For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
July 17, 2003
Press Conference of President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair
The Cross Hall
5:29 P.M. EDT
PRESIDENT BUSH: Good afternoon. It is, once again, a pleasure to
welcome the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and Cherie Blair to the White
House. Mr. Prime Minister, fabulous speech. Congratulations.
In his address to Congress this afternoon, Prime Minister Blair
once again showed the qualities that have marked his entire career.
Tony Blair is a leader of conviction, of passion, of moral clarity, and
eloquence. He is a true friend of the American people. The United
Kingdom has produced some of the world's most distinguished statesmen,
and I'm proud to be standing with one of them today.
The close partnership between the United States and Great Britain
has been and remains essential to the peace and security of all
nations. For more than 40 years of the Cold War we stood together to
ensure that the conflicts of Europe did not once again destroy the
peace of the world. The duties we accepted were demanding, as we found
during the Berlin Blockade and other crises. Yet, British and American
leaders held firm and our cause prevailed.
Now we are joined in another great and difficult mission. On
September the 11th, 2001, America, Britain and all free nations saw how
the ideologies of hatred and terror in a distant part of the world
could bring violence and grief to our own citizens. We resolved to
fight these threats actively, wherever they gather, before they reach
our shores. And we resolved to oppose these threats by promoting
freedom and democracy in the Middle East, a region that has known so
much bitterness and resentment.
From the outset, the Prime Minister and I have understood that we
are allies in this war -- a war requiring great effort and patience
and fortitude. The British and American peoples will hold firm once
again, and we will prevail.
The United States and Great Britain have conducted a steady
offensive against terrorist networks and terror regimes. We're
dismantling the al Qaeda network, leader by leader, and we're hunting
down the terrorist killers one by one.
In Afghanistan, we removed the cruel and oppressive regime that had
turned that country into a training camp for al Qaeda, and now we are
helping the Afghan people to restore their nation and regain
In Iraq, the United States, Britain and other nations confronted a
violent regime that armed to threaten the peace, that cultivated ties
to terror and defied the clear demands of the United Nations Security
Council. Saddam Hussein produced and possessed chemical and biological
weapons and was trying to reconstitute his nuclear weapons program. He
used chemical weapons in acts of murder against his own people.
The U.N. Security Council, acting on information it had acquired
over many years, passed more than a dozen resolutions demanding that
the dictator reveal and destroy all of his prohibited weapons. A final
Security Council resolution promised serious consequences if he
continued his defiance. The former dictator of Iraq chose his course
of action; and, for the sake of peace and security, we chose ours.
The Prime Minister and I have no greater responsibility than to
protect the lives and security of the people we serve. The regime of
Saddam Hussein was a grave and growing threat. Given Saddam's history
of violence and aggression, it would have been reckless to place our
trust in his sanity or his restraint. As long as I hold this office, I
will never risk the lives of American citizens by assuming the goodwill
of dangerous enemies.
Acting together, the United States, Great Britain and our coalition
partners enforced the demands of the world. We ended the threat from
Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. We rid the Middle East
of an aggressive, destabalizing regime. We liberated nearly 25 million
people from decades of oppression. And we are now helping the Iraqi
people to build a free nation.
In Iraq, as elsewhere, freedom and self-government are hated and
opposed by a radical and ruthless few. American, British and other
forces are facing remnants of a fallen regime and other extremists.
Their attacks follow a pattern. They target progress and success.
They strike at Iraqi police officers who have been trained to enforce
order. They sabotage Iraqi power grids that we're rebuilding. They
are the enemies of the Iraqi people.
Defeating these terrorists is an essential commitment on the war on
terror. This is a duty we accept. This is a fight we will win. We
are being tested in Iraq. Our enemies are looking for signs of
hesitation. They're looking for weakness. They will find none.
Instead, our forces in Iraq are finding these killers and bringing them
And we will finish the task of helping Iraqis make the challenging
transition to democracy. Iraq's governing council is now meeting
regularly. Soon the council will nominate ministers and propose a
budget. After decades of tyranny, the institutions of democracy will
take time to create. America and Britain will help the Iraqi people as
long as necessary. Prime Minister Blair and I have the same goal --
the government and the future of Iraq will be in the hands of the
people of Iraq.
The creation of a strong and stable Iraqi democracy is not easy,
but it's an essential part on the war against terror. A free Iraq will
be an example to the entire Middle East, and the advance of liberty in
the Middle East will undermine the ideologies of terror and hatred. It
will help strengthen the security of America and Britain and many other
By helping to build and secure a free Iraq, by accepting the risks
and sacrifice, our men and women in uniform are protecting our own
countries, and they're giving essential service in the war on terror.
This is the work history has given us, and we will complete it.
We're seeing movement toward reform and freedom in other parts of
the Middle East. The leadership and courage of Prime Minister Abbas
and Prime Minister Sharon are giving their peoples new hope for
progress. Other nations can add to the momentum of peace by fighting
terror in all its forms. A Palestinian state will be built upon hope
and reform, not built upon violence.
Terrorists are the chief enemies of Palestinian aspirations. The
sooner terrorism is rooted out by all the governments in the region,
the sooner the Palestinian flag will rise over a peaceful Palestinian
The spread of liberty in Afghanistan and Iraq and across the Middle
East will mark a hopeful turn in the history of our time. Great
Britain and America will achieve this goal together. And one of the
reasons I'm confident in our success is because the character and the
leadership of Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Mr. Prime Minister.
PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: Thank you, Mr. President. And first of all,
as I did a short time ago, I would like to pay tribute to your
leadership in these difficult times. Because ever since September the
11th, the task of leadership has been an arduous one, and I believe
that you have fulfilled it with tremendous conviction, determination
PRESIDENT BUSH: Thank you, sir.
PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: And I think it's as well that we understand
how this has all come about. It came about because we realized that
there was a new source of threat and insecurity in our world that we
had to counter. And as I was saying in my speech to Congress, this
threat is sometimes hard for people to understand, because it's of such
a different nature than the threats we have faced before, but September
the 11th taught us it was real.
And when you lead countries, as we both do, and you see the
potential for this threat of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction
to come together, I really don't believe that any responsible leader
could ignore the evidence that we see, or the threat that we face. And
that's why we've taken the action that we have, first in Afghanistan,
and now in Iraq.
And in Afghanistan, we acted to remove the Taliban, and we still
pursue the al Qaeda terrorist network there and in other parts of the
world. But there is no doubt at all that, but for that action, al
Qaeda would have retained its central place of command and control
which now is denied to it.
And in respect to Iraq, we should not forget Resolution 1441 that
was passed in the United Nations, in which the entire international
community accepted the threat that Iraq constituted.
I think it's just worth pointing out, in these last few days, Iraq
has had a governing council established, with the help of the United
Nations representative Sergio de Mello. And in the last two weeks, the
United Nations has spoken about the numbers of missing people and mass
graves. And that number, just on the present count, is round about
So let us be clear: We have been dealing with a situation in which
the threat was very clear and the person, Saddam Hussein, wielding that
threat, someone of total brutality and ruthlessness, with no
compunction about killing his own people or those of another nation.
And, of course, it's difficult to reconstruct Iraq. It's going to
be a hard task. We never expected otherwise. But as the President has
said to you a moment or two ago, the benefit of that reconstruction
will be felt far beyond the territory of Iraq. It is, as I said
earlier today, an indispensable part of bringing about a new settlement
in the whole of the Middle East.
And I would also pay tribute to the President's leadership in the
Middle East and in rekindling the prospect of the Middle East peace
process. If I can remind people, I think many people were cynical as
to whether this could ever be rekindled. Many people doubted whether
the commitment was there, to fairness for Palestinian people, as well
as to the state of Israel. And yet the President has stated very
clearly the goal of a two-state solution. And now we actually have the
first steps, albeit tentative, toward achieving that.
And when I met Prime Minister Sharon in London a few nights ago, I
was more than ever convinced that if we could provide the right
framework within which these tentative steps are made, then we do,
genuinely, have the prospect of making progress there.
And then, again, as I was saying earlier, the commitment that
America has now given, that the President has given, in respect of
Africa, in tackling some of the poorest parts of our world, is again a
sign of hope. And all these things are changing our world. And
however difficult the change may be, I genuinely believe it is change
for the better.
So I am honored once again to be here in the White House, with you,
Mr. President. As I said earlier, we are allies and we are friends.
And I believe that the work that we are embarked upon is difficult, but
is essential, and so far as we are concerned, we shall hold to it, ride
the way through.
THE PRESIDENT: We'll take a couple of questions. Tom.
Q Mr. President, others in your administration have said your
words on Iraq and Africa did not belong in your State of the Union
address. Will you take personal responsibility for those words? And
to both of you, how is it that two major world leaders such as
yourselves have had such a hard time persuading other major powers to
help stabilize Iraq?
THE PRESIDENT: First, I take responsibility for putting our troops
into action. And I made that decision because Saddam Hussein was a
threat to our security and a threat to the security of other nations.
I take responsibility for making the decision, the tough decision,
to put together a coalition to remove Saddam Hussein. Because the
intelligence -- not only our intelligence, but the intelligence of
this great country -- made a clear and compelling case that Saddam
Hussein was a threat to security and peace.
I say that because he possessed chemical weapons and biological
weapons. I strongly believe he was trying to reconstitute his nuclear
weapons program. And I will remind the skeptics that in 1991, it
became clear that Saddam Hussein was much closer to developing a
nuclear weapon than anybody ever imagined. He was a threat. I take
responsibility for dealing with that threat.
We are in a war against terror. And we will continue to fight that
war against terror. We're after al Qaeda, as the Prime Minister
accurately noted, and we're dismantling al Qaeda. The removal of
Saddam Hussein is an integral part of winning the war against terror.
A free Iraq will make it much less likely that we'll find violence in
that immediate neighborhood. A free Iraq will make it more likely
we'll get a Middle Eastern peace. A free Iraq will have incredible
influence on the states that could potentially unleash terrorist
activities on us. And, yeah, I take responsibility for making the
decisions I made.
Q Mr. President --
PRESIDENT BUSH: Hold on for a second, please.
PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: First of all, before I answer the question
you put to me about other countries helping us, let me just say this on
the issue to do with Africa and uranium. The British intelligence that
we had we believe is genuine. We stand by that intelligence. And one
interesting fact I think people don't generally know, in case people
should think that the whole idea of a link between Iraq and Niger was
some invention, in the 1980s we know for sure that Iraq purchased round
about 270 tons of uranium from Niger. So I think we should just factor
that into our thinking there.
As for other countries, actually, other countries are coming in.
We have with us now round about nine other countries who will be
contributing or are contributing literally thousands of troops. I
think I'm right in saying the Poles in their sector have somewhere in
the region of 20 different countries offering support. And I have no
doubt at all we will have international support in this. Indeed, to be
fair, even to those countries that opposed the action, I think they
recognize the huge importance of reconstructing Iraq.
And it's an interesting thing, I was at a European meeting just a
couple of weeks ago, where, as you know, there were big differences
between people over the issue of Iraq. And yet, I was struck by the
absolutely unanimous view that whatever people felt about the conflict,
it was obviously good that Saddam was out, and most people now
recognize that the important thing is that we all work together to
reconstruct Iraq for the better so that it is a free and stable
Q I wonder if I could ask you both about one aspect of Iraq and
freedom and justice which, as you know, is causing a great deal of
concern in Britain and the British Parliament. That is, what happens
now in Guantanamo Bay to the people detained there, particularly
whether there's any chance that the President will return the British
citizens to face British justice, as John Walker Lindh faced regular
And just on a quick point, could the Prime Minister react to the
decision of the Foreign Affairs Committee tonight that the BBC reporter
Andrew Gilligan is a "unsatisfactory witness"?
PRESIDENT BUSH: You probably ought to comment on that one.
PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: Can I just say to you on the first point,
obviously, this is an issue that we will discuss when we begin our
talks tonight, and we will put out a statement on that tomorrow for
PRESIDENT BUSH: We will work with the Blair government on this
issue. And we're about to -- after we finish answering your
questions, we're going to go upstairs and discuss the issue.
Q Do you have concerns they're not getting justice, the people
PRESIDENT BUSH: No, the only thing I know for certain is that
these are bad people, and we look forward to working closely with the
Blair government to deal with the issue.
PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: On your other point, Adam, the issue here is
very, very simple. The whole debate, for weeks, revolved around a
claim that either I or a member of my staff had effectively inserted
intelligence into the dossier we put before the British people against
the wishes of the intelligence services. Now, that is a serious
charge. It never was true. Everybody now knows that that charge is
untrue. And all we are saying is, those who made that charge should
simply accept that it is untrue. It's as simple as that.
THE PRESIDENT: Patsy, Reuters.
Q Mr. President, in his speech to Congress, the Prime Minister
opened the door to the possibility that you may be proved wrong about
the threat from Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.
THE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
Q Do you agree, and does it matter whether or not you find
THE PRESIDENT: Well, you might ask the Prime Minister that. We
won't be proven wrong --
PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: No.
PRESIDENT BUSH: I believe that we will find the truth. And the
truth is, he was developing a program for weapons of mass destruction.
Now, you say, why didn't it happen all of a sudden? Well, there
was a lot of chaos in the country, one. Two, Saddam Hussein has spent
over a decade hiding weapons and hiding materials. Three, we're
getting -- we're just beginning to get some cooperation from some of
the high-level officials in that administration or that regime.
But we will bring the weapons and, of course -- we will bring the
information forward on the weapons when they find them. And that will
end up -- end all this speculation. I understand there has been a
lot of speculation over in Great Britain, we've got a little bit of it
here, about whether or not the -- whether or not the actions were
based upon valid information. We can debate that all day long, until
the truth shows up. And that's what's going to happen.
And we based our decisions on good, sound intelligence. And the
-- our people are going to find out the truth, and the truth will say
that this intelligence was good intelligence. There's no doubt in my
THE PRIME MINISTER: If I can just correct you on one thing. I
certainly did not say that I would be proved wrong. On the contrary; I
said with every fiber of instinct and conviction I believe that we are
right. And let me just say this one other thing to you, because
sometimes, again, in the debate in the past few weeks, it's as if,
prior to the early part of this year, the issue of Saddam Hussein and
weapons of mass destruction were some sort of unknown quantity, and on
the basis of some speculative intelligence, we go off and take action.
The history of Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction is a
12-year history, and is a history of him using the weapons, developing
the weapons, and concealing the weapons, and not complying with the
United Nations inspectors who were trying to shut down his programs.
And I simply say -- which is why I totally agree with the President
-- it's important we wait for the Iraq survey group to complete their
work. Because the proposition that actually he was not developing such
weapons and such programs rests on this rather extraordinary
proposition that, having for years obstructed the United Nations
inspectors and concealed his programs, having finally effectively got
rid of them in December '98, he then took all the problems and
sanctions and action upon himself, voluntarily destroyed them but just
didn't tell anyone. I don't think that's very likely as a
proposition. I really don't.
Q Nick Robinson, ITV News. Mr. President, do you realize that
many people hearing you say that we know these are bad people in
Guantanamo Bay will merely fuel their doubts that the United States
regards them as innocent until proven guilty and due a fair, free and
PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, let me just say these were illegal
combatants. They were picked up off the battlefield aiding and
abetting the Taliban. I'm not trying to try them in front of your
cameras or in your newspaper.
But we will talk with the Prime Minister about this issue. He's
asked. Prior to his arrival, he said, I want to talk about this in a
serious way, can we work with you? And the answer is, absolutely. I
understand the issue. And we will. We'll have a very good discussion
about it -- right after he finishes answering this aspect of your
PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: I just think you should realize -- I mean,
of course, as I said a moment or two ago, we will discuss this together
and we'll put out a statement for you tomorrow. But I think, again,
it's important just to realize the context in which all this arises,
without saying anything about any specific case at all. And the
context was a situation in which the al Qaeda and the Taliban were
operating together in Afghanistan against American and British forces.
So, as I say, we will discuss this issue, we will come back to it, you
will have a statement tomorrow.
But I want to say just in concluding, once again, that the
conviction that this threat of terrorism and weapons of mass
destruction is the security threat our world faces has never left me.
It's with me now, and I believe it to be the threat that we have to
take on and defeat. I really do.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Good job. Thank you. I appreciate your coming.
Thank you all.
END 5:55 P.M. EDT