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

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
June 13, 2008

Press Gaggle by Dana Perino and the First Lady
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Paris, France

1:51 P.M. (Local)

MS. PERINO: All right, I don't know which stop this is on the trip, because we're in the middle of it, but we're going from Rome to Paris. One note about this morning: The President had a wonderful meeting with the Pope. This is their third meeting in about a year or a little over a year. They have formed a strong and personal bond. The President said he was very honored to be taken on a walk through the gardens that the Pope walks through every evening; that it was very special, and that they had a good conversation as they have in the past, especially after the visit in April when they got to know each other even better.

Mrs. Laura Bush speaks with members of the press June 13, 2008 aboard Air Force One, as she and President Bush travel from Rome to Paris on their multi-city European visit.  White House photo by Eric Draper A little preview about the agenda items in France. As you know, the President will give a speech not too long after we land there. He'll have dinner tonight. They'll have a meeting and a press availability tomorrow. And the President will visit the cemetery at Mount Valérien tomorrow, and then dinner at the ambassador's residence tomorrow night.

On the issues, this visit is an important opportunity for the President to demonstrate the strong U.S.-French friendship. They will be able to discuss the goals for the EU presidency, which begins in July for France. They will continue consulting on a broad range of strategic issues that have been discussed in other stops on this trip -- for example, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, the Middle East, Doha and climate change.

On Afghanistan, there are 1,400 French troops deployed. Additional troops were promised at the NATO summit. So the President expects to discuss ways to further increase international efforts to help Afghanistan. He will certainly thank France for hosting the donors conference yesterday, or for the past two days, that Mrs. Bush attended and Secretary Rice attended, as well.

On Iraq, I'm not exactly sure the date, but recently the Foreign Minister -- I think that I will take a break. But we're delighted to have Mrs. Bush, who -- I think this is her first time doing a gaggle on Air Force One, and she's had a very active and fantastic week promoting the President's policies, and her very great interest. So I will switch places with her, and then I will follow up with this on the end.

MRS. BUSH: Hey everybody, how are you all? Good to see you.

Q What did they do to get you back here?

MRS. BUSH: Well, I just thought I would come back to talk about a few of the things that I've done this week with you all. Some of you were with me for some of them, but most everyone else was not. And starting off, obviously, with the trip to Afghanistan, and then followed up by the Afghan support conference, to talk specifically about what the United States is committing to Afghanistan, and then to urge other countries and individual citizens and foundations to make commitments, as well; and then making a stop by the World Food Program yesterday.

So while I've had a really wonderful time in Slovenia and in Germany and then in Paris and then in Rome and then now back to Paris, I also worked on these issues that have to do with our international partners. So I'll just be glad to answer any questions you all have.

Q Were the amount of donations -- was it what you expected, or had you hoped for more?

MRS. BUSH: We're not sure exactly of the number, but it looks like it's $20 billion to $21 billion, which is really terrific. That means that the United States only represents about a half of it. A lot of times we're more than that. But I also think it shows that the international community is supporting Afghanistan; that they're not going to abandon Afghanistan now at this very crucial time in their history as they continue to try to make strides in developing their government, developing the civil society and the infrastructure that they'll need to be able to withstand the terrorist attack that they're still getting, and be able to really build a strong country for everyone in the country.

Q Do you think that the international community is getting weary?

MRS. BUSH: I don't really. I mean, I think that's one of the things this donor conference shows. I think the international -- certainly the United States and the international community realize that Afghanistan is building from nothing, and it was a country that was totally destroyed after 30 years of war and some years of a very, very oppressive regime like the Taliban. And they don't have any infrastructure, the big physical infrastructure that's very expensive, like roads and water treatment and electricity. They have to build all of that from scratch. And they don't have the infrastructure of laws and civil society that make it easier to build an economy that can support that very expensive infrastructure.

So I think what we're seeing is that the international community knows it's going to take time and that they're standing with Afghanistan.

Q You have been there, and them asking [for] the aid. After being there, do you think that the Afghan people and its leadership can take this aid and rebuild themselves? I mean, there's some questions here in Europe about that.

MRS. BUSH: Well, I mean, obviously they all -- they're going to need help for a long time from -- both financial help from the donors conference, but also expertise. A lot of the Afghan population is not educated; men and women were denied an education through -- during times of war when they didn't have a chance to be educated. One of the interesting things that was new for this trip to me is this new national center for literacy that really originated with the Teacher Training Institution the Afghan Women's Council had funded and that I visited on my trip before last to Afghanistan.

And now they've taken that Teacher Training Institute, which really is a safe place for women to stay when they come in to be trained, and they've folded that into their Education Ministry and have this whole National Council on Literacy to address literacy for men and women, and then obviously the elementary education, elementary school education that they have for boys and girls, for children now.

But they have a lot of work to do because their -- nearly all of their population is not educated. And so they have to try to educate people as fast as they can.

So they'll need international financial support. They'll also need expertise from the United Nations, from countries around the world. Our general there, General Schloesser, told me about one of the teams that just came in of National Guardsmen who happen to be farmers and have ag degrees from Texas A&M and some of the other agriculture colleges. And they're working -- they're soldiers, but they're also working as advisors, agriculture advisors.

And that's one of the things President Karzai wanted to be a priority in this donors conference, and that is agriculture, because with world food prices like they are, he thinks not only is it a chance for Afghanistan to quit growing poppy and start growing wheat, because the differential now in cost is not as huge as it was before, and also because they're going to have to, they need to, to feed their people, just like every country needs to continue to produce more food supplies because of the food crisis, the world food crisis.

Q Mrs. Bush, literacy has been one of your issues that you've taken on throughout this administration. But you've been taking a bigger role in the policy arena now. Why did you decide to do that? How is it different than your earlier years in the White House?

MRS. BUSH: Well, it really isn't different. I mean, I made the radio address for the President right after September 11th about women in Afghanistan. I've watched and been very concerned, and my staff and I both have been very active since that October 2001 address with women in Afghanistan.

This is my third trip there. I meet Afghan women probably every six weeks, women that are coming through the United States, either teachers that are being trained or parliamentarians that are coming or women judges that are here being trained.

And so it's something that I've worked on the entire seven years.

Q Right, but making major speeches like the donors conference yesterday, going to Afghanistan while -- your third trip. I mean, it seems like you're taking a much bigger policy role on behalf of the United States.

MRS. BUSH: Well, I've also made speeches. Today the President is going to speak at the OECD. I spoke there in probably 2003 about education and about literacy worldwide. So I don't know if you all were watching -- (laughter) -- but I have given those policy speeches as well.

Q Are you going to continue your interest, or what are you going to do after you leave?

MRS. BUSH: Well, I hope -- obviously I'll have an interest in Afghanistan for the rest of my life and in the women and the children of Afghanistan and their success. And I know how fragile that success will be or can be until -- it's going to take a long time for Afghanistan to build the kind of secure and safe country that will respect the rights of women and girls and boys.

Women are still targeted. There are still acts of violence against women. Some of the women police officers that I just met, one of them has never told her family that she's training to be a police officer because she's afraid to. And that's not going to -- that's cultural, it's partly religious, it's going to last a long time there. Do I think they're -- will move past it and be able to accommodate women in civic life? I do think they will -- and partly because women are strong there and women are speaking out about it. But they are afraid -- they know they can be a target.

Q Yesterday you mentioned the aid that the U.S. has pledged for Burma. How much of that are you finding out actually making it to the people of Myanmar?

MRS. BUSH: What I mentioned yesterday in the World Food Program was the hundred ships, hundred cargo planes that we were able -- the shipments that we were able to get in there, and then money to the World Food Program to support food in Burma. And they -- the World Food Program would be the first to tell you that it's not that easy, but they are one of the few groups that's been on the ground the whole time, that's been allowed to be on the ground in Burma, and they are doing whatever they can to make sure they really get the food aid to the people who need it.

And I think they're doing as good a job as any other group that's there. I think UNICEF has been there for awhile -- been -- was already there, and a few other U.N. agencies. But it's important for us as Americans to support the World Food Program because they are on the ground and then I know they're doing as well as they can to get the -- make sure food aid gets to everybody. But from what we understand in the press, there are parts of the delta that was hit by the cyclone that have not been reached.

Q How was the President's meeting with the Pope?

MRS. BUSH: Well, I'll let the President tell you about that because I didn't go into their private meeting. I was -- stayed outside with their Foreign Minister, the Cardinal who is their Foreign Minister, and our Ambassador.

Q Did you see anything interesting on the grounds?

MRS. BUSH: The grounds were very beautiful and the garden that I happened to walk by, that they walked with me by, was the Mexico Garden with the Virgin of Guadalupe statue, which was very interesting and -- for me to see because I've always had a particular interest in the Virgin of Guadalupe because of our closeness to Mexico in Texas. It's a -- the Virgin of Guadalupe is also one of the saints that people in Texas look to.

Q We were a little surprised that he would meet with him three times in a year.

MRS. BUSH: Well, I -- you know, I mean, it's partly because we were here and because we were able to host him. And we're very honored to have had the chance to host the Holy Father. I'm very happy that that happened while my husband was President and that we got to host him in the United States. I think he was really very moved by the outpouring of warmth from the American people, both Catholics and non-Catholics who revere the Pope as someone, you know, with unquestionable moral authority.

So it was very nice to get to see him again, and I'm also really happy we had the chance to host him in the United States.

Q Have you met the First Lady of France before?

MRS. BUSH: I have not met Carla Bruni, and I will meet her tonight. In fact, I'm going to go -- she invited me to come about 30 minutes early to the dinner so that we'll have a chance to sit down with each other since -- before the dinner party starts, before the social part starts, and have a chance to talk to each other and get to know each other.

Q Is he still as -- you're the first one to see him because he was at the conference, but is he still like, you know, "Mr. pro-American" and --

MRS. BUSH: I think so, you know, as far as I know. He was certainly a wonderful host for Afghanistan and a strong supporter of the international effort in Afghanistan by hosting the conference in Paris. And with his government -- President Sarkozy and the French government were our hosts, along with the U.N. and Afghanistan. So --

Q (Inaudible) you know, he's really pro-American.

MRS. BUSH: He does say very pro-American things, and I appreciate that a lot. I think all Americans do. He was -- our ambassador, when I was there earlier this week and staying with him, told me of an occasion he had been to recently when our ambassador happened to be on the back row because he was sort of late, and the President Sarkozy said very pro-American things, and our ambassador knew it wasn't for his benefit, because he didn't think President Sarkozy knew he was there, because he was at the back. But -- so I appreciate that, and I know the American people do.

Q What about the French people, though? Are they as --

MS. PERINO: I think the French people are. You know, the French people were very friendly when we were -- when I was just there. I thought the people in Italy on the streets were very friendly to President Bush, and we're very happy for him to be there. And they certainly were in Slovenia when we were there. I think the -- I think there is a good feeling across Europe for the United States.

Q Things have mended?

MRS. BUSH: Pardon me?

Q Things have mended?

MRS. BUSH: Think what?

Q Things have mended, the relationship.

MRS. BUSH: I think it -- yes, I think it's on the mend, and --

Q Okay.

MRS. BUSH: Thanks everybody.

Q Mrs. Bush, thank you.

MRS. BUSH: Thanks a lot. Good to see you all.

MS. PERINO: Okay, I'm just going to pick up where I left off here. I was mentioning the President will be talking about Iraq with -- I talked about Afghanistan and now I'm going back and I'm talking about the other issues I mentioned he would bring up. I'm not sure of the date, but I know the Foreign Minister of France was recently in Iraq, and the President appreciates that. He believes that they will discuss ways that France can help this new democracy. President Sarkozy has said that France is ready to do its part, and so I'm sure they'll have a conversation about what that could possibly be in the future.

On Iran, this is a meeting that provides another opportunity for the President to strategize on ways to increase pressure on Iran to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Also expect that they will discuss how to advance peace in the Middle East, and to support democracy in Lebanon and Lebanon's democracy there.

So I also have a couple other issues that -- I think on the economic side of things that will come up. One, on the Transatlantic Economic Council, the President will discuss the importance of making TEC a success; that's the acronym. Each side must keep its promises, and so -- for example, the ban on U.S. poultry imports must truly be lifted and not just substituted for new restrictions. The regulation should be based on science and not protectionism, and that we need to open European markets to biotech and GMO crops to help farmers in poorer countries, such as in Africa.

On Doha, we need France's help to push the Doha Round to a successful conclusion this year, and protectionist agricultural policies should not be an obstacle to those.

On the G8, we will discuss the importance of each G8 country showing how it's fulfilling its past health commitments. We will seek support for new initiatives on neglected tropical diseases and health care workers. This is something that we've also talked about in the other places that he's been, especially in Germany.

And then on -- finally on climate change, he will enlist President Sarkozy's support for a successful outcome of the major economies meeting that we are hoping will include a long-term emissions reduction goal and a stated willingness of each major economy to have its national plans and midterm goals reflected in binding international commitments.

So, similar issues that we've had on the other stops.

Q That's pretty -- taking biotech food to France and making the argument there, that may be the toughest country.

MS. PERINO: Well, I think -- you know, we just really believe people ought to look at the science. And we also -- we are dealing with a situation around the world where people and governments need more food to feed their people. And one of the ways to do that is through safe biotechnology. And if you think about entire countries, possibly an entire continent in Africa suffering, and then in -- over in Asia and elsewhere, that these are technologies that have been proven to be scientifically sound and safe, and that they should be considered in order to help solve the problem and feed hungry people. That's what we need to be doing.

Other issues?

Q The read-out on the -- you gave us the Pope in the beginning, right?

MS. PERINO: Beginning -- Pope at the beginning, yes.

Q Sorry.

MS. PERINO: Okay. Thanks, guys.

END 2:12 P.M. (Local)

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