THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
June 4, 2004
PRESS BACKGROUND BRIEFING BY A SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL
Aboard Air Force One
En route Rome, Italy
June 3, 2004
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The President is off to Europe. That's my
statement. I'll take your questions.
QUESTION: Why a third visit with the Pope?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, first of all, because any opportunity that
the President has to visit with the Holy Father is something that he just really
greatly values. And we were delighted that the Holy Father was going to be in
Rome, that the President would be able to see him. I think the President finds
it an opportunity, first and foremost, to acknowledge the tremendous spiritual
and moral leadership that the Holy Father provides for the world. I think he
finds it, personally, very affirming to be in the presence of somebody who's
that kind of moral authority.
And then, secondly, it gives us an opportunity with the Vatican to talk about
policy issues of common interest. The President has been a major fighter for
religious freedom around the world -- raised, for instance, on a number of
occasions with the Chinese leadership, relationships with the Vatican. The
President has been a leader on HIV/AIDS and development assistance. So we have a
lot that we want to talk to the Vatican about on the human condition.
Q: It's easy to draw the conclusion that this might stem from politics. The
President is not Roman Catholic, the Vatican disagrees with him on many issues
-- can you disabuse us of that notion?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, the Holy Father is not a political figure.
And the President would never seek to make him into one. I mean, this is just an
opportunity to be with one of the world's great leaders. It's important to say
that this particular Pontiff, of course, has a history also of fighting tyranny
and being a great moral authority, as he was in the struggle in Poland. But when
you go to Rome, if you have an opportunity to meet the Holy Father, it's really
a great honor and it's really tremendously heartening and affirming.
Q: If I could just ask one more follow-up on the Pope. There are some issues
that the President agrees with him on -- abortion is an obvious one. There are
many issues they disagree on. Do you hope to narrow the gulf on some of those
issues, like the war, on this trip?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think that, obviously, there have been
differences from time to time on various issues. But the Holy Father is someone
to whom everyone looks on issues like the human condition; as I said, who's been
a fighter against tyranny; who speaks with a kind of moral authority about
issues that the President has cared a lot about. And so I don't think it's a
matter of narrowing. There are issues on which we agree and issues on which we
disagree with just about everybody in the world. But when you have an
opportunity to meet with the Holy Father and also with the Vatican hierarchy,
it's a chance to give a push to a lot of things that we actually do agree about
and those are really many.
Q: Did the President move up his departure to meet with the Pope?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The President did make an adjustment in his
schedule so that he could meet with the Holy Father.
Q: Scott mentioned Iraq. To what extent is Iraq going to figure in their
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Oh, I'm certain that there will be discussion of
Iraq. But in a lot of our conversations I believe just about everybody sees Iraq
-- the decision to go to war in Iraq and the differences about that as behind
us. And the question is, how do we move forward now. And there is no one with
whom we've talked, including contacts that we've had in the Vatican, who
disagrees now that the important thing is to have a stable and peaceful Iraq, to
stop the killing of innocents, to help deliver for the Iraqi people the promise
of a free and democratic Iraq. So I think this will be a very forward-looking
conversation in that regard.
I think the President will also want to assure the Holy Father and the Vatican
about his personal commitment to making certain that something like Abu Ghraib
isn't repeated, that there's a broad investigation of that. So he'll undoubtedly
want to reassure people about that, as well.
Q: I'm sorry, the investigation into what?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Abu Ghraib.
Q: The Vatican, in various ways, has suggested that the United States has fallen
into a pattern of -- a war-like foreign policy, too much reliance on the use of
force. It's part of their long-standing critique. The President has met with him
before. This question must have come up. How does he deal with this concern as
expressed by the Pope and others of the Vatican, the Secretary of State of the
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think the President has made very clear that
no one wants to go to war, that war is not a first option, but that there are
times when you have to use force to achieve peace. I mean, the absence of war is
not the existence of peace. Just ask the Iraqi people who lived under this
terrible, brutal dictator for all of those years in the so-called absence of war
-- but, clearly, the regime was at war on them.
So, yes, nobody likes war, but there are times when tyranny has to be resisted
by force. We're going to celebrate at Normandy the victory of people who came
across the Atlantic, disturbed lives that didn't have to be disturbed -- the
United States had not been attacked by Germany -- but came across the ocean to
fight in a great war against tyranny. And sometimes force is necessary. It's not
that anyone likes to use it. And I think that we understand the Vatican and
certainly the Holy Father's real desire not to have the use of force; but there
are times when force is necessary.
Q: How explicitly will he draw that linkage? You just alluded to it, the
President made it quite explicitly yesterday, that struggle and this struggle.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I don't know any specific meeting, but I
think you saw the link yesterday. Look, the fact of the matter is that what the
allies did in World War II was to resist tyranny, to defeat a bloody tyrant, and
then to go on to establish free and democratic societies in a part of Europe,
and then to hold fast until free and democratic societies could be established
in the rest of Europe, after the collapse of the Soviet Union. And I think you
could tell from what the President said yesterday, from what he said at
Whitehall, that he doesn't believe that that struggle is finished just because
Europe is whole and free. This is now a struggle against another kind of
tyranny, one that would take certainly the Middle East, and maybe a lot of
others, back into the dark ages. We've seen what it would look like in the
regime that is the Taliban.
And the President has made a call several times -- I think the first time really
was at Whitehall -- to this great alliance to be as dedicated to the spread of
freedom and liberty to people who don't yet enjoy it, as others were dedicated
to the defense of freedom and liberty in Europe.
Q: That's a message, that fusion between the two struggles is a message that
will transcend all his appearances here, his messages to other world leaders,
his speeches -- that we'll consistently hear?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, I think he's already made that case. I
don't think it's actually a difficult case to make. When you talk to Europeans
and you say, yes, the Iraqis are going through a difficult time, it's a violent
time, it's a really tough time, building democracy isn't easy -- but I'm sure
that Europe is really glad that people didn't give up in '42 and '43 and '44,
before Normandy, when it looked pretty bleak in Europe. Or in '48, when Berlin
was under siege and it looked pretty bleak.
So I think there is an important message to the alliance that we shouldn't give
up on freedom and liberty for other people just because it gets tough, because
there were certainly people who did not give up on freedom and liberty for
Europe, when the going got tough.
Q: Will the President will be asking Berlusconi and Chirac during the next few
days for added commitments in Iraq, or is he going to save that for the G8 week?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't think the President is -- and the
President certainly isn't asking for added commitments. I mean, the Italians are
doing a lot, and it's enormously appreciated. And one of the stories that I
think was written about too little is when the Carabiniere were killed, the
degree to which the Italians immediately said they were not leaving. And I'm
told by my Italian counterparts that they had volunteers many times over to fill
the positions of those who were killed. I mean, that's the kind of spirit that
Italy has exhibited.
And in terms of France, we've had our differences in the past. I don't assume
that the French want to make any further commitment at this time, but they are,
I think, making a commitment to a democratic and stable Iraq. I've heard
President Chirac say on a number of occasions that we have to look forward
because a stable and secure Iraq is in everybody's interest. And I think that's
what the President is coming here to talk about.
Q: Resources or debt relief?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think -- we're having conversations
about debt relief, but that's a long and complicated process, including the
Paris Club. So it's going to take a while.
Q: You keep saying that differences are behind us and all, but, you know, the
allies haven't exactly leaped to support the U.N. resolution that we circulated.
They're still being -- still, change is being proposed.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's diplomacy. I know people have ideas about
how they'd like the U.N. Security Council resolution -- remember, you're putting
out a draft resolution, not a final resolution. And so we're getting comments in
from people. I really do think that it all looks bridgeable. I mean, we're
Q: Looks what?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Looks bridgeable. We're working toward the same
solution. We're all working toward a resolution that can support the Iraqi
government. People rightly said they wanted to hear from the new Iraqi
government, and so the foreign minister is now in New York.
So I wouldn't read very much into it. There is going to be some back and forth
and say this, and we shouldn't say this. But I think in the final analysis we'll
get a resolution?
Q: How soon? I mean, is it going to happen before this trip is over with, for
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't know. The process is not a quick one.
Because what you have is, you have consultations, then people have to go back to
capitals for instruction, they you have more consultations and people have to go
back to capitals for instruction -- so I can't tell you. But I think it will not
be terribly long.
Q: But you do have leaders talking to leaders on this trip?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We do. But it's also a technical matter of
actually writing the resolution in a way that people can accept. I don't think
this is going to be a problem, though; I think we'll get a resolution relatively
Q: The President will be in Rome during the 60th anniversary of the liberation
of Rome from the Nazis, which ought to be an enormously joyous occasion, and,
yet, they're going to be, apparently, tens of thousands of people in the streets
of Rome -- not celebrating that anniversary, but protesting the President's
visit. Does that trouble him? Does that trouble you?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, that's why they were liberated from fascism,
so they can go into the streets and protest. It's all a part of the democratic
enterprise. I'd just anybody who goes out into the streets to protest to
remember that now the people in Baghdad can actually also go out into the street
and protest. It's important that people remember that those who have been
fortunate enough to live in liberty because others sacrificed for that liberty
shouldn't forget that there are an awful lot of people trapped in tyranny. And
whenever somebody is liberated from tyranny -- as Afghans have been and as
Iraqis have been -- it ought to be a cause for celebration, even if you don't
like the method by which it happened.
Q: A quick follow-up on Mark's question. Is the U.N. resolution an area where
you could really see concrete progress during this week of summitry?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's possible that you will. But I actually
don't think, to be frank, that this requires that much high-level diplomacy.
This is really more, let me say, head of state diplomacy. I think Colin Powell
is in constant contact with his counterparts. I've talked a couple times to my
counterparts. They're really working it hard at the U.N.
I don't think there are big issues to break through in the way that you really
need the head of state level. I think that most of the issues are understood and
they're just trying to work toward a common understanding of how to resolve
Q: They're on the brink of a final language?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I believe we'll get final language relatively
soon, but I've learned not to predict with the United Nations, because it just
takes time. You know, it's just a process, it takes time.
Q: The theme of linking the war on terror with World War II, is the
President likely to invoke that theme at Normandy?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think you'll find that the Normandy speech is
much more about the people who were at Normandy. It's really more to evoke
memories of the individual sacrifice that took place there in a collective good.
I think the President feels he's made the case, starting with Whitehall and,
most recently, in this last speech.
But, you know, we'll see what you think. But what I've seen of the speech thus
far is this really is about very common people who made extraordinary
sacrifices. And it's very much about those people and their stories.
Q: So there will be no link to Iraq?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's really about these people. I think he wants
to honor their -- as I said, these small town kids and farm boys and city kids
who came all the way across the ocean, participated in a military operation that
by most calculations should have had no possibility of success, and ended up
being the beginning of the saving of Europe. And that's really the way that this
Q: The Middle East democracy effort is something that you really want to promote
at the G8, but several Arab countries are not coming. Are you concerned that
it's going to be hard to get this off the ground and hard to make this the
centerpiece when some of the key players aren't there?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Oh, we think that the broader Middle East
initiative is moving along extremely well. First of all, let's remember that the
President put this on the agenda really at Whitehall, when he talked about the
false choice that the western democracies had been making between stability and
freedom in the Middle East. And that has led to a real intensifying discussion
and debate in the Arab world.
We were very impressed, for instance, have had many chances to talk to President
Mubarak about the speech he gave at the Alexandria Library Conference. You had
the foreign ministers and then the heads of the state of the Arab League I think
adopt a quite remarkable statement on reform -- which, by the way, forms the
basis of what's going to be said in the political declaration at the G8.
The people who are going to be there are some of the most reform-minded leaders
in the Middle East. We also will have Afghanistan there, which is a recently
freed part of the broader Middle East; Turkey, which represents the vision, or
represents the reality of a fusion of Islam and democracy. And we've been in
conversation with the Egyptians and the Saudis. It's very difficult for some of
these leaders -- particularly somebody -- President Mubarak was just recently
here -- to travel all of this distance for a very short time. We understand
But we're in constant discussion with the Egyptians and with the Saudis and with
everybody else about how this initiative might unfold.
Q: I was going to ask you about the news of the day: did you have any wind of
DR. RICE: I learned about it just a few minutes before the President went out.
The President told us that George was stepping down. It's really a great loss,
and I'm, personally, very sad about it because this has been a team that has
been a great team and it's worked through a lot of really hard issues. I mean,
we have had two wars -- September 11th, two wars, just -- the war on terrorism.
It's been an extraordinary and historic time. And at times it's been a wild
ride. And in these kind of circumstances you tend get very close to the people
that you work with. And I'm really going to miss George; I think he's done a
remarkable job as DCI for a long time and I know that he feels personally that
he needs to step down. I'm just really sad about it.
Q: But he says he's been discussing it with his family for months. You said
you've grown close to him, and not a hint?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Look, everybody knows that George has been in
this job for a long time, and that that's a particular strain on family. You
know, am I really surprised? You know, when I now think back, maybe not, because
I know it's been a tremendously difficult time for everybody because it's been a
very hectic and, you know, when you're fighting two wars.
But I'm still very sad about it.
Q: I'm sorry, you found out this morning --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes.
Q: -- not last night?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, this morning.
Q: Was there any urging, to your knowledge, from the President? Any
hint that he should step down, at all?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Absolutely not. In fact, the President did not
want him to step down -- wanted him to stay, told him he wanted him to stay. But
sometimes you have to do what you have to do, for personal reasons.
Q: Did he tell him that this morning, at the meeting?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm not going to get into the President's
conversations with George.
Q: On an intelligence related matter, is it of concern to the White House that
so many people seem to know that the U.S. had broken Iran's code and that
somebody, you know, potentially somebody who was drunk could have passed this
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, it's a serious matter that there may have
been this compromise, a very serious matter. You know, it's being investigated
and -- but it is an intelligence matter and that means that
-- I think the proper venue, to the degree that there are any issues having to
do with potential criminal activities, obviously, the FBI will do that and is
investigating. But it's an intelligence matter, really, the proper venue is the
DCI and also the -- I'm sure the intelligence committees will look into it. But,
yes, of course, it's very concerning.
Q: Will you be involved in the search for a replacement?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Look, I don't think anybody has had time to
think about what -- who comes after George. We'll see. We'll see what happens.
Q: This really does sound quite abrupt. Do people feel blind-sided?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. Look, I think people have known that George
has had a lot of personal -- that it's been a strain, personally, for a number
of months. And, you know, he has his own personal and family reasons that he
needs to do this. But it's still -- you always hope it won't happen, and so when
it does it's a sad thing.
Q: Can I just push you on one other thing. You said: Absolutely not was he
pushed out; the President wanted him; told him to stay; wanted him to stay. Did
the President actively urge him to stay then, is that what you're saying?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Look, I'm not going to try to get into what the
President said, but I know that the President wanted George to stay and that he
communicated that to George.
Q: In the meeting last night?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't know. But I know -- I'm not going to get
into when the President talked -- I don't talk about the President's personal
communications with his staff; but just to say I know that the President wanted
him to stay and communicated that to George.
Q: Can I ask you one question about the meeting with Chirac? What is
substantivally the most important things that the President wants to accomplish?
You said, you know, it's iffy whether there will be a deal on the U.N.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, I don't -- I think it's unlikely that at the
time that they meet that they'll be finished at the U.N. But that isn't because
there are big differences, it's just this is a process that, you know, the
Iraqis have to comment and I think they all want to hear from Brahimi. I mean,
there is a lot to happen.
But this is a really pretty broad agenda with the French. First of all, the
French are very strong partners in the war on terrorism. In Afghanistan they've
been very active. We've had long -- the two of them tend to have long
conversations about the Middle East, in particular, about Lebanon, where the
French have taken a very strong role. They have very common interests, and the
French have been probably one of our best supporters on proliferation issues.
The Proliferation Security Initiative that the President launched, France was
one of the first members of the core group, has been very active in that. The
core group is expanding, but of 60 countries were at this latest PSI meeting in
Krakow. The French have been very strong on North Korea, they have been active
So I think Middle East, proliferation issues, Afghanistan and then, you know, a
host of bilateral issues that we'll talk about.
Q: Will there be somebody from the new government at Sea Island?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's a possibility.
Q: A strong possibility?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: A possibility -- still working on it. I mean,
the Iraqis have a lot of work to do, too, so we don't want to distract them.
Q: Was Italy -- do you know whether Italy was tacked on to this trip to
give some balance to a visit where he was going to be meeting with two former
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. And, in fact, what happened was that as we
were planning the trip it became clear that the 60th anniversary of the
liberation of Rome was also in this period of time. And it just seemed extremely
important to acknowledge the liberation of Rome, just as we were acknowledging
Normandy. A lot of focus this week will be on Normandy, as rightly it should,
but the liberation of Rome was an awfully important day, too, and the President
just wanted a chance to acknowledge that.
THE PRESS: Thank you.