Press Briefing by Dana Perino
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:40 P.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: A quick readout. The President and Prime Minister Tusk discussed defense issues this morning, including missile defense, air defenses there in Poland, Iraq and Afghanistan. And the President reiterated the United States' commitment to Polish security as a friend and NATO ally, and they discussed concrete cooperation in this regard.
A quick preview for tomorrow. Tomorrow the President will give a speech at the Convention of Religious Broadcasters in Nashville. The President will give the first of several speeches on the situation and way forward in Iraq and Afghanistan in the lead up to the Petraeus-Crocker report, and the NATO summit, which is coming up at the end of this month. The President will discuss the God-given gift of freedom, and outline the ideological struggle in the Middle East.
The President will discuss also the nature of the enemy in Iraq and Afghanistan, including some of their latest tactics, and he will give an update on the progress of the surge in Iraq. So that's for tomorrow.
Q: Dana, two topics, please. Can you elaborate a bit more on that "concrete cooperation" that was promised today? What exactly is the United States promising to Poland in exchange for the missile defense interceptor?
MS. PERINO: Well, I don't have specifics in terms of finances or makeup of the support in terms of resources, because Secretary Rice and Secretary Gates are going to be collaborating and then talking with the Polish government to see what they need. One of the things is that as we would with any ally, we would help them evaluate their defenses. There has been some concern expressed by the Polish about their air defense system; it needs to be modernized. Secretary Rice said that she'd talk to Secretary Gates about it. And the President and the Prime Minister spoke today about how the United States would be committed to helping them, as we would any other ally, in that regard.
But it could take a while to find out after the analysis how much it's going to take in order to help them on that, in that regard.
Q: Is it fair to say that it is all part of one package, in the missile defense system?
MS. PERINO: I think the way we would describe is, it's certainly not a quid pro quo, because, as we would with any ally, we would help them modernize a different part of their defense system. In this regard, the Poles have indicated that their air defenses are something that they think are lacking, so we will take -- undertake an analysis and commit to working with them this year.
Q: One other topic. Could you comment on this suit filed by the House Judiciary Committee to force Miers and Bolten to provide information?
MS. PERINO: Sure. This is -- I was realizing it was about a year ago that the administration offered to House Democratic leaders the access to various administration officials that they wanted to hear from in regards to that issues of the U.S. attorneys. They turned us down on that. So now it's been almost a year of wrangling on that front, and now they've continued to focus on partisan theater. They've filed suit in court. The confidentiality that the President receives from his senior advisors and the constitutional principle of separation of powers must be protected from overreaching, and we are confident that the courts will agree with us.
Q: Has the President given the Vice President any specific benchmarks he's looking for from his trip to the Middle East? The President outlined a little bit, but you had made it clear earlier this morning that he wanted things to hurry up in the Middle East peace process.
MS. PERINO: No, I wouldn't say that the President has to give the Vice President any benchmarks. The Vice President understands fully what we're trying to achieve there, and the President is grateful that he's agreed to go. He has an ambitious trip, starting this Sunday. He'll travel to several different countries, and he has many different topics that he will cover. One of the most important is certainly trying to help the Israelis and the Palestinians as they continue to talk with one another to get to a point where they could define what a state would look like.
And in addition to that, he'll travel to Saudi Arabia; I'm sure that energy issues will come up there. He'll be talking about Iraq and the progress of the surge and the importance of making sure that the security gains that we've had do not reverse themselves.
So he's got a wide range of topics that he'll cover on his trip.
Q: But not anything specific, like, let's have the settlement issue resolved by this date, for instance.
MS. PERINO: If there is, I'm not aware of it and I don't -- they have private conversations.
Q: Will he repeat the request to the Saudis to ask OPEC to raise oil production, a request which was made by the President and turned down by our friends, the Saudis?
MS. PERINO: I'll refer you to the Vice President's office for exactly what he will bring up. But certainly the position of the United States and the President is that we believe that more supplies should be out there on the market. And the President does want OPEC to take into consideration that its biggest customer, the United States, that our economy is weakened, and part of the reason is because of higher oil prices; we think that more supply would help. And I don't anticipate that the Vice President would have any other message than that one.
Q: So he will, obviously, then, have that message.
MS. PERINO: I'm not -- I can't tell you exactly what the Vice President is going to say and I'm not going to -- I'll let him have his meetings and then they can read them for you while you guys are on the road.
Q: Dana, the Secretary of State was just in the Middle East, she's just back -- I mean, was there something -- what was there that she didn't accomplish that the President thinks the Vice President -- and is this any way, would you say, a comment on the state of the peace process? Is this a rescue mission?
MS. PERINO: Kathleen, I think that that is really -- I think it's a little bit outrageous to suggest that. Last week, if you were watching, what Secretary Rice was able to do was pull them back from the brink and have them recommit to having discussions amongst themselves. That was an accomplishment.
If we weren't sending someone there to help the negotiations keep going, I'm sure the criticism from this room would be, "Why aren't you sending somebody else? Why isn't the Vice President going?" The President is committed to this issue. He has asked the Vice President to go and help to continue working with the Israelis and the Palestinians, while -- and in the meantime, next week, General Fraser, who is our man on the ground who is helping implement the road map, he is there working very hard. He will actually have a meeting with all the parties, either Thursday or Friday of this week. Then the Vice President will go. And then in mid-May the President returns to the region where we will continue on.
So this is a reiteration of the President's commitment, and certainly, by any measure, Secretary Rice had a very good trip last week, especially because she was able to bring them back to the table.
Q: How much will the perceived threat from Iran figure in on the Vice President's trip to the region?
MS. PERINO: Well, as I said earlier, the issue of Iran and their pursuit of a nuclear weapon and their interference in some of their neighbors' governments is a concern to the people in the region, and a concern to the United States, to the United Nations Security Council, which includes the European Union, the EU-3 in particular. So I do anticipate that that will be a topic that's on the agenda. But he doesn't -- I don't know of anything specific that he's been asked to -- any messages he's been asked to carry.
Q: Dana, what does it say that the missiles we want to put in Poland that are not a threat to Russia, we are willing to provide Poland missiles to protect from Russian missiles? In other words, if we're going to provide patriots to keep -- to prevent a Russian attack on the missile interceptors we want to put in Poland, we are now providing a threat to Russian missiles, yes?
MS. PERINO: I don't know of anyone -- except maybe some in the media -- no one is suggesting targeting Russia in this regard. We do not want to deny any ally the ability to defend themselves, and some allies ask us for help in making sure that their defenses are above board, that they are modern. And in this regard, in this particular case, Poland has said that they don't think their air defenses are good enough.
There might be other aspects of their military that they would like to see improve, but no one is suggesting attacking Russia. In fact, we believe that the missile defense system would deter threat from the rogue nations that we're talking about. And it certainly is not aimed at Russia. And there is nothing that 10 interceptors placed in Poland could do to overwhelm all of what Russia has. And so I think, by any objectable [sic] measure, this is not at all a target of Russia.
Q: But we are willing to provide Poland with the means to protect those interceptors from an attack from Russia.
MS. PERINO: Who is suggesting that Russia is going to attack anybody? Certainly no one from here is.
Q: We would not be thinking about putting Patriots in Poland were it not for Russia's threat to re-target missiles on Poland if we put the interceptors in Poland.
MS. PERINO: I really don't know where you're getting that, Wendell. It's not at all in any of the discussions that we've been involved in.
Q: That was certainly a part of the security guarantee.
MS. PERINO: No, it's not. I just sat in on the meeting.
Q: It is not? We are not going to provide Patriots to Poland to protect the interceptors?
MS. PERINO: I just told Ben Feller that I don't know exactly what the package will look like at the end of the day. Secretary Rice has said that she'll work with Secretary Gates, and it could take several months to do the analysis and decide what we think we can do to help them modernize their air defenses.
Q: Let me try one more time --
MS. PERINO: But no one is suggesting that we should defend -- that Poland needs to defend themselves against Russia.
Q: Is that not precisely what the Polish Prime Minister said he needed protection for, those interceptors -- because Russia had threatened to re-target Poland if we put them there? That is not -- that was not the conversation today?
MS. PERINO: In that regard -- when they talk about missile defense, it's not about Russia. And when he talks about air defenses, it's that their systems, they feel, are not modern, and that they want to modernize it. But no one was talking about Russia attacking Poland. If that is a concern of the Polish government, I'll refer you to them and they can talk about that. But what we are talking about is, overall -- having an overall good defense system, and that includes modernizing their air defenses.
Q: On Poland, is the goal to have a modernization agreement in place or agreed to by the end of the President's term?
MS. PERINO: Sure, absolutely.
Q: A couple on Iraq. Why a speech to religious broadcasters to lay out the Iraq policy case?
MS. PERINO: Well, the President was invited by the religious broadcasters this year to come and give a speech. The topic was ours to choose, but the President -- one of the things he'll be talking about is, as I said, the God-given right to freedom, that is given to everybody. And the President will talk about the importance of the missions that we have underway in Afghanistan and Iraq. But in addition to that, he will provide an update.
And as you know, we're getting closer to the fifth anniversary of the war in Iraq, we're getting closer to the Petraeus-Crocker report, which will come April 8th and 9th on Capitol Hill. And then we have the NATO summit, which is very important in regards to the issues in front of NATO right now, including expansion.
Q: What are the administration's latest cost estimates on the war? Are you familiar with the Stiglitz article that came out over the weekend -- the Nobel Prize-winning economist, former Clinton advisor, Joseph Stiglitz -- $12 billion a month he's now estimating.
MS. PERINO: I'm not going to dispute his estimates. I don't know exactly where he gets all of it. I think some of the things that he looks into in terms of veterans' care, that we're going to take care of our veterans into the future, those types of things have to be included. But it's very hard to anticipate, depending on conditions on the ground and circumstances, how much the war is going to cost. I think that right now we are fighting this war in the 21st century; we have our soldiers who need modern equipment not only to fight and to complete the mission that they're given, but also to protect themselves.
For example, I don't think anybody is arguing that our men and women who are out there on the battlefield shouldn't have access to the MRAP vehicles -- those vehicles are very, very expensive -- but they've helped save lives and prevent injuries, and that's just one example of the many things that we are spending money on.
But in addition to that, you -- we have to ask ourselves what the cost of -- what the cost would be of doing nothing, or of ratcheting back when we're not ready to ratchet back, in terms of making sure that Iraq does not become a safe haven for al Qaeda, making sure that Afghanistan doesn't fall back into the hands of the Taliban.
There are long-range incentives for us to be able to -- that we should keep our eye on, which is making sure that our military has all that they need, that we're helping these young democracies, and that we consider the importance of a modern health care system that can help veterans when they come back to the United States, if they need help either from an immediate injury or over the course of their lives because of the -- what they've given to this country.
And so fighting terror is expensive and we are committed to making the investments necessary to keep people safe.
Q: So what's your estimate of the monthly cost of the war?
MS. PERINO: I don't have it. We'll have to -- you know, OMB could give it to you, but obviously it's very expensive. And one of the things that we're waiting on right now is for Congress to take action on a supplemental bill that would fund our troops right now. It's $108 billion and we're waiting for Congress to take action on that. We're going to call on them to do that soon.
Q: Dana, I'm puzzled about the United States' position about the latest Israeli settlement announcement. You said this morning that the Israelis believe that they would take some steps on settlements and stay within the road map. The President said during the press avail with the Prime Minister that the obligations of the road map are clear. Does the United States agree with that position that the Israelis have advanced, that they can do and stay within the road map?
MS. PERINO: I don't -- well, I think -- I never said that those two things were -- that we necessarily agreed with the Israelis on their position. And it's -- reasonable people can disagree with different aspects of it. The President believes that the settlement issue is one of the things that's a sticking point to getting to the next step in the negotiations. From Israel's point of view, it's whether or not the Palestinians can start taking care of their -- start taking care of the rockets that are coming across from Gaza, but also just overall security. You saw last week where you had the tragic shooting in Jerusalem.
The Israelis and the Palestinians were both operating under several years of built-up mistrust, and we're trying to build that back up. And one of the things that the President thinks needs to happen is that -- just take two of those issues of the road map, the settlements and then security on the Palestinian side, they've got a long way to go, there's a lot more work to do, and no one is moving as fast as the President would like them to.
Q: So when you say reasonable people can disagree, I'm sorry to keep beating up on this, but do you agree then with the Israeli position that that's okay under the road map?
MS. PERINO: That they expand settlements? Look, I think that there are some that were announced before, and there are some that are currently under construction, others that were going to be under construction but the construction never started. So I think it's a little bit more complicated than just black and white, because there's a lot of different factors that go into the different settlements that they're talking about.
Q: Dana, back on what Peter was talking about. How has inflation since 2003 impacted the cost of the war?
MS. PERINO: I'm sure it's had an impact, but, April, I'm not an economist, and we'll either try to get you an answer or refer you to OMB.
Q: Next question. The hearing about pharmaceuticals in the waterway, EPA has put out a statement. What is the President saying about this, especially as there was a concern last year about what was -- the drugs that were found in Chinese seafood, and he was very concerned about that -- what is he saying about our waterways, finding drugs there?
MS. PERINO: Well, certainly he has confidence in the Environmental Protection Agency, and especially Administrator Johnson. The United States has some of the safest drinking water in the world, and EPA is committed to making sure that that remains the same from here on out. However, this issue of pharmaceuticals being dumped into either toilets or down the sink because people might want to make sure that their medicine cabinets are free from old medicine or medicine that they no longer need, and maybe they want to keep it away from the hands of children -- they think the best way to get rid of it is to flush it.
But the EPA has several different ways that they advise people on how to get rid of medicines in a safe way; one of them is certainly take advantage of take-back programs that pharmacies will have. But in the meantime, EPA is on top of the issue; they're working with the different regions, municipalities, to make sure that we are able to, through our clean drinking water system, make sure that it's safe for people. And right now EPA is saying that across the board we have some of the safest drinking water in the world.
Q: So it's just as simple as that, no more dumping of pills down the sink or in the toilet?
MS. PERINO: Well, at this point I'll just refer you to EPA, who will analyze the results of a study that was released yesterday. They take great care to make sure that our drinking water is safe. But certainly it's a concern that people would be throwing away pharmaceuticals in an unsafe way.
Go ahead, Victoria.
Q: Dana, is the Vice President going to meet with the Israelis and Palestinians separately, or is he going to try to get them together?
MS. PERINO: I think right now it's set up for a separate meeting, but as I said, later this week General Fraser was inviting them to all meet together. It's either Thursday or Friday.
Q: And would you dispute the $12 billion a month?
MS. PERINO: I just said, Victoria, that I'm not. But I'm not validating it either. I'm not taking his -- just as we don't do book reviews, I'm not going to do a review of every former Clinton administration's official's -- a study that they put out. I'm just not going to do it. I said what I said, which is that it's expensive, we're fighting a war in which we're fighting it with modern equipment that our soldiers need in order to keep themselves safe and to complete their mission.
It's very expensive. We're in an ideological struggle. This is a generational issue; it's not something that's going to be solved in a year or two. And we know that, and the President was committed to making sure that we invest now, and invest in the right way. And the question is whether or not the next President will think that fighting the war on terror is worth it, and the President set us on a footing to do so.
Go ahead, Paula.
Q: The President has repeatedly said in the past that oil companies don't need any existing, or any new, tax breaks because of the amount of profits they're making. Well, with prices of oil going up above $100 a barrel, gasoline prices expected to go up to $4 a gallon, why does the President think that the existing tax breaks should be maintained for oil companies?
MS. PERINO: I think that -- if you're talking about the bill that's in front of the Congress right now, I think you need to take a little bit of a closer look at it. This bill would target just five companies. We don't think that that is fair. We also think that it's the exact wrong thing to do if you want to lower prices for Americans who are paying a lot at the pump. The wrong thing to do would be to increase taxes on those oil companies that are providing this product in America.
So obviously the President had opposed the -- I think it's called the manufacture -- what's it called, the manufacturing tax credit? I can't remember the exact name, but the bill that passed in 2005, he did oppose that. But this is a fundamentally different bill, and we do oppose it, and we have a statement of the administration position. It's basically because it is unfair just to target these five companies, and counterproductive because it would lead to rising prices.
Q: Does the President feel, though, that there is sufficient amount of tax incentives out there right now to encourage additional alternative energy development?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that obviously the President has been very supportive of alternative and renewable fuels. He's been supporting that in terms of tax incentives. And you see it across the board -- it's not just the tax incentives that are helping, but entrepreneurs who are figuring out that Americans want different choices. And so we have a variety of new technologies that are underway, both from alternative fuels and renewable fuels; both on the fuel that -- like the -- replacing the gasoline that you put in your car, as well as to what type of electricity you use when you flip on the switch at home.
So there's lots of different things that we're doing across the board, but it's going to take concerted effort and investment -- that this President started -- and be maintained over a long period of time. And in the meantime, the other thing we need to do is to increase domestic exploration and production in environmentally safe ways here in the United States.
Q: Going back to the Mideast, President Abbas seems to imply that there is a deal between Hamas and Israel, whereby Hamas will stop firing rockets and Israel will stop assassinating the leaders of Hamas. Your comment on that? And also, would you encourage Egyptian mediation in this regard?
MS. PERINO: I haven't heard that from President Abbas. I'm not going to necessarily take your word for it; I'll let them speak for themselves. But I would point to the fact that General Fraser is bringing the Palestinians and the Israelis together later this week in order to have conversations, and I'm sure that security and the rocket attacks is going to be a part of that. And obviously Secretary Rice, having been in the region and Egypt just last week, and then asking her Under Secretary [sic] David Welch to go back to the region and talk to Egypt to try to help alleviate the situation -- it's something that we're engaged in.
Q: Yes, Dana, back to the speech tomorrow. You said, the first of a series of speeches leading up to Petraeus and Crocker and the Iraq anniversary. It sounds like sort of the major campaign getting underway. Is the President worried that he is going to come under increasing election year pressure to order more troop withdrawals that he doesn't think is appropriate?
MS. PERINO: Obviously the President of the United States, as the Commander-in-Chief, is always under pressure from lots of different places, but he makes decisions based on what he thinks is right and based on what his commanders on the ground are telling him he needs. And so he will be getting a series of briefings in the lead-up to these meetings, both at NATO and the Petraeus-Crocker testimony.
He was just at the -- what they call "The Tank" at the Pentagon last Friday; I anticipate that he'll be back one or two times before then. And then we'll have a chance for the President to speak about Iraq and Afghanistan leading up to, I guess, that week of April, the 7th, when the testimony arrives.
Q: I guess I'm just trying to think of the strategic imperative here to make the case in repeated public waves over the next few weeks, leading up to --
MS. PERINO: Look, the President thinks about Iraq and Afghanistan often, and at this time it's really important -- obviously, any time there's an anniversary it focuses attention on the issue, and that's absolutely appropriate, and where we can celebrate the recent gains, but also make the case that those security gains aren't irreversible. We need to make sure that we're taking the action that Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus and his commanders on the ground suggest that we need.
In addition to that, we have the war in Afghanistan, and we need to make sure that we are working with our NATO allies to make sure that the troops have what they need and that we have enough troops. Obviously that's going to be an issue coming up at the next -- in the next couple weeks as we lead up to the NATO summit. And I think there's -- the EU meets next week and they're going to be talking more about NATO and the possible expansion; there's applications for expansion of NATO. And all of these issues are going to be very important leading up to it. And the President -- we've identified some time on the calendar where the President can speak to issues of great importance to the American people.
Go ahead, Les.
Q: Thank you, Dana; two questions. Reuters reports that our Customs and Border Protection Commissioner admits that the U.S. may not meet the goal of essentially stopping illegal immigration from Mexico by 2011. And my question: What does the President believe would help most in this effort, more Border security personnel, more miles of border fence, or more enforcement of immigration regulations nationwide?
MS. PERINO: The President thinks that all of those issues are important, but he would add another measure, which is a temporary worker program so that we could have a legal mechanism for people who want to cross the border and work in America, but also want to go back home.
Q: Governor Rick Perry of Texas has just written a new book entitled, "On My Honor: Why the American Values of the Boy Scouts Are Worth Fighting For." And my question: Does the former governor of Texas who is now President agree or disagree with this title?
MS. PERINO: I don't know if he's even aware of the book. And Governor Perry was around last week and talked to him. I'm going to move on.
Q: Wait a minute --
MS. PERINO: No, Les --
Q: -- you don't want to leave the impression --
MS. PERINO: Les, stop.
Q: --that the President opposes both his fellow Texas governor and the Boy Scouts of America, do you?
MS. PERINO: Of course he doesn't.
Q: The Spanish elections that Prime Minister Zapatero has won on Monday -- is President Bush going to congratulate him, or has he congratulated him --
MS. PERINO: I expect he'll be sending a message to him, sure.
Q: Back to oil and Cheney. Why is Cheney likely to be more successful than the administration has been so far in getting OPEC to increase its production?
MS. PERINO: Who suggested that?
Q: Well, because he's going to ask again; why is he likely to be successful?
MS. PERINO: First of all -- who said in this room that he's on the mission to go and ask again? He didn't -- I didn't say that. I said, will energy be on the agenda? It absolutely will be. The question was, will he have a different message than the President of the United States. No. But as I said last week, OPEC made a decision, it was one we were disappointed with. We don't agree with it. We think that they would be better served and the world would be better served if there was more supply. But never did I imply that the Vice President would be what you described.
Q: Would you consider -- would he consider asking just Saudi Arabia to unilaterally increase its production?
MS. PERINO: Obviously, Saudi Arabia will have to make that decision on its own.
Q: Thanks, Dana.
MS. PERINO: Thank you.
END 1:05 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/277497