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President Bush and President of Spain Hold News Conference

Aired November 28, 2001 - 11:56   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: As promised, the leader of Spain and the leader of the United States there at the White House.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's my honor to welcome a friend of mine and a friend of our country, the president of Spain, to the White House.

Jose Maria was on the phone early, right after September the 11th. He assured me that we would cooperate in any way possible in our mutual desire to fight terror. And he has lived up to his word, and for that, I am grateful.

I asked nations to join us in bringing people to justice who are evil, who don't respect the law. And this president responded. Recently, Spain has arrested Al Qaeda members and has shared information about those Al Qaeda members, and it's incredibly helpful.

And for that, Mr. President, the American people are very grateful.

In our meetings today, I assured the president that our nation would help Spain in any way possible to fight terror, and, Mr. President, you've got that assurance.

So it's a great honor [Speaking in Spanish.]


JOSE MARIA AZNAR, PRESIDENT OF SPAIN (through translator): Dear President Bush, may I thank you for your invitation. It is, indeed, a great honor and tremendous satisfaction for me to visit the White House.

We have very fond memories of the visit that you made to us in Spain last June, and we recall your commitment and your words of support to Spain's fight against terrorism. And several months later, we have managed to see this solidarity -- this alliance -- is a two- way alliance.

Spain supports, has supported and will support all the United States efforts to track down, to eradicate and to eliminate terrorism wherever it may be worldwide.

We intend to maintain and, if necessary, strengthen our political commitment, our cooperation in the area of intelligence and security and information-sharing and, if need be, to commit military forces to that battle.

AZNAR (through translator): Our battle is a battle for the same ideas, for the same freedoms, for the same society and civilizations. And we will share all those efforts as long as is necessary to accomplish (ph) that.

The only fate that awaits terrorist is defeat and the only option for terrorists is to be brought to justice.


AZNAR (through translator): Thank you very much.


QUESTION: Do you support suspending the payroll tax as a compromise on the stimulus?

BUSH: The question is, do I support providing a credit on the payroll tax?

QUESTION: Correct.

BUSH: The Domenici idea in the Senate. Here's what I support, I support the Senate coming together and getting a bill moving as quickly as possible, so that we can get it to conference and get the differences resolved. The Senate must pass a stimulus package. The American people expect them to do so; I expect them to do so.

I had a good conversation today with Senator Daschle and Senator Lott on this very subject and urged them to get the business done, get their appropriations bills passed, to get a stimulus package passed and then go home and enjoy the Christmas vacation. And I hope they do so.

There are differences, but the differences aren't that big. Any good package must be stimulative in effect, and at the same time, take care of displaced workers.

BUSH: There's agreement on that. They just now got to work out the details, and I hope they're able to do so.

QUESTION: Mr. President, according to the New York Times, 13 Spanish nationals are being held in the United States in relation to the attacks on the Twin Towers. Did you speak about that to President Bush?

Mr. President, how can you assure the American people's safety in the sky given that your transportation secretary now thinks it may be impossible to meet that initial deadline for screening baggage?

BUSH: We're doing everything we can to meet the deadline, and we're doing everything we can to make sure the American people feel safe. And one way we're doing it is to have Guardsmen at the airports over the Christmas holidays. Another way to do it is to have the planes full of air marshals. And finally, obviously, we need to expedite the ability for us to inspect baggage, and we're doing everything we can to do that.


QUESTION: You discussed military tribunals with regard extradition...

BUSH: Military tribunals was the question.

AZNAR: (through translator): I said at the beginning of this press conference that political cooperation between Spain and the United States is full on this issue. Can I just reiterate that and also say that cooperation between the United States and Spain -- and the United States -- is also full as regard to Spain's own terrorism problem, and I think that is the most important point to bear in mind.

You ask about the extradition of the Al Qaeda members in Spain. Can I just say that, if and when the United States requests that extradition, we will study the issue. Can I also say that the United States is free to organize its own jurisdiction as it sees fit as a free and democratic country. Any action taken on the extradition issue will be taken with full respect of Spanish and United States law. We are also working on this issue at the European Union level, and we do hope to reach agreements on that issue in the very near future.

BUSH: Thank you all.

HEMMER: A number of issues to talk about with the leader of Spain there. was a question about the economic stimulus package; a question about the airline measures; and certainly what we talked about recently, with the military tribunals. It has reported several times over the past couple of days, the 14 people arrested in Spain, whether or not Spain's government would approve the extradition of these 14 members to the United States if indeed that were requested.

You heard the answer on tribunals: Cooperation is full. It's the most important point, though, that when the United States requests it, will study it. We have full respect for Spain, and U.S. law.

John King, at the White House: Is this thorny just yet, John, or are we making more of a deal of it at this point?

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Potentially thorny, Bill, but not just yet, because as both leaders noted, the United States has not yet requested the extradition of any of those suspects now being held in Spain, or in any other European countries. You heard the prime minister, at the very end there, say the European Union is studying this issue; that is the potential breakthrough, for the European Union to revisit its policy, to see whether it should bend in the case of this particular war on terrorism in any way. Its policy, that it should not extradite suspects if they are going to be put to death -- the United States has a death penalty, obviously, for terrorism offenses -- or if they are to be tried in military tribunals. The United States wants flexibility from the European nations, but these two men are friends, stressing the cooperation. They will deal with that issue, and it could be thorny a little bit down the road.

A quick style note, Bill. Mr. Bush referred to Mr. Aznar as the president; we call him the prime minister. Both titles are appropriate. A little bit of confusion, perhaps, if you're listening to the president and watching the font on our screen.

HEMMER: Not much of a difference, but a fine difference, in terms of terminology.

John, there's a lot to talk about here -- smallpox, quickly: There is news today from the White House on this front; what is happening?

KING: We are told the administration is very close and perhaps as early as today will announce it has reached a contractual agreement to purchase about 290 million doses of the smallpox vaccine -- maybe even more. But the government, as part of its response to better protect the country to deal with the threat of bioterrorism, has promised to purchase enough of the smallpox vaccine to inoculate every single person in the United States.

We are told government lawyers at the Department of Health and Human Services are working on the final details of that contract. We could hear about it as early as today, certainly, we are told, by the end of the week.

HEMMER: John, economic stimulus now. There were congressional leaders at the White House this morning. Is there any indication -- you heard the president; he said let's get a bill moving, his message to the Senate. Is there any indication that they are moving forward in a way that is agreeable?

KING: A new compromise in the Senate might get the Senate moving a little bit more quickly. That would be suspending for a time collection of Social Security payroll taxes -- in essence, a temporary tax cut to people around the holiday season, if they can get this done quickly enough. Many question whether they can.

But the president, you saw his answer. He said the Senate should go ahead and pass a bill, and then they should get to a conference committee between the House and the Senate. Mr. Bush has frustrated many conservatives in the Congress who think he should be more clear about specifically what he wants, to try to push the Congress to act more specifically. Mr. Bush, for now, us trying to stay above the fray, just urging the Senate to act now and then reach an agreement with the House.

That process could take a little bit longer than many think would be helpful to the economy. The economy is struggling. Some say that stimulus bill, if it is to be helpful, should have been passed weeks ago. HEMMER: On the airlines, Norm Mineta, the transportation secretary, said, a few days ago, that right now they cannot meet the demands of the new law that was enacted. Is there a sense at the White House that this new legislation bit off more than the rest of the country can chew right now?

KING: The administration supports the legislation, but Secretary Mineta said yesterday that particular proposal -- screening all bags within 60 days -- he cannot meet. But again, the president, not wanting to get himself personally involved in all these domestic political values, said they are trying to meet the deadline, if they can.

His own transportation secretary said the administration cannot meet that deadline, so you see the president himself doing a bit of a dance in the Rose Garden; he does not want to get dragged into that dispute, but many Democrats are critical of the administration, even though the transportation secretary is a former Democratic member of the Congress. They say he should do more to push to meet that deadline.

HEMMER: Two hours ago, Kofi Annan was at the White House. How significant for the U.N. leader to be there, to talk about the humanitarian aspects of Afghanistan?

KING: Very significant because the administration wants to make the point that it is doing all it can to get more food, medicine, clothing, supplies, as winter approaches, into Afghanistan. The president is working with the head of the United Nation, Kofi Anan, was very complimentary today. You heard both leaders make this point: that important conference about to get underway in Germany, the effort to form an interim, transitional government in Afghanistan, both the president of the United States and Kofi Anan saying it will be a lot easier to get food and other supplies to the Afghan people if there is an agreement out of that conference out of that conference in Bonn, Germany, on a transitional government. As Mr. Annan put it, we need a partner to get the food into Afghanistan.

HEMMER: Also describe whether over 6 million needy at this point, in terms of refugees, a number that is higher than I have heard, at this point any way.

A lot to consider and chew on at the White House. John, thanks -- John King there, watching things.

KING: See you, Bill.




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