Press Briefing by Dana Perino
For Immediate Release
November 27, 2007
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
3:41 P.M. EST
MS. PERINO: Hi, everyone. Sorry for the late briefing again, but we've had a couple of busy days, as you know. The President had his normal briefings at 8:00 a.m., and then he went to Annapolis, as you know, and he gave a speech -- we'll have more on that in a moment. And you already heard from the President.
He then -- when he came back to the White House he had a meeting with the leader of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, Abd-al-Aziz al-Hakim, that was in the Oval Office this afternoon. The last time they met was December 4, 2006. The following were the key topics that they discussed: the improving security situation in Iraq and the improvements that have occurred since their meeting nearly a year ago; the strategic partnership between the United States and Iraq and the importance of the Declaration of Principles that the President and Prime Minister Maliki signed yesterday; the tribal awakening, how the Sunni tribal groups from al Anbar and other areas -- and Shia groups -- are coming together and meeting, and this is being replicated across Iraq; and then the importance of the need for support from Iraq's neighbors as Iraq moves forward.
Then the President just now finished an interview with the Associated Press, your colleagues here from the White House briefing room and --
Q I notice they're not here.
MS. PERINO: I know; kind of an empty room today.
Q Did he make some major news?
MS. PERINO: They told me that they were going to have somebody else monitor the briefing. So I'll go to questions. Kelly.
Q There are reports of new tension between China and the U.S. concerning U.S. Navy ships, where Admiral Keating today said that the Chinese government has denied safe harbor. And there was some question about whether this was a new wrinkle with China, perhaps a response to the Dalai Lama's visit. What do you know about this? And --
MS. PERINO: To be honest I don't know enough about it. I knew about the incident from last week; this is new for me, I've been up in Annapolis and then with the President, and so I'll have to refer you to Department of Defense for now. But we'll check, and if I can get more, I'll get it for you.
Q Dana, is the President planning any trips to Israel and the West Bank?
MS. PERINO: He was asked -- he made no announcements, in terms of travel, today. One of the things he said is that you don't need to be in the region in order to help facilitate getting to this point. In fact, the President, as you know, has not traveled to Israel as President; he went as governor of Texas. And so he said that if there are plans and news of a future trip, that he'll let us know.
Q But he doesn't think that would send a signal that he's fully engaged in this? I mean, he just doesn't --
MS. PERINO: I think that you saw -- what you saw today is that the President is fully engaged, and that it's because of his actions -- if you go back to 2002, where he -- 2001, where he said, we are no longer going to stand for terror; in 2002, he calls for -- he's the first President to call for a Palestinian state. He said he would not work with Arafat, who was complicit in terror. Since then, we now have a Jewish leader in Israel who recognizes the need for a Palestinian state for Israel's own security. In addition to that, you have a Palestinian leader who wants to work forward to get to the road map. He cares deeply about the welfare of the Palestinian people.
And so now they all came together today and they had a moment that the President considered was a significant moment, in that they were able to come together on a joint statement today. There was some question -- as you know in this room, there was a question of whether or not the Palestinians and the Israelis would be able to agree on a statement. And the President helped encourage them today to finalize that while they were in their trilateral meeting, and Secretary Rice and her counterparts stepped away from the meeting and they finished working on the final details. And then the President was able to read that joint statement. And he said that he will continue to be committed.
But what he also said is that the Americans cannot impose peace, and that this is going to have to take the Israelis and the Palestinians having this genuine commitment to work together. And he thinks that we're at such a moment to take advantage of that time right now.
Q What is your strategy for engaging Hamas in this? Because, you know, they're calling it a waste of time. Do you believe that they need to be a part of this to actually have -
MS. PERINO: Well, this is something that is going to be very difficult and is going to take some time to work through. But I think that when you have a leader such as in Prime Minister -- I'm sorry, President Abbas, you have somebody who cares deeply about the welfare of the Palestinian people. They have lived with terrible indignities and humiliation for years, and it is time that they had a vision and a hope for peace. Hamas doesn't provide that vision, and increasingly the Palestinian people are realizing that.
And President Abbas is showing that he is a leader that can provide for them a hopeful vision on the horizon -- and because of that, his leadership will be rewarded. But this is going to be something that the Palestinians are going to have to work through. It will take some time.
Q So does the President believe that you can actually have a sustainable peace in that region without engaging Hamas, who a lot of people do follow over in the --
MS. PERINO: Well, the Palestinians are going to have to work this through. But the President -- you can't have two Palestinian states. You're going to have one Palestinian state in order for this to work, and so it will take some time for the Palestinians to work it through.
Q The President said that the U.S. was going to play a role in monitoring and judging whether or not both sides meet their phase one in the road map.
MS. PERINO: Right.
Q Did the President explain how he was going to do that, or is that something that --
MS. PERINO: That is still something that the final touches of that are being worked on. And I expect that the State Department would have something, maybe, before the end of the week that they could detail out on that.
Q And you said that the President talked to al-Hakim today?
MS. PERINO: Yes, in the Oval Office.
Q Okay. Did he mention at all that the Middle East -- the conference, and whether or not he thought this was a good thing for Iraqis, and the reconciliation that's going on over there?
MS. PERINO: I did not sit in on that meeting. I got these notes from one of the note-takers that was there; I don't know if that specifically came up. But obviously the President thinks that if you can get to a permanent two-state solution in the Middle East, with two states living side by side in peace and security, that it will then help lead to an overall comprehensive peace in the Middle East, of which, obviously, Iraq is a part.
Q Has the President heard from Maliki or anybody else, expressing that, that they're encouraged by the --
MS. PERINO: The President and Prime Minister Maliki spoke about it yesterday morning on the secure videoconference when -- right before the conference, right before the President's bilateral meetings. And Prime Minister Maliki congratulated the President on getting to this point, and recognized that it was a significant moment.
Q Dana, I believe that the President is supposed to meet with Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas separately tomorrow in the Oval Office. Can you talk at all about the purpose of those meetings?
MS. PERINO: Well, one of the things that we have said is that -- that the President has said -- and both leaders, the Israeli leader and the Palestinian leader, have said -- that today was important because today was the moment where you launched the negotiations, but what's really important is what happens the day after and the subsequent weeks that follow. And tomorrow will be a chance for the President to meet with them again. There is going to be an addition to the schedule, and the President will also have another trilateral meeting with them, a short trilateral meeting with them, as well, tomorrow.
Q And does the President intend to continue those kinds of meetings with them again, or will he leave that to Secretary Rice?
MS. PERINO: Secretary Rice will be doing a lot of that heavy lifting, in terms of the travel to the region and helping them -- as she has been. But what the President told the leaders today is that he's only a phone call away. And obviously they travel to the United States very often, and if there's travel on our end I can let you know. But he's been on the phone a lot with these leaders leading up this moment, and that's what has helped us get to this time when these two leaders could come together. And in addition, you had over 40 countries who are represented at the conference today, including the Arab nations, which is very important -- and the President helped bring all of that together.
Q And then just back to his visit -- or lack thereof -- to Israel, is there a reason that he hasn't gone to Israel during the course of his presidency?
MS. PERINO: No, not that I'm aware of. Obviously he's -- he has said several times that he really loved his trip to Israel when he was governor and that of course he would like to go again. If there can be an agreement and plans come together, then we'll let you know.
Q Presumably the President offered encouragement and inspiration when he met with the two leaders yesterday. I wonder if he gets down to negotiating tomorrow, if he starts to look at specific issues when he talks with them?
MS. PERINO: Well, we'll see. But my instinct is that that's not the intention of these meetings. This is going to be a situation where the Israelis and the Palestinians are going to have to work through these core substantive issues and look carefully at what President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert said today. They both said that they're committed to doing that; that they're not going to leave any issue untouched; and that it's going to be painful and difficult and it's going to be a long road, but that they are committed to doing it.
And so the President can help guide them, but he is not going to do the negotiating for them.
Q So it's more inspiration tomorrow, then? More encouragement?
MS. PERINO: Well, we'll see. I think that it will be the how do you keep moving forward in terms -- on this path. We have -- they have a way to get there, which is the road map that the President released in April of 2003. And that is what they can use in order to start working through those issues.
Q You also said that the President helped encourage them to finalize their statement while at the trilateral. I noticed he was wearing his glasses, suggesting to me they didn't have time to get it into large print. Was it that close, I mean, minutes?
MS. PERINO: Yes, sir, it was. But the President got there and he was informed by Secretary Rice that they were very close, but there were just some issues that still needed to be worked out, and the President helped finish -- helped them resolve those differences. Secretary Rice and her counterparts, the Palestinian and Israeli counterparts, stepped aside, worked on the language and brought it back, and everyone agreed to it. And the President said, why don't I read this at the top of my speech, and they all agreed.
Q What was the sticking point? Was it the fact that they didn't want to (inaudible) Jewish state?
MS. PERINO: No, I'm not going to comment, because I don't know the details, and I'll leave that -- those were private negotiations, and I'll leave it at that.
Q So it was not originally planned for the President to read the statement?
MS. PERINO: That's right, because we didn't know that there was going to be a statement.
Q By reading it, was that a way to reinforce it?
MS. PERINO: Sure. I think that having the President there to be able to -- I think, well, leading up to this, everyone had wondered, is there going to be a document or is there not? And you'll remember, I said yesterday, it would be a nice thing to have, but it wasn't critical to the meeting; they could launch negotiations without the document. But by having the document, it helped define the -- it helped define the launch of the negotiations, which then helps define the success of the conference, so that others wouldn't define it for them.
Q Once more on tomorrow's meetings. Is this some sort of a send-off or a pep talk or something for tomorrow? What is it that he's going to say to them tomorrow individually and in the trilateral?
MS. PERINO: Well, he's had lots of discussions with them, in terms of getting them forward. And they now --
Q I guess, what more can he say?
MS. PERINO: You know, you have a big event and then tomorrow morning, it's like the after-party. (Laughter.)
Q Is that what --
MS. PERINO: No, I don't know, I can't predict what the President is going to say tomorrow. They've had a lot of discussions leading up to this.
Q But is there one piece of advice that he's going to give them that he's saving for tomorrow or something?
MS. PERINO: No, I don't believe so. I think that this will just be another chance for him to touch base with them. And if they have something on their mind that they want to share with him that they're worried about or troubled about, he's got an open mind, and he's got a wide-open door, and the phone lines are open and they can call him any time.
And so I think that's one of the things that he'll reinforce with them, is that he said he was committed, and he means it.
Q Thank you, Dana. While I realize the President has had a full plate today and will tomorrow, you put out a pretty strong statement from him about Russia and what is going on there yesterday. Given all that he's had to do, has he found any time, perhaps, say, to put in a telephone call to President Putin or do anything to follow up on his statement?
MS. PERINO: I don't have an update for you on any of the calls, but our embassy officials have been in touch with his officials. And Under Secretary Nick Burns and my counterpart at the State Department, Sean McCormack, both answered charges yesterday where President Putin's government had suggested that the United States somehow was responsible for the election observers not going to that country, and that's absolutely untrue.
Q Dana, why do you think it is the President never has gone to Israel over the last six-and-a-half years? He has been a strong supporter; it is unusual for a President not to make a trip to that part --
MS. PERINO: I'm not going to speculate as to why he hasn't gone. There could be a variety of reasons, including security. But I know that he would like to go again and if those plans come together he'll let us all know.
Q If he does accept an invitation to go, what would be the point? I mean, what would it take to get the President to go to Israel? Would they have to have an agreement with the Palestinians? Would it have to be an occasion of some sort?
MS. PERINO: As much as I'd like to speculate on that, I just can't, because it's a hypothetical that I just -- I don't know yet.
Q Dana, at Annapolis today the President said, "The Israelis must bring an end to the occupation which began in 1967." And my question, do you know of any Israeli officials who have asked about the U.S. occupation of Mexican land in 1848?
MS. PERINO: I do not.
Q All right. The AP reported that organizers of the Annapolis peace talk would not promise that this will confront "the rights of Palestinians and their descendants who left homes in present-day Israel," but this AP story made no mention at all of hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees in 1947 and '48, who lost their homes in Arab lands when they became refugees to Israel. And my question, does the White House believe that Palestinian land losses were more or less or about the same as Jewish losses?
MS. PERINO: What I will tell you is that those are all of the issues that are going to have to be discussed as they work towards a permanent solution.
Q Can I have one more?
MS. PERINO: No, I'm going to move on --
Q No, no, no, she had three -- could I just --
Q Thanks, Dana. I just want to talk about the importance of this negotiation to the President, in terms of his last months in office. How much of his political capital does he want to spend on this deal? Is it all his remaining political capital?
MS. PERINO: Well, I really urge you to take a step back and look what this President has done on this issue. This is a decades-old conflict -- many Presidents have tried to address it and to work with them.
We have a different set of circumstances now and that's why the President said that time is right for us to work towards this peace. If three years ago you would have had these two leaders in place, both in agreement that there needs to be a Palestinian state, then the timing would have been right then. It just so happens that the timing is right now, and the President is going to do all he can to help the leaders achieve what they have said is their stated goal. The leaders have said they would like to complete this negotiation within the year. And so we'll try to help them do that.
Q I guess what I'm asking, though, is does this become the primary focus of the last year in the White House?
MS. PERINO: There are many -- the President has a full plate, from making sure that America keeps safe from terrorists, ensuring that there are the institutional tools in place for the intelligence community and our law enforcement officials to keep us safe; we have 160,000 troops in Iraq; we have tens of thousands of troops in Afghanistan -- I don't have the exact number off the top of my head.
We have a lot of issues that we're working towards. We are dealing with Iran, in terms of a multilateral effort, in order to solve that situation diplomatically. We're trying to solve the situation in North Korea diplomatically, and we're on that track to do that. We're trying to get Pakistan back on a path to democracy. There are a lot of issues that this White House can focus on, and we can walk and chew gum at the same time.
Q Dana, at the meeting today, Syria was present. And although initially there were discussions that Syria would not be invited, and that if they were invited, there wouldn't be a discussion of the Golan Heights. But Prime Minister Olmert mentioned the Golan Heights in his statements. He also indicated he wanted to have peace with all the Arab nations. If the Israelis, as their indication -- their ongoing discussions, back-channel discussions -- would come to some agreement with Syria around a peace treaty, would the United States be supportive of that, given that Syria has been on the "axis of evil" and has been on the outs --
MS. PERINO: Syria was invited as part of the Arab follow-up committee, which is part of the Arab peace process. They were invited; they sent their deputy foreign minister. To the extent that Israel and Syria work something out, that is something that we would look to in the future. But I think it's important -- remember -- and I encourage you to look at the speeches, look at how genuine these two leaders were, listen to their words. Prime Minister Olmert said, I want to have a relationship with these Arab countries, and he reached out and he hopes that they will reach out back.
Q Lighter note? Given the President's interest in alternative fuel, do you know if he helped his parents make a decision on the windmill they're installing in Walker's Point?
MS. PERINO: No, I don't know. I know that the President -- the President and Mrs. Bush's home that they constructed on their ranch is quite energy efficient and designed for that purpose in mind, with lots of different features. So I think that it's a trend that not only the Bushes, but Americans everywhere are looking towards.
Q Any update on Vice President Cheney -- sorry --
Q This mechanism that they're forming to judge the future, is that what you said they'll have more from the State Department --
MS. PERINO: Yes, I expect the State Department might have more by the end of the week.
Q Is that in terms of the actual structure, membership, timing --
MS. PERINO: Correct, all those details. Did you have one more?
Q Any update on Vice President Cheney --
MS. PERINO: I just saw him, looking very sprightly.
Q And anything --
MS. PERINO: He was here early on this morning, he was here on time. He's been working a full day.
Q So no changes --
MS. PERINO: No changes, he looks great.
Q -- in his schedule, in his medications, nothing?
MS. PERINO: That's right.
Q Do we understand why his implanted atrial defibrillator did not correct the arrhythmia?
MS. PERINO: I don't know. I don't know. I don't know. (Laughter.) I'm not a doctor, I don't know. You have lots of doctors -- you can call his office or you can ask one of your experts that you guys employ, but I don't know what the atrial defibrillator does -- I can't even pronounce it. (Laughter.)
Okay, Les, can I do this last one?
Q This is the last one, yes.
MS. PERINO: Okay.
Q Thank you very much. In 1979, at the Carter White House, Sadat and Begin shook hands. And in 1993, at the Clinton White House, Arafat and Rabin shook hands. Now that the Saudis have refused to shake Israeli hands, that can surely not be blamed on President Bush rather than on Arab intransigents, can it?
MS. PERINO: I think that everyone has their own personal responsibility in that.
Q Thank you.
END 4:00 P.M. EST
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