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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
August 26, 2008

Press Briefing by Tony Fratto
Press Filing Center
Crawford Middle School
Crawford, Texas

12:18 P.M. CDT

MR. FRATTO: Good afternoon, everyone. Sorry for the delay. Let me just give you a quick update on something, and then we'll get into a little bit of the news of the day. And then I'll be ready for any questions you have.

The President this morning had his normal briefings, and was out on the ranch, working with some brush-clearing and trail-building. He obviously had a number of calls with senior officials back in Washington.

Also, to update you on a call he had yesterday with Governor Crist of Florida -- called to talk about the damage caused by Tropical Storm Fay, I think now Tropical Depression Fay, and the flooding -- the severe weather and flooding taking place in Florida. We obviously have a major disaster declaration out there for Florida.

Additionally, FEMA Administrator Paulison called Florida officials this morning to inform them that individual assistance has been added to the major disaster declaration. Administrator Paulison and Small Business Administration Acting Administrator Sandy Baruah are in Florida today to talk with state and local officials, and visit a state logistics center. Federal officials are also keeping an eye on the progression of Hurricane Gustav.

A number of you have asked today, and I've seen reporting with respect to the Russian decision on their part, the very unfortunate decision to attempt to recognize the independence of the two regions in Georgia. You've heard Secretary Rice on this this morning; I certainly refer you to her comments and I can tell you that you can expect a statement to be issued from the President later this afternoon.

Clearly, the actions by Russia stand in contradiction to existing U.N. Security Council resolutions and the spirit of the U.N. Security Council, and the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the country of Georgia. Georgia's territorial integrity is contained in a number of U.N. Security Council resolutions, and those resolutions recognize that Abkhazia and South Ossetia are part of Georgia.

The Russian decision yesterday also violates the cease-fire agreement that President Sarkozy brought to President Medvedev for his signature. He signed it, and this is clearly another violation of the agreement. That agreement speaks to the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia.

So it is a serious issue, but I think as Secretary Rice made clear, this is not an act that will be recognized by the U.N. Security Council. It will be dead on arrival at the U.N. Security Council. And this is another case, it's a reminder to the world of Russia committing to one thing and doing another. And so it leads all of us, the international community, to question Russia's commitment to its word. And I think that's what you're hearing from certain world leaders out there today. The NATO Secretary General issued a statement this morning. Chancellor Merkel has issued a statement. The French, on behalf of the EU, as they sit as the EU President, have just released a statement. And so it is fairly universal condemnation of the actions taken by Russia.

So, as I said, you'll hear -- or you'll read a statement by the President at some point this afternoon. And with that I'll be happy to take your questions.


Q The President yesterday called specifically for Russia's leadership not to recognize the independence of these regions, and swiftly just the opposite happened. So does the President have no influence left with Russia's direction?

MR. FRATTO: Russia is making, I would say, a number of irrational decisions. And this is not about the United States and Russia; this is about Europe and the international community and Russia, and the choices Russia is making that affect its place in the world. And so far we've seen a series of unfortunate decisions by the Russians that only serve to further isolate them. And we hope that they hear the loud voices from the international community and understand that it's not in their long-term interest to take these kinds of actions.

Yes, Olivier.

Q Tony, what does it mean that it's dead on arrival at the U.N. Security Council? Is it your view that --

MR. FRATTO: Any effort to try to sanction this at the U.N., I think you would see a very swift and clear message from the United States, if not the other members of the U.N. Security Council, that there will be no recognition of Russia's act.

Jeremy. I'll come back to you next, Mark.

Q Since the U.S. entreaties to Russia about not recognizing these breakaway regions didn't seem to work -- otherwise -- let me try that again. U.S. entreaties for Russia not to recognize the breakaway regions or face unspecified consequences didn't really seem to work. When will the U.S. start to outline what some of those consequences will be?

MR. FRATTO: I think there's time for that. As I said yesterday, we are still focused on supporting Georgia, getting humanitarian assistance into Georgia. We've had scores of C-17 and C-130 flights delivering humanitarian assistance into Georgia. We have ships unloading many pallets of humanitarian assistance to Georgia. We'll continue to do that. We'll continue to support them through the G7 -- especially in the G7 finance ministers and with the international financial institutions, to ensure that Georgia's economy remains on track -- one of the shining stars of that region was the Georgian economy before the conflict broke out -- and other ways that we can continue to support Georgia in the short term.

In the medium and longer term, we'll -- as we've said, we're reviewing our relationship with Russia. Europe is reviewing its relationship with Russia. Russia still has some choices to make. Our long-term goal is that we want to see Russia return to at least the commitments that it had in the past to be integrated into global institutions, especially rules-based institutions like the WTO and other organizations around the world.

Q Medvedev, in an interview with the BBC, accused the U.S. of rearming Georgia --

MR. FRATTO: That's ridiculous. Those are clearly -- he asked about Medvedev's comments regarding the nature of our humanitarian aid shipments. I can assure you that these are purely humanitarian aid shipments that are going into Georgia and nothing else.

Q Tony, the President we know puts great store in his personal relationships with foreign leaders, and yet today's action by the Kremlin came a day after he personally appealed for Russia not to do what it exactly went ahead and did. So does he view the Kremlin as thumbing its nose at his appeal?

MR. FRATTO: I think the Kremlin can speak for itself on what their intentions were. I can tell you this was not just the American President calling on Russia not to take this very damaging step. It was the leaders in Europe and the European Union, NATO and other leaders around the world who called on Russia not to take this step. Again, this is a damaging step for Russia, and this is a result of choices that the Russians are making, and they're very unfortunate choices.

Q And the statement by the President will be written, right, not on camera?

MR. FRATTO: That's right.

Yes, John.

Q Tony, to follow what Jeremy was asking, in that interview, Medvedev also indicated, though, that the ships would -- U.S. ships headed to Poti would not be allowed to dock there, because he says they're carrying weapons. Are you concerned about that? What would happen if the Russians stopped one of our ships?

MR. FRATTO: Well, once again, the Russians have made a commitment to allow humanitarian shipments into Poti. Now, there's a question as to whether Russian forces should even be in Poti at this time -- actually, I would say there's no question that we also call on Russian forces to pull out of Poti. It's an undisputed territory. It's part of an undisputed area of Georgia, unlike the two special regions. So we'd prefer that they'd pull out of Poti. But at any rate, as part of the cease-fire agreement, they have agreed to allow all humanitarian aid shipments to enter Georgia. And again, they should live up to that commitment.

Yes, Roger.

Q Tony, is there any thought being given to somebody going to Moscow and talking directly with Russian leaders?

MR. FRATTO: I don't have any plans for that at this time that I'm aware of.

Q And why wouldn't somebody be doing that?

MR. FRATTO: That would be a decision for the President and his senior advisors to make, and I just -- I have nothing on that right now.

But there's nothing ambiguous about Russia's obligations here. They have obligations to the cease-fire agreement, which they signed very publicly. They have obligations to the public comments they made to live up to those commitments in the cease-fire agreements. Russia is a Permanent 5 member of the U.N. Security Council, so they have an obligation to live up to their U.N. Security Council resolutions -- resolutions which were passed with Russian support. So the Russians know their obligations, and I don't know that it requires anyone to go to Russia to inform them of it.


Q Tony, the Russian President also said that if NATO tore up its cooperation, "nothing terrible would happen to us." I mean, we've talked a lot about consequences in the last week. There's not a lot of specifics. If it's not a United States problem, if it is a larger global European problem, as well, what can really be done?

MR. FRATTO: I can't emphasize it enough, actually. I mean, a lot of damage has already been inflicted on Russia. And it comes in many forms. Clearly it's in international politics and diplomatic activity; that is a cost. There are economic costs that Russia has already suffered -- not just because of, by the way, the recent conflict in Georgia, but because of a series of actions they've taken over a number of years that include authoritative -- heavy-handed authoritative measures against commercial activity in Russia. There is a risk premium to doing business in Russia. And you can go out and talk to international bankers and global companies and ask them about it. I think some of them would be happy to talk about it.

So there are costs. And they're already in place, and I think there's evidence that they're being felt in Russia. And that's the nature of the world. When you heard President Bush and Secretary Rice talk about the fact that we're in the 21st century and it's a very different world, you can't go out and see the fruits of military conquest and take those kinds of disproportionate responses to international conflict -- that's part of what they meant. We are a much more interconnected world, and there are costs to countries who choose to go outside of what are the traditional norms for -- now traditional norms for the relations between states.

Q But is the President frustrated? I mean, here you have essentially a country that doesn't seem to care.

MR. FRATTO: Well, I think the world is frustrated, but we're not frustrated in our support for Georgia. As we've said, there is -- Russia made a decision -- they made a tactical decision. They may have seen some tactical gain in their military success, but it is a long-term strategic failure. It's a long-term strategic failure for the reputation of Russia, and even in their strategic relationship with countries on their borders. There is absolutely no question that there is unified support for a democratic and free Georgia and for the success of that country.

And we stand with them, the European Union stands with Georgia, and that's going to continue to be the case. So if that was the ultimate aim of Russia, they have clearly failed in that.

Q I have a non-Russia question.

MR. FRATTO: A non-Russia? We're going to stick with Russia and Georgia, and then we can come back to it. One more? Okay.

Q Given what's come out of North Korea just overnight about putting on hold their dismantlement, how does the Georgia conflict and the communications with Moscow complicate that --

MR. FRATTO: Secretary Rice addressed this. Russia will do what is in its interest, and it is not in Russia's interest to have a nuclear-armed nation on its border on the Korean Peninsula. I'm not aware of any degradation of our cooperation with respect to the six-party talks.

But with respect to North Korea's announcement today, we've been very clear with North Korea that there will be action for action. And they have linked this to -- they have linked their action to not being taken off the state sponsor of terrorism list. The other members of the six party have made it clear -- of the six parties have made it clear that we will -- that United States will not take North Korea off the state sponsor of terrorism list until we have a protocol in place to verify the dismantling and accounting for Korea's nuclear program.

So that's not a new demand; that's a longstanding demand. It's not just a U.S. demand; it's a demand by the other five members of the six-party talks.

I'm sorry -- still on Russia?

Q Yes. Can you explain what you meant by Russia's actions are irrational? In what way are they irrational?

MR. FRATTO: Well, they're clearly not in Russia's long-term interest to be integrated into Europe and to be a force of peace and good relations on its borders and in that neighborhood. And Chancellor Merkel used those kinds of words, as did the Secretary General of NATO this morning. So that's irrational.

Roger, on this also?

Q Yes. Has the President given Vice President Cheney any new instructions today --

MR. FRATTO: Nothing specific that I can relate.

Q -- as a result of the overnight developments?

MR. FRATTO: Nothing specific that I can relate, that I'm aware of.

Q Have the Russians indicated they're going to allow these ships to dock at Poti -- the Navy ships to dock at Poti -- other than their agreement of the --

MR. FRATTO: I haven't heard that they will not allow them. That's not something that I've heard, except from your question.

Q We hear reports that a Sudanese plane was hijacked shortly after takeoff from Darfur and has now landed in Libya. Are you aware of these reports? And what is your --

MR. FRATTO: I'm sorry, I'm really just aware of the reports, but I don't have any facts that I can speak to.

Q Has the President been briefed about that, do you know?

MR. FRATTO: I'm not sure. But let me see what I can find out and I'll come back to you.

Okay? Anything else? Thank you.

END 12:34 P.M. CDT