|The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 10, 2007
Press Briefing by Tony Snow
White House Conference Center Briefing Room
1:17 P.M. EDT
MR. SNOW: Hello. Before we get to questions, let me read out a couple of foreign leader calls, and then we'll get to questions.
This morning the President spoke with Brazilian leader President Lula. He called in anticipation of the G8 meeting. They were discussing the agenda. They were also reviewing the status of discussion by trade ministers on the Doha negotiations. And they expressed their pleasure with increasing cooperation between the two countries, including the area of biofuels.
The President also had a conversation with Russian President Putin. They discussed Secretary Rice's upcoming visit to Moscow, as well as a range of important bilateral and international issues. And they talked about plans for next month's G8 summit in Germany.
Q Did they also talk about some of Mr. Putin's comments yesterday, that seemed pretty harsh towards the administration's foreign policy, comparing it to the Third Reich?
MR. SNOW: The Russian Foreign Ministry has called and had conversations with the embassy. And they've pointed out that he did not explicitly mention the United States, and they confirmed in a phone call that there's no intent to compare U.S. policies with those of the Third Reich.
Q What about these meetings with Republican lawmakers on the Hill? They were here on Tuesday, and you've been saying, well, there are a lot of other meetings that the President has with these people. But in general, what is the tenor of these meetings, then, and what is the President taking from them? Because he and the Vice President the last couple of days have been saying there's been progress on the ground; the Vice President was saying in Iraq sectarian violence is down. But somehow there's a disconnect. Republican lawmakers are saying, we're not seeing enough progress.
MR. SNOW: Well, a couple of things. Let me first give you a characterization of the meetings generally, and then we can start chipping away at specific concerns. What you end up having -- the meetings tend to be -- they're very interactive. The President comes in -- and I'll just describe in very general terms, because, again, I want to preserve both candor and confidentiality -- but he'll give his take on how things are going, and then he will invite others to give their takes. And everybody gets an opportunity to speak, and there's a lot of interaction, a lot of back and forth.
But without exception, the meetings have always been respectful, they have been -- and the exchanges, look, they're interesting. The President wants to hear what people have to say. And I think a lot of members, when they get into a situation like that, they're excited about the prospect that they do, in fact, have an opportunity to speak at liberty with the President, so they do it.
I'm sorry, now the second?
Q There seems to be a disconnect, though, because these Republican lawmakers are coming out of these meetings and saying the opposite, in some cases, of what the President and Vice President are saying about progress. They're saying, we're not seeing it.
MR. SNOW: Well, I'm not sure it's the opposite. I think what they're expressing is impatience. And as the President pointed out today, yes, he's impatient, too. And he's made this point on a number of occasions. If you ask him the poll question, are you satisfied with what's going on in Iraq, the answer is no. So he certainly understands the impatience. And he also wants to hear what their specific concerns are, what ideas they may have. And often what will happen is that they'll also have more practical conversations about what's going on politically at the time.
But it really is wide open. And people talk about their personal experiences, they'll tell you what they've seen. But the point is, I'm not sure that there's a necessary disconnect, because what they want to see are results, and the President wants to see results.
Keep in mind that last year the President ordered a comprehensive review -- J.D. Crouch over at NSC helped put it together -- a big interagency review taking a look at all aspects of the policy toward Iraq, because the President wasn't satisfied, and he wanted to find a better way forward. And that included every dimension of our approach to Iraq, and every U.S. department, government and agency involved in Iraq, including the military. He has pointed -- he pointed out again today that General Petraeus, part of that, is in the process of implementing a plan. You really need to give it a chance to work before you give it a full assessment, but General Petraeus also is going to be reporting back to people so that they know what's going on, as well.
So I don't think impatience is new. It's perfectly understandable. And the express desire for results is something that everybody shares.
Q One last thing about -- in connection with the Vice President's trip. On board Air Force Two yesterday, senior administration officials said of the trip, and the message, "We've got to get this work done. It's game time." -- what does that suggest about the first four years of the war? Is it that the administration is just now saying that that was a scrimmage and now it's game time? What does that mean?
MR. SNOW: I think that's simply -- it gets back to what the President is saying. In some ways, there may be perceptions of two different clocks, Baghdad and Washington. The President said, you've got to speed up the clock. It is a matter of realizing that there have been a lot of efforts now. We've been working on this joint way forward in Iraq. You are getting results in a number of areas. We have been talking and working with the Iraqis on political, economic, and other reform.
As the President was pointing out, there are very key things that people want and expect to see, because you know it has to happen. If you want success in Iraq, you have got to have political accommodation, you've got to have the oil law, you've got to have constitutional reform, you've got to have the elections, you've got to have de-Baathification. All of those things are necessities; everybody knows it. It is tough to get to those points, but you've got to do it.
And so I think that was -- that was -- Jennifer, and then --
Q The President just said that he'd empowered Josh Bolten to talk to the Hill about benchmarks, negotiations on benchmarks and some sort of compromise there. Is he willing to accept some sort of consequences if benchmarks are not --
MR. SNOW: Yes, I heard you ask the question.
Q I'm asking you now.
MR. SNOW: What we're not going to do is do the negotiating for Josh, but he's talking with people. Keep in mind, benchmarks also are not new. The President talked about them in State of the Union. We talked about them in Amman in November. Secretary Rice put a list of 17 together in a letter to Senator Levin.
So you do need to have metrics, and Josh will be talking with people and we will continue to work with the leaders in the House and Senate to come up with something. The President, once again, expressing some confidence that we're going to get to the right place, but I'm not going to prejudge.
Q I mean, you said yourself it's not new, so why does the President even bother to say that he's empowered him to negotiate on this if he's not willing to show a little leg on what that means?
MR. SNOW: Well, he shows leg, just not to you.
Q Well, tell us about it. (Laughter.)
Q Tony, we've been hearing now, Republican officeholders who are publicly saying the President is running out of time. Does the President get that message?
MR. SNOW: The President understands their passions. The other thing they said is we see progress, we're with you. I mean, you've got to keep in mind, this is -- this is not ultimatums. This is an expression of a desire to see progress.
So you've got -- I think there's a temptation to say, by golly, do this or else. And I don't think the "or else" is necessarily part of it. And by the way, let me just stipulate, I'm walking a little tightrope here. I'm not going to respond directly to the meeting, but there have been plenty of other expressions of this publicly, as you pointed out.
The President is certainly aware of it, and it's important to get a sense of how members feel, what they feel about it, and also to share the President's view that, yes, of course you want to see progress, I want to see progress. And you have to understand the impediments, you have to understand what we think is necessary to give a sense of what we're doing, and at the same time also, to illustrate or to discuss also the dangers of not completing successfully the mission.
So all of those things enter into it. But the President certainly gets it, yes.
Q But if there's erosion from Republicans, doesn't that mean that the ultimatum is implied, or coming?
MR. SNOW: Well, again, and this is why I think it's premature to talk about an erosion. I'll refer again to what's going on presently in terms of politics in Washington. The President made it really clear: Any plan to cut off funding after 30 days, not going to happen. Any plan to revisit after 60 days, not going to happen. There, you've got Republican unity. The Republicans are united on this. And so what Republicans are saying, some Republicans, is, we want to see more. And the President said, yes, of course you do. And we want to see more, too.
So I think -- I think what you end up doing is, rather than speculating about what people may be saying in two to three months, as the President said, let the -- give the plan time to work. Give the plan time to get fully implemented. We're not even going to have the troops fully in field for another month. And so it's important to go ahead and do that.
And people -- look, people are going to keep a sharp eye out. There continue to be regular briefings out of MNFI. General Caldwell does them all the time, laying out metrics. I think it's important constantly to keep members of Congress briefed, to keep them up to date, to let them know what's going on. And obviously, General Petraeus, also, is tasked with coming up with a comprehensive and objective review, as well. So all those are important data points.
Q One last point. Aren't these public comments a sign the President is losing credibility with his own party?
MR. SNOW: No. And if you take a look -- all you have to do is take a look at the polling. You look at Republican support for the President, it still remains overwhelmingly strong.
Q So the President has drawn a couple of lines in the sand -- 30 days, not going to happen; 60 days, not going to happen. Attaching consequences to progress, is that not --
MR. SNOW: I'm just -- I'm saying I'm not going to get into discussions about benchmarks other than beyond what the President said today.
Q Let me ask you this, because the President also said -- the message seemed to be, give the plan a chance to work. If you talk to Republicans around town today, it seems to be the sense of, we're going to stay with you through September, and General Petraeus' report in September. Everything seems to be pointing to September. Isn't that a save the date card for the terrorists, guaranteeing a report in August?
MR. SNOW: No, only if somebody decides they're going to say, September is it. That's a very good question, because what you've highlighted, Jim, is something the President referred to today, because if you create expectations of cutoffs, or dramatic political shifts in the United States, what you do, in fact, is create political incentives on the other side. And that's why the President was talking about some of the ramifications, in terms of American credibility, based on the way people frame this --
Q September is not the --
MR. SNOW: Again, there's going to be reporting some time in the fall. What the President pointed out again today is, you have to base your decisions on facts on the ground. But rather than saying, September is the date -- look, we may be awash in good news, not predicting it, not being a rosy scenario guy, but there's a lot of news that will come to our attention over the next weeks and months, and so rather than sort of wading back in anticipation, and saying, we don't draw judgments, what members of Congress need to do and what generals do and what the President does is every day continue assessing what's going on and continue updating your view on how things are going, based on the ongoing evidence.
If you say September is it, you're right, you create a possibility that all the guys save up their cement trucks for August or September.
Q Tony, you mentioned the polls, and talked about the Republican support. All the polls also show that big majorities of the American public do not support the war. Have you heard the President talk about how difficult it is to fight a war or prosecute a war without the public's support?
MR. SNOW: The President understands the importance of public support. What's also interesting is that you see numbers coming up again on, do you think we're winning or do you think -- for instance, a pretty strong majority now, when asked, do you think we're losing, say no. That's an important data point. When it talks about, would you like the Americans to succeed, the answer is yes. So you always have mixed feelings.
Q They always say that.
MR. SNOW: But the point is that those, in fact, are things that reflect the thinking of the American people. As the President said, if you ask him, are you happy with what's going on, no. Would you like to home right away? Of course you would. But it is a difficult situation. The most important thing to do is to keep the faith with the people and American credibility by following through on the plan. And again, we are still in the mid-stages of implementing a plan, and rather than trying to -- it's like trying to grade your paper when you're not even halfway through the exam. You've got to be able to finish the basic work first, and let people assess exactly how the plan is proceeding and what kind of fruits it's bearing. That's only fair, and the President really asked people to be fair-minded. And I must say, members of Congress are going to approach it that way. They understand.
Q Tony, was there a sense from this meeting on Tuesday -- and you say you've had these meetings all the time -- that the tone was different? Because certainly what we're hearing from this group of moderate Republicans seems far more serious than what we've heard before, seems like they really put it to the President in ways they hadn't before.
MR. SNOW: Again, I'm going to refer you back -- this is where I've got to walk the tightrope. I don't want to get into specific characterizations of any given meeting, for reasons I've cited before. You want to maintain confidentiality. I'd refer you back to them, and say, was it cordial, was it collegial, was it honest, was it constructive.
Q Well, the President said it was cordial, I believe. But was there a different tone? That's what we're hearing. We're hearing from them that it was, that it was a real change in that meeting.
MR. SNOW: Again, this is why -- I think this may be different from what people had expressed themselves before the President. The President -- we have a lot of very honest sessions. This is not a sea change, it's not unlike anything we'd ever seen. The fact is, we get groups in -- Democrats and Republicans, insiders, outsiders -- you've been through this before -- who express all sorts of views to the President. The President is accustomed to hearing people being critical, also trying to be constructive. And I think you get both of them.
So, again, I want to avoid -- but, tonally, no, this was not something where -- people are being honest, but they are also being respectful. So I don't think --
Q Is there increasing frustration among Republicans, that you sense?
MR. SNOW: I think -- look, frustration is something that everybody has been sensing for a long time, including the President. So frustration is not a new feature, at a time when you want to make sure that you're doing the right thing and the plan is working, and they want to see data, they want to see evidence, and we agree with them. We're doing everything we -- let me move around because --
Q Just quickly, on Maliki. I mean, you keep talking about these benchmarks -- or not benchmarks, but September is a progress report, and you keep talking about David Petraeus. I mean, surely, the real brunt of this is going to be on Maliki, and whether the political things have come together. You say you want him to speed up. You said that before. You've used Congress -- oh, look, we can't get things through Congress very quickly. Then how do you think he's going to speed up if he hasn't done it yet?
MR. SNOW: Well, again --
Q We've heard this again and again. We've heard it from -- we've heard it from the President.
MR. SNOW: I know you've heard it again and again, and -- we've had some incremental progress, but we're not there yet: oil law, council of ministers before the council --
Q Not even close. I mean, time is running out there.
MR. SNOW: Well, let's see what they do. I mean, it's important -- look, all I can stress, Martha, is that I share the premise of your question, which is, it's important to get that work done.
Q Is the political -- are those far more important at this point than security, as a benchmark in September?
MR. SNOW: I think -- no, they're related. I think that you cannot separate all the elements. As the President was pointing out, if you have security you also have greater confidence for political cooperation. If you've got an economic stake, that feeds in both the political cooperation and security. I mean, all the pieces really are linked. You've got to address all of them.
The political piece undoubtedly important. You cannot single it out and say it's the most important because each and every one of these pieces really does have important ties to all the others, and you have to be working them all as hard and as aggressively as you can.
Q Isn't there a way that you can say in September, as you say from the podium often, if violence -- if there's an uptick in violence, if Jim's point comes to bear, then you can say, look, we expected an uptick in violence because we've got all these troops there -- that you can look at that measure in many different ways, but not the political progress?
MR. SNOW: Well, in other words, what you're saying is that the key political benchmark is a passed piece of legislation, that's your point, right?
Q A whole lot of stuff, yes. I mean, if we are where we are today in September --
MR. SNOW: I'm not going to -- again, let's see where we are in September. But we want to see progress.
Q Tony, as this meeting has been reported, some of these lawmakers did say that if things still look bad in September, the President is going to lose more party support. Can the President keep soldiering on here and sticking to his own plan if he starts losing his own party's support?
MR. SNOW: You're assuming that nothing happens between now and September. As the President also said, wait until September. The premise of the question is nothing happens, therefore it all falls apart.
Q That's not the premise of the question -- you said that there were no -- that no consequences came up in the meeting, and apparently there was some sort of "if, then" formulation that was presented to the President.
MR. SNOW: Again, this is -- my hands are tied in trying to get into characterizing what people said. They're going to have to let their own -- they get to have their opportunity to characterize their comments. But I will remind you what I said earlier: There are both sides of the coin. There is, if nothing happens, people are going to think one way, and if you have progress, people are going to think another way. The whole focus of American policy is to be moving to create progress. And it has appeared in your newspaper and others that, in fact, there have been signs of progress. And members are also aware of this, and they want to see more.
And so what I would suggest is, rather than saying, what if, what if, what if in September, which is a totally unanswerable question -- that is a crystal ball question, and not being clairvoyant, I am unqualified to answer it. However, if you do, in fact, have evolving situations that allow you to judge the success of things, then we can talk a lot more reasonably about this when September comes -- which, of course, is the name of a famous rock song.
Q Is there a point when the President does become concerned with the political ramifications for the party? As I understand it, during the meeting there was an argument made that "our members are worried they're going to lose their seats," and that will be bad for the war policy overall.
MR. SNOW: What the President's main concern is, it's bad for the country if you have a vacuum. It is, in fact, it is something that the country simply must not permit to happen and cannot afford, which is a failure in Iraq that would create a vacuum that would empower Iran, that would give al Qaeda a staging ground, that would shred American credibility in the region, that would create economic consequences --
Q Who's the cause of all that?
MR. SNOW: Well, notice again --
Q Who went into Iraq and created this chaos?
MR. SNOW: Thank you. And so, to continue -- but as Helen has pointed out, without taking exception to any of those possible side effects, or those possible effects, that's what the President thinks about. The President is Commander-in-Chief, and he is President of all the American people. He understands the political concerns of people. But as Commander-in-Chief, his job, his solemn obligation really is one toward national security, and that is first and foremost.
He also understands successful policy is always going to be good politics. If you've got success, if you have things turning around, guess what's going to happen? Public opinion will follow. And therefore, he has to do his best -- and incidentally, it's one of the reasons why he invites people in with widely divergent views. You've got to do that. You have got to consider this from every angle, taking a look at as much different information as you can so you can do it right.
Q The Baker-Hamilton report called for a withdrawal of most troops by early '08. Does the administration consider that setting a surrender date?
MR. SNOW: What's also interesting is the Baker-Hamilton commission has a section in there on precipitate withdrawal --
Q And it is against that.
MR. SNOW: And it is against that, for many of the reasons I've said --
Q But it is separate from its call for the '08 withdrawal.
MR. SNOW: And the point is we -- again, I'm not going to entertain hypotheticals, except in this way: You may recall yesterday Secretary Gates also said that if, in fact, we get the kind of success we hope for, it is conceivable that there will be troops moving out. You may recall that he was talking about that. So anything that happens in terms of troop movements is a reflection not of somebody opening up the calendar and saying, oh, here's the day we do this, but instead, reflecting what's going on on the ground. And the entire motivation and aim of our forces in the field is to get us to the point where we can be moving back as a consequence of success.
Q To follow on that quickly. There are some Republicans circulating a letter, looking for cosponsors for legislation that would enact all 79 recommendations of that report. What would the President do with such legislation?
MR. SNOW: We'll see it when we get it.
I'm sorry -- Helen, and then to Mark.
Q The President emphasized September and he emphasized General Petraeus' report -- all week you moved away from September. Is it a real important date for us to decide things?
MR. SNOW: I think what the President is saying is --
Q Does he know that we have civilian rule in this country?
MR. SNOW: Yes. Do you?
Q I do.
MR. SNOW: Okay, good.
Q I'm not waiting for Petraeus.
MR. SNOW: Well, he does understand, however, that -- oh, so you're thinking what he's doing -- no, I'm not even going to get into that. What people want is a detailed accounting of what's going on in Iraq. And so --
Q But you guys set the date for September, you keep --
MR. SNOW: No, I think he actually -- General Petraeus originally mentioned that, and I don't want to try to -- he mentioned the month, and so --
Q Is it important, or not?
MR. SNOW: Look, what's important is for people to continue to take a look -- May is important; June is important; July is important; August is important; September is important. It's --
Q You're telling people to hold off on their opinions --
MR. SNOW: No, what I'm telling people is to keep their eyes open to the situation as it develops.
Q Back to benchmarks, Tony. Most of the lawmakers who advocate them say without consequences, benchmarks are meaningless, are just goals. Without saying which consequences he might be in favor of or against, does the President accept that there ought to be consequences?
MR. SNOW: I'm not going to -- I'm not even going to bite on that.
Q You won't even say that he accepts the need for consequences?
MR. SNOW: I will leave the business of good-faith negotiating to Josh Bolten. He's having these conversations. I don't want in any way to impede or influence what's going on by a statement from the podium.
Q Tony, I'm just wondering, 11 Republicans come to the White House and tell the President that they're worried about the cost of his war on the party and on their ability to win reelection. How is that not a big deal?
MR. SNOW: What you're saying is you're surprised that the President is having candid conversations.
Q Not at all, that's not the question I'm asking.
MR. SNOW: It is -- look, let me, again, because I am constrained by the rules we set out not to respond to you directly --
Q But you're already in print saying this wasn't a "march to Nixon" moment.
MR. SNOW: Right.
Q So how is --
MR. SNOW: Well, I was trying to be off the record because I was called out of bed. But, unfortunately, I wasn't completely --
Q Okay, so how -- again, but getting back to a conversation that's unfolding --
Q Are you out of bed now? (Laughter.)
MR. SNOW: I'm on the record, I'm out of bed. (Laughter.)
Q How is this not a big deal to you?
MR. SNOW: Look, it's not a big deal in the sense that it's a candid exchange. But on the other hand, what you're asking -- for one thing, you've making a blanket assertion that I simply cannot respond to. But you had members of the House in, expressing themselves. That's good.
But the other thing is, if you take a look at the voting records of Republicans across-the-board on what's going on right now, it gives you an indication of how the debate unfolds. Do you think it's important to provide vital funding and flexibility for the forces? The answer is yes. Do you reject the Democratic alternatives? The answer is yes. Do you stand with the President on supplying this? Yes. If you see progress, will you support? Yes.
So all those things indicate to me a combination of two factors, number one, a real desire to see success, and number two, a real desire to see results. And so I don't see that as a big moment, it's not a watershed moment. The President had heard real criticism before. He's heard vigorous criticism before. It hasn't all been in the press.
Q You've got to consider the source. This isn't Maxine Waters here.
MR. SNOW: As I said, we hear it from a lot of people, Jim. It's new to you because we don't read out all these things. So I know it seems novel that members of Congress are coming in and giving --
Q What about the fact that they're leaking it?
Q It's also their leader saying it publicly.
Q What about the fact that they want everybody to know?
MR. SNOW: Some are talking, and some are not.
Q The President today said that some people are concerned about winning elections, with a bit of a tone of disapproval there, getting at Jim's question about is he concerned about the legacy of the party based on this war?
MR. SNOW: Again, the legacy -- you can't -- as a Commander-in-Chief, you have got to base your considerations on how to succeed. Good policy success is good politics, that's it. Your only option is to defend the national security. That's how he looks at it. He can't look at it any other way. That's the way he views the issue.
Q So how does the President respond when a member of his own party says in this meeting, my constituents want out of this war?
MR. SNOW: Again, I will not -- all I'll say is, when the President hears anybody expressing either what their constituents think or what they think, he listens respectfully. He will ask questions. He will try to probe what's going on, and they'll continue to talk things through.
Q What does it tell the administration when the former head of the Republican campaign committee goes on the air and says that in this meeting, the sense of the meeting was people saying, my constituents are saying they don't care if we lose this war, they just want out?
MR. SNOW: Well, again, I think -- take a look, and I've been talking about what the polls are saying -- Americans do care, and the President does care. Still walking that tightrope, because I'm not going to respond even to stated quotes in the papers. It's important to realize -- the Americans really do understand, and the President does always make it clear, it is not a -- you don't walk away and suddenly peace breaks out. As I said the other day, you walk away, bin Laden doesn't become a flower child. You walk away, and as the Baker-Hamilton commission said, as the National Intelligence Estimate said, virtually every other careful study has said, you reap the whirlwind. So what you have to do is to make sure that as a matter of national security, you do it right. And that's why the efforts are on doing it right.
I suspect if you said to people, would you be happy if you -- the Baghdad security plan, or whatever, that stuff worked, the answer would be yes. As Helen says, who could say no to that? And so the focal point of administration efforts is, the whole aim is to make sure that we're doing the right thing, so that we move towards success.
Let me move around to some of the others. I'll get back to you.
Q Why are you walking the tightrope when there are so many people from your own party, on the record, saying such strong things?
MR. SNOW: Number one, I would say -- I would quibble with the number, "so many." I think it's five. Secondly --
Q That's half the people at the meeting.
MR. SNOW: Well, secondly, I still think -- we believe it's important -- number one, I know it's tempting to try to get people squabbling, but the fact is, on the key issue going forward, do you support the troops, how are you dealing with the present political circumstances, there's unity. There's also respect.
And the point here is that we really do offer those conditions. We want their candor, we grant confidentiality. People may speak out. I'm not going to break the terms of the agreement, no matter how weird it may seem when you have quotations in the paper.
Q I'm just wondering, when you said about if you pull out of Iraq, then bin Laden doesn't become a flower child. Do you think bin Laden is in Iraq right now?
MR. SNOW: No. But on the other hand, as General Petraeus said, al Qaeda is enemy number one in Iraq, and al Qaeda clearly is -- and the President --
Q The intelligence estimate said that sectarian violence is actually a bigger threat than al Qaeda.
MR. SNOW: Well, as the President -- but the National Intelligence Estimate, of course, is dealing with intelligence from last summer. And what you have had -- I guess last fall. Now what you're doing is you're projecting forward. You've had a Baghdad security plan unfolding, and as the President pointed out today again, the benchmarks -- I know you wanted specific ones -- but he pointed out that the kind of deaths that are consistent with sectarian violence are down. And they've been down on a fairly consistent trend line since the beginning of the enactment of the Baghdad security plan.
In a time of war -- I've made this argument before -- there are going to be times when -- you know, al Qaeda right now, as the President said, al Qaeda is surging. You've got al Qaeda trying to do what they can to foment sectarian violence again. They were able to light the fuse back in Samarra, February a year ago. They want to do it again. And so they're trying to use acts of violence to do it.
Fortunately, there has been some success in getting Sunni and Shia and others to step back from recriminations and to get the focus back on those who are trying to break the peace.
Q Bringing bin Laden into it, there have been a lot of security experts who have said that focusing on Iraq pulled you away from bin Laden, they've made that charge, and that you might actually have a better shot of catching bin Laden and more al Qaeda leaders by not focusing so much on Iraq now --
MR. SNOW: Well there -- this -- boy are we --
Q You just said, if you pull out of Iraq, he doesn't become a flower child all of a sudden --
MR. SNOW: I'll revisit -- it's an old question, but I'll revisit it, it's worth it, which is, we're doing more than one thing at a time. And there are considerable resources deployed in Afghanistan and in other missions. It is not an either/or situation. It is also the case that bin Laden understands that the economic and political benefits of having a staging ground in Iraq are considerable. Not only geopolitically does it help, it helps in terms of access to oil, and a lot of resources that are not available in Afghanistan --
Q But the President, himself, was talking about al Qaeda today in Iraq. Isn't it -- you're saying if you pull out, there will be a staging ground for al Qaeda in Iraq. Aren't you -- isn't the administration suggesting that you have a staging ground now?
MR. SNOW: Exactly, which contradicts your earlier question about why aren't you going after bin Laden. We're talking in circles. So I mean, the fact is, al Qaeda has made Iraq its central staging ground. We're taking them on there. And meanwhile, for those who say, well, why aren't you in Tora Bora or Waziristan, I'm not going to talk about operational matters, but it's not as if there are not -- we do not have the capability to pursue multiple military missions.
Q Well, what do you think would shift the President's opinion on the war? Is it just General Petraeus? Because when we talk about polls, and the majority of the American people, you say, well we don't govern by polls.
MR. SNOW: When you say shift his opinion on the war, do you mean, what would make him say, let's come home without victory?
Q What would lead him to that point?
MR. SNOW: I don't think the President finds it's acceptable. The President doesn't think, I want to figure out how to get out if we lose. In fact, his view is, I want to figure out how we return when we win. That is how you think about it.
Q Tony, this war is not popular in Britain at all. The President is losing his number one ally. What is this administration going to do to keep British soldiers in the southern part of Iraq? What is he going to do --
MR. SNOW: First, the British have already made commitments in terms of their troop levels. And those are decisions for the British government. The British government is not a subsidiary of the American government, it's a sovereign government, and they will make their decisions.
But what's also the case is that -- you may recall -- well, let me back up. You may recall that when the President came to power, there was some, wow, Tony Blair can't work with George Bush, he was such good friends with Bill Clinton. Well, in fact, they work very well together.
And as the next Prime Minister takes over, that Prime Minister will be faced with a series of real-world facts about security that are based on British national interest. And he will have to make the proper decisions. And there -- you find quite often in periods of transition that there is enormous continuity between governments, precisely because the facts automatically lead themselves to certain policy conclusions.
But I don't want to get into the position of prejudging what the British government is going to do. The President has mentioned that he's met Gordon Brown who, presumptively would become the PM, but we don't, certainly, want to be leaping to conclusions. He looks forward to working with him, and you can't really go much further than that.
Q But this administration likes to talk about lessons learned. Is there a lesson from what happened to Tony Blair and the Brits? They do not like the war, and he ultimately is leaving because of that.
MR. SNOW: I think Tony Blair is one of the great and most consequential Prime Ministers, and also longest serving Prime Ministers in the history of the U.K.
Q Longer maybe if it weren't for the war.
MR. SNOW: I think at this point, what you do is you not only celebrate his courage and his vision, but you also -- there's also a lesson that courage and vision serve the national interest, and I think rather than trying to leap to any further conclusions, you have to let a new government come -- basically, a new government come in, find its feet, and make its decisions based on the facts.
Q Thank you, Tony. Turning to the Fort Dix six, are they going to be tried as criminals or enemy combatants?
MR. SNOW: That's not a question for me. Direct it to the U.S. Attorney.
Q All right. The other thing about them, given their arrest and their background, is this going to in any way impact on the visa waiver policy that the administration is --
MR. SNOW: Again, the President's visa waiver -- that is a separate debate, obviously. The President has noted all along that when it comes to matters of border security and visas, you take a good hard look at national security, national security interests, and we continue to do it. What he's also trying to do is to come up with metrics that are going to permit us to have tamper-proof IDs, so you can know who's in the country, you can track them. So there are a whole series of things that are embedded in this, but -- and that debate is ongoing in the United States Senate.
Q I have a question about the phone call this morning with Mr. Putin. Did the President and Putin discuss the Estonian situation?
MR. SNOW: I don't think so. I'm not aware of it. I was not in on the call. I've got the points that have been read out. I don't know. It was a pretty short conversation. My sense is based on -- what I see here is the list, but I don't want to grant you an assurance that I can. I don't know.
Q Is the President aware of what the Russians are doing to Estonia?
MR. SNOW: The President is aware of significant developments around the globe.
Q Tony, two questions. One, today President will celebrate the issue of Pacific Heritage month, in East Room this afternoon. Is he going to talk about the contributions of Asians as far as fighting in Afghanistan and elsewhere and --
MR. SNOW: No, I think what he's going to be doing is celebrating public service.
Q Second, can you confirm that President has spoken with the Prime Minister of India and there's a problem as far as U.S.-India civil nuclear agreement also, because --
MR. SNOW: No, Goyal, I read this out the other day. He did have a conversation the other day with Prime Minister Singh. And
they talked about working forward to conclude the deal. They're both in support of it and -- look, it's important for us, it's important for the government of India and we're determined to make it happen.
Q Is the President going to invite the Prime Minister to the White House sometime this year or next year?
MR. SNOW: I will not get into any sort of personal conversations of that nature.
Q Supposedly a letter has been sent by the Foreign Relations Committee to the Prime Minister of India, as far as this deal is concerned. If President is aware of this letter?
MR. SNOW: He may be; I'm not. Les.
Q Tony, thank you. The President of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights said it was "reprehensible for the Reverend Al Sharpton to say, 'As for the Mormon running for office, those who really believe in God will defeat him anyways.'" And my question, does the President agree or disagree that this Sharpton statement was reprehensible?
MR. SNOW: I don't know. It probably came as news to Harry Reid.
Q Wait a minute. The Christian Newswire reports that some American Indian leaders have described Jamestown as "an invasion that led to a holocaust and an atrocity." My question --
MR. SNOW: Right, yes, I know --
Q -- does the President intend in any way to apologize for these allegations and to refrain from any mentioning of his and the Jamestown founders' Christianity when he speaks there on Sunday?
MR. SNOW: No, he doesn't. Let me back up a little bit on the Sharpton sort of bait, simply because I think -- let's be clear about what the President does believe in, which is respect for people's religious views and religious freedoms. So let's be clear about that -- other than trying to jump into an argument with Al Sharpton, which we're not going to do. We will go no further than that.
Q One more?
MR. SNOW: No.
MR. SNOW: You gave me two.
Q He had 10, up there on the front row. He had 10.
MR. SNOW: And most of them were topical.
Q On immigration reform, it's being taken up next week in the Senate. And the Majority Leader has said he'd really like to use the bill that was passed last year -- with bipartisan support as the starting point. What is the White House view of doing that?
MR. SNOW: It's kind of a placeholder, but we appreciate the fact that the Majority Leader is working with Democrats and Republicans to try to create an opportunity for a bipartisan bill to make its way to the floor. So there are -- this is one of those cases where, you know, you want to talk about the fact that both parties really are working together on working hard on something that is not only of mutual interest, but national interest. As a procedural matter, that's what he's really trying to do -- he's trying to create a placeholder so that those involved can have the time to be able to drop that other bill, and we appreciate it.
Q Thank you.
END 1:57 P.M. EDT