White House Daily Briefing, May 13

 

Thursday May 13, 2004

THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
(Parkersburg, West Virginia)
May 13, 2004

PRESS GAGGLE BY SCOTT McCLELLAN

Aboard Air Force One
En Route Parkersburg, West Virginia

11:58 A.M.EDT

MR. McCLELLAN: Okay, let's see, let's get started. The Freedom Corps greeter, upon arrival, is Heather Stout. She tutors West Virginia University students in math, and she's also tutoring a 4th grader in reading. And then we -- then we go to Parkersburg South High School, where the President will participate in a conversation on high school initiatives. The President will also talk about how he's setting a new national goal to make sure every high school student, when they graduate, is ready to compete in the workforce or ready to go on to college. And the President will talk about the initiatives that we are implementing and pursuing to meet that national goal.

And the participants include the principal of Parkersburg South High School, a high school advanced placement teacher, a high school science teacher, a coordinator for High Schools That Work, and the interim president of West Virginia University at Parkersburg. And the audience will include parents and teachers and education officials, community leaders involved in education activities.

And then we go back to the White House, and this evening the President makes remarks to the American Conservative Union's 40th Anniversary Gala. And that's at the JW Marriot this evening.

One update to the schedule. On Monday, May 3rd, we've already announced the Topeka part of the trip. Following that --

QUESTION: May 3rd?

MR. McCLELLAN: May 3rd.

Q: May 17th.

MR. McCLELLAN: Oh, May 17th, I'm sorry. I don't know what -- Monday, May 17th -- Monday, whatever date that is, the President will attend a Victory 2004 reception in Atlanta, Georgia, after the trip to Topeka.

Q: So, what message was Secretary Rumsfeld trying to bring across by going to Baghdad?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think he talked about that in his remarks earlier today, so you can look to his remarks. He was interviewed, participated in an interview with some of the media traveling with him and talked about that.

Q: -- sense of that?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, we -- oh, yes, we were aware he was going.

Q: It was decided --

MR. McCLELLAN: Obviously, it's always good to show support for the men and women of our military who are serving in Iraq and doing an outstanding job, helping to move forward on our mission to build a free and peaceful Iraq.

Q: It reportedly was decided -- Rumsfeld decided on Monday to go. Was that during his meetings with the President at the Pentagon?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know the exact timing. I mean, the Pentagon can probably tell you the exact timing, when he made the decision. But, yes, there was talk about it earlier this week, I'm aware of.

Q: Do you know whether it came up in that meeting at the Pentagon?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sure they talked about it, but I don't know if it -- I wasn't in that particular meeting.

Q: Say that again, Scott. They talked about --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sure they did, but I wasn't in that particular meeting.

Q: -- and the President?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, they had their meeting with -- to receive the briefing from the military leaders on the global war on terrorism, and then they had some time after that to discuss. I'm sure they did. But they have talked about it.

Q: Congressman Lantos is talking on the Hill today about the meeting at the White House yesterday, where he and some others were advocating a role for the U.N. in Iraq going forward, much like it had in Bosnia, with fairly expanded powers. How does the President feel about that?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, look, he had a good visit last night with the -- those members. And they talked about the way forward in Iraq. And it was a very constructive discussion. It was part of his ongoing consultations with members of Congress. And in terms of the United Nations' role, I mean, we've made our views very clear, that the United Nations has a vital role to play, going forward in Iraq. They're playing a very vital role right now in helping to move forward on the formation of the interim representative government. And they're also playing a very vital role in helping to move forward on elections, beginning next January, as agreed to under the November 15th agreement.

Q: Some conservatives are having doubt about the Iraq mission. Is the President going to try to answer those doubts tonight?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think in his speech tonight, the remarks the President will make are similar to some of the remarks you've heard him making in his speeches at some of the recent campaign events. He will be talking about the -- his positive vision for the country, and he'll be talking about the clear choices we face going forward. And I expect he will talk about what -- the importance of what we are working to achieve in Iraq. You have heard him talk about how a free and peaceful Iraq is vital to our national interest. A free and peaceful Iraq will help transform the Middle East, which has been a dangerous region and a breeding ground for terrorism. And that will help make America more secure.

Q: Is he going to tailor his remarks in any way toward the conservative audience?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think it will be similar to what you -- I think it will be similar to some of the remarks you've heard in recent speeches he's given.

Q: Nothing specific?

MR. McCLELLAN: You'll be there tonight. But I think it will be similar -- like I said, that's why I'm trying to tell you it will be similar to some of what you've heard previously, and he'll talk about our priorities going forward.

Q: But, Scott, with the situation both -- some of the military difficulties over recent weeks and now the prisoner scandal, there is a sense amongst a lot of people that the President isn't in control of events in Iraq, that he's sort of being battered about by things happening on the ground. Is there anything he can do or say, do you think, that can reassure people who might support the overall mission, but are sort of, I don't know, concerned about the ability to --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think he has been. I think the President will continue to speak out about the important mission we're working accomplish in Iraq. You've heard him talk recently about the importance of staying focused on the mission at hand. We must complete this mission for the reasons I stated a minute ago, to Steve's question. And he will continue to talk about how we must focus on the mission, despite the difficulties. We will help the Iraqi people realize a free and peaceful future. It's -- there are always going to be difficulties transitioning from decades of oppression to democracy, and that's to be expected. And there are certainly -- we can expect that the enemies of freedom will continue to try to undermine and derail the transition to freedom and democracy.

But they will not prevail. The mission we are working to accomplish in Iraq is vital to our nation's interest. And it will make the world a safer and better place, and it will make America more secure. And the President will continue to speak out about the importance of the mission.

Q: But everyone has sort of predicted increasing violence, for instance between now and June 30th. Politically, do you think the President can withstand another month of worsening events there?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think the American people recognize the importance of the work that our men and women in the military are working to achieve in Iraq. Our men and women in the military are doing an outstanding job helping to bring stability and freedom to Iraq. And there are those terrorists who recognize the stakes are very high in Iraq, because Iraq is critical to our efforts in winning the war on terrorism. And they will seek to try to derail a free and peaceful Iraq, because they know when we achieve a free and peaceful Iraq, that will be a major blow to the terrorists and the war on terrorism.

Q: Scott, back to Secretary Rumsfeld's trip. Did the President ask him to make this trip, or was it the Secretary's suggestion?

MR. McCLELLAN: This was a decision made by the Secretary. He has traveled there before, and --

Q: So the President did not ask him to go?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, this was a decision made by Secretary Rumsfeld. The President was very well aware that he was going.

Q: Does the administration have any reaction to the upset election in India, the new government there?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, we have good relations with India. We obviously congratulate the people of India on the completion of their parliamentary elections. And we look forward to working with the new government once it is in place.

Q: There's some lawyers who are advising the Pentagon not to release the photos, any more photos, you know? Will the President go along with whatever the Pentagon decides to do about that, or is he weighing in at this point on that?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think we've already said that the President supports the judgment of the Pentagon in addressing this issue. I think members of Congress have spoken about this, as well, after having seen some of the pictures. The Pentagon has to take into consideration that there are ongoing criminal investigations. And we don't want to do anything to undermine those criminal investigations. We want to make sure that people are brought to justice for these shameful and appalling acts. So we appreciate the considerations being taken into account by the Pentagon. They've been looking at these issues. You heard from the Secretary earlier today on his trip to Iraq.

Q: So you support not putting the photos out?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I'm not aware that the Pentagon has made a final decision at this point. But we support the judgments that they have to make to address this. But it's a matter that the Pentagon will make a decision on.

Q: It's not the President's decision at all?

MR. McCLELLAN: We're in close contact with the Pentagon on these matters. The President fully understands the -- fully understands and appreciates the factors that they are considering when they look at whether or not to make these pictures more widely available. But they have made them available to Congress --

Q: --

MR. McCLELLAN: As I said yesterday -- I think I've said that over the last few days. We've said that over the last few days, that it would be a judgement that they would make, yes. I haven't heard any update from the Pentagon. I know that they've continued to look very closely at this.

Q: Is there any -- has the President's desire to see the full scope of the pictures changed, now that all the members of Congress have sat through the thousand or so photos? Does he have a desire to edify himself, as they have?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President, as you're aware, was at the Pentagon the other day. And he saw a representative sample of the pictures. And his reaction was what I said the other day, it was one of deep disgust and disbelief that anyone in our military would engage in such shameful and appalling acts, and that these -- what the President focuses on now is making sure that the military gets to the bottom of this, and that people are brought to justice, and that we take steps to make sure it doesn't happen again. And the military has been moving forward on all fronts to make sure that that happens.

And it's also important to stay focused on the mission at hand, as I said earlier. We've got to complete this important work that we're working to achieve in Iraq.

Q: A lot of the questions coming out the hearings this week was about General Miller and his trip to Iraq and kind of getting control of the prison situation in Iraq. Does the President see that there's any problem, even if it's only an appearance problem, that Millero is still in Iraq, now responsible for cleaning up this latest prison mess?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think you're trying to get into discussions of all the issues that they're looking into. The Pentagon has several formal investigations going on. They're pursuing individuals who -- the small number of individuals who committed these appalling and shameful acts. They are also looking more broadly at the entire prison system in Iraq. And those are issues we need to let the investigation look at, and see what's determined from the investigation.

Q: But the President thinks Miller is the right person to be now cleaning up the prison situation in Iraq?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I pointed out that the Pentagon has taken several steps to make sure that something like this doesn't happen again. There are investigations ongoing. I know you're trying to -- I think by the question, it's trying to draw me into investigations that are ongoing right now. We need to let those investigations proceed, and address all the matters they're looking at.

Q: Scott, Secretary Rumsfeld also said today that he is no longer reading newspapers. Might that have been on the advice of the President?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think so.

Q: No?

MR. McCLELLAN: No.

Q: Scott, does he have a preferred timetable on when he'd like to see these investigations wrapped up?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that that will be made based on where the facts lead. And obviously we want to show the world that we take these matters seriously and that we move swiftly to address these matters. And I think the military is moving forward in a determined and swift matter to get to the bottom of things. It's important that we know the truth, and it's important that we move forward in an open and transparent way, so that the world sees that America takes these matters seriously and addresses them when they come to light; that we do not tolerate this kind of activity, it is unacceptable.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

12:13 P.M. EDT

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