George W. Bush photo

Press Gaggle by National Security Advisor Steve Hadley

January 14, 2008

Aboard Air Force One

En Route Saudi Arabia

4:10 P.M. (Local)

MS. PERINO: Hi, everybody. I'm going to introduce Steve Hadley, the National Security Advisor, who will give you a readout on today and talk about tonight a little bit, and then take some questions. And then we'll be on our way.

MR. HADLEY: Hello, everybody. The President, just as we took off, called President-elect Saakashvili of Georgia, congratulated him on his electoral victory. Saakashvili was appreciative of the President's call. He indicated that he had reached out to the opposition and was going to try and build a consensus during his -- what will be, obviously, his last term as President. It was a good call and obviously, at some point after his inauguration he will obviously come to Washington as the new President of Georgia.

Shall I talk a little bit about today?

MS. PERINO: Yes, please. I think you should give a little bit of flavor --

Q: Can I ask one quick follow-up on Georgia? Did the President raise any of the -- any concerns about the initial way the election was run in Georgia, any question about whether it was a fully democratic election?

MR. HADLEY: The President didn't. There have been a number of groups that have opined on that subject, and it's pretty clear that he won more than 50 percent, and therefore, avoided a second round. And that's really the judgment that's been reached by Georgian authorities and international authorities. So what he heard, what I think was very encouraging, was Saakashvili's indication that he was going to reach out to the opposition and try and build a national consensus going forward in his rule. So this is a good thing. This is -- the Georgian people have spoken and they have a new President and will move forward on that basis.

The President really did three things this morning, as you know. He toured the cultural center -- the Cultural District, and also the Masdar Exhibition. I think the President kind of gave you his reaction to it as he stood in front of the pool. I don't think I need to cover anything more about that unless you have some questions. It was a very impressive display, as you could see.

The President then really had, in addition to the cultural events, which you all saw, he had a meeting with the Dubai School of Government and also with -- a meeting with the Young Arab Leaders. Let me say a word about each of those organizations, since you're not familiar with them, and then a little bit about what the conversation was like.

The Dubai School of Government was established by Mohammed bin Rashid. It is -- its aim is to promote good governance through research and professional training. They have a number of programs; they're doing a number of them in collaboration with the JFK Kennedy School of Government up at Harvard. They organize various forums, and they also have a leadership training program for people in government from countries in the region. And this is interesting about UAE leading reform not only internally, but through the region more generally.

The second group, the Young Arab Leaders, it's an organization that aims to develop a network of young Arab men and women, again, not just in UAE, but throughout the Middle East region. It has chapters throughout the Arab world. Most of the members are under 45; they're considered future leaders in their fields. And it's an effort to develop initiatives throughout the region.

And also, the other thing that was interesting about that is that His Highness has sent them out to meet counterparts in the United States and other countries, as well. A hundred of them came and met with a hundred Americans in the United States recently. They either have completed or are on their way to go to Chile to have a similar exchange. So this is UAE reforming itself, being a -- in some sense, providing an example for the region, and then on behalf of the region, working out -- reaching out to a more international audience.

In those conversations, it was pretty interesting -- obviously, there's been a lot of talk about the importance of foreign investment in places like UAE. One of the things that came up, of course, was the desire of the UAE to also invest in other markets, including the United States. They have, as you know, sovereign wealth funds, which they have accumulated, which they are using not only for internal investment, but also in investment abroad.

And one of the things that they raised with the President was a concern, particularly in the wake of the Dubai Ports, of whether investment by the UAE was welcome in the United States. And the President reassured them that it very much was, that the United States is open for foreign investment. That is our policy because it is in our interests; that -- he noted that to the extent those investments raise national security concerns, there is a forum and a process -- the CFIUS process -- to resolve those concerns. We had a sort of firm time line. But the overwhelming, vast majority of investments have traditionally raised no such concerns. So we wanted to emphasize that the United States continued to remain open for foreign investment.

There was a lot of discussion about the U.S. economy, the importance of the United States economy, and a healthy U.S. economy, to this region. The President was reassuring about the underlying fundamentals on the economy, and his optimism on its long-term strength.

There was a talk -- they raised with him the importance of the Middle East peace process to them as an item important to the region, and as an issue that progress on the Middle East peace process would help them deal with the challenge of extremism in the region. That was something they shared with him.

The President, in turn, expressed some of the reactions he's had to the trip. I think it's fair to say he was very impressed by the UAE. One of the reasons he was very impressed was -- a couple things. He had a real sense -- he is very much impressed by the entrepreneurial spirit of the people; that these are people who not only have a -- who want to build their own future, who have a vision for their country, that it can be -- that vision can be an example for the region, but it is characterized by an entrepreneurial spirit, a willingness, a desire to get things done, to take a vision and turn it into concrete results on the ground.

He's very impressed by the tolerance of this society, and by its empowerment of women, because as you know, and you heard him say many times, he believes that freedom and development require and benefit heavily from the empowerment of women, and that is something he could see very clearly in his meetings here with the UAE.

And, of course, the freedom agenda came up. This is something that comes up as part of this trip. The President expressed his views about freedom -- you've heard him say it many times -- the importance of the freedom agenda to the long-term prosperity and security of the region.

Iran came up in very -- what is now pretty standard terms. The President reassuring them about the NIE, that notwithstanding the NIE, he remains concerned about Iran. They're clearly concerned. He emphasized he did, as well. But this is -- there hasn't been much new ground broken on policy here for the last 48 hours because the President -- our policy is pretty clear. The region understands it. It is to try and solve this problem diplomatic -- through international pressure.

And so while Iran keeps coming up, it is an issue that is pretty well understood. And the President's real objection was simply to dispel any concerns that might have been raised by the NIE that he doesn't understand the seriousness of the problem. So it came up, pretty small part of the discussion. I think that's really pretty much --

Q: Came up -- in which discussions did Iran come up in?

MR. HADLEY: I don't know which one. I'm basically taking the two of them and putting them together, trying to give you a sense of what --

Q: -- which forum? You're sure which forum?

MR. HADLEY: I don't know which one it came up -- it wasn't -- it didn't dominate the discussion in either forum.

Q: But he didn't talk about sort of asking them to cut off trade ties, or that kind of thing, with Iran?

MR. HADLEY: No. What the President said -- nothing new here -- international effort to send a clear message to Iran; put pressure on Iran so that the Iranian people will see that there is a better choice available to them. I mean, the President has been talking in these terms now for weeks. So it's standard fair, but it was important for them to hear it from him, and they did.

And that's really what was done. We're now on to Saudi Arabia. I talked with some of you about the Saudi trip. The President will have some down time when he gets there. There will then be a dinner. There will be an expanded meeting, and then probably a smaller meeting in which the King and the President can renew their ties, and talk, and we can have an opportunity to talk a little bit more about that as that phase of the trip progresses.

Q: What about the arms deal with Saudi Arabia? Where do things stand? Is there going to be a notification going to the Hill today?

MR. HADLEY: There's another notification coming to the Hill that will go probably sometime today. I talked a little bit about it the last time we got together. The package, as you know, was really announced here months ago. It's the same package. But what the process is when you announce a package like this, then American representatives, Saudi representatives need to sit down and go through the specifics of the package -- what are their requirements, how will we meet them specifically. And then once that is done, it gets notified to the Congress.

So these are not new announcements. This is the implementation of the announcement that was made months ago. Pretty big package, a lot of pieces. As these pieces get readied and worked out between the two parties, they can then get notified on the Hill.

Q: What piece is getting notified today?

MR. HADLEY: We'll give you -- when you see the announcement, the announcement will describe those pieces. So I think I'm just going to wait for the announcement. It will be out later today.

Q: -- dollar amount on it? Is it $20 billion?

MR. HADLEY: The specifics of the announcement will be out later today. This is pretty technical stuff now, and I think we'll just wait for the announcement. It will provide the background you need.

Q: Who is putting out the announcement?

MR. HADLEY: These are done by the Secretary of State --

Q: So it will come out of the State Department?

MR. HADLEY: These are -- in the standard arms sale process, it will come out of the State Department, yes.

Q: Is this the latest meeting that the President has ever had?

Q: It's in the evening.

Q: The latest at night?

MR. HADLEY: I don't know. It sort of depends on which time zone -- are we on Washington time? Are we on Saudi time? I don't know.

Q: Steve, what can you say about the texture of anything that leaders in either Abu Dhabi or Dubai have had to say to the President about Iran?

MR. HADLEY: The focus of discussion has really been on what these leaders are doing for their countries, and I think the impression they give, each of them in different ways, is they're very visionary, they're very ambitious for their countries. They are very -- they have both a vision and a will and a plan to get it done. And you know our President -- he likes folks who are action-oriented and trying to get things done on the ground for their people. And that I think is the overwhelming story here, and that was what was the focus. And I think the President was very much impressed by what he saw in terms of the people, in terms of the leadership. And there -- I think he felt there's an opportunity for us to strengthen ties with these leaders. So that's really what I think he found most interesting about his conversations.

Q: While that is the overwhelming story, we also deal in sidebars. What was said about Iran?

MR. HADLEY: I've told you what was said about Iran. There's -- he emphasizes the importance of the seriousness with which they take the issue -- he takes the issue. They emphasized to him the seriousness with which he -- they take the issue. All agreed it's a difficult problem that needs to be addressed and at this point pursue in a diplomatic fashion.

Q: Are they concerned that the United States has been too bellicose on this issue? I mean, if it would be a fight it would be right in their backyard.

MR. HADLEY: No mention of anything like that.

Q: Can I ask you about Saudi Arabia? You mentioned the freedom agenda. It's a few years old now. Is the President going to mention human rights and democratization concerns in Saudi Arabia? Because they've made really very little progress, if any at all.

MR. HADLEY: The President talks about that at every stop.

Q: But will he do anything about it? They, last month, jailed a blogger, for instance -- made big news. He's still in prison. We don't know why. Will the President --

MR. HADLEY: These issues have all been raised with the Saudis and, as I say, the issues of human rights and democracy and freedom, as you can see, have come up and will come up at every stop.

Q: And what was their -- what was the response in UAE to the President's presentation of the importance of the freedom agenda? Did they say anything? Did they ignore it? What did they say in response?

MR. HADLEY: Heads nod. Heads nod. And I think they would say they are pursuing the freedom agenda. Obviously they have different political systems from us, different history, different cultural context, and as the President said, the freedom agenda as it is embodied in the institutions will look different and will reflect the history and culture of the time. But these folks I think are onboard with the freedom agenda and they are pursuing it in their own fashion.

Q: You've mentioned a lot of the economic reform, the entrepreneurial and so forth. There isn't any visible political reform to speak of in UAE, is there?

MR. HADLEY: There has been some. There is increased participation. There is a council, I believe, that has been -- I'll check on this for you -- but there have been some institutional reforms that move in that direction. I think the other thing that is -- really strikes you is the extent to which women have responsible positions in this society and are very comfortable. If you look at the composition of the two groups, I think they are roughly 50-50, men to women. Women were very self-confident. They have very responsible positions in this society. I think it's a very interesting example of what is -- can happen in this part of the world.

Q: Will the President discuss oil prices with the King when he meets with him in Saudi Arabia?

MR. HADLEY: We'll have to see.

Q: But is that part of the agenda?

MR. HADLEY: We'll have to see. We'll have to see.

Q: Just one last thing -- why did the President decide now in his last moments of his presidency to come do this kind of cultural outreach, public diplomacy thing in the UAE and Bahrain? Why was that important now? I mean, so much, so many cultural stops and he never usually does these kinds of things.

MR. HADLEY: We've been doing cultural stops really for a while. If you look at the trip that we made in Latin America here a year, year-plus ago, it's very much of a piece. One of the things we try to do is we figure out what are the objectives for the trip; what are the themes he wants to strike, both with the leaders and then publically? And then in addition to the sort of formal governmental advance, we ask ourselves, what are the events that he can do that would both advance those objectives, both in terms of his own knowledge and understanding, but also can be visible of examples of his advancing that agenda, both for the country and in the region as a whole? That's what we did in Latin America. That's what we've done here. We did -- tried to do the same thing on the trip to Australia, though that was considerably abbreviated. So I don't think that's particularly new. We've done it before. It's a good part of getting him to see and be seen in the region.

MS. PERINO: Thanks guys.

END 4:28 P.M. (Local)

George W. Bush, Press Gaggle by National Security Advisor Steve Hadley Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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