on U.S. Economy, Iraq & North Korea
Prairie Chapel Ranch
January 2, 2003
12:14 P.M. CST
QUESTION: Sir, there's another Democrat has thrown his hat into the ring today,
John Edwards. What do you think of the Democrat strategy to essentially say
that you're not keeping America safe enough? You've heard some of that from
some of the speeches.
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, you know, I understand politics, and I'm not paying attention
to politics. I'm going to continue doing the job the American people expect,
which is to safeguard America and Americans.
We've got a war on our hands. There is a terrorist network that still is interested
in harming Americans and we will hunt them down. There are countries which are
developing weapons of mass destruction and we will deal with them appropriately.
One country is Iraq. Obviously, we expect them to live up to the U.N. Security
resolutions and disarm, and if they won't, we'll lead a coalition to disarm
Another country is North Korea. And we are working with friends and allies in
the region to explain clearly to North Korea it's not in their nation's interest
to develop and proliferate weapons of mass destruction.
It was right here at this spot where Jiang Zemin, the leader of China, and myself
got together and we put out a joint declaration that we expect for the Korean
Peninsula to be nuclear weapons-free. That was a serious statement. I believe
the situation with North Korea will be resolved peacefully. As I said, it's
a diplomatic issue, not a military issue and we're working all fronts.
Q Can I follow that up? You said it could be resolved diplomatically. You were
quoted not long ago saying that you loathe Kim Jong-il. How can you --
THE PRESIDENT: Well, what I worry about with a leader like Kim Jong-il is somebody
who starves his people. The United States of America is the largest -- one of
the largest, if not the largest donor of food to the North Korean people. And
one of the reasons why the people are starving is because the leader of North
Korea hasn't seen to it that they're economy is strong or that they be fed.
We've got a great heart, but I have no heart for somebody who starves his folks.
Q Mr. President, when you look forward and think about economic stimulus --
we're beginning a new year -- and the stock market people nursing some losses,
what are your views about that? And, secondly, are you sensitive to the idea
that a stimulus is too weighted toward helping the wealthiest Americans and
are you making choices based on that, to help the middle income --
THE PRESIDENT: Well, what I'm worried about is job creation. And I'm worried
about those who are unemployed. I am concerned about those who are looking for
work but can't find work. And so next week when I talk about an economic stimulus
package, I will talk about how to create jobs, how best to create jobs, as well
as how to take care of those who don't have a job.
I'm concerned about all the people. And I don't view the politics of -- you
know, I understand the politics of economic stimulus -- that some would like
to turn this into class warfare. That's not how I think. I think about the overall
economy and how best to help those folks who are looking for work.
Q Do you -- will you propose new tax cuts? Do you think they're necessary now
for the economy?
THE PRESIDENT: I'm looking at all options. And, of course, if I knew the answer,
I probably wouldn't tell you now, because I'd like for you to come and pay attention
to the speech.
Q I'll do that.
THE PRESIDENT: I know you'll do that.
Q Can I go back to Korea?
THE PRESIDENT: Sure.
Q You're talking about a diplomatic solution and you believe that there is one.
How do you think you can bring some of the other countries in the region that
are reluctant right now --
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I don't think the countries are reluctant to --
Q -- reluctant to put pressure on.
THE PRESIDENT: They may be putting pressure on and you just don't know about
it. But I know that they're not reluctant when it comes to the idea of nuclear
weapons on the Korean Peninsula. And we are in constant contact with the Japanese
and the South Koreans and the Chinese and the Russians.
As I said -- and the decision to cut off fuel oil was a joint decision. It was
not a U.S. decision, it was jointly made with the South Koreans and the Japanese
and the European Union, for that matter. It's important for the American people
to remember the history of Kim Jong-il. He created some international tension
and the United States of America went and signed an agreement with him. And
the agreement was that we'd provide -- along with others, we'd provide fuel
oil and help and in return, he would not enrich uranium.
But it turns out he was enriching uranium. And we blew the whistle on the fact
that he was in violation of the '94 agreement. And the parties to that agreement
came together and said, well, in return for him making that decision, in terms
of him abrogating the agreement there will be a consequence. And that's where
we stand right now.
So the parties have come together. There has been a joint declaration of intent.
And we will continue working to resolve the situation.
Q Thank you, sir.
THE PRESIDENT: I'm tired of these people calling you Heidi.
Q I appreciate you --
THE PRESIDENT: And I will correct them. (Laughter.) Particularly on camera.
Q If we do have to go to war and --
THE PRESIDENT: With which country?
Q With Iraq. And if -- and with our economy stagnating, what makes you confident
that we can afford --
THE PRESIDENT: First of all, you know, I'm hopeful we won't have to go war,
and let's leave it at that.
Q But if we do, though, what --
THE PRESIDENT: Until Saddam Hussein makes up his mind to disarm -- see, it's
his choice to make. See, you need to ask him that question, not me.
Q But the White House is drawing up plans to pay for the war, if we come to
that. So why --
THE PRESIDENT: Well, let's leave it at if, for a while then, until it happens.
Q So you don't want to talk about whether our economy could sustain it, if that's
THE PRESIDENT: I thought that was the question I answered yesterday, so we'll
go back to that question, Heidi. I mean, Holly.
Q Thank you, sir.
Q How do you size up the Democrats who are in line to oppose you? What do you
think of Senator --
THE PRESIDENT: Not paying attention to it yet, not paying attention to the race
yet. I've got a lot on my agenda and a lot on my platter. And I understand politics.
I know there's going to be a lot of verbiage and a lot of noise and a lot of
posturing and a lot of elbowing. To me, that's just going to be background noise.
My job is to protect the American people and work to create confidence in our
economy so that people can find work.
Q On some level, were you getting ready for a rematch and hoping for a rematch
with Al Gore?
THE PRESIDENT: Really wasn't paying much attention to it, Stretch. I seriously
was -- I've got my mind on the peace and security of the American people. And
politics will sort itself out. And one of these days, somebody will emerge and
we'll tee it up and see who the American people want to lead. And until that
happens, I'm going to be doing my job.
Q One more thing, any thoughts for the American investor going into this new
THE PRESIDENT: Well, hopefully the American investor realizes that the -- this
economy is pretty darn strong, given the fact that we have been through a recession
and a terrorist attack, a breach of corporate confidence because of some malfeasance.
And yet the economy still grows. That's very positive.
Now, I recognize that there are some uncertainties. But one thing is certain,
that the economy of the United States is strong and resilient. And we must put
policies in place to enhance that resiliency and enhance that strength.
Q Sir, you asked or you talked the other day about authorizing an APB for those
five people that were wanted by the FBI for coming into this country. Today
one guy from Pakistan says that he is one of those people on those pictures,
and he has never been to the United States.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, we need to follow up on forged passports and people trying
to come into our country illegally. The American people need to know that any
time we get a hint that somebody might be coming into our country to cause harm,
we'll follow up on it. And, you know, if we think there's a smuggling ring that's
willing to smuggle people in that might harm America, we'll deal with it.
And there's -- you know, and if this fellow is one of them -- and I think they're
trying to check that out right now. And as I recall, the story -- I haven't
fully read it all -- but as I recall it said he had a false passport. I'm kind
of curious to know why he needs a false passport. We like things aboveboard
here in America.
We want people coming to our country that wants to take -- that wants to either
visit this great country or study in this great country or see relatives in
this great country and do so in a peaceful and lawful way. And people have a
feeling like they've got to travel here with false passports sends a pretty
alarming signal to those of us who are involved with the security of the country.
Q Do you have the suspicion that there is a smuggling ring that may not have
specific terrorist ties, but that there's a ring of --
THE PRESIDENT: I'm not sure what the -- you know, how to detail. All I can tell
you is that we were concerned and alerted to the fact that somebody might be
coming into the country. There are -- having said that, there are a lot of smuggling
rings that we're dealing with. The INS needs to deal with that. And the new
Homeland Security Department will be dealing with smuggling rings, like the
coyotes right south of here that are smuggling people across, and treating those
poor people -- stuffing them into these trailers and abusing them. They need
to be dealt with, as well. Most of the smuggling rings are not terrorist related,
but if we get a hint, a whiff that some of them are, we'll deal with them.
All right, let's go get some coffee.
Q One more. Are you satisfied that the inspectors are getting to Saddam's weapon
THE PRESIDENT: He is a man who likes to play games and charades. The question
is, will Saddam Hussein disarm. The world has asked him to disarm from weapons
of mass destruction. The first indication isn't very positive that he will voluntarily
disarm. After all, he put out a declaration that the world realized was false.
And the inspectors are there to verify whether or not he is disarming. You hear
these reports about Iraqi scientists being interviewed, but there's a "minder"
in the room.
You know, Saddam Hussein -- hopefully he realizes we're serious, and hopefully
he disarms peacefully. He's a danger to the American people, he's a danger to
our friends and allies. For 11 long years, the world has dealt with him. And
now he's got to understand, his day of reckoning is coming. And therefore, he
must disarm voluntarily, I hope he does.