Press Briefing by Tony Fratto
James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:29 P.M. EDT
MR. FRATTO: Good afternoon, everyone. As you know, the President and the President of Mongolia signed the MCC Compact today. And the President is in lunch with the President of Mongolia now.
I have nothing else to read out right now. I think you got the schedule update that the President will make a statement about the war supplemental this afternoon at 1:55 p.m.
And with that, I'll take your questions.
Q: How much will he ask for?
MR. FRATTO: You'll have to wait until then for the details. Although, I think we've seen a lot of that out there.
Just a reminder on this, back on February 5th, OMB Director Portman, when he presented the budget to Congress also presented the Iraqi -- I'm sorry, the Global War on Terror Supplemental. That went up to Congress. You might recall, some members of Congress were concerned that in supplementals in the past were not fully detailed, did not have all of the information they felt they needed to act on the request; they didn't feel like those requests came up in a timely fashion. So Director Portman sent that request to Congress on February 5th.
They've had, you know, upwards of 75 percent of what the total request would be. That was a good faith estimate at that time, what we thought the FY '08 spending required would be. So today the President will augment that request with the needs that we have learned from Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus for Iraq and also for Afghanistan -- and also very important funding for State Department programs on the political side.
Q: And when does current funding run out? When are you up against the wall on funding?
MR. FRATTO: You know what, I'll let DOD explain those details in terms of the timing of when --
Q: It's not imminent, is it?
MR. FRATTO: It's not within -- no, not within weeks or months. But what we want to make sure is that the Department of Defense and the Armed Forces have the certainty that they need going forward. So we do want Congress to move sooner, rather than later.
Q: Is the President involved in the diplomatic effort to persuade Turkey not to stage cross-border raids into Iraq?
MR. FRATTO: I'm not aware that the President has made personal calls on his own with the leadership there. As you know, Secretary Rice has. Secretary Gates has been involved in, I think, communications. Our ambassador -- both our Ambassador to Turkey, Ambassador Crocker, and our Ambassador in -- I'm sorry, Ambassador to Iraq, Ambassador Crocker, and our Ambassador in Turkey have been in communications.
I think we are all unified -- the Turks, the United States, the Iraqi government -- in asking the PKK -- not "asking" the PKK, but addressing the situation of the PKK to stop these attacks on the Turkish people and the Turkish army. That's a unified position, and we want to see swift action and we want these attacks to stop.
Q: But it doesn't reach the President's level?
MR. FRATTO: It does reach the President's level. He's been in communication with Secretary Rice and others in this administration. I don't know that he has had an opportunity to make personal calls yet.
Q: But you sound as if he plans to.
MR. FRATTO: I'll let you know if that changes.
Q: Tony, Iraqi Vice President Talabani's office is saying that the Kurdish rebels are preparing to declare a cease-fire as early as tonight. Have you all received any official word on that? And what would the reaction be?
MR. FRATTO: I haven't heard of any official word on that. I've seen that same report. We just want to make sure that the PKK stops these activities, stops these attacks. It's not helpful in that part of the world right now and so we want to see it stopped.
Q: Tony, what do you make of Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Larijani's resignation over the weekend? How are you reading that?
MR. FRATTO: Well, it doesn't change the fact that Iran needs to comply with the U.N. Security Council resolutions to stop their enrichment and reprocessing activities. Changing the lead negotiator doesn't change the need for Iran to change its policy.
Q: But do you read it as a hardening from the Iranians?
MR. FRATTO: I think it's -- as we've said before, how Iranian decision-making is made is not very transparent, so I'm not sure that I can analyze it from the podium. But at the end of the day it doesn't change the requirements of the international community on Iran to deal with this issue.
Q: But it may very well signal Iran's saying, you know, sort of back off even more. This guy was a little bit more moderate and now he's gone, so prepare to dig in, we're really going to get hard line about this.
MR. FRATTO: Well, I don't know about that. That's reading tea leaves and I'm not in a position to make that analysis right now.
Q: On Iran, why should the American public trust that the administration isn't making a case laying the groundwork for military action, when you have the President and the Vice President talking about World War III and the possibility of the country facing serious consequences if they don't stop their nuclear pursuit?
MR. FRATTO: Look, the President and the Vice President, Secretary Rice, Secretary Gates, have all been incredibly clear and consistent in our message on Iran, and that is that we first seek a diplomatic solution and we are committed to a diplomatic solution and we're committed to working with out international partners in a unified way to put pressure on Iran to stop this activity. No one wants to see an arms race in Iran, and the world community -- certainly here in Washington and certainly with the U.N. Security Council -- is unified in that position.
Q: So it's a coincidence the President and Vice President both step up their rhetoric in days of each other?
MR. FRATTO: I wouldn't call it stepping up rhetoric. And in fact, what the Vice President said I thought was a very clear review of the situation in the Middle East. And by the way, it's not at all different from what he has said before and what the President has said before and what Secretary Rice has said before in very clear ways.
Q: Has Secretary Rice or anybody else gotten assurances from Turkey that they won't launch military strikes, even in the short term?
MR. FRATTO: Well, I know Secretary Rice spoke to Turkish authorities last night. And I don't know whether she got a clear confirmation that they wouldn't, but they certainly had a discussion about restraint with regard to cross-border incursions. And so I'd refer you to State Department to see if they can give a little bit more of a readout on that.
Q: Tony, back to the supplemental, the President just vetoed SCHIP -- you know, an extra $35 billion for children's health care, saying he wanted to be fiscally responsible; hold the line on federal spending. How does he then justify coming out of the gate with an -- you know, in such a short period of time and saying, now I need an extra $40-plus billion for Iraq?
MR. FRATTO: Well, I could see that point if that was what the President said, but that's exactly not what the President said. What the President said was is that they have the policy wrong on SCHIP, not that it's too expensive or is --
Q: They were asking for too much, though, right?
MR. FRATTO: No, they were asking for a policy that was bad. Let me tell you something about the -- what the SCHIP bill that Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are proposing, okay. If you look at the eligible communities in this bill, it would result in 57 percent of children in this country and about 53 percent of families with children on public assistance, or at least eligible for public assistance.
Now what the President has said is that poor children should come first. Now there are a lot of things you can say about half the families in America. Half of them aren't poor. And so the President has said that the policy is wrong. He didn't say that it's too expensive -- although it is too expensive to spend money on the wrong policy. So what he has said is the policy is wrong.
Now, with regard to the supplemental request, children -- the right children, poor children getting their health care, and the needs of our troops can both be accomplished. They're both priorities and we can handle both of those requests.
Q: I have a question on climate change legislation. Lieberman and Warner came out with a bill last week, and it focuses on technology incentives, just like the administration has advocated. There would be no carbon tax and it would target the free industries that pollute the most. And I just wondered what is the White House's feelings on this?
MR. FRATTO: I have to apologize, I probably should have taken a look at that before coming out today. Look, the President has a clear policy on dealing with climate change. He's focused on what we can do domestically, both for climate change and for energy security, and that's implementing the 20-in-10 plan to reduce gasoline consumption. He's also worked to bring the international community together, the major economies -- brought them together for a meeting here and will bring them back again to make progress on climate change.
Certainly, reliance on technology is something that you've noted that the President is really focused on and has spoken to at great length. I can't speak specifically to Senator Lieberman's bill, but I'm sure we can take a look at it and come back to it.
Q: But it does have a declining cap on these three industries that make up, like, 75 percent of all the greenhouse gas emissions?
MR. FRATTO: I know I don't look like Dana Perino up here. Dana would have all of the details on environmental policy and be able to speak to it with much more eloquence than I can.
Q: Two quick questions. Congressman Bobby Jindal will become the first Indian American governor in the U.S. history. And also he's a Republican and also there is another son of immigrants, Governor of California Schwarzenegger. My question is that you think in the future this will change, as far as immigrants are concerned in this country, the political system? And what President had to say about Congressman Bobby Jindal?
MR. FRATTO: Well, the President spoke to Bobby Jindal yesterday, congratulated him. It was really an excellent win for Bobby. I think the race was a little bit tougher than the numbers showed. I think something that we were all encouraged about was the strength of Republicans down on the ticket who also performed very well.
On the question of immigrants, first generation Americans -- speaking as a first generation American, having the opportunity to serve your country or your state or your city is an incredible honor, and obviously very happy for Bobby Jindal.
Q: Second, as far as last week, President spoke with the Prime Minister of India, one more thing about the nuclear issue, which is stalled in the Indian parliament. The left of congress in India are not in favor of the agreement. What was the discussion, and how does the President feel about this, because he has worked so hard, and he will change the U.S. policy towards India on civil nuclear agreement? Where do we stand or where do we go from here?
MR. FRATTO: Well, we certainly remain committed to the civil nuclear agreement. We don't believe we can close the book on that yet. I think there's still some work to do. We want to work with India. We understand that they have to deal with their local politics, just like we frequently have to deal with our local politics in dealing with these kinds of issues. So we want to stay encouraged. We want to continue to dialogue with Indian authorities.
I don't have a specific readout on Prime Minister Singh's conversation with the President, but I can assure you that the President would have reiterated our commitment to that agreement and our interest in having it accomplished.
Q: Is he disappointed?
MR. FRATTO: I think it's too early to express disappointment. I think we have some work to do and I think we can get it done.
Q: Tony, what type of consultations has the White House already had regarding the war supplemental with members of both parties of Congress?
MR. FRATTO: I think we've had extensive conversations. I know, first, OMB Director Portman has spent a lot of time talking with leaders of the appropriate committees on the Hill and the budget committee, I know Director Nussle has had his conversations. Secretary Gates and Deputy Secretary of State Negroponte testified on Capitol Hill a couple of weeks ago on the elements of their request. So I think there's been a great deal of collaboration on this. I think they understand where we are on these requests, and we hope that they can act swiftly on it.
Q: How would you describe their receptivity to this supplemental, Democratic members in particular?
MR. FRATTO: I haven't heard directly from Director Nussle on what he's hearing from Democrats on this. I think we understand if you say that you support our troops and we understand what the mission is going forward, that our troops need the equipment and the resources they need to carry out this mission, and that's what we're focused on. We want to make sure the troops have what they need, they have the equipment, they have the mine-resistance ambush vehicles, that they're able to replenish their -- you know, whether it's stockpiles of arms or get the replacement parts for the equipment that they're using, and it's critical for our troops and we want to see Congress act quickly.
Q: Tony, what's the feeling on a possible third round of sanctions against Iran in the United Nations?
MR. FRATTO: Well, those are -- those are entrain already. In September at the UNGA meetings in New York, the Permanent 5 members plus Germany got together and talked about the need and in fact issued a statement about the need for a third round of sanctions on Iran. I know that Under Secretary Burns over at the State Department is having conversations with his counterparts in the P5-plus-1. And so I know they're making progress on that. I know they're looking for more information to come back from people who are in Iran and we'll see how that goes, but I think we're definitely progressing on that.
Q: You said it's not a ratcheting of the rhetoric from what the Vice President said yesterday, what the President said last week. But is there a disappointment with what the other allies are doing in regards to Iran? The Vice President said Tehran is engaging in delay and deception, and yet you saw the Russian President, and his actions in Tehran. The President addressed some of that last week.
MR. FRATTO: Look, we go through this every time we draft a U.N. Security Council resolution. They are probably never -- I doubt that there's ever been a U.N. Security Council resolution word-for-word written the way the United States would write it. They are always negotiated agreements.
I think what's critically important is that when you get the P5-plus-1 together and you get the language right and then you can come out of the U.N. Security Council with a unanimous vote, that has a huge impression on moderate voices in Iran. It also has an impression in terms of the effectiveness of the sanctions. And we are seeing that the sanctions, both bilateral sanctions and the U.N. Security Council sanctions that have been implemented, are having an impact in Iran.
Q: So there's still options (inaudible)?
MR. FRATTO: Absolutely.
Q: Thank you, Tony. Two questions. Ontario, California's Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, as well as WorldNetDaily, report that Mexican soldiers and civilian smugglers engaged in an arms standoff with nearly 30 U.S. law enforcement officials at the U.S. border near the Rio Grande, 50 miles east of El Paso and 200 yards inside the U.S. What's the White House reaction to this?
MR. FRATTO: It's the first I've heard of that. If it's true, Les, I don't have anything for you on that.
Q: Okay. A New York Times editorial has noted that Governor Schwarzenegger has just vetoed a bill which would have permitted the distribution of condoms "in California's AIDS-ravaged prisons," which the Times contended is "self-defeating and a denial of the reality of life behind bars." And my question: Does the White House agree with the Governor or with The New York Times?
MR. FRATTO: I think that's an issue for the Governor of California and the people of California to determine.
Q: I want to know, where does the President stand?
MR. FRATTO: Like I said, that's a state issue.
Q: A spokesperson of the Iraqi government told me a few minutes ago that they are expecting in Baghdad a visit of the foreign affair minister of Turkey, and there is some kind of three-party negotiations. Can you describe how important is U.S. on these negotiations?
MR. FRATTO: I haven't heard that, but I could tell you that we certainly are working and communicating and want to work in concert with the Turkish authorities and the Iraqi government to take action against the PKK and make sure that they're dealt with swiftly. So I know that we're in communications. I haven't heard anything about a meeting that would be taking place. But this is the way we want to see action proceed, is that we're all working together towards the common goal of stopping these practices by the PKK.
Q: Thank you.
MR. FRATTO: Thank you.
END 12:46 P.M. EDT
George W. Bush, Press Briefing by Tony Fratto Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/276318