White House Press Briefing, August 20, 2003
|Wednesday August 20, 2003
THE WHITE HOUSE
August 20, 2003
BY SCOTT McCLELLAN
Crawford Middle School
MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon, everybody. Let me start with a couple of updates. As you are aware, last night, the President -- or yesterday evening, the President spoke with President Lula of Brazil to express his sincerest condolences at the loss of Sergio de Mello. The President also spoke with Prime Minister Blair yesterday evening. They talked about the attack on the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad and how this attack showed the true nature of terrorism and the true nature of terrorists.
Today, the President began the day with a phone call to Prime Minister Sharon. The President offered his condolences to the families of those killed and said our thoughts and prayers are with the families and those who were injured. The President strongly condemns the vicious attack on innocent civilians. And the two leaders said that this latest attack in Jerusalem only reinforced the need to crack down on terrorists and terrorist infrastructure. They agreed that the way forward to peace is through the dismantlement of terrorist organizations.
Following that phone call, the President had his usual briefings this morning. And then the President held a meeting of his National Security Council to talk about the situation in Iraq, including recent developments. Ambassador Bremer, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, and General Abazaid, the head of Central Command, both participated in this video conference call.
And that's all I have. I'll be glad to take questions.
Q: Scott, Sharon's office put out a statement saying that the President said, "There can be no compromise with terrorism, and it is necessary to wipe out the terrorist organizations, kill the innocent and destroy the peace process." Is that an accurate characterization of the President's remarks?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think the President's message is very clear. We continue to call on the Palestinian Authority to dismantle terrorist organizations. The Middle East peace process is something we remain fully committed to and fully engaged in. We are fully committed to the vision of two states living side-by-side in peace and security. And the way forward to achieve that vision is the dismantlement of terrorist organizations. The President has been very clear. Condi Rice has been on the phone with both parties. Secretary Powell has been on the phone with the parties, as well. Yesterday, Secretary Powell dispatched Ambassador Wolf back to the region. Ambassador Wolf is having meetings today with both parties.
So we are continuing to work to keep the process moving forward, but the only way we can continue to move forward is for all parties to take the responsibility of dismantling terrorist organizations seriously and acting on it. And so we continue to call on the Palestinian Authority to act to dismantle terrorist organizations.
Q: Does the bombing in Baghdad make it harder or easier to enlist other countries to come in and help the United States?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that what you're seeing is that the more progress we make, the more desperate these terrorists become. The terrorist attack yesterday in Baghdad only reinforced the importance of what we are doing. Iraq is critical to winning the war on terror. It is a critical front.
And these terrorists are not only enemies of the Iraqi people, they are enemies of the international community. And they -- and we must continue to confront these terrorists and these remnants of the former regime wherever they are. And that's what -- and that's exactly what we are doing.
Q: You talk about the importance of winning the war on terror and Iraq's role in that, but you obviously haven't got control of Iraq yet. And Senator McCain --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, what was that last part?
Q: You obviously haven't gotten complete control over Iraq yet, when you see things that happen like they happened yesterday --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that Ambassador Bremer has talked about how Iraq is secure in many areas, and there are certain areas where the remnants of the former regime are and foreign terrorists. And that's why we're on the offensive, going after those remnants and those killers.
Q: Let me finish my question. Senator McCain, yesterday, even before the bombing, said that he believes that the American people may have been misled when they were told that major operations were over there. What do you say that? And then I have a follow-up on that.
MR. McCLELLAN: That they were -- I'm sorry, what was the last part?
Q: That the American people may have been misled.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, we've been very straightforward about where we are, in terms of the theater in Iraq. Again, this is one of the theaters in the war on terrorism, in Iraq. And the President was very clear that major combat operations were over. He did not say that the fighting was over, by any means. And that fighting continues.
And I think that yesterday's attack crystallizes the true nature of terrorism for the world to see. It only reinforces for the world that terrorism is a threat to the civilized world. And that's why you heard Secretary General Annan's comments earlier today. He said, we will not be intimidated. And that was in reference to the United Nations, that we will persevere. And, again, that's exactly what we will do, as well.
Q: I've got a follow-up, if you don't mind.
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me go to Suzanne. I'll come back to you.
Q: Scott, two questions. Why is it that the President didn't call Mahmoud Abbas, if he is the one who's supposed to try to enforce and try to dismantle these terrorist organizations. And then I have a follow-up.
MR. McCLELLAN: Sure. Two things: One, as I said, Secretary Powell and Condi Rice have been on the phone with both parties in the region. Ambassador Wolf is meeting with parties in the region. Our message is very clear to the Palestinian Authority about what needs to be done. They know our views. Obviously, if there are any additional calls that the President makes, I will update you about those calls as they occur.
Q: Has anybody spoken to Abbas? Rice, Powell?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I'll let -- refer your question to the State Department in terms of specifically which calls that they have made. And I think you may want to check with them in terms of calls that Secretary Powell has made.
Q: Okay. And on Iraq, if countries like India or France or Germany are demanding a U.N. -- a greater role for the U.N., a U.N. mandate in terms of peacekeeping, and that would enable it to be a stronger force, why isn't the administration considering expanding the U.N. role?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think, one, I'll just point out the United Nations has been involved in Iraq. They've been providing important humanitarian assistance. They've been helping with reconstruction. They've been providing food distribution to the Iraqi people. And what you saw yesterday was attack -- an attack on innocent civilians that are working on the humanitarian situation in Iraq. And the loss of Sergio de Mello was a grave loss. He was someone who dedicated his life to helping others.
But we are working with the United Nations. The United Nations has been involved in Iraq. A number of nations are involved in Iraq through Security Council Resolution 1483, and they are participating in Iraq. We're continuing to have discussions with other nations, as well, as we move forward. And I think that you will see additional countries participating, as well, as we go forward.
Q: -- of the administration. I mean, the American military needs some help in enforcing that -- the situation there. I mean, why not expand the U.N. roles --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there is a coalition there. It is -- this is not just the United States. There is a coalition there. There are a lot of countries that are already helping, and we're continuing to talk with other countries about ways that they can help. But the world condemns the attack that happened yesterday. The world is outraged about this attack on innocent civilians yesterday, people that were simply there to provide help with reconstruction and provide humanitarian assistance to the Iraqi people.
Q: Let me expand that. If you could expand the coalition by at least reexamining where you stand --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we have been -- the coalition has been expanding -- the coalition has been expanding, and I'm sure it will continue to expand as we move forward.
Q: So what I hear you saying is you don't see, the administration doesn't see, a need for change of strategy in Iraq, that there's no need to go beyond where we are now, that we've maintained central control of the reconstruction. You're not about to share that, even if it means additional troops?
MR. McCLELLAN: This is a coalition-led effort, and it has been from the beginning.
Q: But it could be broader.
MR. McCLELLAN: The coalition will continue to lead that effort, but we appreciate all the help we are receiving from other countries, as well. And we appreciate continued help and additional help from those that make -- will make the decision on their own time frame about how they can help.
But I think that -- again, you saw the outrage from the international community, from civilized nations, at this most recent attack. And I think that only reinforces the will and the resolve of what we are doing in Iraq.
Q: Have any other nations joined or asked to join the U.S. coalition since the attack on the U.N. yesterday? Has anybody stepped forward?
MR. McCLELLAN: You'd have to check with the coalition provisional authority about the most recent discussions. But Secretary General Annan made it very clear that the United Nations remains committed to what they are doing in Iraq.
Q: Is the President considering sending more troops to the area, considering the attack yesterday?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think it's the commanders in the theater that make the decisions about what resources are needed. But I'll assure you of this, that the President will make sure that we are always providing the necessary resources to achieve our objectives.
Q: Has he discussed that, though? Has he mentioned the possibility of sending more troops? Does he support that?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q: Does he support sending --
MR. McCLELLAN: He supports relying on his military leaders, those -- the commanders in the theater, to make those decisions. And we will be there to provide them with the necessary resources, whatever that may be. But you need to talk to our military leadership in the region about what those specific needs are, and how they're currently being met.
Q: If the feeling is that yesterday really marked an attack against the international community --
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think it's a feeling, I think it's a reality.
Q: One of the -- the other reality is that really a lot of this terrorist activity is geared against the U.S.-led occupation. So if this is a moment -- a kind of crystallizing moment to bring in the international community, why isn't it at least under consideration to have a more international character to the force structure there so that an American face is not the face that terrorists are targeting?
MR. McCLELLAN: For one, it is a coalition that is over there. And two, we continue to have those discussions. Those discussions have been ongoing with -- for reaching out to other countries for ways that they can participate and help us in Iraq, as well.
And I think that other countries will make the determinations on their own about how and in what way they can provide help. But we appreciate all the --
Q: Does yesterday's bombing make that easier or harder, the task of bringing in other countries to put boots on the ground and help shore up the violence.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think you heard directly from the Secretary General of the United Nations. Obviously everybody has to make their own decisions, and we respect that. But we'll continue to have those discussions. But I think the world, the civilized world, recognizes that terrorism is the true threat to the world in the 21st century, and that we all must work together to address it.
This is about the war on terrorism. We did not start this war on terrorism. But the United States, along with the global coalition, will finish it. We will pursue it. We will be relentless in that pursuit. And we will defeat these enemies of the world, and the enemies of peace. These are terrorists and killers that hate freedom, they hate peace, and the more progress we make, the more desperate they will become.
Q: Scott, it's been a couple of months since the President said, "Bring them on." Now we have a couple of deaths -- additional U.S. soldiers, we have 20 dead at the U.N. Looking back on it, was that, perhaps, not the wisest phrase to use?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that -- keep in mind, we would much rather confront these terrorists abroad with the full might and force of our military, than at home, here in America, with emergency medical personnel and fire fighters. We are taking this fight to the terrorists. And our military is doing an outstanding job in confronting this threat and eliminating this threat. So we would much rather -- and I think that that's what the President was referring to when he made that comment.
Q: But now the target has moved from military, at least in Iraq, to the international community and innocent civilians.
MR. McCLELLAN: That's the whole point I made. That's the true nature of terrorism. Terrorists are the enemy of the civilized world. Terrorists want to --
Q: My question deals with the phrase --
MR. McCLELLAN: They want to prevent us from moving forward and progressing. They want to prevent freedom. They want to prevent peace. But they will not succeed.
Q: So there's no regret in the use or the utterance of that phrase, "Bring them on"?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think I just addressed what it was referring to.
Q: Scott, the Israelis are right now considering how to respond, possibly militarily, to the bus attack. What is your message to them? Do they need to show restraint?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that's why we're in close contact with the parties in the region. That's why Ambassador Wolf is meeting with the parties and talking this through. I've seen different reports about news reports from the Palestinian Authority. I think we need to let those conversations take place. But we've made it very clear that what needs to happen is the dismantlement of terrorist organizations. The Palestinian Authority needs to act to dismantle these terrorist organizations. That's the way forward. That's how we get to two states living side-by-side; two states, Israelis and Palestine, living side-by-side in peace and security.
Q: But, Scott, so should Israel respond? Or does Israel have a right to respond in this case?
MR. McCLELLAN: We've always said Israel has a right to defend itself. This was a vicious attack on innocent civilians yesterday. You saw the images. But it's important for all the parties to continue talking about the way forward. And the way forward is dismantling terrorist organizations.
Q: Scott, if I could follow up on the question about force structure in Iraq. Is the question of scale or composition of the military presence there one of the subjects that was discussed in the videoconference this morning?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, I'm not going to get into specific details, and we never do, in terms of the National Security Council meeting. That's why I gave you a general read-out of what it was about. But I'm not going to get into those discussions. Obviously, if there are any updates, they will come from the Pentagon or from Central Command in the region.
Q: Would it be wrong, though, to assume that --
MR. McCLELLAN: See, I'm just not going to get into the details of National Security Council meetings.
Q: Is the President, at this point, confident that in terms of force protection that what's on the ground there now is what U.S. troops need?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that's always a question you need to address to the Pentagon or address to Central Command in the region. What the President has made clear is that he relies on his commanders in the field, his commanders in the theater to make those decisions about what is needed. And I think that they've addressed this issue and that they will continue to address this issue. But we are going to be there to provide them with whatever resources are needed to accomplish our objectives.
You had a follow-up, Jennifer?
Q: I did. Just following on the whole line of combatting terrorism in Iraq and around the world, how long do you think Americans are going to be patient with the kind of bloodshed that we saw yesterday, that we're seeing in the Middle East, that we're seeing against our troops. How long are Americans going to feel like this is --
MR. McCLELLAN: Keep in mind that we live in a post-September 11th world. Keep in mind that the President made it very clear after September 11th that we are at war on terrorism, that it will be a long and difficult war, but we will be relentless in our pursuit of terrorists, wherever they are, and we will prevail. We will defeat them.
So I think the American people recognize that we are out there trying to eliminate the scourge of terrorism and trying to eliminate this threat that will make the world a safer place, that will make the world a more peaceful place. Iraq is critical to the war on terrorism. Iraq -- a peaceful stable and free Iraq -- is critical to bringing peace and stability to the Middle East. This is all part of the war on terrorism.
Q: But our presence there is inviting more terrorism, some people are arguing.
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q: Some people are arguing that our presence there is inviting more terrorism.
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that that view, that we should just sit back and do nothing, is just totally off base. What you're seeing is that we're making progress. And in response to that progress, you're seeing the desperation of terrorists who are carrying out or trying to carry out vicious attacks. That's why we are remaining on the offensive. That's why our military is on the hunt in Iraq, going after the remnants of the former regime, going after those foreign terrorists that are coming into the country and eliminating this threat. It's a lot better that we eliminate it abroad than we have to confront it at home before it's -- after the fact.
Q: Scott, you said that we are continuing to ask the Palestinian Authority to dismantle terrorist organizations. We've been making that request or that demand since Aqaba and before. Doesn't yesterday's bombing suggest that some new approach, some more pressure is necessary?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think it suggests -- and you've heard some comment from the Palestinian Authority today, and I'm sure you'll continue to hear more comment from them -- we've made some significant progress since Aqaba. And that's why -- again, this goes to terrorism. And when progress is made, terrorists get desperate and you see them take this course of action or try to take this course of action. But we've said, all along, that you can't just allow these organizations to -- you have to dismantle these terrorist organizations. You have to go after the terrorists and you have to dismantle their infrastructure. That's what this is about, and it reinforces what we've been saying for a long time now.
Q: What's the administration going to do about the infiltration of foreign terrorists from Syria and Iran? What are the consequences for Syria and Iran for allowing terrorists to pass through their countries into Iraq?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Syria certainly knows our concerns. And we will continue to do what we can to control the borders. I think Syria knows what they need to do, as well, in terms of preventing any foreign terrorists from getting into Iraq in the first place. We've made those concerns very clear. But any foreign terrorists that come into that country and seek to do harm to the Iraqi people or seek to do harm to the international community that is there in Iraq or our American military, we will pursue them, and we will find them, and they will be defeated.
Q: Does the administration have an assessment about whether yesterday's attack was international terrorism of the sort that attacked the United States on 9/11, or domestic Iraqi resistance to the occupation?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think we're looking into it, we're investigating it, but I wouldn't want to try to speculate about who is responsible at this point.
Q: The President said at the start of the war on terrorism that you're either with us or you're with the terrorists. If Iraq is part of the war on terrorism aren't those countries that haven't stepped up to the plate militarily, aren't they aiding terrorists, and wouldn't they suffer consequences as a result?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q: Should they -- aren't they -- if they are not stepping up to the plate militarily in Iraq, on this battle in the war on terrorism --
MR. McCLELLAN: If who is not?
Q: Other nations -- Germany, France, Russia, anybody else who's not already in. If they're not in, aren't they aiding terrorists?
MR. McCLELLAN: There are a lot of different fronts in the war on terrorism, and there are a lot of different countries that contribute in different ways and help out in different ways. One thing about Iraq now is that whether or not you supported the decision to confront the threat of Saddam Hussein and the threat that he posed, we are beyond that point now, and we can all provide help to the Iraqi people.
And that's what the focus is. We can all provide help in different ways, help with stabilization, help with humanitarian assistance, help with getting the economy going, helping the Iraqi people have a better future. It's the remnants of the former regime and the foreign terrorists that want to turn the clock back, they want to go back to the days of torture, the days of mass graves. They want to go back to a period when a brutal dictator was in power, and we're not going to let that happen.
Q: Scott, can you run down what these environmental events he's doing tomorrow and Friday are?
MR. McCLELLAN: Anybody else have anything else first? I'll do that for the last question.
Q: It's been a couple of rounds now, but I want to follow-up with Judy's question. Sharon's office also said that Sharon told the President that the Palestinian Authority is doing nothing to crack down on terrorism. Does the President agree with that?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry? Been told --
Q: Sharon told the President that the Palestinians are doing nothing to crack down on terrorism. Does the President share that view? Does he have concerns about the --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think you've heard the President previously say that steps have been taken to help reduce violence in the region. But there is more to do. The Palestinian Authority must act to dismantle terrorist organizations. This shows -- this most recent attack shows exactly what we've been saying, that you have to dismantle terrorist organizations. You can't just continue to let them exist. You have to dismantle them.
All right, one more?
Q: A quick one. Does the President share General Ashcroft's insistence that none of the Patriot Act should be repealed?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm glad you brought that up. First of all, the Patriot Act is something that passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. I believe it was 98-1 in the Senate, and 350 something to 60 something in the House. And we're sitting here talking about the war on terrorism; that these tools that the Patriot Act provided our law enforcement officials, both state, local -- or state, local, and federal are important tools to helping us disrupt terrorist activity in the United States, to helping us find terrorists and bringing them to justice, preventing future attacks.
So these are important tools that already exist for other law enforcement -- fighting crimes, such as organized crime, such as drug trafficking. We already have these authorities to go after organized crime, to go after drug traffickers. And all that the Patriot Act did was to allow those existing authorities to be expanded so that we could go after terrorists and confront this new threat that we face in the 21st century.
Mark, I'll get to your question. Tomorrow, the President will first go to Portland, where he has a campaign event. Then we will go to Camp Sherman, Oregon -- the national forest there. The President will highlight the importance of common-sense forest management, his Healthy Forest Initiative. And the President will talk about the importance of this initiative to preventing catastrophic fires that threaten life and property, that this initiative is important to helping us restore the health of the forest. And he'll talk about the importance of thinning projects, how that's an important part of the Healthy Forest Initiative.
Then on Friday, we go to Burbank, Washington, Ice Harbor Lock and Dam. And the President will highlight the significant progress we are making to increase salmon populations, while providing affordable hydroelectric power to Americans living in the Pacific Northwest. So that event is about salmon conservation. It is about what we have done to work with local and state authorities and tribes in the area to address these issues and also make sure that the Americans living in the Pacific Northwest have affordable hydroelectric power. So that's what these two days are about.
Q: It's my understanding that the Friday fundraiser is closed. Is that yours?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'll have to look into it. Check with campaign. I had not heard that specifically.
Q: Will we not even get an audio feed of what the President says at that event?
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me check into it. I don't know. I haven't heard that. But you might want to check with the campaign. Those are decisions, obviously, that they make.
Q: Scott, on the issue of the environment. Environmentalists criticize these events as photo ops that belie a poor environmental record. Are these trips intended, the past ones, to improve his environmental reputation in key political states?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think it's intended to highlight what I said a month ago, when I outlined what we were doing -- highlight the importance of conservation and the importance of personal stewardship, while making sure that we protect jobs at the same time. I think that the environment is too important to be made into a divisive partisan issue. We can make use of new technologies. We can make use of common sense approaches that bring state authorities and local officials together to address these issues. The President is addressing issues. The President is focused on results that safeguard our environment, while making sure that our economy continues to grow. And that's what he's talking about.
Now, I'm going to go.
Q: Scott, there's a couple of fires out there where he's going.
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, if there's any chance in the schedule -- very aware of that -- we will update you, if there are any changes on that. But that's certainly something we're monitoring, as well. So, no changes to announce right now.
END 12:40 P.M. CDT
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