Top Priorities for the U.S.
The Rose Garden
July 30, 2003
10:33 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Good morning. I was hoping it would be a little
hotter here to prepare the traveling team for the Crawford experience this
August. But thank you for coming.
I'm looking forward to going down to Texas, and I know the members will
be going back to their districts. As I travel around the country from Crawford
I'm going to be focused on two vital concerns for our country -- first, the
safety of the American people, and the economic security of the American
On national security front, it has been 90 days since the end of the major
combat operations in Iraq. The nation has been liberated from tyranny and
is on the path to self-government and peace. The Iraqi governing council
is meeting regularly. Local police forces are now being trained. And citizens
are being recruited into a new Iraqi military -- a military that will protect
the Iraqi people instead of intimidating them. Soon representatives of the
people will begin drafting a new constitution and free elections will follow.
After decades of oppression, the people of Iraq are reclaiming their country
and are reclaiming their future.
Conditions in most of Iraq are growing more peaceful. Some areas, however,
the violent remnants of Saddam Hussein's regime, joined by terrorists and
criminals, are making a last attempt to frighten the Iraqi people and to
undermine the resolve of our coalition. They will fail. Our coalition forces
are taking the fight to the enemy in an unrelenting campaign that is bringing
daily results. Saddam Hussein's sons did not escape the raids, and neither
will other members of that despicable regime.
By taking the offensive against desperate killers, Americans in uniform
are assuming great risks for our country. The American people are proud of
our Armed Forces, and we are grateful for their sacrifice and their service
in fighting the war on terror. We also appreciate the military families who
share in the hardship and uncertainties of this essential mission.
The rise of a free and peaceful Iraq is critical to the stability of the
Middle East, and a stable Middle East is critical to the security of the
American people. As the blanket of fear is lifted, as Iraqis gain confidence
that the former regime is gone forever, we will gain more cooperation in
our search for the truth in Iraq.
We know that Saddam Hussein produced and possessed chemical and biological
weapons, and has used chemical weapons. We know that. He also spent years
hiding his weapons of mass destruction programs from the world. We now have
teams of investigators who are hard at work to uncover the truth.
The success of a free Iraq will also demonstrate to other countries in that
region that national prosperity and dignity are found in representative government
and free institutions. They are not found in tyranny, resentment, and for
support of terrorism. As freedom advances in the Middle East, those societies
will be less likely to produce ideologies of hatred and produce recruits
The United States and our allies will complete our mission in Iraq, and
we'll complete our mission in Afghanistan. We'll keep our word to the peoples
of those nations. We'll wage the war on terror against every enemy who plots
against our forces and our people. I will never assume the restraint and
goodwill of dangerous enemies when lives of our American citizens are at
My administration is also acting to ensure the economic security of the
American people. Paychecks are already reflecting the reduction in income
tax rates, which is providing relief to millions of taxpayers and small businesses.
American families have begun to receive checks from a $400-per-child increase
in the child tax credit. This time when we say, the check is in the mail,
we mean it.
Through our higher expense deduction, small businesses have an incentive
to speed up purchases of new equipment. We're beginning to see hopeful signs
of faster growth in the economy, which over time will yield new jobs. Yet
the unemployment rate is still too high. We will not rest until Americans
looking for work can find a job.
To strengthen the economic security of the people, Congress needs to pass
a sound energy bill, to make sure that our households and businesses have
a reliable, affordable supply of energy. Congress needs to pass legal reforms
to cut down on the frivolous lawsuits that provide a drag to our economy.
Congress needs to approve reemployment accounts to help citizens who have
the toughest time finding work. Congress needs to make sure that the child
credit is refundable for lower-income families. We must continue pursuing
an aggressive, pro-growth strategy that creates jobs throughout our economy.
Economic security for America's seniors is threatened by the rising cost
of prescription drugs. I'm pleased that both houses of Congress have responded
by passing separate bills, providing prescription drug coverage under Medicare.
It's absolutely essential that the House and the Senate resolve their differences
and enact a piece of legislation I can sign. The lack of coverage for prescription
drugs and many preventative treatments is a major gap in Medicare that denies
some of our seniors the latest and best medicine. We must keep the promise
of Medicare by giving our seniors better coverage and better choices.
I congratulate the House and the Senate on a productive legislative session
-- so far. I also look forward to working with the members this coming fall
on the priorities for the American people.
And now I'll be glad to answer some questions. Tom. And we'll work our way
around. There's no need for any unrestrained yelling. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. Mr. President, now with the deaths of the sons
of Saddam Hussein and the capture of his chief bodyguard, what can you tell
us about how close we might be to actually capturing or killing Saddam himself?
And how important would that be to ending the war and stopping the violence
against American troops? And what do you say to those troops who fought long
and hard and now are eager to come home, given the fact that it's hard to
find other countries to send in troops that could serve as replacements?
THE PRESIDENT: Okay. Tom, I'm getting a little older, so when you ask four
or five questions, it's hard for me to remember every question.
First, we do have a good rotation plan in place now for our troops. This
3rd I.D., which has conducted a lot of the major military operations at the
beginning of the war, has now got a definite time in which they are coming
home. And that in itself is a positive development. There was some concern
amongst family members of the 3rd I.D. that they were getting mixed signals.
And I understand that. And now it's clear as to their rotation plan.
And, by the way, as we rotate, we'll be changing the nature of the military
configuration to be more of a -- to have more of a -- the capacity to move
very quickly and to strike quickly, because our intelligence is getting better
on the ground, as we're able to pick targets, able to enrich targets and
move quickly on the targets.
What other aspects of the -- I told you, I warned you, I'm getting older.
QUESTION: I asked you how close we are to catching --
THE PRESIDENT: Catching Saddam Hussein, that's right. Yes.
QUESTION: -- and how important it is to --
THE PRESIDENT: Listen -- right, thank you. Of course, it's important that
the -- that Saddam's sons were brought to justice. It changes attitudes in
Iraq. People didn't believe that the Baathist regime was going to be gone
forever. They felt like -- you would hear reports of Baathists, former Baathist
officials saying to Iraqi citizens, listen, the Americans will grow stale
and tired, they'll leave and, by the way, we'll come back. And when we come
back, we'll come back with a vengeance if you help in the reconstruction
of the country. So, needless to say, when two of the most despicable henchmen
of the Saddam Hussein regime met their fate, the Baathist claim that at least
these two will come back and haunt the citizen is -- rings hollow.
I don't know how close we are to getting Saddam Hussein. You know -- it's
closer than we were yesterday, I guess. All I know is we're on the hunt.
It's like if you had asked me right before we got his sons how close we were
to get his sons, I'd say, I don't know, but we're on the hunt.
And so we're making progress. It's slowly but surely making progress of
bringing the -- those who terrorize their fellow citizens to justice, and
making progress about convincing the Iraqi people that freedom is real. And
as they become more convinced that freedom is real, they'll begin to assume
more responsibilities that are required in a free society.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Homeland Security is warning against possible hijackings
this summer. How serious is this threat, and what can you do about it? How
can Americans feel safe?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes. Well, first of all, the war on terror goes on, as I
continually remind people. In other words, there are still al Qaeda remnants
that have designs on America. The good news is that we are, one, dismantling
the al Qaeda organization; and, two, we're learning more information about
their plans as we capture more people.
And the threat is a real threat. It's a threat that where -- we obviously
don't have specific data, we don't know when, where, what. But we do know
a couple of things. We do know that al Qaeda tends to use the methodologies
that worked in the past. That's kind of their mind-set. And we have got some
data that indicates that they would like to use flights, international flights,
Now, what we can do is we can be -- obviously, at home, continue to be diligent
on the inspection process of baggage, as well as making sure those who board
aircraft are properly screened. And, obviously, we're talking to foreign
governments and foreign airlines to indicate to them the reality of the threat.
We're conscience of folks flying -- getting lists of people flying into our
country and matching them now with a much improved database. International
flights coming into America must have hardened cockpit doors, which is a
Being on alert means that we contact all who are responsible, who have got
positions of responsibility. And so we're focusing on the airline industry
right now. And we've got reason to do so. And I'm confident we will thwart
You know, let me talk about al Qaeda just for a second. I made the statement
that we're dismantling senior management, and we are. Our people have done
a really good job of hauling in a lot of the key operators: Khalid Sheik
Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah, Ramzi -- Ramzi al Shibh, or whatever the guy's name
was. (Laughter.) Sorry, Ramzi, if I got it wrong. (Laughter.) Binalshibh,
excuse me. Swift Sword is dead, thanks to the Saudis. Abu Bakr is now captured
by the Saudis. We're dismantling the operating -- decision-makers.
We've got more to do. And the American people need to know, we're not stopping.
We've got better intelligence-gathering, better intelligence-sharing, and
we're on the hunt. And we will stay on the hunt. The threat that you asked
about, Steve, reminds us that we need to be on the hunt, because the war
on terror goes on.
QUESTION: Mr. President, thank you. You met yesterday with the Saudi Foreign Minister,
who wants the administration to declassify these 27 or 28 pages about his
government in this report on 9/11. Many members of Congress, including several
Republicans, say they see nothing, or at least most of the materials, in
their view, could be made public. Can you tell us, is there any compromise
in sight on this, and could you at least summarize the material in that classified
document? Is there, as some members of Congress say, material that you could
read and have an incriminating view of the Saudi government when it comes
THE PRESIDENT: John, the Foreign Minister did come and speak to me. And
I told him this: I said, we have an ongoing investigation about what may
or may not have taken place prior to September the 11th. And therefore, it
is important for us to hold this information close so that those who are
being investigated aren't alerted.
I also told him, in the document, that if we were to reveal the content
of the document, 29-pages of a near 900-page report, it would reveal sources
and methods. By that, I mean it would show people how we collect information
and on whom we're collecting information, which, in my judgment, and in the
judgment of senior law enforcement officials in my administration, would
be harmful on the war against terror.
I just described to you that there is a threat to the United States. And
I also said, we're doing a better job of sharing intelligence and collecting
data so we're able to find -- able to anticipate. And what we really don't
want to do, it doesn't make sense to me -- seem like to me is to reveal those
sources and methods.
Now, at some point in time, as we make progress on the investigation, and
as a threat to our national security diminishes, perhaps we can put out the
document. But in my judgment, now is not the time to do so.
And I made that clear to him. And I will be glad -- I'm making it clear
to members of Congress. I want to remind you that -- sure, some have spoken
out, but others have agreed with my position, like the Chairman of the House
Intelligence Committee. So there's a different point of view. My point of
view, however, since I'm in charge of fighting the war on terror is that
we won't reveal sources and methods that will compromise our efforts to succeed.
QUESTION: Saddam Hussein's alleged ties to al Qaeda were a key part of your justification
for war. Yet, your own intelligence report, the NIE, defined it as -- quote
-- "low confidence that Saddam would give weapons to al Qaeda." Were
those links exaggerated to justify war? Or can you finally offer us some
definitive evidence that Saddam was working with al Qaeda terrorists?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes. I think, first of all, remember I just said we've been
there for 90 days since the cessation of major military operations. Now,
I know in our world where news comes and goes and there's this kind of instant
-- instant news and you must have done this, you must do this yesterday,
that there's a level of frustration by some in the media. I'm not suggesting
you're frustrated. You don't look frustrated to me at all. But it's going
to take time for us to gather the evidence and analyze the mounds of evidence,
literally, the miles of documents that we have uncovered.
David Kaye came to see me yesterday. He's going to testify in closed hearing
tomorrow -- which in Washington may not be so closed, as you know. And he
was telling me the process that they were going through to analyze all the
documentation. And that's not only to analyze the documentation on the weapons
programs that Saddam Hussein had, but also the documentation as to terrorist
And it's just going to take awhile, and I'm confident the truth will come
out. And there is no doubt in my mind, Campbell, that Saddam Hussein was
a threat to the United States security, and a threat to peace in the region.
And there's no doubt in my mind that a free Iraq is important. It's got strategic
consequences for not only achieving peace in the Middle East, but a free
Iraq will help change the habits of other nations in the region who will
make it -- which will make America much more secure.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. Building sort of on that idea, it's impossible
to deny that the world is a better place in the region, certainly a better
place without Saddam Hussein. But there's a sense here in this country, and
a feeling around the world, that the U.S. has lost credibility by building
the case for Iraq upon sometimes flimsy or, some people have complained,
non-existent evidence. And I'm just wondering, sir, why did you choose to
take the world to war in that way?
THE PRESIDENT: You know, look, in my line of work, it's always best to produce
results. And I understand that. The -- for a while the questions were, could
you conceivably achieve a military victory in Iraq? You know, the dust storms
have slowed you down. And I was a patient man because I realized that we
would be successful in achieving our military objective.
Now, of course, the question is, will Iraq ever be free, and will it be
peaceful? And I believe it will. I remind some of my friends that it took
us a while to go from the Articles of Confederation to the United States
Constitution. Even our own experiment with democracy didn't happen overnight.
I never have expected Thomas Jefferson to emerge in Iraq in a 90-day period.
And so, this is going to take time. And the world will see what I mean when
I say, a free Iraq will help peace in the Middle East, and a free Iraq will
be important for changing the attitudes of the people in the Middle East.
A free Iraq will show what is possible in a world that needs freedom, in
a part of the world that needs freedom.
Let me finish for a minute, John, please. Just getting warmed up. I'm kind
of finding my feet. (Laughter.)
Saddam Hussein was a threat. The United Nations viewed him as a threat.
That's why they passed 12 resolutions. Predecessors of mine viewed him as
a threat. We gathered a lot of intelligence. That intelligence was good,
sound intelligence on which I made a decision.
And in order to placate the critics and the cynics about intentions of the
United States, we need to produce evidence. And I fully understand that.
And I'm confident that our search will yield that which I strongly believe,
that Saddam had a weapons program. I want to remind you, he actually used
his weapons program on his own people at one point in time, which is pretty
tangible evidence. But I'm confident history will prove the decision we made
to be the right decision.
Hold on for a second. You're through. John.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Mr. President, many of your supporters believe that homosexuality
is immoral. They believe that it's been given too much acceptance in policy
terms and culturally. As someone who's spoken out in strongly moral terms,
what's your view on homosexuality?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, I am mindful that we're all sinners, and I caution those
who may try to take the speck out of their neighbor's eye when they got a
log in their own. I think it's very important for our society to respect
each individual, to welcome those with good hearts, to be a welcoming country.
On the other hand, that does not mean that somebody like me needs to compromise
on an issue such as marriage. And that's really where the issue is heading
here in Washington, and that is the definition of marriage. I believe in
the sanctity of marriage. I believe a marriage is between a man and a woman.
And I think we ought to codify that one way or the other. And we've got lawyers
looking at the best way to do that.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Since taking office you signed into law three major tax
cuts -- two of which have had plenty of time to take effect, the third of
which, as you pointed out earlier, is taking effect now. Yet, the unemployment
rate has continued rising. We now have more evidence of a massive budget
deficit that taxpayers are going to be paying off for years or decades to
come; the economy continues to shed jobs. What evidence can you point to
that tax cuts, at least of the variety that you have supported, are really
working to help this economy? And do you need to be thinking about some other
THE PRESIDENT: Yes. No, to answer the last part of your question. First
of all, let me -- just a quick history, recent history. The stock market
started to decline in March of 2000. Then the first quarter of 2001 was a
recession. And then we got attacked in 9/11. And then corporate scandals
started to bubble up to the surface, which created a -- a lack of confidence
in the system. And then we had the drumbeat to war. Remember on our TV screens
-- I'm not suggesting which network did this -- but it said, "March
to War," every day from last summer until the spring -- "March
to War, March to War." That's not a very conducive environment for people
to take risk, when they hear, "March to War" all the time.
And yet our economy is growing. In other words, what I'm telling you is,
is that we had a lot of obstacles to overcome. The '01 tax cuts affected
the recession this way, it was a shallow recession. That's positive, because
I care about people being able to find a job. Someone said, well, maybe the
recession should have been deeper in order for the rebound to be quicker.
My attitude is, a deeper recession means more people would have been hurt.
And I view the actions we've taken as a jobs program, job creation program.
Secondly, there are hopeful signs. I mean, most economists believe that
over the next 18 months we'll see positive economic growth. Interest rates
are low; housing starts are strong; manufacturing indexes are improving.
There are other things we can do in Washington. As I said, we need an energy
bill. We certainly need tort reform. I think the class action reform that's
moved out of the House and into the Senate is something can be done, and
it ought to be done quickly. In other words, what I'm saying to you is, is
that there's still work to do. But I'm optimistic about the future, and I
believe you'll see more jobs created, and that's going to be good for the
QUESTION: Thank you, sir. You just explained that your approach to your job is to
try to produce results. It has been roughly a year since North Korea apprised
the United States government that it is seeking to reactivate its nuclear
weapons program. In that year, you and your aides have repeatedly said that
you seek a diplomatic approach to that problem. And yet, over that year,
all we've seen from the North Koreans are more bellicose statements and more
steps taken to add to their stockpile of nuclear weapons that they already
have. What can you point to in the record over the last year by your administration,
for Americans to look at and say, this President has produced results?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes. I think that one of the things that is important to
understand in North Korea is that the past policy of trying to engage bilaterally
didn't work. In other words, the North Koreans were ready to engage, but
they didn't keep their word on their engagement. And that ought to be a clear
signal to policymakers of what to expect with North Korea.
Secondly, in my judgment, the best way to convince the North Koreans to
change their attitude about a nuclear weapons program is to have others in
the neighborhood assume responsibility, alongside the United States. So this
morning, interesting enough -- I'm glad you asked that question, because
I can tell you that I talked to Hu Jintao this morning -- not anticipation
of your question, but as part of an ongoing process to encourage him to stay
involved in the process of discussions with Mr. Kim Jong-il, all attempting
to say to him that it is a -- it is not in his nation's interest to continue
developing these weapons and we would like to see him dismantle those weapons
As well as, I told President Hu that I think it's very important for us
to get Japan and South Korea and Russia involved, as well. So the progress
that is being made is we're actually beginning to make serious progress about
sharing responsibility on this issue in such a way that I believe will lead
to an attitudinal change by Kim Jong-il, which will be very positive for
peace in the region.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President --
THE PRESIDENT: Kate.
QUESTION: That's right. Thank you, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: How long have you been -- how long have you been in the press
corps? You look like you just came.
QUESTION: Last week was my first week.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, congratulations.
QUESTION: Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: Be careful whose company you're keeping, though. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Mr. President, you often speak about the need for accountability in many
areas. I wonder then, why is Dr. Condoleezza Rice not being held accountable
for the statement that your own White House has acknowledged was a mistake
in your State of the Union address regarding Iraq's attempts to purchase
uranium? And also, do you take personal responsibility for that inaccuracy?
THE PRESIDENT: I take personal responsibility for everything I say, of course.
Absolutely. I also take responsibility for making decisions on war and peace.
And I analyzed a thorough body of intelligence -- good, solid, sound intelligence
-- that led me to come to the conclusion that it was necessary to remove
Saddam Hussein from power.
We gave the world a chance to do it. We had -- remember there's -- again,
I don't want to get repetitive here, but it's important to remind everybody
that there was 12 resolutions that came out of the United Nations because
others recognized the threat of Saddam Hussein. Twelve times the United Nations
Security Council passed resolutions in recognition of the threat that he
posed. And the difference was, is that some were not willing to act on those
resolutions. We were -- along with a lot of other countries -- because he
posed a threat.
Dr. Condoleezza Rice is an honest, fabulous person. And America is lucky
to have her service. Period.
QUESTION: Mr. President, with no opponent, how can you spend $170 million or more
on your primary campaign?
THE PRESIDENT: Just watch. (Laughter.) Keep going.
QUESTION: Yes, sir. And with 15 fundraisers scheduled between -- for the summer
months, do you worry about the perception that you're unduly attentive to
the interests of people who can afford to spend $2,000 to see you?
THE PRESIDENT: Michael, I think American people, now that they've realized
I'm going to seek reelection, expect me to seek reelection. They expect me
to actually do what candidates do. And so, you're right, I'll be spending
some time going out and asking the American people to support me. But most
of my time, as I say in my speeches -- as I'm sure you've been bored to tears
listening to -- is that there is a time for politics, and that's going to
be later on. I've got a lot to do. And I will continue doing my job. And
my job will be to work to make America more secure.
Steve asked a question about this al Qaeda possible attack. Every day I
am reminded that our nation is still vulnerable. Every day I'm reminded about
what 9/11 means to America. That's a lesson, by the way, I'll never forget,
the lesson of 9/11, because -- and I remember right after 9/11 saying that
this will be a different kind of war, but it's a war, and sometimes there
will be action, and sometimes there won't, but we're still threatened. And
I see that almost every day, Mike. And therefore, that is a major part of
And the other part of my job that I talked about is the economic security
of the American people. And I spend a lot of time on the economy, going out
and talking to the American people about the economy, and will continue to
But, no, listen, since I've made the decision to run, of course, I'm going
to do what candidates do. And we're having pretty good success, which is
-- it's kind of an interesting barometer, early barometer, about the support
Keil, Jeanne, and then Larry. Keil. Stretch. Super Stretch.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. As you said just a few moments ago, and say
frequently in your speeches, the deficit was caused variously by the war,
by recession, by corporate scandals, the 9/11 attacks. But just a couple
of weeks ago, on July 15th, the Office of Management and Budget put out a
report saying that without the tax cuts that Congress passed, the budget
would be back in surplus by 2008, but with those tax cuts factored in, we
have deficits that year and further years out of at least $200 billion --
to use the phrase, as far as the eye can see. Aren't tax cuts in part responsible
for the deficits, and does fact concern you? Are we now in a period where
we have deficits as far as the eye can see?
THE PRESIDENT: We would have had deficits with or without tax cuts, for
this reason: The slowdown in the economy, the decline in the stock market
starting March of 2000, plus the recession, reduced the amount of revenues
coming into the federal treasury. Secondly, we spent money on the war. And
we spent money on homeland security. My attitude is, if we're going to put
our troops into harm's way, they must have the very best. And there's no
doubt we increased our budgets on defense and homeland security. So there
would be recessions.
And so, given the -- I mean, there would be deficits. So given the fact
that we're in a recession, which had it gone on longer than it did could
have caused even more revenues to be lost to the treasury, I had a policy
decision to make. And I made the decision to address the recession by a tax
cut. And so part of the deficit, no question, was caused by taxes. About
25 percent of the deficit. The other 75 -- 50 percent caused by lack of revenues
and 25 percent caused by additional spending on the war on terror.
Now, we have laid out a plan which shows that the deficit will be cut in
half over the next five years. And that's good progress toward deficit reduction.
That's assuming Congress holds the line on spending. I presented them with
a 4-percent increase in the discretionary budget, to help them hold the line
on spending. They passed the budget. Now they've got to meet the budget in
their appropriations process.
My first concern, Dick, was for those folks who couldn't find a job. And
I addressed unemployment and addressed economic stagnancy with a tax cut
that affected growth -- or the lack of growth -- in a positive way. And I'm
optimistic about our economy. But I'm not going to stop working until people
can find a job who are looking for work.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. Staying with that theme, although there are
some signs of improvement in the economy, there are sectors in the work force
who feel like they're being left behind. They're concerned about jobs going
overseas, that technology is taking over jobs. And these people are finding
difficulty finding work. And although you're recommitted yourself to your
tax cut policy, do you have any ideas or any plans within the administration
of what you might do for these people who feel like there are fundamental
changes happening in the work force and in the economy?
THE PRESIDENT: Sure. Listen, I fully understand what you're saying. In other
words, as technology races through the economy, a lot of times worker skills
don't keep up with technological change. And that's a significant issue that
we've got to address in the country.
I think my idea of reemployment accounts makes a lot of sense. In essence,
it says that you get $3,000 from the federal government to help you with
training, day care, transportation, perhaps moving to another city. And if,
within a period of time, you're able to find a job, you keep the balance
as a reemployment bonus.
I know the community colleges provide a very important role in worker training,
worker retraining. I look forward to working with our community colleges
through the Department of Education, coordinate closely with states, particularly
in those states in which technology is changing the nature of the job force.
I've always found the community college -- and this is from my days as the
governor of Texas -- found the community college to be a very appropriate
place for job training programs because they're more adaptable, their curriculums
are easier to change, they're accessible. Community colleges are all over
And -- but you're right. I mean, I think we need to make sure that people
get the training necessary to keep up with the nature of the jobs, as jobs
Lawrence. USA Today.
QUESTION: Mr. President, you've been involved now in the Mideast peace process,
and have certainly learned firsthand how developments like creation of a
fence can complicate progress. Based on that, when you stood there about
a year ago and proposed your road map, you spoke about a Palestinian state
in 2005. Do you think that goal is still realistic, or is it likely to slide
just because it's so hard to make headway?
THE PRESIDENT: I do think it's realistic. I also know when we start sliding
goals, it makes progress less realistic. Absolutely, I think it's realistic.
And I think we're making pretty good progress in a short period of time.
I'm impressed by Prime Minister Abbas' vision of a peaceful Palestinian
state. I believe him when he says that we must rout out terror in order for
a Palestinian state to exist. I believe he's true. I think Mr. Dahlan, his
Security Chief, also recognizes that.
And we've got to help those two leaders in a couple of ways to realize that
vision of a peaceful Palestinian state. One is to provide help and strategy
to Mr. Dahlan so that he can lead Palestinian security forces to the dismantlement
of bomb-making factories, rocket-making factories, inside Gaza and the West
Bank. That's going to be a very important part of earning the confidence
of the world, for that matter. We've also got to recognize that there are
things that can happen on the ground that will strengthen Mr. Abbas' hand,
relative to the competition, moving -- for example, movement throughout the
So I spent time talking to Prime Minister Sharon yesterday about checkpoints.
We discussed the difference between a checkpoint for security purposes, and
a checkpoint that might be there that's -- that isn't -- there for inconvenience
purposes. Let me put it to you that.
We talked about all the thorny issues. But the most important thing is that
we now have an interlocutor in Mr. Abbas who is committed to peace, and who
believes in the aspirations of the Palestinian people.
One of the most interesting visits I've had on this issue took place in
the Oval Office there with the Finance Minister of the Palestinian Authority.
I was pleased to discover that he -- I think he received a degree from the
University of Texas, which gave me even more confidence when he spoke. But
he is a -- he talked about how a free state, free country, will flourish
when the Palestinians are just given a chance.
See, he believes in the Palestinian people to the point where he's willing
to take risk for peace. As I understand it, he's put the Palestinian budget
on the web page. That's -- that's what we call transparency in the diplomatic
world. It means that he's willing to show the finances to make it clear they're
not stealing money -- is another way to put it. That's a positive development,
So I -- what I first look at is attitudes. I also believe Prime Minister
Sharon is committed to a peaceful Palestinian state. He's committed because
he understands that I will in no way compromise the security of the Israeli
people, or the Palestinian people, for that matter, to terror; that he knows
when I say we're willing to fight terror, we mean it, because we proved it.
I thought it was interesting yesterday, by the way, that he spoke clearly
about Iraq and the importance of Iraq in terms of Middle Eastern peace, as
well. And I believe he's right on that. I believe that a free Iraq will make
it easier to achieve peace in that part of the world. I also know that we've
got to get others in the neighborhood to continue to remind certain countries
that it will be frowned upon if they destabilize the process.
The stated objective of Iran is the destruction of Israel, for example.
And we've got to work in a collective way with other nations to remind Iran
that they shouldn't develop a nuclear weapon. It's going to require more
than one voice saying that, however. It's going to require a collective effort
of the Europeans, for example, to recognize the true threat of an armed Iran
to achieving peace in the Middle East. And -- but I'm pleased by the attitudes.
You know, when I was in Aqaba, I don't know if you remember, but I asked
Prime Minister Sharon and Prime Minister Abbas to go outside. I wanted to
watch the body language, first and foremost, just to make sure we weren't
fooling ourselves, that when leaders commit to being able to work with each,
you can get a pretty good sense of that commitment.
What was also interesting on the outside meeting -- I mean, it was a very
cordial discussion, and there was the desire for these leaders to talk. And
they have talked since the Aqaba meeting, and that's a positive development.
But what was also interesting, as Condi reported to me later, to watch the
discussions between the different -- both Cabinets. And we were watching
carefully to determine if there's the will for peace. We have found a person
who has got the will to work for peace. And that's Prime Minister Abbas.
We'll work through the issues that are nettlesome. And there will be some
big issues that come along. But the first thing that has to happen is the
Palestinian people have got to realize there's hope in a free society. And
if they choose the leader that is most likely to -- choose to back the leader
that is most likely to deliver that hope.
QUESTION: I want to ask you about something else in your State of the Union.
THE PRESIDENT: Okay.
QUESTION: You spoke and got great applause from both sides of the aisle about a
new initiative in Africa for AIDS. You mentioned the figure, $15 billion
over three years. When the AIDS community and some of the activists got into
the budget, they said when they saw your budget, they said it was really
a little less than that. And these conversations have gone back and forth,
and they said, really more like $10 billion in new money. And then somebody
told me it was really more like $400 million for the first year. I want to
ask you here, in the Rose Garden, will you reiterate that $15-billion figure
and make sure, personally, that it's really delivered to Africa?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, I will, Carl, absolutely, $15 billion. Now, that's not
new money. The person who said, it's $15 billion on top of that which we're
already -- $10 billion on top of that which we're already spending equals
the $15 billion. Secondly, there is some discussion about the first year
budget. In other words, we didn't send a budget -- $15 billion over five
-- we didn't send up $3 billion. We sent up something less than $3 billion,
because we didn't think the program could ramp up fast enough to absorb that
amount of money early.
So it's not -- people then say, well, wait a minute, he doesn't believe
what he said. Well, that's just simply not true. As a matter of fact, after
my trip to Africa, I know we're doing the right thing, even more.
But the OMB came up with a plan that allows for a smaller amount in the
beginning -- I think it's about a little less than $2.5 billion, initially,
and it ramps up more in the out-years, as the program is capable of absorbing
a lot of money.
You know, one of the things we looked for over there in Africa was whether
or not countries could absorb money. In other words, whether -- for example,
was the distribution system for antiretrovirals in place? It doesn't make
any sense to load up on antiretrovirals if the distribution system won't
get them out. In other words, there's some things some countries have to
do to prepare for the arrival of a lot of money, and we recognize that, Carl.
The commitment is there, absolutely. And a matter of fact, we're doing the
right thing in Africa. The American people have got to understand that we're
a blessed country, and when we find the kind of suffering that exists in
Africa, we will help. And we are.
QUESTION: Liberia question?
THE PRESIDENT: You want to ask a Liberian question? Please do.
QUESTION: Thank you. Do you expect American troops to be landing in any large force
in Liberia soon? And how far can the U.S. go in other international conflicts?
When are we stretched too thin?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, very good question. First of all, the conditions that
I laid out for the Liberian rescue mission still exist. Charles Taylor must
go, the cease-fire must be in place, and we will be there to help ECOWAS.
And so we're working to get those conditions in place. And we will continue
working to get them in place until they are in place, at which point we will
then take the necessary steps to get ECOWAS in place, so that we can deliver
aid and help to suffering Liberians.
I also want to remind you, I also said the troop strength will be limited,
and the time frame will be limited. And we're working on that. The idea,
of course, is to go in, stabilize the situation, get the NGOs moving back
in to -- to their positions to be able to help deliver aid, and then work
immediately with the United Nations to provide blue helmets -- maybe blue
helmets, some of the ECOWAS forces in place, provide other blue helmets;
and that the United Nations would then take up the peacekeeping mission,
as well as the political mission, in order to provide the framework for a
transition to democracy. And, hopefully, that will help stabilize the situation.
I think it will.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask you about Iran, one of your other countries in the axis
of evil. One of the things we learned from that march to war is that when
you start warning countries, they better pay attention. Are we now in the
early stages of a march to war in Iran? Or are they more like in the category
of North Korea?
THE PRESIDENT: No, I -- look, Hutch, I remember right after Iraq the first
thing that happened out of -- out of some writers' pens was that, oh, no,
they're getting ready to attack either Syria or Iran. You know, the march
to war is just a campaign that's just going to march everywhere.
I -- all options remain on the table. I believe that the best way to deal
with the Iranians at this point in time is to convince others to join us
in a clear declaration that the development of a nuclear weapon is not in
their interests. I believe a free Iraq will affect the lives of Iranians.
I want to thank the diaspora here in the United States, particularly in L.A.
-- which reminds me, my last question is going to Ed. And -- so you can prepare
for it, Ed. We've got a lot of our fellow citizens who are in e-mail contact,
phone contact with people who live throughout Iran. And I want to thank them
Interestingly enough, there's a TV station that I think has been -- people
have read about that is broadcast out of L.A. by one of our citizens. He's
-- he or she has footed the bill. It's widely watched. The people of Iran
are interested in freedom, and we stand by their side. We stand on the side
of those who are desperate for freedom in Iran. We understand their frustrations
in living in a society that is totalitarian in nature. And now is the time
for the world to come together, Ron, to send a clear message.
And so I spent time with Prime Minister Berlusconi on the ranch, and I talked
to him about the need for the EU to send a very clear message, along with
the United States. As you know -- some of you have been on the trips with
me to Russia, and you remember me talking with my friend Vladimir Putin about
the need to be mindful of the Iranians' desire to have nuclear weapon. We're
making progress there. I really believe that we can solve this issue peacefully,
but this is an issue that's going to require a concerted effort by nations
around the world to work with the United States, particularly in Europe,
to speak clearly to the Iranian administration.
The other thing that's interesting about Iran is that they do have al Qaeda.
They've admitted they got al Qaeda. Now, that's positive, that the al Qaeda
is not talking to anybody. I mean, I would rather them be held somewhere
other than out moving around, plotting and planning. And I would just hope
the Iranians would listen to the request of countries in their neighborhood
to turn them over. In other words, some of the countries of origin for these
al Qaeda operatives have asked for those al Qaeda detainees to be sent back
to the country of origin. It would be very helpful for the Iranians to make
Ed, last question.
QUESTION: Mr. President --
THE PRESIDENT: Hold on for a minute, please.
QUESTION: Good morning, Mr. President. Since California is on your mind, I'd like
to ask you about the recall campaign. Since you're not only the leader of
this country, but as someone who came into office under extraordinarily partisan
circumstances, do you view this recall, which was funded almost entirely
by one wealthy Republican who would like to be governor, as a legitimate,
democratic exercise? And do you have a candidate in this fight, since one
of the potential successors is somebody you've backed before?
THE PRESIDENT: Ed, let me tell you how I view it. I've got a lot of things
on my mind, and I view it like a interested political observer would view
it. You know, it's kind of a -- we're not used to recalls in Texas, for example,
thankfully. I think that -- I think the most important opinion is not mine,
but it's the people of California. Their opinion is what matters on a recall.
It's their decision to decide whether or not there will be a recall, which
they decided. Now they get to decide who the governor is going to be. And
that's really my only comment I've got.
Listen, thank you all very much for giving me a chance to come and answer
some of your questions. For those of you who are traveling to Crawford, gosh,
did you luck out. And we look forward to seeing you there. (Laughter.) Thank