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President Bush Holds Press Conference with Nigerian President

Aired November 2, 2001 - 11:50   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: At the White House, here is the president, with the president of Nigeria.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm proud to welcome President Obasanjo back to the White House. We've just had a very good visit. We discussed our mutual concern, our mutual desire, and that is to fight and win the war against terror. The president has been a steadfast friend of the United States government and the United States people, before and after September 11. For that, we're most grateful.

He's got a huge Muslim population in his country, and I assured him and assure those Muslims who live in his country, that our war that we now fight is against terror and evil; it's not against Muslims.

We both understand that the Islamic faith teaches peace, respects human life. It is nonviolent. And I want to thank the president's leadership in sending, not only a message of tolerance and respect but also his vision, which I share, that our struggle is going to be long and difficult, but we will prevail, we will win.

Good will overcome evil. Part of the reason why is we've got a strong coalition, and the president's a part of that coalition.

So welcome, Mr. President.

OLUSEGUN OBASANJO, PRESIDENT OF NIGERIA: Mr. President, thank you for receiving me once again at the White House. Of course, we have come this time to express solidarity, to express support, to express condolence for the terrorist attack on this country and innocent people of all faiths and of all races on the 11th of September.

We have no doubt in our mind that terrorism must be fought. And it must be fought to a standstill, and as you have rightly said, you must distinguish and you must make people to understand that there is difference between fighting terrorism, and it doesn't matter what mask the terrorist wears, and, of course, the love that we have for humanity and the love that we have for men and women of all faith.

I want to particularly commend your effort, Mr. President, for the way you have built up the coalition, because the tendency and the feeling we need to do something quickly, to take time to build the coalition, and as rightly said, we are part of that coalition and we will remain steadfastly part of that coalition.

We, as you said, we are unique in a way, because we have the highest population of Muslims in Africa. We are also unique in the fact that almost 50 percent of our population are Muslims and almost 50 percent are Christians. That has advantage and also has disadvantage. It is up to us to let our people, the citizens of our country, know that whatever faith they belong to, they are not safe as a long as we allow terrorism to take hold of the world.

Whatever ideal they stand for, their ideal will amount to nothing if terrorism rules the world. Whatever ambition or aspirations they have, their ambition and aspiration will come to naught if terrorism is allowed to take over the ruling of the world.

And as I said to the president, if leaders who are brought into power through democratic means will abandon their responsibility to terrorists, then they might as well go home. The president, in that case, will have to go back to his ranch, and in that case, I will have to go back to my chicken farm.


OBASANJO: But we are not going to do that, because that would be the height of irresponsibility. We have a duty, we have a commitment, and we believe that the duty and the commitment we have and the duty and commitment given to us by our people, and we shall not shirk that responsibility.

I believe that the coalition -- I know you are (OFF-MIKE) I believe that the coalition has the challenge -- the challenge to fight terrorism, and also the challenge to make the world wholesome, more equitable, fairer and safer for all of us to live in.

I believe that the coalition should not relax until that objective is achieved, and I believe that we have a leader in President Bush to ensure that the world achieve that objective.

BUSH: Very eloquent. Thank you.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) President Bush, why did it take so long to have an African leader visit here when African leaders have made such firm statements of sympathy and statements of condemnation of the terrorists?

BUSH: One of the first phone calls I received was from President Obasanjo.

His support has never been -- has never wavered. There's no question about where we stood in the coalition. And I'm proud to have him by my side.

QUESTION: Sir, is it still your position that the bombing campaign was (OFF-MIKE)

BUSH: We still have the same objective, and that is for the Taliban to hand over Al Qaeda, the leaders to release those who are being detained and to destroy and terrorist training camps. And they've been given ample times to meet those demands, and now they're paying a price for not having met the demands.


QUESTION: Can you tell us a little bit more about what you discussed in terms of reaching out to young people in Muslim countries and addressing the poverty and the despair that they feel so that they do not become foot soldiers for terrorist networks?

And for President Obasanjo, could you tell us how you plan to deal with the military action in east-central Nigeria last week, where some civilians were killed?

BUSH; We did spend time talking about the totality of a war against terror not only requires strong military action, strong diplomatic action, strong financial action, but also recognizes that we need to share a message that our respective governments respect tolerance, respect other points of view. We don't share the point of view that evil is religious. We don't appreciate the fact that somebody has tried to hijack a religion in order to justify terror activities.

And we also recognize that economic prosperity throughout the world is more likely to make people appreciate rule of law, appreciate other people's points of view. That's one reason why I've been such a strong supporter of AGOA, which is the African trade act. That's why I believe we ought to start a new round at Qatar, a new round for world trade. I mean, I believe prosperity can best be enhanced by a world that trades in freedom. And I think that's a significant part of making sure people are able to rise out of poverty.

But on the other hand, I don't accept the excuse that poverty promotes evil. That's like saying poor people are evil people. I disagree with that.

Osama bin Laden's an evil man. His heart has been so corrupted that he's willing to take innocent life.

And we're fighting evil, and we'll continue to fight evil. And we will not stop until we defeat evil.

Anyway, have you got a question for the president?

QUESTION: On the actions in east-central Nigeria, by the Nigerian military in which some civilians were killed?

OBASANJO: Well, maybe you don't know what happened. Let me just put you into exactly what happened. That is in an area where there have been some clashes between two or three groups, between the (INAUDIBLE) and the Fulani. And these have been going on for, maybe 15, 10 years. OBASANJO: At times, it goes down; at times it goes up. And this time when it went up, the governors of the two states where this happened -- Taraba state (INAUDIBLE) state, separately invited to the military, through me, to take care of what they called the lawlessness of young men who put illegal roadblocks on either side of the state boundary, and if you do not belong to their ethnic group, they take you and kill you. And then we send soldiers there to clear the roadblock and keep this menace out of the way.

And they did that. And the last roadblock in a place called (INAUDIBLE) the soldiers were ambushed and taken, disarmed and killed, and their bodies were dismembered -- chopped up. And then I got in touch with the governor, and I said, "Do everything to apprehend those who committed this heinous crime, and hand them over to us."

After three days, he called me and said, "I have failed; I will ask you to send soldiers to help me in apprehending these people." And that's what we did.


QUESTION: Now that you're a wartime president, sir, interest in your decisionmaking processes and those that you involve your staff in is going to be greater than even normal times. And yet the executive order that you signed yesterday makes it harder for journalists, scholars, historians to write anything about the decisions you're going to be making and have made, even sympathetically. And I wonder why you took that action?

BUSH: We responded to a new law written by Congress that lays out a procedure that I think is fair for past presidents.

And it is a process that I think will enable historians to do their job and at the same time protect state secrets. That's why I did what I did.

QUESTION: Will they be able to get their hands on documents...

BUSH: Some documents that -- are privileged and protected, and this is just to make sure those documents remain protected and privileged. I don't see this as anything other than setting a set of procedures that I believe is fair and reasonable.

QUESTION: Mr. President, Director of Homeland Security Governor Ridge has just said that the state of alert, which was introduced last Monday, the high state of alert is now indefinite. A lot of Americans are rattled by what they see as a mixed message, being told to go about their business on the one hand and yet having to look for some unspecified threat on the other. What's your message?

BUSH: I wasn't rattled when I went out and threw out the ball at Yankee Stadium right after I had instructed the Justice Department to inform 17,000 law enforcement agencies to be aware, to harden targets, to harden assets.

Most Americans understand that there is a new day here in America. They appreciate the efforts the government is making, and they're going to fight terrorism by going about their daily lives.

But what Governor Ridge is saying and what I've been saying all along is, we're in a new day here in America. We're fighting a two- front war. And I believe that most Americans understand that now. And I appreciate the courage of most Americans.

But we have a responsibility at the government to protect the people, and when we see something that we think is credible, we hear something that might be real, we're going to notify the respective authorities to help harden targets.

QUESTION: Mr. President, given that these terror alerts are indefinite, should the American people conclude that despite the bombing campaign, that Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda network are no less potent or able to conduct a terror campaign than they were before 9/11 attack?

BUSH: As a matter fact, I think that the American people ought to conclude that our enemy is fighting an army not only overseas but at home, that the enemy is being hunted down, abroad and at home. We've detained over a thousand people here in America. We're running down every single lead.

We're hardening assets. We're on the hunt. We're going to chase them down.

And the American people fully understand that we're in for a long struggle. And I appreciate the patience of the American people.

We are making progress overseas in Afghanistan. We're slowly but surely tightening the net on the enemy. We're making it harder for the enemy to communicate. We're making it harder for the enemy to protect himself. We're making it harder for the enemy to hide.

And we're going to get him and them.

And, you know, there are some that say, "Well, shouldn't this have happened yesterday?" This is not an instant gratification war. This is a struggle for freedom and liberty. This is a struggle for the ability for America and America's children to live in peace. This is a struggle for the people of this good man's country to be able to love in peace.

And that's why I can assure our allies, assure the American people that for so long as I'm the president this will be my focus. And we're making very good progress.

QUESTION: Mr. President, were you surprised, even if you weren't looking for instant gratification, at the resilience of the Taliban regime under these attacks? And are you concerned, sir, about the future, about the disarray among the people who may take over Afghanistan if the Taliban should fall?

BUSH: We've been at this part of the battle for a couple of weeks. And as I explained to the American people, this is going to be a long struggle.

And I am very satisfied and the American people should be satisfied with the progress we're making on the ground. The Taliban's air defenses have been completely demolished. Their assets -- whatever assets they had have been demolished. And we're slowly but surely tightening the net to achieve our objective.

This is a different kind of war. The country's been used to, you know, Desert Storm, or has been used to Kosovo where we were able to have massive formations marching across the desert and/or simply an air campaign that eventually brought a country to its knees. This is a different type of struggle and our strategy reflects that. I believe the American people understand that and are very patient, as am I.

I am mindful of the objective. The military is mindful of the objective in Afghanistan. But the objective goes beyond just Afghanistan. That's why we're working on the financial front to cut off money. That's why I've encouraged nations all around the world to apprehend those who are known terrorists, and over 280 have been arrested thus far. That's why this coalition is so important that it remain strong to raise the risks for those who would like to conduct terrorist activities. That's why we stand in solidarity with the Philippines, for example, that is working hard to get rid of Abu Sayyaf.

In other words, this is a global battle. There happen to be two known fronts, two visible fronts -- one, Afghanistan; and the other, the United States of America. And we're making good progress on both fronts.

QUESTION: Mr. President, could you tell us, sir, why the administration made the deal it did this morning in the Microsoft case, and what you would say to the state attorneys general who feel the concessions are so great they're walking away?

BUSH: I think you need to talk to the attorney general on that, if you don't mind.

QUESTION: Mr. President, two quick unrelated questions -- number one, have you made a decision and have you ruled out stopping or lessening the military action during Ramadan?

And number two, if you could just comment on how California Governor Davis handled that FBI alert yesterday, and if you think your administration wants to issue any guidelines for state and local authorities to handle this in the future?

BUSH: Well, as a former governor, I didn't particularly care when the federal government tried to tell me how to do my business. When I was a governor of Texas, I was elected by the people of Texas, and I handled my state's business the way I thought was necessary. And I think any governor should be able to conduct their business the way they see fit.

I think what should be noticed is that we are constantly in touch with state and local authorities as to general and/or specific threats. Part of the homeland defense is active and strong communications, so that governors and/or local authorities can harden targets, respond to uncorroborated evidence and to protect their people.

First part of the question? This is the old two-part question.

QUESTION: Ramadan...

BUSH: It's one of the old press tricks, Mr. President. You allow one question and then they ask two.

QUESTION: Have you made (OFF-MIKE) ruling out stopping or lessening the military action during Ramadan?

BUSH: I'll let our military speak to that. My own personal attitude is that the enemy won't rest during Ramadan and neither will we. We're going to pursue this war until we achieve our objective.

As to the specific times and dates, we'll let the military speak to that. They're in charge of this operation. This is not a political campaign; this is a war. And I respect the chain of command, I honor the chain of command. And I will tell you our military is doing a very good job.

QUESTION: What do you have to say to Americans who are concerned they haven't heard a clear answer on how this anthrax got to this woman in New York, how it killed her, and who are afraid it could happen to them?

BUSH: I would say to the American people that we're learning a lot about anthrax, and we're doing everything we can to find out all the facts. And when we get the facts, we'll share it with the American people.

I will also say to the American people, I believe that the hard work of our public health officials has saved lived. I believe the fact that we've got people all around our country working hours upon hours have helped save life in America. And for that, the American people are grateful and so am I.

Mr. President, thank you all.

AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: President Bush, after meeting with Nigerian president, meeting with reporters -- a very spirited defense there at the end of both the war plan and how it is going, as well as how the public health community has handled the anthrax cases and the anthrax scare, for which the administration generally has taken some criticism for, how it has handled the message. The president, at one point, when asked about this balance between security and normal life, simply said, Americans understand that.

He was asked -- and this was perhaps the most eyebrow-raising moment here, if I understood him correctly -- he was asked about progress both on war front and at home at controlling terrorists, and he went through a list, and he said, so far, talking about how law enforcement in the United States has dealt with this, there are 1,000 people detained now. I'm not sure that is precisely what the president meant. I don't know that he precisely meant to suggest those 1,000 people are all in some way connected to al Qaeda. It would surprise me if that is precisely what meant, but we will talk to Kelly Wallace, who is our White House correspondent.

In any case, it was very spirited defense, no criticism of Gray Davis, the California governor, for coming out with a statement last night that they were concerned about bridges in the West that might be targets of attack by terrorists over the next several days, which has caused some concern out west.




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