For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
August 24, 2007
Press Gaggle by Gordon Johndroe
Crawford Middle School
11:52 A.M. CDT
MR. JOHNDROE: Good morning. The President had his normal briefings this morning. He also taped the weekly radio address, which is on the war in Iraq and contains examples of Iraqis stepping forward to defend their democracy.
I'd like to give the President's schedule for next week now. The President will depart from Crawford on Monday morning, August 27th. He will travel to Albuquerque, New Mexico and attend a People for Pete Domenici reception at a private residence.
Q Open or closed?
MR. JOHNDROE: Closed. The President will then travel to Bellevue, Washington, to make remarks at a Friends of Dave Reichert and the Washington State Republican Party. That reception is pool for cameras, open for correspondents. The President then goes on to Reno, Nevada, where he will remain overnight on Monday.
On Tuesday morning, August 28th, the President will make remarks at the 89th Annual American Legion Convention in Reno, Nevada. The President will focus on the Middle East and why the rise of a free and democratic Iraq is critical to the future of this vital region and to our own nation's security. The President will also provide an update on the developments we are seeing on the ground in Iraq. That afternoon the President will then travel to New Orleans, Louisiana, where he will remain overnight.
On Wednesday, August 29th, the President and Mrs. Bush will visit New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast. This will be the President's 15th visit to the region since Hurricane Katrina. The President continues to follow through on his commitment to help local citizens rebuild their lives and communities on the Gulf Coast. The federal government has provided more than $114 billion for relief, recovery and rebuilding efforts, over $96 billion of which has been disbursed or is available for states to draw from. The President and Mrs. Bush return to Washington on Wednesday evening.
Another update from this morning: The President called the Reverend Billy Graham to check on him after his recent surgery. They had a very good conversation and we can report that the Reverend Graham is resting comfortably.
And with that, I will take your questions. Olivier.
Q Gordon, The Los Angeles Times reports that General Peter Pace is set to advise the President privately that in order to alleviate strains on the U.S. military, the levels of -- troop levels in Iraq need to come down by as much as half. Has General Pace provided any such advice, either privately or a formal report, and what's your reaction to that report?
MR. JOHNDROE: The President has received no recommendations regarding our future force posture in Iraq, and I would caution everyone that between now and the next approximately 19 days we're going to see a lot of reporting about what different people are recommending, what they're not recommending -- more troops, less troops, stay the same. I think we're going to see a lot of that over the next two-and-a-half weeks. The most important thing is to wait for General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker to return from Baghdad and make their report to Congress, the President and the American people. And after that, the President will then make his own report to Congress.
Q Gordon, given Senator Warner's comments yesterday, is the President reaching out to lawmakers on the Hill to bolster waning support toward his plan in Iraq?
MR. JOHNDROE: Well, you know, I disagree with the notion of "waning support." I don't think that Senator Warner's position on Iraq has substantially changed. I'm not aware of any sort of announcements of anyone changing their votes; of Senator Warner saying he's going to change his vote regarding support for the mission in Iraq. He made a recommendation. He made a suggestion following his trip there that perhaps troop position or posture could change.
But right now, as I just said, regarding the news reports about other people's recommendations, the President will listen to generals on the ground, Ambassador Crocker, Secretaries Rice and Gates, and also members of Congress, take in everything that they have to say, and then make recommendations on the way ahead. But that's not coming until next month.
Q Gordon, one of those members of Congress, Republican Pete Hoekstra was saying today that the White House needs to move away from focusing on establishing a stable democracy in Iraq. He called that focus, "too big of a reach" to expect that we can accomplish that, and you should instead focus instead on security and stability. Do you agree with that notion? Because there are others -- there have been some generals on the ground also reportedly saying that maybe it's too much of a reach to have a stable democracy, maybe a strong man needs to be put in. What's the White House view on that?
MR. JOHNDROE: Well, I would refer you and members of Congress to the President's remarks on Tuesday to the -- or Wednesday, to the VFW, where many people decades ago were saying the same thing about Japan, South Korea. And now those two countries are incredible success stories in Asia -- thriving democracies, allies of the United States.
So the immediate goal in Iraq is to bring security and stability, and for the Iraqi political leaders to come together and forge some agreements so this national unity government can work together for the better of all Iraqis.
So I think that -- I think to suggest that we need to change our goal away from democracy, they have a democracy. They have an elected government in a sovereign country. And that's what the Iraqi people want. They showed it when they went to the polls.
Q The Republican lobbying firm that's working to help Allawi against Maliki, it's now come out that they're getting paid $300,000 for six months of work. And the person working on the account is Ambassador Robert Blackwill, who, as you know, is the former deputy national security advisor; at one point was the presidential envoy to Iraq. What does that say about the President's policy that one of his former deputy national security advisors is now working against Maliki?
MR. JOHNDROE: Far be it for me to judge why people sign contracts for whatever reason. I'm sure they have a desire to help out their client. But they're former administration officials; administration policy remains unchanged. There is a sovereign, elected government with Prime Minister Maliki and the presidency council. They are working to come up with some sort of political accommodation in Baghdad and that's where things stand in reality on the ground.
Q Is it still administration policy that the U.S. commitment in Iraq is not open-ended?
MR. JOHNDROE: I think the President has made it clear that he eventually would like to see the United States in a different configuration in Iraq; there is no doubt about that. The surge was designed, as we have said repeatedly, to help bring security to Iraq. We've seen that there are signs of success on that front -- the NIE even talked about that yesterday.
But obviously, as the President has said, we'd like to be in a different position at some point, but that's going to be driven by conditions on the ground.
Q Just two quick ones. Did you get any chance to follow up on the McConnell question I had yesterday, on the border crossings?
MR. JOHNDROE: Sure. I think over the last couple of years we've seen a number of Iraqis trying to enter the country from the southwest border in two ways: one, seeking asylum; and, two, potentially illegal entry. The number of asylum-seekers, according to Homeland Security, is somewhere over a hundred; the number of Iraqis trying to enter the country illegally is just about a dozen or so. But I think for any other specifics I'd refer you to the Department of Homeland Security.
Q Okay. And today, again, a U.S. general in Iraq said that Iranian weapons flows are increasing. Are those kinds of weapons flows, are those a casus belli for the United States?
MR. JOHNDROE: I think we've made it very clear that Iranian activity inside Iraq has not been helpful. The Iranians state publicly every time they meet with Ambassador Crocker that they want to play a constructive role inside Iraq. Yet, according to our commanders on the ground, we see an increased flow of very deadly explosively formed projectiles. That is not playing a constructive role in Iraq. It is -- those weapons supplied by Iranians to militias are responsible for the deaths of American soldiers. The support of those militias is responsible for the deaths of innocent Iraqis. It is an understatement to say that that kind of activity is not useful, nor helpful.
Q But then why not stop it at the source? If these flows are, in fact, leading to the deaths of Americans -- you've always said that you were restricting operations to inside Iraq. Why is that? If, in fact, these weapons are killing Americans, why not go ahead and tackle them before the threat materializes?
MR. JOHNDROE: The Americans are being killed inside Iraq and U.S. forces are taking appropriate force protection measures to deal with it.
Q A couple questions on New Orleans. In a lot of very basic way, the city is still in shambles. There are neighborhoods in ruins. There's pervasive crime and homelessness. Bottom line, two years later, why hasn't the administration done more to fix this problem?
MR. JOHNDROE: Well, I certainly disagree with the premise of the question. As I said at the beginning of the briefing, the federal government has provided $114 billion to the region, of which $96 billion has been disbursed or is available to the states.
I think that this was a catastrophic natural disaster that we all know is going to take some time to -- for the Gulf Coast to recover. And there are a lot of good people in the Gulf Coast Office led by Don Powell, working with the states and the local governments. You know, this is a combined effort, combined effort with the private sector involved as well to rebuild New Orleans and the whole Gulf Coast region.
But these sort of things are going to take -- they're going to take some time.
Q What's the President's assessment, then, of how progress is going? Is he satisfied with the pace of progress, does he think it's moving along at a smooth pace?
MR. JOHNDROE: You know, I think I'm going to wait until the President makes remarks on the Gulf Coast next week, and leave it at that.
Q Gordon, there was a New York Times story yesterday saying the administration was set to issue a regulation making it easier to do mountaintop coal mining. What's the rationale behind that? It's a controversial tactic.
MR. JOHNDROE: This is a proposed rule that would address environmental concerns about the disposal of excess mine spoil and coal preparation waste outside the mine area. It would clarify existing requirements for mining in and around streams, requirements that are currently not being interpreted consistently across the country. This rule is designed to achieve long-term stability, so, important to maintaining effective environmental protections in this area.
The Office of Surface Mining's environmental impact statement indicated that there would be no significant increase nor decrease in mountaintop mining as a result of this proposed rule. And as before, all mining operations would have to comply with relevant federal and state statutes and regulations as well as the Clean Water Act.
Q Does the President have any regret that $80,000 in taxpayer funds is being paid to a couple that was forcibly removed from a presidential appearance in West Virginia in 2004 and sued the government and the government arranged this settlement?
MR. JOHNDROE: I've not discussed it with the President, so I'm not familiar.
Q Do you know if the Presidential Advance Manual is being modified in any way so that people who do nothing more than have an anti-Bush slogan on their tee shirt are removed from presidential events?
MR. JOHNDROE: I'm not aware of whether the manual is being revised or not. I think there are rules that govern the conduct of activities at presidential events and people try to adhere to them and, I think, for the most part, do.
Okay. Thank you.
END 12:05 P.M. CDT