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Bush Talks to Reporters

Aired April 20, 2003 - 12:05   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Let's listen in as the president goes out. Clearly, he met privately with the two Apache helicopter pilots. Let's listen in.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Just had a great church service. Like thousands of our fellow citizens, we celebrated Easter. We celebrated with our family, but we also celebrated with members of the 4th Infantry Division, military families. The 4th Infantry Division is in Iraq.

We also were with two brave Americans, two warrant officers, chopper pilots, who were captured in Iraq, recently returned to their families. They were celebrating Easter with their loved ones -- moms, dads, wives, brothers and sisters from around our country.

So it's a glorious day. We prayed for peace and for strength, for the many blessings. I particularly grateful that these two men were with us today. I thank God for their lives.

I hope all our fellow Americans realize that we live in a great country full of great people, and today's the day to give blessings for America as well as an almighty and gracious God.

Be glad to answer a few questions.


QUESTION: Mr. President, you said you prayed for peace this morning. How soon can you tell the American people that this operation (OFF-MIKE)?

BUSH: When Tommy Franks says it's complete.


The war -- I'll tell you this, though, the liberation of Iraq will make the world more peaceful.

QUESTION: Mr. President, there have been some anti-U.S. demonstrations stirred up by religious leaders in Iraq. Are you worried that's going to hurt the rebuilding efforts?

BUSH: I'm not worried. Freedom is beautiful, and when people are free, they express their opinions. And, you know, they couldn't express their opinions before we came. Now they can. I've always said democracy is going to be hard. It's not easy to go from being enslaved to being free. But it's going to happen, because the basic instincts of mankind is to be free. They want to be free.

And so, sure, there are going to be people expressing their opinions, and we welcome that, just like here in America people can express their opinions.


QUESTION: Mr. President, what is the latest you have on the status of Saddam Hussein?

BUSH: The only thing I could...


BUSH: Yes, Saddam Hussein is no longer in power. That's for certain. He was in power, and now he is not. And therefore, the Iraqi people's lives will be much better off.

Other than that, I don't -- Stretch, we'll just have to see.

QUESTION: Sir, any kind of threat is he is not killed or captured?

BUSH: If he is alive, I would suggest he not pop his head up.

QUESTION: Sir, you expect to return more to a domestic agenda now that the war (OFF-MIKE)?

BUSH: I will continue to promote a international agenda of peace and freedom, and I will continue doing what I have been doing, is working on our economy and working to modernize the Medicare system.

I have always been involved with the domestic policy. I somehow get somewhat taken aback when I hear stories that assume I can only do one thing. I am concerned when people in our society can't find work, and so I've been constantly promoting an aggressive jobs and growth program.

I believe our Medicare system needs to be modernized. I've consistently talked about that. I look forward to working with Congress to see that that's done.

Then I will continue to work to make the world a more peaceful place. The United States is a powerful country, and one of the things we ought to do is use our power to make the world more peaceful and more free, and I intend to continue to do that.


QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) North Korea (OFF-MIKE), and do you expect any breakthroughs? BUSH: Well, the key thing in the North Korea agenda is that China is assuming a very important responsibility, and that is that they will confirm that which -- to work toward that which Jiang Zemin told me in Crawford, right around the corner here, that China's policy is for a nuclear-weapons-free peninsula. And now that they're engaged in the process, it makes it more likely that's going to occur.

You got the United States adhering to that posture. You've got China adhering to that posture. South Korea believes that the peninsula ought to be nuclear-weapons-free. Japan strongly believes that. And I believe that all four of us working together have a good chance of convincing North Korea to abandon her ambitions to develop nuclear arsenals.

How are you, sir?

QUESTION: Yes, sir.

BUSH: Good to see you again.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) words of encouragement to the returnees.

BUSH: Well, you know, they were -- first of all, they were the encouraging people. They were the ones who offered encouragement. I was, believe this or not, somewhat taken aback when I was in their presence, and these guys were so uplifting and so positive and so obviously thrilled to be here. They got in last night at midnight. They can speak for themselves, but -- I think you can speak for yourself.


At least she did in my presence.


QUESTION: Sir, what have you been doing this weekend around the ranch?

BUSH: Yes.

QUESTION: What have you been doing at the ranch this weekend?

BUSH: Exactly.


I've been enjoying myself.

QUESTION: Someone said home projects?

BUSH: Yes, home projects, a little fishing. Nothing better than fishing with your dad.

QUESTION: Cool, sir.

BUSH: And Barney.



BUSH: Barney -- well, Barney only caught that which I caught.


But a little -- worked a little brush cutting, keeping that ranch, you know, keeping those cedars away from those good hardwoods, like that. Conserving my property. A little exercise. Spent some time with my family, and am really glad I had some time here in Crawford.

QUESTION: Did you have a chance to visit with the two pilots here?

BUSH: I did, yes, and you can visit with them, too.


BUSH: Well, we did, right, visited with their families, and I had a good talk with them. Good, strong men.

It's an amazing experience when you think about it. Here we are, Easter, one of the great religious holidays, and these guys arrived last night. Might have actually arrived Easter Day, you know. I don't know if it was exactly midnight or a little after midnight.

QUESTION: It was a little before midnight.

BUSH: A little before midnight. Well, Easter eve. I was trying to make the story a little more dramatic than it really was.


QUESTION: I wonder if the two pilots could...

BUSH: Yes, they can.

QUESTION: ... share their experience.

BUSH: Sure, they can. That's up to them. They don't have to. I have to speak to the press. They don't have to. But it's not that bad an experience.


BUSH: This guy is getting ready -- I'll tell you one thing about this guy. He is going to go see his children for the first time since he was captured. He hasn't even seen his children. So if you ask him questions, don't make it long because, see, we're holding a dad up from hugging two children.

DAVID WILLIAMS, CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER: Yes, sir. QUESTION: Could you tell us a little bit about your meeting with the president inside the (OFF-MIKE)?

WILLIAMS: It was an absolute honor, sir, an absolute honor.


RON YOUNG, CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER: We stand 100 percent behind whatever our president decides to do. We're honored to serve him. And this is definitely one of the highlights of my life, absolutely.

QUESTION: Mr. President, did you get any signs of cooperation from Syria yet?

BUSH: There's some positive signs. They're getting the message that they should not harbor Baath Party officials, high-ranking Iraqi officials. A lot of other countries have also sent that message.

As you know, Secretary Powell will be going to visit with the Syrians, and it seems like they're beginning to get the message.

And when we think there's somebody there or know somebody's there, we, of course, will pass on the name and fully expect the Syrian government to hand the person over.

QUESTION: How many are there? Do you have any idea of Iraqi leaders?

BUSH: Well, obviously we felt some were there, otherwise we wouldn't have spoken out. But probably the best diplomacy is that not through the Associated Press or Reuters or Dallas Morning News or Houston Chronicle or any -- let's see, who else -- Bloomberg or -- but the best diplomacy is the diplomacy of, you know, of having our friends, as well as ourselves, send clear messages, and we're doing that.

And I'm confident the Syrian government has heard us, and I believe it when they say they want to cooperate with us.

Listen, have a wonderful day. Thank you all.

QUESTION: Happy Easter, sir.


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