Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:10 P.M. EST
MR. MCCLELLAN: Good afternoon. I have a couple of world leader phone calls I'd like to start off with. The President made these calls earlier this morning. The President and President Aznar had a good conversation earlier this morning. President Aznar congratulated the United States on the unanimous United Nations Security Council vote on the Iraq resolution. Both leaders expressed full solidarity in demanding the Iraqi regime disarm. The two leaders underscored that the upcoming NATO summit in Prague will be a major step forward for the Alliance in its new tasks for the 21st century.
The President also spoke with President Arroyo of the Philippines this morning. The two leaders discussed the current situation in the war on terrorism and the President expressed appreciation for President Arroyo's leadership in combating terror in the Philippines, and pledged continued U.S. support for her government's efforts.
Later this afternoon the President will meet with the President of Bolivia, President Sanchez. And following that, the President will participate in a meeting with members of Congress on NATO and his upcoming trip.
A couple more things I'd like to talk about. A little more than a week ago the American people went to the ballot box and said they wanted their elected leaders to work together, Democrats and Republicans alike, to get things done. The President called on Congress to work in a bipartisan way to act on important priorities for the American people. We are encouraged by the tremendous progress Congress is making during this lame duck session, in a very short amount of time, particularly on the top priority of creating a department of homeland security so that we can continue doing a better job of protecting the American people.
Congress also appears to be moving forward on terrorism insurance legislation, with the House scheduled to act on that today. This legislation will put hard-hats back to work, create construction jobs, improve the legal process, and protect taxpayers. And passing this legislation would create hundreds of thousands of jobs, and billions of dollars in new investment, and help with economic security.
Also today, the Senate Judiciary Committee moved forward two of the President's circuit court nominees: Michael McConnell and Dennis Shedd are both extraordinarily well qualified nominees who have been pending since May of last year. And we are very pleased that they have been voted out of committee and are now headed for a floor vote to be confirmed by the Senate. And as the President said, all judicial nominees, now and in the future, deserve consideration by the full Senate. The voice of the entire Senate deserves to be heard.
One item that was unfortunate -- earlier today in the Senate, the Senate refused to take up legislation to address the crisis facing America's charities, legislation the House passed more than a year ago. This legislation would help charities by encouraging more charitable giving. The legislation would help people in need, low-income Americans have a better quality of life and have a better economic shot at making in America. And the President remains committed to reaching out to faith-based organizations, charities and community groups to help people in need. And we will continue working to rally the armies of compassion that exist in communities all across America.
We appreciate the work of Congressman J.C. Watts, Senator Santorum and Senator Lieberman on this initiative. They have worked tirelessly to move it forward. But again, we have made some important progress on other initiatives. And the President is pleased that Republicans and Democrats, together, are moving to get things done for the American people.
And with that I will be glad to take your questions.
Q: Scott, the Senate homeland security debate began again in the Senate this afternoon. And Senator Daschle and, just shortly, Senators Schumer and Clinton are again criticizing the administration for not supporting an independent commission to investigate the events of 9/11. Any reaction?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, we would disagree with that characterization. The administration -- the President strongly supports a bipartisan commission to expand on the work that has already been done by our intelligence committees and look at a broad range of issues. The President believes that's important. We are continuing to work closely with Congress. We've had discussions over the last few days since they've been back in town. We'll continue to talk with them, and we hope we can resolve the remaining issues.
Q: Will the President support the move to eliminate the commission from the bill of creating the department of homeland security?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, as you know, that currently is not a part of the legislation. The President made it clear that it's important --
Q: It was.
MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, there are different versions in the House and Senate, if that's what you're referring to. But the President believes the number one priority for unfinished business is to pass the department of homeland security so that we can better protect the American people. But, at the same time, he remains committed to a strong bipartisan commission. And there are a couple of issues that have been outstanding that have not been resolved. We're going to continue working with Congress to resolve those and get this moving and up and running as quickly as possible.
Q: So he's happy to see the department of homeland security created without a provision in it creating this commission?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, again, that legislation -- the legislation is still being debated. But we're pleased that they're moving forward on creating the department of homeland security. We also want Congress -- we want to continue to work with Congress on a strong bipartisan 9/11 commission.
Q: If I could just follow up on something I asked this morning. The Israeli army has been in Nablus now in what is a major incursion after another incursion into Jenin. And we haven't heard a word from the President on this. Last spring he was out in the Rose Garden demanding Israelis pull out of those areas. Has he just given up trying to influence the Sharon government?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Terry, I think the President's views are very clear, as you pointed out, in the June 24th speech. He's been working on this, working on the road map he has outlined to get us to two states living side by side in peace. And the President remains committed to that. But the President's views are very well-known and oftentimes, we receive questions from you and others. And we've made our position very well-known when asked. I made it known earlier, when you asked me about it, stated the President's views. And I think his views are pretty clear to everybody, both here and in the region.
Q: But since a road map is dead letter between Palestinians and Israelis, not going anywhere, and this is an issue that requires presidential leadership, it seems pretty clear, and there isn't any.
MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, I disagree. Sometimes in the region you take two steps forward and one step back. But we can't lose sight of the end goal, and that is two states, living side by side in peace. We're going to continue working on the road map, working with all parties in the region to implement that road map. It's important, it's important to the region, it's important to security and stability.
Q: Senator Daschle was expressing doubts about progress in the war on terrorism, Scott. How do you respond to him?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, first of all, I think the American people recognize that the war on terrorism is not -- it is a long war. There are thousands of killers, in over 60 countries, that hide and run, that want to continue to carry out their evil acts not only America, but on our friends and allies, and the international community.
And the President is patient. The President knows that this is a long war. But we are making tremendous progress. There is a global coalition of more than 90 countries in this war against terrorism working to find, to hunt down and bring those terrorists to justice, wherever they are. And so we've got a great global coalition across the globe.
I would add that we are also, not only on the diplomatic front, working closely together, on the terrorist financing front there are some 167 countries that are blocking terrorist assets; $113.5 million in terrorist assets have been frozen worldwide in over 500 accounts -- over $35 million in the United States, and over $78 million overseas. So the flow of terrorist money through a number of funding pipelines has been cut.
I would also point out, on the military side, that we have more than 60,000 troops deployed around the world against terrorism, 9,000 just in Afghanistan, others in the Philippines and Georgia and Yemen, to mention a few. More than 30 nations have deployed more than 14,000 troops in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
So we're making tremendous amount of progress. And on the law enforcement front, you've heard a number of announcements, both here and across the world, from law enforcement officials, of people that we are tracking down and bringing to justice. So we're pleased with the progress that's being made. But this is going to be a long war. And we will continue to wage it with our global coalition.
Q: Do you envision that one day it will be over, or is it going to be --
MR. MCCLELLAN: Let me come back to the front row, and we'll get back there in a minute.
Q: Despite all that, Osama bin Laden, the man who masterminded the killings of 3,000 Americans is still on the loose. Isn't that frustrating? I never hear anybody in the White House express frustration with the fact that bin Laden is still apparently on the loose.
MR. MCCLELLAN: Ron, this war has always been about more than one man, and it will continue to be --
Q: But I'm asking about this one man. Is there frustration that the guy who masterminded the killings of 3,000 Americans is still taunting us?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Let me put it this way. If Osama bin Laden is alive, we know he's on the run. We have dismantled his terrorist network. And we are going to continue tracking down these trained killers and their leaders and their networks, wherever they are, in bringing these people to justice. They can hide and they can run. But we will not stop in pursuing them and bringing them to justice.
Q: Scott, the editorial in the leading Iraqi newspaper today is reaching out to French -- France, China and Russia. Do you expect that Saddam is going to try to split the U.N. Security Council and play for time?
MR. MCCLELLAN: I have never tried to predict what he might do. But one thing I know he better not do is that -- and that is play games. He better not go back to his history of cheat and retreat and deceive and deny and playing rope-a-dope in the desert with inspectors. Saddam Hussein needs to cooperate and he needs to comply. And he needs to move to disarm. We are very serious about this. I think that's very clear. And the international community is speaking with one voice. The United States is speaking with one voice. And this is about disarmament and he better not start playing games.
Q: Let me just go back to what Randall was asking. Despite all of the progress that you've made in the war on terror, is Senator Daschle right in his characterization that it's difficult to say that we're winning the war on terror?
MR. MCCLELLAN: What was his characterization?
Q: That it's difficult to say that we're winning -- it may be difficult to say that we're winning the war on terrorism.
MR. MCCLELLAN: I just think I addressed that with the tremendous progress we are making. And I think you look back -- you look back, and what we have done in Afghanistan, we have removed the repressive Taliban regime from power. We have chased down members of al Qaeda and brought them to justice. They are on the run. And they will try to run and they will try to hide, but we will continue to pursue them. So we're making a tremendous amount of progress in winning the war on terrorism. And we will continue to work with our coalition partners -- over 90 countries -- to bring these people to justice and defeat and disrupt these networks.
Q: Just to clarify one thing -- you said two questions ago that we have dismantled his terrorist network. In the past, I've only heard you talk about disrupting the terrorist network. What's the difference?
MR. MCCLELLAN: I think we have disrupted, we have dismantled the terrorist -- his terrorist network. There are cells, as you know, in some 60 countries. We've used those words many a time about disrupting and dismantling. And we're continuing to work to defeat these networks, wherever they exist.
Q: Second question, Mr. ElBaradei, the head of the IEA, is in town. He was speaking earlier this morning and said that the standard that he would use for determining material breach would not be, say, a single error in the Iraqi declaration, but rather a pattern of obstruction or of errors. Does that sound roughly to you like what the White House has in mind?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Our view is zero tolerance when it comes to complying and cooperating with this resolution. And that continues to be our view. And it spells clearly out in the resolution what the regime in Iraq needs to do to disarm. And if they start playing games, the resolution calls for discussions to be had with the Security Council. If there are violations, they'll be reported back to the Security Council. But that does not preclude if the Security Council or the United Nations does not take action, the United States, working with like-minded nations, acting to disarm Saddam Hussein.
But, again, the President seeks a peaceful resolution. War is a last resort. But the choice is Saddam Hussein's. And we don't want any game playing, and we've made that abundantly clear. And it is his choice; he needs to follow through.
Q: Scott, two quick questions. One, tonight Kasi will be executed in connection with the CIA shootings. But it is weird that the terrorist connection with Osama bin Laden, that his government in Pakistan, General Musharraf's government is asking for mercy, a government which has been sponsoring and harboring terrorism. If President Bush has received any request for mercy from the government of General Musharraf or anybody?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Goyle, let me just say this. Our thoughts, first of all, our thoughts and prayers go to the families of the victims. Secondly, this is a criminal justice matter and the decision of the jury is being carried out, and that's really all I have to say about it at this point.
Q: And second, if you can confirm a letter to India Globe written by Congressman Gary Ackerman to President Bush in connection with the Pakistan and North Korea connection, in which he said there's very serious -- in the administration because it should be treated the way we are treating Saddam Hussein because there might be, like you said yesterday, Saddam Hussein is trying to get nuclear weapons -- connection with General Musharraf, that he called on the administration to stop the aid to Pakistan in connection with what Pakistan has been doing as recently as three months ago, not before 9/11. Yesterday you said that --
MR. MCCLELLAN: Do we have a question?
Q: The question is, yesterday you said that General Powell spoke to him and he made all the pledges. But question is now. We're not talking the past, we're talking last month, not before 9/11 but after 9/11. Anything, any country, anybody who harbors terrorism or sponsoring terrorism after 9/11 will be treated as a country --
MR. MCCLELLAN: I understand. I think I addressed this fully yesterday. I think Secretary Powell has addressed it and that's where things stand.
Q: John Poindexter is coming up with a program to computerize data through the Defense Department which would require commercial transactions like bank deposits, websites, along with government information -- that would be driver's license, documents of that nature -- there are critics, including William Safire, who are saying this goes beyond the USA Patriotic Act, that this is not -- this is Orwellian, if you would. Is there any response to the critics -- certain sense that the standard has change in terms of privacy that Americans have for the sake of national security?
MR. MCCLELLAN: I've seen the report you're talking about. I've not been informed about any of the information. I think you need to direct your question to the Pentagon.
Q: Does the President support total information awareness through data mining?
MR. MCCLELLAN: I've seen the reports, but I think you need to talk to the Pentagon. This is a question related to something that the Pentagon may be looking at, so I would refer you to the Pentagon. That's what I have at this point.
Q: You say that if Osama bin Laden is alive that you know that he's on the run. How do you know he's on the run? How can you possibly know what he's doing if you don't know whether or not he's dead or alive? If he's making these audio tapes, taunting the administration --
MR. MCCLELLAN: I think it's pretty clear to most people that they know -- that if he is alive he is on the run. The operations -- Operation Enduring Freedom that we began in Afghanistan, that's what I go back to about dismantling terrorist network and disrupting their network. That has been a significant accomplishment in the war on terrorism. And if he is alive, I assure you he is on the run and he is hiding.
Q: What evidence do you have at this point that that's true?
MR. MCCLELLAN: That is his pattern. That is his past history, too.
Q: Intelligence officials now point to what they call increased chatter in the system by potential terrorists, a level that is similar to that before 9/11. One, what do you have to say about that? And two, is there any consideration being given to raising the threat level?
MR. MCCLELLAN: I appreciate you bringing that up. A lot o you -- there has been a lot of attention focused on the current threat situation, and some of you have been asking me about that. While there is no plan at this time to raise the threat level, we do remain concerned about recent intelligence reporting, as well as the audio tape received earlier this week, no matter whose voice it is that is on that audio tape.
Because of this concern, federal agencies are taking a variety of additional steps to ramp up our protection and prevention measures, as well as communicating with state and local law enforcement and the private sector to inform them of our assessment of the latest information.
If you'll recall, in early October, there was a release of tapes recorded by bin Laden, as well as Zawahiri, and increased intelligence reporting against our critical infrastructure, transportation systems, and the American people and our friends and allies. That led us to issue several public warnings about the heightened possibility of either a large-scale or several small-scale attacks on the United States at home or against our interests abroad. At that time, we began a coordinated effort among all levels of the government and the private sector to reduce our vulnerability and increase our preparedness levels, based on the new threat information. And that information has not stopped and will be ongoing for the foreseeable future.
Q: So at the moment you're saying -- you're proceeding on the basis of the notices that go among governmental agencies and to particular sectors of the economy?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, you asked about the threat level. I would remind you that the threat level remains at the elevated level, which means the possibility of significant attack. And that threat level has not changed. But while we are not raising the threat level, we are taking additional precautions to meet the threats.
So -- and as the President pointed out yesterday, the most recent audio tape, we take it very seriously when someone threatens the international community and threatens the world. And we are going to take the steps to be prepared.
Q: One other question for you. Maura Hardy, who is the administration's nominee to head Consular Affairs at State, is up for confirmation, perhaps this week, perhaps later. Some Republicans are apparently trying to either delay or block the vote. Does the administration have any feelings about what is being done to her?
MR. MCCLELLAN: I don't have information on that specific nominee, but I did make some remarks about moving forward on our nominees, that there are a number that are being held up. And we hope the Senate will move forward on the nominees.
Q: Scott, the President has said he wants to fill the SEC chairmanship quickly. Does he want to make an announcement before he leaves for Europe?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, I don't think we ever speculate about the timing of personnel announcements or put artificial deadlines out there. That is an important position. And we're just not going to speculate about the decision or the timing of the decision. The President said he wants to move as quickly as possible. I think our personnel office understands that, as well. So we are moving as quickly as possible. When the President has something to announce, then he will do so at that time.
Q: Is the White House trying to recruit Assistant Attorney General Michael Chertoff for the job?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, now that's getting into speculation, and I think I just addressed that. We went through this earlier this morning with some others, and we just simply don't speculate on personnel.
Q: Scott, earlier you said that there's still some issues that remain on the 9/11 commission. Several families -- several vocal families of some of the victims say that they had a deal, and that's what's happening right now is essentially a deal-breaker. But in particular, they go on to say that the White House right now is actively trying to recruit less vocal victims' families to support a watered-down version of a commission. Could I just get your comment, either one way or the other whether that is, in fact, true, that the White House is trying to reach out to some of the families at this point?
MR. MCCLELLAN: I disagree with the characterization or the premise of what you're saying. We have been working not only with members of Congress, as I pointed out, but we've been working closely with family members, as well, who want to see a strong bipartisan commission. It's important to look at a broad range of issues related to the September 11th attacks. And we will continue talking with members of Congress. We will continue talking with the families of victims, as well, so that we can move this forward. We want to get this going as quickly as possible. And the President remains firmly committed to a strong bipartisan commission.
Q: Just to make sure I understand, so you're saying that the passage of the House bill yesterday is not tantamount to a deal-breaker, in your opinion?
MR. MCCLELLAN: The passage of the department of homeland security bill?
Q: Exactly. The fact that the commission was stripped from it.
MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, we're continuing to work with members to get this done. There are other ways to get that commission up and running.
Q: If I can follow up, because that brings up a very good point.
MR. MCCLELLAN: Last one.
Q: Senators Lieberman and McCain have introduced an amendment in the Senate that would restore the 9/11 commission to the homeland security legislation. Does the White House support that?
MR. MCCLELLAN: As I said, there are other ways to get it down. But there are still some remaining issues that need to be resolved. We want to resolve those issues and move forward on this as quickly as possible. We think we can get this up and running as quickly as possible. But first, we need to resolve these issues that will make sure that this is a truly bipartisan commission.
Q: Scott, I would like to talk a little bit about how we define winning the war on terrorism. Shortly after the attacks last year, the President said his goal was to dismantle terrorist organizations that have global reach. Now, obviously the Taliban were taken out. That was a government. But we have a report from the U.N. in August saying that al Qaeda has, in fact, relocated, but still poses a very serious and dangerous threat, that they're well-funded and are prepared to strike at any time. You say that they have been dismantled and disrupted, but we have warnings from foreign governments and even from our own government that, in fact, they remain a serious and viable threat. Do we define winning the war on terrorism essentially by having so far prevented any further attacks on the U.S.? Because quite clearly, al Qaeda and lots of other groups that have global reach have not, in any way, been taken out of the ball game?
MR. MCCLELLAN: David, I think I just look at it a different way and go back to what we've said from day one, that this war will be a long war, that -- and as we're talking about threat levels and everything else, I think it's important to keep in mind that the best way to protect the American people -- not only do we have to secure the homeland, but the best way to protect the American people is to go after these terrorist networks and their leaders wherever they are and bring them to justice, and that's what we are doing.
As I mentioned, we knew from the beginning that this was going to be a long war, but the President is a patient person, and he will continue to lead this global coalition in winning the war on terrorism. And we've made a tremendous amount of progress, as I pointed out. But we're going to continue working with our global coalition until we've disrupted and defeated these terrorist networks and these trained killers in over 60 countries.
Q: Scott, could you tell us about this initiative which I guess is going to be published in the Federal Register later today, to subject something like half the civilian federal work force to competition? What's the idea?
MR. MCCLELLAN: The proposal that you referenced is part of the President's plan to make government more efficient and more effective, and the proposal is being put forth today would open certain non-core government functions to competition. As a result, we will save taxpayer money and make government more efficient. Public/private competitions save in excess of 30 percent on each competition according to various reports.
Q: Presumably, though, you realize that you're going to get a fight from the unions on this. Does the President think that the election gave him a mandate to pick a fight with the unions?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, I think that the President from day one has talked about making government more efficient and more effective and making government work better for the American people. We'll always remain committed to those principles.
You might want to walk out of here and go jump on -- there is, I believe, a conference call briefing by OMB right now on this. You might get a little bit more news there.
Q: Well, that's fine if it were on tape, but it's not. (Laughter.) Forgive me, but does the President just basically not care what the unions feel about this?
MR. MCCLELLAN: No, of course, we do. We welcome the input of people on all issues from across the spectrum.
Q: Scott, the Weekly Standard quotes the State Department spokesman as saying on March the 8th of this year, "We've made clear that actions like targeted killings need to be halted now." And my question, is that State Department statement in accordance with Bush policy, or was it wrong, and should the State Department retract and apologize? And I have a follow-up.
MR. MCCLELLAN: Gosh, Les, I'd have to go back and look at the specific statement before I would want to do that. I would want to do that before I jump into that.
Q: When our Predator aircraft targeted a Hellfire missile that killed al Qaeda leader Abu Ali in Yemen, was that acceptable for us to do it, but not acceptable for Israel to do it?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Les, I think that this issue was addressed last week and was addressed on the weekend shows, as well, by administration officials. I don't think I have anything to add to it.
Q: I'd love to hear from you, as an administration official -- what's the story here? Is the State Department wrong, or is this -- what is our policy? I'd like to hear it from you.
MR. MCCLELLAN: The war on terror, as we've been talking about, is being fought on many fronts. And the President has directed our government to work to help us track down the killers and trained terrorists all across the globe.
Q: And give them hellfire. But the Israelis, we don't want them to do it, is that right?
MR. MCCLELLAN: I'm not getting into discussions. I'm telling you --
Q: -- don't want a discussion.
MR. MCCLELLAN: I'm not getting into discussions on operational issues that we've previously addressed, as well.
Q: It's been reported that the National Security Council has decided that the fuel oil supplies to North Korea should be cut off after this last shipment. How is this sitting with our allies? Have we discussed this with Japan and South Korea? And if so, what are we doing to bring them along on this?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, first of all, there is a board meeting of KEDO going on right now -- the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization -- and they are talking about this issue that you bring up. And I think we need to wait to let them have their meetings before -- I've seen news reports, but then there will be more to say at that point.
And I would go back, however, to the points that we have made. North Korea needs to understand that this is not business as usual. They need to dismantle their nuclear weapons program. This is a serious issue and we are continuing to work toward a peaceful resolution with our friends and allies in the region.
Q: -- the idea of turning off the spigot as an indication of our pique with maybe some recalcitrance on their part?
MR. MCCLELLAN: I'm sorry, say that last part again?
Q: The fact that we now appear ready to turn off the oil spigot, is that an indication that we're getting kind of fed up with their unwillingness?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Without getting into something that may or may not be announced later, I think I made it clear this is not business as usual. But at the same time, we are considering together what the next steps are
to take. So when there's something more to say on that, it will be after the KEDO meeting.
Q: Just a couple of followups. First, on the Pitt nomination you said you're going to work as quickly as possible and you don't want to speculate about any personnel matters. But is it at least safe to say that you're going to do it faster than you did Pitt's nomination first time around?
And the secondly, the war on terrorism, you said it's going to be a long war. But do you envision someday seeing an end of that war, or is it going to be a constant struggle, winning --
MR. MCCLELLAN: On the first question, again, I'm just not going to speculate on personnel matters. We never do. And those are decisions that the President will make, and he will announce when he's ready to do so. But we are moving as quickly as possible.
The second part of that, on the war on terrorism, what was your question?
Q: Do you envision someday saying it's won? Or is it going to be a constant struggle where you say, we're winning, we're making progress, you're in a better situation than you were before --
MR. MCCLELLAN: Let me put it this way. As long as there are trained killers, wherever they are, trying to harm America, harm Americans, we will continue waging this war.
Q: Scott, I also have two follow-ups. First of all, on this war against terrorism, has any progress at all been made on public diplomacy, or is the White House just giving up on trying to win hearts and minds when people hate the United States?
MR. MCCLELLAN: No, actually, I think I referenced some of our diplomatic efforts and I talked about how we have a global coalition of 90 other countries, more than 90 other countries, I might add. But are you talking about the humanitarian -- humanitarian assistance we're providing, the reconstruction assistance?
Q: Trying to get people to understand America and not hate us. So, I mean, we talk about it every once in a while. I haven't heard any reference to it for ages, though.
MR. MCCLELLAN: Let me point out what we're doing on the humanitarian front, as well, because there are many fronts to this war on terrorism. Humanitarian aid to Afghanistan started on day one of the war with 37,000 humanitarian daily rations air-dropped while those attacks were underway, and more than 575,000 metric tons of food been delivered since the start of the war. We're providing -- Secretary Thompson has been in the region to work on health care initiatives with people of Afghanistan. And we are undertaking a number of reconstruction projects, 211 infrastructure projects in 10 provinces in Afghanistan, training people for an Afghan national army; and rebuilding -- as we've talked about -- roads and bridges and highways.
We had a statement on that earlier in the week. So there's a lot we're doing on the humanitarian front. There's also a lot we're doing about promoting freedom. Let's not forget that we liberated the people of Afghanistan from the repressive Taliban regime, and that is something we will continue to promote.
Q: I want to follow up on the Israel question. Has the White House condemned the latest terrorist action against the Israelis?
MR. MCCLELLAN: We condemn all terrorist attacks against Israel. And we've pointed out that Israel has the right to defend herself, as they do so, and as I've mentioned, they need to keep in mind the consequences of actions they do take, as we are also working on the road map toward two states living side by side in peace.
Q: Scott, when the President goes to the NATO summit in Prague next week, how much time will he spend trying to line up alliance support for a possible coalition against Iraq?
MR. MCCLELLAN: NATO -- we are actually -- and I'm glad you brought that up. We are going to have a briefer tomorrow to talk more specifically about the upcoming trip and what we hope to accomplish, and walk you through some of the meetings and some of the discussions that will take place. So I don't want to jump ahead of the briefer for tomorrow. Save something for tomorrow.
But as we do go on to NATO, we continue to work to strengthen our efforts to -- and both domestically and internationally for a robust enlargement of NATO, as well as look at transforming NATO to meet the threats of the 21st century.
Q: Without restating why it's a good policy, could you just tell 850,000 federal employees around the country whether or not their jobs now are at risk?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Whether their jobs are what? I'm sorry.
Q: Are at risk. Are they about -- are they in danger of losing their jobs under this proposal?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Again, I think I go back to what I pointed about -- what the proposal does is simply open it up, these non-core jobs open it up to competition.
Q: -- for those 850,000 people?
MR. MCCLELLAN: If the government agency can provide the best service in the most cost-effective manner, then the government agency is poised to win that contract. And this goes back to some core principles of governing and how we approach governing. And I think the American taxpayer and the American people appreciate that.
Q: Have you, in effect, put several hundred thousand federal employees on notice that their jobs are now up for bid?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, what we're trying to do is make government work better for the American taxpayer.
Q: Scott, I just wanted to ask you, follow up on the Catholic bishops and a couple of actions they took. One was, they raised questions about whether we should -- there was justification for preemptive action against Iraq without further evidence, I wonder if the White House has any comment on their statement.
MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, I think the United States and the international community were all speaking with one voice when it comes to the importance of disarming Saddam Hussein. This threat is real, and it must be addressed. The risk of inaction is too great. So we are going to continue work with the United Nations and work with our friends and allies to disarm Saddam Hussein. It's about protecting not only America, but the region and the world from the risks that he poses.
Q: I wanted to ask you on their new policy about priests whether the President or the White House feels that that will rebuild some of the public support behind the church that the President discussed with the Pope when he was in Vatican City.
MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, I think it is important that the Catholic Church address this issue, and they are working to do that. The President raised his concerns about this issue in a visit with the Pope, in fact.
Q: On Cyprus, is there any readout on the Cyprus issue from yesterday's meeting between President Bush and the U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan here at the White House?
MR. MCCLELLAN: What about it?
Q: Cyprus, do you have anything?
MR. MCCLELLAN: I believe it was discussed. I'll see if I can get you more of a readout on that.
Q: -- by Kofi Annan yesterday that it was discussed extensively.
MR. MCCLELLAN: That's why I said, I believe it was discussed. I'll see if I can get you more of a readout. We'll get you some information on that.
Q: Scott, during the discussions on the U.N. resolution and Iraq last week, Mexico opened the possibility of lifting the sanctions against Iraq. Would that be acceptable by the United States, but just as a -- some sort of a -- for Iraq to comply with international community. Would that be acceptable by the United States?
MR. MCCLELLAN: What we're focused on is disarmament, and the disarmament of the Iraqi regime of weapons of mass destruction. That's what we're working with the international community to achieve. So that's where our focus is.
Q: Just to follow up, Scott -- France and Mexico continue to oppose any unilateral action against Iraq on behalf of the United States and Britain. Are you guys continuing to talk with your allies and with the Security Council members?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Look, this is all a choice that Saddam Hussein has to make. We seek a peaceful resolution, but the choice is his. But if he does not disarm peacefully and voluntarily, then we are prepared to work with our friends and allies, like-minded nations who understand the importance of disarming Saddam Hussein and reducing this risk that he poses.
Q: -- be an immediate attack?
MR. MCCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q: What will be the trigger for an immediate attack?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, I've gone back through this, and I think the statements I made earlier today address that, that they're addressed in the resolution, as well. In terms of if there are violations, it goes back to the Security Council. That's what the resolution spells out -- for the Security Council to determine serious consequences that follow. But it does not preclude the United States and our friends from acting if we need to. And we will if we need to. But this is a choice of Saddam Hussein -- this is the choice of Saddam Hussein to make.
Q: Ari -- I'm sorry. Scott.
MR. MCCLELLAN: With hair.
Q: I got your attention. (Laughter.)
Q: Oh, that's on the record. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCLELLAN: I'm -- he put it on the record last week, or a couple weeks ago. He just didn't put it on camera.
Q: I like your new 'do. On the growth package, Treasury Secretary O'Neill yesterday indicated that he's reviewing several stimulus options, including accelerating the marriage penalty and child-care tax credit. Are those two provisions part of the growth package the President wants to announce?
MR. MCCLELLAN: You're not asking me to speculate about something the President hasn't announced. Surely.
Q: I'm asking you to confirm what Secretary O'Neill said yesterday.
MR. MCCLELLAN: Again, the President is working on a new growth and economic package, a new growth and jobs package to lay out and pass early next year. And he's working with Congress on that. We're looking at additional ideas. The President also would remind Congress that they need to move forward on this terrorism insurance. They appear to be doing that and we're encouraged. And we hope they will continue working together to get this passed. There are also other initiatives that he's outlined that are important to get done, such as making the tax cuts permanent.
Let me go all the way to the back.
Q: Thank you, Scott. If the North Koreans are not listening or not agree to any dialogue with the United States, does the United States exert aggressive pressure on North Korea?
MR. MCCLELLAN: I'm sorry, what was the question about North Korea? I didn't get the first part of your question.
Q: If North Korea is not listening or not agree any dialogue with the United States, does the United States assert any aggressive pressure on North Korea?
MR. MCCLELLAN: We need to continue. We are -- continue to work to keep maximum pressure on North Korea with our friends and others in the region. That's what's going on right now. North Korea needs to understand the importance of dismantling its nuclear weapons program, and we're working through diplomatic channels to achieve a peaceful resolution.
END 1:55 P.M. EST
Scott McClellan, Press Briefing by Scott McClellan Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/272143