Opportunity with Columbian President Alvaro Uribe
The Oval Office
The White House
September 25, 2002
11:32 A.M. EDT
PRESIDENT BUSH: Thank you. Welcome. Here's what we're going to do. I am going
to give a statement, President Uribe will give a statement. I will call upon
an American journalist, the President will call upon a Colombian journalist.
I will then call upon another American journalist, the President will call upon
a Colombian journalist. And then you all will leave. (Laughter.)
Mr. President, welcome to the Oval Office. It is my honor to welcome this good
man, this friend of freedom to the Oval Office. I have been incredibly impressed
by his vision for a peaceful Colombia and a prosperous Colombia. He's a man
who told the people of his country that he would work to eradicate terrorism,
narco-trafficking. The Colombian people believe him, and so do I.
And today I want to affirm our country's strong desire to help the Colombian
government and the Colombian people prosper and to live in freedom. I appreciate
his leadership. I appreciate his strength of character. I appreciate his clear
So, Mr. President, bienvenidos a la Oval Office, aqui en la Casa Blanca.
PRESIDENT URIBE: Muchas gracias, Presidente. (continues to speak in Spanish.)
PRESIDENT BUSH: Thank you, sir.
Would you like that translated into English?
PRESIDENT URIBE: Thank you, Mr. President, for this warm welcome. We needed
the support of your country, the support of your government, your personal support
for my country to solve problems of violence, economic and social problems.
You have set up a very effective example of the way we need to go on to fight
and to defeat terrorism. We are, in necessity, to have allies such as you and
your government for Colombians to restore law and order, for Colombians to restore
a way of creating employment, of improvement of our standard of living.
Thank you, Mr. President.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Por nada. (Laughter.)
Patsy Wilson, Reuters.
QUESTION: Mr. President, do you believe that Saddam Hussein is a bigger threat to the
United States than al Qaeda?
PRESIDENT BUSH: That's a -- that is an interesting question. I'm trying to think
of something humorous to say. (Laughter.) But I can't when I think about al
Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. They're both risks, they're both dangerous. The difference,
of course, is that al Qaeda likes to hijack governments. Saddam Hussein is a
dictator of a government. Al Qaeda hides, Saddam doesn't, but the danger is,
is that they work in concert. The danger is, is that al Qaeda becomes an extension
of Saddam's madness and his hatred and his capacity to extend weapons of mass
destruction around the world.
Both of them need to be dealt with. The war on terror, you can't distinguish
between al Qaeda and Saddam when you talk about the war on terror. And so it's
a comparison that is -- I can't make because I can't distinguish between the
two, because they're both equally as bad, and equally as evil, and equally as
MR. FLEISCHER: Question for a Colombian reporter?
QUESTION: Mr. President Bush, the Colombian government is here asking for support from
the U.S. government, economic support, both with the Andean Trade Preference
Act and also maybe from the Department of Treasury. Is the government, the U.S.
government willing to help the Colombian government?
PRESIDENT BUSH: We're certainly willing to help the government and the Colombian
people realize a prosperous future. I've asked my Secretary of Treasury to be
here today to listen to the dialogue with the President. There will be further
discussions. The Andean Trade Preference Act has been renewed and revitalized
to the benefit of the Colombian economy.
We had a big discussion here in America, and I got a favorable vote out of our
Congress that I'm confident will benefit those who seek work in Colombia. We
look forward to working with international institutions to help this good man
and this good -- important country to grow and prosper.
And so the purpose of this visit is to not only talk about prosperity and economic
growth and vitality, but it's also to talk about how to fight terror. And I'm
looking forward to a good and active discussion.
QUESTION: Mr. President, are you politicizing the war? Do you think Americans should
base their vote in November in part on where a candidate stands on the war?
PRESIDENT BUSH: I think the American people ought to understand that life has
changed here in this country; that it used to be two oceans would separate us
from danger, that we were quite comfortable in our shores knowing that it would
take an unusual circumstance to be attacked. After September the 11th, we were
attacked, and the American people understand that this country must deal with
the true threats.
I am as determined today as I was on September the 11th to pursue an enemy which
still wants to hurt America. I am absolutely determined to make sure that 10
years from now we don't look back and say, what happened, why did America go
soft, why did we ignore true threats that face our people?
And I hope the American people understand that. I was concerned, of course,
after September the 11th, that as time went by, some might forget, some might
forget the true threats. Of course, I'm reminded of that every day when I come
here to the Oval Office that we face true threats. And, Terry, my job is to
protect the American people. It's my most important job, most important assignment
I have. And I will continue to do that, regardless of the season.
QUESTION: So it's a legitimate political issue?
PRESIDENT BUSH: Legitimate national security concern is what it is. You may
try to politicize it. I view it as my main obligation; that is to protect the
American people. It's the most important job this President will have, and it's
the most important job future Presidents will have, because the nature of war
has changed. We're vulnerable. And, therefore, I expect -- the American people
should expect me, and any President, to do everything we can to protect the
homeland. And I will, I'll do that.
QUESTION: Mr. President, a question for both. What are your reactions on the U.S. extradition
request of Colombian paramilitary leader Carlos Costano? And if you would also
answer, Colombia sent you a letter yesterday saying that there's no need to
sign a bilateral agreement with the U.S. in terms of the ICC that you are seeking
to sign with all other countries in the world. Do you think -- do you still
like a bilateral agreement with Colombia and those --
PRESIDENT BUSH: Yes, we want an Article 98 with all countries, absolutely. I
strongly reject the ICC. I'm not going to accept an ICC. I'm not going to put
ourselves in a position where our soldiers and diplomats get hauled into a court
over which we have got -- the prosecutors whom we don't know, the judges --
I mean, we're not going to allow ourselves to do that. And our friends shouldn't
want us to be put in that position. Therefore, we're seeking Article 98s from
And we will hold people to account. If they're a terrorist, we're going to hold
them to account. So the guy who got indicted yesterday made a decision to be
a terrorist; we made a decision to hold him to account. And we will continue
to do that. We believe that's part of our responsibility as freedom-loving people.
And I look forward to working with President Uribe to hold others to account,
if they continue to terrorize the world. And terrorism -- terrorists attacked
our country and hurt us. If they attack Colombia and hurt them, they're still
equally as guilty, as far as we're concerned. It doesn't matter who the victim
is. What matters is whether or not they're practicing terrorist activities.
And we will continue to fight terror. It's our obligation, our duty. History
has called us into action.