For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
August 19, 2008
Press Briefing by Gordon Johndroe
Press Filing Center
Crawford Middle School
10:43 A.M. CDT
MR. JOHNDROE: Good morning. The President received his regular intelligence briefings this morning. He also received an update on the ongoing situation in Georgia, as well as a preliminary update on Secretary Rice's trip to Brussels.
Let me make a few points about what happened in Brussels today at the North Atlantic Council. Secretary Rice met with NATO allies today in an extraordinary session with her foreign minister counterparts to discuss Georgia. NATO was unanimous in their support for Georgia's independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, and desire to provide humanitarian and other assistance to Georgia.
NATO sent a firm message to Russia to immediately withdraw its forces to positions held prior to the outbreak of hostilities and honor its commitments. NATO also expressed its alarm about reports of Russia's deliberate destruction of civilian infrastructure, and called Russia's actions disproportionate and inconsistent with its peacekeeping role. NATO stressed the urgency of swift, complete and good-faith implementation of the agreement, including the rapid deployment of an international monitoring mechanism.
NATO also agreed on an initial package of assistance that includes dispatching a number of NATO teams such as civil emergency planning teams to assess critical infrastructure; defense planning teams to assess military capacity, airspace management and cyber-defense; to also assess the damage caused by military action and to help restore critical services necessary for normal public life and economic activity. Allies are also working bilaterally, as well as together, as well as with international organizations, to provide rapid humanitarian assistance.
And on that, I would note that the Department of Defense briefed this morning and gave an update on U.S. humanitarian assistance to Georgia, including the number of air flights and the equipment that we've moved in to help the many Georgians who have been -- especially those internally displaced and need U.S. assistance. So DOD is briefing on the amount of U.S. assistance that's flowing into Georgia right now.
Let me make a few more points about what NATO also agreed to do. The United States and our NATO allies took the extraordinary step of agreeing to create a NATO-Georgia commission that will upgrade NATO's relationship with Georgia, similar to mechanisms in place with the Ukraine -- the NATO-Ukraine Council. The Alliance is also "considering seriously the implications of Russia's actions for the NATO-Russia relationship," and stated that "it cannot continue with business as usual with Russia." NATO reaffirmed the commitment made by allies in Bucharest that Georgia and Ukraine will become members of NATO.
Secretary Rice is also meeting this afternoon with the EU troika representatives in Brussels to discuss the situation.
One announcement related to that: Secretary Rice was scheduled to lead a delegation to the closing ceremonies of the Olympics in Beijing this coming weekend. Because of ongoing events around the world she is no longer going to be leading that delegation. Secretary Elaine Chao of Labor will now be the head of that delegation. The rest of the delegation remains unchanged and we'll have a release on that shortly.
Also, on Tropical Storm Fay, the federal government continues to communicate and coordinate with state and local governments throughout the region, particularly the state of Florida, in response to this tropical storm. We recommend people listen to local authorities, remain vigilant, and heed storm warnings as the potential for damage continues. We will also continue to monitor the storm. There are some concerns that it would head back out to sea and reform or restrengthen. And one note also: Federal resources have been pre-deployed, but none have been requested at this time.
And a note also: We will release the President's remarks that he's going to give in New Orleans tomorrow. We're going to release those this afternoon unembargoed so you have those ahead of time.
And with that, I am happy to take your questions.
Q Gordon, thanks. Foreign Minister Lavrov now says that the Russian withdrawal could begin, I believe, in the next three to four days. Can you react to that, and explain what your understanding is about why Russia did not start its withdrawal meaningfully yesterday, as agreed?
MR. JOHNDROE: Sure. I saw those comments. Clearly, I think our allies in Europe and NATO have seen those comments. They reiterated the need for an immediate withdrawal. But I would say it didn't take them really three or four days to get into Georgia, and it really shouldn't take them three or four days to get out. So I would expect them to begin an immediate withdrawal, which is their commitment. We want them to honor their commitment.
Q What do you say to Lavrov's further comments now that the actions taken by NATO today are biased? He says NATO is pressing anti-Russian policies supporting an aggressive Georgia.
MR. JOHNDROE: I know Foreign Minister Lavrov has had a lot to say over the last few days, and that's fine, he's entitled to his opinions. I think the United States and our NATO allies stand united. And that was made clear in Brussels today. So I think the comments that he makes are inconsistent with the rest of the world view.
Q -- we're being unfair or one-sided at all in our reaction to this -- the United States?
MR. JOHNDROE: No. Russia invaded a neighbor; has said it would withdraw; hasn't withdrawn. I think they need to. So does the rest of the international community. So nothing really one-sided about that.
Q Have you heard these reports that the Russians have taken that container of U.S. Humvees at the port in Poti, and also have taken some Georgians as prisoners?
MR. JOHNDROE: I can't speak to Georgians taken as prisoners. I understand there have been -- I think there have been some exchange -- exchanges of soldiers from both sides over the last few days. I know it's a point that the Georgians and Russians are trying to work through.
With regards to U.S. equipment, we have seen those reports, we are aware of it. There have been some indications from the Russians that they will secure the U.S. equipment. I think that is something that we would certainly encourage them to do quickly. And --
Q But what does that mean? Have they actually taken --
MR. JOHNDROE: I've seen reports; I don't have the specifics on what is the exact location or condition of the equipment. It certainly needs to be restored or returned to its original location as quickly as possible. But there's conflicting reports on it right now. We certainly expect that the Russians would return any equipment that is U.S. equipment, and return it quickly, if, in fact, they do have it. But I don't have all the specifics.
Q You are not convinced that they have taken the --
MR. JOHNDROE: I think reports are too sketchy right now as to the exact location of the American military equipment. If the Russians have it, it needs to be returned immediately. And there's some -- also indications that they've made that assurance. If they've made that assurance, they need to honor that commitment, as well.
Q Gordon, what can you tell us about the VFW speech tomorrow? Should we expect the President to talk about Georgia and Russia?
MR. JOHNDROE: Yes. The speech overall is a look-back on significant moments in the war on terror. But I certainly expect the President will address the latest with regards to the situation in Georgia.
Q Gordon, going back to your announcement on Secretary Rice, is she skipping the closing ceremony entirely, or is she just not leading the delegation?
MR. JOHNDROE: She is not going to be attending the closing ceremonies now because of developments around the world.
Q -- she's going to be somewhere, like monitoring the situation this weekend? Or is it just too busy of a -- and fluid of a situation that she can't go?
MR. JOHNDROE: You'll have to check with the Department of State about her exact schedule. Since this is a presidential delegation, we needed to make that announcement from here.
Q On the VFW speech, the unembargoed remarks that are going to be released, is that going to include the Russia-Georgia comments, or is that something that's going to happen tomorrow?
MR. JOHNDROE: No, let me clarify for you if I misspoke, that is -- the President's remarks in New Orleans that he's giving tomorrow will be released this afternoon, unembargoed. The VFW speech will not be.
Q Did you say unembargoed, Gordon?
MR. JOHNDROE: Unembargoed. So you'll have a chance to go ahead -- obviously tomorrow is a busy day. There's two -- really two different components to it, with the VFW speech in the morning, whereas, as I said when Mark asked, I expect the President will address the latest on Russia and Georgia. And then, afternoon, he goes to talk about Gulf Coast recovery efforts. We thought it would be a good idea and a good opportunity for you all to go ahead and release the New Orleans remarks this afternoon so you have a chance to file on those.
Q Also, on Pakistan, can we move to Pakistan?
MR. JOHNDROE: Are we good on -- any other questions on Russia-Georgia? Okay, Kevin, and then over here.
Q It seems to me it's almost akin to having the wolves guard the henhouse, if you're talking about having Russian peacekeepers in a position where they've already invaded a sovereign nation. Is it the administration's position that this is an acceptable way, moving forward?
MR. JOHNDROE: I think there's two things here. What the agreement between Georgia and Russia, brokered by France, says is that all troops, all equipment, military assets that came in after August 6th need to return to their original locations. What can remain are the "Russian peacekeeping forces," so relatively small number.
But what in addition would be international monitors. And I think there's been some move by the OSCE today to get ready to deploy up to 100 international monitors into the region, so they can assess what's going on. But it's also our position that we're going to need to move beyond, at some point down the road, Russian peacekeeping forces; that this is going to be something that needs to be done by outside observers. So we have a number of steps that need to be taken: Russia needs to honor its commitment, move its forces back to August 6th locations; need to get international monitors in; and then we'll move forward with more longer-term mechanisms. Okay?
Q Do you have any idea how long it might be before there are international monitors?
MR. JOHNDROE: We want to move them in as quickly as possible.
Q So it sounds like, from your description of what came out of Brussels, that NATO stopped short of saying -- issuing a statement as Poland and the Baltics, among others, had called for, that Russia should "face consequences for its actions in Georgia." Is the White House disappointed that they stopped short of that more aggressive language? What's your understanding of that?
MR. JOHNDROE: I think NATO was clear that it will not be business as usual with Russia, and that we are considering seriously the implications of Russia's actions for the NATO-Russia relationship. So I think NATO was clear and united that this action will not stand without further consequence, and it's just a matter of what exactly is that.
Right now the focus is on establishing a NATO-Georgia commission, as well as looking towards reconstruction and rebuilding for Georgia, but also the immediate needs of the withdrawal being implemented.
Q Gordon, on that, does the White House believe that Russia is being deliberately defiant and dragging its feet on withdrawing from Georgia?
MR. JOHNDROE: It needs to happen faster. That's what they've agreed to, and I'll just leave it at that.
Q -- clarification. the Russians seem to think that the agreement says that Georgian forces need to go back to their barracks, and they seem to be using that as an excuse to seize Georgian forces that they find on the roads, and again, as an excuse for patrolling the roadways in Georgia. Does the agreement say that Georgian troops have to return to their barracks?
MR. JOHNDROE: I don't have the specific language. The forces on both sides need to return to their locations of August the 6th and hostilities need to stop. But I don't have the specific language.
Q What are some practical results of "not business as usual" with Moscow? I mean, is there any -- (inaudible) -- that will happen as a result of that?
MR. JOHNDROE: Well, look, I already think there have been practical results. I mean, some exercises have been cancelled between NATO and Russia. There's -- the practical implications of what Russia has done only, unfortunately, further isolate Russia. But as far as -- I think the questions are asking about what are the specifics. That's what's going to be seriously considered, and that's what the statement says.
Q I'm moving on to the economy for just a second. The wholesale inflation numbers are out today --
MR. JOHNDROE: No, I think -- Deb, on Pakistan?
Q Yes. What level of communication do you -- does the White House have right now with the new government? And is there any discussion with Musharraf about moving him to, say, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, or the United States? Is the United States helping or facilitating that?
MR. JOHNDROE: We have had ongoing communications with the government of Pakistan since the new Prime Minister and the government was formed. And he had a good visit to the White House. Ambassador Patterson in Islamabad has regular contact with the government of Pakistan. I would expect that the President will have high-level contact with Pakistani authorities in the near future. We'll certainly keep you updated on that. But we have ongoing cooperation with the government of Pakistan, and we will continue to. With regards to --
Q Nothing specific in light of yesterday, right?
MR. JOHNDROE: I know that Ambassador Patterson in Islamabad has had a number of meetings with the government of Pakistan. But as far as what happened yesterday, as we said, it was a matter for Pakistanis' internal political process for them. Prior to that and now ongoing, we have had relations and discussions and continued cooperation with the Pakistani government, and we will continue to do so. As far as President Musharraf's location, where he will eventually live, that's a matter for him and the Pakistanis to deal with.
Q And the United States is not involved in that at all?
MR. JOHNDROE: No, not that I'm aware of at all.
Q Any plans, Gordon, for a phone call between the President and Musharraf or the Prime Minister at this point?
MR. JOHNDROE: I mean, I would expect the President will have phone calls with Pakistani officials in the near future, and we'll keep you updated.
All right. Yes, ma'am.
Q Okay, thanks, Gordon. Going back to those inflation numbers -- 1.2 percent up for the month, 9.8 percent up from last year -- is it time for a second stimulus? If not, what can the government do to help the American people and American businesses combat those rising prices?
MR. JOHNDROE: I think you're talking about the Producer Price Index. Producer Price data are volatile. And while we pay close attention to this report, it's important to look at longer trends. The data today doesn't reflect the recent significant fall in oil prices, which obviously we would like to see continue.
With regards to a second stimulus, I don't think that we are there at the moment. I think that the economy is something that the President has remained focused on, especially with regards to the energy sector and wanting to see oil and gas prices come down even further than they already have. That's why he's put forward really a comprehensive energy plan, and we'd like to see Congress act on that plan.
Q Can you give us an update on the SOFA with Iraq?
MR. JOHNDROE: Sure. I would just say that negotiations are ongoing between our teams. We've made progress over the last several months on the issue. There's a number of areas that we'll need to continue having discussions on.
Q We've seen that there's a final draft that's been sent to the administration.
MR. JOHNDROE: Drafts aren't final until they're final. So there are drafts and there have been drafts for the last few weeks. There are still a few issues that need to be worked out, but negotiations are ongoing, and we'll see what happens.
Q Gordon, Senator Biden apparently came back from his trip to Georgia, saying that it would need probably about a billion dollars in initial aid from the United States. Does that figure sound about right? Are you in any kind of conversation with the Hill on a total amount of humanitarian aid?
MR. JOHNDROE: I mean, I think it's going to be a substantial commitment by the United States to Georgia for, one, immediate humanitarian assistance; and then, two, reconstruction of their infrastructure that has been needlessly destroyed; and then also the need to help them rebuild their military. And so I don't want to put a dollar figure on it right now.
As you know and you pointed out, there are a number of senators and members of Congress who are traveling to and from Georgia. I think Congress is well aware of the situation. We will remain in touch with Congress. It's premature for me to put a dollar figure on it now. It will be a substantial commitment by the United States to Georgia.
Q Any reaction to the ambush and the killings of the 10 French soldiers in Afghanistan?
MR. JOHNDROE: Sure. The President was briefed on that this morning during his intelligence briefing. He sends his condolences to the loved ones of those lost, as well as those wounded, and to the people of France; just offer our heartfelt thanks for the sacrifice that they are making, and the commitment that the French are making to help secure Afghanistan.
Okay, thank you all.
END 11:04 A.M. CDT