14 March 2005
White House Daily Briefing, March 14
Public diplomacy, Prime Minister Hariri, Syria/Lebanon, Millennium Challenge Account, France, Social Security, North Korea/South Korea, India/Pakistan, King Abdullah's visit, China/Taiwan
White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan briefed the press March 14.
Following is the White House transcript:
THE WHITE HOUSE
PRESS BRIEFING BY SCOTT McCLELLAN
THE WHITE HOUSE
March 14, 2005
PRESS BRIEFING BY SCOTT McCLELLAN
James S. Brady Briefing Room
1:04 P.M. EST
MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon, everybody. I'd like to begin with a statement by the President.
"Our long-term strategy to keep the peace is to help change the conditions that give rise to extremism and terror by spreading the universal principle of human liberty. This will require an aggressive effort to share and communicate America's fundamental values, while respecting the cultures and traditions of other nations. Karen Hughes has been one of my most trusted and closest advisors, and she has the experience, expertise and judgment to lead this critical effort. Her return to public service in this important position signifies my personal commitment to the international diplomacy that is needed in these historic times. I value her counsel and friendship, as does Secretary Rice."
The President is also pleased that Dina Powell has agreed to serve as Karen's deputy. Dina is a valued member of the President's team, who has already contributed to our diplomatic outreach efforts over the course of the previous few years.
And with that, I will be glad to take your questions.
Q: Scott, the President by making this announcement signals the importance of the job -- it's been held by two persons in the past -- and, yet, funding has remained the same for that. If this is such a top priority for the President, why hasn't more funding made available?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think the President is, first and foremost, focused on results. And what we need to do, as Secretary Rice pointed out earlier today, is reform our public diplomacy. And Karen will be instrumental in overseeing those efforts. The President designated this position as the rank of ambassador, that shows the significance he places on this. The President and Secretary Rice believe that reforming our public diplomacy must be a high priority. We need to look for new ways to improve our public diplomacy, and Karen will lead those efforts.
Q: Scott, the amount of attention that you're paying on the Hughes announcement, and the fact that one of the most trusted advisors of the President has been nominated for the position, seems to be a pretty strong indication that you're seeing some pretty troubling data out there. What are you seeing?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think Secretary Rice spoke to this earlier in her remarks. There is a lot of hate-filled propaganda that is aimed at the United States of America. We need to counter the myths that are spread and make sure that we are communicating the truth about the values that we stand for and the generosity and compassion of the American people. That's important. We also must expand our efforts to engage the people around the world through educational and cultural exchanges. And Secretary Rice also pointed out the importance of engaging in a conversation with the rest of the world, and that means a better understanding of the cultures and traditions and history of others. And so listening is important in that element, as well. She talked about those three areas as being vital to these efforts.
Q: In terms of the Arab world, what is the issue out there that you think is the biggest influencing factor on Arabs' perspective of the United States?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that's why I pointed to, at the beginning, that there is a lot of hate-filled propaganda that is spread about the United States of America, particularly in that part of the world. And the United States of America has important universal values that we stand for, and it's important to communicate what those values are; it's important to talk about our belief in freedom, that it is a universal for all people; it's important to talk about our respect for the cultures and traditions and history of others, and their ability to chose their own path, based on those traditions and their own history; it's important to talk about our support for international institutions and for the rule of law, and that's what we want to continue to communicate.
Q: But, again, to the question that I asked, recent surveys conducted show that the Arab-Israeli issue remains the number one influencing factor of Arab perceptions of the United States. Would you agree with that?
MR. McCLELLAN: And this President has been at the forefront of leading the efforts to achieve the two-state vision that he outlined of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security. We are at the forefront of those efforts to support the aspirations of the Palestinian people. And we continue to urge all parties to move forward on the road map and meet their obligations.
The United States is continuing to work closely with other countries and continuing to work closely with the parties involved to support their efforts.
Go ahead, Helen.
Q: Diplomacy depends on policy. You can't sell what is unsaleable. If the policy remains that we will engage further in preemptive war, you cannot sell it to the Middle East, I'm sure, or anywhere else. So are you going to change any policy?
MR. McCLELLAN: Our policy is to expand freedom and democracy and to support the aspirations of people --
Q: By gunpoint?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- and support the aspirations of people in countries around the world that do not have the freedoms that we enjoy. And, no, Helen, the President made it very clear in his inaugural address that it is not primarily the use of arms. It is supporting the aspirations of the people in those countries and doing all we can to stand with those people as they seek greater freedoms. We are standing with the people of Lebanon. We are standing with the people of the Palestinian Territories. We are standing with --
Q: We also invaded Iraq.
MR. McCLELLAN: -- we are standing with the people of Iraq, and the people of Iraq have shown that freedom is a universal value. They stood up and defied the terrorists and went to the polls.
Q: And we invaded the country.
MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Terry.
Q: Secretary of State Rice said today that the time for reform of public diplomacy is now. Why wasn't it two years ago, or three years ago?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think we did try to take steps to improve our public diplomacy. We created the Office of Global Communications. That was something that Karen was very involved in. Karen is someone who brings a lot of practical foreign policy experience to the table. She is someone who has traveled with the President extensively in the first term to foreign capitals. She is someone who led our efforts to promote the rights of women in Afghanistan and to free them from the abuses of the oppressive Taliban regime that they were under. She is someone who has worked in our own community to encourage fundraising efforts to build a school for boys and girls in northern Afghanistan. So she brings some practical foreign policy experience to the table. And she also brings the full trust of the President to the table.
Q: But I'm wondering about the two high-profile previous appointments the President made to this post, and the series of reports that came out from the Pentagon, from Congress, from think tanks, all calling on the administration to get on the stick, really, on this issue. And I'm wondering what happened.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I don't know -- and Secretary Rice talked about the history of some of the public diplomacy outreach efforts and some of what we did during the Cold War that was very helpful. And if you look at the 9/11 Commission report, it did point out the need to improve our public diplomacy. That's why the President has made it a high priority. And, clearly, there is more that we need to do to communicate with the world about what America stands for, particularly in the Arab world, because the values that we stand for are universal values that are shared by all.
Go ahead, April.
Q: On the Karen issue, some are saying that instead of bringing her back to deal with Social Security, which --
MR. McCLELLAN: Finally got your costume on? (Laughter.)
Q: Some are saying instead of bringing Karen back for Social Security, which some are saying the President is viewing as a sinking ship, and taking her over to the State Department, is somewhat for legacy. Here you're abandoning the Social Security issue, something that she knows, domestic policy, and her great leveraging efforts, and then putting her there. Talk to me about legacy as it relates to Karen, and Middle Eastern peace.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, on Social Security, I have to dispute the characterization that was in your question. I strongly disagree with that characterization. The President is just now, and the administration is just now really stepping up our efforts to educate the American people about the problems facing Social Security and the need for a solution. He is just now really stepping up the efforts to reassure seniors that nothing changes when it comes to those who are retired or near retirement. So I would dispute that characterization.
Now the other part of your question was?
Q: The fact that instead of bringing her back for Social Security, something that she has great strategy for, great leverage, and putting --
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't accept the premise of your question, because Karen is someone who has long been a trusted advisor of this President, has provided advice on many issues. Just because she left the administration a few years ago doesn't mean she didn't continue to advise the President from afar. In fact, she stated very clearly that she would continue to provide advice to the President.
But public diplomacy is one of our most important priorities when it comes to our foreign policy. Secretary Rice spoke to that issue earlier today. And the fact that the President would call on Karen to fill this post shows the significance we place on public diplomacy. This was something, after the election, you remember, Karen came back and helped out some during the election, spent a few months traveling with the President. Following the election, the President had said public diplomacy is one area where you might be able to help out. And so this discussion has been going on for quite some time, going back to shortly after the election. And the President is pleased that she has agreed to take on this important mission.
Q: So do you think what you're looking for in the Middle East -- peace and freedom in the Middle East and democratic rule in the Middle East -- do you think that Karen can ultimately be the one to help bring a legacy about for this President as it relates to the Middle East?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think the President is viewing it in those terms. He is viewing it in the terms that he has discussed with Secretary Rice. He and Secretary Rice have talked about the importance of diplomacy, and Secretary Rice made it very clear, as did the President, that diplomacy was going to be at the forefront of our foreign policy agenda over the course of these next four years. That's why he tapped Secretary Rice to go over to the Department of State, and we are -- at the heart of diplomacy is the outreach efforts. And so that's why this is important. That's why we're looking at ways to revamp and reform our public diplomacy.
Q: Scott, on another matter, there was a report out of The Independent from a Beirut reporter, Robert Fisk, who said that the President was expected to announce on Wednesday that Syrian and perhaps Lebanese military intelligence officers were involved in Hariri's death. Is that true, and do you have any update on the investigation?
MR. McCLELLAN: I have no idea where that report came from. The United Nations is continuing their investigation. It's important that the assassination of the former Prime Minister, Mr. Hariri, be fully investigated. And we look forward to seeing what the results of the investigation are. But the United Nations is continuing in their investigation, and we have not seen any update on that and any final results of that investigation.
Q: Can I follow up on that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Sure.
Q: On Wednesday, the President is going to meet with the Lebanese Maronite Christian Patriarch. Is the President expected to -- planning to persuade him to get involved in this whole issue of getting Syria out of Lebanon?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think he has been involved in the issue of supporting the Lebanese people, and letting -- and supporting their desires to chart their own course, free from outside intimidation and interference. That's one of the reasons the President invited him to come to the United States. His All Holiness is someone who has promoted the religious diversity and culture of the Lebanese people, and he is someone who has been a supporter of freedom and democracy in Lebanon.
And the President -- in terms of the issue of Syria, the President continues to call on Syria to completely withdraw all their military forces and all their intelligence services as soon as possible. It's important that elections proceed without outside intimidation or interference so that they can be free and fair and credible. And that's something we continue to emphasize. We've seen some positive developments, but ultimately it will depend on the action, and not the words, by Syrian officials.
Q: Unrelated question, but the Millennium Challenge Corporation is announcing its first grant to Madagascar. Why has it taken a year to do so? I mean, if this is supposed to be another urgent front to combat terrorism and poverty --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we continue to provide development assistance in large numbers. We're one of the leaders when it comes to providing assistance to other countries around the world. And the Millennium Challenge Account is an important initiative that we have undertaken to make sure that we are encouraging reforms based on democracy and rule of law when we provide assistance. We want to make sure that that assistance is going to countries that are committed to fighting corruption and promoting the rule of law, and that that assistance is focused on achieving real results. Q But is this assistance running into bureaucratic red tape, so that this effort is going so slowly? It's been three years since the President talked about it.
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know about that. I think you can talk to the Department of State about where it stands, in terms of providing assistance to other countries in terms of the Millennium Challenge Account.
Go ahead, Carl.
Q: Scott, if the time for reforming our diplomacy is now, as the Secretary of State said, and it's now a new priority, at what point did it lapse?
MR. McCLELLAN: I wouldn't say it's a new one. I don't think you should read into that. It has always been a priority, particularly after September 11th. But we see, as we are engaged in a global war on terrorism, that the terrorists like to use a lot of hate-filled propaganda and spread a message about America that simply is not true. The way to counter that is to communicate directly with others across the world in a truthful way, and to provide facts to people around the world and to talk to them about the values that we stand for, values that they share, values that people across the world share, and to talk to them about the generosity and compassion of the American people. It's always been a priority, but the fact that Karen Hughes is taking this important position shows the significance the President is placing on revamping and reforming those efforts, to do a better job.
Q: And why now, as opposed to three-and-a-half years ago, or six or so years ago? What is it that happened in the --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think you maybe didn't hear what I was saying in the beginning. We did take steps to improve our public diplomacy by creating, among other things, the Office of Global Communications. That's an office that continues and will continue to play an important role in these efforts. But we need to look back to our history and what has worked well, as well as look at new ideas for improving our public diplomacy. And that's what Secretary Rice spoke to earlier today, and Karen will be instrumental in those efforts.
Q: France and the U.S. seem to be working in concert in Lebanon. Can you tell us what happened there? How did that --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we have long worked together on the issue of Lebanon and our support for the people of Lebanon. The United Nations Security Council resolution 1559 that was passed last fall is something we worked closely with our French counterparts on. And that resolution spells out what needs to happen, and it calls for all foreign occupation of Syria to end, and it says for all parties to fully and urgently comply with that resolution. It also calls for disarming of militia and it expresses support for the sovereignty and independence of the Lebanese people.
Q: Does this represent some kind of a thaw, something that went on behind the scenes?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, this is an issue where we have worked very closely together. And there are other areas where we have worked very closely together. We've worked closely together in places like Haiti. We've worked closely together in other places: Afghanistan. And we will continue to do so in the future. The President had a very good visit with President Chirac recently. The President believes it's important that we continue to focus on ways we can work together on common challenges. And that's what he will continue to emphasize to our European friends.
Q: Two of the biggest demonstrations in Lebanon have been held by the Hezbollah. And I was wondering, given that they, obviously, have some very strong support among large sections of the Shiite population, will the U.S. change its attitude and begin to accept Hezbollah as a legitimate political factor in the Lebanese situation? And will they be able to fully participate in any upcoming election?
MR. McCLELLAN: Our view on Hezbollah remains unchanged. We continue to view Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. Our focus now is on making sure that there are free and fair elections for the Lebanese people. The President believes that the future of Lebanon is in the hands of the Lebanese people. We want to see the Lebanese people chart their own course. And as long as you have Syrian military forces and intelligence services inside Lebanon, that prevents them from being able to chart their own course. That's why we're continuing to emphasize, first and foremost, the importance of Syria fully complying with the Security Council resolution, which calls for the complete withdrawal of all forces and intelligence services.
In terms of elections, when you have free and fair elections, I think you see in other parts of the region that people tend to choose leaders who are committed to improving their livelihood and improving their security and improving their prosperity, rather than terrorists. And so that's why we have confidence in the Lebanese people to chart a course that is based on democracy and freedom.
Q: But if they were to choose a large number of people who were connected to the Hezbollah, would that be acceptable to the U.S.?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, our views on Hezbollah remain unchanged. And the Security Council resolution also calls for the disarming of all militias, and that would include Hezbollah, as well. But our focus now is on making sure that Syrian forces get completely out of Lebanon so that we remove the intimidation factor that is there right now so that the Lebanese people can chart their own course through free and fair elections.
Q: But you're assuming, Scott, that Hezbollah is dependent on the fact that Syrian forces being there and their support is not --
MR. McCLELLAN: Secretary Rice actually spoke to this yesterday. You can't have groups or organizations that are committed to violence when you have a society based on democracy and rule of law. And she spoke to that issue yesterday.
Q: Scott, on March 7th, my colleague, Tim Carney, reported the Export-Import Bank had made $5 billion in loans and loan guarantees to the China National Nuclear Corporation, CNNC, which our own intelligence reports say has played a pivotal role in building nuclear reactors in Pakistan and Iran. Given the very strong language you were using about China this morning after the Taiwan resolution, what is the administration's reaction to the Ex-Im Bank giving $5 billion to their nuclear program?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'd have to take a look at the specific report. I haven't seen it. If you're talking about for peaceful civilian purposes, that's one matter. If you're talking about proliferation, that's another matter. And the President has acted very strongly when it comes to stopping the spread of nuclear materials, and implemented export controls. We have export controls on countries, and we enforce those export controls.
Q: Well, when you talk about proliferation, again, it has been determined very solidly that the CNNC in China that is going to receive $5 billion in U.S. aid was involved in proliferation in Pakistan and Iran.
MR. McCLELLAN: If you want to bring me the specific report, I'll be glad to take a look at it. We have acted in certain instances when there have been companies in countries like China that have violated our export controls.
Q: If you have a formal response on that, could you post it, please?
MR. McCLELLAN: Sure.
Q: Scott, you said this morning the President is going to continue to meet with members of Congress on Social Security. Is he hearing from them what is showing up in the polls as recently as today in the ABC poll, that there is declining support for his private accounts proposal? And what does he say to them to convince them to stay the course? How long will this take? What is that conversation like?
MR. McCLELLAN: He is hearing from members about some of the survey results, the survey results that show that the American people recognize that there are serious problems facing Social Security. That is something that has come up in the discussions. We are still in the early stages of educating the American people about the challenges facing Social Security. These are long-term challenges. But the facts are very clear on the need for action now, because in just three years, the baby boomers are going to start retiring, and that's going to place some great strains on our Social Security system. And in just over a decade from now, we're going to see shortfalls in the system. The system is going to be paying out more to beneficiaries than it is taking in to the system. And that's why we need to act now to solve the problem.
Members of Congress -- the last meeting he had with members of Congress just last week. Some of those members talked about some of the town hall meetings that they had had in their communities. And they said seniors are rejecting the scare tactics; they're recognizing that this doesn't affect them. But seniors also understand the importance of making sure that that safety net is there for their children and grandchildren, because right now the safety net has a big hole in it, and that's why we need to strengthen Social Security and make sure that it is permanently sound. That's why -- and the President is reaching out to members of Congress -- he's continuing to do so -- to listen to their ideas.
We're seeing now that Democrats, some of who said that there was no problem previously, are now saying, well, there are problems, and we need to find a solution. And that's an important first step as we move forward to find a bipartisan solution. But the President wants to find a bipartisan solution. We are still listening about different ways for making the system permanently sound. You heard the President talk about it the other day.
In 1983, members of Congress were able to come together and find a 75-year fix. It was a "75-year fix." Well, just a couple years later, we saw that Social Security was again on an unsustainable course. The President believes it's important that we make it permanently sound, and that we make sure that that safety net is there for our children and grandchildren.
Now, personal accounts are an important part of this process, as well, and that's why he's continuing to talk about the importance of making sure that our younger workers can realize a greater rate of return on their retirement savings, something that is closer to what is promised, because right now the Social Security system cannot meet its promise.
And so we're going to continue, right now, reaching out to the American people and educating them about the serious problems facing Social Security. And we're also going to continue talking to them about what the President believes we need to act on. The President has laid out some very clear principles, that is, no changes for seniors. And he's also made it clear that a principle must be to make it permanently sound. And he's made it clear that another principle is, we must strengthen it for our children and grandchildren, and give them more control over their own retirement money.
Q: Is he hearing at all from members of Congress, though, about the loss or decline in support for his specific proposal? Is he getting any advice about changing tactics?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, the specific proposal, we're still working with members of Congress on a comprehensive solution for strengthening Social Security. One of the ideas he has discussed is personal retirement accounts. That's part of a comprehensive solution. So we've still working with members of Congress on that.
He has heard about the scare tactics that are going on in different parts of the country, scare tactics aimed at making the -- misleading the American people. And the American people are going to reject those scare tactics in the end. The American people, when they see that there are problems, expect us to work together to find solutions. And the American people are seeing that there are serious problems facing Social Security. That's in survey after survey. But it's still early in the process, and we shouldn't jump ahead at this point. We need to continue focusing on ways we can work together.
Q: Scott, South Korea has been designating North Korea as main enemy of South Korea. (Inaudible) to the South Korean government has removed the (inaudible) of an enemy from South Korea's (inaudible) defense --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, was South Korea what?
Q: That South Korea has removed the (inaudible), the main enemy from the South Korea's annual defense report. What is your comment?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, in terms of North Korea? I think our focus with South Korea and China and Japan and Russia remains on urging North Korea to return to the six-party talks, the six-party framework. We put a proposal on the table. It's a proposal that addresses concerns and we want to see their response to that proposal so that we can move forward in the six-party framework to realize what all parties want, which is a nuclear-free peninsula. And that's a threat that concerns all parties in the region.
And North Korea has continued to isolate itself over the years by its comments and actions. And we've made it clear that this is a proposal that, if they make the commitment to abandon their nuclear ambitions and completely end their pursuit of nuclear weapons, then they can realize better relations with the international community. But until that time, they cannot fully realize those relations, and they will continue to isolate themselves.
Q: The important thing is South Korean government remove the enemy, main enemy, the list, from their annual defense (inaudible). That means, who is their enemy?
MR. McCLELLAN: You might want to direct that question to South Korea. But all of us have concerns -- all of us have concerns about North Korea's nuclear weapons ambitions, and that's why we're working through the six-party process right now.
Go ahead, Goyal.
Q: Scott, two questions. One, Dr. Rice, Secretary of State, is going to be in India tomorrow, and she will be visiting Afghanistan, Pakistan and also a number of countries in the region. One, before she left for the area, she had a conversation of matter with President Bush, giving her reports on all of her visits in Europe. I'm sure this issue must have been in conversation about her visit to South Asia. What she's getting, actually, at this time, particularly India and Pakistans are growing, their relations are growing, thus diplomacy and other issues are now -- borders are open. And people but different -- (inaudible) -- are there. So where do we stand now, as far as President Bush is concerned, or he -- she's carrying any message from him?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there are encouraging signs between India and Pakistan in -- as they've worked to improve their relations. And we believe it's important for them to continue to work together, and we continue to encourage dialogue between the parties to reduce tensions in the region. And there are some positive developments recently. We'll continue to work with all parties to support their efforts.
Q: Second question --
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me keep moving to -- let me keep moving. I'll try to come back. Ivan, go ahead.
Q: In a recent interview, Karen implied that she didn't want to return to Washington full-time, maybe three days a week. Has that changed, or will she be a part-time under secretary?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, I'm not sure about these specific comments. You can probably ask her about those. But the -- I mean, Karen will start working on these efforts now. She's not expected to really take this position until later this summer, at this point.
But we'll be moving forward on the nomination of Dina Powell, as well. And as I say, Karen will begin and she's already, to some extent, begun these efforts prior to today's announcement.
Q: Will she work here and in Texas, as well? Or would she remain here most of that time?
MR. McCLELLAN: Oh, my understanding is that she will be working here most of the time, but commuting back to Texas.
Q: Scott, you've got King Abdullah coming in. He's the first Arab leader to visit since the President's speech about this perceived thaw in blocking democracy in the Middle East. Will the President directly challenge him on that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that they will talk about the broader Middle East Initiative. And that initiative is based on supporting greater freedom and democracy for the people of the region. This is an issue, yes, that they do tend to discuss. And I'm sure they will continue to talk about our bilateral relations, as well. I think it's best that those discussions take place privately between the two leaders. The President has a good relationship with King Abdullah. He appreciates his support for the Middle East peace process. He appreciates his commitment to work with us on -- and others in the region on the broader Middle East initiative. And so he looks forward -- and he's also been a valued ally in the global war on terrorism.
Q: Is he going to try to enlist him on this Syria-Lebanon track also?
MR. McCLELLAN: I imagine that will come up. That's an important issue in the region, as well. And let's let the meeting take place, for now.
Q: I know you have statement on the passage of the anti-secession law. But if you say the law is not helpful to the situation, would the United States do something to assure China that Taiwan will not become independent, so there's no further escalation of the situation?
MR. McCLELLAN: In fact, I expressed our views earlier today. Our views remain unchanged. Our policy remains unchanged. We do view the adoption of the anti-secession law as something that is unfortunate and not helpful to encouraging peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. We continue to encourage cross-strait dialogue. We believe that's important to ensuring peace and stability and to reducing tensions. We don't believe anyone should be taking unilateral steps, or make unilateral changes that increases tensions. And that's why we view the adoption of this anti-secession law as not helpful. But we'll continue to encourage cross-strait dialogue.
We'll also continue to make very clear what our views are. We continue to support the one China policy. We continue to support the three communiqués. And we do not support Taiwan independence.
Q: Is Dr. Rice offering any message, a new message from the President --
MR. McCLELLAN: You ought to direct those questions to the Department of State. I'm sure she'll be talking about it more during her trip.
Q: Scott, on video news releases, is it this administration's position that that device is legal and legitimate, to package those up, send them out sometimes with actors portraying reporters -- though, God knows why anyone would want to do that -- without disclaimers that they're government productions, as long as they meet some standard of factual basis?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, a couple of things. First of all, we're talking about informational news releases. And the Department of Justice has issued an opinion saying that as long as this is factual information about department or agency programs, it is perfectly appropriate. There is a memorandum that we -- or the Department of Justice sent to agencies and departments last week expressing the view of the Justice Department. And the informational news releases that you're referring to are something that had been in use for many years. It goes back to the early '90s, both in the private and public sectors; many federal agencies have used this for quite some time as an informational tool to provide factual information to the American people.
And my understanding is that when these informational releases are sent out, that it's very clear to the TV stations where they are coming from. So that information, as I understand it, is disclosed.
And the Justice Department opinion talks about the importance of making sure that it is factual information and not crossing the line into advocacy. But I think agencies and departments have an obligation to provide the American people with factual information about their programs, particularly when you look at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. There's an agency that I think has used some of this going back to the '30s -- I saw some information to that effect -- providing farmers with important factual information that helps them in their everyday lives.
Q: Does the administration disagree with the GAO findings that the ONDCP and HHS went too far, and what they did was propaganda?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, that -- in fact, in terms of the Department of Health and Human Services, that was what generated the opinion from the Department of Justice.
Q: Thank you.
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me finish with Mark.
Q: I'm sorry, about St. Patrick's Day, what is the White House thinking for not inviting Gerry Adams and these other Northern Ireland politicians to the observances, as they have been since --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we have hosted the leaders of the political parties in Northern Ireland in recent years in order to encourage progress toward a comprehensive peace agreement. This year, we chose to highlight the role of civil society activists and their efforts to build a peaceful and tolerant society in Northern Ireland. We have seen recently that there has been a lack of progress by the parties toward a comprehensive peace agreement. And we continue to share the views of Prime Ministers Ahern and Blair that continued violence, paramilitary activity and associated criminal acts remain a key obstacle to a lasting and durable peace. And the President also -- we have also invited the McCartney sisters to come to the events this week. And that sends that message, as well.
Q: But to be clear, you are sending a message to the IRA that -- them and other groups --
MR. McCLELLAN: To the parties involved, I mean, we would like to see more progress toward a comprehensive peace agreement. And we continue to support the efforts by the leaders, Prime Minister Ahern and Prime Minister Blair, to achieve a comprehensive peace agreement. And there has been continued violence and a lack of progress toward that effort.
END 1:38 P.M. EST
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