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Remarks in Discussions With Secretary General Lord Robertson of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and an Exchange With Reporters in Rome, Italy

May 28, 2002

NATO-Russia Council Meeting

President Bush. This is a historic day.

[At this point, a delegation passed in front of President Bush.]

President Bush. So much for scripting every event. [Laughter]

Secretary General Lord Robertson. [Inaudible]

Q. Sir, is this an historic day? [Laughter]

President Bush. This is an historic morning. No, this is an historic day, and I want to thank Lord Robertson for such great leadership. He recognizes that a Europe whole and free and at peace is an important goal and one that will be more likely to be achieved for years to come by welcoming Russia west. And because of his vision and historic work, today we're signing a document that does just that.

So I want to thank you for your leadership. It's been impressive.

Secretary General Lord Robertson. Thank you very much, Mr. President. The President and I are exactly the same age, and what's happening today turns completely on its head everything we've lived with up to now, because here is the Russian President as an equal, round this table today. So I said that even the table plan is a revolution. [Laughter]

President Bush. That's right.

Situation in the Middle East

Q. Can I ask you about the Middle East, sir?

President Bush. Yes, go ahead.

Q. Your reaction to the suicide attack yesterday? And do you plan to bring a new initiative, maybe a timetable for peace talks to the conference next month—this summer?

President Bush. First, we strongly deplore and condemn terrorist violence. There are people that don't want peace, and therefore they're willing to kill to make sure there is no peace. And all of us, all of us involved in the process—Arab nations, the Palestinians, Americans, Europeans, Israelis—must do everything we can to stop terrorist action.

We're going forward with our plan. This week Burns will be going to the Middle East; Tenet will be going to the Middle East. Before Tenet leaves, I do want to go back and visit with him. That will be tomorrow morning. And at an appropriate time, we'll announce his schedule. There needs to be a—the implementation of institutions necessary for a state to evolve. And that's exactly what our strategy is. And that's what we're going to work on. And I call upon all nations to uphold their respective responsibilities, to see that that happens. And the first step is to make sure that there's a security force in place that keeps the security.

Modernizing the Military

Q. Lord Robertson, how concerned are you about the so-called capability gap between Europe and the United States in NATO? And how are you going to convince Europeans to boost their defense spending?

President Bush. Well, I should let Lord Robertson talk about that. But he and I have had this discussion a lot. He agrees with me that all militaries ought to be modernized. All militaries need to be modernized to meet the true threats of the 21st century. And we've got some ideas we'd like to share with him and NATO. This man understands the need to modernize militaries. And he's been a visionary in thinking—forward thinking—for NATO.

We've got to modernize our own military, too. As you know, we've been working with Congress to make sure that when we spend money, we spend money on weapons systems that are needed, not weapons systems that have got nice politics attached to it. And I'm speaking—starting with the Crusader. And I expect the Crusader not to be in the appropriations—defense appropriations.

Steve [Steve Holland, Reuters], last question.

President's Upcoming Meeting With Pope John Paul II

Q. Sir, what are you going to talk about with the Pope today, and are you going to raise the abuse scandal?

President Bush. I'm going to, first of all, listen carefully to what the Pope has to say. He's a man of enormous dignity and compassion. I will tell him that I am concerned about the Catholic Church in America; I'm concerned about its standing. And I say that because the Catholic Church is an incredibly important institution in our country. And I'm also going to mention the fact that I appreciate the Pope's leadership in trying to strengthen the Catholic Church in America.

[At this point, reporters started to leave the room.]

Modernizing the Military

President Bush. Wait, wait, wait. Modernization.

Secretary General Lord Robertson. I just want to first of all say that the responsibility and the credit for today's meeting, which by any measure is historic, lies with the President of the United States. He took an opportunity; he took the unique cooperation that happened after the 11th of September and made it into something that looks to the future, builds a base for future cooperation with what were the former adversaries. And I want to pay tribute to the President in this regard.

On capabilities, if this Alliance that the President has promoted so vigorously in his speeches this week is going to remain relevant and important to the people on both sides of the Atlantic, then there must be a true transatlantic bargain. The Europeans must do more—spend more and spend more wisely, and the United States must share technology and open export markets and encourage transatlantic reorganization.

So I occasionally stand on toes on both sides of the Atlantic, but that's why I was appointed, and I'll continue to do it until they get 19 people to agree to get rid of me. [Laughter]

Thank you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 10:25 a.m. at the Pratica di Mare Air Force Base. In his remarks, he referred to Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs William J. Burns. Secretary General Lord Robertson referred to President Vladimir Putin of Russia. A tape was not available for verification of the content of these remarks.

George W. Bush, Remarks in Discussions With Secretary General Lord Robertson of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and an Exchange With Reporters in Rome, Italy Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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