White House Briefing, February 27
27 February 2006
Colombia, Belarus, Dubai Ports World, India, terror surveillance program, India/Pakistan, Venezuela, opinion polls, Jill Carroll, Iran, Taiwan
White House press secretary Scott McClellan briefed reporters February 27.
Following is the transcript of the White House briefing:
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
February 27, 2006
PRESS BRIEFING BY SCOTT McCLELLAN
-- Dubai Ports World
-- Terror surveillance program
-- Opinion polls
-- Jill Carroll
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
February 27, 2006
PRESS BRIEFING BY SCOTT McCLELLAN
James S. Brady Briefing Room
1:27 P.M. EST
MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon, everyone. Let me begin with a couple of issues, one, a world leader call, and then, two, a meeting the President had earlier today.
First of all, President Uribe of Colombia called the President this morning to express his appreciation for the cooperation between the United States and Colombia in concluding free trade negotiations this past weekend. The President commended President Uribe for his leadership. Both leaders expressed that they were pleased with the outcome. You have a statement that the USTR put out earlier today, but let me just kind of sum up this agreement.
This comprehensive agreement will enhance economic growth and prosperity between the United States and Colombia and will generate export opportunities for our agricultural products, manufacturing and service providers. Since many products from Colombia already enter the United States market duty-free, this agreement will help level the playing field for U.S. manufacturers, farmers and ranchers.
Secondly, our National Security Advisor, Steve Hadley, hosted a meeting with two widows of individuals who disappeared in Belarus. One was a pro-democracy businessman; the other was an independent journalist. Several international investigations have concluded that their husbands were murdered by authorities in Belarus because of their political activities, and the United States government shares that view. Their bodies have not been found.
The President expressed his condolences to the widows over the loss of their husbands. The President underscored his personal support for their efforts to seek justice for the disappeared and for all those who seek to return freedom to Belarus. The meeting took place 20 days before the presidential election in Belarus. It highlights our concern about the conduct of the government in Belarus leading up to the election, harassment of civil society and the political opposition, and the failure to seriously investigate the cases of the disappeared. The United States stands with the people of Belarus in their effort to chart their own future.
And with that, I'll be glad to go to questions. Steve.
QUESTION: Is it your understanding that this -- that the election is Belarus is illegitimate? Or what's your feeling about this?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we have a lot of concerns about the current government in place, and I think we've expressed those previously. What we want to do is everything we can to help advance freedom and democracy in Belarus. And that's why we stand with these widows and we stand with the people of Belarus.
Helen, go ahead.
Q: Did the German intelligence give the U.S. Saddam Hussein's military plans, defense plans, war plans?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President was asked about that at a news conference with Chancellor Merkel, when she was here visiting and he didn't have any -- he didn't know anything about it, nor did I. I don't have anything else on it.
Go ahead, David.
Q: Scott, let me ask you about this new deal -- or rather, not the new deal, but the --
MR. McCLELLAN: Compromise.
Q: -- investigation, the 45-day. Can you explain a little bit how that came to pass, what the White House view on this was? Because the White House said the President did not support any further review. So how did this come to be? Did the White House express -- put any pressure on the company to do this? And do you think it's enough to sort of quell the storm in Congress here?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, a couple of things. Let me start by saying that our interest over the last several days has been in making sure that Congress has a better understanding of the transaction and the facts involved. And so the additional time and investigation at the request of the company, we believe will help provide Congress with a better understanding. And once they have that better understanding, we believe they'll be more comfortable with the transaction moving forward.
There have been a number of conversations going on between the companies and congressional leaders like Senator Frist, Speaker Hastert, I think, and others have been involved in discussions with members of Congress, as well. We've been involved in discussions. The Treasury Department, as Chair of the Committee on Foreign Investment, has been involved in those discussions, as well. And we think that a reasonable middle ground has been reached. And we support and welcome the decision by the company to file a new notification with the Committee on Foreign Investment for the reasons that I just stated.
Q: But one follow-up to this. Congressman King has said repeatedly that what CFIUS failed to do was really an adequate national security investigation; that it was really much more of a pre-9/11 review with respect to a financial transaction, and didn't really break much new ground beyond examining what was on file with the intelligence community, with regard to this company and with the UAE.
So does the President think that in this 45-day review that anything different should be done than was done through the CFIUS process?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, since they asked for this 45-day investigation, there are inherently, within that process, some things that are done differently.
But let me back up and emphasize a couple of things. First of all, this is a congressionally-mandated process. Congress put this process in place when it comes to foreign transactions. And the Committee on Foreign Investment thoroughly reviewed this transaction initially. And there was an intelligence assessment that was done early on. I think they were looking at this for about a three-month period, is what Deputy Secretary of Treasury Kimmitt indicated to members of Congress last week in one of the hearings. And there are safeguards that are put in place, it was closely scrutinized. The President believes it should be allowed to move forward.
At the same time, we recognize Congress would like additional time to look at this transaction and have the facts, and that's important, too. So we welcome the middle ground that was reached here with congressional leaders. And Congressman King, Senator Frist, Senator Warner, and I know others have expressed their appreciation for the compromise that was reached here. And they say they want to wait and see how this review and investigation moves forward before determining what to do next.
Go ahead, Terry.
Q: Scott, India's Prime Minister says that the country's fast breeder program would not be included in inspections by the IAEA under this deal that's being worked out. Is that okay with the United States?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I'm not going to try to negotiate from this podium. That's a nice try, to try to draw me into these negotiations. Let me just say a couple of things. First of all, our relationship with India is much broader than the civilian nuclear program that we are talking about. There has been some progress that has been made in those negotiations. Whether or not it gets done during the trip -- before the trip or during the trip, we will have to see. But we believe it will get done. It's an important agreement. But these are complex issues that we are dealing with here, and they have been ongoing for some time, these negotiations. And we'll see where they lead.
Q: Are you trying to lower expectations that it will get done?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think I'm trying to put it in perspective that we have a very broad relationship with India. It's one that the President has been strongly committed to from day one. And we have worked to strengthen that relationship. India is a strategic partner, and we work together on a number of issues across the board, whether it's the war on terrorism or expanding economic opportunity and prosperity, or other issues. We have a strong relationship. And the President has talked about that in some of the interviews.
Q: Let's move back a couple controversies to the NSA matter. A group of Democratic congressmen have called on the President to order a special prosecutor to investigate. What's your response?
MR. McCLELLAN: Sure, a couple of things. First of all, the President talked about the importance of the terrorist surveillance program earlier with the governors. The President's number one priority is to protect the American people, and this terrorist surveillance program is a critical tool in our efforts to prevent attacks. And the President has spoken about how it is a hot pursuit effort aimed at detection and prevention of attacks before they occur. And it's one tool that we are using. This is a comprehensive war on terrorism that we're engaged in and this tool helps us to connect the dots and save lives. And that's why it's so important.
It was carefully tailored. It is focused solely on international communications that involve a known al Qaeda or suspected al Qaeda terrorist or affiliated al Qaeda terrorist. And it went through a careful review process. There were a lot of legal officials that were involved in this at the National Security Agency, at the White House, at the Department of Justice.
And I think that where these Democrats who are calling for this ought to spend their time is on what was the source of the unauthorized disclosure of this vital and critical program in the war on terrorism, because what it has done is signal to the enemy some of what we're doing to try to save lives. And I really don't think there's any basis for a special counsel, and I think the Attorney General has spoken about that, as well. But the fact that this information was disclosed about the existence of this program has given the enemy some of our playbook, and that is very dangerous in the war on terrorism.
Q: Scott, what are your comments to the unexpected support from Julian Bond in reference to the President's port deal issue?
MR. McCLELLAN: I actually haven't seen his specific comments. I think someone had reported that to me earlier. But I think that we've spelled out the reasons why we believe this transaction should move forward.
Now, with that said, we have also been supportive of the discussions going on with Congress. We've been involved in those discussions and so we welcome the middle ground that was reached to help Congress have a better understanding of the facts involved in this transaction. And as I said, we believe they're going to be more comfortable with the transaction moving forward once they have a better understanding of those facts.
Now, keep in mind what the President said. The President believes very strongly that we shouldn't be holding a company from an Arab country to a different standard than a company from Great Britain. So it's a principle that is involved here.
It's also something that we have to look at in the broader context of our foreign policy and the war on terrorism that we're engaged in. The United Arab Emirates is a strong and good partner in the war on terrorism. General Pace spoke about the military-to-military cooperation that goes on with the United Arab Emirates. It is superb, he said. He said that the United Arab Emirates has proven to be a very, very solid partner in the war on terrorism.
It is a country where our aircraft carriers use their seaports. It is a country that has given us access to their air space and their airfields for our Air Force. And so it is a critical partner in the war on terrorism. And remember this is a global threat that we are engaged in, and it requires a global response. We need to be building strong partnerships in order to prevail in the war on terrorism. And so you have to look at this in the broader context of our foreign policy, as well, and the impact it could have when we say to allies that you're going to be held to a different standard than others.
Q: But, Scott, again, as I asked you last week, the broader context some are saying is racism or bigotry. And now we have Julian Bond supporting the President's efforts with the ports. Are you willing now to say there could be hints of bigotry, racism or discrimination in this?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think you have to ask the individuals why they might be reluctant to support this transaction moving forward. I'm not going to try to speak for others.
Go ahead, David.
Q: Scott, two questions, one on the ports and one on India. On the ports, under the 45-day review that you're now going to start, the way the law is written, it's up to the President to be the final arbiter of this, the committee then reports to him. Since the President has already expressed his views on this deal -- and you've just reiterated those today -- can he be a neutral judge on this issue? Should he recuse himself from this, since he's already expressed his opinion, much the way a judge might --
MR. McCLELLAN: This is a congressionally mandated process; they put this law in place. And the company voluntarily asked for a 45-day investigation, so this is at the request of the company. And it will go to the committee --
Q: You see my point, you're in the odd position of the President has already declared his view on something he's supposed to judge at the end of the investigative process.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, but it's going to go through the Committee on Foreign Investment -- because this is a new transaction that they are notifying the committee about. And the committee will review it, and at the request of the company, go through the investigation. That will involve additional people. And then, as you point out, I expect it ultimately would go to the President, as called for under the law. This is the way -- the law has been in place for some time.
Q: So he's got to keep an open mind that maybe the committee will find something different than --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he stated his views. The views that he has previously stated remain the same. But we will see, as it goes through the Committee on Foreign Investment, where this goes.
Q: And on India, the President, in his speech February, I guess, '04, on nuclear proliferation said that he wanted no country that is currently not producing enriched uranium or reprocessed plutonium to move forward with that. Instead, he wants to be supplying them from international suppliers. In the President's view, is India a country that should be banned from producing new nuclear fuel under that rule? Or are they considered to be grandfathered in as an existing producer?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think we need to let the discussions continue. I don't think anything has changed in terms of what we said previously, in terms of the joint statement that was issued after President Singh came here and visited. That remains the same. The President believes this is a practical way to address a couple of issues.
One is the issue of energy and the need for that energy. And so expanding our nuclear cooperation on civilian programs with India is important to addressing that important need. But it will also help bring India into a better situation when it comes to any concerns about proliferation issues. And I don't know that I can add anything to what we've already said at this point.
Q: I think you're making the question more complex than it is. The question is what category, in the President's mind, does India fit into: an existing producer, one that he would like to block or --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think it fits into the category we've previously expressed. I'll see if there's anything additional to add to it.
Go ahead, Goyal.
Q: Scott, as we get ready to -- a special and historical trip to India and Pakistan tomorrow, as far as Pakistan trip is concerned, it will be more on Kashmir, as far as Pakistan's ambassador, that I have spoken to him, and also General Musharraf has said, and last time the U.N. -- what he said really, Kashmir is the main focal point between India and Pakistan. My question is that in the past, President and Dr. Rice, they have been saying that this issue has to be decided between India and Pakistan only, and U.S. is not the party, unless it is asked by the two countries. But now President, other day he clarified after the Asia Society speech, that it is now India, Pakistan and the people of Kashmir --
MR. McCLELLAN: That's been our view.
Q: Isn't it policy change now, a U.S. policy change?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, that's been our view, and -- that the dialogue ought to be occurring between India and Pakistan. There's been some improvement in that dialogue, and we want a solution that represents the interests of all sides, is what the President emphasized in his interviews the other day.
Q: How is it -- beyond this issue in India and Pakistan?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q: How President's role will be in India and Pakistan?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think it's the way he expressed it last week, both in the speech, and then later in interviews.
Go ahead, Carl.
Q: Back to NSA for just a minute. What is the administration's view of Senator Specter's remark that would bring the NSA surveillance program under the auspices of FISA and the court, and require the FISA court to essentially take part in a 45-day review of the ongoing program?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, a couple of things. One, as I said, the terrorist surveillance program is a critical tool in our efforts to win the war on terrorism and prevent attacks from happening here in America. It was carefully tailored to focus on detention and prevention. FISA was created for longer-term monitoring. It was created for a different purpose.
Now, in terms of the nature of this program, it is limited to international communications involving al Qaeda or al Qaeda affiliated terrorists. The President has both the constitutional and statutory authority to carry out this important program that helps save lives. We have committed to working with Congress on legislation that would codify that authority into law. We are committed to working on the legislation that meets that shared objective of some leaders in Congress, and we've said that we're open to ideas from members of Congress, but what we will resist is any attempt that would compromise this vital program or undermine the President's authority.
I don't want to get into to trying to rule things in, or ruling things out, other than reiterating what we had previously said, and I think that gives you a sense of where we are.
Q: And a second question, also on legislation on the Hill. What if Senator Schumer gets the Republican leadership to go along with the measure that would essentially say that Congress has to approve this port deal?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that you've heard from a number of congressional leaders already. Senator Frist has said that he will ask the Senate to hold off on legislation relating to this transaction until this review and investigation is complete. I think they -- I think there are a number of leaders that recognize that this was a reasonable middle ground that has been reached. And we want to make sure that that review and investigation has the opportunity to proceed forward.
Q: Does the administration think congressional oversight is unnecessary this type of a transactional review?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, are you talking about future ideas --
Q: Future ideas.
MR. McCLELLAN: -- for looking at the Committee on Foreign Investment? We'll continue to talk with Congress in the future and look at these issues. Congress is the one who created this process and mandated it into law.
Q: Thank you. Scott, Venezuela is again threatening to cut off oil shipments to the United States. The Venezuelan Petroleum Minister accuses the U.S. of meddling in Venezuela's internal affairs. And he also threatens to close Venezuelan oil refineries in this country. What would that loss -- about 10 percent of our total oil imports -- do to the President's energy program?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not sure -- I appreciate the opportunity to try to engage on this, but I'm not going to try to speculate about comments that were made by the official you quoted. We've made very clear what our view is when it comes to the hemisphere, and we're looking at this hemisphere in terms of the broader strategic vision. And there are many nations that share our view that the hemisphere should continue to move in the direction of democracy and freedom and rule of law. And those are the nations that we'll continue to work with as we move forward.
Go ahead, Jim.
Q: Scott, the President is heading off on his trip with some record low approval ratings. And I'm wondering, given the events of the last couple of weeks -- the ports deal, and the outbreak of violence in Iraq, and the handling of the Vice President's shooting -- is there any thought to changing the way the administration is doing business?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, if you're talking about with Congress, we will continue to work closely with Congress on our shared priorities. I think if you look at the record, we have been able to move forward and achieve a lot of important things for the American people. And we will continue to do that.
That's where our focus is. Our focus is on the important priorities of the American people, and I think that's where Congress' focus is, as well. This week Congress is looking at moving forward on renewing the Patriot Act. That is another vital tool in the global war on terrorism. The President just came from a discussion with our nation's governors -- Republicans and Democrats alike -- and he talked about the importance of working together on our shared goals. These goals are not Republican or Democratic goals. These are goals that we can all support and work together on.
And that's what the President is going to continue to do. We'll let others get into all the political analysis of those things.
Q: Do you have any idea why the dip?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q: Do you have any idea why the dip?
MR. McCLELLAN: We don't get caught up in the weekly snapshots in time that you're referring to. We are focused on getting things done for the American people, and we have a record of results. We're focused on moving forward and winning the war on terrorism. We're focused on doing everything we can within our authority to prevent attacks from happening and saving lives. We're focused on keeping the economy growing, and we're going to continue to talk about what the facts are, because if you look at the facts, this is a President that has achieved meaningful results for the American people: an economy that is humming along, having created nearly 4.8 million jobs since the summer of 2003; and an unemployment rate that is at 4.9 percent, below the averages of the '70s, '80s, and '90s.
And we're going to continue focusing on ways we can work together as Republicans and Democrats in Congress to achieve important priorities that build upon that economic security. The President has called for an Advanced Energy Initiative to help reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy and build upon the comprehensive plan we passed last summer. So look at the record and look at the results, and look at the facts.
Q: Scott, is there any update from the White House on Jill Carroll?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I don't have any additional update to provide you. Obviously, as I have said before, any time you have an American hostage, he or she is a priority for this administration. So all Americans who are held hostage at this time are a priority for this administration, including Ms. Carroll. And their safe return is something that we remain focused on and it remains a top priority. And that's what we are working to do for all hostages.
Q: Back to DPW. Prior to finding this, what you call "middle ground" --
MR. McCLELLAN: Didn't you already have a question? (Laughter.)
Q: Yes, I did.
MR. McCLELLAN: You're jumping in on some of the others. Let me come back to you.
Q: Go ahead.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, that's okay. I forgot. Nice try. (Laughter.) Go ahead, Connie.
Q: Two questions, one on port and one on Iran. First of all, a variation of one the spokesman gave before. Do American firms have first chance to bid on these port contracts, or are they likely to in the future?
MR. McCLELLAN: This is a private transaction. And you had this company, Dubai Ports World, enter into a transaction with the British P&O company that currently manages these terminals at the ports. This has nothing to do with control of the ports, because that's under the port authorities or others, or the security of the ports. It doesn't change security one iota. The Customs and border protection, as well as the Coast Guard continue to be in charge of security, whether this transaction moves forward, or not. One thing we will never do is outsource control of our ports, or security at our ports, to any entity. That will remain under the charge of our Customs and border protection and the Coast Guard.
Q: But do you think American firms should have the first chance to bid?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there are already some foreign companies that manage terminals in different parts of the United States, and Dubai Ports World is a company that manages terminals all across the world, in several countries. I read out some of what those countries are. But certainly American companies are welcome to enter into these transactions, and there are terminals that -- the Port of Baltimore, I think, is an example -- at least one of those terminals is managed by an American company. But some of the other terminals are managed by foreign companies. Yet, the Port of Baltimore remains in control -- the Port Authority of Baltimore remains in control of that port.
Q: And on Iran and the IAEA, a new report says Iran is still not fully cooperating. ElBaradei called this regrettable and a matter of concern. What next? Will U.N. sanction --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we haven't seen the report. I know that the International Atomic Energy Agency was scheduled to be meeting next week, and they will be receiving a report from Director General ElBaradei. And so we look forward to seeing what the International Atomic Energy Agency says.
But the international community remains concerned about the regime's behavior, and about their intentions when it comes to their nuclear program. That's why the matter has been reported to the United Nations Security Council. We've said that during this time the regime in Iran has an opportunity to change their ways and change their behavior when it comes to the nuclear program.
The International Atomic Energy Agency board spelled out what the regime needs to do, that the regime needs to abide by the Paris Agreement, suspend all enrichment and enrichment-related activities, they need to cooperate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency, and they need to negotiate in good faith with the Europeans. And that's what it spells out in that resolution that was passed at the last -- the special emergency meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Q: Just jumping back and forth once again. Senator Clinton and Representative Menendez are planning legislation that would essentially prohibit any foreign-owned company from taking over port operations in the United States. What message does that send, and what do you think of the --
MR. McCLELLAN: Carl, you can ask them about what they're proposing. Where our focus is, is on making sure that Congress has a greater understanding of the transaction and the facts. This was a transaction that was closely scrutinized by national security experts who are involved in these decisions and by our intelligence community. The intelligence community provided an assessment.
The Department of Homeland Security also worked to make sure any national security concerns were addressed, by entering into an agreement with the company and requiring some additional security assurances before it moved forward. But this was a consensus of all the relevant departments and agencies -- there are some 12 altogether -- that are part of that Committee on Foreign Investment.
Now in this process, for this transaction, the committee also reached out to the Department of Transportation and Department of Energy to get their expertise and their views on national security issues, as well. In spite of that, though, we recognized that members of Congress would like more information, and that's why this additional time and the investigation at the request of the company will be helpful.
Q: In that regard --
Q: -- beyond that, to other foreign countries, in general.
MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, which one.
Q: This legislation proposed by Ms. Clinton and Mr. Menendez would ban foreign-owned countries [sic] from taking part in ports, period. That's happening all over --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think the President has expressed his view on this transaction. And as you well know, there are ports around the United States that are managed -- terminals that are managed by foreign companies.
Q: Well, the President's view --
Q: I asked you if you had a reaction to the specific legislation on the Hill, insofar as the President has said that it's important to watch the message that's sent from here.
MR. McCLELLAN: That's right.
Q: You're not concerned about legislation that's going to be moving ahead and --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I told you where our focus is. There are others that are discussing other issues relating to this. And going forward from this transaction, we'll continue to work with Congress, but I think the President has made his views very clear and they remain unchanged.
Q: Well, in that regard --
MR. McCLELLAN: We're trying to work with Congress to make sure they have a clear understanding of the transaction. And that's where our focus will remain.
Q: Well, in that regard, before finding what you call the "middle ground," there was a veto threat out there and threats of legislation the administration and the President obviously found objectionable. Now you have a 45-day hiatus in effect. What occurs at the end of the 45 days if congressional anxieties are not resolved?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we believe they will. We believe that Congress will be more comfortable and will not object to this transaction moving forward once this review and investigation have come to a conclusion. I think that's what we've expressed previously. What this does is have more -- give more time for Congress to get additional information about the transaction and to hear from the company, as well.
Now, in terms of the Committee on Foreign Investment, the way the law was structured by Congress, the committee is limited in terms of what information it can provide publicly because of proprietary concerns and other issues. But the company has been providing additional information publicly and to members of Congress because they are confident in the issues relating to this transaction. And I would expect that they'll continue to be helpful in making sure Congress has the information they need.
Q: But is that veto threat still operative?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President's position remains the same, Bob. But we're -- again, we're focused on what we're for. And what we're for is the compromise that was reached between the company and congressional leaders and letting that process work, and letting Congress come to a greater understanding about the transaction.
Go ahead, Les.
Q: Since I've got to be away for about two weeks, I just wondered on this one occasion I could ask three, like so often in the front row?
MR. McCLELLAN: Let's go quickly.
MR. McCLELLAN: People have to go home and pack.
Q: I understand. The state legislature of South Dakota has just passed a new law which allows abortion in case of threat to the mother's life, but denies it to all ages in cases of rape and incest. My first question: Does the President believe that rape and incest victims should be denied the right to an abortion?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President believes we ought to be working to build a culture of life in America. And we have taken practical, common-sense steps to help reduce the number of abortions in America. It is a strong record that is based on building a culture of life, and the President has made very clear that he is pro-life with three exceptions.
Q: All right. The New York Times this morning has a photograph of you above a five-column headline, "Another White House Briefing, Another Day of Mutual Mistrust," while on the bulletin board behind us, posted by one of those on the front row, is the cover of National Review Magazine with the headline, "The Gang That Won't Shoot Straight and the Madness of the White House Press Corps." And my question: As the Bush administration's person who most frequently deals with the White House press corps, will you be fair enough to admit that some in this press corps were not involved in such madness? (Laughter.)
MR. McCLELLAN: Les, I have a lot of respect for the people in this room and the job that they do. You all in this room work very hard to report important information to the American people, and do so in a fair way. And I appreciate it when you do.
Q: All right, wait a minute, wait a minute.
Q: We're all in it together. (Laughter.)
Q: The Washington Times this morning noted --
MR. McCLELLAN: We've been talking about how we can work together, remember -- (laughter.)
Q: The Washington Times notes this morning that as recently as last year, Hamas couriers were dispatched to the West Bank or Gaza with United Arab Emirate cash, while the Department of State's country reports and human rights practices reports that the UAE does not allow any elections and restricts freedom of speech and the press. And my question: Why should any control of our ports be given to a company owned by such a dictatorship that refuses to recognize Israel?
MR. McCLELLAN: Les, a couple of things. One, I think you missed what I said about the broader foreign policy implications if we are going to hold a company from an Arab country that is a good and solid ally in the war on terrorism to a different standard from a company from Great Britain. And the President has talked about that. It can have a real negative impact on our relationships. And partnerships and relationships are key to winning the war on terrorism because this is a global threat that we face.
Now, in terms of United Arab Emirates, let me point out, again, what General Pace and what General Franks said, too, in terms of the cooperation that the United Arab Emirates is providing when it comes to our military. Again, our aircraft carriers use the seaports in the United Arab Emirates, I think more than any other seaports outside of the United States. So I think you need to keep that in mind. Our airplanes use their air space, our Air Force planes and jets. This was a country that -- back in 2000, or the late 1990s or 2000, where we provided a number of fighter jets to that company [sic] -- the previous administration did. It is a country that has been a good partner in cracking down on terrorist financing.
The world changed after 9/11, and people made choices. Countries like the United Arab Emirates made a decision to be a good partner in the war on terrorism. And they are working with us, providing us important intelligence to prevent attacks and save lives. They're working with us to crack down on terrorist financing.
Pakistan is another country that made an important choice and is working in partnership with us in the global war on terrorism.
Q: Thank you for the three, I appreciate it.
Q: Scott, a follow-up on Dave Sanger's question earlier on the ports. How can the new second study or investigation be considered objective when the President has already reached a conclusion and Cabinet Secretaries have already said that it poses no risk? How do you --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, we went through a very thorough review when the initial notification was made. This is a new notification being made by the company. And because of the request by the company to do a 45-day investigation, I expect that that will bring in additional people into this process.
Now, remember, previously no one raised an objection at the end of that process. No one said -- no one had any national security concerns that weren't unresolved by the end of that review process, and that's why it went forward. It's a consensus judgment of all those different departments and agencies that have expertise in national security matters in various areas. And so that's the way the congressional process was set up.
But this will likely bring in deputies and principals that maybe had not been involved in that initial review period. And then, as I said, ultimately, it will go to the President and we'll be looking very closely at what the review and the investigation says.
Q: But getting back to what David said --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you asked me to speculate about a review and investigation that has not been done with the new notification.
Q: No, we're asking if there is a conflict of interest because the judge has already --
Q: The judge has already judged it.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I would reject that wholeheartedly.
Q: Scott, let me ask one additional thing. What will Congress know at the end of this 45 days that it does not now know?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I expect that the there will be more information that Congress will have at the end of this review and investigation. I can't try to prejudge the new review and new investigation that will take place, and I'm not going to do that. Some of you, I know, in this room want me to do that. I'm just not going to do that. It will -- these are people whose responsibilities are looking at these national security issues, and it involves experts in these areas for addressing national security concerns, just like it did the first time.
Q: Scott, are you saying if this port deal goes south we are going to lose the United Arab Emirates as an ally in the war against terrorism? And if so, so what? We've got aircraft carriers in other nations, Saudi Arabia -- is it that important to us?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I don't know why you could say "so what." I mean, partnerships are critical in the war on terrorism, and certainly partnerships from Middle Eastern countries like the United Arab Emirates are important in the broader war on terrorism and meeting our important foreign policy objectives.
Q: Is it directly tied to this port deal? If this deal goes south --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, no. I'm just pointing out that you also have to look at it in the broader foreign policy context. The President believes it's the right principle and the right policy, and that's what he's expressed previously. But we also understand that Congress would like more information about this and like to have a better understanding. And that's why we supported the agreement that was reached, or the compromise that was reached here with congressional leaders. And we were very involved in those discussions.
Now, let's keep in mind, this is not about port security. The Coast Guard and the Customs and border protection will continue to be in charge of port security. That does not change. They will continue to do their job when it comes to -- and port security is international in nature. I mean, we are checking containers overseas. We are looking at what's in -- we are getting lists before the ships come into harbor and unload. And as this company pointed out, the management and personnel structure won't be changing while it is going through this review and investigation period. So let's look at the broader issues here. I mean, some have tried to leave an impression that this would impact our port security. It won't change port security one iota, whether or not this transaction goes forward.
Q: On Taiwan, despite the United States warning, Taiwan authority on Monday officially scrapped the National Unification Council. I wonder if the President has been briefed --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, Taiwan what?
Q: Taiwan authority has officially scrapped the National Unification Council, which is a signal to (inaudible) unite with mainland China. I wonder whether you conceded this move by Chen Shui-bian to be a violation of his previous promise to the United States.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let me emphasize a couple things. One, our policy is clear and consistent when it comes to cross-strait relations. Our one China policy remains, based on the three communiqués, the Taiwan Relations Act, and our belief that there should be no unilateral change in the status quo by either side. We welcome President Chen's reaffirmation of his administration's commitment to cross-strait peace and stability, and Taiwan's commitment to the pledges that President Chen made in his inaugural address to unilaterally alter -- to not unilaterally alter the status quo on the Taiwan Strait.
The United States continues to also stress the need for Beijing to open a meaningful dialogue with the duly elected leadership in Taiwan that leads to a peaceful resolution of their differences.
Q: Earlier we heard that President was upset about Chen Shui-bian's plan to try to unilaterally change the status quo.
MR. McCLELLAN: That's why I talked about the reaffirmation that he has made. It did not abolish the National Unification Council. Today he reaffirmed commitments made during the 2000 and 2004 inaugural addresses. And the United States attaches great importance to those commitments.
Q: My question is that Taiwan leader Chen Shui-bian has been trying to push the envelope and trying to change the status quo as defined by the United States government over past few years. So causing a lot -- by doing so, causing a lot of concerns and attention in Taipei, in Beijing, and in Washington, D.C. So my question is, should the U.S. national security and the foreign policy and also the important U.S.-China relations should be dictated and challenged by Chen Shui-bian's inconsistency and by his personal, selfish political agenda?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I don't think it changes what I just said. We do not believe that there should be any unilateral change in the status quo by either side. And our policy remains the same. It has not changed.
Q: Thank you.
MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you.
END 2:09 P.M. EST
(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
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