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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 6, 2002

President Discusses Foreign Policy and Domestic Issues with Reporters
Remarks by the President in Tour of Vandenberg Elementary School
Vandenberg Elementary School
Southfield, Michigan

11:23 A.M. EDT

Q -- that he absolutely has to talk to Yasser Arafat in order to get to peace negotiations?

THE PRESIDENT: You know, I'm going to have a private conversation with Ariel Sharon, and would rather that my conversation -- what I'm going to tell him and discuss with him be done and he be the first to know about it --

Q Has he talked with you about the documents he has?

THE PRESIDENT: I talk to him all the time. But if you're asking about Chairman Arafat, I have been asked -- if I have been asked once, I've been asked 20 times about him. He has disappointed me. He must lead. He must show the world that he believes in peace. And we have laid out conditions for all parties in order to achieve peace -- all parties -- Arab nations, Israel, Chairman Arafat and the Palestinian party must assume their responsibilities and lead.

This is a series of discussions we're having, with not only with Prime Minister Sharon; as you know, King Abdullah is coming, as well. It follows up on meetings I've had with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, as well as the King of Morocco. I will continue to have further meetings as we begin to bring -- coalesce the world around a vision for peace.

Q But are the Israelis making it any more difficult by seeming to say that Arafat is not someone they can deal with at all?

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, I think they express disappointment in his ability to lead. I mean, after all, right before we had our security agreement done, a shipload of ammunition shows up and could probably be aimed at the Israeli citizens. So there's a high level of disappointment.

But I haven't had a chance to talk with Prime Minister Sharon in recent days. I look forward to hearing what he has to say. Part of the goal of the United States is to lay out a vision for peace, which I have done, and then encourage people to assume their responsibility necessary to achieve the peace. And that's why it's so important, for example, that the Arab world be very much involved in a peace process, in discussions for toward peace. And we are -- I think we're making some progress, and I appreciate that.

Q Mr. President, what's your reaction to Myanmar's release of Aung San Suu Kyi?

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, I thought that was very positive, a good development.

Q Mr. President, this week you're talking about domestic issues. Are you afraid that people are losing their attention to those during the war?

THE PRESIDENT: No, Mike, I think that people around America know how important public education is, particularly moms and dads and principals and teachers. Public education is on the minds of our citizens every day, because our citizens see public schools in their neighborhoods and our citizens know how important public education is for the future.

So I will spend as much time as necessary to herald success in our public schools and to remind people of the implementation plan that the Secretary of Education is selling, promoting around the country. We've got to get public schools right. We've got to make sure every child is educated. A lot of schools are making really good progress, some aren't. Those schools that aren't making good progress need to change.

Yes, Martha, last question.

Q Secretary Paige, as well as your wife, has been traveling around talking about education. I'm wondering if you could mention what you think her greatest contribution has been to your education policy?

THE PRESIDENT: You know, Laura's a former teacher -- I guess you're never a former teacher, you're always a teacher. (Laughter.) She's not in the classroom -- and she understands the importance of teaching, teacher training, teacher recruitment. And one of the most significant contributions she has made and will continue to make is to remind young Americans -- and old Americans, for that matter -- that their talents and passion are needed in our classrooms. You know, she pushed the Troops for Teacher Initiative, and she's got a way about her that's pretty convincing. And I know she's going to convince a lot of Americans about the importance of being a teacher.

Some school districts are short of teachers, and you've got to remind people -- you know, one of my hopes is that as a result of the nation taking an assessment of that which is important, that the idea of serving your community by being a teacher becomes more paramount in student's minds, and Laura certainly is going to herald that.

The other thing, of course, is reading. There's nothing more fundamental to a good education system than making sure every child learns to read, and that our schools use a curriculum that works. She's pretty good about that, too. She's a great leader and a great advocate for literacy.

Listen, thank you all. You're watching democracy -- one of the core values of democracy is a free press. (Laughter.)

Q Yes, and don't forget it.

Q How free are we?

THE PRESIDENT: You're very free -- for how much we have to pay on a daily basis to buy your newspapers. (Laughter.)

END 11:27 A.M. EDT

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