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President Bush on Iraqi President Ghazi Mashal Ajil al-Yawer

June 1, 2004 at 12:00 AM EST
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KWAME HOLMAN: The president chose the White House Rose Garden to offer his unqualified support for Iraq’s newly named government.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: The naming of the new interim government brings us one step closer to realizing the dream of millions of Iraqis; a fully sovereign nation with a representative government that protects their rights and serves their needs. Many challenges remain. Today’s violence underscores that freedom in Iraq is opposed by violent men who seek the failure not only of this interim government, but of all progress toward liberty. The will of Iraqis and our coalition is firm. We will not be deterred by violence and terror. We will stand together and ensure that the future of Iraq is a future of freedom.

KWAME HOLMAN: Mr. Bush then took a number of questions from reporters.

REPORTER: Do you think there’s going to be more violence as the turnover occurs?

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Yes, I believe there will be more violence, because there’s still violent people who want to stop progress. Their strategy hasn’t changed. They want to kill innocent lives to shake our will and to discourage the people inside Iraq. That’s what they want to do. And they’re not going to shake our will.

KWAME HOLMAN: The president was asked about the process for picking the new leaders, which was led by U.N. Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, with the assistance of U.S. Ambassador Paul Bremer.

REPORTER: Sir, were you surprised at the way the governing council took command of the selection process? Are you concerned that the new president has had some criticisms of the United States?

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: From my perspective, Mr. Brahimi made the decisions and brought their names to the governing council. As I understand it, the governing council simply opined about names. It was Mr. Brahimi’s selections. And Ambassador Bremer and Ambassador Blackwell were instructed by me to work with Mr. Brahimi. As we say in American sports parlance, he was the quarterback. And it’s a… seemed like a good group to me.

REPORTER: Mr. President, some will see the presence of Iraqi exiles, some of whom have received money from the United States government in the past, as proof in their minds that this is a puppet government of the United States. Could you answer that criticism and explain what role that you had in the names that have been selected?

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Yeah. I had no role. I mean, occasionally somebody said this person may be interested or that, but I had no role in picking– zero. Secondly, in terms of whether or not our government helped, we did help some of the figures now in the interim government. We helped them because they were fierce anti-Saddam people. We helped their organizations, which were… which believed that the tyranny of Saddam was bad for the Iraqi people.

Now it’s going to be up to the leaders to prove their worth to the Iraqi citizens. In other words, the leaders are going to have to show the Iraqis that they’re independent, smart, capable, nationalistic, and believe in the future of Iraq. And our job is to work with them. One of the interesting things I’ve heard, Terry, from other leaders are, “are you really going to pass full sovereignty?” And the answer is yes, we’re going to pass full sovereignty. And the Iraqi government will need the help of a lot of people, and we’re willing to be a participant in helping them get to the elections.

BILL PLANTE, CBS News: Mr. President, if the decision-making is now truly in the hands of the Iraqis, will extend to them asking us to leave, pull out U.S. troops? Will you accede to that if they ask?

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, whatever it takes to get the mission done. And we look forward to working with the Iraq prime minister and the Iraq defense minister to help secure the country. As you know, circumstances change on the ground. And I’ve told the American people and our commanders that we’ll be flexible and we’ll meet those circumstances as they arise. And what is important for the American people to know is that if a troop is in harm’s way, that troop… the chain of command of that troop will be to a U.S. Military commander.

In terms of the strategy as to how to help Iraq become secure enough to have free elections, we’ll work closely with the new Iraqi government to achieve those objectives. There may be times when the Iraqis say, “we can handle this ourselves; get out of the way. We’re plenty capable of moving in to secure a town or secure a situation.” And there may be times when they say, “you know, we’ve got our hands full. Why don’t you join us in an operation?” And we will collaborate closely with the new defense ministry. It’s a change of attitude in Iraq in that they now have got the decision-making capabilities.

Mr. Allawi today, I repeat, stood up in front of the world, said two things that caught my attention. One, he thanked America, and I appreciated that a lot. And I think the American people needed to hear that– that in the new leader there is this understanding and appreciation for the sacrifices that our country has been through. He also said, “we look forward to working with the coalition and forces to help secure the country.

MARK SMITH, Associated Press: Mr. President, can I ask about one of the things that the new prime minister in Iraq has said about your administration? He said that many of the postwar problems in Iraq have been from lack of proper planning; that America bears direct responsibility for that. How do you answer that?

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I would answer him that, you know, we had a plan in place. We succeeded in making sure that the oil flow continues, so that he as prime minister has now got roughly 2.5 million barrels a day of Iraqi oil for the benefit of the Iraqi people — that there wasn’t major disruptions of food, so that people didn’t starve. In other words, we were very successful in certain things. But there is no question that the security situation on the ground is hard and tough, and my comment to him was, we will be flexible and wise and work with him to continue to secure Iraq; that our mission is his mission, which is to get to elections so the country can be a free country.

KWAME HOLMAN: The president also said he hoped the U.N. Security Council quickly would pass a new resolution throwing its support behind the transition.