This was strange exchange between a “senior administration official” traveling with President Bush in the Middle East and a journalist today in the United Arab Emirates at the Emirates Palace Hotel.
I’m not completely sure, but the exchange seems to be asking the press “not to put something out” that involves the details of a new arms package that President Bush will announce tomorrow in Saudi Arabia. Or it may be that the “senior administration official” (who I assume is someone like Stephen Hadley) does not want something out in the media before the White House formally notifies the Congress. But the cryptic short-hand makes the true meaning murky.
But then there is a giggling exchange between the official and the press about the start time for the official meeting between Bush and Saudi King Abdullah.
Again, I’m not sure — but the exchange and comments from the “senior official” seem to undiplomatically poke fun at the Saudi King’s late night habits.
Maybe this is just nothing, but if I were the Saudi King’s chief-of-staff, I’d really want to know what the “senior administration official” was trying to telegraph with this exchange on the eve of an important meeting between President Bush and King Abdullah.
Here is the clip:
Q I checked the — I was confused about the Saudi arms sales, what’s expected. What I saw that the administration originally proposed was only about $620 million for AWACS and targeting — sniper targeting pods, and no question of the JDAMs and things like that. Can you talk about how the sale is going to be modified and when you’re going to announce it?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It’s a big package that we have offered to the Saudis. It actually gets sort of negotiated between us and the Saudis in pieces, and those pieces then get notified to the Congress. But it is overall a pretty substantial package — we can get you the details on that — but it is being rolled out in pieces as we get definitization, as I say, between us and the Saudis and are ready at that point to notify to the Congress.
Q Isn’t there something being announced tomorrow in conjunction with his arrival?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There’s some discussions. We’ll probably — if we have an announcement tomorrow, we will make it. But I think there will be a —
Q When should we expect it, early or late?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Probably pretty early. There will be a notification in the Hill going up.
Should we put this out? No? No, I’m told not to put it out.
Q This is separate from the stuff I just referred to?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This is one of the elements of the overall package that will be notified tomorrow.
Q The President is kind of an early-to-bed guy — (laughter) — and the King likes to stay up late, and the meeting tomorrow starts at 9:00 a.m. What do you think, how long is it going to go?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, we’ll see.
Q We have a wager, hence the giggling. (Laughter.)
Q We have a wager. (Laughter.)
Q You think it could go pretty late, though, right? I mean — (laughter.)
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You know, this is a matter of great sensitivity and I don’t really want to be wading in — (laughter) — very significant. But if someone wants to offer me 10 percent on the side, I could see what I could do. (Laughter.)
Q Well, the meeting is supposed to be, like, at 9:00 a.m. — we were thinking 9:10 a.m. (Laughter.)
Q All right, enough.
— Steve Clemons