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Scott McClellan Press Gaggle - October 25, 2004

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 25, 2004

Press Gaggle by Scott McClellan
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Buckley Air Force Base, Colorado

8:54 A.M. MDT

MR. McCLELLAN: Good morning. The President had his usual briefings a short time ago on board Air Force One. We've got three events today. Mayor Giuliani and Mrs. Giuliani will be traveling with us all day. They will be with us through Davenport, Iowa, the last event of the day, and then we will go to La Crosse, where we will overnight for tomorrow's event.

You have a little bit of a preview on the speech from Dan yesterday. The President's first speech today will focus on the war on terrorism. And the President will clearly lay out the choice for the American people when it comes to how we conduct the war on terrorism. There is a clear choice between the two candidates, it is a clear choice between the President and Senator Kerry when it comes to the direction each of them would pursue in how we conduct the war on terrorism. So the President will walk through a handful of clear differences on the critical issues in the war on terrorism.

Q Such as?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he'll talk about the importance of staying on the offensive and how Senator Kerry has a pre-9/11 mind set. The direction -- the choice on the direction we move forward -- the direction we move forward in the war on terrorism really comes down to, do we have a defensive, reactive mind set, which is a pre-9/11 mind set that seeks to manage these dangers and respond to attacks, or do we fight a comprehensive war on terrorism; do we pursue a comprehensive strategy to prevail in the war on terrorism. That's the real choice the American people face.

And he'll talk about the differences about how we approach and conduct that war on terrorism. He'll talk about staying -- how his views, that we must stay on the offensive and take the fight to the enemy, so that we fight them abroad and not here at home, and how Senator Kerry has a very different approach. He'll talk about the differences when it comes to Iraq. It's essential that we succeed in Iraq. Success in Iraq will be a decisive blow in the war on terrorism.

He'll talk about how it's important for America to lead the world in the war on terrorism, and he'll talk about the importance of spreading freedom and democracy to address the root causes of terror. Senator Kerry ignores the root cause of terrorism, and has no plan for addressing the root cause of terrorism that led to the attacks on September 11th. This was something that was building for -- building throughout the 1990s, and we ignored what was happening in the Middle East.

So those are some of the areas that he'll touch on -- that he'll touch on in his remarks.

Q Is this new, or is it repackaged?

MR. McCLELLAN: This is a new speech. And so I think you'll hear some new language in the speech. This is part of the President continuing to clarify the choices for the American people as we get closer to election day. We're now eight days away, and this is the -- we can't achieve progress and all the other issues if we don't first address our security. And this is the highest priority for this nation.

Q Is it going to be similar to the one in -- was it New Jersey?

MR. McCLELLAN: It's a different speech. It's different from that speech.

Q But why didn't he --

MR. McCLELLAN: That really talked about our four commitments. It will touch on some of those aspects, but this is really a different structure to this speech.

Q Why do you think this late in the game voters are still open to new information? I mean, traditionally, most people think that at this point, people have sort of heard all the arguments, and if -- they're not that open to new information --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think there's a small number of undecided voters, but there are still some voters who are making up their minds with eight days to go in this election. And that's why the President is going to continue to clearly articulate the differences on the big priorities, like the war on terrorism and the economy and health care.

Q The Kerry --

MR. McCLELLAN: We're working to get out the vote among our supporters, as well as reach out to those remaining undecided voters.

Q The Kerry campaign is hitting you on this story in the New York Times today that a large cache of explosives have gone missing. Is there anything you could have done about that?

MR. McCLELLAN: Maybe the best way to do this is kind of walk you through how we came to be informed about this. The Iraqi Interim Government informed -- told the IAEA -- the International Atomic Energy Agency on October 10th that there were approximately 350 tons of high explosives missing from Al Qaqaa in Iraq. And they informed the IAEA because these munitions were subject to IAEA monitoring, because they were considered dual-use materials. And the International Atomic Energy Agency informed the United States mission in Vienna on October 15th about these -- this cache of explosives that was missing because of some looting that went on in Iraq toward the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom, or during and toward the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Q When did the President find out?

MR. McCLELLAN: That's why I said, we were informed on October 15th. Condi Rice was informed days after that. This is all in the last, what, 10 days now.

Q She was informed days after October 15th?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, and she informed the President. And the first priority, from our standpoint, was to make sure that this wasn't a nuclear proliferation risk, which it is not. These are conventional high explosives that we are talking about. And the President wants to make sure that we get to the bottom of this. Now, the Pentagon, upon learning of this, directed the multinational forces and the Iraqi survey group to look into this matter, and that's what they are currently doing.

Now, if you go back and look at the Duelfer report that recently has come out, according to the Duelfer report, as of mid-September, more than 243,000 tons of munitions have been destroyed since Operation Iraqi Freedom. Coalition forces have cleared and reviewed a total of 10,033 caches of munitions; another nearly 163,000 tons of munitions have been secured and are on line to be destroyed. That puts this all -- that puts this all in context.

Q Prior to the 10th, and the notification by the interim government, whose responsibility was it to keep track of these munitions, the IAEA or the multinational force in Iraq?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think you need to look at the time. I think the Department of Defense can probably answer a lot of these questions for you. But that's why I pointed out what we did to -- literally, there were munitions caches spread throughout Iraq at the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom. That's why I pointed out the large volume of munitions that have already been destroyed and the large volume that are on-line to be destroyed. The sites now are the responsibility of the Iraqi government to secure.

Q But after Iraqi Freedom, there were those caches all around, wasn't the multinational force -- who was responsible for keeping track --

MR. McCLELLAN: At the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom there were a number of priorities. It was a priority to make sure that the oil fields were secure, so that there wasn't massive destruction of the oil fields, which we thought would occur. It was a priority to get the reconstruction office up and running. It was a priority to secure the various ministries, so that we could get those ministries working on their priorities, whether it was --

Q So it was the multinational force's responsibility --

MR. McCLELLAN: There were a number of -- well, the coalition forces, there were a number of priorities at the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom. And munitions, as I said, were literally spread throughout the country. And we have gone in and destroyed, as I pointed out, more than 243,000 tons --

Q Was it the coalition's responsibility to take care of that --

Q This morning, in Senator Kerry's remarks, he calls this one of the greatest blunders in the Iraq mission and this presidency. How do you respond to that?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Senator Kerry has a strategy of protest and retreat for Iraq. It is essential that we succeed in Iraq, because Iraq is critical to winning the war on terrorism. The President will talk in his remarks today about how the terrorists understand how high the stakes are in Iraq. They are doing everything they can to try to disrupt the progress we are making toward free elections in Iraq. And this is a critical difference in how the two candidates view the war on terrorism. Senator Kerry has a strategy for retreat and defeat in Iraq. The President has a strategy for success in Iraq. We are making important progress. And as I pointed out, the first priority, when it came to these munitions, was to make sure that there was not a nuclear proliferation risk. There is not a nuclear proliferation risk. We're talking about conventional explosives, when we talk about these -- and that's why I pointed out the more than 243,000 munitions that have already been destroyed, and nearly 163,000 munitions that are in the process or are awaiting to be destroyed now. So this, as I said, this was pointed out by the Iraqi Interim Government to the IAEA, and then we were informed about it just in recent days.

Q Scott, did we just have enough troops in Iraq to guard and protect these kind of caches?

MR. McCLELLAN: See, that's -- now you just hit on what I just said a second ago, that the sites now are really -- my understanding, they're the responsibility of the Iraqi forces. And I disagree with the way you stated your question, because one of the lessons we've learned of history is that it's important to listen to the commanders on the ground and our military leaders when it comes to troop levels. And that's what this President has always done. And they've said that we have the troop levels we need to complete the mission and succeed in Iraq.

Q But you're saying this is the responsibility of the Iraqi forces. But this was our responsibility until just recently, isn't that right? Weren't these -- there is some U.S. culpability, as far as --

MR. McCLELLAN: You're trying -- I think you're taking this out of context of what was going on. This was reported missing after -- when the interim government informed that these munitions went missing some time after April 9th of 2003, remember, that was when we were still involved in major military action at that point. And there were a number of important priorities at that point. There were munitions, munition caches spread throughout Iraq. There were -- there was a concern that there would be massive refugees fleeing the country. There is concern about the devastation that could occur to the oil fields. There was concern about starvation that could happen for the Iraqi people.

So -- and obviously there is an effort to go and secure these sites. The Department of Defense can talk to you about -- because they did go in and look at this site and look to see whether or not there were weapons of mass destruction there. So you need to talk to Department of Defense, because I think that would clarify that for you and set that record straight.

Q You said Condi Rice told the President days after October 15th. Do you know when exactly he found out about --

MR. McCLELLAN: No. It was in one of his briefings, morning briefings.

Q After --

MR. McCLELLAN: This is really in the last 10 days, Deb.

Q Go through the tick-tock one more time. Allawi tells the IAEA about it October 10th and then --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the Iraqi government told the International Atomic Energy Agency on October 10th that these munitions or these high explosives were missing, because of looting that occurred sometime after April 9th, 2003. And these were subject to -- some of these were subject to agency monitoring, and that's why they informed the IAEA.

Q But, Scott --

Q Who told the White House? I mean, did somebody tell the U.S. embassy in Baghdad and they told the White House?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, no, no. The IAEA informed the U.S. mission in Vienna first. And then -- and then, as I said, Condi was informed days after that and she informed the President.

Q Are U.S. troops under any kind of higher alert because there's enough munitions for like 50 car bombs? Is there, like, any kind of alert going on for them? Are they on any kind of higher standard?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think you need to look at what we have done in terms of destroying munitions. As I point out, we've destroyed more than 243,000 munitions, we've secured another nearly 163,000 that will be destroyed.

Q I'm sorry -- these are going to be used against them --

MR. McCLELLAN: And then, so if you look at all those explosives there -- and now the DOD -- now that we've been informed about this, the Pentagon directed multinational forces and the Iraq Survey Group to look into this matter and do a comprehensive assessment of what happened to these munitions. So that's what's happening right now.

Q On the tick-tock, do you know if the missing munitions, if they were looted before or after the handover June 30th? Was this -- happened when the coalition was in control or when the Allawi government --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, no. First of all, I said that they reported that it went missing sometime after April 9th, 2003. Remember, early on -- during and at the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom, there was some looting. Some of it was organized that was going on in the country. There were munitions caches spread throughout the country. And so -- but these are all issues that are being looked into by the multinational forces and the Iraq Survey Group.

Q But you don't know yet exactly what --

MR. McCLELLAN: You might want to direct that question to the Pentagon. My understanding is that it went missing sometime after April 9th, 2003. So it's looking more back to that period, that period of time.

Q Can you also talk about Romano Prodi, Romano Prodi's comments about Kerry's plan for Iraq and he's been endorsing the Kerry plan.

MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't seen his comments. I'll be glad to look at them. But I haven't seen the comments yet.

Q Scott, one last one on the tick-tock --

MR. McCLELLAN: The President will talk about the differences when it comes to our plans for Iraq today in his remarks.

Q One last one on the tick-tock. These notices from Iraq to IAEA to U.S. to Condi to President happened over days as opposed to hours. Was there just no sense of urgency that what they had discovered here was really an important --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, just -- no, I think that this has all happened in a -- just the last few days. We're talking about the last 10 days.

Q As opposed to hours. Right. But does that mean folks believed that this was not an urgent, serious matter?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, because the Pentagon became informed -- you can check with the Pentagon when they were informed about it and the coalition forces. Absolutely not.

Q This was an urgent matter, as far as U.S. government was concerned?

MR. McCLELLAN: It's something that's being looked into now. So I don't know how you can characterize it as not. I mean, it's something that the Pentagon, upon being informed about it, immediately directed the multinational forces and Iraq Survey Group to look into this matter, and that's what they're doing.

Q Is there any greater risk to U.S. troops because of these munitions?

MR. McCLELLAN: When there are munitions missing, it's -- and we learn about it, it's always a priority. And as I pointed out, that's why we've already destroyed more than 243,000 munitions and have another nearly 363,000 on line to be destroyed.

But, I mean, we don't know -- I mean, you're assuming things right now. We don't know what happened to these high explosives. That's what's being looked into. So you -- I would urge you not to speculate. We're looking into it to find out exactly what happened to them. And you're --

Q It could be their -- this is what they're using for -- they've been using for these bombs for a year now.

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, that's all that's -- that's what's being looked into. You might want to direct questions like these to the coalition forces and to the Pentagon, who is looking into it. I would not speculate about those matters.

All right, thanks.

END 9:13 P.M. MDT

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