White House Daily Briefing, January 27, 2004
|Tuesday January 27,
THE WHITE HOUSE
PRESS BRIEFING BY SCOTT MCCLELLAN
-- President's schedule
MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon. A couple of scheduling matters I'd like to update you on, and then one announcement, and then we'll go on to questions.
The President was very pleased to welcome President Kwasniewski back to the White House. President Kwasniewski is a great ally and a close friend, and the President very much appreciates his strong leadership. Poland stands with America in the war on terrorism, including in Iraq. Poland has shown great strength and they are now playing a major role in helping to build security and democracy in Iraq. And we are grateful to the Polish people and the brave Polish soldiers serving alongside their American allies in the field.
Under President Kwasniewski's leadership, Poland has become a secure, sovereign, democratic nation, embracing the path to prosperity, helping its neighbors, and playing a major role in Europe and on the world stage like never before.
We are committed to developing a new level of relations between Poland and the United States. We are working together on a broad range of issues from Europe and the transatlantic alliance to the greater Middle East, to the Ukraine, the Russia, the counterproliferation. The two leaders today agreed on several concrete initiatives. In particular, they agreed to strengthen Poland's capacity to respond to global threats, and to strengthen our defense cooperation with new military assistance to continue to modernize the Polish armed forces.
The President is grateful for courageous friends like President Kwasniewski, who can join us in tackling common challenges. And we'll have a joint statement out here shortly to discuss some of what they agreed to.
And the President this afternoon looks forward to welcoming a bipartisan group of House and Senate leaders to the White House. The President will remind these leaders that while it is an election year, it is important that we continue to work together and move forward on important priorities, particularly our highest priorities, from winning the war on terrorism to protecting the homeland, to strengthening our economy even more and creating a robust environment for job creation. And I expect that the President will discuss a number of important legislative priorities, many of which he touched on in his State of the Union address.
Finally, I want to address some press reports that you all may be seeing. As you are aware, the United States and the United Kingdom team is now assisting Libya in the elimination of its weapons of mass destruction programs, consistent with the announcement made by Libya on December 19th, 2003, that it would voluntarily give up these programs. To date, cooperation between all parties in this effort has been excellent.
As part of that effort, and in close partnership with the Libyan government, a transport plane left Tripoli last night and landed at 8:37 a.m. this morning at McGee-Tyson Airport outside of Knoxville, Tennessee. Included on this plane were critical materials related to Libya's nuclear weapons program and ballistic missile capabilities. This shipment is estimated to be about 55,000 pounds of equipment. These materials include both sensitive documentation and equipment.
On the flight was UF-6 uranium-hexafluoride, which is used for feedstock to enrich uranium. Also included on the flight were centrifuge parts which are used to enrich uranium. Finally, the shipment contains ballistic missile guidance sets for longer-range missiles, which Libya has voluntarily agreed to eliminate. This shipment is now at a secure facility in Tennessee.
Prior to this shipment, another plane last week brought out the most sensitive documentation associated with the Libyan nuclear weapons program. It is also important to note the destruction of Libya's unfilled chemical munitions has also already begun on the ground.
While these shipments are only the beginning of the elimination of Libya's weapons, these shipments, as well as the close cooperation on the ground in Libya, reflect real progress in Libya meeting its commitments. Colonel Qadhafi made a courageous decision to give up his weapons, and through this transparent process, the world can see that Colonel Qadhafi is keeping his commitment.
As the President said on December 19th, as the Libyan government takes these essential steps and demonstrates its seriousness, its good faith will be returned. Libya can regain a secure and respected place among the nations, and over time, achieve far better relations with the United States. As Libya becomes a more peaceful nation, it can be a source of stability in Africa and the Middle East.
As the President also said, he hopes other leaders will find an example in Libya's announcement. When leaders make the wise and responsible choice, when they renounce terror and weapons of mass destruction, as Colonel Qadhafi has now done, they serve the interests of their own people and they add to the security of all nations.
And with that, I will be glad to go to questions. Terry.
Q: Scott, is there any concrete reward at this point for Libya's action? Is the United States willing to take any steps?
MR. McCLELLAN: We are on the road -- Libya is on the road. They're moving in the right direction. This reflects real progress, but there is more to do, as well. And I would refer you back to the President's comments I just mentioned from December in terms of that.
Q: So there's nothing -- the United States is not going to respond with any type of lifting sanctions or anything like that?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, we said, as they take these essential steps and demonstrate its seriousness, its good faith will be returned, and Libya can regain a secure and respected place among the nations, as I pointed out and over time -- and over time, achieve far better relations with the United States. We're pleased with the progress being made. Obviously, there's more to do, but we're making real progress at this point.
Q: Scott, since you brought up the subject of weapons, a question that has been nagging me all morning --
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't want you to be nagged. (Laughter.)
Q: Stipulating the fact that the Iraq Survey Group still has a lot of work to do there, does the President believe that David Kay was correct or incorrect when he said that the evidence that America went to war on was inaccurate and wrong?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the decision that the President of the United States made was based on the fact that Saddam Hussein was a gathering threat. That was well-documented. It was something that was based on not only a decade of intelligence by our own government, but intelligence agencies around the world, the United Nations, all concluded that Saddam Hussein was a threat. That's why there were some -- for 12 years and some 17 resolutions, he continued to defy the international community. And 1441 gave him one final opportunity to comply or face serious consequences. He chose defiance. And September 11th taught us that we must confront gathering threats before it is too late.
Now, in terms of your question, there is a Iraq Survey Group whose mission is to look at all those issues and to find the truth as the President directed the team to do. He wants to find the truth. Then, at that point, when they complete their work, and draw as complete a picture as possible, we can compare what we knew before the war with what we know now. But it's important to let them finish their work, and it's important to gather all the facts. I think, as a reporter, you want to gather all the facts and get all the facts you can. Then you can look at what was known -- what we knew before, compare that with what we know now.
Q: It's true enough that the President said on several occasions that Iraq and Saddam were a grave and gathering threat, but that was based on the intelligence that David Kay now says was inaccurate and wrong.
MR. McCLELLAN: I think it was based on several reasons that he outlined. We knew that Saddam Hussein had weapons. We knew that he had used weapons on his own people, as well as his neighbors. We knew that he had weapons programs. We knew that he failed to account for his weapons and weapons programs. He failed to comply for some 12 years and some 17 resolutions with the international community's demands. This was a decision that was made by Saddam Hussein. Even after he was given one final opportunity to come clean, he continued to defy the international community. And Resolution 1441 was very clear. It said, this is one final opportunity to comply, or face serious consequences.
Q: But the President was always demanding that Saddam Hussein disarm, saying if he doesn't disarm, we'll disarm him.
MR. McCLELLAN: I think the international community was looking into that. A unanimous Security Council resolution called for Saddam Hussein to come clean.
Q: It now appears, though, based on David Kay's statements, that the President and/or the international community were asking Iraq to do an impossible task. There was nothing to disarm.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, no, I would remind you of the progress report by Dr. Kay and the Iraq Survey Group. And Dr. Kay has made it very clear in his media interviews that I've seen that Iraq was a very dangerous place. The President pointed out in his remarks earlier that Saddam Hussein was a dangerous man in a dangerous part of the world. In a post-September 11th era, we cannot rely on the good intentions of someone like Saddam Hussein. It's important to confront gathering threats before it's too late. And the decision that the President of the United States made was the right decision then and, based on what we've learned today, it's the right decision today.
Q: Scott, can I ask a question back on Libya for a second? Having noted the progress you're describing in this particular arena, why should any government that was -- that had a hand in a terrorist action be able to get into the good graces of the United States, no matter what it does, when it's the same leader at the helm of the country?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that, one, we addressed this when the President came out here and made the announcement of the agreement that was reached after several months between Libya and the United Kingdom and the United States. They recognize that our word is something that is credible, that we mean what we say. And they are now taking steps to move away from their past, their past that included WMD programs, that included support for terrorism. They're recognizing that if they move away from that, and take the steps that we've agreed to, then they can realize far better relations in this world. And I think that's the message that other countries should heed, as well.
Q: My question is, if it's the same leader who had a hand in Pan Am 103 as the one who's apparently converting now --
MR. McCLELLAN: And I would point out that there was an agreement reached between the families of the victims in that incident and the government of Libya.
Q: I know. But it's the same question, which is -- I know what your -- what the position is about the progress they're making on WMD. But I'm asking you, why should anybody be able to get back in the good gracesá --
MR. McCLELLAN: This is taking steps to make the world a safer and better place. The actions that they are taking will make the world --
Q: And that overrides what he did previously?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- will make the world a safer and better place in which to live. And they are taking steps to move away from that past.
Q: So that can make up for the past?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, I think that those issues, some of the specific issues that you mentioned -- in terms of Pan Am 103, there was an agreement reached and they --
Q: It was a civil lawsuit --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- and they put -- no, they made it very clear their responsibility when they reached that agreement in that effort.
Q: Why are we flying back parts of their nuclear program to the United States?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q: Why are we flying back parts of their nuclear program --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, it was the experts of the United States and the United Kingdom that are working with Libya to make sure that they follow through on their commitments. And appropriate action will be taken from that material. But they agreed to give up those materials and take steps to eliminate them, eliminate the programs.
Q: Right, but why --
MR. McCLELLAN: Jim, I'm not an expert in all the different steps that are being taken here. But I'm sure we can look into that and get you those questions, or you can direct that to the appropriate people who are involved in this.
Q: Okay. On Iraqi weapons, is there any concern about the fact that the intelligence appeared to be incorrect? I mean, does the President share concerns expressed on Capitol Hill about the fact that the intelligence does not appear to have been accurate?
MR. McCLELLAN: Jim, I think if the inspection teams had found half of what Dr. Kay uncovered, they would have found Saddam Hussein in material breach of his resolutions, the Security Council would have found him in material breach. We know from what Dr. Kay has already uncovered that Saddam Hussein was in material breach. We very much appreciate the hard and difficult work that was undertaken by Dr. Kay. Now you have Charles Duelfer, who will be heading up the Iraq Survey Group and finishing their mission. He will gather all the facts. He will draw as complete a picture as we possibly can so that we can learn the truth. It's important that we gather all the facts, then we can compare what we knew before the war with what we have learned from the Iraq Survey Group.
But I would point out to you that the Iraq Survey Group's progress report talked about how -- and this is -- quote -- "We have discovered dozens of WMD related program activities and significant amounts of equipment that Iraq concealed from the United Nations during the inspections that began in late 2002." It went on to say that, Saddam has not given up his aspirations and intentions to continue to acquire weapons of mass destruction. Saddam's weapons delivery systems were "already well advanced. In the chemical and biological weapons area, we have confidence that they were at a minimum clandestine, ongoing research and development activities that were embedded in the Iraqi intelligence service."
So I would point out that that right there shows that he was in clear violation of Security Council Resolution 1441, which was a final opportunity or face serious consequences.
Q: One last thing, if I could. An American official in Paris today is saying that in the next round of contracts, all comers will be welcome. Is that true?
MR. McCLELLAN: There's no change in what I've previously said from this podium in terms of contracting.
Q: So he should tell the French that he was wrong?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I haven't seen the specific comments you're referring to. But our position was that circumstances can change. And we're moving into -- will be moving into a second round of contracts, and we said the circumstances can change. Certainly we recognize the important contribution that Canada made at the Madrid Donors Conference, and so circumstances have changed for Canada. And I said at that time that it may change for others, as well. But that's where it stands.
Q: I understand that. I'm just -- the U.S. Under Secretary for Trade Grant Aldonis told people in France, all comers will be welcome the second round. So he's suggesting it has already changed.
MR. McCLELLAN: I saw the media reports and it's still where I left it last time, which is what I just said.
Q: So he's a little too far out front?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, I haven't seen the full context of his remarks. I've just seen media reports. I don't always necessarily rely on media reports, even though I trust you guys.
Q: Scott, in brief prelude to my question, what kind of aircraft was used? Why Knoxville? Because of its proximity to Oakridge? And will you put out a detailed list of the 55,000 pounds?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think those are decisions made by others. I don't have that level of detail with me. In my update to you, I thought it was important to update you on the progress that we are making, though, at this point.
Q: You don't know what kind of plane it was -- whether it was a C-5, or a C-17 or --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I'm sorry.
Q: And my question that I wanted to ask about the three-star general who, in Afghanistan, is now saying that Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar will be captured by the end of the year -- is this wishful thinking? Does the President know something that says the capture of these two guys is imminent?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, we continue to make great progress in the war on terrorism. But it is a war that continues. And the President has already talked about, most recently in his State of the Union address, that we've already captured or killed some two-thirds of the al Qaeda leadership. We continue to pursue others. Obviously we removed the Taliban from power. And we continue to pursue others who either supported or were involved in terrorism, to bring them to justice.
We have said, in terms of Osama bin Laden, that we will find him and he will be brought to justice. And that remains the case.
Q: Scott, you said the President believes it's important to confront gathering threats. Isn't it also important, for the sake of American leadership in trying to control proliferation, to describe those threats accurately? And hasn't this President and this government's credibility been damaged by the failure to find in Iraq those actual weapons -- not weapons of mass destruction program-related activities, but the actual weapons that the President of the United States, the Vice President of the United States, the Secretary of State, and the Secretary of Defense, all told the American people and the world were there? Isn't credibility in question?
MR. McCLELLAN: Make no mistake about it, I said obviously it's important to look at what we knew before the war and compare that with what we've learned after the war. But that work is ongoing, and I think you will agree that it's important to gather as many facts as possible, to let the Iraq Survey Team complete its work, which is to pursue the truth, to find the truth -- that's their mission -- and to gather all that information. Then we look and compare with what we knew before with what we've learned since, after the Iraq Survey Group has completed its work.
But we already know -- and you said something about accurate description. It was very accurate to say that Saddam Hussein was a dangerous man and a gathering threat, and it was important to confront that threat. For some 12 years and some 17 Security Council resolutions, he chose to defy the international community. He was given a final opportunity, but he continued to show defiance. And it was important that he be removed from power. And that's exactly what the President did.
And the intelligence that you're referring to was something that was shared by intelligence agencies around the world. It was shared by the United Nations. It was not just our own government that had gathered this intelligence.
And I point out what I said earlier, that if the inspection teams that had been in Iraq had discovered half of what Dr. Kay uncovered in his progress report, then the United Nations Security Council would have had to move to find Saddam Hussein in material breach. And 1441 was very clear in the language: one final opportunity or face serious consequences. The world is safer and better because of the action we took. America is more secure. It was the right decision then; it's the right decision today for those reasons.
Q: I understand that, but what has been found isn't what was claimed to have been there. And I just wonder, is the President at all concerned about credibility, going forward in this crucial area of weapons proliferation?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President, as he said earlier, wants to know the facts. And the Iraq Survey Group is gathering the facts. They're drawing as complete a picture as possible. And we should let them complete their work. Then we can go and compare what we knew before with what we learned after. But it doesn't change the bottom line. Saddam Hussein was a gathering threat. He was a grave and gathering threat to the world and to America. And it was important that we took the action that we did, particularly in a post-September 11th world that taught us the importance of confronting threats before it is too late.
Q: Just one quick follow-up on Libya. You also said that as Libya becomes a more peaceful nation, it can become a source of stability in Iraq and Africa --
MR. McCLELLAN: And the Middle East.
Q: And the Middle East. Qadhafi is an unelected dictator.
MR. McCLELLAN: And as you know, that we are pursuinG -- actively pursuing to spread democracy and freedom around the world, and there are a number of different ways you do that.á But obviously, different threats require different strategies and a number of different ways we're pursuing things.á But make no mistake about it, people understand that our word is something that is credible now, and people are responding in different ways.á And we continue to -- we appreciate the progress that Libya is making in fulfilling its commitment.á We also, obviously, are working in a number of different areas to address other threats when it comes to Iran and North Korea and otheráareas.
Q: Does the President expect Qadhafi to move, make moves towards opening up his society --
MR. McCLELLAN: We are always advocating the importance of democracy. And the President talks -- you often hear him talk about the importance of freedom, how that's a universal right of all people.
Q First of all, I just wanted to reinforce a request for an inventory of what came out from Libya, particularly on some centrifuge parts, which would be the most critical for us to understand what exactly you brought out.
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, I thought it was important to update you all from this podium. And, obviously, we'll work to make sure other people can --
Q: Right. A specific list would be --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- some of the people more involved in those technical issues can work with you on those issues.
Q: On the question of Iraq, two issues. First, you've been using the phrase, "gathering threat" and "grave danger," which obviously are words that the President, himself, used many times before the war. You have not used the word "imminent threat." And the essence of Dr. Kay's comments recently would suggest that there was no way for there to be an imminent threat.
Does the President now believe that, in fact, while the threat was gathering, while the threat may have been grave, that, in fact, it was not imminent?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think we've said all along that it was a grave and gathering threat. And that in a post-September 11th world, you must confront gathering threats before it's too late.
I think some in the media have chosen to use the word "imminent." Those were not words --
Q: The President himself never used that word?
MR. McCLELLAN: Those were not words we used. We used "grave and gathering threat." We made it very clear that it was a gathering threat, that it's important to confront gathering threats in this post-September 11th world, because of the new dangers and new threats that we face.
Q: So then under your interpretation, if you're not using the word "imminent" and the President didn't use it, this was not a preemptive attack, this was a preventative war? Is that the White House position?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, again, September 11th taught us that we must confront gathering threats before it's too late. Saddam Hussein -- Saddam Hussein had ample opportunity to come clean.
Q: I hear you, Scott. But there's a definitional difference. "Preemptive" has to do with imminent threats. "Preventative" has to do with non-imminent threats.
MR. McCLELLAN: He was a gathering threat, and it was important that we confront that threat. I don't know that I necessarily agree with your distinctions that you're making there.
Q: Okay. On the second issue, which has to do with waiting for the final report to come in, Mr. Kay said -- Dr. Kay said that he believed that the work currently was about 85 percent complete. What you're telling us today is that before the White House decides whether or not to conduct an investigation or work on intelligence reform on these issues, you are going to wait for a complete report to be completed --
MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, I think the CIA has already said that they're looking into -- into some of the intelligence.á They've already publicly said that.á What I'm saying is that it's too soon to draw firm conclusions.á You need to let the Iraq Survey Group complete its work.
But you mentioned a few things that Dr. Kay said. I would point out that Dr. Kay agreed fully with the statement that Iraq was a gathering threat. He -- and Dr. Kay also was the one who said that Iraq is a very dangerous place and that Saddam Hussein had the intention and he had the capability. And, certainly, in a post-September 11th world, someone that has his history must be confronted before it's too late.
Q: Just to be clear I understand what you're saying here, though. The President himself is not going to seek intelligence reform from -- directed from here, as opposed to internal CIA --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, no, I was pointing out the CIA was already looking into things. I said, yes, we very much want to compare what we knew before the war with what we learn once the Iraq Survey Group complete its work -- completes its work. But it's too soon to make those judgments now.á It's premature to get into drawing firm conclusions, because their work is ongoing.á And I think all of you can appreciate the importance of gathering all the facts that you can in finishing that mission before you draw firm conclusions.
Q: But, Scott, didn't the President draw a firm conclusion on this when he went --
MR. McCLELLAN: Steve. I'll come back to you -- that he was a gathering threat, and it's been shown that he was.
Q: But you just said it's too early to draw those conclusions.
MR. McCLELLAN: It's been shown that he was a gathering threat.
Q: You just said it's too early to draw those conclusions.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, no. I'm referring to comparing what we knew before the war with what we learn once the Iraq Survey Group completes is work. So I think you're drawing a different distinction there.
Q: How long do you think it will take to complete the work?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's a decision that Charles Duelfer will make as the new head of the Iraq Survey Group. I think he addressed some of that last week. But he's the one --
Q: -- tell us when it will --
MR. McCLELLAN: Look, I mean, that's totally up to the Iraq Survey Group. And I think it's a very important issue for them to continue to pursue their mission, and those are decisions they will make. The one thing the President has said is, find the truth.
Q: And, secondly, Mr. Brahimi is here today for meetings. What would you like him to do in Iraq?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he was here last week and met with some officials, met briefly with the President, as well, and the President thanked him for all that he is doing. The President just wanted to have an opportunity to meet him while he is here. That was a brief meeting. But he's back meeting with some senior officials, just to continue some discussions.
Q: Would you like him to lead this political team in Iraq?
MR. McCLELLAN: He's a special advisor of the United Nations, and those are decisions that the United Nations would be in place to make -- I mean, the United Nations would make those decisions.
We do welcome the announcement by the United Nations to send a team into Iraq, and we look forward to supporting the efforts of that team, that was requested by the Iraqi Governing Council, to go in and look at and assess the feasibility of elections moving forward.
Q: Scott, back to the Iraqi weapons, and the weapons themselves. Both before the war and after the war, the President said he was confident those weapons would be found. Others here said the same thing. Is that statement no longer operative?
MR. McCLELLAN: Mark, I think that, one, this was addressed earlier by me and by the President, as well. We know --
Q: -- based on Terry asking --
MR. McCLELLAN: Let's make clear, we know that a decade of intelligence by our own government and intelligence agencies around the world, and the United Nations, itself, all concluded that Saddam Hussein had weapons and unaccounted for weapons programs.
Q: If we're waiting to hear you guys say that the weapons will be found, we're waiting --
MR. McCLELLAN: Look, no, the Iraq Survey Group is continuing its mission. It's important to let them complete their work and draw as complete a picture as possible. You asked me to get into prejudging the final outcome here. I mean, Dr. Kay even pointed out that there is important work to complete. And he said that it's important -- he said it's important that they complete their work. We want --
Q: -- you guys think they still might be --
MR. McCLELLAN: Look, we'll be at a point when they complete their work where we compare what we knew before the war with what we learn after from the Iraq Survey Group. But it was intelligence agencies around the world, the United Nations that documented all this and talked about his weapons and weapons programs. So you all should keep that in perspective, as well.
Q: Does the President think weapons will be found yet?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think I just addressed that question. I think he addressed it earlier.
Q: Two quick ones, one on Libya. It's laudable that -- remarkable how quickly this stuff is being taken out and brought here, of all places. Why is it so fast? Is it because you're afraid the Libyans might reconsider? Or is it because the Libyans are in a hurry to get some sort of reward?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I can't speak for the Libyan government. I can speak for our own people. This was something that was discussed over several months. Libya came to agreement with the United Kingdom and United States, and now we're moving forward on it. They're making real progress to fulfilling their commitment. And there's more to do, but they're on the right road.
Q: But you're confident that they're going to go through with this and it's not they're rushing it --
MR. McCLELLAN: They were very clear -- I mean, Colonel Qadhafi was very clear in his statement back in December, and they're making real progress in that commitment.
Q: The other thing is you've said that it's too early to judge on the weapons of mass destruction, that there's more work to do. But David Kay does seem to have judged. Has he made a mistake? Has he gone too far in suggesting yesterday and the day before that he doesn't think there are going to be any weapons found? Is that --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not sure that's exactly what he said. In fact, he said that it's important that they complete their work. And he said it's a large country, didn't rule out surprises, is what I saw that he said. That's what I've seen.
Q: He also said he doesn't expect weapons to be found.
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think those are his exact words. But I would go back and look at his exact words. But I would remind you that -- of what the President said earlier, that obviously, we want to be able to compare what we knew before the war with what we learn from the Iraq Survey Group. That's important to do. But their work is ongoing, so let's let them gather all the facts and then we can come back and do that at that point.
Q: I'm just wondering whether David Kay should have waited as well, in your view.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he's no longer heading up the Iraq Survey Group. And I think he pointed out that Iraq is a very dangerous place. He pointed out that he agreed that it was a gathering threat. He even went on to say that it is potentially more dangerous than we thought before the war.
Q: Scott, on Poland, did Poland get any contracts today?
MR. McCLELLAN: Did they get any contracts today? Those aren't decisions made here. Those are decisions made through the contracting process, independently of here.
They talked about Iraq, certainly. That was -- one of the issues they discussed was Iraq. And I think as we're sitting here talking about Iraq, I think that there are few people that have as deep an appreciation for liberation as the people of Poland. They recognize the value and importance of freedom and democracy. We very much appreciate their strong contributions to helping the Iraqi people realize a free and democratic and prosperous future. It is something that they have gone through recently, and so they are playing an important role in those efforts.
Q: But there were no decisions --
MR. McCLELLAN: Those aren't decisions made here, Roger. Those are decisions made separate and apart, through the contracting process, separate from here.
Q: Scott, two quick questions. One, there is a story flying around the Globe that Prime Minister of India, Mr. Vajpayee, and General Musharraf may be heading for getting Nobel Peace Prize, and President Bush has recommended or is about to recommend, or he supports that.
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know anything about those reports. That's the first time I've heard those reports. Obviously -- welcome the announcement by India and Pakistan that they're following through to continue their dialogue and have high-level discussions. It's important that they continue moving forward to reduce tensions in the region. Those relationships -- those relations are improving. We're pleased to work closely with them in that. We have been working closely with them. We're pleased to continue working closely with them, and we're pleased that they're moving forward to have ongoing, constructive dialogue.
Q: India Globe is also carrying a small report that -- let me ask you directly whether President Bush supports the Nobel Peace Prize for the two leaders, or not, based on --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not going to get into speculating about decisions down the road.
Go ahead, Richard.
Q: And, finally, the second one --
MR. McCLELLAN: Let's keep moving. Richard, go ahead.
Q: The 9/11 Commission is seeking a two-month extension for the report, from May until July. Is the White House about to grant that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, I think -- it's Congress, I would remind you, is the one that set the original statutory deadline. There was a lot of discussion that went into setting up the commission and that was all part of it. And certainly from our standpoint, what we want to continue to do is to provide unprecedented cooperation with the commission. We're working very much in a spirit of cooperation with the commission; we will continue to do so. I think it's important that they move forward as quickly as possible to complete their work, especially given the subject of it. I mean, if there's information that we can learn that can help prevent a future attack from happening, it's important that we have that mission -- that we have that information.
Q: Does the White House support an extension?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q: Does the White House support an extension?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, Congress is the one who set that deadline when they set up the commission. We think it's important that they move forward as quickly as possible to complete their work. And, obviously, those types of discussions would involve Congress, but we continue to believe that they ought to move forward as quickly as possible to gather the information that they can that can help us prevent something like September 11th from ever happening again. And the best way to do that is to continue taking the action we are to take the fight to the enemy.
Go ahead, Russell.
Q: Scott, Paul Bremer has apparently ruled out quick elections in
Iraq. The constitutional law advisor to the Coalition Provisional
Authority, Noah Feldman, is quoted in today's New York Times as saying,
"if you move too fast, the wrong people could get elected."
And apparently there's a fear of electing
MR. McCLELLAN: That's not the way the President of the United States looks at it. One, if you look at the November 15th agreement that was worked on by the Iraqi Governing Council and agreed to with the Coalition Provisional Authority, it calls for three direct elections within that framework. It calls for election of the drafters of the constitution. It calls for direct election on the ratification of the constitution. And, finally, at the end of 2005, it calls for a permanent representative government to be directly elected by the people of Iraq.
And what you're seeing now is that more and more, the Iraqi people are assuming responsibility for their future. This is becoming more and more of an Iraqi-driven process. The U.N. announced today that they would be sending a team in there -- to work with the coalition on security arrangements. But we look forward -- and that was something that was requested by the Iraqi Governing Council, for the United Nations to go in and look and assess the feasibility of conducting elections by the June 30th deadline for transferring sovereignty to the -- full sovereignty to the Iraqi people.
And so we look forward to seeing their assessment and hearing their advice. We've made it very clear in terms of the November 15th agreement that we are open to refinements and clarifications. But this is more and more of an Iraqi-driven process. They're assuming more and more responsibility for their future and for their decisions.
But we believe it's important to move forward as quickly as possible to transfer sovereignty back to the Iraqi people, because they're becoming more -- they're in a better position, as time goes by, to assume full responsibility now for their future. But those are decisions -- the decisions about their future permanent government will be made directly by the Iraqi people. That's spelled out in the framework.
Q: If they say they want an Islamic government and they want the U.S. out, will we get out?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, there's -- one, there's a fundamental law that they're working on right now and it has some basic principles that will be enshrined in it. The other aspect, in terms of the United States and our military presence, along with the coalition, those are discussions that are being had with the Iraqi Governing Council now, as well.
And I think that the Iraqi people appreciate our efforts to help them with their security. But more and more, the Iraqis are assuming responsibility for their own security. They are the largest contributor to security forces right now. I don't know the latest number, I think it's well above 160,000 Iraqis who are now involved in their own security. So those are the discussions that, under the November 15th agreement, are underway now.
Q: But if they want us out, will we get out?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think I've addressed it.
Q: Did the United States reimburse Libya for this equipment that it took out?
MR. McCLELLAN: Terry, I'd have to follow up on questions. I don't know anything to that point.
Q: Just one last kick at this can. Don't David Kay's statements really illuminate the following concept, and that is that when the President took the world to war against Iraq in March of last year, there was really no way to quantify the current threat posed by Iraq, and that his decision was only made on a best estimate of Iraq's capabilities based on past history?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think it was a decision that Saddam Hussein chose. Remember, Saddam Hussein was the one who was given one final opportunity to comply or face serious consequences. Saddam Hussein is the one who chose defiance. And as I said, given his history, and given the events of September 11th, we could not afford to rely on the good intentions of Saddam Hussein.
Q: Will you accept the concept, though, that there was no way to quantify the current threat posed by Iraq when the President was taking this country to war?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, it was intelligence that was shared by agencies around the world. It was intelligence that was shared by the United Nations, not only our government. And will you acknowledge that Saddam Hussein was a grave and gathering threat? He was a dangerous man. And that's what -- that's what it was based on.
Q: I wasn't making the decision for war --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you're asking questions. But Saddam Hussein was a grave and gathering danger, and he has now been removed from power. The world is safer and better because of the actions that we took.
Q: Thank you.
MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you.
END 2:25 P.M. EST
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