Discusses Foreign Policy and Domestic Issues with Reporters
Vandenberg Elementary School
May 6, 2002
11:23 A.M. EDT
QUESTION: -- that he absolutely has to talk to Yasser Arafat in order to get
to peace negotiations?
THE PRESIDENT: You know, I'm going to have a private conversation with Ariel
Sharon, and would rather that my conversation -- what I'm going to tell him
and discuss with him be done and he be the first to know about it --
QUESTION: Has he talked with you about the documents he has?
THE PRESIDENT: I talk to him all the time. But if you're asking about Chairman
Arafat, I have been asked -- if I have been asked once, I've been asked 20 times
about him. He has disappointed me. He must lead. He must show the world that
he believes in peace. And we have laid out conditions for all parties in order
to achieve peace -- all parties -- Arab nations, Israel, Chairman Arafat and
the Palestinian party must assume their responsibilities and lead.
This is a series of discussions we're having, with not only with Prime Minister
Sharon; as you know, King Abdullah is coming, as well. It follows up on meetings
I've had with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, as well as the King of Morocco.
I will continue to have further meetings as we begin to bring -- coalesce the
world around a vision for peace.
QUESTION: But are the Israelis making it any more difficult by seeming to say
that Arafat is not someone they can deal with at all?
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, I think they express disappointment in his ability to lead.
I mean, after all, right before we had our security agreement done, a shipload
of ammunition shows up and could probably be aimed at the Israeli citizens.
So there's a high level of disappointment.
But I haven't had a chance to talk with Prime Minister Sharon in recent days.
I look forward to hearing what he has to say. Part of the goal of the United
States is to lay out a vision for peace, which I have done, and then encourage
people to assume their responsibility necessary to achieve the peace. And that's
why it's so important, for example, that the Arab world be very much involved
in a peace process, in discussions for toward peace. And we are -- I think we're
making some progress, and I appreciate that.
QUESTION: Mr. President, what's your reaction to Myanmar's release of Aung San
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, I thought that was very positive, a good development.
QUESTION: Mr. President, this week you're talking about domestic issues. Are
you afraid that people are losing their attention to those during the war?
THE PRESIDENT: No, Mike, I think that people around America know how important
public education is, particularly moms and dads and principals and teachers.
Public education is on the minds of our citizens every day, because our citizens
see public schools in their neighborhoods and our citizens know how important
public education is for the future.
So I will spend as much time as necessary to herald success in our public schools
and to remind people of the implementation plan that the Secretary of Education
is selling, promoting around the country. We've got to get public schools right.
We've got to make sure every child is educated. A lot of schools are making
really good progress, some aren't. Those schools that aren't making good progress
need to change.
Yes, Martha, last question.
QUESTION: Secretary Paige, as well as your wife, has been traveling around talking
about education. I'm wondering if you could mention what you think her greatest
contribution has been to your education policy?
THE PRESIDENT: You know, Laura's a former teacher -- I guess you're never a
former teacher, you're always a teacher. (Laughter.) She's not in the classroom
-- and she understands the importance of teaching, teacher training, teacher
recruitment. And one of the most significant contributions she has made and
will continue to make is to remind young Americans -- and old Americans, for
that matter -- that their talents and passion are needed in our classrooms.
You know, she pushed the Troops for Teacher Initiative, and she's got a way
about her that's pretty convincing. And I know she's going to convince a lot
of Americans about the importance of being a teacher.
Some school districts are short of teachers, and you've got to remind people
-- you know, one of my hopes is that as a result of the nation taking an assessment
of that which is important, that the idea of serving your community by being
a teacher becomes more paramount in student's minds, and Laura certainly is
going to herald that.
The other thing, of course, is reading. There's nothing more fundamental to
a good education system than making sure every child learns to read, and that
our schools use a curriculum that works. She's pretty good about that, too.
She's a great leader and a great advocate for literacy.
Listen, thank you all. You're watching democracy -- one of the core values of
democracy is a free press. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Yes, and don't forget it.
QUESTION: How free are we?
THE PRESIDENT: You're very free -- for how much we have to pay on a daily basis
to buy your newspapers. (Laughter.)