|The White House
President George W. Bush
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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 worthwhile trip.
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 Afghanistan.
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 education.
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 elections.
Q -- that the rules that have just been passed, the opposition says -- it basically makes it impossible to run for almost all the candidates.
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 see that.
END 9:07 P.M. EDT