Press Briefing by Dana Perino
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:45 P.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: Hello. Three announcements for you, and then I'll go to questions. Today, as you saw, with the concurrence of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Secretary Gates has recommended, and the President has approved and will nominate, General David Petraeus as the new Commander of Central Command. In addition, he will withdraw the nomination of Lieutenant General Ray Odierno to be the Army Vice Chief of Staff, and nominate him instead to return to Baghdad as the new Multi-National Force Iraq Commander, replacing General Petraeus. And finally, the President will also nominate Lieutenant General Peter Chiarelli as Vice Chief of Staff of the Army.
As Secretary Gates said, he does not anticipate General Petraeus leaving Iraq until late summer or early fall. We expect to move the paperwork on these nominations to the Senate very quickly. Because of the complex nature of getting all of these done, we ask that the Senate move as expeditiously as possible and ask that they act by Memorial Day. One of the reasons that we would ask that is so that not only can the military plan, but so that their families can plan accordingly.
Secretary Gates said that he recommended General Petraeus to the President because he is absolutely confident he's the best man for the job. And as Secretary Gates said, he doesn't know anybody in the United States military better qualified to lead the effort.
On another subject, President Bush, as you have heard him say, is concerned about the number of faith-based schools across the country that are closing their doors. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that nearly 1,200 urban faith-based schools in America closed between 2000 and 2006. More than 400,000 students were affected by these closures.
To address this issue, President Bush announced in the State of the Union address in January that he would convene a White House summit on inner-city children and faith-based schools to help highlight the lack of educational options facing low-income urban students. Tomorrow at the Ronald Reagan International Center here in Washington, D.C., he will bring together educators, clergy, philanthropists and business leaders to highlight the problem and encourage practical solutions to help save these schools.
Yesterday we released a fact sheet on the summit's agenda, and if you have additional questions you can ask anyone in the Press Office.
Finally, recent credit market conditions have raised concerns in the student loan market among parents and some college students, and so the administration has been taking steps to prepare for the approaching student loan peak season of applications in July and August. Today Secretary Spellings, Secretary Paulson and Director Jim Nussle sent a letter to members of Congress urging prompt action to get the Department of Education authority to purchase federal family education loans to better ensure the availability for the upcoming academic year.
The House recently passed a bill to provide this authority, and we urge the Senate to act promptly on the bill. Implementing this authority will take time, so it is imperative to move this legislation without delay if this authority is to be used in the upcoming school year. We do not want to see any students unable to attend universities this year because of the credit crunch, and that's why we are taking appropriate steps now to confront that challenge should it arise.
Q: Secretary Gates was asked today when the American public would be told about North Korea's nuclear assistance to Syria, and he said, "soon." Can you tell us what the administration has in mind and how you're going to roll it out?
MS. PERINO: No, I think Secretary Gates said it well. "Soon" is a good, short answer. We are going to be -- continuing to talk to members of Congress. That action will be happening soon, and as soon as we have more from there --
Q: That will, or won't?
MS. PERINO: Will.
Q: Has it started yet?
MS. PERINO: Well, let me decline to comment until they decide to talk to members of Congress more -- in an additional fashion, and then we can provide more. I'm not going to be able to say much on it today, and I'm not confirming anything at this briefing in regards to the substance of the question.
Q: Well, he's the one who said, "soon."
MS. PERINO: And he was right. (Laughter.)
Q: Okay, the next question is, how does this, whatever North Korea has been doing, how does it affect the six-party talks?
MS. PERINO: I think that -- let's let the action of "soon" happen and then we'll be able to talk more fully about it.
Q: Can you just shed a little light on why you can't talk about it, or at least --
MS. PERINO: No. You know that we've been asked questions about this since last fall. We have declined to comment, and I'm not able to do so at this time.
Q: Is it because of the briefing tomorrow on the Hill, and are you just waiting until that --
MS. PERINO: It's not appropriate for me at this point, at this moment, to talk about it from here, and so I'll decline to do so until I'm allowed to.
Q: Does it raise -- whatever it is -- (laughter) -- does it raise U.S. concerns even more about North Korea and Syria?
MS. PERINO: I'd love to be able to answer your question, but if I did, then it would answer the other questions that I've already said I can't answer. And so let's just -- if you guys can just be a little bit patient and let some conversations happen on the Hill, then we'll be able to talk about it more at that time.
Q: The President has said publicly several times, in two consecutive news conferences a few months ago, and you have said over and over again, we do not torture. Now he has admitted that he did sign off on torture, he did know about it. So how do you reconcile this credibility gap?
MS. PERINO: Helen, you're taking liberties with the what the President said. The United States has not, is not torturing any detainees in the global war on terror. And General Hayden, amongst others, have spoken on Capitol Hill fully in this regard, and it is -- I'll leave it where it is. The President is accurate in saying what he said.
Q: That's not my question. My question is, why did he state publicly, we do not torture --
MS. PERINO: Because we do not.
Q: -- when he really did know that we do?
MS. PERINO: No, that's what I mean, Helen. We've talked about the legal authorities --
Q: Are you saying that we did not?
MS. PERINO: I am saying we did not, yes.
Q: How can you when you have photographs and everything else? I mean, how can you say that when he admits that he knew about it?
MS. PERINO: Helen, I think that you're -- again, I think you're conflating some issues and you're misconstruing what the President said.
Q: I'm asking for the credibility of this country, not just this administration.
MS. PERINO: And what I'm telling you is we have -- torture has not occurred. And you can go back through all the public record. Just make sure -- I would just respectfully ask you not to misconstrue what the President said.
Q: You're denying, in this room, that we torture and we have tortured?
MS. PERINO: Yes, I am denying that.
Elaine, did you have one?
Q: I have one on Zimbabwe, actually.
Q: Where is everybody?
Q: British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has called for an arms embargo on Zimbabwe. I wondered if you have any reaction.
MS. PERINO: Sorry, an arms embargo?
Q: On Zimbabwe. Do you have any reaction?
MS. PERINO: No, I'll have to refer you to State Department, but I'll see if I can get more for you later.
Q: Okay. And one on Darfur. U.N. officials yesterday said that the conflict in Darfur is deteriorating and that full deployment of peacekeeping forces won't happen until 2009. Is that acceptable to the President? And is there anything that the U.S. plans to do to assist in that situation in the remaining time he has in office?
MS. PERINO: Although I'll say that I haven't seen a specific report, but what I can tell you is that I think it was just last week that the President met with his special envoy to Sudan, Rich Williamson, and they discussed at length these issues. And the President talked to him about, how do we get more peacekeepers into the area to help protect the population; what are the strategies to talk -- to do -- continue discussions so that we are facilitating conversations, but also at the same time, taking action to make sure that people are protected and that the killing can stop.
That's something the President is very concerned about, and he and Rich Williamson had a good conversation about it and the President asked him to continue his work. We remain very frustrated and we would like the rest of the world, and the United Nations, to fully back this effort, and to put more pressure on the Sudanese.
Q: With the announcement today on General Petraeus and Odierno, who is going to make that assessment on the ground that you all said was going to happen after July if you're having this shuffle?
MS. PERINO: I didn't get to see the full press conference, I just saw a little bit at the top, but I understand that Secretary Gates believes that that will be General Petraeus. And that's one of the reasons he said that these changes wouldn't happen until late summer or early fall. And so that assessment will take -- will be done by General Petraeus. But I'm sure he'll be talking with Ray Odierno, as well -- General Odierno, who has spent a lot of time there and helped implement the strategy that has been seeing signs of success. So I think that we'll -- I'll let the Pentagon say for sure, but I believe that's what Secretary Gates was intending to say.
Q: Dana, can you tell us what the President talked to the King about this morning, and whether he agrees with the King, as his spokesman -- spokespeople say, that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process should be based on clear grounds and fixed time frames?
MS. PERINO: I am not able to readout that meeting. The President believes that is a private discussion that he had, private breakfast that he had in the private dining room off of the Oval Office. So I will decline to comment specifically. What I can say is that the President enjoys good relations with many of the leaders in the Middle East. He's pleased that there is engagement and an effort to have input into advancing the peace process.
But as regards to fixed timetables, I don't know if that is -- was an accurate -- that it's accurate that they talked about that this morning or not. I know that there's a statement out there, but it was only the two of them in the room and I'm not going to be able to provide a readout.
Q: Thank you, Dana. Two questions. The AP in Kuwait quotes Secretary of State Rice as saying, "The United States is not going to deal with Hamas. And we had certainly told President Carter that we did not think meeting with Hamas was going to help." And my question: Since the result of this telling was that Mr. Carter proceeded directly to violate this U.S. policy and meet with these terrorists, what is President Bush prepared to do to put an end to this one-man defiance of our policy which so gratified the terrorists?
MS. PERINO: Well, former President Carter is a private citizen, and he made a decision to not comply with what the State Department asked him to do. What I think the President would focus on is, if you go back to what reportedly Hamas said to former President Carter, that they were willing to take these steps for peace, that the very next day, that they went ahead and murdered many people at the Gaza crossing. And I think actions speak louder than words, and we remain very concerned about the situation. That's why Secretary Rice was in the region.
Q: If the President, as our nation's chief law enforcer, fails to order Mr. Carter's passport revoked, how many more people like Carter may want to plot U.S. policy in this regard, do you imagine?
MS. PERINO: I don't know, you'll have to take a national survey.
END 12:56 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/277285