The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
November 27, 2006

Press Gaggle by Tony Snow and National Security Advisor Steve Hadley
Aboard Air Force One
En route Tallinn, Estonia

2:19 P.M. EST

MR. SNOW: Okay. Sorry to be so late. Very quickly, what we're going to do is we'll start out, Steve is going to read out three foreign leader calls that have been made on the flight and then take your questions: the foreign leader calls to Hu Jintao, Hosni Mubarak and Jacques Chirac. And with that, I hand it over to Steve.

MR. HADLEY: The first two calls were really about Sudan. As you know, there appears to be an agreement that is in the process of being worked out for a U.N.-AU force. This came out of the meeting in Addis, Ababa that the Secretary General of the United Nations chaired. There is further discussion on that, with a meeting of the Peace and Security Committee of the AU here in the next day or two. And the President wanted to encourage to do three things: One, to thank President Mubarak and President Hu Jintao for the key role they have been playing in encouraging the Sudanese to accept this arrangement; second, to encourage them to continue to urge President Bashir to accept the arrangement and to so notify the AU -- the African Union; and then, three, to encourage President Bashir to stop any military activities by the jinjaweed and other forces against innocents in Darfur.

With President Mubarak there was also a discussion about developments in the Middle East, particularly the cease-fire in Gaza. Also some discussion about the importance of supporting the Siniora government in sending a firm message to Syria that it needs to stop destabilizing that government. That was the subject of those calls.

The call with President Chirac was to preview and to talk about the upcoming NATO summit. Obviously, NATO has a very important mission in Afghanistan. The President wanted to emphasize the importance of that mission as he sees it, the continuing American commitment to that meeting, even as NATO is taking a greater role through the international security assistance force. And there was a little discussion between the two leaders of what our respective countries can do to provide greater support to Afghanistan.

There was also discussion of the situation in Lebanon, the situation in the Middle East. It was a pretty wide ranging conversation between the two leaders.

Finally, the President also just called former Prime Minister Berlusconi of Italy, just to wish him well. He's in the hospital for observation and the President just wanted to wish him a speedy recovery. Those were the four calls we did.

NATO is obviously going to be -- the President will have a meeting with the leaders of Estonia, then with the leaders of Latvia, then, of course, the NATO summit. The focus, as you know, on the importance of the NATO mission in Afghanistan; a number of steps that need to be taken so that NATO member countries increase their capability to be able to contribute to missions like Afghanistan; and then, finally, ways that NATO can increase its ties and cooperation with countries like Japan and Korea, that are assisting -- and Australia and others -- that are not NATO member countries, but are nonetheless assisting NATO in military operations and talks about how to increase planning and training and other things between NATO and those countries. Those are the sort of three major focuses of the NATO meeting that will occupy us for the next couple of days.

Q Steve, what about Iraq? What does the President feel like he needs to say, and why does he need to say it in person to Nouri al-Maliki, at this point?

MR. HADLEY: It's partly what to say and also what to hear, because, obviously, as I think everyone would agree and as the President has said, things are not proceeding well or fast enough, and that's something I think Prime Minister Maliki agrees. And so the opportunity is for the two leaders to talk about the way forward. Obviously, Iraq is going to be critical in that, and the President wants to hear from Prime Minister Maliki what his strategy -- what his vision and strategy is, going forward.

As we've said, you know, the goal for Iraq remains the same: A democratic Iraq that is able to govern itself, defend itself, sustain itself and is an ally in the war on terror. But we're clearly in a new phase, characterized by this increasing sectarian violence. That requires us, obviously, to adapt to that new phase and these two leaders need to be talking about how to do that and what steps Iraq needs to take and how we can support them.

And let me also say that there's been a lot of discussion within the American press about the need to adapt our strategy, a lot of discussion about Baker-Hamilton, a lot of discussion on talk shows, a lot in the press about ideas about the way ahead for Iraq. And it's important, I think, for the President to send the message to Prime Minister Maliki that while he is listening to all of these voices for ideas, is open to ideas, that in the end of the day to reassure Prime Minister Maliki that it is the President who will be crafting the way forward on Iraq and to reassure Prime Minister Maliki it will be done in a way that is cooperative with Iraq, rather than imposed on Iraq, so that we come out of this process with a strategy that is an Iraqi strategy and a strategy that we share and can support.

Q Can I just follow on one area, which is the area of troops. Does the President feel like he has to send a message, a specific message to Maliki with regard to troops, either way, that we're keeping this level or might increase or decrease? Does he feel that's an important message to send?

MR. HADLEY: I think the focus that Prime Minister Maliki has talked about is the desire to accelerate the enhancing of Iraqi security forces, giving them more, and the government -- the Iraqi government more responsibility over security, and more control over the forces. So it's interesting, the focus of Prime Minister Maliki in his comments has been less on our forces and more on his forces, because he's made clear that the unity government, which he heads, and the unity government which we fully support, wants to be in a position to take more responsibility for security. That's what he wants, that's what the Iraqi people want, that's what we want.

Q But it's not happening.

MR. HADLEY: They are taking more responsibility for security. As you know, there are provinces that have been handed over to Iraq, to Iraqi forces. There is a process by which Iraqi divisions are now coming under the Iraqi national command structure. There are more instances where Iraqi forces are in the lead. But, obviously, the situation in Baghdad and the situation in Anbar is much more difficult. And one of the things I'm sure they will talk about is what are the strategies that will work in those two areas.

Q Will the President talk to Maliki about U.S. troop withdrawal in any way?

MR. HADLEY: I don't -- U.S. troop withdrawal? I don't think so. I think what he will be talking about --

Q Will he talk about troop --

MR. HADLEY: -- what he will be talking about is what we need -- of the security challenges we face, what we need to do to meet those challenges. Again, Maliki's focus has been on his forces and getting more control over his forces. We, obviously, have an important role to play in that. You have heard General Abizaid in his testimony talking about embedding and greater training effort and partnering with Iraqi forces. Abizaid talked about how that might even result in a temporary increase in forces.

But we're not at the point where the President is going to be in a position to lay out a comprehensive plan at this point. The President is going to be listening to Maliki, giving Prime Minister Maliki some assurance that we're going to develop this way ahead -- that he and the Prime Minister are going to obviously develop this way ahead together.

Q With the Vice President having gone to Saudi Arabia, and the meeting with Maliki taking place in Jordan, and you mentioned that the President talked to Mubarak -- is there a sense that there needs to be a broader approach involving countries in the region in dealing with Iraq?

MR. HADLEY: Well, we, of course, have been involved with countries in the region in dealing with Iraq. There is, of course, the international compact, of which you're well aware -- a series of undertakings by the Iraqi government of things it's going to do going forward, and a series of commitments by the international community to support that effort.

So there have been -- there is the international compact. There have been meetings of countries in the past; there will be another one probably in the next month or so of the countries participating in the international compact. So there has been a lot of diplomacy. As you know, Ambassador Khalilzad has been to a number of the neighboring countries, urging them to provide greater support -- diplomatic, financial and otherwise -- to the Iraqi government. So there has been a lot of regional and international involvement in this process and I think it will continue.

Obviously, as you know, NATO has a training mission in Iraq. There are a number of countries that are present in Iraq, in terms of PRTs, forces on the ground. So it's been a very international effort from the beginning and will continue to be so.


Q What is he going to -- what is Bush going to tell him about reeling in the militias? Is the President comfortable with the work that Maliki has been doing on that? And how tough is his message going to be to Maliki on that point?

MR. HADLEY: The first of it will be sort of hearing from Prime Minister Maliki about militias -- excuse me, sorry -- and Prime Minister Maliki has been very clear and very public about that. He has said that only the government can have an armed force in the country; that there is no room for militias and other unlawful armed groups outside the government. He said that very clearly -- whether they are Shia or Sunni.

And one of the questions that the two leaders will talk about is what can we do to help enable the unity government to be more effective in giving effect to that policy. And that is going to have a political dimension to it, bringing groups into the government to support the government -- but it is also going to have a security dimension to it, that is to say, enabling the Iraqi government to bring force to bear on those elements that stand outside and in defiance of the government. And, obviously, we may have a role, the coalition may have a role to play in that, as well. But it is something that is going to have to be closely coordinated with the Iraqi government because it is both a political and a security issue.

Q I have a question -- it's kind of a general question. You know, the election is over, the Republicans didn't do well. Now he's going -- he's got really high violence in Iraq, and then there are problems in Lebanon and Iran and Syria and North Korea and the Gaza Strip. What kind of mood is the President in right now about all these different problems around the world?

MR. HADLEY: You know him -- he's a very resilient guy. And, look, it's a new Middle East that is emerging. And I think he sees it as a real opportunity, but also challenges. And it is both of those. And the task he's given for himself and for the rest of us is how to take advantage of these opportunities to advance the war on terror, advance the freedom agenda, and, over time, bring real stability to that part of the region.

But as he's said many times, this is a long struggle, these are problems we're going to be with for a long time. The problems in the Middle East were a long time building, and it's going to take considerable time to get --

Q -- regional war break out between the Sunnis and the Shias?

MR. HADLEY: -- (inaudible) -- think so. And that's one of the things, of course, that's so important about what's going on in Iraq, because you have really for the first time not only in Iraq's history, but also in the region, where Sunnis, Shia, Kurds and other groups are trying to work together in a democratic framework in which they share power -- rather than one on top and the other down below.

This is a difficult thing to do. It's a challenging -- it is new in Iraqi history and it's new for the region. But it is terribly important for this to succeed as a model for democratic progress and peace in the region as a whole.

Q Do you maintain it's still not a civil war in Iraq?

MR. HADLEY: Well, it's interesting, the Iraqis don't talk of it as a civil war; the unity government doesn't talk of it as a civil war. And I think the things they point to when they say that are, one, that at this point in time the army and the police have not fractured along sectarian lines, which is what you've seen elsewhere; and the government continues to be holding together and has not fractured on sectarian terms.

But, look, the point is, it is what it is. There is a high level of sectarian violence. It is a challenge for the Iraqis. It's a challenge for us. We need to be talking about a way forward and a strategy for dealing with it. And that's really what the President has been focusing on and where we need to focus -- how to deal with this particular challenge going forward.

Q -- the President fears that were he to --

MR. SNOW: -- (inaudible) -- civil war? No, but you have not yet had a situation also where you have two clearly defined and opposing groups vying not only for power, but for territory. What you do have is sectarian violence that seems to be less aimed at gaining full control over an area than expressing differences, and also trying to destabilize a democracy -- which is different than a civil war, where two sides are clashing for territory and supremacy.

Q Can I just follow on -- isn't the President's fear that were he to acknowledge that it is a civil war that there would be a further bottoming-out of public support? There certainly have been Republicans and others who have said the public would not stand by for U.S. forces to be in the middle of a civil war. So isn't there a political dimension to this that nobody wants to admit, including the Iraqis, that it is a civil war?

MR. HADLEY: I don't think Americans have any -- I think they -- through the media and other things, there is a high degree of awareness, obviously that there is a lot of sectarian violence. You know, you show it on your TVs and it's in the newspapers. This is something that they're well aware of and they're obviously very concerned about it and want to know what our strategy is going forward, in light of this phenomenon -- which has really served us, since February and the bombing of the Shia mosque.

So it is a new element on the security scene; it is a real challenge to the government; it is something that the government needs to address. The unity government is clear and aware of that. And it's a big challenge, and people understand that. So I think people are aware, they're concerned, they want us to work out a strategy with the Iraqi government that offers the prospect of dealing with this problem. And that's what we're going to try to do.

Q Can you explain how something that started in February is a new phase?

MR. HADLEY: I said it is a new phase that started in February, and obviously we have seen more of it in recent days. I think one of the things one has to recognize is that while we call it sectarian violence, there is evidence, for example, that Saddamists, and particularly al Qaeda, are trying to foment and encourage the sectarian violence. You have heard it, you have read al Qaeda's words -- it was clearly part of Zarqawi's strategy. We continue to see evidence that this is being something that is triggered in order to encourage the kind of effect it has the society.

So we call it sectarian violence -- but I think one has to recognize that for certain Saddamists and al Qaeda, particularly, this is premeditated, this is a technique they are using. The effect of it, of course, is very destructive, it sets communities against one another. And it is something that we have addressed. It is, as you know, largely centered at this point in Baghdad. We have been trying to address that through a Baghdad security strategy. We have been through two phases. And I think the answer to that is, at this point, it has not proceeded well enough or fast enough. And, therefore, one of the subjects on the agenda is what is a better approach to the challenge in Baghdad.

So it is new, that appeared in February; it is something we have been dealing with and trying to adapt to with the Iraqi government. But, again, we have not done well enough or fast enough to be satisfactory to Prime Minister Maliki and his government, or to the President. That's just the facts.

Q On Afghanistan, do you have any concern that NATO isn't up to the mission in Afghanistan, either because of logistical problems -- like not enough air lift -- or political problems, that countries aren't willing to put their troops to do certain kind of fighting?

MR. HADLEY: I think all those issues are going to be addressed at the upcoming NATO summit. I think you're going to see some announcements that will address a number of those issues. I think there is a recognition on the part of NATO that this is a terribly important mission, not only from the standpoint of Afghanistan, but what it represents, in terms of the struggle against al Qaeda and the Taliban in the war on terror.

And I think you're going to see a recognition of that, that it is an important mission in its own right; but it is also important for NATO that it not fail in this mission. This is a new mission for NATO. This is not the kind of operation they've done before. There is going to be a lot of learning on the job. NATO countries are going to find that they do not have all the capabilities they need. One of the things that's going to be talked about at the NATO summit are what steps can be made to develop those capabilities over time. And it is going to be a challenge to all of us to make the commitments to develop the capabilities to be steadfast in the mission, to be real allies in the mission, supporting one another and to succeed.

But I think there is an increasing awareness at how important this is for the war on terror, how important it is for Afghanistan and how important it is for NATO not to fail.

Q Do you think there is going to be a willingness to contribute more troops by some of the European countries, and ease the caveats?

MR. HADLEY: We certainly talked about that and it's one of the subjects that will be discussed at the NATO summit.

Q Can you just drill down a little deeper, Steve, on this issue of -- you know, this new phase?

MR. HADLEY: I'm sorry, Deb, can you hear --

Q Yes, I can hear.

Q You're talking about the need to help Maliki -- essentially help himself and crack down on the militias. And we've obviously known about this for a long time. I'm just wondering if we can coax any more detail out of you --

MR. HADLEY: About what --

Q I'm sorry, the idea that his government needs to crack down on militias, and we want to try to -- the U.S. wants to try to help him do that. Can you talk in a little bit more detail, if you might, about what some of the newer ideas are to sort of advance this? Because, I mean, as a concept we've known about this for a long time.

MR. HADLEY: And we've been doing a lot about it for a long time. One, we have been developing Iraqi security forces in order to have the capability to deal with this problem, because it is obviously better if it is Iraq forces dealing with Iraqis, than ours. So one of the things we've been doing is developing that capability.

Secondly, one of the things Maliki has been doing -- he, by the way, remember, Sadr and his part of the government -- he has appointed cabinet members as part of the government. This is part of the strategy that Maliki has been pursuing for some time to try and bring Sadr and forces loyal to Sadr -- to him, in support of the government, and to isolate those elements, those renegade elements of the Mahdi army that are standing outside the government and are using force against either the government or innocent civilians. That's a strategy he's been pursuing for some time.

So there is a security dimension that we've been working on; there is a political dimension that Maliki has been working on, himself -- and one of the challenges, of course, is to coordinate those two in a way that could put pressure on folks either to come into the government or to put pressure on them if they dare to stand outside. This is something Maliki has talked a lot about, he has worked closely with Sadr, and it's something that the President and the Prime Minister will talk about here, I'm sure.

MR. SNOW: Got to make it very quick, because we're about to land.


Q Is President Bush going to bring up the idea of embracing talks with Iran and Syria, with Maliki?

MR. HADLEY: I think you're going to find that Prime Minister Maliki is going to bring that up with the President. He has some strong views on that subject. As you know, the Iraqis have been talking to the Syrians, the Iraqis have been talking to the Iranians. Their view is that the future of Iraq, if it is a subject of conversation with Syrian and Iran, ought to be a conversation by Iraqis, not by others on the outside.

So this is a discussion that Iraqis have taken the lead on with both Iran and Syria, and want to take the lead on. And so I think it's a subject, actually, that Prime Minister Maliki is likely to bring up with the President.

Q So he'll say, basically, let us do this, don't you convene direct talks?

MR. HADLEY: I've said what he has said, I think, publicly. We'll see what else he says when the President and he get together.

Q Are you holding out --

Q But his point is he doesn't want the U.S. meddling in --

MR. HADLEY: I said what I said, which is what he said. And he's talked publicly about this, and I'll let his words speak for themselves.

Q Thanks.

END 2:44 P.M. EST

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