Press Briefing by Tony Fratto
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
February 23, 2007
White House Conference Center Briefing Room
12:07 P.M. EST
MR. FRATTO: Good afternoon. I think you saw earlier today the President did an event, meeting with experts and people from academia, I think, also, on efforts to improve the efficiency and new technologies in his effort to achieve the goal of reducing gasoline consumption by 20 percent over the next 10 years; a nice event on the South Lawn with some alternative fuel vehicles, battery operated vehicles. So that was the event today on energy.
I'd be happy to take your questions. Terry.
Q Back to the issue we were talking about this morning, the 2002 resolution for the war, authorizing the war. Is the White House talking to Republicans about how to deal with that?
MR. FRATTO: I think we're in regular conversations with our allies on the Hill on supporting this effort, and there are a fair amount and those conversations will continue.
Q And has it become clearer to you what the Democrats are doing?
MR. FRATTO: You know, it's hard to say. I think what's clear is that there's a lot of shifting sands in the Democrats' positions right now. It's hard to say exactly what their position is. We hear -- when you say "the Democrats'," there are those who want to strictly cut off funding, there are those who want to do things like find backdoor ways to keep troops from circulating into Iraq, there's this effort that we read about. If the reports that we read about in the paper this morning are true and Democrats in Congress are floating these kinds of ideas, we're going to have to deal with it and see exactly what their point is.
But it's hard to say. I mean, these kinds of efforts have consequences.
Q Like what?
Q Where are you going with that? (Laughter.)
Q What do you mean by that?
MR. FRATTO: Well, it's clear that if there are efforts to remove troops out of Baghdad, there are consequences for Baghdad. Now, the only intelligence estimates out there, the only credible analysis that we've seen -- the NIE report and others -- are pretty clear on this, that it would bring chaos to Baghdad and so that is a consequence.
But we think the resolution that is in place is operative and that's where we are right now.
Q So you would oppose any effort to revoke that authorization?
MR. FRATTO: Of course we would. The plan that we're in right now and that we're going forward on is to carry out the President's proposal to bring security to Baghdad. And the authorization in the Security Council resolution is clear. If you back to that resolution, it says that, "The President is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate, to defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq, and to enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq."
Now that's -- so we're operating under a mandate. If you look at U.N. Security Council Resolution 1723, it specifically authorizes the presence of the multinational force in Iraq, at the request of the government of Iraq --
Q -- under military occupation --
MR. FRATTO: This isn't -- this isn't --
Q They requested -- would you take a referendum on that issue?
MR. FRATTO: This isn't military operation [sic]. As the current U.N. Security Council Resolution 1723 makes clear, we are in Iraq at the invitation of the government of Iraq. And it's very clear on that.
Q When you say we're operating under a mandate, how long does this mandate last?
MR. FRATTO: Well, the authorization from 2002 says that the United Nations -- that the President is authorized to use force to carry out U.N. Security Council resolutions, and it envisions subsequent resolutions.
So the resolutions that we have seen since then certainly authorize a threat to the region that's posed by instability in Iraq, and it envisions the United States forces staying there and bringing stability to Iraq and the region.
Q To reiterate my earlier question, since British troops are so seasoned and successful, why don't they go to Baghdad, instead of leaving town?
MR. FRATTO: Yes, they're not -- what the British intend to do, if conditions permit, is to reduce their forces in the regions they're operating in. That was the mission that the British troops were given. They see themselves as being able to fulfill that mission and be able to draw down some of those troops.
They're also looking at the possibility of increasing the number of troops in Afghanistan. That's part of their mission, also, and that's a mission that we support. Our mission, the mission that U.S. forces are taking is to bring stability to Baghdad and other parts of the country.
Q Tony, as you went through the initial 2002 resolution, its first element referred to the continuing threat. And the threat that was envisioned at the time that resolution was passed was, obviously, Saddam Hussein. He has been gone now for nearly four years. Why would it be unreasonable for the Congress to consider that since the first of those two conditions has long since been met, that you wouldn't be in need of a different kind of resolution?
MR. FRATTO: Because it's simply not necessary. I think the second part of that section on authorization is still important, and envisioned the changing nature there. The President said this isn't the fight we entered in Iraq, but it's the fight we're in. I think that is what is recognized in the international community now. Certainly at the U.N. Security Council it envisioned changing circumstances in Iraq. There have been a lot of changing circumstances in Iraq. We went in as a multinational force under U.N. authorization to take military action in Iraq; we were there as an occupying force, and now we're there at the invitation of the sovereign, elected government of Iraq. But -- and this U.N. Security Council resolutions that came subsequent to the war authorizations envisioned those kind of changes.
Q That's fine, but that's the U.N. operating subsequent, as you say, to Saddam's fall. The last time Congress acted on this was very different conditions, and by your own admission, a very different mission. So why wouldn't it make sense for Congress to redefine what mission it is that it is now authorizing?
MR. FRATTO: Because I don't think it's necessary. I think the war authorization spoke to, and certainly envisioned subsequent U.N. Security Council resolutions, and the authorization is very clear in that the President has the authority to strictly enforce U.N. Security Council resolutions. So that's where we are right now. Now I'm not sure if the Democrats are contemplating that the United States should not enforce U.N. Security Council resolutions. If that's something that they're contemplating, I think that would be interesting to some people, to say the least.
Q But those resolutions apply to all member states of the United Nations, and clearly there are member states of the United National who have interpreted those quite differently.
MR. FRATTO: No, they refer to the multinational forces in Iraq.
Q Even some of the multinational forces have interpreted it differently. The Italians were there under that, and they're gone now. The Koreans were there; they're leaving.
MR. FRATTO: That's true, but there are still a significant number of countries represented there, they comprise the multinational force, and the U.N. Security Council resolution speaks to the multinational force. It's very clear.
I'm sorry, let me get to Jessica, she's been waiting.
Q Do Vice President Cheney's comments about Nancy Pelosi undermine the President's attempts to work cooperatively with Congress on Iraq?
MR. FRATTO: You know, Vice President Cheney didn't make comments about Nancy Pelosi -- Speaker Pelosi. He made comments about the strategy that Speaker Pelosi and Representative Murtha are advocating. And clearly that's within bounds -- your question was, did it --
Q The President wants to say -- he says he's looking for common ground and wants to work cooperatively, but his Vice President has dismissed her proposals out of hand as those that would aid the enemy, effectively. That's not quite the way you go about having a conversation.
MR. FRATTO: Look, we've having lots of conversations with members of Congress on lots of areas of common ground. In the area of, specifically with Iraq, if we can find a way to have an understanding that we're trying to reach the same goal, then maybe we can get there.
But, look, if the proposal that's being put forth is a pullout of Iraq, and the National Intelligence Estimate says that -- or a pullout of Baghdad, I'm sorry; a pullout of Baghdad -- and the National Intelligence Estimate says that a precipitous pullout of Baghdad would lead to chaos and a humanitarian disaster and threats -- an ongoing threat and the collapse in Iraq, then it's hard to find common ground on that point. We disagree. Our view is that we need to stabilize Baghdad. That's the only way that we're going to bring security to the region, and have a chance to allow this government to have the breathing space to move forward.
Q So is this the tone and the message the President wants communicated?
MR. FRATTO: No, the tone -- the President has -- I'm not sure if there's -- if a President has spent more time talking about bipartisanship and common ground on --
Q "Talking about it," but the question is engaging in it?
MR. FRATTO: And, in fact, engaging in it. We've seen it on lots of issues. We've seen it on the minimum wage bill. We're finding bipartisan solutions there. We're certainly talking about it on education. We're certainly reaching out on health care in a bipartisan way. These are -- on energy -- these are all areas that I think we're going to be able to find common ground on.
One issue, Iraq, is going to be a little bit tougher. It's going to be a little bit tougher if -- also, if Democrats don't seek the same goal.
Q The President's goal is victory, so you're saying the Democrats' goal is not also victory?
MR. FRATTO: No, the goal is -- the goal, with respect to the strategy that we have outlined, is to bring peace and stability to Iraq, to bring security to Iraq so that this government can proceed.
Q And the Democrats' goal?
MR. FRATTO: Well, I don't see -- you know, when I talked earlier about consequences, what I don't see is any analysis that counters the view of the National Intelligence Estimate that pulling forces out of Baghdad would lead to chaos.
Now, if someone out there is saying that that would not lead to chaos -- there is no independent or expert view that conforms to that. But we do have the National Intelligence Estimate. And I know Democrats are fond of, when they see the National Intelligence Estimate, of throwing it back at us, where it's critical of our conduct or conditions on the ground in Iraq. And that's fine, we accept that, but you can't -- it's not a Chinese menu where you can take from column A and column B. You take it in whole. And in whole, it's very clear. It says that it would lead to chaos.
Q One last thing. Nancy Pelosi called for the President -- has he spoken to her since --
MR. FRATTO: I'm not sure. I'm not sure if he has.
Q Can you find out for us?
MR. FRATTO: Sure.
Q Can I just follow up on some -- just because the original, sort of, question and idea. I mean, is this language that we might hear from the President, then? If he agrees with the Vice President's criticism of the strategy, why do we not hear from the President, himself?
MR. FRATTO: I think he has spoken to this issue a great deal.
Q In those terms?
MR. FRATTO: Well, in what terms exactly?
Q In the terms that the Vice President --
MR. FRATTO: I mean, then it wouldn't be -- that that strategy would not be successful? I mean, if it's not going to be successful in bringing security and stability to Iraq and to Baghdad and to that mission, clearly it follows that that aids our enemy. Insecurity in Baghdad aids our enemy. A vacuum in that part of the world aids our enemy.
Now, again, that's not criticism of Speaker Pelosi; but in terms of the policy, the President has been very, very clear on that.
David. I'll come back to you.
Q You said before it wasn't a Chinese menu, but the President has taken part of these as a Chinese menu. When he got the Iraq Study Group report he took column A, which said you could do a surge; he took column B, that said begin diplomatic relations or begin an interchange with Iran -- and threw that out; he threw out the part about guaranteeing the withdraw of combat troops by early 2008. Why should it be a Chinese menu for him and not for Congress?
MR. FRATTO: I don't think that's the point I was -- the point I was making was on the National Intelligence Estimate.
MR. FRATTO: Right. Well, the Iraq Study --
Q The National Intelligence Estimate is not prescriptive.
MR. FRATTO: That's right. In fact, that's even -- I think that actually makes my point. It's not prescriptive; it's analytical, and provides a complete view of conditions on the ground in Iraq. So it's apples --
Q So how are they taking a Chinese menu, then, because --
MR. FRATTO: You have to take it in whole.
Q You're taking an analysis in whole, but you're not necessarily taking a prescription in whole.
MR. FRATTO: Well, that's right. We can disagree with a prescription. I should say that we find the Iraq Study Group actually, in whole, as fairly useful and constructive. There is overwhelmingly a lot in the Iraq Study Group report that we agree with. There's a lot that we're carrying out. And there's a lot of prescriptive policy in the Iraq Study Group that we'd like to get to at some point. It has to be reflective of the conditions we see on the ground.
Q Can I go back to the 2002 authorization? In fact, Saddam Hussein is gone. There were no weapons of mass destruction. You say it's still broad enough that it applies today, the 2002 authorization. Does that mean it also applies, then, to U.S. troops being caught or fighting in the middle of a civil war, as some people have described the situation?
MR. FRATTO: What the authorization refers to very, very specifically, is the use of force in strictly enforcing U.N. Security Council resolutions. And that's the authority under which we're operating. And the U.N. Security Council resolutions call for multinational forces to support the government of Iraq and bring stability to that region. And so that's where we're operating.
Q Yesterday, there was a series of conferences and meetings at the Chamber of Commerce and also Carnegie between India and the United States, relations between the two countries and trade, energy, and also civil nuclear and other issues. And the speakers included Secretary of Commerce, and also Secretary -- Foreign Secretary of India, Mr. Menon, and Under Secretary Mr. Nick Burns.
My question is that so much is now going on after this civil nuclear agreement President signed last (inaudible). Is that because of the civil nuclear agreement that we have so much going on, as far as trade and other issues of concern between the two countries? And also this morning in the White House the President was talking about the future, energy. You have also been in contact with India or other countries on this issue?
MR. FRATTO: My experience is that our contact with India is extensive and was fairly extensive prior to the civil nuclear agreement, and I think it's growing. Our ties are extensive. As you know. Indians living in the United States are a fairly large and growing part of our population. Our education exchanges are extensive. Our trade and investment exchanges are extensive. And I see these kinds of exchanges between all levels of our government continuing and growing, and I think that's a good sign.
Q Just to follow up, with the Secretary of Commerce (inaudible) -- returned from India, last week he was in India, he said that trade was growing between the two countries and it has (inaudible) and it will be (inaudible) and more in the future. My question is that, what message you think President will have for the U.S. investors in India in the future, comparing with China and India?
MR. FRATTO: I don't think it's a question of comparing China and India and other large emerging market countries. I think when you look at the world that way, you are operating under sort of a fixed-pie scenario. And actually what we see are growing economies in -- certainly in India, on the subcontinent, in China, and elsewhere in Southeast Asia, growing economies in Brazil, South Africa is growing strongly. As each of these economies grow and become more developed and become more integrated in the global economy, it's good for American investors and traders, it creates more opportunities and more value and improves standard of living. So we see no threat to that.
Q Tony, North Korea. What do you make of the invitation to Mohammed ElBaradei to come visit?
MR. FRATTO: It's a positive sign. It shows that we're beginning to execute the terms of the agreement. We'll be interested in hearing his report when he gets back. But certainly, our view is positive on that.
Q On a minimum wage bill, you said a moment ago that you're finding a bipartisan solution to that. But the Senate package is about $7 billion more in small business tax breaks than the House, the House wants it paid for by revenue increases. Would you support a smaller package of tax increases?
MR. FRATTO: I think they're going to find a way to bridge those differences. I think what's most important is the principle that the President laid out and that Congress is following through on, and that is that we should have a minimum wage increase, it's time to make that reform -- but we can't forget that there are costs, and those costs are generally borne by small businesses who hire lots of people at the minimum wage.
And so that's the principle that the President laid out. Both chambers are working on legislation that aimed to meet that goal. We'll see where they come to, and then we'll give our judgment on it.
Q Also, the interview with the Vice President on climate change, he indicated that the verdict is still out, we still don't know the extent to which global warming is due to human activity and how much is due to the natural cycle. Was he speaking for the administration on this, given that the White House --
MR. FRATTO: Paula, our views on climate change I think are -- have been made very clear by the President and at this podium and other places. I didn't see the Vice President's comments, but it sounds to me that if you're asking, what exactly is the measured contribution, what we have said is the contribution of human activity is significant. That's what's important. It's significant, it is contributing to climate change, to global warming. That's the important thing, is to recognize that. We recognize it -- and then what policies follow, and I think our policies have been pretty robust in terms of addressing climate change and reducing greenhouse gasses.
Q With respect to a bipartisan solutions, are you optimistic that you will be able to reach one with Congress, when they are calling for --
MR. FRATTO: On climate change?
Q -- with some form of mandatory --
MR. FRATTO: I'm not going to talk about, sort of, hypothetical, prospective legislation on an issue that sensitive. It's hard to say where the Congress is. We go back to the Kyoto protocol, where we have lots of members of Congress, lots of members of the Senate out there who like to be critical of the administration on climate control. When I saw the question of whether the Kyoto protocol should be considered in the Senate, it failed 95 to nothing.
So it's -- I'm not going to make predictions on -- depending on what they put forth. The President has put forth a fairly robust and aggressive plan. He talks about it regularly. We contribute more funding to these efforts than any country in the world, maybe all the countries in the world combined. So we're proud of our record in this area. What I see in the area of climate change is lots of attention on pronouncements, lots of attention on when people say the things that they're going to do, and not a whole lot of attention on what the outputs are and what are actually done. And we're proud of our record on the things that we've done.
Q Just one follow-up. You've made clear you oppose --
MR. FRATTO: Your third follow-up is the one, just one.
Q Well, it happens on the front row --
MR. FRATTO: All right, Paula.
Q I just would like to know, you've made clear that the administration is opposed to any kind of mandatory limit on greenhouse gas emissions. But you haven't stated a position on carbon tax, which is another alternative. Do you have a position on that?
MR. FRATTO: I'm not familiar with -- it's not something that we're inclined to support, I can tell you that for sure. We don't think it's the most effective way to move forward now in the broadest sense.
Q On Iran, the report that just came out made it clear that Iran is still involved in enrichment, and it looks as though the Security Council is meeting next week and will be discussing this. Is the U.S. committed to working on this issue only through the United Nations? Or are we still holding an option back of some kind of unilateral action against Iran?
MR. FRATTO: You know, I'm trying to think of an administration that limited its options in any relations with other governments, except through some form of negotiation.
Now, our goal is a diplomatic solution; our aim is a diplomatic solution. All of the energies of this government are on a diplomatic solution, through the U.N. Security Council and the P5-plus-one discussions. That is what I know Secretary Rice and Nick Burns and others are engaged in.
And we're hopeful that this combined effort on the international community to encourage Iran to meet its obligations for the use of procurement of nuclear energy, does it in a way that the international community finds acceptable. And we want to see the Iranian people succeed. We don't want to -- it's not our -- we don't take joy in imposing the sanctions, or further sanctions, if that's what it comes to. But we do want to see them change and be welcomed back into the international community on this issue.
Q What are the kinds of sanctions that you're looking at?
MR. FRATTO: I'm not going to get into prospective sanctions.
Q Do you know the kinds of sanctions? I mean, has that been discussed, as far as you know?
MR. FRATTO: Nothing that I'm aware of. Those aren't issues that I'm -- that I will get deep into.
Did you want to follow on that, David?
Q Yes, on the Iran question. My back of the envelope calculation from the IAEA report yesterday was they've gotten basically a thousand centrifuges installed. At 3,000, you get to a point were you actually have a working fuel cycle. It's been the stated goal of the administration before not to allow them to have a working fuel cycle. Is there some kind of red line in the administration's thinking, a point at beyond which we can't allow them to install and get running more centrifuges?
MR. FRATTO: I don't think that's a question that I'm in a position to answer. I think that's something you'd want to talk to with the senior officials who are actually negotiating those questions. I don't have anything on that.
Q Tony, just back to Iraq for a second, I just want to clarify, the President concurs with Democrats that they have the power to constrain the command in Iraq, should they opt to do that, correct?
MR. FRATTO: I think what we've said is that Congress has the power of the purse, and can use that.
Q And in that case, the President is thinking strategically that he wants to work with them before they get to a standoff, constitutionally?
MR. FRATTO: We're not looking for any kind of standoff. What we're looking for is ensuring that the President has the flexibility and resources to carry out this mission.
Now, General Petraeus went to the Senate and was confirmed on a unanimous vote. Now, when he testified at his confirmation hearing, he talked very specifically about what he thought the mission was and what he intended to do when he would get to Iraq. It was very clear, this was the man and this was the mission. And so to come back now and say we're not sure that we're going to support the mission that General Petraeus outlined when he went there is -- we don't think that's a wise way to go. We don't think it's fair to the troops in the field to hear conflicting messages, to know that their commanding officer was sent there with a unanimous vote, but now there are questions on whether he is going to have the resources and flexibility to carry out that mission.
So what we are focused on is ensuring, in every way we can, that the President has -- we're confident that he has the authority, he does have the authority; we're confident in -- that we're going to be able to make sure that he continues to have the necessary funding and the flexibility to carry out these operations on the ground.
Q If they have the power of the purse, how is the President going to work that out with the members of Congress --
MR. FRATTO: Well, it's a shared power between the two branches.
Q And so what you're saying is that he would veto?
MR. FRATTO: We'll see what Democrats decide to do. I'm not sure that -- I hear lots of conflicting things coming out of Congress. I'm not sure that -- you know, the proposal outlined by Representative Murtha is coming under criticism from some in his party. The proponents of cutting funding are coming under criticism from some in that party.
So it's just hard to say where the Democrats are right now. You're asking me about what the Democrats will do, and we've been -- as I look out and see reports for what's coming from the Democrats with respect to Iraq, is really a shifting landscape of ideas, all with the intention of keeping our troops from getting -- from what we feel, getting what they need to carry out their mission.
Q What about their intentions --
MR. FRATTO: I don't know how to think of it --
Q -- to keep the troops from getting what they need is a Democratic --
MR. FRATTO: To keep our military from getting what it needs to carry out the mission that the Commander-in-Chief says is necessary to succeed in Iraq, and that the United States Senate, when they confirmed the man who is going to carry out that mission on the ground, supported.
Q Follow up?
Q Follow up on that? I wanted to follow up on that, if I may.
MR. FRATTO: You'll both get a chance to follow up on it.
Q Two questions.
MR. FRATTO: They're both follow-ups?
Q No, they're not.
MR. FRATTO: We'll come back then.
Q Can I follow up on it?
MR. FRATTO: Ann.
Q Would President Bush consider any changes to the original 2002 resolution?
MR. FRATTO: I can't contemplate a change right now that is necessary. I know what you're asking, but in the world of ideas of what could possibly be changed in the 2002 resolution, there's no way for me to possibly answer that question.
Q And he's talked to all these members of Congress. Has no one from Congress ever proposed to him a new resolution authorizing the use of force?
MR. FRATTO: I don't know. I don't know.
MR. FRATTO: I'll come back to you, Andre.
Q Two questions. If you could clarify, possibly again, if the majority of the Congress votes to stop the funding for the additional U.S. troops, what does the President believe will be the result?
MR. FRATTO: If funding is cut?
MR. FRATTO: An inability to carry out the mission on the ground.
Q Considering the widespread news reports of the absolute political bloodbath between the Democrat senators from New York and from Illinois, how can we interpret a refusal by you to comment as anything other than the President's delight at this decisively demonstrative Democrat development?
MR. FRATTO: That is a carefully crafted question. I will leave my non-comment for your interpretation.
Q Are you edited in what you -- you want to back away from these? You have no comment on --
MR. FRATTO: No. But the President -- but the President said they --
Q -- they're tearing -- they're tearing each other to pieces. Are you happy with that?
MR. FRATTO: The President said that he wasn't going to become the pundit-in-chief. And so I think I will avoid becoming the deputy assistant to the non-pundit-in-chief.
Q Can I repeat the question from the gaggle? Have you had a chance to look at Mr. Hadley's schedule in Moscow and whether he has met with --
MR. FRATTO: No, we still don't have anything on that.
Q A question on Iran. Do you agree -- some of the news report this morning are saying that Secretary Condoleezza Rice had a warning for Iran as far as their nuclear weapons program is concerned. In the past few weeks, since all this (inaudible) been going on and the U.N. Security Council resolution, do you think Iran has changed in any way as far as (inaudible) is concerned? Or it has not changed its course, according to (inaudible)?
MR. FRATTO: Well, I think their -- I think their formal response on the IAEA report was pretty clear, and I think the IAEA report itself was fairly clear that Iran is not -- is not complying with the Security Council resolution. I'm not sure that I can find a way to interpret it any other way beyond that.
Q (Inaudible) morning by Secretary Rice. Are you -- how you (inaudible)?
MR. FRATTO: I think Secretary Rice was echoing the views of the international community on that, that we encourage Iran to comply with the resolution, we encourage them to stop the enrichment of uranium and come to the table, and we can start to talk.
Q What are the President's Oscar picks? And has he screened any of the films? (Laughter.)
MR. FRATTO: But you're not interested in whether I've screened them, or my views on them?
Q -- the President of the United States, for whom you are the assistant and --
MR. FRATTO: And film critic.
Q Has he seen any --
MR. FRATTO: He has. He has. He has seen -- I think for certain he has seen -- of the pictures nominated for best picture, he has seen "The Queen." He has seen, "Letters from Iwo Jima." And not nominated for best picture, but a great picture, is "Last King of Scotland," which he saw also. So I'm not sure what else he might have seen.
Q He saw "Amazing Grace," didn't he?
MR. FRATTO: Oh, yes. That was screened here --
Q Does he agree with --
MR. FRATTO: He doesn't share those with me.
END 12:42 P.M. EST
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