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Former Presidents George H.W. Bush, William Clinton Hold Press conference

Aired February 19, 2005 - 07:06   ET


TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: As we've been mentioning, presidents, ex-presidents, Clinton and Bush are in Thailand. Let's take you there now.
THAKSIN SINHAWATRA, THAI PRIME MINISTER: ... to Thailand to express his sympathy and condolences to the Thai people, and also we feel very touched and grateful when the two presidents together, with President George W. Bush has been, we went to the Thai embassy in Washington D.C. to sign the condolences book to express the condolences on the passing away of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) at that time.

We feel very touched, and also Thailand also very grateful for the support of the U.S. government in sending the rescue, search and rescue team and using (UNINTELLIGIBLE) as the center to stage the assistance to the affected, tsunami-affected countries in the region, including Thailand.

And today, the two presidents came here and will spend the night here. We feel very grateful. This is an expression of the allies and true friend that Thailand and U.S. is really, we are a friend indeed, actually, and also we will continue to discuss the way we can, the two president and also the private sector will come to support the rehabilitation here in Thailand. Thank you. You may start.

GEORGE BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'll simply add how grateful we are to be here, how much we appreciate Prime Minister Thaksin's personal hospitality as well as that of his foreign minister and others. When we stopped in Guam we were told by the Marine three-star general that the cooperation had been exceptional, extraordinary. That Thailand's going out of its way to do absolutely everything it could to facilitate the refugee work and to start the reconstruction.

And I just think it reflects the long-standing friendship between the two countries that come together in good times and in bad, to work together. And so we're very pleased to be here. President Clinton and my mission is simply humanitarian. We're just thrilled to be trying to raise funds in the states, private sector funds to support the relief efforts, some of which we've seen today.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Just briefly, I would also like to thank the prime minister and the foreign minister and the government and congratulate them on the excellent job that they have done in the aftermath of this terrible tragedy, dealing not only with the loss of the Thai people, but all the people from other countries who were here. It was a massive thing and those of us who are on the outside looking in could only wonder at all the challenges that you face and so will.

Thailand is the United States' oldest ally in Asia going back to the very beginning of our country and it was that alliance was symbolized again when you allowed us prime minister to use (UNINTELLIGIBLE) for the whole regional work and we were, as President Bush said, we were told when we stopped for our briefing that it would have been impossible for the United States to do what we did in Banda Aceh and Indonesia and elsewhere, had it not been for the cooperation and the friendship of Thailand, so we're grateful.

In the future, we want to just do what we can to continue to help until every place has returned to normal life. I would like to just say one final thing. The American people are really behind this and President Bush asked his father and me to go and do this and try to raise money, but you should know that one-third of American households have given contributions to tsunami relief over half of them over the Internet.

And the average contribution, prime minister, is about $270, but that includes all of the million-dollar contributions. The median contribution, the one actually in the middle is under $100. So the ordinary people of the United States are behind this and are with you in spirit and I've never seen anything like it. And so we're just honored to be here. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now we will attend a few questions, please.

QUESTION: I'm (UNINTELLIGIBLE) from ITV, Thailand. I'd like to ask a question to President Bush and President Clinton. You mentioned earlier that you had to go to the disaster areas. You don't want to go just to go. You want to get an idea to help the long-term. So did you get any ideas from your visit today (UNINTELLIGIBLE) long-term and how can you make sure that (UNINTELLIGIBLE) you've gone to the right place? Thank you.

BUSH: I'll take a shot at it and let President Clinton -- frankly the emphasis should be on reconstruction and we're not -- President Clinton nor I, are in a position of trying to dictate or indicate how that should be done. We've got professionals working with the Thai officials to do that here, but my early opinion is that what needs to be done now, having a lot of the human working with the bodies.

And getting all of that taken care of, is to go forward with reconstruction and get these fishermen back in business, get the resorts back in business, many of which are doing well the prime minister told us. So it's started to come back and what we want to do is just to be sure that we keep the interest of the American people up, the private sector, so they will continue to generously support whatever efforts are determined best on the ground. I may have left something out there.

CLINTON: I think Thailand, frankly, is under the leadership of the prime minister, is in a position to manage this and have things back to normal within perhaps a year or so, perhaps more than some other places. But just from what I saw today, I would say the most urgent thing is to make sure that the people are back in their homes and businesses as soon as possible and that the fishing industry is restored, so that those surviving fishermen don't have to leave their villages and their children and their families in order to make a living in the short run.

I think that the USAID, our agency, and others if needed, can provide some more assistance in the rebuilding of the fishing vessels and the equipment and things of that kind. It seems to me that you're well on your way here, and you know, in Banda Aceh and Sri Lanka, they'll have bigger problems because they lost a higher percentage of their people and the areas are more remote. They may have a different view there, but I think you're doing very well, well on the road to complete recovery. If there's anything needed of the United States, we'll try to provide it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Next, please. From the American press?

QUESTION: Mr. President, I wonder if you can give us an idea of how important it is for the American people to understand that (UNINTELLIGIBLE) there's still a lot more to do and a lot of work ahead?

CLINTON: Well, maybe I should answer that first, since I was foolish enough to take on the U.N. job, trying to deal with this over the long run. Let me give you in the region as a whole, the estimated losses are between $11 and $12 billion to restore the homes, rebuild the wells, the sanitation facilities, the economic infrastructure of life. The commitments from governments of what has already been given by individuals total about $7 billion.

So what I would say to the American people is we have an obligation to do our part. The president has already expended hundreds of millions of dollars of government funds. He's committed about $1 billion more, I think, and what we have to do now is not to forget these people and places, when all the cameras are not there. I think that's the most important message I could say to the American people.

I have been amazed at the success of the people in Thailand and elsewhere, in not having people die of dysentery, diarrhea, cholera, and not having all of the things that normally happen after a disaster like this. But now we need to be thinking about what we're going to be doing over the next year, what we're going to be doing over two years, if necessary. That's the number one problem that we'll just forget, and not see this through.


QUESTION: Mr. Prime minister and Mr. President, I'm (UNINTELLIGIBLE) from the Thai news agency, channel 9 TV. The Thai government plans to upgrade the early warning system of the ADPC (ph) to a regional level. So what would be the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) country cooperation of the U.S. government in these efforts? SINHAWATRA: Well, we've been supported by about 30 countries to upgrade the ADPC to be the center for the early warning system to the region, and we think we might be able to move ahead with the early warning system of the whole region, in collaboration with other regions and also the Pacific center, by having ADPC as the center. We're trying to get more support and we have no problem on the funding. I think we will be able to get enough funding for the center. But Thailand will move ahead with this early warning system anyway.

BUSH: That's the answer.


QUESTION: Mr. President, what were you thinking about when you visited all of these devastated sites? What was going through your mind when you were at the wreath-laying ceremony?

BUSH: For both of us, I'm sure -- I'll let President Clinton speak for himself -- but for me, it was very emotional. We stopped and saw just a sad, little letter from, I think maybe it was a Belgian citizen, "has anybody seen this girl?" and then a sign of hope, trying to find a child. And then down there where we went by the shore, we were each presented a little crayon picture by a child. The one that gave me hers had lost her mother and all of this puts a very human face on this tragedy, and I think the American people, though, most haven't obviously been here, feel it. I think they feel in their hearts the need and desire to do something and certainly, when you see it yourself and just see the expression of sadness from a child, you can't help but be concerned.

CLINTON: I was thinking about all the people who died from Thailand and who came here because it's a beautiful place and they were made to feel welcome. They could never have anticipated it and I thought about all of our religious traditions, and how they all teach us that we're not really in control, that we don't really believe it until something like this happens. And it reminds us all to be a little more humble and grateful for every day, because we're not really in control. That's what I thought.


QUESTION: From (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in Bangkok. Mr. President, what would you say would be the most difficult path of your task as the special (UNINTELLIGIBLE) for the tsunamis?

CLINTON: I think that the most -- I think there are three things we have to do over the long run. We have to get countries to honor the commitments they've already made and then raise about probably somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 billion more. And then we have to make sure that the money is spent properly and that there is a continuing coordination -- one thing I've really been impressed by, the prime minister's government in general and certainly in this emergency is how well they coordinate things.

But there's some massive challenge, if you go to Banda Aceh or Sri Lanka, some of the other places. You've got hundreds and hundreds of NGOs who are doing great work. You've got all these different government agencies. You've got the international agencies. So what we have to do is raise the money, spend it well and then coordinate all these efforts over at least a two-year period. You may be able to return to normal here in a shorter period of time, but I think that we have to assume it will take at least two years, maybe a little more, to bring all the affected areas back in other countries. So I would say those three things will be the biggest problems.


QUESTION: Mr. President, Chris (UNINTELLIGIBLE) from the BBC. I want to pick up on that last point you were making. There's been quite a lot in the press about the difficulty of spending these huge sums of money that are being pledged. What can you, when you're talking to officials and politicians like the prime minister, what advice can you give them both here in Thailand and the other places you're going to about how to spend that money properly on the ground?

BUSH: I think the advice should come from the prime minister to us about how the money should be spent in Thailand and we saw firsthand the beginning to put into effect the application of that money to things they feel are vitally important for their people. Fishing was one, building schools and all of those things. So I think -- I think -- I don't think there will be a central agency, and again, this is a little beyond our mission here, which is simply to encourage more money to be raised back in the states, but I think each country is going to have to determine its own priorities and the United States will be there to help, and that's the way I think it ought to be.

It's clear to us this prime minister was down there many times, long before this little mission happened, to determine just that, what could he do running this great country to aid these people and I think we ought to be very respectful of the local expertise and the knowledge of the countries in which we're trying to just be of assistance.

CLINTON: I completely agree with that. I think if you look at the, even though, you know, the government of Thailand has performed, I think, extraordinarily well, the military, the civilian authorities, everybody. And as I said, we all know that in Banda Aceh and Sri Lanka, a higher number of people were killed and a bigger percentage of the economy was affected.

Still, in every place, the leadership and the performance of the local people has outstripped anything that you could have predicted and their ability to kind of put together these partnerships with all of these NGOs and all of these people coming in, so you know, my advice to the U.N., when I go back to work there in March is going to be we have to have -- this has to be a locally-driven process.

The rest of us have to show up to help, and we may be able to increase the capacity in some areas, but it's got to be locally driven. It's the lives of the people here. It's their future. It's their economy. It's their children. They have to give a future to, if they were orphaned. This thing's got to be locally driven. QUESTION: Thank you very much.

BUSH: Thank you all.

CLINTON: Thank you so much.

HARRIS: And as you can see, former Presidents Bush and Clinton in Phuket, Thailand, on a mission of mercy, actually, to continue to raise awareness of the devastation to a number of those areas. They're in Thailand now. They'll travel to the Maldives. They will travel to Sri Lanka to take a look firsthand at the devastation in that area from the December 26th earthquake and tsunami. President Clinton put in a fine point on the problem and the challenge in the days and weeks and even, as you mentioned, years ahead to get those countries who have donated huge sums of money, who have made pledges to help in the relief effort to live up to those commitments, also to spend the money properly.

In addition to raising that money and get those countries to come through with their commitments, President Clinton added that there needs to be an additional $4 billion raised to bring all of these countries back and to make them whole again. And he also mentioned that there needs to be a coordinated effort over the next two years, using the money, using the number of nongovernmental organizations in the area, who are working to help the locals there rebuild their homes and their schools and to put their economy and their lives back together, that, over the next two years, the money will have to be brought in from those committed countries.

An additional $4 billion needs to be added to the pot, and then the huge coordination effort that has to happen over the next couple of years. Aneesh Raman is there in the resort city of Phuket. And Aneesh, give us a sense of what these presidents will do over the next couple of days.


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