Opportunity with Australian Prime Minister John Howard
The Oval Office
The White House
February 10, 2003
5:46 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: 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 -- 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.
THE PRIME MINISTER: Well, thank you very much, Mr. President. I'm delighted
to be back in the United States, where talk is 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 they 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
unity of advocacy is very important.
THE PRESIDENT: Thanks, John. Don't worry, malfunctioning light. There it is.
Patsy, and then Ron. She's from Australia.
QUESTION: Yes. Do I get two questions? One from each side? (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: Knowing Ron's habit, you probably will, I guess.
QUESTION: 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?
THE PRESIDENT: No, 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.
QUESTION: Sir, can I ask an Australian question?
THE PRESIDENT: Please.
QUESTION: Could you tell us whether you count Australia as part of the coalition of
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, I do. You know, what that means is up to John to decide.
But I certainly count him as somebody that understands that the world changed
on September the 11th, 2001. Ironically enough, John Howard was in America that
day, in Washington, D.C., 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.
QUESTION: 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.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes.
QUESTION: Given what Americans and the French went through in the last century, are
you upset by their attitude now?
THE PRESIDENT: 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.
QUESTION: You think it does?
THE PRESIDENT: 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.
QUESTION: 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?
THE PRESIDENT: 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.