President Bush Discusses Foreign Relations in Press Conference
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JIM LEHRER: The president did cover a variety of topics today when he came to announce the Negroponte nomination. Here are further excerpts.
JENNIFER LOVEN, Associated Press: Can you tell us if you believe that Syria is linked to the assassination of Mr. Hariri? And further, how far are you willing to go to expel Syria from Lebanon and stop its involvement in Iraq?
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: First, we support the international investigation that will be going on to determine the killers of Mr. Hariri. And we’ve talked clearly to Syria about, one, making sure that their territory is not used by former Iraqi Baathists to spread havoc and kill innocent lives.
We expect them to find and turn over former regime –Saddam regime supporters, send them back to Iraq. And we’ve made it very clear from the beginning of my administration that Syria should not use its territory to support international terrorist groups.
We expect them to adhere to 1559, U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559, which calls for the removal of troops from Lebanon. And we expect them to help free and fair elections to take place in Lebanon. These are very reasonable requests.
JOHN ROBERTS, CBS News: Mr. President, I recall a conversation a small group of us had with a very senior administration official about a year ago.
In that conversation, the subject of Iran and Israel came up. And I’m just wondering, what’s your level of concern that if Iran does go down the road to building a nuclear weapon, that Israel will attack Iran to try to prevent that from happening?
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: First of all, Iran has made it clear they, you know, they don’t like Israel, to put it bluntly. And Israelis are concerned about whether or not Iran develops a nuclear weapon, as are we, as should everybody.
And so the objective is to solve this issue diplomatically, is to work with friends, like we’re doing with France, Europe and — I mean France, Germany, and Great Britain to continue making it clear to the Iranians that developing a nuclear weapon will be unacceptable.
But clearly, if I was the leader of Israel and I listened to some of the statements by the Iranian ayatollahs about — that regarded my security of my country, I’d be concerned about Iran having a nuclear weapon as well. And in that Israel is our ally, in that we’ve made a very strong commitment to support Israel, we will support Israel if there’s a — if their security is threatened.
NORAH O’DONNELL, NBC News: Mr. President, you’ve made clear that Social Security reform is your top legislative priority. The top Republican leader in the House has said you cannot jam change down people’s throat.
And in your interviews with the regional newspapers, you made very clear that you would not rule out raising the cap on payroll taxes. If you were to do that, why would that not be seen as going back on your pledge not to raise taxes?
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, I — a couple of questions there. One, I agree you can’t cram an issue down people’s throats. As a matter of fact, the best way to get this issue addressed in the halls of Congress is for the American people to say, “why don’t we come together and do something?”
And so the first priority of mine is to convince the people we have a problem. And I’m going to do that a lot. I fully understand, Norah, nothing will happen, I repeat, unless the Congress thinks there’s a problem to be solved. Once the Congress — once the people say to Congress, “there’s a problem, fix it,” then I have a duty to say to members of Congress, “bring forth your ideas.” Mark.
MARK SMITH, Associated Press Radio: You spoke about, you know, your desire to have a plan that includes private retirement accounts. Chairman Greenspan yesterday, although supportive of those accounts, expressed two concerns: That he was worried about rushing something into print, if you will; and also about the borrowing, the transition costs that would be required, trillions. He was especially worried about the latter. What is your response to that?
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I presume the reason he was talking about Social Security at all is because he understands that we’ve got about $11 trillion of — of debt owed to future generations of Americans that — therefore, we’d better do something about it now.
And the longer we wait, the more difficult the solution becomes. As you might remember in my state of the union, when I expressed my desire that Congress ought to think about personal accounts, I did say they ought to be phased in. And so — and that’s part of the transition cost issue.
And we look forward to working with Congress to come up with ways to make sure that the personal accounts, if Congress so chooses, and I hope they do, can be financed. And that’s part of the issue, and that’s part of the –part of the dialogue that is going to be needed once Congress understands we have a problem,
JIM LEHRER: The president has not yet laid out the details of his Social Security plan.