George W. Bush photo

Press Gaggle by Dana Perino

January 12, 2008

Ritz-Carlton Hotel
Manama, Bahrain

5:36 P.M. (Local)

MS. PERINO: Before I get started let me just point out, many of you may know Adam Ereli, he's the Ambassador here in Bahrain, our Ambassador. And you might recognize him from the State Department where he used to sit at the podium and take a grilling from your colleagues. So he'll be here in case you have questions about the visit.

To recap the day quickly -- you already have readouts from the President and General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker, after the meeting this morning the President had with them. So I'll answer more questions on that if you have them. The President then obviously met with the troops, and then, at the roundtable with Kuwaiti women, just a little bit on that, because it was very interesting. I think I told many of you that were on -- I think all of you were on Air Force One -- that one of the participants went to undergraduate school for a year with Secretary Rice at the University of Denver. So they had a nice reunion.

Q: Which one was that?

MS. PERINO: She was on the President's left. And I don't remember her name off the top of my head. But they are obviously very passionate women, educated women, ones who care deeply about their families and the direction of their country. One of them is actually going to be a guest lecturer at Whittier College this coming semester. And the President said, well, hopefully, one day you'll be able to go to the greatest state of our country, which is Texas. And she said, "Well, fingers crossed." I don't know if she was being sarcastic, or not.

Q: Do you mean him? Him or her?


They were concerned about Iran. And the President told them that he shares their concerns and that he is committed and believes that the problem can be solved diplomatically. They talked about breast cancer awareness and Mrs. Bush's trip from last October, and the woman I spoke to did not have specific numbers off the top of her head, but she did say that they had seen an increase across the region in women asking to be screened for breast cancer, following Mrs. Bush's trip. So we will continue to work through the Middle East Partnership Initiative, MEPI, which is part of the program that Mrs. Bush was highlighting, and which is a program -- which is an initiative that provides a lot of different funds for institutions in civic society.

One moment. The President previewed his speech tomorrow a little bit for them, which I'll do for you next. One of the things that the President said at the end of the roundtable is that he was walking away with this reflection: Once someone gets a whiff of freedom it only makes them more concerned about any backsliding on democratic reforms. And then he praised the women for all that they're doing to keep the reforms going.

Q: You mentioned before the Minister of Education being grilled by Parliament, and you said that was part of -- did you say impeachment?

MS. PERINO: Well, the way it was described to me is that can lead to impeachment. Under their system, their ministers can be impeached.

Q: -- that she's the only sitting female member of parliament now?

MS. PERINO: She currently is. They used to have two.

Q: And the other one, you said what happened to her?

MS. PERINO: I believe she resigned before what is called a grilling.

Q: If this one is impeached, there's no more women in parliament?

MS. PERINO: I was told that -- it's headed now in the opposite direction and that she gained more support for being very strong in representing herself yesterday. I'm sorry, it was either yesterday or the day before yesterday. I'm confused on days.

A little bit about tomorrow's speech. This is the President's signature speech of the trip in Abu Dhabi. It will be about freedom. He will talk about how democracy and advancing freedom is the core of our country's foreign policy, and that he believes it is in our interest to have security through democracies. I expect him to speak about the Middle East peace process, what he has not only talked about with the leaders in Israel and the Palestinian Authority -- I'm sorry -- Territories, but also how he has continued to press the issue with leaders that he's meeting -- last night with the Amir, and then tonight with the King.

In addition, he will talk about Iran briefly in the speech, Lebanon, the need to continue to fight extremists and radicals, the importance of education and trade. And he will spend a little time talking about democratic reforms. For example, one of the things he'll talk about is that in a free society, elections are important, but they're not the only thing that's important; that civic institutions, like universities and professional associations, et cetera, are important for making sure that people have the full breadth of what a free society can provide. And he will -- finally, at the end of the speech, he will speak directly to people in different parts of the region. And I'll let him give that to you tomorrow.

Q: Dana, will there be any new language on Iran in his brief comments there?

MS. PERINO: I don't believe so. No, our position is set and very clear. But he will remind the region about the United States' commitment to Gulf security, his belief that this can be solved diplomatically. And he will also -- as I said, when he speaks to different people in the region, he will again speak to the Iranians themselves and tell them that there is a better future for them, a better way to live than what their current government is providing for them.

Q: Any prospects for an advance text?

MS. PERINO: Let me look into it. I think it's doubtful.

Q: Dana, with his comments to the Navy personnel tomorrow -- the Fifth Fleet -- will that be dealing with Iran, perhaps with the naval confrontation, in any way that you're aware of?

MS. PERINO: Oftentimes in those remarks, when he makes remarks to troops, it's a little bit less formal. And obviously the situation that took place last week in the Strait of Hormuz is on the President's mind, but he believes we've sent the messages that we need to send; that we believe it was a provocative act, should not be -- it should not happen again, because truly I think anyone who could put themselves in our sailors' shoes could -- would have to believe that they showed remarkable restraint in the face of what could have been a dangerous situation. And so it's possible that the President would bring that up, sure.

Q: And anything -- any reaction to the Iraqi parliament's passage of the de-Baathification law?

MS. PERINO: Well, some initial reaction. We just saw the reports as we were coming down. I tried to stay behind; that's why I was a little bit late, and I apologize for that. I was trying to get a little bit more information, but I was not able to reach the embassy yet. We knew that the Iraqi parliament was close to passing this de-Baathification law. In fact, the President heard that this morning from General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker. So if, indeed, this has passed the parliament, now it goes to the presidency council. And then once they decide to -- I guess they call it, post it on their log, they call it -- not blog, log -- then it becomes law. We do anticipate that that would happen if it indeed has passed the parliament, but it's premature for me to say.

Obviously it would be a very welcome development. This is something that talks -- that shows that the Iraqis are committed to working on the difficult issues of reconciliation, and this coupled with the pension law that the President mentioned this morning and chided everyone for not covering enough -- this together as a package is important, especially not just for the Iraqis, but it shows the American people that our troops and Americans that are there working hard to help them get to this point are doing the job, they are fulfilling their mission. And it also shows the region that they should have some confidence in what is happening in Iraq.

Q: You're speaking kind of tentatively as if you're not sure that it's happening.

MS. PERINO: All I saw were the press reports that I saw that it had passed.

Q: Did you not get a direct confirmation from your own people?

MS. PERINO: Correct, I did not talk to the embassy.

Q: On the Strait of Hormuz incident, do you have a current understanding of the details of what happened -- how close they got, what they dumped overboard, what they said when they said it -- that you could run over for us?

MS. PERINO: No, I haven't received any additional since we've been on the trip.

Q: And the questions raised about exactly what happened?

MS. PERINO: No, I would refer you to the Pentagon for more. The Navy is doing the investigation.

Q: But just to follow up on his question, does the President still believe that the incident was as serious as he described it on Monday when he --

MS. PERINO: Absolutely.

Q: He's not -- because the reports seemed to suggest that maybe it was not as serious as the White House and others had indicated.

MS. PERINO: Whose reports? The Iranians' reports? I mean, I've heard nothing different from what we have said, and I would just refer you to the military in terms if they found -- if they have any more. But they released what they did to the media, which I -- they did it in as timely a manner as they could so that they could help answer questions about it.

Q: Was there a particular reason the President had such sharp words about it on Monday, given the fact that the details did not appear to -- still seem murky?

MS. PERINO: I don't know who is questioning the details. I know that the President got briefed on this by his National Security Advisor and from the Pentagon. He takes it as a very serious incident, and I've heard nothing to change that. I will be happy to check again, but --

Q: Well, the fact that the video now is not clear that the statement that "we're coming after you" was referring to these five boats; that's a new fact that's different than --

MS. PERINO: I have not heard that.

Q: -- a couple days ago.

MS. PERINO: Mike, as you know, I have been traveling. I try to read as much as I possibly can on these trips. I don't -- that's the first I've heard of that, but --

Q: There is some question, though, what the origin --

MS. PERINO: I saw the Iranians put out their version of a video, but beyond that, I haven't heard any question --

Q: It seems as there is some question about what the specific origin of the radio message was, whether it came from the boats, or could have come from somewhere else. There's also some question about what exactly, if anything, was dumped overboard. Those were two of the things that were cited as the prime examples of what was threatening about their behavior. So, that's what --

MS. PERINO: I'm happy to check, but in the meantime, refer you to the Pentagon.

Q: And how close they came to the ships, as well.

MS. PERINO: Again, I'll refer you to the Pentagon for now, but I'll check.

Anything else?

Q: I just had one question for the Ambassador, actually. If he can just address the status of democracy in Bahrain right now.

AMBASSADOR ERELI: Well, I think let's look at the facts. The facts are that when this King, King Hamad, took over in 1999, he launched a series of reforms that I think have gone farther and faster, in terms of opening up the political system, than almost any country in the Gulf. Those reforms included a constitution passed by national referendum that provides for a bicameral legislature and separation of powers. You've had two elections to a legislature that is election by universal suffrage, and in the last election, which is 2006, you had one woman elected. This legislature is representative of all political tendencies. You have a -- in fact, a dynamic opposition, which holds the largest share of seats in the parliament, and regularly questions the government and holds it to account.

Now, granted, it doesn't -- if you look at the human rights report, you will see that citizens are not free to change their government, because you do have a constitutional monarchy here. And I think this goes to the point that we always say, which is that when we talk about democracy and the freedom agenda, is that every country is going to have to go at its own pace based on its history and traditions, experience, et cetera, et cetera. That's certainly true of Bahrain.

I think, however, that what you have here is a strong and vibrant pluralistic system, where people are able to speak out, question, and hold their government to account. And you see it when you read the papers and watch TV and talk to people here.

Q: Adam, do you think it was interesting, and the President applauded the fact that they elected a woman -- a woman -- in 2006 as progress?

AMBASSADOR ERELI: It's progress over not having any women. It's not as good as having more than one woman. But that's like I said, we'd like to see -- how many women are in our parliament? Five percent, 15 percent?

MS. PERINO: I think something -- but one thing I would point out is that what the President did today, of all the things he could be doing, he spent time today -- I think over an hour and 10 minutes -- with a roundtable of Kuwaiti women, two of whom both ran in municipal elections -- no, one for municipal elections and one in parliament. What a presidential event can do like that is to shine a spotlight on it and to draw attention to it. Of all the things that the President could have done today, he decided to spend it with Kuwaiti women and encouraging them. And he did bring up the issue of women in government last night with the Amir. And the Amir said that he thought that the government should include more women. So the President continues to press, but certainly is not satisfied.

Q: Dana, just on a different subject, on Saudi Arabia. AP was reporting that the President is going to bring a $20 billion proposal for arms sales -- announce that on Monday. Can you tell us if that's accurate?

MS. PERINO: I'm not able to tell you for sure. I can tell you that we have an arms package with the Saudis that has been continuing to move forward. And so if there's more I can say that tomorrow, or later today, I'll let you know.

Q: Okay, thanks.


END 5:52 P.M. (Local)

George W. Bush, Press Gaggle by Dana Perino Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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