SEOUL, Republic of Korea--(BUSINESS WIRE)--
3:41 P.M. (Local)
MS. PERINO: We have left South Korea; we're on our way to Bangkok, Thailand. On South Korea, I would just point out that the President packed a lot into a brief visit. President Bush and President Lee have developed a very good relationship, having met three times already since President Lee has been in office. They have a good relationship that is based on common values and mutual trust, and a commitment to deepening the ties between our two countries.
The visit to Thailand is a celebration of 175 years of U.S.-Thai relations. That is our oldest Asia relationship, and it's especially Thailand because Thailand has just taken on the chairmanship of ASEAN, which is the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, for those of you that didn't bring your acronym handbook.
Prime Minister Samak, he took office on February 6, 2008, so this will be the President's first time to get to know the new Thai leader. I expect a range of bilateral issues to be discussed, including restored military-to-military ties. Thailand is a treaty ally and also hosts the largest joint and multilateral training exercise in the region each year, and it's called Cobra Gold.
They will also discuss the situation in Burma. Thailand was an essential player in our efforts to get humanitarian assistance to the Burmese people after the cyclone, called Cyclone Nargis. And then the United States and Thailand also cooperate closely on health issues, particularly the combating of infectious diseases. Through PEPFAR, the U.S. has provided Thailand with over $35 million to fund HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care.
I also passed out the President's speech for tomorrow. This is -- the speech for tomorrow, it's a little bit unusual for us to release it as prepared for delivery, but given the time difference and the flights for both this flight and then for your colleagues that are on the charter, I think this was the best way for you to be able to have some time to digest it.
This will be the President's last trip to Asia, and this speech is an opportunity for him to speak on a range of issues, among them trade, strengthening our alliances, forming new partnerships with democracies here, and confronting shared challenges from disease to counter-terrorism to climate change to natural disasters.
In this speech, there's a large section that focuses on China, which will -- the speech when he gives it will be on the eve of his last trip to China as President. So you'll have that speech, and you can report on it.
I also brought back Anita McBride as our special guest briefer, who can give you a preview of the First Lady's special trip tomorrow to the Thai border, where she'll be doing a couple of different events. So I'm going to have Anita pre-brief that for you, she'll take some of your questions, and then I'll wrap up at the end.
MS. McBRIDE: Hi, everybody. Thanks for your interest in Mrs. Bush's trip to the border tomorrow, to the Thai-Burma border. She'll be visiting two sights -- leave early in the morning to fly to Mae Sot, and then drive to the Mae La refugee camp. It's the largest of nine camps that are on the border between Thailand and Burma.
This camp has approximately 39,000 Burmese refugees that live there, that are mostly Karen, the Karen ethnic minority. This camp has been in existence since about 1984 for Burmese refugees fleeing violence in Burma. It's also the camp for -- it's the largest resettlement of refugees from this camp to the United States in the world.
She'll see a variety of activities that happen at the camp on a daily basis, including a classroom of high school students that go through their normal routine of lessons, including mathematics. This is two high school classes that she'll see.
She'll at first be greeted -- let me back up and tell you -- she'll first be greeted by the governor of the Tak province. This is where the Mae Sot is, is in the Tak province of Thailand. She'll be greeted by the governor, and will meet with the commander of this refugee camp. This is a Thai commander at the camp. She'll go on to this school group.
She'll go and visit also a resettlement class. These are people who have been selected for resettlement in the United States. They go through an orientation to prepare them for their move outside of Thailand and outside of the camp. These will be refugees that will be moving to the United States, and they have to learn basic things, even what -- the use of an ATM. There are things that they have not seen outside of this camp. You'll see tomorrow, for those of you that are coming, there is no running water, there is no electricity. Some people have lived there for 20 years, waiting to either hopefully go back to their home country, or be resettled somewhere else in the world.
They're very stoic people. I think you'll be struck by how serene this camp is, despite the conditions that these people are living in. And again, as I said, they're very stoic.
Outside of the orientation classes she'll see, she'll also get to see a group of refugees that will be 11 families that are on their way to the United States tomorrow to be resettled in cities all over our country, in the Midwest and the Southeast and the West and the Northeast.
She will also, at the camp, be able to sit in on the homeland security interviews that refugee -- potential refugees who will be resettled, their interviews, to see the process that they go through, questions that they are asked in the process of becoming -- getting refugee status in order to be resettled. It's a process that takes about six to eight months for those that apply to become refugees.
After we leave the Mae La camp, she'll go to the Mae Tao Clinic. And the Mae Tao Clinic is again also in the Tak province. It's run by Dr. Cynthia Maung. Dr. Maung is well known throughout the world as an incredible humanitarian. She has won numerous awards for the work that she's doing in this clinic to take care of refugees who come over the border, but also those that work as day laborers in Thailand that don't have a home. When they come, she treats hundreds of patients every day with basic medical care and basic services.
And it is an incredible facility that over years has really expanded from one building providing basic services to now including schools and eye care and pre-natal and post-natal care; just a variety of help and support for people. Again, these are displaced persons.
I lot I think of what you'll see tomorrow is the numbers of people, that she worries is not sustainable, given continued and current problems that exist in Burma, people that want to go home but don't have the opportunity to go home. The Cyclone Nargis that hit them, she said the full number of people who have been affected by the cyclone have not entirely made it over to the border yet, so she worries about increasing numbers of people coming over for services.
You will be amazed and surprised to see what she does complete there, what she's able to do there. There's a prosthetic clinic there, where people are trained -- Burmese are trained to make prosthesis for their fellow countrymen that have lost limbs to land mines as they try to cross the border.
That will complete our day -- the visit to those two sites will complete our day. I will say the two things, or one of the things that they treat the most in both the refugee camp where there is a small clinic and in the Mae Tao Clinic is malaria. It was explained to us when we were there on the pre-advance that it is the single most treated disease, again, preventable. You know the President and Mrs. Bush's efforts to eliminate malaria around the world, and our partners in the malaria fight -- Malaria No More and Nothing But Nets and others have been very helpful with the distribution of nets, and will be very helpful to us on this trip.
So if you have any questions, I can answer any questions. I wanted to say, having been there a few weeks ago on this pre-advance, and just seeing the people who live there, the conditions that they live in, how unbelievably stoic they are, they hope to go back to their countries. Fifty percent of them want to go back to Burma. And that's why the political reconciliation that the President and Mrs. Bush talk about constantly is something that's really -- it's so manifested when you visit this camp and visit this clinic. They're waiting; they're waiting to go home. They're separated from their families, they've lost their possessions. Those that do apply for refugee status and do get resettled, the majority -- to the United States -- are looking forward to a new life. But nevertheless, they would prefer to be home.
Q Real quick, this is a Thai-run camp, not a UNHCR camp?
MS. McBRIDE: UNHCR operates it in that camp, as well as many international NGOs that help to run the camp, help the Burmese themselves to distribute food throughout the camp, to distribute services. But UNHCR is a presence at the camp. The Thai government provides security services, if you will. There's a Thai commander that lives at the camp that keeps peace -- helps to keep peace at the camp.
But what's very interesting, and the other thing Mrs. Bush will see as part of her tour through the camp, is meeting with community leaders at the camp, the Burmese refugees, Karen Burmese that live there, they elect their own leaders, leaders that serve three year terms that are in positions of leadership throughout the camp for the people that live there.
You'll be amazed to what the level of commerce that exists there. Mrs. Bush will see people that make -- that do embroidery, and do handiwork, or that are working out in farms outside of the camps, and then bring some of those -- the produce and some of the goods back to the camp, and have a system of commerce amongst themselves. They're not allowed to really leave the camp, unless those who are working.
So it's really remarkable how self sustaining this is, given the level of the condition or the lack of services that are in the camp.
Q Does Mrs. Bush have a political message that's intended with this visit, either towards the Burmese regime to change, or toward the Thai government to say, I hope you continue to welcome these refugees?
MS. McBRIDE: Well, I think the Thai government has welcomed these refugees; is the only country really in the region that allows this type of settlement to exist. I think it will be a continuation of the message both she and the President have consistently had, hoping for political reconciliation amongst all of the political prisoners, the minorities of Burma, so that they can participate in a civil society in their own country. That's a message she'll continue to say.
The President is meeting with Burmese activists at the same time Mrs. Bush will be at the camp. We've really worked hard to organize the schedule so that they both can work on these issues while they are in Thailand.
So, sure, it's a continuation of a message that she's consistently had for years now, and the President has had.
Q And does Mrs. Bush feel at all frustrated by the entrenchment of the Burmese regime; that all these steps have basically not seemed to have much impact in dislodging them? Does she feel like further steps need to be taken?
MS. McBRIDE: I think she feels that we're doing everything we can as the United States, continuing sanctions, tough sanctions that we know are having an impact, are having an economic impact. But sure she's frustrated. Of course the President is frustrated, too. Whenever you see people suffering, whenever you see an example like we saw with the response that the junta had to the cyclone -- I mean, they purposely kept aid and aid workers out of the country.
One of the things Mrs. Bush will do tonight is get a briefing from the USAID mission director, the regional director from Asia on Cyclone Nargis, the continued aftermath of Cyclone Nargis, and where exactly the $50 million U.S. of aid has gone to help the people who have been displaced and been affected by the cyclone. We know that over 2 million people were affected in the region, and 100,000 have died, and unknown number that are missing.
And with the junta not responding in the way that any civilized government would to the needs of its people, of course it's incredibly frustrating to the President and Mrs. Bush.
Q Is Barbara on the trip, as well?
MS. McBRIDE: Barbara is on the trip, and she will join Mrs. Bush tomorrow for this visit.
Q And Mrs. Bush has a preexisting relationship, or knows Dr. Cindy?
MS. McBRIDE: Dr. Maung, Cynthia Maung, Mrs. Bush had participated in a video teleconference with her back in December, getting a briefing on the clinic and the services provided by the clinic; any information that Dr. Cynthia could share about what she was hearing from those that were fleeing the new round of violence, particularly against the Buddhist monks that happened in September. So she has met her via VTC, but I don't believe that she has met her in person before.
One thing if I could just mention about our office, about the First Lady's Office -- Sally reminded me of this -- when we did visit in the camp, we did ask the question, what is it that you need, and it was basic things like malaria nets, but it also was everyday items -- soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes, school supplies, notebooks, pencils -- just things that we take for granted on a daily basis. So we as a staff collected a lot of items that we're bringing tomorrow. Mrs. Bush also independently has gotten a personal care products company to match her contributions. So we're bringing a lot of things for people at both clinics.
Q Which company?
MS. McBRIDE: This is Tom's of Maine.
Q She has not been here before.
MS. McBRIDE: She has not been to this area before, no. She has wanted to come here, and this trip of the President is providing a perfect opportunity, again, to keep shining the light on the cause of the Burmese people, and keep continuing to ask for reconciliation and the release of political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi.
MS. PERINO: You can ask non-relevant -- not non-relevant, non-trip related.
Q Can I start?
MS. PERINO: Yes.
Q The GAO report, $79 billion in Iraqi surplus oil money, $52.3 billion I believe to be spent this year. I was just wanting the White House reaction on that.
MS. PERINO: I saw the report -- I saw reports about the report, so I'd refer you back to the State Department, just to -- as they wake up this morning, just to make sure that they've looked at it, because I don't know all the details.
What I do know is this: that the Iraqis are currently working on a supplemental budget text for how they will spend such funds. We welcome it. They've already taken over a lot of their reconstruction cost, and I think the vast majority of it. They want to be able to do more, and they are doing more.
One thing that's very important is how they are spending their money, which is distributing it evenly amongst the -- around the country, but amongst the different sects as well, so Shias, Sunnis, and Kurds. It's something that they're going to have to continue to work out. We want them to take on more of their own responsibilities just from a security standpoint, but also reconstruction.
Also, if you remember, Prime Minister Maliki went into Sadr City, Basra and Mosul, he offered immediate financial assistance to people who were living there under those terrible conditions. It's really important that they figure out a way to quickly get that money to those people directly. I think they've made a lot of progress on that, but they needed to do more.
In addition, we continue to work with them on eliminating corruption in their system. Under Saddam Hussein, corruption was the name of the game, and that's the way that it worked. They're now working to make sure that their system can be in place and that they can spend their money responsibly.
It's interesting -- what I find interesting about this report, as well, is when you're looking at these two countries, Iraq and Afghanistan, seeing how vastly different Iraq is from Afghanistan in terms of the natural resources that they have. Afghanistan is a very poor country, one of the poorest in the world. Iraq will come back much faster, given that they had some semblance of infrastructure, as crumbling as it was, but something to work from. Afghanistan is being built from scratch. And so I thought that was something worth taking away.
Q But is the size -- I mean, the size of the pot, will it require or cause America or the State Department to reprogram any of its reconstruction funds?
MS. PERINO: I'd refer you to State Department to find out. I just don't know enough about the report.
Q Dana, Iran. What's your understanding of what Iran has said to the P5-plus-1?
MS. PERINO: I saw that the allies said that they're going to get together on a conference call this morning, but I'm not -- I'm so confused as to what time it is, if it was European time or not. So let's let that conference call take place, and they can move forward.
But in the absence of a positive response to the generous offer that we provided in our incentives package, I think that the allies will have no choice but to take further measures that would be punitive, given that we don't have a decent and responsive statement from the Iranians, which as I understand it just doesn't look like it's anything worth writing home about.
Q Supposedly they've asked for clarifications of some point. Is that a red herring? Are they playing for time here?
MS. PERINO: I think that the Iranians have long stalled on responding to the allies. So I think that the most important thing we can do is let the political directors have their conference call, meet, and decide on next steps before I get in front of them, because they haven't even had their call yet.
Q Dana, two questions on China. First of all, do you have any reaction to the reported decision of the Chinese government to not allow Joey Cheek to come to Beijing?
MS. PERINO: We were disturbed to learn that the Chinese had refused his visa. We are taking the matter very seriously. We have sent in our embassy in Beijing to démarche the Chinese. That is where we go in and we say we are concerned about this, and we want you to reconsider your actions. So we would hope that they would change their mind. And I'll hopefully have more for you later, but we had to also wait for Washington to wake up to take any further action.
Q And then just a question on the speech for tomorrow, with respect to the China parts of the speech. Can you give a little sense of what the President is thinking of why he wanted to make this statement in Thailand, as opposed to, like, actually when he got to Beijing? Was that purposeful?
MS. PERINO: There is a section in the speech that talks a lot about China. Obviously, China is the largest country in the region, and most influential, not just in the region, but certainly around the world. You've heard the President talk about their influence on issues of dealing with Iran, or in Africa, on trade, on Doha. The President was quite disappointed at the way that that turned out a couple weeks ago.
But the speech covers a range of issues. It talks about how we have restored and deepened our relationship with India, which is yet another large country in the region; that is a democracy that is really starting to flourish. So I would look at the speech in terms of the big picture. In Asia, in Bangkok, he's going to talk about the range of issues. But China is one of the most important relationships that we have in the United States, and the speech is being given on the eve of his trip there, his last trip to Asia. So he thought it was appropriate to talk about it at this point.
Q But clearly, the comments are his most extensive on China in general, but also the human rights issue in particular. He hasn't been that pointed in the press conferences up until this point.
MS. PERINO: I would disagree, just because I've been there for all of them, and I think that this speech puts together what the President has been saying for seven-and-a-half years, but does it in a very focused way in a few paragraphs in a speech.
That doesn't take away from how important the message is. Obviously, the world is turning its attention to the Olympics for the sporting events, but people are interested in this country, its influence in the region and in the world, and how it will evolve to hopefully be more modern and more open. And the President will continue to press them.
Q The un-embargoed nature of the speech, releasing it all now, that's strictly a time difference issue between here and home?
MS. PERINO: I can't think of any other reason; just trying to help everybody out. I'm responding to requests from the press. All right, see you on the ground.
END 4:06 P.M. (Local)