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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
June 18, 2007
Press Briefing by Tony Snow
White House Conference Center Briefing Room
12:41 P.M. EDT
MR. SNOW: Good afternoon. One thing to add to this morning's gaggle -- the President this morning had a 52-minute secure video teleconference with the members of the presidential council in Iraq -- the Prime Minister, the President and the two Vice Presidents. The President got a briefing on ongoing activities among all the parties, in terms of pursuing political, economic and security reforms. Also expressed his support for their working together, especially considering what has gone on recently in Iraq, the attacks in Samarra, and, at the same time, continued to issue -- to reaffirm his support for moving forward vigorously on, again, as I mentioned, political, economic and security fronts.
Q Is the United States concerned that in resuming aid to only half of the Palestinians, that Syria and Iran will step in and fill that void?
MR. SNOW: I'll tell you what, rather than my trying to go through in great detail, Secretary Rice is going to be having a press conference between about 1:15 p.m. and 1:30 p.m., and she's going to be laying out the way forward in the Middle East, and I'll defer the questions to her.
Q During the video teleconference did the President very directly express his impatience about the lack of political movement?
MR. SNOW: No, what he did is he once again reaffirmed the importance of political movement, but it's something that they've shared -- one of the things that is happening is that this presidential council is becoming, as they expressed, more effective and coherent as an organization, so that you have not only much closer personal, but professional dealings between the foreign members -- at one point calling themselves the gang of four.
So I think it's -- the President was impressed and reassured by the sense of seriousness that he heard in the meeting.
Q Can you tell us anything specific about what that reassurance -- why he felt reassured, and also address whether or not they're taking a vacation and whether you know how long that vacation will be?
MR. SNOW: On the second, I don't believe so; and on the first, no, I can't give you any specifics.
Q You don't believe they're taking a vacation now?
MR. SNOW: I'm not sure; I don't think so. Again, I'll refer it back to --
Q But, Tony, can you give us some sense of why he felt reassured, given that we've heard reassurances before?
MR. SNOW: Well, again, it is clear that you've got an environment now where the key leaders are working together on these issues. And, yes, we have heard a lot of these things before, but without -- and I'm not in a position to go into the details and what they were saying, but there are reasons we think they're very serious in moving forward on the key items.
Q But, Tony, we've heard that before, many times.
MR. SNOW: I understand. I understand.
Q I mean, why is there any more reason now to believe that they're serious about moving forward than there was the last time you said that? Or the time before?
MR. SNOW: I understand. But, again, I think -- let me put it this way, that you see that there are tangible efforts going on and I'm just not going to go into any greater detail, I'm going to let the -- that is a sovereign government and I will permit them to make the announcements about how they're doing and where they're going.
Q You think there will be announcements on something about where they're going?
MR. SNOW: No, I think, again, I'm just going to leave it at that.
Q Tony, do you agree with General Petraeus's assessment that it could take about a decade to stabilize Iraq, to fully stabilize --
MR. SNOW: Well, what General Petraeus was pointing out -- this is pretty much standard doctrine when it comes to counterinsurgency, is that counterinsurgency is something that does take a great amount of time. He says 10 years. That does not mean that you're going to have people on a forward combat operation posture for 10 years, but it does mean that -- he says that it's perfectly conceivable, and that tends to be kind of the textbook sense of how long such operations take place.
On the other hand, what he also said is, if you take a look at what's going on in the key areas of concern when we were talking about the Baghdad security plan -- what were they? They were Anbar and they were Baghdad -- you see signs of progress there. Also it was predictable that there would be attempts from al Qaeda to move about to Diyala and other places, and he addressed that.
Q But how does a decade square with the notion of impatience, we've got to get moving? A decade sounds like a lot longer than --
MR. SNOW: Well, because I think what you're doing is you are assuming that, when you talk about a decade, you're talking about a decade in precisely the same kind of posture we're in today. That's not what he was referring to.
Q Tony, the DOJ has started an investigation of the -- or is considering an investigation under the Foreign Practices Act of the billions of dollars that were allegedly paid to Prince Bandar over a period from 1985 to the present, going through a variety of God knows what projects in the Middle East and elsewhere. Given the close relationship of Prince Bandar to the Bush family, to the national security establishment here, and to the office of the Vice President, is the White House prepared to let such an investigation proceed and let the chips fall where they may?
MR. SNOW: As you know, the White House does not, in fact, get involved in making those decisions. That's a Department of Justice decision. I don't know anything about it. If it's true, they will proceed. I can neither confirm it nor deny it because I don't know anything about it.
Q Tony, could you elaborate on the embrace of the word "commute" versus "pardon" when it comes to Lewis "Scooter" Libby?
MR. SNOW: No.
Q Why not?
MR. SNOW: Because we're just not in a position to talk about that.
Q Well, let me ask you this. We understand -- it's been said that the President's hand was somewhat forced when the judge said that Scooter Libby would have to serve his sentence, and while a pardon would not be anything to discuss, but "commute" is something that the White House is embracing and looking at --
MR. SNOW: April, I'm just not going to talk about anything that's under discussion or consideration. What we've said is the legal process has to run its course.
Q Waxman's committee has put out an interim report on the issue of the RNC emails showing, they say, that there was more use of those emails than the White House suggested, indicating possibly widespread violation of the Presidential Records Act. It's, like, 140,000 emails of Rove's, so the White House Counsel's Office is aware that official business was being conducted through this party (inaudible) system? Can you respond to all that and what --
MR. SNOW: Look, I can't respond specifically to things that the committee may have put out. But those email accounts were set up, A, on a model based on the prior administration, which had done it the same way, in order to try to avoid Hatch Act violations. And we'll just -- we'll leave it at that. I mean, these were designed precisely to avoid Hatch Act violations that prohibit the use of government assets for certain political activities.
Q What have you all found in looking at these emails and emails related to the U.S. attorneys --
MR. SNOW: I don't have any comment.
Q Tony, thank you; two questions. Channel 6 in --
MR. SNOW: I'll tell you what, let me back up -- a couple of things. Number one, again, I'm still trying to -- Hutch, I'm not sure exactly what you're trying to get at here. I want to make sure I give you a satisfactory answer. What you're talking about is?
Q Well, you all are going back and saying, remember, how many you could save that might be relevant to that inquiry.
MR. SNOW: Right.
Q I'm wondering where that stands. And are you prepared to give up whatever you found at --
MR. SNOW: Well, number one, I'm not going to get into any conversations we may be having with Senator Waxman's committee about what they may be requesting. But, again, the way the system works, any email sent to or received from White House emails are automatically archived. And the RNC has had an email preservation policy for White House staffers, as well. We've sort of been through this -- I'm not sure exactly what the start date was -- we'll just have to see how Counsel's Office responds to Representative Waxman's request.
Q We have been through this, but you were saying at the time there were, like, 50 staffers -- Waxman is saying, no, it's more like 88, and there are indications -- I mean, 140,000 emails is a lot of emails.
MR. SNOW: That is a whole lot of email.
Q And that's just Rove, that's not all the other folks.
MR. SNOW: That's a whole lot of email, absolutely right.
Q Have we cut off all funding to Gaza, and has all fuel been cut off?
MR. SNOW: What we have said is that we continue to try to work on providing humanitarian aid for the Palestinian people, but we also have made it clear that we will not be supplying directly to Hamas. I think when -- but, Helen, what I would do is, again, for the specific questions, because Secretary Rice is going to be addressing all these things in detail within the next hour.
Q I know, but my specific question is are we going to starve these people, the Palestinians --
MR. SNOW: Again, it has always been our policy to be providing humanitarian aid directly to the Palestinian people, and it continues to be.
Q Tony, thank you; two questions. Channel 6 in Portland, Oregon, featured Mayor Tom Potter of Portland as saying, "I am angered by this morning's arrest by federal officers of approximately 150 Portland residents who were working at a local produce company." And my question, how does the President ever expect to bring under control the illegal immigration problem when a mayor like Potter openly advocated overlooking existing federal immigration law regarding these 150 lawbreakers?
MR. SNOW: Was he not talking about an arrest, Lester?
MR. SNOW: Well, then I hardly see that the mayor was in a position to circumvent the law.
Q Okay. Second, the New York Times quoted Republican Minority Whip Trent Lott as saying, with regard to what caused the stopping of the immigration bill, "Talk radio is running America. We have to deal with that problem." And since you are the first talk radio host ever to be a White House press secretary, can you tell us, have you or the President learned from Republican Trent Lott how he has in mind to deal with us without attempting censorship?
MR. SNOW: No, and I would refer it back to him. But on the other hand, also, when you talk about a stalled bill, I think it's pretty clear that is not a stalled bill.
Q On the Mideast peace process in general, does the President have any regrets that early in his administration he didn't engage more fully in the process and maybe that has backfired?
MR. SNOW: I think what the President did early on was make it clear that we're not going to deal with terrorists. Yasser Arafat, as you know, was in power. He had been the most frequent visitor to this White House in the previous administration. And President Clinton I think had expressed considerable exasperation about the lack of returns for it. What the President had done was maintain a sense of moral clarity about who you're going to deal with.
But this administration has always been engaged. This is the first administration the have talked about a two-state solution. And we continue to work through it. It is pretty clear, on the other hand, that there are terrorists who, every time there is some inclination of progress, are going to do what they can to try to get in the way of it. As we have said, the Palestinian people are going to have to make choices about whom they support, and we support the emergency government of President Abbas. And, again, for much fuller detail on that, consult the Secretary of State quite soon.
Q Do you think that the war in Iraq has helped push the peace process forward in any way?
MR. SNOW: Don't know. I mean, what I don't think is -- quite often people say, well, you can't -- you're not focusing on the Middle East because you're focusing on Iraq. These are all related. As the President has pointed out before, whenever pro-democracy movements seem to be making some progress -- Lebanon, for instance -- there are actions that are designed to derail it. This is part of -- this is part of the larger war on terror, and we, in fact, remain fully engaged on all fronts.
Q But before the war, the President said that taking out Saddam Hussein would help stabilize the Middle East. Do you think that's turned out to be true?
MR. SNOW: Hard to say. I mean, what you saw, for instance, was very swift change of behavior on the part of Libya. Certainly we continue to work closely with our other allies in the region. But it is also clear that al Qaeda is doing whatever it can to try to destabilize. And it is our commitment not only to fight back against al Qaeda, but to strengthen the forces of democracy. We continue to support the Siniora government, which at the beginning of this administration was not in place. So I think it's very difficult to come up with a sort of glib, one-line description of what's going on in the region. But it is pretty clear that a lot of people are putting their lives on the line for the cause of democracy in Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. And we support them.
Q Tony, on the question of the emails, one of the things that the committee found was that a significant portion, I think close to half of the emails had gone between email addresses with a .gov address. How, then, if you say that this was set up to avoid Hatch Act violations, is that avoiding Hatch Act violations if these emails --
MR. SNOW: Again, I will let the lawyers work that out. I'm not going to try to pretend to be the legal --
Q Can the lawyers come talk to us about that?
MR. SNOW: Well, first, let's wait and see what Representative Waxman has to offer. I'm sure at the appropriate point we will have a response.
Q Following on that, the Chairman says that Alberto Gonzales, then White House Counsel, that there's evidence to suggest he was aware that Karl Rove and others were using RNC-related email for government business.
MR. SNOW: Again, that's an allegation and we'll respond to it in due course.
Q Is this being viewed as a serious concern in the White House now?
MR. SNOW: I have not had a conversation with Fred about it, so I don't know. I mean, obviously -- let me put it this way, we've seen a number of times right now where people have been putting together investigations to see what sticks. They have had very little success so far. This is an administration that is very careful about obeying the law. We take it seriously. The White House legal Counsel's Office takes it seriously. And we will look at whatever requests for information people on the Hill may have to offer. We have also made it clear that we are willing to cooperate on a number of fronts, but beyond that, I cannot and shall not go.
Q Two questions, if I may. On Iran, there is now this growing divestment movement, at least 15 states. Does the administration now have any position on --
MR. SNOW: That's a federalism issue. We'll let the states make whatever decisions they need to make.
Q You have no thoughts on it at all?
MR. SNOW: No.
Q And on this Alan Johnston situation in Gaza, does the administration, by any chance, have any insight into who is holding --
MR. SNOW: Well, if we have inside information we will not share it.
Q Tony, will the President advise Israel to refrain from military action in Gaza?
MR. SNOW: The President will be meeting with Prime Minister Olmert tomorrow. We'll give you a readout after they've had their conversation.
Q What does he hope to get out of that meeting?
MR. SNOW: This was a prescheduled meeting, but obviously it's an important time to be talking about trying to move forward with the Middle East peace process. This shows our continuing engagement of and support for the Israeli government and also those who want to pursue a path toward a two-state solution that's consistent with the Quartet principles.
Q Does Hamas' action in Gaza --
Q How do you pursue a two-state solution when you've got three states?
MR. SNOW: Well, they'll talk about it.
Q Does Hamas' action in Gaza make it easier to move this process forward in the eyes of the U.S.?
MR. SNOW: Again, I don't want to characterize. What I would do, for all of these questions, is direct them to the Secretary of State, who will be speaking soon.
Q You said, essentially, that the President created a moral line in terms of meeting with Arafat -- dealing with Arafat. But none other than Shimon Peres has said you have to deal directly with your enemies. So does the President believe that we -- that the United States should have any direct contact with people who may be less than morally like Hamas?
MR. SNOW: I think what the President is doing right now is showing support for our friends. And there are many people in Gaza who I think today are right now the victims of wholesale abuse of their human rights. And we support their efforts -- the people who want democracy, who want freedom, who want stability, who want the ability to build full lives, those are the folks that we're supporting and continue to support.
Q One could argue that they have democracy, that Hamas was elected a little bit over a year ago; they're a democratically elected government, and yet this administration and its allies have sought to undermine them. I wonder how you square the notion of democracy in the Middle East and undermining a government when you don't like who is elected.
MR. SNOW: Well, they have actually pursued a constitutional solution right now. I don't think that what you would call -- correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think you've seen a vigorous exercise in democracy in Gaza in recent days. I think you've seen just the opposite. What this administration has said is that we will not deal with a terrorist organization, but we have also invited those in Hamas to go ahead and abide by the Quartet principles.
Q But is the administration for democracy in the Middle East, regardless of who gets elected? Or if it doesn't like the results will it go against --
MR. SNOW: We've been through the debating points on this many times. We are for democracy in the Middle East. We are also against going in, routing out and slaughtering people you disagree with.
Q Tony, have things eroded so much there that there is a concern that the President's current efforts will make a difference, realistically?
MR. SNOW: You got to keep -- yes, of course the President -- we believe that if you support your friends and also -- keep in mind, the United States, Israel, President Abbas are not the only players. There are also regional players who are keenly interested in what's going on. And they see that there are some attempts from the outside to destabilize the region, and what they want is stability, and they want the assurance that we can, in fact, move forward. The President is working with leaders throughout the region, and will continue to do so.
Q So, understanding what you're saying, things are not so far gone that the President can't make a difference?
MR. SNOW: Well, look, ultimately, what has to -- this is about creating the ability for the Palestinian people to achieve their destiny as a free people. This is not simply the President waltzing in; the President doesn't have a magic wand. But what we are trying to do is to give strength and support to people who are defending human rights and promoting the cause of democracy.
Q Tomorrow the Senate Finance is taking up an energy tax cut package, and they're proposing to pay for it by eliminating several tax breaks for oil and gas companies. Does the White House have a position on that approach?
MR. SNOW: When we get a statement of administration policy I'll let you know what we may have to say about particular provisions.
Q I guess the reason I'm asking is the President, in the past, has said that oil and gas companies are making plenty of profits, and do not need a tax break. So I just wondered if --
MR. SNOW: Again, let's see what we get in the markup, and we'll give you some response as we see appropriate.
Q In regard to Gaza, how can what's happened be interpreted as anything other than a serious setback to the President's agenda for democracy in the Middle East?
MR. SNOW: I think it's a serious setback for the Palestinian people. But on the other hand, what you've also seen is President Abbas stepping forward, putting together an emergency government, naming a new Prime Minister, and taking affirmative steps. And we are certainly going to support him on that.
You've got to keep in mind terrorists, in fact -- terrorists are going to do what they can to disrupt the cause of democracy. We've now seen it in Gaza. We saw it before in Lebanon. We certainly see it in Iraq. We see it in Afghanistan. That is less a repudiation of the President than a revelation of the kind of people we're dealing with and why it's important to assemble international coalitions that are willing to stand up to them and provide support for the people who are putting their lives on the line to support democracy.
Q But the administration had encouraged the elections, and now what you've got is an emergency government forming. How is this --
MR. SNOW: Well, you have an emergency government because a government that elected itself on a non-corruption pledge now seems to be having moved in a different direction.
END 1:01 P.M. EDT
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