Interview With CNN International
Tomi Makagabo. Mr. President, thank you very much for speaking with us, and welcome to South Africa.
The President. Thanks. Thanks for having me.
Ms. Makagabo. If we could begin with the issue of Liberia, President Charles Taylor in particular. You said he needs to step down; he needs to leave the country. The U.S., along with other west African countries, are busy negotiating the whole issue. What are the discussions and options that are being put on the table?
The President. Well, I'm glad you brought up the departure of Charles Taylor. In our judgment, he needs to go in order to create the conditions necessary for a peaceful solution to this difficult situation occurs.
You know, look, we're talking to ECOWAS countries right now to determine whether or not the—what the nature of a peacekeeping force might look like. I'm the kind of person that likes to know all the facts before I make a decision. We've got special ties to Liberia. There are historical ties to the United States. That's why we are involved in this issue, and I am going to look at all the options to determine how best to bring peace and stability.
One thing has to happen. That's Mr. Taylor needs to leave, and I've been outspoken on that. Mr. Colin Powell has been outspoken on that. And I think most of the people involved with this issue understand that that's important, that he do leave.
Ms. Makagabo. You said that he needs to leave. Does that mean that if those negotiations fail and President Charles Taylor refuses to go, that you will send troops to remove him from office and——
The President. Well, first of all, I refuse to accept the negative. I understand it's your job to try to put that forth. I believe he'll listen. And until he doesn't listen, then we can come back and talk about the issue. In other words, I hope he does listen, and I'm convinced he will listen.
Ms. Makagabo. And should he not?
The President. No, you—I'm convinced he will listen and make the decision—the right decision, if he cares about his country.
President's Upcoming Visit to Africa
Ms. Makagabo. Let's talk about, then, your trip to Africa. It hasn't necessarily— it has only recently become more apparent, this particular administration's interest in African affairs and involvement in what's going on in the country.
The President. Yes, can I stop you there? That's not true. As a matter of fact, from the very beginning of my administration, I've been very much involved with African affairs. I've met over 22 African leaders. And I just want to make—correct the record before——
Ms. Makagabo. Absolutely.
The President. ——disabuse you of that misinformation, because Africa has been a very important part of my administration's foreign policy.
Ms. Makagabo. However, many people will say that has only become more apparent to them, perhaps not necessarily to the administration, but more apparent, outwardly, that this administration is becoming involved in African affairs. My question to you, then, is if that is the case and looking at the history which you've pointed out, why now? Why this visit now?
The President. Why am I going now? I thought it was important to go before my first term was over to show the importance of Africa to my administration's foreign policy. And besides going on a trip— I mean, trips are fine, but what's more important is policy.
And I proposed a Millennium Challenge Account, which will, in my judgment, affect the lives of African citizens in an incredibly positive way, which says that in return for aid—and we're increasing the amount of aid available—governments actually have to make decisions which will be positive on behalf of their people, such as educating their people or providing health care for their people, not to steal the money; in other words, don't focus on elite but focus on the people themselves, create the conditions necessary for market growth.
I promoted AGOA. Now, I didn't invent AGOA; that happened in my predecessor's time. But I promoted the extension of AGOA, which was the trade agreements between the African Continent and the United States, which has been incredibly beneficial for a lot of countries and a lot of people on the African Continent.
I proposed an AIDS initiative because I believe it's very important for the United States to not only show its muscle to the world but also its heart. And the AIDS initiative, in our judgment, when implemented, will help affect the lives of thousands of people who are suffering from an incredibly—a pandemic that is actually destroying life. And it is—it's sad for us.
And so my administration is not only, you know, good on trips and meetings but more important, fundamental policy. And I think that's important.
Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction
Ms. Makagabo. One policy that your administration hasn't necessarily agreed on with many African countries is the question of Iraq and the war in Iraq. Can you give us a sense of how close the administration feels you are to finding those weapons of mass destruction and banned weapons?
The President. Oh, sure. Yes, there's no doubt in my mind he had a weapons program. He was—he used them. Remember, he was the guy that gassed his own people. Those were weapons of mass destruction he used on his own people. No doubt. We found a biological lab, the very same lab that had been banned by the United Nations. It will be a matter of time.
Let me talk about Iraq, and I appreciate you bringing it up. If I think something that needs to be done to enhance the security of the American people, I'll do it. You see, that's my most important job, is to protect the security of America.
Secondly, I believe in freedom for people, and I suffer when I hear the stories of what took place inside of Iraq, the mass graves that have been discovered, the torture chambers, the jails for children. And the Iraqi people are going to benefit mightily from the actions of the United States and a lot of other nations, because they'll be free. And we've been there for about 90 days. And the world is such that they expect democracy to have occurred yesterday. It's going to take a while for a free, democratic Iraq to evolve. But it's going to happen. And history will show you what a—it will show you or the skeptics that we are actually correct in our assessment of Mr. Saddam Hussein.
Ms. Makagabo. All right, Mr. President. I think that's where I'm going to have to leave it.
The President. Thank you very much for coming. Hope to see you in South Africa.
NOTE: The interview was taped at 1:33 p.m. in the Map Room at the White House for later broadcast. In his remarks, the President referred to former President Saddam Hussein of Iraq. A tape was not available for verification of the content of this interview.
George W. Bush, Interview With CNN International Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/214864