White House Press Briefing, March 18, 2004
|Thursday March 18,
THE WHITE HOUSE
PRESS GAGGLE BY SCOTT McCLELLAN
Aboard Air Force One
11:15 A.M. EST
MR. McCLELLAN: Good morning. Let me run through the President's day. The President spoke with the new Greek prime minister, Karamanlis. The President called to congratulate the prime minister on the recent victory in the parliamentary elections in Greece that took place on March 7th.
Both leaders agreed on the importance of finalizing the Cyprus agreement in the coming weeks, through the process that the Secretary General outlined. And the two leaders also discussed the close, ongoing cooperation in providing for a safe and successful Olympics, as the Olympics return to their land of birth. I would describe it as a warm, introductory call.
Then the President had his usual briefings --
QUESTION: Did the President say anything about going to the Olympics?
MR. McCLELLAN: We always keep you posted on his schedule -- but, no.
Let's see, the Freedom Corps greeter upon arrival at Fort Campbell is Billy Colwell, Sr. He is a retired member of the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell. And he began volunteering with the Fort Campbell Armed Services YMCA in 1994, which provides programs and services at no cost to junior enlisted military personnel and their families.
Then the President will make remarks to the troops at Fort Campbell. Just a little refresher on Fort Campbell. Fort Campbell is the third largest military -- or has the third largest military population in the Army, and the seventh largest in the Department of Defense. The 101st Airborne Division Screaming Eagles and the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment are stationed at Fort Campbell. The 101st served both in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. The 160th served in Iraq. Fort Campbell sent 20,000 soldiers to Iraq, who just returned in February.
And following the remarks, the President will have lunch with -- President and Mrs. Bush will have lunch with the troops. And then following the lunch, the President and Mrs. Bush will meet with and visit with more than 40 families of fallen soldiers.
Then we return back to the White House this evening. And that's what I've got.
Q: How many times has the President met with families of soldiers who died in Iraq?
MR. McCLELLAN: I didn't bring those exact numbers with me, but on several occasions he has --
Q: Fourth or fifth or --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- visited the families of fallen and visited with wounded soldiers, as well, on numerous occasions, as he will do again tomorrow at Walter Reed.
Q: How many casualties have they had at Fort Campbell, do you know?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think I would double check with them on the exact numbers in Afghanistan and Iraq. I would double check with Fort Campbell on those numbers. I think I have -- I think that what we have is -- but double check these numbers with Fort Campbell -- but they lost 14 in Afghanistan and 60 in Iraq.
Q: How many in Afghanistan?
MR. McCLELLAN: Fourteen.
Q: You know, Senator Kerry says that the U.S. is bogged down in Iraq. How do you respond to that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think you've heard from -- earlier from some of our military leaders and others in Iraq, talking about the progress that we are making in Iraq. I think the -- you know, if you look at the Iraqi people, the Iraqi people strongly support the efforts of the coalition to help them move forward to a sovereign and democratic and peaceful future. And we are making important progress in those efforts. Most Iraqis believe that they are better off with the removal of the regime in Iraq. And I think the President will talk today about the important progress we are making in Iraq and how we are helping the Iraqi people move forward on a brighter and better future.
There is important progress being made. And, obviously, I think the President will touch on yesterday's terrorist attack in Baghdad. There are enemies of freedom who want to prevent the Iraqi people from realizing a sovereign and democratic future. And they realize that the stakes are high in Iraq, and they recognize that a free and peaceful Iraq will be a major blow in the war on terrorism.
Q: Does the President worry about the troops' morale at all, given the ongoing casualties?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think he'll speak to this in his remarks, as well. The President will express how we are forever grateful to our troops for their service and sacrifice, and how we are forever grateful to the families of our troops. Our troops are doing an outstanding job in helping the people in Afghanistan and the people in Iraq realize a much brighter future than what they had under the oppressive regimes that were formerly in power.
Q: Scott, there was a -- there have been some reports about a letter from either al Qaeda or some extreme Muslim group late yesterday or overnight promising further attacks against what they called lackeys of the U.S. -- Italy, U.K., Poland, some of the other countries. Are you familiar with that letter? Have you checked into it, heard about it at all? Do you have anything on that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me just say that terrorists want to shake the will of the civilized world. But our resolve and strength are firm. This is the war on terrorism. This is a time of testing in the war on terrorism. We are making significant progress.
But the terrorists want to shake our will. And we must continue to stay on the offensive and show -- and stand together with strength and resolve.
Q: Do you know about the letter, though? Have you seen the reports?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I've heard the same reports you've heard.
Q: What's the difference between today's speech and tomorrow's speech?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, today, one, he's speaking to our troops and thanking them for all that they do to defend freedom and help advance democracy in the world, and thank them for the tremendous job they are doing to help us win the war on terrorism. He will also -- he will obviously talk about Afghanistan and Iraq, within the remarks.
Tomorrow the President will be speaking in the East Room. The audience will be made up primarily of ambassadors from many countries who are standing strongly with us in the global war on terrorism. I expect he will talk about how this is a time of testing, and the terrorists are trying to shake our will, but the terrorists are finding out that they cannot shake our will and resolve.
Q: When you say, standing --
MR. McCLELLAN: I expect in the remarks he will talk about what we are achieving in Afghanistan and what we are achieving in Iraq, as well. The stakes are high. The civilized world is at war with terrorists. The terrorists declared war on the civilized world. And I expect tomorrow in his remarks he will touch on last Thursday's attack in Spain, and how that is a grim reminder that the civilized world is at war. So I think, you know, tomorrow, he'll put the war on terrorism in context and talk about its scope.
Q: Will France and Germany be represented there? I mean, when you say, "standing with us," do you just mean Iraq and --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, certainly they have been standing with us in the global war on terrorism. You know, the President -- I think he'll touch some on that. There are many different missions in the global war on terrorism. And countries are helping in a lot of different ways. I mentioned Germany. I mean, Germany, I would point out, has been helping with some police training in Iraq. And certainly they have been standing shoulder to shoulder with us in the global war on terrorism, as has France in Afghanistan, as well.
Q: But have those -- France and Germany, their ambassadors, going to be there tomorrow? Do you know?
MR. McCLELLAN: Mark, I didn't bring the list with me. There are going to be many, many countries represented.
Q: Did you invite those countries?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sure they were, I just didn't bring that list with me. But we'll get you that list tomorrow. There are going to be many, many countries represented tomorrow in the East Room.
MR. McCLELLAN: Global war on terrorism.
Q: But the audience is not just Iraq coalition countries?
MR. McCLELLAN: Certainly there are many countries helping in Iraq. And I pointed out Germany helping with some police training there. But no, I'm talking about the global war on terrorism. And certainly Iraq is a part of that. The terrorists recognize that Iraq is the central front in the war on terrorism.
Q: Did the President do anything on Kosovo today? Has he talked to anybody in Europe about that?
MR. McCLELLAN: We are -- he has been meeting with some of his national security team on that -- Dr. Rice, for instance -- and been briefed on the situation, obviously, there. We are continuing to monitor the situation closely. We're working with NATO to deploy additional forces as a precaution. One U.S. company is already en route as part of a 350 person NATO force today. We continue to call on all groups to end the violence and refrain from violence. Admiral Johnson, who is the commander of NATO's -- one of NATO's forces, is visiting Kosovo today to make an assessment of the situation there. And then we still -- and certainly the Kosovo force is fully up to addressing this matter, fully up to addressing this matter.
Q: Scott, you talk about progress in Afghanistan. What's the President's reaction to President Karzai's statement that elections could well be delayed into late summer or beyond?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think, one, that they're working to move forward as quickly as they can in Afghanistan on elections. And Secretary Powell visited the region and has met with President Karzai. And we will continue to work with them and others in the international community to help them move forward as quickly as they can to get those elections underway.
Q: This is a setback, though?
MR. McCLELLAN: But I -- I'm sorry, go ahead.
Q: Isn't this a setback?
MR. McCLELLAN: To?
Q: To progress in Afghanistan.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think they're making -- they've made significant progress in Afghanistan, and they are continuing to move forward. And we are there to support those efforts. But, no.
Q: All right.
MR. McCLELLAN: Thanks.
END 11:28 A.M. EST
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