Press Gaggle by Dana Perino
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
8:49 A.M. EST
MS. PERINO: Okay, so the President will have his normal briefings today. And then at 11:10 a.m., he will meet with the President of Turkey. A little note on that. He certainly looks forward to meeting -- the President looks forward to meeting with President Gul. This is his first visit to Washington as President. They will meet in the Oval Office, followed by a lunch in the Old Family Dining Room. The meeting reflects the important partnership and longstanding ties between our two countries. The President will likely reaffirm our commitment to work with Turkey, as well as to Iraq to combat the PKK. As you know, those issues have been going on for the past several months -- for several years, but more intensely in the past couple of months.
They will talk about recent developments in the region, both in the Middle East and in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We have a shared interest in supporting young democracies and promoting peace and stability in places like Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon. I expect they'll also discuss Turkey's goal of EU membership and our support for Turkey's ascension to the European Union.
At 1:15 p.m., the President will participate in a video teleconference with Iraq provincial reconstruction team leaders and brigade combat commanders. That will be in the Roosevelt Room. Today's meeting is an opportunity for the President to meet with some of these PRT leaders. We've been talking about troops as many of our heroes, and these PRT members are civilian heroes. They work on all sorts of different aspects of rebuilding Iraq and the reconstruction, including economic issues and political issues. The PRTs, in conjunction with brigade commanders, also use quick response funds in order to grant micro loans to people who have the entrepreneurial spirit, and those are working across Iraq. In addition, they work on youth and educational programs and vocational training.
The total number of PRTs for this will be 24 participants, they include Secretary Rice, Admiral Mullen, Deputy Secretary England. And then from Baghdad, Ambassador Crocker, PRT leaders and brigade commanders.
At 2:05 p.m., the President will make a statement about that video teleconference, and because of the great weather today, we'll be able to do that in the Rose Garden.
At 6:15 p.m., the President departs the White House on Marine One to head for his trip to the Middle East, the first stop being Jerusalem.
One note. As we leave for the Middle East trip today, we will begin posting periodic updates from the senior staff that's traveling with the President on a website -- on our website, whitehouse.gov. It will be called "Trip Notes from the Middle East." This is new to us. We encourage you to log on and to check back often to read some of the updates that the staff will be posting throughout the trip. So it will be just a little bit of a blog.
MS. PERINO: A little bit like a blog, yes -- dare I say.
Q: Bolten? Hadley? You?
MS. PERINO: Probably all of the above. Ed Gillespie is also on the trip. And also Bill McGurn, our speechwriter, he's on the trip. So they'll be available at whitehouse.gov, and we hope to do something daily, but we'll just see how the trip goes.
Q: Is it just for the trip?
MS. PERINO: Yes, because it's a trip to the Middle East. (Laughter.)
Q: Trip notes -- there could be another trip.
MS. PERINO: Well, we'll see how it goes, and then we may do it in the future as well.
Q: Did the President read McGovern Sunday, calling for his impeachment?
MS. PERINO: No. I haven't -- well, I don't know if he read it or not. I haven't talked to him about it.
Q: You haven't. You don't know if he has any reaction to that?
MS. PERINO: I think that we'll just decline to comment on McGovern's comments.
Q: Dana, on Turkey, two questions. What is the state of play on the PKK? Are you satisfied so far with -- that Turkey hasn't gone beyond the limits -- where it should go in fighting the PKK in Iraq?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that they have exercised restraint, and they have been targeted in their attacks against the PKK. One of the things that the President will do is to talk to President Gul about this opportunity now to work with the folks in the Kurd region, including President Talabani and President Maliki on a long-term political solution, because Prime Minister Maliki and President Talabani share the concern about the PKK, as does the United States with that of President Gul and Prime Minister Erdogan.
Q: Any early ideas on what that would look like?
MS. PERINO: On a longstanding political --
Q: The long-term political --
MS. PERINO: No, I think that we are just going to encourage an open dialogue, which they have had over the past couple of months. And it's sometimes been in fits and starts, but overall, a good cooperation, so we'll encourage that. But obviously one of the goals would be to establish a sort of a longer-term solution; this has been going on for so long that it's time to try to put a stop to it.
Q: Okay, and on Turkish accession to the EU, you have a statement out this morning saying that that meeting will look at ways to advance Turkey's accession goals. What can the United States do, and why is it appropriate for the United States to essentially try to influence the EU accession process?
MS. PERINO: Well, there's not -- there is nothing specifically that the United States can do. Turkey has obligations that it needs to meet that are set out by the European Union -- reforms that the European Union requires for accession to the EU. We support Turkey's desire to be a part of the European Union, and I think we can encourage them to move forward on those reforms. And that's what the President will do. And then hopefully this afternoon we'll be able to provide a little bit more of a readout and background after the meeting and the lunch. I'll be there, so I can give you a little bit more.
Q: Dana, any new analysis on the Strait of Hormuz incident?
MS. PERINO: No, nothing beyond what has been said already. It was a reckless and provocative act, and what we are urging the Iranians to do is to refrain from such actions in the future so that there won't be any danger of any possible more serious incident in that area.
Q: Do you think they're trying to send a message, with the President going to the region?
MS. PERINO: We're often asked to analyze why the Iranians make the decisions that they do, or take actions that they do, and it's a very opaque society and it's hard to say what they were doing.
Q: Does it bolster his intent to go over there and rally support against Iran?
MS. PERINO: I think it's just another point of reference for people in the region who are concerned about the behavior of Iran. And the President's purpose of going on the trip is to help advance the negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians, as well as to encourage the Arab nations to recognize Israel and to recognize them as a neighbor and as a partner in peace. And then he will talk about the third leg of the trip, which is regional security in the Middle East and the United States commitment to that.
But I do expect Iran to be a large part of the -- I shouldn't say "large" -- a part of the discussions, but is certainly not the main reason for the trip. The main reason for the trip is to advance these negotiations and make sure that those are on the right track, as well as to talk about the President's commitment to the region.
Q: He'll be meeting with his fleet -- what will his message be to the commander of the fleet?
MS. PERINO: Well, I guess we'll wait and see. But obviously one of the -- the reason the President is going there is to thank them for all of their hard work in the global war on terror and the war in Iraq. These are troops that have been away from their families and are sacrificing quite a lot in order to be there, but we have -- through implementing the President's and General Petraeus's and Ambassador Crocker's surge strategy we are starting to see return on success. And we have had two brigades that are returning to America and are not going to be replaced. So we are bringing troops home, starting to do that. And what the President is going to want to talk to the commander about --
MS. PERINO: Well, they're already home; they're on their way home now. But what the President is going to want to hear from the commanders on the ground is what are the conditions on the ground, how can we stabilize this peace -- or these security gains, how do we consolidate these gains and make sure that, as we look towards the next six months and the Petraeus and Crocker report that will happen later this spring, that we're advancing the ball?
But that's what he'll talk about there. And then he'll have statements after that.
Q: Did the President send a letter to Kenyan opposition leaders, parties, about Ghana's efforts to mediate, help mediate the situation?
MS. PERINO: Did the President send a letter? I will check on whether the President sent a letter. He did send, through Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Jendayi Frazer, who is our Assistant Secretary, who is in the country and helping to get the leaders to come to a table to have a mediation. But I don't know about a letter. I'll check.
Q: Okay, thank you.
Q: Do we think that bin Laden is alive or dead?
MS. PERINO: I don't think we have a reason to believe that he's dead.
MS. PERINO: I don't believe we have a reason to think that he's dead.
Q: The Iranians this morning -- it may have been the foreign minister, but a senior Iranian official is denying that there was any provocation, essentially saying that the U.S. is lying.
MS. PERINO: Well, I saw the comments, and the quote that I saw was that this is "normal" behavior. And I don't think if it was normal that anybody would be covering it as news. So it was out of the ordinary, it was reckless, and we are urging them not to take that action in the future.
Q: The obvious comparison people are making is to the situation last spring with the British, where they said the British had violated Iran's territorial waters. And this looks like it may be a step in that direction as well.
MS. PERINO: I think it's -- because we don't know what their motivations are, and because the messages are mixed, their actions and their rhetoric don't match up.
It's hard for us to tell what they were thinking or what they were doing or whether or not they plan to take any such actions in the future. What I can tell you is, our position is they should not do it again.
Q: What about the video and the audio?
MS. PERINO: In terms of what?
Q: Will you be releasing it?
MS. PERINO: I'd refer you to DOD; call DOD.
Go ahead, Caren.
Q: The President's comments on the economy yesterday were perceived to have shown a change in tone, maybe a more, I guess, mixed view, as he described it, on the economy. Is he growing increasingly worried about the economy, in light of the jobs report, the oil prices, and some of these other figures?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think I would ask you, Caren, and others in the room who cover the President every day, and I cover -- I follow closely what the President says as well, and I didn't notice a shift in the President's comments. We've been saying for a long time, many months -- you can go back, especially to August when the President said that the housing market is causing headwinds in the economy and we need to do something about it, and he proposed actions in order to do that. You had Secretary Paulson, at the direction of the President, working with the credit -- on the credit market issue.
So the President has been very realistic and clear-eyed about the state of the economy, that while the fundamentals of the economy are sound, there are mixed reports coming in about these different sectors of the economy.
And so I didn't see a difference in the President's tone yesterday. If others picked that up, I would be -- I would ask them to go back and look at his actual language.
Q: Has he considered whether to propose a stimulus package? I know he hasn't made a decision; he's delaying that. One of the difficulties, I would expect, would be the fact that Congress and the President weren't able to agree on a whole lot last year. So how could, in an election year, one expect an agreement on something like this when the Democrats, what they want, in terms of a stimulus package, are so far apart from a lot of the Republican ideas that are circulating?
MS. PERINO: Well, we'll have to see. And obviously it would be a hope that if people agree at the end of the day that any action needs to be taken, it would be in the interest of the American people to make sure that Congress and the executive branch can work together on that. And it's too early to tell, but one thing this President won't do is increase taxes in order to concede to anything that the Democrats might put out. Now I don't know what the Democrats would propose, or if they would propose anything. It's just too early, so wait and see.
Q: Some of the ideas that they're talking about are like public infrastructure spending, things like that, rebates. And a lot of the Republican ideas seem to focus on business tax cuts, and it doesn't seem like --
MS. PERINO: Well, there's going to be differences. Obviously there are different ideas and different approaches to lots of different problems in Washington. That's one of the great things about being in our country, is that you can have a good, robust debate about how to solve problems.
Q: Do you think that the press misinterpreted the President's remarks yesterday?
MS. PERINO: I saw one article that made me think that, yes -- just in terms of suggesting that there had been all of a sudden a realization that there were mixed indicators in the economy, when if anyone looking at the President's words over the past six months or so could only come to the conclusion that he's been well aware of that situation for a while.
Q: Do you have -- what would the President consider real progress from his trip to the Middle East, in terms of concrete progress, (inaudible) commitment? I mean, we say a lot of words like "encourage" and "remind" and --
MS. PERINO: Well, we had commitments. We had a commitment and a joint statement that was agreed to by Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas at the Annapolis conference, that within 2008 the two would be able to come together on an agreement for what a Palestinian state would look like.
I saw one report today that suggested that the President is backtracking on that agreement, and suggesting that the President had said that we would actually have a sovereign, final Palestinian state by the end of 2008. The President has never said that. We've been very clear that what 2008 should be used for is to help the negotiating parties focus on the big picture, but also get into some of the nitty gritty and very difficult issues, such as borders and settlements, that are going to have to be solved.
And so we are on track to advance these negotiations, but I don't expect any large-scale, new agreements that would be made at the beginning of this negotiation. I think that's going to have to come later in the year.
Two more, and then I'll go. Go ahead, Paula, and then Roger.
Q: Well, the President, as you said, has been saying that there's mixed signals on the economy, but isn't the administration also sending mixed signals when it says on the one hand, the economy is fundamentally sound, but then is also either posing options or considering options? Does that indicate maybe, you know, you're doing things to prop it up?
MS. PERINO: I think that that's the very definition of "mixed" -- there are some good numbers and some numbers that are troubling. And that's what the President is analyzing, and his economic commanders on the ground are advising him, as to what they think may or may not need to be done. And we'll just have to wait and see what he decides.
Q: On the reconstruction event this afternoon, is the main message that there's more progress and a lot more hands-off, and that we can start pulling things back? Or is that not the message this afternoon?
MS. PERINO: In terms of pulling things back, I don't anticipate any pulling back. I think it's a chance to highlight a lot of the good work that these individuals are doing. These are civilians who are away from their families just as the troops are. And they are working in very dangerous conditions in order to help rebuild schools and rebuild the institutions that are going to be necessary for there to be a lasting peace.
And I think that what I've experienced is that there are very innovative individuals, in terms of using the experience that they've had in the private sector or in government here in the United States or elsewhere around the world, and transferring that so that the Iraqis can pick and choose some of the best practices that they can come up with.
And it's also very exciting, some of the small businesses that have been created. And you've heard General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker talk about, as they go around the country, it's amazing to see some of the markets back up and running. And that is a direct result of the security situation being better. And you have to give a lot of credit to the Iraqis for coming together to fight against al Qaeda. What we had yesterday, I believe, again, one of the CLC leaders, one of the Sunni Awakening group leaders, killed by a suicide bomber. And in many respects the Sunnis are currently on the front lines in the war against al Qaeda.
Q: And what was the total number of teams we have there right now? And do you have a budget figure?
MS. PERINO: We will check on that number. I don't know if this number -- it just says "PRTs 24" but I don't think that's right.* I think that's how many people are going to be on the SVTS.
Q: Do we have a budget figure, how much has been spent on these teams since the beginning?
MS. PERINO: We will -- I'm going to release this transcript of this gaggle, and we'll attach something at the bottom, since there's no briefing today. I'll attach something at the bottom to give you the budget figure, because I don't know off the top of my head.
END 9:06 A.M. EST
*There are 24 PRTs presently operating in Iraq. They are actively serving in each of the country's 18 provinces, physically located in 11 and providing support from outside in the remaining seven.
George W. Bush, Press Gaggle by Dana Perino Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/217250