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For Immediate Release
April 10, 2008

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

9:33 A.M. EDT

MS. PERINO: All right, let's get down to business here. The President, as I said yesterday, he was going to have breakfast with General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker. They did that today in the private dining room. Then he had his briefings. At 10:05 a.m., he is going to meet with the Special Envoy to Sudan, Rich Williamson. That will be closed press. I'll see if I can get you anything on that.

At 11:30 a.m., he will make a statement on Iraq, the one that you all have been reporting on. That's in the Cross Hall. And then he will depart today at 12:00 p.m. -- he's going to the ranch through Sunday.

A couple of announcements, just quickly. The commencement addresses, the schedule for the President: He will be doing three. The first one is on May 4th, at Greensburg High School in Greensburg, Kansas. For those of you who went on the trip last year right after the devastating tornado, the President will be giving the speech to the high school there, one year to the day of the tornado. So we're very pleased to be going back and celebrating that event with them.

On May 28th, he will speak -- he will give a commencement address at the United States Air Force Academy; and May 31st, at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina.

Tee-ball on the South Lawn is also, as you know, an annual event. The President will continue the tradition this year. He'll host three games. The first game will take place in June, and it will celebrate the contributions of Hispanic Americans to the national pastime. The second game in July will be an all-star tee-ball game, inviting Little League players from all 50 states to play on the South Lawn. And the third game will bring together children from military bases and will honor the members of our Armed Forces and their families.

Q But the Little League won't play tee-ball, right, they'll play regular baseball -- or no?

MS. PERINO: It says tee-ball.

Q Are they winners?

Q They're all winners. (Laughter.)

MS. PERINO: Good follow-up questions that Emily Lawrimore will be happy to take up for you. (Laughter.)

Q Dana, will the President and the envoy to Sudan make any kind of statement afterwards, or anything?

MS. PERINO: No, I don't believe so.

Q Has the White House looked at the economic repercussions of all these airlines being grounded? What do you think the impact of that is?

MS. PERINO: I'm sure -- I don't have an update for you on that. I know that the Department of Transportation has been following it very closely, and we'll see if we can get you more. We'll work with Scott Stanzel on that. But obviously, people are very disgruntled, I am sure, by having their flights cancelled. So let's -- I'll look at the economic impact.

Q Dana, can I double-check -- you are not billing this speech this morning as an address to the nation, right? It's a statement?

MS. PERINO: The President is giving a statement. But I don't know what your definition of it is in terms of address to the nation.

Q Well, you guys -- you make the determination.

MS. PERINO: We're not asking for network time, no, but the President will give his speech at 11:30 a.m. And for those networks who want to cover it, then that will be great -- barring any sort of, you know, Hollywood scandal that pops up. (Laughter.) That was not a shot at you all.

Q Dana, anything more -- anything you can say more about the Sudan envoy meeting? Is this a regular consultation?

MS. PERINO: He tries to get an update from Rich Williamson quite a bit. And I'll check, I don't know, I think Rich may have recently been in the region.

Q Anything you find out. And would you expect China's role to come up during this meeting?

MS. PERINO: It certainly has in the past, so I'll see.

Q Anything you can get.

MS. PERINO: I think I'll be there, so I'll -- Matt.

Q Dana, the Luxembourg Prime Minister, whose name I will not even attempt to pronounce --

MS. PERINO: Juncker.

Q Juncker, right -- was here yesterday and spent quite a bit of time with the President. The Prime Minister has expressed concern about the volatility of foreign exchange markets, that it's helped push the euro to record levels. Does the President share the Prime Minister's concern?

MS. PERINO: They did have a private meeting last night in the residence, but since it's private I'll leave it that way. But they had just seen each other at the NATO conference, and since Prime Minister Juncker was coming to Washington this week for the IMF and the World Bank meetings, he invited him over. So they met in the Yellow Oval, and also spent a little time on the Truman Balcony. But I'm not going to talk about specifics.

Q Dana, do you have a view yet on some of these suggestions on the Hill that they would include in the supplemental measures to get the Iraqis to pay more of the cost of reconstruction -- the funding, the Awakening forces, that kind of stuff?

MS. PERINO: I'm aware of that. Obviously we're going to start, hopefully, having the debate; we would like to get that bill done by Memorial Day. As to the Iraqis and how much they are paying in terms of their own way, they are increasingly doing so. I refer you to Ambassador Crocker's testimony on that. For example, the other day I just talked to you about how they pledged $350 million of their own money for help in many of the places that have gotten -- have been the victims of the terrible violence. So Basra was one of those, and that included not just reconstruction, but housing and jobs programs.

Increasingly, they are spending more money of their own on reconstruction projects across the country, and our contribution has gone down. So we do want them to take on more responsibility, but they do, too. They are a proud people; they have more resources now available to them and they'll start paying more of their own way.

Q I'm asking because the testimony even for -- Republicans are pretty scathing on that score. I know that you guys have always resisted strings being attached to the troops' money in the past, and I'm just -- are you still resistant on it?

MS. PERINO: Well, we resist strings being attached, but I think that more of what I've heard is that members of Congress are wanting to attach pork barrel projects to the legislation -- they would pass the supplemental -- for the Iraq war supplemental. And that is something we are going to resist. But we'll take a look at whatever ideas that they have. But I would say that people should take a look at what the Iraqis have already pledged and are actually spending.

Q If we understand the kind of timing the President is going to talk about today, about taking 45 days after the -- to reassess things -- it would push decisions on any future troop withdrawals up just before the presidential election. Is there any risk that politics might be seen in some way influencing his decision?

MS. PERINO: From our perspective, politics would not enter into it. But I could see where others might try to say that it would. What the President will announce today are two main things, but I think it doesn't come as a big surprise to you all that he is going to accept the recommendation from General Petraeus that we continue to draw down troops, going from 20 brigades to 15 -- that will take place through July. And then General Petraeus has asked for a 45-period time frame of consolidation and assessment before recommending further troop drawdowns. The President thinks that is prudent and responsible and he will accept that.

The other thing that the President will say today is that, whereas last April we had to announce that many troops would have their tours extended from 12 months to 15 months, we're now at a point where we can bring that back down to 12. And so the goal for the active duty force is going to be 12 months in, and then a minimum of 12 months out. And we think that that will start to help deal with the stress issues in regards to these deployments, especially people who have been deployed several times -- and not just stress relief for the troops, but for their families, as well.

Q And that's not going to be affecting anyone who currently has boots on the ground?

MS. PERINO: This will take -- this will start for individuals who are starting to deploy August 1st -- starting August 1st.

Q August.


Q Yes, on Colombia. Anything new from your perspective, anything in terms of strategy? And also, I was wondering -- I think you were in the meeting yesterday -- can you characterize what the President said to Speaker Pelosi?

MS. PERINO: Sure. I'll start with your first question. No, I don't have anything new. I would express continued dismay and disappointment. We believe that if the Democrats decide to hold this vote today, they are effectively killing the Colombia free trade agreement, and there are lots of consequences that go along with that. We were quite surprised that they would want to change the rules in the middle of the game, after we had worked so closely with them for many months on this deal. We've addressed their concerns for labor and environmental standards, and we had said that we would work with them on Trade Adjustment Assistance, as you heard many of the members of our Cabinet say to you yesterday in that briefing we arranged.

As to the meeting yesterday, these meetings are always very professional. I actually think that yesterday's meeting was one of cordiality and also frank discussion, which is what you would expect from leaders from Congress and from the President of the United States. The President spoke frankly that he thinks it was a -- that that is the wrong decision. He does feel that his hand was forced to send this legislation up, because we've been working with them to try to reach an agreement so that we could send up legislation that could then be voted on within the 90 days.

But as you all know, we're running out of 90 days -- we're -- or of legislative days -- because we were mindful of when they have announced that they want to recess. And so it's 90 legislative days -- let me be clear. So as we worked backwards on the clock, we got very concerned that we were going to get jammed and we were not going to be able to get a vote on this deal. So that's why the President decided to move forward.

So we are disappointed and we hope that they would reconsider, but we do think that if they take this vote today and they pass it, that they are effectively killing the deal.

Q Do you have any indication that they might not vote today?

MS. PERINO: You'll have to ask them.

Q Dana, the IMF says that the credit crisis may need public funds. Is the President absolutely opposed to that?

MS. PERINO: Well, I don't -- I didn't see the IMF comments, so I'll just refer you to what we have said before.

Q San Francisco yesterday, the torch situation there -- do you have any comment on the pictures that you and others in this building saw?

MS. PERINO: No, not really. I saw a few of them, in terms of the pictures. But this is what I would say: People around the world deserve the right to express themselves freely and peacefully. And the President also has an obligation, as he did yesterday, to speak privately -- I'm sorry, publicly -- on this matter, and to speak privately to the Chinese about human rights freedoms, political speech freedoms, and he's going to continue to do that before, during and after the Olympics.

And he can do that with the Chinese because he's established good relations with them. So that when the President told President Hu last year, last fall, that he would be meeting with the Dalai Lama -- the first President ever to do that in a public setting -- he said to President Hu, I know you're not going to like this. And President Hu said, no, we don't like it. But the President said, it's the right thing to do, I'm going to do it anyway, and I encourage you to reestablish a dialogue with the Dalai Lama, or with his representatives, as they used to have. And we're going to continue to press on that issue as we go forward.


Q I'm sorry, back on Iraq. Last fall, the President announced the beginning of the drawdown under the slogan "return on success." Is what he's saying today mean it's just not enough success?

MS. PERINO: I think that -- well, what I just said is that those troops are going to continue to come home. The return on success was based on the security improvements that we have seen in Iraq. And many people, I would say, last year said that there was no way that it was going to work. Those same people have now decided that they want to change the goal posts on General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker. But we think that the right thing to do is to continue on the return on success -- troops coming home, so going from 20 brigades down to 15, that will end in July; and then have just a brief period of 45 days to consolidate and assess, and then make recommendations moving forward. And I think that's the responsible thing to do.

Last one. Go ahead.

Q On North Korea, the Chinese foreign ministry has said that the current obstacles to the six-party talks probably won't be resolved until the fall. Would this be a major setback to the President's goal to complete --

MS. PERINO: I'm sorry, the Chinese said that?

Q The Chinese foreign ministry.

MS. PERINO: I didn't see that. I would refer you to Ambassador Chris Hill's comments yesterday, in which he said, we have -- continue to have discussions with them; we feel like we're moving forward, but we're certainly not finished yet, and this deal is a package.

And I'll try to get you something on Sudan. Thanks.

Q Thank you.

END 9:47 A.M. EDT