James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
11:44 A.M. EST
MS. PERINO: Hello. All right, I have a few announcements and then I will go to your questions.
This morning the President met with the First Vice President of the Government of the National Unity of Sudan and President of the Government of Southern Sudan — First Vice President Kiir. And then you had the President’s comments — hi Caren, just recognized you there; welcome back.
In addition, I have a scheduling update for you. On Thursday the President will travel to Philadelphia. He will deliver remarks on No Child Left Behind. This is the 7th anniversary of his signing of that historic law. He will talk about how No Child Left Behind has changed the education landscape over the past seven years, and he will talk about why he’s confident that we can meet the goals of this law and why we must hold firm on high standards and accountability. And that event will be held at General Philip Kearny School in Philadelphia.
Also two more announcements. President Bush will award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, and former Prime Ministers Tony Blair of the United Kingdom and John Howard of Australia, on Tuesday, January 13th, in an East Room ceremony. The President is honoring these leaders for their work to improve the lives of their citizens and for their efforts to promote democracy, human rights and peace abroad.
All three leaders have been staunch allies of the United States, particularly in combating terrorism. And their efforts to bring hope and freedom to people around the globe have made their nations, America and the world community a safer and more secure world.
The Medal of Freedom is the nation’s highest civil award and was established by executive order in 1963. The President has previously awarded 78 medals during his tenure.
Finally, tomorrow the President will use his Antiquities Act authority to designate three areas in the Central Pacific as Marine National Monuments. The President’s actions will prevent the destruction and extraction of natural resources from these beautiful and biologically diverse areas without conflicting with our military’s activities and freedom of navigation, which are vital to our national security. And the public and future generations will benefit from the science and knowledge gained from these areas.
And the President has a strong eight-year record on oceans conservation. You’ll remember the Northwest Hawaiian Islands Monument that he designated a year or so ago. The President will make this announcement tomorrow. These new protected areas will comprise the largest area of ocean set aside as marine protected areas in the world, at 195,280 square miles. The President will make remarks about this tomorrow at 1:40 p.m. in Room 350 over in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.
And Chairman of the President’s Council on Environmental Quality, Jim Connaughton, will hold a conference call today at 4:00 P.M., so that you can get more information about that. And we’ll send around the call information shortly.
In addition, tomorrow the President will announce America’s first submissions in 20 years to the United Nations’ World Heritage Sites. These are — the two submissions will be the Northwest Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument, and also the home of our first President, George Washington, down in Mount Vernon. And with that, I’ll take your questions.
Q: Does the President believe that a cease-fire, talks about a cease-fire are premature? And secondly, does he think that — what does he think about the ground invasion — does he think that that’s appropriate — into Gaza?
MS. PERINO: Well, you heard from the President just a moment ago when he was talking about Israel and Gaza and the troubles that are happening in that region. One of the things I would point you to is the State Department briefing today that my colleague, Sean McCormack, held, in which he talked about our efforts to try to establish a durable cease-fire. What the President has said is that of course we want the fighting to stop, but we don’t want it to create a situation where one side is allowed to continue lobbing rockets into innocent people’s homes and neighborhoods and businesses, while the other one is accused of not holding on to the cease-fire. We want something that is durable.
And Secretary Rice has been on the phone with multiple world leaders, trying to see if we can get to a place where we could establish this three-tier cease-fire.
Q: What about the ground invasion? He didn’t comment directly on that.
MS. PERINO: Well, Israel made a decision. This is — as we said, Israel did not seek our — the United States’ permission. They don’t have to do that. But what we have said is that we understand the need to try to create a more stable and secure area for themselves, and also for the Palestinian people, who have been basically held hostage by Hamas in Gaza since the summer of 2007. And we urge them to be very cautious when it comes to civilian casualties. We want to keep those to an absolute minimum.
One of the unfortunate things is that Hamas often hide amongst innocent civilians. And I know that Israel has said that they are trying to take care to make sure that they are protected. But in addition to that, we are also very concerned about the humanitarian situation. And that’s why we have funneled more money into the United Nations, so that aid can reach the people of Gaza, from heating oil and cooking oil to drinking water, whatever they need.
Q: Are you satisfied with that aid, that it’s getting there fast enough, that doctors and medical professionals are being allowed in to treat some —
MS. PERINO: One of the things that the State Department talked about today is, in our attempt to establish a cease-fire that would be durable, would be a way to facilitate getting more aid into the area sooner. Obviously, it’s a very troubling situation.
Q: Why is the President letting more people be killed in this situation, instead of going for a cease-fire and calling for restraint, as they have in the past, on both sides?
MS. PERINO: We are calling for a durable cease-fire. That’s what we are trying to establish.
Q: But why don’t you call for it today and stop people from being killed?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think, Helen, strong views are held on this by all sides. We believe that Israel has a right to defend itself, and —
Q: Do the Gazans have a right to defend themselves?
MS. PERINO: I think that what the Gazans deserve is a chance to live in peace and security. What President Bush has worked for is a chance to establish a two-state solution, so that the Palestinians could have their own state, so that they could live in their own democracy. And that’s what President Abbas, who is the President of all Palestinians, has been working towards.
Q: The President did not recognize their election, which was fair and square under international law, as observers —
MS. PERINO: Look, when — the President did call for the — did support the elections. And when the elections were held, I don’t think that Hamas was elected because they said, vote for us we’ll take you to war, or, we’ll hold you hostage, or, we’ll send rockets into Israel every day. But they won because they were tired — the people of — the Palestinians, the people of Gaza were frustrated with the services that they were getting from the Fatah party, which was a wake up call for the Fatah party as well. And they have worked to try to improve what they could provide governance-wise for all of the Palestinians.
Q: So knowing that, why did the U.S. cut off all relation — all aid to the people?
MS. PERINO: We certainly have not done that to the people of Gaza. We do not deal with terrorist organizations, of which Hamas is dedicated as one.
Q: Dana, how quickly do you think you can get a cease-fire? And does Secretary Rice have any plans to travel to the region? President Sarkozy is over there trying to broker a deal. Is the U.S. involved?
MS. PERINO: She’s been working on this round-the-clock since it started. I think that there’s no leader in the world that knows this issue more intimately than Secretary Rice, and she knows the leaders of both the Palestinians and the Israelis very well. And she’s been working with the international community to try to establish this. And we welcome the support of our allies in trying to help, because this is not something that the United States alone can solve. This is something that the Israelis, the Palestinians, working within the world community can try to solve together.
Q: Will she go there to try to broker —
MS. PERINO: I don’t know of any plans for her to. I know she canceled her trip to go to China so that she could stay here and continue to work on it from here.
Q: How quickly do you think there can be a cease-fire? How quickly is it realistic to expect that —
MS. PERINO: We would like it as soon as possible, but it has to be something that is durable. We don’t want to go back to the status quo ante where it’s okay for Hamas to be lobbying rockets into Israel that terrorize innocent people.
Q: Can you also give more details on the humanitarian aid? The President said that — promised fresh aid. How much and —
MS. PERINO: I don’t have any more details on it. I’ll refer you to the State Department who is coordinating that through the United Nations.
Q: Dana, do you know why the President decided to weigh in with an on-camera statement on this today? As you know, the campaign is more than a week old, the Israeli campaign —
MS. PERINO: The President spoke about it Friday and the next work day is Monday. And he’s been working on it all weekend and I thought it was an appropriate time for him to address it. And besides, if he hadn’t, I’m sure that your question would be why didn’t he. So he did.
Q: Does the ground incursion at all change the equation?
MS. PERINO: No. No.
Q: Dana, you’re talking about a durable cease-fire. What is the United States doing to help implement a durable cease-fire? To whom are we talking? What other nations? What should be done to get both sides to agree to a cease-fire in which no further exchanges occur? And if we can’t do it, who can?
MS. PERINO: Well, as I just said, Secretary Rice has been on the phone working with her allies and her partners around the world to try to establish this. She’s been working with the United Nations. I’ll leave it to them to detail all of them out. But you also know who the President has called, because we’ve let you know.
It’s going to take a commitment on behalf of Hamas to reject terrorism and violence and to accept that they could try to find a political way forward. That way we can get to a point where we can establish a two-state solution.
Q: There can’t be a cease-fire unless Hamas agrees.
MS. PERINO: Well, wouldn’t that be the definition of a cease-fire?
Q: Yes, but agrees to stop firing rockets.
MS. PERINO: Well, yes, I just don’t understand why it would be okay that we say it’s okay to have a cease-fire but they can — they’re allowed to continue to fire rockets into Israel. I mean, that’s the very definition of a cease-fire. Hamas is the one who brought this situation on themselves.
Q: Some would say to stop the killing that is occurring. There are a lot of civilian casualties.
MS. PERINO: Well, I just wonder where all the voices were, being — voicing concern about the Israelis who are being terrorized. And I just think it’s a double standard to say it’s okay for Hamas to be able to send rockets into Israel. One of the biggest problems is that Hamas, which is a terrorist organization, hides amongst innocent civilians. And I do think that all due care should be taken to make sure that innocent civilians are properly protected.
Q: Yes, but let’s be real, it’s a question of scale. Everybody agrees that it’s bad for Hamas to send rockets into Israel, but they have generally killed relatively fewer people than this invasion is killing.
MS. PERINO: Just think — put yourself in that situation. If rockets were coming into the United States from Canada, do you think that we would just say, well, it’s okay, because they really haven’t hurt or killed that many people this week? We would never stand for it. And we have an ally in Israel, and we’re trying to work with the international community to establish a durable cease-fire so that this vicious cycle can end.
Q: But you’re not talking to the Hamas at all.
MS. PERINO: We are — but the people that we —
Q: You could call anyone a terrorist organization —
MS. PERINO: Egypt has been working with Hamas — or talking with Hamas, and that’s — we have obviously very good relations with Egypt, as well.
Q: Egypt is not the United States.
MS. PERINO: I’m not — we’re not going to change policy here, under this administration, to all of a sudden start to talk to terrorist organizations.
Q: On Friday the President set down a marker for a cease-fire, one of the three, and I want to get you to go over the other two. He said there have to be monitors to make sure that weapons don’t go back into Gaza, that Hamas’s word is not enough. Talk to me about the other two tiers of this three-tiered cease-fire.
MS. PERINO: I’m actually going to leave that to the State Department, because Secretary Rice is having conversations with her partners around the world. And in order to prevent getting into a situation where I’m saying something that might be out of line with what she is trying to do behind the scenes on the phone to try to actually get this done, I’m just going to refer you over to the State Department.
Q: Does that suggest the tiers are still being negotiated?
MS. PERINO: No, I’m just going to let her define them the way that she would like to, and refer you to the State Department briefing for now.
Q: Two questions. One, as far as this fighting in Israel is concerned, you think President is concerned about the disruption of oil flow from the area in any way?
MS. PERINO: I haven’t heard him voice it, no. I think what we’re mostly concerned about is the humanitarian situation, and making sure that innocent people can be protected, and that we can reach a conclusion as soon as possible and return to a situation where we are actually able to discuss the definition of a state. Now, we tried that and we got pretty far along the path.
And one thing — one of the things that this administration will leave behind is the fact that talking about a two-state solution is now commonplace. That wasn’t the case many years ago, and I think that the Palestinians can have hope that there is a path for them to have their own state, one that’s supported by the majority in Israel and around the world, including their Arab neighbors.
Q: And second, as far as the terrorists are concerned, two democracies, including Israel and India, were the victims of terrorists. Do you see any difference between Hamas against Israel, or Hamas terrorists and the terrorists, those who are operating out from Pakistan against India?
MS. PERINO: Obviously, they’re two different groups. But I think at their base level, they are despicable, evil human beings who use violence and murder in order to achieve political objectives. So in that regard, they are the same.
Q: On another topic, unless someone else wants to stick on this?
Q: Yes, one more on this. Doesn’t the President consider that the Israeli reaction has been disproportionate to the firing of these rockets into southern Israel? I mean, there’s one thing — some people are concerned by the fact, the very fact that the Israelis are reacting, but most of the world is in an uproar because of the disproportionality of the response. Doesn’t the President also feel that they’ve gone a little too far?
MS. PERINO: I think I’ve answered that question to the best of my ability today already.
Q: The First Lady’s office announced her book contract today. What’s the status of the President’s progress towards a potential book? And does he plan to, or want to have any input at all on Mrs. Bush’s book?
MS. PERINO: That’ll be up to them. I would assume that they will have conversations about it as she works on it. The President has said in many interviews that he does plan on writing a book, but he hasn’t met with any publishers, or started down that road. He’ll just work on that after January 20th.
Q: There has been word that some publishers have recommended that he delay a book because of his low approval ratings now; is that correct?
MS. PERINO: I have no idea. And if that’s the case — I just don’t know. I think the President will write a book that I’ll certainly want to read. And if his approval ratings are a factor into someone’s decision whether or not they want to buy the book, I guess that they just don’t want to learn much about his point of view.
Q: Will the book be different than the recent movie about him, or pretty much the same? (Laughter.)
MS. PERINO: The book will be — always be better than the movie.
Q: The President for years has actually called for making tax cuts permanent in 2001 and 2003. Do you think, given the change in economic conditions, that this larger tax cut package under consideration is warranted, needed?
MS. PERINO: You mean the President-elect’s proposal?
Q: The one the congressional leaders are —
MS. PERINO: I think the best thing that I can do is decline to comment on what they’re going to do going forward. Obviously we think that tax cuts were the right way to help our economy get out of the recession that this President inherited. And we know that tax cuts can help spur innovation. But I think I’ll just stop there and not comment any further on that.
Q: Can you talk a little about the timing of the announcement on the airlift for Darfur? Why has it taken so long, and why today?
MS. PERINO: We’ve been working on trying to get the assets in place so that we would be able to actually do it. The President made a decision early on that Steve Hadley talked about in the statement that we released earlier today on Darfur that meant that the United States would be working with the United Nations and NGOs to try to get aid into the region. And we’re doing what we can as soon as we possibly can, and we worked to try to get it done so that we could talk about it with First Vice President Kiir today.
Q: Just a follow-up on the First Vice President. Did they talk at all about not only the airlift, but anything specific that’s going on in Southern Sudan that will help Darfur? And secondly, the President said that he would continue to be available and support Vice President and Southern Sudan. Any more readout on that?
MS. PERINO: Well, that was one of the questions that First Vice President Kiir put directly to the President — will you continue to care about us? And the President said, of course I will. You know that the CPA agreement between the North-South was actually negotiated under this President, which ended a 22-year civil war. And the President feels very strongly about Sudan and about Darfur.
When it comes to — your other question was–
Q: Just had they talked at all about the airlift and what other issues Southern Sudan may be involved with in terms of helping Darfur?
MS. PERINO: Well, they talked a lot about the CPA agreement and also about the upcoming elections that are going to take place in Sudan, concerns that the South Sudanese have about the implementation of the cease-fire agreement. And they also — obviously they care very much about the people and the human suffering that was going on in Darfur, and I think that to the greatest extent possible First Vice President Kiir is playing a constructive role to try to help. But obviously the international community and the NGOs that are trying to help in Darfur are key to that because they have a lot of problems and ones that they can’t solve on their own. So that’s why we’re trying to help.
Go ahead, sir.
Q: Do you know if President Bush spoke personally to Barack Obama on the Gaza crisis?
MS. PERINO: I haven’t been in the habit of talking about every time that they’ve spoken, but I think that they shared a New Year’s Eve* call, but I don’t know if they spoke about that in particular.
Q: Why President-Elect Barack Obama could not stay in the Blair House, but he’s staying instead in the Hay-Adams Hotel next door?
MS. PERINO: He’s going to be coming. I think that they’re going to move in on January 15th. We had had some plans for some events that would be taking place in between now and then, but they’ll be moving in on the 15th.
Last one, just go ahead, Jim.
Q: Dana, the last time the President protected undersea property, he put off-limits some valuable gas, like in the Destin Dome off Florida. That was temporary. This new protected area, do we know that there is oil and gas underneath the property that’s now being protected?
MS. PERINO: I don’t know if there are. I don’t think it will matter because now it will be a protected monument, but that’s a great question you could ask Connaughton on the 4:00 p.m. conference call.
Q: Dana, is there any urgency attached to getting a cease-fire before Inauguration Day, to make sort of a last foreign policy achievement?
MS. PERINO: I’ve not heard — not a single person has talked about it in those terms. They’re mostly concerned about doing it as quickly as possible in a way that would be durable and lasting. But there’s no desire on our behalf to try to get it done before the President’s term. We want to get it done as soon as possible. If we can do that beforehand, that would be something we would want to achieve. But I haven’t heard anybody describe it that way.
END 12:05 P.M. EST
*President Bush spoke with the President-elect on New Year’s Day.