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White House Daily Briefing, June 23

23 June 2005

Prime Minister Jaafari meeting, Vice President's comments on Iraq, Karl Rove comments on Democrats, Bolton nomination, Supreme Court Vacancy, Chinese bid for Unocal, North Korean food aid

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan briefed the press June 23.

Following is the transcript of the White House briefing:

(begin transcript)

Office of the Press Secretary
June 23, 2005


-- Prime Minister Jaafari meeting
-- Vice President's comments on Iraq
-- Karl Rove comments on Democrats
-- Bolton nomination
-- Supreme Court vacancy
-- Chinese bid for Unocal
-- North Korean food aid

Office of the Press Secretary
June 23, 2005


James S. Brady Briefing Room

12:18 P.M. EDT

MR. McCLELLAN:  Good afternoon.  I would like to begin with a little preview of tomorrow's meeting with Prime Minister Jaafari.  Prime Minister Jaafari arrived yesterday in Washington.  Today he has been meeting here at the White House with the Vice President and with our National Security Advisor Steve Hadley.  He is scheduled to be meeting with the Senate and House leadership at the Capitol.  He's also going to be visiting the National Archives and viewing our Constitution.  And he's expected to visit Walter Reed today, as well, to express gratitude to our soldiers who have been wounded helping to build a democratic and free future for the Iraqi people.

The President looks forward to welcoming Prime Minister Jaafari to the White House tomorrow.  Prime Minister Jaafari is a courageous leader who is committed to building a free and democratic future for Iraq and committed to building a better future for the Iraqi people.  This meeting does come at a critical time in Iraq's historic transformation.

As you are aware, next Tuesday marks the one-year anniversary since the transfer of sovereignty in Iraq.  And in just a short period of time since sovereignty has been transferred, the Iraqi people have made significant progress.  They have shown that they are determined to defy the terrorists.  Just a few months ago some 8.5 million Iraqis showed up and voted for their government, voted to elect a transitional national assembly.  They showed their commitment to living freely.  That transitional national assembly, a short time thereafter, put in place a new government, headed by Prime Minister Jaafari.  They are now working to move forward on drafting a constitution and meeting the timeline that was set out of August 15th for doing so.  They've reached an agreement to make sure that that is an inclusive process.  So they are making significant progress on the political front in a very short period of time.

Now there are challenges that lie ahead, and I expect that the two leaders will be talking about those challenges that lie ahead.  But the Iraqi people have shown, through their courage, that they are determined to meet their objectives.  They face a determined and ruthless enemy that has no regard for human life.  Iraq is a central front in the war on terrorism.  The terrorists know that a free Iraq will be a significant blow to their ideology of hatred and oppression, that it will help to transform a dangerous region of the world.  This is a key test for freedom and a key test for defeating the ideology of tyranny and oppression.

We have a clear strategy for success that the President has outlined and that our commanders on the ground are now briefing Congress about today.  It is vital, as they are pointing out, that we succeed.  We are working to train and equip Iraqi security forces so that they will be able to defend themselves.

Also just yesterday, the international community showed, yet again, that they are continuing to show their strong support for the Iraqi people as they move forward on their political process and their transition.  There was a successful international conference hosted by the United States and the European Union in Brussels where a final statement was released by more than 80 nations expressing their strong support for the Iraqi people as they move forward on the political front, as they move forward on the economic and reconstruction front, and as they move forward on the security front.

In that statement, they expressed a, "renewed international partnership with Iraq."  There are a number of nations that expressed their financial support or commitments for Iraq.  And they also talked about the upcoming donor's conference that will take place in Jordan in July.

So there is significant progress that is being made, there are challenges that lie ahead, and we must continue to stand with the Iraqi people as they forward.  The President looks forward to tomorrow's meeting.  He was pleased to invite Prime Minister Jaafari when they talked by phone shortly after his selection as Prime Minister, and he looks forward to seeing him tomorrow and having the opportunity to hear from him, as well.

And with that, I will be glad to go to your questions.

QUESTION:  Does the President agree with the Vice President that the Iraqi insurgents are in their last throes?

MR. McCLELLAN:  He agrees with -- I think you should put his comments in context, because the President agrees that there is significant progress being made by the Iraqi people on the political front.  And that's what the Vice President was talking about in his remarks.  He was talking about the significant progress that's being made, and he was talking about how the terrorists, the ruthless enemy that we're working to defeat, along with the Iraqi security forces, has not been able to stop that progress.

Every step of the way, the Iraqi people are meeting their objectives.  I just went through those objectives that they're meeting.  The political process is moving forward.  It's moving forward on schedule.  And the Iraqi people have shown that they want to live freely.  Democracy is taking hold.

There are real challenges that lie ahead, and the Vice President talked about that in the context of his remarks.  The stakes are very high.  That's why it's important we continue to support the Iraqi people as they move forward.

So I think you have to look at the context of his remarks, as I've talked about over recent days.

Q:  Do you think that the insurgency is growing weaker?  Or is it getting stronger?

MR. McCLELLAN:  Well, the commanders on the ground were just briefing on that, Terry.  You should look to General Abizaid's comment, and he talked about that.  Look at exactly what he said.  There is a determined and ruthless enemy that we face in Iraq.  They have made this a central front in the war on terrorism.  The stakes are very high.  That enemy recognizes how high those stakes are.  We recognize how high the stakes are.  And the Iraqi people recognize how high the stakes are.  A free Iraq will be a powerful force for change in a dangerous region of the world, a region that has been a breeding ground for terrorists, a breeding ground for people who have hijacked airplanes and flown them into buildings and taken the lives of thousands of innocent people.

And that's why it's so important that we succeed in Iraq.  And I think the American people recognize, no matter where you stood before, that it's important that we succeed for those very reasons.

Q:  So stronger, not weaker?

MR. McCLELLAN:  Again, the commanders are briefing right now, and they are the ones who are on the ground.  They are in the best position to give you that.  General Abizaid just spoke about it a short time ago and talked about the determined and ruthless enemy that we're facing.  Foreign terrorists are coming to Iraq because they recognize how high the stakes are.  Well, we do, too.  That's why we're fighting them in Iraq and that's why we're going to defeat them in Iraq.

Q:  But he seems to have contradicted -- Abizaid seems to have contradicted what the Vice President said, on the face of it.

MR. McCLELLAN:  No, I think you have to look at the context of the Vice President's comments.

Q:  I did, I looked.

MR. McCLELLAN:  And you don't point them out.  What did he talk about?

Q:  He said there are more foreign fighters coming into Iraq than there were six months ago.

MR. McCLELLAN:  Well, we can selectively quote people or we can look at the context of the comments, and I think that's what is important to do.  That's why I was stepping back and pointing out to you what the Vice President was talking about.

Q:  So he was talking about the political process moving forward, not -- let me ask you this.  What is the Vice President basing his -- where is he getting his evidence?  What is he basing his claim on, if the commanders on the ground are saying  --

MR. McCLELLAN:  It doesn't appear that you've looked at the context of his comments, and I would encourage you to do that.  And I just addressed this question when you asked it.

Q:  I was there in this -- when he said, "in the throes of," --

MR. McCLELLAN:  You were in the interview?

Q:  He did not mean political, he meant the whole situation in Iraq.

MR. McCLELLAN:  You were in the interview?  I think you should look --

Q:  You can't change his meaning.  You guys are trying to step back now, and I don't blame you.

MR. McCLELLAN:  No, I disagree with you.

Go ahead though, Jessica.

Q:  Last night Karl Rove, in a speech, accused the Democrats of trying to send the terrorists into therapy and not responding appropriately to 9/11, whereas the Republicans, he felt, responded appropriately.  He's been called on to make an apology.  Will Karl Rove will apologize, and is this elevating the discourse, the way you said the President will do?

MR. McCLELLAN:  Talking about different philosophies and different approaches?  That's what Karl Rove was talking about.  He was talking about the different philosophies and our different approaches when it comes to winning the war on terrorism.  And I don't know who is even making such a suggestion.

Q:  Harry Reid.

Q:  Nancy Pelosi.

MR. McCLELLAN:  Well, I would think that they would want to be able to defend their philosophy and their approach.  I mean, I know that the Democratic leadership at this point is offering no ideas and no vision for the American people, but Karl was simply pointing out the different philosophies and different approaches when it comes to winning the war on terrorism.

Q:  He said the Democrats wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers.  That's not injecting politics into the tragedy of September 11th?

MR. McCLELLAN:  I think it's talking about the different philosophies for winning the war on terrorism.  The President recognizes that the way to win the war on terrorism is to take the fight to the enemy, to stay on the offensive, and to work to spread freedom and democracy to defend the ideology of hatred that they espouse, and the ideology of tyranny and oppression.

Q:  So will the President ask Karl Rove to apologize?

MR. McCLELLAN:  Of course not, Jessica.  This is simply talking about different philosophies and different approaches.  And I think you have to look at it in that context.  If people want to try to engage in personal attacks instead of defending their philosophy, that's their business.  But it's important to point out the different approaches when it comes to winning the war on terrorism.  And that's all he was doing.

Q:  So you're suggesting that Rove's approach to discussing the philosophy that Democrats -- is to say that they want to prepare indictments and seek counseling.  That's their philosophy, is that what you were saying?

MR. McCLELLAN:  I think the comments were saying -- the conservative approach and the liberal approach is what he was talking about.

Q:  He was saying that that's the comparison in their philosophies?

MR. McCLELLAN:  He was speaking to a political organization.  There are many who have looked at the war on terrorism and said it is a law enforcement matter, that we should prosecute people.  The President recognizes that it is a war and that we must stay on the offensive, we must take the fight to the enemy.  The best way to defeat the enemy is to fight them abroad and bring them to justice before they can carry out their attacks here at home.

Q:  And the therapy?  What about the therapy?

MR. McCLELLAN:  I think that's what he's -- and I think that's what he's talking about.

Go ahead.

Q:  Was the rhetoric appropriate?

Q:  Are you talking to Democrats about releasing more information that would allow the Bolton nomination to go forward?

MR. McCLELLAN:  Yes, we have continued to reach out --

Q:  I mean, are there discussions right now.

MR. McCLELLAN:  And we have continued to reach out in good faith to the Democratic leadership in the Senate.  I would point out that these are Democratic leaders who have already voted against the nomination of John Bolton.  They have continued to change their request, make new requests, expand the universe, move the goalpost.  They are clearly not acting in good faith.  All they are doing is simply trying to block this nomination from moving forward when this individual has the majority support of the United States Senate.  He is someone who will be a strong voice for reform.  It's critical that we get him in there so that he can get about the work of advancing the reforms that we have outlined for the United Nations.

This is a critical period at the United Nations.  We have a comprehensive reform agenda for making the United Nations more effective.  And John Bolton is exactly the kind of guy to lead that effort.  Andy Card -- well, and let me back up, even before that.  Senator Roberts, last week, reached out in a very good- faith effort and said, look, we'll take a look at all these names -- these names that you're requesting, whether or not they were part of the information that was in question.  And Senator Roberts went to the Director of National Intelligence and he said, no, none of these names are part of this information.  Senator Roberts went back and reported to Democrats that that was the case.  That was a very reasonable compromise to move forward on this nomination.  And what did he get back from Democrats?  It's not enough; we're going to move the goalposts; we want more.  So clearly they're not interested in finding middle ground.

Andy Card, before the vote on Monday, reached out to Senator Biden and said, you know, look, we want to work in good faith, we want to try to resolve this, if you have legitimate questions, we want to get those questions answered, and offered to provide more information to Senator Biden.  He chose to move the goalpost again and said, no, not good enough.

And then, just last night, Andy Card, again, reached out to Senator Biden and spent time with him on the phone, and said, look, we're willing to provide you with the information that was provided to the ranking Democrat and ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee.  This was information that Democrats, some Democratic leaders have said they want to know more about it.  He said, well, we'll provide you the same briefing that those individuals have.  And I would point out that Senator Rockefeller, who did get that briefing, said, there's nothing improper about these requests.  So Andy Card said, hey, we'll make this -- we'll make this same briefing available to you.  Senator Biden, again, came back with new requests, and moved the goal -- moved the goal --

Q:  What were the new requests?

MR. McCLELLAN:  I'll let him talk for himself -- moved the goalpost again.

So it's clear that Democrats are not acting in good faith.  All they want to do is block this nomination from moving forward and prevent us from moving forward on reforms at the United Nations because John Bolton is the one that can help advance those reforms and move forward in a -- in a manner to get things done.

Go ahead.  I'm going to keep going.  Go ahead, Connie.

Q:  Thank you.  Two on the court.  Do you have any reaction to the eminent domain ruling on the Supreme Court today?

MR. McCLELLAN:  I haven't seen it at this point.

Q:  In general, does this administration approve of confiscating people's property?

MR. McCLELLAN:  I haven't seen the Supreme Court ruling.  I'll be glad to take a look at it.

Q:  Any tea leaves on the Justice -- Chief Justice, Monday, resignation?

MR. McCLELLAN:  Again, there's no vacancy that exists at this point.  I'm not aware of anyone who has indicated that they are leaving the Supreme Court.  I think it would be premature to even try to speculate about things at this point.  Obviously, if there is a vacancy, we are prepared for that scenario, like any White House.  We have made preparations to be ready in case someone does leave the Supreme Court.  At this point, no one has.

The President has also said, in a recent Rose Garden press conference, said that if that time comes, he would be more than welcome -- or more than glad to hear the opinions of members of Congress, as well, members of the Senate.  The President previously expressed that.  But I think it's just too early to try to speculate on a vacancy that does not exist at this point, and that's all we would be doing.

Go ahead.

Q:  Scott, going back to Jessica's question.  So are you saying that it's completely appropriate the way Karl Rove invoked 9/11?  And what would you say to those who say that the comments were simply partisan and hurtful?

MR. McCLELLAN:  I think that Karl was simply pointing out the different philosophies when it comes to winning the war on terrorism.  That's what he was doing.  The President of the United States -- you bring up something that's very important -- has worked to elevate the discourse in this town and reach out to get things done, and that's what he's done.  Now, Karl was simply pointing out the differences that exist in how we approach the war on terrorism and how different people view it in a different way.

Q:  Well, what's the philosophy he's --

MR. McCLELLAN:  So what -- Jessica, I'm sorry, I'm going to keep going to others.  You've had your opportunity.

Q:  What is the -- I mean, the understanding of the Democrat's philosophy, then?

MR. McCLELLAN:  Was that simply pointing -- well, let me point out, was that simply talking about differences in how you approach the war on terrorism?

Q:  It was talking about suggesting that Democrats simply want to offer therapy and understanding to those who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks.

MR. McCLELLAN:  And view it as essentially a law enforcement matter.

Q:  Well, they feel as though there is, in fact, an ugly partisan and hurtful tone to those remarks --

MR. McCLELLAN:  No, I think that it's --

Q:  -- that don't elevate the discourse.

MR. McCLELLAN:  -- some Democratic leaders that chose to attack for those comments instead of defend their philosophy.

Go ahead.

Q:  Scott, just again on Karl's remarks last night, when he talked about the indictments, was he simply reflecting the sentiments of the President, who, as we know, in many, many speeches, perhaps in jest, talked about referring to the terrorists as saying maybe they thought after 9/11, we would just file a lawsuit?

MR. McCLELLAN:  The war on terrorism brought us, to our shores -- let me back up, because the President -- this was talked about at length over the course of the last four years, Ed.  We had a pre-9/11 mind set prior to the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York City and the Pentagon here in Washington.  Those attacks showed us that we were vulnerable here at home to the threats of terrorism.

And for too long, people looked at these terrorist attacks and thought they could be dealt with in a certain way.  Maybe there would be ways to negotiate with terrorists or maybe there would be ways to simply prosecute people for carrying out terrorist activity around the world.  And the Middle East, during all that time, was becoming a breeding ground for this kind of terrorism.  It was becoming a breeding ground for an ideology that is based on hatred and oppression and violence.  And we were looking the other way.

That's why the President said this is a comprehensive war, this is a war, that's what it is.  It's a comprehensive war on terrorism, it's a comprehensive war on an ideology, this is a long struggle that we are in.  And the President outlined a comprehensive strategy for winning this war and defeating the ideology of hatred and oppression.  And I think all Karl was talking about last night was the different approaches to how you go about winning the war on terrorism.  So, you know, some can try to make more out of it than they should, but he was simply talking about the different approaches.

Q:  So when the President many times in the past actually has evoked laughter from his audiences when he talked about they thought we'd just filing a lawsuit, was he saying that in jest or not?

MR. McCLELLAN:  No, Ed.  In fact, he was saying it with all seriousness, because if you look back to how things were dealt with prior to 9/11, people knew exactly what he was talking about.  When we were attacked previously on our own shores, people were prosecuted.  That's what he was talking about.  But we didn't recognize that -- the threat that we were facing from abroad.  The President saw very clearly on September 11th that this was a struggle of ideologies and this was a war on terrorism, a war that we must win to build a free and peaceful future for people across the world, and to ensure our long-term security.  I think you all know that in this room.  And, you know, if people want to engage in partisan bickering, that's their business.  We're going to talk about what the differences are when it comes to how we move forward.

Q:  Continuing on with this then, Scott, are you suggesting that it was not Karl's intention to belittle that philosophy, merely to illustrate it?

MR. McCLELLAN:  Look, you have his remarks, you can go back and look at his remarks for yourself.

Q:  Scott, you ask us oftentimes for specifics -- does Karl have in mind a particular Democratic leader who suggested therapy for the folks who attacked on 9/11?

MR. McCLELLAN:  I think you can look at his remarks, Mark.

Q:  He didn't mention any names, and I'm asking you if you know.

MR. McCLELLAN:  I know, so you should go look at your remarks.

Q:  So in other words, there are no --

MR. McCLELLAN:  Clearly, there are people who have taken a different approach, and I don't think we need to get into names.

Q:  But someone who specifically has suggested therapy?

MR. McCLELLAN:  Mark, if you want to make more than it was, then you're welcome to, but I think you should go back and look at his remarks.  I didn't see his remarks.

Q:  He didn't name any names, which is why I'm asking you.

MR. McCLELLAN:  Yes, and you can go back and look at his remarks and see for yourself what it says.

Q:  Scott, what does the President make of a state-owned Chinese oil company trying to buy an American company?

MR. McCLELLAN:  I think that that's a matter that you need to talk to the Treasury Department about.

Q:  Does he not have any thought on it?

MR. McCLELLAN:  I think you need to talk to the Treasury Department about it.

Q:  Scott, yesterday you, as the President's spokesman, warmly commended Senator Durbin for his apologizing for what you called the reprehensible and Mayor Kelly called a disgraceful statement about our U.S. troops.  But I can't remember any such White House commendation of Senator Lott for his apology in 2002.  And my first question, did you or Ari Fleischer ever publicly commend Senator Lott for his apology, and what did you say if you did?

MR. McCLELLAN:  Les, that matter was addressed long ago and I don't think there's anything else to add to it.

Q:  Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute, I've got a follow up.  Mississippi Republicans who did so much to lead a great Bush re-election victory in their red state are surely aware of the enormous difference between what Senator Lott said was "totally in jest" at Senator Thurmond's 100th birthday party and what was reprehensible and disgraceful.  Will you now warmly commend Senate Rules Committee Chairman Lott for his apology in 2002, or won't you?

MR. McCLELLAN:  Les, this issue was addressed back in 2002, and --

Q:  He still is with us.

MR. McCLELLAN:  -- and we're focused on how we move forward.

Q:  Did you hear what he said the other night?

MR. McCLELLAN:  Go ahead.

Q:  Thank you, Scott.  The United States decided -- has decided to supply North Korea with 50,000 tons of food yesterday.  Many North Korean defectors have witnessed the food given to North Korea has been used for the military, not for the starving civilians.  How does the United States know if that food would be delivered to the starving people of North Korea?

MR. McCLELLAN:  I appreciate you bringing that up, and the President has always made it clear that food should not be used as a diplomatic weapon.  The President is concerned about the plight of the North Korean people.  He's concerned about people in North Korea who are hungry and who are suffering.  We have been the largest contributor of food aid to the North Korean people.

And we are moving forward with some additional food assistance to get to those people who are in need, those people who are suffering, those people who are hungry.  And this aid is provided through either the United Nations or humanitarian organizations.  And we are committed to making sure it gets to the people who need it.  And that's why, when we look at food assistance, we always take into account certain criteria.  One of those criteria is making sure that it's going to get to those who need it.

Now, the World Food Program has also been working on implementing a new way of delivering aid to make sure it gets to those who need it.  And we'll continue doing all we can to ensure that it is going to the people in need, not to the government or the military, for others who are not in need.

Go ahead.

Q:  Was Karl Rove speaking last night as a Deputy White House Chief of Staff?

MR. McCLELLAN:  He is the Deputy White House Chief and Senior White House Advisor, and I would encourage you to go look at his remarks and what he said.

Go ahead.

Q:  Especially given the venue, being in New York, where there is, obviously, a very strong personal connection for many people to what happened on 9/11 and the immediate bipartisan support the President enjoyed right after those events, does the President think the tone of what Mr. Rove was saying is fair and appropriate?

MR. McCLELLAN:  I think you bring up a very good point.  It was in New York, it was to the New York Conservative Party.  So he was talking about the different philosophy between conservatives and liberals and different philosophy for approaching the war on terrorism.  That is a very important priority for all Americans and it's very important that the American people know what we are doing to win that war on terrorism.  And that's why he was talking about it and telling it like it is when it comes to the different approaches for winning the war on terrorism.

Q:  But similarly, liberals in New York, New Jersey area also feel very personally affected.  And so the tone of those remarks, by some, would be judged as going too far.

MR. McCLELLAN:  He was speaking to the New York Conservative Party and talking about different philosophies -- a conservative philosophy and a liberal philosophy -- when it comes to winning the war on terrorism.  I disagree with such a characterization.

Q:  You think that was perfectly appropriate?

MR. McCLELLAN:  Again, I just said that he was talking about the different philosophies.  The President has talked about the different philosophies when it comes to winning the war on terrorism.  And he was speaking to a specific audience about those philosophies and talking about the philosophy that we stand for and the approach that we stand for.

Now if others don't want to defend their approach, that's their business.  But to talk about the issues, particularly a priority that's this important, is, I think, something that people expect us to focus on.  This is talking about important issues that do have a direct impact on the American people and do have a direct impact on our peace and security.

Q:  But others don't think the characterization of how liberals approach --

MR. McCLELLAN:  Who are the others?

Q:  Well, you've got Nancy Pelosi today, Harry Reid were talking about the fact that the use of the words was not appropriate for the way, especially in the New York area --

MR. McCLELLAN:  Do you disagree that he was simply talking about the different philosophies and different approaches?

Q:  What I'm talking about is word choice.

MR. McCLELLAN:  Well, I think that they are just trying to engage in partisan attacks.  Karl was simply talking about different philosophies, and we should be talking about what we stand for and how we want to move forward.  We should be talking about what the different visions are and what the different ideas are, and that's what he was doing.

The President has spoken to conservative audiences, as well, and he's talked about the different philosophies when it comes to how we govern and how we address the important priorities for the American people.  That's what Karl was doing in this setting.  I think the American people want to know how we are going about governing, and how -- and the philosophy that is behind that, and how we are approaching these important priorities, because this matters to the American people.

Now, I know -- I appreciate you all in this room.  You want to get caught up in all the process and the back and forth bickering that goes on in this city.  We're going to focus on the issues and that's what we will continue to do.

Q:  Can I ask it in this way, Scott?  Then if this is an issue, is this an expression in some manner that the White House is concerned that with the popularity of the war diminishing, the anti-war liberalism is beginning to take hold so the President and Karl are confronting it directly?

MR. McCLELLAN:  No, he was speaking to the New York Conservative Party, and he was talking about different philosophies -- the conservative philosophy and the liberal philosophy and how we're approaching different priorities for the American people.  That's all it is.

Q:  Thank you.

MR. McCLELLAN:  Thank you.

END     12:46 P.M. EDT

(end transcript)

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