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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
January 2, 2008
Press Briefing by Dana Perino
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:34 P.M. EST
MS. PERINO: Happy New Year. Good to see you. I have nothing to start with. I'll go to questions.
Q Are you in favor of a U.N. investigation of the Bhutto killing?
MS. PERINO: The Pakistanis have just made a decision to ask Scotland Yard to get involved, and we think that that's appropriate. We welcome that. They have expertise in the area of investigations of this sort. And what's most important is that they proceed quickly and in a transparent and comprehensive way, so that the people of Pakistan can get the answers that they deserve, and that as they move forward towards the elections, with the date certain that was just set today, that people will be able to participate in the process freely, that campaigns be allowed to take place, and that the elections take place on February 18th and the people of Pakistan can decide the leadership that they want moving forward.
Q Why did Pakistan not ask the United States for help, when you've been saying you stand ready to help with that?
MS. PERINO: I'll decline to go into any details about discussions that were underway. What I can say is we certainly support Scotland Yard being involved, and we think that they'll do an excellent job. And we hope that they will be able to move quickly and provide for a very transparent report, so that the Pakistanis can feel comfortable that they have the answers that they've been asking for.
Q Was this an agreement reached with the Brits and with Musharraf that the Brits would take the lead on this?
MS. PERINO: Look, I'll refer you to the government of Pakistan, if they want to detail out any of those -- we've had discussions with them ongoing, we've been in communication as Secretary Rice has been -- and briefed the President on today -- been in contact with party leaders from the various political parties in Pakistan; been in communication with President Musharraf, as we mentioned the other day -- that the President called him on the day that Benazir Bhutto was so tragically assassinated.
And we're going to continue to work with them, because the most important thing we can do is to keep Pakistan as a stable country, establishing their democracy in a way that can lead them away from violence. And so we urge the political parties that are there to ask their followers to refrain from violence, to look to the investigation that Scotland Yard will produce that will be transparent and fair and hopefully move ahead as quickly as possible.
Q May I just follow?
MS. PERINO: I'm going to go over here. Kathleen.
Q Mine is on another subject.
MS. PERINO: Okay, Goyal.
Q Thank you. Two quick questions. I cannot -- first of all, Happy New Year. I just came from AEI, American Enterprise Institute. There were some scholars speaking on Pakistan today, this morning. What they were saying, really, that as far as the investigation is concerned, all the proof were washed away right -- minutes after her assassination, and how can investigate when there is no proofs, number one.
Number two, what they are saying is that as far as U.S. aid was concerned, the time has come that maybe to reevaluate that fight on terrorism, is still really -- whether he helping the U.S. or not.
MS. PERINO: As to the forensics of the investigation, I'm going to leave that to Scotland Yard, so that they can gather whatever the Pakistanis have. And maybe what happened after the investigation will be -- of the assassination will be a part of the investigation. So let me put that aside and let Scotland Yard deal with that.
As to our aid to Pakistan, we certainly have reviewed that. You know that that's been going on at the State Department. Pakistan has been an important ally in the global war on terror, and it will remain so. There are many challenges in regards to terrorism in that area, and so we're going to have to continue to work with them.
Kathleen -- I'm sorry, anybody else on Pakistan?
Q Back to the elections -- the opposition party has said that postponing it for six years will advantage the government and disadvantage the opposition. They say they'll participate, but they're not very happy about it. Is the United States utterly indifferent on the date?
MS. PERINO: We think that it was a decision that the Pakistanis had to make, and we hope that they can come together. This date is the one that has been set by the government, and it will move -- people will be able to move forward in a situation where they can speak freely to the media and continue to move forward their path to democracy. And this is a decision that the Pakistanis have to make. The Americans can't make every decision for them.
Q Follow on the investigation. Does the U.S. have any role? Is it offering help to Scotland Yard at all?
MS. PERINO: I don't know if Scotland Yard has asked us for any help. Obviously, this has just been announced in the past hour or two. We can provide updates, but as of now, I think Scotland Yard is in the lead, and we'll leave it at that.
Q This begins President Bush's final year in the White House. What would you say are his most important goals, his priorities, the things on his "must-do" list before he leaves the White House?
MS. PERINO: Well, there's a few things that we need to do with Congress on. While we were able to achieve some things last year, there's a lot of unfinished business. In regards to working with Congress, one of the first things that they need to do when they return is to pass and permanently establish the intelligence community reforms for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act -- the FISA bill. That will make sure that we keep that intelligence gap closed, that we can surveil as appropriate.
We'll also need to move forward on -- hopefully the No Child Left Behind reauthorization. It does not have to be reauthorized; it remains the law of the land through 2012, but we have this opportunity to strengthen the law now and we'd like to work with Congress to get that done.
In the last four months, when the President has asked Congress to move forward on housing legislation in order to help stabilize that market and to help homeowners who are having some difficulty, they've only passed one of the pieces of legislation the President asked for; there are about four additional pieces of legislation they could move forward on, including modernizing the Federal Housing Administration.
In addition to that, we have free trade agreements that are on the table, including South Korea, Colombia, and Peru -- am I getting that one right? I think I might be missing one. And in addition to that, we have many outstanding nominations that need to be confirmed, both judicial and also throughout the government, and it really is unfortunate that Congress has not moved forward on its obligation to have hearings and to hold votes, because the President has nominated very good people.
And then of course we'll have to go through the joy of trying to pass a budget again, and that will have to take place fairly quickly as we get underway. The President's budget will come out I believe February 5th, whatever that Monday is.
In addition to that, though, the President has a lot of things he wants to do to consolidate the gains that we've made in the global war on terror. There are a many tools that the President has instituted since the September 11th attacks, that he has used and that he wants any future President to be able to use. And so he'll be working on that.
In addition, as you know, next Tuesday the President leaves for a trip to the Middle East, where he will continue to help the Palestinians and the Israelis seize this opportunity to try to get to a peace settlement where we can have a Palestinian state, which will be to the benefit of both the Israelis and the Palestinians. Beyond that, you know he'll be going to Africa. He's got many economic meetings to come, international meetings, including the G8. So there's a lot of things that we have to get done. He says he wants to sprint to the finish. I saw him this morning. He said he got a lot of great rest and that he's ready to work.
Q Another quick question on China. Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control has a new report that says two --
MS. PERINO: The Wisconsin Project?
Q Wisconsin Project -- not my question.
MS. PERINO: Okay.
Q Two of the five Chinese companies designated by the Bush administration as safe to sell American technology products to apparently are not safe because they are going to the Chinese government, People's Liberation Army, other Chinese entities accused of ties to Syria and Iran. Has the administration vetted these companies completely, and what's your response to that?
MS. PERINO: Well, if it's not your question, I don't know whose it is, and we'll just have to get back to you. I don't know.
Q It's missing in your whole category of goals for his last year in office -- peace in Iraq.
MS. PERINO: I should have mentioned, of course -- my list was not considered exhaustive as I ticked it off of the top of my head. Clearly, the work that we've done in Iraq over the past year has helped improve the security situation in Iraq and -- but that peace is -- not peace, that security is fragile, and the President will look to General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker, who will report later this spring to him on what next steps they think should take place in Iraq.
One thing I would point you to is General -- Major General Kevin Bergner gave a briefing today in Baghdad in regards to al Qaeda captures, especially the leadership of al Qaeda. I believe it was 51 al Qaeda members that they killed or captured in December. And also he talked about how the Sunnis reacted to the Osama bin Laden tape, rejecting Osama bin Laden's call for them to rise up against the coalition forces. So if you have a chance, I'd encourage you all to look at that.
Q And have you ever found out why none of the tapes on the two al Qaeda people were not turned over to the commission -- the 9/11 commission?
MS. PERINO: As I mentioned this morning, I'm going to check to see if there's anything more I can say. But as I have from the beginning, I've declined to comment while the Justice Department and the CIA have a preliminary investigation going on.
Q When do you think they'll have report?
MS. PERINO: I don't have a time frame for you. I'll have to refer you to the Justice Department for that.
Q Dana, earlier today I asked you if there was any reason to believe that North Korea was actually going to provide a complete and correct declaration of all of its nuclear programs and materiel, and your reply was that "We are skeptical of that." And so I wonder why the administration is proceeding forward with the entire agreement if it has such skepticism.
MS. PERINO: We -- as we've dealt with North Korea over the past several years, it is only appropriate that we would be skeptical. This is a very closed society that has had a secret program that's been ongoing. But North Korea did agree with the other members of the five -- of the six-party talks to disable and to provide a complete and accurate declaration. We don't have any indication that they will not provide one, but we -- they missed the deadline, and we are waiting to hear from them. And I would remind you that the State Department continues to be in regular contact with all the members of the six-party talks, and Deputy Secretary Negroponte will be in the region, in Beijing, middle of January, a couple weeks from now.
Q And you also said this morning that you imagine that this topic will be very high on Deputy Secretary Negroponte's agenda in Beijing, and he's going there in mid-month. Should we infer from that that you don't expect to receive this declaration by at least the middle of this month?
MS. PERINO: No, I really don't have any time frame as to when we would get the declaration. We would like it as soon as possible, but we do want it to be complete and accurate, because that's what they agreed to. And we'll continue to help them with the disablement. We have people on the ground now who are making sure it's done in a safe and proper manner.
Q Back on Pakistan for a second.
MS. PERINO: Okay.
Q The date of the election notwithstanding, what is most -- what is paramount to the administration -- that there not be a renewed state of emergency in Pakistan, which I think the President expressed?
MS. PERINO: Well, we haven't heard anyone talking about a renewed state of emergency there in Pakistan, and I think that it remains a dangerous situation when you have people who are willing to blow themselves up to advance a political cause. And no wonder it creates instability. And I think that it creates anxiety. And the threat is that people can -- in countries would look inward rather than remembering that the bigger picture threat is terrorism.
And so while they need to focus on their elections to make sure that they remain free and fair and that the violence remains tamped down, they also have to keep in mind that we have a terrorist threat that we have to deal with collectively, and that's why the President has continued to talk to not only Musharraf, but Secretary Rice has been in contact with the other members of the political parties there in Pakistan as well.
Q Dana, on Pakistan also. Today you said that -- about Scotland Yard: "We think they'll do an excellent job." For the past week or so, it's been impossible to get anyone from the White House to say that the U.S. has confidence in the Musharraf government carrying out an investigation. Given your comments on Scotland Yard, why shouldn't we assume that it's a pretty serious rebuke to the government in Islamabad?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that it was the Pakistani government that decided to ask Scotland Yard for its help, and we think that was appropriate and we welcome that decision.
Q Just a follow-up on this point, though. The Bush administration pushed heavily for an international investigation into the assassination of former Prime Minister Hariri in Lebanon, but is not doing so in the case of Benazir Bhutto's assassination, and I wonder what criteria are guiding these very different decisions.
MS. PERINO: James, just now several -- just a couple of hours ago, President Musharraf announced that they had asked -- he had asked Prime Minister Gordon Brown for help; that Scotland Yard would be participating and doing the -- leading the investigation. We support that decision and we think it was the right one.
Q What I'm asking is why the administration is not pushing for an international tribunal of the sort it did push very heavily for in the case of Rafiq Hariri.
MS. PERINO: I think that Scotland Yard being in the lead in this investigation is appropriate and necessary.* And I don't see -- we don't see a need for an investigation beyond that at this time.
Q Over the weekend the President signed another extension of the SCHIP program. But you didn't mention any efforts to reach a compromise on an expanded program, so what do you think the prospects are for --
MS. PERINO: Let me reiterate, the list that I ticked off for Kathleen was off the top of my head and not an exhaustive list of all the things that the President wants to work on. Obviously health care is going to be an important issue. It was the Congress that decided to move forward and sign a 19-month extension on SCHIP. The President was willing to compromise to expand the program, and said he'd be willing to put more money towards it. They decided not to take him up on that offer. If, however, they change their mind when they come back and they want to bring it up again, we'll consider that.
Q On the President's Middle East trip, has there been any considerations about postponing it because of security dangers?
MS. PERINO: No.
Q Is the President perhaps also going to Lebanon and Iraq?
MS. PERINO: We haven't -- we'll provide a full trip briefing tomorrow, but I don't know of any countries that have been added to the trip, no.
Q Dana, any reaction to oil hitting $100 a barrel, and what new energy initiatives can we expect this year?
MS. PERINO: Well, we always watch energy prices, and we know that higher energy prices have a perverse impact on families' budgets, especially small businesses, as well. A few things to look for in the coming year: While we just signed -- while the President just signed an energy bill that will help get us towards reducing our gasoline consumption by 20 percent -- not as fast as the President would like, but over, I think until about 2022; the President wanted to do it by 2017.
What the President will do this year is continue to push Congress to work towards expanding domestic production here in the United States in environmentally sensitive ways. We have to figure out a way to increase supply here in the United States, done in environmentally sensitive ways, which we know how to do, so that we can have an increase supply of oil here while world demand continues to increase at a really astronomical pace for demand for oil.
So while we try to transition our economy to one that can run on renewable and alternative fuels, that's going to take a long time. And so what we can look towards is ways that we can increase supply here in the United States. And of course, we work with our partners all across the world in regards to finding ways that we can work together, and that includes with Mexico and Canada.
Q Is that in reference to pushing the Arctic --
MS. PERINO: The President does support increasing drilling in environmentally sensitive ways in ANWR, and that will be another -- I'm sure you'll hear from that again. There's also offshore drilling that you can do, and there are alternative ways that you can look to extract oil, as well as to use it.
Q Is that going to be a part of the State of the Union, do you think, pushing that --
MS. PERINO: Pretty early to preview the State of the Union, but the President has pushed for that expansion over the years, and I don't see that changing at all.
Q Are there any plans to tap the SPR related to the $100 --
MS. PERINO: The SPR is used -- is supposed to be used for emergencies. We know that markets work, and I don't know of -- this President would not use the SPR to manipulate, unless there was a true emergency. And right now we understand that the prices are high and demand is extremely high. What the President would focus on doing is increasing supply -- I'm sorry, demand is very high. The President wants to increase supply, and doing a temporary release of the SPRO is not going to change prices very much. We know that from past history.
Q Dana, back on Pakistan. It was intimated in a column recently by Robert Novak that given the fact that the State Department and the U.S. have been instrumental in trying to pull together an agreement between Musharraf and Mrs. Bhutto, that it should have had the responsibility also for some of the security, either did or should have had such a responsibility and therefore dropped the ball. Does the White House feel that there is any basis for these accusations?
MS. PERINO: I don't -- yes, I've read that column. I don't know enough about all the arrangements that were in place, and so I'd refer you to the State Department for more.
Q And on Kenya, secondly. The U.S. ambassador, in light of the Kenya elections and the riots afterwards, the U.S. ambassador indicated that there were irregularities but that the elections should hold, while the British ambassador is calling for new elections. What is the U.S. position on the recent elections in Kenya?
MS. PERINO: I haven't seen the British comments. I know that what we would like to see is an immediate end to the violence. And the political parties, the leaders of the political parties in Kenya should urge everyone to refrain from violence. What happened there yesterday was absolutely tragic -- well, in the past few days was absolutely tragic, and the church fire exemplifies just how horrible violence in this -- in the aftermath of the election can be.
Now, the Electoral Commission of Kenya is currently studying the elections, and let me refer you to them for now. But right now, what the President is doing is encouraging Secretary Rice, who has been in contact with the leaders of the political parties there -- I know she's reaching out to them again today to try to urge them to ask their followers to refrain from any violence.
Q Is Kenya one of the countries President Bush is considering for his Africa trip?
MS. PERINO: There's nothing I can comment on. I think it's a little bit early.
Q So you aren't ruling it out.
MS. PERINO: Not ruling anything in or out, and I truly don't know.
Q Okay. And on Pakistan, from what Secretary Rice reported to him this morning, does the President feel that free and fair elections are possible in Pakistan on February 18th?
MS. PERINO: I did not talk to the President after that briefing, but I don't have any indication that he heard otherwise. So I can -- we can check and see if there's anything more to add.
Q Dana, would the President like to have a three-way discussion in the Middle East with Olmert and Abbas? Hoping that happens, or --
MS. PERINO: We'll see if we can update the schedule for you soon. Steve Hadley, the President's National Security Advisor, will give everyone a briefing tomorrow at 2:00 p.m. And if there's more we can add then, we will.
END 12:53 P.M. EST
* The Pakistani government has asked Scotland Yard to assist them in this investigation. The Government of Pakistan is in the lead.