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Al Maliki's not coming to dinner. White House senior administration official says "we erred."

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MR. SNOW: Greetings. Welcome to Amman. First, I am joined by my close personal friend, Senior Administration Official, for a background briefing on the President's dinner with the King of Jordan. So let me introduce to one and all, Senior Administration Official, to give you a readout and then answer your questions.

THE WHITE HOUSE

Office of the Press Secretary
(Amman, Jordan)
___________________________________________________________
For Immediate Release November 30, 2006


BACKGROUND BRIEFING BY
A SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL
ON THE PRESIDENT'S DINNER WITH
HIS MAJESTY KING ABDULLAH OF JORDAN

Sheraton Amman
Amman, Jordan

November 29, 2006

10:25 P.M. (Local)


MR. SNOW: Greetings. Welcome to Amman. First, I am joined by my close personal friend, Senior Administration Official, for a background briefing on the President's dinner with the King of Jordan. So let me introduce to one and all, Senior Administration Official, to give you a readout and then answer your questions.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you. I should start with who was there: The President; Secretary Rice; Mr. Hadley; Josh Bolten; Elliott Abrams; the King; his brother, Prince Ali; the Prime Minister; the Foreign Minister; and the head of the Intelligence Service.

The two main topics of discussion were the situation in Lebanon and Syria's role in it, and the Israeli-Palestinian situation, starting with Lebanon. There was a good deal of discussion about the very worrying situation in Lebanon and the events of the last week or so, including particularly the Gemayel assassination. And both the President and the King agreed very much on the need to support Prime Minister Siniora and his government.

There was a lot of concern expressed about the role that Syria is playing in Lebanon, its failure to heed U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1559 and 1701. The President made clear his view that this is not the time for engagement with Syria because the Syrian government always seems to see any such form of engagement as a gesture of approval, or as a way of getting off the hook for actions that it is taking.

On the Israeli-Palestinian situation, the President and the King both thought this was a potential moment of opportunity. They both commented on Prime Minister Olmert's speech of a couple days ago, very positively. They agreed on the need to work with President Abbas and to take concrete steps to strengthen the Palestinian Authority and strengthen him.

The King said he thought that there was a real desire in the Arab world to move forward, a change in the discourse about the Israeli-Palestinian problem and about Israel, and that there was a real opportunity here for Israel to create new relationships with Arab countries if it was able to move forward in its relations with the Palestinians -- forward, obviously, toward peace, toward negotiations.

The President was very grateful for the role that Jordan is playing. It has a very positive relationship with all the key players here -- the Palestinians, the Israelis, the other Arab countries involved.

Secretary Rice noted that she is going to take the next step -- she's going to go across the river tomorrow and see the Israeli Prime Minister and Foreign Minister and Palestinian President Abbas and get their latest take on what the situation is and how they plan to work together to move things forward, and what role the United States can play and what role other countries can play.

I'm going to stop with that and take questions.

Q So they did not discuss the Iraq situation at all, and Maliki's meeting with King Abdullah earlier today?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I can only tell you what happened at the dinner. There was a one-on-one between the President and the King before the dinner. I don't know whether that was discussed at it, whether it was the main subject, whether it was not a subject at all, I just don't know. I can tell you that at the dinner, that was not the focus. The focus was the, what I would call, broader regional questions under which, certainly, the Israeli-Palestinian and Syria-Lebanon questions arise. There was some discussion of terrorism and of the role in the region of al Qaeda, and of terrorism in the region. But this was really a regional discussion.

Q I'm sorry, I'm a bit confused. You're saying you're not sure what was discussed between President Bush and King Abdullah before the dinner?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't know what happened in the one-on-one. I only know that at the dinner, that was not the focus.

Q But did it come up at all?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It came up, but it was really not the focus, because both the President -- the King had just had his bilat, the President will have his, and I think they wanted to discuss Iraq in those discussions with Maliki.

Q Have you gotten any clearer understanding of who made the decision not to make it a trilateral? I mean, did King Abdullah suggest it to Prime Minister Maliki, or did Prime Minister Maliki make the decision unilaterally?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, the one word answer is, no. I can tell you that when the President made the decision -- or actually, it wasn't even a decision a few days ago when the idea arose -- of coming here after Riga, it was always a bilateral dinner. I can tell you that. It was always a bilateral dinner, and that was well understood.

I don't know when the idea -- the trilateral idea came up, but it was pretty clear from the dinner, I think, that both of them felt they -- you know, there are three bilateral meetings here, which cover all the bases -- President-King, King-Maliki, President-Maliki. So everybody gets to have these bilateral conversations and go into all the depth they want, and I guess they just concluded there was no need for a trilat.

Q Did the King of Jordan --

Q -- who, that's my question.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I can only --

Q Did the President land in Jordan believing that he was going to a meeting this evening?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No.

Q Did he leave --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't believe so.

Q Did he leave Riga believing that he was going to be meeting --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I wasn't here, I can't answer that.

Q When was the White House informed that Maliki would not be attending the dinner tonight?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I can't answer. I can only tell you that there was a good -- there was a broad feeling that a trilateral was really not necessary.

Q Did the White House believe that a trilateral was not necessary?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I can't tell you when precisely decisions were made where I was not present. I can tell you that there was -- this pattern of having three bilateral meetings, is one that the President and the rest of us are very satisfied with, and the King was clearly very satisfied with his meeting -- his bilateral meeting.

Q The subject was on the schedule, and even as of 11:30 a.m. this morning it was still on the schedule. And we were trying to figure out what the photo opportunities were going to be. Less than an hour later, it's gone away. And there's a lot of confusion, and there's going to be a lot more confusion unless we can get a sort of easy to wrap our arms around answer on why this went away.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I know. I can't -- I was here, and all I can tell you is it was a very clear understanding here that there would be a bilateral dinner. I'm not sure where the trilateral idea came from, but it was not what we decided in the end was really the optimal way to spend the President's time. He wants to meet with Maliki; he wants to meet with the King; the King wanted to meet with the President; the King wanted to meet with Maliki. This is the best setup for everybody.

Q Who is the "we"? When you say "we decided," who's the "we"?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I was not on the plane, so I can't answer as to any decisions on the plane.

Q Can you clarify?

Q The decision occurred on the plane then?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We can't give you a process answer. What we can tell you is that it was deemed superfluous and, therefore, they didn't do it --

Q For who?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: For everybody.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: By all parties concerned.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Everybody.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: By everybody, because you ended up having three trilats --

Q By the King, Maliki, and the President?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Maliki, the President and the King, the three parties involved, it was going to be superfluous. I cannot give you the whys and wherefores, but I can tell you -- also, just to knock down because I know there's been speculation, was this occasioned by the story in the Times? The answer is, it had no relationship to that, period. That has been clearly transmitted and that certainly is not --

Q But you didn't know when you were trying to figure out the photo opportunity stuff that they canceled
--

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I understand. Exactly.

Q You were coming here thinking you were going to have this meeting --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And they decided it would be superfluous. As my colleague was saying, you've got to figure out what the most effective use of the President's time is going to be. And it's --

Q "They" who?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The representatives of the three governments, I'm presuming. I don't --

Q Decided it where? On the ground here?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: As I've told you before, I cannot help you with the process questions because I don't know the exact timing.

Q In the week ahead, the President's time -- that's what he's doing here, to talk about Iraq.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: What he's doing here is he's having meetings with the King of Jordan and also with the Prime Minister of Iraq. And so you have your full discussion with the King and you have your full discussion with the Prime Minister. The trilat, if anything, was not something that was going to be as productive as the bilats, and so what you end up doing is devoting more time to the bilats.

Q Why wouldn't it be more productive? And there is the schedule that was put out recently that said the dinner would include the King of Jordan and the Prime Minister of Iraq. And also, you said the focus of the meeting tonight was on regional issues. Is that exactly what the focus was going to be? Is that what it was going --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I can only tell you what I knew. I knew from day one this was a bilateral with the King of Jordan. And if you look at the time, with the President's arrival, time to get over -- had you had this trilat, the amount of time the President would have had with the King would have been seriously compromised.

Q But why have it on the schedule --

Q -- Dan Bartlett thought there was a meeting. Why are you making excuses for this --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We're not making excuses. We're giving you an explanation, which is the King is going to be out of town tomorrow, so you've got one shot of dealing with the King and having an opportunity to be with the King. You also have serious ongoing developments, which we're talking about, with regard to Lebanon, which has been much in the news, and also with regard to what's going on in Israel; it's important to share thoughts about that.

And so you end up going ahead and you maximize your time with the King, who is your host, and then you also have your time tomorrow with the Prime Minister. Look, you can keep asking -- this is all we can give you on it.

Q Who called Maliki and told him he wasn't going to come?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Again, this is -- nobody -- there was no somebody who said, Maliki, don't come. Again, this is something that was a collaborative agreement, and all agreed it would be the best way. I can't tell you further than that, because, honestly, I don't know.

Q Why did the White House week-ahead say that the dinner is going to include Maliki? Why didn't you correct that if that was wrong? It seems like an oversight that one would not want to overlook.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Because we erred.

Q You erred. Why didn't you correct that earlier in the week?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I honestly don't know. I mean, you know me, I, frankly, did not spend much time doing the week-ahead.

Q And how do you know that this is not related to the memo. Has Maliki actually said it's not related to the memo?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Because it's been transmitted through -- I believe through Ambassador Khalilzad that that was not a factor.

Q What did you say you erred about? We couldn't hear back here.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The week ahead on the schedule on who would be in the dinner -- because the understanding that I was given was that it was always the President and the King.

Q Did the Ambassador suggest that Muqtada al-Sadr's boycott had anything to do with cancelling --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No.

Q So Maliki thought it was a waste of time?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No one thought it would be a waste of time. It was a question of, in a short period on the ground, what's the best way for the three of them to spend their time. And they all agreed that the best way is in a series of bilats.

Q You would think it would have sent a powerful message to the region, though, as we got the impression this morning to see the three leaders together discussing all the problems together in a sort of a coordinated way. That is missing now, and we've got the impression that it was happening --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, I don't. I mean, you could say these three leaders -- why would -- there are a lot of leaders missing; then you can say, oh, why those three leaders? Why not this one and this one who aren't in the picture, who aren't at the meeting? They agreed that this was the best way to spend a brief period of time after the President's arrival in Jordan and before he and the King actually departs tomorrow morning, too, for India.

Q About the Syrian discussions, you said that the President said this is not a good time to engage with Syria. You didn't give us a readout of the King's response. Did he agree that this was not a good time to engage with Syria?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't -- I'm a little bit worried, obviously, about putting words in his mouth. I think it's fair to say that the Jordanians are very worried about the situation in Lebanon, very worried about what Syria is doing in Lebanon, and concerned about any action on the part of the Europeans or others -- Americans -- that give a mis-impression to the Syrians that their behavior is not taken seriously and will not have repercussions. And the problem is, depending on the nature of the visit and who the visitor is, it can do that. So they are concerned about that pattern of visits.

Q With respect, that's not actually an answer to whether the King --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't want to put words in the King's mouth.

Q -- indication during the dinner that the Syrians were behind the assassination last week --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It was not discussed, the question of -- the only thing discussed was the need to continue with the -- investigating the Hariri assassination and the other 15 assassinations.

Q Did the King make any specific requests of the President in terms of the Middle East peace process, in terms of ideas he had that he wanted to --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The King wants the United States to be as involved as possible. He was pleased to hear about Secretary Rice's travel tomorrow to see the Palestinian and Israeli leaders. He wants the United States involved and active and thinks that our activity can help spur both parties to move forward. He did not make specific suggestions as to what that activity should be.

Q Does the President agree with the point the King has made this week that he believes the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is the core issue in the Middle East, more so than Iraq or Lebanon?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The President did not answer the question. I think from previous conversations with -- I mean, that question wasn't asked of the President. I think what -- from previous meetings, what he generally says is that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict needs to be solved. And you don't need to look for extraneous reasons to solve it. It means enough to Israelis and Palestinians and friends and allies of theirs that that's enough reason to try to solve it.

Q The King has, in the past, expressed a big concern about Iraq, both -- Iraq for itself and also Iraq's impact, potentially, on Jordan and on other neighboring countries. At any point tonight, did he express doubts about Maliki, either similar to what Hadley expressed in the memo, or just based on his observations of the situation in Iraq right now?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Again, there was a -- I can't tell you what was discussed in the one-on-one conversation, but the dinner conversation was really not about Iraq.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me pick up. The way you've summarized the memo, it's worth going back and reading the whole memo. There are a series of questions raised -- and we worked through this today -- but to depict it as something that "raises doubts about Maliki" -- the focus of the memo, as we discussed earlier today, is on building better capabilities within the Maliki government. Now, you do ask, what are various explanations for the fact that we're not doing well enough fast enough. But I would -- having talked to Steve and having read the memo -- and many people have -- it's important to recognize that the focus of that memo was not "to cast doubt," but instead, to look for ways to strengthen.

Q I read the memo repeatedly. I also read the gaggle you guys did about it. I think it's a stretch to say that a memo which questions not simply his capabilities, but more importantly, his intention --


SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, you read it differently than we did.

Q That's pretty much verbatim --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, it raises the question -- it raises the question about intentions and capabilities in the rest of the memo -- you're talking about that part at the very front end. Then if you take a look at the back end, especially action items, it talks about action items, and also supporting the Prime Minister. And if you also take a look at what has happened subsequently, if you -- and I know you did read the previous briefing transcript -- you take a look at action items, and the Iraqis have been taking action on a number of those fronts.

So once again, I think -- you know, I just want to caution against leaping to that characterization. It makes a good headline, but it doesn't make a whole and balanced view of the memo.

Q -- Mike's question, did the President make any specific requests of the King?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This in respect to the Israeli-Palestinian --

Q Yes, or I'm thinking more -- I know you said that Iraq wasn't really discussed, but we heard that the administration wants to reach out to like-minded Arab nations, to ask them to bring, perhaps, some pressure to bear on the Iraqi government --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I know that that subject was discussed in previous conversations with the King when he's been in Washington. That is Jordan's role with respect to Iraq. But the President didn't make any specific requests to the King, because the King actually laid out what Jordan was doing with the Palestinians, which is a great deal, and in his contacts with the Israelis. So Jordan is really being quite active in this. And the President was impressed and grateful for the activity that Jordan is undertaking with the Palestinians and Israelis.

Q To clarify, the collaborative decision to not have a trilateral dinner tonight was made at some point today between the President leaving Riga and --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It was our understanding -- and I did not look at the week ahead -- it was always my understanding that it was a bilateral dinner. There was talk of a trilat, and they decided again that it was a more fruitful use of time to meet separately in bilats. I cannot -- there had been discussion, as you know, earlier today about doing a trilat. And I cannot give you the precise time in which they decided not to go forward with that. But it was under consideration today, not as part of a dinner, but as a separate meeting.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I left Washington a week ago, and there was no --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, the reason I'm a little surprised by the week ahead, and I apologize for that, is that the things we'd seen in advance all talked about a two-party dinner. So I --

Q But it sounds like Dan Bartlett was confused until the briefing he did to the pool over there, as well. It sounds like he was under the impression it was going to be a trilateral.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, distinguish between a trilat and the dinner. The trilat was to be a separate meeting. And there was -- there was discussion, including today -- I mean, we were talking about it coming off -- so there was discussion during the day about doing a trilat. I can't tell you exactly when that came off, but that came off during the course of the day. And my guess is it came out someplace between Riga and here, because certainly I didn't know about it until after we hit the ground. I'm sorry I can't give you any more insight into process, but that --

Q Who first had the idea to cancel it, the trilat?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't know.

Q You have no idea whether it was Maliki --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I really don't, Martha. I can -- the characterization I've got, because I was not involved in any of those conversations, is that they just came to the conclusion that you're taking a look, are we going to be able to fit all this into this small bag, and the answer is, no. And let's figure out how we're going to be able to maximize our time, especially because the King's not here tomorrow, let's go ahead and do our meetings with him tonight. We already had scheduled the bilat with Maliki. Let's keep it clean and let's keep it detailed. I think there was some concern that it just wouldn't be that productive.

Q Can I just go back to the original statement by the White House when you announced the joint statement -- "The President of the United States and Prime Minister of the Republic of Iraq are pleased to announce that we will meeting in Amman on November 29th and 30th." The entire thing on the statement is about Iraq. It's not about the region, it's about Iraq.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, that's the Prime Minister of Iraq, and that's who he'd be having the conversation about Iraq with.

Q Just to press this a little bit, when the President arrived in Jordan, did he think he was going to see Prime Minister Maliki tonight?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Bret, I don't know. Again, I don't know the precise timing of this, so I cannot -- I know that --

Q And you're saying that it's not tied to the memo and it's not tied to his political problems --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That is correct, that is absolutely correct. That much -- those reassurances we did get in conversations with our people who are on the ground.

Q Could you press to find out? I mean, this is a significant question, and to say I don't know --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: A significant question of timing? We told you the reasoning. That seems to me to be the significant issue.

Q The appearance is the President was snubbed. That's the appearance.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, no, no, no, no. This is something that you can feel free to ask the Prime Minister about tomorrow, and you will get an answer that there's no snub. That much we do know. It's not a snub of the President, nor is it a snub of the Prime Minister, period.

Q How do you know that?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Because we've had our conversations with people on the ground who have had --

Q But you don't know who canceled it, you don't know --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't like the word "cancellation."

Q -- I mean, maybe not just to the press, but when you don't see those three people together, and that's what you thought was happening and had advertised.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, the three people don't agree with you, and that's what counts.

Q But the White House certainly knows what this looks like. Again, there's a lot of anticipation about the fruitfulness of these meetings and -- tonight, after you announced that it would, obviously it raises the implication.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, and I'm telling you -- look, I'm telling you what I know, and I've also addressed directly, because we asked the same questions you did about snubs and those sort of thing. I cannot give you the process by which they came to this conclusion, but I can give you the reasons.

Q -- that appearances mean a lot in this region. Every action means something in this region.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, let me tell you what -- and partly appearances -- okay, go ahead, I'm sorry. Go ahead.

Q Take this one question. Everybody in this room knows that this is a White House -- the White House runs on a very meticulous schedule. This President rarely has cancellations this abrupt. All we're trying to find out is who did what and exactly when.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, as I said -- and if I can get you any more detail, I will -- but this is -- A, it's not a snub; B, in this region it is also important to know that people are paying due care and attention, A, to your host, and B, to your invited guest. And what you are having is very significant discussions with the President and the King of Jordan, and with the President and the Prime Minister of Iraq. And the publics in both of those countries are going to see the President meeting with their head of state, and that also sends powerful signals about the engagement of the President, and also the involvement on a series of issues, not merely Iraq, but also Lebanon and the Middle East peace process.

Q What is your view about how Muqtada al-Sadr reacted, and how do you think that's going to affect Iraq?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I can't even answer that. I mean, that's pure speculation.

Q How will the memo color the meeting tomorrow?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Again, that's -- what has been translated to me secondhand, and it's worth trying to find out tomorrow, is that the Prime Minister really understands that he's still got a meeting going on, and it's not clear that it's going to color it at all.

Q While you said that it was not the focus of the dinner, but it did come up, you said, the question of Iraq -- did the President speak with the King at all about the question of Maliki's competence, ability to lead the government?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It was not that kind of detailed discussion, and the President -- again, I can't tell you about the one-on-one, but I think that's the kind of conversation the President will have with the Prime Minister, if he wants to have it.

Q Was that the kind of subject that would have been more likely to have been discussed in the private one-on-one meeting?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I wouldn't speculate. I don't know what they talked about.

Q Can you just tell us how long the private one-on-one lasted, if you know? And was it just private. or was Secretary Rice --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, no, on, it was one-on-one --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It was the translators.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, the was a one-on-one. This was literally four eyes. I have to guess here, but roughly 30 minutes. Prior to the dinner.

Q And the dinner was how long?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Roughly and hour and a quarter.

Q And can you give us just a small amount of detail on the location of the dinner --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The menu? No --

Q Not the menu, but where was the dinner --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's called the Raghadan Palace, which is an official palace and home of the King that he uses for official occasions like dinner with visiting heads of state.

Q Can you tell us a little bit about the setting tomorrow? Are they going to be by themselves, are they going to have staff?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'll give you the full readout, but I believe that there's a -- we'll get it out in an email. I know that I've said it, but I don't want to sort of fake it, unless -- does anybody have a mini with them on tomorrow? Rather than have me fake it, let me just get you a straight detailed answer. But there will be others. I know there's an expanded meeting with -- I think there's a smaller meeting the principals.

Q But is it in a hotel room --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's over at the Four Seasons.

Q Will you commit to planning out the details of the cancellation and communicating them to us?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I will commit to getting whatever information I can, but I'm not going to commit to getting an answer, because I'm not sure it's clear -- I mean we've given you what we know, which is there is a decision. Whether I can get a tick-tock about who talked to whom, and how the conference calls went and all that sort of thing. But again, if you want to take the temperature of the President and Prime Minister, you'll have an opportunity to see them tomorrow.

Q Was the President irritated by the leaking of the memo?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me put it this way, you're never happy about having classified information show up anywhere.

Q Do you suspect there will be an investigation to try and --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Mark, the focus is not on figuring out how a memo got into the paper. The focus is on having productive meetings, first with the King and then with the Prime Minister. That is not the sort of thing that's been discussed at all.

Q Word back in Washington is that the Iraq Study Group is going to release its recommendations next week. Has the White House been given notice of that?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. We -- again, I have not heard anything about it today. We can find out. The Iraq Study Group has been operating on its own calendar. We certainly look forward to seeing its recommendations, but they have got to get it wrapped up. So, Mark, I don't know. I haven't heard anything about it. And it wasn't -- it did not come up in any of my conversations with any of the principals.

Q And the only commitment from the President regarding those recommendations is to read them?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The President, as I said before -- as his obligations as Commander-in-Chief. Furthermore, there are a whole series of things going on. Not only do you have the consultations with the King and the Prime Minister, a series of foreign leader calls during the course of the week, you also have Pete Pace conducting a review. You have the National Security Council conducting a review.

So there's a lot of stuff going on. And obviously, the insights of the Baker-Hamilton commission are going to be a factor as we look forward. But for one to say, ah-ha, there they go, there's our blueprint, it doesn't work that way. The President still is responsible for shaping and conducting foreign policy, and he'll make use of all the input.

Q Did Mr. Bush and Maliki meet at all today?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No.

Q There's a report that's out citing a diplomatic source that they met, but they wanted to keep it quiet.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, if they kept it quiet they kept it real quiet.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. The President went -- and his motorcade went from the air field to the Raghadan Palace.

Q So they never met at all today?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No --

Q Have they spoken directly today by phone?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't think so and I doubt it.

Q Are they going to?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't think so. I would be surprised.

Q You're on the record, right? Just he's not?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Anything regarding the memo is off the record. Period. That's been -- this whole thing has been on background. If you want to ping me about things that you want to put on the record, I'll stay on email for a while. But this has all been background.

Q But your comments on it's not related to the memo and it's not related to --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, that's fine, you can use that.

Q How about it's not a snub of the President --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, that's fine.

Q Changing of the schedule --

Q Are all your comments relating to the schedule change on the record?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It means you're going to have to -- you're going to pick your way through the transcript. That sort of uglies it up. Beyond that, anything else let's just keep it on background because it gets really sticky in trying to do it.

Q Are they going to make any announcement, do you know, of any sort?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't think so. This is a consultation. This is not a rollout.

Q And you're committed to getting us --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No --

Q No, a schedule for what's happening tomorrow.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We can double-check
-- let's just find out -- I'll tell you what, I'll leave it to Gordon. Let's find out who's going to be in the meetings tomorrow. That's what we promised to provide. Rather than having me do the email thing, I'll throw it on Gordon's capable shoulders. It's going to be cleaner and neater.

Q Does Mr. Hadley have any trepidation about seeing Mr. Maliki?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, Mr. Hadley's position is that this is a memo that talks about ways to support the government of Iraq in building capabilities for dealing with the numerous challenges, which include security, economics, politics and diplomacy.

All right, thank you.

END 10:52 P.M. (Local)



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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on November 30, 2006 12:13 AM.

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