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Press Gaggle by Dana Perino and Administration Officials on Visit by Japanese Prime Minister Abe

April 25, 2007

White House Conference Center Briefing Room

9:37 A.M. EDT

Dana Perino, Deputy White House Press Secretary
Dennis Wilder, NSC Senior Director for Asian Affairs
David McCormick, NSC Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economic Affairs

MS. PERINO: Good morning. I'm going to do the schedule for you, and then we have some guests from NSC to set up the Abe visit. And then I'll take the rest of your questions.

The President had his normal briefings at 8:00 a.m., and then the rest of the morning he'll be spending in policy time. At 1:15 p.m. today he will make remarks on Malaria Awareness Day. The President declared today, April 27, 2007, to be the first-ever Malaria Awareness Day, and the purpose is to educate people about combating malaria. And you'll see, Mrs. Bush did some interviews, as well, on that. So he'll make remarks today; Mrs. Bush will introduce him at the event.

At 2:10 p.m. the President will meet with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Conference. And at 3:15 p.m. he has a meeting on financial literacy. April is Financial Literacy Month.

Q: What does that mean?

MS. PERINO: Well, it is a chance for -- the President is going to be meeting with a group of people to talk about the need to help them organize efforts to make sure people understand the importance of savings and how to make sure that they understand all that they need to do to help protect themselves, both when they're younger, in terms of consumer credit and those types of things, and then on into their later years, as they head into retirement. And we will release an event backgrounder with information on the meeting participants to that one.

And then on the Virginia Tech update. As you know, last Saturday in the radio address -- I guess last Friday, when we released the radio address -- the President had directed officials from the Department of Education, Health and Human Services and the Justice Department to provide assistance to the Virginia Tech community and participate in the review of the broader discussions of policy issues surrounding the tragedy. And starting today, Secretaries Leavitt and Spellings, and the Attorney General will begin to convene meetings throughout the country. States include Minnesota, Colorado, Utah, Iowa, Tennessee and Texas. In many of these states, similar tragedies have occurred and the lessons learned from those events will provide valuable input for this review.

Administration officials are also going to be meeting with Virginia Governor Kaine's commission, which is conducting an in-depth investigation of this tragedy from the state's perspective. And when I listed those states, I think that that is inclusive of the states, but not the exhaustive list.

So now it's my pleasure to introduce to you Dennis Wilder. He is the Senior Director for East Asia at the National Security Council, and he'll talk to you about the President's meeting with Abe.

DIRECTOR WILDER: Good morning. The President and Mrs. Bush are looking forward to hosting the first visit of Prime Minister Abe and his wife, Akie, to Washington since the Prime Minister took office last September. They did have an opportunity to meet in Hanoi and have a one-on-one meeting there last November, just after Mr. Abe took office.

But this visit is designed to offer the two leaders not only a significant amount of time to discuss bilateral issues, but also to allow them to develop their personal relationship further.

The Abes will arrive tomorrow. They'll stay at Blair House. The Prime Minister will meet with congressional leaders. He'll pay his respects at Arlington Cemetery, and he's planning to visit wounded troops at Bethesda Naval Hospital.

Mrs. Bush will take Mrs. Abe Thursday afternoon to visit Mount Vernon, and then they'll be guests -- the Abes, that is, will be guests of the President and Mrs. Bush at a small, informal dinner in the private quarters of the White House tomorrow evening.

On Friday morning, the President will host Prime Minister Abe at Camp David for a morning of discussions, press briefing and lunch. And then Prime Minister and Mrs. Abe will leave Washington on Friday evening for the Middle East.

I think with all the attention and discussion that the emergence of China and India in Asia has been given, it's useful to remind ourselves that Japan remains the world's second largest economy with a gross domestic product greater than that of China and India combined. Indeed, we see Japan as our greatest strategic partner in East Asia, and an increasingly indispensable global partner. Japan has made the largest financial commitment of any nation, except the United States, to the rebuilding of Iraq, with a total commitment of over $12 billion in grants, loans and debt relief. Japan is also the third largest contributor in Afghanistan, with an overall commitment of $1.45 billion since 2002, to do such things as build roads and airports and boost health and educational services.

Japanese defense forces have conducted refueling operations for the United States and coalition forces worth more than $180 million to support naval operations in Operation Enduring Freedom. And Japan is the second largest contributor to the United Nations, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. In fact, Japan has about 5,700 people involved in peace-keeping operations worldwide.

In terms of the discussions topics during their meeting, obviously topping the agenda is the security situation in East Asia, as they'll discuss our common approach to the North Korean nuclear problem, the ongoing realignment of U.S. forces in Japan, and ways to deepen our defense cooperation.

As the leaders of the world's largest high-technology economies and wealthiest democracies, they'll discuss ways to use their resources to promote political freedom in Asia and around the globe, address environmental issues and help advance the development of clean technologies for nuclear and non-nuclear energy generation, and to promote sustainable development in the developing world.

As you know, the international compact meeting will be held next week and Prime Minister Abe, as I said, is going to travel to the Middle East, so you can expect that they will exchange views on the Middle East peace process, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan.

In anticipation of the G8 summit in Germany in June, and of Japan's role as chair of the G8 next year, we'll also be looking for ways to better coordinate our approaches on the Doha round and global and bilateral trade liberalization, and our approaches to energy security and environmental challenges.

Let me just sum up by saying that we hope this visit will help remind the American people of the breadth and depth of U.S.-Japan global alliance. Prime Minister Abe has ably taken up where his predecessor left off, in terms of the close ties to Washington, and we very much look forward to offering he and his wife a very special visit.

Q: Dennis, thanks. Abe says he wants to discuss the Japanese abductee issue with the President. The Japanese say that they're concerned that the United States might consider de-listing North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism before the abductee issue is resolved. What's the United States position on those two issues?

DIRECTOR WILDER: I think Ambassador Hill and the rest of the American team have been very clear with the North Koreans on this issue. We aren't going to de-link the abductee issue from the state sponsor of terrorism issue. We fully expect that the bilateral working group between Japan and the DPRK is going to have success in moving forward on this issue. And we very much hope that, obviously, that we get back to those working group discussions as soon as possible.

Q: On April 3rd, the President spoke with Prime Minister Abe on telephone about the comfort issue. Does the President agree with Prime Minister Abe's views on that subject? And does the United States think that Japan should do more on this issue?

DIRECTOR WILDER: The President believes that Prime Minister Abe has done a lot to clear up the misunderstandings in the last couple of weeks on this issue. As you know, Mr. Abe, in interviews and in statements, has indicated that the Japanese position, the official position of Japan has not changed, and that he personally apologizes for the horrible things that happened to those women. I don't think this is going to be a major issue of the visit because the two have discussed these issues in depth.

Q: A quick question on the congressional leaders, is there any more details on that? The exact where and when?

DIRECTOR WILDER: I believe it's going to be at Blair House. I will leave it to the Japanese to give you any details that they have on exactly which leaders are going to be there. But I think it's a bipartisan group of senior leadership in U.S. Congress.

Q: Is the playing -- automakers and trade, is the playing field fair, from the U.S. point of view, between U.S. and Japan, especially since Toyota has now surpassed GM?

DIRECTOR WILDER: Dave, do you want to talk about economic questions?

MR. McCORMICK: Hi, I'm Dave McCormick from the NSC. I work on economic issues. And certainly we continue to work with the Japanese. They are our second largest trading relationship, and a very, very important one. And we look to have open markets in all areas, and are focused on continuing to find ways for Japan to open up its markets, particularly for foreign investment in the automotive sector. We think that we've generally had a lot of good progress, in terms of a good open exchange of trade in the automotive sector.

Q: Is the playing field fair?

MR. McCORMICK: The automotive makers have met with the President on this issue and, generally, we think it is.

Q: Will currency also be coming up, or other trade issues in their talks?

MR. McCORMICK: I think there will a couple of trade issues that will be talked about. One will certainly be Doha. And Prime Minister Abe and the President are both, we know, very committed to trying to find a successful conclusion to the Doha round, so that will be part of the dialogue, I suspect. And certainly another issue will be APEC and trying to think about how those two leaders work together to ensure that APEC remains the premier economic forum in Asia for discussing economic integration and the economic agenda.

Q: And currency?

MR. McCORMICK: It may come up in the agenda, I suspect it probably won't be a central part of the discussion.

Q: Just one question on the comfort women, just to follow up. You said you don't expect that to be a major issue, but do you think that's something the President will, on his own, raise with the Prime Minister?

DIRECTOR WILDER: I don't know whether the President will actually raise this particular issue. The President has had discussions with both Prime Minister Abe and Prime Minister Koizumi about how you deal with issues of history, how Japan can work with its neighbors to resolve some of those issues. It may come up in that context.

Q: And what's the point the President made in this conversation?

DIRECTOR WILDER: I think the point the President makes is historical issues are tough, and these are issues that we all contend with in our societies. The United States is not free of some rather poignant historical issues, ourselves. But that as you move forward, Japan as a modern, democratic nation needs to find a way to place these issues behind it so it can move forward in cooperation with its neighbors.

Q: Just one other question on Abe. You had mentioned about this is a visit that you're going to try to improve the -- not "improve," but develop a personal relationship between the two leaders. Obviously, Prime Minister Koizumi was one of the President's closest allies personally, before he stepped down --

DIRECTOR WILDER: And is still a close friend.

Q: Okay. I just was kind of curious if you can give us any indication whether this relationship is off to that kind of development.

DIRECTOR WILDER: Well, I was there at their meeting in Hanoi and I can tell you that there was a lot of warmth. There are interesting historical, sort of, ties between the two men: Abe's grandfather actually played golf with the President's grandfather, and in Hanoi, gave him a picture of President Eisenhower and the two grandfathers golfing together. I think that the President admires Abe's leadership.

I do want to stress this global alliance that we have with the Japanese, and this transcends the Koizumi administration. We think the Japanese have an important role to play internationally, but they can play a bigger role internationally. And the President admires what the Japanese are trying to do not only in peacekeeping and reconstruction in the Middle East, but also in democracy building in East Asia.

So we are like-minded democracies pursuing a common agenda and, again, that transcends whether it's Prime Minister Koizumi or Prime Minister Abe.

Q: But is Abe an Elvis fan? (Laughter.)

Q: Would that grandfather be Walker?


Q: The grandfather would be Walker, the President's grandfather?


Q: Or Prescott?

DIRECTOR WILDER: I'm sorry, Prescott.

Q: Senator Prescott.

DIRECTOR WILDER: Yes, I'm sorry. That's right.

Q: Where did they play golf together?

DIRECTOR WILDER: I believe it was Burning Tree.

Q: What did they shoot? (Laughter.)

DIRECTOR WILDER: Now we're getting beyond my capabilities.

Q: I understand Prime Minister Abe wants some kind of post-Kyoto agreement on the climate change, and that issue may come up. What is President Bush planning to tell him about climate change?

DIRECTOR WILDER: Mr. McCormick has all the answers.

MR. McCORMICK: Thanks. Yes, I think this will be a constructive discussion on climate and energy security and economic growth, which are three topics that really need to be discussed together. Prime Minister Abe has expressed his climate priorities within that context -- the President talks about it in that context. So I think you'll find a good bit of common ground on that. Both leaders also are very committed to technology development and deployment around the world as being a key component of addressing those issues. So Japan, as you know, has taken the leadership role, particularly in the nuclear industry. And so I think that will be a part of the discussion.

The third part of the discussion, I suspect, will be around the importance of emerging economies, like China and India, engaging in this dialogue. And you may have noticed that Prime Minister Abe and Premier Wen had recently announced a series of statements and agreements to cooperate in this area, I think indicative of Japan's commitment to try to engage China in this dialogue. We, of course, are engaging China in a very similar dialogue through the strategic economic dialogue. So I think there's a lot of opportunity here for collaboration.

Final point is that Japan hosts the G8 next year, 2008. So this is clearly a topic on the agenda for the G8 here in 2007, and I think will continue to be with Japan's leadership, the topic in '08.

Q: Will President Bush bring something new on climate change to the G8, because that's where we're all headed on this.

MR. McCORMICK: Well, it's clearly going to be on the agenda. The President has brought a lot new to the climate discussion, most recently in the State of the Union, in terms of his initiatives there. So I think those principles that I outlined will continue to be a central part of how the President talks about this. And being in the middle of the G8 discussions now, I think that there is a lot of room for finding common ground on those principles.

Q: I wanted to ask about Russia. Japan is one of the few major powers in the world not to send a special representative to the funeral of President Yeltsin -- happening today -- which is kind of indicative of what's happening in the relationship. Do you expect relations with Russia to be on the agenda in any way? Either with relation to the territorial issue or the energy issue or whatever?

DIRECTOR WILDER: I'll answer that in a moment, but can I go back to the Elvis question for just a quick second? You know, one thing they do share is a love of baseball, and a great deal of interest in Japan's most significant export to the United States in the last year, and that is the Boston Red Sox pitcher, who won his second game on Sunday. So I'm sure they'll be discussing that. And the Japanese are very proud that they are now exporting baseball players to the United States.

On the question of Russia, the Japanese are working hard, I think, to improve their relationship with Russia. I think that Foreign Minister Aso is planning to have meetings within the next week with his Russian counterpart.

Obviously, there are significant issues over the northern territories that they need to work out, some energy issues that they would like to work with the Russians on. I think the Japanese are eager to find a way to work forward on these issues. I don't see the relationship as quite as strained as you may be portraying it, but --

Q: No, I'm not. I was not trying to over-dramatize it. But is there a role for the U.S., basically?

DIRECTOR WILDER: This is a bilateral relationship. I'm not sure that we would play a major role in it.

Q: As long as we're talking about the personal relationship, I wondered if you could just elaborate a little bit on the setting for the meeting at Camp David, rather than the White House. Also why a small dinner and no big state dinner?

DIRECTOR WILDER: First of all, I think both the President and the First Lady did find there was personal chemistry between them and the Abes in Hanoi. I would say that Mrs. Abe is a dynamic young Japanese woman who has a very interesting background. She was a DJ on Japanese radio, she has a wide-ranging set of interests, she speaks English well. And so I think they really want the opportunity not to be constrained, if you will, by a very large state event to get to know each other much better.

Also, as I indicated, I hope, in my opening remarks, there's a tremendous amount for these two -- the President and the Prime Minister -- these two leaders to discuss. And Laurel cabin gives you a much better opportunity -- particularly when you have to translate between English and Japanese -- for an extended discussion.

And so I think it reflects the depth of the global alliance with Japan, that we found that it would be better to do this at Camp David, where you could relax, take some time, and really go in depth into some of the big issues of the day.

Q: Do you expect to hear Abe express concerns to the President that the U.S. is softening its stance towards North Korea a little too fast for their taste, especially without the issue of the kidnapped Japanese being resolved?

DIRECTOR WILDER: I've seen these press reports, and I must admit I find them a little confusing. We have worked very well with the Japanese to coordinate in the six-party talk process. I speak to my counterparts on a daily basis about the six-party process. Ambassador Hill is very close to his Japanese counterpart. I think we're in the same place on this issue.

We have expectations, as you know, that the North Koreans are going to fulfill their commitments. I think, frankly, people all across East Asia breathed a sigh of relief in February when there was an agreement, and I think East Asians in general are waiting to see whether the North Koreans will live up to their agreements.

So I don't know where this difference is between the United States and Japan; I certainly can't identify it at this point.

MS. PERINO: Last one.

Q: Can you give any details on the dinner? I know that Senator Baucus and Specter sent a request that U.S. beef be served. I'm just curious, because there's still some back and forth, even though the market is open, there are restraints. So --

DIRECTOR WILDER: If you ask my personal recommendation, I think, obviously, Prime Minister Abe ought to have a steak dinner sometime while he's here in Washington, just as Mr. Koizumi, by the way, last year had a steak dinner.

Q: Do you know if they're serving it?

DIRECTOR WILDER: I think I'm going to refer you to the First Lady's press office. I don't get into those details.

MS. PERINO: Great answer. (Laughter.)


MS. PERINO: Thanks, Dennis. We'll release this transcript, as well, so you guys have it, unlike usual for the gaggles.


Q: I'd like to ask you about the level of political discourse about Iraq. The Vice President and President are accusing the Democrats of being defeatist, they're talking about surrender dates. Senator Reid comes back and calls the Vice President an attack dog. What happened to the thought that there was going to be an elevated debate; they were going to be more high minded, not as mean spirited?

MS. PERINO: Well, I think that what happens in Washington at times of high drama and passion on both sides of the aisle, and on both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue, that there are times when you're trying to make your substantive point, that the rhetoric can sometimes lead you to say things that you might not otherwise say in a one-on-one conversation.

I do think that when talking about a surrender date, it is very descriptive of what we believe is in the legislation. It says, you must leave on this day, and we think that that tells the enemy that they've won and that we've surrendered. And I think that's a good way to explain it to the American people.

Q: Well, and you say that you're not questioning their patriotism, but by calling them defeatist and talking about surrender, you don't think that that gets close to that line of not --

MS. PERINO: I think that what we have done is argued on the merits and on the substance of our arguments. And I don't know if that's always been the case on the other side. I grant you that I think that tension is high, because the stakes are high. And we feel very strongly that leaving before the job is done is turning over the victory to the enemy. And this is an enemy that, as the President has said many times, people need to understand is not only vying for control of Iraq, is a sworn enemy of the United States being helped by other sworn enemies of the United States, and that we ought to take this very seriously.

Q: But don't you think that words matter? I mean, doesn't that suggest --

MS. PERINO: I certainly think --

Q: -- "helping the enemy" -- doesn't "helping the enemy" suggest some kind of lack of patriotism?

MS. PERINO: I think if you look at what the President has said, is that we are kidding ourselves if we think that the Qaeda is not trying to create a safe haven as they had in Afghanistan. And by us leaving too soon, before the Iraqis are able to take care of their country themselves, that that is what the President is trying to argue. And I would say that someone who calls the President a liar and a loser does not have very strong ground to stand on in talking about name-calling.


Q: When the President vetoes the war supplemental, as we think he'll get it, what does he do then? Will he reach out to Congress and say, okay, here's where we can move from here?

MS. PERINO: I think we'll have to wait and see what happens. I think that both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue are going to have to come together to try to work it out. And I think that both sides recognize that.

Q: And when do you think -- how quickly would he veto it after the Senate votes?

MS. PERINO: Let us try to -- we don't even know when we're going to get the actual vote. We have some general idea, but not specifically. I think it's safe to say soon after.

Q: Well, "soon after" meaning -- I mean, if the President is at Camp David for the day, would he do it without any ceremony?

MS. PERINO: Let me just say soon after. I don't believe that we're going to be getting it on Friday.

Q: Do you think that there would be --

MS. PERINO: I think our indications are that we don't anticipate getting the bill on Friday.

Q: Do you envision, though, a formal -- I don't want to call it a ceremony, but for lack of a better word -- event, at this point?

MS. PERINO: We're talking about it, and what we would do, but we don't have any plans yet to announce. We're thinking about it.

Q: Okay.

MS. PERINO: But, obviously, the President has said he's going to veto it, and I think that it's important that the American people see him doing it.

Q: But this would be only his second veto, and I recall that during the stem cell veto, there was an elaborate event in which he brought families. I'm wondering if you're planning to bring military --

MS. PERINO: A little bit too early for us to preview, since we don't even have the bill yet and we don't know what day that it's coming. It's important.

Q: Yes, but you can get it together.

MS. PERINO: We're pretty good. (Laughter.)

Q: Just call it a "no surrender" party. (Laughter.)

MS. PERINO: We'll take that under consideration.

Q: A great Bruce Springsteen, "No Retreat, No Surrender."

MS. PERINO: I don't think he'd come. (Laughter.)


Q: Dana, continuing on the political discourse, Rahm Emanuel is going to have a speech today in which he's going to say that Bush is more corrupt than Nixon in Watergate, and that the government has become a step-child, his words, of the Republican Party.

MS. PERINO: That's really surprising, given the messenger, that this is the speech that he's going to be giving. I heard yesterday, too, that he's going to be calling it part of a grand conspiracy, which I think is the recurring nightmare. But the nightmare we thought we had woken up from is recurring. We thought that the vast right-wing conspiracy was over, and I think that some of the comments that, at least were described to me yesterday from a reporter who had seen the prepared remarks, it sounded a little more like something you would see in the National Enquirer, not at a prestigious American think tank.

And I do think that when you're 100-hour plan is faltering, maybe the best thing to fall back on is a conspiracy theory. But they're usually a little bit better than this one.

Go ahead.

Q: Al Jazeera is reporting, in an interview with Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah, that Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden are alive and well, and that Osama bin Laden had directed the attack on Vice President Cheney in Afghanistan. I was wondering if you have any comment or reaction to that.

MS. PERINO: No, I think -- it's an interesting comment from somebody over there. I haven't seen al Jazeera's transcript, and we'll see if we can look into it, but we don't have any comment from here.


Q: Did the President have an opportunity to see or review any of the testimony from the Tillman family or Jessica Lynch on the Hill yesterday?

MS. PERINO: I don't believe so, since he was traveling and he had a full day yesterday. And I haven't talked to him today in terms of whether he saw any news coverage of it.

Q: Well, maybe if you could check on that -- as the Commander-in-Chief --

MS. PERINO: I would doubt it. I mean, he was on the road all day. He didn't get home until about 8:30 p.m. last night.

Q: He was on the road all day when Gonzales testified, too, and he was fully briefed on that.

MS. PERINO: Yes. That's because his Attorney General was testifying, and you guys were --

Q: I'm just curious if --

MS. PERINO: -- wanting to know what the President's reaction to the testimony was. And I don't know if he saw any of the testimony. Obviously, he feels very deeply for the Tillman family and what they are going through, and he said so.

Q: The allegations made yesterday, there were deliberate attempts to use Pat Tillman's character, popularity, et cetera, and Jessica Lynch also saying that her unfortunate episode was used to try to -- used for PR purposes --

MS. PERINO: I think those accusations were taken very seriously, and that's why the Department of Defense did the extensive investigations that they did. There is no indication that the President had prior knowledge to the question surrounding their circumstances and their aftermath, and obviously the President feels very strongly that the Department of Defense should follow up when there are questions of -- whenever something might have been improperly told from the ground.

Q: Does the President feel as though he was deceived on the Tillman and Lynch cases?

MS. PERINO: There's no indication that the President got any word that there was questions surrounding his death, other than what had been reported in the paper. We checked into this, Gordon and I, and there's just no indication. I never asked him if he felt personally deceived, but obviously he's glad that the Department of Defense is trying to find out what happened, and to hold people accountable for it.

Q: When you said -- I believe you said that he learned of it from news reports.

MS. PERINO: I was asked by your network yesterday, and I said that there was no indication that he had any prior knowledge before the family would have known.

Q: Isn't that a little odd that, if this were the case, the Department of Defense wouldn't let him know?

MS. PERINO: Well, I think that that's why there was an investigation.


Q: Did you get a chance to see whether there was a reaction to the Hamas armed wing, and an end to the truce?

MS. PERINO: I did not. But I believe that someone has made comments on it from the State Department.

Q: State has commented, but just --

MS. PERINO: Okay, we'll see you at 1:00 p.m. -- 12:15 p.m.; 12:00 p.m.

END 10:12 A.M. EDT

George W. Bush, Press Gaggle by Dana Perino and Administration Officials on Visit by Japanese Prime Minister Abe Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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