White House Briefing w/ Scott Stanzel, 18 Jul 2008
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
Law Aldea, Building A
July 18, 2008
9:00 A.M. MST
White House Press Gaggle: Deputy press secretary Scott Stanzel briefs reporters in Tucson, Arizona
MR. STANZEL: Good morning, everyone. I'll go ahead and read out the President's schedule and take your questions. This morning, at 7:55 a.m., the President recorded the radio address. The topic of the President's radio address this week is the economy, energy and housing.
And while, you heard the President say earlier this week, economic growth in the first quarter of this year was slower than we would have liked, it was growth, nonetheless. The President also talked in his radio address about lifting the executive branch prohibition on offshore exploration for energy. And the administration has worked to expand the use of alternative fuels and raise fuel efficiency standards, as well as investing in new advanced battery and plug-in hybrid and hydrogen fuel cell technology.
And the President, also in the radio address, will touch upon the steps announced this week to help increase confidence in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which play a central role in our housing finance system. And the President will urge Congress to pass a plan to strengthen these enterprises.
At 8:55 a.m., currently going on right now, the President began participation in the Tim Bee for Congress and Arizona Trust reception. At 2:45 p.m. this afternoon, the President will make a statement to the pool in support of Pete Olson for Congress. That will be upon arrival in Houston, Texas. And at 4:00 p.m., the President will attend a Olson for Congress and Texas Victory Committee reception. And then we continue on to Waco and Crawford overnight.
With that, I'll take your questions.
QUESTION: Just a quick one. When they say Texas Victory Committee, that's Texas Republican Party?
MR. STANZEL: Yes.
Q: Those are -- those other state candidates?
MR. STANZEL: Yes.
Q: Scott, the indictment in Israel against this plot -- alleged plot against the President, was the landing zone that was mentioned in that indictment the actual landing zone the President used in Jerusalem?
MR. STANZEL: I'm not going to be at liberty to discuss the President's security, so I'd refer you to the U.S. Secret Service for any questions about that matter.
Q: On the statement about Maliki, the conversation with Maliki and agreement to have a time -- some sort of a timetable, is this not giving into -- well, basically doing what the Democrats have been asking for?
MR. STANZEL: The -- no. And as the statement says, we have reached a point in Iraq where we can have these discussions about continuing to transition more control of the security situation to the Iraqi forces. As you probably know, 10 of 18 provinces have been turned over to Iraqi control. They're making great progress from a security front; they're making progress on the political and economic fronts, as well. But these are aspirational goals, not arbitrary time lines based on political expediency. So we want to get to a point where we have sustainable security in the country, and our forces are able to come home and transition into a role there of more overwatch and training.
Q: Scott, to follow up on that, two questions. Can you define for us a little bit what the aspirational goal might be or what it might look like in an agreement? I mean, is it a date? Is it a tentative time frame? I mean, what does it mean to have a horizon? Secondly, why did we not hear about this statement yesterday? I assume the phone call happened before he left Washington, so why was there a day delay essentially in that? And then, last, does this mean that we're close to an agreement? It doesn't quite say that there's an agreement, though I assume that the two leaders signing off, it's mostly about the details at this point.
MR. STANZEL: I guess maybe in reverse order -- we still have the end of the month as a goal for reaching this agreement. As the statement notes, in November, the two leaders came together on a declaration of principles, and since that time we've been working on these issues and working on a strategic framework agreement where security issues, among other things, are addressed.
It was a decision by the two countries to talk about that publicly today, based on the productive conversation which occurred yesterday. But in terms of how exactly that looks, I think it's best left to the two parties and the State Department and Ambassador Crocker to discuss those things at a time that they see appropriate.
Q: Why was it the decision to do it today? I mean, you said there was a decision by the two parties to talk about it today. Why not after the phone call, after this --
MR. STANZEL: Well, as you can probably imagine, a lot more conversations -- after the two leaders speak, there are opportunities for their teams to continue to talk about how we can advance this process and how we can move it forward, and how we both saw that conversation and its fruitfulness, and that's why they -- we decided to go forward with the statement today. And there's a similar statement from -- out of the folks in Iraq today, as well.
Q: Is it now a foregone conclusion that this will be a shorter-term agreement, whatever its parameters, than was originally envisioned? I mean, obviously originally it was talked about full status of forces agreement, that I think the Iraqis have made quite clear they want something shorter-term. Is that now the assumption?
MR. STANZEL: I guess I wouldn't put any parameters on it. Obviously we're still very much engaged in those conversations with Iraqis. We want -- I think we share the same goals, and that is for American forces to be able to come home and for the Iraqis to continue to take greater control over all matters in their country.
Obviously, with the U.N. mandate running out at the end of this year, it's important that we have an agreement where our troops can work and perform their functions in the country. But in terms of how the final agreement may look, I'm not going to put a -- I'm not going to put parameters on that. But those are conversations that are ongoing.
Q: And can you elaborate on Steve's question a little bit more about the aspirational goal? What -- how do we describe that? I mean, it says a "general time horizon." That's not very specific at all. Is it meaningless, or is it for real?
MR. STANZEL: Well, it's based on conditions on the ground. But we are making greater and greater progress in the country, and it provides us the opportunity to have discussions about those aspirational goals; provides us an opportunity to talk further about when the transfer of security responsibility might occur in those other eight provinces, as an example. But I think we all have the same goal here, which I've indicated, and we want to move forward with an agreement that makes sense for the Iraqi people and for the United States.
Q: Scott, do you think it reflects a concession on the part of the White House to even discuss some sort of timetable, even an aspirational one?
MR. STANZEL: Does it what?
Q: Does it represent a concession on the part of the administration?
MR. STANZEL: These are -- of course, the President has always believed that we don't want American troops in Iraq one day longer than they're needed. So reaching a point where we can have fruitful discussions with leaders in Iraq about these aspirational goals is just where we want to be. And we're there, quite frankly, because of the difficult decision that the President made to surge troops into the country to take greater control of the security situation.
So, unfortunately, it sounds like the President is wrapping up now, so we can continue this discussion on the plane, if you all want. Thanks.
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Q: Scott, I think both the presidential candidates have in one way or another called for an increase in U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Does this -- does a move towards a drawdown in -- towards more possible drawdowns in Iraq increase that likelihood? Do you -- does the President have any plans before he leaves office to further increase U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan?
MR. STANZEL: Well, as you heard the President talk about earlier this week, the -- we have -- he did make a commitment to send in more than 3,000 additional Marines into Afghanistan, and talked about our willingness to expand that in 2009. And obviously NATO has had some additional commitments, as well.
But what we're seeing in Afghanistan is a very determined enemy that is switching its tactics to more attacks on the civilian population. This is the Taliban, who does not want to see, you know, young girls going to school, and they're a very determined enemy. So the most important part, in terms of additional resources, is how they are going to be used and where they are going to go. But the President has advocated making sure that we meet our commitments there, as does NATO.
Q: Saeb Erekat said yesterday that there will be tri-party talks in Washington at the end of this month. Does that mean that there's some progress --
MR. STANZEL: Who said that?
Q: Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian negotiator.
MR. STANZEL: Okay. I would refer you to the State Department on that. I don't have any information on that.
Q: Back to the time line again. One of the main arguments against any sort of timetable in past years has been that it would give insurgents, whether al Qaeda or whomever, militias, whoever, a time to -- it would give them too much information, essentially. It would allow them to plan for their own attacks and perhaps plan a lull before attacking the Iraqis right when they take over. How is that not still applicable? Isn't that still a problem any time you're talking about even a general time horizon?
MR. STANZEL: I think it's important to remember that the discussions about time line issues previously were from Democrats in Congress who wanted to arbitrarily retreat from Iraq without consideration of conditions on the ground. All of the discussions that we have always had have been based on conditions on the ground and making progress in the country, and we are doing just that.
We are making progress on the security situation. The number of attacks has dropped dramatically in recent months. And that puts us in the position of working with the Iraqis, who are taking greater control and having greater success in addressing the security situation in their own country, that we can have these discussions. But it's important to note that those decisions will always be made based on conditions on the ground.
Q: Scott, it's not just the Democrats, though, who have been talking about timetables. I mean, the Iraqis now -- I mean, Maliki himself says he wants some sort of commitment that there's going to be an end of the U.S. presence there.
MR. STANZEL: And your question is?
Q: That's all. I mean, is this a reflection also -- I guess it's another version of the question I asked earlier -- is this a reflection of the Iraqi needs and demands --
MR. STANZEL: This is a -- it's a reflection of the Iraqis becoming more and more capable of addressing the security situation in their country. We want American troops to be able to come home, transition, as the Baker-Hamilton report prescribed, to an overwatch and training situation. And working with the Iraqis, they have -- obviously they have a great desire to have complete and total control over everything that is going on in their country -- from security to economic, to political -- and they have made enormous strides in all of those areas in the last year-and-a-half.
Q: Okay, thanks.
END 9:17 A.M. MST