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Remarks by President Bush and Prime Minister Blair of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Joint Press Availability [Part 1 of 2]

Contact: White House, Office of the Press Secretary, 202-456-2580

 

WASHINGTON, Dec. 7 /Standard Newswire/ -- The following text is of remarks by President Bush and Prime Minister Blair of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in a joint press availability:

 

Room 450

Dwight D. Eisenhower Executive Office Building

11:05 A.M. EST

 

PRESIDENT BUSH:  Thank you all.  Please be seated.  I just had a good visit with Prime Minister Tony Blair.  I appreciate you coming back, Mr. Prime Minister.  I always enjoy our discussions, and I appreciate your clear view that we are confronted with a struggle between moderation and extremism.  And this is particularly evident in the broader Middle East.

 

I talked about my recent trip to Jordan, where I talked to Prime Minister Maliki.  I briefed the Prime Minister on my visit with His Eminence, Mr. Hakim, one of the major political players in Iraq.  We discussed the report I received yesterday from the Iraq Study Group, a report chaired by Secretary of State -- former Secretary of State James Baker and former Congressman Lee Hamilton.  I told the Prime Minister I thought this was a very constructive report.  I appreciated the fact that they laid out a series of recommendations, and they're worthy of serious study.  I also updated the Prime Minister on the reviews that are being conducted by the Pentagon and the State Department and our National Security Council.  I talked to him about the consultations I'm having with the United States Congress. 

 

We agree that victory in Iraq is important; it's important for the Iraqi people, it's important for the security of the United States and Great Britain, and it's important for the civilized world.  We agree that an Iraq that can govern itself, defend itself and sustain itself as an ally on the war on terror is a noble goal.  The Prime Minister and I seek a wide range of opinions about how to go forward in Iraq, and I appreciate your opinions and your advice.

 

The increase in sectarian attacks we're seeing in and around Baghdad are unsettling.  It has led to much debate in both our countries about the nature of the war that is taking place in Iraq.  And it is true that Sunni and Shia extremists are targeting each other's innocent civilians and engaging in brutal reprisals.  It's also true that forces beyond Iraq's borders contribute to this violence.  And the Prime Minister put it this way, he said, "The violence is not an accident or a result of faulty planning.  It is a deliberate strategy.  It is the direct result of outside extremists teaming up with internal extremists -- al Qaeda with the Sunni insurgents, and Iran with the Shia militia -- to foment hatred and to throttle, at birth, the possibility of a non-sectarian democracy."  You were right, and I appreciate your comments. 

 

The primary victims of the sectarian violence are the moderate majority of Iraqis -- Sunni and Shia alike -- who want a future of peace.  The primary beneficiaries are Sunni and Shia extremists, inside and outside of Iraq, who want chaos in that country so they can take control and further their ambitions to dominate the region. 

 

These Sunni and Shia extremists have important differences, yet they agree on one thing:  the rise of free and democratic societies in the Middle East where people can practice their faith, choose their leaders, and live together in peace would be  a decisive blow to their cause. 

 

And so they're supporting extremists across the region who are working to undermine young democracies.  Just think about the Middle East.  In Iraq, they support terrorists and death squads who are fomenting sectarian violence in an effort to bring down the elected government of Prime Minister Maliki.  In Lebanon, they're supporting Hezbollah, which recently declared its intention to force the collapse of Prime Minister Siniora's democratically-elected parliament and government.  In Afghanistan, they're supporting remnants of the Taliban that are seeking to destabilize President Karzai's government and regain power.  In the Palestinian Territories, they are working to stop moderate leaders like President Abbas from making progress toward the vision of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.

 

In each of these places, radicals and extremists are using terror to stop the spread of freedom.  And they do so because they want to spread their ideologies -- their ideologies of hate -- and impose their rule on this vital part of the world.  And should they succeed, history will look back on our time with unforgiving clarity and demand to know, what happened?  How come free nations did not act to preserve the peace?

 

Prime Minister Blair and I understand that we have a responsibility to lead and to support moderates and reformers who work for change across the broader Middle East.  We also recognize that meeting this responsibility requires action.  We will take concerted efforts to advance the cause of peace in the Middle East.  Prime Minister Blair informed me that he will be heading to the Middle East soon to talk to both the Israelis and the Palestinians.  And I support that mission.  I support the mission because it's important for us to advance the cause of two states living side by side in peace, and helping both parties eliminate the obstacles that prevent an agreement from being reached.  And your strong leadership on this issue matters a lot.

 

We'll support the democratic government of Prime Minister Maliki as he makes difficult decisions and confronts the forces of terror and extremism that are working hard to tear his country apart.

 

Britain and America are old allies, and the Prime Minister and I are strong friends.  But Britain and America aren't standing together in this war because of friendship.  We're standing together because our two nations face an unprecedented threat to civilization.  We're standing together to prevent terrorists and extremists from dominating the Middle East.  We stand together to prevent extremists from regaining the safe haven they lost in Afghanistan, a safe haven from which they launched attacks that killed thousands of our citizens.

 

We stand together because we understand the only way to secure a lasting peace for our children and grandchildren is to defeat the extremist ideologies and help the ideology of hope, democracy, prevail.  We know the only way to secure peace for ourselves is to help millions of moms and dads across the Middle East build what our citizens already have: societies based on liberty that will allow their children to grow up in peace and opportunity. 

 

It's a tough time.  And it's a difficult moment for America and Great Britain.  And the task before us is daunting.  Yet our nations have stood before in difficult moments.  Sixty-five years ago this day, America was jolted out of our isolationism and plunged into a global war that Britain had been fighting for two years.  In that war, our nation stood firm.  And there were difficult moments during that war, yet the leaders of our two nations never lost faith in the capacity to prevail.

 

We will stand firm again in this first war of the 21st century.  We will defeat the extremists and the radicals.  We will help a young democracy prevail in Iraq.  And in so doing, we will secure freedom and peace for millions, including our own citizens.

 

Mr. Prime Minister, welcome.

 

PRIME MINISTER BLAIR:  Thank you very much, Mr. President, and thank you, firstly, for stressing again the strength of the relationship between our two countries, which is important for us, but I think it's important for the wider global community, as well.  Thank you also for the clarity of your vision about the mission that we're engaged in at the moment, which is a struggle between freedom and democracy on the one hand, and terrorism and sectarianism on the other.  And it's a noble mission, and it's the right mission, and it's important for our world that it succeeds.

 

And so the question is, how do we make sure that it does, indeed, succeed?  And in respect of Iraq, I, like you, welcome the Baker-Hamilton study group.  It offers a strong way forward.  I think it is important now we concentrate on the elements that are necessary to make sure that we succeed, because the consequences of failure are severe.  And I believe this is a mission we have to succeed in and we can succeed in.

 

And I think there are three elements that we can take forward.  The first is to make sure that we are supporting the Maliki government in making sure that that government's non-sectarian nature is reflected in the policies of that government and the way that it conducts itself.  I think in respect of governance and security and capability -- particularly economic capability -- there is much that we are doing, but can do even more in order to make sure that they are supported in the vital work that they do, and in the work of reconciliation, in bringing the different parts of Iraq together in order to give effect to the will of the Iraqi people, expressed in their democratic election.

 

I think, secondly, it's important that all of us who are engaged in this, but particularly those in the region, live up to their responsibilities in supporting the Maliki government, in ensuring that Iraq is able to proceed in a democratic and non-sectarian way.

 

And I think that, finally, as you rightly emphasize, it is important that we do everything we can in the wider Middle East to bring about peace between Israel and the Palestinians.  This is something that I know you feel deeply and passionately about; you are the first President who committed yourself to the two state solution.  And I believe that by moving this forward we send a very strong signal not just to the region, but to the whole of the world that we are evenhanded and just in the application of our values, that we want to see an Israel confident of its security and a Palestinian people able to live in peace and justice and democracy.

 

And that brings me back, finally, to the point that I began with, because I think it is the central point -- yes, it is immensely tough at the moment and very challenging, and everybody knows that.  But there are only two ways that the Middle East can go.  Its people can either be presented with a choice between a secular or a religious dictatorship, which is not a choice that any free people would ever choose, or alternatively, they can enjoy the same possibilities of democracy that we hold dear in our countries.  And this is not a view that we hold -- I hold because of idealism alone.  It is because I also believe that the only realistic path to security is by ensuring the spread of liberty.

 

So, Mr. President, thank you again for welcoming me here, and we will work closely with you in the time to come in order to achieve the mission we have set ourselves.

 

PRESIDENT BUSH:  Thank you, sir.  Thank you.  We'll answer a couple of questions.

 

Q    Mr. President and Mr. Prime Minister, neither of you has shown much doubt about your Iraq policies.  Do you acknowledge that your approach has failed, as Baker-Hamilton suggests?  And are you willing to engage directly with Syria and Iran and pull out most combat forces by early 2008, unless there's unexpected circumstances?

 

PRESIDENT BUSH:  The thing I liked about the Baker-Hamilton report is it discussed the way forward in Iraq.  And I believe we need a new approach.  And that's why I've tasked the Pentagon to analyze the way forward.  That's why Prime Minister Blair is here to talk about the way forward, so we can achieve the objective, which is an Iraq which can govern itself, sustain itself, and defend itself, and be an ally in the war on terror.

 

And the Baker-Hamilton report did some very interesting things.  First, it shows that Republicans and Democrats can work together to achieve -- to come up with a strategy to achieve an objective, something the American people don't think is possible to happen.  In other words, they've seen elections, and they saw all the bitterness and finger-pointing and name-calling and wonder whether or not we can work together on this important cause.  And I believe we can.  And the Baker-Hamilton commission showed it's possible for people of goodwill to sit down at the table and design a way forward.

 

And so that's why I'm sitting down with the members of Congress to say to both Republicans and Democrats, this is an important cause.  It's important for our security; it's important to help lay the foundations for peace, and I want to hear your ideas.  And I thought the report did a good job of showing what is possible.  Congress isn't going to accept every recommendation in the report, and neither will the administration.  But there's a lot of very important things in the report that we ought to seriously consider.

 

And as the Prime Minister talked about, there's three aspects to the report.  One is, how do we empower the Maliki government so that the Maliki government -- the elected government of the Iraqis -- can help with the economy, can help secure peace, can do hard work necessary to achieve stability and to achieve the objective?

 

It talked about the regional -- the countries in the region, and the responsibilities of the region to help this Iraqi government.  And the idea of having an international group is an interesting idea.  We've already got the compact, and I think the Baker-Hamilton report suggests that we broaden the compact beyond just economic measures.

 

But one thing is for certain, when people-- if people come to the table to discuss Iraq, they need to come understanding their responsibilities to not fund terrorists, to help this young democracy survive, to help with the economics of the country.  And if people are not committed, if Syria and Iran is not committed to that concept, then they shouldn't bother to show up.

 

Thirdly, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is important to have -- is important to be solved.  I'm committed to a two state solution.  I believe it is in Israel's interest and the Palestinian people's interest to have two states living side by side for peace.  And the Prime Minister shares that goal.  And he is willing to take time to go over and help remove obstacles toward achieving that goal.

 

And there are two notable obstacles.  One, one is the prisoner; and secondly, is for there to be a unity government that recognizes the principles of the Quartet, with which Israel can negotiate.  And we want to help.

 

And so I view this as a very important way forward, important concepts.  And the American people expect us to come up with a new strategy to achieve the objective which I've been talking about and which is laid out in the Baker-Hamilton report.

 

PRIME MINISTER BLAIR:  I think the analysis of the situation is not really in dispute.  The question is, how do we find the right way forward?  And what we've got at the moment is something that is at one level very simple to describe, but at another level very profound and difficult to deal with -- and that is that the outside extremists are linking up with internal extremists, basically to create the circumstances of sectarianism, where it's very, very difficult then for democracy and ordinary institutions to function.

 

And I think the Baker-Hamilton report allows us to, as the situation has evolved in Iraq, to evolve our strategy in order to meet it in the ways that I've just described.  But I think we've got to be very, very clear about this:  It will require everybody to face up to their responsibilities.  Us, of course, because we are principal actors in this; but also the Iraqi government, they've got to be prepared to make the moves necessary -- full governance, full capability, reconciliation and full help and security -- and we will be there to support them.

 

But then there are responsibilities, as the President was saying a moment or two ago, on the region and the neighbors.  And let me come directly to the Iran and Syria point.  The issue for me is not a question of being unwilling to sit down with people or not, but the basis upon which we discuss Iraq has got to be clear and it's got to be a basis where we are all standing up for the right principles, which are now endorsed in the United Nations resolutions, in respect of Iraq.  In other words, you support the democratic elected government; you do not support sectarians and you do not support, arm or finance terrorists.

 

Now, the very reason we have problems in parts of Iraq -- and we know this very well down in the south of Iraq -- is that Iran, for example, has been doing that, has been basically arming, financing, supporting terrorism.  So we've got to be clear the basis upon which we take this forward.  And as I say, it's got to be clear the basis upon which we take this forward.  And as I say, it's got to be on the basis of people accepting their responsibilities. 

 

And finally, in relation to what the President was just saying a moment or two ago on Israel and Palestine, I think that one thing that is very clear is that the old Middle East had within it the origins of all the problems we see.  I mean, this terrorist problem that we faced in the last few years, it didn't originate, I'm afraid, a few years ago.  It's been building up over decades.  It's come out of a series of states of oppression, of warped ideology, based on a perverted view of the faith of Islam.  This has been building up for a long period of time.  And it has basically come out of the Middle East.

 

Now, my view in the end is that you go back to the origins of this and say, well, how do we resolve it?  And the only way we resolve it is by having the right vision and then the practical measures to achieve it.

 

Now, I think the vision is absolutely correct.  What we've got to do now -- and this is exactly why the President was talking about the way forward -- is that we've got to get the right way forward -- this is where Baker-Hamilton helped -- in order that we have the practical policy that bolsters and gives effect to the vision, because the vision is the right vision.  You leave a Middle East in which the Israel-Palestine issue is not solved, in which there's no moves towards democracy, in which Iraq goes back in its old state, in which the Iranian people have no chance to express themselves, maybe not in the months or one year, two years, but you'll have the same problem.  You know, the reason we are faced with this issue is because in the end, everything that happened in that region erupted, in fact, on the streets of New York.  But it -- the origins of this went way, way back before that.

 

And so it is -- there's a tendency I think sometimes to see this as a battle between the idealists on the one hand and the realists on the other.  In my view, the only modern form of realism is one that has ideals at the center of it.

 

Q    Mr. President, the Iraq Study Group described the situation in Iraq as grave and deteriorating.  You said that the increase in attacks is unsettling.  That won't convince many people that you're still in denial about how bad things are in Iraq, and question your sincerity about changing course.

 

PRESIDENT BUSH:  It's bad in Iraq.  Does that help?  (Laughter.)

 

Q    Why did it take others to say it before you've been willing to acknowledge for the world --

 

PRESIDENT BUSH:  In all due respect, I've been saying it a lot.  I understand how tough it is.  And I've been telling the American people how tough it is.  And they know how tough it is.  And the fundamental question is, do we have a plan to achieve our objective.  Are we willing to change as the enemy has changed?  And what the Baker-Hamilton study has done is it shows good ideas as to how to go forward.  What our Pentagon is doing is figuring out ways to go forward, all aiming to achieve our objective. 

 

Make no mistake about it, I understand how tough it is, sir.  I talk to families who die.  I understand there's sectarian violence.  I also understand that we're hunting down al Qaeda on a regular basis and we're bringing them to justice.  I understand how hard our troops are working.  I know how brave the men and women who wear the uniform are, and therefore, they'll have the full support of this government.  I understand what long deployments mean to wives and husbands, and mothers and fathers, particularly as we come into a holiday season.  I understand.  And I have made it abundantly clear how tough it is. 

 

I also believe we're going to succeed.  I believe we'll prevail.  Not only do I know how important it is to prevail, I believe we will prevail.  I understand how hard it is to prevail.  But I also want the American people to understand that if we were to fail -- and one way to assure failure is just to quit, is not to adjust, and say it's just not worth it -- if we were to fail, that failed policy will come to hurt generations of Americans in the future. 

 

And as I said in my opening statement, I believe we're in an ideological struggle between forces that are reasonable and want to live in peace, and radicals and extremists.  And when you throw into the mix radical Shia and radical Sunni trying to gain power and topple moderate governments, with energy which they could use to blackmail Great Britain or America, or anybody else who doesn't kowtow to them, and a nuclear weapon in the hands of a government that is -- would be using that nuclear weapon to blackmail to achieve political objectives -- historians will look back and say, how come Bush and Blair couldn't see the threat?  That's what they'll be asking.  And I want to tell you, I see the threat and I believe it is up to our governments to help lead the forces of moderation to prevail.  It's in our interests.

 

And one of the things that has changed for American foreign policy is a threat overseas can now come home to hurt us, and September the 11th should be a wake-up call for the American people to understand what happens if there is violence and safe havens in a part of the world.  And what happens is people can die here at home.

 

So, no, I appreciate your question.  As you can tell, I feel strongly about making sure you understand that I understand it's tough.  But I want you to know, sir, that I believe we'll prevail.  I know we have to adjust to prevail, but I wouldn't have our troops in harm's way if I didn't believe that, one, it was important, and, two, we'll succeed.  Thank you.

 

Q    Prime Minister, if I may, briefly --

 

PRIME MINISTER BLAIR:  You're not going to do a follow up, are you?  (Laughter.)

 

Q    No, no, forgive me.  I just wanted to ask you about your Middle East mission, if I may.  Given your trip to the Middle East, isn't the truth of what the Arab-Israeli solution -- sorry, isn't the truth of what the Arab-Israeli problem requires is not, however hard you try, another visit by a British Prime Minister, but the genuine commitment -- and not merely in words  -- of an American administration that's serious about doing something about it?

 

PRIME MINISTER BLAIR:  Well, I believe that we have that commitment.  I mean, you're right in this sense, there would be no point in me going unless it was part of a mission that was supported fully by our American allies.  But it is -- we agree -- the vision -- I mean, the one thing that I find very frustrating about the situation, Israel-Palestine, is that there is actually an agreement as to the solution we want to see, which is a two- state solution.  And, really, everybody is agreed to that.  So the question is how do you get there?

 

And there are critical obstacles that stand in the way of that that require detailed attention and management, and it's not merely myself who's going to be engaged in this, of course, but as you know, the Secretary of State has been very closely involved in this.  She's been visiting the region recently, and I know is, again, fully committed to it.

 

I think what is interesting from what you have from this today is an acceptance and, indeed, a clear belief that you look at these issues together.  And there is a -- there is a kind of whole vision about how we need to proceed that links what happens inside Iraq with what happens outside Iraq.  And again, I think that the Baker-Hamilton report put this very simply and very clearly.

 

You know, there is -- there is no way that you ever succeed in these things unless you just carry on trying, and that's what we will do.  And one of the things I learned in all the long years that you followed me in relation to Northern Ireland is that you just -- you don't accept that you ever give up.  You just carry on doing it.  And I am sure that it is possible to resolve this, and I also do believe that if we do, then it would -- it would send a signal of massive symbolic power across the world.

 

PRESIDENT BUSH:  Steve.

 

Q    Thank you, sir.  You mentioned Iran and Syria as part of this regional effort.  Are you willing to engage with them directly as the report -- as the report recommends?  And back to the issue of the troops, is it possible to get them out of Iraq by early 2008, as the report talks about?  And when do you hope to have this report?  Sorry to --

 

PRESIDENT BUSH:  How many questions do you got, Steve?

 

Q    Sorry about that.  (Laughter.)

 

PRESIDENT BUSH:  You mean, when -- when do I hope to announce the strategy, is that what you're talking about?  After I get the reports.  And Baker-Hamilton is a really important part of our considerations.  But we want to make sure the military gets their point of view in.  After all, a lot of what we're doing is a military operation.  I want to make sure the State Department is able to help us analyze the strategy to make sure that we've got the right political emphasis, not only inside Iraq but outside Iraq.

 

I appreciate the Prime Minister's answer to this lad -- we call them lads, in Great Britain -- lad's question, is that --(laughter.)

 

PRIME MINISTER BLAIR:  You've made a friend, I think, there.  (Laughter.)  It's a long time since anyone's called him that.  (Laughter.)

 

PRESIDENT BUSH:  You got to understand -- well --

 

Q    He calls me a number of other things. 

 

PRESIDENT BUSH:  Our Secretary of State is very much engaged in this issue.  She works hard on the issue.  And as much as we'd like to impose the settlement, it's important for you to understand, sir, that the Israelis and the Palestinians must accept responsibility and must sign off on an agreement.  It's kind of easy to sit back and say, okay, we're going to impose this on them.  We can help, and we will help.

 

So Steve, that's -- we're spending a lot -- I know, I'm heading back.  We're spending a lot of time considering the new course, because the decisions that we make affect lives.  They affect the lives of our soldiers, they affect the lives of the Iraqi people.  But one thing is central to this new course, and that is the Iraqi government must be given more responsibility so they can prove to their people and to their allies that they're capable of making hard decisions necessary for their young democracy to move forward.

 

 

[End of part 1 of 2; continued at Part 2 of 2]