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Vice President Cheney and George W. Bush Hold News Conference

Aired March 21, 2002 - 08:33   ET


JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: We have got some tape that just came in. President Bush leaving -- actually in less than 10 minutes, he'll depart the White House for a trip to Latin America. But earlier this morning, he and the vice president sat down to breakfast.

Let's listen to that.



GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm really proud of how he handled himself and how he delivered the message. As a result of his trip and as a result of working with General Zinni, there is some progress being made in the Middle East, and I want to thank the vice president for being very firm and deliberate in convincing both parties that the Tenet plan, and ultimately the Mitchell plan, is the way to achieve what we all want in the world, which is a peaceful resolution to this longstanding conflict.

Mr. Vice President, welcome back. Thanks. You did a great job.

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, thank you, Mr. President. It was a good trip and, as you say, there are a lot of issues on the agenda right now that are important in that part of the world.

I talked extensively with our friends about the ongoing campaign in Afghanistan and the war against terror that affects all of us and everybody in the region. We spent a lot of time on the Israeli peace problems and proposition and conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians, obviously; a lot of time on the Iraqi situation -- Saddam Hussein's development of weapons of mass destruction. But I found at virtually every stop that the United States has great friends and allies in that part of the world.

I also had the opportunity to visit with a number of our military personnel. They're conducting active operations; they're supporting those operations in Afghanistan and the region. So all in all, it was a great trip. I'm ready to go back when you send me.

BUSH: Any questions?

QUESTION: Mr. President, I'm interested in your own calculations when the vice president called to discuss the possibility of the Arafat meeting; your calculations in making the decision to change slightly the administration's standard for opening the door for a meeting with him.

And Mr. Vice President, do you believe now that meeting will happen? Is Mr. Arafat keeping his end of the bargain?

BUSH: Well, first of all, I've always been one that trusts the judgment of people I send on a mission, and the vice president called me with General Zinni by his side and said, "There's a chance that we can get into the Tenet Security Agreement, and if that were to happen, in my judgment, I think it would be best if I would then go see Mr. Arafat." And I trust the vice president's judgment. He's a man of enormous experience. He's got a good feel for things. And we both trust General Zinni.

And so, the definition of whether or not he is going to see Mr. Arafat depends upon the feel for our negotiator, General Zinni. But I think it was the right thing to do, obviously. We've set some strong conditions and we expect Mr. Arafat to meet those conditions. I, frankly, have been disappointed in his performance.

I'm hopeful, however, that he listens to what the vice president told him and said that in order for us to have influence in terms of achieving any kind of peaceful resolution, he must -- he, Mr. Arafat -- must do everything in his power to stop the violence.

CHENEY: As it was said before, the key here will be General Zinni, and he'll make his judgment based on whether or not Arafat is, in fact, implementing the Tenet -- not just promising to implement, but implementing Tenet. If he's doing that, if he's living up to those requirements and General Zinni signs off on it, then I'm prepared to go back almost immediately for a meeting. But it'll depend on whether or not Arafat is complying.

QUESTION: On Iraq, the other main item on your agenda, You said you have a lot of allies out there, but I haven't noticed any of the Arab states -- maybe they say things privately, but they don't publicly, you've all been told that -- supporting strong action against Iraq. They seem top want diplomacy to be given a chance on (inaudible) sanction, changes, etc. What kind of response did you get?

CHENEY: Well, I guess the way I would characterize it is that they are uniformly concerned about the situation in Iraq, in particular, about Saddam Hussein's failure to live up to the U.N. Security Council resolutions, especially number 687, that he pledged to at the end of the war that said he'd get rid of all of his weapons of mass destruction.

And they are as concerned as we are when they see the work that he has done to develop chemical and biological weapons, his pursuit of nuclear weapons, the past history that we all know about in terms of his having used chemicals. If you haven't seen it, there's a devastating piece in this week's New Yorker magazine on the 1988 use by Saddam Hussein of chemical weapons against the Kurds. If the article is accurate, and I've asked for clarification if we can find it, he ran a campaign against the Kurds for 17 months and bombed literally 200 villages and killed thousands and thousands of Iraqis with chemical weapons.

That's not the kind of man we want to see develop even more deadly capacity, for example, nuclear weapons. And my experience is that our friends in the region are just as concerned about those developments as we are, and I went out there to consult with them, seek their advice and counsel to be able to report back to the president on how we might best proceed to deal with that mutual problem and that's exactly what I've done.

BUSH: I think one other point that the vice president made, which is a good point, is that this is an administration that when we say we're going to do something, we mean it; that we are resolved to fight the war on terror. This isn't a short-term strategy for us; that we understand history has called us into action and we're not going to miss this opportunity to make the world more peaceful and more free. And the vice president delivered that message. I was grateful that he was able to do so.

It's very important for these leaders to understand the nature of this administration, so there's no doubt in their mind that when we speak, we mean what we say, that we're not posturing; that we don't take a bunch of polls and focus groups to tell us what we ought to do in the world. When we say we want to defend freedom, we mean it. And the vice president did a fine job of delivering that message.

Part of any good foreign policy is to consult with our friends and allies. We have told our friends and allies what we'll do on all kinds of issues and the vice president did that in a really good way.

QUESTION: I want to touch on a different part of the world. A car bomb exploded in Lima last night killing nine people. Are you concerned about your trip there?

BUSH: No, I'm still going.

I'm sure President Toledo will do everything he can to make Lima safe for our trip. You know, two-bit terrorists aren't going to prevent me from doing what we need to do, and that is to promote our friendship in the hemisphere. Our neighborhood is important to us. Peru is an important country. President Toledo has been a reformist and obviously has worked within the democratic system. And you bet I'm going.

Thank you.


CAFFERTY: President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney talking with reporters following their breakfast meeting this morning. The president now set to depart Washington on a four-day trip through Latin America. Mexico, El Salvador and Peru are on the president's itinerary. He's set to return Sunday night to Washington. CNN senior White House correspondent John King is standing by live. You were in that breakfast meeting this morning, John. And you're covering the president's departure.

What's the agenda on this Latin American swing?

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jack, on the Latin American swing, Mr. Bush wants to return to what was a focus very early on in his administration. That was free trade and immigration reform. Mr. Bush said this hemisphere, the Western hemisphere, would be priority one, when it came to his international policy. Of course, much of that changed, many of those issues put on the back burner since the events of September 11th, especially immigration reform, one of the issues he promised his friend, the Mexican president, Vincente Fox, he would deal with quite quickly.

Now, of course, a very different concern here in the United States about border security, and the reinforcement of how things have changed will be when the president stops on his way to Mexico and El Paso, Texas today and promotes new efforts to improve border security, so very much a changed agenda. The president will say, though, he is still committed to it, not only on immigration reform, but also on trade with the region.

Jack, I want to mention one comment the president made off camera. As we were leaving the Oval Office, he walked over to say hello, and we were continuing the discussion about that deadly car bombing in Lima, Peru, and we asked the president if the United States had any sense of who was responsible, and what he said off camera was -- quote -- "We might have an idea. They have been around before."

You see the president and the first lady here coming out. "We might have an idea. They have been around before." U.S. intelligence officials saying they are incredibly concerned about a resurgence of the Shining Path guerrilla movement in Peru. The president didn't say so directly, but when the name "Shining Path" was mentioned, he did nod his head. So obviously, a great deal of concern from a security standpoint, as the president prepares to take this trip, but as you heard him, he said he was determined to go. In his own words -- quote -- "No two-bit terrorists will keep him from making that stop in Lima" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The information I have, John, is that he will be the first sitting American president ever to visit Lima, Peru. That seems almost hard to believe, but apparently that's the case. I wonder why it's never happened before, and what the agenda in Peru might be.

KING: It has never happened before because of displeasure with the former government of President Fujimori, an authoritarian government. The administration would not dignify President Fujimori with a trip. The key item there will be trade. There's an agreement that expired last December. It's calls the Andean Trade Agreement. It gives Peru and its neighbors duty-free tariffs into the United States. That trade agreement helps their economies very much, but it expired back in December. Again, one of the items that will be renewed by the Congress down the road, both parties say, but was put on the back burner because of the events of September 11th. The president will promise that he will not only get that trade agreement back in, in an effort to help those economies, and of course he will discuss security concerns like the Shining Path movement, the drug trafficking, like the events in Colombia. The government's efforts to crack down there on a civil war essentially. So trade the main item in Peru, but of course security and drug trafficking will come up as well.

CAFFERTY: All right, John, appreciate it. Thank you.

Senior White House correspondent John King reporting live from Washington.





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