George W. Bush photo

Press Briefing by NSC Director for Democracy, Human Rights and International Organizations Mike Kozak

September 25, 2007

5:35 P.M. EDT

MS. PERINO: Good evening. I think we'll get started, since I'm sure everybody has things to do, things to write and places to go. I have brought with me Mike Kozak, who gave you the briefing last Friday. He was in the meetings this afternoon. He is the Senior Director for Democracy, Human Rights, and International Organizations at the National Security Council. So he's going to read those out for you, and then I'll do anything else that you have.

MR. KOZAK: Thanks, Dana.

I think you had the readout from Steve on the morning's meetings. The afternoon we had the democracy roundtable, which involved leaders from I think approximately 16 countries that came. These are democratic countries, but ones who have been talking back and forth in different groupings with the President over the last couple years about how we can work together to try to help promote democracy throughout the world.

So the President set a little bit of an agenda at the beginning, based on the past meetings that this group had had here last year, and then the work in Prague, where they'd heard from NGOs and human rights activists what are the things that are most important to them. And they had indicated some things that really helped them in their work. And so the leaders had tried to say, what can we do about this? And I think the President laid it out at the beginning in a quick agenda.

One thing that all the NGOs had said was important to them is to have a high-level point of contact in democratic governments where they can go to that person, both if they see an impending problem -- a crackdown on free press or something like that -- that they can get attention quickly at a high level in the government, and then also to facilitate contact among the governments, that those points of contact could coordinate with each other.

So that was one of the recommendations last year. The President led by example and said that he was naming Under Secretary Paula Dobriansky at the State Department, who was there, and he introduced her to them as the U.S. point of contact, as his point of contact. And the others will presumably follow suit.

He also talked about -- and they all agree on -- the principles that democratic governments need to speak out when there's people being imprisoned for peaceful political activity; they need to speak out when NGOs are being repressed, and that kind of thing; that they should have contact with human rights activists, dissidents, democracy activists in other countries, not only deal with the governments in power.

So that was sort of the summary of the past meetings and the things they'd agreed on. And then they moved on and each of them started talking about what they were doing in the field and what had been done to help them. And there were some remarkable stories. I mean, it's one of these things where there's so many stories, with that many high-level leaders talking. But what's always interesting in this is that you have the President and his colleagues getting down to very practical cases and talking about what worked and what didn't and what might be transferable to another country.

Very interesting -- President Saakashvili was talking about how they used to be ranked almost at the bottom in terms of business environment for their country, and now they're one of the top countries in the world, just in a few years, having taken measures against corruption, and they've had a huge growth in their per capita GDP. And actually, President Karzai said that corruption thing, I could use some -- I want to talk to you afterwards about what you did. So there's a lot of exchange going on there about what one democratic government can help another to do, build institutions. And this is something that I think we've found very important, is that these new governments often have much better experience or more applicable experience with each other than does a long-established government -- somebody who just went through it five, six, ten years ago, they are much better postured to say -- how-to part than somebody who did it 200 years ago.

Also interesting stories like the President of Lithuania was talking about a measure that they'd taken. The Belarusians kicked out a university or closed down one of the last private universities in the country, so Lithuania said, why don't you come up and set your university up across the border? We'll give visas to all the students, and they can come up there. And he was saying, they've now got like 1,000 Belarusian university students studying in Lithuania, but in a Belarusian private university, and that that's where the next leaders of countries are made.

So I just give those as a couple of examples of the kinds of practical real-world experiences that get exchanged, and then they talk about how can we disseminate this out to other people.

So I think very, very productive meeting in that sense. And once again, it's a bonding of a club of democracies that really see what bringing democracy does for -- have seen what it did for their own countries and want to help others accomplish the same thing.

This afternoon -- later in the afternoon, at 3:00 p.m., the President attended the session of the Security Council chaired by the French President and presidency of the Security Council

-- he's both President of France and President of the Security Council. The focus was on Africa, so different -- the different leaders -- we had the leaders of the Security Council members, plus the Secretary General spoke at the beginning. I, frankly, missed that because our meeting ran a little over. So we came

-- Secretary Rice occupied the chair and we -- the President arrived probably ten minutes into the meeting. So we missed Secretary Ban's presentation. And then at the end, they had the Secretary General of the AU, Mr. Konar , make a presentation, as well.

But I -- you can look at the speeches that they all made and what they focused on, but I'd say a great part of it was how to move peacekeeping capacity into Africa to -- both how do you deal with conflicts that are already underway -- the President spoke very strongly about Darfur and congratulated that there's finally been some progress in terms of getting the U.N. authorization for a peacekeeping force in Darfur, and then most recently for a EU force to go into Chad that will also help to stabilize that Darfur situation. But there was also discussion of how you can make African institutions more effective to prevent conflict and that kind of thing.

So this is all on-the-record stuff that they did, and you can go back and look at it. But I think the important thing is that that kind of discussion is taking place and you have that -- the leaders of all the Security Council countries really calling attention to what's going on in Africa, and the need to deal with -- one very dramatic presentation by the Belgium -- for example, his adopted daughter is -- was a child soldier who was forced to kill her own uncle, I think he said, by the -- by Kone's people in the LRA, and then pressed into the army. And it was a really miserable story. But -- so you see a lot of different leaders saying, how do we bring an end to some of these practices in Africa and at the same time, strengthen the positive things there.

So it was quite a content-filled afternoon. And I think the President made very clear statements in both places as to where we stood, echoing what he had said this morning in the General Assembly -- quest for freedom.

I'll take questions.

Q: In the Security Council meeting, the President also talked about following up words with action. And it was made clear -- that admonition was also a theme of his speech to the General Assembly, too. So with all of his talk about sanctions and resolutions on different fronts, does the President believe that these actions are actually going to produce change? Is he frustrated at all about perhaps the limitations of the U.N.'s force?

MR. KOZAK: Well, I think it's been -- as the President said this afternoon, that the AU force of 7,000 people trying to police an area as big -- as he said, bigger than France and bigger than Texas, which are two pretty big places, was insufficient to do that. And, yes, there's been a lot of frustration. We passed a resolution a year ago in the Security Council to deploy a force to Africa, and it was effectively blocked by actions of the Sudanese government. Then more recently we've gotten this hybrid force that the Sudanese say they are going to cooperate with.

And I think the President's -- it's those actions that he's talking about. We're pretty confident that the kind of sizeable, robust force that's authorized by that latest resolution will have an impact on calming the situation, and with this, an intensified political effort, as well.

But it's turning those resolutions into action, which means getting forces saddled up, getting the Sudanese to give them permission to enter the country and so on. And there's a lot going on at this point, but I think what you were seeing there was both a little bit of frustration over the past and trying to keep everybody's nose to the grindstone that it not slide off again. But there have been, I think what he was saying, is encouraging developments there with the two resolutions, and now this EU force going into Chad will also help. So it's going to take a lot of effort, but those are some significant efforts. And that's a change for the good.

Q: Is it the membership of the Human Rights Council that is the problem, at the heart of the problem the President spoke of in his speech?

MR. KOZAK: Well, you can have lots of different analyses of why the Human Rights Council behaves the way it is, but what he was talking about was the results; that the predecessor group, the Commission on Human Rights, which everyone said was discredited, at least used to be able to pass resolutions on calling out countries that did bad things. They weren't able to do it to all the countries that were doing bad things, but at least they were able to do significant numbers. They used to pass resolutions on Cuba, on Belarus. They had a process going on Uzbekistan.

The new commission, or council, has basically not said anything negative about any country, other than Israel. It's a full-time or almost full-time outfit now. It meets three times a year, I believe, rather than once. And all it's done is pass 13 resolutions condemning Israel. So it's -- you can go back and have different analyses as to why that is, but the fact is it's not working. And that's what the President is saying, we've got to put our thinking caps on again -- when we set out to improve the previous commission, we made reforms, and the performance of the new council is far worse than the one we said was discredited. So we need to take a look at that again.

So I think what you're seeing there, though, is the President saying -- when they set up the council there was a provision that said, we will review its workings in five years and make necessary adjustments -- it said within five years. And our action at this point is that we don't need to wait another three years, that two years of this is enough. You can see there's a problem and let's start talking about how to fix it.

Q: Is there anything specific you'd like to see fixed?

MR. KOZAK: That it become effective. I mean, we and others, I suspect, as we get into this dialogue, will have different ideas on how to -- what might work. We had different ideas before. This is why we didn't vote for the thing, is we didn't think that they had built in enough safeguards. And I think we feel like we were vindicated, that it was not a prophesy that we really wanted to have come to pass.

But there's different ways of cutting it, and I wouldn't want to try to prescribe any here now. It's -- what he's trying to do is get people to say, we need to start talking about this again, and then we'll try to get people coming up with creative ideas and see if there's a consensus we can build on that will allow for some change.

Q: One quick other question about tomorrow. Could you give us a little flavor to why the President is meeting with President Karzai? Is there a specific issue at the top of the agenda? Is it a follow-up to the Camp David meeting?

MR. KOZAK: I think it's they tend to get together when they're able to. President Karzai, as I mentioned, was in the democracy roundtable this afternoon and had some good things. But there's just a lot on the agenda between the two countries. We're cooperating on a whole range of fronts. So I don't think -- I'm not the area expert, but I don't think there was any particular issue that generated it. It was just they were both going to be there, let's get together and talk.

Q: Do you have a reaction to the Cuban Foreign Minister walking out during the President's speech? He was highly insulted, apparently.

MR. KOZAK: I used to be the head of our interest section in Havana, and at the risk of personalizing it, I will say the Cubans know how to dish it out, but they don't know how to take it. What we said wasn't particularly insulting, but they --

Q: -- for either one of you -- was there some compelling business that kept the President from the first 10 minutes of the session on Africa?

MR. KOZAK: Yes, it was that the democracy event. People were still speaking and the President didn't want to get up and walk out while they -- so he deployed Secretary Rice over there. And this was -- when we were organizing all of this, the potential conflict --

Q: Secretary Rice said, go ahead and start.

MR. KOZAK: She went and sat in our chair. And actually we had anticipated possible meetings going over in one direction or another, so that was why -- President Sarkozy had said it was important to them that the President be there at the end when he summed up, more than he be there at the beginning. So that was -- that went to our structure. We'd hoped to keep it on time, but we were a little off.

Q: I don't know if this is the right place, but what does the President think of President Musharraf having dozens of activists arrested who oppose his reelection in Pakistan?

MR. KOZAK: I think I would leave that -- I think we had a statement --

MS. PERINO: The embassy did.

MR. KOZAK: Okay, the embassy did. Okay, so we'll refer you to that.

MS. PERINO: We expressed concern --

MR. KOZAK: What we do say -- we want to see a free and fair process in Pakistan, and anything that impedes that is not a good thing.

MS. PERINO: Thank you, Mike.

Anybody have anything else?

Q: There's a Washington Examiner story that says -- using on-the-record quotes from both the President and Josh Bolten -- saying the President is using back channels to send information and strategy on Iraq to Democratic candidates so they don't botch themselves or get themselves out of position on the war and the situation in Iraq. Are those on-the-record quotes correct?

MS. PERINO: I don't know. I didn't sit in on any of the interviews. Let me tell you what I do know in terms of how I know that the President thinks, which is heading into the last 16 months of the administration he realizes that there are going to be -- when you're out on the campaign trail, he knows just as well as anybody else that you're often asked very definitive questions, yes or no answers are demanded, people want to start establishing their policies and their views. And -- for example, one of the things he did on the FISA Court issue, on Terrorist Surveillance Program, is he knows that whoever becomes President next January -- January of '09, that when they sit down in the Oval Office, they are going to realize that that program is necessary. And in order to make it more -- for lack of a better word -- politically acceptable to have such a program that is extremely necessary for our security, as Director Hayden and McConnell have said, he said, well, let's move it to -- let's put it back over in the FISA Court area; we worked with them to do that. And that way, the President felt that anyone who is on the campaign trial, if they were asked about the surveillance program, that they wouldn't have to take such a definitive view on it and be locked into a position before they get into the Oval Office.

And to the extent that he's thinking about long-term needs, to have security -- for our own national security, to have us have a presence there in the Middle East, he is thinking about that. I don't know about back channels, in terms of communications. He has talked about that, somewhat more openly -- obviously, now, increasingly openly. And I think that anyone who will listen, I think that the President and the Vice President would make the case that we need to think very carefully, as you're headed into an election season, where the questions come fast and furious and answers are demanded, and to avoid people locking themselves into too rigid a position. I think that's what the point of those quotes are.

That's all?

Q: Why is he meeting with the superintendent of New York City Schools tomorrow? What's that about?

MS. PERINO: Well, in case you missed it, did you see the National Assessment on Educational Progress scores that came out today? You could take a look back. The President issued a statement -- we issued a statement this morning. Tremendous achievement gains have been made. This is a five-year annual assessment, I believe, that the NAEP -- it's called NAEP,

N-A-E-P -- that looks at testing scores for math and reading for different age groups, and also looks at closing the achievement gap between blacks, whites and Hispanics. And they've had some real success.

And one of the reasons the President wants to meet with him is because Joel Klein, as the superintendent of that district -- they have gotten wonderful reviews and done a very good job of helping those students overcome some challenges, to be one of the best in the country. So the President is going to take some time to meet with him tomorrow.

Q: And can that be open press, instead of closed for the local newspaper?

MS. PERINO: Well, the statement is -- the statement is open. The meeting is closed.

Q: They're going to appear together, you mean?

MS. PERINO: Yes, they will. They'll be together, as well as Secretary Spellings and Mrs. Bush will be there, too.

All right? Yes?

Q: Did the President get a chance to watch the President of Iran's speech this afternoon?

MS. PERINO: I don't think so. I think -- well, you know where the President was. He was pretty busy.

Q: He just got back here -- it was still on.

MS. PERINO: No, I -- I don't know, but I would sincerely doubt it.

Okay, well, I'll see you tomorrow. Bye.

Q: Do you brief at all tomorrow over here?

MS. PERINO: It's going to be tough. I think that we'll try to get someone to read out something, if not here, then on the plane on the way back. And it could be Gordon, your friendly guest briefer.

END 5:53 P.M. EDT

George W. Bush, Press Briefing by NSC Director for Democracy, Human Rights and International Organizations Mike Kozak Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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