TOPICS > Politics

President Bush in Europe

May 23, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT


MARGARET WARNER: While President Bush’s speech to the German parliament touched on many points, its main thrust was urging America’s European allies to support a wider war on terrorism.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Those who despise human freedom will attack it on every continent. Those who seek missiles and terrible weapons are also familiar with the map of Europe. Like the threats of another era, this threat cannot be appeased or cannot be ignored. By being patient, relentless and resolute, we will defeat the enemies of freedom. (Applause)

MARGARET WARNER: But even as applause broke out, so did heckling. (Hecklers shouting) The President continued.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: We are meeting modern threats with the greatest resources of wealth and will ever assembled by free nations. We defend not just America or Europe; we are defending civilization itself. Applause) The authors of terror are seeking nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. Regimes that sponsor terror are developing these weapons and the missiles to deliver them. If these regimes and their terrorist allies were to perfect these capabilities, no inner voice of reason, no hint of conscience would prevent their use. Wishful thinking might bring comfort, but not security. Call this a strategic challenge; call it, as I do, “axis of evil”; call it by any name you choose, but let us speak the truth.

MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Bush promised a “reasoned and focused response,” and added:

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: America will consult closely with our friends and allies at every stage. But make no mistake about it: We will and we must confront this conspiracy against our liberty and against our lives.

MARGARET WARNER: The President also reaffirmed American solidarity with Europe, despite the tensions.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: The magnitude of our shared responsibilities makes our disagreements look so small. And those who exaggerate our differences play a shallow game and hold a simplistic view of our relationship. (Applause) America and the nations in Europe are more than military allies; we’re more than trading partners; we are heirs to the same civilization.

MARGARET WARNER: Earlier, the President met with the German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder. Reporters asked the Chancellor if he, too, wanted to see a leadership change in Iraq. Schroeder replied that he and the President agreed the first step was to pressure Saddam Hussein to readmit United Nations weapons inspectors.

GERHARD SCHROEDER, Chancellor, Germany (Translated): We then obviously also talked about the question as to what should happen in the future, what could happen in the future. I have taken notice of the fact that His Excellency, the President, does think about all possible alternatives. But despite what people occasionally present here in rumors, there are no concrete military plans of attack on Iraq.

MARGARET WARNER: The Chancellor said the President assured him there would be consultations before any military action was taken. Mr. Bush was asked if he agreed with Schroeder’s description of their conversation.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: First, what the Chancellor told you is true.

SPOKESMAN: Of course it is.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I’m surprised anybody would doubt your word, Chancellor. (Laughter) Yes, look, I mean, he knows my position, and the world knows my position about Saddam Hussein. He’s a dangerous man. It’s dangerous to think of a scenario in which a country like Iraq would team up with an al-Qaida-type organization, particularly if and when they have the capacity, had the capacity, or when they have the capacity to deliver weapons of mass destruction via ballistic missile. And that’s a threat. It’s a threat to Germany, it’s a threat to America, it’s a threat to civilization itself. And we’ve got to deal with it. We can play like it’s not there, we can hope it goes away, but that’s not going to work. That’s not going to make us safer. And I told the Chancellor that I have no war plans on my desk, which is the truth, and that we’ve got to use all means at our disposal to deal with Saddam Hussein. And I appreciate the German Chancellor’s understanding of the threats of weapons of mass destruction, and they’re real. Now, I know some would play like they’re not real. I’m telling you, they’re real. And if you love freedom, it’s a threat to freedom. And so we’re going to deal with it, and we’ll deal with it in a respectful way. The Chancellor said that I promised consultations. I will say it again: I promise consultations with our close friend and ally.

MARGARET WARNER: In the afternoon, Mr. Bush flew to Moscow to begin a three-day visit to Russia.

MARGARET WARNER: For more on President Bush’s day in Berlin, we’re joined by “New York Times” White House correspondent David Sanger. He just arrived in Moscow, where Mr. Bush will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin tomorrow. David, you have heard this President speak to many audiences about terrorism. Did this speech today strike you as pretty much his standard pitch, or was there something specially tailored to this German audience?

DAVID SANGER, The New York Times: Well, it was variations on some very familiar themes. But the variations were interesting, Margaret. First of all, you had to understand the setting here, which was that the President was in the Reichstag; the building has just been restored, and of course it was burned just as Hitler came to power in 1933. So the whole speech, the whole setting was sort of infused with the worst moment of German’s history in the last century. And the President played off of that very skillfully, I thought, at some moments. He made the argument that the terrorists that everybody is facing today pose a threat similar to the kind of threat that was posed during World War II by the Nazis and also during the Cold War. At one point, he said that while these terrorists are in opposition to anybody who favors freedom and so forth, he compared it to the Nazi regime and their desire for racial purity. Those are pretty strong words to be using inside the Reichstag, and I think that it had some effect on his audience.

MARGARET WARNER: Yet he also seemed to stress how much he felt U.S. and Europe had in common as civilizations.

DAVID SANGER: He did. And this was the delicate balance that he had to strike in this speech. On the one hand he had to thank Germany for its many contributions since September 11, for sending the air patrols to the United States, for contributing troops to Afghanistan. This was a huge change for Germany, which of course, had never sent troops into battle since World War II. On the other hand, he had to say, “Look, this isn’t enough. I’m a wartime President, and this is just the beginning of a war,” to a group of people who are quite skeptical, who believe that he is trying to use this as a license to get the rest of his agenda done, starting with an attack on Iraq. And at the press conference today, he took the Iraq issue head-on and said, “Look, if they get weapons of mass destruction and pass them on to terrorists, they’re going to turn to Europe as quickly as they turned to the United States to use those weapons.”

MARGARET WARNER: How was his speech… how was he received by the German legislators?

DAVID SANGER: It was polite, but it certainly wasn’t enthusiastic. And then there was a fascinating moment at the welcome. The President came into the chamber, which is this very modern glass and steel chamber set into the middle of this 100- year-old Reichstag Building. And the President of the Bundestag, who is a member of Chancellor Schroeder’s party, stood up, welcomed him, and then went on to say, “we thank you for building a coalition against terrorism, but you have to understand it’s got to be more than that.” You need coalitions on the Kyoto protocol for global warming, to combat global warming, which the President had said just minutes before he had no interest in signing. And he went on to discuss the International Criminal Court. He touched all of the various issues in which the United States and the Europeans are at odds right now. The President, in his speech, skirted around all of those issues.

MARGARET WARNER: He did, in his speech, however, talk about Russia.

DAVID SANGER: He did, Margaret, and this was fascinating. It was a theme of reassurance. He was saying, Russia has made a fundamental choice, and the fundamental choice is to join the West, to come closer to Europe and NATO. And this, of course, was not a decided issue when the President came to office. For a while, you’ll remember, the Russians even flirted with the idea of forming some kind of alliance with the Chinese, where they would counter the American superpower presence. The President made the argument that the choice that President Putin has made is a permanent one. Of course, that remains to be seen. We don’t know how well this will work out, and that’s really what the next few days of this trip are all about, trying to cement that.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, even before he left Germany, he did have some very tough words for Russia about its helping Iran build a nuclear power plant. Tell us about that.

DAVID SANGER: Well, this was a fascinating moment. It wasn’t really mentioned in the speech, but during the press conference, one of the American reporters raised the issue of what he’s going to say to President Putin about Russia’s support for Iran’s nuclear power program. Now, of course, the United States argues that these exports, which Russia has been doing for many years, are, in fact, creating the hazard that the technology will be diverted for weapons purposes. The President was very tough on Iran. He said it was an extreme fundamentalist government. He made it clear that he did not trust them, and that President Putin had to stop these exports, and that he would make that case when he arrived here. He hadn’t even gotten here by the time that the Russian foreign minister, Ivanov, had sort of shot back and said, “Look, you’ve misunderstood this issue consistently, and we’re not going to change.” And that did not exactly set the kind of tone that I think either President– President Putin or President Bush– wants for tomorrow morning.

MARGARET WARNER: Well, we’ll see how it goes. Thank you, David, again.

DAVID SANGER: Thank you, Margaret.