Press Briefing by Tony Snow
White House Conference Center Briefing Room
12:02 P.M. EDT
MR. SNOW: Hello. One additional item before we get to questions. The President this morning had a call with Prime Minister Abe of Japan. Prime Minister Abe gave the President a readout of the Prime Minister's visit to the Middle East, including visits to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Qatar.
They agreed that it's indispensable that governments support Prime Minister Maliki and his government as they work on Iraqi reconstruction. They also agreed that Iran must give up its nuclear weapons ambitions and stop interfering in the internal affairs of Iraq. They discussed the North Korean situation, agreed that it's regrettable that North Korea has yet to fulfill its commitments under the February 13th agreement, and that they look forward to seeing one another at the G8 summit in Germany.
Q: The event today about CAFE standards, when did that get added to the schedule?
MR. SNOW: Today. I mean, we've been discussing it for some time, but we made it official today.
Q: Well, I'm just wondering why -- sort of what's the thinking behind doing it today.
MR. SNOW: The thinking behind doing it today is we're ready. I mean, it's really pretty much that simple. The Supreme Court, in Massachusetts versus the EPA, had some things to say about the EPA and its role in dealing with tailpipe emissions under the Clean Air Act. And so there has been an interagency process underway, thinking about what the ramifications are.
The ramifications are that you can use regulatory means to go ahead and pursue some of the goals where -- that have been outlined in that Supreme Court opinion, and at the same time, also, it provides a way of advancing the goals within the context not only of CAFE, but also the 20-in-10. So there's -- if you're looking for a political calculation or some extraneous factor that prompted the timing, there is none. Basically it's ripe, and therefore that's why we're doing it today.
Q: So he'll go beyond the State of the Union, with what he mentioned in the State of the Union as far as 20-in-10 today?
MR. SNOW: No, what he's going to do is he's going to encourage Congress to go ahead and enact what he laid out in the State of the Union in terms of 20-in-10. But again, you've got a somewhat different atmosphere now because the Supreme Court has said, in effect, to the EPA, you need to treat greenhouse gases as something to be regulated in terms of tailpipe emissions, under the Clean Air Act. There was an injunction to go ahead and do that.
Well, that obviously requires a certain amount of regulatory burden. What the President is now doing is saying to the relevant departments and agencies, you need to work together, because it's enormously complex in terms of jurisdiction and everything else. So he -- you'll have the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy, the Department of Transportation, as well as the Department of Agriculture working on this.
There will be a 2:00 p.m. briefing with the principals at those agencies, although Secretary Bodman is out of the country, so Clay Sell will be in his stead.
Q: And one more. Over the weekend the Times reported that 100,000 to 300,000 barrels of oil are unaccounted for on a daily basis in Iraq. And I guess the question was raised, is this corruption, or is this miscounting.
MR. SNOW: We're aware of the study and I don't have a -- again, this is something that people are taking a look at, there's no clear answer for it.
Q: Can you give us a picture of how the President is being kept in the loop on the missing soldiers in Iraq, and now that General Caldwell has spoken, what's the President's view is about who is detaining them?
MR. SNOW: Well, again, General Caldwell did not make any speculation along those lines, nor will we. The President is routinely briefed through the National Security Advisor and others about what's going on. So I mean, it's a routine briefing process. So he certainly is kept up to date on what we know. But also, in situations like this, we do know that you have some people whose duty status is unknown. They are the object of -- their colleagues are looking for them, and we really -- we're not at liberty to go beyond that.
Q: The Vice President said in a question-and-answer on the record today, on the airplane, I guess, that he sensed a greater urgency in the Iraqi government than he had sensed before. We've been led to believe that they were pretty urgent about going forward for a long time.
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q: What does that statement say to you?
MR. SNOW: It says to me that they continue to think that there's a sense of urgency and they're redoubling their efforts.
One of the things he referred to, for instance, are some of the meetings recently between members of the Council of the Presidents and the Prime Minister. He talked about the Prime Minister's meeting, for instance, with Mr. Al Hashemi. I think what you see is the President noted in the State of the Union and elsewhere the American public's patience is not unlimited. Furthermore, I think it's clear to say that the Iraqi people's patience is not unlimited. You have seen there's political pressure also within Iraq to see more demonstrable political -- progress on political and other lines. And I think it's simply an acceptance of that reality on the part of the Iraqis.
Q: But he didn't seem to get any real commitments on the part of the Iraqis. I mean, to say you get a greater sense of urgency at this time, months and months after we've been told by the President and others that they were committed to moving fast --
MR. SNOW: What the Vice President said is he's not going to tell you what were in those private conversations. He said that the reason they're private is that they are confidential. He did not say that he didn't see a difference. He simply wasn't going to read them out, anymore than he was going to read out his personal conversations with his meetings with heads of state elsewhere.
Q: But do you think he's gotten commitments on not taking a vacation? I mean, why wouldn't he read that out? I mean, it seems like it's not there. He essentially said it's not there.
MR. SNOW: Well, no. I just -- no, he didn't say that. What he said is he's not going -- what he talked about was -- you've hit on one of the phrases -- a sense of urgency. He also talked about his conversations with people throughout the political spectrum. He thought that was useful, as well as meeting with commanders and officers, with their generals not present. So he met with a whole broad spectrum of people, trying to get a sense of what's going on.
I did not get from my reading of the transcript the interpretation you've tried to import. Again, what he's trying to do is to maintain a certain level of discretion because, as somebody who is the representative of the President of the United States, if he has things to say in confidence he's going to leave them in confidence. And so will I.
Q: Let me use the famous Tony Snow, it's apples and oranges. I mean, he's talking about commitments and he's not talking about that he got any commitments. You're talking about whether he keeps some conversations private.
MR. SNOW: No, I think that would apply also to commitments. And furthermore, if you're looking for announcements, for instance, of the kind that you would like to have, or that you're referring to -- I'm sure we would all like to have some of those -- that is something that I think, out of respect for the Iraqis, they also have to be the ones making the announcements.
Q: Tony, we have Vice President Cheney issuing a stern warning to the Iranians from the deck of an aircraft carrier. Today the Iranian President responds by threatening severe retaliation if the U.S. attacks it. We also have both the U.S. and the Iranians saying they are willing to talk to each other in Baghdad. How can you explain the contradictory, if not schizophrenic, state of U.S. diplomacy with regard to Iran?
MR. SNOW: Schizophrenic?
Q: Certainly contradictory.
MR. SNOW: No, I don't think so. For one thing, what the Vice President -- the Vice President did not threaten to attack another country. So what you're doing is you're getting a reaction to a threat that was not made on the part of the Iraqi [sic] government.
Number two, U.S. policy has always been the same, which is to use the diplomatic pressure available to you to encourage good behavior on the part of the Iranians. Why? Because it is in everybody's interests that they step away from a nuclear program and reintegrate themselves into the broader community of nations. To do so they will need to step back from terrorist activities, or supporting terror activities, including in Iraq, but also to step away from nuclear activities that are seen as a threat by everybody in the region.
That is not schizophrenic. As a matter of fact, that is a fruit of multilateral diplomacy led by the United States with a broad coalition of nations that has been supported by Arab partners, as well as by our European allies and many within the United Nations. You also have a United Nations Security Council resolution.
When it comes to dealing with issues in Iraq proper, it is not unusual for the United States to say, we want to talk with neighbors directly about issues bearing only on Iraq. There was an opportunity to do that. The Iranians did not wish to have such conversations, apparently, in Sharm el Sheikh. The President has authorized a Baghdad channel at the ambassadorial level for conversations about having the Iranians step back -- to at least deal with our concerns with their support for activities that destabilize the government of Iraq. But they go no further.
This not only is not schizophrenic, it's perfectly consistent with American policy over recent months. But what we're saying is we continue to look for ways appropriately for diplomacy to succeed. We are not, however, going to, as a result of our concerns, grant to Iran full diplomatic status. That is something that has never been contemplated and never been offered. But it is not unusual to have conversations of this sort -- I've read it out on a number of occasions, there have been either at the ambassadorial or ministerial level conversations between the two governments since the President has taken office.
Q: But what's the use of ratcheting up the temperature in the Gulf with that kind of symbolic threat, or warning, at least, of the -- when you want their cooperation in Iraq?
MR. SNOW: No, I don't think -- again, you read it as ratcheting it up. The Vice President was pointing out that under international law, you do, in fact, have the right of freedom of movement. That is of considerable concern because, as you know, the Strait of Hormuz is only 21 miles across at its nearest -- its narrowest. You have an enormous amount of the world's oil resources going through there. You want to make sure that people, in fact, have freedom of motion through those straits so that you do not have disruptions that can have some pretty significant economic consequences around the globe.
Q: Tony, just to clarify, these three missing American soldiers in Baghdad, do we know if they've been kidnapped, or at this point, it's just missing, we don't have the status?
MR. SNOW: Again, we're not going to talk -- the duty status is unknown. We're not going any further than that. We're not going to discuss publicly anything else.
Q: Okay. And over the weekend there was an Iraqi official who said he was talking to parliament -- he had an interview on CNN -- that perhaps they were going to go ahead and limit this recess from two months to perhaps a month to two weeks. Is that something that the Bush administration is aware of or --
MR. SNOW: I'm not aware of that specific statement. But again, we are certainly aware of the ongoing debate. Notice I've said on a number of occasions, wait until they have their debate. I think they understand that there is an expectation that they need to -- they've got some very important work that they need to conclude and they also understand that there are a lot of people in the United States who have real concerns about some of those earlier reports about a recess.
Q: Tony, on the effect of the CAFE standards, is it the CAFE stuff that's going to be regulated that he's going to call for regulation, or does that involved Congress, as well?
MR. SNOW: Again, what you have is -- there are some opportunities -- not opportunities -- there are some requirements to do some regulation. There is a difference between what you can do with light trucks -- the light truck standard as opposed to at vehicular standard. And again, for much more precise discussions of these I'd refer you to the 2:00 p.m. call. But we're really talking about both on the CAFE side and on the 20-in-10 side, there is -- the President is going to ask people to look for ways on a regulatory basis to move forward with the goals of both programs, and at the same time, continue to encourage Congress to go ahead and act.
After all, this is a proposal that seems to give both parties what they say they want in terms of pursuing energy independence and at the same time pursuing a cleaner environment. So there ought to be a pretty good bipartisan basis for passing such legislation. We'll continue to work it.
Q: And will the corporate average fuel economy number be raised?
MR. SNOW: Again, I'll defer all those technical questions to the guys who will be working it.
Q: Tony, as the President has this energy event today, what's the administration doing about the current high price at the pump?
MR. SNOW: Well, there's a lot of things. Keep in mind --
Q: Is this going to have some immediate effect?
MR. SNOW: No, it's not going to have an immediate effect. On the other hand, if you take a look at what the President has been proposing for a long time, this President had proposed an energy policy upon taking office, and it took years to get Congress to act on it. And even now we have no action on this.
The President has put together a series of proposals that allows, on the one hand, to pursue greater energy independence through 20-in-10. That is, substituting something other than petrofuels for -- in the gasoline supply in the United States, making the transfer to biofuels.
Number two, the President also from the very beginning has talked about the importance of increasing refinery capacity. All the news reports indicate that what we have right now are supply spikes that are due to the fact that there have been difficulties at refineries. Again, you go back and you look at the policy; if we had been at a point where people were building greater refinery capacity, you wouldn't have the kind of price spikes you have.
So the President has had an integrated energy policy from the very beginning that, in fact, would have addressed a lot of these things, and he continues to do this. He understands the energy business and so, as a consequence, is trying to come up with ways that give us greater independence and greater capacity and a greater ability to develop in a clean way. One of the other things, if you take a look at this administration's record, we have got -- what the President talked about was reducing the pollution intensity, the hydrocarbon intensity in terms of emissions. We've done a better job of that than anybody else in the world. We've put $12 billion into developing cleaner and cheaper and more reliable energy sources since the President has been in office; $35 billion into studies to take a look not only at the problem, but how to address it.
So he has taken a comprehensive look at this all along. Now, the President can't do it by himself, which is one of the reasons why he is saying, even though we've got regulatory authority to go ahead and do this, it's also important to get Congress to work legislatively to try to pursue these goals. So the President certainly, again, understands the complexity of the problem and has, interestingly enough, been proposing things all along that could have made this situation --
Q: Is there anything the administration -- any part of the administration -- Energy, many agencies in the Department of Energy -- can do, or will do, to help ease these -- bring down these prices right now?
MR. SNOW: Well, again, the fact is you've got a global marketplace and if you're asking, is somebody going to put in price controls, no. What you try to do I guess in the short run is something that the companies themselves are going to have to do, which is restore refinery capacity and get the refineries operating at full tilt as quickly as possible.
What you also have to do in the long run, again, is not only to send a message, but also to encourage investors to start looking for other ways to meet our energy needs, not only on the vehicular level, but also at the industrial level. That has been the focal point of administration energy policy from day one, continues to be.
And perhaps this is one of those events that will get members of Congress to say, okay, let's go ahead and do this stuff, because it certainly offers a lot of promise. And I don't see anybody pushing back against the presumption that the kind of policies that the President has been promoting would, in fact, be very useful at a time like this.
Q: Just one more. Has the war or any of the factors involved in this report that Jim mentioned had any effect on prices? What effect does it have?
MR. SNOW: It's hard to quantify. Keep in mind that in terms of global export terms, Iraq is still not a major player. You have others who are involved in this. And the prices of oil are being governed more by global demand than anything else. So if you ask people in the energy business, they will site factors, things that are responsible for price increases, including increased demand from China and India, as well as throughout the developing world. So the entire world is competing for this resource and it's that competition that tends to elevate prices.
Q: Tony, two questions. One to follow. How does the -- (inaudible) -- of the U.S. feel in the -- (inaudible) -- that U.S. is looking for what they are not supplying to the U.S. as far as oil is concerned?
MR. SNOW: They seem to understand the necessity of doing it. I don't believe that that was really a focal point of the conversations, however.
Q: And second, as far as I understand, at least one U.S. soldier is dead in Afghanistan and Pakistan area. And also scores of people died inside Pakistan. And the U.S. State Department is saying that this is an internal matter because there is a fiat going on inside Pakistan against Musharraf, and he might impose another -- again, martial law in the country. And U.S. stake is there in the area. How does the President feel about it?
MR. SNOW: Again, we are aware of some of the casualty reports that are coming out. We're studying them in terms of trying to read what's going on politically within Pakistan. That's -- you know me, Goyal, I'm not getting in there.
Q: Tony, back to energy environment issues. Is the President still philosophically opposed to the notion of national mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions?
MR. SNOW: Again, the President's position has been pretty clear on this, and what he's really looking at is effective ways of trying to cut emissions. The market-based approach seems to work. Again, if you take a look at what the United States has done in terms of reducing carbon intensity, we've done a better job than anybody else in the world. So the President's position is still the same.
Q: So the answer is, no, he's not interested in the approaches such as the allies seem to be interested in --
MR. SNOW: There are going to be conversations I'm sure about a whole variety of approaches. What the President has said all along is, let's figure out ways to engage and also invest in technology, because ultimately what you're really talking about is a change in technology not only in terms of what is affective as an energy source, but also how you utilize it. And that goes everywhere from clean coal to nuclear power to biofuels to hydrogen cells -- the whole bit.
So I think rather than trying again to jump into what is an ongoing set of conversations, I'm not going to advance the ball other than to remind you of the aggressive stance the President has taken, and also doing it in terms of outreach. He has discussed it with each of our key allies. And really the question is, do you try to set up a mandatory system, or do you try to set up an innovation-based system? The President prefers innovation.
Q: Tony, for those of us who had a little trouble with Economics 101, what's the free market incentive for the oil companies, the refiners to do anything about it? It seems like whenever they have these -- problems with refineries, they just raise the price, profits remain healthy. Why should they do anything?
MR. SNOW: Well, on the other hand, when prices go up you also make it economically feasible for things that may not have been competitive in the past enter the marketplace and they become real competitors. So energy companies know that when prices change, so does the -- so do the underlying economic realities. And it certainly makes a lot of technologies that in the past may not have seemed feasible when you were talking about $15 a barrel oil -- some would fall within the realm of economic reality. So they also understand that there has to be
So they also understand that there has to be some competition.
Furthermore, if you're an oil company, and there is the ability to undercut you in terms of price, somebody is going to try to do that. That's the way the market works, as well. What you're assuming is that there is a perfect oligopoly situation where everybody is conspiring to drive up the prices. That, as you know, is illegal. And furthermore, this administration has done more in terms of investigating and, in some cases, prosecuting attempts to do that. There are regular reports to Congress in terms of what's going on in terms of the competitive environment within energy companies.
So to answer -- I'm going to answer yours with a combination of Economics 101 and, I don't know, Pre-Law 101, as well.
Q: So for someone like the President who would like to see these two new technologies spurred on by economic incentives, high gas prices are a good thing?
MR. SNOW: No, the President is not happy about high gas prices, nor are the American people. Again, had the President had gotten his way in terms of new refinery capacity or the more aggressive exploration of alternatives, there, in fact, might be a situation where there would be some alternative to the situation right now, which is refinery capacity down, therefore, the gas prices are up -- lower supply, higher prices.
Q: I remember that part.
MR. SNOW: Yes, I figured.
Q: In the first 11 days of May, 234 bodies have been dumped around Baghdad, most likely by death squads. And in the first 11 days of April, 137 bodies were dumped around Baghdad, most likely by death squads. One of the key goals of the surge was to reduce the activity of death squads. It seems to be going in the opposite direction. What is the concern?
MR. SNOW: Well, there is always a concern about it. We have made that clear. On the other hand, the longer-term trends, if you take a look at the sectarian violence benchmarks, still generally are down, and considerably so. Nevertheless, you always have to be aware of that kind of thing and cognizant of it. General Caldwell mentioned that a little bit in the brief this week.
The fact is that you have to keep your eye on all the possible difficulties within Iraq. That would include sectarian violence -- al Qaeda violence still seems, by and large, the source of most of the death right now in the country. But you cannot sort of say, well, one source is down, so we're not going to worry about it as much. Instead, what you try to do is to continue working in ways that are going not only to reduce sectarian tensions, but also increase levels of sectarian trust.
We have talked a number of times about the improving situation within Anbar, and also efforts ongoing in Diyala to deal with al Qaeda terrorists who seem bent on trying to make their way into Baghdad to commit acts of terror. There have also been discussions of ways of going after those who are clearly involved in sectarian violence, whether they be Shia, Sunni, or otherwise -- as confidence-building measures.
So obviously, everybody on the ground is keenly aware, not only of the trends and statistics, but also the underlying challenge, which is not merely to get the numbers down, but ultimately the way you get the numbers down in the long run is to get the level of trust up so that individuals who may have gotten wind of potential attacks, or may know something, have some piece of actionable intelligence are going to think it's in their interest to go ahead and report the bad actors and stop the activities rather to let it proceed.
Q: Are tactics changing to address the increased --
MR. SNOW: Again, tactics continue to change. Do not assume that people never shift their behavior; they do it constantly in response to the changing realities on the ground. They have to.
Connie, and then Les.
Q: Thank you. A question on Jerusalem and a question on Hamas. Can you confirm or deny the report the U.S. is boycotting a 40th anniversary ceremony in Jerusalem --
MR. SNOW: I have heard no such thing.
Q: Can you please check into it? It's been reported --
MR. SNOW: Okay, this again falls into one of these please let me know in advance, because it's just --
Q: All right. And Hamas, on the cartoon, did you have any comment on this horrible anti-Semitic cartoon?
MR. SNOW: Keep in mind that the conditions always, for full recognition of the government, are the Quartet conditions, which is you have to renounce violence; you have to abide by prior international obligations; and you have to acknowledge Israel's right to exist. And those have been areas of concern that have -- that we have made clear with Palestinians for a very long time. We'll continue to do so as we work toward trying to have a two-state solution where both partners are agreed on those fundamentals.
Q: Has the U.S. formally contacted --
MR. SNOW: Again, Connie, I'm not going to --
Q: Thank you, Tony. Two questions. The Washington Post reports that the 400th anniversary of Jamestown yesterday had 10 years of planning, costs millions of dollars, was visited recently by Queen Elizabeth, and yesterday by the President and Governor of Virginia. But at that ceremony, I saw nothing of either of Virginia's U.S. senators, whose offices this morning repeatedly refused to explain why they were absent. My question, does the President know any reason why these two Virginia U.S. senators failed to show up for this national and Virginia event?
MR. SNOW: Les, I would have you ask them.
Q: I've tried, but I just wondered do you know why --
MR. SNOW: No.
Q: You don't know?
MR. SNOW: No, I don't.
Q: Okay. Remembering Senator Webb's extraordinary rudeness to the President when Webb was invited to the White House last Christmastime, do you think Sunday's Webb absence was possibly more of the same?
MR. SNOW: We had a reception at Christmas where we welcomed new members of Congress, and the President was happy to welcome one and all. And we have had no further comment on that. By the same token, I will have no further comment on the crisp and tendentious question.
Q: On the call with Prime Minister Abe, did you say who prompted it, how long the call was?
MR. SNOW: We'll pull together the numbers on it.
Q: Also, I'm just curious, today is the first day that Japanese officials have stepped into the U.S. to audit U.S. beef companies. Did they discuss that at all, or do you know if the subject came up?
MR. SNOW: I'm not aware that they did. Obviously, that is one of the conversations that you have in the context of moving forward on Doha and also on bilateral trade. It is -- the beef discussions are -- frankly, if you want to do that, I would direct it to the Trade Rep's Office because Susan is going to have a much better handle on precisely the status of those conversations.
Q: Tony, obviously immigration reform is very important to the President. Is he encouraged by the talks that are taking place with the Senate?
MR. SNOW: Yes. Yes, I suppose. Again, if you're looking for an adjective -- look, this is hard work, and both sides, right now, are working very hard to try to produce a bill that will get to where we want, which is to have comprehensive immigration reform. The President continues to be optimistic about the outcomes, and we continue to have Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, and their staffers, and White House officials, working very hard on the issue.
Q: Do you feel like they're close?
MR. SNOW: Again, I don't want to characterize. We certainly are hoping that we're going to get a bill.
Q: Let me go back to Iran. Can you tell us what is the administration policy regarding regime change, and whether it changed or stayed the same in the light of these talks?
MR. SNOW: Again, what we have always said is that we hope the Iranian people are going to have the opportunity, as we think all nations should, to choose democratically their future.
END 12:30 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/274841