White House Press Briefing
White House Briefing
President's schedule, Powell/Armitage visit to ranch, Washington Post article on Powell/Armitage, Iran, Howard Dean, Liberia, Rice, Iraq/United Nations, North Korea/ Bolton, Rumsfeld visit to ranch, Texas Senate, Iraq/Saddam Hussein, al Qaeda threat/Guantanamo detainees, Saudi Arabia/al Bayoumi
White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan briefed reporters August 4 in Crawford, Texas where President Bush is on a working vacation at his nearby ranch.
Following is a transcript of the briefing:
Office of the Press Secretary (Crawford, Texas)
August 4, 2003
PRESS GAGGLE BY SCOTT McCLELLAN
Crawford Elementary School Crawford,
11:50 A.M. CDT
MR. McCLELLAN: Good morning. Welcome to Crawford; it's good to see everybody.
The President had his usual intelligence briefings this morning, and tended to other presidential duties, before spending some time clearing brush.
One update to the schedule. Secretary Powell and Deputy Secretary Armitage will arrive in Crawford tomorrow afternoon. They will have dinner with the President, followed by a meeting on Wednesday afternoon, to continue ongoing discussions on a range of policy priorities. And they will have lunch at the ranch, before departing Wednesday. This is something that has been in the works for the last couple of weeks and is a continuation of discussions the Secretary has had with the President on a regular basis. So the President looks forward to visiting with Secretary Powell and Deputy Secretary Armitage tomorrow night and the following day.
And with that, I'm glad to jump right into questions.
Q: The first one here, a little bit of stage fright here, but he did want to ask about the story in The Post this morning -- he read it with great interest, about Secretary Powell. Anything to that story, or are you knocking it down?
MR. McCLELLAN: Congress just recently recessed, members have gone home. Just two days ago, we left Washington for the Western White House, and already the speculation and gossip is running full speed in Washington, D.C. I think you have to love August, when there's a news void to fill and there's a lot of the rumor mill going around Washington, D.C.
Look, Secretary Powell and Deputy Secretary Armitage are outstanding members of the President's team, and they are highly valued members of the President's team and they're doing an outstanding job. The State Department has already issued a statement in which they said that the purported conversation between Dr. Rice and Deputy Secretary Armitage did not take place, and I can confirm that from our end. They also went on to say that there is no basis for the story.
Q: Would the President like for Secretary Powell to be around for a second term?
MR. McCLELLAN: Steve asked if the President would like Secretary Powell to be around for a second term. Well, thank you for making sure that there is a second term. (Laughter.)
Look, the President thinks he's doing an outstanding job and appreciates the job that he is doing. The President looks forward to Secretary Powell continuing to work with him in our foreign policy realm. I think Secretary Powell has made it very clear that he and Deputy Secretary Armitage serve at the pleasure of the President and they are enjoying the job that they are doing.
So I just think that this is a lot of the Washington, D.C., August recess rumor mill going on here right now.
Q: Can you say whether or not in any forum, in any way, Powell and/or Armitage have indicated that they would not serve in a second term if there is one?
MR. McCLELLAN: Look, Mark, I think I indicated and I think the State Department has indicated that there really was no basis for the story, let me make that very clear; that there's always going to be a lot of speculation and gossip about different Cabinet departments, particularly there in the month of August. But there is no basis for that story.
Q: L.A. Times has a lengthy story about the danger of weapons development in Iran. What is the present level of the White House's concern about nuclear weapons in Iran?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that's one of a number of concerns that we have in regards to Iran. We have continued to work with the IAEA and the international community to make sure that there are more intensive inspections of Iran and its nuclear weapons program. It is a matter that remains a serious concern. We're working with the international community, we're working with the IAEA to make sure that they do not continue on this course, which is unacceptable.
Q: -- moved down that same road toward nuclear development, or have you seen any positive signs at all --
MR. McCLELLAN: We have expressed a lot of concerns. IAEA is continuing to work with Iran on the next steps, and we are working with the international community to keep pressure on Iran to open up to more intensive inspections, and we will continue doing that. But we have a lot of concerns about their pursuit of nuclear weapons.
Q: Howard Dean is running an ad in Austin, attacking the President on foreign policy and on the economy. One, has the President seen this, since he is here --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think that's -- look, that's politics. There's a Democratic primary going on, there are a lot of candidates trying to grab headlines, but they need to work out their own differences and there will be plenty of time for politics later. The President is continuing to focus on the people's business, and that's what he's going to continue to do.
Q: Can I just clarify one logistical thing? Can the President get Austin TV from the ranch? I mean, could he -- if he'd turn on the television, could he potentially see --
MR. McCLELLAN: I really haven't looked into it, but the TV here in this area gets the Waco TV, as far as I know.
Q: So can you now state that Secretary Powell and Armitage will serve if there's a second term; is that what you're saying?
MR. McCLELLAN: I appreciate you giving us a second term, that's what I'm saying. But the Secretary has made it very clear that he serves at the pleasure of the President. The Secretary is doing an outstanding job and we very much appreciate the leadership he has provided on our foreign policy team.
Q: -- didn't answer the question. If there's a second term, and the President asked them to serve --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think the way I addressed the question was that there's really no basis for this story. It's a lot of speculation, it's a lot of the Washington, D.C. gossip and rumor mill. So that's the way I would address the question.
Q: So you're saying if there's a second term, he will serve. That's what you're saying.
MR. McCLELLAN: One, we're not in a second term at this point. We are where we are. This is just a lot of the Washington, D.C. rumor mill.
Q: Has the President had any indication from other members of his Cabinet about whether they would be willing to serve in a second term? Do you expect broad turnover?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't want to get into any speculation about that. I'd let individual Cabinet members address those questions.
Q: Can I ask you two about Liberia? The first peacekeepers arrived today. Where does that put us, in terms of a decision, on U.S. troops in Liberia?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we are very encouraged by the initial deployment of West African forces. I would remind you that this initial deployment will take several days to complete, and get those forces in place. The United States continues to be actively involved in the planning and execution of this initial deployment of West African peacekeepers. I think for specifics you need to talk to the Department of Defense.
But as the full ECOWAS force arrives, the immediate task continues to be to reinforce the cease-fire and create the conditions so that they can begin to provide the humanitarian assistance to the people of Liberia. But we continue to participate in all military and political planning taking place in the region. And we will continue to do so. We will also continue to provide support to the ECOWAS troops, both financial and logistic. We have already provided financial assistance to --
Q: I don't hear you repeating your insistence that Taylor step down. Is that still a condition for U.S. troops hitting the ground?
MR. McCLELLAN: Our position has not changed. Charles Taylor needs to step down.
Q: Do you confirm the visit by Dr. Rice in the Middle East in the coming weeks?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q: Do you confirm the visit by Dr. Rice in the Middle East in the coming weeks? Palestinian newspaper came out with the news yesterday.
MR. McCLELLAN: There's nothing to update you on her schedule at this point. When we have something to announce, we'll do so at that time, if there is something to announce.
Q: Can you describe to us -- are you working with the British to consider a new U.N. resolution?
MR. McCLELLAN: He's asking about a new U.N. resolution and if we're working with the British. Well, there have been some discussions with some countries that have expressed a concern that they feel they need more authority than the current resolution provides. We believe that 1483 does provide sufficient authority for nations to participate. A number of nations are already participating in Iraq under 1483. We will, obviously, continue to listen to concerns other nations may have. But our view is that we believe 1483 provides sufficient authorities for nations to participate. And we appreciate the ones that already are participating in reconstruction in Iraq under resolution 1483.
Q: You don't really see much of a need for a new resolution, but --
MR. McCLELLAN: There have been some discussions with some countries that feel like they may need additional authority. But we believe there is sufficient authority under resolution 1483.
Q: Scott, is there any administration response to North Korea's denunciation of John Bolton and saying that he wouldn't be welcome at the multilateral talks?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he was speaking for the administration. And I think his remarks last week reiterated things that we had previously said. But the President of the United States, in consultation with the Secretary of State and others, makes the decision about who represents the United States in our delegation. We are continuing to work out the details and the timing of the next round of multilateral talks. It was a positive development that North Korea agreed to those talks. And we'll continue working with our friends and allies to make sure that those multilateral talks come about sooner than later.
Q: -- to submit to North Korea saying that it wouldn't deal with John Bolton?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I think it made it very clear. The President of the United States makes the decisions who participates in the delegation for the United States of America.
Q: Scott, can I follow-up on Liberia? The Charge d'affaires, Aaron Kollie, said in Washington that -- basically accused the administration of funneling money to the rebel group -- to a rebel group in Liberia through the country of Guinea, basically that the U.S. is essentially helping the rebels in Guinea.
MR. McCLELLAN: That's the first I've seen of that report, and no, I'm not going to comment on a report that I haven't seen at this point. So I'll take a look at that report.
Q: What specifically are Powell and Armitage going to talk about with the President? Is it Middle East or North Korea or what?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- a range of issues, and certainly some of the ones you probably touched on. We will try to do a photo release from that meeting tomorrow. That's the coverage of it, though. But as you are aware, the Secretary of State and the President meet on a regular basis, and this is part of a continuation of discussion of those policy priorities.
Q: And Secretary Rumsfeld is coming later in the week, right?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's right. And every year -- both these individuals, I believe, the past two years have come down to the ranch to focus on some important priorities. Secretary Rumsfeld and the President will be talking about defense issues and transformation issues, as they have in the past. And the President looks forward to receiving an update and discussing some of those issues.
Q: Scott, what was the President's reaction to the story in The Washington Post?
MR. McCLELLAN: His reaction is my reaction, I'm speaking on his behalf, but it's -- there just was not a basis for that story.
Q: Did he say, "Oh my God"?
MR. McCLELLAN: Oh, yes, I think he views it -- it's the usual Washington, D.C., rumor and gossip that goes on, particularly during the month of August, when it's a slow news time back in Washington, D.C.
Q: Scott, what's on the agenda tomorrow?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I'll try to give you any update I can afterwards. But the agenda will focus on a range of policy priorities that are going on in the foreign policy realm. Let's let the meeting take place and I'll try to give you more of an update at that point. But I think you can expect that they'll discuss the issues that are at the top of the foreign policy agenda these days, from the Middle East to Iraq to Liberia, among others. And I'll try to get you more -- North Korea, I'll try to get you more of an update after the meeting takes place, if I can.
Q: Was this something previously scheduled or did it come up --
MR. McCLELLAN: This has been discussed for the last couple weeks. Again, Secretary Powell came here last year to meet with the President as well.
MR. McCLELLAN: I will see what I can do, but I would not expect it. I think it's just going to be a photo release at this point.
Q: What's the President's view of the stand-off in the Texas Senate over redistricting with the Democrats out of the state?
MR. McCLELLAN: I addressed that issue last week back in Washington. I think that that's a matter that the State of Texas is addressing. And like any other state, they address issues like this and we'll leave it to the State of Texas to address that.
Q: Just logistic stuff, and maybe you just answered this -- I can't hear the questions. But on Powell, they're coming in here tomorrow night; is that right?
MR. McCLELLAN: Tomorrow -- I don't know the exact time. It's late afternoon, I believe. They'll have dinner with the President tomorrow night. And then on Wednesday, they will have a meeting with him for a couple of hours before having lunch and then departing back to Washington, D.C.
Q: And it's your expectation that we will have no access to any of the principals; is that right?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- but this is part of the ongoing discussions the Secretary has with the President. There's no coverage planned for it.
Q: If there are developments from Iraq on Saddam Hussein, what is the plan for that? Where would any announcement of Saddam Hussein's capture or death come from? Would it come from --
MR. McCLELLAN: First things first, but our troops in Iraq are doing an outstanding job, going on the offensive, pursuing remnants of the former regime, loyalists to the former regime, foreign terrorists and other killers who are in Iraq, and they are going to continue to go on the offensive and defeat these people.
They also continue to pursue Saddam Hussein, as you mentioned. And they will find him, but first things first.
Q: How would we learn of that first? Would that come from the Western White House? Would it come from --
MR. McCLELLAN: At this point, it's speculating about any capture or anything else of that nature. So our troops continue to pursue him. They will find him. Let's let that take place. And if there's more to update you on at that point, then we will do so then.
Q: Let me make sure Scott gets his question in.
Q: I yield to Don's question.
Q: What is the response to the al Qaeda threat about if the detainees at Guantanamo are tried or put to death or something, what's the response on whether that's taken seriously or whether that's something to consider?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we take all threats seriously, let me be very clear on that. But I think that the CIA continues to analyze that tape. It's a reminder that we continue to be engaged in a global war on terrorism. It's a reminder that al Qaeda continues to want to harm America and our friends and allies.
And that's why we are going after them. We are taking the war to al Qaeda and going after them where they are, and bringing them to justice. We have made great progress in the war on terrorism, and we will continue to pursue them wherever they may be and bring them to justice. We are dismantling and disrupting al Qaeda, and we will win this war. We have made tremendous progress.
I would just like to point out a couple of things. Since September 2001, more than 3,000 al Qaeda suspects have been detained in over 90 countries. Almost all of those directly involved in orchestrating the September 11th terrorist attacks are now in custody or confirmed dead. Of the senior al Qaeda leaders, operational managers, and key facilitators we have been tracking, 65 percent have been captured or killed.
So the United States and our allies, the global coalition, have denied al Qaeda its sanctuary in Afghanistan. We've removed the Taliban regime, which supported and provided sanctuary to al Qaeda. We're disrupting their finances. We've dismantled entire al Qaeda cells throughout the world. And we have captured or killed many of their top leaders since 9/11, including the September 11th mastermind, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, and key plotters, Ramzi Binalshibh and Abu Zubaydah and Muhammad Atef, among others.
So we are continuing to -- it's a reminder that we need to continue going after these terrorists, where they are, and disrupting and dismantling their networks and bringing them to justice.
Q: Scott, Prince Saud told Dr. Rice last week, you're welcome to come to Saudi Arabia and question al Bayoumi. Yesterday al Bayoumi, on television, said, I'm ready to talk. Do you know where that interrogation stands?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- that conversation. We are working closely with the Saudis in the war on terrorism, including ongoing investigations. And we will continue to do so. The Saudis have been very cooperative. And we do look forward to having access to him and questioning him. And the Saudis have been very cooperative in that effort. I don't have any update at this point on where that stands. But the Saudis have been very cooperative. We have good relations with the Saudis, and we are working cooperatively in this effort.
Q: Do you expect such an interview this week, today, this month?
MR. McCLELLAN: I just don't have anything to update you on, but things are moving forward, and the Saudis are cooperating and working to make that happen.
All right. Thanks, everybody.
END 12:09 P.M. CDT