Evacuations in Lebanon and the potential of a cease-fire between Hezbollah and Israel is the centerpiece of today’s briefing by White House Press Secretary Tony Snow.
Said Snow, “What we want is the proper — the cessation of violence in a manner that is consistent with stability, peace, democracy in Lebanon, and also an end to terror.
A cease-fire that would leave the status quo ante intact is absolutely unacceptable. A cease-fire that would leave intact a terrorist infrastructure is unacceptable. So what we’re trying to do is work as best we can toward a cease-fire that is going to create not only the conditions, but the institutions for peace and democracy in the region.”
Subj: PRESS BRIEFING BY TONY SNOW
Date:7/18/06THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release July 18, 2006
James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:35 P.M. EDT
Q The mike is on, Tony. (Laughter.)
Q Not unless you’ve never used it, Tony.
MR. SNOW: Aw, shucks, Lester. Welcome back to those of you on the road. Good to see a lot of you here. And for all the others, it’s good to be back. Let me just run through the remaining schedule for the day.
At 3:00 p.m., there will be a meeting with the bipartisan bicameral members of Congress talking about the G8 summit. There will be pool coverage at the bottom. At 6:50 p.m., there’s a photo opportunity with Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl, and Papal Nuncio Pietro Sambi. At 7:25 p.m., a social dinner in honor of outgoing Archbishop of Washington Theodore McCarrick, and the other two.
Also, at 2:45 p.m. today at the State Department, there will be a joint briefing from State Department and DOD on evacuation procedures and efforts ongoing in Lebanon.
As many of you have speculated, midmorning Thursday the President will be making remarks to the National Convention of the NAACP.
And with that, I think we’re covered — let’s go to questions.
Q If the President is truly concerned about Israel restraining themselves, why hasn’t he talked to Olmert on the phone? And it appears that the United States is giving Israel some breathing room so they can take out and weaken Hezbollah as much as possible.
MR. SNOW: How does it seem that the United States is giving breathing room? You and I have talked — I’m just curious about the characterization. How would you draw that conclusion?
Q Well, I don’t think that he’s even had a conversation with Olmert.
MR. SNOW: Okay, so you’re assuming because the President hasn’t called Olmert that that creates breathing room? I’m trying to get the context for the question. Let me proceed, and if it doesn’t do well enough, you can follow up.
The State Department, the Department of Defense, and the White House have been in contact with key leaders in the Israeli government, including the Prime Minister, on a daily basis. It is not as if we’re not having active and ongoing discussions. And one should not read too much or too little into the fact that the President hasn’t had a direct conversation.
As I pointed out on the road, the people he has talked to are those who have more direct influence over Lebanon — I mean, over Syria and Iran. He’s talked to the Saudis, he’s talked to the Jordanians, he’s talked with the Egyptians. But at this point, again, I would caution against — I know a lot of people want to hear about this
— would caution against reading too much into the fact that the President hasn’t talked to Olmert, Prime Minister Olmert. Secretary Rice has talked to him I think now on multiple occasions. Steve Hadley has been speaking to his opposite number. I know that there have been conversations with the Department of Defense, as well.
Q They don’t want this fighting stopped.
Q So the idea that the United States is holding back in doing any more criticizing of Israel to give them a chance to take out as many targets as they want?
MR. SNOW: No, because, Deb, the insinuation there is that there is either active military planning, collusion or collaboration between the United States and Israel, and there just isn’t. Israel is proceeding in the manner it sees fit to defend itself and its territory. The United States actually has been in the lead of the diplomatic efforts, issuing repeated calls for restraint, but at the same time, putting together an international consensus that — we’ve got to remember who is responsible for this: Hezbollah. Hezbollah started this. And Iran and Syria, its backers, ought to be using their influence to get Hezbollah to stop firing rockets and to return the soldiers. So that has been the consistent position. It is shared not only by our colleagues in the G8, but the aforementioned governments of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt. So I think it would be misleading to say that the United States hasn’t been engaged. We’ve been deeply engaged and actively engaged, and really from the start. And one of the key achievements of the G8 summit was putting everybody there on record as being with the U.S. on it.
Q Let me just follow because the G8 summit was what it was, a G8 summit statement.
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q What specifically would the President like to see other key players do? And what is he and his administration prepared to do in the sort of critical next steps?
MR. SNOW: The critical next steps really right now are up to Iran, Syria and Hezbollah. What has happened now as a result of the diplomacy I mentioned before is that the region is divided into two factions. On the one side, you’ve got Hezbollah and its backers — and that would be Iran and Syria. And on the other side you have everybody else. So what the United States has done is built this consensus.
What we would like to see happen is the soldiers returned, the rocket firing stopped, and at that point, try to go back to U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1559 and 1680; 1559 calls for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon, for disbanding of all militias, and for the effective control by the elected government of Lebanon over all its territory. That clearly is not the case right now in portions of southern Lebanon. So part of what the next step would include is providing security within Lebanon to ensure that the government has effective control. And as the President has said on a number of cases, also making sure that the government of Prime Minister Siniora remains secure and is able to go ahead and strengthen itself to provide the requisite security and also build stability within the country.
I also think — sorry, just to finish up — there’s also a mention I think — there’s a recognition that, at some point, you’re going to have humanitarian reconstruction efforts. And there was also talk at the G8 about that. So if you’re looking at it, you’re going to have a series of steps. Number one is, you’ve got to try to get past the original causes — address the root causes, which is the Hezbollah incitements, the kidnapping and the rocket firings; second, create the basis for a secure government in Lebanon; and third, get engagement from the international community in also helping rebuild.
Q Those immediate conditions, which are exactly the conditions that Israel has put forth, if those are not met, will the U.S. support any international stabilization force?
MR. SNOW: Well, what’s going to happen is — as you know, Kofi Annan now has a delegation in the region. They’re going to come back Thursday night. We’re waiting to hear on that. There are a series of active and ongoing conversations about precisely how you provide the kind of stability. Somehow you’re going to have to provide stability in southern Lebanon. Whether it’s an international stabilization force, whether it’s the Lebanese armed forces, all those things are under discussion and I don’t think at this point anybody has come up with a solution on it. But it is — you’re absolutely right, it’s something everybody is trying now to figure out in a practical manner, how do you pull it off. And there really is no clear answer. That’s one of the topics of continuing discussion between the G8 members and their governments.
Q But you won’t go so far as to say that if those conditions are not met, the U.S. will not support this force?
MR. SNOW: No, I’m not going to say that.
Q Tony, what would Secretary Rice’s — the goal of a trip from the Secretary of State be, then? She’s not going to meet with anybody from Syria, Iran or Hezbollah, so what would a trip to the region do, in terms of getting it closer to the end of a crisis?
MR. SNOW: Well, we’re going to have to wait. Look, the Secretary’s going to go, but she’s not even sure when. I think — I’m going to kick the can down the road a little bit, Jim, because I think at this point, we do know, but — it is a legitimate question to ask precisely what she wants to do and accomplish, and I think it’s probably better left to when they figure out when they’re going to do it, we’ll be in a better position to announce precisely what it is she wants to do.
Q Then let me follow about the evacuations of Americans. Are you comfortable with the pace at which they’ve proceeded? And we’re starting to hear from some Americans in Lebanon that they have not been getting adequate help, and this idea of their paying for their evacuation, all that is — they have some problems with. What’s your sense of it?
MR. SNOW: Okay, well, a couple of things. We understand the anxieties of people in Lebanon. There are practical considerations. It is difficult — our government has made the determination that it’s not safe to travel by road. The bombings at the airport have made it impractical to use large aircraft to get in and out. That leaves you helicopters and naval vessels. It takes time to get naval vessels there.
The Department of Defense — and for a lot of these practical details I will point you to the 2:45 p.m. briefing at State because they’re going to be able to give you a lot more detail, but I’ll tell you what I do understand.
There are practical difficulties in getting the vessels there. But we are working on foreign contract vessels to get people out, as well as getting naval assets in place. These would be assets that are able to provide transport for American citizens. Also putting out the word, register, let us know who you are.
There are a number of other considerations that you have to take into account. In order to provide stability and security in the transportation and to try and make it as timely as possible, you don’t simply say, everybody show up at a certain time, because you’re going to have a flood at the docks, and what you don’t want to have is that. What you want to be able to do is to move in an orderly fashion. Once they get there you’re going to have to be able to do practical things like checking Ids, making sure everybody is secure before they go on, and so forth.
In addition, at the other end, you also have to be able to have the facilities to receive people and to figure out which individuals are going to be transported back to the United States or elsewhere. There are going to be some cases where people have joint citizenship, but they really regard Lebanon as home, so to go to a place like Cyprus would mean that you’re going to have to figure out how you’re going to handle them if they don’t have a place in the United States to go. So you see there are a lot of moving parts here.
As for the complaint — and I understand it — about having to pay actually the same rate you get charged, which is commercial rate plus a dollar — that is a result of congressional law. It is actually part of the 2003 Foreign Relations Authorization Act. Interestingly, the Department of State had actually asked for some fairly lax guidelines in terms of trying to do this. This is a provision that provides for the evacuation while lives are endanger by war, civil unrest, or natural disaster, and this includes American citizens, employees, dependents and so on. The State Department wanted something like — they wanted, on a reimbursable basis to the extent feasible. Congress said, no, no, no, we want to get our money out of them — I’m paraphrasing — and they strengthened the language to the maximum extent practicable. It’s the law. I daresay it’s something that is causing heartburn for a number of people, but it is the law, and the State Department has to abide by it.
Q Are you going to push for any kind of supplemental to get some more money out there to —
MR. SNOW: Don’t know about that, it’s too early to find out.
Q And you’re comfortable with the pace at which all the planning has proceeded at, it reflects the urgency?
MR. SNOW: Well, I’ll tell you what’s happened, is that people have been moving as rapidly as possible, but on the other hand, it takes time to move ships into port as rapidly as possible.
What you can say is, they’ve doubled the number of helos that are — this is an unusual circumstance, because two of the three most likely ways to get people out, by road and by air, really are largely unavailable. So now you have naval transport, and they are moving as rapidly as they can, and again, also addressing all the ancillary security concerns. The other thing is, we are talking about being prepared, whether it is necessary or not — right now the embassy is making rough estimates, but they don’t know for sure how many people are really going to want to get out. But they are trying to prepare so that they can move large numbers if necessary.
I think at this point I will punt it over, because I know there’s a lot of stuff going on. I’ve talked to State and I’ve talked to DOD today, but I think I’d be more comfortable letting the people who have the hands-on responsibility for that go ahead and characterize what they’re trying to do.
Q The United States is not that helpless. It could have stopped the bombardment of Lebanon. We have that much control with the Israelis.
MR. SNOW: I don’t think so, Helen.
Q We have gone for collective punishment against all of Lebanon and Palestine.
MR. SNOW: What’s interesting, Helen —
Q And this is what’s happening, and that’s the perception of the United States.
MR. SNOW: Well, thank you for the Hezbollah view, but I would encourage you —
Q Nobody is accepting your explanation. What is restraint, a call for restraint?
MR. SNOW: Well, I’ll tell you, what’s interesting, Helen, is people have. The G8 was completely united on this. And as you know, when it comes to issues of —
Q And we stopped a cease-fire — why?
MR. SNOW: We didn’t stop a cease-fire. I’ll tell you what —
Q We vetoed —
MR. SNOW: We didn’t even veto. Please get your facts right. What happened was that the G8 countries made a pretty clear determination that the guilty party here was Hezbollah. You cannot have a cease-fire when you’ve got the leader of Hezbollah going on his television saying that he perceives total war — he’s declaring total war. When they are firing rockets indiscriminately —
Q We had the United Nations —
MR. SNOW: Please let me finish. I know this is great entertainment, but I want to finish the answer. The point here is they’re firing rockets indiscriminately into civilian areas. The Israelis are responding as they see fit. You will note the countries that disagree with the —
Q — bombardment of a whole country —
MR. SNOW: — that disagree with the government of Israel in terms of its general approach on Palestine, many of our European allies agree that Israel has the right to defend itself, that the government of Lebanon has the right to control all its territory, that Hezbollah is responsible and that those who support it also bear responsibility. There is no daylight between the United States and all the allies on this. They all agreed on it. This was not difficult —
Q At that point, why did we veto a cease-fire?
MR. SNOW: We didn’t veto a cease-fire.
Q Yes, we did.
MR. SNOW: No, we didn’t. There was — there was no cease-fire. I’m sorry —
Q Wasn’t there a resolution?
MR. SNOW: No.
Q At the U.N.?
MR. SNOW: No — no. You know what you’ve — I see what you — what happened was that there was conversation about “a cease-fire” that was picked up by some of the microphones when some colorful language made its way into the airwaves yesterday. And the President was continuing a conversation he’d had earlier with Prime Minister Tony Blair about staging. Would we like a cease-fire? You bet, absolutely. We would love to see a cease-fire. But the way you stage is that you make sure that the people who started this fight — Hezbollah — take their responsibility —
Q There was no veto at the U.N.?
MR. SNOW: No, there hasn’t been a resolution at the VN — U.N., whatever it is. (Laughter.) There hasn’t been — I was in Germany too long. There’s been no resolution at the U.N.
Q Why aren’t we proposing a truce, no matter who is to blame? At least stop the killing.
MR. SNOW: Because it wouldn’t stop the killing. What it would do is it would say to the killers, you win.
Q Might save lives.
MR. SNOW: No, I don’t think so. And I’m glad you raised this. You do not want to engage in a cease-fire that has a practical — when you say to the Israelis, you guys just stop firing, when you have Hezbollah saying, we’re going to wage total war, because Hezbollah would read that as vindication of its tactics, and the idea that if you get the right sort of videos on television, and you get the right things going on, you can allow them to behave with impunity. Even though they are weakening the sovereign government of Lebanon, they are acting independently; even though they have —
Q And bombarding Lebanon —
MR. SNOW: Even though they have received —
Q — wipes out infrastructure.
MR. SNOW: All right, this is hectoring now.
Q Tony, one of the things the President did sign on to was calling for restraint —
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q — by the Israelis and watching out for civilian targeting.
MR. SNOW: Correct.
Q Does the President thus far have any problem with what the Israelis have been targeting, given the fact they have hit a lot of civilians?
MR. SNOW: They have hit civilians. And one of the things we’ve pointed out is that it has been the deliberate tactic of Hezbollah to place assets in civilian areas, including sometimes in the homes of its own members, as part of the tactics so that they would not get hit. And we lament the death of innocents whether they be in Israel, or in Lebanon, or in Gaza, or anywhere else. So it is something of which we are keenly aware. And it is also a reflection of tactics that would have been unthinkable in other conflicts at other times, but there is a deliberate attempt on the part of Hezbollah to place civilians in harm’s way. And, unfortunately, they are.
Q You have no problems with the targeting that Israel —
MR. SNOW: I’m not going to get in — I’m not going —
Q But the President called for restraint. You have no problem with what’s already been targeted?
MR. SNOW: The President has called for restraint. And, frankly, Martha, unless you or I have been in on the meetings that talk about targeting, it is beyond our competence to judge precisely the methods by which they’ve done it because neither you nor I know the intelligence that went into it or the precautions that have been made. So it’s a good argumentative question, and I really don’t have an answer for it.
Q Israel’s deputy army chief today said that for the current offensive to reach its goal, it’s going to take weeks. Is the White House comfortable with that kind of time frame?
MR. SNOW: Again, a statement by generals is one thing. Rather than trying to talk about what we’re comfortable with or not, we are uncomfortable with the situation as it is. What we want is the proper — the cessation of violence in a manner that is consistent with stability, peace, democracy in Lebanon, and also an end to terror.
A cease-fire that would leave the status quo ante intact is absolutely unacceptable. A cease-fire that would leave intact a terrorist infrastructure is unacceptable. So what we’re trying to do is work as best we can toward a cease-fire that is going to create not only the conditions, but the institutions for peace and democracy in the region.
Q How do you respond to — there’s been some criticism that failure to calm this fight on the part of the United States thus far may be a suggestion that U.S. policies in the Middle East have failed because you have isolated countries like Iran and Syria, which might actually be able to help in this situation?
MR. SNOW: I don’t think so. I think that you have found in the past that kind gestures have not changed their behavior. What you have, in fact, I think is just the opposite. You’ve got a success in policy to the extent that you now have Arab states making statements of unprecedented candor when it comes to some of their fellow Arab states. I would direct you to the comments made the other day by the government of Saudi Arabia. I mean, this is — this marks a different era, because it does mean that Arab nations and Muslim nations have stood up and said, Hezbollah is to blame, and its sponsors are to blame.
So, far from being a failure of U.S. diplomacy, I think what we’ve done — and we’ve talked about this with regard to North Korea and Iran — is create, once again, a coalition of people in the neighborhood, in the region, who have a vested interest in seeing peace, and have a vested interest in ensuring the stability of the democratically-elected government of Lebanon, they’re working together. That has not always been the case, as you all know.
So I think this does, in fact — look, success ultimately is going to be to resolve this in a way that achieves the goals that we’re talking about. But, diplomatically, I think the United States has helped to move quite a ways in terms of developing the kind of coalition that did not previously exist.
Q Do you have any sense right now of how many nations would be willing to participate in some kind of security force?
MR. SNOW: No, and that’s why I really — the readout I’m getting is that people are trying to figure out what is the proper way to go forward at the appropriate juncture to provide stability within southern Lebanon, and I honestly don’t think anybody has got that all worked out. I’m sure there are plenty of things on the drawing boards involving the government of Lebanon itself, possibly the United Nations. But it’s premature to speculate about that sort of thing.
Q The trip by Rice, yesterday — that was a snippet of a conversation we heard about the —
MR. SNOW: Right.
Q Is there anything more that we could have heard then that would have put it in perspective for us? Because —
MR. SNOW: No. Secretary Rice is contemplating a visit, but at this point, it’s just that. I mean —
Q Did you hear the comments from the Ambassador to the U.S. from Israel; there are people out there saying, this is not the right time — and is that why it doesn’t seem as imminent anymore?
MR. SNOW: Well, again, I think what the President said is, “I think Condi is going to the region sometime.” I believe that was the quote, which would be accurate.
MR. SNOW: “Soon,” okay, “soon.” I think that’s probably also accurate, but whether that means one day, two days or five days, I’ll redirect over to State. She’ll be able to provide the due clarity.
Q Tony, Arab and Muslim nations never condemn any kind of terrorism against India, Israel or the West, and they have never condemned Osama bin Laden so far. Now, as far as the bombings in India and Mumbai and Kashmir is concerned, they took place right up before G8 summit in Russia, and Prime Minister of India was also there. I understand he met with President Bush and other leaders there.
MR. SNOW: Yes, he did.
Q My question is that the G8 did condemn the bombings, but what is the outcome of these bombings? India is being hit every day, and Kashmir and elsewhere, because some do not like India’s booming economy and the friendship with the United States. And don’t you think India has also right to defend its sovereignty, and they have right to hit the terrorists across the border?
MR. SNOW: Goyal, I’m not sure that there was any large debate about that. I can tell you, because I was in the meeting with Prime Minister Singh, the first thing the President did was extend his condolences. And the bulk of the meeting was spent on talking about ways to work together to fight the war on terror in India and elsewhere, and in addition, to work together also on things like energy independence. So it did arise.
Q Tony, when it comes to Secretary Rice’s visit to the region, I know you can’t give us a time frame, but can you talk to us about what’s at stake here, as far her going and achieving some measure of success?
MR. SNOW: I really can’t —
Q — just simply because, as Tony Blair pointed out yesterday, he said, “If she goes out, she’s got to succeed, as it were, whereas I can just go and talk.”
MR. SNOW: Well, you don’t go there with an empty satchel, you go there if you have business that you think you can go ahead and transact. And the United States is busy working on multiple fronts. I think the first thing you’ve got to look at is the report back on Thursday from General — Secretary Annan’s delegation to the region, and then you move from there. We’re all waiting, basically, for that to take place. That’s the next benchmark in terms of trying to measure where you go in terms of international cooperation.
Again, I would stress that our allies — and that would include every member of the G8, especially those who have relations with Iran and Syria — they have certainly been active. They have been engaged in conversations, and there has been very robust diplomacy on all fronts to try to work toward moving toward peace in the region on this, or at least peace in southern Lebanon.
But in terms of trying to lay out any sort of specifics for Secretary Rice, again, I will punt that to the State Department, that’s their job. But I think you don’t simply go there for frequent flier miles. You go there when you’ve got business to conduct.
Q Tony, one other question on another subject, what you announced at the beginning of the briefing. Why did the President — why is he deciding to speak to the NAACP in person this year for the first time in his presidency?
MR. SNOW: Because he wants to. (Laughter.) No, I’m serious, he wants to because I think there’s a moment of opportunity here. I think the President wants to make the argument that he has had a career that reflects a strong commitment to civil rights. And I think the other thing he wants to do is to talk about some of the commonalities he has with members of the NAACP. Yes, they have political disagreements. Also, Bruce Gordon, the new head of the NAACP, he and the President have good relations. And I think it marks an opportunity to have a conversation, and beyond that, I’d say just listen to the remarks.
Q What was it such a hard decision —
MR. SNOW: It wasn’t necessarily a hard decision. It was just hard for us to tell you. (Laughter.)
Q Why is it such a precedent now, after all of these years? Why now?
MR. SNOW: I just told you, April, because he wants to.
Q No, but the President — the President in 2004 said there was a lot of bad blood between —
MR. SNOW: Well, at some point, you say — I think the President really does see a moment of opportunity. And he sees a moment of opportunity — you and I had this conversation the other day in this room. It is clear that in this nation, racism and discrimination are legally unacceptable, but there are also residues of the past that we have to address. We have to find ways to make sure that the road to opportunity is clear for one and all.
And I think the President wants to make his voice heard. He has an important role to play not only in making the case for civil rights, but maybe more importantly, the case for unity. Because as long as we have a nation that, in any way, is divided along racial lines, or where politics become a source of division rather than one of simple debate and trying to perfect the democracy, that’s a problem. And the President really believes strongly in trying to foster a sense of true unity that takes you back to the roots of the civil rights movement, to the speech Martin Luther King, Jr. made on August 28th, 1963, to the sacrifices of men and women who paraded not for separatism, but for unity. And they paid a toll in blood and toil, and set an example, and in many ways, reminded people who had forgotten what was really meant by extending the blessings of liberty to all, that all people were endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, and the Creator didn’t discriminate on the basis on race.
Q Tony, a follow-up on that, is this somewhat the President’s ways of “atoning” after the slow response for Hurricane Katrina last year?
MR. SNOW: No, this is — in fact, one of the things that is interesting is that he and Bruce Gordon have worked together on this and he feels — what is it?
Q No, you said — I didn’t understand.
MR. SNOW: No, he and the head of the NAACP have worked on this and they — so it’s an important thing.
Q Will the President address in his speech the opposition within the Republican Party to certain parts of the Voting Rights Act, to the Section 5?
MR. SNOW: You’ll have to wait and see. I’ll let the President give his speech.
Q — that some in his party have resisted Section 5?
MR. SNOW: You know what the President has done is he’s made it very clear where he stands on this. He wanted it renewed as written and that’s what he got. So the President’s position on it is clear, and you can read into the rest of it what you will.
Same topic, or same topics? Okay.
Q Thank you and welcome back.
MR. SNOW: Thank you.
Q Will the President order U.S. troops to be part of any stabilization force sent to be a buffer between Israel and the Hezbollah?
MR. SNOW: Okay, before you go any further on that, again, I’m not going to answer particular questions or details because we’re just not there yet. All right?
Q I actually have two questions. First, getting back to what you just said about a moment of opportunity.
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q Can you tell us, what are the conditions in 2006 that create that moment of opportunity that did not exist in 2004?
MR. SNOW: I don’t know, but I think what the President has is — the President wants to go speak to the NAACP now.
Q Follow-up? Does he regret his earlier decision not to speak to them?
MR. SNOW: I don’t know. I don’t think so.
Q And then on an unrelated topic, we were told all last week that when you returned from the G8, the administration would be presenting some kind of legislative package to deal with the issue the Supreme Court raised in the Hamdan case —
MR. SNOW: Yes, and it’s still being worked on. It’s still — look, there are a lot of people working on it, as you well know, and we’re continuing to work on it. There have been plenty of press reports and there were press reports when we were on the road. We are working toward — it is inevitable that there will be legislative package worked out with members of Congress to try to figure out the proper way forward consistent with the Hamdan decision to bring to justice those at Guantanamo and those who have been detained who are not members of a regular standing army. And those efforts continue. And I think if you continue to consult colleagues on the Hill that you all know that they are putting their best efforts forward and they are working very hard, and the White House is working hard on it, as well. I can’t give you a tick-tock or a deadline. It’s a devilishly complicated question and they’re working to do it, because we do want to proceed.
Q Do you understand that that package will be built around a commission structure that works off the UCMJ and tweaks it slightly —
MR. SNOW: The answer is, I don’t know. Some people will say —
Q That’s three “I don’t knows” to my question.
MR. SNOW: I know. (Laughter.) Well, that’s because they’re unanswerable. For instance, when you talk about the UCMJ commission structure, some people are going to use some pieces of the UCMJ in a commission and call it UCMJ; some people are going to use some things in a commission under the context of the UCMJ and call it a commission. A lot of this is labeling. It is clear that people are going to try to figure out acceptable procedures that are going to allow military authorities to proceed, and I think the labeling is less important than getting the result right.
Q I have one more question.
MR. SNOW: Let me give some of the others a chance, and then we’ll get back to it.
Q I’ve got to ask, has the President been taking elocution lessons from the Vice President, judging from his comments?
MR. SNOW: I think he’s been taking them from you guys.
Q A follow-up. You also mentioned that there was unity in the G8 meeting. Now, obviously, at the end of every meeting there’s a communique and they’re all in agreement on the communique. But if you really look at the sequence of events, at the statements made by the various world leaders after each of the discussions, you will see a distinct difference in tone and orientation, especially on the issue of the Middle East. Everybody would seem to be in agreement —
MR. SNOW: Actually, let me — here’s the thing. I was in a considerable number of the bilats and got a chance to see what was going on. There was far more unity than you may have guessed. And sometimes people — this was not hard. There was not a lot of arm wrestling over this G8 statement. The people were generally agreed, and most of the discussions had to do with fairly minor details within the final statement. So you’re just wrong on the characterization of that.
Q I’ll give you a couple of examples, not only of the President’s off-color, but not off-camera comments expressed the frustration —
MR. SNOW: I thought you said before — no, no, no. He expressed — wait, wait, wait. Number one, you’re committing the sin of getting your timing wrong. You just talked about a statement. When the President made his comment, the statement had long been out. He was expressing his frustration at the fact that he was tired of terrorists lobbing rockets into civilian areas. That’s what he was talking about. He wasn’t talking about resolutions, he wasn’t talking about diplomacy, he was talking about terror. Go back and read it. Continue, yes.
Q Well, about the same time when he was — when he was speaking, he was there, there was a press conference by Kofi Annan and Prime Minister Blair calling for a cease-fire, calling for U.N. troops. The U.S., obviously, was balking on that. The Israelis were saying no. And the U.S. was backing them —
MR. SNOW: Well, once again —
Q Isn’t that a distinction between where everybody else is moving, and where the U.S. is kind of standing —
MR. SNOW: No, nice try. No, you got it wrong. The sin of anachronism once more, because, as you recall, he was speaking to Prime Minister Blair when the so-called faux pas took place.
The second thing is that, if you look at it, there was a debate about staging. There is no question that the United States wants a cease-fire, but you also have to have the staging. And I will take you back to the G8 resolution, because it’s clear on that very topic, as well. It says, “the return of the Israeli soldiers in Gaza and Lebanon unharmed;” then, “an end to the shelling of Israeli territory;” then you have an end to Israeli occupation and the early withdrawal of forces. So the staging is actually in the statement. And what the President was talking about in his comments is the proper staging.
Furthermore, the United States was in on talks with Secretary General Annan even before the delegation was announced. Secretary Rice has already discussed her prior conversations with him, and we are perfectly supportive of that mission.
So I think what you’re trying to do is create the narrative that the United States was isolated on what was an incredibly successful diplomatic visit. During our time at the G8, the United Nations Security Council passed unanimously a resolution on North Korea; the G8 not only passed a statement on the Middle East, it reflected the prior statements and approach of the President of the United States throughout. In addition, there was considerable progress on a unified front toward Iran. Now, the fact that people sometimes may have different points of emphasis is the way diplomacy works. But results count, and the results do speak for themselves.
Q On the same note, without preempting this meeting, the bicameral, bipartisan that you’re going to post today, can you sum up the overall impressions of the President from the G8, how satisfied he is with the results, what are the results that are most important to you —
MR. SNOW: Well, I think he is very satisfied. Again, I just mentioned three breakthroughs. Also, if you look at the communiqu items, whether they be with regard to energy and energy innovation and dealing with pandemics and a number of those things, there’s considerable progress.
I mean, unlike most G8s, you had a lot of things in active motion. You had deliberations going on in North Korea and the U.N. Security Council. You had ongoing efforts to try to figure out how diplomatically to deal with Iran. You had the necessity of responding to ongoing situations in the Middle East. And people responded pretty nimbly. So I think the President was very happy with the results.
Q And how well did Russia do its job as chair?
MR. SNOW: I think Russia did fine. Got to work on the microphones, but other than that — (laughter.)
Lester, unless it’s on topic, I’ll save it for a couple of minutes. Or is this on topic?
Q You mean what he just asked? I have a two-part question, Tony. At almost the same time the President declared that “Israel has a right to defend itself,” the President’s Secretary of State said, “It is extremely important that Israel exercise her restraint in its activities of self-defense.” And the first part: How does the President believe that it is possible for Israel to be “restrained” in fighting a two-front war against terrorists?
MR. SNOW: I think Martha pointed to one of the key things earlier, which is in a situation like this you do not want to create undue carnage with civilians. It has been part and parcel of U.S. doctrine in Iraq where you use highly targeted munitions and you try to be as precise as possible. And it is one of the horrible side-effects that civilians do get injured and killed, and that is one of the lamentable things. But when you talk about restraint what you’re talking about is to try to hit to the greatest extent practical only military targets.
Q And does he believe that the United States was “restrained” in killing al Qaeda’s master terrorist, al Zarqawi?
MR. SNOW: I think he thought it was appropriate.
Q Tony, was there a level of disappointment that the G8 didn’t have — didn’t name Iran and Syria —
MR. SNOW: No. No, and I know a lot of people —
Q — as sponsors of Hezbollah and Hamas?
MR. SNOW: No, and I’ll tell you why. It’s an open secret — the language was, I think, “those who support them” — everybody knows who they are.
Q President Putin seemed to say that there’s not enough evidence to support the fact that Iran and Syria —
MR. SNOW: Well, again, I think if you take a look at the statements of people in the neighborhood and the statements of people at the conference — and I think President Putin understands what the situation is, as well — we’re perfectly comfortable with it. That really was no big deal.
Q Okay, and just last thing. Does the President believe that Syrian President Assad wants instability in the region, as he seemed to indicate to Prime Minister Blair?
MR. SNOW: I think that the President believes that, at this point, President Assad is not doing what he can to create the conditions for stability, which would be to stop housing terrorist organizations and providing safe haven for them, and permitting people to conduct terrorist operations or at least planning on his soil.
Q Can I ask you a question on stem cell?
MR. SNOW: Sure. Okay, let me wrap up — we’ll wrap up Iran because I’m sure, Richard, there will also be some others.
Q Why did the President turn down Prime Minister Tony Blair’s offer to go to the Middle East?
MR. SNOW: It wasn’t an offer. I think you heard as part of a conversation, President — I mean, Prime Minister Blair said, well, I could go. He’s perfectly free to go. But Condoleezza Rice is also going to go at the appropriate time. But you will also note that in that recorded conversation there is not any statement on the part of the President or anybody else, no, Tony, you just stay where you are. The Prime Minister has control over his schedule and his activities. He’s perfectly free to do what he sees fit.
Q There wasn’t any encouragement either.
MR. SNOW: I don’t think that that was a terribly long conversation. It was just — it was kind of an aside in a conversation. This was not a full-scale diplomatic proffer. And I can tell you it was not something that was offered during the bilateral conversation with the two.
Q I have one on another subject —
MR. SNOW: Okay, we’ll come back to do other subjects, too. But we want to make sure that everybody —
Q Tony, you’ve got some interesting developments this week. You’ve got a large Christian convention this week supporting Israel. You’ve got a lot of pro-Israeli rallies all throughout the country this week. Does the President think the majority of Americans do support Israel? And will the President be giving any addresses or any messages to these groups?
MR. SNOW: To the latter, I’m aware of none. To the former, as the President has often said, you don’t conduct foreign policy on the basis of opinion polls. You do it on the basis of national interest and your responsibility to enhance the security of the American people. So neither of those are germane.
Q On this question of stem cell, what’s the timing for the veto? If the Senate passes a bill today, how quickly will you —
MR. SNOW: The understanding is it may take until tomorrow to get enrolled. It will be pretty swift once you have a duly passed bill.
Q Will there be a ceremony?
Q I have one on Iran.
MR. SNOW: I’m sorry, wait — let me — okay.
Q With Iran supporting the Hezbollah, is it now time for direct negotiations between the U.S. and Iran?
MR. SNOW: No.
Q The fighting — let me finish. (Laughter.)
MR. SNOW: No, I’ll tell you what, because this is kind of wasting time by reading out a question. If there’s anything else you have — but the answer to that is, no. And I do want to make sure that I get an opportunity, Sarah, to call on everybody. Is there anything further you want on that, because the answer is, no.
MR. SNOW: Okay.
Q On stem cell, will there be a ceremony for the veto, for the signing of the veto statement?
MR. SNOW: No, but there may be a ceremony for the signing of bills. You guys — everybody seems to think that there’s one bill. There are three bills that are going to be considered, and two of them await a presidential signature. You seldom have veto-signing ceremonies.
Q — several, for partial-birth abortion and for —
MR. SNOW: The President has made clear what his views are on this. I’m not aware that we are going to have a ceremony for a veto. We are going to have the exercise of veto. It’s going to be a picture of a veto.
Q — a picture of him not signing? (Laughter.)
MR. SNOW: No, they’re not going to hand out ceremonial pens, they’re not going to —
Q — sign a statement in public and called it a veto ceremony. And the question was, do you anticipate something like that for this?
MR. SNOW: No, but I appreciate the history of veto statements.
Q Can you remind us why the President believes that it is not appropriate to use — that it is more appropriate for stem cells to be thrown away than to be used, in this case, for medical research?
MR. SNOW: The President — I don’t think that’s the choice that the President has presented. What the President has said is that he doesn’t want human life destroyed. Now, you may consider that insignificant, but the President has said — and you have had in a number of cases the Snowflake babies, where some of those fetuses have, in fact, been brought to term and have become human beings. The President believes strongly that for the purpose of research it’s inappropriate for the federal government to finance something that many people consider murder; he’s one of them.
Furthermore, it is worth pointing out that this government did make available already existing lines — to sort of get back to your question, there were existing lines. And the most recent figures we have are 2004, but 85 percent of all the embryonic stem cell research on Earth was conducted using those lines. There is nothing that makes embryonic stem cell research illegal; it simply says that the federal government will not finance it. As you know, there are ongoing efforts in some states, including, I think, California and Massachusetts, to use state money for it, and I daresay if people think that there’s a market for it, they’re going to support it handsomely. The simple answer is he thinks murder is wrong, and he has said.
Q The legislation is going to be — that deals with thousands and thousands of embryos that will be thrown out, destroyed.
MR. SNOW: That is a tragedy, but the President is not going to get on the slippery slope of taking something that is living and making it dead for the purpose of research.
Q Tony, how far on the back burner has the situation between Israel and Hezbollah pushed international efforts in regards to imposing sanctions on Iran over their nuclear policy?
MR. SNOW: I’ll get back to the Nick Burns — you guys seem to think that if one thing is going on or one thing is leading the news, that everybody is not dealing with the other. As I just said, I believe, that there have been ongoing and active diplomatic efforts regarding Iran, and I expect that you’re going to see before too long some results of that. So the answer is it hasn’t pushed it off, at all; people have been busily engaged also in working that issue.
Q Do you think it might have been part of — a factor in Hezbollah’s activities was to divert attention?
MR. SNOW: I’m not going to try to read the mind of a terrorist organization. I think it’s fruitless in this case.
Q Can you say what message the President is hoping to send to the public by making the stem cell bill the first veto of his administration? And can you also explain why, after five years not vetoing any legislation, he’s about to change that strategy?
MR. SNOW: He hasn’t changed the strategy. There have been 141 veto threats during the course of this administration, quite often on fairly complex bills. You saw it with the supplemental appropriation recently, where he said, you spend over this amount of money and we’re simply not going to go there, I’ll veto it. In the vast majority of cases, Congress has come back and given him what he’s wanted.
This is a freestanding bill and it’s a freestanding bill that goes a place that the President has always said that he would not go. He is fulfilling a promise that he has long made and he is keeping it.
So I think it’s tempting to say, ah-ha, he’s picking this out for his first veto. There has not been, at least as far as I know, a comparable period within this administration where there has been an issue on which the President has made it absolutely clear he’s going to veto a bill. Also, let me reiterate: There will be two other bill signings with regard to stem cell research. There is an enormous amount of progress being made in adult stem cells.
I’ll give you a personal example. My hair is darker than it was a year ago. After I had chemo my hair fell out and it grew back — you know why? Adult stem cells. No lie. I was told by the guy who runs the operation at Georgetown. The fact is they’re studying to try to figure out how it is that adult stem cells, blood cord and other cells are capable of helping and healing. The President is not opposed to stem cell research, he’s all for it. But there is one kind of research, and that is that which involves the destruction of human life, that he does not think is appropriate for the federal government to finance. He’s been absolutely clear about it; there is no shading in it. Congress has passed a bill that does that and he feels honor-bound to veto it.
Q Tony, just to clarify something on immigration. The President of Mexico in his great chat with the President of the U.S. after — (inaudible) — President Bush told him that there’s no way to approve immigration before elections in November. But then today, in Spain, the President of Mexico says there is a document by the White House saying there is a chance to approve the bill before elections. So we just want to clarify what —
MR. SNOW: Okay, I want to clarify, because I asked the President about this. He did not tell the President of Mexico that there was no chance that this was going to be passed before the elections. The President of Mexico may have mis-heard. He said that there may be some timing issues before Labor Day, because you’ve got three weeks before Congress leaves, but the President is still committed to comprehensive immigration reform and getting it done as quickly as possible. And he’s working with Congress on that and members of the administration are doing the same.
So I want to make it clear, again, this is like the stem cell veto — there was — he was absolutely clear about it. He did not make the comment to the President of Mexico. So the President may have misunderstood what President Bush had to say.
Q I don’t want to split hairs on this, but wasn’t the report that he said it was unlikely that there would be —
MR. SNOW: Either way, it’s a misstatement. So I mean, the President, again, was very clear in saying that while — it would be unlikely before Labor Day, just because of the natural legislative calendar.
Q — before the election.
MR. SNOW: No, he didn’t say that.
Q Tony, you said you were in a lot of the private meetings. Did you hear anything that maybe Tony Blair didn’t hear that would give cause for optimism about the Doha Round?
MR. SNOW: It’s going to be tough. I mean, I think there are tough negotiations going on right now. And there were very candid conversations. Now, I must tell you, I was in on some of the early conversations, for instance, in Germany and elsewhere. But none of us were in the meetings with the G8 leaders, so I am not going to pretend to be able to give you an accurate readout. But I do know that there was some very candid talk about what needs to go on. And among the G20 countries and among a lot of Europeans and among the United States, there is a strong desire to get this thing done, not only because free trade is important, but also for the developing world, creating the right market conditions is crucial.
And so I don’t want to be making predictions. I make absolutely — it is clear that everybody is going to have to bargain in good faith and to try to reach an agreement here. I don’t want to characterize what the chances are because you know how negotiations are; quite often they’re characterized as absolutely impossible until the last minute when suddenly, boom, everything happens.
Q — calls for an immediate cease-fire, reserves the status quo of 1559 is still there and enjoys more consensus?
MR. SNOW: You tell me if Hezbollah is going to stop firing rockets.
Q — but 1559 is there and diplomatically enjoys —
MR. SNOW: Well, if 1559 is there, it means Hezbollah should not be there, doesn’t it? It means that Hezbollah should not be acting as an independent military force, operating independently of the sovereign government of Lebanon, in violation of the 1559 stipulations against either foreign involvement, or, in this particular case, militias. So it would mean that at least on one party of a cease-fire, 1559 wasn’t even a consideration. If 1559 were fully enforced, we wouldn’t be talking about this right now.
Q And how do you respond to people who say that Israel now is implementing it unilaterally?
MR. SNOW: I wouldn’t even try. I mean, it strikes me as being beside the point, because what really is the point is that Hezbollah decided unilaterally that they would go ahead and violate 1559, and thereby place in jeopardy a lot of innocent people in Lebanon, not to mention the government of Lebanon itself.
Q The Attorney General has told the Senate Judiciary Committee that President Bush personally blocked Justice Department lawyers from pursuing an investigation of the warrantless wiretapping program. If he’s correct, and he did say this, why did the President do that?
MR. SNOW: Number one, it’s a highly classified program. And due to the sensitive nature, he does approve all operational requests to be read into it. There were proper channels for doing legal review, and in fact, a legal review was done every 45 days, and the Attorney General, himself, was involved in it. The Office of Professional Responsibility was not the proper venue for conducting that.
What the President did not say — and this is also important — is that there should not be review, because there was; that there should not be regular review, because there was. What he was saying is that in the case of a highly classified program, you need to keep the number of people exposed to it tight for reasons of national security, and that’s what he did.
Q — already have clearance then?
MR. SNOW: Again, whether they had clearance or not, the President made his determination. And that was not the appropriate venue. There was already an appropriate venue for doing this, and that had been specified by executive order.
Q Tony, just a quick one.
MR. SNOW: Okay, one more. Okay, we’ll do this. Everybody else is — (laughter.) David, welcome back.
END 1:27 P.M. EDT