The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
March 25, 2008

Press Briefing by Dana Perino
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

  Press Briefings

1:45 P.M. EDT

MS. PERINO: Hello. I have one scheduling update for you. Well, actually -- I'm sorry -- two. Tomorrow, National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley will do an on-camera briefing at 3:15 p.m. on the President's upcoming trip to Ukraine, Romania and Croatia. Again, that's tomorrow at 3:15 p.m. So that will be our on-camera briefing tomorrow.

And then on Friday afternoon, the President will travel Freehold, New Jersey, where he will visit a company called Novadebt. During his visit he will tour the facility and make a statement on housing. Novadebt is approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as a housing counseling agency providing pre-purchase default foreclosure and home equity conversion mortgage counseling. For example, when a person calls the HOPE NOW Alliance -- the homeowner's HOPE hotline, Novadebt is one of the companies that they would be referred to, so that they could get the help that they are seeking.

Q What's the coverage on that?

MS. PERINO: Pool coverage.

Q Is there a reason he's going out of town and it's only pool coverage?

MS. PERINO: You know what, let me get answers to you on that. I'll have Carlton do it. I'm hereby asking Carlton to do that.

Q Spelling of the town and the name of the company?

MS. PERINO: Freehold, and the company is Novadebt.

Q Do you have any reaction to the Supreme Court saying that the President overstepped his authority in the case of the Mexican national on death row in Texas?

MS. PERINO: A couple of things. You're referring to the Medellin versus Texas case that the Supreme Court just recently announced. It's about an 89-page decision of which we are currently going through, both here and at the Justice Department. One thing that's critically important to remember is that the arguments of the United States in this case in no way condoned or defended the heinous crimes of which Jos Medellin was convicted.

The Solicitor General in this case argued on behalf of the United States that the President has the authority to compel a state to comply with provisions of a legally ratified treaty -- in this case, one between the United States and a foreign power -- regarding a provision of the International Court of Justice. In their decision today, the Supreme Court disagreed and said that the President does not have that authority. They recognized that there is an international obligation to comply with treaties, but that the President of the United States does not have the legal authority to compel a state to take that action.

While we urged a different result, we respect the Court's decision and will abide by it.

Q Do you regard this as a loss of presidential authority then?

MS. PERINO: Well, remember the narrow focus of this case in regards to how we should deal with this one particular issue, and it only is in regard to Jos Medellin and 50 others -- it was 51 total people. It was not as broad as some people, I think, have reported. But, of course, since we urged a different result, we're disappointed with the decision, but we're going to accept it, and we're going to be reviewing it in regards to the impacts that it may have.

Q Dana, when was the President first briefed about the missile parts that were mistakenly sent to Taiwan? What was his reaction? And does he still have confidence in the Air Force leadership, considering this is now the second example of nuclear-related equipment being mishandled?

MS. PERINO: I do know the President was briefed. I don't know exactly when, but it would have been recently. But he appreciates that they are taking action and there is a full investigation underway, and he's glad that the result is that they got the parts back. But he'll be interested to hear what the results are from that investigation.

Q Does he still have confidence in the Air Force leadership?

MS. PERINO: Yes, yes, he does.

Q Last week you said that President Bush is concerned about the name issue and he expects a solution prior to the NATO summit in Bucharest. Do you still believe that? Does the President have in mind any other way for Athens and Skopje to reach an agreement prior to the NATO summit?

MS. PERINO: Well, we continue to encourage Greece and Macedonia to reach an agreement before we get to Bucharest so that we can deal with this issue prior to getting there. But if it's going to take all the way -- take all the time up to the NATO conference, then that decision will be made there. But certainly the President believes that they should be able to work this out.

Q To follow up, President Bush said many, many times that NATO is the -- (inaudible) -- policy. Therefore --

MS. PERINO: I'm sorry, NATO is the --

Q -- (inaudible) --

MS. PERINO: Okay, got it.

Q Therefore, I'm wondering if you are in a position to ask NATO to grant a kind of extension of three or six months for FYROS to become a member in case that the today talks between Athens and Skopje on the name issue are not going to succeed?

MS. PERINO: I think what -- we should take first things first, before we get ahead of ourselves. Let's let them continue to work together. I think that the time factor is a forcing event, and that they should be coming together to work this out before we get to NATO.

Q Can I follow up on the Supreme Court?


Q Do you think this decision by the Supreme Court will affect the image of the U.S. that this country does not follow international law, especially the Geneva Convention?

MS. PERINO: No, I think that you have to look at the ruling in its totality in that the Supreme Court -- and again, I'm not a lawyer, so I'd refer you to the Justice Department for the technicalities of it all -- but the Supreme Court recognized that there was an international obligation to comply with a legally ratified treaty in the United States, but their point was that the President of the United States does not have the authority under current law to compel a state to act. And as I said, we'll be reviewing the legislation and I'm sure people on Capitol Hill will, as well.

Q Don't you think this decision will affect the decision of Mexico to extradite criminals to the U.S., even if they face the death penalty?

MS. PERINO: I don't know, and we'll have to see. But obviously, the President -- President Bush and President Calder n have spoken recently about improving the border area, especially, to make sure that we're dealing with criminality. We are assisting the Mexicans in that regard. We realize that we have a difference of opinion when it comes to the death penalty.

Q On troop levels in Iraq, The New York Times is reporting that General Petraeus recommended to President Bush putting off any decisions on further troop reductions until about a month or two, perhaps after July. And they also say that it now appears likely any decision on major reduction of American troops for Iraq will be left to the next President. Do you take issue with that characterization? How would you characterize --

MS. PERINO: Well, a couple of things. One, the President gave a speech Wednesday, March 19th, in which many headlines were similar to the ones that you read about today. So the President is in a process of getting briefed by his senior advisors, both those that are on the ground and here at the White House, at the Defense Department and at the State Department. So, across-the-board, the President is getting all of this input, taking it into account before he makes a decision. And those decisions aren't going to be made public until he's ready to make them public.

And I think it's prudent for him to allow Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus to come back and provide information to Capitol Hill. He'll continue to consult with Capitol Hill before he makes a decision on the way forward. But he's made -- he's not been shy about saying that we will have to make sure that the gains that have been achieved over this past year not be erased by acting too quickly in bringing troops home. Remember, all of this is conditions-based. So from the very beginning, if I go back to January 2005, President Bush at that point thought that we would be able to start announcing troops coming home. That didn't happen because of the Samarra mosque bombing and the violence that ensued. So then in late December 2006 and January 2007, the President made another decision based on conditions on the ground, and that was to send more troops in.

Nine months later, in September of 2007, the President makes yet another decision based on conditions on the ground, and that was that because of the success we've had some troops would be allowed to start coming home. And I would just point to you there's a pattern here, that the President listens to the commanders on the ground and makes decisions based on that regard.

Q Well, talking about conditions on the ground, do you have any information, or have you had a chance to talk to people now, on the situation as it stands now with the Mahdi Army and the calls for civil disobedience --

MS. PERINO: Are you talking about the situation in Basra?

Q In Basra.

MS. PERINO: The President was briefed this morning by General Lute during his morning briefing. He was also briefed yesterday by General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker. This is an Iraqi-led and Iraqi-initiated operation, and this is what we have been wanting to see the Iraqis do, is to take on more responsibility.

The Iraqi government has pledged even-handed enforcement of the law that is being borne out today. The surge created new opportunities and, in fact, created many more Iraqi security forces. They are better able to maneuver and responded to crises. They're a little bit more flexible, they're certainly better trained, and they're dealing with extremist networks and terrorists throughout Iraq.

Basra is one example of that. And as press reports note today, Prime Minister Maliki made a brave decision to go into a very difficult situation where you have terrorists and insurgents that have infested the area. And he has taken his forces down there and are working with them.

As to whether or not MNFI is providing any sort of air cover or something that, I'll have to refer you to them, because things are unfolding quite rapidly. But that's why we are there, to help just in case they need it.

I think the way we would characterize this is that it was a bold decision by the Iraqis. Many of these militias are backed by the Iranians. And especially when it comes to the special groups that are part of the Sadrist movement that are not following the guidance of Muqtada Al-Sadr and have continued to fight even during the cease-fire. So I would characterize it as a bold decision, precisely what the critics have asked to see in Iraq, more movement by Iraqi security forces. But obviously this is one of the first times that they've had such an entrenched battle, and we'll be there to support them if they need it.

Q Is the White House surprised or disappointed by the Standard & Poor's 20-city housing index that shows that prices in January fell more than they had in 20 years?

MS. PERINO: Year-to-year comparisons?

Q Yes.

MS. PERINO: Well, a couple of things. One, on the housing, I just mentioned the President is concerned enough that he's going to spend a day, both talking tomorrow about the economy overall, regarding the stimulus package and the business support that was in that package for tax relief that some businesses are already taking advantage of. There's another component which is the checks that will be going out and reaching people's mailboxes. Over 130 million Americans are going to get rebate checks once they file their tax returns. And that money will be -- largely, we believe, will be spent and will get money pumped into the economy, which is a good thing.

And the third element is the housing situation, where we have a large oversupply of housing which is forcing prices to come down. And while we had a good number yesterday in regards to existing home sales increasing in February, we don't take a lot of comfort in just one month's numbers. So we believe that this is going to take a little bit more time to shake out, both in regards to the housing number, as well as consumer confidence. We think it's going to take a while for that improve.

MS. PERINO: Hi, Bret. I'm sorry, Mike.

Q No relation. (Laughter.) Dana, I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about the President's meeting with the King of Bahrain and how much time might have been spent on the issue of Iran, and if there are any new aspects of dialogue you can talk a little bit about.

MS. PERINO: They had a very good meeting following on from their meeting that they had in January. The President said to the King that he had very fond memories of his trip to the Middle East, and he was favorably impressed by the Kingdom of Bahrain. We have a lot of cooperation with them in regards to the nuclear civil agreement that Secretary Rice signed yesterday. We think that -- obviously the President is a big supporter of nuclear power. We're pleased to see a country like Bahrain take on this issue, because they are looking forward into the future.

They spent a little bit of time talking about the Gulf security dialogue and the importance of cooperation in that regard. Iran is always a topic when the President meets with these countries, and so they talked a little bit about that, as well. The meeting was not as long as usual because the President had recently just seen him, and he was anxious to take him over for lunch, and then he took him upstairs in the White House for a tour of the residence.

I'm going to go to Mark first.

Q Yes, Dana, back to Iraq -- is that the subject of the Defense Department meetings tomorrow --


Q -- and can you describe how that differs or adds to the Petraeus-Crocker SVTS thing that he did yesterday? And also the speech on Thursday, how that fits into the continuum --

MS. PERINO: Okay. So if you remember a few weeks ago, I said that the President would be getting several briefings and giving several speeches on Iraq on the lead-up to it. A couple of weeks ago when the President went to the Pentagon and he met with the Joint Chiefs at the Tank, they call it, that meeting focused on long-term capabilities and long-term issues that we're looking at in terms of the 21st century -- much more broad than just Iraq, but, of course, Iraq was a little bit of the conversation.

Then the President had two hours yesterday with Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus, among others -- the whole National Security Council -- focusing specifically on Iraq and getting an assessment of where we are, six months now after the report in September. Then yesterday afternoon he went to the State Department for meetings that looked at the long-term transformational issues at the State Department.

So then tomorrow when the President goes to the Tank, he will again meet with the Joint Chiefs, but they will focus specifically on Iraq. So that will -- that's the difference in terms of those two meetings.

Then Thursday, the President's speech on Iraq will provide an update on the political and economic situation in Iraq. So we're trying to cover all the bases, but not all at once.

Q -- but still looking ahead to the Crocker-Petraeus, coming back to --

MS. PERINO: Sure, I think that there will be a little bit of that, but the President really does think that it's important not only to talk about the security gains in Iraq, as he did last Wednesday at the Pentagon, but to also talk about the other two important pillars, which are the economic and political aspects.

If I could mention one other thing that the President talked to with the King of Bahrain, which was in regards to Iraq. He thanked him for agreeing to send an ambassador back to Baghdad, which he thinks is very symbolic of the progress that Iraq is making.


Q Dana, two quick questions. One, can you give us little more details on yesterday's meeting with the Indian Foreign Minister and the President? And also, if President had the same message what Senator had in Delhi for India as far as civil nuclear deal between India and the United States, that now or never?

MS. PERINO: Well, we have a little bit of time before we have to say "now or never." We've got several months to continue to work with them. And actually that deal is supported by bipartisan members on Capitol Hill, as well, so they're helping to move this along. But, Goyal, I did not get an update on that meeting, so if I could follow up with you later, I will.

Q And second, now Pakistan has a democratic government interjected and now I think there's a clear message that people of Pakistan wanted to have this government. Do you see any change between U.S. and Pakistan as far as the security and the war on terrorism, or if President is seeking or asking more from the new government?

MS. PERINO: The President this morning called the new Prime Minister, Prime Minister Gillani. They had a very good conversation and talked about the broad relationship that the United States has with Pakistan. And in that conversation, they both agreed that it is in both of their countries' best interests to continue to fight terrorists and extremists. So we anticipate continued cooperation.

Deb, did you have one?

Q Just had a question on food safety. A House subcommittee has held six hearings now looking at food safety. There are about 5,000 deaths a year and 325,000 hospitalizations due to food -- outbreaks of toxic foods, contaminated foods. The subcommittee feels that this is increasing at an alarming rate as more of our food comes in that's imported. And I was wondering, is the President aware of this problem, and does he feel the nation's food is safe, or does he feel more needs to be done?

MS. PERINO: A couple of things. One, yes, the President is fully aware of the situation. And last summer, he asked Secretary of Health and Human Services Mike Leavitt to lead a task force to review these issues. And the food safety aspect of import -- all of our imports is critically important and something that we are working on in terms of how do you deal with this issue.

And one of the things Secretary Leavitt suggested was to try to deal with it more at the source, to prevent the problem from occurring in the first place, before any problems arrive in the United States. In addition to that, we've asked for an increase in food safety inspection budgets. So I am not familiar with all of the hearings Capitol Hill has had, but we are working in a cooperative way with Congress to try to reach an agreement.


Q How did the President come to a decision on the 15 pardons and one commutation announced today? And does he personally know any of the figures involved?

MS. PERINO: I don't believe he personally knows any one of them. The pardon attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice regularly provides the President with recommendations, and the President yesterday approved 15 pardons and one commutation of sentence. The U.S. Office of the Pardon Attorney spent late yesterday and early this morning notifying all of those people first before we made the announcement, so that they didn't read about it in the newspaper first.

The President considers these clemency recommendations as they come in to him. But I don't believe he knew any of them individually.

Q Is there a reason why the announcement was today? Does he do this periodically?

MS. PERINO: It was just on a regular course of business, and the pardon attorney provides recommendations and then the President made the decision yesterday. So, nothing specific on the timing.

Q Thank you.

MS. PERINO: Can I do last one here, sorry, for her.

Q Thank you. Saudi King Abdallah yesterday called for the first time for an interfaith dialogue, after he apparently got the go-ahead from the clerics. And one of the people that actually took the invitation was a religious leader in Israel. So how do you think that will fare for the historically tense ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel?

MS. PERINO: Well, we think increased dialogue is a really good thing. And, of course, when you have someone like the King of Saudi Arabia, and all of his stature, that is recommending such a dialogue, it can only give us hope that there would be further recognition of everyone's right to freedom and freedom of expression and religion. So we are encouraged by it.


END 2:16 P.M. EDT

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