Bush-Blair press conference on Middle East (12 November 2004)
Transcript of President Bush's and Prime Minister Tony Blair's press conference, as provided by Federal News Service
PRESIDENT BUSH: Thank you. Welcome.
I was pleased to welcome a statesman and a friend back to the White House. Prime Minister Blair is a visionary leader. I've come to know him as a man of unshakable convictions. America's alliance with Great Britain has never been stronger, and we're working closely every day to spread that freedom that leads to peace.
Prime Minister Blair and I also share a vision of a free, peaceful, a democratic broader Middle East. That vision must include a just and peaceful resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict based on two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.
Our sympathies are with the Palestinian people as they begin a period of mourning, yet the months ahead offer a new opportunity to make progress toward a lasting peace.
Soon the Palestinians will choose a new president. This is the first step in creating lasting democratic political institutions through which a free Palestinian people will elect local and national leaders. We're committed to the success of these elections and we stand ready to help. We look forward to working with a Palestinian leadership that is committed to fighting terror and committed to the cause of democratic reform.
We'll mobilize the international community to help revive the Palestinian economy, to build up Palestinian security institutions to fight terror, to help the Palestinian government fight corruption and to reform the Palestinian political system and build democratic institutions. We'll also work with Israeli and Palestinian leaders to complete the disengagement plan from Gaza and part of the West Bank. These steps, if successful, will lay the foundation for progress in implementing the road map and then lead to final status negotiations.
We seek a democratic, independent and viable state for the Palestinian people. We are committed to the security of Israel as a Jewish state. These objectives, two states living side by side in peace and security, can be reached by only one path, the path of democracy, reform and the rule of law.
All that we hope to achieve together requires that America and Europe remain close partners. We are the pillars of the free world. We face the same threats and share the same belief in freedom and the rights of every individual.
My second term, I will work to deepen our transatlantic ties to nations of Europe. I intend to visit Europe as soon as possible after my inauguration. My government will continue to work through the NATO alliance and with the European Union to strengthen cooperation between Europe and America.
America applauds the success of NATO and EU enlargement and welcomes the stability and prosperity that that enlargement brings. We must apply the combined strength and moral purpose of Europe and America to effectively fight terror and overcome poverty and disease and despair, to advance human dignity and to advance freedom.
In all that lies ahead in the defense of freedom and the advance of democracy and the spread of prosperity, America, the United Kingdom and all of Europe must act together.
Mr. Prime Minister, welcome.
PRIME MIN. BLAIR: Thank you, Mr. President. And thank you for your gracious welcome to me here in the White House. And once again, many congratulations on your reelection.
There are three major issues that arise. The United States and the United Kingdom have stood together since September the 11th, 2001, in order to combat this new form of global terrorism that we face.
And the three things that we can do most to make sure that we defeat this terrorism, apart from being ever vigilant on security -- but first of all, to bring democracy to Afghanistan, which we are doing, as the successful election of President Karzai showed, and that is quite a magnificent tribute, not just to the courage of the Afghan people but actually also to the power of democracy.
Secondly, we have to complete our mission in Iraq, make sure that Iraq is a stable and a democratic country, and I have no doubt at all that whatever the difficulties the terrorists and insurgents, supporters of Saddam Hussein may pose for us, that we will overcome those difficulties -- ourselves, the multinational force together with the Iraqi government -- and ensure that Iraq can be that democratic, stable state that the vast majority of Iraqis I know will want to see.
And the third thing is, as the president rightly said a moment or two ago, we meet at a -- at a crucial time, where it is important that we revitalize and reinvigorate the search for a genuine, lasting and just peace in the Middle East. I would like to repeat my condolences to the Palestinian people at this time. As you will have seen, we have set out the steps that we believe are necessary to get into a process that will lead to the two-state solution that we want to see, and I think those steps are very clear.
They are, first of all, making sure that we set out a clear vision. That clear vision was articulated by President Bush some time ago, repeated by him today, of a two-state solution; two democratic states living side by side together in peace.
The second thing is we need to support those Palestinian elections. That is a chance for the first beginnings of democracy to take hold on the Palestinian side, so it's important that we support it.
Thirdly, however, if we want a viable Palestinian state, we need to make sure that the political, the economic and the security infrastructure of that state is shaped and helped to come into being. We will mobilize international opinion and the international community in order to do that.
The fourth thing is the -- Prime Minister Sharon's plan for disengagement is important. I think we recognized that when we were here at the White House back in April of this year. That disengagement plan is now going forward. It's important that we support it.
And then, on the basis of this, we are able, in accordance with the principles of the road map, to get back into final status negotiation so that we have that two-state solution. And I think that there is every possibility that we can do this with the energy and the will, and the recognition that in the end it is only if the two states that we want to see living side by side are indeed democratic states where the rule of law and human rights are respected in each of them that a just end peace could be secured.
I would also like to support very strongly what the president's just said about the transatlantic alliance.
Again, I think there is a tremendous desire and willingness on the part of certainly our partners in the European Union to make sure that that alliance is strong. It's necessary for the security of the world. It's necessary for us to be able to tackle many of the problems that confront us.
I look forward to working with the president over these coming months in order to try and secure that progress that we have laid out for you today. And also of course we had the opportunity to discuss the upcoming G-8 presidency of the United Kingdom, and we intend to take those issues forward as well.
So, Mr. President, once again, many, many thanks.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Sure.
PRIME MIN. BLAIR: Thank you for your alliance and for your leadership at this time.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Welcome. Thanks.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you. With Yasser Arafat's death, what specific steps can Israel take to revive peace negotiations? And do you believe that Israel should implement a freeze on West Bank settlement expansion?
PRESIDENT BUSH: I believe that the responsibility for peace is going to rest with the Palestinian people's desire to build a democracy and Israel's willingness to help them build a democracy. I know we have responsibility, as free nations, to set forth a strategy that will help the Palestinian people head toward democracy. I don't think there will ever be lasting peace until there is a free, truly democratic society in the Palestinian territory that becomes a state. And therefore, the responsibility rests with both the Palestinian people and the leadership which emerges, with the Israelis to help that democracy grow and with the free world to put the strategy in place that will help the democracy grow.
PRIME MIN. BLAIR: James?
Q James Smith, Financial Times. Mr. President, can you say today that it is your firm intention that by the end of your second term in office it is your goal that there should be two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side?
PRESIDENT BUSH: I think it is fair to say that I believe we've got a great chance to establish a Palestinian state, and I intend to use the next four years to -- to spend the capital of the United States on -- on such a state.
I believe it is in the interests of the world that a truly free state develop. I know it is in the interests of the Palestinian people that they can live in a society where they can express their opinion freely, a society where they can educate their children without hate, a society in which they can realize their dreams if they happen to be, you know, an entrepreneur. I know it's in Israel's interests that a free state evolve on her border.
There's no other way to have a lasting peace, in my judgment, unless -- unless we all work to help develop the institutions necessary for a state to emerge; civil society based upon justice, free speech, free elections; the right for people to express themselves freely. The first step of that is going to be the election of a new president, and my fervent hope is that new president embraces the notion of a democratic state.
You know, I hate to put artificial time frames on things. Unfortunately, I've got one on my existence as president -- it's not artificial, it's actually real. And I'd like to see it done in four years. I think it is possible. I think it is possible. I think it is impossible to think that the president of the United States or the prime minister of Great Britain can impose our vision. I think it's unrealistic to say, well, Bush wants it done, or Blair wants it done, therefore it will happen. But I think it is very possible that it can happen because I believe people want to live in a free society, and our job is to help it happen.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. Prime Minister Blair wants an international conference on the Middle East. What has to happen before you would sign on to that? And will you name a U.S. envoy? And what would you like to accomplish on this Europe trip that you're planning?
PRESIDENT BUSH: Yeah. Let's see here --
Q (Off mike.) (Laughter.)
Q Prime Minister Blair's idea about an international conference.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Yes?
Q And sending a U.S. envoy to the Middle East.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Right. In the spirit of the last question, we'll do what it takes to get a peace. And the conference, what the prime minister and I discussed last night is do not we have an obligation to develop a strategy? And the answer is absolutely we have an obligation. And one way to do that is to include the Quartet, to bring nations together and say here's what it takes to help the Palestinians develop a state that is truly free.
And, you know, I'm all for conferences just so long as the conferences produce something. And we had a long discussion about whether or not a conference could produce a viable strategy that we could then use as a go-by for our own obligations as well as the obligations of the Palestinians for them to have their own state. And the answer is, if that conference will do that, you bet I'm a big supporter.
But one thing is for certain; we are going to develop a strategy so that once the elections are over, we will be able to say here's how we will help you. If you want to be helped, here's what we're willing to do. If you choose not to be helped, if you decide you don't want a free, democratic society, there's nothing we can do. If you think you can have peace without democracy, again, I think you'll find that -- I can only speak for myself, that I will be extremely doubtful that will ever happen.
I've seen it work too many times -- tried too many times.
Yeah, there's going to be people around who say the Palestinians can't develop a democracy; it's impossible for them to live in a free society. I strongly disagree with that. And so the whole premise of this strategy that we will outline is all based toward that vision of a free and truly democratic society emerging.
See, what's going to happen is when that happens there will be great trust developed between Israel and the Palestinian people. Free societies are able societies able to develop trust between each other, and there's clearly a lack of trust right now. And so, yeah -- I mean, we'll do that what it takes to put a strategy in place and advance it and call upon other nations to work with us.
PRIME MIN. BLAIR: Yeah, I mean, that's absolutely right. I mean, what we will do is anything that is necessary to make the strategy work. The important thing is that, first of all, there's got to be an agreement as to what a viable Palestinian state means, and what we're really saying this morning is that that viable state has to be a democratic state.
The second thing is how do we get there, how do we enable the Palestinians to get there? We will do whatever it takes to help build support for that concept -- to work through the details of it and make sure that it can actually be brought into being.
But the bottom line has got to be that if you want to secure Israel, and you want a viable Palestinian state, those are two states living side by side and they are democratic states living side by side. And we've got the chance over the next few months with the election of a new Palestinian president to put the first marker down on that.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Oh, let's see here. Cochrane. John? (Laughter.) Huh?
Q I'm totally shocked. (Laughter.)
PRESIDENT BUSH: That's why I called on you. (Laughs, laughter.)
Q You know, you talk about democracy being so necessary. There are those who would say there is sometimes a harsh peace of a dictator. What if the Palestinian state comes up with somebody who is not a democrat but is willing to have peace with the Israelis?
And let me transfer that to the Iraqis as well. What if the Iraqis come up with somebody who's not friendly to the United States, is not a democrat, but it's peaceful? Is this something you can live with?
PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, first of all, if there's an election, the Iraqis will have come up with somebody who is duly elected. (Chuckles.) In other words, democracy will have spoken. And that person is going to have to listen to the people, not to the whims of -- of, you know, a dictator; not to their own, you know, desires, personal desires. The great thing about democracy is you actually go out and ask the people for a vote, as you might have noticed recently, and the people get to decide, and they get to decide the course of their future.
So it's -- it's a contradiction in terms to say a dictator, you know, gets elected. The person who gets elected is chosen by the people. And so I'm not, you know --
Q If he's the elected leader, if he --
PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, you can be elected and then, you know, be a strongman, and then you get voted out, so long as you end up honoring democracy. But if you're -- if you're true to democracy, you'll listen to the people, not to your own desires. If you're true to democracy, you'll do what the people want you to do. That's the difference between democracy and a tyrant.
And the Palestinians may decide to elect a real strong personality, but we'll hold their feet to fire to make sure that democracy prevails, that there are free elections. And if they don't -- the people of the Palestinian territory don't like the way this person is responding to their needs, they will vote him or her out.
And the reason why I'm so strong on democracy is, democracies don't go to war with each other. And the reason why is, the people of most societies don't like war, and they understand what war means. And one of these days, the people of the Palestinian -- the Palestinians will realize that there is a bright future, because freedom is taking hold -- a future that enables their children to get educated; a future in which they can start their businesses and a future -- which they're certain that the money's going into the treasury of their government, is being spent fairly, in a transparent way; a future in which corruption is not the norm; a future in which rule of law prevails. And that leads to a peaceful society.
I've got great faith in democracies to promote peace. And -- and that's why I'm such a strong believer that the way forward in the Middle East, the broader Middle East, is to promote democracy.
I readily concede there are skeptics, people who say democracy is not possible in certain societies. But remember, that was said right after World War II, with Japan. And today one of the people that I work closest with is my friend Prime Minister Koizumi. And it's -- it's -- it's remarkable to me that we sit down at the same table, talking about keeping the peace in places like North Korea, and it really wasn't all that long ago, in the march of history, that we were enemies. Prime minister knows Koizumi. He is -- he's -- he's a good man. And he's an ally, because democracy took hold in Japan.
And yet there was a lot of skeptics. When you look at the writings right after World War II, a lot of people said you're wasting your time to try to promote democracy in Japan. There were some, I suspect maybe in Great Britain and I know in America, that -- writing you're wasting your time to promote democracy in Germany after World War II.
And yet, fortunately, people who preceded us had great faith in liberty to transform societies. And that's what we're talking about is taking place. And it's hard, and it's difficult, particularly in a society like Iraq because the terrorists understand the stakes of freedom and they're willing to kill people in brutal fashion to stop it.
And I believe we have a duty and an obligation to work to make sure democracy takes hold. It's a duty to our own country. It's a duty to generations of Americans and the children of Great Britain to help secure the peace by promoting democratic societies.
PRIME MIN. BLAIR: First of all, I should say Koizumi is a good man not just because I know him, but -- (laughter) -- although that helps a lot, I think! (Laughter.)
But I think the person said something here that I really think is very, very important. In the politics -- when I was first a member of Parliament and making my way up the greasy pole and all the rest of it, there was a view in foreign policy that you dealt with countries on the basis of whatever attitude they had towards you, but really, whatever they did within their own country that was up to them and didn't really make a difference to your long-term relationship.
I think what we are learning today is that there is not stability of any true long-term kind without democratic rights for free people to decide their government. Now, that doesn't mean to say we try and interfere with every state around the world. But it does mean that there's been a shift, and I think a shift quite dramatically since 9/11, in the thinking that is informing our view of how we make progress.
That's why it wasn't enough to go into Afghanistan and root out al Qaeda or knock down the Taliban, we actually had to go there and say, no, we must replace that with a democratic form of government, because in the end, if we replace it simply with another dictator, then we'll get the same instability back.
That's why in Iraq we decided when Saddam was removed we didn't want another hard man coming in, another dictator.
Now, it's a struggle because democracy is hard to bring into countries that have never had it before. But I have no doubt at all that the Iraqi people, given the chance -- and indeed, you can see this in some of the local elections now down in the south of Iraq -- given the chance they want to elect their leaders. Why wouldn't they? I mean, why would they want a strong-arm leader who's going to have the secret police, you know, no freedom of speech, no free press, no human rights, no proper law courts? You know, the people want the freedom.
What we recognized, I think, today is that we're not going to have our security unless they get that freedom. So when we come to the issue of Israel and Palestine, I think what we are saying is we are going to work flat out to deliver this. But people have to understand that we can't deliver something unless the people whom it affects actually want it to happen. And we don't believe there will be a viable future for a state of Palestine unless it's based on certain key democratic principles.
Now, I think that's a tremendous thing, and I also think that in the end -- of course you're right. People can vote for the people they'd like to vote for in elections. Right? That's what democracy is about. I think we've got to have some faith though in the ability of ordinary people, you know, decent people to decide their own future. Because it's a curious thing. You look at all these Eastern European countries, Central-East European countries in the European Union now, just democracies over the last ten years -- fierce election debates, change of government, often difficult circumstances when the governments change. But you go to those countries and talk to the people there and their sense of liberation and their sense of self worth as a result of the freedom they have, that is the best testament to why it's sensible to have faith in democracy.
And you know, sometimes when people say well, it's -- you've got a Republican president, a progressive politician from across the water, but in my view, people from different sides of the political spectrum should be able to come together to argue that policy case because democracy is something that should unite us whatever political position we have.
Q David Chance from the Times in London. Mr. President, first, the prime minister is sometimes, perhaps unfairly, characterized in Britain as your poodle. I was wondering if that's the way you may see your relationship. (Light laughter.) And perhaps more seriously, do you feel for the --
PRIME MIN. BLAIR: Don't answer yes to that question -- (laughter) -- if you at all -- (inaudible) -- that would be difficult. (Laughs.)