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For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
June 20, 2007
Interview of Mrs. Bush by Kiran Chetry, CNN's American Morning
The Map Room
7:30 A.M. EDT
Q Thanks so much, and thanks to everyone for joining us once again. It certainly is a special treat because I'm joined now by First Lady Laura Bush. Thanks so much for your time and thanks so much for agreeing to appear on our show this morning.
You certainly have a busy schedule this week, including a trip to Africa.
MRS. BUSH: That's right, I'm going to leave for Africa on Monday, this coming Monday.
Q You're highlighting not only the HIV and AIDS situation there, but also malaria, which, tragically, is such a preventable disease yet takes the lives of so many children in Africa.
MRS. BUSH: Yes, people may not realize, we had malaria in the United States until 1946, and we were able to totally eradicate it. And there should be -- and one of the things the President has initiated is a big project to eradicate malaria in the countries that are the hardest hit in Africa. We've targeted three countries to start with, with the President's Malaria Initiative. We had a summit on it last December where we brought together all the players -- the World Health Organization; UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund; the World Bank; USAID, our big foreign aid vehicle from the U.S. government; a lot of non-profits like Malaria No More -- to make a real systematic approach to try to eradicate malaria, because, as you say, malaria is the big killer, is the big killer around the world, really, and especially of babies.
Q So is HIV and AIDS, and actually, your husband, the President, has been praised for the commitment to Africa. And yet we read these headlines like the one today in The Washington Post, "The Spread of AIDS Outpacing Treatment." How do you measure progress in Africa when it seems like such an insurmountable problem?
MRS. BUSH: Well, it does seem like an insurmountable problem, but the fact is, you can measure progress, because you can see how many people actually have gotten treatment. You can count the numbers of disease that may have been prevented by different programs. We know in the United States, for instance, that very few babies are born with HIV. We've almost been able to eradicate mother-to-child transmission of AIDS. And those are programs we're working on in Africa, as well. We know how many mothers have been able to deliver babies who are HIV positive -- the mothers are HIV positive -- and then able to deliver babies who are HIV free.
And so we really can see numbers. We know how many people are now receiving antiretrovirals because of the President's Emergency Plan on AIDS Relief.
Q And a push to get those medications at a cheaper rate.
MRS. BUSH: That's right, as many as we -- and to get them as fast as we can to as many places as we can.
One of the problems in Africa is that because there's so little infrastructure in the bush, it's very difficult to get antiretrovirals. And so another program that we're working on is to try to train African health workers so they can make sure that antiretrovirals are spread everywhere and everyone can go on them.
Q And as we said, this will be your third trip that you're making solo to Africa for the week.
MRS. BUSH: That's right.
Q Let's turn to Burma right now, because this is something that has captured your attention. In fact, you wrote an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal about this military regime that's committing these unspeakable acts. And the democratically elected leader, for about a decade and a half now, has been under house arrest.
MRS. BUSH: That's right, Aung San Suu Kyi, who is a Nobel Prize winner, her party, the National League for Democracy, won in an election in 1990, and then since then, off and on for the last 17 years, she's been under house arrest.
Q And when you read about some of the tortures, the rapes that have been going on, it really is disturbing. But there is so much disturbing that is going on in the world. How did this capture your attention?
MRS. BUSH: Well, really, I just became interested in her. I learned about her. And she is such an example of courage and she really wants to have a non-violent reconciliation in her country.
And so I think when I learned about her -- and I think other people around the world who know about Aung San Suu Kyi then focus on Burma and on the other political prisoners that are there. And we were able to bring up before the Security Council a resolution on Burma last year. It was vetoed by Russia and China, who are both suppliers and also trading partners with Burma.
But on the other hand, I think we can keep the attention on it. I hosted a roundtable on Burma last year during the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Aung San Suu Kyi's birthday was yesterday. She was 62 years old.
Q She spent it alone with just her armed guards in her home again.
MRS. BUSH: That's right, spent it under house arrest. The generals there, the military leadership, had recently extended her detention for another year. I also want to make a plea to them not to realize they don't -- just because they extended it, they don't have to keep her detained for another year, that that's just another year of wasting the chance in Burma for reconciliation.
Q And it's actually not just a humanitarian issue; also a national security concern, because North Korea has a growing influence in that region and within that country.
MRS. BUSH: That's right, Burma recently made a friendship again with North Korea. But also they suffer all of the same diseases that we're going to see when we're in Africa -- malaria, AIDS. It's very, very difficult to get humanitarian relief into Burma because the generals have so closed the country.
They have many refugees who are just across on the Thai border, as well as on the Indian border. There are over 600,000 displaced persons within Burma. These are a lot of their ethnic minorities who have been targeted by the military regime and have had to leave their own villages.
Q In fact, this is World Refugee Day at CNN, we've tried to highlight it -- 500 million people around the world, 400 million people around the world, having to flee their country for whatever reason. One that we're highlighting today also is the situation in Iraq -- people who were helping the Americans or even helping their own country, men and women, rebuild infrastructure, targeted. And they are also seeking refuge in other nations, as well as the United States.
MRS. BUSH: Sure, in Lebanon and Syria and Jordan, and then here. And I think Americans would be proud to know that we welcome to our country more refugees than all the rest of the nations combined. And obviously we're especially concerned about the Iraqi refugees, people who are there who are trying to build their government, trying to build a stable country, which is what our goal is, as well, who have left because of terror, really, because of the chance of violence and the fear of violence.
We welcome many of those refugees, both from Iraq and Afghanistan into the United States. We also spend about $80 million a year working with refugees, Iraqi refugees in the camps in Lebanon.
Q One of the key points that a lot of analysts say is that you have to find a way to help refugees get some sense of normalcy so they can continue to contribute.
MRS. BUSH: That's right.
Q The fear with Iraq is, if everybody leaves, then the brain drain --
MRS. BUSH: Exactly.
Q And how do you rebuild a country --
MRS. BUSH: And that is a problem for countries around the world -- many countries who have lost their best and brightest because of instability or violence within the country -- war, in many cases.
It's a huge suffering for those countries. And the quicker we can stabilize those countries so that people can go back, then we have so much better chance of building a stable country because of the people that are there.
Q One of the things I wanted to ask you about was the woman who ran this house before you got here is looking to move back. (Laughter.) Politics aside, though, is a woman President a good thing, in your opinion, for our future?
MRS. BUSH: Sure, absolutely. I'm looking forward to voting for the first Republican woman President.
Q Are you still trying to actively recruit Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice?
MRS. BUSH: No, I've given up on that.
Q Because she says she's not running, of course.
MRS. BUSH: She won't.
Q One other question I wanted to ask you is, how do you establish a sense of normalcy, given that you really have a front seat to a lot of tragedy, a lot of pressing concerns. How do you keep your spirits up and your family's spirits up?
MRS. BUSH: You know, I am encouraged by people like Aung San Suu Kyi. And I have the opportunity to hear these stories, a lot of times firsthand -- not from her, obviously; I'd love to have the opportunity to meet her sometime. And that is what encourages me, and I know encourages the President -- people that we meet here in our country and around the world that inspire us.
Q Well, it was absolutely wonderful talking to you.
MRS. BUSH: Thanks so much.
Q Thanks so much for being with us on American Morning.