For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
May 19, 2005
Briefing by the First Lady En Route Amman, Jordan
8:53 P.M. EDT
MRS. BUSH: Okay. I want to thank everybody for coming with me. I
think we're going to have a very, very interesting and substantive
trip. We're going to, as you know, I'll speak at the World Economic
Forum, do some events with Her Majesty Queen Rania in Jordan, and then
go to Israel where I'll do events in Jericho, and then also with the
President of Israel's wife, go to the Western Wall and the Dome of the
Rock. And then on to Egypt, which I'm really looking forward to, to do
some events with Suzanne Mubarak, including at the (inaudible), the
fabulous Alexandria Library, which I'm really interested in seeing.
And of course, we'll also get to stop by the pyramids. So I think
we're going to have a very interesting trip, and I hope a really
Q How did the idea for this trip come about? Was this something
that the President wanted you to do or was it your idea?
MRS. BUSH: It really came out of my office and from Liz Cheney,
because of -- Liz Perry, because of the World Economic Forum. And of
course, the President wanted me to go, as well, to go talk about
democracy in the -- spreading of freedom in the Middle East. All the
steps -- my speech will be specifically about education of children and
women and women's right in the Middle East and worldwide.
Q The Center on Foreign Relations came out with a study in a
report today that said that they felt that we needed to do a better job
of improving our image and stressing the kind of reform and aid that we
do around the country. In light of the Newsweek flap over the Koran
report, do you think that your mission is even more important now or
has a greater sense of urgency?
MRS. BUSH: Well, in some ways I would say maybe, you know, I hope
so. But I will talk about also in the speech just what you were
saying, a lot of what we do around the world, kindergartens that we're
funding, USAID is funding in Jordan so that children can get started in
education early. I'll talk about micro-credit loans to women
entrepreneurs that we have given in Jordan, as well, with the Jordanian
government so that women can start businesses, be self-supportive and
support their families, as well. I'll talk about what's happened in
Afghanistan, what we've done there and what the women of Afghanistan
have done now. So many of them are back in school. Women are studying
to be teachers so they can teach girls in their classes around
So I'll talk about all of those things, but also really the whole
overriding issue of women's rights being part of human rights.
Q Mrs. Bush, even in countries like Egypt and Jordan that are
U.S. allies, America's got a huge image problem. Do you hope your trip
will help address that?
MRS. BUSH: Sure. I really hope it will. In every way, I hope
that the Middle East, the broader Middle East, get to know Americans
like we really are. And I think that's really, really important. I
don't think they really have the sense of Americans being religious,
being tolerant, having -- being tolerant of every religion, of how
education in the United States is for every child, no matter their
religion or their affluence or -- every child is -- a goal of every --
of education in the U.S. is to make sure every child gets a great
And at the same time, we know what it's like. We started off with
a perfect document. It took us almost 100 years after that to have
abolition of slavery. Women didn't get the right to vote in the United
States until the early part of the last century. We've made many steps
along the way to democracy; we still are. It's something that every
generation has to think about again and deal with again.
And that's what I want people in the Middle East to know, too, that
we don't think we have every answer, that we're not trying to answer
every question for them. But we also do have a history, certainly a
very fluid history, a very prosperous history, a country where many,
many cultures, people from all parts of the world live together in
peace and respecting the rights of each other. And I think in that --
in those ways, we're a very good example.
Q A lot of Arabs don't think -- when they think Americans, they
think Iraq war, they think Abu Ghraib, they think -- well, there's a
lot of things they think of other than the Declaration of
Independence. To what extent does your trip redress that?
MRS. BUSH: Well, I mean, all the ideas that I talk about in the
speech are about how important it is to be educated and to really take
responsibility for democracy. That's what a democracy is. In a
democracy, everybody has to participate or it won't work. And women
and men have to participate. And so I'll talk about that. But you're
right, I mean, we've had terrible happenings that have really, really
hurt our image of the United States. And they're not -- they were very
atypical. They're not any sort of typical thing from the United States
-- Abu Ghraib, for instance. And people in the United States are sick
about it. They're very sorry that that's the image that people in the
Arab world got of the United States.
But at the same time, we want people around the world, and I think
they do know and I certainly think they know in the broader Middle
East, that Americans sincerely believe in democracy, that we sincerely
believe in human rights and freedom for people. And that's the message
that I'll be bringing.
Q Could you talk a little bit about your stop in Egypt? A lot
of groups in Egypt feel like the elections there aren't going to be
free fair, aren't going to sort of follow the guidelines that the
President may want. What should Americans take away from your stop
there? What is America saying by you going there to support --
MRS. BUSH: Well, I know that the President has said that he hopes
those elections will be free elections, that he hopes President Mubarak
will call in election monitors. President Mubarak is very popular in
Egypt, he's very well liked, and it's very important for him, as well
for the country, as well as an example for the rest of the countries in
the broader Middle East to show that Egypt can have free and fair
Q -- that the rules that have just been passed, the opposition
says -- it basically makes it impossible to run for almost all the
MRS. BUSH: Well, once again, I can only tell you what the
President said, which is that it's very important for these to be free
elections, for the world to see that they are free elections.
Q Do you think about security? I mean, you're traveling to a
pretty dangerous part of the world.
MRS. BUSH: No, not really. I really don't. I think we'll be --
all be safe.
Q You -- I'm sorry.
MRS. BUSH: Go ahead.
Q You talked about the damage, I guess, to our image, U.S.
image. How damaging do you think the Newsweek report was, and do you
believe that they handled it adequately by retracting the story?
MRS. BUSH: Well, of course I think it was damaging, but I also --
in the United States, if there's a terrible report, people don't riot
and kill other people. And you can't excuse what they did because of
the mistake -- you know, you can't blame it all on Newsweek. But at
the same time, it was irresponsible, and that's too bad.
Q Can we go back to security for a second? We haven't had a
chance to ask the President about the grenade incident in Tbilisi.
What did you think about it? Did you discuss it with him and do you
think about that as you travel here?
MRS. BUSH: We didn't know about it at the time. We didn't know
about it until we got on the plane afterwards when we left Georgia.
And thank God no one was hurt from that. I don't know any of the
details about it, I don't know if it was close enough for the President
to have been hurt, but certainly innocent people could have been. And
I hate for that to mar what was a really magnificent time and a
magnificent experience, to visit Georgia, a country that is showing the
world -- another one of the countries who is showing the world what
it's like to build a democracy, to have a peaceful revolution like they
did, the Rose Revolution.
And we loved our visit there. Hundreds of thousands of people
showed up to hear the President of the United States. The Georgians
were very warm, very hospitable. They're very warm and hospital people
anyway. And so thank God nothing happened that was bad.
Q And speaking of security, I know there was quite a security
scare at the White House. And I know the President -- that they said
he expressed that he was satisfied that the protocols of the Secret
Service were followed. But it's hard for many people to understand why
it was that he wasn't notified, that time when you were in the bunker.
Did he express any frustration or did it make you uncomfortable that he
wasn't aware --
MRS. BUSH: No, not really. He did feel like they followed the
protocols. The fact is, we got to the bunker, and within two minutes
the plane had turned. So there was a very short time limit there
between when we went to the bunker and when they realized the plane had
turned to the right. And so that was a very short part of his ride,
really, before they knew that everything was alright.
Q But don't you think that -- I mean, personally, do you think
he should have been told?
MRS. BUSH: Well, he was told. I mean, he was told as soon as --
as soon as he finished.
Q You don't think he should have been interrupted?
MRS. BUSH: Well, sure, I mean, I think he should have been
interrupted, but I'm not going to second-guess the Secret Service that
were with him.
Q What did he say to you when he got back?
MRS. BUSH: Well, he just asked about it, how -- Nancy Reagan was
there with me and George's aunt, Nancy Ellis from Boston, was there
with me. And so we went to the bunker together. Literally it was -- I
think we were there for two minutes before we got the world that the
plane had turned. We were not fearful, Nancy Reagan or I.
Q Can I come back to the trip? This is not your first time in
all of these countries. Can you tell us about what you've seen before
and what you haven't?
MRS. BUSH: It's my first visit to Jordan. But I've been to Israel
before. I went with the President to Israel in 1998, and we had a
really wonderful visit there. We visited everywhere, just about, that
I'll be going, except that we didn't go to Jericho when we were there
on that trip. We went with a few governors at the time, George was a
governor, and we went with Governor Racicot and Governor Cellucci and
Governor Leavitt from Utah, and then a group of American friends, Jews
and Gentiles. And we had a really very, very moving visit to Israel.
And George had already visited Egypt before we went to Israel, and
then I went back to Egypt with George's mother and all of my
sister-in-laws on a Nile cruise when George was governor. And so this
will be my second visit to the pyramids. I think you would want to
visit the pyramids as many times as you possibly could in your
lifetime, so I'm really looking forward to that. And it will be the
first time I've been to Alexandria.
Q So, first time -- you've never been to Jericho before.
MRS. BUSH: No.
Q Your first time on the West Bank?
MRS. BUSH: That's right.
Q What do you think about going to the West Bank in a city that
was just handed back from Israeli to Palestinian control?
MRS. BUSH: Well, I think that that's one more step in a peace
process. It's a very, very important peace process. And for every
step forward -- and that's certainly one of them and withdrawal from
the Gaza is another -- we have, you know, one step back. But I really,
truly believe that we're as close as we've ever been to peace, to the
idea of Israel, a safe and secure Israel side-by-side with a free
Palestine. And I think it's unbelievable. I think it will be
wonderful for the world if that happens. So of course I want to
encourage both sides to continue on the steps. And I hope we get to
END 9:07 P.M. EDT