Discusses Missile Tests in Pakistan and Middle East
St. Petersburg, Russia
May 26, 2002
10:49 A.M. (Local)
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning, everybody.
QUESTION: Good morning, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: Today we've had a -- a beautiful morning. We've been to a church
and a synagogue. One of the non-negotiable demands of individual dignity is
freedom of religion, and I'm impressed by what I've heard from religious leaders,
Christian and Jewish, here about the state of affairs in Russia.
We went to a cathedral that up until recently was a museum of atheism, and today
it's a place where people can worship God freely.
We've been to a synagogue that was, even though open, was not a welcoming sight
for many Russians, and today it is a spectacular place for people to gather
and worship an Almighty God -- and worship an Almighty God freely.
And one of my strong beliefs is that people should be free to worship, and I'm
pleased that that's taking place here in Russia. It's important for this country
that religious freedom flourish and there be tolerance of all faiths.
And it's been a very rewarding morning for Laura and me, and we want to thank
our hosts and thank the Russian people. Last night, I was very impressed and
pleased to see so many Russians lining the streets and they were so welcoming
to the American delegation. We're making great progress in our strides toward
freedom -- I mean, toward friendship and our mutual respect of freedom.
Thank you for your hospitality.
QUESTION: Mr. President, yesterday Pakistan went ahead with their planned missile
THE PRESIDENT: Yes.
QUESTION: Do you think that has had any impact on the situation there? And do
you believe this is something they should have gone forward with at this point
THE PRESIDENT: As you know, we expressed our strong reservations about the tests.
Obviously, we hope that there is restraint in the area, that that not be viewed
as a provocation. We're continuing to work the diplomatic channels, as are other
nations. I mean, everybody understands the danger of a serious conflict in the
region. And slowly but surely we can erode the distrust that has arisen in the
area so that they can --
QUESTION: Do you think the situation is as tense and dangerous there now as
it was in January where, in hindsight, it appears they came very close to an
THE PRESIDENT: I think that any time you have countries with nuclear arms, that
a tension, serious tension is dangerous. And it's hard for me to measure the
degree of tension. Let's just say it's tense now and it was tense then. So we've
just got to continue to work the problem, and we will. I'm hopeful that we'll
be able to defuse the situation.
QUESTION: Mr. President, are you inclined to agree with your advisors who say
that we should deal with Chairman Arafat, or those who think he should be frozen
THE PRESIDENT: Well, you know, I get all kinds of advice. People know my opinion
about Chairman Arafat, and that is that he has let the Palestinian people down.
He hasn't delivered. He had a chance to secure the peace as a result of the
hard work of President Clinton and he didn't. He's had a chance to fight terror
and he hasn't. Evidently, there's a new attitude emerging among some of the
leadership in the Palestinian Authority and the answer is, we'll see. We'll
see if he can deliver.
The key for the -- for peace in the region, as far as I'm concerned, is for
the Arab world to continue to fight terror, to do what they say they're going
to do. We believe that that's happening more than ever. And that we develop
the institutions necessary so that a Palestinian state can emerge that will
be at peace with Israel. And that start -- first step is to have a security
force that actually keeps the security. As well as, the reforms ought to align
authority and responsibility so people can be held to account for success or
QUESTION: I just want to follow up and make sure I understand what you are saying,
when you're saying that apparently there's a new attitude in the Palestinian
Authority and we'll see. Are you --
THE PRESIDENT: Well, you're beginning to see talk of reform. You know, if you
read the press accounts, there's -- people are beginning to question out loud
as to why there hasn't been success. One of the things that we've been trying
to do is to say people must be responsible. My speech on April 4th called upon
-- outlined the responsibilities necessary to achieve peace.
So I'm beginning to hear -- this is publicly I'm beginning to hear, I might
add, discussion about well maybe we ought to assess how to make the Palestinian
Authority more accountable, and that's what I was referring to.
QUESTION: But you're not referring to any good words or deeds you're seeing
out of -- seeing out of Arafat. So are you saying that the time has now run
out on Arafat and we're not going to deal with him? Or he's still got a chance
to do it right?
THE PRESIDENT: No, what I'm saying is that what we need to do is develop the
institutions necessary for there to be a responsible Palestinian state. And
it starts with security.
One of the things that's interesting is when you talk to European leaders, there's
an interest about helping the Palestinian people, the Palestinians with economic
development. But it's hard to promote economic development when there is concerns
about graft and corruption. And so there needs to be -- there needs to be institutions
that will be transparent, institutions that will hold people responsible for
the expenditure of money, institutions necessary to make sure that the good
hearts of the world, when they apply to the Palestinian people, will be met
with good results.
QUESTION: Can I follow on Ron's question?
QUESTION: Sir --
QUESTION: Is Director Tenet going back to the region this coming week?
THE PRESIDENT: You've had a big day today, Stretch -- three questions.
QUESTION: It's because he's taller, you know.
QUESTION: That's a pool, because we all want to ask that one, though.
THE PRESIDENT: He's also booming. He's also booming out there with his question,
butting in. No -- anyway -- (laughter.)
QUESTION: My apologies to Patsy.
THE PRESIDENT: Poor Patsy, here she is trying to be dignified --
QUESTION: That was my question anyway.
THE PRESIDENT: It was your question?
QUESTION: Yes, I was trying to be dignified.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, would you like to ask it, so you can --
QUESTION: Sir, is Director Tenet going back to the region next week? (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: As you know, I expressed -- I said that I was going to send Director
Tenet back to the region. I haven't changed my mind.
QUESTION: Next week?
QUESTION: -- the role of Russia on the Middle East question?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, President Putin has been very helpful. And he's been helpful
because he has -- he has insisted that there be accountability and responsibility
in the region, and he has been a -- he makes it very clear that the Russian
government is -- rejects any kind of terrorist activities that disrupts the
peace process in a very strong voice for reason and for reasonable policy, and
I appreciate that a lot.