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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Italian Prime Minister Meets with President Bush

Aired January 30, 2003 - 12:30   ET

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

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR, CNN ANCHOR: The president of the United States and Italy's prime minister have been meeting, and we have some videotape that we're about to show you.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'll make an opening statement. Silvio will make an opening statement. We'll have one question from the Americans; one question from the Italians. We're running a little late. We'd like to spend hours answering your questions, but the problem is we've got other matters to work on.

First, it's my honor to welcome Silvio Berlusconi back. He is a personal friend. Italy is a great friend of America; America is a great friend of Italy.

The prime minister and I will, of course, be talking about a lot of matters. The most significant matter will be how to keep the peace, how to make the world a peaceful place.

I am most grateful that the prime minister signed a letter, along with other leaders of European countries, which clarified the issue that we're dealing with; and that is that Saddam Hussein is a clear threat to peace. It was a strong statement. It also was a statement of solidarity with the United States, and I appreciated that very much.

BUSH: I appreciate your friendship. I welcome you back to the Oval Office and look forward to having a long and fruitful discussion.

SILVIO BERLUSCONI, ITALIAN PRIME MINISTER: We are here to work for a just cause and for everybody, I think. And I am here with a friend, with a country that is the best friend of my country.

BUSH: Well, thank you. And your English is very good.

BERLUSCONI: No, no. I have never the time. We have so much to do in Italy, I have not the time.

BUSH: Not the time to practice.

BERLUSCONI: To learn better English.

BUSH: Well, thank you for that kind comment.

QUESTION: Sir, are you (inaudible) giving Saddam a final deadline? And are you willing to let him slip into exile? This is a man who recently said he wants to (OFF-MIKE). BUSH: First, let me echo the comments of my national security adviser, who the other day, in commenting about this process, said this is a matter of weeks, not months. In other words, for the sake of peace, this issue must be resolved.

BUSH: Hopefully it can be done peacefully. Hopefully the pressure of the free world will convince Mr. Saddam Hussein to relinquish power. And should he choose to leave the country along with a lot of the other henchmen who have tortured the Iraqi people, we would welcome that of course.

I will tell my friend Silvio that the use of military troops is my last choice, not my first. The commitment of young men and Americans into battle is -- it's a difficult decision, because I understand the cost of war.

But I also understand the cost of inaction. There's a high price to be paid for the civilized world by not enforcing the opinion of the world, which was for Saddam Hussein to disarm. There's a reason why leaders around the world believe he ought to disarm. There's a reason why the Security Council of the United Nations voted 15 to nothing to say to Saddam disarm, and that's because he's dangerous.

Would you care to call on somebody from the Italian press?

BERLUSCONI (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): In Italy, I already said it, I had the opportunity to say that we have always been the faithful allied country of United States. We are close friends of United States also in this case.

I believe that the world has a right to find out where all the weapons of mass destruction that Saddam Hussein said he had, where they ended up. We really fear that after the series of terrorist attacks which culminated with the attacks on September 11, the intention of the terrorist is really come to a terrible disaster. And to do so, they have to avail themselves of the biological, chemical weapons that we know were available (inaudible) Saddam Hussein.

Therefore, on the basis of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1441, Saddam Hussein has to reveal and account for the weapons that we know he has. So the decision on peace rests in his hands. We all want peace.

And I'm here today to help my friend, President Bush, to convince everybody that this is in the interest of everybody.

BERLUSCONI (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): And if we are all united, the European Union, United States, the Federation of Russia, everybody, all the other states under the United Nations, then Saddam Hussein will understand that he will have no other option but to reveal the arms and to destroy them.

BUSH: Along those lines, let me make one clarification on my statement. I think that no matter how Mr. Saddam is dealt with, the goal of disarming Iraq still stays the same, regardless of who is in charge of the government. And that's very important for the Iraqi people to know.

And I also want to assure Silvio that should we require military action, shortly after our troops go in will go food and medicine and supplies to the Iraqi people. We will of course win militarily if we have to, but we'll also want to make sure that we win the peace as well.

Would you care to call on somebody in the Italian press?

QUESTION: Mr. Prime Minister, I just had a question. You expressed your sentiment of friendship for the United States and loyalty. Now, will you be ready to commit Italy to go along with the United States should the United States put together a coalition of the willing, as the president said?

And for you, Mr. President...

(CROSSTALK)

(UNKNOWN): One question only. Only one question.

BUSH: I would have answered it, but they said no.

(LAUGHTER)

But I don't even know the question.

Go ahead.

BERLUSCONI (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): We will never forget that we owe our freedom, our freedom, our wealth to the United States of America. And our democracy. And we also will never forget that there have been many American young lives that have been lost and sacrificed themselves for us.

So for us, United States is not only our friend, but they are the guarantee of our democracy and our freedom.

And I already had the opportunity to just say this to President Bush, every time I see the U.S. flag, I don't see the flag only representative of a country, but I see it as a symbol of democracy and of freedom.

BLITZER: And so there it is, the White House, that's where the president of the United States and the prime minister of Italy have been meeting today. Today, we heard President Bush say publicly what the secretary of state said only yesterday, namely this, that should Saddam Hussein decide to leave Iraq, should Saddam Hussein decide to leave together within the words of the president, his henchmen, the U.S. would welcome that. The notion of exile for Saddam Hussein, today's headline emerging from the White House.

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