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Bush to 'Seek Approval' on Iraq

Aired September 4, 2002 - 11:01   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... the August recess. We talked about a variety of issues. Talked about the defense appropriations bill and terrorism insurance and an energy bill. We spent most of our time talking about a serious threat to the United States, a serious threat to the world, and that's Saddam Hussein.

One of the things I made very clear to the members here is that doing nothing about that serious threat is not an option for the United States.

I also made it very clear that we look forward to an open dialogue with Congress and the American people about the threat and that not only will we consult with the United States Congress, "we" being the administration, but that my administration will fully participate in any hearings that the Congress wishes to have on this subject, on the subject about how to make America a more secure country, how to best protect the American families in our country.

At the appropriate time, this administration will go to the Congress to seek approval for -- necessary to deal with the threat.

At the same time, I will work with our friends in the world. I've invited Prime Minister Blair to come to Camp David on Saturday, and he'll be coming. And I look forward to talking with him about our mutual concerns about how to make the world more secure and safe.

And I'll see Jean Chretien on Monday as we -- we'll talk about how to make our borders work better, but at the same time, I'll talk to him about this subject.

I'll be on the phone to leaders of the -- China and Russia and France. And then I'll be giving a speech at the United Nations.

Saddam Hussein is a serious threat. He is a significant problem. And it's something that this country must deal with. And today the process starts about how to have an open dialogue with elected officials, and therefore the American people, about our future and how best to deal with it.

Let me answer a couple of questions.

QUESTION: Mr. President, what's your opinion on putting U.N. weapons inspectors back in Iraq? I believe you asked the U.N. to do that and is that a viable option?

BUSH: First of all, I'll be giving a speech on the 12th and you've got to listen to it.

But let me say to you that the issue is not inspectors; the issue is disarmament. This is a man who said he would not arm up. This is a man who told the world that he would not harbor weapons of mass destruction. That's the primary issue. And I'll be discussing ways to make sure that that is the case.

QUESTION: Sir, so you will be discussing ways to make sure that he disarms. Are you talking about...

BUSH: I will first remind the United Nations that for 11 long years Saddam Hussein has side-stepped, crawfished, weaseled out of any agreement he had made; not to develop weapons of mass destruction, agreements he's made to treat the people within his country with respect. And so, I'm going to call upon the world to recognize that he is stiffing the world.

BUSH: And I will lay out and I will talk about ways to make sure that he fulfills his obligations.

QUESTION: Let me just follow up on your opening statement. When you say that you'll seek congressional approval, does that mean, in effect, Congress will have veto authority over your plan to oust Saddam Hussein?

BUSH: I'm confident we'll be able to work with Congress to deal with this threat to the American people. And that's what I meant.

QUESTION: Mr. President, you talk about Saddam Hussein stiffing the world. In your mind, has the time come to issue the Iraqi leader an ultimatum similar to that that you issued to the Taliban?

BUSH: I am going to state clearly to the United Nations what I think. And I think that he has not fulfilled any of the obligations that he made to the world. And I believe it's important for the world to deal with this man. And I believe it's really important for the United States Congress to have an open dialogue about how to deal with this threat.

We're in a new era. The first battle of the first war of the 21st century took place in Afghanistan. The United States is under threat. We spend a lot of time -- people around this table, good- hearted people who care deeply about America spend a lot of time thinking about how best to secure our homeland even further. And this the debate the American people must hear and must understand. And the world must understand as well that its credibility is at stake.

Thank you all for coming.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We have been listening to President Bush. This is what we called a tape turnaround, a videotape released by the White House from a meeting that he just had a few minutes ago with congressional leaders.

President Bush using his basic, plain language that he likes to use, talking about Saddam Hussein stiffing the world when it comes to weapons of mass destruction, that he must be dealt with, that doing nothing is not an option at this point. He plans, he says, on having an open dialogue, both with Congress and with the public. He says his administration will participate in any congressional hearings that Congress would like to have. And he says he will go to Congress to seek approval for any action that the United States might take.

Let's bring in our senior White House correspondent, John King, to gives us some perspective here.

John, it seems to me that the even though the president didn't go so far as to say he would actually go to Congress for a vote of approval, this is somewhat of an olive branch. This is the most open he has been to talking about bringing Congress into the decision about what would happen with the U.S. and Iraq.

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It certainly is the most open. The president called today the beginning of a dialogue. This debate has gone on all summer. The administration has complained too much focus in the media on Iraq, but the president making clear today that especially over the next two weeks, this will be his dominant focus.

And you're right, an olive branch to the Congress. The president saying he understands the value and the need for this administration to have the support of the American people, and therefore, the United States Congress, as he decides what to do now...

KAGAN: John, I'm just going to interrupt -- hold that thought, hold that thought, because Dick Gephardt is speaking. We're going to take his comments. We'll come back to you in just a moment.

(IN PROGRESS)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... there certainly is information.

REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT (D-MO), MINORITY LEADER: There certainly is information, and they will be giving that information in the hearings. Thank you very much.

KAGAN: Well, that was well-timed just to hear "thank you very much" from the House minority leader, Dick Gephardt.

For that, I interrupted a brilliant thought from John King, who was talking about the comments that we just heard from President Bush, and about the olive branch he does seem to be extending to congressional leaders, like Dick Gephardt.

John, my apologies. You were saying?

KING: Quite OK. Many in Congress say that olive branch is overdue.

And take Dick Gephardt, we just saw him walking away from the White House. A couple of months back, this Democrat in Congress gave a speech saying he agreed with President Bush, that Saddam Hussein had to go. After that speech, in the Democrats' view, there was an opportunity for the president to reach out and say, thank you, let's work together on how to bring that about. The Democrats would say that did not happen in the past. The president served notice today it would happen from here on out.

Among those at the meeting was Senator John McCain of Arizona, the formal rival of this president in the Republican primary. He is a sometime critic of this president. Senator McCain, though, saying after the meeting he thought the president did a persuasive job in making the case to Congress.

Senator McCain also saying that he believes in the very near future, Congress will, in fact, debate a resolution, giving the president the authority to use military force, if necessary, to remove Saddam Hussein from power.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: On a bipartisan basis, I believe that there will be strong support for an expression of congressional approval for the president to take whatever action necessary for a regime change in Iraq. And I support him, and I believe that he will receive a significantly-majority vote in the Congress of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: So progress obviously there for the president in terms of the domestic debate here in the United States, the Congress rallying to the president's side, at least so far, after this meeting.

The president also serving notice he will take this debate aggressively to the international stage. The British prime minister, Tony Blair, will come to Camp David this Saturday. He has been standing by this president's side and taking some heat for it at home in saying Saddam Hussein must go.

And the president raising the bar. He will deliver a major speech to the United Nations General Assembly next week, the morning after the September 11 anniversary. White House officials and the president confirming, in essence in his remarks, saying the president will say the very credibility of the United Nations is on the line when it comes to Iraq.

At the end of the Gulf War, Saddam Hussein promised to disarm, promised the inspectors could go anywhere anytime inside Iraq. The inspectors are no longer welcome. The president will say Saddam Hussein is arming up again, and that he is going to do something about it, and that he believes that the world should stand with him and join him as he does so -- Daryn.

KAGAN: John King at the White House -- John, thank you so much.

And now, we want to bring in our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, standing by in Washington, D.C. He has been listening to this tape with us as well.

Bill, you heard John point out, and we heard the president say this is the beginning of a new and open dialogue with the Congress and with the American public. What do you make of that?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I make of that that the president got the message loud and clear from members of Congress that they wanted to have some say in this, and the American people want Congress to have some say in this.

Look, they have been away for the last month listening to constituents and contributors, people who have influence with members of Congress, and they have been getting an earful. What is Bush doing? Are we going into this war? Is Congress going to be standing on the sidelines?

Congress has demanded a say, and now the president, for the first time a few minutes ago, says he will seek congressional approval. That suggests a vote.

When a reporter asked the president, does that mean Congress will have veto power? Well, he wouldn't go quite that far. What happens if they say no? He doesn't expect them to say no. I don't think they're going to possibly say no to the president of the United States, but he is going to seek at least some formal expression of support, as his father did in the Persian Gulf War.

KAGAN: The comments that the president making today sounding very different from the comments we heard from Vice President Dick Cheney, not very different, but slightly different over the last week, where the vice president seemed to say, you know what? If the world is not on our team, so what. And you know what, Congress? We can take them or we can leave them.

SCHNEIDER: Yes. Well, on the critical issue of the involvement of the U.N., the president was far more conciliatory. He talked about welcoming Tony Blair, the most supportive ally on this, this weekend. Jean Chretien, the prime minister of Canada, speaking by phone to the leaders of China, Russia, France. I thought that was interesting, he put China, Russia and France together. But anyway...

KAGAN: And the Security Council?

SCHNEIDER: Yes, and the U.N. Security Council -- those are all critical members.

He did not say -- he did not say that he was going to seek an expression of support or endorsement from the U.N., or that he would call for another last round of U.N. inspectors. That's where Dick Cheney has said quite clearly that there is no reason to do that. That would only give us false comfort. It wouldn't accomplish anything.

And Secretary of State Colin Powell has differed with Cheney, and said he thought that a new team of inspectors should be given one last chance to look at what's happening in Iraq. That's a key issue. And the president, today, said the issue is not inspectors. The issue is disarmament.

KAGAN: Bill Schneider, thank you for your input -- always appreciate it.

SCHNEIDER: OK.

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