James S. Brady Briefing Room
1:04 P.M. EDT
MR. SNOW: Hello, everyone. A quick announcement before I take your questions. President Bush will welcome Portuguese Prime Minister José Sócrates to the White House on September 17, 2007, in the Prime Minister’s dual role as Prime Minister and head of the European Union presidency. President Bush looks forward to discussing a broad range of issues of shared interest, including Afghanistan, the Middle East, transatlantic relations, advancing peace and security in Afghanistan and the Middle East, ending genocide in Darfur, enhancing cooperation on international trade, counterterrorism, energy security and climate change. The President welcomes the opportunity to discuss with the Prime Minister ways to build on our strong relations with the European Union under Portuguese leadership.
Q: Is the administration trying to get GAO to revise some of their assessments in their Iraq report?
MR. SNOW: No, at this point, I don’t think — you talk about revising assessments and you’ve got a draft report that’s been making its way around — the Pentagon has suggested that there are some factual — it believes it has some compelling facts that may bear on some of the conclusions that have been drawn. But it’s my understanding that, typically —
Q: In what area?
MR. SNOW: I’ll refer you back to the Pentagon on that. But the fact is that these are reports that get circulated around for comment and apparently there were some comments. I talked to Geoff Morrell about it — I know he made some comments to the Pentagon press corps today. But they’ll have to — obviously they’re going to be people providing some factual input and some input into the report.
Q: The administration, or the White House is not very enthusiastic about this report — is that correct?
MR. SNOW: No, I don’t — no. I think what we’ve suggested is, number one, that the standard that is set by the legislation is to assess whether a benchmark has been met. Well, look, it’s no secret that many of the benchmarks have not been met. What is significant is that there’s progress toward a great number of them.
Again, you’re asking us — you’re asking me at this point to make detailed comment on a draft report. I’m not going to do it. Let’s wait and see what GAO has to report. It clearly has been leaked by some people who want to get some of the early thinking out, but we’ll get a report next Tuesday, I think, and we’ll be able to —
Q: But wouldn’t it fair to assume that the administration has an interest in making it appear better than the negative way in which it seems in the draft?
MR. SNOW: No, I think the administration’s interest is making sure that we get a full picture of what’s going on in Iraq. And frankly, the people who are going to be best able to do that are the folks who live and work there every day, and that would be General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker.
There are a number of reports coming out. We have the NIE, obviously. There’s the Jones Commission report. So there are a lot of reports. It’s a season of reports. But we are certainly looking forward to hearing from the General who is in charge of overall operations and the Ambassador who works there every day, the folks who have a real grasp of ground truth. All these reports obviously are interesting.
Q: Democrats are saying that this GAO report basically shows that President Bush’s Iraq strategy is not working. How do you respond to them? Why should they not view it that way?
MR. SNOW: Well, number one, they ought to talk to the Democrats who have just come back from Iraq who said just the opposite. So, I mean, you’ve had Senator Durbin, Senator Levin. You had a number of key Democrats who have come back and talked about — Senator Biden, even — suggesting that there have been, in fact, significant changes under the surge and there have been significant progress.
Again, I would — if you take a look at what Congress has mandated for this report, it says, have you met these? Have you met them in full? Well, the answer is, you’re going to find in a lot of cases, of course they haven’t met them. Now, the real question is, do you have progress in the right direction?
The other thing I would suggest is that it would be a mistake to limit one’s view of what goes on in Iraq to the benchmarks. For instance, among the benchmarks are not the fact that Sunni Iraqis have, in fact, turned against al Qaeda and have really opened up a front against al Qaeda that is of enormous significance, and also creates a possibility of greater political reconciliation in the long run, as well.
So what you’re going to see from Ambassador Crocker and from General Petraeus is a view of what’s going on in Iraq that’s broader simply than the benchmarks. And I think if you take a look even at the original report on the benchmarks, some of those that were laid out originally — and I don’t have them all in my head right now, but you go back and read the July report — some of them are not even appropriate right now. There’s a critique of some of the benchmarks themselves.
The real question that people have is, what’s going on Iraq? Are we making progress? Militarily, is the surge having an impact? The answer is yes. There’s no question about it. What you’ve had is the number of ethnic and religious sectarian killings down by 75 percent. You have a doubling of weapons cache seizures. You have a reduction in bombing violence, in bombing killings of U.S. and coalition forces. There have been a number of — you have kills and captures way up when it comes to those who have been fighting against the government.
Obviously there’s a whole lot that still needs to be done. But on the other hand, again, there’s been significant progress on a number of fronts.
Q: Tony, where do you get that information that sectarian violence, you said, is down 75 percent?
MR. SNOW: I believe that was — General Petraeus is — 75 percent reduction in religious and ethnic killings since last year.
Q: The GAO found no difference in overall violence.
MR. SNOW: Well, again, I’m going to wait to see the report. Everybody is speaking knowledgeably of a draft report. The other thing is, how one measures overall violence, it would be interesting to see what that metric is. General Petraeus clearly has a different view of that. I would defer to him on that.
Q: Tony, a couple days ago, The Washington Post reported that — you mentioned the NIE — they reported that when the NIE went around in draft form, General Petraeus saw it and didn’t like some of the findings and succeeded in basically watering down what the spy agencies had come up with. What’s the process like? Are you tinkering with these reports?
MR. SNOW: No. Number one, you are saying that it’s tinkering with the report when the man who’s on the ground, who has the most direct experience, is, in fact, having factual input? No, this is —
Q: But clearly they talked to him for factual input earlier in the — I’m talking about the end of the process. Do you think your 16 spy agencies did this report without —
MR. SNOW: Sixteen spy agencies? You’re talking about intelligence agencies.
Q: Yes, intelligence agencies. Do you think that they did not — do you think that they did not reach out to General Petraeus and other commanders earlier in the process? Are you saying that they just made it up on their own?
MR. SNOW: Are you saying that General Petraeus was trying to doctor the report?
Q: Well, The Washington Post report suggested that, saying, he “succeeded in having the security judgment softened to reflect improvements in recent months.”
MR. SNOW: Well, I think that’s — yes, but that is somebody having factual input into a report, Ed.
Q: Is it true you’re not going to ask for any more money for this war?
MR. SNOW: No.
Q: What is the President going to ask for?
MR. SNOW: Well, he’s going to wait until you get a report from the generals about what you think you need.
Q: And $50 billion is —
MR. SNOW: No, we’re not — look, it is premature to be talking figures at this juncture. Last year we came up with an emergency supplemental, which we thought was going to be our best estimate. You continually revise those estimates based on the realities on the ground and the requirements of the forces. And we’ll wait to hear what the generals on the ground have to say about it.
At this juncture, I think — you may recall last year, for instance, there was a whole lot of speculation within a wide range of possible figures that might be put forward in a supplemental. Let’s just wait until the President has had an opportunity to hear from the people responsible.
Q: So you have no idea what more money is needed?
MR. SNOW: I don’t know.
Q: Are you worried that there’s going to be an increase in attacks during September in an attempt to influence —
MR. SNOW: It has always been a concern. And the generals have made that clear for a long time, and it certainly is a concern. We hope it doesn’t happen, but certainly people are aware that there is going to be an attempt to try to influence the domestic debate here in the United States, and using acts of violence is one of the means.
Q: Do you see any evidence that that’s been going on during the summer?
MR. SNOW: I’m not the person to ask about that.
Q: Topic change. As the head of the party, is the President concerned that the events surrounding Senator Craig are harmful to Republicans?
MR. SNOW: I don’t think the President is drawing any global judgment on Republicans. What we’ve said is that the story is certainly a disappointment, and it’s something that the Senate Ethics Committee is going to be handling.
Q: Does he believe he should resign?
MR. SNOW: We’re not commenting beyond what I’ve said.
Q: Tony, back to Iraq. You said that this is a season of reports. Does the President give all these reports equal weight, or does he believe that the Petraeus-Crocker report is the most important?
MR. SNOW: I think the President takes a look at all the reports that come across. But obviously, if you’re going to take a look at who is the most credible to speak about it, the people who are there full time are the ones whose judgment you are going to take very seriously. But on the other hand, he’s going to take a look at all the inputs.
Q: Secondly, he’s about to go to Australia. How will he get briefed by Petraeus and Crocker prior to their testimony? Could you just give us sort of a lay of the land somewhat?
MR. SNOW: No, I really can’t. I’ll try to put together the process tick-tock, but I don’t know.
Q: Tony, you said the GAO is obviously a draft report, but they set out to assess whether these benchmarks have been met or not. Are you asserting that that is too tough a standard?
MR. SNOW: I’m just saying — look, if you’re trying to do an overall judgment on what’s going on in Iraq, the idea that somehow your standard is everything completed, or nothing completed seems to me to be a pretty high standard to meet. On the other hand, if you’re trying to figure out, are you making progress toward the goals that you have set out, that’s probably the proper way to look at it. This appears to be the metric — and by the way, the GAO didn’t set forth this, members of Congress did — said, have you met the benchmarks? There are going to be a number of areas where they have not met the benchmarks, but, in fact, there is significant progress and that deserves to be noted, as well, not only in terms of the context of the public debate, but in terms of responsibly assessing what has gone on with the surge, and furthermore, what needs to go on to have success in Iraq.
Q: You talked about Iran meddling inside Iraq. The President has mentioned it many times. Iraq’s Foreign Minister today criticized Iran for literally bombarding the Kurdish areas in the north with artillery shipments. Do you have any response to that?
MR. SNOW: No, no — other than we have made it clear all along that Iran is going to — that the Iranians have said that they want to play a constructive role; well, the way you do that is to be serious about trying to guarantee security within Iraq. And that means certainly not transporting weapons in, not bringing people in who are going to be fighting against the government, not committing acts of violence against that government, but instead, trying to support the safety and security of those who work in the government and not to be supporting those who, in fact, are trying to bring it down.
Q: Well, what about the shelling in the north?
MR. SNOW: Again, I’m not going to try to — that is something, Bret, that you can bring back to your old pals over at the Pentagon. They’re going to be a lot — they’re going to give you a much more sage analysis of that than I am.
Q: Tony, two questions. First, we are again celebrating India — of India. Question I have is as far as Pakistan is concerned, former Prime Minister Bhutto has agreed that General Musharraf will take off his military — you think this political marriage will work?
MR. SNOW: Well, number one, there are a lot of stories coming out of Pakistan. We will let the Pakistanis break their own news on this. Secondly, what we have said all along is what Pakistan needs is a transparent election. We have a free and fair election conducted under transparent circumstances.
Q: The second, as far as Osama bin Laden is concerned, yesterday —
MR. SNOW: Oh, a change in topic. I’m sorry — bin Laden —
Q: — on WTOP said that — he was quoting a newspaper in Pakistan — that Osama bin Laden was dead in 2005 because of kidney failure. But recent report was saying that Osama bin Laden is alive in Pakistan. Where do we stand on his well-being or death?
MR. SNOW: Look, I’m not going to tell you what we know or don’t know about bin Laden, but I thank you for passing on what occurred on WTOP yesterday.
Q: Is bin Laden on dialysis?
MR. SNOW: I don’t know. (Laughter.) For the record, I am not. (Laughter.)
Q: On the subject that Kelly had, on Senator Craig. This administration in the last couple of weeks has embraced the idea of allowing controversial figures in this administration to walk, to leave, to resign. What about —
MR. SNOW: What? (Laughter.)
Q: The President accepted — the President accepted Karl Rove’s resignation; he accepted Gonzales’s resignation —
MR. SNOW: But what are you —
Q: — because of controversy. But let me ask you —
MR. SNOW: No.
Q: Let me ask you this: Do you think that this administration is viewing, behind the walls, that Craig should leave because it is not a good idea —
MR. SNOW: Number one, I am not going to make any further comment —
Q: — Republican Party in 2008.
MR. SNOW: Number one, I’m not going to make any further comment beyond what I have about Senator Craig’s predicament. Number two, I’m not letting you get away with “accepting” Karl Rove because he’s controversial. Karl is somebody who has spent 14 years working for the President, and I think it is somebody who will continue to work for the President, speak out.
Alberto Gonzales is somebody who was the object of a concerted series of personal attacks from Capitol Hill that yielded nothing in terms of, in fact, evidence of any wrongdoing on his behalf. And therefore, what I would suggest is rather than treating them as “controversial figures,” these guys have mud slung at them. What they ended up doing is that they have tendered their resignations, but these are people who have served very long and very well and spent a lot of time in public service and deserve thanks for it.
Q: Okay, but the similarities — Republicans were also asking for them to step down. Now, Larry Craig, Republicans are asking for Mr. Craig to step down. Do you think he is hurtful to the Republicans in 2008?
MR. SNOW: I’m not going — nice try. I’m not going beyond where —
Q: Tony, on Senator Warner’s comments a week ago, did the White House consider those comments to be a break with the White House on the direction forward in Iraq?
MR. SNOW: Senator Warner is somebody whose views, obviously, we take seriously. I’m not going to get into characterizing whether they’re breaks or not breaks. I think Senator Warner has made it clear that he’d like to see success in Iraq, and so would we.
Q: He talked about withdrawing — or beginning to withdraw troops this September.
MR. SNOW: I understand. Our position on this is that let’s hear what the generals have to say. What we do have is a situation in which you have real — I think two things. Number one, it is clear that the surge is producing significant results. And that does not seem to be an object of controversy — really a significant controversy anymore. Number one, Senator Warner believes that somehow withdrawing troops or withdrawing a brigade might have some impact on the political situation. It’s pretty clear that the Iraqis have been working the political situation themselves. We had the meeting with the Prime Minister and members of the presidency council, and we’re going to have to see what happens. The President certainly welcomed that meeting and welcomed their determination to work on a lot of the key issues. And we’re going to have to see what happens when the parliament reconvenes in a couple of weeks.
Q: It just seems pretty clear that he was disagreeing with the White House, and it doesn’t seem like —
MR. SNOW: Well, again, I’ll let you draw whatever conclusions you may on that.
Q: Tony, back to Larry Craig. Is his predicament, as you call it, hurting Republicans?
MR. SNOW: Thank you for the question. I’ve already given my answer.
Q: No, you didn’t.
MR. SNOW: Yes, I did. Okay, I gave the answer I’m going to give.
Q: Your tolerance level seems to be slipping. (Laughter.)
MR. SNOW: It’s — really? Am I getting cranky like you? (Laughter.) Wow. (Laughter.)
Q: Governor Mitt Romney is quoted as describing Senator Larry Craig’s behavior as “disgusting.” Does the head of the Republican Party want you to suggest that he disagrees?
MR. SNOW: No, I’m suggesting that we’ve said that this is disappointing and it needs to be handled by the Senate Ethics Committee.
Q: Okay. Reuters reports from Harvard that Fidel Castro has just described Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama as “an apparently unbeatable ticket.” But the Reuters report did not mention either of these two U.S. Senators repudiating this endorsement. And my question: Does the leader of the Republican Party believe that Clinton and Obama should repudiate this dictator’s endorsement or not?
MR. SNOW: I think it is safe to say that Fidel Castro is not an expert on the workings of an active democracy. (Laughter.)
Q: Tony, since you are in a good mood —
MR. SNOW: Not according to Plante, I’m not. (Laughter.)
Q: — you could give me a serious answer on official motorcades, which I’ve spoken to you about earlier. Now, in the wake of this tragic — second tragic death of a motorcycle policemen, and in the wake of, actually, an incident that happened last week to me and lots of others on Rock Creek Park when we were nearly wiped out by Cheney’s motorcade, which are the biggest, the fastest and most aggressive I’ve ever seen in 40 years — why in this day and age are official motorcades necessary? Can’t they avoid narrow and windy roads where you can’t get to the side, like Rock Creek? And thirdly, why do they have to be so fast and so huge —
MR. SNOW: Connie, I would refer all those comments to the people that do protective details. But I think in this day and age, a protective motorcade is, in fact, a necessity.
Q: Do they have to be faster, do they have to be —
MR. SNOW: Connie, I’m just not competent to comment on that. Again, I would refer you to talk to the protective services.
Q: Can you tell us about when the White House was notified and what the President knows about the nerve gas that was found in the U.N.?
MR. SNOW: I don’t know about the President’s notification. Here’s what we do know. Apparently, last Friday, UNMOVIC staff members discovered in metal and glass containers within a plastic package what turned out to be chemical agents that were brought over as a result of U.N. weapons inspections during the UNMOVIC era. These items should not have ended up, obviously, at the New York offices. Normally they would be transported to an appropriately equipped laboratory for analysis. I’m sure that there are going to be a lot red-faced people over at the U.N. trying to just figure out how they got there.
In any event, they’ve done some testing of the air. There is no danger to the folks involved. The agents had been at the UNMOVIC facility for more than a decade. For other analysis of this and more detail, I’d refer you to the FBI.
Q: What about notification? Because there are some reports suggesting initially that it was only today that the New York Fire Department and Police Department found out that this was even going on, even though they found it on Friday.
MR. SNOW: Again, I’d refer you to the FBI, because I don’t know.
I pointed to Paula; Paula gets the last question. Sorry. In fairness.
Q: I have a question on the S-CHIP program.
MR. SNOW: Okay.
Q: While Congress was out, the administration put out new requirements for states. And one of those requirements would require parents who were privately insured to be without insurance for one year before they can enroll their children in the S-CHIP program. And I just wondered, where are families going to get insurance from —
MR. SNOW: Well, it’s a very good question for which — when you want to ask a really detailed question like that, give me some advance warning and I’ll get you an answer.
Q: Well, it was asked this morning.
MR. SNOW: Okay, well, I’m afraid I wasn’t here this morning. I will get you an answer.
END 1:24 P.M. EDT