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White House Reacts to News of Zarqawi's Death


President Bush was informed of Zarqawi's death by his National Security Advisor yesterday. This morning the president spoke from the Rose Garden.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: We have tough days ahead of us in Iraq that will require the continued patience of the American people. If the developments of the last 24 hours give us renewed confidence in the final outcome of this struggle.

BRAND: Joining me is NPR's White House Correspondent David Greene. And David, you just got back from a press briefing at the White House and are there any new details from that?

DAVID GREENE reporting:

The briefing did just happen; it was Tony Snow the new Press Secretary managing probably the biggest news story of his short career of White House Press Secretary so far. The White House seems pretty happy to be talking about a very concrete example of success in Iraq.

Tony Snow went through how the president learned of Zarqawi's death yesterday. He was holding a meeting with members of Congress in the afternoon and one funny moment came when Republican Ray LaHood apparently told the president and the whole group, you know it would be really good if you got Zarqawi. And the reaction of the whole group was well yeah, obviously.

And then right after that meeting the president learned that there was the attack and the military thought that they nabbed him and, and, and then killed him. And then he got final confirmation last night just after nine o'clock p.m. the president learned. I think officials here are being pretty careful about how they respond.

They want to show satisfaction with these developments but they're being careful to show restraint. You recall the president learning a lesson on an aircraft carrier about the political risks in declaring victory early and they want to make sure not to do that before they see what happens.

BRAND: Mm. But so privately are they, are they pretty happy?

GREENE: They seem pretty happy and you can see some of the aides walking out into the Rose Garden including Karl Rove. Walking with a bit of, perhaps a bit more confidence than on normal days.

BRAND: Now in that briefing White House Press Secretary Tony Snow spoke a lot about how insurgent groups have been able to manipulate the airwaves, that's what he said. What did he mean by that?

GREENE: Yeah, he made a pretty strong statement. He said that in fact the U.S. military is really crushing the opposition in Iraq and - strong statement given the images that Americans see every day. But he said that insurgents and terrorists are getting their incidents on television and really winning the war on airwaves and Snow's point was that here's a day when there's blanket coverage of a U.S. and Coalition success that Americans are seeing and perhaps this is a day or in coming days if there's coverage of that where the U.S. might be winning the, the airwaves war. I think the White House is being cautious to see where the polls go and how Americans respond. They're hoping to give some momentum to the new government Iraq - in Iraq. Zarqawi had been criticizing the new government and the president - President Bush had been talking up the new government and saying that he's looking forward to some positive developments in coming weeks and now the guy who was criticizing the government is gone. But as, as we've seen good developments in Iraq are often followed by a new wave of violence and that's one reason that the White House is being very very careful.

BRAND: The president is summoning military and intelligence leaders to a meeting at Camp David on Monday. What is that about?

GREENE: Well, it's a two-day, they're calling it a summit. It's been planned for a while. They said this was not coming out of the Zarqawi death today that they were planning this for some weeks to correspond with the new, the new government getting together in Iraq.

The president at Camp David on Monday is going to be bringing his National Security team, a big group. And he often goes to Camp David to hold meetings like this to send an image that he's the commander in chief. He's huddling with advisors and doing some, some serious war planning.

They say no big announcement of troop levels is likely to come out of that meeting. But some discussions about security and then on Tuesday the president is going to be having a conference call from Camp David with a lot of the Iraqi leaders and in addition, a bit unusual, they're going to be bringing in some outside experts to see what advice they can give the Iraqi leadership and what advice they can give the Bush administration on how to proceed.

BRAND: NPR White House Correspondent David Greene, thank you very much.

GREENE: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Greene
David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
Madeleine Brand
Madeleine Brand is the host of NPR’s newest and fastest-growing daily show, Day to Day. She conducts interviews with newsmakers (Iraqi politicians, US senators), entertainment figures (Bernardo Bertolluci, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Ricky Gervais), and the everyday people affected by the news (an autoworker laid off at GM, a mother whose son was killed in Iraq).