Press Briefing by Tony Snow
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
February 27, 2007
White House Conference Center Briefing Room
12:26 P.M. EST
MR. SNOW: Questions.
Q How was the suicide bomber able to get within range of the base where Vice President Cheney was?
MR. SNOW: I don't know. I refer it to DOD. I think at this point people are still investigating what happened, so we don't have a firm answer for you.
Q Is there some concern about the security precautions at the base?
MR. SNOW: Again, rather than making presumptions about the proximity of the Vice President -- it is a large facility; I really think it's probably, again, better to let people do the forensics on it, figure out what's going on, they can render judgments later. I've got no comment on it right now.
Q Has the President talked to the Vice President yet?
MR. SNOW: I don't think so. They had a busy morning. The Vice President is on the plane. Typically, what happens is the Vice President comes in, and he'll do an exhaustive debrief with the President, and frankly, nobody else. And the way he works is he shares his counsel with the President, nobody else, so I'm sure he will do that at great length when he gets back.
Q Let me try one other. Do you think that the publicity about the Vice President staying overnight at the base prompted the attack, invited the attack?
MR. SNOW: I don't know. I don't know. The fact is the Vice President was committed to having a visit with President Karzai, and he was -- they had a delay due to weather in being able to get together. He certainly wasn't going to leave before he finished doing his business.
Q What does this attack say about the strength of the Taliban in Afghanistan?
MR. SNOW: I'm not sure it says anything.
MR. SNOW: Because you've got an isolated attack. As we've often said about acts of terror, an individual who wants to commit an act of violence or kill him or herself, very difficult to stop. But I'm not sure that you can draw larger conclusions about any organization based on an incident such as this. And in this case, we have a claim of responsibility, but I'm not sure, as I said in answer to Terry's question, that we have a full picture of precisely what took place. I think it will take a while before we get that picture.
Q Is this the first strike in a spring offensive?
MR. SNOW: Again, I really -- I know you guys want to fill in the gaps in this and put it in a larger context. I'm afraid it's going to have to wait until people really do have a chance to take a look at the full picture.
Q What was the President's reaction? And how did he find out about it?
MR. SNOW: He was told by staff this morning. And his reaction is, he first inquired about making sure the Vice President was okay, and he was reassured by that. And obviously he'll continue to get intel about what happened. But at this juncture, especially in the first minutes and hours after an event like this, it takes a little while to figure out precisely what took place.
Q Tony, can you talk a little more about the reason for the Vice President's trip? Did the President specifically ask him to take this trip? Did he ask him to bring any particular message to General Musharraf and to President Karzai?
MR. SNOW: Well, the Vice President was over in the region, and part of the trip was, in fact, to consult with both the leaders, not only in anticipation of a spring offensive, but also working more closely together on the war on terror. They have issues where they need to be working together, and the Vice President had productive conversations with both. Beyond that, can't go into a whole lot of detail.
Q Can you talk about whether it was the President's idea that he should go --
MR. SNOW: It was the President's idea.
Q In this meeting with President Musharraf, the Vice President brought the Deputy Director of the CIA. Can you talk about that at all?
MR. SNOW: No.
Q Why not?
MR. SNOW: Because --
Q I mean, essentially are you painting the picture to the Pakistani President of what exactly is happening in those tribal regions?
MR. SNOW: As a matter of fact, it's pretty clear that a lot of the narrative has been to try to say that the Vice President was coming to sort of do a slam-down or something on President Musharraf. That's not true, and that was confirmed by a senior administration official earlier today.
I think the important thing is that here you have two committed allies in the war on terror. There have been more al Qaeda killed in Pakistan than anywhere else. That is a problem for the President -- President Musharraf. He understands it. He has taken significant action. And, obviously, we need to continue improving the ability both of the Pakistanis and the Afghans to go after terrorist elements.
But this is -- it's very important to do this in the proper spirit, which is working together. There is no doubt that President Musharraf knows that it's important and wants to be dealing effectively with al Qaeda, and these are conversations about not only doing that, but understanding that when it comes to the war on terror in that particular region, you really have three parties involved -- you have the United States, you have the Pakistanis, and you have the Afghans, and it all works together. The Pakistanis and Afghans certainly have a shared interest in al Qaeda and the Taliban and also what happens in those border areas. And the Vice President, quite properly, was talking about ways forward with all parties.
Q Just real quick -- I know it's early, but is it believed that this was an al Qaeda attack?
MR. SNOW: It's too early to tell. Taliban has taken some -- apparently the Taliban has taken some credit, but I think you just have to let investigators sift through it and find out what they can.
Q Picking up on the proper spirit, Pakistan's ambassador to the United States said that actually the relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan is strained right now -- his words -- everything isn't hunky-dory.
MR. SNOW: I'll let you direct any questions to him. It's a vital relationship, and this --
Q Is there a rift right now between the U.S. and Pakistan?
MR. SNOW: No. No. But it is -- these are tough issues. These are very tough issues, and you have to work through them together. So, no, I would not apply that label to it. There's certainly not --
Q Why do you think he would?
MR. SNOW: Why don't you ask him?
Q I did. He told me that.
MR. SNOW: And when he said -- and when you asked him why he said it, he said what?
Q He said that too many things are being asked of Pakistan by this administration that they -- the thought is that there is not enough belief in how Pakistan is pursuing terrorism.
MR. SNOW: Well, again, I think -- we certainly believe that the Pakistanis are fully committed, and they have made that point publicly, before and after the Vice President's visit there. And the Vice President, again, I think it's safe to say, had a productive set of conversations with President Musharraf.
Q Why do we take issue with the way -- the narrative that has come forth in the last couple of days? You practically repeated it, that basically we went in to tell them how we felt and what we wanted -- we wanted them to shape up.
MR. SNOW: I don't think I've repeated it. I think what I've tried to say is, you've got a war on terror, and it is very important to consult as extensively as possible with important allies. Now, we are getting to a period where every year you've got a spring offensive in that part of the world -- it's about time for that -- and this is a very good time to start looking ahead and working with all parties to try to use it as another opportunity to strike back at the Taliban and al Qaeda, and to continue efforts to disable them, and to allow the democratic government of Afghanistan to become stronger economically, diplomatically, and in terms of its security. So that remains a real area of emphasis for all parties involved.
Q Tony, can I just follow up? I just want to give you the verbatim, since you asked. He says, "It's going through a rough time." And I say, "What's going through a rough time?" He said, "The relationship between this country and my country, because I hear so many voices that you're not doing enough."
MR. SNOW: Well, I'm not -- again, I don't know if he's referring to media accounts; I don't know exactly what -- no, I don't know what he's referring to, Jim.
Q He's not. He's referring to what he's hearing from --
MR. SNOW: Well, I'm telling you that our view is that Pakistan is an essential ally who we're continuing to work with. And we're working to support them because both parties understand how vital it is not only to fight the Taliban, but al Qaeda.
Q That doesn't answer his question.
MR. SNOW: Well, I know, but he's asking me to respond to something for which I do not know the full context. I'm giving you what I can.
A couple more. We'll stay on this topic, and then we'll go to Iraq.
Q Tony, no matter who was responsible for this, to what extent does it underscore the very reason that the Vice President was sent there to begin with?
MR. SNOW: I'm not sure -- again, it's -- I don't think -- Peter, I don't know. It's an interesting -- again, the Vice President was there to consult with allies in the war on terror. Now, to the extent that there are elements within the war on terror that depend on isolated acts of violence that are designed to kill indiscriminately and attract worldwide media attention, I suppose it is reflective of that. But on the other hand, you also do have organized elements of Taliban and al Qaeda that one needs to deal with. So I don't know exactly how you -- I don't even know a good metric for figuring out precisely how that fits into the equation.
Q Well, wasn't one of the main reasons he was sent there because of the concern about the spring offensive, about the already ongoing upsurge in violence, and this is emblematic of it?
MR. SNOW: Well, perhaps, again, everybody is leaping to conclusions -- and I can see how you would do it. I'm just being more cautious, because at this point we don't have a whole lot of detail on the whys and wherefores of what took place today. Having said that, it is clear that you've got the Taliban attempting to assert itself. Let me remind you that when it did so last year, NATO forces -- we went through this when we were talking in the briefing room about it, because they were trying to test NATO forces, and the NATO forces were very successful in inflicting real damage on the Taliban. So there's a lot of talk right now emanating from some of those circles, but the fact is that the allies are getting ready, and they're going to fight successfully against them.
Q Tony, why take the risk of sending the Vice President to a war zone at all? What is the value of doing that? Why do you need to do that?
MR. SNOW: The President went to a war zone too, to meet with Prime Minister Maliki. The point is that we have sent the Secretary of State into a war zone. We've sent a number of people into a war zone. We continue to send officials -- congressional delegations go there on a regular basis.
Q But why specifically was it thought that Cheney should be sent on this particular mission?
MR. SNOW: The President asked him. I don't know if the President sat down with a face book full of people, and said, hmm, Cheney -- the fact is that the Vice President is a key and valued advisor to the President, and furthermore, he is somebody who always gives his honest assessments of what's going on, and gives them to the President and to no one else.
Q Was there any consideration of not staying overnight, since that wasn't scheduled? Was there ever any thought perhaps of not being --
MR. SNOW: Well, it would have meant not having the session with the Prime Minister -- I mean, with the President. Again, you had a weather problem yesterday that prohibited the trip, and he was determined to make the trip. As far as logistics on that, you're going to have to refer to Air Force Two or to the Vice President's office when they return.
Q Tony, this morning President, at the State Department, had again strong message against terror for the Taliban and al Qaeda, speaking on the global war on terrorism during the swearing-in ceremony for Deputy Secretary of State. You think, as far as this bombing is concerned, because Vice President had a strong message in the area against -- for Taliban and al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, you think that that maybe prompted --
MR. SNOW: Again, everybody -- look, let's find out what happened. I can have all sorts of theories about what happened, but I don't have any facts for you. And I'd rather not theorize, especially in the absence of good, hard, investigative fact.
Q Was there any suggestion in advance of this bombing among intelligence officials that something was going to happen? In other words, did we pick up anything about it before it happened?
MR. SNOW: I don't know, and even if I did, it wouldn't be appropriate to share any kind of intelligence conclusions.
Q Tony, on this investigation, what is the expectation of facts -- getting the facts? And this administration has been having a lot of problems getting information in fighting the extremists and terrorists.
MR. SNOW: You're really talking what amounts to a police investigation of a crime incident. I don't think that's -- what you're doing, April, is comparing apples and oranges with intelligence estimates and a crime scene investigation.
Q You're saying investigation, but the thought is within -- well, the thought is terrorists --
MR. SNOW: Well, it's pretty clear it was a terrorist.
Q Right, but to actually pinpoint who, why and how, do you really think that you're going to be getting --
MR. SNOW: I don't know. Honestly, I don't know. We just have to find out what people can discover.
Ed, I jumped past you. Did you have --
Q I wanted to talk Iraq, so --
MR. SNOW: Okay, is everybody -- okay, we've got a few more on this. Go ahead.
Q If the administration believes that al Qaeda and the Taliban are operating in these regions, Pakistan can't or won't do more, why not just send the U.S. military in to take care of it?
MR. SNOW: I quarrel with -- you said, if Pakistan is unwilling or unable to do more. I think the Pakistanis have indicated that they want to do more and they are going to do more.
Q Should the U.S. be doing more?
MR. SNOW: Well, we do -- again, the United States understands that Pakistan is a sovereign government, and you work with that sovereign government to be helpful. And we will certainly do that. But on the other hand, so we'll do what we can to assist the Pakistanis, and I'll leave it at that.
Q Does the President feel the debate in Washington about withdrawing troops from Iraq affects the standing of Karzai, the President of Afghanistan, and his willingness to give -- take a tough stance against the Taliban and the tribes that --
MR. SNOW: No, I think the President believes that if the United States were to withdraw, that that would have a real and dramatic impact on the faith of the Karzai government and others in the region about the reliability and fidelity of the United States, and it would raise real concerns if that were to take place.
Q This conference that -- the Prime Minister of Iraq announced, will the United States hold any bilateral meetings with Iran and Syria during these --
MR. SNOW: Well, these are meetings that are being put together -- first you have a sub-ministerial meeting that's going to take place at the first half of next month. And we are -- first, we're happy that the government of Iraq is taking this step and engaging its neighbors. And we also hope and expect that Iran and Syria will play constructive roles in those talks.
But this is one where the agenda is being set up by the government of Iraq, and the conditions especially for bilateral conversations with the Iranians are pretty clear. The P5 plus one have put together a series of offers to the Iranian government, and it knows that if it takes certain steps, then conversations will follow.
But in this particular case, what we're really talking about is a series of meetings -- first a sub-ministerial-level meeting, probably followed up at some later juncture, we think, by a minister-level meeting that we hope is going to be a constructive and regional effort to try to help the democratic government of Iraq.
Q Thanks, Tony. Republicans have been saying that John Murtha's plan, restrictions on war funding, is a slow-bleed strategy. Murtha responded in the Wall Street Journal today saying, "It's not me that bleeds the troops; it's the President who's bleeding the military by over-deploying them." Pretty heavy charge, and I wanted to give you a chance to respond.
MR. SNOW: Well, I'm not sure exactly what he means. The fact is that we understand that -- the forces that we have in place have been doing heroic duty. We also believe that it is important to expand the end strength both of the Army and the Marines, and that's what we're doing. And we hope that Congressman Murtha is going to help us on that.
Furthermore, what you have seen, actually, is a nimbleness, when it comes to trying to do force protection, I think probably unprecedented in a time of warfare -- we're on the fifth generation of armor for our vehicles -- and that we continue to do everything we can to make sure that we continue to field the most capable, most motivated military in the history of the world.
Q When you say the military is still nimble now -- how does that square with what General Pace said in his report to Congress, this new report, where he basically says there is an increased risk to the United States now, essentially because the military is stretched thin?
MR. SNOW: Well, no, that's -- he also says we still have the capability of fighting yet another war if that is necessary. What he's really referring to is the importance of building up greater end strength, which is one of the reasons why we've done that. But what he has not said is that we lack the capability to succeed in Iraq or Afghanistan. I think he would strenuously disagree with that. It is simply an assessment of, if you had what you think you'd really like and what you consider absolutely necessary in the long run, do you want more? And the answer is, yes. And we believe that's necessary, and that is why that is part of the recommendation that the President has put together for this.
Q The Washington Post reported Friday that according to Army officials, virtually all of the U.S.-based Army combat brigades are rated right now as unready to deploy. So when you say have improved end strength --
MR. SNOW: Well, it's -- this gets you into part of the jargon. What happens is that if you also ask the commanders, when the time comes for deployment will you have readiness, and the answer is, yes. A lot of that has to do with whether the equipment is here or in theater -- the equipment is in theater for the most part -- no reason to sort of take stuff out and then put it back in. We're also in the process of seeking funding to continue to improve and replenish equipment. So the really important question is, do you send any forces into battle that are not fully ready, and the answer is, no.
Q Thanks, Tony. On international broadcasting -- does President Bush approve of the major language cuts? Cutbacks proposed on Voice of America Radio, Radio Free Europe and Radio Free Asia, at a time the U.S. is working hard to spread its message across the world, their total international broadcasting bill is under $1 billion for the year.
MR. SNOW: Connie, this does fall into those "please give me a head's up before you ask" --
Q I did.
MR. SNOW: Okay, I'm sorry, I did not see that one. That came today?
Q No, three days ago.
MR. SNOW: Oh, okay. Well, I was in North Carolina at the time, I apologize.
Q Could you perhaps look into it?
MR. SNOW: Yes. But, I mean, if you're responding to a budget -- something that's in the federal budget, he certainly supports the budget that he presented to Congress.
Q But it's the overall concept of cutting international broadcasting --
MR. SNOW: I understand. You're trying to engage me in a debate about this, and I'll get some information. You can ask me at a subsequent briefing.
Q Tony, thank you. Two questions. The President is well-known to be a devout Christian, so I presume he will not evade the question -- how does he feel about the Titanic director's claim of discovering the allegedly permanent burial site of the Gospel-reported resurrected Christ, together with alleged Jesus, wife and son?
MR. SNOW: I hope that you will not consider this un-Christian of me, Les, but I am sure that he probably has not spent a moment thinking about that.
Q Okay. Second: Last night, CNN featured the President of the White House Correspondents Association saying of Helen Thomas, "We love her and will take care of her." But CNN also reported that in order to accommodate one more network on row one, Helen, our senior-to-all colleague, is to be relegated to row two when we move back into the White House press room. And my question: Assuming that CNN is accurate, how can you allow this dean of our corps, senior veteran and undeniably colorful character -- (laughter) -- to be back-seated, as has been done to her at presidential press conferences? And what does this say about Bush-Snow treatment of senior citizens who wonder how you and the President would allow networks such ageist favoritism over a veteran?
MS. THOMAS: I swear I didn't put him up to --
MR. SNOW: Okay, well let me -- this is about a --
MS. THOMAS: I never could think of his question in a million years.
MR. SNOW: This is about a thousand-part question, so let me parse it, Les. Number one, of course, we love Helen. Number two, the White House does not make decisions about where people sit, so you can address that to the Correspondents Association. And number three, regardless of the seating arrangement, you'll still be looking at the back of her head. (Laughter.)
Q That's an evasion, Tony. Why do you allow this? Why do you and the President allow this discrimination against a senior citizen who is our senior reporter?
MS. THOMAS: I don't need to be defended, thank you very much.
MR. SNOW: I'm afraid you need to confront Steve Scully in the hallway.
Q -- last Friday, Tony did a great job here at the podium. And also, you were great at the National Press Club.
MR. SNOW: Well, thank you. Let's -- okay, let's -- yes.
Q Does the White House have any reaction to -- mortar attack in Sri Lanka this morning?
MR. SNOW: I'm sure that we obviously -- I don't know anything about the event, but the obvious answer is that we always pray for somebody's health and safety. But, no, I don't have anything for you.
Q -- reported there are going to be a series of -- relationship between the U.S. and North Korea soon. Can you comment on that?
MR. SNOW: No. Again, the six-party talks have laid out the series of steps. One of the working groups has to do with U.S.-North Korean bilateral relations, but I am unaware of any imminent establishment of diplomatic relations. That is something the parties are going to have to work out at the table.
Q On global warming. Five western states yesterday announced a regional carbon trading system they plan to support, and you have a growing number of energy trade associations and the energy industry itself calling for mandatory limits, in the absence of federal legislation. Does the White House support the states and private sector doing this on their own?
MR. SNOW: We have no -- they're free to do what they want. It's a little unclear what the five states are doing, but the President has made it clear that he believes in cleaning the environment. He thinks that global warming exists. He thinks that we need to mitigate it. He has put together a 20-in-10 proposal that has -- that will lead to very significant reductions in vehicular C02 emissions. He also believes that you can have your clean air without having to put a crimp on the economy. And as a matter of fact, a cleaner environment can be and should be consistent with robust economic growth. And that's the way we've been approaching it. If people think that they have innovative new ways to do it, it's going to create some opportunities out there for folks to perform services that a lot of people want to see.
We're at a point in our economy, Paula, and we've been here for quite a while, where cleaner water and cleaner air are, in fact, things that people desire. And there are any number of industries right now that are profiting handsomely from that desire. And what you want to do to the best extent possible is to unleash people's creative abilities, so that they can train their energies on a problem like that, and try to deal with it.
Q May I just ask one follow-up? You talk about economic impact, but several members of the energy industry who want to have -- to influence policy in this area have said mandatory limits are inevitable, and they want to weigh in, basically for business opportunity.
MR. SNOW: Well, again, what you're talking about is somebody who thinks something is inevitable. I don't know if it's inevitable, or not. We do believe that -- we are heartened by some of the conversations we've been having with members of Congress about the President's energy proposal, which really does provide for a cleaner environment and more energy. And we'll continue to look -- we're open to any and all suggestions. But at this point, the President's policy, which is very ambitious, has been laid out for this year, and we certainly hope Congress will adopt it.
Q Thanks, Tony. I have a Syria question, if I may. The Syrian ambassador was summoned to the State Department a couple of weeks ago for talks with -- officials there about the issue of Iraqi refugees in Syria and elsewhere in the region. The position that the Syrians are taking on this is that they're not interested -- this is the by-product of U.S. policy in the region -- they're not interested in talking about the by-product, they're interested in talking about the policy itself towards Syria and the role that Syria may play in Iraq. How anxious are you, at this particular point in the game, to talk to the Syrians about bilateral relations --
MR. SNOW: Well, we have bilateral relations. We have diplomatic relations with the Syrians. Our problem with the Syrians has been that there has -- they have continued to be supporters of terrorist organizations, providing shelter in Damascus for any number of terrorist organizations. And we think that -- support for Hamas and Hezbollah, among others -- we understand, of course, there is a Hezbollah presence within the government, but terrorist activities on the part of those organizations are things that this government does not support. But we have made it clear, as with the Iranians, that there is a way forward, but it's based on performance.
Q What sort of role, Tony, would you like the Syrians to play at this particular point in time, especially in the runup to this conference on Iran?
MR. SNOW: I'm only going to give you the general boilerplate answer, because that is the kind of diplomatic question that is best posed and answered in conversations between senior diplomats. But we want them to play a constructive role.
Q And you're going to attend this regional conference if it takes place?
MR. SNOW: Yes, we've already said. The United States has been invited -- we've always said if we are to be invited, we will attend. Again, the first will be at a sub-ministerial level, but we do intend to attend. And if there is a follow-up, the same would be the case, again, if the Iraqis invited us.
Q Who is sub-minister -- what is that? Is that ambassador or what is that, exactly?
MR. SNOW: I don't want to -- that would certainly be one description. I'm not exactly sure how they're going to define it.
Q What would be the purpose of it, do you know?
MR. SNOW: Yes, it's a regional conference. It's designed, again, to work on issues of mutual interest, which would be security, economics. The Iraqis, themselves, will be putting together the agenda, but economics, trade, security relations, all of those -- diplomatic relations -- all of those are going to fit under the umbrella --
MR. SNOW: I suspect refugees also would be part of it.
Q Would the U.S. be able to raise these concerns about Iranian IEDs in Iraq at this conference?
MR. SNOW: Well, again, only if that came up in the context of the security conversations. Again, the Iraqis are doing it.
Jim, the first one, I believe, is -- I believe -- there's not been a full, formal announcement, although the Prime Minister did acknowledge it -- I think the first one would be in Baghdad.
All right, thank you.
END 12:56 P.M. EST
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