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President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
December 18, 2006
Press Briefing by Tony Snow
White House Conference Center Briefing Room
12:04 P.M. EST
MR. SNOW: Hello, welcome. I'm ready for questions.
Q Now that you've had a chance to hear more about the NSC meeting today, is there anything you can share with us?
MR. SNOW: It's just a situational briefing.
Q A situational briefing about Iraq?
MR. SNOW: The situation in Iraq.
Q It was not a decision-making meeting on anything about the way forward?
MR. SNOW: I don't know whether anything specific, but, no, that was not the general purpose.
Q Given that the holidays are upon us, has the President set some deadlines for some of this reporting back, assuming maybe some of the people plan to be off? I mean, are we on top of deadlines for him to get those questions --
MR. SNOW: Again, as we've said all along, the President -- what he has instructed people to do is to get answers back to him as quickly as possible, and that's what they're doing. There is not a hard deadline because the thing you have to look for is to get the answers right, and to have the work done thoroughly. And trust me, when the President calls up and says, I need this as quickly as possible, people tend to move as quickly as they possibly can. So it's "all hands on deck." But there are no hard and fast deadlines.
Q Is he in receipt of everything he wanted, and just reviewing it now?
MR. SNOW: That I don't know. He's been in receipt of a lot of stuff, but I do not know the status of some of the things he's asked for.
Q Have you made any decisions whatsoever on his new policy --
MR. SNOW: I'm just not going to get into the process of whether he's made decisions or what ones those are going to be. I will apologize again, as I will do many times between now and the time he gives the speech, but I'm not in a position to shed a great deal of light on internal deliberations, other than in very general terms. I'm not going to be winnowing out options for you. That's for the President to do. And when he is ready to present the way forward, I will allow him to do it.
It's also worth issuing a note of caution, because quite often people will try to litigate preferred options through the press. And the President will do this in a thorough and proper manner. And we're just not going to get into the business again of trying to evaluate things that may appear in the press.
Q Tony, does it concern the White House, though, that Secretary Powell went further than Secretary Gates, in saying not only is the U.S. not winning but, in fact, Secretary Powell said the U.S. is losing?
MR. SNOW: Well, if you take a look at what Secretary Powell did, he gave a pretty thorough analysis of the situation. And what he said is, "it's grave and deteriorating," and "we're not winning, we are losing. We haven't lost," he continued. Then he went through and started talking about what he thought might be some of the considerations you would use with regard to military power. But the most important thing he said is that the Iraqis are the key to the solution, which we agree.
And if you take a look at a lot of the things he said, it's pretty consistent with what the President has been saying. It is clear he has some disagreements about what he calls phases two and three of the war. Nevertheless, he said if he were still Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, his first question would be, "What mission are the troops to accomplish? Do they have the resources" -- precisely, what is the mission, do you have the resources and troops that are adequate to do so, and so on. Those are very practical questions, and the kind of things that one would expect the present Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and also the combatant commanders to address.
He also talked in considerable length about reconciliation, about the political process, all of which are of keen interest, as you know, to the administration. So you look at it, and I think he gave a very thoughtful take on the situation.
Q But he also said he agreed with the Army Chief of Staff from last week, that the Army may be close to being broken, resource-wise. How does the President feel -- back in the 2000 campaign, he ran on the notion that Bill Clinton had worn the military down, that there were two brigades, I believe, at that point, that were not ready to report for duty. Is the President concerned that he has had a similar failure six years later?
MR. SNOW: No. But on the other hand, the President also is keenly concerned about doing what is right for our troops. And he's always said that. As you know, he's also said, Ed, that he will do whatever the combatant commanders want and give them what they think they need. And that continues to be the case.
So, again, Secretary Powell's comments, I think, are the kinds of things that you would expect. They're practical comments that reflect not only his experience as a Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, but also as a Secretary of State, and he did address diplomatic points, as well as others.
Q Just a final thing, he said that he also would like to see a drawn down started by mid-2007. That would seem to run counter to --
MR. SNOW: Well, no, again, if you take a look -- I don't think he was -- because I've got the transcript here, as you can tell -- it doesn't look like it was that definitive. What he is saying is that there are a whole series of things you need to look at. He talked about resource issues, he talked about issues of mission, and so on.
So, again, rather than -- we respect Colin Powell, and it's important that he play a part in the debate. But at this point, the President will continue to look at all the information at his disposal, and all the analysis, and make his own determination about the best way forward. And I can guarantee you that a lot of these considerations and concerns have been raised before. We're aware of many of those issues. Let's just wait until the President announces a way forward.
Q Tony, when does Secretary Gates go to Iraq, tomorrow?
MR. SNOW: One thing you never do is announce when somebody is going to go to Iraq.
Q Well, is it a safe assumption he'll probably go and get back sometime within the next four or five days?
MR. SNOW: Again, I'm just not going to do it. The one thing you want to do, for the security of people who are making trips like that, is not make any announcements about when they're going to be there. He said he will go there soon after being sworn in.
Q I guess the reason I'm asking is I assume there's some piece of the puzzle that fresh eyes from the new Defense Secretary is going to add to the deliberations. Is that --
MR. SNOW: The President has said -- I don't know if it's a fresh piece of the puzzle, but the President has said that he wants to give the Defense Secretary an opportunity to assess the situation. And he's been getting a lot of intensive briefings about policy, and so on. So, absolutely, he wants them to be able to have fresh eyes on the problem.
Q I guess the question is, we're probably at least a week-and-a-half, if not two weeks, at the earliest, before the President can give the "new way forward" speech.
MR. SNOW: I've already told you it's next year.
Q Right, so it's the 18th, so we're talking about --
MR. SNOW: The new year starts two weeks from today.
Q Okay. So what's the holdup? We're four years into this. You've had the new change since February, the new chapter. You've got all the -- what's going on? I would imagine there must be some internal dispute about policy.
MR. SNOW: You would be wrong.
Q Well, then, what's the holdup?
MR. SNOW: The holdup is that when you're taking a fresh look -- I've tried to make the point that this is very complex; and that you try to do it right. So it's not a holdup. What it is, is finishing the job and getting it done properly, so that when the President makes his recommendations, you have taken care of all your diplomatic contacts; you have dealt with everything from people on Capitol Hill to people at the Pentagon; you have thought through the economic issues; you have consulted with regional allies. This is not simply a military decision -- it is a decision that affects civil activities in Iraq, it affects diplomacy in Iraq and around the region, and it also has calculations that bear on the larger war on terror.
To dismiss deliberation as a holdup is, I think, to confuse the nature --
Q Not at all, Tony. I'm asking what I think is a fair question I hear out of a lot of American's mouths, which is, wait a minute, the pieces of this puzzle really haven't changed for many weeks, if not months, if not years; we have this major course correction coming, but that was announced several weeks ago. So I think it's a fair question that a lot of the American people are asking, which is, what's the wait?
MR. SNOW: There is no wait. I think American people understand that a Commander-in-Chief takes seriously his obligations to get things right. Now what we -- there are two things that you need to keep in mind. Number one, even as we speak, there are active and ongoing operations in Iraq -- because there are a couple of misperceptions I want to knock down right now; I keep trying. It is not the case that everybody has returned to barracks and they're kicking back and waiting for the Commander-in-Chief to come up with a new way forward. There are still aggressive military operations. There are still training operations underway. And there are still operations not only in Baghdad and Anbar, but around the country.
In addition, there are a lot of efforts to work with and in support of the Iraqi government on everything from reconstruction throughout the country to economic development to reconciliation. And there are a lot of moving pieces, Jim, including the fact that the Prime Minister had another reconciliation conference over the weekend, where he did lay out a number of important measures that have been urged upon him by Democrats, by Republicans, by the Baker-Hamilton commission -- but maybe more importantly, that the Prime Minister has laid out before, as well.
You are not dealing in a static situation. This is not like solving a crossword puzzle. It, in fact, is a highly complex situation where you are talking about the dispositions of tens of thousands of troops already in the country, and you are dealing with international coalitions and a whole series of other considerations. So there is no holdup other than the practicality of getting it right. And the President is -- when he feels comfortable that his questions and concerns have been addressed -- and he is tasking people with answering some tough questions -- then he will announce the way forward.
In the meantime, he will continue working with his commanders. He will continue consulting with Prime Minister Maliki. And we continue to have diplomatic contacts at the embassy level and elsewhere to make sure that there is still forward motion on the goals that are important, whether they be security, diplomatic, economic or otherwise.
Q But is there a new -- is there a new moving part? Is there anything new to factor in, that wasn't here -- I hear what you're saying. You're listing things, but nothing that you just listed wasn't part of the stew pot many months ago.
MR. SNOW: Sure there was. This government has, in fact, been in office for a little more than six months. The Prime Minister in the last few weeks has been much more assertive, not only in terms of his desire for having Iraqis assume greater control over military operations, but also in terms of a lot of the other pieces that are essential, such as the ones that Colin Powell is laying out.
Let me just repeat again, none of these things are simple. And in life, anytime somebody is looking for a new way forward -- and we've all been in businesses where people look for new ways forward -- those take a lot of time. And the most important thing for the President is to do it thoroughly and do it right. And when he is satisfied that all the pieces are put together in a way that he thinks is comprehensive and will, in fact, help us move toward the goal of an Iraq that stands up on its own, then he'll present it to the American people and to the world.
Q Has the President factored in any of how many people will die?
MR. SNOW: Helen, you ask that question every day, and I don't know how I can --
Q It's a very valid question.
MR. SNOW: And it's a question he thinks about every day.
Q And does he care about it? Does it matter how many die?
MR. SNOW: Yes, it does. Absolutely.
Q Well, you have a benchmark now -- this fall has been so lethal.
MR. SNOW: And the people who have been killing will kill even more if we walk away. I would turn you to The New York Times op-ed page today, where a Marine Major talks about --
Q Written by a Marine.
MR. SNOW: I'm sorry, does that make it suspect that he's on the ground trying to save lives?
Q No, that doesn't. But, I mean, he has to take the military attitude.
MR. SNOW: Well, you might want to read it, because the military -- the military attitude is, warriors don't like to be engaged in war if you can have peace, and generals don't like to send people into battle unless they have to. The people who are instigating the violence in Iraq are ones who are determined to kill.
Q You don't think our occupation is a factor?
MR. SNOW: I think the biggest factor right now -- if you take a look at what's going on, who are they killing? They're killing Iraqis, aren't they? They are primarily killing Iraqis. And what they're trying to do is to destroy hope and peace and democracy.
Q How do you know all that? I mean, why do you think people would want to do that? In the first place, they don't like an occupation.
MR. SNOW: Could it be they're suffused with hatred? Could it be that people, in fact, who are in unoccupied lands, who have been slaughtering, also do so because they hate people? The question is --
Q Do we hate them? Are we killing any of them?
MR. SNOW: Yes, we are.
Q Flynt Leverrett, a former NSC official, Mideast expert, also worked in the CIA, has charged that the administration has blocked publication of an op-ed he wrote in The New York Times simply because it's critical of the administration's Iran policy.
MR. SNOW: I doubt that. Flynt has been plenty critical and plenty public in the past. I don't know --
Q And he says that it's now being blocked because he's become increasingly critical at a time when it's politically important for the White House to have public support for its foreign policy.
MR. SNOW: I sincerely doubt that, but I'll try to find out. I don't know anything about it, except, come on, it's not like Flynt has not been out publicly on a number of occasions questioning the administration.
Q But he says the CIA has cleared this particular piece and the White House has blocked it. So my question is --
MR. SNOW: The White House is not blocking his writings.
Q There is no effort to use national security claims to falsely silence critics?
MR. SNOW: We don't falsely silence critics on national security claims. Now, if there's a legitimate national security claim, I'm sure that that will be made. Let me -- rather than chasing around, I don't know anything about this, so I'll find out. And you can call me --
Q Can I ask you, then, more broadly, because as you know the administration has been under criticism lately for being incredibly aggressive about chasing down leaks, hard on reporters who have been breaking stories that are classified material, and there's a sense that this administration is more secretive than other administrations. Do you think --
MR. SNOW: That's simply not true. I mean, wait a minute, quick show of hands -- how many reporters in this room have had hard push-back for writing stories?
Q You don't think that there have been aggressive attempts to silence reporters at The New York Times and other places that have reported on the NSA?
MR. SNOW: No. No, but there has been -- it has been pointed out -- and interestingly enough, also by the public editor at The New York Times -- that in at least one of those cases, they shouldn't have printed the story. And it is legitimate to ask the question, do you compromise national -- you're shaking your head, no, but it's true.
Q But not in the majority of stories, that was --
MR. SNOW: Well, there are only two sets --
Q -- in reference to the Swift story, and not regarding the NSA leak.
MR. SNOW: That's right, but there are two sets of stories. And one of them, in fact -- we've complained about two sets of stories, and we worked with them on the Swift stories. So the point is, Jessica, if you worry about the compromising of national security and you think that the lives of Americans or people who are working to help American interests abroad are going to be compromised, yes, you're going to look into it.
Q So just, finally, does the President feel there's enough information about his war on terror for the American public to make informed decisions in this --
MR. SNOW: I think it's going to be interesting -- the President will, I think, share with Americans a broader view of what's going on in Iraq -- when he does, in fact, present the way forward -- so that Americans will be able to get a better sense of it. You've heard me say many times, many of us constantly get complaints from military people who say, I don't know what's going on but what you report is not what I do. And so it might be worth trying to provide broader context about what's going on in the war on terror.
Now, there is going to be a sense in which there are portions of the war on terror that you will never know about, and I will never know about, and those come in the context of daily briefings that the President gets, because sometimes there are highly classified attempts. But I can tell you this, that people involved in the war on terror on the other side are doing everything they can to try to kill Americans and to kill them in large numbers. And that, in fact, is the sort of thing that a President has to worry about, that you or I don't have that responsibility.
So the idea that this administration -- look, we believe in a free press, but we also believe in national security. And in the case of the NSA stories, we believe that The New York Times behaved in a way that we do not think was consistent with national security. But this is not the same as waging war on the First Amendment. These kind of disputes have happened throughout American journalistic history, and I'm sure that they will be resolved one way or another.
Q One quick follow on that, was there a national security reason on Friday to not tell us the President was having a video conference with Prime Minister Maliki?
MR. SNOW: We tend not to tell you -- we tend not to tell you until after the conference has been held.
Q But there was a lid called on Friday night, and then after the lid, then you put out that there was a call. I'm just curious as to why you did.
MR. SNOW: I don't know. I don't know. I wish I could help you with it; I don't --
Q Tony, the Iranian President --
MR. SNOW: Hang on a second. Let me put it this way, we lifted the lid to make sure -- we wanted to make sure that everybody knew about it, and quite often, you do have a clearance process when it comes to stories like this. You don't just come walking out and say, hey, guess what happened. So some of that will have been a product of it.
Q All last week, it was all on the President's schedule that he was having all these key meetings with Iraqi leaders and U.S. leaders --
MR. SNOW: I understand that --
Q -- but that was one that was left off.
MR. SNOW: That's right. And sometimes those are left off, and we tell you about them afterward -- for instance, the SVTS we had with Prime Minister Maliki a couple weekends before. But we do, in fact, make sure that we get you briefed on it, and we try to do it as promptly as possible.
Q Tony, the Iranian President chose to weigh in after the midterm election, saying that Republican losses were a direct result of failed Bush policies. Do you care to weigh in that it seems that the Iranian President is losing across the board in Iran?
MR. SNOW: No. But the most important thing to remind the Iranian people is that the United States hopes that Iran will have the opportunity -- the Iranian people will be able to enjoy the freedoms that will allow them to express the genius of the Persian culture and the Iranian culture; and that the Iranian government will cease being a provocation within the region, trying to undermine the cause of democracy in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Lebanon, and elsewhere; and that the United States also understands that the Iranian people have a desire for civil nuclear power, which we would be more than happy to help them with. In addition, we'd be happy to help them with a number of other benefits if the Iranian government will suspend nuclear uranium enrichment and reprocessing.
It's a pretty simple step, we think, that will allow enormous benefits to an Iranian people who share a great deal with the United States.
Q So you see these election results as indication that moderation is setting in?
MR. SNOW: I'm not going to try to read Iranian tea leaves. I'll let others do that.
Q So is there encouragement about the developments?
MR. SNOW: I'll refer you to my previous answer.
Q Isn't part of the process the President is going through now to at least have some sort of working number on how many Iraqi citizens have died?
MR. SNOW: Right now what he's trying to do is to come up with a working plan to make sure that fewer die in the future so that you can have a position -- I think --
Q But isn't it essential to know how many are dying to have a proper view of the situation?
MR. SNOW: I think -- the Iranians, themselves, have taken responsibility --
Q Iraqis. Did I say "Iranians"?
MR. SNOW: Okay, I'm sorry, the Iraqis, in fact -- I was explaining this to Helen -- are compiling the death totals based on morgue and hospital accounts. And those have been, sort of, the closest to official numbers. And we are taking their word on that. They may be off by some, but you get a general sense. I don't think --
Q So what is the latest working number?
MR. SNOW: I don't know. But maybe what you --
Q Can you find that out for us?
MR. SNOW: Yes, but what -- the purpose is --
MR. SNOW: And how will you put that in perspective?
Q It's perspective.
MR. SNOW: And how will you put that in perspective.
Q We keep track of how many American personnel are killed and wounded --
MR. SNOW: The reason I ask the question is, you understand that you have focal points of violence within Iraq, and you also have focal points where there is a considerable amount of progress, and that the most important thing is to go after the forces who are killing those people.
So if you're going to assess the situation, find out -- it's also important to try to match up the sources of the violence, the people who are doing the killing, and the commitment of the government for going after them, whether they be militias or insurgent groups. But these are people who are determined to destroy democratic hopes in Iraq. And the President's chore is far larger than dealing with that human tragedy -- which he deplores -- and it is to come up with ways of going after the people who are responsible for that, so that people who have every right to be able to live in freedom may, in fact, have that opportunity.
Q But as a metric, isn't it important -- isn't it very valid?
MR. SNOW: It's one of many metrics, but also, the more important thing is, where is the violence coming from?
Q With respect to the Iraqis --
MR. SNOW: Here's -- no, no, the Iraqis have said they want to tally it up, and so you can refer to them. We'll try to do it. But here's the thing: the President has often made the point that what happens if you're a terrorist is if you go in and you kill a lot of people -- you have somebody who is willing to go in and commit suicide and kill 300, they're able to claim victory because they've killed X number, because they have bought your metric, and they have used a single act of violence against innocent citizens as a way of saying to either the Iraqi people or the American people, time to get out.
The most important thing to say is, no, we need to fight to stop people, precisely because the ultimate object should not be merely to tally up the deaths, which at one point somebody can do, but to fight --
Q The President repeatedly cites that 3,000 people died on 9/11, part of --
MR. SNOW: I understand that. And as a matter of fact -- you know what, Kelly, you're right. Every one of those numbers -- you're absolutely right. The number, in fact, ought to redouble everybody's determination to put an end to the viciousness of the people who are responsible for this. So you're absolutely right, it's a very strong and powerful argument for finishing the job properly.
Q Tony, this morning President signed into law 5682, the U.S.-India civil nuclear agreement in the White House East Room. Do you have anything more to add than this morning, Undersecretary Nicholas Burns, how this agreement will be implemented as far as the growing -- to include 40-plus countries, they have to --
MR. SNOW: No, I can't add to what Nick was saying, other than the United States continues to consult with all the countries. And he is confident that he's going to get full cooperation. That I think is, probably, Goyal, something to refer to State, because they're the ones who are actively working the issue. But I think Nick's comments this morning pretty adequately address it.
Q And just to follow, another one. U.S. is also selling civil nuclear agreement with China. And China had also agreement with Pakistan. Now there's a triangle. And there's a story this morning in The Washington Post that some civil nuclear agreement with China. So where do we stand as far as this triangle, India-U.S.-Pakistan, India-U.S.-China, China-U.S.-Pakistan? There's a triangle of this nuclear deal.
MR. SNOW: As Nick pointed out, the deal with India is a unique deal.
Q With China --
MR. SNOW: No, it's -- the one thing we are working on is nonproliferation, but the dueling triangles there is something where you're making some political assumptions that are contrary to U.S. policy.
Q Tony, two questions. From Jerusalem, both The New York Times and Washington Post correspondents reported on Friday that Fatah and Hamas gunmen shot it out with each other for seven hours, which left 30 men wounded, but no one killed. And my question: Does the White House believe this was inaccurate reporting, an intentional restraint, or inept shootings?
MR. SNOW: And what's your second question?
Q You'd like to evade that. All right.
MR. SNOW: It's not an evasion, it's a question -- when you ask about White House belief about a shootout, it -- no, don't -- I know you'll come up and you'll say, I'm sorry, they made me ask this question. So I'm just telling the people that made you ask the question, please come up with something a little less provocative than that so that I can answer a fact question, rather than a --
Q This is from The New York Times and The Washington Post.
MR. SNOW: No, no --
Q All right, I'll ask another one. Yesterday on the Internet, the following news was reported nationwide from the White House, and I quote: "Loaded into press van 2, the pool assumed the proper sobriety of an anticipated church visit, only to be told five minutes later that 'church is cancelled,' no reason was offered." And my question: Did this last-minute cancellation of Episcopal church worship have anything to do with this morning's top of page one reporting of the biggest split of more than 200 years of Episcopal church history?
MR. SNOW: I wish I could just say a flat, no. I have no idea, Les, so -- but thank you.
Q Thank you. Thank you for your courtesy.
Q Turning back to Colin Powell, you seem to be saying that Colin Powell is kind of on the same page as the administration.
MR. SNOW: Well, it's clear that he's had some disagreements about what he considers phases two and three, and there are going to be some points -- but it's interesting that you walk through a lot of the comments he's made yesterday, and it's also obvious that he's taking a pretty sober and practical look at the situation in Iraq, especially when people are considering publicly discussing a number of military options. As a former member of the Joint Chiefs and somebody who was deeply involved in the first Iraq war, he is somebody who understands the kind of practical considerations that go into it. He outlined them. He also understands it can't be strictly military, so he talked about political and diplomatic aspects, all which seem pretty thoughtful.
Q Because when you read it or watch it, it becomes pretty clear that he isn't on the same page as the administration.
MR. SNOW: Well, as I said, there are points of disagreement, but there are also a number of points there where, again, you start looking at the data points that he is reading out and -- for instance, again, the talk about troops. He says, look, I don't know -- he seemed to say that he didn't like the so-called surge idea, but then he said, if I were Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, here are the questions I would ask. And that's a pretty sensible list of questions.
And he says you've got to keep in mind political considerations -- absolutely right. When he says you have to have Iraqis at the forefront -- that reflects a lot of what we've been talking about, too. So if you start drilling down into the answers that Secretary Powell gave, there's a lot that I think reflects a pretty common understanding of the situation in Iraq. There are going to be some disagreements, but there are also going to be some areas of agreement.
Q And has the President, himself, had any reaction to the use of the words, "civil war," or that we are "losing in Iraq"?
MR. SNOW: Well, I have not heard him respond directly to either, other than to questions that have been asked.
MR. SNOW: No, not even indirectly. I know that there have been debates at other levels of the administration about the use of the term "civil war," and in terms of winning and losing, it is -- the one thing we want to be clear -- some sensibilities are probably worth laying out when you talk about winning and losing.
Number one, you've already got a constantly shifting situation on the ground. Number two, do you really want to be saying to people who are fighting -- and according to General Chiarelli and any other combatant commander, they've never lost an engagement -- do you really want to tell them they're losing? The answer is no, because in point of fact, they've been extremely successful in a number of engagements, but it's clear we have to find better ways of dealing with sectarian violence.
On the other hand, we don't want to be accused of looking through rose colored glasses at what clearly is an unacceptable position within Iraq. And so those are the kinds of balances. I think it ends up being more constructive to talk about the facts on the ground, and I'll leave it to you and others to find the proper descriptive label.
Q On the Palestinian issue, does the President agree with Prime Minister Tony Blair that a new election in the Palestinian Territories is somehow necessary to bring -- or to break the deadlock right now?
MR. SNOW: We're not going to -- we're still reviewing the -- Prime Minister Abbas apparently is -- I mean, President Abbas apparently is preparing to call new elections. Let me get back to you. I don't want to get ahead of my brief on that.
Q And do you think that will help --
MR. SNOW: As I said, I think what will restart the peace process is having a Palestinian government that adopts the Quartet conditions of dealing with the Israelis, which is to accept their right to exist, to renounce violence, and to abide by previous treaty obligations. And if you have a Palestinian government that's willing to work with Prime Minister Olmert on the business of putting together two peaceful democratic states side by side, that's exactly what we want.
So you have to have a Palestinian government that's going to be willing to work with the government of Israel.
Q Can I just come back to Powell one more time? Just to be clear, one of the points of disagreement, we are losing, you disagree with that?
MR. SNOW: Again, the President has said before that we are winning. Look, what Colin Powell is saying, we're not winning, so therefore we must be losing, and then he says, all is not lost. So I'm just -- I'm not going to get -- what I am saying is that we will win and we have to win, and that's the most important -- that's the most --
Q You're not disagreeing with him?
MR. SNOW: I'm just -- I'm not playing the game anymore. It's one of these things where you end up -- it all ends up trying to -- you're trying to summarize a complex situation with a single word or gerund, or even a participle. And the fact is that what you really need to do is to take a look at the situation and understand that it is vital to win, that there is -- by winning, that means to have an independent Iraq that really does stand on its own as a democratic and free state that supports us in the war on terror.
Q Can I ask the gerund another way? The President said in October, "Absolutely, we're winning." Is that still his belief today?
MR. SNOW: Again, the President -- that's why I'm just -- I think at this point it ceases to be fruitful to jump into this. We think that what is happening is we are going to win and that we need to find better ways of dealing with the sectarian problem.
Q There are about 100,000 private contractors in Iraq right now, and one of the top priorities of the new Congress is to hold investigations into potential fraud and abuse in these contracts. Will the White House cooperate?
MR. SNOW: The White House will cooperate with Congress as is necessary, given whatever investigations come up. That's the way it works.
Q And also, with respect to defining winning and losing in this war, do you believe this war passes the test of proportionality, where the number of lives lost far outweigh the previous conditions before the United States took the preemptive strike?
MR. SNOW: Well, you might want to -- if you want to start doing a tally, the estimates of Saddam Hussein's carnage involving his own people range from 500,000 to a million.
Q On North Korea -- as you know, North Korea presented its so-called exhaustive list of demands today, and the U.S. --
MR. SNOW: I'm sorry, Helen, that's Kurds. That's just one part of the country.
Q -- and the U.S. is saying its patience is running out. Can you give us an update? Is the U.S. still providing a significant amount of aid to North Korea?
MR. SNOW: I'm sorry, run that -- look, at this point, the six-party talks -- you're getting way ahead of yourself. The most important thing to do is to have the North Koreans commit to abiding by the conditions laid down in the September 19, 2005 accord. And when that happens, then there are going to be opportunities to talk in great detail about a number of things.
But what's going on right now is that we're having the first stages of these conversations within the six-party talks, and when the North Koreans have in fact met those obligations, then we can talk in some detail about what may lie forward.
Q But at this point, the United States is giving a significant amount of humanitarian aid to North Korea?
MR. SNOW: Oh yes, absolutely. And we will continue to do so.
Q Thank you.
MR. SNOW: Thank you, Terry.
END 12:37 P.M. EST