to figure out how you deal with these guys. It is not something that has a simple answer. So what you try to do is to use new approaches and look for something that's going to be effective. And right now it seems a lot more likely to be effective if you've got the Chinese and the South Koreans and others who have the most direct influence stepping up and trying to assert it.
Q Tony, if the intelligence eventually suggests that this was not a nuclear detonation, does that change anything in terms of the urgency that the diplomatic process --
MR. SNOW: No, no, because you still have a deliberate act of provocation that has the aim of, in some senses, either trying to frighten or destabilize the region, and it also makes it clear that the region will be a lot better off if nobody has to worry about whether North Korea has nuclear weapons, knowing that it does not have nuclear weapons, and furthermore, that there are closer ties politically, diplomatically and economically, and in terms of security, that give the North Koreans an incentive to be a force for peace in the region rather than a force for instability.
Q Can you give us a sense of how this diplomatic effort may unfold over the next 24, 48 hours?
MR. SNOW: I honestly don't know. I mean, you can read as well as I can what's going on on the wires, which is that there are ongoing conversations with the U.N. Security Council --
Q Yes, but you have more intelligence than that.
MR. SNOW: Yes, but not a whole lot more, because what's going on here is that there are conversations within the U.N. Security Council -- it does seem now that the major parties are agreed that there needs to be some appropriate punishment for the North Koreans for doing this. Nuclear or not, they made a statement that they have developed a weapon; they made a statement, and a celebratory statement, that they had fired one. And that, in and of itself, is one of those markers that I think has persuaded the other members in the five-party talks, all the members in the five-party talks, to say we need to work together. So now they're having conversations and trying to coordinate which steps to take next.
Q The President didn't say anything this morning in the photo op, and he's been quiet since his statement yesterday. So what's he thinking?
MR. SNOW: What he's thinking is let's see how the talks proceed. Again, we have received signals from the allies, and most of these have now been made public, that they are determined to take a different approach when it comes to North Korea -- so trying to figure out the proper way to set up the inducements, the sticks, so that the North Koreans will sit down at the talks again, the six-party talks again, and circumstances in which they renounce, and verifiably so, nuclear ambitions both in the civil nuclear power business and also the weaponry business, and avail themselves of a series of benefits that would be good for the country, good for the government and good for the people.
Q I don't think that the other five parties would object to face-to-face talks between the U.S. and North Korea.
MR. SNOW: Actually, they do. And the point they've made, Helen, is that -- yes, they've made the point that, in fact, there is strength in numbers and it's more important to work with a united front. If you have a negotiation like this and somebody says, well, wait a minute, you guys stand aside and I'll talk instead, that gives the North Koreans an inducement to try to figure out ways to chip away at the partners, to break up the coalition. It's much smarter from a negotiating standpoint not to give them the option of trying to cherry-pick or to try to find ways of dividing, and instead if you have a united front that says, this is our position, it forces the North Koreans to stop trying to probe for weakness and to start dealing now with the determined effort and a united effort by the coalition.
So I understand the argument, but we did try that. And what they did is they tried to isolate us. The point is not to isolate an individual partner in terms of the five parties working with the North Koreans; it's to isolate the North Koreans in such a way that they'll feel it's in their self-interest to come back to the talks.
Q Is North Korea a greater threat to our national security than Iraq was?
MR. SNOW: I don't know. I don't know. I mean, I'm not in a position to do that. I'll let you do the analysis -- scale one to ten.
Q Even though we believe they have 8 to 11 nuclear weapons and that they most likely conducted a nuclear test yesterday?
MR. SNOW: As I've said, you've posed an interesting question, but it's not one that's simply and easily quantifiable, so I'm not going to try to make a run at it.
Q Okay, a couple of things you've just said -- you've said that you've got to approach this diplomatically, you've got millions of people who are starving to death there under a repressive regime, which is pretty much what you had in Iraq and we invaded. What's the difference here?
MR. SNOW: Well, one of the differences is that you have neighbors that have extensive ties in a way that you did not, with trade and other activity. Also the North Koreans are far more heavily reliant for basic resources, whether they be food or energy, than the Iraqis were under Saddam Hussein -- Saddam not being wholly dependent. Also you have the additional bit of geographic proximity; whereas Baghdad was hundreds of miles from the nearest border, Pyongyang is very close, as you know, to Seoul and the borders are close. So there are differences in the two situations.
Q You also had inspectors on the ground at the time. We had, as far as we thought then, better intelligence. And yet, you're even saying this morning our intelligence is unclear. The President has long said they do not want to wait for a mushroom cloud, and yet you seem willing here.
MR. SNOW: No, you seem to think we ought to go to war. We don't.
Q I don't think anything, I'm asking you.
MR. SNOW: No, no, you do. The declared insinuation --
Q I'm asking you to explain the difference between why we went to war with Iraq and why --
MR. SNOW: Because in the case of Iraq we had exhausted all diplomatic possibilities. We're just exploring them now in the case of North Korea. We're going to approach --
Q But you had inspectors on the ground. What was completely exhausted? And you had the U.N. saying, wait, wait, wait.
MR. SNOW: No, some members of the U.N. were saying, wait, wait, wait, and other members in the U.N. Security Council believed Resolution 1441 was pretty clear in terms of the obligations.
Q Didn't say, go to war.
MR. SNOW: Furthermore, what you ended up having, as you know, was a constant attempt to try to make life difficult for the inspectors. You can go back and re-litigate that. I think it makes a lot more sense to try to talk about diplomatically what's going on. You have a concerted diplomatic effort that involves, fully now as equal partners, the Russians, the Chinese, the Japanese, the South Koreans. That offers the best hope. And if you want to argue for war, you're going to have to argue it someplace else.
Q I'm not arguing for anything, Tony. I know you like to do that, but I'm not arguing for anything.
MR. SNOW: I'm arguing for diplomacy.
Q Tell me -- you say you can't tell which is more dangerous, a nuclear-armed North Korea or what state we had with Iraq. Tell me how dangerous you think North Korea is, what kind of threat does it pose.
MR. SNOW: Well, once again, what you're asking me to do is to engage in an intelligence assessment even if I were fully armed with the facts would be classified and I can't do. It is clear that a North Korea that has nuclear weapon is going to pose a potential threat to its neighbors. And I think it's a question that you might want to pose equally -- I know, I'm indulging in gamesmanship here, but it's with a point -- with the South Koreans, the Japanese, the Chinese or the Russians. The fact is that this is at least potentially a threat. And you've got to take it seriously, and that is one of the most important things that you deal with.
The second matter is that we will find out in the fullness of time exactly what they're capabilities are. If it turns out that they didn't have the capability and somebody were to take an action there, I daresay it would be the cause of much speculation after the fact. It is important to try to proceed as best you can on a diplomatic track until that is no longer effective or available.
Q When you said this morning that the explosion might have been old and off the shelf, what were you talking about?
MR. SNOW: The fact is there was a lot of -- that was a mere hypothetical. It was the case where there was a lot of speculation. And Martha just referred to it a bit. They think they have six, they think they have eight, they think they have 11. There was some speculation that they had nuclear weapons even before the six-party talks got underway. I think at this point, again, the real point of emphasis for us is let's figure out diplomatically how to make sure that the end number of nukes they have is zero, and that the nuclear capability gets zeroed out, as well.
Q You seem to be trying to cast doubt on the strength of this program.
MR. SNOW: No, I honestly -- no, no. Because, as with anything else in North Korea, it's opaque. We don't know. That is one of the reasons why it has been very difficult for anybody at this juncture, and this would include all of our allies, to assess precisely what took place the other day.
Q Tony, you're just saying that's what different now is that some of North Korea's neighbors have leverage there, like China and South Korea, that provide them with energy and food and other goods -- they're now engaged, they're now invested. Does the United States believe they are engaged and invested enough to, for the first time, support the U.S. in these strong sanctions that we are proposing? And if not, what leverage do we have to persuade them that that's necessary?
MR. SNOW: Look, I think the biggest leverage they have is their own self-interest. This is important for them. If North Korea were to have a nuke, it certainly would have a lot more impact in the capitals -- in Seoul and Beijing and Tokyo and even Moscow than it would here in Washington. Here's what the Chinese said just a little bit ago: said, North Korea must face "some punitive actions for testing a nuclear device." This from the U.N. Ambassador.
The point is that there is agreement that there needs to be punitive action, and I'm sure that there's going to continue to be debate. It is natural to ask yourself what is the least punitive action we can take. That's always going to be the natural tendency. And so people are going to look for what is the very least you need to do to be effective. And I'm sure there's going to be a debate about that. And there will eventually come, I assume, some set of punitive actions. One hopes they work. If not, then you go back and you revisit it. That's kind of the nature of diplomacy, and that's how it would work.
The important point now is that the Chinese and the South Koreans both are talking about punitive actions, and that is an important step because what it indicates is that they've gotten tired of trying to sort of reason with the North Koreans in the sense of when there's a threat they try to provide more in the way of aid and support. Now it's clear that they want to send a message to Kim Jong-il and others that they need to take seriously the international community's call for them to renounce nuclear weapons, nuclear weapons ambitions, and nuclear power domestically.
Q Are we confident they will support sanctions?
MR. SNOW: I think rather than being confident, let's just find out what they do. I can't read the minds of the people who are talking right now at the Security Council.
Q And if they don't, what are our options?
MR. SNOW: Well, again, let's -- rather than running through the decision tree, let's address the facts as they become available, and then we'll respond accordingly.
Q Tony, what is the President doing? Is he working the phones to try to keep China and South Korea in the corral, so to speak?
MR. SNOW: No. They didn't have to be placed in the corral. The conversations yesterday were conversations in which the Chinese and the South Koreans were fully supportive of the idea of going to the Security Council and working something out. So this is not an arm-twisting exercise on the part of the President. He did his leader calls yesterday. Meanwhile you have ongoing diplomatic efforts that involve the Secretary of State. Chris Hill also has been on the phone today. I think Sean McCormack has briefed about that already. So there's a lot of diplomatic activity taking place.
Q For now he's -- today he's just settling back and letting Condi and others --
MR. SNOW: I don't think "settling back" -- it's not like you kick back, grab your pretzels and ask what's going on. Instead, what the President is doing is he talking on a regular basis with his national security team trying to get updated. But you do have diplomats dealing with diplomats directly, and so we're continuing to work on that.
Okay, let me first -- is this on this topic?
Q No, it's not --
MR. SNOW: Okay, let's exhaust all on this topic, and then we'll go back. We'll get there. Jim.
Q I guess the Japanese, I guess within the last few minutes, have kind of floated the idea of military action. The Chinese seem to have reacted strongly against that idea.
MR. SNOW: I've seen it -- at this point, we are pursuing the diplomatic path. That is our strategy.
Q This administration has long said Kim Jong-il is a leader who doesn't seem to care about the welfare of his people. Is that correct?
MR. SNOW: That is correct.
Q So how is a policy based on sanctions, carrots, incentives that might affect the welfare of his people supposed to work?
MR. SNOW: Well, his people, sooner or later, are going to understand who cares about them. But the sanctions package, if there is one, is likely to be targeted, as have past actions, not at the people, but at the military-industrial complex that, in fact, has been stealing resources from those people, and it would be targeted specifically toward what people in that establishment are doing. You're right, you try to pinpoint it so you're not cutting food shipments, you're not doing those sorts of things.
Q Is there any way to punish that segment of that country without punishing everybody, or resulting in the punishment --
MR. SNOW: I don't know, I honestly don't know. But that is something, obviously, that all the parties are thinking about.
Q Tony, this administration says that there are many options -- a menu of options as it relates to the situation. But let's go back to the issue of military might. Some have said, critics from past administrations to include the Reagan administration, have said that --
MR. SNOW: The dreaded "some have said." Go ahead.
Q I'll give you the names -- that the military might is extremely thin; we don't have the might to go that route once diplomacy shows that it's not working.
MR. SNOW: Well, I thank them for their characterizations. At this point, I'm not even going to get up here and speculate about military force because we are committed to trying to solve this diplomatically. And, frankly, any comments about military would not advance our diplomatic aims, and so I'm not going to engage in it.
Q And also, on money laundering, where does that fall? You're talking about missiles and nukes; where does money laundering fall? Because that was one of the reasons that first stopped the six-party talks because --
MR. SNOW: One of the reasons the North Koreans stopped coming is because we were using U.S. law, as we have done with others, to punish those who engage -- who use money laundering for proliferation activities, and that is a standard part of the law and it's been applied elsewhere. We certainly -- April, for anybody to back off that, you talk about appeasement, that would be directly responding to a complaint by the North Koreans, rather than to good behavior. This now has to be a situation in which, diplomatically, our response is to reward not complaints, but good behavior on the part of that government.
Q So money laundering is still on the table?
MR. SNOW: Not on the table, it's something that we're not going to accept.
Q Tony, would the United States be supportive of any sentiment in Japan to become a part of the nuclear club for self-preservation?
MR. SNOW: I think at this point, we have talked about we would like a non-nuclear Korean Peninsula. We have learned about the possibility of an arms race in the region; we don't want it to happen.
Q Thank you, Tony. Today on North Korea, also in China said that North Korea might have another nuclear test right before the November elections. The timing seems to -- somehow trying to affect the outcome of the elections. What is your comment?
MR. SNOW: There's no comment on that. We'll react to developments as they happen.
Q To try to put a little finer point on the question that people have been dancing around, there seems to be a school of thought developing among some people -- Sam Nunn said it in the front page of The New York Times today -- that of the three countries of the axis of evil, the President picked the wrong one to invade first, the one that didn't have nuclear weapons. Now one apparently does and the other is certainly on the way. So, generally, how do you respond to that?
MR. SNOW: Well, it's backseat generalship. What you have is, in fact, that the United States has been engaged actively on all three problems. And you use what are the appropriate means at the appropriate times and the appropriate situations. We are continuing to work aggressively on diplomacy with the Iranians and with the North Koreans. Diplomacy had run its course when it came to Iraq. We are still hopeful that diplomacy is, in fact, going to yield the desired results when it does come to North Korea and Iran. And I think Senator Nunn would probably support that. But the idea that somehow we were not already engaged would be wrong. We have been engaged from the beginning on all of these problems.
Q To the question that while you were doing diplomacy with Iran and North Korea they have been rather busy on their own side --- North Korea proving that a couple days ago, apparently, and Iran certainly on the way -- what about that?
MR. SNOW: They've been trying to do that for a long time. The idea that somehow, if there were no engagement in Iraq they wouldn't be doing this -- I don't think so. Keep in mind, the agreed framework -- as early as 1992, North Korea was being brought to the table to talk about nuclear weapons proliferation. The Iranians have been chief exporters of arms and terror for a number of years. These are things that, for whatever reason, they perceived in the interest of the governments of those countries and they've been doing it independently of any events. They were doing it when nobody was talking about Iraq and they were doing it when people were talking about Iraq. The difference now is the bright light has been shined on both parties.
And you also have something that didn't exist a decade ago; in the case of Iran you have more than 25 nations now that have joined the diplomatic effort to try to get the Iranians to renounce nuclear enrichment and reprocessing. Similarly, you also have a growing band of countries within the region that are united, working on the North Koreans. So what you have that you didn't have some years ago is a large diplomatic front that includes people who are most directly concerned, the neighbors of those involved. So it is a significant difference.
Q Tony, could I follow on that point, which is the other argument that is related to that, which is that the invasion of Iraq actually led to the conclusion in North Korea and in Iran, we have to proliferate more quickly to stave off an invasion, that the U.S. would not think about invading us if we had a more advanced nuclear program, and therefore, it accelerated a process that was underway and made them less inclined to follow a diplomatic course?
MR. SNOW: As a factual matter, I'm not sure that it would be accurate, and I'd have to leave it to intelligence analysts. And I'll go back and try to get some better answers, David, on whether it's accelerated, or whether you simply have a continuation of what's going on.
Again, the most significant factor from a diplomatic standpoint is that you got a lot more diplomatic muscle than you've ever had on either of these problems; people who in the past have said, we maybe don't want to deal with this right away, now understand the sense of urgency and are working together. And that's an important difference.
Q What's your response to Democrats like Biden who say that the President should have engaged one-on-one with North Korea all along? And how much of a campaign issue does this become?
MR. SNOW: That's up to people who want to criticize. We tried one-on-one. That was what we tried in 1990s with the agreed framework. Point of fact is, if we're going to deal one-on-one, we'd be playing a weaker hand, and the President is not going to play a weaker hand, because the notion of dealing one-on-one again gives the North Koreans a chance to try to split a united coalition. That is not how you build strength. How you build strength is to get the people who are directly involved to go ahead and start using their influence, whether it be moral suasion, economy sanctions, you name it, and to get much more directly involved, rather than saying, oh, it's just the Americans' problem now.
The North Koreans now understand that it's not just the Americans' concern or the Americans' problem, but you've got everybody in the neighborhood directly concerned about this. That gives you far more leverage. That gives you far more strength than if the United States were simply trying to play it alone. Let me emphasize again, we do not have extensive ties of trade or anything else with North Korea. We have less leverage than these guys do. We have now brought into the diplomatic process the people who can make a difference, and furthermore, they've said, we intend to make a difference. That's an important step forward. And I would argue that you're much stronger as part of a five-nation process than you are simply dealing one-on-one.
Q Tony, the President has argued that Americans are safer, but not yet safe. Does the President feel that his policies toward North Korea have made Americans safer now than they were at the outset of his administration?
MR. SNOW: I think what's happened, Cheryl, is that, for instance, at the outset of this administration, we gave the North Koreans the benefit of the doubt under the agreed framework. As it turns out, they'd been cheating. They'd been enriching --
Q Slammed the door on them.
MR. SNOW: I'm sorry, what?
Q Slammed the door on them.
MR. SNOW: Oh, slammed the door on them, okay. So what had happened was that they were cheating. And now I think you not only have a more realistic assessment of what has been going on and what is still a government that is shrouded in mystery, but you also have much more powerful diplomatic tools at your disposal than you had before. So in that sense, you are safer.
Q Looking back, is there anything that the President would have done differently? Does he believe he has made any mistakes in this?
MR. SNOW: Oh, my goodness, that's -- you know --
Q It's a fair question.
MR. SNOW: No, it's a silly question.
Q Why is that a silly question?
MR. SNOW: Yes, yes, it is a silly question because --
Q You just talked about --
MR. SNOW: Well, let me ask you -- give me some characterization of what you might think. Because what typically happens is that any answer to that question is spun into, "President Made Mistakes, Regrets." What you do as President of the United States -- and I have said this repeatedly from this podium and you need to give Presidents the benefit of the doubt when national security is involved -- is the very best in their judgment of what they can do.
Now, what will happen is over time, you find out, hmm, that data point wasn't right, we need to adjust. So for every adjustment, sure, in perfect hindsight, you would want perfect information and, therefore, perfect policy. But instead what you do have in this administration and in prior administrations is a full-on effort to do what you think, based on the intelligence and the facts available to you, is going to be the most effective way to secure the safety of the American people.
Q The notion that that's a silly question, when you have a President who draws a red line three years ago and says, we will not tolerate nuclear weapons, and now you have a country that just tested a nuclear weapon -- you don't think it's fair to ask for some accountability as to what happened, or that there were mistakes made?
MR. SNOW: David, the accountability lies in North Korea, not in Washington.
Q That's it? There's no accountability for when this country engages in diplomatic activity or warfare, it doesn't have anything to do -- there's no accountability within this government?
MR. SNOW: This government is held accountable all the time. As a matter of fact, the President even gets held accountable when gas prices fall beyond his ability to influence --
Q You just said it was silly --
MR. SNOW: You know what, okay, let me --
Q -- it was silly ask whether lessons were learned --
MR. SNOW: Thank you. No, no, no -- it was silly to say, does he think he made mistakes and that kind of thing.
Q Right. You think that's a silly notion, a silly question.
MR. SNOW: I think what it is, is a gratuitous question in the sense that when it is asked, it is not asked in the context of, what are your strategic considerations, what is brought to bear. Instead it is asked -- and maybe I'm being unfair, Cheryl -- in the context of a "gotcha" question that is designed to paper over the immense difficulties that are involved in the activities of dozens and dozens of people who devote their lives to trying to get this right.
Q You assume that motive in the question?
MR. SNOW: Let me put it this way; when it has been reported, it has come out that way. Now, if you have -- let me put it this way, and I think you're right -- sorry to have cast doubt on your question. So let me -- if you can come up with precise things. For instance, do you think it would have been better to do X than Y? Again, that's second-guessing. But what I want you to do when you ask a question like that is to have the presumption that a President of the United States, when weighing the security of the American public, is going to do everything in his or her power to make sure that the American people are safe, and will be demanding everything of those who work for him to work toward that goal, because that's what Presidents do.
Q Doesn't mean they don't make mistakes, Tony.
MR. SNOW: That is absolutely -- we all make mistakes, David.
MR. SNOW: Go ahead, Cheryl.
Q In retrospect, does the President wish perhaps that he had engaged North Korea more directly --
MR. SNOW: Oh, no.
Q -- early, at the outset of his administration?
MR. SNOW: No.
Q And does he wish that he had pushed for the six-party talks and this kind of diplomacy more quickly?
MR. SNOW: I don't know -- we're the ones who pushed for the six-party talks. I think what you're saying is -- what you're saying is, you came up with a good innovation, do you wish you would have done it more quickly. I don't know. But the fact is I think what you might want to think about is studying what had happened -- because when you come in as a new administration, you do take a look at what the prior administration had done. You try to assess successes or failures. It's quite often, for instance, you'll find Presidents who have critiques on the campaign trail come in and say, wait, that did make sense. So you do take a look at what is going on, and you try to figure out whether it's working.
Now, what happened is -- am I correct, Fred, 2002 -- when did we discover the uranium enrichment? It became clear that there was uranium enrichment going on, and we said to ourselves, we need to come up with a better way of doing this, and a one-party solution, which we have tried, obviously is not the cure. So, therefore, we're going to -- we think it's important to pull it together.
So, Cheryl, I don't know if you want to try to engage on, should he have come up with it first? The point is, he did come up with it, and that is an important step forward. And now you're starting to see it leading to much more assertive and unified diplomacy on the issue of North Korea.
Q Tony, may I ask about the Army before you run out of time?
MR. SNOW: Well, we won't run out of time. I want to make sure that people who have a question on this topic get their chance to ask it, and then we'll get to the Army.
Victoria, are you on this? Okay.
Q Not on this.
MR. SNOW: John are you on this?
MR. SNOW: Okay.
Q Thank you, Tony. I'd like a follow-up question on the earlier point you made about Japan. You said that the administration preferred no arms race in the peninsula. Is that correct?
MR. SNOW: That is correct.
Q All right. When I ask you a similar question this summer regarding Japan rearming, you said at that point, well, it was up to Japan and it was hypothetical at that point. The new Prime Minister, Mr. Abe, has said he would not only like to see the constitution rewritten to permit rearmament, he'd like to do it in his own hand. With the recent developments, have you changed your view on this now?
MR. SNOW: You know what, I'm not sure that the government has a view on this, and when we have one, we'll be happy to share it with you.
Q It's the same as the summer, is that right?
MR. SNOW: Yes, we do not want an arms race in the peninsula.
Q So you're against what Prime Minister Abe is suggesting?
MR. SNOW: No, what I'm saying is that what you have is a statement about what he might want in some future time, and I'm not the diplomat who has that portfolio. I will be happy to put you in touch with people who probably will not yet answer it because there will be conversations with the Japanese about what is met. But for me to get up here and try to engage in a conversation with a newly seated Prime Minister on a matter that is that explosive I think you'll agree is something that could do far more harm than good.
Q Tony, a question on what you said earlier about preferring to be part of a five-power process in talking to the North Koreans -- if I understood -- what former Secretary of State Baker was saying over the weekend was that at some point, it's important to engage directly with an adversary or an enemy. Is there some difference here between you and Secretary Baker?
MR. SNOW: No, Secretary Baker is entitled to his opinion, but the other thing he said -- and I'm leaping to the page -- because what he also says is, "I can't make that judgment here this morning because I don't know what the elements are involved in it." So what he was offering was a general proposition and not a specific critique.
Q Several polls just out are showing the President's approval rating --
MR. SNOW: Okay, let me just -- I'm sorry, any more North Korea questions? One last, and then we'll get --
Q Tony, it would seem that the only member of the six-party group that really has clout with North Korea is China. And yet, during this whole process, China has not been out in front. Do you feel they drag their feet? Many believe that China unilaterally could bring North Korea to heel, and they haven't been trying --
MR. SNOW: I'm not going to get into trying to speculate about unilateralism. The Chinese -- we're working with the Chinese. We absolutely understand their special ability to have influence, but whether they have sole and unique ability, I don't know. I think, again, as I said before, there's strength in numbers, and when you have all the members of the neighborhood getting involved, your chances of diplomatic success increase.
Go ahead, Victoria.
Q Yes, Tony, several polls have just come out showing the President's approval ratings dipping to well below 40 percent. And in addition, what you're seeing is voters are saying that they will use their congressional vote to vote their opposition to the President. You've got registered voters to say they're twice as likely to vote against the President, and independents three to one against. Is the President, first of all, aware of this? And second of all, is he concerned that he could be a drag on the Republican ticket?
MR. SNOW: The answer to the second is, no; and the answer to the first is, yes.
Q -- does the White House approve of this $1-billion contract to this private firm to come up with this Army slogan, "Army Strong"? That's one $1 billion, $200 million a year? And is this routine to go out to a private firm?
MR. SNOW: I'll refer that to you to the Pentagon. I don't have an answer for that, don't know.
Q I wondered what the White House felt about it.
MR. SNOW: I don't know what the White House thinks about it. It's the first time the White House spokesman has heard of it.
Q Could you maybe look into it?
MR. SNOW: Well, yes, and when you have really arcane questions -- and this would apply to any of you out there -- if you're going to have an arcane question sort of that I might not prepare for, feel free to send me an email and I'll try to have an answer, because that way you'll get an answer, and I won't have to tap dance.
Q But if you could look into it, that would be great.
MR. SNOW: Yes. Connie, send me an email on it because I still don't know what you're talking about.
Q All right.
Q Tony, RNC research notes that during the Bush administration, Democrats have voted against missile defense nine times, while Chairman Mehlman notes, "It is simply not credible that the same Democrats who've opposed missile defense for decades have in the month before the election discovered North Korea's long-range missile capability." And my question: Does the President have any disagreement with these statements?
MR. SNOW: Can you read that again? (Laughter.) I was just -- that's ping-ponging around there. I know. Let me -- I need to hear the whole question. Go ahead.
Q Chairman Mehlman --
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q -- notes, "It is simply not credible that the same Democrats who have opposed missile defense for decades have in the month before the election discovered North Korea's long-range missile capability." And my question: Does the President have any disagreement with these statements?
MR. SNOW: Well, the President knows that all of these matters are going to play a role when people are debating who they want to vote for, whether they're voting for or against the President or for or against Republican candidates.
Q What was the President's reaction to the George Soros funded Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility, filing a Freedom of Information action demanding information about Christian leaders who visit the White House?
MR. SNOW: You will deeply disappointed to know, Lester, that he is not following that.
Q One last -- since there was 12 on the front row from one person. (Laughter.) Just one last one.
MR. SNOW: They tended to be on the same topic, Lester.
Q I understand. The New York Times --
Q -- my question with sub-parts -- (laughter.)
Q Tony, The New York Times quoted Chris Wallace as saying that you, Tony -- (laughter) -- left television because you were interested in becoming a radio star. Is this true or inaccurate? (Laughter.)
Q True or false?
Q Chris Wallace said -- Chris Wallace.
MR. SNOW: My goodness, I was interested in being a star in all the media, but I've found something much better.
Q -- this is related -- you were absent on Friday to do good political works for the Republican Party --
MR. SNOW: Right.
Q What's the policy that you've set? Did you take a vacation day? Will you continue to do that? How many more on your schedule?
MR. SNOW: The answer is, I haven't figured out -- I suppose -- yes, I'll take a vacation day.* The way it is, it's all paid by the RNC. They're open press. I know that I'm doing -- I'm doing something in Wisconsin on Thursday. And I'm doing events in Iowa and Chicago on Saturday.
Q One is for Hastert --
MR. SNOW: Yes, one -- it's sort of Denny Hastert's big deal.
Q Are you concerned at all, because of the Warner --
MR. SNOW: Wait, I'm sorry, what?
Q Are you concerned at all -- Friday was kind of a big news day, the John Warner comments among other things --
MR. SNOW: Well, as I told you, I think Dana did a terrific job. But I do think, as I've said if I --
Q -- maybe I shouldn't be out here?
MR. SNOW: No, because while it was something that generated a certain amount of conversation -- let me put it this way -- if we had something like North Korea, yes, I stay. It's one of those things where you figure out, you use your judgment on it. And as I've said before, I understand that this is -- people are going to be curious because it is new ground. And the point I've made is if it does interfere with the day job and it starts to detract from it, then I stop doing it.
Well, let me finish answering -- I'll get to it. And if you're asking for specifics, I don't know yet.
Q I'm not done yet. Let me ask the question and --
MR. SNOW: Okay, well, let me finish answering because there was a question also about sort of the general guidelines. And the guideline is to try to stay above -- I'm not going and banging on Democrats by name, or even trying to do so by implication, but instead trying to do a positive discussion on what the President is doing and why.
Q I just wondered, Sunday you're going to be going to Denny Hastert's -- a fundraiser for Denny, himself. Do you think that this launches you on your political travels in a very awkward time?
MR. SNOW: No.
Q And what is the message that you might saying, then, standing with the Speaker, who is embattled at this time?
MR. SNOW: Well, the message is that we're standing by the Speaker, and also that I'm going to be telling people what the President is doing and why.
Q -- the President is going to -- still expected to be out of state with the Speaker on Thursday --
MR. SNOW: I believe so, yes.
Q Tony, could I follow on Victoria's question?
MR. SNOW: Yes, we'll do one more and then the rest we'll gaggle informally.
Q How much does the Foley scandal have to do with the lower poll numbers for the President --
MR. SNOW: I don't know. I think what you're seeing -- Victoria and I talked about this in the gaggle today -- there's going to be a lot of volatility. It certainly hasn't been a lift. But on the other hand, I think that the -- (laughter) -- I think that the key thing here is that as election day approaches, the things that we're going to focus on are -- I just said before -- what we're doing and why. That has to do with a growing economy, with the importance of moving forward and continuing to prosecute aggressively the war on terror, and trying to defend America's interests and values around the world.
Q Tony, can I follow up on that specific question?
Q Can I follow up on that, please?
Q Because there was a Gallup Poll four weeks ago that showed Republicans dead even with Democrats. Today, that same poll shows a 23-point advantage for Democrats. My question is this: Do you still feel that the Republicans are going to retain control? And secondly, what is the White House doing to turn this around in the next four weeks?
MR. SNOW: What the White House is going to do is talk about what's important. We're going to talk about the issues. And we are going to stay aggressive in talking about things. Now --
Q -- feel you're going to retain control?
MR. SNOW: Yes, we certainly look forward to working with a Republican House and Senate.
Q Four weeks away from the election, even before the Foley mess, before North Korea, there was broad speculation that Republicans would lose control of the House and perhaps the Senate. A lot of that --
MR. SNOW: There was also broad speculation that they wouldn't. So now that we've gotten through the broad speculations --
Q But a lot of that seems to be -- a lot of the public's angst seems to be based on this situation in Iraq, the troubles in Iraq. Does the President accept that idea that he -- that Iraq may be what is the drag on the Republican --
MR. SNOW: Let me put it this way: We're perfectly happy to have national security be front and center in this election. Period.
Q Thank you.
MR. SNOW: We'll gaggle the rest out here on the side.
END 12:37 P.M. EDT
* Mr. Snow, like other commissioned officers in the White House, is construed to be on duty 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and therefore is not required to track vacation or leave time. As such, the law permits him to engage in political activity (such as speaking at fundraising events) during normal working hours without the paperwork required of employees who are on a leave system.