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Bush Press Conference

Aired November 26, 2001 - 10:35   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: From the White House, the president, with Dana Curry and Heather Mercer.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Good morning. I am so honored to welcome two courageous souls to the Rose Garden, to celebrate a story of joy and a story of hope, the story of two women who were rescued, a story about the faith that sustained them and a family that clearly loves them.

Heather Mercer and Dana Curry decided to go to help people who needed help. Their faith led them to Afghanistan. One woman who knows them best put it this way, "They had a calling to serve the poorest of the poor, and Afghanistan is where that calling took them." And Heather and Dana's faith in God sustained them throughout their ordeal.

It's a wonderful story about prayer, about a faith that can sustain people in good times and in bad times. Their faith was a source of hope that kept them from becoming discouraged.

I talked to them right after their release, their freedom, and I sensed no bitterness in their voice, no fatigue, just joy. It was an uplifting experience for me to talk to these courageous souls.

Theirs is also a story about people in our country who rallied for them. People prayed all around the country. I was particularly struck by the fact that Heather's dad offered to take her place in prison. I was struck by the fact that a country preacher out of central Texas flew to Afghanistan to lend his presence in any way that would help.

I know there are a lot of people right outside of Crawford that were praying for these girls' release, and when they were, people all across Baylor University cheered. Something besides football became more important in their lives, life itself.

This is a story of a military that is committed to achieving certain objectives. In my speech in front of the United States Congress, I said to the Taliban that one of the objectives was to release the humanitarian aid workers that were being detained against their will. We have achieved that objective, and I want to thank our military for rescuing these girls. And I want to thank those on the ground in Afghanistan who helped with their rescue as well.

So it's a joyous day to welcome two good souls to the Rose Garden. I'll ask them to say a few comments, and then I'd be glad to answer some questions if you have any.

HEATHER MERCER, FREED AFGHAN AID WORKER: Again, we just want to express our infinite thanks to our nation, to our friends and our family who stood with us day and night.

I mean, really, today is a day of great rejoicing for both of us to be back on our homeland and to celebrate with our nation a story of victory.

Today, it is a great honor for us as well, to be here with our president. It's probably one of the greatest privileges of my life.

And I just want to also thank our president. During our time in prison, we prayed almost daily for our nation's government and for the president. And we are so honored to be a part of a country that has such a man of God and such a wonderful leader serving our nation.

We are so excited to be back. And again, we know we're here because of the prayers of people all over the country, all over the world. And I think if we had a whole lifetime to say thank you, we wouldn't do it right, we wouldn't say it appropriately.

So thank you to all of you who have been a part, who've not give up, everyone from our church back in Waco, our families, people we've never met all over the country, to the U.S. military and to all of those, the countless people in the U.S. government who helped us and served us for the last three and a half months. We're so grateful, and it's a great honor to be here today and celebrate with you.

Thank you.

DANA CURRY, FREED AFGHAN AID WORKER: Well, I can't really add much to that. That was perfectly said. But again, I'm just so thrilled to be here, so thrilled to be alive and to be with my family again.

And I'll never be able to thank America and the different Christians around the world who prayed for us, literally 24-7, around the clock, they were praying for us. And even since getting out, just talking to people who said that they prayed, that everyday they prayed with their children for us and everyday -- people we didn't know at all.

And it's just amazing. And even getting out, I think I've realized more than ever that we really would not be standing here if people hadn't prayed for us.

It truly was a miracle, and I just thank the Lord Jesus Christ for getting us out and answering all of those prayers and taking such wonderful care of us while we were there. There wasn't a day we didn't know his presence with us. He gave us incredible peace while we there, even though things were all crazy around us. It was like we just had -- we had peace in our hearts, and he gave us joy, even in the midst of a terrible situation.

And even hearing about September 11th, when we found out about it while we were in prison, our hearts just broke, and we just prayed a lot for the country while we were there. And anyway, again, it's just an incredible honor to be standing here, to be alive and just thankful to all of the people that prayed and the American military who did an incredible job of getting us out. And I'm just, more than ever, proud -- so proud to be an American and thankful to live -- to have grown up here and live here.

And thanks a lot.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) the military's role in rescuing these two ladies? Can you tell us why you have deployed a thousand marines, at least a thousand marines this weekend, on the ground, what their mission is, how many more are coming and how much more risky has their mission become with the (OFF-MIKE)

BUSH: Well, first, I'll let the Defense Department explain the mission. Well, first of all, we know the mission: The mission is to bring Al Qaeda to justice and to make sure Afghanistan no longer serves as a haven for terrorists. And we've got a military strategy that we're implementing. I'll let the secretary of defense in his daily briefing go into the operational details as he sees fit.

But this is a dangerous period of time. This is a period of time in which we're now hunting down the people who are responsible for bombing American.

I said a long time ago, one of our objectives is to smoke them out and get them running and bring them to justice. We're smoking them out, they're running, and now we're going to bring them to justice. I also said, we'll use whatever means is necessary to achieve that objective and that's exactly what we're going to do.

The American people must understand that we've got a long way to go in order to achieve our objective in this theater, but we're patient, we're resolved, and we will stay the course until we achieve our objective.

QUESTION: What's your reaction to news that the U.S. economy has been in recession since March?

BUSH: My reaction -- that since been in March? Well, I knew that the economy was not in good shape right after I took office. That's why I urge that we pass a tax relief plan. I remember the debate clearly about people saying, "Well, the economy's strong." But it wasn't, it was flattening, it was weakening, and that tax relief plan is going to be part of an economic recovery package that will make sense for the long-term of the country.

We've got low interest rates. We've got reasonable energy prices. We've got a good tax policy in place. We've got the framework for economic recovery. I hope Congress moves quickly on an economic stimulus package. The Senate needs to get a bill and get it into conference so we can resolve differences and I can sign it before Christmas. But I am obviously aware that our economy is slow, and we will do everything we can to enhance recovery.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) In recent years, Americans have been generally (OFF-MIKE) Are you concerned that Americans may suddenly start getting back into that pattern where they're less accepting of American casualties?

BUSH: Well, first of all, obviously, no president or commander- in-chief hopes anybody loses life in the theater, but it's going to happen. I said this early on, as the campaign began, America must be prepared for loss of life.

I believe the American people understand that we have got a might struggle on our hands and that there will be sacrifice. After all, some people made the greatest sacrifice possible on September 11, and that is those who took the airplane down. They said the Lord's Prayer on the phone to their loved ones.

Their loved ones heard, "Let's roll." And they took a plane down so that it might not kill others, such as people working in the White House or at the Capitol.

Now, I think the American people understand we're in for a long, long struggle in order to rid the world of terrorism and that there might be loss of life. I pray that not be the case. But our brave men and women who signed up for the military understand the risk inherent with being in the military.

QUESTION: Mr. President, at Fort Campbell, you said, "Across the world and across the years we will fight the evil ones and we will win."

BUSH: Yes.

QUESTION: Suggesting very strongly that Afghanistan is only the first step. What would you say about Iraq as you begin to look at the next steps in the campaign against global terrorism? What message would you like to send...

BUSH: Well, my message is that, if you harbor a terrorist, you're a terrorist. If you feed a terrorist, you're a terrorist. If you develop weapons of mass destruction that you want to terrorize the world, you'll be held accountable.

And I also have said, as I recall, at the White House, we're going to make sure that we accomplish each mission that we tackle. First things first.

Now having said that, we, the coalition, has arrested over 300 people. I can't wait to thank my friend, President Aznar of Spain, for having arrested eight terrorists in Spain. There is an international effort to bring people to justice. And over 300 people that have been involved with Al Qaeda are being brought to justice.

Terrorism is terrorism, and this country will deal with it.

QUESTION: Sir, you mentioned President Aznar of Spain. Spain says that they don't want to extradite those people unless they can be tried under our standard court system and not by a military tribunal. Are you concerned with the amount of descent over your decision to establish military tribunals?

BUSH: Not the least bit concerned. I made the right decision. A president must have the option of using a military tribunal in times of war. I look forward to explaining to my friend, the president of Spain, why I made that decision. It makes immanent sense to have the military tribunal option available. It makes sense for national security purposes. It makes sense for the protection of potential jurors. It makes sense for homeland security. It is the right decision to make. And I will explain that to any leader who asks.

QUESTION: There seems that an important line has been crossed with the attempt to clone a human being by a private laboratory. What's your reaction to that? Do you think there's any way to put this Genie back in the bottle?

BUSH: My reaction is that the use of embryos to clone is wrong. We should not, as a society, grow life to destroy it, and that's exactly what's taking place, and I have made that position very clear. I haven't changed my mind, and this evidence today that they are trying to achieve that objective -- to grow an embryo in order to extract its stem cell in order for that embryo to die -- is bad public policy. Not only that, it's morally wrong in my opinion.


QUESTION: Mr. President, does this current threat justify the vice president remaining in an undisclosed location? And even though, he's not...

BUSH: I had breakfast with him.

QUESTION: Well, no, he's not...

BUSH: It's no longer undisclosed.


QUESTION: How long is this going to...

BUSH: And he looked great. I think my adjective was swell. He still looks swell.


QUESTION: How long is the separation going to go on? Do you think the...

BUSH: I had breakfast with him. I mean, I shouldn't say that. Let me -- right after I had breakfast, I met with him, and I spent the morning with him. As a matter of fact, he was here to welcome these families into the White House.

QUESTION: But do you still consider him -- even though he's not as visible and doesn't, in terms of disability, appear to be playing the same kind of role we saw before...

BUSH: No, the vice president is very much engaged in the administration. I value his advice. I trust his judgment. I talk to him every single day, and today, I was visiting with him face-to-face and, as I say, he looked swell.

QUESTION: To follow up on Major's question...

BUSH: What was his question?

QUESTION: Whether Iraq could be the next target...


QUESTION: ... of the antiterror campaign. Does Saddam Hussein have to agree to allow weapons' inspectors back into Iraq? Is that an...

BUSH: Saddam Hussein agreed to allow inspectors in his country. In order to prove to the world he's not developing weapons of mass destruction, he ought to let the inspectors back in.


QUESTION: If he does not do that, sir, what will be the consequences?

BUSH: That's up for -- he'll find out.

QUESTION: What is your thinking right now about taking the war to Iraq? You suggested that on Wednesday when you said Afghanistan was just the beginning.

BUSH: I stand by those words; Afghanistan is still just the beginning. If anybody harbors a terrorist, they're a terrorist.

If they fund a terrorist, they're a terrorist. If they house terrorists, they're terrorists. I mean, I can't make it any more clearly to other nations around the world. If they develop weapons of mass destruction that will be used to terrorize nations, they will be held accountable.

And as for Mr. Saddam Hussein, he needs to let inspectors back in his country to show us that he is not developing weapons of mass destruction.

QUESTION: Mr. President, following up on that thought, when you initially made -- defined that terrorism in your speech before Congress, you did not include the weapons of mass destruction...


QUESTION: ... are you now extending this to countries like North Korea, other places where we have had evidence over the years that there's been development of such weapons? BUSH: Well, clearly, in terms of North Korea, we want North Korea to allow inspectors in to determine whether or not they are. We've had that discussion with North Korea. I made it very clear to North Korea that, in order for us to have relations with them, that we want to know, are they developing weapons of mass destruction, and they ought to stop proliferating.

So part of the war on terror is deny terrorist weapons getting -- I mean, weapons be used for means of terror -- getting in the hands of nations that will use them. And so, I'm not quite sure...

QUESTION: I'm just asking if you've expanded your definition...

BUSH: No. Listen...

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) countries that harbor terrorist, but also develop such weapons?

BUSH: Have I expanded the definition? I've always had that definition, as far as I'm concerned.

Yes, ma'am?

QUESTION: Mr. President, you said a number of times that you'll go to all lengths to get members of Al Qaeda. There's now news that Pakistan has airlifted some of its citizens back to Pakistan. Are you concerned that they may be taking members of Al Qaeda and will not turn them over?

BUSH: No, I'm not. We've had good discussions with Pakistan. They understand the objective is to bring Al Qaeda to justice, and they've indicated they'll help us do so.

All right. Thank you all very much. Thank you for coming.

HEMMER: A feisty and energetic president on this Monday morning, and a number of topics discusses there, between the recession, the Marines on the ground near Kandahar, and embryo cloning that was announced yesterday.

But quite possibly, the most indicative response came on the topic of Iraq, and the president was asked, on a couple of different occasions, about his position regarding Saddam Hussein. What he said regarding the Iraqi president, that Saddam Hussein has agreed to let inspectors into his country, when the reporter followed up with whether or not he will or not, and if he does not, what are the consequences, the president said, "He will find out," in his words -- a short reply there, and they quickly moved on.




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