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President Bush Comments on the Crash of American Airlines Flight 587

Aired November 12, 2001 - 16:10   ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: President Bush found out about this crash just a matter of minutes. We were told a little while ago that he was handed a note by a military aide at the White House just about 10 minutes after the crash took place.

John King joins us now from the White House, where the president, John, has been meeting with former South African President Nelson Mandela. This will be the first time today that we've seen the president.

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We were not scheduled to see the president, Judy. This was to be a private meeting. But about a minute from now, I believe, you will see President Bush and former President Mandela -- that's the Oval Office door right there -- walking out into the Rose Garden.

There you see an aide opening the door for the president and the former president.

Mr. Bush was not scheduled to make any public appearances, but he has been updated throughout the day on the developments in New York, and he decided he should make a public statement. We are told he will express his condolences for those aboard the plane and their families as well as pledge his complete support to the city and the state of New York.

The president and Nelson Mandela. Let's listen in.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's been my honor to welcome a man whose name symbolizes freedom and courage to the Oval Office. President Mandela is going to say a few words and I will say some after he finishes. Welcome.

NELSON MANDELA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF SOUTH AFRICA: Well, firstly, I would like to express my deepest sympathies for the crash that took place today. It is unfortunate that that would happen at this time when the United States lost so many people on the 11th of September. But I know that you have got a strong leader, and the people of the United States of America can face disaster, and I'm sure that they will overcome this unfortunate incident.

I also want to say that one of the reasons for coming here is to be able to express my support for the president for his action in Afghanistan. The United States of America lost 5,000 innocent people, and it is quite correct for the president to ensure that the terrorists, both the masterminds as well as those who have executed the action and survived, are to be punished heavily.

It would be disastrous if the president gave in to the call that the Army must now withdraw before he has actually flushed out the terrorist.

MANDELA: That would be disaster. They will claim that they have defeated the United States of America and they will continue doing the same thing.

So I support him to continue until those terrorists have been tracked down.

BUSH: Mr. President, you don't have to worry about me. We are going to bring them to justice and I want to thank you for your support. I also want to thank you for your wisdom and your leadership in Burundi. You made a huge difference.

The president said why would -- why would I welcome a pensioner to the Oval Office? And the reason why is because he is such a strong man. And it's been my honor to greet you and welcome you.

And thank you for your words of condolences. I too want to express my heartfelt sympathies for the citizens of New York, those on the airplane, those whose houses were damaged, those who were hurt on the ground for the recent incident that took place. It is heartbreaking to have picked up the phone and called my friend Rudy Giuliani and Governor George Pataki and once again expressed our condolences, and at the same time, assured the people of New York our federal government will respond as quickly as possible. We sent our FEMA teams over. The FBI's over there. And this investigation is being lead by the National Transportation Safety Board to make sure that the facts are fully known to the American people.

The New York people have suffered mightily. They suffer again. But there's no doubt in my mind that the New Yorkers are resilient and strong and courageous people, and will help their neighbors overcome this recent incident that took place.

And may God bless the victims and their families.

Mr. President, welcome to Washington, and thank you for coming.

MANDELA: Thank you, thank you very much.

WOODRUFF: President Bush helping former South African President Nelson Mandela up the stairs there. We heard President Mandela saying his sympathies are with Americans, with New Yorkers. Because of today's accident, he said it is particularly hard coming on the heels of what happened on September 11th.

Then we heard President Bush expressing sympathy too, saying it was heartbreaking for him to have to put in a call to New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and to Governor George Pataki, to once again have to express condolences.

John King, I know that you are still with us. The president, I guess you would say, has fallen certainly reluctantly but comfortably into the role of someone who is having to help this nation along as it grieves.

KING: The president since the events of September 11th, yes, a great deal of empathy from the earliest days at the National Cathedral, a memorial service for the country, his visit up to New York.

Now once again, as he noted, a very difficult, heartbreaking phone call, he called it, to the mayor and to the governor.

Note the president's caution there, Judy, in the Rose Garden. The administration does not want to add to the anxiety of the country nor does it want to confuse people any further. In the early hours of such an investigation, information often conflicting. So the president would not take any questions there. He walked away when one reporter shouted the question, "Any evidence of terrorism here, sir?" Mr. Bush not wanting to answer that question.

White House official saying there is no evidence of terrorism. And you did hear the president say the National Transportation Safety Board is the lead agency in the investigation. That is the clearest indication we have that the administration is treating this, at least for now, as an accident. But White House officials saying they do not want to say anything that confuses people or creates any sense of anxiety. That is where the president being quite cautious in his remarks there.

We weren't supposed to hear from Mr. Bush at all. But the White House said they thought it was very important that the president wanted to come out and express his condolences and promise the full resources of the federal government. But they don't want to say much about this from the White House until they have much more information.

WOODRUFF: So, John, they are treating it as an accident, as you say, but of course, leaving no door closed. They are leaving all of the doors open potentially, because they want to make sure that any information that comes in is taken into consideration.

All right, John King at the White House, and President Bush having just finished a meeting with South Africa's president (sic), Nelson Mandela.




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