Today, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said Congress will get briefed on the controversial plan to let a company soon to be owned by the United Arab Emirates operate ports in the U.S.
He admits the White House could have handled it better.
`` I mean, in hindsight, when you look at this and the coverage that it's received and the false impression that it has left with some, we probably should have briefed members of Congress about it sooner. ''
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release February 22, 2006
TOPIC PAGE #
Port decision................................3-23, 26-28
Katrina/lessons learned review.................7, 19, 24
Trip to India......................................16-17
Iraq/bombing of mosque................................29
* * * * *
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release February 22, 2006
James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:54 P.M. EST
MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon, everyone. We've got a couple
things to begin with, and then I'll go to your questions.
Tomorrow, the President is going to be holding a Cabinet meeting at
8:45 a.m. in the morning to discuss the results and recommendations of
the Hurricane Katrina lessons-learned review process that has been led
by his Homeland Security Advisor, Fran Townsend. There will be press
coverage of that at the end in the Cabinet Room. It will be pool
As you all will recall, the President was not satisfied with the
response from the federal government. And at the September 6th Cabinet
meeting the President ordered this review. The President's most solemn
obligation is the safety and security of the American people. And this
lessons-learned review has identified 125 recommendations in 17 general
categories where we can improve the federal government's capability to
respond to a catastrophic event like Hurricane Katrina, or a future
terrorist attack. The President has also made a commitment to the
citizens of the Gulf Coast that we will be a full partner in the
rebuilding and recovery effort, and that process continues to move
But tomorrow is going to be focused more on preparing for the next
event. And with hurricane season just a little over three months away,
it is time for that action to be underway. We have already taken a
number of steps, and we need to continue to move forward on these
And following the Cabinet meeting, the President's Homeland
Security Advisor will be conducting a briefing here, at approximately
11:00 a.m. tomorrow morning, in the Briefing Room. And the reports are
going to be released about 9:00 a.m. tomorrow.
Now, I've one additional update on the President's schedule. The
President will host Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi at the White House
on February 28th. Italy is one of America's closest allies and is
making extraordinary contributions to peace and security. Under Prime
Minister Berlusconi's leadership, Italy has provided vital assistance in
building secure and prosperous societies in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the
Balkans. The President appreciates Prime Minister Berlusconi's deep
commitment to spreading freedom and democracy around the world. The
President and Prime Minister Berlusconi will discuss a range of issues
on the transatlantic agenda, including peace and security in the Middle
East region, energy security, and assistance to the people of Iraq and
And then one final statement. Just a short time ago this statement
was released by the President:
"On behalf of the American people, I extend my deepest condolences
to the people of Iraq for the brutal bombing of the Golden Mosque in
Samarra, one of the holiest sites in Shia Islam. The terrorists in Iraq
have again proven that they are enemies of all faiths and of all
humanity. The world must stand united against them, and steadfast
behind the people of Iraq. This senseless crime is an affront to people
of faith throughout the world. The United States condemns this cowardly
act in the strongest possible terms.
I ask all Iraqis to exercise restraint in the wake of this tragedy
and to pursue justice in accordance with the laws and constitution of
Iraq. Violence will only contribute to what the terrorists sought to
achieve by this act. The United States stands ready to do all in its
power to assist the government of Iraq to identify and bring to justice
those responsible for this terrible act. And the American people pledge
to work with the people of Iraq to rebuild and restore the Golden Mosque
of Samarra to its former glory."
And that, again, is a statement by the President. And with that,
I'll be glad to go to your questions.
Terry, go ahead.
Q Scott, you said this morning that the President wasn't made
aware of the ports decision until the last several days, until after the
decision had been made. Does the President wish that he'd been brought
into the deliberations sooner, that he knew about it before it became a
big political controversy?
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me mention a couple of things. First of all,
there is a congressionally mandated review process that is put in place
for transactions like this. It is a national security review process.
It's called the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States --
the CFIUS process -- that oversees such transactions. And you have some
12 departments and agencies that are involved and thoroughly reviewing
such transactions and closely scrutinizing such transactions to make
sure that it meets all national security concerns, to make sure that
there is no national security threat.
So this was a transaction that was closely scrutinized by the
experts -- by the counterterrorism experts, by the intelligence
community, and those who are responsible for protecting the American
people. No one in those departments objected to this transaction going
Now, we have seen some concerns expressed by some members of
Congress and others, and that's understandable, given that they have
seen some coverage that has seemed to suggest that this company, an Arab
company, would be in control of our ports. And that is a false
impression. That's why it's important that we continue to talk with
members and others about the facts, and that they understand the
safeguards that are in place, and they understand how closely
scrutinized this was. And that's what we will -- that's what we will
continue to do.
I mean, in hindsight, when you look at this and the coverage that
it's received and the false impression that it has left with some, we
probably should have briefed members of Congress about it sooner. And
we are talking with members of Congress about it. There were some
briefings last week; I know there are some additional briefings
occurring today and there will be some additional briefings in the days
going forward, so that they can have a full understanding of the facts,
because when you look at the facts, we believe it should be clear to
people that all the national security issues were addressed during this
review process that was mandated by Congress. That is our top concern,
the safety and security of the American people. And that's why it goes
through a process like this.
Q But Scott, does the President think that he should have
learned about it sooner in the process?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one thing that the President did, Terry, one
thing the President did -- and even after all this press coverage of
this transaction -- was go back to every Cabinet member whose department
is involved in this process and ask them, are you comfortable with this
transaction going forward? And each and every one expressed that they
were comfortable with this transaction going forward. We are confident
in the congressional process that was put in place, because it looks at
all these security issues relating to a transaction like this.
Last year -- I think in any given year, there's some 50 to 300
transactions that go through this national security review process. And
this process is designed with one thing in mind: to make sure that
there are no national security concerns. Last year, there were some 65
transactions that went through this process. This was a matter that was
reported in the press going back to, I think, late October. The
financial press was covering this possible transaction. And despite the
fact that it's been covered in the press and that there are some 65
transactions that go through this process every year, we feel like
Congress probably should have been briefed on this matter sooner,
particularly in light of some of the false impressions that have been
left in the minds of members of Congress.
Q Scott, you talk about false impressions and that the coverage,
the media coverage somehow drove that. The reality is, you had members
of Congress -- like Peter King of New York and others -- who are
familiar with the process, who knew about this, who didn't necessarily
sound misinformed, who, nevertheless, still object to the deal. So was
it a case of leaving a false impression, or the fact that you just have
people who are opposed to this?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think it could be both. But clearly there
are some that have been left with a false impression, because you have
some people that have gone out there and said that the Arab company
would be in control of our ports and be in control of security of our
ports. That's not the case. This is not about control of our ports.
This not about the security of our ports. And let me be very clear:
One thing we will never do is outsource to anyone the control and
security of our ports, whether that's Dubai or any other entity that
operates terminals at our ports.
And let's put this in a different perspective. If this transaction
were blocked, this would not change port security one iota. The Coast
Guard and the Customs and Border Patrol remain in charge of our
security. The Coast Guard remains in charge of physical security. The
Customs and Border Patrol remains in charge of cargo security. And
there are a number of safeguards and security measures that we have put
in place to make sure that cargo is screened before it reaches our
Q Let me just follow on this point. There's bipartisan
consensus that monitoring the ports, the seaports, is very difficult,
and it's a vulnerable area of our homeland security strategy. Karl Rove
said, memorably, recently, that Democrats have a pre-9/11 view of the
world; Republicans and this President have a post-9/11 view of the
world. So a lot of people wonder on both sides of the aisle, how is it
the President could allow a sale like this to go through with country
that has clear ties to terrorism?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President doesn't view it as a political issue.
The President views it as the right principle and the right policy. We
should not be holding a country from the Middle East or a company from
the Middle East to a different standard from a company from Great
Britain. And the President believes very strongly that all these issues
were addressed during the review process. That's why he checked with
his Cabinet Secretaries -- all the national security issues. We
shouldn't -- so it's a matter of principle. It's a principled position
that the President is taking.
We also have to take into account the broader foreign policy
implications something like this could have. The United Arab Emirates
is a strong ally and partner in the global war on terrorism. General
Pace, just yesterday, talked about how the UAE is providing superb
military-to-military cooperation, and how they are a very solid partner
in the global war on terrorism. They provide access to their ports for
our aircraft carrier, they provide access to our Air Force planes over
their airspace and at their airports. The UAE is someone we have worked
very closely with to crack down on terrorist financing. They work very
closely with us in sharing important intelligence. And so I think you
have to also look at it in that context. But the principle --
Q But if we don't go through on this and they could retaliate,
that relationship would be harmed --
MR. McCLELLAN: I wouldn't describe it that way. I mean, first of
all, this is about a principle. And the principle is that we shouldn't
be holding a Middle Eastern company to a different standard than a
British company. They went through a very thorough review process
before this transaction was allowed to proceed forward. And let me also
mention that when it comes to Dubai Ports, there are security safeguards
in the agreement that they signed with us. They committed to enforcing
security standards under the Container Security Initiative, and under
the Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism.
Now, let me mention what those are. The Container Security
Initiative allows for the Customs and Border Patrol to inspect 100
percent of all high-risk containers at foreign ports before they are
loaded onto vessels and headed into the United States. The Customs
Trade Partnership Against Terrorism is a public/private partnership with
some 7,000 companies, that do regular business with the United States.
And what they must do is increase their security to prevent terrorists
from compromising their shipments. That's not only the company that's
shipping this cargo, but the company that is providing the services, as
And I would also point out that Dubai Ports was the first Middle
Eastern entity to join the Container Security Initiative. So the
Customs and Border Patrol work very closely with Dubai customs to screen
containers that are coming to the United States. And this is a company
that operates in many countries around the world. It's a company that
we are very familiar with.
Q Scott, one more about the review process; then I want to ask
you about lessons learned. Out of the 65 or so similar transactions
that were reviewed last year, how often is one turned down?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think you can probably direct that to the
Treasury since they're the chair of that process at this time. And --
Q -- not very often --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think it's not often, but there are some that
are denied. And I think you should direct that to the Treasury
Department. They can probably provide you additional information on
Q A follow-up on the lessons learned. What is the -- how
effective can a review be when it's conducted -- of the administration
-- when it's conducted by somebody who is a member of the
MR. McCLELLAN: You'll see how thorough it is tomorrow. It is a
very comprehensive review. Every Cabinet department and agency was
involved in this review. Everybody had a part in this. And what we
want to do is take a close look at what worked and what didn't work, and
then apply those lessons to the future. The number one priority for
this President is the safety and security of the American people.
That's why this lessons learned review is so important.
There was some great work done by many people in the immediate
aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The Coast Guard comes immediately to
mind. They were sitting there rescuing people off rooftops and rescuing
people in the floods. They saved some 33,000 people, and they should be
commended for that. But there are other areas where all levels of
government fell short -- the federal, the state, and the local. And
what the President wanted to make sure happened was that we take a very
close look at this and that we learn the lessons so that we can apply
those to future responses and do a better job in the future. This was a
hurricane of unprecedented scope and magnitude. It covered some 90,000
square miles. The devastation was enormous, not only to property, but
to the people who lost their -- people lost their -- a number of people
lost their lives.
Q But why have someone in-house do that --
MR. McCLELLAN: It's her responsibility. Well, there are two
things. One, we've worked closely with Congress also on their
investigations and provided them all the information they need to be
able to do their job. And so that -- we'll take a look at the Congress'
review, as well, and their recommendations. But it's important that we
move forward and apply these lessons learned. And I think you will see
tomorrow that this is a very comprehensive review that has been
conducted. And the recommendations are very sound recommendations. So
I think if you look at the report, it will stand on its own.
Q Scott, when did the President actually learn of this
transaction? And why don't we own our own -- I mean, why don't we
control and run our own ports? Isn't that more -- in terms of security.
MR. McCLELLAN: We do. We do. That's not correct. We do control
our ports, and we do oversee --
Q I don't think many people knew that the British were running
MR. McCLELLAN: Now, this is what I'm talking about. Some people
have left -- been left with the wrong impression. And that's why it's
so important to understand the facts and understand that there is a
process in place to look at this --
Q -- that somebody else is going to run our --
MR. McCLELLAN: The one that you just stated, that someone else
would be in control of our ports and oversee security. That's not --
that's not correct.
Q Managing --
MR. McCLELLAN: Now, in terms of the President, the President --
Q Why aren't Americans managing the ports?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let me answer your first question, and then
we'll get to your next two or three questions. The President learned of
this recently, he became aware of it.
Q How recently?
MR. McCLELLAN: And there was no objection raised by any of the
departments during the review process, or any concerns expressed about
potential national security threats. And that's why it didn't rise to
the presidential level.
Q When did he find out?
Q Scott, talk a little bit about -- one of the problems here is
it's a secretive process, and understanding that some things concerning
national security are done in secret --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, it's not just that. I mean, there's
proprietary information, as well. And I think that what we're working
to do is make sure that we can provide as much information as possible
about this transaction. Because, as I pointed out, one thing that is
key is that this company agreed to additional security measures that
they would take beyond what some others do in transactions like this.
And I pointed out what those are.
Q You talked about checking cargo and that they say they'll
allow cargo to be checked. There's clearly not the manpower to check
cargo. About 5 percent to 7 percent coming in this country are ever
checked. So what does the U.S. need for this company to do? Hiring and
firing? Do they vet people? Do you know all that?
MR. McCLELLAN: This is the company that manages the terminals.
They'll manage the terminals --
Q So can they hire and fire?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- the forklifts that lift the cargo off or load
the cargo on to ships. And that's what their responsibility is. But
that's why I pointed that there were additional security safeguards that
were put in place in an agreement with Dubai Ports. And that's
important to understand.
And in terms of -- let me back up and make sure that people have a
clear understanding of the security measures that are in place, because
I think in your question you ignored some key aspects of this. First of
all, we secure cargo before it gets to our shores. The Customs and
Border Patrol and the Coast Guard are in charge of security for our
ports, and they do a great job. And there are a number of steps and
measures that we have put in place over the last few years to improve
security at our ports and to strengthen security at our ports -- as I
pointed out, the Container Security Initiative.
Under the Container Security Initiative, the Customs and Border
Patrol inspects 100 percent of all high-risk containers. And they do
that at foreign ports before they're loaded on to the ship and headed to
the United States. A hundred percent of all cargo is screened, using
intelligence and using cutting-edge technology. Technology is very
important. Technology is very important --
Q -- all of it --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, 100 percent of cargo is screened. There's a
24-hour rule in place. The Customs and Border Patrol is required to
screen manifest a day before cargo arrives. So what we're doing is
pushing out the security before that cargo comes to our shores. And
then I also mentioned the Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism,
how that's been implemented and how we have more than 7,000 companies
participating in that.
And then, finally, the technology that is used by the Customs and
Border Patrol -- they use large-scale x-ray and gamma ray machines and
radiation detection devices to pre-screen cargo coming into this
country. So there are a lot of security measures that are put in place.
It is the top priority for this administration.
Q Scott, would you just go back to the hiring? So who is
running the forklifts? Do we have any control over that, or does that
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that's why the agreement was signed with this
company. That's why I just pointed that out. Sure, it matters. And
that's why it was looked at very carefully during this review process.
This review process looked at all the national security issues relating
to this very matter.
Q When specifically did the President -- how did he find out
about this -- and when specifically? Was it last week when this blew
up? He read it in the paper?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, it was coming out last week, and he learned
about it over the last several days. I couldn't pinpoint the exact
time, but last several days, recently.
And -- but I think it's important to keep in mind when you're
reporting back to the American people what I just said. This transaction
was closely scrutinized to make sure that there were no national
security threats. There were no objections raised by any of the
departments that are charged with being involved in this process. And
that's why it didn't rise up to the presidential level. But even in
spite of that, with all the attention that this transaction has
received, the President felt it was very important to go back to each
Cabinet Secretary who has responsibility for this process, and ask them,
are you comfortable with this transaction proceeding forward. And they
all said, yes. And I'm sure it's for the reasons that I spelled out to
you in this very room, because of the agreements that were put in place,
because of the working relationship that we have with this company, and
because there were no national security threats raised.
Q So he found out through the news coverage, is that what you're
saying? How did he find out about it?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, I think, initially, Steve, when this was
becoming more -- it was getting more press coverage, that's how he found
out about it.
Q Scott, top Republicans turned on the administration faster
than Nancy Pelosi. What do you make of that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think you have to ask people their reason
for opposing this transaction. It's up to them to explain their reason
for it. The President does not think we should be holding this company
to a different standard from the British company that currently manages
Q Politically, your own party turned on this White House
MR. McCLELLAN: I wouldn't look at it that way. You're looking at
it in the political context. The President is not looking at it in the
political context. I understand and appreciate you looking at it in
that context, but the President is looking at this as what I said it is
-- this was the right principle, and it's the right policy.
Q Scott, it sounds like the President has lost control of the
party on the Hill. It sounds like they're campaigning against George
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I don't think that's accurate. You're talking
about this specific issue? This specific issue -- let's clarify that --
no, I think -- the President just came back from a House Republican
conference just a short time ago, and they talked about important
national security priorities, and they talked about the tools we're
using to protect the American people like the terrorist surveillance
program. And at the end of that comment -- end of those remarks, he
received a standing ovation. So I think there is strong, united support
for the policies that we are putting in place and that we are pursuing
to make America more prosperous and to make America safer.
This President has made his number one priority winning the war on
terrorism. And so let's keep in mind that the United Arab Emirates is a
key partner and ally in the global war on terrorism. They work very
closely with us. Partnerships are key to winning the war on terrorism.
And they have followed the rules. They went through this review
process, a thorough review process, that involved national security
experts, that involved counterterrorism experts. They looked at all
these issues and they said they were comfortable with this transaction
And we shouldn't be creating a different standard here. But if
you're going to try to block something like this, you also need to look
at it in the context of those broader foreign policy concerns. It could
have a real negative impact on our relations with countries like the
UAE, and other allies who are following this issue very closely --
allies who have helped us to save lives and prevent attacks.
Q Scott, at any point has the administration or administration
members of the CFIUS process briefed members?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q Briefed members. Has the administration -- other than
discussions that have ensued since this controversy has erupted, did the
administration or any of the administration interaction with the CFIUS
process actually brief members of Congress? And insofar as there are a
lot of ports that are pretty important to economic --
MR. McCLELLAN: You're talking about in this transaction?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, I think there were some briefings that
occurred last week to some members, or at least to their staff. And
there are some additional ones that are going on, I believe, today, and
then I think Senator Warner has a hearing tomorrow, and his committee.
Q -- prior to last week?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'll have to double-check that, Carl. The ones I
know of were some last week and then again some additional ones this
week. And there are additional discussions going on. It's important
for members of Congress and governors and others who have raised
concerns to have a full understanding of the facts. Senator McCain said
we shouldn't be rushing to judgment here; we should understand what the
facts are. As he said, he supports the President and he knows fully
that this President is going to do everything he can to make sure that
the American people are protected, and that includes in a situation like
this. And that's why -- and Congress shares that concern. I mean, this
is a shared issue here when it comes to the overall concerns. Congress
is the one that mandated this process, for this very reason, and it's a
process that we take very seriously. And that's why you have those
departments involved in it, and that's why you have the counterterrorism
experts involved in looking at these issues.
The intelligence community did an assessment to make sure that
there were no national security threats with this transaction going
forward. It wouldn't go forward if we had concerns to our nation's
Q So insofar as the Speaker yesterday suggested a moratorium on
this deal and that Senator Frist has also spoken out in opposition to
it, are they just ill-informed?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think you have to ask them their reasons
for opposing it. I'll let them explain that. I'm not going to try to
speak for members of Congress. Members of Congress have the right to do
what they feel is necessary. But that's why I said we are going to
continue talking to them and providing them with the facts and making
sure they have a clear understanding of the facts here.
As I indicated, I mean, it's understandable why people have
expressed some concerns when they feel like an Arab company is going to
control our ports, or they see a headline to that effect. And that's
why we're going to continue reaching out to members and briefing them
Q So is the administration concerned that the rancor on the Hill
over this sends an inappropriate message overseas and that the U.S.
government is divided?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President is concerned about the mixed message
that could be sent on this matter. He said that yesterday. It sends a
terrible message to our allies when you say a company from the UAE, an
Arab country that has been a good ally in the war on terrorism, should
be held to a different standard than a company from Great Britain,
particularly when it followed all the rules, and when it went through
this review process.
Q So insofar as the President heard about it just recently, and
the Cabinet Secretaries and the CFIUS process led the no objections,
does the White House feel let down that nobody spotted a potential
political pitfall here?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, as I said, I mean, we're looking back in
hindsight on this issue. And there are some mischaracterizations of
what this transaction is about. There is a false impression left with
people. All you have to do is look at their comments to know that there
were false impressions left. I mean, we had one in here earlier, we had
a reporter earlier in the day suggesting that this company would be in
control of the ports. That's just not the case. And that's why it's
important to understand the facts. And that's why I said that we
probably should have briefed members of Congress sooner, but that's
looking at it in hindsight, given the attention it has received.
Q Scott, there were some questions raised about information flow
to the President during Hurricane -- after Hurricane Katrina and
questions about when he learned that the Vice President had shot a man.
And now there are questions about when the President learned about this.
Is there some sort of systematic issue here where information --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think there's a systematic over-analysis
sometimes in this room, and I think that's over-interpreting things and
drawing the wrong conclusions, Peter.
Q Will that be --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- false impression on each of those issues. I'll
be glad to address each of those issues individually, but I think it's
totally wrong to try to draw conclusions and over -- overanalyze this
thing in that manner.
Q -- should be looked at in the report coming out tomorrow about
information flow to the President during Katrina?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you will have the report tomorrow, and you'll
hear the briefing tomorrow from Fran Townsend. You'll have an
opportunity to ask her questions about it.
Q Scott, you've said on several occasions, in hindsight that you
could have alerted Congress earlier. Is that a view that the President
shares? And when did the White House come to that conclusion?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think it's clear from the concerns that
have been raised by members that they didn't have a clear understanding
what the facts are. That's why we're trying to provide them with the
facts. And, yes, that's the view that we're expressing from the White
House, and I'm expressing on behalf of the President.
Q And also, you said that part of this process is not political,
but you're looking at ways to be fair to Arab allies in the war on
terror. But at what point does it begin where there are American
sensibilities that have to be recognized, that there should be somebody
who brings up, perhaps, the alarms that might go off? Do you believe
that there --
MR. McCLELLAN: They were during the review process. They looked
at all the national security issues. You're leaving a false impression
that would suggest that these issues weren't looked at, because they
were looked at very thoroughly.
Q But do you believe that there should be a point person or a
part of that process to bring this information to the White House and
MR. McCLELLAN: The White House agencies are part of this process,
like the National Security Council and the Office of Management and
Budget. So there are 12 departments and agencies that are involved in
this process, and there are representatives who are in place to look at
all these issues. And there are counterterrorism experts and
intelligence experts who look at these matters to make sure all the
national security concerns are thoroughly looked at. And no one raised
any objection about this transaction going forward, after looking at all
these national security concerns to make sure that they were met.
Q -- national security concerns, the people in the White House
or NSC who saw this and said this might be a political problem, this
might be a perception problem? You talk about the fact that people are
not understanding this. Do you believe that there should have been --
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think anybody during this process was
looking at it in any way other than the national security standpoint
because that's what they're charged with doing under this process that
was mandated by Congress. This was created by members of Congress to
make sure that these issues were thoroughly looked at before approval
was given for the transaction to move forward. And as the President
indicated yesterday, that's part of the reason why he believes the
transaction should go forward.
Q In light of that fact, then, do you believe it was a mistake
that that wasn't examined, that wasn't looked at? Because obviously
members of Congress are very --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you heard from the President yesterday. He's
not looking at this from a political context. But with that said, we --
as I indicated -- should have been briefing members of Congress sooner,
given all the attention that has been focused on this, and given the
fact that it has been mischaracterized.
Q Has the President reached out to Frist or Hastert?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we stay in touch with their offices. We stay
in touch with governors and mayors, as well. And we will continue to,
but there's no update in terms of any legislative calls he's made.
Q Scott, this morning, the President spoke at the Asia Society
about his upcoming trip to India and Pakistan. Yesterday Indian
Ambassador, Mr. Ronen Sen was guest speaker at the National Press Club
and he reviewed the visit and he said that India is ready to welcome the
President. And also it will be a different region than in the past by
President Clinton. My question is that I'm also, of course, looking
forward that my friend is visiting my land of birth --
MR. McCLELLAN: What is your question? We look forward to visiting
Q The question is how the President feels himself this visit
will be different than President Clinton? And if he's in touch in
anyway with the President? Also as far as India and Pakistan --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think he spelled it out in his remarks earlier
today. Our relationship with India has never been stronger. We have a
very good strategic partnership. We have worked very closely with India
over the last few years to strengthen our relationship. And there are a
number of areas where we're working together. The President talked
about those areas earlier today. He's going to be talking with some
additional media later this afternoon, some media from India, and he'll
be talking about how he very much looks forward to going to India. This
will be his first visit to India, and there are a lot of areas of common
concern where we need to continue to work together and build upon our
April, go ahead.
Q Scott, going back on the issue of the mixed message that the
President is concerned about, is that mixed message bigotry or racism
coming from both sides of the aisle from U.S. leaders?
MR. McCLELLAN: April, you'd have to ask those who oppose this
transaction what their reason is for opposing this. I'm not going to
try to question motives.
Q Well, but, Scott, the President said it sends a terrible
signal to friends around the world that it's okay for a company from one
country to manage the port, but not a country that plays by the rules
and has got a good track record from another part of the world. And, I
mean, reading between the lines, it sounds like that's what he's saying.
And I'm trying to hear from you, what is this mixed message and what
does this signal?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, he's stating a fact. I mean, he's stating that
this is a principled position on his part. It is the right policy, it
is the right principle to stand on. We shouldn't be creating a
different standard for a country from the Middle East, or a company from
the Middle East, than a company from Great Britain. And that's what --
Q Okay, what about discrimination?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- some are suggesting here. This transaction was
very closely scrutinized to make sure that all national security
concerns were met. The company agreed to additional security measures
that they would take beyond what some others have had to in the past.
And I spelled out a couple of areas that they would be addressing as
part of those --
Q -- discrimination, then, beyond bigotry and racism? Is one
country being discriminated against over another?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q Is it an issue of discrimination? Is one country being
discriminated over another?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President said he doesn't believe we
should be setting a different standard, and that's the principle that he
was talking about yesterday. You would have to ask others their reason
for opposing this transaction going forward. And as the President said
yesterday, they should explain their reason why they believe this
transaction should not go forward, given the facts that I have just
provided to you all in this room, and given the facts we've been
providing to the American people over the last few days about how
carefully scrutinized this transaction was.
The top and only concern when it came to this transaction was the
safety and security of the American people. Are there any national
security threats for this transaction going forward? And every
department that looked at this and had their experts look at it
determined that there was not.
Q But Democrats are very familiar with national security, saying
this sends a very, very bad signal, as far as heightening the
anti-American sentiment in the Arab and the Muslim world. Do you agree
with that statement?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not sure who you're referring to and what they
Q I just told you what they said.
MR. McCLELLAN: Who is it?
Q I don't want to tell you who it is, I cannot do that. But
this person -- believe me, is very familiar with these issues -- and
they said, this sends a very bad sentiment right now at this time when
you have the Muslim world dealing with the issue of the cartoon of
Allah, which is blasphemous to them, and this is sending -- there's this
heightened anti-American --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, as the President said yesterday, what it does
is send a terrible signal to a good ally in the war on terrorism, and to
others who are allies in the war on terrorism.
Q Scott, who's briefing the Senate Armed Services Committee
tomorrow? Do you know?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think our Deputy Treasury Secretary. There are
probably others involved in that, too. But you ought to double-check
with the Armed Services Committee. They're the ones who schedule those
Q And on the Katrina lessons learned, were the contents of all
the documents and the emails that were not provided to the House and the
Senate Committees that were investigating Katrina taken into account in
the White House's own lessons learned --
MR. McCLELLAN: As I indicated at the top here, the briefing for
that will be tomorrow at 11:00 a.m. in this room. I would encourage you
to come back and ask those questions at that time.
Q Scott, briefly back to this report and the President's veto
threat. I gather it's still --
MR. McCLELLAN: Absolutely.
Q Does it apply to any measure that would block the deal, or one
that would just delay --
MR. McCLELLAN: He's talking broadly about legislation that would
prevent this transaction from going forward, and I think he was pretty
clear in his remarks yesterday.
Q Legislation that would delay it --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the question that was asked was specifically
about the legislation that Senator Frist was talking about, and that's
how I responded to that comment. So, yes.
Q Scott, are there -- is there anybody in the administration
that's talking to company representatives about extending the date
before the closing of this transaction at all?
MR. McCLELLAN: Not that I know of. I mean, once the process is
complete, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States
process is complete, all the national security issues are addressed and
the transaction is approved to go forward, my understanding is that the
only way it can be reopened is if there were false or misleading
information provided during this review process, or important
information omitted during that process. So that's the process that
Congress put in place.
Q And a follow-up to Suzanne's question. I take it that on the
political review at the White House, I take it people such as Karl Rove
did not take a political look-see at this for any implications at all?
MR. McCLELLAN: No. His office was not involved in this process.
Q A two-part. Didn't the 9/11 Committee report document how al
Qaeda and the 9/11 terrorists used Dubai as a banking facility, as well
as a country of transit?
MR. McCLELLAN: You can go look at the 9/11 Commission report and
see what it spells out. I don't think that issue is what we're talking
Q I think that was reported --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there are other companies, foreign-owned
companies that manage ports around the world, including here, where
citizens from their countries have been involved in terrorist acts. Is
that correct? Okay, thank you.
Q For the first time in his five-year presidency, the President
has now threatened to veto what is strongly supported by his own party's
Speaker of the House, Senate Majority Leader, Governor of New York and
Governor of Maryland, among many others -- Republicans and Democrats.
Can you tell us of any such major split before in American history?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Les, I don't know if those individuals you
mention have had an opportunity to learn all the facts relating to --
Q They speak out without learning --
MR. McCLELLAN: Now, don't put words in my mouth --
Q -- are you contending that they just shoot their mouths off?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- you're putting words in my mouth. Well, there
have been individuals who have spoken out and expressed things that
simply aren't correct about this transaction. And so that's why we want
to make sure that they have the facts. We want to make sure that they
know the safeguards that are in place. We want to make sure they
understand how carefully reviewed this transaction was to make sure that
there are no national security threats with it going forward.
Go ahead, Sarah.
Q Thank you. Scott, my question is, was it really necessary or
wise to issue the ports contract to a UAE company? Isn't it risky and
taking a chance since many terrorists are believed to be in the UAE?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry. I didn't hear the first part of your
question. Isn't it risky for this transaction to go forward, is that
what your question is?
Q Yes, is it wise?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, for the reasons that I've stated throughout
this very briefing. The President believes it should go forward because
all the security issues were looked at. There are additional security
measures that this company is going to put in place. This is not
voluntary additional security measures, this is mandatory additional
security measures. I've touched on what those were. Let me go back
through them. They are going to have to enforce security standards
under the Container Security Initiative and enforce security standards
under the Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism. And they're also
committed to cooperating and disclosing of documents, procedures,
security measures and employee backgrounds, as well. That was part of
the additional security measures that they agreed to.
Q When the President yesterday described what Dubai Ports World
would be doing he used the phrase several times "manage our ports." Is
that the wrong impression? If he used that, would that incorrectly be
describing their duties --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let me tell you what he's referring to, that
they would be involved in managing the terminals at the ports. I think
you know very clearly what he is referring to in those comments and what
this transaction is about. There's a clearer understanding now that
we've had an opportunity to explain it in more detail and talk about the
facts surrounding this.
In terms of the ports, this company won't control our ports. It
won't control security at the ports. The security is under the control
of the Coast Guard and under control of the Customs and Border Patrol,
and it will remain that way. As I indicated, if this transaction were
blocked, it would not change security at our ports one iota.
Q Scott, are there any American companies managing port
operations in any Arab countries?
MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't taken a full look at that. You can
probably go and get that information from various companies or
departments involved in that. I'm sure -- I hesitate to speculate about
it, but --
Q You can't name one, can you? Isn't that true?
MR. McCLELLAN: Les, I haven't looked into it. I haven't look into
that matter. But I would point out that Dubai is involved in a number
of countries in terms of operations of ports, whether they be airports
or ports. Australia, China, Hong Kong, the Dominican Republic, Romania,
Germany, India, Venezuela, Djibouti, Saudi Arabia. So this is a company
that we're very familiar with.
Q Scott, why was an American company not chosen for this job?
MR. McCLELLAN: This was a transaction involving a British company
and a company from the UAE. And this company wanted to purchase this
British-owned company, or purchase the terminal -- management of the
terminals at these sites. And now they made a number of agreements in
this process, too, as I pointed out. But you'd have to ask those
American companies if they didn't want to purchase it. It doesn't
change -- it doesn't change who controls the ports or who's in charge of
security. So let's be clear on that.
Q I want to get back where we started and the question asked by
Kerry, who, unfortunately, in his advancing years continues to have
trouble making himself clear, apparently. (Laughter.) The question,
very simply, was --
MR. McCLELLAN: Happy birthday. It was yesterday. (Laughter.)
Q But the question very simply was, do you now think the
President should have known about this sooner? I ask this in the light
of the many times you've just told us the extraordinary was this was
handled, the extraordinary --
MR. McCLELLAN: You're asking in -- you're asking to look back in
hindsight, Ken. And looking back in hindsight, we believe members of
Congress should have been briefed on it sooner. But the President is
confident in the process that has been put in place to review these
matters. He's confident in those who are charged with looking at these
issues and looking at the national security concerns in this. And that
process was carefully followed. This was thoroughly reviewed. And that
-- but, with that said, the President went back and made sure every
single Cabinet Secretary that is involved in this process was
comfortable with this transaction going forward. I'm not going to try
to play too much Monday morning quarterbacking from this podium.
Q But in hindsight, Congress should have known, but the
MR. McCLELLAN: No, let's point out that -- I said they should have
been briefed sooner, is what I said.
Q And the President shouldn't have been?
MR. McCLELLAN: And -- well, I think we can look at it in
hindsight, Ken, and I'm sure you will look at that. But there's some 65
transactions -- you're not letting me have a chance to respond here --
some 65 transactions over the last year that went through this process.
Not one person involved in this transaction objected to it going
forward. If there had been an objection, then I'm sure it would have
risen to the President's level. Let me point out to you that once this
has gone through the process and the Committee on Foreign Investment in
the United States has received a complete notification, it goes through
that thorough review of the notified transaction, and in some cases it
is necessary to undertake an extended review or investigation. An
investigation, if necessary, has to begin no later than 30 days after
receipt of a notice. Any investigation is required to end within 45
days. And then the President would have to make a determination on that
transaction. So that's the process that was put in place by Congress,
by statute, back in 1988 was when it was passed.
Q Scott, can I follow on --
MR. McCLELLAN: There are other people that still have questions.
I'll come back to you in a minute.
Q Scott, on Katrina, is the President confident that the
recommendations that are in this report being released tomorrow can be
put into place before the hurricane season begins?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there are a number of them that can. Some of
them are going to be longer-term recommendations. But one of the most
important objectives that we have is to make sure that we rebuild the
levees stronger and better than before. And that's why we've provided
-- or proposed significant funding to make sure that the levees in New
Orleans were stronger and better than before Katrina hit. And the Corps
of Engineers is already moving forward to make sure that that happens.
And we provided -- Congress passed the President's proposal and
provided significant funding for that very purpose.
And there are a number of other areas where we need to act. We are
acting in some instances already, and other areas where we need to act,
and some of that can be completed before next hurricane season, as it
should be. And then there are some other that are longer-term -- that
are more longer-term. But you're going to have an opportunity to hear
from Fran Townsend tomorrow, and she'll talk about it in more detail.
Go ahead, in the back.
Q Some members of -- have agreed in principle to join a
Palestinian government led by Hamas. Would that change the way the
President views this government?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that the President has said what our
views are when it comes to Hamas, and the concerns of the international
community, as well. The Quartet spelled it out in a statement what
Hamas needs to do. Hamas has a choice to make. We want a partner in
peace. I think the international community wants a partner in peace.
If we can move forward to the two-state solution that the President
proposed, the Palestinian people are going to realize a much better life
and a more peaceful life. And I think that's what all of us in the
international community want to see.
But it's up to Hamas to make the choice if they want to take
advantage of this opportunity. And that means they need to renounce
violence, they need to disarm, and they need to recognize Israel's right
to exist. If they do so, they have an opportunity to realize better
relations with the international community. They have the opportunity
to join with others who are committed to peace, to move forward on a
two-state solution and realize what the Palestinian people want.
Q Iran, as you probably know, has now said that it would help
fund Hamas, has said that its oil revenues -- or indicated its oil
revenues will help amply pay for Hamas as needed. What's the U.S.
reaction? And does this undercut any sanctions against Iran?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think we've expressed our views when it
comes to the regime in Iran. They have been a destabilizing force in
the region. They have been moving in the wrong direction from the rest
of the Middle East. Our views are very clear when it comes to the
regime. And our concerns -- we have a number of concerns about that
regime. And we have said what it needs to do, and that it needs to play
a more positive role in the broader Middle East.
And in terms of Hamas, I think we've made it very clear that you
can't have a partner for peace if they continue to engage in terrorism
and continue to advocate the destruction of Israel. We want a partner
for peace. There's an opportunity for Hamas to seize. They know what
they need to do. It's been spelled out by the Quartet. And we will
wait and see what choice they make.
Q If Iran has enough money from oil to fund Hamas, what does
Iran need nuclear energy for?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we've expressed our concerns about their
civilian nuclear energy -- or developing nuclear weapons under the guise
of a civilian nuclear program. We've talked about that issue in the
past, Connie. Nothing has changed in terms of our views there. But we
support their right to develop peaceful nuclear energy. What the
concern here is, is that the regime can't be trusted. They have shown
over the course of the last two decades that they can't be trusted.
They hid their activities from the international community. And so our
concern is that they're developing nuclear weapons under the guise of a
civilian program. And that's why the international community has
referred the matter to the United Nations Security Council.
All of us are concerned. China and Russia have spoken out and said
that the regime needs to suspend all its enrichment-related activities.
That is one of the steps that was called upon for the regime to do by
the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Martha, go ahead. And then David.
Q Just to clear up -- back on the ports again -- you said at one
point, these additional measures that the company will take, security
measures. Are they doing exactly the same thing at the British company
did? Are these actually additional measures? Were they looked at in a
MR. McCLELLAN: I understand in their agreement there were
additional security measures that were reached with Dubai.
Q That the British didn't have to. Then why should you hold a
company from the Middle East to a different standard?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you're talking about the transaction
proceeding forward. The top priority of this administration is the
safety and security of the American people, and that was a top priority
when it went through this review process. But as we move forward, we
look at these issues and look at these transactions, and there was an
agreement reached with this company to provide those additional security
-- those additional security -- those additional security assurances.
Q That went above and beyond what the British company had to do.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I'll let the Department of Homeland Security
or Treasury can probably talk more about specifics. Some of this, as I
said, is proprietary information so I don't want to get further into it,
but I don't think you can leap to that same conclusion. This
transaction is going forward. They went through the process. Part of
the process is that if you come to an agreement like this, you can put
additional security measures in place.
Q So they were under greater scrutiny than the British company?
They were held to a different standard?
MR. McCLELLAN: They were closely scrutinized --
Q They were held to a different standard than the British?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- through this review process. This review
process provides for us to be able to reach agreements like this for
transactions to move forward.
Q But, Scott, back again on -- so they were held to a different
standard? The President is saying we should not hold a company from the
Middle East to a different standard -- they, in fact, were?
MR. McCLELLAN: He's talking about the review process. If you go
through the review process and all these issues are thoroughly addressed
and thoroughly reviewed, and it poses no national security threat, we
shouldn't be holding them to a different standard. So I think you're
taking it to a different step than what I was suggesting.
Q Wait a minute. She's saying that the President who took the
step of buttonholing every Cabinet agency involved in to say, are you
sure we're not going to get in trouble -- presumably he did this because
there were some questions about --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, no, no, he didn't say, are you sure we're not
going to get in trouble. He said, are you comfortable with this
Q Are you sure that this is safe?
MR. McCLELLAN: Right.
Q Right. What I'm saying is why did he do that if this was a
company operating out of --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, to ensure these transactions proceeding
forward. There's no national security threat you're concerned about.
Q Does he do that for every transaction?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, this received a lot of additional attention
in the media. And that's why the President, even after it received that
additional attention, went back and said, are each of you comfortable
with this proceeding forward -- because there had been concerns raised.
We believe that when you know all the facts that you will recognize that
this is a legitimate company that has met all these national security
Q The point about -- you're kind of dismissive of this -- the
question about information flow. When -- this is obviously a big deal.
You're conceding that now when you talk about you should have briefed
Congress and so forth. The President says publicly when he goes around
the country, look, after 9/11 it's okay get back to your lives, let me
worry about your safety. And yet on an issue of this significance, he
finds out in the newspapers. Shouldn't people be worried about that?
MR. McCLELLAN: As I said there was not a single objection raised
by the experts and by those who are charged with protecting the American
people. This is the President's administration. The people that are
responsible for this did look at this matter. If there had been
objections raised, and there had been an extended review process, then
it would have gone to the President. This went through the normal
review process. It is a thorough process. It checks all these issues
thoroughly to make sure there is no national security threat with this
transaction proceeding forward. So I think it's important to look at it
in that context, rather than just simplify the notion there.
Q One final point about the ties that Treasury Secretary Snow
and your nominee, Mr. Sanborn -- David Sanborn has to this company. Did
that in any --
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know what Secretary Snow --
Q Well, CSX, where he was CEO, had port deals with Dubai Ports,
MR. McCLELLAN: After he had left the company, is my understanding.
Q Okay. So in your view, is there any reason to suspect that
ties -- administration ties to the company might have put this on a fast
track in some fashion?
MR. McCLELLAN: Absolutely not. It went through the normal review
process and was carefully checked.
Q Scott, about the bombing in Iraq today. Does the
administration have any sense that this is a potential flashpoint to
elevate and escalate the level of violence to some new degree that would
be harder to control?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's a good question. What we are doing is
working closely with Iraqis to make the point that it's important to set
aside past sectarian differences and work together to build a government
of national unity. That's where our focus is. Now, the terrorists want
to stir up violence and create sectarian divisions. That is what they
want. That's why the President, in a statement, said violence will only
contribute to what the terrorists sought to achieve by this act. And
that's why he urged Iraqis to exercise restraint and let this be
addressed through the appropriate channels.
And we are committed to working with the Iraqi government to bring
those responsible to justice. We will do everything in our part [sic]
to help with that. But our message to Iraqis is what I think others
around the world would say, as well: Exercise restraint. Violence will
only contribute to what the terrorists want. Make no mistake about it.
This was a brutal terrorist attack. It was an attack against people of
all faiths and against all of humanity. The terrorists have no regard
for innocent human life, and all they want to do is create chaos.
That's why it's important that we continue to work with the Iraqi people
and win in Iraq.
END 1:38 P.M. EST