Press Briefing by Dana Perino
White House Conference Center Briefing Room
12:35 P.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: Good afternoon. I have two foreign leader calls to readout, and an announcement, and then we'll get started.
The President this morning, at 9:35 a.m., spoke to Senegalese President Wade. He thanked President Wade for his support on Darfur, emphasized an urgent need to stop the offensive of the government of Sudan; he stressed the need to facilitate access for delivery of humanitarian assistance; he called for the African Union to transition to a United Nations peacekeeping force; and he stated that friends and allies need to work together to solve the genocide and stop the suffering of the people of Darfur.
And 10 minutes later, at 9:45 a.m., he spoke to Canadian Prime Minister Harper. The President spoke with Canadian Prime Minister Harper about a number of international issues, including the situation in Afghanistan and Sudan. Prime Minister Harper also expressed Canadian concerns about the case of Maher Arar, in light of the recently concluded commission of inquiry into this case. The President noted his appreciation for Harper calling him directly on this.
And a quick announcement, just to reiterate that on Tuesday, October 10th, the President is going to be participating in a Conference on School Safety. In recent days we have all witnessed with sad and shocking violence, and it just has broken America's collective heart that so many children have been victimized by violence in our schools.
The President, in the wake of these events, asked Attorney General Gonzales and Secretary Spellings to bring together teachers and parents, administrators and law enforcement officials and other experts to discuss best practices and learn lessons about school safety. There will be four panels on that day. The first one is "Preventing Violence in Schools," and "Prepared Schools and Communities are Safer," "Helping Communities Heal and Recover," and "Working Together to Make Our Schools Safe."
Mrs. Bush will speak around 12:30 p.m., just with brief remarks. And then the President will participate in the closing discussion regarding the lessons learned from the conference, and you'll hear from him briefly then. And as we have more details over the weekend about specific participants and logistics -- I know that it is open press, but in terms of the logistics, they're still being worked out, so we'll get those to you over the weekend.
With that, I'll take any questions. Jim.
Q: Has the President spoken with Senator Warner, since the Senator's return?
MS. PERINO: Not that I know of, today. I believe -- you know, they speak often, but I don't think that they've spoken since Senator Warner returned from his trip.
Q: What's the reaction to this notion if Iraq does not become a, sort of, safer place in the next 60 to 90 days, that perhaps the government should consider a change in course?
MS. PERINO: I don't know what Senator Warner meant by that. And I would point you back a little bit to the President's speech on August 31st. That was a first in a series of speeches that he gave -- that was in Salt Lake City to the American Legion -- in which he said, this is a crucial moment. And he said that the American people are very patient, as long as the Iraqi government continues to make hard decisions and continues to make progress.
Secretary Rice was in Baghdad yesterday and she was reiterating the same message. She said political solutions are critical at this time; we realized that there would be a spike of violence during Ramadan -- that has been traditionally the case; violence that is being perpetrated by the terrorists and the Saddamists and the rejectionists is one that continues to kill our own soldiers, as well as Iraqi soldiers, and especially heartbreaking are the innocent men, women and children who are being targeted by these folks.
One of the hard decisions that the Iraqis had to make this week was after concluding an investigation about a police unit possibly being complicit in the violence and some of the torture that was going on in the city, that they shut that unit down.
In addition to that, they continue to make progress by thinking about political solutions. And just this week it was Prime Minister Maliki who announced a four-point plan, the purpose of which is to bring together representatives of each party and the different religious and tribal leaders, in order to reach a political consensus so that they can move forward with a new government.
Q: But I don't think looking at Iraq this week and saying that there's progress being made -- certainly Senator Warner isn't indicating that at all. Am what I'm hearing from Secretary Rice and perhaps some of your comments are the beginnings of a warning to the Iraqi government, and perhaps getting the American people -- signaling to the American people that perhaps a change might be coming in the next 60 to 90 days?
MS. PERINO: I wouldn't look at it that way. Secretary Rice -- the purpose of her trip was to reiterate the support of the American people and to remind and help this young government to start making the tough decisions that they need to make and to help stand themselves up. The government is a little bit more than -- just about five months old. And, yes, the American people are very patient; we are committed as a country to winning. We understand the stakes of victory and the consequences of defeat. But in terms of it being a warning, no, I would not consider it a warning.
Q: You're saying you don't quite understand what Senator Warner meant by that? It seems pretty clear --
MS. PERINO: No, I don't know -- I think your question was, what did he mean in terms of how would we be switching gears in 60 to 90 days. I don't know what his suggestions were in terms of that, and if we get anything more on that, or if he makes any further public comments, we'll take a look at them.
Q: But you're not considering any switch in gears?
MS. PERINO: We are continually looking at ways to adapt to the enemy and to stay ahead of them and to help this young government, continually trying to work how to be flexible. We have a pretty nimble strategy, and I think Caldwell talked about that this week. And things can change within 60 to 90 days, in terms of needs, in terms of different areas. For example, in some places we've been able to turn over security to the Iraqi forces, and in other places we had to beef up with some more American support.
Q: When the Secretary was there yesterday, she said that the security situation in Baghdad is not being helped by political inaction. Does the President agree that there's a problem with political inaction in Baghdad, in Iraq?
MS. PERINO: I think that we want to make sure that they understand that even though it's hard -- we're a democracy that's had about 200 years of experience, and we can figure out ways to work well with one another. This young democracy is coming to the table with a lot of anger and distrust, and they have to find ways politically in order to help find those solutions. I do think that Prime Minister Maliki, who has asked us for our patience and reassurance that we are going to stick with them, has shown some innovation, in terms of his ideas of pulling together this four-point plan. And as I understand it, it includes some of the parties that had been most recalcitrant and not interested in participating.
So that is encouraging. But no doubt about it, this is very tough, it's very troubling, and it's very heartbreaking when innocent men and women and children die at the hands of the terrorists.
Q: A lot of the innocent men, women and children have been harmed by the tons of cluster bombs that we sent to Israel the last days of the war. Is the President doing anything to compensate or to help these people now, make amends in southern Lebanon?
MS. PERINO: Yes, and I think there are -- our financial contribution at this point is $230 million, and in addition to that, I don't know if you are aware, I think it was just last weekend, the President sent a team of five top CEOs of the United States to go over and work with the Lebanese government in order to find ways that we, in America, can help. It's similar to the efforts with the Iranian earthquake earlier in the year, where Americans are very generous of spirit and generous when they open up their pocketbooks. So on all fronts, we will be helping in terms of the reconstruction.
I don't have any specifics in regards to the bombs that you mention in the story that was in The New York Times today. If I can get some more, I'll certainly reply to you. But the reconstruction and rebuilding, we'd have to consider that problem, as well, as we move forward.
Q: The Japanese apparently believe that North Korea is going to test a nuclear weapon this weekend. Would you concur with that assessment, or disagree with it?
MS. PERINO: I'm not going to comment on any of our intelligence, but we have -- the North Koreans, themselves, put out a statement saying that they were planning to test a device. And what we have done is, the international community has joined us in sending a clear signal to the North Koreans that any such test of a nuclear device would be unacceptable. It is not in the best interest of the North Koreans. And this hostile act would be most incendiary and threatening to North Korea's immediate neighbors. It would be destabilizing to the region and could lead to further escalation of tensions. And a test by its very nature could advance the North Koreans capabilities.
Q: What would be the repercussions from the United States if they were to test? And how soon would the repercussions be felt?
MS. PERINO: I would refer you back to what Under Secretary Nick Burns has said about possible next steps. But one thing is for sure is that we will be continuing to work with our partners in the region using our influence to the greatest extent possible, as well as those of our partners -- the five of the six-party talks.
Q: If I could go back to the war for a second. His two-word summary of the situation in Iraq was "drifting sideways." Would you agree with that assessment?
MS. PERINO: I haven't spoken to the President about Senator Warner's comments or his visit, and I know that the President would be anxious to hear from Senator Warner, and perhaps we'll have something for you later if they are able to connect either by phone or in the coming days.
I think that the commanders on the ground continue to tell us that while it is very tough and it is hard, that if we continue to be nimble and flexible, that if we keep our commitment there, that we'll be able to help this young democracy succeed. So until we have a little bit more, in terms of a conversation between the President and Senator Warner, I don't know.
Q: But you're not rejecting that? I mean, that's --
MS. PERINO: I'm not going to question what Senator Warner said that he saw or that he felt, no.
Q: Obviously, he's been a supporter of the war, he's a very well-respected thinker. He's been to Iraq many times. He goes to Iraq and he literally can't get around the country. And his reaction (inaudible) -- remarks is that things are drifting sideways and they're not encouraging here. And it strikes me as the President ought to take a look and want to talk to the Senator. Has anyone from the White House been in contact with him to get a fuller explanation of what he's talking about?
MS. PERINO: I don't have an update in terms of the past few hours this morning, if someone had been in touch with him directly after his visit. I know that we have regular contact with Senator Warner. I don't believe that in his comments that he lessened his commitment to his support of the war in Iraq, but he has said --
Q: No, but he provided a pretty stark assessment of where he thinks things are going --
MS. PERINO: He did?
Q: -- and things that aren't going well.
MS. PERINO: That's right. And as soon as -- if we have more to say, in terms of a conversation that we have with him, I'll certainly provide that. I think we would -- I was pointing back to you the things that I have mentioned that, it is very tough. Secretary Rice said yesterday, we need to have political solutions along with the military solutions so that we can help this young democracy fully stabilize and get the security situation under control.
Q: Thanks, Dana. Going back to the school safety forum next week, to what extent should the availability of guns be on the agenda for that?
MS. PERINO: Well, there is going to be -- the President wanted the Attorney General and Secretary Spellings to work jointly on this. So they will be talking about both the law enforcement side of things and how to prevent violence, how to recognize it when it comes -- or recognize it before it starts.
And the debate over gun control is one that Americans are keenly aware of; it's a politically charged debate. And as you know, the President has been supportive of the Second Amendment in general, believes that people who are law-abiding citizens and pass background checks should be allowed to own guns. However, even going back to when he was governor, he supported weapons-free school zones and instant background checks, and other things of that nature. So it's certainly possible that on these panel discussions, which aren't scripted, that people could talk about gun control and availability of guns.
Q: Are advocacy groups on either side going to be involved in this, invited to --
MS. PERINO: I have not seen a final list. In fact, they're trying to right now try to pull together a list of invitees, which I hope that we'll be able to get to you over the weekend as that finalizes.
I do know that the Secret Service is going to be a participant. One of the things that the Secret Service has is a partnership with the Secretary of Education and the Department of Education, in which they work to -- they've done a lot of research, in terms of how schools can keep themselves safe. And so you'll not only have Department of Justice representatives and local law enforcement folks, but the Secret Service will add another element to the security side of things.
Q: Of course, the use --or some would say, abuse -- of guns, is the one common thread in all of these recent incidents. So you're indicating that -- has the President's thinking at all on gun control changed because of what's happened in these incidents over the past few weeks?
MS. PERINO: Not that I've heard. I think that the purpose of this conference is to bring together the collective thinking of America, in terms of not only how we can help recognize violence and stop it before it happens, but to look at how we can make schools safer places to be, and also a good focus on how we can help communities heal, especially children heal. And, thankfully, there's been a lot of research and good information coming out of these communities since the Columbine incident. And that type of work has been able to be used in other instances, as well, in terms of helping children recover from the trauma of the 9/11 attacks or other such tragedies.
And so we'll bring the best thinking together. I wouldn't expect a lot of policy outcomes and recommendations to come out of this conference. This is a gathering where people will be sharing thoughts, best practices, and hopefully coming up with some ideas that can help school districts.
Q: Dana, you mentioned the President's calls about the Darfur situation today. The group Save Darfur Coalition has a recent pretty big ad buy in newspapers and TV. They show graphic images of children and women, and at the end of these ads, it says, "President Bush, stop the genocide now." Could I get you to react to the charge that the U.S. should and could do more, that this last line, the President somehow has the ability to stop the genocide in Darfur?
MS. PERINO: I believe it's -- you've heard the President. He is one of -- I believe he was the first to call this violence in Darfur genocide. And he has called upon the international community and the United Nations, as recently as two weeks ago when we were at the U.N. General Assembly annual meeting, for the United Nations to create a blue helmeted force in the region. He does not think that they have moved fast enough. We know that we have to work with the international community in order to get this done.
One of the things the President did when he was in New York was to appoint special envoy Andrew Natsios to the -- to be a special envoy for Darfur. I expect he'll be going to the region soon, and perhaps from there we can get some movement on behalf of the government there.
Q: If the Sudanese government continues to resist a strong U.N. force, what are the options?
MS. PERINO: I think what I would do is let Andrew Natsios get down there and survey the situation, and then come back and work with the United Nations in order to figure out how to get there. What the President wants to see is a blue helmeted force in the region.
Q: Is a U.S. military force there off the table?
MS. PERINO: I don't think anyone is talking about that right now. I think what the President would like to see is a blue helmeted force in the area.
Q: Back on Darfur. I understand that sanctions are still an option. What sanctions are in play, or are thought about as it relates to Darfur --
MS. PERINO: I checked into this after you asked me this morning. I understand that we currently have a pretty full and extensive list of sanctions -- economic sanctions imposed upon the government of Sudan. I will give you a few of these, that they relate to prohibition of foreign assistance, a ban of defense exports and sales, controls over U.S. export to Sudan of dual-use items, directed voting at the international financial institutions, and other miscellaneous financial restrictions.
And is your question, are there more on the table?
Q: Right --
MS. PERINO: Those are in place right now.
Q: What more, what other sanctions are they talking about? I understand more sanctions are in play. What sanctions are up in the air to put more pressure on the Sudanese government to allow --
MS. PERINO: I think before we detail any of those discussions out, it's a good idea not to tie Andrew Natsios' hands behind his back, let him go the region, survey the situation, make the President's case, and explain why he believes -- or the President believes so strongly that a United Nations blue-helmeted force is the best way to help bring stability to the region and stop the genocide and the killing of these innocent women and children.
Q: And also, another question to ask, as a follow up, does this administration believe guns are playing a central part, more so than just a healing of the community in this conference? And this recent wave of shootings across the country --
MS. PERINO: Well, no doubt that American citizens who have a gun should abide by the laws and should understand the difference between right and wrong.
The purpose of this conference really is to bring together the best practices of everyone's thinking on those range of issues that I talked about, not only the security side of things, in terms of prevention of the violence before it happens, but also looking at how to make sure that the schools are safe buildings, and that's one of the things the Secret Service can really help shed some light on, on Tuesday. And then moving on into the other pieces in terms of the healing.
Q: Will one of the panels specifically deal with the issue of guns, because many are concerned that this administration, with the President's view of Second Amendment rights, that this administration will kind of gloss over the gun use issue, or gun issue and just move into --
MS. PERINO: There will be no glossing over of any issues at this conference. It is an open-ended discussion. Let me give you a little bit more description of that first panel. I think that's the one that you're most interested in. This is the one that is headed by Attorney General Gonzales called, "Preventing Violence in Schools."
The panel will examine the scope of the school violence problem and focus on lessons learned from prior experiences. The goal of this best practices session is to offer common sense ideas and solutions from law enforcement and security experts. They can help the schools effectively from both outside and inside, prevent these attackers. That doesn't -- that means that we're not ruling anything in or out in terms of the discussion.
Q: Yes, I have two questions. Since The New York Times reports this morning that radio station WHO in Des Moines has been running a commercial of Tony Snow promoting Nu-Vu, I'm wondering if you know of any recordings of Tony as a radio talk show host having difficulty getting non-evasive answers to his questions of White House Press Secretary?
MS. PERINO: I don't even know if I understand the question, but I don't -- I think the answer is, no. (Laughter.)
Q: Okay. All right. Has the President -- has the President expressed any gratitude that talk radio host Mike Gallagher was able to persuade that church group in Kansas not to disrupt the funeral services for those five Amish girl murder victims in Pennsylvania?
MS. PERINO: I'm not sure that the President is aware of that particular incident, but certainly he believes that no funeral should be protested. Those are private family affairs.
Q: Is the President disappointed with what former Attorney General John Ashcroft has said about the 9/11 Commission hearing, that they degenerated into show trials and that they were not so much about discovering the truth as they were about assessing blame and grandstanding?
MS. PERINO: I don't know if the President has had a chance to look at Ashcroft's book. I certainly haven't spoken to him about it, and I think we're going to decline comment on his book.
Q: Could you find out for us?
MS. PERINO: I'll see if I can.
Q: Dana, how does the bookkeeping work on days when Tony is out doing politics? Is he taking a vacation day today?
MS. PERINO: There are rules that govern that, that are handled by the ethics office. All of those rules are being followed. I don't -- since I am not in demand on the fundraising circuit, I don't know really what they are. (Laughter.)
Q: Would you like to be in demand on the fundraising circuit? (Laughter.)
MS. PERINO: I'd much rather be here with you. (Laughter.)
Q: Japan made a decision today to reduce their stakes in the Iranian Azadegan oil fields from 75 percent to 10 percent. The Bush administration has repeatedly encouraged the Japanese to be cautious in investing in a terrorist-supported nation. Would it be safe to say that the Bush administration sees this new action by Japan as positive? And more generally, how does the administration view countries investing in the Iranian energy sector?
MS. PERINO: I think it would be safest to say that the government of Japan has made its position on Iran's nuclear activities well known. We hold the same position. Iran should suspend all enrichment and reprocessing activities. There's a meeting going on today in London talking just about that.
And as to whether or not this divestiture, as I think you called it is linked to that position, I would have to refer you over to the sovereign government of Japan.
Q: To clarify two things that you've already addressed, does the President think John Warner is wrong on the phrase "sideways drift" in Iraq?
MS. PERINO: What I said was that I don't believe that the President has spoken to Senator Warner --
Q: That wasn't my question. Senator Warner says that Iraq is in a "sideways drift."
MS. PERINO: I don't believe that the President thinks that way. I think that he believes that while it is tough going in Iraq, that slow progress is being made. We would like to see more progress; Secretary Rice was there yesterday prodding the new Iraqi government to make more political answers to some of the problems that they're facing.
The President has not spoken to John Warner that I'm aware. I'm sure he would be interested in doing so. And if there's more on that I can get back to you.
Q: And on the Second Amendment, I didn't hear whether you were actually asked, a member of Congress would like to provide for arming some teachers in schools. Does the President think that sounds like a promising path forward?
MS. PERINO: That is also something I have not asked the President. It's not something I've heard come up, in terms of conversations. So I would let the congressman -- whoever it was that said that -- to sort of explain his reasoning on that.
Q: Dana, on the detainee legislation, it's been I think about a week since that bill passed Congress. Why have we not yet seen a bill signing --
MS. PERINO: I think it's underway, in terms of getting scheduled. It's not going to be next week, but probably the week after -- I think on the 17th. And as soon as we have that finalized I'll let you know.
Q: Will the bill signing coincide with the issuance of an executive order?
MS. PERINO: Not necessarily. I think that that would be a little bit premature.
Q: Is there work being done on the executive order?
MS. PERINO: Let me check for you. I don't know. I know that DOD and DOJ are working to move forward on the military commission side of things. In terms of an executive order, I would need to check on that.
Q: Dana, on global warming, there's mounting scientific evidence that climate change is occurring much faster than earlier predicted, as well as the human factor being a much greater contributing factor to climate change. Is the White House thinking, or rethinking its current climate change policy, as well as its definition of what constitutes sound science?
MS. PERINO: The definition of sound science is "sound." And that doesn't change. What the President said in 2001 is that he established a goal for the United States to reduce the growth of greenhouse gas emissions by 12 percent -- I'm sorry, by 18 percent by 2012. And we are on track to meet that goal. And what he said is that while the research is ongoing, that we will take stock of it and that if we aren't making that goal, if research indicates otherwise, that we might have to take additional aggressive action. That has been his policy since 2001.
Q: But there is research indicating that you are not meeting and you are not on track --
MS. PERINO: No, we are on track. And I would refer you to the Energy Information Administration, which is the independent arm, statistical arm of the Department of Energy, which just released that report in the spring. And we are on track. We've been on track every year.
END 1:01 P.M. EDT
Dana Perino, Press Briefing by Dana Perino Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/273353