Press Briefing by Dana Perino
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:46 P.M. EST
MS. PERINO: Good afternoon. Sorry to be a little bit later today, but it was for good reason. I have a couple of statements by the President -- these are in his words -- one on Russia, and one on Senator Lott. And then I'll have a little bit of information for you about the meetings he's had today.
The first is a statement about Russia. The President's words: I am deeply concerned about the detention of numerous human rights activists and political leaders who participated in peaceful rallies this weekend. I am particularly troubled by the use of force by law enforcement authorities to stop these peaceful activities and to prevent some journalists and human rights activists from covering them.
The freedoms of expression, assembly and press, as well as due process are fundamental to any democratic society. I am hopeful that the government of Russia will honor its international obligations in these areas, investigate allegations of abuses and free those who remain in detention.
Now, secondly, on Senator Lott: For more than three decades Trent Lott has been an outstanding advocate in the United States Congress for both the people of Mississippi and every United States citizen. With service in the Republican leadership in both the House of Representatives and the Senate he has skillfully advanced legislation and effectively championed key principles of our party, including low taxes and a strong national defense.
Trent has worked to enhance the economic vitality of our nation and his home state throughout his career. By focusing on the important defense, transportation, infrastructure, agriculture and educational needs of Mississippi, he has helped bring new development and opportunity to his constituents. Throughout his service Trent has always been a leader, someone his colleagues have known they could count on to stay true to his principles while working cooperatively to achieve results for the American people. Trent enjoyed bipartisan respect because of his reverence for the institutions of Congress, and because Republicans and Democrats knew they could count on him to keep his commitments and his word. His immense talents will be missed in our Nation's Capital. Laura and I wish him and his wife Tricia all the best.
Stepping back into my own voice, the President today had good meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Abbas today. Representatives of more than 40 countries are gathering here tonight at the State Department and tomorrow in Annapolis to demonstrate the international resolve to seize this important opportunity to advance freedom and peace in the Middle East.
This conference will show the international support that exists for the Israelis' and the Palestinians' goal to start negotiations on the establishment of a Palestinian state and the realization of peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. It will also provide an opportunity for the Israelis, the Palestinians and their neighbors to recommit to implementing the road map. And the conference will review Palestinian plans to build the institutions of a democratic state, and their preparations for next month's Donor Conference in Paris on the 17th.
The President is personally committed to implementing his vision of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security, and looks forward to speaking tonight -- he will give a toast at the dinner -- and tomorrow in Annapolis.
Q: Can you tell us what he's doing in these meetings? Is he giving a pep talk to these leaders? Is he asking them to make concessions? Could you give more description?
MS. PERINO: The President, in these meetings, is encouraging the two leaders. First and foremost, he is saying that he is proud of them, for them to get to this moment. These are two leaders who have the goal of two states living side by side in peace and security as their intention. This is the first time that we have had this, and that's why the President is encouraging them in these meetings to seize this opportunity.
One of the things that the President said in the meetings is that history is full of missed opportunities, because people would focus only on the downside. And he is encouraging them to work together, to use this as a launching pad for the negotiations that the two leaders have said that they want to conclude before the end of the President's term.
Q: Was that the President who said history is full of --
MS. PERINO: That is exactly what he said. He said, "History is full of missed opportunities, because people just looked to the downside." And he encouraged them to seize the moment.
Q: When you remarked on the President's deep concern for what's happening in Russia, and you cited some reasons why -- but the President, when referring to Pakistan, said that Musharraf had not crossed a line, even though many of the same kind of events -- jailing political activists, the media --
MS. PERINO: Remember, though, that was on the day -- that the President said that -- that was on the day that President Musharraf had just released 3,100 people who had been detained. And the President was referring to him working to get back on the path to a democracy. And so we had called for all of those who had been detained in Pakistan to be released immediately, as well, and for people to be allowed to gather, for the press freedoms to be returned. And in this regard, in terms of Russia, again, this is a country that the President believes will only be strengthened if more people have a say in the political process, if they hear more voices. And that's why he issued the statement today.
Q: Can you describe for us what is happening with former Vice President Albert Gore being here with the President? Can you give us a little picture inside of the Oval?
MS. PERINO: I just left the meeting with President Abbas, and I did not have a chance to see Vice President Gore. But that meeting is, I think, underway as we speak, in the Oval Office.
Q: You might want to go check in on it and come back and tell us about it. We'll wait.
MS. PERINO: I think the President has seen plenty enough of me today. The President and the Vice President are having a private meeting today. The President invited him to come and spend a little bit of time with him in the Oval Office prior to the event that he's having in the Oval Office, in order to give thanks to the Noble Prize recipients who have represented America so well, of which Al Gore is a part.
Q: The former Vice President has been deeply critical of this President's conduct in several areas. Do you think they're still upset with one another? Is there still bad blood here?
MS. PERINO: I don't believe so. I know this President does not harbor any resentments. He never has. He's -- he was the one who picked up the phone to call Vice President Gore to make sure that he could make it to the event. He invited him to come and have a meeting with him prior to the Nobel Prize event, and I think he was very much looking forward to having the meeting.
It's remarkable that in our system of government we have this tradition where political rivals can put that behind them and get together and have a good conversation, and -- also the good of, in this case, Al Gore's focusing on climate change. The President has had a full seven years, with one more year to go, and I think that they'll probably have a good meeting.
Q: In your statement, you said something the two had hoped for some sort of conclusion?
MS. PERINO: President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert have both said that they would like to conclude this round of negotiations before the President leaves office.
Q: Conclude it with what?
MS. PERINO: With getting to a permanent agreement for two states living side by side in peace and security.
Q: Before the President leaves office?
MS. PERINO: That's what they've said.
Q: So that's their timetable now?
MS. PERINO: That is what they've said.
Q: Would you expect them to commit to that after tomorrow's conference?
MS. PERINO: I don't know what they all say tomorrow. I haven't seen their speeches, but they have said it publicly before, so I don't know why they would not say it -- and they both said it again in these meetings today, so I don't see why that would be any different tomorrow.
Q: -- conclude an agreement by the end of the --
Q: I'm sorry, they didn't say it to us. They said it to the President, though?
MS. PERINO: Yes. They said it in those meetings.
Q: Does that mean actual creation of a Palestinian state by then, or just --
MS. PERINO: I think it's the negotiations in order to get to that point. And implementation of the road map, of course, has to be a part of this. This is -- it's going to be difficult, it's going to take some time, and I think we all have to be realistic about that. But this -- the President believes that the opportunity is right in order to seize this time, because you have two leaders who are willing to recognize that a Palestinian state is important not just for the Palestinians, but also for Israeli security. We have in President Abbas a person who wants to stop the violence, and doesn't believe that terror is a way to get to Palestinian security, and the type of life that they want to have and that they deserve. And so tomorrow
-- we'll have those speeches tomorrow, and then we'll hopefully have more for you later in the afternoon tomorrow.
Q: On Russia, does the President, having embraced Putin so early in his administration, does he feel that he misjudged Putin? Is he disappointed?
MS. PERINO: This is a question that the President has gotten over and over again over the past several months. Here's the President's point: He believes that the best opportunity for Russia is to have a democracy. And there had been some movement towards democracy in many different areas, including in the press and certainly in the economy. But there have been steps backwards, as well.
Democracies aren't developed overnight. We know that from our own history. The President has a good relationship with Putin and he treats him with respect, and that is the best in order to work with them. Remember, we are working with Russia cooperatively on many different issues, including Iran, and Russia is part of the Quartet that is working towards Middle East peace. So we have a relationship with them. We have, and continue to be in communication and dialogue with them. And of course our embassy officials had been in contact with the Russian government there in Moscow.
Q: And he doesn't feel that he misjudged him? I mean, after the seeming embrace of Ahmadinejad and all these anti-democratic measures, he doesn't feel that perhaps he judged Putin too early?
MS. PERINO: No, the President believes that what he saw in Putin is what is there. What is difficult when you're trying to establish democracies and freedoms across the world is that it just takes time, and it's difficult, and their history is not one of democracy and freedom and liberty. A middle class had grown up within Russia, and within Pakistan, and you have people who want to have a voice and to participate in the political process. And because of that, there sometimes might be uncomfortable government officials who are dealing with that and reacting in the wrong way.
Our obligation, as people who have the benefit of living in freedom and peace and liberty, is to help get them back on that path to a stronger democracy. The President believes the best way for Russia to prosper in the future is to have its people -- for the people that live in Russia, the opportunity to participate in the political process, to be able to have freedom of movement, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly -- and all of those things are just going to take some time.
Q: Did Olmert and Abbas discuss specific steps, with the President, that they were prepared to offer as a sign of good faith, such as freezing settlements, those types of things?
MS. PERINO: These meetings were much more general, talking about the launch of the negotiations. Remember, Secretary Rice has been in the region eight or nine times this year alone, and those details are usually talked about in her meetings and, of course, David Welch, along with his counterparts, in the region. And so these meetings were a little bit more general in talking about the goal of this meeting, which is to start the negotiations, to launch the negotiations. And the President asked them to focus on the day after Annapolis, not just Annapolis, but where do they go the day after.
Q: How does the President believe that peace can be reached without including Hamas in this equation?
MS. PERINO: The President believes -- there will only be one Palestinian state. And it is going to be difficult work, and it's going to take some time for the Palestinians to work through the situation with Hamas right now. They are under obligation to do that, and will have to -- will have to work with this international community.
Remember, one thing that is different about the conference tomorrow is that you have over 40 countries here, and you have Arab participation. And this is not so that the world can meddle in the negotiations, but so that they can support the negotiations. This agreement is going to be between the Israelis and the Palestinians. And at the end of that agreement, when they reach what they can agree on, then the world should support them. That is what the President talked about with them a lot, as well, which is that you have this opportunity, where you have international interests and support, as well as a Donors Conference that is coming up, and to have everyone at the table is an opportunity to get everything out, so that everyone can start working towards these negotiations that will take place over the next year.
Q: But, Dana, when you talk about seizing an opportunity, why did it take the President almost seven years to take on a more active role in this process?
MS. PERINO: Ed, I think that anyone who -- I have seen the storyline over the past week as we've led up to this conference, and I think that, first and foremost, I would ask you just to take a step back and look at what the President has done. He was the first President to call for a Palestinian state. That was a big step. And the Palestinians recognize that, Israel recognized that; the world woke up to the fact that this President was the one that said --
Q: He didn't --
MS. PERINO: -- in order to have a peace in the region, you had to have a Palestinian state.
Q: Well, what if he did actually make that a reality, though? Of course it was a big step to say, I'm for that, but what if the President --
MS. PERINO: The President worked with -- well, look at the two leaders that the President is working with now. He helped President Sharon -- Prime Minister Sharon come along to this point. Now he has President Abbas who is willing to work with him. And the President did not try to broker this for them. He worked to help them get to this point together.
There have been some setbacks. Remember, August of 2006, Lebanon was in the middle of a war. And this caused great consternation between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and got them -- conceivably could have gotten them off track. But look at the measure of these two leaders, who are able to come back together, a year later, and say we are able to launch negotiations because we believe that we can get to a Palestinian state that would be better for both of our people.
Q: But what about the fact of 2001 -- I mean, The New York Times this morning reports about the first National Security Council meeting the President ever had, he said that he didn't think a U.S. President should have such an active role, that it backfired on Bill Clinton to be so actively involved in the Mideast peace process. What's changed now that he's so actively involved --
MS. PERINO: I think we have a completely different circumstance now. You no longer have President Arafat, who the President labeled a terrorist. You don't have him in the way anymore. You have a leader in President Abbas who has denounced terror and violence --
Q: You don't have --
MS. PERINO: Helen, can you please let me finish? You have a leader in President Abbas who has said that violence is not the way to get there, and that a Palestinian state is going to have to be one that is free from terror and violence. And he has denounced Hamas. Then you have, in Prime Minister Olmert, an Israeli who has said, we can see our way to getting through the road map and we believe that a Palestinian state is the way for us to have peace and security in our country, as well. And he's one of the first, after Sharon, to have said that and taken an active role.
So you have a very different circumstance right now. Remember, this is a decades-old conflict, and it is going to be difficult. The President believes this is an opportunity to try it. And again, he believes that history is full of missed opportunities because people only looked at the downside. But he thinks that we have got it to a point now where they have a chance of success.
Q: Dana, back to the meeting with Al Gore. I wonder just about the President's reasoning for inviting the former Vice President. Does he want to hear from the former Vice President about global warming, or does he view this as an opportunity maybe to make amends, or to reconcile the past? What is his thinking about what --
MS. PERINO: I didn't ask the President his psycho -- I didn't psychoanalyze the President to find out why he decided to invite Al Gore to the White House. There is an annual event in which the President invites the Nobel Prize winners -- American Nobel Prize winners to the White House. Al Gore happens to be one of those recipients this year. And I believe it was a presidential, gentlemanly and a friendly thing to do to invite Al Gore to the White House. They have a private meeting, and I'm not going to intrude on that. Obviously, President Gore -- Vice President Gore will bring up anything that he wants to bring up. But just remember --
Q: But I'm asking, what does the President want to hear from -- does he want to know -- talk to him one on one?
MS. PERINO: I don't know. Sheryl, I did not psychoanalyze the President --
Q: It's not psychoanalyzing --
MS. PERINO: Yes, it is. It is. It's a friendly and neighborly thing to do to invite someone to come to the White House. It's not something that was calculated. I guess that's my point. The President didn't make a calculated decision to invite Al Gore to the White House. The President was inviting him because he was part of the award winners, and because he does want to talk with him. Again, as I say, we have a great tradition in this country of political rivals being able to put the past behind them and to work together for the benefit of the American people.
Q: Yes, Dana, what's the status of the statement that the Israelis and Palestinians are hoping to try and issue tomorrow and have had such a devil of a time trying to --
MS. PERINO: As I understand it, they continue to talk about it and to try to work towards it. But as Steve Hadley said to you yesterday, that the document is -- would be a nice thing to have, but it's not critical to this meeting, that they can launch the negotiations without a document. So if they get one it would be a good thing, but it's not critical.
Q: Are they going to -- how are we going to know it's all over? And are you going to brief there?
MS. PERINO: There's a full schedule that we can provide to you. But the President and President --
Q: In Annapolis?
MS. PERINO: Yes, in Annapolis. President Bush, President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert will each give speeches. And then the President will return to the White House. There will be a briefing tomorrow -- we're trying to figure out the timing of that because it could be a little bit later again, just given the circumstances. But you will certainly get information. And then we'll see if there's anything else to provide for you on Wednesday.
Q: Tomorrow's speech, can you give us a sense of what the President is going to be saying tomorrow? The main theme -- well, we probably know what the main theme is, but what --
MS. PERINO: You have the main theme, given what I've said to you today, but there will a little bit more detail --
Q: He's going to push, prod, beg, plead --
MS. PERINO: I think, encourage. I would describe it as encourage. And hopefully later today we'll be able to provide you a little bit more on the speech. It's being finalized now.
Go ahead, Jim.
Q: Mortgages: The administration policy towards this financial crisis -- if you agree it's a crisis -- seems to be very reactive. We'll have a negative headline, and the President will appear in the Rose Garden, or Secretary Paulson will give an interview to the Wall Street Journal. But there doesn't seem to be a proactive policy. I mean, nothing is happening on the Senate side of the Hill and --
MS. PERINO: Jim, Jim --
Q: What do you guys --
MS. PERINO: I know you don't come around very often, missed a few things. The President, back on August 31st, had a large announcement regarding the issue. We do see it as a very significant problem. That is why we --
Q: I was here August 31st --
MS. PERINO: -- and we are implementing our side of what we can do through the executive branch. The fact that the Senate hasn't moved is not the President's fault. This is -- that is a congressional matter, and I would refer you to them.
Q: It seems like this is -- as I said, it's reactive.
MS. PERINO: That's not -- Jim, in addition to that, Secretary Paulson and Secretary Jackson also created the Hope Now program, which worked with the private sector in order to help people who were at risk of losing their homes. In addition to that, we were able to get the FHA to be able to do risk-based pricing so that more people could get insurance for those homes. What we would like to see is Congress take the additional step of moving forward on the legislation. And we hope that when they get back on December 3rd that they will begin that process.
Q: One of the heads of the Financial Committee is out campaigning for President. I mean, has the President --
MS. PERINO: Again, that is a congressional matter, Jim, and if you want to place blame of inaction --
Q: I don't want to place blame. I'm just wondering --
MS. PERINO: -- it's not here. It's at the Congress, and they're going to have make those decisions and they'll have to answer to the American people if they don't act.
Q: I'm not trying to place blame, I'm just --
MS. PERINO: I'm going to move on.
Q: Dana, any talk in today's meetings about a possible presidential trip to Israel or the Palestinian Territories? What conditions --
MS. PERINO: They did not talk about any future travel.
Q: Does the President want to go before he leaves office? And are there any conditions that need to be met before he goes?
MS. PERINO: Again, they didn't talk about travel. Obviously, the President enjoyed his trip very much to the region when he went as governor. He has not been as President. I am sure it is something that the President, if he could fit it into the -- into the next year's activities, would consider it. But they didn't talk about it today, and before -- I won't pre-announce that.
Q: Is it tied at all to progress on the peace process?
MS. PERINO: All I can tell is that there was no talk of travel today.
Q: Were you hinting that you might release excerpts of something of the speech later today?
MS. PERINO: I would try to do that. I'll see if I can do that. Look, it's being finalized now, and some of these speeches, especially ones that are dealing with matters that are very sensitive and which people have a lot of interest and vested interest, it takes a little while to get things finalized. I would try to get some excerpts out today if I can, but I can't promise.
Q: One of the Vice President's former advisors said that -- said last week that this trip, or this attempt to broker a peace process, is a distraction from vital U.S. interests. He said that things like Iran, North Korea are more central to U.S. interests. Does the President disagree with that view?
MS. PERINO: I think the President sees this in terms of, if you step back and look at it in terms of a larger vision, the President believes that trying to establish a Palestinian state, with two states living side by side in peace and security, is good for the entire region, and hopefully will lead to a more comprehensive peace in the Middle East; that moderate forces are coming together.
North Korea is an issue that is also on the President's table, and we have Ambassador Chris Hill, who is actively working that through Secretary Rice. There should be more of a -- more information coming out regarding that. In terms of the time line, I believe it's December 31st that we have to have additional movement there.
And in Iraq, we have the President, just this morning, signing the Declaration of Principles with Iraq. So there's -- we can talk and chew gum at the same time.
Go ahead, John.
Q: Thank you, Dana. Two questions about Pakistan, if I may.
MS. PERINO: Okay.
Q: You said two weeks ago that the administration was in touch with former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto about things. Are they also in touch with former Prime Minister Sharif, who arrived there yesterday?
MS. PERINO: John, I don't know. I'd have to check.
Q: All right. The other thing I wanted to know, speaking of Benazir Bhutto, her niece, the poet, Fatima Bhutto, wrote a lengthy article in The Los Angeles Times last week, warning the United States about involvement with her aunt, and reminding us of the corruption charges and that she might have been complicit in the murder of her own father, Prime Minister Bhutto's brother. Are you aware of that, and do you have a reaction?
MS. PERINO: I didn't -- I missed that article in The Los Angeles Times, and so, I'll have to pass.
Q: So you're not aware of anything Fatima Bhutto said?
MS. PERINO: No, I don't know her.
Go ahead, Les.
MS. PERINO: Yes, thank you, Dana. Two questions. The Washington-Annapolis-Washington meeting has been called a quote, "peace conference." My question: How does the President believe it can be a real peace conference when the Saudi Foreign Minister has announced that Saudis will not even shake hands with the Israelis?
MS. PERINO: The President is pleased that so many countries are coming to the conference, including the Arab nations. And this is a step forward, so we'll take it from there.
Q: Saudi Arabia has just sentenced a 20-year-old female victim of gang rape by seven men to 200 lashes because she was in a car with a man not her husband, brother, or father. And my question: Since this sentence has been strongly denounced by Democrat candidates, Clinton, Obama, Biden and Edwards, surely the President does not expect you, as a lady, to have no comment on this Saudi atrocity, does he?
MS. PERINO: I don't think it matters if you're a female or a male. I think that the situation is very discouraging and outrageous. There is an appeals process and we hope that the verdict changes. It is certainly not consistent with the judicial reforms that the Saudis have said that they would undertake.
Q: Stephen Hadley said yesterday that President Bush would not propose his own ideas, with regard to the conference. Does President Bush have specific, concrete ideas for how to bring about the two-state solution?
MS. PERINO: Well, yes, and he announced those in 2002, when he announced the road map. And so we'll have the negotiations, and the road map is part of this discussion, and you have to have pieces of it implemented in order to get to a permanent solution.
Q: Well, if he has specific ideas, why is he not now putting them forward, and why would Stephen Hadley say something like that?
MS. PERINO: I think -- what I believe what Steve Hadley meant -- and I've been talking with him, and I've been in the meetings -- is that the President is not going to try to solve this problem for them. This is for the Israelis and Palestinians to solve. The President laid out the road map of which people around the world, including the Israelis and Palestinians and the United States, plus the Quartet, have all bought into. And those are the specifics that we look to when we think of what the President's involvement is.
Q: So we think that his diplomacy would not help?
MS. PERINO: Victoria, he just had two meetings -- one bilateral meeting this morning at 11:00 a.m. and another one at 1:00 p.m. He has a trilateral meeting tomorrow. He's giving a toast at the State Department tonight. The President is actively involved, as this past 48 hours has shown, and the next 24 will show. And the President said that he will continue to be committed, and that Secretary Rice will be in the region and she speaks for him when she is out there.
Q: I have a question on executive action. This is specific to the Office of Government Ethics, and specifically, there's a few provisions in here dealing with the disclosure of classified information to unauthorized persons, as well as making false statements about any knowledge of that. I'd like to know, since the President has authorized -- and only the President is authorized to allow the disclosure of this information to unauthorized persons -- why, when he became aware that this happened, did he not remove from office any members of the executive branch that either disclosed this information, or had knowledge that it happened?
MS. PERINO: Paula, we have gone through this so many times, I'm just -- I don't have anything to add to the public record.
Q: Well, I just have to ask about the timing, because prior to the criminal investigation by Patrick Fitzgerald, the President said that anyone that was involved in the disclosure of the identity of Valerie Plame would not longer work for the White House. And it was only after that criminal investigation began that he changed the ground rules to anybody that commits a crime will no longer work for the White House.
MS. PERINO: Paula, the person who revealed her name has said so publicly, and that person did not work at the White House.
Q: But there was also the person that told Scott McClellan that he was not involved. And he was.
MS. PERINO: Thank you.
END 3:13 P.M. EST
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/277042