Thursday, March 29, 2007

Dana Perino On War Funds, Saudi Arabia and The U.S. Occupation Of Iraq

    Let us now take a peek at today's White House press briefing with Dana Perino.

   Perino is being questioned about the comments from Saudi King Abdullah who stated that the United States was wrong to be in Iraq.

   White House Press Briefing    March 29,2007


Q I have two questions on the Middle East. Has the President been in touch with King Abdullah on his critical comments that we're wrong to be in Iraq?

MS. PERINO: Not that I'm -- no. The President only spoke to President Roh this morning, of South Korea. There have been no other calls that I know of.

Let me just remind you of something I said this morning, which is the United States and Saudi Arabia cooperate on a wide number of issues. It is not accurate to say that the United States is occupying Iraq. We are there under --

Q It is not right to say we're occupying Iraq --

MS. PERINO: That's right.

Q -- with 150,000 troops there?

MS. PERINO: Helen, we are there at the invitation of the sovereign government of Iraq that was democratically elected --

Q Did we invade that country?

MS. PERINO: We were there under the U.N. Security Council resolution, and we are there now at the -- I think one of the things to point out -- and I think somebody brought up the Talabani comments this morning -- is that he was talking about the initial when we -- initially when we went in, of establishing a coalition provisional authority, rather than an Iraqi provisional authority. And we were there --

Q Did we have a right to go in?

MS. PERINO: We were there under a U.N. mandate, yes.

Q I have another question then. Does the U.S. take any responsibility for the reign of terror in Tal Afar yesterday between the Sunnis and the Shiites, where the Sunnis were killed, execution style, about 70 or so?

MS. PERINO: It was a horrible and atrocious day. I think that the people --

Q Well, do we take any responsibility for that?

MS. PERINO: I think the people who committed those atrocities are the ones who are responsible. And I know that the United States forces, the coalition forces that are there, who are working alongside the Iraqi security forces, are working to bring security to the region.

This is exactly what we're talking about --

Q We had nothing to do with their killing each other?

MS. PERINO: The people who commit atrocities are the ones who are responsible for committing atrocities.

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Q You said that the congressional war resolutions are inconsistent with the Iraq Study Group. Do you include the Senate plan, which, as I understand it, asks for a goal, but not a firm deadline, of removing them by March 2008? How is that different from the --

MS. PERINO: Well, the one thing I understand about the Senate bill is that it calls for troops to start withdrawing in 120 days, with the goal of being out March of 2008. And I think the President sees that as an arbitrary timetable.

Q But that's meant to be a goal as opposed to a firm --

MS. PERINO: The goal is to get American troops home as soon as possible, but to do it in a way that is one where they can complete the mission.

Q How is that different from what the Iraq Study Group said?

MS. PERINO: Well, the Iraq Study Group --

Q They also said that they would like a goal of removing combat troops by March 2008.

MS. PERINO: Well, I think that the piece that I would point to in the Senate bill is where they say that troops need to start leaving within 120 days.

Q Well, to get out by March 2008, you logistically have to, so that's not really all that --

MS. PERINO: Well, I think that that's just signaling -- I mean, that's like this is the bill for our defeat, this is the bill that mandates our failure. You start walking away in 120 days, and what does that do for the Iraqis that we promised we'll be there and we'll be able to help them secure their country?

Q That may or may not be. That's not my question. My question is, how is that inconsistent with the Iraq Study Group?

MS. PERINO: Regarding the Senate bill? I'll take a look and get back to you.* (see footnote)

* * * *

Q Dana, going back to the 2008 budget resolution, when you were talking about an increase of taxes, which I guess -- are meaning it doesn't extend the Bush tax cuts --

MS. PERINO: Correct. And so it will end up being the largest tax increase in American history.

Q If the GOP, when it was in control of Congress, couldn't extend them either, what could the President expect to get from a Democratically-controlled Congress?

MS. PERINO: Well, fair point. Obviously, our system of -- we would have liked to have seen a budget passed last year. That didn't happen. A continuing resolution had to be passed in February. And so we expect to see tax relief for the American people, because -- especially because it's not just tax relief for tax relief's sake, it's because it has results. We've had a strong and growing economy because of the President's tax cuts early on, and that's one of the things that the President wants to keep going throughout his administration. We've got 22 months left, or so.

Q Can he get that from a Democratically-controlled Congress?

MS. PERINO: We're going to work on it.

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* Footnote: The Senate bill calls for an arbitrary retreat beginning in 120 days after passage of its legislation. This is not a goal, it is a rigid and arbitrary deadline. The bill states: "The President shall commence the phased redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq not later than 120 days after the date of the enactment of this Act." Baker Hamilton explicitly rejected this approach, saying: "The point is not for the U.S. to set timetables or deadlines for withdrawal, an approach that we oppose."

That the Senate bill also sets as a "goal" the completion of this withdrawal by March 31, 2008, does not change the mandatory requirement that withdrawal begin by a date certain -- regardless of facts on the ground or the views of U.S. military commanders in the field.