THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
(Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin)
May 7, 2004
INTERVIEW OF THE PRESIDENT BY AL-AHRAM INTERNATIONAL
The Map Room
May 6, 2004
3:37 P.M. EDT
Question: I have learned that President Mubarak sent you, recently, two
important messages. I don't know, I mean, the contents of these messages, but I
assume that of course it be linked by the situation in Iraq, and Palestine. I
would like to ask, in the beginning, one general question about how do you look
at this vision of the Middle East.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, I communicate with President Mubarak a lot,
because I value his judgment, and we've got a frank relationship where, if he
thinks things are going badly, he'll tell me. In other words, he doesn't gloss
I think that things in the Middle East for the United States are difficult right
now. I think they're difficult because people don't really understand our
intentions. I think they're difficult because some people ascribe bad values and
bad motives to the American people and the American government.
Our intentions are to work for free societies and peaceful societies. Our
intentions are to protect our own security, on the one hand, but also enable
people to live in peace. Obviously, our reputation has been damaged severely by
the terrible and horrible acts, inhumane acts that were conducted on Iraqi
prisoners. Today, I can't tell you how sorry I am to them and their families for
I'm also sorry because people are then able to say, look how terrible America
is. But this isn't America, that's not -- Americans are appalled at what
happened. We're a generous people. I don't think a lot of people understand
that. So I've got to do a better job of explaining to people that we're for a
lot of things that most people who live in the Middle East want. We want there
to be peace. We want people to have a living. We want people to send their kids
to schools that work. We want there to be health care. We want there to be a
Palestinian state at peace with its neighbors. We want there to be reform. We
want people to have a chance to participate in the process.
But I'd say right now times are tough for the United States and the Middle East.
Question: I have four topics, Mr. President: Iraq, the Israeli-Arab issue, the
so-called greater Middle East, and bilateral -- which one do you choose of them
THE PRESIDENT: Whatever you want to do, sir, you're the distinguished
Question: Thank you very much, indeed. Okay, I will shoot for the Arab-Israeli
THE PRESIDENT: Okay.
Question: Many Arabs feel that after the letter of assurances you gave to
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, any future Palestinian state would exist on
less than half what the partition plan offered them in '47. How do you reconcile
this with a moral concept of justice?
THE PRESIDENT: First of all, I made it very clear in my letter that I recognized
circumstances had changed -- but I made it very clear of a couple of very
important points. One, that any final status would be negotiated by the parties
-- that would be the Israelis and the Palestinians -- not the United States, we
won't pre-judge final status.
Secondly, I made it clear that I supported what the Prime Minister had done,
because I think it's a great opportunity for the establishment of a Palestinian
state. I'm the first President ever to have articulated the vision of a
Question: I'm writing here, and I wanted to appreciate that very highly.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I'll tell you, and I'm somewhat amazed, sir, that the
debate has already started about what the end results are going to look like
when we haven't even really begun yet to establish a state. I think the focus
ought to be on putting the institutions in place for a Palestinian state that is
peaceful and prosperous to emerge.
I think it's very important for reform-minded Palestinians to step up and ask
the world for help, in order to build the security apparatus needed for a state
to grow; ask for education help; ask for help to stimulate the entrepreneurial
class so businesses will grow. I believe it'll happen. And when it does happen,
the final status issues will be much easier to solve.
In other words, when there is a state that's up and running and prosperous and
has the confidence of Egypt and Israel and America and the E.U. and the rest of
the world, it'll be much easier for these final -- these tricky issues to be
solved between the two parties. And so now is the time not to be arguing over
what the world will look like down the road. We ought to be arguing about what
the world can look like this year. And that's why the road map is so important.
The United States is firmly committed TO the road map. I'm sending a letter to
the -- I announced today I'm going to send a letter to the Palestinian Prime
Minister explaining that I'm committed to the road map, committed to two states
living side-by-side in peace, but also reminding him it's now time to step up
and show leadership, show leadership against the terrorists, and show leadership
in putting the institutions in place for a state to emerge.
Question: The right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland and to
be provided with compensation is legally assured in several U.N. resolutions.
THE PRESIDENT: Right.
Question: The United States has also traditionally supported the right of
refugees to return in recent major conflicts. How would you then justify making
the Palestinian refugees an exception for accepted international laws under
human rights conventions?
THE PRESIDENT: My comment, again, was this, that -- and the right of refugees is
a final-status issue. And that's to be negotiated on between the Palestinians
and the Israelis. When I said what has changed and what will change is when
there's a Palestinian state to which Palestinians can go. There hasn't been one.
And my point was, was that when a state is set up and the institutions are in
place and people have a chance to make a living and it's peaceful, the
entrepreneurial class is growing, small businesses, people are participating in
the political process, that that's going to change the dynamic on the ground.
I fully concede there's a lot -- the compensation issue is an issue that's still
being negotiated. The rights of -- you know, the rights of Palestinians to
return to Israel will be negotiated. But what I'm telling you is when a state
emerges, it'll change the dynamic. And that's all I said in my comment.
Again, I'll repeat to you, people want to focus on the future, when I think we
ought to be focused right now on the right now, which is what is necessary to
put a Palestinian state in place so people can have a chance to live in a
hopeful society. And I'm frustrated, I must tell you, a little bit, because I
think that -- I think that there needs to be better leadership in saying, what
can we do to help the Palestinian people develop a state. And there needs to be
a new constitution, it seems like to me.
And some of these reforms stalled. Heck, we've been talking about them for about
two years, unfortunately. But now is an opportunity. And I think Prime Minister
Sharon created an interesting dynamic, I really do, and that is withdrawal from
the West Bank. You know, it wasn't all that long ago if an Israeli Prime
Minister stood up and said, we're out of Gaza and parts of the West Bank, people
would have said, that's fantastic. And so the Prime Minister makes the decision
to get out and, of course, his own party rejects it, which speaks to -- it
speaks to his leadership, in my judgment, that he's willing to do what he thinks
is right, in face of political opposition.
Question: But do you really agree that pragmatic realities mean annexation of
THE PRESIDENT: Do I think --
Question: Do you agree on that, I mean, that pragmatic realities which, I mean,
being said repeatedly here in the states, pragmatic realities -- pragmatic
THE PRESIDENT: You mean, with the conditions on the ground?
Question: Does it mean annexation of other people's land?
THE PRESIDENT: I think what it means is, I think you're going to see over time
with the emergence of a Palestinian state that the West Bank will be occupied by
Palestinians. And to the extent to what the final border looks like is up for
Question: Again, we very much appreciate the fact that you were the first U.S.
President to call for the creation of an independent Palestinian state. But in
all the recent proposals that are being circulated, including the latest
disengagement plan, we did not see any specific timetable. What happened to your
pledge to create a Palestinian state by 2005? And do you still believe that this
could be possible?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, 2005 may be hard, since 2005 is right around the corner. I
readily concede the date has slipped some, primarily because violence sprung up.
When I laid out the date of 2005, I believe it was around the time I went to
Aqaba, Jordan. It was a very meaningful moment, where former Prime Minister Abu
Mazen, myself, Prime Minister Sharon and His Majesty, the King of Jordan, stood
up and pledged to work together.
But we hit a bump in the road -- violence, as well as Abu Mazen was replaced,
which changed the dynamic. I don't want to make any excuses, but nevertheless, I
think the timetable of 2005 isn't as realistic as it was two years ago.
Nevertheless, I do think we ought to push hard as fast as possible to get a
state in place.
And I repeat to you, sir, that part of my frustrations were alleviated with the
Quartet making the statement it made the other day -- the Quartet being the E.U.,
Russia, United Nations and the United States, working together. I think we can
get the World Bank involved. But there is a certain sense of responsibility that
falls upon the Palestinians, reform-minded Palestinians to step up and say, yes,
we accept these institutions necessary for a peaceful state to emerge.
There's also a responsibility for Egypt. Egypt has got, in my judgment, an
important role to play to help make sure there is security in Gaza, as the civil
structure is put in place and as the government structure is put in place. And
President Mubarak, I think, is willing to assume that responsibility over time
-- I don't want to put him on a timetable, but I do believe he is committed to
helping bring security to that part of the world, it's in Egypt's interest that
there be security.
Question: You know, Mr. President, we did our best, I mean, getting all the
factions together in Cairo, Egypt to try to convince them to have one single
opinion, and that we're ready for training the police and security guards.
THE PRESIDENT: That's right. President Mubarak has been a leader on the issue of
security, he really has. As you say, he's convened a very important meeting to
make it clear that in order for there to be a peaceful evolution of a state
there has to be security, and that he's willing to train police. Egypt plays a
mighty important role. And it's a great country and it should play an important
Question: You have said, Mr. President, in recent statements, that the
assurances you gave to Sharon did not differ from what was being discussed, and
what we mentioned now, and previous final status talks. But in those talks there
were proposals on land swaps and an Israeli acceptance for the return of a
limited number of refugees. Why were these proposals absent from your recent
THE PRESIDENT: Look, I want to assure you once again that I understand the
sensitivity of these final status issues. But they will be negotiated, not
between the United States and the parties, they're negotiated between Israel and
the Palestinian government, of a new state. And that's really -- and that is a
position I've taken all along. It's what I told my friend, President Mubarak. I
just told that to His Majesty, the King of Jordan. And I will explain that
consistent position of mine.
People -- I think some people are trying to read something into what I said or
didn't say. And what -- you know, I'll say it finely one more
time: This is an opportunity that we can't let go by. There's a lot of argument
about final status issues, and they're very important issues, don't get me
wrong. But the focus ought to be on how do we get a Palestinian state up and
running and moving forward.
Question: You have praised Sharon's proposal to withdraw from Gaza, which is an
idea that does not represent more than one percent of (inaudible) Palestine.
Would you accept guarantee for granting Palestinians similar letter of
assurances stating that any annexation of West Bank territory has to be minimal
and that Israel has to pull out from nearly the entire West Bank, according to
Security Resolution 242 and 338?
THE PRESIDENT: No, I will write -- I will say the exact same thing in a letter
to the Palestinians that I have said publicly today, that I believe an
opportunity exists and it's essential that the Palestinian Authority find
reform-minded leaders who are willing to step up and lead.
Question: The last question on Israeli-Arab issue, you have repeatedly --
repeatedly stated that Israel had the right to defend itself. But do you believe
that by building walls and settlements and by assassinating Palestinian leaders,
Israel is enhancing security and helping and reassuring peace talks?
PRESIDENT BUSH: I think that any country has a right to defend herself. And
you're looking at a President who is now in the process of defending my country
against terrorist attacks. It is very difficult for the President of the United
States to condemn anybody for defending themselves.
My problem with the wall was not the security aspect of the wall. My problem
with the wall was that at one point in time, it looked like it was trying to
prejudge any final status. And that I hope -- my hope is, at one point in time,
the wall is unnecessary. The hope is, is that a peaceful Palestinian state, that
-- I keep saying that, but I think it's possible -- but a peaceful Palestinian
state must be a state in which youngsters are well-educated, and have a chance
to make a living, and have a chance to -- parents have a chance to realize --
raise their children in a peaceful setting.
And I think that a peaceful Palestinian state will eventually change the
dynamics on that which exists on the ground today.
Question: Okay. I thank you, very much, for your patience. I will move to the
other topic, Iraq.
THE PRESIDENT: Sure. Sure.
Question: You said yesterday that you first learned of the abuses of Abu Ghraib
and other prison -- and other prisons, in Iraq generally. Why has it taken so
long to adopt serious measures against those directly responsible and their
THE PRESIDENT: First of all, I learned about the fact that there was an
investigation going on. I did not know the extent of the abuse. And there was a
report done as a result of those investigations. And what you're hearing here in
America is, why didn't I see the report? And that's a good question. That's one
of the questions I'm asking, because I first saw about the pictures on
But one of the things you've got to understand about our country is that, one,
we reject this kind of treatment of people. It's abhorrent. And it's not
America. Your viewers have to understand, this is not our country. Secondly,
that we will fully investigate. Now, there's a difference between fully
investigating and rushing to judgment. We will investigate. And there's a
procedure in the military that is necessary to make sure that the guilty are
truly guilty. It's very important for the Commander-in-Chief not to prejudge.
Thirdly, the process will be transparent. Your viewers have got to know that
here in America, in our system, the judicial process will be fully transparent.
And you're beginning to see the transparency. The press corps wants to know
different questions. And those questions need to be answered.
Tomorrow, our Secretary of Defense, in whom I've got confidence and believe in,
will go up and testify at the United States Senate. So you'll see the process
evolve as to -- and the truth come out, as to why the military needed to take
the time necessary to fully investigate these horrible, horrible acts.
And I repeat to you, sir, I am sorry for the humiliation suffered by those
individuals. It makes me sick to my stomach to see that happen.
I'll tell you what else I'm sorry about. I'm sorry that the truth about our
soldiers in Iraq becomes obscured. In other words, we've got fantastic citizens
in Iraq; good kids; good soldiers, men and women who are working every day to
make Iraqi citizens' lives better. And there are a thousand acts of kindness
that take place every day of these great Americans who really do care about the
citizens in Iraq. It's an awful, awful period for the American people, just like
it's awful for the Iraqi citizens to see that on their TV screens.
Question: Again, sir, do you feel like you need to apologize to the Iraqis and
the Arab world after you said that, "I'm sorry"?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I'm sorry for the prisoners, I really am. I think it's
humiliating. And it is, again -- what the Arab world must understand is a couple
of things. One, under a dictatorship, these -- this wouldn't be transparent. In
other words, if there was torture under a dictator, we would never know the
truth. In a democracy, you'll know the truth. And justice will be done. And
that's what people need to know.
Question: What are the main pillars of the upcoming Security Council resolution
on Iraq? How much control are you ready to cede to the United Nations and the
future Iraqi government?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think the Iraqi government wants the sovereignty. And I
think that's the proper -- the proper relationship is for the Iraqi
-- the sovereignty to be passed to the Iraqi government with help from
coalition, as well as the United Nations. I'll tell you a very good role for the
United Nations is to help set up the elections that will take place in January
of 2005. And the United Nations Security Council resolution is important,
because it says to members of the world, please participate in helping this
But the sovereignty -- Iraqi people want to run the government themselves.
That's not to say they don't want help; of course they want help. But they want
to run their government. Frankly, you hear frustrations about America there in
Iraq. And I can understand that, because the Iraq -- nobody wants their
government run for them. The people of Iraq want to run their own government,
and that's what will happen.
Question: How long do you think the United States will stay in Iraq?
THE PRESIDENT: As long as necessary, and not one day more.
Question: A recent Gallup Poll showed that 71 percent of Iraqis considered the
United States an occupying power. Does this disappoint you?
THE PRESIDENT: No, listen, I understand. I mean, if I were an Iraqi and I saw
people -- was asked, am I happy that somebody is running my government for me --
which basically is what the question implies -- the answer would be, no, we want
to run our government ourselves. And that's why we're transferring sovereignty.
I'll tell you, however, the Iraqi people understand that America needs to be
around for a while to help make sure that the killers --the foreign fighters who
are there, disgruntled former Saddamists -- don't wreak havoc. There are
thousands of Iraqis losing their lives at the hands of these killers. And they
are -- and they need help right now, until security -- Iraqi security forces are
efficient, are formed in a way that will be able to be responsive to the dangers
of these few people. It is essential that there be a secure environment as Iraq
emerges from this period of tyranny. And they want our help there. They also
want the reconstruction aid.
Question: And it has been delayed a lot.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, it has, for a reason. Early in the winter there was fast
movement on the reconstruction projects. I mean, there's some wonderful things
that have happened in Iraq, which of course don't get mentioned very often.
For example, I'll tell you an interesting thing that's happened, is that the
currency, the old currency was replaced by a new currency in about a six or
seven month period of time. That's hard to do. And, yet, it was done without a
lot of arbitrage, a lot of counterfeiting, theft -- there was no theft. And the
currency is stable, which is a remarkable feat, when you think about it. The
electricity levels were climbing quite dramatically. The oil production, which
is Iraqi oil production, it's not American, it's -- Iraq owns the oil -- it's up
to about two-and-a-half million barrels a day.
So in other words, there were positive signs going on. And then we had this
period of fighting, where elements in society decided to fight, because they saw
freedom coming and they wanted to try and stop it, is what they're trying to do.
And we took them on and are defeating them.
What's happening now is that big projects are starting back up again, because
the security situation is a little better, and big companies are moving in with
these reconstruction projects. It will start back up, and Iraq will be better
Question: I am aware of a very emotional meeting that took place recently
between you and the Iraqi women delegation --
THE PRESIDENT: Yes.
Question: and met you there with lots of tears.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, there were.
Question: Do you care to share the details of that meeting with us?
THE PRESIDENT: Only because you asked. I did have the honor of welcoming a group
of women to the Oval Office. I was told ahead of time that some members of the
delegation did not want to come in the Oval Office because they didn't want to
get their picture taken, because they were afraid -- not of American reaction,
but of reaction back home. In other words, there is still fear in people's
I met with those ladies later. The door opened to the Oval Office and the first
woman that walked in looked at me and she burst out in tears, and said, "You are
my liberator." It touched my heart, it really did. And I, of course -- I held
her in my arms and tears came to my eyes as she cried out of joy. It really made
me feel great. She said, "Thank you, Mr. President. You liberated us." I said,
"No, the American people helped liberate you." And then another lady came in and
another lady came in. We had about six of us in our office.
And it was a touching meeting. These were people that were obviously somewhat
taken aback that they were in with the President of the United States. And, yet,
when they were with me, it was deeply emotional. It touched my heart. I still
remember it clearly today. It made me very joyous inside to think that people
who had been enslaved to tyranny, fearful of torture, probably had friends in
mass graves, would be so thankful for the chance to live in peace.
And I'll tell you what's really important for the people -- those people, those
women, and I think about them all the time, is for me to never show any weakness
in the face of the dangers in Iraq. In other words, those killers want us to
leave. But my attitude is, having met with these women, if we leave, they will
be in jeopardy. And I have an obligation, no matter how difficult it gets, to
stay strong on behalf of those women, and their chance to raise their children
The other day I had the Olympic Committee from Iraq come, two members of the
Olympic Committee. It was an exciting moment. I love sports, for starters. And
the head of the women's Olympic committee came. She was a former runner. And she
told me about her two-year-old son and one-year-old son. She had quit the
Olympic team because she didn't want to run for one of Saddam's sons, for fear
of her life. And yet she was so grateful for the freedom she has. It's
I met with Fulbright Scholars, young Iraqis that are here studying in the United
States. I met with Doctors from Iraq who are getting new training
-- all of whom are desperate for there to be a free society so they can live in
peace. And that's why we share the same goal.
Question: On greater Middle East, Mr. President, has your vision on the greater
Middle East initiative changed at all, in light of recent reactions from Arab
and European countries? What will be presented to the G8 leaders in their
meeting next month?
THE PRESIDENT: My vision for the greater Middle East reforms were strengthened
by the Alexandria Library Conference. You might have heard of that. (Laughter.)
I saw the spirit of that conference. There are people in the Middle East who
understand the need for reforms.
Now, when I talk about reforms, I fully understand the pace of reform will be
different from country to country. But, nevertheless, there has to be a
commitment to reform for a better life for every citizen. I am as strong today
on reforms in the greater Middle East as I have ever been.
I fully understand criticism. I mean, I get criticized all the time in my job. I
think the job of a leader is to have a vision, a vision that is hopeful and
optimistic, and one based upon certain principles -- a principle like rule of
law; a principle like human dignity by empowering individuals to make decisions
in the political process; a principle that every person deserves respect; a
principle that says that a peaceful society is more likely to be one that is a
free society. And, therefore, I won't abandon those principles, no matter how
significant the pressure.
Question: Last question --
THE PRESIDENT: Okay, one more question. Then we've got to go.
Question: Why does your administration insist on imposing sanctions against
THE PRESIDENT: Because they will not fight terror, and they won't join us in
fighting terror. We've asked them to do some things, and they haven't responded.
And Congress passed a law saying that if Syria will not join
-- for example, booting out a Hezbollah office out of Damascus -- that the
President has the right to put sanctions on.
I have yet to impose a sanction yet, but the bill enables me to do so. And we've
talked to the Syrian leader very clearly -- and these aren't -- these are
reasonable requests -- and thus far, he hasn't heeded them. And that's why, if I
make the decision to put on sanctions, it will be because he hasn't been a full
partner in the war against terror.
Question: That would create another -- more problems in the area.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, we'll see. But I think that -- I think that people need to
understand that there needs to be a full commitment. I mean, there's no need to
harbor people who are expressing hatred. And if the world would join together to
rout out terrorist organizations who want to kill innocent people, it would be a
heck of a lot better off.
See, here's my objection. We've got Muslims killing Muslims in Iraq. There are
Muslims who will kill an innocent Muslim, for the sake of trying to create fear.
We can't let that happen. Civilized people must not allow that to happen. What
they're trying to do is they're trying to shake our will, our collective will.
For those of us who love freedom, they were trying to say, well, don't work for
freedom, leave us alone so we can kill other people. We just can't let that
happen. There are too many peaceful people who need protection. And we want to
help them. And, most importantly, we want to help them help themselves, so they
can be self-governing in Iraq.
But the killing of innocent life for political purposes is not acceptable in the
21st century. And you know that, and I believe that.
Question: I assure you that, you know, the Arab people really have nothing
against the American people. Maybe the only -- the only issue is the
THE PRESIDENT: -- Israeli issue, yes.
Question: and the American bias to it.
THE PRESIDENT: I hope we can get that solved. I mean, I truly believe that a
peaceful state will emerge. And, listen, I've got great respect for Arab
culture; I've got great respect for the Muslim religion. I reject this notion
that this is a war against Muslims. This is not a war against Muslims. The
Muslim religion is a peaceful religion. Islam is peace. This is a war against
evil people who want to kill innocent life. That's what this is.
And it is -- they've killed in our country. They've killed in your country. They
killed a great man in Sadat. And it's essential that freedom-loving people and
peaceful people fight terror. It's the call of our time; it's the challenge of
the 21st century. And we've got to work together to do so.
And I appreciate you giving me a chance to visit and share my views to the
people who need to learn more about our intentions and our deep desire for
Question: I do thank you very, very, very much.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, sir.
Question: And I hope to see you very soon.
THE PRESIDENT: Good job. Very good job. Very good interview.
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