White House Briefing w/ Dana Perino, 14 Aug 2008
The White House
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
August 14, 2008
3:54 P.M. EDT
White House Press Briefing by Dana Perino, August 14, 2008
MS. PERINO: Good afternoon. I know it's very strange to be briefing this late, but it was due to the President's schedule. He had a very good day at the CIA with two briefings and then a chance to meet with many members of the CIA, many of the employees, many of the young employees. He spent about a little over two hours in the cafeteria shaking hands, signing autographs, talking with the employees there. And then he also, while he had lunch, sat with a table of -- a long table filled with employees who had just joined in the last four to five years -- so, since he's been President. So he very much enjoyed that.
Before I take questions, I just want to highlight for you that yesterday, the government of Iraq and the United Nations signed the Assistance Strategy for Iraq, which is a significant and welcome step forward that outlines measures that the U.N. is going to take to continue to assist Iraq's reconstruction, development and humanitarian needs. It's another sign of the Iraqi commitment to improving its security gains and to take an advantage of those security gains to improve its economic and political situations.
And then the U.N.'s renewed commitment in Iraq we believe is a clear signal to the world that the progress on the ground in Iraq is very real.
And with that, I'll take questions.
Q Dana, two questions on Georgia. The Georgian Prime Minister says a convoy of Russian tanks and other vehicles are moving deeper into Georgia. Are you seeing any signs that the President's admonitions for a cease-fire are having any effect at all?
MS. PERINO: Again, as I cautioned this morning, I think the first reports have to be checked out. And that is what we are continually doing, both here and at other places around the federal government. We take those reports seriously and we'll continue to look at them.
Largely, the violence has died down over the last 24 hours, and what we want to see is a return to the status quo ante of August 6th so that both Georgians and Russians would go back to where they were at that time so that we can continue to work this out diplomatically.
Q Do you -- to the degree that decrease in violence is happening, do you attribute that at all to the U.S. position?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that it was not just the U.S. position; it was the U.S. joined by its international allies telling Russia and Georgia that this was our position. Georgia immediately agreed two days before Russia did to a cease-fire. But Russia agreed to the six-point plan that President Sarkozy put forward on behalf of the unified message of the international community. And we expect them to live up to those obligations.
Go ahead, Toby.
Q What was the assessment that President Bush was given at the CIA in terms of the outlook for Russia pulling out its troops, which they have not done so far?
MS. PERINO: Well, given that he had a closed and secret briefing at the CIA I will decline to comment on it specifically. What I will say is just repeat what I said a moment ago, which is that over the past 24 hours we've seen that the violence has died down. That's, first and foremost, our priority, to make sure that innocent life can be protected. Next we need to see Russian -- the Russian military move back to where it was before August 6th.
And this is an issue that is going to be taken up in the U.N. Security Council. Georgia, over the past several months, has put forward positions and ideas for how to help solve this, and we expect it to be solved diplomatically.
Go ahead, Elaine. Okay, I'll go here, and then I'll come back to you.
Q Secretary Gates said he believes Russia does need to face some consequences for its actions. Is it still a matter of the administration trying to formulate the appropriate response, or is there still a small window of opportunity left for the Russians to do the right thing immediately and avoid significant consequences?
MS. PERINO: Well, first and foremost, they need to live up to the obligations that they agreed to in that six-point agreement that President Sarkozy took on behalf of the international community. So that's the first step.
Q But is it a foregone conclusion that they will face consequences?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that they have shown the world that their motivations can be questioned when it comes to the region. And things that they have said in the past they did not live up to. And so there are consequences for that because there's a reputation to be managed on behalf of Russia. And perhaps they don't care. But we have worked for years to try to work with the Russians to help bring them into a modernized society, to help with economic reforms, and that was the right thing to do. We have a lot of areas where we cooperate on issues, but this is very serious. We have a sovereign, democratic country that was invaded by Russia. And as Secretary Rice said yesterday, this is not 1968 and there are consequences for those actions.
But what I will tell you is that I would not expect anything immediate in terms of announcements regarding any types of punishments. I think what we want to do right now is to make sure that we can cement the cease-fire and protect innocent life, first and foremost.
Secretary Rice will be on the ground in Georgia -- if she's not there already, she'll be there soon. And then when she comes back to Crawford tomorrow night she'll be able to talk to the President, brief the national security team on Saturday morning, and we should have more for you then.
Q Dana, what is the status of a missile defense deal with Poland? What's the latest on that?
MS. PERINO: I'm pleased to announce that negotiations are complete and that we have initialed an agreement. It will be reviewed, and then we expect a final signing agreement to take place. We certainly welcome the development. We believe that missile defense is a substantial contribution to NATO's collective security. And so we're pleased with the development.
Q Vladimir Putin, as you know, has been very skeptical of the U.S. intentions with this missile defense system. How does this not serve to escalate tensions further between Moscow and Washington?
MS. PERINO: We've been very clear with the Russians; President Bush has spoken to Prime Minister Putin when he was President and now as Prime Minister. He's spoken to President Medvedev. And at all levels of government, including with Secretary Rice and Secretary Gates talking to their counterparts and establishing a dialogue -- you know that they've traveled there several times to Russia to try to establish a way that we could cooperate and be partners in missile defense.
In no way is the President's plan for missile defense aimed at Russia. In fact, it's just not even logically possible for it to be aimed at Russia, given how Russia could overwhelm it. The purpose of missile defense is to protect our European allies from any rogue threats, such as a missile from Iran.
Q So for people who may be looking at this saying the timing seems awfully curious.
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that it would be incumbent upon people who have been following this issue and covering this issue as journalists to say that we have been nearing an agreement with Poland for quite some time. In fact, we recently finished one with the Czech Republic, and this one was moving along on parallel tracks; the Czech Republic one got finished just a little bit ahead.
Now, whether or not the actions of the past several days spurred on final action, I couldn't say. I'll refer you to John Rood over at the State Department who has been working on this, because he'll have more details on the negotiations. But the President is very pleased with this development.
Q Can I follow on that, Dana? Prime Minister Tusk said that the agreement included an additional guarantee of Poland's security, something beyond NATO membership. Is that true? Is that necessary?
MS. PERINO: Well, we -- I'm not exactly sure what he's talking about; I would refer you to John Rood. What I would remind you of is that President Bush has said that we recognize the need for the Polish armed services to be modernized and we have offered to help in that regard. That could be what he was referring to. But John Rood would have more for you on that.
Q In 2005, speaking in Tbilisi, the President said to a large crowd of Georgians that "the path of freedom you've chosen is not easy, one you will not have to travel alone." Did the President, in a sense, lead the Georgians on?
MS. PERINO: I completely reject the suggestion. Maybe you want to rephrase your question -- but lead them on to do what?
Q Well, lead them on to believe that they had more backing from the U.S. than --
MS. PERINO: Absolutely not. I think you should go back and look at what Secretary Rice had said -- what we said yesterday in a document that we released later last night that gave you a chronology of all that we've done in the past several days. But I think you need to go back -- yes, President Bush went to Georgia, first President to do so; first President to stand up and say, we support you, we are going to stand with you. And I was there for that event, and I remember it being very emotional and all of us being very proud of these people who had stood up to tyranny and to establish a democracy with pure economic reforms. And they were on their way to being a prosperous, independent country until recently.
If you're talking about the provocations, this is a area that has been frozen in conflict since the early 1990s, since the breakup of the Soviet Union. Flare-ups like this have happened over the years. Almost every August there will be shots fired between South Ossetians and the Georgians. And this time, when it happened, the Russians responded with a disproportionate amount of force and went into sovereign Georgian territory and took action that is absolutely inconsistent with its international obligations. We in turn have stood by the Georgians, as have all the other countries that I've mentioned that are there in Europe and that are fighting for peace right now. So I reject the notion that -- the way you phrased your question.
Q But then perhaps if it's a foregone conclusion that every August this is going to happen, could there have been more that would have been done so that --
MS. PERINO: I would have you go back -- I mean, Secretary Rice has been meeting with President Saakashvili and then her counterparts in Russia, including President Putin and then President Medvedev -- we had a change in power in I think April or May -- and telling everybody that they need to work this out through the U.N. Security Council. Georgia had put forward plans. We had been cautioning them -- President Bush had done the same -- to not be provoked into action. But regardless of the shots being fired, this time Russia, whose intentions are still unclear, responded with a disproportionate amount of force and have killed many innocent civilians and displaced many innocent civilians, so much so that now we have to send in a humanitarian assistance package led by the Pentagon in order to help all of these people.
So we're going to be committed and remain committed to Georgia. We also have to consider what we're going to do in regards to its military and other reconstruction efforts, and all those things are on the table.
Q Dana, what can you tell us about Pakistan? There's reports coming out of -- everything rumored from Musharraf stepping down to a military coup and some movement there. What are you hearing?
MS. PERINO: We've heard the reports, and we continue to monitor it. We've always said that the issues of who would be in the leadership of Pakistan is going to be up to the Pakistanis. I don't have anything more for you, although we've seen reports, but they go back and forth.
Q But I mean in terms of trying to confirm some of the reports --
MS. PERINO: I'll see if there's anything I can do, but right now I think it's just pretty much a rumor mill that goes back and forth.
Q The fifth point of the cease-fire agreement allows the Russians to implement additional security measures, which is -- could mean almost anything. Do you think that President Sarkozy maybe made a mistake in allowing something so vague as this to be negotiated?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think I'll let Secretary Rice answer that question, given that she has been most recently in touch with them and been on the ground and will have a firsthand account for the President. So we'll update you as to that, but I'm not exactly sure what the definition of that is, so I couldn't answer it from here.
Go ahead, Jon.
Q Two things, Dana. One would just be the agreement with Poland -- does that include a permanent U.S. military base in Poland?
MS. PERINO: Not that I'm aware of, but John Rood would have more for you.
Q And going back to a briefing in Beijing, one of the NSC officials who briefed made a mention of President Bush, when he talked to Prime Minister Putin, upon learning that two SS-21 Russian missile launchers had moved into Georgian territory. Does this mean that there are ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads inside Georgia --
MS. PERINO: I was there for most of the briefings; I don't remember that. But we can -- I can go back and check on it. I don't remember anything that specific.
Q So you're not aware of --
MS. PERINO: I don't know, personally. I don't remember that. But we'll check on it.
Q Dana, in an op-ed this morning, the Georgian leader said only Western peacekeepers can end the war. What are your thoughts about that? And is there any chance or possibility, or not, that the U.S. would be able to send some peacekeepers in?
MS. PERINO: I don't know what the makeup of the international peacekeeping force would look like. I think that's something that's going to have to be decided in the days ahead. But I would point you to Secretary Gates's briefing today in which he said that we would offer assistance, but we would probably not have boots on the ground.
Q Why is that? Why not have boots on the ground?
MS. PERINO: I'd refer you to Secretary Gates in regards to that.
Q There is concern, and there has been concerns when the U.S. has been involved with other countries and the possibility of conflicts, that the U.S. military is too thin right now. If you don't have -- you can't put troops over in Afghanistan, how can you do other things?
MS. PERINO: President Bush is confident that if we needed to move troops anywhere that we would be able to do so.
Go ahead, Olivier.
Q Dana, you said it's not even logically possible for the Russians to be threatened by the missile defense that the United States wants to build in Eastern Europe. The Russians say they're not so much concerned about the interceptors as they are by the radar, which could be turned inward toward Russia, monitor communications, troop movements and the like. In this Polish agreement, are there any plans at all for Russian observers or technical teams or anything like that to come to Poland?
MS. PERINO: Not that I'm aware of. But I believe our offer, at least up until this most recent conflict -- and I don't know if anything has changed, because I haven't heard that it has -- but we have been working with the Russians to see if they could cooperate with us on the radar system itself, so that they would be a part of it. So I don't think that that argument holds much water, if the Russians are making it.
Q Would you check just to see if that's changed as a result of the conflict?
MS. PERINO: Yes. Yes, I don't know if we have an answer. I will check. It might be premature.
Q Thank you, Dana. Writing in the Financial Times yesterday, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov said in no uncertain terms that the stories raised by President Saakashvili about all capitals in the Caucasus now being under fire by Russia were ridiculous, and he pretty much flatly ruled out any other action in any other country. Do you have a comment on that?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that, as I was saying earlier, Russia's intentions are at question, and because of the actions of the past several days, they're going to have a lot to answer for. And so I think that for any capital that feels threatened, they probably have questions about that and they will want them answered. But our focus right now is to get the cease-fire cemented in Georgia.
Q May I ask a domestic question?
MS. PERINO: Yes.
Q All right. When you all were in Seoul, Scott emailed me back in response to some of the questions from Republican members of Congress who wanted the President to call Congress back in session to deal with energy legislation, and he said there are no plans to call Congress back into session. May I ask why?
MS. PERINO: Why -- one is that you call them back into session and then do they still do nothing, which has been their motto over the past several months. But we think that there is value in members of Congress going back to their districts and getting an earful from their constituents when it comes to energy policy in the United States. We expect there to be some sort of movement soon. And what we would call for specifically is for Congress to just bring up one of the 12 appropriations bills that they are required to do under the law, and that would be the Interior appropriations bill. And that is the one that would allow for the lifting of the moratorium on offshore drilling.
Q But you expect this won't take place until September and there will be no special session?
MS. PERINO: I don't think that even if they were to be able to come back -- even if the President were to call them back, I don't think that they would be able to get anything done before then anyway. So we think there is value in them hearing from their constituents.
Q One more. The President goes to Crawford tomorrow. Does that signal any lessening of the crisis?
MS. PERINO: No, I wouldn't say that. I think that the President wanted to stick around one more day today. He enjoyed his time at the CIA. He'd been in Asia; he wanted to catch up with his team who are here on the ground. He sent Secretary Rice to the region -- to France and then to Georgia. She's going to come back to the ranch, and he'll take all the capabilities and communication necessities that he needs with him.
Q Another domestic policy question.
MS. PERINO: Okay.
Q It's been reported that the administration is delaying penalizing any states that wanted to expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program. Is this in response to a GAO report that the administration overstepped its authority last --
MS. PERINO: I'm not aware of any such action, but I would refer you to the -- HHS for more.
Q Two quick questions. One, going back to Georgia, this incident took place when President was in China and talking with Mr. Putin. Where do the Chinese stand on this issue, on this conflict?
MS. PERINO: I don't know; you'd have to ask the Chinese.
Q And second, going back to as far as Pakistan is concerned, is the U.S. ready whatever outcome, because there are reports that General Musharraf may be stepping down, and the President has been briefed on the situation there?
MS. PERINO: The President is regularly briefed on it, and he is going to let Pakistanis make the decisions on who will be in the leadership of their country. We will continue to work with the new government. We urge that all political actors move forward expeditiously with addressing the critical issues facing the Pakistani people, and that includes dealing with the safe haven issues up in the Northwest Territories.
Q And quickly, he met -- after he step down he might be going to Turkey. Is the U.S. aware of this or making any plans?
MS. PERINO: I don't know.
Q Are you prepared to accept whatever decisions Pakistanis make if that involves a military coup?
MS. PERINO: I think that we -- let's just take it one step at a time. And we'll see. I haven't heard of a military coup in the cards. I think if they are moving forward on impeachment proceedings, it seems to be within their constitution and that they're following their own laws.
April. Let me do one more from April.
Q Dana, by any chance is the President or the speech team working on the President's speech for the Republican Convention? You don't have much time, going into the convention.
MS. PERINO: Yes.
Q Okay. (Laughter.) So what draft, what number draft? What's the theme?
MS. PERINO: I'm not getting into the number draft game.
Q Well, could you tell us the theme? What is he going to bring to the --
MS. PERINO: No. I mean, it's three weeks later. If I tell you that now, then when it gets to be the convention, he'll give the speech, and then everybody will say, there's nothing new here, because I have told you, like, three weeks before. So just hold your horses, and we'll get it later.
Q So he will be rehearsing at the southwest White House?
MS. PERINO: I don't know -- I don't anticipate any rehearsals in Crawford, no.
END 4:13 P.M. EDT