Discusses Middle East After Breakfast
The Oval Office
The White House
March 21, 2002
8:16 A.M. EST
PRESIDENT: Good morning. Thank you all for coming. I just had a breakfast with
Vice President Cheney, and as you all know, he's returned from a lengthy and
successful trip to the Middle East -- the first trip I asked him to go on. I
sent him to the region because this is an incredibly important part of the world
and it's a turbulent part of the world, and the Vice President took a lot of
messages on behalf of our administration and made some really good progress.
I'm really proud of how he handled himself and how he delivered the message.
As a result of this trip, and as a result of working with General Zinni, there
is some progress being made in the Middle East. And I want to thank the Vice
President for being very firm and deliberate, and convincing both parties that
the Tenet plan and, ultimately, the Mitchell plan is a way to achieve what we
all want in the world, which is a peaceful resolution to this longstanding conflict.
But, Mr. Vice President, welcome back. Thanks, you did a great job.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you, Mr. President. It was a good trip. And
as you say, there are a lot of issues on the agenda right now that are important
in that part of the world. I talked extensively with our friends about the ongoing
campaign in Afghanistan and the war against terror that affects all of us, and
everybody in the region.
Spent a lot of time on the Israeli peace problems and propositions -- the conflict
between Israelis and the Palestinians, obviously. A lot of time on the Iraqi
situation, and Saddam Hussein's development of weapons of mass destruction.
But I found at virtually every stop that the United States has great friends
and allies in that part of the world. I also had the opportunity to visit with
a number of our military personnel that are conducting active operations or
supporting those operations in Afghanistan and the region. So, all in all, it
was a great trip. I'm ready to go back there --
THE PRESIDENT: Questions?
QUESTION: Mr. President -- interested in your own calculations when the Vice
President called to discuss the possibility of the Arafat meeting; your calculations
in making the decision to change slightly the administration's standard for
opening the door to a meeting with him. And, Mr. Vice President, do you believe
now that meeting will happen? Is Mr. Arafat keeping his end of the bargain?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, I've always been one that trusts the judgment
of people I send on a mission. And the Vice President called me, with General
Zinni by his side, and said, there's a chance that we can get into the Tenet
security agreement, and if that were to happen, in my judgment, I think it would
be best if I would then go see Mr. Arafat.
And I trust the Vice President's judgment. He's a man of enormous experience
who's got a good feel for things. And we both trust General Zinni. And so the
definition of whether or not he is going to see Mr. Arafat depends upon the
feel for our negotiator, General Zinni. But I think it was the right thing to
We've set some strong conditions, and we expect Mr. Arafat to meet those conditions.
I, frankly, have been disappointed in his performance. I'm hopeful, however,
that he listens to what the Vice President told him, and said that in order
for us to have influence in terms of achieving any kind of peaceful resolution,
he must - he, Mr. Arafat -- must do everything in his power to stop the violence.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, as I've said before, John, the key here will be General
Zinni. And he'll make his judgment based on whether or not Arafat is, in fact,
implementing Tenet, not just promising to implement, but implementing Tenet.
If he's doing that, if he's living up to those requirements, and General Zinni
signs off on it, then I'm prepared to go back almost immediately for a meeting.
But it will depend on whether or not Arafat is complying.
QUESTION: Mr. Vice President, on Iraq, the other main item on your agenda, you
said we have a lot of allies out there. But I haven't noticed any of the Arab
states -- maybe they say things privately that they don't publicly, we've long
been told that -- supporting strong action against Iraq. They seem to want diplomacy
to be given a chance, Annan's efforts, sanction changes, et cetera. What kind
of response did you get?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I think -- I guess the way I would characterize is
they are uniformly concerned about the situation in Iraq, in particular about
Saddam Hussein's failure to live up to the U.N. Security Council resolutions,
especially number 687, that he pledged to at the end of the war, that said he'd
get rid of all of his weapons of mass destruction.
And they are as concerned as we are when they see the work that he has done
to develop chemical and biological weapons, and his pursuit of nuclear weapons;
the past history that we all know about, in terms of his having used chemicals.
If you haven't seen it, there's a devastating piece in this week's New Yorker
magazine on the 1988 use by Saddam Hussein of chemical weapons against the Kurds.
If the article is accurate -- and I've asked for verification, if we can find
it -- he ran a campaign against the Kurds for 17 months, and bombed literally
200 villages and killed thousands and thousands of Iraqis with chemical weapons.
That's not the kind of man we want to see develop even more deadly capacity
-- for example nuclear weapons. And my experience is that our friends in the
region are just as concerned about those developments as we are. And I went
out there to consult with them, seek their advice and counsel, to be able to
report back to the President on how we might best proceed to deal with that
mutual problem, and that's exactly what I've done.
THE PRESIDENT: I think one other point that the Vice President made, which is
a good point, is that this is an administration that when we say we're going
to do something, we mean it; that we are resolved to fight the war on terror;
this isn't a short-term strategy for us; that we understand history has called
us into action, and we're not going to miss this opportunity to make the world
more peaceful and more free.
And the Vice President delivered that message. I was grateful that he was able
to do so. It's very important for these leaders to understand the nature of
this administration, so there's no doubt in their mind that when we speak we
mean what we say, that we're not posturing. We don't take a bunch of polls and
focus groups to tell us what -- how to -- what we ought to do in the world.
When we say we want to defend freedom, we mean it. And the Vice President did
a fine job of delivering that message.
Part of any foreign policy -- good foreign policy -- is to consult with our
friends and allies. We've told our friends and allies we'll do so on all kinds
of issues. And the Vice President did that in a really good way.
QUESTION: Mr. President, different part of the world. A car bomb exploded in
Lima last night, killing nine people. Are you concerned about your safety?
THE PRESIDENT: No, I'm still going. I'm sure President Toledo will do everything
he can to make Lima safe for our trip. Two-bit terrorists aren't going to prevent
me from doing what we need to do, and that is to promote our friendship in the
hemisphere. Our neighborhood is important to us, Peru is an important country.
President Toledo has been a reformist, obviously worked within the democratic
system. And you bet I'm going.