White House Daily Briefing, December 4, 2003


Thursday  December 4, 2003

Office of the Press Secretary
December 4, 2003



-- Statement by the President on steel
-- President's trip to Baghdad
- British Airways
- Security
-- Space exploration
-- Taiwan

Office of the Press Secretary
December 4, 2003


The James S. Brady Briefing Room

12:34 P.M. EST

MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon. I'm pleased to be joined today by Ambassador Zoellick, our United States Trade Representative. I want to begin with an opening statement by the President of the United States. And then I will turn it over to Ambassador Zoellick, who will provide some additional comments on the decision the President has reached today. And he will be glad to take your questions on that issue. And then at the end of the briefing, I'll come back for whatever other questions you all may have on other topics.

This is a statement by the President.

"Today I signed a proclamation ending the temporary steel safeguard measures I put in place in March 2002. Prior to that time, steel prices were at 20-year lows, and the U.S. International Trade Commission found that a surge in imports to the U.S. market was causing serious injury to our domestic steel industry. I took action to give the industry a chance to adjust to the surge in foreign imports, and to give relief to the workers and communities that depend on steel for their jobs and livelihoods.

"These safeguard measures have now achieved their purpose. And as a result of changed economic circumstances, it is time to lift them. The U.S. steel industry wisely used the 21 months of breathing space we provided to consolidate and restructure. The industry made progress, increasing productivity, lowering production costs, and making America more competitive with foreign steel producers.

"Steel producers and workers have negotiated new groundbreaking labor agreements that allow greater flexibility and increased job stability. The Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation has guaranteed the pensions of eligible steel workers and retirees, and relieved the high pension cost that burdened some companies. My jobs and growth plan has also created more favorable economic conditions for the industry, and the improving economy will help further stimulate demand.

"To keep the positive momentum going, we will continue our steel import licensing and monitoring program so that my administration can quickly respond to future import surges that could unfairly damage the industry. We will continue negotiations with our trading partners through the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development to establish new and strong disciplines on subsidies that governments grant to their steel producers. We will continue to pursue economic policies that create the conditions for steel producers, steel consumers who rely on steel to produce goods ranging from refrigerators to auto parts, and other U.S. manufacturers to succeed.

"I strongly believe that America's workers can compete with anyone in the world, as long as we have a fair and level playing field. Free trade opens foreign markets to American products and creates jobs for American works. And an integral part of our commitment to free trade is our commitment to enforcing our trade laws.

"I am pleased the steel industry seized the opportunity we provided to regain its competitiveness and assist steel workers and their communities. As a result, U.S. steel companies are now once again well-positioned to compete both at home and globally."

And with that, I'm going to turn it over to Ambassador Zoellick for some comments. Thank you.

* * * * *

1:15 P.M. EST

MR. McCLELLAN: No, no, Norah gets the first one; she out-yelled you. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Scott, you promised us more information about the Air Force One sighting. Was it a British Airways plane?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, I'm actually -- I'm going to give you a copy of a release that was put out by the National Air Traffic Services, which is the London-area control center. Let me just read that to you first, and then I'll be glad to get into any follow-up you have.

"NATS has now concluded its investigations and can confirm that a conversation between the crew of an aircraft belonging to a non-U.K. operator and its control center took place around 9:30 GMT, on Thursday, the 27th of November, 2003.

"The pilot of the aircraft asked whether the aircraft behind it was Air Force One. After consulting the flight plan of those aircraft in the sector at that time, the center responded that the aircraft was a Gulfstream V. NATS notes reports that U.S. officials have said that for security reasons, Air Force One had filed a flight plan which stated that the service would operated by a Gulfstream V."

So as they pointed out, it was a non-U.K. operator. What Colonel Tillman and the pilots on board Air Force One believed at the time when they heard the conversation was that it was a British Airways plane, because there had been a British Airways plane that had been in the vicinity of Air Force One on the way across. And Colonel Tillman -- and, in fact, they knew it was there because they had been using the call sign that British Airways uses when they communicate with the control center. Colonel Tillman and the pilots then heard the conversation, and to them the conversation sounded like it was coming from a pilot with a British accent. And so that's why they had concluded that it was a British Airways plane.

Q: Scott, the conversation itself was as it was relayed?

MR. McCLELLAN: That's correct. I think that that was in here. Go ahead, Norah.

Q: Why then did the White House, repeatedly, in two different versions, tell reporters that it was British Airways? How could the White House be so wrong?

MR. McCLELLAN: For the reasons I told you. Colonel Tillman and the pilots in the cockpit believed that it was British Airways for the reasons I just stated. And what we always try to do for you all in the press corps is to provide you a little color of important events, because we believe that's helpful to you for your stories, and to do your reporting to the American people. And so we reported it based on what we knew, and the conversation did take place. It was heard by the pilots on Air Force One. That was relayed to White House staff, and it was shared with you all in the media to help you keep the American people informed about what was a very important event.

Q: And just finally, do you think, though, that this third revision of this story now, takes some of the shine off the President's surprise visit to the troops?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, no, absolutely not. The President was pleased to go and visit our men and women in the military who are serving and sacrificing and defending freedom and making the world a safer and better place. And he was honored to be there and spend Thanksgiving with those men and women who are in Baghdad.

The second point I was going to make is that, again, this conversation was relayed to you all to help you all have a little more color for your stories and to keep the American people informed about an important event that occurred over the Thanksgiving weekend.

Q: Scott, so -- let me just ask you a question. The other day you were saying that Tillman said -- or at least Dan Bartlett said that Tillman said he heard the call sign, Speed Bird.

MR. McCLELLAN: That's correct.

Q: Which is the designator for British Airways. You're now saying he didn't hear that? He just heard a British accent?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, that's what I -- in fact, that's what I -- if you listened to what I said at the beginning, there was a British Airways flight that was in the vicinity of Air Force One as it was crossing over for a good portion of that flight. And they were using the call sign, Speed Bird.

Q: Oh, but he just heard another plane and thought that it was the same plane, is that what --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, Colonel Tillman and the pilots in the cockpit of Air Force One heard the communications because they were off the western coast of England at the time, and heard the conversation between a pilot of the plane and the control center. And the pilot of the plane, to them, it sounded like he had -- that the pilot had a British accent. And so they -- from all the other things I told you -- believed that it was a British Airways flight.

Q: Just one more follow-up here. So you said that the announcement from the National Air Traffic Services says that Air Force One had filed a flight plan that identified it --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'll be sure -- I'll be sure and give you a copy of this.

Q: What is the legality of filing --

MR. McCLELLAN: Give you a copy of this.

Q: What are the legalities of --

MR. McCLELLAN: Give you a copy of this release.

Q: What are the legalities of filing a fraudulent flight plan?

MR. McCLELLAN: John, I think that the American people understand the security arrangements that are made in a circumstance like this. The American people understand the importance of not compromising security, not only for the President of the United States, but for those on board the plane, and those on the ground, as well. These are unusual circumstances. The President was pleased to go into Baghdad and pay tribute to our troops for their service and sacrifice, and show them that the American people stand fully behind them and support them in their efforts.

Q: Scott?

MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Dana.

Q: Scott, totally different subject, but it is about the air --

MR. McCLELLAN: Are we off this subject?

Q: Can I ask one quick follow-up?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, go ahead.

Q: So the White House has no compunctions about having misled the American people on this trip?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, one, I was not there, but I've gone and gathered the facts. And I'm not sure that -- again, Colonel Tillman and the pilots on board the Air Force One --

Q: Any facts surrounding --

MR. McCLELLAN: -- are people that relayed this information to White House staff. And for very good reason, they believed it was a British Airways flight, for the reason I stated.

Q: No, I'm not talking about the --

MR. McCLELLAN: But now that we know more information, we made an attempt to get you all that information as quickly as possible. And that's what we always do.

Q: I'm talking about having misled the public in thinking the President was at the ranch. In other words, that there's a level of trust that has been eroded.

MR. McCLELLAN: Look, I understand, and I appreciate the question you're asking. But I think that the American people fully understand the security arrangements that were made so that the President of the United States could go and thank our troops in person, on Thanksgiving, during a very special moment for them, while they were celebrating Thanksgiving Day.

Q: Scott, is the White House planning --

MR. McCLELLAN: You have one more on this?

Q: Yes, actually.

MR. McCLELLAN: No, go ahead. I'll come back to you, Dana.

Q: So did the President then -- I mean, he made a decision that it was worth telling a white lie to accomplish this policy goal -- or a political goal.

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know exactly what you're referring -- I don't think we viewed it that way. We kept the trip a secret because of the security demands. And I think the American people fully understand that.

Q: He has decided that --

MR. McCLELLAN: I appreciate you asking the question, but I take exception with the premise of the question that you're asking. I strongly do, that the President of the United States -- that those security arrangements, and that the steps we went to, to make sure he could go there and that nobody's security would be compromised.

Q: No, he decided all of that was worth it, all of the security arrangements and the cover story and everything, was worth it for this particular goal, which was --

MR. McCLELLAN: Absolutely, his trip to go visit the troops in Baghdad on Thanksgiving was worth it. Absolutely.

Q: Were there political considerations, too, that it would be a good -- it would help build support for the mission?

MR. McCLELLAN: He is the Commander-in-Chief. He has to make difficult decisions on behalf of the country and making the country and the world a better and safer place. And, as Commander-in-Chief, he took this responsibility very seriously, and he was pleased to go there and spend Thanksgiving dinner with some of our troops in Baghdad, and to express the gratitude of the nation for all that they're doing to make America more secure.

Q: Is the President, the White House planning a new space initiative that includes travel to the moon and to Mars?

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me kind of go back and refresh your memory a little bit. Several months ago, the President initiated an interagency review of space exploration to determine the appropriate future course of United States based exploration activities. The President is strongly committed to the exploration of space. That review is ongoing at this point. It has been underway, and it continues, and it is ongoing.

Q: Would the President like to have a new initiative that goes to --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, look, I think as long as this review is underway, it would be premature to get into any speculation about our space policy that has been and continues to be under review. There are no plans for any policy announcements in the immediate future, and that would include any upcoming speeches. I've seen the reports you're referring to --

Q: Are they wrong?

MR. McCLELLAN: -- and I would encourage --

Q: Are they wrong?

MR. McCLELLAN: Those reports are not coming out of the White House. And I would encourage you -- if you want to follow those reports, that's certainly you're prerogative, but I would encourage you to not to, because the review, our interagency review of space exploration is ongoing. So it's premature to get into any speculation about some of that space policy.

Q: Taking a step back from this particular story, other presidents have talked about space and sort of broadly about the ideas --

MR. McCLELLAN: As has this President.

Q: -- and the desires about what they want to do in terms of space exploration. In conversations, has the President talked about the fact that he would like, during his presidency, to have some kind of a situation where he can get to the moon or Mars?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think you've heard the President talk about the importance of space exploration, and the importance, too, of continuing our journey into space. He remains strongly committed to those efforts. And you can look back at his budget and his proposals that he has made. You're asking me to kind of jump ahead of an interagency review process that is going on to make recommendations, and then the President will make some decisions to determine the future direction of space exploration.

Q: Is he planning to visit North Carolina, Kitty Hawk, to talk about this, on December 17th?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, as you know, I don't announce events this far in advance. But I made it very clear to you that there are no plans to make any policy announcements on our space program at any immediate upcoming speeches.

Q: One other thing, Scott. The other aircraft that you're talking about, can you identify what that was?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think I would leave that to the London control center. And I'll get you a copy of that release.

Q: On Taiwan. The Chinese military has been making -- stepping up the rhetoric against Taiwan should they move forward with a referendum. Has the White House or the President been in contact with any of the Chinese leadership ahead of Premier Wen's visit?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we're obviously in contact with nations all the time.

Q: But has the issue been raised, Scott?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't have any updates on the President's calls. Obviously, he has a meeting coming up next Tuesday, I believe, with Premier Wen. But I would remind you of what I said yesterday. The United States -- and this has been our policy -- opposes any unilateral attempts to change Taiwan's status. That would apply to both Beijing's possible use of force and any moves by Taiwan, itself, that would change the status quo on independence or unification.

So we continue to urge both sides to refrain from actions or statements that increase tensions or make dialogue more difficult to achieve. And that has been our position throughout.

Q: Thank you.

MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you, Randy. Thank you, all

END 1:27 P.M. EST


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