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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

White House Press Briefing

Aired May 24, 2004 - 13:14   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Straight to the White House. White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan is stepping up to the podium. Of course, will talking about the president's speech tonigh among other issues. Let's listen in.
SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Good afternoon.

The president looks forward to going to the Army War College this evening. Tonight's speech is focused on our strategy for success in Iraq. The president will update the American people about the clear strategy for the way forward to a free, democratic and peaceful Iraq for the Iraqi people, and he will talk about the specific steps we are taking to achieve our goals.

And with that, I will be glad to go straight to your questions.

QUESTION: Is there anything in tonight's speech in terms of this clear strategy that we haven't heard before? Will he be unveiling any kind of new initiative?

MCCLELLAN: I expect there will be some new aspects in it that you will hear. This is really an opportunity for the president to talk in more detail to the American people about the specific steps we are taking to achieve our goals, as I said a minute ago.

MCCLELLAN: The president will outline the five specific steps we are taking to build a free and democratic Iraq for the Iraqi people. He will talk about the political front, he will talk about the election front. The president will talk about how we are working to eliminate the security threats in Iraq, and he will talk about our efforts to reconstruct Iraq's infrastructure. We are making great progress on that front, but there are still more to do.

And I expect he will talk about our diplomatic efforts. As you're aware, earlier today, the United States and the United Kingdom tabled a resolution before the Security Council to recognize the interim sovereign government that will be in place by June 30th in Iraq and to endorse the timetable for elections in Iraq and provide for a leading role by the United Nations in Iraq going forward on the political process, and to reaffirm support for the multinational force to help provide for the security.

QUESTION: I asked you about the possibility of new initiatives. Just thinking about what retired General Anthony Zinni said in recent days, "To think that we're going to, quote, 'stay the course,' the course is headed over Niagara Falls. I think it's time to change course a little bit or at least hold somebody responsible for putting you on this course because it's been a failure."

This is a general who, as part of his duties as the leader of the Central Command, had drawn up contingency war plans for Iraq. It seems that he suggested the president needs to go further than what you're indicating he will.

MCCLELLAN: First of all, great respect for General Zinni, but the president looks to the active commanders who are under his command in implementing the strategy we have put forward for success in Iraq.

And certainly when you are pursuing a strategy that is helping people transition from years of oppression to democracy, it's important to have flexibility within that strategy. You've got to be able to adjust and adapt to the circumstances on the ground. And that's what we have done throughout the process.

You might recall -- and I think the president may touch on this a little bit -- that we removed Saddam Hussein's regime from power in a very swift manner; swifter than ever expected. And you had a lot of Saddam loyalists who simply fled the battlefield, and now those are some of the enemies of freedom that we are facing in Iraq.

Those Saddam loyalists and the foreign fighters and the other thugs in Iraq do not want to see a free and peaceful Iraqi emerge. But they will be defeated and the president, I expect, will talk about that some in his remarks tonight.

QUESTION: If I could just ask you one more question just based on what you said, General Zinni points out that part of the reason why these people were allowed to escape back into the population and form these militias and this resistance was the fact that the U.S. war plan did not have enough personnel involved and that he and General Shinseki and others had been saying that you cannot do Iraq war lite; that you got to have more people.

MCCLELLAN: I recognize he's a retired general who certainly stated his position on -- in reference to go into Iraq beforehand, and his views were well-known.

But the president looks to those active commanders who are working to implement our policies and build a safer world to make America more secure.

So those are the individuals he looks to and he looks to the commanders on the ground to make the determinations about the size of our troops and the resources that they need. And the president has made it very clear from the very beginning that they will have all the resources and all the troops that they need. And he will look to those commanders on the ground to make those decisions.

QUESTION: Even though it appears that people like Zinni and Shinseki were correct?

MCCLELLAN: I disagree with that view.

QUESTION: Does the president have any new commitment for shoring up the coalition in Iraq?

QUESTION: And secondly, can you say how the multinational force that's authorized by the U.N. resolution would interact with U.S. forces headed by U.S. commanders?

MCCLELLAN: Well, the first part of your question, the coalition in Iraq is strong. Our resolve is firm. The enemies of freedom will not prevail.

I think it's also important to note that the Iraqi people do not want to see a return to tyranny. People everywhere, when given the choice between freedom and oppression, would choose freedom. And the Iraqi people are no different.

And so we will continue to work closely with the coalition, the more than the some 30 nations that are in Iraq providing support for the security of the country.

There are obviously ongoing security concerns and threats that we need to continue to work to address and eliminate. The president will talk about that in his remarks tonight.

He will talk about the important work under way to train and equip Iraqi security forces. Iraqis have been more and more assuming responsibility for their future. And that includes in the security fronts.

While on the reconstruction and political front, we have already turned some 12 ministries over to the Iraqi people. We are also making important progress in training and equipment and Iraqi security forces. But there is more work to do. We are learning from some of the past battles that have occurred that there is still more work to do and you have General Petraeus now overseeing some of those efforts to equip and train Iraqi security forces.

The second part of your question was?

QUESTION: Well, back on the first part, if I could, were there any new commitments in terms of support for the coalition?

MCCLELLAN: I'm sorry, new commitments?

QUESTION: New commitments. Is anybody stepping forward with troops, money...

MCCLELLAN: Well, one of the things the president talked about, one of the five steps that we are pursuing in our strategy for a free and democratic and peaceful Iraq is to broaden international support. We want to see even greater international support.

MCCLELLAN: That's why we moved forward on a United Nations Security Council resolution earlier today.

This resolution marks a new phase in the transition to democracy for Iraq. It recognizes the end of the occupation and the beginning of sovereignty for the Iraqi people. And it makes a commitment, on behalf of the international community, to support that in our own government, and to support the timetable for holding elections that has been agreed to by the Iraqi people and put forward by the Iraqi people.

And it provides for a leading role by the United Nations in the political process going forward. And it also addresses the multinational force, and it reaffirms support for a multinational force to partner with the Iraqi people in providing for their security going forward.

QUESTION: That multinational force, how does that work? How does it interact with U.S. troops led by U.S. commanders? Is it a multinational force led by a U.S. commander?

MCCLELLAN: Yes, that's what I expect.

Obviously, we'll be working closely with Iraqis and others on these efforts. The president and others, I think I made clear, that the Iraqi forces will be under an Iraqi chain of command, but it would call for a unified multinational force. There's been previous resolutions have addressed this matter as well.

QUESTION: And that would be under an American?

MCCLELLAN: Yes, that's correct.

QUESTION: Does the president feel any responsibility in supporting Israel all out in Gaza for the slaughter that's been going on, the demolition of hundreds of homes, children killed?

MCCLELLAN: Well, I think we've made...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... the U.S. support of all of these policies has put some of the blame on us?

MCCLELLAN: Our policy is to support a two-state vision that the president outlined. He was the first president to articulate a two- state vision based on two states, Palestine and Israel, living side by side in peace and security.

MCCLELLAN: That's where our focus remains. Obviously, there have been some concerns we've had about some of the events on the ground. We expressed our concerns about those events on the ground, and we talked -- and we spoke about our position in terms of the destruction of homes of innocent Palestinians, and our position remains the same.

QUESTION: Why did we abstain on a U.N. council condemnation of such acts?

MCCLELLAN: Well, I think that we always look to make sure that resolutions are balanced. There are steps that all parties have responsibilities to meet called for under the road map. One of the first steps in that road map is to address the terrorism and violence on the ground, and all parties have responsibilities when it comes to that.

QUESTION: How much sovereignty will the interim government really have? Will there be...

MCCLELLAN: Full sovereignty.

QUESTION: Will there be limits to what they have...

MCCLELLAN: The interim government will have full sovereignty, and I expect the president will talk a little bit more about this, this evening.

Obviously, it's an interim government, so you would expect that they're going to have limited authority in the sense that they are there to be a caretaker government as we transition to an elected representative government. There will be a transitional government that will be elected by January 2005. That transitional government will work to draft a constitution to be adopted by the Iraqi people, and that transitional government will serve until such time the Iraqi people can elect a permanent government.

And these are important details that I think the president will address tonight and spell out for the American people.

QUESTION: Scott, it seems like what the president's trying to do with the speech tonight, at least in part, is to take a more optimistic view of the way things are going, to remind American people that the glass is maybe half full, that there is a transition under way, that there is a plan.

Is he trying to paint a more optimistic, forward-looking picture?

MCCLELLAN: Well, the president is confident about the direction we're headed. Let me state very clearly that we are at a critical stage in Iraq, the stakes are very high. The terrorists recognize that Iraq is the central front in the war on terrorism. We recognize that Iraq is the central front in the war on terrorism.

MCCLELLAN: We have been through a difficult period. And there are going to be difficulties ahead. Certainly we've seen some of the recent images from the suicide car bombing that lead to the death of the Iraqi Governing Council president.

We've seen what the terrorists will go to try to shake the will of the international community and the evil acts they carry out against innocent American citizens and against innocent Iraqi citizens; we've seen those images.

The mission at hand is not an easy one, but it is vital to our national's interest, and the president will talk about that in his remarks.

We face a clear choice going forward. We can work to build a free, democratic and peaceful Iraq or we can let the terrorists prevail. But the terrorists will not prevail.

When we succeed in Iraq, it will be a decisive blow to the terrorists in the war on terrorism.

PHILLIPS: Scott McClellan briefing reporters there at the White House. Thirty-seven days until the transfer of power. Bush will outline plans for the Iraq handover tonight in a special speech. Scott McClellan saying he will talk about five steps to build a free and Democratic Iraq.

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