Mucho talk about Holden Korea intoday’s gaggle.
Apparently the party responsible for North Korea’s development of numerous nuclear weapons during Chimpy’s term in office is…North Korea!
Q Tony, in 2003, the President said very clearly that we will not tolerate North Korea with nuclear weapons.
MR. SNOW: Right.
Q And here we are in 2006 operating on the assumption, as the government is, that, in fact, they tested a nuclear devise. So what went wrong?
MR. SNOW: I’m not sure anything went wrong. The failed diplomacy is on the part of the North Koreans because what they have done so far is turn down a series of diplomatic initiatives that would have given them everything they have said they wanted, which was the ability to have adequate power for their country, to have economic growth, to have diplomatic ties with other countries, and to have security guarantees. All of that was included in the September 19th agreement of last year. And yet they’ve walked away from all of it. So if there’s a failure in diplomacy, it’s on their part.
Who knows, maybe North Korea doesn’t have any nuclear weapons.
Q In 2002, though, and since then, this President likes to focus on results. So here’s the result: In 2002, the President said that he didn’t want the so-called “axis of evil”, the worst regimes in the world, to get the most dangerous weapons, WMDs. And here we are in 2006; this President has invaded a country that had no nuclear weapons, and there is a country that in that process has been able to acquire more nuclear weapons.
MR. SNOW: Well, it’s an open question about what the status — as you know, there was speculation even back in the Clinton years, did they have six, did they have eight nukes, and the intelligence on that, I think, has always been a little varied. The fact is that the North Koreans —
Q You dispute the idea that they have more today than they had when you came into office?
MR. SNOW: I don’t know, I honestly don’t know. And I think intelligence analysts will tell you that they’re teasing through the question, as well. You’ll have to ask a technical question of whether they’ve had the capability to build additional weapons since they unlocked Yongbian a couple years ago. Don’t know.
Q But, Tony, results — I’m trying to get you to focus on results. You invaded a country that had no nuclear weapons and all the while a country further developed their nuclear capacity.
MR. SNOW: You may have better intelligence than I do. You’re —
Q It’s not a question of me. I think the intelligence is not as unclear as you’re projecting it as.
MR. SNOW: No, I think it is. People have been trying to assess.
Sam Nunn: Backseat General
Q To try to put a little finer point on the question that people have been dancing around, there seems to be a school of thought developing among some people — Sam Nunn said it in the front page of The New York Times today — that of the three countries of the axis of evil, the President picked the wrong one to invade first, the one that didn’t have nuclear weapons. Now one apparently does and the other is certainly on the way. So, generally, how do you respond to that?
MR. SNOW: Well, it’s backseat generalship. What you have is, in fact, that the United States has been engaged actively on all three problems. And you use what are the appropriate means at the appropriate times and the appropriate situations. We are continuing to work aggressively on diplomacy with the Iranians and with the North Koreans. Diplomacy had run its course when it came to Iraq. We are still hopeful that diplomacy is, in fact, going to yield the desired results when it does come to North Korea and Iran. And I think Senator Nunn would probably support that. But the idea that somehow we were not already engaged would be wrong. We have been engaged from the beginning on all of these problems.
There’s a lot Pony doesn’t know.
Q Tony, could I follow on that point, which is the other argument that is related to that, which is that the invasion of Iraq actually led to the conclusion in North Korea and in Iran, we have to proliferate more quickly to stave off an invasion, that the U.S. would not think about invading us if we had a more advanced nuclear program, and therefore, it accelerated a process that was underway and made them less inclined to follow a diplomatic course?
MR. SNOW: As a factual matter, I’m not sure that it would be accurate, and I’d have to leave it to intelligence analysts. And I’ll go back and try to get some better answers, David, on whether it’s accelerated, or whether you simply have a continuation of what’s going on.
Chimpy was more frightened of an unarmed and isolated Saddam.
Q Is North Korea a greater threat to our national security than Iraq was?
MR. SNOW: I don’t know. I don’t know. I mean, I’m not in a position to do that. I’ll let you do the analysis — scale one to ten.
Q Even though we believe they have 8 to 11 nuclear weapons and that they most likely conducted a nuclear test yesterday?
MR. SNOW: As I’ve said, you’ve posed an interesting question, but its’s not one that’s simply and easily quantifiable, so I’m not going to try to make a run at it.
Q Okay, a couple of things you’ve just said — you’ve said that you’ve got to approach this diplomatically, you’ve got millions of people who are starving to death there under a repressive regime, which is pretty much what you had in Iraq and we invaded. What’s the difference here?
MR. SNOW: Well, one of the differences is that you have neighbors that have extensive ties in a way that you did not, with trade and other activity. Also the North Koreans are far more heavily reliant for basic resources, whether they be food or energy, than the Iraqis were under Saddam Hussein — Saddam not being wholly dependent. Also you have the additional bit of geographic proximity; whereas Baghdad was hundreds of miles from the nearest border, Pyongyang is very close, as you know, to Seoul and the borders are close. So there are differences in the two situations.
Q You also had inspectors on the ground at the time. We had, as far as we thought then, better intelligence. And yet, you’re even saying this morning our intelligence is unclear. The President has long said they do not want to wait for a mushroom cloud, and yet you seem willing here.
MR. SNOW: No, you seem to think we ought to go to war. We don’t.
Q I don’t think anything, I’m asking you.
MR. SNOW: No, no, you do. The declared insinuation —
Q I’m asking you to explain the difference between why we went to war with Iraq and why —
MR. SNOW: Because in the case of Iraq we had exhausted all diplomatic possibilities. We’re just exploring them now in the case of North Korea. We’re going to approach —
Q But you had inspectors on the ground. What was completely exhausted? And you had the U.N. saying, wait, wait, wait.
MR. SNOW: No, some members of the U.N. were saying, wait, wait, wait, and other members in the U.N. Security Council believed Resolution 1441 was pretty clear in terms of the obligations.
Q Didn’t say, go to war.
MR. SNOW: Furthermore, what you ended up having, as you know, was a constant attempt to try to make life difficult for the inspectors. You can go back and re-litigate that. I think it makes a lot more sense to try to talk about diplomatically what’s going on. You have a concerted diplomatic effort that involves, fully now as equal partners, the Russians, the Chinese, the Japanese, the South Koreans. That offers the best hope. And if you want to argue for war, you’re going to have to argue it someplace else.
Q I’m not arguing for anything, Tony. I know you like to do that, but I’m not arguing for anything.
MR. SNOW: I’m arguing for diplomacy.
Q Tell me — you say you can’t tell which is more dangerous, a nuclear-armed North Korea or what state we had with Iraq. Tell me how dangerous you think North Korea is, what kind of threat does it pose.
MR. SNOW: Well, once again, what you’re asking me to do is to engage in an intelligence assessment even if I were fully armed with the facts would be classified and I can’t do.
Q The President didn’t say anything this morning in the photo op, and he’s been quiet since his statement yesterday. So what’s he thinking?
MR. SNOW: What he’s thinking is let’s see how the talks proceed.
Q Tony, what is the President doing? Is he working the phones to try to keep China and South Korea in the corral, so to speak?
MR. SNOW: No. They didn’t have to be placed in the corral. The conversations yesterday were conversations in which the Chinese and the South Koreans were fully supportive of the idea of going to the Security Council and working something out.
Q For now he’s — today he’s just settling back and letting Condi and others —
MR. SNOW: I don’t think “settling back” — it’s not like you kick back, grab your pretzels and ask what’s going on. [Tell me he did not just make a pretzel reference!] Instead, what the President is doing is he talking on a regular basis with his national security team trying to get updated. But you do have diplomats dealing with diplomats directly, and so we’re continuing to work on that.
The President Does Not Make Mistakes
Q Looking back, is there anything that the President would have done differently? Does he believe he has made any mistakes in this?
MR. SNOW: Oh, my goodness, that’s — you know —
Q It’s a fair question.
MR. SNOW: No, it’s a silly question.
Q Why is that a silly question?
MR. SNOW: Yes, yes, it is a silly question because —
Q You just talked about —
MR. SNOW: Well, let me ask you — give me some characterization of what you might think. Because what typically happens is that any answer to that question is spun into, “President Made Mistakes, Regrets.”
Q The notion that that’s a silly question, when you have a President who draws a red line three years ago and says, we will not tolerate nuclear weapons, and now you have a country that just tested a nuclear weapon — you don’t think it’s fair to ask for some accountability as to what happened, or that there were mistakes made?
MR. SNOW: David, the accountability lies in North Korea, not in Washington.
Q That’s it? There’s no accountability for when this country engages in diplomatic activity or warfare, it doesn’t have anything to do — there’s no accountability within this government?
MR. SNOW: This government is held accountable all the time. As a matter of fact, the President even gets held accountable when gas prices fall beyond his ability to influence —
Q You just said it was silly —
MR. SNOW: You know what, okay, let me —
Q — it was silly ask whether lessons were learned —
MR. SNOW: Thank you. No, no, no — it was silly to say, does he think he made mistakes and that kind of thing.
Q Right. You think that’s a silly notion, a silly question.
MR. SNOW: I think what it is, is a gratuitous question in the sense that when it is asked, it is not asked in the context of, what are your strategic considerations, what is brought to bear. Instead it is asked — and maybe I’m being unfair, Cheryl — in the context of a “gotcha” question that is designed to paper over the immense difficulties that are involved in the activities of dozens and dozens of people who devote their lives to trying to get this right.
Q You assume that motive in the question?
MR. SNOW: Let me put it this way; when it has been reported, it has come out that way. Now, if you have — let me put it this way, and I think you’re right — sorry to have cast doubt on your question. So let me — if you can come up with precise things. For instance, do you think it would have been better to do X than Y? Again, that’s second-guessing. But what I want you to do when you ask a question like that is to have the presumption that a President of the United States, when weighing the security of the American public, is going to do everything in his or her power to make sure that the American people are safe, and will be demanding everything of those who work for him to work toward that goal, because that’s what Presidents do.
Q Doesn’t mean they don’t make mistakes, Tony.
MR. SNOW: That is absolutely — we all make mistakes, David.
MR. SNOW: Go ahead, Cheryl.
Q In retrospect, does the President wish perhaps that he had engaged North Korea more directly —
MR. SNOW: Oh, no.
Q — early, at the outset of his administration?
MR. SNOW: No.
Pony, who is still unclear on the rules, seems to have been fundraising for the Republikkkan Party while on the public dime.
Q — this is related — you were absent on Friday to do good political works for the Republican Party —
MR. SNOW: Right.
Q What’s the policy that you’ve set? Did you take a vacation day? Will you continue to do that? How many more on your schedule?
MR. SNOW: The answer is, I haven’t figured out — I suppose — yes, I’ll take a vacation day.* The way it is, it’s all paid by the RNC. They’re open press. I know that I’m doing — I’m doing something in Wisconsin on Thursday. And I’m doing events in Iowa and Chicago on Saturday.
[The White House *ed Pony’s vacation time explanation because he is dead wrong.]
* Mr. Snow, like other commissioned officers in the White House, is construed to be on duty 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and therefore is not required to track vacation or leave time. As such, the law permits him to engage in political activity (such as speaking at fundraising events) during normal working hours without the paperwork required of employees who are on a leave system.
Pony to raise money for Denny the Meatpuppet
Q I just wondered, Sunday you’re going to be going to Denny Hastert’s — a fundraiser for Denny, himself. Do you think that this launches you on your political travels in a very awkward time?
MR. SNOW: No.
Q And what is the message that you might saying, then, standing with the Speaker, who is embattled at this time?
MR. SNOW: Well, the message is that we’re standing by the Speaker, and also that I’m going to be telling people what the President is doing and why.
Q — the President is going to — still expected to be out of state with the Speaker on Thursday —
MR. SNOW: I believe so, yes.
Your Daily Les
Q What was the President’s reaction to the George Soros funded Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility, filing a Freedom of Information action demanding information about Christian leaders who visit the White House?
MR. SNOW: You will deeply disappointed to know, Lester, that he is not following that.