Availability with United Kingdom Prime Minister Tony Blair
The Cross Hall
The White House
November 7, 2001
5:15 P.M. EST
PRESIDENT BUSH: The last time we were standing here I was getting ready to give
an address to the United States Congress. And I knew then that the Prime Minister
and the people he represent were going to be great friends of the United States
in our mutual struggle against terrorism, and he has certainly proven that over
the last weeks. We've got no better friend in the world than Great Britain.
I've got no better person I would like to talk to about our mutual concerns
than Tony Blair. He brings a lot of wisdom and judgment, as we fight evil.
He also is, like me, determined. Nothing will deter us in this all-important
goal. We both recognize that we wage a fight to save civilization, and that
we must prevail; and not only must prevail, will prevail.
We've had a great discussion about progress in Afghanistan. I fully believe
we're making great progress. I told the American people many times and I've
told the press corps many times that this is a struggle that's going to take
a while, that it's not one of these Kodak moments. There is no moment to this;
this is a long struggle and a different kind of war. But we're patient, and
our close friends are patient, which is bad news for the Taliban and the people
Secondly, we talked a lot about making sure that our great compassion for the
innocents in Afghanistan is fulfilled. We must feed the people. And the Prime
Minister has, every time I've talked to him, which is a lot, is constantly talking
about how we make sure that we fulfill the mission -- not only military, but
fulfill the mission of helping people in need. And also, we continue to discuss
the vision of a post-Taliban Afghanistan, and how do we make sure that all parties
involved in that part of the world have a stake in the future. He's got a clear
vision, he is a strong friend, and I welcome him back to the White House.
PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: First of all, can I say how pleased I am to be back at
the White House in the company of President Bush, and to have continued the
discussions we've been having over these past weeks and continue them, face
to face. And can I thank him once again for his leadership and his strength
at this time. And can I say to him, on behalf of the people of my country, but
I believe people right across the world, that the determination to see that
justice is done is every bit as strong today as it was on September the 11th.
The cause is just, the strategy is there, the determination is there, and there
is a complete and total commitment to making sure that this is a battle in which
we will prevail. And we will; I have no doubt about that at all.
What we've discussed already, and will carry on discussing, is obviously the
military strategy in Afghanistan. We have discussed the humanitarian issues
to make sure that we are doing everything we possibly can to help the plight
of people in Afghanistan. And we should never forget that some four-and-a-half
million of them were refugees before the 11th of September.
We have discussed, also, the reconstruction of Afghanistan, how we make sure
that after the present Taliban regime led by Mullah Omar is out of the way,
that we construct a broad-based regime that is representative of all the different
groupings in Afghanistan and offers some hope of stability and prosperity for
that part of the world.
And we have obviously also discussed how important it is that at this moment
in time, we carry on building that strong coalition against international terrorism
in all its forms. And I believe that coalition, if anything, is even stronger
Certainly, from the discussions I had with European leaders just a few days
ago, their commitment is real and their determination is also absolute to see
this thing done. So can I once again thank President Bush very much for his
kindness in welcoming me here.
PRESIDENT BUSH: The Prime Minister has consented to take a couple of questions,
as will I. We are going to enforce the one-question rule, however, Fournier.
And that is, you get to ask me or him a question. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: That's an executive order?
PRESIDENT BUSH: Well -- (laughter.)
PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: It looks like it.
QUESTION: It has been eight weeks since the September 11th attacks and we don't
know where Osama bin Laden is. It has been several weeks since the anthrax attacks,
but we don't know who sent the letters. What do you say to Americans who might
be frustrated and impatient despite your admonition about --
PRESIDENT BUSH: Yes. I will say to them, we fight a new kind of war. Never would
we dream that someone would use our own airplanes to attack us and/or the mail
to attack us. I will tell them that we have put a sound strategy in place that
has got Osama bin Laden and the al Qaeda thugs on the run. And I will tell them
that we will bring them to justice.
I can't tell them exactly when. But I will tell them that we will prevail. There's
no question in my mind. We know he hides in caves, and we're shutting down caves.
We know he moves around at night, and we're looking for him.
We know that slowly but surely, the Taliban is crumbling; its defenses are crumbling,
its folks are defecting. We know that if you're on the front line and if you're
a Taliban soldier, you're likely to get injured, because we're relentless in
our pursuit of the mission.
In terms of the anthrax, we don't know who did it yet. We do know it's a terrorist.
Anybody who would use the mail to try to kill an American is a terrorist. But
we do know this, Ron, that we've responded rapidly, that our health officials
are performing really fine work. And I truly believe -- as I've said many times,
I believe they have saved a lot of lives. We know how to treat anthrax. And
we now know we need sanitation machines in our post offices; machines to sanitize
the mail. And we're putting those in.
We know that we're fighting evil. And the American people are patient. They've
heard the call. And tomorrow night I'm going to put out an address that reminds
the nation that we're truly a great nation, that we've responded in ways that
the enemy could never have imagined. And I'm so proud of the patience and steadfast
nature of our people.
Mr. Prime Minister.
QUESTION: Mr. President, since we're limited to only one leader, can I ask you
whether you think you can win this struggle against terrorism without a settlement
in the Middle East? And in view of the rather strident notes struck by both
sides on the Prime Minister's tour of the Middle East last week. What do you
think the United States can do to bring that resolution about?
PRESIDENT BUSH: Of course we can win the war against al Qaeda.
QUESTION: Without a Middle East settlement?
PRESIDENT BUSH: Oh, I believe we can. I believe we're going to -- we are hunting
them down as we speak, and we will bring them to justice.
But remember, the war is beyond just Afghanistan. There are over 60 al Qaeda
organizations around the world. And today we struck a blow for freedom by cutting
off their money -- one of their money sources. And I'm absolutely convinced
Having said that, however, we are both working hard to try to bring peace to
the Middle East. My Secretary of State, who is here, spends enormous amounts
of time on the phone with both parties, urging for there to be calm so that
we can get into the Mitchell process. There is a process in place that will
lead to peace called Mitchell. It has been embraced by all or most of the nations
of the world, and we are working hard to get us into the Mitchell process.
There is no doubt in my mind, no doubt in my mind, we will bring al Qaeda to
justice, peace or no peace in the Middle East.
PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: Can I just say a word on that? There is no way whatever
in which our action in Afghanistan is conditional on progress in the Middle
East. And, indeed, one of the things that bin Laden wants to do is to try and
hijack the Palestinian cause for his own purposes.
Now, we are taking the action in Afghanistan, and I believe, incidentally, people
are patient about this. I think they understand this is not a conventional conflict,
it is not fought in a conventional way. It takes a lot of strategy and planning
and determination over a period of time to be successful.
But be under no doubt at all: Our objectives, which is to close down that terrorist
network in Afghanistan, those objectives will be achieved. Now, even though
it is not conditional in any sense, of course we want to see progress in the
Middle East. That's why we are devoting enormous amounts of time to it.
And I believe it is possible to see how we can make progress in the Middle East.
And I described some of the ways that could happen when I was in the Middle
East last week. So be under no doubt, either, that, irrespective of the action
in Afghanistan, it is in everybody's interest that we make progress in the Middle
East, and we will strain every sinew we possibly can to do so.
QUESTION: Mr. President, have you decided on a figure for how far you can cut
the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile, and do you agree with President Putin who
said that a common approach can be devised for interpreting the ABM Treaty to
allow for missile defense without abandoning the treaty?
And if Mr. Blair could address the issue of, would a failure to reach an arms
agreement undermine the momentum of the international coalition?
PRESIDENT BUSH: So much for executive orders. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: It was an umbrella question.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Oh, it was an umbrella question.
I think it's best that I share with Mr. Putin the acceptable level of offensive
weapons with him, before I do with you. And so I'm going to reserve -- I'm not
going to tell you until I tell him. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Have you reached a decision?
PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: And then, I guess I had better not, either.
PRESIDENT BUSH: I have reached a decision. And I've spent time thinking about
the issue. I've told the American people that the United States will move to
reduce our offensive weapons to a level commensurate with being able to keep
the peace and, at the same time, much lower levels than have been negotiated
in previous arms control agreements. We don't need an arms control agreement
to convince us to reduce our nuclear weapons down substantially, and I'm going
to do it. And I can't wait to share that information with the President. I will
Listen, the ABM Treaty is outmoded and outdated and we need to move beyond it.
It's exactly what I've been telling the President ever since I've been meeting
with him, and my position has not changed. And if he's got some interesting
suggestions on how to make the ABM Treaty not outdated and not outmoded, I'm
more than willing to listen.
But our nation and this terrorist war says to me more than ever that we need
to develop defenses to protect ourselves against weapons of mass destruction
that might fall in the hands of terrorist nations. If Afghanistan or if the
Taliban had a weapon that was able to deliver a weapon of mass destruction,
we might be talking a little different tune about our progress against al Qaeda
than we are today.
So it's important for us to be able to develop defenses that work. And the ABM
Treaty prevents us from doing that.
QUESTION: Mr. Prime Minister, I'd like to divert your attention a little bit
away from military conflicts toward the economic side of things. I'd like to
ask you if you've had a chance at all to ask the President if they would formally
launch open skies agreements and, if not, if that means that the UK's position
is now that the EU is going to be handling this matter?
PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: No. I mean, no doubt we will discuss these issues, but
we haven't yet.
PRESIDENT BUSH: We haven't had dinner yet.
QUESTION: But does that mean that the EU is going to be in charge of it now?
PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: No, it doesn't mean that at all.
QUESTION: Mr. President, could I ask a question of your guest? But feel free
to jump in if so desire.
PRESIDENT BUSH: It depends on what the question is.
QUESTION: Well, sir, it is a multiple part-question, for which I am famous.
But, anyway, Prime Minister, as you know, the air war in Afghanistan is one
month old today. There are many experts on both sides of the Atlantic who believe
that the air war is limited in its ability to really inflict a decisive blow
against the Taliban. Many say the only way you can defeat the Taliban is to
put boots on the ground.
One, do you agree? And, two, are you willing to commit large numbers of British
troops beyond the SAS and the Royal Marines, to the effort to defeat the Taliban?
PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: Well, first of all, let me say something to you I often
say to our own media when I am asked a question about the precise nature of
our military operations. And that is that I have learned in these situations
that it is not a sensible thing to discuss in detail the types of military operation
that you may undertake for very obvious reasons.
But we are completely committed to seeing this thing through. I think people
know that the strategy has to encompass more than air strikes alone, although
do not underestimate the enormous damage that is now being done to Taliban front-line
troops because that is where the air power is being concentrated.
But, of course, there are other operations that we will mount as well. And there
are, obviously, the support and the assistance that we are giving to the Northern
Alliance. There are the measures that we are taking of a political and diplomatic
nature as well.
And when you said a moment or two ago that the air strikes were just -- and
the conflict was a month old, I think it is probably just as well to reflect
upon that for a moment. It is simply a month old. And we have begun this action.
We have taken it at a number of different levels. I think it is already having
a huge impact.
Some of the information that I have seen -- I think sometimes people don't always
reflect on maybe enough when we state it to people -- but, literally, we have
destroyed virtually all the terrorist training camps of al Qaeda, we have destroyed
an enormous amount of the military infrastructure of the Taliban. Their air
power, insofar as it exists, is completely taken out. We therefore have a very,
very strong situation from which to move forward. And I think what is -- what
is different about this conflict is that every part of it has to come together.
In other words, not just the military part, but also the support for those parties
in opposition to the Taliban, and the political and diplomatic aspects that
help build a strong coalition that can secure the objectives we want to see.
And I have absolutely no doubt at all that we will achieve the objectives that
And those objectives are very simple. Sometimes people say to me, well, you
know, clarify the military objectives. There's no difficulty about doing that
at all. It's al Qaeda and the terrorist network shut down, it's the Taliban
regime out, it's a new regime in that is broad-based, and it's a decent future
for the people of Afghanistan, based on some stability and progress, not based
on a regime that oppresses its people, treats its people appallingly, is a threat
to regional stability, and basically thrives on the drugs trade.
Now, I think those are pretty clear objectives, and I've absolutely no doubt
at all that we will achieve them in full, and we will not let up until we do.