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Karzai and Bush Discuss Life After Taliban

Aired January 28, 2002 - 13:57   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: We have just learned we are moments away from the big scene at the White House today. Let's check in now with our Major Garrett, who's got the word for us right now as President Bush is prepared to make a big public welcoming of Hamid Karzai, the interim Afghan leader.


We are preparing here in the Rose Garden for the arrival of Mr. Karzai and President Bush. We are told to expect from President Bush an announcement about some additional efforts the United States will take to secure Afghanistan's future. Financial, diplomatic and humanitarian efforts we are told will be buttressed by this announcement.

What we are not going to hear from the president, though, is commitment for combat forces for a long-term international peacekeeping force within Afghanistan. The president has made it clear and his press secretary Ari Fleischer repeated again today, the purpose of U.S. combat forces is to fight and win wars, not to provide peace-keeping security for Afghanistan. That will be left to the international community. White House will consult with member nations on doing that. But for now, the United States will not provide any peacekeeping forces for Afghanistan, but we are told to expect new announcements on the financial front, lendiing aid to Afghanistan, diplomatic initiatives, to bind the ties of nations together, and on the humanitarian front.

Ari Fleischer took pains to express very great satisfaction upon the president's part of the humanitarian efforts under way in Afghanistan so far, saying famine has almost been eliminated there, in large part because of U.S. humanitarian efforts.

Here's the president and Hamid Karzai, leader of the interim government in Afghanistan.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a great honor for me to welcome to the White House the chairman of the Afghan Interim Authority, Hamid Karzai. Mr. Chairman, welcome.


BUSH: I also want to welcome the ministers of the Interim Authority who have accompanied him to Washington. Chairman Karzai is a determined leader, and his government reflects the hopes of all Afghans for a new and better future, a future free from terror, free from war and free from want.

The United States strongly supports Chairman Karzai's interim government, and we strongly support the Bonn agreement that provides the Afghan people with a path toward a broadly based government that protects the human rights of all its citizens.

The Afghan people have already taken the first steps along this path by committing to rid their country of Al Qaeda terrorists and remnants of the Taliban regime who supported the terrorists.

Yet even as the war against terrorism continues, the world has also begun to help the Afghan people win the peace they deserve. The United States is committed to building a lasting partnership with Afghanistan. We will help the new Afghan government provide the security that is the foundation for peace.

Today, peacekeepers from around the world are helping provide security on the streets of Kabul. The United States will continue to work closely with these forces and provide support for their mission.

We will also support programs to train new police officers and to help establish and train an Afghanistan national military.

The United States is also committed to playing a leading role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

Today I announced the United States Overseas Private Investment Corporation will provide an initial $50 million line of credit for Afghanistan to finance private sector projects. This announcement builds on the United States pledge in Tokyo early this month to provide $297 million this year to create jobs and to start rebuilding Afghanistan's agricultural sector, its health care system and its educational system.

Yet these efforts are only the beginning. Two days ago, for the first time since 1979, an American flag was raised over the U.S. Agency for International Development's mission in Kabul. That flag will not be lowered. It will wave long into the future, a symbol of America's enduring commitment to Afghanistan's future.

Chairman Karzai, I reaffirm to you today that the United States will continue to be a friend to the Afghan people in all the challenges that lie ahead.

Welcome to Washington.

KARZAI: Thank you very much.

Well, thank you very much, Mr. President.

Although we are here, as I mentioned in my meeting with you, invited by you, for which we are very grateful, but we are also here in a way to thank you and the American people for the great help that we were given to liberate our country once again, this time from terrorism from the Taliban. The Afghan people recognize this help. They know that without this help we would have still probably been under that rule. So thank you very much to you and through you to the American people.

Afghanistan is a good partner. It will stay a good partner. And I'm sure that the future of the two countries will be good and a wonderful relationship should be expected to come in the future.

Thank you very much for the help that you gave us during the Turkey conference, and thank you for organizing that as well, together with other co-organizers, and thank you for the help that you announced today.

Afghanistan does need help in reconstruction. Afghanistan does need help in the rebuilding of its national army. And thank you very much for doing that, too.

I assure you, Mr. President, that Afghanistan, with your help, and the help of other countries, friends, will be strong and will stand eventually on its own feet, and it will be a country that will defend its borders and not allow terrorism to return to it or bother it or trouble it.

We'll be self-reliant. We'll do good in business. We'll be a strong country.

Afghanistan knows, Mr. President, the suffering of those people in America that saw and went through the horrors of the twin tower incident, the terrorism there. I believe the Afghans are the best people to see the pain exactly the way it was felt there, then, at that time, because the Afghans have suffered exactly in the same way. We have sympathy. We know that pain. We understand it. Our families know that pain.

Therefore, this joint struggle against terrorism should go to the absolute end of it. We must finish them. We must bring them out of their caves and their hideouts. And we promise we'll do that.

Thank you very much again for having us here. It was an honor. And we enjoy our trip to the U.S., myself and my colleagues. Thank you very much.

BUSH: We'll answer a couple of questions.

QUESTION: On the issue of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay, what's wrong with formally applying the Geneva Convention to them?

BUSH: The question is about the detainees in Guantanamo Bay. I had a very interesting meeting this morning with my national security team. We're discussing all the legal ramifications of how we characterize the actions at Guantanamo Bay.

A couple of things we agree on. One, they will not be treated as prisoners of war; they're illegal combatants. Secondly, they will be treated humanely. And then I'll figure out -- I'll listen to all the legalisms and announce my decision when I make it.

But we're in total agreement on how these prisoners -- or detainees, excuse me, ought to be treated. And they'll be treated well.

And yesterday the secretary of defense went down to Guantanamo Bay with United States senators from both political parties. The senators got to see the circumstances in which these detainees were being held. They -- I don't want to put words in their mouth, but according to the secretary of defense -- I'll let him put words in their mouth -- they felt like, one, that our troops were really valiant in their efforts to make sure that these killers -- these are killers -- were held in such a way that they were safe.

Noticed one of our troops last night was commenting that they're receiving very good medical care.

But I'll make my decision on how to legally interpret the situation there pretty soon.

QUESTION: Are you prepared to go to court with the General Accounting Office to keep secret the records of your energy task force meetings?

BUSH: Well, the question about the General Accounting Office is this: Should an administration be allowed to have private conversations in this office without everybody knowing about it? And this is part of how you make decisions, is to call people in and say, "What's your opinion?" What's your opinion on stem cell? What's your opinion on energy? What's your opinion on the war?

And in order for me to be able to get good sound opinions, those who offer me opinions or offer the vice president opinions must know that every word they say is not going to be put into the public record.

And so, I view the GAO like the vice president does; it's an encroachment on the executive branch's ability to conduct business.

Now, as far as the specific case of the energy report goes, there is an energy report that's now in the public arena. People are free to read it. I hope they do, because it's a comprehensive report. One based upon the opinions of members of the exploration sector of the energy business, some about the infrastructure -- opinions from those involved with the infrastructure, some opinions, obviously, from those in the environmental community. This is a report that collected a lot of opinions, and it was done in such a way that people felt free to come in and express their opinion.

And so to answer your question, we're not going to let the ability for us to discuss matters between ourselves to become eroded. It's not only important for us, for this administration, it's an important principle for future administrations.

QUESTION: When you spoke to President Mubarak today and expressed your disappointment in Yasser Arafat, what did he say? And secondly, are you worried that the level of disappointment in the region is not as high as your own? Does that complicate your efforts to build a coalition against Arafat...

BUSH: First of all, Mr. Mubarak can characterize the conversation the way he sees fit. I would just tell you what I told him.

And I told him that in order for there to be peace in we must root out terror wherever it exists. And the U.S. effort to root out terror around the world is going to benefit the Middle East in the long term.

It is important for Mr. Arafat to not only renounce terror, but to arrest those who would terrorize people trying to bring peace. There are people in the region that want there to be a peaceful settlement. And yet, obviously, terrorists are trying to prevent that happening by wanton murder.

And Mr. Arafat must join the effort to arrest them.

And when the ship showed up with weapons obviously aimed at terrorizing that part of the world, I expressed my severe disappointment, because I was led to believe that he was willing to join us in the fight in terror. I took him for his word when he -- at Oslo. So I made this very clear to my friend Hosni Mubarak, that ridding the Middle East of terror is going to make it more likely that there'd be peace and stability in the region.


BUSH: Yes?

QUESTION: Some in Congress, particularly Congressman Waxman, have suggested that the energy report represented a wish list for Enron.

BUSH: The energy report represented a wish -- in other words, we were doing favors for Enron?

QUESTION: Do you agree with that, sir?

BUSH: Well, Enron went bust. Shortly after the report was put out, Enron went broke. And it went broke because, it seems like to me, and we'll wait for the facts to come out, it went broke because there was not full disclosure of finances -- this is a -- what we're talking about here is a corporate governance issue. This is a business problem that our country must deal with and must fix, and that is full disclosure of liabilities, full understanding of the effects of decisions on pension funds, reform of the pension system, perhaps.

There are some on Capitol Hill who want to politicize this issue. This is not a political issue. It is a business issue that this nation must deal with. And, you know, Enron had made contributions to a lot of people around Washington, D.C., and if they came to this administration looking for help, they didn't find any.

Now obviously we're interested in people's opinions about energy, those in the energy business, those in the conservation world, those in the -- those who know how to develop infrastructure and so we solicit a lot of opinions from people. And the report is now public. Everybody can read it to determine, you know, our vision about how to make our country less dependent on foreign sources of crude oil, which we must do.

QUESTION: I understand that you do not want to commit American troops to peacekeeping forces in Afghanistan. Why not, sir, and do you have any concerns that there will be enough forces to give Mr. Karzai the kind of security he needs?

BUSH: We are committing help to the ISIF in the form of logistical help, in the form of -- kind of a bail-out: If the troops get in trouble, we stand ready to help -- in the form of intelligence. Plus I have just made in my remarks here a significant change of policy, and that is that we're going to help Afghanistan develop her own military. That is the most important part of this visit, it seems to me, besides the fact of welcoming a man who stands for freedom, a man who stood for freedom in the face of tyranny.

We have made a decision. Both of us have made the decision that Afghanistan must as quickly as possible develop her own military, and we will help. We'll help train, and we, and Tommy Franks, our general, fully understands this, and is fully committed to this idea.

So better yet than peacekeepers, which will be there for a while with our help, let's have Afghanistan have her own military.

QUESTION: Along the issue of politicizing Enron, the majority leader, Tom Daschle, with whom you, in the past, have said you have a good working relationship, said over the weekend that he was afraid your budget would Enronize Social Security and Medicare, that is to say put them in specific jeopardy of collapsing. I wonder if you could comment on that, sir, and if there's any way...

BUSH: Well, sometimes there's political hyperbole here in this town. The budget I submitted is one -- will submit soon is one that says that the war on terrorism is going on and we're going to win, and we've got to make sure we spend enough money to win. It's also one that prioritizes homeland security. It is also one that wants to do something about our economy; let's get a -- you know, a stimulus bill.

It's a bill that sets priorities, and it is -- I think there are some still upset with the tax cut, but I want to remind you that we were in recession in March of last year. That's when they officially declared recession; the slowdown was obviously significant to reach a point where we were -- where the economists said we were in recession. So the tax cuts came at the right time.

Now there are some who believe if you raise taxes, it makes the economy stronger. As I've told the American people several times, I don't understand what textbook they're reading. I believe by reducing taxes, it makes the economy stronger.

The tax relief came right at the right time.

Now, our economy is still, you know, not as strong as it should be. There's still some weakness, but surely people aren't suggesting raising taxes at this point makes sense. I don't believe it does make any sense. And so the budget I've submitted is a good strong budget. It sets priorities, and it's realistic. And the American people'll understand it when I explain it tomorrow night.

QUESTION: Mr. President, today we had a free...

QUESTION: Mr. President, in holding the detainees in Cuba in the manner in which the United States is, is one of the signals you're sending that, in this new kind of war as you've described it, the Geneva Conventions are outdated and don't apply in the conflict with Al Qaeda?

BUSH: No, the Geneva Conventions are not outdated, and it's a very important principle.

First of all, we are adhering to the spirit of the Geneva Convention. When you say you're holding the prisoners in the manner you are -- we're giving them medical care. They're being well- treated. There is no allegation -- well, there may be an allegation, there's no evidence that we're treating them outside the spirit of the Geneva Convention, and for those who say we are, they just don't know what they're talking about. And so -- let me finish.

And so I am looking at the legalities involved with the Geneva Convention in either case. However I make my decision, these detainees will be well-treated.

We are not going to call them prisoners of war in either case. And the reason why is Al Qaeda is not a known military. These are killers. These are terrorists. They know no countries. And the only thing they know about countries is when they find a country that's been weak and they want to occupy it like a parasite. And that's why we're so pleased to join with Chairman Karzai to root them out.

And so the prisoners -- detainees will be well-treated. They just won't be afforded prisoner-of-war status. I'll decide beyond that whether or not they can be, you know, noncombatants under the Geneva Convention or not. I'll make that legal decision soon. But this administration has made the decision they'll be well-treated; long before they arrived at Guantanamo Bay did we make that decision.

QUESTION: The Saudi interior minister today said that a majority of those being held at Guantanamo, more than 100, are Saudi citizens, and asked that they be returned to Saudi Arabia for questioning.

BUSH: Well, I appreciate his request, and we'll, of course -- we'll take it under consideration. There are a lot of detainees around the world as a result of this first phase in the war against terror. There's a lot in Pakistan, there's a lot in Afghanistan, and there are 179, I believe, or whatever the number is, in Guantanamo Bay.

So there's a lot of Saudi citizens that chose to fight for Al Qaeda and/or the Taliban that we want to know more about. And if -- so we'll make a decision on a case-by-case basis as to whether they go back to Saudi Arabia or not. I appreciate his suggestion.

Listen, I want to thank you all very much. Mr. Chairman, it's good to have you...


BUSH: Ask who?

BUSH: Of course you can ask Chairman Karzai a question, thank you.


BUSH: No, I'm sorry.


KARZAI: Well, we have no concerns there. As I mentioned in my remarks earlier, the Afghans are grateful that we were helped twice, once during the Soviet occupation by the U.S. and now to fight terrorism and liberate ourselves from that menace.

We are a fiercely independent country, and the world knows that. Our neighbors know that very well, and the countries in the region know that. The Afghan request for training of our armies is nothing new. Our prime ministers were here even back in the 1950s to ask this kind of training, and it's training -- a relationship between two independent sovereign countries, and nothing to worry others.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) with Osama bin Laden? And what can you do to gather more information to capture him?

KARZAI: We are looking for him. He's a fugitive. If we find him we catch him.

Thank you very much.


HARRIS: A light note there. They made their little impromptu press conference. There, you see the interim Afghan leader Hamid Karzai walking back into the White House with President Bush to continue their talks for this afternoon.

Quite spirited questioning here. President Bush got on a number of topics we've been talking about on and off the air here quite a bit, the detainees here in Guantanamo and in Afghanistan.

Let's go right now to our Major Garrett, who was out there participating in this spirited question-and-answer session -- Major.

GARRETT: Hello, Leon.

Let's summarize some of the key points on the visit of Hamid Karzai, the leader of the interim government. First and foremost, the president said there will be more assistance to the overseas private investment corporation, $50 million. That's basically to provide loans to help Afghanistan acquire more money to help itself rebuild.

Also the president said the United States government stands ready to help those peacekeepers, those international security forces in Afghanistan in a couple of significant ways, logistical ways, and also backup support, the president said, in case they get into a military scrape with anyone within the borders of Afghanistan.

Also the president saying for the very first time the United States government will help Afghanistan create and train a brand-new army. As the president said, that's a significant commitment from the United States government and a significant acceptance on the part of Afghanistan government to have the U.S. actually be involved from the ground floor in creating the army which should, in the future, enhance security in Afghanistan.

Of course a whole other range of issued discussed, the president making it abundantly clear the detainees in Guantanamo Bay will be classified not as prisoners of war, but as unlawful combatants. That means those U.S. Soldiers and other intelligence-gathering operatives will be allowed to continue to interrogate the detainees. That's the key matter. And the distinction between unlawful combatan and prisoner of way, if you're a prisoner of war, all you have to provide is name, rank and serial number. If you're an unlawful combatant, you can be interrogated. That's what the U.S. continues to want to do.

On other fronts, the president said, as far as this ongoing controversy, with the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, the White House will not submit to request to provide data on meeting in the development of national energy. If the GAO wants to take them to court the president invited them to do so.

HARRIS: Of course we'll follow that, to wait and see how that plays out.

Major Garrett at the White House, thank you very much. We'll let you get back to work.




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