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Bush-Blair News Conference

Aired April 8, 2003 - 06:07   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: The British prime minister and the U.S. president now speaking in Belfast.

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: ... with (UNINTELLIGIBLE) with the Irish (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in urging the parties to take the final steps towards a lasting peace here in Northern Ireland.

It's also perhaps fitting that here in Northern Ireland a good part of our discussion focused on the Middle East. It's not been so many years ago that it would have been said that the peace process here was in far worse shape than the process out in the Middle East.

Yet, here we are for all the difficulties in Northern Ireland able to point back to real improvements in the security and the standards of living of people here, and to point forward to turning progress into lasting change, lasting security and lasting peace, which is what people want to see here.

And we've made that progress because of patience and perseverance, and because friends, like those in the United States of America, helped us get there. So to those who can sometimes say that the process in the Middle East is hopeless, I say we can look at Northern Ireland and take some hope from there.

I want to thank the president also for the impetus he has given to the two-state solution in the Middle East that he outlined last June, a secure Israel and a viable Palestinian state, and for his decision that the roadmap be published, which as you know depends upon the foundation of Abu Mazen's cabinet.

Of course, our discussions have naturally continued to focus upon Iraq, upon the continuing military campaign, where once again our forces have performed superbly, and I want to pay tribute to the U.S., U.K. and other coalition forces. In all parts of the country, our power is strengthening, the regime is weakening, the Iraqi people are turning towards us.

I'd like to pay tribute to the professionalism and the compassion that they continue to show, and to express my condolences to the families of those that have lost their lives in this conflict, and most recently the three brave soldiers who lost their lives fighting to liberate Basra.

I think anyone who has seen the joy on the faces of people in Basra as they realize that the regime that they detest is finally collapsing knows very well that this was indeed a war of liberation and not of conquest.

On weapons of mass destruction, we know that the regime has them. We know that as the regime collapses, we will be led to them. We pledged to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, and we will keep that commitment.

On Saddam, his grip on power has been prized away. He has ruled by fear, but as the knowledge sinks in that we will get the job done, the people realize there's not going to be a repeat of 1991, there's not going to be a repeat of the past. The power of Saddam is ending.

And our enemy in this conflict has always been Saddam and his regime, not the Iraqi people. We are the friends of the Iraqi people. So much of our discussion today has focused on how we continue to get vital supplies of food, water and medicines to them and how we help the process of transition to the day when Iraq is governed by the Iraqi people, for the Iraqi people.

As we've said, our forces will not stay in Iraq a day longer than is necessary. We will take on the legal and moral obligations that will fall to us as the forces on the ground stabilize the country, to keep basic services going, to protect civilian life. Then we will help Iraq move as swiftly as possible to an interim authority run by Iraqis. And that, in turn, is designed to pave the way for a truly representative government which respects human rights and the rule of law, which spends Iraq's wealth, not on palaces and weapons of mass destruction, but on the well being prosperity of the people of Iraq.

And this new Iraq that will emerge is not to be run either by us or indeed by the U.N., that is a false choice, it will be run by the Iraqi people. All of us will do what we can to help in that process of transition. And we are, of course, agreed, as we say in our joint statement, that there will be a vital role for the United Nations in the reconstruction of Iraq. But the key is that Iraq, in the end, should be governed by the Iraqi people.

Once again, let me thank President Bush for coming here. Let me say as well as our own pride and our own forces during the course of this conflict, we have watched with immense admiration the skill and tenacity and professionalism of the American forces.


BLAIR: This is a strong alliance, we're strong allies, and I think day by day the proof of the wisdom of that alliance grows.

BUSH: Thank you.

BLAIR: Thank you.

BUSH: Thank you very much, Tony. It's an honor to be with you again. It's -- really pleased to be here in Northern Ireland.

The Prime Minister is a man of his word. He is a man of great ability, deep conviction and steady courage. He has my admiration and he has the admiration of the American people. Our two countries are joined in large tasks because we share fundamental convictions. We believe that free nations have the responsibility to confront terrorism. We believe free nations must oppose the spread of weapons of mass destruction. And we believe that free nations must advance human rights and dignity across the world. We believe that the just demands of the international community must be enforced, not ignored.

We believe this so strongly that we are acting on our convictions. America and Britain have been partners in Afghanistan where a terrorist regime has been replaced by a government committed to justice and to peace. At this moment, our military forces are fighting side by side in Iraq to defend our security and to free that nation from oppression. Our governments are working to help bring about a settlement in the Middle East that protects the rights of Israelis and Palestinians, that promotes the peace, that promotes security, that promotes human dignity. In Northern Ireland, the Prime Minister and I are committed to helping the parties take the final steps toward a lasting peace.

Later this week, Prime Minister Blair and Ditshook (ph) will release the plan setting out the remaining actions that must be taken to realize the promise of the Good Friday agreement. I support and my government strongly supports their efforts.

The meeting this afternoon, I will urge Northern Ireland's political leaders to adopt this plan as their own. This is an historic moment, and I ask all the communities of Northern Ireland to seize this opportunity for peace.

Prime Minister Blair and I are also reviewing the course of the battle in Iraq. We're spending a lot of time talking about that country's future beyond war and beyond tyranny. As the Prime Minister mentioned, are armed services are conducting themselves with great courage and at the same time, great humanity. I'm proud of our forces. I'm proud of the British forces. We're both proud of the Australian forces.

We share sacrifices. We share grief. We pray for those families who mourn the loss of life, American families, British families. And as this war has progressed, the world has witnessed the brutal desperation, the true character of the Iraqi regime. The world is also witnessing the liberation and humanitarian aid our coalition is bringing to that country as a new day begins in Iraq.

In fighting this war, we're taking every precaution to protect innocent life. We're showing respect for the Iraqi people, respect for their culture. There will be difficult fighting ahead, yet the outcome is not in doubt, Iraq will be free.

After the current regime is removed, our coalition will work to restore electricity and water supplies, medical care and other essential services in Iraq. We will move as quickly as possible to place governmental responsibilities under the control of an interim authority composed of Iraqis from both inside and outside the country. The interim authority will serve until a permanent government can be chosen by the Iraqi people.

The rebuilding of Iraq will require the support and expertise of the international community. We're committed to working with international institutions, including the United Nations, which will have a vital role to play in this task. This work when the war is finished will not be easy, but we're going to see it through.

A free Iraq will be ruled by laws, not by a dictator. A free Iraq will be peaceful and not a friend of terrorists or a menace to its neighbors. A free Iraq will give up all its weapons of mass destruction. A free Iraq will set itself on the path to democracy.

The end of Saddam's regime will also remove a source of violence and instability in the Middle East. Prime Minister Blair and I are determined to move toward our vision of broader peace in that region. We're committed to implementing the roadmap toward peace, to bring closer to the day when two states, Israel and Palestine, live side by side in peace and stability.

Peace in the Middle East will require overcoming deep divisions of history and religion, yet we know this is possible. It is happening in Northern Ireland. You're proving that old patterns of bitterness and violence, the habits of hatred and retribution can be broken when one generation makes the choice to break those habits. And now this process of healing must be carried forward. The United States and the United Kingdom accept our responsibilities for peace. We accepts our responsibilities for security. Across the world we are meeting these responsibilities together. America has no finer ally than the United Kingdom and no finer friend than the prime minister. And I'm grateful for his leadership in these crucial days.


QUESTION: Mr. President, welcome to Northern Ireland.

I wonder if I could ask you how you feel about meeting the leaders of the Republican movement, bearing in mind that unlike Saddam Hussein, they have directly targeted British civilians, British politicians, members of the British military and the police, and also, of course, that they oppose the war. So you're welcoming Gerry Adams, apparently, and yet you're not going to see someone like the Democratic Unionists, who are a constitutional party opposed to terrorism.

BUSH: Right. This is my first time I've met Mr. Adams or any of the other parties who have committed to the Good Friday Agreement. As a matter of fact, I welcomed them to the Oval Office around St. Patrick's Day of this year and last year and the year before. I am honored to have been asked to be here to help move the process along.

These are men who have committed to an agreement that the prime minister and the tshirk (ph) worked a long time to achieve.

They've signed onto a process that will yield peace. They have agreed to put hatreds in the past. They have agreed to say the history is just that, history, and they look forward to a future in which young generations of Northern Irelanders can grow up in peace. That's what they've committed themselves to. And as a result of making that commitment, I am perfectly comfortable about urging them to see the process through.

There is such hope here in Northern Ireland that the past can be broken. And the prime minister is right when he says that when it, when the peace process is successful here, it'll send a really important signal to other parts of the world. It'll confirm the fact that people who have a vision for peace can see that vision become a reality.

It's the same vision we need to have in the Middle East. It's a hopeful time in the Middle East as far as I'm concerned. I believe we can make substantial progress. I'm pleased with the new leader of the Palestinian Authority. I look forward to him finally putting his cabinet in place so we can release the road map.

I believe peace is possible. Being here in Northern Ireland even makes me even more firm in my belief that peace is possible. I've talked at length with the prime minister about how hard he had to work to bring the process this far. I'm willing to spend the same amount of energy in the Middle East.

And so I hope these leaders hear me when I say that achieve the agreement, because it'll have an effect beyond Northern Ireland. And I think it will.

Yes, Ron?

QUESTION: Mr. President, how reliable was the intelligence that put Saddam Hussein at the site of last night's attack? Did he survive? And given the incursions in Baghdad recently, is the war nearly over?

BUSH: You know, I don't know whether he survived. The only thing I know is he's losing power. I know that because of the Royal Marines in Basra worked so hard that the people of Basra are beginning to understand that -- a couple of things. One, when we said we would come and stay to achieve their liberty, we meant it, that in Basra, for example, the Royal Marines -- the presence of the Royal Marines is providing enough comfort for people to begin to express their own opinions. They're beginning to realize freedom is real.

These are people in the south of Iraq that had been betrayed, tortured, you know, had been told they were going to be free, took a risk in the past and then were absolutely hammered by the Iraqi regime. They were skeptical, they were cynical, they were doubtful. Now they believe, they're beginning to understand we're real and true. And it's happening elsewhere. Freedom is spreading south to north.

And so the only thing I can tell you is that that grip I used to describe that Saddam had round the throats of the Iraqi people are loosening. I can't tell you if all 10 fingers are off the throat. But finger by finger is coming off and the people are beginning to realize that. It's important for the Iraqi people to continue to hear this message. We will not stop until they are free. Saddam Hussein will be gone. It might have been yesterday, I don't know. But he'll be gone. And they just need to know that. Because we're not leaving. And not only that, they need to hear the message that we're not leaving after he's gone until they are ready to run their own government.

I hear a lot of talk here about how, you know, we're going to impose this leader or that leader. Forget it. From day one we have said the Iraqi people are capable of running their own country. That's what we believe. The position of the United States of America is the Iraqis are plenty capable of running Iraq and that's precisely what is going to happen.

BLAIR: Andy?

QUESTION: Andrew Marr (ph), BBC News.

Picking up, if I could, just on that last point for both of you, have you agreed whether the United Nations will have any role in selecting the interim Iraqi authority or will that be entirely for the coalition?

BUSH: Yes, I mean when we say vital role for the United Nations, we mean vital role for the United Nations in all aspects of the issue, whether it be humanitarian aid or whether it be helping to stand up an interim authority. The Iraqi people will decide who's on the Iraqi -- the interim authority. The interim authority is a transition quasi government until a real government shows up, until the conditions are right for the people to elect their own leadership. And the United Nations will have a vital role.

When we say vital role, that's precisely what we mean, that they will be involved, along with the coalition, in helping to stand up an interim authority.

But the Iraqi people are responsible for who's on that authority. And Tony can describe what's happening in Basra. He might describe some of the meetings that are taking place as leadership begins to emerge. It is a cynical world that says it's impossible for the Iraqis to run themselves. It is a cynical world which condemns Iraq to failure. We refuse to accept that.

We believe in the -- that the Iraqi people are capable, talented and will be successful in running their own government.

BLAIR: I agree with all that, as you would expect. And can I just make this further point to you. The one thing that is interesting is that as people in Iraq realize that Saddam and his regime are going, as they realize that, they are coming out and it's not that they're welcoming us because they're, that they're welcoming foreign troops. They're welcoming the fact of their liberation from a regime, the more we know about it, the more brutal, repressive, tyrannical we see its character. And therefore, you know, these people, given a chance, already now they're in discussion with our people inside Basra, people coming forward, people talking about those who have got support within the local community. Iraq, it's not just that it's right that Iraq is run by Iraqi people. They want the chance to run their own country. You know, they haven't wanted to be under the yoke of tyranny for all these decades. The reason you had this incredibly tyrannically repressive security apparatus was in order to suppress the proper feelings of the people there.

Now, of course, we're going to work with everyone. We'll work with the U.N. We'll work with everyone in order to bring this about. But if I can just make this point to (UNINTELLIGIBLE). The important thing is not to get into some battle about, you know, words of the precise role here or there, but let's all work together internationally, the coalition forces, the international community together, to do what we really should be doing, which is making sure that that will of the Iraqi people is openly expressed in institutions that in the end they own, not any outside power or authority.

And I think if we keep that vision in our minds, then we'll get this right. And rather than having a sort of, you know, endless diplomatic wrangles over it, let's all just agree that the basic things that the Iraqi people want is they want to have a country where they are able to exploit their own wealth for their own prosperity, where they have basic protection of human rights and where they have a government genuinely representative of Iraqi people, of the full diversity of Iraqi people.

And I think what the president's just said there is so true, that, you know, I can't tell you how many times people have said to me in these situations, well, you know, the outside world doesn't really understand. Somehow these people who are living under these types of tyrannies really, that's the way they live.

It's not the way they want to live. It's the way they're forced to live. Give them a chance to live freely, and they will live freely.

Steve (ph).

QUESTION: What exactly is the vital role for the U.N. that you both mentioned? How do you explain what is a "vital role?" And are we going to see the same U.N. debate over post-war Iraq that we saw before the war?

BUSH: Yes, well, I view the vital role is as an agent to help people live freely. That's a vital role, and that means food, that means medicine, that means aid, that means a place where people can give their contributions, that means suggesting people for the IAA, that means being a party to the progress being made in Iraq. That's what that means.

And I want to thank Kofi Annan for naming a personal representative to the process yesterday. It is a positive step.

We have said all along there needs to be role for the United Nations. We said so in the Azores. We will keep repeating it.

And evidently there's some skepticism here in Europe about whether or not I mean what I say. Saddam Hussein clearly now knows I mean what I say, and when, you know, we -- and people in Iraq will know we mean what we say when we talk about freedom. And a vital role for the United Nations means a vital role for the United Nations.

BLAIR: Absolutely. And there is no reason whatever why we need to go back into the wrangles we had over, you know, the so-called second resolution.

If people keep in mind the key objective, which is the well being of the Iraqi people. Whatever is the past is the past. This country is in the process of being liberated. If they keep in mind the well being of the Iraqi people, then I think we all then share a responsibility to make that objective be fulfilled in terms of what the Iraqi people want, in terms of their democratic rights, in terms of their prosperity, in terms of their freedom. And with goodwill and common sense I'm sure it can be done.

HEMMER: There you have it from Northern Ireland in Belfast, the British Prime Minister Tony Blair and U.S. President George Bush meeting there with reporters for about 25 minutes in length, saying repeatedly there will be a vital role in the future of Iraq for the United Nations, which continues to be a discussion not only in Belfast, but also in London, back in New York as well at the U.N. headquarters.

But even more critical, it appears right now, is this airstrike yesterday, midday Baghdad time in this residential neighborhood in Iraq, and four giant satellite-guided bombs hitting one building there. And there are indications possibly that leading members of the Iraqi government were present at the time, maybe Saddam Hussein, maybe his two sons, but we do not have a clear picture right now as to what the results or the outcome of that was.

When asked about that, President Bush saying, I don't know, it might have been yesterday whether or not Saddam Hussein was killed, but he will be gone eventually.

We want to get to John King in Belfast, where there is not only the issue of Iraq certainly, but the talk about Northern Ireland and also the Middle East peace process.

But, John, let's keep it on Iraq at this point right now. Is it your feeling right now in talking with your sources within the White House and others that Tony Blair and George Bush right now feel a sort of vindication knowing that this war is almost three weeks old and the naysayers of two weeks ago have pretty much faded in the background?

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Behind the scenes a sense of vindication, yes, Bill. Excuse the breeze here in Belfast. Behind the scenes a sense of vindication. Publicly though, both leaders staying clear of any gloating, because they know there will be difficult battles ahead, both speaking of the sacrifices paid by U.S. and British forces during the military action so far. So behind the scenes, yes, they believe the skeptics of the battle plan have been proven wrong and profoundly so, but they also know there is tough work ahead.

Quite colorful language from the president on that question as to whether Saddam Hussein might have been killed in that strike last night. Mr. Bush often uses his hands to say that Saddam is holding a grip on the throat of the Iraqi people. The president saying that he did not know whether on this day all 10 fingers had been removed by Saddam Hussein being killed in that strike, but he did say finger by finger, Saddam's grip on power and his grip on the Iraqi people was loosening.

Both leaders also trying to move past this political controversy over what role the United Nations should play. Mr. Bush essentially saying there should be no turf battle about who calls the shots. Everyone should work together, get an interim Iraqi authority made up of Iraqis in place, and then transition that to a representative government.

The administration holding firm and going against the will of many other European nations saying the United Nations should be involved, but largely in a supportive and a consultative way, but the United Nations should not manage post-war Iraq -- Bill.

HEMMER: John, also, why is it so critical right now to have these parallel tracks? You would think these men would come out and focus exclusively on Iraq? Why is it, though, they're still trying to put forward the Middle East peace process right now at the same time, again as I mentioned, parallel tracks?

KING: Well, Bill, as you sit in Kuwait City, you are watching more Arab television than viewers here in Europe and viewers at home in the United States would see. And there is a great deal of skepticism throughout the Arab world about why this war to begin with, what are the U.S. motives in the region when this war is over? Mr. Bush, under pressure from Mr. Blair, and both leaders committing to proving, they say proving that they are committed to being even-handed across the Middle East.

So Mr. Blair has put pressure on Mr. Bush to answer the Arab street, if you will. You see all these protests, you see the coverage in the Arab world. Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair saying, yes, they are going to have this war in Iraq, but immediately afterwards they are going to prove that they are committed to helping the Palestinians, helping Arabs as well, by putting pressure on the Israeli government and making demands of the new Palestinian prime minister to try to get the Israelis and the Palestinians back to the peace process.

So in a sense, trying to prove that their motives are good in the war in Iraq by saying that they are committed to peace across the Middle East. That will be the next challenge, of course. And it could be coming just a few weeks from now, even as the post-war era in Iraq unfolds.

HEMMER: John, thanks -- our senior White House correspondent traveling with the president there in Belfast, Northern Ireland. John, we'll be in touch a bit later today.


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