Press Gaggle By Dana Perino En Route Houston, TX
The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
November 8, 2007
Press Gaggle by Dana Perino, Aboard Air Force One En Route Houston, Texas
MS. PERINO: Hello, everyone. We are on our way to Houston, Texas. Let me give you the schedule. The President received his briefings this morning at the White House. He had two phone calls which I'll read out to you that he made while here on Air Force One.
At 12:00 p.m. the President will attend Texans for Senator John Cornyn, and then at 2:50 p.m. he will visit the Center for the Intrepid at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. Then at 4:20 p.m. he makes a statement after that visit at that same center. At 5:25 p.m. he will do another event for Senator Cornyn, and then he will get to Texas, where he will remain for the weekend.
Let me do the calls, and then I have a couple of points on the Wounded Warriors Commission, and Dole-Shalala progress.
First of all, the President called Prime Minister Olmert. The President called him to check in on his health, and ask him how he was doing. Prime Minister Olmert said he was feeling fine, and he was very reassuring on the prospects for his health. The President also congratulated Prime Minister Olmert on his speech that he gave on November 4th in Jerusalem, the same venue that Secretary Rice spoke at right before she left the region. The President congratulated him on the vision expressed in the speech. They also discussed the run-up to the Annapolis meeting, where the goal is to reach two democratic states living side-by-side in peace and security.
The President also called Ambassador -- Poland's ambassador to Iraq, General Edward Pietrzyk. He was badly wounded, and his bodyguard was killed when his convoy was attacked by a roadside bomb in Baghdad on October 3, 2007, as you might recall. The President called him to thank him for his courage and service in Iraq, to check in on his health. The report is that he sounded very strong and encouraging about his recovery, and he indicated to the President his desire to get back to work.
Now, quickly on the Dole-Shalala commission. Obviously, one of the -- the President believes that one of his most important duties is to ensure that America's wounded warriors receive the highest level of care. He will visit the Brooke Army Medical Center today. It's the Center for the Intrepid. That is DOD's premier amputation and rehabilitation facility. After his visit, in his statement you will hear from him about our efforts to improve the system of care for America's wounded warriors.
Let me give you a couple updates on the progress on the commission's specific recommendation. As you'll recall, there were things that the executive branch can do, and things that Congress needed to do in order to fulfill the Dole-Shalala recommendations.
The first, federal recovery coordinators: These are people who will individually guide seriously wounded service members through their recuperation in all the stages. They'll be hired over the next three weeks. The program establishing a single comprehensive disability exam -- that's just one exam, rather than having to go to two different ones for DOD and VA -- is already underway and being piloted. The new National Center of Excellence for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury has just hired its first staff members, and they've moved into temporary offices near Bethesda. And the Fisher Foundation has agreed to donate $70 million so a permanent headquarters can start construction soon.
The single web portal that we talked about, where wounded service members can track their medical recovery needs, is under development and it will be ready soon for testing before it goes live. A new regulation to update the disability schedule for traumatic brain injury and burns will be ready for public comment soon. That has to go through that process. And the Defense Department is working to use its special authorities to keep the best health professionals at Walter Reed as long as possible before that facility closes.
And so we are doing our part in the administration to fulfill those Dole-Shalala recommendations and we urge Congress to do so as soon as possible, as well.
That's what I've got.
QUESTION: When the President spoke to Olmert, did they discuss getting Syria involved into the peace process at all?
MS. PERINO: I don't have that detail to read out. I don't know.
Q: And has a date been set for the Annapolis meeting yet?
MS. PERINO: Not yet, nothing to announce yet.
Q: Do you have more of a readout on yesterday's conversation with Musharraf?
MS. PERINO: The President called President Musharraf around 11:15 a.m. yesterday morning. They spoke for several minutes, and what I can tell you is that President Musharraf listened carefully to what the President had to say and heard his message.
Q: You don't have any reaction from Musharraf at all to what the President said?
MS. PERINO: No.
Q: Is the Bush administration worried about appearing that it is interfering in Pakistani politics?
MS. PERINO: Obviously, Pakistan is a sovereign nation. We have worked very cooperatively with them over the past several years. We cannot underestimate the importance of our counterterrorism cooperation that we have enjoyed with them since 9/11. President Musharraf oversees a sovereign nation, and we urged him not to take this step of establishing a state of emergency. He did not take our advice. We consider it a setback because the constitution -- it was outside of the constitution, calling that state of emergency.
However, we noted today that President Musharraf has clarified for the Pakistani people that he will hold elections, he said, by February 15th -- and we think that it was important for the Pakistani people to have heard that.
Q: Did the President tell Musharraf to set the date?
MS. PERINO: I'm not going to give you any more comment about the call.
Q: Do you know --
MS. PERINO: Obviously we have urged them to -- we have said from the beginning of this state of emergency that the President was calling on President Musharraf to hold the elections, and also to take off his uniform.
Q: What happened to January?
MS. PERINO: There's a -- whatever the rules are, in terms of 60 or 90 days, I'm not positive.
Q: Do you believe that Musharraf setting elections was a result of the President's phone call to him yesterday?
MS. PERINO: I'm not going to comment on that. What I can say is that we think it's important that that was clarified for the Pakistani people. And President Musharraf had indicated, through his Attorney General, Monday, I believe, that those elections would be held. And so I think clarification on the date is -- was important.
Q: Yesterday the President talked -- spoke about how he spoke directly to the Iranian people. Will he speak directly to the Pakistani people and the Pakistani protestors, letting them know that he supports them?
MS. PERINO: The President supports everybody in Pakistan because of the importance that we place on the region. We've had -- our relationship with Pakistan has gone back and forth over the years. Deputy Secretary Negroponte gave testimony on Capitol Hill yesterday, that I'd encourage people to review, because it provided that context. Pakistan is -- had our support in the past, and then lost favor over the decades, and then over the past several years has been -- had decided to turn its back on the terrorists and extremists and to help us. And they have been very critical on that mission. Part of the aid package that we provide is for education and health, and helping civil society, and trying to build democratic institutions.
And so the President supports all the people of Pakistan. We are friends with the Pakistanis. But the President wants most of all is to help them establish a democracy that can be sustainable, because that's ultimately how the region will live in peace.
Q: Does the President have -- still have faith and confidence that Musharraf is the person to do that?
MS. PERINO: The President talked to President Musharraf yesterday. I feel confident that President Musharraf heard the President's message. We would like to see him return to those elections as he said today he would do. The uniform is still an issue. The President called on him to take it off; he said, you can't be both the President and the head of the army. And we'll see what -- where that goes.
Q: What's the administration's position right now on the power-sharing idea?
MS. PERINO: Between?
Q: Between the opposition leader and Musharraf. You know, they've had some talks about --
MS. PERINO: We think that -- they're going to have to work that out themselves. What we would encourage is for everyone, especially during these days when they've called for protests, to allow for peaceful protests, to allow for open dialogue between the opposition parties so that they can work through these issues and get back to a democracy; because they were on the path and they -- we're trying to urge them to get back to it and to have open communication, frank discussions so that they can cooperate.
Q: Did the President call on Musharraf to end the state of emergency at any given point -- now, immediately? Or did he say, you have --
MS. PERINO: You have what I provided. I don't have anything else to give you.
Q: Do you know if U.S. officials are talking to Pakistani army officials to try to get them to encourage Musharraf to step down as the leader?
MS. PERINO: I don't have anything specific on that, but in checking this morning, obviously since we've had close cooperation between our military and the Pakistani military over the past several years in terms of the counterterrorism efforts, it would not be surprising to me if they're in communication with one another and they -- anybody who has followed this issue knows very well what President Bush's position is on it.
Q: What does the President have to say about what's going on in Georgia?
MS. PERINO: We have been in -- our State Department officials have been in contact with the Georgians. Obviously, we urge restraint and calm. People should be allowed to peacefully protest and, again, to -- we encourage open dialogue. It's one of the best -- that's one of the ways that you work together in a democracy, as we have in our country; we've learned that over the many years. These are young democracies that are just learning and trying to figure it out, so we urge them to communicate.
Q: Does the President think Russia is meddling in Georgian affairs?
MS. PERINO: I haven't heard him say that.
Q: Can you give us anything on Merkel -- on the Merkel visit? Can you do any preview on Merkel?
MS. PERINO: Can I get back to you later today? I mean, I obviously -- it's -- I focused on the Sarkozy visit yesterday and we look forward to Angela Merkel coming.
Q: Have you heard of an oil spill out in California?
MS. PERINO: I have not heard about an oil spill in California.
Q: In the bay. Julie?
MS. PERINO: Alright, I'll get back to you with Merkel maybe later today, do a follow-up.
Q: Thank you.