07 March 2005
White House Daily Briefing, March 7
President's schedule, Bush/National Defense University speech, U.S. Ambassador to United Nations, Lebanon/Syrian troop withdrawal, Osama bin Laden, enemy combatants, Social Security/reform, Italian journalist shooting, human rights
White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan briefed the press March 7.
Following is the transcript from the White House briefing:
THE WHITE HOUSE
PRESS BRIEFING BY SCOTT McCLELLAN
PRESS BRIEFING BY SCOTT McCLELLAN
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:55 P.M. EST
MR. McCLELLAN: All right. The President looks forward here shortly to traveling to Pittsburgh, where -- along with Mrs. Bush, where they will highlight Mrs. Bush's agenda for Helping America's Youth. This is an initiative that focuses on three key areas that are critical to positive youth development. That includes family, school and community. And they will talk about the importance of empowering America's parents and our families and our schools and volunteer and faith-based organizations, to improve the lives of young people and help our young people make good choices, so that they can realize their full potential.
Secondly, I want to just make brief mention of tomorrow's remarks at National Defense University. The President looks forward to going back to National Defense University tomorrow, here in Washington, to update the American people on the progress that we're making in the war on terrorism, and to talk about the remarkable developments that are taking place in the broader Middle East.
We are living in a time of great challenge for our nation's security and to our freedom. It is a time that requires us to support the advance of freedom, in order to protect and defend freedom. The attacks of September 11th, just three-and-a-half years ago, changed the world we live in. The President made a decision, three-and-a-half years ago, to take the fight to the enemy to prevent attacks before they reach our shores. The President believes it's also important for us to support the spread of democracy and freedom, to ultimately end tyranny in our world. That is how we will win the war on terrorism.
And the President will talk about our strategy to defeat the terrorists abroad, so that we don't have to fight them here at home, and he'll talk about the great progress we're making to bring terrorists to justice. I also expect he'll express our enduring gratitude to our men and women in uniform who are serving and sacrificing in defense of freedom. And I expect he'll talk about how this is a global effort. Many countries across the world are partnering with us to step up to the fight. And I expect he'll highlight some of the contributions that nations around the world are making.
The President will focus in his remarks on our strategy for long-term peace, which is built upon extending freedom and hope across the world, especially in the broader Middle East. And so I expect he'll talk about how the advance of freedom and hope in the Middle East will require new thinking -- not only new thinking in the region, but new thinking in capitals, democratic capitals around the world.
We're making tremendous progress in the Middle East toward freedom and democracy. But this is a generational commitment, one that is difficult and requires determination and resolve. Our objective will not be achieved easily, nor will it be achieved all at once. And I expect the President will talk about that, how freedom has determined enemies; that this is a hopeful period in the Middle East. And I expect he'll talk about the progress being made in places like Afghanistan, and the Palestinian territories, and Lebanon, where the Lebanese people are showing that their future belongs to them.
And I expect he'll talk about the determination and courage of the Iraqi people and how that is serving as an example for the rest of the Middle East. Freedom is a universal right that all people aspire to, and the President recognizes that freedom is what leads to peace. And that's why we are working to support the advance of freedom around the world, especially in the broader Middle East.
And so that's a quick overview of his remarks for tomorrow. And with that, I will be glad to take your questions.
Go ahead, Steve.
QUESTION: Scott, John Bolton has been a long-time critic of the U.N. Is it going to be his job to shake things up, up there?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, the official announcement for our Ambassador to the United Nations is being made here shortly by Secretary Rice. I don't want to preempt her announcement. But I would point out that the President has talked about the importance of making sure that multinational and multilateral organizations are effective.
And the person that he has selected to nominate to the position of Ambassador to the United Nations is someone that shares the President's strong commitment to making sure that multilateral organizations are effective. The challenges of the 21st century requires all nations to work together to achieve meaningful results. And we are committed to working closely with the United Nations on our common agenda. And the President believes it's important that the United Nations focuses on achieving results to make the world a safer place and to make the world a better place. And this individual shares the President's commitment.
Q: Scott, the Syrian and Lebanese Presidents, earlier today, agreed on a partial withdrawal of troops by the end of March, and then negotiating at a later point for a full withdrawal. Is that -- is that satisfactory to the U.S.?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, we believe it is a half-measure that does not go far enough. It is time for Syria to fully implement United Nations Security Council Resolution 1559. That means the complete and immediate withdrawal of all Syrian military forces and all intelligence services from Lebanon. The Lebanese people are showing their desire to live in freedom and sovereignty and independence, free from outside interference and intimidation. And we want to see the Syrian and Lebanese government respect the will of the Lebanese people. The United States, like the rest of the international community, stands with the Lebanese people as they work to build a democratic future.
Q: But why isn't it seen as a step towards progress, if they're -- at least they're moving closer to the goal?
MR. McCLELLAN: Security Council Resolution 1559 was very clear -- it said that all foreign forces need to leave Lebanon. The Lebanese people are demonstrating in the streets that they desire to live in sovereignty and independence, free from outside interference and free from outside intimidation. The international community is speaking very clearly to the government of Syria and saying, you need to withdraw completely and immediately, and comply with the U.N. resolution. And we stand with the rest of the international community in supporting the Lebanese people in their aspirations to achieve that objective.
Q: But the Lebanese leadership agrees with Syria in its own timetable, its own way, saying, here's how we would like to do it. Syrian troops have been in there for nearly three decades. What would a couple weeks or a couple months -- what difference would that make?
MR. McCLELLAN: It's -- the resolution focuses on all foreign occupation ending in Lebanon. We want to see the complete and immediate withdrawal of all Syrian military forces and all intelligence services in Lebanon. This is a half-measure that simply does not achieve that objective. We stand with the Lebanese people. The Lebanese people are the ones who want a country that is sovereign and independent and free from outside interference. And that's who we stand with, along with the rest of the international community.
Q: So do you believe it's illegitimate, the support?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, this -- the agreement that they focused on was the '89 accord. We believe they need to focus on the Security Council resolution that was passed last year, Resolution 1559, which calls for an end to all foreign occupation of Lebanon, and which also calls for free and -- for the support of free and fair elections, and calls for a sovereign and independent Lebanon, where the Lebanese people have control over all their territory. That's what the resolution states, and that's the resolution that they need to focus on and fully implement.
Q: Scott, back to tomorrow's speech. You say the President will talk about the strategy abroad, so we don't have to fight the war here -- have a global effort. What is the new strategy, as it relates to trying to find Osama bin Laden?
MR. McCLELLAN: The new strategy?
Q: Yes, is there a new strategy?
MR. McCLELLAN: We continue to stay on the offensive against all terrorist leaders, to bring them to justice for the crimes they have committed against the American people and against the civilized world. He is someone that we are continuing to pursue, along with other al Qaeda leaders. I think the President will talk about how many of the al Qaeda leaders have already been brought to justice, in one way or another, and I expect he'll talk about that in his remarks.
But the war on terrorism is a comprehensive strategy that -- we are working to implement a comprehensive strategy when it comes to the war on terrorism. And that strategy is built on staying on the offensive to bring the terrorists to justice, and keep them on the run, so that we are fighting them abroad and not here at home. But it also means that we need to continue to support the advance of freedom and democracy in the world. And so the President will be focusing a good bit of his remarks on talking about the hopeful period we're in, in the Middle East, in the broader Middle East, where freedom is on the march and democracy is on the march.
Q: Should America expect a new strategy, as it's almost four years after September the 11th, and it was less than, I believe, two, for the Iraqi war that Saddam Hussein was found.
MR. McCLELLAN: We are going to continue to pursue al Qaeda leaders, wherever they are, those leaders who seek to do us harm, and we will bring them to justice. The President talked about it last week. There are still -- and this is something he will talk about in his remarks -- there are still sworn enemy terrorists who seek to do us harm.
The President will never forget September 11th. He talked about how as time goes by, some will tend to forget what occurred, and the importance of what we are working to achieve. But this is a global war on terrorism, and all civilized countries are working together to win that war on terrorism. And they're contributing in many different ways. And the President will highlight some of those efforts.
One of those efforts is what the Pakistani government is doing. The government of Pakistan is continuing to pursue elements of al Qaeda and the Taliban that operate along that border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan. They are continuing to stay on the offensive.
Q: But those countries there are being terrorized by many of the Taliban --
MR. McCLELLAN: They are making great progress. They understand the importance of taking the fight to the enemy, many of those countries across the world. That's what we're working in partnership with those countries to achieve.
Q: With this new strategy, should the American public --
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me keep going.
Q: With this new strategy, should the American public expect that Osama bin Laden will be found by the end of this President's --
MR. McCLELLAN: April, it's continuing to fulfill the mission that the President outlined after September 11th. You keep talking about a new strategy. Our strategy is --
Q: You said, strategy --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, our strategy is --
Q: The strategy --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I said, a new way of thinking when it comes to the Middle East. For too long we excused what was going on in the Middle East, or turned the other way. And we have seen the results of that. Now we are working to support democratic efforts in the broader Middle East, because freedom leads to peace, and freedom is on the march in the broader Middle East. There is great progress being made, but there are difficult times ahead. And it's going to require a determined effort and a generational commitment to achieve what we all share.
Q: Why has the President approved of and expanded the practice of rendition, of the transfer of individuals from CIA custody to third countries for the purposes of interrogation?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Terry, we're talking about the war on terrorism. And this is a different kind of war. What took place on September 11th changed the world that we live in; it changed the equation, when it came to addressing the threats of the 21st century that we face. We have an obligation to the American people to gather intelligence that will help prevent attacks from happening in the first place.
There are people that want to do harm to America. We're talking about enemy combatants who are terrorists that have been involved in plotting and planning to attack the American people. And if they have information that can help us prevent attacks from happening in the first place, we have an obligation to learn more about what they know. That will help us prevent attacks from happening in the first place.
But the President has made it very clear that when it comes to the question of torture, that we do not torture, we do not condone torture, he would never authorize the use of torture. We have laws and treaty obligations that we abide by and adhere to. This is -- the United States is a nation of laws. We also have an obligation not to render people to countries if we believe they would be tortured.
And so Judge Gonzales, during his testimony, provided information, talking about how we get assurances from countries to make sure that they abide by our values when it comes to the question of torture. But this is a different kind of war, and it requires us to gather intelligence in order to protect the American people.
Q: Well, one of the countries that receives a lot of these individuals is Uzbekistan. What is it that the Uzbekis can do in interrogations that the United States of America can't do?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, if you're asking me to talk about specific intelligence matters, you know that I'm not going to do that. But --
Q: In general --
MR. McCLELLAN: Our understanding --
Q: -- what is it that this country, the most advanced in national security matters of any country in the world, cannot accomplish in interrogations --
MR. McCLELLAN: Again --
Q: -- that the nation of Uzbekistan can?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, you're asking me to get into specific matters, and I'm not going to do that --
Q: Generally, in general --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- because of the classified nature of our intelligence. But it is important that we gather intelligence to protect the American people. We are working closely in partnership with many countries to win the war on terrorism and to prevent attacks from happening in the first place. The President will talk about some of those efforts that are being undertaken by countries around the world to win the war on terrorism tomorrow. And he looks forward to doing that.
But in terms of the whole question of renditions, I think our views are very clear in terms of --
Q: But I'm wondering about the rationale for rendition. Why does the President approve of it? Why has he expanded it? And what is it that countries like Uzbekistan, in general, offer the U.S.?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, in terms of the whole issue of renditions, that's relating to classified intelligence matters, which I'm not going to --
Q: You can't even tell me in general why this practice occurs?
MR. McCLELLAN: Which I'm not going to get into. No, I just told you in general that we have an obligation to the American people to gather intelligence that will help prevent attacks from happening in the first place. The war on terrorism is a different kind of war. And we have sworn enemies of the United States who continue to seek to do us harm. And we are talking about enemy combatants, known terrorists, who have been involved in plotting and planning to attack the American people in the past, and who might have information that can help us prevent attacks from happening in the future.
Now, as we go about gathering intelligence, we have values and laws that we believe are important, that we believe need to be adhered to. And that is our commitment. The President has made it very clear to our government that we must abide by our laws and treaty obligations. And he's made it very clear that we do not torture.
MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, John.
Q: On Social Security, there's a sense among some Republicans in Congress that you have saddled them with a loser issue and that there is a growing divergence between the White House's agenda and what Congress would like to pursue. What do you say to those people?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, look at the individuals who have run on the importance of strengthening Social Security and have won on the promise of working to strengthen Social Security. I think that the President has spoken to this recently. The American people will look favorably upon those who act to solve problems and not pass them on to future generations.
The facts are very clear when it comes to Social Security. In 1936, when the system was created, there were some 41, 42 workers per retiree. It's a pay-as-you-go system. The workers paying into the system provide for the benefits of those who are retired. Then by 1950, it was down to about 16 workers per every one retiree. And today, we're looking at three to one. When our kids retire, it's going to be down two to one. In just over a decade from now, Social Security is going to face shortfalls that only get -- that only get --
Q: So you --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- hang on -- that only get worse over time. That's why we need to act now to address this serious problem.
The President views the facts as very clear. The facts point to the need for action and the need for a solution. And the President ran on this issue and won on this issue. Many members of Congress have run on this issue and won on this issue. The American people recognize that there are serious problems facing Social Security, and they expect Congress to work together to solve problems when they see them. And so we're going to continue educating the American people about those problems and continuing to highlight the facts that point to the need for a solution.
Q: Would private accounts as an add-on, as a supplement to Social Security, as opposed to an integral part of Social Security, satisfy the President's desire to create private accounts?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think the President has made his views clear. The President firmly believes that personal accounts are an important part of a comprehensive solution for strengthening Social Security.
Q: But is he -- Secretary Snow suggested last week he's not married to the idea of it being within Social Security, that it could be an add-on.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, that's not what he said. The President talked about how -- first of all, the President has made it very clear in his principles that personal accounts, where younger workers can invest a portion of their own payroll taxes into personal accounts, is an important part of strengthening Social Security.
Personal accounts are a voluntary option, under the President's approach, that would allow younger workers to realize a greater rate of return on their benefits, and realize, when you combine that with the traditional benefit that they will get, that will help them realize closer to what is promised, because we know right now that what Social Security has promised cannot be delivered. It is an empty promise. Social Security, if it continues on the status quo route, will mean severe benefit cuts or massive tax increases. It's a problem that has continued to recur over the years, and the President believes we need to make it permanently sound and strengthen it for younger workers. And he's also made it clear that seniors are going to see no changes. There are some that continue to use scare tactics and want seniors to believe that there are going to be changes that will affect them. That's simply not the case.
Q: A follow-up question.
Q: Is that still an absolute red line for him?
MR. McCLELLAN: Is what an absolute red line?
Q: Personal accounts within the framework of Social Security?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you've heard the President talk about how this is a time when we all have to talk about the problems facing Social Security and we must have a common understanding of what those problems are. Social Security is unsustainable on its current course. It faces a massive unfunded liability at this point. And he has also talked about the importance of moving forward in a bipartisan way to solve it. He wants to create a climate where people will bring forward their ideas for solving this problem.
We've made some significant progress in recent weeks, because several weeks ago, there were many saying that there is not a problem. Now it appears to be at a point where more and more people are talking about possible solutions to the problem. That's a sign of progress.
Q: So I take it, then, from this long explanation, simply yes or no, that he is leaving the door open, that this is not necessarily a red line?
MR. McCLELLAN: He is saying he welcomes all ideas. He is not embracing those ideas. He has put forward what his ideas are, but he welcomes all ideas for solving this problem.
Q: So it's not a red line.
MR. McCLELLAN: The President's principles are clear, John. He believes firmly that personal accounts are part of a comprehensive solution.
Q: But it's not a red line.
MR. McCLELLAN: John, that's not the way I would describe it.
Q: How would you describe it?
Q: A follow-up question?
MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, John.
Q: Thank you. Just as a follow-up --
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know what part you weren't hearing, because, I mean, his views are very clear. But --
Q: It was the yes or no part that I didn't hear.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, the point that the President has made, John, is that we should work together. This is a serious problem, and we need a bipartisan solution.
Q: Red line, yes or no?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's why the President is not getting into ruling things in or out. He made it very clear to you all several times that we're not going to get into commenting on each and every idea that is thrown out there by members of Congress --
Q: He threw out the idea.
MR. McCLELLAN: We welcome ideas by members of Congress for solving this problem. That's how we get things done in this town. We've managed to get a lot done in the first term through the President's leadership and the willingness to tackle the big challenges that we face. And the President believes that the approach that we're taking now is the right way to proceed.
Senator Hagel is introducing a proposal today. We welcome his proposal. We welcome all proposals that people are bringing forward to solve the problem. Too many people have focused on what they're against. We want to see people work in a constructive way and focus on what they are for. That's the way we can work together and solve this problem. And just because people are presenting ideas -- when people present ideas, that is a sign of progress. That is a sign that people recognize the problems facing Social Security and the need to work together.
Q: As I was saying before, your old OMB director, Josh Bolten, said in February, before the House Ways and Means Committee, that personal retirement accounts, in and of themselves, do not fix Social Security's solvency problem. Now, I have here the report from the Social Security Chief Actuary, Steve Goss, which says that Congressman Paul Ryan's proposal of personal retirement accounts at 6.4 percent would, in itself, make Social Security solvent. What does the administration think of the report of the actuary on Social Security? And is it open to Congressman Ryan's idea of personal retirement accounts at 6.4 percent?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President has put forward his idea for personal accounts. Again, we welcome all those that are putting forward their ideas for solving this problem. Now we want to work together to come up with a bipartisan solution. That's why the President has continued to reach out to members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, and he will continue to do so for the coming weeks. We're also continuing to reach out to the American people to highlight the problems facing Social Security and to talk about the need for reform.
Now, in terms of personal accounts, the President has said that personal accounts should be a voluntary option, that -- for younger workers. So this would be for our children and grandchildren. Today's seniors would see no changes in the system. But if our younger workers so decide, they can invest a portion of their payroll taxes into personal accounts, which will help them realize a greater rate of return on their own retirement savings.
We want younger workers to have more control over their own retirement savings. This is their money that we're talking about. And the President believes very strongly that we need to not only make Social Security permanently sound, but we need to strengthen it for our children and grandchildren. And part of strengthening it for our children and grandchildren is allowing them the opportunity to have more -- or have the opportunity to own their -- part of their own retirement savings. That's an important part of the reforms that we're working to achieve.
Q: So he does or doesn't agree that 6.4 percent would make it solvent?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he put forward a plan that would gradually phase in, allowing for 4 percent. That's what the President has put forward. We welcome those other ideas coming forward, and we look forward to working with members of Congress to find a bipartisan solution.
Q: Scott, you mentioned Senator Hagel's proposal today. It has a whole litany of specifics in it. Is the administration, in its welcoming of this new phenomenon, remaining neutral, or do you want to say anything positive or negative about any of the specifics in Hagel's bill? Or is, in fact, the strategy to remain neutral on everything that comes off the Hill?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we look forward to working with Senator Hagel and other members of Congress who are committed to finding a bipartisan solution. So we welcome all those ideas that are being put forward. There are some ideas that he has put forward that are consistent with the President's principles. But again, I think the President wanted to make it clear to everybody that we're not going to get into the business of negotiating with ourselves, or negotiating through the media. That's why he said we're not going to get into commenting on each and every idea that is thrown out there.
The President has outlined some of his ideas. And he's talked about some other options that he considers to be on the table. I think some of those options are in Senator Hagel's legislation. But it's a welcome sign that people are putting forward proposals to strengthen Social Security.
Q: So one of the things that Senator Hagel has said is that this is going to require additional expanded presidential leadership. And as the President goes around the country educating the public on the nature of the problem, isn't part of that leadership -- doesn't it require the President to speak specifically about those issues that are on the table that do not fit with his priorities?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that it's important for the President to work with members of Congress to find a solution, not to try to negotiate through the press corps, or negotiate with himself. That's why he's having discussions with members of Congress to talk about the way forward, and to talk about how we can come to a bipartisan solution.
Now, if there comes a time that we need to take a position on certain issues in order to advance legislation to get something done this year, the President is more than willing to make his views known at that point. But at this point, I think we're still in the stage of talking to the American people about what those challenges are facing Social Security and listening to ideas from others, as well as talking about some of our own views for strengthening Social Security. So that's where we are right now.
Ivan, go ahead.
Q: My question is on Syria. But just out of curiosity on Social Security, supposing one of these younger people invest privately and manages in his or her portfolio to invest in a FedEx or a Xerox or a Polaroid and becomes a multi-millionaire, would he be allowed to keep all those dollars? And could he pass them on --
MR. McCLELLAN: You're talking about in his personal accounts?
MR. McCLELLAN: The personal accounts would be that individual's. They would own that --
Q: No matter what the amount --
MR. McCLELLAN: They would own that account. It would be theirs. And what the President is talking about is establishing something similar to the Thrift Savings Plan. And that is a program that allows federal workers to invest some of their own money into a conservative mix of bonds and stocks. We're talking about -- we're talking about secure investments.
And the Thrift Savings Plan has shown that federal workers can realize far more than what workers are realizing today under the current Social Security system. That's what we're talking about. We want them to have more ownership over their own money.
Q: Will there be a limit on the amount of money they can make and keep?
MR. McCLELLAN: No.
Q: Okay. Now, my Syrian question is, you say that the administration demands that Syria withdraw its troops completely and immediately from Lebanon. Syria, obviously, does not plan to do this. How are you going to make them do it?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we're continuing to work with the international community. You've seen comments from Chancellor Schröder and President Chirac and comments from Russia, comments from Saudi Arabia, strongly stating their support for the United Nations Security Council resolution that calls for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon.
So we're continuing to talk about these matters with our partners, and we're continuing to look at the way forward, if Syria does not act. We need to see Syria act. They've made some commitments. We still view those as half-measures. But we ultimately want to see them speak by acting to comply with resolution 1559. And that's what we expect.
Q: And everything is still on the table. All options are still on the table.
MR. McCLELLAN: You know the President never takes options off the table.
Q: Can I follow on his question?
Q: What are the repercussions with Italy now, because of checkpoint --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'll come to you, Connie. I'm sorry, go ahead.
Q: What are the repercussions in Italy, in terms of -- vis-a-vis the U.S., in terms of the checkpoint shooting and so forth? And has the President issued any kind of new orders regarding checkpoints, at least that everyone will know the rules of engagement?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Italy is a good friend and a strong partner of the United States. The President and Prime Minister Berlusconi are good friends. That's why the President reached out to Prime Minister Berlusconi last Friday night when we were returning to Washington --
Q: Has he also call the journalist?
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me finish. The President called Prime Minister Berlusconi to extend our condolences to the family of the intelligence officer who was killed. He also expressed how our thoughts and prayers are with the Italian journalist, Giuliana Sgrena, who was injured in the incident, too. This was a tragic incident. The President was calling to express our regret about the incident. He also assured Prime Minister Berlusconi that the matter would be fully investigated. The investigation is ongoing at this point. I don't think we should prejudge anything at this point. Let's let the investigation --
Q: We're not prejudging, but has he issued any kind of new rules concerning passing through checkpoints?
MR. McCLELLAN: Let's let the investigation continue. We need to learn the facts of the investigation. I think that's important. But in terms of this area, this road that we're talking about, this road is one of the most dangerous roads in Iraq. It is the road that leads to the Baghdad airport. It is a road where suicide bombers have carried out attacks. It is a road where regime elements have fired on coalition forces. So our --
Q: Was there a lack of communication, that they never got the word at the checkpoint that the car was coming?
MR. McCLELLAN: I want to finish a couple of points. Our men and women in uniform are in a combat zone. This is a dangerous area. Oftentimes, they were having to make split-second decisions in order to protect their own security and safety. And we appreciate the job that they're doing. They go out of their way to protect civilians and avoid civilian casualties --
Q: We've killed a lot of people, though.
MR. McCLELLAN: And we are cooperating closely with Italian authorities on this investigation. It's important that this investigation be full and complete. And so when that investigation is full and complete, then maybe we can talk more about it at that point in time, because there are differing accounts about exactly what happened. And I think the details of what occurred are still unclear at this point.
Q: But it was not a solo incident. It's happened several times. Has there been any change in the rules?
MR. McCLELLAN: In terms of rules of engagement? You need to direct those questions to the military. They're the ones who make those decisions. They're the ones who are in the best position to make those decisions, because they're on the ground there, and they understand the circumstances on the ground.
Q: Did Italy pay a ransom?
MR. McCLELLAN: You'd have to direct questions about her release to the Italian government.
Q: Scott, you promised --
MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Goyal. I'll come to you, Connie. Go ahead, Goyal.
Q: Question on human rights. Pro-democracy and pro-human rights leader in Hong Kong was forced by the Chinese authorities to resign, because he was talking about human rights and democracy in Hong Kong. And Chinese are protesting here about the human rights situation in China, and also this morning, on Capitol Hill, there was a conference, human rights violations, especially against women in Pakistan, and two provinces Sind and Baluchistan. Several congressmen were there and prominent people. As far as human rights are concerned, what -- where do we stand with President's views, because he -- of course, talking about democracy and --
MR. McCLELLAN: Promoting human rights and human dignity is always at the top of our foreign policy agenda. We have a strong commitment to promoting the dignity and rights of all people across the world. And that's why I was talking earlier about the importance of advancing freedom. Advancing freedom and democracy is the best way to ensure human dignity and human rights.
Q: Because this is also women's -- month for women's rights, global -- sponsored by the U.N.
MR. McCLELLAN: That's right.
Q: As far as women are concerned, around the globe they are being victimized by many countries and not allowed to --
MR. McCLELLAN: We work very closely with the United Nations to support the rights of women. And that's an effort that has been worked on in New York. And we're very much a part of those efforts.
Go ahead, and then Connie.
Q: I'm trying to better understand this rendition question. If we send somebody overseas to be interrogated to get the intelligence that we need, and they give us their assurances that they don't torture, or won't torture, what do we do, then, to verify that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think you can direct those questions to the intelligence community. They can provide you with more information on that. But Judge Gonzales -- Judge Gonzales actually testified, I think in written testimony, about how we get assurances. And we obviously work to make sure that those assurances are adhered to.
Q: And then the other --
MR. McCLELLAN: But I -- beyond that, I really can't get into talking about intelligence matters.
Q: And the other piece of it is that we sort of -- we've got an obligation to collect intelligence to prevent terrorism, that 9/11 changed everything, it's a different kind of war, and these people are known to be plotting against us. And at the same time, we honor international treaties and we're a country of laws. Well, how do we juxtapose that? If that is all the case, it almost sounds as though there's sort of a nod and a wink going on, that all these things are going on -- we are a country of laws, we honor our treaties, but then, there's sort of a "but." But can we not interrogate these people ourselves?
MR. McCLELLAN: We do talk to people to gather intelligence. The intelligence community is involved -- now, some of this, I think, we're talking about citizens from other countries, so let's keep that in context. But this is a global war on terrorism where we're working closely with many countries around the world to prevent attacks from happening and to win the war on terrorism.
I'm not going to get into talking about specific intelligence matters. Those are classified matters, for good reason. But if you're talking about terrorists who have been apprehended in the war on terrorism, we do have an obligation to gather intelligence from them. And I think our men and women in the intelligence community understand what our laws and our obligations are, and they understand what the President has said, which is that we do not torture. And I've been told --
Q: Why do we have stories every day about that?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- I've been told that all interrogation techniques that have been authorized are lawful and do not constitute torture. In terms of renditions, again, we've made it clear that we have an obligation not to render people to countries if we believe they would torture them. And we do -- and we do get assurances on those matters.
Q: If we've got them, why let them go?
MR. McCLELLAN: Why let who go?
Q: If we've got someone for interrogation, and we can do it the best in the world --
MR. McCLELLAN: If you're asking me to comment on specific matters, I'm simply not going to do it. You can direct those questions to the intelligence community, but this is a global war on terrorism where we're working closely with other countries, and we appreciate the efforts of those other countries to help us prevent attacks from happening.
Q: On Lebanon again, in 1982, the PLO was forced out of Beirut. We're not talking here about the terrorist groups. What is the U.S. position on Hezbollah and other terrorist groups in Lebanon? When you talk about all foreign forces going out, do forces also mean terrorists?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's one of a number of concerns we have with regard to Syria, that they're allowing their territory to be used by terrorist organizations. We continue to have concerns about Syria's support for terrorism. Syria needs to end its support of terrorism, they need to dismantle those terrorist organizations, and that's our view.
Q: But if Syrian forces leave Lebanon, should Hezbollah also leave Lebanon?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, in terms of Hezbollah, again, I think our views are very well known in terms of what our views are toward Hezbollah. And you're very well aware of those views, as well. But they are a terrorist organization. And we believe that terrorist organizations need to be dismantled.
Q: Thank you.
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me finish. Peter, go ahead.
Q: From your recitation of what the President plans to discuss tomorrow, it doesn't sound like there's anything new, unless you're holding something back on us here. Why is he choosing this time to do this? Why does he think he needs to do this now, to readdress the whole war on terror?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, winning the war on terrorism is our nation's highest priority. It's the highest priority of this President. His most important responsibility is the safety and security of the American people. We've been talking about the war on terrorism in many of the questions that have been asked today. And this is a different kind of war that will require a long, sustained, and determined effort.
Q: You and the President have been saying things along those lines for months. Is there some turning point on March 8th that he --
MR. McCLELLAN: It's what I'm -- it's what I'm coming to. You'll recall in his State of the Union address just over 30 days ago, he highlighted the progress that we've been making in the war on terrorism. It was a central part of his State of the Union address.
And we've also seen in recent weeks remarkable developments taking place in the broader Middle East. We've seen tremendous progress in places like Afghanistan and the Palestinian Territories. We've seen some small steps taken in -- small but welcome steps, I should say, in places like Egypt and Saudi Arabia. We're seeing important progress in Lebanon, where the Lebanese people are standing up and speaking out in support of a future that is based on freedom and that is free from outside interference.
So this is a hopeful period in the Middle East. The President will continue to remind the American people that there are still enemies of the civilized world who seek to do us harm, and that we must continue to work to not only stay on the offensive, but to support the advance of freedom and democracy around the world and to support those efforts that are going on in the broader Middle East.
Iraq is a country that is serving as an example for the rest of the Middle East. The Iraqi people have shown through their determination and courage that all people aspire to be free, and that they are not going to let the terrorists turn back to the past. The Middle East is moving in a very hopeful direction, and we must continue to do all we can to support those efforts. So the President will talk about, in some new language, what is going on in the Middle East, and he will talk about how we have to think differently and think in new ways when it comes to supporting those efforts in the region, and that the governments in those region need to think in new ways, when it comes to moving in the direction of freedom and democracy.
Q: Scott, one quick follow-up on Hezbollah. Does the President believe that Iran's support for Hezbollah is continuing and is destabilizing what's going on in Lebanon right now?
MR. McCLELLAN: Iran has continued to support terrorist organizations. That's one of a number of concerns that we have when it comes to Iran. Iran and Syria both need to change their behavior and stop supporting terrorism. They need to start playing a more constructive role in the region, and they've made some commitments in the past to do so. But they have not lived up to those commitments. We want to see them live up to those commitments.
I don't have any specific information to share with you at this point regarding activity in Lebanon, with regards to Iran. But we have been talking about length about Syria's continued presence in Lebanon. Syria is a destabilizing force in the region right now because of their continued behavior that is out of step with the direction the Middle East is moving. That's why we want to see Syria change its behavior and play a more constructive role in the region.
END 1:37 P.M. EST
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