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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

President Bush Keeps Tabs on Iraq From Tennessee

Aired September 17, 2002 - 14:01   ET

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

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: As we wait for the president and that pledge across America, we go to Kelly Wallace. She's live in Nashville, Tennessee. She has been following the president on this trip. A little politicking and patriotism, I guess -- Kelly.
KELLY WALLACE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Lot of p's today, Kyra, very much so. Definitely the patriotism. As we've been saying, just moments from now, the president will lead this nationwide Pledge of Allegiance at 2:00 Eastern Time, schools all around the country, to recite the pledge in honor, as he said, of the 215th anniversary of the signing the of U.S. Constitution.

The president also, though, using this day to try to promote the teaching of civics and American history in the nation's schools, and then domestic politicking, as we said. He was raising about $800,000 for Lamar Alexander. You'll recall, he is former presidential candidate running for the United States Senate. Very important, the president wanting to keep as many Republicans in the United States Senate, and hoping, of course, to ultimately win back control of that body in Congress -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: So, Kelly, I understand that the president says that only one-third of 4th graders do not know the pledge. I mean, you remember back in school, that was something we had to memorize word for word.

WALLACE: It is, and I think looking at that, looking at other questions, when students are asked, what does the Civil War mean? What was that about? Talking about who participated in World War Two, various other questions, student on these standardized tests get them wrong.

PHILLIPS: Kelly.

WALLACE: Let's go now, I believe the president is speaking now.

("PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE")

PHILLIPS: So, Kelly, I am curious, as this showdown in Iraq takes place, that as the president shakes hands with these students and talks about the importance of being a patriot and knowing the pledge of allegiance if indeed he's going to talk about Iraq?

WALLACE: Well, we saw him at a fund-raiser here a short time ago, Kyra, and the president did not directly address this move by Iraq to allow weapons inspectors to return immediately without condition. The president's top advisers, though, speaking out, calling this a tactical ploy, saying that United Nations must still pass a new resolution calling on Iraq to comply with 16 resolutions or face the consequences.

The president, though, in his remarks definitely did put the onus on the United Nations.

Here is what he said a short time ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United Nations must act. It's a time for them to determine whether thigh be United Nations or the League of Nations. It's Time to determine whether or not there will be a force for good and peace, or an ineffective debating society.

The United States will remain strong in our conviction that we must not and will not allow the world's worst leaders to hold the United States, and our friends and allies, blackmail or threaten us with the world's worst weapons.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: And the view of White House officials is that Saddam Hussein came forward with this offer because he so responding to maximum international pressure. So the administration believes that the pressure must remain on Saddam Hussein. And so Secretary of State Colin Powell is working behind closed doors, trying to convince U.S. allies to keep moving forward and pass a new resolution, which would spell out all areas that Saddam Hussein has defied the U.N., how he must comply and the consequences he could face, but it's an uphill battle.

We've already heard Russia, one country with veto power on the Security Council, saying there is no need for a new resolution, that weapons inspectors must get back inside that country. That should be the first goal. So a big challenge ahead now, Kyra, for the administration.

PHILLIPS: Kelly, as we get ready for the president to step up to the podium and address folks there in Nashville, Tennessee, what else do you expect on his agenda, on items he's going to talk about?

WALLACE: Well, certainly what we heard him talk about, he's also putting pressure on Congress for his domestic agenda, in particular wanting passage of a new bill that would create a new department of homeland security, a mega-federal agency that would house some 170,000 people, merging 22 different ages to focus on homeland security. The sticking point is not really over the makeup of the agency, but over personnel matters. So the president had strong words in his speeches. U.S. official saying that it is time for Senate to act and pass a bill. The president also calling on lawmakers to act on his budget, and pass his increase in defense spending, the largest increase since the Reagan administration.

And you also have this president, Kyra, getting ready to meet with Congressional leaders tomorrow. He's invited the four congressional leaders to White House for his weekly breakfast, but we're told the big focus of that meeting will be on wording, and the timetable for congressional resolution, a resolution that could back the possible U.S. of military force.

Kelly Wallace, thank you so much. We now take to that podium where the president is speaking to us live.

BUSH: Thanks for that warm welcome. Really warm welcome.

(LAUGHTER)

Across America today Americans are reciting 31 words that help define our country. In one sentence, we affirm our form of government, our belief in human dignity, our unity as a people, and our reliance on providence.

And this pledge takes on a special meaning in a time of war. Our enemies hate these words. That's what you've got to understand. They hate the words, and they want to erase them.

We're determined to stand for these words and live them out in our lives. Our allegiance has never been stronger. We've never been more determined. And we must work to teach our children to love our nation as much as we do.

I want to thank you all for coming today. I particularly want to thank our secretary of education for traveling with me, Rod Paige. I picked Rod out of a lot of really good candidates because I wanted somebody to be in Washington who'd actually been on the front lines of educating every child. We didn't need any more theory in Washington. We needed people that had actually done.

And when we talk about raising the bar and challenging the soft bigotry of low expectations, so that every child can learn, when we talk about having an accountability system to make sure no child is left behind, our secretary of education has actually done it. He ran one of the largest school districts in my state -- our state -- and he did so with class and dignity. And the children of Houston, Texas, are better off for it.

Mr. Secretary, thank you for coming.

I'm also proud to be sharing the stage with another superintendent, Pedro Garcia.

Mucho gusto, Pedro.

(APPLAUSE)

Pedro is a good leader. It's very interesting, we were talking before we came out here, and Pedro was a part of what they call Operation Pedro Pan, Operation Peter Pan. So, by the way, was a member of my Cabinet, Mel Martinez.

When both Pedro and Mel were young men, their parents wanted their children to grow up in freedom, so they put them on an airplane to a foreign land. They had great faith in America, faith, so much faith in the ideals of our country, that they were willing to trust their teenaged children with a stranger in a foreign country.

And they came and were loved. I don't know about -- Pedro, whether your mom and dad came, but Mel's mother and daddy came.

And I want you all to remember these stories about Pedro, who is now your superintendent of school, or Mel, who's in my Cabinet, that this country offered so much hope and so much promise because we believe so strongly in freedom that people such as the Garcias and the Martinezes were willing to give up their children so they could grow up in a free society.

I love the story of Pedro Pan.

I love the job you're doing. And I wish you all the best.

And I'm also so appreciative for Kaye, Kaye Schneider, the principal of East Literature Magnet School, for opening up this school. She said it's been an amazing experience. I bet it has with all these...

(LAUGHTER)

... all these advanced people and all the entourage here.

But thanks for opening up this great school here, because this is a center of excellence, a school that refuses to leave any child behind. And it starts with having a good, solid, sound principal. So, Kaye, thank you very much.

(APPLAUSE)

I want to thank all the teachers who are here. Thank you for taking on a noble profession.

(APPLAUSE)

Old Sam Houston, he used to live in Tennessee,

And, you know, one time he had been the governor of Texas and a senator from Texas.

PHILLIPS: Live from East Literature Magnet School in Nashville, Tennessee. President of the United States leading school kids first in a pledge across America. Schools all across the nation joined the president. He's marking Constitution day, which is today. President Bush announced a new campaign to reinforce the teaching of civics and history, and that's what he's addressing with folks there at school right now.

And of course, touching on Iraq, and what is taking place at U.N.. A lot of controversy, even among Congress, this debate about an attack on Iraq. Also whether this letter from Iraq, saying that they will allow weapons inspectors back into their country, unfettered access, creating a lot of debate, among the Democrats and Republicans.

Moments ago, Senator John McCain made these comments from Capitol Hill.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: It didn't change anything. One reason why the news out of U.N. Didn't change much is because, the Iraqis claim they have in that letter agreeing to return of weapons inspectors, they claim they have no weapons of mass destruction. Everyone knows that is a lie. So when you tell a lie of that magnitude, then, of course, you -- their commitment to allowing the inspectors with free and unfettered access is also brought into significant question.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIPS: Senator John McCain just moments ago from the hill. Now a new set of circumstances facing the U.N. as it struggles with a showdown with Iraq. A day after Baghdad announced they'll readmit U.N. weapons inspectors, after reaction seems to range from wait and see to wait just a minute.

CNN's Richard Roth is live from U.N. headquarters with more -- Richard.

RICHARD ROTH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Kyra, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell wants to keep the heat on the Baghdad regime, despite Iraq's letters saying inspectors can come in without any conditions. The United States secretary of state, along with the U.N. secretary-general and representatives from the European Union and Russia met about the Middle East, but it didn't take long for a lot of questions about Iraq. Secretary of State Colin Powell said we've been down this game before, he would like a new resolution with tough continues, to make sure that Iraq disarms.

Russia at this press conference, again, noting the split perhaps between Moscow and Washington said that there is no need for an additional resolution. We'll see this unfold in days ahead. The Security Council meeting right now to decide when will be their first real meeting to get to grips with this matter.

PHILLIPS: Richard, let's talk about the process. How quickly can weapons inspectors get into Iraq, if indeed, that's what they're going to do?

ROTH: It's going to take some time, perhaps a few weeks at least. These representatives who work for the U.N. weapons inspections agency live all over the world. Some of them have jobs. They are on a roster, but you just don't call them up and say, start heading there. A lot of transportation has to be arranged, and a lot of things have to be worked on with Iraq.

PHILLIPS: What happens if they get in and they don't get unfettered access. Does that mean, inevitably, that the U.S. will go to war against Iraq? ROTH: It doesn't mean necessarily that, but it depends on how any resolution might work out here. The U.S. may reserve the right stage a military strike as soon as there is a confrontation. We've have seen that occur before, in 1998, despite whatever resolutions existed on the book.

Secretary-General Annan wants unity. He's going to look for clear language in that resolution that may give a tip-off as to what the consequences might be should Iraq block any inspectors.

PHILLIPS: And, Richard, you make a good point. If you look at the current resolutions and then talk about the resolutions that are trying to be made right now, I mean, let's talk about -- there has got to be consequences in these new resolutions, correct?

ROTH: Well, Secretary of State Powell thinks it should be spelled out what Iraq must do, the next step, how it should comply, and what are the consequences. The French, as you know, wanted two resolutions, giving Iraq a little bit more time, and judge them on what they do.

Some diplomats here want the inspectors to go back in and just see what happens. U.S. officials don't want to test that. They say we've been burned before.

PHILLIPS: Now, Richard, finally I am being told, that you are going to give us a little U.N. 101 here, and tell us exactly how it works for those that may not understand the system.

ROTH: Yes, the Security Council is -- has risen to prominence in the last 20 years. It wasn't necessarily supposed to be this way, but it is the body that watches over peace and security in the world.

Let's take a look at some aspects of what the Security Council does. Number one, it makes international law. This is not a debating society, as President Bush might have hinted about the U.N. a short time ago. What they say exists for all time. And 190 members of the U.N. respond and observe this law. There are five permanent members with veto powers. They have been this way since World War II. A lot of countries say it's an old standard, let's get some new countries on, five permanent members -- U.S., United Kingdom, France, Russia and China. Ten non-permanent members. They are on the council every two years. There is a big competition to get on. And all the big permanent powers kind of lobby them for support.

Because, Kyra, despite the big five, you need nine votes of approval to pass one of these important resolutions. And Secretary- General Annan may be most famous United Nations person, but he defers to the Security Council. He takes his marching orders from the council. And in fact, he was elected by this Security Council. Though at times he tries to send a message, as he did in his speech before President Bush on Thursday about the need for unity and countries acting together -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: From the U.N., Richard Roth thank you.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: Back to Nashville, Tennessee. The president now talking about Iraq. Let's listen in.

BUSH: .... lead toward a more peaceful world. Part of the history of the world shows that as threats develop, we must deal with them before they become too acute, unmanageable. Part of our history is that we are a peaceful people. We love and long for peace. And we want peace for generations to come, but sometimes we must act in order to achieve the peace. And all our history says we believe in liberty and justice for all; that we see oppression, we cry.

And when we found out that young girls in Afghanistan could not go to school because they were in the clutches of one of the most barbaric regimes in the history of mankind, we acted not only to uphold doctrine and to fight the war against terror, we acted to liberate people. Our history shows that we're not a nation which conquers. We're a nation which liberates.

History is important for our children to understand, to give them a better sense of how to understand what we do, and a sense of what it means to be an American, a sense of importance of serving something greater than yourself in life.

First initiative that we're going to put out is called "We The People," which will encourage American history and civic education all around the country. It'll be a grant program to encourage the development of good curricula, and lecture series, and essays by high school students on liberty and justice and freedom.

We've got a great store of documents here in America, and so we're going to put out a program called "Our Documents"; a national archivist is going to work with us to make sure all the archives of America are now online so schools can easily tap in to find out how our history developed through the archives of the country. It ought to be really interesting way for students to learn all about America.

We're going to have a White House forum there in Washington, D.C., obviously -- that's where the White House is -- in January or February of next year, to call in experts as to how better teach our history and at the same time to teach the ideals that make us a great nation.

We're going to do our part at the federal level. It's very important that you all do your part here in Nashville, Tennessee, and insist upon good civics lessons, the true lessons of history, to make sure our history understand the ideals that make us great.

And one of the things our youngsters and those of us not quite so young can do, and this is important, is to celebrate patriotism by loving your neighbor like you'd like to be loved yourself.

You see it's important to realize that one person can't do everything to change America, but one person can do something. Every child who hurts who receives your love is part of changing America for the better. It's part of fighting evil with acts of kindness and decency.

I met Harry Engle Jr. (ph) at Air Force One. He's an East Literature Magnet student. He's a junior. He was out there because he is involved with mentoring children, he's a soldier in the army of compassion here in Nashville, Tennessee.

PHILLIPS: President Bush, making comments in Nashville, Tennessee, at the magnet school there, talking about Constitution day. President Bush announcing a new campaign to reinforce the teaching of civics and history, announcing a number of new initiatives, also making a few comments on Iraq, just talking about if the U.S. wants peace for generations to come. Therefore, this ought to be a nation that continues to liberate.

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