White House Briefing w/ Dana Perino, 28 Jul 2008
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
July 28, 2008
1:05 P.M. EDT
White House Press Briefing by Dana Perino, July 28, 2008
MS. PERINO: Hello, everybody. A couple of things. The President is just finishing up a lunch right now with Prime Minister Gillani of Pakistan. They had a very good meeting -- I would describe it as a serious meeting -- one in which they spent most of the time talking about counterterrorism issues. The President reaffirmed his commitment to Pakistan for the aid that we provide. In addition, you will get a joint statement from the two leaders a little bit later this afternoon -- it's not quite ready yet.
But one thing I would point out is that the President offered $115 million over two years in food aid, and $42.5 million of that will be available over the next six to nine months. Details on that will be coming soon.
And then the President decided that they -- well, I should say they agreed that they would talk about the economy and economic issues facing Pakistan over lunch, which they are in right now.
Also in about 45 minutes you'll hear from OMB Director Nussle and Chairman Lazear, from the Council of Economic Advisors. They will hold a briefing on what is called Mid-Session Review. They'll give you the full briefing and they'll be able to answer all of your questions on the specifics of the new estimate. I know there's a lot of interest in the deficit numbers; I'm not able to talk about that here. But it is no secret that the deficit will worsen this year largely because of the bipartisan economic stimulus plan that was passed in February. Both parties agree that even with a larger deficit that that plan was needed in order for it to have an impact to help pull us out of the downturn that we've been in.
We believe these deficits are temporary and manageable if we keep spending in check, the tax burden low and the economy growing, and that's why the President has been clear that discretionary spending beyond reasonable levels he proposed will be met with a veto. So that's coming up in just 45 minutes.
Q Can you talk about what the discussion was like between the Prime Minister and the President about the missile strike today and others that have happened in recent weeks and months?
MS. PERINO: I'm not able to comment on that report that you're referring to on a strike today. I will tell you that overall in the meeting they talked mainly about counterterrorism after -- and especially what we can do to help provide training for their military. Prime Minister Gillani also talked about something we've talked about here, which is how do you help change the lifestyle of people in the region so that they have a hopeful future, rather than one based on terrorism.
They have complex issues on the border there, especially when they have refugees -- about 3 million refugees from Afghanistan living in the border area. The President pledged support for that, but when it comes to that specific report I'm not able to comment.
Q Well, I'm asking, actually, a broader question. Did the Prime Minister then not bring up at all the issue of missile strikes in the border area?
MS. PERINO: That's just not something I would be able to talk about from here.
Q You mean you're not talking about the missile strike details itself, or whether --
MS. PERINO: Or anything at all. I'm not going to be able -- I'm not going to talk about it at all. I would just say broadly the way I could answer the question is that they did speak -- spent most of the time talking about counterterrorism issues. And I would point back to what the Prime Minister said, which is that the Pakistanis recognize that this is their war, too, and that their people are targeted just as much as freedom-loving people here in the United States and elsewhere around the world. But when it comes to specific tactics, I would not be able to talk about it from here.
Q So the reports about al-Masri, you can say nothing about that? Did they get al-Masri?
MS. PERINO: I am not able to comment.
Q The push-back -- was there any push-back from the Prime Minister about the notion that Pakistan is not doing enough?
MS. PERINO: I think when it comes to counterterrorism President Bush feels that all of us need to be doing more. And the Prime Minister talked about some of the efforts that they've been working on, especially in terms of coordination with our military and training that we have provided. We just announced last week that we've worked towards resolving the F16 repair and maintenance issue. And so they spent time talking about that, and I think that they agreed and reaffirmed this is a war that we need to be fighting together. So they talked about it more in broader terms, rather than operational details.
Q Can you characterize the relationship between President Bush and the Prime Minister, and President Bush and President Musharraf?
MS. PERINO: Sure. I think that this President -- President Bush got to know President Musharraf very well over a period of many years, and they went through some pretty rough times together and established a good friendship. The President has started establishing a good relationship with this Prime Minister, as well, having first met him on May 26th in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, and then again today. And I'm sure that if they have a -- I shouldn't say "I'm sure" -- if they had a chance to meet again before the end of this President's term -- he thinks he will, but -- I think they would meet.
President Bush believes and reaffirmed today with this Prime Minister that the relationship between the United States and Pakistan is critically important, and it's one based on democratic values. Prime Minister Gillani did thank President Bush for their democratic elections. So they -- there's a broad base of friendship there that is a foundation for moving forward. And President Bush did say that whoever the next President is of the United States, that he believes that the good relationship will continue, if we can continue working together, especially on issues of counterterrorism.
Their economy is something that we also remain concerned about, and President Bush said that they would be talking about a little bit later today. And of course when it comes to the humanitarian condition, President Bush is concerned about people who are not able to afford food, and that's why we provide -- are going to provide the $115 million in food aid.
Q So -- one more following -- when you -- the relationship is currently characterized between the United States and Pakistan as being in a tense -- it's a tense time for relations between the two countries. Do you think that's an overstatement -- that it's actually not that tense? And if you look at the way these two guys got along today, it's -- everything is fine?
MS. PERINO: I wouldn't -- it's tense in that we are working together to try to fight counterterrorism, but I think that we are much more on the same page than some people would like to paint -- the picture that they would like to paint. I think that from what I witnessed today between the Prime Minister and the President, both in this meeting and the one in Sharm el Sheikh, there is a commitment on behalf of the Pakistanis that they need to be able to do more. But they have a complex situation and they're trying to do a lot of different things at once, focusing primarily on helping prevent terrorists from establishing a safe haven in that area; but also worried about their people and how they're going to be -- improve their economic conditions by improving the job situation and health care and education.
So I would say -- I would say that we have a good relationship, but it is serious times and that the President believes that we all need to do more, especially when it comes to counterterrorism.
Q Dana, let me get an understanding of what you can't talk about as regards the FATA. Is it the particular missile strike that we're reporting on? Or is it Pakistan's efforts in the FATA?
MS. PERINO: I don't comment on any reported missile strikes. So that's what I'm not commenting on.
Q Okay. The question then, I guess, is the President made clear that the deal that Musharraf had arranged with the tribal leaders there was unacceptable. I guess the question we have now is whether or not the U.S. and Pakistan are working effectively now in the tribal areas to counter terrorism there and to keep the Afghan border secure? And how much of the conversation the President and the Prime Minister had today dealt with that?
MS. PERINO: As to the first part of your question -- let me take that first --
Q That the U.S. and Pakistan are working effectively in the tribal area.
MS. PERINO: The first part of your question was actually in terms of the effort by President Musharraf to try to establish some relations with the tribal leaders up there in the FATA region.
Q But as the President made clear, the deal that Musharraf struck with the tribal leaders there was unacceptable.
MS. PERINO: Well, but so did they. I think the Pakistanis recognized that it wasn't successful either and so they walked it back.
Now this new government thought that they would try a variation on that theme and they are working to see if there is something that they can do to try to improve the livelihood, the conditions of the tribal leaders. One of the things that those people are going to have to have is security. They need to be able to feel that their government is going to be able to take care of them, and not the militants and the warlords that are reigning in some areas -- in that very difficult terrain up on the border region.
So the President thinks that yes we are working effectively together, but there is more to be done. Everybody can always improve on coordination, and that includes sharing of intelligence and also helping improve their military capabilities -- that is another aspect of the conversation that they had today in the Oval.
Q The President made a point of twice emphasizing respect for Pakistan's sovereignty. Does that formally now preclude any policy that would see U.S. or allied troops go in there after the people in the tribal areas coming across into Afghanistan?
MS. PERINO: I think it means that we believe that working together with the Pakistanis is the best way to go after terrorists. And we all need to do more and we need to do it more aggressively; and we need to do it with more resources and we need to do it with the cooperation of our NATO allies and the Afghan government. So there's a lot of -- there's a lot coming together there.
If you're asking me in terms of does President Bush think that no option would be off the table in the future if there was some sort of attack -- it's a hypothetical question that I wouldn't be able to answer here.
Q Did they discuss prospects for U.S. forces going into Pakistan at any time to go after these --
MS. PERINO: Keep that in that same category in terms of operations of things that I would not talk about from here.
Q You also said that they discussed a policy aimed at preventing terrorists from establishing a safe haven. Isn't the fact that Osama bin Laden is strongly believed to be there by U.S. intelligence and that others are there -- don't they already have safe haven?
MS. PERINO: Well, we believe that they are severely hampered and that much of the leadership has been captured or killed or brought to justice in some way. And that is due to the efforts of the Pakistanis working with us on counterterrorism efforts. That's exactly what it's for.
They are hampered in their ability to move around, and that's one of the things that we've been able to do. But we still have to continue to fight and continue the search, and if we knew where he was, we would bring him to justice today.
Q But don't they have safe haven, effectively have safe haven there anyway?
MS. PERINO: Arguably I think in some parts you could say that they're -- have established safe haven, but not in the entire region, not in that entire area. And that's why the efforts to press the Pakistanis to continue to do more and offer them help to be able to do it is something that reigned supreme in the meeting today.
Q In 2004, President Bush pledged to cut the deficit in half by 2009. Why has he not been able to achieve that?
MS. PERINO: Well, there's been -- you know, there's a briefing in 45 minutes by your economic experts that will be on camera and on the record. I'm just going to refer you to them and let them answer all those questions.
Q Dana, as you know, Brian Williams sat down with President Ahmadinejad earlier today, and Ahmadinejad made what many are interpreting as conciliatory comments, saying that he's willing to try to seek common ground with the Solana channel in Geneva; that if the United States attitude would change, it would be -- the response by the Iranian people would be a positive one. What's the response from the administration? Do you see these as sort of a change and conciliatory -- new conciliatory attitude?
MS. PERINO: I think we have to approach this with a big grain of salt. President Ahmadinejad said one thing to the Iranian people on Saturday and another thing to an American journalist on Monday. So I think that all of us need to consider this with a healthy dose of skepticism. There is a new approach, one that we offered, one that the international community came together on and said, we do not believe that Iran should be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon. We have put together an incentives package with the P5-plus-1, and it calls for Iran to suspend uranium enrichment. That's all they have to do is suspend and then this incentives package could move forward and so could negotiations. And then the Iranian people could move forward to not be so isolated.
And we would hope that they would respond in a positive way. And that's exactly why we went to the meeting 10 days ago, when Under Secretary Burns attended to say, we, as part of the P5-plus-1, are serious about this offer. And the Iranians said to everybody, well, we're going to come and we're going to have a response. And they came and they just continued to play games. And Secretary Rice said that that actually reinvigorated our diplomatic process.
So we'll see what he comes back with in Geneva, but I think given that he says one thing on Saturday and another thing to an American journalist on Monday, just requires a lot of skepticism.
Q And if he doesn't come back in Geneva and suspends enrichment activities, is that, the incentives package off the table? Is that sort of a limited-time offer?
MS. PERINO: Well, I won't speak for the diplomats. I think that the political directors would have to talk about that. But I do know that what -- that could -- what Iran could face if they don't respond favorably is additional sanctions. And it doesn't sound from reading the interview that that's what he wants, but yet again I think maybe we should think about what he -- look towards what he says tomorrow. And if it's something different from what he said today and then yet again on Saturday, I think that anybody who would be in our position or any of our allies' position would have to look at this and think that it's one that requires skepticism.
Q And without suspension, does the Geneva channel close?
MS. PERINO: I wouldn't say that. Our determination is to solve this diplomatically, and that is why we have worked so hard to build a multilateral process, one in which we can put forward an incentives package, but also move forward on sanctions in case they're needed. So we have a multi-pronged approach and it's so far held together, and in fact was reinvigorated when the Iranians decided to thwart the international community and walk away from the table last week.
Q Dana, just to go back to the President's meeting with Prime Minister Gillani -- the Prime Minister, himself, said that he had assured the President of Pakistan's commitment to fighting extremists and terrorists. Did he -- did Prime Minister Gillani in fact tell the President that that would extend to stepping up -- that the military action against al Qaeda and Taliban in the border areas with Afghanistan? Because the crux of the tensions or differences between -- with the U.S. have been over maybe Pakistan's use of dialogue, using tribal leaders as intermediaries.
MS. PERINO: Certainly he didn't rule it out, in terms of adding more from the military point of view. And he did say that it was -- his singular focus was to try to deal with this counterterrorism issue. I think that when he talks about the war on terror -- when it's from his perspective -- he doesn't think that this is a war on terror just being waged against the United States. And his good friend, Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, was killed by terrorists, so they have incentive and every reason in the world to try to go after them as well.
And he also said that average citizens in Pakistan are sick of the violence; they're tired of it, they want it to end. And he has committed his government to try to help make that happen and he asked the President for some continued assistance and the President gladly gave it.
Q I know we're getting specific numbers coming up in the 1:45 p.m. briefing, but I'm just wondering generally if you could just speak to why should Americans see the President's 2004 pledge as something other than an unfulfilled promise?
MS. PERINO: Brianna, we have talked about this before; I would point you back to all the things we have said, especially since this budget came out this year. We have worked very hard to try to keep spending in check. I don't have those specific numbers in front of me -- something like discretionary spending that's been held below inflation. President Bush has tried to hold the line across the board when it comes to this Congress trying to raise taxes on the American people, or raise spending unnecessarily. He hasn't been afraid to veto bills.
But we also headed into an economic downturn. And we recognize that it would be very important to try to help save this economy, and to do so by passing a bipartisan stimulus package. That was the right and prudent thing to do. If we hadn't done that I don't know where the economy would be right now. I couldn't say, I'm not a prognosticator, but these gentlemen will be able to tell you in about 40 minutes.
Q Just a quick question on the housing bill. When do you expect the President to sign that? And why no public ceremony? Is the President expressing any kind of displeasure with the bill?
MS. PERINO: We want to get it signed as quickly as possible, but I think the person you need to ask for when we're going to get the bill is Speaker Pelosi's office. They send --
MS. PERINO: Look, we're going to try to get it done as quickly as possible. The President's schedule is packed, and we don't have a signing ceremony for every bill. So we'll sign it and get it into law.
Q What about that $4 billion for the Community Development Block Grants? The President threatened to veto on that basis. He's now accepting that. Is he angry at all? Is he dissatisfied with the way it is?
MS. PERINO: I think we answered all those questions last week. We talked about our reservations for the bill. But the President lifted his veto; it passed on Saturday and he's going to sign it.
Steven -- got answered? Mark.
Q Dana, Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. The Prime Minister -- Israeli Prime Minister said today he had told the parliamentary committee that he does not see an agreement happening this year and that basically Jerusalem is the problem. There's no chance of an agreement on Jerusalem. Are you disappointed that basically that's -- between that and the Palestinians saying the same thing, that's kind of the end of the President's hope --
MS. PERINO: No, I don't think so. I believe that Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas have every intention of trying to work together and seize this opportunity to try to come together. But there are a lot of complications, one of them being the terrorist attacks on the Israelis coming from the Palestinians. And obviously the Palestinians having a lot of issues to deal with, including announcements of new settlements, that certainly don't help the process. It undermines confidence across the board.
I'm not exactly sure the context of what Prime Minister Olmert said. We have always thought that we would be able to only define a state by the end of the year. Part of that would be the issue of Jerusalem, that the parties are going to have to work out.
Let's let it play out a little bit longer. Secretary Rice has announced that she'll be going to the region soon, and usually when she gets there, there's a little bit of activity beforehand and more voluble pronouncements about what may or may not be able to happen. And then when she's there, they seem to be able to keep moving forward and -- not necessarily have breakthroughs, but keep the process moving along.
Q But both sides are basically saying that they don't think they can get it done.
MS. PERINO: They've said that before, Mark. They've said it before and they've been able to keep things on track. But they also -- they have a lot of issues to deal with. It's not just the international community that's interested in this, but they've got domestic politics that play into this, as well, and they have constituents. And surely they get frustrated at times, and I'm sure there are many times when they just want to throw up their hands and walk away, but a tribute to these leaders is that they've been able to keep at it. Their negotiators keep meeting and the President and Secretary Rice have been able to keep pushing them along. So I think let's let the Secretary have her trip there and see what can come out of it.
Q Is the President still hoping to get there before the end of the year?
MS. PERINO: Not necessarily, but we'll have to see, because it could be subject to change.
Q Dana --
MS. PERINO: I'm going to go to Ann.
Q Why do you assign the blame for the large deficit to the stimulus package and not in some part to the war in Iraq? Isn't that a larger share of the --
MS. PERINO: Because we have had in our country since after 9/11 a huge amount of security costs that have been brought on our country. It's not just the war in Iraq. We have a war in Afghanistan and also a new Department of Homeland Security, and various measures that we're trying to take to prevent against any type of terrorist attack, one that would be -- explosive devices or biological or chemical or nuclear. We make no -- we make no apologies for the money we have spent to protect the people of this country.
And that is why we have on this discretionary side of the ledger, want to reduce how much money we were committing taxpayers to pay for. For example, we don't think that increasing spending over inflation, over the rate of inflation every year is a good idea, so the President has brought that down.
And I think what you'll see today is there is actually some numbers that are helpful. And if we can keep -- actually, I should say numbers that are hopeful. And if we can keep Congress from increasing taxes, or increasing spending unnecessarily, then we will be able to meet the President's goal, reducing the deficit in half by 2012.
Q But doesn't it cost -- the military cost of Afghanistan and Iraq share equal billing with the stimulus package for accounting, for $482 billion deficit?
MS. PERINO: I am going to let Director Nussle and Chairman Lazear answer specific questions, because they'll have the breakout. But I think there is lots of different issues that go into the cost, how much -- the cost of our deficit.
And one thing that Americans should get real serious about is entitlement spending, because that's eating up more and more parts of the budget, and it's going to start creeping into that discretionary spending and we'll all have less to spend on other things, or to bring down the deficit.
Q Thank you.
END 1:26 P.M. EDT