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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

White House Briefing

Aired March 17, 2004 - 13:23   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Let's go to the White House briefing, Scott McClellan.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and with the families.

This remains a time of testing in Iraq. The stakes are high. The terrorists know the stakes are high. But they will not prevail. We will meet this test with strength and with resolve.

Democracy is taking root in Iraq and there is no turning back. A free and peaceful Iraq will be a major blow to the terrorists in our global war on terrorism.

And with that, I'll be happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: Do you think that this timed in connection with the one-year anniversary? And do you think that the terrorists are trying to send a message to the United States?

MCCLELLAN: First of all, I just said we just don't have the details on who is responsible for this.

I did say that this is a time of testing. The stakes are very high in Iraq. We have made important progress. Democracy is advancing in Iraq. And we will continue to stay to finish the job for the Iraqi people.

QUESTION: Can you say what you know at this point about how bad this is, how many casualties, how many buildings?

MCCLELLAN: No, I just don't have those details.

MCCLELLAN: This just occurred and those details are still coming in at this point.

QUESTION: And has the president been informed of this and monitoring this?

MCCLELLAN: He's been briefed and he was briefed about it before departing for the luncheon. Right now, he's at the luncheon. And I think he's continued to receive updates.

QUESTION: This is of a scale beyond what we've been able to report on and view ourselves... MCCLELLAN: No, I mean, again, we just don't have the details at this point.

QUESTION: Scott, Iraq (UNINTELLIGIBLE) just had a constitution -- new constitution and their dictator is in jail and they are free today. And today, General Myers was talking at the Foreign Press Center, he said that in order to win war against terrorism, and including in Iraq, it will take more than just a military might.

What do you think the president will have to say about what kind of military might do you think and where do we stand now...

MCCLELLAN: I'm sorry who said military might?

QUESTION: General Myers.

MCCLELLAN: And what are you asking me about it?

QUESTION: That how would the president answer this, that it will take more than just military might to win war against terrorism?

MCCLELLAN: Oh, we are fighting the war on terrorism on many fronts. There's the law enforcement front. There's the intelligence front. There's the financial front -- cracking down on terrorist financing. And there's certainly is the military front.

The way to win the war on terrorism is to stay on the offensive. September 11th taught us we must confront threats before it's too late, and that's exactly what this president has done and will continue to do.

QUESTION: Since Saddam Hussein is in jail, does he know that his people are now free from his brutal regime?

MCCLELLAN: Let me make one other point, too. It's also important to continue our efforts to support democracy and freedom across the world, and particularly to support efforts in the Middle East. And that's what this president is committed to doing. That helps go to the root causes of terrorism and address the needs of the people in those regions and the aspirations of those people.

QUESTION: As far as the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) is concerned as long as Saddam's in jail, does he know that his people are free and they have a new constitution from his brutal regime and if somebody had told him?

QUESTION: And who is actually behind these bombings?

MCCLELLAN: Well, again, we just don't have the details on who is responsible at this point. It is a terrible terrorist attack on innocent civilians, but we will continue to help the Iraqi people move forward on democracy and freedom and stability in their country. This is a time of testing but the terrorists will not prevail.

QUESTION: In light of the bombing, the Pew Research Center shows in its findings that a year after the war discontent with America and its policies has intensified rather than diminished. It talks about France, Germany, Britain, Pakistan, Morocco and Jordan being among those who do not believe that the war in Iraq has helped in terms of combating terror.

While you have the support of the leadership in many of those countries, how do you convince the people of those nations that this is a fight that is worth fighting? And are there any efforts the administration is going to make to reach out to try to deliver that message to the people of these nations?

MCCLELLAN: Well, we are at a critical period in our history. There are very real challenges that we face and that we must work together to confront, starting with the war on terrorism.

And the president's message is that it's important for all of us to continue to work together in these common challenges, and that's exactly the message that he will continue to reiterate to leaders around the world: "We all must work together to confront the threats that we face in this day and age."

It's also important to recognize that we are providing strong leadership in other areas as well. The United States is leading the way when it comes to fighting the pandemic of AIDS. In fact, Secretary Thompson is on his way right now or in Geneva for the next meeting of the global fund. It's also important that we continue to work together to fight poverty across the world. We are a leader in these efforts and that we continue to work together to promote human rights, and that's a message that we will continue to emphasize across the world.

MCCLELLAN: You know, we will continue to reach out to people in those countries to remind them that we all have common challenges that we need to work together to address.

QUESTION: What in the judgment of the president, the White House, does today's attack and the wave of attacks apparently against civilian, nongovernmental organizational aid workers say about how much progress is being made toward stability and security in Iraq, and thus -- and this an all-important question for a lot of Americans -- how long American troops will have to be there?

MCCLELLAN: Well, we are going to stay until the job is done. Obviously, we will be working with the new interim government to make some of those determinations as we move forward on transferring sovereignty to the Iraqi people.

It's important that we continue helping the Iraqi people move forward on democracy and freedom because that also helps bring about more stability in the country.

Obviously, there are remnants of the former regime out there, though many of the leaders have been brought to justice. There are also terrorists who recognize how high the stakes are in Iraq. And they want to do everything they can to stop us from moving forward in Iraq. But they will not prevail. QUESTION: But do these events, these attacks, show that U.S. forces will have to be there longer than many Americans might have anticipated at the beginning of the war one year ago, and longer perhaps than the president hoped when he sent them?

MCCLELLAN: Well, I think you have to keep in mind, there is a lot of important progress that is being made on the ground in the area of democratic institutions, in the area of security, in the area of improving the infrastructure of Iraq. And that's all-important. Improving the infrastructure is also important to bringing about more stability in Iraq.

But there are still those who are enemies of freedom and they want to turn back from democracy and freedom. But they will not prevail in the end.

QUESTION: Let me just ask you to comment finally on something Senator Kerry just said, which was, quote, "We are still bogged down in Iraq and the administration stubbornly holds to failed policies that drive potential allies away."

QUESTION: Are we bogged down in Iraq?

MCCLELLAN: Well, first of all, I haven't seen Senator Kerry's comments. Obviously, we've been focused on other priorities here in the recent future -- or with recent events, you know, and this is a time for us to focus on what is going on in Baghdad, and that's what this White House is doing.

QUESTION: Scott, on a different subject, the president will be seeing Mohamed ElBaradei later on today. Can you tell us whether or not the IAEA is getting the full amount of intelligence that the U.S. has been able to gather from Pakistan about the Khan network -- who their other clients may have been and so forth -- or whether there is material the U.S. is holding back and not sharing with the IAEA?

MCCLELLAN: I can check on details for you, but one thing I would point out is that we work closely with the International Atomic Energy Agency in our shared commitment to stopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction and to stopping the spread of nuclear weapons in particular.

Certainly, the actions that have been taken by the government of Pakistan have helped to break up this network. There's a lot more that we are learning about this network. Secretary Powell is in the region, as iou are aware, and will be talking with Pakistani leaders about some of these issues.

QUESTION: Scott, the specific, if you could get back later on in the day, is, as the Pakistanis give us data, is all of that going to the IAEA under our commitments to the IAEA or is it being filtered in some way?

MCCLELLAN: I would say, again, generally speaking...

O'BRIEN: We have been listening to Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman at the daily briefing. Saying at the top, there's no turning back, a free and peaceful Iraq, a major blow to the terrorists.

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