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Question and Answer: President Bush’s Press Conference

February 22, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT


PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Good afternoon. It’s been about a month now since I’ve taken office, and I thought it appropriate to come by and have a press conference. Before I do so though, I’d like to make a few comments. One of my missions has been to change the tone here in the nation’s capital, to encourage civil discourse. I think we’re making pretty good progress. I want to thank the Democrats and the Republicans who have been coming up to the White House to hear me make my case. I appreciate their responsiveness. I just hope they vote for my agenda that I’ll be submitting next week in a budget address to the Congress. This will be a responsible and fair budget that reflects the nation’s priorities. I invite the American people to listen to what I have to say to the Congress. I’ll be glad to answer any questions you have. Steve?

STEVE HOLLAND: Mr. President, do you think that U.S.-Russian relations have been damaged by the new spy case? And secondly, are the Russians showing any flexibility on a missile defense system?

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I intend to deal with Mr. Putin in a very straightforward way, to be up front with him on all matters. I am, of course, disturbed about the espionage, the alleged espionage that took place. I am mindful that there are people who don’t particularly care what America stands for and people who are interested in our secrets. Secondly, I was pleased to see comments from Russian leadership that talked about missile defense. It is… their words indicate that they recognize that there are new threats in the post-Cold War era, threats that require theater-based anti-ballistic missile systems. I felt those words were encouraging. When I meet with Mr. Putin, I’m going to talk to him about exactly what he meant by those words. We have no meeting set up yet, I might add, but I took that to be encouragement, Steve.

JOHN ROBERTS: Sir, the Secretary of State is departing for the Middle East Tomorrow. One of the things that he will be discussing with Middle East leaders is the possibility of modifying sanctions on Iraq. And I’m wondering what message he will take from this administration to leaders of the Middle East in the area of sanctions that matter, sanctions that are effective on the regime, but do not carry with them the same level of criticism the current sanctions have had, in that they affect the Iraqi civilian population more than they do the regime, sir?

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: We’re reviewing all policy in all regions of the world, and one of the areas we’ve been spending a lot of time on is the Persian Gulf and the Middle East. The Secretary of State is going to go listen to our allies as to how best to affect a policy, the primary goal of which will be to say to Saddam Hussein, “we won’t tolerate you developing weapons of mass destruction and we expect you to leave your neighbors alone.” I have said that the sanction regime is like Swiss cheese. That meant that they weren’t very effective. And we’re going to review the current sanction policy and review options as to how to make the sanctions work. But the primary goal is to make it clear to Saddam that we expect him to be a peaceful neighbor in the region, and we expect him not to develop weapons of mass destruction; and if we find him doing so, there will be a consequence.

TERRY MORAN: On the air strikes in Iraq, the pentagon is now saying that most of the bombs used in those strikes missed their targets. Given that, what is now your assessment of how successful those strikes were? How much danger do the remaining installations that we missed in those strikes pose to our forces? And would you hit them again if commanders in the field asked for authorization to do so?

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I… We had two missions. One was to send a clear signal to Saddam, and the other was to degrade the capacity of Saddam to injure our pilots. I believe we succeeded in both those missions. The bomb assessment damage report is ongoing, and I look forward to hear what the Pentagon has to say as they fully assess, completely assess the mission. And I will continue to listen to the commanders in the field. My job as commander-in-chief is to get input from the commanders in the field. And we will do everything needed to protect our pilots, to protect the men and women who wear the uniform.

JIM ANGLE: Mr. President, on Iraq, what is your understanding of the Chinese presence in Iraq, especially with regard to constructing military facilities? And do you see anything that you see as a violation of U.N. sanctions?

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, we’re concerned about Chinese presence in Iraq, and we are… my administration is sending the appropriate response to the Chinese. Yes, it’s troubling that they’d be involved in helping Iraq develop a system that will endanger our pilots.

REPORTER: And that is what they’re doing, sir? Are you convinced that it…

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, we think that may be the case. Let me just tell you this: It’s risen to the level where we’re going to send a message to the Chinese.

DAVID MORRIS: You’ve talked a lot about areas of the budget that are going to increase. Education; today you talked about Medicare, you’ve talked before a little bit about defense. You haven’t talked much about the areas where, to come in with a budget that’s going to be responsible, you’ll have to do some cuts.


DAVID MORRIS: Where might we see you take the red pen to the budget?

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Let me remind you that– and the people who are listening– that accounting in Washington is a little different than the way normal… I shouldn’t say normal people… the average person accounts. This is a town where if you don’t increase the budget by an expected number, it’s considered a cut. We’re going to slow the rate of growth of the budget down. It should come to no surprise to anybody that my budget is going to say loud and clear that the rate of growth of the budget– for example, from last year– was excessive. And so we’ll be slowing the rate of growth of the budgets down; and that, evidently, is a cut. In my parlance, it’s not a cut. When you increase spending, it’s not a cut. I will be glad to explain some of the slowdowns and some of the increases, and perhaps a decrease or two, after we put the budget out. Let me submit it on Tuesday and then I’ll be glad to answer your questions. Thank you for this. I look forward to this. I look forward to future press conferences.

REPORTER: Regularly?

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, yes, of course. (Laughter ) After all… oh, you don’t want to see me once a week. You’ll run out of questions.

REPORTER: Maybe twice.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Oh, twice. (Laughs ) ( laughter ) I’ll be running out of ties. (Laughter ) Thank you very much.