The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
August 4, 2008

Press Gaggle by Dana Perino and Dennis Wilder, NSC Senior Director for Asian Affairs
Aboard Air Force One
En route Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska

4:08 P.M. EDT

MS. PERINO: I'll give you a little bit about the President's day today, and then I'm going to turn it over to Dennis Wilder to give you a preview of tomorrow's meetings with the South Koreans.

The President started his day with his regular briefings, and then he had a meeting with the ruler of Dubai. They had a good meeting. They have developed a good, personal relationship over the course of their meetings. They spent a majority of their time talking about education efforts, especially the ones that the ruler of Dubai is focused on, improving education around the Arab world. So they spent a lot of time talking about that; trade opportunities.

And the President also expressed his appreciation to them for -- to him for the efforts that the UAE has made in improving diplomatic relations in the region, especially when it comes to Iraq, as they have announced an ambassador, named an ambassador; and they've also forgiven the debts that the Iraqis had to their country.

So they had a good meeting and then the President flew here. Upon boarding Air Force One the President signed into law S.3370, the Libyan Claims Resolution Act. This has been released back home, just as we were taxiing, so you don't have to put out an urgent act -- urgent announcement.

Just a quick word. The passage of this legislation, what it means is that it facilitates the conclusion of a U.S.-Libyan claim settlement agreement which would resolve all outstanding terrorism-related claims by Americans against Libya, including those related to Pan Am 103 and the bombing of the La Belle discotheque in Berlin. It's a critical element of the United States' efforts to provide the best opportunity for American claimants to receive fair compensation in an expedited way, and to foster continued improvement in the United States' relationship with Libya.

And the President wanted to thank the Congress for their efforts in getting this bill to him. It passed with unanimous -- it passed unanimously, came to his desk I think this past -- today. Is today Monday? Sorry, all the days have gone together; sorry about that.

So what I'd like to do now is turn it over to Dennis, who will give you a preview of tomorrow and then he'll take questions in regard to anything for tomorrow's meeting, on the Asia trip. And then I can finish up if there's other things.

Q Hi, Dennis.

MR. WILDER: Hey, how are you? Okay. The President's day in Korea will begin with an embassy greeting to the American staff. He'll then proceed to the Blue House at approximately 9:30 a.m., where he'll have an official arrival ceremony and review an Honor Guard.

He will then participate in a meeting with the President of South Korea and his senior staff. As we've said, that meeting will cover a variety of issues, certainly the U.S.-Korean relationship. They want to continue to work on the 21st century strategic alliance between Korea and the United States. They'll talk about global issues, particularly those areas of the world where we are cooperating closely -- like Iraq and Afghanistan. They'll talk about bilateral issues; certainly review the military realignment policy and review how we're doing on base transformation in Korea.

They will certainly discuss the free trade agreement and their strategies for getting it through their respective legislatures. And of course they'll discuss the visa waiver program that the South Koreans are very interested in having with the United States.

Obviously another subject of great interest will be North Korea: the progress in the six-party talks, the human rights situation in North Korea, the tragic shooting and death of a South Korean tourist in North Korea on July the 11th.

They will move from the meeting to a joint press availability. And then they will move on at approximately 11:35 a.m. to a social lunch, which is preceded by a tea between the President and Mrs. Bush and President Lee Myung-bak and his wife. The lunch will be in an interesting setting. The Koreans have offered lunch in the rustic Spring House, which will be their way of doing something akin to the Camp David visit.

After lunch the President and Mrs. Bush will proceed to Yongsan Garrison, the headquarters of American Forces Korea. There he'll have a troop event not only with American forces, but with also Korean forces, some of whom have served in Iraq and he will talk about our alliance, talk about the important mission of American and Korean forces.

At approximately 2:30 p.m. we will fly on to Thailand for our meetings there.

I'll stop and take questions.

Q Dennis, I don't think you mentioned the issue of beef imports in that list. Can you tell me from the U.S. perspective has that issue dissipated? And if not, what's to discuss between the two leaders?

MR. WILDER: Certainly, I think that beef as an agenda item has receded. As you know, we have a voluntary agreement between our beef exporters and Korean beef importers. That agreement seems to be working extremely well. American beef is going back into the Korean marketplace, it's popular. The imports of American beef are going well, as far as we can tell.

And so I think that while this has been an issue, it is not the issue it was earlier this year. And as Koreans have more and more beef on the market I think they'll become more and more comfortable.

Q And on the issue of North Korea that you mentioned, can you update us on the status of talks as it relates to verification protocol and what the President hopes to get out of this meeting?

MR. WILDER: The verification protocol negotiations are ongoing and we certainly are in close contact with the North Koreans about what they need to do. We are hopeful that we will be able to reach an understanding with the North Koreans, but we're not at that juncture yet.

Q And at this moment did you decide to lift North Korea from the terrorism sponsor list on 11 August? It just seems to be the starting of a minimum -- the end of minimum requirement.

MR. WILDER: Well, as I said the other day, August 11th is the opening of the window for this; it is not a deadline. And unless we have from the North Koreans a verification protocol that is robust, the kind of protocol that was presented by the five parties to the North Koreans, then August 11th will come and go and there will be no change in the situation.

It is up to the North Koreans now to come back to us and accept a verification protocol.

Q Dennis, do you believe that you're making progress to that end?

MR. WILDER: I believe we're having constructive discussions with the North Koreans. I believe that what we are asking for is reasonable and I think that the other five parties are very much in agreement on that. So I think there shouldn't be a problem reaching this goal, but again, this is a decision the North Koreans have to make.

Q Is beef totally off the agenda?

MR. WILDER: I think that for this meeting I wouldn't expect beef to be a large agenda item because we have an understanding with South Korea, and that understanding seems to be working quite well.

Q Okay, what about Dokdo island, this island issue?

MR. WILDER: On the island issue the United States has had a clear position since 1952. Obviously, the BGN database confused that a bit. The President took a very strong position of leadership after the South Koreans came to us with questions about that database. We believe that by returning that database to its original place we are reemphasizing that we take no side in this matter. This is a diplomatic matter for Japan and South Korea.

We're very glad to see today the announcement that the South Korean ambassador is going back to Tokyo. We think that's a positive sign that the relationship is healing and we hope to see more progress between the two sides.

Q It's not going to be on the agenda, as well?

MR. WILDER: The South Korean side may raise it; if they do, I think the President will reiterate our position.

Q Dennis, the free trade agreement the two Presidents are going to discuss -- what has the U.S. government communicated to the South Koreans about the likelihood of this free trade deal going through during this Congress? Has the President said he's going to try, that it's going to get done? What have we basically told the South Koreans about the likelihood this will get done?

MR. WILDER: I think in our discussions with the South Koreans we've been very realistic about the situation we face. We have told them that we are going to work very hard, that American business coalition will work very hard on their behalf, but there are no guarantees that we can get this through the Congress this year. Obviously with the Colombian free trade agreement on hold and the Panamanian free trade agreement also in a position of limbo at this point it's difficult to be more reassuring than that.

But what the President has said, and he demonstrated it by going to a meeting the other day on this topic, is that we're going to work for it. And we hope that Congress will see the economic benefits that can be derived, because they're very apparent from this agreement. This is the largest free trade agreement since NAFTA. And every economic group that I know of says that it could add 25 percent to bilateral trade quite easily. That is something that would be good for American workers and American corporations, and so it should be something that the U.S. Congress should be eager to pass.

Q And you feel that South Korea is unrealistic in (inaudible), as well?

MR. WILDER: I think so. I think that will be part of our discussions to reinforce that this is a tough fight. This isn't one where anything is guaranteed this year.

Q Going back onto the beef issue for a minute, the -- there's been a call for a large rally upon arrival for the President -- the President's arrival. Does that indicate that while the two Presidents have reached their agreement on it, it's out of step with the Korean majority opinion?

MR. WILDER: Well, first of all, rallies in South Korea are a sign of a mature democracy. We have no problem at all with the fact that the South Korean people want to provide their opinion. But I think the real proof is in the pudding. And the case -- in this case, the pudding is the consumer in South Korea. And if this consumer in South Korea is buying the beef, then I think you have a situation in which clearly the South Korean people are indicating that they find American beef both well priced and safe. So while there may be some people who will protest, I think you need to look at what's happening on the supermarket shelves.

Q And do you know as a factual matter how much -- what percentage of the Korean beef market is now American beef?

MR. WILDER: Well, we've just begun to import again. So I don't think you can have any figures yet on this. I think it's going to take a couple, three months before we really see that.

Q The President attended an event on the trade bill.

MR. WILDER: That's right.

Q What was that? I missed that.

MR. WILDER: It was Korea Business Alliance, a group of American companies -- and I forget, Dana, what day that was.

MS. PERINO: It was last Wednesday.

MR. WILDER: Last Wednesday. And so this was a meeting. Ambassador Lee Tae-sik of South Korea was there, several Cabinet Secretaries. It was a discussion of how we mobilize American business and trade interests to get the conference to take a positive look at this.

Q And you talked about the two leaders who discussed that. I mean, that's what you're talking about, how they might mobilize. I mean, basically, they've got to persuade Congress to do a vote, right?

MR. WILDER: Right, absolutely. The only way this trade agreement gets through is by a vote.

Q So in essence isn't the President going empty-handed to South Korea, since it's out of his hands? I mean, he can't get Congress to vote just by the bully pulpit alone. At least, if the Colombia free trade thing is an example.

MR. WILDER: First of all, the free trade agreement is not the only aspect of this relationship; it's one aspect. We are working very hard, for example, on a promise the President made to work to open visa-free travel for South Koreans to the United States. A million South Koreans a year come to the United States. This is very important.

Q Just to clarify my question, I meant empty-handed on the trade issue, not overall.

MR. WILDER: On the trade issue, the President has lived up to his agreement with the South Koreans, which is to negotiate a good trade agreement. It is now up to the United States Congress to do its part and pass that trade agreement. Obviously, with the system of government we have, the President can't by fiat put this trade agreement through. He needs the support of the American Congress. And so what we need to do as an administration is to gear up that support, demonstrate to the Congress the value of this trade agreement, and hopefully get Congress to vote on it.

Q Is there any movement within the administration -- some concerns on Capitol Hill has been the auto market and insufficient access for U.S. car makers. Is there any movement within the administration to reconsider reopening that?

MR. WILDER: Well, I've looked at the agreement and I think on autos it's actually a very good agreement. I think there are differences of views, obviously, in the auto industry about the deal. But some members of the auto industry are supportive of the deal we've struck. And I think that Detroit is going through a rough time, so there is extra sensitivity in Detroit to these issues. But let's not judge this deal on one market-share access. There are a lot of other areas in this deal that are very, very positive for American business that I think need to be looked at: agricultural interests, very definitely; obviously what we've done in the beef trade side is very important; industrial goods of other kinds.

So I think that if you take the deal overall -- a trade deal, you're never going to get everything you want. Trade deals by their very nature are going to be trade-offs. That's why they're tough to negotiate. That's why Doha is tough to negotiate, because you've got to give a little to get a little. And so I think you have to look at this deal in total, not just one particular segment of the marketplace.

MS. PERINO: Last one for Dennis.

Q What constitutes the 21st century global strategic partnership? Do the Presidents have some clear ideas on what this means?

MR. WILDER: Well, I think you asked the right question, because I think that will be at the heart of their discussions; will be, how do you define that? South Korea is a very important player now in the world. They have one of the finest militaries anywhere in the world. South Korea knows the value of freedom. South Korea has demonstrated in Iraq, by the deployment of the Zaitun brigade, that they can play a very, very important role outside of their region, securing peace.

The question is, how do we institutionalize that in terms of South Korea, because I think the South Korean military can really be an enabler to democracy in other areas. Obviously we'd like to see a greater role for South Koreans in Afghanistan, if the South Korean people are willing to move in that direction. But I think that is going to be at the heart of their discussion.

Q And does that include the military base restructuring?

MR. WILDER: Absolutely. First and foremost is the security of the Peninsula. And we need to make sure that what we do in terms of the force transformation Korea bolsters capability, keeps the Peninsula safe. Once we're sure that that's been done, then we hope South Koreans can also help in other parts of the world.

Q Will there be any kind of comment or declaration for a new strategic (inaudible) -- the alliance after the (inaudible)? Can you say?

MR. WILDER: I'd rather not go there right now. I want the two leaders to discuss this issue first.

Q Just one more, Dennis, just on -- (inaudible) mentioned that the two will talk about the Kumgang Mountain shooting case. How much concern does President Bush have on this issue, sir?

MR. WILDER: Well, the President has always felt very strongly about human rights in North Korea. While this isn't a sort of typical case of human rights in North Korea, certainly the circumstances of the shooting of the tourist are disturbing. And the President would like to see the North Koreans have an open investigation into the matter that South Korea can participate in. So I think it is an important matter.

Q All right, thank you.

MS. PERINO: Anything else for me?

Q Dana, what's the message to the troops in Alaska? And is there any concern that Senator Stevens' presence may add some controversy to an otherwise positive stop in Alaska?

MS. PERINO: We think that, one, it will be very positive. Any time the President has an opportunity to meet with troops, he takes it. He wants to thank them for their service. Many of them have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, so he'll have a chance to thank them and support them, and thank their families, also.

As with any trip that the President takes to a state, the delegation is invited to participate in the event or to travel with him. Senator Stevens is already in Alaska and will participate in the event. We think that's absolutely appropriate; he's been a very strong friend of the United States military and of his state. So we have -- we're looking forward to the event, and the President will speak -- it will be somewhere between 10 and 15 minutes, I would guess, and then will probably work a bit of a "rope line" afterwards.

Q Do you know if he is -- do you know if the President has spoken with Senator Stevens since the indictment?

MS. PERINO: I don't believe he has. I don't believe he has.

Q And this is obviously a refueling stop, as well, right? This was necessary?

MS. PERINO: Yes. There is a -- yes, we do need to refuel so we can take it all the way to South Korea. I think that would be a really smart thing for us to do.

Q Appreciate that. (Laughter.)

MS. PERINO: Yes. But it's also a great chance for him to stop in the state. The governor will be there, as well. I'm actually hoping I get to meet her. She's a rising star in the Republican Party and quite an accomplished person, from a professional and a personal level. So I look forward to meeting her.

Q It's not very often that the President goes to Alaska. Any -- and given the fact that he hammered the energy issue quite a bit last week, why not raise that issue during this?

MS. PERINO: Well, we only have so much time to be able to spend. The President was excited to be able to spend some time with the troops.

That doesn't diminish the fact that the energy issue is foremost on the American public's mind right now. We're going to a state that has been -- that is rich in natural resources. It has been willing to develop those resources in environmentally responsible ways to help the benefit of our nation. And we have found ways -- we have developed ways through technology to be able to extract these resources in ways through, for example, in ANWR, with directional drilling we could use. It would have very little impact on the environment, and it would help add not only to the overall supply of energy for our country, but also to jobs in the state, which Alaskans would welcome very much.

We continue to call on the Democratic leaders in Congress to allow for a vote. We don't see how allowing for a vote in a democracy should be allowed to be blocked by a few leaders of the Democratic Party who apparently are afraid that it would actually pass. So we'll continue to press on that. We applaud the Republicans who are continuing to press this issue and some of them are back in the Capitol today to continue to press the issue, and we applaud them.

And we believe that when Democrats and Republicans go back to their districts this summer, the increasingly educated American population on the importance of this energy issue and the realities of this energy issue, that they will get an earful when they go back to their districts. And that they should come back motivated to do what they were sent to Washington to do, which is to debate and then vote on legislation. And it's not good enough just to debate it. There needs to be a vote so that we can move forward.

Q Thanks.

MS. PERINO: That's it? Everybody knows that Carlton woke up. (Laughter.)

I forgot to mention one thing, but you probably noticed. Mike Abramowitz had the pleasure of interviewing the President today on our first leg here, so I thought I should mention that. (Laughter.)

Okay, thanks everybody.

END 4:33 P.M. EDT

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