Press Briefing by Tony Snow
White House Conference Center Briefing Room
12:32 P.M. EDT
MR. SNOW: Questions.
Q: Any results of the meeting today between Mr. Bolten and Senator Reid?
MR. SNOW: Not that we're going to announce. It was a good meeting. So Josh met with Harry Reid and Senator McConnell, and they will continue to meet.
Q: So no movement at this point.
MR. SNOW: I'm not going to characterize. Both sides had an opportunity to express their views, and exchange views, and all that sort of thing, but I don't think -- what we've all agreed to do is to conduct these in a way that is going to allow those involved to go ahead and do their business and not to try to litigate through the press, but allow them to go ahead and move toward a bill that is going to meet the requirements the President laid out, and at the same time is going to give the forces what they need.
Q: Does "good" mean that it's leaning your way at the meeting?
MR. SNOW: The "good" means I'm not going to characterize, period.
Q: Is there another meeting today, or is the next one tomorrow?
MR. SNOW: I don't know what the schedule is, in terms -- again, we're sort of meeting at -- we're responding to members of the House and when they want to talk, we're making our people available.
Q: Are there other meetings, like Portman and Hadley, off in separate sessions with other people?
MR. SNOW: Not that I'm aware of today. Now, again, as I said, there are going to be times -- and certainly there are going to be phone conversations. I know Rob has been in contact with some people. There will be some meetings where we have one, two, or all three of the negotiators on Capitol Hill, but there are certainly going to be opportunities to talk by phone, and so on.
Q: At any point will the President be brought into these?
MR. SNOW: No, that's certainly not the way it's laid out at this juncture. I think the President has confidence both in the
negotiating team from the White House and also the people we're dealing with in the House and Senate.
Q: If it takes until Memorial Day, the end of the month, what's the impact on the military? You've been making the case every day that time is running out.
MR. SNOW: Well, we've made the case that it is certainly not constructive to drag this out, but I'm not going to try to play -- we're not going to answer subjunctive questions.
Q: How about the question, will the military --
MR. SNOW: You know subjunctive, subjunctive mood, Les. (Laughter.)
Q: Will the military have difficulty if they don't get the --
MR. SNOW: Again, that is a question properly aimed at the Pentagon. But also, as you know, the Pentagon is loathe to get into making characterizations on operational matters. Let's just put it this way: We know that already there's a requirement of transferring money from certain accounts to others to make sure that we have full funding. That will continue to be the case until the emergency supplemental has been passed. We think it is preferable to have all accounts funded fully.
Q: The President has sometimes been critical of Congress when it takes a recess when there's important pending business. Does he have a view about the Iraqi parliament planning to take a recess?
MR. SNOW: Well, this is something that I think is probably still under discussion in Iraq, as well. We're not commenting.
Q: Do you, today, have a definition of what an acceptable level of violence would be in Iraq?
MR. SNOW: You know, I think what you've managed to do is to try to get your -- we're now playing the adjective game. The fact is, when you talk about an acceptable level, it is something that allows the government to exist independently. If you want to -- the problem is, everybody says, oh, so you accept violence. You like -- violence is okay. No, it's not okay.
So in abstract terms, zero violence is acceptable. On the other hand, we know well, and the President has said many times, that it is going to be a tactic of people who want to bring this government down to commit acts of violence, and violence unfortunately, at least for a while, is going to be a fact of Iraqi life.
What we're really talking about is trying to create conditions of security so that you can have a functional democracy in Iraq where people can go about their daily lives, where they have confidence in the rule of law and the people who are responsible for protecting them; that you have a legislative system that is protecting rights and at the same time getting on with the business -- economic reconstruction, and so on.
So that's really what we're talking about. What you're trying to do is to address the kinds of violence that are designed to destroy Iraq -- for instance, al Qaeda recent attacks that are designed not only to create a lot of bloodshed and to weaken the government, but also to reignite sectarian violence. That has always been the al Qaeda MO. That is something that you're going to have to address.
If there is -- and so those are the issues, those that jeopardize the very existence of the government, those are the things that we want to address.
Q: So he wants to minimize violence to a nuisance?
MR. SNOW: What you want to do is to be able to have the government in a position where it can stand by itself. And I think trying to get into definitional matters at this point --
Q: In October of 2004, John Kerry said, "We have to get back to the place where we were, where terrorists are not the focus of our lives, but they're a nuisance." The President said he couldn't disagree more; Cheney called this naive and dangerous, and part of a pre-9/11 mind-set. So does the President now have a pre-9/11 mind-set?
MR. SNOW: No, the President does not have a pre-9/11 mind-set. And the fact is -- I'll have to go back and take a look, but my recollection is that there was an attempt to kind of minimize some of the security challenges. But I don't want to put words in Senator Kerry's mouth without looking back at the 2004 debate.
It is important to realize that you're going to have to use military force and, especially in conjunction with the Iraqis, to address violence that comes from a whole series of factors -- whether they be old members of the Baath Party, whether they be Iraqi rejectionists, or whether they be foreign fighters coming in and trying to destroy the government.
Q: Tony, why aren't you commenting about the possibility that the Iraqi parliament is going to take two months off this summer with key legislation pending? I mean, even if they are considering this, isn't that an affront to this administration?
MR. SNOW: Why don't you let the Iraqi parliament go ahead and work through and have debates, even though -- let's just let them go ahead and consider the matter. And in two months, if this is a really pressing matter, we can discuss it then.
Q: If I could follow here, I mean, it's really kicking up a lot of dust on Capitol Hill. As you're trying to get this supplemental worked out in negotiations, doesn't this hurt the whole process?
MR. SNOW: Again, let's see what happens.
Q: Are you hearing something different than what we're hearing, that they're at least considering it?
MR. SNOW: Well, I'm aware of the news reports, but I also am aware that you've got an Iraqi government right now, where we are working with them on a whole host of issues -- there was some discussion this morning about the fact that you have now -- the Council of Ministers have passed on to the Council of Representatives an oil law. And there is a lot of activity going on in the country, and I just think at this particular juncture, trying to draw broad conclusions about something that is rumored possibly to happen in two months is a great parlor exercise, but it is not a particularly useful diplomatic exercise.
Q: But if somebody is talking about it on the ground --
MR. SNOW: Everybody talking about it -- surely you all will talk about this. No. (Laughter.)
Q: Doesn't it speak to political will? At a time when people are questioning, can the Iraqi government actually meet political benchmarks, doesn't that, though, speak to the will of the Iraqi government? Does it have the political will to move --
MR. SNOW: I'm telling you, let's just wait and see what happens over the next couple of months. We have had many debates like this in this country. You may recall when people have gone on vacations before elections, when they haven't passed budgets, when things have been pushed off until the very end of the year. I don't want to be doing equations here, but the fact is the legislative process is something that you have to contend with. This is a democracy.
On the other hand, what have the Iraqis done? They have committed much of their budget surplus this year directly to economic development and to security matters. They have stepped up on the things that we have asked them to do. They're putting their lives on the line. They are working on professionalizing the police forces. They are working on building greater credibility and capability with the military. They're working on economic infrastructure matters. We've got a meeting in Sharm el Sheikh where there is a neighbors' conference. There is going to be another conference in Baghdad.
This is a government that's operational on a whole series of fronts, and again, rather than trying to leap to conclusions and to ignore the vast amount of stuff that that government is doing and the risks that they are undertaking in order to build a secure democracy, what I'd suggest is, wait and see what happens.
Q: Tony, any surprises coming out of Egypt, with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Iranian officials? They walked by one another, and cordial, said hello, but are you expecting anything --
MR. SNOW: I'll let Secretary Rice -- look, Secretary Rice will be able to give you readouts of what's happened. We have made the point that there was a possibility that there may be sidebar, pull-aside conversations. But on the other hand, you need to set this in the context of the meetings. These are meetings that are designed to say to everybody in the region, it is now time to step up and help the Iraqi government; and for those of you who have been trying to undermine it, you need to stop; those who have been training militias, you need to stop; those who have been sending forces across your border, you need to stop; those who have been sending IEDs and EFPs, you need to stop doing that; those who have been assisting in financial flows, you need to stop. It is time now, in very concrete ways, to support this government.
So if there should be conversations, it is likely that the United States would share those views. But keep in mind any conversations would not be bilateral discussions, they would not be formal negotiations. They would be the sort of thing that often happened in meetings of this sort. But again, I'm giving you a hypothetical. Obviously any reports that may come out of Sharm, the Secretary of State can read them out for you.
Q: Isn't the essence of what you're saying basically going back to what the Iraq Study Group said, and isn't that basically -- I mean, you're in a quagmire now, that you have many people saying that the Americans have walked away from this war and the --
MR. SNOW: Well, actually --
Q: Wait a minute -- General Barry McCaffrey has said, Americans have walked away from the war. And so maybe bring Americans back is to talk to those who are around --
MR. SNOW: Okay. I think -- first, I think what Barry McCaffrey is talking about, that he's talking about things like resolutions that would withdraw support. So if you're talking about Americans, you may want to put into context what Barry is saying.
Secondly, it has been the case in the past where there have been conversations with Iranian or Syrian officials at meetings of this sort with Secretaries of State. Now, the real key is that we do not think at this juncture that it is appropriate to grant full diplomatic recognition to Iran, because we have made clear what the conditions are, and so has the United Nations Security Council, and so have our allies.
So this is certainly not a change in the disposition in terms of full diplomatic relations, but on the other hand, it is not only not unusual, but you ought to expect the fact that when you are at a conference and the topic is how to help Iraq, you will have conversations about how to help Iraq with all the people who are at that conference.
Q: The Secretary of State met with the Syrian envoy this morning. How is that not bilateral? How is it not formal?
MR. SNOW: Because -- I'll let them do the readout, but again, that was a pull-aside conversation where --
Q: What's the distinction?
MR. SNOW: Well, the distinction is, if you have a set aside -- a meeting that's set aside, and somebody says, okay, we're going to schedule a meeting, we're going to sit down and do this. But again, I'll let the Secretary of State describe the mechanics of it.
The other thing is, what did happen is that the Iraqi government has -- did say, please, can you pass on the message to support. And so that is a sidebar conversation. But it is a far different thing diplomatically than setting up meetings and setting up a broad agenda. This is a conversation about the subject of the conference itself.
And again, Mark, this has happened a lot of times. And in --
Q: I know, it's your characterization that I'm still -- how's it -- I mean, they sat down, they had formal discussion, and there were two of them there.
MR. SNOW: No, they didn't. I'm not sure that they had formal discussions; I'm not sure it was just two.
Q: Maybe a limited range of subjects, but --
MR. SNOW: No, there was -- limited range of subject, like one.
Q: That's still informal and not bilateral.
MR. SNOW: It's a conversation. Yes, it's a conversation. In fact, conversations happen. It's a good thing.
Q: Tony, I have two questions. The first is about Gonzales. Does the President consider the matter of the question of whether the AG should resign or should not a salient question? And does the --
MR. SNOW: The President supports the Attorney General.
Q: Does the fact that -- that a confirmation hearing would be a blood bath factor into that?
MR. SNOW: No. No. He's -- what you're asking is, does the President support the Attorney General because it would be messier to fire him? Is that the question? No. No. He supports the Attorney General.
Q: Follow up. The second question would be, the Pentagon has required all military bloggers to seek approval for their blogging and their -- I think also their email. Some bloggers in the military and conservative commentators have said that the government is shutting down --
MR. SNOW: That's -- from what we --
Q: -- good news.
MR. SNOW: From what we understand, that is being over-reported a little bit in the following sense: First, I'm not sure that that is operational, their request. Number two, to the extent that they have asked, and I would refer you to the Pentagon for a full comment on this, but my understanding is that they're concerned about matters of operational security, certainly people giving their opinions about what's going on as long as they do not disclose information that is going to jeopardize operations, ongoing or in the future, or in some way, give away information that will make it easier for the enemy to kill Americans or Iraqis.
That's normal in a time of war. There is always censorship in a time of war, mainly to protect the people who are doing the fighting. Similarly with emails, but there is no wholesale shut down. Again, I'm just giving you what I know, and I would encourage you to talk to the Pentagon for further detail. But my understanding is, there's no wholesale shutting down of blogs or of email. But on the other hand, there is sensitivity to the fact that you have to be careful when you're doing these things, not to jeopardize yourself, your colleagues, the operations, the Iraqis, and the overall mission.
Q: When you say over-reported, what do you mean by that?
MR. SNOW: What I'm saying is, the characterization you just gave is some people say they're being shut down.
Q: Tony, the President had an immigration event this morning. Where are your folks on negotiations with the Hill on a compromise bill on --
MR. SNOW: Again, we're continuing to work, and you've probably noticed I don't go into a whole lot of detail about what's going on. But there are -- there continue to be talks with Democrats and Republicans and we're hopefully getting a bill passed this year.
Q: Well, I know you said that before. But is there any movement anywhere in the last few weeks?
MR. SNOW: Again -- well, again, a lot of times -- I would rather just go ahead and let the conversations proceed rather than trying to characterize it.
Q: Will the President be watching the Republican debate tonight?
MR. SNOW: I don't know. That's a good question. I have no idea.
Q: How much of an issue do you think he should be in this debate?
MR. SNOW: I don't -- you know, it's one of those things that -- I have a feeling that there will be attempts to goad people into talking about it. On the other hand, each of these people is running for President on his own merits -- there may even be some "hers" getting in here. Who knows? But I don't know. You'll just have to -- I'm not going to try to prejudge the content of the debate.
As a matter of fact, that reminds me, today is World Freedom Day, and I forgot to mention that we have a statement on that that bears on freedom of the press. I'll share it later. (Laughter.)
Q: We heard the President's views on that yesterday. (Laughter.)
Q: Tony, on Syria again, yesterday the Israeli Ambassador in his speech in Washington before the Israel Project said that Syria has Scud missiles which can hit any part of Israel. Does the United States concur, and has the United States brought that topic up with Syria at all?
MR. SNOW: The conversations in Sharm el Sheikh are about Iraq; they're only about Iraq. Any other conversations -- we still have diplomatic relations with the Syrians, and there are ways of transmitting messages. But I am not -- at this point it's not appropriate for me to pass on what may or may not have been conveyed.
Q: The Ambassador also said Israel is being squeezed from the south by arms that are smuggled in from Egypt through the tunnels into Gaza. Is this a trip wire? If there is military action this summer, is the U.S. --
MR. SNOW: Again -- just, come on -- you're asking hypothetical questions with literally explosive consequences, and I think it's best not to go there.
Q: Tony, two questions. One, today is World Press Freedom Day. And U.N. resolution 1738 protects journalists around the globe, but today many countries, they don't have respect for the journalists, and also many journalists are under attack around the globe. And as far as President is concerned, how he can enforce the law globally, around the country, where journalists are doing their job --
MR. SNOW: The President does not have the ability unilaterally to enforce laws around the globe. What he does do is encourage freedom of the press everywhere, including places where it doesn't exist. And, obviously, we oppose acts of violence against journalists, against innocent civilians, against -- we deplore acts of violence against innocents, no matter who they are or where they may be.
Q: And second, if I may. It's kind of personal, but we have been getting many calls and prayers for you, Tony, how Tony is doing, and all that. What my question is, what they are saying that you have the courage to come out, to say about your health, it may help somebody out there who does not know or they are not aware of. Do you have any message for people --
MR. SNOW: Well, first, don't mistake what I have for courage. Courage is a guy who signs up and says, I want to go to Iraq and I'll face death. I didn't sign up for cancer. I got it. But on the other hand, if I can help people by talking about it, that's great. And it actually has been something that has been enormously gratifying, because as I've said before, a lot of times your biggest enemy is fear. And people who want to hide from a diagnosis are not running -- the best thing to do is to find out what's going on and then allow people to help you; allow your friends, allow people around the world -- the one thing I've once again discovered is the enormous capacity and eagerness of people to help others. There's a lot of goodness out there, and people are perfectly willing to practice it, but you've got to give them a chance.
And so, certainly feel free to let people know what your condition is and I'm certainly very grateful for all the help I've received, but I hope people will do it for a lot of others, as well.
Q: The White House is investigating Stuart Bowen. How did this investigation get going? And can it have credibility, or will it look just like a political retribution against somebody who was very critical--
MR. SNOW: Well, two things: First, the White House is not investigating Stuart Bowen. And it's very important to correct that.
Q: -- led by Clay Johnson.
MR. SNOW: No, Clay Johnson actually is -- what you have is the President's Council on Integrity and Efficiency -- this was created by an executive order in 1992. The theory is to use independent inspectors general to investigate charges against inspectors general. Obviously, if you're an IG, you cannot inspect yourself. It's an independent investigative organization; it does not have ties to the White House.
And so there is an integrity committee that is being chaired at this juncture by the FBI, and they will take a look at any charges. But there's a normal process by which people take a look at these things. It is laid out by executive order. The idea, according to the executive order, is to address integrity, economy, and effectiveness issues that transcend individual government agencies; to increase the professionalism and effectiveness of IG personnel.
And once again, this is sort of a classic way of trying to figure out how do you do oversight and maintain independence. That's precisely what they've done. The White House has no role in this, zero. So it's very important to be -- to draw the distinction there. Clay obviously does chair the President's Council on Integrity and Efficiency.
Q: Who does Clay work for?
MR. SNOW: He works for the President, obviously. But on the other hand, you have inspectors general who operate independently of the agencies, and they're the ones who are actually conducting it. So, again, I know you want to try to set up the narrative, but Clay is not, in fact, involved in the process, nor was he involved in the referral.
Typically what happens in government, and I think you'll agree, Peter, if somebody has something that people think deserves investigating, you try to look for an independent way of doing it. And the Integrity Committee within the PCIE is, in fact, a way that's been there for a long time -- it's been there since 1992 -- it's an established way to do it precisely so you don't have conflicts of interest.
Q: Tony, did Nancy Pelosi ever give the President a debrief on Syria? And is Condi Rice's talk with Syrian officials basically a way once again to set straight, this is what the administration feels, and just lay out the ground work there? And also, what does Iran need to do to have formal diplomatic status?
MR. SNOW: We've already laid out -- let's start at the last question -- we've made it very clear, in order to pave the way to diplomatic status -- and the EU3 and the United States have made this offer repeatedly, which is you have to suspend verifiably your programs that might lead to the development of nuclear weapons. In exchange, the United States and the other partners have offered a way forward that includes diplomatic recognition and involves allowing them to develop a civil nuclear capability, economic ties, cultural ties, social ties, educational and so on.
So it's a simple step required by the government of Iran and it is -- we have made it very public, and we continue to. That position has not changed.
The one and only topic, again, in Iraq is -- I mean, in Sharm el Sheikh is to say it is time now to step forward and support the government of Iraq. That is the strong message that is being sent. And for those who are undermining, they need to stop and they need to begin to support the democratically elected government of Iraq. And it really goes no further than that.
Q: Nancy Pelsoi --
Q: Try not to --
MR. SNOW: I don't know. I'm not aware that there -- I don't think that there's any --
Q: Is this administration trying to make clear that we only speak for ourselves, that meaning Condi Rice is saying we only for ourselves, don't pay attention to anyone else --
MR. SNOW: No, but I think it's understood that in any government the Department of State speaks for the government when it comes to foreign affairs, and that the President is the person responsible for foreign policy. It is certainly common for members of Congress to make travels, but there, on the other hand, is no mistaking who represents the official views of the government of that country.
Q: Tony, two questions. At tonight's Republican candidates debate, the pre-debate and post-debate coverage I read will be Chris Matthews and Keith Olberman of MSNBC, of whom there is a report that last October 23rd, Mr. Olberman said, "The leading terrorist group in this country is the Republican Party." And my question: Does the President know why this Republican debate is tolerating such a reported maligner, and does he believe they should?
MR. SNOW: I believe that the President will say, Republicans, you can have whoever moderates your debate that you want to.
Q: Okay. The Washington Post reports that House Minority Leader John Boehner said, "When you break the law in pursuit of a political opponent you've gone too far." On Tuesday, after the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that Democrat Congressman Jim McDermott of Washington State is liable for $60,000 plus $600,000 in Boehner's legal fees over an illegally taped conference call McDermott leaked to newspaper reporters. And my question: The President is glad that Congressman Boehner pursued and repeatedly won this case, isn't he?
MR. SNOW: I'm not sure that the President has expressed an opinion, but I know in point of fact that Representative Boehner is happy he did so.
Q: And so is the President -- isn't the President happy? He's not unhappy?
MR. SNOW: I don't know. Les, it may surprise you, but a lot of times these sort of saucy little things are kind of beneath the daily attention of a President of the United States who has got a lot of important stuff --
Q: Saucy little things -- that's $600,000. That's not saucy or little, is it?
MR. SNOW: Oooh. (Laughter.)
Q: You want to run away from this. (Laughter.)
Q: No doubt, flailing my hands. Try this one more time. Ambassador Crocker has said publicly he's raised concerns about the Iraqi parliament taking a recess for two months. Why wouldn't the President raise such concerns with Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki in his frequent video teleconferences?
MR. SNOW: Well, again, I'm not going to disclose to you -- we give you readouts of the teleconferences. What I've said is, the Ambassador has made his view known -- views known, and there is a debate going on in Iraq. So let's see how the Iraqis handle this. That's all I'm saying.
Q: Why won't the White House weight in?
MR. SNOW: Because you know what? Iraq -- we respect Iraq as a sovereign government, and we are not going to sit around and lecture them on those particular matters. We will make our views known. And the Iraqis also are making their views known. Again, there's a vigorous debate about this, which is why I would suggest that you let these things sort of play out and see what happens.
Q: When the President welcomes the Queen, will -- is there time on the schedule they will actually have any talks? Is there anything substantive he would like to discuss with her?
MR. SNOW: I'll have to take a look, Ann. I'll find out.
Q: Anything --
MR. SNOW: I just -- I just don't know. I've not -- that is my fault. I'll look much more carefully at the schedule. If you want to get back to me, I'll answer it.
Q: Can you let us all know?
MR. SNOW: Yes, or tomorrow, we can -- I will not be on the podium tomorrow, but either Tony Fratto or Dana can get back to you tomorrow on it. Is that okay?
Q: Thank you.
END 12:59 P.M. EDT
George W. Bush, Press Briefing by Tony Snow Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/274014