Press Briefing By Press Secretary Dana Perino - 12/1/2008

Is it my imagination, or is the White House protecting Pakistan? Also, look at what Condi said:

"What we are emphasising to the Pakistani government is the need to follow the evidence wherever it leads and to do so in the most committed and firmest possible way."

I'd laugh except it makes me too angry. - Jon

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Dana Perino
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room


9:32 A.M. EST

MS. PERINO: Good morning. The President is currently in the Situation Room receiving an update on the recent attacks in Mumbai. He also got an update on Iraq this morning. And as I announced last evening, Secretary Rice will travel to India on Wednesday, and I expect that she'll report back to the President upon her return, which I think is Thursday night, maybe Friday morning.

In just about 30 minutes President Bush will mark World AIDS Day 2008 with a statement on the North Lawn, and he and Mrs. Bush will present the 28-foot ribbon that is hanging in front of the White House. This is the second year in a row that we've had the ribbon to mark this day.

In addition, they will participate in the Saddleback Civil Forum on Global Health, and that will be at the Newseum, with Pastor Rick Warren. This event will highlight the success of the administration's Global HIV/AIDS Initiative. The President will announce today that the PEPFAR initial goal of treating 2 million people has been met several months ahead of schedule. As of September 30, 2008, PEPFAR supported lifesaving antiretroviral treatment for over 2.1 million people living with HIV/AIDS around the world. And globally the U.S. is supporting care for more than 10.1 million people. So you'll hear from the President on that in just a moment.

And with that I'll go to questions. Jennifer.

Q A couple things. First, what's the best information here, within the White House, about what the motive was for the attack this weekend?

MS. PERINO: Well, I think that the intelligence community is still assessing all aspects of attack -- the motivation, the plotting and planning, and the operational details of it. So I don't have anything that I can provide for you.

Obviously we are very distressed that it happened in the first place. These were horrific attacks -- attacks against over 200 people, I think now -- or just about 200 people confirmed dead. That death toll might go up as they continue to go through the hotels in the other areas. American lives were lost, as well as I think it was 10 nationalities, from 10 different countries were killed.

We stand with the people of India. We express our solidarity with them. That's one of the reasons that President Bush wanted Secretary Rice to continue on in her travels to go to India. And one of the things Secretary Rice said this morning is that in the investigation we expect that all leads will be followed and that they will be carried out to the end, wherever that may lead.

Q Is there a working theory, though, on what was behind it?

MS. PERINO: I think I'll leave it to the intelligence community to finish their assessment and then move forward.

Obviously with the attack on the Jewish Center that adds another layer of complexity to this whole episode. So until we have concrete information as to who was responsible and where that takes us back to, I think I'll just have to let the intelligence community pull on those threads so that we don't compromise an investigation.

Q And then one thing on Rice's trip. Is the reason she's going to try to prevent any escalation of hostilities and anger between India and Pakistan? For instance, is she going to try to help convince Pakistan to be more fully cooperative in the investigation?

MS. PERINO: She talked a little bit about that this morning. Obviously we want to help reduce tensions wherever possible. The good news is that the Pakistanis and the Indians have an open line of communication. This is something they didn't have just even a few years ago. We have encouraged them to open that line of communication, and the Indians have gotten some responses from the Pakistanis that they are committed to following through on this investigation. That's a good and positive step. We need to continue to make sure that that helps.

One of the reasons that Secretary Rice will travel to India is not only to show solidarity, but to help stop the terror threat from expanding. I think if this shows us anything it's that it's a stark reminder that we are at war with ideological, violent extremists who kill innocent people in spectacularly horrible ways in order to advance their political agenda.

The other thing that it shows us is that we are right to be on the offense when we're going to prosecute this war, that you have to be fighting them and you have to be right a hundred percent of the time. They just have to be right once, and this is another horrible example of that problem.

Q What do you think is the motive of the extremists? Do we have any clues at all?

MS. PERINO: For this particular attack, I think I'm going to let the intelligence community continue to try to pull on the threads and try to understand the full picture of it so that I don't compromise the investigation. But I can tell you that the intelligence community has been working 24/7.

The other thing I should point out that Secretary Rice will do is she will go and personally thank our Ambassador and our Consul General, who helped all those American citizens. We do believe that all the American citizens are accounted for at this point. If that changes we'll certainly let you know, but Secretary Rice was able to report that today that Ambassador Mulford and our Consul General Folmsbee have been stalwart in their service, and we owe them a debt of thanks, and the President wanted Secretary Rice to go and personally thank them on his behalf.

Q Was it anti-foreign? Is that --

MS. PERINO: It's hard to say, Helen, because we're not exactly sure. We don't -- we're not able to talk about the intelligence that we have. Other countries are providing information. Obviously the Brits are very much involved, and Secretary Rice is meeting with them this morning in London. And as soon as we have more, we'll be able to provide it publicly.

I'm just going to go to Yunji real quick. I think we're still on this topic.

Q Are you convinced that there is no Pakistani government involvement in this attack?

MS. PERINO: I'm not going to comment on any possible involvement. I think that Secretary Rice will be able to talk more about this as she goes on her trip, and we'll let the intelligence community continue to work on it. I've heard nothing that says that they -- that the Pakistani government was involved. And President Bush had Secretary Rice and Steve Hadley talk to their counterparts in Pakistan, who -- and President Zardari and -- I'm sorry, Prime Minister Zardari and -- I'm sorry, President Zardari and Steve Hadley's counterpart both said that they would continue to work with the Indian government to try to find out where this started.

Q What about the ISI? I mean, do you think that that's clear, as well?

MS. PERINO: I'm not going to comment on it.

Q The Indians have made assertions that these militants trained in Pakistan. Is that anything that you all have heard, as well, through your own intelligence? And what kind of concerns are coming from the White House about that?

MS. PERINO: I think you can appreciate that I'm not going to talk about the intelligence community's findings from this podium, and until they have a chance to do a full investigation. So I will decline to say. What I will tell you is that we have been encouraged by the statements by the Pakistanis that they are committed to following this wherever it leads. We would expect nothing less of them on this instance.

Q Has the White House, or anyone within the administration reached out and talked to Pakistan about this?

MS. PERINO: I just said Secretary Rice and Steve Hadley talked to their counterparts, and you can bet that they're -- just people from all levels of government are working on this issue, and we have been since they happened on Wednesday evening.

Q New subject?

MS. PERINO: Let me just do Goyal then, and I'll come back.

Q Just two quick questions. According to the Indian officials, and also press reports in India, they are saying that there is a clear-cut Pakistan connection because there is a most wanted terrorist, Dawood, they're seeking in Karachi. He's wanted by the U.S. and in India and the international community, and he had a link with this terrorist attack in India.

But as far as Dr. Rice visit is concerned, because attacks took place many in the past, and many visits from Washington to New Delhi. But nothing had happened. Pakistan just keeps saying that we are not in war, but then after two months again it happens.

MS. PERINO: We have consistently encouraged both India and Pakistan to increase their cooperation, and increase their dialogue. There is something that the State Department had created called the composite dialogue that we have been working on. We have provided technical assistance in order to support confidence-building measures between the two countries, and we will continue to do that.

I'm not going to comment or confirm this allegation that you made at the beginning of your statement/question. So we'll just let the investigation continue to play out.

Q And one more.


Q This is the 9/11 of India. How the President, Washington is taking this seriously after the U.S. 9/11, because what they are saying, we have trained almost 500 people who are ready to strike anywhere in the world, including in the U.S., and they are well trained.

MS. PERINO: Well, we -- India has been the victim of terrorist attacks before, but so has Pakistan. One of the things that is different in this attack is that six American citizens were killed. But you'll remember the terrorist attacks on the Parliament building several years ago fostered a lot of tension between Pakistan and India, as well. They've been able to have cooperative conversations, even though they might be tense. That's the kind of diplomatic solution-making that we're trying to foster here.

Okay, Kevin.

Q Dana, is it your sense that unlike previous attacks -- and we've read about this, we've seen this sort of thing happen before on a smaller scale -- is it your sense that the temperature in the region between the two countries is at a boiling point? And if so, what else can we do as Americans to sort of -- or the administration, in particular -- to decrease the temperature in the room? It seems like this time it's much worse.

MS. PERINO: Well, I think that tensions between India and Pakistan have been around for decades. And we have -- as I've just explained, we've been trying to encourage and improve dialogue between the two countries. The other thing we've tried to do is encourage them to break down barriers for economic trade and transit so that people could go back and forth.

So I don't think that tensions are new; what is new is we have an attack. One of the things that we can do is continue to try to help them solve their differences; we can help assist in the investigation; we can encourage Pakistan to cooperate, as they said that they would do. And Secretary Rice will travel to the region, and we hope that that will help, as well. But we're in -- it's a very serious situation and there's no doubt there's a lot of tension.


Q When you said, in answer to Jennifer, that you expect -- the United States expects that all leads will be followed, no matter where they take the investigation; to whom was that addressed? Who might not follow every lead?

MS. PERINO: I think that there has been suggestion since Wednesday evening that India -- obviously making reference to a possible origin in Pakistan, and a concern by the Indians that the Pakistanis would let this go and not follow it through to its conclusion. But that is not what the Pakistanis have said, and we're going to hold them to it.

Q Okay. You've said that you are encouraged by what the Pakistanis have said; you said you would expect nothing less than a full investigation. Do you trust the Pakistani government will actually look at all --

MS. PERINO: We have no reason not to right now. Everything that they have said in their public statements and in their private statements to us has been encouraging from that regard. Remember, Pakistan has been the victim of terrorism, as well, and it was less than -- it is not even quite a year since Benazir Bhutto was assassinated by a terrorist. And so it's a fresh wound for them, as well.

And what we should do here in America is remember that we are fighting a war against ideological extremists. Our job is to help prevent attacks, safeguard our own citizens, and also foster a hopeful vision, compared to what these terrorists have done over this past weekend. It was a horrible and stark reminder of the fight that we're in.

Anybody still on India? Okay. Kathleen.

Q There are reports -- switching topics, I did want to throw in on India -- Pakistan has said they may consider moving their troops from the rugged, mountainous border region with Afghanistan, the western border to the eastern border, if India moves its troops. How worried are we about the impact that would have on the hunt for Osama bin Laden, because already those troops --

MS. PERINO: Well, we're asking everyone reduce the rhetoric, reduce the tensions, and cooperate on an investigation. But I don't have -- I've seen reports about that, but I would be skeptical of those if I were you.

Q I was going to say, their minister said that on --

MS. PERINO: I just think that they've pulled back from that type of rhetoric, and I think the most important thing we can do right now is to try to foster dialogue. Now, it's not to say that we're not in a very serious situation, and in some ways that whole region is like a forest that hasn't had rain in many months and one spark could cause a big, roaring fire. That's what we're trying to avoid.

Q Other subject. I assume you saw the Associated Press story on the mortgages. Did you happen to catch that?

MS. PERINO: On CNN's website? (Laughter.)

Q I didn't know it was there. But anyway, again it alleges that the administration basically over the last few years backed off on regulations, on potential crackdowns on some of these risky mortgages -- no money down, interest-only mortgages -- that got us, in many ways, in the financial mess we're in now. What is your reaction?

MS. PERINO: I just saw the report right before I came down, so I don't have a lot for you. We'll try to get you more. But I'd remind you that a lot of these products that you're talking about were just developing over the past year or two, and there are independent agencies that are in charge of regulating those products and those industries. There's no administration policy that fostered the development of products that would put people in the position right now where they're at risk of losing their home, and so let us go back and we can try to provide you a little bit more.

But I think one of the problems that you're seeing from those products is that it developed quickly over time, but the -- over the past year or two; maybe longer than that, I'm not giving enough credit -- but what we have tried to do is try to reform the mortgage industry. Remember, going back to 2001 we suggested changes to Fannie and Freddie. What you're talking about now is something that would have been overseen by independent regulators. They are not -- we don't dictate any of what they do or don't do at those independent agencies, and if we did, we all would probably be having a very different conversation right now.

Q It lays out some cases where some of these banks now that either collapsed or are now taking federal aid, pushed back as regulators were trying to impose -- you know, to crack down on these instruments. And they said, no, no, no, they're safe, you're overreacting --

MS. PERINO: I've been focused -- I have to tell you I have been fully focused on the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, and I think appropriately so, and we'll try to get you more on that in a little bit.


Q Dana, has Secretary Gates conferred with the President about serving the Obama administration?

MS. PERINO: I'm going to decline to comment on the expected pending announcement from President-elect's announcement today, at 10:40 a.m. So I'll let that go forward, but I will tell you that of course Secretary Gates sees the President nearly every day, if not twice a day sometimes. And so if there is an announcement of that sort, maybe we can provide you something later.

Go ahead.

Q Ms. Perino, today is the international day of HIV/AIDS, and I wonder if you have anything to say?

MS. PERINO: I did at the top of the briefing, so you can get it from there, and the President is speaking at 10:05 a.m.

Q Any other statement?

MS. PERINO: I gave you one at the top of the briefing, so you can get a transcript.

Q One follow-up. Since there is a lot of disagreement over the existence of the AIDS/HIV virus, why the White House is not supporting a conference with the two sides in order to reach a final agreement?

MS. PERINO: If there are -- I'm not really aware that there is a big disagreement as to the existence of HIV/AIDS. And I think that the fact that our commitment has been to spend over $100 billion here in our own country and $100 billion around the world to help combat it is evidence enough of what our commitment is.*

Q The $40 billion you announced the other day -- last August. It's a grant? It's a donation to Africa?

MS. PERINO: It's not just Africa. Countries apply to have the money, and then the Global AIDS Coordinator helps coordinate -- Mark Dybul, Ambassador Mark Dybul over at the State Department does that.

Q Thank you.

MS. PERINO: Okay, thanks.

END 9:50 A.M. EST