Interview by Polish Journalists
The Roosevelt Room
The White House
July 16, 2002
10:55 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: I'm looking forward to our State Dinner. It's a chance for me
to, on a personal level, repay the favor of my friend, Aleksander, for his great
hospitality to Laura and me when we visited he and Jolanta there in Warsaw.
Secondly, it's a chance to say to our country and the world how important our
relations are with Poland. We really think -- respect the Polish people. We've
got great numbers of Polish-Americans who still love the Motherland. And it's
going to be a wonderful occasion to build on a great relationship, make it even
We will discuss a lot of topics. We'll talk about the war on terror. Poland
has been a great friend and supporter, member of the coalition on the war against
terror. We've got troops in the -- on ships off the Indian Ocean, we've got
engineers in Bagram, shared intelligence. Aleksander has been a strong friend
and supporter. I'm confident he'll want to talk about NATO expansion. Perhaps
I'll leave that for a question.
But all in all, we've got great relations, and I look forward to having a good
conversation with a leader I respect. And I respect Aleksander Kwasniewski.
Why don't we start with you, sir.
QUESTION: Thank you. Mr. President, about your talks with President Kwasniewski
next week. Poland has been viewed by your administration as one of the most
successful examples of democratic transformation. However, the current Polish
government is taking some steps and adopting some laws which would obviously
limit independence of media and central bank, which are the pillars of democracy.
So are you going to raise these issues with the President?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, I've got faith that a democracy will work.
And I am confident that the Polish government and the Polish people will come
up with the right answers to issues relating to any law. I will -- of course,
if he asks my opinion, I will remind him that an independent media is a very
important part of democracy. It's one of the pillars of democracy. I value our
media, as an aside, saying that of course to pander to the people here that
cover me on a daily basis. (Laughter.)
But I do value a free and open media. And I think it's an incredibly important
part. But your opening statement was true. We value the progress that Poland
has made, and the example Poland has set, in a neighborhood that was a pretty
tough neighborhood for a while. And I was most impressed when I went to Warsaw
to see the spirit of the people and the optimism. I understand the country is
going through tough times, but all countries go through tough times.
QUESTION: Mr. President, you're taking Aleksander Kwasniewski, it was your decision
to go to Troy, Michigan, to meet with Polish-Americans.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, we are.
QUESTION: What is the reason for that meeting, and if you could tell us, what
is your message to Polish Americans?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, the message to Polish Americans is, I respect
and honor the Polish traditions and Polish heritage. Actually, there was a --
even in my own state of Texas, there is a community or two that Polish Americans
have settled in Texas, and still retains many of the great traditions and heritages.
It also reminds people that even though they have got a Polish heritage, and
embraced Polish traditions, they're Americans. It's a great part of the American
experience. We envelope and welcome people from all walks of life. That in itself
is an important statement to constantly make in our country. It reminds people
of the strength of the country.
I've decided to go to Troy, Michigan because it's going to be a -- I hope it's
a fun trip for Aleksander. I mean, I think it's important -- I understand what
a State Dinner is like. It's formal. You'll see, it's going to be a grand day.
They arrive on the South Lawn, the military will be there, there's a lot of
pomp and circumstance. It's an exciting ceremony, it really is. And then there
will be the formal dinners, and the black tie, and the people will come, and
the entertainment, and the food. It's going to be great.
But there's more to a good American experience than just a formal dinner. I
try to wear a tuxedo as little as possible, I want you to know. But flying out
there to Michigan, the heartland of the country, with our friend, is going to
be great. And he's going to see a big, enthusiastic crowd. It will give him
a chance to say some things. And I think that's important to provide him a forum,
so that he can not only be seen in a tuxedo, but be seen speaking his mind about
whatever issue he wants to talk about to an American audience that is made up
of people from his homeland that have now settled in our country. I think it's
going to be a great event. To me it helps complete the State Dinner aspect of
QUESTION: Mr. President, I talked to Mr. Kwasniewski just before yesterday.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, how is he doing?
QUESTION: Great. He looks good, in good shape.
THE PRESIDENT: Looking forward to a three mile run? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: He told me that one of the topics he would like to touch on is the
recent financial scandals in the U.S., because they are a kind of backlash on
Central Europe, and the recovery is difficult. And there's this feeling outgoing
that the U.S. government is not doing enough to change its own rules to really
prevent the backlash for a Central European --
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, I'll explain to him we are doing things. And I will be glad
to lay out the initiative I talked about -- and have been talking about, by
the way, since March -- February and March. And then the speech I gave in New
York. And of course our House has acted -- the House of Representatives acted
and the Senate has acted. And if he looks at what I proposed and what the Senate
has proposed and what the House proposed, there's not much difference. And in
other words, the point is that a bill will come out that will hold people accountable
for accounting error -- accounting fraud, and as we go forward, hopefully set
an example -- make it clear to people, there will be a consequence if they continue
to do that.
There are markets -- three things affect our markets, I'll explain to Aleksander.
One of course is confidence, and the numbers. And we're addressing that. Secondly,
is the war on terror. People are still -- you know, realize that America is
still a target. And the American people know that we're doing everything we
can to protect the homeland, and run down these killers, wherever they try to
hide. And that's all they are, by the way, just nothing but a bunch of cold-blooded
And, thirdly, the corporate sector, the profits are beginning to improve, but
the price-earnings multiples, in other words the price of a share relative to
its earnings was very high, and the market is adjusting. So all three of those
factors are important.
And obviously we -- that's not the whole picture of our economy, and that's
what Aleksander has got to understand. The market reflects part of it, but our
unemployment rate is -- looks like it's steady. It has stopped rising. As a
matter of fact, it had a drop, and it's level. Our consumer spending numbers
are up, our manufacturing orders are increasing. In other words, the recovery
is beginning to show some strength. So therefore what I'm going to ask him is
to look at the entire picture.
Finally, we've got good monetary policy and good fiscal policy here in Washington,
and that in itself is part of long-term recovery. And so he'll hear a man who
is -- recognizes that we're making some progress. We've got to do more. But
I'm pleased to report to him that I think things are going to get better. The
foundation for long-term growth has been -- is in place.
QUESTION: Mr. President, I wanted to ask you a question about the war against
terrorism. The Europeans seem to less and less support the war against terrorism.
And I wonder if you could explain to us why do you think it's happening, and
if you are ready to go alone on this next phase of the war, whatever the phase
THE PRESIDENT: No, I don't feel that the support from Europe is lessening. As
a matter of fact, I've just come from a G8 meeting in Canada where, to a person,
they were very supportive of our war on terror, because the Europeans recognize
that the terrorists could strike them just as easy as they could strike us.
We've still got great intelligence sharing amongst our nations, we've got good
police action. We have hauled in -- "we" being the coalition -- has
hauled in -- that means arrest -- 2,400, more than 2,400 terrorists. So we're
picking them off one by one. This is a different kind of war.
I use every chance I get when I speak to the American people to explain why
this is different. And so -- as opposed to destroying lines of tanks, or shooting
down airplanes, success is measured by one by one, one person at a time. And
the European leaders understand that, and they've been very supportive. They
still -- I think we've got about 8,000 troops in Afghanistan -- we do, in the
Afghan theater, and there's another 8,000 troops from other nations there as
well. So it's a firm commitment.
I will continue to communicate and consult with our friends and allies as to
every stage of the war, as the battle front shifts. By the way, the battle front
isn't shifting out of Afghanistan, we're there. We'll remain there. We've got
a lot of work to do there. There's still al Qaeda killers there. And of course
we'll need to continue to have deliberations with our friends and allies, and
we'll have them for future theaters and different operations. We talk to them
all the time.
QUESTION: Speaking of war, Mr. President, Poland is going to buy new fighter
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, I understand that's the case.
QUESTION: Yes. And the F-16s are one of the --
THE PRESIDENT: I've got a suggestion for them. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: However, President Kwasniewski just two days ago you kind of -- was
kind of complaining that maybe the American offer is not meeting enough -- expectations.
So is --
THE PRESIDENT: He's negotiating in public. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Is your administration in any way going to support U.S. companies
to win the standard --
THE PRESIDENT: We will offer a fabulous product.
QUESTION: Fabulous product.
THE PRESIDENT: Called the F-16. And we will work with our friends to make --
you know, to compete on an above-board basis, totally above-board. And, you
know, we hope the Polish government picks quality. If they do they will, of
course, come our way. But that's up to the government. Aleksander will be, and
the government of Poland will -- you know, we will respect the process and respect
the country, and appreciate it's a tough decision, and hope they make the right
decision as far as we're concerned. But that --
QUESTION: Mr. President, do you think that the NATO will play as important role
for the United States in the present century as it played in the previous century?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes.
QUESTION: And do you think it is possible that Russia one day will become NATO
THE PRESIDENT: Interesting question. First, I do think NATO is very important.
It's obviously a different role. NATO served as kind of a bulwark in defense
against Russian tanks storming across the European continent. Those days are
over. Russia is no longer the enemy.
I witnessed the fact that not only have we got good relations with Russia, but
the very same trip that I -- when I went to Moscow to sign this treaty that
literally redefined our relationship from one of distrust and -- like it was
during the Cold War, to a new relationship, shortly thereafter we went to Italy
and welcomed a new relationship between NATO and Russia. So the whole relationship
has changed for the better.
NATO has -- and I think it's going to be very hard -- very important to work
that relationship with Russia, to allow for the -- the new relationship to develop
and mature. And I think it will in a very positive way.
The new relationship -- the new role of NATO is -- really needs to adjust to
the new realities of the 21st century, and that is how to best fight the war
on terror. And that means a different configuration of the use of our forces
and the use of assets. Our forces need to be lighter and quicker to strike and
elite units need to be prepared to move at a moment's notice.
The enemy has changed. And the battlefield, the nature of the battlefield has
changed. And therefore, the NATO mission must remain the same, mutual defense.
But its tactics must change. And I think NATO is very relevant and we will be
an active and engaged partner in NATO.
Let me just -- I'll ask myself, well, Mr. President, do you think we ought to
expand? (Laughter.) I gave a very important speech in Warsaw. It's interesting,
I hope the people in the world that are interested in our opinion on subjects
noted that the speech was in Warsaw. And the speech was about a Europe that's
whole, free and at peace. And I talked about the expansion of NATO, and I said
that I am interested more rather than less. And at the same time, I urged the
applicant countries to take nothing for granted, to work very hard up until
the last minute to show those of us in NATO that they'll be willing and active
and capable partners.
And I look forward to our meeting in Prague. I fully understand the position
of the Polish government. I've had long discussions with Aleksander on the subject
of NATO expansion, and I think people know that I'm forward-leaning, depending
-- if the member countries, you know, meet their MAP requirements.
QUESTION: I want to go back to the finances and the limit. There is an attempt
in Poland to limit independence of central bank, so it would be more -- be manipulated
more by government, so government would have more influence over central bank.
In the current situation, what's your feeling about this?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, I don't know all the facts about how the
Polish democracy is handling this particular situation. I can tell you, however,
from my experience that a central bank should be independent. And the independence
of our central bank gives Chairman Greenspan and the other governors of the
Federal Reserve great credibility in our country, to know that decisions are
being made apart from politics. And our central bank is a part of -- is a very
important part of our -- has been and will continue to be a very important part
of the economic vitality of our country. It also gives investors who look at
our country great confidence to know that the monetary supplies be not based
upon politics, but the decisions on monetary supplies will be based upon the
vision of some very wise people.
I think when people look at how capital moves into countries, the independence
of a central bank is an important part of attracting capital. And Poland needs
to attract capital investment. If anybody were to ask me my advice on the central
bank, that's what I would give.
QUESTION: I'd like to ask you about different subject. According to the latest
polls, you are the most popular foreign politician leader in Poland.
THE PRESIDENT: Really? I usually say I don't believe in polls, but I may have
to change my mind. (Laughter).
QUESTION: With the same approval rate as President Kwasniewski. And I want to
ask you to comment on this, and --
THE PRESIDENT: Well, how high is it?
QUESTION: Would you be willing to visit Poland again?
THE PRESIDENT: Seventy-three?
QUESTION: Why don't you go to Poland?
THE PRESIDENT: Again?
QUESTION: On holiday?
THE PRESIDENT: Thanks. I don't know what to say. I appreciate that. I'm flattered.
QUESTION: Are you willing to spend a vacation in Poland? With your parents,
THE PRESIDENT: With my parents? I don't know if my mother could stand that,
but, listen, when I vacation, just kind of know about me, I like to be with
my family and I like to be in Texas.
I just recently went to Maine. I'd love to go to Maine, too, to be with my mother
and dad. But my favorite vacation spot is my own ranch in the state I love.
And I like to get out and fool around on the land. And it doesn't matter how
hot it is or how cold it is. How hot it is and cold it is matters to those who
have to follow me. For me, there is no day hot enough or cold enough. (Laughter.)
These poor souls -- Crawford in August. That's my idea of vacation.
Although I must say, I had a great time up with Mother and Dad this weekend,
and I love to be around them, as well. But this August, I'm going to go down
to Texas and actually work out of Texas. I'm going to travel quite a bit. After
all, we're getting into the political season here in America. We've got our
elections in November of 2002.
QUESTION: Mr. President, we talk a lot about how September 11th changed the
world, changed America. Has it changed you?
THE PRESIDENT: Changed me?
THE PRESIDENT: I don't think a single event can change anybody's basic values.
It obviously changed the fact that I knew that my time as the President would
be dedicated to winning the war on terror and protecting our homeland.
This is -- I keep telling people this, it's just a different type of war, because
much of the movement of the enemy is invisible to the American people and/or
to the world. And yet we know they're there. The killers on September the 11th
had been in our country for a period of time. They behaved normally. They looked
normal. They, you know, were non-threatening. It was hard to tell that they
were part of this unbelievably evil plot.
And it -- we're concerned that another group are here or somewhere. Not only
here, but in other countries in Europe. And so the task is an all-consuming
task of protecting our homeland and making sure we do everything we can here
to find out if anybody is here and who they are and disrupt their plans and,
at the same time, hunt down their leaders.
The wars of the past had known battlefields and it was clear that such-and-such
had to happen. There had to be an invasion in order to achieve this or that.
This is a hunt for individuals. We're chasing down one person at a time. They
were foolishly collected up at one point in time in the Sha-i-kot Mountains,
and it was a tough chore. But our brave soldiers, along with coalition soldiers,
were able to go in and score great success at bringing them to justice, as I
like to put it.
They're wise to our ways. They realize we're a heck of a lot tougher than they
thought. They assumed America was a weak country, that we didn't really believe
anything. And they're finding out that's not the way we think. And so I realized
after 9/11, after I got over the grief, along with everybody else in our country,
that this was a long, very important struggle.
And the struggle goes beyond just fighting an al Qaeda-type network. I have
deep concerns about the development and deployment of weapons of mass destruction
and so should you, so should anybody who loves freedom, because there are nations
in the world developing these weapons who hate freedom, leaders hate freedom.
And what we cannot allow happen is these nations to develop these weapons and
then blackmail us, and/or use them.
We will have -- a judgment will have missed history's call to freedom. And so
I realize that this war is going to consume a lot of my time. On the other hand,
these members of the press know that I am optimistic person, who truly believes
that we can achieve some positive things out of the evil done to the country,
and to the world.
So when I talk to our friends, like Aleksander and others, I remind them of
this call. We're leaders in a significant moment in history, and we can't blink
and we can't -- we must be determined and focused to achieve this important
objective, which is peace for our children, is what we're really fighting for,
QUESTION: Mr. President, you always said that you are supporter of removing
the trade barriers.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes.
QUESTION: Why do you think there are so many of them still exist?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, you know because I think the temptation is to be protectionist.
And it's easier to mollify constituencies with protectionist rhetoric. Poland
suffers from protectionist policies in parts of Europe, as you know. I'm a strong
believer in free trade. I want the Congress to give me what's called trade promotion
authority. I will exercise that diligently, to open up markets.
On the other hand, I have an obligation to enforce law. And so I recently said
that the -- I listened to an International Trade Commission ruling on steel.
The ITC ruled that excessive steel imports were affecting our industry in a
negative way. I put a temporary measure in place -- which exempted, by the way,
Poland. And that was a chance for the steel industry, our own steel industry
to get on its feet. But, nevertheless, as I reminded members of the European
Union, this only represents a very small portion of the $2 trillion of trade
we have each year.
But protectionism, for some, is a viable economic remedy. And in my judgment,
protectionism would be bad for the world and bad for our country. We're opening
up -- we sent our man to Doha, to commit to the next round of the World Trade
Organization. And unlike Seattle, where it all fell apart, we were able to --
"we" being those of us in the world who support free trade -- were
able to move the process farther down the line. And I will continue to work
for free trade. It's in our nation's interests and the world's interests that
we trade. It's in the developing world's interest that there be trade.
And our country is -- we've got what's called AGOA, agreement with the African
countries. I'm working on a free trade agreement with Central Americans. I'd
like to see a free trade agreement from Canada all the way down to Argentina.
As I say, there's protectionist tendencies that occasionally rise up. We've
just got to convince our respective people that trade is in their interests.
QUESTION: There is another President you have such a good relationship, it's
THE PRESIDENT: Yes.
QUESTION: Very good working relationship, on terrorism, on oil. But there is
this feeling also this is in cost of some human rights, human rights in Chechnya,
press freedom in Russia, it's overlooked now, and probably some freedom of some
other Russian republics. Don't you worry that this close relationship is putting
your -- raising other problems?
THE PRESIDENT: No, a close relationship with Putin allows me to make the case
that -- on media freedom, for example. As a matter of fact, on my last trip
there, I urged him to interface with media entrepreneurs from America to understand
how free press actually works, something that they're not very used to in Russia.
And so there have been dialogue interchanges now with some of our media executives.
And I do push Vladimir Putin on the need to have open media, and open his media.
And, secondly, in terms of Chechnya, I'm constantly talking to Vladimir Putin
about relations with Chechnya and understanding and supporting minority rights.
The other issue that is very important, to which we do not turn a blind eye,
and which I'm deeply concerned, not only about minority rights, is proliferation,
matters of proliferation. I think we're making some progress there.
The immediate concern was proliferation to Iran. And I brought that up with
Vladimir every time I visited with him. It's a very important issue that he
understand that a armed Iran could be very dangerous to his own country, much
less to our friends the Israelis or America, itself. And we've had some very
important exchanges on that.
In terms of helping make Russia a more secure place, we're working on what they
call 10 plus 10 over 10, $10 billion from the U.S., $10 billion from Europe
over 10 years to help secure some weapons stockpiles. Vladimir is very interested
in working with us to decommission some of his nuclear submarines, to make Russia
and the world more safe.
In other words, my only point to you is, is that by being closer to Russia,
we're able to deal more directly with some of the thorny issues that could separate
us, and could in fact make the West less likely to deal with Russia.
And we've got another issues at home here that has upset a lot of our people,
and that's chickens. Fortunately, we're arguing over chickens, and not over
war, over chickens and not over missiles, like we used to. But a lot of people
here feel like there was a commitment made to let U.S. chickens into Russia.
And they started moving into Russia, and all of a sudden they stopped moving
into Russia. And so I've been -- so whether it be trade or minority rights or
press, our relations are such that we're able to bring those up in a very frank
and forthright way, and yet still moved a very important relationship forward.
Look, friends don't always agree. But friends are more likely to be able to
work things out than enemies. As a matter of fact, in the old days, if there
was a disagreement between enemies, that could lead to war. And there won't
be a war between Russia and the United States.
QUESTION: Mr. President, a question on another very easy subject, the Middle
THE PRESIDENT: Yes. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: What solution do you see to the crisis, and what compromise do you
expect from both sides?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, that's a very good question. First, I do believe that we
can achieve a vision of two states living side by side at peace with each other.
And that's the vision. And that's what all policy must aim toward. It starts
with understanding that it's going to be impossible to achieve that vision if
terrorists are allowed to have a free run and blow up the process.
An incredibly important step toward the vision of two states living side by
side is for the international community, including the Arab world, to work with
us to develop the institutions necessary for the emergence of a Palestinian
state that will be transparent, it will respect rule of law, it will have a
constitution that will allow for a sharing of power arrangement, that will have
institutions that outlast -- are far more important than any single one person.
And we're in the process of working toward that end. Colin Powell will be meeting
with what the call the Quad in New York. Foreign Ministers from the Arab world
will be coming as well, later on, to work on the step by step process toward
the emergence of a Palestinian state. And I repeat, that requires a constitution,
a judiciary, transparency when it comes to financial conditions. And I believe
there's financial aid available, I know there is.
(Tape machine stops.) Something just ground to a halt. That thing had, what
do we call it, a skidding halt. Sounded like it needs some new tires.
Anyway, the international community wants to help with aid, but they're not
going to help with aid if it's going to be stolen. Let's put it very bluntly.
And so the -- (tape machine stops) -- the press conference has clearly gone
too long. (Laughter.)
So we're working to get these institutions in place. Obviously as security improves,
Israel is going to have to, as I said, pull her troops back to September of
2001 -- 2000 levels. In other words -- not levels, but geographic, within geographic
boundaries of September 2000. They're going to have to deal with the settlements.
In other words, all parties have got responsibilities. The Arab world has got
responsibilities, by the way, as well, to help on the development of a security
force necessary -- a security force, by the way, which must exist to enforce
security, not enhance the status of a single person.
So we're making progress. It requires a international commitment and a focus
on a positive end, which is two states, living side by side in peace. As I said,
I'm an optimistic fellow, and believe that if we stay at it and keep working
hard, we can get there. But there's no question in my mind, as I said in my
speech in the Rose Garden recently, that there's going to be some setbacks.
But our nation is committed to a peaceful resolution of the conflict.