Press Briefing by Dana Perino
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
November 14, 2007
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:43 P.M. EST
MS. PERINO: Hello. I have two announcements. The first one is that President Bush welcomes the agreement by the International Monetary Fund shareholders to finance debt relief for Liberia. The United States, in partnership with the G8 and the management of the IMF, the World Bank, and African Development Bank, worked hard to secure the funding necessary for 100 percent multilateral debt relief. This follows our commitment to provide $391 million in bilateral debt relief for Liberia. And collectively, this will unlock significant resources in support of the economic turnaround begun by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. We'll have a statement out on that shortly.
In addition, today the House of Representatives will take up an emergency supplemental bill to fund the global war on terror, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Once again, the Democratic leadership is starting this debate with a flawed strategy, including a withdrawal date for Iraq, despite the gains our military has made over the past year, despite having dozens of similar votes in the past that have failed, and despite their pledge to support the troops. And once again, they plan to send the President a bill that they know he will veto. This is for political posturing and to appease radical groups.
The President put forward this funding request based on the recommendation of our commanders in the field. They know what the troops need to accomplish the mission. The Democrats believe that these votes will somehow punish the President, but it actually punishes the troops. This punishes our military planners, our procurement officers and many others who are working on this war effort. If the President is presented with this version of the bill he will veto it.
Now I'll go to questions.
Q Dana, President Musharraf said in an interview today that emergency rule would likely continue through the January elections. Would the White House consider elections there to be free and fair if they're held under emergency rule?
MS. PERINO: This is a question that I've answered several times from reporters in this room and while we were on the road in Texas. What we have said is that we want there to be free and fair elections; we want the President to take off his uniform, which again he announced today that he would do that by the end of November. We don't see how it is possible to have free and fair elections under emergency rule. You want to have emergency rule lifted so that people could protest peacefully, or that they could campaign, and so that a free media can cover the election as we do here.
And so we are urging Pakistan to return to its constitution, allow free and fair elections, and to reestablish the foothold they had on democracy before the emergency order was put in place.
Q Are you seeing any signs that the administration strategy towards dealing with this crisis is working?
MS. PERINO: I think there have been some positive signs. For example, the President said that there would be elections. He did say he would take off the uniform. He did say the emergency order would be lifted; he just has not said when. And we continue to work with Pakistan. We want to have a long-term relationship with this country. In the past, we have waffled on that and it did not serve us well. We lost in -- contact with an entire generation of military leaders, of Pakistani military leaders. We need to get back into the business of making sure that we don't just walk away from a country because they made a mistake. We need to help -- work with them to unite moderate forces so that they can have the democracy that they started to have over the last several years, including the economic benefits that come with that.
Q Does President Musharraf's announcement that he will, by the end of November, take off the uniform sort of buy him some time with the White House?
MS. PERINO: I don't know what that's supposed to mean, Jim. We want -- we have called for there to be an end to emergency rule and the return of the constitution. And that -- his announcement today doesn't change that.
Q Does the United States support the opposition parties coalescing against Musharraf -- Bhutto and Sharif and --
MS. PERINO: We are supportive of people being allowed to peacefully protest, to assemble, and to express their views.
Q But are you telling them that we would support them if they were able to somehow -- support them against, I guess, the government of Musharraf?
MS. PERINO: I'm unaware that there are those conversations. What we are talking to all of the parties about, including the government, as well as the opposition parties, is to work with them to try to find common ground, so that they can work together. It's important that they try to establish open lines of dialogue and communication, so that they can return to the constitution and get back to the path to democracy. What we're looking for is moderation, democracy, stability, and the prosperity that comes with it.
Go ahead, John.
Q The administration has been urging Bhutto to work with Musharraf, for the two of them to cooperate and talk. Is it a major setback that she now says she will not work with him because she can't trust anything he says?
MS. PERINO: I think, John, that the situation evolves by the hour, as you've been covering it over the last 10 days, but since the state of emergency has been put in place. There are developments frequently. And obviously the tensions are very high, and we understand the -- that people, when they have feelings, that people express them, and we would hope that people would be able to work together in Pakistan. We'll just have to wait and see. The situation on the ground is evolving very rapidly.
Q So you're still hopeful that they may be able to cooperate --
MS. PERINO: We are hopeful that they can return to the constitution and the path to democracy that they were on.
Q Dana, you had earlier, this morning, indicated the President would likely talk about FISA in his remarks this morning; he did not. Was there a particular reason he chose not to?
MS. PERINO: No, I think that was my mistake.
Q I mean, this is -- okay.
MS. PERINO: Last night there was -- the FISA markup that's happening today was on my mind. I had -- there's a fact sheet that's going around for review, and that's what I had in mind when I said that.
Q Okay, so no particular reason he chose not to?
MS. PERINO: No. But obviously, the President wants Congress to pass the FISA bill, make it permanent. The version that the Senate Committee on Intelligence put forward is one that we are broadly in support of. There are other measures, such as the Leahy provisions, that we do not support. And so we urge Congress to work closely with us in order to get a bill so that we can keep that intelligence gap firmly closed. If you'll recall, the bill that they passed in August would allow for this measure to expire in February, which we cannot accept.
Q Yes, back to the Iraq funding bill, Dana. The legislation that I gather is going to pass this afternoon does not have a binding deadline in it; it's a goal, it sets a goal. The President has said he would like to bring U.S. troops home. And it's also --
MS. PERINO: And actually, the troops are coming -- are starting to come home.
Q Well, and that's -- that was the other part of it. So why would you veto something that's basically what he is already doing?
MS. PERINO: As I understand it, there is an -- the way we read it, there is an arbitrary date for withdrawal. And I would remind you that it was Senator Reid yesterday who said that if the President doesn't go along with this, then he's not going to get his money. This is not money for the President, this is money for the troops. And we are urging Congress not to play political games. Think about it -- they only have approximately nine legislative days left in their calendar in order to get all of this work done. And I think that I have a slide here. I've had this up here before; I'm going to show you again. There are 12 appropriations bills. They sent one to the President that he signed yesterday, and one that he vetoed. I don't know how many days have passed, legislative days have passed this past year, but they only have nine working days left, and it is unlikely that they'll be able to get all of this work done before that deadline.
Q And by "appeasing radical groups," are you talking about MoveOn.org, et cetera? Or are you talking about the large numbers of Americans who tell interviewers and pollsters that they would like troops home as soon as possible?
MS. PERINO: I am talking about MoveOn.org and CODEPINK, in particular. I would also say that they have held these same -- similar votes over and over again. Dozens of these votes have been held. And in fact, on the Senate side -- I realize this is a House bill -- but on the Senate side, resolutions were passed earlier this year that said that it is the sense of the Senate that we do not believe a withdrawal date is appropriate for this war. And in case they have missed it, our troops are fulfilling their mission in spectacular fashion. They are working to bring down that violence in Iraq, to establish political reconciliation, to improve the economy. People are starting to return to Baghdad and to their homes. Pulling the rug out from under our troops now is the height of irresponsibility.
Q Does the President agree with the New York Governor, who has now decided that illegal aliens and the licensing -- getting a driver's license for them, it really is a federal issue, it's not one that the states should enter?
MS. PERINO: The President did not agree, the administration did not support Governor Spitzer's plan to provide driver's license to illegal aliens. We did support that version of a plan.
MS. PERINO: We do not think it's appropriate for illegal aliens to have a driver's license that all citizens enjoy. We want the REAL ID act to be implemented, but we would suggest that perhaps if they are looking for illegal aliens, that they be turned over to authorities, since they entered the country illegally.
Now, at the same time, the President recognizes that immigration is a very emotional issue, it is a hot-button issue, it is one that I am sure we will hear a lot about in the next year debated. The President hopes that this debate can be one that is respectful of people, and that it weighs the economic issues, as well as the need to protect our borders and protect the security of the country.
Q Thank you. Dana, does this administration believe that democracy, or free and fair elections are necessary at all costs, even if they lead to extremist takeovers in Pakistan, Palestinian state, Saudi Arabia, or other areas?
MS. PERINO: Let's think about this for a second, Connie -- 800 people in Pakistan, over 800 people, have been targeted by radicals and extremists, and killed just since the month of July. If that happened in this country, can you imagine how we would be feeling. We united after 9/11 after 3,000 of our citizens were killed, and I believe that people of Pakistan want to work together to fight extremism.
Now, there is an element there that -- of extremists, especially in the Northwestern Territories, that tries to infiltrate these areas where they have been filled with despair. Part of the support that we give to Pakistan is to help lift these people up out of poverty so that they can reject extremism and terrorism.
Q Musharraf is saying it's -- the country is more important than democracy. Are you willing to accept an election which might not be one that is --
MS. PERINO: We believe the best way for Pakistan to have a stable and prosperous future is to fully establish democracy. And that's going to take some time. We know from our own history that it takes a while for democracy to take hold, and we are living proof that it can happen. But we are the beneficiaries of a lot of strife that our country went through in the early days. It is incumbent upon us then to try to help Pakistan to get back on this path -- and not just Pakistan but other countries as well.
Q Dana, any sense of when the Annapolis conference on the Middle East would be?
MS. PERINO: Nothing to report yet. As you know, I think Secretary -- I think you know -- Secretary Rice will be in the region later this week. And then if there's more to update from there, we'll provide it.
Q And following up on Ben's question, you keep tip-toeing up to the line of saying that elections in Pakistan can't be considered free and fair if they're held under a state of emergency. Is that --
MS. PERINO: Why don't I -- I'll just repeat exactly what I said the other day, which is that in order to have free and fair elections, they can't be held under a state of emergency.
Connie -- sorry, Paula. I'm looking at Paula and Connie's right behind. Sorry, Paula, go ahead.
Q I have a question on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Why does the President threaten to veto a bill that would solely extend Title VII jobs discrimination protections to individuals based on sexual orientation?
MS. PERINO: It's been a while since I reviewed that statement of administration position, so can we get right back to you?
Q Well, I have a follow-up. In terms of -- well, in terms of the argument about the sanctity of marriage and this bill, it's directed -- the bill is directed solely at employment and extending the same employment rights to people that are -- based on sexual orientation as it does to anyone protected based on gender, race, or religion. So again, why is the President opposed and threatening a veto?
MS. PERINO: I'm going to give you the short answer, Paula, which is we'll get back to you. Let me review that SAP again.
Q Yes, thank you, Dana. Two questions. There are reports of growing Republican opposition to the proposed law of the sea treaty. And my question: What is the President's reaction to such GOP opposition?
MS. PERINO: The President is supportive of the treaty, and so is our military and our State Department. And we have testified on Capitol Hill multiple times about it. I understand that there are concerns, but we believe that those have been addressed.
Q The U.S. in some foreign quarters has been given an almost outcast status because of its war on terror. But France's Sarkozy and Germany's Merkel have both expressed favorable opinions of the U.S., and Britain's Gordon Brown is stressing the importance of ties with the U.S. What does this approval mean to the U.S.?
MS. PERINO: I'm going to have to take a pass. I'll get back to you later.
Q You'll get back to me later?
MS. PERINO: Sure.
Go ahead, Wendell.
Q What time?
MS. PERINO: Let me move forward with Wendell.
Q There's a report in The New York Times today that indicates investigators are finding 14 of the 17 people killed in the September 16th shootings involving Blackwater were killed in violation of procedures for private security firms. Is the President troubled by this, and has he instructed Attorney General Mukasey to quickly get to the bottom of this?
MS. PERINO: Given that this investigation is still underway, even though there was a report in a newspaper, I am not able to comment on it.
Q Does the Attorney General have anything to do with the President authorizing the investigation into the, I think, the warrantless wiretapping program?
MS. PERINO: This is going to be the same answer, which is there's an ongoing investigation there and I'm not going to comment on that either.
Q The question was about the security clearance that the President had to grant or not grant. Are you not able to tell us whether he had changed his mind, and if not, why?
MS. PERINO: Well, obviously they have their security -- he's being cleared into the program now, but there's nothing more I can say about it.
Q You can't say why he changed his mind?
MS. PERINO: I cannot.
Q Back to Annapolis. Given that the President has repeatedly said that it's vital that the Palestinians acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state, and Saeb Erekat yesterday said -- refused to acknowledge that very basic fact -- (inaudible) -- higher level talks being held in Annapolis.
MS. PERINO: There has been a lot of increasing chatter as we've moved up towards the hopeful date of this meeting. Secretary Rice has been in the region several times, and Steve Hadley has been there, as well. We are working with the parties in order to bring them along to establish a feeling for a meeting that could actually result in a substantive core list of issues that can be worked on in order to get to a Palestinian state. We believe that we are nearly there. And because Secretary Rice is going to the region later this week so that she can help bring them along, let's just let that process play out, because I think that there is good intention on all sides.
Q But even -- I mean, we know the issues that are on the list, we know what the final status issues are, but if there's this very basic refusal to acknowledge a country's right to exist as a Jewish state, how can the parties even talk?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that we should hear from President Abbas before making further judgments.
Q What about Hamas? Do you really think that Hamas is going to recognize the existence of Israel?
MS. PERINO: Obviously, Hamas is a terrorist organization and it's just --
Q And they rule the -- they rule the Gaza Strip, don't they?
MS. PERINO: Well, it's unfortunate -- for the way that the -- for the individuals that are living under that rule and in Gaza, it is quite a serious situation. We are helping provide -- to provide humanitarian relief, and we would like for that region to be able to return to a situation where they can try to --
Q But Hamas is not going to recognize the existence of Israel.
MS. PERINO: I'll let them speak for themselves, but I think they have a track record that would lead you to that conclusion.
Q Dana, has the White House talked about the fact that Bhutto should be allowed to move freely in her country?
MS. PERINO: We do think that the emergency order should be lifted, that the constitution should be restored, and that people should be able to have freedom of movement, that there should be freedom of press, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. That is what -- that is the foundation of a democracy, and we want Pakistan and President Musharraf to return immediately, as soon as possible. We think as soon as possible -- that "possible" is now, and we'd like to see it done immediately. Obviously the situation is evolving, and we continue to be in close contact with his government.
Q With his government and with Bhutto, specifically?
MS. PERINO: And other opposition party leaders.
Q Dana, ten days into this, what kind of damage has been done to the relationship between President Bush and President Musharraf?
MS. PERINO: The President doesn't take this personally. The President believes that it's incumbent upon him as the Commander-in-Chief of the United States to work with a fellow leader in order to help them along the path to democracy. He feels an obligation to work with them and not to just try to -- to throw up our hands and to walk away.
Q Maybe not personally, but certainly he's welcomed President Musharraf here before; he spoke positively about President Musharraf. And I would think that what President Musharraf has been doing certainly would cause the President to rethink his judgment about him.
MS. PERINO: The President -- ever since September 11th, when the President then started working with President Musharraf in order to fight extremists, has appreciated the work that they've done to help us in cooperative efforts to go out against the Taliban and al Qaeda. They've captured hundreds -- captured or killed hundreds of terrorists that were planning to hurt Americans or hurt innocent Pakistanis.
Our challenge now is to effectively support the Pakistani people, and this is -- the President is committed to helping them strengthen the influence of the moderate influences in the country, to help bring them along and back to the state of democracy that they enjoyed before, and to establish more in regards to education reform, health care reform. The President feels an obligation to help bring them back to democracy, and he doesn't take it personally.
Q Whatever admiration he had of President Musharraf based on the President -- the Pakistani President's commitment to the war on terror, has that been mitigated, diminished? Is it in some way smaller?
MS. PERINO: I think the President is focused at the task at hand, which is helping them get back on the road to democracy, not on his personal feelings about it.
Q Thank you, Dana.
END 1:02 P.M. EST
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