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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 12, 2008
Interview of the President by Lukman Ahmed, BBC Arabic
11:52 A.M. EDT
Q Thank you so much, Mr. President, for this. First, I must congratulate you for your daughter's wedding. (Laughter.) And how does it feeling, being a father? I know you are listening to your Mom, I know you are a father, and you are having this wedding; how does it feel?
THE PRESIDENT: You know something, I was emotional, because I was so happy and proud. And she's marrying a good guy, Lukman, and we were out there on our ranch, which is a part of the world Laura and I love, and it was just a special evening. It was great. I feel great, thank you.
Q You have given -- we are going to Lebanon. You are giving Hezbollah the choice of being terrorist organization or a political party. What do you think would prompt Hezbollah to abandon -- why Hezbollah claim the existence of legitimate concern for these weapons?
THE PRESIDENT: I don't know. It's hard for me to get inside Hezbollah's head. I do know that they are destabilizing Lebanon. I do know that they were viewed at one time as the protectors against Israel, and now in fact they're turning against the Lebanese people themselves. And I do know that Lebanon's success is very important for peace in the Middle East. And so our position -- my government's position is to support the Siniora government; is to beef up his army, so that he can have a chance to respond to people who are acting outside the confines of government.
Hezbollah would be nothing without Iranian support, and Iranian [sic] is the crux of many of the problems in the Middle East, whether it be funding of Hezbollah, funding of Hamas, or obviously actions within the young democracy of Iraq. So a lot of my trip is going to be to get people to focus not only on Lebanon, remember Lebanon, but also to remember that Iran causes a lot of the problems around the Middle East.
Q We are going to touch that Iranian support and Syrian support for Hezbollah. Many supporters of the U.S. policy in Lebanon criticize the lack of practical American support to the Siniora government. That's what we are seeing right now. The U.S.S. Cole is now heading to the region, in what you call a -- or previously mentioned the support of an American ally. Does this mean the U.S.S. Cole is willing to offer this practical assistance?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, the most practical assistance really is to help the Lebanese armed forces become effective. And that's what we're doing. A couple years ago I sent one of our top admirals to Lebanon to assess the needs of the military. As well, as I've been watching very carefully to assess the courage of the leadership, like Prime Minister Siniora. I'm impressed by the Prime Minister. He's a good guy who cares deeply about the future of his country. And he needs a military that has got the practical equipment necessary to deal with elements in this society that are destabilizing. And that's really where our practical help is going to be.
Q And supporting the Lebanese military, that means they should go, or do you think would go to disarm Hezbollah?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, of course, I don't see how you can have a society with Hezbollah armed up the way they are. I mean, any time they feel like moving, they try to do it. In this case, though, they moved against the Lebanese people. They're not moving against any foreign country, they're moving against the Lebanese people, and it should send a signal to everybody that they're a destabilizing force. But the first step, of course, is to make sure that the Siniora government has got the capacity to respond with a military that's effective, that can move point A to point B in a quick fashion, and that's got the capacity to get the job done.
Q You are calling both Iran and Syria to halt their support to Hezbollah. But in the absence of any direct contact with Iran and Syria, your administration -- how do you think both countries should stop doing this? You are not negotiating with them, you are not exploring other means to have them halt their support.
THE PRESIDENT: So what's there to negotiate? I mean, they know my position. Early on in my administration we sent the word to the Syrians, with top administrative officials, that if you want better relations with the United States, stop supporting these extremist groups that are trying to stop the advance of free societies. And every time, their response was nothing. So they know our position, the Syrians and the Iranians.
I have made it abundantly clear there's a better way forward; if the Iranians want to have relations with us, they ought to verifiably suspend their enrichment, and then we'll -- they can visit with us and other nations involved through the U.N. process.
But both sides, both countries have made the decision to not take up offers, and they're very destabilizing influences, and they're -- I truly believe that the Middle East is where the world ought to spend a lot of time, attention and focus to help bring prosperity and peace, and that when people do pay attention closely, they'll recognize the destabilizing influence that the Iranians and the Syrians are having.
Q So what are the other means that you think you could take to have them stop their support?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, you know, there are sanctions, of course. There's international -- working with the international community to send common messages, working with the financial community. And we're doing that. The problem is, some folks just don't see the same -- the threat that Iran poses in the Middle East, for example, as others do. I view them as a serious threat to peace, and therefore I spend a lot of time trying to convince other nations, other leaders to join in this common concern.
Q We are going to the Palestinian and Israel issue, and we know that you are going there to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the establishment of Israel, and you are the President who put the idea of the two-state solution. There are the other sayer in the Palestinian side. They call this anniversary as "Nakba", or disaster. What do you say to them, Mr. President?
THE PRESIDENT: I say to them that I care deeply about the Palestinian people and their future. They're going to have a choice to make, hopefully, and that choice is, here's what a state is going to look like, or do you want the kind of state that Hamas has brought you? There needs to be a vision that people can see, that's clearly spelled out, with defined borders, and the refugee issue settled; something on how to move forward on the holy sites; security discussions. Those discussions are ongoing right now, and our job in the United States, it seems like to me, is to encourage the parties to come and reach a common solution, so that they can then say, the world can say, here's what a state will look like; and now you suffering Palestinians have a choice to make: you can accept that, or you can continue to follow, or accept in your presence these extremists who murder innocent people.
Isn't it interesting that as the talks begin to emerge, there's more rockets flying into Israeli neighborhoods. Why? Because they want to stop the advance of a Palestinian state. And so, no, I got a good message for the people of Palestinian Territories.
Q I'm going to call you on that. I'm given 30 seconds, so I hope if you could allow me to ask this question here. In your last meeting with Abu Mazen here in the White House, you stated, as I quote, "I have confidence we can achieve the definition of a state." Actually, Abu Mazen, he expressed some concern after that meeting that he couldn't see anything that would suggest that the possibility of establishing the state before the end of your term, and he's hoping, and you are hoping. Right now you are heading there. Are you willing to tell me that before the end of your administration there will be an agreement to be concluded, based on the assurance you get from the both sides?
THE PRESIDENT: I think we can, I really do. We're going to work hard for that end. Look, it's hard, I understand that. And Abu Mazen was expressing frustrations with the process, and that's okay. He's sending a message. He wasn't speaking necessarily to the American people, he was sending a message back home that he's frustrated, and he expects there to be more progress made to his liking, I understand that. That's what negotiations are all about.
Abu Mazen and Olmert are, of course, necessary to get a good deal, but there's still Tzipi Livni, Abu Ala are talking now. There's a lot of discussions going on. And it's just a process. And the fundamental question is, when it gets down to it, will they be able to agree -- they've closed a gap, closed a gap, will they be able to agree at that last minute? And that's why Condi Rice and Hadley and others are going out there all the time to encourage them to get a deal done. It's in their interests, it's in the Israelis' interests that there be a state living side by side with them in peace, and it's in the Palestinians' interest. The status quo is unacceptable. Gaza is unacceptable. What they need is a state that responds to the will of the people. And the first step is to define what the state looks like. And we'll work hard for the next months to see if we can't get it done.
Q And the agreement that you are trying to get in done, is it going to be a description of a state or establishment of the state?
THE PRESIDENT: No, it will be a description of the state. Remember, I told everybody earlier that there's got to be some road map obligations that have to be met. Everybody understands that. Step one is the description. And the state can't look like Swiss cheese; it has to be contiguous territories with defined borders, and the refugee issue concluded, as well.
Q And that's what we're going to get before the end of your administration?
THE PRESIDENT: I think so.
Q A description of the state.
THE PRESIDENT: I'm working hard to get there.
Q Thank you so much. With regard to Iran, President Bush, it's very vital, as you say it always, that their cooperation to have stability in Iraq. Do you think that it -- you consider one day talking direct to them to have them achieve that goal?
THE PRESIDENT: They know -- look, if I thought talks would matter, we'd talk. But they know our position. We have had talks between our embassy and their embassy. They know, and they know that the Iraqi government, along with the U.S. government wants them to stop sending their weapons from Iran into Iraq, all aiming to kill innocent people. That's what they're doing. They're being very -- they're not being constructive at all. But they absolutely know our position. And when we catch them doing it, they'll be brought to justice. And we are catching them doing it right now.
Q The issue of the possible cooperation between Syria and North Korea, on the weapons of -- nuclear weapons.
THE PRESIDENT: That was a troubling development, wasn't it, that all of a sudden out of the blue, there's, in the middle of a kind of a remote area, a reactor is there, built with the help of Koreans, North Koreans. It goes to show, unless there's transparency and openness, unless there's a strong inspection regime, what could happen. That's why it's very important that the world stay diligent and pay attention to what goes on in the Middle East, and not hope for the best, but remain active.
Q Syria is -- last question, last question. Mr. President, seriously the end question. Obviously the people have in mind that the presentation at the U.N. with regard to the Iraqi weapon of mass destruction, so how do you see that?
THE PRESIDENT: Look, the difference was, in this case, there was concrete examples. I mean, everybody that analyzed the data realized it was true. I mean, are people saying that it didn't exist? Is that what the line of reasoning is? Well, that's just not the case or the truth. The truth is, is that out of nowhere was discovered this reactor that nobody talked about. The Syrians didn't tell anybody about it. The North Koreans didn't tell anybody about it. And it was discovered, and now it's destroyed.
Q Mr. President, thank you so much.
THE PRESIDENT: You're a good man.
Q Thank you so much for this opportunity.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, sir.
END 12:07 P.M. EDT