Remarks Following Discussions With Prime Minister John Howard of Australia and an Exchange With Reporters
President Bush. I'm going to make some welcoming comments. The Prime Minister is going to say some things. We'll then take some questions—two from the American side and two from the Australian side.
Prime Minister Howard is a close, personal friend of mine, a person whose judgment I count on, a person with whom I speak quite frequently. I believe he's a man of clear vision. He sees the threats that the free world faces as we go into the 21st century. I'm proud to work with him on behalf of a peaceful world and a freer society. He's a man grounded in good values, and I respect him a lot, and I'm glad he's back here in the Oval Office.
Prime Minister Howard. Well, thank you very much, Mr. President. I'm delighted to be back in the United States. We've talked naturally about Iraq and other related matters. I want to say that from the very beginning, the President has shown very strong leadership on a difficult issue. He's been prepared to go out and argue a very strong case. It's not been an issue that's been free of criticism for any of those who've advocated a particular point of view.
Australia's position concerning Iraq is very clear. We believe a world in which weapons of mass destruction are in the hands of rogue states, with the potential threat of them falling into the hands of terrorists, is not a world that Australia, if we can possibly avoid it, wants to be part of. And that is the fundamental reason why Australia has taken the position she has.
And it's the fundamental reason why we believe the goals that the United States set of disarming Iraq are proper goals, and they are goals that the entire world should pursue. We all hope that there might— despite the apparent unlikelihood, we all hope that there might be a peaceful solution. The one real chance of a peaceful solution is the whole world saying the same thing to Iraq. And that's why we believe the closest possible cooperation and unity of—objective and unity of advocacy is very important.
President Bush. Thanks, John. Don't worry, malfunctioning light. There it is.
Patsy [Patricia Wilson, Reuters] and then Ron [Ron Fournier, Associated Press]. Were you from Australia?
Q. Yes. Do I get two questions? One from each side? [Laughter]
President Bush. Knowing Ron's habit, you probably will, I guess.
Iraqi Regime Concessions
Q. Iraq has agreed to allow U-2 flights and also private interviews with some scientists. Does this make it harder for you to argue that Saddam Hussein is not—is not cooperating?
President Bush. Iraq needs to disarm. And the reason why we even need to fly U-2 flights is because they're not disarming. We know what a disarmed country looks like, and Iraq doesn't look like that. This is a man who is trying to stall for time, trying to play a diplomatic game. He's been successful at it for 12 years. But no, the question is, will he disarm?
I notice somebody said the other day, "Well, we need more inspectors." Well, a disarmed—a country which is disarming really needs one or two inspectors to verify the fact that they're disarming. We're not playing hide-and-seek. That's what he wants to continue to play. And so, you know, Saddam's got to disarm. If he doesn't, we'll disarm him.
Australia and the Coalition
Q. Sir, can I ask an Australian question?
President Bush. Please.
Q. Could you tell us whether you count Australia as part of the coalition of the willing?
President Bush. Yes, I do. You know, what that means is up to John to decide. But I certainly count him as somebody who understands that the world changed on September the 11th, 2001. Ironically enough, John Howard was in America that day, in Washington, DC, the day the enemy hit.
In our country it used to be that oceans could protect us. At least we thought so. There was wars on other continents, but we were safe. And so we could decide whether or not we addressed the threat on our own time. If there was a threat gathering from afar, we could say, "Well, let's see; it may be in our interest to get involved, or it may not be." We had the luxury. September the 11th, that changed. America is now a battleground in the war on terror.
Secondly, the Secretary of State made it very clear that there are connections between Saddam Hussein and terrorist networks. And therefore, it is incumbent upon all of us who love freedom to understand the new world in which we live. John Howard understands that.
France-U.S. Relations/NATO Unity
Q. In addition to being among the some people who are calling for inspections, the French today blocked NATO from helping Turkey. And President Chirac said nothing today justifies a war.
President Bush. Yes.
Q. Given what Americans and the French went through in the last century, are you upset by their attitude now?
President Bush. No, I wouldn't—"upset" isn't the proper word. I am disappointed that France would block NATO from helping a country like Turkey prepare. I don't understand that decision. It affects the Alliance in a negative way.
Q. You think it does?
President Bush. I think it affects the Alliance in a negative way, when you're not able to make a statement of mutual defense. I had a good talk with Jacques Chirac recently. I assured him that, you know, that we would continue to try to work with France as best we can. France has been a long-time friend of the United States. We've got a lot in common. But I think the decision on NATO is shortsighted in my judgment. Hopefully, they'll reconsider.
Reasons for Action Against Iraqi Regime
Q. Mr. President, there are many Australians—there are many Australians and others who are still not convinced that they should be going with you to war. At this late stage, what's your personal message to them?
President Bush. My personal message is that I want to keep the peace and make the world more peaceful. I understand why people don't like to commit the military to action. I can understand that. I'm the person in this country that hugs the mothers and the widows if their son or husband dies. I know people would like to avoid armed conflict, and so would I. But the risks of doing nothing far outweigh the risks of whatever it takes to disarm Saddam Hussein.
I've thought long and hard about this issue. My job is to protect the American people from further harm. I believe that Saddam Hussein is a threat to the American people. I also know he's a threat to our friends and allies.
The second thing—my message is, and I started speaking about this today, I also have got great compassion and concern for the Iraqi people. These are people who have been tortured and brutalized, people who have been raped because they may disagree with Saddam Hussein. He's a brutal dictator. In this country and in Australia, people believe that everybody has got worth, everybody counts, that everybody is equal in the eyes of the Almighty. So the issue is not only peace, the issue is freedom and liberty.
I made it clear in my State of the Union—and the people of Australia must understand this—I don't believe liberty is America's gift to the world. I believe it is God's gift to humanity.
Thank you all.
NOTE: The President spoke at 5:46 p.m. in the Oval Office at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to President Saddam Hussein of Iraq and President Jacques Chirac of France.
George W. Bush, Remarks Following Discussions With Prime Minister John Howard of Australia and an Exchange With Reporters Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/216226