Press Briefing by Dana Perino
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
March 4, 2008
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:22 P.M. EST
MS. PERINO: Hi. Sorry getting started late, but you had the President making comments and they had to feed the tape back. Not a lot of people here. Since you had the President, I'll take any questions you have.
Q Thank you, Dana. I have two quick questions, please. One is, as far as China, the DOD released a report yesterday on China's military buildup. How much do you think the President is concerned about, and DOD is concerned about the future of China's military buildup?
MS. PERINO: Well, what President Bush has tried to do is build a constructive relationship with China -- on multiple levels; both from a financial and political level, as well as militarily. And one of the things that we're working on with China is establishing good dialogue and communication, especially when it comes to a hotline between our two militaries. But the Pentagon fully briefed this report yesterday and expressed our concerns, so I'll refer you to them.
Q Second, as far as elections in Pakistan is concerned, the people of Pakistan are -- (inaudible) -- the people of the United States as far as their support and help. And delegation of judiciary lawyers are traveling in the U.S. and Washington, D.C. here, and they're making comments here and there about fair and free elections --
MS. PERINO: What's your question?
Q The question is, what they're saying really calling on President Bush that restoration of judiciary, that the President should now focus on the people of Pakistan. And they are asking President to interfere about the release of the Chief Justice of Pakistan and judiciary.
MS. PERINO: I think that, Goyal, now that parliamentary elections have been held in Pakistan and they're working on the changes that are going to take place in that government, that that will be a topic that the Pakistanis need to address, not the United States.
Wendell, do you have one?
Q -- in Vanity Fair, in an article that claims Hamas takeover of Gaza was the result of U.S. efforts to get Fatah to defeat Hamas. Is there any truth to that? Was there U.S. aid, either in weapons or money, to Fatah?
MS. PERINO: Secretary of State's spokesperson, Sean McCormack, was today in -- traveling in the region, in Ramallah, and told reporters that there is no accuracy to that story.
MS. PERINO: No.
Q None at all?
MS. PERINO: That's what he said.
Q Is there?
MS. PERINO: Not that I'm aware of, no. The first I heard of the story was when it showed up this morning. I don't even know if we were contacted. Sean says that he's checked and it is not true.
Q The President says he's still confident that a peace agreement can be reached in the Middle East in the next 10 months. We're at a point where you have the two sides not even talking to each other. Isn't it at least a setback -- I mean, is the administration confident that this current pause in the negotiations is going to end soon?
MS. PERINO: What the President said is that oftentimes in these negotiations you have two steps forward and one step back. I would point you to things that are moving very quickly in the region. Secretary Rice arrived yesterday in Egypt, and today she met with President Abbas and his Palestinian government there in Ramallah. And at their press conference, President Abbas said that he is committed to the peace process and expects to -- the dialogue to continue to move forward.
It takes a little bit of time to work these issues through, and there are going to be hills and valleys, ups and downs, and we're in a down period right now. But what Secretary Rice was able to do was to have a conversation with the Egyptians yesterday, the Palestinians today; she'll be meeting with the Israelis tomorrow, and trying to work with them to do three basic things: One is to return the parties to dialogue. They had had some good dialogue before, since the Annapolis Conference. In December and January the two negotiators were working very well together and having good conversations, but there wasn't a lot of movement on the ground in terms of moving forward on the core issues.
Today, after the violence of the past several days -- I guess it was yesterday, when President Abbas said that he didn't want to continue those conversations -- today he says that, okay, he could see a way to continue that dialogue. So we're going to see some of this going back and forth. But the President said that he is optimistic because 10 months is a longer period of time than some people think it is, and that you have these two leaders who want to get it done before the President's term ends.
One of the things that the President heard in the Middle East on his trip and at the Annapolis Conference is that they'd like to try to get it done with this administration in place, the Bush administration in place, because when there is going to be a transition in government here, no matter who wins the election, there will be a little bit of a lag in order to get everyone up to speed and moving forward.
Q And if I could just follow up. King Abdullah, before meeting with the President, said that if there's not an agreement in the next 10 months that it could be a matter of decades after that. I just wanted to get your comments on that.
MS. PERINO: Well, we hope that that's not true, but that's one of the reasons that we're so committed to try to get it done before the end of the year.
Q Well, how can you say that things are moving quickly? What evidence is there that they're moving at all?
MS. PERINO: I said that things -- what I meant by "moving quickly" is that there is events on the ground and people making comments yesterday regarding dialogue that are different from today's. So that's what I meant in terms of "quickly."
Q You have Prime Minister -- or the President say that he's willing to resume talks, but there's someone else in the equation who probably isn't willing to resume talks. That would be the other representative of the Palestinians.
MS. PERINO: There is no other representative of the Palestinians. There is --
Q People who hold the other part of the territory.
MS. PERINO: Well, I'll remind you that Hamas overthrew the legitimate government in Gaza, complete with throwing innocent Palestinians who were in the hospital from their hospital beds to their deaths from second and third story windows. They incite violence, they foment instability, and their violent attacks against Israel are wearing thin.
None of us can imagine what it would be like to be living under a constant threat of a rocket attack, where we're trying to protect our families. It's hard to try to figure out a way to have a prosperous and good life when you're living under that kind of threat. So we think they have a right to defend themselves.
At the same time, Hamas is not giving their people any sort of hope. They -- and the President believes, and this is his fundamental belief, that at the core of everyone's being is a desire to be free. And the Palestinians under President Abbas, who is their legitimate President, elected by all of the Palestinians and representing all of them, wants them to have a state. And their best chance to have a state is with President Abbas.
Q But I'll remind you that the leadership in Gaza was democratically elected. But that's beside the point. What you say about Gaza is obviously the case. But how can peace talks go forward when there is a portion of the polity that doesn't have any interest in moving them forward?
MS. PERINO: Our point is that our negotiations are not with a terrorist organization. Israel's negotiations and our discussions with the Palestinians are with the legitimate President of all the Palestinians, and that is President Abbas.
Q Don't you think that Hamas is driving the agenda in the Middle East now?
MS. PERINO: No, I think that there is lots of different factors that are important in the Middle East. Are they the story of the moment, of the day? Yes, and that's because they are attacking innocent people on the Israeli border, and also forcing their citizens to live in a very desperate humanitarian situation so that people are relying on aid from outside, most of which is coming from the United States.
But, no, I don't think that they're the driving force in the area. I think that the issue regarding peace in the Middle East and that core issue of the Palestinians and the Israelis trying to live together side by side in peace is one of the core issues in the Middle East. But it's a very complex region. It's not just Hamas.
Q Yes, but as long as they fire rockets, as long as they continue to fire rockets into Israel, aren't they -- don't they have the capability of obstructing the peace process?
MS. PERINO: Well, that is what they have -- that's what they have chosen to do. I think that we'll have to look at what Secretary Rice is able to come out of her meetings with. The violence -- the rocket attacks are not a new tactic by Hamas. People in Israel have been living with this for a long time. What is different today is that you have two leaders -- Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas -- who have agreed that they want to try to get to a definition of what a two-state solution would look like before the end of this President's term. And that's why Secretary Rice is there.
Q Dana, if there's to be a two-state -- and you have said there cannot be two Palestinian states -- doesn't that have to be resolved first? Doesn't the difference -- the leadership of the Palestinian people not being divided between Fatah and Hamas have to be resolved before you can then negotiate a peace agreement?
MS. PERINO: Some might say that, but others might say that there are other core issues that would actually help the rest of the issues get resolved, such as the status of Jerusalem, or the settlements. There's lots of different issues that feed into this, and I think different people could look at it and think that one thing is more important than the other. Obviously the situation in Gaza is very important, but I don't think that you could single it out as the most important.
Q So your hope, then, is that Abu Mazen will be able to negotiate an agreement that resolves these final status issues, and then apply that to Gaza?
MS. PERINO: Not necessarily. If you look at what we identified at the Annapolis Conference for moving forward, there's several different tracks, but they're all in a parallel track and they need to move forward at the same time. One of the most important things that Secretary Rice is talking about today is getting more humanitarian assistance to the desperate people of Gaza so that they can have food and water and the medical supplies necessary to live.
But there's lots of different issues. And do not underestimate the importance of trying to solve some of those other core issues in the road map, such as the status of Jerusalem.
Q My understanding is that Prime Minister Olmert has taken it off the table. Is that your understanding?
MS. PERINO: I haven't heard that, no.
Q Dana, isn't now the time when the President should get involved? You've got the peace talks stalled. You've got Condoleezza Rice there, but she may not be able to do what he could do by injecting himself with his personality and his vision in there, bringing these two people together.
MS. PERINO: Well, Victoria, you just heard the President talk in the Oval Office about this issue. He was meeting with King Abdullah of Jordan, which is another key partner and neighbor that has a very great interest in the peace process. Secretary Rice and the President work very closely together. The President can't be in the Middle East all the time, in terms of working on this. That's totally unrealistic. But note that the President is planning to go back in mid-May.
Q Thank you, Dana. On another question -- two questions. President Klaus of the Czech Republic, and John Stossel, the co-anchor of ABC's 20-20, are among 98 speakers at the International Conference on Climate Change, Global Warming: Truth or Swindle, which is now going on in New York City. And my question: Does the President welcome or deplore this gathering of so many scientists who have signed a petition that global warming probably is natural and not a crisis?
MS. PERINO: I don't think the President has an opinion on the meeting. I haven't talked to him about it. And if people want to gather and express their views, they're obviously very welcome to do so, and New York is as good a place as any.
Q You are saying that he doesn't disagree with these people who are questioning --
MS. PERINO: The President's position on climate change is well-known. He's long said that human beings are contributing in some ways to climate change. And that's why we're taking steps to deal with it, and in fact, tomorrow will make a -- have remarks at the International Renewable Energy Conference, when he talks about that very issue.
Q In the President's press conference last week, he repeatedly took questions about the presidential primaries. And my question: Given the President's grace in responding to questions about one of the most interesting campaigns in U.S. history, surely his Press Secretary will be equally gracious in this respect, won't you?
MS. PERINO: I think so.
Q Good. You will.
MS. PERINO: I'm not going to -- you want me to comment on the primaries?
Q No, no. I just want to know --
MS. PERINO: Will I be gracious? (Laughter.)
Q -- we will be able to ask you questions about the primaries, right?
MS. PERINO: You've been asking for many months.
Q I know, and been turned down. But the President responded, and so, therefore, I'm sure you'll be as gracious as the President, right?
MS. PERINO: I aspire to be.
Q Dana, I missed the top of the briefing, so forgive me; if you've already addressed this, just stop me. On Russia, what's the message being sent by not congratulating Medvedev? Every statement that's come out of State, out of here, always avoids saying, we congratulate him, the President congratulates him, whatever. What's the purpose of that?
MS. PERINO: I don't know of any purpose, necessarily. I think that what the President did today was call the President-elect of Russia. They had a very good first conversation. You'll recall that they actually met in 2004, had brief conversation there. The President doesn't know him very well, as you heard him say last week.
He's established a good relationship with President Putin, in that they've had their difficulties over the years -- I think the President described it as "diplomatic head butts," and I think that's an accurate description. But I also know that at the -- that the President and President Putin have long believed that having a good relationship between our two countries is in our interests on a variety of levels, especially when it comes to counterterrorism, non-proliferation issues. And I would note that Russia yesterday joined the U.N. Security Council in unanimously voting for a third round of sanctions against Iran, to make sure that Iran does not have the capability to produce a nuclear weapon.
So there's lots of different ways that we can cooperate with President-elect Medvedev, and we'll look forward to working with him. Obviously, the President will be talking to President Putin between now and May 7th.
Q Do you know when the first meeting between the President and Medvedev would be, and would it be an international summit, or would it be a bilat?
MS. PERINO: I think it's unclear. There's several meetings that are coming up, and I don't know about the EU summit or G8. I don't know who is going to be going.
Q Where did they meet in '04?
MS. PERINO: I'll find out for you. I just know that they met in '04. It was at one of these international meetings.
Q Dana, to be clear, in this call, he did not do something he routinely does with elected Presidents all over the world, which is say "congratulations"?
MS. PERINO: He did what he routinely does with lots of Presidents-elect around the world, which is call to say thank you for taking my call, and I look forward to working with you.
I'm not going to get into the word game about congratulations or not congratulations. Our position about the Russian elections leading up to it have been well-known, and our concerns were expressed from the beginning. At this point, they now have the President-elect. He will be -- he will take office on May 7th. And President Bush believes it is very important that we continue to have good relationship with Russia. It's in both of our countries' interests.
We don't believe that Russia, going forward, should have anything to fear about having multi-party elections, more free speech, more access for media, and a free press. There's lots of issues that we've had to work out, and I would just point you to the past comments about these elections, but also that the President is looking forward, and that's why he called him today.
Q Dana, Senator McCain said that the Russian election wouldn't pass the smell test of any functioning democracy. He said that the elections were clearly rigged, the opposition was repressed. So just so I'm clear, the White House position now is still that essentially, let's let the observers make a final determination? Or are you just moving beyond, now, the election, and looking forward to working with him?
MS. PERINO: I respect Senator McCain's views. I'm not going to comment in any way to try to get myself involved in the '08 election. But what I will say is that our position about the run-up to the elections in Russia was well-known. Our concerns were expressed not just from this podium, not just from the State Department, but from President Bush to President Putin himself. But it should be noted the President Bush realizes that what we need to do now is make sure that we establish a good foundation of a relationship that we can have going forward with President-elect Medvedev, who will take office on May 7th.
Q Thank you.
END 12:40 P.M. EST
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