For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 9, 2008
Press Briefing by Gordon Johndroe
Crawford Middle School
11:21 A.M. CDT
MR. JOHNDROE: Good morning. I have a few announcements to make, and then I'll be happy to take your questions.
The first on Burma. The United States welcomes the announcement that we have received approval from the Burmese government for a U.S. military C-130 cargo plane with emergency relief supplies to land in Burma on Monday. We hope this is the beginning of major U.S. assistance to the Burmese people.
We will continue to work with the government of Burma on additional access for USAID, non-governmental organizations, as well as our other international partners, to provide assistance to help the Burmese people during their time of need.
In Lebanon, we are very troubled by the recent actions of Hezbollah. We urge Hezbollah to stop their attempt to defy the lawful decisions taken by the democratically elected Lebanese government. We also urge Iran and Syria to stop their support of Hezbollah and its destabilizing effects on Lebanon.
We have confidence in the government of Lebanon. They have proven in recent years that they want to make Lebanon a safe and prosperous country, and the United States stands firmly with the Lebanese government and the people of Lebanon.
On Mexico, yesterday we learned that one of Mexico's top crime fighters was assassinated by one of Mexico's drug cartels. Mr. Gómez's death is a tragic loss for the people of Mexico. This calculated attack against one of Mexico's top law enforcement officials demonstrates the urgency of the United States to assist our neighbor to the south, as well as protect Americans here at home.
The President urges Congress to act now to fully fund the Merida Initiative. The Merida Initiative is the President's $1.4 billion multi-year proposal that has been carefully crafted with Mexico and Central American nations to help secure their citizens and ours. It will provide valuable assistance to our Mexican and Central American partners to help them break the drug pipeline that ends up on America's streets.
And lastly, on Tuesday, the President will participate in an interview with Yahoo! and the Politico -- with Politico's Mike Allen -- and that will be online, his first online interview.
And with that, I'm happy to take your questions. Olivier.
Q Gordon, on Burma,/Myanmar, that first flight that gets in, that's scheduled to get in on Monday, can you say a little bit what that's going to be carrying, whether it's going to be -- what kind of materials are being sent?
MR. JOHNDROE: I think we are -- we're working through those details right now. We have material pre-positioned in the region as well as on ships, Navy ships that are out at sea. I think we're working with NGOs on the ground to determine what is most needed. We've talked some this week, and the U.N. has talked some this week, about the most urgent needs, such as water purification devices as well as other issues to stop some of the water-borne diseases we're very concerned about. So anyway, we're working through those details right now to see what gets loaded on that airplane.
Q Gordon, does the U.S. disaster assistance team in Bangkok get to go in as well?
MR. JOHNDROE: As of right now, visas for them have not been approved. As I said, we're going to continue to work with the government of Burma to allow additional access for not only U.S. assistance, but also assistance from NGOs and other countries. So we'll keep on working on this. We hope this is the beginning of a long line of assistance from the United States to the people of Burma.
Q Is the U.S. close to satisfied with the way the officials in Myanmar are conducting this relief operation? I mean, today is Friday. You're saying a plane, one plane will get there on Monday. There are people in desperate need there.
MR. JOHNDROE: Yes, we are very concerned about the people of Burma, and we're going to keep on working with the government if Burma to do what we can to help the people there. And so that's what we can do now, is just keep on hoping that the process moves forward so the people can get help.
Q Can you tell us about -- what is the breakthrough that suddenly allowed Myanmar to let us bring our aid into -- just the back story there, how they finally relented?
MR. JOHNDROE: Yes, we've had ongoing negotiations and discussions with the government of Burma, as have a number of countries and NGOs. And I don't want to point to any one specific thing. We certainly appreciate the efforts that some countries, such as China and others, have made to talk to the junta about the need to get help in. And so I don't want to point to one specific thing, but clearly the junta has determined that the magnitude of this disaster requires additional assistance. And so we're pleased to be able to offer that.
Q Can you say what's on the C-131, like how much money that represents?
MR. JOHNDROE: No, we're working through that right now.
Q On Lebanon --
Q Can we stay on Myanmar one more?
MR. JOHNDROE: Okay, let's do Burma.
Q Are you aware of reports that there are U.N. food program supplies just piling up on the tarmac in Myanmar?
MR. JOHNDROE: I've seen various reports about assistance from the United Nations and where that may or may not be in the pipeline right now. I believe the World Food Program has just made another announcement about some of their own flights being able to go in the coming days. So I think it's certainly a fluid situation on the aid and we'll just see -- we're pleased that they're allowing a U.S. flight to come in. We're pleased that they allow any aid to come in, and we'll keep on working that.
MR. JOHNDROE: Mark.
Q It's just one flight that's been approved, right? Isn't that just -- that's a drop in the bucket.
MR. JOHNDROE: That's my understanding, but one flight is much better than no flights. And we're going to keep on working to provide as much assistance as possible in the coming days, weeks and months, because they're going to need our help for a long time.
Q -- the World Food Program, the director of the World Food Program has lashed out at OPEC for the paucity of its contributions, which totaled something like $1.5 million dollars last year. Does the U.S. have concern that given the soaring price of oil, OPEC is not contributing more to world food needs??
MR. JOHNDROE: Well, we certainly encourage all countries to contribute to the World Food Program, whether it's emergency disaster assistance in a country like Burma or general concerns over world food price increases that we've seen lately. Certainly if countries are benefiting from high energy prices, we'd urge them to support other countries in need.
Q One more on Burma. How concerned -- and I'm sorry if you said this already -- how concerned is the U.S. about the seizure by the junta government of food supplies, and how concerned are you of that happening to U.S. aid when it lands on Monday?
MR. JOHNDROE: One, I addressed what I know about that in Mark's question, so I'd refer you to what I said just a few minutes ago. With regards to concern about U.S. supplies, we are working with NGOs that are on the ground now to make sure that that food reaches the Burmese people, and then -- through a proper supply chain.
Q And on Lebanon?
MR. JOHNDROE: Hold on, are we done with Burma? Okay, Lebanon. Please, go ahead.
Q What specifically is the U.S. doing to support the Siniora government? And will the President still be able to meet with him next weekend in Egypt, given the crisis in his home country?
MR. JOHNDROE: It's my understanding Secretary Rice is reaching out to the Lebanese government today. We've been fully behind the Lebanese government for some time now; appreciate the work that Prime Minister Siniora has done, considering the great challenges he faces from groups like Hezbollah, who are doing nothing but trying to destabilize the country. And we certainly expect to see Prime Minister Siniora in Sharm el-Sheikh next week. The President would like to see him next Saturday or Sunday. But if he feels the situation on the ground doesn't permit him to do that, we understand that as well.
But I think the Lebanese government is working to make sure that the situation remains under control and that the country can continue to move forward.
Q Anything more specific -- we've stood behind them in their push towards democracy. Other than words, is there anything concrete we can do to aid our allies that we've pushed for this last -- since this government started in Lebanon?
MR. JOHNDROE: The United States has provided quite a bit of assistance to the government of Lebanon and the Lebanese armed forces, whether it's money, materiel, or advice over the last couple of years. And I think we will continue to do that. As I said, the Secretary of State is reaching out to the government of Lebanon, and we are always willing to see whatever their needs may be and work with them. It's a democratically elected government; we want to help them succeed because it's the right thing to do for the people of Lebanon and the people of the region.
Q Did you guys go through Israel yet? Is there any more on the allegations against the Prime Minister there, and how that affects the Middle East peace process?
MR. JOHNDROE: You know, that's really a matter for the Israelis judicial system. We're going to continue to work with the government of Israel, continue to work with the Palestinian Authority, on trying to move the process forward so we ultimately have two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace.
Q So will it affect it at all?
MR. JOHNDROE: Well, we're going to -- let's see what happens on the ground in Israel. They have a judicial system; it's going to have to work through its own process. We're going to do what we can to help facilitate the partners. The partners are -- the most important players in this are the government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, because ultimately these two need to get together on a bilateral basis and work out these issues so we lead to a two-state solution.
Q Does the administration worry that Olmert's administration is to weak to this kind of negotiation at this point?
MR. JOHNDROE: We're going to keep on working with the government of Israel that we have to work with. And I'll leave it at that.
Q Gordon, beyond their historic support for Hezbollah, do you have any indication that any of the current unrest is being directed out of Damascus or Tehran?
MR. JOHNDROE: I, personally, do not from here. I'm happy to look into that. But, look, as you said, historically Iran and Syria have supported Hezbollah. I have no indication that they've stopped supporting Hezbollah. But as far as directing the current action, I just can't tell you one way or the other right now.
Q I have wedding stuff, but we can --
MR. JOHNDROE: Wedding? Okay. Anything before that? Mark.
Q Gordon, House Republican Leader John Boehner came out in support of a bill to suspend a federal tax on gasoline during the summer months. Does that mean the White House will now support that kind of a tax holiday?
MR. JOHNDROE: You know, I think the President has said that we'll look at any number of options that are proposed. And so that's where we are right now. We're looking at options. I know different people are proposing different things, and we'll see.
Q On the wedding -- I'll be the one to ask -- is there any consideration you're giving to releasing a photo on Saturday, as opposed to Sunday, for your friends in the press? (Laughter.)
MR. JOHNDROE: No, I think right now the plan is to release some photos on Sunday from the wedding, and I think that's where things will stand. It's a -- it really is -- it's a private ceremony. It's an exciting time for the Bush family. They're all beginning to converge here in Texas and in Crawford, and I know the President and Mrs. Bush are really looking forward to this weekend.
Q Are they going to buy any memorabilia because they have sold out of mouse pads. (Laughter.)
MR. JOHNDROE: I'm not aware that he has. I know that the President and Mrs. Bush have a lot of pictures of Jenna and Henry, so I'm not sure they need to buy any of the mugs or mouse pads.
Q Will there be a rehearsal dinner, Gordon?
MR. JOHNDROE: There will be a rehearsal dinner tonight.
Q At the ranch?
MR. JOHNDROE: I don't have any additional details on it.
Q What is the President doing today?
MR. JOHNDROE: What is the President doing today? The President had his normal intelligence briefing this morning and then did a little work on the ranch. And I think the rest of the day he'll be spending some time with family, resting up for the weekend and just getting ready for the big event tomorrow night.
Q What about the dance, does he have the first dance thing?
MR. JOHNDROE: Does he have the first dance? I don't know. Let's wait to hear how the ceremony went.
Q Do you know what he's going to wear? Does he wear a tux?
MR. JOHNDROE: I'm not sure what the attire for the wedding is, but we'll look into that for you.
Q How about the menu?
MR. JOHNDROE: The menu? I'm not aware of that either, but we'll look into that, too. Hopefully we'll be able to provide some more details in the coming days.
Q Honeymoon? You know, future plans? (Laughter.)
MR. JOHNDROE: Sure. I understand that there is a lot of interest in the wedding this weekend. As we've said, it really is a private event for the Bush family and the Hager family. They're all very excited about it. We will try and provide you additional information. I doubt there's more information coming today -- perhaps some tomorrow and then on Sunday, obviously, with the photos.
Q Who's here, Gordon?
Q Are the bride and groom here yet?
MR. JOHNDROE: I don't know the specific schedules. I'm --
Q Is 41 and Barbara here?
MR. JOHNDROE: They are on their way to the ranch.
Q But you don't know where Jenna is?
MR. JOHNDROE: I do not know where she is at the moment -- probably somewhere in Texas, is my guess, not too far away. But you can just expect over the next few hours that all sorts of family members, if they're not already here or on their way here -- the President's brothers, sister, their families -- Mrs. Welch, Mrs. Bush's mother, is here. So it's a big family, they're all here, or they are on their way here. And they're all looking forward to a really good time.
Q Do you know any of the logistics of the guests? Are the guests flying into some central location, and does the Secret Service takes them to the ranch, what?
MR. JOHNDROE: I don't know most of the information about the logistics and what I do know I will decline to comment. (Laughter.)
Q Unless we've got more wedding questions, I've got --
Q Can I just go back to Burma real quick. Did you say it was a C-130 that was --
MR. JOHNDROE: C-130, Yes. Okay.
Q I'm sorry, one more on Lebanon.
MR. JOHNDROE: Okay.
Q The Saudis are calling for a pan-Arab emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in Lebanon. Do you know if the United States will be represented at a meeting, and do you whether there's a similar call in the West, say a U.N. meeting or anything like that?
MR. JOHNDROE: You know, it's the first I've heard of a pan-Arab meeting, a call for one. So I'm not -- I don't have any information on that or any other meetings that may be planned.
Obviously we want the countries in the region to support the democratically elected government of Lebanon, as have so many countries in the past stood up for Prime Minister Siniora and the Lebanese government.
So we're going to -- we are concerned about the situation, and we're going to keep on top of it.
Q Completely new subject. On -- there's a report today in The Wall Street Journal that laptops have been seized in, I believe, Colombia, and have some information about ties between Chavez and FARC. Do you have anything that you can share on that subject?
Q What's the question?
MR. JOHNDROE: The question was on the FARC in Colombia and laptops that were seized. I think I'm going to refer you to Interpol. They have some presentations that they're going to be making, I'm told, in the coming weeks to a variety of governments and governments involved. We have expressed concern in the past about any assistance or cooperation given to the FARC. The FARC is a terrorist organization that is trying to destabilize Colombia. But I'll just refer you to Interpol.
There's also -- further to your questions regarding that story and with regards to the state sponsor of terror list, there's a process for that, and that process will have to be carried out before any country is added to that list.
Okay, I think that will do it. Thank you all.
END 11:39 A.M. CDT