Press Briefing by Dana Perino
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:38 P.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: A couple of announcements. As I mentioned last week, the President will travel to St. Louis, Missouri this Friday; the topic will be on the economy, and then more details to come on locations and logistics.
On the Mideast trip, the President and Mrs. Bush will travel to Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt from May 13th to the 18th, 2008. In Israel, the President will meet with President Peres and Prime Minister Olmert and address the Knesset. The President will then travel to Saudi Arabia and meet with King Abdallah. In Egypt, the President will meet with President Mubarak. The President will also hold meetings in Egypt with King Abdullah II of Jordan and Palestinian Authority President Abbas, and deliver remarks at the World Economic Forum on the Middle East.
The President's visit to Israel will celebrate Israel's 60th anniversary and our close ties over the past six decades. His visit to Saudi will also commemorate the 75th anniversary of the formal establishment of U.S.-Saudi relations. In his meetings with regional leaders the President will reaffirm efforts toward peace and prosperity and our close work with regional allies to combat terrorism and promote freedom. See you on the trip.
Q: Dana, following up on the Mideast, President Abbas left town with some discouraging words about his meeting with President Bush, saying he failed to achieve much progress and left home with little to show for it. What does the White House think of that assessment? Does it cast a shadow at all over this upcoming trip?
MS. PERINO: I think you should go back and look at the comments in full from the President and President Abbas, as well as remember what the purpose of the meeting was. I don't think anyone anticipated that there would be some sort of breakthrough at a meeting between President Abbas and President Bush.
The breakthroughs are going to come between the Israelis and the Palestinians. That is where the negotiations are more mature for a peace settlement than they are in other parts of the region, because you have two leaders who are committed to it. So I would point back to the fact that they had a -- the President welcomed President Abbas here in advance of his trip. The President is wanting to meet with these leaders as they work towards the problems that they know that they need to solve.
But a few things about that meeting that I would point out to you as well. Both reaffirmed their commitment to continuing to work together to help define a Palestinian state by the end of this year. And Prime Minister Olmert has said the same. So on the main issues there was agreement, there was a back-and-forth. I would point out to you as well that they had a private meeting, one-on-one, after the group meeting, of which I was a part of, which I think reflects that these two leaders have great trust in one another, they can speak very frankly. And I think across the board the Israelis and the Palestinians and the people of the United States recognize that more needs to be done.
But they continue to have discussions -- that's a good point -- and moments like where the President is going to go and travel to the region can create opportunity to push the system a little bit further. But we're under no illusions that things are going to happen immediately. There's a lot of deep-seated history that has to be addressed if they're going to define a state by the end of the year. And we know how much hard work there is to be done and that's one of the reasons that the President is going back to the region.
Q: I also wanted to ask you about Afghanistan quickly. What is the President's reaction to the attempt on President Karzai, and doesn't it raise questions about the stability of the government security forces there?
MS. PERINO: Well, I would point back to one thing that the President has said, which is that when you are dealing with terrorists you have to be right 100 percent of the time and they only have to be right once. Thankfully President Karzai was not harmed, but we grieve for those who lost their lives and we are praying for the victims who are recovering from wounds because of that attack.
But I think that if you look across Afghanistan, they have improved their security forces tremendously based on the support that they've had from the NATO allies who are providing security training and providing equipment. Afghanistan basically started from square one as a country, and they are dealing with terrorists who have modern weapons. And so the terrorist threat is real, it is deadly, and defeating this enemy must be the top priority of the Afghanistan government, the United States government, and the NATO allies who are there fighting alongside them.
Q: Has the President spoken with President Karzai?
MS. PERINO: No, but they usually speak every other week, so I anticipate that could happen soon.
Q: What does this tell you about, in terms of the training, the -- does this give you any sense that Afghan security is not able to provide security for its country; that they're not a point where they can handle things on their own?
MS. PERINO: On their own? Well, I think if they were at a point where they could handle things on their own, we wouldn't need to increase the NATO -- the amount of NATO troops that are there, which is something that we just did three weeks ago when we were in Europe at the NATO summit, because everyone reaffirmed their commitment to helping the Afghani government rebuild, and part of that rebuilding is not just on the economic and diplomatic side, but on the security side.
And so we're going to continue to be there, and it's going to take a robust effort to help their security forces get to where they need to be. But I think that they need to be praised for what they've been able to accomplish so far, and they need to be helped in order to get to where they need to be. And we're committed to being there.
Go ahead, Toby.
Q: Why is the President not visiting the West Bank this time? And also what does it mean that there is no -- apparently no three-way meeting scheduled with the Israelis and the Palestinians all together?
MS. PERINO: I wouldn't read too much into it. I think that one is scheduling. The President just met with President Abbas here and then he was just there back in January. As we said earlier, that the President would be going to Israel to celebrate the 60th anniversary. And so he'll be doing that. I think the Palestinian people are assured that the President is committed to helping them establish their own state. He's the first President to call for a Palestinian state and he has followed through on that commitment, not just personally, but also through sending very high-level people there, such as Secretary Rice, who has been there multiple times in order to help bring about the peace.
We are also very concerned about the humanitarian situation of the people in Gaza. And we recognize that they need help, and that is why we are providing humanitarian services and funds and goods and services, in order to help people there live a better existence. But we would remind everyone that the reason that they are in this situation is because of what Hamas has decided to do in usurping control from the legitimate Palestinian government.
We look forward to going. We look forward to the meetings that we're going to have in Egypt. We'll have details for you as things develop there. As you know, in the Middle East when you're talking about all those issues, things are very dynamic and fluid and we hope that they continue to push in the right direction. But we're going to have to push them faster than they've been going.
Q: Dana, in letters that were sent to Congress on March 5th, the Justice Department makes the case that intelligence operatives can legally use methods that are prohibited under -- interrogation methods prohibited under U.S. and international law if they are -- this is a caveat -- trying to prevent a threatened terrorist attack. So does this mean that under certain circumstances, these circumstances, CIA agents can torture or waterboard suspects? This is the Justice Department saying --
MS. PERINO: No one at the Justice Department is suggesting that torture is allowed. As we have said repeatedly, torture is not allowed. And the Justice Department's interpretation of Common Article 3 is consistent with interpretations by international criminal tribunals. And like those international courts, the Justice Department view is that in many cases where a particular act violates Common Article 3, it depends on the facts and the circumstances. And that's what those letters detailed.
And the purpose underlying an act would be one relevant factor, and that is determining whether the conduct would be judged out of bounds. And that's exactly why we have people in positions where they can make those judgments and make those determinations. But I would refer you to the Justice Department for more.
Q: So there's not a shift in position of any sort?
MS. PERINO: No, of course not.
Q: This morning Secretary Condoleezza Rice was talking about the rising cost of food around the world, and she said that biofuels may affect -- be it an unintended affect -- part of the problem. What's the President's position on that?
MS. PERINO: Well, we know that there are many different factors contributing to the food crises around the world. One of them, and a relatively new factor, would be biofuels. While it might have some impact, it's not a huge impact. And it is something that we are all going to have to take into consideration as we move to economies that can run on alternative or renewable fuels.
But the bigger problems in regards to food -- the food crises around the world is, one, the cost of energy, and especially the cost of transporting energy from one place to the next. Another one is weather. There has been terrible drought, especially in Australia, which is the biggest exporter of wheat. And you also have problems with demand, global demand.
In some ways that can be looked at positively, in that incomes around the world have increased such that people can afford to buy more food and actually eat more meat and more protein, which is not a bad thing for people as they're trying to improve their standards of living and lift themselves up out of poverty. But there is a balance to be struck. One of the things that we did two weeks ago was announce $200 million in addition for food aid around the world. We are considering what other aspects need to be taken care of. On any given year the United States provides up to 50 percent of the world's food for people who are living in hunger, and it's something that the President takes very seriously. He's really concerned about the humanitarian condition around the world; he doesn't want anyone to go hungry.
Go ahead, Mark.
Q: Yes, Dana, a lot of economists worry that folks are going to take that rebate that arrives starting today and stick it in the bank or pay down their credit card bills and not spend it, and the economy won't get the boost that the President would like it to have. Does he share any of those concerns?
MS. PERINO: I think as I've learned, you can find an -- there are economists who will say all sorts of different things. But I think that what the President did was take a -- listen to the comprehensive view of the economists here in the federal government, the experts here who believe that looking at past stimulus efforts, where most people do spend their checks. The President is not going to dictate to anybody what they should do with this money. It is giving back money to the taxpayers in the form of these stimulus checks, and if they decide to spend it, that's great. And if they don't, the President understands it's their money and they're going to decide what to do with it.
But we still believe that it -- that the stimulus package will have the desired effect of boosting the economy and creating about 500,000 jobs before the end of the year.
Go ahead, Les.
Q: Thank you, Dana. Two questions. First, does the President believe that Congress, as well as the case of Haig versus Agee, have or have not granted the right to revoke passports? And if so, why hasn't Jimmy Carter's passport been revoked as requested by House Deputy Minority Whip Sue Myrick?
MS. PERINO: I think we went over this last week. I don't have anything else to add.
Q: "Human Events" reports that when John Gizzi asked you about any possible prosecution of Mr. Carter under the Logan Act, you referred the question to the State Department. They referred this question to the Justice Department, which referred it back to the State Department. And my question: What do you believe these evasions tell the world about the Bush administration compared to former President Carter?
MS. PERINO: Let's just put it this way: No one is suggesting revoking President Carter's passport, period.
Q: Why not?
MS. PERINO: Period.
Q: Could you elaborate on what the agenda is going to be at Sharm el Sheikh?
MS. PERINO: I don't have a lot yet in terms of detail. I wanted to make sure you guys knew the places where we are going and the basic meetings, but those details are still firming up, so I don't have specifics yet.
Q: And is Mubarak going to be there?
MS. PERINO: Yes. The President will have a meeting with President Mubarak in Egypt, yes.
Q: Also a question on Iraq. As you probably know, in a couple of days it's going to be five years since the President declared an end to major combat there. How would you describe, how would you characterize the current phase in Iraq?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think we just --
Q: Combat operations have been over for five years. How would you describe that?
MS. PERINO: I think that -- I think General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker described it best for us just two weeks ago when they were here reporting back to Congress on the state of the security situation, which is that it has improved, but that we have a lot to -- a ways to go, and that the gains that we've made on the security front are reversible and, therefore, we have to make decisions as to what our troop posture is going to be.
You heard the President's decision, which is we're going to continue to bring home the brigades that we had talked about bringing home -- going from 20 brigades down to 15. And then General Petraeus has said he needs some time to consolidate and then make an assessment before we bring more troops home.
So that's where we are. We think that the Iraqi security forces have continued to improve, and there's many different tracks that we have to be working on. One is on that front. The other is on rooting out these militants, like we have done in helping the Iraqis in places such as Basra. And we have to continue to help them on the economic and political fronts, as well, which they're starting to increasingly pay for their own way in terms of reconstruction. Our financial commitments on reconstruction have gone way down and theirs -- their commitment to their own reconstruction has gone way up. Those are trends that we want to continue as we move forward, especially because we have the war supplemental debate coming up in May.
Q: Do you have any -- well, for want of a better word, shorthand ways to describe the situation? I mean, you wouldn't call it an occupation, right?
MS. PERINO: I would say that we are there at the invitation of the Iraqi government, helping them get back on their feet after years of a dictatorship, and that they are building a democracy and that they have made a lot of strides, but we have to be there in order to help them accomplish what they seek to do, which is to have a government that can sustain, govern and defend itself.
Q: Back on the Middle East quickly, on this trip. How would you characterize his time in Israel? Is it more ceremonial and the celebration of the 60th anniversary, or are there -- does he sit down and have substantive talks with Israeli leaders on --
MS. PERINO: Well, of course he's going to be talking to the Israelis and, again, I don't have details in terms of all of the meetings. But the President is going to go there to celebrate, but also to continue to push on the peace process. And in addition to that, as I said, he will be making a speech at the Knesset, which will be a first for the President of the United States -- this President of the United States -- and something that the President is looking forward to. It's going to be an important speech.
Q: Thank you. Two questions. First, international, on Zimbabwe. It does appear as though now the opposition has won. Is there anything the U.S. can do to pressure a change in government?
MS. PERINO: Well, we have had people in the region there, and they will be reporting back to the President soon. We remain very concerned about the humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe, especially when you see reports of people being persecuted for expressing their political views. And so we will keep on top of it. We would like a peaceful end to this solution. We urge anyone who is thinking about sending arms to the region to rethink that so that we can try to solve this peacefully. And when there's more to report back on regards to the people who have been there for the President, I'll get it to you.
Q: And also domestically, at this point in the President's term, is there any chance of reviving Social Security, or is that just a dead issue?
MS. PERINO: The President would like to have it solved, but it's a very thorny issue. It's very complex and complicated, and this Congress has decided that they don't want to deal with it. But the President is very worried about what's going to happen to the future of Social Security. And I do believe that in a few years, when Congress finally gets serious about solving it, that the resolution will look a lot like what the President first proposed.
Go ahead, Goyal.
Q: Dana, two questions. One, this morning at Carnegie, Special Ambassador to the U.N., Mr. Kai Eide, was speaking on Afghanistan. And he said that, as far as U.S. presence is concerned, maybe doing a better job -- but NATO, he said that there's a problem as far as NATO and the EU is concerned. Do you think this attack (inaudible) that credibility issue or NATO's -- challenge to the NATOs as far as ongoing attacks by al Qaeda?
MS. PERINO: Let me just remind you, again, when it comes to dealing with terrorists, like the Taliban and al Qaeda, they just have to have even a semblance -- it has to look like they had a little bit of an impact for everyone to say that they had a big victory. Well, we have to be right every single time in order to prevent terrorist attacks, and it is damn hard work. And I shouldn't have probably said that word -- (laughter) -- but I am just really frustrated at thinking about how hard these Afghan security forces work and how much they are up against and how we have a responsibility to continue to stay there and help them.
Just remember, three weeks ago all of the NATO nations recommitted to helping Afghanistan get back up on its feet, and that's -- part of that is going to be the security forces issue. And so I think everyone needs to take a step back and look at what they've accomplished, because they really started from zero -- they had nothing -- and they've accomplished a lot. They deserve our help, not our condemnation.
Q: And second, as far as (inaudible) problem is concerned, as far as India-U.S. civil-nuclear agreement is concerned, last week a special ambassador or special representative from the Indian congress was in Washington lobbying for this issue. What he said was that maybe the issue is dead now, so time is running out, according to U.S. Congress, and that's in India. So you think President is now up to anything to solve this problem?
MS. PERINO: Well, I just want to remind -- you often want me to say whether or not we think that this deal is dead. We are never going to declare it dead because we think it's critically important. We are appreciative that the Indians are reconsidering their position, that they continue to have dialogue about it, and the fact that they are here in Washington talking about it is a good sign.
Q: Thank you, Dana.
MS. PERINO: Thanks.
END 1:56 P.M. EDT
George W. Bush, Press Briefing by Dana Perino Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/277534