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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Fire Zone Tour

Aired November 4, 2003 - 13:28   ET

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

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Now to El Cajon, California. The president of the United States had a chance to survey the damage from the Southern California wildfires and is addressing reporters.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The worst of nature can bring out the best in our fellow human beings. And to a person, they were thankful for the fact that neighbors do care about neighbors. And people are helping people here. It's just tough for a lot of folks who live in this part of the world.

And I want to thank the supervisor, the firefighters for welcoming us here.

Let me answer a few questions and we'll keep going.

QUESTION: I got a couple of questions.

One, what's your evaluation, your assessment of the scene you've seen here?

And two, to more and more Americans, the situation in Iraq is looking like a hot war. Are we back to major combat operations?

BUSH: No. We're back to finding these terrorists and bringing them to justice. And we will continue to find the terrorists and bring them to justice.

These people want to -- these people being the terrorists and those who would kill innocent life -- want us to retreat. They want us to leave because they know that a free and peaceful Iraq in their midst would damage their cause.

And we will stay the course. We will do our job.

First question?

QUESTION: What do you see when you look at this scene?

BUSH: I see human tragedy and heartache.

I see the loss of a lot of material possessions.

However, I see a strong spirit which exists here. I see people who are resolve to rebuild their lives. Amidst their tears, they do see hope. And that is a great tribute to the people in this part of California.

The state's been devastated. Over 3,300 homes have been destroyed, 4,000-some odd structures have been destroyed. Hundreds of thousands of acres have been burned.

But the spirit is strong. People are resolved to move on with their life.

And we want to help them. That's why I am here with federal agencies and with the governor and governor-elect, as well as local officials, all of whom are determined to provide the resources necessary to help.

QUESTION: Again on Iraq, sir, are you moving to a process of a Iraqification, trying to use...

BUSH: What word?

QUESTION: Iraqification. This is a term that (OFF-MIKE) accelerate the transition of the Iraqi people instead of bringing in more international aid. (OFF-MIKE)

BUSH: We'll do both. We'll bring in aid from those countries that want to help. We had a very successful donors conference.

We just passed the supplemental yesterday. As you know, I look forward to signing it. And I believe I'm going to sign it tomorrow. And it is a commitment by our government and our country to help the Iraqis rebuild their society.

And that rebuilding is part of the development of a peaceful and free Iraq. And that peaceful and free Iraq is essential to the security of the United States. This will help change the world in a positive way, so that years from now, people will sit back and say, "Thank goodness, America stayed the course and did what was necessary to win this battle in the war on terror."

QUESTION: But you seem to be accelerating the process of turning it over to Iraq.

BUSH: Well, as you know, from the moment of liberating the country from Saddam Hussein, we have now stood up over 70,000 Iraqi citizens to be police, border patrol, in the beginning of the military, so that Iraqis will be able to run their own country.

That has been our mission all along -- to develop the conditions such that a free Iraq will emerge run by the Iraqi citizens.

You remember early on I kept saying I've got great confidence in the capacity of the Iraq people to run their own country, and it is to this nation's advantage that there be a peaceful and free Iraq.

It's in our security interests and it will help promote world peace for Iraq to emerge as a free and peaceful country.

QUESTION: Mr. President, clearly the residents here appreciate your coming and you seeing the devastation here. Do you bring additional help beyond what this (inaudible)

BUSH: No, what I do is I answer questions, Ed, as to whether or not the help that is available is being delivered and hopefully I get the truth.

I mean, if there is a frustration at the federal level I need to know about -- I haven't heard that yet. I've been -- frankly, Mike Brown and FEMA have been getting high marks. But I want to see as best as the president can possibly see the truth.

First of all, I've seen the truth of the devastation of fire -- that's evident.

Now I want to know whether or not the help that is available is being expedited and made available, and so far the marks appear to be good, but if we're slow and if we're not doing what we need to be doing, we'll adjust and respond.

QUESTION: You said that Saddam Hussein is no longer a menace, but there is reports that he may be behind these attacks.

(OFF-MIKE)

BUSH: Well, he's no longer running the country. He's no longer got rape rooms -- no longer raping young girls -- having young girls raped because their families don't agree with him. He's no longer torturing people.

He's no longer developing mass graves -- remember, we've discovered thousands and thousands and thousands of men, women and children in mass graves in Iraq. He's no longer running -- no longer threatening people. I mean, he is no longer in power, and we'll get him, we'll find him.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

BUSH: Oh, I'm sure he's trying to stir up trouble. As I've said, Saddam loyalists -- those are the people that -- the torturers and murderers and thugs that used to benefit from Saddam Hussein's regime are the ones -- some of the ones creating the havoc, trying to create the conditions so that we leave, testing our will.

BUSH: And I'm sure that, you know, he's -- I don't know. Look, I can't tell you what he's doing. All I can tell you is he's not running Iraq. And all I can tell you as well, there's a lot -- some people who are upset by the fact that he's no longer in power.

QUESTION: Mr. President, you know Sunday was the deadliest day in Iraq since the end of major combat. What was your reaction to the downing of the Chinook and the 16 soldiers who were killed on board? And also, should Americans be prepared for more such deadly days ahead?

BUSH: I am saddened any time there's a loss of life. I'm saddened, because I know a family hurts and there's a deep pain in somebody's heart. But I do want to remind the loved ones that their sons and daughters -- or the sons in this case -- died for a cause greater than themselves and a noble cause, which is the security of the United States. A free and secure Iraq is in our national security interests.

We are at war, and it's essential that the people of America not forget the lessons of September 11th, 2001. We are vulnerable to attack. There are people that hate us and there are people who are willing to take thousands of lives in acts of tremendous violence. And the United States must understand that and adjust to the new realities.

And part of that reality is defeating terrorism and defeating the terrorists. And that's precisely what the loved ones who died on that day were doing -- they were making America more secure. And I want to thank their families for the ultimate sacrifice.

Yes, ma'am. You've been very patient, unlike some of the others in the press corps.

QUESTION: Well, they took all my questions.

BUSH: OK. Well, that's OK.

QUESTION: No, I'm kidding.

You've had a chance to talk to a few of the families here. You know, I live here, so I've seen the destruction as I'm seeing it firsthand here for the first time. How do you continue to give these folks hope?

(CROSSTALK)

BUSH: You know, that's a really good question.

You know, the best thing I can do is to listen and hug and just empathize as best as I can empathize. It's very difficult for me to put myself in their position, because it's their home and their possessions.

I mean, you know, as the lady just said, she said, "All my are gone. All my memories have been destroyed in one act of nature." And it is a sad moment for me to hear that.

On the other hand, best as I possibly can I try to encourage her and lift up her spirit by reminding her that some of the most precious things are still there: her husband, her daughter who is, by the way, serving in the United States military -- this was the lady up here whom, hopefully, she'll be reunited soon and can hug and kiss and love.

And -- but it's a very sad moment to listen to the stories of those who are obviously devastated by what has taken place. And all our jobs, for those of us who are still standing and have got our lives intact, is to comfort and to provide comfort and help. I met a lady at the airport when I landed at Miramar, a Red Cross volunteer. She has spent a hundred hours this week helping people who hurt. And I suspect the citizens here who are at the darkest moments will find light when a fellow citizen loves them. And the response, as I understand, in this neighborhood has been terrific where people have come together and they want to help their fellow citizens.

OK, listen, thank you all.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIPS: The president of the United States addressing reporters there. We will take the president live. That was actually a taped turnaround as he's been touring the damage there in Southern California from the wildfires. Also commenting on Iraq and the second day of explosions at the CPA location there at Saddam's former palace. We'll check in again as the president takes the podium live.

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