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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
March 4, 2002
President's Remarks to Press After Meeting with Educators
Eden Prairie High School
Eden Prairie, Minnesota
2:50 P.M. CST
THE PRESIDENT: We had a really good discussion about education, the importance of public education in America, the better our public schools are the better the quality of life for all our citizens. I also had a chance to listen to Minnesota teachers, people who have dedicated their lives to making our communities better by teaching children how to read and write, and add and subtract; but also teaching children how to behave and how to learn through example. I cannot thank the teachers enough.
I hope that through my words and deeds I'm able to convince people to become a teacher, because it's such a noble profession and it's such an important profession for America and our future. I absolutely believe there are -- that this country can achieve anything we want. That includes making sure every child can read, and every child has got a hopeful future because he or she has gotten a great public school education.
So I want to thank you all very much. I'm really looking forward to speaking to your school. Thanks for the hospitality. Thank you all very much for serving our country by being a -- by being such good teachers.
Let me answer a few questions, then --
Q Mr. President, will you need to increase the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan, or delay an expansion of the war on terrorism beyond Afghanistan as a result of the al Qaeda resurgence --
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, we've always known al Qaeda exists in Afghanistan. And from the beginning of this, I have cautioned the American people that this is going to take a while, that it's going to take a while to rout out al Qaeda wherever it tries to hide. The American people understand that.
And as you well know, over the weekend we've started an operation against a significant nest of al Qaeda fighters. These are people that if they were to escape, could conceivably harm the United States again. And, therefore, we're going to hunt them down wherever they try to hide.
And I am so proud of the men and women who wear our uniform. I appreciate the efforts of our coalition to chase down al Qaeda, to bring them to justice. I'm obviously saddened by the loss of life. All America is saddened when one of our soldiers loses life.
On the other hand, I think most Americans, and I hope these parents and loved ones understand, the cause is important, and the cause is just. I rely -- obviously, rely upon the advice of our commanders on the ground as to what is necessary to win. But we'll take whatever means is necessary to protect our servicemen and women. And we'll win this battle. And we'll keep battling al Qaeda wherever we find them.
In terms of the overall scope, the international scope, I have always said that sometimes the American people will see us -- see our military in action, and sometimes they won't. But we will keep the pressure on al Qaeda. Our country is still under threat, and so long as our country is under threat, this great nation will hunt down those who want to harm innocent Americans.
Q Mr. President, how important is it for you to round up a lot of al Qaeda leaders in this particular battle that's going on? And do you have any indication at all whether Osama bin Laden might be in this area?
THE PRESIDENT: I haven't heard from him since September -- December the 11th. He's been awfully quiet. I don't know why. But I know he's on the run, if he's running at all. And I know there's no cave deep enough for Osama bin Laden.
He hit a country that he thought was weak and feeble. And instead he found out he hit a country that is determined to defend freedom. And that's exactly what we're going to do. We will defend our freedoms.
And the first part of your question?
Q Do you expect to --
THE PRESIDENT: We're after any al Qaeda person.
Q Do you have any reason to believe that there's a lot of them in this particular area?
THE PRESIDENT: I believe there are some -- and I'm not sure how many -- enough for us to put together a significant coalition of Afghan, American and other forces to rout them out. These are people that have got one thing in mind: they're going to harm innocent Afghan citizens. They want us to leave, they want us to be soft, they want us to let down our guard. And we're not going to do that, so long as I'm the President of the United States.
And we've been called into action. This nation has been called to defend history -- history has called us to defend freedom. And we're going to do that. And you should not be surprised that our troops will go into action in Afghanistan again. I have said repeatedly, we are in a dangerous phase of this war -- and as we learned much to our horror the last couple of days, when we lost life. But, nevertheless, it is worth it, and it is necessary, to bring these people to justice.
If we do not, America can remain more vulnerable. If we do not find them, then we will have missed a great opportunity to make the world a safer place for our children and grandchildren.
Q Mr. President, you said that one of the calculations that al Qaeda might have had is they thought Americans couldn't stomach the casualties.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes.
Q Do you think the American people are ready for this?
THE PRESIDENT: I think any time somebody loses their life, the American people will mourn, and are sad. And I feel that way, too. On the other hand, I am just as determined now as I was a week ago, or three months ago, to fulfil this mission. And that is to make sure our country is safe from further attack.
These people have made it absolutely clear -- these people being al Qaeda -- that they want to harm America again. And we will do everything in our power to not let them do so. And that means chasing them down from the mountains of Afghanistan, or in Yemen, or in the Philippines, using our vast coalition to bring these people to justice. These are killers, they're murderers. And I am -- my job is to protect America and support our military during this historic times. And that's exactly what I'm going to do.
Q Mr. President, the Mideast situation is -- do you believe the Mideast situation has escalated out of control? And do you think the U.S. needs to do more to try to seize control?
THE PRESIDENT: We are on the phone every single day, nearly -- I say nearly; we might have missed a day or two -- to the leaders in the Middle East, urging there to be a -- less violence. I have said repeatedly that Chairman Arafat must do everything he can to convince those Palestinians who want to derail any possible peace to lay down their arms.
And the situation is terrible, any time you lose as many innocent lives as has been lost in the Middle East. But that won't deter us from working hard, working the issue hard. I'm meeting with Hosni Mubarak tomorrow, and I'm sure we'll talk the Middle East and the process to try to get to the Tenet -- the Tenet plan, laid out by George Tenet, is the first step toward bringing the violence down and making the area more secure, so they can eventually get into the Mitchell process, which then eventually will lead to some kind of settlement.
I appreciate the fact that the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia has laid out his vision for some political solution. But the first thing is we've got to reduce the violence in order to be able to get the discussion started. And so we're spending a lot of time trying to get the people of that region to stop killing each other.
Q Thank you.
END 2:57 P.M. CST