|The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 1, 2007
Press Gaggle by Dana Perino
Aboard Air Force One
En Route MacDill AFB, Florida
10:18 A.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: Good morning. We're on our way to MacDill Air Force Base. This morning the President had his normal briefings. At 11:40 a.m. he'll have his briefing at CENTCOM. It is stills at the top. I think the schedule says closed, but it will be stills at the top.
Let me tell you -- the main people that the President will be meeting with for the briefing are Admiral William Fallon -- he's the Commander of U.S. Central Command -- General Doug Brown, Commander U.S. Special Operations Command, and General David Petraeus, Commander Multinational Force Iraq.
And then the President will make remarks to the CENTCOM coalition conference; expecting around 160 people in the audience. These are senior national representatives from the various countries. The President will speak to their annual conference, and he will thank our many partners in the global war on terror coalition and highlight the broad range of successes the coalition has had while fighting terrorists. One number you might want is, since 2003, 143,336 cumulative coalition troops have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Q Served in all of these -- in Iraq and Afghanistan?
MS. PERINO: Cumulative coalition troops, right.
Q From how many countries?
MS. PERINO: I know it's around 30 nations now, but I think at one time it was up to --
Q Just in Iraq?
MS. PERINO: I think it's Iraq and -- I think it's total, Iraq and Afghanistan. I'll get -- Bill Luti is on the flight from NSC, and he gave me that number, so I'll see if I can get those two numbers for you. And then --
Q That number doesn't jibe -- there's more than 150,000 U.S. troops at some point --
MS. PERINO: These are coalition -- this doesn't include American forces.
Q Not including.
MS. PERINO: Correct.
Q Non-American --
MS. PERINO: These are non-U.S. And then the President will meet with some families of the fallen. I'll try to get you more specifics, at least in terms of the number of families and where the soldiers died when we get there. And then we are back at the White House at 5:45 p.m.
Q Will he mention the supplemental and the veto in his remarks?
MS. PERINO: No, no.
Q What do you all know about Masri's death?
MS. PERINO: Only what we talked about before we left, which is, MNFI has not confirmed, and so I will defer to them, if and until they have something more to say.
Q Any update on the timing of the veto?
MS. PERINO: As of departure, we still do not know the time that we were going to get the bill, and so we are not able to announce any plans yet, but as soon as we do, I'll let you know. If that does come while we're in the air or on the ground, I'll come and find you and let you know.
Q Is there any possibility that he would veto it today when he got back?
MS. PERINO: That's within the realm of possibility, sure.
Q But it would be when he's back, he obviously --
MS. PERINO: Correct. We didn't have it to bring with us in a special case.
Q And he does expect to receive --
MS. PERINO: All indications we're going to receive it today, but I don't know what time. And so it will just depend -- and so as soon as I know that, I'll let you know. They said that -- we might not know until the early afternoon. And so we'll find out.
Q Would he prefer to do it today? Or would it be -- does he think it might be weird to veto it on the same day that he's meeting with the leaders, tomorrow?
MS. PERINO: No, I don't think the President would think that would be weird. I think that the President would have preferred to sign this -- have a bill that he could sign that was going to fund the troops. He would prefer not to have to veto the bill. And as you all know, it's been 80-odd days since he sent up his request. And so he would prefer to get the -- a clean bill done.
He knew that -- well, he told the Congress weeks ago that he would veto a bill if it came to him in the form that it's coming. He's going to make good on that -- on his word. And then I believe that the leaders and the President will get together quickly. As you know, the President invited them to come to the White House tomorrow. And I don't have a time on that yet. I'll see if I can get that. And then they'll get to work on crafting a bill that they can sign that -- I'm not going to negotiate from here. But as the President said yesterday, he's looking forward to the discussions. I think the leaders have said the same.
Q Do you guys consider benchmarks -- any kind of consequences for benchmarks on the table?
MS. PERINO: I can say, I'm just going to decline to comment on any type of negotiating position from here. I'm going to let the leaders meet. And then if we get more from there, we can let you know.
Q Is there any, shall we say, reluctance on the President's part to actually go through the veto today, being that it's the fourth anniversary of the "mission accomplished" banner, his speech --
MS. PERINO: Obviously, that is -- even thought the Democrats won't say so on the record, it is a trumped-up political stunt that is the height of cynicism and it's very disturbing to think that they possibly held up this money for the troops and the troops' families and the resources they need to try some PR stunt on this day.
The President realizes that today is the fourth anniversary of the day he gave a speech on the USS Abraham Lincoln. As I said last Thursday in the briefing, that speech has been widely misconstrued, and I encourage people to go back and read it. The President did say we had a long and difficult road ahead of us. We're moving from a dictatorship to democracy.
But in addition to that, the President has since said that we did not anticipate the amount of sectarian violence that would happen in the year of 2006, especially fomented by al Qaeda with the Samarra mosque bombing in February of 2006. The President said where there have been mistakes, those mistakes -- that responsibility for those mistakes rests with him.
And so today is the President's opportunity to go and thank the commanders for all of their work, to highlight their successes, to talk about the new strategy that the President has underway, being implemented by General David Petraeus. And he is proud of the work that they've done, the terrorist plots that they have thwarted. And he also is going to remind them about the consequences of success and the consequences of failure.
Q Does the President -- does the President regret the "mission accomplished" speech?
MS. PERINO: Look, I've never heard him describe it that way, absolutely not. Let me just remind everybody, in case you need it, that speech there, I encourage people to read it. The President never said "mission accomplished." I realize that the banner said "mission accomplished." That was specific to the mission of that ship. They were supposed to be deployed for six months. They were deployed well beyond that. I think they'd gone to both Iraq and Afghanistan. And that's what that banner was referring to. But I'm not going to --
Q He did said, "In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed."
MS. PERINO: We did prevail, in terms of toppling the Iraqi army and Saddam Hussein. And several months later, 12 million Iraqis voted for a new government and a constitution. And things looked very promising. And the President did believe that at the end of 2006, he would be announcing basically what was in the Baker-Hamilton report.
Unfortunately, the sectarian violence had grown to the extent that the President, in the fall of 2006, underwent an extensive review to decide on a new strategy in Iraq, of which he announced on January 10, 2007. And the President believes that helping the Iraqi people now is critical. He disagrees with the idea of a time -- a date to tell the enemy exactly when we're going to leave, because it would leave a vacuum that would only lead to many more deaths of the innocent men, women and children of Iraq, destabilize the region. And that is surely not in the long-term interests of the national security of our country.
Q Can I ask about -- do you have a good read of what's going on in Turkey right now? Is the White House concerned at all that democratic principles may not be adhered to when they're trying to sort out their -- the presidency?
MS. PERINO: I would have to get back to you on that. I'm not well versed in it. I do know that Sean McCormack spoke at length in his briefing yesterday. I don't know if there's anything new.
MS. PERINO: Okay?
MR. DECKARD: The meeting is at 2:25 p.m. tomorrow.
MS. PERINO: That's good. Josh Deckard. Hat trick. Two-twenty-five p.m. tomorrow is the meeting with the congressional leadership. And it will be bipartisan, bicameral, the larger group, as they -- that's the same group that came two weeks ago.
Q Do you know coverage yet?
MS. PERINO: I don't. That might be part of -- what I can tell you about later today.
MS. PERINO: Okay. All right, see you on the ground.
END 10:27 A.M. EDT