Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
1:35 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCLELLAN: Good afternoon. I only have one announcement today. At 3:15 p.m., here in the press briefing room, a senior administration official will give a readout on the meeting between President Bush and President Mubarak. It will be a background briefing.
And with that, I am happy to take questions.
Q:Scott, does the President have a reaction to the fact that the Chinese have apparently boarded the spy plane?
MR. MCCLELLAN: I don't have any information on that.
Q:Well, U.S. officials say it happened, so does the President not know that that's the case or --
MR. MCCLELLAN: I'm not aware of that.
Q:Scott, the President said further, when he talked about the matter, he referred to further tampering, which indicated that he knew something had happened.
MS. COUNTRYMAN: No, he said, further damage.
MS. COUNTRYMAN: He said, further damage.
Q:No, he said, further tampering. Scott, has the plane been tampered with? Or, to what extent has the plane been tampered with?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, I think the President's statement was very clear.
Q:No, it wasn't, Scott. He didn't even address this.
MR. MCCLELLAN: Again, I have no information on whether or not the plane has been boarded by Chinese officials.
Q:Is the accident clearly characterize as an accident or as a result of an attack?
MR. MCCLELLAN: We consider it a midair accident.
MR. MCCLELLAN: Yes, accident; that's correct.
Q:I'm sorry, do you not have information about whether the plane was boarded, or does the United States not have information about whether the plane was boarded?
MR. MCCLELLAN: I do not have that information.
Q:You're not saying it doesn't exist, you just don't have it?
MR. MCCLELLAN: I have no information to that effect. So I think I've addressed it. I think I've addressed it, though.
Q:But you're not disputing it?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, I don't know where your reports are coming from. I'd refer you to State Department or the Pentagon on that.
Q:Well, can't we get some reaction from the President on this?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, again, I think what he said earlier was that it's very troubling by the lack of speed in allowing us the diplomatic access to the crew.
Q:That's not the issue, Scott.
MR. MCCLELLAN: I understand that, but I think I addressed it --
Q:No, you haven't.
MR. MCCLELLAN: -- that I have no information about what you're referring to.
Q:Did the plane fly on a special mission? It was reported it was a routine flight.
MR. McCLELLAN: This is a routine mission over international airspace, as we indicated earlier.
Q:Scott, in any of the conversations that the administration has had with Chinese officials, have they indicated that the Chinese response to this -- I don't want to call it a foreign policy crisis, but foreign policy challenge -- may impact the U.S. decision to sell four Arleigh Burke class destroyers to Taiwan?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, on the question of arms sales to Taiwan, no decision has been made at this point. We do --
Q:I understand that. But the question was, have you indicated to the Chinese that how they respond to this may have some influence on the President's decision to sell those --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think right now the focus is on getting access to the crew. And that's the focus, and that's the issue we're focused on right now, immediate access to the crew.
Q:Right. But in those conversations, has anybody from the administration said to the Chinese, how you respond to this, how quickly you give us access to the crew, how quickly you let the crew go may have some impact on our decision to sell these arms to Taiwan?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'll see if I can find out more for you.
Q:Scott, have the Chinese at least given some indication of the condition of all the Americans?
MR. McCLELLAN: The Chinese government has indicated that the crew is safe. And they have indicated that they are providing assistance to the crew.
Q:Scott, does the United States have an obligation toward the Chinese, who was downed, reparations or apology or anything of that sort?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think the President addressed that in his statement. He said that -- at the end of his statement this morning, he said we have offered to provide search and rescue assistance to help the Chinese government locate the missing aircraft and the pilot, as well.
Q:Is there an obligation on the part of the United States?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we've offered our assistance, so --
Q:Did they ever accept the offer?
MS. COUNTRYMAN: No, they have not.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, they have not.
Q:Scott, this morning you said the President was fully engaged. He met with his Secretary of State. He's met with his Defense Secretary. And, yet, you, speaking for him, cannot tell us whether he has any knowledge or you have knowledge of whether the plane has been boarded. They report to the President. He's been meeting with them all day. Unless he's fully engaged or not, don't you know whether the plane has been boarded?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, again, I'd refer you to the State Department. I've addressed the question, and if I have more information for you I'll give it to you later.
Q:The State Department doesn't have any information. I just came back from the briefing, and they don't have information on this either.
MR. MCCLELLAN: I'm sorry, on the what?
Q:Richard Boucher just answered several questions on this very issue, and he didn't have much information.
MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, if we have more information to provide, we will, and I'll be glad to check on it.
Q:Has the Chinese government indicated that consular officials would be given access to the detained crew members by a certain time -- like, by tomorrow? Is that accurate? Is that good enough?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Actually -- well, it's still troubling by the lack of speed of their response. They have indicated, Chinese officials told Ambassador Preuher that, late morning D.C. time, that consular officials may have access late Tuesday night.
Q:May or will?
MR. MCCLELLAN: That they may have access late Tuesday night.
Q:Have they said why they haven't given us access up to this point? Have they give us a reason why?
MR. MCCLELLAN: I'd refer you to -- I mean, State Department just had a briefing.
Q:Tuesday night there, or here?
MR. MCCLELLAN: That's their time, Chinese.
Q:Is that in response to the President's appeal just a little while ago?
MR. MCCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q:Is that in response to what the President -- his statement a few minutes ago, this commitment to have access Tuesday night?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, again, we find it very troubling about the lack of speed in responding, and we continue to press for prompt access -- that is, as early as possible -- without any further delay.
Q:Scott, we're trying to get the sequence of events. Did the notification that consular officials could see them by late Tuesday night their time, did that notification come after the President's statement here, do you know? We're just trying to establish a sequence of events.
MS. COUNTRYMAN: It was around the same time frame.
MR. MCCLELLAN: I'll try and get you a readout on that afterwards.
Q:So they're saying we may not -- if we see them at all, it won't be for another 20 hours?
MR. MCCLELLAN: That's the indication from the Chinese government.
Q:What have we said back to them?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, we continue to express what the President said earlier today, that we would like immediate access to the crew.
Q:So the President of the United States tells China he wants immediate access and they say, well, maybe you'll get it in 20 hours?
MR. MCCLELLAN: We're continuing to talk with Chinese officials, both in Washington and Beijing. And we're continuing to move for that to happen as quickly as possible.
Q:Scott, for the President to be saying that he's troubled about this time line, is there a time line that the White House and State Department is setting for the return of the plane, as well as seeing its crew members?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, to have access to the crew as quickly as possible, without any further delay. We've made that clear. They have indicated that the crew is safe. But our first priority is the crew, and the aircraft, as well.
Q:Is there a time frame in this quickness? Is the immediacy a time frame?
MR. MCCLELLAN: We're discussing that right now with Chinese officials, and saying that we would like that access as quickly as possible.
Q:Scott, you just said, though, that you have to the people is most important, but also the plane. If that's true, then what about this report that the plane has already been boarded?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, again, I've already addressed that question.
Q:I know, but wasn't -- part of that concern?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, but I've addressed that question earlier. If we have more information on that, I'll get it to you.
Q:Scott, what's the reading of international law, as regards the plane? Do the Chinese have any right to go on board the plane?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, I think State Department addressed that at the briefing, so I'd refer you to State Department.
Q:So they don't have any right to go on board, we have the right to demand --
MR. MCCLELLAN: The State Department addressed that.
Q:Do the Chinese consider this is a spying mission from the United States to their land, and that's why they act this way?
MR. MCCLELLAN: This was a routine surveillance mission by U.S. Navy aircraft.
Q:Let me follow up and let me reverse the situation for a moment. How would President Bush feel if the Chinese -- if Chinese spy aircraft would be routinely flying just off the shore of San Francisco?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, you're getting into a hypothetical situation.
Q:Yes, but this is --
MR. MCCLELLAN: Both sides have said that this happened 70 miles south of Hainan Island.
Q:I mean if the U.S. does it, then Chinese can do it, too, right? And isn't the President --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not going to get into a hypothetical situation right now.
Q:Isn't the President concerned about anti-American feelings in China?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I think -- he had the meeting with the Vice Premier of China, Qian Qichen, and they had a productive meeting. And both expressed that they would like to strengthen our relations, strengthen that relationship.
Q:Scott, immediate access to the crew or what?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q:I said, you're demanding immediate access to the crew.
MR. McCLELLAN: To the crew, and to the aircraft.
Q:Or what? What's the other shoe?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q:What's the other shoe?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that's what we're continuing to discuss with Chinese officials.
Q:When do you stop discussing and start acting?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, when we have more information for you, I'll get that to you. But we continue to press -- because that's our first priority, is the crew, that we have direct access to them.
Q:You're suggesting that in response to them saying maybe Tuesday night, 20 hours from now, that you continue to talk, and that you're still impatient -- the President is still impatient with the timetable. So should we conclude from that that the response to that was, no, that's not good enough, we need to keep talking?
MR. McCLELLAN: To the response to -- the response to, I'm sorry?
Q:The U.S. has told China, that's not good enough, haven't they? Haven't we told the Chinese, it's not good enough to see them in 20 hours?
MR. McCLELLAN: Absolutely. No, we have indicated immediate access. The President indicated that earlier today, as well.
Q:Scott, the President said that if -- that the Chinese should act promptly, to be consistent with their request for good relations with the United States government. You have said now that you don't consider this action prompt enough. Does that mean that China, from the perspective of the White House, is acting in a way that's inconsistent with good relations with this country?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he indicated earlier that that is inconsistent with standard diplomatic practice; with also what both countries expressed in the meeting recently, which was for better relations.
Q:So what they're doing now is inconsistent with that and, therefore, causing even more problems in these relations?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, it's inconsistent with the standard diplomatic practice.
Q:At the State Department, Richard Boucher was asked whether we knew where the crew was, physically -- whether it was in the plane, on the base, wherever it was. He said he didn't know. Does the White House know where the crew is, physically?
MR. MCCLELLAN: If I have more information, I'll get that to you. But State Department would be --
Q:There are reports that they're in some kind of guest house, what they call a guest house.
MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, what the Chinese government had indicated to us is that they are providing humanitarian assistance to the crew. But that's the information I have at this time.
Q:He didn't ask you where -- the question back here wasn't where they are, he was just asking, does the White House know where they are? I think it's a yes or a no.
MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, the Chinese government has indicated that they're safe and that they're providing humanitarian assistance to them. So I think you can assume from that.
Q:That we know where they are right now? Because --
MR. MCCLELLAN: That the Chinese government is, like I said, providing humanitarian assistance.
Q:Does the White House know where they are right now, physically?
Q:Meaning they've been taken off the plane?
Q:So we don't know?
MR. MCCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q:Meaning they've been taken off the plane?
MR. MCCLELLAN: I'll get back to you on that.
Q:Scott, last week, the President said that U.S. is not threat to China. How about if China is a threat to the U.S., number one. Number two, if Chinese are spying on the U.S.?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Do you have something to bring to my attention?
Q:Well, the President said that U.S. is not threat to China; how about if China is threat to U.S. security?
MR. MCCLELLAN: If China, what?
Q:China is threat to the United States?
Q:Is China a threat to the United States?
Q:It's about the same question, that if they are flying off the shore of San Francisco, do they do that?
MR. MCCLELLAN: I'd refer you to the Defense Department on that question. I'm not aware of any --
Q:What's the explanation for the different interpretation of international law?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Let me come back. Let me go around.
Q:Two questions. Couldn't these missions be conducted by -- or satellite? Do we have to have people on the plane to conduct these dangerous missions?
MR. MCCLELLAN: I think that's a question for the Pentagon. But this is a routine mission that we have been conducting.
Q:And, also, the President said our embassy officials are on the ground. Does that mean they're actually on the island?
MS. COUNTRYMAN: They're on Hainan Island.
MR. MCCLELLAN: Okay, they are there.
Q:Scott, let me put my question in a different way. The President said last week that U.S. is not threat to China. He meant that security threat or military threat. How about if China is threat to the United States, as far as military threat is concerned?
MR. MCCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q:I think what he means is, the U.S. has said that deployment of national missile defense should not be interpreted by China as a threat, right?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Right. That was addressed after the meeting with the Vice Premier. I think that's already previously been addressed.
Q:Can I ask about Condoleezza Rice? Before she became National Security Advisor, she was on the Board of Directors of Chevron Corporation. And Chevron, before she left, named an oil tanker after her. There's an oil tanker named the Condoleezza Rice. And I'm wondering if -- it's 136-ton oil tanker that carries oil around the world. And given that Chevron has been accused of human rights abuses with the Nigerian Mobile Police against civilians in Nigeria, I'm wondering whether the President thinks it's wise to have this close a relationship with Chevron.
MR. MCCLELLAN: I think that issue has already been addressed by Dr. Rice, and she will uphold the highest ethical standards in office and that issue --
Q:Should the President call the President of Chevron and say, take the name off the tanker?
MR. MCCLELLAN: That issue has been addressed. I think the issue has been addressed.
Q:Scott, I have other question not related to China. President Bush invited Mr. Sharon a few days ago, and he invited now Mr. Mubarak. This is about the time to invite Chairman Arafat to hear from him the impact of the problem there, so he can have the balanced view from each part, and he is able to evaluated what exactly it should be about in this area, regarding the involvement of the United States.
MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, I think Secretary Powell has been in contact with the Chairman. And what our focus is right now is to help facilitate the peace in the Middle East, not force the peace. The President has indicated that the first step is that we need to end the violence. So we're going to continue working with all parties. The President, as you know, is meeting with President Mubarak right now, continuing to strengthen our already strong bilateral relations with Egypt. And we will have a readout on that meeting later today.
Q:Scott, may I follow up on that? Are you saying that an invitation to Mr. Arafat could be seen as forcing the peace process in the Middle East?
MR. MCCLELLAN: I'm sorry? We don't have anything to announce on that, if there is.
Q:You say the United States is not preparing to force anything in favor of the peace process. And his question was, an invitation to Mr. Arafat from President Bush. Do you see that invitation as a forcing process to --
MR. MCCLELLAN: I didn't characterize anything.
Q:Scott, you have said several times that this was a routine mission. I presume you are aware of just how routine and could give us some information about how often these flights are undertaken, and how close they come to the shore?
MR. MCCLELLAN: We don't provide that information from here, but --
Q:Then how do you know they're routine?
MR. MCCLELLAN: The Pentagon, if you want to refer that question to them.
Q:Now, wait a minute. If you're going to stand at the podium and tell the American people these are routine missions, I believe we expect you to know something about how routine they are.
MR. MCCLELLAN: And that's why I would refer you to the Pentagon, so they can talk in more detail about what that entails. I think the Pentagon is the appropriate place to refer that.
We had a question back here in the back.
Q:Scott, I just have a question regarding Taiwan. Does Taiwan ever come up, ever arise when President meets with his national security team? And, also, you answered a previous question regarding arm sales to Taiwan. You said the decision has not been decided. But I just wonder, in any way it affects the President's decision, like postponing the arms talk with Taiwan.
MR. MCCLELLAN: About -- has this situation?
Q:Incident, accident, or whatever, will this --
MR. MCCLELLAN: The President has repeatedly iterated that -- our support for the Taiwan Relations Act, and that we will help Taiwan defend itself. No decision has been made at this time, and when we do have a decision, then we will let you know at that point what the decision was.
Q:Has Taiwan ever come up during the discussion, when the President met with his national security team?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Has Taiwan?
Q:Yes, this morning.
MR. MCCLELLAN: Oh, this morning? I will check on things, see if I can get you a further readout.
Q:Again, the same question, have the Chinese given us any indication of why we cannot have access to the crew? I asked the same question at the State Department, and they directed me to China.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I don't, I don't have any information.
Q:Scott, for people who are going to want to hear the President's speech, is there an escort leaving soon for that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Mr. Johndroe will help you with that.
Q:On Taiwan, may I follow up? Does this President still believe in the One China policy, part of the equation, if Taiwan voluntarily becomes part of China?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, and we fully support the Taiwan Relations Act, as I indicated.
Q:But those are two different things.
MR. McCLELLAN: That's right.
Q:Scott, last week the President moved to repeal regulations that would require federal agencies to look at the law violations of federal contracts. Now, is the President saying that he doesn't care whether federal contractors violate the law or not? All the law said was, look at the law violations and take that into consideration whether you're going to give a contract. So they look at whether these people are corporate criminals or not. Does the President not care about the reputation --
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, this is a suspension of a last-minute rule by the Clinton administration that was highly controversial at the time. And what we have right now is that there are strong measures in place to address law breaking contractors who should not receive federal contracts. And this administration strongly supports strict procurement standards. But we believe that that rule was overly broad and onerous. So now it is going through a review, so we can determine the best step to take as we move forward. But that --
Q:What were those measures that were in place?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q:What measures are already in place?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'll get you information on all those measures.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, okay. I'll get you that information.
Q:When the Pacific Commander briefed reporters yesterday in Hawaii, he was very clear about what he felt, what the American view of what was required under international law would be; and, in fact, he even spoke about what would happen if the situation were reversed. He spoke about immediate access to the crew, he spoke about no tampering or boarding of the plane, and he spoke about repatriation of the crew as quickly as possible.
Twenty-four hours or more has now passed, and apparently none of those things have happened, and perhaps one of those has been violated. In light of all of that, is it the American view that the Chinese have violated international norms standards?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, what the President indicated earlier, and I think I addressed this at the beginning, that it is inconsistent with standard diplomatic practice, what is going on right now. And so we need to -- we're going to continue to make that known to the Chinese government, both here and in Beijing.
Q:My question was, are they violating international law?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, what they are doing -- I addressed that -- is inconsistent with standard diplomatic practice.
MR. MCCLELLAN: Thanks.
END 1:55 P.M. EDT
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/271551