Background Briefing by a Senior Administration Official on the President's
United Kingdom Prime Minister Tony Blair
Media Center, Sea Island, Georgia
ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Good morning. The President and Prime
Minister Blair just had a bilateral meeting, over breakfast.
It ran from about 8:10 a.m. to 8:50 a.m. I think the two of
them would have been happy to keep going, but it was time for
them to break, as the morning sessions of the G8 summit are
about to start.
meeting was colored, and the background of the meeting was influenced
by yesterday's vote at the U.N. That 15-0 vote was a great achievement
for the people of Iraq and an important signal that the international
community is coming back together behind a common vision of
Iraq's future, a vision of Iraq at peace with itself, at peace
with its neighbors, and Iraq taking responsibility for its own
future, taking increasing responsibility for its own security,
but supported by the multinational force, supported by the U.N.
on the political side.
two leaders discussed Iraq and the way forward. They also discussed
the broader Middle East initiative. Yesterday's success on Iraq
sets the stage for movement and adoption of the broader Middle
East initiative by the G8 leaders. I believe the documents are
to be issued later today, and today's events also include an
outreach session from leaders of the region and also the Prime
Minister of Turkey who is here.
President and Prime Minister discussed the broader Middle East
initiative. They also discussed Israel-Palestine issues, and
discussed ways in which progress could be made. They grappled
with some of the problems, talked about possible ways forward.
talked about the upcoming NATO Summit briefly, but they did
discuss it. They discussed the fact that NATO is in Iraq right
now, and NATO should play a role in the future in Iraq. They
both understand that there are constraints on NATO's role, both
in terms of number of troops and constraints in the form of
the continuing French and German hesitation about supplying
additional troops. But nevertheless, NATO is in Iraq. It is
supporting the Polish-led multinational division, and there
may be things that NATO can do in addition to its current supportive
was a good meeting. Obviously, they're very pleased with the
developments of the past week in general, and the past 24 hours
in particular. They're looking forward to today's meetings.
And I would say they are both in excellent spirits, as one could
with that short statement, I'll be happy to take all questions.
Can you elaborate a little bit on the discussions between the
two leaders on the Arab-Israeli situation -- I'm sorry, the
ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The President has said many times that
Arafat has become an obstacle to progress, and that's an obstacle
we have to deal with for the time-being. On the other hand,
the prospect and possibility of an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza
opens the door to significant progress and unblocking the peace
process and getting the peace process not just back on track,
but to get it moving in the direction outlined by the road map.
the Israeli withdrawal takes place, the immediate challenge
will be establishment of a competent Palestinian political structure
in Gaza to take responsibility for the territory, to take responsibility
for actual governance. It's important that the Palestinians,
if this take place, be helped with security -- their security
responsibilities. And it's important that the international
community get behind this effort, as it gets going. Prime Minister
Sharon is obviously pushing this forward as best he can. The
President and the Prime Minister discussed next steps on how
the Quartet, how the international community can advance this
Were there any discussions either about the search for weapons
of mass destruction in Iraq, or about Iran's nuclear program?
ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This did not -- neither topic came
up during this breakfast, although the two leaders have discussed
both issues in the past.
Was there any discussion of President Bush's wish to write off
Iraq's debts to the international community?
ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This is also in the category of issues
the two leaders have discussed before, but it did not come up
during this breakfast.
Were there any discussions about whether or not there's the
possibility of contributions, financial contributions, or military
contributions, or even the argument that can be made to Russia,
France, and some of the others who have not made those type
of commitments? Is there a strategy that they talked about in
trying to win some of those concessions?
ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, the two leaders talked both about
political support for the new Iraqi government, and they talked
about a possible NATO role, and these are two different things.
The French and the Germans have spoken about their support for
the Iraqi -- have spoken of their support for the new Iraqi
government. The Germans have said they're prepared to do more.
This came up yesterday in the President's discussion with --
came up yesterday in the President's discussion with Schroeder.
security issue is somewhat different. The French and the Germans
have always expressed strong reluctance about any of their troops
going to Iraq. They have not been quite as categorical about
NATO's role in Iraq. And NATO, of course, already is playing
a role in Iraq. So the two, the President and the Prime Minister
discussed this in general terms and really discussed the need
to move ahead so that the decisions coming up at NATO in the
end of this month will allow for a greater role and more international
Can you be a little more specific about the kind of role for
NATO that the two leaders have in mind? Will there be more training
Iraqi troops, or involvement in Iraq's military operations?
ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, we had not tried to be too specific
within NATO councils about what precisely NATO could do because
we wanted to wait for a Security Council resolution. Any discussion
of an expanded NATO role in Iraq prior to a Security Council
resolution would have been pointless, because, clearly, I think,
for almost all NATO members, a Security Council resolution was
an important first step. The other step is some expression of
interest on the part of the Iraqi government. The new Iraqi
government has expressed strong support for the international
community and the multinational force remaining in Iraq.
the two leaders did not discuss specific plans. They discussed
their overall -- in having NATO do more. They discussed their
overall intention to explore this issue in the two, two-and-a-half
weeks remaining before the NATO Summit at Istanbul, and agreed
to work on this. But that's really all they discussed.
I wonder if you saw Afghanistan, in a sense, as a model for
what could now happen in Iraq where there's an independent military
force still under U.S. command, and then a NATO peacekeeping
force, and whether there's any possibility that the European
Union could substitute for NATO in that sort of role in Iraq?
ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I don't think anyone has seriously
considered the possibility of the ESDP taking over a military
role in Iraq. The European Union is going to take over the Bosnia
mission, which NATO is going to close out successfully, and
that's going to be quite enough, I think, for the ESDP to handle
for the moment. So I don't think anybody has contemplated this.
Afghanistan is a model only in that it shows that all kinds of arrangements
are possible and that we shouldn't be wedded to some kind of
cookie cutter formula. All situations are different, all solutions
tend to be different, and I think that NATO governments will
be -- I suspect NATO governments will be creative in coming
up with options for NATO. But I don't want to get too far ahead
of where we are.
Three things, one is, did they discuss Saudi Arabia? The second
is, as you know, the reports that have emerged this week out
of the Pentagon and the DOJ covering efforts to ensure that
U.S. officials would not be prosecuted on the torture of detainees,
did that come up between the two men? And thirdly, listening
to your description, it seems as though they ticked all the
boxes this morning, but I can't quite see what the business
was that they got done. Can you just clarify for us, if you
walk away from this meeting, what did they get done? Thank you.
ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, they did go into some greater
detail on Israeli-Palestinian issues, and they were discussing
options for the way forward. They did go into Iraqi issues.
But this was a meeting where they were laying out -- they were
really laying out the choices and options that they're going
to face over the next couple of weeks, rather than making definite
decisions about course A or course B. They were mapping out
the agenda, as we proceed from Sea Island and on the basis of
the U.N. Security Council resolution.
issue of those press reports that you mentioned did come up
in the beginning of their meeting. And I suspect that other
briefers from the U.S. side may have more to say on that, so
I won't get into that -- to that subset of issues. But it was
covered very briefly.
meeting was basically the two leaders getting together and charting
out the way ahead, looking forward over the next couple weeks,
and trying to define for themselves, what kind of issues they're
going to have to deal with in the weeks ahead, and what kind
of choices they're going to have to face. And that was a very
useful discussion. It did not produce a list of decisions, it
produced a checklist of issues on which the staffs will be working
in the immediate period ahead. That's a characterization, but
it's my effort to answer your question as best I can.
-- on Saudi Arabia?
ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, didn't come up.
When you mentioned the Middle East, what details they have discussed,
what plans for the future?
ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The discussion covered the problem
of how to move ahead, which both the President and the Prime
Minister very much want to do, when you have the problem of
Yasser Arafat, which has been discussed by my government and
President Bush many time, but you also have a very promising
plan for Prime Minister Sharon to pull out of the Gaza and part
of the West Bank. This is promising. On the other side you have
problems, and how one fits together the promise and the problems
without it getting gummed up is what they discussed.
they were coming at the problem in different ways, and looking
at different ways in which to move forward, which they very
much want to do. It's a tough problem. If it were easy, it would
have been done. But you have a very promising prospect of an
Israeli pullout, which, of course, would be -- if it occurs,
would be the first time that Israel has pulled out of territory
that everyone considers to be territory that will form part
of a future Palestinian state. This is hugely significant. All
the more the pity that Sharon's announcement was greeted with
such skepticism on the part of many people who are now realizing
what an opportunity it is. The two leaders were discussing how
to make progress, given those two conditions that I outlined.
The resolution yesterday, aside from the multinational force,
sets out for a separate force that would be there to protect
United Nations operations. Was that discussed this morning between
the two leaders? Are they confident that they're going to get
enough people to help out on that force?
ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, that wasn't discussed specifically,
but we certainly would be pleased if countries were willing
to contribute to this force. Look, the absence of a U.N. resolution
and the absence of a united international position was cited
by many people as one of the reasons that they were reluctant
to provide forces. It's not easy to send troops to Iraq; it's
a dangerous situation. Soldiers get hurt, soldiers get killed.
Nevertheless, the Security Council resolution demonstrates that
the international community, having been divided last year,
has put that behind them, without prejudice to any government's
position, and now is facing the Iraq problem in the same way.
You have rapidly converging positions, not on what should have
happened last year, but what should happen this year from this
moment forward. And we certainly hope that the Security Council
resolution will provide enough political impetus for governments
who have been hesitating or on the fence to do more. And we'll
Can you give some substance, at least more details, about what
was discussed about putting Iraq back on a sound economic track?
ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The two leaders did not go into the
details of Iraqi economic reforms. They talked about the overall
prospects for the international community to get more involved.
They expressed satisfaction that we had come so far; after almost
two months of very rough news, we had finally had a series of
significant moves forward on the political side. This set the
stage to start tackling some of the next problems. And it really
is a moment of satisfaction, I think, for both leaders, to see
that within Iraq and within the international community, people
are governments are coming together. And that's the best way
I can characterize it.
9:24 A.M. EDT