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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 29, 2003
Interview of the President by Al Arabiyya, United Arab Emirates
2:54 P.M. EDT
Q Thanks again. We really appreciate it, Mr. President. Sir, you will be discussing with the Arab leaders in Egypt their responsibilities toward the peace process. What are your expectations, practically speaking, from leaders such as President Mubarak and Crown Prince Abdallah?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, one, the willingness to join with the United States and other nations to cut off funding to terrorist organizations that can't stand the thought of peace. In other words, we all have got to work together to make security real -- not only for Israel, but for the Palestinian people. And that's my expectations from them.
What I hope to achieve is to be able to look at these leaders in the eye and say, I believe peace is possible, and I'm going to work to peace. And this isn't just a visit in which you won't hear from me again. I believe peace is necessary and possible.
I told a lot of the leaders that after the Iraq situation, that I would work toward peace in the Middle East. I'm the kind of person who does what he says he's going to do, and now I'm working to achieve that. And I think it's possible.
Q Sir, you are known for your straight talk -- some could even say, blunt talk. (Laughter.) Are you going to use that approach in Aqaba with Prime Minister Abbas and Prime Minister Sharon? Are you going to hold them accountable for their commitments? And how far are you willing to go in this regard?
THE PRESIDENT: I am going to hold people accountable for their commitments. And the good news is, is that Prime Minister Sharon knows that. I have had very straightforward conversations with him. I think it's in Israel's best interests that there be two states living side-by-side in peace. He, too, has embraced that idea. And I don't think there's going to be any need for me to hold him to account, but he's agreed to that vision.
I have not met Prime Minister Abbas yet. I look forward to it. And he will -- I did meet his Finance Minister, a man who impressed me. And I will assure him that we will work together. But I'll also assure him that security is essential to achieve what we want, which is a viable Palestinian state.
Q Sir, you have held the removal of President Saddam Hussein's regime from power as a harbinger for a new dawn in the Middle East. Yet, the day after in Iraq has been marred, unfortunately, by chaos, some bloodshed, uncertainty. What is that going to do to your vision of a broader, different, more liberal political landscape in the Middle East? You've talked about it several times.
THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely. Well, first of all, we're just starting in Iraq. And a lot of Iraq is stable, and the life of the Iraqi people are better now than it was prior to the war. I readily concede Baghdad is still a relatively dangerous place. And, therefore, first things first, which is to bring security to Baghdad. But along with security, we're bringing better electricity, more food, more medicine. And it's not just America, by the way, the world is now involved with the reconstruction of Iraq.
I remind people that, for example, in the United States it took 13 years for us to finally settle on a constitution. And I guess some expect us to do it in 13 days in Iraq, and it's going -- it's just going to take longer. And I talked to Jerry Bremer, and again, will see him when I go to the region and will remind him that we're patient here in America, that we -- you know, it wasn't until March 19th that we actually began operations. So there hasn't been much time yet.
I'm not surprised that there's still some pessimism and people are unsettled. After all, they have lived under a brutal regime for a long time. But I'm confident we'll achieve our objective, and I'm confident the Iraqi people will be better off.
Q Sir, you've used tough language vis-a-vis Iran and Syria in the last few weeks. Is the United States on a collision course with Tehran? And what is the state of play with Syria, following Secretary Powell's visit to Damascus?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first, Secretary Powell had a good visit to Damascus. And, yes, we used some tough rhetoric, because it looked like Baathists were trying to escape into Syria and, obviously, we didn't want that to happen. And the Syrian government pledged that that wouldn't be the case. We take people for their word until proven otherwise.
In Iran, obviously, we're nervous about the reporting now out that there's some al Qaeda inside of Iran. We just want the Iranians to understand that if there are al Qaeda loose in Iran we expect them to be detained. If there are al Qaeda in Iran and they plot against the United States, that obviously we're going to be displeased with that.
My hope, of course, is that the Iranians respond. And they've heard our message loud and clear, and I suspect they will.
Q I have one more question, sir.
THE PRESIDENT: Sure.
Q Who are your Arab allies in the war on terrorism? Sometimes we hear conflicting reports, for instance, on Saudi Arabia --
THE PRESIDENT: Yes.
Q -- sometimes they cooperate we are told; sometimes they don't cooperate. What is the state of play?
THE PRESIDENT: That's a good question. Crown Prince Abdallah is a strong ally in the war on terror. There's no doubt in my mind that he is moving within the Kingdom to bring the killers to justice and to prevent other killing. King Abdullah is a strong ally in the war on terror. President Mubarak is a strong ally in the war on terror. I know this not only from my conversations with these men, but also because of the cooperation between our intelligence services.
The Gulf Coast countries have been strong supporters in the war on terror. And I'm grateful for that support.
Q Mr. President, we really appreciate it. Thanks again. There are so many questions, so little time. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I'm sorry.
Q Thanks, we really appreciate it. Thank you.
END 3:00 P.M. EDT