Wednesday, March 17, 2004
From the press briefing yesterday
Q Scott, there are some conservatives who believe that there's a real crisis in the transatlantic relationship over the war on terror. You said just a minute ago that there's a difference between supporting the U.S. in the war on terror and Iraq. But you're the one --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I said let's make a distinction there. I mean, he was --
Q All right, but you guys don't make that distinction.
MR. McCLELLAN: It's the global war on terrorism --
Q Now, wait a second. The central front in the war on terror is Iraq, according to this President.
MR. McCLELLAN: And countries are contributing in many different ways in the war on terrorism. And you have more than 30 countries participating on the ground in Iraq.
Q But in the central front -- in the central front. Is not the litmus test for Spain, for instance, whether they keep troops on the ground in Iraq as to whether they're going to really cooperate in the war on terror?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, let's not prejudge things. You have a new government coming into power. The President had a very good conversation with the leader of the new government just yesterday. And the President said he looks forward to continuing to work with him in the fight against terrorism.
Now, Iraq is the central front now in the war on terrorism. The terrorists have made that very clear. They realize the stakes are very high there. The stakes are high in the war on terrorism. And advancing freedom and democracy is a key component of winning the war on terrorism. The Middle East is a very dangerous part of the world. And what we are achieving for the Iraqi people will also help bring about more stability in that part of the world. And that helps make the world a safer place and a better place.
But look, we're going to work -- we're going to work with the Spanish government in the fight against terrorism.
Q Do you think it's a litmus test?
MR. McCLELLAN: We've had a strong alliance in the past. We will continue to work together on issues of common concern.
Q But you won't say whether you consider it a litmus test, I mean --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, I've seen comments in the press. That was not something that was discussed yesterday in the phone call. And, obviously, there is discussion about the U.N. playing a role in the future. We want the U.N. to continue to play a vital role in the future. So we'll continue to talk these issues as we move forward.
Q Is the President worried that there is a view that goes beyond Spain -- and you know it -- that it's too dangerous to associate yourself with the United States in the war on terror, and that maybe there's another way to fight terrorism, aside from aligning yourself with the U.S.? How dangerous does the President think that trend is, and what does he think he can do about it?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, anyone who thinks that we are not at war only needs to look back to last Thursday, because that was a grim reminder that we are at war against terrorism. And we need to continue to stand together in this war against terrorism. Terrorists are indiscriminate in who they attack and where they attack. I mean, you just have to go back and look at the places that they've attacked previously. They've attacked in Saudi Arabia; they've attacked in Tunisia; they've attacked in Morocco; they've attacked in Turkey, in Indonesia -- certainly in the United States, as well.
So I think you need to keep that in perspective. Terrorists want to spread fear and chaos. They have no regard for innocent life. It doesn't matter who and when and where they strike, they simply want to strike and spread fear and chaos and intimidate us. And you cannot be intimidated in the face of terrorism, you must stand strong and show resolve and determination and take the fight to those terrorists.
Q You can't be afraid to be aligned with the U.S., is what you're saying.
MR. McCLELLAN: Look, in terms of, if you're talking about the U.S. -European alliance, the President has often spoken about the need for us to work together on the common challenges that we face. And the highest and most important challenge that we face together is the war on terrorism. There are a number of ways to participate in that war on terrorism, but the coalition in Iraq is strong. The coalition in the global war on terrorism is strong. And you only need to look to some of the comments that have been made in recent days to see that that coalition is very strong, and the will and resolve of the international community remains firm.
Q Scott, can I follow up on where David was taking you before? I think I've heard some internally contradictory things today. You have said that Europe is with us on terrorism, but we may have some disagreements on Iraq. You've also said --
MR. McCLELLAN: There are many European nations that are helping in Iraq.
Q That's right. You've said that Europe is with us on terrorism, maybe disagrees on Iraq, Iraq remains a central front on terrorism. And, yet, we now have the Spanish, and we didn't really hear from the leader of the Netherlands today a resounding endorsement that he would necessarily keep his troops there --
MR. McCLELLAN: Oh, I think he said we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the United States in the war on terrorism and with the civilized world. Obviously, they've got some political processes that they have to follow back at home.
Q And so it's not clear that they keep their troops there beyond July --
MR. McCLELLAN: The coalition in Iraq is strong. Obviously, you're going to have a transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqi people at some point. And we're still discussing those issues with leaders in Iraq, about continuing to provide security as we move forward. But the United States and the coalition will stay until the job is finished and until Iraq has a free and peaceful and prosperous future.
Q Can you tell us a little bit about what the President plans to do to convince European leaders that they should take the risks that are involved? You had the Prime Minister of Spain say in his comments yesterday that you can't build a coalition together or conduct a war on a basis of lies -- obviously a statement you folks don't agree with.
Can you tell us what the President's plan is to begin to work against these kind of -- these kind of views?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think the President has made the war on terrorism his highest priority for quite some time now, David.
Q The question is convincing -- convincing these leaders. I want to hear how he's going to --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think you're making it sound like that that lack of support is wider spread than it is. There is a strong coalition in Iraq that is working to help the Iraqi people realize their aspirations and realize a free and peaceful future. So I disagree with the premise of the way you stated your question to some extent. It's important that we -- that we all realize that the stakes are very high in the war on terrorism. The stakes are very high in Iraq, which is the central front in the war on terrorism. And it's become clear from some of the statements made by al Qaeda, themselves, that they recognize how high the stakes are in Iraq. And that's why we must continue to stay the course. When we prevail in Iraq with freedom and democracy for the Iraqi people, we will have dealt the terrorists a significant blow in this global war.
Make a little move, do a little dance, get down tonight....