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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

President Bush and President Putin Hold Media Availability

Aired September 16, 2005 - 15:00   ET

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


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you all. Please be seated.
I'm pleased to welcome my friend Vladimir Putin back to the White House.

We just had a constructive meeting and a candid conversation.

I told the president how much I enjoyed visiting Russia early this year and how much I'm looking forward to going back to Russia for the G-8.

I also thanked President Putin, Vladimir, for Russia's offers of assistance in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

It meant a lot to know that you cared enough to send critical supplies and our country really appreciates it.

People are going through some tough times down there, and I think it lifts their spirits to know that, not only Americans, but the Russians care about their future.

We've got a strong ally in Russia in fighting the war on terror.

And it was about four years ago that our country got attacked, one year ago there was Beslan: both of them brutal attacks, both of them attacks by people who have no regard for innocent life.

And we understand we have a duty to protect our citizens and to work together and to do everything we can to stop the killing. That's why we hold office.

And I appreciate you very much -- your understanding of this war on terror.

We also understand that we've got to work to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction. We understand the stakes that people who kill in cold blood if they have weapons of mass destruction will kill in cold blood on a massive scale.

And I want to appreciate you for your understanding -- thank you for your understanding of that.

We both signed the International Convention of the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism, which was a positive statement by the world. We discussed our efforts to work together on Iran and North Korea. We have the same goal: We don't want the Iranians to have nuclear weapons and we don't want the North Koreans to have nuclear weapons. We talked about ways to achieve those goals.

We talked about the need to improve nuclear security. This year, we reached a milestone in nonproliferation cooperation by completing the conversion of 10,000 Russian nuclear warheads into peaceful fuel for U.S. power reactors.

And I appreciate very much that sense of cooperation. That's good for the world to see.

We talked about our economic relationship. Russia's got a growing economy. We have products that they want and they've got products that we want, like energy. And it's necessary for us to have a good economic relationship, one where we resolve our differences in a wise way.

I told Vladimir that I'm very interested in seeing if we can't complete the negotiations for Russia's entry into the WTO, the World Trade Organization, by the end of this year.

As we strengthen our economic ties, we'll work to advance freedom and democracy in our respective countries and around the world. Russia's been a strong partner of the United States, and will be even a stronger partner as the reforms that President Vladimir Putin has talked about are implemented: rule of law and the ability for people to express themselves in an open way in Russia.

I don't know how many visits we've had. I haven't been counting them because I've run out of fingers on my hands. But there's been a lot. And every time I visit and talk with President Putin, our relationship becomes stronger.

And I want to thank you for that. And thank you for coming here to the White House to visit. Welcome.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Thank you very much.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, first and foremost, I'd like to thank the president for invitation to visit the White House.

And at the outset allow me to relate the words of most sincere compassion and support to the American people with regards to the strikes of Mother Nature that's Hurricane Katrina, which caused death of many human lives and caused serious destruction.

Believe us, we are sincerely and genuinely having the feeling of compassion with that tragedy with you.

Russia, in the very first hours after the tragedy, proposed its support. Of course, this aid is in no comparison with the scale plan which was laid down yesterday by the president of U.S. to restore that part of the country. But that was a sincere support. And we wanted to shore-up morally the people, which they currently need most: that's medications and that's the first-need objects.

And I must say, these events, to the entire world, have become a serious lesson, not only for the U.S. It's not an accident that we have paid a lot of attention today, and while we have meetings in New York, since it's a global catastrophe -- absolutely global catastrophe, which must make us think.

And today I told it, George, to ourselves in Russia, we, too, will draw our conclusions regarding organization of activities of services related to averting such catastrophes with efficient response to the similar catastrophes, which are indeed of a global nature.

That's precisely why we've discussed these tragic events and our cooperation as regards averting of these (inaudible) catastrophes, infectious diseases and so forth.

I'm sure if we pool our effort, then our activities will become more efficient.

In general, the qualitatively new level of interaction between our two countries allows to efficiently address these breakthrough strategic tasks in many spheres of our interaction. And our today's meeting was another confirmation of that.

The traditional high-priority subjects of our interaction is anti-terrorist preparation of the U.S. and Russia. We have agreed to enhance the bilateral coordination, including at the level of the working group to combat terrorism.

Hereby we believe that special attention should be paid to joint effort to avert terrorist activities generally, and, of course, with the possible use of bioterrorists of weapons of mass destruction, you know that relevant decision has been adopted in New York, in the United Nations organization.

Significant attachment was paid to the subject of nonproliferation. And here we have discussed the North Korean problem and the Iranian nuclear dossier, and I must say that our positions are very close with the American partners here. We will continue to coordinate our work.

On our part, I'd like to point out the potential of diplomatic solutions to all these questions is far from being exhausted. And we will undertake all of the steps necessary to settle all of these problems and issues, not to aggravate them, not to bring them to extremalities.

We have in detail discussed other crisis-related situations in the world. And I must say that on all these issues, our foreign policy agencies are in touch constantly.

We have discussed also the upcoming meeting of the G-8. And I'm thankful to George for some of his recommendations. We will continue with our partners to be in touch closely coordinating preparation of this event and working out the agenda so that the meeting of G-8 in the Russian Federation be organized at high-level quality, but also would take the torch and uphold it, and also bring some fresh breath as regards to the relevance of all these subjects as they are considered by our countries and the entire world.

We also discussed today the situation at the post-Soviet Union space. Our countries have a joint interest in maintaining stability and economic prosperity of this vast territory.

The position of Russia is well known. We come out for the consistent advancement of integrational process within the frameworks of this community of independent states with straight respect to sovereignty of all neighbors; their own right, without pressure from outside, to choose their mode of national development. And we will coordinate our activities with all our partners on that one.

In the course of negotiations, we have also assessed the course of fulfillment of all set of instructions given on Russia-U.S. relations. And I'd like to point out the economic ties (inaudible) the president just mentioned the fact that we have mutual interest toward each other, including as regards the growing Russia economy and in the sector of energy. We have discussed that in detail.

Basically, this is always a subject of our bilateral meetings. We have vast reserves to further develop our economic interaction, and the first and foremost as regards energy dialogue, high technologies, space research. And you know that over the past years a lot has been done both by U.S. and the Russian Federation in this area jointly.

We have discussed the possibly of accession of WTO by Russia. We discussed that in further detail. And I'm very thankful to the president of the U.S. for understanding of our interests during the negotiation process. And I hope that at the expert level, too, our specialists will be able to ultimately find some practical solutions, even if the questions they have to coordinate are quite a few.

But the positive dynamics is there, and I would like to express the hope that it will result in specific outcomes.

And in conclusion, I'd like to underscore, one more time, that we are convinced with the president that the firm basis of the Russia- U.S. partnership should be based on the broad ties of our societies, citizens, civil societies.

And after this meeting in the White House we will have a chance to talk with the leaders of the American companies. And I hope that those meetings will also be of help and be useful, since we will discuss specific projects of participation of the major U.S. companies in the Russian economy, first and foremost in the energy sphere.

And I'd like to thank, one more time, the U.S. president, that even if very difficult situation is known right now, where Mother Nature has revealed itself, well, he has found it possible to materialize our agreements, and this meeting has occurred, even which was clear that constantly with his mind he's out there, with his thoughts with those people with those problems.

But still it was possible to run through the entire agenda. We have discussed all the questions there. We have agreed on the immediate steps in future as regards interaction between U.S. and Russian Federation. And I hope this will be a good impulse for our cooperation in all those spheres I have just enumerated.

Thank you very much.

BUSH: We'll take two questions a side.

QUESTION: Mr. President, with billions of dollars flowing out of Washington for hurricane relief, some Republicans are worried that you're writing a blank check that will have to be paid by future generations. Who is going to have to pay for this recovery? And what's it going to do to the national debt?

BUSH: First of all, for our citizens who haven't seen what I've seen -- if you've seen what I've seen -- we lost a lot of life and a lot of property. The area destroyed by the storm is the size of Great Britain. I mean, we've got whole towns just completely flattened, just wiped out.

BUSH: And one of our great cities, New Orleans, is -- you know, a lot of it's under water. And by under water, I mean water over the rooftops. And those homes will be destroyed. Thousands of people won't have homes.

And so this is an enormous task to help the region start growing again.

One of the commitments that I made last night is for the federal government to fund a significant portion of the infrastructure repair and rebuilding; in other words, our bridges and our roads, our schools -- the water systems are ruined, the sewer system is ruined.

And I meant that when I said we will do that.

Part of recovery is to make sure there's an infrastructure that works.

Yesterday in New Orleans, for example, the mayor was so thrilled that a portion of New Orleans, the French Quarter, for example, has got lights and sewer. You can't drink the water, but the sewer system works.

In other words, he's beginning to see some life; and just reminded me that if we can get the infrastructure up and running as quickly as possible, get the debris cleared, get the infrastructure up and running, then life will begin.

And so you bet it's going to cost money. But I'm confident we can handle it and I'm confident we can handle our other priorities.

It's going to mean that we're going to have to make sure we cut unnecessary spending. It's going to mean we've got to maintain economic growth, and therefore we should not raise taxes.

Our working people have had to pay a tax, in essence, by higher gasoline prices. And we don't need to be taking more money out of their pocket.

And as we spend the money, we got to make sure we spend it wisely. And so we're going to have inspectors general overseeing the expenditure of the money.

Our OMB will work with Congress to figure out where we need to offset when we need to offset, so that we can manage not only to maintain economic growth and vitality, but to be able to spend that which is necessary to help this region get back on its feet.

So this is a big role for the federal government.

There's a big role for private sector.

BUSH: That's why I called for economic growth zones, economic enterprise zone.

Look, there's not going to be any revenues coming out of that area for a while anyway, so we might as well give them good tax relief in order to get jobs there and investment there. It makes sense.

The entrepreneurial spirit is what is going to help lift this part of the world up.

So I started laying out the outlines of a plan. It's one that we want to work with Congress on.

QUESTION: What will it cost?

BUSH: It's going to cost whatever it costs. We're going to be wise about the money we spend.

I mean, we haven't totaled up all of the bridges and highways. But I say we'll make a commitment to rebuild the infrastructure and to help rebuild the infrastructure.

We're also spending money on -- you know, $2,000 a family to help these people get back on their feet. There's a variety of programs.

The key question is to make sure that the costs are wisely spent, and that we work with Congress to make sure that we are able to manage our budget in a wise way. And that is going to mean cutting other programs.

Do you want to call on somebody?

QUESTION (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): The Russian/U.S. relationship largely is based on your good personal relations. In the year 2008, you both will cease to be presidents. Have you laid any guarantees so that a U.S./Russian relationship could go on not worse than it does right now?

BUSH: That's a good question.

PUTIN (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Are they already firing us? We'll still want to work.

PUTIN (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): To be serious, while I might say that guarantees of the positive development of the U.S.-Russia relations are based on the mutual interests to develop such relations between the two countries, with their leaders can either help such an objective process or be an impediment.

We try to do whatever it takes to support this process. So far, we are responsible here. We'll continue to do so.

BUSH: For example, I mean, we will leave behind some legacies: the Moscow Treaty, which commits both countries to reducing our nuclear warheads; trade, in other words, as our companies begin to invest in both countries, that leaves behind a legacy that will be hard for future governments to undo.

There's, kind of, a strategic dialogue. We get in habits sometimes, and the idea of setting a way for governments to talk to each other at different levels of government is a good legacy.

And so we do have three more years, which I found out is a long period of time. And we'll be able to do more together that people -- that future governments will view as a way to move forward to keep the peace and to deal with big issues in a complex world.

QUESTION: Last night you said that greater federal involvement and troops may be required in future disasters. Could you elaborate on that a little bit?

And were you able to convince President Putin on the need to send Iran to the Security Council?

Sorry to do a two-part.

BUSH: No, it's -- hit me with a two-part question.

First, on Iran, we agree that the Iranians should not have a nuclear weapon. That's important for people to understand. When you share the same goal, it means as you work diplomatically you're working toward that goal.

BUSH: Secondly, I am confident that the world will see to it that Iran goes to the U.N. Security Council if it does not live up to its agreements.

And when that referral will happen is a matter of diplomacy. And that's what we talked about; we talked about how to deal with this situation diplomatically.

First part of the question was how to deal with disasters.

I don't want to prejudge the commissions -- what do they call it? -- the bipartisan commission that is set up in Congress. I don't want to prejudge their findings.

But I do think they ought to seriously consider the fact that there are a storm, for example, of a certain category which will require an overwhelming response by government that can only be provided by, say, the United States military, through NORTHCOM, because of its ability to muster logistics and supplies so quickly.

And that's what I want Congress to consider. And I think it's very important that Congress consider this.

It's important for us to learn from the storm what could have been done better, for example, and apply that to other types of situations, such as a pandemic.

At the U.N., I talked about avian flu; we need to take it seriously.

I talked to Vladimir about avian flu. I talked to other world leaders about the potential outbreak of avian flu. If avian flu were to hit this country, do we have the proper response mechanisms; does the federal government have the authorities necessary to make certain decisions?

And this storm will give us an opportunity to review all different types of circumstances to make sure that the president has the capacity to react.

And that's what I was referring to. I wasn't drawing any conclusions. I was just suggesting that this be a matter of debate and discussion with the bipartisan commission that is going to be set up there, you know, with Democrats and Republican senators and congressmen.

PUTIN (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): As regards to the Iranian subject, I might as well say that our position is very clear and understandable.

PUTIN (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): We support all of the agreements on nonproliferation, which includes Iran, among others, fully. And we have always in this regard been open with our partners, transparent completely. And yesterday, in the meeting with the president of Iran, we directly told him so.

And, of course, we are against the fact that Iran would become nuclear power, and will continue to do so in the future under any circumstances.

Now, as regards as to how we can control this situation, there are many ways and means to do so. We wouldn't like -- our inaccurate steps could bring us to the situation similar to that one in the Korean Peninsula.

We're in touch with all of partners in the process, with the European-3, with the U.S. We have understanding of what we need to do. And I hope that our activities will be coordinated, and will bring positive results. Once again, yesterday, I heard from the Iranian leader a statement that Iran does not seek to acquire nuclear weapons. Now, that's the first thing I wanted to share with you.

And if you will allow me, today, this way or the other, still we'll come back and for quite a while, I guess, in the future, too, to the fact of this horrible catastrophe which was impressed (ph) upon the soil of the U.S. having to do with this Hurricane Katrina.

George, if you don't mind, I would come back to the first question, which relates to the fact that we are taking away money from the future generations' pockets. In the Soviet Union, for many the case, we lived under the motto, "We need to think about the future generations," but we never thought about the existing, current, present generations. And at the end of the day, we have destroyed the country not thinking about the people living today.

PUTIN (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Therefore, of course, yes, we need to spend money. There is no two ways about it.

And I believe that both U.S. and we in Russia and in other countries of the world, we've been analyzing, all of us, what has transpired, how the state and the bodies responded to the current events. Many of us will draw their conclusions as regards restructuring the activities of the relevant services and bodies of the state which ought to minimize the repercussions of such catastrophes.

BUSH: Final question?

QUESTION (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): To Mr. President of U.S.: Mr. President, when talking in the United Nations organization, you probably conscientiously (inaudible) talking about the (inaudible) of the road to democracy, mentioned such countries as Afghanistan, Iran, Georgia, Ukraine and Iraq.

Do you believe the situation politically in this country is similar?

And to you, Mr. President, since we are talking about it, what is your assessment in Iraq and in Ukraine? Please. Thank you.

BUSH: Let me make sure I understand your question. Do I believe the situation in our country is similar to their countries?

QUESTION: You spoke in the United Nations about the stride to democracy.

BUSH: Right. I remember that.

QUESTION: And you mentioned Georgia, Ukraine, Iraq, Afghanistan. Do you think the situation in these countries is similar?

BUSH: Oh. Well, no, I think they're all different. I think, as a matter of fact, democracy tends to reflect the cultures and histories of each different country. I do think, though, they're bound by some common principles: one, that governments that are elected by the people tend to respond to the people; that they've got minority rights and rule of law.

BUSH: But they're all on different stages of the development of democracy.

Democracy just doesn't happen; it grows. It takes a while. That's the experience of our country. It's the experience of the Russian Federation.

I mean, democracies take on the customs and habits of the particular people and they mature.

And so they're at different stages.

I mean, clearly, Iraq is a struggling democracy.

But one thing is for certain: The people have made their mind about what they want. They want democracy -- 8.5 million Iraqis went to the polls.

And they have got a constitution that's been written. It wasn't written under bayonet or under the barrel of a gun. It was written by people from different factions of the society that have come together, and it'll be voted on soon.

And then there will be another election.

So this is an emerging democracy and it's different from a more mature democracy.

QUESTION: Sir, a follow-up?

BUSH: No.

(LAUGHTER)

Got to keep order and discipline here.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

PUTIN (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): The next question is about Iraq and Ukraine.

We are aware of the situation in Iraq. Unfortunately, we are facing constant violence, and that relates to known factors having to do with the upcoming referendum on the constitution there.

I believe that if it will be possible to get a constitution, this will be a good, strong step forward to achieve stability in that country.

In my opinion, it will be only possible if the main political forces, ethnic groups, will get a sense that it's their own constitution if this document will be confirmed, agreed upon by the overwhelming segments of the population.

If the current leadership makes a strong case and convinces population that this constitution is satisfactory to all, will maintain territorial integrity, will take into account the interests of major minority groups, then it will be a real step forward in settlement, and we hope very much that will occur.

PUTIN (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Now, as regards to the Ukraine, well, what can be said here? The political crisis -- as I said recently in Berlin, the situation is under control of the president.

BUSH: Good. Good job. Thank you.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The president of the United States and the president of Russia, George W. Bush, Vladimir Putin, wrapping up about a 30-minute news conference, Mr. Bush making some important news as following -- as far as Katrina, the hurricane and the recovery, the relief operation, is concerned.

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