White House Glad to See U.S. Score Media Victory

White House Press Secretary Tony Snow says that U.S. officials believe they have been winning the military war in Iraq, but losing the media war. But Snow thinks that the U.S. has scored on both fronts with the attack that killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

We continue now with our coverage of the death of the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. In a moment, Steve Inskeep will be getting reaction from Senator Joe Biden, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. First, reaction from the White House. Earlier this morning, President Bush had these remarks on the attack that killed Zarqawi yesterday in an air raid north of Baghdad.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Six-fifteen Baghdad time, special operation forces -acting on tips and intelligence from Iraqis - confirmed Zarqawi's location and delivered justice to the most wanted terrorist in Iraq.

MONTAGNE: The president praised the new Iraqi government, and said the death of Zarqawi offers an opportunity to quote, "Turn the tide in the war." He also warned of more difficult days to come.

President BUSH: We can expect the terrorists and insurgents to carry on without him. We can expect the sectarian violence to continue, yet the ideology of terror has lost one of its most visible and aggressive leaders.

MONTAGNE: President Bush speaking this morning in the Rose Garden. Joining me now from the White House is NPR's David Greene. Good morning.

DAVID GREENE reporting:

Hi, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Hi. Now, David, you've just come from a White House briefing with the new White House spokesperson Tony Snow. What's the latest?

GREENE: That's right, and Snow handling a big news day for the first time as White House press secretary. He actually wasn't even supposed to be on camera today, but they changed that after the news from Iraq. Snow went through how the president learned of all of this. He said Mr. Bush has been aware for some matter of days that Special Forces were going after Zarqawi. He was in a meeting yesterday with lawmakers, didn't know about the capture. And at one point, Republican Congressman Ray LaHood said, you know, it would be good if you captured Zarqawi. And there was a lot of snickering in the room as if that was a pretty obvious point, Snow said. Then right after the meeting, National Security Advisor Steve Hadley tells the president that they think it happened, they thought they had Zarqawi. And then the president got the confirmation last night at 9:20 PM Eastern. Why not get the information out at that point? Well, Snow said today that they wanted to let announcement take place on Iraqi soil.

MONTAGNE: You know, it seems like a fine line for the White House. Clearly, this is very welcome news, but if recent history is a guide, the good news from Iraq is often followed by bad.

GREENE: That's true. And the White House seems aware of that. They seem to be - they're being very measured about what they say. And whenever the president in the Rose Garden or any other officials talk about this, they say, you know, it's a very good development, but they also add there will be some tough days ahead. We still need the patience of the American people, which according to polls had already becoming - was already becoming pretty thin. So, Snow made the point, too, though, that they believe that the U.S. military is really crushing the opposition in Iraq, and has been doing so this whole time, which is a pretty strong statement given some of the images that Americans see. But his point was that insurgents might be winning on the airwaves, but that the U.S. military is winning the war. And what Snow said is this is a day that gives the U.S. a day on the airwaves, and they can really show and get coverage of some success.

MONTAGNE: The president heads to Camp David, and he'll be there for a few days for consultations with his national security team. He'll also be talking to Iraqi leaders, I gather. What's expected out of those conversations?

GREENE: That's right. The president's going up to Camp David, actually, today. And he's going to have a meeting with the leader of Denmark tomorrow. He's going to stay the weekend, and then on Monday, have a big meeting with his national security team. And then on Tuesday, have a conference call with a lot of Iraqi leaders. What we're told is that this meeting was scheduled ahead of time, and has been planned for a long time. It wasn't the Zarqawi development that triggered the meeting. Interestingly, the president's also going to bring in what they're describing as some outside experts to talk about a range of issues from how to really get the Iraqi government stronger in the days and weeks ahead, and also soliciting opinions on all sorts of administration policy and the way forward in Iraq. So, the president trying to send a message that he's really at moment when he's making big decisions about how to go ahead.

MONTAGNE: David, thank you.

GREENE: Thanks, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR's White House correspondent, David Greene.

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