Press Briefing by Tony Snow
James S. Brady Briefing Room
1:00 P.M. EDT
MR. SNOW: This is good. Good to see you all. I'll try to keep this brief, because I do want to make it for the meeting with our Ambassador to Iraq in a few minutes.
Obviously, the President is engaged in vigorous outreach to a number of leaders on the issues of concern. And he had a good meeting with Prime Minister Harper, as you got to see and we all got to sing "Happy Birthday," as well. So, questions. Wow. (Laughter.) This is going to be shorter than I thought. (Laughter.)
Q: The Mexican elections, the Prime Minister mentioned them in his press conference with President Bush. I wondered if you can give more details about it.
MR. SNOW: He simply made the point that he supports the electoral process in Mexico, which is transparent, and therefore, he is willing to work with whomever emerges as the winner in the contest.
Q: Has he received the news that they are ready to declare a winner?
MR. SNOW: Has it been officially declared? I thought it was to be --
MR. SNOW: And who was the winner?
Q: Calderón --
MR. SNOW: Well, both leaders had expressed a willingness, because you know the numbers have been bouncing around. So what you've told me, and I'm embarrassed to say, is news to me. I'm sure that there will be congratulations expressed on both sides quite soon.
Right now, just to give you a sense of the President's schedule, he went straight from the press briefing with the Prime Minister -- they're in a working lunch. And as soon as that's over, he'll be meeting in the Oval Office with Zal Khalilzad.
Q: Why a news conference in Chicago tomorrow? What's that about?
MR. SNOW: Keeping you happy. (Laughter.)
Q: He can do that here.
MR. SNOW: No, it's -- you know, the President actually -- the President, you may recall, where was -- was it Laredo? Was it Laredo? I'm trying to remember which of the stops where --
MR. SNOW: -- he did a press conference there. The President likes going into a place -- and I think you're going to see a little bit more of this -- likes to go in and spend a little bit of time there, talk to local leaders, also build some events around a central theme -- in this case, it's the economy and also the competitiveness initiative. And one of the other things is to do a press availability, and this will be a press availability, obviously, for local and national press.
Q: Tony, I just want to clarify that. Local reporters and national --
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q: Have you gotten a readout on what's happened between Solana and Larajani?
MR. SNOW: No. We'll try to provide whatever guidance -- probably later in the day, we'll have an NSC readout. It may also -- I don't know if that's going to fit neatly into the G8 briefing, but we'll try to figure out some way. Frankly, with the press of events, some of those things are a little slow in coming, and my apologies.
Q: Tony, there are some reports suggesting that North Korea may be within days of preparing to launch another long-range missile. What is the White House understanding? There are all kinds of reports flying around.
MR. SNOW: Nobody really has -- I mean, look, even before the launches in that less than 24-hour period, nobody knew precisely what was going to happen. I mean, one of the problems in dealing with North Korea is you've got a society that doesn't communicate with the rest of the world, and, as the President pointed out in the press conference, simply decided to launch, after specific requests from all the other parties in the six-party talks, and after direct, diplomatic discussions with other parties. So we don't know what's going to happen. What we hope is that there are no further launches.
It's -- again, let me reiterate a point I made earlier, which is, if the government of North Korea thinks that it's going to derive some sort of benefit from doing this, it's wrong. And there is -- all parties involved are agreed upon that point.
Q: Just one quick follow-up. When the President was saying earlier that stressing diplomacy will take some time --
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q: -- was that a reference, in part, to Russia and China seeming to be reluctant?
MR. SNOW: No, because, you know, what they're not reluctant -- they are not reluctant about the central theme, which is to figure out how to make the North Koreans stop. And I think -- I don't want to get too much behind the scenes on the diplomacy, but I think you'll find out in time that some of it's been mischaracterized, and I'm not going to go any further than that. But here's -- the most important thing is, everybody shares the goal not only of having a -- making sure that there is no nuclear proliferation, they want a non-nuclear Korean Peninsula. They want the North Koreans to abide by previous promises to set aside and shut down their nuclear weapon-building program, and furthermore, to cease with missile launches. That's the specific desire -- and to return to the six-party talks.
They return to the six-party talks, they behave, and they do it in a way that's credible, then, all of a sudden, other options become available not only to the leader, but also to the rest of the country.
And the President made a powerful and important point when he talked about the fact that you have North Koreans, by some estimates, 2 million or more, who have starved to death. And you've got a humanitarian crisis within that country, a deeply closed society, and those people deserve better.
Q: Tony, one week ago the President said in the East Room that a missile launch, a test firing would be unacceptable.
MR. SNOW: It still is.
Q: China is now, at least publicly, saying that they're not for harsh sanctions against North Korea --
MR. SNOW: Well, again, Brett --
Q: -- saying that they fear that the regime could crumble and that causes a refugee problem for them.
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q: Barring China's support, what are the tools that you could punish North Korea --
MR. SNOW: Brett, there are many tools. And already you've seen the Japanese, for instance, proceeding in their own way in saying, no port access and no travel available. But I'm not going to lay out for your the full options because -- neither am I go to start engaging in public negotiations. The important point that the President made and others made is that you act as a unit. And don't -- I would caution against drawing any firm conclusions until this process is over. Some people are making points publicly, but at the same point -- at the same time, there are discussions going on, vigorous discussions in the region. Chris Hill, for all I know is now in Beijing. He is certainly on his way. That's his first stop as he visits the leaders in the other capitals. And all options are still alive, and we're going to have to see which option the five parties in the six-party talks believe are going to be effective in getting the North Koreans to cease and desist and to return to the negotiating table.
So rather than trying to get into the jousting about what the Chinese may be saying, or what a Russian official -- let's just wait and see what happens. I think that's the most important thing. They're going to do as a unit what they think is going to be most effective in achieving the desired result.
Q: If I could follow, if the first test firing was unacceptable, what's the potential second test firing?
MR. SNOW: Well, look, we've had seven firings. They're all unacceptable, each and every one of them. Let's deal with that if and when it happens. I really -- it's one of these things. Remember -- poor Ivan, I was beating up on him last week for asking me hypothetical questions.
Q: -- three times, you said. (Laughter.)
MR. SNOW: Well, I told you I was never going to answer your question. As it turned out, I never did. (Laughter.) But the fact is, let's see what happens. And if it comes to that eventuality, we'll give you a response.
Q: But following on Ed, intelligence is indicating that they have other Taepodong-2s that potentially they could put up on the pad --
MR. SNOW: That is correct. Well, I don't know -- you may have more intelligence than I. The reports that I've
-- the public reports that I've seen say that there may be an attempt to get one launch ready. I don't know if that's true, or not. But again, the smart thing, if the North Koreans really do -- if they really think they're going to get any benefit out of it, they're just absolutely wrong. And I think that they're receiving that word not only from the United States, but from the Japanese and the Chinese. The Chinese have sent their top diplomat to Pyongyang, as I mentioned this morning. People are making the message as clear as possible to the regime. We're going to find out if the regime is going to listen.
Q: Tony --
MR. SNOW: Right now, keep it all on North Korea. If it's not on North Korea --
Q: Tony, who is helping North Korea to develop this missile technology? And also, do you think the six-party talks are a failure? Because at least China is a failure because China has failed in the six-party talks because --
MR. SNOW: Okay, the idea the people engaged in diplomacy -- the failure comes on the part of the government of North Korea. And if you want to talk about a failed state, here's a state where its people are starving, where its infrastructure is decrepit, where you've got a leader who is completely isolated from the rest of the world, where, as Prime Minister Harper ably put it, wants to be a threat, and is -- that is a failure. That's what a failure is.
What you're going to have are people trying to speak reason to a government and to say, you need to abide by your past promises. And if you do, good things are going to happen. That's how diplomacy works, and it is not a snap. When a diplomatic initiative is not met with the proper response, it is not the failure of the people who behaved reasonably, it's the failure of the people who behaved unreasonably. And I think it is clear to say that the government of North Korea behaved unreasonably.
Q: If I could follow, do you think the United Nations is doing enough to correct this -- from North Korea? What is the international community doing --
MR. SNOW: Again, they're talking. This is -- everybody -- it's like you guys want to do diplomacy with an egg timer. As the President said, it requires patience and persistence here. You've got a lot of people who have a lot of ideas about how best to proceed. And it is worth going ahead and trying to measure different alternatives and debate them out. That's what they're doing in the United Nations, and that's what our diplomats are doing in the region. And I can guarantee you, everybody has the same goal: They don't want to see further launches; they don't want to see a nuclear Korean Peninsula; and they're going to do everything they can to protect it.
You've got to keep in mind that the people with the greatest vested interest in this are the people who live in the neighborhood. So they're not going to pursue policies that they don't think are going to be effective. And at this point, I know it's fun to try to sort of play the chess game about who's going to say what, but very smart, determined, dedicated and interested minds are trying to apply themselves to the business of trying to get this resolved peacefully.
Q: Will the President have anything new and pithy to say on Larry King tonight in the prepared statement of sorts? And will he be returning to the White House from Chicago, or going to Camp David?
MR. SNOW: You mean is he going to say, thank you, Larry, and pull out a sheet and clear his throat and deliver a statement?
Q: Well, the President, although perhaps not as well-spoken as you, is capable of speaking --
MR. SNOW: Yes. No, he's not going to do a prepared statement. I mean, I think this is keyed off the President's birthday, and obviously, Larry will ask whatever he wants. But as somebody who had done interviews of this sort and been in the business, look, the last thing any interviewer wants is for somebody to come on and just recite stuff. And so you're going to have the President and the First Lady --
Q: I didn't mean that -- sometimes a question is a means to come up with, if you will, a prepared answer. Even though it doesn't sound like one. I'm just asking --
MR. SNOW: Well, far be it for me -- (laughter.) I don't know. I don't have any clue.
Q: What's he going to do, though?
MR. SNOW: Talk to the President. I think the President is going to this because he wants to do an interview with Larry King -- he and the First Lady are going to talk to Larry King. And so now what we're doing is providing a wonderful commercial for Mr. King's broadcast.
We still have North Korea -- Connie, do you have a North Korea question?
Q: I do. Tony, what is the timetable by which the President would like the five nations to come to an agreement on sanctions? And is he concerned that as this debate goes on, the disagreements embolden the North Koreans?
MR. SNOW: If the North Koreans want to be emboldened by deepening their failure, that's their business. But I'm not sure that it makes sense to describe what North Korea
-- I mean, I don't know what you mean by embolden. You mean the fact that people are debating how to make them stop will make them bolder?
I'm sure that's something that one takes into account. On the other hand, the North Koreans have to assess the other alternative, which is, if they continue down this road, what does it mean? The Japanese have already signaled some pretty clear intentions at least to take some preliminary steps. I don't know what the Chinese are telling them. The Chinese now have, as I said, dispatched the top diplomat to the region.
It's important, again, to say that while there are unilateral steps the nations that have direct diplomatic ties with the North Koreans may take, the most important thing is what the group together is going to do. There is a certain sense of urgency in getting it done. There are no timetables on this, and the last thing that anybody wants to do --
Q: -- weeks, not months?
MR. SNOW: We're just talking as long as it takes. And the last thing anybody wants is to let the North Koreans think -- and one of the assumptions in your question is are we going to let them drive the bus? And the answer is, no.
Q: (inaudible) -- mentioned yesterday, any kind of sanctions against North Korea will be regarded as an act of war. Therefore, North Korea will take full-scale counter-measures against North Korea. What will be your comment on that?
MR. SNOW: North Korea will take countermeasures against North Korea?
Q: Against the -- I mean, United States, or any of the five?
MR. SNOW: I would characterize that as an act of rhetoric.
Q: Yes, Tony. Two questions.
MR. SNOW: First, is that North Korea?
Q: Yes, the first is North Korea.
MR. SNOW: Okay, we will divide the first and let the second die a crib death. Go ahead. (Laughter.)
Q: Before North Korea launched its missiles on July 4th, the President said the U.S. would attempt to shoot down any missiles headed towards U.S. territory, but it was civil -- but it was Cold War policy of launch on warning that kept the uneasy peace between the Soviet Union and U.S. for 40 years. And my question, has the U.S. abandoned its launch on warning policy?
MR. SNOW: I'm not going to get into the vagaries of --
Q: -- if I could finish. Is it not a signal of weakness to our enemies, many of them stateless terrorists, to suggest the U.S. will absorb a first strike before retaliating with their own nuclear weapons?
MR. SNOW: That's one of the all time great preposterous questions. (Laughter.)
Q: Coming from the network. And I don't think it's preposterous.
MR. SNOW: Well, memo to boss is, send the weak stuff back. No, look, I do think it's preposterous. And it's one of these things where this is something that has not come into play, and I'm not going to -- the United States reserves all options to defend itself. And I am going to go no further than that.
Q: Can I come back?
MR. SNOW: I hope so. We'll see.
Q: Do current military obligations in any way limit or restrict potential U.S. responses to North Korea?
MR. SNOW: Not that I'm aware of, but that's probably better posed to the Pentagon, which would have -- it's not a question that I can give you an informed answer to.
Q: Doesn't the White House operate under some parameters of what can be done, given --
MR. SNOW: I'm sure they do, but again, I'm not sitting around in the war-planning sessions should their be any such things, and I'm not aware of any. So everybody, relax, stand down. So I mean, I honestly don't know how to answer your question. I really do think that's one -- the President, as Commander-in-Chief, as you know, delegates considerable authority to his commanders. And, yes, there are rules and parameters. I just can't help you on it. I mean if you want a quick answer to it, give Eric Ruff a ring over at the Pentagon, and he may be able to give you something more precise. I just don't want to mislead you.
Q: Tony, can you expand on the President's statement today that Kim Jong-il is going to be less of a threat, the more he is isolated? Some experts say that with a leader as unstable as he is, if he's backed to a wall, he could do just about anything.
MR. SNOW: Well, this gets into the tea leaf reading about is he sane or is he not, and I'm afraid I can't answer it. There is also this -- you've heard, Brett -- a lot of people think, well the theory -- and the Wall Street Journal has this as an editorial -- is that in the past, by behaving badly, he has received certain benefits and emoluments. The only thing I can say, again, is that if that's what he thinks, he's miscalculated in this case. But it is notoriously difficult to read his mind, and therefore, I really don't want to try to engage in scenario building based on that.
Obviously, anybody -- let me put it this way -- I think the President made the point is that you plan for the worst and hope for the best. So when you're thinking through scenarios, you think through every possible scenario, how you coordinate and respond. But for me to start running through those, I don't think is appropriate right here.
Q: Somebody must be advising him from outside, or helping him to go to pick a fight with the international community in this time of --
MR. SNOW: I'm not sure that's the case. I mean, I'm really not sure, Goyal. And the other thing is -- one of the other dangers here is that North Korea -- again, North Korea, with these launches, is trying to provoke. It's trying to get people to panic. It's trying to get people to respond. It's trying to get people to say that the government is a threat, and by golly, what we need to do is to appease them. And that is simply not the way the international community has responded.
One of the results of extended diplomacy on the part of this administration has been to bring together people who, in the past, were afraid -- or I shouldn't say afraid -- who were more reluctant to challenge -- what are you guys doing -- who are a bit reluctant to go ahead and push the North Koreans. And I think what you now see is concerted pressure from everybody in the neighborhood to do so.
Q: Can I ask a domestic question --
MR. SNOW: Well, first, I promised -- Kevin, you got one?
Q: Yeah, a North Korea question. I just want to make sure I'm clear. Essentially, it doesn't matter how many tests or missiles they send up, the American stance is going to be the same diplomatically in that we're going to keep trying to encourage them to go to the six-party talks --
MR. SNOW: No, I think. No, no. No, I don't want you to get the sense that it doesn't matter how many missiles they send off. Each one matters. The other thing is, it does take time to assess what's going on. The President talked a little bit, as I mentioned, in the past couple of days -- you take a look at the telemetry. What can you conclude based on what seems to have been a designed flight path. And when you have something that's up for 42 seconds, in the case of the Taepodong-2, it takes time to figure that out.
You may recall the Taepodong-1 launch back in 1998, we didn't even know it was a three-stager for some time. It is a fairly complex business to try to do the research. And I guarantee you, the Russians are doing the same thing, and the Chinese are doing the same, and the Japanese, and the South Koreans. Everybody is trying right now to take a look at the data, and it takes longer to assemble than we might like, but it's going to take time.
Each and every launch is unacceptable. And, again, you do not take them lightly. And I think what's become clear is that the North Koreans, at least so far, have been perfectly happy to defy all of their neighbors in doing this. And I think that it's probably going to add to the resolve for getting this done right and getting it done quickly.
Q: One other question, Tony?
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q: Hamas has threatened to murder that 19-year-old Israeli corporal that they captured. In the even that they do and Israel retaliates by hanging one or more Hamas leaders, the President will not condemn Israel, will he, since murdering of nine confederate POWs by General Custer in 1864 was stopped by Colonel Mosbey's hanging eight of Custer's command? There is a precedent for stopping the murder of prisoners of war in the United States. If Israel follows that same thing, they will not be condemned by the President, will they?
MR. SNOW: I amend my characterization of your earlier question. (Laughter.)
Q: You are evading the question. You are evading the question, and you know it.
MR. SNOW: Why didn't you just -- you decided upon specific means of retaliation, Lester. (Laughter.)
Q: On the New York ruling on same-sex marriage, does the President have a reaction to that?
MR. SNOW: Not that I'm aware of. And I have not heard any conversation about it, so we'll get back to you later on it. I mean, the President's position on marriage has been consistent and clear.
Q: And this one, I don't know if anyone could answer this, but it seems outrageous -- I mean, I'm sorry Ken Lay died, sorry for his family, but I don't understand why the creditors can't somehow sue the estate, just because he died. There's nothing the White House can do to help those poor people out?
MR. SNOW: As I said yesterday also, when it comes to legal matters, the White House, we give duly constituted legal authorities who do their work, and we will allow the court system to process in whatever way, to probate the estate as it sees fit. I am not going to just --
Q: The slate is wiped clean because he died.
MR. SNOW: Well, I can't help you with that.
Q: Would you be kind enough to amplify, if you know more travel plans, could you say that the President, after the Chicago trip is going to go out and see more of the country?
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q: How often will he try and do this?
MR. SNOW: It really won't -- I mean, you know how it works. We tend to give week-ahead views, and I'm not going to go too far ahead on the schedule. But you will notice it. I mean, it's not going to be like every week there's going to be such an event. But you're going to see some times where the President goes out, spends a bit of time in a place, talks with the leaders, drills into the issues, listens to what they have to say, builds trips generally around one topic -- in this case, job growth and job development and economic development. And in this case also, since tomorrow is a so-called 'jobs day' -- that is, the economic data being released -- it provides a time that is appropriate for doing it.
Q: And if I may quickly follow up, when you talk about your desire to get questions from local press, does that mean format-wise, there will actually be questions that the President will deliberately say -- call on local press?
MR. SNOW: Yes. I think we're going to mix it up.
Q: I want to ask a question that I asked yesterday. How is civil rights the cornerstone of this administration?
MR. SNOW: The President has always talked about civil rights as a cornerstone in a number of ways. It is clear that in this nation, there have been people who have been left behind, that there was long history of discrimination in this nation that has been a stain, that American people have to work together to figure out not merely how to blot the stain, but how to heal the wounds. And the President has tried to reach out with faith-based initiatives. He's tried to do it by talking about not only No Child Left Behind, but also initiatives to allow people the choice to go to the best available schools.
And I think the way you try to deal with civil rights is to try to create an atmosphere in which people can lay aside old prejudices and also try to remove that debris, because that is debris that stands between us and a better future. And you do that in a number of ways. You do that by building a stronger economy that can offer jobs to more. You do it by trying to make sure that everybody has an opportunity to be educated and trained in such a way as to take full advantage of it. You try to do that by doing family initiatives, because in many poor neighborhoods in this country there is one feature that stands out, and that is single-parent households where people toil heroically, but there is a difference -- and to try to rebuild families safe and whole.
It's important, when you talk about crime, that somebody can walk the streets without having to worry about random acts of violence and shooting. In other words, civil rights is an extension of common sense, which is, in common sense, what you want to do is to build a society where young men and women have the opportunity to grow up in safe neighborhoods, attend good schools, be embraced by parents who love them and whose love they can count upon, and to do it in a way to know that they are not going to be victimized because of their race, because of their skin color, and because of their background.
Civil rights is built around a whole series of programs, and they extend those same benefits to everybody. But for those who have never had them before, it is the hope that that is going to help transform their lives. If you talk about -- there are job training programs. There are reconstruction programs. There are business grant programs. There are attempts to do targeted grants. We're going to be seeing some of this, as well. And that's how you build civil rights.
In many ways, the infrastructure that says bigotry is illegal has been constructed. But now comes the business of removing the barriers that still remain in the way, so the American Dream can be accessible to all.
Q: Did Hurricane Katrina divert the laying of that cornerstone of civil rights?
MR. SNOW: No, I think what Hurricane Katrina did was to expose some ways -- to wake everybody up to the difficulty, not only of dealing with natural disasters, but their aftermath.
Got to go, guys. Thank you very much.
END 1:30 P.M. EDT
Tony Snow, Press Briefing by Tony Snow Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/273061