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CNN Live Event/Special

America Under Attack: George W. Bush Holds Conference Call with Leaders of New York

Aired September 13, 2001 - 10:59   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: And here is the president, picking up the phone, talking to New York's top leaders.


MYR. RUDY GIULIANI, NEW YORK CITY: Good morning, Mr. President.

GOV. GEORGE PATAKI, NEW YORK CITY: Good morning, Mr. President.

BUSH: Thank you all very much for taking my phone call.

First of all, I can't tell you how sad I am and America is for the people of New York City in the tristate area. I want to let you know there's a quiet anger in America that really is real and also, though, I can't tell you how proud I am of the good citizens of your part of the world and the extraordinary job you all are doing. You're doing really a great job on behalf of the citizens of New York City, New York State and in the tristate area. So I want to thank you very much for your leadership and dedication.

GIULIANI: Thank you, Mr. President.

BUSH: Secondly, I've been in touch with you all and you've extended me a kind invitation to come to New York City. I accept. I'll be there tomorrow afternoon after the prayer service at the National Cathedral.

I look forward to joining with both of you in thanking the police and fire, construction trade workers, the restaurant owners, the volunteers, all of whom have really made a huge display for the world to see of the compassion of America and the bravery of America and the strength of America. Every world leader I've talked to in recent days has been impressed by what they have seen about our nation and the fabric of our nation. And I want to thank everybody when I come.

So thank you for your hospitality.

PATAKI: Mr. President, thank you for coming to New York. I'm sure it's going to be a great inspiration to all of us and, particularly, those thousands of men and women still downtown trying to help us with the rescue efforts. I also want to thank you for all the help we've gotten from the federal government, it's been tremendous. And for your words, you are right, our nation is united as never before and we will triumph over this evil with your leadership and your inspiration. And I also have to congratulate the mayor for the tremendous effort he has made.

Mr. President, you would be proud of the leadership and the cooperation we've seen here. The city has taken the lead. Your people have been enormously supportive, and we're very grateful.

BUSH: Well, thanks, George and Rudy, thank you all.

I know you've put in a request, and I've directed the attorney general to expedite any payments of benefits for those fallen public safety officers, to their families -- any benefits to their families. And the attorney general, as I understand, will be making a formal announcement of your request today.

I've told Allbaugh, "anything," anything it takes to help New York.

I have been in touch with the Congress. They are expediting a supplemental. We've got great cooperation with members of the Congress in both political parties.

So just keep in touch, I know you will. This isn't the first time we've talked. And I really appreciate the fact that you all are in charge, and I know the citizens of New York and the tristate area, people of New Jersey and Connecticut are appreciative as well.

GIULIANI: Mr. President, the uniformed officers -- the police, the fire, the emergency service officers, their families will really appreciate this.

We're going to sustain a tremendous loss of our bravest and our best people. And the relief that you're now making available to the families is going to mean a lot to them. They're going to be able to think about the fact that their children are going to be taken care of, that they're going to be able to go to college, that they're going to be able to carry on. So I can't express to you how appreciative we are of your acting so swiftly.

And also, on that terrible day when our city was being attacked, you were in immediate communication with us, Mr. President and helped to secure the city. And the work that you've done for us, we all eternally appreciate. You've been a terrific leader, and we're taking direction from you and we're following your example. You've done a terrific job, Mr. President.

BUSH: Well, thanks Rudy, and thanks George.

Let me make it clear to you all as my close friends that my mindset is this. One, I weep and mourn with America. I'm going to a hospital right after this to comfort families. I wish I could comfort every single family whose lives have been affected. But make no mistake about it, my resolve is steady and strong about winning this war that has been declared on America. It's a new kind of war. And I understand it's a new kind of war. And this government will adjust, and this government will call others to join us, to make sure this act, these acts, the people who conducted these acts and those who harbor them, are held accountable for their actions, make no mistake.

And as we do so, I urge -- I know I don't need to tell you all this, but our nation must be mindful that there are thousands of Arab Americans who live in New York City, who love their flag just as much as the three of us do, and we must be mindful that as we seek to win the war that we treat Arab Americans and Muslims with the respect they deserve. I know that is your attitudes as well, certainly the attitude of this government, that we should not hold one who is a Muslim responsible for an act of terror.

We will hold those who are responsible for the terrorist acts accountable and those who harbor them.

You'll see -- and I look forward to visiting with you in person tomorrow -- about the resolve of this government. And so, I thank you very much for your leadership on the ground. I wish I was visiting under better circumstances, but it will be a chance for all three of us to thank and hug and cry with the citizens of your good area.

GIULIANI: Thank you very much, Mr. President. We really appreciate this.

BUSH: We'll see you tomorrow.

PATAKI: Mr. President, we're looking forward to your visit. It will inspire us all.

And we will be with you when the United States takes firm and appropriate actions for those who conducted this evil.

BUSH: Thank you all very much. See you tomorrow. God bless.


QUESTION: Mr. President, is it safe to fly? Specifically, would you want a close member of your family to get on a commercial airplane today?

BUSH: We have taken every precaution to make sure that it is safe to fly in America. There are beefed up security at our airports. There is increased presence on the airplanes.

Yes. If a family member asked whether they should fly, I'd say yes.

QUESTION: Mr. President, how close are you, sir, to finding out -- to nailing down who is responsible for these acts? And what kind of international coalition are you trying to build? Is it similar to the one your father built for the Persian Gulf War? BUSH: First, let me condition the press this way: Any sources and methods of intelligence will remain guarded and secret. My administration will not talk about how we gather intelligence, if we gather intelligence and what the intelligence says. That's for the protection of the American people. It is important, as we battle this enemy, we conduct ourselves that way.

Secondly, I've been on the phone this morning, just like I was yesterday, and will be on the phone this afternoon with leaders from around the world who express their solidarity with this nation's intention to route out and to whip terrorism. They fully understand that an act of war was declared on the United States of America. They understand as well that that act could have easily been declared on them.

BUSH: These people can't stand freedom. They hate our values. They hate what America stands for. Many of the leaders understand it could have easily have happened to them.

Secondly, they understand that unlike previous war, this enemy likes to hide. They heard my call loud and clear to those who feel like they can provide safe harbor for the terrorists, that we will hold them responsible as well. And they join me in understanding, not only the concept of the enemy but that the enemy is a different type of enemy. They join me also in solidarity about holding those who fund them, who harbor them, who encourage them responsible for their activities.

I'm pleased with the outpouring of support -- Jiang Zemin, Vladimir Putin. I had a great visit this morning with His Royal Highness Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. I will continue to stay on the phone. And there is universal support for the American people, sadness in their voice, but understanding that we have just seen the first war of the 21st century. And there is universal approval of the statements I have made. And I am confident there will be universal approval of the actions this government takes.

QUESTION: Mr. President, if this is a different kind of war, it might require perhaps a different kind of coalition. Many people believe that for a real war on terrorism to work, you'll need cooperation from governments that haven't necessarily done so in the past, specifically, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Have you made any progress on that front?

BUSH: I would refer you to the statements that the Pakistani leader gave about his -- I don't have the exact words in front of me -- but his willingness to work with the United States. And I appreciated that statement and now we'll just find out what that means.

Won't we? We will give the Pakistani government a chance to cooperate and to participate as we hunt down those people who committed this unbelievable despicable act on America.

QUESTION: Mr. President, how confident are you that Osama bin Laden is behind these attacks? Do you know what is whereabouts are? And secondly, what kind of support are you looking for from Congress in terms of your willingness to act?

BUSH: We will not discuss intelligence matters, how we gather intelligence and what we know about anybody. When our government acts, you will be informed. Secondly, we had a great meeting yesterday here in the Cabinet room with leadership of the House and the Senate.

I was touched by their response, their encouragement and their willingness to work together and I would be very pleased to see a strong resolution come out of Congress supporting the administration in what we intend to do and we're working closely with Congress.

Progress is being made on a supplemental. I thought that was very swift action, and I'm most appreciative again of Senator Daschle and Representative Gephardt, as well as my Republican colleagues, for really showing solidarity again and uniting the nation. Now is the time for the country to be united and, you know, through the tears of sadness, I see an opportunity. Make no mistake about it, this nation is sad, but we're also tough and resolute.

And now is an opportunity to do generations a favor by coming together and whipping terrorism, hunting it down, finding it and holding them accountable.

The nation must understand, this is now the focus of my administration. We will be very much engaged in domestic policy, of course. I look forward to working with Congress on a variety of issues. But now that war has been declared on us, we will lead the world to victory.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) threat to Air Force One and do you believe that the terrorist attempted to assassinate you, sir?

BUSH: I will not discuss the intelligence that our country has gathered.

QUESTION: Do you believe (OFF-MIKE) assassinating you?

BUSH: I believe I took the -- I know, I don't believe -- I know I took the appropriate actions as the commander-in-chief to be in a position to be able to make the decisions necessary for our government to handle the crisis.

You didn't hear the end of the phone call with the mayor and George Pataki, both of them thanked me for the fact that we got immediately on the phone with them from Air Force One, and our government responded quickly.

QUESTION: Could you give us a sense as to what kind of prayers you are thinking and where your heart is for yourself, as you work on that?

BUSH: Well, I don't think about myself right now. I think about the families, the children. I'm a loving guy. And I am also someone, however, who's got a job to do, and I intend to do it. And this is a terrible moment. But this country will not relent until we have saved ourselves and others from the terrible tragedy that came upon America.

Thank you all.

KAGAN: A very emotional President Bush addressing reporters there. We just saw a number of live events with the president. He was talking to reporters just after he had a conference call with Mayor Giuliani and Governor Pataki, both of New York City and of the state of New York.

The president before appearing getting all choked up, talking -- repeating a lot of statements that he said over the last couple of days, once again reiterating that he considers this an act of war, an act on America, saying there's no safe here bore for terrorists who carried this out, or no safe harbor for the countries that could be supporting or harboring the terrorists, and he talked of support coming from other countries around the world, mentioning Russia, Saudi Arabia, and also I think making allusion to Jordan as well.

Let's bring in our Kelly Wallace as well, who we were talking with before we went ahead and listened to this conference call and also listened to the talk with reporters.

Kelly, question for you, one of the reporters was asking a lot about the Pakistani government and the levels of support. If you were with us earlier today, you saw leaders of Pakistan come out and hold a news conference and make a statement. Why is it a question at this point how much support the government of Pakistan is offering, and why is it important to America to have that support?

WALLACE: Well, it is important, Daryn, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, only the three countries that recognize Taliban as the ruling government of Afghanistan. Pakistan viewed as the closest ally to Afghanistan, and obviously, the president in that news conference saying he will not talk about any intelligence matters, will not talk about the investigation. Privately, the though, U.S. officials saying that the evidence is definitely starting to point to network of Osama bin Laden, Osama bin Laden is believed to be in Afghanistan, and it is believed that Taliban has been providing Osama bin Laden safe haven.

So when you have Pakistan, the military ruler of Pakistan making a statement, saying that Pakistan stands united with the U.S. government in combating terrorism, if that is true, as you heard the president he obviously seems gratified by that statement, although a little skeptical of course, wanting to see exactly what the general means by what he says, but if that is true, and if the Pakistani government will stand with U.S. and this international coalition this White House is trying to build, that would be significant, because -- a lot of ifs here, Daryn -- because if it is determined that the network of Osama bin Laden is involved, if it is determined that the Taliban has been providing safe haven to Osama bin Laden, then certainly Afghanistan more isolated than before if the Pakistani step with U.S. and world community and not with Afghanistan. KAGAN: And, Kelly, it sounds like the president stating what he's been saying all along to the countries of the world, either you are with the U.S. or you're against the U.S., and if you are against the U.S., well, good luck to you.

WALLACE: Exactly, Daryn. We've been talking about sort of the U.S. really trying to build this international coalition. You heard the president, he said, this is an act of war that's declared on the U.S. He called this the first war of the 21st century, and he says he is fully confident, based on conversations with the leaders of Russia, and China, and Europe and Canada, he is confident that there will universal support for any action the U.S. takes, but he also said, Daryn, you saw that, through this time of great sadness, he said, no doubt this nation is tremendously saddened, he sees this as an opportunity to go out and try and wipe out terrorism, to try to hunt it down, and we have been getting the sense from U.S. leaders that not only is this administration trying to, a, determine who happens to be responsible for these attacks and try to take those people out, but, b, make sure this doesn't happen again, use this as an opportunity to try to destroy think other terrorists cells that might exists around the world -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Kelly Wallace at the White House. Kelly, thank you very much.