The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
October 19, 2007

Press Briefing on the First Lady's Trip to the Middle East
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

Anita McBride, Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff to the First Lady
Elliott Abrams, Deputy Assistant to the President and National Security Advisor

10:00 A.M. EDT

MS. McBRIDE: I wanted a chance to talk to you a little bit about Mrs. Bush's trip to the Middle East. She'll be leaving tomorrow night and will be gone for a week. The schedules are being passed out to you right now. I will preface this by saying we did not intend for the entire book to be printed in pink. I think the print shop was being very kind to highlight breast cancer awareness.

But anyway, the pillar of the trip to the Middle East is really to highlight the accomplishments of the Middle East Partnership Initiative programs of the State Department, a public diplomacy effort of the State Department. Specifically, we will be visiting a number of programs in countries that have launched the partnership already of the U.S.-Middle East Partnership for Breast Cancer Awareness and Research.

Many of you may know, Mrs. Bush has a personal history with breast cancer. Both her mother and her grandmother had breast cancer. She was one of the early, early volunteers with the Komen Foundation at its start 25 years ago in Texas, with her friend, Nancy Brinker. She helped to launch this partnership, the Breast Cancer Awareness Partnership last June 2006 here in Washington, when the program was announced.

The first two countries of the partnership were the UAE and Jordan. We will be traveling there. That's the first stop on our visit. You can see from your schedule, we will go to Abu Dhabi, and we will visit a Pink Majlis, it's called -- it's a "place of sitting." It's a very culturally accepted and sensitive place where women can come together and talk about issues that are important to them. Specifically in this case -- and everything is in pink, is what I'm told, of this site, where they get information, awareness, education on breast cancer, specifically early detection.

One point to raise with all of you is that breast cancer still continues to be in our country the leading cause of death amongst women. In the Mideast specifically, it is detected at a much later stage, usually at stage three and four; 70 percent of the cases are late stage.

We are trying to export in this program the 25 years of experience and background that we have had in raising awareness and education and early detection. This is one of the beauties of this partnership.

And I should back up to tell you who the members of the partnership are: of course, our government through the State Department, but also two of the programs that are well known and well respected around the world -- the Komen Foundation, for its advocacy and awareness and education efforts, and M.D. Anderson, one of our leading American hospitals in research and treatment. They make up the partnership that then is linked with other countries that want to take on this program and benefit from our experience.

So in Abu Dhabi, again, we will have this meeting with women to come and learn about breast cancer awareness, also meet with people who have had breast cancer, so people can learn from each other in this situation. Also then, we will go on -- have a meeting with Sheikha Fatima. Sheikha Fatima will host Mrs. Bush for lunch. Sheikha Fatima has been very important to this partnership because it is through her efforts to help raise awareness in the UAE.

We'll go on to Dubai. One of the interesting things there -- here is a workplace awareness program where American companies and Emirati companies have come together to launch a workplace awareness program, an education program, which is really an important first step for people to become aware of breast cancer.

When we leave Dubai we will go to Saudi Arabia. And here is where Mrs. Bush will launch the partnership officially in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia becomes the third country to take on the Breast Cancer Partnership program. Mrs. Bush will meet with King Abdullah as well; he will host her. He is interested in hearing about this program and about the work of the U.S. partners with the Saudi partners in breast cancer. Mrs. Bush -- actually we'll be meeting with the King in Jeddah. We go on to Jeddah, where she will meet with him.

She also will do -- and the next day we will go on to Kuwait. This is not a Breast Cancer Partnership country. However, we are in the region; Kuwait is a great ally. It's an opportunity to showcase some of the other MEPI programs that are successful in Kuwait, particularly a political women's leaders meeting that we will have with women who have run for parliament, that are active in political participation. I think many of you know Kuwait women earned suffrage there in 2005, and 2006 was the first opportunity women had to run for office.

She'll also attend an event where we can showcase the progress of the Micro Access Scholarship program, which is another very effective MEPI program. And she'll meet with teachers, teachers like Mrs. Bush herself. And these teachers are there to help learn how to identify students that could partake in this scholarship program. And this is like an exchange program where they come and work here or learn here in the United States.

She'll also meet with the Amir Al-Sabah while we are in Kuwait. She'll have a meeting with the troops as well. She'll meet with -- of course, we have large bases there in Kuwait. She'll be able to meet with troops who are transiting through Kuwait after being deployed, but also meet with -- I'm not sure of the number, but I think it's well over a thousand members of our troops that she'll be able to speak with. And this is something she typically does.

She will go on to Jordan where King Abdullah will meet with her and host her for lunch before she goes on to the King Hussein Medical Center, which, there she'll be able to unveil with -- along with King Hussein's two daughters, who have been very active in the King Hussein Cancer Center, which is very well known for pediatric oncology. But they are very anxious to take on this partnership with M.D. Anderson and the Komen Foundation to raise awareness of breast cancer.

And when I met with the Princesses a couple of weeks ago when they were here, they were explaining to us how there is a very high incidence of young women, women that are 30 years old, that have high incidence of breast cancer.

So they are very anxious to take on this partnership, and they will unveil with Mrs. Bush a breast cancer screening center in Jordan on the grounds of the King Hussein medical hospital.

And then from -- after that, we'll go on to see an important cultural historical site in Petra, which is a UNESCO protected cultural site. And you know, many of you know Mrs. Bush is the honorary ambassador for UNESCO's Decade of Literacy. So we try to show support for their programs wherever we can.

I think the important thing to note, really, about this is this is a real model public-private partnership between the U.S. government and private organizations that really take the tremendous amount of expertise that we have learned and able to showcase that and make it an example of how we can help and partner with something we've learned a great deal about in another country.

This is Mrs. Bush's second trip to the Middle East this term. This is one that we feel very strongly about being able to show the progress in just a short time, in a year's time since this partnership was announced last June. So we're eager to see what they've been able to do, and also we're eager to be able to announce that the partnership will be expanded to three other countries. And we'll be making that announcement while we are in Jordan.

I don't know if you have any other questions specific to the trip. Sure, Caren.

Q You've outlined an agenda that has an overriding theme of breast cancer awareness, but obviously this trip comes at a month before the Mideast conference here and Bush's meeting with several heads of state. How much of it is a diplomatic trip, and will she be discussing any of the themes, any of the substance ahead of that conference?

MS. McBRIDE: Well, it's not ahead of that conference, and actually, I can say, we began planning for this trip back in June when the anniversary of the announcement and the launch of the partnership. We asked the State Department what has been the progress since that year's announcement, and when they presented to us a proposal of the various aspects of the program that have been successful in UAE and Jordan, we made a decision then of being able to travel this fall, before the year was out, to be able to see it first hand. We also knew the State Department was getting ready to look at expanding the program, and we wanted to be able to take that good news directly.

So there was no link between the planning of this trip and the event that the President will host later this fall. But obviously, this is a diplomatic effort and a diplomatic trip. This is a shining example of our public diplomacy efforts from the State Department. So although they are not linked, certainly the timing is probably very good.

Q Is she going to get into any issues of Mideast peace, or --

MS. McBRIDE: Well, I'm sure that these are not the issues that she will raise. If these leaders, of course, raise with her, of course she'll show great support on behalf of the President. She's a great ambassador for the country and a great ambassador for the President to support any and all of his initiatives and the things that he cares about, certainly. I mean, it's a sign of great respect that the leaders of each of these countries do want to meet with her, have asked to meet with her, are very aware of her program. It's also a great sign that they know why she's coming, and she's able to talk about these issues, that even in our own country 25 years ago we really weren't talking about it. So it's a great sign that we're able to discuss these things there. Thanks for asking that, though.

Q Thank you. I'd like to ask about two countries she is not visiting. First of all, why is she not going to Israel?

MS. McBRIDE: We were in Israel two years ago, Mrs. Bush did a visit.

Q Why isn't she going on this trip? I understand there's a lot of angst in Israel that she's going to all of these Arab countries and not coming there.

MS. McBRIDE: I'm not aware of the angst, and again --

Q It's in their media.

MS. McBRIDE: Because of the pillar of this trip, which we did say is breast cancer. Israel is not one of the countries that was in the breast cancer partnership. So there would have not been --

Q Neither were a lot of the other countries. You have said that some of the countries --

MS. McBRIDE: All of these are.

Q Well, you said that -- you mentioned -- you said there --

MS. McBRIDE: Kuwait, there are MEPI --

Q You said three are joining.

MS. McBRIDE: No, two already have the partnership. UAE established the partnership in October of '06; Jordan established the partnership in March of 2007. The Saudi partnership will be launched with the unveiling of the breast cancer screening center when we are there on Wednesday. So those three already are established partners with the breast cancer initiative.

Q So the stated reason that you're not going to Israel is that she's been there before, and then --

MS. McBRIDE: As I said at the beginning, the pillar of this trip is to show support and show accomplishments of the Middle East Partnership Initiative programs. So the breast cancer program is one Mrs. Bush specifically announced and launched in June of 2006. The idea to go to the region at this time is to show the accomplishments of that program and MEPI-related programs, which there are two in Kuwait that we will be seeing, the Micro Access Scholarship program, with teachers.

Q Given all of the medical research that goes on Israel, why isn't it part of this consortium?

MS. McBRIDE: It may be part of the consortium. It may be expanded. This is a brand new program, just started in June of last year with targeted countries where there were high incidences of cancer, particularly at a very early rate. The hope is that this gets expanded throughout the broader Middle East. That's the name of it -- Middle East Partnership Initiative. It's starting in one place and will continue to grow. I think there's great hopes that it is expanded throughout the region, no question.

Q And then the other country I wanted to ask you about obviously is Iraq. What are her concerns -- I guess for obvious reasons she's not going there, but what are her concerns about women's issues there?

MS. McBRIDE: Absolutely, very concerned about women's health issues in Iraq and Afghanistan. We meet with women that travel here from both Afghanistan and Iraq all the time that are part of the international visitors program; specifically we have been focused a great deal on education and access to education for women and girls. And again, I think there is a great hope, honestly, that these programs can be expanded throughout the broader Middle East, no question about it.


Q After the tsunami, with America's efforts in Southeast Asia, the image has improved. Do you think that with the First Lady going on a (inaudible) program like this in the Middle East, it will help to improve America's image? Considering that actually she is quite popular, more than the President.

MS. McBRIDE: Well, I think, again, all of these are programs and initiatives of the President and his administration. Mrs. Bush has the ability and the luxury, frankly, to be able to choose from issues that are important to the President and his administration, to be able to advocate for them. This is one where we felt was perfect for Mrs. Bush to do. She has a long time standing in history with women's health issues, specifically breast cancer, because of the incidences in her own family. It brings a very private and human face to this to be able to discuss this issue outside of our country and really be able to export -- again, this is a wonderful example of what Americans have been able to do when both the public and private entities come together and use the 25 years of research, 25 years of education, advocacy, awareness, and be able to export this overseas.

But again, a partnership means having a willing partner on the other side that wants this and wants to be able to collaborate and be able to learn effectively from everything that we have learned over these 25 years.

But part of this, too, is for our American institutions -- this is as good for them as it is for us, because -- specifically for M.D. Anderson. They are a well-known research facility. But they will be able to look at this statistic of why so many young women, age 30 and younger, are getting breast cancer, and be able to work with their counterparts, their medical counterparts, and be able to research that, and hopefully be able to reverse that.

So it is a perfect partnership because it is a great face of what Americans are able to do and take our expertise. But we also intend to learn from where we're going.

Yes, sir.

Q First Lady is not visiting Egypt as well. We all remember last time she visited Egypt, she praised democratic reforms and decisions by President Mubarak to hold multiparty elections. Does she feel frustrated now or disappointed especially that this White House, as recently as last month, criticized Mubarak for a crackdown on human rights activists and (inaudible) threats?

MS. McBRIDE: Is she disappointed? I think, again, as you know, Mrs. Bush did travel to Egypt, Israel, as part of Mideast trip that we took in 2005. And of course, Mrs. Bush is hoping for peace in the region, as well as the President does.

I don't know -- again, that is not a part of what we're traveling there for. I don't know if Elliott wants to respond to that.

Yes, sir.

Q Are you able to specify the dates you will be in Kuwait?

MS. McBRIDE: Sure. I think I'll give you the exact date, because we have the schedule that's going around in your little pink folders there. I think that we are in Kuwait on the 24th of October.

Q Can you touch on some of the topics you're going to discuss with the Amir, and also with the women parliamentary candidates?

MS. McBRIDE: Actually, the women parliamentary candidates, what they want to show her, there's a documentary that's been done about their efforts to campaign and to run for office. She will see a short portion of that documentary, chronicling how they ran for office. She'll be able to talk with them about -- I mean, they're interested, too, in her efforts in campaigning here in the United States. When women gained suffrage there in 2005, I remember at that time meeting at the Kuwaiti embassy one of the women that was going to be running for office, and very excited. And she had said back then it would -- we know how much Mrs. Bush has done to help her husband run for President, we know how many -- they knew statistics on how many of our women are members of Congress. And they were hoping someday if she was ever able to come and show her support for women democracy leaders, they really would welcome it. And this is a chance for us to do it.

Now with the Amir, the Amir knew of her schedule and asked to see her. Again, a great sign, I think, of friendship between our two countries, long-time friendship between our two countries. But I don't know what's on his agenda to talk to her about.

Yes, Sheryl.

Q This may be an Elliott question, but have all the countries that she's visiting agreed to participate in the Middle East conference?

MS. McBRIDE: That I don't know.

MR. ABRAMS: No invitations have been issued yet to any country for the conference.

Q Okay. And Anita, you said that the timing is fortuitous, it wasn't linked, but what, in your opinion, can Mrs. Bush do while she's there to make this conference a successful one? Maybe that's an Elliott question.

MS. McBRIDE: I'm not sure -- again, the topics aren't linked, but obviously, the relationship between all the countries is important. This is one area where she has expertise, and is able to talk about a global health issue that she's involved in. She's not going to be talking about the issues that are going to be at the conference.

Okay? Thank you.

END 10:23 A.M. EDT

Return to this article at:

Click to print this document