Kelly Wallace: The Bush anti-terrorism strategy
Kelly Wallace is a CNN White House correspondent. She joined the CNN.com chat room from Washington, D.C.
CNN: Hello and welcome back to CNN.com, Kelly Wallace.
WALLACE: Great to be with you.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: Kelly, does the president feel the speech [he gave about homeland defense] is necessary because of the mounting criticism of his administration's handling of the whole situation?
WALLACE: Administration officials say the speech is not in response to criticism. They say the president felt this was the right time to go before the American people to give them an update. But senior administration officials also concede that things have not always been handled perfectly -- they acknowledge there were times when different agencies were presenting different information, and they also understand that the general FBI alerts, warning of imminent terrorist attacks, can create some anxiety as well. So, while aides say the speech is not in response to criticisms, it certainly is an opportunity to put some of those criticisms to rest and to send a coherent message about what the federal government knows and how it is trying to keep people safe. This is a challenging time for the president because polls lately show that only about 50% of Americans believe the White House has a well thought-out plan for dealing with bioterrorism, and some Americans are growing concerned the administration does not know who is behind the anthrax-laced letters.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: What are the White House expectations from the U.N. summit next week?
WALLACE: Aides say the president will use the U.N. meeting to sound "the call" once again for countries around the world to take concrete steps to fight terrorism. Look for the president to say that words of sympathy and support are not enough, that all countries need to take actions against terrorists and those who harbor them. Beyond that, this meeting, the president's first appearance at the U.N. since he took office, will give Mr. Bush a chance to have several one-on-one talks with a number of world leaders, providing another opportunity to shore up the coalition. One area where it doesn't appear there will be a great deal of progress is on the Middle East.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has announced he won't be attending the U.N. meeting, and earlier Thursday the Palestinians indicated that Yasser Arafat might not attend. If Arafat does attend, he would meet with Secretary of State Colin Powell but would not have a meeting with President Bush. Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, had some strong words today, saying that Arafat needs to do more to fight terrorism and indicating no meeting is planned between the two men. So, while at one time, there were hopes for some real progress in reducing tensions in the Middle East at the U.N. meeting, that does not appear to be likely.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: Hi Kelly, how well do you think the relationship is working out between President Bush and Prime Minister Blair at both a political and personal level?
WALLACE: The two men do seem to be developing a close personal and professional relationship. It does not appear to be anything like the closeness we saw between President Clinton and the British prime minister, but the two men do seem to be fond of each other and comfortable in meetings. The September 11 attacks have certainly deepened that bond. That is something Tony Blair stressed during an interview on CNN's "Larry King Live" this week. He said the two men talk on the phone a number of times a week and both remain strongly committed to his campaign against terrorism. So I would say they were developing a good relationship before the terrorist attacks, but that relationship has been strengthened. And of course, this relationship is very important since Great Britain is the United States' closest ally in the campaign. In fact, I heard one commentator say that Blair was doing so much work for the U.S.-led coalition, he could be described as almost like another Secretary of State.
CNN: What's on the president's agenda next week?
WALLACE: Next week will be another busy week. The president hosts a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. But even before the meetings get underway, U.S. officials are downplaying any expectations of any major breakthrough on missile defense. At issue is the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty which bars the U.S. from pursuing such a system. The president says the treaty should be scrapped, but Putin says it is important for stability. Putin did indicate a willingness to discuss amending the treaty but also wants cuts in both countries' nuclear arsenals. The message from the White House again is don't expect a deal with a neat little ribbon tied around it this week, that this is a work in progress. So look for those meetings next week in Washington and in Crawford. And also look for more pressure to build on the administration as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan approaches. Some Arab and Muslim countries have expressed concern about military action continuing during Ramadan. The message from the president is that the enemy won't rest and neither will we.
CNN: Thanks for joining us this evening, Kelly. Do you have any closing comments you would like to share with us?
WALLACE: Great to be with you. Look forward to hearing what you thought of the president's speech next week! Thanks for the questions. Talk to you next week.
Kelly Wallace joined the CNN.com chat room from Washington DC. She typed for herself. This is an edited transcript of the interview, which took place on Thursday, November 8, 2001.
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