CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Aired December 31, 2002 - 14:12 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to take you to the president in Crawford, Texas, where he made comments not long ago at a coffee shop in Crawford. Let's listen in. He's talking about Iraq.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... all our fellow Americans a prosperous and peaceful and happy new year. We are really happy to be spending New Year here in Crawford, Texas, and we'll be having our New Year's hamburger here in a minute.
Be glad to answer a few questions.
QUESTION: I'd like to ask you, if I could, why are you not considering military action against a defiant, unstable, unpredictable, nuclear-armed North Korea?
G. BUSH: I view the North Korean situation as one that can be resolved peacefully through diplomacy. The international community, particularly those countries close to North Korea, understand the stakes involved. Had a very good visit with President-elect Roh of South Korea. I've obviously talked to Jiang Zemin right here in Crawford about a nuclear weapons-free peninsula.
There's strong consensus not only amongst the nations in the neighborhood and our friends, but also at the international organizations, such as the IAEA, that North Korea ought to comply with international regulations. I believe this can be done peacefully through diplomacy, and we will continue to work that way.
All options, of course, are always on the table for any president. But by working with these countries, we can resolve this.
QUESTION: So you're not currently contemplating military action?
G. BUSH: Well, I think it's -- I believe this is not a military showdown. This is a diplomatic showdown. And it can -- we can resolve this peacefully. And...
G. BUSH: Hold on for a second, please.
And intend to work to resolve it peacefully. We've got good progress in talking to our friends. And I look forward to the fact that President-elect Roh is sending some people over here, and he himself will come after he's been inaugurated. QUESTION: Sir, why should we be more worried about Saddam Hussein, who doesn't have nuclear weapons, than Kim Jong Il, who does have them?
G. BUSH: Well, first of all, I think it's important to remember that Saddam Hussein was close to having a nuclear weapon.
We don't know whether or not he has a nuclear weapon. We do expect him to disarm his weapons of mass destruction; that's what we expect.
Secondly, the international community has been trying to resolve the situation in Iraq through diplomacy for 11 years, and for 11 years Saddam Hussein has defied the international community. And now we've brought the world together to send a clear signal we expect him to disarm, to get rid of his weapons of mass destruction.
The first step in determining whether or not he would do that is -- was discouraging. His declaration was short. And the international community recognized that; that he wasn't forthcoming.
Again, I hope this Iraq situation will be resolved peacefully. One of my New Year's resolutions is to work to deal with these situations in a way so that they're resolved peacefully. But thus far it appears that on first look that Saddam Hussein hadn't heard the message.
QUESTION: Can I ask a follow-up on that?
G. BUSH: Yes.
QUESTION: Your budget director has put the possible cost of a war with Iraq at -- in line with the first Gulf War. Why shouldn't Americans view this possible war as possibly crippling our economy that's already very slow?
G. BUSH: An attack from Saddam Hussein or a surrogate of Saddam Hussein would cripple our economy.
My biggest job and most important job is to protect the security of the American people, and I'm going to do that.
And I had made the case, and will continue to make the case, that Saddam Hussein -- a Saddam Hussein with weapons of mass destruction is a threat to the security of the American people.
QUESTION: But can this economy afford to fight a war?
G. BUSH: This economy cannot afford to stand an attack. And I'm going to protect the American people.
The economy's strong. It's resilient. Obviously, so long as somebody's looking for work, we've got to continue to make it strong and resilient.
My most important job is to protect America and Americans. And I take that job seriously. And that's exactly what this administration is going to do.
QUESTION: Sir, are you concerned about the reports that have five people come across the Canadian border illegally? Are you concerned that there's any new threats to the American security right now as we go into this new year?
G. BUSH: I have authorized the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the FBI, to put out an all-points bulletin for five individuals who we believe have been smuggled into the country. We need to know why they have been smuggled into the country, what they're doing in the country. And if anybody has any information about the five, I would hope they would contact their local authorities.
We don't have any idea of what their intentions may be, but we are mindful that there are still some out there who would try to harm America and harm Americans, and so therefore we take every threat seriously and every piece of evidence seriously.
And the American people need to know there's a lot of good people working hard, whether it be on New Year's Eve or any other time, to protect the American people.
Mike, you got anything?
QUESTION: Yes. Good afternoon, Mr. President.
G. BUSH: Thank you.
QUESTION: What effect do you think that...
QUESTION: What effect do you think that the attention to Senator Lott's comment has had on the image of the Republican Party across the country?
G. BUSH: Yes.
QUESTION: And what do you plan to do to repair any damage?
G. BUSH: Well, first of all, I think that most people understand that the -- that there are -- Republican Party cares deeply about each individual, regardless of the color of their skin or their religion. And I will continue to promote policies that enable the American individual to achieve his or her dreams. I believe in equal access to the greatness of America. And this administration is committed to that and will continue to work toward that goal.
Yes? Show you how generous I am.
QUESTION: Mr. President, looking ahead here, with a possible war with Iraq looming, North Korea nuclear conflict, as well as Osama bin Laden still at large, is the world safer as we look ahead to 2003?
G. BUSH: Yes, it's a lot safer today than it was a year ago. And it's going to be safer after this year than it was this year, because the United States of America will continue to lead a vast coalition of freedom-loving countries to disrupt terrorist activities, to hold dictators accountable, particularly those who ignore international norm and international rule. And the American -- this government will continue to lead the world toward more peace, and the American people need to be mindful of the fact that our government is committed to peace and committed to freedom. And we hope to resolve all the situations in which we find ourselves in a peaceful way. That's my commitment, to try to do so peacefully. But I want to remind people that Saddam Hussein, the choice is his to make as to whether or not the Iraqi situation resolved peacefully.
You said we're headed to war in Iraq. I don't know why you say that. I hope we're not headed to war in Iraq.
I'm the person who gets to decide, not you. And I hope this can be done peacefully.
We have got a military presence there to remind Saddam Hussein, however, that when I say we will lead a coalition of the willing to disarm him if he chooses not to disarm, I mean it.
And we'll continue to work to resolve the situation on the Korean Peninsula in a peaceful way. And it was right here in Crawford, Texas where I had a meaningful and good discussions with Jiang Zemin. Heck, it wasn't all that long ago that a U.S. leader never spoke to the Chinese leader. And right here in Crawford, we had a dialogue where we both committed ourselves to working in a way to convince Kim Jong Il that it's not in his country's interests to arm up with nuclear weapons. And I believe that can be resolved peacefully.
Listen, thank you all.
I'm thinking about a little nature walk in a couple of days. Anybody interested?
G. BUSH: About four miles. I know you're interested.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) last year's resolution?
G. BUSH: As a matter of fact, it's an interesting question she asked. Did I keep last year's resolution to eat less cheeseburgers?
And the answer is, yes, to the extent that I'm now comfortable in having a cheeseburger today.
Hope you all are enjoying yourself here.
LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY: Happy new year, everybody.
(CROSSTALK) G. BUSH: Thank you.
Good luck to you. Big year for you, exciting year.
PHILLIPS: Typical George W. Bush style, making a serious point, in addition to having fun with reporters there. He's not on his ranch in Crawford, Texas, but outside a coffee shop, where, of course, reporters follow him everywhere he goes, asking him about Iraq, making comments.
Our Suzanne Malveaux wasn't at the coffee shop, but she is there at the ranch, listening, hearing these comments for the first time.
Suzanne, I want to know if you're going to take him up on the invitation for a four-mile hike?
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hey, I'd love to, maybe even a run, if he extends the invitation.
But as you mentioned before, President Bush talking anywhere from cheeseburgers to North Korea. He answered one question on the minds of so many people, why is this administration not considering military action against North Korea? The president saying that he still believes there's a peaceful solution in dealing with North Korea. He talked about having meetings with the president-elect of South Korea, President-elect Roh in the weeks to come. In the weeks to come, he says president-elect Roh will bring a delegation to Washington, and that the two they expect to have a visit sometimes soon.
He also mentioned he keeps in contact and has been in contact at the Crawford ranch, a visit by China's Jiang Zemin president. All of this making the point that the administration will continue to work with North Korea's neighbors to find a diplomatic and economic solution.
Of course, he contrasted that with the situation of Iraq, saying, again, he did not expect that Saddam Hussein would disarm. He also brought the fact that he has defied the international community on various occasions through broken resolutions.
He went on to say that his New Year's resolution would be that conflicts be resolved peaceful will you, but said Saddam Hussein has not heard the message. What was interesting, the president also talked about the cost of the war. We have not heard this from President Bush. We've heard about how difficult it would be for him to make the decision, whether or not this country would go to war, the human cost. Today, he talked about it in terms of economic terms, saying this economy cannot afford an attack. He also went on to say that an attack by Iraq or a surrogate would cripple the U.S. economy. So all of these points, the president making, and, of course as you mentioned before, his New Year's resolution, trying to keep off those cheeseburgers -- Kyra.
PHILLIPS: You can go on the nature hike; I'll eat the cheeseburgers. Suzanne Malveaux, live from Crawford, Texas, thank you.
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