George W. Bush photo

Remarks Following Discussions With Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel and an Exchange With Reporters

October 16, 2002

The President. So, here's what's going to happen. I'm going to have an opening statement; the Prime Minister will make an opening statement. I will call on a person; he will call—the Press Secretary will call on a person. I will call another; he will. And that's it, two questions a side.

It's my honor to welcome the Prime Minister of our close friend to—back to the White House. We've just had a good discussion about peace and security, about prosperity. I first want to say that I understand that—what terror has done to economy. Terror has affected our economy. Terror has affected the Israeli economy, but we've got great confidence in the Israeli economy. We've got great confidence in the Israeli people. The greatest asset Israel has is the brainpower and ingenuity of her people. And I'm convinced that the economy will be strong.

I appreciate so very much the fact that the Prime Minister is committed to working with his Cabinet to move some of the Palestinian money to the Palestinian people, that he cares about the human condition of the Palestinians, and that under a monitoring system to make sure that the money being sent back to the Palestinian people will not be used for terrorist activities, that he is willing to work with his Cabinet to do just that. I believe that's important.

We talked about the framework for peace, the idea of working toward peace, the idea of two states living side by side in peace as a part of our vision. And to this end, Bill Burns, Ambassador from the State Department, is going back to the Middle East to continue to work on the process, continue to work toward achieving concrete, real, objective, and measurable reforms, so that there's a peaceful future for the region.

So, Mr. Prime Minister, thanks for coming. It's good to welcome you. I appreciate you being here.

Prime Minister Sharon. I would like to thank you, Mr. President, for having us again here. I would like to express our deep appreciation to your leadership facing the world terror. We regard terror as the most dangerous thing, and seeing the terror spread now, seeing that your leadership— under your leadership, the world will be able to face the terror and contain terror and stop terror.

We have been facing terror for over 120 years, and we still face terror. But we believe the day will come, and I hope it will be soon, that we'll be able to start peace negotiations. I believe that Jews and Arabs will be able to live together. And we, on one hand, are taking all the necessary steps against terror. And we will continue to defend our citizens. In the same time, we'll take all the necessary steps to move forward the political process. And I believe the day will come, and we'll have peace.

We discussed—we had interesting discussions here, very important. I would like to thank you, Mr. President, for the friendship and cooperation. And as far as I remember, as we look back towards many years now, I think that we never had such relations with any President of the United States as we have with you, and we never had such cooperation in everything as we have with the current administration. I would like to thank you for that, and we are looking forward for better future for all of us.

The President. Thank you, sir.

Barry [Barry Schweid] of AP.

Situation in Iraq

Q. Mr. President, are you asking the Prime Minister, have you asked the Prime Minister not to respond if Iraq attacks? And Mr. Prime Minister, have you any concrete offers of help from the administration to reduce the risk of an Iraqi attack?

The President. Well, first of all, I have told the Prime Minister that my hope is, is that we could achieve a disarmament of the Iraqi regime peacefully. I haven't given up on the fact that we can achieve it peacefully. We have no plans to use our military until—unless we need to. I explained to the Prime Minister, just like I explain to every citizen who is interested in this, the military is my last choice, not my first choice.

So we talked about the desire to—for the U.N. Security Council to be strong and for the nations that care about peace to see that Saddam is disarmed. And he's got to disarm himself. That's what we talked about.

Q. If I could ask for the Prime Minister's response, please.

The President. He's trying to do the two-question thing. [Laughter]

Q. Two leaders, two questions.

The President. Wait a minute, Barry. He's an old pro.

Q. Mr. President, I would like to complete my colleague's question. If an Iraqi missile lands in Tel Aviv, killing tens of people——

The President. You mean an unprovoked attack—if tomorrow an Iraqi missile lands?

Q. Theoretically, and it can be practically.

The President. If Iraq were to attack Israel tomorrow, I'm sure there would be an appropriate response.

Q. How should Israel respond? How should you respond——

The President. If Iraq attacks Israel tomorrow, I would assume the Prime Minister would respond. He's got—he's got a desire to defend himself.

Our hope is that the Iraqi regime will disarm peacefully. But I can't—maybe— maybe Saddam will attack tomorrow. He's certainly a dangerous man. And he's got to understand that the international community won't tolerate an unprovoked attack on Israel or anybody else, for that matter. Of course, he's done it in the past. That's what I've explained to the American people. He's attacked two nations. He's gassed his own people. He's a dangerous man. That's why he must be disarmed, and that's why the international community must work to disarm him.

Patsy [Patricia Wilson, Reuters].

U.N. Resolution on Iraq

Q. Thank you, sir. It's been more than a month since you said you expected the United Nations to act in days or weeks on a new Iraq resolution. How much longer are you prepared to wait, and why aren't you losing patience?

The President. Because I'm a patient man. [Laughter] My mother and wife think that's hysterical when I say that, of course. [Laughter]

Let's see, because it takes a while to get things done in the U.N., I guess is the answer. I mean, we will—I've made the commitment to go to the U.N.; I've asked the U.N. to act. We have got to deal with members of the Security Council. There are differing opinions on members of the Security Council. And we've got to work hard to reach a consensus, a resolution that will, on the one hand, do everything it can to disarm Saddam Hussein and also has got the capacity for there to be consequences should he not disarm. And therefore, we're working closely with the Perm Five as well as others on the Security Council to reach this resolution.

I am a patient man. I think it's important. I made the decision to go to the U.N., and therefore, we're willing to work with the U.N. If the U.N. can't act, however, if they're unable to act, if once again after 11 years and 16 resolutions they cannot bring themselves together to disarm Saddam Hussein, then we will lead a coalition to do just that. But in the meantime, we're giving the U.N. time to listen to the arguments and to, hopefully, come together soon to get a resolution which will achieve the objectives.

Q. Mr. President——

The President. Yes. The Prime Minister is looking for a question or two. [Laughter]

Q. If you will allow me, I will ask him about——

The President. No, I'm sorry, strict guidelines. We must be disciplined.

Possible Terrorist Attacks on Israel

Q. Mr. President, the Hezbollah is threatening to escalate the situation in the Israeli northern border, and Israel has intelligence information that Palestinian terror organizations are also planning to escalate and have more terror attacks because the United States might attack Iraq to disarm Saddam Hussein. Is there any limitations on Israel to defend itself? Did you ask the Prime Minister not to do certain— not to take certain measures if he's attacked by Hezbollah or by the terror organizations, the Palestinian terror organizations?

The President. We certainly want to work with Israel, and we'll make it clear to Hezbollah, nations housing Hezbollah, whether in the context of Iraq or not, we expect there to be no attacks. This is terrorist activity, and we will fight terror wherever terror exists.

I find it—the doctrine that says "if you harbor a terrorist" still exists. And we ex-pect—again, apart from Iraq, we expect Hezbollah not to attack our friend. And so we will work with Israel and work with other nations, making it clear to them our position on harboring terrorist activities.

Thank you all.

NOTE: The President spoke at 3:24 p.m. in the Oval Office at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs William J. Burns; and President Saddam Hussein of Iraq.

George W. Bush, Remarks Following Discussions With Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel and an Exchange With Reporters Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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