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 Home > News & Policies > November 2001

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
November 2, 2001

Nigerian President Offers Solidarity, Support to U.S.
Remarks by President Bush And President Obasanjo of Nigeria in Photo Opportunity
The Rose Garden

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11:55 A.M. EST

PRESIDENT  BUSH:   I'm proud to welcome President Obasanjo back to the White House.  We just had a very good visit.

We  discussed  our  mutual concern, our mutual desire.  And that is to fight  and  win the war against terror.  The President has been a steadfast friend of the United States government and the United States people, before and after September 11th, and for that we're most grateful.

He  has  got  a  huge Muslim population in his country.  And I assured him, and assure those Muslims who live in his country, that our war that we now  fight  is against terror and evil.  It's not against Muslims.  We both understand  that  the  Islamic faith teaches peace, respects human life, is nonviolent.  And I want to thank the President's leadership in sending a -- not  only  a message of tolerance and respect, but also his vision, which I share,  that  our  struggle is going to be long and difficult.  But we will prevail.  We will win.  Good will overcome evil.

Part  of  the  reason  why  is  we've got a strong coalition.  And the President  is  part  of  that coalition.  So welcome, Mr. President.  Thank you.

PRESIDENT  OBASANJO:   Mr.  President, thank you for receiving me once again  at  the  White  House.  Of course, we have come this time to express solidarity,  to  express  support,  to express condolence for the terrorist attack  on  this country, on innocent people of all faiths and of all races on the 11th of September.

We  have  no  doubt in our mind that terrorism must be fought.  And it must  be  fought  to  a  standstill.  And as you have rightly said, we must distinguish and we must lead people to understand that there's a difference between  fighting terrorism.  And it doesn't matter what mask the terrorist wears.  And of course the love that we have for humanity, and the love that we have for men and women of all faiths.

I want to particularly commend your effort, Mr. President, for the way you have built up a coalition, because the tendency and the feeling we need to  do  something quickly, that we take time to build coalition, and as you rightly said, we are part of that coalition, and we will remain steadfastly part of that coalition.

Only,  as  I said, we are unique in a way, because we have the highest population of Muslims in Africa. We are also unique in the fact that almost 50  percent  of  the  commission  are  Muslims,  and  almost 50 percent are Christians.   That has advantage and also has disadvantage.  It is up to us to  let  our  people, the citizens of our country, know that whatever faith they  belong  to,  they  are not safe as long as we allow terrorism to take hold of the world.

Whatever  ideal  we  stand  for, their ideal will amount to nothing if terrorism  rules  the  world.  Whatever ambitions or aspirations they have, their  ambition  and aspiration will come to naught if terrorism is allowed to take over a ruling of the world.

And  as I said to the President, if leaders who are brought into power through  democratic  means will abandon their responsibility to terrorists, then  they might as well go home.  Mr. President, in that case will have to go back to his ranch, and in that case I will have to go back to my chicken farm.  (Laughter.)

But  we  are  not  going  to  do that, because that would be height of irresponsibility.   We  have a duty.  We have a commitment.  And we believe that  the  duty and the commitment we have is the duty and commitment given to us by our people.  And we should not shirk that responsibility.

I  believe  that  the  coalition  -- and I know you are anxious to ask questions  --  I  believe  that  the  coalition  has  this  challenge,  the challenge  to  fight  terrorism.   It is also a challenge to make the world wholesome,  more  equitable,  fairer and safer for all of us to live in.  I believe  that  the  coalition  should  not  relax  until  that objective is achieved.

And  I  believe that we have a leader in President Bush to ensure that the world achieves that objective.

PRESIDENT BUSH:  Very eloquent.  Thank you.

Q    Mr. President, President Bush, why did it take so long to have an African  leader  visit  here,  when  African  leaders  had  met such strong statements  of  sympathy  and  statement of condemnation of the terrorists? Why did it take so long?

PRESIDENT  BUSH:   One  of  the  first phone calls I received was from President  Obasanjo.   His  support  has  never  been -- has never wavered. There's  no  question about where we stood in the coalition.  And I'm proud to have him by my side.

Q     Sir,  is  it still your position that the bombing campaign would stop  if  the  Taliban turned over bin Laden and his followers?  Or has the war gone beyond that?

PRESIDENT  BUSH:   We still have the same objective.  And that is, for the  Taliban  to  hand over al Qaeda, the leaders, to release those who are being  detained,  and to destroy any terrorist training camps.  And they've been given ample time to meet those demands, and now they're paying a price for not having met the demands.

Q     Could you tell us a little bit more about what you discussed, in terms  of  reaching  out to young people in Muslim countries and addressing the poverty and the despair that they feel, so that they do not become foot soldiers for terrorist networks?

And  for  President  Obasanjo,  could you tell us how you plan to deal with  the  military  action  in  east central Nigeria last week, where some civilians were killed?

PRESIDENT BUSH:  We did spend time talking about the totality of a war against  terror  not only require strong military action, strong diplomatic action,  strong  financial action -- but it also recognizes that we need to share  a message that our respective governments respect tolerance, respect other  points  of  view.   We  don't  share  the point of view that evil is religious.   We don't appreciate the fact that somebody has tried to hijack a religion in order to justify terror activities.

And we also recognize that economic prosperity throughout the world is more  likely  to  make  people  appreciate  rule  of  law, appreciate other people's  points  of  view.   That's one reason why I've been such a strong supporter of AGOA, which is the African trade act.  That's why I believe we ought  to start a new round at Qatar, a new round for world trade.  I mean, I  believe  prosperity  can  best  be  enhanced  by  a world that trades in freedom.   And  I think that's a significant part of making sure people are able to rise out of poverty.

But on the other hand, I don't accept the excuse that poverty promotes evil.   That's  like  saying  poor people are evil people.  I disagree with that.   Osama  bin  Laden  is an evil man.  His heart has been so corrupted that  he's willing to take innocent life.  And we are fighting evil, and we will continue to fight evil, and we will not stop until we defeat evil.

Anyway, you've got a question for the President?

Q     On the actions in east central Nigeria by the Nigerian military, in which some civilians were killed?

PRESIDENT  OBASANJO:  Maybe you don't know what happened.  Let me just put  you into exactly what happened.  That is an area where there have been some  clashes  between  two  or  three  groups,  the Tiv, the Jukun and the Fulanis.   And  this has been going on for maybe 15, 10 years.  At times it goes down, at times it goes up.

And  this  time when it went up, the governors of the two states where this  happened,  Teraba  state  and  Benue state, separately invited to the military, through me, to take care of the -- what I call the lawlessness of young  men  who put illegal roadblock on either side of the state boundary, and if you do not belong to their ethnic group, they take you and kill you.

And  then  we sent soldiers there to clear the roadblock and keep this menace  out  of  the  way.  And they did that.  And the last roadblock, the last  roadblock,  in  a  place called Vaase, the soldiers were ambushed and taken, disarmed and killed and their bodies were dismembered, chopped up.

And  then  I got in touch with the governor, and I said, do everything to  apprehend those who committed this heinous crime, and hand them over to us.   After  three  days,  they called on me and said that I have failed, I will ask you to send soldiers to help me in apprehending these people.  And that's what we did.

Q    Mr. President, thank you very much.

PRESIDENT BUSH:  Good morning.

Q    James Rosen, Fox News.

PRESIDENT  BUSH:  If that's the case, then I'll call on somebody else. (Laughter.)

Q     Now  that  you're  a  wartime  President,  sir, interest in your decision-making  processes  and  those  that  you involve your staff in, is going  to  be greater than even normal times.  And yet, the executive order that  you  signed  yesterday  makes  it  harder  for journalists, scholars, historians  to write anything about the decisions you're going to be making and  have  made,  even  sympathetically.   And  I  wonder why you took that action?

PRESIDENT  BUSH:   We  responded to a new law written by Congress that lays out a procedure that I think is fair for past Presidents.  And it is a process  that  I  think  will enable historians to do their job, and at the same time protect state secrets.  That's why I did what I did.

Q    -- be able to get their hands on documents for many years?

PRESIDENT  BUSH:  There are some documents are privileged,  protected. And  this  is  just  to  make  sure  those  documents  remain protected and privileged.   I  don't  see  this  as  anything other than setting a set of procedures that I believe is fair and reasonable.

Q    Mr. President, the Director of Homeland Security, Governor Ridge, has  just  said  that the state of alert, which was introduced last Monday, the  high state of alert is now indefinite.  A lot of Americans are rattled by  what they see as a mixed message; being told to go about their business on the one hand and, yet, having to look for some unspecified threat on the other.

What's your message?

PRESIDENT  BUSH:  Well, I wasn't rattled when I went out and threw out the  ball  at  Yankee  Stadium.   Right after, I had instructed the Justice Department to inform 17,000 law enforcement agencies to be aware, to harden targets,  to harden assets.  Most Americans, Bill, understand that there is a  new  day here in America.  They appreciate the efforts the government is making,  and  they're  going  to fight terrorism by going about their daily lives.

But  what  Governor  Ridge  is  saying,  and what I've been saying all along,  is  we're in a new day here in America.  We're fighting a two-front war.   And  I believe most Americans understand that now.  And I appreciate the  courage  of  most  Americans.   But  we  have  a responsibility at the government  to  protect the people.  When we see something that we think is credible,  we  hear something that might be real, we're going to notify the respective authorities to help harden targets.

Q    Mr. President, given these terror alerts, given that these terror alerts are indefinite, should the American people conclude that despite the bombing  campaign that Osama bin Laden and the al Qaeda network are no less potent  or able to conduct a terror campaign than they were before the 9-11 attack?

PRESIDENT  BUSH:   Oh,  no.   As  a  matter  of fact, I think that the American  people  ought  to conclude that our enemy is fighting an army not only  overseas, but at home; that the enemy is being hunted down abroad and at  home.   We've  detained  over  a thousand people here in America, we're running  down every single lead, we're hardening assets, we're on the hunt. We're going to chase them down.

And  the  American  people  fully  understand that we're in for a long struggle.   And  I  appreciate the patience of the American people.  We are making   progress   overseas  in  Afghanistan.   We're  slowly  but  surely tightening  the  net on the enemy.  We're making it harder for the enemy to communicate.   We're  making  it  harder  for the enemy to protect himself. We're  making it harder for the enemy to hide.  And we're going to get him, and them.

There are some that say, well, shouldn't this have happened yesterday? This  is  not an instant gratification war.  This is a struggle for freedom and liberty.  This is a struggle for the ability for America, and America's children, to live in peace.  This is a struggle for the people of this good man's country to be able to live in peace.

And  that's  why  I can assure our allies, assure the American people, for  so long as I'm the President, this will be my focus.  And we're making very good progress.

Q     Mr.  President,  were you surprised, even if you weren't looking for  instant  gratification,  at the resilience of the Taliban regime under these  attacks?   And are you concerned, sir, about the future -- about the disarray  among  the  people  who  may take over Afghanistan if the Taliban should fall?

PRESIDENT  BUSH:   Terry,  we've been at this part of the battle for a couple  of weeks.  And as I explained to the American people, this is going to  be  a  long struggle.  And I am very satisfied, and the American people should be satisfied, with the progress we're making on the ground.

The  Taliban's  air  defenses  have been completely demolished.  Their assets,  whatever  assets they had, have been demolished.  And we're slowly but  surely  tightening  the  net  to  achieve  our  objective.   This is a different  kind of war.  The country has been used to Desert Storm, or have been used to Kosovo, where we were able to have massive formations marching across  the desert, and/or simply an air campaign that eventually brought a country  to  its  knees.   This  is  a  different type of struggle, and our strategy  reflects that.  And I believe the American people understand that and are very patient, as am I.

I  am  mindful  of  the  objective,  the  military  is  mindful of the objective  in Afghanistan.  But the objective goes beyond just Afghanistan. That's  why  we're working on the financial front to cut off money.  That's why  I  have encouraged nations all around the world to apprehend those who are known terrorists, and over 280 have been arrested thus far.

That's  why  this coalition is so important, that it remain strong, to raise  the  risk  for those who would like to conduct terrorist activities. That's  why we're standing in solidarity with the Philippines, for example, that's working hard to get rid of Abu Sayef.

In  other  words,  this  is  a global battle.  There happens to be two known  fronts,  two  visible  fronts:  one, Afghanistan; and the other, the United States of America.  And we're making good progress on both fronts.

Q    Mr. President, could you tell us sir, why the administration made the  deal it did this morning in the Microsoft case, and what you would say to  the  state  attorneys  general,  who  feel the concessions are so great they're walking away?

PRESIDENT  BUSH:   I think you need to talk to the Attorney General on that, if you don't mind.  Kelly.

Q     Mr.  President, two quick unrelated questions.  Number one, have you  made  a  decision,  and  have  you ruled out stopping or lessening the military action during Ramadan?  And, number two, if you could just comment on  how  California Governor Davis handled that FBI alert yesterday, and if you  think  your administration wants to issue any guidelines for state and local authorities to handle this in the future?

PRESIDENT  BUSH:   Well,  as  a former governor, I didn't particularly care  when  the  federal government tried to tell me how to do my business. When I was the Governor of Texas, I was elected by the people of Texas, and I handled my state's business the way I thought was necessary.  And I think any governor should be able to conduct their business the way they see fit.

I  think what should be noticed is, is that we are constantly in touch with  state  and  local  authorities as to general and/or specific threats. Part  of  the homeland defense is active and strong communications, so that governors,  and/or  local  authorities,  can  harden  targets,  respond  to uncorroborated evidence, and to protect their people.

First  part of the question?  This is the old two question -- two-part question.  It's one of the old press tricks, Mr. President.  You're allowed one question, and then they ask two.  (Laughter.)

Q     Have  you  made  a  decision,  are  you  ruling  out stopping or lessening the military action during Ramadan?

PRESIDENT BUSH:  I'll let our military speak to that.  My own personal attitude  is, is that the enemy won't rest during Ramadan, and neither will we.   We're going to pursue this war until we achieve our objective.  As to the  specific  times  and  dates,  we'll  let  the  military speak to that. They're  in  charge  of  this operation.  This is not a political campaign, this  is  a  war.  And I respect the chain of command, I honor the chain of command, and I will tell you, our military is doing  a very good job.

Q     Sir,  what  would  you  say  to Americans who are concerned they haven't  heard  a clear answer on how this anthrax got to this woman in New York, how it killed her, and who are afraid it could happen to them?

PRESIDENT  BUSH:   I  would  say  to  the  American  people that we're learning a lot about anthrax, and we're doing everything we can to find out all the facts.  And when we get the facts, we'll share it with the American people.

I  will  also say to the American people, I believe that the hard work of  our  public  health officials has saved lives.  I believe the fact that we've  got  people  all  around  our  country working hours upon hours have helped  saved  life  in  America.   And  for  that, the American people are grateful, and so am I.

Thank you all.

END                  12:15 P.M. EST