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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Press Briefing by Dana Perino James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
Now I'll go to questions.

Q Dana, President Musharraf said in an interview today that emergency rule would likely continue through the January elections. Would the White House consider elections there to be free and fair if they're held under emergency rule?

MS. PERINO: This is a question that I've answered several times from reporters in this room and while we were on the road in Texas. What we have said is that we want there to be free and fair elections; we want the President to take off his uniform, which again he announced today that he would do that by the end of November. We don't see how it is possible to have free and fair elections under emergency rule. You want to have emergency rule lifted so that people could protest peacefully, or that they could campaign, and so that a free media can cover the election as we do here.

And so we are urging Pakistan to return to its constitution, allow free and fair elections, and to reestablish the foothold they had on democracy before the emergency order was put in place.

Q Are you seeing any signs that the administration strategy towards dealing with this crisis is working?

MS. PERINO: I think there have been some positive signs. For example, the President said that there would be elections. He did say he would take off the uniform. He did say the emergency order would be lifted; he just has not said when. And we continue to work with Pakistan. We want to have a long-term relationship with this country. In the past, we have waffled on that and it did not serve us well. We lost in -- contact with an entire generation of military leaders, of Pakistani military leaders. We need to get back into the business of making sure that we don't just walk away from a country because they made a mistake. We need to help -- work with them to unite moderate forces so that they can have the democracy that they started to have over the last several years, including the economic benefits that come with that.

Q Does President Musharraf's announcement that he will, by the end of November, take off the uniform sort of buy him some time with the White House?

MS. PERINO: I don't know what that's supposed to mean, Jim. We want -- we have called for there to be an end to emergency rule and the return of the constitution. And that -- his announcement today doesn't change that.

Q Does the United States support the opposition parties coalescing against Musharraf -- Bhutto and Sharif and --

MS. PERINO: We are supportive of people being allowed to peacefully protest, to assemble, and to express their views.

Q But are you telling them that we would support them if they were able to somehow -- support them against, I guess, the government of Musharraf?

MS. PERINO: I'm unaware that there are those conversations. What we are talking to all of the parties about, including the government, as well as the opposition parties, is to work with them to try to find common ground, so that they can work together. It's important that they try to establish open lines of dialogue and communication, so that they can return to the constitution and get back to the path to democracy. What we're looking for is moderation, democracy, stability, and the prosperity that comes with it.

Go ahead, John.

Q The administration has been urging Bhutto to work with Musharraf, for the two of them to cooperate and talk. Is it a major setback that she now says she will not work with him because she can't trust anything he says?
MS. PERINO: I think, John, that the situation evolves by the hour, as you've been covering it over the last 10 days, but since the state of emergency has been put in place. There are developments frequently. And obviously the tensions are very high, and we understand the -- that people, when they have feelings, that people express them, and we would hope that people would be able to work together in Pakistan. We'll just have to wait and see. The situation on the ground is evolving very rapidly.

Q So you're still hopeful that they may be able to cooperate --
MS. PERINO: We are hopeful that they can return to the constitution and the path to democracy that they were on.

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