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Bush, Blair Briefing from Camp David

Aired March 27, 2003 - 10:57   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair are talking war and peace at Camp David this hour. We expect to hear from them any moment. This is a picture that was captured of the two of them in deep discussion last night. We are told they will not only discuss the ongoing battle plans, but the future of Iraq in the wake of the war, and that is where some of the conflict comes in.
We're given about a one-minute warning of when the president and British prime minister will take to the microphones. In the meantime, I'm going to check in with Suzanne Malveaux, who's standing by at Camp David to talk a little bit about where there is some discord. That comes to the issue of what the U.N.'s role might ultimately be in a post-war Iraq. They don't necessarily agree on that issue, do they?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: They don't, Paula, you're absolutely right. What Blair sees as really a essential central role for the United Nations in humanitarian efforts, in relief efforts, but the administration a bit more reticent about that because of the whole experience with the U.N. Security Council Resolution, how long it took, that they were not able to put that second resolution out there and get the kind of support that they needed. Also because there really has been some bad blood that has been caused out of the whole thing with France, with Germany and so forth. Ari Fleischer, the White House spokesman, saying that some of these relations are what he described as strain at this point.

What the White House does see is that it's a more limited role, and even within the Bush administration, there is some debate that is going on. The Pentagon, I imagine, kind of a post-Saddam regime where you have a brief period of military occupation, then a U.S.-led civil administration, and then it transfers over to Iraqi power, looking at a Democratic type of government.

Well, the State Department sees it a little bit differently. Again, they want the U.N. role to be more central, and then to transfer it over to Iraqi authority. This is something that's a familiar model. It's something that exists in Afghanistan, and, of course, it really boils down to the symbolism of all of this. Is it a U.S. flag you're going to see, or is it going to be a U.N. flag after all of this is said and done -- Paula.

ZAHN: Are we likely to hear any timetable today? A big "Washington Post" story suggesting by some unnamed senior administration officials that this war could go on for months.

MALVEAUX: What you are going to hear from President Bush as well as Prime Minister Blair...

ZAHN: OK, Suzanne, you can't see it. They've taken to the microphones, and we'll take that shot live. Thanks.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's my honor to welcome my friend, the prime minister of Great Britain, Tony Blair, back to Camp David.

America's learned a lot about Tony Blair over the last weeks. We've learned that he's a man of his word. We've learned that he's a man of courage, that he's a man of vision. And we're proud to have him as a friend.

The United States and United Kingdom are acting together in a noble purpose. We're working together to make the world more peaceful. We're working together to make our respective nations and all the free nations of the world more secure. And we're working to free the Iraqi people.

British, American, Australian, Polish and other coalition troops are sharing the duties of this war, and we're sharing the sacrifices of this war. Together, coalition forces are advancing day by day in steady progress against the enemy.

Slowly but surely the grip of terror around the throats of the Iraqi people is being loosened.

We appreciate the bravery, the professionalism of the British troops and all coalition troops.

BUSH: Together we have lost people, and the American people offer their prayers to the loved ones of the British fallen, just as we offer our prayers to the loved ones of our own troops who have fallen.

We're now engaging the dictator's most hardened and most desperate units. The campaign ahead will demand further courage and require further sacrifice; yet, we know the outcome. Iraq will be disarmed, the Iraqi regime will be ended and the long-suffering Iraqi people will be free.

In decades of oppression the Iraqi regime has sought to instill the habits of fear in the daily lives of millions, yet soon the Iraqis will have the confidence of free people. Our coalition will stand with the citizens of Iraq in the challenges ahead. We are prepared to deliver humanitarian aid on a large scale, and as a matter of fact, are beginning to do so as we speak.

Today the prime minister and I also urge the United Nations to immediately resume the oil-for-food program.

BUSH: More than half the Iraqi people depend on this program as their sole source of food. This urgent humanitarian issue must not be politicized, and the Security Council should give Secretary General Annan the authority to start getting food supplies to those most in need of assistance. As we address the immediate suffering of the Iraqi people, we're also committed to helping them over the long-term. Iraqi's greatest long-term need is a representative government that protects the rights of all Iraqis.

The form of this government will be chosen by the Iraqi people, not imposed by outsiders. The prime minister and I are confident that a free Iraq will be a successful nation.

History requires more of our coalition than the defeat of a terrible danger. I see an opportunity, as does Prime Minister Blair, to bring renewed hope and progress to the entire Middle East.

Last June 24, I outlined a vision of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side-by-side in peace and security. Soon we will release a road map that is designed to help turn that vision into reality, and both America and Great Britain are strongly committed to implementing that road map.

For nearly a century, the United States and Great Britain have been allies in the defense of liberty. We've opposed all the great threats to peace and security in the world. We shared in a costly and heroic struggle against Nazism.

BUSH: We shared the resolve and moral purpose of the Cold War. In every challenge, we've applied the combined power of our nations to the cause of justice, and we're doing the same today. Our alliance is strong; our resolve is firm; and our mission will be achieved.

Mr. Prime Minister?

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Thank you, Mr. President, and thank you for your welcome. Thank you for your strength and for your leadership at this time. And I believe the alliance between the United States and Great Britain has never been in better or stronger shape.

Can I also offer the American people, on behalf of the British people, our condolences, our sympathy, our prayers for the lives of those who have fallen in this conflict, just as we have offered the condolence, the sympathy and the prayers to the families of our own British servicemen.

Just under a week into this conflict, let me restate our complete and total resolve. Saddam Hussein and his hateful regime will be removed from power. Iraq will be disarmed of weapons of mass destruction. And the Iraqi people will be free. That is our commitment; that is our determination; and we will see it done.

We had this morning a presentation of the latest military situation which shows already the progress that has been made. It's worth just recapping it, I think, for a moment.

In less than a week, we have secured the southern oil fields and facilities and so protected that resource and wealth for the Iraqi people and avoided ecological disaster. We've disabled Iraq's ability to launch external aggression from the west.

Our forces are now within 50 miles of Baghdad. They've surrounded Basra. They've secured the key port of Umm Qasr. They've paved the way for humanitarian aid to flow into the country. And they've brought real damage on Iraq's command and control.

So we can be confident that the goals that we have set ourselves will be met.

I would like to pay tribute to the professionalism and integrity of our forces and those of the United States of America, our other coalition allies, and to say how their professionalism. as well as their skill and their bravery. stands in sharp contrast to the brutality of Saddam's regime.

Day by day, we have seen the reality of Saddam's regime: his thugs prepared to kill their own people; the parading of prisoners of war; and now the release of those pictures of executed British soldiers. If anyone needed any further evidence of the depravity of Saddam's regime, this atrocity provides it. It is yet one more flagrant breach of all the proper conventions of war.

BLAIR: More than that, to the families of the soldiers involved, it is an act of cruelty beyond comprehension. Indeed, it is beyond the comprehension of anyone with an ounce of humanity in their souls.

On behalf of the British government, I would like to offer my condolences particularly to the family and the friends of those two brave young men who died in the service of their country, and of the ordinary Iraqi people, to whom we are determined to bring a better future.

The future of the Iraqi people is one reason why much of our discussion has focused on humanitarian issues. Again, here we have the ship, the Sir Galahad, loaded with tons of supplies, destined for the people of Iraq.

The other immediate humanitarian priority is to restart the U.N. oil-for-food program, which the president and I discussed, and which I will be discussing with Kofi Annan later this evening. And this is urgent.

We also discussed the post-conflict issues. Contrary to a lot of the comment on this, the position is exactly as the president and I set out in the Azores, namely, that we will work with the U.N., our allies and partners and bilateral donors. We will seek new U.N. Security Council resolutions to affirm Iraq's territorial integrity, to ensure rapid delivery of humanitarian relief and endorse an appropriate post-conflict administration for Iraq.

But let me emphasize once again that our primary focus now is and must be the military victory, which we will prosecute with the utmost vigor. And the immediate priority for the United Nations is, as the president was indicating a moment or two ago, the oil-for-food program. In addition, as has just been said to you, we had an excellent discussion of the Middle East, and we both share a complete determination to move this forward. It is indeed often overlooked that President Bush is the first U.S. president publicly to commit himself to a two-state solution, an Israel confident of its security and a viable Palestinian state. And I welcome the decision announced recently to publish the road map as soon as the confirmation of the new Palestinian prime minister is properly administered.

Finally, I would just like to say this. I think it is important that we recognize at this time that the goals that we're fighting for are just goals. Whatever the difficulty of war, let us just remember, this is a regime that has brutalized its people for well over two decades.

BLAIR: Of course there will be people fiercely loyal to that regime who will fight all the way. They have no option.

But I have no doubt at all that the vast majority of ordinary Iraqi people are desperate for a better and different future; for Iraq to be free, for its government to be representative of its people, for the human rights of the people to be cared for.

And that is why, though, of course, our aim is to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction and make our world more secure, the justice of our cause lies in the liberation of the Iraqi people. And to them we say: We will liberate you. The day of your freedom draws near.

BUSH: We'll take two questions a side. We would hope that you would respect asking one question per question.

QUESTION: That, of course, means I can ask each leader one question?

BUSH: No. It doesn't mean that. Of course, you will anyway.

QUESTION: Yes, sir.

First, you, Mr. Prime Minister. Briefly, Secretary Powell said yesterday that the U.N. should have a role in post-war Iraq, but that the United States should have a significant dominating control of post-Saddam Iraq. How will that kind of talk play in Europe?

And, Mr. President, can you help be understand the timing of this war? You talked yesterday that it'll be -- we're far from over; today you said it's going slowly, but surely, we're working our way to our end goal.

Given that the resistance is as strong as it's been in the south and that we have what you call the most hardened, most desperate forces still around Baghdad, are we to assume that this could last months and not weeks and not days.

BUSH: I'll answer that question very quickly, and then get to his. However long it takes to win.


BUSH: However long it takes to achieve our objective. And that's important for you to know, the American people to know, our allies to know, and the Iraqi people to know.


BUSH: However long it takes. That's the answer to your question, and that's what you got to know. This isn't a matter of timetable, it's a matter of victory. And the Iraqi people have got know that, see. They got to know that they will be liberated and Saddam Hussein will be removed, no matter how long it takes.

Go ahead.

BLAIR: In relation to the United Nations, there's no doubt at all that the United Nations has got to be closely involved in this process. That's not just right, it's in everyone's interest that it happens.

All I'm saying to people is, the focus, the immediate focus, has got to be on the oil-for-food program, because that is the thing we need to get sorted out with the United Nations literally in the next few days.

Now, after that is the issue of the post-conflict administration, where, as we said in our Azores statement, it's important, there again, that the U.N. is involved and that any post-conflict administration in Iraq is endorsed by it.

But there are huge numbers of details to be discussed with our allies as to exactly how that is going to work. And also, the conflict is not yet over; we're still in the conflict.

So we will carry on discussing that with the U.N., with other allies, but I think that is best done in those discussions without trying to do it by discussion through the press conference or through megaphone diplomacy.

BLAIR: But about the role of the U.N. and the basis of the principles we set out in the Azores summit, there is simply no difference at all there. But there are a huge amount of details as to exactly how that is to be implemented that have to be a matter of discussion, and also a matter of a reflection of the reality that we will face when we get to the point of post-conflict.

QUESTION: For both leaders, if I may? We've, all of us, noted quite a shift in emphasis over the last few days from a hope that this could be over very, very quickly to the military in both countries briefing about months.

My question is really, why do you think that shift has taken place? Did we underestimate the scale of Iraqi resistance, has it been the weather, has it been poor advice at the beginning of the campaign or is it a military question?

BLAIR: Well, you know, in the previous two campaigns in which I've been involved, Kosovo and Afghanistan, you reach this particular point where people start asking -- ask us to speculate on exactly how much time it takes to get the job done. The important thing is, the job will be done. There is no point entering into a speculation of how long it takes, except to say we have been, I think, just under a week into this conflict.

Now, because of the way it's reported you've got this constant 24-hours-a-day media, it may seem to people that it's a lot longer than just under a week, but actually it's just under a week. And in just under a week there is a massive amount that has already been achieved. I mean, after all, coalition forces are within 50 miles of Baghdad, the southern oil fields are secured, the west is protected from external aggression, we've got forces going into the north.

Now, we will carry on until the job is done. But there is absolutely no point, in my view, of trying to set a time limit or speculate on it, because it's not set by time. It's set by the nature of the job. All I would do, though, is point out to you that within those six or seven days, actually an enormous amount has already been achieved.

I think it's also important just to make one other point, which is we have very deliberately wanted to do this in a way that protects the future of the Iraqi people, too. And that's one reason why we went immediately in to secure the oil installations in the south. If we weren't able to do that, then the prospects of the Iraqi people for the future would be blighted. That's why the air campaign is targeted very, very specifically, as precisely as we possibly can, military command and control, the aspects of Saddam's regime, not the civilian population.

So we're doing this in the way that we set it out to achieve our objectives. We will achieve our objectives.

BUSH: I have nothing more to add to that.

QUESTION: Mr. President, you've raised the possibility of holding Iraqis accountable for war crimes. I'm wondering if now if you could describe what war crimes you think they've committed to date?

And secondly, should the Iraqis be prepared for U.S. retaliation with nuclear weapons if they were to attack coalition forces with weapons of mass destruction?

BUSH: You heard the prime minister eloquently talk about the loss of British life. They were murdered, unarmed soldiers executed. I mean, that's war crime.

But, you know, I'm not surprised. This man Saddam Hussein has tortured and brutalized his people for a long, long time. We had reports the other day of a dissident who had his tongue cut out and was tied to the stake in the town square, and he bled to death. BUSH: That's how Saddam Hussein retains power.

His sons are brutal, brutal people. They're barbaric in nature. I'm not surprised he's committing crimes against our soldiers. I'm not surprised to hear stories about his thugs killing their own citizens and trying to blame it on coalition forces. I'm not surprised to know that regular army forces are trying to desert, but get blown away by fellow Iraqi citizens. I'm not surprised, because the nature of the man who has run the country for a long period of time.

If he uses weapons of mass destruction, it'll just prove our case. And we will deal with it. We've got one objective in mind, that's victory. And we'll achieve victory.


BUSH: Yes. Well, they've been sent a message in this war, too, in that if you launch a weapon of mass destruction, you'll be tried as a war criminal. And I urge those Iraqi generals who have any doubt of our word to be careful, because we'll keep our word. We're going to keep our word to the Iraqi people, and we'll keep our word to those war criminals in Iraq.

QUESTION: I'd like to break the rule, because I don't think we know the details of why you're using this word, "executed," about the British servicemen. I would like it if you could explain that.

But could I ask you both, you both ranged over history, the justness of the cause that you believe that this war is. Why is it, then, that if you go back to that history, if you go back over the last century, or indeed recent conflicts of your political careers, you have not got the support of people who've been firm allies, like the French, like the Germans, like the Turkish? Why haven't you got their support?

BUSH: We've got a huge coalition. As a matter of fact, the coalition that we've assembled today is larger than the one assembled in 1991 in terms of the number of nations participating. I'm very pleased with the size of our coalition. I was down yesterday at CENTCOM and met with many of the generals from the countries represented in our coalition, and they're proud to be side by side with our allies.

This is a vast coalition that believes in our cause, and I'm proud of their participation. QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

BUSH: We got plenty of Western allies. I mean, we can give you the list. Ally after ally after ally has stood with us, and continues to stand with us, and we are extremely proud of their participation.

BLAIR: In relation to our soldiers, the reason I used the language I did was because of the circumstances that we know. And the reason why I think it is important to recognize the strength of our alliance -- yes, there are countries that disagree with what we're doing. I mean, there's no point in hiding it, there's been a division.

And, you know, you obviously have to take, and go and ask us those other countries why they're not with us and they will give you the reasons why they disagree.

But I think what is important is to bear in mind two things. First of all, there are an immense number of countries that do agree with us. I mean, I hear people constantly say to me, "Europe is against what you're doing." That is not true. There is a part of Europe that is against what we are doing.

There are many existing members of the European Union, and virtually all the new members of the European Union, that strongly support what we're doing. So there is a division, but we have many allies.

And the second point I'd make is this, that I understand why people hesitate before committing to conflict and to war. War is a brutal and a bloody business. But we are faced with a situation where Saddam Hussein has been given 12 years to disarm, voluntarily, of weapons of mass destruction that the whole of the international community accepts is a threat, and he has not done so.

BLAIR: Instead, what we have had is 12 years in which he has remained in power with these weapons intact and brutalized his own people.

Now, we felt we had come to the point where if we wanted to take a stand against what I believe to be the dominant security threat of our time, which is the combination of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of unstable, repressive states and terrorist groups,if we wanted to take a stand, then we had to act.

And we went through the diplomatic process. We tried to make the diplomatic process work, but we weren't able to do so.

And the other reason why I think it is important that we act, and why indeed we have many, many allies, is because people do know that this is a brutal regime. That is not the reason for us initiating this action, that is in relation to weapons of mass destruction. But it is a reason why if we do so, as we are doing, we do so in the full knowledge that we are indeed going to bring a better future for the Iraqi people.

And if you just want statistic, although statistics, I'm afraid, never have the same emotional appeal as pictures, but we don't see these pictures of what has happened in Iraq in the past, but just one statistic.

BLAIR: Over the past five years, 400,000 Iraqi children under the age of 5 died of malnutrition and disease, presentably, but died because of the nature of the regime under which they're living.

Now, that is why we're acting. And yes, there are divisions in the international community. There are many people on our side, there are those that oppose us. But that is for us, I'm afraid, to... (CROSSTALK)

BLAIR: Well, I'm afraid, that is a question to ask to other people, as well as to us. All I can tell you is why we are acting and why we believe our cause to be just. And yes, at the end of this whole process, we need to go back over it and ask why this has happened.

But I simply say to you that if the world walks away from the security threat facing us and if we'd backed down and taken no action against Saddam, think of the signal that would have sent right across the world to every brutal dictator, to every terrorist group.

Now, we believe that we had to act; others have disagreed. As I say, at some point we will have to come back and we'll have to discuss how the disagreement arose.

But I have no doubt that we're doing the right thing. I have no doubt that our cause is just. And I've no doubt that were we to walk away from this conflict at this time, we would be doing a huge disservice to future generations.

BUSH: Thank you all.

ZAHN: And that handshake marks the end of just about a 25-minute news conference between President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair of Great Britain. You just heard the prime minister passionately defending the allied war effort, saying -- acknowledging that there is a part of Europe that is against the war effort, but the prime minister went on to say he believed that they are in fact doing the right thing, that they have a just cause.

Joining us now from London to talk a little bit more about some of the issues facing the two leaders is James Rubin. He is a former assistant secretary of state for public affairs. He travels all over the world. I think we find him in London today.

Good to see you, Jamie. Welcome back.

First off, Jamie, I wanted to talk about what President Bush had to say when it came to the overall military operation. He proclaimed that the allied mission will be achieved. He went on to say that the coalition forces are advancing day by day, that they are making steady progress, and then when they're asked about a timeline, he said that they will reveal no matter, in his words, how long it takes to achieve our objective.

Front page story in "The Washington Post," suggesting by some unnamed military leaders, that this war could drag on for months. Where do you think the allies are at this point in the war process?

JAMIE RUBIN, FMR. ASST. SECY. OF STATE FOR PUBLIC AFFAIRS: Yes, well, I think that President Bush actually took a line from Tony Blair during the Kosovo war, where I recall many of the same criticisms and questions developed after the first couple of weeks, and there was a lot of speculation that the administration had not expected difficulty, and Tony Blair's words were, as long as it takes. So I think this is the right message the president should be sending. It's the same message Tony Blair is sending.

But none of that changes the fact that for many years now a number of advocates of overthrowing this regime have said that the regime was very, very brittle, that we could get back by arming and training some of the rebels, and the regime would quickly collapse. Clearly that judgment about what was going on in Iraq was wrong, and I think some of that judgment worked its way into the military plans.

But fortunately, the Army and professional military insisted that that optimistic scenario might, and that we could hope for that, but we needed to plan for and be prepared for the possibility of greater than expected resistance, and that's where we are. I mean, if the question is, how long it will take to win this war and for how long there will be military action in Iraq, I suspect there will be some mopping up operations for many months.

But I don't think the president or the prime minister want to get tied down to timetables, because as we've seen in the last week, war involves unexpected developments, and you end up just having to eat your words.

ZAHN: Let's move on to some of the issues they just discussed. One was immediately resuming the oil-for-food program that was stopped at the start of the war, and then an area where I'm not too sure where there is any common ground, and that is an issue of what role the U.N. should play in a post-war Iraq.

Secretary Powell saying yesterday -- quote -- "We didn't take on this huge burden with our coalition partners not to be able to have a significant dominating control over how it unfolds in the future." Now the prime minister very much wants U.N. involvement in this process. Do you think there is common ground here at all?

RUBIN: Well, diplomatically, what the prime minister did today is what we call kick the can down the road. What he said was, we can all agree there needs to be humanitarian deliveries into Iraq, and I think they are going to appeal to their other members of the Security Council by saying, let the Secretary-General Kofi Annan use the flexibility to provide food through the oil sales of the so-called oil-for-food program.

When it came to what happens after the war, I think the prime minister was probably wise to suggest that we'll basically cross that bridge when we come to it, and then he used the diplomatic standby for an issue that you haven't figured out, which is the appropriate post- conflict role for the United Nations. Appropriate is one of those words that can mean anything to anybody, and I think the big issue that's outstanding, that there are just not going to try to solve now, perhaps because they don't know how long the period of military governance will last.

After the war is over, there will be a period of military governance by the American military and this civilian administrator, who's a former general, Jay Garner. And that period is when they are saying the U.N. can begin discussing this issue, and then they can hand off to some Iraqi interim authority, at which point they'll hope the U.N. will bless it, because they know, and Tory Blair was very clear about this, that the France and the others are not going to bless through the United Nations American military governance of Iraq.

So I think their plan is kick the can down the road, get some humanitarian supplies going, and discuss in the United Nations how to transition from American military governance to some Iraqi governance with U.N. appropriate role.

ZAHN: I guess I'm having trouble understanding what that transition might look like. When you have the French president saying this, Jamie, and you can help read between the line here, when he said he wouldn't sign on to anything that would legitimize the military intervention and give the belligerents the power to administer Iraq. Now when you are hearing statements like that, where would you even start this transition process?

RUBIN: Well, that's exactly right. Blair is aware of that. That's why we used this phrase, I don't really want to get in the details and engage in -- quote -- "megaphone diplomacy" -- unquote. Because he knows between the German chancellor, the French president you just mentioned and the United States, that if he gets into an extensive discussion of this, the parties are going to just drift farther apart rather than coming to a agreement.

What I read the French president as saying is the French will oppose, meaning veto, a U.N. resolution that endorses American military governance in Iraq. In other words, after the war is over, there will be American military governance for some period of time. How long that period of time is, we don't know, because we don't know how difficult the war is going to be. The French are saying, don't come to us to bless American military governance after the war.

What Blair has been suggesting as a compromise is, let's talk about the issue of what comes after American military governance, and we can start having that serious discussion when the war is over.

So he wants to kick the can down the road, avoid a situation where France is asked to bless -- quote -- "American military governance," which the French are saying they aren't going to do.

But clearly with all this discussion and back and forth and the French unable to see themselves clear to recognize that they want the United States to win this war. Having opposed it, now they are even suggesting they don't want to do anything that will help the Iraqi people by accelerating the process of American victory. And it's extremely troubling, and then we have the situation where it's completely confused as to what comes after the war.

ZAHN: Well, it certainly takes a former diplomat himself to be able to cut through some of that language we heard. I think that's the best analogy I've heard all day. What we just witnessed from the prime minister, you said, is basically kick the can down the road, and we'll be relying on you in days to come to help us understand this very complicated picture. Jamie Rubin, always good to see you. Thank you for your insights.

RUBIN: Thanks, Paula.


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