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Interview With George W. Bush

Aired July 5, 2003 - 12:35   ET


SEAN CALLEBS, CNN ANCHOR: President Bush is making his first visit to Africa as chief executive. He plans to leave tomorrow evening. The weeklong journey plays out against a backdrop of civil wars and continuous AIDS crisis that is going on in that continent.
Mr. Bush spoke with CNN International about his hopes for this trip.


TUMU MAKGABO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Mr. President, thank you very much for speaking with us. And welcome to "INSIDE AFRICA."


MAKGABO: If we could begin with the issue of Liberia, President Charles Taylor in particular, you've 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 issue.

What are the discussions and options that are being put on the table?

BUSH: 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.

And, you know, look, we're talking to the ECOWAS countries right now to determine whether or not, you know, 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 a special, you know, ties to Liberia. There's historical ties to the United States. That's why we are involved in this issue. And I'm going to look at all the options, determine how best to bring peace and stability.

But 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.

MAKGABO: You say 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 not only to...

BUSH: Well, first of all, I refuse to accept the negative. I understand that'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.

MAKGABO: And should he not?

BUSH: No, no, I'm convinced -- you misunderstood. I'm convinced he will listen and make the decision -- the right decision, if he cares about his country.

MAKGABO: 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 -- in the continent.

BUSH: Can I stop you there for a second?

MAKGABO: Please do.

BUSH: 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 have met over 22 African leaders. Just want to make -- correct the record before....

MAKGABO: Absolutely.

BUSH: Disabuse you of that misinformation. Because Africa has been a very important part of my administration's foreign policy.

MAKGABO: However, many people will say that has only become more apparent to them, perhaps not necessarily to the administration, but more apparent outwardly that the 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?

BUSH: 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, you know, besides going on a trip, I mean, trips are fine, but what's more important is policy. And I proposed the 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 elites 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 is 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, and our judgment, when implemented, will help affect the lives of thousands of people who are suffering from an incredibly, you know -- a pandemic that's absolutely destroying life, and it's sad for us.

And so, no, my administration is not only, you know, going on trips and meetings but, more importantly, fundamental policy, and I think that's important.

MAKGABO: 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?

BUSH: Oh, sure, yes, there's no doubt in my mind he had a weapons program. He used them, remember? He was the guy that gassed his own people. Those are weapons of mass destruction he used on his own people. No doubt. We found a biological lab, a very same lab that had been banned by the United Nations. It'll be a matter of time.

Let me talk about Iraq, and I appreciate you bringing it up. If I think something needs to be done to enhance the security of the American people, I'll do it. 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, you know, the world says that, you know, we 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, or the skeptics, that we were absolutely correct in our assessment of Mr. Saddam Hussein.

MAKGABO: All right, Mr. President, I'm afraid that's where I'm going to have to leave it.

Thanks very much once again.

BUSH: Thank you very much for coming.


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