White House Daily Briefing, September 25, 2003
September 25, 2003
THE WHITE HOUSE
PRESS BRIEFING BY SCOTT McCLELLAN
PRESS BRIEFING BY SCOTT McCLELLAN
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:58 P.M. EDT
MR. McCLELLAN: Good morning -- afternoon. The President looks forward to meeting with the Medicare conferees this afternoon. Strengthening and modernizing Medicare for America's seniors is one of the President's highest priorities. Seniors should have more choices and better benefits, just as members of Congress do, including prescription drug coverage. Seniors should be able to choose the care that best meets their individual health needs. Seniors have waited far too long for the prescription drug coverage that they deserve. The President will urge congressional leaders to act and work together to get a strong bill to his desk as soon as possible.
And that will occur here in about an hour or so. And again, that's going to be pool coverage at the end.
And with that, I'm happy to take your questions.
QUESTION: Scott, the House --
Q: Scott --
MR. McCLELLAN: Who can yell louder. (Laughter.)
Q: -- has passed its legislation to make sure that the Do Not Call law goes into effect next week. Will the President sign that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, two things here. One, the President strongly supports the congressional efforts to ensure the implementation of the Do Not Call Registry. This is aimed at getting rid of annoying, intrusive calls that are all too common in American society. People should have the right to choose if they don't want to receive those solicitations at home when they're trying to help their children with their homework, or they're trying to have dinner with their family. That's a right that Americans should have.
The President strongly supports the efforts of the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission to implement it. As you are aware, the FTC is continuing to pursue this in the courts, and at the same time, Congress is moving forward on the legislative front. And we strongly support those efforts. I'm pleased -- the President is pleased that the House acted and moved quickly on this legislation.
Q: Why won't you just say, yes, he'll sign the bill?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we'll see what the final one looks like. But, of course, he supports their efforts. I mean, I think that makes it pretty clear, that we're very supportive of what the House is doing. But at the same time, keep in mind that this is being pursued in the courts. So it could be resolved in the courts.
Q: So you just want to see --
MR. McCLELLAN: It could be resolved in the courts at the same time.
Q: You want to make sure nothing else is --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- I have no reason to expect that he wouldn't, because he strongly supports what they're doing.
Q: Since the President -- since it's pretty clear the task force, the Kaye task force can't find any weapons of mass destruction, why did the President invade Iraq?
MR. McCLELLAN: Did you see the report?
Q: No, I didn't. But all the leaks indicate that he hasn't found anything yet. Are you denying that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, let me go to your first question about why we went to war. Because in a post-9/11 world, in a post-September 11th world, the threat posed by Saddam Hussein became even more real --
Q: What's the threat?
MR. McCLELLAN: The threat was spelled out by the United Nations, by the intelligence agencies across the world, and by the United States -- three administrations here in the United States.
Q: And we went based on that --
MR. McCLELLAN: Saddam Hussein possessed and used chemical and biological -- or used chemical weapons against his own people. He had a history of possessing and using --
Q: Thirteen years before --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- using weapons of mass destruction. He had a history of invading his neighbors. He had large, unaccounted-for stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons. He defied the international community for 12 years and some 17 resolutions. Remember, 1441 gave him one final chance to comply, or there would be serious consequences. The President believes in following through on what you say, and the President acted, and America is safer because of the action we took. The world is safer and better because of the action that the President --
Q: You don't deny the President --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- that the President took.
Q: -- told the American people that there was an imminent, direct threat?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President made it very clear that we need to act to confront threats in a post-September 11th world before it's too late, before those threats reach our shores and it's too late.
Q: Let me follow up on that, Scott. The President has said that since the war, America is safer. And not just America, but our allies are safer, as well, because Saddam Hussein will never be able to use weapons of mass destruction.
MR. McCLELLAN: That's right.
Q: Well, if you can --
MR. McCLELLAN: Or give those weapons of mass destruction to terrorists.
Q: Precisely. So if it -- if you are unable to account for Saddam Hussein or for the weapons of mass destruction or the materials of mass destruction, how can you make such a claim?
MR. McCLELLAN: His brutal regime has been removed from power. We have captured or killed many of the deck of 55 that is often referred to. So we are continuing to go on the offensive and pursue remnants of the former regime, as well as foreign terrorists, and we are bringing those people to justice.
Q: You've never been able to say whether those weapons, whether actual weapons or weapons parts may have been spirited out of the country. And again, since you can't account for them, and you can't account for him, how do you know that everybody is safe?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think you can speculate all you want, but it doesn't change the facts. Dr. Kaye is continuing to do his job, lead the Iraq survey group and pull together a complete and full picture of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction and his weapons of mass destruction programs. So that is an ongoing effort. He's continuing to go through miles of documents. He's continuing to interview Iraqis, continuing to interview leaders that have been captured. So that's a process that's ongoing at this point, and the truth will come out.
Q: Why should Americans -- speculation is indeed, what you and the President are claiming, and that is that America is safer now that Saddam Hussein has been removed. Why isn't that speculation --
MR. McCLELLAN: Because this was a brutal, oppressive regime. It doesn't change the facts -- just what I said -- this is a brutal, oppressive regime that had a history of using chemical weapons, that had a history of invading its neighbors. This is a regime that defied the international community for some 12 years and 17 resolutions. The threat was spelled out by the international community. The President said in a post-September 11th world, we're not going to let that threat gather before it's too late; we're going to confront it and we're going to take it out. And that makes America more secure, it makes the world a better place.
Q: But, Scott, you missed the focus of David's question, which is, how can the President say one thing is for sure -- Saddam will never transfer weapons of mass destruction to terrorists -- when you don't know where Saddam is --
MR. McCLELLAN: Because he's been --
Q: -- when you don't know where Saddam is and you don't know where the weapons are?
MR. McCLELLAN: Because he's been removed from power.
Q: How does that stop him from making a transfer?
MR. McCLELLAN: It's a matter of time before we find him. This is one person who no longer has the power to oppress his people, to invade his neighbors. He is removed from power.
Q: But if you don't know where he is and you don't know where the weapons are, how can you be sure he won't transfer weapons to terrorists? How can you make that definitive statement?
MR. McCLELLAN: Because the full might of the American military is pursuing him and going to find him. It will be a matter of time. We continue to go after him, just like we have brought other people that are in the leadership of the former regime to justice.
Q: Scott, a couple of subjects. First, the International Atomic Energy Agency says they've discovered traces of highly-enriched uranium at a second site in Iran. What is the administration's assessment of how close Iran is to having a nuclear weapons, and what is the President going to do about it?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there are a lot of concerns we do have about Iran, and you mentioned one of them, in terms of the IAEA. And it was just two weeks ago that the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency expressed concern about Iran's nuclear activities and called for Iran to comply by the end of October with its obligations. And it asked the Director General of the IAEA to report to the board by November, so that the board can draw some conclusions from that. But remember, this is another example of multilateral success; where it was the United States, months ago who was the one that was raising this issue and bringing to light and talking about Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons, and now the international community is saying -- expressing the same concern that we have been expressing. So this is one last chance for Iran to comply. And if it doesn't, then we believe it should be reported to the Security Council.
Q: Scott, one last chance for Iran to comply, that echoes the one final opportunity that Saddam Hussein was offered.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we believe it should be reported to the Security Council if they fail to come -- if they fail to comply with their obligations, their safeguard obligations.
Q: Then there is talk in the Iranian government of withdrawing from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. What would be the consequences --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I've seen different comments out of Iran. But make no mistake, what they need to do is comply with their obligations, with their safeguard obligations. These are part of a longstanding pattern of evasion and deception to disguise the true nature and purpose of Iran's nuclear activities.
Q: And then just briefly on another subject, OPEC has cut production by 3.5 percent. These are our supposed allies in the region -- Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, and others. This is the second time in 12 years that American soldiers have died in order -- in part to preserve the Saudi royal family on its ocean of oil over there. What's the President think about them jacking up oil prices?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I actually addressed this yesterday, that we've always said that oil prices should be determined by market forces so that we can ensure adequate supplies. Producing and consuming countries both have an interest in ample, affordable energy supplies. But we typically do not get into commenting on specific decisions. Obviously, we have ongoing and regular consultations with major oil producers around the world. And those continue. But, again -- and keep in mind the importance of acting on a comprehensive national energy plan, as well. That's something that's moving forward. And the President strongly supports, and he outlined what it needs to include. And that will --
Q: So no specific public rebuke of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and Qatar, when the President goes out there and says that one of the benefits of removing Saddam Hussein is the region is safer. We just saved these people at the cost of American lives. So no specific rebuke for them jacking up oil prices now on American --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think I just addressed the issue that what producing and consuming countries alike share. We share an interest in abundant and adequate supplies of energy. And we made our -- we made that very clear.
Q: The United Nations today began calling staff, calling its international staff out of Iraq. How will that affect the ability of the U.N. to play a role in Iraq? And doesn't this come as sort of a vote of no confidence in the security situation under U.S. occupation?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think Secretary General Annan has said that the United Nations remains committed to its role in Iraq. It is a vital role, and we want them to continue to play a vital role in Iraq. Certainly, in the wake of the recent bombing of the United Nations headquarters, we understand the grief of the United Nations family and the need to ensure the safety of United Nations employees in Iraq. The Coalition Provisional Authority and coalition forces in Iraq will continue working closely with United Nations officials to ensure the protection of U.N. employees. And while that's going on, we've understood that there might be some reductions.
Q: It sounds like you need to beef up security, you need to give them some assurances that their staff will be safe --
MR. McCLELLAN: I just said that the CPA and coalition forces are working with United Nations in Iraq. And certainly in the wake of -- I think you should go back to the fact that either remnants of the former regime or foreign terrorists attacked the international community when they waged this attack on the United Nations. And so we certainly understand their concerns and understand their reasons for pursuing a reduction. But they have a vital role to play, and we want them to continue to play that vital role. And Secretary General Annan has made it clear that they are committed to a sovereign, free and democratic Iraq.
Q: This comes at a time, though, when the administration is trying to attract more international support for personnel and troops on the ground. Does it not make your job more difficult? And have you gotten and promises or any hope that other countries are going to contribute personnel, whether it's Turkey or Pakistan?
MR. McCLELLAN: We continue to -- in fact, the President -- part of his remarks the other day addressed how the international community has a stake in what is happening in Iraq. Iraq is now the central front in the war on terrorism. And the international community has a stake in seeing a free, sovereign and prosperous Iraq, because that will help bring about peace and stability in a very volatile region of the world, a region that has spawned terrorism, a region that has been a breeding ground for terrorism.
And so we are continuing -- and I think that the President's remarks the other day received very positive feedback from a number of world leaders. And so we are continuing to talk to countries, to broaden that international participation. And we're working on continuing to pursue the Security Council resolution, as well, to expand upon previous resolutions.
Q: With Hans Blix making the statement within the last week that WMD will not be found in Iraq, some are wondering when is the time line on patience going to run out, because the administration kept saying, be patient, we will find WMD?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, and I went through the history and what the facts were. I will not go back through that. But remember, it's only been, what, four-and-a-half months since the end of major combat operations. Dr. Kaye is the one that's assigned to oversee the Iraq survey group and pull together a complete picture. The President made it very clear, I want you to be thorough, I want you to pull together a complete picture. And then it can be presented and we will know the truth. But we will uncover the truth.
Q: By now, some are saying, there should have been something substantive to show that WMD indeed --
MR. McCLELLAN: The President didn't ask Dr. Kaye to go out and do a daily report on his efforts, because there are miles of documents that he is going through. There are a number of Iraqis that he is interviewing; that process continues, so we can pull together a complete picture and we can present that picture.
Q: Going through paperwork is one thing, but the American public wants something tangible. Do you think something tangible of WMD will be found?
MR. McCLELLAN: He's working to pull together physical evidence, as well. So that's all part of what he's doing.
Q: Do you think something tangible will be found?
MR. McCLELLAN: You're asking me to speculate on reports right now. Yes, we believe that there were weapons of mass destruction and a weapons of mass destruction program. We've said that repeatedly. And there's documentation for that that we have. That's why the international community took the course it took with some 17 resolutions.
Q: Scott, just to follow up on that point, when do you expect Kaye's final report?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not putting a time line on it, nor is the President. He said, do a thorough job, pull together a complete picture. He reports to the CIA, as you're aware, so I wouldn't put any timetable on it.
Q: Is there any reason to think that it wouldn't be within the next year --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there's still -- I'm not going to put any timetable on it. There's still -- I mean, he is moving forward on this, but it's important to do a thorough job. And there is a progress report in the works, but we're waiting for that final report, once he does a thorough review of everything.
Q: It now looks as if the United States is going to have a lot of difficulty getting another division of international troops into Iraq. If I remember correctly, the $87-billion supplemental assumed that there would be some rotation of U.S. troops out. If U.S. troops have to remain in Iraq at their current level, is there a budgetary implication for that? In other words, are you going to have to go back to the Hill for more money?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, we've been very straightforward about what the numbers are in terms of the resources needed as we have made those determinations. But that's -- the President expects his commanders in the field to make those determinations. They're the ones who know best what resources are needed and what the commitment needs to be. So those are things that we rely on our military commanders in the field to make.
Q: -- don't get any international troops in there, is that going to cost --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think first of all, there are already international troops in there. There's some 30 countries participating. We are pursuing an additional multinational force. That was something spelled out in the Security Council resolution. We're continuing to have conversations with nations about that. But it's kind of speculating at this point. I think there's a lot of understanding from the international community that it is very important that we do everything we can to help build a better future for the Iraqi people, and help build a sovereign and free and prosperous nation for them.
Q: If they don't come through, is that going to cost the U.S. more to maintain its presence there?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, the determinations in terms of our military are always made by the commanders in the field. They have said that we have sufficient force levels. They have continued to say that. And so those are determinations made by the military leaders.
Q: On June 24th of last year -- this is a two-part question -- the President said that Syria must choose the right side in the war on terror by closing terrorist camps and expelling terrorist organizations. And my question: Since Syria has done nothing of the kind, but has instead used an American Muslim chaplain and a Muslim airman as accused spies, why has the President failed to break off diplomatic relations with the terrorist government of Syria?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we've made it very clear to the government in Syria that we have a number of concerns that they need to address. You just mentioned --
Q: But they haven't.
MR. McCLELLAN: You just mentioned one of them. Also there are WMD programs. So there are a number of things that they need to address.
Q: Public affairs people at the Chief of Army Chaplain's office at the Pentagon, at West Point, and at SouthCOM have no idea who in the chaplains corps approved letting Yousef Yee back into the U.S. army, after a four-year study of Islam in Damascus. And my question: Is the President, as Commander-in-Chief, concerned enough about this to find out who was responsible?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's a matter that's being pursued by the Department of Defense and by the FBI, so --
Q: They're investigating to find out who let this guy back in, right?
MR. McCLELLAN: This is a matter being pursued by them. I'm not going to prejudge anything at this point.
Q: -- go back very briefly to the Kaye report. Is it going to be made public in whole or in part?
MR. McCLELLAN: You mean the progress report, or do you mean the final report?
Q: Actually, I'd like to ask about both the progress report that we're expecting --
MR. McCLELLAN: What the President has said, go and pull together a complete picture and then we can present that information publicly, at that point.
Q: Will these conclusions be --
MR. McCLELLAN: So that's -- well, that's what I just answered. I said the President asked him to go and pull together a complete picture; we'll uncover the truth and that information can be presented to the American people.
Q: All right, but the complete picture is still a ways off, you said. What about the progress report?
MR. McCLELLAN: I didn't put any timing on it. I think that's for Dr. Kaye to make those determinations when he has pulled together all the information.
But let's remember that the most dangerous threat we face in a post-September 11th world is the nexus between outlaw regimes with weapons of mass destruction and terrorists. And in a post-September 11th world, we cannot wait to confront threats before they reach our shores. Saddam Hussein had a history of weapons of mass destruction. He had a history of using weapons of mass destruction. He had a history of invading his neighbors. He had a history of large, unaccounted-for stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons. This was a threat that the President confronted, and America is more secure because of the action that we took.
Q: And does the President believe the American people are owed an accounting of what threat was actually found --
MR. McCLELLAN: He's made that very clear. He's made very clear that we'll pull together a complete picture so that we can uncover the full extent of his weapons of mass destruction and his weapons of mass destruction program. But, again, the threat was very real. We confronted it. America is safer because of the action that the President took.
Q: Scott, if the President really wants this drug -- prescription drug coverage and an energy policy, a medical malpractice reform, why don't we see the same kind of effort that he put into tax cuts and the No Child Left Behind Act where he really went out and campaigned for, instead of just calling a bunch of lawmakers in to say, let's send something to my desk?
MR. McCLELLAN: You just mentioned some of his highest priorities, and we are pursuing all those priorities -- the energy plan, the Medicare legislation. That's why the President is having the meeting he is having with members of Congress later today, to urge them to act, and to urge them to act sooner rather than later, because America's seniors have waited far too long for the prescription drug coverage that they deserve.
Q: But having a meeting here is not like going out to Nebraska and calling on voters --
MR. McCLELLAN: He's been going out talking about Medicare. He talks about Medicare -- he talks about Medicare in, I think, just about every speech he gives.
Q: Scott, describe for us, if you will, the -- describe for us, if you will, the course of action --
MR. McCLELLAN: Thought you were throwing your voice or something. (Laughter.)
Q: I'll be glad to defer to my senior colleague.
Q: Describe for us, if you will, the course of action on Iran once the Director General of IAEA makes his report. What happens at that point?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we'll see. Iran has been given a chance to comply. They have an October 31 deadline. And, at that point, if they fail to meet what the IAEA laid out, then we believe it should be taken to the Security Council. I wouldn't want to speculate beyond that.
Q: And when you get to the Security Council, what are the options?
MR. McCLELLAN: I just said, I wouldn't want to speculate on that.
Q: I'm not asking you to speculate.
MR. McCLELLAN: We think it should be taken to the Security Council, and they should make determinations. There are all sorts of options you have available.
Q: I'm saying, what sort of determination they make? Is it -- does it range from saying, you really shouldn't do that, to military action, or is it -- are there economic sanctions? What are the options before the Security Council when that report reaches --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think they have a number of options, but I don't want to speculate about it. Let's see what happens. But if they fail to comply, then we do believe it needs to be reported to the Security Council.
Q: President Chirac seems to have joined in this and said essentially what the administration is saying. Is that helpful at all?
MR. McCLELLAN: We welcome that. The President brought this up with leaders in many of his bilateral meetings, the importance of the international community keeping the pressure on Iran to comply. And so that's where things stand at this point.
Q: I think Jim was reading my notes; my question was almost the same. But I'd like to take it a little bit further, if I may. Iran, according to intelligence sources, is embarked on a weapons of mass destruction program, nuclear program. In addition, it has medium-range missiles that are reportedly operational. This is capable of hitting targets in Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East. If we're talking about a safer America, and as was said, not allowing dangers to come here, if it goes to the Security Council and takes 12 years, as it did with Iraq, it seems intolerable for the President to wait while countries such as Iran builds a nuclear arsenal. Is there a possibility of military force such as he used against Iraq before the Security Council acts?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that that's jumping ahead of where things are at this point. It's a serious matter in terms of Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons. There's no reason they need to be pursuing this when they have all the oil and gas reserves that they do in that country. And we've raised these concerns. If they fail to comply, we believe they should be found in non-compliance by the board, and then that should be sent to the Security Council. That's what we've repeatedly said, and we'll go from there.
Q: Scott, the President had those conferees here on the Medicare bill a couple of weeks ago. And now a couple weeks later --
MR. McCLELLAN: That was a meeting that was postponed recently.
Q: Any progress to report? I mean, they seem to be at a stalemate at this point.
MR. McCLELLAN: I think members are moving quickly. They've come to agreement on some of the issues. Certainly the discount card, which is very important and will provide savings for seniors immediately, while we implement the Medicare legislation. And they're continuing to work -- the leaders are continuing to make this a priority. I think they've talked about pushing forward on some of their own congressional time lines. And the President looks forward to visiting with them and urging them to move quickly, move sooner rather than later.
Q: -- going to get those --
MR. McCLELLAN: This is about America's seniors. And people need to put aside any politics that may be involved and work to give seniors more choices and better benefits, a modernized and improved Medicare system where they can choose the care that best meets their needs. Seniors should have prescription drug coverage. They have waited long enough for the coverage.
Q: Scott, two questions. First, on Iran. Can you clarify, does the President believe that Iran represents and imminent threat to the United States?
MR. McCLELLAN: We've never said that. We've said that we have serious concerns about their nuclear activities, that there is no reason other than that they would be pursuing nuclear weapons, for them to have those -- to have nuclear energy.
Q: But the threat is not imminent to the United States.
MR. McCLELLAN: We've never said that.
Q: Second question. I understand a large group of CEOs are here at the White House this afternoon to talk about asbestos litigation reform. Do you know who they're meeting with and --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, our staff meets with people all the time, but certainly lawsuit reform is a high priority when it comes to improving our economy and strengthening our economy. The President has talked repeatedly about the need to reform our legal system, when it comes to matters such as class-action lawsuit, when it comes to medical liability reform, when it comes to asbestos litigation. There were some efforts going on in Congress where they're working to reach an agreement on this issue. And lawsuit reform is additional steps that we can take to strengthen our economy even more.
Q: So the President is supportive? He believes that American companies deserve some kind of a break from asbestos --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Congress has been working in a cooperative way to try to reach an agreement on that important issue, and he certainly supports reform and supports efforts to address --
Q: Just to clarify, do you know anything about --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q: Who is actually meeting with them?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, our staff is meeting with people all the time. I'll look into that and try to get you more information on that.
Q: Scott, yesterday Representative Cox said that the Vice President told Republicans that under no circumstances would U.S. money be used to repay Iraqi debt. And I was wondering if you could just tell us what the status report is on getting some of the European countries, in particular, to agree to forgive Iraqi debt?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I don't have the latest update on that matter. We are continuing to talk with countries. We believe that that's an important step in moving forward on building a better future for the Iraqi people. I just don't have an update on it.
Q: We didn't make any progress on that at the U.N., though?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't have an update on it. You're talking about forgiving debt? I don't have any update beyond what we've already said at this point.
Q: Scott, the D.C. appropriations bill is being held up in the Senate because of the school choice provision that's in there. Democrats have been aided by Republican Arlen Specter in delaying a vote. Since D.C. school vouchers are something the President has been personally involved with, do you think he's going to pick up the phone and call Senator Specter?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President's views are very well-known on this. The White House staff is working hard on this issue, as well. We believe parents should have more options, and that this is an important program, to give parents, particularly of low-income children, the ability to send their children to the schools that best meets their needs.
Q: Is the Senator risking the President's support for reelection by opposing school vouchers?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I wouldn't look at it that way. I mean, there are obviously some issues where we may disagree. But the President has made his views clear in terms of his support for him.
Q: Scott, a few questions, please, on the international troops to Iraq, any more international troops. Is there a deadline? Is there any financial incentives for these countries to join? And on your statement about the state visit to the United Kingdom, you mentioned President Reagan's visit when he received an honorary knighthood. Is President Bush about to receive an honorary knighthood?
MR. McCLELLAN: You might want to talk to United Kingdom. I don't know what their plans are in terms of all the details of the state visit.
In terms of international cooperation, we are continuing to work to broaden the international participation. We're continuing to talk to countries about different ways they can contribute, whether it's troops, or whether it's financial assistance. And, as I said, those conversations are ongoing at this point.
The President made it very clear the other day at the United Nations that the world has a stake in what is going on there, this is the central front in the war on terrorism, and that we all need to work together and put aside past differences and look to the future and the future of the Iraqi people and the future of the Middle East, because a free and sovereign and prosperous Iraq will serve as an example to the rest of the Middle East, and help make the world even safer.
Q: One more on the state visit. Is this something President Bush lobbied for? Or how did this come about?
MR. McCLELLAN: That was a -- I think that's an invitation extended by the United Kingdom. And the President looks forward to going there in November.
Q: On the issue of freedom of the press, you've spoken often to today of a free Iraq. On September 10th, Secretary Rumsfeld said there is a free press in Iraq where people are to say whatever they wish. Yesterday, the interim council said they would close down any news outlet that advocated the return of the Baath Party. So, obviously, they can't say whatever they wish.
MR. McCLELLAN: You might want to talk to the Governing Council about the decisions that they make.
Q: They consulted with Paul Bremer before they came down with --
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, previously under the former regime, it shows how brutal they were, you'd have your tongue cut out if you spoke out against the regime. There is freedom of press in Iraq, and there are a lot of newspapers and there are a lot of media outlets now that previously -- where it wasn't. That's part of all moving towards a better future for the Iraqi people.
Q: Second question, Attorney General Ashcroft is not speaking with print reporters. Does the President agree with that policy?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know what his individual policy is. The Attorney General --
Q: He's not speaking with print reporters.
MR. McCLELLAN: The Attorney General has been out --
Q: -- he's just talking with TV --
MR. McCLELLAN: The Attorney General has been out talking about some important priorities of this administration and he will continue to do that. I haven't heard --
Q: He said he's not talking to print reporters.
MR. McCLELLAN: Talk to the Attorney General. Talk to his -- talk to the Department of Justice.
Q: He won't talk to a print reporter. (Laughter.)
MR. McCLELLAN: Talk to the Department of Justice.
Q: They won't talk.
MR. McCLELLAN: Talk to the Department of Justice. I don't know what individual policies are. I haven't hear that.
Q: Does he think that Schwarzenegger will be an --
MR. McCLELLAN: You've had your turn.
Q: Oh, I thought you were calling on me. Does he think Schwarzenegger --
MR. McCLELLAN: You've had your turn.
Q: -- Medicare question. In addition to some of the issues that are still outstanding, there seems to be a personality problem between -- there seems to be some personality --
MR. McCLELLAN: In Congress? Personality problems?
Q: -- some of the leadership in this conference getting along. It's been suggested that even Vice President Cheney or Karl Rove get involved in terms of acting as a lead in the White House for involvement. Is the White House taking that under consideration?
MR. McCLELLAN: Secretary Thompson is playing a leading role in our efforts, and he will be here later for the meeting. And the President is the one taking a leading role to get this important legislation passed, and passed quickly.
Q: One of the sticky issues is the level of private sector involvement? Where does the White House stand in terms of after 2010 making Medicare handled by private sector plans --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think we've laid out our framework; now we're working with members of Congress. You're not asking me to get into negotiations here from the podium, are you?
Q: Scott, you said that the United Nations has voiced its commitment to helping Iraq get back onto its feet. But this withdrawing of the last hundred people that they have, when the bombing -- major bombing was something like a month ago -- isn't this a message of no confidence in U.S. ability to pacify the country, to put some kind of security in place? And doesn't this send a message to others that --
MR. McCLELLAN: They're looking at their security concerns and they're working to address those. We understand some of their decisions, and the coalition is continuing to work with them to address these concerns, as well. But make no mistake, the United Nations has played a vital role, they have a vital role to continue to play. We believe that they should be involved in the process of leading up to free elections and drafting a constitution. They have --
Q: You don't consider this an embarrassment of any sort?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- they have a lot of history of experience working on those issues, and we believe they can play a vital role. We understand, in the wake of the bombings, some of their concerns and some of their decisions.
Q: Scott, what are the President's expectations for this meeting over the next two days with President Putin?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President, first of all, looks forward to welcoming President Putin to Camp David. He will be arriving tomorrow. The President --
Q: What time?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q: What time?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't have the exact time on me. We'll, obviously, put that out later today. But the President looks forward to welcoming President Putin to Camp David. I expect they will talk about a range of issues, from one that we have discussed here today, Iran; I'm sure they will talk about the continuing efforts in the war on terrorism; the Middle East. So they'll discuss a range of issues, as well as continuing to strengthen our already strong relationship that the two leaders have built.
Q: On that, on Iraq, is the President going to be asking Putin if he might be interested in pitching in some troops or some other aid there? And, frankly, if not, why not? We were told --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that they will talk about our efforts in Iraq, they will talk about the new resolution. So let's let the meeting take place, and then we'll have more to talk about after that. But I expect they will.
Q: We were told that the President had not specifically asked any countries for additional troops. Why is that?
MR. McCLELLAN: There are a number of officials in the administration -- senior officials -- that are talking to countries. The President went to the United Nations to emphasize the importance of what we're trying to achieve in places like Afghanistan and Iraq; the importance of addressing one of the most dangerous threats of our time, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; the importance of working together on all these issues and working together on humanitarian crises around the world, such as AIDS and famine and the trafficking of human beings.
So the President outlined these important priorities, and said we welcome broader international support of what's going on in Iraq, because the international community has a stake of what's going on in Iraq. But others will be talking to countries, continuing to talk to countries about specific ways that they can contribute.
Q: That does not rise to the level, a request that they contribute troops?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President has made it very clear that he appreciates additional support and welcomes additional support. We already have a number of countries participating, as I've gone through. But I think others continue to work that process. The purpose of the President going to the United Nations was not for him to ask for specific tasks that other nations could carry out. We have other senior officials in the administration that are working with countries on those issues and talking to countries. That was not the President's purpose. The purpose of his trip was to do what I just said.
END 1:35 P.M. EDT
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