George W. Bush photo

Remarks Prior to Discussions With Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad of Malaysia and an Exchange With Reporters

May 14, 2002

President Bush. Thank you all for coming. Mr. Prime Minister, welcome to the Oval Office. It's great to see you.

I've been looking forward to this visit to publicly thank the Prime Minister for his strong support in the war against terror. He, right after the September the 11th attacks, immediately went and signed a condolences book in our Embassy, and that meant a lot. He's been a—somebody with whom we can talk; we've got good relations. We share a deep concern about terror, what terror means to our respective countries, what it means to our peoples.

Mr. Prime Minister, I want to thank you for your friendship and thank you for your leadership, and I want to welcome you.

Prime Minister Mahathir. Thank you very much, Mr. President, for the invitation. Since we met in Shanghai, I have always wanted to follow up on what we discussed there, in particular with regard to how we handle this problem of international terrorism. And I hope that as a result of this visit, we will be able to understand the strategy and maybe to work out how best to deal with this problem which plagues all the world, not just the United States. I'm quite sure that this visit will be very fruitful.

President Bush. I think so, too. Thank you.

A couple of questions. David [David Sanger, New York Times].

Al Qaida Activity in Malaysia

Q. Mr. Prime Minister, when you met with a group of us in New York, you said that there was no evidence at that time that Al Qaida was actively—was active in Malaysia. American officials have now told us that they believe some links do exist. Has your opinion changed since then?

And Mr. President, I'd like to know whether it's still the position of the United States that Anwar Ibrahim has been jailed primarily for his political opposition to the Prime Minister?

Prime Minister Mahathir. Well, at that time we were not very certain, but we have discovered that some of these people who were active, who planned to overthrow the Government by force of bombs, had activity into Pakistan and eventually to Afghanistan, where they did meet with the Al Qaida people.

And they—I believe that they could overthrow the Government by force of bombs in order to establish what they consider to be an Islamic state.

Q. You believe they are Al Qaida?

Prime Minister Mahathir. Yes, they are. We have found evidence that they have had involvement with these people. But they're primarily in east Malaysia.

President Bush. What was your second part of your question?

Former Malaysian Finance Minister Anwar bin Ibrahim

Q. The question was, Mr. President, is it still the position of the United States that Anwar Ibrahim, the former finance minister——

President Bush. Yes.

Q. ——was jailed primarily for his political opposition to the Prime Minister? Or do you believe—and do you believe he should be released?

President Bush. Our position has not changed.

Q. Mr. President——

Press Secretary Ari Fleischer. The Malaysian press.

Malaysia-U.S. Relations

Q. Mr. President, can you tell us what you—what we can expect of future Malaysia-U.S. relations as a result of these talks that are taking place today?

President Bush. Well, I think you can expect continued cooperation—intelligence sharing, for example.

Let me finish, please.

One of the things that we're finding is that our enemy is shadowy. They lurk behind civil institutions, and then they strike. They—they're not like an enemy we've known before. And in order to make sure our respective societies are as secure as possible, we must share intelligence. We find out a lot about movements throughout the region, and we're more than willing to share with the Prime Minister's Government what we know, and vice versa, and that's important. That's incredibly important. My most important job—I remind this to the American people—is to secure our homeland.

Q. Not more extensive than that——

President Bush. There's a lot more. We'll talk about trade. We'll talk about economy. There's a lot more to talk about. But when it comes to the security of a homeland, that's about as extensive as it gets. You see, I'm not going to let our Nation forget or our friends in the world forget what happened to us on September the 11th. It could happen to somebody else as well, and the Prime Minister understands that.

And this is a very important visit from that respect. The—we'll also talk about the Middle East, and I look forward to hearing from the Prime Minister on the Middle East. So we'll have a good discussion.

Ann [Ann Compton, ABC News].


Q. Mr. President, former President Carter is in Cuba, about to address the Cuban people. Has his—have his remarks complicated your foreign policy? And what would you say to the Cuban people, if allowed to speak directly to them?

President Bush. Well, I—you know, I appreciate President Carter's focus on human rights. I think that's important in Cuba, in a place where there is no human rights.

My message—first of all, it doesn't complicate my foreign policy because I hadn't changed my foreign policy. And that is that Fidel Castro is a dictator, and he is repressive. And he ought to have free elections, and he ought to have a free press. And he ought to free his prisoners, and he ought to encourage free enterprise.

And my message to Fidel—my message to the Cuban people is, demand freedom, and you've got a President who stands with you. And my message to Fidel Castro is precisely what I said. I'm going to deliver that message next Monday in—here, and then I'm going to go down to Miami for Cuban Independence Day.

Last question here for——

Response to Terrorism

Q. Mr. President, what do you think of Dr. Mahathir's definition of terrorism and his view that the root causes of terrorism must be addressed not through military action alone?

President Bush. I agree with that. I think that—but first, some of these people are nothing but coldblooded killers, and there's no rehabilitation program, except for bringing them to justice. I mean, there's no way that—these people made up their minds. The leaders of these groups have decided that they're going to come and kill. And it may be an American; it may be a Malay-sian—who knows? But we're going to stop them. And so the best program is to use our respective militaries, intelligence gathering, cutting off money, to go after these killers.

Now, in terms of youngsters who are looking for—you know, who are searching for a future, if there's a hopeless future, there may be an opportunity to convert them into potential suiciders or potential killers. And that's what I think we need to talk about, about how to ease hopelessness where there is no hope; I mean, to help people and to help people realize there's a better future other than joining up with a terrorist organization whose sole intent is destruction.

That's why education is important. Good health care initiatives are important. That's why it's important for, you know, people in the Middle East to feel like there is a future. It's one of the reasons I've advocated a Palestinian state to be able to live side by side with Israel in peace, so that there—people realize there's a future, and there's a better—provide better choices for people other than suicide killing.

But in terms of the senior Al Qaida members or some of these, listen, there's no—as I say, I want to repeat, there's no rehabilitation program for them. There's only one thing to do, is to get them, and we're going to. We're going to bring them to justice. And I will remind the Prime Minister it's going to take awhile. This is a—and we're patient. He needs to know that the American President, our Government is a very patient Government. And we're steadfast, and we're resolved, and we're going to hunt them down. And we look forward to continue working with him to do just that. And we'll bring them to justice, and that's precisely what's going to happen to these people.

NOTE: The President spoke at 4:08 p.m. in the Oval Office at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to President Fidel Castro of Cuba. A tape was not available for verification of the content of these remarks.

George W. Bush, Remarks Prior to Discussions With Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad of Malaysia and an Exchange With Reporters Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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